Thursday, October 04, 2007

complications of the flesh

The first time Eric saw the Snakeman was at the end of his evening commute, five minutes from the house. Kai Ryssdal was wrapping up Marketplace while Eric decompressed after a long day that had ended with an uncomfortable conversation with his manager. Craig cited “concerns” about recent mistakes, oversights, small things here and there that weren't Eric's style. Was there anything he wanted to share with Craig: tension between coworkers, issues with management, problems at home perhaps? Sometimes a second child brought on even more pressure than the first... but Eric insisted no, no everything was fine, just some occasional insomnia that started up after Josh was born.

Craig nodded, smiled accommodatingly and invited Eric to come to him with any problems he couldn't handle on his own.

But Eric could always handle problems on his own – as his mother was fond of saying, problems were just God's way of refining the will. So he was driving home and shedding his work skin for the domestic one when a pedestrian suddenly materialised in the narrow road in front of him.

JESUS CHRIST -- Eric yelped as he wrenched the wheel to the left. As he did so, he felt a curious sensation as though time were slowing, the air turning to viscous liquid around him while a keening in his ears built, deepened and slowed like an ambulance siren passing. The palms of his hands, his thighs and the soles of his feet prickled with adrenalin, and bile bloomed at the back of his throat.

The van struck a pothole and lurched back into the right-hand lane, passing within a foot of the pedestrian. As he swerved by, Eric noted the figure didn't flinch or give way at all. In the viscosity of time-slowed-down, Eric registered a cadaverous face and an incongruously lithe, youthful body contained by cargo shorts and a tank top. What drew Eric's attention next was the snake, a thick python or boa constrictor coiled once around the figure's neck and draping down his shoulders like a sleek stole. The Odyssey lurched forward while Eric's eyes remained glued to the apparition, which gazed back blankly. Eric tasted the sharp tang of anise in his mouth and nose and felt the pressure of a vise squeezing both temples. His head was hurting, pounding, collapsing and with the penetrating smell of anise came the sound of a woman gasping, sobbing, the feel of rain constant rain and fog, Oregon pressing its gray-blurred spring against the window, boredom desperation and a house ringing with the sound of a crying infant, a man walking lightly from the kitchen hands jammed in pockets - what you lookin at boy? - then silence. Throbbing, fraught silence for an eternity it seemed, then the tinny cassette in the second-hand tape deck and the sound of Art Garfunkel. I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever. The woman lying motionless on the sofa, breathing the music, then - hi sweetie, I didn't know you were there. The Snakeman smiled, thin lips pulling back. In the uneven spaces between gapped teeth, Eric saw the glistening, teeming movement of short fat bodies like swollen pieces of rice. The tip of a pink tongue emerged and tested the air, obscenely pulsing in and out.

Pulling away, Eric felt the pressure on his head loosen, but his guts were a tangle of fire and his mouth became oily and wet. As he urged the Odyssey forward he watched the Snakeman getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. When the figure vanished entirely, Eric pulled off onto the shoulder, pushed the door open and vomited, dry heaving until the waves of nausea passed. He wanted to put his head between his knees and gather himself, but he feared a neighbor would drive by and stop to ask unaswerable questions. What had happened back there? He couldn't seem to focus enough to come up with explanations or hypotheses; and eventually he drew himself back into the van and drove home.

When he walked through his front door his body still felt shaky and alien.

-- Well, YOU'RE home late – his wife observed - I don't know if you'll have time for dinner now. Joshua and Kaitlynn have already eaten, and so have I. We waited until 6 like I said, but we couldn't wait any longer than that. You do remember Kaitlynn's recital tonight, don't you? I know you feel like you don't have to come to these, but Donald and Marie will be there, and I told them you would finally come tonight so we're all going to Chuck E Cheese's afterward. So, if you don't have time to eat now, and you probably don't, you can get something there, though it'll be late. I couldn't wait that long I know, but you know I'm grazing now, eating smaller meals more frequently because that's really best for my metabolism... Where are you going?

-- Upstairs.

-- You're coming, though. You need to come tonight. Kaitlynn won't mind if you don't, but I told Donald and Marie that you-- Eric broke in.

-- I'm going upstairs to wash my face.

-- Well. All right. We'll be waiting for you.

Eric climbed the stairs with the impress of the vice still on his temples, his throat raked raw by stomach acid. He dropped heavily onto the bed and sat staring blindly out the window, rubbing the top of his thighs gently, back and forth, until his wife called up to him and he went back downstairs.


fatmammycat said...

That completely zinged, and I mean really zinged. Chandler-esque zinging but with more oomph and a whole lot more cr---eeeeps.

finn said...

thank you fatcat.

'tis a Fragile day, but your comment cheers me, as does this. dogs are teh best.

fatmammycat said...

Good God it's Stripe. I love the stupid twats who are all 'uuugh stop causing it pain.' Right, it's in agony. Pfft.Say, do you have more of those stories oh fragile one?
I am the laziest cockjockey known to man, I should have gone out for a 10 k but I buggered off to cook instead and naturally have a Schöfferhofer ale-which I bought while perusing the garlic stand. Oh yes, teetotalling is going really well indeed.

finn said...

ale is light enough to not count as hooch and wine has flavenoids and that is the story i'm sticking to.

i should have gone out for a quality brick today -- time is running out -- but i am still at work with no ale in sight.

but at least i am not courtney love.

fatmammycat said...


addon said...

crackling, finn .. just great.

finn said...

thank you muchly, adam.