[Excerpted from the in-progress novella of the same name]
Few people bothered to ask for the name of the man who sold balloon animals at the corner of Bramble and Seed; less were given an answer. By choosing not to speak, the man named Joshua earned himself an array of stigmas; mothers were often heard warning their children “not to talk to the dirty quiet man next to the park.” Though Joshua didn’t live on the corner (or anywhere, for that matter) he had stayed there long enough for the park regulars to use a side entrance. Nobody had actually seen where this “mute” man really slept, but it was often theorized that he set up some makeshift tent of disposable rain slicks and trash bags on the run-down side of town. Joshua’s spanging spot had not been picked for attention of any kind, or for any benefits from the park. In fact, he knew he was putting himself in a concentrated place where recent homicides had occurred; the shunning he received for the spot willingly given to him was worth his determination to gain information.
Trystn released the needle from its mahogany perch and let it slide into the groove of one of his more treasured 45’s; he fell into the plush leather armchair next to the coffee table as Marvin Gaye began emanating his velvet vocals, and soon the whole basement resonated with “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” He blindly reached under the table and procured a metal hypodermic needle long since tarnished, the likes of which would make Sherlock Holmes quiver with envy. Placing it at a twenty degree angle, he reintroduced a seventeen-year-old, single-barrel Lagavulin to his favorite vein. He got to his feet feeling the rush of movement mix with the scotch, and then began to examine his forearm. Trystn noted that he would have to start using one of the spots between his knuckles as a means to infuse himself. Grabbing a fanny pack filled with some of his more improvised tools, he methodically reviewed the next part of the plan and left.
The only place in town Joshua was accepted was at the koi ponds in a secluded area of the park. Each pool of fish was surrounded by tall hedges, and in the middle of each sat coveted stone tables which held thirty two flat stones on a surface of sixty four squares, half being white, the other onyx. On each end of the table stood perpetual candles, red wax on the white side, and orange wax on the black side. Today, just like every day, Joshua sat crossed-legged on the white side of the most worn table, patiently waiting for a challenger. After this compendious forty-minute meditation, a twenty-seven-year-old Japanese man named Kim introduced himself as his opponent. Joshua merely smiled and picked up a bamboo tool resembling those used in shuffleboard and moved his knight to C3. Kim mistook the shaking in the old man’s gnarled hands as a sign of weakness. He didn’t know what to make of the man’s silver mane, dreaded from chin to brow, or the odd, red tattoo on his knuckles spelling a word he had never heard: M.A.N.A.
Taking out Joshua’s bishop, a knight, and several pawns led to a bubbling of cockiness in Kim; his tactic soon switched to pure relentless attack. When he captured the homeless man’s queen, he didn’t take the allotted time to consider that he was being baited. In two moves, Joshua wordlessly placed Kim into checkmate. Kim’s relationship with anger had long since been that of a child protesting against their parents by throwing their favorite toy, only to find that toy now broken. He had long avoided the temptation of getting a tattoo so that he would avoid affiliation with the healthy bloodline of Yakuza in his family. Their lifestyle had always fascinated him, and now, in this moment of uncorked rage, Kim felt like he should start living up to his heritage.
Trystn walked along the sections of hedges, concentrating on the minute details of what he was about to do, when he was distracted by the sounds implying a scuffle. “You bastard, you cheated! I know you did!” was the only vocalization he clearly heard; this was followed by the thud of meat reaching impact which further roused the inner explorer from Trystn’s childhood. He couldn’t help wondering who would imagine an outside advantage besides intelligence when it came to the game of kings; cheating was an obvious impossibility. Silently and delicately, he made his way unnoticed past both men’s shoes and into the koi pond. Before him he saw an enraged Japanese man with house keys placed between his knuckles. Taking no time to aim, the younger man began slinging sloppy blows toward the other’s chest and shoulders. Trystn instantly recognized the man who was silently and passively losing bits of his life as the man who sold balloons near his house. Trystn didn’t associate Joshua with the negative connotations others placed upon him; rather,he saw him as a man on his passionate quest for Dharma. Taking in the nonchalant look upon the bearded man’s face, Trystn filled with more respect for him, and reluctantly decided to intervene. Stalking his prey and gaining ground, Trystn reached two green fingernails into his fanny pack and pulled out the looped end of a heavy-gauged A string borrowed from his Rickenbacker’s hollow body. His prey turned to face him, there was a struggle, but by using Kim’s body weight against him, Trystn quickly swept him to the ground, and placed his knee into Kim’s diaphragm, restricting the man’s breathing. In a swift and pleasurable display of efficiency, he wrapped the bronze string noose securely around Kim’s tonsils. Pulling the string until it was taught, he plucked it with one of his emerald nails and a B flat shimmered down his victim’s gullet. “You should treasure the lessons this man was trying to teach you,” said Trystn, with obvious pleasure. He then began to whistle “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” as he threaded the bronze string around a small carpenter’s nail and crescendoed his whistles whilst he sewed the man’s lips together with the wire. Then, taking the nail end, he used a small archeological hammer to implant the threaded nail into Kim’s now cracked sternum. Kim felt a koi suckle on his toes as he struggled for breath, he began clawing at his lips to unthread them but the string was held too tight by the nail in his chest. As another fish acquainted itself with another of his toes he grew nauseated and vomited; not being able to release the vile just led to more of it, and eventually it was the last thing he ever tasted.
Still, Joshua didn’t speak. He merely retrieved a rolled clove cigar from his only breast pocket without a hole, and using a piece of hemp, he connected it to the candle on his edge of the table and lit his cloves. Sitting back behind his beloved white pieces, he reset the table and blew a wall of thick yellow smoke onto dead man’s land. With a boyish grin, Trystn accepted the invitation; he brushed Kim’s coat off the vacant concrete stool onto the face its owner and moved his pawn to E5.