Hashim AlHamar graduated with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from Bradford University and is currently undertaking an MFA course in Creative Writing at Kingston University.
Dust swept across the road. It cumulated in clouds to block his vision. He could not see anything a few metres ahead. At night with headlights in the dark, or in the orange glow of day it made no difference. He could not see anything.
The floor and surfaces of the truck were lined with cups – paper, take-out, anything, everything – spilling over with the last dregs of coffee. A cigarette burning at his fingertips. The hill of stubs in one holder neighbouring the latest drink, top popped open, contents sloshing to the rhythms of the metallic beast. He looked down at it, wondering if he should take a sip. His eyes burned, lids streaking down a whiteboard anytime he blinked. Ash fell and spread into the coffee. Well, that was that.
Sand pelted the windshield. The dance of the wipers further stressed his lack of sleep, distracting him from the curves and turns of the rolling hilltops. He always seemed to pull it together in the nick of time, never in fear of flipping down an incline. The thought did enter his mind every now and then. A little change couldn’t hurt.
He sprang up with a gasp. The ridges of the steering wheel etched into his forehead. He wiped the drool off his chin and saw it was the same. Two inches of road bled into two inches of road swallowed by fog, its radiated orange prophesizing the end times. But that wasn’t true. It was the usual weather these days.
As if the thought of regular, everyday routine decided to make itself manifest, the diner suddenly popped up out of mountains and bridges and sandstorms. He had missed the exit.
He took the other one which led back out to the highway. Good thing no cars came. He wouldn’t have seen them.
When the heart wants something, it does funny things to the body, sending weird, desperate signals to act against rational logic. How he had accomplished that three-way turn down the wrong ramp he didn’t know, but the realization he did it in the first place came as he walked out of the diner, full and caffeinated, ripping open a take-away pack of beef jerky. He looked out while the strip hung from his mouth, to the cars leaving and ascending into the void. Had he done it while in reverse? No, the cargo would’ve snapped. He shrugged. He made it. Got a bite to eat. That’s all that mattered. He almost stepped on a dead dog.
The Rottweiler’s middle was burst open, ribs and gunk spilling out. Either end was stiff yet intact, as though someone had only tread on this one part and popped a balloon. Its eyes were half open, tongue limp on the pavement. Reminded him of the girl inside asking for a lift, scratching at her arms and head, hair matted and firm from too few baths and too much hairspray. Smoking all the while, her head ringed by an ozone. I can suck you off, she said. He was tempted but in the end said no. The colour of her teeth and gums was not something he wanted around his dick. She nodded, lit another cigarette. Got another coffee. She was used to no.
He entered the truck, started her up, and lit one of his own Dunhills once done with the jerky. The dick thing was probably 70% of it. The other 30 was he had deliveries to make, enough time already wasted.
He rolled out, back onto the freeway. He consulted the sheet. He didn’t know where he was going, and phoning home base wasn’t an option; the radio had been nothing but crackles and static for the past – Jesus he didn’t know how long it had been. Didn’t help that time of day was a vague concept, the sun’s specific place in the sky completely blocked off.
All he needed was to drive and pretty soon he’d get there.
After an immeasurable amount of time, the road started to go uphill.
The man and woman walked out to the deck through sliding glass doors. He lounged in a chair while she shed off her towel, crumbling to reveal the one-piece, bright red bathing suit with a V-line travelling down to accentuate her cleavage. She circled a couple of times under the pretence of stretching, but more so to catch his eye. It was hard to tell under the shades whether he was looking at her or the sky. He was looking at her, it was obvious, but chose not to flatter with comments. She huffed and dived headfirst into the pool, not coming up until absolutely necessary. The man did not move. He continued staring at the clear, blue sky.
Little voices would pop in every now and then.
The constant static on the radio would be cut by a blurt or sound, some chopped up word which broke through the hubbub on his end. It was probably one of the girls at HQ. Specifically one of the girls. What was her name? Marion? Martha? Margo – there was a Mar in there. She was a cougar after him. They all were. Except the thing which designated someone a cougar, at least in his book, was she had to be hot. And feisty. But especially hot. And she was neither.
Still, it got boring on the road. Boring, not lonely. He could live with himself for days. But in losing track of time, it got difficult for a man to entertain himself. So he would pick up the receiver, push down on the button, and hum, soon graduating to singing. It did not alleviate his chances with the ladies, crooning Frankie Valli or Sinatra. Those boomers probably liked that. That’s if it reached them at all. He couldn’t know either way.
The lines started to spread out. He would go, alley-oop around a bridge and carry on a different route, if not parallel to where he was originally headed.
There were less fellow drivers up here. He couldn’t see them before, more of a sense. But now as the air thinned, he found himself on a narrow trail going up a hill, bending along every sharp turn. He was certain the barriers would prove flimsy if he decided to careen off the side. The fog dissipated and then vanished. The truck surfaced onto a vista.
