The Silence & The Howl | Part 23

§.23


Muscles burned and sweat dribbled to the floor as Harmon reached sixty pull ups. The sound of footsteps echoing off the cool concrete failed to deter. Only when Marla spoke his name did he drop from the exposed steel ceiling beam and turned to face the interloper. Marla’s eyes roamed to the man’s pale, naked torso, shrinking and swelling from his labored breath, muscles starkly defined from his ardent regime. Marla swiftly returned her gaze to the man’s shadowed face and spoke with great agitation.

“That friend of yours, the one you used to room with, he’s in the news. Been arrested. Thought you should know.”

She held up her phone, proffering it to the half naked man, who slowly ambled forth and took the device and beheld upon the screen a news article titled, ‘Local man arrested for possession of fentanyl after posting about it on social media.’ Adjacent the title was a large photograph of Sprawls, presumably taken after his arrest. His eyes were watery and his face was marred by creases of tension. He looked terrified.

Harmon nearly laughed aloud. Nearly. Exerting considerable willpower, he stayed his excitement and returned the phone to Marla.

“He never was big on self control.”

She studied what little of his face was visible through the basement’s murky gloom.

“You two were close, right?”

“Used to be.”

“Fentanyl. Been cropping up everywhere.”

“100 times more potent than morphine.”

“Mmhm,” she nodded, “Story says your friend had tons of it. Huge bagful. The odd thing was that it wasn’t the usual kind. Preliminary investigation revealed he had connections with a suspected local drug dealer named Evrik Karst, police suspect he’s manufacturing some kind of fentanyl, among other things, but can’t find any proof.”

Harmon’s mind reeled back to the shifty, strange-scented vagrants at the old coalbreaker. Thought to the rumors he’d heard that cooks moved among them and remembered how he’d nearly followed them to their queer abode in that blasted reach.

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Harmon responded, wiping the sweat from his brow, “Sprawls never had much in the way of character assessment. Thanks for letting me know.”

The woman stood expectantly a while, observing Harmon’s half-shaded face, backlit by the faint, filtered light of the single slated basement window, then turned and left the man to his exertions.

*

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 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 3

CHAPTER THREE


The art gallery buzzed like a nest of agitated hornets. Harmon, dressed in his finest dirty T and sun-eaten jeans and moving from the entrance to stand before the gala proper, found the chatter irksome and the low, odd-filtered light disorienting. He liked the dark and quiet.

Despite his proclivities he had agreed to attend Bluebird’s gala opening. Her first. She moved up beside him, breathless and beautiful, supple curves ill-contained by a tight, black sweater and revealing leggings over which she wore a similarly tight, black mini-shirt neath which shined newly polished leather boots with small, silver buckles. Harmon found the whole get-up to be a bit too form-fitting but he said nothing and mock-saluted as she approached.

“Hey.”

“Thanks for coming, Harmon.”

“I’m surprised you thought to invite me.”

An expression of irritation palled her well-plied face.

“Why?”

“Been almost a month since we last met. Been last four weeks since we last talked.”

“That’s not true. I called you last week.”

He paused and furrowed his brows before responding, “You didn’t.”

“I swear I did. I’ve been so busy…”

“S’all right. I’m not complaining. Say. Which one is yours?” Harmon inquired placidly as he cast his sharp, green eyes out over the art school’s gleaming marble floor; so clean and shimmering he could make out the stark reflections of all who there stood upon it. Bluebird pointed to a series of paintings upon a silvery panel installation in the very center of the wide, rectangular onyx-colored hall.

As he followed her gesturing hand he caught the reflection of a curious figure from out the corner of his eye, to the immediate left. Thin and trim and garbed in a albescent coat, tipped at the collar with similarly milky fur. When he followed the reflection to its source he noticed that the ivory man was watching him. The man raised a glass of red wine, smirking slight. Harmon hollowly reciprocated the gesture. He felt suddenly strange. As if a liquid had settled within the core of his being.

Bluebird sighed melodramatically and folded her arms.

“You aren’t even paying attention.”

“Sorry. Got distracted. Who is that?”

