Log off, shut down.
How is it possible that it's 11 o'clock?
Lights out. These terrible fluorescent lights. All day, all evening. The feeling lingers on the skin afterwards. Unhealthy.
The long walk out. Office to the left, empty. Big window on the right looking down onto the facility floor.
Dark down there. Up here, more of those fluoro lights, one after another, steady pulse, like driving a car - the "cat's eyes" on a dark road, the overhead lamps.
Door release. Elevator. Another door release. Deserted lobby. Footsteps on the hard floor. Picture window, glass door, orange sodium lights of the carpark.
Warm night air.
Dead pigeon on the asphalt beside door. Blinking. Nudging it with a foot.
What's that supposed to do, bring it back to life?
Tired. Warm night. Car park, mostly empty. Three or four cars, and there's the Audi, lonely out there on the far side. Footsteps, heels sharp against asphalt. Slight breeze. Black shape - security guard, walking along the side of the facility. Hand lifted in acknowledgement.
'Night,' he says.
Stating the obvious.
Pausing for a second once the door's unlocked. So tired. A tired pause. There's the moon, full moon tonight. Or not quite. Almost.
Voice on the radio. 'Not immediately apparent,' it says. 'Whatever relevance, whether any of it is in fact relevant.'
Streetlights, a steady pulse. Wall on the left, screening out the other plants, the other facilities. A slope on the right, down to the train tracks, the desert. Rocks and plants scattered around down there.
Graffiti on the wall, vivid pink: "ASHNOPI".
'Obviously have a better picture as it plays out,' says the voice.
'Ashnopi,' he says. Trying out the sound of the word.
He notices something out of the corner of his eye - a train, down there in the valley, coming up from behind. Lights at the front, big ugly bull of a locomotive, then car after car after car after car, rolling out beneath the almost-full moon. Beautiful sight.
Thinks about the train, those cars. Thinks about tramps maybe riding in the cars. A young guy, runaway, looking up at the moon. What the hell, give him a musical instrument, a guitar. No. A trumpet. A muffled trumpet.
Eyes back on the road, but shooting glances down at the train. A rush of feeling, thinking about that kid. The melody he's playing out over the train's percussion. Excited, wistful, jealous. You could do anything with that freedom. You could do anything. Just your instrument, a little money, half a pack of cigarettes. Maybe a girl somewhere, or maybe that's too much. The girl would weigh it down, he thinks. Okay, so there's a girl but maybe things didn't work out between you, you needed time to think, get out into the open spaces.
Christ, so fucking tired.
There it goes. The tracks veer away from the highway as they reach the outskirts together.
The highway carries on to the left of the residential zone, runs close beside it, there are exit ramps and entry ramps connecting it like veins.
The car goes left, follows the grey bloodstream.
The train rolls right, into a wide shallow valley. Surburbs sprawling away on the left, some more off on the other side, further away. The valley and the tracks rolling like a wide river between them, a continuation of the desert which spreads out on all sides of the little streets and houses.
Any big space will give you a spooky feeling after dark. The desert, the ocean. Outer space.
Locomotive pushing forward like an angry jaw. Yellow and black stripes on its face. Huge lamps, loud white light. ROARING. The engine, the wheels against the tracks.
There is a car with its door hanging open.
A broken latch. Momentum tugging at the door, a little further aside, hour after hour, wind and motion shifting the cargo inside. Inch by inch, until this, a crate falls out. Crate slipping out of the train as it rolls through the valley. Tumbling out. Hitting the ground, rolling, smashing to pieces.
The train rolling on. Regardless.
Clattering, shaking. Car after car. Car after car. The broken crate beside the tracks. The wood shifting, pushed from inside. Clattering. Car after car. Gentle pushing, edging the splinters away. Creating a gap. Large enough. Clattering, shaking. A feeler emerging, testing. A tendril. Probing the dry earth. Moist, dark.
The black clay.
Car after car. Car after car.
So fucking long, the train. Always like this.
The locomotive already out of sight to the right of her, what is that, North, and to her left you still can't see the end of it, it's like a wall running along the valley, "a wall between them", her place and his, and that's perfect actually. That says it all, right there.
