A Kind of Darkness
by K B Morris
In Mexico, a man notices a woman staring at him in a cafe. After visiting a brothel, the man is kidnapped by thugs and soon finds himself trapped in a storeroom with no obvious means of escape…
That summer was unusually hot and the smell of rotting trash permeated every crevice of the city. Just after sunrise, a smog covered the horizon; pollution from the cars turned the air dark grey and above it all an incensed sun that he held himself back from sparring. He bought a paper from the corner and walked across the road to the café where he ordered his usual eggs on rye.
A woman was in the diner, dark blue-black skin and a green turban. She was in the same place she’d been all week, in the corner by the window making no effort to hide her interest in him. He wondered if he’d fucked her on one of those nights when he was so high and so drunk it felt as though a hole had been punched through the earth’s core. She showed no sign of acknowledgement, just held his gaze with her dark brown eyes.
He gulped the first coffee right down to the grinds and held up his cup for more, ‘Manténlos viniendo’. He nodded his appreciation and caught the server’s sleeve whilst swallowing down the second then set the third in front of him. This was the only place within walking distance with decent air con but it was expensive so it was rarely too crowded, especially at this time of day. He listened to the clickety-clack of the servers, cups on saucers, gentle murmur of voices and read the paper taking nothing in. There was nothing to take in, nothing happened here except killing; people were mad as dogs scrapping over a bone and the maniacs at the top greased the wheels and counted their money. He finished his eggs and pushed away his plate. He didn’t need to look to know that the woman hadn’t taken her eyes off him. He patted his pockets for his cigarettes then swore at the empty packet which he crumpled and dropped on the floor. He called a server over and gave him the money to buy more, the woman was gone as he glanced around.
A communal gasp and the room clattered to an inhalation of silence. The servers crossed themselves and started praying as hail the size of pearls clanked over the metal furniture outside, bouncing off the pavements and hitting the windows like carelessly flung stones. A crack of thunder scattered the onlookers and a ferocious downpour followed that was absorbed into the sidewalk as fast as it fell, creating a gigantic cloud of steam.
The server came back after a while with water running down his face in rivulets and he wondered at the lengths these people would go for a few extra Pesos. He pressed a note into his hand and held his cup out for more coffee which he topped up with Mezcal. He lit a cigarette and went over to the woman’s window seat and there it was, his name scratched into the wood. He traced the markings with his finger and an image came to mind of her carving it into the table whilst watching him. She no doubt carried a knife, they all carried knives the ones that couldn’t afford guns, everyone was packing even tiny kids. He lit another cigarette whilst the first smouldered in the ashtray and pressed the liquor to his lips.
He spent the afternoon in a brothel he went to on days like these when life was folding in on itself. He chose a woman he’d had a few times before though he didn’t know her name. He focused on her smooth olive skin and dark freckles like stepping stones. Her hair smelled of the cheap shampoo all the stores sold but here and now, mingled with her sweat and musk, it was exhilarating. He cupped her large, firm breasts and sunk into her as though this would negate it all, bring it all back to zero and for a few moments it did. They slid around and off each other with the sweat that ran down her spine and he drank it all in with a tightness in his chest while she eyed the clock beside the bed and counted down the minutes. He pulled her face to his and looked into her eyes, large as dimes and saw himself reflected in them, red and bloated. Women had desired him once, women had fought over him.
She sat on the side of the bed, with the kind of indifference that shot rage through his veins, and massaged her foot as though she had a cramp. Her long black hair fell down her back against the ridges of her spine before the curve of her ass large and round as a freshly made doughnut. The sun glared through the thin curtains and he was nauseous with exhaustion. He lit a cigarette and watched her dress through heavy lids. She ran a comb through her hair and made an impatient noise before nudging his foot.
He pulled on his clothes and kissed the top of her head before walking outside into the shimmering heat. It was early evening and his shirt was clinging to his torso before he reached the highway. Unable to flag down a cab, he paused to light a cigarette and a dusty Cadillac pulled up beside him; he couldn’t see who was inside because of the blacked-out windows but no one around here had a car like that unless they were in the business. He sped up and the Cadillac maintained a steady pace alongside him. He casually turned down a narrow side street, immediately realizing his mistake as the car blocked the entrance and the doors opened. He ran to the end of the alley and scrambled over the trash cans as a shadow fell over him; two large men looking bored and sweating through their shirts blocked his way. He stepped out from amongst the black sacks and strode towards them with the same kind of bravado he’d used as his father tapped a belt against his leg, ‘Qué desea usted?’
