The Siege of the North

by Brett Richard Morrison

In what amounted to a far greater struggle than it merited, Trevor managed to wrestle his pants up to his waist. They were stretched and befouled in a myriad of ways; covered in black sludge from the street, vomited upon, laden in spilt drinks, sugary vodka apple juices and inane Russian beers, smeared in salty oils, and flavored generously by sleeping on floors, sofas, and mud beds. They hadn't been washed in months. The same could almost have been said of Trevor's body, whose only respite was having a cold bottle of water dumped over it from time to time.

Trevor remained collapsed on the floor, its dirt and filth of untold centuries crawling all over him like blankets of drunken, sticky ants. He reached for his overcoat, which smelled like a million ashtrays, and folded it up behind his back, creating a kind of reclining, gentleman's salon chair against the east wall of his box in the Mariinsky. And now for the bottle, Trevor smacked his lips.

Serenely, a warm, bubbly pull of the sweet theater brew issued forth. Blissfully and carefree, he drank down the cheap, syrupy illusion. A man could be quite happy here in the theater, he thought. Quite happy indeed, under these dreamy cupulas and gilded vaults. Trevor drank long and heavy, chain smoking to his heart's content.

Freedom, he thought. After decades of prison camp, I finally have freedom. Freedom, freedom, freedom, his happy heart mused. Freedom to walk around the frosted, snaking canals, drinking deep the brisk, pink, polluted air, breathing in serenely the dancing vapors of crudely divined alcoholic elixir, his eyes dancing upon all the parading ladies of note, wrapped in black furs, beers in hand, chins up and heels high, on their graceful promenades upon the snow dusted carousel of Nevsky Prospekt.

Freedom, the sweet, serene rush of adrenaline when stealing a meat pie from an untended cafeteria. The warm, oily, rubbery dough, the meat indeterminable, under-salted, the mouth feel crunchy and off-putting, thanks largely to its overabundance of grizzle, bone chips, tendons, and the cadaverous like. Freedom, the brisk, invigorating cascade of cold, bottled water washing over his foul-smelling body in a bone-dry shower crawling in black mold, the toilet down the hall reeking of days’ worth of piled up feces. Freedom, burning the short, anemic days away on 30-cent beers while listening to 150-cent, bootlegged compact disks, blowing dank, wet smoke up into the cracked motifs of the high-ceilinged barracks of a Stalinist rat cage. Ah, freedom, he cooed.

When Trevor passed out, it was into a long, deep, and delirious slumber he fell. He could have been gone eons and ages, traveled from one corner of the universe to the other, read War and Peace forwards and backwards in Russian. He would have never known, for where he was there was no time. His diving suit, however, still abided by time, and it was only three hours later when that timer inside his hibernating diving suit went off.

When Trevor startled awake, he had absolutely no idea where he was. What the fuck, he dryly spat. It was the way he greeted most days. This one in particular, for when he realized he was underneath a chair, he briefly thought that he must be in someone's kitchen. However, it didn't take him long to peer past the chair squatting on his face to see the shadowy elegance of the Mariinsky Theatre stretched out before him like a misty dream. How the hell did I get in here, Trevor wondered. Stunned, his wide, bloodshot eyes crawled around the slumbering, derelict interior. What the flying fuck! The shades had grown deeply across the theater's womb, this empty, inner globe now shadowy and morosely barren, the massive chandelier hanging like an upside down tree in the center of the theater lit only faintly, its fruit like dying embers. Only these pinpoints, this scant collection of minuscule lights, shined forth through the disorientatingly eerie curtains of darkness. Was it morning? Time, and what constituted its passage, was an arcane and mysterious proposition here. Face and mind half-paralyzed and crippled, Trevor surveyed the eerie, ghostly surrounds. This is interesting, he thought. But I'm getting out of here.

Confused, fumbling, blinded by an electric eel crown of boozing, Trevor moved his aching, stiff, and awkward limbs through the surreal, syrupy tar. His spine felt bruised, embattled, and crooked as he solarmanuevered the slumping, warped contours of the sullied corridor of the bel-etage, sweet and foul in the centuries of walking meat traffic and their musky decompositions. Trevor's head throbbed unbearably in a disorientating vice, compacted brutally into an iron maiden composed of his ill-fitting skull and the swollen, clutching squeeze of poisoned blood vessels wrapped around his mind like tight, jellyfish tendrils. This was going to be a rough one, Trevor sorrowfully surmised, dryly swallowing in nausea as he clenched his teeth. But there was a simple, encompassing cure, and one that would shortly be forthcoming in abundance - paralyzer. That was it, Trevor mustered his energies. Get out of here and get my hands on that first bottle.

