#171 (untitled)

It’s the wrong season. 

The Santa Ana winds blow through Las Vegas. It’s spring. They bring rain. Not their usual pattern of dry, autumn heat. 

The wind doesn’t care. 

The morning started off with blue skies and no clouds. A slight chill to the air. 

You could hear the birds sing in relief. The worst was over. 

The night before, the ocean had fallen on the desert. Before the lightning, before the thunder. Rain. Lots of it. 

Enough to make Noah begin a new project. 

But this morning, it was over. Everything seemed fine. 

Normal. 

But the wind had another the plan. 

The Devil’s Wind came howling through the valley. Spirits on horses ride the thunder, lightning crackling beneath their hooves. 

They are coming. 

The ghosts laugh and the new leaves shudder and fall from trees. 

The sky turns black. The air cold. Ice and rain come together. 

It’s a spectral stamped high in the clouds. An army. A war. Death cries and history repeating. 

The West is still wild if you know where to look and how to listen. 

The wind cried then gently died with the last drops of rain. 

The Santa Anas, the Devil’s Wind, blew on towards California. 

Let the City of Angels deal with it. 

Shadowboxing in the Desert

The air has turned cold.
It’s not just a night thing.
It’s been cold all day, and the wind’s not helping.

Las Vegas is known for its big fights. Multi-million dollar punch ups that leave you more than wanting.
Those aren’t real fights.
Sure…the hits are real. But nothing is really at stake.
The winner wins. The loser wins.

Out here…out beyond Blue Diamond, surrounded by red rocks and God knows what kind of poisonous wildlife…if you lose a fight…you lose.

I’ve been out here since sunset and I still flinch every time fists connects with flesh.
The sound of bones crunching makes me sick.
People cheer, though. They cheer and drink and laugh and fight.
Fight.
That’s what it’s all about out here in the canyon.

The ring is crude. Just a circle of rocks with a couple of trash cans on fire to give off some kind of light, making this whole spectacle look more like a witches sabbath from some old shlocky horror movie.

Two young fighters enter the stone circle.
They pop their fingers and their necks. Flex. Putting on a show, trying intimidation techniques they learned from kung-fu movies and pay per view.

Those aren’t fighters. They’re scared. They fight out of fear. They punch first, hoping not to be punched. No fire. No spirit. Just fear.

The old man sitting next to me smiles. A woman sits next to him, rubbing his knee.

When you enter those circles, you must be prepared to die.
It’s the only way to truly win.
They don’t understand it yet.

It’s not really a fight. Not a fight at all.

The young fighters are finished. Both bloody and crying. One being dragged from the circle. The other blind in one eye.

Someone pours gasoline into one of the trash cans and the fire threatens the stars.
The crowd erupts.
The old man stands up and removes his shirt.
He’s full of scars.
The woman takes his shirt and folds it neatly, setting it next to me.
She removes her own shirt, showing a similar patchwork of scars.

They kiss, hold hands, and enter the ring.

No money exchanges hands. Everyone is quiet. Even the fire.
A coyote barks, but stifles it quick with an embarrassed yip.

They stand facing each other, grinning, licking lips and teeth.
No showman ship.
The hair on my arms stands up.

They launch at each other and the crowd gasps.
There’s blood.
Lots of it.
Skin being torn. Bones moved into unnatural shapes.
Muscles strain and pop.
Yet, they laugh.

They grapple. Punch. Kick. She hits him across the face with a rock from the circle.
He falls to his knees and swipes at her stomach with a broken bottle.
Her stomach opens and the blood is so black and moves so slow it looks like tar.

She cradles his face in her hands.
It’s a motherly sentiment, full of love.
She pulls his head to her wound and he kisses the blood.

She looks at me and I throw up.
She breaks his neck.
The fire extinguish themselves.
I don’t know what to do.

The crowd moves as one. Packing into trucks and cars and onto motorcycles.
They don’t turn on their headlights.
They leave.
The wind continues to blow.
I can’t see anything.

She begins to sing. A slow song. There are words, but I don’t understand them. The lyrics sound more like notes, phrases plucked from an antique violin.

The coyote barks again, this time full of confidence, joining in her song.

