by Kerry Joyce
illustration by Jim Corwin
Christmas, 1969. It descended on the island of Sangre Diablo like a lifting fog. The tourists stayed home, and all but a skeleton crew from the big hotels spent the winter holidays up North somewhere. Back from whence they came.
Thus the ending, as well as the beginning, of this and every year found Sangre Diablo largely abandoned to an assortment of indigenous heathens, and semi-barbaric idol worshippers, along with two (possibly three) disheartened American anthropologists who were there to study the legendary garlic eaters.
So it was that while parishioners on the United States Eastern Seaboard lined up for holy communion at Midnight Mass, much further south, a waitress named Roberta poured yet another pitcher for the boys in section five. But more than that, she watched with wide-eyed amazement as Sven “The Human Sieve” readied himself for his annual Winter Solstice extravaganza.
“Hey, Sven, I hear you’re using a nine millimeter this year,” a top notch bathroom-fixture salesman shouted from the bar in back.
Sven’s smile twisted into a jagged exit wound. He searched for the familiar cluster of skin-sheathed perforations located on the back of his skull, then let go a deep sigh.
Shirtfront sequins twinkled from the blouse of Natashia, his assistant, who with great fanfare shoved an ammunition clip containing two .22 caliber bullets into a small gold-plated pistol. The crowd cheered.
“Are you sure this thing’s safe?” Sven joked good-naturedly as the dark-eyed beauty handed him the weapon on a sterling silver serving tray. A bunting-covered drum machine, brought in specifically for the occasion, signalled Sven “The Human Sieve” to begin his performance.
Sven motioned once to raise the weapon against a pre-selected spot just above his right eyebrow, but suddenly his face and upper body twitched uncontrollably for several seconds.
The crowd stirred in heartfelt concern. Then some wiseguy in the front row said: “Hey Sven, use your head. This act is killing you.”
“No it’s not!” Sven shot back defensively, and proceeded to whack the guy a good one across his shiny forehead with a baseball bat. “My doctor says I have Lou Gherig’s disease. But hey, you gotta die of something,” Sven deadpanned.
The crowd laughed approvingly. “This is even better than last year,” the bathroom-fixture salesman exclaimed to Roberta’s chest, which pointedly ignored him.
“The trick is to empty your mind of all thoughts, feelings and desires. Everything is an illusion. Even what you are about to witness,” Sven explained Zenly as the crowd shifted impatiently in their seats.
Illusion or no illusion, they had paid good money to watch Sven blow a hole or two in his skull just like last year and the year before that. Nevertheless, he proceeded in this tedious vein for several minutes until one of the assistant managers had the temerity to turn up the volume on the drum machine. It effectively drowned out Sven’s soliloqual silliness.
“Wait! Now we won’t hear the shot,” the top notch bathroom-fixture salesman said with a look of great concern to Roberta.
“What? Roberta said.
“I said, now we won’t hear the shot.”
“I can’t hear you,” Roberta replied.
Too late. The golden barrel of Sven’s semi-automatic circled the “X” lipsticked on his forehead as he fired, drilling round one into his cranium. The shot, as well as the applause, might have been deafening, but for the rhythmic roar of electronic drumming on high.
Sven slumped theatrically. A panicky patron pulled the plug on percussion. “Is he all right?” everyone wondered aloud.
Cymbals were supposed to crash, but didn’t, as Sven rose to his feet with a look of grimaced triumph. A radiant-eyed Natashia majestically deposited one tiny ball of cotton into the front of Sven’s oozing skull, and a larger one in back.
Sven bowed and the crowd applauded mightily.
But there would be no encore that night. The smell was unmistakable. It was the garlic eaters.
Next month; Part VII of Burning Desires: Running Against The Wind