Trevor's hands shook in jangled, nervous tremors against the cold walls of the tomb, his heavy moon boots searching blindly for the staircase leading downward to the cool, dank, mystery mists of the swamp. He felt as though he had sandbags draped across his shoulders, glue and sawdust in his joints, a poisoned. A Chernobyl fog had blown deep into his mind. Inch by inch, Trevor worked his way through the darkness until finally his foot felt a drop-off. Ah, he said to himself. The stairs.

His first step of descent brought him a slight feeling of hope. I was getting out of here, he sighed in relief. That beer was just on the horizon. Two, three, four - gingerly Trevor descended. This is easy, he assured himself. Just then, above him, somewhere in the woodshop rooms high up above in the Mariinsky where they built sets, an unsettling, creaking noise, like the beleaguered timbers of an old sea vessel, the tired, gnashing plate tectonics of some angry, massive stone house on quaking ground, the awakening rumblings of some giant, perturbed beast, began showering and thundering down around him. Trevor froze. And then, KABOOM!

The concussive shockwave of a massive explosion sent Trevor to the ground. It was as if a salvo of dump trucks and bulldozers had suddenly fallen from the sky and reported terribly from Decembrists Street just outside the Mariinsky. The fear bolted up from the tail of his spine to the back of his pineal gland, an electric barbed wire spear piercing his being. What the hell was that, he desperately wondered. Panic began to seize the reigns. Trevor got up and worked the stairs, focusing intently. His middle mind was screaming run, jump, fly, get out of here! His higher mind was saying, focus on the stairs, don't break your neck. His lower mind was feverishly calculating, balancing his weight, moving his limbs down the steps one by one, maintaining oxygen intake into the spacesuit, ready to blow the hatch on the adrenaline valve at any instant and go into fully-automatic, berserker overdrive.

Boom, BOOM, BABOOOM, BOOOM!!!

The deafening cacophony of brutal destruction, of violent, massive collisions blasted through the darkness. It was a thunderous confluence of bitter apocalypse, of recalcitrant forces unloading their salvos upon structures grandly demiurgic yet fatally fallible. The theater shook violently. The stairs swung and ebbed like a rowboat tossed at sea. Trevor lost his balance. Get the hell out of here, his mind continued to scream. Instantly, the processor in his mind sped up to top speeds. The onslaught of aural tsunamis slowed into a hideous, cruel growl. The terrible shaking down-shifted into a rubber room of cooling jell-o. Trevor felt the hideous sensation of the wind beginning to blow through his hair as he toppled forward down the stairs, as if shoved from the edge of a plank to cruel, shark infested waters. There was nothing to do, the descent had begun. It was time to blow the tanks. The adrenaline valve flew open, flooding Trevor's body instantly. The lower mind was anticipating a cornucopia of pain, broken bones, and the incredible need to keep moving. The onrush of adrenaline would have to do the trick. His mind desperately tried to process the predicament that its embattled vessel was falling down a flight of stairs in the dark. Immediately, it ordered the legs to kick like mad, anything to get purchase, to break the fall, to regain footing, if miraculously possible. Simultaneously, the arms swayed wildly to counteract the forward fall. Lastly, the processor demanded as much of a roll as possible, firing the weight of the body into the shoulder that was already leaning forward in hopes of the momentum bringing the body around so as not to land face first. Once we get impact on the opaque, jagged landing strip, bring the arms up to the protect the face, tuck the head and neck, and roll as best as possible. The processor punched it in and locked it down in about the same time it took Trevor to blink his eyes. Fuck it, the processor said in final summation. This is a coin flip. Trevor himself wasn't aware of any of this. He thought only, is this it? A blazing, neon, broadway marquee flashed across his mind, brightly screaming one simple, solitary message: SHIT!

When a person was in a fight, there would come a moment when one was getting furiously hit, but unfortunately couldn't see any of the blows coming. Instead, there would only be disorientating, exploding lights and flashes. Trevor was in that position now. He spun like a bag of bones in a tumble dryer as dictionaries, encyclopedias, bricks, socks filled with quarters, and wooden planks were fired at his face and whacked over his body. It was like tumbling down a mountainside while being beaten by a gang of blood-thirsty godlessness in an interrogation cellar. Brutally, Trevor felt himself slammed against a wall like a rodeo clown pinned between the rails and a pair of horns. He tried to grab onto the wall, knowing full well it was foolishly impossible. His fingers clawed and desperately tried to gain purchase. Bizarrely, Trevor finally realized, wait a minute - this was no wall! This was the floor! Quickly, he scrambled to get up. Hurrah, his mind screamed, I can get up! We're not paralyzed. But with Trevor's first step he realized his left knee and ankle were painfully crippled. Trevor spat curses as he doubled over. It was then that the rest of his body lit up. Even through drenched in terror and adrenaline, his back, elbow, shoulder, and head began blasting his senses with fervent distress calls of beguiling pain. For a moment, Trevor crumpled as the onslaught of agony collapsed upon him. Just then another furious eruption rocked the foray simultaneously from above and below, a deafening battery of Cush's vengeful onslaught, Shiva's furious rage, Hermes' brutal thunderbolts, Set's vicious banquet of blood.

