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Fire Hides Everywhere is a speculative fiction novel exploring a question central to identity: do we exist beyond our subject positions? Following an apocalypse in which all except those just born or about to die disappeared, Julian Feeld's novel sets out to explore the eternal Buddhist question: "Who is born? Who dies?" As the young are left to define their 'selves' untethered, an old man begins to enlist them as placeholders for those no longer present. When he suffers a violent stroke and loses his capacities as a caregiver, he continues to operate structurally in the lives of the young people left to fend for themselves, begging the question: do structures live on beyond the lives of those inhabiting them?
|Publisher:||Hunt, John Publishing|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Julian Feelds is a Swiss novelist, filmmaker, and visual artist, with a Bachelor of Arts in Film&Literature from the University of British Columbia. Julian has lived across South America, Europe, and the United States. He currently works and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Read an Excerpt
The twins had blonde hair and dull green eyes and tanned skin. Sabine, whose hair was longer than Marc's, wore a thick scar near her pubis where Christophe had removed her appendix. The old man had forced the child supine atop the dinner table and bound her there with old rags. He had unseamed her bloated flesh with a match-singed razor blade and removed the mucilaginous growth with his bare hands as the other children watched from outside the farmhouse. Their eyeballs were locked, faces warped in a spill, down into the whitewashed wood of the window frame, where the glass pooled thick and hazy. There a horsefly beat continually against the thin upper-pane, falling to the sill below, wings an opalescent blue.
Sabine screamed like a stuck pig until Christophe soaked a rag in chloroform and pressed her to sleep. He worked slowly and precisely, gaze rising to meet Marc's periodically, baring his teeth to discourage the boy from shattering the window with a rock.
Afterwards Christophe sewed the gash with copper wire to prevent Sabine from tearing the stitches apart. He filed her nails until they were dull and useless, but in the weeks to come Sabine worked at the wound with small twigs and rocks until it turned a reddish purple and filled with pus. Finally he rode his bicycle along the main road, set upon by ruined colza and wheat fields, scattered farmhouses, most destroyed, expanses of oak, hornbeam, and into Vailly, where he waded through crushed pillboxes in the backroom of a flooded pharmacy to find something that might save the child. Sabine did survive, but the scar remained, tumescent and pink, a crudely etched cave painting upon her flesh.
Florian's hair was long and black and dry as burned straw, broken teeth protruding from lips dewy and larviform, above which a thin black moss gathered around a single beauty mark. The child was of bone and lopsided sinew, moving mostly on hands and feet, but standing now in the reeds at the edge of the pond where he sounded the surface for the secret shapes of fish beneath, skitting water spiders, undule of vertebrae in the muddy waters. He heard the old man's voice from the farmhouse.
And licked his lips, smiled crooked, scratching the tip of his prick to feel the shivers. Abandoning the water he drew his feet through the grass until the mud fell away from them, and having passed the peach tree he raised his eyes to reorient himself, white ears atwitch. In the building across the courtyard, behind one of the grain silos, he crouched in the penumbra to clothe himself, the jumpsuit stiff and alien to his skin. Rats often whispered here in the half-dark behind the silos, but the old man's food was warm in his belly, and it was worth the discomfort.
Christophe was tall and thin with a narrow face and small hard eyes, grey and lifeless. His skin was hard too, muscles flat grey rocks shifting about his thin frame as he placed bowls and spoons on the table. Beneath his bare feet, varicose, the terracotta shone a faded orange in the waning sunlight, steam rising to form droplets on the dark wood of the beams above. Christophe removed the soup from the fire and stirred it with a ladle. The smell of coriander.
Little ones sat huddled in a row at the end of the bench and looked slantwise at Lea. Her plump features, ruddy and curious, eyes golden brown. She worked her fingers into the crevices of the kitchen table where the grime had clotted and blackened. Little wormlets of crud curled away beneath her nails and they tasted sour and putrid. She let her tongue hang from her mouth and shook her head until they flung loose. Muffled laughter from the little ones. Lea looked at them and smiled, poking the one beside her in the ribs.
Marc and Sabine arrived together and sat on the bench opposite the others. She seemed lost with her drooping eyes, sunken, and Marc wore a fierce expression, sitting upright with his hand on her knee. Soon Florian entered the farmhouse and took a seat next to Sabine where he hunched over his bowl and watched his faint reflection in the porcelain as if it were something else altogether, something alive in its own right. Christophe ladled soup into each of their bowls and none of the children touched their spoons. Even Florian and the little ones knew to wait until Christophe had said the words.
The poor will eat. They will be satiated. Those who seek him will praise the lord. Let us pray to the lord who gives us this bread Christophe paused for a very long time. He remained with his long dry hands pressed together and his eyes closed. The children looked at each other and at Christophe, except Florian who looked at his soup. Lea's eyes were wet and full of worry.
Each day. Our father
Again there was a long pause and Lea's bottom lip began to tremble. A slow vinegar was spreading in the bottom of her stomach.