He came to in the car which reeked of cheap perfume and cigar smoke. He licked dried blood from his lower lip swollen as a dead fly. A man walked past carrying most of a cow on his shoulder; he looked to the other side, saw the tarpaulin-covered market stalls and realised he was in the Mercado Merced district. He thought about smashing the window but knew he would only break his arm against bulletproof glass. He was considering hot wiring the car when the door opened and he fell onto a protruding belly. Feigning unconsciousness he was hauled out of the car, his feet landing on the concrete with a thump that jarred his spine. The smell of fresh mango from a nearby smoothie stall as he was pulled through the narrow passages, people moving around and back again like ants. He knew it would be useless to try and remember the route as the place was so big even locals got lost. He closed his eyes whilst he was hauled deeper and deeper in until he was dumped on the floor of a small dark room like a sack of oats. The door slammed shut and a bolt drawn. He pressed his ear against the door but all he could hear was a man talking to a woman in a murmur of Spanish so rapid he had no chance of understanding.
He took a cigarette out of the crumpled packet and as he lit it saw that he was in some kind of storeroom. Keeping his thumb on the gas he looked over the shelves – rows of Santa Muerte statues, packs of Tarot cards, candles and bottles of tinctures told him that he was in the Mercado Sonora district and his throat constricted. It was full of Brujería or witchcraft and reeked of desperation. The fallen came here, the lost, the empty, trying to regain something of themselves or snatch the souls of those who had wronged them. It was both a theme park of love spells and parlour tricks and a deadly serious place to enact vengeance and murder. They slaughtered animals here, tore out tongues and stuck nails in them. They put parts of bodies, teeth, tips of ears, saliva and piss into tinctures and candles. They made concoctions of herbs and gave them to people to drink to have power over another’s will. He wasn’t superstitious and he could have sworn he’d played cards with the anti-Christ but the idea of voodoo had always scared the bejesus out of him and he’d stayed well away.
He ground out the cigarette. The room was growing hotter as though he was inside a sealed-up horno. He crawled over to the door and peered through the gap but all he could see was a pair of feet in sandals with silver nail polish on the toes. He leaned back against the wall and pulled out the quart bottle of Mezcal and, as he put it to his lips, realised his jaw was broken. He leapt back to his place as he heard the bolt being drawn back. A light came on accompanied by the same cloying perfume he’d smelled in the car and in walked the woman in the green turban. She ran a long fingernail from his temple to his chin then turned his face from side to side carefully examining him. She murmured something he couldn’t make out and stood up. He watched through his lashes as she moved towards the goods on the shelves, picked out a few items, clicked off the light and locked the door. A smell of burning herbs soon filtered down under the door and he vomited into the darkness.
He awoke with the electric bulb above his head emanating the smell of hot dust. ‘Come on. I know you are awake.’ He blinked and looked up, taking a while to adjust to the light. The woman clicked her fingers, ‘Get up.’ He struggled to his feet, ‘Turn around.’ He turned slowly, ‘That is fine you can stop.’ She spoke English with a French accent, ‘Take off your shirt.’ As he unbuttoned his shirt, she stood very close and he heard saliva on her tongue as she talked, hot breath on his face, her heat on his bare skin. Her breasts brushed against him as she ran the flat of her palms over his shoulders, slid them down his arms and rested them gently on his sticky palms like a satiated lover. She moved down his chest and stomach with her knuckles whilst chanting under her breath. She spun him around and felt down his spine to his lower back, pressed her thumbs into his kidneys, his intestines and other organs, her breath ragged and gasping. His body was numb and went limp as though he’d been deboned and without missing a beat the woman caught him easily and set him back up on his feet like a skittle. She pulled a knife with an intricately carved handle out of her hip pocket and marked him with quick precise cuts that he felt without pain and once she had finished he knew they were bonded somehow.
Looking at him directly in the eye she moved her hand to his crotch. She pressed her fingers around his erection then slid along his scrotum and loosely held his balls through his jeans, her breasts pushed up against his chest. He stared down at her face covered in a film of sweat, nostrils flaring, and flat yellow teeth before she abruptly turned and left the room. He slumped to the floor as though she’d been keeping him upright through force of will, she returned moments later carrying a tray that she placed at his feet. She stood at the entrance and said, ‘You can relax for a while,’ before throwing a pack of smokes into the room and locking the door.
