Buoy lights burst radial flame across the water. The flashes of it lapping against my chest betrayed the dark blood leaking from the wound. A ship of inconceivable size transformed the waters into powerful swells and valleys. I worried someone might spot me but when I finally recognized a figure so high in the darkness it had no features, no details. Just a silhouette. A black cutout leaning over a rail. The swells lifted me high and away from it and it disappeared into the void. I wanted to grab the buoy but she had told me to let them pass. She would find me. I cannot imagine how but she did find me. She dragged me into the boys’ tiny vessel, bobbing under the glitter of the stars, the real pain just beginning to set in.
The terrier chomped on the clasp of the leash while Mrs Garrison repeated her accusations. Again she demanded Vulcan stop shitting in her yard. Again she suspected him of pissing on her flower beds. Again, she demanded that I silence his bark when the trash truck arrived on Tuesdays. Again she declared Vulcan a menace, declared his entire breed a menace. Again the crusted pebble of mucus skewered by that one long nose hair rattled in her nostril like the unhitched hook of speeding truck’s dangling cargo strap. Again that errand twitch in the muscles of her flapping check. Again I glimpsed the smear of powder red lipstick on her front dentures. The terrier still chomped on the clasp. I sensed Vulcan’s anxiety though he stood statuesque as ever, his paws flat, his face averted from the horror of this woman and her pet. As if the terrier had just picked a pair of cuffs, when the clasp fell from the leash, she dashed from the path with her tiny appendages scissoring across the grass at a surprising clip. Vulcan made chase without hesitation. Just as I trained him. Mrs Garrison screamed. I felt no need to track them myself. I could see the state of the race through the morphing shape of her face. She reached for me, grabbed my shirt, screaming for me to do something. I waited a few seconds more before I called out Vulcan’s name. He stifled a frustrated whimper when he returned to my side. Mrs Garrison never found that dog. She held a mock funeral three months later. Vulcan cannot travel that edge of the park without a glance at the terrier’s last trajectory.
With the increasing weight of the air she breathed, she saw the fire in the black distance marching like a demonic caravan along the ridge line. The wind spoke of the fire’s intended path and she knew they had to veer west or turn back. Turning back provided several possibilities but most of them ended badly. She had no idea how many men were combing the forest from the direction of the camp or if there were any at all. Only three miles west, the craggy hills meant a slower pace than they needed to make the river by dawn. Sam had warned of the unexpected in the forest and how risky this plan could be in light of the unrest in the valley. He had warned her and she had insulted him. She wished he were here now to roll his eyes and solve the problem. She wished the children’s legs could move faster. She wished she had a weapon.
They huddled among the oaks at the west side of the park. There’s a citrus colored streetlight on that corner where they divided the Roman candles between them in even numbers. Some of them made these quick defensive looks over their shoulders like they were a clutch of birds. I was walking Almo under the same color glow at the opposite end of the block and I would say that I was thinking about nothing but that’s not true. Those fleeting seconds before the explosion, I was without a doubt thinking about how I was going to explain to my daughter’s fiancé how I named the dog after a character in an ancient Roman poem. And then my hearing went and there were parts of those kids dropping out of the sky like heavy confetti. Almo jolted stiff-legged from the sound and vibration of it. My hearing went away, replaced by that high frequency thing. Some of the fireworks were still shooting from the black middle of this mess. It was a mess. I hate that it happened. They just wanted to have fun. They just wanted to be kids. Now they’re just memories of kids. I say I hate it. More like I hate that it happened to me but the rest of it is too sad to ponder at length. Too sad.
She’s dead. Or dying. No. She is dead. And she will always be dead. She will never grow old. She will never disappoint or be disappointed. Not with her looks or her age. She will always be this young. The heartache of wrinkles and blemishes will never find her. Heartbreak will never slow her down. Hate for her enemies will never guide her. She will never compete for all those frivolous things that consume other girls. She will never know betrayal. She will never receive retributions for whatever variety of innocent mistakes. She is dead. She is dead and now I will carry all her potential with me. I am certain this burden will always be mine. I am her now, in some unavoidable capacity. The blood is on my hands and her lost potential is bound to me forever. She is dead now and forever.