Chunks of the Mariinsky ceiling crashed down around Trevor. His eyes, mouth, and nose filled with an abrasive, acrid dust. At any moment that entire theater was going to collapse on his head, he realized. Move, he cried from deep within himself to the battered and limping vessel of which he commanded. Move damn it!

Listing to the port side, one propeller out, Trevor's body groaned in a deluge of pain as he started up the engines and desperately began a grotesque style of mangled hopping. Disorientated, he could just barely see through the dust to the pale, ashen portals of the Mariinsky’s three front doors. His focus locked onto these dim casts of light like a moth with a broken wing flying hypnotized upwards towards the moon. As he struggled across the lobby floor strewn with chunks of plaster and blackened, blown out bricks, a heart-stopping, bestial agony filled the air. It sounded like the blood curdling, metallic death cry of some giant mechanical beast being whipped, flayed alive, slowly cut open, and rueful disemboweled at snail's pace. The cry ripped and shredded through Trevor's eardrums like a swarm of razorblades through rice paper. It was the sound that would quickly make any man insane, a siren's chorus, an army of forks on chalkboard, a million root canals, an opera of chainsaws tap dancing on skulls.

Left hand clutching at his knee, spine bent over and screaming, Trevor elephant-manned it to the door. Outside, through the small, square looking glasses, Trevor beheld a claustrophobic vision of Glinka Street filled with billowing, black ashes and cruel, bursting, orange flames. There was nearly zero visibility, as if the windows were a submarine portal to a clouded, underwater seabed of furious battle. What the fuck is happening, Trevor's mind cried. This must be war. But war with who? Chechens? Are Chechens blowing up the city? Is it the new king, the son of St. Petersburg, solidifying his newly won reigns with a couple of obligatory Reichstag fires? Have nukes gone off, perhaps by accident? Is this the bookend holocaust? The end of the world?

The thunderous, terrible sounds of bombs continued to billow ferociously through the theater. Raining down in chunks, the ceiling continued to shatter and disintegrate, the walls splitting and cracking apart. Trevor tried the door. He didn't want to go out in to the black death cloud, but he had no choice. It was that or be crushed and buried alive. His hand came to the lever and he pulled. You ridiculous whore, he screamed. It was locked. Angrily, he pushed and pulled. Still locked. Fuck, he cried. He hopped immediately over to the next door. No, no, no, no! He screamed. It too wouldn’t budge. Leaping on his one leg, he made the next door. His hand reached out desperately for the lever. This was it, he thought. I live or I die. The cold, worn lever came to his grasp. He squeezed his hand down and pulled on it fervently. Nothing.

Trevor's mind, for all intents and purposes, simply went blank from that moment onward. He remained active, but more like a zombie on amphetamines. His mind’s eye was simply watching the show, his subconscious, reptilian mind now in full control, its anti-death protocols and survival scripts firing at lightning speeds. Trevor's conscious mind, the ‘it’s hopeless, I’m going to die,' hesitant, calculating, paralyzed mind, had been shut off. Immediately, Trevor moved to pick up a piece of mortar that had dropped from the ceiling. He returned to the door and fired it through the glass. It shattered and split apart. Using his coated elbow to break off the remaining shards, Trevor stuck his arm through and reached for the outer lever. He felt shards of glass ripping his arm open like a log of string cheese pulled through a barbed-wire fence of shark teeth. It all mattered not to him. His hand came to where the lever should be and desperately felt around for it. This being the front entrance, there was of course no lever on the outside, only a smooth, brass panel upon which the flocking patrons pushed open the door.

Axe, Trevor's survival command screamed. Just as it did, some object slammed against the outer window of the front door. The entrance to the Mariinsky was double-doored, of course, as any public building in such a cold climate most necessarily had to be. That meant that between Trevor and his dangling arm in the fox trap was five feet or so of separation and then another identical door, the front door of the Mariinsky to the street. Against the windows of this door, some object had been hurled. It banged against the glass with a dull thud. Trevor thought he could make out a strange, rusty colored liquid on the window where the object had hit. For a moment, he stared. That survival mechanism, peering out through the periscopes of Trevor's eyes, wanted more information. Sense, perception, intuition, radar, sonar - all antennae where keenly focused on this point. The black, ferocious clouds raged and billowed outside, like oil wells set ablaze, only the dimmest of light filtering through the exploding chaos. Maybe it was someone outside who could help him get out. Just a few more seconds of information gathering before time to flee. Just then, a projectile fired through the outer door window like a slim, black rocket. Boom, smash! Fragments of glass flew like shrapnel against Trevor and the inner door. He felt the cold sting of the glass against his hand, but it meant nothing to him at this point. A quick blink in the astringent dust, and Trevor's eyes zeroed in on the object that was caught and hanging midway through the broken front door window. There, plainly enough to see, was a bloodied, bruised, lacerated human arm - severed at the shoulder, stabbed into the door like some cannibalistic calling card. Flee, Trevor's mind screamed, in the complete opposite fucking direction!