I can almost make out her shape.
She’s sitting on the ground, holding the old man, a grotesque and violent Pieta.

At least, that’s what I imagine as I walk back down what I hope is the road I took to get here.
The coyote barks again.
Something howls, deeper than the coyote, like it came from when the canyon was just a trickle of thought in the desert landscape. Melancholic. Liberated.

Boneyard Illuminations

The sweat dries on my back, but still puddles under my hat.
Why I decide to wear a suit every day is beyond me.
I blame the movies.

The dame that hired me called and asked to meet here.
I don’t normally go out into the desert until the sun is long gone, but with the kind of money she is paying me, I’d be out here in a snow suit in the middle of July.

Dirt and gravel crunch under my shoes as I wait.
Dead signs surround me, their neon long gone.

A coyote runs across my shadow.
I’m sure somewhere that’s considered bad luck.
Or good luck.
Or nothing at all.

A slight breeze and I catch her perfume.

She’s leaning against an old sign for the Silver Slipper, smoking an expensive and slim cigarette.
The last rays of sunlight catch something in her hand, glinting gun-metal and a warning I should tread carefully.

“You came.”
“Your checkbook beckoned, so I came running.”
“Like a mad dog.”
“That’s what they call me.”

She gestures, the barrel of the gun telling me to sit.
I knew I shouldn’t have worn this suit.
Getting dirty, though, should probably be the last of my worries.

“You’re probably wondering why I asked you here. Or, maybe you’re more focused on the gun. Either way. I hired you to find something out, and you did a fantastic job at that – don’t get me wrong – but, you’re time of employment has come to an end. I’m sure you understand – I can’t let you tell anyone.”
“Hell, if I blabbed all the secrets I know, I wouldn’t still be in business. I take the private in private eye seriously…so how about putting the piece away and letting me walk on out of here. The sunset is perfect for a dramatic exit like that.”

She laughs and it sounds almost as authentic as I thought her tears were when she came into my office that night.

“Oh you silly mad dog. This is life…there are no dramatic exits.”

I hear a click. By the way she turns her head and arches her eyebrows I know it wasn’t her.

The signs come to life, one by one. Neon hissing. Does neon even hiss? First the Silver Slipper behind her, then a leprechaun peeking through an “O”, and on and on down the line until we are bathed in pinks and blues and sickly whites.

Her knuckles turn white as she grips the gun, looking around, her eyes daring me, asking me “what did you do? What did you do?”

“It ain’t me, doll. Maybe it’s the ghosts of signs past coming to get you for what you did.”

Her eyes cast in shadow and she steps forward, holding the gun towards me.

The signs blink out and everything goes dark. Pitch black. Which is strange because in the distance I can still see the sun setting. Not too late for that dramatic exit.

The lights come back on and we are surrounded by long shadows. They whirl around us, stinking of death and dust.
She drops the gun, laughs, and lights another cigarette.
I fail to see what’s funny and remain on the ground.

She looks for something in her handbag. It’s a small bag. Couldn’t even hold a kitten. She sighs and looks back at me.

“Dramatic exit, huh?”
“It’s what the good people would want. You going to let me have my Clint Eastwood moment?”

She nods, the curls in her hair bouncing slightly.
The shadows disappear and the sky is normal again. Normal fluffy clouds and pinks and oranges.

I pull myself off the ground and try to get the dust off. Shouldn’t have worn black. I’ll have to pay to get these pants clean. Hopefully her check has cleared already.

I look at her, then squint at the sun and begin walking back to my car. Sadly, in the opposite direction of the sun set. That’s life, right? No dramatic exits.

I hear the click of her lighter and force myself not to turn around, to hold on to whatever drama can be salvaged.

It wasn’t her lighter.
She gets me right in the middle of the back.
I stumble but keep myself upright.
Another bullet goes into the back of my leg.
Getting harder to walk.
Maybe I should start carrying a gun.

I turn around, squinting at the sun, trying to see her but she’s just a faded shadow periodically torn apart by a muzzle flash.

Her last bullet hits me square in the gut and I drop like a sack of wet cement.

“How’s that for a dramatic exit?”
“As long as I get the last word in, I might be able to make this work.”

