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A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
The sight of the blade in Kevin's hand started me from the pavement. It is a strange feeling when your muscles move in accordance with what you see, rather than what you want. It was as if some invisible winch floating in front of me hooked itself to my leg and stomach muscles, then jerked them taut. I felt the muscles tear and scream as I flew up and landed on my feet in one motion, and knew that if I made it through this, I would pay dearly in pain.
I nearly fell again as soon as I hit my feet. The spilled beer made a thin layer over the frozen street, turning an already treacherous walk a nearly frictionless surface. Only the narrow width of the alley allowed me to make my way to the door. I lurched back and forth between the walls, scraping the arms of my coat on the rough brick. The distance between myself and the door shrunk so slowly that I felt tears burn at the edges of my eyes, forcing me to blink them away. It was through an effort of will, pulling at the vision of the open doorway with my mind, that I was able to reach the side door on my shaky legs.
The door was a flat matte grey and lacked any kind of handle on the outside. The only feature that broke its contiguous monotony was a rusted keyhole for a deadbolt. I stared at the door for a full minute, trying to fight back tears of frustration, wondering how to get it open. Kevin had kicked it, and I thought it had opened inward, but the hinges were clearly on the outside now. Had they been there when he went through? There was no way to know, and questioning it at that time would only have delayed me further. Without any other options to try, I pulled back my foot and kicked the door.
It bounced in the frame and swung open, apparently unlocked and unlatched. While the door was opening, I was busy falling back onto the ground. While I work out regularly, I was never any sort of trained kung-fu expert, and I do not know how to kick things properly, especially on an icy street. Nevertheless, I was able to wedge my foot in the doorway as the door swung closed, keeping it propped open.
I went through the door on my hands and knees. Melted water and slush covered the tan tiles of the kitchen, making it nearly as slick as the frozen alley outside. In front of me laying across the floor was a tall silver wheeled cart, adorned with a layer of nearly a dozen racks. Kitchenware and food was splayed out across the tiles, beer and soda running in rivers through the tiny canyons between each tile. Kevin must have knocked it over when he came into the kitchen, or perhaps it had been pushed by a desperate employee trying to flee the strange man with the knife.
A woman wearing a white chef's shirt was huddled against the silvered center counter in the kitchen. Bits of food and drink dripped off of her, and her body shook with sobs. Her face was buried in her knees, and her blond hair had spilled out from under her hairnet, hiding her features. She looked up as I scrambled to my feet, grabbing one of the side counters for purchase. The girl's cheek was fresh with blood from an angled slashed across her face. She clutched at it with one hand and stared at me through eyes filled with shock. The sharp white of her shirt contrasted with the red blood spilled down onto her shoulder.
"Where did he go?" I tried to shout. Instead it came out as a warbling whine. My throat hurt from Kevin's hand, and I couldn't seem to summon the breath to muster a bellow. Still, the girl took her hand from her cheek and pointed toward the front of the kitchen. As she did the blood that had pooled in her hand fell to the floor in a splash. The woman looked at it and began to sob again, this time raising her voice in a repeated wail. She found the strength to yell where I could not.
Again using my arms to guide my body, I pulled my way through the kitchen. The signs of Kevin's passage were obvious. Mugs and cans had been dropped on the floor, creating a mess of glass and metal and liquid. A large griddle was on with meat smoking and burning atop it. A hanging rack of pans had been pulled or knocked down from its hooks, creating a heap of steel in one of the aisles. Everywhere were signs of fear and shock.
Several of the other members of the kitchen staff were crouched in a large walk-in freezer, the door partially open and held by a black man with a large moustache. He held a cleaver the size of my forearm in his hand, and held it up menacingly as I passed by. Behind him were several others that I couldn't make out as I danced through the strewn debris of the once orderly kitchen. The man looked like he knew how to use the cleaver and was more than willing to demonstrate on anyone foolish enough to come close.
I can't image what Kevin had done to create that much fear so quickly in the kitchen. If he had simply cut the first woman he saw coming through the door, he would have been jumped by the other staff members and wrestled to the ground. I'm sure that the people that worked there were used to occasional violence from drunken revelers. The terror in that kitchen was palpable—I could nearly taste it on my tongue as I moved through. It was more than the fear of violence or being hurt by someone with a knife. It was more akin to a wild animal catching sight of a known predator—thoughtless desire to escape and protect.
