The room was dark, humid and misty. The suffocating scent of burnt plastic poisoned the oxygen. Several candles attempted to shed light in the darkness. The floor was covered by a thick red carpet; one of those Arabic ones that cost a fortune to acquire. Both windows were dim and dirty and permitted very little light to shine through.
For the last six days it snowed. Snow had covered all cars and streets and made it really difficult to even walk a five stepper. It was like a divine plan on human extinction. Calls to 911 were made on a second basis but no one could help anyone as there was complete chaos created by the thick snow and the slippery ice. Even the TV channels and radio stations transmitted recorded stuff, as the personnel could not get to the studios.
Everything outside was so brightly and painfully white. It was like a Mother Nature’s provided sanity house, for all Mother Nature’s so unnaturally insane children.
Back in the room, he was sitting by the window on a bulky armchair, a thirteenth century French king throne replica. Leaning to his right slightly, he held a glass filled with alcohol in his hand. Next to him there was a short, round, wooden table. On top, there were a metal square ashtray like the ones you’d expect to see in a medieval Romanian film, a short bottle with a black label reading “Absinth” and a square, wooden desktop radio. In the ashtray, a burning plastic identification card molested the purity of the air.
He had already started losing touch with reality and as his eyes could no longer remain open, Absinth had started to talk.
– So, you are special agent G. P. Smith. Well, you are really beginning to tire me agent Smith. You are not at all fun to be with. With all those others I have already been with, we had so much fun. But no… not you. You will just not speak. It’s been almost half a day you know. We have both been sitting here all day and still, you haven’t said a single word. You are letting me do all the talking and to be honest, as much as I sincerely am honoured, I am getting tired of listening to myself.
There was a short pause as he single-handedly refilled his glass, some of his Absinth pouring over the table.
– Would you care for a drink? No? You wouldn’t mind if I had one more though would you?
He was letting himself be carried away into the world of hallucinations and illusions. He stretched out his legs, placed his emptied glass upside down on top of the Absinth bottle and after tuning the radio to an easy listening station he let lord Hypnos take him on a ride over the Oneiricon Cosmos; the world of the dreams.
All radio stations were playing non-stop music for the last four days. After the first couple of days of incessant snow, it seemed that all employees in all jobs found it difficult to attend to their workplaces.
– Last Christmas I gave you my heart; the very next day, you gave it away …
Those people had a sense of humour. George Michael was coming out singing through the radio speaker. One after the other, songs about Christmas and snow were put to play in an attempt to make the recent snowstorm a bit more pleasant.
As time passed by, Agent Smith seemed to wake up. He was a sad man most of the time. Depressed about lots of things and angry at a hell lot more, his own name being one. Ever since that movie -“the Matrix”- had been filmed, every single lowborn, lowbred, lowbrow, lowlife, comedian-wannabe, thought it would be funny to quote memorable lines in his face.
He had been cursed to live in eternal sorrow. It had all been planned by a greater being, a superior entity, an unholy spirit perhaps. He had been created to be laughed at and be tormented through all of his lifetime.
He tried to examine the room around him. His eyes were wet and he could not make out any details, as his mind was fuzzy and somewhat confused. He felt like throwing up but fought it back. “He must have drugged me…” he thought to himself and lowered his head to cover his eyes against his left shoulder.
The room was even darker than what it had been the last time he remembered himself awake. “God, how long has it been already?” he muttered as he tried to raise his left arm where he always wore his wristwatch. The handcuffs clinched. “Holy Mother!” he cried as the metal cuffs pushed cruelly against his skin, tightening the meat around the wrist bone.
He had been chained to the radiator ever since he was brought to this room, even so though, each time that he awoke he seemed to have completely forgotten all about the handcuffs. Another few seconds passed before his eyes got used to the fumes and the darkness of the candlelit room.
His sight wandered across the room. The old bookcase, all made of carved wood, with his collection of H. P. Lovecraft books, the glass display where he kept his collection of drinks, the stuffed white bear that his great grand father had brought back from Siberia, the cold and blackened walled fireplace, built after the fireplace that the great duke of Toscana had in his private rooms.
