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  • Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.

     

    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

  • Correction Line
    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder


    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton

     

    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar

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Friday
May032019

Chapter Four - Tequila

The Spireton was more shack than bar, and shack was a helluva compliment. Six scarred tables from a nearby bingo hall were placed haphazardly in the room. A row of red vinyl stools lined up against the bar, all ripped but one. Water dripped from a crack in the ceiling into plastic pail. It wasn't raining out. A yellowed sign behind the greasy haired bartender read Occupancy: 54. Between us and the other patrons we still had 49 more to go.

"Do you have Tequila?" She leaned against the bar.

The bartender peered down her t-shirt. "Might have a bottle somewhere. Don't sell much of that stomach-burner."

"Do you have any lime?"

"This ain't some fucking fruit bar." He ducked down below the bar and started to rummage in one of the cupboards. After a bit of clinking and crashing he pulled out a dusty bottle with a golden label and black writing I couldn't make out. "My cousin brought this back from Mexico. Tastes like turpentine if you ask me."

He set two highball glasses in front of us and poured until each were half full. The liquid was the colour of a bush fire.

"You want some coke in that?"

"This will be fine," she said.

He looked down her shirt again and then back at me. A voice from one of the bingo tables yelled for a pilsner.

She handed me one of the glasses.

"How are you doing? Things beginning to straighten? This will help."

She brought the glass to her lips threw her head back and drained it. Damn, there had to be four fingers in there. I took a sip and my mouth caught fire. I'd drank tequila before, but never like this–I was thinking the bartender's cousin had brought him turpentine. She made a flipping gesture with her wrist. I brought the glass up again and finished it. I slammed the empty glass back down gasping, trying to stifle a huge cough. Someone snorted from the back of the room.

"Two more."

"I like a goddamn chick that can drink." The bartender sloshed another four fingers into each glass and winked.

"You wouldn't like me after a few of these. Trust me." She carried both glasses over to a bingo table and slid out the chair. She put both drinks in front of me and repeated the wrist thing.

"I--"

"Drink."

Pilsner guy started to say something, until she gave him a dick-shriveling look. She got up, walked across the bar to a dusty jukebox. I watched her bend over,  someone muttered "damn". In a long pull, I drained one of the glasses. The fire travelled down my throat, swirled in my guts and then found some unknown path up to my skull. A wheezing violin player cranked up, followed by wavery mandolin strings. A high-pitched voice sang about shifting sand. I brought the other highball to my mouth, the rim felt thick on my lips, invisible odours drifted up the sides, my eyes watered. I knew the song. I was just about to name it out loud and then my head folded in on itself. I fell back in my chair, reached for the edge of the table, and waited for my body to slam into the concrete floor. Instead, I went through it. My body tumbled and turned in an inky liquid, glycerin bubbles floated up. Was that up? One by one the circles burst with a soft ping.

I set the glass down. Empty. I was now sitting on one of the vinyl stools, but these were navy blue, and shone like a freshly waxed Corvette. It was a bar like the Spireton, but not quite. For one thing, the place was three-quarters full. A trio of musicians teetered on a stage crammed into the corner. They strummed a Hank William's cover.

"Buy you a drink?"

I spun around and glared at the chalk girl – it was her, but she was dressed differently. In Spireton, she had wore a painted on black t-shirt and tight Levis. Now, she was decked out in a peacock blue dress with a floral pattern, her black hair held back by a lime-green hair band. Her lips were still the same shade of stunning red. When she smiled, they opened up into arc of white that excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Where are we?"

"When might be a better question. We're still in the Spireton." She smiled.

The band stopped, there was scattered applause as they walked off the tiny stage.

"We went through a rip."

The word just came out of me. I looked down at my checked sleeves. I've never worn plaid in my life. I stared farther down into a pair of dust covered cowboy boots, shit-kickers we used to call them.

"Now you're getting it. I keep telling Walt that tequila works a lot better than water. Eventually you can do it with water or any liquid, but it's never as effective, or even as fun."

