5a – Belgrade

They flew all morning, not exchanging a word with their pilots, even when landing to refuel, not wanting to play women, not wishing to solicit discovery.  It was not until mid-afternoon after they left behind Thessaloniki and only when they approached Belgrade from the air, did they finally sit up, motion-sick, drowsy, cramped, jolted to attention by a cheer from their pilots:

“Belgrade!  Wake up!”

They saw nothing but a few mossy spires and girders poking out from a whirlpool formed by a swollen brown river.  Its currents were carrying out automobiles, loose planks, fragments of plate glass — anything left unshattered or unwedged from the muck, to float with the muddy waves swamping the site of the former capital.  The streets, the government buildings, the shopping district, the park overlooking the Danube had been bombed so often — and so heavily — that the river eroded, caved-in and washed away what explosions had vomited up, until slowly, dirty waves tumbled into the widening crater where Belgrade once stood.

“Revenge!  You see revenge!” The co-pilot who had called himself Nabob, swiveled around, gleaming, anxious to brag to the women, “I love revenge!”

“Yes, revenge.”  Rupert muttered, staring out at the dismal brown waves.

As the Danube rushed over the former city, picking up debris, swirling into pockets of suction or unseen sinkholes, swelling over underwater obstructions, stained by leaking oil or any other substance which could dissolve or rise, its striated surface appeared to them itself as the dirty mirror of Collapse.

The Serb tribe, it seems, at least Belgrade, was buried years ago by its innumerable enemies.  Indeed, the bombing had continued well beyond there was any rationale for it — after there was a surviving populace to victimize.   Since the Serbs inspired a cycle of recrimination decades ago: civilian shelling, detention camps, torture — bitter memories of innocents slaughtered diabolicized the race, until the whole of Serbia slid back to the stone age.

Even under the brown Danube waters it served as a magnet for revenge.  Revenge ran so deeply that any extra bomb, or warhead was dumped into the swirling gravesite, with irrational élan, as into a poisonous sewer.

Watching the pilots rub their palms and click their tongues relishing the Serb demise offered even less comfort.  The pilots looked like they too could shoot a baby in the stomach, or the ear, gloat over the misery of a mother who lost her son or daughter, or gawk at skeletons floating up from a submerged hospital.  It was all part of the paranthesis once called Belgrade now a filthy elbow in the river, disappearing in the polluted horizon.

They crossed over former Croatia, burnt, dried out fields, impassable asphalt roads dotted by rusted tank and tractor wrecks — smoke twisting past their portals from shattered brick houses.  Here too families went up with the flames of modest farm houses, shot in night raids while fixing televisions, baking grass over iron ovens, or hacked to death in their beds — when the ghouls of ethnic revenge burst with knives and rifles through their bolted doors, as civil war roared again, after several hiatus’, back up North.

Their pilots laughed — high on a touch of coke, a military helicopter under their control, a joystick in their hands.

“Neb destroyed Belgrade!”  Nabob laughed.

“We don’t want to discuss it!”  Rupert shouted, sticking to his resolve not to blow his disguise.

“He did.  He first to steal nuclear bomb.  First private man to drop one.  Everybody imitates him.  No use, though, no use now!”

“We don’t care!”  Rupert snapped back.

Only the instrument panel lit up the pilot’s craven faces.  Their bag of coke grew randy with their sticky fingers picking flared nostrils, or stuck in their mouths, fingering bits of chocolate between swinging around to re-imagine Aloysius and Rupert as beautiful women.  Every time they swung around, both Rupert and Aloysius had an unsettling déjà vu, after Santorini.  The pilots leered, eyes bloodshot by dope and red blinking fuel lights, grabbing back deeper up their dresses, offering saliva-melted chocolate, shoving the coke bag to their noses, playing with themselves, wagging their unwashed dogs. Eventually, with a touch of coke on their fingertips, commanding a solid machine through a grainy horizon, with women who could surely be pressed to administer oral sex for a nose full of blow, with a knife in their ribs — they were wallowing in secular paradise.

“Wat da matter babeees, no like men?”

“You’re running out of fuel, fool!”

“And keep your hands on the wheel.”

“Wheel?  Show me wheel, reach between my legs and show me wheel!  On a helicopter?”

