FICTION: They Live on the Other Side of Language – Part One/Chapter Four

They Live Graphic-header

Big Joe Wilson wants to stay rational, but a cult has brainwashed his wife. They convinced and taught her to forget language in pursuit of an uninterpretable heaven on the other side. Now Big Joe has to decide. Will he relinquish complete control over his wife’s catatonic state to doctors, or will he give into the cult’s nonsense and go in there after her, on the other side of language?

“They Live on the Other Side of Language” is a serial novel whose chapters will appear monthly, exclusively on Tuff Gnarl.


(Click HERE to read the previous chapter, or click HERE to begin at Chapter 1.)

Part I, Chapter 4

“Allegiance Under Fire”

Joe spent the next five hours coaxing his sister to leave—and wondering why he now drove four hours to see Alija. Did he want to protect her from the same fate as his wife’s? Did he want to join her?

Past the Ocoee River, he wove his way through winding roads to Alija’s neighborhood. The blue night disappeared above the wooded canopy. Slivers of blue broke through. He turned his truck onto the gravel and stared at Dr. Berg’s cabin, the way it receded into the shadows.

Around the corner and up the hill, his tires churned rocks. He threw the truck into low gear and pulled onto Alija’s property. The headlights paved the pine needles.

Alija stood on the porch. Joe parked next to her station wagon. He meditatively breathed. She smoked. Joe and Alija watched each other.

He exited the truck and tried to ascend the stairs, but she hugged him before he reached the porch. Even though she stopped him while he was on a lower step, Alija nearly had to climb him. She hooked her chin over his shoulder. Joe palmed her hips. He felt her slender waist. His heart raced.

He let go. He patted her back. Joe smiled. He ascended the remaining steps.

Alija bounced on her toes. “I’m surprised you would drive all this way to discuss this.”

Joe lowered his head. “I don’t have much time.” He avoided eye-contact. “I have to make a decision.” He looked at her hesitantly. “Because of my wife.” He looked away. “Nika could die in there.”

She rubbed his arm. She clasped the last three fingers of his calloused hand.

He enjoyed her touch, the way it sent tiny electrical pulses up his hand and neck, but instead of butterflies in his stomach, he felt an emotional thunderstorm. “Sorry,” he said. Joe pulled his hand from hers, turned, and gripped the railing. He took a deep breath. “I don’t feel too good right now.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Must be my blood sugar.” Cold sweat beaded from his forehead, neck, arms. “I should’ve eaten.”

Alija touched his arm. “You didn’t plan to drive back to Nashville tonight, did you?”

Joe shook his head. “Blue Mountain Motel.”

“That place is nasty. Why don’t you stay here?”

Excitement and nausea overwhelmed him. “I have to use your restroom.” He turned and clamored for the front door. “Where is it?”

“In my bedroom, but—.”

Joe shut the door behind him. His head swam. He staggered over the magazines and pillows across the floor. His stumble tore a magazine. He left a boot print on one of the pillows. Joe raced the nausea. On the other side of the living room, he pushed through the only door.

The bedroom’s lights were off. His right hand sought the wall for a switch. Instead, he smacked and knocked unidentifiable containers on a vanity.

He shuffled into the darkness. He veered left, tripped over towels and shoes, and tumbled into a closet. He dislocated the louver doors from their hinges.

“Alija?” Dr. Berg’s voice called from somewhere in the room. “Is that you?”

The cabin’s front door swung open. “Yeah, mama. I’m coming.”

“Alija? Is someone else here?”

“It’s Mr. Wilson, mama.”


“Mr. Wilson—you know, the guy who visited you last Sunday, the guy with the wife on the other side of language.”

“What? What do you mean he’s here?”

Alija turned on the light.

Joe sat on the floor of the closet looking-up at them.

Dr. Berg screamed.

Joe vomited.

Alija held up her hand. “Ma, stop screaming.” She turned to Joe. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“I can’t concentrate.”

She reached for Joe’s hand. “Come on.”

He shook his head. “There’s no chance you can pull me up.” He rolled to his hands and knees, leaned back on his ankles, and waited until he could rise to his feet. He lost balance, but this time the wall caught him.

Alija gripped his arm and waist, as if she could support him.

Dr. Berg put on her glasses. She stared at their embrace. “Oh honey, what are you getting yourself into?”

“Hush now, ma.”

“Don’t you hush me, young lady. Why did you bring him here?”

“You’ve been hiding the truth from me, mama.”

“No, honey.”

“Then who’s that guide you know?”

“I don’t know any guides. I know of guides; I don’t know them.”

