The cruising ground was surprisingly busy; a dozen or more men had prowled past me during the brief time I’d sat on the rotting log. My mind was clogged with a thick sludge of thoughts and worries, a sticky bolus of information that my brain could not process nor make sense of, its neural net already struggling to assimilate the back-log of data; bombarded by so many signals, overwhelmed by the constant stream of sensory inputs, my body had closed down, my cognition operating on a reduced level of awareness. Consequently I had watched for what seemed like hours the woodlice scuttle amongst the damp whirls of moss beneath my feet, flicking their antennae about as they probed for food; I was unable to do anything more, for even my willpower seemed to have been swallowed by the engulfing shock.
During the slow taxi drive to the woods, I had rung the concierge, baffled as he stated in his usual condescending tone that he could see no sign of a disturbance, announcing with a contemptuous sneer that my apartment was decidedly tidier than normal.
Open-mouthed, I hung up, snapping at the cabbie to stop outside an off-license; unable to comprehend what was going on, my once restrained and aloof poise reduced to a nervous trembling, with the standard hedonistic fervour that characterized all my actions, I’d decided to embrace the chaos, and unleash yet more disorder upon my quivering soul with a bottle of vodka. I was already drunk as the taxi stopped at the edge of the forest, and after staggering out of the back, the driver sniggering as I collapsed in a muddy puddle, I cursed my stupidity, regretting the rashness of my decision.
The sun was setting, gagged by the chloroform clouds, until, with one last attempt at hopeless resistance, it blacked out, unconscious. The cruising ground was on the other side of the city to my apartment; I had fled here, hoping that the maze of bland streets and nondescript roads dividing me from the breach in reality’s walls would offer some protection if any more soldiers burst through.
It was ludicrous; I was running from a simple phantasm, as if I were a schizophrenic convinced of his delusion’s existence. It suddenly struck me that even now I could still be hallucinating, still under the ketamine’s control, and that everything around me, from the phone numbers scratched into the bark of the trees to the crumpled tissues lying like the wings of mutilated doves around my feet were simply a by-product of the drug.
It was a metaphysical conundrum that would only lead me into madness; I dismissed the notion as if it were an unruly child ejected from a classroom, yet my unease stubbornly persisted.
Across the crest of the hill a man slowly and purposefully stepped; with the fading light behind him, his tall gangly body was reduced to a mere silhouette like a leathery ghoul hungrily searching for a victim. As if he were a spirit climbing out of its grave, another cruiser rose from behind a nearby clump of bushes, both of us startling each other. Every feature of the twilight landscape rustled, creaked and groaned with deathly significance; I was still agitated from the trip, and the sudden feeling of isolation, trapped in the copse that had become a cell with the tress as its bars and the gathering darkness as my jailor only exacerbated that anxiety.
Man, with its complexities, feelings and intelligence was nothing more than the ephemeral dream of a hibernating beast that, once woken, would mindlessly hunt, kill and consume. For so long I had clung to that comforting belief, laughing at the countless billions uselessly attempting to convince themselves of their advancement and superiority. The day’s events however had weakened that conviction, for it was despair that had possessed me since waking, and it was angst that had driven me across London to seek refuge from its merciless assault; if my assessment of my true nature was correct, then why could I not purge myself of these painful and unnecessary emotions?
Yet here in the cruising ground, where sex was liberated from the fetters of love and where passion was stripped of romance, I could once again strengthen that conviction, as feelings of tenderness, affection and adoration were subsumed by intoxicating lust and the instinctive urge to mate.
Since admitting the possibility of God, we have desperately wanted to escape from servitude, and ascend to the divine throne as his equals. The carnality, the savagery, that which united us with the natural world we jettisoned in our desperate desire for deification, favouring abstract virtue and morality above the concrete hunger for blood as we fantasised of a theoretical paradise. Though Mankind failed, though Mankind would always fail, under religion’s rule it had become prejudiced, branding as regressive and perverted we who, rather than denying it actively embraced the inheritance of the wilderness, releasing from captivity the howling barbarity in our genes and the roaring ferocity entrenched in the nuclei of our blood cells. That prejudice I could see flickering in the eyes of the dog-walker, his Labrador, sensing a rabbit bounding through the rain-drenched undergrowth tugging at the lead while his master glared at me with disdain; he knew why I was here and what I was searching for. The two women, jogging past in baggy tracksuits, their bobbing ponytails like fountains of flowing hair held me in similar contempt, mocking my baseness by refusing to acknowledge me as I jumped out of their path.
