Adam Fout


A Beautiful Death, continued

 

Jim isn’t picking up.

Jim isn’t picking up, Jim isn’t picking up.

Jim isn’t picking up, Jim isn’t picking up, Jim isn’t picking up, Jim-isnt-picking-up, JIM-ISNT-PICKING-UP!

HE-ISNT-PICKING-UP! HEISNTPICKINGUP! HEISNTPICKINGUP!

    Breathe. Iiiiiiiiiiiin. And oooooooout.

    Okay.

    Okay.

    It’s okay.

    I’m gonna’ be.

    She breathes in.

    OKAY.

    She breathes out.

    Jim isn’t picking up.

    Jim isn’t picking up because Jim is gone.

   Jim isn’t coming back.

    They never come back.

    Which means I have to call …

    Call …

    Her teeth grind.

    Her bones ache.

    The tears fester.

    Which means I have to call …

    Her.

    Shaking, shaking.

    And she’s crazy. She kills people. At least, she says she does.

    Shit.

    Which means I can’t go alone.

    Which means I have to share.

    Shit, shit, shit, I don’t have a choice …

    I just need to go, give someone a cut ahhhhhhhhhh godDAMMIT!

    Ok.

    She breathes in.

    It’s ok.

    She breathes out.

    That’s ok.

    It’s worth not getting sick.

    I just need to get some stupid junkie, toss ’em a few pills, and then …

    And then I have to get the hell out of this state before those stupid cops figure out –

    But that way madness lies, so she goes to work instead.

    Out comes the phone.

    In go the numbers.

    Please god … God, please, I’m sorry.

    “Hey Dereck. I know. I know. I know, I know, just shut up! Listen. You want to get some free shit? Of course you do. I got a job for you …”

****

“Th-thanks for th-th-thinking of me, I su-sure appreciate—” He blathers on, grinding her consciousness.

    She ticks the radio up.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    Tick.

    A honk.

    A finger.

    Dead prairie slips by, choked slowly by men searching for freedom, shale buried beneath the dust.

    A broken land.

    A dying land.

    “Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome.”

    She is distracted. A sickness grows in her gut.

    “I mean, y-you don’t m-mind if I get her numb –” His words commit suicide as her eyes slash his chest. She twists a fist around the steering wheel.

    “Dereck, I swear to God.”

    His hands palpitate with fear, twisting the seatbelt, the transgression dissolving on his face. She glances briefly at this worthless excuse for a human being. His fingers strangely retain their flesh, remnants of a time when ribs didn’t show under a shirt.

    “Sorry! S-s-sorry, sorry, I’m … look, I’m j-just really grateful you th-thought of m-me. I was gettin’ s-sick and –”

    Her anger throttles the steering wheel. Tiny bricks of resentment piled upon a foundation of self-destruction.

    He rapidly changes the subject. “S-so, uh, is Bobby still, y-you know, overs-s-seas?”

    Her teeth.

    They grind.

    You idiot.

    “I mean, I kn-know he f-finished his s-second t-tour, right?”

    Her eyes begin to glaze over. A redness grows in her mind.

    “He’s been t-there almost f-four years …”

    You goddamn idiot.

    The steering wheel creaks in her hands, ancient leather disintegrating.

    Her words are methodical, severed individually by a guillotine of memory.

    “He. Got. Stop. Lossed.”

    “S-stop-lossed? Is th-that like –”

    “He’s dead you IDIOT! He got sent back when he wasn’t supposed to get sent back, and now he’s DEAD!”

    In the silence, the radio screams.

    The explosion fades, now, the fallout blanketing the car, a quiet snow of anger and terror, then tears are streaming and she is screaming and he is cowering and pain permeates the tiny disintegrating vehicle. And the radio sings and she is an animal and then she is broken and then she is nothing and he has melded with the car door and suddenly, like a tornado bursting through the sky into the void, the madness disintegrates.

    And she is herself again.

    She turns the radio up, types a number into her phone, and tosses it into his greedy, terrified hands.

    He holds it tightly.

    He shakes.

    Her words are cold.

    “Call her. Tell her we’re almost there. Then shut, your god. Damned. MOUTH.”

****

The wreck clatters to a stop in front of a house.

    It is a dead neighborhood. It is a dead place.

    “Just keep quiet and do exactly what she says. And whatever you do, don’t mention Bo – my brother. Got it?”

    "I g-g-g –”

    “Good. She’s probably going to search you for a wire or some shit. Just be ready, ok?” He nods, loose teeth clacking in rotten gums.

    She’s sitting in a pool of sweat. She scratches at bugs that don’t exist, her stomach knotted. In less than an hour, her body will betray her.

    The sickness.

    It rises.

    “Now come on.”

    Please God please God please GOD let them be brand name.

****

Somewhere nearby, Chavez slows, parks.

****

“H-have you ever b-b-been here before?”

    “Yeah. I don’t come often.”

    Fear stalks her, just below the surface.

    A knock. The door opens. The eyes that peer forth are shards of obsidian encased in a mountain.

    "Come in.”

    The girl enters, shaking. She glances at Dereck.

    He seems …

    Weak.

    Inadequate.

    Shit. If she decides to kill us, there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.

    He enters, scratching, a mass of bone and desire.

    He, too, flees the sickness.

    Need makes him desperate.

    The girl speaks. “Thanks –”

    The inhabitant is a cyclone, an ancient gale bursting through a crag. “Just shut up.” It turns to Dereck. If it had emotions, it would be amused.

    “You think this is your chance in, boy?”

    Dereck clatters.

    Shatters.

    It rumbles.

    “If you screw me, I kill you, you understand? You end up in a field, or the bottom of an abandoned missile silo, you understand?”

    Arms like the Pillars of the Earth cradle orange pill bottles and a gun—gently, lovingly.

