You are reading Fiddleblack #19
The jittering rays of lamp light. Some would flicker to slow fade as he passed as if lighted by candle but they were not. Normal city streetlights gridded out invisible and articulate along cement borders and in the air, if you looked just right, there were ley-lines guarding us. Irradiant and holy like ancient times.
There was a good smell in the air. Something solid with a bouquet like old fruits starting to turn. It came and replaced whatever was done to the ground by the snow when wind pushed it from out of the plain fields and trails and dens of the park to where along the subdivision rows were the narrow corners of peace and unkemptness and aging shoehorned blocks of cluster homes. Wherever he stepped he was mindful to keep clear of worms and small red ants. The branches that sometimes hung too low above him would catch his long trails of hair tousled into a kind of mop. He’d pull back the branch and shrug off the tickling feeling.
In his jacket and boots he was a young woodsman but he had never as much as held an ax, never done much to honestly sustain himself as a man other than cook the occasional lunch on the quick stove when they camped up north.
On his list of all the secret places in the town there were about ten that he could go to now.
There was a place he called Wilderness at Night where he liked to sit on a picnic table, drink beer and watch an empty baseball diamond glow blue under the moon.
There was one called Starless Night where, and you had to drive there, he could stand near a highway overpass and look up and see only a deep violet haze where the lights from the turnpike left a long and yellow streaking contrail in the same sky.
Another place called Dark End of the Earth was off of a walkable service road that ran behind the waterworks. If he were careful not to be seen from the receiving platform fifty yards ahead he could walk up a long hallway of tilt grown trees on to the lip of a deep ravine wherein the spring peepers spawned and they’d call up to you if you came to look. Not far from there he’d spent time writing each place name in block letters in a notebook and in his old room he studied to be a civil engineer and slept in the room beside his father’s and worried each night about whether he was much of anything beyond his dreams as a boy of being a better and quieter man.
Second to last was The Halfboard. This place was difficult to reach and required specific combinations and offerings that most people would never consider.
He knew he would have to finish his walk down the street and as he did he traced the edge of a new seeded lawn and looked at all the short ranch homes that lined either side, all of them dim now, personless. He listened for cars as he always did and watched as he crossed roads. He should not be doing this alone, he thought. This was an adventure best experienced in pairs.
There was his sister, three years apart, who at home was probably sleeping alone in her soft bed surrounded by netted walls and sometimes she would have boys over and twice he’d caught someone sleeping naked beside her.
There were his old friends from school. There were his friends from work. None of them would really get it and reaching one of these places was seeing a special sanctuary which not one of them would understand or maybe even believe.
It was the detail in this framework, the heartland road or misted lawn or forest floor, that had imbued him and gifted a sense for something that wasn’t his job at the grocery store and it wasn’t the job he’d passed on at the agency and it wasn’t life in his bedroom or a life with a nice woman to be his child’s wife and mother. Some of his friends had found that and rather this judgment from the land was a pilgrimage repeating and every time it was sacred to complete some simple night’s pattern in one direction or another as tribute to this god or that. Life was to leave all innocent creatures unharmed and not to divest any civilian of anything except perhaps himself of sleep and the spring peepers of their isolation.
This rite was simple and it was worth it. Have a drink, he’d say to himself. Coffee and not alcohol and come on: Let’s get going.
His interview with the detective went easily and soft-spoken in a jarring kind of back room of old brown crusted coffee cups and reams of used clutterstacked paper and desks from Wal-Mart and scattered paperclips and bodies of flies.
Go ahead. Keep going. You sound like an idiot.
Do you think I sound pretty normal to you?
Yeah, she said. A sweat sheen was visible behind the fabric where her blouse was unbuttoned.
Okay. I’m not?
No. Let’s describe the sequence.
It’s like this big hand of God that you can hear I guess. Just this big thing that comes down and just rolls up the small of my back like a woman might touch you.
And when does this happen? How do you see it?
You experience it at the very moment when you do not think it exists. There is an apex in this kind of belief. You realize something is wrong and then it becomes right and it happens over and over again.
Big, big waves then?
Feathers and breasts. Oh my god. Here it comes again.
The sidewalk outside of the Humanities department was uneven. He counted each rectangular section as he stepped. He kept his head down and gauged the pavement grade and students who passed by would hold out hands or wave or say something and he would reply in the exact same fashion. What’s up. Hey. What’s up. He was kind of popular now. He carried a tote bag of books. Rain started hard on the way out and then tapered as he left in his car. He could smell wet trash even with the windows up. It was the worst thing to pass other teachers in their cars. No one looked happy.
A mess of burying beetles clacking over a robin desiccated with its thin wings turned like a clock. He tries to remember the last time he went to church. His family went on Sundays. His mother would drive and his father would stay home and sleep or mow the lawn.
Hanging on the closet door was yesterday’s sweater and his slacks and a man’s shirt. He looked at that ensemble figuring that was the best term and that the assemblage there was really was him. He traced his feet on the hardwood floor and pointed his toes and stopped each invisible line at the heads of exposed nails.
Son of a bitch, a man yelled from a car on the street. A black man yelled back. He leapt out of memory and started pulling on the clothes. He should have stolen her real clothes, he thought. This was an irregular morning.
The sky was empty again. Seven more houses. He walked the rest of the road until he hit its guardrail. Beyond it were trees and a black empty gully. He hadn’t planned for anything but to reach the Halfboard and try not to feel so sorry.
There were too many windows to guess which would be hers. He couldn’t remember. There were still no cars. He stepped onto the street and felt different. He felt a ripeness in his throat. It was dark there under the tree cover. Through the first set of sliding glass doors was a place with couches and a television and a door ajar that bled out basement light. Next to the door was a passage through which he could see the few steps that led up a short level to a cramped foyer.
