THE St. Louis Speakeasy
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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2016 7:49 pm GMT 
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In the past, he'd always faced that question in Septimus' company, and had allowed the scientist to deflect it on his behalf. Allow me to present my American associate Mr. Malik and so on. He was generally assumed to serve some administrative function: a secretary, perhaps, or someone on the vaguely financial end of things. If anyone did suspect the grisly truth, they'd at least been well-mannered enough to keep it to themselves.

He remembered, with a faint twist of irony, the way he'd envied those monied young men in Cairo: sons of powerful families in linen suits with pocket watches and trim moustaches, thick hair parted and slicked back under a heavy sheen of pomade. He'd known the hours when classes let out at university, because he often lurked around those thoroughfares trawling for customers and had seen the students pass. They'd walked in groups, laughing and shouting, arms slung around one another's shoulders. Sometimes they'd be joking or singing, sometimes in the midst of a heated discussion sparked by the day's lessons. A theory, a formula, a poem. Some idea that had seized them by the throat and refused to let go. Crouching in the red shade of a hot noon, he'd watched their feet clip past him in Western leather shoes, perhaps smudged here and there with dust. He'd envied them then. Had he been right to? He was no longer sure.

Coming to a halt a few feet away from Jet, he eased down into the same alleyway crouch with his knees drawn up to his chest and his hands splayed on the ground on either side. It seemed almost implausible, to look at him now, that he should be capable of such a thing. This was not because he'd gained weight--although certainly he had, he'd been a hungry twig of a thing back then despite his soft face--but because he stood taller now, his spine a little straighter, his feet more firmly planted in the earth. Still, he managed it, and once he'd folded himself into that familiar shape, it seemed still harder to believe that he could have sat any other way.

A slow grin slunk across his face like a stray cat. The tip of his tongue pushed out from behind one sharp, uneven canine. "Voyeurism."

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2016 3:48 pm GMT 
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The streets had taught him the ability to conceal emotion, but he had always been too hot-headed and arrogant to employ it. Rather, safety had brought with it a new and unexpected measure of deception. He'd been loathe to bring more misery into Han's home, little that it was. Even now, the memory of his tears and frustrated cries brough with them a stale sense of guilt and dread. Although he had tried to cultivate his lies with his new father, he rarely felt the need to use it on others. A long history of battle-bruises could attest to that.

Yet, for some reason, the only thing that now shifted in his face was a faint narrowing of his eyes.

"All this way here just for that?" The boy's voice was remarkably pleasant, his skull-like smile laden with that self-deprecating sort of charm. His hands lowered back to his lap, though this time he leant away a little. For the first time he was able to look down at the other man. He'd never seen anyone sir like that before. It conjured up some of the illustrations in Kipling books he'd read; the exotic peasant, the beggar with three wishes from a god in an oil lamp.

Those thin charactertures ended on those pages. Not even Kipling could quite conjure the look in this man's eyes. His gaze took in that little glimpse of the man's tongue.

He rested his chin on a bony hand and looked down at him. His voice sounded amused, a little distant, and mocking.

"What...? Was there a sudden shortage of diseased Americans?"

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Fri Mar 25, 2016 11:35 pm GMT 
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"It seems they'd all been exported to Africa," he replied, eyes glimmering as though he too sensed that the game was afoot.

The boy, for lack of a better word, intrigued him. He found himself thinking back to the children he'd known in Cairo. There had been others in the brothel, sons and daughters of prostitutes. Jaya was unique in that he'd lived past infancy, and again past the age of five--doubly so in that he'd more or less reached adulthood without running away, being murdered, or becoming a whore himself. He'd come close on all fronts, though in the end the only temptation he'd succumbed to was the fantasy of escape.

And why now? If anyone else had asked him the same question, he would have demurred with a sly smile and some murmured nonsense about the Arabs' proclivity for chronic nostalgia. He then would've gone on with his life and given the matter no further thought. Coming as it did from within, however, he found the question much harder to brush off. It troubled him, some quiet yet perturbing link, like an itch in the back of his mind. Something about this boy had led him back into the dry garden of his memories.

"If I told you the truth," he added, feeling brash, "you wouldn't believe me. Go on, ask me anything."

