Blinding Lights

A neon red light buzzes and flickers in a room that’s too small to be a walk-in closet. Click. Red is drowned out by a strobe of white. Shit, my eyes! Oh, sorry. Men are cramped in the room, surrounding a bed covered with a blue sheet; a woman lays there naked from the waist up. Her face is a delicate oval with skin of light brown caramel. Strands of shoulder-length hair that’s black as her dilated pupils fall to her sides disheveled. Her face carries a smile that’s starting to give the faintest hint of a grin. I hate it when they do that. Do what? Smile. Fucking rigor mortis. Click. A glassy stare shines like two lonely stars for a second before going dark again. There’s a small gaping hole at the center of her forehead surrounded by a purple bruise. Under her head, a dark red stain has spread and soaked over the blue sheets. Poor girl got a .38 kiss, not even two hours ago, judging from the body. Third one this week. Someone had lit a cigarette, mingling the stench of smoke, blood and a tinge of burnt flesh. Click. White over red, red over blue. Click, click, click. Someone call the body movers, sending a live one for cold storage; she’s beginning to stink.

Sweat trickles down your chest, your body crying in fear. Run, run! Satan’s hell hounds are not far behind, looking for your blood. You feel the gun’s warmth on your hand. Another sinner cast out. But now they’re on to you. You’re out of breath. Stop, police! Out of time. Drop the gun, drop it, man! Do it now! You raise your divine instrument, you shall not go to your just reward meekly. Oh shit, fire! Flashes of light tear your body, then darkness.

Yeah, man, shit went down! I was walking on 5th when across the street a group of cops were chasing some guy inna trench coat, right? Ok, good. Yeah, they cornered the poor fucker, but instead of giving it up, the guy starting talking shit. Sumthing about God and shit, crazy talk, y’know? The pigs were shouting at him like crazy too, drop the gun, lay on the ground, all that bullshit. But he didn’t listen, cool as ice, he raises the gun. Was he gonna shoot at them? Fuck do I know? Shit. Anyhow, it was all over in a blink, man. Bam, bam, bam, lights out. Dead fucker’s on the floor leaking all over, prolly shat himself too. Cousin told me dead people do that, shit themselves. But yeah, after that cops were all like show’s over, move along. Fuck’em. Now I’m walking down the street, rain’s starting to fall over, everything’s getting wet and dirty, I had to deliver some fine Colombian flour, ya follow? Nah, you can’t have any from my stash. Anyways, shut up…where was I? Ah, yah, so I was minding my own bidness when vroooom! One inch, motherfucker. Car almost ran me over, blinded me with his fucking headlights. Jesus…I tell you, fuck this town. Pass the chips.

Waiting

We’ve been sitting here for hours and hours. A man dressed in white pushed another man in a wheelchair, all bandaged and had blood everywhere, he looked scared. I don’t like hospitals. It’s all cold, boring, smells funny, nose itches. Gran’m looks down at me, smiling. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” She smells nice.

“Yes!” She always carries grape gumdrops, m’favorite. She’s making an upset face, uh-oh, I almost forgot. “Please?”

She smiles again and pulls up her big purple purse. She puts her hand in, and comes out with two gumdrops! “Thank you, Gran’m!”

A lady dressed in white goes to where we are, she seems to be tired. “Mrs. Henderson?” She looks down at me and smiles, I smile back. She seems nice.

“Yes? Is my daughter still in surgery?” Mom fell from the stairs this morning. I was playing out on the garden when mom screamed. Gran’m said it had been an accident.

The lady doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out, recovering in the ICU, but there were complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private.”

Gran’m squeezes my hand a bit too tight. “Oh God…”

“Is mom alright?”

The lady doctor smiles again. “Your mom is resting right now, but you’ll be able to see her soon enough. Right now I have to speak a bit with your grandma, is that alright, James?” She smiles like mom, but her hair is blond. Mom’s is black.

“Uh-huh.”

She turns to look at Gran’m, but she’s not smiling anymore. She should sleep. “If you could follow me, Mrs. Henderson, it’ll be just a minute.”

“Wait…wait for me here, dearie. I’ll be back in a minute, ok?”

“M’kay, Gran’m!”

