Then again I was screaming

Then again I was screaming.  Fear was pouring up through my throat, up through my mouth and eyes, pouring out of me; it was a white-light fire, streaming across the dark corridor, out of me and into the eye-holes of the ghoul, rending it, destroying it.

N?

I lurched forward and gasped for breath. Sailor sat with me, close to me; she looked into my eyes.  We sat on the dry grass in the warm hollow we had entered to take shelter from the rain.

(Back door: Go back one post to Sideways, or back two posts to We turned.)

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Sideways

Now I was inside Sailor.  I walked around the cabin, rail thin, a ragged T-shirt hanging from my bones, my eyes clouded and gaunt, flesh drawn back under my cheekbones.  Through Sailor’s eyes, I saw myself, also in a T-shirt, no underwear, wearing old sneakers, squatting on the back step of the cabin, huffing gas, fingernails long and dirty on the can.

Later I got cold and sick and took to hiding myself under a blanket on our dingy, battered sofa.  I lay in squalor; I didn’t get up to change rooms at bedtime.  Days and nights blurred together.  I only bathed occasionally.  Our hot water heater failed, but I didn’t care if the water was only luke warm.  Old food stank up the kitchen; dirty pots and pans that had been hidden away in cupboards lay untouched, undiscovered.  We didn’t care.  All we wanted to do was huff gas.

Sometimes Sailor would write notes and pass them to me, but the words she wrote were not words at all.  They barely even had discernible letters.  I would stare for hours at the little loops and jots, trying to understand nothing.  Sometimes we would share cigarettes after huffing…hotboxing and blowbacking until we passed out.  We had no idea how close we came to dying in a gas explosion.  We were oblivious, sleeping at all hours of day or night.  Sometimes we would wake up and have intercourse.  Our sex was carnal, mechanical.  We would eat each other until our private parts stank of gas…then we would squat down and connect, popping our crotches together crudely until one of us hunched up with a stiffening, genital orgasm.  Afterwards we would huff more gas.

We grew afraid to go outside, to feel the sun on our skin.  Even when we ran out of cigarettes, we could not bear to go down to the village anymore; we were afraid to show our faces.  We huddled inside.  My hair began to fall out in clumps.  Sailor’s teeth went bad; I could see them when we would try to talk, our mouths moving, our words coming out like sounds from underwater, far away, as if our lips were connected to some other remote brain in some other place…our consciousness witnessing but not comprehending…the words left meaningless, our bodies’ movements and need for more fumes the only thing we could truly feel.

We’d found a cache of gasoline in an old shed near the cabin…and we thought it would be enough for us…enough to last until we were dead.  But it wasn’t; it didn’t.  We ran out of money.  We thought we’d hid some someplace, our money from the time with Harlin Coke, cash we’d hid in the bed, or under the bed…

We took the bed apart, slowly, weakly, desperately, over the course of 8, 10, 12 hours.  No, maybe it was days.  Later we sat listlessly, strung-out, on the yellow grass outside the back door…in the middle of the day.  We didn’t know how we landed there, or whether it was warm or cold outside; we didn’t care.  Then we were walking down into the village…to steal gas, our self consciousness now gone.  We were numb, poisoned animals, walking skeletons.

We had not been able to steal.  We had run out.  We had failed. We had survived.

 

(Back Door: Enter Sicky, Skinny Haley, Haley Minwood, or Guilty Dirty Jesus into the search bar.)

We turned

We have to turn and look back.  We have to face it, I thought.

Sailor pulled on my arm, hard.  We lurched to a stop, whipped around.

The streams of light on either side of us poured down the corridor into the eye-holes of a face; the eyes were twin black holes, whirlpools, pulling everything in.  My body froze.  I tried to open my mouth, but no sound would come out.  My throat was paralyzed.  Sailor lifted her hand, pointing.  Her arm trembled.  I did not need to see her to know her terror, to know the courage it took to call out this face with a gesture of her tiny hand.  I forced a scream.  I looked into the wavering eyes and screamed into them until I poured out of my body and in through the eye holes of the ghoul.  Sailor whispered my name inside my head.  I had gone into the body of the ghoul.

 

 

 

Warped, keening sound

The thrill of forward motion poured through my limbs and spine, but as we sped down the corridor the thrill became fear…a vile, animal fear that something behind us, more terrible than any monster, would overcome us.  Now we ran in terror.  The warped, keening sound of the cricket filled our ears once more.

