Alpha 24

Blood calls from the earth in the voice of a shepard, and blood responds.

Earlier: shot of a sheepfold, a flock of idiot beasts watching a lone traveler passing along the road. Close up on a row of rectangular, unblinking irises. In the distance the sounds of slaughter. Foreshadowing, but also excuse; it’s unclear.

Later, much later: slow push along an abandoned railroad, weeds growing wild and high through the ties, spiky and alien, turning slowly to follow the track of the sun. The same traveler edges past the camera, and the weeds cling greedily to their clothes, their skin. Close up on a pale cornsilk flower, an offscreen hiss, and a spatter of blood on thorns. Footsteps withdrawing; leaves rustle with intent.

Now, here: a cliff overlooking the ocean, far off in the distance, and the traveler deep in the frame, a mannikin of a figure, toy sized. A dog at their heels, barking furiously. They turn and — the cliff is empty, silent except for the barking dog, the screech of seagulls, and the distant surf. We pull back yet farther.

Blood cries to blood.


The fields have grown over the remains, grass and moss reclaiming the bones, poppies sprouting from empty eyes, blackberries choking the trenches gouged in the earth. Pale aspens advance across the line, leaves upturned and pitted against caustic yellow rains; generations forget, but the forest remembers.

The forest remembers, bears the past within itself, in sulfurous sap and poison oak, grows green and lush on the fallen, a vegetal rejoicing at newly open space. Weeds grow tall and strange, five feet of barbs and purple feathers, waving spiny stalks that twist to track the westward sun.

Westward, wounds heal, bones knit, history fades with each dying generation. Old tensions are new again, old hatreds, old tyrannies. Armies turn inward, police roam the streets in riot gear and tanks, cities choke on bitter gas and broken glass. The cycle continues.


Princip was sitting disconsolately at a café, nursing an espresso and a grudge, when the motorcade rolled to a stop in front of him. He couldn’t believe his luck; they’d all gone to ground after the failure of the bombing, written the day off as a loss, and yet here the occupiers were, almost on a platter in front of him, blocked in by traffic at one end of the street and their own motorcade at the other, the top of their convertible open to the sky. Fate, perhaps; what else could one think?

He walked across the street and shot them both, as casually as that, one in the belly, the other in the neck, bang bang done.

Too young to hang, they chained him to a wall and gave him tuberculosis, cut him down when he tried to hang himself, made him talk to a psychiatrist to try to reconcile him to their view of his actions. “He refuses to accept responsibility for his actions,” they write, as though he couldn’t feel his lungs being eaten away, as though they hadn’t amputated the arm that had held the gun, as though he weren’t in exile.

Of the 20 years on his sentence, he served only 3; tuberculosis and malnourishment took longer than a noose but were no less certain. The empire survived him by just six months.


The swarm descends, potent with meaning, golden with symbolism. Leutard thrashes as they penetrate him, delicate blunt bodies aswarm around his waist, spread his unseeing eye and slip inside.

Night fears.

He sweats under a midnight sun, eyes winched shut against that impossible, unilluminating light. His every muscle is tense as a bridge cable thrumming in a high seaward wind. He locks his traitor hands together across his chest, fingers hooked to thumbs, lest they turn against him, tear flesh free, gouge eyes to jelly. His mouth waters.

Church bells.

He runs through the streets, naked as a jay, breath ragged, lips bloody, bare feet aslap against the tar. He feels the stones, the broken glass, the nails, but keeps the pace. Fat blunt body, chilled by the night.

Glass windows, goat horns curled delicately above a prophet’s brow.

He pulls the cross down from the wall, smashes the font to pieces. Crouches in the ruins, licks the dust from the ground, shatters his teeth against the rubble, lifts his head and howls, howls, howls.


Glass, broken glass, that was easy, floors were everywhere and gravity did most of the work. Glass wanted in, it didn’t wait to be invited, sidling into his feet like an old friend dropping round.

Walls, walls, easy enough. All it took was patience, and he had plenty of that. He loved the strange shapes his fingers made, the unfamiliar lumps that crooked his hands, the ineloquent stuttering of his wrists. Electric fire up to his elbows.

Milk white, veined with red, sweet and acrid as cheese, lemon bloom as he gets his teeth in, copper wash of new blood laving down his throat. Long clean poolside burn of chlorine, unpleasant waxen ooze of soap, hair, frogskin.

Stairs, traffic, bridges, cliffsides, beaches. The ocean purls around his ankles, buries his feet in little stones. A long rope of kelp coils invitingly around his knee. He stands aside and waits for that first, last, only step.