Monday, 2 November 2015

Death Pop Quiz (Intro to Funeral Portraits)

Art by Agustin S. Lobos
Provide your answers six feet below!

Can you measure the distance to your death? To the place where you're gonna get hit by a car? The room where your first lover cheated on you? The closest free hospital bed?

Does death take time? Lying awake in the middle of the night, clock ticking the empty seconds, your eyes freed of their focus on daily projects but still wide open, staring, waiting. The murky years when you grew up and forgot yourself; that time you started drinking vodka and popping pills at noon, hoping for a white coma, only to bounce back into putrid, stubborn awakeness; the moment when your parents showed signs of dementia and you realized your own birth would soon become aborted fiction.

Is death solid, liquid or a dark insidious gas? Is it loud like the screech of car tires or does it have the velvety texture of long silence? Does it taste like the placenta of a stillborn?

Does it stay the same or does it grow and breathe and multiply like living things? Was the Black Plague the daycare of death's offspring and the Great War their playground?

Does death spring between two people and binds them together like love or rope or venereal disease?

The trap under the sink has popped,
I opened the doors and, to the left of the garbage can, saw the rat twitching slightly,
its neck broken by the merciless spring-loaded bar, blood oozing from its mouth.
Then it went still, rigid, breathless, an object surrounded by objects, 
its long tail curled into a question mark.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Alina (Funeral Portraits 1)

Pic from Amadeus Love

My French high-school teacher, Mrs. Marceau, bullied me into learning French
and cutting my hair short.
She demanded I come to her one-on-one tutoring sessions at her house,
but not as a sex-toy, no!, but a pet project.

She really wanted to enlighten me about Baudelaire and Mallarmé and Pascal.
Also had an obsession with Proust's madeleine,
always had a few on a plate on her desk, for us to enjoy.  

Although I was partial to poetry,
I didn't care much about French
and sometimes I'd show up late
or not even on the proper day.

Once I bumped into the teacher's one-on-one with Alina,
an ambitious classmate who loved foreign languages,
and got a kick out of grammar exercises.
Mrs. Marceau scolded me for being so absentminded
and told me to come on a different day,
and make sure I knew "Spleen" by heart.

Alina gave me a cold, razor-sharp smile, disdain mixed with shame.
Brunette, her hair cut short, her face pale and studious,
Alina lacked any female curves, but wasn't a tomboy either. 
She was just a goody two-shoes,
a neurotic teen,
her pencils always sharpened to a point,
her handwriting clean, elegant, calligraphic.

A few years later she cut her jugular with a kitchen knife,
they found her in a puddle of blood
sprawled on the floor at the entrance to her small apartment.
Based on the blood trail,
witnesses said that maybe she'd tried to run for the exit
when the red snakes began jumping madly from her throat
but hadn't had enough strength left to open the door and scream for help.  
"Scream for help?!?" I asked myself, puzzled.
"No, no way!
She was just in a rush to clean up the mess."

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Happily Aborted (short poem)

Pic from Chernobyl Revisited
My dad gave me money for my birthday,
to celebrate with my friends.
We promptly went to the park downtown,
bought some weed and alcohol, 
and got really wasted.

There weren't many people around,
as the day was cold,
and something good was on TV.

Dad happened to walk by the park in the evening and see us.
It was a windy autumn day and the deep purple of twilight found us scattered around the park like leaves.

George was on top of a lamppost,
trying to break its glass with the spear of a crusty leaf.

Jack was kneeling in front of a tree,
by a pile of vomit,
cutting himself with a rusted pocket knife,
and thinking whether he'd slip into a coma because of blood loss
or too much alcohol in his blood;
vaguely considering whether to make a big deal out of it
and call the others.

John, Matt, Laura, and Nikita were still on and around the bench,
a cluster of shadows,
still passing around a joint and a vodka bottle,
trapped in a crucial but already forgotten argument,
yellow, whispering leaves coming out of their mouths into the wind.

I stumbled toward my dad and shrugged at him,
feeling a bit ashamed.
This wasn't much of a party,
There was no cake, no balloons, no confetti, no singing and dancing,
no laughter.

My dad tried to cover the chaos with the cement of his gentle smile,
but I saw a black memory bleed from the corner of his eye,
and I inhaled its stench of rot.

It was about my childhood,
growing up in the countryside,
and playing hide and seek in our back yard,
by the wooden electricity pole,
with the other buried fetuses. 

Friday, 8 May 2015

Interview for The Pulp

This interview was originally published by The Pulp. 
Our generation loves gore. Horror and the horrific. Sordid tales and psychological mindfucks. We address our need for the weird and spooky through video games, movies, and novels. The latter has been around for the longest, but there are writers putting a new spin on the traditional—taking the basics from Stephen King and making them relate more to our generation, how we respond to society, and how our worldview is warped by the way in which we live.

Axl Barnes, a local author and philosopher, addresses all of these issues from the perspective of rebellious teenage youths in his upcoming novel, Odin Rising. Author of the novella Ich Will, Barnes incorporates his impressive background with philosophy into fiction that attempts to deal with the oppression of social systems, youthful narcissism, existentialism, psychological horror, and more. Although difficult to categorize, Barnes’ writing tends to build on his own experiences as a teenager in Romania and the meaning of ethics, life, and death to those too young to fully understand.
We caught up with Barnes to ask him a few questions about his upcoming novel, his influences, and the difficulties of writing outside of one particular genre.
What’s your background? How did you get into writing fiction?
I’m a philosophy and fiction lover. I had my first attempts at writing fiction when in high-school in the late 90s. Afterwards, I only wrote sporadically while studying for my undergraduate and graduate degrees in philosophy. Once I got my Ph.D. in Philosophy in 2011 from the University of Alberta, I started focusing exclusively on writing fiction and finally tackling some projects which have been shelved for too long. In 2012, I published a novella, Ich Will, which is about a poor, misanthropic philosophy student who’s unable to pay for his undergraduate degree and whose hatred for society takes an unexpected, bloody turn. Since then, I’ve been working on my first full-length novel, Odin Rising.
What will Odin Rising be about?
It’s about a group of teenage metal-heads in a small Romanian town in the mid 90s. Alex and Tudor, the group’s leaders, egg each other on to progressively more extreme, anti-social actions, from breaking windows and cutting car tires to desecrating graves and sacrificing animals to Satan. Their gruesome competition leads to killing an innocent older man, who just happened to challenge them at the wrong place at the wrong time. The death prompts a conflict between Alex and Tudor, a conflict between their views of what is extreme and the purpose of violence. While Alex is a Neo-Nazi who idolizes Hitler and the Aryan race, Tudor is a self-proclaimed nihilist who hates all races equally and only loves his knife, death-metal, and horror movies. Despite their differences, both youngsters think that they are possessed by Odin, the Norse god of storm and battle frenzy, and who’s awakening in Europe after centuries of slumber. Which one of two will prove himself a hero and join Odin in Valhalla?
When do you aim to have the book finished? 
By the end of the year. I hope to publish it sometime next year.
What were your influences in writing this book?
The book is rooted in personal experience and focused on two real-life events, both centered on the river that passes through my hometown. During summer in high school, my grandmother had asked me to take away a cat and drop it into someone’s back yard, as far as possible from her house. She handed me the cat in a sack, stating it was lazy and wouldn’t catch mice. I was with a few friends on that day and, youthful victims of boredom, we decided to take the cat to the nearby river and drown it. I’ll spare the sordid details, but suffice it to say that it’s true that cats have nine lives.
The second event occurred on another empty summer day: two friends, Vali and Lucian, and I got drunk and broke the windows of an abandoned service station. Then we went by the side of the river to drink some more and smoke cigarettes (that was the coolest thing, as we didn’t know of weed or other drugs). An older guy chased us down on his bike to lecture us, threatening to tell Vali’s dad about his vandalism. I remember asking Lucian why we couldn’t just drown the stranger into the river just like we had done with the cat? Lucian didn’t go for it, but what if he had? Or what if I had been drunk enough to just do it myself?
An additional impetus toward writing the book came from reading Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise Of The Satanic Metal Underground, a journalistic account of the Norwegian 90s rash of crimes connected with the black-metal scene. Varg Vikernes, a.k.a. Count Grishnackh, a central figure, was involved in many church-burnings as well as the murder of another leader of the movement. In his interviews, Varg argues fervently that his arson wasn’t part of a Satanic ritual, but part of reviving local Nordic pagan religion, and worshiping warrior gods like Odin and Thor, instead of the Jewish Jehovah. In my story, Alex and Tudor are aware and inspired by the events in Norway. Hence also the name of the book, Odin Rising.

