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 at Tuff Gnarl.
PART I, Chapter 1
“This is the hardest story I’ve ever had to tell.” Joe looked into his sister’s eyes, only to lower them. “My wife—. