Chris Wilson

 

The Dry Season

"Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."
T. S. Eliot, "Gerontion"

Day 25 of the drought: The First Baptist on 7th Street changed their bulletin board today to say: "We of Benjamin Harrison County humbly pray to the Lord for rain." The carwash on Rt. 46 also closed down and the fifth-graders and six-graders at B.H.J.H.S. got out of school at 12:30. Since the fourth-graders and below don't have to go to gym they can stay in school until the regular time.

* * *

Day 26 of the drought: Spoke with a man from the funeral parlor today. Said there was a statewide embargo on cedar imports because the guy who handled it had drug connections. Spit and said something about politics, and how it all added up to me owing him another $150. Must pay by Tuesday, which means I'll need to get another advance from the shop unless something extraordinary happens between now and then. Also, radio said starting next week there wouldn't be any school for anybody unless we got some rain or the Governor declares us a disaster zone. Will have to find someone to watch my brother in the afternoon. Might see if Peter can run the shop by himself so I can stay home.

* * *

Day 27 of the drought: Ran into R.T. from the carwash at the supermarket today. Said that if it didn't rain in about a week he'd probably be evicted and have to move back in with his sister. Said he had a little money saved up but that it wouldn't last through the summer. Made a joke about it being his 'rainy day' fund. Neither of us laughed.

* * *

Day 28: James disappeared again today, hasn't come back and now it's almost 10. Called Sgt. P. at the station and filed the usual report. Almost everyone there knows James by name now. He said they'd keep an eye out for him, and I told him that James had grown about four inches since the last time he ran away. P. said kids that age shoot up like bean sprouts, but that they'd probably recognize him anyway.

* * *

Day 29: Got a call back from Sgt. P. Said he just wanted to let me know they were still looking and not to worry—he's probably holed up somewhere and in a day or so if he hasn't shown up they'll notify the FBI. Said there's lots of old folks in this area who'll take in a kid like my brother and not think twice about telling anyone about it.

* * *

Day 30: Got James' test results back from the D.S.E. Not very helpful woman who called said the delay was because they had to send his test up to Virginia for expert analysis; otherwise his results might not be accurate on account of his low score. The long and short of it was that he reported in at a 56, which qualifies him for Special Education in the state. A little good news, if he ever shows up again.

* * *

Day 31: A little rain last night, but not enough to provide any relief and this morning the sun was back out in a blue sky as bright and mean as ever. Made it into the shop for a few hours this morning, but no customers. Peter unhelpful. I suggested reorganizing to put the handmade puppets up front near the door, but he disagreed and it was clear that neither of us were going to budge. So I left and told him to go to hell and take his puppets with him, that nobody bought them anyway. Haven't felt remorseful yet.

* * *

Day 32 (still of the drought): James came home today, and not alone. He came in a skin-colored Volvo driven by a man whose name I later found out is Simon. Guy couldn't be under 60 but never got his age. Simon doesn't talk, apparently. Had some sort of operation, James said—throat cancer, I think, though who knows if James made that up—and now he can only sort of groan and murmur. Thing is, somehow James can understand him. Don't know how this happened. At first I was sure that James was just making up everything he translated, but as far as I can tell Simon can hear just fine and he's yet to object to anything James has said. Also, a lot of the things I hear James say aren't really IQ 56 sort of things. They're at least IQ 90 things to say, to wager a guess. But I guess we'd have to truck James and his new friend up to Virginia if we wanted to know for sure.

* * *

Day 34: Apologies for not getting to the journal yesterday. Couldn't manage the time between holding up the shop and dealing with James. Tried to get in touch with Mrs. W. about his absence, but didn't get called back. Maybe she figured school would be closed within the week anyway. Also, Simon showed up again around dinner. Already had plans to dine with Ms. F next door, but managed to squeeze in an invitation for S. too. J. delighted to see his new friend, who didn't react one way or another.

At dinner, during a lull in the conversation, J. announced to us that S. had a story that he wanted to tell. S. just stared straight ahead, so J. went right on ahead and told the story.

Said his (Simon's) hometown was founded by freed negros during Jim Crow era (funny, I don't think James has ever heard of Jim Crow) and that before the negros arrived it was a watering hole where the old steam engines would stop and refuel. Back then the negros all had to ride in the first two cars in the train. Once, when the conductor was doing the rounds through the passenger cars to announce that they were making a stop, he told all the folks in the white cars that it would be a ten minute stop and he told all the black people that it would be a fifteen minute stop. So all the passengers got off to stretch their legs, and in ten minutes the white folks got back on the train and the negros stayed at the landing. The train left without them, luggage and all.

