The Silence & The Howl | Part 15

§.15


Harmon drew the device’s teeth against the wood grain.

The sound of the chainsaw split the tranquility of the placid Sunday afternoon and sent the sparrows spinning from their thorny thrones.

The smell of the wood, the metal, the machine’s furious humming engulfing the grotesque chittering of the wide outer bright.

He stood over a small, felled tree before Andy’s old, creaking house, the species-name escaping his ken, and rolled it with his booted-heel and worked the grinding steel of the mechanical saw against the spindly branches which shivered like insectal limbs with the impact. He paused to behold a group of men walking along the street. Familiar faces all. They were those he had seen so many days before, waiting at the corner just beyond Sprawls’ house. The congregation wore brightly colored and expensive clothing and moved with a languid swaggered, as if the entirety of the sidewalk upon which they walked belonged to them.

A young and scantily-clad woman moved down the side walk, heading straight for Andy’s lot, ass pushed up and out in jeans one size too tight, hair cropped on both sides, long on top and combed wildly to one side, below which a thin, ribbed and sleeveless exercise top girded her wobbling breast, paler than her spray tanned skin. Harmon thought he’d seen her before but could not remember where. She paused and turned and yelled something at him, her round, lacquered face contorting in vexation. He stopped the chainsaw.

“What?”

“I said why the fuck you gotta make so much fucking racket.”

The gangbangers laughed and muttered jokes concerning the scene.

Harmon furrowed his brow and methodically set the machine down beside the brush pile and dusted off his jeans and turned to the woman with a placid expression.

“Just clearing some brush.”

“Well, clear it somewhere else.”

“Ain’t no other brush to clear. Even if there was, think that would probably be trespassing.”

Her expression softened and she crossed and uncrossed her arms anxiously.

“Andy around?”

“Harmon nodded fractionally and jerked his thumbed above his shoulder, pointing towards the house.

“He’s inside. Bout to leave though. Better hurry.”

She did so and made he way to the door and and passed therein as Harmon bent to his lent chainsaw and returned to work as the toughs, having lost their source of amusement, ambled along down the street.

A hour passed. The woman hadn’t come out of the house. Bluebird hadn’t called. His anger had ebbed some but he refused to allow placidity to overtake him.

Lessons must be learned, so first, they must be taught.

He surveyed the flat, dying grass of Andy’s diminutive lot, restarted the chainsaw and imagined the tree was Serena’s throat.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 14

§.14


“I thought that… maybe I could come over.”

“You can’t come to the house.”

“Why not?”

“Because Rich kicked me out.”

“What? Why?”

“It doesn’t matter, he’s made up his mind. Its good to hear from you, Bluebird,” he replied flatly, unsure if he even believed his own words.

“Wait, what happened? Are you OK?”

“I am doing the same as I always am.”

“Where are you?”

“Andy’s place. For now.”

“Andy? Isn’t he that guy from work, the bald one?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s a junkie.”

“Used to be. He’s a good man.”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“No.”

“What happened, Harmon, why would he do this.”

“I wouldn’t give him a cigarette because he wanted me to admit that everyone was a liar. But I’m not. He didn’t believe me. Became prickly about it. So did I. That’s it.”

“But you were going to start a band and…”

“Nothing I can do. I tried talking to him. No use. Some people, no matter what’s done for them, will never reciprocate, will never take the full measure of their relationships until long after they’ve turned to dust.”

He was talking about her as much as Sprawls but he restrained himself from making the fact explicit. She might not come over then.

After a beat the woman responded, her voice shaking a little.

“I think you’re right about that.”

“You know where Andy lives?”

“No.”

He gave her the directions and they set a time and then she said she had to go but would call later, when she was on her way. He hung up and wondered what he would say to her. What could he say, knowing of her perfidy?

There had been too many words already.

The time had come for acts.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 13

§.13

Harmon looked down at the crisp, off-white business card as he switched off the engine of his hatchback in the abandoned grocery store parking lot. He read the name delicately laser etched upon it: Lynder B. Partridge. Below the name was a phone number, address and the word ‘Designer.’ He removed his phone from his pocket and started crunching the keys with his thumb and then stopped. He had only met Partridge once and felt it would be impudent to ask him for help. Partridge might not even be in the town anymore; probably had vacated and returned to the city after the gala. Why would he stick around a crime-riddled and crumbling backwater? There was nothing for him here. The man probably had family matters to attend to as well…

A mellow unease gripped Harmon then.

He was alone and had nothing but his car and a few items he had managed to quickly stuff into ducked-taped boxes in the trunk.

A sudden thought rippled across the torrential ambit of his mind.

There was one other person he could call.

*

Andy leaned forward in his mother’s wicker rocking chair and waved cordially from his uneven and rotting front porch. Harmon looked up and waved back. Neither smiled. Sun was low and the rural landscape hissed with the eastern gale like a thousand invisible snakes. Harmon moved up to the creaking porch, his laptop case loosely slung over his left shoulder and a ballcap low slung over his sleepless, bloodshot eyes.

“Evening, Andy.”

“Evening. Need help carrying anything?”

“Nah. I got it. Thanks for this.”

