The dawn sometimes brings with it unexpected events. In this case, one has two choices – continue on the course of established patterns, or contort and molest or abandon them altogether. Sometimes the second choice is the only choice, which means it is no longer a matter of choice. Some may simply call this destiny.
When Ronan fell asleep rolled like tobacco in a dingy linen comforter, the weather outside his house had been fair. A light drizzle was placating the drooping thirst of his garden, and the night was for once cool enough that the combination of open windows and high speed fan actually rendered the use of the blanket comforting. Which was nice, since despite his conformity to the patterns of his life, it gave him the greatest ease to make for himself a chrysalis of his bedding in which he would not move nor from which would he emerge until the sun cast its first glance upon his face or the cicada buzzing of his alarm clock sounded.
But then this morning neither of these events occurred and he sort of slowly graduated from slumber to consciousness, staring at the blue-gray wall of his bedroom recalling the auditory aspects of the dream from which he was finally unencumbered. Because he couldn’t quite recall it but it was certainly unpleasant and loud and violent and as he rolled his fetal cocoon to the other hip he saw that there was no display on the alarm clock, and it sat in a puddle of water on the night stand.
A thunder storm must have impressed itself upon his slumber and filled his dream with violent flashing and cracks, rumbles sounding though the framing of his house and the springs in his mattress, the lonesome whorl of wind and the thrashing patter of rain slung round by air.
And so he was late; the stubble would remain on his face, and his stomach would gurgle until lunch, if that ever came. He dressed hurriedly, remaining in the same pair of underwear he slept in, hopping around in pants that seemed to be getting the best of him, brushing his teeth and slapping water on his head to control the spires of rebellious hair. The schlack-schlack of the later train was somehow different, the ghost faces reflected in the windows he didn’t recognize, and the florescent lighting skittered and buzzed at a frequency wholly out of rhythm with his neuro-electrical impulses, and it was grating.
Then the squeal of the trains brakes coming out of a turn which had pressed Ronan’s forehead to the safety glass window. There was no stop here. It was the middle of nowhere, running through a thick green belt. The train was in fact stopping, not just checking its speed. It stopped quickly, the passengers lurching forward in their seat and hands thrusting out everywhere, confused grappling hands that overlapped and bounced against each other and the intermingled limbs set the acid in Ronan’s stomach into action so he thought he might vomit but only tasted just the hint of bile at the back of his throat and was able to quell it. In the translucent reflection in the window he watched the other passengers look around and at each other with question eyes and they murmured a bit but remained generally calm like livestock under the control of an old hand, expectantly awaiting the hissing crackle of an announcement over the p.a. explaining the delay.
It was not forthcoming. The air on the train felt thick, and Ronan felt unwell, shaken. Occasionally, a clip of the soundtrack of his dreams sliced through his head, his head hurt, and he still felt nauseous. He stood up and walked over to the door, squeezed his fingers between it and the jamb and forced it open. Holding the handrails he leaned out from the top step looking towards the front of the train. The air was still cool and clean and bracing, and there were evanescent wisps of fog curling from the grass on the right-of-way, and the green of the woods beyond it was lush and rich with water. He stepped down out of the train and skidded a bit in the rocks looking forward at a crowd of uniformed men standing at the front of the train.
He looked back into the train and there was a crowd of eyes looking at him; it coalesced into a banner of confused and questioning faces so he started walking forward to the front of the train as the hiss of the p.a. finally arrived to calm the herd.
It’s a lonely world, made more so by gadgetry. So much desire to reach out and touch and be touched, but it can’t happen because people are essentially scared of each other and so they lock themselves away in the small worlds that have congealed around them, awaiting the moment when by fortuitous grace a cow lies dead across the tracks of the train they’re on, and there’s a reason to connect.
A dairy cow, Ronan noted as he saw the blue bloated udder hung half and half over the starboard rail of the tracks. The transit personnel stood in a circle around it, five of them, each with a hand to the chin stroking beard or stubble; no one spoke. It was a surreal scene. The cow had no eyes left and the stench of death was prominent.
