Formic Jazz by Emanuel Magno

"I'd like to think of the city as a tree. It doesn't move around—at least not yet, in our current era—but its interior is alive, dynamic; full of layered growth rings in which the most diverse kinds of fluids and elements run. Trees grow and evolve, they can live for thousands of years and abridge varied species, just like a city. I would like to imagine my city as an ancient sequoia, vigorous and robust in its almost one thousand years of life. But, just like trees, cities fall victim to parasites, leeches, fungoid bodies, and whatever other opportunistic organisms lurk under their shading leaves; and, in the same way as cities, trees rot from inside out..."

...so much for a shower-thought. A good intro, maybe. But maybe it's too loose. I need to think. And the lights are back.

When, while taking a shower, the tamp of the rail lifts up and you perceive a completely ignored reality. And it's like the veil is lifted with all the sewage drains underneath, a whole new package of holes systematically forming the bowels of the city, the heart no one wants to fall in love with. Bathrooms are unbearable: tinnitus. So the faucet is always to be opened. This wouldn't be the case now, again, commotion in screams, sharp explosions, and battles between phrases of the most diverse dialects—foreign and vernacular—in dissonance, would be more than enough, maybe more than more than enough. Probably the usual game night.

In the center of the oven that my life has become, dripping sweat and nostalgia, I recoil into easier times, times of dreaming with the future—far from the big city and of tasteless coming-of-age topics. I can't help but be transported back to the past every time the shower waters the back of my neck, sliding down the nape, my drenched locks. I know that, in a matter of minutes, in my noisy room, seven locks up the door in the middle of town, the heat will be... sticky. Unbearable is the word that flows over my body, that tries to escape this reality with the water running down the rail; but it can't, it doesn't drain away—it isn't liquid or malleable enough. Instead, glues to my skin like a bitter honey. Things used to be easier, gravity used to be less viscous under my feet.

A jarring toll resonates through the walls. Seven sharp.

Back then I didn't sleep under a lined ceiling, covering my ears at three in the morning not to listen to the infamous neighbors' fights. Let alone the casual jump off of bed upon hearing the always so sudden popping of guns street below; ever so normally accompanied by lonely shivers and palpitations. No, back then, the lone sounds were of playful cats over the roofs, barking dogs, always fighting for territory, the distorted chirping of crickets against the wind and the harmonious bells of the church. With much effort and attention, alien noises on crops—or even something rarer: cars—could be heard. The sweetest instance is to imagine times in which trees were nothing but summer beds to be shaded under when the hotness was so.

Today I can only daydream stars... or coldly study them in university centers of astronomy and astrophysics. It's not the same. I can never play under the stars until dawn; not anymore. It could rain, for sure, we loved the rain, we danced between and with it. At least the quota of virus was of one: common flu. And still, I would give everything for a couple of sneezes under a warm blanket, super-sugary tea à la moda of my grandparents—who, by the way, never had diabetes.

A little bip from the cellphone close to the dripping tap.

"Good tidings: I managed to balance the previously unstable tension points of the system. The structure, up until now, is virtually flawless—negligible errors, at least for our current scale. Do you still want the results of the mathematical formulation? I'm leaving the department of condensed matter and need a quick response." The only person to use em-dashes and heavy technical terminology through SMS. Good tidings... who texts like that?

It's one of those recurring, involuntary memories; Proustian moments. The plain sound of water sprinkling on the floor combined with the sodden sensation on the nape is enough to pluck me back to the time of never sleeping dry. Why never dry? Because one of two possibilities: the first, as you can—and will—identify with: a result of too much liquid before bed (and no bathroom visits thereafter). The second, though, is much more personal and pleasurable to remember; I would say quite unique. Something that not only bathed my youngling body but cleansed the city in collectivity: summer showers.

Slithered in between the old tiles of the roof of my older house, striking the tip of my nose always in the same spot, but never waking me up. Sometimes I would turn, exposing my nape. This was one of those times. This also was a day with promise, since I didn't wake up in the early dawn with Paul's screams, my neighbor of the same age. And not even the funeral march, so common at somber Saturdays, opposed my profound sleep.

"I won't let anyone go home until the culprit manifests himself or is identified." Lacking in anterior teeth, toothless so to speak. Cap constantly sliding sideways letting slip locks of hair until then short if compared to nowadays. Long before hormones made me feminine, a true tomboy.

Crossed arms, with a look of an angry guarding dog on his face, Paul proclaimed "Freeze there, Luke!" Almost to reveal smoke coming out of his ears, he stood up by my side; proud of his second-in-command position in our little proto-fascism outdoors.

"But..."

"No but!"

"...OK..."

A bunch of phlegmatic brats sitting on the sand, all bonded and well-disposed side by side as Luke tried to explain how his father would react in case he arrived late for dinner. We all knew—he still had the marks and bruises from the previous week—the tough love of the country. But this was more important at the moment.

"I demand everyone show me their hands." And almost instantly a dozen-and-a-half little hands revealed themselves, each trembling its sweaty, dirty shabby palm, with the exception of two.

"Rony!" Paul yelled, striking the sand under his feet, like he used to do when agitated enough.

