The hill, like a fur cap plaited from the tendons of a giant, murmured in protest through the whispered thrill of the wind towards the one who plagued him with the burden of the hollow trees, ever so bent from the passage of time to its own soil.
An apocalyptic burp cast away the musings of the poor wooded Atlas. The priest threw his head to the right with such violence that he had the impression he broke the joint. He saw little green stars anyway and what with the pain or the nerves, he shouted to the fellow who was guilty of the vitiated atmosphere:
”How long since you last washed your sinkhole, you fucking moron? Move your fucking corpse and control yourself, or I’ll smack you like no other!”
He grabbed the arm of his rampant cousin who was sniggering not in the least bothered by the admonition and set off on the stony road that hurled itself panting through the young beeches, seldom in a straight line, as if the man who first cut the way was drunker than a whiskey distiller.
At some point, the priest stopped, spat arduously and kicked his relative in the ass:
„Will you move already, you devil, I’m dying of thirst, why do you stare like the holy apostles at the incense?”
The addressee sneered, trying to gather with his tongue the phlegm that trickled down his chin. He obeyed the command and quickened his pace. He looked like a stork hit by an offensive grenade: six feet tall, skinny, ruby conk like a ripe beetroot.
In the distance, still small, The Gulch looked like the goatee of a grumpy old man.
The priest awoke early in the morning invigorated, thrilled by creative joys and a keen wish to sing and imitate all the party songs he learned in his twenty years of activity. Just as he processed deftly his tie knot, his personal auntie slipped into the living-room, blinking unstoppably his little, devilish eyes of a porcupine. Seeing the omen apparition, his face darkened all at once and his cheerfulness vanished in a second. He addressed her as grossly as he could:
„What the fuck do you want?”
„Oh dear me, my nephew, is it possible that you may have no trace of respect in you and talk like this to a lady?”
„Cut the bullshit and tell me why you came. You’ve got three seconds, then I’ll kick you out.”
„There is absolutely necessary to attend the meeting at the city hall about the retrocessions, and I wanted to ask you, maybe you go against your mind and take Titișor–”
„Go fuck your Titișor! I told you countless times to admit him to the psychiatry hospital, into the ward of the morose and shaken. Why the fuck, God forgive and fuck me, you never listen to good advice? You knew how to put him to a handicapped person pension to have some extra income to suck on, but you couldn’t even buy this damned thing an ointment for his crab lice! They set up colony even on his eyebrows. He stinks like a leavened shit and no Satan would seek shelter into his mouth! Go and fucking wash this ugliness or hire somebody to do it, I know you have the money! And now what do you want from me? Take him with you at the city hall, maybe they’ll faint or get dizzy and sign the papers for some chunk of land!”
When the priest got really mad, his face turned bluish, his goatee bristled and the caruncle at the bridge of his nose became cherry-red. His auntie – much too accustomed to the whirlwinds of his stubborn nephew – charged him in a litlle voice that swayed between annoyance, pathos and spirit of self-sacrifice:
„There’s no point, dear nephew, in playing with your feelings, nor to remind your christian duties or those to your sole family at the moment. But, knowing you a lover of wealth, by all means, willing to receive what once belonged to our family–”
„–that you haven’t put your paws on yet!”
„Overlooking this slander, I would kindly ask you to let me finish. I discovered in the attic some documents that attest the fact that our family was the owner of those three plum orchards and twenty hectares of land in The Black Valley. That’s why I must go to the city hall, my dear. Once there, I’ll take care of everything. My authority is of notoriety, as you well know…”
„Your cunt is, rather…”
„Nephew, I haven’t underlined the main point. If you’ll allow and sacrifice a few hours, maybe a day, to be with Titișor, I’ll make you the owner of the orchards. Three of them, each with two thousands fruit-bearing plum trees…think of the benefits…”
The harsh nerves of the priest alleviated and the man started to size up the offer. It seemed more than tempting.
„Though I don’t trust you no more than a catholic priest, I don’t, I think you can’t afford to stiff me, from reasons you very well know. Alright, I agree, particularly that today I’m not going there to sing for money, I go to have fun and see if One-Eyed can suggest to me a nice girl. I wanna get married.”
The aunt chortled like a ruddy virgin seeing a dong.
„Get married my ass…with a nice girl…that’s real bullshit…”
„Why do you babble like a plum fallen into a cow’s ass? What’s so funny? You’ll see, you old whore, you! Enough now, chop-chop, bring that straddling worm and tonight I wanna see the title deed or I’ll sew your authority!”
