'Carnifrenesia' is a short story dealing with desire and addiction set in Hong Kong, year 2037. It was my entry to the The Reader Berlin's Berlin Writing Prize 2019 in association with The British Council Germany and The Circus Hotel. I'm very pleased to say my story made the long list.
Blood is the mother of Qi.
Apart from Life force, there are many other translations of Qi – one of them being:
Every weekend The White Horse, and a number of other carnifrenisian joints in Hong Kong, are packed with individuals who express their desires with the same outrage as a junkie would do knowing rehab is waiting come the new year. With only ten years to go until 2047 and the expiration of the Basic Law of Hong Kong (and the “one country, two systems” constitutional principle), apart from oppositional activism, the city is boiling with various expressions of the freedom that inevitably will be suppressed when the mainland’s sovereignty is implemented – the meat parties probably being the hottest ones of those liberal, illegal expressions.
A slight paranoia.
There is always a sense of accomplishment aligned with heresy lingering after exiting The White Horse, Yin acknowledges while walking out from the old butcher’s market on Tin Wan Hill Road in Aberdeen, southern district, Hong Kong. She turns a corner. Good. Taxi’s here. Yin puts on her shades (vintage Versace) and walks over to the cab. She opens the door and enters the vehicle graciously. Shades still on.
Yin: 163 Hennessy Road, please.
In a rapid boomerang movement, the taxi driver turns his head ninety degrees, sniffs instinctively and turns his head to face the windshield again. The improperness of this act (the sniffing) comes to him immediately – but the harm is already done. Yin gets out of the car.
Yin: Please, excuse me. I forgot something.
Taxi driver: Miss? Miss?
He smelled it. Fuck! He smelled it. It must be my hair. Why didn’t I just wash my fucking hair? While Yin hurries back towards the old butcher’s, she starts to go through her shower routine to see if she’d messed up somewhere else along the way.
The locker rooms in The White Horse are separated from the rest of the facility by a one-decimeter-thick glass door with silicon sealing, a ten-meter-long corridor oh, the anticipation, the bliss and another door made of Swedish steel. Open the door! So there’s no chance any of Yin’s belongings could have caught any smell from the action inside, since entering though the locker room is the only way in.
Yin had stripped her torso from the pieces of thinly sliced beef covering her breast and put them through the vacuum sealing machine in the locker room (adding up the stock aimed for the Stake House or as snacks for Sanguis Bar at a future party in The White Horse), when placing them in the freezer. Her panties had also been vacuum sealed and put in her locker before she had stepped into the shower. She had used shower gel and a brush to scrub herself clean under the running water, and she had wet her hair but she had not shampooed it since she doesn’t like how it falls when it’s newly washed and her hair products were still laying on the bathroom sink at home. After the shower, she had dried up and changed into the clothes she had arrived in.
Yin throws a quick glance over her shoulder. The taxi is driving off and she slows down her steps when passing The White Horse’s entrance. Eventually, she turns a corner and here she stops and sighs. He smelled it for sure. It’s definitely my hair. She sniffs it. She decides to walk a few stations before taking the metro home, thinking the fresh breeze from the harbour and the multitude of smells offered in the Hong Kong traffic will probably cover up the scent.
The meat ban.
The old butcher’s facility where The White Horse nowadays hosts its “gatherings” has not been used for chopping up meat for trade purposes in nearly ten years now. Neither has any meat been cooked here, or anywhere else in Hong Kong for that same amount of time, meaning the smell of boiled, fried and barbecued meat is today nothing but a memory, forever preciously preserved in our collective mind. This goes, in fact, for the rest of the world too. In May 2027, there was a meat ban carried out across the globe, eventuating the smell of cooked animal flesh completely vanishing from the face of the earth from one day to another – more or less.
Even before the millennia, meat substitutes such as corn and soy contained enough protein to sustain a healthy diet in modern society. Financially, it was possible to distribute these substitutes worldwide, but it was not as profitable as keeping the world on its meat-consuming diet. Capitalism still favoured meat over vegetarian options. So did the gastronomy industry and whole cultures at large – especially after the ocean’s loss of biodiversity making seafood unavailable for sustainable harvest in 2025. It was not until then, when mass production of lab-grown meat was financially profitable, that meat consumption became a topic politicians took as a serious matter, finally implementing severe restrictions to the meat industry globally which resulted in animal farms one-by-one closing down worldwide – and that in turn generated a larger market space for the new laboratory produced organic proteins and various other meat substitutes. On a political level, it was a financial dispute and never an ethical one. Naturally, meat became rare and expensive resulting in a whole new status. Only a tiny percentage of the population; the wealthy and the top of the Social Credit System who already enjoyed the benefits of rich, high status positions in society, were now the only ones entitled to also enjoy animal meat. You see, what never has been possible to replicate in a laboratory is the good old smell of real meat being boiled, fried or barbecued. The luxury of smelling and tasting real meat turned into a dispute following what some people referred to as social injustice, while others claimed the argument of it simply being jealousy disguised as solidarity.
