Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Masters of the Phantasmal II

Masters of the Phantasmal 


By TeJay Henderson

   Somewhere “bloodshed” becomes a man’s best tie to money and women. And it only means more hell for Alshon. In his business, fights, stabbings, shootings, the mere thought of it all keeps him on edge. A man slays another man, money gets light, and it’s another win for Alshon’s anxiety.

     Last weekend a shooting ties up the strip: Alshon trudges through the crowd, reaches the center, and puts stern eyes on a dying man. He keeps cool all night. Locks up as usual. Gets home—reflects for hours. And a panic attack hits. “Door is getting slim," he grumbles. He can only shake it off by staring through his window and contemplating how “money is everywhere.” The stirring outside settles, and he reminds himself with a taut voice: “Can’t reach ‘em, can’t teach ‘em. ”

     He’s good for those one-liners. “Your network is your net worth,” he says merrily. He’s a guy who could be subtle wearing a red carnation, or who patches things between people—the guy everyone knows and adores. Everyone believes they know all about him, but no one knows of his love for seeing a woman bleed. For years, it was “blood-sex” that takes off the edge. Seeing blood flow between a woman’s legs or drip down his erection is the one feeling that lulls him.

     On the outside, he is a purveyor of connections between strangers— ingenious with their problems, but on a deeper level, negligent with mending the ties of his own. Living within two different worlds, silence becomes the best way to deal. And it wasn’t all about saving face. Alshon and Anxiety keep their own understanding. Signs will always be ever-present. The future will always loom. And somewhere down the road, when their patience wears thin, there’s a path he’s left to walk alone.

     “Persist and you can learn to live with anything,” he says.  The onlookers, mere acquaintances, all say “you’re being tested!” and that “blessings are on the way.” But Alshon knows life with anxiety is a wretched bond.

     Lately he steps on his balcony, eyeing a world below, and he becomes nervous from all the placards—“Missing.” Every peep on the Ave, every report of kidnappings, homicides, sends a surge of emotions through his body. He has over ten years experience down there. It was dive bars in his 20's. Long Nights. Fast women. His palate evolves—strange sex. All those years go by.

     Now a Fresh 34-years-old and a snag in business puts him in a slow lane. “That prideful ass.” She always comes around, frivolous with her money. He keeps plans for a prominent nightspot. But the owner is a desperate man. And the investors simply “wait in the wings.” “The writing’s on the wall,” he says. 10 years promoting, managing, you name it—gone. “Big money gets what it wants,” along with his fantasies of being the “King of 7th Ave.”

     Now before heading out, he wavers between an uncertain tomorrow and an inventory of bad memories. Pacing. Muttering. He storms through his apartment—alone.  While he can just imagine the onlookers, saying: “It was a good run,” and “you’ll be a legend down here.”

     But nothing is louder than the world outside the window: clacking heels, beeping horns, loud bass, panhandlers begging for change.

     He checks below and, for the second time today, a black Mercedes van passes by. And there’s no way he could mistake a Sprinter van. And because it moves so steadily down the road, he stands above the carousers—thinking:

“Somewhere two people are waiting to collide, and their lives will never be the same.”

     He pulls from the window and turns to the theater of his mind. And there’s the mealy-mouthed kid, the young Alshon. He prolongs a vigil, watching for an ensanguined woman. And she appears! With her deformed breast and burning red eyes!
     He skips in time, and now he’s a man. And anxiety, a much louder voice, says, “you’ll surly lose the pleasure of seeing her bleed.”
     He wasn’t a depraved man—but seeing a woman’s blood goes back farther than most are willing to believe. It begins as a phase (vicious fights after school, hair pulling, failing arms, skinned knees, a bloody nose!) and later bloodlust matures into a fetish.

     And the one place to pursue your “prurient interest” is Ybor City. Since the times when sailors arrived in their schooners, men sought Tampa for its booze and the sure fire pleasure from its women.

     It’s here, on this lively strip of bars, where he lives in a brick apartment, a relic watching over a long cobbled stone street, where Saturday nights begin quietly, couples holding hands, others dining in the window. While above, two bodies lay on a soiled bed.

     As usual, G.G. breaks the silence. She carefully watches as Alshon stares at the crimson staining her inner thigh. But she’s at ease. She loves his newly found repose. She loves the look in his eyes because she knows that Alshon no longer peruses the past, nor ventures into an uncertain future, but that he’s in the here and now. That’s where G.G. is most at ease, and that’s when they’re most in sync.  

     Only when the bustle down below picks up, she reminds him of the hour. But this time he’s unusually distant.

     She never prods but instead takes her customary bath.  As a ritual, she fills the apartment with her music: because of G.G. he knows the voice of Kelela’s, and Kehlani’s.  

     Her effect on him is so great that in her absence, there are times when his hands tremble in angst. “All this ridiculousness” he mutters.

     It was G.G’s catch phrase, her response and remedy for everything that went wrong—but it doesn’t palliate his isolation. Instead grief forms in the air. So overbearing that when G.G. reenters, the room is no longer rife with trust, intimacy, or vulnerability, but a room that’s now barren.

     A quick glance, and she starts. There’s the sound of clacking heels entering the window, there’s the sweet voice in the background, and there’s a solemn Alshon gawking at the blood on his growing erection.

     He nurses his lower abdominal, and the throbbing in his lap settles gradually. While there’s something about standing in his shirt, imagining his thoughts, that G.G. begins to see Alshon as a ruin among mere things: a moon phase wrist watch, a cheap suit, an array of colognes, a shiny device. And there a desolate man sits; partly lost in himself, for he slowly notices G.G. and next the voices from the street.

     G.G. knows what the world below does to him. She knows his secrets.  He shares childhood stories of his father the journeyman, who preferred  “30’ up on a pole,” over a world running “from the right to the left.” She knows the truth about the “enterprising promoter” whose best hustle is actually flipping Mercedes headlights. And although she shares much of herself, there’s a lost look in Alshon’s eyes that compels her to leave.