Aloysius busily brushed Nabob’s hand off his knee as techno-disco music began blasting from a tape-player until Nabob stood up and began a long narcissistic pseudo-dance, playing with himself and rotating his hips in the cramped cabin between his seat and head-bowing instruments.

“We men, you girls, why not kill time dancing, fucking?”  Nabob growled.

“We’d rather live to see the next day in Prague, and next evening in Paris.”

“Time enough to give good blowjob, right?”

“We are not animals!” Rupert shouted.

“Look at the fuel gage anyway.”  Aloysius recoiled from him, angry.

“We stop … we pull down.”  Nabob peevishly explained, but they didn’t know what he meant.

Nabob and the pilot then pulled their pants down completely, ignoring the controls, while an eerie red dusk with flecks of ash and streamers of yellow smoke from peat fires mingled in the cabin with flashing fuel caution lights.  Finally Nabob decided to force feed the bag of coke by climbing back and stuffing it into Aloysius’ face.  Aloysius kicked him back.  The bag spilled over Aloysius’ lap.  In a pique of greed Nabob began sniffing and scooping it up with his nose from Aloysius’ lap until Aloysius kneed him in the balls and Nabob was now rolling in painful coke horror while the driver’s leering smile twitched into a childish frown of anger.  Nabob, curled up on the floor, swore between his teeth while his co-pilot pulled back the hydraulic door handle and it slid open.  Then Nabob screamed: “You give us blowjobs or you pushed to death!”

“Give yourselves a blowjob!”  Rupert yelled, but so nauseated by facing another air catastrophe vertigo rushing up his legs, and he vomited onto the back of Nabob’s neck.  Nabob, still buckling, screamed back:  “I keel you!”

“We throw you out!”  The co-pilot excoriated, “Ugly girls!”

Nabob wiped the vomit from his neck with his hand, flinging it down, then crouched to scramble up, slipped violently, then in a moment, face smeared with cocaine, nightmare bugged eyes, mouth gaping panic, scream swallowed by blasting air, fingers clawing — he slipped out of the uplifted hatch. — his bag spilling white across the void, scattering with him, as he tumbled down and out of the cabin.

The co-pilot slammed the door shut with a convulsive, stricken gesture.  It all happened too quickly and he could only swivel back and forth on his seat whimpering hysterically.  Worse, it was unclear whether they had enough fuel or whether the co-pilot could now fly.  They chose to force him to land.  Aloysius first got up in the cabin and near the controls, slapping him silly.  They offered him water when they found it, direcing him, shouting in his face, twisting his arm, making him man the controls.  Discarding his shrieks and whines they forced him to land heavily North of Zagreb in Northern Croatia, a no-man’s land of deserted, grassy fields.

They hit a highway they’d been following since spotting the smudged lights of Zagreb, hard.  It seemed impossible to tell which way or how they should proceed.  Their pilot looked like a cornered ferret, grinding his teeth, as likely to bite off its own paw as to gnaw the head off a joystick.

The low, thin clouds and few stars — the salmon, sailor’s warning moon — said nothing as to how they should proceed.  They discovered fuel in the hold but were unclear as to how fill the tank.  As a half-measure, they gave the pilot the huge fuel canister, and threatened to bury him alive in peat unless he filled it properly, but then, he spilled it on himself instead.

“You no women!”  He screamed, “You devils!” grimacing miserably at his pants.

“You’re right, we’re not women.”  Rupert mumbled.  They remained at a loss what to do.  They sat down together on a rusted tractor yards away from the helicopter and away from the road to allow the pilot mutter to himself until sunrise, unscrewing his seat from the helicopter to discourage him from flying away.

A half an hour later, lying beside the tractor and staring up at the red moon, they heard him screaming near the copter.  The pilot had lit his butane crack lighter and his pants burst into flame.  Rupert was about to try to save him but Aloysius wrestled him back, while the pilot tried to push away what was left in the fuel tank, he went up like a Roman Candle:  hair shriveling, clawing at his clothes, and as he blew, and the tank blew, so the helicopter blew, hideously illumining the night with the pilot burning to a crisp, and crumbling to his now shrunken haunches.

They slumped on highway and wept silently over the uselessness of it all, silouettes under the red moon.  Finally they dozed off from sheer fatigue and shock.  Yet after a few hours of fitful sleep they woke to a burning sun and an asphalt road, and gradually, reluctantly, began to walk.