Because I wanted to see the bureaucrat’s son drown to death, I pushed him, head over feet, toward the bleeding well. There was a stick ritual I used for guiding him onto the footpath. I had meditated on the precise sequence of events for months, asked for divinity. I changed my mind at the last moment, which was a mistake: I knew he couldn’t swim, but I didn’t want a struggle. I was a clean, if not practiced, killer. Strangulation was easy enough to improvise. But I got sloppy after he was dead. I hated reprimand from the visitors if I didn’t deliver. The ants danced around his flabby corpse as I examined the problem of the body.
First, I took off his shoes, which I coveted. I tugged his shirt over his head, exposed his ungainly nipples. I pocketed his jewelry and family credit card. I’d burn these later. It was not my idea to strip the corpse, but the voices approved.
He lay there, taunting me as an obstacle, a prop. I stared at the exhibit of scars. His inert legs were scratched up from the patchy earth, like he’d crawled through weeds and sticks just to be here. I used the front of the school polo to mop my eager forehead. The bureaucrat’s son attended an elite prep school but was known to be a mediocre scholar. He didn’t letter, and he barely saw time on JV.
I reflected on the choice to kill him here. I called him to the bleeding well due to the voices newly visited on me. I listened to their torturous pleas like whining kittens. Plus, there was the near-remoteness of the site. I pegged it for a clean landmark. The bleeding well so called for its brackish overflow, unexplained bubbling like a disappointing geyser. I added the delimbed bodies.
Here, I could worship in peace, except with the omnipresent ringing drawing me nearer, unbidden like an infected ear, worship was stretching the truth.
This is the sound which chased me all the way to the well—a heavy lapping song. Recently I had begun to hear sentences, phrases from the disjointed cadence lurking in the tallgrass around the county, swimming grass animated by unseen dead. There were no beaches in Kansas. I tried to turn the crickets off, but the thoughts created physical discomfort, which raised questions in crowds.
The bleating from another world glowed more brightly around me, haunting me in job interviews, Ubers, classes. I almost stopped caring about leaving the house until the footprints of our inarticulate dance were found. I was convicted of murder. I had kept the shoes at home because they were a gift from the dead. I wore them occasionally to work.
My cell was 6×9 and the door stayed shut except for food or suicide watch. My father, the sheriff, never visited me in solitary confinement, not after I bit the guard’s face during bunk checks, growling through bleeding cheeks—but I assumed dad’s reelection campaign was doing fine. I won’t see another sun-blinding day without parole until I’m sixty. I was eighteen when I killed so I was tried before a grand jury.
I ground my teeth each night to the rhythms of the hissing pipes in my cell. I told this to stooped visitors—unhuman—to intimidate them. They had noticed my stagnation. The stoutest one, gored eye sockets sniffing at the air from beneath an otherworldly hide, seemed to cast a disapproving glance.
I was more animal than person at the bleeding well—but in the cell, I was broken, lashing out at anyone and everything. The visitors freely offered me glimpses of their world, which I declined. They promised fortune. I wanted out. I hated the visitors, but I wanted a fresh start. As my tedium increased and my mental stronghold lapsed, I fancied I might strike a barter for my release. I began to call on them for simple visits. Perhaps I needed the company.
I exited the cell nightly through a void in the wall, each time staying longer in their otherworld, nightmare tendrils guiding me slowly, gently away from my cell, onto craggy, foreign shores. I walked and walked even though something sharp as glass began to cut at my soles. Here, pods of strange beasts basked in the dark overglow of gaping clouds, countless stars. I slowly creeped across the shore, watching dead ones, small ones, sharp ones, tall ones. The little ones had pincers and sometimes pinched you from the sand. I wanted to reach the copse of trees that dotted the unending perimeter of the peninsula. The stuck behemoths took notice. In the otherworld, I had lost the visitors, their lessons fading in and out like FM radio. I hoped to make it farther on this day, to stay out of range and out of prison.
Then the beach moved, entire dunes shifting like waves. Some tall ones made frightening gestures with their elongated fingers and were swallowed up at once. I watched another pair of them tumble into unbeing, long-beaked forms wet with alien beach or guts, my victims grafted across their abdomens or backs like tumors, warnings from the grave. Perhaps I, too, would die here and become one of them. I should be so lucky.
Transfixed by discontent, I watched another dune rise up and drive my way. I imagined running, but the sand broke into centipedes that clasped their pincers on my coarsely bearded face, too fast, pulling pieces of me into their wake like corpsemeat. In this way, the world rewrote itself without me. From the ground, to ground again. Swarms of milling legs blanketed my protests, filled my bruised mouth. I was buried in the moving dark. Amid the pain, all I could make out was a persistent growling of the visitors that skipped along the merciless breakwater.
Here now, the growling said. Here now, come and stay where you were welcomed.
Jason Teal, Publisher & Editor of Heavy Feather Review, is a specter now living in the Little Apple of Kansas. His first book, We Were Called Specimens: An Oral Archive of Deity Marjorie, is forthcoming with KERNPUNKT Press in 2020. He currently hosts Driptorch Community Performance Series + Open Mic with Arrow Coffee Co.