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The air                                                   

the air, a towering arc to leap the wide river below, and at the very top two flags still limply fly. She stands in the shadow of a slender overpass, ragged red shoes, black briefs, the broad straw hat in one hand, the gold watch wrapped about the other. Pavement stretches cracked and crumbling before her, yellow lines and white baked almost away, just ahead a single skid mark, each nubbin and crease printed clearly on the concrete, a swerve to the left that ends at the guardrail. To the right, another lane rises at a slightly steeper angle, climbing to cross over hers up ahead, just before that towering arc, one deck of that great bridge stacked atop the other, and the next cool patch of shadow. A deep breath, and she drops to one knee, bending her head. A hand lifted to cover the broken stem on her breast.

“The hell is that?” he says, looking up as they come out from under the trees. She swings back, lurching toward him, dark hoodie, black jeans, fists balled, “You don’t,” she snarls, “you don’t talk to me, you don’t follow me,” he’s smiling, “Jo,” he says, “you keep the fuck away from me,” she says, “I ever find out how you did, what you did,” and “Jo,” he isn’t looking at her, “you,” she says, “I am gonna fucking kill you, you goddamn – ”


“What did you do to them!”

“Who!” he bellows, she throws up her hands, spins away, turns back, leaning in, “Becker!” she yells. “Lymond! Everyone!” Echoing up and down the empty street. “Where did they go!”

He bursts into laughter, doubles over, hooting, hacking, gasping for breath, “Me?” he manages to say. “What did I do? Jo. Look.” Waving an arm for emphasis. “They didn’t go anywhere.”

The street drops away from them down a slope between two- and three-storey buildings and stands of trees to a calm flat plane of water swallowing doorsills and then windowsills, and then the islands and reefs of upper storeys, roofs, treetops out to that tower risen from the water, ruddy amber glass framed by dull pink sunstruck stone, and far off past it the arc of a great bridge gathering itself to leap the flood.

“We did,” he says, the laughter still in his voice. “We did.”

Tethered high above that tower a glorious tumbled garden of flowers floating, a castle of yellow stone gleaming against the white sky, a shining silver zeppelin undergirding the greensward.

On her knee on the crumbled pavement head bowed her lips move, whispering, and as she lifts her hand from her breast the last word can just be made out, please, as that hand closes in a fist and muscles straining, jaw set, she pulls down nothing from the air, not even a flash of light. She doesn’t look up when she opens her eyes. She looks at the face of the watch in her palm, the hands of it slackly swinging. “Well,” she says, as she gets to her feet, “back to plan A.”

“Big One?” he says, looking around. “But there’d be more damage. Buildings, roads – same if Yellowstone blew, plus,” looking up, squinting at the glare, “we wouldn’t have such a pristine sky. Nah, my money’s on a catastrophic melt. Methane outgassing from the Siberian tundra, ocean acidification run amok, hockey stick becomes a space elevator straight to hell, and are you listening to a goddamn word I’m saying?” She’s stepped away, her back to him, looking at something in her hand. “You got a signal on that thing?” he says.

She shakes her head, tucks it away, a slim black phone. Steps out into the middle of the tangled intersection, right up to the verge of that opaque brown water. “I can wade maybe a few more blocks,” she says. A tall sign that says 2 BIG MAC FOR $5 planted right where a drive-through lane rises from the flood, circling round the back of a dark and drily empty fast-food restaurant. “Gonna have to swim to make it to the 405. At least, I guess, we know some time passed?”

“Since when?” he says.

“Since,” she says, “before, this.” A wave at the water. “Happened.” Her gesture ends up pointing up, but she’s turning, looking away, looking back, off to the right, across that intersection, past a triangular slice of park. “That wasn’t here when we left.”

He peers up at it, a dozen storeys or more of blue-grey glass stacked on the corner, grimly similar storefronts lining the sidewalk, unobtrusive signs tucked here and there, cracked plastic letters that say Boise Fry Company, Tropical Smoothies, Parking, Hot Lips Pizza over an exaggerated cartoon lip-print leached of color. “Huh,” he says.

“I know somebody who lives there,” she says. “What used to be there. What’s supposed to be there.” Her ragged red shoes slowly, deliberately make their way along the long unwavering ramp held out over the water toward that great bridge, but hitch once, faltering, a step that doesn’t swing forward, that pauses, that returns to the crumbled pavement. Sweeping off her broad straw hat, tipping back her head, eyes closed, under the white sky. Sweatlogged hair crumpled on her shoulders, the green stump on her breast now edged with brittle brown. The shadowed mouth much closer up ahead. Plastic sheeting’s been hung across the roadway, and down the sides of it, tenting the lower deck.

“Moody!” she calls.

There’s no response.

They lie on dusty pavement wet beneath them, water seeping from their clothing down the slope to where it dips below the muddy flood. He sits up, white shirt clinging translucent, scoops up a sodden wad of beige fleece, futilely sets to wringing out what he can. “That,” he says, a grimace of effort, “was foul.” Spitting. He shakes out the pullover, drops it plop to the pavement. “Look, if you’re expecting a text from somebody, I’ve got bad news.”

Laid back, she’s holding up her phone, still dry. On the screen of it a photo, her brown hair short and tufted, cheek to cheek with Ysabel in her white coat, long black curls, sidelong, knowing smile. 35:B, say the slender floating numerals of the clock above their heads. Baldr’s Day, Eighth of Ever. 87%, say tiny numerals by a battery-shaped icon. She thumbs it off. He checks the golden watch about his wrist. “So what’s the plan, mastermind?”

“Plan?” she says. She’s closed her eyes. “The plan is, I go across the bridge to high ground, head south, figure out how to get over I-84, maybe the bridge at 12th is high enough? But I can swim that easy, if I have to. Keep going down, till I get to the apartment. Get inside. Get upstairs. If she’s here,” opening her eyes, getting to her feet, “she’s there.”

Still sitting he shifts, turns to follow her as she walks away. “Not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your theology there, Jo,” he says.

“I could give two shits,” she says, striding on.

“Hey. Hey! We came here together!” as he stands, “Wherever we go? It’s together!” as he snatches up his pullover. “You’re dead,” she mutters to herself, but “Mastermind!” he yells. “You happen to notice what’s up ahead?”

The ramp they’re on climbs higher out of the water, and to the left another climbing higher till it crosses over, there, one deck above the other where the bridge takes a sharp turn to the right and the towering arc of it leaps over deeper water, falling short of that far side, where ramps unwind themselves, reach out straight and true for the greenery edging those ridges, but the bridge, the bridge: white plastic sheeting hangs from the upper deck, the limply cloudy length of it tenting the lower.

“Somebody’s up there!” he cries.

“Yeah?” she says, without looking back. “Maybe they got something to eat.”

The tapered poignard mirror-bright beneath her chin, “Hot damn. At last. At long God fucking damn last, hot damn.” He tips back his black leather hat. “As I live and breathe, Bambi. How the hell are you.”

“Moody,” she says. His smile flicks away. “You know the law!” he snaps, pressing close. Wrapped in a jacket of army-surplus green. “No! Real! Names!” She leans back from the knife, but her blinking eyes are fixed on his, not the blade. “You,” he snarls, “you will give me my due, bitch.”

“Dread Paladin,” she says, and “Damn straight,” he says. The man beside her with the damp beige pullover coughs up a laugh, “I’m sorry,” he says, and they both look at him, “but that? Is the stupidest fucking, and today, has been a wealth of stupid, fucking, I mean,” as the blade-tip turns to him. “Dread?”

“The hell are you?” says the man with the knife, and she says, “The Wizard,” and “Jesus fucking Christ,” says the man with the pullover, “how many times I have to tell you,” but the little guy beside him in a tight T-shirt yanks his arm, and “Shut up!” says the man with the knife. “You know who she is?”