"..."


He gave up, slowly turning them up and opening them.

"Oh! I knew it!"

"Not now, P."

"But..."

All it took was a look.

"..."

"I will ask one more time: Who let the Hole escape? And, Rony, give it back to Paul, you little thief." In this instant, four eyes shimmered intensely upon the vision of a deck of cards being passed from one hand to another. Paul's, from pure admiration of my authoritative figure; Rony's, filled with shame, apprehension, and, most of all, sadness for not escaping with the act; he never did with me around.

What united these kids so different and of improbable friendship at those fields of wet sand was a certain paste, a glue, name of Nicolle, the only girl between them. Little Luke always smiled between 12:00 and 21:00, a feat that could not be possible in his family home. Rony, instead of being trounced by older boys in consequence of his constant thefty sleight of hand, had comprehensive, kind company; Paul never abused him.

However, what glued Nicolle to this hazy place, when she was hungry and tired beyond normal, was something pretty extraordinary, codename of Hole. And today it had escaped. Without receiving an answer for more than twenty seconds after her question, the girl started to grow grumpier.

John began to give in to his habit of poking his nostrils; the lamppost, little by little, to lighten up.

"I will say it one more time, louder and clearer since you all don't like to clean those waxy ears of yours: Who. Let. The. Ho— Aaaaaaah!"

What to do when what to do isn't clear and around you only clarity exists. Violence acquires a smell, a presence in the air like electricity that not only magnetizes your hair up like the fur of a scared cat but burns even the pores and all the way through the roots. Hot enough to make her question her decision—tourists don't go to the heart of the jungle, not even to satisfy some crazy dark fantasy, experiment a fabricated nostalgia, the taste of an ancestral motherland. The food penetrates her dried mouth; tasteless, cold. The water seeps sweeping layers—can almost see her skin shedding, flowing, falling and spinning, spiraling down the rail that stares back like a spider with tiny little squeezed eyes that seem to grow closer and loosen a mask when the lid pops off with a muffled noise, revealing nothing more than a big hole that reverse-grows smaller as she comes back to herself. The sucking sound seizes the space, echoing, bouncing from the walls. She fails to contain random stuff in peristaltic movement, vomiting. Straight into the hole.

My shower, stopped?! Seems like more plumbing problems; no surprise. Or the neighbors are—again—doing kinky stuff—whatever. No surprise either. The sensation of shampoo ready to penetrate the eyes, a recollection left midpoint, and a famished noisy belly don't combine to a great experience at all. A cut and soft wheeze of white noise through the thin walls, some neighbor watching T.V; unusual given the hour.

"The situation in the city is further complicated. The fear generated by the attacks... of dissident groups..."

As of now I don't hear nervous honks, militia sirens nor ambulances. Everything is relatively calm outside. Maybe too quiet. Outlandishly quiet.

With still soaked hands I grab my buzzy cellphone.

"Send it, I'm waiting. I'll send your payment via PayPal in a couple of minutes."

To which a reply arrives in one second.

"OK. Check your Dropbox."

This reminds me of something left unfinished.

"How's it going with the cable design?" I text to another coworker from university. I shouldn't expect a reply so soon, though.

RDJ comes back with another message: "Speaking of which, the weather forecast points to the possibility of a storm. You should stay home or wherever you are right now for the rest of the night. Went!"

The strange thing about having all your hair sucked in at once, alongside your body, to the extremities of an incomprehensible structure, is that it was pretty comprehensible. Similar to being trapped at the swimming pool filter, but without the suffocation part. The despair, however, is, evidently, analogous—if not superior. Did he just text "Went!"?

Because he was standing closest to my side at the moment, Paul was the first to throw himself in my direction, holding me by the feet some meters off of the ground. Following his act, every other tried to help me, pulling my arms or giving support to Paul—like in a vertical Indian-line of wrestlers. The amount of force poured into the help hurt more than the sucking of the Hole itself that seemed gentle as a warm hug, but incomplete and clumsy as a baby that slaps your face when supposedly hugging it. Lucky me it didn't last long. One of the boys, I don't remember who, had a pocket knife. Those were the most tenebrous and true moments of my life. Not because I was being sucked alive by a Hole in the middle of the fabric of space that seemed to distort laws of physics as we understand them today—not that, but to feel my hair fading into oblivion, little by little; a nightmare of any girl. Everything disappearing into an unknown frame of blank architecture—or anatomy. My cap too was long gone, my favorite cap.

Yet I can't avoid laughing at this memory, for the one cutting my hair quivered panting while pressing tip of tongue between lips, concentrated; so desperate that I didn't even notice myself to be floating meters off the ground. He would press it so hard it almost fell down.

Where could they be nowadays? My little gang. No, I haven't seen them for at least a decade. Could they have continued their lives normally after the disappearance of the Hole? Could they have based entire careers and lives around the childish obsession of dismantling a mystery that, after all, can be the fruit of a hyperactive imagination? A group delusion, a big fat fantasy. I was the brain, the center of operations; control of the whole; the girl who didn't fall. I have no hopes of finding some—or even one—at a conference or symposium on wormholes. So disgruntled. I can't fucking think. In honesty, many of them should be dead or at least in very precarious situations, it wasn't a good neighborhood. What exemplary leader leaves in the most needed of moments? A king that flees from his own kingdom and hides from his own people, good old me, no white rabbit, no wonderland, Nicolle—not Alice—the girl who didn't fall.

