fiction, graphic novel

Hollow as Legs

February 29, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO FISHERMAN wear woven caps and grimace under a stark gray ceiling of cloud coverage. A thick skinned, leathery, and dark face worn by migrations to the Key West when Massachusetts got too cold. The other, a boy, with sparse whiskers like blonde pins out from a flushed, baby face. They load crates of fish into the back of a truck with an anchor painted on the side. Hurrying to stay ahead of the snowstorm. They argue about the credibility of weathermen, and crave nicotine. The boy ignores the waves and the seagulls and thinks only of dark liquor and the breasts of fair skinned, New England women. The old man looks up at the sky, and his wrinkles etch out in worry. Slides his wet, troubled eyeballs to the gray wave caps like he knows its the end of the world.

thedocks

The boy curses, and shakes his glove off. His fingertip is oozing out a fresh glob of blood and he says the fish bit him. A big, brown, bottom feeder looking sea beast, mixed in with all of the other tuna. Prehistoric. Old man doesn’t recognize the fish, and tells the boy its dead and to get in the truck because its starting to snow.

tetraodontidae

The Atlantic dissipates into outer Hartford suburbia, as indicated by hovering, green signs. The truck blends with traffic on a highway while all you hear is ‘Dead City Sound’ by O Pioneers!!!. Cars trade pace in rolling spaces of isolation. Iron islands. Truck banks off exit thirty one, ebbing its gears in a town called Aberdeen. Eventually crawling into the loading bay of a grocery store, where the fishermen unload their crates. Static electricity in every fiber of their denim Dickie’s armor. Old man orders the boy to pick up the pace, but he is not feeling so good. His face is now wax-like and he’s coughing this acrid smelling cough that sounds like it tastes bad.

deadcitysound

It Tastes Bad

Inside the grocery store it is finally warm. Here, there are stressed out mothers thrusting shopping carts brimming with batteries, water jugs and bread over tiles that reflect fluorescent glare. Leaves of white are building outside, filling the patrons with dread. Rubber wheels frantically change direction like paranoid circles. Electronic tones from bar code reading lasers cut through the urgent murmur, while a boy called Edgar stands in it. His name tag only says his first name. An aging woman with a checkbook eyes him suspiciously. Watches her candles fly over the laser.

It is ten days after Christmas morning. The town of Aberdeen is populated by kids who linger home after the holidays, and those who simply linger. Faces from Edgar’s past are everywhere. Some are not recognizable. Changed by the world and nights of excess. Some the years have been kind to. One face stirs his indifference. It is that of a girl called Charlotte. A gaunt faced thing with bonfires where her eyes should be. She has Edgar wrapped around her index finger – one among several metallic rings she keeps there to indicate some poor stray. A new boyfriend is introduced and lives caught up on. They discuss not trusting weathermen and future endeavors, but do not toil in the past.

Outside in the present, Edgar scrapes snow away from his windshield with an old Blockbuster Video gift card he finds in his wallet. Cars of grandparent’s past. It slides uneasily over powdered pavement and is splattered by passing vans on the highway. His knuckles are bulging under gloves. All of the taillights up ahead flare up, and he stomps down on the break pedal. It shutters violently under the toe of his shoe. Withdrawing pupils. He is in a long line of motorists that inch past a truck that has slid off the road and crushed itself against a cedar tree. Paramedics and police cars surround it. There’s an anchor painted on the side. Shipwreck. Edgar panics and feels dread swarming in his stomach. He tells God a bunch of prayers, and makes little promises dictated by physical markers that he always reaches.

shipwreck

The groaning of his engine relents down back roads, where the feeling of impending death also subsides. Past grotesque snowmen melting back into an ashen desert. Hollowing at the heavens with contorted mouths of stone. Christmas lights quiver on with timers. Forgotten decorations like remnants of some strange and ancient ritual. Smiling plastic things in a pale light like clothes crumpled on a floor of living white carpets.

While the blizzard tries to hide it all away.

When Edgar gets to his parents house, he hesitates in the car until his breath becomes visible, but he is relieved to see signs of life still coming out of him. Edgar marches against bitter wind, avoiding eye contact with the contorted faces of deflated, cartoon reindeer. Opens the front door with a key and smells the emptiness of his home. A note on a whiteboard of phone numbers from parents on a cruise ship in Mediterranean waters.

He watches weathermen point at green, swirling fronts on TV, while he cools off soup with his breath in between flickers of a lighter over pipe resin. Lights a candle scented by romantic walks through apple orchards. It’s aroma fills his heart with the promise of settling in for the night. But his phone – It is unaccounted for. Outside, he ventures to seek his phone but his phone is not in the car. His heart fills with dread once more. As he can envision leaving it in his apron and leaving his apron at the grocery store where all of the old ladies await, sharpening their claws on receipts.

The grass is getting farther away, or is it the snow that is getting deeper? Edgar looks up at the sky like he did when he was young. He thinks of Charlotte and pretends that she is in love with him and not the guy she is tagged with in her Instagram pictures. Roid or Loyd or some ‘-oid’ name. Tree branches are akin to the dehydrated claws of witches reaching desperately for the sky. A vast white sheet that seems to extend forever. The storm ambling around the map and sleeping over Aberdeen. Edgar thinks of thick snow pants, made of some nylon material only available in the early 90s, but the blurred past is stirred by something moving in the side of his vision.

A tiny black smudge races across the ground, near a pile of firewood. Upon closer inspection, he makes out a woolly bear caterpillar. It flees as Edgar nears, moving alarmingly fast. Near the pace of a darting field mouse. It bolts under the woodpile, and Edgar blames it on resin and expired soup. Goes back inside. Forgets to lock the door.

mammoth

The weatherman has his sleeves rolled up. Says the snow will be falling at a rate of two inches per hour, and will last well into the morning. The darker green blotches of the weather map are spiraling over Edgar’s town. Winter storm Ashley has Aberdeen in her grasp, he declares. At least for the night. The weatherman is dramatic.

Edgar blinks for longer and longer intervals. Wind is picking up and howling through poorly sealed windowsills. Something approaches his home from outside. Trudging through the snow with hollow legs. Edgar is letting his eyes stay shut, and letting his head melt into a Kohl’s brand pillow. Oblivious to any lurking danger, outside.The candle wax has almost burned to the table and his house is a full blown apple orchard. A figure darkens before his closed eyelids and hands tighten over his body. Edgar awakens and convulses at the intruder, who is wearing a scarf and laughing. It is his best friend, named Sebastian.

They curse each others names, and Sebastian drinks out of a beer bottle on a nearby chair. He has brought it from home and offers a second. Sebastian implores that he attempted to contact Edgar by phone, but Edgar tells him of leaving his phone behind. Abandoning it now. Sebastian is the son of a landscaper, and heir to the work of gravel and plows. He churns warm beer beneath a yellow beard and relents his sorrows.

Of leaving and staying. Of a strangely named cousin from the West who has settled in Aberdeen.

“Her boyfriend was taken by coyotes.”

Edgar: What.

Sebastian: He was hiking in Montana. Coyotes took him.

hang

And the snow is falling harder. More deliberately. The smoke from the highway accident has died up in the clouds. The ashes of the old man have drifted off as well, camouflaged with the snow flakes. A news anchor relays the tale of the crash. Three fatalities have been reported, including a twenty three year old man and what is presumed to be a motorist who responded at the scene. No details on the cause of this accident. The word fatality prompts the return of dread to Edgar’s stomach. Tells Sebastian that he drove by the accident, and curses accidents.

He tells Sebastian about seeing Charlotte at work, to which he comments on her beauty, which they are both already well aware of. The only girl that Edgar has ever slept in the same bed with (per Sebastion’s consistent reminders), and he recalls this less vividly as he depletes the remaining puddles of beer in his bottle. The two friends agree that they will wait out the rest of this night on barstools. One such tavern with a wooden sign that has a buffalo head on it. Edgar envisions himself strolling under the buffalo head and running into Charlotte. Sweeping her away with the charisma that initially made her decide to share beds with him.

It is a buffalo head nickle.

No, it’s a buffalo inside of a regular circle. Neither friend can agree on what is depicted on the sign, and Edgar relents his ill will towards Troy, the current suitor of Charlotte.

Hey, Hard Rain is on. Christian Slater man. On a jet ski.

Sebastian says: You should not harbor any ill will towards Troy. He was in Pitchfork you know.

Edgar replies: For being the studio drummer of some all girl Creedence Clearwater Revival indie punk tribute band. Fortunate Son or something.

Sebastian nods while lacing his boots: Yes, Fortunate Son. They’re really good, actually. And didn’t he design the logo for Diet Snapple, when he was like a sophomore at Mass State?

