Dancing to the Death of Beauty

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Drug dealers only ever offer me cocaine. We are in Portugal, an old man grabs my arm, he smiles, his teeth are black.

“What?”

“Cocaine-ah?”

“Why would you offer me cocaine? You have offered everyone else here Hashish but yet you offer me cocaine? I don’t think I look like I like cocaine.”

“You do kind of look like you like cocaine,” Hank says, standing back.

“Why cause I’m skinny and white? Maybe I like Hashish, you’re skinny and white but they still offer you Hashish!”

“Hashish?”

“What?” I turn back to the old man. He had replaced the bag of cocaine with what looked like a balled up brownie.

“What is that?”

“Hashish.”

I sigh. “No, no–thank you.”

He frowns, looking hurt. He reaches in his pocket, pulls back out the bag of cocaine. “Cocaine-ah?” he asks, sheepish.

“No! Thanks,” I tell him. He sighs, shuffling over to a group of French girls nearby. “Hashish?” he asks them.

Hank and I walk on. We find a half-circled row of steps at the end, leading into the sea. A crowd has formed there. Below, a band, a couple flamenco dancers are getting ready to perform.

“Why can’t people just offer me some pot for once?” I ask. But, Hank isn’t listening. He is one of those people always looking for beauty behind every corner. So, anytime someone does something, claiming beauty, he plays close attention–hopeful. If it is beautiful, he gets annoyed at his own short-comings, if it isn’t, he gets annoyed at the short-comings of the rest of the world.

What happens next makes “beautiful” look like a truly dull and worthless word. They are all over the platform–clapping, stomping, hollering. The guitarist narrates in Portuguese as the man and woman dance. We can’t understand; it doesn’t matter. It is like watching two storms make love. The woman, wearing red–violent. The man, his white shirt open; his whole chest beating. There is something about it, something sexual–no, the word “sexual” is a party-cracker to the napalm that is their dance.

I try to imagine the pair having sex and all I see is a building being demolished. I try to picture myself, brazen, following the pair to bed; my mind backs away, scared as a puppy following the scent of steak into a fire.

When it ends, the woman sets her foot down with such force it cracks the cobble-stone. Finally, I take a breath.

“Good lord,” I say, turning to Hank. He is looking down at his own hands, he is weeping.

“I’m worthless!” he cries at them.

I reach out and pat him on the back, gently.

 

 

 

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The Safest Summer Camp in the World: The End

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*Part 7 and final part of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t read other parts, click HERE.

I didn’t sleep all last night. I was confused, but mostly impressed with myself for understanding so much of what went on in Russian.

S wakes me up in the morning. He looks sad.

“Today we go home.”

I sit up.

“What is K going to do?” I ask.

S shrugs. “There is nothing to do, we are–hm,” he frowns.

“Trapped?” I ask.

He nods.

“Breakfast,” he says, walking out. I pack my things up and follow a bit later, missing breakfast. The kids are all crying, or looking about to cry. They keep scratching their heads, running fingers through each other’s hair. One girl is wearing a hat. I don’t see K anywhere.

Ivan looks worst of all. He isn’t speaking to anyone, kicking stones around a dirt path. At two, the bus arrives. All of the students gather around. A man steps out of the main office. It takes a moment before I realize, it is K. All of his hair and beard has been shaved off. He looks like an egg. In each hand he holds an electric razor.

“Line up!” he calls. The kids do. One by one, K buzzes their hair straight down to the scalp. Many of them cry harder. One girl says something about Instagram.

“You too,” K says to S and I. We don’t protest. When the pile of hair is made in the center, K says a lot of things in Russian over it, philosophical things about life and beauty.

He walks into the office and brings out a guitar. S takes a match and sets the hair aflame. We all stand around it. K starts singing the camp song.

Tears start to dry, some of the kids start singing along. They hug each other and rub their bald heads together, even Ivan.

By the end of the song everyone is smiling.

There is no candle but many of the students say something anyways. Things about friends and family and how much they’ll miss everyone. No one mentions Baba Yaga. S comes to me, rubbing my head.

“We are brothers!” he says. Then, pointing from my head to his, “you call this, bald?”

I nod, “yep.”

“Bald brothers!” he cries, and hugs me.

The bus driver, looking at his watch, pissed, calls over to K. K nods, putting his guitar away.

“Everyone on the bus!” he calls.

The children pack all of their bags into the storage bay and climb on.

We make our way back to Russia, bald and stinking of burnt hair. It isn’t till I’m back in Saint Petersburg, undressing for bed that a thought occurs to me. I find my phone amongst my strewn about clothes. I don’t have K’s number, but I find his profile. I message him.