Ya know, even though my Dad seemed as though he could turn on us, he never did. Always fair. Always willing to listen. Reasonably reliable. I will miss him and his face. I hate that I think of how his face changed overnight. At dinner he’s my dad. At lunch he’s an old man. It scares me. I know how that sounds but you know what I mean. Then I think about other things. Things that don’t weigh as much. I love him. I always lapse into a sense of him still being around. Not in any incorporeal sense but you know, like he's in the neighborhood. More in the way I speak about him. Like, I love my dad.
A skulking darkness swallowed the gate and the soft hills of the valley as the horses sidled past the two men at the rail. Gaston had just lost faith in his grip on his tickets and shoved them into his pocket. Roberts—now known wider as El Correcaminos—wasted several minutes describing his most recent financial failure before Gaston shooshed him into silence and pointed at the horse with the large red six on his flank. That’s our boy, he said. He’ll pay today. Roberts dragged his thumb across the number on his ticket, wanting to elaborate on his difficulties. But Gaston spoke first. Sometimes, Gaston told him, things are not as detrimental as they seem. El Correcaminos offered him a worried expression. Gaston described the vacuum of space and two galaxies wrapping around one another in cosmic collision. From our vantage, the violence of this event is obvious. Then he estimated the millions of stars that populated the clusters as they whizzed past one another in the fusion. Those gargantuan structures racing headfirst at the speed of light will produce very few collisions, he said. They are so large and so porous that the violence is an illusion, Roberts. El Correcaminos couldn’t calculate Gaston’s expectation for the metaphor and he felt sure this description held no sway over current circumstances but he dared not contradict the patriarch, his missing little finger a constant reminder of their hierarchy.
In that black place on the river where even the sun could not penetrate, Jacob stood knee deep in the current near the bank. He gripped the backpack with his thumb between his shoulder and the strap. The school administration would be calling his parents soon. He had to start moving but reflection heaped upon him in the importance of this moment stopped him. This act could never be undone. A new and inescapable beginning lay before him and he stopped for a brief respite, not hesitation but recognition. Reverence. Dr. Scott had shown him the scripture and explained the flaw in the theology, the thousands of years of misinterpreted text. Hell did not exist. It was a fabrication run amok and the result opened for Jacob the clearest picture of reality he had ever known. If the result of sin was oblivion then he would gladly let his lust for revenge hurl him there. Destruction struck him as a weak and toothless punishment. Destruction meant rest.
Bits of grass fall to the pavement from the green streaks on his calf high socks. He’s shaking his head and flicking his wrist in the air beside him, complaining about the emergency vehicles in the alley. Third time this year, he tells me. At least there wasn’t a child this time. I crane my neck above his shoulder to see more of the bustle behind his house through the open fence gate. Some college kid, he says. You remember the mother and her kids a couple of months ago, he reminds me. They’re buying it in the neighborhood, I tell him. He concurs and stamps his foot then he surveys the block like he might catch a glimpse of the crime. He grumbles that if he knew where they were, he’d have to deal with it himself. Something about duty and righteousness. I want to remind him how old he is and maybe give him a few examples of how he could get hurt but why really? He never leaves this yard if he’s not locked in his truck, headed to a buffet somewhere. He’ll bark and fume over OD’s in his alley but he won’t do anything about it. He’s no better off than that dead kid back there. Hell, statistically, they both voted for Trump.
He said it because he is weak and vain. His gamble gave instant reward, attentive faces, yearning postures. All eyes leveled on him. He told them the outlandish story was true. He said he was there when it happened and the questions began. I could see the embellishments flocking in his eyes. I saw fingers of fire rush through his audience. Some of them ran off to tell others and soon others arrived. By this time their speaker had grown integral to the tale. The pregnancy of the extraordinary moment bade me to cling to him, counsel him on this sort of power.
River of Blood, a novel about anarchism, atheism, racism, violence, family, and corruption.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.