“Its no trouble at all. Caint believe he’d up and kick ya like that. Beats all. Just aint right.”

Harmon nodded as Andy rose and opened the creaking door of his tumble-down two-story and held it for his guest as sirens sounded in the din.

*

Harmon sat staring at the glowing screen of his laptop, fixated upon the flickering caret and the empty text document that proceeded it. His fists were as flint upon the warm plastic of the machine, its subtle, rhythmic hum, a soothing balm against the ravages of recent memory. He envied the device. Machines knew nothing of betrayal. They were loyal by design in the deepest measure of their essence. He felt as if he had passed into one of his ghastly dreams. He cursed neath his breath, rose and paced. The tumultuous sea of emotion which roiled within him presented no solution and consequently were discarded for ten minutes of pacing and thirty more of strenuous exercise which was abruptly interrupt by the ringing of his small, black cellphone which lay to the immediate left of the computer upon the foldable poker table Andy had furnished him with when he’d let Harmon his spare bedroom. He sprang to the device, flipped it up and held it to his ear.

“This is Harmon.”

Silence a moment. Then a soft and familiar feminine voice.

“Hello Harmon.”

“Hello Bluebird.”

The Silence & The Howl | Part 11

§.11


Harmon woke to the hot rays of the sun licking his loose and stimulated body. He inhaled the aroma of his basement room; stale beer, drywall and wood, plaster, steel and warm dust, relishing the tincture as might a perfumist a bag of potpourri. He stretch and looked to his left. Lyla was gone. Only a sunken spot in the gray mattress and the scent of womanly body spray remained. His momentary elation swift-faded. He sat upon the old and worn-out mattress, unevenly sprung, staring at the spot where his love had been. He reached over and caressed the area where her nape had leaned gainst the pillow. It was still warm. She’d left recently. He rose, naked, and stretched and threw on his underwear and pants where they had been hastily discarded upon the cold concrete floor and jogged up the stairs and ambled expectantly into the living room, empty save his laptop table and chair and Sprawls ratty couch. The notebook lay open on the table where she had left it, the portrait smiling up at him. He moved to the table and slowly closed the notebook.

He sat down and raised the screen of his laptop and, as if compelled by some ethereal force, opened a new tab on his browser and typed in ‘Lyla Regina Summers.’ The top results were from her personal website featuring her artwork, her page on the local universities site, one news article on local artists she had been briefly and briskly featured in, referred to by name only once. Farther down the search list he chanced across a podcast titled ‘Women Out Of Shade’ and saw that Lyla was featured on their metadata. He plugged in his headphones let someone should enter the house and clicked on the requisite links and listened.

“Hello lady writers, this is your host Monica Chambers and you are listening to Women Out Of Shade, a podcast dedicated to bringing female artists out of the shadows and into the light. Today we’ll be talking to Lyla Summers, a local soon-to-be-graduate from Haverral University. Ms. Summers is a illustrator, photographer, social activist and painter. So, welcome to the program Ms. Summers.”

“Thanks so much for having me.”

“So, I seen your recent showing, your gala – I thought your work was really quite wonderful.”

“Oh, why thank you. It went really well.”

“I wanted to know, first, how you came to be interested in art, in painting, and what your principal influences were.”

“Well, I’ve been interested in art since I was young. I always liked to draw. I got into painting when I was in high school and it all just sort of clicked. You know? Anyways, I decided, on my very last day of high school what I wanted to do and sent in my portfolio to Haverral and the rest is history. As for my influences, well, I have to give a lot of credit to Samanta Farrow, my advisor – she’s also a painter-”

“Yes, I’ve heard of her.”

“Isn’t work just wonderful?”

“Its really unique.”

“Yeah. She was such a good mentor. It was only because of her that I got placed in the gala. But anyways, to answer your question, her method really helped me grow, as an artist. So I’d say she was my chief influence.”

“So what are your plans from here?”

“Well, I planed to move. I really want to get out of this area.”

Harmon straightened in his chair, his eyes flying wide.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida, so I’m planning on moving down there soon.”

“Girlfriend like friend or girlfriend girlfriend?”

“Haha, girlfriend girlfriend. She’s been so support of me. I really should have mentioned her when you asked me about my biggest influences. I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve accomplished without her.”

Harmon paused the recording and rewound it and listened through once more to ensure that his ears weren’t playing tricks upon him. The audio came through the same on second listening.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida-”

Harmon listened through the rest of the recording, waiting for a name. Lyla never gave it. He slowly shut the lid of his lap top and rose from his chair, his mind whirring like a broken machine, hands flexing like speared and desperate crustaceans. How could she? How could she? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she tell me? She was just here…

The sound of footsteps upon the pavement outside left no room for further reverie as Sprawls burst in through the front door, a large white plastic bag under his left arm.

“Good news, had a sale at Captain Andy’s.”

Captain Andy’s was the locale liquor store and one of Sprawls favorite mercantile haunts. Harmon slowly turned to greet him.

“Nice. Mind if I have one.”

Harmon wasn’t sure what his roommate had purchased, nor did he care. Anything to numb the frantic rage he felt. Anything to blunt the urge to put his fist through the wall, to flipped his table and snap his laptop in half and cast his chair against the wall and drive down to Lyla’s house and beat her bloody until she gave up a name.

