To Think

   The basic engine of consciousness – that there’s a you and a not-you, and the you can tell the difference. Well, can tell a difference. That the you can find a difference between itself and the not-itself. That’s the basic engine. Or maybe created by the basic engine. One or the other.
   Two men go charging by outside, back down the way I came. An engine rattles along somewhere out there and comes to rest nearby. A skinny man, looking out down the way the runners went, comes to stand in the doorway. A round woman follows him up and shoves him through making him stumble. He turns to walk and he halts when he sees me, and gets shoved again for blocking the path. Behind this pair comes a man left pig-eyed by the bulk he carries. He wheezes in bringing the stink of baijiu with him.
   Baijiu. Turpentine to the gods. A powerful drink of celebrated odour and storied custom, these days used as a test of courage and allegiance. The scent no longer bothers me. Only the people.
   They set up at a table closer to the fire.
   A girl in a neon coat passes by the front door and the skinny man barks out a name.

The Meeting With The Goddess

   If I knew these people before, I don’t know them now. They paw and scrape and try to bite. I strike. I have my elbows across my face. Someone walks upon my legs. A wave of people come down on me.
   On and on, slapping and stabbing.
   More arrive. Festive, almost. Pressing and shoving. Reaching in waves. Urgency lost. It was the dogs, goddammit, always the dogs, I should have known. But the first surge of fear has left these people, my neighbors. The anesthetic of the plague is upon them. Now almost as an afterthought they continue to paw.
   Someone has my ankle. Under all this weight I move like swimming in sharp-elbowed glue. My knee connects with someone’s chin. Loud enough that over all this grunting I hears that clackery clack. I’d gone deaf a moment to the yelling, hearing only myself, but it comes back to me now.
   That battered drunkard is the face I sees most. Peering at me down over the top of this mess. He’s stayed upright and his stupefied confusion has that other quality to it, the merely human. Fuck me if I’m not going to cling to him like a lifeline.
   Banger, I say. Get my goddamn gun!
   If I were going to surface, I should have done it by now. But in the black all around me I am having trouble breathing. Holding down on him, (and that’s me, that “him” – I’m stepping away from myself already). These hands leaning on his chest, as his breath runs out. Shouldn’t have shouted so soon. A welcoming, warming fatalism rises up for me now. I’m just him, the other guy who won’t make it.
   More than just being dragged upon, he is being promised endless dissolution. Not a condition of being ripped apart, because those things end, but a separation from any form of defense, even that of identity. There is not even any they performing this operation. This is just everything he will not escape.
   I burst out of sleep.
   Come on, lad, I hear someone say.
   They meet in the middle, he and the girl. He comes up off the floor surrounded by a forest of filthy white bodies, upright and frozen. First thing she does is blind him with her torch. She stands in a bare patch surrounded by sleepers. In the freezer-like cold of the room, she seems to radiate.
He pokes her in the chest with the pistol. She’s smaller than him, he ought to be able to push her around, the only glowing colour in the room. Outrage flits across her face. He drops his banger away a fraction ahead of her swipe.
   She doesn’t move.
   In the slow motion that has overtaken the room, the trigger pull takes forever.
   The spike displays itself at the head of the barrel of his toy gun. The room comes to a halt. Spittle stays slung halfway out of mouths. Chunks of greasy hair stick out mid swing. Clawed fingers litter the room like skinny branches on winter trees.
   The girl contorts her face. She bubbles over with oaths.