October's 11 thru 20

An odd, smoke-like, cloud—dense and moving without wind—floats into view over the apparently abandoned, high-rise apartment building. Devoting very little attention to the pushing rush of people around me, I continue walking as the smoke congeals into a quasi-recognizable shape: a naked woman reclining...or...a big-eared dog.

I bump into a couple blocking the sidewalk, staring at the cloud drifting over the street. The thin one with a skull-tattoo carps about blind, idiot, tourists in French; the other clucks possessively and shushes. I squeeze around them. Skull-tattoo eyeballs me while mother hen’s body posture coddles and admonishes.

As I creep down the street at the clouds pace, it kaleidoscopes into a rainbow of foggy colors, effervesces, implodes, and morphs into a quasi-familiar: purple and pink canoe...or...chartreuse and lilac vagina. When it turns the corner at Gewijde Straat, (Dedicated Street) I make a Macy’s parade-float-connection and try to locate the guide vehicle. No way, traffic is too fast. I return my gaze. The cloud—quasi-shaped like a lime-green castle—displays: Three-nights, Overwinnings Herberg (Victory Hostel), 150 Euros. I wait at the intersection. The light changes. Crossing Dedicated Street, I examine the underbelly of the floating cloud-billboard.

No motor-sounds nor hint of movement emanate from above, and I see only a slice of sky between the illuminated billboard-sides. Shimmery gray-blue, and clearly shaped like a nude woman reclining, the cloud advertises a Cabaret nightclub Vuil Bemiddelaar.

The aroma of baking draws my attention away from the street and into a bright pedestrian area. Hungry...how could I forget! A multi-faceted blaze of sharp light—from the exterior and interior surfaces of a chrome block—demands closer inspection. Small cubicles, like the spaces between the toes of the Sphinx, are inset around the circumference of a mirrored building.

I pass food-stalls reminiscent of midway-booths from a long ago fair in America. Reflections of all shadows and movements, including mine, bounce off everything (like an outdoor, hall-of-mirrors) and make me forget my hunger. Almost. I stop in front of a deep cubicle selling pizza and beer. Once inside, I realize the menu-board displays American pizza and German beer. I’ve died and gone to heaven...chuckling at my own irony, I order. Taking a Schneiderweisse to a side table and sipping, I wait for my soft-crust Chicago-style pie to cook.

A man sits across from me—sideways. I look around.

I see four empty, nearby, tables—and sigh. A meat-gazer. In an empty wall of urinals, this guy probably chooses the adjacent pisser.

“Only been back short time?” he asks in accented-English. Yugoslavian is probably his native tongue. His face muscles, especially those having to do with his lower lip, have an interesting life of their own. He says, “noticed you outside the Internationaal Instituut,” and wrinkles his chin.

I swallow a slice from my bottled-loaf-of-wheat-bread and say, “we have never met.”

He puckers. “True. Ask me something. Anything.”

I shake my head. Does he know?

He stands. Grimaces. Leaves.

I finish my unfiltered wheat and buy another. Returning to my seat, I find an English language newspaper on meat-gazer’s chair. The texture feels like a magazine. Heavy. There are no advertisements or photographs—just blank spaces.

Business: ...infoport investigators divulge the tracking system was corrupted..., ...sat-sys compromised by moon-meteorite debris..., ...without the cooperation of the Web of Internets Controllore-Globalè...; Local: ...evidence links spree to shuttle-rail conductor..., ...mother consumes her aborted...; and International: ...Yellowstone toll suspected to level at seventeen-million..., ...Italy and Romania pass mandatory branding...

Che-ohss is busy.

My pizza arrives. I eat, drink, and read—savoring it all.

With slicer-disc and pie-server, I cut and fold my pizza slices. I eat them like an American—point first, like a sandwich. Others stare, while eating theirs with silverware—crust first. Grease dribbles down my hand to the cuff of my sleeve. I lick it off.

Another man, coal-miner-dirty, slips into meat gazer's seat. Fucking Central Station! He is—head to toe—wearing a...a soot suit. Oh. I have to use that. In French, the beers help me enunciate, “Your soot suit est remarquable. Sing Chim-Chimney.”

In English he says, “Did you return, assimilate, and begin your mission recently?”

Thoughts bumper-car around in my head. How could meat-gazer and soot suit be aware? Mind readers? ...Joe’s psychology class last spring: technological advances in brain wave interpretation permit a form of telepathy... ...needs a huge machine... ...like... ...this building... ...Jesus-youblitheringidiot-Christ! I leave.

Soot suit follows. “Since you’ve only one question left, or risk premature departure, I’ll explain,” he says.

Slowing my pace—wrong about the no-questions rule, could just be a fancy trick—I turn. His eyes are so clean.

He continues, “One named Lösch discovered how to stick. Not return. If you choose, you can have your husk’s lifespan.”

Squinting—not from headlights, overhead streetlights, or storefront glare, but because Joe’s muscle-memory squints instead of scowls—I say, “Tell me how.”

“Only Lösch can. It involves a certain...deception. I’m still bound by that rule.”

“Your 'one-question-left' statement confuses me.”

He shrugs. “You retrieved two senses, haven’t asked two... Oh, how do I know? ...Sorry, I’m out of practice conversing with interrogatory-incapable ones. It’s like an aura? A visual record of our life force; way over this one’s head,” he laughs. “Interested in meeting Lösch?”

I nod. We walk away from lights, through dim alleyways, and into darker passages.

We enter an incongruous park. Through the trees, spotlights illuminate a windowless building. The swishes of our steps fade away. As I say, “looks like a jail,” my voice becomes distant.

Soot Suit turns, squeaks, “My go-between duties are complete. Announce yourself on the…” He indicates, still talking.

I remove the slicer-disk from a pocket and point him away from me before opening a mouth-sized smile in his grimy neck. I let him fall.

The clean-shaven head on the screen adjacent the jailhouse door peers around its own flesh. It’s breathy voice says, “Roble. Can you hear?”

“Yes,” I reply.

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