Pawan Kumar
Neeralli Sanna Lyrics

Blind Shrike Page 3

Spyder's head spun. He stepped into the street, flashing on the demon in the alley the night before. The mugging had been real. Had the monster part been real, too? He leaned his head back. Spinning in the sky overhead were angels with the wings of eagles. Higher still crawled vast airships. Their soft balloon bodies glowed in the bright sun, presenting Spyder with profiles of fierce mythological birds of prey and gigantic lotuses.

A cab turned the corner onto Harrison Street and -Spyder frantically flagged it down. "Haight and Masonic," he said to the driver, trying not to sound as deranged as he felt. Spyder slid into the backseat and as the driver pulled away, he peered out the cab's rear window. The business man was on the corner, talking to three pale men in matching black suits. Their clothes and general formality reminded Spyder of bankers in an old movie.

One of the bankers stepped forward, reached into the businessman's chest and pulled out his heart. Turning stiffly, he dropped the organ into an attachécase held up by another of the trio. That done, the third banker used a knife to carefully peel the businessman's face off. The cab turned the corner and Spyder lost sight of them.


Five

Communication Breakdown

"How you voting on Prop 18?"

Spyder looked up. The cabbie looked -exhausted, Spyder thought. One of those guys in his forties with eyes that make him look ten years older. His skin hung loosely on a gray, unshaven face.

"The companies make it sound like it'll put more cabs on the street, but really it's just going to screw up the medallion system even worse and give all the power to the big cab companies. We aren't employees, you know. All us cabbies are freelance. I owe money the moment I take my cab out. The moment I touch it. A cab driver has the job security of a crack whore. Worse than slaves, even. We're up at the big house begging the master for more cotton to pick."

"I'm sorry, said Spyder. "I don't know anything about Prop 18. I don't vote…ever."

The driver shook his head. His black hair stuck out at odd angles, as if he'd been sleeping on it just a few minutes earlier. "Voting's not a right, you know. It's not a privilege. It's your duty. My daddy died in the war so you could vote."

"Hey driver, uh," Spyder looked at the name on the man's taxi license, "Barry. Do you want to play a game?"

"I don't think so."

"There's a $20 tip in it for you. "

"Are you a cop?"

"No."

"Fag?"

"No."

"You from the cab company?"

"No, Barry."

"What kind of game?"

"Don't rush getting me to the Haight," Spyder said. He leaned his head against the window. It was cool on his forehead. "Take your time. Let the meter run. As we hit each corner, you're going to tell me what you see.

"What's on the corners you mean? Like buildings and people?"

"Exactly. Big or small. Whatever strikes your fancy."

"Give me a for instance," said Barry. "Like this corner."

"Okay," said Spyder leaning forward to peer out the windshield. "That semi up ahead. The blonde eating a taco in front of bodega. The mailbox painted like a Mexican flag. That blimp shaped like Garuda."

"What's a Garuda?"

"A bird-beaked messenger deity from Thailand."

"I don't see nothing like that."

"Tell me what you see."

Barry breathed deeply and craned his head on the end of his long, doughy neck. "Some bums with shopping carts. Some hookers. Mexican or Asian, maybe. Can't tell from here. They got on high heels and the littlest goddam skirts. You can see all the way to Bangkok when they bend over."

"Keep going," said Spyder.

"Just stuff?"

"Just stuff."

"A Goodwill. A closed down p**n theater. Cholos drinking forty-ouncers by a low-rider. A cop car stopping near 'em…," Barry fell into a sing-song pattern, reciting as they drove. "A mom with her kid in a stroller. A couple a dogs f**king. Get some, boy! Some dope dealers. Bunch of teenyboppers cutting school. Little shits. Don't learn to read and we end up paying their welfare so they can have babies." Barry glanced into the rearview mirror at Spyder. "This is kind of a stupid game, buddy. When is it your turn?"

"My turn?" Spyder lit a cigarette, his first of the morning. "Everything you saw, I saw. But there were other things, too.

"Dazzle me."

"A winged horse. A lion turning into a golden bird, then into smoke. An angel sharing a cigarette with a horned girl whose skin's blue and hard, like topaz."

"Jesus f**k, man," said Barry. Spyder saw the driver's eyes widen in the mirror. "Are you on drugs or do you need drugs?"