After half an hour, when the priest just managed to button up his jacket (slightly worried by his belly that threatened to puff out and destroy the harmony of his body, muscular and well-tended otherwise), his aunt showed up, holding piously by the hand his offspring who sneered and drooled, sucking the drivel and smacking his stinky tongue. The priest watched them with unfeigned disgust. The effect of this dismal view was alleviated a little by the mental image of hundreds and thousands of gallons of whiskey.
They neared the forest, they were already on the crest of the old hill and the sunlight faded as the darkness from the shadows cast by the trees stretched onto the ground that was cracked from the fierceness of the heat that lingered there for three weeks now; the track melted at some point into the twilight of the cloak cast by the oaks, arousing twisted, unpleasant thoughts into the priest mind. Like some biblical locusts, cold feelings and unfettered thrills bit the cheerfulness of the priest, chasing it away.
Threatening shadows crawled around the trees. Into the deep, towards the heart of the woods, it was dark. Thick and gloomy, like a mad mist that chuckled with hate toward the light.
The resounding and foul fart of his cousin cleared away any anguish into a rotten symphony of most sickly smells.
„Oh, you infamous moron, what’s this smell, I’m going to puke, you nitwit, you can’t even control your discharges, maybe I’ll stick a cob up your stinky hole!”
The lanky man threw him a gentle stare of a newborn calf. On his pubescent beard, full of reddish ladybugs, the drivel started to amass, ready to attack. He sipped them tenderly.
„We’re here, hee, hee, you don’t have to treat your cousin bad, no…”
The priest pulled himself together and looked around realizing the retarded scumbag was right.
They got somehow over the last mile even if – apart from an unreasonable fright – he couldn’t remember how. It seemed as if they had flown. Or teleported, like in the movies. The priest was admiring The Gulch with the same envy he felt each time, a silent envy without bad repercussions that thinned with the first glass, making room for joy and a real feeling of friendship he felt toward the owner of the joint.
As it was Wednesday and not yet four o’clock, the parking lot was empty, apart from a solitary bicycle on whose handles someone clung in mute despair a raffia bag that left to guessing some cans, an oil bottle and a big bread, all belonging without a doubt to some redneck sent over to the food store and who now settled the matter with the remainder of his money on a few shots.
A hopping delight enveloped him. He heard a hiss and remembered he was not alone. He turned around with his fist high, toward the lanky guy:
„Considering I’m buying the drinks – like I did each and every time for the last five million years because the cunt of your mother ignores the practical aspect of the support idea – don’t you ever make some characteristic idiocy of yours. And remember and beware: today, we don’t assault peaceful old men, don’t open accounts by pawning the grandma, don’t piss or shit into the sink, and, most of all, don’t call the barmaid names like ‘shaved beaver’ or ‘mother of sucking’.”
The admonished man teetered his head a few times as token of understanding and sneered. The Gulch – set up after the Revolution within some precarious legality, as many underground businesses in the ceaselessly-ingenious rural environment – was the initiative of a distiller from Streiu Silvaniei and became famous shortly within the range of seven counties due to the culinary trait and true entertainment generously offered at astronomical prices to people who could afford them and primarily felt the need of a leisure place where, besides exotism, they could have the warranty of discretion. No doubt that to the last illiterate redneck, everyone knew that the gentlemen from town partook of debaucheries into the bar of One-Eyed, the same as the ranger knew of the poaching in the area that catered the game for the joint. A cautious boy, the owner set up – helped by some ex-employee of Secret Police – a videocamera into one of the walls of the main hall, taping conscientiously the rednecks groping the girls, sticking their tongue or dong into the mouth of the hookers booked specifically for this purpose or other activities with rural-erotica profile. Due to this precaution, the verbosity particular to village people turned into a solemn vow of silence. The fear of their spouses and the complications some disclosures would have brought about, shaking their stability as kulaks again, made those who indulged into the carnal delights offered by One-Eyed to mind away their relaxation moments without too much random talk.
The faultfinders and the tattlers who blabbered alcoholic scenarios throughout the bars of the competition, raving about the terrible things that happened at One-Eyed’s, were treated with the proper despise or a plus of deference through free drinks offered by the bosses tied, one way or another, to those who run The Gulch. When the local authorities – usually during electoral campaigns – solemnly announced wipe-out acts toward economic crime by making frantic raids throughout the hovels in the village and confusing the poor entrepreneurs with tee-hee penalties, the private businesses from Streiu Silvaniei turned to One-Eyed.
