UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION 08/2010

MITCH JAMES

The River. The Town. The Dead.

         "What the hell's he doin'

down there?"

         "I don't know, sheriff."

         There was a pause as the two watched the man below.

         "That's Pike Anderson," the deputy said. "I'm sure of it."

         "What?"

         "Pike Anderson. I said that's Pike Anderson."

         "Who's that?"

         "Ralph and Addie Anderson's boy."

         The sheriff looked befuddled.

         "Didn't know they had a boy," he said.

         "Didn't move here with 'em, but they had 'em. Met 'em down at the Stag one night when he was on leave from the corps."

         The sheriff looked down at the man Vince called Pike Anderson.

         "What is he doin'?"

         "Beats me," said the deputy, watching Pike stomp around the small island in the middle of the wide river. The island was sand and dirt and washed stone. There were bushes on the island. They bent crooked from the wind.

         "He's liable to drown out there."

         "Yep."

         The two watched Pike work as he retied the corner of a tarp to a branch of a small tree. The deputy held an open palm in front of his face to shield it from the rain.

         "We gotta get him off there 'for he kills himself," said the deputy.

         "How do you suppose we do that?" asked the sheriff.

         Vince didn't answer.

         "You wanna swim that sum bitch?"

         "No."

         "Well then."

         They watched Pike, doubled over on the island that clotted the river like a cancer. In one hand Pike held a bush, with the other he hacked at its base with a rusted machete. The rain and wind rolled in sheets over him as he stood, bent in the knees and back, hacking with methodical cleavings. Pike's movements were fluid and effortless. He worked rhythmically, his arm swinging, the bush quivering with each strike. Then, Pike stopped. He stayed squatting, his elbow bent and arm cocked back. A stream of water coursed from the top of Pike's fist, down his arm, and off the bend of his elbow. The bush began to open as Pike slowly released his grip. He crouched, inert a moment, and then stood.

         Pike's arm sunk to his side, the blade resting parallel to his thigh. He looked up at the two specks of men on the bridge. The men looked down at Pike; he had a black tee shirt tied about his head. It clung to his chest, which heaved as he stared up at them. Pike's knuckles were white around the handle of the machete, and the blue tarp snapped like sheet lightning behind him. The river rushed around the island able to roll a bus like a ball. Its roar rivaled the noise of the wind and pelting rain.

         "I'll talk to em in the mornin'," said the sheriff, but he didn't, or the next day. Instead, sheriff Gates talked to Pike three days later, when he began getting calls from the townspeople about him squatting on the island. Sheriff Gates showed up at the river out of uniform. The sun was behind a mountain of a cloud, and the west end of the sky was a soothing pink. When Gates pulled up to the bridge he noticed several cars parked on the side of the road. A dozen or so people, kid and adult alike, stood the breadth of the bridge looking down at Pike. Gates heard a clatter of voices as he stepped from his pickup. He walked to the guardrail of the bridge, about the same place he stood three days prior. A young boy tugged at Gate's flannel.

         "What the hell's wrong with that sum bitch?" the boy asked. "He got the Rabies, sheriff?"

         A woman in a stained dress and a nest of blonde hair stepped next to the boy. Lydia Portman. Looking up at the sheriff she slapped the boy in the mouth.

         "Owe, Ma!"

         "You watch your mouth round the sheriff."

         "It's all right," sheriff Gates assured her.

         "So, what's goin' on with that crazy sum bitch, sheriff?" Lydia asked.

         Gates looked down at Pike Anderson, who sat with his back to the crowd, slowly turning a skewered fish above smoking coals.

         "I don't know, but I aim to find out."

         "Well, I hope so, sheriff. We can't have stuff like this going on."

         "Stuff like this, huh?" Gates asked.

         "Yeah," Lydia confirmed. "Stuff like people thinkin' they can just plop down wherever they please. That ain't his island."

         "No, I suppose it ain't."

         "It belongs to Coles County."

         "Summpin like that," said the sheriff.

         "Well, summpin closer than it belonging to him, anyway," she said.

         "I suppose."

         "Well, you gonna go talk some sense into him, sheriff?"

         "He might have sense enough."

         "I don't see enough sense. I see a grown man thinkin' he's, I don't know, an ape man or somethin'."

         "Ape man?" Gates asked.

         "Yeah, or like a caveman."

         "Huh," responded the sheriff, staring down at Pike, and the hut, and the fish on a skewer.

