UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
TANDA WORD

Where the Road to Hell Really Leads

      It takes a while to realize youíre not dreaming when you stab your father in the
stomach with a broken beer bottle and look up to see his face where you were standing
and the broken glass jutting out of your stomach instead of his. And itís your blood
dripping, slapping the floor like rain. It pelts the tin roof of your studio in a rhythm that
makes you pour another shot of whiskey down your throat, daring you to pick up your
knife and find out if your blood tastes just like pennies. Then the rain stops and the night
fades. The warm breath against your face whispers something you should understand but
the words float around you, confetti gets in your hair, and youíll never be able to wash
out all the glitter. But your feet keep walking through fields of farmland with coyote
hides hanging from the fences, warning you to keep away. Go roam through the knee
high corn stalks where the peg-leg-seven-fingered-vet sits perched, frozen in laughter
after the birds have pecked out his eyes and rainbows swirl in the viscous pockets that
drain onto a snaggle-toothed smile. His arm pointing the direction you should take. And
your laughter sounds strange in your ears like its coming from the end of a long hallway
where your grandmother sits talking loud with cake in her mouth. Thereís sun tea
brewing itself on the sidewalk where you steal strawberries out of a garden, juice staining
your hands, spinning in the sunlight.

      You tell her you love her, cup her face in your hands, and force a smile to hide
your intentions. You want the world to rewind, erase the moment, the look in her eyes
when she realizes what you really are. All you want is one last chance to make things
right with heróher and no one else. The only person who ever mattered. But you have to
live with that look forever.

      Threads unravel as fast as you can knit the sweater you were wearing when you
found the goats head sitting on the rock by the creek where you fish. You wonder why
the stench is so familiar, the bloody trash in the butcher shop, brimstone and shit that
ends up not being so bad because thatís the beauty of smell--you get used to it after a
while. Kind of like the demon that sat on your friendís brotherís bed with glowing green
eyes and cracked black skin. You set someoneís house on fire for no other reason than to
watch it burn, smoke billowing so high you can see it miles down the road. But then
again maybe it was your house and you stand so close, pushing against the heat,
everything melting. You walk away, humming to yourself a tune you canít name but it
makes your fingers snap and your head nod. Swaying to the ring of the dinner bell. You
watch children come running, flying, stomping like giants with watery mouths waiting to
devour the pie cooling on the sill. Patient and waiting for the inevitable, you take off your
apron and sit, fold your hands to pray. Then you open your eyes to the sight of your own
birth. You are watching from a distance your motherís body heave and rip. And you
remember the sound of that first murderous scream when your soul entered your body
and you realized there was no escape.

      Even in your dying moments, you canít apologize. You close your eyes so you
canít see her face, to know she still loves you after everything. Blood pools in the corner
of her mouth, browning her teeth. She manages a smile even with your hands tight
around her throat.

      You repeat your life in the same manner you did the first time, doomed to replay
every moment, every thought, until the chain on your bicycle breaks and you walk into
someoneís house and live someone elseís life. You slip on the tweed coat in the closet
and start calling yourself Bill. And you even grow a mustache and comb it with a tiny
comb Billís wife bought that sits in a drawer in the bathroom. Eventually someone elseís
skin feels better than your own. The inside of your coffin is filled with yellow satin and
you see your little sisterís face, angelic. Her last moments blend with yours. Sheís
standing in the April sun in her Easter dress and you remember your dress ripped on a
nail and the nail ripped into your skin. You didnít get any eggs because you went for a
tetanus shot. The needle in your thigh made you smile a smile that scared your mother.
So you didnít tell her when you saw a man drowning puppies in the river, that you felt
the water filling your lungs. Youíre back in the womb, breathing blood, sweating
embryonic dreams. Loving the security of being trapped but you canít help running faster
and faster away from yourself until you fall so hard you sink through the earth. And the
garden you planted plants you, prunes you, waters you. Then you regrow stronger than
ever and eat every last carrot flower that nurtured you back into existence.

