Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Taking a page from Alan, I've decided to serialize a novelette here. It's a BIG story, with four POV characters, and lots of random asides about religion, drugs, and reality. Probably a few too many indulgences (you'll see what I mean). I've always tried to do interesting voice experiments but here I wanted to meld them together into a single piece. Very much inspired by David Mitchell's ghostwritten.

This is probably the most ambitious thing I've ever written and that's why it'll never sell. So, enjoy, if you like. And don't hesitate to criticize!

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber.

Luck sides with the angels. Those of us who dabble in darkness and sin must face the jagged edges of Fate on our own two feet. We have no savior, no messiah of good fortune. We are alone, but for each other.
You pass out cigarettes to me on the street and save, and share, what little drugs you have left with your friends. You’re a good person, a diamond in this “rough.”
You think with your generous personality and good spirit, we can win this war. You’re wrong.

Don’t doubt it’s a war, it is. It’s the violent chess game called Reality. Life, in its most naked form. White versus Black; Good versus Evil. Roses with thorns. Demons pretending to be human. A loaded gun with the safety off. Reality. Life.
That last bullet in the chamber, the one you forgot about, that’s me. I’ve been waiting in the wings, a long time. Biding my time and doing my work right, trying to get noticed: Get that breakthrough assignment. When the time came, I always thought I’d know exactly what to do, like sex.
I was wrong.

I felt as if the whole world depended on me then. I had no idea how important my mission was going to be to the ongoing war. My superiors didn’t want to put more pressure on me and said almost nothing. My only choice was to act as if this was the most important run of my career.
I began my journey to the famous Castle, in shackles, in the darkest time of night. Spared the indignity of a blindfold, they allowed me to see; as the car pulled back through the narrow cobble streets, into the paved road, and out of the city. However, they would not tolerate speech. I tried to make small talk with the brute beside me in the cramped backseat (something along the lines of “hey, so, how bout those Knicks?”) but was elbowed by the guy on the other side of me before I got two full words out. The violent man pulled out his gun and balled one of his fists. He indicated with a smile that I was the fist, then, using the gun to symbolize a knife, he sliced my throat and let me die. I didn’t speak again the whole trip.
And neither did the Hitmen in the car with me. Minor telepathy was all I had in the way of conversation.
Appearance-wise only: it looked like God was on my side, for the time being. Heavy, heavy rain pounded the countryside. Twice, we were forced offroad due to flooding in the engine. Three times (maybe four, I lost count) the car was almost completely submerged in a gigantic puddle. By the time we reached our destination: the Mountains, darkness had receded and the sun was well on its way to the center of the sky. The golden half circle hung close to the horizon, obscured by mountain peaks, but not for long. And then, just off to the left, in a photographer’s wet dream, the black silhouette of the Castle. The serpentine pillars and rising and falling roofs, melded with the mountains, appeared to form the shape of a lounging woman.
The sun rose higher and so did we. We chased it, like the dog round-and-around for its tail; it was always a step ahead. As we neared, the tension in the car grew in waves. Were they apprehensive? Had they not succeeded in capturing me? It was true, my mission was to find someway, any-way, to get inside the Evil Castle and flush out the villain himself. How surprised was I when he? initiated the meeting.
I came into New York City like a lost animal, dirty, tired, homeless. I started asking around, posing as an addict, newly arrived from Europe. I wanted to know who had the best dope on the street, and where he got it from. I met dealers and asked them questions. Soon enough, the soldiers had come. I saw myself as a prisoner, behind enemy lines, though in this war, there were no borders, no divisions. Foe and friend shared the same foul-smelling air.
Sculptures of incredible size and pageantry became obvious as the Castle closed in on the horizon. Further and further up towards the sky, the black shape took form, color, shadow. The largest and most prodigious of the stone-work was a massive column-like and sober image of Our Savior. He had his arms spread wide in a gesture of blessing, the dark Castle beneath him. The closer we got, the less I trusted this holy image; its eyes shone a blood red in the morning light.
Beneath the towering figure, on the cylindrical rooftops and pillar-tops were other images of Christ, small representations of varying design, made in shining copper, gold that glittered in the sun, or fine, polished silver. Each had eyes that sparked like matches, and it was obvious there was a darkness to this display. Facing each small image of The Messiah, a smaller still, always dark-stoned replica of a gargoyle. Some of the ugliest things this traveler has ever seen. Creatures with faces and features so hideous, artists could not have imagined them, bodies so strange and vile yet … familiar (like bats and rodents and humans mixed together), that they could only be real.
These terrible images based on real creatures surrounded and sometimes fed on the small images of Jesus. For every one replica of The Savior, there were ten smaller gargoyle figures around him. Some large, fat, ones, and many stringy small ones, hanging on ledges, crawling through shadows, stalking prey. There were a few Jesus/gargoyle statues that appeared frozen in the middle of a battle. One image of Christ held a large sword, raised high, about to strike; while, a meter away, on another stone pillar, a gargoyle replica, beaten, bleeding, one knee on the floor, but with an intense angry look on his face. He had a knife in his one remaining hand and was poised to strike clandestinely.
The whole thing was a tableau, of a war. An ancient war, between the forces of Good and Right and the followers of Evil. But in this version, evil was winning. It was a warning. It was a sign of the future, and it frightened me.