About two miles up the track, James said, the train collided with another train that was mischeduled onto the same track and the trains caught fire and all the passengers and all the luggage—black luggage and white luggage—got burned to a crisp. So there were these black folk who had their lives saved by old Jim Crow, and having no money and no luggage and no rights, they holed up where they were and eventually started this town where Simon comes from.

Also today, I finally got a copy of the will from L.T. Thought it was a joke at first and had to read it several times to believe it. Called H.Y. at the parlor to tell him we'd have to downgrade the whole deal on account of the extra funds needed for the old man's last request. None too happy, perhaps because I called him at home and woke up his wife.

* * *

Day 35 of the drought: Put in orders for extra cloth at shop and enlisted Peter's help with the project, which needs to get done in under a week if we want it to be ready for the funeral. Going to have to round up a few other marionetters between now and then. Maybe J. and P. O. if they're in town.

* * *

"Simon says go into the kitchen and get another loaf of bread," James says. I stare at him for a minute and then Simon murmurs something to James. The way he talks is like a deaf person. James says, "Please."

"I already told you, there is no more bread," I say. "Please stop asking for something that you know we don't have."

"Iz says there is no more bread," James says to Simon, though as far as I can tell he can hear just fine. "Tomorrow my brother will go buy some more at the store."

Simon nods and I get the distinct impression that even this gesture has shaken some of the thin gray hairs from his head.

"Tomorrow," James repeats, not looking at me in case I refute him, "Iz will buy more bread and feed it to you like a baby."

I leave the room instead of arguing.

* * *

Day 36 of the drought: Spent another $37.52 on supplies for the Thing. Had to explain to the women at the checkout counter why I was mostly paying in quarters and she took a good ten minutes to count them all. Attractive woman behind me none too pleased since she was only buying paint.

P. and I closed early today to get a few extra hours of work done on the Thing. He mostly did a lot of sewing, working on sleeves for the arms, and I started building a frame for the head. Had a dispute over whether to give it four or five pairs of arms—will doesn't specify. Finally Peter won on account of eight arms being easier on the puppeteers.

Need to remember to start collecting old newspapers.

* * *

Day 37 etc.: Thin gray clouds hung over the entire county today. What a tease. Looked like rain all day, but by six they had begun to blow over and now the stars are out. Like getting blue balled. Not that I would know what that feels like.

Got some work done at the shop, at the expense of whatever customers would have shown up. Peter got some good work done on the torso while I started papier-michéing the head. Had to reinforce the damn frame with alabaster three times before the forehead stopped deflating.

Funeral invitations came back from the printer with dad's name spelled wrong. Lester Calhoun Canonstien. Had a few words for HY and he had a few for me in return, and I ended up telling him that's what you get for profiting off death. Then had to apologize profusely to get him to reprint them. Funeral directors are so damn sensitive.

* * *

"If I was a girl my name was going to be Carol Jr.," James says. "That was going to be my name if the Gudlord made me a girl instead of a boy."

Simon pains himself to say a few words, and then James says, "And Simon says that his mother had three daughters and then prayed for a son and the Gudlord gave her one and that was him, and she believed so strongly in the Gudlord that she didn't even bother thinking up a girl's name for him."

I do not understand how James got this statement from the few sounds Simon managed to suffer through.

"Your name was not going to be Carol Jr.," I say. "Mother's name was Carol, but girls don't get Jr. after their name."

"Carol the Third," James says gleefully. "If I have a daughter she will be Carol the One Hundredth." He laughs, pleased with his free association, and Simon says something. James tears off a hunk of bread and holds it like the heart of an enemy in his clenched fist.

"Not so much," I say. "That loaf has to last until Saturday."

James holds the bread between Simon and himself, so that he cannot see his friend.

"Simon said if we were one person we wouldn't need each other anymore because I could drive and he could talk," James says. "And we'd be sixty-nine years old and our name would be Carol the One Millionth and Three and we wouldn't be a boy or a girl."

* * *

Day 38 etc.: Got a third layer of newspaper on the Thing's head today, and applied the first coat of green. Some of the headlines are still poking through but I'll be able to put another coat on tomorrow and hopefully that should cover them up.