“Oh my god. He’s looking at us! He’s coming over. He’s coming over.”

“Friend of yours?”

“That’s Lynder Partridge.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He flew in from the city just to attend this gala. He’s scouting for permanent additions to his museum. You’ve really never heard of him?”

“Nope.”

Lynder Partridge strode up to the odd couple, his sharp, bloodless face opaque, luminous oceanic eyes masque’d by circular green-tinted sunglasses that made the iris appear as gold, his pose cordial and restrained.

“Salutations. I’m Lynder Partridge.”

Bluebird was so star-struck that it took her two seconds entire before she responded, and then, only shakily.

“L-lyla Couldry. I’m… I’m such a big fan, Mr. Partridge. What you’ve done with those library renovations in the city and her, in our little town, its just wonderful.”

“Why thank you, Lyla. And your friend?”

Harmon step forward, extending his rough and calloused hand. He didn’t expect Lynder to take it, yet shortly, the elegant ivory man did, extending one of his leather-gloved hands and grasping Harmon’s own, firmly and without hesitation.

“Harmon Kessel.”

“So pleased to meet you, Mr. Kessel. I’m pleased to see a roofer involved in the arts – architects have a long-standing history of interdisciplinary interest, as their own trade demands it, yet the actual builders who bring their creations into being and those who maintain them, are considerably less intrigued by graphic demonstrations such as those which garner the walls of this venerable establishment.”

“Why do you think I’m a roofer?”

“Skin is tan. Burnt about the neck. Your jeans are roughly worn at the knees, shirt, faded about the shoulders and back. Means you spend a lot of time in the sun, shorn of shade and a lot of time on your hands and knees. The only trade wherein that would occur in this town is roofing.”

“That’s clever.”

Lynder remained wholly impassive save for the slightest trace of a smirk which vanished as quickly as it appeared. Momentarily, Serena walked up to the trio and greeted Lyla and then looked to Lynder and Harmon.

“Who are your friends, Ly?”

“This is Harmon Kessel and this is Mr. Lynder Partridge.”

“THE Lynder Partridge?”

“Indeed.” He responded flatly before turning and half-bowing to the woman whose eyes went momentarily wide with surprise. Lynder then cast his gaze out to the installation directly beside Lyla’s, “Is that your work?”

“Y-yes. I’m so nervous. Its my first gallery showing.”

“I shall have to take a closer look.”

Shortly, Serena and Lyla moved off a pace. It appeared to Harmon as if Serena had some important information to convey. He was mildly irritated that Serena hadn’t even so much as said, “Hi.”

“Looks as if the ladies are conferring. Shall we peruse the works together?”

“Sure.”

The duo moved to stand before the center panel installation which harbored Lyla’s works. Paintings. Her centerpiece was a massive colorful oil painting of a large swan in mid-flight, gliding over the top of a pristine, azure pond, surrounded by reeds and cherry blossoms; petals dancing in the wind.

Lynder studied the piece a moment and shook his head before finishing off his wine and handing it to one of the school volunteers who took the crystal goblet with a smile and moved on to the next group.

“What do you think?”

Harmon studied the picture, “I think its pretty.”

“Indeed it is. That’s the problem. Its pretty and only pretty. Nothing but pretty.”

“I don’t think its that bad. Besides, art is subjective.”

Lynder spoke without turning, eyes to the swan, hands clasped gingerly behind his back.

“Subjectivity is objective. If it seems otherwise it is only due a lack of apprehension.”

“Not sure I follow.”

“I mean that those conditions which undergird subjectivity are themselves objective, even if one does not know what those are. To say otherwise is to say that the foundations of subjectivity are themselves subjectively determined. Now that is hardly plausible is it?”

“Well, put like that, I guess not. But why don’t you like the painting?”

“To answer I would pose a question in return.”

“Ok.”

“Of what use is the art which does not seek to force life to imitate it?”

“Well, she’s not trying to force life to imitate anything. She’s trying to imitate life.”

“Precisely. She imitates life and in so doing, presents to the audience – us – an idyll of splendor with which we can do… what precisely with?”

