By Shadrick Beechem
It happened one night when I was walking back to my small apartment from Athena studios. We had just wrapped up a nine hour tracking session, with me filling in on session guitar for some progressive rock act called Talos who had just kicked out their guitarist before booking studio time. Apparently, the guy slacked on rehearsing the material the last few months and got busted twice on tour for drugs at various border crossings in Europe, a common complaint in many bands I’ve worked with. So, they decided to cut their third album without him when good old Rich Mader, my pseudo boss and head engineer of Athena, told the band he knew one hell of a session guitarist in town who charged bargain basement hourly rates. “Like a machine, he is, cleanest damn session guitarist this side of the river” I have overheard him say on several occasions to clients on the phone as I stayed after hours to wind up cables and organize the mic cabinet for some extra dough. A machine I was indeed, that ran on a fine balanced fuel of Sativa Cannabis, oxycodone, micro doses of acid, and the occasional dash of coke.
It was a very mild combination of the first two that I was floating serenely on as I made my home. My apartment was eight blocks east, with the most direct path being a one way shot down Delmar Boulevard. But I have only been living in the city for a year, moving here with stars in my eyes from the small unincorporated township of Buck’s Point, and sometimes I made alternative, out of the way routes to explore the city further. The crime rate in the metro area had been one of the highest in the entire country this year, and that glaring fact was usually enough to kick in my anxiety and keep me on the safe way home, in the bright lights and bustling cultural melting pot that every one in Saint Louis simply called “The Loop”. But I had been nipping a pint of Ten High, and the liquid courage synergized with my opiate and weed buzz, all but obliterating any sense of foreboding tension that seemed to emanate from the dark corners of the city. I was feeling like a kid in a very large candy shop, ready to do some urban exploration and see something new. In particular the river sounded nice to me, and the large enchanting curves of the Arch. It was quite a walk, and knew it would take me through some of the shadier parts of midtown, but I didn’t care. I didn’t give a shit about gangbangers, or meth heads or suicide bombers or anything. I just wanted to walk, breath fresh air and see something new. Long sessions down in the small vaulted tracking room of Rich’s studio tended to make me restless, especially when the weather was pleasant and cool as it was on that night, the hellish Missouri humidity finally abating with the advent of fall.
So, I wondered, without aim except for the tip of the Arch’s peak that I could see through the tops of various buildings, which I used as general target destination. I kept walking, until the bright lights and new buildings slowly transformed into the neglected concrete husks that sagged, crumbled and shown all the idiosyncrasies of utter industrial abandon. Auto parts shops, concrete factories, old loading bays for railways long out of service. Vibrant graffiti brought back archaic life in most of these places, and I often stopped to examine these intricate aerosol creations and take pictures of them with my phone, for viewing later.
I was about halfway through my journey when I hopped the fence and entered the huge BNSF train yard, with several dozen rows of railway spanning across several acres with a maze of stationary grain cars, full car lines and the occasional rust specked abandoned freight car lining them at various intervals. I heard the rattle and hiss of spray cans in the distance as I crossed the lines, meandering through the gaps and moving inconspicuously to make sure I wouldn’t spook any of these suburban artists. I ran into a few snoozing hobos, and one or two who were awake and eyed me wearily, and I understood their apprehension of my character and gave them a wide berth.
Quite a lot of the vagrants and homeless had been turning up dead around Saint Louis the past two months or so. Many of them brutally murdered and dismembered, occasionally with bizarre messages carved into their flesh, with the linking motif to all these murders being a bizarre geometric symbol crudely spray painted on the corpse. These disenfranchised men could easily conjure up the visage of my pale skin, long pony tail and general loner disposition as the identity of who the public had nicknamed the “River City Butcher” and thus hastily I made my way across the huge iron gauntlet. I could smell the sharp tang of diesel fuel and river water and knew I was getting close to where I wanted to be, which was somewhere along the Mississippi, in the glow of the cityscape behind me. It just seemed like a good place to meditate, finish off my whiskey and mentally chew over some of the more complex rhythms I was having trouble with that day in while recording.
I was ruminating over a complicated three over four polyrhythm in one of their song’s “Breaker” I had to learn today, one of the few compositions I’ve actually found challenging, when I spotted the lone feline who was sitting at the edge of the yard fence. A nondescript tom cat who eyed me with a dubious gaze, perhaps wondering what my intentions were as I slowly approached it, crouched down, arms held out, speaking in my ridiculous pet voice. I had always loved cats, at least up until that night, and I made it my soul mission to be this one’s friend before I continued my journey. But I had gotten within five feet of it before he meowed and sauntered off around the corner. I followed it, rounding the edge of the trainyard and stumbled upon a large open faced building, five stories high with no discernable exterior walls. I’ve been through this area before, but could not recall seeing this specific concrete behemoth before. Huge empty floors stacked on top of each other and supported by thin concrete pillars and the center column of the stairway. Every single inch had been covered in graffiti of so many different fluorescent shades that it stood out like some vivid technicolor hallucination against the brown rust of the industrial sector I was in. But it was not the vivid contrast of colors that first drew me in.
