the short story project


Konrad Kawka

A Sudorific Sojourn

Slawomir (“Budyslaw” or simply “Slaw”) Budynowski is faced with a dilemma. He is invited to spend two weeks of the summer with his best friend in his hometown, who’d advertised to Budyslaw an abundance of head-shrinking cannabis and the company of his old friends, who, Mike assures, are a very personable crowd. However Budyslaw, a natural skeptic who prides himself on his above-average IQ almost as much as he prides himself on his boastworthy erection quotient, mistrustful as a shrewd wife, found it difficult to buy into Mike’s assurances, convinced Mike was peddling him bloated untruths like an overbearing Arab at a bazaar. Budyslaw expected reality to be in stark opposition to these fanciful promises, offering instead utter mediocrity in terms of the pot and some acne-faced chick-repelling nerds in terms of the companionship—the latter being something which under circumstances unaffected by lust he might’ve refrained from discriminating against.

On the other side of the bargaining table laid another offer from another, lesser friend, but by all accounts and opinions a more virile and societally adept individual. He’d once been given the ungroovy nom de guerre Boller, and though he never accepted it, it’d grown into him like mold and became a matter beyond his will. Boller did not have to resort to empty promises to make his offer appear lucrative; it was put forth for Budyslaw’s consideration bluntly, dryly, thrown loosely merely as a possibility he might want to grant a thought or a few. Budyslaw had heard tales of Boller’s adventures back home, the sort of people he hung out with down in the urban wilderness of the homeland. It verges on certainty that if there were no police present in the world they inhabited, by right of power they’d inherit it. As things stood, these hardy young street warriors were second in line to its proprietorship, though of course it is in some cases the case that the division between the first and the second place is greater than between the second and the last. 

In any case, pugnacious and intrepid they were; a robust bunch of charismatic enough lowlifes whom you could compare to Russian gopniks without committing a great error, but instead of Adidas tracksuits they preferred a distinctly Afro-American coat of paint and soundtrack; oversize T-shirts and hoodies with garish colors and graphics, deep-pocketed baggy jean shorts, sneakers with broad tongues and laces. Some of the bolder dressers accessorized with snapbacks and fanny packs. They were a subspecies of young adult generally found dwelling in cheaply-built, mass-produced apartment blocks all over Poland, pervasive and conspicuous remnants of the Soviet era whose stench hangs over the coal mine colony to this day. The asbestos that used to line the walls of these architectural marvels has thanks to God (the Ministry of Economic Development might wish to amend this inequitable gesture of gratitude) been since retired from duty; it used to hang out in open air out of the buildings’ sides. Unbashful lacerations festering unnoticed like some guileful malignant spores with a mind to infect and dispatch anyone who’d let themselves into as little as a slight scrape with the evildoers, and the square gray slabs that pave the paths under these communist giants extend all the way to the walls of the Kremlin. Inside the Moscovian citadel’s walls there is superior paving, no doubt, so the tsar’s kissworthy feet aren’t leveled with the toes of the proles.

Budyslaw had for some time dreaded breaking the news of his decision to Mike, expecting to be paid back with a harrowing dose of disconsolate grumbling. If his intuition had the capacity of drawing an accurate simile nonempirically, it might be true that it felt like sharing some self-compromising, uncomfortable truth to one’s partner in a serious relationship. He kept it secret until Mike began nagging him about it frequently enough for it to become problematic. Diving into the matter seal-like was entirely unfeasible, quite out of the question, but a respectable degree of intoxication might warm up their brains and loosen his tongue, Budyslaw figured; trade maneuverability for firmness of determination. He invited Mike over for the usual evening of reckless dissipation (likely to be extended deep into the night), involving a plenteous quantity of pot and Druids cider, a magical beverage boasting Budyslaw’s favourite price to taste-and-alcohol-content ratio, as well as Budyslaw’s favourite PS1 game, Jumping Flash!—a low poly nightmare all the way from 1995, occupying a special place in Budyslaw’s nostalgia-prone heart.

There are already a few empty cans scattered about the computer desk and the floor, an ashtray with seven charred roaches fixed to the last few specks of a dense tobacco and marijuana mixture, burnt, incapable of serving any further purpose. Impromptu creations of seductive slimness, at once used up and as soon discarded; a joint’s lifespan in the hands of a consummate mother-stoner who gives it its unrequested birth generally doesn’t exceed a total of about nine minutes. Presently Mike is reclining on Budyslaw’s bed, shirtless and fanned by a pale pink mini-fan engaged in its maximum turbo fanning mode, a most marvelous little blower, refreshing his sweat-moistened babyish hairless ruddy face, his bloodshot dopey eyes like a dim-witted vampire’s, eyeing Budyslaw asquint from behind his rectangular, thick glasses which enlarged his eyes rather comically and made him look ogrefaced like the Deinopis spinosa spider, or Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, to whom he had been compared more than once—never taking kindly to the unflattering but strikingly accurate (and thus all the sorer) comparison. Some even extended it to Budyslaw, pairing him with Ricky, and in turn pairing them happily together. There were credible similarities, on an individual as well as a relational level; they were possessed by these archetypes, fantastic and endearing bastions of incompetence, and shared the same kind of chemistry. So he gazes with the oversized spinning eyes at Budyslaw’s back as he pisses into a sink seamlessly incorporated into his bedroom as if it were any ordinary piece of furniture, head swimming in a river of reticent thoughts and bizarre imaginings, groundless paranoid thoughts seeping over the edge of his raving mind. 

“What if your mom walks in and sees you as you are at the pissink and smells all that stinky Buddha herb? It reeks like a Colombian glasshouse in here, and probably all the way to the street. Gotta nip this habit in the bud, Budyslaw, why don’t we blast some reggae dubstep?” That’s the technique he’d devised to distract his matron overlordess from the frequently recurring pungency.

“Nah, man, dubstep’s gayer than Michelangelo and Bob Marley seems to me too much like Jimi Hendrix’s lazy stoner brother,” Slaw interjects, displeased.

“…Anyway, then she SWATs into my room, over the music screaming an order to turn it down, ‘What’s the stink,’ inquiring shrilly, ‘basketball?’” As if the sport besides a name also had a smell characteristic of it, misidentifying it as sweat, the ineffective amateur narc, or with her heart inclined to assume her sweet boy’s innocence; desperately clinging to the belief that it’s natural body odour and nothing more inapt to an adolescent’s development. Some terrible exotic psychoactive substance that’ll spook the wits out of her boy’s still fledgling and impressionable mind.

“But your hip mom’s a bit of a pothead herself, and wild for her age. Didn’t she once attend a Hawaii-themed New Year’s house party, for which they’d pilfered a ton of sand from the beach?” Stuffed their cars with poorly secured sacks of sand, made a terrible mess, took them the whole week to dump it all out in the living room. In the end, they might’ve gotten it about an inch thick; all it took was a single sidelong swipe of the foot to uncover the floor. Sickly polychromatic lights coming out of rotating plastic balls, low-res tropical illustrations printed on lazy cardboard cutouts, the top sensation a glowy Hula Hoop, for the braver (or more intoxicated) dancers. When someone calls Budyslaw brave he says he inherits (borrows) that imperiling trait from his forbears who belong to a certain Druidic tribe, ingesting it via the imbibition of their liquified effervescent essence, purchasable canned at a steal price in Aldi. A palm tree can be found here and there among the fog and rain in graygreen rainy Ireland, but it’s no Hawaii. And following the carousal, most of the crowd as uneager to help with the unconsidered aftereffect of granular disorder as they were eager to attend and play in the sand, the lighthearted innocents of mature age taking each week seven undivided days at a time. And their only dreaded thing a shortfall in merry memories at the end of it all. All this, in short, looked like a collective midlife crisis.

—Now footsteps on the staircase? Behind the wall… Woah, hold on—within the wall…? Must be that zionist reconnaissance I read about on; apparantely it is suspected they use enslaved space kobolds to establish interwall surveillance networks, buying them on auctions organized by ginormous-headed rubber men with elastic limbs from a galaxy-faring technocratic civilization. But what about their manhood, size-wise? Is it as little as its body or as ginormous as its head? A quality query for Quora, note to-do. The paranoid confused gibberish races in his pot-clouded mind, skidding across cramped narrow-branched clusters of stoned neurons, when from some blessed place Budyslaw gets the idea that now might be a good time to bring up the prime subject of the gathering, ingenuously or just drunkenly believing that the clattering trickle might mute some of the unpleasantness bound to ensue; ease the agony of betrayal. The fool, judging himself upon retrospection.

“Uh, Mike? I’ve decided to go with Boller this time,” begins Budyslaw uncomfortably as the undwindling arc of emitted urine heartily slaps against the ceramic surface of the sink rethought to also provide the service of a urinal and accordingly rechristened “pissink”.

“Wha?” Mikey says, jittery, twitching as if he were electrocuted by a toy taser.

“I’m sorry, man. Next time I’ll visit your hometown, promise.”

“In a year?”

“I dunno, next summer?” says Budyslaw emptily, jiggling the last clinging droplets off what he’s accustomed to terming his “hose”.

“Whatever, man,” says Mikey, ogling Budyslaw as he zips his fly and settles wearily into his office chair, slouching, resting both elbows on the armrests and interlocking the fingers of both hands on top of his abdomen, staring gravely at Mike, casting a shade of some puzzling unfriendly formalism seasoned with a drop of condescension.

“No offence, Mikey, but as usual we’d squander the summer. Sitting on our asses as we are right now, accomplishing nothing. I need to ruffle things up this year.”

“So what? It’d be great. Fresh place, new explorable surroundings.”

“Man, we’re not fuckin’ ten anymore!” Budyslaw all of a sudden flares up, his peer-purloined Irish accent shining through with extra potency.