Edgar does not care for Snapple or states, and he curses Troy. Pines for Charlotte. Wallows in a home of pure imitation apple trees. Sebastian is growing tired of his friend’s regret. Before leaving for the night, he extinguishes the candle. Jackets are zipped over hooded sweatshirts. A barely visible trail of smoke curls up and disappears in the home, which has in fact returned to emptiness.

They march down the driveway, and Edgar glances at the woodpile. Shakes his head and buries his fists deep, deep in his pockets.

The Hasty Woolly Bear

A fleet of blindingly orange, town sanctioned snowplows lurch over the disappearing pavement of Aberdeen’s roads. Releasing a brew of rock salt and sand. Forming a slushy brine that always brinks on solidifying. Privately employed plowmen race around them, sucking back cigarettes as presidents of the night. The hum of gas station drink refrigeration systems are broken by the snot upheaval coughs of these men with calloused palms clutching coffee cups of cracked styrofoam.

Sebastian and Edgar sit in a ’96 Jeep Cherokee modified with a plow. There is a 1980s era rifle under the seat, that implores Sebastian to relay tales of rival snow removal gangs. He says his father has used it a few times. The plow sparks against naked rock. It sails and skates over routes of asphalt. Roads paved over gravel, long ago. Over cattle paths pressed by farmers, on top of trails indicated by native tribes. Trails stomped by deer and fox. Their motivations for these pathways are unknown, but now people have built houses around them. An entire town.

The town feels strange to Edgar, thought it is a place arrested by familiarity. The same corners and unrepaired window frames. Conventional urban architecture marked by missed patches of paint and graffiti murals. Memorized. Burned into the surface membranes of his eyeballs. Streetlamps wrapped by stickers and statues with grins that seem to fall a little every year. The faces of people he’s never spoken to, but are acquainted with by redundancy. Over exposure. But a rare sight to see it all cast in some white foam. To witness the same benches and digital bank signs utterly cloaked. Every exterior light captured by a powder. The white enveloping every melting light. Softening colors that spread and diminish at the fringe of shadow. Of the dark.

But this night is somehow different. Static shock seems more prevalent than usual. The feelings of dread swim everywhere, and not just in the pit of Edgar. All of the familiar faces now disguised by fur hoods. Hunched over or hidden inside their places of solitude. Aberdeen is in the the grasp of Ashley, indeed.

Most of the cars outside the Buffalo Head Tavern are buried. Its inhabitants have been inside for a while now. Their windshield wipers erect. Receiving signals. The antenna of intergalactic, witch colonist explorers. Receiving warnings.

I gotta get out of here. Sebastian tells his pint of beer. Edgar watches the television screen. Slush dripping from his dangling feet. I’ve been looking up schools in Nevada. Not trade ones either. Liberal Arts and stuff. Edgar cannot tare his sight away from the TV. Cycling the same news over and over. Breaking up the snowmageddon graphics with reports of some flu like virus that is rapidly putting Aberdeen’s good citizens in the hospital. The panic of the weathermen. The madness of the meteorologist. We’re in trouble, Edgar says before taking a wealthy sip. Its alcohol seizes his troubled brain and makes all of the familiar smells and sounds seem a little more comforting.

The bartender is a woman who was once a girl. She never made it out of Aberdeen and her skin is apricot tinged from summers spent in the Cape. With proper boys in cotton, buttoned down shirts. Nights of cranberry juice and drugs imported straight from the jungles of Colombia. People she sat next to on docks stain her memory. Pursed cheeks and teased, straw hair that was once as golden as the drafts she pours. She watches the same weatherman with mascara encrusted eyelids. The digital jukebox cycles soft metal ballads from the late 80s because it reminds her of those summers. She has not lost her will and never plans to. Quietly singing along.

We still got time, Sebastian. Edgar reassures him.

Bartender dries out the contours of a pint glass with a dish cloth. Scans the levels of everyone’s beverages. At Edgar and Sebastian. Waiting for them to join her in purgatory. It will only be a matter of time. Observing like some Shining hotel ghost.

It’s only a matter of time until I quit Stop & Buy, Edgar reassures his friend and himself. They recycle through an old but dependable conversation.

Not as easy quitting when you work for your father, Sebastian says:

Watch me have to plow tonight, he mutters this while glancing at his phone. Shit.

Edgar: What happened?

Sebastian flicks the little screen with his thumb. I have to pick up my cousin.

Your cousin?

The strangely named cousin from the West. With the coyote-situation.

Oh yeah.

She’s at El Camaro’s Cantina & Taqueria. Her car won’t start.

The door bursts open, silencing the seven people inside. Wind laced with cocaine-snow whips in and bespatters the rich mahogany textures of the floor. All peer at the emptiness. Waiting for someone to fill the space. For somebody else to get up and shut out the storm. But a figure darkens the doorway. Hunched over with a face completely concealed by several layers of jacket and scarf. Like some animated beast forged from a bed covered in coats at a party. It shuffles in and rests against the molding. Drunk men still watching in reserve. Bartender growing visibly angry. The coat beast groans once more before shuffling back out into the blizzard. Silence is replaced by Van Halen and the bartender slams the door shut. Humming to herself about dancing the night away.

Outside is a sky. She is red and slowly pelting the faces of stragglers with tiny, freezing diamonds. In the parking lot, Sebastian tells Edgar: It’s pretty now, you know. It really is. But in five days. It’ll all be this disgusting, frozen aftermath. Salty and tainted by the inevitable future.

You sure your alright to drive? Edgar knows his friend is drunk when he speaks in philosophical quips.

Maybe the Dingo

El Camaro’s Cantina & Taqueria is down the road and around the corner from the Buffalo Head Tavern. There are more cars in the parking lot. Newer cars bought with parent money. Bumper stickers from out of state schools. Lacrosse teams. They put a weird taste in Edgar’s mouth. Inside are faces. Masks of friends and acquaintance. Beers swim diligently through the veins of our friends Sebastian and Edgar as they pass through. Offering dim hello’s. Knods to some. The kitchen is closed, but the ghosts of quesadillas and Tex-Mex menu items still hang in the the air.

Well I’ll be, Sebastian says.

buffalo1

He heads straight for a table where Charlotte is seated with two others. Edgar following closely behind. His heart pumps pure blood, keeping any alcohol at bay.

Thank you so, so, so, so much for coming. A girl with brief, wavy hair says to him. The strangely named cousin from the West. In a long overcoat.

This is my cousin Elevynn, Sebastian says about the girl with hair of waves.

Like the number 11? Edgar inquires, looking at Charlotte who is looking at Troy who is looking back at Charlotte.

Like the number 11, she responds. I’m gonna grab us three more beers. It’s really piling up out there.

It is inside this unusually still night, that these kids have all settled under a roof iced like a gingerbread house. For tales that unfold over the span of one night are tales that inhibit the blight of too much contemplation. Hours do not linger, but rather ensue inside the swing of a pick axe into a rail bed. Where all prior momentum is constantly resolving into what occurs next – time does not allow for disbelief or doubt to spread its black clouds.

All huddle in the bar light. Troy is acquainted with Sebastian’s strangely named cousin from a time spent in the city. But he is a mutual friend of most people, and this news is not noteworthy. Acquaintances of acquaintances are mapped out and they all begin to melt in their chairs. There is something about the shelter of these warm, old buildings while this blizzard hits us. Troy says. Back in Chicago, there was this authentic little pub off North Main, owned by Patricia Heaton’s brother. They had a micro-brewed Barley Wine on draft that was like 12%. Real peppery after bite to it. I find that to reminisce of our factory worker ancestors is to really comprehend them. To remember them trudging home in the snow, under the stars.

There’s no stars if its snowing. Who is Patricia Heaton? Edgar immediately regrets this outburst and pours beer down his throat so he doesn’t have to say anything else.

This is after, when it clears up, Charlotte interjects.

The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is in your bar. Words that quietly roll from Sebastian’s beard. But no one really hears him.

The entirety of the Cantina is being filled with stories. Of kids from other college towns, recounting their nights of red cups. Cups that cracked and splintered if your grip was tense enough. And when their bodies went numb and entwined on the floors of off campus housing. Catching up and making plans for the summer. Empty promises to make it through the night. Mexican beer fueling visits and recollections of friends. Imaginary road trips across imaginary deserts. It all churns into one joyous cacophony. Old Christmas holly still adorning sombreros on the wall. Aaliyah is a vampire in a movie playing on the TV, while an adjacent screen shows football.

Fuck guys with mustaches who are in their twenties like what kind of piece of shit has a mustache, Edgar says but is drowned out by music pushed through blown speakers. Sebastian tells him to lower his voice and that he has a mustache.

I think when a climate such as this tests our will to survive, it is nothing short of a humbling endeavor. Troy recounts with a perfectly faraway look in his eyes. Both Charlotte and Elevynn try to find themselves somewhere in that gaze. He tells a story about meeting Patricia Heaton and how she is super down to Earth, but she doesn’t like if you ask about her country music career or make eye contact. Someone is turning the news up but the music is drowning it out. Edgar hears something about a flu outbreak, and Troy has started talking about a fictional tale of New York City titled Seinfeld.