"Walt's the tall guy," I swallowed and touched my knee, "with the knife."

"That's what I call him. I don't why, but he reminds me of Disney. The theme park, not the guy."

"One of the scarier rides," I said.

"It's the only way you can straddle both lines. Of course, you need to be close to a rip. Eventually you won't black out any more, and it will still hurt when a rip is close. That's what you felt in the diner. You want a beer?" She held up two fingers and waved them at the clean cut guy swiping down the bar. "Black Label." She turned back to me. "Hell of a beer. Nothing like what we have now."

"We've talked about this before haven't we?"

"Yes, but I don't expect you to remember everything yet. When Walt first cut me, it was six months before my head cleared." The bartender plunked down two stubbies and opened them for us.

"Why?" I asked.

"It just takes a while that's all – you're wired to experience life in a linear fashion. Think about it this way: recalling the past can release a powerful emotion. It's more than simple nostalgia, for some of us it's a deep longing, or a pain we're trying to escape. We let our minds drift back to a different time, both when we dream at night and in our daydreams. You've done that right?"

I nodded.

"But why do it?"

"Walt figured out a way to go farther than dreaming. He tuned himself to the rhythm of the chronos."

"Chronos?"

"Time. He found its rhythm, its flow. And then he started to find the rips."

"Places it didn't flow?"

"Right." She closed her eyes in a such a long blink that I thought she'd gone to sleep. "But here's the thing. Walt understood that we stand in all those places at the same time."

"What places?"

"The past, present, and future. The rips were a short cut to each."

I took a deep swallow. The cold beer eased the lingering flame of the tequila. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't drunk out of my skull. People in crisp Stetsons and bolo ties swigged back mugs of beer. Most of the women were in dresses, hair piled up high and lipstick that gave chalk girl a run for her money.

"This is bat-shit crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah, you said that last time." She swigged her beer and winked.

Someone hit the table across from us, an open-palmed smack, and the place erupted in laughter.

"How did he find the rips?" I asked when the sound died down.

"I'm not clear on that. Something to do with astral projection." She laughed. "Remember that? There was a big movement in it for awhile – a couple of doctors swore they could prove it but no one took them serious. Everybody was wrong. Anyway, that's where Walt found the rips and Philo."

"Sorry, you lost me again."

"The thing you called a wolf." Her elbow spasmed. "Drink up." She gulped down the rest of her beer.

"What? Why – we just got, uh, here."

She turned her neck fast, like someone had grabbed it and twisted. I looked to a space behind her. A huge mother of a cowboy took a step toward us. As he walked, he unsnapped a side holster and pulled a knife out damn near as big as his hat.

I abandoned the beer, let the last swallow dribble down my front as I leapt from the stool. Out of the corner of my eye, another figure appeared, large and moving fast. A flash of metal appeared in his hand, and as if someone took a snip out of what happened, he was on me, his breath hot against my face, smelling of freshly toiled ground. I opened my mouth to speak.

"Walt."

A guttural sound, in-between human and animal.

"Let it happen," Chalk girl's voice from across the room.

It felt like someone had just sliced off my kneecap. My eyes slowly filled with ink. I slipped through a crack in the Corvette vinyl.

I awoke face down in the back of my truck. I got to my knees and stared at the empty parking lot. A neon Closed sign shone out of the Spireton bar window. The "C" and the "d" were burnt out. A memory flash, and I checked my knees. Both intact.

I climbed into the driver's seat. A note was thumbtacked to the steering wheel.

"Just Drive."

It was signed, "L".

 

<<<<>>>> 

New Chapters of Bent Highway will appear weekly (or more) at this blog.
Please, comment, share, or give a shout on twitter. (Or like the link on facebook... people are still on facebook, right?)

Direct links to all the chapters here.

Tuesday
Apr302019

Chapter Four Teaser

M is slowly trying to put his scrambled egg brain together - and Chalk Girl will help him... possibly.

Here's a teaser for the next chapter - up by the weekend, or sooner.

 

Chapter Four - Tequila

"Buy you a drink?"

