The Threshold – The Witness Shadow
Lia woke up that morning as a ray of the autumn sun was tickling her eyelashes. She gave a start sensing that something was amiss, the creature sleeping by her side since she had got on the train. A somewhat loyal, sticky pain she had grown fond of and felt too sorry for to simply push off the bunk. She looked rather downcast and frail as it was. She could feel the pain increasing, digging into her flesh and never letting go. She had got used to her and, feeling distressed and sometimes shedding dry tears, she could even fall asleep near her purr that sounded like that of an upset cat. Well, what do you know, come morning and she was gone!
“Where the hell did she go? That’s the height of callousness! She has always acted silly, driving up my blood pressure and draining me and I said nothing and now she has the nerve to leave? the woman mumbled as she was rubbing her eyes. Am I supposed to see that everything changes, that people are beautiful and kind? Impossible! Am I supposed to actually see kindness and loyalty? No way! They do exist, but they are so rare. Treachery, betrayal and temptation are in store for them, too!”
While she was putting her blonde hair up in a ponytail, she talked to herself and also answered herself back like a hermit in his cavern who does nothing but preach to the walls.
“Where the heck is that grey Shadow of Pain of mine? She smelled good, like futility. She had a fire-red nightgown on. You have no idea how Pain looks in red,” the woman pouted at her image in the small mirror above the even smaller washbasin. It’s total temptation. You take her in your arms, you can even die with her. And you won’t be sorry. Oh, God! She looked gorgeous with her hair down! Yesterday, she even kissed me goodnight. I couldn’t go to sleep, I cried all night long for the fate of mankind and for the scarcity of love. Oh, well! This morning I intend to have my coffee laughing happily because I’m alone and I feel no pain!”, she went on and was about to draw the curtains aside when a knock made her go to the door and open it.
There she was, on the threshold, Pain, pale as usual, haggard, the dark circles under her eyes as big as coffee cups, holding the hand of a child, who looked even more haggard and pale.
– I’m leaving, Pain said and two pearly tears glittered in her eyes. And she’ll stay with you. Her name is Doubt and she’s God-given. Accept her! She won’t stay too long.
– And you? Where are you going? Lia asked shyly, half-heartedly.
– Back to where I came from, answered the beauty in red, we take turns – Doubt, Regret and I…
– What about Joy? she asked, some frail hope in her voice.
– We ran out of budget for this year, maybe next year. Take the little one in your arms! Pain said in a subdued voice and placed Doubt in Lia’s arms.
– Trust no one! the child whispered and stroked her head, circling her arms around her. Not even her! she added, her head gesturing towards the one who had brought her there.
– OK, alright, Lia answered handing her a T-shirt to change …
– Not even the shirt on your back! the child went on examining the red T-shirt.
The sun’s ray had disappeared. A foggy shadow descended into the small space where Lia was trying hard to wake up as one of her eyes would not get unglued from the dream.
Josette was holding a hand above an elegant white basket the size of a beach bag. She was restless, in fact she had always been fidgety, she would fret over nothing, she would shake her head and she would talk fast. People coming in contact with her would ask her to talk slower and the politer ones would pretend they understood and would nod whereas in fact they did not comprehend much.
Most of the times, she was under the impression that she was understood and therefore she was content, but she could not understand why some people criticised her, others asked her to repeat what she had said and still others got downright annoying the way they stood up in the middle of a conversation and moved their hands as if they could not breathe.
Anyway, the woman who was tossing and turning on the bench as if she were itching all over made sure, at almost regular intervals, that the balls in her bag were safe and that the air flow around them was sufficient. The balls were wrapped in perforated paper and the dry raffia-woven bag with small loops was the ideal place for them. The only inconvenience was that the bag did not deaden the high-pitched voices coming from inside the yellowish balls and they could be still heard, though muffled. When they started to quarrel their dampened sounds could be heard, giving her away.
The train’s rattling sound was loud enough to cover the tiff and yet voices issuing from inside the bag could be heard clearly.
