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The Alienation and the Black Stones: Chapter 1
From above, a blue Honda Civic can be seen speeding along the winding highway. Yellow light casts across the scene almost horizontally, painting long shadows of the small car onto the sides of hills. Grass sways in the breeze and tall white wind turbines turn in the distance.
The car is speeding, but from so high up it looks as if it is barely moving at all. It’s headlights automatically turn on as the sky dims. The car comes up on another car, honks, then swerves around and ahead of it.
In an unknown basement, somebody is sweeping wood dust off of a hardwood floor with a scratchy straw broom. Nearby, a power sander rests against the wall, still plugged in, bits of wood dust clinging to the side. Near to that is a faded blue bucket of water. There is one figure stirring the water inside with a stick, while another lowers themself into a crouch and sets down a yellow tray covered in jars. Yellow light streams through the window casting a glare of 4 small rectangles on the wall and floor.
The crouching figure squeezes and unscrews the lid from one jar, containing crushed ginger, and then another, containing wild rose buds. Both are gently poured into the faded plastic bucket, mixed with the spring water within.
After the floor, freshly sanded, is swept, the figure who stirs sets aside the stick and begins soaking linen cloths. They hand cloths to the others, and they set to scrubbing the floor clean on their hands and knees.
Inside the blue Honda, the air conditioning blows and it is chilly inside, but the driver’s clothes are damp with sweat. His hand grips the steering wheel tightly, knuckles a little white. His strained eyes blink, his head tilting to try to stay alert.
His foot hovers over the gas pedal. The car rounds a bend, and as he comes out of it, he presses down with his foot and sinks slightly into his seat as the car accelerates. As he comes to the next bend, he presses the breaks, takes the turn, and then accelerates again.
It’s probably too late. He tries to smile. His vision goes blurry, and his mouth opens into a contorted O. He can’t breathe, his chest heaves. He wipes his face - can’t let my contacts fall out – and tries to force a breath out. He pushes the emergency lights button on his dash. There is a tick, tick, tick, tick sound as he pulls the car to the side of the road onto the narrow shoulder, 2/3rds of the car on the grass, make sure other cars can pass.
Get a grip. He feels good, he’s got it under control. I’m over reacting. Deep breath. Everything will be fine. His breath catches in his chest. I just need to drive...
He sits there in his little car howling, sobbing, pulling his hair, trying his hardest to just breathe. There’s no point, I can’t do anything! It was too late yesterday. She’s gone! It’s my fault!
He checks his phone again, no reply from his text messages.
He glides the window down to get some air, trying his best to breathe, his finger on the button wet with tears as he waits for the window to finish lowering. Deep breath. Deep breath. He needs a tissue, he’s getting a headache, he needs water.
I don’t know what I’m going to do.
In the basement, there’s a new bucket. The figures are twisting open the lids of the other jars, and they in turn can smell lemon juice, pollen, earth, and rust. The final jar contains thick red liquid – the top has scabbed a little so the surface of this liquid is skimmed off and set aside on the tray, a tiny red pool collecting below it.
All the ingredients are gradually, bit by bit, poured into the new bucket, which already contains a strange smelling liquid, prepared the previous night, while one figure stirs it with a wooden stick.
A plastic bag sits next to the sander. A figure picks it up, tears it open, and takes out a bundle of fresh blue cloths and gives them to their companions. They do the same with a bag of rubber gloves. The 3 figures put on their gloves and dip their cloths into the mixture, and begin wiping it across the floor. It takes a little while, but it begins to soak into the wood, and the newly sanded and cleaned floor takes on a pleasant stained look.
After wetting the floor, they wipe it down with paper towels and plug in a large industrial fan. The floor dries very quickly. It would be best to leave it overnight, but it isn’t necessary for the stain to be perfect.
The blue Honda turns off the highway and cruises down a long road, past the new-ish Walmart, past the traffic circle that confuses visitors, past the Tim Hortons with the wind-blocker in front of the door, past the Co-Op and the field that is always covered with gophers, and down the hill into town. A sign with a large 50 appears, and then a yellow sign blinking as it polls his speed and displays 65.
Kids play around here. I could hit a deer. He slows, but not for safety, but because he feels weak at the thought of what he will not find at home.
He pulls up to his house, recessed behind two leafy trees and at the end of an overgrown set of stepping stones from the garden centre last year. The sun is glaring in his rear view mirror and the streets are getting dark. The sky is big here. There are bundles of clouds spread as high and as far in every direction as he can see, dark masses with golden rims lit up brilliantly in the evening light as the horizon begins to turn orange.