         The sheriff turned from Lydia and made his way to the end of the guardrail. He carefully walked down the ravine. Whispers came from the bridge carried on a light breeze. As Gates came to the bottom of the ravine and approached the water's edge, the people pushed their way up to the guardrail. Their whispers wasted away to silence. Pike looked across the river at the sheriff, who stared up at the bridge of hushed voices. Sheriff Gates cupped his eyes to block the sun. Pike turned back to his meal.

         Sheriff Gates looked back at the island with the makeshift lean to and the smoke lace curling into the air above the hunched man. Gates made his way into the river. It ran around him with a soft murmur. When the water got to the sheriff's chest he began to swim. Within the minute, the sheriff had reached the island. Time had worn the edges of the island to a flat, steep wall that dropped into the river's depths. Gates hoisted himself up to the dry ground. It was covered in slivers of worn shale. He pulled his boots off and dumped the water from them and put them back on.

         "My name's sheriff Gates," Chet said as he walked up beside Pike.

         "I know who ya are."

         The sheriff stood there. Pike slowly turned the fish and looked into the small flame.

         "Well, I've never met you," said the sheriff.

         "I met you. Many times. You're not the only sheriff I've come across."

         "No, I'd imagine not. I guess you're sayin' we're all the same?"

         I'm sayin' what I'm sayin'."

         The sheriff spit and wiped sweat from his brow.

         "Which is what, son?"

         "I ain' t nobodies son," said Pike into the fire.

         The two men were quite a moment, Pike on his upside down bucket, the sheriff standing awkwardly in the dirt beside him.

         "So what made you decide to just start livin' on this island?"

         "Why not? Nobody else is livin' on it."

         "Well, it just don't make much sense why you'd wanna live on this thing when you could get yourself a place."

         "Makes more sense than most things I know," Pike replied.

         The small fire danced.

         "I suppose," said the sheriff.

         Pike rubbed his right palm on his leg a moment, looked at it, and then put it back on the skewer.

         "I ain't hurtin' nuttin sheriff," he said.

         "I know."

         "All right then."

         "But you're makin' the townsfolk upset."

         "Let 'em be upset, then. I paid my dues for 'em already."

         "You serve?" asked the sheriff.

         "Yeah."

         There was a pause. Sheriff Gates stared up river and then back at Pike.

         "Is that why your parents showed up here without ya a few years ago?"

         "I done told ya, I ain't nobodies son."

         "Well, now, somebody gave birth to ya."

         "No they didn't. Not to me they didn't. There's things you don't know sheriff, about this world."

         "I reckon you're right."

         The two men sat quite again, Pike still with his back to the sheriff. Some whispers were starting to drift down from the bridge.

         "You know," said the sheriff, "a heavy rain comes through here it's gonna wash you and your hut down yonder further'n hell."

         "Well, I guess you'll know where to find me then."

         "Further'n hell?" asked the sheriff.

         "Further'n hell," Pike confirmed.

         "Now, what kinda place is that to be?"

         "Good as any, the way I see it."

         "Well, that's damn near suicidal, son."

         Pike slowly turned to face the sheriff.

         "Sheriff," he said, "if you call me son again, I'll kill ya in the dirt where ya stand."

         Chet saw sincerity in the man's pupils, hollowed black from a strip-mined life.

         "All right," the sheriff said after a few second's pause. "I suppose I'll be goin'. I'm sure we'll talk again."

         With that, the sheriff turned and made his way back to the water's edge.

         "And sheriff," Pike called, "that goes for anyone that tries to take me off this island."

         Sheriff Gates didn't answer. After a pause, he wished Pike a good day and made his way back across the river and up to the bridge. Sheriff Gates stood before the crowd, his blue jeans black with water and his shirt heavy and taught against his barrel chest and bulwark shoulders.

         "All right! Ya'll clear out, now. Leave the man alone. Git."

         There were grumbles of disagreement, but people filed back into their cars and trucks and left as they were told, all except Lydia.

         "Did ya talk some sense into him, sheriff?"

         The sheriff looked down at Pike, crouched over the bucket, gnawing at the fish.

         "He's got more sense then's good for him. Now get on," he said, waiving Lydia away without looking at her.

         Sheriff Gates didn't hear anything more about Pike Anderson for three days. Then, on a sweltering day of dead, stale heat, the secretary appeared at his office door.

         "Sheriff, there's a call for you on line two."

         "Edna?" he asked.

         "No. A Mrs. Portman."

         "Portman? Ah, hell," he said.

         Belinda grinned.

