Grandpa and me hiking. I’m seven…

‘Watch for bears, Mike.’

‘Haha. Scotland doesn’t have bears. Is Bigfoot real?’

‘Aye. I saved one from a net trap. An adult male. Arms like logs.’


‘His name was George. Turns out he was a husband. Two months married to Parsley. George introduced me to her. She said to call her Pars.’

‘Hahaha. Fibber gibber.’

‘I had dinner with them. A rare cook, Pars.’

‘What did you eat?’

‘Acorn pie and bark toast.’

‘Hahaha. What did you drink?’

‘Twig tea.’


‘Don’t tell gran about it, Mike. I made a vow. Promised George and Pars to keep it secret.’

‘But you told me. Went and put your BIG FOOT in it. Hahahahahaaa…’

‘Hmm. You laugh like George.’

Fast up the freeway, he reached the turret bridge. A half mile concrete expanse. Midway over, at a rest crescent, he leaned on the railing and watched the river. Black syrupy waters. A rowboat strayed oarless. He bawled, ‘Carp bite’n, skipper,’ and gobbed phlegm and walked on, middle of the road, the barren asphalt slapback echoing his laughter madder.

Through the dip townside, cobbled sidewalks narrowed. He took a short lane into a suburb. Willow tree paths. Warren avenues, laced cul-de-sacs, cars and vans and trucks in driveways empty. Ghost street show lots. Home windows curtaindrawn. A bereaved place. Neighbours entire dying and dead, he knew.

Dogs came out from behind an RV. A fur line. Four thick breeds on the gableslab. A mastiff led onto the lawn and raised a hind leg and urinated on a kiddy tractor. A heavy spray. Rees guessed alpha, the dog eyeballing him, growling. He moved his rifle strap off shoulder and cocked the weapon and scoped the alpha and touched the trigger and nodded at the watcher pack and said, ‘Bet’s yer bitches. Balls like his.’

He hit the liver nose. Skull broke and caved and tongue and brain and jaw fell meat chunk. The pack fled squealing. Ears to tailtips hackled, ripping garden scrubbery, leaping fences, the terror dimmer the further they bolt.

‘Hole bursters, them balls,’ Rees said to the carnage bleed.

He strapped on his rifle. Strode over the lawn. Stood at the bay window. Houses across the street and hound bits and him reflected back. He dunk his nose against the glass and saw inside. A woman laid on the sofa. Quilt on her. He knocked, but she didn’t shift. Her head on the cushion, facing the ceiling, eyes open. Like she was thinking colours to paint it.

‘I’ll cut yer grass for a popsicle.’ Rees tried the slide door. Jam locked. He breathed on the glass and finger sketched a cupid arrow and heart. A man entered the room holding a basin and flannel.

‘Cain’t find yer doorbell,’ Rees said, hands up surrender. The man ignored him and sat on the floor and wet the flannel in the basin and petted the woman’s face with the damp part.

Ducked away and up the gable, Rees shouted, ‘I’ll roun back get in. Fore she cops.’

‘Ass mutts,’ said Rees.

Dung mucked his boots. Coyote scat. He hacked the soles through grass and stamped and scraped, rucksack scuffing his spine, rifle point groundward. Noon sunflare roast him. Bruised and peeled his bald scalp and crust middle-age lines on his neck. He squinted over the wide plain. Fit lime grassland. Hills blistered pink. Far trees embraced and waltzed, heat haze trickery. ‘Pop a berry,’ he said, kicking a shrub airborne. He crossed a field and vaulted a fence and headed into town. Swore on his balls to find a hat.

At a main junction, near a derelict bus, he unstrapped his gear and dropped his dungarees and squatted. Along the road, past shut shops and tomb appartment blocks, dogs barked. No sight of them. Sounded like a pack in flight. Masterless. Orderless. ‘Bow fucky wow,’ he said.

He shat and blew his nose. Snot into red bikini pants, done with them, sniffed out. His abuse on the fabric. He considered the woman who had worn them. ‘Cockle darlin,’ he said, and wiped his anus with the silk crotch. He dumped them on the shit and rose hoisting denim shoulder straps.