I spun around and glared at the chalk girl – it was her, but she was dressed differently. In Spireton, she had wore a painted on black t-shirt and tight Levis. Now, she was decked out in a short floral dress, her black hair held back by a lime-green hair band. Her lips were still the same shade of stunning red. They opened up into arc of white that excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Where are we?"

"When might be a better question. We're still in Spireton." She smiled.

The band stopped, there was scattered applause as they walked off the tiny stage.

"We went through a rip."

>>>>>>>>>

Drop me a line. Thanks for reading.

Sunday
Apr282019

Chapter Three - Doctor

 

 

I awoke, if I ever was asleep, staring into a clipboard that hovered above my face. The guy wasn't wearing anything that would identify him as a doctor but I figured he had to be – he had that look of someone that studied your personal areas. A curvy woman with horn rimmed glasses and a rat's nest of hair stood next to him. She smelled of roses dipped in clorox.

"I said do you often have this loss of consciousness?"

"Sorry?"

He looked at the woman, she grimaced, he said something under his breath.

"I see. You have had another one." He wrote something on the clipboard. "Do you remember coming in here? They told me you were in a diner." His thick grey mustache danced as he spoke. "You don't seem to have any injuries, except for that nasty cut on your forearm. I thought about stitching it but thought that --"

Three parallel steri-strips were pasted against the partially scabbed over gash.

"Shit. My knee!"

I threw back the white sheet, unaware of my nakedness. The woman didn't turn away but lurched forward, her eyes widened.

"You been having problems with your knee?"

I ran my hands along the smooth, unbroken skin covering my left kneecap. I glanced at my right, just in case I was wrong. Neither of them had a scratch.

The doctor glanced at the clipboard. "Have you had problems with an addictive substance? Previous psychological treatment? Exhibitionist tendencies?"

The woman smiled at me.

I brought the sheet back to cover myself.

"Francine, I think you should--" the doctor started.

"Who brought me here?"

"You were in your truck," said the still smiling, kind of leering, woman. Francine seemed about right somehow.

"What do you mean in my truck? You said I was in a diner. Who brought me here?"

"Now take some breaths. We don't need you passing out again. "I'm Doctor Little. Don't you recall our previous conversation?"

"I've never seen you before."

"Some men drove here from the diner. I guess they put you in the truck. You must have left the keys in it, so they drove you here."

"Who did? Where are they now?"

The doctor and Francine exchanged glances.

"Are you feeling feverish?" Francine asked.

"Now Francine, you took his temperature already, and it was fine."

I closed my eyes and tried to remember back to before. In the diner, we were drinking water. Her face grew large in my mind.

"The woman, with the really white skin... where is she?" I asked.

The looks on their faces told me that if I didn't start making sense, they'd be ordering a full brain scan and psychotic strip down. Or Francine would be stripping something.

"Really, Mr. Stilton--"

"Who is Mr. Stilton? That's not my name."

"Oh," a quick glance over to Francine,"there was a note, in your pants, we assumed that was you."

"What note?"

"Mr. Stilton, if you have a previous condition it would help us diagnose any..."

"Stop calling me that."

I threw back the sheet and swung my legs over the bed.

"Where's my pants?"

Francine, taking in another eyeful, turned away when I met her gaze. She went into an adjoining room and came back with my jeans. She laid them on the bed. They were dirty, but bloodstain free.

"Underwear?"

"I'm sorry, we cut those off, we had to see if you had some, um, internal injury that would account for your, uh, condition." He ran his hand over his mustache and coughed.

"Condition? Wait a second, what kind of doctor are you?" I took a quick glance around the room, no tongue depressors, no blood pressure machine, and it had a funny smell. The poster of the kitten hanging from a branch clinched it. "You're a vet!"

"Well, of course. The only medical doctor we have comes by every two weeks, unless there's an emergency. We thought of calling her but we couldn't find anything that would warrant her..."

"Am I done here?" I wanted to ask why they hadn't cut off the jeans. Something told me it was Francine's decision to slice the underwear.

