The Chaser, The Chase
by alex kannis
The kid clawed free of the earth and began his rampage. He burned down the home and the school, the church and the city; he grew large and ate his tormentors, drove his teeth hard into their bellies and felt their insides spill out, a tart jelly. Felt their anguish as they died in his mouth. He pulled up the lightposts and the streets. He tore the world apart.
Afterwards he made camp on the town outskirts, just inside the forest that bordered. With a click of his fingers, the dry bark sheared itself from the trees and flew down to clump at his feet. Another click, and the blue flames of his imagination were made real, igniting the kindling. He shrunk, became regular sized, but a small boy. Then crouched over the hearth and rubbed his hands together.
The city was dead and dark and distant. The stars were as free as him now, loosed of their corral, studding the black banner of the heavens with emeralds and rubies, veins of silver and gold. The boy did not feel at home in the forest, but he felt comfortable. Being alone. The animals of that place kept their distance, but watched carefully, for they knew him.
He did not cry for all the death he had wrought. This was merely the fulfilment of a promise made while shackled and buried. And in fulfilment of that promise each person had been witness to the other’s suffering; the children seeing their mothers and fathers die, and the brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins and nephews and step children. The promise saw death as orderly and fated. As blood money.
But in all this biblical fulfilment he saw that he had become his tormentors. He was okay with it, for sure. He nodded small in some small understanding, then put his chin to his bare chest and hugged himself by the fire. Then he slept. To be awoken by nothing but the cold and misty air, the predawn light, thin, watery. He wiped the sleep from his eyes. There were no chirping birds, no rustle of deer in the shrub. A forest cleared for his presence. It was time to move on.
So he left the forest. Made it to the highway. Flagged down a campervan filled with dozens of children and three parents, the ensemble singing fables. They did not seem to care about his condition or history, which he preferred to that of a polite inquisitiveness, and were most happy to take him to the big city.
“Are there lights there?” he asked.
“So many lights, dear.”
“Can I see the stars?”
The three parents laughed, their teeth and wedding rings flashing, and one of them leaned in close and bestowed this gem:
“The light pollution ends the stars. But it’s very pretty in the big city!”
And suddenly the whole entire and extremely extended family were singing fables again; singing about history, about Egyptians and Romans, about tsars and muscle cars.
He napped briefly, and woke into an out of body experience. It was as if he was outside the van looking in; he saw his face against the window, and reflected in the glass were lines of skyscrapers, city lights, big plans, the homeless, parlaying men, businesswomen, vendors, apartment blocks, wonderous feats, downtown and uptown, neon lights and gas lamps.
He was long for this place, and soon he was under the wing of a local petrol station. He operated the bowser and washed cars and chatted with the clientele. Elderly women squeezed his cheeks and forgot to tip him, and beautiful models winked at him. Street urchins watched him, their eyes flashing white gold from the shadows.
The beautiful women were interesting; selfsame, pale and with long hair, always leaping into their red convertibles before zooming off at a dangerous speed. But the boy had seen danger, and survived it, so he stayed mum.
He charmed them all, all those that would come and go. He knew the regulars, and he made friends with them. He learned his first lesson, and he learned it on his own; that it’s not what you know, but who. One day a man thanked him, but before leaving bent to tie his shoe. After he drove off the boy noticed that he had left something on the sidewalk; a business card. He picked it up, held it close to his face. The contact number was circled in pen, and inked beside it were these words: “Call me”.
At that moment his boss was glaring at him from behind the glass. He could feel it. The boy slipped the card in his pocket, and got back to work.
He was long for the next place. A boy makes plans, and no man or manager can stop him. He went from pumping petrol, working with his hands like the smiths and shopkeeps of his old town, to being taken on as a paralegal at a top firm.
Here his role was to charm clients. He wined and dined them all over the big city. The boy accumulated an intimidating and most enviable collection of silk pocket squares. And the troops, why, they just loved his youthful complexion and drive to succeed. He walked in on lawyers making out in the copying room, and took extremely comprehensive notes on the legal profession. Sometimes the higher ups even let him sit and watch from the gallery at the High Court.
He worked long hours, and kept his income under his mattress. The boy had no time for banks, and he distrusted bankers, with their pocket watches and tweed suits.
The boy was eyeing the top role. Watched how the partners ran the place. They smoked cigars and traded tales like extremely prescriptive collectables. Instead of beers at the end of his shift, it was cognac from a desk drawer, snuck to him between big name briefs, the blinds drawn, all hush hush, winks and toothy half-smiles.
Eventually the time came when he was called into the big man’s office, made to sit and spill his insides, tart as they were.
“Where are you headed, boy? Are you eyeing me off? Do you want a piece of this wonderful three piece? Ha! The paper clerks talk about your pocket squares. Keep calm, tiger, and carry on. These dreams are alive. You’re living the dream. You’re in the big city and you’ve nearly got it all.”
The boy chipped in before the man could continue his spiel.
“But I want to be the president one day. I don’t have nearly enough of anything, not yet.”
Were you to say that to anyone else, they would laugh. But the man took him seriously. Somehow, he knew the boy’s power.
“Boy, I don’t doubt you can go places. But you need to keep respectable. You need to start investing in bullion.”
This was terrible advice. The boy made a polite excuse and left the room, but he stopped not at his office but walked right on past, and kept on walking, past the macking lawyers and busy paper clerks, out of the office entire and down the elevator, out into the street and all the way home.