Maybeh the dingo ate your bay-bay. Edgar blurts out, and everyone stops talking and they turn to Elevynn. The coyote-situation. The boyfriend. A grave error has been made. He says he needs to go outside to smoke.

camaros-copy

On the back patio, a circle of friends are checking their phones. But the strange panic of the real world is etched on their faces, and they seem worried and out of place in the inflated optimism that drifts out of the bar. A girl went outside to take pictures of the storm, and never came back. But one of her boots remains on the ground. They are looking for signs of her on their networks, but she has left no other traces. Squinting into the darkness of pink, unplowed streets.The circle of friends study any footprints as if they still retained some primal hunting reflex. They look at each other, like they all did when they were playing outside at eight years old. Waiting for the parents to show up.

The form of the strangely named Elevynn appears next to Edgar. She does not seem to notice he isn’t holding a cigarette. He apologizes and claims he wasn’t thinking. Flails his hands. She says something, but he doesn’t hear it over the drone of a passing plow truck. She is pretty but every girl looks like that with snow melting in their hair. A couple has a half drunken snowball fight down the street, while the worried friend circle has started to disband. He turns to face her and she presses her lips against his ear. Jackets wrinkling together. Parting their mouths just enough so their breath still unfolds in the form of smoke. Images of factory workers flash in his head, but for some reason they are all dressed in old western garb.

The dingo.

Elevynn whispers in an accent that falls between muddled English and something from a country not yet discovered. It’s alright Ed, it was a really long time ago, she says. Her face still only inches from his. But she is very drunk and everything she see’s/says leaves a trail. Elevynn goes back inside, leaving Edgar in the vacuous space of a starless snow globe.

His arms hang at his side like the limbs of a burlap statue. Edgar he says, to no one. He says his name out loud but no one hears. A girl with one boot on is shuffling towards him, from where the flood lights don’t illuminate. But she does not feel the agonizing discomfort of wet socks. Her hands in some form of claw like rigamortis. Acting on some primal hunting reflex except with more cannibalistic intentions. Beautifully filtered images of the blizzard still freshly posted to her Facebook. Edgar goes back inside, before she can reach him.

He floats around the Cantina with the sensation of something he borrowed and does not want to ever give back. People are spreading out and being grandfathered into other conversations. Jukebox is deafening. Sound consumes everything it touches. He stands beside Sebastian and recounts what happened outside, but Sebastian is too far gone to comprehend anything. We are getting buried, the longer we wait, he replies.

An early 2000s, contemporary rock tale called Adam’s Song fills El Camaro’s Taqueria and Cantina. Forty-nine cent Blink 182 ballad from inside the jukeboxes ancient and digital intestines. There is too much weight and palm muted melancholic copper strings for Edgar to handle. Unfamiliar afflictions envelop him, but he feels numb to defeat for a moment. Charlotte stands near an airbrushed portrait of a Mariachi band, talking to Elevynn. He watches Elevynn’s face as she talks but he does not hear her sound. They look like extra’s off the side in a film. Pretending to mouth words. Nostalgia and choruses swell in a frothy ocean of gold. Her face is outlined in it, in the glow. Staggering drums with an all too perfect layering of background vocals punch something raw in his chest. Piano. He shakes it off and turns his attention to Charlotte. The standby subject of his heart. But the features of the strangely named girl from the West are still etched in the air.

Outside, a young woman wearing only one boot finally finds her old classmate. The. Someone she had promised to go on a road trip to Wine Country with. Tour.  She is tearing the flesh away from the side part of her friend’s neck, to consume the tendons within. Is over. Growling like some creature that has sprouted from the marsh-like and most bottomless moats that border the palaces of Hell. I survived.

Christmas Tree of the Jungle

Edgar’s ears are ringing but he cannot detect it yet. The skull tells him to hibernate inside himself. Fall asleep for four months. Here in a tavern built of sleeping wood. Dead trees. Wood dead but still breathing through the grain. They’ve paid their debt to the Cantina. Soaking up what imitation, radiator born heat they can before leaving. Outside, snow flakes look so chunky and fall so fast that it instills an uneasiness in his chest, but Edgar knows he will just deal with it later. Mouth feeling metallic and parched from the flat endings of bottled beer. A settlement to a bitter marriage.

Supporting characters Elevynn and Troy are missing, somewhere. Charlotte catches up with old friends. Always in the distance. I love her. Edgar says with all of his weight resting against his fist, digging into his cheek. I do too, Sebastian says.

You do?

No. A belch that indicates restless vomit somewhere in the great bear’s esophagus.

Remember when we saw that guy with the mummy bandages running down the street? With the duffel bag? And he told us not to call the cops.

Yeah, what was that last summer? Sebastian murmurs.

No, no I think it was like four summers ago.

Wow, already. That’s crazy. Edgar studies signatures carved into the table top. Thinks of what he has carved and where.

Meatloaf plays from somewhere. Troy sits down with them, in a motion like he’s going to spin the chair around and sit in it backwards. Illuminating his face with his phone. You know what would be crazy? His eyes shift back and forth, excitedly. If we went sledding.

Are we going sledding? Elevynn comes from out of nowhere. Jacket folded over her arm, necklace backwards so it spills down her back. Charlotte rejoins right on cue, and Troy wraps her in his arms.

We’re going sledding.

She laughs and says she hasn’t been in years.

Sledding right now would be so ironic. Sebastian states, with his arms folded so he looks like an Imperial statue commemorating some inert czar. There’s a pretty big hill right behind the Hung Tsao plaza. Where Caldor was. The nursery is on the way.

No, no. Charlotte says. Looking at Elevynn who is looking at Troy. The old Banjoist Christmas Tree Farm. It’s all abandoned and overgrown.

Haunted. Edgar says. Their family was cursed or something.

In this economic climate? Elevynn struggles to find her necklace chain.

My brother said he heard voices there when he was a kid, Sebastian affirms.

That settles it! Troy starts zipping himself up in a thin coat. Searching his pockets for gloves. The rest stand up in unison. Walk in a single file line past the TV, where the flu outbreak is reaching epidemic proportions and starting to overshadow storm coverage. More fatalities. But Edgar only hears something that sounds like fay-al-al-lee’s.

Covering everything. Newspaper vending boxes and fire hydrants are now just mounds. Soft little dunes. They trudge and try to keep under awnings. Drunk in a vast, white desert. Laughing. Its silent and all of their hearts feel weightless. There is yelling in the distance, but sound can travel miles in the winter time without decaying. Some cars still try to make it somewhere, swerving and skidding along. They do not consider the people inside. Cars are now android animals acting on their own accord. Glass eyed with iron teeth.

Ashley is kind of a funny name for a storm. Elevynn says to her cousin.

How’s your family? Sebastian inquires, huddling into himself for warmth. He says they have to make a quick pit stop at his work, the Spruce Tree Lane Nursery (formerly the Aberdeen Town Garden Center).

Everyone waits behind him as he withdraws a key from his jacket and opens the front door. They all remain when Sebastian enters the darkness to disarm a security system and let’s them in through a side door which still chimes at the walking jackets that collect inside. Flakes chase their bodies into the shelter. Hung plants are spiders with overgrowing 70s hairstyles of ivy. A field of discounted poinsettias with their blood blooms and gold foil bases wait in a neat row. The heat is blasting and pooling condensation on greenhouse glass. Melting any frost that has stuck to them.

Sebastian reaches under a stack of ceramic pots and pulls out a tin can of pot. They sit on buckets and bags of mulch and he fumbles with a tightly wrapped bud until they’re expelling out smoke and cursing the day. Charlotte says she talked to a kid they went to school with named Barry and that Barry is already once divorced and now getting married to a girl from Japan. She says she could go for a burger. Elevynn curses burgers and watches Edgar nibble at the leaf of a geranium.

Elevynn then asks where the bathroom is and Sebastian gives her directions and says that it should be unlocked. Elevynn feels her way down an unlit corridor that leads to a greenhouse lush with sampled pieces of the rainforest. It is a hot little spring in the middle of winter. She is testing the sharpness of cactus needles and plucking dead fronds off a sentry palm.

You’re a long way from home, she says to the sub-tropical shrub. It sits indignantly, looking back up at her.

Me too, me too.

Within minutes, Troy finds her in the greenhouse and they wrap themselves in one another. They stand in mid-air between a dracaena fern and a cluster of mature bromeliads. She pulls at his mouth with hers, and they fill each other with smokey breath slurped back with wild gasps. Every snowflake outside bursts on the glass like tiny ash meteors pummeling Earth’s atmosphere. She feels a clammy palm crawl up her jacket, under her shirt and close on her breast. In seconds there’s a final gasp on her neck and she feels Troy’s hand go limp. A relic expiring on a death bed.