“Hey man, my Russian is pretty bad but did Baba Yaga say anything about body hair?”

He doesn’t respond right away. I pace, stressed, missing the mindless peace of death. It is twenty minutes before my phone buzzes. It’s K:

“…ah, shit.”

THE END.

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 5

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*Part 5 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

It’s been half a week now. We went to the Zoo in Helsinki yesterday, so no one died. After dinner every night, the kids all gather while K tallies the number of deaths each person has and gives out rewards for creativity. It seems everyone is at four deaths except two. Ivan, a boy who was in the bathroom while everyone was poisoned on the first night, and Dasha who, after seeing me get electrocuted by the fence, ran into it herself, making her the first to five deaths. K gives her a sticker.

K and I sit by the river while the kids get ready for the next event; a disco.

“Why don’t you just shoot them all five times on the first day?” I ask.

He looks out over the lake, scratching his neck. “We tried that, but kids didn’t want to come back. It’s no fun just to die. So, we started making games and events and, well–as you can see, the kids love it.”

I light a cigarette, not able to have many throughout the day.

“Tomorrow, you can decide how to kill them, American style!”

I laugh. “You’ve already shot them enough.”

He chuckles, “You’re a funny g–” he looks past me. I turn. There is something between the trees. K stands and starts walking, I follow. He gets to the edge of the woods and frowns.

I stand next to him. After a few seconds he smiles. “Just Russian superstition.”

“Uh, okay,” I say.

He waits for me to finish my cigarette and we walk up to the disco.

The disco hall is up the road a bit. The windows are dark. There are strobe lights inside, a few kids outside. It is small, cottage-like. K stops at the door, looking around.

“If you could describe this building in one word, what would it be?” he asks me.

I look up at it. The building is small, more of a cottage.

“Cottage?” I ask.

He looks at it too.

“You’re sure?”

I take a second look. “Sure,” I decide.

“Hm, it is new,” he says, and walks in,

C is outside, talking with some kids.

“How’s the disco,” I ask.

She shrugs, “We have to be inside in ten for when K blows it up.

One of the kids groans, whining about something in Russian.

C tells him to get inside.

“What was that about?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes. “He says he died in the fire the other day so he doesn’t want to get blown up.”

I nod, it seems fair to me, but I leave it at a nod.

K comes out and calls us all in. The bomb is in the middle of the dance floor. S is the DJ. He is playing English songs from my school days;

To the window! To the wall! Till sweat drips…

I can’t help laughing. The kids are dancing like wildfire. I join in.

The countdown starts at ten minutes. Everyone dances, then, the whole place blows to bits.

Being blown up is quite different from dying in a fire, as it turns out.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 4

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*Part 4/7 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

Over the past day I’ve gotten to know the kids a bit better. Most come from well-off paranoid families.

K finds me at night.

“The kids really like you,” he says. ”

I nod, “good.”

“Yes, they said you electrocuted yourself on the fence. That’s good!”

I shrug. “I’m coming to terms with it.”

“Coming to terms?”

“I’m good.”

He smiles. “Good, it’s nice to find an American who really cares.”

He shakes my hand before he goes. He stops and turns, “oh, tonight the kids are making museum exhibits in their rooms, do you want to come?”

“Sure. In a minute.”

I stay down by the river, smoking a cigarette. It is beautiful. I’ve been in a city so long I forget–

“Hey you.”

I turn, C is standing, leaning against a rock, she is picking something out of her teeth. I jump a little, tossing my cigarette aside. She laughs.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ve done much worse here,” she says, smiling.

I chuckle, “good.”

She looks at me, longer. “This camp is special, you know?” she says.

I nod. “How long have you been working here?”

“Oh, too long, much too long, longer even than K,” C sighs.

I frown, “that means you must have died–like a lot?”

C nods.

“Does it get any easier?”

C looks out over the water, she looks about to cry then, she snaps a smile, her teeth glint in the soft sunset. “Yes. So did K tell you about the museum?”

I nod.

“Alright, I’ll see you up there.” She turns, taking a path through the trees I hadn’t noticed prior.

A few hours later I am with the other councilors. We start in a room of boys. They are having a rap battle, it is all in Russian but it’s intense either way. It is pretty aggressive. Eventually they are yelling, just like those rap-battles on YouTube. K is clapping, S sits next to me, nodding along. As it gets to its most intense, both the boys pull out handguns and blow each other away. One of them even says “Bang-bang!” as he is firing.

The councilors all clap. I do too, my hands a little wet with blood. The rest of the rooms are similar. Some horror–one, a hospital room, another is a war of cowboys and Indians. One of the rooms is an alphabet search, I am apprehensive to elaborate on how they made the letters.