He had taught composition for a semester and quit. He couldn’t work with anyone he didn’t know by heart. That wasn’t right.
A distant pair of lights twinkled along the ecliptic like someone coming down in search of him. He left and walked back to the street.
They were out by the dam near a cave where a white girl was captured by Delaware Indians during the French and Indian War. Liverwort covered rock ledge formations like sweating raised cow patterns or a virus broken out on the walls. Some trail signs suggested they were miles away from the center of the state and he could not hear the highway any more. It was bright out and his mouth tasted like metal.
They walked and he watched her boot prints form in the ground. He stopped her at a hovel and she picked up a pair of broken glasses with her bare hand.
Go on and dig.
Why isn’t there a skeleton?
He pulled some kind of long branch out of the mud hole and flicked off the clinging leaves. This isn’t—
No, the detective interrupted.
He scooped out clumps of cool silt like a digging dog and tossed them back the opposite wall of the well. He dropped to the ground and crouched next to it. The detective buried her hands in the clay and dug alongside him. Dampness glistened and glowed unearthly in daylight. Little chicken bone pieces of white china teacup handles and plates started to come up and clatter together and she placed them in a pile with the twigs and branches.
He imagined videos of her posted on the internet where she’s fucking all sorts of human bones in all kinds of positions.
She stops digging and turns. What’s wrong? Are you okay?
I thought we agreed to do this together.
If you went to Wilderness at Night and walked about twelve paces away from the tables and benches and out from under the pavilion you’d find a yellow marker staked into the ground by the gas company. And if you went nineteen paces and ninety degrees from that you’d have to fish around in the tall grass a little and unless some kid took it then you’d find a composition book that is entirely blank except for seven pages. On page one you would see her face the way it was originally. Her eyes and nose are small. Her mouth is pretty. She has long hair tied up in a ponytail. She’s not smiling.
Page two has the same girl but a little different. You can see that her eyes are a little droopy. Her mouth really isn’t the same at all unfortunately. It’s safe to say she looks sad like a ghost on page three and on pages four and five and six and seven she really looks more like a mess than anything else.
The notebook is weighed down by two full beer cans and a very thin piece of shale from the river that hopefully would deter anyone from looking any further.
There’s the original graphite pencil stuck straight into the ground there and the original eraser is tossed pretty far away so you won’t probably find it.
If you go to Starless Night you’ll find a bunch of unrelated jewelry sealed in plastic bags and bundled in grocery bags and rubber banded and tucked under the lip of the turnpike underpass cement wall. You have to be careful scaling that wall. It’s not as easy as it looks and it’s a pretty big fall if you get far enough and slip. I can’t remember where all of the jewelry is from but it’s mostly tennis bracelets and watches.
At the Dark End of the Earth I put a lot of used up things that I honestly felt bad about leaving with all of the frogs. I organized them pretty well by using shoeboxes and condoms so you might open one and see a bunch of rubbery things but inside are all like items. Cut one open and you’ll get a bunch of copper pellets I collected from shooting at second story windows. Cut another open and you’ll find a lot of ribbon. You’ll see what I mean when you see it.
He’d known her from when he was in third or fourth grade. She was older and wise looking like an adult. She had a big body. He could see the tone of muscle in her arms. She attracted him even when she had a mean look. She sat on a stump in a yard that abutted the playground and smoked marijuana idly a few times when he wandered from the recess playground to track bees and wasps that dove to attack and retreat from other students who menaced them with loud shrieks and sticky flailed fingers and he followed the insects as they dashed up into the ether and led him across a short ditch cut to mark the property line where he first saw her waiting.
What is that?
Go back to school.
Button up your pants, kid.
She knew they weren’t at the right place as soon as she saw the glasses sitting there for anyone to find. That didn’t make sense for him actually. It made sense for one of his stories and as she approached and knelt down and watched the tip of her boot push lower there in the muck than it had on the trail she knew that it was just another node.
Where is the next one?
It’s too hard to reach.
I can’t keep doing this with you.
I thought we agreed to do this together.
Once. Then we did it again. Now you keep doing it.
This is absolutely what makes the most sense. I’m closer now than ever.
Where is the next one?
We should get a different car. Someone might see it.
She stood up and let the weight of her head rest in her hands and she waited to see if she would cry but her eyes only itched and she could feel sweat slide her fingers up her temples into her hair.
Come on. We’ll get my dad’s truck from the trailer park.
When you reached it you almost always saw a golden arc cut out across the visible plane in front of you. It didn’t matter if there was a person there or a tree or a giant boulder from a canyon. The loose golden arc you’d see would appear in front of all of that and bend around it like a beautiful band of shapeless metal swirling and melting around a circular core.
You had to have two feet on solid earth and you’d see it and then you’d feel it. Everything that rushed through your body was like the best part of being touched by a girl—when it first happens as well as the single second before—only concentrated and repeated in a loop for exactly one hundred and forty four seconds then stopping completely and leaving you dead in your tracks and in the presence of every god that had ever been dreamed up by every man.
Each face was a mask on a naked woman’s body and each body was the same. Each mask had blue eyes. Long blond hair peeked out from the base of the mask. Every woman’s body was tall. All of them wore tight moccasins made from raw leather no matter the god they represented.
You had to walk straight into the arc a certain way. First you took three steps left and then two steps forward and then five steps forward after a pause and then seven steps left. Then you held your breath until you couldn’t hold it anymore. Then you gritted your teeth and tensed your forearms and held your asshole shut tight. If you crouched down so they felt like you weren’t a thread then you could crawl a little closer.
You had to chant the phrase: She must become greater. I must become less.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.