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The Shape of Dust

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   Once upon a time, there was a prince and a princess with a beautiful, erotic love built on understanding and sharing but whilst this is a love story, it is a tragedy too. Their love, pure and everlasting, was hounded by a monster.

   If we begin this story, Olivia muses in reflection quite sometime after the events had been laid to their rest, then it is a poetic tale, yes. Our lovers, our prince and princess, turned out alright in the end; it is what preyed on their joy, what foul dust floated in the wake of their dreams and love that temporarily won over them in their lowest moments that weighed them down and choked them in stony despair. However, as with all good fairy tales - even theirs - they were fine in the end.

   And thus, our prince, begins in his story in slumber. He was asleep on Olivia’s lounge, blanket over him and he snored. His dreams were of nothingness for nothingness was from whence he had come. The apartment he shared with his sister, fostered by the same parents as he, was a warm place filled to the brim with knickknacks. It was a place with a dingy hearth and scarlet, worn down carpet. It had flickering lights above encapsulated on chandeliers and a wobbly table in the kitchen. It was small, but it was theirs.

   And in his dreams, Lon’qu, our prince felt the beginning of this new story, of this fairy tale. In the darkness, he was shown his and his sister’s apartment, but he was shown a version that was not theirs; not lived in. Perhaps once, but not now. It was ravaged by an eerie and long-gone apocalypse. Moss crept across long stretches of cracked cement. Cement that did not exist but took the appearance of things in their apartment. The chandeliers, the wobbly tables, even the lounge Lon’qu slept upon.

   In this dream, he wandered through his apartment, disembodied but one with the stone ravaging it, turning it to rock and cement. Every nook, every cranny, every corner. And with this disembodied flight, came a swirling dust. Brown and airy, it swept through almost like rain.

   It was so strange. This environment, inherently his and Olivia’s, was no longer so familiar to him as he wandered through it. He inspected the walls, crawling with decrepit lichen and flimsy flowers. He continued to wander through with a heavy heart as he tried to understand this new and alien environment.

   That was, until, he was roused from his sleep. Olivia bent over him, she rocked his shoulder.

   “Um, uh, Lon’qu…?” she whispered. “I’m making… breakfast.”

   Lon’qu’s eyelashes fluttered. He scowled.

   “I know, I know. It’s weird to call our night shift meals breakfast.” Olivia said. “But still, eggs and bacon sounds good, no?”

   Lon’qu nodded.

   Olivia backed off and spun on her heel. In the distance, Lon’qu heard the egg timer screeching. The whole apartment wafted with scents of the morning, but it was dark out; as dark as early spring evenings got, anyway.

   Lon’qu and his sister were unusual folk for quite some many reasons. The first was that both were nocturnal, really. Lon’qu did night shift cleaning at Emblem’s and Olivia did exotic dancing at Virion Rosanne’s strip club, Valm. She made a considerable amount more money than janitor Lon’qu but neither could brag. It ultimately didn’t matter, though. Between the two of them, they had roofs over their heads and places to sleep with plenty of food in their pantry. It wasn’t the best life, but it was a good life.

   Lon’qu sat down with his sister, opposite her at their dingy table. Even though it was a balancing game in order to keep all four of its legs on the floor, they didn’t have the heart to replace it. It had too many memories etched into it. Years of graffiti carved into its wooden top; some of it theirs, some of it the previous owner’s. It was nice. Had character, Olivia would say.

   “Do you want salt and pepper, Lon’qu?” Olivia asked.

   Lon’qu nodded.

   They didn’t make conversation but there was a close affection as their fingers brushed over each other as they passed the salt and pepper shakers. They were old. Very old. Olivia had bought them as a child and painted over them, so the Caucasian faces would look darker in order to reflect their parents. It somewhat worked.

   The food was good. Olivia wasn’t the best cook, but she put her love into it. Lon’qu could appreciate that. Besides, when it was time for them to eat dinner, it would his turn to cook and therefore, return the favour. He looked forward to sharing his meals with his sister.

   “Are you finished?” Olivia asked.

   Lon’qu nodded.

   “I’ll wash up then. You go have a shower. You don’t want to be late for the bus, after all.” Olivia said.

   True, Lon’qu signed.

   Olivia giggled. “Hurry up then.”

   Lon’qu got up from his chair and shuffled off. Olivia picked herself up, and then the plates and cutlery. She had such a fond smile on her face, Lon’qu noticed from the corner of his eye. He wondered why. He wasn’t exactly a sparkling conversationalist, after all and this was day in, day out, their routine.

   He didn’t pay it much thought though, as he locked the bathroom door behind him. People smile for all sorts of reasons. Just like he didn’t smile for all sorts of reasons. He shook his head and thoughts came tumbling out of it. He reached for the cold-water faucet and looked up at the showerhead. Water soon came tumbling out of it for him.

   Lon’qu stood inside the bath and closed the curtain. His shoulders relaxed as he felt the sting of cold water. He wasn’t fond of water. Drinking it was necessary. Bathing was also necessary. He just preferred to eat, is all. Also, he liked the idea of dirt baths. Plenty of intelligent animals, not humans, liked to have a dirt bath. He thinks that is his inner child speaking. He used to have plenty of dirt baths as a child.