“No, but I’m sure we wouldn’t be bored…” 

Mike claims confidently, or perhaps overconfidently, unfazed by the momentary tantrum, demonstrating a cocksureness that Budyslaw, the wary detective of the mind, does not fail to identify. Budyslaw cuts eye contact, turns to the computer, grabs a PlayStation controller, and unpauses the game, launching the robot rabbit Robbit, the player character, up into the computerized air and purposefully letting him fall on top of a green kiwi Mario-style, bouncing off and damaging the bird a few times until it shatters and explodes, a high-pitched “keewee” being its last utterance. More than certain people may get, he reflects.

“You wouldn’t be. Weed’s not enough for me theze dayz,” unwittingly converting the Ss to Zs, Budyslaw finally says.

“Yes; let’s play DayZ!”

“Not what I said. Not even close. You play it, I need more, Mikey,” stresses Budyslaw with ardour.

“Like wha? killin’ fuckin’ kiwis and collecting carrots?”

“Jetpods. At present, yes,” Budyslaw self-assuredly, as if there were also something he wasn’t going to disclose.

“Then wha, fuckin’ speed or sum shit? Man,” overtaxing the larynx to ram deep into the vowel, voice breaking on shit, “that stuff will screw you up…”

“No, Mikey, nuttin’ like that. I mean—maybe once or twice, for experience’s sake, but what I mean is I’m an evolving stallion besieged by a glut of desires begging to be satisfied—I can feel the testosterone erupting inside me, and it’s not going anywhere unless I redirect its course. It’s fucking overflowing, Mikey, insisting like an upset baby. Daily, hourly, minute to minute. Even right now, look,” says Budyslaw, pointing his bulging eyeballs (his eyes bulged whenever he was stirred up about something) groinward, but to Mike’s eyes nothing’s out of the ordinary.

“What? your, uh…”

“I need to slay pussy, not zombies,” Budyslaw plainly, “is what I mean. I despise these penile ambushers,” confessing further amid an obligatory recollection of countless foregone exasperations.

“Ever heard of a thing that starts with P and ends with N?” Mike says, his disgruntlement unabated but not any less sincere than usual.

“Pen… no that doesn’t end with N… doesn’t end well either, generally. What, porn? wholly inelegant, that. Any pleasure I can scour out of it sours my mood for the rest of the day. Here,” says Budyslaw, swiveling on his chair to the computer and inputting the magic spellword into the URL window, sésame, ouvre-toi! commanding the unconditionally obedient machine (at least so long as it is not infected with any virtual STD or otherwise on the fritz), no polite please wished for. He promptly dials down the volume and randomly clicks the thumbnail of a porno featuring Overwatch cosplay entitled, “Amber Cox and Liz Gold as D.Va and Mercy in Dildo Wars”, nonchalantly letting the creatively dressed, amply-breasted heeled blonde and brunette exchange decisive gestures of reverence, deviating from the titular promise of warfare, the peachy deviants, in the background of the conversation. “This is supposed to get me on? What is that…”

“Scissoring,” says Mikey inattentively, all wowed, leaning toward the screen and absorbing the steamy action, his own cock swelling now too to unforeseen proportions.

“Pixels. Moving and moaning, out of what,” squeezing the speaker above the desk and poking it erratically, “this? Gross electronic fantasies, inadequate imitation of the true act. Makes me feel like I’m committing sex fraud against my self-government. It might very well work for Voytas to fellate himself, but I don’t intend to stoop so low,” all of a sudden prudish. Prudish or sane. Frontbent, contorted to a crescent, a human croissant, pretzeled into itself, not in a yogic transcendental way that’d endue him with a nirvanic blissful state of awakening and self-realization—becoming the lotus as opposed to eating it—but rather to perform a masturbatory ritual bent upon extracting a more short-lived kind of bliss; not poetically out of the innermost chamber of the soul but much more straightforwardly, out of the testicle and through the efferent ducts and the epididymis (though, evidently, the path to it is anything but straight). All ambition of exaltation, of rising beyond the beast within, utterly effaced in an instant by the unredeemable self-pleasuring act. A grimace on his face; he’d been to the leisure centre earlier and does not appreciate how the acrid taste of chlorine interferes with his feast. He’d paid the hot coals a visit too while he was at it, to open up the pores, cleanse the epidermal ducts. So detoxified he foregoes a shower and opts to clean himself the dog way afterwards. The eccrine gland-secreted sweat and the chlorine all dried-up on him, and a few moments later not so dry. And who’s there to tell him don’t do it it will make you lose all respect for yourself and you’ll never be able to find your soul again. Forces it a bit too hard, the glans rams the uvula and the poor fellow very nearly chokes on a driblet of reciprocated drool mixed with a soupçon of pre-ejaculate. There must be some meaning to my suffering, Voytas thought, dripping with guilt and disgust and semen, and worse yet, he felt he was about to double down on all the three sensations.

In the Heliopolitan creation myth Atum, the father and mother of the Ennead, puts his lips to his loins, extracts his own seed and spits it out cleft into two separate beings (elements): Shu (dry air) and Tephnut (moist air), brother and sister, cleaving them, however, to perfection; partitioning the offspring genetically so that there is not a single overlapping gene. Thus the coupling of Shu and Tephnut is not incestuous, and their children, Geb and Nut, the earth god and the sky goddess who form the firmament, are undefective and good. If it had stopped there, all would remain good, but the fruit of the union of Geb and Nut, whose birth was not the same perfect separation, proves wormy. Therein lies the origin of our descent into murder and madness, the sins of our flawed manlike gods, where evil begins its course through the sprawling veins of history. In any case, though Atum’s spit was perfect in its cleaving, he could not control the deeds of his children, and so his self-gratification, in spite of its adroit utilization, was the original error. Or consider Konrad von Hochstaden, the late Archbishop of Cologne, grand and august, standing upright atop a pedestal, and underneath it a grotesque depicting a hideous autofellating midget creature, hanging upside-down like a bat, devilish and gargoylelike, carved in blackened rough stone, serving to establish polarity of colour and texture, singling out the immaculate white stone of the dignified archbishop and exalting him. 

The act, at any rate, is not given good light in both of these symbolic cases. If it be true that God and the dead have a spying window into the affairs of the living, then that’s bad news for everyone, but especially for Voytas and those of his kind. In Ancient Egypt he might’ve been declared a heretic impostor, a profane imitator, and punished accordingly for his heresy and profanity; perhaps forced to choke on his own misused membrum virile and mummified in the sacrilegious pose. And Konrad von Hochstaden certainly would not approve. But what of it? The punitive Pharaohs of the Nemes headdress and the Nile and the puritanical archbishops of the mitre and denial are no more: Voytas has only his conscience to fall back on. But could such a strayed soul ever be conscience-conscious?

There he is, mid-choke with over ninety percent of his genitalia (including the minor rotund parts) embedded inside his head. A shock to the eternally curious and bored ancestors; man in his twilight days. Put him in a gimp suit for added effect, just as Boller quipped about him once, then let NASA—or more aptly SpaceX, the more daring and eccentric explorer of the heavens—thrust the taxidermied monument out into a rotatory drift across the sugary milky wasteland of expiring stars, unremittingly discharging to depletion and self-fulfilling suicides, for the purpose of presenting the accomplished human race of planet Earth at the peak of its evolution to more intelligent life forms. There it would be, spaceborne, adrift and awhirl in the great vacuum like a lethargically-somersaulting asteroid, preserved in an insulated transparent sphere in the rapture of its self-sought ecstasy, the protected voiceless ambassador. From the era of image-speak, expressing itself with adequate eloquence. The radar of a time-warping spaceship detects the queer object, it is probed and analysed as it’s drawn inside. Perplexed hyper-intelligent entities huddled in a semicircle paying it curious stupefied stares, and with eerie, near-soundless vibrations of precise frequencies the lead inspector communicates to the rest: 

This seems to be an aberrant technique of uh, what’s the archaism… onanism. I would like to have it noted that we have not yet seen anything like it among all the other primal terrestrial species. It is categorically some form of insanity; the immoderate sexual appetite of this homo sapiens seems to have led it completely astray in its search for gratification. Lost its way, the odd crumpled thing. Pity, innit, gents? It is not inconceivable it had potential for evolving in consciousness, limited as it may have been. It is strange since many subjects (albeit a minority, on the whole) stemming from the same genus prove extremely capable of such evolution, and this sort of drastic disparity of cognitive capacity is unheard of among other kinds of animal groups. Yet we are compelled to question the correlation between perversion and awareness, and if not, we should be: under the influence of certain potent stimuli at gene-level, as well as that of the experientially-acquired, it may be the case that the higher the awareness, the intenser and more convoluted the perversion. For all we know this quadrupedal variant may have been, once upon a time before being solidified in this embarrassing contortion, a genius! 

At any rate, it is now time for our orgy, gentlemen, says the alien, with the press of a big squishy mustard-coloured button ejecting the useless artefact back on its aimless course, and thereafter it’s all orgiastic octopoid havoc, something straight out of the most fucked up sort of deep web hentai but without those tendril-drilled moaning female victims ever on the verge of tears, exclusively monosexual; tentacles lashing about, wrapping around and rubbing against each other, accidentally smacking the walls as they surge, undulating, animated beyond what even a twenty-first century mind would consider physically plausible (in spite of all its concretely visualizable imaginativeness and, indeed, often visualized), each ejaculating all over the hitherto pristine lab no less than 400 happy times.

All the years of noble conduct devastated by a single brief paroxysm of frenzied lust, hardly feeling human now, Voytas, or perhaps more human than ever, one could say traumatized, not knowing what to do with himself makes his way to the backyard and gazes up at the cloudless crystalline sky, reckoning his exiguousness against the faint light of the dimming stars and all the rest of the hectic show that they say lies beyond the nightly facade. But it’s the day that’s more of a facade; uncountable photons amassed at wavelengths visible and invisible flashing through space, blasting through our atmosphere at just the correct size to gratify us with the cool gradient blue whose popularity makes the clouds jealous and laden with tears. But the invigorating blue and the reposeful green and the enlivening brilliant yellow are nothing but qualia; it’s all the too explicable Rayleigh scattering interacting with our retinas that fashions the illusion of day. The night is more like the rest of it all is, when the reassuring canopy is lifted, the world rotating under its scanty roof like a chunk of kebab meat being roasted in one of those vertical grills that constitutes the core of every Turkish takeaway joint. 

