A Long, Slow Descent (Part 2)

CHAPTER 3: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

I blasted down the highway, the lights creating a strobe-light effect as they zipped by. Nonexistent traffic today, even that cop who always tries to ambush people by the Saints Boulevard turn was absent. Either he got better at hiding, or someone tipped him off that we’ve all been tipped off. One by one, the junctions and the boulevards melded into each other in my rearview, until, before me, the highest points of our fair city began to rise in the horizon. The sight of the city has always had a calming effect on me, and this time was no different. The city, that symbol of man’s conquest over nature, that bubble of organized, regimented human activity amidst the infinity of this universe, creates in me a sense of solidarity, with the throngs of anonymous citizens, their ambitions, their hopes, their troubles. We’re all in this together, in the city. This is where humans live, this is what we have made for ourselves, and for better or worse, it’s something to be proud of. You have to have some love for your species, after all. This bizarre night would get a little better now that I would be surrounded by life, by action, by movement.

Some people navigate by landmarks, others by streets and avenues. I always orient myself on the basis of where the cheapest parking is to be found, because if there’s one thing that really bugs me, it’s having to give money to someone for a 5 square meter empty space, and be charged hourly like I’m renting some cheap motel. It’s not how I was raised, and I won’t apologize for my values. So I took to the sidestreets, driving past the rows of parked cars on the darkened streets which lie under the main arteries. The houses here, I noticed, resemble the ones in my neighborhood, if they were compacted one on top of the other. The same lights protruded from the windows, the bluish hue of TVs and nightlights, reminding me that here, just like on my block, just like everywhere, people work, eat, shit, sleep, and watch Conan. I finally wedged my decrepit automobile between two even more run-down vehicles, and after ensuring that nothing of value was visible in the car, I dismounted, and resumed my wandering.

I headed up Ballman Boulevard, with an eye towards Chedda Avenue. Though I was definitely in no mood to party, I kind of felt like seeing people, like witnessing fun being had, like feeling somewhat connected to some kind of activity or joie de vivre. The lights and sounds there were like a constantly playing orchestra, whose tempo and style varied according to the time of day. During business hours, the regimented, lock-step maneuvering of the hundreds of businesspeople, the steady percussion of their cadenced marching to and from work, and the low hum of a thousand deals being made over phones which were invisible save for the earpiece which was the mark of any successful entrepreneur, created a serious, almost epic aura, in flagrant contrast to the bright colors and melodious intonations which the young partygoers would later bring. It was like Beethoven during the day, and Mozart at night. Or maybe vice versa, what do I know about classical music.

But the street was completely empty tonight. In fact, save for a few cats here and there, the only movement I could see was my shadow’s, as it grew, shrank, then grew again, as I progressed between the streetlights. I had never heard the humming sound made by these streetlights before, though I had walked this street many times. The lights were on everywhere, signs were flashing, traffic lights were continuing their tricolour cycle, yet not a soul to be seen. The whole thing was becoming unsettling, it was as if everyone had left and forgotten to turn the lights off. I continued my route, now more anxiously, and though I knew rationally that this was just a strange coincidence, and that the total absence of anyone in the heart of the city had to have a rational reason, I found myself eagerly looking left and right, at every street corner, hoping to see someone, anyone. Some guy, some girl, a hobo, a cop, a goddamn hooker, anyone. Another soul to dispel this crushing sense of oppression that was beginning to form. The city had taken on a menacing allure, the buildings, no longer a testament to man’s resilience, were now merely immobile, speechless spectators, mocking me as I sped up every block, doing 360s in the hopes of catching a glimpse of another human being.

Eventually, growing tired from all the walking, and having resigned myself to believing in the crazy coincidence theory, I resolved to head back to the car. Though I was out of breath, the unbelievable rate at which my heart was beating meant that slowing down was out of the question. I turned back on Georgetown, headed to Flink, and prepared to cross back onto Ballman, where I had left the car. As I reflected on the possibilities, the implications of what I had witnessed tonight, I caught myself actually waiting at the intersection for the green light. People or no people, old habits die hard.

