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 TuffGnarl.com.
Part I, Chapter 9
“The Forest Was Silent”
Joe’s boots kicked shards in the grass. The cool breeze chilled his chest. He wish he had grabbed another shirt. His eyes followed the figures at the end of his flashlight.
He wanted more than this bat—a rifle, to bring them down from a distance. He didn’t want to watch their faces. Antoine said he had to crack their clay faces. Otherwise, they’d stay trapped. Otherwise, they couldn’t go back. He had to free them from those bodies, so maybe they could find their own—so that maybe, just maybe, they could go home.
Joe stepped over a ceramic limb. He pushed a decapitated statue onto its back. He aimed the flashlight at its headless chin, slender shoulder, exposed breast, ribs, hip. He took a deep breath. “I can’t do this.”
He raised the flashlight. The light landed on his wife.
Nika’s figure leaned its one remaining arm on a tree branch. Her closed eyes stared at him. Her naked figure seemed to be posed, poised, waiting. Her closed eyes glanced at the body by his boots.
They stopped on the bat by his side.
Joe looked down at the bat. “No.” He shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. I was told there was no other way. I don’t think I can anyways.”
Her chin rose. Her head tilted.
Joe averted his eyes. He shook his head.
He raised the flashlight at her once more, but she already had turned and walked into the woods. The light caught her figure. Her body sauntered beneath and between an array of arms and hands reaching and grasping from the branches. She disappeared behind them.
Joe ran after her.
At the forest, he shined the light into the trees. Tied bodies flailed from branches.
Joe slouched and covered his head, but their arms still swatted him. One grabbed his light, another his bat. The flashlight bobbed above the branches. The bat disappeared. He clamored for the light. He tried to grab it. The flashlight bounced from branch to branch, tree to tree—disappearing into the forest.
Joe crawled beneath the swinging arms. He trudged through the mud. He couldn’t wipe the sweat from his eyes.
The light reappeared in the branches. It shined on his wife’s body below.
She laid against a tree trunk. One ceramic knee quickly crossed the other. Her only arm rose to cover her eyes.
Joe wiped his hands on his jeans and chest. “Nika?”
Her arm and face turned away. She thrust the remnants of her severed arm, its serrated edges warding him off.
Joe inched closer. “Nika, I want to help. Please tell me how to help.”
She peered from the crook of her arm.
Joe sat back and sighed. “Lord, God, how did we end up here?”
She lowered the arm.
He recognized her face as clearly as the last moment he’d held it alive in his hands. “I love you.” He sniffled. He chuckled, but the tears took over. He tried to say he missed her, but his mouth couldn’t form the words.
They watched each other: she, unmoving; he, unstable.
He sighed. “I’d do anything to have things the way they were. Let me save you.”
Nika lunged. She clenched her fist. She leaned her face towards his.
He trembled. “I love you.”
Nika punched her nose.
Her face shattered over his. Its serrated edges sliced his chin. Her head collapsed into his lap.
The flashlight overhead shined on him. Leaves rustled. Branches swung wildly. Shards rained on him.
Joe covered his face. He rolled to his knees.
Ceramic shards sliced his skin. He looked ahead, where the light off his shoulders reflected back into the branches. He saw women clapping their hands until they shattered, then smashing their arms and legs against each other, and butting their heads against the branches.
The bouncing light followed him. The entire forest shook wildly. Shards exploded from trees.
Joe dove for the tree line.
The light followed him to the forest’s edge. It turned back against its bearer. It revealed the tiny face of a child.
Joe raised his hand to her. “Please, I can help you.”
She smashed the flashlight through her face. The broken light and body fell into the mud.
The forest was silent.
(Click HERE to read the next chapter.)
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