***

Dolores Henderson was not a bad person, at least she hoped she wasn’t, according to how she had lived her life up to this day. There were certainly mistakes that she had made along the way, nobody was perfect. Maybe, maybe even one or two that would be judged harshly if people knew, but then it wasn’t nobody else’s business. It was an accident, plain and simple, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. She would never hurt her daughter. Not once did she ever spank her whenever she got in trouble, though more than once she sent her without supper to her room. She only meant to grab ahold of her daughter’s arm, she was walking away angrily, but the staircase… It was an accident.

St. Reuben’s Hospital has that strong ethanol smell that she can barely tolerate, and they’ve been waiting for close to two hours, with poor little James confused, probably scared, especially after seeing the man in the wheelchair -covered from head to toe in blood, no less! Some candy will probably make him feel a bit better, something to distract him. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” The last time she was here was when Herman died of cancer, five years ago, she wasn’t keen on hospitals in general.

The little boy’s eyes light up and looks up at her. “Yes!” Please and thank you were sacred staples in her house, of course she raised her daughter with them. Dolores frowned down on James, she was in no mood for discourtesy. “Please?”

After giving him the gumdrops (“Thank you, Gran’m!”) Dolores saw a young woman, a doctor in her white robe, exit the ER, when she saw them the doctor started to walk towards them. Finally, some answers.

“Mrs. Henderson?” Dolores catches her weary expression, those long hospital shifts, but the doctor still manages to smile at James. Maybe things went well in the operating table.

“Yes? Is there any word on my daughter? Is she still in surgery?” Dolores’s looks at the doctor’s face trying to look for an answer in her expression.

The doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out and is recovering in the ICU, but, there were…complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private, if possible.”

“Oh God…”

Hunter/Woodcutter

This old face, it is devoid of love. No line drawn across its wrinkly skin speaks the merest whisper of affection. A pair of eyes burn through the young man, and he feels so alone. Alexandre is angry; the last of the venison is gone, and he, Anatoly, caught nothing when out hunting. A fire crackles softly on the stone hearth as the wind howls outside of their cabin. It will be a harsh night tonite, foolish for anyone to step outside.

“You little idiot!” A hiss that feels like a hot needle makes Anatoly flinch. Alexandre cracks his thick knuckles, he wants to break something, maybe he will break Anatoly. “Why do I let you stay? Tell me why!” A fist the size of a dog’s head slams over the table, sending two empty dishes crashing and breaking down on the floor.

Anatoly’s tongue feels thick, a dead lump that won’t move. It takes the better part of a minute for Anatoly to whimper out a few words. “I hunt…you cut wood.” A large stack of cut logs stands at Alexandre’s feet, his haul will provide warmth for the cold, and some may even be sold for a few coins down at the village, but not if the storm blocks the roads with snow.

His eyes narrow like a wolf’s before it’s about to jump down someone’s throat. “Precisely. I cut wood, you hunt. That’s the deal.” Picking up a particularly thick-looking log with one hand, Alexandre sizes it up, then looks back at Anatoly who has taken a step back as he takes one forward. “And you can’t even do that right!” With a roar like a black bear, Alexandre flings the log in Anatoly’s direction. The young man barely manages to sidestep the projectile as the log hits the wall with a loud thud and clatters on to the floor, rolling close to where he was standing a second ago.

“Alexandre, wait, please!” His voice is shrill, he needs more time, but the older man hits him with the back of his hand, Anatoly screams and topples over the floor. Reeling from pain, his head is spinning, he has to get up. Rough hands yank him to his feet from the scruff of his shirt. Something flashes and Alexandre howls in agony, stepping back from the young man. A dark spot begins to form on the left side of his brown coat.

“You…stabbed me!” Each word is filled with hatred, Alexandre’s eyes seem to have lost some of their focus, but now they appear to be of a wild animal.

Anatoly’s holding his hunting knife with both trembling hands, the tip dipped in blood. His mouth hangs open, he can barely believe what he did. “God forgive me…Alexandre, it was an accident, I didn’t mean…!”