Peter did some really nice work on the body. Got seven of the eight arms sewed on tight and did some stuffing. Still not sure where we'll find invisible string strong enough to hold the Thing up. Wish we knew how much he'll weigh. Might have to order from N.Y.R., but this would be expensive and we're low on food money again. Tried introducing the possibility of not having Simon over for dinner every night to J., who refused to listen.

Went back to the shop at 9 because J. was out with Simon and I couldn't relax. Head was mostly dry so I spent a good hour and a half riveting it to the Thing's neck. Took a good look at it from afar. For quick work it doesn't look bad—even starting to resemble my old man, except for the extra limbs and the green skin.

* * *

Monday, 12:00 a.m.: Woke with the dull terror that he would forget my eyes.

Left crumpled under a tangle of broken limbs—it is a pity to be reincarnated as an octoped. What sort of karma engenders that?

In the morning that Cyclopes will rouse himself again and remind us, with that amber eye of his, to slow down, slow down.

One day the sun will rise red.

Tried for what seemed like a year to twist my complexion into a smile, but a papier-miché visage is not conducive to variety of expression.

Wake up, nutcrackers! Toy soldiers, plastic infantry awake. I cannot hear you stirring.

There is a hungry rat waiting quietly at the door, too afraid to move in this vacuumous hour before dawn.

It is wonderful to be blind.

* * *

"Simon says sometimes he has dreams that everybody has his voice except for him, and that he has to listen to himself from everybody else's mouth."

James picks up a piece of chicken and puts it carefully in his mouth, and then says, "But then Simon says he wakes up and there's no one there, and that he likes me best because I'm the only one who understands him."

Simon does nothing to protest this translation. I've caught him staring at me twice during dinner. It's the first time, I think, that I've had any reason to suspect there's a brain behind that ethereal crow.

"Sometimes I dream about things too," James says. "I dream sometimes that I could meet mother, and she wears glasses and she's pretty. And Israel is there and so is papa, and Simon is there. We all eat as much chicken as we want and there are three chickens to eat, and mother is wearing a green dress and she smiles like she's never been sad ever."

Simon opens his cavernous mouth and says something, and James does not translate. Instead, he says, "And in my dream, you can talk and you have a voice that sounds like a trombone."

* * *

Day 39 of the drought: The Baptists are still praying for rain. The black plastic letters on their sign have wilted in the dry heat. Some have arched and cracked, and now the sign says "e of enj min Harriso ount humbly ray fo ra n."

Reread old man's will today. He was very specific about the face—going to have to go over some of the details around the eyes to make it look more realistic. Not easy since he also decided it should have green skin and look like a monster. One's sense of humor is amplified on his deathbed, I suppose.

It's a pity, really, that my father didn't understand more about puppetry. Never really thought much of it, I think. Sort of wished I'd become a mechanic. His stage directions are needlessly detailed, as if we could move every muscle of the marionette with our minds.

Heard on the radio while at the shop that they've closed schools down as of tomorrow. Not such a problem since James stopped going a week ago, as far as I know. Didn't even get a call from Mrs. W in the principle's office this time. Guess they gave up on him.

Couldn't get Simon out of my head today. Kept seeing that little head with that crazy white hair and the little glasses.

Also thought about mother for first time in months. God, I miss her now more than when dad was alive. When he died, I inherited all the sadness she left him when she died.

Didn't much feel like working on the Thing today. Put a few stitches in and tried to sort out the arms, but Peter wasn't into it either and after a half hour we called it a day. Called H.Y. and told him we'd probably have to do without the roses. Had to spend a little extra on alum for the face and we ran out of piping for the arms. He said he'd never made so little on a funeral, that he was losing money as we spoke, but in the end I convinced him.

Got home and, for some reason, went looking through dad's records. Found a nice recording of the Sleeping Beauty Ballet, which put me to sleep promptly.

Woke up when the R. called. Tried to explain to him that he wouldn't need to deliver an elegy. Seemed put off, but as soon as I hung up the phone I'd forgotten about it, until now.

* * *

Tuesday, 12:00 a.m.: Carol. I woke up tonight thinking of you. It's funny, this sadness: I cannot see outside of it anymore.

Took a few more headlines to the head today. Seems like I am behind schedule: my arms don't seem very sturdily attached and my legs are absent.

Israel, my boy: it was Carol's idea to name you after the homeland—her homeland. I wanted to name you William and call you Will or Bill. She was the one who gave you your name in the end, and after she was gone it was your name that taught you to suffer.

