Monday, March 12, 2018

Query 1.01: 'A' is for Alley



The clouds were sullen today. Clouds were always sullen when they decided to get together. That, of course, was the trouble with clouds. Meteorologists could tell you their differences. About how clouds were rather particular creatures. That doesn’t mean they are rare phenomena, especially in the upper third of North America, but the simple truth was get too many of them together, or frame them in the wrong perspective, and clouds were nothing but a bit of glum made solid.

The alleyway certainly wasn’t helping with the perspective.

The little side street was a vein of charcoal black, bisecting antiquated brick and mortar, one of the many tiny capillaries in the great flow of Delphi. Dented metal dumpsters, their peeling paint of green and blue flaking to the ground to join the overflowing waste, long overdue for collection by civil servants who, truth be told, probably neglected the area under the pretense of laziness. The truth, of course, was that alleys gave people the creeps.

Richard Pythagoras Black was squatting in this particular alley; his wrinkled suit unintentionally matched the clouds, the pavement, and the general disposition of the present moment.

As much as one can be perched while on the ground, Py was perched now, staring down at the heap in front of him.

Two newspapers crinkled in Py’s waistband as he shifted forward. He brought out a long silver pen from an inside pocket of his jacket and gently placed the end of it under the corner of a sodden box and lifted it from what he assumed to be the head of this particular heap.  

Roaches exploded from the shadows beneath the box, filling Py with fear and adrenaline as he toppled backward to the pavement.

Damn bugs.

“Wonder if that’s my cue to leave?” Py knew dead bodies were often the vectors of infection, calling others to the corpse-fold. Still, Py’s curiosity often got the better of him, especially anytime there was a mystery, something to figure out, peel apart, and examine. It had been years since he’d had to deal with anything like this. As a child he’d seen bodies tossed into streets, or pushed lazily out of doors and windows after the Rapture Virus claimed it’s tithe. Later, while working for WHO, the World Health Organization, Py watched the more zealous communities dump their dead on the outskirts of their citizenry as warnings or bizarre offerings of worship. This corpse was one in a very long list, but it was still a corpse. He should call it in and go about his day. Let it lie, as it’s said. Just walk away.

Py’s life had taken a strange turn, analyst-investigator for a mega corporation, but his heart had never left the study of disease. That corpse had something unsettling about it. Something he couldn’t put his finger on, yet he found himself mesmerized, drawn hopelessly towards it.
   
Slowly Py moved forward to his knees, preparing to probe the body again.

Before he could reach out a second time, a soft rustling from deeper in the alleyway caught his attention. Py glanced up to see an emaciated glaring of cats peering out and around the garbage, circling like furry urban vultures. Py had always liked cats, or at least he’d always liked the idea of cats. He’d never owned one though. They were so independent, so self sufficient that Py feared any cat and himself would ignore each other to the point of mutual loathing, resentful that they had somehow come to share the same space.

Py turned his attention back to the body, possessed by a kind of morbid whimsy. He brought the box up and away once more. The view was not that of roaches this time, but of maggots gnawing away in their tiny circle of life.

The face was strange. Beaten almost to nothing, yet virtually no blood could be seen, as if the man had been hollow. The husk of something tossed aside.

Another sound, this one like the single tapping of a wine glass that brings guests to attention. It vibrated the surrounding air and made the hairs on the back of Py’s neck stand on end. It didn’t seem to have an origin and as Py looked around to see what it could be, his eyes locked on a figure deep in the alleyway, standing behind one of the dumpsters.

A sudden howl tore at Py’s mind. His hands came up to his head as he let out a whimper. He instinctively stood up and tried to retreat only to find that he was standing among the cats. The alley had been swallowed in darkness, shrill buzzing filling the air. Suddenly, confused and afraid, the cats went into a frenzy. Vicious teeth and claws hit him as they streaked past and Py stumbled forward to try and avoid the feline shrapnel.

The darkness closed in and Py realized he’d been engulfed by hordes of swarming insects. Something skeletal and cold ran along his arm, causing him to involuntarily convulse. Py twisted his body in a desperate attempt to see the invading wraith as a vague towering shadow crept towards him. Py was blinded as the black form enveloped him, besieged by the onslaught of insect singing. Lost in darkness, Py opened his mouth to scream only to have his breath knocked out as he collided with something fleshy and tall.

“You’re under arrest!” A voice spoke, the darkness fading to reveal a disgruntled police officer, who wasted no time in forcing Py to the ground.

“I’m what!?” Py cried out, his face now pressed into the pavement as cuffs were placed around his wrists.  

“Ahh, so he can speak.” Came another voice somewhere above and behind him.

“We’ve been yelling at you for five minutes. Amazing what the taste of pavement can accomplish, huh! If I had a nickel for every time I heard a perp screamin’ for a lawyer with concrete in their teeth, I’d have a bag of nickels to beat you with.”

Py was hauled off the ground, he’s shoulders pulling uncomfortably as he was brought to his feet.

“I’m...not sure...what^” Py’s mind was in a frenzy. He felt exhausted. Despite the situation Py was glad for the officers firm grip keeping him upright. His body was jello. His feet ached as if he had walked ten miles. He could feel his hands shaking behind his back and his mouth was completely dry.

What the hell was that?

“Murder’s still illegal.” The officer holding Py said, pushing him forward and indicating the body out in front of them. “You know, just In case you hadn’t heard.”

