Saturday, 1 February 2014
A day passed, during which nothing eventful happened save a run-in with a set of banshees who, when we approached the Valley of Dreadful Lamentation, struck up a series of piercing shrieks that would have driven us to wretched madness had we not been prepared by the bags full of white powder which, upon sniffing, actually turned out to be magic because we were unable to hear anything save Alvin Lucier’s 1969 work ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ for the two hours. Actually, I say nothing eventful happened but actually it was rather eventful - I’m just drunk.
“AIIIEEEEEEEEE!” screamed a wailing maiden (that’s what I assumed it sounded like anyway), coming up to me as though the bearer of good news, but the kind of good news involving a strong cheese, a nose, a rubber band, a sponge, a duck, and a Sheol.
“Back!” I said, holding up a set of fingers in the shape of a cross. Medley, Deadman and Jenkins had backed themselves into a trilogy [sic] of huddled protection; as a result, several banshees now chose only to approach me, detecting weakness and isolation. This weakness could be used as a strength if I only had the means. Grabbing the bag of random shit, I pulled out the spherical black shape with the word BOMB inscribed upon its exterior and hurled it into the distance, where it promptly erupted with a mighty bang, sending detritus and snails everywhere. The problem was that this had not affected the banshees in any way whatsoever, owing to their proximity to me (which was near) and the bomb (from which they were twenty feet and would have been farther had my throwing been less girly). In other words, I had wasted my entire life and would die with Alvin Lucier’s mutated muffled voice in my ears and hideous banshees in my face. Then, to my surprise, one of them gave me a slap.
“What?” I said, choked into near-incontinence. “How weird. I can’t hear myself.”
The banshees who had gathered around me chose to grab me by the shoulders.
One of them stared at me. I found myself sinking into eyes such a light blue they were nearly white.
“Do you know sign language?” I said.
“Shit. I don’t.”
Before I could continue with this discourse, they pulled away from the others. I screamed but only the voice of Alvin Lucier gave me any comfort. The last thing I saw of the others was Medley and Deadman sitting on a rock lighting up some kind of blunt. Some friends they are, was my last thought before the Alvin Lucier voice went bonkers and I passed out in order to move the story into another location.
I awoke. A cave. No more Alvin Lucier. Thank god. But only for a moment did I feel relief. My hands were bound and my feet swung over a crevasse. I’d rather they were bound too, just to make sure I didn’t fall. An entire chasm loomed below me; only a small platform to my left leading into a doorway gave rise to the suggestion that I could possibly escape.
The walls were coated with luminous slime. Animals without name scurried henceforth and backwhen. Echoing whispers tittered through cracks. Wind whistled like a jolly madman who just killed a gnat. Pokey substances threatened disclosure. The ceiling looked bent and swollen like a manky boxer. This place gave the aura of a grim waiting room where dignity had already been called in, and fate was next. I reeked of helplessness. I say helplessness, but actually it was BO. It had been a whole day and presumably night since the hotel stay. Seemed an aeon ago.
“God, where are thou?” I shouted into the echoing mad mountain. “Canst thou hear me? Why am I talking like an olden days?”
The banshees would return: and in greater numbers.
Time passed, during which I counted off the days it had been since I had last seen Daley. Eighty? Seventy? Ten? Time, it seemed, had stopped. And for all I knew, this planet did not follow the same space-time structure as Terra. If space and time were interlinked, then perhaps I was being held here not only in a static space, but also in a static time... and therefore, it would be...
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO - ”
“Do shut up,” croaked a voice from the doorway to my left.
“Oh. Sorry. Thought it was just me here,” I replied, maintaining my capacity to blush even in a Hellish Pit of Eternal Night.
“No, no, not just you,” came the reply, as a banshee emerged, casting a curious gaze up my way. Her silhouetted hunched body stretched and leaned up my way. “You ready to stop yelling about God yet?”
“You stopped talking about sitting in a room yet?”
“Was I doing that?”
“Shit. Lucier got to me.”
“Don’t swear, young man!” She raised a finger. “Don’t need that sort of language in the house of Heppletum Blargfwap.”
“I thought you were banshees.”
“Screaming types. Unholy. Wild hair. Bonkers eyes. Scrofula-inducing. Shit,” said I, as a memory occurred, “Alan told me about you lot. Said you had a penchant for cocaine.”
“We do. That’s why we stole your bags. That white powder you’ve got - lovely stuff. Only reason you’re alive. Ha!”
“I thought that was magic powder that bestowed the gift of Alvin Lucier on one’s ears.”
