a multi-dimensional story by Karl Wenclas
“STATE OF THE CITY”: A slickly-produced positive publication issued by the mayor’s office full of optimistic projections bolstered by meaningless data, having no connection to on-the-ground realities.
“In some situations in life,” the masked figure began, talking to associates on video with techno music thudding behind him, “the only proper response to threats against our interests our projects our carefully-constructed plans of expanding our territory into every corner of this worthless collapsing city, is VIOLENCE. Crush the opposition, even if that opposition consists of a single clueless, obstinate person.”
Gangleader Fake Face sent his crew down all parts of Killtown in yellow jeeps with attached machine guns searching for Clint Rayson, the man who’d stolen his red-headed girlfriend. A parade of yellow vehicles roared down nighttime neon streets, screaming danger.
The discovery of betrayal is one of the biggest shocks an individual can receive. The first reaction is confusion, incomprehension, disbelief. This changes quickly to a desire to restrain or punish the offender as swiftly and harshly as possible– to obliterate from the mind the fact of betrayal itself.
A large man sat in a plush office examining his plush pink fingers. The mayor had abdicated all responsibility for running the city to Fake Face—his biggest campaign contributor.
Two hulking women with muscled arms and shaved heads stood guard over red-headed Sheri Starlight in the luxury condo Fake Face had bought for her. Sheri wasn’t happy, though he’d given her the respect of assigning two babysitters, instead of one.
Sheri’s dark blue eyes looked pissed. Did Fake Face own her? Fuck no!
The mayor sat stuffing his face with catered food on silver plates while surrounded by aides checking crypto accounts on their phones, monitoring Fake Face payoffs.
How rich was Fake Face exactly? No one knew. He moved his money into crypto then out again. NFTs, bubble stocks, scam car companies: any available scheme to support his always-expanding empire.
To the world he presented a fixed smile, whether snorting cocaine on a podcast, meeting a corrupt politician (an oxymoron), or sending his thug flunkies to eliminate a rival.
Clint Rayson wondered if he were part cat. He saw well at night, was comfortable only in absolute darkness.
Like cats he was allergic to chocolate.
Clint stood in shadows across from the city’s oldest church, a squat orange-brick baroque-style hulk. On Saturday nights the church’s warming center fed legions of homeless. Clint had gone there to grab food.
On the run from a ruthless mobster with no scruples and no restrictions upon his behavior was no Saturday afternoon at the park.
Clint Rayson possessed the reflexes, cunning, and speed of a jungle cat, so he didn’t panic. Not much.
Sheri Starlight smoked a blunt because she knew one of the women watching her disliked the smell. The room was large, with orange-and-purple sofas and green walls. Two sliding glass doors looked onto the frigid February world of this inhuman metropolis.
The sliding doors interested her.
Clint Rayson had a conventionally handsome face with turquoise eyes, like a cat’s. The face was many times marred by his questioning expressions—provoked by curiosity—which kept people from taking him seriously. He wore black jeans and a navy-blue turtleneck beneath a padded, diagonally-zipped retro jacket found at a resale shop. Short but warm.
“Hello, how are you? I’m Clint,” he said with a smile to everyone he met, as a stall for time, a defense mechanism, a need to be liked– but he also genuinely wanted to know about them.
Sheri had dark red hair along with high cheekbones and reddish complexion on her oval face, often-cynical dark blue eyes inside it. She’d seen too much of the world in her young life. Clint’s appeal was he had not.
She wore a tight black-and-white jumpsuit which showcased her sleekly-curved form and reddish hair. As did her crimson lipstick and thick black eyebrows.
She stood and inched toward the sliding doors. One of the large guards started forward at her movement.
Sheri held up the blunt.
“Disposing of this,” she said, and smirked at the implication she’d try to get out. “We’re twenty floors up!”
She was the type of woman who stood out in a crowded downtown restaurant lunching with other sharply-dressed women. Her flashing blue eyes noticed Clint, who was sitting up at the bar with a friend, drinking a pint. Jazzy live piano music played in the trendy place.
