Monthly Archives: May 2013

Please. Please.

Please. Please. Please. Please fight. Please scream. Do something. Bang on the walls or throw a chair. Beth had four paintings. She needed nine in two days, excluding the blank trio on her floor. For the last months, that wasn’t a problem. The howling and the crashing of tables always eventually rewarded her with art. Now, she had a deadline. For the one time since they moved upstairs, Bethany Keeler’s neighbours were quiet.

Two days. The blank trio of canvases glared across their whitespace. ‘By Sunday,’ they said. The clock ticked! Her clock didn’t actually tick, but it would have, and it would again. This could not be the night they discovered healthy communication. Please.

Nothing. Damn.

Lesson learned, she told herself: don’t bet on blind luck when she’d already kicked its limit weeks ago. How about blind promises instead? This was the last show for Rage Against the Room, for RAR – even though its passion was immense and she could taste the fury wafting from the series’ acrylics – so if only the universe could align and simply squeeze out the rest, Beth could meet her ridiculous quota. Terry’s gallery counted on it. She was counting on it.

Everything she had went into this. Beth even staged her living space around it. Her mother’s floral couch huddled under a pink blanket and against the wall, safer from errant splatters. She’d cleared her table away to lend her canvases the room. Hanging above them, hooked to the ceiling, dangled a system of tubes dripping stuttered lines of colour. It was impressive, if she said so herself. She built it with a fish tank pump and lots of tape.

When her neighbours flipped out, the machine would rattle and draw jagged streaks of flair. RAR’s intensity changed as quickly as the pointless crap they clashed over. Allusions of Crime, for instance, spread lazily due to the breaks they had taken, allowing her liquid hues to stretch across the fibres, but mostly plop at the centre in fat tears. Clearly, those two had less of a problem losing wallets than a sweatshirt. Torn Sleeves bore almost no drops on its belly since the tubes shook so constantly. It must’ve been a nice shirt! But probably not. They lived here; how expensive could something they owned be?

Still, nothing bared teeth as vicious as her Feed the Need collection. For ages, ‘coffee’ sounded to Beth like crack’s newest slang. No, one neighbour just seriously enjoyed Pequods. A hundred fights peppered the story through her depictions and reeked of agony, usually down the vein of the first neighbour screaming at the other to not destroy things, followed by things being destroyed. These creations’ paint ran to her floor in raw excess, devoid of drops anywhere but their brutal edges. Feed the Need exploded, unleashed, and rebelled, and notwithstanding oh God, please don’t let her be in a dark alley with them, the coffee fights were her neighbours’ most vivid inspirations. They won Beth her biggest award to date. Soon-to-be awards, plural, if they frigging returned to it.

Her machine coughed. The already slightly dry paint she’d scraped from a cluster of empty tins was going stale. She clicked off everything. There would be no choosing between supplies and sleeping on the street today. Besides, if the bills crammed under her table’s leg could gossip, the big problem wasn’t the rent but her phone. The forty dollars she saved stretching her paint barely covered her international texts.

Jessica never had those problems. Jessica painted for fun, and she leased a condo with a doorman and a foyer. Her building’s exercise room was a fitness centre, offering more than a broken treadmill and shady weights missing half of every pair. In fact, were Jessica to have muses that went quiet at the foot of her looming deadline, she wouldn’t need to tell Terry sorry, bad news, the neighbours weren’t feeling productively bananas, but instead skip on up there and knock on their door, and that – sounded…

Beth had two options left: a) abandon the designs painstakingly conceived for this exhibition, or b) sprint to a messy, open-and-shut, tag-team murder from above. Option A could work! Doing nothing welcomed every excuse she thought of to not go to their floor, which included selling Terry on the unfinished pieces if she retitled them: The Meek Forgiveness or Interrupted Wounds – crap like that to explain the whitespace. It could resonate! Well, it would bring the total to seven.

Dammit, Bethany… She’d laughed and promised to deliver these early. Now she was stuck for two, exactly as Jessica, with that whole year of experience, had cautioned her.

Between both those pains in Beth’s ass, at least the ones upstairs contributed sometimes. Jessica’s sole talent was shovelling fuel for Pity Petty Rival Parties. Last week, it was over furniture: Beth’s came castoff from family. Jessica ‘discovered’ stuff through feng shui hunts. Normal folk called it antiquing, and if Beth said that, maybe everyone would’ve marvelled as she too surrounded herself with rosy carpets, rosy curtains, and rosy doilies atop a faux-rosewood desk. Instead Beth earned eyes of sympathy, not applause, since rather than renting in a famous city where cheap furnishings begged stylish irony, she lived at a building that let Screamy and Coffee have a key.

