Condo Chronicles: X Marks the Spot

“So, this the place?”

I looked at Octavio with astonishment. “You’re gonna ask me? I’m the new guy on the block. You’re the kid who grew up here…if anybody should know, it’d be you.”

Octavio shrugged his shoulders, raising them defensively like the hackles of a cornered cat. “Come on…all these monsters along the cliff look the same to me…”

Starting from my place and walking along the rim of the Palisades’ edge, we had passed by a number of the large sentinels that were abandoned factories and warehouses of decades past, and after each one, Octavio had asked his version of “Are we there yet?” at the doorstep of each. As opposed to his Millennial lack of awareness, I had been taught urban exploring by my mentor Rhonda, and with her help, I had developed an amateur’s attention to detail for these haunted vessels. Aside from simply being eerie and deserted as Cape May in November, they were each unique in the scars that time had carved into them. When you looked, there were stories in the facades, and in the hallways, the lurid details bled from the walls. Sometimes, as with a place like Letchworth Village, the tales are literally told in the journal pages abandoned in its offices among decaying desks, much like the disabled children who were dumped in its midst during the dead of night. 12:00 is time to bath Little Johnny. Be sure to not dunk his head like last time… My eyes converted into tactile sensors, running their metaphorical fingers around the structure in front of us.

“Yep,” I said, nodding, “This is the place.”

“How can you tell?” questioned Octavio doubtfully.

I pointed at the top of the door entrance with a slightly condescending smile. “Because that’s the address. That, and he said look for a red-tagged place, where the sign has a black frame. And there it is.”

A few feet to the right of the front door’s top, there rested the ubiquitous membership badge of the cliff’s sentinels: the white X on a red background. (In this case, it had a black frame, which was definitely unusual.) It was the indication that the building could be hazardous to any who entered…which, to people like Rhonda and me, had the opposite effect that was intended. It was telling that there were more of these abandoned structures on this side of the river; it was yet more testimony that these cliffs were situated in some sort of temporal rift when compared to the metropolis next door. Every day, Manhattan awakes and takes breath of people, with a matutinal inhale of its racing millions and then blowing out its temporary commuters as the sun falls. Time seems to move faster in that community of bipedal cogs, and in defiance of thermal dynamics, even snow seems to melt more quickly. Those who walk within it learn to become ambidextrously multithreaded, so that they may traverse the streets and perform tasks (like switching the contents of bags) simultaneously…all in the hope of catching up with Chronos’ robes and gaining a few more precious lost seconds. How many thoughts and experiences are lost and never truly recorded in detail on this mad island (for an Instagram shot has as much emotional depth as a pixel), nobody will ever truly know. It’s a tumultuous whirlwind swimming with imps of inspiration and muses for misery, and it can be more ridiculous than even a Sharknado. Here, though, in this narrow stretch between the ultimate urban setting of greased rails and the nearby soporific suburbs to the west, life fluctuated between these two temporal planes. This structure (which, from its adjoining brick smokestack, appeared to be a dilapidated factory) and its brethren, however, were evidence of those moments of deceleration. Progress had not yet caught up for whatever reason, and these buildings were monuments to lost potential. Well, it’s not a total loss…these things are fun to explore. That, and they make good places to clandestinely meet someone.

“Okay…so what know?” Octavio asked.

I motioned towards the alley to the building’s side. “Through there, on that side. There’s a door open over there.”

We moved quickly through the barren alley, and finding the door, we walked inside into its musty interior. As always in these cases, there were the impressive displays of cobwebs, and the various instances of graffiti left on the walls. On occasion, Rhonda and I had run into more eccentric artifacts left behind by mischievous pranksters, like miniature clowns just around a corner and dangling at eye level. That’ll stop your heart for a moment…or, in Rhonda’s case, make her pee her pants. In this case, though, there were no stylistic signatures to behold. However, a puzzling enigma had been sprayed onto the wall. Tern bak or die. Swadagah.

I squinted my eyes in perplexion. “Swadagah…?”

Swear to God”, translated Octavio. “I’ve seen the same thing in the stalls at my school.”

“Really?!? Wow…and knowing humanity’s luck, they’re probably going to reproduce. Well, never mind that. We’re late.”

Aside from the barely literate text emblazoned in hot pink, there were footprints in the dust that led the way to further inside, inviting us to follow them. In turn, we accepted, and we soon found ourselves in an old office that still possessed a wooden desk slowly turning into dust. As with places like Letchworth, it always amazed me how much was left behind when a business closed up shop. In front of the desk, sitting backward in a metal chair, Joe Vasgersian sat with his elbows on the chair’s back and his head propped in hands that cradled his handsomely clefted chin. Man, does that guy appear to be the very epitome of smug or what?

“Finally! I thought that you guys were at the wrong building,” smirked Joe, rising to his feet and pushing the chair away. “So, you guys finally did some digging, huh? And you used that relationship with the mayor to get some real stuff?”

Octavio nodded as he approached the chair, shifting his body in order to show a long duffel bag at his side. “Yep…I got it right here. Wanna see it?”

Joe clapped his hands. “Absolutely! Let me take a look…”

What the hell is that little punk doing?

Standing in front of Joe, Octavio opened the bag and pulled to widen its maw. Not satisfied with simply peeking, Joe eagerly beckoned the lad, so that Octavio simply handed over the bag. Not paying any attention to the youth before him, he began to scrutinize the contents of the dark green nylon satchel.

“So, yeah,” Octavio spoke, adjusting one shoulder in an all too familiar way…well, at least, to me. “Tell me if you’ve seen one of these…”

With the same speed of a coiled snake, Octavio twisted his body and threw a left hook that connected to the chin of the late actor. For a split second, the image of that punch and the strength visibly planted into Joe’s jaw inspired my mind to project the onomatopoeia across the scene, much like a comic book. Kerpow! I would have laughed if not for the immediate sense of panic. What the fuck just happened?!?

As Joe’s face slackened and his body fell due to his buckling legs, Octavio stood triumphantly before his surprised victim and answered his own question. “Guess not.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

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