I was perhaps two hundred feet away, and I could see what appeared to be a party going on at the top floor. I saw perhaps twenty indistinct figures moving around, not necessarily dancing and grinding, but moving in sequence like some sort of elaborate choreographed routine. Red pulsing lights accentuated their hypnotic movement. As I got closer I could hear the muffled cacophony of black metal being blasted out of some cheap PA and reverberating off the concrete acoustics. Odd choice for a party, but whatever. I also heard something else to, or at least thought I heard, that punctuated the fast chugging guitars and blast beat drums for a moment. The low, throaty growl of big cat, perhaps a leopard or tiger. I had been to the safari section of the Saint Louis zoo enough times to recognize that primal roar immediately. To add to the bizarre scene were the hundreds of stray cats I saw sitting at the edge of the building, like feline sentinels on night watch. I couldn’t remember ever seeing so many cats in this part of town. I thought this bizarre scene pleasantly fascinating, and eagerly slunk my way towards the bottom of the building, keeping to the shadows so that the oblivious party goers didn’t think I was some cop trying to bust them up or a nutzo mass shooter. A party was a party, and this one emanated an exotic elegance that far transcended some crude basement bash. I was eager to be a part of this group, so see what these people were like and how they jived.
Flying high on my barbital bravery, I slinked up to the first floor, which was wide open and dimly illuminated by the ambiance of the arc sodiums on the nearby interstate exchange, and cautiously made my way to the stairway, making sure I didn’t trip over any cats or discarded paint cans or fall through some unforeseen sinkhole. I could see a faint eroded plaque at the head of the stairs, which read “POWELL TEXTILES- EST. 1971” in barely legible engraving.
I ascended the second floor, dazzled by the bright fluorescent shades of tags and names that covered every conceivable inch of the place, and quickly went up to the third before my curiosity could keep me from staring at the vibrant patterns.
But the third floor is where I paused and simply had to look, because the nature of the graffiti changed wholly once I got to this floor. Using my phone as a flash light, I stared wide eyed at the complex geometrical patterns and distinct red and black color schemes that seemed to be the unifying theme of everything painted on this level. I noticed what appeared to be very complex symbols of a possibly esoteric nature, including one intricate star shaped mosaic piece that was so fastidiously detailed and large that it took me a moment to realize that the giant maze of spiraling and razor straight lines that spanned half the floor was actually all part of one piece. There was no cute monikers or gang insignia’s here. Only painstakingly detailed symbols, which hinted of dark forces, or forbidden practices, and the cats, who seemed to be connected to the art. I don’t know why I felt that way, considering there was no juvenile reproductions of pentagrams or inverted crosses in evidence, and I was no expert on the occult. There just seemed to be a menacing power to what I saw, and after about ten minutes of staring at these magnificently intricate pieces, I made my way up to the fourth floor. I was starting to get quite tipsy from my almost empty pint, and staring at that massive installation had given me slight vertigo, so I ascended cautiously.
But the fourth floor beheld even something more out of place and bizarre in this derelict facility. It looked like something out of The Last Supper, but instead of Jesus and his apostles lining an ornate dinner table, it appeared to be monstrosities formulated out of anthropomorphic cats huddled around some bleeding and dismembered corpse. The characters reminded me of some contemporary surrealist’s unique spin on the ancient Egyptian gods of Ra and Anubis. The same bizarre lattice work of calligraphy I saw earlier encased this disturbing scene in what appeared to be a perfect sphere. The scene was even more detailed than the massive floor installation below, and I sat staring at this strange portrait, which spanned nearly the entire rear wall of the staircase hallway, for perhaps ten minutes, before that roar had come again. The music was quite loud now, but that primal feline roar of blood lust pierced through the cacophony like a needle through silk. The cats, who had followed me in my exploration, seemed oblivious to the noises.
At this point a sober me would of left immediately, but the reptilian part of my brain that usually indicated imminent danger was dulled to a faint whisper. I was so painfully fascinated by this bizarre, out of place scene that now I must know who these people were, and what they were doing up there. And to see what on earth was producing those primal cries.
I made my way up the final floor of stairs, heart pounding, more in exhilarated wonder than terror, and before I got a glimpse of the terrible scene that had unfolded before me, I first got a powerful whiff of two things. The sweet scent of burning opium, and hot blood. I may be a city slicker now, but my father taught me how to hunt before I could even drive, and the thick coppery tang of gore and fresh entrails was unmistakable. I made my way up the stairs, now nearly bursting with anticipation, and as I came upon the scene which I will never forget, I felt like I had been teleported to some alternate dimension.
The figures I saw at a distance still remained indiscernible in their exact forms, and I see now that it was because of the thick billowing robes they had on. They swished and swayed in smooth eloquent movements, forming a perfect circle around some spectacle that I could not see, the red lights painting them in a surreal blood like glow. I stood in mute transfixion as I peered into the occasional gaps of the moving circle, for how long I do not know, but eventually I heard someone scream, and the circle suddenly halted and at least two dozen dark silhouettes turned to face me. I could see between the gaps then, and despite my inebriation, I will swear on my own life that what I saw was not a hallucination.
A huge, hulking figure stood hunched over an eviscerated and partially dismembered human body. It’s face turned towards mine, a human face in only the most vague of features, what was more prominent was the huge, flaring nostrils of a stunted snout, long tendrils of whiskers poking out of the puffy bulges of it’s muzzle. It’s long, canine like teeth were exposed in a snarl, and in them clung strands of intestines and scraps of flesh. It’s triangular ears pricked back suddenly, it’s pupils contracted to narrow slits, and it let loose a roar that seemed to vibrate through my whole body and penetrate my bones. I could see the steam of it’s breath billow out, and I caught the most acrid stench of rotting meat and burnt sulphur in it’s battle cry.
I managed to let out a thin, weak “Holy shit” before someone had come up from behind me and boxed my ears hard enough to immediately render me deaf, and then I collapsed, everything going gray.