Ignition off, keys pulled out, door open. He hears the leaves rustle. The street is empty of other cars. Christine’s car is already gone. She’s already gone.
He jogs up the stones to his front door, climbs the steps, fumbles with his keys but the door is unlocked, because nothing bad ever happens here.
The house inside is an open floor plan, with a kitchen and dining table right in front of him, eggshell white walls, and tasteful art hanging in picture frames all around. In one corner is a dog statue, a replica of the one from that old tv show, Friends.
“Christine?” he tries.
Shoes still on, he walks to the bedroom. His legs are sore from the long drive, his feet hot. Mostly his legs feel weak, they don’t want to take him there, it’s like he weighs a thousand pounds and he grips his hand into a fist and forceshimself forward. He pushes open the bedroom door, heart paused – the room is tidy, the bed is made, the laundry put away, but nobody is in it. He gasps, I knew it, I knew it.
He looks inside the bathroom. The guest bedroom. The freaking closets. He wanders to the stairs and heads down, the steps creaking and moaning under his weight. He looks in the laundry room, the second bathroom, the den, the furnace room, the other guest bedroom. The crawl space! He goes upstairs, his hand wandering to the light switch out of habit, and realizes, the lights aren’t on, I forgot to turn them on.
He walks to the dining room table and collapses into a chair.
He imagines all the times they made each other breakfast here. Complaining about work, about money, about politics. She makes really amazing poached eggs. I’m never going to eat poached eggs with her again.
Just then, the screen door squeaks open, the front door knob twists, and Christine steps into the house.
The chalk was made from local clay and small brittle coloured stones. It was gathered, dried, and then ground into a powder. The powder was added to water and left to sit until it separated. The coloured part was skimmed off, and was left once again to dry. The remains, once again, were ground into even finer powder, after which is became a useful pigment. A small amount of ground rose petals was added to the final mix for symbolic reasons.
The fan is clicked off and its whirl fades. The chalk is distributed into 3 bowls and each figure takes a delicate spoon and begins spreading the powder across the surface of the floor. It’s an intricate pattern.
“Thad,” Christine says, and looks at him strangely. She watches him sideways as she walks around him at the table. He turns to face her, tries to speak, fails. She walks into the bedroom. He follows and sees her go into the closet and pull down a piece of luggage. It’s heavy, and she pulls it behind her, rolling along the floor.
She hasn’t left!
I know how this ends.
“Need a hand with that?” he asks, folding his arms, face trying to smile but failing.
She smiles politely, and walks past him to the guest bedroom.
“I mean, you going somewhere?” Thad asks, trying not to sound... too harsh.
“Don’t worry about me,” she says, stops, rests the luggage on the ground, and puts her hands on his shoulders. “Everything is going to be just fine. How was your trip by the way?” She takes the luggage by the handle and walks towards the door, not looking at him.
“You want to know about my trip?” Thad asks, incredulous. “It was fantastic. Best fucking trip of my life.”
“Don’t swear,” she says, not looking at him. “It’s low class.”
“This is really happening? I didn’t believe it. I knew this was going to happen, but why?”
Christine smiles. “You’re not making any sense. You need to stop and try to think clearly. Excuse me.”
“You’re not right in your head,” Thad states. “You can’t go.”
Christine frowns. “I’m right in my head. You can’t talk to me like that.”
I didn’t mean it like that. Or... no, I did. This time, for the first time ever, I did mean it like that.
“I know what’s happening. You’re not yourself right now. Come on, stop, listen to me. You’re... being controlled by something!”
Thad grabs her arm to stop her from leaving. Her eyes flash wide briefly and for a second Thad worries he’s scared her, but her eyes narrow.
She takes his hand with hers and lifts it off hers, and twitches, staggering back. Then she stares into his eyes. It’s like she’s staring at a stranger. Like somebody she’s never seen before just grabbed at her. “Hands off.”
I’m reading too much into this. Is this really happening?
“Where’s the necklace I gave you?” Thad asks.
“I’m wearing it. Excuse me,” she leans past him to grab a bag hanging off the back of a chair.
“Give it to me. Please. I need it right now,” Thad says.
“This lovely necklace is mine,” she says, and turns to leave.
Thad panics. She is his entire world. He knows she is gone, knows why she’s gone, knows it’s somehow his fault, but she’s right here.
It isn’t just that – he doesn’t know where she’s going. It’s not safe to let her go. Maybe if I can -
Thad grabs her shoulder, pulls, spins her around, and grabs at her neck, feeling for the necklace, finds the chain, then closes his fingers around it. He catches a glimpse of the shiny, carved black stone that dangles from it and a shiver runs down his spine. She reaches up and grabs it as well, her other hand pries at his.
