Dedicated to Shawn Booysen
The man beside me, he spoke in staccato sentences – as if his lips had forgotten the shape of words.
He said he’d been walking a long time, with a hungry thumb stuck out into the road, grasping for the wind beside passing cars. With tired eyes he watched them move on and blur into the faraway horizon.
He’d spent many days out there beneath the meat-eating sun, hoping to find himself in the shade.
By night, he slept beneath blankets of stars and dead leaves.
A ghosted-out drifter upon the loneliest roads, appearing only in the transient headlights, and then gone.
I asked him where he was headed; he said it wasn’t what pulled him, but what pushed him instead. There was no beckoning light. He said the shadows, they snapped at his heels.
There was something in the deep lines upon that weather-blown face, like country roads – and I believed him, and kept my foot down upon the pedal.
He said a lot of things, in that strange, broken way.
He said a lot of things for the longest time, and then for a longer time still, said nothing at all.
I’m not sure which was worse.
The Mountain Man
Dedicated to Gregory Weiher
The haunted room was his. The haunted room was always his.
“A haunted room, fit for a haunted man,” they said, and the key hung untouched for months upon the hook, gathering dust and rust, and waiting for the day Weiher would come back down into town.
He liked this room, despite the sinister history.
The disgruntled spirit of the strange Mountain Man was said to still stalk this place, pacing its length with restless strides, unable to sleep, shrieking soundlessly into the gathering darkness like a banshee drunk on the thigh-meat of innocent barmaids.
The window where Weiher stood was far enough from the cold of the river, but close enough to hear the roar and roll of the waters.
High enough to hear the aubades of dusk, as the sun plummeted from the rumbling skies.
Standing at the window looking up at the inflamed clouds, Weiher missed the days when songs were still sad.
“Some days you can still see him standing there, at the room window,” he’d heard the town children say in hushed voices.
“The strange man, from the mountains,” they said, and Weiher could never really tell if they were talking about him or the ghost.
My knees always ache when it rains. It feels like thunderstorms down there.
Imbriferous skies quake and pour.
In rows of misery below, black umbrellas and grim faces drift up and down the hill slopes.
Impluvious bodies move as a current – up and then down, up and then down – carving new streams of black into the long grass.
Officers clothed in raincoats and trash bags tug at the leashes of baying bloodhounds, slipping in the mud.
I sit in the spindrift – the icy pinprick of the heavy rain turning my face raw. Splashes of mud freckle my pink cheeks.
The rain flogs every black umbrella to a monotonous rhythm.
Thunder shakes the earth beneath our feet. Every step an avalanche.
Corn stalks and men alike are bent beneath sheets of rain.
Flashes of light crack like silver whips across the sky and smell like sulphur.
The earth a deafening drone, continuous, never-ending, and in that drone swept the black umbrellas and raincoats, one by one, two by two, shifting, streaming, flowing stern-faced and wretched.
From the top of the hills they pour, pooling and spreading out into the fields like a black river.
A river of desperate life, searching for the dead.
Jason Mykl Snyman is the Fiction Editor of EXPOUND