The Midnight Stage

The aluminum shark coughed and sputtered up Ismailovsky Prospekt, its tires wobbly, its break lights off kilter and flickering, its rape victim prostrate in its belly, chimney soot mascara running down her cheeks, eyes pink like fiberglass, ropy snot tinged in blood dripping from her nose into foul gasoline rag, goalkeeper lying dead on the muddy grass, opposing teams drilling shots deep into the net at will.

Trevor remained cloaked in the curtains of midnight. He waited there, in the protective graces of the Neva Children’s Theatre, until the rape patrol had taken a hard left and fully committed itself to the marmalade crescent of the Fontanka Canal. A moonlight drive, Trevor thought. I never want to go on one of those. Where did they go? He wondered. Did they slip down Old Petersburg Road to the thin forests and sparsely populated wastelands that crawled around the southern side of the Gulf of Finland? Did they simply go to a dim, corroded courtyard in any number of the crumbling, putrid buildings that comprised Petersburg’s southwestern quarter? In a city cut off from the rest of the planet, the southwest quarter of Piter was itself an eviscerated beauty mark lopped off by rusted straight razor, kept forgotten in a petri dish of coarse alcohol, shoved to the back shelves of the neglected laboratory. From English Street to Repina Square to the black ventricles that crept and crawled southward to the Joey Stalin cement kingdom of Narva; no transport, no stores, no bustle, no pulse - just moribund blocks of dim, foul, decrepit misery…ample hideaways for horseplay. A dead prostitute in a courtyard here would have excited no alarm nor garnered even the tritest of comments from locals walking their mutts on lambasted sidewalks of ice, sludge, and feces.

The rape van now gone, Trevor cautiously waded out into the street. Apprehensively, he drew toward the shark attack victim who remained motionless upon the tarred low-tide like a clubbed seal. Somehow Trevor had been fortunate enough to have been passed over by the hand of theft and rape. It was only right to see if he could lend aid to those struck down. No matter how bitter the surrounds, Trevor thought, don't lose your humanity. Right? Trevor wondered. This is the right thing to do, isn’t it? His lower thinking shouted “no” ad nauseam. His higher processes said, oh hell. Vaguely, Trevor was subscribing to some make-it-up-as-you-go, karma, acts-based philosophy. Do something good, and you will get something good. He considered himself a mature adult. He had no inkling whatsoever that perhaps he was being a selfish, superstitious, childish practitioner of voodoo. I’ll do this neighborly thing, he mind simmered just below consciousness, and I’ll have a merit for a few days at least.

Well-intentioned or not, Trevor had to be quick. He knew full well that should the shark return, he would be charged with attacking and beating a whore. Although beating and killing women in Russia was legal, it was not simpatico for a foreigner to indulge in the vivacious, local past time. It would be a heady price tag, whatever it was, and as he approached the girl, he made certain not to stick around long to find out what that price would be. The internal clock was running, be fast.

Head down in the ashen, gray snow, surrounded by moon sparkle diamonds and rivers of black sludge, the women was porcelain white and still as a corpse. Trevor recognized her at once as the summertime girl. With a sigh, he bent over and picked her up from under her shoulders. It was remarkable how little she weighed, even with the wet, fake bear coat draped over her mummified frame. As he lifted her, he could hear a faint, garbled moan from her bloodied, cupid’s mouth.

Slipping on the black brew of de-icing chemicals and moguls of icy, broken concrete, Trevor dragged the summertime girl up the sidewalk, constantly looking around with discernible unease. If anyone spotted him, it'd look like he was moving a dead body. Easy now, easy, he thought to himself. No one in this city gives a damn. I'll be alright. Just get her out of the middle of the road. Through the courtyard of the Children’s Theatre, Trevor brought the summer time girl up to the stoop where he had previously been hiding, her black, knee-high boots taking turns scraping against the gravelly pavement and sliding blissfully quietly across the snow like a merry sled guided by a troika of reindeer. It was like dragging a meaty scarecrow, a gelatin mannequin, an emaciated battlefield corpse half-blown away by mortar fire. Summertime, and the living is…

In the entryway of the theater, Trevor sat Miss Summertime up and leaned her against the cold cement embrace of the Children’s Theatre. The right side of her dazed and wobbling eggshell face was besmirched by black sludge rough with sand, her petite, button nose bloodied and languidly spewing forth a deep garnet leakage. Her lower lip bled also, swollen and split open on the left side. Both of her eyes were buried under so much inky, charcoal eyeliner and mascara, Trevor felt he was gazing into a skull.

"Hello." Trevor said, slightly jostling her shoulders. "Can you hear me?"

Her eyes slightly wobbled open, like marbles rattling around inside an empty tin can.

"Hello." he repeated. "Anyone home?"

In a dreary, drugged stupor, her consciousness morosely swam up to the faded glimmer of that world that Trevor and she inhabited like a mildly aroused, cantankerous creature of the deep, only to take a gulp of air, and disappear again into the shadowy depths. Trevor tried again to make contact with this sunken submarine slumbering on the ocean floor.

"Hello." he tapped on the hull of the submarine. "Summertime, and the livin's..."

"No!" the woman suddenly cried out in detached slur. "Don't touch me! Away with you devil!"

In a sudden, broken lurch, her marionette bones and flailing limbs sprung up like a "Día de Muertos" jack-in-a-box bouncing up out of a half-comic, half-macabre grave. Trevor was aghast. Quickly, he got out of her way, standing aside with agape eyes and slackened jaw. I did it! I’ve revived her, he thought to himself somewhat proudly. But, she’s deranged, he argued in counter-point. The girl's high-heeled boots stabbed angrily at the icy walkway, once, twice. She was on her way back to the street, determined. She was going to march all the way to Moscow, burn down the walls, and laugh at the ashes.