Like a three-legged dog, Trevor awkwardly abandoned himself to rushing through the theater, limping and hobbling like deranged laboratory experiment set free to terrorize the town. The blasts continued, the theater shaking and trembling like a wooden frigate accosted by a brutal line of cannon. There were no longer any aisles in the Mariinsky proper, just a sea of upturned chairs, chunks of plaster, and a waterfall of debris showering in from the stage-designing woodshop above. The ceiling was cracked in a macabre, jaw-like crescent, a parade of tools, machinery, ropes, tables, props, and costumes dripping forth like the ropy saliva of a growling, rabid beast.

Trevor furiously fought his way through the choppy sea of chairs, throwing them out of the way, pushing them about like a tackling sled. Above him, a sea of sparks erupted and a chandelier from one of the boxes above crashed nearby like an incoming meteorite. Trevor gazed up to see the ceiling beginning to splinter, the ring of small chandeliers one by one popping and caroming down to earth in a fiery shower. Then the grand light fixture in the center of the Mariinsky’s ceiling began to moan and list, separating and peeling apart from the faux heavens. This chandelier was a massive, dimly lit constellation of marmalade stars surrounded by a circle of principalities parading hand in hand in the dusky, ethereal realms. Normally, this chandelier burned brightly, but amid the upheaval and damage, only a meager wattage reached its starry outposts. The fixture itself looked like a giant, celestial nipple mounted upon a supple, heavenly breast. However, this nipple was slowly being eviscerated by some unseen, cruel surgeon's hand. Bit by bit, with each shake and explosion, the starlight nipple peeled evermore downward. As it slumped, a viciously taciturn cru of bloodied mother's milk issued forth from its bosom, a glowing, fiery, molten brew that began dripping and spewing about like an angry lava flow. The entire Mariinsky began glowing a hideous, fiery orange as the molten lava began to pour. Instantly, Trevor could feel its intense, blast furnace heat lacquering him with broad strokes, cooking the back of his neck and ears as if he were head first in a pizza oven. From the cracked, ghoulish smile of the ceiling, a rain of mannequin bodies began falling across the Mariinsky floor, bouncing off balconies, crushed by light fixtures, exploding on the ground, impaled by upturned chairs. An endless waterfall of automatons, some of them on fire, some bursting into flames and melting as they came in touch with the growing pool of lava, flew about like debris hurled from a tornado.

Trevor held up his coat over his head as he stumbled and waylaid through the chairs. Fighting his way to the stage, he noticed a fervid roar bellowing from the orchestra pit. There, before the Corinthian pillars of Apollo and Pallas squirmed a sea of arms and hands. They were sticking out from the orchestra pit, a 100-pronged octopus, waving desperately, clutching in madness at the open air, wailing for assistance. They were held captive by a black cage of steel beams that had been welded across the top of the pit. No faces, no bodies, but their screams and cries were a fervent chorus against the apocalyptic backdrop of concussive thunder.

"Okay!" Trevor screamed. "I'll get you out!"

We’re all dead, he surmised. Might as well die helping someone. Again, even in this moment, Trevor was thinking in terms of acts. If I try to save someone, I’ll be saved too. Up to the end, self-serving and ridiculous was Trevor’s bespoke voodoo. He threw his coat up over his head to shield himself from the infernal heat, and with both hands grabbed hold of one of the many arms wildly protruding from the cage.

Trevor's knees were up on the lip of the orchestra pit, his leg and back crippling him in pain, as if someone were driving long nails into his knee and spine. Nevertheless, he pulled with all his might.

"Come on!" he screamed. "You can get out of here."

Slowly, inch by inch, the arm began to eek forward, pushed and squeezed bit by bit from the tightly packed canister of sardines, birthed begrudgingly from the human sea anemone.

"That's it! Come on!" Trevor cried, the heat beginning to sear his hands, his coat smelling as if it might combust.

The arm inched forward, bit by bit. Soon a face and shoulders would emerge. Come on, Trevor yelled. Just then, something gave way. As if a chair had been kicked out from under him, Trevor tumbled, flying backwards off the stage, landing horribly on a bed of smoking chairs. Strangely, the hand was still firmly in his grasp. I got you! Trevor thought exuberantly. The hand gripped him tightly. I got you! Trevor looked down through the fiery, orange glows to see a hand tightly clasped with his, but, horrifically, one which lead up to a forearm and a bicep muscle twitching like morose code, a shredded, ripped shoulder, ligament and tendons flaring out like ghastly kite tails, blood spilling forth like from an overturned barrel of abattoir’s delight.