     Without a second thought, she slides on her denim. And she can feel him eying her golden legs, her buzz cut, with the part on side that he loves so much. And she can feel him, in his daze, centering on her diamond shaped face. It is true. G.G’s essence, if only for a moment, could oust any bad memory. But with the rattling of the phone, even G.G. rivals the world below.  He’s hesitant to answer, so she believes the phone and the window relate in way that screams “trouble.”

“Surviving out there like this, it’s getting trickier,” he confesses. “The hardest part is knowing you’re on a leaky ship—now you made plans, but it don’t look you’re gonna get there.”
     By then the street begins its slow pulse of life. G.G turns the volume down on her phone, and vulnerability once again suffuses the room. It at least feels like a silence, a peace, which G.G longs for. She finds him slumping over but tries her damnedest to remain stoic. With just seconds from speaking her first mind, Alshon’s phone rattles the bed.

“At least I can see through this whole facade. I know what they’re looking for, and I know what’s actually there. And I know years down the road, none of it matters.”

“What I know?” She says, stuffing her bag, “all that reflecting or ‘futuring’—as you call it—I know that’s slow death. You fail to realize that, after all this, and you expect me to just be of service to you.”

     She looks up to a dark body, damp from sweat, a lowly man she wants to console. But the moment he turns to the window, she gathers a canvas bag, and shortly the front door slams shut. The apartment, empty as ever—and isolation returns. Voluminous cloud of fear. Motionless night. The street invades the room. And for third time the phone rattles at his side—INCOMING CALL FROM JAKE—an irate voice bellows on the other end.

“Jesus-fucking-Christ! So you’re not fucking picking up now? That’s how it works?”

“Why don’t you fix yourself a drink, Jake? Hm? Shit, fix me one, too. Get me something real nice like a Manhattan. You know? Something to relax.”

“Just. Get here, Alshon. Please. Fucking jog if you have to.”

     Alshon flips over the fear in Jakes voice, thinking of the angles. And after he fiddles with his suit, he pins on a boutonniere and muddles out the door. It’s only a few blocks before he meets Jake—the lucky bastard who’s old man “bequeathed” him the famous “La Fabula Restaurante.”

     It had been on the strip since 1905, and had even seen the days of the long gone “Las Novedades”—the first restaurant to open its doors to Ybor. It was La Fabula that had enchanted Alshon, ever since a boy, where the mere sight of Spanish archways—pulling him into a charming dining room, with its tables topped white cloths—would stretch his imagination to the Romanesque alleyways of Cuba, and always to the days of Thompson's and 30’s Buick's.

     Now as he walks those few blocks, he feels the brutal hands of time, tightening with each step.  Hands roll fresh cigars in the window. Young faces gracefully pass, budding college girls, some with wide hips, and others with strong legs, wearing shiny heels. Even when the engines of a pack Harley’s light up the night, or when pipes of an old Chevy fire shots in the air, Alshon only notices the passing ten years of the same motley men, the same pretty faces falling into his lap, and the same boxed Chevy’s passing by—as if those brutal hands reveal themselves for the first time, and their grip is far tighter than expected.

     He gets there, inside a sensuous dining room, where the lights are dim, and where the mood imbues a feeling of romance, and nostalgia begins to rise, if it wasn’t for Jake with his lost stare before two glasses of red liquid.  In the mirror is the perfect reflection of a humbled man. He’s usually the asshole who talks down to people, and has the gall to back it up with led feet and a few haymakers. Now he looks so forlorn the music seems to just whisk by.

     It’s early, but at least a few couples enjoy a glass of wine.  The mixer was really a one off night, a prohibition theme party, where 30 something’s drank all the way to 3 a.m. It seems, these days, a hook is best way to get people out. Men wear suits, the women—extravagant attire, though few hit the mark of the depression era and attendance is up and down. It’s still Alshon’s favorite event.

     He passes by laughter, and sneaks a look at a familiar woman in a glimmering dress. But he couldn’t neglect the sullen man at the bar.

“Where’s your suit?"
“No. No lectures on business tonight. Not now.”
“No. Look around— you always gotta be the odd man out?”
“Heh. Not many can pull off the carnation.”
“Jake,” he says shaking his head, “what was all that on the phone?”
“Apparently women prefer men who drink cocktails.”

“You cryin’ wolf, Jake? You got me all dressed up. No wolf. Or is she your wolf?” Alshon says, with a finger pointing at the mirror.

     Jake slumps in his stool, finally breaking his glance from her reflection, a regal woman in a burgundy dress.

“She said she wanted to talk to you about cost—stuff I know! I said, ‘why?’ I’m here. Then she tried the fuck out of me. Pulling this shit with the music. I yelled.”

Alshon’s squints his eyes—the discerning logician.

“All right. I cursed her. I cursed her a lot. Now—The great “Baroness” only wants you—“

“Man, Jake—

“No. The shits she’s pulling—“


“It’s deliberate.”

“Seriously. You need help, an intervention—something.  You have so much, but can’t get passed what’s in that mirror. ”

“Of all fucking people—THE EYE-RO-KNEE. Preacher man, I got news for you. She finally bought that building. Today. Yeah. You think there’s free rides after that? Fuck no. We all need something, Alshon.”

     Jake finishes a tirade, but he still runs hot.  And instead of breaking from the mirror, he pours his rigid eyes into an angry man. He feels Alshon hovering over, but he only has the heart to check for his reflection. In a world made of glass, a calm man works on his tie, and he claims his drink from the bar. While Jake knows somewhere in that mirror, there’s a woman watching him with a haughty smile.

“Before I go talk to my new boss, tell me something. Did you always have plans to sell that building?”

“No. Not at first.“ Jake says to the mirror, “It’s sounds grim. But there’s no rules for climbing out a hole, Alshon…”

“…Depends. You gotta be able to live with yourself, too ” he says, gazing at Jake’s profile.

     With an air of nonchalance, he turns around, and the “Baroness,” signals. It was Jake’s father who gave her the title, and in good humor she runs with it. The rumors say her lineage traces back to Spanish nobility. But Alshon always calls her Catalina. Every time she speaks of lofty stories of “España”, he holds his tongue with the visuals of mysterious beauties with Jet Black hair and enchanting eyes. Though "The Baroness" is far from puerile fantasies. She’s a pale woman—late 40’s—dull eyes, with thin lips and brown hair.