"There's a na**d, burned man walking down the street. No, not burned. Cooked. Glazed and cooked like a ham. There's a swarm of little sort of bat things flying around him taking bites. He doesn't seem to mind."

"I'm letting you out at the corner, guy."

"Keep going or you don't get your tip."

Barry shook his head. "Keep it. Getting stabbed by some psycho f**k isn't worth twenty dollars."

"Do I seem like a psycho to you, Barry?" asked Spyder.

"I dunno. Sure talk like one."

"I understand. This is weird for me, too."

"Then maybe you just want to be quiet and not talk about it anymore," Barry said. "Anyway, we're almost to your drop."

"Do you see that building on the corner? I can't tell what it's made of. It's like pink quartz, but the walls are shifting like the whole thing is liquid," said Spyder.

"It's a vacant lot, man."

"Maybe I'm just dreaming."

"If it's a dream, you can give me a fifty dollar tip instead of twenty."

Spyder smiled. "Or I could stab you in the head, suck out your eyes and skull f**k you. I mean, if this is just a dream."

The cab screeched to a stop. "Get out."

"Let me get my money," said Spyder.

Barry turned around to face him. He had a lime green windbreaker draped over his arm to hide the old Browning .45 automatic he was holding. "Get the f**k out."

"Jesus, Barry. Tell me that's not your daddy's gun," said Spyder. "Pretty Freudian, don't you think?" The cabbie's eyes narrowed. "I'm kidding, man. I'm just having a weird day. Let me give you some money."

"Keep your hands where I can see them and get out. I'll shoot you and tell the cops you tried to rob me. When they find all the dope in your blood, they'll believe me."

"Sorry I scared you."

"You didn't scare me, you pissed me off," said Barry. "Can't you tell the difference?"

Spyder got out of the cab and leaned in the front passenger window. Barry kept the gun pointed at him. "Funny, my ex said something like that when she split."

Barry gave Spyder the finger, gunned his engine and shot straight down Haight Street before being caught at the next corner by a half-dozen jaywalking punks.

That guy was going to shoot me, thought Spyder. He considered that as he walked the last half block to the studio. Maybe it wasn't such a bad option. The hallucinations weren't letting up. Maybe being shot was what he needed to kick his brain out of the peculiar abyss into which it had fallen. Spyder had the feeling that the day wasn't going to get any better.

Six

A Trick of the Light

Spyder walked with his head down, not allow-ing himself to look around no -matter how odd or enticing the visions: black hooves, crows chatting with rats, the suddenly sinister insect-silhouettes of panhandlers he'd seen a thousand times before.

He smelled musk and ambergris, cook fires and sewage. It reminded him of the Moroccan souks, but he was very far away from Morocco. In fact, very far away from anything familiar right now.

A sense of relief came over Spyder when he entered the tattoo studio and closed the door behind him. A couple of college girls were inspecting the flash designs on the walls and giggling nervously to each other. They didn't have wings or horns or extra eyes. They were a beautiful sight. Spyder could hear Lulu in the back with one of her piercing customers. "You'll feel a little pressure and then a slight sting, but that's all," she said. "Relax."

Hungry for a normal moment he spoke to the college girls. "If you have any questions about the tattoo work, that's what I do around here, so you can ask me."

The girls looked at him and the taller one, a café2dau-lait brunette with bright green eyes, said, "How much for the black panther? That's a real traditional one, right?"

"Yeah. All the pieces on that wall go way back. And we charge by the hour, so the price depends on how big and where you want it. We have a hundred dollar minimum."

The girls whispered to each other, then turned to Spyder. "We're going to think about it. Do you have a card?"

Spyder went behind the counter and found one of the studio's cards. He felt self-conscious handing it to the brunette. The card had a symbol on it. Spyder knew it was something Celtic, but he had no idea what it meant.

"Thanks," said the dark haired girl, letting her fingertips brush against Spyder's as she accepted the card. Under normal circumstances, Spyder would have taken that as a signal to go into his charming act, complete with self-effacing patter and a certain calculated awkwardness that gave him the look of someone who might need just a little looking after. Today, however, all he could muster was a tired smile. "Any time," he said and turned away from the girls, looking for his appointment book so he could cancel everyone set for that day. Maybe for the rest of the week, he thought.

His head and body ached and his hands shook a little as he leafed through the appointments. "Every rabbit hole has a bottom," he said quietly, remembering something that Sara Durango had told him after giving him his first hit of acid when he was fourteen.

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