We move on to the next cabin. The first room is a bit light hearted; a commercial for instant noodles. At the end of it, they all stand there. No one claps. K frowns. He starts yelling at them in Russian, I don’t understand, but they don’t seem happy.

He shoots each of them between the eyes and we move on. The last room we come to has been turned into a giant fort. The kids all sway and there are candles everywhere. One of them plays guitar, another reads a story.

C is sitting next to me and she whispers in my ear to help me follow along.

“Once upon a time there was a peasant who fell in love with a princess. The princess, seeing him as so weak and unworthy, cast her from the kingdom simply for taking sight of her. This peasant began to study magic, the most powerful magic; fire. Each day this peasant burned a piece of himself away in the flames, only to replace it, little by little with fire. His power grew and he burned so brightly that the princess could see the light from her kingdom far away. She sent men to retrieve the source of that power. They brought the peasant to the princess, aflame. He had burned away every piece of himself. He stood there, a God. The princess fell in love, and she proclaimed it, prostrated. But the God of fire could not love a creature so weak. He answered with a whisper that burned her kingdom to ash.”

At the end, everyone claps just before the girls knock over the candles. The whole room goes up in flames.

Burning turns out to be my least favorite way to die so far.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 2

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*Part 2/7 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t read part 1, click HERE.

I open my eyes in bed. S stands over me.

“You were–” he coughs a few times. He holds out a spray bottle.

“For your,” he rubs his throat. Everything is a haze. I spray the bottle down my throat. The itch cools. I close my eyes. I feel S place a blanket over me.

“It often happens the first time,” he says. Then, I fall asleep. I have no dreams.

When I wake, S is gone. I step out into the main den. All the campers are mulling about. One camper is playing some Russian hip-hop on a portable speaker.

“Good morning,” one of the braver campers says to me. I wave, almost vomit–step back inside my room. After twenty minutes of swearing at a wall and coughing, someone knocks on my door. I crack it. K is standing there putting ice cream into whatever is hiding behind his beard. He takes one look at my face.

“Shit,” he says. “They didn’t tell you.”

It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer.

“Can I come in?” he asks, holding out his half-eaten ice cream as a peace offering. I step back. He doesn’t come in but instead speaks from the door.

“So–uh, what did they tell you?”

I sit down and look at my hands. They are shaking.

“Oh,” he says. “I see. Hm, okay well this camp is kind of like, spelled?”

I look up at him, “huh?”

“A bad spell.”

“A curse?”

“Ah!” he snaps his fingers. “Curse, yeah. It is cursed. No one under thirty can stay dead here.”

His eyes go wide. “You’re not thirty are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” I mumble. He sighs.

“Oh good. Well, while we are here we all have to die at least five times. And the curse will keep going. Parents send their kids here to prepare them for different deaths. So they will, well, know–you know? Not only that, but they can die as many times as they want, making us the number one safest summer camp in the world.” He swells with pride.

I try very hard to make my face show clearly that no, I do not know. He doesn’t seem to get it.

“So, you understand.”

I shake my head. “Shit, no–I’m leaving.” I stand up. My bag is still sitting on a chair, packed. He holds his ice cream out at me, like a shield.

“Ah–well, see, you already died once, and so you have to die at least four more times. If we do not all die at least five times by the end, we will not be able to leave this place.”

“Like, ever?”

He nods. “Like ever.”

He notes the look on my face. He steps closer, places a hand on my shoulder and says, “don’t worry, it will be fun. Today we go to the lake!”

I put my face in my hands.

“It will be fine, and look–it will prepare you for when the time comes. Just try to enjoy it. Set a good example for the kids? Okay? Other Americans who have come here have been pretty bad, we had to shoot one of them five times on the last day.”

I look up at him, trying to make my face do something. Instead my mouth just says “uh-huh.”

K looks guiltily at his ice cream. He sighs.

“What?”

He nudges one foot with the other. “Well–you weren’t at breakfast but we had a choking competition.”

I frown, sliding back away from him as he pulls a gun from his pocket.

“Oh come the fu–”

But he shoots me between the eyes before I can finish the sentence.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World

 

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The summer camp I was hired to work at looks like every summer camp from every movie I’ve ever seen just before everyone gets murdered by one urban legend or another; except in Finland. And Finland looks like a topographical map I made in the seventh grade.

On the five hour bus ride from St. Petersburg, Russia to the middle of Where-The-Fuck, Finland, I met the camp leader, K. He had a beard–a big one.

