Childhood Hauntings and Rusted Rebar
I thought that because I’m so excited about the art for this little novella of mine, I’d post up the first chapter and try to get other people excited, too. I’ll put up some banners and stuff when I get a chance. We’re also looking at some really cool prints, influenced by old Italian horror film posters. More on that as it comes. In the meantime, be sure to check out Boden’s site, and pre-order Chris Dwyer‘s When October Falls, also releasing in March on BPP.
Quick rundown of the relevant info:
And here’s the words. Enjoy.
ACT ONE- I
Just before we finished the crown-molding, Will Watkins cut off his finger with the miter saw. He jumped back and screamed like an attacking eagle, and swung his arm all around. Blood mixed with sawdust and metal chips, turned the floor into a Jackson Pollock painting. Because he was hemophobic, Hank scuttled away from the scene and dropped the circular saw he was using, which sent the blade chewing across the wood, which scared the shit out of Paddy the Foreman, who proceeded to knock over the 20-lb sledge and send that through an adjoining wall, taking out half the wiring in the adjacent room with the home theatre system. One of the day laborers tried to shove the finger back into its place, setting off a chain reaction of vomiting. I watched in abject disbelief as one fucking finger set us back more than six days.
I knew I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.
With a tee-shirt turning red around his hand, Watkins shuffled into the truck and one of the plumbers took off for Hopkins hospital. I just sat there, shaking my head, sipping from the cracked thermos of iced tea Amy packed. I imagined us reading in bed this morning, her long blonde hair spilling over the pillow like liquid sunshine. My watch said it was four-thirty, so I guessed she was already halfway through her yoga class. I could’ve been lying on the floor of her studio, watching her stretch and contort, listening to her instruct the haus-fraus with a voice like wind through tall grass, watching the sinew and muscle striate. Instead, I was sitting on rebar, sipping tepid tea and drawing shapes in the coagulated-blood-and-wood paste with the tip of my boot. Paddy’s feet came into my line of view. I looked up. He pursed his lips and shook his head, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
‘Beer, Picasso?’ he said. He always said the ahs like ass, thinking it was funny.
I nodded once. ‘Beer.’
The November sun tried to warm us, but the clouds choked it to little more than a pallid orb. Leaves crunched under our feet. At the crosswalk, I scraped my boot against the curb to remove the glass of a crushed vial. The Baltimore wind licked at our exposed necks. Ash hung in the air, yard waste or a rowhome burning somewhere close. Amy said she’d meet us after her class, and I thought it’d be a beautiful evening to walk home.
Paddy lit a Marlboro. ‘Kind of funny when you think about it.’
‘I mean, we was worrying because we only got one more job. Now we got this one for another two weeks.’
‘They going to pay for another two weeks, especially if it’s because we screwed up?’
He smirked. ‘I got ways.’
Clapping my hand on his shoulder, I said, ‘Paddy, I’ve never doubted the revisionist tendencies of your beancounters.’
‘Damn right.’ He opened the door to Santo Sangre. Smoke smacked us in the face like a steel wool glove. The mariachi horns wove through the air. ‘Hey, first round’s on me.’
We were halfway through our beer when he told me about the contract.
‘Some hotshot—Idunno—lawyer or some shit. Lots of Yankee dough. Bought one those fixers by the Park and wants us to remodel it.’
I shrugged, looked over his shoulder for Amy. A wrinkled couple played touch-screen poker on the machine at the end of the bar, silver streaks in their shadow-black hair. A stack of quarters sat next to their overflowing ashtray. Without looking, the man reached for a coin, touched her wrist for a gentle second, then resumed his game.
‘Was gonna have Watkins watch over it while I finished up the fingertrap house, but seeing as how he’s outta commission, I’ll do it for now. But I want you to plan the job.’
‘Guy says he wants it aesthetically pleasing. You being the art fag, figure you’re the one for him.’
He tipped his mesh hat to the back of his head, scratched at his scalp. Bits of dirt and sawdust fell like dirty snow. Thumbing a Marlboro to the top of the crushed pack, he put it between his teeth and struck a match. I took the matchbook from him; Stay Gold, with a pawnbroker symbol. Come in and pawn when the welfare is gone, it read. Everyone’s so damn cynical.