He had a hard time with Internal Affairs lately. He was being charged with a bunch of stupid things, one being the nobility of his aristocratic and expensive villa. The truth is that the money he made chasing cases for the F.B.I. wouldn’t explain half of his possessions. Luckily enough though, he had been left a great will by one of his predecessors and had been living as king ever since.
He couldn’t understand why he was being held captive; specially, within his own house. It didn’t make any sense. His mind was still drugged and could not work a solid explanation for what was happening, still though his training demanded that he remained focused.
He had still not met his “kidnapper”. All that he knew about him was that he was drinking his Absinth. He had seen the bottle on the table next to the window and had noticed how the level of the alcohol in the bottle was getting lower. Still, he had no other sign of this Absinth-Man. He could only think that this Absinth figure was coming in the room when he was asleep. That would explain the certain memories he had of some talks, some long twisted monologues he thought he had heard deep into his sleep.
– Why the fuck are you doing this? Who the fuck are you anyhow? And why the bloody fuck are you drinking my mother-fucking Absinth, uh? I will slit your fucking throat you piece of shit! You hear?
There was a long silence. No one answered. The outburst of questions had been left unanswered.
Outside the window, Aeolus had given rise to some nasty winds. The snow was coming down in thick flakes, forming up quickly against the window; it had already covered half the window frame.
Agent Smith looked outside the greasy glass. A natural white pillow would not allow him to look down the street. Only the building next to his own villa could be seen, all dressed up in marital white itself.
In his mind’s eye, he still had the pictures of his four fellow officers. Last month, four of his own department agents had been cruelly slaughtered inside their own houses. Wives and kids executed as well. The killer had left nothing incriminating behind, there was no trace to follow, there was not one single detail to examine again and again until one could spot the reason and most importantly the person who was behind all those crimes. In all four cases, the only evidence left behind was a piece of paper reading the word “Philia”, written in blood.
As much as the bureau had attempted to decipher the meaning of that note, the fact that the killer would leave behind the Greek word for “friendship”, only confused and mislead the investigations.
Being chained onto the radiator, being held captive into his own house, agent Smith could relate to all four of his late fellow co-workers.
It was dead silent. In his drugged mind he could still hear voices in empty spaces, listen to yells from sardonic demons, see his own past laughing down at him. For a lifetime he’d been mocked and laughed at, pushed around and turned down. Sad and depressed, chasing F.B.I. criminals had kept his mind on the right track. Each time he had brought someone in or down, it had felt as if he had taken out someone out of all those that had made fun of him during his tormented life. Lately, this too had started to cause him trouble as the I.A. was getting concerned about the offensiveness he exhibited each and every time he dealt with a situation.
He slightly leaned back and rested his head on the supple pillow that decorated the back of the throne. Closing his eyes, he sensed Paranoia creeping within. She was always there. Each time. Every time. Ready to take over, she lurked behind rational thoughts and logical, everyday notions for the perfect chance, sinister smile upon her lips. Thirty-three years. For thirty-three long years, she had always been there, patiently waiting for the right moment. For thirty-three long years, he had managed to keep focused and firm, he had beautifully succeeded in neglecting her presence and in carrying on as a piece of the Divine Comedy chessboard he was living in.
A grin engraved upon his face. Memories of the past, anamneses of his childhood. Remembering how people used to call him names and curse him and beat him and make his life difficult, nostalgia brought back the memory of a friend, a real friend, the only friend who would always be there for him. Until once more, just like everything else in this pitiful life, that friendship had gone sour as well. His friend had been driven away, had been taken away. In an asylum of some sort, his mental stability had been examined and challenged, until Smith, a little kid back then, decided to forget of this friend.
– Last Christmas I gave you my heart; the very next day, you gave it away …
The recorded program on the radio had already played once and started again, in an infinite loop of stanzas.
