The man was alert as a chamois, his body shifting constantly in the wicker chair as if living stirred anxiety in his bones. He was strangely thin for a fisherman, there was more life on discarded fish bones, and even stranger that he urged to fish in Corvin. Overflowing with technology and artificial life, the city was more than modernized. It seemed some people had the strength to hold the wheel steady. Did this twig have it in him, though? Morrison’s eyes vined up the man’s body, already knowing it was as futile as trying to change the past. The man’s appearance was definitely not one of a psychopath though. Above his fragile lips perched a blackened thread of hair and below them hung a well-kept goatee, but not a splatter of sin laid in that man’s tongue. Sullen like a dried sardine and with abyss-like holes in his head, he adjusted his position, threw a tailored leg over the other, his quivering hands a few inches away from his handkerchief and a box of Camel cigarettes. Apart from the nosy maid’s keyhole eye, the sorrowful fire, the soft gnawing of silverfish on Stephen King, and the barely audible gulp of suspect #1, the study stayed still.
A pile of silver coins laid on an open book.
“Mr. Kingsley—” “Walter is fine,” Morrison smiled a bloodless smile, his fists stirring under the cherrywood desk. “Mr.Walter, can you please retell the events that occurred on January 18th?” “Yes.”
A sphere of hell swooped over the heavens like a curious eye or a beetle frozen in amber. It blinked once, and the lake cooled with mutilated animal shapes of clouds flowing on its skin. Maybe I had longed for a tattoo. See, my wife never lets me. She nags about this and that and everything under the Sun until I respond with,
‘Hush, hush, woman! I swear, your inane chatter will unhinge me one day...Aunt Ruth—Aunt Ruth is our bulldog—is going to bust through that front gate and take a mouthful of your head if you don’t shut the hell up,’ Then, she’d go crying, and I’d be sleeping on the couch for no reason other than the emotions of a hard-headed woman. Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible if I’d found someone younger in my glory days. I could’ve-God, why did I—
“Oh! Sorry about that. I tend to lose myself now and then. Where was I?”
The water was strangely steady that day, though the cold fronts were more than armed. Everything shimmered like diamonds, like the diamonds I could never afford for Debra. Bloated with winter’s easy death, the water had risen just below the boat’s stomach. I wanted somebody. Doylee, a scarecrow in an overall, snatched the leg of my trenchcoat, babbling that he was starving and that he hadn’t caught a thing after slaving over his line for more than a minute. Sigh. The boat creaked more than me as I walked to his dangling fishing pole. Why’d I have children? An animal had already nabbed the bit of ham on his hook, so I replaced it. I reeled back and slammed the hook into the water as far as I could, the ripples clinging to the bobber whose head had nearly gone under. That’s when Doylee came up behind me, and he was holding a catfish! Certainly one of the fattest ones I’d seen. I stared for a while in plain disbelief, skimming my hand over its bloated body that was steadily growing limp. I didn’t know how long he’d been out of water. Then I noticed the thing... it was eating. It was feeble and stump-like, an inch over a thimble and colored to the flesh of brackish oysters. I pulled it from its lips, but it kept moving them as if it hadn’t been eating at all...but rather speaking something I could never understand. I was no Dr.Dolittle, and right then I didn’t long to be one.
“What was the item it was eating?” Mr.Walter glanced over at the detective, his face drained of color as if the atmosphere was a suffocating bleach. His breath was ragged, and Morrison could hear the short heaves as he calmed himself. Then he spoke.
“A human finger,”
“Where did the finger come from?”
“I didn’t know,”
I sprinted over to my boy, spewing question after question though I knew he was too young to answer. Slow down? I couldn’t. I asked, “How’d you catch the fish?” Doylee replied, “With my hands,” I said, “Where were you standing when you caught it?” He said, “Over there, Dad,” Doylee pointed to the left side of the boat. I cut off the engine. Searching for something—I didn’t know what—I raised my tinted spectacles and stared over that side of the boat. What was it? My answer was clear when a bright blue tarp filled me, drowning my old eyes in its disgusting navy and draining my mouth dry. I told my son to stay put, but I saw him lean over the rail out of the corner of my eye.
I leapt into the water while the cold liquid swallowed my galoshes whole like a serpent. I didn’t feel it. I waded through the lake, the muck clinging to my shoes like persistent gum, and the fish circling between my knees. I looked back at the S.S. Odessa and Doylee gave a wave. I didn’t return it. The air was suffocating. The lake did not breathe. When I reached the tarp, I saw all of these disgusting creatures around it—from those oblivious catfish to large insects that should’ve migrated. Weeds and dirt ate away at the zipper, and for me, it took a few tugs to get it off. It unzipped. Eyes watering, the smell found me. It was the pungent, overbearing scent of burnt decomposing flesh, the odor of charred intestines rotting away to nothing...
The man held a trembling fist over his lips as if he might vomit.
“I looked in the tarp and screamed.”