‘Something not right bout them two, though.’
‘What two?’ The door opened, Amy entering on a gust of wind. She scanned the bar for us, ponytail swinging.
‘The hotshot and his wife. Like—’ he snapped his fingers in the air ‘—what’s that movie with the bastard and the chainsaw?’
I waved my hand to get her attention. I thought it was a good sign that, after eighteen months of being together, her smile still turned my knees to water. Paddy’d told me that the honeymoon ends two weeks after you put the golden shackle around each other’s finger, but we’d been married over a year and still said I love you each time we parted company.
‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ I said to him as an afterthought.
She came over to where we sat. Cotton jacket zipped to her throat, cheeks still flushed from class. Her yoga pants halted just below her knee, a small line where she’d cut herself shaving.
‘Hi, baby,’ she said with a kiss. Her sweat could be bottled as an essential oil.
‘Hey, girl.’ Paddy raised his hands over his head, made the Walk Like an Egyptian motion. ‘I might could learn you something.’
She just smiled. ‘Hey, Paddy.’
‘What would you like to drink?’ I stood and motioned for her to sit.
She plopped down with a sigh. ‘Just a water.’
I waved to Consuela the bartender, pointed at mine and Paddy’s glasses then asked for agua con limon. A few months ago, after we finished a total rehab in under a week, Paddy told all the guys on the job that he’d get them drunk, to show his appreciation for our hard work. The brother of one of the day laborers owned a bar, so we took our business to him, and we’ve been drinking here ever since.
Hand squeezing Amy’s thigh, I said, ‘Class okay?’
‘It was great. Picked up something for you.’ She nodded at my now-empty glass. ‘How many is that?’
I put up a finger. Consuela set down our round. I put up another finger.
‘Just be careful.’ She nodded at my crotch. ‘We need that later.’
I opened my mouth to ask if she was ovulating already when Paddy belched, slammed his glass on the bar and announced that there was a fire somewhere he had to put out with his pink fire hose. He kicked the stool away and stomped to the bathroom. A pack of men walked through the front door, lined up on stools. Their flannels smelled of concrete and sawdust.
I lit one of the pawn shop matches, watched the flame until it touched my fingers, then blew it out. ‘What’d you want to do tonight?’
She shrugged. ‘Make dinner, smoke a joint and watch Amelie?’
I tipped back half of my drink, wiped my mouth and extended my arm.
‘Shall we, then?’
She curtsied, wrapped her arm in mine, and as I stepped through the door, someone collided with me, almost at a jogging pace. I stumbled into Amy. The man caught himself with the door. Ashen wool hat, styled like a newsboy from the 40s. A thin mustache crawling across his upper lip. Eyes uneven, as if one was perpetually squinting. He tipped his hat to me. My skin turned gooseflesh, like walking through a pocket of cold air. He spun and disappeared around the corner, the incident so quick I wasn’t positive that he wasn’t a ghost.
‘What a dick,’ Amy said. ‘He didn’t even apologize.’
I adjusted my jacket, brushed away dust.
‘Yeah.’ I swallowed a hint of bile, my skin still tingling with phantom residue. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
She lay naked on her back, bent at the waist, right knee kissing her nose, left leg extended. Closed eyes and measured breathing. Every thirty seconds, she alternated legs. Theory held that the sperm would exert less energy traveling to her baby center and thereby have more energy to make said baby. I told her that idea seemed too familiar, so Hollywood that it couldn’t be true, but it hadn’t dissuaded her. She also tried douching with soda water before sex, using egg whites as lubrication and drinking six or seven cups of green tea daily, so my advice usually drifted away like smoke. I alternated between hoping the pot had lowered my sperm count or that I was sterile—so she wouldn’t have to carry any of the childless guilt—and imagining her uterus as a frozen tundra, so there’d be one less thing I did wrong.
I pressed on my eyes, watching the rainbow circles swirl on my flesh while she counted to thirty. Four or twenty-two minutes crept by. I lit the roach, took a few drags and offered it to her.