Trees. Actual palm trees, with green on top. The blades waved in the breeze. He plastered his face to the window to look on at this sight. A sea of noxious orange and brown roiled under this peak, as though he were a submarine emerging. The road spread out before him clear and endless. Life to one side. Armageddon on the other. He did not dare open the window.
Finally there it was. A mansion. A grand house, designated and secluded under the auspices of nature. There was no other address as far as he could see. This was it.
The gate was open. No one waited by the guard booth. He rolled up the driveway to the front door. He got out and walked to the back of the truck. The air was clean here. There was no musty weight to block his orifices. He could smell the mowed grass. Hear birds chirping. Inhale the fresh oxygen. No other way to enjoy this serenity, he popped a cigarette in his mouth and lit up.
The woman jumped out of the pool in one smooth motion. She did not use the steps but instead did it by the rim at his end. A showcase of muscle and fitness, arms propelling her onto the surface, water cascading off her slick body. The man was read the paper. The ruffling pages blocked her completely from view.
The doorbell rang.
The man who answered was possibly the cleanest he’d ever seen. That was his first impression.
Sleeked black hair. Beard trimmed to the finest point. The smooth, chiselled body of an Adonis or David underneath trunks and an open dressing gown. 100% unfiltered machismo energy.
He gestured the clipboard. Hey. Delivery. Just gotta get your name.
Noah, the man said.
He checked up and down the list. Full name?
The Prophet Noah.
There it was. The Prophet Noah. First one on top. He shrugged this off. Just sign here, sir.
He opened the truck container and pulled a heavy chest down the ramp. It was more a two man job, with handles on either side, but he managed. Did a number on his back and arms though. The man was kind enough to hold the door for him as he brought it in.
Put it there, that’s good.
It dropped with a clang. Dust flew off. He arched his back, he and the man standing over it for a moment. Then the man jabbed it with his bare foot. It slid, and some things shifted inside, but that was it.
Alright, then. The man Noah clapped him on the back, with such strength that it suddenly retched out of him a coughing fit. He bent over, holding his knees, shaking his head and moving away to communicate he was fine, but the man seemingly ignored him, looking at his hand layered with a thick coat of sand.
You’re filthy. Go that way. Air out. I’ll get you something to drink. Lupé! Lupé!
He followed where the man had pointed. There was a partition open to sun and bright blue. It was easier to breathe. He straightened up, basking, and shed his jacket immediately.
There was a woman in a chair, tanning under the sun. She wore shades, her blonde hair spilling around her, and smoked from a long ass indigo holder.
She was turned away but said, Are you the pool boy?
His mouth was a dustbowl. No, he croaked.
Shame. I needed someone to fuck.
He noticed his footprints behind. A Cheeto trail of where he’d been. He looked down to find his whole body dipped in the stuff. His jacket on the granite floor pollinated into the breeze. Most of it travelled over the pool to the horizon.
Here you go.
The man had come back and held out a glass of some purple, fizzy drink. Water and minerals, he said. Bad weather today.
He took the glass and pointed before them. Seems fine.
I’m talking about you. You can’t really say we travel down the same roads, do you?
Let him stay, the woman called, puffing out streams of smoke. At least to catch his breath.
The lady wants you to stay. And who am I to deny her?
He said this last bit out loud, but she remained silent in response.
The man Noah led the way to two other lounge chairs, positioned behind the woman who siphoned most of their view of the water.
Drink that drink. It’ll giddy you up.
There was a slight bitter aftertaste to it. He finished the whole thing.
So what’s your name, delivery man?
I know. The prophet.
The man looked at him for what seemed to be the first time. His eyes scanned thoroughly from behind those dark lenses. That’s right, he said. I’m the prophet Noah.
The woman guffawed and flicked ash over the side.
And that’s Lupé, my companion on the impending voyage.
Please! Tell him more, she shouted over her shoulder.
That’s all I can divulge for now, dearest.
Pity. I thought he’d want to join us.
Honey, you know that can’t happen. We’re already us two enough.
There was a bar which the man went to pour himself a drink.
But animals can come aboard, no? she asked.
That’s rude, the man said but laughed nonetheless. Technically, though, yes he is an animal.
I’m no animal, Trevor said.
The man pointed indoors. Then what else would do that to my house? A dog is cleaner.
Trevor meant to get up and – what? Defend himself? Attack this man who called him lesser than a dog? Leave? All valid options but pointless because he fell then, limbs weak and numb, useless to stop his skull from thudding on the hard floor. He felt nothing. The glass in his hands rolled away.
Looks like you can’t handle your drink, friend.
Push him back up. I told you he needs to rest. The woman did not look over for a second.
He was cradled like a baby and placed back in the chair. The man Noah clapped his hands and lit a cigarette. A row of them lined the bar, total white cylinders, along with a zippo. He slid one into Trevor’s slack mouth and lit it for him. The zippo snapped shut.