Morisson stared at the women across the Froyo table, the only place they had agreed to meet him. There was Cathy, a black-haired beauty with a silver piercing in her right ear and lust in her eyes. Morisson swallowed. The girl before him on the left was Debbie, the classic blond who was too enveloped in her Airpods to notice him. Finally, there was Melanie, a somewhat beautiful girl with melon colored hair with an uneven nose and obvious implants. That one spoke. “Why are we here?” Her voice was smug and hormonal. She smelled of lipgloss. “God, your friend was murdered! Don’t you have anything to say? You have something to say, right?”Melanie scrutinized over Morrison’s face, and he began to sweat under her gaze. “She was stuck up. She never contributed to anything and was a complete teacher’s pet. She downgraded someone every chance she got. She had no one. I’m not surprised she was killed,” Cathy and Debbie murmured in affirmation, adding swears. “Thanks for coming though. Swell effort,” Melanie spoke, standing up. “W-wait!” “If you want to know something, go to Mr.Sharpie, the local candy store owner. She went there a lot,” With that, she left with her buddies following suit.
“He’s so short! Did you hear his voice?”
“Maybe he’ll follow Mr.Sharpie’s footsteps,”
“Annoying. I hope so,”
It was obviously painted by hand, took maybe an hour to make as it was written across a cardboard plank and nailed to the front. “Mr.Sharpie’s Candies!” It was a glorified shed. Daddy-Long Legs and dust bunnies retracted from the plank wall crevices, claiming the ceiling as their territory of pure child fear. Footprints still showed the passage of their owners in the layers of dust upon the floor. They were mainly a size six and a size eight. On homemade tables or lined along the room’s perimeter, chocolates and sweets were framed in a velvet rich enough to match their tastes. The room extended to the point it grew dim from the noontime entrance.
“What can I do for you, young man?” The man was ancient, his skin bearing time’s keepsakes and his jowls sagging past his buttoned collar. Hair perched on the peak of his mushroom nose whilst liver spots lined the little hair he had left. He was as bright as a yogurt chip, and he looked like one, too. “Corvin Department of Criminal Investigation,” Morrison flashed his badge.“I’m reviewing the murder of a college girl by the name of Bethany? I was told she came here often?”
Mr.Sharpie smiled and his eyes disappeared. “You’re a detective, are you now? The girl left weeks ago to go to this party or something. Sweet girl,” Yes! Finally! A valuable asset! “I’ll have to take you to the precinct for questioning,” “But I told you I don’t know anything,” frowned Mr.Sharpie. Regardless, the elder situated himself in the leather seats, his body melting into it like a mirage. With the vibrant slam of the side door and the peeling oaks’ goodbyes of pivoted pleasure, the engine began to run just as Mr.Sharpie’s mouth did. “Have you interrogated the girl’s parents, yet? Did you ask her teachers or anyone else in the school? I’m worried for her,” God, what was Morrison supposed to say to that. ‘No, sorry, sir. I lied on my resume’ for entertainment and a high salary. All of my knowledge is based on movies.’
“Yes,” “That’s good,” Mr.Sharpie spoke saccharinely as if he knew Morrison was an idiot. “Was the candy store closed for a while? There was a bit of dust,” “Oh, yes. I left for a few health issues. Not as fit as I once was…” Suddenly, he shut up, his lips wavering. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. Frantically, like his life depended on it, he began to whisper: “W-why are you in the road?” It then turned into, “Move. Please, move!” “Mr.Sharpie?” He didn’t stop, he kept repeating it over and over, now screaming at the top of his lungs. God, why wouldn’t the man shut up?! “Mr.Sharpie, I assure you no one’s there!” “Move!” The man’s voice was breaking. “You’re going to—” Mr.Sharpie’s hand snatched the frame of the wheel, yanking it towards his face contoured in mental agony. Morrison’s eyes barely time had to widen as the car veered off road.
Over the din, the sound of crunching metal was heard from miles away.
“Are you dead or deadly aware?”
He couldn’t breathe. December hands slunk up Morrison’s spine, insidious as a rumor, wrapping around his neck like a lover before squeezing with all their strength. He began to gasp, his body filling with the indescribable feeling of a numb sort of tingling and his lungs rejecting the oxygen he so desperately craved. His body was stiffening but loose, and his heart felt strung along on a wire with a ripple coursing through it every second. He couldn’t control anything. By the time the fingers gave way, Morrison could barely register his surroundings or the vicious voice that started it all. First, came the man. He looked like a younger version of Mr.Sharpie, his hair slicked back in a toupee but his face spelling anything but womanizer. Next, came the chateau. It was built around the person and his delicate cushion, the walls of bejeweled Renaissance creations climbing voids of nothing. Grand and ornate, chandeliers spewed light over the valleys of tile and the nearby windows the size of the BFG. Everything looked so expensive. Even the couch Morrison was strewn across was filled with the feathers of quails and covered with rich neptune silk. “You can call me Fragmen,” Morrison jolted. The voice bore the words’ syllables like a clashing cymbal. “I...where am I?” Fragmen furrowed his pudgy brow. “Not sure, exactly. I call it “The Left side of Creation. It’s beginning to look more like Hell to me,” “Hell?! In this palace of a house? Are you insane?” The young man smirked. “Go look out the main window,”
Morrison wanted to ask, “What did you mean by that?” but he kept his lips pursed and did as he was told. Idiot. Like the nightmares in his youth, the land was saturated, overflowing, with a crimson liquid that slimy creatures flocked to with drooling mouths. Jagged cracks ran through the land instead of rivers, where seafoam leaves were sprouting from its body and reaching towards the apocalyptic sky of flaxen, gala, and lime. Afar, creatures dripping space stalked the mansion, their bodies having no definite body parts other than the teeth in their heads. “God! What is that?!” “That’s the Right Side. It’s a lot closer than it once was,” This was a new voice, high-pitched, tired, and closer than he wanted. Morrison shuddered. He didn’t turn, but rather narrowly directed his vision, slowly climbing from her oversized jeans to her tight blouse and then up to her face. The girl’s hair flowed like heat waves, her ivory skin bursting from the body of translucent grey and her pointed nose protruding from the slashes in her face.
