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untitled short story, pt. 1

November 20, 2014

Bill Turnbull: roughneck for the street department, recent astronomy enthusiast and longtime IBS sufferer, sat at a long conference table facing a row of lined, dusty civil servants outfitted with a multitude of towering paper coffee cups and the same amount of neck wattles. Bill hadn’t remembered to put on his clean coveralls and that had been yesterday morning. He could smell the crotch when he held his head forward just a little. It was Bill’s turn to introduce himself.

 

we go to work to get more money to buy more coffee [img credit:Unsider]

we do more work to get more money to buy more coffee [img credit:Unsider]

“My name’s Bill. I drive the truck what makes the potholes, out in the country. My route covers most of the B roads.”  A few clucks, the scritching of a few notes.

Wattles flapped. “Thank you for meeting with the Committee at short notice, Mister Tuh… ah, Bill. We appreciate you taking time out of …”

“We expect total candidness and compliance here, mind you,” interrupted a ruddy bulldog face. “No faffing about. You’re the company man your boss here,” one of a set of chins motioned at the frizz-headed middle manager at Bill’s left, “touts you to be, then goes without saying the Committee’s time out-values your own; let’s get to the meat of it, already, Ms. Grinkhauer…”

Ms. Grinkhauer stared at the wall behind Bill. A blink so tight her eyelids were momentarily identical to the surgical scar of a mouth midway down the blanched spam of her face. A tiny, phlegmy swallow. “We want you to tell us what you’re going to do to, ah, help the present situation.”

The scowling crease at the far end of the table appended with a wheeze of cat’s urine breath over the stained white lid of his potted oil slick, “kuh-heeping in mind you’re the only one who suh-haw it happen.”

“We can make this disappear one way or another,” the bulldog slurped through his own paper appendage. A mien of satisfaction fell about his chins and glistening head.

Bill Turnbull developed the immediate suspicion that this guy took every opportunity to casually shove a neat threat into someone’s guts, as uncreative as they might prove to be. Practicing the words, the gaze he would use in the mirrored reflection in the backs of elevator doors, unconsciously kneading at a retracted scrotum through the super-blend fabric of trouser pockets, shuffling around jerk-off booth tokens and safety deposit box keys. Bill took in that image inwardly. Sure did make it hard not to laugh at the gas bag.

“Well, I s’pose I’m going to go and see about recovering the wreck.”

Bill’s supervisor reminded him, “and removing signs of the incident…”

“Right, right,” Bill picked up, unable to decide if the middle manager was more scared of being demoted or buried, the consummate worry for an unambitiously bent teamster, “I’ll be putting holes in where the skid marks was, set fire to the stand of pines it barreled through, all that stuff. Haul the kid’s car back here to the … ”

A cup clacked on the table. “And you bring anyone you find snooping straight to us.” Chairs scuffing backwards on the lino. Chitter chatter, the rustling of carbon-copy paperwork in folders barely concealing a parade of surreptitious farts and bodily noises. Bill turned his head in perfect sync with the pneumatic hiss of the door’s swing arm and looked at his supervisor for validation.

Eyebrows up. The ‘Mr. Obvious’ tone. “You’ve got three hours until sunrise.”

Bill stood, ridden not for the first or last time today by a desperate need – never amounting to more than just a need – to shit.

There’s no good reason I stay on with this lot, Bill ruminated during his trip back out to the site. The converted Dodge trailer cab, cranky as ever at 25 yrs old next Tuesday, flagellated herself rustily over roads full of last month’s work, last week’s work, closing in on ground zero. Bill bobs up and down, comp’ny man, errand boy, going to clean up after some never-happened whoopsie, involving the ever-intelligent combination of a venture capitalist-cum-politician’s over-entitled progeny with an underdeveloped moral compass, too much loud German engineering, and twenty-three ampules of amyl nitrate up his nose, one for every bone he broke against the granite slab that killed his passengers when he drove them into it.

Bill didn’t want to stop to look when he saw the ruby lights on the road ahead swerve and tilt. Why go and get complicated into extra paperwork right at the beginning of his shift. But he stopped despite the comforting laziness. He should have liked to have stayed in the truck, just listening, he told himself. Some cosmic tilt put his curiosity suddenly into a roll, he gravitated out of the Dodge, towards the blinking red lights, right up over on top of a mostly wounded yuppie shithead half crawling, half dripping out of the smoldering heap. When the kid gasped at him, “no ambulances, no kuh-hopsitals,” and later, the response he got on the radio from dispatch when he told them the kid’s name – he started to get a sense of how much this was going to hurt.

Bouncing along, Bill continued to belabor himself idly. Why be here, doing this, when there must be a hun’erd municipalities that could use an experienced driver. Pounding holes in the road, so’s someone else can fill them back in. Being in turn pounded into his own kind of chuckhole by the only government office with a processing clerk for Accounts Ouroboros.

Maybe he really was the masochist they said he was. What exactly an ounce of self-pitying reflection was doing mingling in with his usual greener-pastures-rag, Bill couldn’t fathom. He reached over and snapped the ashtray open, turned up the radio. Lighted himself a skinny, wrinkled joint he had found in the crack of the bench cushion. Everybody’s gotta talk, he muttered to the rear view.

