Chapter Twenty-One

In bar. Slept a bit. Woke in middle of night. Commotion outside. Town was alive! I was right, they are night owls. Town was dead during the day, but at night it is like a carnival. Lights and garlands criss-cross the main street (Torpor Avenue) and it is like being under spider’s web of lights. There is music everywhere. Organs, cellos, whistles, bells and a Theremin. All of them at once. Was spectacular. 

Along Torpor Avenue stood the townsfolk. Women on one side of street, men on other. Smiling. Pointing, grinning, laughing, eyes wild. I stood and watched. Strange Couldwell ritual I guess. Men all bowed at once. Then, on other side of road, women all curtsied back. Women had ball gowns on, cut off at shoulder, elasticated around upper arm. Frills and lace petticoats on show. Boots laced up to ankles. Looked like whores but had faces like Baronesses. Men all in white shirts and waistcoats. Buttoned up to neck. High collars, bow ties. Bowler hats, dusty winkle-picker boots, gun-belts. Peacemakers. Every other man had long tail-coat. All had pencil thin moustache. 

I had none. Thought about drawing one on. To blend in. Decided against it. What use? That subterfuge would be undone by lack of other appropriate garb. Stood at top of Torpor Ave and watched the men bowing and women curtseying back. Then they all, in line, stepped forward into street and stood nose to nose. They kissed each other. Eyes and mouths open. Each leaning forward, lips puckered. A kiss. Then they all leant back. No emotion. Well, no emotion that matched any of mine. Each line took three steps back onto the boardwalk. Back to original position. Music continued. 

The women began to laugh. There were giggles at first, then laughs, then howls, then hysterics. Suddenly a bell tolled a single solemn tone and every woman stopped laughing on a rouble. At the ring of a second bell and every man drew his gun and shot their opposite woman! Sprays of blood and brain everywhere! Like fireworks or detonations of paint. I was rooted to the spot. I could feel vomit in back of my throat. Then, the men drew on themselves, held the pistols out, turned them onto their face, pointed towards their foreheads and, as if telepathically linked (I know you scoff at the notion, but it could be possible, even more so in this world) they fired. Again, an explosion of powdered blood and brains over the shop fronts and down they fell!

Despite my repulsion, I managed to control my nausea. The music stopped and the moon dimmed. Silence. 

Then a giggle…and a laugh…then hysterics! The bodies, lying on the floor, missing the backs of their heads, turned to me and smiled. Slowly they stood and all turned to me. I didn’t flee. Didn’t move. I was a statue. 

They smiled broadly and in an instant a feeling of calm washed over me. Remembered suddenly a prayer Mother taught me. As a child, Brekker, I had awful nightmares. Nightmares of apocalypse, of death, of drowning, of atomic hurricanes. Would wake up in sweats and raw panic. Panic and fever. Mother would appear like a kindly spectre, out of the shadows with a candle and we would pray together. We said:

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio. Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur. Tuque princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen.

As I uttered those words as a child, all fear would leave and I would sleep as a baby. That memory is not a dune and I think maybe, it never will be. Though most of my mother is dust (in body and in memory) that prayer remains. Her face is blurred, but the feeling is there and I felt it when the dead smiled at me on Torpor Avenue. 

I was overcome with a sudden euphoria. The blood trickling on their foreheads looked like wine, the brain matter on the floor like cake. Their lifeless bodies like pillows and duvets and I felt home again. All because of those smiles. 

Then, as quickly as they had died, their life came back into them. The blood faded away, the brain matter dissolved and the music started up. The men held out an arm, the women took it, and they all danced in the street! Joyous, mad dancing. Dervishes! Under the glowing spider’s web of lights they danced. Then fireworks came. Hurtling over the ridge (from the point of the glinting star) they came hurtling as if sent by catapults into the courtyard of a besieged city. 

I thought they would hit us, but they detonated in the sky above, showering us all in golden sprites of light! Brekker it was as God himself had laughed. Or as you would say, it would be as if Planck himself had clapped his hands. Such was the power. I ran headlong into the ecstasy of Torpor Avenue! I was mad! Crazed! In love with these strange risen dead! I was hoisted up by a fat man I recognised as Mr H_. Hoisted right onto his shoulders and he spun me around, under the fireworks and the garlands!

The crowd all cheered my name. They cheered for me and carried me to the bar. Here I sit now, in the corner, writing this entry. The people are merry, singing dancing and laughing and joking. They have now ignored me, but I do not feel excluded, just merely taken aside by myself to document this. Of all the things I expected to find in Couldwell, this was not one of them. Going to get another drink.

I have spied a woman in the corner. She is looking at me as I write this. She looks familiar, though I cannot place her. She has the most beautiful, wondrous cataract and her dress is wrapped around her like a whirlwind. I am in love, I am sure of it! I will finish this entry, have another drink and go and talk to her!

Graham Thomas