I’m not saying it’s nice to be “checked-out,” but it’s not the worst thing in the world; trust me. You see girls wearing barely nothing on a hot summer day (and who could blame them, right?) and you think they don’t know they’re being ogled by every passing man? They can see the heads turning with the eyes in the back of their heads and can hear the cluster of guys whisper and tense up with their superior hearing.
Sometimes girls will try to drive attention away from other girls, like race car drivers cutting someone off for the lead, or male lions fighting for the attention of a female. Human men flex their competitive instinct through sports, videogames, or (sometimes) violence and sex. Us girls take on each other; both worthy and unworthy of our attention.
I get on the subway, right, with tight cutoffs and a sports bra visible underneath a transparent blouse; a corporate logo emblazoned where my chest starts. I got my headphones on and a slammin’ metal album playin’, even a designer headband that completes my disguise. If it wasn’t for my bag (books, gum, cigarettes, change of underwear) I’m in my standard “out for coffee”, or a “walk”-mode, you know, see who I run into. Even though I was going to work, I liked to pretend this was a Saturday.
So. The first thing I notice when entering the subway car is two rather-cute guys who look up and greet me with their eyes, moving up and down the profile. One was standing, a tall black guy in a suit and tie and a newspaper, crumbled low and allowing Mr. Suit and Tie to take a look at the passing ‘action.’ The other guy was a young, skinny white kid, looking like he just stepped out of his dorm room and a daily bong-session. His stoned eyes locked on my chest and ass and wouldn’t let go the whole time we were in the station. Only the sudden motion of the train snapped the poor kid back to reality.
I lurched a little forward with the train and bumped into the back of a handsome man with his wife and daughter. He smiled at me and she scoffed loudly. I searched for an empty seat on the crowded car but couldn’t come up with one. Then, a tap on my arm. A hesitant tap, like someone was afraid. I turned and at eye-level, I saw the “stoner” kid, with crazy black hair and black glasses. He had nice-looking headphones on too and couldn’t hear much (like myself); he mimed for me to take his place. He also stared angrily at other people trying to nudge forward to the suddenly empty seat.
I was about to smile and agree when I saw her. A tall, blonde, paper-thin model-type girl. The kind of woman you only saw in cities like New York and Milan. Even seated, she appeared tall as an Amazon. Her breasts were impressive, and displayed for the public in a plunging loose top; but it was her simple beauty and just-out-of-the-most-expensive-hair-dresser-look that made me hate her immediately.
A small pack of black kids where whispering (not too quiet) about the blonde girl. They pointed at each other, daring one to go over to her. I looked back at the white kid with the glasses and shook my head, No, to him. I said, “No thanks,” and blew him a kiss in the air. He sat back down, smiling.
The train decelerated quickly and made my whole body jiggle. That caught the attention of the pack of kids. They all grinned at me.
I felt satisfied. Soon enough, the dark-skinned standing chick (that’d be Me) won most of the attention from the men in the car. A couple times, I caught girlfriends and wives about to yell at their husbands or boyfriends, instead just glaring at me. I fed into that. I blew ‘em all a kiss back. When the train lurched suddenly, I made a show of almost falling, so someone would get up to help me, but I’d dodge their arms and come up by myself. I stayed standing for over a hundred and thirty blocks. My arms and legs were getting tired from all the movement. All kinds of men, of different colors and shapes and ages, stole a glance.
I knew I had that “cross-over” beauty, that spark that attracted almost everybody. I was born with it. My Puerto-Rican and Italian heritage added an off-mocha hint to my tanned skin. My tall father and short mother gave me long legs that accentuated a much-jogged butt. My Manhattan-upbringing was evident in my style of dress and attitude, street-wise, but classy. I wore 70’s style sunglasses and my hair was made up a little too much, blown out in waves, with little curls at the bottom. Okay; I admit, I was bored this morning.
As for the blonde model-bitch, I pretty much forgot about her, making eye-contact more with the males of the car, until my stop came around. By then, the train had cleared, and I found a seat, but after the train had pulled into the station and the doors were open; the two of us stood, in unison. We exchanged an evil glance. Then, the Bitch and I made a mad-rush towards the exits of the station. Men we passed had to decide which one of us to “check-out” before we were gone. We glared at each other as we passed through the turnstiles, at the same time, and then went to two different exits. I sighed in relief, glad to be rid of her.
But, at 28th Street and 7th Ave, the blonde-bitch and I stepped onto real sidewalk, across a street from each other. Between the throng-like crowds and slow-moving cabs, trucks, and buses, we shot each other nasty looks. I swear she mouthed the words, “Shadow-bitch. Fuck off already!” I got angry.
But neither of us wavered. We both walked in the same direction, the busy Manhattan street barking and beeping between us, but still constantly aware of our enemy’s presence and position. The battlefield called Life.
Why do we play these games with strangers? As if we have any idea what’s going in someone else’s head?
We both approached FIT from different sides of the street, but, at this point, it was obvious we were going to be joined at the hip today. I stopped at a corner and waited to cross the street. The blonde bitch threw me a laugh and gained some distance on me. The Fashion Institute of Technology was situated in a beautiful, green, block of downtown Chelsea. A piece of statue-art at the front of the block gleamed in the early-day-sun.
We walked down the street with a lot of the main buildings of the school almost side by side, in a crowd. I begin to feel a sense of kinship towards the Blonde-Bitch, a kind of Sisterhood in Arms-type-shit. Maybe she was apprehensive about work, as I sometimes am. There was no reason for the negativity between us; we should be friends.
But then, at the Art department buildings of the school, we both turned to different directions. She was heading to the Advanced building and I was going to the Beginning level classes. I followed her with my eyes, looking confident and beautiful, as she disappeared behind a revolving door. I almost waved.

