Interlude

I will write about the stressful events that have occurred yesterday (August 16th) in my life, but for now I will retreat into the succor and sanctuary of fantasy.

Don’t Wake the Baby!

The man was dirty and his clothes were ragged. He lay in a pile of autumn leaves and pine needles collected by the wind and pooled under the bulwark of a great oak tree. He had only slept for a few precious minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. He breathed in the cold twilight air. He had to get moving again. The chain on his ankle rattled and he replaced the filthy threadbare towel around it so it would not sound, winding it tight. A pang of hunger threaded through him and he grimaced. His lip trembled and he wondered if one could see fear on his face. Briefly, the look of fear of the young cashier flashed in his memory. The two images—the abstract construction of his face: angular, pale, brutishly handsome, and the more concrete face of his victim: honey skin, slightly chubby, eyes bright with terror—overlay one another until one sank back into this memory and other rose, stretched, and blanketed his thoughts like high clouds on a breezy day. The man shook his head clear. The man moved on.

When he came to a wide river, he removed all his clothes, bloody and tattered as they were, and set them on the bank. Then he drew two plastic zip locked bags from his makeshift rucksack, faded numbers stenciled over bright orange fabric. He took one plastic bag filled with clothes with him into the river. Before the water was chest high, he removed the clothes from the bag. The clothes were from another victim, someone who would more than likely never be found. Then he tore the plastic bag in two and set it adrift. He paddled with one hand to the other side and left the new set of clothes on a rock. He dove in and quickly swam back to his rucksack. He took his old bloody clothes and swam with them some ways downstream. He found an overhanging ledge and stuffed the clothes underneath, securing them with a heavy stone. They might find them, but not right away.

It was hard, but he swam back against the current. It didn’t matter; he was strong. He has always been strong. Back on shore, he hid the rucksack under a bush. They would think he was heading for the river anyway. Then, shivering and naked he took the final bag with him into the river. It was filled with two smaller bags: one a white powder; the other a white liquid. He first scoured his body quickly but thoroughly with the viscous liquid, taking extra pains to wash the manacle and short length of chain. Then, he washed the lather away and paddled with the final bag filled with white powder to the other shore. There—careful not to get too close to land—he performed the same procedure with the white powder, covering himself completely. He stood motionless on the shallow side of the river in the growing dawn like a sublime statue, his beautiful bare muscular form contrasting starkly with the cold gray air, dark green forest, and black river water. Then, he washed the white powder off, kneeling into the water and removing all traces of it, rubbing his cold flesh against the river bottom like a bear with an itch it could not scratch, front and back, front and back. He moved quickly, methodically, and felt sure that he had been successful. He dressed and put a new clean white handkerchief around the manacle and cleft chain. It would not sound. Then, he set off north towards the mountain forests, stepping carefully and swiftly around the stands of flowering dogwood, oh so carefully, oh so swiftly.

Evening was coming, the light fading. He had felt lighter the past few hours, almost positive he was not being followed. The fatigue and lack of food made him almost light-headed. But he was strong. He was strong. He could not suppress a flush of angry pride at the thought of his successful escape. He had grown up in woods like these, perhaps woods not so dark or so thick, but similar. Hope took root within him, lightening him further, and he pressed on.

The forest began to press on him and his pace slowed. The night was cloudy and there was nothing to guide him. He should stop and rest. He was thinking these thoughts when he almost ran into it, the fence. It was nearly invisible against the gathering dusk. It was not a farmer’s fence, the kind that only keeps cattle in and nothing out, the kind one could easily step through. It was a tall fence, scrolled with rolling concertina wire along the top. He was nonplussed. Had he gotten lost? Nothing should be here. He was mile and miles away from any roads. The sun had been over his shoulder. There was nothing he could do. He would have to cross it. He tossed a stick at it on the off chance that it was electrified. That possibility frightened him. Only a big outfit with lots of money could afford an electrified fence in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t seem to fit in with a logging camp.