At this point a new wave of vegetarian and vegan activism unfolded globally and together with climate protectors they grabbed hold of former meat eaters, raging against the privileged meat consumers in protesting the remains of the meat industry with an agenda to shut it down completely. Mass propaganda distributed online via channels free from responsible publishers resulted in growing mobs with an offensive tone strong enough to influence political leaders in officially taking a stand against meat consumption, but not strong enough to actually make them abandon their meat diet once and for all. No, the actual cause of the meat ban, the final hit to the meat industry, was not delivered until February 2027 in the form of a virus, resulting in a complete meat free world only three months later.
On the 17th of February 2027, a medical paper was published by the Molecular Virology Research Center in Glasgow presenting the new Hyper Portokemia Disease as a viral disease causing inflammation of the brain in humans and other mammals. Early symptoms were spasms, uncontrolled excitement, confusion, loss of consciousness, and extreme sexual arousal – evidently triggered when exposed to blood and flesh. The time period between contracting the disease and the start of symptoms was one to seven days, depending on the distance the virus had to travel along peripheral nerves to reach the central nervous system. The orange colouring and bulking of the veins was a result of the virus protruding into the dural venous sinuses of the brain, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to exit the subarachnoid space and enter the blood stream, which also led to a swelling of the cardiac muscle until it bursting – or rather: "...to the heart exploding", as reported by the media.
Shortly after the outbreak two rabies researchers, Dr Charles Benton and Dr Anshumalita Jain, developed a fast-acting dose of immune globulin, through which they kindled a global production of an effective HPD-vaccine. Three months of multiple vaccination shots cured the victim and prevented the spreading of the virus - an historical achievement which awarded Dr Benton and Dr Jain with the Nobel Prize in medicine later that year. But the deaths caused by this disease were still copious. The victims of Hyper Portokemia Disease were not only the contaminated ones that caught the virus from eating meat carrying it, but also unlucky fellows that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In mass media Hyper Portokemia Disease was portrayed as diabolical due to it colouring people orange, turning them into sexual frenetics and literally breaking hearts, but the level and horror of this libidinal frenzy was indeed well covered up by massive influential forces. The cases of rape and cannibalism never made the headlines. Any of these deaths were concealed as yet another HPD case. Under no circumstances was the truth about sisters, brothers, sons and daughters of politicians, bankers, lawyers and doctors going to be revealed. HPD was a bourgeois plague.
When an extradition law was put into effect in Hong Kong in 2022 making it easy to silence anyone in the territories who whised, when time came, to reveal the true nature of HPD, Hong Kong native journalist Lucas Dao was arrested in 2029 as a result of his investigative piece for The Guardian with the titel “The real horrors of Hyper Portokemia Disease” being published. The article saw the medial light for twenty-three seconds before it was forever deleted from the World Wide Web. It contained (among many similar stories) information and a still image of this following tragedy:
In late March, 2027, the President of the People’s Republic of China’s daughter, Jie Shiuan, was caught on tape through a surveillance camera in the garden of the family’s holiday residency in Chengde, murdering her six-year-old son after he cut his finger on a broken piece of glass. When she attempted to stop the bleeding by sucking the finger’s cut, she went berserk and started chewing it off. She quickly realised she needed something sharp and went to get a knife from the kitchen while, out on the terrace, her son was screaming out of shock and fear only to be silenced by a knife in his stomach and continuous stabs to his torso. She buried her face in her son’s massacred body and was overmanned by security while digging for his heart with the knife, her fingers and teeth.
He. To Yin, He’s meat. He’s destruction and ecstasy; a slap in the face and a portal. He’s her ex. But… Who was the girl? They were close, sure, but they never kissed. That could have been out of respect for me, however. Whore. I’d really looked forward to the slaughter. Oooooh! Why did they have to be there? Just knowing he’s in the same building… Yin looks up. She forces a smile knowing she will soon get out of the narrow street lined with run-down skyscrapers (making it a place forever shielded from sunlight); she will finally see the sky stretching out above the harbor. He probably still goes there a lot. He always did. Now he goes there with her. Oh my God… It’s ridiculous how fucking bad it hurts. They’ll be going home together soon. Ok, enough. Tomorrow I’ll start with my discipline again. I’ve gotten so much stronger. I have. I’m strong. Carnifrenisia. What kind of excitement will my life offer without the slaughters, the sense of cold, damp flesh pressed against my body. Sex without meat? No more barbecue. No more White Horse.
Yin to Him: The patterned world I entered was spectacular. It was a circus… Or a carnival, rather!
She smiles to this little wordplay.