"You're free to go anytime. But don't you think you should stay a bit? We could call the other doctor if you wish."

I pulled on my jeans, riding bareback, what the hell.

"My wallet? Or did you have to cut that too?" I glared at Francine.

She scurried into the other room and came back with my keys and my wallet.

"If you wanted to find out who I was why didn't you just--" I stopped as I flipped through several bills and the faded photo I'd been carrying for years.

"Something missing?" The vet asked.

"Where is it?"

"I assure you, we took nothing. What are you missing?"

"Which one of you swiped my I.D.?"

"We wondered why you didn't have any."

"Until we found the note," Francine reached into her breast pocket and took out a folded yellow square. She handed it to me, her fingertips, long nails with a daisy yellow polish, stayed a few extra seconds on my palm.

I read it.
We found this man sitting outside his truck in the parking lot of the diner. He said his name was Stilton. Then he passed out. Please help him. We have to leave for a family reunion.

It was signed, Chris and Kelly. A smiley-face was drawn at the bottom.

"We were gone to lunch, just egg salad sandwiches that Francine's mom had made. And when we came back there you were in your truck. Out cold. I guess these people drove you and your truck here. When you didn't wake up, they figured that was the best they could do. So they left."

"For a reunion." Francine added.

There was no phone number or address on the note. The letters were hard to read, a pen almost out of ink – under the smiley-face there was another word that I couldn't make out.

I thought of what the girl with the white face told me about escaping time.

"What does this say?" I asked.

"We couldn't figure that out either. Francine has a guess."

"Clarkesville."

"Never heard of that, where?"

Francine gave an awkward smile. "You know, like that old song. The last train to."

My head had been pounding ever since I gained consciousness. It now threatened to burst and spray brain matter across the vet's office.

"You have any pain killers?" I bent my knees, stretching out my legs, forcing blood flow back into them.

"Mr. Stilton, we cannot give medication without –"

"Just some damn aspirin."

Francine fished around in her pocket and brought out a blister pack.

"These will probably do something," she said.

Doc gave her look and reached for the pack. I pushed him aside, grabbed the pills, and jammed the note in my pocket.

"You should stay and get checked out," Francine urged. "People aren't all that different than dogs."

"I've had all my shots."

Francine ran her tongue over her lips. I made a quick exit, almost running by the time I went through the door. The doc yelled out, saying I should go get checked out by my regular doctor. I spun out of the lot, spitting gravel chunks at the sign with the little dog and cat in doctor outfits.

I pushed the speedometer on the truck as far as it would go, keeping one eye on the temp gauge. I popped the pills out of the pack and downed them. I trusted horny Francine that they were actually for pain, and not flea and heartworm – or fuck, some sort of pet viagra. The road ahead shimmered, in the distance a pair of buildings looked like splotches of overripe fruit against a sky the exact shade of the empty ice cube holders in my fridge back home. It was a weird thing to remember. I hardly remember what my place looked like. As I whipped by them, I spied a thin man on scaffolding, slapping orange paint with a huge brush. I could see the droplets splash and hang in the air before settling on the weathered surface. I shouldn't have been able to see that.

I urged the pedal down farther – having no idea where I was going, if I'd find the sedan again, or what I'd do if I found it. I flipped the switch on my radio, filling the cab with harsh guitar rock and some guy screaming. I turned it up and pushed the speed over 85. The temp gauge jerked. The pounding in my head softened to brushes on the edge of a snare. Shush-shush.

I passed a green Pontiac, driven by a redneck with a buzz cut and a tattoo of the queen on his neck. As fast I was going, certain images moved in slow perfect clarity – like some Einstein relativity problem. I perceived moving objects as if they were standing still. But the large granary in the distance appeared to be moving away from me. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, and tried to refocus. When I opened them again there it was, the black sedan, it popped out of nowhere, less than a quarter mile ahead. There were no access roads that I could see – it was like it dropped out of the sky. Somehow, I knew I'd come across it. Just like last time. And probably some other times that I couldn't remember.

