7. SOHOThe city is alive now. The last rays of the sun shoot through the air, the buildings along the main street rearing up to warm their faces in the last of summer's spent heat. Four now walk together spreading and collapsing, reforming, a single living thing that rolls from street to street, corner to corner. Honey glowed in a round tube. Sweet, sickly golden drops that stuck and were licked up and glistened still on lips and cheeks and chins. Greedily they swallowed up the gloopy delight until they burped and giggled and licked their lips again, looking from one to the other, eyes bright with excitement and sinister glee. The walls pull tighter and tighter, no trees now, just hard brick, stone, metal, and endless sheets of glass. Pulsing, hurting rhythms beat through the hard dirt ground driving up into bouncing feet. The music drags them deeper and deeper into the steel labyrinth and soon they lose themselves, eyes wide to the hordes and no thought of the blue sea or green grass. Smog steals from door to door and seeps through cracks under grates and clouds the sky beating back the last rays and turning the sickly twilight a greenish, pale red. The streets narrow, squeezed breath pushed through tight, tight alleys, crawling, jumping, flying through the city streets passing shades and dead eyes blearily thrust skywards. Deepening fog curls upwards around the steep sides of a low black hill and the four scramble to the peak. For a moment the heaving swells clear and their faces are brightly lit from below. Eight glinting eyes stare black, bright and living down on rust red walls, ears hear screams of joy and pain, and the manic laughter of ten-thousand hungry bodies rings out above the constant driving pounding, pounding music. Eight eyes stare wildly as eight feet leave the ground as eight mouths begin to chew and eight poor songs beat time down the hillside. The road is a blur as they speed through the outskirts, faster and faster, their feet tearing at the hard, black-cracked tar. Faster still until they begin to stumble and as their hands reach out nails extend and harden, palms stiffen and hair thickens and lengthens. With pounding paws they yap and snarl into the city, froth collects and sweeps away, matted blood stains bleeding shins and forelegs, the deep, bright red flickers above the burning streets. Deeper and honey-deeper they fly, biting at heels, snapping with their wolfish jaws, snarling with the snouts of chasing dogs that strain at the leash and, muzzled, snap and growl for fresh freedom and the hunt. Rounding a corner and there are the doorways, three great claws that stretch up and over the dirt mire of the street before plunging back down sharp and stabbing into the blackish mud. Colossal bricks, carved from the rusted iron hulking bodies of beached ships, rise up above and behind, casting thick shadows that swarm out and overlap. The great, dark entrance arches breath foul crimson smoke, pitched wails ringing out from the shadows. This is The City, the great red behemoth. This home of heaven's rejects, of the beautiful and the damned. The promise of honey thick, rich delights and the constant burring hum of that music drag four across the threshold and as their bouncing, hopping feet cross into the shadows at once — Music pounds along, heavy feet on the hard dirt ground, stringing together the unguarded and the sick that line the narrow roads. Eyes, mine, follow you from the smog that clings and snags as you push deeper and deeper into the cavern. All of life is here in this blasted, rotting, dungeon labyrinth. Sliding creatures and scuttling ones; howling, stinking beasts that yap and snarl through the streets, at once biting and mating and dying at the verge. Swarms of daggering flies and gigantic insects with the bodies of fat lizards glimmer and shriek, flitting in and out of the gloom. Sleek black dripping stings swinging venom, growling bloody maws bursting with ranks of blinding fangs. Unfrozen gargoyles with crunching claws and sharp-taloned wings. Looking down from each corner thick, punching tongues lick the line of glistening beaks, hungry panting icy breath, lidless eyes absorbing the revelry below. The streets cut and snap, tightening, running, twisted and knotted towards the molten centre of this black place. An opening ahead, blasted black earth and twisted dead wood. On five sides the close walls are lined with black glass and mirrors so that everywhere the four see themselves, multiplied and copied and grinning the drips of sweet, thick honey. The mirrors curve and as four become twenty then a hundred and more and more round, dead, smiling, eyes begin to laugh, a host of writhing figures throwing back their matted manes and roaring the sound of this primal bliss. 'You're beautiful.' Heavy breath on the back of the neck. 'Where are you going?' Turn quick but there's no one there, just the constant mass of shouting and laughter. 