"Hell mother!" she screamed.

Then, as suddenly as it had all begun, a slight wobble, the faintest of garbled moans, and kerplunk! Miss Summertime collapsed into a silent heap of popsicle sticks. Oh shit, Trevor gasped. Back to the drawing board.

Trevor picked the popsicle sticks up by the back of their shoulders, and, like spent human materiel being removed from the gladiator floor, dragged her unceremoniously back up to the stoop of the Neva Children's Theatre, where, accomplishing time travel in a very real but meaningless sense, he propped her back up against the stairs under the orange and black shadows, stacking her up in a tenuous and haphazard pile of kindling. Right back where we started, Trevor thought. Now what? Mind spinning, he shuffled dumbly back to the street, scanning the desolate surrounds for any signs of kiosks or trading stalls. There was in fact a booze shack across the street and to the south, but that wasn't what he needed. However, further south down Ismailovsky, there appeared to be a small nest of lights peering from under the black, frozen clutches of a nest of barren trees. It was a small, inset park of sorts, a square patch of mud and snow between 6th and 7th Ismailovsky Regiment Streets. Shuffling briskly along, Trevor made for the impromptu shantytown of Lenin's New Economic Policy, redux.

The park was a rectangular c-section of frozen canine excreta and brown, besmirched sludge. It was named after Valentin Pikul, a grand and prestigious honor. Valentin looked down and said with surging pride and contentment, it’s what I always wanted, a mud patch garden issuing forth splendidly the glorious botanical delights of vodka peddlers, moonshiners, bootleggers, and tobacconists. Rummaging past the low wattage light bulbs, the fogged up and clouded plastic windows, the bric-a-brac and riffraff of no thrills slave camp commerce, Trevor finally landed upon, in the sea of strange elixirs and embalming fluids, an old, warted lady selling hot tea and instant coffee from her upright plywood coffin.

"Tea it will kindly be." Trevor said, placing 1 tinfoil ruble and 50 gum wrapper groschen into her exchange tray. It was after sundown, so of course money could not pass from hand to hand, even be it tin foil or plastic friendship beads.

In a small, brown, plastic cup, the scalding, hot brew came forth. It bellowed terse stream into the frozen night like an angrily awakened spirit rustled from repose. Briskly, Trevor returned north through the sludgy swath of canine excreta, the tea burning his hands as it spilled over the edges, the plastic cup soon beginning to lose its form, the handle bending from the weight, the cup lips becoming oval and soft.

"Sonuvabitch!" he spat, moving the cup from hand to hand, as it was too hot to keep in one for any longer than a few seconds.

Each exchange resulted in more spilling and more scalding of his frozen blue finger tips. Nearing the Children's Theatre, he took the disintegrating tea bag of bizarre, chemicalized weeds and tossed it into a blackened snow bank. The tea was a third gone from the hazards of travel, but what of it. Grumbling, Trevor entered the sullied grounds of the theater. He then stopped dead in his tracks. What in the sweet hell is this, he said to himself in disbelief and disgust. The steps before him, leading all the way up to the Children’s Theatre, were derelict - entirely bereft of woman, of corpse, of anything. Empty.

My merit, Trevor was barely thinking just below the surface of consciousness, you bitch. Placing the tea down on the steps, Trevor surveyed the grounds, eyes scanning for that collapsed bag of bones. He checked beside the stairs, looked through the courtyard. She only could have staggered a few cubits before succumbing once more to the frozen ground, he surmised. But, surprisingly enough, there was no one about.

Up and down, Trevor's eyes scanned the epic, broad avenues of Ismailovsky and her retinue of Regiment Streets, crisscrossing perpendicularly in straight gridlines. There stirred not a soul. How could she have skirted away on heroin heels and vanished down one of these mile-long avenues? Trevor shook his head. Slowly, his eyes returned to the staircase. There, draped across the snowy staircase, was the only evidence that she had been real at all - a sad, 2-kopek scarf, stiff and sullied in ocher blood.

Trevor picked the rag up, imbued with a myriad of gypsy Kavkaz designs, twirling, congested, elaborate floral patterns and peacock eyes. It was light, flimsy, and ridiculous in his hand. It served no purpose in shielding one from the cold, and served instead only as a fashion accoutrement, a task in which it was also entirely inept. Tentatively, Trevor brought the scarf to his nose. A piercing, odorous cloud of brain-crippling eau de parfam shot through his senses, a mysterious, melon collie cocktail of undertaker and sorrow, with subtle overtones of wet, blackened, Russian tobacco. This would make an excellent gift, Trevor thought. Pocketing the young girl's spring collection, he made his way out of Ismailovsky's sullied boudoir. The hot tea he poured out unceremoniously into the muddied and foul snow, the deformed plastic cup he fired to the sludge-filled gutter.