     He walks over and you can feel a boost in her ego. But there’s something more striking about her counterpart. Even approaching from behind, he’s taken by her shimmering sequin dress, a brilliant red, with an open back revealing rich brown skin.

     He introduces himself, asking for her name, and her response—tepid eyes penetrating a mass of natural hair. There’s a short pause before the word “Donna,” falls from her lips.

“Not to be rude, Catalina. Maybe it’s the music making people tense. I’m mean, it is unsettling”—

"Death, he’s a ridin’
He will not pass you by.
He’s ridin’ at every doe’.
Whether you are ready or no.
But you got to meet your death one day.”1

That’s one of Cora’s favorites,” she reflects.  “She was one of the few who could actually smile at death.”

—“Respectfully, I don’t know how that relates to our event. You want them ordering wine—laughing.  That’s how we’re going to keep them in here. When they’re comfortable.”

The Baroness brandishes her perfect teeth. 

“Everyone says this is reckless, and I agree.” says Donna.

“Dame pan y dime tonto.”2

     Confusion jars him from the table, and it’s the first time Alshon surveys the dining room. Under dim lights, a black couple sips wine; a bespectacled gentleman in a slim suit laughs with smartly dressed disc jockey.

     After a group of women, in tight dresses, toast their glasses, Alshon spots the only two people out of place, a peculiar black couple at a far table: a stoic man in a drape suit and a woman wearing fox fur. His rigid arms rest on the table, while the woman with marcelled hair hikes up the hem of her long dress.

     Alshon checks the bar—no signs of Jake. In that brief moment, turning his back, the stoic man pulls a metal box from his jacket. Beyond their awareness, the couple cut their eyes; though Alshon’s only omen grows in his lower abdomen; so great, when he lurches forward—with an unreal timing, he descries viscous blood surfacing from depths of Donna’s thighs.

     The rich crimson overruns the expanse of brown skin. And Alshon’s eyes contract: it must have been eight years ago, when he found Donna sitting alone in that window. What compels him is still foggy, but he remembers walking over and lightly tapping the glass—smiling. And there was Donna, behind a barrier, responding with heavy eyes.

     Now the only life in that same weary face seems to be a glutinous blood, traveling down her legs, responding only to the pull of gravity.  

     And it’s not just the blood lining the carpet; it’s the quizzical stares from the group of women that forces Alshon into panic. The very moment he hesitates backwards, a tinnitus floods his ear, sharping into woman’s hoarse voice:

Why refrain before their eyes?” she says, “That lust is yours.”

“She’s here,” The Baroness says.
     One signal and the stoic man slides a metal contraption in his mouth. All were taken aback at first—until the woman wearing marcels slips a dagger from her garter. In mere seconds: cold steel slices a woman’s throat, a mouth of jagged metal runs with blood. A couple clamors for the exit. But there enters a burly man; sharp metal studs in his gloves, blocking the door. And if it wasn’t jagged teeth, tearing into their necks, it was a powerful melee that silences their screams.

     They kill without an afterthought. In this tiny milieu, far removed, pure disorder reigns. And there’s Alshon in the thick of it, bodies falling around him, as he watches a woman with marcelled hair drink the blood from the living.

     In all of five minutes: the last of their mummers fade into the air, and the dining room runs with their blood.

“Pickup! Pickup! Pickup!” says the woman, rising from a man’s body. She walks over smirking at Alshon.

“I know that look. You think I’m the good-time girl.”3

“What happened to Donna?” The Burly Man, says.

“She’s still fresh.”

     The Marcelled Beauty saunters, rolling the blood through her fingers. And Alshon witnesses a presence to behold, crimson coating her mouth—unchecked, unencumbered. While the rest ascend from behind: The Baroness following suit. The Burly man plods over carting a woman in lace.  And completing the circle, the man in the drape suit strolls over with a .45, carefully attaching a suppressor.

“Don’t worry, youngblood. Guns ain’t my bag.”

     For a moment, his clam voice allays his mind. But a sudden muffled scream, following ecstatic eyes, hurls him into torpor. A dagger penetrates white lace. Her chest heaves from the impact. Yet there’s no fear gripping Alshon, but rather an uncanny feeling. Her screams struggle through the man’s fingers, her blood permeating fine white fibers, but Alshon allows his mind to escape—like nights at his window glancing down—he feels himself looming above, sensing seven souls, feeling the impressions of lives lost: below him, six spirits remain adrift, mortified by the seventh passing into a realm of the dead—THUMP!

     The woman tumbles to the floor, and Alshon’s returns— back inside a body syncing with his withering mind, where tiny synapses forge their connections, neurons going haywire, where a smarting from under his skin knocks him to a nadir, eye level with the woman’s inert legs. It’s a feeling so low the onlookers impose like giants. All hang their heads, a circle of solemn faces, their mournful eyes, gazing at the inseam of Alshon’s slacks sopping with blood.

     It takes his grisly hand, running with his own fluids, and Alshon begins to trust his eyes.  The dolefulness in their faces accompanies a dirge forming in the air, and never before were voices so loud: “I turned right here on 7th,” laments a voice, “right underneath all creation.” “It happened on Central Avenue,’ says another. “In Saint Augustine.” “I was with Cora”  “I only remember wading into the gulf and then waking up to a red tide,” a voice mourns.  

     Their bodies, stolid and unflinching, yet their voices resonate so clear that Alshon, given to panic, breaks their circle—“Let him go. Cora has chosen him.”—leaving the trailing voices—running, as the final pleas linger behind: “Take it, youngblood. Before it’s too late.”—but the stainless steel makes him desperate to feel the night air. Haste clouds his thoughts. Darting through a kitchen, there’s broken dishes, boiling pots, but he quickly pries open the back door, greeting a swarm of Hazmat suits, diligent workers lugging metals cases from a sleek cargo van. A white suit approaches, but Alshon peers passed him, watching lavender gloves handle cases reading: BIOHAZARD. The passenger door pops open and Alshon instinctively mutters the words beneath the logo: “Bio Solutions LLC.”