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2016 4:16 pm GMT 
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That prompted a low and rather impressed whistle. "Well, that's quite a lot of responsibility being placed on my narrow shoulders. I'm not sure I can handle it."

Jet shifted slightly to pull the rug a little higher over his wasted legs, as if settling in for a cold winter. Somehow he was given the unerring impression that were he too stray in a little too deep into this man he would be bitten. For all the fragility of his life now, though, he found himself rather relishing the prospect of brushing with danger. It made a fun distraction from the threat of death and the inevitable embrace of his bed. That, and he found this rather hypnotic. He remembered another boy this brash and savage.

"Mind if I start in the shallow end? I'll start in the shallow end, let's build up. We've got maybe..." He glanced up at the clock face that peered down at them between the trees. "... Oh, maybe three quarters of an hour before a nurse realises I should be in bed and hunts me down."

Cairo, Cairo. He resisted the urge to ask something about the pyramids. Instead he smiled in a thin attempt to be a little winsome, and asked- "I don't know. Let's start domestic. Any more Maliks? Brothers and sisters?" His smile grew a little flat. "Same interests in entertainment as you?"

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2016 6:22 pm GMT 
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The gleam in his eyes grew deeper and brighter, his smile toothier. "Oh yes. I was born in a litter of six. Blind, hairless, mewling little things, my brothers and sisters and I. So I ate them."

His smile widened.

It should have been fairly apparent that he was joking, but Jet would have been forgiven for harboring doubts. Was there not, after all, some truth to it? When he'd scuffled with the other whores' children and taken their food, hadn't he bought himself another day of life at their expense? He'd played with Noor, had loved her like a sister--a half-sister? who's to say she wasn't?--yet he'd also snatched food from her hands, because he'd been a child, and ravenous, and at the end of the day she'd died and he hadn't. Where he came from, survival was cannibalism. And Jaya had always been a survivor.

He opened his mouth to amend his words with something more unequivocally true, but on the verge of a No, no living family, he stopped himself. Involuntarily, his expression sobered.

"I had a sister, for a while. Lost through my own carelessness. What's referred to, I believe, as an unenviable situation."

In an instant the smile was back, lips curved into a smooth crescent, his eyes unreadable as glass. "I've done well for myself on this earth. For the people around me, less so."

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Tue May 17, 2016 2:39 am GMT 
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If it was jest, the man's sense of humour gave even his inclination towards the morbid a run for its money. Though he tried to fight it, he couldn't help but feel a prickle running up his spine, as if, though Malik sat on the ground before him a ghost of his had crept up behind him and run cool fingers between his shoulderblades. A nest of rats. To his credit, he didn't openly shiver. If at any point he was, those next words locked his body down.

Infection, disease, domestic violence, accidents, childbirth- he found himself listing the causes of death quickly in his head, a sound list that might have been found in one of Han's textbooks, floods, droughts, hunger, lonelines, congenital illness- the reasons sisters die. The reasons why so many people's sisters die. He was not alone, he had to remind himself sharply, he was not the only one to have wept before a girl's grave, he wasn't the only one to never go to the funeral. Han was a testament to that. This strange, angry, terrifying man was another. He forced the paralysis to lift with brute force, tearing the shackles from his limbs. Everyone here wanted him to live. He wanted to live. Han wanted him to live. He couldn't afford to lie in Martha's grave with her, no matter of seductive the pain was. He felt his eyes going glassy, and so forced himself to look there, at his skeletal hand, here at the way the sunlight pierced the thin, translucent leaves, there at that smiling, predatory face.

"Survivor's guilt!" His was started a little hoarse but picked up quick, returning to that pleasant drawl of before. "Christ, and I thought I was starting off easy on you. What a faux pas."

He let his chin settled back onto his bony wrist.

"Alright, since there isn't any safe ground here, I might as well..." He paused, and then asked, "Happiest moment? Even you have to have one, rat man."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Tue May 17, 2016 2:41 pm GMT 
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Rat man. He liked that, in spite of himself. There was a sudden, surging relief in being seen this way, despite the layers of fictions and deceits in which he'd shrouded himself... as though, in donning one mask after another, he had finally chosen one that might as well have been his face, so closely did it resemble his true self. A lie that told the truth. He'd fixed his gaze on the boy's face as he spoke, and relished the revulsion that had skittered like vermin across his eyes.