Tilting the wine glass up to her lips, except it's empty.
Walking back from the picture window to the table, the bottle. A refill. Warmer than the last glass, the flavour not as sharp, sweeter now. Sickly sweet. Like rotting flowers - HAH.
The next song starting. Track list on the back of the case, listening, pacing.
Was it this one? The woman starts singing again.
She sings: 'I'll remember FOR you'.
And: 'can't take it away'. Was it this one?
Pacing. Clock on the shelf. How is it possible it's 11:30?
Here we go, yes, it's this one. She's singing: 'Everything you've done, everything'. YES. That's it. Tipping the glass to her lips, filling her mouth with rotten sweetness.
The woman sings: 'the things you say / you're a fucking liar'.
Nodding, swallowing the wine. Exactly, yes. Thank God for this woman, the singer. She's a genius. That's exactly it, EXACTLY the feeling. Nodding, listening, pacing.
Wheels turning fast, round and round. Heat and momentum. Another refill, last of the bottle.
Song finishing. Walking over to the player, stopping it.
Thinks about playing it again. No. Or about calling him. What's the time? 11:33. Looks out at the valley. The train's gone. Just the streetlamps on the other side of the valley, lights in some of the houses. Yeah, some of those houses with the lights still on.
Ought to be able to tell which one is his, see if the lights are on, but the wheels turning fast and fuck it, if he's asleep she'll wake him, he fucking deserves it. Standing still for a moment, middle of the room. Are we doing this? Blue light from the fish tank. Hypnotised for a moment, watching them drift back and forth.
These god damned fish, she thinks.
She reaches for the phone, punches the speed dial. Back to the window.
A second of silence, as the call is relayed through dozens of miles of fibre optic cable, then routed back to the other side of the valley. Then a steady pulse in her ear, the phone ringing on his side.
The black clay has pulled itself free from the wreckage of the crate. It lies inert in the dust, as if exhausted.
She squints, half-expecting to see a light come on in one of those houses.
Phone ringing in his kitchen. Small, shrill sound.
The dog rises from its place by the front door, pads over and stands in the kitchen doorway. It watches, quiet and misrable, as the phone on the kitchen counter continues its unpleasant screeching.
She waits. Pulse after pulse, then a click. Teeth clenching. His answering machine message.
After the ringing, the familiar silence as the answering machine plays its greeting.
The dog stands watching.
There is a piercing beep. Then a loud metallic voice says:
'Are you there?'
The dog watches, does not answer.
'Pick up if you're there.'
Standing at the glass, looking out, watching for a light to come on.
Lying in the dust, gazing eyelessly up at the stars. Listening.
'You better pick up if you're there.'
'Yeah, I guess not. Well it's eleven thirty, and I guess you're so fucking choked up about things you've gone out to a party, or you're sleeping with someone.'
Lights outside, through the curtains. The sound of a motor. The dog turns, whines, it's deep melancholy lit by painful flickers of hope.
'Which would be quick, but not a surprise.'
Another twitch, the clay rolls over onto what might be its belly.
The dog walks to the door, listens excitedly. The engine dies, the lights die.
'You fucking tryhard. At your age. Not so young anymore are ya? No, well neither of us are too young anymore.'
It shudders. New extrusions, new limbs sprout from its sides.
'Thanks for that, by the way. Wasting FOUR YEARS of my FUCKING LIFE, with your FUCKING USELESS LIES-'
The click of a door opening, the thump of it closing. Footsteps. The metallic rustle of keys.
'-BALD sack of SHIT can't even get it UP don't know why I'm calling NOT WORTH THE FUCKING EFFORT I hope you're DEAD in a DITCH, I bet that's why you're not answering, you're fucking DEAD.'
The black clay turns itself, eyeless, up towards the moon, and out towards the houses on either side.
'I hope you are.
'I really hope you are.'
She hangs up.
The door opens.
The answering machine falls silent.
The clay takes its bearings. It quivers. Then at once it moves, pulling itself across the valley at terrifying speed.
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