“Someone call for a pick up?” says a muffled voice. His brown eyes gleam behind his goggles. But they flare the minute Alshon struggles for words—choking, stammering— but his mouth only regurgitates blood. The suits halt their work. But a lavender glove raises, and they all spring back to life. “Word from the wise, stay off the street.”
     He leaves a cadence of footsteps steps for the shadows. Fleeing like a runaway. He creeps along a railroad. Every parking car, every group journeying to the strip emboldens his desire to plea for help. But he knows their hearts: “Jesus! Are you okay?” They’ll likely say it in earnest. But they’ll never budge. So long as blood clots his nose and seeps through his every pore.

     Only a dark alley can protect him from a world of eyes. And he knows it. Though the night air chills his body, he hastily undoes his belt buckle. Opening his slacks. And an overwhelming panic locks his body, incredulous eyes wax to the sight of crystallized blood penetrating the skin of his shaft. Alive, and obscuring his genitals, the crackling crimson pierces the tip of his penis, as a slight cascade of blood flows down his thighs.

     His first inclination is to visualize anything familiar, anything but the part of himself now beyond recognition. Shaky hands wrangle a belt, reaching for the suave man he’s always been—his fingertips brush over his carnation, yet somewhere in his mind, he can see the dying man on the avenue. He sneers—seeking the days when his father came home, unlacing his steel toes, and greeting Alshon with a smile. But somewhere looms Gabriella, the nights of her fatigue, her acquiescence to his whims, her desire for reciprocity—and a rueful man can only fumble over a phone, hearing a soft voice answer—Hello? Alshon?— but fate only allows him a wavering voice. He heaves up sharp crystals of blood, gripping his throat. Nearing what feels like a release from torment, still the most lucid of all visuals, suppressed memories, enter his mind. And he remembers the vigils of his childhood. There’s Catalina! And the ensanguined woman enters an ornate room, choking on her own blood, fighting for dear life.

“Her name is Bacia,” says a sonorous voice.

     Alshon pivots—and a statuesque figure stands at the mouth of the alley. But oddly the silhouette subdues Alshon’s panic. Though it's not just his presence, but more so a voice propagating through air that calms him. Alshon stammers. But only a sound of anguish—and the splatter to the concrete—apprises a figure that responds by balling its fist: “Reject all of it, and you won’t have to look back ” says the sonorous voice.  

     But the words, as of yet, mean nothing. Alshon sees a sign of hope. Mouthing pleas for help. He reaches forward, yet the dark figure backs into the streetlight, dispelling shadows. And black man wearing high neck coat appears. Trailing off—yet leaving behind the sonorous voice: “Survive first light, and I’ll show you what truly benighted our kind.”  

     A receding figure, a fluster of emotions, and the last place for scorn falls on his failing body. He resents everything about it, its weakness, and its fragility. But nothing assails him like his mind, the source of memory. “Yes, you are the true captain of this vessel,” he mouths in a daze. “You are the fearless leader of me.” Though his better mind says “no.”, he staggers into the lively strip.

     Everything says, “cover your face, walk fast, and get your keys ready.” But nothing hinders his curiosity. It had been ten years down here, and he just began to see the men patrolling for women, as did the sailors, bootleggers, and runners of generations passed. He could see the young faces, toting their guns, built for bloodshed, along with the residual energies of men in slouch hats and cavalry scarfs, carrying their revolvers. He sees a specter of a frantic man in suspenders, screaming with his bible, along with a towering hologram of a cross, a blue light bathing Alshon’s face. Like a spell of somnambulism, he staggers towards the floating projection; his only distraction, the marcelled beauty in the backseat of an old black DeSoto. The moment he lowers the flap of his jacket, just a tad more, strong hands seize him by his lapels:

     “Who the hell has you out here?” Alshon snaps from the neon light for a mob of cautious eyes, your average party-goer, but with a heightened sense of urgency. They cart him upstairs and warn him of first light: “We only show you the door, you have to walk through.” “And fuck those hallucinations, bro,” says a bearded man. “All lies!” adds a woman. “Fall for that, and they’ll be picking your ass up for sure.” And like caregivers, the group of motley hands set him before the window, leaving him to the squeal of police sirens. For hours, a wavering man shrieks before the commotion, wincing at his tie to the world below, wishing that by God’s grace the room would extend above the strip, becoming his lone tower. But only a hoarse voice answers. Tinnitus tormenting his ears. And time passes with the yarns from a “weary traveler,” her magisterial voice summoning icicle shapes of blood through his skin. She tells him once more the stories, in truth, he always knew but suppresses to the depths of very being, that draining the lives of others had been in his blood, and that he was “the face that came along after three generations of absence.” And there’s no running from that. “I know.”

     Soon her voice quiets his mind, his lethargy setting to her cogent words: “My first lesson on evil was from an old hanging tree,” she says. “It stood for centuries until none could recognize its branches.”—and Alshon’s feels his body venture beyond the room—“The second lesson was when I became as stiff, and as unmoving, with a cold body in my arms,” she sobs. And just as the days of his youth, Cora appears, a haggard woman with a mass of wiry hair.  Just when she motions to the window, the onslaught of cacophony, the sounds of a roaring blaze peek over the horizon.

      First light appears, a canvas of warm hues, dragging along a chorus of crooning voices. Some cry in anguish. Some revel in a cry of wanton murder.  From miles out, the acts of bloodshed travel to Alshon: a woman abducted, shot and left for dead, a 22-year-old woman stabbed, their every scream, and every piece of cold metal piercing their flesh, every entry wound, every slug breaking bone and hitting organs, assaults Alshon’s eye until he inherits their pain, enveloping his whole body. As if somehow, through the ridges of his red skin, he becomes a polyglot of sorts, well versed in language of the blood. For he hears the thoughts of his caregivers, the Burly Man, Donna, Catalina, locating a stray woman ironing her skirt, or the man arranging his bible, or the worn man coming home from work, all unheeding, and all so immersed in their lives, they never feel the eyes peering into their most vulnerable moment—available for all to consume, unguarded and all too visible.  

