Sandra K. wakes up in her bed in her Dalston home, fairly surprised to find her body devoid of the usual morning arousal. This hasn’t happened since the dark days of her depression, a decade or so earlier, and leaves her rather perplex. Still, unabashed, even if a tad disappointed by her immasturbatory predicament, she jumps off her bed, gives a big wet kiss to her beloved dog, sniffs her armpits, decides the t-shirt is still ok for the day, puts on her ugly, ankle-revealing hipster jeans, some dirty jacket and just as ugly flashy sneakers, and pops out of the house.
Something is calling. She has a lot of work to do, projects everywhere, applications to submit, student copies to mark, parties to attend to, buddies or beloved to shag, but somehow she knows all that must wait. What is it? Highly probably she does not know, and it might be better that way. She is in the odd, albeit not unknown situation where she both knows and knows not what her heading is. Ask her, she would reply she hasn’t got the foggiest idea. But let her roam free, and she will turn at every right corner, and not hesitate for a second. And so off she hops, in perhaps the most precise and directional way ever seen since the days of Mr. Holmes.
London, all around, indistinguishable from the day before, the sky grey as fuck. Just another random weekday morning in mid-January. She does not need to walk long to reach Kingsland Road, then heads south. Passes Burley Fisher Books, and after having checked herself in the glasswindow – yes, she is as stern and beautiful as ever, plus sexy lips, doubleplus still half-awake ravishingly scruffy morning pout –, thinks of spitting on it. Indeed, although being one, she truly loathes hipsters, at least as much as her own life. However, for some incomprehensible reason, thinks better of it and carries on. Passes the canal. Coffee or not coffee at By the Bridge? Hasn’t tried it yet. Nah, not today. So many failed dates along that canal, ridiculous. Passes the Suleymaniye Mosque. The Geffrye Museum. Loong Kee, arguably the best Vietnamese in town. Remembers that day when she discovered they sold their own delicious version of cheung fun, the cannelloni of the Far East, which she had been trying to lay her teeth on for months in so many Chinese restaurants. That had made for a most serendipitous eve, and thenceforth confirmed her as one of the pillars of that establishment’s clientele. More shit dates in there, though. Everywhere she is going on dates, her mind autocompletes. The Old Shoreditch Station: way too many failed dates there as well. There was this girl, for instance, cute-faced but not that bright, she had been trapped there with her needing to take a dump, trouble being, they only have urinals, she ended up farting the whole time. Quite funny, now that she thinks about it. A pity they did not end up having sex. Almost by Ace Hotel. Always in her mind associated with the infamous, sublime Tessa K., a Jamaican-born erotic model and long-time muse of hers. So unreachable, she thinks, but at least they share a common initial. And what initial! Stuff of legend. At times she thought she ought to do something about her scopophiliac tendencies, a most dangerous frailty in the age of Instagram. But only at times. In the end she changes her mind, no Ace today, turns left on Calvert Avenue. The most Berlin bit of London. Ah, Berlin. How come she is here and not there? It’s been, what, twelve years, now, in this damp grey hole of a city. She who is all about wilderness, road trips, and aurorae boreales. How come she never moved? But as it always happens each time she trips on that questions, her brain seems to go fatal error, before rebooting into her regular londoner mode. Work, students, application, fuck. Arnold Circus. A youngster or two smoking spliffs in the tepid winter air. Right into Club Row. Nice brick. Respect the brick. Left into Redchurch Street. Shops. Hipsters. More hipsters. Crosses Bethnal Green Road. Left: many more failed dates at the Well and Bucket; straight ahead: comforting salmon & cream cheese bagels, as well as salted beef or (only for conoisseurs!) chopped herring. (In the first, white shop, never the second, orange one). Brick Lane at last. Serpentine corridor of microcosmic import. An ugly place, like the rest, albeit arguably a loved one.
This is really getting boring. Ellipsis until she reaches the the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, with its kinky minaret, and then. Awe. Plump, stately, the Seven Stars appears in front of her, glorious remains of East London’s derelict past. She realises it now. It had been it calling her all along. All her senses are in alarm. Arousal kicks back in, alongside this feral rush of energy she knows all too well, when she is about to overcome. She approaches slowly, her gaze fixed on the target. Slow and stealthy, she slinks around it. She doesn’t even register the calls for curry deals coming from employees of the neighbouring restaurants, Saffron and Monsoon among others. Still in the zone, ready to kill, she enters the small alleyway leading to the courtyard. Graffitis everywhere, most of them just kitsch and lame, camera fodder, seem to be watching her, some with excitement, some with anguish. Most of them don’t, however. Too weary. Too deadened. To care about anything any more.
