Nameless City

 by Autumn Kindelspire 

The crows are dead, their obsidian feathers surrounding me; I hear a coyote barking. I step back and my bare heel sinks into the cold body of a crow. The world spins, and now I see the coyote. Blood pours from where I shot him. “No,” I say, “you’re dead. You’re dead.” But the coyote keeps coming, and black oil spills from his wound. He growls, stalks me in diminishing circles. Vultures scream and their shadows spin counter to the coyote. I am dizzy, I fall. The coyote lunges, I feel his blood stained teeth. I hear a voice whispering my dead sister’s name.

 The dreams have gotten worse. I spend most of the night awake now, looking at the pictures Mama sent me, reading my brother’s letter. They are not selling the land, Cody wrote, they cannot leave now. He’s started school again, finishing up his senior year from home and in night courses. He writes that he wants to come to the city.  

It is late; the night sky illuminated by the city’s artificial light. I light my second cigarette and start to sit down on the terrace. The phone rings.

“Hell,” I whisper. I bring the cigarette back into the apartment. The phone rings again.

“Hello?”

“Carol Anne?”

I can’t answer right away. No one in the city calls me Carol Anne. They discard my second name, and with it my roots. “Who’s this?”

“Michael. From school. I saw you at your party a few weeks ago.”

I remember I brought my cigarette in and I am suddenly very grateful for its presence. I suck down a long, burning drag before I say anything.              

It was a party for my first gallery show, six weeks after my sister’s death. Maybe it was the crushed periwinkles in my hand, her favorite flowers, or the way the rain made the city weep, or because I had not yet had the strength to cry for her, but I broke down in front of Michael. Lost my balance in racking sobs, my drink dropped from my hand, sparkles of glass, droplets of lime, my feet bleeding on the hard wood floor. Michael brings this all back to me. “Okay, Michael.”

“Look, I need someone to see this with me. And you’re the only one I could think of. I mean, I thought of other people, but they’re not right. So, will you come with me? It’ll be quick. It might even help you.”

If you say help me sleep I’ll scream, I think. Excuses tick by in my head, a Rolodex of reasons I cannot leave this apartment. I end up with, It’s Safe Here. I cannot say this.

“Carol Anne?”

“Why do you call me that?”

“It’s your name,” he replies.

“Okay.”

There is nothing between us, no words, no background music. I listen to him breathe for a moment. “Okay, Michael. I’ll go.” Then I hang up the phone. My cigarette ashes have fallen on my bare feet.

Michael arrives twenty minutes later. He is handsome, I see now, but his eyes are heavy with exhaustion and he has not shaved in a few days. He is smoking too, his fingers twitching as they unwrap a new pack of menthols. We do not smile or speak as I crawl into the car. The light in front of my apartment turns red, but Michael turns right at the intersection.

“Have you seen the memorial the homeless made by your building,” he asks me.

“Yeah. The guy got hit right at the intersection.”

“I heard he was shot,” he says. I shiver.

The first week I was alone in this forest of glass and iron and concrete, I crawled out the window and sat on the fire escape, seven stories higher than I had ever been. I was smoking a cigarette when the driver of the black sedan ran the light. There was a man in the intersection, tattered, obviously homeless. His wizened, terrified face framed in the headlights, I remember how it sounded when he went under the tires. The car stopped, the driver got out, smartly dressed in a dark coat and suit. His eyes flashed yellow in the dark. I shut my eyes and covered my ears to silence the single gunshot that followed.

The window is open and I am looking for the moon. “Yeah,” I say, “he was.”

The streets are slick with a wet fog blown in from the bay. The traffic lights’ reflections smear on the asphalt. We speed along the city and I am listening to the music, the hum of the car, the catcalls of boys at the corner bar.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I need you to see this, Carol Anne. It’s Third Bridge.”

“Bullshit.”

There have been two bridges that connect the two sides of the bay. The first bridge collapsed in the eighties, during a freak cyclone. The suspensions snapped, the bridge collapsed, hundreds of people fell, trapped in their cars, crushed by chunks of concrete. People fish on the edge of it now. The second bridge was built a few months later, a white arc tall enough for the tankers to pass under. Because it’s so high, people often jump from it, sometimes dying on impact, often lying paralyzed, waiting for the bull sharks.

Rumors of the third bridge have always existed in the city. Flickering lights across the bay, a faint line on the horizon. No one knows what it would mean, a third bridge, but it doesn’t matter because no one has ever found it. “Third Bridge is a myth. A ghost.”