Sprawls withdrew a tallboy and cast the can to his roommate who caught it deftly and snapped it open instantly and downed a quarter of the bottle at once.

“You okay, man? You looked pale. I mean, paler than usual.”

“No. I am not okay. But I will be.”

“Something happen?”

“Something is always happening. No use complaining about it.”

“Yeah.”

Sprawls flopped down into his couch and cracked open one of the bottom-shelf tallboys and took a sip as he set his bag of beer down upon the floor.

Harmon remained standing, guzzling his beer. In short order he polished off and asked for another which Sprawls readily provided. After a few moments Sprawls spoke up dejectedly.

“Bitch fucking lied to me.”

“Who?”

“Sarah. That girl that was here. You seen her.”

“Oh is that her name?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d she lie about?”

“Bout being pregnant. Said she’d just been putting on a little extra weight – huh, yeah right. Got me thinking. Thinking bout lying. How often people do it. How often do you lie?”

Harmon turned towards his friend with deadpan seriousness.

“I never lie.”

“Bullshit. Everyone lies.”

“I have not told a lie since I was a child.”

“Bullshit. Hey, lemme get one of this cigs from you.”

“You just called me a liar. Get your own.”

“Just lemme have one.”

Harmon stuck one of the cigarettes between his lips and lip up the end and spoke without turning.

“No.”

“Hey fuck you, man.”

Harmon did not respond and smoked, starring at a peeling spot on the wall as if it were the very center of the universe.

“That’s some weird ass shit. This ain’t gonna work out.”

Sprawls waited for Harmon to say something and when he didn’t Sprawls got up from the couch and made for the stairs.

“This ain’t gonna work. Have your stuff outta here tomorrow.”

With that, Sprawls left off before Harmon could respond. He stood there, staring at the spot where Sprawls had been and then turned and grabbed his coat and headed for the road. He drove. Comforted by the roaring hum of the old hatchback’s engine, crunshing asphalt beneath its newly worn yet powerful tires. The earth shearing against itself like two techtonic plates. He determined suddenly, as the weight of the days events fully pressed themselves against his mind to drive to Lyla’s house. She lived twenty eight minutes away in her mother’s messy yellow house. He drove straight north. The gang of toughs that he’d spied before were no where to be seen, only a young man walking down the street, bobbing his head to the hidden hymns of his headphone. Harmon envied that man. Cocooned from the world. Happy with his big, dumb smile. A surge of rage that bellowed dragonlike from the roiling fractal depths of his mind overtook him. Bliss-through-ignorance is the harborage of cowards, he thought to himself coldly, redirecting his attention from the walker back to the road. He floored the gas and ran the lights as a vehicle he paid no mind to screeched to a halt, its driver howling out the window some indiscernible curse. He drove out of town to the north, the great crumbling ruin of the coal breaker visible in blurred side-glances to the northeast and then even it fell away from view.

No, he thought, suddenly slowing, I’m being primitive. Letting my emotions run away with the reigns of my soma. Predictable. Understandable. Vexing. He pulled to a stop before the highway off ramp and checked the mirror, he U-turned and sped back towards town.

He would not go to her. He would wait for Lyla to come to him.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 10

§.10


Harmon stood within the melting hall once more. The light in the distance so bright he couldn’t bring himself to look at it. The man from which the centipede had emerged stood once more, bathed in albescent resplendence. Fear quickened Harmon’s pulse as he shaded his eyes and pressed down the hall, compelled by desires he did not understand. When he stood within ten feet of the man he realized that it was not a man at all but a statue of a androgynous human, cast of obsidian or some like substance and it seven feet tall and smooth hewn by impossible skill. The statue’s left arm was elevated, palm facing up, its right arm declined, palm facing down, as if it were pushing in equal measure against the welkin and the earth. Where the obsidian creature’s stomach would have been was a gaping black hole and from it issued forth a ominous skittering that began as a whisper and increased in volume with every step towards it Harmon took. When he stood directly before the statue, within distance of embrace, the sound blared like a war-siren and he fell to his knees with the force of it, screaming as a million voices swarmed upon him, speaking forth in dreadful unison, their words indiscernible.

Loathsome legs, insectal and countless poured from the hole as ears gushed from Harmon’s eyes.

*

“Harmon. Harmon?”

Harmon’s eyes flew open as Lyla shook him. He rolled over in his bed to face the naked woman where she lay, her supple curves blue neath the light of the moon.

“You were making noises in your sleep.”

“I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“Bad dream?”

“Yeah. Keep… having a similar one. Same thing keeps happening over and over again… there are these voices and…”

Lyla leaned against Harmon and gently caressed his still heaving chest, teasing about his nipples and the small patch of hair between them. He pressed her to his breast and kissed her crown whereupon she looked up at him and kissed him upon the lips and slid her hand slowly down his chest and stomach to his slowly swelling cock. Harmon groaned and gripped her right breast in his rough and calloused hand, prompting a little gasp to escape Lyla’s thick, red lips and her eyes to roll and her body to sway gainst his own. Shortly the duo were swept up in passionate embrace and as the woman’s body shuddered neath his own, Harmon kissed her upon her nose and pulled slightly away.