“Which is strange,” the older looking of the group began, “since this cow seems days old dead, and last train ran an hour ago.”
The chin-stroking was augmented by soft-head-nodding and eye-squinting, as each man considered the implications of this intuitive thought. The train guys hadn’t seemed to notice Ronan, which is how train guys are with the general public when noticing falls outside the parameters of the particular duty they’re engaged in. But in fact they had, and had almost imperceptibly adjusted the circle to let him join; a testament to the oddity of the situation since as a member of the general public Ronan had no business being off the train evaluating the carcass of a cow lain across the tracks of the local 504.
The guy with the bushy eyebrows spoke up. “Well, I guess we ought’a move it.”
“How we gonna move a cow, Darryl?” This was the youngest of the group, younger than Ronan; his facial hair sprouted inconsistently from his face and yet was groomed into the semblance of a beard.
“There’s six of us and one cow. Can’t we manage Frank?”
Ronan stepped back. “Oh, I don’t know, shouldn’t I, uh, I mean, you know, insurance and all?” The bile was back at his throat again.
“Yeah, well, insurance has me covered cause I threw my back out two months ago and I can’t lift nothin’ for a while, Doctor said.” The old guy’s badge said Earl in a tarnished pearl script. It began to drizzle a bit, in the way that one hardly notices until it’s soaked through the hair and dripping down the ears.
In the past, Ronan had, at times, difficulty separating his dream world from reality. He would work entire days in his cubicle with miniaturized office tools, legs bent sharply at the knees and splayed around a desk which supported a much too small computer at thigh level, the tiny chair a pain in the ass with a gigantic deadline looming on the office horizon, coworkers’ caricatures ballooning in and out of the fog like off the chart atolls spewing before him reefs of wreckage, and would wake up in his bed with these effigies in the place of other furniture and exist for some time in both actualities, his body unsure of the implications of its actions and so paralyzed until some seed of reality had the hardiness to grow and blossom and draw him by its florescence into the dawn of another day at work.
He was hoping hard that this now was the case. The circle of men, by some unspoken signal, were enlarging their circumference to enclose the cow, and the swell of men at their purpose moved Ronan to follow suit; he found himself at the lower rear end of the guernsey assessing the best handhold on mud packed hooves. Earl was both standing outside the circle and occupying a space in it; he was angled forward at the hips with one hand on his back and the other cradling his bearded chin, a finger scratching at the beard. The circle slowly ejected him, and hands began to grapple for a hold. The cow, belly to the train and legs splayed on either sided of the tracks, yielded various appendages to heft as all hands sought leverage, but its girth was stoic in its gravity. Hands of various size and age gripped and slipped, snapped at themselves as bovine flesh evacuated the space between pad and palm; grunts, oofs, groans, hnnghs, cursing, black booted feet skidding in rocks, clenched jaw here and tongue thrust there, and Ronan, in a magnificent heft managed to shoot his feet backwards out from under him and fall and plant his face in the udder which burst audibly and with some spraying of a viscous blue fluid and the heroic efforts of men ceased and all noise ceased and the fuzz in the minds of working men subsided for a horrific moment before he could even produce the scream sure to echo in eternity in the memory of all who boarded the 504 that morning.
It sounded like a gargle and it was more the sound than the sight or smell which made the train personnel turn to find some privacy for their retching.
NEXT FRIGGIN’ CHAPTER
The eighteen miles the train had traveled isolated the passengers from the strange happenings at the end of the line in Bucolics. The 504 had boarded and departed without a hitch, just moments before an entire flock of geese crash landed in the island of grass dividing the lanes accessing Bucolics Elementary School. The flock had landed in a more or less “V” formation, except inverted, with the variation attributed to inconsistent tumblings at touchdown. One side of the “V” was longer than the other, as there were more geese in it. More towards the center of town, and much earlier in the morning, the courthouse had been pummeled by pigeons apparently made dumbfound by electrical disturbances due to the lightning during the wee hours of the morning. Those dogs in town left outside overnight were found hanging stiffly by the claws from the chain link walls of their enclosures, no part of them touching the ground. The local homeless paced aimlessly hum-mumbling and slapping at invisible irritations, although this was paid little heed.