Do you remember when you were learning to play the trumpet? Your uncle Seth asked you if you'd suffered enough yet to play the blues, and you only smiled and nodded. What a pity you were only eight!

She named you and it was I who taught you to read and to love Tchaikovsky. It was you who took that love and twisted it, wrung it into a snake and pulled that love apart again.

You, Blue king, you love Shostakovich and John Coltrane.

* * *

Day 40 of the drought: Woke up with more energy today. James was sleeping on the futon when I got up. No sign of Simon.

Went to the shop early and got a pleasing two hours of work done on the Thing before Peter got there. Tightened some of the stitches on the upper two arms. Still worried about their stability. Might need to take some of the stuffing out of the limbs to lighten them up.

Couldn't get this thought out of my head while working this morning: that when James is awake he looks like our old man, but when he is asleep he looks unmistakably like mother. That glare and that smile both fantastically belong to father, but they are learned expressions. It's when his face melts in sleep that the mold mother left him with is revealed.

Me, I look too much like both of them to really look like either of them. Then again, who am I to judge, really, what I look like at all?

* * *

"Today in school I learned that the moon is just a big piece of rock," James says. Simon showed up at our doorstep five minutes before we sat down to dinner, as if he'd smelled it from across town.

"School is closed, James," I say. "You couldn't have learned that from school."

"Then Simon told me that the moon is a rock," James says. "It's just a big rock, and that's why it's not made of cheese."

Simon says something in Simonese, and then James says, "Oh, yeah, I forgot. Simon has a very important story he'd like to tell.

"Simon had a grandfather—was his name Simon the Third?" Simon doesn't say anything. James continues. "Simon the Third was very old because he was a grandfather, and he told funny stories, like Simon the First does. Simon says he had a lot of personalities, because when you are young like me you can only have one personality, but when you get old you've lived longer than seven mes and you have seven personalities. But Simon says it's not possible for any one person to have more than one personality unless they're sick. If they're sick then sometimes they can have two personalities or maybe even five, and then the doctors give them medicine to kill some of those personalities so that they only have one. And those dead personalities get to go to heaven, which is the same place where babies go when they die. Only sometimes those dead personalities come back from heaven for a little while, and those are called ghosts.

"Simon the Third had so many personalities that he had to give some of them away. He lived in the same house his whole life after his mama died—her name wasn't Simon the Fourth because she was a girl and Simon is a boy's name—and so instead of taking medicine to kill his new personalities he just gave them to other things in his house, like his favorite rocking chair and his dog, Simon the Eleventh. And so he gave some away, and that's why if you go to a young person's house none of the chairs make noise when you sit in them, and the dog is quiet, but if you visit an old person's house and you sit in the chairs they creak and rot, because those noises are the personalities that your grandfather gave them because he had too many."

I have been staring at the center of the table during this discourse, and now I look up at Simon, who is sitting only a few feet away from me. He has his glass in his hand, raised to slightly below the centerline of his face. Momentarily he lifts it—no more than a millimeter—but I am convinced that it is a silent toast to my listening powers—and to his. And then he looks briefly to James and I get up from the table, my chair groaning and wailing like there is no tomorrow.

* * *

Wednesday, 12:00 a.m.: Oh Carol! I'm dreadfully afraid I have betrayed your last request. I dreamt while I was asleep that I could see Israel as you knew him. He was bright, his skin was flushed out and he still smiled. And James was there too, and somehow I couldn't see any of the belligerence in James that you saw in that last year before you died. He seemed less dangerous. There wasn't anything killing him inside trying to get out.

This I remember: how James and Iz looked when they came to visit me in the hospital. How tired Iz looked. Not tired. Just unhappy. I felt like I could see his unhappiness—how it weighed down unevenly on his chest, made him unbalanced. His center of gravity was lower than usual, like a bowling pin.

But James, he just came as usual, wearing his rain boots. Heard him from all the way down the hall. And for some reason I remembered, then, that conversation we had during that terrible month of April when James was born, when the doctor said we had one day to decide. Said usually they could tell which way a kid was leaning when this happened, but that in this case it was really a tossup. We sat in your room at the hospital and took turns sobbing and holding one another up. Finally, you said, "Dogs or Diamonds?" I said "What?" and you said, "A man's best friend is his dog. Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Which would you rather have as your best friend?"

"A dog," I said, and it was decided.

