On the Evening of November 19th, 1962, From the Eyes of Linus Dixon
They tell me he was in a lot of pain when he died, and I don’t want to believe that. I tell them maybe, but I was there, and I promise everybody I tried to save him, it isn’t a lie, I tried.
There are colors in my eyes, but only hues of blue. Blue for the nakedness of time through the body of my brother. It is raining in the city. It is raining, everything is blue, blue for the color his face turned in that room, in that time. And now as he’s lowered into the ground among a mass of blue tears adorned in black. I think to myself how much he would have loved to see the outpouring of empty feelings here, now, below the blue.
Back at home I pour myself a glass of water, pipes creaking, old 20’s construction. Somebody re-painted the walls for me before I moved here a year ago and they’re already starting to peel like an onion corroding in a cold winter. The air here freezes the moment I turn on the furnace that never heats up so there’s always the coat or jacket over sweater over sweating body. The water rocks back and forth on the table with the absent thumping of my foot upon the wooden leg. We, the water and I, both hypnotized by the wave of the tapestries my brother had made himself waving over the peeled walls. Rolling oceans of abstract, inkwashed linework made in the throes of his joy.
I take a sip of the water. Sun sneaks across the blinds drawn over the windows. I have too much furniture. He loved it, a full room, this room, the living room, his bedroom, the couch his bed, I’m sitting on his bed, his bed is where he died and the drool of beer-soaked saliva still stains the spot to my left. I move my arm. I move my whole body. I’m leaning on my right side as hard as I can against the arm of the couch but still I can’t just get up now. I take a sip of the water. Rain pelts the ground outside and there’s a crowd of people lined around the record store across the street waiting for the new Peter, Paul, and Mary album. Waiting. I’m waiting here to hear the music striking acoustic from the store to drown out the clanking of the radiator constantly snipping on, snipping off.
I don’t know why we put him in the ground so fast. Don’t know why we didn’t leave him out for me to look at him for a few more minutes, see his face, my face in his eyes, his eyes so blue.
I take a sip of water and look at the mess, the old pizza, the half-empty beers, stickers along the edge of the coffee table, stickers along the edge of the floor, the cat sleeping soundly next to the television whirring the news cycle on mute. He liked stickers on everything. Nothing would be dealt with plain.
I take a sip of water. The phone rings.
I am silent for minutes after I pick it up.
Madison. Surely sitting at home watching evening films trying to gather herself out of the heat of her feelings about my feelings about what happened. Supportive, always. I wonder if she’s wearing the green nightgown with the Japanese flowers or the blue one with the Hokusai mountains or waves or whatever they are.
“Linus, are you there?”
I finish the water and drop the glass on the rug to see if it breaks. It doesn’t. “Mm.”
“I just want to see if you’re okay…are you okay?”
The water comes back out of my eyes, as if I could ever keep it within me. Whimpers.
“Linus, please, you need to talk to somebody.”
“I need to be alone.”
“It’s not your fault, Linus, it’s—”
Phone receiver. Wipe the tears. Pretend I have other things to do. Feed my dead brother’s cat, which I’ve already done tonight but I do again anyway, the small bowl of brown salmon pellets overflowing onto the kitchen floor. Get the cat some new water even though the bowl is totally full and in the process of setting it back down on the tile spill it all over the floor and don’t clean it up. Do something like make my dead brother’s bed, tossing blankets over the couch over and over again making it a game to see how perfect I can throw. Do something. Blast your music so loud the neighbors bang again on the ceiling with broom handles, so loud that you watch pedestrians passing by look in your living room to see the party only to see the skinny cough of a man gazing back at them with holes for eyes and a hole in his heart a hole gazing back at them.
I go to the bedroom and lie down and wonder where I went wrong. I wonder if I’ll ever see somebody else have a seizure like that and I wonder if I’ll save them.
I start smelling something blazing through the air, heated like tea. I get up and go to the window, see if the café next door has something brewing, see if somebody has some warmth on this cold night, but only the record store line stands, the rest of the sidewalk a ghost town. The smell doesn’t come from my oven, which just smells burnt, or the fridge, which just smells rotten, but instead comes from inside of my closet. The door opens so easily, like its hinges had been lubricated while I was at the funeral. Blast of honey and chamomile, blast of modern tea tree oil and cardamom. Blast of a moment of forgetting about the couch. Blast of forgetting. There is a hatch at my feet, one that feels like it’s been there forever. The handle has a film of oil upon it, thick, dripping. As my hand slips the trapdoor open, I can only think that I hold this handle the same way I held his grasping fists when he slipped away.