As the night reeled onward, through the gently falling petals of marmalade snow, the slim contours of the Kryukova Canal next came to Trevor’s eyes and feet. He took that corroded artery north toward the Nicholas Gardens and descended into its welcoming sanctuary for a smoke on a splintered, emerald green bench dusted with snow. Fumbling with numb fingers, he popped the cap on a newly procured elixir of Nevskoe that he had picked up from a cardboard rat box on Garden Street. The soft, powdered blue, rococo facade of the Sailor's Church was one of the rare places in town that was pleasant and appealing. The surrounding gardens were large enough to buffer oneself from the crumbling sarcophagi along the perimeter, making the legion of bitter, sourly reeking tombs that comprised Petersburg's most foully neglected West End feel oceans away. Here, in this garden oasis, the snow wasn't spoiled asunder in chemicals, muddy foot traffic, and excrement. Instead, it glowed frosted violets and spiced oranges in a peculiar tranquility and serene calm. Even the erect phallus commemorating the Tsushima sacrifice to the flame gods rose softly among the blacken tree limbs, feminine and elegant, as if the fires of Baal could somehow be thought of as azure, cool, and soothing. If anytime Trevor ever needed a place to breathe in a city of death, this was it. Secluded, dreamy, untrampled, ignored by the masses - it met all the criteria. If anything was against the location, it was that a refueling station wasn't anywhere within its gentle embrace. So, finishing the golden bottle of carbonated, diluted anti-freeze, Trevor straightened his stiffening legs and pushed off again, continuing north, up Glinka Street, to the distant, glimmering beacon of the Mariinsky Theatre, a frosted, emerald palace floating in the night’s frigid, black morass.

Crossing the Kryukova Canal on Decembrists Street, supply depots were a plenty. Rasping upon the clouded, plastic windows barricaded with inane plastic packages of dried, plastic calamari, nuts, black market smokes, black sugar water in plastic, hand-held delivery devices, and, most of all, drink, Trevor exchanged more odd, crude fragments of copper-nickel for a few more suckles at the breasts of synthetic morphine. The numbing goodness of the goddess, the continual stream of cheap, alcoholic breast milk wrapped around Trevor's face like the sweet, paralyzing pillows of tender asphyxiation.

De-calibration in hand, Trevor moved back across the Kryukova Canal to the slender, guttural alleyway of the Mariinsky Theatre. There, under the inky shadows, penned in by the opaque canal of oily sorrows, a lackluster crew lazily malingered about the rear of two dingy and cruel trucks, moving or unmoving their obtuse and foul contents in an unmethodical and slipshod manner.

Creeping down into the charcoal trench behind the Mariinsky, Trevor moved past these midnight movers to get a closer look at their enterprise. Moving props, scenery, robbing the place - what honest business in Russia demanded work under cover of the bewitching hour?

Strolling past the growling trucks, Trevor saw that the doorway to the rear of the Mariinsky was wide open. What more, the few haggard movers there were busy slobbering in slurred tongues about some such procedural discrepancy. We should stack these on the bottom first. No! These must go first. Fine, but you lift them! We've done the heavy stuff! And on and on moronically. At that moment, Trevor felt an impulse, a push on his left shoulder, a strange whisper in his ear.

Go in.

With only mild hesitation, Trevor hid his beer at his side and strolled forward with his head down. Like a rat hugging the sewer shadows - he hoped to be unnoticed. Driven by alcohol blindness, lack of fear, arrogant disregard for any consequence, whimsical, oblivious mischief, Trevor glided straight past the arguing movers, their stubby, blackened fingers busy jabbing at each other’s faces, and he wafted straight across the threshold into into the birthing canals of the grand, old theater, strolling purposefully, as if he owned the place, squeezing past the dimly-lit fallopian tubes, the cluttered attic uterus, and the velvety backstage vaginal velour.

Through a short corridor of darkness and soon he was birthed, smack dab in the majestic world of the stage; the tattered, raggedy, yet hauntingly and strangely beautiful tilted-axis hemisphere of the imaginarium. The lighting was perniciously dim, the feeble starlight of the chandeliers above like a misty night, that it was disorientatingly difficult to get around. The stage proper was better lit however. There carpenters and designers fussed about under fake sunlight, constructing Athena’s realm of plywood, papier-mâché, and grease painted canvas. A whole stunning world of make believe and illusion, constructed under cover of darkness in the deepest realms of the night.

Fumbling through the darkness, Trevor made his way past the disheveled aisles and rows of rickety, wooden seats, and, coming to the outer corridors, slowly worked his way up the curving staircase to the upper levels of the Mariinsky. Treading lightly in the rich darkness, he ascended to the bel-etage, the dress circle, where he comfortably slipped into box 9 on the 1st level gallery, just on the right flank of the Tsar's aquiline perch. What a stroke of luck, Trevor thought to himself. This is amazing. A cold beer in the Mariinsky. Maybe somehow he had made merit, he self-righteously mused. Easing back into the shadows, he reclined in one of the small, wooden chairs usually found only in a small-town police station, or an ill-funded library, and drank in the panorama before him.

Below, on the original silver screen, the first incarnation of the rabbit-eared jj-box, the echoes of Athens, the stage crew pounded away, ill-humored, perturbed, yet doggedly. They were either under serious time constraints and duress, or this was the normal, typical behavior of creating imaginary worlds. Near the orchestra pit, a man smoking fashionably at an endless parade of black cigarettes stood before a table of illuminated plans and sketches, elucidating and haranguing his small collection of lieutenants.

"We must have the tower here!" He waved his hands up to the left side of the stage. "We have such limited time, but we must make it. We have only been given the shortest of fucking windows of opportunity. We must do everything before time is up. And, fuck me, not we, but them." He waved now at the meager army of drones listlessly buzzing about the stage. "If it were up to me, I'd wave a wand, and presto, this fucker would be all set. This stage would wow and bedazzle everyone. It’d hold every single person who witnessed it under its spell, infatuated, in a trance of wonder. They would never want to leave! I would be hailed as the greatest director in the history of the stage. But I can't do that, can I? This motherfucking place, so many constraints, so much fucking bullshit! Still, we cannot give up! We must never..."

The director trailed off in a cacophony of thoughts as he was brought a short stack of documents from a bald, chubby, scurrying subordinate.