         "Have fun, sheriff," she said, leaving the doorway. The red rectangular light on the phone flashed on and off slowly.

         "Damn," he said to himself.

         He picked up the phone.

         "Sheriff Gates."

         "Sheriff? This is Lydia Portman, and I have an accident to report."

         "All right."

         "Well, that li'l sum bitch, the Anderson boy, least that's who Eddie says he is, anyway, he done hit my boy Timmy with a rock."

         "With a rock?" asked the sheriff.

         "Yeah."

         "Well, now, why'd he go in do that?"

         "That's what I'm askin', sheriff. Timmy was just taking his bike over to Huck's gas station to put some air in his tires, and then there was a barrage of rocks come at him, he said."

         "Timmy said that?"

         "Yeah. Well, not about a barrage. That wasn't his word. I said that, but there were lots of rocks being tossed at my boy by that damned Pike Anderson."

         "Well," said the sheriff, "is Tim all right?"

         "Yeah. Well he bout got his damned front tooth knocked out, but otherwise, yeah, he's all right."

         "So, Timmy about had his front tooth about knocked out by a barrage, I believe you said it was, a barrage of rocks?"

         "Yeah."

         "All right."

         "Sheriff, you ain't mockin' me are ya? I don't think this is funny."

         "Well," said the sheriff watching the blades on the ceiling fan spin, "neither do I. I'll go right over and have a talk with Mr. Anderson."

         "You do that, sheriff, and tell him the people of Hempel ain't gonna stand for such," she paused as if looking for the precise word, "behavior."

         "All right," he said, hanging up the phone as she was taking in another breath.

         The sheriff grabbed his hat and made his way out of the office.

         "I'll be back," he told Belinda. "If Edna calls, tell her I'll be home for dinner."

         "Will do."

         Sheriff Gates got in the squad car, started it, and made his way through the small town of Hempel until he rounded a corner and came to Jack's Run Bridge. Even before he reached the foot of the bridge, he could hear a mélange of voices through the window, carried by the breeze. The sheriff stopped the car, got out, and stormed the bridge.

         "Shit, it's the sheriff," a boy belted.

         "Let's get the hell outta here," screamed another, dropping his rock where he stood and picking up his peddle bike from the road.

         As Sheriff Gates crossed the crest of the bridge he noticed several boys in hasty retreat. Gates closed in on one of the boys. He was fumbling with his bike and had fallen behind the rest. The boy mounted his bike and tried to flee, but the bike didn't move. Instead, it belched with a clatter and grinding of metal on metal. The chain had come lose and was in a tangled mess. The boy quickly ditched the bike and tried to run, but Sheriff Gates scooped him up. The boy was none other than Timmy Portman.

         "Owe, Sheriff!" the boy screamed, reaching for his right ear, which the sheriff mashed in his fist.

         "Come here, boy." The sheriff guided him over to the edge of the bridge.

         "Ouch, sheriff, that hurts."

         "Hush, before I blow it off with my gun."

         "Blow my ear off?" Timmy cocked his head to try and look at sheriff Gates. "You wouldn't do nuttin like that would ya, sheriff?"

         "Hush up," the sheriff said again. He let Timmy go, grabbing his shirt and pinning him against the guardrail. "Quit your squirming for I pitch ya over."

         "Sheriff, you can't do that."

         "Boy, you best quit tellin' me what I can and can't do. I'm the sheriff, and I'll do as I please. Now quit your squirming."

         Timmy was still. They both stood at the guardrail, Timmy's shirt collar in the sheriff's fist. The boys who had fled stood a safe distance down the road and jeered Timmy as the sheriff held him at bay.

         "Owe, Sheriff, my ear. No don't, sheriff. Owe," the boys mocked in their small voices.

         "Mr. Anderson," the sheriff called. "Come on out here, there's something this young man would like to say to you."

         "I ain't got nuttin to say to him, sheriff."

         Sheriff Gates tightened his grip on the collar so that it pinched tight around Timmy's neck.

         "Hush, unless I tell ya otherwise."

         "Mr. Anderson," sheriff Gates called again.

         Pike crepted from underneath the blue tarp. A knuckle on his left hand bled. Pike stood slowly, a grizzled beard on his face, the black shirt tied about his head. His machete lay out of sight.

         "This young man has summpin to say to you."

         Pike looked at the sheriff and then at the boy.

         "Sheriff, I said I ain't g—" Timmy began to argue before sheriff Gates hoisted him up by his collar and belt and tipped him head first over the edge of the bridge.