It took some time, but he scaled it, not too much trouble. Such things require care, patience, and time. Time. That was his real enemy he thought. Racing against an abstract clock floating in the dark sky, ticking relentlessly, hiding in the boles of the slender trees, chiming the hours, cramping his tired muscles, chirping the age of every minute and every second. He sneered at the fence and went on. He would be victorious. I’m free and I’ll never go back. He moved on.

The night clamped around him. He was worn, but not yet worn down. Then, it appeared before him, suddenly and unannounced: a light in the dark. It was soft and unformed and briefly he thought he was imagining it, but no, it was there. His instincts told him to move around it and away. It might be why the fence was put there. Fences protect things, precious things. And he was hungry. And curious. He decided to edge a bit closer, just to see what it was.

It was a house. Not a tiny cabin, either. A small square-ish home in the middle of nowhere, the forest hacked clear around it, but only amateurishly, not professionally, as if its occupants were in a hurry. It was a pre-fabricated home, one that did not take too much effort to put up, like the small temporary shacks one saw at construction sites, or at underfunded elementary schools overcome by an impoverished population. The owners had put several of them together in crude fashion to make a home, a structure that at least was not lacking for floor space. They had a generator protected from the elements with a box of corrugated aluminum and cork panels. No one took care of the weeds although some efforts had been made to stop the dark forest from encroaching on the moat-like space of land encircling the strange home. His curiosity piqued, he crept nearer to see if he could peek into one of the windows. He stepped on something metal and it clanked ever so slightly. He cursed himself for a fool and waited. A thick chain was staked into the ground near the edge of the woods. He became afraid that they might have a large dog. Such a large chain, but nothing shifted in the dark. No howls or growls; just some small pale bones and rancid refuse scattered around. Crickets chirped, moths ticked nervously against the dim lights of the window, and somewhere nearby tree frogs chimed their eternal song in the night.

There was a middle-aged couple finishing up dinner. The sight of the corn tortillas lathered with butter, bright-colored salad spiced with salsa, and a casserole plate of shredded meat swimming in peppered brown gravy was almost more than he could bear. His eyes glazed over and he had to steady his breathing. The husband and wife pushed away from the table and they began to remove the dishes. He felt himself even lighter now as if he were beginning to float out of his body. He was a pair of disembodied eyes. He heard the couple talking, but their voices were so low. The husband tickled the wife and she almost dropped the plates in her hands. She threw an angry glance backwards, but one could tell she was not really mad. Then the husband slapped her hard on her shapely rump and chuckled quietly. He had the perfect complacent look of a man well fed and well cared for. She was still pretty. And she had fulsome breasts. Lust, envy, anger mixed in the man glaring from outside the window like a grim sentinel. He watched as the husband brushed the crumbs from the table. Then, the husband sauntered out of the home, through a door that he carefully closed behind him, and strode towards a pale blue outhouse set on the edge of the woods. The man could hear him grunting softly and for a moment he thought he could smell him. Just the thought of it sickened him. It was more than he could bear.

When the wife went outside to put out a bag of trash, that’s when he moved. She barely squawked in protest when he grabbed her viciously from behind. He choked her savagely. He did not kill her, however. Only stunned her. From the outhouse, the husband sensed something was wrong.

“Eve?” he whispered as he emerged from the plastic outhouse. The husband saw the two figures silhouetted against the porch light. He strapped on his belt and moved swiftly to confront the assailant. “Señor, don’t hurt my wife. Don’t hurt my Eve.” His voice was low, almost a whisper.

Standing tall and imperious, one big hand choking the wife, the other hand clasped roughly around her breasts, the man felt not pity, felt not fear, felt only disgust at the pleading wheedling voice. “Shut up and get inside,” the man growled.

“Okay, meester, okay. We just have to be extra….”

“Shut it!”

Fear shot through the husband and he stopped speaking. The man could feel the wife tense under his arm. She was struggling to say something between her ragged gasps for air. “Please…don’t…wake….”

He choked off her words. “You shut it too, or I’ll kill you both now!”

The husband was agitated. He paced in tight circles, clutching his hair at his temples. He was shaking his head. Then, he stopped and crouched low, extending his finger to the man holding his wife hostage and framed so starkly in the light coming from the porch door. He spoke, his voice so low it was a whisper, “Señor, we will do whatever you say. We will do whatever you say, but please don’t be loud. We have to be quiet. Please.” The husband’s voice was a hysterical whisper. His eyes bulged frog-like, face was flushed with fear.