     At once, the room becomes a juncture for phantoms and preying eyes: two youthful bodies intertwine, kissing and caressing. It takes their moans for Alshon to recognize his father—and the face of his mother. At the peak of their love, the caregivers explode with laughter, all standing like harbingers of the future, while down below a sleek cargo van creeps along the Ave.

      KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!  Pick up! Pick up! Pick up! But the pulsing door merges with the chorus of voices: “Fall for that, and they’ll be picking your ass up for sure.” KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

      A world of sound battles for the room, but one look at his red body, its glinting array of crystals, and a distorted voice transmogrifies into a soft plea: “Alshon. Let me know you’re okay.” A careful rapping sounds along the door, and G.G. stands on the other side of a man losing his resolve. His jaundiced eyes reflect off glass, but he only finds his answers in the sound of G.G.’s scared voice. 

     “I’ll walk you over, but you have to feed,” whispers Cora. For moments a shaking hand hovers over the knob. Even through the door, he senses her climbing heart rate, her fear claiming the stairwell. “I just wanted to see if you made in safe,” she sniffles. “I called like a million times.” And the sound of G.G.’s pulsing neck, beating in unison with the sound his crackling body brings a worn man to a frail whimper.

     It’s just after 10 a.m., when a red body burst through the  door, and his disturbed glare falls on a woman—a face he subconsciously stores in his mind, at all times cognizant to her candid smile. The onlookers say it was the pounding front door and “Gabriella with all her histrionics,” that does it. But all tapping in to his mind knew perfectly well.  

     When reality sets in, and he recognizes the face on a fading placard: LaDonna Steward—MISSING, he closes his weary eyes, and throws himself over the balcony. Hurtling downward. The red body strikes the hardened Earth, and the warm morning light illumines the cobble stoned road. 

     The onlookers trace the last of his energy, mocking him, as an organ fills Alshon’s ears and his bloody eyes see the women with fans, the others singing in praise, exalting voices rising towards the heavens—while above all, the raw energy of The Caregivers, of Donna, of the Burly Man, of The Marcelled beauty, of the Stoic Man all watch like predators. It’s a bitter truth, which pangs like a pin through Alshon’s fragile heart, only ending when lavender gloves handle his body. Each careful hand raises him from the earth—Alshon feeling a release—escaping the twinkling eyes behind their goggles, and the last of a sharp ringing in his ear: “If they only knew what was in the light, they’d be begging for darkness.”


1.)         An excerpt from Blind Willie McTell’s “We got to meet death one day”
2.)         Dame pan y dime tonto. An expression used mostly in Spain. Aside from the literal translation, the English equivalent: “I don’t care what others say. I do what I want.”
3.)         “I know that look. You think I’m the good-time girl.” A reference to the film “Good-Time Girl” (1948)


Friday, March 10, 2017

Masters of the Phantasmal (A Short Story Series)

Masters of the Phantasmal  

By TeJay Henderson

     Daybreak was just a few hours out—describe it as you wish— he sees it as a normal day holed up in a dark room. He had become all too familiar with its small space: its bare white walls, its rickety bed, and its old beat up dresser. It was his world in a sense. But he knew that somewhere their prying eyes laid a threat. And it was fitting how it happened. He was between wakefulness and a world of abstraction, between complete darkness and the oncoming day, when a lurid image roused him from a fanciful dream. After a period of bafflement, there was the questioning of all who had come and gone, battling for what in reality was an airless tomb. (Why must it always be far removed, as they listened to the doings from the world above?) But here, for the first time, he also questioned fantastic worlds; the abstractions he’d witness bring sorrow to men. Yet, to their chagrin, they always appeared worth dying for.

     When the light finally filtered through the blinds, its orange flood revealed floating particles of dust. It was a rare moment of peace. Short lived, for he was interrupted by a painful sound, a moaning. It instantly reminded him of a small family, a mother and her daughter whom, out of necessity, he kept close quarters with.

     It was on a Sunday afternoon, at a small restaurant, when the down home ambiance, and the smells of fresh seafood, fell to the presence of a woman in a simple yellow dress. She entered along with a young girl, also wearing her Sunday’s best, a routine he’d seen many times before. And each occasion, he was taken aback by the uniqueness in her aura. It was a feeling he lost long ago, which he found once more in her bright red lipstick, and how her full lips naturally parted, revealing a comforting smile of glossy white teeth. They met that very sunny afternoon, and after an intriguing conversation, the group sharing in laughter, and his warm display of generosity, the three had been together ever since.
      As the months passed, for her daughter, Dayja, his presence came along with a pervading spirit: she thought of him while lumbering out the door for school, and then while walking home by her lonesome— whether taking a glance of her newest sneakers, to when she felt the midday sun weigh heavily on her shoulders—all of her thoughts went back to him.
     After quite sometime, his presence in the home became a strange isolation, where he’d keep to himself in the back room. Every month she cursed her fate before going back there. The part of her home that become a foreign territory, where she would encounter him, a strange man, sleeping with his eyes wide open: always stuffed in the corner, always wearing the same worn jacket, and always with his steadfast gaze.
     She paced before entering—mapping her every step. There would be a wad of cash on the dresser, unusual notes, the presidents with diminutive faces with either red or gold seals; she’d keep her eyes fixed on the cash, and lightly step along the carpet.  She wanted it to be like a simple game, easy, in and out. But there were occasions when journeying down that darkened hall, approaching the open door, seeing him lodged into the far corner, and she felt her mother’s burden—heavier than ever—a feeling which ascended any simple thought of getting in and out.