The shower is over and with it some pertinent memories coil back to rest. It's the end of the intermission for me, end of mental masturbation and drama. Once I step foot, dripping water from my soaked hair, in front of the webcam, one more time the funny little noises restart in continuity.

"Tim! Tim! Tim!" Endless, continuous, tapping through that popped vein on the side of my forehead.

A particularity of working at home, at times like these, is the accumulated safety. You learn to exercise indoors. You learn that liberty is circumstantial and that to live is to know how to delimit your personal space. You learn, too, that reality is nothing but perspectival; what invalidates everything above as subjective nonsense. As the last addendum, you learn to digress in your own mind—over and over again until that pressure pops a headache.

"Tim! Tim! Tim!" And I begin to spasm lightheaded of pleasure on the underwashed bed sheets, wettening the cloth that is probably going to mold. Ohmibod really does its job at experienced hands with deep pockets—full of the world's most diverse currencies.

Do I have to do it? No. Do I hate it? No, quite the contrary, this is what keeps me living in pleasant, comfy enough conditions. Human contact, physical satisfaction and empowerment.

One more bip in the middle of the show.

"How are my little delights? I hope that you still remember our compromise tonight."

My yearning goes way beyond homesickness for a time of immaturity and ignorance, not to say innocence; my nostalgia takes me back to a time where the caramel aspect of my skin was an inside joke between the boys—instead of an exotic token of male sexual desire. And during the orgasm that I can't even say is real or fake, the TimTimTim gives place to the aberrant torque of something similar to a monstrous suction coming from that liminal somewhere behind the walls, from all sides, that interstitial dimension you know is there but do not know that you know, and suddenly my gut howls in pain, louder, but not so loud as to be heard; the only sound is that of the sucking. A sound that penetrates the chinks of the tilting window behind my—sweaty, glued-to-bed—body; almost to jump when the cool sensation touches it. My lids, by reflex, abruptly close, affronting the possibility of the absolute Hole; like two scared little sphincters. "I—I've slacked enough; it's time to begin the real work." Just to make sure I can hear myself.

But, the mind, like the body, is an entropic process, hating to lose momentum. In this way, the hundreds of assiduous spectators begin to throw tips, each one higher than the last, all eager to make me and my bare body remain a little more; it happens every single online day.

25 tokens, and obscene parts of my anatomy begin to be stimulated again.

50 tokens, and my hand almost slips from the mouse's surface. My head tilts back, now facing the moldy swollen ceiling.

100 tokens, and my eyes already forgot the smashing pressure of the king Hole moments ago.

250 tokens, and... the bulb on the ceiling shimmers with a divine aspect, growing stronger than the moon's natural glister.

500, and close to my lined shiny white ceiling coalesces a friendly gas of watercolor pastel tonalities. My waxy, gooey skin begins to dry, bringing forth a sensation of even drier heat, gentle warmth that reveals lights that are turbulently calm, a heat lightning storm that can at anytime strike down a shin of mercy over my forehead, not only to close but to blind my mind as well; my mind that must burn with the sparkle of hell.

1000.

The disgruntled, half-assed rhymes fade as the headache returns stronger, a fiery torrent pumping— And— You learn that you're a grotto, a water cave. You learn how to dig holes in this personal rugged space, to swim freely in the murky waters; you learn to illuminate them, to map them. You learn to disappear, to become imperceptible to yourself.

But,

After a short moment of complete silence, the cavernous sounds of plasmatic explosions crawling inside these oneiric clouds above my head cease to resonate, weak, fading in succession. A soft-spoken communication between inhuman entities, brutal like nature itself. "It's really time for work." Now I can hear my voice. "Sorry to let you down, guys. It's time to go, for real now." Finally I'm out of anonymous mode in the browser, half-naked walking to the kitchen for some coffee, my head still kind of spinning.

"I'm just waiting for you, Nicolle. The kids expect me home soon today; it's my son's anniversary AND I I ALREADY TOLD YOU."

I shove my cellphone back into the robe's pocket. The nuisance of the awful echoes makes my ears whistle again with screeching snaps as of tinnitus. The heavy rusty bolt sings like a crippled bird as I unlock the grinding door—only to worsen my already uncomfortable condition. A huge pressure alleviates the apartment and it feels as if someone just left, a presence of some sort. The imminent breeze breaks the vacuum around my face's veins. Something happening someplace distant, maybe a show, I can hear it coming from the hollow brick wall. Dim corridors, no sign of life whatsoever, neither inside of the building nor down the surrounding streets—not even the television next door. Almost perfect if not for the barking heated dog confined in a nearby backyard and my increasing paranoia alert and my disorganized thoughts swapping words again.

"OK, this is enough to drive out that childish irrational fear." The crushing pressure slowly reestablishes itself along a popping vein on the side of my forehead.