“I love you, Bluebird.”

She said nothing and looked away and drew him closer to her body, forcing him deeper inside. Moaning. Moaning. Moaning. Digging her nails into his back until he bled.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 9

§.09


When Harmon finally made his way back to his house the car belonging to the woman was there once more as well as Lyla’s car. Sprawls car was gone. He quickly dashed inside the house and discovered Lyla sitting on his chair in the living room, bent over his desk, his sketchbook open upon it. She looked at the drawing of selfsame visage with pursed lips and wide eyes.

“That was supposed to be a surprise.”

She gasped and dropped the notebook. To Harmon her face born a sign of shame that were as a curse upon her and a faint flame of suspicious there lit up in the corridors of his tired and tumbling mind.

“I’m sorry. I had tried calling but you didn’t answer.”

“Had went for a walk. Forgot to bring my phone,” he replied gesturing to the device where it lay at the corner of the table nearest the wall, not far from the sketchbook.

“So what brings you here, fair lady?”

Lyla rose slowly, hesitating, as if the words had been snatched from her throat. She quickly regained her composure and shrugged, “Dunno. Just wanted to see you.”

“I’m surprised.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“I understand college is demanding but we never meet up anymore. We rarely even talk.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry, I just want you to be with me.”

“I’m with you now.”

Harmon moved to stand before the woman. He was two inches taller than her, three with his boots on, and looked down into her large, coffee colored eyes and raised his hand to her face and leaned down towards her, gently caressing her lips with his own. Smooth and warm and delicious. She kissed back, hard and slowly wrapped her slender arms about his neck as heart beats quickened. Harmon slid his hand beneath her shirt and she shivered at the touch and smiled.

“You’re cold.”

“I’m sure you can figure out a way to warm me up.”

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 8

§.08


Harmon rang up Bluebird at noon.

No answer.

Tried again.

No answer.

He tried a third time and finally she answered through text, writing only: “Can’t talk rn. Busy.”

Harmon cursed under his breath and slammed the small, black plastic flip-phone shut and slid it into the pocket of his jeans and straightened and looked off towards the old coal breaker, palled by shimmering sheets of rain. They had planned to go out today given that the forecast had ruled out the possibility of work. He wondered what had occasioned such a reversal?

“Am I so unimportant that you can’t even spare a single fucking minute to speak to me? To explain precisely why we can’t meet? You could just explain it vaguely and that’d suffice,” Harmon thought dejectedly as he sat down upon the peeling white, steel chair that sat lonesomely, like as he, in the backyard of his house, legs overtaken by ground ivy.

Harmon loathed self-pity and resentment, such qualities were those which he’d always perceived in his inferiors. He rose and paced and went back inside the house and looked to the illustration on the leatherbound notebook open on the plain, living room table. He studied his drawing of his girl and her smile seemed to mock him. Wordlessly, he threw on a worn, gray sweater, work shoes and sunglasses and headed out the front door.

The sun hovered over the ruins of the age’d industrial facility like a great bloated vampire, leeching the chthonic dark like as the creature from his dream. He didn’t know where he was headed, only that he wanted to walk. Needed to. He felt caged and wreakful and wore fearful of what he might do should he remain locked within the house. A group of young hispanics sitting upon the porch of a ruined tenement jeered, whereupon he slowed and then paused and held their gaze until they fell silent and squirmed with discomfort and the beginnings of fear whereupon he continued on his way. Fists balled at his sides and his breath coming in sharp, rapid inhalations.

After two hours of walking to the right from his house, he found himself standing before the coal breaker that lay like a dead colossus at the northeastern edge of town. Sun was strangled in the sky by a shroud of roiling clouds like hateful khefts and crows dived and perched from the wracked exterior of the abandoned processing plant like living daggers hungering for blood.

Harmon hated the place. To his mind, it was unconscionable to let such a majestic construct be overtaken by the greedy, swarming multitudes of nature. Every twisting, rangy vine, every rain-washed and mosquito-thick rut, every unpainted wall and door and broken window filled with bird feather and pollen-dust was a vile heresy.

Crunch of gravel. Footsteps.

He turned away from the frontal facade of the old coal breaker, to the left, where, just beyond the mangled, gravel drive, stood a woman with wild hair and light skin; she wore a multi-colored sweater, torn at the right shoulder and mud-stained tennis shoes held together by ducktape.

“Yall ain’t police is ya?”

“No, ma’am. Why do you ask?”

“They keep on harassing us.”

“Who is ‘us’?”

She thumbed the air, pointing with her digit over her shoulder towards a ratty lean-to surrounding by old tires and rusted cars.

“Us. You know that its illegal to be homeless here?”

“You ain’t homeless though. Got a tent.”

“They don’t recognize the tent as a home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. Mind if I ask what you’re doing out here?”

“Just walking.”

The woman stood uncertainly, swaying on her heels, eyes vacant, body lax. When she did not respond and slowly sat down on the ground, playing with a fraying thread upon the knee of her jeans he spoke up without moving.

“What’s your name?”

“Luna.”

“I’m Harmon. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Yeah. Yall seen the Bone Man?”