Yes, the boy met the girl of his dreams. She lived one flat over from his, and she was the original girl next door, freckled and bespectacled and as beautiful as they come, by golly. She ate green apples and had a wee overbite and swore sometimes, and that made the boy laugh.
The boy learned about love. True love. He slipped letters he’d written her under her apartment door. They went about arm in arm or hand in hand, depending on context. Sometimes they kissed, and she would reach over and rub his ring finger. Her name was the tinkle of beautiful and small bells, the glittering of particulate in beams of morning light.
They were to get married, but then the downsizing of her business sent her into bankruptcy and put her out on the street. This all happened in a moment. The boy watched from his midnight window, watched her in the street as she flagged down a taxi and took off for uptown. It was then that the boy decided to align his thoughts, words and actions, and become the Headmaster of the Illuminati.
The Illuminati had had a chapter in his hometown. Obviously that chapter was now no more than dust and grit, but you don’t become the heads of the free world without being adaptable. And you can’t escape your past, and the boy can’t escape his, but thankfully the Illuminati admired his moxy.
They brought him on as an intern in their big city headquarters, up on 3rd. No token placement.
In not long at all he was well established. He climbed the corporate ladder, spoke only of his heart’s desires, had tailors and transcribers at his beck and call. Even the Headmaster listened keenly, though from the shadows, as was his wont.
One morning he woke, put on his extra small and fine suit, and went on down into the heart of the city. On his way he bought a long black for the Headmaster, which he kept warm under his shirt, held close to his skin. He rode in a streetcar.
He arrived at the building, entered, took the elevator to the top floor and met the man. In his office where the sunlight was splayed like the open flesh of an autopsy victim, the office walls themselves like the cold steel of a gurney. The Headmaster looked up from his desk, aged and wise and soft hearted.
“Did you still want to intern with the president?”, he asked.
“No, thanks, sir. You’re the real masters of the big city.”
“And so much more.” The Headmaster winked. “But where would you like to go next? I have a lot of sway in this city, you know. And I have learned of how you killed all those people. Someone like yourself could go anywhere. So where to now?”
The Headmaster picked up a photo from his desk, framed in jarrah, and looked over it with a smile that reached his eyes. The boy took this as a sign for him to think. He put his chin to his chest once more, and glanced inside himself.
He thought of how far he’d come, and of the wonders he’d seen. The little town and the big city, the forest and the sky. It was a grand tapestry, one begetting the other. He saw then how everything was meant to be. Not foreshadowed, not planned, but how it was meant to be. There was a natural order to things, and his actions so far had been very perfectly woven into that order.
So the boy, having come as far as he had ever dreamed to, asked the obvious question. “Where should I go, sir?”
The Headmaster looked up.
“You want my sage advice, boy?”
He put the framed photo down, clasped his hands, and looked to the boy’s face.
“I say that you find love. A young boy like you has to find true love. Love is the key to the lock that ye be, and keys are made for walking. Love is like a waterfall falling into lava, or like a meteor shower. Love is the balm for all days. We know everything, boy, and I know that you had love, and you lost love, but you must keep finding love. Because love is endless, and love is the reason for life. Love is the proof that there is a master above, above the stars and above everything. Pulling our strings and cutting them, and tangling them, and being a voyeur. Trust me on this; I’m the Headmaster of the Illuminati.”
So the boy did some calculations in his head, and decided that the man was wise and true. Henceforth he left on a quest, which began with leaving the room, then going down in an elevator, out the front of the building and to the kerb.
First order was transport. He tried flagging down a taxi. When that failed, he tried the cars filled with vacationers. But none would stop for him.
After some time at this the boy realised that he would have to walk to love, but he didn’t know where to walk to. He knew that the people pouring both ways down the sidewalk, all so tall and blind to him, wouldn’t have an answer. And he knew the Headmaster of the Illuminati wouldn’t let him back into his office.
This was his quest alone.
The boy had never loved, but he’d lost. He’d burned away his past, and the faster he met people and places, the sooner they left him. His past followed him to the second, really.
There is a genius to this earth. There is an order. As the skies make light and become black, and the tides roll against the rock till the rock is sand, and the trees grow and die and keel over, feeding the future bushfire.
Life is like a box of chocolates. But some of the chocolates have caltrops in them.
The boy would forever tangle with truisms and metaphors. That’s how he would understand everything. He would categorise and make uniform and orderly in his head. How the universe is in us. How there are patterns everywhere, macro and micro. Indeed, this thinking had taken him so far already. Padded his pocketbook and patted his arse, made him friends and grown his influence. But it had left him hollow. And with a very personal fear that his tree is dead.
The Headmaster was right. Maybe all the murder he’d done had filled the hole with ash, ash blown through as he ran. Maybe his head was filled with a wrongness of desire.
He missed his family like nostalgia, a love that never was, a love taking shape after the fact. He missed his old girlfriend, whisked away by downsizing. He did not miss the killing. His pockets were empty.
He would forget everything. He would greet death with a smile. He would not fear it, because he would not be there to wonder of it, admire it or consider it novel, because he would be ended. And endings are nothing to be afraid of.
The boy went on.
Alex Kannis is a writer, designer, and organises the bimonthly spoken word event Ships in the Night.