“I didn’t kill him.” Py said, trying and failing to get a handle on the what was going on. He could see what must have been the body he’d been inspecting in the distance and felt even more confused.

How far did I go?

None of this made sense! In that brief moment of darkness Py had somehow managed to move over a hundred feet. Another moment and he could have been behind towering dumpsters, lost to the gaping maw.

“Don’t worry, tampering with evidence is also against the law. We can sort it all out downtown.” The officer behind him seemed almost jovial, the situation amusing him more than anything else.

“My pen.” Py said, nodding to indicate the thin silver object next to the body as they past by.

“Evidence now punk!” The other office spat, clearly not amused.

“You have the right to shut your mouth. Anything you say is an excuse for me to beat you raw. If you can afford a lawyer or can’t it’s all the same to me…”

“Easy John.” Guy’s cooperating, aren’t you?” Py felt a firm hand squeeze him on the shoulder.

“Cooperating my ass! Knee deep in cat shit and garbage ain’t cooperating!”

“Nothing a good shower won’t cure. You’ll live.” The officer behind Py said.

Py let their conversation drift off as he continued to go through the particulars. He couldn’t help but notice the sky was now dark and the street lamps were on. The officer gave Py a thorough pat down, removing everything from his pockets before pushing his head down to assist him into the car.

As the car door shut a soothing artificial voice began to emanate from somewhere behind Py’s head.

“You will now be read your Miranda Rights. Please, listen closely to the following information. At the end of this recording you will…”

The voice was like an electric shock. It woke him up. Stimulated the mental pathways well worn by repetition and experience. Py might not know for sure what had happened, but he was trained to chase things like this down and make damn sure whatever it was got contained as soon as possible.

“I believe I’ve been exposed to a toxic chemical or unknown pathogen.” Py said loudly, drowning out the recording. “I have experienced auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. I am disoriented and have…” Py thought for a moment on how to say this clinically, “and have experienced the perception of lost time. I request a full medical examination.”  

It took a few seconds after Py’s initial statement for the voice to halt its recitation. After Py had stopped talking the voice returned.

“Sir, are you experiencing any symptom that would be considered life threatening? This includes things like fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of motor function, muscle spasms, blood loss, etcetera.”

Here we go.

“No.”

“Are you on any prescription medication?”

“No.”

“Have you taken any illicit substances within the last 30 days?”

“No.”

And so it went, on and on for what felt like an eternity.

“Lastly, does your family have any history of mental illness, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or any other hereditary conditions?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Thank you sir. Your request is being processed. You will now be read your Miranda Rights. Please, listen closely to the following information. At the end of this recording you will be asked if you understand the content as it has been presented to you. Let us begin. You have the right to remain silent and the right to refuse to answer questions. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now, or at any time in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning at your request. Knowing and understanding your rights as they have been explained, please, clearly say YES or NO. If NO or you remain unresponsive for ten seconds the recording will play again for your convenience. Should you remain unresponsive, medical professionals will be…

“Yes.” Py said quickly. Hoping to stop the voice early and return to silence.

“You have indicated YES to having understood your Miranda Rights. Is this correct?”

“Yes!” Py said emphatically, wanting so much to know the name of the asshole who had programmed such an ingratiating voice into the thing.  

“Thank you. We hope you have a pleasant evening.”

And with that, refreshing silence descended at last.

Py glanced out the window and watched the two officers move about the scene. The belligerent one’s pale chubby fingers were striking furiously at a tablet screen. Whatever wasn’t going his way got the best of him because a few seconds later he tossed it into a pile of garbage. The one that had cuffed Py was not amused, his massive frame bending to retrieve the device. The man’s deep brown skin shown in the little bit of glow reaching into the alley from the street lights as he dusted the tablet off before fishing out what looked like a notepad and pen from his breast pocket. Py couldn’t tell if the man was really as big as he seemed or his portly partner was just short, but as he watched the dark giant nudge the pasty dwarf with the notepad until the officer grabbed at the thing with a face like sour milk, he couldn’t help but be amused, despite the unfortunate circumstance.

It took a few minutes for other people to arrive and start processing the scene, collecting various and sundry from the body and the surrounding area. Py watched and tried to find a comfortable position with his hands behind his back.

More officers appeared and began setting a perimeter. Py saw lights flicker on and off, shuttering rapidly at irregular intervals. At some point the battery operated lights were abandoned, replaced by a pair of floodlights, hardwired to a generator in the back of a van. With sufficient light finally established, the corpse was illuminated like a stage actor, the skin appearing blue and somewhat translucent in the sudden brightness. Only a moment did it haunt Py’s vision before people surrounded the body, obscuring it from view.

Py was getting irritated. The otherworldly exhaustion had subsided and try as he might there was no position he could find to make himself comfortable. All his fidgeting insured the cuffs had started chafing his wrists. Worse still, Py was hungry. The kind of ferocious hunger that gnaws at a person and demands their attention. All told, he thought it was at least two hours before the officers finally got into the car and directed it to take them to the police station.

About fucking time! You assholes could’ve sent the car to the station hours ago. I would’ve been examined, booked, and fed instead of sitting on my cuffs in your damn car!

While no one could see them through the veil of night, those sullen, commonplace clouds managed without effort to once again match the disposition of the moment as the car pulled away, leaving behind it’s miniature world of mystery, cats, and garbage.

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