With his tongue between his teeth, Officer Wally cocked his weapon and took aim.
Mario felt the bullet enter his left foot, but carried on running undeterred. In place of screams, there was laughter. The golden ecstasy supplied by the drug was at its peak. It wouldn’t be long now; he could feel it.
The second bullet caught him in his right foot, yet he dared not stop. It was near now, so near...
“He missed,” Mario thought initially, but as he brought his hands to his lips, he tasted iron. Both his palms were bleeding profusely, and so were his feet. He laughed once again – head spinning, heart dancing, mind burdened by his search for meaning – his wet eyes on the velvet sky. The clouds were clearing.
‘The spear!’ he shouted to the heavens above. ‘Don’t forget the spear!’
It happened faster than any pair of eyes could capture it: the fourth bullet cut through the air with a tangible screech, and the nearby building exploded into applause. Like a marionette whose strings had been cut, Mario Fantoccio fell theatrically, the wound at his side painting the cobbles in Marsmeyer’s No.4 vermillion red.
The ground beneath him split down the middle, and from the depths of asphalt, he heard music. It was the Music of Strings, of Celestial Spheres – an underworld rhapsody with dark aftertones, gushing out of the earth like puss from a wound.
It was alluring, resplendent and at the same time, terrifying.
Demonic and eternal, devastating and yet hypnotizing, the Sounds of Hell beckoned, and like an obedient child, Mario followed, sinking deeper and deeper into the Underworld.
In a perfect moment of synchronicity, the orange sun of dusk broke through the rainclouds and cast a single beam of sunlight upon Mario’s forehead. He closed his eyes, his mind at ease, his head full of Music.
The cobbles trembled under the approaching sound of footsteps.
‘Where is he? Where did he go?’ said the pursuing man.
‘H-he just vanished, sarge. In-into thin air!’
‘Don’t be silly, Wally. People don’t just vanish into thin air. I know I got him. Heaven preserve me, I got him four times!’
‘What’s this now?’
‘Rather looks like our man, sarge. Or at least, his rough outline filled out in blood. Well, except—’
‘—except this one’s got wings,’ said the sergeant, his knees cracking as he crouched. He cautiously prodded the red shape with his index.
‘This ain’t blood, either.’
The sergeant shoved the finger in his mouth.
‘Theatrical red paint.