Some citizens who witnessed the ferocity of the previous night’s storm attributed these strange occurrences to major upheaval in the protective field of the van allen belts, while others thanked the lord that the obvious city-wide electrical surge was not powerful enough to reach them in their second-story bedrooms as they counted the half-seconds between flash and thunder. After all, car tires had melted to their seal-coated driveways and the flag pole at the police station had an obvious kink in it two-thirds of the way up. But despite these strange phenomena, many of the towns residents had been able to wake up and head to work without seeing any evidence of strangeness, as Ronan and his fellow passengers had done. However, had the rail crew enjoyed success dislodging the bovine impediment, the train would have found itself delayed at precisely every half mile following by the same obstacle.
Ronan was carried back to the train, and in the conductor’s room stripped, wiped down, and redressed in a hodge-podge assortment of train personnel clothing, and given a blanket to swaddle himself in. He groaned deep and long approximately every minute. There was a taste in his mouth of grass and onions, and no amount of gum offered by the train crew, not even of nicotine gum, could cleanse his hostage palate. There was discord at the door; the passengers were amuck. Frank, as the most youthful and least superior of the crew, was sent to handle the crowd.
Frank went through the door into the cabin, back first, still arguing with the crew about his qualifications for the task as hand. He turned as the second door clicked shut behind him, turned into silence, but for the buzzing on the still burning florescent lights running off in lines away from him. Though he did not notice the lights; there was a concave mass of people, jammed as close as possible into a train space as the paired seating could allow, all eyes fixed seriously upon his, and if he had to say later, like to some sort of detective asking about the situation, with maybe a reddish hue to the white of the eye region (the passenger’s eyes), and staring hard; there was a moment where it was all looks for a minute or more, and a sort of repressed pressing, repressed by the seating and limited space in the aisle, but a general scrunching for sure, and a white bread tension that was being squashed and turned into dense pretzel matter between the crowd and him.
“So, ah, folks, um, it seems we have a little bit of a delay on our hands,” Frank began, unsure of where his speech might lead, breaking the ice, really.
A murmur ensued: delay? How long? What sort of delay? Am I going to make it to work? An hour delay, longer? Who’s going to look after Jeffrey, Zoe, Shantel, etc.? When will we get going again? Why are we stopped? Can we get off? The redness in the eyes seemed to intensify, and Frank, who was never much of a public speaker, was losing his nerve.
“Well, I can’t really say the cause of the delay, they don’t tell me much. And as far as the time concerned, well, I can’t say for sure about that either, though I do know we’ve been in touch with the station in BUCOLICS and they have an outfitted truck for the job disembarking in oh say one hour and that should remedy the situation here at least hopefully so if we can all sit down and quietly wait it would be a great help to the crew here that has been trying hard to remedy the situation.”
If there were a town this were to happen to, Bucolics was it. It was populated with very strange people and experienced very strange events, on a fairly regular basis. Regular like an OCD sufferer’s stools. A couple of years prior, a woman who lived on the other side of town from Ronan died. A very stylish woman. She was so stylish, in fact, that many people in Bucolics looked to her to find out how they could be more stylish. She paid extra money to have clothing artificially (and custom) stressed. Her fragrance was subtle and scientifically formulated to match her lip gloss color, which was also the template to which was matched the color of her not flashy but attention grabbing convertible, which was not too fast and not too shiny but just right as far as those things go, just right so it gave the correct impression of her personality. The statement the car made was that this woman had style but it was something that just happened and she didn’t try too hard. It was like a car that you might find at a thrift store, but of course it wasn’t found at a thrift store. It was found in the driveway of a private used car salesman, who bought it at a dealer auction thinking that somebody with rhododendron red lipstick would absolutely adore it. Which she did.
