In Dark Alleys Narrative Character Class Test

It is evening in downtown Los Angeles. The sidewalks are still radiating the heat they picked up during the day and a warm breeze carries all the smells of the city along with it. Yellow street lamps buzz overhead. Cars move leisurely down the wide boulevard, music with thumping bass blaring from open windows. You are walking down the sidewalk. There are others walking on either side of the street: young people in flashy clothing on their way to night clubs, homeless winos going from garbage can to garbage can looking for recyclables, exhausted laborers and domestic servants, most of them Latin American immigrants, on their way back to their tiny apartments after along day’s work.

You walk briskly, conscious of the soles of your feet smacking against the cracked pavement. Although you try to hide it, you are buzzing with excitement. After a long, boring, tedious day of pretending to be a perfectly ordinary employee, spouse or son or daughter, you have finally escaped into the anonymity of the city street. Nobody here knows you, nobody cares where you’re going, and that’s how you like it. You don’t want to have to answer any questions. The things you do at night are too dangerous, too exciting, too weird. You could never tell the people in your life about them.

Ahead on your left is a tiny rundown building that was once a small grocery. Now the sign says “Community Center.” Another handwritten sign taped on the inside of the glass door reads “accident survivor support group, tonight 10pm.” If you went inside, perhaps you would join a group of harried looking men and women sitting in folding chairs, their shoulders hunched, drinking coffee from paper cups, discussing nightmares and marital problems and guilt. Perhaps after the meeting you would go out with some who went to smoke out in front, and they would speak in hushed tones about cuts that mysteriously healed themselves, about feeling stronger and healthier than they ever had. And perhaps they would steal glances over their shoulders, watching blurry shapes that only they can see.

Do you go in?

Across the street is a seedy little dive bar. The smells of beer and cigarette smoke drift out of the open door, along with the buzz of conversation and the Ramones playing on the jukebox. Perhaps if you enter, buy a drink, and head down a short flight of stairs at the back you will see a dirty old restroom door. And perhaps if you go in you will see that one of the stalls has an “out of order” sign, but if you enter anyway, and sit on the bone-dry toilet you will see that the walls are covered with graffiti. If, by the flickering neon panel above, you start to read the graffiti, you will find phone numbers of prostitutes, dirty jokes, gang names and racial slurs, crude cartoons of sexual acts. And perhaps, in smaller letters, you will find statements referencing Plato, Freud, Nietzsche, Paglia, statements about the nature of reality, and about how reality can be bent and broken by those who know its secrets.

Do you go in?

On the corner, ahead of you, is a tiny catholic church. Its doors are open but the pews are nearly empty. The only people there are a few older Mexican women who have stopped to cross themselves, kneel and say a few prayers on their rosaries before heading home. If you went in, perhaps you would find a seat in the corner, far from anyone else. And perhaps you would pray for protection from the temptations and distractions of this world and this flesh. Maybe, if no one was looking, you might press a knife blade into the palm of you hand. And perhaps you would say a prayer of thanks for the pain, a thanks for the reminder that your flesh is only a temporary prison. And perhaps the cut wouldn’t bleed, not if you didn’t want it to.

Do you go in?

Sandwiched between a liquor store and a check cashing place is a tiny second-hand store that serves as an unlicensed pawn shop. Its yellow lights seem dim compared to the garish neon of the shops on either side. In the window you can see guitars, bicycles, old video game consoles. If you were to go in, perhaps you would scan the piles of old things. An old lamp, perhaps, with a bendy metal neck and a green plastic shade, would call out to you. And you would know that you have to get it, to take it to the secret apartment in the abandoned building, and put it among the other old things that you have felt compelled to collect. And perhaps you might think “why should I?” but something in your head would remind you that your new-found self-confidence, intelligence, social prowess and institution seem to be a result of following these bizarre urges, and so you would take the old lamp up to the counter and reach for your wallet, feeling you are moving a step closer to something, but not knowing what.

Do you go in?

Across the street is an old warehouse that has been converted to a nightclub. Halfway across the block you can hear the pulsing bass coming through the concrete walls, and as you get closer you can feel it vibrating your guts. The club’s name is on a purple triangle and rainbow flags wave in the breeze along the top of the building. And if you went inside, perhaps you would have a few drinks and you would begin to dance and flirt. And the intensity of life force burning in one of the patron’s eyes would draw you closer. And perhaps they would smile skeptically and dance with you half-heartedly, but the more you looked in to each others’ eyes, and the more you pushed into each other’s personal space, the more it seemed like you were spiraling down into a vortex together. When your skin touched, it would feel like some energy rushing between you. And later, after taking a cab to this person’s home, the two of you would have sex. And perhaps, as the waves of ecstasy crashed over you, the ground would literally shake and things would fall from shelves. And the next morning your new friend would look at you and swear you had been someone else the night before. And before you left, you might tell your new friend that a little confusion can be a good thing.

Do you go in?

To your right is an old looking building, with stone columns and the figures of knights with large shields embedded in the walls. The columns and nights are old and streaked with stains. The words “Masonic Temple” are etched in stone over the door. There are bars on the dusty windows, and beyond them you can see only darkness. The tall main door is locked. Yet if you went down an alley to the back of the building, perhaps there would be a featureless back entrance you could quickly slip through. And perhaps you would walk down a dimly lit hall and go down a flight of stairs into a basement. And armed men in black suits would be guarding the door, but if you knew the password they would wordlessly allow you to pass. And perhaps inside there would be men, and a few women, in dark, tailored suits, with designer sunglasses in their shirt pockets and the bulges of pistols in holsters under their armpits. And an older man would be holding a sword over the flame of a green camping stove until the blade was red-hot. Then perhaps he would take turns asking each person if they remained loyal to the order. And perhaps each time someone said “yes I have” he would touch the red hot blade to the exposed skin of their necks, and yet they wouldn’t be burned.