CHAPTER 4: ME, MYSELF AND I

It was now half past midnight, as I jumped back in my car. Speeding up through the neighborhood, back towards the highway, my mind was doing a mile a minute. Nobody was answering their phones, not even my brother or uncle. No one was anywhere, the only voices I was hearing were pre-recorded, pleasant messages inviting me to leave my name and number. What if there was nobody left?

The thought, so frightening that I could barely stand to explore it, lasted but a second. As I blasted down Cornwall, I saw a silhouette jogging at a leisurely pace, about a hundred meters ahead. The sight of this silhouette, this moving shape with two arms and two legs, instantly dissipated the tension in my mind, which had by now reached absurd heights. I would ask him for directions, maybe even offer him a ride, before coolly commenting on how there were so few people out tonight. Play it aloof, there was no reason to panic. I couldn`t help but, however, speed up to reach him, which must`ve startled him, because as I approached to within earshot, he started running like Usain at the Olympics. He just bolted, and fast, at that. I had to give it some gas, yet, again, as I approached, he bolted again with renewed vigor. I thought about shouting out the window, before realizing that this would probably make him shit his pants. And as I pondered the least rapey way of breaking the ice with this person, it dawned upon me that I was now doing just over 70 km/h.

It took my adrenaline-shot brain a while to register the implications of this, but though I was so relieved to see somebody, I could not get past the oddity of his allure. He was not tiring, and his acceleration seemed relative to mine. A sense of anxious curiosity now filled my mind, and quite simply, I could not stop following him. I noticed the exit for the highway in the distance, and contemplated the choice I would now have to make. The distance was closing fast between my chance to get back home, right away, and chasing down this mutant.

As if he had just realized that there was a car behind him, he turned around. Without breaking his run. He was running backwards now, at the same speed, looking right at me. Smiling the smile normally reserved for the ecstatic, the excited, a smile so genuinely happy that it created a grotesque contrast with what was happening in my mind. So out of place it made me uncomfortable. He turned back, facing forward now, for about 5 seconds, before coming to a complete, abrupt halt. Right before my exit.

I had been so focused on his slender silhouette as it ripped through the city that I, too, slammed my brakes. The car screeched its disapproval of my maneuver, did a left-right as it tried to hold itself down on the street, and then it too, with me in it, was completely immobile. He stood there, without even looking back. And I sat there, unsure how to proceed.

After a million years, my optimistic nature kicked in, and I shouted, in the friendliest tone possible, a ‘Hey, bro!’ in his direction. And another, as it elicited no response. I carefully moved forward, until I was right beside him, and switched into formal mode, uttering a polite ‘excuse me’, which finally got his attention.

He turned again towards me, his smile now completely grotesque and vaguely threatening. He just looked at me, stared right at me, and I was unable to look away. He was an ordinary guy, dressed in nondescript clothes, the kind of guy you see a thousand of a day. Yet this banality, in the midst of the strangeness this night was taking, seemed anything but normal. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but instead seemed to fall prey to an overwhelming, overpowering laugh. It echoed through the nearby buildings, and he seemed unable to even maintain his posture, curbing himself over in side-splitting laughter. As it seemed to be dying down, he walked slowly to the car, his face beaming, and screamed ‘Hey bro!’ in a voice so loud that I could hear the strain, the tension on his vocal cords. At a loss for words, I could only stare back at this character, wondering if I was, in fact, dreaming. He threw something in my car, and ran off again in the opposite direction at his frenzied pace, his laughter picking up again as the distance increased once again.

I didn’t even want to touch it. I just gunned it. I needed to be back home, there was no other place for me to be. I wanted to be there now, and to hell with all this. Surely, my people would be home by now. Surely, someone was around for me. I didn’t dare look in my rearview as I tore down the highway, westbound and away from the desolate city and its insane citizen.

//////////

Find out just what the fuck is going on in Part 3, at  https://elperezoso.wordpress.com/a-long-slow-descent-part-3

 

slender

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