She was stylish about what she did. She took yoga, and was very flexible, and experimented with tantric sex, and had a healthy, ruddy glow about her cheeks which was influenced by both of these sports. She had monthly monogamous relationships and then complained at the end of them that she’d be better off as a lesbian to her girlfriends, who all tried very hard to find men that they could find something wrong with after a month and leave them, so that they too could consider the positive aspects of being a lesbian and then brush it off as a big farce later on. She had a job at an art gallery, holding the fort down and inspecting stylish magazines to get a jump start on any intriguing emerging trends. She developed pointed opinions on the use of coital symbolism in post-neo-modernistic pointillism because such a subject is stylistically taboo, and allowed her the regular practice of her calculated giggle. She read mysteries and watched Oprah and had a model of cell phone that nobody had ever heard of before, but it could do everything including open her garage door. She had a dog that was just ugly enough to be incredibly cute.
She was also very, very stylish about what she ate. She was a regular at the local sushi joint, and ensured that everything she ate was organic and responsibly sourced. She was not a vegetarian; that was just a passing fad that she didn’t even blink twice at. But all organic, and everything she put into her body had a purpose. She was very healthy, didn’t smoke, and three times a week went to the smoothie shop to get a shot of wheat grass puree chased with an orange slice, at a cost of six dollars and eighty-three cents a pop. This was vital. Wheat grass is very healthy for a person, especially if it’s put in a blender and costs seven dollars an ounce.
And so because of all the wheat grass, she began to turn green. And not just because wheat grass isn’t very tasty, but because it is green. Her stylishly fit and trim body began to develop a greenish hue, one that wasn’t very noticeable at first but evolved and progressed over a couple of weeks to a shade that completely clashed with her lip color and the color of her car, which she was no longer able to bring herself to drive in with the top down. Which was a shame, because she didn’t know it, but she had just reached the pinnacle of stylishness and developed the ability to perform photosynthesis. No shit. She no longer had to eat, because her body produced energy with only sunlight and water and carbon dioxide. And driving around town on sunny days with the top down on her convertible would have been the perfect way of nourishing herself. But the process of photosynthesis clashed so awkwardly with her methodical and calculated style that she could no longer bring herself to even leave her house, and began ordering for food to be sent to her door and only opening the door enough to exchange the money and food. But her body had progressed to the point where normal human food was not enough; she should have been eating fertilizer and sitting in a tanning bed, and if she’d done that she might have grown ten feet tall (stylishly tall) and her labia might have transformed into a calla lily Georgia O’Keeffe style, delicate and fertile, open for pollination, cozier than pointillism. But she didn’t, and she wilted and withered and when they found her she was lying on the floor in her kitchen dead with one scraggly arm pointed at the southern facing kitchen window.
And then there was the guy who hummed. It had started out as a gargantuan problem. The first time was while he worked on a roof. He was a roofer, and used to treading on the hot sticky felt tacked to hard pitched decking, capable of navigating the slope like a rubbery hoofed goat. He’d fallen once before, but it was a short drop into a recently tilled garden plot, and he walked away from a cartoon-like impression in the earth sore but unharmed. He was given the rest of the day leave with pay, and returned without his confidence shaken. But the time he went through the roof was startling.
Startling in that he didn’t remember what had happened. The structure was sound, and he could have sworn he was working mid-way up – nowhere near the unsheeted gap at the top which his foreman suspected he went through. He woke up on the second floor below the spot where he thought he had been working. But his head was throbbing and he couldn’t remember exactly what he was doing prior to waking up inside the house. If it was a remodel they would have wondered, there would have been busted sheet rock to explain, there would have been evidence. Or maybe not, maybe he’d stopped humming just before hitting the floor. No one saw him fall, and around coffee and cigarettes the other workers supposed that he had rolled on the floor to the spot they found him inside the house.
