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The Bewdley Mayhem
The Hellmouths of Bewdley, Pontypool Changes Everything, Caesarea
By Tony Burgess
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2014 Tony Burgess
All rights reserved.
I think that every book should begin with an awakening. Someone wakes up and slowly starts to take in their surroundings. He or she is reluctant to let anything sink in beyond the first material appraisal, because there is always the shudder which means their life is desperately offtrack. Was I praying for death before I fell asleep? Am I locked into something terrible that I'll never get out of? A marriage? A career? A crime? This is a good way to start a story because no matter how that person's day begins, no matter how carelessly someone throws off their sheets in the morning, you know that he or she will be praying to die by the end of it.
In this story he wakes up tied to a tree in the middle of the woods. Black-green softness all around him and birds bouncing and light playing and maybe a deer chipping its tooth on a stone. It is deep enough into the woods that there is no evidence that another human has ever been here. Except for a soiled paper plate curling in the sun and vibrating with flies. There is, of course, him, lashed to the base of a tree and then handcuffed to him is another person who is dead. When he begins to wake his head rolls against the tree and drops towards his chest, causing him to jump. This little jolt of activity stirs more flies from the body, which leave it for only a second and are then pulled back noisily to the feast. His first bit of information to process is the phrase I already used — 'middle of the woods.' His name is Jack.
Jack notices that a great deal of blood has stiffened his clothes. They feel like a thin shell around his first painful attempts to move. He is trying not to think about it, but the evidence is very strong, someone has created a little theatre for his imagination in the middle of the woods. Someone has been playing with Jack. He notices the bloody handprints along his arms. They are furiously active and alive. He can see the weight of his own body in the impressions. How it took two hands around both wrists to drag him. He can see how the grip was lost and regained. He feels sharp spines of pain coming to life in his cheeks and settling to ache around his eyeballs. Beside him his friend is stiffly doubled over. The back of his head is open and pink and black. He is astonished by a small beetle that is weaving a trail along an escarpment of bone that sweeps to a frayed point out from the head. Again those thoughts intrude — someone has done this. Someone guilty. Someone has left me alive to think about him.
Then he notices, at some distance, in an open glade across the sloping forest floor, that a large man is sitting against a tree. He is perfectly still in a trench coat, surrounded by hundreds of tiny white and purple flowers. He thinks this man might be dead, or tied there. A small orange bird flits into the light and lands on the toe of the man's boot. Then it springs off into curving flight through the trees and disappears among the grey forms of the deeper woods. Suddenly the man does move. He reaches over to his side and lifts a small red cup to his lips. He is wearing a suit and tie beneath the trench coat. He returns the cup to his side and becomes absolutely still again. Now that he is most certainly not dead, Jack thinks, he appears to be deep in thought. A fresh well of blood fills Jack's eye when his heart responds to the presence of this man.
Jack tries to blink the blood from his eye, but it persists and the sunlight that fills spaces around him starts to roar in red. He cannot stop the alarm. Through the dense colour he can still see the man sitting in the light. Small globes burst in the air around him. When he sees the man stand up, lifting the branches as he makes his way out of the light, Jack feels himself darken inside and a numbness turns off the alarm. While Jack sleeps the man moves away, down towards a stream that wends along a gentle dip in the earth. He holds onto the branch of a tree and leans slightly towards the jewelled surface of the stream. It is moving quickly, bending up under the cold, black roots of the large tree as it courses along an exposed length of sand. At its centre red and brown stones bubble in and out of focus. At a point where it deepens and slows, just beyond the sand where the man leans, a cluster of grey water beetles scribble in silver on the shaded surface. The man suddenly sneezes and grabs the front of his face. After some moments he noisily rubs his nose with both hands and lets out a sharp cry. He crouches, careful not to let his coat touch the surface as he dips his hands into the water, turning them mechanically in the current. He draws his coat sleeves under the water above the rust- coloured stains and bunches them in his hands as he scrubs. His hands are sore with the cold when he lifts them into the light breeze. He fishes his red, plastic cup from his pocket. Inside it yellow fibres are gathered to a penny that clings to the sticky purple ring running around the bottom. He plunges the cup in the water, holding it with one hand against the current. With his free hand he selects three small stones from the stream bed and plunks them into the cup. As he turns the stones with his fingers the penny flips from the cup, its twin maple leaves brightly visible for a second as it swings in the water's pull before disappearing. He raises the full cup to his mouth and vigorously swishes water through his teeth and then sprays the stream with a thicker fluid. He rises and turns, shaking the cup dry before returning it to his pocket, before climbing against the bush towards the bower where he had been sitting. When he reaches the spot he flips his coat open and lowers himself against the tree.