He doesn’t talk and she kisses him again. Wipes a clod of secretions on the giant leaf of a rubber tree where it dangles like sap.

They return separately, and Charlotte looks at her boots when she see’s Troy again. We finished without you, Sebastian says.

*

The abandoned tree farm is cradled in some factory-ish part of town. Or it used to be factory-ish. Wrapped by a rusting fence, and fading NO TRESPASSING signs. Warnings from long forgotten voices. It was once an economic trove for Aberdeen. Offering high quality conifers that never shed their needles until well after New Years. Now the town has been taken over. It calmly sinks in its own premium Christmas trees.

Dilapidated, Troy calls it. It’s an accurate word.

What once were young saplings are now overgrown, jagged spear heads. Like bristling and rabid animals hungry for the redness in the sky. Prospering in the wake of something that was once coordinated agriculture. Reclaiming the landscape.

They use plastic garbage receptacle lids as sleds. They use regular pants in place of snow pants. The hill is normally rocky, gravelly soil unfit for even the tenacious roots of cedar trees. It is now a sleek, slope of powder. Behind them, their footprints are already being filled in with the same intentions as an ocean surf.

Elevynn hurls herself down the hill, but the tundra is so thick she must propel herself with her arms and legs. Subsequent trails are more compact, and two by two they skid down the hill. Flying through the night. Laughter cutting the white noise of Winter Storm Ashley’s heavy, deafening palms.

There is music all around them but they don’t notice.

Hungry Ghosts, an old tale by White Wives. It is everywhere, like some promotional footage that depicts a surf competition with the frame rate slowed down for dramatic effect. Though no one really hears it. Their cheeks flush and their breath grows short. Even the typically aloof girl called Charlotte abandons her adult demeanor in favor of some kind of joy. Edgar’s garbage lid sled capsizes next to hers, and he remembers her laughter from a long time ago.

When they sat in her car, waiting for the engine to warm up. In some other winter that has long since been washed away by spring and the high haze of summers. He supposes she was different then. Easily impressed by simple things. But she has since re-purposed herself.

My butt’s wet, and Edgar pretends she didn’t just mention her butt. But for some reason he thinks of Elevynn’s butt, and he gets the feeling like he has sat still for too long and its all accumulating on him too fast. The strange, surf music now gone, as mysteriously as it began.

It’s not even creepy here. Its like. Peaceful.

It is, it’s serene, Edgar says. How’s school?

She makes a twisted face, and struggles to stand up. Giant, drunk statues coming to life.

Sebastian is smoking something out of a glass pipe while sedentary on a stump. The areas where the pine trees are is just black ink. All breath heavily, even though they are mostly still. And then they hear it. Screams. Screams coming from the black lagoon of Christmas trees.

Shit-holy-shit. Edgar’s eyes are wide and glazed with tear water.

Charlotte reels. Elevynn stands closer to her. Is that. Is that raccoon’s? Don’t they sound like screaming sometimes?

Or owls, it’s probably owls.

Help me, the screams form words. Please help me.

That’s no owl, Sebastian says. Still seated on his stump.

It’s people. Troy says.

sled

They all share the same sentiment. To run. To flee the forest, but they all stand still. Frozen in place. Feeling the air settle on their hot faces. Breath pouring out of them. Vanishing in the saplings, where something unknown exists. This very thought is one Edgar struggles to fight off. It ceases and they sit in the silence. That sound of a winter night – Like one hundred thousand weightless flakes hitting the ground at once.

But when the screams don’t pick up again, it is almost like it never happened. Sebastian shudders. They retrieve their sleds and they fumble down the hill, past the fence. Back through their smoothed over footprints. It all suddenly feels so dismal. The family abandoning their farm. All these Christmas trees that grew old and serrated. The one dimensional wooden Santa, who waved at people as they left with the forest tied to their roofs.

Laryngitis

The Banjoist family Christmas tree farm (off I-81) was established upon landscape that was once home to an indigenous people. A Pequot tribe that lived off the corn and squash that grew generously in the river valley soil. On the cusp of a bog rife with trout with a mote that protected their stony hill. But this was also where they abruptly vanished in the height of summer. Native history exhibits of museums mention this, but offer little comfort to patrons. Generations of visitors on wet afternoons. Whatever took the Pequot tribe remains in the roots of pine and in sap.

A ripple effect of curses and haunted open land envelops them. Edgar, Sebastian, Elevynn, Troy and Charlotte. Another layer of powder falls over the thicker slab of tundra. Gentle flakes for a moment but is all still too oppressive a sensation to be experienced under wool. Itchy when brushed to flesh.

I wanna grow home, Elevynn states. Domestic botany. Everyone waits for somebody to inquire further but no one does, and they just move across the ground in silence.

They huddle together, walking fast. Spreading apart and recollecting. It’s an industrial part of time. Part of town. Mostly abandoned little factories and gas stations all boarded up. Some houses still remain inhabited. Heat lamp yellow light from sad little windows. But it is quieter than usual. Even for a storm. They all realize this but do not say it aloud. Say other things instead.

We all have such strange names. Have you noticed that?

I don’t have a strange name, Charlotte says. All sound winded. Fattened and sluggish from Holiday feasts and golden birds.

Who names their kid Edgar? Sebastian asks his friend in between breaths.

Troy begins to tell a tale about his parents naming him after a woman who studied and cured a rare strain of laryngitis.

No one cares, Sebastian says in his head. To Troy’s winter tale. Elevynn lagging behind in some silent statement of fearlessness.

Oh no, Charlotte stops short, halting a brief bout of laughter to her back.

They arrive at a single car accident. Crumpled up against a lamppost, with the engine still rumbling. A quarter inch of sleet accumulating on metal contorting over fractured plastic. Still whirling around in high beams that dim gradually like something’s tired eyes. Passenger door is ajar, with no perpetuating tone. No flashing lights tend to it. Air is clean of sirens.

Phones are withdrawn, as flares fired for emergency vehicles. Charlotte clutches tightly to hers and listens to one voice mail. She guards it close to her head for warmth, but all can distinguish a panicked voice leaping out from it. All falling silent. Colder when they stay still.

My mom. That was my mom, she said not to come home because there’s a man in our yard.

Did she call the police, Troy comforts her with an arm.

No, no. She said they’re not answering.

Not answering? Sebastian repeats aloud. Foreign worry in a normally placid tone.

She said she thinks it’s like a jaundiced patient from the hospital. He’s just naked and staggering around.

Like, yellow? Sebastian feels the hairs on his neck stand up, even under a crumpled hood. Regards the car’s crumpled hood.

How is he even alive if he’s naked?

What is going on, Edgar asks the night. Swatting away at the attacking billows of frost. Avoiding eye contact with the dark. Like anything could be inside of it. Weird trappings swirl in their guts, when they have to abandon the car crash. It goes against some important grain. To leave it behind. They have no choice but to cross an unlit and wooded hill to get back onto Aberdeen’s main street. Sebastian stumbles on his own boots. They go quietly and rushed past any trees, because there is something untrustworthy about them.

Following into each others footsteps. The lights from town get closer. Down the street. A drunk man walks with his shoulder pointed at the ground. Groaning, maybe even drooling. Cars, unscathed, becoming more entombed in snowfall. The same feeling of being hunted by something not entirely visible.

tooms

What should I do – I shouldn’t go home right? Charlotte asks Edgar.

We’ll go check it out, Troy says. Your house is only a few blocks from Main Street.

Bad things come in twos, Sebastian warns, peering into the black windows of shopfronts. All leftover Christmas overstock dramatically reduced in price. His reflection in a framed poster of Zac Efron as a green teenager from a Shrek reboot. Sebastian’s eyes appear aged in the eyes of the digital monster. Sunken and far away.

It’s three’s, and I think three things have already happened.

They part ways with Troy and Charlotte at a Hardware store that lies under the looming shape of a cathedral spire.

Call us when you make it there, Edgar urges them. No hugs are exchanged under the frozen cross. What should we do now?

Sebastian: It is very apparent that something bad is happening.

Elevynn: Yes that has become apparent. We also seem to be the only people outside right now. Aside from that drunk guy but I don’t know where he went. So maybe we should go.

Edgar: Inside.

They pause at the town’s green. A square populated by statues. By sleeping water fountains and purposely placed oaks. Elevynn pulls her mittens taught before brushing off a bench at the foot of a statue. A nearby Chinese restaurant illuminates the night with a whispering neon. It takes her longer than she had hoped to clear a place. They don’t talk again. But the silences are growing more comfortable. Suitable stagnation’s. But then. A sound of clicking, soft at first but gradually widening Familiar but so out of place. Sebastian’s face falls. A hormonal young ogre.