“She’s the girlfriend of a rich mobster,” Clint’s friend informed him. “Don’t mess with her.”
Clint had ignored the advice.
Fake Face was in direct communication with Joe the Hood, who led the parade of Jeeps scouting for Clint Rayson.
The Face lived in an enormous condo ten times larger than Sheri’s, with larger windows overlooking the city, a better view, and much higher up. A sweeping expanse of twinkling lights, yellow dots against black. Considered by him his territory.
He sat in an armchair resembling a crimson throne. Dressed in an orange-gray-black striped suit, with the grayish-white mask he looked like a grotesque mad marionette against the chair’s blue velvet backdrop. Countless persons had looked at the smiling plastic mask, wondering what hid behind it.
Those who’d seen what waited there had gone insane or been killed.
Clint Rayson scanned the city from his hiding place. His sharp eyes saw both towers, Sheri’s and the gangster’s, one tall, the other taller.
In his mind’s eye as if a camera zoomed in he saw the glow of the Fake Face suite, then went closer, saw the smug mobster inside considering machinations and the cruel death he’d plotted for Clint Rayson.
Fake Face enemies experienced cruel deaths.
Clint wasn’t them.
“METRO FIRST NEWS NOW!”
“CURRENT HEADLINES.” “THE FIRST REPORT.”
The city’s most popular television program by far was a news channel consisting of near-hysterical commentators shouting hyperbolic headlines at viewers about city occurrences.
“SEVEN MORE DEAD FROM WEEKEND VIOLENCE.”
“MORE SHOOTINGS.” “TRAGEDY IN KILLTOWN!”
The TV news was popularly known around town as “The Fear Report.” The mission: to induce fear and panic among citizens, and thereby keep them tuning in to find out more. What started as an exaggerated depiction of current happenings turned into a nonstop stream of real tragedies which long ago surpassed the exaggeration.
With a slinky movement Sheri Starlight moved closer to the sliding doors of her condo. Unknown to her captors, a green canopy that might break her fall was three floors down. Outside the glass doors. Should be there.
Their first meeting—first date—had been at a busy coffee shop. Glass windows framed in silver and black. Clint and Sheri had dressed as discreetly as possible, in grays. Muted tones.
They made small talk, were guarded. Tentative. Careful. Scarcely looked at each other.
“We’re like two circling cats,” Sheri remarked at the situation in which they’d placed themselves.
The two walked by the blue river afterward and smelled the fresh cool city—their colorful eyes met and the world expanded on all sides, as sudden wild emotion swirled between them.
“There he is!” Joe the Hood exclaimed from the lead Jeep over his phone and they drove into an alley emptied a clip of bullets into a shadow red blood splashed across charcoal concrete-block walls and they stepped out with flashlights sending silver-white beams to discover they’d murdered a homeless guy.
They climbed back into the bright-painted Jeeps and sped away.
Sheri opened the sliding door and cold winter slapped her face. She saw the entire brutal city, knew Clint Rayson was in it—knew also though she couldn’t see it a green awning waited for her three floors below.
High above, isolated and distant in the cloudless night, hovered a full moon, as white, circular, and bright as the end of a flashlight.
Clint heard rapid-fire gunshots echoing across cold air. This motivated him to move from his spot. He carried his own weapon, a pathetic .380 caliber pistol which fit into the palm of his hand, nearly useless against the Fake Face gang, but he held it regardless and began to run.
The night, his plight, and that of his soulmate took on increased urgency.
Sheri held the glowing blunt near her red lips. The sort of glossy lips which could drive a man into torment, or hysteria.
Several men forever remembered the picture and touch of those inviting lips.
Sheri flicked the still-lit blunt into the night, saw its orange tip escaping reaching outward away from the building. Then it was gone.
An image appeared in her head of her body plummeting twenty floors down then crashing into the street.
Fake Face had confronted her, black-suited henchmen standing behind him to work her over at the merest signal.
“Who are you seeing?” Fake Face asked her.
“Nobody,” Sheri said in a low but determined voice.