“The what?”

“The Bone Man. He comes round every so often.”

“Caint say as I have.”

“He’s got a little bag of skulls. Bird bones. That’s why we call um Bone Man. Don’t know what he does with um or where he gets um from but he always carries um.”

“Sounds like an odd fella.”

“Yeah. He is. He scares me.”

“Whys that?”

“Cuz I think that one day… one day I might end up in that bag of his.”

“Why you think that?”

“Don’t know, just do.”

“I see.”

He wondered if there were truth to the woman’s story or if it were just the product of a drug-addled mind. Momentarily, a pudgy, balding man with a trucker’s cap approached, scratching his beard.

“Heard ya talking. This a friend of yours?”

Luna shook her head.

“Nah. Just met him.”

“Right.”

Harmon tilted up his head and nodded in the man’s direction. The man nodded back and then returned his attention to the woman on the ground.

“I need your help with something.”

The man with the trucker cap looked suspiciously to Harmon and then knelt and whispered something in woman’s ear whereupon she nodded and slowly unfurled herself from the gravel. The pair then left off, returning to the lean-to and from their they headed off for a small camper in the far-flung distance. She was a mule, Harmon was certain of it. Probably a tester as well. For a moment he considered following them but hesitated. Hands working at his sides and his heels digging into the grit with a muted, flinty hiss.

He took a step forward. Then three more. At the fourth a new voice intruded upon him, it rough and jovial and foreign.

“It ain’t wise to follow people that are more dangerous than you.”

Harmon spun and discovered a tall, thin man watching him from atop a beaten and rust bitten pickup. The man wore a ball cap low and metal rimmed sunglasses and a dull flannel shirt, rolled up at the sleeves.

“How long you been there?”

“Long enough.”

“That ain’t no answer.”

“It is. Just not the one ya wanted.”

“You said those people were dangerous.”

“All people are dangerous.”

“You being purposely opaque?”

“I’m clear as crystal.”

“Crystal ain’t always clear.”

“I didn’t say it was, said I was clear as.”

Harmon paused and nearly chuckled but caught himself at the last. He found the strange interloper as amusing as bizarre.

“I’m-”

“Harmon. I heard. I’m Ryter. Jonathan Ryter.”

“Is that girl ok?”

“Compared to?”

“Anyone else.”

“Like as not the answers no.”

“You don’t seem much perturbed.”

“Lot of not ok people in the world.”

“Yeah. You live here?”

“Presently.”

“You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“Not. You were going to go after them.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Certainly seemed like you were.”

“Well, they ain’t exactly normal.”

“Neither are you.”

“I think I’m pretty normal.”

“Normal man woulda walked away. Called the police.”

“Should I?”

“You think they’re cooking something?”

“I dunno. Are they?”

“Couldn’t say. What would you do if they were?”

“Nothing, I guess.”

The man muttered something to himself and then swung himself over the side of the back of the truck and eased down onto the gravel and left off towards the front of the coal breaker and looked off towards the south where an ominous stormwall built in the sky.

“Going to rain.”

Harmon followed his gazed.

“Looks like it. I’d best be heading back then.”

“If you’re planning on walking you’ll get caught out in it.”

Harmon shrugged.

“Guess so.”

Ryter gestured to the coal breaker.

“You’re welcome to come inside til the storm passes.”

“Mighty kind of you.”

The man nodded, more to himself than to Harmon and walked into the overgrown breaker. Drawn to the man’s easy cadence and confident gait Harmon found himself following. Down the slight decline of the gravel drive and past the old power plant to the duo’s immediate left that overshadowed the tents of the junkies scattered all about the drive and outer yard where stirred dozens of glassy-eyed cast offs who sat upon over turned buckets and cinder blocks, ringing round tiny fires and jabbering of the unfortunate wending of days. Some of the itinerants looked to the duo moving towards the old facility and spake one to the other in hushed tones of grave concern and fear moved them back to silence when the sunglassed man looked in their direction.

When they passed within the decayed structure a flock of crows fluttered off from the ground and fluttered around the rafters as thunder echoed in the distance. They walked between rows of old seats where breaker boys and sorted coal by hand, beyond which was a heavy tarp upon which was a circle of bones, meticulously arranged and all of animals, lizards and possums and cats and dogs and birds and other things which Harmon could not place within the animal kingdom. It was then that Harmon recognized the man for who he was; the bone man of whom the female mule had spoken. He felt uneasy, increasingly so as the man stepped into the circle of ivory remnants and removed therefrom a old and battered tome without title save a strange sigil which Harmon could make neither heads nor tails of.

“What are all those bones from?”

“Animals I have found during my travels.”

The sunglassed man did not look to the bones and seemed not at all perturbed by them and instead flipped open the book and scribbled a couple lines down with a curious pen that looked to have been cast of bone itself. Without forewarning, a woman’s voice sounded from somewhere nearby as rain began to pelt the boarded and broken windows.

“I didn’t know we were having company.”

“Neither did I,” Ryter replied with a broad smile. Harmon turned and beheld a young woman hunched upon one of the old sorting tables; he had missed her upon entering. Her hair was short and cropped at the sides and the left side of her face was covered over with hideous scars that ran the length of her neck and vanished beneath a pale, green parka.