'I'll be waiting.' They shrug through the crowd and are shrugged themselves and kissed and pulled again. The glass is behind them now and the thick smoke descends, hot and smothering. Shooting, flickering flames spark and die and are burnt and catch at once. Sloping narrow tracks lead further still into this new stone world of hard grey. Hot slabs of scratched marble mosaic swirl in dizzying spirals growing out from the feet of the shadows that stick and suck on the walls of ashen rock. A crossroads blooms from the near horizon and the eight feet sound comes to an echoing stop. One head looks one way, another stares into the gloom another. All eyes are bleary and red from the smog and the burnt cinder press of the narrow streets. A third head knocks back and a swinging jaw gurgles as nothing-seeing eyes see nothing above. There's no sound now. You strain to hear the city that wraps all around you beyond the blank, muffling walls. There's no sound now. In an instant the hairs jab up on the back of your neck as a cold wind stings sharp through the fog. Clouds of white-hard smoke like a curse roll around your ankles and wisp, licking against your leg, your feet disappearing as you watch. Up to your waist you look each way again and again and one still looks up and now one looks back at you, blank eyes boring into what is left of you. You, with the cold wind smoke wrapped around your bare greyscale body. With the tendrils tapping at your skin, then with rough touch pulling and stretching and you're running again. One now, split from the others by freezing sheets of grey metal and the chasing ghostly snakes curling and bounding behind you. A maze appears, shifting walls that pull you through back streets and alleyways. Dully lit windows flash past above, streetlights that barely bloom through the thick grey. Ghostly faces leer out of the gloom, empty eyes and clawing hands that grasp blindly at you, tugging on your clothes and you skin. The foul dust of their breath makes you cough as you struggle on, stumbling and staggering. At the next corner, Pale Grey wrapped in black splits apart and becomes two. A voice like the rasping slither of knives against glass seethes and clicks from four frozen jaws. 'Where do I stop and you begin?' Two mouths become one then two again. Arms are legs, and chests are breaking into each other. 'You love me love you love me love you.' Transfixed you stand with the bleached, cold ocean lapping below. The Grey slips from the wall then blurs and begins to sweat and drip, thick drops of silver and slate splashing to the ground. Arms of softening steel reach down to collect the pooling jet that bubbles and spreads as the shape melts into the dead, rich earth. As the last glinting shards of soft smoke are enveloped the hungry black rises up coughing, spluttering out clouds of coal-soil. The earth all around begins to tremble as the shape of something breaks itself from the surrounding fog and a hulking body curled by the same smoke-flickered flames reaches out one long, tapered, spinal limb. Up into the air then bending, snapping down and shattering the solid smog that cracks against the marble ground. More razor-forged legs fly up and out and, hot as lightening, they shoot down, a rain of drumming snaps that ring out across the face of the stone sea. The smoke shifts and the world around you slows a hundred-fold. The wind's seething rasp drags to a hum and the ocean bays heavy and slow. A deep shout kicks thumping against the side of your head and you blink hard, turning with painful steadiness to see the other three. They must have been with you all along, tripping and laughing in the fog. Two are already turning and one stares with wide, terrified eyes, mouth opening to shout again. Why are they shouting? The smoke circles around your neck now, pressing closed as your eyes start to gloss and their colour seeps liquid, two thin streams drifting out into the night. What are they running from? Grey shapes flicker against the backs of your eyes, and you feel the lids begin to close. Soft white holds you now, closely pressing at your arms and legs and lifting your back and slipping into your hand. Hold me close, now. Drift me away. A breath escapes your lips as they part to let the air slip out. You look down to see your body floating below. How peaceful it looks, hair gently drifting in this cold, holding wind... But as you rise higher and higher, feeling yourself dragged closer to the great monstrous, many-legged beast above you, a figure breaks through the icy walls that surround you. Another hand grasps at yours and pulls hard and you're running again. The white clutches after you and the wind roars a storm as you pound the earth, you behind one, behind one, behind one who leads blindly, crashing against the cold stone and shouting up at the endless, impassive steel. Except the walls have begun to redden and blue-black muddy and you've seen these streets before, the earth beneath your feet is rich and dark and bubbling and crawling with deathly life. The cold creature pants heavily, painfully, angry at the escaped prey. The walls are glass and reflecting again. You see me running ahead and it's a surprise to see the excitement in my eyes, wild and guilty with the thrill. The walls begin to glow blue with heat as you run further from the cold, grey sea bed. The creature is roaring in pain now, burnt shards of its frozen legs spray against the hot black night sky. A sharp turn down another street and now the glass is glowing white hot and as you hold up your hands to shield your burnt-out eyes the light flares a booming, roaring, infernal, guttural scream. The ring of the explosion whispers waves through alleyways and up into the electric red, blue-black sky, then dies.