Uniform, cyclical cooking, a manifestation of taijitu long before its symbolification— the perfect natural balance prerequisite to deliver life and sustain it. It’s a tenable thesis that the ideal equilibrium of celestial alignment is what should be striven to be replicated in the psyche for life to have an appropriate chance of blossoming. What the monks do, develop an immunity to pain and desire, titanic patience, the self-command of an automaton. Then guzzle a canful of gasoline and self-immolate in the name of a soon-to-be-forgotten cause. What a waste of such an exquisite, finely tuned instrument. A magnificent 1000° Celsius consuming the entrails—something akin to ignited napalm bursting out of their poor posterior nozzles at flamethrower velocity, and they’d be shitless scared, one’d think, but they absorb the pain more calmly than the typical Westerner after misstepping on a misplaced block of Lego. Touch water ten degrees too hot it gives you a shock you don’t forget for a month, mini-PTSD every time you turn on the tap. Ought to burn notably worse than a spicy meal heading to sewage. Is all that ostentation upon your exit necessary, Mr. Scoville? Cool it, please, sir! this is the rectum! In the case of a hot barbecue, first it’s fire in the grill—a nicely charred crispy sausage dipped in Tabasco, and later settling accounts with the incendiary wurst; the daring eater’s arse a victim of arson, afire. A monk in self-imposed exile, assimilating Western culture and fed up with it before his assimilation is even halfway complete, asks a slice of bacon frying on a gridiron, the capricious flames tickling it every so often, “What should I do?” as if it were a Magic 8-Ball.

“Who knows, you can join the barbecue,” the bacon sizzles, and the monk takes its words to heart. Mightn’t the motion that they reincarnate as logs, those doughty monks, be defensible? 

Feeling insignificant, egoless, with an aftertaste of gladly received sperm lingering in his mouth along with gum-clung scraps of jamón serrano, matured to delightful piquancy over twelve months, leftover from lunch. That’s a good few hours of rotting, he thinks as he wiggles his tongue around the moist staling shred, which at a certain angle in close-up may look like some monstrous worm savagely assaulting a sliver of cured swine flesh hiding from it in a nook between the teeth. Downright pigged off by the repeated threshing of the tongue-worm the strayed pork fragment screeches oh piss off will you, please, you damned dicklicker!—the feisty flesh scrap would kick if it could. Kick and scream and screw. Anything that can, will, mostly, of a surety. And then got you, finally picked the piquing little shit out and it echoes Noooo! and Aaaaah! as it plummets down the esophagus before plunging into the gastric juice to its dissolving death.

But how strange, the way the ignoble undertaking somewhat paradoxically conveyed him to higher thoughts, Voytas reflects. Not to reason himself into repeating it, oh goodness no, it could not be—banish the base impulse! But it felt good, quite fine it felt, ohhh… oh, oh yes, and lifts the fog off the mind too, does it not? Why shouldn’t one do it, and why should he reproach himself, Voytas interrogating himself, discomfited by what he perceives to be depravity. Certainly everyone else tries it too, sometime, continuing the misled train of thought, in fact I’m probably late to the party! Voytas errs, struck too hard by what he perceives to be a likelihood to be impartial. It must be perfectly normal for a young man to experiment this way or otherwise, reasoning unreasonably on, and very soon with his libido rekindled and at peace with himself, he proceeds, sanguine, exhilarated, joyfully unaware, to round two.  

“Not below a certain level, never in my whole fucking miserable life!” exclaims Budyslaw with a blend of dejection and resolve, vexedly setting the speaker down, self-awarely referring to the lowest plains of life he ever let himself survey first-hand. Those plump club sluts, thots to the power of ten, put on a pair of heels and a smear of lipstick, for my part a modest four-pack of Druids, and they may begin to resemble a creature a gentleman such as myself could reckon fuckable. It is the priciest of my principal vices, and so, bankrupt in virtue, soul in straits, I refuse to go lower, down into the tar pit of irredeemable vice, where my debt would be deepened. On these murky waters you sail alone, Voytas, you fabulous cocksucker! Godspeed upon your heel; we wrestle with the ruthless beast any way we can in this ruleless sport, enfettered to our flesh. Cumbersome tussle, grappling with the coarser side. How should one proceed?

“So that’s why you’re going with Boller? He a better wingman to you?”

“It’s not just that. I don’t want to seem like some oversexed chimp.”

“We often are what we don’t wish to be, Budyslaw,” says Mike, dispirited and a little contemptuous, his high receding, overridden by the roused emotions.

“I can’t help it. It’s about the quality of general prospects, Mikey, no offence. Do they even have a McDonald’s down where you’re from?”

“In a town nearby, a few kilometers, not too far. Why?”

“See, Boller has one right across the street. That’s just an example. It’s part of why I’m going in the first place. You know food is dirt cheap there. I have to enjoy it, stuff myself like a bear anticipating hybernation. Fill myself with warm memories for the cold winter. Baboons live for bananas and Budyslaw, that is I, lives for Big Macs.”

“What, stuff yourself with as many cheeseburgers as your apegut can fit, you filthy gourmand?”

“Come on, Mikey. I’m just calculating my potential here, no reason to get all pissy about it.”

“I’m disappointed is all.”

“Awwwh, don’t be, man….” 

Budyslaw extends his arms and leans towards Mike, who falls limply into his embrace. The porno playing in the background, his erection still intact, he himself confused as to whether there is a connection to Mike’s close presence. And is it not too close? What if Budyslaw’s mom, he thinks, were to walk in and see them, mistake this innocent gesture of friendship for homoerotic cuddling? The lovely video in the background, at least it’s cockless. And on Mike’s end also a raging hard-on, fruit of the Pornhub succubi’s soft labour, though Budyslaw never notices it. Sweet scene. His mother sure is hip, Mike thinks somewhere along a similar train of thought, but is she that hip? Budyslaw treats him to a friendly, well-meaning slap on the back and slips out of his arms, then terminates the Google Chrome incognito window, a sly mode used just about one-hundred percent of the time to play porn, or at least to jerk off, politely named. Elegant, diplomatic, besmirched with only a remote stain of deviousness. Porn Window would be truer and more direct, or Masturbation Mode. How thin the veil of common human civility; two keystrokes or less are all it takes to open up one of the million great vaults containing pretty whopping fragments of the whole foul truth. The nature of the human beast, under its improvised garments more naked than an animal.

“Maybe I could come with you?” asks Mike after a conspicuous length of tense silence. 

Take a hint, man. “I’d like that, Mikey, but there’s just one spot.”

“You’re sure?”

Now you’re making it difficult, and for what? 

“His grandma’s flat’s where we’re supposed to be staying, and he tells me it’s cramped. Three’s already stretching it. Make it four and one would have to sleep with the granny, meaning you. But next time, you’ve got my guarantee,” says Budyslaw promisingly, relieved that the turbulence is mostly behind them. Part truth part lie. If Mike weren’t perceived as an anti-asset to the seduction business to the extent that he was, and in general a wimp whose interaction with the tough guy chums of Boller’s presents the danger that the fabric of reality itself will be gashed starless and the world as we know it no longer the same, perhaps there’d be space for one more mattress in the granny’s admittedly tiny flat. But the way things stood, Boller expected Mike to wet the bed he’d get and firmly resolved to deny any request of his to join the party. 

Not that he wished to go, Mike. He feared Boller’s friends, having too heard a few tales, and suspected that he wasn’t Boller’s favourite, just as Boller wasn’t a favourite of his. Budyslaw thrusts his hand into a bag of Cheetos, rustling the plastic, and brings a fistful of cheese puffs toward his gaping maw, devouring them like an alligator a school of bony fish. Cheesy and corny—this puffed cheese-powdered shit tastes pretty edible, he thinks as he sucks all the artificial flavouring out, the wet mass sticking agonizingly to the roof of his mouth. 

“Post me a card, at least?” Bon voyage, Budyslaw, if I can’t have you, I may at least have a commercial photograph and regards penned in ballpoint atop a mailbox to seek contentment in….

                                                                                    *     *     *

All the flimsy plastic in the Ryanair 737-800 rattles as it descends steeply in sudden intervallic sinkages, whipping up silent gasps and feelings of existential threat in the more sensitive nonfans of air travel on every plunge. One improperly shut overhead bin flies open on an extra-heady dip in altitude and smacks down without locking. A buxom flight attendant hastens to correct the oversight, oscillating slightly to keep her balance, her heels clacking dully, muted by the carpeted floor. She stretches her arms upwards, irately seizing the unruly door and forcibly shuts it, then trots back to her seat. The plane settles down hard on the runway, causing a profusion of backside pain among the passengers, the great majority of them presently going through a slight shock and as a consequence considering whether to hold the pilot’s indolence, incapability, or naughtiness accountable for it. Normally most passengers would applaud, it used to be a custom when a flight for the average Pole had been a notable event, but on this occasion the pilot’s performance was unanimously deemed unworthy of receiving praises in claps. Understandably, for fear of being spat on neither of the pilots exited the cockpit to bid the centipedal crowd farewell as it hurriedly made its way out of the aircraft. It’s all either applause or spitting in that rough country, oftener the latter. 