Agent Smith hummed the tune in his mind. He hated that song. There weren’t very many things that he didn’t hate anyway. Commercialised products of a highly mechanized, low quality replica of culture and civilization were his favourite worst.
– I’ve got Heavy Metal Music in my blood, and I’d like to get it to you if I can…
Lost in his delirium, the words came muttered off his mouth as lyrics for the radio played George Michael song. He remembered, long ago, when he and his only friend used to sit around in his room and share light years of time, listening to high quality, highly neglected, highly boycotted and rejected, true music. He remembered how he would point his finger out towards the mirror, like a character in a Turturro film and, talking to his friend, he would sing the words to the top of his screaming voice.
– I’ve got Heavy Metal music in my blood, and I’d like to get it to you if I can…
It had always been the same. Each time, before his friend departed, they would both sing “Heavy Metal Mania” together, one voice, one yell, one will.
The drug had taken over. His eyes sealed close, his mind watched the latest version of Dreams, his snort travelled across space onto clouds of burning candles.
In the dark, candlelit room, the phone rang twice before the tape started recording as the call went through to the answering machine.
– Hey partner how’s it going? Haven’t heard from you in a lifetime. Six days actually but still… So, where have you been? How come you are not there right now? Pick up if you’re there, I wanna talk… Come on pick up!
Agent Smith was gone. Onto glorious angelical wings, his mind had fled to the land of the dream, the land of Morpheus.
– … Where did you go with all that snow coming down outside? Oh man, you‘re seriously “away”! Oh well, you know the number. Use it! I’ll be waiting for your call. Nighty Officer…
Outside, snow was still coming down. Inside, the candles were still burning. The Absinth-Man by a couple of hours later. With a yawn, he extended his right hand in search of his bottle and glass. His eyes strolled through dark clouds looking for a clock. He remembered seeing one when he had first walked in the room.
Looking around, his eyes noticed an old wooden bookcase with several old and dusty books, a glass display with numerous bottles within, a stuffed animal and a rather royally built, walled inglenook.
Right above the fireplace, on the wall that came down in front of the pipe, a rather aged, wood-made, boxed clock pointed the numbers 9 and 7.
– Oh… I must have been gone for quite some time. It’s nine half already? That explains the dark.
Bringing his face back forth, he turned to look outside the window next to him. Darkness had covered nature. Still, the snow that laid everywhere gave an impression of a somewhat lit scenery. Even the sky itself looked backlit, a navy blue dye. Uranus would not sleep tonight.
– So, I understand you‘d like to get to know me a bit better. I think I heard you asking who I am.
His right hand rested on the armchair’s arm, Absinth filled glass in his grasp. He lowered his eyes and exhaled as cruelly as the sarcasm of a mother’s laughter.
The phone rang again, an electric discharge whose sole purpose was to make him lose his train of thoughts.
His eyesight clicked with rage onto the 49’s Meucci invention. He demanded to be respected. He demanded not to be interrupted when he spoke. Eyes locked on the phone, he raised his glass and let a huge Absinth sip travel its way down to his inner basilica, to mix and poison his blood flow.
Another discharge and the tape started rolling again, the answering machine taking the call.
– Bad news partner. This is the last time I will call you just to talk to the fucking machine. Pick the fucking phone up. … Call me! A.S.A.P.!
Silence unwrapped once again. Silence deep, silence thick. One could almost hear the stuffed animal roar…
– Isn’t that nice… ISN’T THAT NICE?
The phone call triggered frenzy out of the Absinth-Man. With all his fierce, he catapulted the semi-filled glass into the air. The glass crashed against the claws of the stuffed bear before smashing into billions of crystals. Absinth sprayed all over the place, the animal’s fur, the floor and the candles. Hell’s gate had opened in the dim room, alcohol going up into infernal flames.
