Category: Episode 29


Episode 29

Welcome to In Between Altered States Episode 29.   This time around we are dealing with the idea of being invisible or having some degree of invisibility.  The writers in this group have been allowed to interpret this in any way they like.  Each story is lined up in order of how I think they will make the most sense as a group.  Try reading all eight stories from the first to last and then go back and visit your favorites.

I would like to welcome back the repeat offenders: Jason Huskey, Joshua J. Mark, Maude Larke, Joseph Gant, Kristin Fouquet, and Sophia Argyris.  I would like to extend a warm welcome to IBAS newcomers:  Matt McGee and Christopher DeWan.

Enjoy!

Aleathia Drehmer
Editor

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Betty in Accounting wakes at 2:15pm.  Spittle splatters her forearm
pillow.  The office busies with clock-watching coworkers.  No one
notices.  No one even cares.

Betty in Accounting takes a long swig of curdled coffee and licks at
her lips until her tongue is plum.  Across from her is a vacant desk.
Papers pile high from missing breath.  The papers never sleep.

Betty in Accounting opens her middle drawer and retrieves a ball of
her black hair.  She sets it on her keyboard.  The tightly wound weave
measures from Shift to Shift.  She pets the bundle and smiles.  Her
eyes return to the empty desk across from her.  A speck of a spider
builds her web from the paper pile to the calculator.  No one notices.
No one even cares.

Betty in Accounting reaches raw fingertips inside her mouth and grabs
at a lower molar.  She pulls until the reverb of tooth roots
ripping–mouth warming with a soup of gore.  Just before the final
twist, her thumbnail bends back until the flesh tears; but she does
not stop until the tooth is free.  She slips the treasure inside an
Altoids tin with six other Chiclets.  The blood sweetens her coffee to
the brim.

Betty in Receiving is back at her desk now, throat oozing with the
fourteen wounds of a week ago.  She snarls behind the plastic bag that
suffocated her before, during, and after the violence.  Stabbed-out
eye sockets drain black.  No one notices.  No one even cares.

Betty in Accounting smiles at Betty in Receiving.  She pulls out the
letter opener murder weapon and breaks the skin at the bend of the
upturned thumbnail.  The flesh pops and spurts nastiness across the
bundle of hair on the keyboard.

Betty in Accounting laughs to a gasp.

Betty in Receiving gasps to a laugh.

There’s only room for one Betty in this world.

And no one notices.  No one even cares.

It was the smell of Toni’s shoes that made me point at the drainpipe and say “she’s down there.” Her sister, a notorious drunk at only 23 had been babbling in panic. She ran down the slope, tumbled, toppled into the wet ditch. She waded toward the drainpipe where Toni and I spent so many nights hiding, wondering if snakes or rats were with us and if that were some kind of good Chinese zodiac sign.
 
Toni would call after work and say: “OK that sucked, come get me. I’m ready to stare at the moon thru a bottle of Skyy.” A stop at Hi-Times and I’d show at the place she waitressed and always, her feet breathed out the damp smell of leather and wet leaves. We’d crawl into the pipe for an evening of imagined moonlight and echoes against cool cement that were never answered.
 
The sister pulled herself from the sludge and looked up at the pipe then shouted Toni’s name. First came the feet, then the pretty head of hair with eyes that looked at her sister, then bent deeply at me as if to say: “how could you?”
 
There were no more nights after that. I moved to New York where it always smells like damp cement and gases wanting to escape and even on a good night, you might crane your neck and catch a glimpse of the moon. You stay focused on what’s down here, what brought you here, not what’s left behind, until eventually you just forget the moon altogether.

Every night Ralph heard the sounds from the kitchen – pots drawn out from cabinets and the doors softly closing – but when he got down the stairs there was no one. A pot or pan of soup would be steaming on the stove in the morning. It was a mystery. He even slept one night on the kitchen floor but it made no difference. In the morning there was a pan of butternut squash soup simmering on the stove top and all the dishes done and shining brightly in the rack by the sink. He knew he wasn’t sleep cooking as he couldn’t manage cooking anything more than toast while awake and he hadn’t washed a dish in the house since his wife died a month earlier.