♦ ♦ ♦
The hatch leads to a fall that has me landing on my arm in such a way as to reveal bone. The snap is something I only feel in my stomach, a kind of sickness I only have when I’ve eaten something horrid, like I’ve lost something deep inside of me, an integral part. Like I watched myself hurt someone.
I look up at the opening, but the light from my apartment fades so quickly I think I may be going unconscious. Total black fills the space between my ears; I feel it, become a thing of it. Standing is fruitless as the ceiling hit my head before I’m even up to my knees. This is a crawlspace. There is air here, but the air is just the scents. Follow.
The silence as I crawl is something I’m sure would make a weaker person hear things, see things. The only thing I believe I could compare this place to is an acid trip, only without the color, without the fun, only an ego death and a great deal of thinking about yourself in such depth it’s frightening.
My hand touches something soft.
Something warm and gentle, like Madison…I haven’t touched Madison in a long time.
I look just a bit closer, feeling with both of my hands until something reveals itself as hair, something else as lips, and as I guide my touch I hope this isn’t what it feels like until my fingers pry open two shining pearls, two soft items staring up in horror at the darkness.
Ripping my hands back. Ripping myself away from them. Him, her, or otherwise, I tear myself away from the energy given off by the warmth of the body, the sense that they know I am here though they are likely very dead. Tea again. Something like lemongrass flows through my nose to my veins, gives me color gives me a little light, but the light it gives me is black, and the black is what helps me see.
I see now a woman, around my age. Her clothes are old, worn, dusted with dirt and covered in small beetles, roly-polys, tiny roaches. She wears loose undershirts over loose undershirts. I touch her gently. Warm, radiant. Her teeth snare themselves to the atmosphere and seem so, so sharp. Her skin is fine and soft, if a bit oily. Flask showing its rim from her coat’s interior pocket, it drips a thick vanilla-like slaw, thick like honey but much more potent in the smell it gives off. I taste it and cough. Bourbon, but very aged, much older than me. Creature in my center ribs recoils. I push back again and think about trying to find a way back up, but with the darkness all-encompassing as it is, it seems unlikely that would be the way out.
There is another side of me.
Another side that wants to know what expired this woman.
Who are you, where have you come from, why are you down here, what happened, what happened, what happened?
The only way is forward, I look back, my eyes water, I know I’m trapped, well aware, and a weaker person would probably go mad right about now, but there’s that piece of me refusing, and so my hand slides forward and I press into the belly of the dead girl as I move, bending the skin releasing a little wheeze from her mouth and I try not to hear that as my body moves over hers like she is merely an object a denizen here a thing.
♦ ♦ ♦
The crawling is sinister in the time it takes up. Nothing in here changes, not the walls, not the ceiling, not the soil underneath me and the farther I get the more I realize that there may not be a way out of here at all, like a bunker the builder was never meant to escape.
At some point my eyes adjust well enough to the dark to make out areas a couple dozen or so feet in front of me, which doesn’t help much considering this entire crawl space is just one straight line. I look down. I pick up the beetles on the way and let them ride around on my hands until I get bored and flick them off. I stop sometimes and crush their heads and pick them apart, I am good at this, I am good at separating the thorax with my thumbnail like you would open a letter, I am good at looking seeing what’s inside what’s going on what’s groovy what’s under there what secrets do they secrete in their dreams, the bugs? I take the parts I find most interesting with me, stuffing them in the front pocket of my shirt. I stuff other things in there too, I stuff neat rocks in there, rocks that ooze thick clear, rocks that hum, I stuff little parts of myself in there like fabric torn from my cuffs or skin from my hands scabbed over from the grinding dirt or my life before the crawlspace. It’s better to think of yourself as part of this place. You are here, now, home, this is the life you deserve, you will find your way and if you cannot find your way out you will be okay here forever.
I find other things too, after what feels a day, two days.
I find letters.