"Oh, yes, here!" The director turned his attentions immediately to the documents, which he slapped onto the table and began pouring over, like a dog putting its nose into a mound of freshly knocked over garbage.

Tossing back the beer gently in the midnight rafters, Trevor watched as the director made annotations, vented and fumed about this or that, clarified with flamboyance about myopic nuance, all the while his cohorts were shaking their heads, taking notes, staring in dumb, stupefying gazes up at the black voids of space were they had to construct this "grand world" of make-believe, where engineered emotions and stories, moralities and choices, values and constructs, would be absorbed by the viewer, digested and made their own, where actions, behavior, thoughts and deeds from the misty, saturnine dimension would affect the real world - the world, that is, where oneself was one of the principle actors, where things were not doubly fake, but only demi-fake, until the final end, when they were finally real.

On the stage of double fakery, one was able to see the imaginary scenario conclude, the actors come before the curtain, take bows and so forth, and go home to live their "real" lives as it were. In the demi-fake world, there was not this conclusion, this obvious omission that what had just transpired was, to some degree, staged. There was no curtain call, no taking of bows, no after party and return to one's apartment as one's "real" self, not the character one had just played. No, the curtains went up, persistently, doggedly, day after day, year after year, and characters never broke 3rd walls, and never revealed who they were. Instead, from time to time, they simply vanished, and the dumbstruck players were left to wonder, who was that performer who portrayed Skippy Pumpernickel, the milk delivery truck driver from Cleveland? He portrayed the hell out of that role, and for over 30 years! Who was that guy? What an actor. Total method.

The last remnants of smooth, easy poison washed down Trevor's throat, and he sat there in the dim shadows in a quiet moment of contemplation. This floor, the bel-etage, was it not the floor where they sold Soviet Champagne and sandwiches between acts? An idea quickly struck Trevor's half-pickled mind. Why not embark on a little Easter egg hunt? A foraging party. At various points along the second gallery corridors, they had randomly-spaced, impromptu concession stands where fat, old ladies lambasted in rouge and polyester sold reinforcements for 50 cents to a dollar each. They hocked small, saucer-sized paper plates bestowing slices of white, pasty, chemical bread lacquered in bright yellow butter, decorated with a teaspoon of sweating red caviar and a spring of wilted parsley. Other bill o'fare bequeathed slugs of butter copiously plopped onto mysterious strips of gray, fatty, mystery meat or silver-dollar slabs of artificially colored, half-rancid kielbasa. The plebes would come out during intermission and wolf down the fixin’s like passengers rescued from an ill-fated sea voyage, washing the pasty, salty, fatty, acidic rations down with plastic cups filled to the brim with sugared vodka or bubbly Soviet Champagne. Prices for the booze were decadent, a glass of faux-champagne going for a steely $1.50. When Trevor visited the opera or ballet, he limited himself to only 2 glasses per intermission. One had to economize. He'd slurp the plastic bubbles down with the rest of the merrymakers, chain smoking as many cigarettes as possible in the northeastern stairwell of the Mariinsky before it was time to squeeze back into that uncomfortable courthouse chair again, sandwiched between commoners reeking of decaying meats and sour armpits, Trevor's own armpits creating a putrid swamp under his suit coat, his bladder crippling his thoughts in agony, his brain asking only one question - intermission, when was the next fucking intermission?

Staggering and blindly feeling his way through the darkness, Trevor came to one of these dollar stalls and began sniffing about. On the floor, Trevor's hand came to a sticky collection of empties in innumerous rows, the green, sugary toy soldiers of an alcoholic emperor's tomb. Feeling around with his fingers, it didn’t take long before a surprise-party lightning bolt fired through his arm, quickly dancing up and down his spine like sleigh bells on a snow-covered roof, making his head dizzy and giddy. Behind the subterfugal rows of empty soldiers was indeed a line of full, bubbly beauties backed up against the wooden underbelly of the concession stand, a row of gleaming mermaids stowed away in the deep gully of a sunken ship, whiling away the day brushing their hair and decorating themselves with pearls.

The old Mariinsky, Trevor said to himself. This theater giveth and never taketh away. Gently, he procured a jaded damsel, leading her out by the hand with care, mindful not to stir up an avalanche or betray his position to Charlie by loudly snapping any glass branches. Easily and true enough, the emerald beauty came to Trevor, a dream sailing over a shallow, glimmering bay filled with rainbow coral. Deploying caution, he sat her down and undid her hair of tin foil and wires. Now, to mute the sound. Dutifully, Trevor stripped off his charcoal overcoat, and then his black sweater, building a small sound dampening tent with his legs crossed Indian style around the bottle. Getting as tight a grip as possible, Trevor twisted in muted strain at the plastic stopper. His hand promptly turned bone white, the insides of his palm bitterly being slowly skinned alive. Still, he held fast his grip, clenched his teeth, his face contorted in discomfort and he grinded on. Come on you lousy...POP! Whooosh! The pain from his skinned hand quickly cooled under the rushing, bubbling, wet, sticky kisses of lady mermaid. A warm, effervescent, syrupy pull of the gushing, foamy bounty, and the pain was all but a distant memory. It was half-sweet, which in Russia meant that you'd have type-2 diabetes before the bottle was half-spent. Typically, as any man would, Trevor abhorred the ultra-sweet fool's candy, but tonight it was as welcomed as any prodigal son.

Glimmering emerald beauty in tow, Trevor returned through the darkened maze to his box of privy where he could observe from the shallow heavens the slaves building their towers. Up there in Trevor’s perch, amid the moonless clouds of dimmed chandeliers and golden, slumbering pillars, it was a peaceful, serene, comedic show, one in which Trevor wonderfully held nothing at stake. Non-involvement, Trevor purred to myself as he hoisted the jade bosom above his suckling lips and nursed at the smooth, sugary nipple.