Sleeping on the couch in the living room one night he heard the sound of a pot moving on the stove and footsteps on the kitchen floor. Water ran in the sink, filling something, and then the footsteps sounded again across the linoleum moving toward the stove. He had wanted to rise, to run out and seize whoever was there, but his legs would not move and his heart was beating so loudly he was sure they could hear it in the kitchen – whoever `they’ were. The next morning he found a pot of vegetable soup waiting for him on the front burner.

He took to sleeping in the attic where he couldn’t hear the sounds from the kitchen. When he came down the stairs in the morning, always, there was his pot of soup. It was beyond puzzling. He never bought any ingredients. After six months of this Ralph finally told his brother about the situation. “You ought to get out of there. The place sounds haunted.”

“I know,” Ralph said. “But free soup is free soup.”

Ariana opened the door, stepped into the silence of home and sighed. She glanced at the cats’ bowls in the kitchen. She heard no soft noise of paws and decided to leave them hidden wherever they had chosen to nestle. She hung up her coat and walked through the hallway to her den, tossed a file out of her briefcase on the couch, and closed the door. No cat no matter how well-loved could settle casually on her work.

She half-sprawled on the couch to flail with a particular court case that she continued to flip through. It was missing an element. There was a hole in the argument somewhere. But where? She searched and searched again. Her mind’s tongue touched the problem but could not name it. It was just out of her grasp, and backing away, giggling.

It was then that the door burst open, and before Ariana could raise her eyes she felt Celia’s weight on her shoulder, lips hot on her ear. A hand reached down and flipped the file onto the coffee table. Ariana sighed and stretched out on her back.

Frisky Celia stretched over her and gave her several bites on the jawbone.

“Watch it,” Ariana said, turning her head away.

“Don’t worry,” Celia answered.

Farooq stood five feet from the counter. Beneath the glass were handguns of all kinds, caliber, and color. Nearly every gun but the Ruger 22. He was hesitant to ask the cashier again, so he checked his watch, and like every one else at the gun-shop that Saturday night, tried hard to not look anxious.

It was a busy night. The store had taken out an ad in the local paper, and droves of shooters turned out to use the range and rental services of the shop. Many first-timers. The line to register was nearly out the door with a 30 minute wait to shoot once payment, waiver, and identification were processed. Farooq had a longer wait than most.

“I’m sorry sir. The Ruger is still out on the range. As soon as it comes back, you’re up. Appreciate your patience. Unless you want to shoot another gun,” Farooq heard from the cashier as he watched neo-hipsters, their fingers itching with irony and bachelor-party celebrants struggling to feign sobriety pass him in line and onto the range.

“Thank you. No,” Farooq replied each time, “I came to fire the Ruger. I will wait for it.”

And he waited.

One hour, and two more inquires later, the Ruger 22 was still notably absent from its spot among the guns for rent. Other guns went out, were fired, returned, cleaned, and sent back out again. But never the Ruger 22.

But Farooq was patient. The cashier didn’t seem to him like the type of American from whom he normally gets trouble. Farooq had to rent guns frequently from these places solely because his family name prevented his buying a pistol of his own. He found these shop owners and employees to be quite sympathetic, if at least to the universal color of a dollar.

Eventually the crowd grew thinner. Farooq stood back as the last customer in line leaned at the counter, carrying on a dispute with the cashier.

“No, I’m sorry. We can’t let you shoot tonight,” the cashier said to the man. The cashier was tired and obviously irritated from the long, busy night of people coming and going.

A nicely dressed woman appeared from an office around the corner from where they stacked boxes of retail ammunition. Farooq assumed this was the cashier’s relief and felt he should inquire again. Maybe he had simply been overlooked in the chaos of the evening.

“Yes, can I help you?” the woman politely asked Farooq. She appeared to be the manager.

“No,” the cashier continued to state firmly to the man. The man wore rings full of turquoise and spurs like cactus needles. He too was full of patience.

“The Ruger 22? Yes, here it is.” the manager smiled and placed a clean and ready pistol in a box. She handed it to Farooq.