He rubs at his eyes, knuckling them. We are entering the heart of the city. I know where we are going, to see another city ghost.

There is an abandoned hotel at the edge of the bay, named The Bay’s End. It was built at the beginning of the last century and remains even though it has been condemned for at least half that long. There was a fire in the basement kitchen first, killing most of the servants who worked at the hotel. Then another fire, this one burning the top seven floors, nearly toppling the building. The Bay’s End was abandoned for decades after that, the wood charred and warped from weather, the alabaster-molding gray and streaked. Finally it was bought with plans for remodeling. But the new owner was shot inside the building. After that, nobody wanted the old hotel. It rested, dejected and ruined, surviving five attempts at razing and one hurricane that ruined several newer buildings. The Bay’s End was never reopened, never brought back to life. Yet it never died either.

We park across the street from the hotel. The sign had been shattered years ago; it simply reads THE END. The vultures, well over a hundred, sleep with their backs to the city. The fog persists, covers the barred entrance to the hotel.

“Michael,” I begin to say.

“I know. You’ve been here before. That’s not what I want to show you. You have to come inside to see.”

Cigarette smoke curls around us, thicker and whiter than fog.

“How do you get in?”

Michael’s figure disappears in the gray. I follow the glow of his cigarette and the quiet brush of his shoes on the cement. He walks to a first floor window that is nailed shut from the inside. He turns to make sure I am following. Then he pushes on the board, which swings out, like a pet’s door. We crawl into the dark lobby of The Bay’s End.

Inside smells like mildew and ash, like piss and old newspapers. There are no cobwebs on the chandelier, which has fallen to the floor. The crystals from it have shattered and glitter in the dust. On one wall someone has spray painted, WELCOME TO THE END.

“Pleasant,” I mumble. The scratch of my lighter echoes in the hall. I can hear my teeth grinding and wonder if Michael can.

Michael motions for me to follow him to the stairwell. The stairs hold our weight, though I am careful to skip the same ones as Michael.

We pass the second floor mezzanine. “Where are we going,” I whisper. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked this tonight.

“To the penthouse. That’s where you can see it.”

As we continue to walk from hallway to stairs, passing by floors that still have lamps and even a few side tables, I wonder about Michael. I don’t really know him, and somehow I know I won’t see him after this. He’ll go back to teaching glass-eyed teenagers about dead authors in one of the numbing, lifeless suburbs that surround the city.

When we reach the penthouse door, Michael stops and turns to me in the pitch black stairwell; I only know he has turned because my outstretched hand suddenly touches his face. He pulls away.

“Cigarette?” he asks from the darkness. I light my own. We sit in the blackness, two vague shadows on the stairs, embers of light between us.

“I killed a coyote,” I say. “I shot it three days before my sister died.”

Michael says nothing. I hear him shuffling, see the cigarette go out on the stairwell. The latch on the door shakes. The moon that I couldn’t find earlier floods the room with light. The penthouse has never been remodeled; the walls are burnt. The floor has a thick carpet of gray dust, and footprints have not disturbed it since Michael’s first visit; I don’t know how long ago that was. There is no graffiti on the walls.

We walk to the window that faces the bay. The fog is below us now, swirling around the sidewalks, stretching out from the bay, spilling over the boardwalk. In the center of our view is a bridge stems from the mist. Like a cement rainbow it arches out and disappears. It is Third Bridge. I know it is. There are no streetlights on it, no light all but the reflection of the moon on its black asphalt.

The vultures around The Bay’s End drop from their perches and leap into the sky. They circle the hotel, circle the bridge.        

“This city is haunted,” Michael whispers. His hazel eyes swell with tears. “It’s nameless and haunted and I don’t think I’ll ever get out.”

I don’t know what Michael sees; I don’t know what his ghosts are. He blinks and the tears spill over his cheeks. I realize the voice in my dreams, the voice whispering my sister’s name, is my own.

“It’s not the city, Michael. It’s not the city that’s haunted.”

Black oil leaks from the fog, staining the city. The vultures are spinning over the bridge. A coyote with a bleeding heart walks down the center of the bridge. Behind it, periwinkles burst through a road made of crow feathers.

—–

Autumn Kindelspire grew up near Tampa, Florida, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Nameless City. She’s currently the Editor In Chief at Inkwell literary journal, published out of Manhattanville College, where she’s a MAW student. Her poetry has been featured in The Westchester Review, Main Channel Voices, and the Great Kills Review. This is her first fiction publication.

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Published on December 31, 2007 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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