Best relax and wait for it to hit, he said, patting, almost slapping Trevor’s dead cheek, the cigarette about to fly but clenched between his teeth. Jets blew out his nostrils.
He laid prone, hands crossed at his chest. A cadaver on a slab. The sunset reflected in the pool. An orange burst to engulf the blue, white and opulent colours of the deck. The couple huddled together in the same seat and looked on, shadows to be devoured in the nuclear blast.
He woke to faint light cutting through the dark. He sat himself up, wrung his wrist. Working fine. Move easy and slow. The deck was empty. The water rippled under the moon and stars. The light was coming from the house, through the open doors and upstairs windows. Shadows passed inside. He touched his feet to the floor. Held his head in both hands. Ears ringing. He remained there for the eternal chime of a second.
How’re you doin, old sport? A shout and hard clap on the shoulder made him jump. The prophet kneeled, a tray of assorted drinks held firmly in one hand.
He tried to wave him off. Get away. Get away! His voice a lost cause; depleted with no hope of return.
I’m sorry to startle you, old chap, but we’re having a little shindig soon. A sort of end-of-world type thing, and we were hoping you’d join us.
Trevor vigorously shook his head. It made the world spin but returned all the same to the man’s musclebound thighs, knees and calves. He would shake his head again.
Noah placed a hand on his shoulder for a second time, as though that were a stop-start button. Sad thing was it worked.
Looks like that stuff is hitting you harder than I thought. Here.
He placed in his hands another glass of the same purple, wrapping limp fingers around it as though Trevor were a helpless retard.
Another one of those oughtta get you straight.
One last pat on the shoulder and he walked off to the other side of the deck, looking back to say, I expect to see you dancing pretty soon. He did not perceive stepping over the edge of the pool.
Trevor waited for the fall.
There was no splash. No shattering of glass. No shout or curse. The man carried on, as though he walked on the same floor. His footprints remained in the water for a second before they disappeared. He spun, arms spread wide, the glasses upright but sliding together, and laughed.
I love that face people get when they see it for the first time.
He gestured to his dumbfounded audience of one, motioning a cupped hand to his lips. Trevor looked down at his drink, bubbles frothing and popping at the top. He shrugged and swallowed half of it. Same revolting taste which made him gag.
Here. Take it with this.
The man had set the drinks on a table at the far end and come back, suddenly crouched before Trevor to bring them to level. He displayed in his hand a single orange pill, with a ridge in the middle. It’ll make you see things you’ll want to see.
How did you walk on the water?
How ..? Because I can.
He smiled. I told you already.
Clip-clop. The woman came out to them in a red sequin dress, champagne glass in hand. Her heels clicked, hair rolled up into a bob. They’re arriving now, she said.
The man clapped the pill into Trevor’s palm. I’ll see you on the other side, friend. And he was off.
Trevor stared at it, the woman looming over him, draining her glass. I’ll split it with you, she said.
Before he could stop her, she tossed her glass – shattering in the distance – snatched it from him and cracked it between her thumbs and forefingers. Like a crazy, reverse mirror, he followed everything she did: sticking out the tongue, placing of half the pill at the tip. But she swallowed and he did not, tongue getting dry in the wind.
I dun nah hwa thith ith.
She responded by holding his jaw shut and pinching his nose so he swallowed. She was surprisingly strong but he wasn’t mad. She wasn’t mad either, instead laughing and getting him another drink. Something not purple this time.
He was loopy again. His legs wobbled. He stood on them and his upper body swayed from one side to the other but he did not fall. His arms pirouetted to keep steady. If a cop stopped him, he could probably pass the drunk test. Why did he think that? There were no cops here. Unless those two lights coming were a car. Alone here on an empty road, dark, vast desert on either side, his feet anchored so the yellow stripes ran between, the lights came closer. First two, glaring eyes, shuttering in the distance, then one encroaching threat, devouring his vision; everything he saw. His whole world. The blinding light was no longer a promise, but a new state of being. He could hear the roaring engine. The screeching of the wheels. His feet, all the while fixed, suddenly came loose, and he turned in a belated effort to flee but then slipped. The monstrous, growling beast devoured him, his shadow projected, reaching for something in the distant night. Before he could land the ground slid away. He saw the metallic pipes and wheels pass over him before his entire body immersed in a wet, cold veil.
His eyes remained open. The moon and stars fogged up and blurred; eclipsed by a faceless crowd. He tried to rise but his hands stayed, interlocked at his chest. He tried to kick and wriggle, forces holding him down underneath the water. He was drowning.
When at last it became too much – when jets entered his upturned nose; through the slits of his frantic, rolling eyes; mouth bubbling in a mute scream – he came up. Breaking through the cutaneous layer, he entered the world trembling and frightened, soaked and still half his body submerged. He coughed and sputtered, hair washed over his eyes to render the surrounding dozens headless in their elegant evening wear and drinks in hand. It did not seem to matter such extravagance was ruined once dipped in the pool.