Some of them, like the first one, are just diary entries, yellowed from age, private thoughts from a man living about a hundred years ago from the dates, talking about “gals” talking about ships talking about war talking endlessly to himself about trivial shit and soon I just think it’s a nice example of somebody who really likes to talk to themselves… I move on. But there are more. After a dozen or so journal entries there appear letters, in near-perfect shape, unopened, never mailed. They carry the same tone as the journal, but these were clearly meant for somebody else to see, information too vital to keep to oneself. They are colloquial at first:
I write not only to ask you about the recent happenings in your life, but also to invite you to my home for a lovely supper with the family. We would all love to discuss with you the recent events moving our bloodline further into the future. These are not urgent, we don’t like the word, so do not fret. These matters are merely of a nature important enough to call you from your home out east. We hope for your swift response and arrival.
Tell the children the youngest misses them,
Farther into the crawlspace, though, the deeper I go the darker it gets, the notes become exactly what their author wished they would not:
I behoove you to visit posthaste. The family and I have become worried due to your lack of proper response. It has been six months since I wrote. Have you forgotten about us? Have you ignored my letters? Truly the news we needed to share is not relevant now, other things are so much more urgent, but still we must have your company! I had prayed I would be successful in avoiding moving myself to this state, but I am begging you to come to the town. There are things here that involve you. All of us. I beg you, Dearest, come to us. Please.
I find clues around the letters. Children’s toys rotted out eaten from the inside. Parchment left empty or scribbled upon in gibberish, inkwashed with some illness turning the pages green at the edge. Photographs of people, frowning homesteaders, frowning children, all of them seeming hard-struck, desperate, caught deathly ill. More letters, begging, sent this time with pictures, this time with bloodstains on the notes and photos and soon the pictures are missing members, missing children. Then:
we need you here, my darling my love, we need to see you we need your instruments and vials and doctor books we need your schooling the whole town the whole town needs you we need you so badly my dear my love we will not survive without you we will not we…i will not survive. there are things i still must say. you cannot ignore me my dearest. yet since you are persistent in your ignorance i have no choice but to take matters into my own hands. i am incapable and this will be messy and you will be sorry but we cannot wait for you anymore
No more pictures or letters for so long…I have been here for so, so long. I feel something else now. The smells are many. They remind me of memories I have never had. They tell me stories. Voices not my own in the deep, in the synapses, in the heart beating into my boney cage. Voices telling me things about myself I don’t know, and voices that know the secret. Horrible voices they say further further why don’t you come further Linus further? further in the dark? in the night? aren’t you curious? You are curious about many things. You were curious about Shelly in the past the rotting Shelly the awful alcoholic Shelly why didn’t you go back when you found her? You went forward. You decided to come forward, with your hands, scraping the dirt bleeding. My, my your hands must have such scabs as your heart. My, my hands my hands hurt they bleed and I am curious, I get almost to my knees and tell the ceiling with my lips pressed against it the dust the grime I tell the crawlspace I am very curious and I am sorry and the crawlspace makes me fall down to my face taste the dirty says
“We know your brother.”
My eyes I need to pull them apart my eyes my eyes back from the visions of the couch the couch
“We know he was fine. It was only a mild attack. A soft seizure. Laughably so.”
I don’t know what you’re talking about leave me here, leave me alone.
“He would have been just fine.”
There’s something I see up ahead. It’s foam, saliva, throbbing froth coming slowly toward me, it eats my hands, I feel sizzling and bobbing veins topping the stuff I feel it, I feel it eating me and watch and listen and allow it everything.
“Are you curious? Would you like to know what is going to happen if you are left to rot here, to sink in the spit showering you, to drown? Are you curious?”
Yes I am curious I am needy I am wanting of greed of knowledge I need it I need to know!
I was satisfied when I watched him rupture, when I watched the shit fly from his delicate mouth, when I just got closer and studied him like a rat I was so interested I thought he would be fine, I was curious as to what would happen if I just let it happen.
The salival foam begins crawling down my throat. The scent is here, the smell of his cologne.
My eyes see only bubbling.
Just let it happen, Linus. It’ll be okay. I don’t have to worry. Promise.
THE END OF PART TWO
part three coming 12.24.18
Alec Ivan Fugate is some guy sitting in some swamp in some city in northeastern Indiana. His work is floating at Occulum, Burning House Press, Bending Genres, and other darker, spookier ponds