Arriving in such a warm place from a chillier climate in the hot months may feel like jetting from a very large refrigerator into an equally large oven; a gratifying sensation that bespeaks the upcoming rest and recreation so sought-after in popular holiday destinations to which so many vacationers, no matter their origin, are drawn to no end, hopefully seeking a score of intemperate fleshly satiation greater than that of the preceding years, or at least as good. Little else, it seems, is left to worn out possessors of overworked bodies after a year of tough toil. But venerable Mr. Budyslaw, no ordinary vacationer, setting foot in his native nation for the first time in three years, even in his young age a toiler as good as any other (hands hefty and hardened, seared many times over), is of no intention to spend his visit idly. Visiting his family being as low on his list of priorities as on that of every other holidaymaker’s, he will strain to the best of his ability to fill the precious time with all kinds of excitements and thus smith in the forge of his psyche what the Stoics call pneuma

The idle, unexcitable Stoics, as Budyslaw saw them, generally a curious but unindustrious individual, obstinately presumptuous and intellectually haughty, one solitary evening of a particularly inquisitive high read about this peculiar clan of ancient folk on Wikipedia, to his surprise finding that the philosophical movement continues to garner devotees even as his impassive eyes register the overinformative text. Interesting enough, he supposes. Lofty theorists, high-minded and noble, certainly a superior way to the way of conventional faith, but who in their right mind would want to sit on a rock all day with his chin on his fist and think? That is no way to lead a life; action and experience are what give it the flavour worth labouring for, said Budyslaw’s conviction, and uncritical Budyslaw’s near-fatal pride consigned him to always listen to its persuasions. 

Stepping out into the hot humid air, the jet engines roaring in their well-earned rest as they cool, looking back and up at the head of the uncrested bald bird where the abashed pilots are busy reconfiguring it for another flight, a conniving smile breaks on his dampish perspiring face as he drags his unwilling suitcase behind him, its shoddy little worn wheels grating against the smooth asphalt in tandem with numerous other pairs and quadruples of them. 

No już Grażyna, wyciągaj te paszporty bo poczebujemy już zaraz!” he overhears a hoarse voice muffled by a bristly moustache, an elderly man hurrying his wife and her impatient screech, “No chwila, chwila! Walizkę czymaj chłopie bo na nogi ci leci!” 

Invigorated by the warm breeze that seems to him to bode fourteen days of freedom. He knew airplanes were sophisticated, smart machines, but how could the engine know his future, wrest his private plans from him and echo them back? electrified Budyslaw asks himself playfully. And there are Boller and Charlie making their way gallantly out of the plane’s rear. He waits for them to reach him, his smile widening steadily, locking eyes with Boller whose countenance answers with a mischievous grin. Mighty Boller powering ahead, the top of his balding egglike head reflecting the plane’s flickering strobe lights in its shine; white and red, red and white, the light brown hair growing out of it freshly cut, on an abrupt turn to his younger brother hurrying him, to his great displeasure.

Boller was fairly tall, lean on the face and flabby all over the torso, with a pair of crazed eyes that seemed always on the lookout for a reason, any odd reason, to be inflamed in a bout of rage. Budyslaw had a theory to it, proposing that one had to learn to accept this temperament in him, not submissively but passively, and that then all would be well, generally. Sometimes he just went completely batshit furious like a barbarian on psilocybin and there was no diplomacy effective enough to relieve the fit. There should be an operation manual to go with the rogue, thinks Charlie, an outline of the dos and the don’ts. A volatile bomb, of immutable mind; a precarious elixir bottling fitful fury that no earthly cork can prevent from gushing forth and contaminating every consciousness in its vicinity; an emotive nuke.

“Let’s go, girls,” Boller says smugly, indulging in a self-serving laugh alongside the insipid cleverness. 

They spent the first few days familiarizing Budyslaw with the area they knew so well and were jubilant to revisit once more, and jollier still to share its magic with a suitable appreciator, who presently appeared to be enchanted. To a degree by the general look and feel of the place, and to a greater degree by the appearance of its female inhabitants. What a world he found himself in, he pondered, feeling that turning down Mikey’s offer was without a doubt the right course of action. A beast like I, he justified himself, sinful non-churchgoer, my proximity to Mike could readily give off the impression that we are on noncasual boyfriendly terms, put on display for the family so they can at last verify his latent homosexuality. No one had ever seen him exhibiting any real interest in the opposite sex and it was steadily becoming more and more suspect. In any case, the risk was too high—to bet his hard-earned money and time on such an uncertainty would go against Budyslaw’s idea of himself as a man of reputable character. Good friend, Mike might’ve been, but dishwater dull, and going anywhere with him for an extended period of unoccupied time posed a threat to his sanity. And his sanity, especially in those days, did not thrive on the sort of uneventfulness that makes familial Sundays seem as action-packed as a Dwayne Johnson movie. 

The sun plastering his face with tanning warmth, making the brightness of day seem to signal promise. His lascivious eyes heaving his head wherever nice shapely dupy paced in their alluring gait, fair comely maidens, how sorely he missed the sight of these unobservant temptresses, the realization throbs in his mind each time they welcomely make their way into his vigilant view. Eastern Europe is one of those few perfect places where one is never amiss in search of a bedmate. I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes, as Mick Jagger howls over the wailing sitar, but Budyslaw’s mind, at this moment, is farthermost from black. Paint it white instead, he’d kindly ask you to. Any thought implying this wasn’t the right place to be did not ever dare trespass into his jubilation, for fear of being at once expunged if it were to entertain any recognition of its mortality.

He was soon introduced to Boller’s old friends at a skatepark, one of their primary hangouts, greeting each member with uneasy overthought daps (in this iteration a slap followed by a fist bump), a process which at its most revealing either initiated a newcomer into the circle of the streetwise or, if he happened to be unfamiliar with it, gave away his undesirable but not disqualifying normality. Having Luck’s favour on his side for the time being, Budyslaw was saved by Boller, the incontestable though uncrowned king of street smarts and other kinds of intelligences, at least as he saw himself, who anticipated the subtle initiation ritual and astutely avoided embarrassment (whatever did not affect him directly was permissible, even encouraged if it amused him), by giving Budyslaw a brief tutorial of the secret greeting. 

“This is what you do, here, slap first,” Boller making it seem as if Budyslaw’s life depends on it, Budyslaw believing the implication, diligently executing Boller’s orders, “And fist bump. That’s it. Again. Slap. Bump. You got it. Do that always, they’re pretty serious about it…” Budyslaw’s gonads shrink and a spasmodic wave of energy shoots up his spine as he falls into a pool of anticipatory anxiety. 

These guys must be quite the hard nuts, secret greetings ‘n’ all, intense and cultish. Might’ve not been so bad to have went with Mikey, nursing a cupful of tea, tranquilizing the mind in the calming company of an elder, nibbling at a cute biscuit and watching some summer rerun of a hypnotic mass-produced pseudodrama. One of those spirit-gouging tenth-rate television series which could imaginably be utilized in veterinary clinics in place of pentobarbitone, each one composed of identically hallucinogenic molecular geometry, trippy in the worst possible way.

“This is my buddy from Ireland, Budyslaw,” Boller says something to this effect in Polish, introducing his nerve-racked companion. “Originally from Gdansk, it’s nice to meet you all,” Budyslaw adds politely, a tad toadyish, having felt pressed to make his voice heard. 

“Sup,” says Morgoth tersely, out of civility, the undesignated leader of the pack; lanky and towering at nearly two meters in height, head a sizable soft-edged cuboid, badly acned, casting a set of cold appraising eyes on Budyslaw’s over-moisturised face that gleams like the shiny steel at the top of the ramps, he unable to hold Morgoth’s scrutinizing blue-eyed stare for more than one and a half seconds. Morgoth not particularly enraptured with the moronic demeanour and obnoxious mug of this outsider. Dummy’s probably loaded on mommy’s dough, he figures, sensing a good time, and on a second thought, a warm welcome to him.

“I want sunflower seeds,” announces Coby, short and slight, wavy fair hair draping from his scarred scalp, flicking away an exhausted cigarette and spitting on the ground to refine a thick puddle of spit being produced beside another one alike in front of Morgoth’s worn dirty sneakers. 

Applying the final touches to his creation. It’ll be glorious when it’s finished: wonderfully big and wonderfully wet. If he were currently in possession of the seasoned sunflower seeds he craved, his pockets would be filled with them and he’d successively, compulsively crack the hulls open with his teeth, suck out and consume the kernels, then spit the hulls out and let them fall wherever the fate of their trajectory wished them to fall. Fate drives things, but what drives fate? Nothing is driven by anything; everything simply drives. They left such markings wherever they happened to be idling, and the longer they stayed the larger the spit-puddles and the greater the breadth of the accumulation of seed hulls littered about them got. Enough time spent loitering someplace ensured the waste would end up looking nothing short of grotesque. One could see them as reflections, self-made measuring instruments of their idleness, simpler in construction than a sundial.

Later that summer Charlie and Coby happened to share an avidity for the same gal (having been infatuated with her for a long time, and not only they), though Coby denied it when he caught himself voicing his infatuation, “She’s gorgeous. Something Asiatic about her, those skewing eyes, lizardlike. Like a geisha or something… I better stop before I fall in love,” he said to himself sharply in semi-conscious denial. The local untouchable beauty, a mostly guiltless sort of femme fatale of milder days now long past. And in that let-down of a future a disappointedly average attractive woman, with no distinguishing mark to set her apart from masses of ones like her. Modestly suffering from the disease of bimboism, a betraying cough here and there, mostly in a pardonable, unobnoxious way, but her uniqueness was no more. The city swallowed her, just as it swallowed everyone else—a metropolitan stray flushed down the gutter to meld with the normalizing mud. Nonetheless a nice enough girl, harmlessly ordinary, with a good (if somewhat oblivious) heart, but no longer the coveted queen of town.

Coby must’ve felt his fondness wasn’t returned, tasted the sour beginnings of unrequited affection; he’d been scratched by its heart-rending claws and impelled into a state of alarm. Once he realized she liked Charlie, he kindly gave him her blouse that she’d left somewhere once. It still had the scent of the perfume that’d haunt Charlie for a long time afterward. It was a shy, hesitant gesture, as selfless as it was selfish. He was happy for Charlie and unhappy for himself. He liked young Charlie, three years his junior and two years her junior. Better to be bested by him than someone else, he may’ve thought—someone less agreeable and unthreatening.

