by Owen Kaelin
“I’m sick of the dead animals,” I pine. The harbor girl lifts her chin: “All of them!” she agrees, “everywhere!”
Their bodies litter the street, on occasion driven into its ruts, because, this being an area advancing the preservation of wildlife, its wildlife is not infrequently run over by cars. Here, love brings only carnage.
We’ve no time to mourn their fall, as we need to move on.
In the end, however, all our dead will line up and mourn themselves.
We’re going to depart from here and travel on an exciting mission, this harbor girl and I . . . but first we must locate and assemble provisions from the earth to bring with us. I bear some trepidation regarding this endeavor, since, like other endeavors that precede missions and escapes: this will almost certainly end for us all of our ambition: it will make clothing for all bodies that can hope. Right now I do not want to search for Things, I want anxiously to leave this place. As I watch her collecting hidden ground stuff from a variety of spaces and perches, I worry: we’ll never get past any of this! Before too long this earth and its Things will find their own way to misdirect us, and a brand new path will draw us in.
Here, there are weeds and muddy, slain roads; here there are humiliated buildings with stolid doors. In the anxious span between road and building there is lush grass. The sky is grey and polished, shining. The air slumps heavily on the buildings. A couple of roofs have begun to collapse. Occasionally a car rushes past, oblivious, filling me with a distasteful mix of anger and aversion. But mostly it is the distress that makes my nerves cry. Sometimes their sorrow reaches all the way up to my chin. I take care not to allow it any further.
I cannot distinguish any new cries from the ones that are always there. I can’t tell any longer which are external and which are simply embedded notes in my mind, reciting their grievances over and over. At times the cries and even screams from the victims — all of them dead, or at least I hope so — are louder than at other times. Sometimes they’re only whispers. Sometimes they’re silent, and on those nights — or days as it might happen — we can sleep. Today the animals are especially loud. Maybe they know we’re leaving. I can’t imagine why that might mean anything to them.
In this town, there are rips in the walls. Tattered black paper edges from inside. Some of the tatters have escaped and begun to investigate new identities outside. Even now I begin to notice, everywhere on the grasses and on the stones and on the approaches to sealed doors and in the mud, I begin to notice these very black orphans, some tinier than others, evincing the explorer’s excitement. I squint at them. I think: there’s something about these clingy black scraps. I think: Wherever we end up going to: perhaps there they can help us. We can make them behave there as currency behaves. I begin gathering them by the individual. I find all sorts of ways to covet these things: in pockets, in bags, in folds under my hair.
Some of the scraps have settled near one or another of the animals. As my hand moves forth, the animal screams. It’s a scream familiar to me, though not truly common. It is a scream not of living pain, but of transformation. I search further away.
Wherever we go from this town, I think, that land ought to be devoid of murdered animals that scream terribly of their own transformation.
For her part, my harbor girl has found satisfaction with her collection’s volume and is now busy finding a quick and solid route out of this place. Excellent! For me, it’s a relieving sign. I’m excited to assist her, but there are so many black papers left about that need me to covet them. They’re everywhere, and each one of them unique, each wanting to travel. I can feel their desire. Besides: they happen to be important, if not crucial, for our survival; they will help us with whatever form our mission eventually adopts for us, in time. People of meager means — like us — can never have enough barter. This sort of material goes quickly, even with people like ourselves — people of meager means — no matter how much one thinks she has at her disposal.
The harbor girl passes through one of the well-ventilated doorways. I follow. The hinges suspending the spent door look bad.
Inside it is dark. The only light in the room we’re in comes from outside the doorway.
We cannot find any doors, here. “How do we get out?” I ask, but only so the harbor girl will bind our thoughts together. Finally she exclaims upliftedly and points, and I see there, past her fingertip, a small window, its glass darkened. It’s tilted open slightly. Stepping clumsily amongst the trash, we approach the window and look, but we do not know how to reach it. We look about us but there is no ladder here that we can see.
Outside, the animals scream louder.
As we’re searching obstinate trash in a dark room, again I can’t help but think: This search will become the search for our mission’s death. Its death will be found, soon or later, within this inscrutable mess. When we think back to it, we can always wonder if the room had ever had any other fate in mind for us.
We will never leave this place.
Owen Kaelin alternates his residency between Boston and rural Connecticut. He was a founding member of the web-based writer collective Step Chamber. Currently, he edits the literary webjournal Gone Lawn and is at work developing an indie CRPG.