Two little white capsules, fresh from validation period. 20mg of methylphenidate cracked open and dumped under the tongue to accelerate the rate of absorption. With some sips of instant coffee—bitter, those that can't be sweetened—slightly admixtured with milk to ensure the safety of my calcium channels. Now with a random old ragged shirt, I prepare myself mentally by writing some free verses—some corrupted haikus, I don't know; whatever comes.


I'm nothing
I'm no one
Until,
I'm a sore thumb


Close to lame doodles of Eldritch creatures, mannered calligraphy given the practice with cheap fountain pens. Steady tongue, motionless lips, the various blots of sour stimulant dissolving in my saliva.


A living Hole, the Holy Hole that reveals the Whole.


I've never had literary talent, just a bent with obvious influences, and, because of some stimulus while very young, I can't help myself from dribbling some things from time to time.

With the condensation elevating my thoughts to a superior neocortical layer, I stare at my glasses above the little table, while, at the same time, send funds to the university. Cringefest of pleonasms apart, God I hate this word, I don't even need to look at the screen anymore; my brain rooted the visual path of the website of rudimentary architecture, if I may say. If money is spare, why not fund promising projects (my own)?! Besides, nobody has the disposition to pay a cent as an incentive for my crackpot studies, not in these times. No, I lie, nobody has any money for anything. But by spare I refer to the 800 dollars per night on average that I make working these adult online chats.

"Nicolle, come now! Last chance before you lose all permissions to your beloved little probe. DO NOT TEST ME AGAIN."

I pick up the glasses which I vehemently hate, always so blurry and dirty, just like I hated the rampant growth of my frontal lobe that resulted in the squeeze of my optic nerve. Without a complex associative system maybe I could have lived in poverty like everyone else—what I in some way am already doing, but ignorance is a blessing and of it I don't have usufruct. Knowledge is one of the paths to illumination, yet so painful that it may not be worth it. And the headache continues still.

I feel incomplete; as though the Hole sucked in more of me than just my hair and best friend. I feel like the most intelligently dumb person in a room full of... fuck it. The stars today are more noise than light, once my refusal to use this pair of glasses to appreciate them made me develop an imaginary sense where stars sing beautifully while glowing in horrendous ways.

It's been well over ten years; if it could double its size in a couple of days, who knows its current size. I fear and anticipate the day in which one of my blissful orgasmic seizures and visions will become real, as the Hole appears as the eye of the storm, sucking this whole city into oblivion as a strange attractor. What I fear the most, though, is for it to happen again and this time I'd be the only one in a city of inexistent corpses—a world, even; a lost soul to wander amongst ghosts, a ghost to wander amongst corpses. Think, think, think.

When the stimulants hit, droplets of sweat start to form from my scalp to the back of my neck and forehead. I no longer feel the atmospheric hotness, not as before. Indifferent to the surrounding oven, my consciousness condenses, dissolving bubbly as an effervescent pill on cold water—pushing the ego to thrust against the sea of possibilities of the rewiring. Not party high, but ultra-focused for work high.

An ant walks over the granular wall in front of my eyes. Its little fast legs seemingly in difficulty, since it lags to disappear at the door's curve. Probably in a mission to take my sugar supply, already at its end. It's hard to imagine its perspective of this room: as enormous as a city, even bigger and alien if she possesses wings.

*It, not she.

I try to formulate the introduction to my treatise, entitled, for now, Non-human Neo-transcendentalism. I feel the grizzled beard of my grandfather run over my cheek. I hear the
lullaby my grandmother used to sing for me. I remember liking to smack the face of my family elders with my little soft hands, as well as I remember how I used to bite my mother's chin when my gums itched with the forced outing of teeth... but I must focus on my papers.

In an ant-based civilization, space and its delimitations wouldn't be a problem, since in a four-wall human room, with ground and ceiling, they would have, just for walking space, six times what we have for locomotion. Overpopulation would hardly be a problem, maybe a never to be contemplated topic. Fundamental laws of science would have completely different forms, alien assumptions would be made in philosophy, their metaphysics leading to something other than physics and mathematics or at least a non-Euclidean based foundation. And, once their system had evolved to one of extreme collectivism, socialism would be the natural next step, with the queen as integration center, a supercomputer for the rest of the normal workers; the law, an absolute support. Wouldn't that just be fascism, though?

A nervous noise bleeps along a tiny window on the screen: Large-scale nanotube production research as part of the title. Not bad. Time to deliver the payment, as promised.

A click and "Done with the PayPal. Good job with the graphs." While in heinous calligraphy, my other hand continues:


The human being acts on active and passive principles, where its creative power or transformative force assume any necessary form, translating itself in, or even developing, a medium for the epoch when under influence of adversities. This was the birthing of art, religion and even scientific thinking.


This is pure gibberish.