“Don’t be rude. Introduce yourself.”

The woman sighed like a petulant child and then rose and stepped forth from the darkened corner of the room and moved to stand before Harmon.

“Freya Lauren.”

She held out a wool-gloved hand from the ends of which more scars fled up her arm like the aftertracks of some massive species of worm. He took her hand and shook it, “Harmon. Nice to meet you folk. I had seen long ago that some people had set up tents around the breaker but I had never given any thought to people living in it – had always heard it was dangerous.”

“Upper floors are. Wouldn’t recommend you go up there alone.” The woman stated flatly. Harmon got the distinct impression she didn’t care for company.

“I’ll keep that in mind. So, what brought you two here?”

“Just needed in from the rain. Going to have some tea, you want some?”

“Sure.”

The woman turned round and moved to a small portable electric heater which had been set up on the right-middle-most anthracite sorting table. The table was iron and was the thus imperious to the heat and on top of the heater sat a small metal thermos and beside it lay two tin cups and into the cups she poured an aromatic brew.

“Must be nice.”

“What?”

Harmon gestured out to the criss-crossing iron bars of the rafters, “Living here. No taxes.”

The woman nodded.

“Yeah. Sometimes the police come round to chase out those who’d set up tents in the yard; that’s why we don’t keep much on this floor, someone walking by the windows might see us and then its up on trespassing charges. Course, that’s unlikely to happen, police round here are sparse and don’t make much of an effort. Its a long drive from the station all the way down here and a long walk from the power station to the breaker to the conveyor and dumphouse.”

Far behind them Ryter had finished writing in his book and set it upon one of the processing tables and then returned to the circle of bones and began rolling them up into the tarp on which they sat and then deposited them into a old, wooden chest in the far left corner of the room. Then the man ambled back with a tin cup which Freya dutifully poured for him. The trio drank in placid silence and shortly thereafter the rain subsided and Harmon thanked the itinerant duo for their hospitality and said he must be getting back before dark and then left off for home.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 7

§.07


When Sprawls came in from work he found Harmon hunched over a notepad, furrow-browed and furiously scribbling with great energy and concentration.

“Sup.”

“Welcome back,” Harmon turned in his seat and proffered the notebook to his friend; upon the leftern page was an elaborate portrait illustration of a young, round-faced woman with pronounced cheekbones, a wide mouth and glasses too big for her eyes. Her hair was long and dark as her eyes and lustrous and poorly tamed.

“That Lyla?”

“Yeah. What do you think?”

“Its good, man, real good. How long that take you?”

“Bout three hours.”

“Damn. You should start selling that shit.”

“For what purpose?”

“Cash.”

“I don’t need money from people who would do nothing with my work. The general public do not possess the necessary tools to appreciate it nor is it for them.”

“Who is it for then?”

“Bluebird.”

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 6

§.06


Harmon stood still. Paralyzing terror the whole of his form. The room was dark. A light visible in the distance. White and beckoning. The walls dripped viscously as if composed of oil or some like substance. A figure, human-like and yet not human, stood silhouetted by the albescent radiance surrounding. The man reached out to touch the effulgent entity whereupon, from the figure’s stomach, the form of a great centipedeal creature issued forth as if it had assumed the place of the sapient’s intestines and yet caused no outward signs of vexation to its host. A multitudinous choir lit up that seemed to come from everywhere at once, at first a garbled din, the voices swiftly coalescing and increasing in volume and rendering themselves decipherable.

*

Harmon woke and lay motionless. The afterimage of the dream linger yet in his mind, vivid but fading. It were a commonality of his life as far back as he could remember that his dreams had always been foreboding and filled with malice. Something was always chasing him or watching him, just beyond the plane of all perception. Some people said that dreams were omens, others would say they were the unconscious mind processing repressed or unrecognized memories and desires. Harmon didn’t really care either way. If an omen, it was unclear, if an unconscious wending, it communicated nothing to his higher cognition. Useless. He rose up on the bed and ran a hand through his dark, wild hair, rose and dropped to the floor, stopping his face with his powerful outstretched arms just before it collided with concrete. Muscles bulged and tensed and burned as the man reached the fifty sixth push-up. Fifty more and he rose and showered, shaved and dressed in a black T, blue jeans, gray socks and steel-toed leather working boots. The phone rang. It was Swain. No work due the rain. Harmon said “alright” and hung up. He cracked a beer and sipped it slowly, savoring the heady aluminium and hops-bathed flavors as he ascended the stairs from his room in the basement to the living room where stood his table. In short order, a notebook had been placed upon the table and the scratching of pencil thereupon filled up the house for hour after hour until the sun had risen full above the jagged, bleeding line of the horizon.

Harmon leaned back in the creaking wooden chair and observed his work and nodded with approval. His Bluebird looked beautiful.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 5

§.05


When Harmon returned to his house he found Sprawl’s car in the small, circular concrete drive before the rickety porch of the two-story ramshackle and another, unfamiliar vehicle next to it. Company. He parked behind Sprawl’s car, got out and ambled to the intrusive machine and looked in the window. A purse lay in the center console between the driver and passenger seats. The window was rolled down half-an-inch. He scented perfume.