This is what I heard when I woke up: “BITCH, shut your fuckin’ mouth!” in Spanish. An angry, drunk, hoarse-sounding voice. Another voice rose in a few dozen decibel levels, a female voice, shrill and whiny. Made me want to kill something. The shouting was in part so loud because it came from upstairs, the married couple with the teenager. They didn’t fight often, but when they did, the whole building heard it.
Fortunately, I had supernatural powers and could turn off my human body’s “sense” of hearing. I normally would, but I didn’t do it then. I liked to hear the cursing and the shouting (it made me smile), the sounds the subway train made every 5.8 minutes (or so), and occasional shouts of “Fuck!” down on the street. In the South Bronx, keeping your windows open was a way of staying “in-touch” with the community.
The continued Spanish and occasional English screaming wouldn’t bother me tonight. The alarm clock read 1:04 and I had matters to attend too, soon. Some “get-your-hands-dirty”-type of stuff downtown.
The Preparation was coming along in most pleasant fashion, Thank the Master. By converting a few slightly disturbed individuals to the cause, I have already gathered enough men-turned-demons to build the foundation of my army. Already, my agents were out causing murders in various disagreeable parts of the city. Tomorrow night, twice the amount of my footsoldiers will take up the fight. Murdering civilians, looting big department stores, stealing or burning cop cars all across the New York City area.
By Halloween night, the police force of this city will be so spread out and confused across the five boroughs; they won’t even smell the Resurrection. By the time this city (and the rest of the world) realizes what’s happening, it won’t matter, they’ll be a breath away from death anyway.

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