When we arrive, the campers from the previous session are there, crying, hugging–crying again. I take to the outskirts of the crowd. A man, another camp leader, finds me. His name is S. His English isn’t as good as K’s but he’s got a better smile. He shows me to my room, which is also his room.

He smiles. “We will be–what’s the word?” He points at himself, then me.

“Roommates?”

“Yes,” he says, “roommates. Good.”

He leaves me to unpack. I go outside to look around. The bulletin board is all in Russian, the leaders, the campers, the food and the clothing, Russian. The trees are Finnish. I stand there, American, confused.

Dinner time makes its way around. The food is good, though Russian. There are other counselors. One, a woman, speaks English quite well; her name is C.

“How do you like the food?” C asks.

“Good,” I say. She frowns. “Do you live in Russia?” she asks.

I nod.

“Why?” she asks.

I look around the table of camp counselors. The eating has slowed.

“Uh–I like it,” I tell her, then add, “so, what do we do tonight?”

“Some games to learn everyone’s names, some dancing,” K tells me.

So, after dinner we all make our way into the main hall of a large cabin. Everyone stands in a circle. There are a number of instructions that get given out in Russian; most of which fly past my ears without bothering to stop. S is the DJ. In every moment where silence might make its way in, S plays some hip-hop song.

The campers start stepping out onto the floor one by one. They say their name, do a dance, and step back. Then everyone says hi and repeats their name. S hits play on the music after each one. After six or seven students I slowly start to realize the song being played.

One student steps out, a boy, “Misha,” he says.

“Hi, Misha!” the campers call.

Then, over the speakers, the song plays: “Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

S pauses it. I frown. The next student steps forward.

“Sasha!” she says.

“Hi Sasha!” the campers call.

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

I look over at S. I look around the room. Everyone is smiling, dancing a bit; excited.

“And I am K!” K cries, throwing open his arms.

“Hi, K!”

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

I stand back, shrug and do a dance when my time comes.

Then, things slow down. Everyone sits. K lights a candle and it starts getting passed around the room. Everyone speaks a bit, in Russian. C sits next to me.

“You need to talk about how you feel,” she whispers.

“Uh-huh,” I tell her, not having a damn clue what that means.

She taps me, “and when you agree with something someone says, rub your hands together,” she tells me.

“Mhm,” I say, noticing the room do just that. Then, before I realize what is happening, the candle is in my hand. I stare down at it.

“Wait, what?” I ask C.

“Talk about your feelings,” she tells me.

“My feelings?”

“Yes.”

I look around the room. Fifty Russian teenagers wait, polite.

“My feelings about what?” I whisper.

“Camp,” she says.

I sigh. “Hmm, well, Uh–I feel confused. And–uh, old, yeah you all make me feel old,” I say, then, looking away I mutter, “that was a weird thing to say.”

“The food is good,” I add, louder. Then I pass the candle quickly away, as though it were on fire. C takes it. Then, from my left someone whispers, “your hobbies!”

“His hobbies!” someone adds, from my right.

The candle is back in my hand, it burns.

“Your hobbies,” C tells me.

“Oh-uh, I like to read and uh…”

I look around. K saves me by rubbing his hands in the air. The rest of the students do the same. I take the opportunity to pass the candle on. I take a breath and sweat for the rest of the candle-time.

At the end K places the candle in the center of the room. All the campers gather around it, then on three, everyone blows it out together. There is cheering, there is music.

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch, damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

Someone brings in snacks, juice. Everyone eats first. A drink is put in my hand, it is red, sweet. Ten minutes later everyone lays on the floor, dead. The smallest ones fall first. I am one of the last, confused, unable to breath. S is one of the last as well. We lay next to each other. With his last breath, he frowns.

“What do you call this?” he asks.

I choke on nothing, everything is going black.

“Dying?” I manage, no longer having the energy to panic.

He smiles, fading away with an ‘ah-I-knew-that’ look on his face.

TO BE CONTINUED…

**Hi everyone, so just wanted to note that this will be my longest sequential series. It will be a series of 7. It will start today. If you want you can wait till next week and binge it in one go but, if you trust me, let it come together slowly. Either way, I hope you enjoy how it all comes out. Be warned…there is some pretty dark humor on the way.

A Beer Full of Awkward

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I sit having a beer with some friends–well, friends. We were friends the way a banana might be friends with a meat-pie.

One of my friends brought one of his friends; a girl who just got in from Vladivostok with her husband. She is being quite flirty with me. I smile with a mouth-full of meat pie.

Her husband is watching me, somehow managing to chew me with his eyes. I make a joke, his wife laughs a good long while.

I can feel the room grow smaller and smaller until it is only me and her husband’s toothy eyes.

