Men of the City

©2014 CliveBarker
Image ©2014 CliveBarker

“The birth of a universe is a terrible thing. The unknowable peace of true nothingness is split, rent, torn by the instantaneous and unstoppable eruption of infinity. As the infinity that is the newly born universe expands the howl of anguish that accompanies all births echoes throughout the vast nothingness that is everything; carried on the fiery winds of exploding stars whose lives pass in the blink of a cosmic eye. The howl, in some places, coalesces, becomes thick like cooling blood. It accretes about the shards of creation, giving them form and breathing life into them. This is how the world was born. The bitter vengeance of a universe angry at its own creation.”

~The Book of All Passing 01:01-02

 

Karla awoke to the sound of her neighbour, Jenny, murdering her husband. She pulled her pillow over her head but the walls of her apartment were so thin that his pleas for mercy might as well have been coming from within her own bedchamber. Peeking out from below the pillow she watched the bony shadow of the Lintelmast building creep across the floor as the sickly yellow light of the rising sun fought through the permanent roiling smog that coated the city skies. When the finger jabbed the foot of the bookcase on the far wall it would be time to rise.

The shadow was barely half way across the room when Peter, Jenny’s husband, abandoned his begging and pleading for a slow rasping pant. Soon the only noise he was making was the moist slapping and crunching of his flesh and bones as Karla bludgeoned him with whichever weapon he she had been using this morning. Realising she could no more go back to sleep than Peter could stop the assault she decided to shower and be early for work for once.

The shower room in the Krestal Building that housed Karla’s apartment complex was wide and far too many of the floor tiles were cracked or splintered to make showering a relaxing experience. Selecting a nozzle on the wall nearest the entranceway she turned the tap and stood below the falling dust as it flowed across her naked skin. Using the bone scraper left behind by Rick, her last lover, she peeled the layers of grime from her body before the flow turned from dust to air and she shook away the last of the dust; and the grime with it.

She bumped into Jenny as she left the showering room. Her arms were red up to her elbows and she had a satisfied, relaxed, look about her. They nodded to one another as they passed in the narrow corridor.

The door to Jenny’s apartment hung ajar and Karla stopped a moment to observe the gore that was once Jenny’s husband. She had done a brutal job of dispatching Peter. Bone protruded through his torn flesh, organs had been exposed and drawn from his body to lay beside it as though on display in a butcher’s shop. Already his broken form was being absorbed into the floor of the apartment. The pool of black-red blood in which the mess lay was slowly thinning as the exposed organs began to bubble and liquify.

The wall to Karla’s left coughed and moaned.

Peter’s face was emerging slowly from the building, his skin the same wan colour as the plaster from which it was forming. The plaster bent and cracked as his face pushed outwards. One eye opened sending a little shower of plaster dust down his new face. It glared accusingly at Karla.

“Cunt” His lips split. His breath erupting in a little cloud of dust.

She flicked his nose. “Oh do fuck off, Peter.”

As she closed the door to her apartment she heard him rasping after her. “You could have done something you fucking bitch. What the fuck are you any way? I am the fucking cit..” The door slammed behind her cutting off his inevitable rant about how he was as ancient as the city, born of the city, blah, blah, fucking blah. She didn’t have time for an existential argument with a half made wall boy; she had to leave for work.

–:–

The usual crowd were waiting at Karla’s stop forming an orderly queue along the edge of the sidewalk. All suits and shirts and respectable up to the neck where the faces gave away the exhaustion that bore deep within each and every person waiting for the bus. The mood at the stop was always as heavy and dark as the clouds perpetually hanging low over the city. This morning was no different. The bus slithered to a halt, its silver trail disappearing into the tarmac behind. Taken by the city into itself, like everything else.

Boarding the bus through the dilated orifice at the front of the vehicle; Karla wedged herself on a filthy seat between a long haired preacher man and a bespectacled man with a briefcase on his lap.

“I see that the Tabernacle on Lame Avenue has been producing more Scripted Men.” said the bespectacled man. Karla turned but he wasn’t talking to her. He looked across her as though she wasn’t there and was addressing the preacher.

The preacher leaned forward and turned to look at the bespectacled man, only briefly, witheringly, looking at Karla. The words of the Book of All Passing writhing about his face in permanent testament. ”We have been blessed with many new Men of the Book. It is true.” He nodded sagely and leaned back once more.

The bus oozed its way through the city letting some on and some off. Karla’s journey took her nearly to the end of the line and so she settled in to her own thoughts. Planning her morning’s work load and thinking about the week’s end.

