by Bettina Borg Cardona
Standing in near pitch-blackness with mouth wide open, feet planted parallel -bare- hands tearing out matted hair at the bloodied roots, she was screaming. He was half jolted out of the narcoleptic stupor into which he found himself falling at intervals, eyes bewildered and bloodshot, veined with desire for even the scarcest moments of uninterrupted sleep. He’d spent the last few days wide-eyed and alone, wandering down endless twisting corridors, climbing staircases that led absolutely nowhere, leaving rooms that he could never again find. The woman was still screaming, clutching at her withered breasts with long, brown talons that tore into the sagging skin, but he found that he merely looked on, unmoved, too exhausted to summon even the least bit of terror.
Two weeks ago, he’d stood outside the wonderful villa – turn of the century, grand, gorgeous architecture, the works – admiring the elegant curves of its ironwork balconies; its intricately sculpted columns and curling staircases a total dream. It didn’t matter now whether he had stood before it as doctor or patient, criminal or madman – whoever he had been, he was no longer. The woman suddenly stopped screaming and opened her eyes, which in the half-light seemed strangely opaque – like fried eggs with no yellow. She lifted one scrawny arm up slowly, and pointed to a dark rectangular shape that was set within the wall. It seemed steadily to grow larger in size, until he found that he was falling through a tunnel of fitful sleep.
When he next awoke, head spinning in a drunken daze, there were voices all about him, echoing as if he might be in a great empty room. One laughed high-pitched hyena cackles, while the other spoke in an earnest monotone, as if confiding in someone she didn’t quite know: “they can smell it you know, right through your clothes. Disgusting. You walk by and you know it’s all they can think about.” The cackling laughter mingled with the monotonous hum, until he realised that there was a piano playing in the room, before an open window that blew sheer curtains into a mad dance of twisting twirls at irregular intervals. The desperate need to escape suddenly came upon him again, as he ran towards the unlocked window. Flying past the enchanted piano, which continued to play a chase of endless scales up and down the keyboard, he became transfixed by the movement of the keys, finding his feet moving involuntarily in perfect unison with the
notes – down, down, down.
He was running down a flight of infinite steps, deeper and deeper into the centre of the house, until he came at last to the bottom, which smelt of damp and rat droppings. He had undoubtedly reached the basement, with nowhere left to turn. The moment of crisis was upon him, it seemed. A thin red light, weaker than the dawn, pierced through the darkness from somewhere indistinctly distant, fanning out into a rectangular doorway. It led into a tiled room, bursting red light like any brothel window. As he stood before it, sickened, a figure came into view, pacing softly across the room. She was beautiful – a tall, elegant woman with long white wings tucked up behind her, bending forward to stare at something indefinite on the wall. At first he thought she might be admiring herself in the mirror that hung there – beautiful as she was – but he realised then that she was following a tiny cockroach, out of boredom or madness, in its slow ascent up the slippery surface. He gasped as the winged being turned slowly towards him, the surprise in her eyes matching his own. As the woman’s face lit up, her wings spread open in a blinding flash, and she stepped forward slowly to embrace him.
Bettina Borg Cardona was born in a tiny flat in Balzan, Malta – a little thing with strange, spiraling hair. When it was found that the hair could no longer be contained, she was moved to a slightly larger house, where she now lives, procrastinating for an M.A. in English and making enjoyably weird sounds on the cello.
Noel Tanti likes to think of himself as a Jack-of-All/Master-of-None. He has painted, sculpted, written, acted, directed, danced and ran 15 miles, with various degrees of success. He showed most promise as a midwife for cats. His ambition is to become the greatest person you’ve never heard of.