”Hey, why don’t you come over here and clean up?”
The huge body stopped in its tracks and slowly turned to where the human voice had sprung from. He covered half the corridor and almost devoured the sharp fluorescent lights in the ceiling, like a liquid darkness. The head was huge and slouched and the upper body leaned slightly forward, as if he just for the moment was standing on his hind legs, weathering. The neck was as broad as the scull and the shoulders shot out from the body. He had long raven black hair, a giant’s hands and a mute and drained gaze in the deep green eyes as he shuffled along, walked as if he any second would give up and collapse like a deflated inflatable figure. Almost no one had ever heard him speak. Not at the school where he mopped, not at the bathhouse or the gymnasium where he scrubbed and not at the health centre where he cleaned the toilets with a tiny brush. Soundlessly loafing through corridors and classrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms and waiting rooms, over plastic floors and sticky tiles in a pair of worn out jeans, white sneakers often untied with the grey, dirty straps trailing behind the heels. He looked over at a couple of teenage boys sitting on a bench in the school corridor, surrounded by other kids, watching, witnessing, waiting. The boy that had shouted at him bent his head forward and without breaking eye contact he spat on the floor. A big, tobacco brown gob that fell heavily and splashed when it hit the worn plastic carpet. They boys laughed like magpies. All the other kids turned their heads and starred at him.
”You missed a spot, fuckin’ cleaner retard”, the boy continued.
The giant clamped the mop broom that looked so small in his hands, like a twig, turned around and scuttled away with his cleaning trolley creaking in front of him and his shoe laces trailing behind. He passed the corner, with trembling and clumsy hands he took out the huge keyring, managed to dot the lock, stepped into the broom cupboard next to the teacher’s lounge, slammed the door shut behind him and let the lamp remain dead. He could see in the dark. He could see in the dark and he thrived in darkness and in the dark and the silence he closed his eyes and saw the woods, was in the woods and the silence, in his real shape. The smell of pine, berries, ants and sun warm mire. He was sick here, mutilated, fled to a broom cupboard to take deep breaths so that nothing would happen. He could still smell the stench from the spit and the boys. Sweat, cheap detergent, gazoline, cigarettes and snus. He observed his hands. The claws that had begun to come out retreated. Never break or disturb the order of things that are. That much he knew. There once had been an endless forest and in the spring an awesome river which released its ice and roared and streamed in rapids and falls and he could stand in the water and catch playing salmon. Another land and another time without corridors, and he did not know just how much longer he would be able to attain and seal and keep everything inside his body and shape and mind, in the dark, in the broom cupboard, in canteens and waiting rooms and locker rooms and classrooms and in a small and sterile apartment in a tiny town where everybody seemed to know who he was but nobody knew him and nobody spoke to him where he walked silently. It was friday and it was autumn.
He pushed the broom back and forth, in horizontal eights. Followed it with his eyes, soggy strings, yellow and dirtier than the floor. The water in the bucket cloudy and grey after half a corridor, from the stairs and towards the gymnasium. The red linolium flooring shinier, for a brief moment even appeared somewhat clean, but as soon as it dried up behind him it basically was the same as before the mopping, ingrown dirt in scratches and worn down gruff, rugged under the feet. Red. He hadn’t always been here. This wasn’t his origin ground. Deep from within the great forest he had come, migrated west from the far east, over mountains and tundras, out of the taiga. Shifted shapes along the way, careful not to be seen. He had never gone into hibernation during the winter, hated it. Hated the floor that never got clean but always thought of the eights that he made with his mop. An eternal loop that kept him in the moment and in the shape. Nobody spoke to him. Neither students nor teachers. Almost nobody. That was good.
At the end of the corridor, it was there that he first caught the scent. Heard it. It came from one of the changing rooms. The afternoon was late and the sun was already gone. The light in the school corridor, sharp and yellow, sucked into the autumn darkness outside, windows like black holes. He looked at his watch. Raketa. He winded it every morning and it still kept time to perfection. He had taken it from an arm. Friday. A school deserted by kids and teachers, like a hastily evacuated village in the shadow of a nuclear melt down. Only the once that cleaned up and locked up was still left behind. He put down the mop in the trolley with the bucket and the waist bin and all the strong detergents and chemicals that stinged his nose when he cleaned the toilets and extracted smudged snus from the grid wall in the stairs. The snus got caught there when the kids kibbled their wet lumps out of their mouths and threw them at the grid, forming foul brown stains and lumps that dried and stuck. Fun. The scent got stronger the closer he came to the changing rooms. It wasn’t in 1. Sweat, cheap detergent, gazoline, cigarettes and snus. And something sour, like turned milk. It was them. The boys from the corridor, the boy that had spat on the floor and had told him to come over there and clean it up while the other teenagers had stood and starred, the boys that had laughed at him. He grunted, backed away, wanted to stand up on his hind legs but realized he already did. Thought of the floor, the eights on the floor with the mop. Eternal, as the river. It worked. Kept him in shape. The smell increased. Not in 2. A rank reek. He snorted. Also sounds. Dull, someone crying stifled. The same laughter as earlier. Sick calls. Moaning. Heavy breathing. The smell of unwashed genitals. Also a girl. 3. It was in 3. The door was locked but he had the key. Clumsy he reached for the cluster, no rustling, carefully lifted it by its chain, held it in his hand, aimed, dotted the lock and turned the key. The door fell up. Red floor. The mop. Vapid damp in the air and mold in the walls. Around and around in eternity. The forest. Over the tundra. Out of the taiga.