Two summers before Coby had a girlfriend named Natalie, a nice, pretty girl; slim, fair-skinned, curly-haired, naive-eyed. They were lying in bed at a party once, tactilely expressing their affection; licking the other’s tongue, caressing and squeezing each other’s nether regions, nothing atypical of the explorative years of youth (or of all subsequent years, for that matter, which may perhaps be more explorative). The next day Coby confessed that the prolonged cuddling session had led to the worst, most painful case of epididymal hypertension (i.e. blue balls) he’d ever experienced. That night, everyone except unobservant Charlie respected their privacy. Charlie came into the room in a state slightly less compos mentis than tipsy, sat on a settee and watched them lying embraced, with absolutely no intent other than to be in their serene company, away from the racket of the deafening techno music and overloud talk. This was his idea of socializing. Coby gave him a puzzled look, asked if everything was all right. Charlie nodded and Coby remained nonplussed. 

There was something peaceful about them, a purity of feeling. They were in love, an arcane thing that Charlie had never experienced himself. Perhaps he was attempting to access intimacy by proxy. It was an uncomplicated, unpolished, fleeting kind of love, but love nonetheless. There’s a stock power to any kind of love, even when its foundation is feeble. It’s powerful by nature, all-absorbing. It warmed Charlie’s heart, maybe that’s why he stayed, completely heedless of the inappropriateness of his intrusion. Coby recalled this event good-humoredly, found the bizarreness of the act endearing, completely in line what Charlie was about. Conventional social and other kinds of rules didn’t apply to him, he made his own strange rules.

Some time later, when Coby’s relationship with Natalie wasn’t going so well, in a spell of frustration and melancholia he looked for someone to get blackout wasted with, and Charlie was the only person willing to accompany him in his sorrow. They drank three strong beers each, and Charlie was called home. Barely in possession of his ambulatory proficiency, he came into his grandparents’ house, shuffled to his room and collapsed onto the bed, falling asleep against the background of a tirade almost as soon as it began. Yet another time, on an open-air party by a campfire, Charlie asked Coby, quite sauced, if he’d ever fucked, without specifying the gender of the hypothetical fucked in question, though Coby, being culturally and personally averse to homosexuality, assumed he was referring to his preferred sex. Overhearing, Boller scolded Charlie for the inane question. Coby laughed it off and assured him that no serious boundary had been crossed, and even answered the unseemly inquiry as courteously as one could.

“No, never,” he said, to Charlie’s great surprise. 

“Really? never?” Coby smiled and shook his head, once again taken by Charlie’s impertinent innocence.

He gave him the blouse with a smile that seemed sad and in giving it conceded his desire.

“Tell her you found it. Charm her, she likes you,” he said, surrendering the powerful object, the conclusive token of his concession. 

This and the juvenile amorous scenes which it led to would happen that summer and end sooner than it’d begin, become private history experienced once upon a time somewhere at the edge of the universe, amidst the infiniteness of time and space countable into not much more than a few little hours and a few little places. It’d soon recede, fossilize into a distant mnemonic mindprint whose source became less recognisable with each passing year. Days long bygone are the days longed for, uneasy and exuberant, ridden with incident.

“Let’s go get some sunflower seeds,” Coby says, leaping down from the railing.

“Sunflower seeds? That’s mild. Hey, I heard you guys are into more potent stuff,” suggests Budyslaw fawningly, his usual coolness giving way to false generosity generated by the desperateness to be accepted and liked, eliciting smirks and looks of distaste from Coby and Morgoth.

“How about some nice cold beer for starters?” says Budyslaw yet more queasily, now overheating, “On me.” Morgoth and Coby exchange canny glances and wolfish smiles.

“Woah, that’s badass. You like to start early, huh, big man? What was your name again? Pudding? Coleslaw? You’re hardcore, right on. Nothing better to slake the thirst with on a roast like this; it’s on its way to forty today,” Morgoth says, glaring at the sun from under the shield of his palm.

“Son of a bitch’s set on frying us,” he adds, pays Budyslaw a glance and spits thickly to the side.

                                                                                    *     *     *

Days like these, intenser countermeasures may be appropriate, and so instead of beer they opted for vodka, a beverage known as the most effective implement for deepening friendships and self-loathing. Best place to consume it, it had been decided by the hosts, was the bottom of a long stairway leading to a school. It was calm and peaceful there, nature’s harmony making itself heard with the trickle of a stream nearby, tree-shaded, but the only thing that mattered was that it was copless. Waldemar happened to be there, one of the more popular local bums, setting fire to a coiled cable with a throwaway lighter.

“Heh-hey, Waldo! What’s cookin’?” Coby sneers a greeting. 

“Oh, hey, rubber. How’s it goin’, boys,” Waldemar says amicably.

“What’re you, torching cables? No cans left around town? In this shithole, I don’t believe it. You bums empty more cans than you pick up.”

“Yes, but we always keep them, unlike you, youngsters. You throw ‘em away, we pick ‘em up. Metal is metal, a grosz is a grosz. It adds up. Found this terrific cable, but the rubber’s damn thick on it. You’d need a blowtorch to melt it away,” Waldemar says, clutching his treasure like a resigned mother her newborn. Seeing Coby smoke Waldemar asks if he can spare a cigarette. Coby points to Budyslaw. 

“Of course, sir,” says Budyslaw deferentially with undue unctuousness (a gesture which nudged Morgoth toward the idea of spitting on him and seeing what might ensue), and presents the pack conveniently open for Waldemar, orange filter tips lined up like a belt of ammunition with a few bullets missing in the first row, which makes them look like Waldemar’s teeth; discoloured and scarce in places. 

“Thanks,” with a nod of sincere gratitude.

Waldemar digs into the surface of his memory to extract presumably the more compelling morsels of his penal experience and eagery prattles away about prison life trivia. Having nothing better to do, they listen, savouring the one-of-a-kind live entertainment.

“If you picked up a butt off the ground, you were done,” relishing the inhalation. It makes Charlie think of his earlier youth, when his and Boller’s idea of playtime was to look for the least used-up cigarettes around the pavements and smoke them. He must’ve been about seven. 

“Anyone did that, they lost all respect. You’re labelled a sissy and might’ve earned yourself a coupon for a gangbang on the receiving end, to be redeemed regardless of your will next group shower. There are good prisons and bad prisons. No, not really good ones, no—there are no good prisons; only better and worse ones. It’s all hell in general. Don’t get incarcerated, boys.”

“We’ll try,” Morgoth says, then vacuums the last drops of the vodka at full tilt and without thinking once tosses the emptied bottle into the rivulet where it crashes in its rocky shallowness, resounding through the woods. 

“Could’ve left me the bottle. I know a place’d give me twenty groszy for it. You’ve given me a hankering for Denaturat.”

“You bums really swill that toxic crap? Took it for an urban legend,” Morgoth says, his interest piqued.

“No, not the damn purple stuff; the brown stuff.”

“Aha, pretty sure it’s the same poison. The only time I used it was as a solvent to make flux for soldering.”

“Tastes different, anyway,” says Waldemar, casting his mind back to the delights of denatured alcohol.

“How’d you know?” asks Budyslaw blankly.

They say see you and good luck to Waldemar, who says see you then turns his attention back to the cable.

“These damn bums, always took it for a myth,” Coby comments with genuine incredulity and spits throatily to the side.

“Go figure, it’s the cheapest way to get shit-faced. You think they care it tastes like Chernobyl rain?” Morgoth clarifies and as they ascend the lengthy and broad stairway guffaws madly at an inside joke exchanged between him and Coby while the rest go ahead of them, save Budyslaw for the most part sober. 

Ahead a couple of teenagers are sitting in the corner of a step, looking sheepish as if they wished to disappear, a boy and a girl, both from feet to shoulders dressed in black. Putting their heads up to see the approaching company, their pale powdered complexions announce themselves. Their hair is long and pinguid, unnaturally black and unkempt, their faces pierced at the eyebrows and on the noses, lips coloured pitch-black to match their attire. Morgoth discerns the gloomily-styled pair from afar and at once develops a sullenness and quietness about him. But it is not the sort of ordinary quietness that strangers may fall into upon passing one another, not wishing to be eavesdropped on even in just that brief interval of near-contact, no matter how commonplace their conversation; there is something baleful about the stillness, an uneasy air of ominosity. A raw bitter wind passes, ruffling the leaves, shifting the mood into disquiet.

“Scum up ahead,” Morgoth says, awakening Coby’s attention and the others’ curiosities.

“Fuck ‘em,” Coby comments decisively, with no intention to pursue the matter further. They are about to pass them when Morgoth, eyes flaming with fury, turns to the timid pair and proceeds to aggress them, beginning with, “What the fuck do you represent?” The boy and the girl quite unsure how to respond to this threatening slight, more terrified than insulted, hope this fuming red-faced Goliath having uttered what he was urged to utter would now leave. But they realize the vanity of their hope as soon as Morgoth launches his enormous fisted hand at the unexpecting boy.

Perhaps power of any kind, whether it’s electricity, virility or plain brutishness, seeks release until it finds it. Unregulated, as in this case, it’s bound to escape: chaotic, always in flux, converting at every divergence of current; ceaselessly transforming. Morgoth sparking and smoking like a high voltage short circuit, striking the defenseless boy repeatedly, with his arms raised defending himself against the blows as best he can, his terror-stricken companion completely paralysed—neither moving nor emitting a single sound: perfectly petrified. Even Boller is unsettled, though a part of him was driven to prove his allegiance to the gang by engaging in the violence. 

“Come on, leave them alone!” Budyslaw says ineffectively, keenly affected by the senseless assault. 