“Appreciate.”

“To appreciate escapism is degrade life itself. It is the act of a coward.”

Harmon wanted to respond. To defend Bluebird’s work, but words failed him. He had never met anyone who was so filled with such quiet passion and lacking the same, knew not how to meet it.

“You think that I’m being too harsh, don’t you?”

“A little.”

“Given your relationship to the author, that is understandable. Understandable but mistaken.”

“Seems kinda snobbish to me.”

“There is a marked distinction between snobbery and elitism.”

“You saying you’re an elite?”

“I said there is a distinction between snobbery and elitism. I did not say I was a member of an elite; that is another important distinction.”

“Lyla likes to say, ‘Art isn’t about being good.'”

“That would explain why her’s is so bad. Think of the trouble that ethos would cause if it were applied to other professions.”

“Whole lot, I imagine.”

“When one is in need of an electrician, what kind does one seek out?”

“The best. What does that have to do with painting?”

“When one selects a friend does one undiscriminatingly accept all, or does one critically discern the trustworthy?”

“The latter.”

“Exactly. So if one holds such standards for electricians and friends, why not for art?”

“Good question. Don’t think many round here would be keen to answer it.”

Lynder briefly looked over his shoulder at the bright-eyed and youthful denizens of the school, mingling with their teachers and journalists and a couple of well-known local artists.

“Gird yourself. The vultures have arrived,” Lynder half-whispered to Harmon with amusement.

“You mean the journalists. I take it you don’t like um?”

“They have no appreciation for art. Their kind doesn’t belong here.”

“You’re awfully opinionated on art. You do any yourself?”

“I do. What about you, Mr. Kessel?”

“Well, sorta. I like to write. Fancy I’m decent enough. Never gotten anything properly published though.”

Lynder removed a small business card from his pocket and handed it to Harmon.

“If you ever wish to send my publishing house one of your manuscripts, give me a call and I’ll personally white-list it.”

“Thanks. Very kind of you. But uh, you haven’t read anything I’ve done.”

“It is refreshing to converse with one who is so unceasingly forthright.”

“Well, I appreciate that. I figure there’s enough lying and obscuring to go around. No need to add to it.”

Lynder turned and moved to Serena’s installation.

“Your friend’s girlfriend’s work is much more interesting.”

“She’s not Lyla’s girlfriend.”

“Oh? Could have fooled me. Once they walked off they moved together rather, how shall I put it… intimately.”

Harmon felt a sudden unease overtake him and shortly thereafter, anger. It was not incited by Lynder’s words, but by a consideration of the prospect that his word’s might be correct. He slowly turned and scanned the crowd. He couldn’t see Lyla or Serena. He ground his teeth and fractionally shook his head. No. It was ridiculous. Unthinkable. She’d never betray me. Certainly not in so deviant a fashion. She loves me, he thought determinedly. Breaking from his reverie, he refocused his attention on the spot where Lynder had stood.

He was gone.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 2

CHAPTER TWO


Harmon awoke with the rising of the light. He ran his hands through his hair, wild and dark as raven-down. He stretched and cracked his neck and leaned out on the tips of his toes til he fell to the floor, catching himself before his face collided with the spotless concrete of his tea and smoke-scented basement. He did a push-up and then one hundred and then twenty more. At one hundred and twenty he started to waver and dropped to his shoulder and rolled over on his back, breathing heavy as a cat howled from somewhere outside. Shortly thereafter, something else howled. Coon from the sound of it. He checked the time. 7:00 AM sharp. He’d an hour to make it to work. He rose and looked to his mobile phone, outdated by the standards of the day. Tense. Anxious. Expectant. It’d been two weeks since Harmon had dropped Lyla off with Serena. Only phone calls he’d gotten were from his boss and his bank to let him know that his account had gone inactive and would be closed if it continued to remain so.