“Of course, some say that the increased birthing of Scripted Men is a sign of troubling times ahead.” The bespectacled man looked directly ahead at the reflection of the preacher man in the window opposite. “They say that the number being birthed is rather unprecedented and so the future is more ominous than even the hallowed book teaches.” His lip twitched in just the impression of a smile.

The preacher man smiled, properly, and, taking a breath, responded to the obvious dig from the bespectacled man. “My son, it is true that the Book teaches us that the vengeance of the universe is a stark and terrible thing which infects all  life. That the eternal wail of horror permeates the very fabric of the universe. One has, however, to remember our insignificance. How small we all are in the overall scheme of things. We matter not a jot to the universe and so it would be arrogant to presume that we warrant any special measure of the great cosmic revenge.”

The bespectacled man’s lip twitched once more. “Ah, but Father, surely it is our very insignificance which makes us especially vulnerable to the terrible whims of the cosmic howl? Surely it could as easily snuff us out of existence unintentionally as through its eternal malice?”

“Hmmmm.” The preacher man considered the bespectacled man’s dig for a moment. “What you say is true, sir. However as we, men, are created from the very fabric of all things we have, as I’m sure you are aware, a special connection to the wider totality. A special sensitivity you may say. So when we see fluxes and changes in how and where men are birthed we can determine from that the peaks and troughs of the cosmic howl, we can see which way the wind, as it were, intends to blow.” Satisfied he smiled once more.

Karla shifted uncomfortably between the two men. The preacher man’s breath smelled musty, like a long abandoned room, and the reflected stare of the bespectacled man seemed to be focussed as much on her as on the preacher man.

“I’m sorry my dear. You seem most discomfitted by our discussion. I don’t suppose that you will be able to follow  so well as you might. Regardless of your, no doubt adequate, intellectual capabilities you simply don’t have the correct frame of reference to truly understand such, scriptural and philosophic, matters.” The bespectacled man’s lip twitched again.

Karla turned to face him but before she could respond the preacher man interjected. “Ah, but you see, sir, it is true that the women folk of this world are sadly bereft of the sort of connection to the eternal that we enjoy but there is nothing to say that, with the right amount of study, certain exceptional women may in fact grasp the subtleties of the eternal howl and the woes of cosmic vengeance.” The preacher man smiled thinly at her.

That was a condescension too far. Not only had she been woken early, been called a cunt by the man-boy her neighbour was foolish enough to marry but NOW she was being talked down to by a couple of pretentious bloody buffoons!

“I fully comprehend” she began, “the eternal bloody mysteries laid out in that ancient book of yours. I also fully realise that because you are spat out of the foundations of the city itself you feel that you have some special connection to the woes and tribulations wrought upon the universe by the eternal howl or the cosmic sodding malevolence or whatever theological term is currently in vogue and that I, as someone merely born of another person rather than shat out by bricks and mortar, could never hope to achieve the stunted nihilism that you and yours claim as enlightenment.” Both men looked at her in something rapidly approaching horror. The bespectacled man’s mouth hung open and he was holding his frames to his face with one hand in case the force of her ire should blow them from his head. The preacher man looked on the verge of tears and the words normally in flux across his skin had slowed to a near stop.

She continued.

“However. There are numerous things that I, a fully flesh and blood woman, realise that you can never possibly hope to understand. First.” She held her hand before her –she was standing now, looking down on them both– her index finger thrust upwards from her closed fist. “First, the cosmic howl, the eternal sorrow, is just a hypothesis dreamed up to justify your resignation to things being so bloody awful. Secondly.” Her middle finger joined her index finger, “There is the cold hard fact that you men are barely even alive; let alone blessed with any special connection to the vast cold universe. We women are born of blood and sweat and pain. We grow and learn and change. We aren’t excreted whole from bricks and mortar. How do you think those bricks and mortar got there in the first place? Who do you think understands the pain and horror of the universe properly?” Her voiced was raised so as she was nearly shouting at them. The whole bus was staring now. Some were smiling. Most were not. “And thirdly, bloody thirdly! It’s not even eight in the morning and not only do you insist on talking the most ridiculous bloody drivel you then have the cheek to condescend to me! You’re bloody fools the pair of you. You and all your bloody cold hollow kind!”

The bus slid to a smooth halt at the next stop and Karla disembarked; preferring to walk the rest of the way to work than to suffer any more buffoonery. As she walked it began to rain. Karla thought about the day ahead of her and how when she got home she would pay a visit to Jenny next door and see if she wanted a hand with Peter when he finally emerged fully from the wall outside her apartment.

 

fin

 —

Post Scriptum

If you enjoyed the story and fancy dropping a coin in the hat then that’s most acceptable. If you didn’t or you don’t want to then that’s fine too.

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