Jack too would have been the victim of such scorn, would have felt it from the police, from his barristers, and, since being publicly outed, even from his family; yet he, like me, would have revelled in it, their disapproval becoming our endorsement, proof that unlike them, we were not poisoned by hypocrisy, our sincerity to sin highlighting their faltering commitment to uprightness.
Jack and I were pure in our animality, while for the manacled millions, with their sophistries of sophistication, the worthless title of a human being was a euphemism for a liar, giving them license to cheat, hurt and betray; reasoning was simply a weapon to be wielded in both defence against their innate darkness, and as a weapon to slaughter those who did not conform.
In the cruising ground, there I was free.
A thousand fertility gods smile approvingly from out the diamond-drops of sweat coating my back as I thrust against a stranger’s hairy buttocks, his hands pulling them apart to reveal the wrinkled opening glistening with the ice-like sheen of lube. The moon’s dreaming light falls with a melancholy sigh upon the wooden pantheon nestling in a glade, cheers and laughter floating from its open doors as we drunkenly dance with the pagan deities inside.
Our host is Priapus; a group of horrified virgins hide amongst the thick strands of his trailing beard whilst resting upon his swollen penis as if it were a serving tray is a row of golden goblets filled with mead, the sparkling liquor spilling upon the leafy floor as he frolics with a leather queen.
Our music comes from a naked choir, groaning like trombones and shrieking like violins as they climax over and over, the conductor urging them on in their endless orgasms as he caresses their bare bodies with his baton.
Our servants are a flock of Christians we had kidnapped whilst they prayed in their cold, echoing church; the sandwiches they hand out are flavoured with aphrodisiacs, each vol-au-vent crowned with Viagra.
And then, gambolling beneath the sequin stars, with alcohol for blood and our desire a drug we strip off, with the owls’ hooting like the woof-whistles of builders. A fox, abandoning its pursuit of a petrified vole gazes in admiration at our heaving torsos; with the swagger of a lothario confident of his charm and good looks, it approaches, sniffing the pheromones wafting from our groins.
Prancing from out the ferns, a hare leaps over the piles of discarded clothes, and like a lover bringing his sweetheart a gift, it carries in its mouth a bundle of vines, dropping one before each of us. We tie them about our scrotums, the climbers doubling as cock-rings, squeezing out globules of sweet pre-cum.
We wait for a sign from Priapus, and as he claps his hands, the orgy begins; we mate, not just with each other, but with the beasts and trees, their branches tickling our goosebump skin, and their roots rising from the mud to catch the first drops of semen.
The forest blooms, the night retreating in fear at the indescribable colours blazing from the flowers, joyfully shaking their petals as if they were the skirts of can-can dancers.
We smile; far from our families, far from our friends and houses we are once again home.
The forest seemed empty; I had walked the overgrown paths for hours, stumbling over logs and skidding on the rotting hulks of conkers, and not once had I encountered anyone. Even the animals had vanished, the scrub that had chattered as the rabbits scampered back to their warren with their booty of berries now silent, and the overhanging motorway of boughs and twigs across which the squirrels had raced was suddenly devoid of any movement.
Despite the darkness and the wind gasping all around me as if I were in a sanatorium surrounded by dying patients, I felt relaxed, the calmness floating within me a relief after the ordeals of the day, ordeals that I had now dismissed as a result of the drugs. It was liberating to be away from the hollering crowds of the city; though I relished its anonymity and the chance it offered to escape myself amongst the gaudy distractions of clubs and pubs, here in the woods, if I was in a courageous mood, I could actively confront the mob of devils carousing in my mind, welcoming the solitude as an anchorite dedicated to studying the universe housed in his head.