The question, however, gave him pause. He'd had moments of happiness, of pride or triumph. In retrospect, though they seemed tainted, and left his mouth sour and dry with the taste of ash. Al-Fayed? Sin. Meaningless. Septimus? Betrayal. The bitterness of imminent death. His shop? Fraud. Meaningless. America? A new life built on empty lies. Vipada? Guilt, anger, sorrow. Already she was little more than a ghost. What he'd felt in the mosque was not happiness, but reverence. Awe. And fear, too, as the husk of his old lives burned away. Even now, he was edging his way out from the blackened remnants of another boy, another time.

"Opium," he replied at last. This time he did not smile, not wanting his words to be taken for another morbid joke. Might as well tell the boy the truth. "The purest euphoria you can imagine. Fleeting, of course, and later I paid for it in blood."

The silence that followed those words seemed to stretch and deepen, yawning wider and wider as though it could swallow the trees and birds and sunshine, leaving behind a wasteland in its wake. Then Jaya spoke again, and the spell was broken, the moment passed.

"And you, Jethro Bloom? Your happiest moment. Something wholesome, I hope."

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Tue May 17, 2016 3:22 pm GMT 
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Jet had been ready to start accusing him of taking the easy way out; oh, he was about to say, drug habits don't count. I'm not talking about illegal highs here. Yet something in this man's tone and the steady way he met his eyes have him the unerring feeling that cowardice wasn't the force that drove him to say that. The thought that it might have been the truth, or at least the closest thing to his personal view of happiness, stirred some deep sort of pity in his chest. He knew morphine, too be sure, but with it came nausea and a horrible lose of control. Opium could only be worse, surely. Purest form of euphoria. he'd said. He wanted to ask whether it had been worth it, but he bit the question back behind his teeth. They were having this conversation. It probably hadn't been.

"Mine?" Following Jaya's confession, his voice seemed vaguely distracted, as if he were still fantasising and being sickened by the imaginary sweet smoke that had hung around the garden moments before. Gradually the smell of flowers came to replace it. "I thought the agreement to do the soul-bearing was one sided? I was happy interrogating. Besides," His grin widened. It wasn't a happy one. More grim, too ironic. "Not sure I can top the poppies."

Though, he had to acknowledge, no one really asks a question without the vague hope it'll be turned back on them. Maybe he was just as guilty. So, with his mind keen and feverless, he absently flicked through a few memories. Family moments, now a haze, with faces he couldn't quite remember. That was something he could quite bring himself to forgive his father for. Why the photographs too? He moved on; the memories tasted of smoke now, smoke and snow. Acacia, Lucy, Freddy on his frequent rampages. The three of them and their faces ignited a warm glow in his chest in vague comfort. Comfort, security. Unbidden he half-remembered some shadow, something pressing against his nose and mouth. Cotton. A hand supporting the back of his limp head, and some quiet reassurances in his ear. The smell of copper and blood, and sighing into the handkerchief, sinking back into waiting arms. Dying slowly. Half hoping that he closed his eyes and could sink forevermore into that reassuring weight. Han's voice, his mother's voice, his father's cool hand on his forehead, Martha's head on his chest. All of them, there, keeping him safe even as he whispered into the dark- I don't want to die. I don't want to die yet.

But there was also that.

"The night the meds started to work." He gazed down at him and scowled briefly. "Saccharine I know, but there you have it. Guilty little pleasure of mine. Oh, and meeting you of course, that one's right up there."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2016 5:46 am GMT 
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"So they are working." His tone was one of mild surprise. This was not an unpleasant development--on the contrary!--merely an unexpected one. He and Septimus had always subscribed to two vastly divergent views of disease. For Septimus, each strain was a quandary, a puzzle which required only the application of a brilliant mind to solve it. His outlook was a seductive one, and for a time Jaya had even found himself swayed by it. Ultimately, though, Jaya knew that some sicknesses could not be cured. Death could be alleviated perhaps, or postponed, but one way or another it would come for them all in the end.