After decades of education camp, prison food, mind rape, the continual dunk tank of lies - he was finally free, so he thought, roaming the hinterlands, a Cossack without a cause, off the reservation, off the radar, out of orbit, headed to the deep recesses of space, all identifications and trackers cast unceremoniously to the void. He was looking down now, not at muddied earth and barbed wire and electrified fences, but at the whole earth, that indigo pearl in the sea of obsidian, in all its inconsequence and impotency to his conscious being. Below, the men mindlessly hammered and sawed, pounded and drilled, fussing and stewing in their imaginarium treehouse world, oblivious and uninterested in anything else. Trevor, by contrast, he was sailing amid the low orbiting stars. Sayonara fuckers, he said, taking another deep, luscious, intoxicating pull. With a contented, easy smile, he wiped his grinning lips dry with the back of his hand. Life was finally good, he thought. Now, how about a celebratory smoke, he thought. No sooner had he began to check his overcoat for that blue box of fake French smokes, when his heart stopped pumping blood. Oh hell, Trevor froze, his eyes opening wide. Footsteps!

He sat there utterly paralyzed, his frozen heart crying silently in disappointment. Like a viper lying in wait, picking up seismic activity with its jaw, he zeroed in to the footsteps looping round the corridor of the dress circle. One by one they drew closer. Trevor's lungs were asphyxiated. His heart had returned to pumping, but it was lodged in his throat. Louder they grew, the terrible footsteps approaching bel-etage box #9, only a thin whisper of 19th century wall separating him from what would soon be his cruel escort out of the premises. Trevor clutched at his bottle and closed his eyes in hopelessness. Just a routine walkaround, he tried to tell himself. Someone left a screwdriver up here, or a sandwich. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack - the footsteps prowled closer. Soon, they were directly in front of his door. There they stopped. Bronshtein, Trevor groaned to himself, preparing to face the inevitable.

The burning moments moved like molasses. I’ll just say I’m sorry, Trevor work-shopped in his mind. The door was open. Where am I? I’m a lost foreigner. Trevor readied the homily. However, just as he was prepared to stand and deliver his lines, amazingly, blessedly, and much to Trevor's surprise, for some unknown reason, the door didn't open. No, instead the footsteps resumed their promenade, wonderfully growing fainter and fainter as they headed west down the corridor.

Trevor's emotions immediately caromed off into a merry-go-round of tickled excitement. His tight grip on the faux-champagne and his overcoat loosened in a warm rush of relaxation. Just a routine walkaround, he chuckled to himself in glee. Maybe I’m hallucinating all of this, Trevor thought. Maybe the mind is just playing tricks. Letting out a sigh, getting comfortable again in his orange crate chair, he relished in a long, celebratory pull of the sweet bubbly. Alone and unmolested in his cloud of shadows, just he and his sweet, sugary, emerald beauty. Not being one to neglect a date, he took another delicious, room-temperature pull. As he did, he was nearly jolted out of his chair. Like a taser coming out of nowhere to crackle in Trevor's ear, death had come. Tap, tap, tap - three cryptic knocks at the door. Sonuvabitch, Trevor’s mind bewailed. The game was up. He had been discovered.

Trevor sat there, frozen, mid-recline, stupefied. First of all, for ultimately being found out. Secondly, for receiving a polite knock on the door, not a kick down and a collar grab. Alright, the night was getting weirder. Let’s get it over with. Bottle in hand, Trevor went to the door, his stomach sinking in a sour flood of dejection. Being the consummate gentlemen, he graciously opened the creaking, wooden portal to box #9.

There, in the inky shadows, stood a surprising shape. Not the bulldog flathead in black turtleneck that Trevor expected. Not the grizzled drunk in tattered security uniform. Instead, imbued in the oily velvet, stood a mesmerizing and attention swallowing creature of supine and curvy creation. Bathed in darkness, her emerald eyes glowed warmly and brightly, like candlelight buried in diamonds winking through floating champagne bottles. In them, thin, wispy cirrus clouds of honeycomb and hot fired hazel shot out from her black hole pupils and radiated amid the swirling petals of lush jade. Nearly six feet, a headdress of cascading, silky raven's hair dripping past her shoulders, her nose proudly Persian, her skin olive oil, milky coffee, and honeyed almond baklava. Dressed in a tight, black top, her long skirt was a deep shade of midnight blue, swimming timelessly in faint, thinly embroidered gold mandalas of stars and cosmic trappings. A powder blue shawl of smooth, thin cashmere loosely caressed round the sides of her shoulders, dancing magically in all things arabesque and hanging garden, lazily snaking down her arms and wafting gently at her hips. Though aged, mildly, her figure was trim, particularly about the waist, her abdomen still clearly narrowing like precarious hourglass above her hips, her warmly defined, muscular, yet smoothly feminine shoulders possessed the strength of the stage, of the demanding force and rigors of the great, balletic epics. Her posture was sublime - perfect - inhumanly so, sculpted of the finest proportions, her every shift in weight or movement producing yet another in an endless series of perfect angles, alignments, and ratios to hypnotize and entrance the eye of any beholder.

"Will you not be kind enough to invite me in?" purred her lips of velvet red cake.

In the dusky light, Trevor noticed three plastic cups in her long, caramel fingers, her nails the color of fresh blood.

“A girl with empty cups.” Trevor said. “A fortuitous encounter for a man with a bottle.”

"Well, I'm offering three things that will improve your station in life."

