They said nothing to each other on the drive home from the hospital. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands; she clutched hers in her lap.
At home, she got out of the truck and disappeared inside. He took his time getting out. There was no point hurrying anymore.
Later, he stood in the garage, hands in his pockets, looking at the stuff piled around. The accumulation of a life together. Why was it that something so humdrum looked so different after a tragedy? Was it the tears? He didn’t know.
He began gathering things. The small fridge they’d moved when they no longer had the luxury of a “movie room”; the camping grill her dad used when he took her and her sisters camping as kids; the battery-powered boombox from college he couldn’t throw away; the family-sized camping tent they’d bought on a whim only a few weeks ago—it’d been on sale, and they figured they’d need it eventually, since camping was a thing families did. But now…
He knew she couldn’t be around him. He didn’t know if he could be around her. How were they supposed to put all of it, what they’d endured—were enduring—into words? He thought maybe they couldn’t—maybe silence was the only thing left. Maybe grief could turn the world inside-out.
She could have the house to herself. He took the tent and the camping stove and the boombox out to the front lawn. He grabbed an extension cord and the beer fridge and brought those out, too. It was late July; the days were pleasant enough, the nights more so. Stars twinkled like lightning bugs. The smell of his neighbors’ fresh-cut lawn was invigorating. Maybe being out here would do him good.
Time passed. He sat out in a camping chair during the day, grilling hot dogs and drinking beer, listening to the radio and watching his neighbors pass by. At night, he kept the front flap open so he could fall asleep watching the stars.
Sometimes he looked up at the second-story bedroom window, expecting to see a light—a glimpse of her—but it was always dark. If he ventured inside, he stayed on the main level, careful not to disturb her solitude.
Early on, friends and extended family stopped by, offering their condolences, their empty thoughts and prayers. Some brought food, left untouched on the kitchen counter. They asked what he was doing, living like he was. He would shrug, grunt, take another sip of beer. These people who sought to comfort him, who talked to him like he might break at any instant, couldn’t understand what he was feeling. Not really. He felt like he was experiencing these interactions underwater, on the other side of thick glass.
He couldn’t focus on details, only saw a fuzzed-out, grainy whole. He thought again of how grief could turn the world inside-out, and he wondered if a veil had descended, sundering him off from everything. He wondered if his wife felt the same. Had this veil sundered the two of them? Had they—he—been cut from reality?
A family visiting his neighbors stopped by while he was relaxing in his lawn chair. They asked if he was selling everything on the front lawn, like the man in that Raymond Carver story. Instead of answering, he just laughed—and laughed and laughed.
He couldn’t say when the static started. One moment, the boombox was working perfectly—the next, it played nothing but static. When he turned the boombox off, static still came through. Even when he tossed the batteries in the trash, static continued blaring from the speakers.
By the time he realized all he could hear was static—that it was either coming from everywhere, or coming from within himself—he was in his tent, and the world was going dark.
He saw a horrific creature suspended in the sky, its skeletal wings outstretched across impossible distances. Its bony hands held a scythe large enough to reap the cosmos.
The baby would’ve been so small in the presence of that blade. He wondered if the creature had even been aware of the baby, or if it had regarded it with the same indifference he himself regarded ants in the grass.
The creature slashed the scythe across the heavens first one way, then the other, snuffing out the light of stars.
The man found himself hating the creature, wishing to wrest the scythe out of its bony grip and turn the blade on its owner. But he could only bear witness as the scythe swung again and the moon broke apart, shattering like a crystal ball dashed against concrete. Splinters of the moon rocketed through the atmosphere in fearsome streaks of purpled blood-orange.
Moon-shards pummeled the lawn like jackhammers. Smoking craters opened hungrily, the earth shuddering, bucking with every impact. Fires burning along the horizon of the world gave the darkness a hellish tint.
Things emerged from the craters, unfurling, indistinct, all feathers and eyes and mouths. They sang as they came for him, a high-pitched shrieking that grew louder as each new mouth added another agonizing layer, harmonizing with each shriek that came before, until he could feel the piercing resonance in his teeth.
More things emerged from the craters, flapping and singing and blinking and shrieking, crowding his tent, crowding until even the light of the hellfires beyond could not get through and he was plunged into a darkness so complete it was without beginning or end.
This was it. Entombed in rustling wings, caressed by the wet orbs of innumerable eyes, gnawed by impossible mouths. This was the end. The world had gone inside-out.
And he welcomed it.
He woke the next morning, surprised. Surprised by waking; surprised by sunlight and blue skies, birds chirping; surprised by the weight of his wife beside him in the tent, squeezing him like she needed him, sobbing against his chest.
He breathed her in, wrapped his arms around her, and cried, too.
August 18th 2023
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Nine great new short stories and two drabbles in a fine new collection from Wyldblood. These stories cover death (and its aftermath), identity (and its pitfalls) choices (and their consequences) and much more. We have aliens with time travel machines and buildings that want you to stay just a little bit longer – like, forever. Thought provoking fantasy and science fiction available in print and digital formats.
From the Depths
Our latest anthology is packed with tales of the murky deep. We’ve got fifteen stories stuffed with selkies and sea monsters, pirates and meremaids, intrigue, adventure and more. Available in print and digitally.
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