– Ain’t that nice Agent Smith? Your partner is concerned about you. He has things to tell you. You’d better call him and ask him what all the fuss is about. Ain’t it that so very fucking nice? Your buddy at work, your friend in the bureau, your one person to trust and befriend… He is concerned about you. YOU! That’s what friends are for; to be concerned and thoughtful of their friends! … But why should you know… How could you ever, really know…?
His voice, after reaching a high-pitched peak, had softened and sounded more like a disappointed outcry towards the end of the sentence. On his face, a single tear traced route from his right eye, to his chin and then the floor. He sealed his eyes and took a deep breath, tasting the smokes that came in with it.
On the table next to him a little demon figure with red horns and a pointy tail was dancing all around the Absinth bottle. Two snakes had already twirled around the bottleneck, a once-bitten, rotten apple had fallen into the ashtray over the burnt identification card, a worm eating its way out and into the ashes, a shallow lake made of thick red blood had arisen on the table and dripped down onto the carpet.
Paranoia was an uninvited guest. She had always been one but that never hindered her from always being there. She came out her crypt and for the first time, she did not stand amonh her thoughts but, she materialised inside the room, as if made of the smokes of the fire that burnt the air away. Through the flames that consumed the stuffed bear, she walked towards him, all pale and invalidly dyed in a colourless shade, all dressed in a see-through, white dress, long, pale legs, long, pale arms, long, black-as-the-devil-painteth hair.
He abruptly opened his eyes and turned to face her as she made way towards him. Gone; vanished into thin air, there were only flames that were now burning the carpet and moved towards him. The demon perished, the apple decayed, the worm putrefied, the snakes long killed in Hercules’ cradle.
He needed a drink. Searching for his glass, a vivid image of shattering crystals turned into a memory as he remembered himself catapulting it against the, now torched, bear. His fingers tightened round the bottle, the bottleneck pressed against his lips, the woodworms swam down his throat as a canal of Absinth gushed into his mouth.
Down in the darkened streets there was some kind of movement. People. Not heard. Rather sensed. People walked around Smith’s place, talking in low voices, making lots of signals, approaching from every direction.
The phone rang.
– Not again. Don’t these people ever rest?
The Absinth-Man was not talking but he was almost sure that the words came out of his mouth. Must have been Absinth; once again making him do things, say things, that he would later remember as part of a dream, part of a nightmare, part of a never acted thought.
Once more the phone rang and as always, the tape started recording.
– Partner I’m sorry to tell you this now. You’re knee deep in shit. Couldn’t tell you earlier. I really am sorry…
From the other side of the room, the old clock chimed ten.
Down in the street, flashlights frenzied, lighted every hidden corner, revealed every secret.
The clock chimed ten…
– I really couldn’t tell you partner. You have to understand…
Outside the house, people were moving fast, as fast as the snow allowed. Light was shed everywhere, like a Second Coming or like a Lucifer’s Ascend, everything was brightly lit.
The clock chimed ten…
– My hands were tied partner. I could not take the heat… You need to forgive me on this one friend. I really tried…
…the clock chimed ten…
Recorded by the answering machine, a man was trying to camouflage his tears; still, he could not hide his hissed sobbing. The clock chimed ten times and then it stopped. Outside the house there was no sign of life anymore, no more signs of movement. Inside the room, light was coming though both windows. Light bright and still.
– What the fuck is going on? What the fuck is all of this?
The Absinth-Man was trying to put his thoughts into order, to give his mind a chance to file all that flew and swam into his brain.
The silence was shattered…
The front entrance broke wide open with a smashing sound. Feet. Pairs of feet racing into the lower level, lights flashing into every room, doors opening, doors closing.
– Really partner I didn’t know what to do. I tried to stall them, I tried to talk you out of this but there was no way. I‘d lose everything if I had call you earlier partner. And you know how I can’t afford this to happen. Forgive me partner…
The person on the other end of the line was crying loud by now. His voice was coming distorted, with gaps and stops for irregular breaths and lots of nose sniffling.
People were coming up the stairs. Footsteps were now heard closer.
