Darren Shan: Procession of the dead

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Darren Shan Procession of the dead
  • Название:
    Procession of the dead
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    Ужасы и Мистика / на английском языке
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Darren Shan

Procession of the Dead

If The Cardinal pinched the cheeks of his arse, the walls of the city bruised. They were that close, Siamese twins, joined by a wretched, twisted soul.

He dominated my thoughts as the train chewed through the suburbs, wormed past the warehouses and factories, then slowly braved the shadows of a graveyard of skyscrapers. Enthralled, I pressed my nose to the filthy window and caught a glimpse of Party Central. A brief flash of monstrous majesty, then the gloom claimed all and it was gone. That was where he worked, lived, slept and decided the fate of his cringing millions. Party Central-the heart of the city.

Stories about The Cardinal were as legion as the corpses buried in the city's concrete foundations. Some were outlandish, some cruel, some spectacular. Like the day he played a pope at chess and won a couple of countries. The president who spent forty days and nights prostrate on the doorsteps of Party Central in supplication for having angered The Cardinal. The actor who was guaranteed an Academy Award if he kissed The Cardinal's ass. The suicide bomber who froze at the last moment when The Cardinal shot him an icy look-they say he cried as he was led away, finger pressed hard on the detonator, unable to release it until he was alone.

The one that came to mind as the train slowed and switched tracks was a minor tale, but entertaining, insightful and, unlike a lot of the myths, probably true.

One day a messenger arrived with an important missive from a prince of some oil-rich kingdom. He was escorted to the fifteenth floor for a personal meeting with The Cardinal. This was no mere courier-he was a member of the royal's loyal cabinet, a carefully chosen envoy. He went in and started speaking, eyes to the floor, as was the custom in his country. After a while he glanced up at his host and stopped in shock. The Cardinal was listening but he was also being blown by a hooker. The Cardinal frowned when the messenger stopped and told him to continue. He did but falteringly, stuttering, unable to take his eyes off the naked whore going down on the big boss.

The Cardinal quickly lost patience and told the mumbler to leave. The messenger took offense and launched into a scolding tirade. The Cardinal lost his rhythm and shot out of his chair, bellowing like a bull. He crossed the room, grabbed the messenger by the lapels and tossed him headfirst out of the window. He sent a note to the prince, telling him not to send any more fools his way, and an invoice to cover the expense of cleaning the mess on the pavement.

It was the type of cheap story you heard at every newsstand in the city. But I loved it anyway. I loved all of the stories. They were why I'd come here-to emulate The Cardinal and maybe one day build my own sprawling empire of sweet, sinister sin.

The sky was gray when I alighted from the train and was enfolded by the arms of the city and its guardian Cardinal. I stood my ground a few minutes, letting my fellow passengers stream past, a solitary rock in the river of disembarkation. I tried isolating specific sights, smells and sounds but my eyes, nose and ears kept flicking every which way, taking in everything, focusing on nothing. Only the taste stood out, of dry diesel, hot plastic and wood sap. Bitter but oddly pleasant at the same time.

As the last few stragglers passed from sight I decided it was time to make a move. There were things to do, people to see and a life to begin. I hoisted my bag and ordered my willing legs into action.

There was no guard at the gate. I stopped, looked around, ticket held out, a country bumpkin with an ironically unhealthy respect for the law. When nobody came to collect it, I pocketed the stub and kept it for posterity's sake, a memento of my arrival.

I left the station and entered the grim, gray streets beyond. It would have been depressing any other time. Dull buildings fit only to be demolished, cloud-laden skies, cars and taxis suffocating in their exhaust fumes, pedestrians wheezing and grimacing as they staggered by. But to me, that day, it was vivid and fresh, a canvas to paint my dreams on.

I looked for a cab but found a miracle instead.

The crowd drew me. Against that gray, lifeless backdrop they stood out, huddled together, babbling and pointing. I could see the source of their agitation from where I stood by the station's doors, but moved closer to get a better view and be part of the gathering.

It was an exact, concentrated shower of rain. It fell in a literal sheet, about five feet wide and a couple deep. The drops fell in straight silver lines. I looked up and traced the thin streams to the clouds as if they were strings hanging from massive balloons.

A woman to my left crossed herself. "It's a waterfall from Heaven," she murmured, wonder in her voice. "More like God taking a leak," a man replied, but the glares of his colleagues silenced the joker and we watched in uninterrupted awe for the next few minutes.

Just before the shower stopped, a man stepped into it. He was small, dressed in loose white robes, with long hair that trailed down his back and flattened against his clothes under the force of the water. I thought he was just one of the city's many cranks, but then he extended his arms and raised his face to the sky, and I saw he was blind. Pale white orbs glittered where his eyes should have been. He was pale-skinned, and when he smiled his face became one unblemished blob of white, like an actor's painted face in those old silent movies.

He turned his head left, then right, as if scanning the crowd. I moved closer for a better look and his eyes immediately settled on me. His hands fell by his sides and…

I'm not sure what happened. It must have been a shadow, or dust in the drops of rain, because all of a sudden his eyes seemed to come to life. One second they were pure white, the next there was a brown spot at the center of each, a spot that flared and spread until the eyes were full.

He stared at me with the new eyes. He blinked and the brown was still there. His hands lifted toward me and his mouth moved. But before I could cock my ears he stepped out of the rain and back into obscurity. People moved between us and when they parted he was gone.

Then the rain stopped. A last few drops made the long descent and that was it. The crowd dispersed and people went on their way like nothing had happened. I remained longer than the rest, first checking for the blind man, then in the hope of a repeat performance, but finally I gave up and hailed a taxi.

The driver asked where I was going. He spoke strangely, accenting lots of words, grimacing whenever he stressed a syllable. I gave him the address but asked him to drive me about a bit first-I wanted to see some of the city. "Your money," he said. "What's it to me what you tourists do? I'll drive you till night if you like. Least, till eight. That's when I knock off." He was a sour sort and didn't make any effort to start a conversation, so I concentrated on the city.

It soon started raining-ordinary rain this time-and everything was obscured and warped. Street names, houses, traffic lights, scurrying pedestrians-they all looked the same. They blended into an alien landscape and I felt my eyes start to sting. Leaving the sightseeing for another day, I asked the driver to take me home. Home meaning Uncle Theo's place. Theo was the man I'd come to the city to live with. He was going to teach me to be a gangster.

Theo Boratto had been a gangster of great promise. He made his mark early on, and by the time he was twenty-five he commanded a force of fifty men and was the scourge of the respectable southwest of the city. He was ruthless when he had to be, but fair-you needn't fear him as long as you didn't cross him. Most importantly he had the blessing of The Cardinal. Theo Boratto was a man on the way up, one for the future.

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