   The water streamed down the side of his face. It clashed against such dry memories; temporarily causing him to forget them as he massaged his scalp in preparation for shampooing. The water streamed down the jagged rivets of his scars on his neck. He shivered. The raised skin of his scars were sensitive, even to something like water. Always were, always will be.

   He groaned. Bored. Lon’qu continued to massage in hair products. He felt high strung today. Then again, he always felt high strung: a body of tightly coiled muscles with little to no freedom or reprieve. Still, there was something that he could always tuck into that routine, at least here anyway.

   Lon’qu reached for the little, ceramic box he kept at the end of the bathtub. The water pounded on his lower back as he swung out from underneath the steady stream of water. He fumbled with the lid and drew out a waterlogged packet of condoms. He rose back to his full height. Under the din of water, he tried to protect the soggy box but it didn’t matter. He opened it up and coaxed out a condom. He returned his little stash to his porcelain box with ceramic flowers glued onto it.

   The corners of Lon’qu’s mouth quirked upwards as he slid the condom onto his member. He grasped himself firmly and decided that, until his conditioner settled, he would have a little bit of me time under the showerhead. He threw back his head and let the water pour over him. It was good fun.

   Until it had to stop, of course.

   Lon’qu got out of the shower and discarded his used condom. He grabbed his towel and began to wipe himself down thoroughly. He felt somewhat energised. He had a long shift ahead of him; all of it spent on his two feet, as well. He needed to be awake for all of it or he’d lose his job.

   He got changed. He put on his worker’s uniform: beige slacks, a white shirt, with black-brown gumboots. Lon’qu’s shoes were lined with wool to keep him wore. He grabbed his muted red scarf and further rugged up with a solid coloured, navy blue-green jacket which was permitted by the rules. He worked for very official people. He, in turn, had to appear very official, even though he was of a lowly position as janitor.

   Lon’qu passed Olivia in the hallway. He awkwardly waved his fingers at her. Awkwardly, she waved back.

   “Have a good shift, Lon’qu.” Olivia said.

   Lon’qu paused. Have a safe shift, he signed back to her.

   “I will. Virion is a good boss.” Olivia replied.

   I know, Lon’qu replied. I’m going now, bye.

   “Bye.” Olivia murmured.

   She then closed the door to her room on Lon’qu. Lon’qu shuffled off. He headed down stairs and wound up out the front door. He threw a passing glance at the picture theatre next door. They were just beginning for the night. Amorous couples would be pouring in soon, no doubt. The sight of it was bittersweet. Olivia dreamed of starring in movies and in Broadway shows, for now she moonlighted in a strip club. She had the talent and the effort, but it still seemed unachievable. Lon’qu wished there was something he could do to help her dreams come true.

  After all, he didn’t have any.

   Lon’qu tore his eyes away from the billboard and hurried down the street. The bus door opened when he arrived. He climbed aboard. He shuffled through the crowded aisles, but there were barely any seats filled. So, he chose an isolated seat and unwound his scarf from around his neck. There was a long shift ahead of him. There always was. There was also a long trip ahead of him. There always was. He would use this time wisely, resting so that he could make it through his drudgery once more.

   He balled up his scarf and rested his head against the window. His eyes fluttered close and whilst he didn’t sleep, he did dream. Day dream perhaps, but it was night. So, perhaps it was still a night dream as well. Still, all he saw in his mind’s eye was the dream he had been dreaming earlier. Swirls and curls of opaque brown-red dust and the ever-consuming rot in his apartment as it turned to stone as though Medusa’s gaze had befallen it.

   It was an oddly calming dream. No one was there to disturb him. And he was not there either, to disturb his fellow man or even the objects in his dream he had once staked possession of. He liked it. Which was saying something as Lon’qu did not like a good many dreams. He never remembered enough of them to like.

   The bus trundled to a slow and halted stop. The driver rang a bell. Last stop. Lon’qu opened his eyes and saw swathes of people almost below him; adjacent to him. Many of whom were dressed in military garb or in high-end suits which were a crisp and pristine black. Some were dressed like him. All resembled ants with how they scurried unto their hill: The Emblem Building for Aerospace Research.

   It was a somewhat prestigious job, Lon’qu supposed. It was a big-name enterprise after all and in the Cold War efforts, some brilliant thinking was probably emanating from within it. Though, that wasn’t Lon’que’s business. His business was the toilets and tiles. Every inch that could be scrubbed down and whatnot, that was his business. And from the lowest gossip rag magazine office to even the Emblem Building for Aerospace Research, a toilet was a toilet. Lon’qu had been working there for about a decade now.

   And Lon’qu joined the scramble. He scanned his surroundings as he held onto his bag. He was looking for someone. However, that person found him.

   “Oi, oi, Lon’qu! I saved ya a spot!”

   Lon’qu smiled briefly as he cut in line. His friend stepped aside. A woman, three steps back, spat at them.

