Giraldo Moretti ran as the fanged walls of the alleyway closed in behind him. The droning sound that followed him grew into a roar. Crumpled paper drifted through the air, despite the lack of any breeze. In front of him, miles ahead, he could see a dim glow that promised salvation.
How had he come here? He tried to remember.
There had been a dinner on the train. A night outside no light could penetrate. A party. A knowledge of creatures and blackness on the other side of the wall. A surreptitious nod from one of the men. He could see the sequence playing out on the trash that filled the air. Moretti ran faster.
As he neared the light, all electric blue and red, he could feel the alleyway hungrily snapping at his feet. People now filed into the narrow passage, emerging from the brick walls on each side. Their faces, when they had them, were all wrong. Mistaken.
Moretti tried to move past them, but a man with five eyes and no mouth grabbed at him, smearing his clothes all over his arm. The other men began to grab at him, smearing the cloth into his body. They came over him in waves, their skin clammy and burning hot.
As the men washed over him, he could feel himself growing weaker. Slower and slower he moved as his skin turned grey. Finally, his weight was too much for his legs to bear and he collapsed.
The men with the mistaken faces descended, tearing his flesh in chunks. Looking up, Moretti saw was the neon lights at the head of the alley blinking off one by one. The alleyway roared in triumph as its teeth overtook him. The inky blackness inside of it began to squeeze at him and -
Giraldo Moretti opened his eyes. He was standing in the gallery again. In front of him was the painting with the drips of paint and God knew what else that led him to the dream.
He tried to stop the shaking of his hands, failed, and tried to focus on other things. The review he had to write tomorrow for this exhibition. Rome, with its ancient and endlessly solid buildings. The dry conversations of materialism and the thrust of history he and Maria shared over long nights and many cigarettes. Everything seemed poisonous to him.
The dream had been so real. This Lawrence Greer- his work - was like nothing Moretti had ever experienced. He had tasted the fear. He had felt his skin ripping apart.
He made his way to the exit. Looking around the gallery, he saw other patrons staring at the dozen or so other works. Some seemed to be in a trance, perhaps like the one he had just been in. Others simply looked awestruck. He was still shaking.
Standing in the basement entrance to the gallery in the dark night, Moretti checked to make sure no one was coming. Then, for the first time since the war ended, he began to cry.
Rio de Janeiro, 1958
The stuttering light of the screen illuminated Carla Carvalho's face. She could almost feel it as it moved over and around her in the dark basement. It seemed to mingle with the heat that seemed to fill every centimeter of air in the theater.
Before her, a dark boy and a light girl walked hand in hand, oblivious to the garbage surrounding them.
The room was silent except for the whir of the projector and the occasional cough. Then, all at once, she sensed music. It seemed to well up within her, filling every centimeter of her. Great expansive notes, ones so small and subtle that she could scarcely notice them, others she couldn't even imagine hearing. Indeed, she realized, there still wasn't any sound other than the projector.
For a moment, she was taken back to the time she had first danced with a boy, all those years back in São Paulo during Carnival. After a moment of remembering, what his hands had felt like on her arms, she returned to the movie. The couple were now looking into one another's eyes. The music within her swelled with saccharine strings.
So, she thought, it's some gag where the soundtrack is produced internally. Ho hum. Nothing more than a cheap novelty. So much for American anomalous cinema. Rita had promised her that Greensboro Yellow was worth seeing, but if "sound-without-sound" was all that the creator could think of, Carla would need to reevaluate the list of people she went to for advice.
Someone in the audience gasped, stirring Carla from her reflection. Her eyes darted around the screen, looking for something that would have drawn a gasp. Nothing. Just the couple dancing again, but now a dog had wandered into the frame, limping slightly.
Carla wanted to groan. She could be at home, practicing her sigils, or at the university, or at the graveyard again, or… anywhere, really, that wasn't dark and filled with easily-impressed morons.
The scene had shifted, now to the narrow street of a favela. Odd, but not particularly interesting. The shift drew another gasp, this time from a different viewer. Morons.
She was gathering her things to go when she saw the couple dancing across the screen again in black and white. Their skin colors were now switched, with a dark girl and a light boy. Just like the boy at the Carnival all those years ago.
Carla squinted. Wait, no, that wasn't just like the boy at the Carnival, it was the boy from the Carnival. She gasped, despite herself, seeing her younger self mimic the moves she had danced with the light-skinned boy half a lifetime ago. She felt the music of that day, a dozen melodies rising and falling against one another.
The couple danced and the boy whispered something in the girl's ear. Carla had never made out what the boy had said in his rough Maranhão accent; only his ã's and ch's rose above the noise of the Carnival. The music overwhelmed her as the couple danced and danced and danced and danced.
Finally, the music died down, as the couple's rhythm slowed, then stopped. The boy gave a friendly smile, as he had done those twenty years ago and kissed the young Carla on the cheek. The Carla in the theater cried out, wanting to ask a million questions of the light boy on the screen. The other viewers looked at her, startled. She had never seen him again after that day. Where did you go? What was your life like? Did you dance with another girl that night?
The light boy on the screen waved to the young Carla, then he walked out of her life, forever. The music was almost impreceptible. Carla clenched her fists so hard she could feel the pain in her wrists. She wanted to yell and stomp her feet and curse the director and the boy and the idiots gawking at one of her most cherished memories.