     She took gentle steps, her every feeling arose at once, unpredictable and scattered—she thought of her mother’s smile after dinners—warm, though too short lived—and of the strange duffle bag creeping into her peripheral—if she could only block it out—of her mother’s charms with men, of empty promises and the pangs that would surly come along, and then, like pure torture, her thoughts led her to the mystery that seemed to form around Man’s motionless body. She paused. Her trembling hand hovered over a heap of cash, nearly home free, when the figure began to stir. She strained her eyes, refusing to see, but as a low muttering fell from his lips, it sent a jolt of adrenaline coursing through her body; she shot a glance over her shoulder finding the man carefully rummaging inside his jacket before removing a shimmering ring. With ridged eyes, he tenderly extended the gift to his guest:

“Tha… Tha… Tha.” he said, exasperated.

     Blinking while sluggish from the weight of his own thoughts, his lips labored over every single word until his eyes bloomed. And a fresh idea permeated his now responsive face.

“That’s Bloodstone,” said a sonorous voice.

     Its smooth yellow metal, with its intricate filigree design, glimmered between his fingers. But the most prominent was its foreboding stone: the darkest of green, with speckles of red inclusions.  For reasons she could hardly explain, she felt herself inching forward but was abruptly frozen by his powerful voice.

“She…favors you. Even moves like you, the good girl, carrying her mother’s burden.”

     Silence overtook the room. But in her mind his words rang clear and true. There was the initial desire for escape; she merely nudged the dresser, but something (the mystery in the stone? the tone of his voice?) engendered a dreadful feeling, as if she strayed beyond the boarders of God’s grace and merely fathomed a world of the irrational and the immaterial — she felt an aura surfacing from behind—and without second thought, she swiped up the wad of cash; the door slammed behind her. And the room was sealed shut.

     He imagined her passing through the pungent smell of sweat coming from her mother’s room, which also remained dark and cloistered: two light tight boxes in a region where the sun was always abundant, yet sometimes came down like a blinding and overpowering haze.
     He imagined her cowering into the far corner of her room. Satisfied. He went back into his hermetic silence. With those four walls, he could slip into a trance, turning each wall into plane of endless depth, each wall like an entrance into caves filled with obsidian. He could hear a woman’s voice—see the creases in her lips.

 “Lefu,” she called.

     Before long, projections of his lost kin emerged from the blackness of the walls, greeting him with jubilant faces and standing with dignified postures, all surrounding him in a grand assembly—true darkness, not a mere symbol, but something far more tangible. The type of darkness that gave him anonymity, to go untouched, to be unchallenged.  That was his solace.

     He’d escape there forever and was hell-bent on trying. Although he mastered the secrets of the mind, where he could render his perception of space, and where time didn’t exist, yet mankind, with his tragedy and his folly, would faithfully find him, reminding him of what will never be—a stillness, unceasing and undying.


     He dragged his bloody hand along the rail, ascending higher and higher, and took a glance into a world gilded in gold. All around him was the luster of the marble staircase, the tapestries, the opulent murals carved into the ceiling, and the portraits of pallid faces, yet he languished at the thought of his blood-soaked hand and at a metallic taste, lingering at the tip of his tongue.
     He watched the crimson liquid, focusing, but the blood steadily dripped from the handle of his warm gun: its slow trickle enhancing the clarity and delineating the intricate grooves in the 1911’s wooden handle. With everything it touched, the blood revealed all. He could only behold its path, its truth it silently imparted. While down below, blood gushed from an entrance wound. It was a small diameter, while around the edges, a stippling of soot. In his hulking frame of sooth brown flesh, a pink entrance burrowed into his abdomen. If the blood gave him no reprieve, and instantly jarred him from his hallucination, he knew that somewhere her spirit was still in anguish; that somewhere she was calling him back to a moment repeating itself endlessly. He concentrated. A faint pounding emerged and disappeared, a remote sound he knew all too well; a muted scream fought its way from below, which sent him dashing down the stairs, through a banquet hall, vestibule to vestibule. Until a gunshot followed by a sharp shrill lead him down a long hallway.

     She always had an affinity for bright airy spaces, and he wasn’t surprised passing by the hallways paintings of quiet gardens and country roads. With soft eyes, listening to a rapturous voice, he burst into a bright drawing room. They were locked together, at the height of a struggle; a slender man in a frock coat landed his hatchet flush into in Bacia’s neck. Lefu watched her body heave from the impact, her legs convulse, her hand full of rings clawing at the colorful carpet. And he leveled his 1911 and squeezed—a burst of flames leaping from the barrel, and the gunfire impaled the man’s chest. He tumbled to the floor. And Lefu was left with the drawing rooms restored ambience. His eyes surveyed its discordant parts:  listless bodies sprawled along the carpet, a lone rifle lay idle, chairs over turned, empty shell casings, all enclosing Bacia’s weary body. Her chest began heaving while she spat up her blood—the only movement against a backdrop of stillness.

     She nursed the chasm in her neck, but there was no containing the blood bursting through her wool jacket.  And, suddenly, without warning, an ominous pounding began vibrating the floor, a mob of approaching footsteps, yet, for Lefu, most prominent was the ever-expanding pool of blood, streams of it, stretching down the carpet and seeping into a sharp streak of light.  Soon she too traced the streams journey downward. With helpless eyes, her blood bursting through fingers, she watched the last of her life spiraling, traveling beyond the limits of her control. And it was at that moment, with her chest losing vitality, Lefu’s mere sight of what was essential to life became as vile as any anathema.

     It was by instinct—an augury he thought—that he regained consciousness. He found the light from streetlamps cutting through the blinds—the thick of night, yet tremors from a heavy bass rattled the walls. He had just wrestled to his feet when he heard the fall, a limp body pummeling to the floor. He discarded most doings outside those walls. But this was different. This time he had felt Dayja hit the floor, and a haggard woman pleading for her daughter’s life.  When he felt the woman gathering her strength (though oddly stronger than usual) she screamed a name, a simple word, which had taken him by surprise.

     He nearly reeled. So many emotions conjured from a single word, moments passed that stowed away, waiting to resurface.

     He shot a glance to the door, hearing a low noise, the sound of a presence scurrying up the hallway.  Along with it came the sounds of choking and the eventual splatter to the carpet.