What other fiction would you compare Odin Rising to and why?
Mainly Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Meursault, the main character of the novel, is a misfit who commits an apparently absurd crime. The deed puts him in jail, where he has a chance to reflect on the insurmountable gap between him and the rest of society, and to make explicit the meaning of his rebellion.
The first four chapters of Odin Rising are written in a realist, minimalist style, but in the last two chapters the boundary between reality and mythical dreams becomes blurred. In this respect, I was inspired by classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, as well as contemporaries like Clive Barker.
My fiction is also very much indebted to popular horror writers like Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Brian Keene.
Are there any controversial themes in the book? If so, how and why did you approach them? 
Teenage rebellion is the main theme of the book. It’s such a widespread phenomenon, ranging from petty vandalism to more serious crimes like school shootings, arson, and suicide. This novel is an attempt to uncover the source of this violence. Why do teenagers think that the adult world is lame and disgusting? Why do they want to mock or destroy it? I tried to see things from their perspective, which also used to be my own perspective, and make explicit their brutal judgment of the adult world.
One thing about the teenage psyche that struck me was the fact that the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for decision-making, practical deliberation, and planning, isn’t fully formed. So, while their intelligence, memory, creativity, and other brain functions are normal, teens don’t care about the future. For an adolescent, everything is here and now—there’s no tomorrow, no career, no insurance of this and that, no pension plans, no happily ever after. And that’s partly why teens are so emotional and restless, because for them everything is at stake all the time. But this psychological condition allows them a deep insight into the nature of the world around them and the nature of society. I think expressing that insight has both artistic and philosophical value.
If you had to describe Odin Rising in an elevator pitch of 10 words or less, what would you say? 
It’s an artistic and philosophical exploration of teenage rebellion.
What difficulties have you faced in writing and publishing Ich Will and in the upcoming publication of Odin Rising?
Marketing is the main challenge, especially since my fiction doesn’t fit a specific genre. Both Ich Will and Odin Rising are close to psychological horror, in the sense that the horror is triggered by an abnormality of the main characters’ psychology. However, this categorization misses something essential: my characters end up doing horrible things because they’re in the grips of some philosophical ideasAnd those ideas are critically discussed in the context of those stories. So, in a sense, my writing appeals to both readers who enjoy Socratic dialogues, but also to those who like graphic horror and violence. If I were forced to put a label on it, I’d call this genre philosophical horror or existentialist horror. Paradigmatic examples of this are Clive Barker’s chilling short story “Dread,” and its movie adaptation, as well as Scott Bakker’s horrific thriller Neuropath. Still, I hope that a consistent marketing effort through social media and websites like Goodreads will help my fiction reach the right audience.
Odin Rising may still be in progress, but do you have any plans for future work? 
I have developed ideas for two more novels. The first one has the working title This Town Must Burn! and features Canadian analogs of Tudor and Alex from Odin Rising. The action is set in a small Western Canadian town in the early 2000s. The youngsters are now in their early twenties and face the overwhelming pressures of adult life. Will they adapt and become domesticated, or will they continue to rebel and burn everything to the ground?
The second novel has the tentative title Defective, and it’s my take on zombies. Jack, the main character, is a young, obese warehouse worker who starts rotting alive: his mind stays fully functional while his body starts decomposing. The story is an account of Jack’s actions, decisions, and psychology in his transition from life to bodily death. While still philosophical, this book will fit well into the genre of body horror.
Both these projected novels will feature one theme that I’ve approached in Ich Will: alienated labour in capitalism. One of the main weapons capitalist society uses to break down and dehumanize its members is meaningless work, or wage slavery. So, in the spirit of George A. Romero’s zombie movies, this will be horror with a political edge.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Black Metal and Lucian Blaga (the pregnant darkness)

I love black metal to the point of obsession. I've been under its spell for a few years now. I dig both the early pioneers of the genre, like Burzum, Mayhem, Dark Throne, Emperor, and Immortal, and later explorers like Behemoth, Belphegor, Gorgoroth, Watain, Marduk, Negura Bunget, Shining and Inquisition. Initially, the music was characterized by low production, cold, harsh, repetitive riffs, shrieked inhuman sounding vocals, relentless, aggressive drumming, and more melodic, sublime instrumental parts that seemed to form gradually from the primordial chaos of the more aggressive parts. After the late '80s and early '90s there was an explosion of black metal sub-genres: Satanic Black Metal, Ambient/Pagan Black Metal, Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal and others. Each sub-genre came with its own musical style but they all evolved from the stylistic matrix of early black metal.

Black metal also comes with its own imagery and lyrical content. It's about nature, deep forests, majestic snow-peaked mountains, fog and darkness, ancient mythology and Paganism, the Dark Ages, Satanism and occultism, loneliness and despair, self-destruction and suicide. On album covers and during live performances musicians wear corpse-paint, black outfits, and spikes on their arms and legs. They do their best to look and sound as grim and sinister as possible and sometimes, under the spell of their music, they end up cutting themselves or members of the audience, drinking their own blood and letting it drip on their chins. (Make no mistake, this is different than a GWAR concert, the blood isn't fake.) The atmosphere of the shows is that of a ritual where evil forces are being summoned, and possess the musicians. Fire-breathing, inverted, burning crosses and heads of sheep or pigs impaled on spikes came to define black-metal shows.

Reflecting on my obsession with black metal, I realized that one of the things that attracted me to it was its esoteric, obscure, mystery-generating power. Black metal is a very suggestive style, it suggests what is hidden from view, it's a burning arrow shot into darkness, a light that makes the darkness even more solid and threatening. Hence the repeated images of woods, and sharp mountain peaks, deep, forgotten lakes and caves. When you go up a trail in a forested mountain, all around you is hidden, even in daylight. By contrast, walking down a city sidewalk, everything is open to view. Deep caves and lakes are also archetypal representations of the unknown and terrifying.

