Friday, April 6, 2012

3/8/12 - Busy With their Guns and Dreaming - pt. 1

La Casa de La Sangre is a large, red brick building, nestled amongst several other large, red brick buildings in southern Havana.

While it looks relatively ordinary, something about the building radiates a high degree of malevolence to the trained eye, or sensitive soul. But it's the ear that truly gives away how profane the edifice is, for no matter what time of day one stands in its many, long shadows, one will never hear anything while engulfed in them.

No cats hissing at one another in the alleys. No dogs barking at noises, or each other. No birds chirping, no children playing, no cars or buses or bicycles.

Not even an insect -- not even a !@#$ing fly -- dares buzz in the immediate locale of La Casa, as though what lurked inside it was too terrible, even for such vermin.

It's as if there's a giant, cartoon sign on the building, shouting GO AWAY to all passersby. During the day, at least.

At night? It's a different story. What was eerie and repulsive during in the light of day becomes mysteriously enticing when the Sun goes down.  The silence is no longer total, for it is filled with other sounds -- deeper rhythms and enticing calls, slowly persuading the confused, the lost, and the seeking to enter the red brick warren and find its secret.

Unfortunately, the secret has fangs, and a grotesque appetite.

* * *

Into the warren walk four figures, one after the other. 

In the front is the old man, Dr. Krwi, who proceeds with his hands bound and a dejected look on his face. 

After him is Gilligan, sweating profusely in the tropical night, and likewise bound. He seems to be darkly amused by something, but doesn't care to share.

Bringing up the rear is a tall, carefully nondescript character, walking alongside Ernest, but not too much alongside. It seems clear that he's the writer's ally, based on body language and how he speaks to him.

(That's what those observing should see, and think, anyway.)

Ernest seems a little pale and jittery, as though he's low on blood and expecting something bad to happen. Every so often he regains his composure, and jabs the old man in the neck with a careful finger, as if to dissuade him from doing anything stupid.

And every so often, the old man lets him.

Eventually, the procession goes around an almost-hidden bend that leads to an ominous passage between two buildings, which terminates in a large, iron door. Falling angels decorate it at the top, laughing devils await below.

"Self-aggrandize much?" Gilligan snorts: "It's all downhill from here."

"Shut up," Ernest hisses. He starts to move towards that door, and then stops. Then his "ally" looks at him, expectantly, and he continues in his motion -- knocking on the door, using a combination of long bangs and short raps. 

There's a short wait that feels like forever, and then the door is slowly unlocked from the other side. A series of metal-on-metal slides, clicks, and pops can be heard, and then the creak of the door on its hinges as something unseen, in the shadows beyond the door, opens it up.

A leering, pale face looms out of the darkness, looking at Ernest with what might be a smile, a challenge, or both. The teeth are truly hideous: broken, sharp, picket-fence posts slid out of wrinkled, rotten gums.

The eyes are worse. A pair of black, runny spots in yellow and red fields, they seem like tumors, starting from the skull, as the face's owner appraises the foursome on his doorstep.

The two beings don't talk -- at least not in a way that could be recognized as speaking. They look at each other and move their heads and bodies as though they were speaking, but no audible words are uttered. 

Finally, the shadow retakes its face,  and the door is opened the rest of the way. The two prisoners are shoved through, first, followed by Ernest and his "ally," and they walk into a short and dark hallway lit by strange, glowing, dark red spots on the walls and ceiling. Ernest and the thing that let him in seem to have no problems dealing with this, and neither does the ally, but the prisoners are having to walk carefully to avoid tripping over the gruesome things littering the floor -- exsanguinated rats, small human skulls in various stages of decay, dead spiders the size of two men's hands.

Past the hallway is another, iron door. This is also guarded, only by two persons, this time. They take charge of the prisoners, Ernest, and his assumed ally, from the doorman, and then open the inner door to take the party further in.

As soon as the door is opened, the smell hits: damp rot, sour earth, and blood. The old man wrinkles his nose in disgust but does not seem surprised. Gilligan smiles, almost ear-to-ear, either because he loves the odor, or it's proof that something good is about to happen. Ernest seems a little more nervous, perhaps because this is now the point of no return for him, on several levels.

The strange man betrays nothing, and gently -- but forcefully -- urges the others on.

* * *

Past the inner door is an open, spiral walkway that goes downward and inward, hugging stone walls as it goes, and lit by a large, dark red spot, hanging down on chains from the ceiling. The light is angled down so that little is visible behind it, but the shadows above seem pregnant with a roiling motion, and it's not hard to imagine that they play host to many unclean things.

The rhythm of the walls is frequently punctuated by doors: strong, iron ones, perhaps denoting rooms, and barred metal, which can only be cells. Piteous noises come from the cells, and the occasional scream slips out from behind the stronger doors, followed by laughter or Spanish curses. One door lies slightly ajar, and what's happening in that room is so debased that it's all Doctor Krwi can do to not burst in there and stop it.

But that would ruin the plan, and he's come too far to do that, now.