A woman.

He looked up at the moon, like the eye of a meteoric coelacanth, and fished a cigarette out of his roughened leather jacket’s inner pocket and withdrew his cheap plastic lighter and stood looking at it, thinking of its origins. It had once been nothing more than blacked goo in the ground; through sapient ingenuity it had been fashioned into a portable combustion device. He thanked the creators, whoever they were, and stood there smoking as the clouds obscured the moon, as if that celestial body were ashamed of its nakedness before the eyes of Man. Then he turned and let himself into the house. As soon as he passed the threshold he heard a clamour coming from above. An argument. Two voices. Sprawls and his female companion. He couldn’t discern precisely what they were saying, their words muffled by the thickness of the walls. He didn’t really care and set himself down at his computer set up in the living room, cigarette still dangling from his mouth and searched up Serena McCallister. He scrolled through her social media accounts and swiftly found her public photo collection. There were numerous pictures of her and Lyla, dancing at a party, drinking their strange IPAs, others at school, others still of Serena alone. She didn’t seem to have a boyfriend. With a sigh Harmon shut his computer. Despite the public availability of all Serena’s personal information, he felt slightly guilty for looking her up; as if he were engaged in something seedy and untoward. Minutes later a woman stomped down the stairs, she was thin and sallow and fake blonde, flat-chested and round-stomach’d. Pregnant. She was crying. Harmon turned his wooden armchair around and rose.

“Hi.”

He slipped a clean and neatly folded beige napkin out of his jean pants pocket and handed it to her. She thanked him took it dabbed her eyes as Sprawls came down the stairs.

“You alright?”

The woman nodded, saying nothing and then turned to looked at Sprawls and left off out the door. Sprawls swore under his breath and shook his head.

“Women, man. You know?”

He didn’t know, precisely, but he had a good idea of the nexus of the problem.

“Relationship troubles?”

“Fuck. Yeah. Something like that.”

“She’s pregnant. Is it-”

“Fuck no. Ain’t mine. Bitches get around. You know how it is.”

Harmon mulled his roommates words over in his head and didn’t respond as Sprawls threw himself down into the battered leather couch beside the stairs, the only piece of furniture in the living room other than Harmon’s table and chair. The black man looked up at the ceiling and shook his head and and muttered something to himself and rubbed his hands over his face as if splashing insivible water.

Harmon got the man a beer and then sat down with his back to his friend, typing at his small black laptop’s keyboard, working through the second chapter of his novel. It was his third work of fiction, but the first which he felt proud, despite its fetal character. When it was finished he was sure it would get picked up quickly; it would not be a best-seller, it wouldn’t even be close but it would be remembered and he along with it. The thought of legacy turned his mind back to the woman and to Sprawls who ate a candy bar on the couch, watching something on his tablet.

“So what happened?”

“Ah, nothing, man. You got the money?”

“For rent? Yeah. I have it right here actually.”

Harmon reached into his inner jacket pocket and withdrew a small, white envelop and tossed it to Sprawls.

“Cool. Cool. Hey man, let me have one of those cigarettes.”

Harmon fished the last of his rolled sticks of tobacco out of his front jacket pocket and tossed it to his roommate who caught it wordlessly. He never said “thank you” and Harmon never chided him for it.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 4

CHAPTER FOUR


After the showing ended and the gala closed Lyla, Serena and Harmon walked out of the school and drove down to one of the small, chic cafe-bars which had recently cropped up to celebrate. They set themselves down in the aromatic cedar interior on spotless red booths where shortly thereafter a pretty middle aged woman with a tight T and cowboy boots ambled over and asked what they wanted to drink. The girls ordered microbrewed IPAs, Harmon ordered Milwaukee’s Best. The trio sat in silence, drinking and looking around at the rambunctious patrons, smiling dumbly before Harmon, a quarter of the way through his beer, broke the silence.

“So, how’d you two meet? At school, I imagine.”

Serena nodded, “Yeah, I met her, hm, yeah, it was the first day of class. We had life drawing together. She was really good and we just got to talking.”

“I seen your paintings.”

“What did you think.”

“I thought they were very pretty. Kind of erotic though.”

“Though?”

Lyla cut in, sneering, “He’s a prude.”

“Ain’t that I’m prudish,” he arched his brow, “As you well know. Just that everything is oversexed. It detracts from the sacrality of the act.”

Serena stifled a chuckle and took a big swig of her beer. She found serious use of the world “sacrality” quite funny.

“What does he say when you two are getting it on?”

“Serena!”

Serena puffed up her chest and imitated Harmon’s gravely voice and stolid pose.

“Evening, ma’am, was wondering if ya’ll might kindly undress fer me.”

“Nah. I never ask her too undress. Only orders with me.”

Lyla, embarrassed and tipsy, punched Harmon in the arm whereupon he cracked a grin and threw his arm about her and pulled her close and kissed her crown. Lyla smiled and kissed him back, upon his lips, firm and briskly and he flushed a little, his heart skipping a beat.

“Well, aren’t you two just precious.”

“Don’t know about me. But she sure is. Most precious thing I have.”