The esoteric character of black metal comes in sharp focus when we compare black metal to death metal. Most death metal is about rape and torture, serial killers, and flesh-eating zombies. But this music is all in the light, out in the open, and that makes it less dangerous, less insidious. And it has very limited expressive power. I mean, you can kidnap a girl, drag her in your basement, rape and strangle her, stab her body brutally, eat her flesh and then vomit it and then rape the mangled corpse again and again and again till you feel nauseous. But this is a scene that everyone can see in the smallest details. There's no shadows in death metal. In other words, while death metal is the sound of torture, brutality and morbidity, black metal is a cold, deep vibration which hypnotizes your very soul and takes it to the brink of madness. Only the grimness of black metal can darken your spirit. By contrast, the relentless violence of death metal can only infect and decompose your flesh.

Thinking of this mystery-generating power of black metal reminded me of Romanian philosopher and poet Lucian Blaga. The concept of mystery is at the heart of Blaga's philosophical system. Understanding how this notion relates in his system to human existence, cultural style and the hidden powers of the unconscious can throw some light on black metal, and into what glues together its various sub-genres. Conversely, black metal can be a great place to start toward grasping Blaga's philosophy. I'm not going to follow all these connections in this post, but rather clear some paths for future explorations.  

According to Blaga, man is essentially a seeker of knowledge and revelation regarding the universe and his place in it. But, on his view, the unknown is a mystery that could never be fully revealed.

Romanian philosopher Lucian Blaga 
"Blaga's world was saturated with mysteries of all kinds [...]. For him mystery was not the completely unknowable but an obscurity not yet adequately illuminated. It was full of meaning precisely because it concealed so much, and this overpowering incitement to investigation led Blaga to the depths of the human psyche and the furthest limits of human reason.
Man's vocation could be none other than to reveal mystery and that, in so doing, he became a creator of culture.
Blaga was intrigued by how man approached the unknowable, that is, by what mechanisms he created culture, and thus he was led to investigate cultural style. By the term style he didn't mean the outward form of a work of art or literature, but rather its manner of being. It was style that imbued works of art and literature and even entire ethnic communities and historical periods with their unique character; it was style that revealed the hidden side of human nature and thus became the principal means of objectifying human spirituality; and it was style that caused creativity to differ from individual to individual, people to people, and period to period.
Beside mystery, the unconscious was an indispensable component of Blaga's theory of style. Indeed, he located the source of style in the unconscious, and, thus, his theory of style and his entire philosophy of culture were based on the presupposition that creative acts such as the structuring of a work of art, a philosophical theory, or a scientific hypothesis were directed by powers beyond the control of the conscious. As he put it, style was the "supreme yoke" which held an author, a current, or an entire culture in bondage and from which none could escape. Although he didn't question the important contribution that the conscious made to the external elaboration of style, he denied that man's fundamental way of being, his "inner style," could be substantially altered by his own will.
Blaga argued, the unconscious was a psychic reality possessing it own "sovereign" functions and an internal order and equilibrium of unlimited creative virtues. He admired Jung especially for having enriched the doctrine of the unconscious through his theory of psychic archetypes, which Blaga adapted for his own conception of the unconscious categories, and through his theory of the collective unconscious, which helped Blaga account for the continuity of cultural style throughout the centuries.
The categories of the unconscious are determinants of style, and, grouped together, they formed a general pattern, or "stylistic matrix," which imposed itself on every culture and endowed it with individuality.
Blaga was fascinated not only with the theoretical aspects of style, but eagerly undertook to apply his ideas to Romanian culture, explaining its uniqueness by using the categories of the unconscious stylistic matrix. He concentrated on the rural world, where he thought the main constituent elements of Romanian spirituality lay. He conceived of the Romanian village as the locale of the organic, pre-eminently human mode of existence, the place of the generating sources of the native culture were strongest and purest. In fact, when he spoke of "culture" he meant the creative life of the village, and it was through this culture, "our eternity revealed in time,"  that the Romanians participated in the great adventure of cosmic creation. He contrasted this culture, a product of the "rural soul," with "civilization," whose embodiment was the city, the mechanized, bourgeois world, whose collapse seemed to him close at hand. For him, the great urban center of the twentieth century was the locale of the "non-creative" preoccupations such as the accumulation of positive knowledge and the formulation of rationalistic conceptions; it was the place where man lost his "cosmic sentiment" and his attachment to the specifically human, organic mode of existence. But the village was for him always the preeminent zone of mythical thought, which assimilated concrete appearances and enabled man to enter into a creative relationship with existence." (Keith Hitchins' Introduction to the English Translation of Blaga's play Zalmoxis, Obscure Pagan)

Armed with these basic concepts of Blaga's philosophy we can now take a closer look at black metal's sub-genres and see that what ties all of them together is their power to reveal mystery. During the wave of media craze in Norway following the church burnings and other criminal activities related to the black metal milieu in the early '90s, the members of the movement were called Satanists. This label had a good shock value and increased newspaper sales and TV ratings. Later on, Varg Vikernes, the creative force behind Burzum, went to great lengths in arguing that none of the people in their movement were actual Satanists, but rather anti-Christians and seekers of the lost, forgotten spirit of Norse mythology and ancient Nordic customs and traditions (check interview here). But, leaving aside the politics surrounding this issue, both the Christian image of Satan as God's Accuser and Opposer AND the revival of the pagan Nordic Gods are both creations meant to reveal mystery. So, in spite of Varg's clarification, there has been an inflation of outstanding Satanic Black Metal bands like the pioneers Mayhem and Beherit, and later acts like Watain, Belphegor, Behemoth and Inquisition, to name just a few. Mayhem's second album is called  De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The name speaks for itself, reinforcing my point.

So, Satan is a romantic figure who rebels against God and forges his own path. It's a symbol of the individual's struggle to challenge the order imposed on him, free himself and embark on a quest toward knowledge and self-improvement. Lucifer is the bringer of light. Thus, the figure of Satan naturally lends itself to black metal. Dagon from Inquisition makes this point vivid in the interview below. 

Similarly, the destruction of Christianity and revival of ancient pagan deities is also an instance of man as a mystery creator. Eradicating Christianity reveals a mystery, a lost, forgotten world of runes and ancient artifacts. Something we should piece together from bits and pieces that still survive today. It's also an inner journey, a spiritual quest of a pre-Christian mode of being, a time when man was more closely attuned to the rhythms of the cosmos. This is why Blaga says that the village is the preeminent zone of mythical thought.

This conclusion of Blaga's philosophy has been followed by critically-acclaimed Romanian ambient/folk black metal band Negura Bunget. In one of his interviews, Negru, drummer and founder of the band, describes pre-Christian rituals and traditions which still survive in the countryside. One of these is Sînzienele. "On Sînziene people put fairies at their doors and windows as a means of protection against evil fairies and spirits. The magical ritual is based on a symbolic association of the sun with the flowers, the Fairies and the garland wreathed of those flowers. The Fairies embody some of the characteristic features of plants. Another type of ritual consisted of a torch lighting symbolizing the invincibility of the sun during the longest day of the year. Torches used to be lighted on the hills surrounding the villages the night before the celebration and afterward spun in the air and thrusted in the middle of the orchards and cornfields." Below is an awesome video by Negura Bunget. 

