Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aldred Comes Out of the Fog

The darkness is overpowering. He imagines it as a layer of moss growing between his brain and his skull. He ignored it for too long, and now the space between the soft and the hard is packed tight, and he is blind. Coherent thoughts and sensations that once moved freely between the inside and the outside now burrow halfway through the mossy darkness before being stilled, stopped and suffocated.

"What are you thinking about? Hmm?"

He wishes he knew.

"Oy, Aldred. Oy! Yo! Hello? Hello?"

Fingers snap beneath his nose. The sound comes to him through the olfactory center, synesthetically hitting his brain as the mixed smells of vinegar and burning moss. The smell overpowers the darkness, lightly, but enough that thoughts and sensations begin to move again.

The needy face of a small dog.
A sunny morning in Crete.
A heap of green oranges and orange bell peppers.
Mountford, in a tattered undershirt, yelling something about "foul cologne-drinking Portuguese ruffians."

"Oh lord, I remember that! They completely ruined his bootlegging operation and flipped him to the Guardia into the bargain. He was furious. He ran out and bought an atlas, an expensive one too, just to rip out the page with Lisbon on it to wipe his ass with. Appallingly childish gesture that, but that's Mountford all over, isn't it?"

It's a woman's voice, a voice he should know.

"I saw him recently," Aldred mutters. He is blinking, trying to see anything other than grayness, but his eyes are apparently a few minutes behind his nose and ears.


"It didn't end well."

"It usually doesn't." He can see a bit of motion in the gray now, and her voice seems to be coming from there. "Frankly, I don't know why you continue to have anything to do with him. Or he you for that matter. You're both terribly terribly bad for each other, and you're both terribly terribly aware of that fact. Yet you persist in getting in each other's way."

There is shape now to the movement.

"Couple of latent homosexuals if you ask me."

There is now sharp outline to the shape.

"You ought to let him tup you and have done."

There is now color within the outline.

"Or you him, whichever. All I'm saying is that it would do the universe a world of good —or maybe just the world a universe of good— if you boys would give in and get your silly repressed lusts out of your systems."

There is now a gray haired woman in her mid-fifties in the outline. She wears a smart tweed suit, a muted green check affair. She has the air of someone who has practiced at being clever long enough that it has become a near substitute for wisdom. A lit cigarillo is in her hand, an affectation designed purely to distract people by getting them to ask themselves the question "Where on earth does one even buy cigarillos in this day and age?"

"Did you say 'tup'?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"You do know it's the 21st century, right? Has been for a while?"

"I realize you're coming out of a bit of a fog and might feel a touch grumpy, but try not to be too much of a smartass, dear."

"Sorry, I don't know where my manners are. Hello Mercury."

"Hello Aldred."

"Pardon the cliché, but where am I?"

"Would you believe Bucharest?"

"I would not."

"Good. We're in Bethlehem."

"The Jesus town or the steel town?"

"The latter. You were found wandering around downtown Philadelphia, waving a reindeer antler in a threatening manner and shouting something about geometry. Spheres, I believe."

"Oh dear."

"Mmm. Luckily, I happened to be in town, attempting to clear my own head with a bit of history."

"What, the Liberty Bell and all that?"

"Don't knock it. Lots of strength to be drawn from an object like that, if one knows how to approach it sensibly. At any rate, I found you and instantly knew that you needed to be taken someplace quiet yet industrial."

"That's a very specific thing to know instantly."

"You're quite easy to diagnose dear. Oh, and I was already planning on coming out this way for some antiquing anyway. So things had lined up nicely. They often do."

Aldred is finally able to make sense of the room. It appears to be the sort of oppressively tasteful space that she has always favored. Probably a bed and breakfast, probably owned by an old married couple, probably banal and deadening and far too cozy. He's never understood why she favors places like this, but he can't deny that she draws a certain energy from them. Her witchery has always been a clandestine thing, disguised with tweeds and doilies. Aldred finds it baffling, but he's respected it ever since he saw her garrote a man four times her size with an eyeglass chain.

He tries to stand, and the room lurches sickeningly, gray pouring back into his field of vision. She grasps his shoulders and pushes him back down into what turns out to be a rocking chair.

"No dear, I don't think you should get up just yet." She tosses an afghan over him, binding him down with a series of sinister tucks and folds. "You stay right there. I'll just go and see if they've got something pleasant yet medicinal for you. Tomorrow we'll see about getting you back in...alignment, shall we say?"

Aldred smiles vaguely and watches her leave the room. As soon as the door closes he struggles against the afghan, but it's no use, he's bound tight to the rocker. He tries to resign himself to his fate, but the last time Mercury used the word "alignment" at him it resulted in a three month physical and metaphysical training course and a near psychotic breakdown. He'll have to start planning an escape soon , but for now there's nothing to do but let the accursed cosiness cover him and try to mend.

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