by RW Spryszak
The boys were there beneath the crooked stair. The long stair rambling in concrete bits with mouse holes and rain worn streaks. The stinking river dead and still just beyond. Some of them were writhing atop the bits of maze as if making love to the stone, the ancient stone. Some old woman who held a strange charm for their energy. Available and unmoving. But only stone, after all.
There were dangerous red banners and everyone tried at uniform. Belt buckles. Shoulder straps. Severe heads. The signatures of rank and the markings of cult. A wicked cult that meant harm to someone if only they could find a target. And the speaker, odd that I could not hear him from my open window for he seemed loud enough. The speaker hoarse and wild with fists and sweat and those not making love to the stones listening, rapt.
The whole world was down here by the river. Or at least the whole country. Even the birds and the worms they dug. The life of the city had moved down by the greasy river and there were cries to return to glory. Glory as if bored with all the calm. Bored of all the sameness. One last hit of adrenalin before the dotage. This seemed the only reason the old men joined the boys who were rubbing themselves on the remnants of the maze.
There were threats to rebuild the maze, despite what it meant. This was our national honor and the symbol of our history. Their red flags showed a kind of black maze in a white circle too.
There was the speaker. Waving arms and swearing vengeance on the world that abandoned the country. They'll take this and like it. We will return to our highborn spirit by the grace of these stones. All the cheering was in unison and at no time did the drumming stop.
I rubbed my eyes to rid myself of the scene, but only the colors changed. Blood red, animal shit green, black and hate and spleen. This was not safe. skinny men eyed me from the side. Who is this — what does he want — why is he not rubbing his body naked against the stones. I realized at once that I had done a foolish thing. Coming down here without a way to defend myself.
There were two men circling each other at the opening of a tattered red tent. There was a silhouette of a swan painted in chipped green paint on the canvas above them. They were within feet of each other, staring. Leering at each other. With hands on or near the pommels of swords in the scabbards at the sides. When one moved, the other grunted and countered. Neither of them blinked. One would growl the other would grunt. They would raise their voices doing this fro time to time. Especially if they felt the other was about to make a move and attack. Sometimes they et out a sharp Hey-hey-hey. To which the other would growl and curse. Always threatening Always circling. Sometimes in silence, but then growling again if one moved too close to their sword. Sometimes, as they jockeyed around, their noses came within inches of each other. Once in a while one would make a threatening growl and move his hand toward his sword handle. This led the other one to jog step to the side and grunt louder and lean in and threaten to pull out his sword as well. They went quiet and kept circling each other. Threatening each other. Both afraid to break contact lest the other one attack. Caught in an insane dance that was a metaphor for nothing.
I stopped a few yards from them. But had to find a way to get inside and got caught in their dance. They had swords, but I had none. So I was being twice as careful. We must have made quite a picture. Three men grunting and growling and circling each other. Any new move by either made the others growl and grunt Hey even louder.
I began to understand that I could influence their reactions by my moves. I came to this conclusion the longer I danced and threatened and grunted. My grunts and feints and stomps and shoulder jerks of my own design got reactions. All he wanted to do was get inside the tent. But I had to be careful.
I inched toward the tent opening. I stomped as I moved. Landing hard which made the one immediately to his left move back. This, in turn, made the third one grunt and pull back an inch as well. The concert of nations. The Congress of Vienna. Diplomacy. War games. Little by little I maneuvered them out of the way. When I knew I could make a clean break from this rumba I jumped inside. They rattled their swords and grunted Hey and growled louder, but it was too late. I was inside. They resumed their duet. Still audible inside.
The inside of the tent was cool and quiet. A toothless man scratched his matted hair said I wish they'd kill each other already. They're bad for business.
I looked out the opening. They were face to face once more, clutching their sword handles. Grunting away. How long have they been doing that? I asked.
He explained they'd been at it for days. They are there when I close up and go to bed and still there in the morning when I wake up. Sooner or later one of them will collapse from exhaustion if nothing else, I keep telling myself. But the next day comes and there they are again. Like the stars and the moon and the sun. As constant as two doting mothers. They never seem to sleep. I think they'll stay like that forever.
I had to get to business. A sack, I explained. Has anyone been through here carrying a sack? To which he closed his eyes.
What color, he wanted to know. How big? What's inside? I could not answer all his questions. Gray or brown. Big enough. But I never told him the contents.
It's missing, I explained. And important to me. Taken from my rooms just in the night while I was away.
You shouldn't be away, he shook his head. People shouldn't go away. They should stay home. He pointed out the tent. See where it leads? look at these crazy people? One of the young men rubbed himself against the old stones so hard he started to bleed. What do you call that? I had no answer.
The only thing I saw was the Daughter of the Saint here last night. Her men put something in her car. It might have been a sack.
Marta Vansimmerant. I said her name in my head and it conjured an image in a mirror at the back of the tent. A dark thing with sharp teeth. He saw the image startle me. Oh don't worry about that, he calmed me. That's just Louisa.
His daughter walked in through a back slit in the tent carrying a bucket. I made to go, but he bade me use the back way to avoid the two outside. They're insane. It's never going to end. Why bother? Look, he pointed at the ground just outside where they were. He showed me how they'd worn the ground down in an almost perfect circle. That's how long they've been at it for God's sake. I have half a mind to blow their brains out. But they're the future, so the others won't allow it.
I slipped through the back as he instructed. On the other side a solid line of men in steel helmets snapped to attention, then broke their discipline. Oh, someone spat, we thought you were someone else. They lit cigarettes and cursed me. Some were shaky, and broke rank to touch the wall and settled their nerves.
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