Sebastian, what is that? Edgar pulling back.

statues1

Statues gaze up at the sky. Colonial men. Some somberly reflect on the end of the world. Some smile madly up at it. Welcoming whatever curses churn in their wind. Pigeon cohorts hundreds of miles away. Edgar stares right into their faces, waiting for the cast eyes to blink. The buzzing getting louder. Filling his ears with dread that is now both permanent and starving.

Sebastian swallows once more. I think that sound might be cicadas.

Larry

An actual pteranodon casts wind across the prairie with enormous, sinewy wings. Walking on them. The moon is too bright and she curses moons. It is millions of years younger. Lively and orange with volcanic spew, not a withered skull in the stars. The flying dinosaur speaks in ancient tongues. Jibbering to itself while a modest sized herd of Sinosauropteryx scamper under the height of reeds. Away. Every animal is fleeing, while insects linger behind as patient vultures.

In the waiting room of extinction. At the shores of an unnamed tar lagoon is one washed up bottom feeding fish, called a Tetraodontidae somnus. A relative to the prehistoric sharks caught in the nets of modern fishermen. The cartilage of its fins houses a chemical that ceases breathing via muscle paralysis before rapidly inhibiting the central nervous system of its host. Those exposed will often remain in a comatose state though they appear to be living – walking upright and acting on rudimentary hunting and consumption instincts. A scavenging procompsognathus only makes it through three or four bites of its find, until it knows something is wrong. Wavering and flashing blank eyes to the heavens.

In the crust, a forty pound cicada clicks from its cocoon of mud. Crawling out of hibernation into an unexpectedly doomed world. In the sky, the moon was millions of years younger. In daylight, triceratops cadavers lumbered over the prairie like bison.

pray

Within weeks the garden of Eden was a haven for dead giants. Gathering in hoards to feast on the living, until they were all one, unified army of their former country. Boiling under the sun with their skin gradually disappearing to reveal moving skeletons. Until only those grinning bone tracings remained in tar.

 

/

 

I have a thing for Eastern European looking women. Pale. Like kind of tired eyed. Pouty, but tough. The type that looks good all huddled up in winter coats.

Leopold disagrees with his friend. Where three snowplows collect in the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins mutt. Flakes sail about them, on the bare tar in the calm before a storm. He draws in murk and grounds. You know why I got together with Denise? Because she looked like a shark and the most attractive women look like sharks. Black eyes, jagged teeth and big, crooked noses.

Up above are pink clouds where the moon is an old bone pocked by craters.

You’re saying that you’re physically attracted to sharks, Larry (Leopold). The plowman Raul grins with wet lips. Woodland camo hat under hood. Leopold quietly considers the man’s two divorces.

I’m sayin’ there’s a whole thing with it. Like figuratively.

The third plowman, called Seward, refills the power steering fluid of his truck. That’s a nice truck. That’s a real nice truck, Seward.

Its rusted to fuck, he says.

Sausage and chemical brand hazelnut drifts out in the path of a woman. Scowling with her face drawn back by bleached hair. Pulling her cheekbones upward. Eva Perón in a Patriots jacket, without a nod of acknowledgment. Keeping with proper New England etiquette. She lets her car warm up and Seward asks Larry about something but he doesn’t hear so they talk about something else.

You hear about that accident on 84?

Three people died?

Four, one of the EMT’s was killed after.

How’s that?

Beats me. Seward inspects something else under his hood. The fragility of life escapes them.

After the last two duds, you must really be aching to bring the blade down. Raul follows another person leaving the Dunking Donuts. He dabs super glue into a wound on the side of his thumb.

Leopold is the father of Sebastian, with older versions of his son’s hands. Pink, swirling pools of wrinkles on each knuckle. Matching thumb callouses from the wooden grips of shovels. He looks on as his friend carefully pours antifreeze that drools out in fat globs. Appearing concerned, but swiveling other thoughts in his mind. Contemplating shark faced mermaids, but knowing the night that stretches before him will stretch for miles and he will go to sleep with a sore back as Winter Storm Ashley tapers off in the morning. And there is a plan in his head which he does not divulge to his friends.

Finally, they circle back to the weather. Its gonna come down fast and heavy over this layer of permafrost. No changing to freezing rain either, just straight Atlantic snow.

The smell of scorched motor oil is smothered by a continuous draft. Ashley, Ashley, Raul repeats like something he’s churning to recall. Scrutinizing the taste of the word.

tar

Larry’s engine turns with a stubborn alternator and the cacophony strangles the premonition that he may not make it home tonight. CHANGE OIL light glowing at him. The three scatter into the pink of night, connected by transparent radio heat. Normally, Royal Oak Landscaping is privately employed for residential driveways, but the forecast calls for a violent nor’easter, so the town has commissioned him for government buildings. Some other commercial properties and homes too.

It’s strange how the body knows when warmth is false. Refusing to fully trust it. The scoop is indifferent to its climate and hungrily gathers the tundra, depositing it in great landscapes. Larry digs in his ash tray for enough cigarette to gnaw on. The pavements already glassed over and commuters slide down a grand slope in the center of town. He makes rapid glances at his phone for signs of his son, but his son is somewhere else. Worry swimming in him. He swigs Merlot out of a plastic cup.

Twenty four years ago Denise got pregnant, and six later she was pregnant again with Karla, named after Larry’s uncle Karl. There’s a picture of both kids on a fishing boat, that he had taped to the dashboard, which now lives in a sea of seltzer cans and crushed salt. Denise used to do dispatch, when they were the family business he dreamed of. But now the radio talks with the voice of someone else. Sometimes Raul’s voice crackles through with dick jokes and in depth reports on traffic. Sometimes in one sentence. The Banjoist Christmas Tree farm spreads an invasive breed of conifers all over town. Old timers used to remind you that Aberdeen gets darker with each decade.

The Plan

‘Guillermo’s Gables’ cycles through the speakers. A book on tape. He pulls into the library where he got it from from, guns blazing. Nervous brick in his gut still and his head spins from polishing off half the Big Gulp wine. He takes a moment to turn the strangely high volume of chatter down. Gets lost in the longing of an 18th century Spanish artist bringing a rustic method of impressionism to Maine. Digging at poppy seeds in his molar. Five more contracts are completed. Engine turning the hood into a steaming skillet. A young socialite yearns for Guillermo, but it’s really movement itself that she lusts after.

Sebastian didn’t go to school because he was a thinker. Karla is a doer, and she’s bright but not as inquisitive. She needs tuition to save her. Seb always over thinks everything, like his father. Like me, he says fighting with the clutch.

There’s a rifle in the other truck, from the winter of ’88, when they used to resort to violence over turf. Over driveways and parking lot cement. He has a pearl colored scar on his shin from chasing an out of state plow and tripping on some black ice. The gun went off and the police didn’t like that. But, the city is empty now and Larry is privy to its treasure:

Last summer he embezzled profits from his own business, but the town won’t find out about it for another few months. They’ll notify the authorities once they audit those records – records that lay unread inside the town hall. He tells himself to buck up, that he’s going to do it. Text books alone are beyond his means. Another generation won’t die in this town, he says. Karla won’t marry some fucking boat insurance salesmen. Some landscaper. Guillermo sprints through a meadow at dawn, his heart in his ears, beating against the sides of his brain.

Commuters now thin out from the roads. Some joyriding kids straggle, and he curses them. Alone, with the star screensaver disappearing at his windshield. It always makes him feel sideburns on his face, again, from when he went to the premier of Empire Strikes Back, stoned as a witch. Going on a date with an orthodontic student, long before Denise. He is hunting Wampas on Hoth, with the cloth wrapped blaster rifle at his side. I could grow my sideburns out again. He reviews old eyes in the mirror. Frost heaves push pavement upwards and the bumps barely rattle anything because this truck is weighed down by hundreds of pounds of salt. A comforting weight of chemical grade road sodium chloride.

Tonight though, he promises.

But his confidence has almost completely faded, alone before the temple of the Aberdeen Town Hall. Not structurally supported by its grand pillars. Larry shifts into park and lets the snow accumulate on his windshield, so he is shrouded. Guillermo toils with capturing the cologne of a prairie on canvas. Turns the defroster off to gain another layer of seclusion. A museum wall lined with depictions of holy figures in the bodies of great dinosaurs. Rubenesque apatosaurus.

fleather1

I see you, you son of a bitch. The colonial structure sitting in darkness. The key to a side entrance sticking into his thigh. Larry approaches its marble facade with the last of the wine spilling down his throat.

An automatic central heating system pushes out tepid air when the building is uninhabited. Filing cabinets illuminated by a thin key chain flashlight beam. Every footstep is echoed somewhere else. As if someone were following him and matching his pace. Filing cabinets watch him pass and judge, quietly.

Shut up Larry, he tells himself. Quieting phantom shouting in his head.