      The buzzing and the drums makes you dizzy and you spin on a merry-go-round
letting your legs fly in the air. You loosen your grip and drift away like a balloon until
you bore your way into someoneís head, read their thoughts, taste the meat they eat, run
wild through their dreams until they wake up screaming. Then you float out of their
mouth, a ghost twisting their curtains into knotsólike your stomach when you shot a
dove for the first time. You dug your fingers under the meat and ripped the breast off so
clean and red you swore it was still breathing, whispering your name the way a lover
would, soft as silk against your ear. But the blast of the gun left you deaf and everything
disappears into the blinding sun that burns your skin and makes you thankful for the night
breeze. Standing in the shadow of an oak, you call someoneís name and they run to you.
And you devour each other, mad dogs tearing the night sky until night wonít come anymore.

      Thereís nothing left but you, the sound of your slowing breath. You take the
cowardís way out with a handful of pills and a bottle of gin. Then you rake all the dead
leaves in a pile and blow at them harder than birthday candles until the wind raging inside
you turns you inside out, and the leaves are in your neighborís yard burying a laughing
child in falling leaves. The child she was pregnant with, a face you can barely make out.
You wish for another turn, filling the hourglass. But thereís no one to turn it over when
all the sand slips through your wifeís fingers, clutching your own, begging you not to
leave. The dust has coated everything in such a thick patina you canít even see
her anymore, and her fingers feel like any other womanís desperate to hang on; but you turn
away.

      All youíre thinking about is the grass under your feet, the dirt thatís settled in the
creases between your toes. Youíre laughing so hard you cry and crying until you laugh
again. The hammer youíre holding goes flying through the open window and kills your
dog. So you just leave him there to rot until your wife bitches so much about the smell
you kill her too. Sailing into open water with wind in your hair you turn into a fish and
swim down into the deepest salty water where everything is black. And you sleep for a
thousand years, reemerging on the beach, bones and dust. Thereís clouds clotting the
sky, a group of people around a fire singing Baptist hymns that waft in the air with wings
of doves you killed. The ocean is flotsam soup dotted with purples and greens, arms
waving you over. But the incessant ringing of the phone makes you want to shove it up
your own ass because you know who is on the other end and you donít want to talk but
you answer anyway. Your voice pours out of the phone smothering you, choking you
with an apple core. The seeds in your stomach germinate and trees burst out of your
every pore and you slap the children with greedy mouths away from your fruit with a deft
backhand blackening their eyes and bloodying their noses.

      You belch with a convulsion and four and twenty black moths soar from your
mouth and feed on your skin until you are a mass of pink muscle tangled with blue veins.
The undulating mass of black wings carry you back in time, folds you into Billís skin and
you fuck his wife like Bill never could. Her nails dig into your back as she screams Billís
name. Your reflection in her eyes makes you shiver and freezes your bones until you are
a block of ice and shatter into tiny shards of light. When the wish bone snaps, youíre
standing there holding the short end. Your motherís hand cups your face, she knows what
youíve done and her shaking hands tell you sheís scared of what youíre capable of. You
pull the smoke into your lungs, one last poisonous breath, lying in the back of a pickup
staring at the Milky Way. The whole universe churning like cream to butter in your mind,
thatís nothing more than grey matter, leftovers molding in the fridge for months after the
carpet turns to ash. The bottoms of your feet blacken, the blooming sage coaxes you to
dance in swirling devils of silt until faces emerge, screaming the end of the world is at
hand. You clap, you stand, you bow. They carry you off the dimly-lit stage. The
apocalyptic roar of voices reddens your cheeks in the crisp air. Humming locusts lead
you home running, slipping, jumping through the water sprinkler with a joy you will
never know again.


Tanda Word is currently living in Lubbock, TX, working on her MA in English at
Texas Tech University.








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