She crawled spider-like up the wall and into my ear whispered, “You don’t get it yet, do you?”
“Get what?” I whispered back.
“That Lucier stuff you heard was us. We don’t scream, like you lot expect. That was our way of putting you under our spell. And I can do it again anytime I want. So don’t do anything funny, you understand?” I nodded. “You’re lucky you’re a pretty one. The others didn’t do much for us. But you’ll do fine.”
“What are you going to do?”
She undid the metal clasps from my limbs with her legs even as she held me tightly in her arms. I expected to be rendered grossed out by her banshee-like qualities but surprisingly she smelled like flowers. The women who had approached us on the heathen plain were evidently women who had decided not to wash for a few days.
“You really think I’m pretty?” I said, as she put me down on the platform.
“Yes, my dear.”
Before I my mind could stop me, my mouth replied, “You’re not so bad yourself.”
She narrowed her eyes and scrutinised me. All the while I wondered whether I had made a terrible mistake and that actually I had been a chauvinist by and that perhaps in this place my kind were destroyed.
“Why, thank you,” she said, suddenly coquettish. “Fortunately for you, I’m able to read minds of people like you.”
“Yes. I’ve missed it. You were embarrassed, weren’t you?”
She cackled. “Don’t worry. I know your mind’s still with someone else.”
“Yeah.” She half-pushed me into the darkened passageway and we walked. A monologue unravelled itself and all the while I realised I needed a piss. “Truth is, we don’t see many men around here. Last time we had a male here was when they had been turned into eyeless freaks. They’d all gone to war, you see - and came back. Except they never really came back. My husband went fine for a week or two, but then he showed signs of the Sickness. And so we all left, together, in the night. Not before we’d locked them away with a dose of our medicine, punishing them for their wicked ways. And there they all died together, with a tape of Alvin Lucier talking at them over and over.”
“What... er, what? Sorry, did you gather all the men together and lock them in a room with the Lucier piece as accompaniment?”
“Yes. They were turning into monsters, you see. That’s what happens when men like you and your friends go to Orglosz. You can get there if you need help from us, but we will not house you if you make it back.” She poked me in the chest three times as emphasis. “Whatever the men of our kingdom experienced, it changed them forever. And not just up here, you know,” she said, tapping her head, “But in their bodies. Last time I got a good look at my husband the pupils in his eyes had practically turned to saucers. Black as night, they were. As if he needed to see something else that the rest of us weren’t meant to see.”
A wind blew from a sidelong passage and I shivered. “Where are you all living now? The women?”
“I’ll show you. It’s our kingdom. Except there’s not been a king there for years. We’ve not seen a man for years. Not a nice man like you, anyway. Last time was...”
For the first time since we’d begun walking, she hesitated.
“Well, might as well get it out there. When I told you we locked those men away, we didn’t get all of them, not at first. One of them was called Derek. Bev’s husband. He wasn’t in the room at the time that we locked them all in there. But a couple of years after we’d locked them all up, he came back from wherever he’d been. And he wasn’t Derek anymore. The only reason we knew it was him was because he always used to wear the same string vest. And it was the vest that let us know who it was. We chopped his head off, of course, and burned his body on a fire.”
“Wait,” I said, stopping melodramatically. “How long ago was this?”
“Well, Derek came back two years ago.”
“But when had all the men come back from Orglosz?”
“Six years ago now, give or take.”
“The men you locked away...”
“You’re a slow one.” She clapped me on the shoulder. “Not exactly men anymore when we locked them away. Now... I don’t know what you’d call them.”
“They’re still alive in there?”
“Aye, didn’t you get that?”
“Oh, right. Yeah.”
“Usually because if you lock people in a room for six years, they die of starvation.”
“They’re not men anymore. So the rules they once followed don’t apply. If you go up to the big steel door we locked them behind, you can hear them.”
“What? You... but... they... why would you... ever want to...”
She walked into the darkness. Scuttling noises somewhere behind me prompted me to follow.
“Were you the blue-eyed ban - woman I saw earlier?”
“Yeah,” she cackled. “Call me a banshee if you have to. Only serves to make me nostalgic for the olden days, days when men like you would scream at me, until I won them over, and got them into bed...”
This was probably the worst place I’d ever been in. Even Leonard leering over me didn’t match the stultifying horror of this cave and this banshee’s story. It was all rather like a movie I’d watched once called Women Climb Down into a Cave and Shit Themselves.
Wait, what was the last thing she said?