– I like standing naked before your eyes! Not that you have eyes! I have absolutely no idea how you look, I can’t feel you, but you do have a very beautiful voice. Now, imagine taking off your clothes and lying on your back. I don’t understand why you can’t sleep naked just once. It’s so hot in this shack, which I don’t see, but I think, I feel it’s a shack, that I’m truly choking.
– Take it easy, I just can’t sleep naked! As a matter of fact, since, against my will, I am here with you, lying in the dark, I can’t figure out how you could make me imagine this. You’d better tell me how you actually look like and I might make an effort to picture it in my mind!
– You, little slut, what’s the use of telling you that I look like a stud with tanned skin and a butt you’d empty your bank account just to touch. You’d better think that you have a wet pink pussy and I’m on top of you, perfect like a 27th -rank legionnaire, blue-eyed, slim waist and thighs you can cling to, that I thrust my tongue into your mouth right up to your throat, that you can feel my hardness when I grope for you and then you choke, you push me and… give me your pussy! So warm! So hot! C’mon, give me your hand and play with my…!
– Uh-huh… Oh, yes! I can do it, I can be aroused a little. You like it when I talk dirty, c’mon, you like it! Higher, higher! Don’t bite my lip, nibble my nipples! That’s it, kiss, suck! More, more, oh, oh!
– Turn around! C’mon, turn your bubble, plump, perfectly round butt to me, slide your big boobs over my buttocks and go down!
– Darn! What the hell is going on, is it an earthquake? Stop wriggling, stop it, stop it!
Josette shook the bag slightly, stuck her head inside it and, flushed, spoke over the ball:
– Keep it down Loverboy, everybody can hear you!
– Down, indeed! Damn you, Josette! It is down because of you! I’ll be out of here and I’ll fix you good, I’ll knock your eyes out of your head!
– I’ll leave you gasping for air if you don’t stop it! the woman said and folded the top of the raffia bag down.
The voices died down and Josette sighed, leaned against the back of the First-Class bench and closed her eyes. She was not sleeping, it would have been great if she could have slept, but as she had to deliver the balls and she did not know where she was supposed to take them, she had to be careful.
She had no clue who the purchaser was, the goods were prohibited so she was rather restless and she was extremely cautious.
She had been on the train for days and she had no idea whether she had travelled far enough from the railway station in the Land of the Lakes. She needed to be patient.
She was alone in the compartment and was quite happy about that. She felt safe. It was dark most of the time but by now she had got used to it; moreover, the residents of the balls were there to keep her company.
Josette shook her short black hair; she had a funny gap between her two front teeth and her eyes were the colour of olives. She had a beautiful, short laugh, her mouth wide open and white teeth shining in the darkness of the train berth.
She had done this and that all her life hoping to make some money, but she never finished what she had started, simply moving on to something else.
For less than a year she had been selling smuggled goods together with her sister. Most of the merchandise came from army warehouses from beyond the lakes, from the reservation. She would collect the goods from one of the Ur soldiers and would sell them by the piece. Small pieces of dry mushrooms were in demand as they supressed any twinge of hunger. The soldiers got them as food rations and she sold them as slimming products. The truth is that you went hungry for three or four days and smiled like an idiot all the while. There were no side effects and you lost weight noticeably but they were addictive if you swallowed them one by one.
She had to stop selling them as there had been complaints from women who looked like walking skeletons and the Krabors had already put her under surveillance.
She then started to sell Kemoline pills, which also came from the Urs’ supplies and which were recommended in serious, traumatic injuries to soften and erase such terrible memories. Josette sold those pills also by the piece to wipe out memories and heartaches.
She almost got beaten up by some parents who claimed that their daughters not only cried over the morons they had fallen in love with but they also failed to remember the names of immediate family members.
That is why, she gave it all up and for a few months she lived on what she had managed to accumulate until one day she met the Middle-Aged Lilac. Tall, past his prime, either a mixed breed or the descendant of a degenerate clan from the South since he himself was unaware of his origins and of his relatives. He had approached her directly and the rascal had a voice that hit you right in your ankle and made your hair stand on end from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.