Regarding the importance of the countryside as an inspiration for Negura Bunget's music, Negru adds: "There are still original traditions being kept around the country, but they are disappearing slowly. Fortunately, Romania has still parts of the country which are not connected with the modern roads, electricity of people living in those areas still keep traditions and practices in their original forms."

Finally, just like Satanic and Pagan Black Metal, Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal is also a revelation of mystery. Depressive Black Metal focuses on self-destruction as a way of attaining higher knowledge. Revelation or shining, as  Niklas Kvarforth from Shining puts it. In this context, the normal functioning of our cognitive and physical systems are a veil which hides reality as it is in itself. So, the process of self-destruction, through drugs or other excesses is nothing but a deliberate attempt to look beyond that veil. The idea of mortifying one's body to attain the absolute truth is not new and has been put in practice by mystics of various religions since the dawn of time. But, as Blaga claims, the unknown is a mystery that could never be FULLY revealed. One way of understanding this is by reminding ourselves that reality always reveals itself to a conscious subject in a form that fits that subject's mind. So a mind monitoring its own destruction is still a mind, a subject, which perceives reality as it appears to him, not as it is in itself. Thus, no matter whether we perceive the world with our physical eyes or with our inner, psychic third eye, the world will be framed by darkness, never fully present, always partially hidden.

I finish with a note on black metal symbolism. The color black is associated with Saturn, the Roman god of generation, dissolution, plenty, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. Black is the color of the earth and of the night. Always on a quest, restless creators lit torches and throw them into the blackness. Darkness is thus the place of origin, of birth and rebirth. It's always pregnant with new terrifying and sublime sights, with magical, dreamy landscapes. As Nietzsche said, "When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." And the music that accompanies that deep, hypnotic gaze is black metal.

Friday, 26 September 2014

"Odin Rising" — excerpt from chapter one

Despite having masturbated before falling asleep, Tudor woke with a bulging erection. 

His excitement shrank gradually as he contemplated the day ahead. Math homework. Plane geometry. Mr. Stan.

And then physics.      
Thursdays were tough. Both math and physics. 

Tudor hated them. He loathed school in general, but he especially dreaded those two classes. 

Sighing, he saw the clock on his desk blink 8:54 as he dragged himself from bed.

He went to the bathroom, urinated and washed his face. In the kitchen he ate the ham and eggs and the strawberry jam on toast his mom had prepared for him.

Tudor was in ninth grade. He was supposed to prepare for high-school entrance exams. National exams. That "national" made him cringe. Exams were in Math, History, and Romanian Lit. But Tudor didn't want to think about those exams or what high school he'd end up in. Those were things they talked about, of no concern to him

Renovations at his normal school had shunted most junior high students to the "Industrial High School," one of three high schools in his small town. Their names echoed the communist obsession with planification: "The Theoretical High School," "The Industrial High School," and "The Agricultural High School." 

Future tradesmen and factory workers attending "The Industrial High School" went to school in the morning. Tudor and other junior high schoolers had classes from two till eight. 

This meant mornings were for homework. 

Back in his bedroom, Tudor sat at his desk and fished his Math books from his backpack. 

He leafed through his notebook looking for the last geometry lecture. But then he remembered he took no notes. 

Fuck me, what do I do now? Tudor asked himself bitterly, staring at the band logos, skeletons, and satanic symbols doodled on the page in front of him.

For the last geometry class, he had written only the date and the title, "The Postulates of Congruent Triangles." But there followed not postulates of geometry but of demonic imagery: a few versions of Slayer’s pentagram logo nested among inverted crosses and the number 666, in various styles but always in red or black. 

What if Mr. Stan sees this? Tudor shuddered. 

Below the satanic symbols, he had scribbled the details of the homework exercises. Then he wrote, "Pythagoras'  Theorem."

Did Mr. Stan talk about that theorem too? Tudor couldn't remember. 

He opened his textbook and browsed the chapter on congruent triangles.  

He wrote down the first exercise. 

Prove that, if two angles of a triangle are congruent, the sides opposite these angles are also congruent. 

Tudor carelessly scrawled the diagram. The triangle looked like an Indian teepee. 

A good diagram means the problem is half-solved, Mr. Stan was fond of saying. 

Tudor marked two of the angles as congruent. 

Studying the picture, he thought It's obvious! The opposites sides must be congruent. How can they not be? Since the angle dictates the length of the side opposite to it.  

But Tudor knew this intuition wasn't a proof. Saying "It's obvious" was not good enough. A proof had steps. 

But how can I break something so clear and evident into steps? Tudor wondered in frustration.
Feeling helpless, he sighed deeply. 

"Fuck, this shit is stupid!" he said out lout. Half-heartedly, he search the chapter for some relevant information but found none. 

His feeble motivation melted away. 

I'll just ask Edi for his homework before class. His friend Edi was a math and physics wiz. Mostly because his dad was one. Mr. Manea had a hands-on approach to his son's education. The bruises on Edi's arms, back, and thighs testified to that. 

Tudor envisioned Mr. Manea whipping Edi. The boy yelped like a dog as he tried to dodge his father's whistling belt. Tudor shuddered in disgust. 

Gazing back at the triangle, Tudor bisected the opposite angles and transformed the figure into a pentagram. He felt the familiar fog of boredom enshroud his brain.

If he didn't do his math, there was no point in doing his other work. Only his math grade hovered near failure. On the ten-point grading scale he usually scored five or six. Rarely seven. 

With Edi's help.

On his own he would score three or four. Failing grades. Summer school. Maybe repeating the ninth grade. 

Tudor didn't want to think about it. 

For today, he needed an excuse in case Mr. Stan decided to test him at the blackboard, in front of the entire class. 

Tudor played with a strand of hair from his mohawk, a new hairstyle he copied from Phil Anselmo of Pantera. 

I'll tell him my grandma suffered a stroke and was hospitalized.  

It was actually true. 

They had to take her to Bucharest. We were all afraid she'd pass away. 

Tudor smiled. Yes, that might work. So what if the stroke happened last month? Who the hell knows? Mr. Stan surely doesn't. 

Maybe he'd catch up on his math on the week-end. 

Pleased with his idea, Tudor finished the pentagram and began to fill its empty space with the horns, ears, and pointed beard of a goat’s head. 

Heil Satan!

Heil Master!

He considered drawing something more complicated. He looked at the large poster above his desk. Night. A monstrous skeleton rises from the hollow of a tree. Ready to pounce on its prey.

The poster was the cover of Iron Maiden's Fear of the Dark

Tudor hated Iron Maiden, and mocked Edi for digging their style of metal. 

But Eddie the Head, Maiden's emblematic monster, was cool. The same couldn't be said, Tudor thought, about Edi the Nerd.

Tudor smiled at his private joke. 

Edi was ok, but just a follower with no personality.  

Edi was no Alex. 

Suddenly, Tudor remembered Alex's pentagram. The one Alex sliced into his arm with a razor, adding a Slayer logo next to it. 

Tudor and Edi thought that was cool. 

Alex was the coolest, most awesome guy, no question. 

A flash of inspiration brightened the morning gloom. Tudor would cut himself too. But he didn't want to blindly imitate Alex. 

Monkey see, monkey do, the others would say. 

But cutting band logos and satanic symbols into your skin was rad. And worrying about imitating others was a sign of weakness. 

He just needed to find a symbol that characterized him, that would let him retain his semblance of authenticity.