She didn’t understand why they stayed. Why share a room? Her neighbours weren’t friends; she knew nothing about them except for that, and she was counting all the time spent capturing their emotions. Were they brothers, possibly? Special needs? She’d only heard the one guy talk. Beth absently paced as she weighed the notion. Yeah. Okay. Special needs. It turned her mind’s eye farther to the side of doubt. The duo probably did what they could to keep the noise down.

Of course, that let a few new implications parade in: neglect, battery, full-on abuse – no. Stop. Don’t. She’d agreed to cross this bridge when she started RAR, and today wasn’t any more the day she started morally crashing. To note, even less proof existed that they weren’t transatlantic crime lords. Whatever their deal, they’d obviously it survived this long. Except…

Oh shit. What if they had died? Oh shit! What if the cops thought she drove them to it? She had the perfect motive to push them! Shit – what if they took her series as evidence? She’d be hysterical! Her art was her life!

Don’t panic! Jam those fears in a corner, Beth! Beyond silence, nothing pointed to foul play. But she had to knock. She didn’t dare still kid herself when the stakes were this high. Fortunately, she didn’t forget to test the waters first. Beth swept the scene, listening and inching her head towards the ceiling. When this failed to provide results, she got a boost from climbing on her couch and doing the ear version of a squint.

Her broom rested on the pantry by the kitchen. She shuffled back with it, and – bracing herself – gave a committed whack to the stucco.

Freeze! Every muscle in her body seized. Oh God. She listened again. Damn, nothing. Never mind. It was probably for the best, anyway. Her first impression shouldn’t be an angry shit she knocked again why?

… Anything? No? Damn.

She moved to part two: room service. Guessing their nightly trigger seemed impossible, and since friendly-coloured clothes might not wash over well, she wanted a neutral palate. Check it off the list: she wore a white shirt and faded overalls, both stiff from paint. Her hair was in a brown ponytail. She couldn’t be more harmless if she tried, so the spattering of freckles on her untanned, easily burned face fit more like a sad bonus than a clever detail.

There. Good luck finding a reason to stab her now. So long as she spoke softly, didn’t make fast movements, left her hands in plain sight, and covered her tracks with an extra lap before home, she should theoretically survive. Unless she became a witness. ‘Loose end’, ‘narc’, ‘rat’, ‘snitch’… God, she hoped ‘coffee’ didn’t secretly mean that.

Two minutes later, she found herself a storey higher and on their free Welcome mat. No one else was around, which she didn’t blame them for. It simply meant she should’ve really left a letter. Too late; pushing forward. The near featureless, Amazon green door was watching her.

Okay. Do it.

Do it.

Knock, Bethany.

“Just shut up…”

“Just shut up…”

Definitely. Xander would definitely listen if Alex asked him for a seventh time. At least the prick quit trying to kill him, worn out with all that exhaustive ass-kicking. Xander’s voice was still going strong, though. After seven hours, fourteen minutes and thirty-six seconds – not that Alex had counted or anything – he had enough mental energy to bitch for another Three. Days. Three days of in-head screeching because Alex didn’t get him coffee.

It’s not just fucking coffee, you asshole, Xander helpfully explained. It’s Pequods. The only fucking thing I ask you for, you cheap son of a bitch.

Alex had considered handing himself in. Yes, the Agents more or less explained that getting the guy out involved hammers, chisels, a drill to his left temple and a grave, but it sounded pretty okay when the other choice was this. Besides, wherever they dragged him had to be nicer than his apartment. An asylum, maybe. Some place with lights.

I swear to God, the first chance I get, I’m grabbing a knife and stabbing you in the throat. You owe me.

Yeah, Alex owed him a coffee and a soul. They were in the mail or… something.

You think I won’t wait? I can wait, you dick. I can wait all fucking night.

Xander didn’t sleep. Yet another surprise Alex learned to live with.

I want my latté!

“Shut up,” he muttered.

The screeching started again. At least the neighbours couldn’t hear that. Everything else he guessed fell under the building’s No Questions pledge. Their room was a cramped bachelor with a bed wedged into the bathroom. Alex wasn’t paying what he paid for décor.

They did expect some furniture back though, including homey pieces like the mirror. The shards of it scattered everywhere made walking dangerous. Other chunks stuck under his skin from where Xander threw his fist against the glass. He would’ve taken them out, except with his ‘friend’ watching, if Alex dove in with tweezers, his hand could magically spasm and there’d be a field day of stitching his finger on instead of just slapping a bandage over it. Fine. The cuts barely hurt. He was more pissed he had to go dumpster diving for one again.