         "Awe, God, sheriff, put me down! Please! Put me down! Okay, I'm sorry! I'll say it, sheriff. I'll say it!"

         The boys down the road laughed hysterically. One boy doubled over and fell to his side, holding his belly as if shot. He shook in the fetal position.

         Timmy's feet peddled in the air.

         "Apologize to Mr. Anderson."

         "Okay, okay. I'm sorry!"

         "Boy, look at the man when you talk to him. Look at him and tell him."

         Timmy tried to crane his neck up enough to see Pike standing below. The boy's head was near purple and full of blood.

         "I'm sorry, Mr. Anderson. I'll never throw rocks at you again. I'm sorry."

         "I'm sorry, Mr. Anderson," chirped the kids down the road in their most feminine voices.

         Timmy was crying now. Pike nodded at the boy. Sheriff Gates put the boy back on his feet.

         "Now, git outta here," he said, kicking Timmy in his ass. "Git."

         Timmy grabbed his rear and cried, running past his bike in retreat. Realizing what he had done, he turned, grabbed the bike, and ran with it off the bridge, the chain dragging and pedals swinging in crooked circles. Sheriff Gates looked at Pike. Pike chuckled, turned from the sheriff with a smile, and tucked himself beneath the blue tarp. Sheriff Gates nodded and tipped his hat at Pike, but Pike had turned too quickly to see any of it. Sheriff Gates turned and made his way back to the squad car.

         Two nights later, sheriff Gates was ripped from a nightmare by thunder and lightning blowing through the flatland of that Midwest town. His house moaned, and glass chimed on shelves along the walls. Gates sat up in bed in a cold sweat.

         "What's wrong?" Edna asked.

         Sheriff Gates just stared off into the dark of the room a moment and then answered.

         "Nuttin."

         The sheriff stepped from the bed and grabbed the blue jeans Edna had folded and laid out for him. The sky burst open again, the room exploding with light followed by black.

         "Chet, where are you goin at this hour?"

         "I'm going to check on Pike Anderson."

         "Pike Anderson? Who's that?"

         "Ralph and Addie's boy."

         "Ralph and Addie's boy?"

         "They got one," Chet assured.

         "Had they? Since when?"

         "Since awhile, I reckon, and damn sure he's in a right bit of trouble bout now."

         "With you? With the law?"

         "No," Chet said, standing and tucking his shirt into his jeans, "with Mother Nature."

         "Chet, honey, quite with the riddles and tell me what's goin' on?"

         "I'll explain it to ya when I get back. Right now, I gotta go; a man's life might depend on it."

         Chet said this, walking to the edge of the bed, where he knelt down and kissed Edna.

         "Okay," she said, the first sound of alarm creeping in her voice. "Be careful," she pleaded more than warned.

         "I love ya. I'll see ya in a bit."

         Chet passed from the bedroom, through the living room, and out the front door.

         Sheriff Gates drove his truck though the town. The rain poured in slate colored sheets that slammed sporadically against the windshield. The wipers fought the deluge with futility. Chet drove slow, guiding himself more by memory than sight. His truck looked like a sullen specter passing through a forgotten town without even one light on to warm against the rain. Sheriff Gates came to the foot of the bridge and stepped from the pickup, leaving it running. He felt rainwater rushing down the bridge and over his boots. He held his hand in front of his eyes to shield them from the whipping rain. He came to the edge of the bridge. Lightning cracked like a heated wire about the clouds. The sheriff saw Pike's makeshift lean-to decimated and flapping in the wind.

         Pike was holding a corner of the tarp, trying to pull it back to the wooden supports that buckled in the swell of the river. The lightning split crooked and white hot above. During the instances of bright light, Chet could see the water running in white tumult around Pike's legs and torso. The island was submerged.

         "Pike, don't move," the sheriff yelled.

         Pike could not hear him over the water and the storm. Sheriff Gates went back to his truck and fetched a length of towrope from the cab. He turned from the truck, crossed the road, and made his way down the embankment of the bridge. On his way down, Chet lost his footing in wet mud. He crashed to his back with a thud that stole his breath. He sat up a moment to collect himself and then stood and walked to the edge of the river, which spilled onto the grass now.

         The river rushed with vehemence. Pike stood knee deep in water. The tops of bushes and small trees broke the surface, crooked, skeletal silhouettes in the flashing lighting. Pike stopped when he saw sheriff Gates approach the river with the towrope wrapped up in his hands.

         "Pike," Chet bellowed. "Don't move."