I pulled in close behind, following the s-curve of the road, and tried to peer into the back window. The sheen on the glass reflected back light, not like a mirrored surface, but fragmented like cheap Mactac for bathroom windows.

The granary pulled in front of me after the curve, or that's what it looked like. Spireton. A handmade sign was drilled into the post underneath the town name – Corn and Bacon Festival, Aug. 3-5. The sedan pulled into the lot of the Spireton Hotel. I followed.

I watched the back door open and a white leg appear. I started to wonder if that vet had give me some sort of sedative, or even a hallucinogenic. Movement played tricks on my eyes. Trails of colour swept behind her legs as she approached the truck. I rolled down the window.

"Come on in. You look like you need a drink."

The sedan idled. I cranked my neck and tried to see inside.

"Just the two of us," she said and winked.

I saw every lash move on her white face.

 

<<<<>>>> 

New Chapters of Bent Highway will appear weekly (or more) at this blog. Please, comment, share, or give a shout on twitter. (Or like the link on facebook... people are still on facebook, right?)

 

 

Friday
Apr262019

Chapter Three - Teaser

It's exciting to me as Bent Highway gains speed (and readers!) - thanks to all who have joined already!

The saga of M continues this weekend, as he struggles to understand what is happening, and what he is part of. Here is a brief teaser for the upcoming chapter.

As always, drop me a comment, a share, a like, some toast, whichever.

 

Chapter Three - Doctor

I awoke, if I ever was asleep, staring into a clipboard that hovered above my face. The guy wasn't wearing anything that would identify him as a doctor but I figured he had to be – he had that look of someone that studied your personal areas. A curvy woman with horn rimmed glasses and a rat’s nest of hair stood next to him. She smelled of roses dipped in Clorox.

 
"I said do you often have this loss of consciousness?"
 

"Sorry?"

He looked at the woman, she grimaced, he said something under his breath.

"I see. You have had another one.” He wrote something on the clipboard. “Do you remember coming in here? They told me you were in a diner." His thick grey mustache danced as he spoke. "You don't seem to have any injuries, except for that nasty cut on your forearm. I thought about stitching it but thought that —"

Three parallel steri-strips were pasted against the partially scabbed over gash. 

"Shit. My knee!" 

I threw back the white sheet, unaware of my nakedness. The woman didn't turn away but lurched forward, her eyes widened.

"You been having problems with your knee?"

I ran my hands along the smooth, unbroken skin covering my left kneecap. I glanced at my right, just in case I was wrong. Neither of them had a scratch.

The doctor glanced at the clipboard. "Have you had problems with an addictive substance? Previous psychological treatment? Exhibitionist tendencies?" 

The woman smiled at me.

 

>>>>>>>>

Full Chapter this weekend...

Tuesday
Apr232019

Chapter Two - Arrow

I don't know how long I'd been driving. Shit, I don't know how long I'd been doing anything. Time stretched out like a line of cut paper dolls, except there were long gaps of nothingness – somehow the doll chain hung together, but then things disappeared in the space. Things like my memory. Or even my senses.

I was cruising at seventy-five when I came upon the black sedan. The temp gauge needle crept up, but I stared it down and it held its position. The sedan looked familiar. Maybe my dad had owned one all those years ago. It shone in that vintage sort of way, the fins as sharp as spears. The sedan flashed its brake lights and I hit mine in reflex. Wait, how did I know that car? My father never drove anything that big. This was from somewhere else.

I was almost tailgating, so I figured I better ease up before we were clinking bumpers. I needed to either get some distance from the car, or floor it and pass. A dark shape popped up in the sedan's back seat, filling the rear window. I strained through my bug-splattered windshield. What the hell was that? A chalk white face appeared next to black shape, and a pair of bowed lips glowed against a woman's stark skin. The image hit me so hard that I slammed on my brakes. I fishtailed the truck. Even as I spun, I still cranked my head to stare at her face. Those bowed lips swelled to the size of a bleeding watermelon, and I heard them speak aloud, not like a memory, but like she was in the truck cab with me, her cool breath in my ear. The words didn't form sentences.