“But I know,” he shouted at her. “I KNOW!” while she glared through him with fierce eyes.
“We missed him, boss, hit the wrong guy,” Joe the Hood explained fearfully over his throwaway phone to Fake Face, who no longer sounded complacent sounded pissed within his high-priced luxury suite anger reverberating through it.
“What!” (his visage grotesquely enraged behind the mask). “Get him kill him kill Clint Rayson now NOW don’t allow him to escape Rayson must not NOT get away!”
Joe the Hood was a common-enough type in the tumultuous city—egregiously ambitious. A Roman, short and compact, with curly hair, pale skin, and tiny dark eyes. With all the scruples of an ancient Roman (none), but an inferior Roman nonetheless. Eager to please. A soldier. Plebe. In his ambition sweating profusely.
Television news on flat screens broadcast the sound of sirens and a gray display of vague dark shadows and blue flashing lights. A kind of video game perhaps. Not real.
On the actual real-life scene the street covered itself in mangled flesh, sprayed blood everyplace, and for those who were there, visceral emotion.
Sheri left her feet in a leap into darkness and placed her faith in some unknown providence she believed would keep her safe.
The nearest guard with flat impassive face decorated with garish purple tattoos began to move. Sheri Starlight had already vanished.
Clint’s feet pumping fast down an avenue filled with passing ignorant headlights, he noticed above him a blanket of stars and the lonely moon. Which put this insane world into perspective.
As he ran, Clint had memories of Sheri’s warm body against his.
Sheri Starlight hung in space for an eternity, falling—for years afterward she’d dream of this feeling.
The mayor now sat in his riverfront mansion at an enormous table sampling yet another enormous meal. Calls came into his private phone from aides saying the city was in chaos and he had to do something.
“The city is always in chaos!” the mayor shouted back, and disconnected.
A call to Joe the Hood in the lead yellow vehicle.
“Joe! You said to phone if I knew anything.”
“Whaddya got?” Joe grunted.
“Clint Rayson was at the warming center tonight.”
Joe turned the steering wheel and pressed down hard as he could on the vehicle’s accelerator.
With his voice the mayor activated a 300-inch 8k flat screen TV to see how bad things were in the city.
“SPECIAL BULLETIN” in large letters across the screen.
“Gunshots on the city’s near east side,” a commentator intoned.
“Bullshit!” the mayor yelled as he switched off the distasteful image. “Always the same bullshit.”
The image went dead, the giant screen silenced: blank. He returned to his dinner.
The air filled with sirens the sky cold and black tinged with the reflection of blue and red lights but the police were at the wrong location, the parade of yellow Jeeps already half-a-mile away expanding their distance—pursuing their furtive target.
Sheri Starlight bounced twice off a green fabric awning and landed hard onto a concrete patio deck beneath it. Still seventeen floors up.
“Hi!” Sheri said to the silver-haired woman occupant of the fashionable apartment as she entered through the sliding glass doors.
Sheri paused to admire the stylish older woman’s taste in art. Black African statues on glass tables and red cubist paintings on gold-painted walls.
“I fell off my patio!” was all Sheri could give the woman for explanation.
From the side Clint sensed yellow blurs approaching behind him on the avenue. He dodged to the right and ducked down a sidestreet then turned, and turned again.
“Was that him?” Joe yelled into his phone. “I saw someone.”
His Jeep traveled so fast he was already a full block past the shadow. Then another block.
Clint ran like a scared cat knew any minute bullets would enter his back. He had one thought: Sheri. Sheri!
The image of Sheri’s face filled his head.
As he struggled to turn it around, Joe’s Jeep jumped a curb and crashed into a silver-gray lightpole.
“He’s behind me!” Joe shouted into his phone to his men. “That was Rayson. Get him!”
Both black front tires on the yellow vehicle went flat while white steam and hints of orange flame escaped from the contorted hood.
In his luxury penthouse far above the chaotic city mobster Fake Face waited for word, worried his gang would botch the assignment.
Why did he wear the mask?
Somewhere at some time past he’d been badly hurt in his life.