The man almost noticed it, the truth of the husband’s fear, but it was a phantom intuition and the man asserted his pride, his power. “Good, we agree on something. Get the hell in here. I need some grub.”

The man forced them inside. He took one of the kitchen knives—a long one, a sharp one—and put it against the wife’s throat while he ordered the husband to wrap duct tape around his ankles and then around one hand. He then forced the wife to strap down the other arm. She said, her voice low and quiet and even, “Sir, we will do whatever you say and we will give you whatever you want. Whatever.” And she looked him boldly in the eyes. Her voice was a barely audible purr. “Just keep your voice down. My…baby is asleep down the hall.”

The man felt a flush of fear shoot through him. This was a mistake. He should have made sure that no one else was in this queer home. “Who else is here? Speak up quick!”

“Shhh! Meester! Not so loud!” The husband begged in a whisper. “Please. We got to keep it down….”

The man punched the husband in the mouth. He gripped his hair and jabbed the knife into the man’s throat, deep enough to draw blood, but not enough to kill him. “You talk again and I’ll cut out your tongue!” He grabbed the wife and pushed her hard against the table. “Tape his mouth shut. I don’t want to hear him again!”

She complied. The man took in the simply decorated kitchen and sitting room. There were old dusty wedding photos on the bookshelf. A vacation on some beach. Just the two of them. No children. “How many kids you got?” he growled.

“Just the one, my baby,” the wife answered.

“Show me. I want to see this baby.” The husband’s eyes bulged. He shifted in the chair. The man cuffed him viciously again. “Keep still or you’re dead.”

The wife was calm, her voice sweet, silken, and quiet. “Mister, it’s just the two of us…and my baby. My baby, see, she’s special. She’s…sick. We have to live so far….”

“I want to see this special baby.”

The wife froze for a moment, as if the breath were snatched from her lungs. She looked as if she might fall over. She shook as if with fever and then collected herself. She brushed the black bangs from her forehead and moved toward him slowly. The man extended the knife to the husband’s throat and pressed. She paused, but kept moving forward. She slinked close to him. She caressed his shoulder. She swallowed and spoke; her voice was soft and gentle and so, so quiet.

“Sir, you’re hungry. You probably haven’t eaten in a while. Have some food. You can have whatever you want. Whatever. You know, we’ll do whatever you say. I’ll do whatever you say. Okay, you’re the boss. You’re in charge.”

The man tensed under her fingers and for a moment he wanted to rip out the throat of her husband and then violate her in front of her husband’s bloody corpse. He did not. While he felt all-powerful in his famished body, his strong hand holding the shining blade of steel, his legs spread wide over the buckled kitchen floor, he was also tired. And hungry. He had been running for days without a decent meal. He needed food and this urge decided the matter for him more than the scent of the sweet brown-skinned woman slowly stroking his arm and chest.

“Fine. Bring me some grub and be quick about it.”

He spun her around, slapped her on her backside just the way he had seen the husband do, and then pushed her toward the kitchen. The wife stumbled a few steps, regained her balance, and slowly walked into the kitchen to fetch the man some dinner. The man pulled out a chair where he could keep an eye on the husband taped to the chair, the entrance to the hallway, and the wife making a plate of food. She warmed it quickly over the stove and set it steaming in front of him. All of her movements were quick and quiet, her steps measured and soundless.

The man set into the meal like a feral beast, smacking his lips and eating with unconcealed gusto. The wife was a good cook as well as pleasing to the eye. She brought out more of the shredded meat and the man finished all of it. He set the knife down as he ate. He made her stand nearby where he could watch her.

“Bring me a cold beer.”

“We don’t have any.”

“You don’t have any beer? What kind of wetbacks are you?”

“We’re not wetbacks. There’s no alcohol in the house. Sorry.”

“No alcohol? Cigarettes?”

“We don’t smoke. Sorry.” She stood with her hands crossed in front of her abdomen, head bowed, almost contrite, almost repentant.