He is reborn! the prophet declared, wading in the water to address the spectators. It had been he alone who held him down. The applause was rather half-hearted and empathetic in their manoeuvring through purses, fineries and numerous drink glasses. Then one girl raised her arm and splashed around, overzealously volunteering to be baptized next. The crowd edged him out as she came forward, and he had no choice but to
slip and slide down to the bottom, bare and dry tiles galvanizing his fall. The pool was dug like a trench, and he had no way of getting out on whatever side. He was alone down there. The people had already climbed out and were dancing at the edges, taunting him, goading him, not taking to any of his calls or pleas for help. He tried to jump up or find a loose hold to kickstart an ascent, but there was none. In the end he would slump in his hole in the earth, listen to the beating music and intoxicated laughter, and pray for some sort of divine intervention.
It started to rain, first a light drizzle which graduated to a shower. He heard screams as people rushed out of view to go inside. He wanted to scream at them himself, to remind them that he was in there, but he hardly got a word out when his tongue was slapped with a bucketful.
He was floating in it now, rising ever so quickly as a tommy gun of water rattled off its rounds solely at him, the proverbial sitting duck. Then it ceased just as suddenly as it began. He could now swim and pull himself up, and he had taken only the first strokes when rumbling came. He stopped to look above and froze in a terrified, quiet form of acceptance. The oceans were coming down to meet him. This was it.
They smashed down, filling up the bare pool to the rim again, the excess water spilling out over the edge of the balcony to the unsuspecting, unknown inhabitants of the world below.
He did not die, but pummelled first, then yanked with the waves and shot through the air, landing with a crash of chairs and tables back on the terrace. The people were dancing again.
That’s how they were. There one second, gone the next. There. Gone. There. Gone. Their music and noise vanished with them, intercutting into the still quiet just departed in a schizophrenic symphony, to the point where he could not tell whether it was a trick of the party, the drugs, or both contracting in him some delusional psychosis. He crawled over boards and broken wood, sliding on his knees, legs bent and aching from being run over, drowned and wrestled with in some unfunny, three-act comedy penned by Dante. There was no one he knew in the split-second faces glimpsed. They were laughing–gone. Jostli–poof. A scant, pitiless flash his way before – yep, sayonara. They would pop back but he had already moved on to another corner, looking for his compadres, or at least the people who had condemned him to this state. They were nowhere under the LED lights outside. No fancy, billowing robe. No bright red dress crowned with a yellow lollipop.
He managed to stand on his own, his feet heavy; gait lurching. He would blindly wave his arms to grab on to something, but there was nothing there; for all intents and purposes he was alone in some sick dance macabre, perhaps himself passing through both realms of the living and the dead, his one ease from suffering cracked and splintered in a pile behind him.
His noodle legs crossed, moving independent of each other, and he slipped, grabbing and hiking down the pants of some recent apparition. He didn’t care. He climbed up. Grabbing on the thighs, stretching the material out. Slipping a hand into the waistband and belt. Holding on to the blazer, another pair of hands tried to swipe him off. Wrap around the collar, pull and straighten himself up to be met with an angry young man who vanished. He was thrown off balance, swivelling on the balls of his feet, when the young man appeared again. They both leaned into each other in unison. Their skulls impacted. The young man seemed to have meant it, rubbing his brow and cradling his martini while those around patted him on the back.
Trevor fell once again at the feet of a whole different crowd, apparating and disappearing every few seconds, not stepping on but outlining his borders. He got back on his hands and knees, shrieks and jumbles entering through the ears to ache at the back of his head. Someone rushed past and stepped on his hand, the stiletto puncturing through maybe to the other side he didn’t know. A shin collided with his head. He recognized those red heels. He looked up, cradling his bleeding hand, to see that yellow bob weaving above the crowd and disappear. He was bleeding a lot. Some holy mitt proffered itself from the world standing over him. It did not care whether it smeared itself in his own blood or cause stinging pain to the injured party (which it did). Pulled to his feet and led away, the partiers parted for them and he saw they were headed toward the pool and he stopped, trying to yank his hand free (that hurt too). Noah ultimately tugged him forward, almost pulling his arm out of its socket. He probably didn’t mean to be forceful, but that smile said something. He sat them side by side on the edge, feet paddling in the water. Blood trickled from the cracks of his fingers into the pool.
Crazy night, huh?
His hands wouldn’t stop shaking. What’s happening to me?
Oh, nothing. Just a simple test for my disciple. You passed, by the way.
I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
It’s me. Noah. The prophet.
I know who you are, and you ain’t no fucking prophet. You’re just some crazy asshole who drugged his delivery guy.
Come on. We both know you’re not really a delivery guy.
He thumbed back at the party behind. Who the fuck are those people?