“Of course,” he says, twisting his arm free, rubbing his wrist. “She’s, uh,” looking her over in her dark hoodie, hunched, arms folded, drawn away from the figures behind her, the one with the thick chain hanked about a fist, padlock clipped to one dangled end, the other leaned on a scuffed length of plastic pipe.

“Well?” says the man with the knife.

“Bambi,” he says, “right, she’s Bambi, call me the Wizard, sure.”

“You can learn. Good. Because there’s rules, out here. Tell him the rules, Bambi.”

“No snitching,” she mutters, still looking down. “Never talk to a cop. Respect the lifers. No real names, never talk about where anybody sleeps. No flirting, with your brother’s girl, your sister’s boy. Never steal from” but he joins in, shrieking over her, “Never steal from family!” Jabbing the knife at her. “She ran away from home, she came here, and we gave her a new one! I gave her a family!” The others of them all stood or sat in a ragged circle among the supermarket tents, the shopping carts lashed together, draped with sunfaded blue tarps, a little town sheltered by great cloudy curtains of plastic hung from the deck above. “But she had to go and run away again. Took a government handout for a room in a box. You went and got yourself a job.”

“How long’d you end up doing down in Salem, Moody,” she says.

“I ought to beat you down by the tracks myself,” he snarls, lurching close, “let those goddamn buzzards pick your bones. I ought to,” drawing back, “but, shit. World’s ending. We can afford to be magnanimous, right?” Spreading his arms to the listless slithering flap of plastic curtains. “So!” Stepping close to the man with the pullover. “We’ll just tax your sorry ass. Let’s have that fancy watch.”

“What?” he says, still holding his wrist. “No, that’s,” looking over to her, “not gonna happen.”

“Oh you do not want to say no. Tell him, Bambi.”

“I can’t give you the watch,” he says. “Ask for something else. Anything,” and he hold his hands very still as that knife reaches toward him, a swallow as tink the tip of it touches the glass of the dial, “Jo?” he says. “Hate to ask, but any time, you know?”

“I can’t,” she says, her arms still folded, and “Can’t, wait, what?” says the man with the knife, as she says, “don’t you think I already tried?” Hood falling back, blinking quickly, mouth set tight. “I can’t reach it. I can’t find it, it’s not there, I don’t, I don’t know,” and the man with the knife is smiling again. “So!” he says. “Give me the watch.”

“Well, first, it’s not a hey!” as the guy in the tight T-shirt grabs his elbow, “It’s not mine to give!”

“It’s mine to take,” says the man with the knife. “Hand it over. Maybe we’ll let you go on over the bridge.”

“Paladin,” she says.

Rustles and steps a clink of chain that plastic pipe lifted as she pulls something glassily black from the pocket of her hoodie, “Hold up,” says the man with the knife, “hold up,” and then, “a phone?” he says. “The fuck am I supposed to do with that?”

She thumbs it to life.

“Oh, Bambi,” says the man with the knife, leaning close. “Oh, that is adorable. You got yourself a girlfriend.”

“She’s,” she says, but then she pushes the phone at him. “Tax me. Let us go. You’ll never see me again.”

“Oh, but I will,” he says, his hand on hers. “Any time I want. Long as the battery holds.”

“Moody,” she says, again, lifting a hand watch wrapped about her fingers to part the heavily translucent curtains that hang across the road. No one stands guard on the other side. No one moves among the litter of tents beyond, no one’s peering out from behind a flap. A shopping cart’s been knocked over. Splintered wood pallets, broken glass. One of those tents still lashed to its frame, but upside-down, stubbed pegs stuck useless in the air. A boot tipped over, filthy green jeans, a khaki coat in a rusty splotch of brown. Those curtains with a shuffle fall shut behind her, hung breathlessly still down either side of the bridge deck. Another body crouched, one running shoe still on, another puddle of blood. Two more wrapped about each other under a sticky, bunched-up blanket, another just beyond, head at an impossibly wet angle, thick chain flung off just out of reach, almost beneath the turning, twisting, she shakes her head, she looks away. “Oh, Moody,” she says.