Christophe's eyelids were purple and thin. Lea thought she could see his eyeballs through the skin, waiting to see if she would pick up the spoon. Finally Christophe finished the prayer.
Our father protect us, lord god, and provide our weakness what it needs to survive. In the name of jesus christ our lord. Amen.
Christophe separated his hands and set his wrists against the table's edge. He opened his eyes and his mouth widened and his lips thinned and curved at the edges. Christophe's eyes remained inscrutable and he didn't blink. The children made noises as they ate their soup and Christophe watched them.
The vinegar had dissipated but Lea could feel it forming a sour headache. The soup took its warm course down her chest and into her belly. She felt like a river split in two. As she sipped from her spoon she noticed Marc's fingers. They were growing longer and thicker by the day, and beneath his nails what looked like dried blood. She turned to watch Christophe. He was staring at the wall, lip lopsided, the left side of his face unrecognizable to Lea.
Christophe knew the children were little fucking liars, each and every one of them. He knew to keep that in mind. To stay organized and make sure everything ...
But during the prayer something had happened and he understood that too. There was no confusion in Christophe's mind. He needed to stay focused on what was important. No matter what, these children needed some form of structure, some form of instruction despite the steel-bound fact that he couldn't move his left wrist for several minutes. Then he could feel the sweat around his hand but not the flesh within. Then and little by little he regained feeling in his entire left side until he felt confident enough to attempt movement. Everything was the same as it always had been. Florian's bowl was shifted slightly forward because of the way he tended to lean into it. Otherwise all the bowls were equidistant and set correctly on the table. Even the soup tasted good. But Christophe wasn't an idiot. He knew exactly what had happened and also that it wouldn't get better over time.
Once they were finished eating, he waved the children from the table. As she walked away Lea looked over her shoulder but couldn't bring herself to look Christophe in the eyes. Anyways he was staring at his hand. The old man held the wrist and felt the bone beneath the skin. He ran his fingers along the top of his hand. Christophe straightened his arm and lifted it until it was level with his shoulder. He let it drop to his side.
He washed the bowls more slowly than usual and used a rag to dry each of them carefully. When everything was in its place once more, he walked over to the sofa and sat quietly with his eyes closed and thought about the children and imagined himself beneath the cold hard dirt of the courtyard, stiff and dead and useless to them.
I lie on the orphanage bed, adults visiting in groups of two, often a man and woman whispering, to weigh my immobile body and decide whether they'll select me as their own. I don't make noises and don't suck my fingers or scratch at the floor, but through my closed eyelids the usual disgust appears around their mouths, and before long they place their flowers at the foot of my bed, say a quick prayer, and walk on.
When you remove all things there's nothing but rain and silence. When they removed all things, the world still remained.
In my book of letters I see A for apples burned beneath the rain. I see B for bodies burned beneath the rain. I see C for cars burned beneath the rain. I see D for dinosaurs burned beneath the rain. I see E for elephants burned beneath the rain. I see F for Florian burned beneath the rain.
Books are lies, they show the colors of things that have disappeared. What exists now? Christophe exists now, and the farmhouse, and Florian exists, not burned by any fire.
The marks left by the tractor wheels were full of stagnant water after the rains and they shone in diagonal stripes beneath the new sun. Florian stared at these strange snakes uncoiled and melted in a line. He thrust his stick into a puddle and the brown water swallowed his fingers and wrist and part of his forearm, then stopped. Florian ran his tongue over his sharp teeth. That's how far it reached, the water, down into the place that rarely spoke to him except in rumbles.
He forced himself to remember this particular water. There was a line of ants marching from the puddle to the grass, brown mud smeared all around the treadmarks, blades of grass like combed wet hair, dried stiff and thrown away from the trail.
Flies drank from the water and some of them crawled around Florian's eyes. He left them to their business. Flies didn't learn any lessons because they existed in several places at once. Waters were different because one of them was going to be the right one. It would have no mud at the bottom and he would let himself fall forwards into the place he sometimes saw when he closed his eyes, the place of shines where Florian knew he belonged. He knew this because of what happened when he slept, the way his body opened up and became larger than the largest of things and smaller than the smallest of things, in both directions and turning roughly from itself.
He crawled to the next puddle, crushing several ants beneath his knees. They stayed pressed into his flesh, disassembled and bloody. Around him the sun, the trees, the brambled fence with its barbed wire.
Lea liked to watch many things but especially Florian. She always felt very relaxed when she watched the boy, and her toes were soft and warm and her thighs were warm and her breasts numb and her belly ceased its noises. Even her mind stopped making the long humming sounds that broke in and out of words.
She watched from the bushes as Florian squatted over the puddle with his little prick hanging between his legs, spine stretching the skin of his back. Her face shone round and curious, small body of clay folded over itself.
When the boy had moved far enough down the path, Lea's blood now running in cooler pulses, she emerged from the foliage to study the tangle of grass behind the barbed wire, through which she had glimpsed some unusual color.
With much effort she pulled the bicycle loose from the brambles and through the barbed wire. Its yellow paint had chipped away, revealing a layer of speckled rust. A long bloody gash had formed on her forearm, but Lea did not notice. She swung a leg over the cross bar and felt the seat ooze lukewarm water through its cracked vinyl shell. She pushed the bicycle over and stood pinching at her wet underwear and making noises, eyes rolling wildly in their sockets. Lea hiked her dress and tucked the hem of it under her chin, removing her underwear and laying them carefully between two barbs on the wire.
She stood there for a moment, features molten, feeling the wind between her spread legs. Her eyes lifted and they looked out over the undulant weeds at the small clumps of trees in the distance. The dress slipped from beneath her chin and its hem fell back around her knees. She returned to the bicycle.
Lea pushed it up and held it steady, pressed the seat until the water ran out, stood astride the crossbar with both feet grounded, remembering how Christophe had pushed the pedals, how the wheels had turned, and so resolving that she would hop backwards onto the seat and push down in the same manner.
After the fall Lea clutched her leg and made noises, disturbing two blackbirds perched in the branches above. They cawed and spread their wings, took flight. The crossbar had smashed into Lea's shin and the pain travelled along the bone in lances. She bit her lip and hissed through her teeth, body tense and folded. The pain stayed a long time before receding, tears running down Lea's cheeks.
When finally she rose, the child was ready for her second fall. Even though she bruised her shoulder and split her knee Lea did not cry and barely made any noise at all.
She rode the bicycle along the dirt path until she crossed the departementale and found herself on the cracked asphalt road leading back to the farmhouse. The wheels of the bicycle spun easy now, dress pressed to Lea's body, hair lashing in her wake. Soon there was nothing but the dull roar of wind in the girl's ears.
Lea turned right onto the dirt path that sloped down towards the farmhouse. She could see the pond with its tiny island, the cement building with its abandoned grain vats, the dusty courtyard, its single tree.
The tires pushed small rocks out of the way, bouncing Lea along like a puppet. Her eyes were frozen wide and her mouth formed an unbroken croak as the bicycle rolled past the center of the courtyard. Behind her now the young sapling and it's soft grass. A large rock stood in her path. There came a split-second of absolute calm before the child hit the ground.
Christophe saw the whole thing. He had been sitting in the wooden rocking chair when the sound of the bicycle drew his attention. He rose from the chair, put down his book, and walked to the window. The old man's expression remained blank until Lea's body hit the ground. Only his lips tightened slightly.
Lea's body lay face-down and limp in the twisting dust. The old man made his way across the sunlit courtyard, bare feet bruising on the rocks. He placed one arm beneath the child's thighs and the other beneath her chest and transported Lea over to the grass where he rolled her onto her back, careful to support her neck and head as he lay her down. Lea's eyes were closed and her body disarticulated.
But Lea had only been winded by the fall and soon she drew a long ragged breath. The old man stood above her with his arms at his side. His knees bent slightly as he hesitated. He looked at the farmhouse. Then he looked at the child.
You don't move. I will return.
The pain existed in many places at once and Lea didn't bother reaching for it. She lay on her back in the grass and wept, sky hard and blue with a single cloud etched there like a lonely wound. Christophe had promised to return, and Christophe never lied, not once, but for the moment she felt nothing but the cold thirst of the soil beneath her.
Florian had found nothing. He made his way back up the path, heart pushing sullen blood, mind hot and scrambled. The itch was worsening and he bloodied his nails on his scalp. The shade of the tree up ahead, a place to lay and rest in the dark, in front of which Florian saw Lea's underwear caught on the barbed wire and waving in the wind like a piece of torn fur. He lifted them from the wire and pressed them to his nose. They smelled of Lea and she appeared, smiling through her stubby teeth, one of them missing, and wearing her usual blue dress.
In the boy's fist a balled-up piece of cloth with the imprint of the girl's excreta, some fragment of her becoming, a prize above all others. Lying in the shade beneath the trunk of the sprawling elm, Florian closed his eyes and rested until a warm blackness came over him. His fist remained rigid but Florian's heart was soft and brimming with wordless knowledge. The sounds of the forest fed his dreams with wild colors and shapes, and his seeking ceased.
Christophe reemerged from the farmhouse carrying a black plastic box with orange latches. From it he produced a pair of scissors, kneeled over the child, and set to work. He cut the dress from hem to neckline, split the sleeves, and peeled it open. At first glance there were no serious wounds or broken bones. He removed sharp pebbles from her hip, chin, and palms. From these wounds seeped a watery blood. Christophe rinsed and dried them with a rag. Lea gritted her teeth.
Tell me if it hurts a lot.
He bent each of her joints and Lea clenched her jaw but did not complain. The girl had no broken bones. She had fallen loosely and many parts of her body had struck the ground at once. She was badly bruised and nothing more. Christophe dabbed at the new blood with a piece of cotton and applied bandages to the wounds. He lifted Lea gently from the grass and pulled the torn dress from beneath her body.
Excerpted from "Fire Hides Everywhere"
Copyright © 2016 Julian Feeld.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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