UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 03/2006
Electricity is eternal delight. So I saw, all too clearly when yet another black-out struck with all the divine arbitrariness of any municipal service interruption. (Perhaps the island had blacked out because I had.) In any case, it solved my moth problem, which was a great relief, but as I had rallied back into the adrenalin mode of advanced intoxication, it left me sitting stupidly in the dark, mesmerized around a guttering candle, counting the time it took for the wax to drip. I had half a mind. Yes, that was a complete sentence. I had half a mind to take candle wax, charcoal, Ohio Blue Tip Safety Matches, fluorescent zinc creams and my Swiss Army Knife and cover the walls of my flickering cave with skeletal glyphs and haunting child-primitive images of all my totemic animals. The art of our necessities is strange. My bungalow would become a shrine. Augustine said magic is depraved curiosity, and I would have only magic. Hunting Magic. Fertitility Magic. Crude-beautiful odes to the science of hidden animals, the art of natural poisons, teratology, and premonitory dreams. I'd celebrate my invaders and my visions. The room would look like the nightingales of blackwater fever and phosphorescent fungi seen through bamboo. I'd give a whole wall to the glorious microscopic-stain designs of chancres and stool smears--Giardia intestinalis in duodenal fluid--the sucking disk, membranes of cyst and basal bodies of undulating flagellum!
Earlier I'd been overwhelmed by moths and felt unable to defend myself against them. This wasn't entirely true. I had, in fact, killed several hundred, and swept them out the door with the broom, which I'd dubbed Mousebane. A few miscellaneous carcasses still lay in the darkness but I thought nothing of them; they were like rose petals covered with cigarette ash. Then I noticed movement in the shadows. At least I thought I noticed movement--after all, the bug perceiver in a frog's eye remains operational even when you have a Bowie knife embedded in its pericardial cavity. But I couldn't be sure. The candlelight was perfect for paranoid hallucinations of the most insidious kind and I was in the grip of a particularly nasty one when I literally forced myself out of my chair to investigate. It wasn't what I thought it was.
It was worse.
Millions, surely. More black ants than you could count, come to harvest the dead moths and then deciding there was more to see and do than first met the eye. The whole kitchen of my island bungalow was alive with them. They poured through every crack and crevice to escape the storm and to feast upon the mangled corpses of the moths I'd batted out of the air in a violent St. Vitus airplane dance. It was like some sinister newsreel of a war on a distant planet, or deep in a hidden part of the brain. I felt a high- frequency alarm in the autonomic nervous system--Primeval Danger. "Don't let him hear their terrible language."
You can vacation way back into the evolutionary dream--into the deepest reptilian swamps full of unspeakable things, and still return. No one comes back from the Insects. The nightmare of the nest. The bitterness of formic acid--the whistling odor that commands you to carry the dead back to darkness, back to thundering, scurrying egg chambers black with eternal single-mindedness, secretions and control.
I wanted to weep. I wanted to vomit. My skin crawled under my hair.
I find it hard--to--I found it hard then--to think that it was simply a matter of all God's creatures trying to take shelter. The storm was splashing and crashing harder than ever. The candle slapped out like a door banged shut in the wind. Even the smoke vanished instantly. In the thatching of the roof, I heard below the roaring whisper of the rainwind all the accumulated dampness festering. On the concrete walkway, the rain bounced back up toward the sky like magnesium alloy tent pegs. I began to taste a slow fear dripping down my throat. This so-called paradise and I were both crippled with rain, crippled with the evil needs of insects.
I must've cried for longer than I realized. God, it was only midnight. I had the Sickness. I could hear myself groaning as if I was in another room. I tried to laugh it off. I always try to laugh it off. I was going to roust JP, the resort manager and see if he had an anteater. Hah! I needed a hefty dose of Pavulon. The rain came down like broken glass, like chandeliers falling--falling and exploding in slow motion crystalline-nightmare time. I knew the ants had not just come. They’d come for me.
The cyclone raged around the hut like some ghostly holocaust of nerve surgery and oblivion. The floodgates opened and in the awful shadowlight of trembling candles, the mice roared through the cracks in the door in a hairy beady-eyed torrent. I've heard of mice plagues in the wheatlands of Australia where whole houses vanish under a living moss of mice, but I'd never imagined myself as a direct victim of such hideousness and humiliation. They were everywhere. I swung the broom like a Samurai sword. I heard the hish-hoosh-swelling organ yawn of the wind, and beneath the cyclone of sound, the tiny scritching scratch of mice--screaming in their high-pitched horror when I stunned them--oh. I cried aloud.
I needed a real weapon. I wanted a club. I'd pound the blood out of every mouse. I must escape! No more drinking, darkness and candles. I'd lost my sense of humor and was lashing in a whirpool of mad black rodents, a bubble of teeth and fur in an hourglass of typhoon loneliness.
And in the middle of it all, I got the running shits.