The floor of the spiral is black and slick with blood, ichor, and less readily identifiable secretions, most of which are leaking out from under the doors and cells. A dried up, almost mummified body lies halfway down the spiral, hanging over the edge in such a way that they pass it twice: once to step over its legs, and then to walk past its head and arms. From the looks of things, it was someone important, but why it's been left here for the rats is unknown. 

At the bottom of the spiral, set into the last rise at a strange angle, is another strong, iron door. Ernest reaches down and pulls on a stone, set into the wall. It slides forward, and then back into place, and then the door pivots inwards, allowing another miasma of stinking, heavy air to assault their senses. 

The way beyond is black as pitch; even the red light from this chamber will not enter there. 

Ernest looks at the indescribable ally, possibly pleading for sense, or a chance to escape. The man looks back, stern as stone. Gilligan starts humming what might be "twinkle, twinkle, little star." Another scream erupts from behind a door -- a child's at a guess.

The party goes forward into the gloom, relying on a vampire to show them the way.

* * *

How long do they walk through that darkness, pawed at by unseen things and assaulted by rank smells that get worse as they go ever forward? And what secret defenses do they walk past, allowed through only because of their escort? Time stretches and loses all meaning, there in the black, and its many dangers remain blissfully unseen, but they all know enough to know -- or at least guess -- that if they didn't have Ernest along, they'd probably be mad or dead at this point.

(Some of them, anyway.)

When they reach their destination, there is no door to open, and no guarded portal to cross. There is simply the sudden, disconcerting realization that they are not alone, followed by the almost-immediate lifting of the gloom, and the revelation of the red-lit, stone chamber beyond. Scores of beings, all dressed in the decaying finery of another age, long gone by, turn to stare at the living amongst them, and their yellow, tumorous eyes seem insatiable with hunger.

This, then, would be the fabled Catacombs of Havana: a seemingly-endless landscape of half-toppled stone walls and high, gloomy ceilings, all held up by processions of ancient pillars and makeshift stacks of crumbled, brittle rock, and lit by large, writhing globules of red, glowing matter. The walls are festooned with webbed-over tapestries, home to massive colonies of beetling and squamous spiders, and numerous old, wooden coffins have been put to use as decorations, storage, and furniture. Everywhere are human bones: lying about the floor in piles, lashed together to make chairs, tables, thrones, and perverse chandeliers for the red light, and roughly reassembled into skeletons for decoration or amusement.

And these, then, would be the dreaded Vampires of Cuba: the pitiful and stagnant -- but still incredibly dangerous -- remnants of Iberia's once-numerous vampire population. All but annihilated as a side effect of the Spanish Inquisition, they fled the fire and holy power by either burrowing deep into the dirt, hoping to sleep out the inferno, or fleeing in boats to whatever new shores they could reach.

Many of the emigres arrived here, in Cuba, amidst the later waves of Spanish conquest. Divested of their ancient treasures and great holdings, they created a new home amongst the natives, choosing this time to hide rather than flaunt their power. Eventually they invited their sleeping brothers and sisters to join them in this damp, fruitful hell, but the fresh infusion of wealth and allies did little to change their new way of life. 

In the dirt they started over, and in the dirt they remain -- until the Revolution gave them an opportunity to influence things above their heads, once more. Now they own more than the night, but still cling to their cautious ways, lest another Inquisition erupt around them.

Singly and in groups, the sere vampires of Cuba descend to greet their wayward son, Ernest, and see what he's brought them.

"(Ernesto, my child,)" one of them -- the best dressed amongst the throng -- slops out of a mouth that seems more tongue than tooth, addressing him in Spanish that's more than a few centuries old: "(What delicious things have you brought us?)"

"(These are not dinner, at least not yet, Your Eminence,)" he says, pushing the Doctor forward: "(This is an old enemy of our people. He is called Doctor Blood. I believe you may have heard of him...?)"

The effect is instantaneous: half the vampires hiss and scuttle away, while the others pull out sharp, filthy blades and rush forward to try and hack him to pieces. The old man doesn't so much as budge, staring at the vampire who spoke with a special hatred: if only his looks could kill, the upier would be dead a thousand times over.

"(Wait,)" the leader commands, and the swords are retracted and lowered, if only for a moment: "(Ernest, this is a surprise, and not an entirely good one. Why have you brought this person here, to us?)"

"(Are you seeking a stronger connection with us, at last?)" another one asks, slinking forward: "(Are you ready to give up the lands above? Is this your prize, to pay your way into our world?)"

"(Jasparo, be silent,)" the Eminence says, waving him back: "(He does ask a good question, my Ernesto. Why have you brought our enemy into our lair, when he could be questioned and dealt with somewhere else? And who is this other with you?")

"(And who is the other captive?)" Jasparo asks, not quite neutered by his master's rebuke.

"(This is an ally of Doctor Blood, your Eminence,") Ernest explains, pushing Gilligan forward. The man grins and does a small tap-dance, taking a bow at the end. Some of the vampires laugh. Doctor Krwi rolls his eyes.

"Just so you all know, He's going to !@#$ing kill everyone in this room," he announces as he gets back up.