Yin to Him: There were acrobats and illusionists. I saw the carnifrenesia for what it is; hypocrisy and filth, non-hygiene and evil intentions mixed with the sovereign pleasure of liberation through expressing taboo-subjected desires without any restraint.
She should write more. She will write more.
Yin to Him: The view entertained me. And I was well aware that my guide wanted to show me black on white what sort of underground scene it is we belong to. But I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t enjoy the trip as I much as I’d wished. There was no dimension of euphoria over the experience. But then I noticed that I didn’t breathe – I was holding my breath. I have no idea for how long, and the thought of death through respiratory failure flew through me, so I took a deep breath and tried to follow the sensation through my spine into my belly and anus.
She hates that word. But here, she uses it effortlessly.
Yin to Him: And as soon as I took that breath, a quick, high-tension thrust hit me in my abdomen and it was pure bliss. Man, it was incredible! I guess the accentuated cerebrospinal fluid lost its potency when I didn’t breath properly. Anyway, I just smiled and relaxed completely. And this was when the invitation came. I’d been served the carnifrenesia and now I was going to be presented with what can be, what also exists, and that is something completely different. I was so flattered about being invited to their realm and I just let the views sweep me away and instantly a light began to drip on my face. There were like stretched raindrops of green, yellow and white light that came straight towards me. I was inaugurated. It was pure beauty and it felt so good. This was the moment of salvation. It’s a marriage within; that true self-love which enables occasional run-aways with the carnival!
She is convinced the girl doesn't taste the way she does. Of course she doesn’t. But, what Yin means is that He used to go wild for the taste of her water, and she doubts the new girl’s taste awakens the same desire in him as hers did. Does. Did.
Wait. Why did I leave? I went to see the slaughter and I… Yin stops. She turns her back to the building, looking up at the people who are passing by in front of her; walking as if they do not wish to get somewhere, without the intention of getting anywhere, just to get here rather than there, lonely in the crowd. Always alone in the crowd. Fuck him! And fuck her! I can still make it. I'll handle it. Nikki's going to be there still. Plus, her friend was kinda cute.
Yin returns to The White Horse.
On an alter in the center of the room referred to as The Temple, the reindeer is flashing her stomach, laying on her back. Her throat is stretched and her head rests heavily on the floor with its mouth pressed to the ground. Blood is dripping down her face from the shot wound on her throat, colouring the white fabric under the alter red; the stain growing bigger with each drop. Yin does not take any particular notice of this. She is deeply lost in the animal’s wide open eye and she is praying for the creature – praying for her spirit’s journey home somewhere north. Just then, a small, white ceramic bowl is passed to her from the stranger sitting on her right side. The bowl contains blood. Yin raises the bowl to her nose and closes her eyes as she inhales – she then exhales, and gently presses her lips to the cold rim and sips the luke-warm, metal-tasting liquid of Life and Desire. After swallowing, she opens here eyes again and reaches for the wool napkin resting in her lap which she was given when entering the room. She gently wipes the surface of the ceramic where her lips touched it and then she turns it forty-five degrees in her palm before passing it to Nikki, who is sitting on her left. They all drink the blood and they all pray and watch in silence.
The butcher makes a shallow cut up the reindeer’s throat from the lower abdomen. She is not sliced open yet, it is just enough for the skin to be ripped off. With both his hands, he takes a firm grip of a piece of skin by her throat and pulls hard. It comes off easily. The ripping is thrilling. Yin watches how the pink flesh stuck to the white tendons of the reindeer’s inner-skin reluctantly separates from it as the force of the butcher’s hands keep ripping. The force behind the butcher’s movements is covered up by the ancient natural order of skinning an animal; the smoothness of separating the outside from the inside – revealing what’s beneath. It’s raw beauty… For the life of the flesh is in the blood… The butcher with his experienced hands handles the animal with great care, yet with a casualness that only someone with a lot of experience in repeating the same routine expresses when executing a certain task. A meticulous tending of a familiar object. A process. Respect.
He finally cuts her open starting from the lower belly. When the butcher’s cut goes too deep and punctures the stomach, the stink reveals who are new to the ritual and who are prepared for the punch. Here and there people are gagging. Yin does not. Nor does He or the new girl. Above them, a massive ventilation system suck up the odour and it vanishes quickly. The butcher has now reached up to the reindeer’s ribs, and people start moving from sitting in the lotus position to coming up on their knees to get a better view. The intestines are shimmering inside. So it begins. All around people exhale and break their restricted appearance and starts feeling each other. The butcher keeps his focus; his arms are at this point elbow-deep down the reindeer’s torso and as he is cutting out the heart, Yin feels a breath on her neck and she knows it is Nikki’s friend. What was his name again?
Nikki’s friend to Yin: I’ll finger you, if you want me to.
Yin looks over at Him. And her… They’re whispering intimately. Yin again turns to the slaughter. She bends over, and Nikki’s friend pulls down her panties.