His black leather hat’s fallen to the pavement, there by the knee of the man sat tailor-fashion, silver stripes of his green track suit dull in the dim, head bowed, a pair of blue and white headphones over his ears. She kneels before him, trying to meet his eyes behind his sunglasses, careful of the sword laid on his knees, the long blade of it and the golden pommel both stained darkly red. She starts back when he lifts a hand, wrapped in a fingerless cycling glove, but he’s reaching for those headphones, burst of noise as he lifts them away, “Forgive me,” he says, “but fighting,” his words wheeze, “your folk is such. Butcher’s work.”

“I don’t,” she says. “Do I know you?”

“Huntsman,” he says, gazing up at her through jagged lenses tinted green, like pieces of broken bottle. Beneath her straw hat her haggard face. The broken stem lodged in her breast. “You’ve,” he says, “changed, but,” fighting for breath, “hurry. We haven’t.” And then, “You must.”

“Hurry,” she says, standing. The watch about her fingers.

Twisting, turning, the body wrapped in a jacket of blood-soaked army-surplus green hangs leaned forward from a dull green-grayish cord that’s wound about the chest, up under dangled arms, stretched taut to the pale green girder above. The head flopped forward. Her free hand, shaking, catches one of those dangled hands, lifts it limp, her other hand fingers stretching the golden band of the watch enough to slip it over those fingers, past the knuckles, scraping back the drying blood. Snapping the latch shut, the body swaying, bumbled against her with the effort, “God!” she spits, steadying the weight, patting at the pockets of that jacket. Up close the dull green cord’s quite iridescent, browns and purples, reds, oranges chase each other up and down the glistening length to where it’s swallowed by the bloody jacket, the once-white shirt beneath. She tugs something, a stiff weight from a bloodlogged pocket, lets it fall a brightly clang to the pavement, long, tapered, the silver handle wrapped in wire.

“You’ll need a blade,” he says.

“I don’t want,” she says, stepping back. “I know Lucinda. I remember, but I don’t,” she frowns. The sword on his lap, his hands in those fingerless gloves, grey and black. “I used to,” she says. “I had a pair of gloves.”

“You will need gloves,” he says, and coughs.

But she peels the jacket open, reaches for the pockets within, this side, that. Steps back. The body left to sway a ponderous pendulum from that taut-stretched cord. The phone in her hand, one corner of the glass of it webbed with cracks, a crooked line jagged up to the top. She closes her eyes, opens them, thumbs the button at the bottom of the phone. Nothing happens.

She falls to her knees.

Some time later she takes a deep shuddering breath. “There’s no flies,” she says, to herself. “Where are the flies.” Sitting up. Rip of velcro as she tightens the closures on her fingerless cycling gloves, black and grey. Scrape of steel she takes up the bloodied silver poignard. Knife in one hand, phone in the other, she heads over to the edge of the deck, to the cloudy plastic aglow with sunlight whitely without. Tucks the phone away in the waistband of her briefs. Turns the blade and lifts it a swinging punch, rip, she snatches the tear to pull, yanking with rustles sharp like clattering falling sheeting popping loose to slump, a clamorous collapse, crumpled to the guardrail, leaning slowly weight of it pulling over and down to the water below, “Come on!” she screams. “Come on!” The light pouring in, the towers of downtown rising from the flood. The body behind her turning slows abruptly, an arm slipped free of the twisting cord that tips the weight of it sideways legs a-dangle lift, and the hair flops back from the ruin of that face, but still within all the blood the lips are parted in a smile about

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Symphony No. 6 (Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven), written by Glenn Branca, copyright holder unknown.

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