The distinguished officials from the Financial Guard and the potbellied from the Economic Crime police were invited to make a detour first at The Gulch, to replenish their bodily energies. As he was texted on his cellphone about the arrival of the honorable guests, One-Eyed threw out those who dawdled away their time, then made the place spick and span helped by his two hoodlums who were also bouncers there, fixed the guest rooms that were in some adjacent building and ordered by phone a dozen of stylish hookers from town. Once he finished all these, he locked himself up in the kitchen together with his expert in gastronomy brought from Ukraine and settled the matter of the menu list.
The self-important and imposing officials showed up in their black Mercedeses, explaining that they were gonna stay only for a snack as their schedule was extremely busy and, maybe, they’d return in the evening for supper. „No problem, dear gentlemen, just come inside for a bite and a drink, I won’t have it, you know, a twenty-year old whiskey goes along well with some deer pastrami, don’t it? Obviously, the drinks multiplied, triggered by the diaphanous entry of town divas, very naked and very eager to un-knit the brows of the bigwigs that were on duty. If the girls would show up in the morning, by the evening fall the exhausted emeriti were snoring already into the arms of the gals, dreaming they were driving their Mercedeses – receipt-book in one hand –, and barging in like barbarians over those poor little entrepreneurs, shouting savagely the omen word: „Civil fiiiiiine!”
One-Eyed made a fortune off those interventions, strengthening the bonds with the institutions that generally were a pain in the ass for the entrepreneurs.
The first room, eight tables and the counter, had some familiar figures. In a corner, admiring a little red ball, freshly extricated from his nostril and munching on something (probably a piece of bread, as bonus from One-Eyed) was Ducu, one of the top alcoholics in the village, unshaven from at least three weeks with his clothes crusted in dry mud. Ducu was an interior designer and had many projects due to his conscientious apprentices he kept close and who worked hard under the blurred monitoring of the master. He was mad about cunt, but, though he made nice money to afford some stylish whore from town, the girls refused to sleep with him, even under the threat of a beating, as the whole county knew him to wash only once a year and, even then, in a medieval way, throwing himself fully dressed into the river.
At a nearby table, rolling his eyes and sticking once in a while his hand into his long bleached hair, was the village lover, famous womanizer and a competitor of the priest in the field of party music. The Maltese was displaying his permanent black leather trench-coat, his flowery shirt, the three heavy rings with rubies and a huge golden cross swinging on his hairy chest like a lonely bell-wether into the wind. On his bony figure you could read a slight alcoholic euphoria and, mostly, a desire originating in his loins. He was happily sneering towards the barmaid, giving her signs – from his romantic way of pouting his thick lips like two earthworms – that he would be willing to stick inside her his terrible creative dong.
The girl, a gorgeous apparition from the category ‘Look, but don’t touch if you’re a boor’, smiled at him within the limits imposed by the policy of good western manners in treating clients implemented by One-Eyed after his vacation in Austria. You could see without too much effort that the kiss-blows of The Maltese only made her laugh.
Reeking of manure, the village cowherds was talking furiously about the new elections, throwing shit at the liberal candidate. On the table glimmered some whiskey bottles, a jar of mustard and two plates full of sausages. The `herders’ were drinking straight from the bottles, dipped the sausage into the mustard with their hands and munched without prejudices, smacking and belching at times. The priest cast a look full of despise to all gathered there and nudged his cousin to a table, as the latter stared at the barmaid, murmuring obscenities.
„Get on that table or I’ll smack you!”
One-Eyed got out from the kitchen, with an apron draped around his round belly, giving off joy and well-cooked food. He slumped into a chair as an ogre immemorial:
„Our minstrel! What a fucking pleasant surprise! I need you like air next week! Angelica, my little soul, hurry up to the kitchen and bring some pastrami from the pantry reserved for the bigwigs, then ask Volodea to fry some boar meat and make on the double his anti-hangover sauce. Then bring to daddy a jar of pickled mushrooms and two pints of whiskey for starters, cause I’m not with cirrhosis or something!
„Cirrhosis in your ass, fuck you on the Epiphany Day,” cut in candidly the retarded cousin, cawing and puffing.
Before the priest – who smacked his relative on his beetroot head – could ask for details about the needs of the One-Eyed, the latter attacked another subject, suddenly morose:
„Strange things started to happen around here, my man…”
„Yes,” One-Eyed nodded sadly. „A week ago – how the hell did you missed it on the news? – they found some villager dead as a doorknob, by the forest, near the swamp. The man was out for wood, pulling his cart. They discovered his axe more than a mile from the place of death. That’s the first mess. The second stinky one was that, after investigation, the dicks from the Criminology saw that the poor guy croaked of fear. He wasn’t hit or injured. He peed on himself, one of the investigators told me in private. And he was holding a black rose in his right hand!”
„A black rose? In a forest?”