* * *

Day 41 of the drought: thick, mossy thunderheads rolled in from the north last night. Got up thinking I'd slept until dusk. No rain yet, but everyone is saying they can feel it—F. R. over at the grocery told me he was getting his arthritis particularly bad today, which is a surefire indication that a storm is brewing. Passed three people with umbrellas on the way back to the shop.

Had some trouble with the Thing's suspensions today. The twine I had P. order was too weak to support its bulk and the thicker rope we had lying around is too visible. Too late to return it, unfortunately. Going to have to try and take out some of the stuffing from the arms and the torso to lighten him up.

Called H.Y. at the parlor today. Said under no circumstances could we postpone the funeral. I dread Saturday.

* * *

Thursday, 12:00 a.m.: Calmer this morning. Dreamt again of Israel and James together. Tried to speak to them, but he has not endowed me with a tongue, nor did I specify that I wanted one. A blessed oversight.

He looked at me when I tried to speak, and his eyes said this: It is not in life that one is judged, but in his momentary hour of rebirth. This is his chance to offer a prayer to the masses of the living by which he might be evaluated.

Israel: Before the eldest son, the father was but a man. We came into our existence together. Good son, be not the father so soon! Allow yourself to live before you hasten toward your resurrection.

* * *

"Tomorrow is the funeral," James says to Simon. "You're invited."

Simon smiles and I wince. He isn't invited.

Simon says something to James, and then James says, "Simon wants to know if he should dress up for a funeral or for an opera?"

* * *

Day 42 of the drought: All is in order, as much as it ever will be. Lined up the puppeteers, all except for T.G. Will have to do without if he doesn't call back.

Still no rain, but the thunderheads were darker this morning, as if we needed any more encouragement.

* * *

Friday, 12:00 a.m.: Good Shabbos, Israel. Good Shabbos, James. Light a candle for me.

* * *

At quarter to one, H.Y. pulled up in our driveway in a black Buick sedan. I was waiting on the porch, feeling awkward because the legs of my suit don't reach my ankles. H.Y. had the courtesy not to ask where James was.

The gymnasium was modestly full when I arrived. I remember my mother's funeral—we had it on the lawn outside the synagogue, and there were far fewer people there. Funny, she had a lot more friends than my father did.

The dark-purple curtains are drawn together. I do not want to step past them to see if all is in order.

There is a thin vertical window next to the door, and I take a seat nearby and stare out that filthy pane of dryness. During a drought, I think, everything fades to a monochrome. The entire landscape becomes blue and yellow. The trees are yellow; the grass is yellow. The mountains and the rocks are blue. Fire is yellow, as is the sky. Except very hot fires, which linger close to the coals as though they are protecting their young. These fires are blue. Cats and squirrels are yellow. Dogs are blue. Things that used to be green are pulled apart into bits of blue and yellow. Guitar music is sometimes blue and sometimes yellow, but never both at the same time. The hole in the guitar where the sounds bounces around is blue.

When I eat bread it turns blue in my mouth and crumbles before I can swallow it. When James eats bread it stays yellow all the way to his stomach. I do not know what color Simon's bread is when he chews it. He has a small hole in his throat to breath from. Next time I will look and see.

My mother was green. I am glad she died young, because the separation of colors would have killed her.

I am blue but my eyes are still yellow. Sitting here, waiting for my father's funeral to begin, I look like a beached monstrosity from the swamp.

Just as the minute hand is creeping up on five after one, Simon's skin-colored Volvo pulls up in the farthest spot from the gym. James is wearing the white button-down shirt that I made him put on this morning, but the garnish red and yellow tie is new. Simon is wearing a tuxedo.

Oddly, though, Simon doesn't come in with James, who takes a seat near me. Instead he disappears altogether.

Without any cue from me, the curtains pull apart and there the Thing is, bent over double so that his head grazes the floor, kowtowing the audience. I had thought the rumors of my old man's final requests had dispersed by now, but there are still exclamations from the crowd. The Thing's four pairs of arms are spread in a fan around his body like the bones of powerful wings, and for a panicked moment I think that the grace of death will be marred by dismemberment. Then the Thing begins to stir—at first it only quivers, but soon its head is lifting upward and slowly the back arches upward. There is a second exclamation from the audience when they see his face. In spite of the greenness, and the horrible fangs, he looks strikingly like my father—I credit myself.

The terrible dance begins. From where I am sitting I cannot see the puppeteers, but it is easy for me to imagine their frenzied motions, straining to support the Thing while jerking its limbs back and forth. Its head nods compulsively, seizure like.