Do you go in?

On the opposite corner from where you are is a tall red-brick apartment building. It is several stories tall and warm lights glow from the hundreds of apartments within. The windows of many are open and as you come near you can smell a mixture of exotic food smells. If you went in, perhaps you would travel in a slow elevator up to the fifth floor, and walk along the hallway. The hallway would smell musty and the pile would be so trampled, from decades of use, that it would feel solid under your feet. You would be surrounded by the muffled buzz of television, music and people talking issuing from the thin walls as you passed. And when you got to your destination and knocked on the door, perhaps a dark skinned boy would answer and let you in. Perhaps there would be a white sheet on the floor, candles and a set of drums. It would smell of people, spicy food, incense. Perhaps there would be a chicken in an old cat carrier, and a young woman in a plain white dress lying on her side on a couch, looking sick and afraid. And, as shouts of your arrival issued through the apartment, perhaps a crowd of dark skinned people, young and old, would crowd around you, waiting for you to tell them what to do next.

Do you go in?

Across the street is a tiny storefront, with a gun-shaped wooden sign hanging from chains above the front door. If you were to go in, perhaps you would find yourself separated by a thick pane of plexiglass from a wall with a large selection of guns, knives, pepper sprays, tasers, even a sword hanging from it. there would be a metal grate for speaking through and a box for passing things back and forth. A thin, middle aged man with greasy hair, sitting on a stool, would look at you expectantly. Perhaps you would mumble something about how the ad in the yellow pages mentioned trade-ins, and you would put a pistol in the metal box and he would make an offer. Perhaps you would count on your fingers, adding his offer to the small wad of cash in your back pocket. And perhaps you would look over the different weapons on the wall, again and again, taking so long that the man on the stool would begin to glower at you. Perhaps you would even put your face to the metal grate and ask what he would choose if he needed to drop something huge, like an elephant. And he would laugh, and you would laugh too, pretending that it had been a joke.

Do you go in?

Around the corner, halfway down the block, is an old warehouse with a sign that says “24 Hour Self-Storage” on the front. Next to the front door is a chrome keypad with sticky buttons. If you punched the right code the door would buzz and allow you to enter. You might make your way past a fat security guard, who would barely glance up from his magazine, and into a large freight elevator. It would whir and rattle its way up to the fourth floor, where you would have to turn a dial on a timer to light the hallway. Perhaps an old key would open the padlock on one of the sheds. You would open the particle-board door with the metal frame, revealing a bunch of musty old boxes stacked into a space only a little bigger than a closet. And perhaps you would pull boxes out into the hallway and you would sit cross-legged on the cold concrete floor, opening the boxes and pulling things out. The only sounds would be the quiet ticking of the light-timer, the rustling of things as you moved them and your occasional sneeze from inhaling too much dust. And perhaps you would look at every photo, every scrap of paper. After examining each you would toss it aside, disgusted that it explained nothing, answered none of your questions. And perhaps you could come across a box, labeled with black magic marker as your toys. And perhaps as you dragged it closer to you, you would hear a scratching noise from inside, as if something were trying to get out.

Do you go in?

Jutting out into the street in front of you, in front of a closed restaurant supply wholesaler, is a large cardboard box on its side. Inside is a skinny middle-aged white woman with scraggly hair, a dirty, bony face, wild eyes and oil-stained clothes. She’s sitting back against a full plastic garbage bag, smoking a cigarette. As people pass she yells hoarse bursts of speech at them, like “you’re a fucking pervert” or” they put a cancer on you” or “you’re nothing but a hole.” Most veer away from her, towards the street, but otherwise ignore her. If you went and knelt by the box, perhaps she would glare at you, demand to know if “they” send you. Yet if you did not flinch, and she stared deep into your eyes, perhaps a look of recognition would come over her face, and her hard face would soften a little bit. Perhaps she would grudgingly invite you in to her box, and if you knelt and went in, and sat next to her, perhaps she would offer you a drink from her large bottle of malt liquor. And perhaps the two of you would watch the crowd pass, and you would tell her what you see, and she would tell you what she sees, and you wound find out that the two of you have a lot in common.

Do you go in?

And to your right is the entrance to an alley. If you went in you would see old trash, beaten limp by the elements, and weeds are growing through cracks in the pavement. There would be unlabeled back entrances and fire exits from the shops and offices in the buildings to either side. Everything around you would be dark and grimy, stained by years of smog that nobody has ever bothered to scrub away. The alley would be a little crooked, so that you could not see where the alley ended. And you might walk for what seemed like more than a block without coming to the exit. And if you took a brief swig from the flask in your pocket as you walked, perhaps you would forget what direction you were heading. And after several minutes, perhaps you would be unsure what part of town this alley would let you out into. And then you might begin to hear a roar of machinery, growing louder as you walked, and warm humid air with occasional wisps of smoke may drift down the alley towards you. And although you would have no idea what you might find at the end of the alley, you would keep walking.

Do you go in?


See also: In Dark Alleys Overview
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