After a moment's reflection, Tudor decided. 

The inverted cross. 

That was his symbol. 

During one of their first incursions in the local cemetery, it was he, Tudor, who began uprooting wooden crosses and implanting them upside down.

Tudor pictured Jesus crucified upside down, screaming in agony, his face red as if about to burst.
Then he thought of an angry goat goring the martyr's stomach. 

Suddenly excited, Tudor tossed aside his math notebook and opened his sketchbook. He scribbled, "Jesus crucified upside down, disemboweled and pissed on by goat."

Nice. This day is not complete shit. 

A principle from philosopher Emil Cioran emerged vaguely from Tudor’s memory, "Smoking by the side of the grave is better than reading the Gospels."

Tudor had never read the Gospels, but he agreed. Nothing was as good as smoking, especially smoking in the cemetery. 

Tudor's focus returned to self-mutilation. He decided to cut the symbol on his stomach. The sides of the cross would intersect around his navel, the longer part reaching all the way to his solar plexus. 

The morning didn't seem so empty. He had a project and something to look forward too: impressing Alex and Edi.

Extreme music would create the proper atmosphere for such art.

Tudor opened his desk drawer and scanned his cassette collection. Sepultura, Sodom, Slayer, Napalm Death, Pantera. 

Pantera was his new favorite. 

But they weren't really Satanists. Just a group of pissed-off rednecks from the southern U.S. 

Tudor deemed Slayer's Show no Mercy appropriately satanic. He loaded Side B into his player. “Black Magic.” A hypnotic guitar riff filled the room, followed by frenzied bass and drums. 

Tudor removed his shirt and rushed to the bathroom for a razor. Sharp object between his fingers, he admired himself in the mirror. He was handsome. The mohawk crowned an oval face with intense, blue-green eyes, an elegant nose, and full lips. The bridge of his nose was slightly crooked, from eating a flying knee in a particularly violent street fight. But despite a few close calls, he had triumphed in many brawls and never lost an arm wrestling match. He was strong for his age and usually liked to challenge older opponents. The thought of fighting made him curl his upper lip like Billy Idol, revealing a sharp incisor. His body was perfectly proportioned, tall, athletic, and slender. He flexed his biceps, triceps and pectorals. Unfortunately, his muscles were not yet bulging like van Damme's or Stallone's. He needed to lift more weights.

Looking at the razor between his fingers, Tudor thought of using it as a weapon. He pretended to slap someone quickly with his right hand. 

Maybe a girl. Slap the bitch and run. Leave her crying, bleeding, disfigured.  

Or maybe first take her clothes off and then...

Tudor slapped again at his reflection in the mirror. 

Pleased with his idea, he went back to his bedroom. 

A frantic guitar solo erupted as Tudor returned to his room. He sat in his armchair, leaned back and looked at the pale, smooth skin of his abdomen, with its tufts of blond hair above and below the navel.

He brought the razor close to his skin. 

But, in spite of the violent music, Tudor realized he couldn't cut himself. 

He recalled the nasty sensation of being cut by accident. His friend George had cut him once by mistake. They were devouring a watermelon with only one knife between the two of them. Tudor reached for the knife and George snatched it instinctively, eager for another sweet slice. The blade slit Tudor's index finger. Tudor felt the blade breaking his skin, then saw the blood seeping through the cut. 

The pain started throbbing.

"Shit, I hate that," Tudor muttered.

How could Alex have done such a thing? He must have an iron will.

Or maybe he was drunk. 

Yes, Tudor decided, Alex must have been drunk when he cut himself. Alcohol numbs the pain and makes you careless. And Alex loved to drink. 

But it doesn't make sense for me to get drunk now. Especially before school. That's what afterschool parties and weekends are for. 

Tudor imagined going to school hammered, being summoned to the blackboard, stumbling toward the front of the class, and vomiting on everything: teacher, classmates, maps, equations, the anatomical models of the human body. Everything covered in his stinking puke.  

That would be rad, even legendary. Maybe some other time. 

As “Tormentor” followed “Black Magic,” Tudor focused again on his project. 

A nail clipper might work better than a razor. Clipping bits of skin would yield constant yet less intense pain. Tudor returned to the bathroom, put the razor back in its place and fetched the nail clipper.

In the bedroom he blasted power chords from an air guitar, pounded his chest, and banged his head to Slayer's demonic riffs. 

Slayer was the shit.

Maximum brutality. 

Back in his chair, Tudor pinched his skin with the clipper. Each agonizing pinch created a red dot. Dots coalesced into a line. As he finished the bottom of the cross, the doorbell chimed over the rock music. 

Donning his shirt, Tudor stopped the cassette and hustled to the door. Through the peephole he saw George's round and smiling face. 

George, a.k.a. Rude Pig or Fat Stuff, was a fixture of Tudor's mornings. Usually the two friends followed their whims in the fight against monotony. They would drench passersby with water balloons lobbed from Tudor's balcony or record impromptu death metal songs with Tudor grunting the accompaniment to his acoustic guitar riffs and George's pot-and-pan blastbeats or atmospheric flute lines. Sometimes they looked at porno mags. In short, they did whatever. 

Tudor opened the door. 

"Hey there, bro," George said, coming in. 

"Hey, dude" Tudor mumbled. 

"I brought your cassettes back." George handed him two tapes: Slayer's Divine Intervention and Kreator's Pleasure to Kill.


As he removed his sneakers, George asked, "What the fuck were you doing? Jacking off?" 

"No, I was waiting for you to give me a hand," Tudor said, smiling. 

"Oh, so your mom isn't home?" George grinned.

Tudor gave his guest a solid shot in the arm. "You fucking pig!"

"Rude Pig." 

George pretended to kick Tudor's ass as they headed for the bedroom. 

"Fuck off, or I'll beat you up Piggy!"

"Okay, Okay. Seriously, what the fuck were you doing?" George sat on the armchair, the place of Tudor's self-mutilation. "Don't tell me you were doing your homework."

"Oh! God no," Tudor said as he sat on his bed and crossed his legs under him. "Fuck homework, man! I'll get it from Edi later on at school. That's what friends are for." 

"I'm not going to school today," George boasted. "My dad is taking me to Bucharest. You know the Big Expo? He wants to buy a few more arcade games."

"Oh, sweet," Tudor said.

After the Romanian revolution in '89, George's dad opened a bar with arcade games. Tudor and George used to play there a lot, till George went crazy after losing a car race and punched a hole in the monitor. He sliced his wrist and had to be taken to emergency. 

That happened shortly after George's mom died from cancer, and Tudor often wondered if the two events were related. George had always been weird, but after his mom died he approached insanity. The strongest indication of George's mental instability came when Tudor saw him playing with kittens in front of his building. George was caught in a demented soccer game, attempting rainbow flicks and keepie-uppies with tiny balls of fur. His sneakers were red with blood and guts. His face was frozen in an alien grin. He killed them all, including their mother, and then side-footed their bodies against the wall till they exploded into chunks of fur and pink meat. 

Tudor and George were both fifteen, but George was only in the seventh grade. He had repeated kindergarten, when the teachers said he wasn't ready for school. They diagnosed his with A.D.D.. Then, after failing a few classes, he had to repeat the seventh grade. But now, the second time around, he claimed he was doing better. 