At this precise moment I realized I could hear Sailor’s thoughts inside my mind.

I’m afraid.

Me too, I thought.

Are we going to die?

Hold my hand.

We held hands.

Be brave, I thought.

The distant core of the tunnel was a pitch black hole.  We ran toward that core, with two bright streams of light speeding past us, terrified of what lay behind.

 

 

 

Cricket and Crow

The sound of wing beats filled the corridor.  A chaotic black shape sped toward us, covering and uncovering the caged lights as it flew.  In a burst of flapping wings, a crow alighted on the floor of the corridor, just short of where the cricket walked ahead of us.  The crow spread its wings low along the floor.  The bright red cricket took hold of a wingtip with its tiny feet, and crawled to the crown of the crow’s head.  The crow took off in a deafening chaos of wing beats, and vanished down the corridor.

“Follow them!” I cried.

We ran.

Just as we had been impelled by the cricket’s song to run up the side of the mountain through inky blackness…now we rushed headlong down the corridor, the lights racing past our eyes, blurring into a bright stream.  Our speed transcended human speed; the tempo of our feet on the concrete became so light and rapid we felt that we could have flown.

 

 

The Red Cricket

“Look,” she said.

At one end of the hollow space, a second door was visible, very similar to the one we’d used to climb into the tree: it was low-arched, wooden, with a large round doorknob.

I crawled toward it, pushing some of the grass aside as I did.  I took hold of the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.  Light spilling out from the hollow revealed a corridor marked by cage-like sconces containing darkened bulbs.

“Where are we?” asked Sailor.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but if feels familiar.”

I crawled in.  Sailor followed me.  Once clear of the door, there was enough space overhead for us to walk upright along a smooth concrete passageway.  The lights lining the corridor flickered on in their sconces.

It didn’t occur to me that someone knew we were there, and flipped a switch.  I felt oddly comfortable in the passageway, the same way one feels when visiting the home of an old friend.  It was then that I remembered Sailor’s family had vacationed in these mountains years before.  We walked slowly, side by side.

“Do you know anything about this tunnel,” I asked quietly as we walked, “Does local lore say anything about it?”

“An old story says one of these mountain peaks contains a hidden volcanic lake with a giant ship floating on it.   According to the story, a magician lives inside the ship…”

“Not by chance the same magician who built this..?”

I pointed.  The passageway plunged deep into the mountain.  As the lights grew further from us they appeared smaller, closer together, a strand of bright yellow points that vanished at an inestimable distance, deep inside the mountain.

“Look!”

Sailor pointed to the floor.  Perhaps fifteen feet ahead of us walked a cricket, inching its way along, as if acting as our guide. The cricket was a vivid, shiny red.   Enchanted, we walked faster to get a closer look.  We heard the click of the cricket’s feet on the concrete, and saw that it was in fact a tiny robot, its metal limbs painted with the smooth red enamel. The cricket jumped, keeping its position ahead of us, not letting us close too much distance.

Echoing sound gradually filled the corridor.  I recognized the same warped, high melody we’d heard in the forest just before the wind and the rain had drowned it out.  Sailor and I were astonished that the cricket’s body could produce music of such amplitude and detail.

 

Nest

Dried grass rustled beneath our feet as we stepped down into the hollow.  Overhead the blonde roots made a deep, vaulted ceiling, studded with mushrooms and textured with moss.  Still cold from the rain outside, we huddled.   The space was warm, and soon our shivers dissolved, and our clothes began to dry.  Although there was no torch or fire in sight, a golden light bathed the hollow.  The light seemed to come from the roots overhead. Nestled into the dried grass, we fell fast asleep, holding each other in a spooning embrace.

We slept for what seemed like hours.  I do not know whether we made love, or dreamed that we made love, or both…but I do know that my body became a rigid crescent, and that her body enfolded mine…and that her softness nourished me, and that my blood surged within that softness.

Later, Sailor’s body became hard…and she shuddered, and cried.  Afterwards we were both soft together, our cheeks hot, our bodies locked tight.

Then we were conscious, and our clothes were dry again, and soft against our skin.  We sat upright in the hollow, and stared into each other’s eyes.  As we did I felt an echo of the surge I’d felt before.  My body was hard again, and I knew that I had held my potency.

Sailor smiled.