         Pike watched the sheriff a moment but then turned his attention back to securing the tarp to one of the leaning poles.

         "Pike, listen. I'm gonna throw this rope to ya. You hold on to it, and I'll pull ya up outta that river."

         Pike turned to sheriff Gates.

         "Sheriff," he yelled, staggering a bit as he nearly lost his footing. "I ain't leavin' this island. You heard what I told ya about anyone tryin' to take me off."

         "Here," the sheriff yelled, letting the rope fall to his side. He took a length and began to swing it in a circle above his head. "Just take the rope, and we'll get you off the island for now. You can come back when the river's down."

         Pike managed to fasten a corner of the tarp back to one of the bowing poles. The corner of the tarp sat too low. It began to collect water in the middle.

         "I'm not leavin' the island, Sheriff," Pike yelled.

         The lighting flashed. Pike's face was gnarled with anger, his hair saturated and laying about his face in long patches like a dead fern. Sheriff Gates threw the rope anyway. It landed several feet upstream of Pike and rushed down past him within seconds. The front of the heavy rope was swallowed by the river. Pike watched the rope go by.

         "C'mon, now, take the damn rope for summpin bad happens to ya!"

         The sheriff pulled the rope back in. It fought with the pull of the river. Gates extracted the rope, saturated and heavy, and got a good grip on it. He swung it in circles above himself again. Inertia pushed water from the rope, and a sphere of liquid formed above his head and glowed white when the lightening flashed. The Sheriff cast the rope a second time. It fell upstream of Pike again. He didn't acknowledge it as it rushed by.

         "Damnit, man, use common sense. You gotta get off there. You're gonna drown."

         Pike looked up at the sheriff, the other end of the tarp attached now. The lean-to was crooked, and water welled up in the middle, making the tarp sag like a belly. As sheriff Gates pulled the rope back he noticed a long, black chunk of tree trunk spinning slowly down the river like a heavy blade. The trunk of tree had nubs where branches had been, and in the lighting the sheriff could make out bundles of fishing line snagged and left about the wood in knotted coils that bounced like springs in the riff of the river. The river must have spewed the massive, black shaft of wood from some nook or cranny, and now it was carried with ease atop the white crests.

         "Look out, Pike!"

         Pike saw sheriff Gates yelling and pointing upstream. He looked just in time to catch the soggy hunk of tree across his midsection. The trunk of tree didn't instantly bury Pike like Chet thought it would. Instead, Pike matched the impact with his body weight and tenacity, sending the battering ram of spinning wood slowly around him. After absorbing the impact, Pike tried to better situate his footing but couldn't, and the river consumed him.

         "Shit," sheriff Gates yelled. He scanned the white capes of the water as the lighting flashed. No sign of Pike. Then, Chet noticed the rounded top of a small sapling thrashing about at the edge of the island. That edge of the island dropped steeply into the river, and when Pike surfaced, the water was just below his collarbones. Pike bear hugged the tree; it bowed like a crippled beggar.

         The sheriff looked around the bank on his side of the river and spotted a small but sturdy Birch some yards upstream. He ran over and tied the towrope around the trunk of the tree and the other end around his waist.

         "Hold on," the sheriff yelled as he stepped into the river's swell. Pike glared at him.

         The ground fell away from Gates, and he rode the will of the river until the rope jerked taught in his hands. He began to pull himself toward Pike, thirty yards upstream. The river pulled the sheriff at an angle that scooted him towards Pike, but the rope was still feet away from him. Pike hugged the bundle of tree, the water rushing about his head in neck like a mane. Sheriff Gates pulled himself within a few feet of Pike, his hands and back cramped and burning.

         "Listen," the sheriff said. "I'm gonna go a little downstream of ya. Let yourself go and fight like hell to get over to me so I can grab ya. Then, get a hold of this rope and pull yourself out."

         Pike looked at the sheriff, eyes squinting in the rush of water.

         "I'm gonna ride this one out, sheriff."

         "Like hell ya are."

         "Go home to your wife, sheriff."

         "I'm gonna release down river, then you're gonna do just as I told ya, understand?"

         "I ain't leavin' this island, sheriff."

         "What?"

         "I said I ain't leavin' this island."

         "Hell, you're about to leave everything."

         "Remember what I said, sheriff, bout anyone tryin' to take me off this island."

         "Ain't nobody tryin' to take you off the island, Pike. You can get right back on when this clears up."

         "I'm gonna ride it out, sheriff."

         "Like hell."