Yet I could not forget the sex that was ready to be discovered –
Could not forget the men lurking in secret arbours, with the leaves brushing against them embossed with the black stamp of night -
So with limitless persistence I would walk these overgrown paths, for it was the waiting that drove every cottage queen and park cruiser; lingering alone at the urinals, our erections drooping like castigated dogs, or padding repeatedly through the knee-high grass as if we were cats smoothing out a bed in which to die, the anticipation held so much promise.
For one minute more we’ll sit upon the weather-beaten bench, attentively watching the toilet block for a man to slip inside, our frantic footfalls beating close behind.
For one minute more we’ll lean against the turnstile, looking out across the blackened wastes of sun-scorched fields, tapping our fingers upon the rotting frame until we glimpse a solitary figure flickering like an oasis on the horizon, our legs and lungs aching as we run towards him.
For one minute more we’ll dream, a fantasy filled with the faces of forgotten crushes, with the bodies of unrequited loves, with the smiles of those for whom we longed, whom we hoped would turn our dejected sighs into moans of pleasure, all encapsulated into one single man –
A man who’ll stride round that corner, winking at us as he slips into the gents –
A man who’ll pull up at the park in his sleek red car, nodding for us to follow him into the bushes -
It’s going to happen –
In just one more minute.
And though the minutes turn to hours, falling like dirt upon the coffined corpse of a wasted day, our hope is immortal and never flags; our patience will outlast the universe, and as the Earth explodes with molten rage, we’ll drift amongst the slumbering stars in the burnt ruins of a lavatory, and skim past the frozen moons on grassy knolls, its rising slopes like the hull of a ship with the trees catching the solar winds in their leafy sails.
But that hope, sustaining us through the loneliness of the night, laying beside us in our empty beds and wooing our forlorn hearts with its meek devotion, that hope will be our death –
Waiting for that one more minute, we soon wait for years and decades, unsure if we are still alive, or just electromagnetic patterns imprinted on the cubicle door, repeating over and over like tortured ghosts, the hand-drier screaming our grief, and the sap dripping from the gnarled trunks of ancient oaks our endless tears.
But still –
Just one minute more.
Then I heard the sonorous music, its booming notes rattling the particles of chilly air with the passion of a prisoner banging his bars in a bid to escape. As mournful as a lament, as stirring as a concerto, its rhythm was the regular breaking of waves upon a shingle shore and its tone was the sweetness of a love letter. In its surging cadences was contained the mystical beauty of nature, its timbre carrying with it sylvan scenes of rustic life; entranced, I followed it, ploughing through bushes and brambles, neither flinching at the thorns slicing at my cheeks or wincing as the nettles stroked my skin with its acid touch.
Like a child growing in excitement as Christmas edges closer, as I neared the source it rose in pitch, the persuasive melody luring me across boggy tracks and over freshly-tilled fields. I was mere yards away, and sensing my presence, it changed to a fanfare full of pomp and grandeur, as if I were a royal guest walking into a stateroom on a carpet of red lichen, with the thickets as guardsmen and the stumps of felled trees my entourage of secretaries and assistants. I stepped into a grove, and gathered there, basking like werewolves in the full moon’s pearly rays, were dozens of men, sitting cross-legged in a meditative pose, their enraptured faces wearing a look of sudden revelation.
Tip-toeing between them, I could see hundreds of animals swaying dazedly amongst the shrubbery at the edges of the clearing, ghostly sentinels guarding the borders of existence, their eyes glowing with appreciation at the ethereal symphony.
Cradled in the arms of a towering elm, a black shape tooted into its panpipes with the skill of a maestro, and as I knelt down to listen, barely conscious of the audience of cruisers and doggers all around me, the fluttering tune dredged from the depths of my mind a shoal of race memories -
I glimpsed bucolic scenes of bronze-age settlements, the bearded warriors throwing down their spears to dance with the giggling fairies, their poppet-sized bodies shimmering with a silken sheen and their turquoise auras rippling like lakes as the men kissed their thighs in reverence.
I glimpsed white-haired sages, with backs buckled from the burden of age, communing with the undines swimming in a mountain stream, their wraith-like forms as insubstantial as smoke billowing from a chimney; gathering handfuls of the cool water, golden drops spilling between their calloused fingers , as the mystics sipped, the sprites sung deep inside their souls.