Their latest table had been smashed in two. Alex had landed on it with his hip. The chairs he lifted from that thrift store? Destroyed. He’d been thrown through them. He took the hit with the centre of his gut, like he did with the desk from the curb – gone – and the IKEA shelves – shattered – and the dresser, which was the closest thing this place had to an original appliance and was also now cracked. He would be picking splinters from his clothes for weeks, provided he got the privilege. Sometimes accepting this shit was better than trying to survive Xander’s stupid wrath. Too bad the Agents didn’t see it that way. On the other hand, if they did, apparently Alex would have a knife in his throat.

First chance.

Xander’s control ran off a shrinking pool of energy. He needed to pace himself when he took over, so walking and breathing – anything minor – were left to Alex. Not fights. Xander handled fights. The number of Agents after him had dropped from armies to two main people. It felt cozy enough to rent for a while instead of moving twice a month, but lately…

Alex didn’t get it. Suddenly new Agent swarms appeared every other day. Hours ago, that afternoon, he found a cluster lurking half a block from the north Pequods coffee land. The struggle to turn around and go the hell home was why Xander didn’t have the strength to leave any permanent damage. His foot hurt, though. Xander’d kicked it into a streetlight.

Was it worth that?

– won’t fucking let me kill Agents, won’t fucking go outside –

Yes. Completely. His basic sense of safety had been on the line. Xander not getting his precious drink was just a spite-bonus. Fuck you. Plus Alex didn’t need more reasons not to sleep. He hadn’t rested in days already ‘cause of the panic.

Why new Agents? Why now? How could they not have given up?

Maybe they were trying to get lattés. That’s what I’d do, which was what I was doing ‘til you ran like a little bitch. They didn’t know how many – Four. You ran because of four. I have shit with more effort than it takes to snap four Agents in half.

Yeah, well…

“Shut up.”

One thing, Xander spat. One thing is what I’m asking for.

His jaw hurt. Alex got off his bed. His feet responded. Finally, good news. Ignoring the sharp throb of pain humming from the right one, it meant Xander let go. He felt awful but the awfulness belonged to him. This was Alex’s body – it’s shared. Xander was the psycho he’d invented after a six-years-young nervous breakdown.

Alright. Time to check the damage. Shuffling, limping, he wandered to the last clump of mirror clinging to the frame. Alex had to keep turning his head if he wanted to see another part of it, but it worked. He was mostly intact. Bruises stretched from his neck to his ear, but the oval shape his face was there. So were circles under his eyes. He’d have to wait to tell if those came from the fight or being tired. Or maybe he was sick. His skin seemed pale. Normally he hovered on dark olive. Or else it was a daylight thing. Since the Agent swarms started, Alex stayed in so much that he barely remembered what sun looked like.

It’s yellow, it’s round –

“It’s a figure of speech.”

It’s bullshit, is what it is.

Black hair, brown eyes, cut short and kind of choppy. He did it himself. He didn’t trust Xander around barbers. Around anyone, frankly, but especially not people with scissors. Instead he used to not being picky. If he didn’t look deranged or like a serial killer, then great. Plus he stayed in shape. Xander kept him on a strict work-out schedule. His own face stood as proof of how hard he could hit.

I’m taking this body the second you’re gone.

Then Xander had to keep him alive. Alex knew how to run but sometimes there were pits he fell into, and he needed the little bastard to dig him out of those. Xander hadn’t failed yet. How could he? When he got sick of punching, stabbing or kicking everyone, there was always the ‘advantage’. Alex didn’t know what to call it. ‘Killing people with seizures I make with my eyes’ seemed like a mouthful.

Someone’s coming.

Agents?

No. Xander sounded bored. So…

Shit. Neighbours. Someone coming about the noise.

“Stay quiet,” Alex said quickly, “and I’ll get you coffee.”

Nah, I don’t want it now.

Liar.

“Just shut up, okay? Please? For once.”

Bitch, let’s see you make me.

His arms twitched to kick his ass again. Nothing happened. Xander was still tired. Alex felt him sink to a corner of his mind – or wherever he went – to sulk. Good. Stay. That would stop this from turning more horrible than it had to. Right now, he needed an excuse for why the apocalypse had gone off for half a day. Any chance there’d be brownie points for not stretching it to a full day this time?

“I’m serious,” he warned.

Xander didn’t say anything.

The third and last fact Alex had learned: no answer was almost always worse than getting one.

Fantastic. Just… fantastic.