"Is that so?"

"Quite. I'm offering to you three invaluable assets: culture, class, and company."

She held up the plastic cups between her long fingers, rubbing them together, dancing them around in the air before Trevor.

"First there is culture - no longer will you have to brutishly drink from that bottle like some forest dwelling simpleton.” she winked and coyly clicked her tongue against the side of her mouth. “Second, of course, there is class. As you can see, I have three cups. Why so many? Well, one is for you, the second is for me, and the third...but it only makes sense that he would become the ashtray. You see, nothing spells class more than enjoying a fine Russian cigarette in the bel-etage of the Mariinsky.”

“Third?” Trevor asked.

“Why, third is company.” she smiled devilishly. “Voile, that's me."

Trevor eyed her up and down, suspiciously, but in good humor. What good fortune, he thought, instead of getting kicked out, he had a partner in crime, and a gorgeous one at that.

"Well, it would be quite rude of me to leave you out there in the cold without at least inviting you in for one glass of champagne. Please, won't you join me?"

"Why, I'd love to."

With a graceful, effortless swoop she passed the threshold and wafted into Trevor’s chambers, grin slowly crawling over her face like the lugubrious parting of red, salacious curtains before the first act.

"I'm Adrastiya Bubleyova."

"How do you do, Adrastiya. My name is Trevor."

"Tell me." Adrastiya said, gliding regally to a seat near the lips of the balcony. "Are you an actor?"

"An actor, me? I think not."

"Really? Are you certain? You have the élan of an actor."

"Well, of possessing élan, we aren’t in disagreement. But for being an actor…” Trevor sat down next to Adrastiya. “I'm just a runaway slave. Now, as a slave, I was no stranger to performing - that is, feigning untrue emotions."

"An escaped slave." Her eyes dazzled as Trevor filled her plastic cup with bubbly, gilded nonsense. "How exciting! Escaped from where, may I ask?"

"From the Virginia Company."

"Fascinating. The grand, old Virginia Company. From what I hear, not many escape her clutches.” In a manner refined, Adrastiya drank of her plastic goblet of ambrosia. “The plantation without fences. Yet, they all remain snuggly hemmed in.”

“That’s true.” Trevor agreed. “Shackled by the blue glow of the j-box.”

“So, what will they do when they find you?"

"Who says they're going to find me?"

"Well, who says you can truly escape? Look at me. I have been out of the theater for ages now, but I am still its slave. Just look around, the beauty of it all, the many ghosts, the great performances, the energy - that delicious, indefinable, rapturous ecstasy that gushes through this place. It’s like a wondrous and eternal fountain. Free of this place? No, I'm afraid never."

"You were an actress? A dancer?"

"Yes, yes, but for once I was a very great presence upon the boards - a top-billed performer, as it were. I want to say that I built this place, but contrary to what you might think, I am not that old. Supposedly, there were actors here before me. But what of them. They never existed, if you ask me. This place is mine."

Adrastiya smiled mischievously as she procured a slim, black cigarette and guided it serenely to her lacquered, raspberry lips. Having not lost all energies trying to remain composed in Adrastiya's biting, penetrating gaze, Trevor had begun calmly digging for his lighter as soon as his eyes registered the smooth, tightly wrapped, paper syringe in Adrastiya’s fingers. He brought the flame up before Adrastiya's appeased features just as the adult lollipop found gentle purchase in her mouth of warm, sweet apples. Taking a curt, yet strikingly consuming drag, Adrastiya reclined back slightly, her eyes widening in dreamy, wistful nostalgia as her gaze drank of the murky, phantasmal pond below, the spiced aroma of cloves gently swirling about them from the glowing cherry of her petite, obsidian wand.

"Yes, I’m a slave too, I suppose, forever to those times, those magical times, when I was upon the stage. I think I shall never be free. Its powerful, all-consuming grip will be upon me for all the ages. For I have never encountered its exaltation anywhere else. Only here have I reigned supreme. Only here has every spectator worshiped me, cheered me, adored me, watching in breathless enthrallment my every movement, my every utterance, spellbound, completely and utterly enslaved to me."

Adrastiya's probing searchlight eyes crawled over the surrounds, the various levels of seating, the pit, the stage, her ocular antennae probing about for any morsel of ghostly memory that could be somehow suckled upon, somehow re-ingested and, then, through the most beguiling of magical processes, relived.

"Without the magic one can stir up here, what am I? What am I without the stage?" Adrastiya ashed her black, midnight clove stick into the plastic cup. "Here I am, wandering about in these dark mazes of Piter." Gracefully she flung her arm in theatrical, creamy swoop east towards the city streets. "Out in the ashen midnight, shuffling around, shackled by the haunting torment of the changing of times, by my banishment from this stage, this one, magical, wondrous place where I reigned supreme, the only place I can say that was truly my home." Adrastiya took a long, bitter drag, her eyes screwing up slightly in remorse. "Now I am just another bundled figure out there in the world of shadows, where no one knows that I even exist - a ghost, stumbling about here in the upper levels of theater, choking in darkness, dead to the world."

Her mood darkening, Adrastiya quaffed dramatically at the circus champagne, sucking in the last remnants of her clove cigarette before drowning it in the shallow wading pool of bubbly she had poured into the plastic ashtray.

"Ah, the trinity." Adrastiya remarked.

The contents of the plastic cup soon turned terrible and black.

"What is it they're staging here?" Trevor asked, refilling Adrastiya’s tumbler.

"Apollo and Pallas in the North." Adrastiya laughed. "Why, what else would it be?"

"I've never heard of it."