"Black...soft... earth...flesh...green...far."

The truck slid across the shoulder and slammed into the ditch.

Like the holes in my brain, the missing dolls in the chain, none of it made sense – but it meant something. I was so mesmerized by her voice, I barely felt the truck slam to a stop. My foot had been on the brake the whole time. Forgot to pump my way out of the slide. Forgot? I was frozen.

The truck was old school, weighed as much as a Sherman, still, it was a miracle I didn't roll.

My arm started to throb. When I turned to look at it, the skin puckered up and grinned at me. A trickle of blood slipped under the scab and drew a serpentine line down my forearm.

I finally knew one thing. Last night I had talked to the chalk woman and met the black beast.

The half-ton's engine stalled, but I didn't turn it over again. I sat in the ditch thinking about those bowed lips. I remembered asking her the question.

"What was your name again?"

No response.

I tried again. "Last time I didn't catch it. We talked in that bar in Yellowburn."

"I didn't give it," she'd said.

I had met her more than once. Met her and talked with her. I closed my eyes and pictured a smouldering house trailer, then it burst into fire, her running into the field, me after her, then that big beast toppling over me. Was that where the gash on my arm came from? Teeth or claws, what ripped the flesh?

My skull throbbed like someone had hammered a four inch spike into it. I cranked the engine, pulled out of the ditch with the tires spinning, four-wheel drive my ass, and headed down the highway.

They say your body remembers a lot, but not in ways that can be put into words. Right now the part of me that slammed on the brakes when I saw the sedan wasn't sending telegrams to the figuring-shit-out part of me. I trusted my legs more than the swiss-cheese brain.

 

 

The general weirdness faded as I picked up speed and the road straightened into an arrow. The sedan was long gone. Driving was the one thing that calmed me. Tires humming on the asphalt were a hundred times better than those vibrating loungers at the mall, and there wasn't a salesman with food court breath next to me in the cab saying how I couldn't live without one. Hate those sons-of-bitches.

Money was running out and I'd probably have to start looking for a job again. I'd eyed a few help wanted signs over the screen door of the countless road diners I visited. The greasy bacon and eggs didn't change as I drove across the country, but the people did. I had met some characters.

In Holdfast there was the guy who channelled John the Baptist. He kept telling me to repent, make my ways straight and all that. I didn't think I was that bad of guy – so I challenged him a bit. He was drinking hot water, no tea bag, steam rose from his beard on every sip.

"No one thinks they're all that bad until the time comes."

"Time comes for what?" I asked him.

"Exactly," he said.

Then he started spouting off in what was either an ancient dialect or the D.T.'S talking. After I left the diner, I passed him in the parking lot. He crunched down on something that I hoped wasn't a bug.

Then in Breeston there was the girl at the gas station doing a goofy dance to no music I could hear. She dressed somewhere between 1970's hippy funk and depression era rags, her ripped jeans hanging dangerously low, threatening to be shaken right off her ass at any moment. I was hypnotized by the movement, and considered offering her a ride. When I walked up to her, the dance intensified and her hair swirled around like she was either having a hell of a time or was on the border of a seizure. I kept walking.

I had seen this country through gas stations, hotel bars perched next to giant granaries, diners that served the same plate of eggs and burnt toast, played the same tinny country twang over the radio next to cash register, and general stores that doubled as liquor vendors in towns that had no reason to still exist. Like the dancing gas station girl I had a soundtrack, sometimes it came from my truck radio, but most times I carried the tunes around in my head. I never sang along. The guitar lines pulsed through my head as I passed through another empty town.

And then there was the chalk girl. That white skin glowed in my brain. Why did I know where I met the dancing hippie chick, but I couldn't place her? Maybe it was too recent – names and faces piled up in the corners of my brain like cords of wood, only with relative distance did one tumble out of the pile for closer inspection. Maybe this was why truckers look dazed at the stops. I had thought it was tiredness from the road. But maybe something started to happen when you saw so many places, so many people, and everything blurred together like the dotted line that became a stream of yellow piss underneath your tires – that still didn't explain the black outs. Who was she, why was she in the car with the beast?