The man resumes his silent meditation for some minutes. In the light around his head several large flies are venting two-second rages that cause clouds of smaller insects to swing in and out of formation. The man is unaware of this. He appears to be waiting out the natural span of his mood. He slowly emerges by drawing his shoulders forward. He puts his hand to his face and pushes his palms against the stubble of his beard. The scraping sound seems to bring him around and he refocuses his eyes out to the shadows beneath the trees. A look of recognition sweeps his features as he slides a date-book out from the inside of his coat. A packet of Kool-Aid falls into his lap and he picks it up, shaking the contents before returning it to his pocket. He flips through the date-book and slaps a page with the back of his hand. He bleats out an expletive. Abruptly he rises and adjusts his clothes. Again the Kool-Aid packet falls and he bends to sweep it up, putting it, this time, in the outside pocket of the trench coat. He marches angrily in between two bushes that pull at his clothes and he hikes up to the spot where Jack sleeps beside his dead friend.
He doesn't seem to notice them. He stands at their feet and pulls at his chin while he stares at a tear in the bark above their heads. Then he squats and firmly grabs the toes of the men's boots. From a distance he appears to be conferring with them, though one is clearly dead and the other is motionless. Before rising he gives each boot an encouraging push. He has probably spoken to them. He is attracted to a yellow profusion of flowers, strung up in the air by the light that has newly caught them. He stares intently at the soft wood and black earth that surrounds the base of the bush as he withdraws his penis from his pants. He fastidiously frees it of any interfering clothing and tilts his head back as he waits to begin urinating. The urine flags up across the leaves, turning them in its heavy spray, before it settles into a loud, solid stream. He waves his penis rhythmically back and forth, cleaning stones and saturating moss. The colours in this small area richen and steam sighs up off the liquid as it sinks beneath the textures it has swollen. He concludes by wagging his penis between the knuckles of his right hand. Three drops stain the inside of his left pant leg. After carefully returning his penis he pulls on the front of his pants and stamps his feet. The light is now fully exposing the flowered bush and he snaps one of the flowers away, tentatively tasting its stalk before tossing it to hang loose where it once grew. He gives the area a cursory survey before leaving it, pausing briefly, as if for memory's sake, over its more dramatic features: the diamonds playing on the surface of the stream, the heavy canopy of pine needles, the two bloodied bodies torn open at the base of a tree, the purple and white flowers creating a little room.
The dense forest stops abruptly along a farmer's field. A car-wide path runs around the perimeter of its twenty-five hilly acres. Large white boulders and black cows are suspended among the easily lifting and falling yellow grass. A low purple cloud is making its way quickly toward the field. It begins to darken a listing barn adrift on a distant hill. Soon the boulders and the cows are swallowed by a heavy, rapid shadow. The man's car is parked several metres off the field, in a natural opening inside the forest. By the time he reaches it a number of large raindrops have fallen and dashed across the dry grass. From within the car he pauses and lights a cigarette with the car lighter, pooling grey smoke against the windshield. It begins to rain steadily as he starts the car. The road is quickly turned to mud and he avoids it, driving slowly through the field. The cows inevitably turn their heads towards the vehicle as it makes its way among the boulders and hills. As the car rejoins the road near the barn, a man — the farmer — looks up from the cedar rails that he has laid out end to end along the front-most part of his property.
The flies are less active in the rain and some of the blood has loosened from the skin around the body's head and neck. Its colours are beginning to change. The streaks of black and yellow are now more weblike, geometrical patterns of purple and orange, and any of the skin's transparency is now altogether lost. There is a hardness to the flesh as the rain drums it clean. The shoulders and back are bare and bright with these transformations. Jack has been awake for some time, sitting in the rain and staring out through the droplets that hang from his lashes. There are changes in him as well. His legs are feeling strong again, though cramped painfully, and the binding around his wrists is tightening, pinching the veins and cutting off circulation. His hands are becoming crablike and fat. The paper plate, abandoned now by the flies, has flattened limply into the soil and the rain has begun to bury it in black splashes. The yellow flowers are hanging forward under the weight of water and the detached stem has been washed to the ground. The stream has risen slightly and browned, loosening debris from its banks and moving it quickly across its less articulate body. The rain gradually lightens towards evening, but it maintains its drizzle through to morning.