*All four are giddy with the heat from the city and the thrill of the chase. They tumble down an alley and look greedily at each other, breaking out into body-shaking laughter. One leans against a bin which crashes down and the others laugh more. As they pick themselves up with the dirt and damp they pull another down and soon a third is rolling in the street, laughing and pulling and throwing light punches and tugging on jacket sleeves. The fourth stands apart, back against a door off the backstreet. They look up and squint with one eye to stop the lights pitching as they focus on the moon. Funny moon. Pink moon. But it's not a moon, the red round glowing neon circle with three pink dots. Eyes light up and everyone is on their feet and trying the door which doesn't open. Then one is running and crashing against it and the thin metal buckles, bending slightly at the lock. The bolt inside holds but the small screws don't and with a splintering crunch the door swings open. They stand by the doorway, nothing but darkness inside. Eyes flicker dim and gold, from one to another and then they're stepping in, pulling the door behind them with a crash. The corridor is narrow and damp and the musty smell of the street lingers in the darkness. Giggling and spitting the four feel their way down the hall, tripping on a short flight then feeling for a handle to the door. They tumble through into another room. Even in the darkness they can feel the size of it, stretching away from them, long and low. 'The fuck is this place?' They fan out looking for clues. One of them stumbles and nearly falls, feels soft carpet below. 'Jack, what is this place?' She finds a chair and sits, head falling and jerking up, then bouncing down again and she hits the floor. 'Shit.' Someone else laughs. 'Fuck off.' But she's laughing too. She's feeling her way back up the seat, it's hard plastic and stirs a memory somewhere, some childhood feel and taste. Colours rush into her head, red and black stripes on shoes, blue and red mixing to make purple in a plastic cup with a straw, white surface with a floating red puck. 'No way...' She feels her way along the half circle of chairs and onto the floor beyond. The wood is smooth. Switch flicked and the lights shutter on over the vast expanse of sixty feet long, eight lanes wide. Nobody wants to play, but someone goes behind the desk and hits every button, flicks every switch. The alleys buzz and hum into life. The ball-belts burr and rattle, spinning the length of the room. The cogs at the pin end shift and clunk then the fat mechanical hands swing down and eight sets of ten pins are held on the track. The hands swing up and eight fresh lanes glow with electric blue light on polished light brown wood. 'Wait. I'm gonna-' He puts one foot up onto a seat, then steps onto the ball rack. 'Jack, don't.' Claire calls from where the couple are leaning together against the pool table. She's buried in him, with huge jumper and scarf arms wrapping her up in a Let him. 'He'll-' 'He'll be fine.' Jack stands with both feet on the rack, he goes to step up onto a ball, but thinks better of it. 'What are you doing?' The buzz of the run is searing through him, pushing his eyes up and out, glaring glee that laughs and sings and will die before sunrise. 'When we're out here-' A voice calls out from the back and a bottle goes up. 'When we are out here!' There's some shushes and grumbling, then they settle again. 'When we're out here, in this place where not a soul can touch us...' What a speech it was that followed. You standing up there by the ball rack, or you sitting in the half-ring of plastic chairs, or you standing with your arms wrapped around, or you wrapped up drifting away. The next day you tried to remember what he said, or what you said. It had been so... mesmerising. Rifling through the scraps and sheets. Where is it where is it? Written down on one of these- where is it? For God's S- Ah here it is. A list of... This isn't it. Keep rifling, keep looking under the- Oh did you take it down... No, it's got to be somewhere- It isn't. Nobody has it, a record of what was said or done. You stumble around blearily searching for any clues as to... Forget it. What would you do with, whatever, anyway. Pick up your phone and check if there's any... there isn't. Not a picture or word. Start to doubt yourself then laugh, oh laugh. Grin up at the ceiling and flop back and- deep sleeping sighs and- sleep.
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