Southside of Somewhere
by Terry J. Golob

Beating Ghosts in Beijing             

Scoping windows along the sidewalk on the southside of somewhere, I am cold even though it’s sunny.  Most of the stores are closed: scissor-gated, metal-slatted or impenetrable through dirty miles of bulletproof plexi.  Peering into that smudgy distance I see a Salvation Santa boozed out on the deflated cushions of a rat house sofa.  A stern Chinese man materializes out of the acid-tag murk and taps the plastic between two high-caliber slugs suspended in plex.  “You come back later.”


His tone and conviction are compelling and my feet are already moving down the sidewalk before I can even make a case, smart-ass or otherwise.


I take five steps to the corner, reach into my coat pocket, pick out some lint, and drop it onto the trash piled on top of the mesh garbage can.  Realizing I’ve been thought-jacked, I take the five steps back to the entrance. The Chinese man is not surprised to see me.  He doesn’t smile as he unlatches the slide bolt and draws it open, allowing me to enter.  


Salvation Santa doesn’t budge as I troop past.  The air is heavy with bone-dust, machine lubricant, and chlorine.  I enter a dim room that jangles with clean steel meat hooks, shelves of white towels, and large silver mixing bowls.


Reclining on a beige futon is a Chinese woman: blue eye shadow, red lips, straight bangs and long hair tied in a black do-rag down her right shoulder. “You will swim, yes?”  She smiles. The wrinkles around her eyes betray her as ancient.


Behind her are two grey metal slabs, the passage to the cisterns, whose shiny swooping grace of shape and comportment beckons.  A line has queued: wretches, vagabonds, the Salvation Santa, wealthy hipsters, and a sinister woman in a bowler hat, bow tie, and black suit.  There is no chatter or cross talk.  Shoulders touch but there is no recoil.  Bone-dust.  Machine lubricant.  Chlorine.  


There is a solemnity to the queue as we wait to be cleansed in the cisterns.  Then we will swim the silver channel to the Mod-Chamber beyond.  Not all of us will survive. 


Remembered faces of the Mods I’ve met. They don’t talk about the excruciating pain followed by the tedious recovery followed by what their lives are now, that exquisite freedom that no pure human can ever experience. Their newly installed suppression codex is a flat-line across their visage.


Doesn’t matter. I’ve seen what they can do and I want it for myself.

Lauren Briere            

Terry J. Golob is currently on the lam - having been chased out of New York City by forces greater than himself. When Terry isn’t mining his latest nap for literary material, he’s been known to record audio books for Random House, Audible, and the Library of Congress. He is also partial to dressing up in costumes worthy of the Mothership, composing and performing strange music, and chasing butterflies. He’s been previously published in 365 Tomorrows.