Noah looked over his shoulder. My congregation. They hear I’m going away and they all wanna get on my boat. You’ll notice the women are here alone, trying to get in my pants. The guys too. But I don’t think they know what that largely entails.
He patted Trevor on the shoulder.
They also don’t know I’ve already chosen my disciple.
What does that even mean? He was sick of this now.
It means you’ll come with us when this place eats itself, she said.
Lupé had come back, sitting next to them with her bare feet lapping in the pool as well. She brought with her some ointments and wrapping which she got down to applying on his hand. He did not resist. He took it as an apology for what she did, whether on purpose or not (on purpose). Besides, it felt nice, her cleaning and rubbing his hand.
Yes, that’s exactly right. You’ll come with us, the prophet said, a cigarette magically appearing, waved around in smoke ribbons as he talked.
Are you Noah? he asked. He felt soothed by the massage, eyes half open.
Yes. He said it without offense, as though asked that same question countless times.
Then you know only two people can go. A man and a woman. And two of every other species. That’s how the story goes, I think.
And that’s where you have it. Two of every species. The prophet brought the cigarette down in an arch to hammer his meaning. Ash fell to hiss and spread in the pool. Homo richness. And Homo poor-as-fuck. One species we have the pair. And the other there’s only half. We need to find you a woman, my friend.
I’m not poor.
Lupé lit two cigarettes and gave one to him. She smoked while continuing to bandage him up. He let the thing idle at the tip of his lips before remembering it was there to take a drag.
You are poor. You wouldn’t be working down there if you weren’t poor. You wouldn’t be coming up here in awe, mouth hanging open if you weren’t poor. You would be one of us here if you weren’t poor.
So you’re saying we’re both separate?
What the fuck are we talking about? Yes! That’s been true since the beginning of time. Sorry, my friend. Noah looked at him and shrugged, a forlorn expression on his face while the cig burned down between his teeth.
What do you mean you have to find me a woman? Someone here? Trevor looked around, almost excited. The thought fetched with it a little jolt in the groin.
Nah, none of them. Noah swept a hand through the air. He did not see the pack of scantily clad vixens encroaching ever closer only to be dismissed and sent flying by his gesture. They’re not for you.
They will gladly try, but in the end will find you already taken and the whole thing pointless, Lupé said, looking from the knot she’d been tying in the strip of gauze.
It wouldn’t be all pointless.
Some of them eyed Trevor from across the pool, dancing and feeling each other up. The lump in his pants grew tighter.
Now why did you have to tell him that? It was supposed to be a surprise!
Noah had to lean out and shout to speak over to her, trying to come through the din and music. Already drunk.
We got you a woman, old sport. He tapped and shouted in Trevor’s ear. For no good reason. It flipped the dime in him then and he was in a sour mood.
Where did he go? Lupé rubbed a hand over his lap. Your friend is gone. Did he get scared? Her stroking fingers let a little tingle pass through which she felt, her hands staying. Someone wants to come out and play, she giggled into his other ear. The fact her man was sitting right there only made it get harder, framed within her ring-adorned fingers.
He turned toward her, slipping from Noah’s leaning body.
On that thought, wait. Stay here. Noah took his time to roll over, glasses crashing and falling into the pool. A series of burps churned and flowed out his mouth. No one helped him up – their messiah did not need it – but they did part as he stumbled through them. He went inside to the chest, retrieved something from its contents, and made his way back. This, he said once he sat down, pulling Trevor and Lupé’s huddled heads apart. It was a small wooden boat made of melded branches and sticks, light from the party passing through the spaces between. This is what I went out on the first time. A model at least.
Are you really Noah? he asked once the awe fell on the deaf, mute and dumb, the silence to follow filled by the bass instead of crickets.
Yes, he said again. This time the ire was clear.
Trevor pointed. Because that thing would drown in this pool let alone a flood.
Noah looked at him with a twinkle in his eye, the anticipated question finally proffered. Lupé had her chin on Trevor’s shoulder, spectating the whole thing. Noah held the boat up on the tips of his fingers and now daintily lowered it into the water. While he was turned, she planted a kiss on Trevor’s neck, hand slipping back under his unfastened pants.
Upon setting sail the boat carried itself along the ripples, bobbing left and right until it stopped centre of the body of water. Some slipped through its bottom crevices, though other than that there was not much to report. It did not sink. This elicited a wave of faint applause, though much like the baptism it died quickly.
Noah eased back in his seat and observed with his compadres.
Well done, Trevor said.
Noah looked at him, noticed the woman’s fondling under cover. He raised up a hand and held Trevor’s sun-stricken cheek. He brought their mouths to kiss. Tongues wrestled and pressed inside. Trevor clasped the back of his head, fingers ruffling through oily hair, and locked them further together. The woman, her actions growing more energetic, pulled them apart, turned his face and plastered her own lips onto his. Noah proceeded to remove Trevor’s shirt and pants, hands lingering and tracing over parts of his body.