I glimpsed a tattered encampment squatting at the edge of a gorge, the tribesmen asleep inside, their bellies bloated with the meat of wild boars; pressed against their leader’s naked body was a wolf, its paws draped across his muscular chest as it whispered in the ears of the slumbering savage tales of how its pack would run with the endless darkness, and how their hunger would ravage the gleaming cities of the future.
The recital was over; as one we applauded, clapping until our palms were bruised and swollen. The beasts too were keen to heap praise upon the mysterious entertainer hiding amongst the branches as if he were a crazed scientist lurking in a cluttered, fume-filled laboratory, with the barks of the foxes, and the enthusiastic hollering of the birds drowning out the sole hedgehog’s feeble snuffling. Two transvestites leapt excitedly into the air, waving their wigs about like cheerleaders shaking pom-poms, in deep voices crying out for an encore. A bondage queen tore the nipple-clamps from off his chest, using them as improvised castanets that he clicked in appreciative delight, whilst the grove shook with thunderous drumming as scores of men thumped their dildos against the ground, until, with a wave of his hand silencing our demands for more, the shadowy figure held the pipes to his lips, and taking a deep breath, again began to play.
But it was not the haunting music of before; instead, the cacophonous din was the deafening throb of a heart beating with fear, the ravenous groans of a hunter’s stomach, and the hiss of blood surging through the veins of the hunted -
It was the roar of shifting continents, the scream of glaciers sliding across a frozen land, and the plaintive sobs of moors and marshes disappearing beneath the rising seas -
It was the birth cry of God, stoking the fires of a billion suns, and scattering planets across the vacant stretches of space as if they were decorations on a cake –
And the bass notes, rising and falling like a piston, they were the howls of Fenrir, his growls Time’s coda, and his frightened whimpering the triumph of the void.
Jumping from the elm, the musician landed gracefully on his hooves, combing his clawed hands through the brown pelt smothering his sinewy haunches, as if he were a pianist smoothing his coat tails before a performance. His enormous horns twisted into the sky, a bank of storm clouds impaled upon its tapering ends, with the grotesqueness of his devilish features obscuring the cheekily mischievous smile stretching his lips.
Our heads turned to follow him as he strutted about the grove like a prostitute in an Amsterdam window, teasing the onlookers with a provocative stroke of his groin, parading his liberated sexuality without a trace of shame or embarrassment.
We felt neither terror nor even alarm, for we had become like him, satyrs dressed in rubber and PVC, and fauns decked in chains and gimp masks, swapping the degrading rules and decrees of man for the glorious law of tooth and claw, with our minds as still as the midday sun, and all thoughts and feelings subservient to the violence shaping our bestial desires.
We rioted through the forest, pole-dancing against the trees, the dryads grinning from out the bark, and using sticks as spears, staking the swarm of jellyfish-condoms bobbing about in the muddy puddles, the semen trailing like tendrils from their rubber bodies. The egg-shaped stones littering the verdant floor began to shake, a network of cracks spreading across their surfaces, until, with a loud bang, a family of gnomes hatched out, stretching their wizened bodies with relief; we scooped them up, placing them on our shoulders as if they were our children.
There was no division of rank amongst us; from the rentboys sniffing for truffles to the skinheads beating their chests like apes, we were all equals, united by our lustiness and the excitement of finding eternal freedom at last, knowing that the fields, meadows and heaths would forever be our playground, where we would romp and caper, sharing in the blissful sensuality of the natural world.
Even Pan charging at the front of the pack, the woodland creatures panting in the struggle to race alongside him, made no claim to be our leader or master; despite the enchantment that he had cast over us, he was simply another brother in our bawling clan.
With our erections wagging as if they were the tails of dogs, our bodies a mass of coarse hair and our heavy brows jutting like granite cliffs, we were the living illustrations of a fantastical bestiary, the stories of our unbridled viciousness and ferocious strength recounted around camp fires, the frightened infants gasping in shock.