     A flick of the light switch, and an unsightly woman appeared. She balanced herself on the doorjamb, raising lazy eyes, and a mouth dripping with blood; with every leaden drop, he winced and fell back into the corner; his eyes expanded as they passed over the scabs of crystallized blood in her fingers, her wiry hair, her incipient wrinkles, and the oily shine from her brown skin.
“I’m willing to believe it now.  We can go further beyond this house, this neighborhood, everything we know. Can’t we? You turn the fuck around and you look at me, Maynor!”

     And with a simple word, a name long forgotten, he was tormented by memories he had buried in his mind long ago at depths not unlike underground ossuaries. Inside what was like a dark and damp world, he found the remains of his former self and scoffed at who he was-- Maynor; the name plagued his mind until he felt a spearpoint collar wrap around his neck, and his best waistcoat slip over his arms.

     While inside the walls, swarming particles of light slowly materialized a platform, and next appeared a streetcar humming along the Lafayette Street Bridge. He started at an oncoming sound, now more dreadful than it had ever been. He glanced up, sneering at clacking hooves and a bouncing carriage.

     All before him, the bridge teemed with men in felt hats and frock coats and women in blouses and long hemmed skirts, all alighting onto the platform. The electricity buzzed from above, a woman on a bicycle gradually passed by, and as disturbed faces within carriages assailed him, he darted his eyes, finding a lone woman in a high neck blouse. He remembered the arch in her posture, which, in truth, was the product of her corset, underlining the prominence of her breast and curves. He remembered her slim face, her auburn hair—how long it really was, though you’d never know, it being so well knotted underneath the brim of her striking hat.

“I was here,” he whispered.

     Instinctively, his gaze left the woman, finding beyond the bridge, an array of silver minarets topped with crescent moons, along with cupolas, and domes, a hotel that towered above all.

     And with shaky hands, he stumbled backwards through clouds of swarming particles until a foot landed on the stained brown carpet.  The last of fading light rapidly dissipated, and once again he stood before a familiar white wall—

“You turn the fuck around and look at me, Maynor!”

     He pivoted, finding Bacia, wearing her hand full of rings; she extended a hand, and Lefu smiled upon the dagger strapped to her forearm, sheathed and secured. He’d reach for her, if it wasn’t for the figments intermittent flickering, which was rapidly overtaken by a woman’s voice brimming with pain.

“I have the strange problem with my men. They always use me up, spit me out, and there’s dumb ol' me, sapped within to inch of my life. But you wouldn’t know about that.

“Not even going to play the fool? Even with a little girl out cold?”

 “Bitch! I know you know—I know the truth! And I ain’t pointing no goddamn fingers either! I’m clearing the air! I should have never let you in my home! “

     She craned her neck back towards the ceiling, finding a bulwark, who was stretching his memory for thoughts his of kin, how they ransacked the walls of the highest order. Now he could only accept the irony as her voice began to fill the room. He stepped forward, lost in the tandem of her tongue, teeth and lips, releasing weary speech sounds, replacing the fading world in his mind. 

“Besides. That money never helped us. What it get me? A presence over my shoulder, using me as some holding pen for its grief, telling me things it couldn’t tell itself? And, sadly, and this is the best part, Maynor, I fell for it twice. “

“Bacia was right to live off their blood,” he thought.

     It had been ages since he felt so purblind. A world around him began to recede, replaced by the crimson dripping from her lips.  He knew her lost stare, for he began the same, like all weary bodies, cultivating malevolent forces, accepting and transferring them, largely unaware of what they are and what they shall become.

     He walked over, meeting her stern eyes. And she allowed the air to enter her gaping robe, revealing a league of broken blood vessels, purple sores. They seemingly penetrated the skin—an entire capillary network, running down her breast, her stomach, infiltrating beneath white lace, and clustering between her inner thighs.

     And without warning, he clamped his hand around her throat, until a web of tiny veins flared in her face, her body’s innermost workings, rising to the surface. Even as her eyes became glossy, her lungs struggling for air, he knew she could turn if she chose. Yet he tightened his grip, transfixed by the spittle fusing with blood, while her sinewy hands clinched the sleeve of his jacket.

     It was no different from what she felt during her sleep—the most lurid dreams—a man’s brute hand latching onto her throat, following sharp incisions, until paralysis swept her body. Always when she’d reached for the warm blood rolling down her chest, she sprung up in her bed, a weakened body, only finding the hum of a ceiling fan and her door sealed shut.  
     With her neck searing, her consciousness waning, she managed to meet his gaze and was horrified by a face that gained more and more likeness with her own, what felt like her very being transferring onto him. And while his eyes locked onto hers, the web of capillaries protruded in her face. He felt the intensity of her fear and thought of her ever-present blood staining her lips.

     It trickled down his wrist, and along with it, he felt the crumbling of his cavernous world. Overran by panic, he glanced into the walls but heard only the intensity of his thoughts. If nothing else, his one true possession was her energy. And he felt it warm in her chest, flowing into his hands but growing scarce by the second. He had drained so much, he was left with energy which permeates a room, in the air like an invisible mist. He pulled from even that, until the filament in a light bulb began to flicker. But it wasn’t enough. He pulled even further, until the orange light in the blinds joined in unison, all flickering to an erratic cadence until a shattering rang out from beyond the window.  A constant rain of glass hit the pavement. And the flickering bulb pulsed before retiring its last bit of illumination. In one swift instant, the room was reclaimed by the night.

     She felt a release in tension from her neck, an opening. And her desperate hand clawed at his jacket; she clawed again until the grooves, a hard surface, fit snugly in her palm. The gun free! She pulled the trigger—click, click, click.
     But it only resulted in a brute force ripping the gun away, and her body  sailing through air, pummeling into a pit of darkness. The impenetrable night cut her off at every turn, impairing her vision; she extended her arms out but could only be certain of a near presence protecting the door, or a sudden rummaging through drawers, moving here and there within the unknown of a impregnable night; it lingered everywhere she turned, a blackness of endless depth, in which she navigated with forceful steps that gave pause to the entire room.

“Gather yourself, Ivy,” she murmured.