A soundtrack of swamp rock pulsed in my mind. I was so lost in the dizziness of my own thoughts that I almost missed seeing the black sedan. I slowed down, u-turned and pulled into the parking lot. A weathered sign read Riverside Diner. I looked across about a hundred miles of bald prairie and didn't see even a hairline creek. It must have been a metaphor or a yearning hope.

As I walked past the sedan in the lot, my boots kicked up gravel that tinged against the gleaming hubcaps. My knees buckled and I dropped to the ground. What the fuck? I braced my hand against the driver's door and pressed into it – it was like touching dry ice. I tried to pull my hand back but it was stuck to the metal, burning and cold at the same time. I pulled hard and the flesh ripped. As I fell, the ground opened and swallowed me into the blackness.

 

*     *     *

 

I woke up staring into cup of coffee with a spiral thread of cream making its way to the edge.

"Are you well?"

Before I looked up, I'd already pictured the colour of her skin, those red lips, a shock of black hair slashed across her forehead.

"What's happening?"

"Are you still blacking out?" Her voice had a reverb to it–wet and bassy.

"I don't understand... why?" Sweat gathered in the crease of my forehead, my hands shook. "Last night... we talked and –"

"It's probably best you're not remembering a lot right now. It'll come back when it needs to."

I watched her lift the water glass and drain the contents in one long gulp. I expected to see a lipstick stain on the glass when she placed it back on the table but the glass shone spotless. An image flashed in front of me, a crisp blade splitting flesh, my flesh, a heavy shape pinning me against damp ground. And then her voice from across the table, not within the image, speaking to me.

"... time will not follow its usual path once you've slipped across. You're fighting to keep things linear. That is what your body is used to, one thing follows another, like your ABC's and your one, two, threes. But this isn't that. It's going to be disorienting for a while. Oh, and caffeine doesn't make it any better."

She slid a glass of water in front of me.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand what's happening I--" I didn't even know what to ask.

"Just drink."

I sipped at the edge of the glass. The ice bumped against my lips and reminded me of my hand on the sedan door. Then, as I drank, I closed my eyes and saw the highway, the ditch, the brake lights of the sedan, the Dandy diner, the fan – I watched it all in slow reverse and it led me back to last night. We were in a dark room, wood and smoke, a bar I guess. There was the tall man with the broken nose, with the knife that cut across my arm, no... it was my leg, but then the flesh closed around the knife, and the blood disappeared into the wound. Then there was the wolf. It started to pull together – something about time, how they had found a way to get past it, through it, to dive into the stream like a series of rapids and ride along until you spilled out at a different point, a different place on the road. Except it wasn't an ordinary road. It was bent... in space and time.

"I saw you in Breeston." I said. "And before." A final tile slipped into place. "Time – you told me I could escape it if I wanted. Things didn't need to be this way."

"What way?" she asked.

"They don't need to follow," I said.

I felt my leg where the knife had gone in. The memory became crystal. His voice was in my head, guttural like he had a ton of phlegm that he needed to expel.

"You straddle the line, your body, your blood, needs to be in both places. That is why you need to be cut. That's what he said."

"Uh-huh. Drink some more water."

"Why the wolf?" I asked.

Chalk girl smiled. She asked the waitress for some more water, and could she have a bit more ice this time?

"It's falling into place for you. The wolf, as you call it, is needed to keep you here."

"Here? Place or time?" My head still spun.

"A bit of both." She twitched, her elbow jerked out in a brief muscle spasm. "I have to leave."

I stood and pain shot through my knee. I collapsed back into the booth. The waitress heard the noise and rushed over, almost spilling her tray of water.

"Are you okay?" She set down the tray, the ice made soft clinks against the glass. "Whoa, you should probably go see a doctor about that."

I followed her gaze to my left knee. It was stained deep red and glistened as fresh blood pumped from the cut. The diner went out of focus and I felt myself slide out of the booth and onto the floor. The waitress yelled something but I couldn't make it out.

I fell into another space.

 

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