And yet. To say that we were sinful creatures, that disease was visited upon us as punishment for our transgressions--that was one thing. Even at his most fatalistic, Jaya would never have had the conviction to look into a sick child's face and tell him, For reasons beyond our pitiful mortal comprehension, you deserve to die. Sometimes even fatalists prayed for miracles.

American living had made him soft; he could no longer stay indefinitely in the same crouch that had been a staple of his days on the streets in Cairo. He rose to his feet a little stiffly and stretched like a big, lazy cat.

"Alright then. My turn again. Hopes and dreams?"

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2016 7:45 am GMT 
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"Oh Hell yes, they are."

Something new had entered into the boy's voice; pride. He might have noted the same sort of expression in the faces of men discussing the latest football game. They boasted expansively about the skills of their players, spoke with earnest disapproval at referee decisions as if he were a child of their own that they had found deeply disappointing. Except when those men said that they lived for sport, they had meant it to a playful degree. This team of Jet's, with their army of stethoscopes and petri dishes, and nurses watches glittering triumphantly - they saved lives. This boy, sitting here with bones as thin as a bird's and yet talking, with a gleam in those sunken eyes, was their testament. He drew himself up, and found himself grinning. A skull's smile, true, but somewhere deep to his close-cropped hair and the dull pallor of his skin was life. It had a name, and bad, slightly morbid jokes, and a constant little radio that played 'Swan Lake' when he was alone.

It was also Canadian enough to shuffle him dutifully to the side and gesture, with a wasted hand to the bench next to him.

"I mean," he added cheerfully, "Unless you're set on pacing."

Jaya's little throwaway comment had clearly lightened his day. In answer to the latest question he remarked something about how, Crucified Christ, he just pulled out the big guns on the interrogation front, and lapsed into a brief silence.

"Well, clearly the American Dream. One and a half kids, a dog, a picket fence. Standard fare." A dreamy grin. "A mortgage. A midlife crisis- gosh, can you imagine? I've probably already had mine. Or at least I should get round to it sooner rather than, all things considered."

He rested his elbow on the arm rest, and let his bony chin rest in the tangle of bones and veins, blotchy and collapsed with too many needles, that made up his hand.

"... nah. Probably just reaching the two-flight mark. You know." He glanced down at him. "Of stairs. That way I won't be marked down as 'mobilisation concerns'. And that means I don't have to have nurses escort and watch me like a hawk whilst I... You know. I mean, I know why the system's there, but it's enough to break a man after a bit."

A pause.

"... maybe that was too much information. You start to lose perspective a bit. 'Pologies."

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Ahoy!
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2016 1:51 am GMT 
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He stayed on his feet a moment longer, then eased down onto the far end of the bench. He reminded himself that stretching, standing and pacing were luxuries, though these days he generally took them for granted, and that perhaps he should not flaunt them too ostentatiously. Still, it felt good. The gash in his side had mostly healed, at least enough to permit him a full range of movement. He didn't quite feel like himself again, but at least he felt like something.

In response to the apology, he merely shrugged. The notion that Jet's remark might offend his sensibilities amused him. Did he really present so respectable a figure these days? This boy was far more likely to be horrified by the things Jaya had seen and done than the other way around. But he also sensed that some other words of explanation or reassurance would be required to smooth over the threat of an awkward silence. He let his gaze drift vaguely upward, past the tree branches and the delicate breeze that stirred them, to the vast expanse of open sky above.

In Siam they'd scarcely glimpsed the sky. The trees had pressed too close, choking out air and sunlight with their stifling green humidity. Not that they'd had much time to direct their gaze anywhere apart from their work. He still remembered the carrion stink of the mass graves, the relentless drone of a thousand flies. Before that, before the storm, he remembered a quiet night at sea. That had been his first time out of Cairo; he'd scarcely wandered more than a few kilometers from his neighborhood in those days. He'd lain in a tangle of salt-stiff ropes that stank of brine, with his scientist's head in his lap, and had talked to him about the stars.

