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Something Like a Life Force

A couple of Fang’s fingertips are all bloody and he’s waving them around saying, “Put your mouth where your money is, put it here, right here!” and we’re telling him he’s not making sense, but none of us really care about his logic because he’s chasing us around the room with those two fingers pointed at us like fat daggers. There are maroon streaks all over the walls and all I can think is Mom’s gonna kill herself if she sees it. Krista is screaming like a trapped rabbit, but no amount of screaming can save her from getting her face painted tonight. Before long Fang’s on her, and she tumbles down, putting her hands up to shield her face. Fang’s laughing, laughing, gasping for air he’s laughing so hard because Krista’s got red lines all over her cheeks and orange blotches in her blonde hair.

“Open up for a taste?” Fang says, but before he can force Krista’s mouth open, Waddle’s on him, tackling him to the yellow carpet.

Waddle shoves something into Fang’s face and says, “Here, here, your meds,” and then I see the little stick of chalk pass like a joint from Waddle’s hand to Fang’s.

Fang says, “You know me,” and then looks at me with a grin as wide as a banana and says, “He went to Jared!” before he backs away, cradling the chalk as carefully as he might an egg.

“You did it,” I say to Waddle and the left side of his face pinches into a satisfied wink.

Krista climbs to her knees and says, “Not soon enough,” and Waddle and I laugh.

I blink away my high, red sparklers creeping into the periphery of my vision, and see out the front window to the three vehicles in the driveway: My rusty Cavalier, Fang’s Corolla, and Waddle’s S-10, where he and Krista slept last night, burrowing into one another in the truck bed. I imagine driving down the dirt road toward the water, accelerating through the Dead End sign, and crashing into the lake. I sink to the bottom and Krista regrets what could have been between us.

Fang’s in the corner of the living room chomping on the chalk and sucking blood off his fingers.

“Sicko,” Krista says, but she’s smiling too and my God I want her so bad. There’s just something about the blood all over her, the disheveled look of her hair all splayed out this way and that, the half-insane smile — lips pursed so tightly they appear bloodless and eyes round as coins — that she shares publicly once in a while, and all I wanna be is the tongue that scrapes her teeth out.

I turn from the window, cross my left leg beneath me on the couch, and stare at her. I want her to know but don’t want to tell her. I just drill my eyes into her eyes and when she looks at me I think, Let me fall into you, half hoping she’ll read my mind.

Waddle helps her to her feet and she brushes off her thighs as if she’s just climbed out of a ditch. Waddle says, “You’re okay,” and she smiles up at him in a not-so-half-insane way this time, like the way you’d look at your new house if someone just built one for no reason except to make you happy.

Fang’s in the corner in all his glory, and I’m on the other side of the room pretending I like being alone. I say, “You gave him too much,” hoping to throw a wrench in Waddle’s game because I really don’t want Waddle and Krista to kiss. I’m not sure I can handle it tonight, not anymore, not since a few nights ago when Waddle asked me if he should tell Krista he loves her and something like a life force ejected out of me and twisted up into the clouds forever. I’d told him to do whatever he wanted and he just sat there with his arms wrapped around his knees nodding his head and looking up at the stars as though he’d seen that chunk of me fly away.

“Too much chalk?” says Waddle.

“Too much powder.”

“Powder,” he says and glances at Fang and shrugs. “No more than yesterday.” He looks back at me and cocks an eyebrow. “You were there. You saw. You helped.”

But Waddle is clearly mistaken because that’s what this weird powder does to you. I mean it fucks with your head and gives you these memories that aren’t even real and floods you with so much confusion you feel like you might drown in it.

I’m off somewhere that feels like a warm spring afternoon and buds are splitting open at the tips of all these branches, until Krista’s voice breaks off the atmosphere and floats down to me. “Hey, listen to me, hey, hey. What’s happening to him? Hey, Fang?”

I say, “What is it?” but I really wanna tell her Fuck Fang, I can’t live without you.

Waddle’s eyes go wide and he points. “His fingers! Jesus, his fingers, what!”

Fang must’ve finished the chalk because it’s gone but there’s a pool of blood the size of his head with two fingers sitting atop it like a couple hot dogs in ketchup. Fang’s unconscious and his mouth is open in a way that says he’s sleeping soundly.

A jolt of fear makes me levitate for a second and I say, “Did he bite them off? How much did we give him?”

“No more than I took. Or you.”

“What about me?” Krista says.

Waddle starts investigating and before long he says, “It doesn’t look like he chewed them off. Probably just fell off.”

“Somehow,” I say.

Krista sinks down to a seated position and leans against the far wall as if she’s trying to push her way through a portal. Looking at her makes me remember going to that Tampa beach with her last year. We were so happy and together we didn’t even know we were in love.

But the memory drips away like wet paint, and I say, “Wait, do you remember the ocean?” and Krista points her blue eyes at me and frowns in a way that makes me feel I’ve spent my whole life being wrong.

Waddle says, “This blood for sure won’t come out.”

“Mom’s gonna hate it.”

Waddle wrinkles his forehead and says, “Why do you still live with your mom?”

“Free rent? Food? Booze?”

“And powder,” Waddle whispers.

Krista says, “Wait, what ocean?” but I can’t answer because before my eyes Fang’s ear slides off his head and lands on the carpet gruesome side up.