It bothered him enough that he quit. Something he’d never done besides for reasons of relocation. Didn’t like to quit, thought it was a coward’s way out, thought quitting meant he was beat. But in this case he was, because he could’ve swore…
But he did quit, couldn’t get a handle on what had happened, and besides had bruised himself enough that he couldn’t work for a while. Luckily nothing had broken, and there were no signs of a concussion, so he didn’t feel like a louse living off the government teat or however those workman’s comp deals worked. Or screw his boss over, who’d given him a chance and let him borrow tools ’til he had his own and hadn’t judged him useless even when he’d forgotten to bungee the ladder to the rack in his first week and it went skidding into a four way stop where there were thankfully no cars, though there was a pair of laughing teenagers and two brand new scrapes down the front of the hood. The truck was well used but he’d had to stare down the front of it on the way to and from jobs jammed between the boss and another worker, reminded daily of such a humiliating mistake.
Bucolics was a small gray town and it was in the weekly newspaper the next time it happened when he fell right through the seat of his car doing forty down a two lane road and rolled on the rough pavement as the car went shooting forward on it’s most recent trajectory up the bank on the side of the road and straight into a telephone pole. It was an unusually straight stretch of road, luckily, one supposes, because the car had sixty yards to lose steam plus the effort of a high bank so that the bumper was racked and pushed back into the now mauled radiator, but otherwise the car was without other mechanical distress.
He called his sister who called the police who called a wrecker, and he did his best to hide the road rash and told twice the story of how he’d fallen asleep at the wheel and woke up against the pole and hoped he hadn’t knocked out power to the houses nearby and by the grace of god hadn’t hurt anybody including himself. He didn’t say how he had suddenly found himself outside the vehicle without any reasonable explanation, rolling like a hubcap loosed by a fender bender.
The newspaper reported it as he had told it, and no one really thought anything of it but himself. It was a strange occurrence, and he had not passed out, and had known exactly what had happened. He’d fallen through his seat. Not through a hole in the floorboard, not out an improperly latched door. Through the seat, through the floor, through the chassis and the car had kept moving around him as his ass skidded on the pavement and he started to roll.
The problems increased. One time he put his hand into a silverware drawer through his kitchen counter. He probably would have kept on going but pulled it out just in time. He entertained the notion that he was crazy, as anybody might. But the abrasions were still sore on his hips and forearms, and he otherwise felt reasonably sane.
Finally he realized that it only happened when he hummed. But he hummed a lot, and it didn’t always happens, so he knew it wasn’t just humming; it had to be the way he hummed, maybe a certain tune or note or the loudness of the humming or some combination of these possibilities. He spent some weeks not humming at all. Which was tough, because he definitely did idly hum a lot, and so had to catch himself and like think about not humming, which as it turns out is actually a pretty weird thing to think about. But it was scary to think about possibly breaking the laws of physics that played such a vital role in his existence, so. But after a couple of weeks of trying not to hum at all, he decided to do some scientific type testing, and went out to a park on a very pleasant day thinking that the park would be a sort of safe place to experiment. And so he experimented first with hum loudness, going from a deep vibration in his throat that was more felt in his teeth than heard to a loud yell hum, which eventually morphed into something which was not really a hum at all, so he ruled out volume as the quote problem. And so he began his search for the magnificent tone.
He was lying on his back on the grass in the sun when he hit it, and immediately found himself 6 inches underground. He had only a couple of minutes to reflect on the fact that at least he had discovered this power and that his family would not need to pay for burial costs, but his last moments were not long enough to realize that the tone quite possibly depended on the material that he made his atoms vibrate in accordance with so as to allow easy passage through. As his body decomposed, the ground above his skeleton sunk in, creating exactly the second cartoonish body imprint his life had left in the dirt.