Somehow, some way, the people had disappeared. The deck was silent and empty except for them.
Thunder rumbled overhead.
Under the amber bulbs of the bedroom, they disrobed and mounted one another. There was no person who was the evident lead and master of ceremony. They each communicated with gestures and glances and directions to where a body or part of it should be. Soon they achieved a second nature to each whim and desire. There was not one left without satisfaction at any given second. The drugs and booze allowed their peripheral senses to blur and fade into each other, so the fingers of one might have been the knee of another. They became some sort of deformed creature made up of three arched backs, limbs and appendages interlaced through skin and flesh. Thrusting and grinding within itself. Fluids spraying out or into orifices and holes belonging to not one individual person. This thing would copulate throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, then collapse onto the wide, red, heart-shaped bed, stark bodies glistening, hair on their heads matted. The pubic areas relaxed and flaccid, venous and throbbing from overstimulation. The three of them jumbled together, chests rising and falling with heavy breaths, each curling into the other with eyes closed, only left with the cool, saturated air as coverlet. It rained the whole night.
The hexagonal window looking down onto the terrace was either frosted or steamed from the amount rising off their heated, convulsing bodies. They did not see the rain until the woman put her hand on the wet glass while ridden up and down the wall. The moisture coated her palm while its print quickly disappeared under further heat, a storm drumming on the other side. By that time the little ship was still afloat.
It weathered the downpour which peppered the surrounding body of water, its husk drenched but traversing the waves courageously. A light emitted from within its confines. Faint at first though maybe seen by the upstairs residents if they had not been occupied with carnal matters. The light grew, flickering in and out from different cracks, when at last it could be contained no more. It engulfed the whole thing from the inside out, flames reaching up from the sides like slaves groping for freedom or death. It breached through from the hull, a pyre which sailed along for a few moments, unextinguishable from the rain. Its bright burn lit the vast, surrounding wasteland; a beacon in that ever darkness before the bow tipped and sunk in the pool with a hiss, in its wake a gurgling, ashen mess turned to nothing.
He woke to find the room empty. Maroon bedsheets stripped and tossed aside. His body twisted, legs one way, torso another; pulled in different directions. Light seeped in to reveal the hollow crevices where bodies had lain, wet smears on the walls and bed. Dismembered remains of their outfits littering the floor, a further layer to encase the heart which his hand was cuffed, the metal chafing his wrist as he tried to pull it off the headboard.
Noah descended the stairs and passed the chest. He trailed back, stared at it for a moment, then delivered a hearty kick. It was hard enough to move the thing along the floor, though his steaming coffee sloshed in its mug but did not spill. He remained there to see what would happen. It was static at first before the contents inside began to squirm and toil, banging against the lid to lift it by a crack – thank god the lock kept the rest of it secure – though the chest itself did bounce from the force, moving back and forth on the floor, to and away from him in every inconsequential direction. Then it stopped, at the foot of the stairs. Not underneath where he had stored the thing. He decided not to move it and left.
Outside the woman was sunbathing again. Their days had bled one into the other to render them rote and oblivious, with no everlasting change to their routines or encounters. He doubted she wore the same swimsuit, though he could not distinguish this from the previous day’s or the numerous prior. Her hair fluffed and cascaded around her with movie star glamour, as though there were a whole team responsible for that job where it had been only them two (now three).
He walked and stood over her, staring past the pool and railing at the horizon beyond. He blocked out the sun from her in an obelisk of darkness and shadow.
After a while she looked up, her vision of him dimmed further through shades. Do you mind? she said.
A taste of coffee, with the accompaniment of a loud, comical slurp. He did not move or answer. It was a response in a sense, non-verbal but audible.
She eased back and shut her eyes under the blue tapestry. It was all for show. Something hot and bothered boiled under the cool surface.
At first he thought the black smudge was a trick of the light or reflection. He looked around to see what had caused it, then craned his neck to peer closer, finally forced to step to the edge of the pool, toes curling at the brink. The fear popped in that someone might come rushing and push him. He knew what that black carcass at the bottom was. An omen of things to come.
I saw it in the morning, the woman said, not opening her eyes and basking in the newfound glow once he had left her side. Not a good sign.
No it wasn’t he thought but did not say. He wouldn’t give her that little spike of victory. Instead he came back, and along with him came dark clouds overhead, trailing on his heels to shadow the path he walked. First the pool and its guest decomposing underneath, reducing it from serene tranquillity to grey slush, sudden waves churning and bobbing in this new climate, given an air of restless, nightly sea, water splashing from its depths onto the manufactured surface.
He came up to her and she did not seem aware of his presence or the clouds ruining her placid day. After a silence between them while thunder and wind blew, bringing rumblings and small debris and speckles of dust, she said, without turning or moving at all, You’re spoiling my view.