K. finds the door and pushes. It is open. ‘Welcome’, she hears a figure saying. A very tall, very thin thin figure emerges from the dark. Such an unreadable, forgettable face, K. thinks, this man could well remind of Shirō Ishii. Could this be the landlord? With his top hat, bow tie, and ominous air, he could start muttering some hackneyed tirade around Club Silencio that she wouldn’t even react. ‘I killed to get this pub derelict as it presently is’, he says with a broad smile, a silk voice like in the movies, ‘and you will see, if you discover the rest of it, that I am a man of resolute and multi(ne)farious character. Haha! Not only that, but I am also very sensitive, and I do care about what people think of my work. Who doesn’t, these days, right? Anyway, you won’t be surprised if I tell you I dearly hope you will enjoy the visit.’ K. isn’t surprised, doesn’t react, but follows him when he turns and enters a corridor on the right-hand side. She ought to be scared, she thinks, or at least perplexed, but, as has become rather usual today, she really isn’t. In fact, neither now nor earlier does she seem to feel a thing. Even realising that this ought to make it all even more worrying leaves her perfectly indifferent.
After the corridor comes the pub. A plain, banal rundown pub, that appeared in some bad TV show in the 70s. All dimly lit and stinky. Perhaps she can discern a tramp or two in a corner, say, one tall, the other short; one vomiting (in a hat), the other shitting (in a shoe); or similar; you get the idea. The guide, almost greenish-skinned in this light, but as elegant and serviceable as ever, invites her to follow him to a flight of stairs. And down, down they go.
Basement 1. Looks like a butchery, with a kitchen bit as well. Some graffitis extend inside, just as lame and kitsch, perhaps slightly less visible. The floor, for the most part, is covered with large puddles of blood. Could be the red and wadable version of Richard Wilson’s room in basement of the Saatchi, she thinks, almost enthusiastically. Nonetheless she treads on the dry bits. Quite remarkable, she reflects, how this place feels both utterly abandoned and in use at the same time. She couldn’t care less, unfortunately, to know how this is even possible. Even if she wanted to. She walks around. Diversified stenches of rot. Cheese as well, alluring. Sound of blood trickling down freshly cut body parts. Someone is chopping, she notices. Someone female. K. realises she is being watched. A cold, hating gaze. Unimportant. The drops and axe create interesting polyrhythms. K. takes a notebook out of one of her pocket, hastily writes down ‘Jarrell Assonance VII’, and carries on. The top hat’s fingers start beckoning. She comes. Next.
Interesting. The flights become longer, and each level higher, deeper, than the next. Not much to be said about the second basement level. A graffiti or two. But mainly cracks and abysses. Each one darker, more deadening than the next. Each one more eager than the other to engulf the shit out of you. It is not known how K. manages to walk around, or reach the side with the stairs; if it is through bold and agile jumps, bridges, perhaps invisible ones, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; if there are separate rooms with various ordeals or dangers; if it is peopled, haunted, empty as hell; etc. Next.
3. An obscure female arm opens the door and, with an open hand, invites K. into the space. An Italian arm, she instantly recognises, although again at a loss to say where this knowledge might have come from. A wordy level. Just bare words, the only ones that hurt. Tempted to have them written in blood, that would make the butchery retrospectively useful. But no, they aren’t. Written by no one, it goes without saying. It is said visitors see there the very words that will drive them into madness. (Of course we don’t know who says that. But how can this be, since no one comes here, and, it must be clear by now, no one who would ever returns?). As K. has been a fucking nutcase for years she doesn’t mind. The Italian arm makes impatient gestures to another figure, tall and gentle, that had been faffing about the level. He swiftly reacts, writes more words for K.’s perusal. While inscribing, he near-sings in a ghastly, Lecterine tone. Like most sound-oriented people, K. has a distant respect for words and wordsmiths. Is he no one then? Seems unlikely. How does this make sense? Perhaps he’s only copying them. Perhaps. In any case, she reads for a bit, unfazed by the singing. Then to the stairs again.
