The Great Unknown
Bruce Boston and Alessandro Manzetti
Night, the Great Unknown, rolled up in its own shadows, waits with open jaws for the end of the nightshift, for the smell of Detective Lieutenant Samuel Sandoval. Night misses his old blue coat from when he walked a beat. It remembers the brass buttons and the stale crumbs of communion wafers embedded in its threads. Sandoval moves along the riverside drive followed by a skinny rat. After an ten-hour shift, he walks aimlessly in the dark morning, still high on adrenaline and nicotine and hate. He has to come down before he can return to his wife and children and the refuge of his suburban home.
Sandoval hasn’t been to church for years. He no longer remembers the face of Jesus Christ. The last time he saw it, it was swinging on the silver medallion of an ethnic gang leader, crudely carved with no look of suffering anointing its features. Rather it smiled at him. And so did the gang leader. A mocking sarcastic smile that seemed to be saying, “Calvary, up to you now, man!”
He has been working the nightshift for five years. He tries not to remember the blood-scattered lines and faults of that passage, the lives lost along the way. Night, the Great Unknown, fate in bone cold vestments, is preparing his own demise, dramatic and startling or chill and indifferent as the stone city itself.
Rashida is sixteen-years-old. Her boyfriend made her swallow too many jelly shots. Then he slapped her because she would not sleep with him, because she wanted to remain a virgin until she was married. For her, Sex is the great, dark Unknown.
She runs down the alleyway to the riverside drive, running away from her boyfriend and herself, running from a future that is rushing upon her too fast for her to keep pace. Her teeth are so very white in the intermittent lights spaced along the river. In the long patches of shadow in between, Night, the Great Unknown, claims her with its wing.
Sandoval sees a flash to his right moving fast, far too fast, moving toward him, a shifting flash and a shadow. He imagines the blade of a knife that shines in the river lights, in the black leather of nowhere, a blade that seeks his flesh.
“Not yet,” he thinks “Not yet,” while Rashida runs closer, mouth open, breathing heavily. Sandoval hears that harsh breath. Night, the Great Unknown touches the back of his coat with its unsheathed claws.
“Chills. Do you feel them, man?”
In an extended fraction of a fractured second, Sandoval draws his revolver from its shoulder strap and shoots blindly – once! twice! – aiming at that sharply shimmering light that is nearly upon him. The shots echo off the condominiums that rise along the river.
“Calvary, up to you now, man!”
“Who’s speaking?” Sandoval asks.
The only answer is the rush of the river passing. The body on the ground is no longer moving.
Sandoval kneels beside the body of Rashida, curled on its side, a silver lipstick tube clutched in one hand. She is no longer masked by the wing of night. Her face has become that of a girl surprised by a sudden rainfall, by the first and last thunder of her life.
“Your blood…is mine…,” Sandoval whispers to the dead girl, to the Great Unknown. He has never seen the face of an angel before.
Twin windows light up in the building that rises above him, throwing his shadow on the cracked asphalt, then a third window, where the Great Unknown suddenly appears in its shadow flesh, dressed as a tall magician with a top hat on his head. A snap of the fingers lights his long cigarette. He inhales deeply as he savors the scene below as if it were a work of art. Then he exhales and blows a coat of fog across the city.
Sandoval hears a siren. Someone has called in the gunshots. He knows he should run, yet he remains standing, half bent over the body. Though his face is in complete darkness, its silhouette is composed of hard angles and lines.
He realizes that he won’t be going home to his family and the suburbs tonight. Perhaps not for some time to come. He has been crucified on the thorny cross of the Great Unknown. Soon his cohorts will come with their flashing lights to carry him away.
Bruce Boston is the author of more than fifty books and chapbooks. His writing has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers Award, a Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling and Grandmaster Awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Alessandro Manzetti has published in Italian two novels, four story collections, and an interview collection with modern horror writers. In English, he has published the short story collection The Shaman and Other Shadows and the poetry collection Venus Intervention, a collaboration with Corrine De Winter. He lives in Rome.