WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?


CHAPTER 20

THE GHOST WALKS through the sunken corridors, staring at his pocket watch.

The Mausoleum Club, deep within the catacombs of the city. This hidden world where the time seeps slowly, thickly, crawling through black mirrors. In the dark alcoves young refugees stand around, examining their pale reflections. They have spent many hours preparing their faces for the night, giving themselves the soft transparent skin of the latest fashion. The phantazeens, as they are known. Dream children, on the run from a corporate desire. Their chosen music is a slow parade of graveyard marches, Romantic lieder and murder ballads, to which only one person dances. A young woman dressed in a costume of dazzling green silk. Her face, it seems always to be lost in the shadows.

Watching her, the ghost recalls the Schubert nocturne from his younger days. Bald schlaf ich ihn, den langen Schlummer. He sings the words to himself. Soon I shall sleep the long sleep. Prague, Zurich, Berlin, the cold streets, cold hearts, the tangle of numbers, symbols; the flight to America. For the light to remain constant, time itself must be distorted. That exquisite, frightening moment.

The ghost drifts on. There is a pain in his chest; a black hand tightening around his heart. Filled with anguish he walks through into another chamber. Here, the young refugees perform their fragile magic. A kind of sharing is taking place, illicit, through the tongue's contact. In the corner, a wind-up mannequin recites the lines of the prophet. There are stories in the air, of a new age about to dawn, of a dark princess who will lead them all to some sweeter land.

But the ghost, his frizzed hair sparked with charged particles, has no interest in such things; his eyes are saddened rather, by mathematics, the exact weight of the moon, the motion of the clock's face. The calculated force of the pain that creeps through him. Along a corridor swirled with perfume he meets the woman in green silk. She will not let him pass.

'What is happening, please?' His voice is trembling. 'I was asleep. A long time, asleep. I woke up. And now…'

'Who woke you?'

'I don't understand. My watch, the hands, they are moving backwards.'

'Do you have the creature?''

'The creature, yes...' He pulls from his jacket pocket the crumpled paper scorpion. 'I was asleep. So far away, the darkness…'

'Who's your supplier? Answer me.'

The ghost looks at her. His face is twisted, lost with confusion.

'Professor, you died in 1955. And you will die again, in the same manner. The slow drawn-out torment, the sudden overwhelming. Is this what you want?'

'No. Not that. Not that… not again.'

'I could release you.'

The woman has produced a gun from the folds of her tunic. The ghost sighs. How simple it appears; by telling the woman all that she needs to know, about the hall of mirrors, he gives himself up to the moment.

'The fairground. Apparition Park. A man there, Mister Teardrop, he sold me the drug. He could not stop crying. He said… he said it would…'

'Good. That's good.'

'Have mercy on me.'

And then, the soft whispering of the gun. The bullet that takes nine seconds exactly to reach his chest. The tiny crucifix carved upon the shell's casing, glimpsed in flight. The pocket watch, broken now, to let time escape in a black mist from the cracked glass. The final line of the nocturne, Der Tod hat sich zu ihm geneigt, dying away into crackles of vinyl.

The special agent walks from the scene, wrapped in shadows.

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WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?