"That doesn't surprise me. Now then, tell me, how does a runaway slave come to have such fancy, elevated purchase here in the great stage? Tell me your secret. Can the runaway property of the Virgin really afford such trappings?"

"Well, I've only been here once, so far as I can remember. But, never after hours like this. Never behind the scenes, as it were."

"I see." Adrastiya smiled. "Property of the Virgin. Just because you hide, and not very well, in a box that doesn’t belong to you, on a level with which you cannot seriously aspire to by any practical means, doesn't mean that you will not be found out. Look, after all, my dear, I found you, didn't I? And it did not require anything which resembles effort on my part."

"That's true. I need to improve my hiding."

"That's adorable. Hide all you want, Virginia boy. But I think you will always be found."

"Always?"

"Silly. You want to hide, but you come straight to my theater. Foolish, don't you know I see everything that goes on in this place? This is my domain. It's like you're trying to hide in my bedroom. Can you really be serious in this endeavor? Under the bed, in the closet...how unchallenging."

"So, you're the director here?"

For one beat, Adrastiya breathed a trite, contrived chuckle.

"You know, I have many titles. I can't even remember them all." she sighed in sardonic, half-grinning resignation.

Serenely, she hoisted the plastic goblet above her, the last remnants of poor man's ambrosia washing down her long throat like a smooth crafted waterfall in a Japanese garden. Softly, Adrastiya smacked her lips in a delicious moment of savory bliss. The bottle nearly gone, Trevor reached for the emerald mermaid to wring out of her the last two serves.

"No." Adrastiya declined flatly. "Save this for after."

"After?" Trevor asked, the bottle frozen in mid-ascension to their beggar's goblets.

"Put this silliness down." Adrastiya instructed. "And take that scarf out of your coat pocket."

How the hell had she spotted that, Trevor asked himself. Perplexed, but interest humorously piqued, Trevor slowly drew the scarf from his coat like pulling a dead, limp snake from the bush. Adrastiya stood, and removed herself to the dark recess of the box, behind the second row of seats, back near the door. There, standing solemn, she faced Trevor, her face stoic, yet tuning in to exude a staticy, wild energy. Eyes fixed onto him, she reached up her skirt and removed her panties, one smooth, fluid movement, one well-rehearsed in full-length mirrors and boudoirs all across town. Then, unhurriedly, in surreal, agonizing enticement, she drew up her skirt of celestially imbued azure to reveal a treacherous thicket of overgrown pubis, the type of woman one found perhaps in an art nouveau painting, natural, infused, bursting.

"I want you to give me the hangman's noose." Adrastiya instructed calmly, her voice betraying only the slightest tremor of excitement. "Give me one more thriller here in this theater. It will redeem your trespass, Trevu. Of this I am promising you."

Unthinking, Trevor moved towards her, his eyes locked in hers as if she had fired two diamond harpoons through his skull and was now roping him in. Trevor grabbed at her dress, keeping it aloft as he took her body in his hands. Ripping open his jeans, Adrastiya dragged Trevor down onto the floor by his shirt, violently clutching and twisting at the cloth as she ran a claw up his back, ripping his skin like a playful practice slash on a seaman with a cat o' nine tails, a mocking lash, but nevertheless, one ruefully inculcated with pain. Their mouths sucked at each other like deranged wolves gnashing at steaming, bloodied meat on a moonlit, forested banquet of snow. Her fiery apple and clove tongue lashed and flicked ravenously around Trevor's lips and teeth. Fiercely, she struck into him and bit at his lower lip like a demented, vampiric bear trap.

"Fuck!" Trevor screamed, the pain running a circuit of paralyzing, hot rings around his skull.

He reared back and slapped Adrastiya's face with a steely backhand.

"Yes!" Adrastiya breathed in ecstasy.

Forcefully, she took hold of Trevor, digging her nails deeply into his tight skin.

"Give me the hangman’s noose!" she breathed hotly.

Squeezing him ruefully in her clutches, Adrastiya plunged Trevor into the molten gardens of the fertile crescent. Her eyes rolled back in her head and rattled around momentarily like freshly released billiard balls.

"Give me the noose!" she gasped hotly. "I need the thrills."

Desperately, she tugged at Trevor's hand, the heroin hooker's scarf still held tightly in his grip.

"Do it! Around my neck!" she breathlessly instructed. "Give me the thrills!"

Blinded by her body enveloping him and working to extract his meager possessions, Trevor nevertheless managed to loop the scarf around Adrastiya's neck, like taking the symbol of life, the ankh, and bending it backwards on itself. He drew the tail of the scarf through into a rudimentary noose, wrapping the reins up in his fist to make the hangman's duty a snug and unforgiving affair.

"Yes!" Adrastiya’s voice quivered in scorched breath, the hangman's noose already forcing her jugulars on either side of her neck to bulge, her rich coffee and cream face churning and brewing amid deepening swaths of burgundy merlot. "Take me to the stars." she instructed.