The door to the main part of the bar swung on a doubled hinge like most kitchen doors. The area around it was devoid of debris, so I planted my feet and put my shoulder into the door, determined to find Theo before Kevin. It swung open easier than I thought, sending me stumbling into a table just on the other side, then hit the wall with a crash.
The main room of the bar was in chaos. People were scrambling for their coats and trying to get to the door as fast as possible. Luckily for me no one had tried to make their way out through the kitchen yet. Most of those who were not fleeing had backed against the wall to get out of the way. A few simply sat frozen at their tables, uncertain as to what to do. The bar had a wraparound balcony above its main floor, and a woman standing on the landing of the stairs was screaming over and over at the top of her lungs. Few other people made any sound as they tried to flee, or back against the wall.
Standing in the center of the room was Kevin, dressed head to toe in the attire of a Victorian gentleman. His tailed coat and top hat were a deep black, which would have off set his brilliant white shirt well had it not been for the bloodstains marring what I assumed was silk. Kevin always went all out on his costumes. One of his hands clutched a straight cane adorned with a brass ball at the handle, and the other casually held a long knife, dripping with blood. The point of the cane rested atop a too-still body sprawled on the floor in a rapidly expanding pool of blood.
As I watched, stunned, Kevin slowly turned in a circle, grinding his cane into the body at his feet. He flourished the knife in his hand, opening his palm to the ceiling and rotating it horizontally a few times, then snapped his hand shut and brought it down to his side. The blade made a whirring noise as it cut the air.
Kevin's voice was drowned out by the screams of the woman on the stairs. He turned to look at her, and stared intently. A man next to the woman reached up and wrapped his hand around her mouth, muffling her shrieks. "Thank you, my good man. As I was saying, I am looking for Theodore. Have any of you seen him?" He raised the cane off of the body and swept it in an arc, pointing out at the crowd surrounding him.
I could see several aggressive looking men in the crowd, and wondered why they didn't do something to stop Kevin. There are always people looking to be heroes when you get enough people together. But no one so much as took a step toward him. They seemed repulsed or shaken by his very presence. A murdered body lay on the floor beneath him, and any of them could have been next, but they seemed content to cower and let Kevin come for them if he wished. I couldn't understand it.
As Kevin's words died, a scarred wooden door under the balcony gave a loud creak as it closed. The sound rolled across the nearly silent crowd, causing flinches and blinks with its sudden intrusion. A few heads turned instinctively before twisting forcefully back to regard the man with the knife. Kevin's face was the only one that remained staring at the dimly lit closed portal.
"Ahhhhh…." He licked his lips as he moaned a bit. Then he flourished his cane and began walking slowly toward the door that had squeaked. Each step was accompanied by the crack of his dark cane against the worn brown boards of the floor, each creaking under his weight. The muffled screams of the woman on the stairs continued, lending an eerie chorus to Kevin's march.
I tried to run for the door, to get there ahead of Kevin, but the crowd was too thick and bunched to make my way through. They were all focused on my top hatted nemesis, and barely seemed to notice me as I tried to shoulder past. People standing between Kevin and the door melted out of the way in front of him, opening a broad path for his stroll. I wanted to shout, to startled people and get them to move, but I still couldn't seem to find the air for my lungs.
When he reached the door, Kevin whirled on his heels, spinning his coat around him, and put his back against the door. With that he took off his hat and gave a flourishing bow before straightening and placing his hat back on his head, tapping the top to set it down firmly. Then he pushed back and slipped through the door as it opened.
His disappearance broke whatever spell that held the remainder of the crowd in place. The woman on the stairs began shrieking at full volume again, and a stampede broke for the door. At last I found my voice, but my cries were lost in the noise of the crowd. I lost all control in my desperation to reach that wooden door and began simply punching and kicking my way past people. Several times I was nearly swept off my feet, and only sheer viciousness allowed me to reach the door. In fact, I reached the door in a rush as someone pushed me out of the way of their own mad scramble.