George asked, "How are Alex and Edi? Are you guys doing something this weekend?"

"We'll probably get smashed as usual," Tudor said, smiling. "Alex cut a bunch of satanic symbols on his arm. He showed us yesterday. It looked awesome!"

"Oh, my God. He is a crazy Satanist."

"Yes," Tudor said and lifted his shirt. 

George's eyes widened. 

"It will be an inverted cross. It's a work in progress," Tudor explained.

"You motherfucking Satanist!" George exclaimed again. "That is so extreme!"

Pleased with his friend's reaction, Tudor didn't dispute the label of "Satanist." But he doubted George understood its significance. You couldn't have deep conversations with George. He didn't know there was no God. Although he could say it or agree if Tudor asserted it, he was unable to really grasp the fact. Tudor knew it made no sense to talk about serious issues with most people. It was like explaining colors to the blind. They would just give you a sad and shamed smile. 

True knowledge isn't for everyone, Alex had told him. Spiritual power is for only a select few, the initiates.  

Tudor had discovered there is no God by accident. One morning, boredom drove him into his dad’s office seeking porno movies—he knew his dad’s stash—and money—he habitually paid himself an allowance with his dad’s leftover change.

But then his eyes started scanning the rows of books lining the wall. His dad, Aurel, was a librarian and passionate bibliophile. Tudor noticed a few skinny ones. It was better to start with skinny books which didn't require a huge commitment. Several spines bore the same name: Emil Cioran. Tudor knew from TV and discussions with his dad that Cioran and Mircea Eliade were Romania's most renowned intellectuals. One title intrigued him: The Trouble with Being Born. He grabbed a stack of the slim books and sat at his dad's desk. The Syllogisms of Bitterness had a cool cover. A man in a chair, slouching in infinite sadness and lethargy. He looked like a marionette with its strings cut; a body devoid of will and purpose. Tudor opened the collection of aphorisms. Although he didn't understand most of the author's remarks, Tudor reacted to the tone: an aggressive and very sad quality. Cioran’s intended message resonated in Tudor's depths. Later, while reading through On the Heights of Despair, Tudor recognized Cioran's central insight in two simple words. 

"Nothing Matters." It was the title of one of the chapters. 

Nothing matters, Tudor repeated the magical formula to himself. 

When his dad had come home for lunch, Tudor asked what a syllogism was. Washing his hands in the bathroom, Mr. Negur answered that a syllogism was a form of argument. Like, when one concludes that Ion is mortal because Ion is a man and all men are mortal.

Later that day, Tudor revealed to Alex and Edi that there was no God and nothing mattered. He was excited to learn they were also atheists. And Alex knew about Cioran. Alex confessed that, although he had read many books supporting atheism, he had realized, deep in his heart, that there was no God when he found a chick in the garbage can in his kitchen. It was alive and chirping anemically. Alex's mom had wanted to raise chickens in an incubator on their balcony. But many of the chicks died shortly after hatching, and Alex's mom assumed the deformed bird dead and discarded it with the others. The sight of the dying bird, stuffed between potato peels and apple cores, killed Alex's appetite. Disgusted and angry, he stormed into his parent's bedroom and spat on the crucifix on the wall. 

Edi said he discovered long before that existence was just a cosmic accident and the Bible was bullshit. "They say that, on Judgment Day, our bodies will be rise from the grave. But what if you were incinerated?" Edi adjusted his glasses and looked at his friends with sparkling eyes. "Or what if you were dismembered or smashed in an accident? Or a grenade exploded in your hand? What is this, the Judgment Day of mangled meat? That's retarded."

At that point, a special bond united the three youngsters. They weren't only metalheads, but rebels with a cause. Alex, the most well-read of the group, began lending the others books like Hitler's Mein Kampf, Cioran's The Transfiguration of Romania, Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols, and LaVey's The Satanic Bible

At first, Tudor showed interest but couldn’t finish any of the books. After the revelation that nothing mattered, it seemed any book that didn’t acknowledge the futility of everything was worthless. Why should anyone follow Hitler and sacrifice himself for the glorious destiny of a nation? What should a people, whether German or Romanian, go to war and conquer others? In Tudor's view, all people, whether German, Romanian, Chinese, Paraguayan, were equally worthless and ridiculous when seen against the background of cosmic chaos. Humanity was a mound of ants about to get squashed. Similarly, Tudor had asked himself why anyone should worship Satan or conduct any of LaVey’s stupid rituals. Why should anyone worship anything?  All these books, Tudor had realized, assumed something mattered. The assumption condemned them to banality.

Tudor had concluded that the vast majority of people were hypocrites, hiding like cowards from the obvious truth that nothing was important. They came up with projects and goals and dreams as if the universe cared. But it didn’t. So why have projects? Why try to do anything? Acting wasn't only stupid but also ugly. Being enthusiastic and full-hearted about your job or whatever society made you do was revolting and humiliating. 

Tudor swore he'd never be enthusiastic about anything, never aim at anything. 

After a month or so, even Cioran had started to bore Tudor. He turned his attention to drawing and painting. He enjoyed reproducing the artwork of metal albums, band logos, and various occultist symbols. His room slowly became both workshop and canvass. He wrote 666 in each corner on the inside of his door, and in the middle he painted a masked headsman ready to strike with his axe. The cover of Sodom's Obsessed by Cruelty

Gradually, Tudor stopped copying and started painting the morbid visions of his imagination. Closing his eyes and listening to heavy music, he watched mental pictures develop into short films. The images were a mixture of movies, album covers, his most vivid dreams, and daytime musings. He drew muscular monsters with skeleton heads torturing, strangling and decapitating innocent people such as his teachers, his parents, and classmates he hated. Sometimes Tudor wasn't sure about the source of mental images or what they meant. Once he drew a warrior with long, dark hair framing his skeleton head. The warrior clutched a spear in his muscular right hand. His forehead was smashed. The hole in his skull was a broken window revealing an identical spear-wielding soldier. The tiny inner warrior had thrust his weapon though his larger counterpart’s head.

Unlike Tudor, Edi had shown a genuine interest in the books borrowed from Alex. Unfortunately, Mr. Manea, had caught him reading Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols or How To Do Philosophy With a Hammer. Mr. Manea snatched the book and read its title. A bulging vein tugged on the temple of his reddening face.

"Eduard, what is this crap? Can you explain how reading this book can help you? Who gave you this junk? When was it written?"

Strangled by fear, Edi shook his head. Mr. Manea frantically turned to the front of the book. "First published in 1889 . 19th century. Eduard, do you know what century you live in?"

"20th," Edi murmured.

"So, how will this ancient book help you adapt to our new world, a world that's always changing?" 

Edi shrugged. "I don't know."

"Well, it won't. Do you know in what century humanity made the most technological and scientific progress?"

"20th?" Edi answered feebly, looking up at his dad.

"Damn straight. And you know what? You either adapt or get left behind. Just like Darwin said. Progress doesn't wait for slackers and dreamers and poets. That's what these philosophers are, lazy dreamers! Weak, sick people! Do you understand?"


"Yes, what?"

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Manea leafed through the book harshly, almost ripping out the pages. Then he raised it in the air. Edi ducked his head, fearing a blow. But Mr. Manea only threw the volume against the wall. It landed open on the floor like a dead bird. 