My productivity formula isn't one of creativity, this being the result of an abnormally myelinated system. The stimulants inhibit my crippling fastidiousness and enhance motivation; they're gives me the freedom not to need to think twice. The result: I write more, I do more. The collateral effect: 80% of what I write is nonsense, bullshit, much like these last paragraphs that are certainly going to the trash can, as well as the shitty correlations I'm making between ants, humans, and xenomorphs, the xenomorph as a human becoming ant. Nonsensical, not nonsense. The pen implodes. The tube had problems accepting the torque, too much suction force. Funny stomach grunts accompanied by a sensation of emptiness, an anti-hunger that makes it feels like a winning, strange joy in deprivation and loss, all resonating in the room.



Nicolle's become but a symbol in a bigger set of representations and relations: a whole pectoral cavity exposed by an old shirt, as well as feminine hands covered in a made-in-Taiwan cheap blue ink from a yet cheaper pen's implosion. The accident, the scare: causations motivated by modulations in repetition.

When the same noise of always—the one that became familiar,—this time louder and more abrasive, like a vacuum cleaner of planetary proportions, intrudes. Still, the little ant continues to walk over the wall, now blue, remaining oblivious to what just happened to it—unscathed by self-aware experience, unprepared for rational interpretation of the oozing sound.

Swiftly to the door one more time to check the surroundings, one more time to free the childish fear that, even in the heat, makes the whole body tremble. The same movement to open the door but faster this time. Nothing. No hole beyond the usual little ones in the wall. Deafening silence loops around the buildings contrasting many feverish voices and screams in the distance, each declaring an ardently mad un-dialectic discourse.

Now it can be heard. Yes, stimulant's effect. They make the body jump from moment to another, like in that movie. Only the object of initial focus matters, the rest can be skipped and ignored. But this is what happens when the initial focus is disturbed.

And now, bare feet outside again, surprised in an obfuscating myriad of new sensations—and the doubt of when and how moved out of the apartment—meeting an interpolation of noises.

All working memory focused on the original task,—that is, normally. Now all fragmented. An imprisoned central neural system, trapped into the randomly painted blue treatise while the sense travels almost independently and out of control, searching for a new focal point.

Nocturnal birds faintly sing in the proximities.

More dogs join the barking, distant. Inaudible some seconds ago.

The cellphone rings, it says ''Father'', as the legs walk—without permission—by the corridor, until the community's open utility room, where the sounds and vision of said mysterious spectacle are perfect, and some things could be spotted if myopia wasn't the barrier.

"Hey."

"I've been trying to speak to you in weeks, Nicolle. Weeks."

"Dad..."

Robust droplets begin to fall, refracting the bronze of the urban landscape.

"Don't dad me, Nicolle. Where are you, for God's sake?"

"Right now I'm watching a show."

Heavy cones, viscous like glue—a rain of honey.

"Good. Are you having fun? While you're wasting your time, your grandparents would do anything for a little more of it."

"What happened?"

"You used to be so great. I had—we had—hopes for you. You could be anything. You could become anything! You were a light. Be a star in this world, Nicolle. You just throw your life away, you just ignore your gifts. I don't know this person you've become." He's drinking again.

"How are they, dad?"

"Are you onto some of that stuff again? They... complicated situation. It grows even more complicated: they say that the hospital can no longer cover the care they need."

"A transfer?"

"Yeah..."

"How much time? How much in cash?"

"And you throwing away everything to be a I don't know pseudo-know-it-all crackpot—"

"Dad! How much, how much time, how much money?"

"A week, maybe two. The prices are salty."

"Where do they can go? What can we do?"

"Only cross-country, nothing here is of any help."

"…"

"Your cousin said he saw you on the internet, He didn't tell me the rest. Something about not being a snitch. What are you doing this time around?"

The rain thickens. And as gliding ionic discharges rip the sky in purple and blue, it begins to appear as a true ant's heaven; followed by the blasts and cracks of broken bones above.

"What is this noiseless show? Are you in the rain? This country is a mess, a chaos, you should be inside locked behind seven keys."

When a little child, she adored to go out with her parents, long cinema nights, parties, random commemorations, anything, she didn't care where or what; in part, only to come back home and, slowly, feel the shoes leaving her always growing feet, alleviating from heels to sole to toes, maybe waiting some time in socks, maybe sleeping in them—a whole myriad of sensations that needed unlocking like a videogame's bonus level after a labored and exhaustive boss fight; something that needed investigation and repetitive devotion to be properly enjoyed. For the moment, this wasn't the case. In fact, it hadn't been the case for many years.

A super-body that is ill. And maybe its illness doesn't lie in a transcendental cause outside the body itself, be it parasites, fungus or any kind of excuse. Maybe it's like a cancer. Maybe what's wrong are its own cells—us. It's my duty to follow the Hole that is the void through the tubular structure of the insides of trees; through the orchard of our country, the forest of our world. Because I'm only one and one alone, I must travel, cross boundaries to cure the entire tree—or most of it—or part of it—so the tree itself can cure another tree, then another and go on forever, then the orchard, then the forest. Knowing of my mortality I must share whatever knowledge possible of how to treat this illness—whatever method. If only I could tell this to you. You would think I'm freaking out again. But there's too many I's in my mental monologue, and there's too little daughters, friends, lovers in my resume and articles and essays. There are too many papas and mamas, too many Lukes and Pauls, but none really. How can you save the world if you can't work without snorting Ritalin and can't sleep without Xanax or Valium and can't laugh without weed and can't meditate or epiphany without psychedelics... "Papa, I—"

Was when I heard the first boom.

Screams in the commotion over the distance. It was when I realized—everything made a scarily confused sense, a hint before disappearing into the loud white noise, a dram after finally putting on my glasses. It was when the drips rejoined into enough of a puddle to ink my thoughts again, refocused on myself like a ferromagnetic fluid repurposed to a magnetic field it spikes.

I didn't want to look but my eyes still glazed like two crystal balls, melting past, present, and future in a stagnating soup of bad decisions. My ears focused on surrounding trivialities in the kilometer radius that delimits my life: the dogs' cries; the hundreds of nervously battling wings fleeing, collapsing, colliding against each other; even the crickets I thought nonexistent in this area who slowly stopped to chirp in fear. Everything less what represented human despair could be heard with clarity. My mind, still processing the introduction to the treatise; the main theme of the focus of the dopamine torrent in my brain, rambled, and another event of my childhood surfaced out of control.

The cottonmouth unfolded its serpentine body with the looming glister of affliction fruiting inside its eyes. Blurred movements, exposed nerves—eaten alive by a swarm of carnivore ants; bursting from inside out in balls of black and white melancholic disturbance. Flies passed by, resting over the taken meal; instinctively afraid of the consequences of their blind landing. An infectious smell oozed from the meat collops on the ground, and they could see even under the dirt a bare silhouette with the amalgamation of leftover scales when a piercing crack exposed the insides, crawling, weak but majestiful, almost without force but shaded in will to survive. A growing noise came closing in. "Look, it's pregnant." Shouts the girl, me. In the run, a rattlesnake who didn't have the time to show concern for the kids—its life was at risk and to survive was its only care. Except it didn't, but its children did, at least some of them.

Ants drowning in honey and metal inside their own collapsing colony, all stained red, caught by surprise or even oblivious to the fact.

Silence made king at that point, only at that point I could see, without blinking even one time, the orange flashes of light that followed the yellow explosions. I felt the smell of blood pronounced by the smoke—but hear? Nothing beyond the honey rain that refracted a light that, over each involuntary breath cycle, seemed to decelerate, bringing with it a smell of burning flesh.

I was—am—experiencing a memory. A present memory in the making, because reality is too shocking to be digested in one piece. And when the vacuum in my ears is finally alleviated, I can't hear so much as one scream, but only the grotesque sound of the fiery rustle in the distance and the muffled crackles of pieces of concrete piercing the ground, falling from what remains left of the stadium. Maybe the tree metaphor was too vague. This city's branches transmuted into snakes, each sliding in despair from their mother's womb, infested with ants bursting everywhere in explosive orange colors and debris.

Back to the present, I hear my name echoing like that dripping tap, growing louder and louder in a familiar voice that hits all the way through the drums of my ears.

"Nicolle! Nicolle!" My father still on the phone, the phone now on the ground, half-open with the battery drooping out. I can't think.

"Leave this little fantasy world of yours already, come back home. You still have a chance to say goodbye to your grandparents."

As in an amateurish crescendo of out-of-measure jazz, the pressure revives my ears in war. Each piece of concrete, each despaired bark disappears and reappears as a Doppler effect. My timpani whistles and my legs obey—fighting against my mind—the last words of my father on the phone. I need to get out of here resonates through my now sane mind while my body trembles. But, for a moment, I could look up. The stars, quiet and serene, glitter softly as in a Van Gogh. The sparkles and flares of seconds ago open space to majestic bolts of lightning. The terror of men pale in comparison—and I let myself forget this; my treatise about anthropomorphic ants in a tree of concrete.

Accompanying a bolt that falls in slow motion, my eyes soften, forgetting the stars and aiming attention on the streets below, where moaning, screaming and desperate groans muffle the previous barks, wings and fire. It's a child. Fallen in one of the alleys. Her eyes communicate a cry for help, even though she can't see me.

Without thinking twice I begin to run through the staircase to her.

Adrenalin takes over my intimidated body. Each step down feels easier, closer to the end. And my body, lighter, soaked with endorphins, jigs about as within reduced local gravity. The yellow lights of old poles begin to weigh in, choking in winks due to the partial destruction of the center of the city. And I begin to feel like slowly fading away again into the previous state of hyperfocus, flying through the terrace door, I sight the girl laid on the wet dark ground; those shimmering green eyes light my way towards her glaring dread.

"Are you alright?" Followed by some splashes caused by my quivering legs over little puddles of water on the holey asphalt.

A weak groan and a little finger pointing to her foot are the only answer. Her ankle is hurt, probably broken.

"You're going to be alright," I say, pressing her open wound with my bare hands, staining her virgin blood with blue ink, while, with my mouth, I tore a piece of my old shirt to improvise a tourniquet. I don't know if it were the adrenaline, fear or stimulants, but dirtying myself in blood never seemed more natural.

It's when, behind the debris in the distance, a profound voice tears the avenue's empty spaces.