“You don’t drink. You don’t smoke. What do you do for fun? Come here.” He pulled her onto his lap and the table rasped loudly against the floor.

“Please,…. We should be quiet as possible,” the wife urged.

“Aw, you’re still not worried about your little bambino, are you? It’ll be okay.” The man leaned in and smelled the wife’s hair. He spied the husband staring at him. “You don’t like that, huh?” The man clasped the wife’s face tightly and licked his tongue up the wife’s cheek. She sat compliantly on his lap and did not protest, did not move. The man grinned. The husband was still.

“Sir, he’s okay. Don’t worry about it. He won’t bother. It’s okay. Just let’s do it quietly, okay. Can we do that? Please?”

“Quietly? I don’t do it quietly. I hope your man enjoys the show. It’s the last thing he’ll ever see.” The man stood, shoving the wife off his lap. He bent her roughly over the table, snatching her dress up. He upset the dishes, and a few plates crashed to the floor. The wife uttered a protest.

“Scream! I love it when you scream!”

The man had yelled, but the wife only quietly protested, “Don’t, sir. Please. You don’t understand….”

“Oh I under….” He stopped. There was a loud thump from down the hall. Then another, louder this time. Something cried from somewhere in the dark. The cry was loud and long. The walls shook.

“What the hell is that?” The man asked, but the wife was now stricken with fear. She pressed her knuckles into her mouth and suppressed a cry of terror. The man stood back and gripped the wife, holding the knife to her throat. “I said, what is that?”

“My baby. You woke her.”

“What kind of….”

Another cry cleaved the air. It rattled the walls and the windowpanes shook like leaves in a storm.

“What is that? What is that! That’s not normal.” The man felt the food turn in his stomach, the acid building up from the extreme tension. “Get it…get it to shut up.” He laughed nervously.

The wife tried to reply, but she was crying, silently, but she was crying, tears flowing down her face.

“I said, shut it the hell up!”

His confidence was shaken. The cry was not…it was not normal. It was not normal. A baby can’t cry that loud. It was impossibly loud. The walls shook again. The husband struggled to free himself from his bonds. The wife was a sobbing mess. She could barely move as if her bones had turned to jelly. She was paralyzed. The man shoved her towards the entrance to the dark hall. He was trying to get his strength back. He was trying to feel light again, but the spicy food was heavy and acidic in his stomach, coming up in his throat. Fear mixed with the food and made his limbs feel weak instead of hard and powerful. The baby’s cry thundered and the man could not suppress a shiver.

Then, for a moment, the crying stopped, but only a moment. The crying resumed as if something enormous were coming down the hall. The cries of the baby grew impossibly louder, exploding down around his head. He thought he saw it in the shadows, but it looked small, a pale wraith in the dark hallway. Suddenly, the crying ceased.

A little girl, a toddler with short blonde curls and a pink jumper emerged from the dark. Its eyes were large and black. Curious, staring quizzically at the man. She had one little finger in her mouth, sucking slowly. With her other hand she rubbed at her big black blinking eyes. She gazed over the room, her father in the chair, the plates shattered on the floor, the stranger with the knife at his mother’s throat.

She stopped sucking and removed her finger from her small mouth. She smiled. And her smile spread over her face and shined large under the yellow light of the dining room. The man saw her smile and her teeth. He saw her teeth. He stepped back. He saw it now. He knew now. He thrust the knife out in front of him. But, then the knife was gone. He looked down. The knife was gone. And the hand that held the knife was gone. Just gone.

Run! Every muscle screamed run! He turned to bolt from the house. Away! Just get away!

He almost got to the door, but he stumbled. No, the man thought, no! Run! Go! He glanced down. The manacle and the foot in the manacle were gone. He thought…but then he had no time to think much of anything else. He tried to move, but he was slammed so hard his breath shot from his lungs. He tried to kick, but he had no feet with which to kick. And then all the man knew was the sound of his own limitless pain filling his chest, swelling his heart, exploding in his throat, mouth, and head until it shattered the rest of his time on this world.