The Carla on the screen stood, dazed and smiling, on the sidewalk. Then, she began to skip. As she did, the young girl began to change. She grew taller and her hair grew straighter. The music around her grew flightier. When she finished skipping, arriving at a plain grey building with a palm tree in front, the girl was no longer Carla. She looked almost identical to one of the women in the audience, now. There was a gasp. Carla turned, just in time to see the woman's jaw drop as she saw her doppelganger onscreen.
Carla sat through the rest of the film, watching the half-digested memories of the audience stitch themselves into a narrative. She sat as marriages and broken wrists and spilled rice played out onscreen, as the music played within her. But she never saw the boy again.
The air of the exhibition seemed to wrap itself around Ewansiha Soglo, strangling him. The small elite of Cotonou had gathered here at this small, non-descript building near the heart of the city, to be seen. A half-dozen conversations, all in French, wove their way between the well-dressed patrons.
Ewansiha avoided the conversations. Not because he couldn't partake, he reminded himself, but because he was too profound a thinker to be caught up in their gossip. Ever since that day when his professor had introduced him to the book of Marx in the brown paper wrapper, he had seen the world as it truly was. Everything, from religion to the anomalous art, was superstructure. So let the well-dressed idiots prattle on about their petty feuds. Ewansiha could see where the world was heading, and knew he was on the right side of history.
He moved from exhibit to exhibit, having decided to stay just long enough to be seen. A series of photographs that caused him to hear taste the color blue. A guitar that gave off the sound of a dozen songs played simultaneously. Ho hum.
Ewansiha came to a grotesque statue in the corner of the room. All twisted metal stretching upwards towards the ceiling, it was by far the ugliest object in the gallery. Ewansiha could make out dozens of faces contorted in grimaces - whether from pain or amusement, he couldn't tell.
Typical decadent American garbage, Ewansiha thought. As he turned to leave, he blinked.
And the world fell apart.
The elegant conversations in studiously accented French morphed into the yapping of dogs. He looked around at the other patrons and saw that they no longer had mouths or eyes. He tried to remember where he was. The Most Holy Dahomey Empire, he remembered, under the enlightened rule of Emperor Maurice XIV. These vile creatures were nothing but half-made beings, cobbled together from the unmade portions of humans. There was nothing to fear from them. He turned to the grotesque statue, a monument to one of Maurice's predecessors. He blinked again.
The air ran thick with ropes of words. Ewansiha could see the contours of the conversations flowing from the patrons' mouths. The words skittered through the gallery, pulling the sentences into a pile in the center of the room. He couldn't remember where he was anymore, just the contours of the country, the city, the neighborhood he was in. Only the statue was solid.
Ewansiha blinked again and the world was remade. And again and again and again. Finally, he stepped away from the statue and the world was as it had been. He was Ewansiha Soglo once again. He was in Benin, Cotonou, specifically. These patrons were nothing but fatuous gits. History had a direction, one that he was helping to guide in his small way.
He moved away from the statue that had remade the world again and again. He wasn't scared, he reminded himself, just wanted to experience the other so-called art here. Even as he looked at paintings that moved and sculptures that sang, he couldn't stop thinking about the ugly statue.
Two months ago, he had been to an exhibition from the Soviet Union. The anomalies, such as they were, merely filled him with proletarian pride and made him feel as though he was riding the first tractor at a proud kolkhoz. Committed communist though he may have been, Ewansiha had to admit that he would not remember the Soviet work in a year's time.
But this? This decadent American piece? He would be puzzling over it for years to come.
ACCESS TO THIS DOCUMENT IS LIMITED TO THOSE PERSONS CLEARED FOR THIS SPECIFIC PROJECT:
BG. Marcus Lyle COL. Jasper A. Hunt COL. Thomas Callahan
LTC. Anthony Endrizzi MAJ. Aaron H. Sutton
MEMORANDUM TO THE OVERSEERS OF PROJECT 'CLEON,' 388th INDEPENDENT SPECIAL COMPANY
Subject: The Efficacy of Parascientific Arts Funding
From: MAJ. Stephen M. Jacoby
Since its inception in 1953, the work of Project 'Cleon' has been first, to identify American citizens engaged in the use of parascientific materials and methods to produce works of art, and second, to covertly fund and foster the work of these individuals, particularly with regards to international exhibition. By fostering such works of art, the goal of the project has been to effect a greater respect for American culture and society among members of the parascientific community, giving the 388th Independent Special Company a deeper pool from which to draw potential talent in the struggle against international Communism.
Ten years on, Project 'Cleon' has been highly successful in this regard. 157 exhibitions of American parascientific artwork have been funded, traveling to nearly every country not under direct Communist control. Favorable write-ups of these exhibitions have been written in a variety of widely-read parascientific periodicals, such as "Planasthai," and numerous intelligence sources indicate that American art is held in high regard for its creativity and "vitality." In the first year of the project alone, the 388th Independent Special Company was able to recruit over eighty new intelligence assets from the parascientific community worldwide, more than the past five years put together.
In addition to the improved perception of America in areas of potential future conflict, Project 'Cleon' has yielded more tangible benefits. The work of many parascientific artists either utilizes techniques that may be useful for future weapons research, or may itself be used as a weapon. Most notably, the sculpture "Untitled 17" by Gerald Saito, has, when properly handled, repeatedly yielded detonations in excess of 2.3 kilotons. While some experimentation have yielded sub-optimal results (see Incident 'Critias'), the overall research into the weaponization of these phenomenon remains promising.
Project 'Cleon' has proven to be extremely effective in achieving its stated goals, and has provided the 388th Independent Special Company with additional, unforeseen benefits. Therefore, I strongly recommend the indefinite continuation of the project.