"...talk about changing the system from within. The problem with this conformist line of thought is that when you try to change the system from within, it's not you who changes the system; it's the system who changes you..."

I feel her body tremble with the sound of every word.

"What's your name?" I ask.

She shakes her hands in the air, forming distinctive symbols. I don't know Libras, never studied it, never needed it.

"I'm Nicolle. What happened? Can you guide me to your parents?"

Her body trembles in my arms. She's light—or adrenaline makes her so. If she could talk she would be screaming, but her pain is silent and her tears are lost in the rain.

"...third world countries are rich, abundant in resources. Many of these countries, like ours, have the capacity to feed their starving people; their children..." The voice continues.

"I'm going to take you to a hospital. I will be with you until we find your parents."

"...but plutocracies and traditionally oppressive European states force the third world into buying overpriced, unnecessary goods while exporting huge amounts of their natural resources..." On and on.

Until wet vibrations tear the already tearing voice that echoes through the city. Footsteps, and in our direction. Lights blink in bigger intervals, threatening to fail completely.

"Where are you, tiny?" Asks a crescent voice from the alley's curve. "We're not gonna hurt you."

The footsteps multiply, trampling on puddles in synchrony, like a quadruped animal. The little girl buries her face in my chest, panting.

"I think I heard something...

here!"

The girl jumps in shock without letting go a single sound. Two man wearing similar masks impound the exit.

"Wait a bit..." One of them exclaims, growing closer little by little. "Nicolle?!"

"Hey, B, do you know her?"

"Yeah, it's my... Nicolle, it's me. Look." Removing the mask.

"That explains your delay to answer my texts."

"In what world are you living? Were you really working on that waste of time shithole in a moment like this?!"

"Psst, it's the girl."

"I know, chill."

"No, I don't have a T.V. What's happening anyways? Who's this girl?"

"Don't have internet too?"

"Besides, it's our waste of time. You work with me, remember?"

"Please... I only do it for the extra money. The others also think like me, with exception of that wimp, that one just loves you."

"Look, I don't know nor want to know whatever it is you're talking about. Benjamim, I don't wanna stick myself in your flings. And Lady, just pass the girl and we'll leave you alone."

"Why?"

"Do you not know who she is?! Are you going to say that you really have no idea of what is happening?"

"You and other coffee shop revolutionaries decided to go all V/Anonymous terrorist over the city's stadium. I also suspect the people got lured there somehow."

"Really no idea..."

"Look, lady, just pass the girl."

"No."

His pocketknife reveals its shimmery cheeks against the semi-yellowed reflex of the street behind, ready to slice my cheeks with long and smooth kisses; the failing light bulbs against its smooth surface blinking diffractive, randomly illuminating patches of street and background buildings, bouncing over puddles a muddled broken rainbow that paints our bodies multicolor.

"Oh, calm down, man... no need for that."

"You heard her, man, she won't give us the girl—and if not by good it'll be by force." Traversing, in a radial way, the path that separates us, spiraling like a scared crab, his eyes frolic restless.

I try to signal to the girl in my arms, signal that I'm going to run. She responds with a squeezing that seems to have all her gathered strength, so much so that it would hurt a bit but for the numbness all over my body.

"They're harmless, we won, let me speak to—"

"Shut the fuck up!" With the first couple weak lunges, sloppy and uncertain, piercing the air, unsure of what he's doing.

Before he could strike, for a single glimpse the stars shut up. The deaf flash blinds me but doesn't block the warm sensation splashed on my face. The strong smell slowly opens my eyes while I feel the pulsating scared little heart over the wet formication under my skin.

"Much better..." Cleaning his stained face on the shirt. "I was itching to use it since I first picked it."

The other man is on the ground, immobile laying over his own belly, hands covering ears, dead. I try to speak, but the words hide in my dry throat, now mute as the girl. The clearness of vision is abhorrent; all the colors disappeared as the blade fell in a puddle, soon to rust if forgotten.

"Look at you... a wastage. If only you knew... but I don't have any more time to lose." Pointing a pistol in our direction now, dripping reddened rain that bloods the way as he approaches, he pulls out a large knife, looks at it for a moment, as if choosing his weapon. "Sorry, Nick." When my dilated pupils meet the hole in the gun, still smoking bright orange, I remember: Hair pullings, clumps still on the ground, sore, swollen gums, fresh blood painting the hay.

"Hold my hand!" Screamed the girl with reddish eyes from imminent cry.

The asymmetric circle of dreadful ardency sucked everything in its way. The sand, still wet of the night prior, was at its end; I began to graze knees on the rocky ground.

"I'm sorry, Nick!" Paul screamed with a hoarse voice, tired. I had him escaping through my fingers; I had him by a strand of sweat.

"Shut up, P." Clinging to the lightpost by the legs, already pending in horizontal position.

"I'm sorry, I just wanted to be like you for a day." Spilling a path of tears to encounter those of the little girl, me. "I don't want to go yet."

"You won't."

"But I won't let you die because of me." With a kick to my face. "I'm sorry, Nick." Before vanishing completely.

The stars howl for a fraction of second before shutting down again.