The sounds of violence reverberated in the queer square house, pushing out of the thin frame walls and flying up into the dark sky. The forest and everything in the forest held its breath until the sounds stopped, until the crunching, cracking, smacking sounds finally subsided. Then, there was again silence, and eventually the night and everything in the night once more took up their songs of chirping, ticking, and chiming.

The wife’s quiet gentle voice floated into the night. She cooed to her baby, humming ever so softly. The husband said something. He spoke low, a whisper. He came outside, closing the door carefully behind him, rubbed his wrists, and went and fetched a plastic bucket and a stringy mop that were leaning against the wall. He paused for a moment and looked up into the cloudy starless night sky. He shook his head, as if tired, as if heavy with life. He pursed his lips as if to whistle, thought better of it, and went back in.

Second Version of the Ending:

“Oh I under….” He stopped. There was a loud thump from down the hall. Then another, louder this time. It shook the walls. Something cried from somewhere in the dark.

“What the hell is that?” The man asked, but the wife was now stricken with fear. She pressed her knuckles into her mouth and suppressed a cry of terror. The man stood back and gripped the wife, holding the knife to her throat. “I said, what is that?”

“Baby. My baby.”

“What kind of….”

A cry cleaved the air. It rattled the walls and the windowpanes shook like leaves in a storm.

“What is that? What is that? That’s not normal.” The man felt the food turn in his stomach, the acid building up from the extreme tension. “Get it…get it to shut up.”

“Sir, it’s not…,” the wife was crying, silently, but she was crying, tears flowing down her face.

“I said, shut it the hell up.”

But his confidence was shaken. The cry was not…it was not normal. It was not normal. It was impossibly loud. The walls shook again from a tremendous stomp. The husband struggled to free himself from his bonds. The wife was a sobbing mess. She could barely move as if her bones had turned to jelly. The man shoved her towards the entrance to the dark hall. He was trying to get his strength back. He was trying to feel light again, but the spicy food was heavy and acidic in his stomach, coming up in his throat. The fear of the unknown made his limbs feel weak and soft, instead of hard and fast and powerful.

For a moment, the crying stopped, but only a moment. The crying resumed and something enormous was coming down the hall and with each step the cries of the baby grew impossibly louder, like a thunder exploding down around his head. He thought he saw it in the shadows, but it looked as if a wall were moving towards him. He looked up. He saw its mouth. The crying like thunder, like wind. He stepped back. He saw it now. Run. Every muscle screamed ‘run’. He turned to run.

When he got to the door, he looked down. The knife was gone. But it wasn’t gone. His hand that was holding the knife was gone. Just gone. No, the man thought, no, but he had no time to think much of anything else. He tried to keep running, but he was suddenly on the floor. Slammed so hard his breath shot from his lungs. He tried to kick it, but he had no foot to kick. And then all the man knew was the sound of his own limitless pain filling his head, his heart, the remainder of his bones, until it shattered the rest of his time on this world.

The sounds of violence reverberated in the queer square house, pushing out of the thin frame walls and flying up into the dark sky. The forest and everything in the forest held its breath until the crying stopped, until the crunching, cracking, smacking sounds finally subsided.

The wife’s gentle voice floated quietly into the night. She cooed to her baby, humming so softly. The husband said something. He spoke low, almost a whisper. He came outside, rubbing his wrists, and picked up a bucket and a mop that was leaning against the wall. He paused for a moment and looked up into the cloudy night sky. He shook his head, as if tired, as if burdened, as if saddened, and went back in.

Comment:

Well, there it is. Any thoughts? I should change the title to something less garish and vulgar, but I admit that I sometimes have a vulgar mind. I did like the first ending better (which I wrote second), but who knows? Maybe a big dragon baby is cooler? I always wanted to have a big dragon baby. This is actually a very, very personal story, as fantastical as that may seem. I often prefer allegory and symbol to convey historical and/or autobiographical truths. This is most likely a very poor stylistic choice for modern readers, but then again, I am not a paid writer, so no harm no foul. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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One thought on “Interlude

  1. That was just great! You displayed your phenomenal writing skills yet again. I highly enjoyed reading that! I always love to read your stories. Keep up the good work!

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