She exhaled, ‘Once I’m done.’
The one time I insinuated that there could be negative effects to her smoking weed, she cited numerous ancient civilizations who were built upon the same practices, then dismissed it as completely natural with such reserved ferocity that I decided never to bring it up again. I didn’t necessarily agree, but my own reasoning was generally far from sound. In any case, her hippie-dippie theories made her all the more endearing.
Balancing the joint on a book on my night table, I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Water beat down on my body, temperature fluctuating when other people in the building flushed their toilets. Ash and dirt and concrete dust turned the water at my feet into a thin mud. I stayed in until the water was a torrent of white-hot needles and my skin glowed bright red. The scar stayed the same, though, like a mangled prune, a wormhole through my stomach.
Two years ago— before I met Amy, before I came to Baltimore, before I fled Boston—I’d been drinking my way around a party in Kenmore. Bald men in tuxes crowded around the baseball game on the television in the kitchen, spilling cask-aged scotch over the marble floor when the Sox got a hit. I remembered thinking the scene was profound in some ridiculous way: no matter which strata of society made up the gathering, whether business men or drug dealers or college students, the party always ended up in the kitchen. In this case, it was all three. I was working as a sort of organizer for Chance Miller. It was a natural transition, as I’d been organizing and cleaning up things for Chance in some fashion since we were old enough to cheer for the Red Sox. His younger sister, Delilah, had just given me the most exquisite blowjob in the bathroom and my body, unable to reassemble itself, left me sprawled on the leather couch, watching how the velvet curtains would swish whenever someone brushed past them. I wanted to rub my face on them.
A few men were deep in conversation, sitting in the chairs surrounding the couch. They used deliberately vague pseudo-business terms like product, assets, distribution chain and acceptable loss, but the gold piled on their necks said they’d never read shit about Milton Friedman and free-market theory. Chance drifted through the party, injecting comments into various conversations. One of his eyes was smaller than the other; he passed it off as being perpetually in thought, but I knew his mother had actually dropped him in the basement as a newborn. Though twenty years younger than most of the men, he’d as easily shake their hand to confirm a shipment’s price as break their forearm with a hammer. Maybe I wanted to assert my position in the room, to infer that our status was equal. Maybe my brain was drifting somewhere in a post-ejaculation haze, or maybe I was just drunk and stupid. Whatever the reason, I said something—to this day, I still don’t remember what it was—and apparently dropped Chance’s name in the wrong company.
Ten minutes later, standing in the hallway, lighting a cigarette because Chance wouldn’t allow smoking inside his apartment, watching the passersby eleven stories below us from a vented window, one of the guys Chance called his security division passed by me. I nodded to him, because I couldn’t remember his name. We’d worked together before, visiting some kid at BC who’d liberated one of Chance’s couriers of his shipment using a rusted piece of metal and an acetylene torch. While working construction six months later, my stomach turned sour on realizing how similar the damp crack of plasterboard sounded to shattering the kid’s ribs. When the security guy passed me in the hallway that evening, I averted my eyes, following a crack in the wall that snaked behind crown molding, then caught a flash of metallic light at his side and electric fire bursting through my stomach. A stain like oil spread across my white shirt. My hands were sticky with blood. He continued walking down the hallway as if nothing had happened, the knife already sheathed.
I left Boston the next day, holding a duffel bag and a gut crisscrossed with handmade sutures.
As the shower fell silent, I could hear Amy counting twenty-eight, twenty-nine, and thirty through the door. I wrapped a towel around my waist and lay next to her on the bed. Her hair was piled on her head like an abstract sculpture.
‘I got you a present,’ she said.
I pressed my hand to her stomach. ‘I thought it was two-to-four weeks before you’d know.’
She smacked my shoulder and called me an asshole. She grabbed a tin the size of my palm from her yoga bag and took off the lid.
‘I got this from one of the ladies in my class.’ It smelled of pine trees and burning insulation.
She scooped some out with her fingers and pushed me onto my back. ‘It’s supposed to break down scar tissue. I thought you’d like it.’