It feels like a fake haunted house with all of the flood lights and exit signs. A stuffed alien grasping a Christmas card gives him a startle. Flashlight grazing over family portraits on desks. To a cabinet labeled ‘misc. landscaping.’ He finds the records quicker than he did in his imagination, but there is something on the desk that wasn’t there in his head, either.

Beside the stress balls and wrapped candy is an unmistakable pile of unprocessed cash deposits. Unmarked envelopes, transparent enough to reveal the pursed olive lips of Ben Franklin. Karla’s room and board. Books and a life free of loans. A fucking semester abroad maybe. Larry weighs envelopes that have yet to be processed by the town’s accounting clerks. But there’s no way – he shakes his head and fumbles through the files until he finds his balance sheets. Stuffs them in his coat pocket and doesn’t stop until he’s seated in his truck again. But he can’t bring himself to drive off.

No more embezzling, it was a one time deal, he says aloud. But taking city money is a different story. It’s not hurting anyone.

Nervous haste spins wheels underfoot. A cloud of scorched fossil fuel hangs in the air of a half plowed Town Hall parking lot. Envelopes stuffed with cash shoved in the glove department. Larry’s backtracking boot prints melt down the ceramic hallway. Melting any trace he was there. Weary eyes shifting constantly to his rear view mirror, now wide with anxiety.

Police trade codes over the scanner. There’s an off urgency to their chatter, but Larry doesn’t hear over the shear heartache felt by a humble school teacher. Gazing upon the heaps of dried out prairie grass and the blur of oak savannas. The listless sky beyond. All pooled by Guillermo’s brashly applied, tiny brush strokes of oil. Seeing the same place she’s always known in some dreamed of light.

Pre-Abandoned Shopping Center 

He is his own getaway driver. Gliding through a network of back roads, Larry finds himself with a feeling he’s not had since the Hartford Whalers were playoff contenders. It’s a rush of silver in the lining of his stomach that solidifies in his head. Larry sends snow into packs five feet high. Raul’s voice fills the cabin, lightly fuzzy and breaking apart.

Nine!

Larry realizes with trepidation he has not run over any mailboxes while Raul is getting dangerously close to ten. Seward is yet to weigh in. On the mailboxes.

I have my work cut out for me, he says into the handset and he see’s Karla throwing her cap towards the heavens at the commencement of graduation. The morning of – scanning his closet for a yellow polo to wear under the awning, on the lawn of her campus. A vast, green stretch of crab grass.

God damn you Larry, never again he says with his finger off the TALK button, Relief pouring in and out of him still. Oozes to the tundra crushed under tread.

How’s Seward doing?

Sue? Raul crackles and breaks apart. There is no response. Dead noise made of ivory. Some kids speed past in a rusted out Jeep Liberty, and almost swerve off the corner but recover and disappear down the road.

Where do fake tits find themselves in old age? Seward says at at last.

I think they stay the same while everything else just, you know.

Have you ever touched fake ones?

No.

Larry have you ever seen them?

I’ve seen ’em online.

Raul goes into a long story about spending a winter in Tampa, in between divorces. Guillermo smudges poison sumac oil to paint the wispy fronds of willows. Thees is the only way! He cries, with blistered thumbs. Raul says they were like ziplock bags filled with warm melted ziplock bags.

Their revelry tapes off as Larry races around in the silence. He keeps his truck in neutral and considers standing outside and feeling it on his face but his shift is nearly over. Gas tank is low and he can stand outside and woolgather when he refuels. Larry plans to think of something important while waiting at the pump. Flooding the reservoir with diesel. With 40. Something to make things more translucent.

I could buy bugles. Put them on my fingertips.

Imagine two cracked boulders protruding from the wrinkled surface of a dust filled stream, Raul says as if he is talking through the blades of an oscillating fan.

The Ford flies faster, lighter as it burns the weight of petrol. Of 40. He clears a residential address where all the lights are on. There’s no check outside and all the lights are off, so he makes a note to bill later. The next score is closer to the old industrial sector. A big abandoned place under the freeways All the lights are off and it’s mostly untouched by plough and stone. A big winter wonderland where garbage has been raining down from the networks of pavement above for years. It looks clean and new now with its coating. Seward says something about making bank. They are indeed making bank. One more medium sized storm and things will be alright.

Larry is stuck in the back lot of an abandoned ice cream parlor with a giant cracked blue sign and the image of a swirl of soft serve with eyes and a mouth. It looks like he’s missing a tooth. The transmission snags and grinds. Tires spinning. Larry swears he see’s someone walking up behind him, but he maneuvers out of the spot and out onto the paths. The ice cream creature is still grinning.

Things will be alright.

Larry cuts through wide open acreage. In the 80s Aberdeen cleared a lot to build a shopping mall there, but the plans fell through and now it is a flat meadow. The crystal ceilings and wishing fountain of chlorine corroded arcade tokens remain as the same green mist that ghost ships are made from. Funding also fell through to maintain the pillars holding up the interstate. Any day the freeway system could crumble into this abyss, where god knows what is waiting to reclaim it. Larry is gliding over powdered cotton when he see’s blue and red beacons swirling in his mirror. A state cop flooding the white with jumping primary colors. The deposits. The stolen audits. There were cameras. You idiot.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck you idiot fuck. Larry’s gloves grip the steering wheel as if it were keeping him attached to the edge of some great ravine, before resting them on his lap. The entirety of his flesh feels sunburned, lapped in feverish hot/cold sweats. He prays hard that the cop is responding to a car accident somewhere. To a post-Christmas domestic situation. Just keep going he says to the lights. There’s no way anyone would see the camera footage already – it’s for something else. He was just speeding.

The squad car passes and swerves alongside him and for a moment. Relief surges up in his neck. The lights are on but with no sound.

But it comes to rest, meanders and parks on the shoulder in the glow of Larry’s low beams. Relief catches fire again. He turns down the radio and cassette player. Waits in complete silence with panic breath fogging every glass surface. The cop is stopped diagonally on the shoulder. Larry rips open the glove box and removes the transaction receipts. The cash deposits. He shoves them under his seat, all while maintaining eye contact with the tail lights of the police car. He checks his eyes to see if he looks drunk. Swallows his Merlot breath.

Minutes past. Fourteen, maybe 12. His cabin is freezing, the exhaust of the police car still sputtering. Snow completely coats his windshield, causing the siren beacons to permeate through dull and soft. Larry contemplates getting out of the truck. He knows most cops in the area but a lot of them are retired. They’re at home sleeping, they’re not out in this. You shouldn’t be out in this. You’re old.

thecops

Police car door swings open, chiming rhythmically. It takes a few minutes for him to step out and he is crooked in some way, like a newborn scarecrow finding its legs and adjusting to the light. His engine is still running and Larry curses engines. Maybe it’s just a quick talk. He’s going to get back in, but he is staggering. He’s drunk. One arm hangs impossibly low and Larry gets out of his truck. The cop wavers, cocking his head back. Larry gets back in the truck. He locks his door but he’s not exactly sure why and fears his own decision. The cop is catching snowflakes on his naked eyeball. The gun is with Sebastian.

Killed the Lord, Left for the New World

The cop keels over and vomit bursts from his jaws before dribbling out in beaded strings. He wipes his arm over his mouth and Larry gets out of the truck. Heart still battering his ribs.

You alright? Words are weak and rust addled from somewhere in him.

God damn. God damn flu or something. It’s going around. The cop taking eight ton breaths. Larry can’t see his face but it looks blanched even in the strobing red and blue. His hands on his knees, keeled over the police officer says

It’s freezing out here man get outta here. Get outta here. Get outta here, lower.

A second bout of puke spills from him, splashing onto both of them. It’s fine, I’m fine, get outta here, he says again.

Larry wishes him well and curses influenza’s. He puts the Ford in gear and fishtails a little off the shoulder, where snow has built around the tires.

Get outta here the cop mutters again. Repeats it and repeats it much fainter until he is just mouthing the syllables and his retinas start to turn transparent.

A cinder block sits inside Larry’s stomach and he checks his phone but there is nothing from Sebastian. Only an update on a contract in a gated community further north. He hopes his son is having a good time. Opens up another box of Merlot and sips it as if they are drinking together. Heads toward Country Thickets, a land of sturdy 90’s era McMansions overlooking a sea of contemporary craftsman’s connected by sixteen difference cul-de- sacs off one dead end stretch. Fought for and won in the Plow Wars of yesteryear. It is Larry’s final commitment of the night and he thinks of men whose trucks he sabotaged with severed break lines and plugged exhausts. Plunking cherry bombs with extended fuses in their gas tanks and running like hell as the explosion shot cup holder rings and red hot, glowing bolts in all directions. Furnace breath on his back.

How some of the old timers have died or have forgotten it all, disgraced and wandering around the convalescent homes in Fairfield and Southern Massachusetts. He chases them away with dreams of kicking off his boots in the hallway of his own home, and plunking down on the orthopedic mattress that his wife bought last year. Waking up with dry feet.