„Black as black can be. Black as a hellhole…”
They were silent. Ice flakes started to roil the priest.
A joyful place where people eager to relax ventured – after a week of stress at the office and driving cars – to spend a few hours of natural pleasures into the round glade, along with the family, the skewers and bottles of beer, the thickets where the mushroom gatherers lived in a frenzy filling their bags, the place where young couples merged their sweat on the hills, mountains or peaks of pleasure… the place where the zombies were banished by the sweep of the civilization… the place where the omens came back…
…from that neverending deep dipped into darkness.
„What happened in the end?”
„Nothing… total mystery, closed case.”
„Hey, One-Eyed… let’s change the subject.”
„Perfect. Here’s the deal. Next week, some bunch of imbeciles from the Financial Department will throw a birthday party for their boss or something. On the whole, there would be no problem. Drinks from the cellar, game meals and the proper girls. The thing is that those stiffs want live music with lyrics from the category ‘doggy-style, in the ass and mouth’. And the fucking problem is that the feted person heard those at some wedding. As such, he insisted loud and clear that if you don’t show up, he’ll stamp on my forehead the following words: tax evasion, bankruptcy, trial, the slammer… so, you understand. The fee will be accordingly, I can assure you of that… Euros, tax free.”
The priest sneered. He pictured rosy dreams in his mind while One-Eyed explained to the barmaid what else to order for lunch from Volodea.
„Then take a shower, sweetie.”
The girl jeered whole-mouthedly at the priest. She got the hint.
The priest snapped out of the erotic exhaustion sleep, awoken by apocalyptical screams. Coming from the barn. He dressed in a hurry, through barks and roars, and dashed outside, full of forebodings. He recognized the whining of his cousin. The cousin, who was now receiving open-handed blows from One-Eyed.
„For Chrissake, what the hell?” the priest shouted astoundingly.
„He tried to fuck my bitch, this mental case,” shouted One-Eyed, in a rage.
„Stop his fucking bleeding, or he’ll die and I’ll be damned!”
Calmer now, One-Eyed tore the shirt of the cousin and tried to improvise a tourniquet.
„I’m sorry, I should’ve found him a cheap whore to fuck him, God forgive me, for if he came to fucking bitches, hell knows what he will do next.”
„You’d better shoot him, he is worthless,” said the boss with a look of pity and disgust. And I would ask you not to forget what I asked of you. You leave this one home, or we’ll break the friendship, do you hear me?”
The priest swore on his holy cross. They hug when they parted.
The creatures flocked at the gates of dementia, smacking their lips, athirst of the life they were about to ripped apart from the light to sink it forever into the depths of hell…
Ilona closed the book. The answer to his innate sensibility wasn’t at all this book giving off a cemetery whiff, a book she lent from the library. She’ll get back to romance, to the events that – although didn’t take place every time in real and coarse life – had the peerless gift to charm her soul. The boy and the girl were about to arrive, along with their families. The festive preparations started in the morning. An hour ago, she decided to rest a little and opened the book, then gave up after a few tens of pages. A rebellious bud of discomfort was ready to bloom into her soul. It was related to the gruesome story she just read. The visceral and somewhat redeeming unnaturalness of some living dead getting ready to destroy a neat and peaceful universe amplified a deep and extremely sturdy anguish…
Death… ressurection… divine justice… rebirth… haunting… semblance… yes, semblant… feeling of Sunday… the deodorant for church, suffusing her every time she watched the icons… the Child, the Virgin Mary… The Savior in his plenary and obsolete sufferance… various saints…
Beyond colors, piousness, and such an old story, there was something else, less sacred but equally infinite in his demential power, that blared the dawn of another justice…
A stiff and soaked pantheism screwed itself into her mind. Everywhere, all over the place, haunting…
Waiting its first victim…
A cold wave of darkness hit her, shaking her all over. From the outside, from that all-present universal…
She heard from the living-room a few thumps and wails, accompanied by the eternal ‘Holy Mother’. She grabbed his head. Her mother, an old hag, one-legged and slightly one-eyed, was whining since this morning, begging her to let her attend somehow the happy moment of the family reunion. Tired of whinings, stories about cemeteries and the holy demise, stubbornly repeated between hiccups, Ilona finally relented, saving for herself those fears about the flat deep plates, not so interested in dancing to the song ‘how bad my hand is shaking’.
The expected event had taken place. The old hag tripped on the threshold and dropped heavily the soup plates.
„Come, mother, get some rest, I’ll do the rest of the job.”
