(“The Hall” – Photos by Joe)
The earliest signs of the change began in an apartment building in Bushwick. I was there with three co-workers, Nester, Edwin, and Kevin–to clean out the basement. Along with piles of junk strewn across the floor, we had to discard the ruined plywood flooring that was laid over two-by-fours and dirt. The landlord told us that the tenants flushed cooking oil down their sinks, and the oil had clogged the main line and overflowed through the basement toilet. Rats hid underneath the plywood floor. Given this type of work, I usually scream like a nut and avoid the rats like they carry the plague. But I was suddenly fearless, if not a bit mad in the head.
All four of us worked together. The others stood back, prying up the boards with long bars, while I yanked at the edges with my hands. I stamped my feet and howled as the vermin, some nearly as big as cats, darted into various nooks and storage areas, or fled up the cellar stairs and through the open doorway, to the backyard.
We were soon joined by one of the tenants, who wore fatigues and polished black boots. He retrieved a BB gun from one of the storage areas. Each time we lifted a board, he leveled the gun and took crack shots at any fleeing vermin.
By lunchtime, it was like I had one foot in Bushwick, and the other on cloud. All I could conclude was that later in the day, something otherworldly lay in my path.
Quite frequently, I sense that I’m headed for a paranormal crossroads. Though that day, the sensations were unlike anything I had ever experienced. In the late afternoon, I felt completely detached from the moment. Time passed like a half-remembered dream.
(My work truck, Brooklyn)
When the landlord paid me in cash, I shoved the money in my pocket like it was mine. It didn’t occur to me to mention the cash to my boss Nick, who had just arrived with the packer truck, and was on the street, crushing the plywood in the hopper, along with the junk we had hauled out of the basement.
I kept the money, not because I planned to steal it, but I needed it for the evening out that I had planned with friends. Over the wail of the truck, I murmured “goodbye” to Nick. He was shifty-eyed, concentrating on the work at hand as I walked off.
I went home, took a shower, then went back out to see the light of early evening was rolling in like fog.
I couldn’t say how I had gotten from my Uptown apartment to the East Midtown bar, though I do remember the clanking sounds of the subway, and the whirr of passing vehicles. Within the fog were bluish imprints that held my interest. Many skirted by like flowing tapestries, looking like people wearing long sheets. Given my state, they could have been ghosts as easily as pedestrians.
I seemingly stepped out of a cloud into the sports bar, Tonic East, on 29th St and 3nd Ave. Every few feet, just above a gathering of heads, was a blur of flat screen TVs. The Yanks/Redsox game played on most of them.
(Tonic East sports bar, Manhattan)
I headed to the bar with little regard for anyone. It seemed by accident that I saw my lady friend(LF). She was in the back with her sister and brother-in-law, along with the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts). When our eyes met, she must have sensed my detachment, thought I was moody, as she looked away without acknowledgement.
I had a pint, then another, and another. I found myself next to my friend Nester from work who talked about the rats. Nester was there with a hot Spanish number. Her ruby red lips were like the brightest light in the place. I couldn’t ignore them.
Other friends approached. I spoke without thought or meeting anyone’s gaze.
I soon realized how acute my sense of smell had become. It was just after LF appeared before me. She kissed me on the lips, and didn’t seem mad that I looked right through her again. I was taken by the scent of her sweat, and then picked up on the acrid alcohol and cigarettes on her breath. I saw the “light of a good time” in her eyes. She pulled my hand to lead me to her table. I let her fingers slip and went into the bathroom. The stench was overwhelming. It was like I was one of the urinals.
I returned to the bar and had another pint. The place blazed with colors. A few stools away, three girls in casual attire seemed like juicy, overripe fruit. One had glittering blonde hair. The light from the TVs exploded upon her. She scrunched her face like she didn’t want to know anyone. Her gaze rarely left her friends. I stepped next to her.
My mouth was moving, and the blonde was laughing. I zeroed in on a flashing, stark-white light inside her chest. Was it her soul…
She was pretty, though her mouth was a tad rectangular, and her skin looked rough under a thick layer of cover-up. She had black eye brows and no sign of dark roots in her hair. I liked how she played with her hair and easily smiled.
I could smell cigarettes, perfume, and the wax scent of her lipstick. I can remember thinking about that time that to see clearly, I somehow had to use my sense of smell.
A man with a salt-n-pepper beard pushed between us. It took a moment to recognize my friend, “Louie trips.”
“What’s going on?” he cried.
I craned my neck to the Yankee game, then remembered LF’s scent. Through the harsh light, I saw she was still in the back with her sister and friends. It was a few seconds before our eyes met. I thought of her sweat and smiled. She looked away. Yet to acknowledge Louie, I pushed him aside, and moved closer to the blonde.
I followed the blonde outside to smoke. Even after she lit up, one smell was overpowering. It was the iron rich scent of blood. I drank in the flavor, and surveyed the blonde’s exposed flesh. I stared so wantonly that it became nearly impossible to see, though when I focused on the blood scent, her neck seemed to rise up to me. I ran my tongue over my teeth. The incisors had become sharper.
With a singular focus on her neck, my head cleared enough so as to let in various voices. Some came from far off places.
I bent to the blonde’s slender neck and inhaled. I could hardly catch my breath. The blonde was in a near stupor, seeming to be under my spell—or the spell that had me, too. I opened my mouth wide.
Just a few feet away someone shrieked. Three figures darted to us. One cried out, “Vampire!” They had wooden spikes in their hands.
To be continued…