Trevor broke free from the hand’s death grip and threw the appendage to the igniting seats. The sea of hands flailed and screamed in deafening, blinding horror. The lava flows from the ceiling ran like a marmalade river of death into the orchestra pit. As their screams rose to a debilitating level, so too did a new pedigree of terror – a blood-curdling war cry of an army of wolves, their howls billowing in unison, a vast, stereophonic, brigade of thousands modulating in ecstatic bloodlust. The grand chandelier at this moment finally broke off completely, landing with the crash of a thousand panes of glass being introduced to a Gatling gun. The impact threw up a wild splash of molten lava that danced through the air like the fountain works of the devil. Fires erupted everywhere. The sea of chairs on the Mariinsky's floor burst into the flames. The curtains on the right side of the stage plumed into pillars of hellish, lapping tongues. The grand towers of the mighty, the challenges of the renown, wobbling and toppling downward, the screaming hands in the orchestra pit one by one dropping down and disappearing as their owners were turned into burnt, blackened offerings consumed by the cauldron.

A projectile of lava flew past Trevor's face as he scurried off his bed of wooden stakes. It felt like a small, miniature sun darting past him, the heat so immense and terrible. Another orb splashed on the chairs next to him, instantly setting them ablaze. The dogs howling wild in a blood circus of ecstasy, the thunderous explosions reigning down in unrelenting salvo, the cries of the pit of hands being rendered alive, Trevor madly scrambled up to the side balcony and then cripple-leaped to the left side of the stage. Immediately, he scrambled stage right into the darkness, the insufferable heat dissipating quickly as trenches of heavily-perfumed, musty polyester, sour in years of perspiration and neglect, swallowed him whole.

The oily catacombs stretched on and on as Trevor furiously hacked through jungles of sequins and feathers, tripping over planks of wood, ropes, tools, piles of shoes, and any other manner of theatrical flotsam. Trevor's calves here seized in lactic acid, each step and movement feeling as though a bicycle chain was whipping him. He could barely keep his arms up as he fished through the endless storm surf of wardrobe. The adrenaline was tapped, shock was setting in. He was already shutting down. Each step forward was a step deeper into the quicksand.

Awuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu! The stadium of banshee wolves howled behind him. Awuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

Choking through a morass of polyester sundries, the sound of a wolf nearby blasted Trevor’s head with its megaphone cry. Trevor could almost feel his foul, burning breath on his skin. It was as if he were reporting to the gang, “Hey! One's getting away! Awuuuuuuuuuu! Over here! He's getting away!” The anticipated sensation of their dagger fangs sinking into him and ripping him apart stabbed at Trevor’s mind. Barely able to move, his boots weighing a ton, his arms leaden uselessness, he continued to barrel his way through the thick shag of costumes and farce. Amid the raging, terrible insanity, the harmony of destruction, the wailing sacrifice, and the jubilant roar, Trevor heard the galloping horde descending upon him, their sea of claws scratching, sliding, and clanking against the Mariinsky stage floor, funneling like rapids into the side catacombs. I’m finished, Trevor's mind drooled in monotone dejection. I’m going to be eaten alive. The raging war party growled ferociously as it ran down its target. The rows of costumes and props flew out of their way, upturned by a buzz saw of hideous, snarling lips of cruel delight, heat seeker noses zeroed in, teeth bare and sadistically salivating in arousal.

Fishing madly through the maze of costumes, Trevor eyes caught the flash of a door as explosions blasted forth form the theater. It was partially obscured by a large, upright, bear costume. Trevor struggled towards it furiously. His eyesight filled with purple orbs and spatially disorientating static, as if Adrastiya was now holding the reigns on a hooker’s scarf, squeezing the veins of Trevor’s throat lasciviously into bottlenecked curtain fall. Trevor focused all he could upon the gateway. Get through it, close it. Trevor felt as though he were wading in an ocean of syrup. He simply could not move. Here was death galloping at full speed onto the back of his scalp, and all he could do was stumble forward like a disoriented, old man. The pounding footfall of claws was nearly on top of him like an avalanche of spikes. One leg through the door, shoulder through the door. The growls and glistening sea of bear trap teeth closer to Trevor, closer to him than he was to his own jugular. Trevor viciously shoved the bear costume out of the way and grabbed the handle. It turned. Crippled left leg through the door, turn around, close the door, damn it! It was as complicated as open-heart surgery to the Trevor’s mind at this point. The growling jaws leapt forth, lunging in Lelantian blood frenzy. Trevor got behind the door and leaned against it. It nearly closed and then bounced back at him. Trevor tried again, putting more weight into it. The door got to within a few inches of closing, then once again bounced back. Trevor's half blinded eyes looked up and down to see what was the matter. There, on the floor, lying in the doorway, a child's severed arm. There was no time even to curse. He bent down, picked up the arm, another bloodied, hacked appendage, and quickly tossed it up into the incoming wave of maddening, silvery eyes and howling teeth. With his shoulder and his side, Trevor desperately swung the door. The barrage of wolves banged into the wall and the small doorway, like a collection of howling refrigerators launched by catapult. Their claws and their teeth gnashed at the getaway door in furious bloodlust. Their teeth and claws met the door just as soon as Trevor closed it.