I slammed into the thick oak, which proved much more solid and heavy than I had suspected. The faded marking of a single stick figure man stood out in the dim light, showing it for the men's bathroom. After bouncing back off of the wood, I put my hands on it and shoved harder. It held stiff for a moment and then popped open with a sucking hiss from the top hinge.
The inside of the bathroom was lit by a double florescent overhead light, of which one of the tubes was missing. The other flickered incessantly, leaving the room a mess of strobing shadows and reflections from the large mirror in front of a low slung sink. A single stall stood close to the door. Framed in the stall was Kevin, his hat standing taller than the walls of the structure. His back was to me and he appeared to be struggling with someone. Without thought I hurled myself into his back, wrapping my arms around his waist and throwing myself to the side and back, trying to pull him away from Theodore. Kevin struggled against me, and we both fell to the side against the stall wall, which promptly collapsed.
I'm not sure if the stall was made of plastic or metal or wood, but it was hard and heavy, and hurt when it landed on top of me. Luckily Kevin landed on his stomach with me on his back, so despite his struggles I was able to keep him pinned beneath me. His top hat was sent spinning off into a corner, bent and cracked at the crown. He heaved up against me again and again, and it was all I could do to balance on the small of his back while trying to keep myself propped up under the weight of the stall wall.
Theo had been pulled to the ground with the collapse of the stall, but was able to extricate himself from its ruins and move around in front of Kevin and me. Without hesitation he hauled his leg back and kicked Kevin square in the face. Then again, and again for a third time. His foot glanced off on his final kick and scraped across my ear, leaving it ringing and burning. I put my weight into Kevin, forcing him down to the floor, and Theo dropped to his knees and began punching the back of his head. After a few strikes, Kevin stopped moving.
We sat there in the bathroom, breathing heavily and feeling the shock flow through our veins, turning our muscles to lead. At last Theodore put his hands on the edge of the stall wall and helped me prop it against a wall, allowing me to squeeze out of the way. Then we dropped it back on top of Kevin. Neither of us spoke. There was nothing to say.
I realized that the screaming outside the bathroom had disappeared sometime during the brief struggle. As Theo and I stepped back out into the bar, the room was empty. No police or bouncers were apparent. No sound came from upstairs or the kitchen. Silence reined in place of the chaos of a few moments before. Not knowing what to do, we staggered toward the door to the street.
The cold air hit us both hard. Adrenaline that had been fueling us gave way to weariness and fear, and pushing ourselves out of the bar into the winter night was challenging. Only the thought of Kevin waking and following us kept me going. All I desired to do was sink to the ground and close my eyes, Theodore wrapped in my arms. Indeed, as I stepped out onto the streets, I did keep my eyes closed. I walked several steps before realizing that the strange quiet that had filled the bar encompassed the street as well.
In all directions around there was not a single person to be found, other than Theodore and myself. The fair, once bustling and full of life, now sat dead and dark. The cries of hawkers did not ring across the pavement, and the slurred shouts of drunkards no longer echoed through the canyons of buildings. Only the hollow bite of the wind whistling down from the sky broke the silence with its impersonal howl. Theodore and I looked at each other, eyes wide with fear.
After the press of the bar, where humanity held me still in its unthinking clutches, the emptiness should have been a relief. Theodore and I could run as fast and as far as we wished with no one to stop us. The streets were empty. We could leap into a car and not worry about avoiding pedestrians, simply drive where the wind took us, to safety. Instead it felt like being cast out to sea in a storm. We had no tethers to hold us down, and it seemed that without other people, we would simply fall into the night sky, destined to continue falling upward until direction lost its meaning and we drifted forever into meaningless darkness. The press was what kept us safe, and sane, and whole. The press defined us, and without it, we were only specks in the face of infinity.
I put my arms around him, seeking and offering comfort. We crushed against each other, desperate to fight off the horrifying emptiness of civilization around us. We clung together to fight the cold that attacked not only our bodies, but our minds and hearts as well. Theodore's chest burned with a bright warmth that gave my lungs the power to keep breathing, warming the chill air I drew in. It was a few minutes before I realized that warmth was blood, and Theo was slack on his feet.
Story by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010
Image by Rae Shapiro, Copyright 2010