All four boys turned around, looked up. The boy who had filmed was standing closest to him. He tried to quickly put away his phone but the giant’s hand snatched it like a trout and the boy released it and backed away. The man looked at it for a brief moment, then closed his hand and crushed it until nothing remained, like one of those thin, white plastic cups that you could find in a hospital toilet. It sounded just like that, he thought. A brittle crackling. Small black flakes and gleams fell to the floor. The floor dappled beige, like dry, dry tundra. The boy over at the bench, the one who had been inside the girl, pulled his pants up. The girl small and pale, red-haired, a starving fox pestered with mange, the eyes of a hunted deer.
”What the fuck did you do to his phone?!” said the boy and buttoned his jeans. ”What the fuck are you doin’ here anyway, fuckin’ faggot. Fuckin’ cleaning retard faggot. Not finished yet? Is it because you so fuckin’ slow and fat and stupid and retarded?”
The boy grinned, excited. Eights. Linolium floors. Trees. The forest. The river. Fish. Mires and ants. Shapes. In the cottage with the mother and the soldiers. Awakes naked in the woods, covered in blood. Peels off the face from a head with one struck of the paw. The men’s dogs. The other boys shaky, paralyzed, awaiting. Not the leaders of the flock.
”It’s a good thing you came, though. You can clean up in here. We’re done.”
The boy on his way to kibble out the snus in his mouth with his right index finger to through it on the floor. Birds fleeing. Leaned over a carcass, rips open the rib cage with his jaws. Lifes and shapes melts together. Feels how the nails starts to grow into claws. Too late. He grabs hold of the boy’s wrist that crackles just like the phone. The boy’s face distorts, wails and twitches, an animal caught in a trap. Looks up at the big man, meets the eyes as they start to shift from white and dark green to yellow and deep brown. Shoulders that shoots out of the blue shirt, a neck that contracts, creaks. His flock of friends flees, out and away. Not to get help. Just to flee like the birds in the glade. The girl, still on the bench, she hasn’t even been able to pull up her panties. The boy draws a strained breath and wants to scream but the man takes his other hand, grabs hold of the boy’s neck and slams him against the wall, lifts the boy slowly until his feet leaves the floor, a gaunt little mangut. All cries suffocates, the air abandons the boy’s body as the man leans closer and whispers.
”If you touch her again … I’ll open you.”
”My … dad … gonna kill you, fuckin’ cleaning … cunt”, the boy wails teary-eyed.
”Tell your dad I’ll open him too. I have opened others before. Tell him that.”
A voice like an abyss, roaring thunder over the mountainside. Ammoniac, bacterias and salt. The smell of urine as it streams over the tundra like a yellow creek. The man doesn’t really have his hand on the boy’s throat, but more around the entire neck. He squeezes and watches as the eyes pops out of their sockets, beholds how the face blushes and the mouth opens like a pinched cut, the tongue flickers, the boy’s gaze starts to rove towards the sealing. Like crushing a fish. He no longer tries to keep his mind on the mop. He thinks about forests and mighty rivers. It helps. Shuts his eyes and draws three deep breaths. Feels how the grip becomes looser, how the claws retreats and the eyes fades into white. How everything that has begun to reshape and swell within him sinks back. He releases the boy who first falls to the floor and then gets on his feet and slips away, whimpering, sobbing. Like the dogs of man. The huge figure looks over at the girl still sitting on the bench. Black makeup in streams and spots over her white face. She resembles a strangely coated bird, but she is not afraid. Not of him. Her eyes not crying but empty, hollowed. Dens. She awakes, pulls up her panties and pants and then remains sitting straight on the bench, starring down at the floor, over the tundra and the boy’s urine.
”Don’t tell anyone”, she says, grabs her bag and quickly passes the man without looking up at the still yellowed eyes, continues out and away, through the wide open door.
He pushes his nose forward and turns his head and listens and weathers and senses. No boys. No other humans either. The whole school abandoned and arid. Outside all light is gone and the water in the bucket is grey and the mop smells sour and the floor in the corridor is once again dry and just as dirty as always and he can feel his skin burning and he can see opened carcasses lying infront of him in a glade and he once came out of a forest that has no end. Out of the taiga.