"If I catch you again wasting your time with this junk, I'll show you discipline with a hammer. Understood?"

Edi managed a tearful yes.

Despite having failed to enlighten his friends, Alex had still felt united with them. He hadn't given up on them. The death of God was now their religion. But George wasn't one of his disciples. George didn't see the light. George imitated them and hung out with them as much as possible. Yet, on a deep level, he was always far away, worlds apart. 

But Tudor didn't mind George's hopelessness. He enjoyed George’s flattery and imitation. Having shown his work in progress, he began boasting about his other extreme goals.

"I'm thinking of getting some animal blood, like a dog or cat or something, and writing ‘Heil Satan’ o on a church or some crosses in the cemetery. Wouldn't that be cool?"

"Hell yeah," George agreed. "I think I can help you."

"Really? How?"

George didn't register the question, his attention fixated on Tudor's books. He grabbed a  couple of volumes and started leafing through them and sniffing them with his bulbous nose. Tudor was used to his friend's attention lapses. 

Idle curiosity satisfied, George returned the books, stood up abruptly and scratched his ass vigorously. It was a nervous tic. He sat back down and smelled his fingers. A light appeared in his black eyes. 

"Boy oh boy, I meant to tell you! I went to the cemetery with my grandma yesterday. To my mom's grave." George spoke the last sentence in a low voice. Then his enthusiasm picked up, "And I saw an open tomb. And the coffin inside was broken so you could see the corpse." 

"Wow, awesome!" Tudor exclaimed. 

"Hell yeah. I thought you'd be interested, you sick fuck. Anyway, I think maybe a gypsy or something broke the lock and got inside looking for jewels and stuff like that."

Now, it was Tudor's attention that lapsed. He noticed spittle forming around his friend's lips as he talked. It was almost like George was foaming at the mouth. Tudor wondered whether George noticed. He hadn't done it before, at least not as much. The more George talked the more spittle beaded on his lips, till he ended spitting on his shirt and pants. 

He ended up spraying it, not saying it. 

But this happened mostly to old people wearing dentures. Like Tudor's grandmother.

Returning to the conversation, Tudor said, "Dude, that's stellar. So was it like a newly buried corpse or just bones?" 

"Fuck, I'm not sure. I only managed a glimpse. He was wearing a dusty suit and I only saw his hands. I think there was some meat on them, they weren't just bones. But they weren't like normal hands either."

"Hmm," Tudor uttered thoughtfully, stroking his chin. "I'm curious to see for myself." 

"Wanna go now?" George jumped with excitement. 

Tudor raised his hand. "Not now. Maybe tomorrow after school. So Alex and Edi can come too. We'll turn it into a fucking party in the cemetery."

George sank back into the armchair. "That sounds cool. I just hope they don't put the lock back before then."

"It's ok, maybe we'll find some other ones. Fuck it, we'll break them open if we need to," Tudor said, grinning. 

Warming to the idea, George blurted, "I can bring my cassette player. And wine. Now I know how to get it from my dad's barrel in the basement."

"Stellar! What kind of wine?"

"White, sweet I guess."

"Ah, and how much?" Tudor asked, all business as he organized the party. 

"Two liters. I can bring two bottles if you want."

"If Edi and Alex come along, that would be half a liter each," Tudor calculated, stroking his hair. That might be enough. We'll see what Alex says."

"I can get more..."

"No, it's ok. We'll either buy some beer or move the party to your basement. You know, at midnight. Is that okay?"

"Sure. Why not? My old man goes to bed early. We can suck the wine through the tube directly from the barrel. I heard you get really wasted that way."

"Why do you always dream of sucking, Piggy?" Tudor smiled. He was pleased. Now he had something to look forward to. 

"I don't know. I might be turning into your mother," George said, and started sucking and slobbering over an imaginary phallus. He pretended to choke on it and spit on the floor. "Fuck, I swallowed the wrong way."

"Oh, speaking of blowjobs, maybe you can show us your porn stash," Tudor said excitedly. 

"Yes, I have cards with naked babes on them. Maybe we can play."

"Sweet! Maybe we can invite your slutty neighbor."

"Which one?" George asked with a grin, saliva still dripping on his chin. 

"The one with big tits," Tudor said. 

"Sure, we'll bring her with, whether she wants it or not." George said, spittle flying. He reminded Tudor of Sylvester the Cat. 

The two friends were silent awhile, as if contemplating the upcoming evening, considering whether they had covered everything. 

George broke the silence. "You know the school where my grandpa lives?"

"Uh-huh "

"I heard there are hookers around there. And they show you their tits for free."

"Do you get to grope them too?"

"Yes, you can play with them all you want. Till you get bored."

"Wow, really? Are you fucking serious?"

"Yes man, but they only come out on Friday nights. Fridays and Sundays I think."

"We should fucking go for sure. Oh my God." 

Tudor was very pleased with his friend. George was very useful for a meathead. 

"Oh before I forget." George went, "I want to show you something cool in my attic. I'm sure you'll like it. Got a minute?"

"Yep," Tudor said. He had nothing else to do. The inverted cross project could wait. And he trusted that George wouldn't waste his time. There must be something interesting in his attic. And the fact that George didn't specify what it was intrigued Tudor and quickened his heart. 

"Ok, let's go!" George said and stood up again. 

Tudor glimpsed the clock on his desk. It was eleven. His dad would be home for lunch at noon. Plenty of time. 

Tudor fetched his apartment key from the top of the dresser in the hallway dresser in the hallway, stowed it in his shorts’ pocket, and slipped into his sandals. George's apartment was across the street, on the second floor of a three-story building, right beneath a tall, red-shingled roof. 

Tudor locked the door and followed his friend down the stairs. As George opened the door, Tudor grabbed him by the shoulder, stopping him abruptly. 

"Wait, man!" Tudor said and pointed toward the street. "Look, the walking corpse."

Mr. Schmidt lumbered toward the dumpster, dragging his garbage bin. He walked slowly on skinny, pale, atrophied legs. It was probably his day's big adventure, taking out the trash. Two stray dogs scavenged through the refuse near the dumpster, amid clouds of flies. 

Tudor couldn't resist taunting the old man, "Hey old fart! The Grim Reaper's at your house looking for you!"

George yelled in turn, "Stray dogs fuck your wife."

Mr. Schmidt's head turned slowly toward them. 

Cackling, the kids ran back up the stairs, two or three at a time. They stopped on the first floor and looked out a window. The old man was still inching to the dumpster, seemingly undisturbed.
"Maybe he didn't hear us," George said with disappointment.  

"Yes, he's probably deaf." Then, looking at his friend Tudor asked, "Hey, man, is his wife still alive?"

George shrugged. 

"You said she fucks dogs, but I'm pretty sure she died a few years ago."

"Maybe that's why she died," George smiled, then added as an afterthought, "Who gives a shit anyway. That's what old people do. They die. That's their job."

"Yes, except they always seem to die too late," Tudor mused, watching Mr. Schmidt trying to feed leftovers to a growling stray dog.  

The old man dumped the rest of his garbage and turned to hobble away. Once the coast was clear, the youngsters left Tudor's building and crossed the street toward George's apartment. 

It was a beautiful, sunny May day. High above the red-tiled roofs, the sky was blue and clear. On the other side of the street a chain-link fence enclosed one of the neighborhood's soccer fields. Bright green grass flourished everywhere except the dusty areas in front of the goal posts. 