A vehicle’s engine turned over. Chattered up littered streets. The starter stammered, coughing and choking, deader with each ignition switch. It stutter died.

Rifle raised, Rees ripped six rounds, aimed at a cloud, a solitary pearl in the lagoon sky. ‘Pickle yir cockles,’ he shouted and jigged around his mess hysterical.

Outside a gun store he sat his rucksack on the sidewalk and unclipped a pouch and drew a crowbar. He knelt and jemmied the shutter base, grunting and jabbing and bending. Locks sprang broken and he lifted the cage, hoping the mute alarm to squeal. He easy burst the entrance door and pouched the crowbar. The shop was heavy stocked. He tinkered with rifles and shotguns. Loaded a pistol big as his fourteen-size boots and posed at a full-length mirror. He holstered the gun in his thigh pocket and pulled and fired. ‘Howdy, pilgrim,’ he roared, grinning to his eyebrows, his reflect other felled to glints. Felt like the floor cracked.

He snatched his crotch and cat about the shop fiddling an erection. Liked it jumpy against the zip. He pillaged under-counter drawers. Opened boxes of bullets and cases of gun-cleaning kit. Dropped them soon as he’d touched and seen and sniffed. He sat on a swirl chair and twirled. Imagined the gunsmith proprietor everyday loving the joyride. Knew him surely dead.

Metal tastes stuck his mouth. Dried his tongue clothy. He spat and hoist his heels and slammed the proofed counter glass. Helled on smashing it. The casing trembled unbreakable. He hammered harder. Cramp flood and sogged his calves and he stood and hopped and bawled, ‘Stick my hole,’ and muscles flexed true and he hobble-sat and sneezed and his ears popped and he heard his presence louder about. Tight on the chair he unzipped and bat thinking a priest strangling a nun. He thinked her hogtied, pants split, death-dizzy gurgling a psalm. His spell seized and boiled and burned and he wore grinning to sleep.

A creature chewed him. His popped eye saw his body-him shred sinewy between serpent teeth. A saliva mud washed his eye-him down the gullet into an amonia pond. Buoyant in the urine stink, he saw his pale heart sink, beating bleeding.

Stewed awake he yelled, ‘Maw,’ and leapt and grabbed his rifle and blasted the shop window, an erratic salvo, maybe ten shots. A smoke blind lifted. Glass fangs root from the square timber framework. He supposed the space a demon mouth. Jittered sober, he burped and farted and pissed on the floor and zipped up.

He stashed away bullets. Four fat boxes tucked into his rucksack. He yanked the till and swiped a fist of bills. On his way out, shoulder-ramming the door, he tossed the notes overhead, and not a glance back shouted, ‘That ought’n cover it.’

In the forest, leaf sweet darkness, a woman pleaded.

‘Jesus,’ she cried. Then quiet.

Against instinct, Aiden headed to the silence, afraid and alert. Old mute woods, deep night, oak and ash chromed with moon. Fennel spiced his nostrils. Soothed his dusty throat. He tasted the scent and scouted on, sleek and slow in the scrub.

On a dell bank, the woman lay limp and torn. A girl curled in the brackenfern. Aiden approached her, twig breaking steps, and her arm rose.

‘No more,’ she said, her eyes buried under foul swelling.

‘It’s all right.’ Aiden knelt and lifted her head on his thigh. ‘I’m here.’

‘My teeth hurt.’

‘You’re a brave lady.’

‘Still hurts.’

‘Tooth fairy will fix it.’

‘Funny,’ she said, and her last breath spent on his arm.

A far ridge, a man loped black against the moon, a curved utensil in his hand, swinging with his stride. ‘Beast,’ said Aiden. He parted congealed hair from the girl’s cheek. Laid her down. Stained and slack in the dirt.

