Sunday, 21 October 2007
A Soft Padding Sound.
"CBD apartment available. Great city views. Comes with rooftop garden fully equipped with Browning 50 Calibre machine gun. No vampires please. Ask for 'Speedy' Bob Neville".
Dear sports, this is Chapter 2 of Night Swallows West, my feeble attempt at a last man on earth scenario as a short story, influenced outrageously by Richard Matheson's I Am Legend sans vampires. Of course, I was motivated by that groovy cult piece of very good cheese from 1971 The Omega Man.
It starred "the man, and I do mean, The Man", Chuck Heston, as they say, mostly "eating up the scenery". Much as the truly great actor did in Planet of the Apes, Major Dundee, Will Penny, Ben Hur and so on. With Chuck, no matter how much suspension of disbelief is required, Heston always has the presence and ability to hit the mark every time.
I started this thing about seven years ago then shelved it until I felt I could do a little better. I'm looking forward to the new film version of I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. Looks pretty neat, kinda creepy and perhaps quite moving. The illustration is from that production. [Update: The script, the absurd CGI Gummi bear mutants and Will Smith all sucked. Just like the appallingly bad remakes of Planet Of The Apes and The Time Machine. Ugh.]
Chapter 3 in this perhaps deservedly unpublished series will be called Insect Kingdom.
Here is Chapter 1 A figure on the Landscape.
Chapter 2. 'A Soft Padding Sound'.
The sun rose higher over silent buildings above the mean air of broken downtown mains that expelled dark and slowly moving rivulets of liquid, feeding into larger bubbled pools and streams of greenish black. Peeps drove fast as the day hit its mid point and the light upon the buildings as he passed them, gave the effect of flickering playing cards, the warm light absorbing the last of the morning haze.
Stopping in the middle of an intersection he got out and looked up at the front of a building on which there was a giant billboard. With the bright daylight and the silence of the empty street, the city appeared hollowed out like a corn stalk. From the billboard, the image of a face looked down at him. Standing alone in the middle of the junction, the sensations of frustration that moved through his skin and muscle were as thousands of tiny and independently rising tremors. Standing on the road, he eased them away, letting out a fatigued moan, and then walked over to a cracked fire hydrant that was releasing a jet of white water into the gutter. Splashing his face under the softly falling mist at its edges, he took a cloth from his pocket and wiped himself down.
Releasing the handbrake and sliding into gear, he moved toward the middle of two lanes and drove on. As the vehicle made the flat ridge of a hill, its heavy body mounted a kerb onto deeply stained pavement. Turning the wheel, it described a semi-circle, so that the nose of the truck pointed towards the street and the body was at a diagonal to an immense electronic screen, now a washed out, patchy and motionless black. Drained of glowing image, it was affixed to the vast face of a multi-story stone columned department store that lead on to a labyrinthine network of alleyways and side streets.
The entrance of four large glass doors was pushed back to either side and covered in a thick greasy dust was framing a permanently open maw, like a mouth gasping for air. The engine of the machine began to cool, the steel hood contracting with sporadic cracking sounds like breaking bones.
A wide canopy jutted out at a hard angle, sheltering the sidewalk along the face of the entire length of the building and on the roof of this overhang, a single loose sheet of tin curled up like a frozen limb and tapped at odd intervals in the light breeze. Stepping onto the bitumen, he looked up toward the likeness of a great round figure that sat slumped upon the top of the greying metal of the canopy.
Slowly surrendering its bulk and features to the elements, was a large polystyrene snowman; the bubbled flesh pitted and eaten away in hundreds of gouged and melting pockets. One eye had fallen to its curved chest, where it was gradually burrowing its way down into the gut, forming a vertical shaft. A long corncob pipe, at a parallel with the roof, cast a shadow down the front and across three large and faded buttons. The pieces that formed the mouth had long since dissolved and the place where its crescent shape would have been was instead eaten away, cancer-like, by the steady effects of wind, rain and sun.
The form of the pipe was held in place by attachment to a long bolt that went into the back of its head, which joined a central piece of tubing acting as a brace and forming a backbone. One arm held the tattered remains of an umbrella, as the other lay disconnected against its side. A few strands of bare wire draped back from the body to the wall behind. A blackened mess of decorations lay strewn in broken and unrecognizable pieces around the base, while the remnants still hung wreath like across the filth slapped belly.