In the morning the farmer is standing beside the paper plate, its fibres collapsing into the soil. He is crouched slightly in front of the two men lashed to the tree. He drops his hands and clasps them, resting his elbows on his knees. The two men are dead. One hangs forward away from the tree, pulled that way by the blows that killed him. The other sits more peacefully; a spiderweb, bending with beads of water, is slung from one open hand to the other. The farmer pulls a rag out from the top pocket in his overalls and holds it to his face. He lurches forward and drops his hand to the ground for support. A sharp pine needle pricks his palm, causing him to fall to his knees, and he holds the rag against his face with both hands. An orange bird suddenly floats down from around the tree and lands on the paper plate, puncturing the softness with its tiny claws. The bird steps around jerkily for footing then lifts off flying low towards the stream. The farmer is crying into the rag. A few metres to his right the purple flowers have overtaken the white ones with a new burst of growth. Several thumb-size bees hover among them, dropping and climbing noisily from flower to flower. The glistening bulge of a slug is attached to a spoon that lays crooked between two stones that are still wet in the shade of a softened log.
The farmer returns using the exact same route as the man who had driven his car through the field the day before. There are no tire tracks to follow, he merely follows the course suggested by the combined valleys. By the time he reaches his small home built against the hill where the barn stands, he is walking very slowly, swinging a pole at his side that he had seen leaning against a rock in the field. A dog runs to him from the entrance, shaking its long, sandy coat. It takes a snap at the pole and when it does bite down he releases his grip. The dog drops the pole, mimicking the farmer's disinterest, and follows him closely. Its hind quarters are wagging so vigorously that it has to pull itself through the door. In a corner of the kitchen a chair sits beside a brown telephone that waits on a tall narrow table. The farmer sits in this chair and clucks his teeth, bringing the dog to him. The dog rests its head on his crotch, and it whines as the farmer drags a closed hand across the smooth hair between its ears. The farmer lifts his hand from the dog's head and it barks sharply. He grabs its head, vigorously shaking the loose skin and saying, "Yes. Yes. Yes." He rises from the chair and goes to the open kitchen door. Resting his knee against a small wooden stool, he scoops a yellow plastic cup into an open sack of dog food. When he puts the food into a dish by the refrigerator the dog stares at the empty cup in the farmer's hand. It doesn't eat from the dish until he has returned the cup to its hook in the entrance. The farmer returns to the chair beside the telephone.
The farmer lifts the receiver out of its cradle and returns it. He repeats the action several times before getting up and poking through a closet by the stove. After pouring himself a glass of whisky from a bottle he finds there, he again resumes his place by the phone: this time facing the centre of the kitchen. He draws in a deep breath to brace himself and expels it as he straightens his back, then downs the whisky in a single gulp. With a type of frown on his face he lifts the receiver again, this time dialling almost immediately. After completing the phone call, he makes his way down the hall to his small bedroom. He unbuttons his overalls and sits on the edge of the bed to remove his boots. When he is undressed down to an undershirt and red-and-white striped boxer shorts he pulls back the damp heavy blankets from under the pillows. He stretches under the coolness, drawing the blankets over his spotty shoulders. He folds his hand against his eyes and kicks the covers out from their tuck at the end of the bed. He is soon snoring loudly, which brings the dog walking softly into the room.
It does not rain again for two days, and this allows the stream to return to its edges, to work its way back up under the huge black tangle of roots and resume its trembling against the sand. The nearly fully purple bush and the yellow flowers are joined by a yellow tape that drops to the ground behind the tree. The bodies have been removed. The paper plate has disappeared; it has either disintegrated or been removed as well. A spoon is beneath the stones where it was trapped, and the rain is washing away a muddy tread that unifies these surfaces.CHAPTER 2
In the waiting room of Dr. Mendez, a family doctor, there are eight people with only five and a half sets of eyebrows between them. Every one of those lost eyebrows has been claimed by the sidewalk. Many of his patients are prone to falling in a fashion so free of inhibition that they often neglect to protect themselves on the way down. And the way down is always fast and the stay there very long.
The clipped bottoms of chins and the tips of noses and patches of hair spottily represent the faces of these patients, who crowd the waiting room from dawn until well past nightfall. There are holes punched into the plaster walls. The receptionist sits behind a wire mesh window, with her hand resting beside a button which, when pressed, rattles the locked door open with electricity. Inside Dr. Mendez rocks in his chair feeling a drowsy comfort that the day will last one thousand hours.
Excerpted from The Bewdley Mayhem by Tony Burgess. Copyright © 2014 Tony Burgess. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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