On basement 4 K. encounters a lovely cameraman of swift composure and goatish beard. His face not painted white, and as a matter of fact they haven’t met before, but the grin is nice. He films everything. K. interacts with him politely, but gets almost instantly distracted, a mixture of Victorian girls and modern matrices this time, and starts pondering the possibility of black and grey rabbits, instead of just the white one, in an age of both hacker alignments and positive discrimination. But all too soon she pulls herself out of this unsatisfactory meditation. The cameraman is still filming her, with the same nice smile, from so close it occurs to her they run a significant risk of collision. For a moment there is a little game between them, she moves away, he follows; she pushes back, he dodges; that sort of thing. The landlord, if that’s what he is, and, yes, he is still around, shows signs of impatience. K. as well, in fact, even though she is too discreet for anyone to notice. The descent has proved as mechanical, that is, disappointing, as it is meaningless. A second later she is walking down the stairs.
Basement 5, not much to be said either, like level 2, despite the above-average levels of horror. A fairly large room, very obscure, difficult to go through, really bad, with plenty of deadly traps and all, the whole package. On a table members are being assembled, ready for electrification. In a corner half-dead people trickle down from a large sewer pipe, that are finished off during the fall, a variety of weapons working simultaneously to this end, while at the bottom something resembling a large sieve swallows them all. Probably they make sausages out of the meat and label it vegan for pranks. Her first thought, as bored as ever. Not strictly speaking first, rather the first of two she has at the same time, as if one on top of the other, the second being: industrial killing, they really have no imagination down here. At this rate I can expect child rape, slaughter and stew to pop up in the next minutes. And that it does, a short, thick man with the face of a statue of Angkor Vat laboriously mixing the bits in a large bucket. And the eggs on top, he mumbles, content, and the eggs on top. Box ticked, next.
“Hello, honey bunny! Come, come closer, don’t be shy!”, She welcomes her by the stairs. Tall in her heels, greedily gulping down a glass of champagne, burping like Mephisto, regulping, reburping, wiping her lips with the back of her hand, smiling broadly, her tall, high-heeled eyes joyfully crazed. “I have everything I need here! Come play! Look, on this table my little colony. Labour is fun, that’s what’s written on the door, yes, so well done, isn’t it? So real! And you can change it to any text you like in an instant!” K. barely has the time to stoop to take a look at the mini-camp that the lady pulls her away and shows her another one of her toys. “Here, sweetie, is my very own baby-sized bonfire with all the books and journals I like to burn: yes, absolutely, that’s the White Review here, all the issues, although the first ones are quite unrecognisable, you’ll admit, and here, yes, these white and blue volumes, all by Fitzcarraldo Editions!” K. scrutinises the heap, takes her notebook from her bum-pocket, swiftly scribbles ‘Alexievich Meyer Énard’, puts it back where it belongs. “And here,” she had dragged her a bit further, “a collection of my favourite urban hells! Look at these, how bombarded they are, isn’t it cute? Yes, citizens eating corpses in the still midnight. And there, there, I’m so proud, I just redid the three buses up on their head, coolness incarnadine!, it was sooohard to make them stand that way, my minions spent weeksperfecting this model!” K. can’t really believe her eyes. What’s the point of all this? The uselessness of it all strikes her more and more. Could have, that is, had she been in any way strikable. Fortunately, there isn’t much time to think. She feels her arm being dragged again. “Don’t stare at them like this, silly billy, you’ll make them blush. Come on, next! Last and least, the seventh basement! Hurry up! Follow me now, chop chop!, we’re going to have fun!”
K. stays behind for a minute, listening to the soft clinking of the various scale models, the bombs falling, the screams and moans, the silences. She would have thought of Dante, had she read it. She would have been appalled by the very evocation. Finally she steps toward the stairs. The lady’s voice had carried on being enthusiastic and lovely throughout, whilst getting more and more distant as she had gone down the flight ahead of her. She is no longer to be heard. The tall figure, the guide, she thinks for a minute, is also gone. Where? When? She could have wondered, but doesn’t. No clue when he vanished. Was he there at all in the first place? Who cares. K. steps down, not really carefully, at the same normal pace she’s been walking since she left her home. The flight is a long one. She sees the end of it, yellowish, but so small at first it’s only a spot. For a moment she thinks she might be in one of those videogame sequences, loading time, where you walk and walk but the background remains the same. And the screams from the upper floor are still there, just as close as before, ideally the scariest you’ve ever experienced. But that lasts only for a moment, and with a nonnegligible sense of wonder she finally reaches the bottom. Yellowish, bubbly, annihilating landscape. Magma. At last? Oh well.