Turning to the girl, “What’s that black shit on your lips, you blow miners for a living?” Morgoth says and expectorates nastily in her face, underneath the whitening powder pale from fear. Seeing this the boy gets combative, attempts to strike Morgoth despite the adversary being twice his size, and right then Coby springs into the action, as if the boy’s instinct of self-preservation were an affront, impudent. 

“Shithead!” he says as he lands a powerful kick on the boy’s hip, offsetting his balance, at which the girl lets out a soft sob, with a look of deep disgust wiping away Morgoth’s phlegmy spit off her cheek. The boy, having stumbled a few feet, restores his footing and uses the opportunity of the interruption to flee. Taking hold of the whimpering girl’s hand, they bolt away into the forest. 

“Get the fuck out of here!” Morgoth bawls, he and Coby standing still and panting, watching the terrorized pair dash away, one would like to think confronting their conscience. They turn to Boller, Budyslaw and Charlie, all showing some symptoms of agitation, and shortly Morgoth and Coby laugh self-consciously at the absurdity of the unforeseen incident.

“That was a bit much,” Boller says to Morgoth as undefiantly as he can. 

“They didn’t deserve this…” Budyslaw shoves in a comment, in his inebriation trying to come to terms with the unrighteous conduct of his new acquaintances. 

“So what, I can’t stand those emo wackos,” retorts Morgoth unreflectively. “The way they are, you’d be doing them a big favour; provide a pain-dealing service gratis to their routine Gillette-sponsored self-harm sessions.” 

They walk on, occasionally bursting out in malicious laughter whenever the reminiscence regreets them. A clash of subcultures, the inability to accept difference. Mutual disapproval and disdain, one in a sense introversive and private and the other extroversive and active. 

“This reminds me,” says Boller, “of a time my skinhead uncle slapped a punk-rocker so hard his head spun. In public, right in front of a store. Then they talked. The punk rocker was very soft-spoken, my uncle not so much, curt and hostile, he asked him why they don’t like skinheads, and he bleated like an injured goat, ‘Because they beat us.’ You remember that, Charlie?” 

“Fuck ‘em,” Morgoth declares definitively.

                                                                                    *     *     *

A few less eventful days passed, whose evenings Budyslaw spent alone at McDonald’s (which was further away from their staying place than Boller had suggested during his original promotional pitch) succumbing to one of the more venial deadly sins. It’s fine to yield occasionally, Budyslaw thinks to himself, even to the so-called deadly ones. They don’t truly rise up to the epithet before a certain intensity of indulgence is attained. A warm summer evening, one in a series, the only window wide open to unstuff the room and prevent a triple-heat death, mosquitoes and other winged insects gravitating to the blabbering TV that projects light at everything in its proximity, the hue intermittently alternating between more and less vivid shades mostly of green and blue, muted voices of dialogue from an old R-rated late night movie that maybe a total of eleven people are watching in a manner that could be called attentive. 

There may at times come a disturbance, like the hallowing sound of something crashing in the middle of a sleepless night, as if something glassy and heavy had been dropped from a balcony up high, leaving the awake wondering what it could have been. And then it’s all quiet and unsurprising again until the day breaks with an early red summer sunrise, the warmth bleeding in through the pinky air, desolate noiseless trafficless streets, in a sense apocalyptic and in a sense inviting, daytime rules only half-applicable at that dreamful time. It makes Charlie think of the nights at his grandma’s house, years ago, when he was no more than six and eager to discover and absorb the wonders of the female body, she snoring on the couch beside him, he monitoring the soundness of her slumber and switching the channel to whichever was airing the smutty ads for mobile porn purchasable via SMS, whenever she was deemed to be asleep deeply enough.

A number of rain-blessed days passed, for the most part uneventful except that one time when Boller’s brand-new footwear caught the attention of Jello and his playmates. Someone had filled them in on the news that Boller was spoiling his feet with a brand-new pair of Air Max trainers, whereupon they located him and paid him a friendly visit. They pulled into the school grounds as if it were the finish line of a street race in a Fiat Cinquecento which looked only barely drivable, and got out, the four of them, eager to see what kind of goods Boller was boasting. One of these guys, it seemed to Charlie, looked like a ghoul; drywall kind of pale, flat-faced, and blank-eyed, with no lips nor teeth in sight, a living horror to behold. He was the most strange-looking man, like a character out of a David Lynch surreality. Jello looked like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, and due to a wide gap in his 1s, every word he lisped came with a whistle free of charge.

“Where is he, come on lad, show ‘em!”

Boller smiles proudly and shows him his gaudy shoes.

“They’re super cool, dude. Half an ounce for them, whadyou say?”

“I’ll think about it,” Boller says, without intending to. They got back in the car and drove off.

                                                                                    *     *     *

Those inclement days they spent standing and squatting under the eaves of what had once been a pretty phat DVD rental store and later plain grocery, smoking copiously to appease the arresting infantile cries of their all-too-suggestive nuclei accumbents (the ever-greedier “pleasure centres” in the forebrain). Eating sunflower seeds, watching the rain fall from the roof in slanted uneven accumulations like melted rows of conjoined icicles, spitting vigorously through the pitiless downpour, staring at the dissolving streak of spit sightlessly in preoccupation as it’s merging with the rainwater on the concrete and edging away toward the sewer grate littered unapologetically all around the surface brim and down at the bottom of its umbrous pit with plastic packaging leftover from some inconsiderate litterer’s snacking spell. 

Disintegrating sopping cigarette butts, fallaciously dumped there and not straight on the sidewalk because it may have seemed like a marginally more orderly thing to do. Intermittently lightning striking church spires and antennas alike saying smile. In case it’s God snapping a picture. He’d like to see you smiling—even in the face of the worst. But if that were to be the case, God’s not a particularly popular paparazzo—His stormy presence terrifies his skittish subjects. The slow heavy roll of thunder shortly following each of the blinding incandescent sky flares, and the tall deciduous trees dressed in greyish green swaying in the wind to and fro as if they wished for their trunks to move, traffic lights blinking amber LEDs at the inanimate faces of vacant lanes, footpaths desolate, the opposite of a sunny active Sunday. Outside life temporarily on hold, walled-in. From the giant grids of square windows on the broad wet mournful faces of beige-grey blocks TV lights alternating between green, white and blue in a spasmodic visual symphony, a sort of unorchestrated dance, its luminous symmetry broken up only by an unlighted apartment here and there. 

Apart from the incessant beat of the drizzle and the echoless transient howl of the humid wind and the occasional thunderclap, no sound to be heard; not even in the distance. No human sound, in any case. Stillness of night, acceptable to most, combated with sound sleep, but as for stillness of day… the disturbing kind of quietness that makes even generally unwary animals seek shelter. Excepting slugs—these slimy gross gastropod bastards come in black and brown and banana, keen to get under your mashing foot. They thrive in the wetness of nasty disagreeable weather, come out of the aestivation in the peripheral grass at their snaily pace to get as jollily drenched as they can. 

“Such a shame the concoctions I stir up with my meteorological magic can never please all creatures equally; what one finds a blessing, to another is a curse. No one is equal, and humans least of all, those complainers! To these grateful slugs and all plant life my water is life-restoring, but to these wretched arrogant myopic bipeds it is nothing more than an annoyance,” laments Mother Nature as she weeps and nourishes the sun-baked mollusks with her bitter tears. Vast hosts of slugs spread out across the valley pathway, relishing the rare revitalizing shower. “An annoyance! They wish only to eat ice cream in the sun, the hotter the better, so long as the ice cream is not too eager to melt and there is plenty shade to cool the skin. Ha! Conscientious farmers are my favourite folk, but for these sun-lovers, these rain-despisers, these good-for-nothing polluters, I have much contempt. Perhaps an earthquake or a nice volcanic eruption again to bring them to their senses, roughen the roughnecks up. Eternally inconsiderate, the lightheaded ingrates.”

These past few days they’ve been planning a fishing trip to the country: fine masculine sort of entertainment, but it wouldn’t do without a zesty twist that’s a tad cooler than a cooler of Coors and a few packs of Kools. On the evening of the allegedly planned trip they gathered at Max’s house. Apart from the usual crowd Max and Tumult was there, Coby’s younger brother. Max was tall, though not quite as abnormally tall as the NBA-eligible Morgoth (only height-wise, however), and solidly built. His face was smooth and smirky, his eyes blue and pleasant. He liked to speak in funny voices and make funny faces and stain the more accessible walls of buildings with not particularly artful graffiti, taking pleasure in the disfigurement because it was his own, furtively marking his territory, spreading himself in the form of spray paint, establishing a presence. Or maybe he did it for the fun and tingle of doing something unlawful, or to express himself, or for the physical release of a dynamic high-power emission of palpable and vibrant colour on a scale greater than his own size, or because of all of that or because of none of it. He might’ve not known himself why he did it, not exactly. He must’ve done it mostly because it was an effective way of generating a buttload of dopamine, but that’s reductive and unpoetic. 

They all hated the law and loved to break it and hated its enforcers and hated to evade them. But beyond all, more or less consciously, they despised the governing forces; not the puppets, the puppeteers, and defying the former—the only present and accessible purveyors of unjust mandates, was the only way they could get to any semblance of retribution at the Olympus-perched lawmakers. On stormy days when lightning bolted out of the sky and lit it up and the thunder rolled out, Max liked to discharge the atmosphere by talking in a silly, comically high-pitched panicky voice, “Are you afraid of thunderstorms? I’m not afraid of thunderstorms, no most definitely not afraid, not in the least afraid…” He went on like that on repeat with some variation and it amused most of his audience.