         Suddenly, the tree doubled over and went under the river. Pike fought, sending leaves about, but he was too slow and was, once again, pulled under. Chet let go of the rope and turned so that he was swimming downstream with the current. As he swam in the grumbling dark, he felt for Pike. He found nothing. The rope snapped tight with a sting around his waist. In one final flailing, the sheriff felt around for Pike but came up from the river empty handed, his lungs screaming. Sheriff Gates sucked air too early and took a mouthful of water. He gagged and coughed, heaving with lungs hungry for air. Suddenly, heavy weight slammed and pulled at the sheriff's leg. It was Pike. With the impact of Pike's body weight in tumult from the river, coupled with his eagerness to use Chet's body to pull himself to safety, the sheriff began to be fed, feet first, through the loop. Pike climbed until the rope had slid tight, like a noose, around sheriff Gates' neck and one arm. The arm snapped and went crooked. The fingertips, just breaking the top of the water, undulated as if playing an instrument. Pike pulled himself above the swell, his panting drowned out by the hateful roar of the river.

* * * *

        Deputy Paulson woke to the phone ringing. He looked at the clock. 5:07AM.

         "Hello," he answered.

         "Hi, Vince," came the voice at the other end. "It's Edna."

         "Oh, mornin', Edna. Everything all right?"

         "Oh, probably," she said. "I was just wonderin' if you've heard anything from Chet?"

         "Chet?" Vince asked. "No, why?"

         "Well, he left about two this morning. It was pourin' outside. He said he had to get goin', said a man's life might depend on it."

         "It was rainin' earlier this mornin'?"

         "Yeah, pourin'. You didn't hear it comin' down? There was thunder, lightning—the whole nine."

         Vince looked out his window. The sky was an ashen gray that softened with the morning as he watched it.

         "No, Edna, I guess I didn't."

         "Well, I just hope he's all right, that's all."

         "I'm sure he's all right. I think I know what it's about."

         "Okay," she said. "Tell him to call and let me know if he'll be home for breakfast and if so what he wants to eat."

         "All right, Edna, will do."

         "Thanks, Vince."

         "Oh, hey, Edna," he said.

         "Hm?"

         "How longs it been since the rain stopped?"

         "Well, couple hours, I'd figure."

         "All right. I'll call ya soon as I know summpin."

         Vince hung up the phone and was dressed and in his truck in minutes. He drove through Hempel, the red emergency light rolling pointlessly on the roof of his truck. The town was lifeless, even for 5:12 in the morning. Not even the light in Grayson's Bakery was on. Vince pushed the gas. The truck rumbled through the empty road.

         Vince approached the bridge. Nearly the entire town was sequestered there, mashed together and pointing and staring; whispers crawled about on the wind. The deputy burst from the truck and marched up the hill towards the crest of the bridge and the crowd.

         "What the hell's goin' on here," the deputy yelled. "It's the sheriff, deputy," a voice chirped from somewhere in the group.

         "Git outta the way," Vince snapped as he breeched the hill and began to wade through the people.

         The deputy pushed passed big Jake Thomas, making his way to the edge of the bridge. Chet lay sprawled out in the river, his body flowing slowly with the current, one arm pinned and crooked against his face by a length of rope pulled tight around his neck. Chet's neck was lacerated and beginning to purple.

         Pike Anderson lay belly down in a few inches of water. It was clear to Vince that the river was receding from a swell. There was a nickel-sized hole in Pike's head above his right ear. The left side of his face and head were missing, having floated off downstream somewhere. The water flowed around his shoulders in light, red ribbons.

         "What happened here?"

         A few people shifted nervously. Big Jake spit on the ground.

         "Addie, what happened to your son?" Vince asked, spotting the sebaceous woman trying to tuck herself away into the crowd.

         "Ain't no son of mine, deputy."

         "What?" Vince asked. "What?" he asked again, mostly to himself this time, palm pressed to his head.

         He turned and looked at the two men in the river, which flowed about them as it did all else.

         "Oh, Christ," said the deputy. "Oh, Jesus, Edna, I'm so sorry. Oh, God."

Mitch James was born and raised in Central Illinois, where he received a BA in English with a minor in Creative Writing from Eastern Illinois University. Mitch currently lives in Pennsylvania, where he completed his Masters degree in Literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He's had fiction and poetry published in such journals as Westward Quarterly, The Vehicle, Foliate Oak, Decomp Lit, and others. Mitch recently had an interview with poet Ed Carvahlo published in Quay. Mitch will begin doctoral work in the Composition and TESOL program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in August, 2010.







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