The morning, if morning it was, came in a roar of static. The palm trees in the compound snapped, cracked and crashed into the white wind on the dead horizontal-- whole root systems ripping out of shallow pits of mud--tree trunks thrumming like arrows into walls of grass--giant lizards slashing their tails. What didn't fall over, groaned horribly in the dead grey light, and the sea thundered on the other side of the curtain of jungle. Everything was wrack, clatter and obliteration.
The panels of Erasmus Francisi's book of 1680 depict various recorded showers of wheat, fish, frogs and worms. But what about a rain of coconuts--French cars, girlie magazines, conch shells and life jackets? What about squid-length strands of kelp flying like bullwhips?
When I arrived on the island I'd had visions of turtle soup spiced with nutmeg and hams sugared and adorned with cloves and gleaming pawpaw. When I woke up I was spewing some substance that looked like coagulated cream and chicken broth laced with bright blood. Computing the differences in longitude, making proper allowance for parallax and the prolate spheroidal figure of the earth, I concluded that I was on the floor. I was lying in a bituminous smear of mouseshit and my own urine.
Cook's crew celebrated the anniversary of their departure from England with a Cheshire cheese and a barrel of porter. I celebrated the new day by vomiting out the window. It was time to shave my head with a sharks' tooth.
All day I wallowed in sickness. Rain battered the banana leaves and flooded the porch. Flying fish and crabs gasped and twitched on the wind-rooted lawn. Gone was the mad pink of the sky, the blood of the flame trees dissolving in the aqua lagoon. All that was left was a smashed mardi gras of fronds and creepers, shipwrecked buildings eaten out as if by ants, and the shards of shattered coconut shells strewn like the skulls of a detonated graveyard. Come afternoon I began to shit mustard and gelatine-- hydrochloric acid and burning chocolate water mixed with king prawns and black baby corn.
The rest of that endless eternal day of suffering was like Thaipusam--the Hindu torture trance--an orgy of self-mutilation with ashes of the dead used to sterilize the wounds. I felt like one of those pathetic Indian patriarchs whose family doesn't have enough money to buy sufficient wood for a funeral pyre, and so his half-burned corpse disintegrates in the murk of the Ganges while the vultures roosting in the palm trees swarm down to feast. My stomach was a river of phosphate running through a garden of carnivorous plants.
And somewhere in an unknown organ inside me I could feel a shudder and clang--like Chang Heng's seismograph--dragonheads with copper balls in their mouths, retching the balls into the mouths of copper toads below. The rain returned. A million ropes of water falling like white ant nerve pain stinging my spine. Rain falling like barbed wire. Rain falling so hard it looked like windows turning back into sand.
At some point in the early-white moments of the next morning, that would've been blue if not for the monotonous misery of the storm, I woke in a screaming fit of sweat-- beads from a DT's dream--about drowning in a vat of spiders, all of them very large, hairy and terribly alive.
In another fit I watched a bush rat the size of a blue healer devour a glistening human brain as if it were a large moist lump of feta cheese. A man with thick, scarred scales on his skin and bleeding empty eye sockets slit his belly down the middle to reveal calf's brains and beef tongues. I watched maggots swarming in my fingerprints. All the shadows had little teeth.
I saw a woman with a long nose and a brass fork savoring fresh sparrow hearts. I saw cattle copulating with sheep in pools of oily water, king snakes undulating across white linen, grass masks yawning out of the walls and bloated banana slugs squirming as if their stomachs had been sprinkled with salt.
I shat out blood sausages covered with hair. I barfed up split pea soup and brittle chicken legs. Everything smelled like raw chlorine and the disinfectant animal-fear of a veterinarian’s office. My coffee cup was alive with ants and I recalled a story of a prisoner who spent years of solitary confinement in a black-out cell. Every time he sipped his stale water from the cold tin cup, he felt the legs of insects run up his face and onto his hands--and when he was finally released one of the guards asked him what he wanted most and he said "I want to see what kind of insects they were," but by then he was blind.
Oh, it went on and on. Bald monkeys sucking the penises of goatmen--cadaverous fish faces--and cunts without women--their mandibles like the giant bird-eating spiders of the Amazon. My flesh was a sponge of open sores. Vicious duck-headed eels oozed through the ceiling, rodent eyes stared at me, mouths without faces spoke to me, and fungus formed like a cloud around my cock that pissed green bourbon full of worms.
I shall always remember that morning.
My last. My first.KRIS SAKNUSSEMM's first novel Zanesville was published by Villard Books in October 2005. The Austin Chronicle called it "The most original novel of the year" and it received a Starred Review in Booklist, which praised it as "brilliantly inventive black comedy." Kris is a native of the Bay Area but for many years has lived in Australia. A painter as well as writer, his work has appeared in such publications as The Boston Review, The Hudson Review, The Antioch Review, River Styx, ZYZZYVA, New Letters, Prairie Schooner and Nimrod, to name a few. He was a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony in 2004 and his second novel is scheduled for publication in 2007. For more information see www.saknussemm.com or www.zanesvillethenovel.com
© 2006 Underground Voices