Past the glass doors, the interior of the building was centrally illuminated from high above by a vast skylight in the shape of a great domed glass bell, now opaque and mildew covered and straddling the centre of a plaza. The gaping holes and clear glass that remained allowed the sun to flood down the sides of two freestanding, glass and steel lift-wells directly beneath.
The light formed a blemished circle of illumination on the ground. From the top floor of the plaza, a small stream of water ran quietly down the rusted, bacteria-greened escalators and washed over the end of the last metal stair. Forming a shallow pool, the dirty water spread outside onto the pavement and along the gutter, following the gradient of the road. The flow continued down to the basement and then to the several levels of car park below as black, gasoline slicked and oily shallows.
Next to the lift wells was a two-story high Christmas tree made from steel, aluminium and plastic, its pyramid-like form carrying a heavy coating of dust and dirt that bent towards the ground, the millions of needles that made up its drained and washed out body. Hundreds of coloured and filth specked electric light globes covered a slowly rotting mass, while the many lengths of barely distinguishable ribbons sagged about its slag-like heap.
Under the dappled sunlight, he padded lightly across towards the stairs at the far side of the centre, where he stopped for a moment and looked upon a crumpled group of bones. A small form sat in a car ride and on a bench was an adult and a younger figure. A second figure was slumped against the fibreglass neck of a horse. The shredded remnants of their clothing moved slightly in the air. They had always been there, or so it seemed to him, as all that went before seemed less real than now. As he turned away, he spoke to them as he sometimes did to those that he came upon.
The timber of the steps was moist and sticky as he walked briskly onto the second floor and moved away from the atrium, towards the lines of shop fronts where the light became less penetrating and allowed shadows to form in the damp murk. He walked casually through the ripe funk of decay and towards the display racks, from where he removed a small sports bag before exiting out the other side of the store. Keeping a distance between himself and the unlit interior, he followed the line of the balcony along the wide concourse.
Turning into a corridor that led on to a stairwell, he strode up several levels, the light becoming progressively darker, before he pushed against a horizontal bar that opened a door into the bright light of a rooftop parking area. Wiping off a warped and weathered table, he sat down on the warm surface and put his feet on a chair. Placing the empty bag at his side, he took out his pistol from its holster, removed the magazine for a moment then slotted it back in as it made a small clicking sound. For perhaps twenty minutes, Peeps wrote in a small notebook, until a feeling of fatigue came over him. Getting up, he stretched and walked casually over to the wall at the edge of the car park and looked down and along the street, then into the distance for some considerable time.
Turning away, he got up, put the notebook in the bag and moved quickly down stairs, across the plaza and on into the half-light of an arcade. Its cold, dim interior led out onto a narrow sun filled side street of specialty shops, where seats and tables were set out on the pavement, with many tipped over and spread along the road. Entering a cafe, he placed the bag on the counter, and removed several bags of coffee from a shelf, placed them inside the bag, then left.
Stepping through the rear entrance of a large bookstore cool and stale, he placed two slim volumes in the bag and walked steadily back the way he had come. Returning to the vehicle he placed the bag in the boot, reached for a small folding chair then placed it in the morning sun, giving him a clear view down the hill and on through several intersections receding into the distance. From a box he took a small bottle and a book. Returning to the chair he sat and began to read, returning occasionally to several pieces that had lodged in his mind. Looking toward the sky he took a cloth from his pocket and began to clean his sunglasses.
Suddenly he coughed loudly several times and the sound of it bounced sharply off steel, glass, marble, concrete and tile cutting across the surface of buildings. For several blocks, this one sound penetrated the silence as each material modified it slightly, repeating and creating a kind of feint and weird amphitheatre. Peeps breathing became steady and he fell into a semi-doze then a deep sleep as his body slumped to one side, the day slowly falling into afternoon.
Against his face a soft push of warm air gradually brought him to consciousness as he stood up and twisted slowly. Placing everything back into the vehicle, Peeps got in and slowly drove off from the kerb. In the cabin a light hiss emanated from a radio receiver and transmitter that swept and cycled continuously through each frequency. Apart from the effects of weather and oscillation, it never varied from a clear monotone.