He never believed any of those stories. The ones his friends told to other friends about how he would demand to be driven around, black-out drunk, starting fights in bars, turning up the next week to find he’d been banned, phoning up lots and towing garages to find his car, waking up with a mouth stuffed full of bloody cotton and a busted tooth or a broken jaw, abrogated relationships and credentials – just looking to get upbraided for being alive and not too ambitiously. That’s what they said, and he didn’t know why they would need to try and make themselves feel better that way.

“Don’t I beat my own self up just fine?” he thought out loud through a puff of murky cannabis smoke.

Bill stepped down out of the truck near the crash site. Looked down one lane of the road, then down the other at the lights blinking on the road blocks he set up. Circling around the front of the Dodge, he disengaged the winch and, hook in hand, started out to finish what he started a few hours earlier. His boots crunched the salt grit for a few steps, then a soggy sucking sound for a few steps, then dead leaves and pine needles, the rasp of his breath, the gas can sloshing back and forth.

He turned his eyes up to the inky firmament. Sirius twinkled in Canis major. A bit of cloud partly obscured Orion’s belt. They are already dead in there, Bill reminded himself. Closed the last fifty feet to the crumpled automobile. Set the gas can in the mud. Secured the hook on the presenting axle.

“There’s sure to be a raise in here somewhere, if you can try not to spend it all down at the titty bar, Bill.” He worked with a little prybar on the passenger door and the bodies slithered out like so many sacks of shit.

Standing still. Watching the corpses. On the verge of recognizing something in himself, his nature at this moment. Feeling the same way he had when he was eight and the neighborhood kids all took turns firing BB-guns at a still-fresh squirrel one of them had found curled up under their porch.  Just a few more moves left out here.

From some distance came a crashing in the undergrowth, snapping. Electricity jolted through Bill’s prostate, up his belly, sending his heart into his throat trying to chase after the yelp that half escaped as his body landed a yard from where he had been standing.

He felt like a squirrel often looks while alive: frozen in fear, beady eyes darting back and forth over a rapidly panting ribcage. One hand was wrapped around a folding pocket knife in the back pocket of his now-damp coveralls; it made no attempts to reemerge. I’m caught-I’m caught-I’m caught, said his breath to the hollow, metallic feeling behind his eyes.

He stopped breathing. Silence. Another snap, another startled leap, and then a growing … well that’s a rumble. A rumble?

Bill looked up the hill. There was a mound of mossy ground, lurching forward a few yards at a time, followed by a snaking trail of crumbled soil behind. It could have been Bugs Bunny on a wrong turn after lawd-who-cares-it’s-coming-right-down-here …! His knees knocked into one another as his body made dumb attempts to pinion its legs into something like escape. Bill pitched over, chin pointed at the sky, one hand still jammed in a back pocket, the other adding spin to an already confused trajectory. Bodies in motion; bodies at rest.

Mud in his eyes. Tin foil taste in his mouth. Camel colored work boots kicking and scissoring, looking for some purchase and being declined in every shop on the strip. Panic has never felt like such a great course of action for anyone as much as it did for Bill right then, when the mound had seemed to halt right at the edge of the scene, only to be suddenly pushing up new earth only ten feet away, now a yard. His flailing turned into flapping. A merman having a fit.

It was when the real estate immediately in front of Bill’s nose in the pitch black kicked up a burrow of fat worms and hairy roots and soil and stones that rolled up and slapped Bill on the cheek that he lost his shit. As he finally opened his mouth to once and for all scream out some mortal terror, fecund piles of dirt fell in to meet his moist, coffee-stained articulators.

Bill choked. Spat. Gag-screamed, which is never as cathartic as the real thing. He pawed and scrambled and almost managed half a crabwalk backwards.

Then the mound swelled up, taking a breath to show off a joke belly.

Bill Turnbull passed out cold and wet as your doormat any given rainy October weekend, so he missed the encore, which began with another rumble, and then finished with a noise straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon: a bright, rapid burst of PlopittyPLOOP! PloopityPLOP! PlupPLUP!, each one revealing hundreds and hundreds of cream colored mushroom caps in what must have been the most forceful entrance for a fungus in recent memory.

The fruiting bodies plumped, opened, swayed about on their stalks. A soft, unrushed rustling of gills followed. The rippling gathered momentum, got a little windy whispering going after a minute or two. Whispers Bill could just make out into words over the pounding surf in his skull when he woke back up. “We came a long way to find you,” he almost thought one of the whispers kept saying to him. Then the murmuring of a thousand-odd score of mushrooms came together in one rattling, undeniable chorus: “The universe has put us together.” A gust of spores fell out of the underside of the mass, kicking up into a dust cloud that billowed up and rolled out over Bill. The whispering became wet inside Bill’s head.

“Your brain is an electrically conductive organ. Every molecule is like a key; certain amounts in your neural soup allow certain circuits to obtain, conducting novel, otherwise ignored information streams … the conscious oneness of all things never did figure out how to make these chemicals in your form, but it was able to do so in this fungal form. So here we are.”

“Breathe in and we will share our keys with you.”

But Bill was already breathing.

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One Comment
  1. Loved this 🙂

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