Harmon looked to Lyla. For a brief moment, her smile faltered.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 1

CHAPTER ONE


“I don’t have no problem.”

“Sure seem like you do.”

He shook his head, a fractional gesture, noticeable only due the couple’s proximity.

“Well, I don’t. Was you what started yappin.”

She folded her arms below her breasts, turning slightly away, staring at nothing, muttering, “Fine.”

“Yeah. It is. Why you being this way, Lyla? Ain’t never was like this between us before. Now, all a sudden, you’re constantly screwing up your face, hmph-ing all over the place, snapping at me for no good reason, constantly tryin ta start something…”

“Ain’t try’n ta start nothing.”

“Good, cuz there ain’t nothing to start.”

She made an expression that was midway betwixt the spitting-upon-of-disgust and the-self-indulgent-sigh-of-petty-transgression. Harmon Kessel finished his frozen yogurt, threw it in the parking-lot trashcan and turned to his girl with a expression she could not place and then fished out a cigarette and stuck it between his blood-red lips and stood smoking and watching the gulls turn circles in the thermals above the pavement.

One big cliché. A stupid and boring one, Harmon thought to himself with mild irritation. This venomous exchange and the countless ones that had gone before it. He was not a intemperate man but his reserve – like as every others – had its limits; in Lyla’s constant scrapping he was finding his. He blew a circle of smoke up and out over the parking lot before the ramshackle plaza, grinning slight, proud he’d remembered how.

“We’ve had this conversation before, Bluebird, and before we had it, we heard it.”

She turned to look at him from the corners of her eyes. He didn’t like that. The way she side-eyed him as if he weren’t worth the fullness of her attention, as if he were merely a speck of colorful paint, floating at the terminus of all perception.

“What are you on about?”

“It’s the same argument I always hear from couples – that everyone hears – whether its from memories of my parents, or the parents of my friends or my friends themselves, newly-wed, or from some book or movie. I’ve heard it and so have you. I reckon people have been hearing it since they were able to do so. People arguing bout nothing. Eating up time. We’re time eaters. Time eaters that pay no mind to whats on their plate. That’s our problem as a species.”

She cracked an awkward smile, frailer and less broad than it used to be. He dearly missed the way she used to smile, a little slice of bone-white moon with the twin suns of her dark coffee eyes shining above it.

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re strange?”

Harmon took a drag, considering. Nodded and spoke flatly.

“Bout once a week nowadays.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised.”

She was flipping through her phone now, less than half-listening. Harmon took another drag, his expression falling into a drab blankness. He’d meant the statement as a joke. She used to laugh at that sort of thing, at his dry, off-kilter humor, driven by flat overstatements of the commonplace. Just two years ago she’d have been cackling like a hyena. Now she couldn’t seem to tell when he was being serious or not. Harmon thought maybe in him some fault for that lay; maybe he was too serious, too tense on the thread of life, like as his father had said. He never smiled anymore. It was just his way. One of the gulls swooped down to the parking lot and pecked a greasy hamburger wrapper that some litterbug had left behind. Prodding with its bladeish beak til it found a fry. As Harmon watched it abscond with its golden and greasy prize and flutter up into the shine he wondered why he couldn’t feel sadness. Given the situation, it seemed appropriate; like as it would be the normal response. For all Lyla’s accusations of peculiarity, Harmon had always considered himself a relatively normal person. Average in most ways. Average height, average looks, or maybe, a little above average looks, average job with under average pay, average build, maybe leaner than most. Lean but muscular. It was only when it came to his mind that any peculiarities began to manifest themselves, odd turns of phrase and archaic words which pleased his ear and confounded every other and so oft poured from his lips in brisk and liquid flow; ruminations on the state of things that seemed beyond all ken save his own. His grandfather had once said that Harmon spoke like a man that were unweaving a secret loom which only he could read. The bar girls thought it was “sophisticated,” their boyfriends “pretentious,” Harmon’s amiable acquaintances just said he “talked funny.” He took a long drag of the fervid Fortuna and thought on the phrase “amiable acquaintances.” Most of what he had that were social were such. He reckoned he didn’t have many friends. Not anymore. None save Sprawls and Reggie and Lyla. Only Lyla was different. Friend and lover. Sweetheart since high-school. A bond worked for nearly twelve years.

He looked away from the gull. Back to his girl. She was still on her phone, drifting towards the passenger-side door.

“I’ve gotta meet, Serena.”

“Right, right. Art show.”

Harmon finished off his cigarette, dropped it to the blacktop and crushed it out beneath his heel with a faded serpentine hissing and then got in after the girl and drove out of the frozen yogurt shop where they’d shared their second kiss, the gravel sputtering beneath the ceaseless, half-deflated wheels of the battered 1990 Ford Escort Hatchback.

He looked over at her and forced a smile.

“I had a good time with you. Been too long, Bluebird.”

“Yeah.” She replied without emotion, gaze still fixed to her phone. He guessed she was still talking to Serena or one of her other art school friends he’d never met. His smile faded and he drove the rest of the journey in silence, smoking and tapping the ash out the crack of the window and watching it sputter in butterfly whorls into the oblivion-warp beyond the ambit of the roiling machine.

*