A Starfish Out Of Salt Water (H&S Part 1)

A lightbulb shattered overhead; gas hung around the broken stem. This is ill portent to the eyes of the people keeping tabs on progress. Tribal rhythm blasted the felt from the lining of his hat as he moved himself to the vertical: our protagonist unjacks from the chair with a practiced discomfort.

He slapped his dozing associate gently, and helped him to his feet. Too little sleep, too many days, and coffee can’t even keep you propped up. They could have stayed there for days, but that would have been be counterproductive. Sambal and Herb had things to do, people to service: move along now.

Sambal tipped the watcher – a necessary presence in the current climate. The watcher nodded to the light and clicked a worn tongue; more notes fell in to their old brass tray. Herb yawned one last time and pushed open the greasy green door. The darkness left them in a momentary flash of day.

There was to be no ceremony; he had planned it carefully, aiming for a level of meticulousness that had eluded him before now. Planning and execution. Yes, they would be the watchwords for this phase of the grand plan. There was no room for manoeuvre. Onwards and upwards Gentlemen!

Sambal chose his moment carefully; he needed to taste freedom one last time. Freedom from a life of banal servitude. In essence Herb was his handler, but they were meant to work as partners. They were meant to devise architecture together, then operate as a team. For the most part it worked. For the most part. And then Herb would get a notification, and the tables turned red very quickly.

The initial excitement of such shenanigans were played out now, for both of them. Sambal felt like a spent dime, wasted on some shiny trinket. Collect dust or find a new use; whichever the powers that be chose, it would require some hasty reinvention. Sambal had to find another way to breathe.

The machinery he had let loose in the initiation gap would be warming through nicely by now. While the fat man was asleep he completed his assigned vassalage quickly, and then got on with a more desperate task: he was attempting to unpick a lot of fabric, with no way of sewing it back together.

“Eat, Sam” was the only noise to come out of those thick wet lips. It was feeding time at the zoo, dear reader, and that was never going to go well. Sambal shuddered at the thought of the routine.

Herb couldn’t control his temper; not after what had happened in Xiang Minh. The fact of the matter is that such a quick fuse can make life both easier and more complicated. Say you wanted to eat a rather large meal, but you didn’t want to pay: easy part – trash the place; complicated part – escape.

And it always came down to Sambal to affect a convenient escape. Herb ate fast, and with a bestial gusto. It was sickening to watch him slobber his way through a huge mound of glazed and sticky ribs, while trying to focus on the bowl of ramen in front of you. (“Quick food is better food”: Sambal)

He was about to pour the soup down his throat when the ugly mountain stood up and punched the teeth out of a passing waiter. The soup was Sambal’s favourite part of a bowl of ramen, and that fat prick would have to ruin it. Guns fired, and Herb was gone, not even a backward glance to Sambal.

A wry smile crossed the lips of our protagonist. He gulped down his precious soup, savouring the creaminess of the chilli oil. And then he left. He simply walked out through the holes left in the paper walls. No one batted an eyelid; no one even saw him. Heads shook; how to clear up such carnage?

Mexico was a diversion. Mexico was where he wanted their eyes to linger on. Mexico was simply a marker left in the sand of a billion failed processes. It was hopefully to be their terminal shock. He had piggybacked on the notification signal with an absence of an existence. An absence would draw too much attention, so he had filled it with a beach. It seemed a fitting epitaph. “It seemed”.

Sambal had unpicked his existence from the complex web of the projected existence, and for a short while he could walk as a ghost through the unlit corridors of reality. He could pass by unseen, even to those who knew him best. He looked at Herb and smiled: Herb saw no one; there was only light.

And with a spring in his step, Sambal made his exit, his former handler scratching his head at a notification referencing a person he had never heard of. All he knew is that he was to “Kill Sambal”.

The epitome of a conflict is an opposing view of a central concept. I feel that it is one thing; you feel that it is not: we stand either side of a fault line. Existence should not normally produce conflict: it is almost universally felt to be a binary state. Sambal was tampering with the idea of universality.

Spain had the scent of death about it, and that was precisely how he liked it. The taste of the meat, the scorching sun and the dust underfoot mingled in the sinuses to a pleasing effect. He reclined.

There would be no Sambal here; his former existence, including every facet of his faint identity, was gone now. He was not only being granted the opportunity to start afresh, it was his only option. He had broken free from the shackles of tyranny, and now he had his sights set on freedom. His way.

Word had reached our protagonist of the repercussions of his actions on the entity he regarded as his former employer: they had paused for a moment, visible for all to see, and then carried on. Face must be maintained, especially in circumstances of such an absence of comprehension or detail.

His mind rolled through a rolodex of options as his hand picked away the shells from a pile of peas. Cold beer, glistening damp under the hot sun; palm fronds almost touching the earth. Possibilities and possibilities; an endless vista. Joy spread across his face as he reached towards his glass of beer.

A click and a whirr. The man who would not be Sambal made to turn. A head misplaced from existence.