psul's sandbox
rating: 0+x

The freezing midnight fog stole over Irkutsk. A blanket was drawn over the town: thick, white, damp, chilling those who slumbered beneath it. The empty streets filled up with air made visible, unnaturally still. If the sky above had ever held a moon, it had abdicated, was exiled, fled, driven out. Darkness remained, vertiginous in height but pressing downwards, the few remaining lights struggling under its mass.

In the blind grey of street level, a wandering light, the orange glow diffuse in the fog. It floated unhurried from pavement to park, rising and falling by degrees. In its path, the mist swirled slowly in frozen whirlwinds and whips, tongues and talons. Then the glimmer was swallowed by distance and the air breathed its last, faded, and locked back into place.

The Ruskaly-light flared and ebbed as it passed houses and apartments, as if searching for unbaptized infants to spirit away. It dallied briefly at a corner, then sped up, bobbing as it drifted past a row of shops. At the shutters of a neighborhood butcher it paused, moved briefly up and down, then blazed for a final bright second.

Throwing his cigarette to the sidewalk, Arkady crushed it with his boot. He exhaled smoke into the enveloping haze, adding to the Irkutsk night, becoming part of it. Breathing in, he wondered what the fog looked like inside his lungs, flowing vaporous through each branch and sac. Arkady shivered.

Somewhere above, a streetlamp flickered, imprisoned lightning rattling its halogen cage. He looked at the butcher's sign again. This was the place.

He heard footsteps. A figure approached, wraith-like, the fog in its path boiling and swirling.

"You are here for the lesson?" It was a young woman, hunched against the cold.

Arkady grunted assent. Pulling another cigarette from his pocket, he looked at her.

She was tensed, almost coiled. Not nervous, perhaps, but there was an energy she had compressed within her shoulders, her gloved hands. Her age was masked by pale makeup and short hair dyed jet, uncompromisingly severe. The whole effect was too deliberate. It was like she woke up and decided to dress up like an artist.

He held out the cigarette. She looked down in refusal. They stood still in the night, in the mist.

Eventually the woman stuck out a hand. "My name is Eva."

"Arkady." He saw her looking at the ink on his exposed wrist, trying to connect it with the tattoos curling out of his collar and up his neck.

Eva ventured again, "So how did you -"

A groan of metal turned them, and the shutters of the butcher shop rattled slowly upwards. The fog gathered closer to watch.

The windows behind the shutters were darker than the night outside. The streetlamp’s flickering pulses did not penetrate. The shutters creaked as they reached the top, and the silence afterwards rang with the sound of ghost metal. The shop door opened and breathed out a smell of frozen flesh to hang in the wet atmosphere.

The door stood open. Eva looked at Arkady.

He shoved the cigarette back in his pocket, glanced at the blank surroundings, and walked in.

Inside, the flat scent of absent meat was painted thick on the air. It seemed to drip down empty shelves and lie in pools on the counter.

Eva had followed him in, eyes darting. The door closed behind her. With a clank, the shutters began to fall, darkening the interior.

Arkady heard Eva gasp. He turned. There was a figure in here with them, it’s hand outstretched. The shutters reached the ground, and for a second the room was black.

With a click, fluorescent bulbs came to life. The shadowed cavern was an empty butcher shop. The figure was a woman in her sixties, slight and grey-haired, with small glasses. In a butcher’s apron and heavy rubber gloves she seemed incongruous - a librarian on a job swap.

"Welcome," she said, smiling. "Welcome both. I do not mean to be theatrical - we have neighbours that we must not disturb, and we prefer that your arrival does not attract unnecessary attention. I am called Vika."

"Eva." The young woman stepped forward, hand outstretched, gauche.

Vika laughed lightly. "I know you both. We try to vet people before we meet them."

Eva looked away, abashed. Arkady narrowed his eyes for a second, then turned to Vika.

"So why are we here?"

"Each for your own reasons, I think. You, Arkady, are here because you are curious, and ambitious, and skeptical. Eva may have other purposes. But you are both here because you have talent, and I believe you might have enough discipline to become craftspeople."

"To join the Meat Circus?" Arkady’s tone was pointed.

A brief silence, as Vika held his gaze. "Did Picasso call himself a Cubist? That is not a name we use. We are artists, working in collaboration, this is all." She paused again. "Perhaps it is best if I show you."

"This used to be a community that treasured vision, that held itself to a higher standard. This was a place where artists could grow and be nurtured. Now it has become a mockery - the same tired core engage in mutual masturbation, and new members are corralled like cattle into the routine.

We throw some flesh together, slap a number on it and call it complete. Fifty is a joke, but how are we even at fifty. There is no skill in this, no application, no refining of an idea to its essence and then expressing its purest form. We have lost sight of what we should be. We are no longer artists

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