The only real part of the mask was his eyes, revealing glimpses of emotion—of the reasons he engaged in his mad pursuit of power and wealth. Unease. Insecurity. Ego.
Most often: naked uncontrolled anger.
Sheri’s two large female guards stood on the twentieth-floor patio outside the comfortable suite wondering what happened to their captive. The air was cold and they shivered with fear deciding what to do.
Sheri Starlight hustled fast with bruised back and fanny through the apartment building’s green-and-pink art deco lobby, trying not to limp, wanting to get out of there before the two guards upstairs could do anything to stop her.
Yellow Jeeps skidded down a sidestreet then an alley jumping curbs some spinning but two of them filled with gangsters and guns continued onward.
A large sullen-faced security person—a black man named Harold—seated at the security desk pondered Sheri Starlight with large brown eyes, recognizing her as the Face’s girlfriend.
Fake Face owned the building.
The phone at his desk rang. Harold’s hand moved to answer.
Sheri heard behind her the sharp ring of a phone echoing through the posh lobby as her hand went flat against the brass-and-glass revolving door, and pushed. She took a deep breath.
Thick-coated gangsters from vehicles faced a brick alley full of deep shadows of red-and-black lines forming a puzzling tunnel—their target trapped within, like a rat. The men felt fear and anticipation. Machine guns out, they touched triggers.
A shock of noise.
Headlights and a yellow blur behind him in a narrow alley, Clint heard a succession of sharp gunshots cracking the night—taking his life?– he fell to the ground as bullets raced around him.
POP! POP! POP! POW POW POW POW POW CRACK CRACK CRACK RAT-A-TAT-TAT POP POP POP POP POWPOWPOWPOWPOWPOWPOWPOW!!!!
Something at the back of her mind alerted Sheri she had to find her lover. Her body knees ankles everything hurt from her fall to the concrete patio—she walked fast to her blazing red sportscar. Sheri sat inside shivering from the cold onto ice cold red leather seats—she wasn’t wearing a coat—then started the vehicle, motor rumbling comfortably.
Her back stiff, she guided the car carefully from the silent dark parking lot onto the glowing bizarre green-orange avenue. Then she floored it.
“We got him, boss,” Joe the Hood said over his cellphone to the masked man in the luxury penthouse.
The vast apartment had black diagonal lines angled across white walls, black vinyl sofas and white plastic coffee tables. Fake Face enjoyed the contrasts—the stark upside-down way he viewed the world.
A text message came in to Fake Face from an informant among Joe the Hood’s own crew. The Face didn’t trust Joe, or anyone. The message: “We got him this time for real.”
Clint Rayson lay in the alley amid gravel and trash, knew he’d been hit, felt a flow of liquid across his head, drops of it pooling on the ground before him. He’d crawled into black shadows behind a dumpster. Yellow circles from flashlights moved across the brick wall above him.
The small pistol he’d had in his hand lay several feet out of reach, useless.
“Nine,” he told himself, with meaning only to him.
“Clint!” Sheri yelled as she drove in the direction of the gunshots, and large drops of moisture fell from her eyes onto the steering wheel and into her lap.
The emotion of fear in her mixed with the emotion of love. LOVE! Strongest love. Only love, enveloping the crazed cruel city around her and the entire universe.
Fake Face turned off his phone and sat back in his armchair, alone, considering what’d happened, bereft of emotion but intellectually pleased with the night’s results.
Joe stood next to his smashed vehicle as other yellow Jeeps parked around it and men stepped out.
“Good job,” Joe said.
“Yeah,” one hulking figure with tiny eyes and unintelligent face said. “We think we got him.”
A patch of light from the moon fell across an obscure corner of the alley, enabling Sheri to find Clint’s recumbent form. Clint bled profusely—streams of red from his head—but his eyes evinced recognition of her. Life. A scalp wound? He might live.
They embraced and kissed as red blood splashed over the two of them—together they could face the world and nothing would touch them.
This is New Pop Lit’s seventh released “3-D” multi-dimensional story.