“Isn’t he funny?” she asks him. He says some things in Russian I don’t quite catch. It upsets her. We all sit in silence. Then, for some reason unbeknownst to me, my mouth decides to say, “awwwkward.”

At this, the girl from Vladivostok breaks her silence, bursting with laughter. Her head tilts back and then, suddenly, freezes. The laugh is cut short along with the rest of the world. I look around and realize the whole bar has stopped–the music, the footsteps, the dishware. All silent. Even the smells from the kitchen are no longer reaching my nose.

“What the shit?” I ask, looking back across the table. The husband watches me. I see his actual teeth now–a sick smile, and its growing.

He waves.

“What–”

He holds up his hand. He says some things in Russian; the only word a catch–an insult–meaning something along the lines of “male dog”. He picks up a knife off the table and, before I can move an inch I feel it find a home somewhere in my neck–somewhere warm.

The warmth spreads, goes cold. The cold brings the dark. Someone, somewhere, is laughing.

I sit having a beer with some friends–well, friends. We were friends the way a banana might be friends with a meat-pie.

One of my friends brought one of his friends; a girl who just got in from Vladivostok with her husband. She is being quite flirty with me. I smile with a mouth-full of meat pie.

Her husband is kind of weird; sitting there, whistling a tune.

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A Baby? Some Groceries? Maybe Drugs…

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I shouldn’t have worn a hat. You never can trust the weather here, though. I am listening to Prince.

A Babushka eyes my hat suspiciously as she rolls by. She is wearing a raspberry beret; the kind you’d find at a second hand store.

Life is weird, I think.

Up ahead, a man is trying to find the sidewalk. He swoops left, then right. He is drooling. A woman in yoga pants dodges him. It throws him off. He falls onto a knee-high metal fence, gut-first. He lays there, like a rag-doll.

I look at him and a firework of thoughts goes through my mind.

I watch one where I walk over, I help the man to his feet. He socks me on the jaw. In another, he stabs me, another, we hug and I buy him lunch. In another I stand there like a fool, holding him. In another, he dies. In one, I see myself giving him money.

He rolls off the fence and sits on the curb. He groans as I pass. He looks down at his hands. I can smell him in the sunshine.

Up ahead, three preteen girls push a carriage. One is holding a small dog.

I wonder what is in the carriage.

The Walk: The Biker with Her Mouth Full

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I woke this morning with a headache that had already grown up and learned how to say “coffee.”

The camp I’ve been counseling at, being mostly filled with children, understandably, had none. So, I’ve been walking for thirty minutes now. The sun is still out. It would be a record if I were back in St. Petersburg.

After stopping at a shop that turned out to not be the shop I’ve been looking for, I press on. There is a garage to my left. A man sits outside on a bucket. He looks like any man, sitting on any bucket, outside of any garage, anywhere in the world. He waves.

I wave, like a pro.

I walk further. A lawn is being mowed. It smells like it. Then, finally, I see an intersection. I vaguely recollect–from a lifetime ago–when I was told of this store that “it’s somewhere, kinda near an intersection.”

I look to my left.

“Boo-yah!” I say, skipping toward it. Then, I see the door. It is a fat white door. There is a fat white sign with fat blue letters.

ME-LR 9:00-17:00

LA 9:00-13:00

Is what it says. I realize it is Saturday, late afternoon. But, Finnish, being what it is, does not translate well into comprehensible abbreviations.

I cross the empty parking lot, toward the light-less building with a hung-man’s hope.

I pull on the door. I sigh. I turn in shame. I trudge back across the wasteland of a parking-lot. I spot some bikers across the way. I wave to them, they wave back.

“English?” I ask. The man jerks his thumb towards who I imagine to be his wife.

“Hi, uh–do you know where the next closest shop is?” I ask.

She nods. “Twelve kilometers that way,” she says, with a mouthful of accent.

I don’t bother to ask which way and she doesn’t bother to point.

“Well, shit.” I sigh.

“Yes.” She gives me a sympathetic smile. They bike on. I turn, thirsty, hungry, tired. I start to walk back.

I quickly pass the house of one-thousand post cards; eyes at war and black teeth wave to me as I go. I am starting to sweat. A fly, or maybe a bee, flies in front of my face. It lands on my cheek.

Instinctively, I reach up and smack myself across the mouth, knocking my headphones off. I pick them up, the sun beats down on my neck.

Whitney Houston has lost half her volume. I place the headphones around my neck instead. A car peels around the corner. I don’t have time to wave.

The sun starts to burn when I realize I have to go to the bathroom, bad.

“Oh yeah, that’s why I left the country-side,” I tell the horse across the pond, starting to run.

THE END.