He fancied he were being impatient, she’d call, he told himself, she always did. They used to speak for hours every other day. Hang out on the regular. Increasingly, that was becoming a rarity. Now they’d speak but once every other week, if that. They’d meet up once a month or every other. Harmon shook himself from reverie, stretched and leapt up to the exposed crossbeam of the basement ceiling and started doing pull ups. A sudden implacable fury permeating his soma. He hit fifty and dropped, muscles afire. A pleasurable pain. He looked in the old mirror that had been left in the basement by the previous owner; his pale-yet-tanning form, all sharp, angular lines and surging veins, was alien to him. It occurred to him he’d not looked at his own reflection for over a month. There were no other mirrors in the house. He tensed his half-naked body before the mirror with his arms at his sides; his opaque green eyes vacuous. Glassy. Like liquid emerald’s encased in amber.

He showered, dressed and walked up the stairs to the living room where Sprawls was sitting, drinking his bottom-shelf beer and smoking a joint that smelled of mildew. The odious scent of the rough rolled sheet permeated the room and Harmon braced himself against any outward show of displeasure as Sprawls took a sip before speaking.

“Morning. You been up all night?”

“Stayed up writing.”

“Come up with anything good?”

Sprawls nodded and offered his roommate the joint. Harmon waved the offer and poured himself a cup of coffee, waiting for the reedy black man to continue. After a shrug and a lengthy toke he did so.

“Got this nice blues line, man. Need you to cook up some lyrics for it.”

“We’ve been writing songs for a year now. When we gonna start playing places?”

“What kinda places?”

“Dunno. Bars. Somewhere with an audience.”

“I been busy, man.”

“You work at a failing print shop with one reliable client.”

“Yeah, well, its a very demanding client. Why you always so impatient?”

“Not impatient. Just think we’ve come up with some good work. Must be that stuff you’re smoking.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning it makes you lazy as shit.”

“What’s your fucking problem, man?”

“Didn’t have one til you started snappin.”

Sprawls shook his shiny, bald head, rolled his bloodshot eyes and took another drag, knocking back his beer. He flipped on the television.

As Harmon went to take a sip of his coffee Sprawl spoke up suddenly, “Rent is due soon.”

“Yup.”

“You have it?”

“I will.”

“So you don’t have it?”

“No. Not now, I don’t. Will once Swain pays me.”

“You want to stay in my house you’d better fucking have it on time.”

“What do you mean ‘your’ house?”

“My name on the deed.”

Harmon didn’t respond and took another sip of the coffee, inhaling the soothing Colombian scent. Then he spoke up with a ill-concealed vexation.

“I thought we were friends, Richard.”

Sprawls perked up, no one except Harmon ever called him ‘Richard.’ He’d taken on the moniker ‘Sprawls’ after getting released from prison.

“We are. Weird thing to say.”

“You just threatened to throw me out of our house.”

Sprawls took a toke. Body limp. Eyes shifting from the TV screen to the man behind the kitchen counter.

“Because its MY name on the deed.”

“I’ll have the money.”

“Five days.”

“Five days.”

“I’m serious.”

Harmon furrowed his brows. Sprawls was barely there.

“So am I. I’ll have it.”

“Cool. See ya.”

He may as well have said, “Whatever.”

Harmon finished his coffee and let out the house, got in his beaten and sun-scrubbed car, lit up a cigarette, cracked the window and hit the gas and drove down the cratered roads of the suburban neighborhood to the end of the northern-most street whereupon he spied a gang of toughs hanging about between two peeling and dilapidated houses that looked like over-sized shoe-boxes. The toughs were black and mostly middle-aged with cheap shirts and expensive sneakers. Harmon had seen them hanging around before and knew that they weren’t locals. They looked expectant and worried. Moving back and forth in wordless perambulations, tight little circles of uncertainty. Some smoked and others listened to their MP3 players on their phones. Harmon figured they were on business. Waiting for a drop-off. The area had changed after The Cartel moved across the border, peddling flesh and pills. He looked out the window again as he pulled to a stop at the red light; could have ran it but he liked the ritual of the thing, the stop and smoke and stare, at the gray, seething clouds, like great ethereal snakes, at the birds whirling swarm-tactically against the thermals, at the black outsiders with their baggy pants and bad tattoos and vacant expressions, at the drop off from the rise and the vast mechanical expanse of the abandoned plant below; coal breakers, they used to call them, sorting and processing sites for anthracite, bitumen and lignite. A place where children once labored under the auspices of strong-willed industrialists. From his metallic perch he could see strange forms moving where none should be, glassy-eyed and furtive amongst the shattered and rain-worn rocks of the coal breaker’s ruin.