He'd been so young then, and so deeply, agonizingly stupid. Looking back now, he hated himself for the way he'd been in those days. If he'd died then in the Siamese village, at least he never would have known what a simple-minded fool he'd been.

His eyes had gone blank, but they stayed fixed on some distant point beyond the tops of the trees.

"I've been sick before. I know."

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2016 5:04 am GMT 
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"Oh?"

Jet was no doctor. No medical student either. No; what little knowledge he'd had of the human body came from over simplified explanations from aging doctors, back then in the day, and more recently in the battered medical journals Han tried to collect. He'd mostly been drawn to the gory illustrations, orthopaedic stuff. Mangled tibias, pelvic bones torn apart, cut up feet. He remembered a few illustrations though, of chronic disease. Things to look out for in the hands, face, mouth, neck. Nails that arched and curved downwards, like wide oyster shells, or ones that rose and pitted in deep, ugly ridges. Ulcers in the mouth, yellow fat around the eyes. He wasn't able to put it together though, even if he found it. Still, his eyes searched, trawling the parts of this stranger's body that were open to him. His hands looked worn, and strong, his fingers blunted by too many instruments and too many years hauling crates with rough edges. Sanded down. And as for his face, it was untraceable, didn't fit any of his stereotypes. It was hurt, he didn't want to think by what. What he did recognise, though, was his cheekbones and eye sockets. Those were carved deep, with a skill that no makeup brush could draw in for aristocrats. It was their trademark, their seal; poverty etched into their faces as a brand. He had it. Jet had it. Elsewhere in the world people used signet rings, necklaces, velvet ribbons to show their affiliation. Here they were sitting together, their shadows too permanent beneath their eyes; silent comrades in ancient desperation, hunger, sickness.

"Oh."

He relaxed back, and tilted his head back to meet the comfort of daylight. With each new breeze a few petals fell. He could feel their touch on his cheek.

"You got better."

Somehow, it sounded less like a statement, more like a question. He watched the leaves, and what clouds there were move across the brilliance of the sky.

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 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 10:23 am GMT 
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Jaya's eyes slid sideways, considering the boy with a strange degree of intensity for someone who hadn't so much as bothered to turn his head. One glinted a soft brown as it caught the light. The other remained a deep black, unchanging.

"In a manner of speaking."

The planes of his face were a study in happenstance, the beautiful wreckage of two bloodlines joined only by acts of cruelty. From a distance, he seemed younger. There was something boyish in the way his hair flopped forward, unkempt, into his eyes; in his smooth cheeks, unmarred by even the faintest hint of stubble; in that sly, mischievous smile that stole across his face. Yet here in the bright daylight, he looked sharper, more weathered; the last decade in particular had roughened his skin, years of hard living, too many cigarettes and harsh sun.

He remembered only the first hour or so of his illness. After that, nothing. What came after had spanned months, though it had felt infinitely longer as he'd dragged his shambling body through the jungle with one arm around Vipada's shoulders, propped upright only by the support of the girl's skeletal frame. He knew all too intimately that grotesque and particular agony, what it was to be a human mind caged in a tepid corpse.

"How old are you, Jethro Bloom?"

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Hey kid.
 Post subject: Re: Old Ghosts (( Dvorak! ))
PostPosted: Sat Mar 18, 2017 4:12 am GMT 
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Old enough to know better than to stay here.

Jet almost had to bite his tongue to stop the words slipping out of his mouth. The corner of it twitched with the effort, in some token flicker of amusement at this unexpectedly self-destructive streak, or fascination. Whichever one it was. As he came under the scrutiny of those eyes, which he felt rather than saw, he purposefully kept his gaze away and wondered what it was the other man found there in his face. If he'd been looking for something. He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

"I'll be eighteen soon." He turned back to look at him, and drew the blanket a little higher up on his lap. It made for meagre armour. He wondered whether he was parting with too information. In 'real life' it wouldn't have been much; a few snippets here and there to help a stranger piece together his identity and give them the tools to employ, flirt, argue, berate. Now it felt slightly more... More...

He smirked and brought his hands to frame his face, like one of the girls on the lip rouge adverts. "I should have asked how old you think I am. Y'know, I guess I was too scared you'd place me in my tweens."

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