His body tingled all over as though it had suddenly come to life, sparking with pins and needles. He drifted in and out of consciousness and when he came around sometime later, his strength had returned a little. He unwrapped the cigarettes and tapped one into his mouth. He lit it and pulled the tray towards him; it contained a tall glass of cloudy lemonade and a couple of tamales on a paper plate. He gulped down the lemonade, placed the glass on the tray and stood up but his head spun and he was forced to the floor.
He pulled on the cigarette and sat back against the wall gasping for breath. He tore at his shirt before realising he hadn’t replaced it. He tried pulling at the door and calling out for help but no one could hear him above the noise and his arms were rubbery and useless. He realised he hadn’t eaten since breakfast which seemed like a very long time ago and crouched down by the tray; he picked up one of the tamales, peeled away the corn husk and wolfed it down in two bites. It was cold and he couldn’t tell what the filling was, some kind of generic meat, probably bought from one of the market stalls.
He grabbed the other one and finished it in a few seconds, then realised why he was so hot; this was the longest he’d been without a drink in a very long time, so long that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been sober, probably when he was a kid. He smiled and wiped his face with the back of his hand. He shoved the tray away with his foot and lit a cigarette, inhaling deep into his lungs, he exhaled and watched the smoke curl around the light bulb and form a face. It looked just like his father’s, his drunken, red-faced, sadistic father who he hadn’t seen for twenty years. The face came up close and leered at him, peeled him back into micro-thin layers and excavated the depths of him, hacking at years of hardened strata. He heard a noise that made the door rattle, that hurt his ears, that he could hear through his hands and realised he was screaming. His father’s blistering judgement scraped away at him, taking off the uppermost layer of skin and when he looked down there was nothing but blood and bone. His father had always acted as a yardstick because no matter what he did he could never out bastard him, the black-hearted sonofabitch who only smiled when he’d made you cry. He’d put a pillow over his head to muffle the sound of his father beating his mother night after night and in the morning pretended he couldn’t see the cuts and bruises. He’d discovered girls and booze and left home without a backward glance leaving her to her fate.
He writhed on the concrete floor covered in sweat and felt his father inside his body, in there, in amongst his organs, grasping at his heart which beat louder and faster and coloured dots appeared and merged before his eyes. And there they all were, all the whores he’d fucked, clawing at him, gnawing on him; a feast of rats. And there she was where she’d always been, where she always was in a clean white cotton shirt and blue jeans, hair the colour of hay, blinking up at the afternoon sun. Cindy his first love, his only love, seventeen years old and he’d made sure he’d fucked her up because that’s life; fat, hot tears that she’d tried to hide, blinked and turned away. Couldn’t think, shouldn’t think, push her face away, away, away, far away.
He clutched at his chest; he needed a drink, he needed a smoke, he crawled around looking for the cigarette packet and suddenly he couldn’t let go because if he let go he was going to fall down the side of a very steep mountain. Frozen he clung to the concrete and howled like a sick dog. A wet patch spread over his jeans, hot urine in a puddle on the dusty floor. He clawed up the wall to his feet, gathered the last of his strength, took a running jump at the door and found himself blinking on the ground, people gathered around and he was hauled to his feet. Green faces, red faces, distorted faces, tongues and eyeballs merging into grotesque human caricatures as he pushed his way through the crowd. A woman followed for a while waving her arms and shouting but he soon lost her. He staggered through the narrow alleys full of fruit, vegetables, taco stalls, herbs and spices, cheap Chinese exports, toys, hats. Music, different kinds of music throbbing in his ears. He stumbled into people and was pushed aside, fists waved in his face.
He was finally free, outside in the sultry air of the early morning, the coolest he’d been in a long time. He fell to his knees and hacked out rending sobs that hurt his ribs and made his stomach ache. He looked up at the night sky undulating like giant waves and the stars calm as fish. He couldn’t go back to his apartment as they’d be waiting for him there. He patted his pockets for a cigarette and realised he had nothing on him, no wallet, no cigarettes, no ID, no booze. He was around the back of the market amongst the detritus; cats picking through the scraps. He stood on the edge of the dirt road that led back into town, turned left and started walking. The sun cast a coral light across the darkness; it was going to be another hot day.