In an instant, Trevor fell into a pitch black lagoon of frigid cold, the iciest of winds blowing through his hair, whistling against his ear, his body suspended somewhere, in the strange eerie void of nothingness, the sounds of a million cement trucks packed full of explosives erupting in fervid crescendo, legion of tyrannosaurus rexes pumped full of crystal meth and dropped out of the back door of cargo planes at 10,000 feet, armies of giant mechanical robot beasts tortured by whips of lightning, and the coup de grace, the sounds of a cavalcade of locomotives filled with coal and carrying cargo a mile long falling like black streamers from the sky, all crashing to the earth like ballistic rain. I'm buried alive, Trevor thought as he drifted there in the morphine darkness, listening to the rain of thunder exploding all around him. And I don't mind. I feel just fine. He drifted deeper and deeper into the cool realms.

There, in the calm, black embraces, Trevor's mind disconnected and powered down. His body canoe-paddled in the endless, inky ocean, floating peacefully in the wide, empty galaxy. One by one, stars began to issue forth, twinkling and winking in coyness. Soon, the moon appeared also, like a bright, guiding lighthouse. Serenely, he drifted along the highway of moonlight that glistened gently across this smooth, obsidian lake. He followed this shining path of light towards the moon, then onward, further, out toward the midnight veils. The stars glistened and sparkled all around like a seabed of diamonds. In space, as most people knew it, there was no atmosphere, no oxygen, and, of course, no sound. Yet for Trevor's slumbering spirit rowing in gentle canoe down the celestial river, there was constantly the icy, yet invitingly peaceful and soothing whirl of an all-encompassing, lullaby breeze.

Trevor paddled on. Soon, a face, epic as the cosmos entire, filled his vision. It was Adrastiya, beckoning him onward in the stoic, cooing pull of her gaze. Her face glowed like effervescent cream amid the diamond backdrop, her green champagne bottle eyes large as planets. Slowly, it became clear that she was encapsulated in a crystalline orb. This orb itself slowly turned into the billowing, tumultuous clouds of Saturn’s surface. Trevor felt her escort him downward, through the tempests and the upheaval, into an eternity of darkness, where before him a glimmering pinhead of light began to slowly draw near him. Smoothly, this minute lighthouse in the void grew larger and larger, until finally Trevor found himself peering into the crystal windows of a peculiar Parisian café, ornate and resplendent in lavish, art nouveau finery.

In a blink, Trevor realized he was seated inside at a rich, round, oaken table, reclining amiably in a plush chair of burgundy velvet, himself adorned in white dinner jacket and black tie. Lusciously curved near him was Adrastiya, a sleeve-less dress of midnight wonder hugging tightly her ballerina body, silver, diamonds, and jade dripping across her neck, and from her ears, lush, speckled ermine draped snakishly round her shoulders, her raven’s hair cut to chin-length, her back-lit, emerald eyes beaming as they crawled and swam throughout the environs above a mischievously excited grin of fire apple lips.

On the quaint stage before them, the spotlight descended like a moonbeam to a woman shimmering in white dress. Streams of pearls and lace descended gracefully from her arms and shoulders. As she raised her hands thematically in preparing to sing, the lace and glimmering frivolity gave her the appearance of having wings. She breathed in deeply before her voice lushly ebbed into the microphone. “Summertime…” she held the note in pure, unwavering, velvet sustain. “And the living is easy…”

Days? Had Trevor been asleep for days, years perhaps, slumbering in the hyperbolic sarcophagi of the ages? When he finally opened his eyes, he wondered if he was returning to his life, or if perhaps this was a new stage, a stage beyond death, another reality, a parallel, stranger, deeper dream. All he knew was that the thinking machine was on, the periscope up, the eyes raw, scratched, but working, the processor duly running in the background, the perceptions breathing in their minuscule spectrum. Respiration, check. Circulation, check. The spacesuit systems were on, all rebooted and re-calibrated.

This is post-death, Trevor thought in surreal surprise, and there's still more movie in which to participate. If only I could tell people, back on earth, all the zombies - hey, life goes on. Trevor felt a tinge of sadness and frustration, a missed opportunity. Enough of that, he thought, changing his tact. Now, can I move? That's the ultimate question. Trevor nervously thought about what to try first. He decided on his right arm. Slowly, he tried raising it from his side. It works, his mind exclaimed. He then tried the left. Same result. Alright, he said, time to sit up. Slowly, cautiously, he began to push himself up. Immediately, whips and lashes of broken glass and barbed wire struck across his stiff, aching back. Oh hell, he gasped, buckling over. This isn’t death. This is just life.