Before getting into heavy metal and Satanism Tudor had ruled that field.  Actually, he had been king of junior high soccer in the whole town. In the 7th grade, when he was captain of his class’ soccer team, they won the City's Junior High School Soccer Tournament. Tudor’s sublime skill carried the team to the championship. And when he wasn't powering through opposing defences he was a general in the center of the pitch, organizing the team, boosting morale with his unflagging effort, and enticing his teammates to emulate his ardent lust for victory.

Tudor thought they could win the tournament again if he got involved. But he didn't care about soccer anymore, to the disappointment of his gym teacher, who thought of him as the Romanian Marco van Basten. Without Tudor, none of his classmates bothered to take charge and organize the team. Also, Tudor figured, drinking and smoking didn't help his athletic ability. He was so out of shape he probably couldn't even play a full game. 

Soccer was a thing of the past, something he had grown out of. 
Thinking about his transformation, Tudor silently followed George up to the second floor. George asked him to wait outside his apartment. He soon emerged with an empty jar and a black garbage bag.   

The objects amplified Tudor's curiosity. 

They climbed the last flight of stairs and opened the door to the attic. Tudor smelled a mixture of odors. Fresh cut wood and bird droppings. It reminded him of his grandma's chicken coop, a smell both sweet and nauseating. Light spilled through a large window near the ceiling, shining upon a triangular section of the gravel-covered floor but leaving the corners of the room in shadow.

That's where the pigeons had their nests, where the slanted roof met the floor. Tudor heard them scurrying atop the shingled roof. 

Tudor knew about the pigeons. He could see them from the window of his dad's office. Dozens of them would gather on George's roof and fly in circles when scared by a sudden noise, a car's engine or a yell. They flew in perfect coordination, sometimes landing on Tudor's roof, out of sight, or on the top of the building to the right. Eventually, they always flocked back to their home on George's roof.

Home sweet home!

George placed the jar and the bag on the floor and walked toward one of the corners. Alarmed, two pigeons flew away, one of them landing on the window sill. The bird tilted its head and stared at them with black, beady eyes. 

George crouched and scooped something from the corner. 

"Look at this shit!" he said, turning back to Tudor and showing a baby pigeon with puffy feathers, yellow and grey. "You wanna hold it?" 

Tudor looked at the bumpy, black beak, stepped back, raised his hands, and exclaimed, "God no, take it away from me!" He hated the feel of bird feet on his palms or the pecking at his skin.
George, aware of Tudor's phobia, chuckled. 

Once, Tudor had to make a small insect collection for his biology class and had ended up asking for George's help. They went to the river valley to catch locusts, butterflies, and other insects. George did all the work. Tudor couldn't even touch the nasty creatures, especially the locusts. He hated their tiny, rigid bodies squirming between his fingers. Hated their constant buzzing. Dreaded their claws scratching his skin. To George's delight, Tudor would scream girlishly whenever a grasshopper jumped his way. 

Now George was holding a baby pigeon instead of a buzzing locust. Still grinning, he lifted it to Tudor and teased, "Come on man! What are you, pussy?"

"Fuck you! I'm not touching that winged rat."

"It's just a baby, man."

Tudor shook his head. "They carry fucking diseases, you stupid fuck. Viruses and shit."

George shrugged off Tudor’s refusal of the bird and stepped toward the empty jar. He uncapped the jar with his free hand and set it on the floor. Then, with a single practiced motion, he tore the bird's head off and casually tossed it aside. Tudor watched George's hands move in opposite directions, wringing the carcass like a dishrag. When this technique bore no fruit, he suspended the matted wad of feathers above the jar and forced out a few red drops, ketchup from the squeeze-bottle bird.

A few red drops slid toward the bottom of the jar. 

"This might take a while," George mumbled.

Tudor watched intently, hands crossed on his chest. George was now in one of his sadistic trances, dull eyes blind to all but his grisly task.  

"I need a fat one," George said as he lurched toward a group of adult pigeons. He leapt into their midst and snatched one just as it spread its wings. "I got you, fat fuck!" he exclaimed while the plump bird struggled in his grip. No ceremony, just casual violence, George ripped the bird’s head from its body and squeezed.. 

This time a jet of blood erupted from the victim. 

Tudor noticed that the pigeon's head kept blinking and staring, watching its body's blood fill the jar.
George completed his task in merciless silence. There were two heaps on the floor, one of pigeon's heads and one of decapitated bodies. Some of the heads were bigger than others. Some eyes were closed, some open and blinking weakly. The bodies were drained of blood, their wings paralyzed. Crazed survivors screamed and desperately beat their broken wings. The cool air, a breeze of pigeon fear, fanned Tudor’s skin and fed his growing unease.

Pic by David Seerveld

This might turn into Hitchcock's The Birds any minute now.

When the jar would hold no more blood, George screwed on the lid and handed the container to Tudor. 

"There you go! Blood for writing!"

"Thanks," Tudor mumbled. He saw feathers and small, yellow bits of brain floating in the thick blood. 

George shoved the pigeon carcasses into the garbage bag. With his foot, he covered the traces of blood with pebbles. Job done, he turned to Tudor and asked, “Do you want a bag for that?”
"Good idea. I don't want people seeing me with this."

"Okay, let's go! I'll get you a bag and then I'll come with and throw this in the dumpster."

Tudor nodded.

As he walked down the quiet stairs, Tudor felt relieved for getting out of the attic safely. 

Outside, the neighborhood was still calm, almost deserted. Tudor took a deep breath of fresh air. 

George emerged from the building and handed Tudor a bag. Tudor placed the jar inside and held the bag tightly, making sure the jar wouldn't tip over. 

Tudor remembered George was going to Bucharest. "Hey dude, if you see any metal tapes, make sure you buy some. You know the bands I like."

"Sure dude. I'll keep an eye out for that."

"Oh, and t-shirts. Let me know!"

"You bet, brother."

George threw the bag of dead pigeons in the dumpster. It dropped with a muffled thud. 

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow evening man. Be careful with that blood, it might start smelling. Maybe you should put it out on the balcony."

"Yes, sure," Tudor replied. "Don't forget, tomorrow after class. Let's meet by the school soccer field."

"I'll be there. Oh, Tudor, before I forget, don't let your mom suck that blood through a straw! I hear she sucks on don't let your mom sip the blood through a straw! I hear she sucks whatever she can get her hands on, at least when she's not too busy picking cucumbers with her ass."

Tudor wanted to reply with his own mom joke but recalled in time that George's mom was dead. 

He just stood there grinning, watching George go back to his building. 

Stupid fat ass

Then, still holding the jar carefully, he went back to his apartment. 

Back in his room, Tudor stowed the jar under his bed and sat in his armchair, hands folded under his head. He thought of tomorrow's party in the cemetery. He loved getting drunk in that place. No one else had ever thought of partying there. The other kids went to nightclubs like "Queen," or got hammered in the park downtown, or threw house parties. Only they would get drunk in the forest at the edge of town, or down the river valley, or in the cemetery. The graveyard was so much fun, such a solemn place to explore and desecrate. 

A party at night in a local church would be good too, Tudor thought. Destroying everything inside and then setting the damn place on fire.