We had run for miles, not once slowing, and as we stopped before a sprawling lake, the moonlight silver-plating its calm surface, we still tingled with energy. Three nymphs bathed in the tranquil water, swimming as gracefully as swans to the centre, where they splashed about in carefree abandon, the gentle currents tenderly stroking their virginal skin. We crouched amongst the reeds, admiring their adolescent splendour and the effortless elegance with which they moved; suddenly becoming aware of their own ugliness, the satyrs covered their faces with trembling paws, yet I alone refused to be cowed by their beauty, snarling at my kin as they cringed in humiliation.
The nymphs’ perfection was a mutation, their svelte frames and supple figures misshapen; my fangs, my talons, my seething brutality was Nature’s truth, not these freaks flaunting their deformity.
Pan’s fiery eyes, that before had shimmered like a desert in the noon sun were now wetter than a winter’s day, as he peered at them between his knotted fingers, seemingly channelling the ghost of Shakespeare himself as he whispered a sonnet in dedication.
His voluntary abasement sickened me, its pitiful display of mawkishness a perversion of our power and as artificial as virtue.
As he prostrated himself like a dog submitting to its master, I snatched the pipes away from his side, emptying my lungs as I blew into them. The screeching notes impacted against Aphrodite’s heart with the force of love that had turned to boundless hate, pummelling her flawless face until it was bruised and bloodied, each crotchet like a partner’s infidelity, each quaver a husband’s betrayal, poisoning her purity and corrupting her naive ideals of chivalry and commitment. My brothers could not resist its baleful influence, tearing forward with their passion rekindled as the nymphs froze in fear upon the bank, disbelief spreading across their white plump cheeks like cracks on a porcelain doll.
Pan was the last to succumb; I watched in glee as he clutched his head, the wailing music exploding in his brain with the anger of a mortar bomb, decimating all self-restraint until he too charged towards the sprites, his claws outstretched like the spikes of a porcupine.
As they fell beneath the pitiless strafing of kicks and punches, they didn’t scream, shout, or even cry; instead they ungrudgingly yielded their innocence as if they’d always known of the corruption waiting to consume it.
It was the brightest day surrendering to the blackest night –
It was the vigour of life giving in to the silent repose of death -
I slipped into the shadows, a crow clutching its squealing prey in its pointed beak.
Huffing in protest, the concierge escorted me to my apartment; though he made a poor body guard, his tuts of annoyance indicating a stronger interest in completing his crossword than my safety, I was reluctant to enter on my own, my trepidation increasing with every floor the lift creaked past. As if he were a mule driven across a minefield, I waited in the doorway as he disappeared inside, secretly delighting at the thought of him coming face to face with the cannibal. Disappointed at hearing him quietly curse with impatience rather than flee in horror down the hall, I joined him in the lounge.
Exaggeratedly waving his arm about with the grandiosity of a town crier, I prickled with embarrassment, for the room was immaculate, the chairs, table and TV all intact. Rejoicing at my apparent stupidity, he waltzed victoriously out, shaking his keys to the building in a bid to impress me with his authority. I rushed to my bedroom, wrenching a drawer from the cabinet as I checked my supply of ketamine.
The four bags were full, their seals unbroken; it was impossible, but I had not even snorted one line of the drug, the fresh filaments glinting with enticement as if I were a jewel thief holding a priceless collection of diamonds.
It was pointless trying to make sense of it all; falling onto the sofa, a vodka bottle in my hand, it seemed similarly futile to search for the teeth marks that had only hours before marked its leather hide like storm clouds massing in a clear blue sky. Unquestioningly, I would simply accept events as they first appeared; fighting what could either be a delusion or something far more disturbing that was rooted in fact would only produce those emotions that I had so long denied, with the fear, torment and pain three Furies accompanying me into certain madness.
If it was a breakdown, if drug-induced psychosis was insidiously creeping through my mind, transmuting with its alchemical power my perception and reasoning, then, always eager for the distraction of new sights and experiences, I would allow my cognition to be changed, impartially observing as the crude lead of reality was altered into the dazzling gold of lunacy. Rather than being passive self-destruction, such an attitude would instead be self-confirming, a form of solipsism in which the external world would be recreated to conform to my illness, the city with its workers, cars and smog-stained buildings replaced with fluid visions and fluctuating hallucinations, a universe of unfettered fantasy over which I would have sole control.