    “They’ll never find your body. The only reason I’m talking to you is for Bobby’s sister there, you understand? Now take off your clothes.”

    Dereck glances at the girl.

    His shirt comes off.

    His pants drop.

    He starts to remove his underwear, but the Pillars are already around his back.

    The girl trembles, heart beat-beat-beating to death.

    Hurry, hurry, hurry.

    I gotta’ get high.

    I gotta’ go.

    I gotta’ get high!

    I gotta’ go!

    The boy closes his eyes, ready for he-knows-not-what.

    His ninth-grade teacher bursts into his mind. She looks at his pre-calc test, amazed. “Well done, Dereck!” She leans close to him, a hand on his already-muscular shoulder.

    “You have a gift for this. Don’t ever stop.”

    A rumble brings him back to the filthy present, the mountain’s voice rocks crashing in an avalanche.

    “Clean. Good. I find a wire, ever, I kill you. You understand? The cops aren’t fast enough to save your dumb ass. You understand?”

    Dereck is a sea of nods. He will not speak again in this house.

    His body has stopped shaking, at peace with its perceived demise.

    His clothes ripple back onto his body, hanging like sheets on a clothesline.

    The girl hands over a stack of twenties. They are crisp, clean, fresh from the ATM.

    The crag counts them once, twice.

    “Good. I like new money. Pay attention, boy. See how she does it? You always do it like that. You understand?” Nods. A secret smile at the unspoken – he’s in. The girl is a pulse of anger at the betrayal.

    Then she remembers her fear.

    Quakes.

    The thing turns to the girl.

    “You won’t like this, but I don’t give a shit. You don’t come here again. You understand? You understand? Bobby would kill us both if he knew we were doing this. You understand? You make this piece of shit here bring you whatever you want. You keep out of trouble. You understand? You finish school. You understand?”

    “I understand. Thank you.”

    “You’re getting good grades, right? You’re making Bobby proud, right? He sacrificed his life so you could have this opportunity. He went instead of you. You understand? They didn’t blow up anything after the towers because of him and boys like him. He blew those goddamn sand rats out of their holes, and they paid him back by taking his head. That can’t be for nothing. You make the most out of what he did. You understand? They win if you don’t. You understand?”

    Shut up shut up SHUT UP!

    A humanness leaks through the rocks.

    It whispers now.

    “Don’t be another one of us.”

    The girl’s eyes are fire, lava. “My grades, are fine.”

    “Good.”

    An orange bottle opens. A tiny pill the color of rotting vegetation tumbles into the mountain, crunches between regolith jaws. The girl’s blood has stopped pumping, her hands and feet are ice, eyes fixated on the pill. The orange bottle closes, leaps through the air into the girl’s hands.

    The girl starts to quiver, shake.

    The fear releases her, and she gasps silently, a deep, gut-filling breath that can never be completed.

****

Chavez starts the car. Accelerates.

****

The girl wants to leave.

    Must leave.

    Has to leave.

    And yet, she stays, twisting one toe against the carpet, child-like.

    Dereck stares at his shoes, praying.

    She can’t leave.

    Not yet.

    Her need always wins.

    Always wins.

    “Can I … can I just use your bathroom for a second?”

    The moment freezes, an image in crystal. Two paths explode through space and time, contingent on the words of the monster standing before them.

    On one path, the girl and Dereck leave, return to their shithole town, and part ways. Chavez and Williams never find them. The girl heads towards California. Dereck dies of an embolism three days after they meet the mountain.

    In a week, MRSA sends the girl to an ER in Flagstaff, the farthest west she’ll ever go. She leaves one shoulder and half her face at the hospital.

    Rehab follows in six days.

    She and her mother celebrate six-months clean together, then six years. She helps other girls get sober. They help her more. Her father finally opens his eyes. The family’s pain heals, but the scars are canyons, fissures.

    In fifteen years, cancer takes the girl’s larynx before it takes her life.

    But she is content before death.

    Content with a life lost and found again.

    Content with salvation.

    But this is not the path the mountain chooses.

    “He’d kill me …”

    A sigh, a bass rumble just below consciousness.

    “Screw it. Go ahead, but you hurry, and then you get out of my house, and you don’t come back. You understand? You understand, girl?”

****

Led by Chavez, the beast stumbles towards the ambulance, cuffs clanking, one leg bleeding. Williams pushes Dereck into their car, locks the door.

    They meet at the entrance of the house.

    Williams speaks first:

    “The boy’s lucky.”

    “Yeah.”

    A silence.

    Screams.

    “Is she still back there?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Finish up.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Chavez walks back to the car. Williams enters the house, walks to the bathroom, stands there, cold.

    She stares at the body.

    Marble fibrils of sadness infest her chest.

    Tightening.

    Solidifying.

    It’s as though someone has posed the girl, draped her lovingly from toilet to tub. Brittle hair falls across one eye, the other glazed, empty. The girl’s twisted left hand cradles a needle, her blackened veins so out of place beneath young skin. A miniscule drop of blood balances delicately on her forearm, frozen in a perfect teardrop. A look of surprise is carved into her blue face.

    A realization, perhaps.

    Too late.

    Williams has not been breathing.

    She gasps, stumbles outside.

    She stares up at the sky, chest convulsing.

    The light of the sun burns into her face, and the smell of the grass replaces the stench of death, and the air is crisp on her tongue, and for all the beauty of the land, the girl still lies dead in the house.

    And this will not change.

    Williams begins to breathe again. The air is a wave pouring into her, lungs drowning as they finally catch breath. A word struggles to escape her body, something to fight off this thing she has seen.

    It breaks through the tide, emerges into the air.

    “Beautiful.”

    And it signifies nothing.

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray