Every day was much the same. Day in, day out. He sat upon his doorstep, his thin, deeply tanned naked arms resting on his knobby knees. Knees worn by years of a hard life. Cleaning the shoes of the rich and elite, he was an old man, overlooked as insignificant while the city councilmen and religious leaders made back alley deals with the poor people’s money. Too often he listened as they traded citizen rights for parks or sweet delicacies or thicker lined silk pockets, his silver head bowed low while he carefully and meticulously washed the dirt from their muddy sandals. He might be able to clean the mire from their feet but he would never be able to wash the filth from their hearts. This much he knew.
His heart broke and hardened again and again as he listened and watched the greedy elite trample the heart and soul of the poor people. So he washed his feet, symbolizing his own heart and bowed low praying to a god who seemed deaf or impassive. Morning and night he sought reprieve or vengeance upon the swine he worked for. Evening and afternoon he was met with stony silence except a vague: follow me. Oh how he wailed, rending his heart, clawing at his breast: justice! justice! Until one evening near the twilight hours an idea ignited within his feverish mind. Perhaps he could purify the people, burn out the impurities with his own refiner’s fire. He fell into a deep sleep where he dreamed of rich men turning to ash and the homeless street children glowing brighter than gold.
He dreamed of children dancing around burning limousines and expensive sedans. He dreamed of children dancing around burning effigies of corruption in hedonistic pride. He dreamed of children throwing Molotov cocktails at rich homes where slaves served caviar and the rich incessantly fucked on king-size beds, and then dancing to their shrieks.
He needed to bring down one man. Silas Cordova. ‘You must free them! Silas must meet the flame!’ A terrifying voice roared, and he woke sweating. Could it be? Was he chosen? He’d spent his life having lost two wives to disease and two sons to political corruption. They were Silas’s children more than his today.
He walked the streets of Cordova town. The place had recently been renamed after its ‘crown jewel’. Some folks took pity on him and offered him bread and cheese and wine which he graciously accepted. ‘Hey, Moe. Cordova’s organizing a festival today. You coming. I heard your son John won’t make it. He’s doing some construction business for Cordova down in the suburbs,’ said Simon the Baker.
Construction work in the suburbs. A certain sign and a call to test his strength. Old Moe decided John was going to become the first victim. He went to the local gun store and said, ‘Hey Walter. I need a flamethrower.’
‘A flamethrower. What the hell do you need that for?’ Walter asked him.
‘The weeds in my yard, man. The pokers and stickers are fucking thick this year. My hands are shredded. My garden is overrun.’ And in a way it was. Silas had made sure of that.
‘I don’t sell no fecking flame-throwers, Moe. Just burn them out with accelerant and a match like everyone else.’
Ideas formed. ‘….Yeah. I guess I could do that… yeah… they’re thick this year, real thick… taking over everything….’ he wandered out of the store still mumbling to himself. ‘….gotta burn em… leave a message to the future… to the children, the children…’ Walter just shook his head and wiped down his counter again.
>~< >~< >~< >~< >~<
It really only took him a couple days, but he drew up a plan. The location. The equipment. The time. Evening arrived on the jobsite and with it came an old man carrying a burlap sack. Looking around himself, and finding himself alone, Moe carefully withdrew each item from his threadbare sack. Meticulously, he poured the fuel on the piles of lumber and in corners. In the center of the yard he wrote, ‘vengeance is’. Packing up his sack, he stared out of his handiwork for a moment. Etching the moment in his mind. Then his wrist flicked, he dropped the lit match, and turned and shuffled away into the shadows.
>~< >~< >~< >~< >~<
John checked on his old man now and then. He found his dad eating a muffin at the Bakery. He kept muttering to himself: ‘The children will dance…the children will sing…the children will listen to shrieks and screams and delight in burnt corpses and fires…’ John looked at the baker. ‘He’s been like this all morning. Maybe you should take him to the doctor,’ said Simon.
‘A doctor! I’m not spending the money Silas gives me on this old bastard,’ John scoffed. ‘He’ll be fine, Simon. Now get me one of those cheeseburgers, will you?’
‘You’ll be fine, you old bastard. At least you’re not as crazy as some anarchist freak who did something stupid at the construction site. Silas says he’ll chop the bastard’s hands off,’ said John with a lopsided grin.
Suddenly filled with rage, Moe took out a lighter and a can of a deodorant and burnt John’s face off.
‘Aaargh! Fuck me! Aaargh! The old bastard!’ John shrieked, and Simon came running to find Moe walking away.
‘Hey come back here!’ he shouted.
>~< >~< >~< >~< >~<
Hands in his pockets, whistling a lyric-less tune, Moe meandered through streets and alleys. Looking first right, then left, he crossed a dirty street and cut through another alley. He heard shouts, a woman and a man. The woman screeched like an animal in a trap as the man slapped her repeatedly over the head.
‘Fucking pay your rent, you bitch! Silas was kind to let you skip one month and now you take advantage of his kindness!’
‘AHHHH!!’ she screeched louder. ‘He wants rent in the form of my wretched body! Nooo!’