“Get away from him!” I say and Waddle snaps his head over to see what I’m talking about and then backs away so quickly he tumbles over his own feet, and as he lands I hear a wet crack, and then Waddle yells out and reaches his right hand around to clutch his left elbow. Red rivulets stream off his arm, painting designs in the carpet that remind me of Jackson Pollock.

“I broke it,” he says and I can tell by the sound of his voice that his teeth are clenched. “Oh God, it’s bad.”

“It’s the powder,” I say. “It’s changing us.”

Krista says, “The bottle’s in the fridge. I hid it in the fridge.” She pulls her knees to her chest and wraps her arms around them. Tears sparkle in her eyes as she stares at Waddle.

I go to her, lean down to hug her, but she leans away from me. I remind her that we grew up together and that it’s okay, but she says, “I grew up in Indiana.” I almost tell her I did too, but then remember that we’re at my mom’s house on the shore of Lake Superior, and that yesterday we found an unlabeled brown beer bottle, its neck cracked near the corked mouth, floating in the swampy part that has cattails, and when we uncorked it there was a note inside and all this green powder that came spilling out like salt. The paper had browned edges and the ink was a little blotchy. The blotches were the bluest thing I’d ever seen, so blue that when Waddle read the note out loud I didn’t pay much attention. Now I remember broken English and something about “they found us,” “this is all the green we have left,” and “spread the news.” Waddle said the note was signed by someone named Vitali and that it was dated April, 1985, which was over seventeen years ago. Waddle also said the guy was stationed on the Slate Islands and I remember thinking No one lives out there.

I’m in a warm springy place again where the dirt is all tilled up around me and vegetable seeds are popping audibly. Then I feel Krista nudge me and she says, “You’re losing the time, you keep snapping off,” and her face is all tear-streaked and gorgeous and it takes all my resolve to keep from putting my hands on her.

She points and says, “Look,” and I do, and I’m filled with a warm, wet revulsion because the yellow carpet is spangled with enormous brown bloodstains, and Fang is just a heap of body parts now—a hand here, a toe there, his nose. There’s an eye and it’s as big as a golf ball and the copper iris is turned up towards the ceiling, and the optic nerve is trailing out like a bright red nightcrawler. There are ribs and flesh and nails and little pelts of hair and shiny bones and all this goo, goo so dark it reminds me of motor oil, and it takes a flash of comprehension to acknowledge that it’s blood, all of it, every last drop drained from Fang’s body. Off to the side, as if out of nowhere, it’s a tooth, a singular pointy tooth, off-white and still moist, with tiny pink flecks of grue on it.

Krista lets out a sound like a miserable hum and she clutches me suddenly. Waddle is unconscious, his mouth open in a perfect circle, and there are pieces of him sliding away, his fingernails all red and cracked and loose at the edges. The broken bone protrudes from his skin, slipping out of an area above his elbow. He is missing fingers, his ears are on the floor beside him, and there is an overripe rotten-fruit smell in the air. Something is burning my eyes and my mouth feels so dry, but Krista is holding me, she’s so warm, so soft, her head against my shoulder, shuddering, and I think, I wanted this so bad.

I’m on the beach out back and I’m dipping my toes in the lake and the air is like freshly baked bread and the water feels cold enough to change the world, and….

Krista is shaking me and saying something about being sorry for not taking any powder and lying about it, and am I listening, wake up, wake up, wake up! I sit forward and my head feels loose, I can feel my bones turning to oatmeal. The end is near but I’m still conscious. Thank you Krista thank you thank you thank you….

My shoes are on and I feel a little bean shaking around in my left one. I rip my shoe off and there’s blood all over my sock. I pull the sock off slowly, like pulling off dead skin, and Krista lets out a little cry that fills me with a despair so crippling I want to set fire to something. My pinky toe comes tumbling out of the sock. It rolls a few inches across the carpet like a marble.

I reach out to Krista, but she backs away, crawling backwards across the floor. I move towards her because I need her. Please don’t leave me alone please don’t. She bangs into the wall and turns her head and closes her eyes and lets out this shriek that might shatter a vase. Then I’m on her, grasping, trying to force my fingers to grip her shirt tighter, but they keep wobbling around like loose teeth. She manages to escape me and the fingers on my right hand scatter across the floor like flower petals. She loves me, she loves me not.

She stands over me sobbing. I want so badly to get to my feet, but I am on my back and wobbly as rubber. Bright sunshine creeps in at the corners of my vision. She is there and she is keeping me here.

She says, “Say something, Shithead, please talk,” and so I work my jaw muscles and even though it feels like my face is melting away like wax and my teeth are jiggling and making odd clicking sounds, I manage to say, “I can’t live without you. I can’t live without you.”

Krista kneels beside me. A tear slips away from her cheek, splashes onto my cheek, and I can feel the impact drilling a hole in my face. I feel very warm and happy. She is on her beach towel and the sun is sparkling off her skin and she’s smiling, smiling, and I can picture her eyes behind those sunglasses, she has such happy eyes, and then I hear her say, “Oh shit. Your mom’s home.”

Paul Anderson earned his MFA in 2015 from University of Arkansas-Monticello. His short story collection, Model Citizens, is available from Wordpool Press. His work has also appeared in Cardinal Sins, Temenos, Gravel, and Reader’s Digest, among others. He has the good fortune to teach at Central Michigan University where he hopes to instill a universal appreciation for the Oxford comma. Paul also entertains dreams of the word “chuckle” being eradicated from the English language.

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