“This necklace – you won’t believe me,” he cries.
“Get your hands off me, what gives you the right-”
“Give me the necklace, it’s – it’s poison, it’s poisoning you!”
“Take your hands off me or I’m calling the police!”
Thad has never been in a fight before. When she punches him in the nose, he sees it coming and doesn’t even recognize what it means. He staggers backwards, confused, and then suddenly the pain hits him, and his face is hot and wet.
“What-” he begins.
She cries out, then steps forward and hits him again. He stumbles backwards, tripping over the chair he was sitting at, falling partially on the table. The chair slides out from under him and he slumps to the ground. He reaches up to steady himself but is too stunned, he can’t even process what is happening.
He can’t see through his tears. He can hear Christine cry, breathe heavily, and stumble backwards.
“Don’t ever touch me!” she exclaims.
She exhales like she’s in pain. Thad plants his hand, pushes himself up to a sit, wipes the tears from his eyes. She’s holding her hand like she hurt it.
“You need to put a brace on that.”
She glares viciously and fearfully at him. He stays down. There’s something wet and sticky on his shirt.
“Christine... do you remember who I am?”
“Of course I remember!”
“Why are you going!?” Thad cries. “Do you even know?”
She glares at him. “The fact you would ask somebody that shows that you have zero respect for them.”
“You made me poached eggs a few days ago. It was one of the nicest mornings we’ve ever had. We are close. You’re forgetting, but it’s true. We have never been closer. You’re being controlled, you’re not yourself”
She scowls at him, turns, pulls open the door, and steps outside. Thad stumbles to his feet and tries to rush out after her.
I sound like a fucking psycho, a wife abuser. Jesus, what do I do? It’s like she’s being kidnapped, and I can’t do anything about it!
Thad didn’t notice a car pull up while they were inside. It idles at the curb behind his car, engine purring. It’s Christine’s car but somebody else is at the wheel. The lights are on, casting Christine’s shadow down the lawn, blinding him.
“Who is that?” Thad asks. He ambles towards the car, stumbles from some pain in his side, then arrives at the side of the car and looks inside.
Thad goes cold. His hands shake. His legs wobble.
“Hi... do I know you?” Christian asks.
“Christine, stay here. Come on. Christian’s not himself, it’s not safe,” Thad tries.
“He walked out on his wife, just like you’re walking out on me. You’re both being affected by something, I’ve seen it. You have to believe me... Why don’t you believe me?”
Christine looks at him blankly, without any emotion at all, and asks, “Why would I believe you?”
She opens the car door. Thad pushes it shut. Christian switches off the ignition and steps out of the car.
Sitting in a little circle around the sigil marked on the floorboards, the three figures recite old words in tune with one another, long passages in a language that nobody speaks anymore from an old one-of-a-kind book. At the centre of the circle is a little basket full of black stones.
Christian places himself between Thad and Christine. He’s wearing a polo shirt. He works out and has thick arms. His physical presence makes Thad feel unsafe.
“1s there a reason you think you can tell people what to do?” Christian demands.
“Christian, don’t,” Christine says. “I don’t want you to get get hurt.”
She doesn’t want HIM to get hurt?
Thad steps backwards. Christine walks around the car, gets into the driver seat. Christian opens the passenger door and climbs in.
“Send me a post card?” Thad waves his arms about. “Bring me back a souvenir? A t-shirt that says ‘I loved my husband, but forgot and went missing’? You don’t even know him!”
She briefly looks confused, but then frowns. She takes the car out of park.
“I love you! You’re like air! I don’t know what I’ll do without you. Please, please, please stay!” He pleads. “Just listen to me, I can explain everything. It’s a disease or something, it’s affecting people all over here. It’s – please stop!”
Christine shifts the car forward a couple of inches.
He suddenly understands how Carla felt.
Thad continues, ”It’s crazy, I know! I don’t know what I will do without you, I can’t do it, what if something happens to you?! You’re not yourself. I can’t handle it. Take me with you!”
“Right now, you do feel like a stranger. I’m leaving. It’s time,” Christine says.
The car pulls away, and Thad collapses onto the grass, trying to breathe.
Thad doesn’t know it, but he suspects it: that’s the last he will ever see or hear from his wife.
At the centre of the circle, the little basket of black stones is carefully removed, these new stones now ready for use.
From above, a small black car pulls out from under a tree, away from a curb, and drives down the street to a stop sign. It’s headlights cast a cone of light into the late evening street, lighting up a stop sign as the day’s light almost completely fades. The sky is dim, approaching black. The car turns and heads out of town, unhurriedly, leisurely.
Chapter 2 is here:
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