“It’s policy,” the cashier insisted to the man, “without a state-issued I.D, we can not let you in.” The cashier had grown more tired. He was operating of a level of automation, bordering the robotic, and he barely nodded to Farooq as he walked past.

Farooq continued down the range that night where he shot over one hundred rounds into paper targets, not keeping score of this nor that

We were on the train and we were going toward important places, and that is what allowed us to disappear into ourselves, and pass by station stop after station stop, staring into books and newspapers and windows and each other, as if we were nowhere, as if we were people without souls.

The man shuffled onto the train announced by his own stink, a sticky vinegar that attached itself to the inside of the nose. He shuffled his feet and he shuffled his cardboard cup, mostly empty but with a few coins, like a broken toy tambourine.

He spoke too quietly to draw us from our reverie. It was the stink, rather, that drew us, and pushed most of us to inch away from him without looking, nor hearing his mumbled words: “I am Shiva,” he said, “Neelkantha of the blue throat, eye of fire, skin of tiger, greatest among gods, destroyer of worlds.” He chanted this quietly and made his way among us, while we withdrew from him without looking up.

Not listening to him or even hearing him, we never imagined that his words were true, that he was indeed the great deity incarnate, nor that our failure to love him or care for him was a final act of disastrous consequence: that we had failed so exhaustively, failed in our very humanity, and, undeserving of it, would live to see it stripped from us, while we, unaware, listened to our headphones, read our magazines, and recoiled from the stink of the misfortune we’d helped to create.

“Would you eat Mosi?” Darren placed a seed between his teeth. The African Gray perched upon his wrist accepted it with his beak.

Carl defended his earlier entrée from the restaurant. “I don’t consider chicken to be in the same class as your Mosi.”

Julian sneezed. “Excuse me.” He resented this drama his lover, Darren, was creating. He tried to hide the bruises Darren inflicted, but Carl caught sight of a particularly deep one.

“Gesundheit,” Darren said.

“Gesundheit,” the African Gray repeated. “Gesundheit.”

Ruth detested this awkwardness in the dark bungalow.  Carl had shared with her the St. Maarten postcards sent from his brother Julian. This was supposed to be a visit and a vacation, not an intervention. She touched her stomach.

Darren brought Mosi to his cage. He draped a piano shawl over it, then grabbed Julian tightly around the arm. “What are we going to do?”

Julian said, “We shouldn’t be doing this in front of them.”

“Because of them,” he replied nastily.

*

Morning provided a vivid view of the island. Darren suggested Ruth join him for a boat ride. Carl encouraged her, wanting time with his brother. Apparently Julian was in another unhealthy relationship. He felt compelled to buy him a ticket off the island.

Darren steered the boat aggressively. Ruth’s face stung in the wind. She struggled to steady herself. The vessel hit every wave with choppy, violent precision.

*

Carl brought towels to the bathroom. The blood was immense.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

Clenching her legs, Ruth shook. “It wasn’t the right time. You were worried about Julian; I didn’t know if you were ready to be a father.” She whispered,  “I think he knew. I think this was deliberate.”

Darren strolled the hallway. “Revolting.”

“Revolting,” the African Gray repeated. “Revolting.”

***

I can’t pinpoint the moment you stopped eating and began to exist on breath alone, but I envied you that abstinence. After you’d gone the silence grew like a living thing to fill the rooms, its body vast and billowing strong. I have to keep close to the walls now; it won’t let me cross a room out in the open. Sometimes if I sit too long in that old chair in the living room, the weight of the silence presses me back like the force of travelling too fast, my arms locked at my sides, head back, eyes open to the ceiling where the cracks grow and multiply (do you remember their pattern? It’s spreading wider lately).

Most days I don’t make it to the front door, let alone escape this house, but from time to time I do have fight enough in me to open a window, and then I breathe more deeply. Such gasping-clear, crystalline air blossoming up off the bay. I remember how you loved to walk right by the waves, your body empty and light, half disappearing in the slanting sun. Inside you must have glittered like clean frosty mornings. Walking next to you I felt obscenely solid, but now that you’re gone only the silence is tangible. I am fading slowly, and it’s such a relief to find that I can.