The first drops hit the plated roof of the gym like machine gun fire, as though the roof had grown tender and fragile during the drought. For a moment the audience diverts its attention from the puppet. As though it were conscious of this, the Thing picks up the tempo of its dance. The wild way it jerks about reminds me of a Mexican Tarantella dancer I once saw at the county fair. My mother told me afterward that the tarantella comes from the frenzied dance women would do when they were bit by a tarantula, in order to try and sweat out the poison in a desperate attempt to prolong their lives.

I can no longer watch as the Thing flops around. In fear of vomiting, I leave the audience to their amusement and exit by the door near my seat.

It is still only drizzling outside. I find Simon behind the gymnasium. He is standing idly, looking naturally armored in his ancient black tuxedo. He has all the trappings of a secret smoker except the cigarette. Guilt clings to his face, the way his fatigued skin hangs in small folds from his cheeks and neck. He almost seems to be smiling—I once had a dog who looked that way, like he was always grinning, I remember. When the dog died my father provided me with a slab of limestone by way of a tombstone, on which I wrote that, no matter what, Cracker Jack was always smiling.

"Who are you and what do you want with James?" I ask. Simon just stands there. The only indication that he notices me at all is the way his eyes dart suspiciously to the wall on either side of me. For a moment I think that all along he has been blind, but that moment of clarification soon passes.

"I don't want you spending time with my brother any more," I say. "You aren't part of this family." I feel a pang of regret. Simon puts his hands in the pockets of his jacket and the vertex of his gaze is momentarily aimed at my eyes.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I shouldn't have said that." Suddenly I wish desperately that James were here to translate.

Simon opens his mouth by half a centimeter, the way sick men and drunkards leave their lips slightly parted to drain the stale air from their lungs. Then he says something—it is slightly more than a groan, weakened by the anguish of effort.

He seemed to be struggling to enunciate a perfect H—the way his ruined voice struggled with the sounds reminded me of an ancient Hebrew lesson from my past. Without succeeding he released a pent-up coil of other noises which sound like nothing so much as "Harachaman."

I wonder desperately what he is trying to say—but not so desperately as I wanted to tell someone—anyone—who would listen that, if James is Simon's spokesperson, then Simon is the spokesperson for the rest of us.

Back inside, the performance is winding down. James is where I left him, staring transfixed at the Thing. As if the poor kid needed anything to add to his confusion.

We share an unenlightened glance to one another, and then James abruptly gets up from his seat. I realize that in the interim he has removed his tie—it is sitting crumpled on the floor. The Thing has lowered almost to the ground again, with only its head still elevated.

To my horror, James approaches the stage and stands for a moment eye to eye with our father. Then he climbs onto the platform and gathers the Thing's legs in his arms—he can barely fit them around their width—and attempts to drag the Thing off stage. It is still connected to the puppeteers by its invisible strings.

In an instant I join James on stage, where he is frantically tugging at the massive puppet. The puppeteers are frantically waiting for some signal from me on who more deserves to win this grotesque tug-of-war. I snap the bearings from its arms and legs with only a passing thought to the audience.

Without any communication with James, I grasp the Thing by its trunk and we make singularly for the exit. James holds on dearly to the legs as if they are the veil of a bride's wedding dress.

Outside the storm has progressed to a downpour. The water has formed thousands of little rivers along the grooves where the dry land had cracked open, and for one moment I inexplicably imagine that each of these little streams is one of Hell's rivers. Somewhere, some grasshopper had bent his existence on ferrying other grasshoppers into that darker territory.

He we are: I, that unlikely Dante, carrying across my shoulders my inert guide, that terrible author who was so presumptuous as to lead me here. I cannot see James, but I can feel his presence in the weightlessness on the Thing's legs where he is carrying them. We make for the highway, the Thing's head bobbing up and down directly above me. If it is possible, then one thought leaks from his papier-miché brain and lands neatly in mine:

"How can you presume to make me, thee that I made?"

* * *

Chris Wilson lives in Charlottesville, Va., where he is the managing editor of a local daily newspaper. When he is not writing or editing, he enjoys playing the piano and the trumpet, and will speak at length, upon provocation, about the indelible link between music and writing. J.D. Salinger and Gabriel García Márquez rank at the top of his literary favorites, while Miles Davis and George Gershwin are high on his list of favorite artists and composers. This is the first story Mr. Wilson has published in storySouth.