Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 2)

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Old House 2

“In this house with starry dome,
Floored with gemlike plains and seas,
Shall I never feel at home,
Never wholly be at ease?
On from room to room I stray,
Yet mine Host ne’er espy,
And I know not to this day
Whether guest or captive I.”

~William Watson, ‘World-Strangeness’

A Forgetting

The odor was caustic, yet sweet. It was malignant in a way that tapped into primordial wiring, drawing the visceral speciel part of him out of sleep with tooth-like acuity.

Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang…

Aloysius could not attest to having heard anything before the limping fan summoned him back to the living, but the walls beyond the bed had an immediacy that was hard to describe, like they had been thundering down to stop within inches of the bed. The night was more brackish brown than black in color. Charged electrons hung in its interstices, and the bedroom door had closed of its own accord.

Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang…

Turning on the lamp, the resident followed its burlap glow down through crusty eyelashes and spindly table legs to connect to a floor. Gravity tugged on the two halves of his splitting head, though his knees provided a serviceable vice to mend the breach while the bed skirt was poked for house slippers. The mousetrap by the bedpost had sprung and flipped over onto one of the shoes. Aloysius groped timidly at the grouping until he was assured the trap was empty.

Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang. Clickety-clang…

He slumped forward to turn off the racket in the floor and watched the fan blades slow with irritation. Even though his senses quickly adhered to their sticking places, voids remained in his thinking. The cage was intact, though one—and only one—of the fan blades inside was bent. Groggily he dragged his nostrils over the hot motor, but already knew the faint smoke was not electrical in nature.

Aloysius listened intently to the old house, incapable of differentiating between noises conjured by his fright and those that properly elicited it. All the pictures on the wall listed in the same direction; the dresser mirror shared this new inclination.

The message light on his answering machine blinked. When his finger lit on the play button, a distinct crack sounded under his thin-soled slippers; the thought of an intruder downstairs compelled him to switch off the lamp. The returned darkness, far from offering concealment, turned up what was not seen before: light beneath the bedroom door. Resistance was met when the doorknob was pulled: The door was out-of-plumb and scraped floorboards. Shadows of stairway spindles leapt high on the wall across from it, compelling Aloysius to peek down the steps and find their animator: television glare. A glass-covered painting had fallen and shattered against the baseboard on the same wall, and like the mousetrap, fan, and TV, its state was symptomatic.

Before his fear and logic worked out a plan of action, a scratchy sound arose at his back. He turned on hearing the attic door pop on its painted-over hinges at the top of a second, darker flight of stairs; an inexplicable breeze wafted down from it. Torn between these undesirable prospects, he opted to go downstairs where better illumination was counted as a defense.

The ground floor greeted him with icy solidity, although he could scarcely draw breath to cover the distance to the living room. A mangled picture on the TV screen came into view first, and on scanning the dim surroundings, he almost missed the sylph sitting on the couch.

“Hello?” he peeped.

The wide-eyed girl did not acknowledge him. Her gaze was fixed on the television.

“Who are you? How did you get…”

His answer was in sight: The backdoor was open in the kitchen; acrid smoke gained the house from outside.

He tried again. “Where are you from, child?”

The girl’s camphor-white skin seemed ready to ignite with the next flicker on the TV, so Aloysius’ concern turned to the garbled image that captivated her. Even though the picture was skewed, a discernible news crawler bearing phone numbers conveyed a sense of emergency and time-sensitive facts. The motionless child was obviously traumatized. A portion of her white dress was torn; an abrasion was revealed above an ankle.

With misgiving, the interim caretaker carried her upstairs to the bedroom and tucked into his warm sheets. His words strove for reassurance. “Stay here while I go for help.”

Hurriedly he returned downstairs to his half-opened backdoor: It too was out-of-plumb and catching on linoleum; a second empty mousetrap was tripped behind the garbage pail. The hazy streetlight was searched, but its light, like what penetrated his upstairs window, appeared trapped in layers of brittle-thin obsidian.

A man wearing dark coveralls stepped out of nowhere and pointed a flashlight at the homeowner. He growled, “You have a flashlight?”

No sooner was his question posed than several other men wearing the same gear rounded the corner to join him.

The resident weakly replied, “Yes, I have one.”

The man gestured. “There’s been an airliner crash about a quarter mile from here. Out in the meadow. The radius of the debris field includes this neighborhood. We need volunteers to help us until we get more feet on the ground. What we want is someone to help secure the perimeter and keep people out of the field.”

“Of course.” The distressed man fetched his flashlight from his cabinet drawer and followed the emergency workers off the stoop. He then remembered. “I found a little girl in my…”

The party had dispersed back into the night that produced them.

Aloysius peeked up at his lit bedroom window and imagined the child would be safe for the time being, until help came.

He ventured to the edge of his property and, piecemeal, took in the surreal landscape. The smell of jet fuel was thick; branches and leaves were doused in it. Tattered clothing draped the same trees while a panel of fuselage, perhaps the door of a cargo hold, gouged a hedgerow. Presumed pieces of bodies were scattered on rooftops. Each resembled a carcass tumbled from a Francis Bacon painting: with wounds like mouths and mouths like wounds still waiting for screams to catch up.

Dread clawed out of his gut on passing into blacker thicket. A dirge of crickets greeted him; busted luggage was strewn over his path. He was mindful in the razor-edged grass, and his attentiveness turned up the unmistakable form of a human finger. Sight of the bloodless body part made him acclimate at once to the true ghoulish character of what lay underfoot. Reeds, splattered in a halo of dripping mud, were blown outward around a passenger seat submerged in a bog nearby; perhaps someone was strapped in it.

Aloysius grew more terrified, and approached a point where he would be useless in his appointed duties. He lifted his sights above the weeds in vain hope of a breeze, yet the prospect yielded other unwelcome details: The tail section of the airliner rose against the grimmest curtain imaginable.

A nervous sweep of the sentry’s flashlight turned up a black box poking out of the ground. His first inclination was to yell to whoever was in earshot, knowing the significance of his find, but someone just then moved in the field in front of him. He leapt over the hazardous terrain to get their attention, and immediately realized his foolhardiness. When he hit a clearing, no one was close by. The bizarre configuration of ground and sky before him, however, was arresting. The wind had changed direction in a heartbeat to chase away the haze. Myriad stars emerged on the unimpeded horizon, and with such radiance they pierced him through to watery marrow. His eyes slowly lowered and narrowed around a pale form in the blowing grass.

A woman lay on her back.

She was nude, evidently having all of her clothes sheared away in the fall. He approached her initially with morbid curiosity, and then, as he drew nearer, with reverence. Her skin showed no signs of burns or trauma, though more astonishing was her beauty. The supine attitude of her body made her appear posed; and the serenity of her expression, touched more by sleep than death. He knelt beside her—though more like drawn to his knees—, and looked away only after a numbing while. The silent mourning stars moved over them in a processional circle, yet seemed prepared to release him.

Rising to his feet, he stared in the direction of his house. It was now etched in outline against the same starry sky. He could see it, as if viewing it through a telescope: A hole was in his roof. White fabric, a piece of a torn dress, blew from an exposed beam. He turned back to the woman at his feet.

Her eyes, retracing her fall, looked back onto a sky of burning windows.

Prologue: A Coming from Afar/ Back / Contents Page