It looks like you’re spoiling it yourself.
She lifted her head at him, slid the glasses down the bridge of her nose so he could peer at those icy blue eyes. I will eat you alive, you know.
He only smiled and tipped his mug at her. Enough of it was already drained, and besides, it quickly cooled under the conditions and whatever particles floated through the air probably made it their home. She laid back as though there were no change, eyes shielded once again. She did not say anything as he went up to see if their guest was awake. Robe flapping like wings to expose his pristine body, he climbed invisible steps from the deck to the window, dust outlining each of these as he took them before being swept away to coincide with his rising feet.
On a landing which did not exist, he peered through the window, having to cup his eyes between both hands for a better look. He’s awake, he said. She did not respond. A light drizzle began to fall. I said he’s awake.
Then bring him out here, she shouted back.
The glass in the window smashed open and fell inward. More flew from the force, not exactly hitting the wall opposite but skirting across the bed, a shard almost slicing where his toe had just been. The man floating by the window did not seem to have done it, fist not extended with neither a bruise nor a cut. He climbed in now, one bare leg followed by the other. It did not seem he would fit, the hole too small, but he managed in a feat of flexibility (a call-back to the previous night). Glass crushed under the soles of his feet, though instead of embedding into his skin, these were ground to a fine powder, almost glitter, as evidenced by his blood-free steps across the floor.
Trevor wrung the cuff, rattling the bars of the headboard. His limp penis flopped in a cushion of pubic hair.
Easy there, big fella. Noah approached as though in the cage of some feral tiger, arms held out to establish calm. A little fun and games, that’s all. No need to get mad. He produced a small key and unlocked the handcuffs. The grind of ratchet teeth and the thing slipped off, falling down the bar to land on the bed.
He rubbed at his wrist where he had pulled and strained to get it free.
There we go. No need to sock me. Noah stood there and laughed, eyes closed like some Japanese cartoon, expecting all issues to be resolved at the end of their prescribed 20 minutes. In an alternate world, he would have punched him. In a better world, he would have laid in, beat the shit out of him, and robbed the place. But the world was different. His asshole burned.
He walked out to the deck stark naked, still rubbing his wrist and the other one for good measure. It was sunny again. For a moment he thought the bad weather had followed him there, only a day behind. But now he saw it would more or less remain this way. The true disease and calamity were the people.
And speak of the fucking devil.
I see you’ve decided to grace us with your presence, she said, sitting up to observe him. She wore larger, heart-shaped glasses and a sunhat, its wide, pink brim dyeing her head a grotesque shade. The bright colours all of a sudden did not do well for his acid reflux. He managed to swallow it down. She was smoking again from that long holder.
I would ask if you were glad to see me, but I can see that you are. She blew out a puff and gestured with the holder.
He looked down. It was erect and pointed at her like a compass.
He felt a rise in heat but did nothing to hide it. Instead crossing his arms behind to accentuate it more; show it off. She only laughed and lay back down.
Pardon moi. Noah passed with a tray of drinks and glasses. The party was to begin again. Anew. Wrought forth asunder. From the early hour of – 10? 12? 2? The sun did not leave its place from the middle of the sky. It appeared to have been there for hours.
It’s like it didn’t rain last night.
It didn’t. Noah was at the bar, his back turned.
I saw it.
Then you were mistaken. Lord knows you would’ve conjured anything to get away.
Aren’t you waiting for a flood? I thought you’d be happy to get some rain.
He laughed, a gross, mean sound. He turned with a derisive smile on his lips, one to give a simpleton who had just illustrated his ignorance. Handed one drink to the woman. The flood has already happened, my friend. It’s in the sky. Pestilence. Disease. It’s nothing we can see or feel until it’s too late. Why do you think we’re this high up? The world has already gone to shit down there, so we gotta keep ascending until we’re well out of it.
So where’s your boat? Or your barge? Or your plane? It was difficult to keep his voice straight. He was given a drink too. It was awkward when Noah’s thing brushed up against his, but then walked away. Now he truly felt naked, holding the glass up while liquor dripped over the side. He didn’t know what to do with his other hand.
Noah did all this, coming up to him and going back, in a blank silence, almost making them forget the topic entirely, when he smiled a broad smile with shades on, arms spread wide. Where we’re going, all we need to do is this.
He floated in the air, feet crossed at the ankles in the shape of a cross. 1 metre. 2 metres. 3. Higher and higher until he was just two black lines against the sun. Then he came back down, robe billowing like a cape as he landed daintily on solid ground. Went up as Jesus, came down like Superman.
If only we can all do that.
I can teach you.
He can teach you a lot of things, sweetie, the woman said with another puff.
Ignore her. The man waved her off from inside his gown, bringing with it the hem to flutter.
