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.
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.
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!"
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?"
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."
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?"
"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?"
"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."
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.