‘Thank you,’ I said. The salve felt like frozen Vaseline with bits of sand and glass.
‘You’re pretty lucky, you know. A lot of people end up worse.’ She spoke slowly, words seeping out as she concentrated on covering the area.
‘What do you mean?’
‘This is pretty clean. If there was a jagged edge, it could’ve torn you up pretty badly. You didn’t get tetanus or some other crazy infection. Who knows?’ She rubbed in the last bit with a quick pat and looked up. ‘You got off lucky. Rebar can be some nasty shit.’
The sun slashed through the gaps between buildings. It reflected in serrated prisms off oil-slick puddles. It tinged leaves a lurid color, as if about to be set aflame. It turned the dark windows of apartments into mouths of a bottomless void.
The guy had done his research. The house’s brick exterior showed only slight cracks, no evidence of a sinking foundation. I guessed sixteen-foot ceilings in the first floor, probably a vaulted-cathedral atrium inside the door. Judging by the width of the block, I figured they had four rooms on the second floor with the possibility of putting another in the basement and still having a lounge area. It was the kind of house Amy and I would pause in front of when we went for walks, cupping palms to our foreheads as we peered into the houses. We’d plan out how to redo the rooms, which walls to knock down, which colors to keep.
Paddy’s truck sat on the curb. Next to it, a Jaguar. Opalescent blue, the infinite sea at sunset. Seats made from the flesh of a dozen baby cows. Chrome rims with a reflection that made me think of snarling. Voices echoed inside the house. I helped myself to some coffee from Paddy’s thermos and went inside.
Footsteps in the dust tracked up the stairs. Above me, wisps of cobweb hung from the chandelier like ghostly Spanish moss. One of the dining room walls featured a gaping hole that might’ve been a thrown chair. Sixteen-foot ceilings, like I’d thought. From the second floor trickled voices.
None of the stairs creaked. Solid construction: this job might’ve been easier than Paddy thought. The top of the stairwell overlooked the entranceway. Looking at the long chain suspending the chandelier, I almost got vertigo. Dark wood and dust motes.
Five doors in the hallway. Four rooms and a bathroom, and all of them closed except the one at the far end. Paddy laughed and I heard a dull smack. I pictured him clapping the shoulder of this yuppie, already yukking it up so the guy wouldn’t notice Paddy’s hand on his wallet. Half-recessed brass light fixtures lined the walls. They’d be beautiful once they were polished. Faded mauve paint made the hall feel like a necrotic birth canal. I sipped my coffee and it tasted of smoke.
‘I think this was a good decision,’ the voice said.
Paddy laughed. ‘You ain’t never find a place like this, sir, not round here. Just you wait til we get her done and you won’t even recognize her.’
The man stood by the window, looking over the neighborhood like a hawk in its nest. Slicked hair hugged the back of his skull, so black he might’ve used oil for pomade. One ear slightly smaller than the other. The phantom familiarity wrapped tight around my neck as I cataloged his features. Paddy checked his watch. I cleared my throat and startled him.
‘There he is.’ He rushed over to me. ‘We been waiting for you to start going over some plans.’
‘Sorry I’m late.’ I set the coffee cup on the floor and swore I saw concentric circles. A thousand bugs gnawed on my fingertips.
‘I’ll introduce you two.’ He grabbed my elbow and pulled me towards the man. ‘This here is Cole. He’ll be designing the house for you.’
The man spun on his heels. Black, oiled leather shoes. The tips of a white collar-shirt peeked from under his olive green peacoat. A thin mustache crawled across his upper lip. One eye squinted. Ghosts wailed inside my skull: I should’ve fucking known. A galaxy far, far away from lying in a hallway nursing a stab wound, the lipstick of a sociopath ringing the base of my cock, and still I hadn’t gotten far enough away.
‘Cole, this here is Mr. Miller. You’re going to be designing his house for him.’ Paddy nudged me forward to shake hands.
‘Nice to meet you, Mr. Miller.’ I extended my hand; his was sharkskin.
‘The pleasure is all mine.’ He smiled like a wolf slinking away from a henhouse, covered in blood. ‘And please, Cole, call me Chance.’