The secluded bathrooms of the Aberdeen Public Library are on the way to Country Thickets. One of several smudged-up brass keys on his chain clip. The Library has closed early and is already closed tomorrow. Probably into next week too. Connecticut’s governor closed the state hours ago. Inside, PC screen savers glow in a neat row. The rush of paper pages, the shit stained carpet of the kids corner and century old coffee chase him across the floor. He doubles back to lock the entrance and grabs a post-impressionist painting book off ‘Paula’s Suggestions.’ Glances between the men’s and women’s room. Larry peers into the door marked ‘W’ and takes a seat in one of the stalls. More immaculate than the men’s room. Strangely more comforting with the pleasant subtlety of stale perfume. Yet the halls outside of the door do not sit well with Larry. They are too vacant. He is vulnerable in all this emptiness. A potted fistful of dead roses. Air of a funeral home hosting the wake of a thousand great-grandmothers.

denimwhale2

The books here spill out endless notes and tales, some true and some invented by drunkards. By boozehounds on humid nights.

Case 1 – There are footnotes in the memoir of an American CIA field agent named Linda Yankowski, who, with several other operatives were guiding Contra’s in their efforts against the Sandinista’s in Nicaragua. How their squadron had poor navigation and became stranded in San Juan Del Sur and how they had to eat fish that lived in the swamps except the locals said fish shouldn’t live in the swamps and were wary of them. That was the last thing the operatives ate because soon after they all turned to cannibalism except the author claims that’s not what it was. It was too expedited. She survived only by spraying bursts of her assault rifle at the Contra’s, as well as her former colleagues before torching their still fighting bodies. Fish tissue still decaying on their molars. Their families were all presented service medals at a posthumous ceremony. No one mentioned how often Linda had to reload.

Case 2 – Under 981.3, PLA there is a pocket encyclopedia about plant-derived medicine sourced from Central American rain-forests. A footnote about hazelnut farmers who abandoned their farms and livelihood simply because their river basin estuary flooded. Considered by most an overreaction to such a naturally occurring disaster. This was a decision that could only be motivated by fear. Whatever was carried to them by those flood waters terrified the superstitious filbert miners. Their statements, translated from Spanish told of underwater caves where men live forever and become waterlogged. Blind mudfishmen with soft skulls who weakly claw at your feet when you are swimming. They lock their gums on your skin but are brushed away as if sea grass. These translations, though based on fact have become ill timed bedtime stories and verses for folk songs.

And finally, Case 3 – Three aisles to the left, on the top shelf is the biography of a luggage tycoon named Malcolm Fairbanks. A man known for developing a luxury brand of gym bags. Twenty years ago, in uptown Manhattan, you wouldn’t be caught dead working out without a Malcolm Fairbanks duffel in tow. In 1991, his brother went missing on a ‘family fishing trip,’ only to be found in a yacht floating off Costa Rica, along with the corpses of four prostitutes. Mexican coast guard patrol attempted to board the vessel but claimed he was extremely violent and confrontational. Beyond drunk or ‘coked out.’ It also appeared as though he had started to eat his former crew members despite only being lost at sea for a week or so. Malcolm sued everyone. He went after the boat company, the Mexican coast guard. The sex trafficking ring that the prostitutes were from. Malcolm even sued the manufacturer of the gas powered rubber bullets that gradually tore his brother to pieces.

The one thing all of the bodies in these books had in common were traits of a rare blood virus – one where the host exhibited extreme symptoms of menopause, starvation and boredom. Pure, lethal boredom. Something old, dark brown. Something borrowed from the cretaceous period.

Footsteps shuffle around outside the door, or what could be footsteps. A klunk, but then nothing. Maybe a radiator settling. Library is still how he left it, albeit a little cozier from the motion activated forced heating system. When Larry gets back outside and locks the door he detects what smells like Prestone burning on a carburetor and he turns around to see that’s exactly what it is. A Nissan smashed into a tree. Larry stumbles through the snow. Calling out. His body sinking deeper, as if trampling through an impossible river current.

But the Nissan is empty. Demi Lovato’s Cool for the Summer remains blaring through one speaker. Windshield is a spiderweb of cracked glass. Heater still blasting on defrost, scattering air bag powder with snow.

Fuckin, Larry says. He dials 911 on his phone and the operator sounds like she is being bothered. Like she’s scared. The 911 operator is scared. Larry says someone failed to negotiate a turn. Thousands of miles away, mermen surrender to coral. Become marine debris, stagnant and human anemones with ivory eyeballs that aimlessly study their habitat. Watching from the canvas of an oil painted portrait, hung in the hallways of a mansion. Blotted by lesions nursed by sea cucumbers. A buzzing synth-beat turns to steam on the swelter of Demi Lovato’s croon. The pre-chorus evaporates into the important part and Larry’s blood begins to ferment under his skin.

 

 More Spaced Out

Voice of the 911 dispatcher is crackling apart in Larry’s ear. He says they’ll look into it. Hangs up on Larry, and he is left with only the wind carrying on in its northern drawl. Tread marks are examined, trying to figure out what happened to the driver of the Nissan. Calls into the forest, calls hello, but no one answers. The feeling of a voice once inside his head. Larry could not handle a second conversation with a police officer. He must keep the deposits moving on tracks of powder.

Cannot draw attention, Larry says to his or someone else’s footprints.

Roads are much worse now. Gas tank dial fidgets in the red, choking the grip of the Ford which is becoming loose, exhausted. Visibility is worsening to yards, and the night gulps up everything around his fog-lights. Someone in a reflective jacket is making their way down the shoulder on skies. Larry pulls into a Valero, where a pre-recorded voice is rambling about bargains, sounding more and more anxious.

There is something about the world at night when it snows, there’s just something about it. A blanket, left lumpy and stretched on our landscape – its uniform whiteness a canvas which anything can be  painted on. Any dreams or nightmares. But she is not a fortune teller, the snow. Only a slate that is unvarnished by everything you have seen. A morning. Covering all life with dunes bedazzled by micah and branches cast in cocoons of wool. Bowing the weak ones until they snap off and become helplessly buried, swarmed by the hoards of little glass. It has drifted down from miles above, from heaven. Anyways, that was 4.51.

The clerk pops the drawer closed with his crotch, and goes to move all of the elder doughnuts to the front.

Larry is the only figure under the gas station canopy, positioned inside an Ed Hopper painting speckled with asbestos. Inside he stomps his feet on a mat, soaked through. Mud prints of boot tread swarming paths on the tile. Finds a  Monster Energy Drink and a bag of Bugles. The cashier asks him how the roads are and Larry says the roads are shit. That’s New England the cashier says, an older Pakistani man flounced by a dense black beard. Waterfalls of lottery tickets cascade around his body. Larry watches the grey version of himself on the security monitor as he exits, smell of incense following him outside. The pirate slices the tape strip on a box of cigarettes and outside there is now an Oldsmobile parked at a pump. The lady watches him from inside her Uconn Huskies Starter jacket, as if he were an old friend.

The deer are gonna finish ’em all off. So. Don’t worry! She grins, lipstick stains capped below receded gums, and a lock of hair whips around to reveal the band of a wig. Larry begs her pardon and she drags a squeegee across her windshield, spreading muck around. I got some suet to hold them over. Or reward ’em. A long abandoned bird’s nest is crammed into a crevice overhead, spilling down human hair with straw probably from the farm down the road.

To hold over the deer?

No. Not the deer.

The Blackbeard is eyeing them closely from inside. She is making both men nervous, until her Buick lurches away, crackling salt granules and then gliding silently out of mind.

petrol

 

Larry shakes, but is not cold. I need a smoke. The energy drink is cat piss and cotton candy on his pallet. He calls for Raul but there is no answer. Nothing from Seward either. Dispatch probably asleep.

I should tell her to go home. Larry squirts wiper fluid onto the windshield where it freezes in blooms. He knows where Sebastian keeps his marijuana stashed at the greenhouse/garden center. Past the farm, which sits indignant in some dumb, painted on wisdom. He pulls in to the garden center and there is a semblance of footprints, which he notices but does not regard.

Inside, the air of someone being there. He calls out, ready for a response, but nothing calls back.

Sebastian?

Nothing. He finds the flower pot, upturning it to find white soil beads. Stands in humidity.

Shit. Flipping it back over, embarrassed. Larry gives a look around at the other flowers, aimed at him curiously. They seem like they may sneeze at any moment. He checks the ceramic again which is still empty, and he curses emptiness. Oil tank hums within organ pipes that cling to the ceiling as if they are motherless, iron snakes. A herd of braying monks far off somewhere and for a second Larry stops to listen but it drifts away on the tail end of radio chatter. He backtracks to his truck, to receive a call from dispatch. Some tiny hornet engine slices up the silence from far away, and grinds its gears against the black peace of midnight.