I would be a demented God, majestic in my mania, usurping the false deities of Logic and Rationality and presiding upon an empire, whose citizens, conceived in paradoxes and born in absurdities would be reflections of my thoughts and echoes of my howling soul.
I stood on the balcony, looking out over the restless capital, its garish thoroughfares twitching like a sleeping child beset by a nightmare, her asphalt legs and tarmac arms nervously flailing about. Something was coming; I could see it in the troubled eyes of the people below, jumping on buses and flagging down taxis in a desperate bid to outrace the imminent danger, sweeping in on the surging wind.
I could dimly make out a news report coming from the TV inside, the presenter’s voice muffled by the walls, as if I were a fighter pilot flying over Germany, the transmissions from my air base dampened by the distance. It was yet another story of an assault, the correspondent using reams of statistics to justify his claim that the Met were doing nothing to protect the frightened public from gangs and thugs.
I tried returning my attention back to the rapidly-emptying roads beneath, but details of the attack kept scratching at my mind, the broadcaster’s words bristling with hooks, each one clinging to my concentration.
The three boys that had been violently beaten whilst fishing by a lake were still too terrified to give an accurate description of their attackers, with even the heavy doses of sedatives failing to calm them. A policeman came on the screen, the sweat darkening his white shirt hinting at his nervousness; in a stilted, slow manner he announced that the cowardly perpetrators had been wearing Halloween masks, and, with his jowls shaking in indignation, that he had never before dealt with such a sadistic crime as this.
Straining to recall what really happened in the cruising ground, my memory of the five hours I had lost in wandering about the woods felt unreal, an amalgamation cobbled together from disparate sources, like a hybrid plant, spliced from the cuttings of deadly toadstools and toxic flowers. Was it possible that I was somehow involved in the violent attack upon the children?
If before I was a stranger to myself, now I was an invader, aggressively trespassing upon what little goodness my heart still possessed, with no chance of reconciling my polarized core.
Yet before I could delve any further, the apartment block suddenly lurched, the wine bottles on my balcony falling over and smashing as I clutched the railings, the floor roller-coasting beneath my feet. A double-decker crashed into a shop window, the concrete arcades exploding like meteors torn apart by gravity as the gas pipes ruptured deep beneath the surface.
A thousand car alarms started to whine, a plague of bleeps and buzzes sweeping through the cracked avenues, drowning out the screams of the injured, their bodies crushed under falling masonry. Thunderous rumbling began to build, the engines of the Earth roaring with rage; tensing myself in anticipation of the next tremor, I dived for protection as the manhole covers shot into the air, the metal Frisbees whizzing about in a lethal parody of War of the Worlds.
Springing from out the drains and gutters, a forest of behemoth-sized trees sprouted, stretching their branches as if they were chickens freed from their coop. Their snaking roots tore up the pavements, their thick trunks filling whole streets, and their twisting boughs punching through the highest windows of Canary Wharf, the glass falling like snow amongst the man-high grass that was growing at an impossible rate -
Gardens became jungles, allotments turning into soaring replicas of the Amazon, the wire fences surrounding them looking ludicrously puny against the gargantuan flowers, spitting pollen like an army of triffids against the council signs and tin sheds –
The boats moored on the Thames were lifted up high on the sky-scraping reeds, a mammoth lily pad enveloping the Belfast in a clam-like yawn, its tubers thirstily draining the river until all that remained was a sewage-stained swamp, strewn with the rusting bones of bikes and prams as if it were an elephant’s graveyard –
Reams of steel-strong ivy wrapped themselves about the buildings like green bandages tied round an Egyptian mummy, shattering galleries and museums as they swiftly contracted, garrotting Nelson’s Column with their constrictive grip and snapping Big Ben in half, a hammock of entwined vines catching the huge bells mid-fall.
And then I saw him, Pan, swinging from the branches towards my apartment, a raucous herd of satyrs following close behind, the severed limbs of mutilated nymphs skewered like kebabs on their horns. He stopped beneath my balcony, his eyes filled with profound knowledge of my soul, as if he had always known me -
He beckoned at me to follow -
Jumping, rolling and leaping through the wooded city, we followed the itinerant night on its journey around the world.www.youtube.com/georgerostov