She laughs that laugh again and stands over me. Waiting. Watching.
She’s taller than I thought she was.
Behind her the neon graveyard shimmers and blinks.
She walks away from me.
I yell things at her. Louder and louder.

If she doesn’t hear me…does it still count as the last word?

 

The Melody Hotel

In the old part of Las Vegas, if you know where to look, is a particular hotel.
One of those hotels where nobody stays the night.

The stairs are red and probably felt. Candles in gold light your way.

If you know the street, then you know the door. It’s number fifty-six, or seven, or eight…it doesn’t really matter.

Knock once. Then three.
Then ask for the 44 and a silent maid will guide you.

Angels will watch from the ceiling, carved eyes and knowing smiles.

Mirrors on the wall, allowing you to fix your hair, or judge yourself, one last time.

A little melody will pop into your head. You won’t know the song. It never had lyrics, just a simple song that will be with you for days.

IF you’re lucky, the Cleopatra room will be available. All snake venom kisses and dark eyes.

It’s the last remnant of the Las Vegas from the movies. A simulacra of what people think.

Remember, it’s room fifty-six…or seven…or eight.
It’s hard to remember with that melody playing around in your head.

Just follow those red stairs on up…don’t worry, the maid will keep your secret.
I don’t think she can talk anyways.

Behind you, someone new enters. Alone, or even not alone.

The Melody hotel was torn down in 1978, but if you know where to look, know where to knock…you’ll hear that song and be welcomed.

Las Vegas Agitprop

Shirtless, with his bald head reflecting the stars, he dug a hole in the desert.
Shovel in, dirt out.
Over and over and over.

I sensed something wrong…when I walked into the house.
I asked “are you happy to see me?”
I could smell incense. Sandalwood. Something secret.
She was wrapped in silk, as per usual, showing just enough leg and a hint of her breast.
“Very.”
She replied. A cold reply. Like metal in winter.
Something was concealed in her dress.

Shovel in, dirt out. Shovel in, dirt out.

He wore the clothes of a worker, dirty and loose. But his voice was strong as if it belonged on the stage.
He dug his hole.
I’m not sure if he was even speaking to me, to the hole, to anyone.

He chest had a big, red stain on it. It looked like blood.But he seemed to move with ease.

A terrible lie is lava, flowing through and melting the brain.
You can’t hide a corpse.

Into the megaphone…where can I go now? I’m disgraced. I’m dead. Dead…deaD.

His shovel hit a rock and he stopped.
He turned to look at me.
He took some European pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one.

We stood still in the desert, silent, under the moon and surrounded by dirt.

You can never hide a corpse.
I know.
I know that this love is worn out and dull.
I know, for a woman, every man must pay.

He tossed his cigarette and picked up the shovel again.
He pushed the dirt back into the hole. Slowly, methodically.
He smoothed out the ground, erasing all traces of his work.

I sensed something was wrong when I walked into the house…

He mumbled to himself and began to dig in the same spot.
Shovel in, dirt out.
Over and over again.

As I was leaving he yelled after me, pointing to the newly dug hole.

As you can see! Today! With the nails of words…I am nailed to paper!

I left him as he filled the hole back up.
Somewhere a door slams and a gun fires.
A monument.
A funeral.
A hole dug in the desert fifty-three hundred miles away.

 

Fire God

We know it came from the desert.
That’s about it.
It was here before the gambling, the mob, the tourists, the artists…

It might not always have been in its current, physical form.
But, it’s lingered.
In the shadows, behind clouds, flittering inside neon lights.

Some think the shipping containers brought it to surface.

Maybe they triggered memories of a passage taken long ago.

Either way. It’s a giant fucking bug that spits fire.

Flowers decorate the ground in its shadow.
Candles lit, painted saints staring up through the flames.

Stuffed animals.

Small children.

Offerings to the fire-god of this desert oasis.

The flames reach out and people clap, take pictures.
Some scream.

Is it communicating?

Prophecies of some distant land, sand-swept and long gone?

At night, before the moon sets and the stars are brightest, you can hear the metal creaking.
Did its wing just move?
Did a leg twitch?
Is it looking at you?