Dispatch says Raul has been trying to get in touch. Aren’t we all, Larry says into the little mouthpiece. He is in Somershire, needs help with something.

What?

Wouldn’t say what.

Hey, why don’t you go home. It’s late.

You sure.

Sure, I’ll be alright.

Somershire Woods isn’t as nice as Country Thickets, but it is one of Abderdeen’s top three communities to start a family in. Sheltered, or rather cushioned by a slum of conifers. He gets there quicker than he expected and scopes out Raul’s familiar dark, blue F350 pulled over at a trail head. His lights, engine everything is off.

Larry, I hit someone.

You hit someone.

I can’t find them.

You can’t find them?

Yeah I mean, it was a lady. I think she was wearin’ a bathrobe. A coat over it. Unzipped.

You saw all this and still had time to hit her.

I don’t know where the fuck she is man. I think she was running on her hands.

Her hands.

I mean I can’t see the prints.

I mean. I mean what, do you think she’s in the woods? They look into the woods, but it returns their gaze tenfold. Challenges their youth.

The cops.

I know.

No one’s answering. No one’s coming.

I don’t know what’s happening here.

From the snowmen out to pasture, Raul and Larry look like twigs lost in the streetlights. In its coal eyes. Mouth swallowing its own carrot. About the head are moths. Moths bicker in the snow, and dive about its snowball head.

Communal Blood

How many have you had?

I mean more than usual, but not like anything crazy, Raul says.

Me too. Should slow down.

Raul takes a moment to heave and watch his breath appear in front of him. This is calming to them both.

In all honesty, it was probably a deer. I know you think you saw something different but I’ve been seeing things too. We’re just getting old, Larry says.

That’s you, that’s not me, I’m only 41.

I know, I know but we’re both running on nothing. We’re pushing it. Neither of us has slept. Have you slept at all? You remember when Sue backed into that woodpile because he was up for like three straight days? Larry says.

I know, I know you’re probably right.

He was lucky he lived, with all those fuckin logs raining down on his hood. He’s still paying it off. You know how cheap he’s gotten. I think it damaged his brain or something.

He is cheap.

There’s nothing here, I mean there isn’t blood or anything, it was honestly a trick of light I’m thinking. I see that kind of stuff all the time man, especially on a night like tonight.

The snowmen watch, waiting. The moths have left for the bait of dulled window light.

It’s just a – it’s a creepy night. They wipe their gloves on their mouths, making the world permanently taste like salt.

Let’s wrap it up then, we’re lucky we got guys to take over at daybreak this year. Didn’t always have that. We just gotta make it through the night.

We just gotta make it through the night.

It’ll all seem like some weird dream when we go to sleep tomorrow morning, says Larry.

Which is like 5 hours away.

See there ya go. We got this. I got maybe 60 houses left. What do you got?

35 maybe, and then the Talcott Plaza, Raul says.

You’re basically done, man.

Raul seems to accept this, taking another drink of the dark. Headlights are staring into one another, sniffing the other out.

We’ll have you and Zoey over for dinner next week.

Sophie.

Sophie, Sophie, it’ll be great man, Raul says. They shovel out under Raul’s tires, not speaking. They are comforted by this ritual.

Alright. Good luck. Back in the truck, Larry feels the dizzying heights of a fourth and final wind. Reaches for his wine but hesitates before ultimately taking a small maintenance sip. Fingerprints are freezing to the window. It is the part of the storm where the snow is getting thick and patching itself to the ground. Getting taller. A dermis that crunches like cotton underfoot. He pulls the shifter towards him and goes forward.

 

Sometimes you See it

 

God I haven’t had juice like this in such a long time. It’s so…syrupy.

It’s got Vitamin C in it, so drink it up. Greta watches her father pour out the grapefruit juice in the garbage.

Dad.

It’s vile, he says. I’ll have some Diet Pepsi if you got it right.

There’s no Diet Pepsi, and hey. We gotta go we gotta get you to Ludmila’s.

Oh I don’t want to see her. It’s gonna be a white Christmas, the dad says. Silver tint of cataracts examining their home’s siding.

She hauls out the trash bag, bulging with juice at the bottom. A smell of acrylic and catalog paper. The air thinning.

All you need are the right tires and front wheel drive, he says in an oversized, LL Bean sweatshirt the color of a lime bruise. Hands now peacefully resting on his lap in the front seat of the car, looking around at his town he’s known for over 70 years, not unrecognizable to him. His standby work gloves, he used to use for stacking wood. The one’s he’d wave when his daughter pulled into the driveway.

He goes quite at a voice on the radio, lost at the sharpness and evil of cello strings against the bough. Begins chatting angrily, either because he can’t put his finger on it or he can taste some bad memory embedded with it.

Where are you taking me?

We’re going to see Luda, your sister. She has the generator. They’re saying the power might go out.

The blizzard of 1978 took 110 souls right off the face of the Earth.

You were telling me about that, that was when you drove the Pontiac.

That Pontiac was a great car. You should’ve seen that thing move.

Greta’s boyfriend Robert tries to contact her. His texts are bouncing against the plastic. Charger not fitting right.

God damnit, the dad says in response to the chimes. Aberdeen’s invasive Christmas trees are rich mounds of green behind them.

Parking ban has sent cars into piles on lawns, and Greta parks at the edge of her aunt’s driveway. Her dog launches itself from inside to greet them. The dad recoils and then warily scratches his ear, both finding a common ground of respect. Hello Maury, he says real low. They stand in the living room of the aunts. Where are you running off too, she says.

I’m seeing Robert, remember Robert, you met him.

The dad casts his silver eyes to the carpet, searching images and then asks: You’ll be back by nine then?

No dad, I’ll see you in the morning.

Well that’s fine. Yellow spit forming at the edge of his mouth.

I’ll fry you some pork cutlets, Aunt Luda says.

I’m not hungry. But, I will be in a few hours.

Ok well, you watch TV with Joshua. Greta watches her dad take a seat on the couch in the room with Ludmila’s grandson. Not his usual armchair. A cartoon news show is on and the people made of paper, are cursing. He stares at it, everyone else watching the ground get whiter outside the porch. Condensation creeping across glass. The dog has found a spot near a space heater.

Alright you guys, I’m going to get going.

What are you and Robert doing tonight?

He’s cooking me dinner, might watch a movie.

You’re not going to let him drive in this?

No, no we’ll stay in.

When are we going to meet him? Aunt Luda says, but Greta has escaped through the doorway out to where plows are pre-treating the roads. Everyone rushing to get home to become snowed in, mottling the sand and salt into a fine dust.

Robert lives in Country Thickets, in the same house he had shared with his wife, who left two years prior with her boss. Her stuff is still in some boxes, in the basement. The package store is on the way there, which is crowded and she has to wait in a line. Cars are huddled close to the entrance, abandoned ones in the far off spaces preparing for a hibernation. She waits in line for a Red Box movie. She see’s Christmas decorations in a sale bin that seem to have been reduced to smaller pieces peppered by plastic holly.

She arrives at Robert’s doorway with a bottle of wine peering out of the brown bag. The smell of his cooking pours out, warm and heavy. He guides her inside and they are safe. Boots left to wait in the breezeway.

How was he today? Robert asks her.

Pretty lucid I’d say, Greta says pulling dog hairs out of her sweater and depositing them on the back of her leggings.

We’ll be like pioneers tonight, Robert says. She helps him cut celery and they talk about Boston’s crime rates dropping during the storm. The dangerous stretch of Albany Ave in Hartford becoming a street as quiet as a turnaround in Country Thickets. They begin to argue about politics and give up to go outside but there is a violence to the weather. Robert takes a picture of them with his phone and Greta stares at it afterward, while sitting on his couch. Robert is loading the dishwasher and cleaning up, citrus lurching across the house.

Looks like we’re getting more than we thought. They’re saying almost 25 inches now.

Yikes, two feet.

My dad was talking about that blizzard in the 70s again. Where all the people got stranded on the highways. They never saw it coming, can you imagine?

What? Robert calls from the kitchen. She notices he’s put some slow music on with more than one saxophone in it. When Robert returns with two glasses of wine she takes one and settles under his arm.

It’s my period you know.

I don’t mind, he says immediately. Voice higher in pitch. Defensive.

I’m just kidding. Your face is something else right now.

He shrugs and his wine tastes like damp barn lumber.

This is pretty good.

It was expensive, I hope it’s good.

She had seen the same bottle on sale for $16 at the package store. Wind rattles their window and Greta hopes her father isn’t scared, and that her aunt locked the door and that Joshua doesn’t unlock it again when he sneaks to smoke cigarettes outside. The beehives of snowmobiles are distant, you can barely hear them. Robert thinks of his ex-wife, her hoop earrings shoved in boxes in the basement getting stung with mildew next to his college sweaters.

 

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