Soon enough, Adrastiya's head filled with the pulsating, purple and pink embryonic visions of the universe, the billowing, blood-drenched clouds, the glowing purple prisms and stars, they reached out to touch her perceptions from light years away, beaming, shining behind her eyes on the cerebral screen, warmly around her portal, dissipating, washing out like crimson tide, then returning in violet snow flurries and wafting pink petals, electrified and organic, stretching onward for eternities. The adrenaline bubbled and brewed inside her skull, a gag rail of the finest, purest jolt to one's spacesuit. The charge was building between the two of them like a gathering whirlpool, a consuming, terrifying tempest, building volcanically towards climax, a great feast served up for heathens, only in the form the purest terrestrial energy, capable of quelling all but the most savage and sadistic of appetites. Trevor was soon flailing about like a rag doll receiving electro-shock treatment. His mind was paralyzed in a great, celestial vice, his thoughts crippled and overloaded like a Commodore computer blasted by lightning. Moaning and gasping like an idiot broken on the wheel, Trevor wailed as Adrastiya reached inside of him and extracted every last possible morsel. Trevor began melting deep within Adrastiya's cauldron of fire like a jacked-up beast of the field just released from months of celibacy. Like meat seared on the black cast iron pan for ten seconds a side, Adrastiya took of the mortal offering and devoured it, bloodily, raw, red and pink juices, fats and greases, running ecstatically down her lips and chin, her quivering greedy mouth, her smiling teeth, decorated in ripped battle flags of flesh, her breasts heaving, the charred blood dripping like the beginning of gentle spring rain upon the cleavage of her two heavenly vessels of mother’s milk softly divine.

Electrified by the run of the mill, yet adequate, sustenance of her desire, Adrastiya drew up, wide-eyed and invigorated, face flushed from asphyxiation, yet radiating and glowing in a fury of madly dancing electrons, spinning and swirling like a billion cosmos newly created, cruelly, magically, and majestic.

In a daze, Adrastiya reached a hand up to loosen the hangman's necktie. She gasped for breath and began wobbling about the floor. Lungs ablaze, she crawled along, knocking over chairs, until through the fogs, she reached out and grabbed the emerald mermaid, who had coolly stood by and observed the proceedings. Fervently, she hoisted the jaded maiden to her swollen lips like a pirate momentarily crazed by thirst. After a remarkable pull, long and insatiable, sucking the bottle entirely dry of its contents, Adrastiya coughed, then cooed, and, finally, exhaled peaceably in cool revelry. Almost as an afterthought, she passed Trevor the empty emerald balloon and instructed him to whisper into it a secret desire.

"Anything you wish." Adrastiya purred, straightening her clothes and skirt, hands jittery and uncoordinated in slowly quelling delight. "Just be sure to seal it with the cork. Otherwise, it won't come true."

"Alright." Trevor mumbled, incoherently. "Are you going someplace?"

"Everyone is going someplace, silly, whether they like it or not."

With a deep breath to clear her head, Adrastiya regained her regal composure. She stood in a short collection of fluid, divine movements, returned her panties to her body in graceful magic, and reached for the door, smoothly slipping out into the spatial mischievousness of the darkened theater. Trevor remained there on the floor, a chair collapsed near him, pants around his boots, body ravaged and nearly crippled by the most draining of exertions. His head and thoughts swam around, dazed, merry, dumbfounded, but his body - his diving suit, as it were - was leaden and paralyzed. Trevor's eyes slunk down to the emerald bottle near his lap, his own private wishing well. Brain spinning through the chambers, the endless grand revolver, he brought the ears of the green mermaid softly up to his chapped, bloodied lips.

"Show me the workings of the world." Trevor whispered in garbled, post-coital slur to his mermaid beauty. “No lies.”

Immediately upon whispering these words, Trevor put his thumb over the opening of the bottle and sealed it shut. Where was that cork? He sent his hand out, probing, patting under the disheveled chairs in the box. He was on all fours, pants still around his ankles, ineptly snooping about when Adrastiya returned. She swept stealthily into the box, smoothly gliding into the environs like a subtle breeze across a lazy, sun-washed porch in evening.

"If you wished for this." Adrastiya said, holding up a new bottle of champagne. "Hurrah. Your dream has come true."

"Oh no." Trevor coughed. "My wish is far more involved and self-serving than that."

"Perhaps you should have wished for a cork?"

"Yeah, I think I should have."

"Just use this one then."

Adrastiya undressed the newest green mermaid of her tinfoil hair and wire bobby pins.

"Don't even try it." Trevor warned. "You'll rip the skin of your hand off."

"Oh, is that so?" Adrastiya asked, raising her dark, hypnotizing, theatrical eyebrows curiously towards the domed heavens.

With the gentlest and most effortless twist of her wrist, her creamy, long fingers removed the cork. It was as if she were casually removing the top of a jack-o-lantern, easily being able to reach inside its brain and scoop out the contents, illuminate the eyes with the warmth of a candle, or perhaps extinguish altogether the flickering oddity.

"How the..." Trevor stared at Adrastiya, slack-jawed.

"There now. Let's say we trade."

Adrastiya held out the fresh, full-bellied bounty of beauty, and motioned for Trevor to take it in exchange for the green wishing well.

"Yes, yes, there we are." Adrastiya cooed. Her blood red nails clamped over the top of the bottle like a mousetrap before she easily guided the cork into place. "Even though it is from a different bottle, your wish will still come true." Adrastiya lied.

Adrastiya stared at Trevor there, peering into him as he lay on the floor, clutching that bottle of $2.00 booze, pants still around his ankles. She was slyly amused.

“Your wish.” she said, holding the double-crossed, jade bottle in the air before them. “My gift to you. I will keep it safe with me always, here, in the theater of dreams.”

“Best gift ever.” Trevor said, struggling to get up, reaching in stiff dis-ease to hoist up his pants.

"Oh, no, no." Adrastiya smiled. "Don't bother to get up, darling."

In fluid pirouette, Adrastiya was already behind the door to the corridor. There, she leaned in to blow Trevor a kiss, sparkling eyes of celestial chandelier holding him one last time in her trance-like gaze, green mermaid filled with wishes and secrets held closely at her bosom like a swaddled babe.

"Ciao." she said.

And like that she was gone, a graceful boat of spider lilies and candles swallowed by the moonless sea.

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