“Who killed me?” I asked.
“Do you want the name of the actual person or the asshole who gave the order?” he said.
“I suppose the latter,” I uttered, gripping my neck.
“That hypocritical sot!”
“It wasn’t just you, though. He took out more then 30 of your kind in one sitting.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It wasn’t personal. Or maybe it was, but he’s dead now, like you. So he’s around here somewhere, lumbering, still in that fucking hat. I’ll see if anyone I know knows him. We can find out.”
The blare and buzz of my phone pulled me from this grim dream. I roused in a puddle of my own sweat – or maybe tears. My dog was running mad on the hardwood floor, digging wildly into the slats as if he were burying a bone. My right arm paralyzed. My pants and even my boxers were splayed on the floor – I was stark naked. Jesus, I thought. Was this all on account of the dream? Who took my pants off? And what in jumping Jesus set off my dog?
Earlier that day, I’d been ripping into my landlord re: the state of my apartment, describing the odor of rot and death that, on occasion, emits from behind the southernmost wall.
“Do you smell that?” I said. “What the hell is that? Is there a body buried under the slats? Have you read Poe? What’s your opinion of old men with piercing white eyes?”
“I don’t know what that is,” he said in a thick Spanish accent. “It could be coming from next door. …”
“It smells like piss now. Corpses don’t piss, and if it’s old death then the unlucky bastard is no longer juicy – bone dry,” I whispered, as if the dead could hear me.
“No, no,” the man muttered. “Nothing like that.”
“Then what?” …
I’ve lived in this apartment for several months now, and only recently have I detected the smell of death and decay. This is Brooklyn, New York – the birthplace of Al Capone, the territory of the mob; it’s possible someone got whacked and was dumped here, I thought. I am on the first floor, but this place has a basement. No flooring down there, just dirt. Late at night, I hear movement in the hallway, which is only accessible by me and the landlord … or anyone else who has a key. As you exit my apartment, to your right is a door; it leads to the basement, and it's sealed with a padlock. Once in a while the padlock is unhinged and the door ajar. … yet no odor bleeds through the crack and I can hear no sounds of groans or the terrified screams of someone buried alive, kicking and punching on a the lid of a wooden coffin, urinating on himself from fear and necessity.
No. I keep returning to my earlier conclusion. That is, I’ve been hit in the face with the stench for sometime now, and if somebody were, in fact, recently buried down there the poor sap would be long gone, on his way to the spirit world – if not already there, asking the Creator, “Was it really necessary for me to go out like that?”
“Was it necessary for you to place so many bets sans the money to pay the bookie when you lost?” the Creator in his or her or its infinite wisdom would respond. “And since we’re on the topic, let’s review your gluttony …”
The odor is one thing, but the weird, queer sounds are another. Lights flicker in here and cabinet doors open on their own. The building is almost as old as the borough of Brooklyn. … Green-Wood Cemetery is only blocks away … how far can spirits travel? Do they fly – hover on the concrete – or walk? Then again, do I believe in spirits? Do I believe in hauntings?
As Native Americans, esp. the Oglala Lakotas, my people, the spirit world is a given; it’s as real as the wind that rattles a leaf on a tree … yet I seek to rationalize an otherwise irrational situation. What made that cupboard door swing open so rapidly without the physics required to propel it? Does a fat man live above me? I haven’t seen many neighbors, but maybe there is one up there, stomping to a feverish cumbia beat, and right below his massive hoofs are my cupboards. … Maybe that’s what swings them open so regularly.
“Maybe your place is haunted?” a friend suggested to me recently.
“Even if it were that wouldn’t explain the odor of death and urine,” I said.
“So you have cupboard doors that fling open, the smell of piss and rot, and you’re having weird dreams where you wake up naked?”
“Welcome to New York.”
So far I’ve lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn and, for a spell, I couch-surfed in the Bronx, yet I’ve never lived in a place that was so active … goading me to again reflect: Do I believe in that sort of thing? … Hauntings?
Hauntings, some folks say, occur following a disturbance, esp. when soil is disturbed or something is unearthed. … There’s something to that. I’m thinking Keystone XL Pipeline, I’m thinking urban gentrification, the desecration of Native American burial sites for an incoming hotel or casino … hauntings, disturbances, disturbed and poisoned earth. Are they related? If you believe in the spirit world, then maybe. And if you’re Native American there’s a good chance you believe that the earth is a living organism with a spirit. To the believer, could a haunting be a response, an atmospheric discharge, to something gone awry? An imbalance set off by human actions? The scientist and the Native American may have more in common than originally thought. Both understand that the planet is a living thing. One is more likely to believe in the spirit world than the other, yes, but both understand there are sundry irreversible consequences to damaging Mom, i.e. Earth. Cause and effect, one way or another, She will respond.
Right. I know not what business has occurred in the basement of this old building; I do not know the source of the odor of death of late. The dreams are, in so far that I know, inexplicable. Yet, what's incontrovertible is something is occurring. Something has been roused. Take heed and hearken. Though this individual situation be my plight, there is a larger one afoot: The black snake. It brims with venom. It rattles loudly and ominously as its handlers slither about D.C. Should its fangs pierce and inject its poison, Mom will respond, again and again, and then, one dark day, she may decide it's our time to go. “Whack ‘em. All of 'em. They’re not payin’ up.”
So, do I believe in the spirit world? I don’t know. I truly don’t. Do I believe there are very real consequences to poisoning the soil? Damn right I do. “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.” –George Carlin.
In conclusion, then: #NoKeystoneXL.
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, has a Master of Arts degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York City.