WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?


CHAPTER 21

Miguel, old and care-worn, dressed in a black and yellow biohazard suit, is sweeping the dust from the nylon carpet surrounding his laboratory. Partially exposed by his efforts is a fanned ring of mosaic figures; birds with tusks, reptilian women, conjoined twins. Creatures of myth, the templates of his craft. Their colours fading now, pieces missing. The lab is a dome of black glass at the centre of this zodiac. Its covering absorbs the early morning light from the sun. It shimmers in a heat haze. Miguel leans on his broom and squints up at the sky. He removes a shard of mirrored glass from his work-bag. Its polished surface catches the soft milky light. Miguel starts to walk along the twisting pathways of the Theatre of Creatures. A mechanical blues wail is heard, softly, from the shadows.

Somebody killed my woman, they shot her dead.
A stranger killed my woman, you know he shot her dead.
A cloud fell upon her, a mist around her head,
And the blood-red dirt her bed,
Oh, the blood-red dirt her bed.

Webb, alcoholic and desperate, festooned in designer label rags and animal skins, stands outside the theatre. He hears the soft music being played from somewhere within the green interior. He breathes deeply and pulls out a gun from his waistband. He removes the clip and then stoops to place one bullet carefully on the ground. Webb allows himself to be led by the sound of the music; it pulls him first left, then right, doubles him back on himself, spins him around, drawing him deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. Webb is sweating. At every corner he turns, each new pathway he walks down, he thumbs a bullet from the clip and lets it fall. Eventually, he finds himself standing in front of one of the cages. Miguel is sitting inside this bamboo enclosure with an antique record player on the ground beside him. An old vinyl 78 revolves on the turntable. Webb checks his gun and discovers that only one bullet is left. The sun is obscured by a passing cloud. Webb takes out the devotional photograph.

The sky turned dark, the rain came down like hail.
You know the sky turned dark, the rain as sharp as hail.
Her face was hidden from me, lost behind its veil,
And a hound began to wail,
Oh, a black hound did wail.

Miguel and Webb sit cross-legged facing each other. From the undergrowth around them rustling and scraping noises can be heard, squawkings and gruntings. Webb is frightened. Miguel simply smiles. The gun lies between them. The old man raises a finger to his lips. Webb gazes at the photograph. The face is shimmering from its veiled depths. Miguel makes a clicking sound. Something crawls out from behind the record player. A creature of iron, with jerking claws and a seeping tail. Fluid drips from it to the ground. Miguel mimes sucking the juice from the scorpion. Webb can hardly breathe. The unearthly music from the old machine wraps him in its embrace. Miguel stands up and walks out of the cage.

A lone owl is flying, the moon is white as bone.
A lone owl is crossing o'er that moon as white as bone.
My hands did tremble as the wind began to moan
Of the love that's never shown,
Oh, the love that's never shown.

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WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?