Roaring in fury, Alexandre jumped at his throat, bloodlust filled his eyes. Before the young man could even react, he was pinned down to the ground by the neck with one hand, while another smacked the knife away from it. He could feel Alexandre’s vice-grip, like a snare from which he caught rabbits. Anatoly couldn’t breathe and though at first he was panicking, kicking and flailing trying to escape, he soon moved less, and less, until he did not move anymore.

Alexandre was in a daze, not really knowing how he was still standing, but soon he found himself eating meat again. Juicy and tender, and there was no more of Anatoly’s womanly mewling. He had to get rid of the corpse. Cutting up the meat that would keep him alive until the snow cleared for him to go down to the village, he took the bones outside. The wind howled everywhere like a wailing mother, darkness fell heavy around the cabin, Alexandre could not see more than a few feet ahead of him, but it didn’t matter. He’d survive harsh winters before, he would do it again. It was all the more surprising to him when he found himself falling to his knees, they simply stopped supporting him. The snow chilled him to the bone, but he was feeling rather sleepy now. Damned Anatoly, his cut had been deeper than he thought. A howl brought Alexandre back to the storm raging around him. Something was moving ahead, but he couldn’t quite make it out, his vision was getting darker by the second.

They swere already circling him, five of them, they’ve had no morsel to eat for a few days now and were ravenous. Now prey lay there weak, blood drew them to it. Their fangs were begging for tender flesh. Their pack leader cautiously paced close to the mound of furs lying still on the snow. It had moved a moment ago, they did not want to risk a fight. With a tentative nip at the furst, the leader saw the figure did not stir. It howled out long into the storm. Tonite, they would not starve.

Snow In Shibuya

The cup warmed Christobella’s hands as she took a sip, her favorite brand of green tea comforted her. It had snowed yesterday, but the streets of Shibuya were already cleared up to let traffic flow at its regular pace. The lights of a nearby building advertised a new video game. A young Japanese woman, probably in her late teens, was dancing, dressed in a school uniform -skirt above the knee, no less-, brandishing what appeared to be a pink AK-47. “Happy lucky adventure, yes, yes!” The young woman’s voice was chipper and high-pitched, a cute doll wrapped in plastic. Decades of living here and she could still be surprised, or at least amused. Japan, never a dull moment. She smiled at the young woman, now fighting what appeared to be a three-headed dragon. Another sip from her tea. Was the woman Hanzo slept with a school girl? She did look rather young when he saw them walking out of the love hotel one evening she was returning from her academy. She set down the cup, having lost her appetite.

Her father had also chased after some young skirt back in Rome, while her mother feigned ignorance. Vittoria, you fool. Something tightened inside Chris’s chest as soon as she thought of her mother. The telltale prickling sensation behind her eyes made her reach to rub them, but it was too late: she blinked and down rolled a fat tear over soft olive skin.

They had phoned her all the way from Italy, she had no idea how they got her home number. Her mother had died suddenly, just two days ago, from a heart attack. She was 73. Twenty more years of life than her bastard father. She still pondered, out of boredom nowadays, really, how different things would have been if signore Yoshimura had been her father instead. Not only did the older gentleman, back then in his early 60s, taught her how to play the violin, but filled her head with wondrous stories about his country to the point that she dreamed of going to Japan. He had died three years after she left for Japan, it was the only time she had considered returning to Italy. She would make the time to pay her respects at his shrine on his old home back in Rome.

“Chris?” Hanzo had walked into the living room entrance and was standing there, shifting slightly from left to right. His voice was soft, almost tender. Of course he knew about her mother. She had several flights to catch tomorrow to Italy, to attend the funeral -her relatives could hold it off for a day, two tops, but their divorce papers still had to be signed. “Do you need anything for tomorrow? I can have Satsune drive you to the airport.” He was not quite looking her way.

It had been her who filed for a divorce. Chris made no excuses for her father when mother told her about his infidelity, two years after his death; she would not make them for Hanzo. That was that. They had settled terms quickly: she would receive a very generous alimony payment each month, he would keep the apartment. He could afford it, seeing how he practically owned half of Shibuya’s buildings already. “Don’t bother. I’ll call a cab.” The man who had been her husband for the past fifteen years nodded, standing there like an actor who just forgot his lines, then simply left without another word. Good, she needed to start packing. It would be a very long day tomorrow.