     She rubbed her shoulder against the wall, and stretched her hand for the door when—FLACK—a stray noise, and a soft light revealed a woman’s hand. A gun leveled in her direction, but she stared passed the impending barrel; the cold metal landed against her temple, yet she only saw the figure behind it—its wide nose, its full lips, its oval face, its full breast.
     Beyond belief, yet staring her in the face, she shrank before her own spitting image—her own reflection in a brute of a man. It brimmed with rage.  She watched her eyes cut towards the gun, her thumb carefully releasing the safety—taking one last wondrous look before the sudden pull of the trigger: the towering explosion from the barrel, a slight streak of light filled the room—darkness—and a limp body pummeled to the floor.
     Stillness returned, he felt the sway of his body; he’d taken many forms before, but never did one weigh so heavily: enveloping him, until an outer world befell the room. All that was left, the smell of gun smoke and the blood pooling at his feet. Nevertheless, there was genius about his inner world, held together, not a by firm hand, but by sheer dogged persistence.

     He waited inside the void, the dark gathering about the room, confronting an unfathomable depth.  And out of the pure emptiness, like dark caverns in the unplumbed mind, emerged a dim and decrepit hallway.

     Its tarnished chandelier arose from the shadows, and next an elaborate ceiling, the bare paneled walls, and at end of corridor emerged Dayja; she sat among piles of ornate frames, despondent, glancing at a portrait of her likeness, while just beyond her, an open door spilled a warm light into the hallway along with peals of continuous laughter. He was compelled to motion closer—its sound, constant and growing—but a fitful bulge, a hemorrhaging, flared in his face, burrowing down to his chest. His massive lungs heaved, yelping. So loud Dayja descried him. She watched a writhing body, while he was cornered by a sonorous voice:

“Using me as some holding pen for YOUR grief!”

     He gnashed his teeth, jamming the gun into his chest—a burst of explosions, their intermittent flames, falling upon a face searing with rage.

  “Telling me things you couldn’t tell me YOURSELF!”

     The slide racked back and forth while the phones glow followed the life bulging in his chest—an unwieldy tempest, and the corridor vanished into the endless depth.
     Sobered.  The soft glow fell on Ivy’s blood-shattered face, and before he felt any movement in his limbs, the taste of iron was forming in his mouth. The hemorrhaging pulsed through his body, along with the liquefying and hardening of his bones, but he would not deign before the even the remnants of her humanity. Staggering, feeling the caving of one world, and the primacy of another, he wielded his scant light and forged into the dark.

     Its crude glow illumined but a few feet ahead: uncovering a wooden table, cold plates of food, a knocked over dining chair, an off white linoleum tile, and tracks of drying blood. He followed the trail until he found Dayja sprawled out on kitchen floor. Between the cracking bones in his body, and a growing presence outside the house, he picked out faint sounds of stertorous breathing. And a knife slipping from its sheath froze the room.

     Dayja recognized the soft touch on her shoulder. A force flipped her body over. And with heavy eyes, she met the cold steel raking along her neck.


     The sonorous voice, seemingly, spoke to a presence near and beyond her all at once; with its sharp jaw agape, she looked in its shadowy mouth—becoming her mother’s full lips, fading and reforming, or maybe it was his hard jawline, and his smooth brown skin, either battling for dominance, or maybe both as one. She strained for a closer look, but the massive hand set the scant light aside; out of the night, a brute force pinned her hand to the floor. She watched her open palm while her mother’s hand grappled her wrist. Just when Dayja raised her languid eyes, listening to a swift movement in the dark, a blade came sailing down and mercilessly rammed into her palm, writhing under the weight of lifeless steel.


     Though, like a terse response, he was met with the shattering of bone and a rupturing through his chest. He knew his only option was her blood. Withdrawing the blade was only further confrontation, its constant flow rising to the surface. Even with the mere sight of it, there was no contention with who he’d been, or with the bygone eras he’d seen, or how he chose the path of his kin over their humanity, and how he’d roam for centuries because of it—forever.

     He could lose control over his own body, his face invaded by Ivy’s undying will. The blood could permeate the floor and travel back towards him; and there, right underneath him, he could release every bit of energy consumed. But what would replace the warm light slipping down the dim hallway or the peals laughter traveling up the corridor? For there was nothing of their world that could fully be extended unto him. Somewhere within the bones breaking in his massive palm, resizing, and reshaping, he embraced the growing semblance of Ivy’s graceful hand.

“We can go much further than this house. Can’t we?”

     And with his entire body convulsing, he removed the bloodstone ring from his jacket and carefully set it before Dayja’s burgeoning eyes:

“A gift from Bacia.”
     He knew Dayja would reach for the phone, wielding its illumination, knowing he’d be only a figure receding into the night. He knew she’d have nothing left but a shimmering ring: he imagined the blood pooling at her face, yet she’d be awestruck by the stones specks of reds, and greens, and blacks all spinning, the stone its own universe. Indeed, there would be a world arising in the room, though its ascendance would be curtailed by the sudden opening of the front door.

     And as he willed his every thought to be, he felt her probing, though not for a single energy, but for dual energies battling within one body. Her mounting fear called for him, but the entreaty would never reach the threshold. Instead her only response was from a growing presence, a woman's, hovering over her, moving closer and closer. “Heal, child,” said a soft voice, emanating from perhaps her own mind, or perhaps from even the bloodstone ring. As the night air entered the room, the dark seemingly absorbed the faint glow. And with the slamming of the door, she was entombed in the pitch-black of night.

     He arrived in the humid air and was dumbfounded by a large presence thronging at the door. A singular group of figures huddled in the night. Through their raw energy, he felt an extension of his world, a familiar one he labored to maintain. He smiled at the mighty hand of fate, for that world was now so graciously groomed by their kind, as if they were the keepers of his magnificent mausoleum. Their stiff bodies stood unheeding the rise of an ornate mansion, a tower over all. While out of the darkness appeared his sect. And somewhere in a bright and airy room, he could hear Bacia’s voice—see the creases in her lips.

“Lefu,” she called.