Fearing an admonition for the blunder she made, the old hag vanished with an unexpected speed into her room, throwing Jesuses along the hall. Ilona hastily took care of the shards, deftly arranged the table in a most inviting way possible, scattering strategically the bottles of whiskey and wine flasks. Out in the courtyard, those three mutts yelped in delight at the arrival of the first guests. Joyous, she rose to greet them.
In the morning at nine, the house resounded with snores. The old hag had woken up, but for reasons of intrusion, she kept to her room. She was watching out the window, wondering if the sun shines so cheerfully in the cemetery, too. Ilona, wakened by the rooster crowing at six, decided to take a stroll through the woods. He dressed in a sports suit, rummaged her room for a wicker basket and slipped away.
The town was deserted. He crossed the square and started the climb up the road that doglegged around the stadium. There, the forest stretched away. Shy shadows bonded with sunbeams, the shining residues that hugged the thick statue-like treetrunks that swayed their leaf voices urged by the wind, a novice and bashful conductor. Ilona was about to pick up a boletus when she felt the first sign of alarm. Silence.
In front of her, the glade was waltzing to the tempo imposed by the black roses. Countless, shaking gently their petals in a pious bow, foreseeing the stately entrance of the king…it was the evil from the deep…
Here’s the woman, holding a little boy. In spite of the lividity and though the child was dressed in a white little skirt with frills, Ilona recognized the pair. She saw it so many times on the church walls.
Sprightly, the blessed child jumped from his mother’s arms, crushing the roses. The blissful she-one winked at Ilona and sneered. The child stuck his tongue out.
One-Eyed heard the knocking and opened the door. He froze.
„What’s he doing here?”
„My man, you must understand it’s a family issue, my poor aunt hadn’t had a quiet evening since…”
„Cut the corny crap! Something’s cooking or you’d have kicked the hag in the ass. And all this after you swore that the bitch rapist wouldn’t step into my place! But mark my words. If something happens, you won’t see a dime.”
„My friend…think about it. You could find him an enlightened wielder of erotica charms. There are plenty here, as I see. These cunts don’t mind where they sweat their tool as long as money is offered. Those stiffs will stick into their thongs more than enough money, and that’s beside the official payment. And how hard can it be with this one? He’ll be drunk as a skunk, he’ll make one or two thrusts with his ass, give some tongue like he saw in the magazines and, there you are, he’ll fall asleep with his head between the girl’s legs. I washed him alright, he’s clean as a whistle so, instead of traumatizing your bitch, you’d better do as I tell you.
„Well done, you minstrel! After all, you’re right. And you have some sly words with you.”
The priest attended the courses of the Faculty of Theology. A week before his final examination, a moron lured him with some cannabis. He had a few puffs unknowingly, then had sex with an icon of the Virgin Mary which he punched in two places. As such, he wasn’t allow to take his final exam ever.
The misfortune happened when he finished with a vengeance the song that crowned his recital that started three hours before:
„His has no equal in the world
When he fucked me real bold
I see sparkles, I’m all wet
Now as always and again!”
The face of one of the stiffs reddened, screwing up like a newborn face who was angry it came into this fucking world, then popped like a soap bubble in a tango of worms. The priest stared at another who scooped his socket where ancient things dwelled, smiling, waving to him friendly…
The stiffs joined in a carnal, symbiotic mass. Mouths over mouths, opened, with rotten brazen teeth, munching the dry breasts of the whores… He recognized his grandmother, wrapped up in silk, returned from the abyss, dead and yet alive, shaking in spurts, birthing a child – his own father. The child-father-young-old-baby turned to him and muttered:
„You blew it with that icon, son!”
And everyone chuckled, tangled in an unknown residue from the humane part of this world. The priest started running and bumped into One-Eyed:
„What the fuck is happening to you, are you sick?”
„I need pronto ten minutes of rest, I’m seeing things.”
„Let me take you to the gal in the other building!”
The blonde who just a week ago was perfect and luscious has now no teeth and cawed, lasciviously moving his jaws laden with wrinkles.
„Oral sex without teeth, mister! A blowjob like no other!”
The priest slammed the door and barged into the next room where he found his cousin licking happily. He didn’t want to see what precisely. Some thing that lived in the darkness, moving and stammering some ecstasy that extolled billions of corpses. He snatched off his relative and got out.
They were rushing toward the woods. They got lost amongst the trees then they saw Her in the middle of the glade, surrounded by black roses, holding by the hand a child dressed in a lacy frilled little skirt…
Recognizing the woman, the priest started to scream. The child laughed his ass off, spurting a bloody spittle around. While the priest crossed the abyss promised years ago by a profaned icon, the Mother bared her breasts and the cousin stormed towards them, screaming frantically.
— Translated from the Romanian by Dan Butuza