The shot is deaf, its sound un-becomes as fast as it could never be heard—it's when the bullet stops midair still spinning as if in preservation of momentum; short before reverting trajectory as it loses its orange bright.

For a moment more, a lost second, I visualize—or think that I so do—a spherical spiral sucking in even the weak light protruding from the failing posts. I don't feel my hands, but they work, since one of them holds the girl against my wheezing chest while the other clings onto the pole. When? How? Useless questions when your body tilts sideways, entirely horizontal in undulation as mere clothes drying in a violating strong wind. My glasses flew along with the pocketknife and all the water in the puddles, Benjamim screams now pulling my hair with all his forces; firing desperately against the void, bullets are forgotten once they hit its surface, soundless as if they never existed, and the droplets of rain begin to flow sideways. A huge lightning bolt comes down, striking nowhere, losing itself discontinuous inside the Hole.

Squeezing my eyes, a blurred peep through the static scenery reveals little blurs dressed in black and white elevating upwards, to the smudged sky, among random dejects and all the fruits of its blind path of destruction. The Hole had grown since the last time, my fear materialized bigger than ever—so why do I feel envy towards those moans and desperate prayers along the distant horizon, that only now begin to pronounce themselves in this newfound silence?! Between internal arguments in conflict, nibbling my cranium's shell in defeated suggestions, trembling small arms circle around my waist, and, when the grip gets stronger and stronger, the formication gives way to a sharp rapid movement as I reach for the knife in Benjamim's hands, the soon to be dead guy's hands, while the body of the other dead is slowly dragged to the enclosures of the event horizon, soon to be digested little by little. And, with a clean movement, I cut my hair close to the base, sawing it without even knowing the origin of this disposition: if external, the product of chemicals in my body trying to guarantee survival, a mixture of both—or none. I just do it, strand by strand.

"Nicolle... no!" As he feels his grip loosening "No!"

As a fragmenting flame, dispersing in the air, my hair peels away, dissipates with the body, soon to be lost or destroyed in the void, of someone I never knew nor cared about; a defective tool. It's in the reflex of its eyes, eyes that continuously scream, that I see myself as a lion, a maneless lion, a lioness, as someone who finally gave up her indifference, gave up to the warmth of a hot and wet sky. The active sucking turns more violent as a tempest fighting against its inevitable end, sucking even the gasoline-fueled flames that refuse to die in the rain. For a moment, everything is. I picture Paul's figure looking at me from the other side of the Hole. I can almost see him in those disappearing eyes. Pure pareidolia. For this moment, everything is until the next moment when nothing is anymore, and I'm a fallen body over the asphalt. Then the rain starts to fall again.

What I like to imagine, though, is what is to come. Gazing deep into the iris of most profound and pure green, under the strongest rain in years, the toll of rusty bells work as beat, beating of heart or claps in an empty auditorium. Heavy droplets open the chorus, accompanied by minors and majors of wreckages in freefall, of organic improv from the mechanical living city: rats fight to the song of human screams for semi-dead, un-rotten burnt meat through the streets, creating a varied mixture of timbres when another thunder roars wroth, followed by yet another lightning that, this time, strikes the ground, and strikes hard, bursting the asphalt to flames, cracking it to the very soil, the root of the city, and a tree of flames springs from it moments before gushing waters come spurting.

I don't know who or what is the culprit or how to define the terms of the situation. If merely bad, bad with a whiff of good—of transformative—or simply trivial, that is, if it is all over after this. That, right now, doesn't matter. Not before these eyes, wet eyes, that awaken the jazz of this city, eyes that I just saved. I held her hand and didn't let go; not this time, no amount of rain, sweat, blood or tears were able to slip this flesh interface. I didn't run this time, and because of it these eyes will shine, safe from the dark they just witnessed. And, slowly, the girl closes her eyes, completely exhausted.

Following in march and flickery bulbs, she sentences herself insomnia at the blur of her comedown, to see those stellar clusters of lamps once more but "My belly aches", dizzily staggering for food or shelter even though a catatonic hug imprisoned her like an anchor to the sea or baby anchored to a mother's chest. The girl weighs more than expected, her soft tiny frame resembles a small magical animal, but her breathing transpires natural royalty—both from the likes of fairy tales—the rain flows along her picturesque posture deemed of a scientific deconstruction from Leonardo or the best of Renaissance paintings, even though unconsciously carried by a nomad cloud in a human shape who continues thundering "My belly aches;" and imagines the girl as a crayon drawing she could never reproduce.

"It'll be alright." Her sore mouth thunders with her sore feet and sore stomach.

She lost her glasses. All her projects back at the apartment, if it still exists, it'll be a minute till she can climb to space through an elevator. The stars once again begin to shine ghastly, and howl. It doesn't matter, not in the presence of these eyes. She's home, the rest is all part of this chaotic rhythm, in this formic jazz out of tempo.

"Hold on tight."


Formic Jazz is a

short story

by Emanuel Magno. Emanuel lives in Brazil with his girlfriend, trying to convince her not to run away from the country just yet, and also trying to study physics and philosophy, in and out of it, aspiring to someday become something other than he is now. Anything but to continue ghostwriting.