Tumult was short and chubby with a boyish benign face, a crafty imp all too capable of morphing into an endearing and ingenuous choirboy from his usual form, mischief incarnate, at a moment’s notice. He was an uproarious kid whom everybody knew and liked. Archetypal clown, a ruffian with enough charisma to carry a reality show all on his own for at least a few episodes. The duplicitous lout lied through a smile, knowing no harm would come to him because underneath all that shitbagship he was an entirely guiltless creature whose friendship, he felt, was cherished. Other than greed, a weakness for malice was his vice. This funny fellow walked out of a supermarket with a hoodyful of unpaid-for Red Bull cans when he was nine and could turn hostile quicker than a cat, reason or no reason, in search of amusement. Steadfast agent of chaos, a social terrorist; one of his more spectacular forays against normalcy and civilized society was the invasion of a public internet access point, which he had left playing the infamous trailer of the scat porno Hungry Bitches, more commonly known as 2 Girls 1 Cup, to be seen by passerby senior ladies who, if not for the planted corruption would have never until the end of their days conceived of such a grisly use of a cup and shit, things so starkly opposed in function. And maybe a baby peeking out of a stroller to witness this infinitesimal act of mayhem; bonus satisfaction points for a premature introduction to a particularly unsavory kind of worldly terror. 

One would think they’d be packing tents, sleeping bags, preparing provisions and attending to all the usual arrangements that a campaign of this scale generally entails, but none of this was on anybody’s mind. There was only one thing, a certain substance: “specific”. That’s what they called it. The word about town was the thing’s derived from detergent powder, but nobody knew what it was or where it came from. Right out of the devil’s ass, some said. This hot shit could take you to a dimension of sensation even Hunter S. Thompson couldn’t have imagined. Or possibly he could, and maybe he didn’t have to imagine it. What mattered was its inexpensiveness and the breathtaking high it could be relied on to provide to desperate thrill-seekers like Budyslaw. The company, progressively yielding their nerves to the pressure of anticipation, spend a while discussing the quantity they’d prefer to have at their disposal and financial details (as usual, Budyslaw used the least and paid the most), and by the time they acquire the extraordinary substance it’s nighttime. 

They grab the fishing rods and speedily make their way out, near-unhinged, unable to concentrate on anything that doesn’t in some way resemble white powder. Max’s mother is giving them a lift in a van that seems tailor-made for the excursion, in terms of capacity and otherwise. Twenty minutes into the ride Max realizes they forgot to take the tents and the sleeping bags and provisions, and it’d be too much hassle to ask his mother to take a U-turn now. Within another twenty minutes they’re at the destination, out in the country whose charming, melancholically bucolic mood will be unveiled in the morning, with those old houses that most Poles have been to at least once on the occasion of a funeral, wire mesh fences, cows mooing and pooing (appreciable olfactorily most of the time and sometimes ocularly), cocks crowing, a myriad of small black flies to whom humans are hostile but apparently not particularly discouraging mobile landing pads, some green shit flies which look like spawns of a radiation disaster to go with it, expanses of furrowed farmland dispersed around the rustic terrain lined with stretches of forest at all sides, harvest-ready corn, cabbage, wheat, potato… Some of the soil yet unsown, newly ploughed.

They stop by a tackle shop, hoping they can get some worms for bait, but the last fifteen minutes of business is six hours behind them. Max and Morgoth, hearing the noise of conversation from one of the backyards nearby, make their way to investigate. Over the fence they send an inquiry about the shop to the owner who happens to be present at the nightly get-together. He refuses; business time is over, and sends them away empty-handed. 

“Fuck it, we’ll dig some worms up,” says Max, riled. He’d throw a few eggs at his shop if he had any. He’d do it unprovoked too, for no other reason than to relish the mischief and the victim’s discomfort. They rejoin the rest and make their way into the dusky wood, employing their intelligent phones as flashlights. 

“Watch out for the tusky pigs; these woods are brimming with boars. They’ll charge at you and impale you if you don’t leap up a tree in time. I know a guy was hugging a tree four hours before the boar got bored. Rammed the tree a few times, pointed its wheezing snout at him, the livid hog. He said the trunk was thin. Not like he had time to locate the securest and prettiest tree, event like that, there’s about three seconds of distance between your ass and the boar’s tusks,” cautions Tumult with a wry twist of the mouth. This didn’t seem like one of his tall tales, these wild hairy pigs were known to trespass deep into urban areas; playgrounds, parking lots, what else. Boar country. Needless to say, even the generally fearless veterans of street life are mildly freaked out. 

An erratically tapering path lined with nettle that for some ungodly reason seems to profit from steroidal growth where it’s the narrowest takes them through the forest, rigid leaved branches protruding onto their sightlines, an annoyance for which Budyslaw in particular seems unprepared; twice walking his face into their sharpness. “Kurwa!” he says angrily upon the second time, overstressing the R. 

“Shut up, you’ll scare the fish away and lure those boars,” alerts Max. 

“Sorry,” Budyslaw murmurs apologetically. About ten minutes later they’re at the destination. The local boys have been there enough times to be familiar with it. It was a small spit of land abutting a reedy lake, to the side a large dilapidated tarp tent, a compact roll-uppable hut, possibly home, at times, to the homeless. The paradox of the word is that the homeless usually have some sort of makeshift home, even an unwalled and roofless one, a place they go back to every night, where they feel the comfortablest and safest. And what would they do if they saw a homeless person sleeping in there? Go back? Certainly not. Find another spot? Unlikely. Ignore them? Possibly. Kick them out? Yes, possibly. Unhomed again. Give them some of the mysterious stimulant and let them join the party? God may know, it never transpired in this timeline. They dig into the earthier spots in search of worms, but find none. 

“Maybe they had a deathmatch and blew themselves up,” jokes Budyslaw, and is ignored.

“You know, like the Worms game?” he adds. They do, but no dice.

“No, Bud, I play Runescape. Every time I see a noob I kill him and steal all his shit,” says Morgoth menacingly to Budyslaw, making him reflect.

Inside the tent there was nothing besides a bed with some fleecy covering laid on top of it and a small wobbly table, which after a brief but comprehensive survey of the area had been identified as the most suitable surface to the portioning of specific and without delay appointed to that station. One nose after another was pressed to the table, snorting its designated line. Only Boller and Charlie withheld, presuming to prefer the serenity of cannabis to the feral power of this unidentifiable substance, certainly lethal at a certain dosage. Tumult showed resolution and clarity of objective, taking one of the fishing rods and removing himself from the company. He established himself away from the main cove, in a corner obscured by trees and bushes. The sound of reels being unwound and wound back on would incessantly haunt the rest of the night. Tumult was responsible for most of the winding and unwinding; the drug made him tireless, lent the chubby little fellow the grit of a seasoned athlete. A full moon beamed down from the glittering blackness, which was supposed to make the trout or whatever eely monstrosities swam in this swamp more fishable. 

It hit before they knew it. Budyslaw, high as a rocket, looked at the fishing rod in his hand and wondered why he was holding it. Despite not being able to generate a coherent reason, he kept holding it in case it would come useful later. Scurrying hotfoot to and fro, unsure how to handle the intensity come upon him, certain only of the fact that he was set upon by hectic swarms of mosquitoes dying to plunge their probosces into his face (quite literally, on the off chance he manages to flatten one of these relentless bloodthirsty bitches) and suck all the precious blood out. Those lousy buzzing assaulters may have already succeeded in that, as it was drained to a pallor one might find concerning. His hood fastened tightly around his head to cover as much facial area as the stretchiness of the polyester permitted, his eyes bulging out of his bloodless face like some ailing lunatic’s. Now raving, the anguished madman, “Bloodsucking whores!” he screams, smacking himself, attempting to chase away the oncoming swarms. This carries on for no less than a few hours: Budyslaw raving and rambling apace, the spools winding and unwinding, each of the company in their own private trance fixated on the activity, a mania of spooling and unspooling and the hooks and bobbers plopping into the lake and emerging and re-plopping and re-emerging, the concert of chirping crickets charitably providing an orchestral background to this din of insanity. 

Four and a half hours into it Boller and Charlie realize coming there was a mistake. Sleep might be the last thing on their companions’ minds (the foremost being the unearthly substance), but it is the first thing on theirs, and the drowsy endpoint of the weed’s high and the fact that there is absolutely nothing to do are certainly unfavourable to their pretty dismal psychosomatic situation. As the light of their eyes dims they are compelled to give the off-putting cot a go, but even if they could somehow get over the idea of it being possibly pissed on, it’s much too small to let them both rest simultaneously. And so they resolve to endure the dragging minutes of this dreadful unending night on their feet and awake. When the fatigue and the dullness are too much to bear they unwillingly capitulate to the unwelcoming bed and manage to get about an hour of naptime. After that they don’t even want to take turns, deeming it too disgusting, as if the act of sharing the filth served as an agent of dispersion and countervailed the aversive quality potently enough for their need of shut-eye to overpower the repulsiveness. In the end it proved not a whole lot more comfortable than suffering time in its torpidity upright and with eyes unshut, and thereafter they refrained from availing themselves of the suspicious cot.

When the sun began to rise they watched it minute to minute ascend the sky, feeling it might never rise to the level called day, though knowing it must. The sun is a diligent fellow, after all. A watched pot never boils, it is said, and via the figurative meaning of the saying it may be surmised that a watched sun never rises. Would this sun, on this particular morning, ever rise? Watched or not, the pot has to boil and the sun has to rise. A watched sun never boils and a watched pot never rises. Never rises a sun never boils a pot. Never a pot never a sun, never rises never boils; neither boils neither rises. Watched and unwatched. One boils and the other does not rise and then the former does not boil and the latter does rise. It boils, the pot, and it rises, the sun, boiling and rising…. 