Junkies.

The zombie apocalypse had already happened and it hadn’t even made the front page. Pharmacology, the vector for a self-inflicted scourge. The pharmacist-as-pusher. The citizen as outcast.

Harmon took a long, soothing drag and watched the addict-vagabonds moving in strange undulations against the dessicated corpse of the iron giant. He wondered if the once-mighty site of unparalleled industry could be rehabilitated, reanimated, summoned forth from its fetid slumber by some creative recourse to technological necromancy. The thought filled his bosom as his whirring clockwork mind with a sense of unrealized majesty.

The landscape before him transformed into a field of great ranging towers, like the fangs of some titanic canine, arcing towards the sky as if in hunger of the moon. The junkies and lean-tos vanished beneath the furious blaring of steam-engines charting the fruits of the coal breaker by rail-lines to every corner of the world and all those beyond it. Their rumbling stacks searing the acrid wind with staccato puffs of smoke, pitch and gray and fading out into particulates imperceptible to the eyes of Man. He saw high-rises crop up around the coal breaker and many more behind it. A metropolis. A megalopolis. A ecumenopolis. A city so great it were as a geological force unto itself, that shook the very foundations of the earth, reverberating the magmous core with the song of its creators; echoing out unto the very stars which were the builders’ own to claim.

Harmon’s reverie was broken when the light turned green. He paused a moment and looked out the driver-side window, away from the coal break, to the right, to the shoe-box houses and the would-be gangbangers stoop-shouldered and sag-pants’d as a troop of hispanics walked up to them, plain-clothed and colorful.

“The fuck you lookin’ at, white boy?”

Harmon said nothing and methodically flicked his half-smoked cigarette out the window, where it landed with a hissing sputter at the caitiff’s feet. He refocused his attention to the road as a muted “motherfucker” echoed briefly behind the rambling, metal wagon.

*

Harmon arrived at work five minutes late. His daydream’s heady alcahest the generative nexus of his tardiness. Eric Swain folded his thick and hairy arms before his chest and shook his head, short-cropped hair copper with the rising sun.

“You’re late.”

“I know it. Got distracted.”

“Hows that?”

“Got to daydreaming.”

Swain smiled slightly, wryly and shook his head fractionally and spoke slowly.

“Coulda lied. Traffic jam, or something.”

“I suppose. Ain’t many cars on the road though.”

“How would I have known?”

“You wouldn’t, but I would.”

Swain shook his head again, like a horse chasing off flies and then looked skyward, squinting his sunglassed eyes gainst the relentless rays of the effulgent sphere and then turned.

“Well. Come on.”

“I’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again. Much as I’m able.”

“What? Being late? Hell… you’re the only reliable hand I’ve got other than Daryl.”

“I don’t think Daryl likes me.”

“Daryl doesn’t like anybody. You said ensure.”

“Yeah.”

“My wife bought me some Ensure,” the duo moved over the front lawn to the unfinished house’s driveway where stood a stack of roofing tiles, Swain reached up and removed a bottle,” Its like a protein-shake type of thing,” he shook the bottle,” Said it’ll help me keep it off the middle,” he patted his rounded gut and smiled again, “Guess’n I could do with that.”