What the hell happened to me? He wondered. What did I do last night? The pain jolted up and down his body with every movement as he rolled to his side. Was I hit by a car? He tried to think back, his mind an oily, black canvas seeped in charcoal fogs and impenetrability. Occasionally, a phantom portrait would reveal itself, a frame of a film mysterious and unknown. He had an itchy, uncanny sensation that there had been a war announced, that there was some battle raging. He stared now at the cold, bluish gray ceiling, its ornamented contours lacquered over in lifetimes of crudely applied lead paint. No, the notion now seemed totally ridiculous. What war? There were no more wars. History had ended. We were all going to sit around drinking tea in ornate shogun ceremonies, musing haikus as we cooled ourselves with synthetic, ivory-handled hand fans made in out-of-sight, out-of-mind sweatshops. It must have been a dream, Trevor supposed. But then again, where the hell was he?

Gingerly, body yelping in spasmodic pain at every movement, Trevor sat up and stiffly looked around. His eyes were dry and rubbed raw in woolly fiberglass. Every blink brought a windshield wiper of face contorting discomfort to scrape across his eyeballs. Groaning, he surveyed the surrounds. They were completely foreign to him. He was on the cold, hard, checker-tiled floor of an oblong room. It was obviously old, pre-revolution, owing to its lofty ceilings, the ornate motifs running around the perimeter, the flowery, cylindrical cosmos in the center of the ceiling where once a chandelier had blossomed. The upside-down, crystal tree had evidently been uprooted, perhaps long ago. Only a pair of dried roots in the form of stripped wires sprung out of the once fertile plaster.

The walls of the room were steeped in a cold, overcast, battleship marine wallpaper; an icy, bitter, northern fog at mid-morning. Trevor could barely make it out with his blurred eyes, but there was some design dripping like straightened ivy vertically across the wallpaper, some snaking vine with blossoms of fleur-de-lys issuing forth in evenly spaced, appealing ratios. Strangest of all, Trevor soon grasped one unique oddity of the room. There was no door.

This can't be, he assured himself. Stiffly, grimacing under the barbershop strop lashes of shooting pain, Trevor grunted and swore as he got himself to his feet. As he stood, his head tossed about like a buoy in stormy seas, his balance and equilibrium washing wickedly to and fro. Soon the crashing swells in Trevor's head calmed and his feet grew into the floor, as it were, becoming firmly grounded and steady. Okay, he dryly gulped, let's try moving. Tentatively, he limped over to the wall, his eyes screwed up on the dripping cascades of vines and thrice blossoming allegories. There had to be a door here, somewhere, a hidden or secret door, he told himself. His hands ran over the smooth, stately contours of the wallpaper. It felt heavy and expertly applied, smooth and perfectly sealed against the plastered brick. Trevor couldn't see or feel any cutaway or joint in the wall, any outline that promised to be the swing door to freedom. A tinge of desperation crept over Trevor as he moved along the walls, banging with the bottom of his fist to find a hallow point or a section of different resonance. Step by step, he crawled along the waterfall of vines, each call of his fist eliciting a response of stoic density. It was as if these walls were tightly laid brick and mortar many feet thick. There was no sense of echo or vibration at all, like tapping with a jewel hammer onto a massive, granite slab. Trevor finished inching along the sides of the two walls and stood back for a moment in bewilderment, a terrible feeling emanating in his stomach, a buzzing rash of paranoia making his breath shallow and his head tighten up in consternation.

On the other two sides of the room there were a set of expansive windows. They began from just a few feet above the floor and to the precipice of the ceiling they stretched, long, grand, and kingly serene, the panes glistening like crystal tiles, the grilles like perfectly inlaid ivory. The windows were spaced out evenly, these oblong gateways of blindingly potent light, three presiding over Kryukova Canal to the west and two commanding the street to the south, Soyuza Pechatnikov - The Brotherhood of the Written Word. Stunned and wading into panicky waters, Trevor limped with stiff, painful legs and battered body over to the large bay window that looked south over the Kryukova Canal's decent towards the Fontanka and the glimmering cross street of the Written Word. Immediately, things did not look right. His fright worsened considerably. This was absolutely not where he should be.

Typically, the Kryukova Canal was an oily, murky, sullen affair - a slim, black cigarette that knifed down like an artificial capillary from the old naval shipyard of New Holland to the swampy, boat-of-Isis-crescent of the Fontanka Canal, that black scythe that cut through the southern districts of the city like caesarian section. Today, however, Kryukova Canal was gleaming like finely whipped sugar and fresh cream straight off a confectioner's spatula. In fact, the entire surrounds were gleaming in beguiling pearl and alabaster. All the buildings lining the canal and extending down the Street of the Written Word sparkled like royal debutantes gleaming at the winter ball, dusted in white and pink glitter the hue of Himalayan salt, dressed cozily in oceans of billowing white snow wafting between wedding cake purity and dazzling pink champagne.