Water boils at one hundred degrees Celsius (212° Fahrenheit), and the sun rises at about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius). But at what temperature does the pot rise and the sun boil? Does it ever rise, the pot? and does it ever boil, the sun? In fact a pot, watched or unwatched, never boils; a pot cannot boil. And so the sun, unwatched, watched or mismatched, never rises and it cannot rise. Tarnation! what idiocy! Truly a new depth of derangement. There! it has moved up! has it not? The pot simmers, boils, the sun shimmers, rises, the timorous star, diffidently climbing up the stage’s background at last. Though its ascent is imperceptible, the perceptibly escalating brightness is proof enough. Whatever fish they have caught (if any) should be offered as oblation to Apollo in thanksgiving for this most blessed of blessings, light. And eventually it rose (the sun, not the pot); at times watched and at times unwatched. Perhaps it rose only while it wasn’t being watched. Grace of heaven, merciful God, excuse the unsound heathen thought—it is you who deserves a sacrificial thanks. Let us propitiate you, O benevolent unkind lord of infinite mercy and cruelty! Munificently saving your meanness for another time. 

Dehydrated, hollow-bellied and languid from sleeplessness, the dawn makes Boller and Charlie ebullient. The aim is to make it to the morning seven, another ninety minutes; then the village store should be opened and there they could get a warm freshly-baked loaf of bread and besides the hunger kill some of the wretched time. At six forty-five Charlie, Boller and Coby are eagerly on their way. By seven they’re sitting on a bench by a grocery store patiently (being glad to be out of the sleepless hellhole) waiting for it to be opened. Another fifteen minutes later they’re gnawing at a loaf of wonderfully crunchy floury bread, chewing off mouthfuls at a time, the flour erupting outward like snow spindrift, and thirstily chugging mineral water to wash down the lumpy dryness. But this last persisting need, the overtiredness, is the most difficult and expensive to vanquish. Hunger and thirst are cheap to defeat, Charlie theorizes in a benumbed daydream following the satisfying feast, but to find a place to rest and sleep comfortably and safely is, as a problem, entirely on another level of difficulty. Daylight proves to be a helpful energizer, aids the circadian rhythm: all wakening life ripplingly mobilizing all around it, even the sleepiest of the living, into a synchrony of waking. It won’t be long now until they begin to arrange a way back, and that’s a cheering assurance. 

Not long after they reunite with the rest and share the spoils of their shopping, Tumult’s fish hook is pulled. While all the others took a break to enjoy the gifts of the morn, he, disciplined, unwaveringly kept to his post. Did not even so much as pay the bread and the water a glance, the fishing ninja. His shoes are a visualization of his dedication, permanently deformed from the continual pressure of his feet, sagging inwardly over the soles. He’s all taut, bow-legged, his eyes focused, jaw clenched, and through the squeezed lips pushing his tongue far out and upward so that it nearly touches his nose. He never blinks and never puts his eyes off the line, his hand slips, damp from sweat and numb from the periodic unvarying action, but he recovers his grip and resumes the maniacal reeling-in of his prey. 

“Got one!” he exclaims excitedly and all the others go to pay his nook a visit, but when the prey emerges out of the water instead of applause there is only wild laughter. Tumult’s heart sinks as he sees a small crawfish dangling on his hook. With his forefinger and thumb in a pincer he brings the hook toward himself and gapes at the wriggling helpless creature with a featural compound of astonishment and aversion. 

“Took you the whole night to get a crawfish, Fatty,” comments Max cockily.

“Took you the whole night to get fuck-all, you dope,” Tumult retorts tartly, stirring up laughter. Now he grows warm toward the tiny spiny lobster, his eyes twinkle kindly as he cautiously brings his other finger close to pet it, but as soon as he touches its frail armour the feisty panicking crawfish claws him undangerously. Tumult jolts and lets go of the fishing rod, the crawfish separates from the hook upon hitting the ground and starts scurrying away. Tumult pounces at the wounded creature and locks it in the jail of his hands. 

“Ouch, ouch, ouch!” he says as the crawfish claws at his palms. He crawls hastily on all fours toward the land edge. “You may not have wings, yet you may fly, little fella!” he says softly, stirring up laughter again, then hurls it over the water into which it disappears with a faint plop. A crawfish for Apollo.

“Looks like we won’t be catching anything,” Max says and with most of the hope and the high gone it is decided they should pack up and get going. 

On their way into the village Max tries to arrange pick-up by calling his mother. A few call attempts later he is still unable to reach her. The recourse of plan B is to contact Jello, but he only gets as far as his voicemail. 

“Yo sup, you’ve reached Jello’s recording studio. I’m probably making a beat right now. Leave a message if you want to, don’t if you don’t.”

“Jello you retard, we’re stranded in Bukow and need a lift back. It’s critical. Call me back if you can get us something.”

“Beats? Ha-ha! What a wannabe,” Tumult says, “It’s more likely he’s out shopping for beets with his grandma. Haggling with the celery seller at the veg stall, burning for the best beet bargain. Or if that’s done he’s grating ‘em for borscht, I’m tellin’ ye,  boys, I’d count on the sun to stop rising before I’d count on him. And what’s your mommy doing, Max? It’d be obvious if I wasn’t here, but since she isn’t, you know… blowing me, I don’t know what the hell she’s up to…”

Before Max can respond Coby chastises his brother by punching him forcefully in the gut and says dourly, “Know your boundaries, you fat shit.”

Tumult whines and his eyes moisten from the pain, “You fucker! I’ll tell mom!” 

Coby strikes him again in the same place with double the power and Tumult squeals like an animal and with his hands on his stomach bends in pain.

“It’s fine, Coby, let Fatty be,” says Max, unoffended, concerned for Tumult.

“Fatso needs to learn some respect,” Coby insists.

“Anger management, Jesus, Jahveh my God, idiot…” says Tumult, uttering the last word mutely as if trying to smuggle it to the recipient only half-noticed.

“What? say that again?” says Coby, eyes crazy and fixated on his brother’s face, on the verge of striking him again.

“Nothing,” Tumult evasively.

“Chill, chill, Coby,” Max palliatively.

“Get the fuck away before I smack you!” says Coby.

“Look at you, totally insane. Snort too much, melt your brain,” Tumult indignantly.

“Out of here, you fat fuck! Now!” Coby says, but Tumult ignores the command and falls silent.

“Guys, relax,” says Max, “I’ll show you a nice place.”

Max was referring to a steep narrow pebbly shore fronting on the sweep of a pellucid lake, a tucked away oasis where they could be purged of the sticky layers of sweat they’d amassed over the night. Though it would not do much more for them, in terms of physical comforts. Certainly it wouldn’t conceal any bodily peccadillos, unlike turbid foamy seawater clouded by sediment and phytoplankton. In the middle of the lake there are two old scruffy villagers loafing in a boat.

“What have they got there,” says Coby, having spotted a satchel.

“What are these geezers up to,” says Morgoth flatly, on the high’s draining descent.

The men in the boat start paddling and moving towards the shore. 

“Good morning,” Morgoth greets them politely. 

One of the men raises his hand with difficulty and with a distrait listless look and in a monotone says, “Goo… mornin’, fellas,” ascending the lakeshore, slipping on pebbles and sliding down a few feet along with a miniature landslide. Cursing the slippery rocks, the inebriated man reattempts to conquer this miniature personal Everest. Triumphant, he turns to Coby, crouched by the satchel, and drawls, “Watch out for him while I’m gone,” pointing to his unresponsive companion who seems even more firmly clutched by drink. Coby nods meaninglessly and without another word the man takes his leave. All amused in equal measure, they turn to the man in the boat. He raises his leg over the boat’s brim sluggardly, as if his connection to the Life Server were being spasmodically severed due to bad latency, then the other, and stays like that, legs hanging, for half a minute as if he had been completely disconnected. Realizing the man is barely conscious enough to keep his eyes open, Coby loots the satchel, taking car keys and binoculars out of it. 

“Whatcha got there, Coby?” asks Max. Tumult dangles the keys in one hand and raises the binoculars in the other.

“Let’s find that car, what do you say, and these look interesting; vintage military, seem like, may be pawnable,” says Coby.

“Woah, our drive home?” says Max.

The man finally pulls himself out of the boat and unsteadily lands his feet on the gravel, facing the water, swaying backwards and forwards. For him, the gravelly slope was unclimbable. In fact, even standing proved too great a challenge: he lost consciousness and fell flat, face-down into the water, greatly alarming Budyslaw and some of the others. 

“What the fuck, he’ll drown!” Budyslaw observed and rushed to help the drowning man. Coby was unfazed. “Leave him be,” he said, “do him a favour.

                                                                                    *     *     *

Following the taxing expedition came a yearning to relax, which took them to an outdoor pool. These places were rife with overenergetic kids, frazzled parents, and watchful pedophiles. Old men in undersize Speedos, fancying the tight grip of the briefs and the resultant conspicuous hard-ons, tumescent through the trunks in unsettling detail. These pervy gallants walked upright, heads held high, dignified, unstoppable. There was always the unlikely possibility that they were law-abiding erections, which let them abuse the presumption of innocence principle, teetering on the ninety-eight percent guilty point. The grueling fishing trip inspired Budyslaw to take a short-term vow of sobriety. Being low on funds, he’d gotten into a row about it with those who’d helped him flush his money down the drain. Or down their throats, in liquid and semifluid and semisolid forms. On their way back from the pool Budyslaw looked for a phone booth to call his mother from. He needed to tell her how he’s been doing and more money. Wi-Fi access wasn’t on the list of features in their otherwise all-inclusive staying place, limiting long-distance contact. 

He found an old vandalized phone booth enclosed with foggy vitreous acrylic and shut himself inside while Charlie and Boller waited outside and watched him. The conversation was lengthy—when one is leading up to ask for money a greater amount of small talk than usual is recommended. Like most days, it was toaster hot. He stood inside that hot box talking sweetly and solemnly to the telephone, holding it firmly and close, flattering, assuring, negotiating, and toasting. When he walked out after twenty minutes or so, he was as wet with sweat as a wrestler’s armpit midmatch. Soaked all-over, hair sticking to scalp, Charlie and Boller in hysterics, but the intricate effort and embarrassment paid off in the most literal sense; he’d secured a bailout from the MEF (Mom Emergency Fund) and the adolescent quest for psychoactive and erotic thrills went on.