“Guess’n so.” Harmon scanned the neat and brightly colored packaging of the protein shake. It was delightfully designed. Beautiful in its simplicity. Bright blue swooshing up in a thick line at the top and bottom bracketed in the middle by off-white with the brand name strikingly colored in stylized typeface just below the thick, upper blue swoosh. He thought of all the work that had gone into the bottle’s design; he thought of the graphic design team that had spent weeks or months choosing an appropriate typeface, modifying it, colorizing it, sketching out drafts in some aromatic coffee house, of the plastic manufacturers which had crafted the bottle to be as ergonomic as possible and of the alchemists, shuttered away in their corporate laboratories judiciously mixing and remixing various tinctures so as to strike the right balance in taste and texture. Harmon fancied it likely that more cognitive energy had been distilled in the creation of that single drink than would be expended by most of those that drank it in a month. The apprehension of such industrious creativity flooded his mind with mirth. He looked up to the roof he would shortly help to build and for the first time in a very long time, he felt pure and unmitigated joy.

*

Harmon was fifteen minutes on the bare roof of the house before, Andy Flint, the last of the crew arrived. He conversed with Swain briskly. Agitation the whole of their forms. Then Flint scaled the ladder to the roof and grabbed a sponge-pad to walk on to ensure he had some tractable footing such that he did not, in venturing out upon that perilous peak, slid off upon the slick, shiny wood or newly nail tiles and tumble out unto the void and there slam his skull upon the concrete drive below. Harmon recalled last winter when they had been working a roof in the middle of winter in the downtown area. The ice made the sponges near-useless and Swain, running a small operation and lacking the funds for harnesses, bid his crew work across the frozen tile. Harmon had overexerted himself and fallen flat upon his back some near twenty feet off the roof. He’d landed in some shrubs and lay their for a long while, stunned and unable to breathe. When Swain asked him if he was alright he had grunted and raised his left arm skyward, thumb extended upwards.

“Mornin’ Andy.”

“Harmon.” Andy replied, nodding dully as he scuttled up to the middle of the roof on his sponge-pad, wrinkled jeans scrapping against the sun-faded plywood like sandpaper on snakeskin. He was jittery and tense. His eyes bloodshot and ringed with owlish circles.

“Can you hand me that bag of tiles?”

“That asshole.”

“Who?”

“Fuckin’ all of them, man. All of them. Sonsofbitches, every one.”

Harmon paused a moment and watched the man curse under his breath and then returned to his work. He didn’t like to chat when he was focused on a task. Andy’s dour mood was ruining the atmosphere of creation. He wanted to dash lizard like across the roof as he built it up under the hot and ceaseless sun with nothing but the creaking of the renovated house and the sonorous opera of the wind. The chatter was breaking his concentration.

“Told me I’d be fired if I was late again. Just like that. Hell, I been working here just as long as you and they still treat me like I’m some… I don’t know… like I’m wet-behind the ears. Like I’m some kinda fuckup.”

“You shouldn’t pay so much heed to what people say when they’re angry.”

“A-fucking-men, man, a-fucking-men.”

Andy smiled awkwardly. He was twitchy and kept scratching himself, flexing his fingers and rubbing his arms in between nailing down the tiles, as if they were assailed by an army of invisible ants. Drugs. Uppers. Harmon wasn’t sure what particular kind, but he could tell the man was on something. He’d had a history of substance abuse, didn’t like to talk about it. Harmon didn’t want to ask. He was focused on the roof. Shortly, Daryl’s crass voice boomed out from the far-side of the rooftop.

“What are you two faggots talking about?”

“Just shooting the shit,” Andy responded irritably.

Daryl stood up high, as if to show his dominance over the peaked surface, “Well, you sure are filled with shit, Andy, so I’m sure you got a whole lot of it to shot.”

Andy leapt up, furious.

“You’re always talking down to me.”

Daryl loosed a cackle and shook his head.

“Why you gotta be such a drama queen.”

“You keep talking.”

“I will.”

“Piss off.”

“Rather not.”

“Keep on it.”

“Hows that girl friend a yours? The flat-chested one.”

“Shut it, Daryl.”

“Might have mosquitoes bites but she sure is pretty. Almost as pretty as that sweet thing our man Harmon’s saddled with. Nice curves on that one. Hows is she doing, Harmon?”

“Fine.”

“Oh look at ole Andy. He’s hopping mad. Look, what I said about your girl – its not an insult. If my mug was as ugly as yours I’d take whatever lay I could get.”

“Shut your fucking mouth.”

