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   Along with just being generally grabby, the kid blunders into me. Which I find more immediately frightening than the half-hearted warcry he yells at my back. I take off. But arms close around my shoulders.
   I don’t ask him what he’s doing. I don’t want to know what he’s thinking. I’m yanked off balance, and I just want to punch the fuck in the head.
  “Get off me!”
   Not an original imprecation to toss out at a time like this, but I’m not really thinking very much just now. The kid’s dug in, bent his knees and lent backwards, and I have to lunge back at him to get my feet back under me. I get my knee into his thigh, and I can dig in, pull back on him. I’m the bigger man, fuck, I should be able to drag him out of here. But I’mm gritting my teeth and the idiot boy is hanging on, his own angry face locked into whatever the fuck it is he wants now. I can see it right there in the glimpse I get, some fucking damn thing driving him and all I can see is the drive, not the reason.
  “Gan shenme fucking lai de, you miserable fucking—”
   In my vitriol, I have no particular skill with the local language. All the physical strength I need has deserted me, any idea I had of myself as strong is being pulled out of my by this fuckhead’s freaking mysterious tenacity—
   And I realise just a little too clearly where that force may have come from. I writhe, I twist, I turn – I’m like in a dream where I can’t get out of bindings – I have to see his eyes…

Page 16

   Does he say anything?
   We watch the kid’s father from the front door.
   He’s my father, says the kid.
   Well yeah, but so that means he doesn’t?
   The kid at some point has tied the older man to a chair. And left him in the corner of the store. There wasn’t much to do for him now.
   He’s kinda messed up.
   So is yours, the kid says. You said.
   I can’t make out this kid. He’s deferential to the point of characterlessness. He could be a cardboard cut of some teen pop sensation.
   Yeah, I did, I say. She talks though. Your guy, he’s like you. Not very many words.
   We watch the old man make his slow movements. The kid didn’t really tie him up well, just wrapped a sheet around his body and the chair back, and secured it with a knot. The man rolls his hands and shifts his feet.
   I love him very much, says the boy.
   And who wouldn’t, right? A mottled old man starting to stink, eyes full of catarrh, and sallow skin hanging in folds from his face. Messed up.
   Would you say he’s dead? I ask. Because mine, she’s young and she doesn’t move at all. If you couldn’t hear her, you’d say she’s dead.
   Young? he says.
   Yeah, like twenty or something, I say.
   Then I have to duck.

Page 15

   Death? Goddamn, man. You talk about it like it’s a thing. It’s dissolution.
   I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this tirade.
   You’ll be no more, she says.
   Okay, okay, I say.
   It’s not a fucking parade.
   Fuck’s sake, I just asked.
   Got it. Message received.
   Sure, you try living with a god. Thin-skinned motherfuckers. And overbearing. And so, so very prone to cursing. If we had a thesaurus…
   So I’m going out then, I say.
   Yes, you are going out.
   And if you do die, she says. We’re through.
   Fine by fucking me, I say.
   I look her up and down.
   In the words of the prophet, what have you done for me lately?
   Get the fuck out of here.

   And so I’m out in the snow again. Fuck really knows why. I’m just supposed to keep coming out here and acting like everything’s normal. But it’s not. For one thing, there are no other people left. Except for one or two guys. And maybe that kid. I’ll go and see him, I reckon. It’s too cold for just walking around.
   Except, I don’t like that kid much. I don’t know how to describe people much. I don’t know what goes on inside them. But I want to call him pious, except there is no religion here, no system of belief.
   Which isn’t even a little bit ironic. As soon as your god is made flesh, they’re diminished. They aren’t supposed to be visible. You aren’t supposed to meet them at all. You can intuit, you can narrate, you can make up visions and all sorts of holistic shit, but if you find one of them half-dead bobbing in frigid lake water, they aren’t all that anymore.

   Honestly, I need to get away from here as soon as I can.