What? I’m jealous, darling. You’ve been spending too much time with him and not with me. Where’s my lesson? And I thought you’d bring him his own dame to annoy and bother and peck with attention? All this she gesticulated with exaggeration, lips pursing at every other word and hands flailing like some neglected Italian wife, holder used as a baton, smoke criss-crossing her image in white lines.
I recall you did mention that, yes. Trevor folded his hands behind again, glass dangling from the fingertips, trying to match the joke of the theatrics.
Just one minute, then, if you’re so impatient. If the prophet’s words characterized someone irritated and at wit’s end, his tone and demeanour was of the opposite, of a dutiful, gracious host at the bidding of his guest. He left them to go fetch something from the chest, as he did the previous night. He rummaged in there, they could see, though pulled nothing out for a while.
What do you think it will be this time? A clinking of ice. The woman took a sip of her bourbon-infused drink.
I don’t very well know, do I. He had a taste of his own.
That wasn’t my question, she chuckled.
I can’t guess.
I think it might be a gun. A big shotgun. This big. She spread her hands wide, parting the holder and glass a great distance to illustrate her point.
What would he do with a shotgun?
Shoot you with it.
He choked on the gulp just taken. Swallowed in the end. Held his throat. Adam’s apple stiff and hard against skin. What? Why? A croak.
What else did you think? Why would he bring you here? This is not a place where you belong. She waved her arms to encapsulate their surroundings, the grand house behind her. An arch of smoke dissolved above. Drink spilled on the patio. You know it. I know it. He definitely knows it. A violent finger tugged in the general direction; splashes and ice cubes flew to crash on the floor. What do you think that talk of different species was? He doesn’t consider you people of his class. He doesn’t consider you even human. You are here to be mocked and made fun of. You are here to be toyed with. A plaything. And when he is done teasing you, when he is done fucking you, he will kill you with no remorse or repercussions at all and do it all over again. Unless …
Here she stopped although there was no reason to. She eased back from where throughout she had leaned forward, eyes drilling into his with an unwavering intensity, words and teeth slicing into every pore. Gashes to bleed. The man came soon after, welcomed to their silence, carrying something behind his back. It was hefty, requiring both hands, and he had to squirm every now and then to keep it from falling, whatever it was.
I’m sorry to say the thing I was looking for wasn’t there, but I brought you a nice little consolation.
He did not present it but remained there with a twitchy expression on his face. His lips quivered.
There was a woman I had in mind when I heard you were coming. It was what you would expect from a person down there. Relatively young with track marks crawling up her arms. I promised her a sum to come here and she agreed. I did not give it to her of course. I knew what she would do with it. Lo and behold, she did it anyway. Thank god she was pregnant. We ripped out the baby just in time before it expired too.
In another world, the man would have brandished a shotgun and blasted him straight into the water, guts floating in the pool, screaming to be sent to high heaven. In another world it would not have been a baby he brought forth, nuzzled and wrapped in its pristine white blankets, asleep, its face full and healthy and ostensibly not the by-product of some junkie lowlife.
Noah stepped forward and held her out.
He came closer.
Even the woman seemed interested, craning her head and sliding the glasses down her nose.
He extended his own hands, about to retrieve her, to take her in.
I figured a couple of years, you might be ready to mate with her. The prophet looked at him. His teeth burst into a grin.
Without thinking without forethought without a sense of self without anything he swept the baby off his arms where it landed on the floor and began to wail while he grabbed the man and they tussled the man stronger than he imagined why did he fool himself look at those muscles it was the robe which was his undoing it fell off his shoulders he stepped on the bit dragging on the floor and slipped bringing him along they fell on their bellies one on top of the other by the edge of the pool he remembered this his naked form on top brushing where he was meant to enter only now it was different he grabbed the back of his head same as before fingers cloying around hair he whimpered as well only now his scream would not be from pleasure but horror as the brow came knocking down on the edge of the precipice and again and again and again until the yells waned and juices squirted and squeezed and the hard thump of solid on solid became soft and mushy and his head went deeper and deeper until there was hardly any head at all but a black mush seeping its contents out into the pool where it was watered down and trailed farther and farther in
He stood, face and body coated in blood. The baby cried, its hands freed and flapping from its bundle. The woman was still there in the same spot, looking at him. She nodded to the bawling child.
There can only be two of us, you know.
He picked the baby off the floor. Bloody handprints stained the blanket. His steps were painted red on the floor. His erect penis too was drenched, as though he had just fucked some girl on her period.
He walked beyond the body. It took him a moment to realize he only crossed the surface, the soles of his feet washed and cleaned in the water. The baby had stopped, giggling at his perplexed expression. He had to will a descent, think and picture the fact he wanted to be in the water for it to happen. It reached up to his waist. The baby got more excited, kicking and screaming. He looked at it, smiling its toothless gums at him. He dunked it in the water and kept it there until the ripples disappeared to calm and tranquil again. Even then he kept his hands underneath. A baptism of water and blood. Her eyes never left him