This basement, it’s grid-iron, girdered ceiling disappearing into darkness before you can clearly define the walls, reeks of stale sweat and incense. Above ground, the world has gone quiet as the masses sleep, perchance to wake in the ongoing illusion of everyday life. But this basement?
It’s just waking up.
They come in leather, in lace, in silk, in denim, in iron, in silver, in gold. They come in black. In ones, twos, threes and communities, they come to this basement.
Above them, LA sleeps.
None speaks a word, communication only through the shake of a hand, the nod of a head, a half-raised smile, or the hug of a long-lost compatriot.
They come, these dark-draped nightflies, to gather before this altar.
The dais is raised six feet off the floor, yet still low enough for anyone to stand there without grazing the iron-clad ceiling. It is, of course, black. Glossy. Shining back its reflection of dark corners and the gathering throng. None close enough to recognize their own face, just the floating balloon where their head is expected to be.
None of them notice that – as they stare at their own reflection – all the other balloons rearrange themselves – that the reflected world in the altar isn’t a true inverse of the living world around them.
Barbed wire surrounds the base of the dais. It shines silver, but for the tiny flecks of dried blood that have been impossible to clean away.
This silent congregation waits, watching its incorrectly reflected world.
And a door opens behind the dais. A woman steps through. Walks up the steps leading to the altar.
Dressed in black, head to toe, save for the red slash of emblem above her left breast, her movement is liquid, flowing up the stairs, a cat stalking its prey through long grass. Her eyebrow holds a quizzical question, the scar beneath her left eye barely visible thanks to the darkness of the basement and her long-practised make-up artistry.
She gains the altar, leans on it, looks out over the crowd, surveying her flock.
All of expectation is in this basement.
When she speaks, her voice explodes from concealed speakers throughout the basement, shaking rust flakes from the iron, sending seismic waves through walls, pillars and floor. Her voice is treated, dehumanised by the microphone and its attendant gadgetry. Somewhere between Optimus Prime and Steven Hawking, her amplified voice finds its home.
“You,” she says, staring at the silent masses, “disgust me.”
They register no reaction. She continues as if they had, as if they hadn’t, as if she doesn’t care either way. This is her place. They watch her slack-jawed, quiet, calm.
She reaches behind herself, to the small of her back, retrieving a throwing knife. It’s blade glimmers like quicksilver in the darkness and spotlit pools of the basement. The congregation registers the weapon, all eyes follow as she draws it to her face, kissing the cutting edge until a bead of blood drips upon it. Their eyes watch as she pulls it backwards close to her ear in the throwing position.
She spins in one silken movement, turning to her left and throwing the knife into the gathered supplicants. It strikes a woman in the throat. She goes down, jittering for a few final moments.
The voice thunders out across the basement.
“Well,” she intones, “here we are again…”