“Bethany?” “Let me ask you something Mr.Morrison. Why are you doing this? To fuel your Messiah complex?” Morrison couldn’t speak. “Tell me, what is the opposite of crime?” He glanced over at Fragmen who only gave him a comical shrug. “The law,” “Wrong. It’s the truth. If you’re seeking justice, you can go rot out there for all I care. The truth resides in the distant Right Side, and what that is you know better than me,” “I...why would I...” “Get going, detective. Sanity is fading the longer you’re here, and you have quite a few of us to discover.”
Two thoughts pounded in Morrison’s mind: There’s more of her?! and I should’ve asked her how far it was. He felt as if he was living among rubbish traveling aside the mutilated nature. Though inhabitable and sinful, those familiar oaks had taken root in the vast ground shifts and curled their thick roots around the dirt. Steadily, insects began to nip at his ankles, drawing their fangs or whatever what was between their lips into Morrison’s skin. It wasn’t until his tailored loafer crossed the fateful line of insanity that Morrison truly understood what Fragmen meant by ‘Hell’. “Move it! Come on, fire!” War cries and distorted wails hung in the clouds heavier than the billows of demonic raven dust, and heavier that Morrison’s chest at the deceased. They were all sons of mothers, mothers would’ve planted kisses on their cheeks mumbling to them not to get hurt. What were they supposed to do with the memorial flags instead of their support? As if sobbing, painful raindrops pounded upon the heads of the soldiers with shotguns, their anguish mixing with the boys’ Weeds laid squashed in their paths.Wham! It sounded as if Goliath himself had been struck down, but no one broke over his death. Unlike the teenager whose little innocence he’d left was snatched from him in an instant. “R...ryan?” Morrison sprinted with all of his strength until the gunshots, Ryan, and that teenager’s tears were far behind him.
“God, God, God,” Morisson kept his steady pace, burning cries building in his throat and threatening to make their presence known. “No! I didn’t mean it!” Morrison shuddered at the sound of another voice. Everything was sickening him to his stomach, and he wanted nothing more than to go home. His feet slowed at the idea of defeat, of pathetic isolation. He kept his focus on the grass. He could do that, right? Grass, grass, tile, grass, tile, grass, tile, tile. Like a disease or the tired hands of a fading ember, tile began to replace the green, choking the grass it consumed. Morrison drew his eyes away from the stained snow like a child, absorbing everything in sight to distract the clamor in the skull. Were children like that? An iron pot bubbled over a mini stove, an army of cupboards alert behind it like its personal guard. Morrison could smell the porridge, earthy with a tinge of indigestible material like a damp paper bag. Crisp apples of spring lined the cottage kitchen in an apron, the apron of the woman lying dead on the floor. “I didn’t want you to leave. Why’d you have to leave? I warned you, I warned you so much…” An older man, grey pricking his hair laid over his wife, a tubby woman with a keen knife in her stomach. “Why? I-” The man stiffened like a rag hung out to dry, his eyes dull. He stared at the floorboard and smiled. Morrison began to smile too.
Those strange animals of angel wings and gills and scales began to gather, their bodies ranging from whales with human legs to cats with seven eyes. They peered into the kitchen, and then back at Morrison. Their eyes were interrogative, questioning his reaction, his purpose, his living. They knew. They all knew. Morrison had to get out of there. Now. He burst through the growing forest, his feet pounding against the floor with enough power to shatter his bones. They saw it. They all saw it. Morrison collapsed behind a tree, his breath being stifled in case the animals were nearby. The images began to flash like camera shutters behind his eyelids, moving from the war to the kitchen to Bethany Gurble to the bloody garment clinging to his chest. Police sirens and ambulance honks filled the air with the scream of chaos, the red and blue lights bleeding purple across the trees. Morrison looked beside him, his head firmly implanted on the wheel. He was alone. Morrison chuckled. Everything was crumbling at his feet. He hadn’t found one person deserable of the blame. Maybe the fisherman? No, not him. Everything was crumbling. With plastic surgery, the man thought he’d be different, with a fake resume, he thought he’d be different, with the absence of his past, he thought he’d be different. But a leper can’t change its spots. Soon, everyone would know, and it would all be useless.
He was still Morrison Sharpie.
And he would stay that way until the day he died.