Up and down the beguiling waterway, brightly painted sleds bristled and bustled about, pulled by prancing miniature ponies, all creamy white and vanilla, all custard and crème brûlée, long, soft manes dancing in pageantry, bells and sparkly trinkets flashing and playfully jostling about like long-legged chorus lines as they pranced. Around these sleds, small children glided about on skates and skis, dressed like idyllic, fairy book fantasies in long stockinged caps of bright red with long, candy cane tassels and yarn balls fluttering in the gentle breeze. They swooped about, effortlessly skimming over the pristine playground of sparkling cake frosting. Trevor stood in horrified paralysis before the window, frozen in a strange, enchanted, terrified shock. His feelings of trepidation grew ominous, especially as he began to notice that the children had a peculiar, horrific look about them. It was their faces. Unsettlingly, they contained the strangest admixture of old age blended with the smooth, soft, rosy cheeks and cupid mouths of youth. Their eyes were large and round like a baby's, but had the fiercest, penetrating gaze of cold, icy, sapphire insipidity. They were a confusing cocktail of child, man, elf, and monster - some cruel creature that had undergone a series of face lifts and ghastly procedures. Their main and only preoccupation was traveling and zipping about, some in sleds, others pulled by white and red striped water-ski ropes, others on cross country skis with poles, and some knifing about on long, gleaming skates that had perverse blades like platinum machetes.

The sparkling diamond carpet of the Kryukova Canal and the powdered sugar cross-streets were teaming with these little people monsters. They scurried and flew about like a bustling colony of wrinkled, yellow raisin bees, their peculiar faces imbued with an unreadable fusion of gleeful delight, solemnity, and barely contained rage. Below the window, near the southern wing of the Mariinsky, a small group of these busybody elves waxed their skis with a mysterious sparkling block of creamy paste. Looking closer through his face of sizzling trepidation, Trevor realized the chunk of shimmering mystery wasn’t a run of the mill block of ski wax. No, it was in fact a baby's arm, fat and doughy, hacked off brutally at the shoulder.

Trevor immediately bolted from the window and pressed himself up against the adjoining wall, desperately hoping that no one had seen him. The elves tossed the baby arm back and forth between them, yapping incessantly as they finished prepping their long, smooth skis with their unique brand of lard. The leader amongst them then took the arm, folded it up in a white cloth, and secured it in an elaborately decorated pouch he had slung over his shoulder with a golden cord.

Like a little general, he barked out instructions to the others as he pointed down the Brotherhood of the Written Word, his hand flapping back and forth like a ship's rudder as he explained the route they would take, his little mouth and baby teeth chatting away like a nibbling monkey. As Trevor stood there near the side of the window in a crippled panic, heart thumping against his ribcage like a rabbit's foot, lungs shallowly floundering in hyperventilation, he heard the staccato machine fire, and, strangest of all, could somewhat understand it. The Word will lead us to Pereulok Malchitnie Angelov – The Alley of Angel Whispers. That'll shortcut us through the ages to English Street. We'll take a hard left south there, and let the city lead the way, all the way down English Lane to Mushroom Row, then down Staro-Krovny Piter - Old Bloody Piter, ‘til we get to the Palace of Pleasures. Then we will have ourselves some tasty yum-yums. You boys hear me? Tasty yum-yums all around. You little squirrels want tasty yum-yums, don't you? I know I do. The small pack of wrinkled dwarfs chattered their little teeth together in motley affirmation. Rumors are today there's a special on marshmallow mumu’s as well.

Just then, the elf's voice was directly outside the window pane. It was as if the little munchkin had instantaneously levitated to peer inside the room, thinking that perhaps he had seen something suspicious up in the window. Trevor pushed himself firmly up against the wall, just as he had in another lifetime against the cold, shadowy brick of the Neva Children's Theatre. Any of you fuck nuts ever had a marshmallow mumu before? The elf continued orating to his obedient cadre as he hovered menacingly outside the southern windows of the Mariinsky. Marshmallow mumu will blast your nuts off. His ferocious, billiard ball, baby eyes sniffed minutely around the blue gray walls of Trevor's holding cell. Huh, he gruffly spat, perturbed by the nagging feeling he had that something was afoul. But, nevertheless, his suspicions were quenched aptly enough by his scan of the room that he was content to continue on with his afternoon excursion.

Descending back to his group of shriveled thrill seekers, they strapped their skis on, checked the bindings with their poles, adjusted their long, candy cane scarves, throwing the long flowing ends over their shoulders, and, in merry unison, they set off, joining the traffic of the bustling, candied beehive as they glided onto the vanilla rivers of freshly whipped wedding cake frosting, little bells on their skis and their poles jingling and dancing like moneybags in the hands of a prancing ballerina.

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