– Good morning, young lady! The weather is bad, it’s raining and it’s cold, I’ve been watching you sitting in this coffee shop run by two hairy earthworms and I’d like to buy you a cup of tea. I know a nice place a block away.
Josette said yes to the invitation without knowing why. She thought the voice in her ankle made her relent, so she followed Lilac. They drank Dimstale tea and smoked Sola.
Lilac looked her in the eyes, touched her thighs, cupped her breasts with uncommon boldness, while Josette was staring at him like a cow, making no gesture and uttering no word. She was absolutely fascinated by his smell, his white skin and his eyes; one look and she was drowning in their depths.
When she went to the toilet she realised that as she had been sitting down in the same posture her buttocks were now square and her pants stuck to her skin, that she merely sipped at her Dimstale tea and that the day was almost over. She could not even remember what they had been talking about…
Lilac took her hand and led her to the small district in the City, to the Bran Poplar Inn, and it was there that it all began. He gave her the first ball and a delivery address. For the first time ever she received so much money, as much as she had earned in six months selling mushrooms and Kemoline. Now she had three balls that had to be delivered when the train stopped next and she would get her money. She could live a year or even more on the money she would make from running these errands.
All she had to do was to deliver the goods correctly and on time and to talk to the minds inside from time to time to make sure they were in good condition.
The train was humming a dull staccato song – clack-clack-clack! getting a long screech of iron scraping iron – choo choo! in reply from the railways, and then it was fading into the night. The berth was an invitation to sleep and it was impossible not to doze off. A thin, frightened voice came from the other ball:
– Time destroys everything.
– What’s wrong? a male voice was heard, sounding rather firm and protective.
– I’ll tell you what’s wrong, the thin voice replied.
– What’s your name?
– What does it matter what our names are as long as we only have our minds? Can this be the afterlife? I thought we’ll go to heaven or to hell immediately, I’ve never thought we’ll travel by train, our souls and our minds in the dark, coping with fear.
– Lady, we’re not dead and this isn’t hell and later on we might wish we had stayed here in the dark, with no body and no work.
– I don’t think anyone would want that. I believe we are in Purgatory, condemned to be tormented, to ponder over the sins we committed and to pray, the woman spoke again.
– Pray, yes, it sounds like a good idea, the man mumbled. I think this is all we have left.
– I don’t know any prayer. And why should I pray? Never in my life have I heard anyone in our clans mention churches and prayers.
– That’s because the first time we had to pay for something we all paid in Humility.
– Have you any idea what Humility is?
– I don’t know, I think I was born without it, the woman answered.
– Humility is the opposite of Pride.
– Are you a priest? the woman inquired in her thin voice.
– No, it was everything the man got to say before they were shaken as if by an earthquake and they could hear Josette’s muffled voice:
– Hey, enough of your confessions! Now go to bed! You’ll talk in the morning, right now I’m sleepy and I want to get some sleep.
–You have been saying that for days, Josette! I must speak to someone in the Agency, tell them what happened, the calm voice said.
– You’ll tell them tomorrow when we get there, Josette went on and shook her head again.
– But I absolutely have to! I know a lot, the man said in a monotone voice, showing no fear but rather a well-grounded insistence.
– Don’t worry, you’ll tell them everything! Josette grumbled and once again shook her head from left to right as if under attack from an ugly fly.
– Josette, don’t sell me! the woman said in a whimpering voice.
– You bet I will. You’re worth some dough, the dealer said, letting a short laugh escape.
– I’ll kick up a fuss, I’ll scream! the voice sounded angry and determined.
– I’ll leave you gasping for air, you, lifeless creature! Keep your trap shut if you plan on staying conscious before the Big Darkness, shut up! the woman uttered what sounded like a sentence, though not a very firm one.
About The Witness Shadow
The Tracus Arte Publishing House
Published in 2015; Reprinted in 2016
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