Back at the tent, he retched in his sleeping bag. Sacrilege scenarios breaking his rest. Daybreak, the rain clawed, breezeless on the door mesh. Birdsong and ripe June smells. Aiden rose naked. Peed on a shrub. Squat at a brook and shaved in the humid downpour. He towel pat his face and lit the single burner. Brewed up coffee. He poured a cupful and filled a flask. Spread jam on a raisin scone and ate it with his brew. He had planned to list his provisions but decided against an inventory in the wet. There was plenty, he was sure. Maybe a healthy week’s worth. He dressed, topped a water flask, packed his rucksack, and continued up country.

Mid afternoon the rain died and the sun hurt and birds piped high on summer.

Near dusk, he picked up on a trail. A rut of trodden stems bending off through dense woods. He dropped the rucksack and studied his map and compass. The ordnance showed forestry and rivers and hills. The odd farm. Nearest town was nineteen miles west. He knelt and unclipped the rucksack. Frisked out a can of pilchards, a tin opener and fork.

Dusk cast. Sun sunk and moon thin in a lilac sky. He fastened up and followed the track. Fatigue hurting. He had been thinking of pitching for the night but felt exposed now in open plain. The path seemed recently flattened and he thought it prudent to trail it for a bit, see where it led, if anywhere.

In woodland dark he parted hickory and scanned the log cabin. A glacial moon varnished the roof in a polar hue. Smoke wicked from a brick chimney. There was a chair on the porch. A low fence squared a garden. Aiden sat under the bush and watched. The cabin looked warm, serene, a home. A candlelit window ghosted with shadow. He imagined people. Well people.


He glanced at his watch, the luminous dials at eleven. Normally he’d be camped now. He fetched a flask from his khaki trousers hip pocket. Uncorked it and swigged a nod of whiskey. Resumed his surveillance. Another swig, the alcohol hit. He sank in cushion leaves. Wished his wife’s presence. Exhaustion crept and his eyes closed and the flask spilled.

The shotgun nozzle bunt Aiden’s chest. Moonlight on his face. ‘Fart and you’re weed feed.’ The old man wagged the single barrel and held up a rope. ‘On your belly.’

‘I was passing.’ Aiden fumbled at his rucksack. ‘I’m heading for Vinton.’

The gun cocked. ‘My twelve-gauge says belly.’

‘I didn’t do anything.’

‘Your diseased ass is on my land.’

‘No.’ Aiden slapped his chest. ‘I’m a negative.’

The old man sniggered and stooped over him. ‘You’re a snake, son. Sneaking and peeping on my home. Waiting for bedtime.’

‘I’m immune. I swear.’

‘Sure you are. One in fifty thousand. Don’t insult me, son.’

‘There are six hundred negatives in Ohio. My brother told me. He was a doctor.’

‘And you happen to be one of them.’

‘I am.’

‘That would make two on my doorstep.’

‘You’re immune.’

‘What are the chances? Two here in the middle of nowhere.’

‘Slim.’ Aiden dusted nettles from his elbow. ‘Say I was a virant. Doesn’t make me a snake. Most are decent people.’

‘Who rots decent, son?’

‘Those that pass with family in their homes.’

‘Hmm. It’s the creepers I hate. Crawlers like you. Gutting anything that moves.’

‘I’ve seen it.’

‘Spite, that’s what it is. Thrill kills before they reek.’

‘I tried to help.’

‘Truth is I can’t tell a snake from a saint in this light.’ The old man lowered the barrel at Aiden’s crotch and waved the rope. ‘On your guts and hands behind your back.’

‘My eyes are clear.’

‘Belly or buckshot.’

Aiden rolled onto his stomach, his face in the dirt. ‘I’m a damned negative.’

The old man crouched, a knee on the spine, shotgun tucked under his arm. He bound Aiden’s wrists. ‘We’ll see in the morning. A spit of pus and you’re in the grave.’

(This is the opening of my novel EDEN DUST. The remainder of Chapter One and Chapter Two is published in Unthology 4 by Unthank Books. You can order Unthology 4 from Amazon. Or the Unthankbooks website)

Top 25, December 2012 Fiction Open: Top 25 — Glimmer Train (@glimmertrain)


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