"Him?" Jasparo asks in tortured English: "Who is... him? Your Doctor Blood?"

"No. Him. Me Him. Him not me Him."

"(He's not quite sane,)" Ernest tries to explain: "(But no matter. Neither he nor the Doctor can get free. Their bonds are mystically sealed, so that even they cannot escape them. And this one, here, is an ally of mine. He can be trusted with our secrets. He has certain ties-)"

"(They are mystically sealed?)" Jasparo asks, walking closer and looking at the Doctor's bonds: "(Ernesto, I did not know that you practiced our magic. You said it was foolishness to learn, if I do remember correctly?)"

"(My ally sealed them,)" Ernest says, trying to roll with it. His "ally" rolls his eyes, getting the feeling the !@#$ is about to go right down the !@#$ing toilet.

"(These do not look properly sealed, your Eminence,") Jasparo announces, stepping forward to inspect Gilligan's: "(I think we should take them from here, and quickly. This American fool may have put us in danger.)"

"(All creatures such as yourself are in danger, so long as a few good people are willing to do what's needed,)" Doctor Kwri announces: "(And my partner is incorrect. I will kill you, first.)"

"Yo Quiero Taco Bell," Gilligan snickers.  The vampires laugh at this, too, but the Eminence isn't joining in:

"(You are quite correct, Jasparo. Ernesto, we must speak at some length regarding your carelessness here, tonight. But we shall remove these dangers from our midst, first...)"

The Eminence waves his claws, and several of the vampires who drew their swords come down to take charge of Gilligan and the Doctor. It's obvious they mean to take them back up to the spiral walkway, and one of the horrible cells, there.

The Doctor looks to Ernest's ally, who -- listening for something, and finally hearing it -- nods. Without further warning, he leaps headlong into the throng of vampires, screaming as he rips them apart with his bare hands. Ichor, limbs, and heads fly out of the pile as he tears a hole for the others to follow.

Several things happen in swift succession. Ernest runs back the way they came, no longer necessary to this deadly equation. Gilligan snaps his bindings with a devil's strength, and follows quickly after, intent on his own part of the plan.

Dr. Krwi makes an arcane gesture, and within seconds his bonds are entirely gone, and changed back into his sword. He then uses that weapon to slice another path through the vermin that would bring him down, cursing them for ever existing and shouting aloud the name of Christ, the savior, while occasionally throwing a deadly combat spell with the flick of a wrist.

Before long, he and Ernest's ally are all but swamped by vampires, who have swarmed from the seemingly-endless catacombs in order to defend their home. Both fight expertly, with the skill and determination that comes from ages of battling -- and fiercely hating -- the undead, but against so many, what can they hope to achieve except their own deaths?

"Now would be a good !@#$ing time, Gilligan!" the ally shouts back to the mysterious, black hole they came from, and the other two escaped into.

* * *

In the darkness, Ernest weeps. He has just seen the end of his meal ticket. No more blood, no more immortality, no more eternal youth. And any vampire who escapes here today will mark him as a traitor, which will make his nights rather dangerous from here on out.

"Why are you crying?" Gilligan asks, alongside him in the blackness.

"I just lost everything," Ernest whimpers: "That dirty... that son of a !@#$ just destroyed my life. And for what? What's so !@#$ important that we had to come here and do this?"

"You know, I used to read your books, before," Gilligan replies, and for some reason Ernest can now see him -- eerily lit up in the gloom by a mysterious, as-yet-unseen light source: "You always struck me as a phony. All macho and manly-man, but deep down just a little boy in a big man's body."

"!@#$ you, you !@#$ing freak!" Ernest shouts, baring his fangs and claws: "What the !@#$ do you know about getting old? Seeing your friends die? Looking in the mirror and realizing that you're not who you were, anymore?"

Gilligan just laughs. It becomes apparent that the light is coming from the object he's had stashed in his pants the entire time: the silver mask is glowing from inside, and he has it cupped in his hands, ready to wear.

"Maybe you can ask Him about how I feel about that last one, writer-boy," Gilligan says, moving to put it on: "Better yet, maybe you can ask yourself how you feel once He tells you what He thinks of your novels."

Ernest could say something, then. He could say a !@#$ing lot of things. But the moment Gilligan puts the mask on his face, and the glow subsides to a bright light at its edges, and then a bright, blinding shine from the eyes and mouth of the smiley face, he finds himself at a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him.

A total, complete loss of words. 

I aM tHe DevIL, Crazyface announces, his voice grating metal from the space between worlds: And I am ComE to DO tHe DeviL'S WorK.

Ernest tries to run -- give him that much credit, at least. He tries, but before he gets more than three steps back the way they came, scrambling through the dark, something hot and sharp has lashed out and not quite fractionated his midsection.

Ernest Hemingway explodes. Crazyface laughs. 

La Casa de La Sangre, and everyone inside of it, is doomed.

(SPYGOD is listening to Violence (Pet Shop Boys, Hacienda Version) and drinking... something, somewhere)

No comments:

Post a Comment