Moe kept walking but he knew the thug, had seen him around plenty of times. The guy managed a shop down Briscow Lane which was owned by Silas himself. Perfect. Absolutely fucking perfect. Tonight, his target would be this jackass and his shop. Moe knew he worked late nights. Even more perfect.
He went to the woman the guy was harassing. She was known for hiding people Silas wanted. He told her he needed a place for a few hours and he’d repay her in a way unimaginable. What kind of trouble did a guy like ol’ Moe get into? Shelly wondered, but she decided against asking him.
‘You got some blow?’ He asked her when she put him in a room hidden by a cabinet.
‘What’s gotten into you, Moe? You come here saying you need shelter, and now you ask me for some blow,’ she said.
‘You got some blow?’ he asked again.
‘You’re a crazy old bastard Moe,’ she said and gave him a little. ‘I don’t want you to have a bad trip or something, so, here’s my iPod. Listen to some jazz or something light, okay.’
She walked away after shutting the cabinet door and Moe snorted the crack, played ‘Short Change Hero’ by ‘The Heavy’ and he dreamed of children dancing around burning corpses; he dreamed of fiery landscapes where children wore Bautas and masqueraded as demons and used pitchforks to torment Silas’s men; he dreamed of threesomes with his two dead wives on a burning bed; he dreamed of dressing Silas in a clown’s costume and setting his party nose on fire only to find it on a plate buttered and served like an Indian dessert that he tore and devoured.
He dreamt of sonnets of fire and elves; he dreamt of villanelles of burn marks and lust; he dreamt of kinky shit and violent shit; he saw a thousand reflections of himself in a thousand scenarios where his life was different but lit them all ablaze and chose the real now.
The now was power and giving the children freedom. The now was seeing his ingrate son in an ICU receiving treatment for third-degree burns. The now was Silas’s men hunting him, and him hunting them. The now was Moe the motherfucking arsonist. The now was Moe the motherfucking antagonist. The now was Moe the motherfucking anti-heroic harbinger of the next generation hedonist. The now was Moe. Just motherfucking Moe.
He got up. It was time.
First thing he did as he stepped across the threshold was to turn and lock the door. ‘What the fuck…? Oh, hey Moe, what you up to, old man?’ the surprised thug asked.
‘I’ve got the payment Shelly owes you…’
‘Huh…I guess she can’t do her own business, eh?’
Moe set down his burlap sack and his chest squeezed tight, a little pain dosed out for the pain he would hand out. Slowly he opened it up and reached inside, unscrewing a bottle out of sight, his next movements swift as threw the contents in the thugs face.
‘Aaauughhhh you motherfucker!!!’ Screamed the man, clawing at his face as acid rapidly melted his flesh away. ‘Aaarrrr oooooohhhh!!!’ His shrieks of pain turning to whimpers, his eyesight quickly gone.
Moe carefully pulled gloves on, tied his deserving victim up, then doused the shop in fuel. Etched in the front window were the words ‘pain retribution’, lighting the match, he tossed it and walked away to the melody of a piss-soaked, eyeless bastard crying out for a mercy he would not experience in this life.
>~< >~< >~< >~< >~<
A week passed, and Moe spent a week in Shelly’s cabinet room doing blow. She was frightened and wondered if she should tell Silas. His hounds were looking all over for Moe. But Moe scared her more. And so she told Moe that he should confess.
‘But the children need to dance to the rhythm of the flames,’ he whined drooling, the spittle coating his jaw.
‘What are you talking about Moe? What Children?’
‘The children dancing around the fiery abyss. The children smoking while the corrupt burn. The children, Shelly baby. The children,’ he said and did a twirl and grabbed her ass.
‘Get off me! You perv!’ Shelly screamed.
That was the last straw. She decided she was going to tell Silas and plead for his mercy.
So, the next day she went to his mansion. The guards stopped her. ‘I know the arsonist,’ she said. Quickly they ushered her through. There she stood in a large ornate room, set up like a throne room, of course it was, because this was Silas Cordova afterall. The bile rose in her throat.
And there sat Cordova himself, on his gawdy throne, perched, she felt, to appear almost sexy. It was ridiculous, really, the smirk on his oily face. A commotion arose behind her and she turned to see Moe, eyes wide, spittle running down his silver beard, shuffling in and laughing like a maniac. Shelly saw the hand gesture Silas made which stilled the guards beside her.
‘You motherfucker!’ Moe cried as he drew near. ‘You goddamned motherfucker! You took everything! You worthless piece of shit! I’ll watch you burn! The children will dance on your burning flesh!’ Dropping his bag, Moe knelt and reached inside while his onlookers watched with macabre interest. ‘The children…. yes, the children….’
Looking at Silas with hatred and pure fury, Moe rose unsteadily to him feet. ‘Vengeance is—!’ he cried as he collapsed and died instantly, his body convulsing and then stilling. The smell of piss and shit rising.
‘…..well,’ Silas chuckled. ‘That was interesting.’
tara caribou & Nitin Lalit Murali | ©2018
Working with Nitin at Fighting the dying light was quite the trip. He zigged, I zagged, and somehow Moe’s tragic tale was woven.
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