– So, people are coming to your rescue, Agent Smith? Are they so concerned about you? Well you shouldn’t mind them. We‘ll just have to make sure we finish our little chat before they get any slim chances. Ain’t that right?
The flames had already moved past the little table that held the phone and the answering machine and were frantically marching towards the window, the chair and the monologue.
– Up here! Quick!
A man in a blue uniform, followed by many others, had reached the top floor where the flames consumed space. From a strange viewpoint, from the top of the staircase, right through the opened door of the brightly burning room, he could only slantwise see a man sitting on an armchair, a medieval throne, his back turned to the stairs.
– Holy shit! Call an ambulance, call the fire squad. We have a major fire up here!
The man in the uniform reached for his transmitter to call for help as he made his way towards the room’s door.
– Hold it right there officers. I believe I can take it from here, thank you.
From the bottom of the staircase a voice had commanded all police officers to stop moving, talking, searching, even breathing if it was even remotely possible.
As everyone turned around to see where the voice had come from, a man in his late forties, taller and thinner than mutually exclusive possible, dressed in a black coat and wearing a black hat, was slowly coming up the stairs.
– But we will never get to him. He will burn like an Easter-candle unless we put the fucking fire out. And who the fuck are you anyway?
The uniform from the top of the stair was looking down at the black-dressed figure that was slowly climbing his way to the second level.
– Just before you bozos give me any attitude, the name is Gap, that is Sergeant Gap for all of you here, and I am the chief investigator of this little party. This is an Internal Affairs case and I’m here to see that Smith is brought in to attend his trial with the board.
His steps were slow but determined. They all hated him for the way he had just talked; for the way I.A. agents always worked to take the dirt out on fellow officers with no respect for the job. No one would ever dare tell him off however. I.A. would see to the end of their careers.
Inside the room, as the flames got higher and ferocious, a silent figure still savoured sips of Absinth while sitting on the throne.
– You have to… you have to forgive me partner. I know I haven’t stand for you as I should but I couldn’t do any more my friend. My career would be over if I tried anything. They’ve brought in this sick motherfucker. He is one psycho of an agent. He’s with the I.A. He dug up your entire past partner. There was nothing I could have done…
The Absinth-Man kept his eyes closed as Paranoia came behind him and caressed his tired head with her long and pale, relaxing hands, plaiting his hair in her lengthy, icy fingers.
– What a nice friend. Really, Agent Smith, I envy you. People seem to be so worried about you and, this partner of yours, he seems so, so dedicatedly anxious… Still though, he did betray you, didn’t he? When it came down to his own personal interest, he had to let you go down by yourself. When he had to choose between your friendship and his future, he didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about you, did he? Just like a long gone friend I used to have. He abandoned me you know. He abandoned me right there, in that God forsaken hellhole. You Agent Smith! You fucking left me there for dead. You left me there, as if I had never even existed. As if I had never been part of your ever-miserable life!
The person on the throne was pointing his right hand forwards, pointer extended, he was radiating hate and wrath. Back and forth, his hand was serving the commands of rage that the Absinth-Man had been feeding himself for years. For more than nineteen years, left behind in a place for the mentally unstable, more than nineteen years forgotten by his best friend and left behind for dead.
– Agent Smith I am here to escort you back to the bureau. The interview is planned for today.
Gap talked to the long asleep Agent Smith while still climbing the last steps on the staircase, keeping his left hand deep into his coat’s pocket; his right hand parallel to his body, holding a yellow envelop reading: “Case I.A. 699666. Agent G. P. Smith”.
– He knows friend. He knows everything don’t try anything smart with him ok? Play cool and everything will work out at the hearing. Trust me friend I …
Smith’s partner was still crying and talking when the flames totally savoured the table with the phone and the answering machine, brutally terminating his apology, advice and long list of excuses.
When Gap finally reached the top of the staircase and looked into the room through the half-open door, the fire had almost reached the small round table with the ashtray, the radio and the bottle of Absinth that was now in Absinth-Man’s grasp.