   “Don’t be fucking rude, you thugs!” she hissed.

   Vaike, Lon’qu’s friend, turned his head around: “It’s totally fair, I was saving his spot whilst he washed his dick. Don’t like it? Get here earlier.”

   Lon’qu rolled his eyes whilst Vaike turned back. “Seriously, Lon’qu, some people jus’ have no respect.”

   Lon’qu pushed his ticket into the machine and had his time stamp arrival inked on it. He moved on and waited for Vaike.

   Vaike had been Lon’qu’s friend since they were kids in the foster care system. Whilst Lon’qu had lucked out and been fostered out to a good family with his sister, another child of the foster care system, had wound up in the care of his do-gooder parents, the rough and gruff Basilio and Flavia. Vaike, however, had not been so fortunate. Vaike had been one of the kids who simply aged out of the system. However, they had remained friends through the years and had both gotten jobs here at Emblem over a decade ago now. They had even applied together, that’s how close they were.

   And yet, in all those years, Vaike didn’t seem to have changed very much. As a kid, he was bit of brick house. Even today, as an adult, he was a lot of a brick house. Same loud voice, though it was deeper now, and the same sense of self-importance, too. His hair styles, however, had gone through a lot of change over the years and this was one of the better ones. And even then, the bleach blonde hair of his stiffened straight with hair gel and spray was still atrocious by most people’s standards. But, Lon’qu loved Vaike nonetheless.

   The pair chuffed off together and grabbed their things from the supply closet. All janitors worked in teams of two, so they worked together. Even if they didn’t, there was no way even the big official bosses with power over them would be able to split them. Lon’qu and Vaike were that inseparable. After all, Vaike was one of the few people in the facility who knew sign language and Lon’qu was one of the few people in the facility who didn’t community verbally. That and of course their friendship in general was a force to be reckoned with. Always had, always will be.

   Pushing their carts through the hallways was simple enough. Scrubbing down whilst gabbing was a touch harder. Vaike could talk underwater with marbles in his mouth. Lon’qu found it difficult to hold a rag and a conversation at the same time as he needed his hands for both. However, it worked regardless. Besides, they weren’t the only cleaners for Emblem, so they only had one part to handle and that part was Chapter Six.

   Vaike and Lon’qu hadn’t always been working Chapter Six. They had begun on the common areas only to work themselves up to here. They were unlikely to leave. They, presumably, knew too much but Chapter Six had been out of order for the past four years or so. But there was a lot of buzz lately. They didn’t know why. It wasn’t their business. To them, Chapter Six was an empty chamber but no different to the other containment bases like the five previous and the many after. But, even out of use, it still managed to get dirty, but their bosses wanted it cleaner than usual. After all, there had been a lot of buzz lately.

   Nonetheless, they spent their working hours working to the best they were paid which was, for the job, quite nice given the nature of their employment. After all, like many of the posters plastered in the employee common places would say: loose lips sink ships. It wasn’t pay for their work. It was pay for their silence lest they see something inopportune for the Americans in this cold stalemate.

   Well, regardless, it is true that cheerful company shortens the mile. Hard work alongside of Vaike seemed a lot less than if Lon’qu had to endure the burden alone, or worse, with someone whom he disliked or was disliked by. There was no shortage of such people in this facility. So, he kept his head down. It was the best thing to do in his situation. Mute and of an unknown ethnicity due to his circumstances, Lon’qu stood out like a sore thumb and he would very much appreciate if he didn’t or could at least minimise such things. He liked being akin to a ghost.

   Eventually, night turned to day and the working hours ended. Lon’qu and Vaike passed back past their machine and clocked out. They had their papers stamped and they were on their merry way; catching separate buses. Though they parted now, with Vaike asking Lon’qu to send pleasantries Olivia’s way. Though as good as friends as they were, Lon’qu loathed the idea that Vaike may love his sister like that. Especially given that his sister was eligible to Vaike for at least two reasons; the most pressing being that Vaike was married and Olivia was sorely incompatible with the male gender. However, it was just a joke. One he ought to be used to given how frequently they exchange these sentiments. After all, they would reunite again at night to start their rounds once more.

   It never seemed to end. The cycle of day and night; working and sleep. The only reprieve Lon’qu had was moments of masturbation and dinners spent with his sister. It was the little things that kept him going.

   In and out. Day in, day out. He would get home and make dinner. He was the best at peeling potatoes, or so Lon’qu liked to think. So, dinner was always speedy which was good since both he and his sister were usually starving after their shifts. Cleaning and dancing, though entirely different pursuits, both required them to be on their feet for far too long.

   Again, and again, it seemed. Lon’qu would go to sleep in the morning with a belly full of meagre food and in the evening, after blacked out dreams, he would get ready for the night. He would have breakfast with Olivia. She always shimmered with last week’s glitter, but she was tired too. And then he would chuff off into the shower and then get out of it to get into the same old clothes. Then, he would chase the bus and cut into line because he was late again. He would make the same old conversations with Vaike until the shift ended.

   Or so it seemed.