“Or what? You’ll shut it for me?”

Tremors of rage shook the hammer in Andy’s hand. His knuckles going white about the red-taped handle. Daryl pointed to the hammer, his tone sobering.

“You so much as swing that in my direction you will regret it.”

Harmon turned around his visage impassive and rose to his knees and slowly placed his hand upon Andy’s arm which clutched the hammer.

“Enough. We got work to do. Client is expecting us to finish this roof today.”

After a moment of tense silence Andy and Daryl moved off to opposite ends of the roof as the neophytes clamber up the ladder, bags of tile upon their straining backs.

*

After work Andy sided up to Harmon where he lay upon his back counting his pay on a patch of cool-shaded grass neath a willow in the backyard of the client’s house. To either side of the tree rose up thick hedges, ill-kept and somewhere a cat meow’d. Andy explained his cousin was unable to pick him up and asked if Harmon could give him a ride. Harmon looked around. Only Swain and Daryl remained, the neophytes all having departed the moment the boss had allowed it. Swain was talking to his wife, planning a dinner-outing for the night. There was no point in Andy asking Daryl. Harmon nodded, saying nothing and asked for but a moments patience. He liked the feel of the grass upon his skin. The moss of the willow upon his neck. He closed his eyes and inhaled and opened them and watched a dragonfly land upon one of the upper branches of the willow and he thought of the construction of the creature and then a facsimile all of copper and brass and steam and coal and fire. A great clockwork dragonfly and he upon it, skipping over the clouds with reckless enthusiasm and a conqueror’s cry. Then he shook himself from reverie, removed his keys and rose.

*

Cherry of Harmon’s cigarette flickered like furnace coal upon the windshield. Andy sat in the passenger’s seat. Sullen. Ashamed.

“Hey Harmon.”

“Yeah?”

“Just wanted to thank you.”

“Its no trouble at all.”

Andy nodded appreciatively and then looked out the red-tinged passenger’s window; some youths were ambling about a basketball court; to the left, a old woman sat upon her porch drinking from a mason jar as a cat the size of a small dog twined about her blue-veined legs. Harmon’s eyes were fixed to the road. He did not need to look out the window. He had memorized every house. Every sign. Every road-turning. Only the inhabitants thereof remained a mystery to him. There was no map, mental or otherwise could encapsulate them. A thin black man passed a young white woman upon the sidewalk before the house of the woman with the mason jar. Neither looked into the eyes of the other and they passed beside each other with wordlessly apathy as if the other were nothing more than a clump of grass. Harmon found it strange and unsettling how so many people could live in such close proximity for so long and yet almost never look or speak to one another. They came and went like ghosts under the setting sun.

“If you died in a crash, but some of your organs could be saved and transplanted, would you want them to be?”

Andy, arched a brow, confused and startled by the sudden query.

“Uh. Dunno. Why?”

“Just something I get to thinking about whenever I drive.”

“I don’t think I’d want my insides inside someone else.”

Harmon tilted his head up and took a drag of his cigarette and mulled his own question around in his mind and answered with measured tones.

“I used to think that way. Used to think it was weird.”

“And now?”

“Now I don’t. If I were to get pancaked – say, right up the road, before I pull in to your drive – bam, flattened; but one of my organs, say, a lung, remained intact and could be transplanted to some patient that needed it, I think whoever can should scoop it out, put it on ice. I wouldn’t need it, being a pancake and all. I’m not a pharaoh.”

Andy considered the driver’s words and then puckered up his mouth and nodded as if sense had been made of the thing.

“Makes sense I suppose. Less’n you’re religious in some kinda way.”

“Everyone is religious in some kinda way.”

“Thought you were an atheist?”

“So are the Taoists, but no one calls them that.”

“Caint say as I know much bout no Tao.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

They rode in silence back to Andy’s house where it stood like a fat skeleton against the pale, bony light of the slowly ascendant moon. Andy thanked the driver again and got out and strode up past the confederate flag which hung over the low-hanging porch, covered over in blankets and beer cans and rickety rocking chairs and flower pots and then vanished there within.

*

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.

*