– Come on Agent. Don’t you even dare to hope that I will stay here waiting for the fire fighters to put this mess out. You’re coming with us Agent. We’ll call for a squad from the lower level and the fire will be put out as soon as we‘re on our way back to the bureau. Come on, up on your feet.
Sergeant Gap did not make one step forward into the room. He was standing under the door case and talked into the brightly lit room, to a man that gave no sign of listening, understanding or caring.
Flames licked the table legs. The red demon was there, once again dancing on the flame tongues and drinking the blood from the shallow lake, looking as the snakes enticed humankind to take yet one more bite from the bitten, rotting apple in the ashtray, where the worm crept its way out, into the ashes of the scorched plastic I.D. card.
The Absinth-Man sprang out of his chair and turned around pointing his right index finger to the black-dressed figure, still holding the Absinth bottle with the rest of his fingers. His left hand never moved from the radiator, where agent Smith’s hand was cuffed to.
– He left me! He abandoned me! You don’t understand… He left me and he went away forgetting all about me, never thinking of what may have happened to me.
– Yes, yes I know agent Smith. Still though, you have an interview to attend to so we’d better get going, uh? What do you say?
Gap continued talking to agent Smith by answering the Absinth Man’s rants. Behind the sergeant, the men in blue were trying to figure out what was going on.
– I’m not him you stupid fuck. Do I even remotely look anything like that son of a bitch? He left me there. He fucking left me! I have now come to teach him what leaving a friend behind feels like.
The Absinth-Man was losing touch once again. Eagles flew their way thought the fires and over the man on the door, crows were poking the eyes through the skulls of the men in blue, a child was standing in front of a mirror crying alone, a band was fiercely playing deep into the fire:
– I’ve got Heavy Metal Music in my blood, and I’d like to get it to you if I can…
The Internal Affairs Investigator took one step forward, into the room. Behind him, two officers with holstered semi-automatics mimicked the move.
– I know all about your friend agent Smith. I know how you decided to forget about him and I know why you chose to leave him behind. I know what it was like for you to say goodbye to him when you were finally granted permission to exit the Kentucky Private Mental Institution. You see agent Smith, I know everything about you. So now, stop acting like you‘re back to your other self and come to the interview…
The Absinth-Man tried to understand what it was that he had just heard. He remembered his friend. He could remember the times that they had said goodbye each and every time, singing “Heavy Metal Mania” one to the other. He could even remember himself being left behind to that awful place with the bright white walls and the awful people in white, the disgusting food and the insane housemates, inmates.
There must had been a mistake. This Gap figure must have gotten it wrong.
He had to turn around and face him once again. He had to turn around and see agent Smith chained to the radiator, sitting on the throne, the thirteenth century throne replica. The throne that was empty right in front of him, the throne that he had just stood up from.
Turning around, only darkness filled his vision; and as he brought his hands to cover his face, the handcuffs clinched on his left hand, once again tightening the pain around his wrist.
Raising his right hand over his head, Absinth was poured all over agent Smith’s body.
– I really am sorry…
Flames swallowed agent Smith. Before anyone could rush inside the room to pull him out, an explosion was heard and everything was set alight, anew. The glass display of drinks had just joined the infernal flames.
At agent Smith’s funeral, there was no corpse to bury. The ashes brought back from the villa could have easily been from the carpet, the throne, the stuffed bear or even the snakes that were once again brought back to sweet Father’s garden, to entice and to lure, to give an excuse to the holy dear God to keep the garden for himself and his chosen few angels.
Agent Smith’s funeral was not attended by many; the priest that carried out the ceremony and the undertaker who would lay the case in the ground. As Smith had always been avoided and rejected, his only friends had been executed by his own hand; to prove to his second self what a friend’s death feels like.
Even the money for the burial had been donated by an anonymous donor.
As soon as the pavement stone had been dropped, a man came by and placed a bottle of Absinth on top; a red rose and a badge from the F.B.I.
“Rest in peace partner. I will catch you later, friend. We’ll miss you…”