“Mr. Wilson and I spent an afternoon with him, mama, and he sure sounded like you know a lot more than of him. In fact, he’d be hurt if he heard you say that.”

“Yeah, well, Antoine gets hurt about a lot of things.” Dr. Berg sighed.

“You lied.”

“How dare you. I did no such thing.” Dr. Berg lay back and scoffed at the accusation. “I protected you.”

“There’s nothing dangerous about these people, mama.”

“They’re fanatics. They’re like drug addicts. They’re chasing after this like it’s some impossible high. Of course it’s dangerous.” She leaned forward and gestured to Joe. “This man’s wife sounds like she won’t make it.”

“But he can visit her there, by going there himself? You never told me that.”

She waved her away and lay back. “That’s speculation.”

“He can visit her, even if she dies?”

“Oh, honey. Is that what this is about?”

“What? No—. I mean, I don’t know.”

“Don’t tell me you’d risk everything on wishful thinking.”

Alija lunged aggressively towards her mother, but then caught herself and took a deep breath. She raised her hands and insisted, “It’s all right.”

“Oh, baby. I’m so sorry.”

“Let’s talk about this later. You should get some sleep.” Alija turned out the lights, ducked under Joe’s arm, and guided him to the living room. “And you, sir, need food.” She coaxed him down to the carpet, flipped the muddy pillow, and laid his head on it. She unbuttoned the top of his dress shirt, touched his cheek, touched his neck, lingered over him, and stared. She stood and closed the bedroom door.

Joe tried to slow his thinking. The air circulated through his sweat. He listened to the refrigerator door’s creaking hinge, a cupboard’s clapping shut, a liquid’s pouring, Alija’s sighing, a drawer’s sliding, silverware’s clanging, a knife’s chopping, a plate’s wobbling. He listened to a fork drop.

Moments later, he felt Alija’s hand lifting his head into her lap. She brought a cup of apple juice to his lips. He sipped. She tilted it further, and he leaned into it.

She fed him grapes and cheese. With each bite, his lips closed more on her fingers. They both quickened their breathing.

Joe rolled to his hands and knees and pushed himself to his feet. “Thank you for your hospitality. I should go.”

“You know this isn’t easy for me either, right?” She ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath.

“Who do you hope to visit there, you know, on the other side of language?”

Alija mumbled into her lap, “I’m not ready to talk about that.” She looked-up from her hair.

They locked eyes.

Joe offered his hand. He pulled her up to him. She tucked her head into his chest. He dragged his hands down to her waist. Her eyes looked-up at him. Her lips parted.

Joe thanked her for meeting with him tonight. He walked to the front door and asked if she would join him at the diner in the morning, to discuss their traveling to the other side.

Alija said nothing, but followed him outside. On the porch, she stopped him. “I respect what you’re going through. Just know it’s not easy for me either.”

Joe nodded. “See you in the morning.” He stepped down the stairs.

She reached for his shoulder. He turned. She slid both her arms along his neck, until solely her toes clung to the porch. Under her flared blouse, he held her exposed waist. His lips brushed hers, only to say, “I can’t do this.”

He lifted her back to the porch. He held her at arm’s length, but his hands remained under her blouse. “I can’t do this.” His hands caressed her skin. He held her at arm’s length, but his fingers tucked into her jeans. “I can’t do this.” He clenched the top of her jeans with his fists. “I can’t.”

He pulled his hands away. The memory of her bare skin still graced the backs of his hands. He clasped his head. “None of this make sense.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Listen, about the other side of language, we don’t need to be going down that rabbit hole, not if what we’re after is right here. I don’t want to mistake my love for her, not if it’s my desire for you that’s sending me there.”

“Wait. What are you saying?”

“If you’re going to meet whoever you’re meeting, and I’m truly going for my wife, then we have a lot to discuss in the morning, and I’ve got a lot to think about tonight.”

“Right, but that’s not what you said.”

“It’s not like losing Nika means divorce. You heard your mother. She could die. You could die. I can’t do this. I can’t figure it out. I can’t.”

“Shhh. You’re driving yourself crazy. Go back to the motel and sleep. We can talk about this in the morning.”

“Will you meet me in the morning?”

Alija nodded. “Of course.”

“Will you come with me to the motel tonight?”

Alija nodded. “Of course.”


(Click HERE to read chapter 5.)

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Originally from South Florida, Gray Kane earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Mississippi. He teaches writing and runs faculty teaching and leadership programs at Austin Peay State University. He and his wife Carole live in Clarksville, TN with their three rescue dogs: Jesse, Mishka, and Zerbie. Gray is the author of Psychic Steampunk Parade.

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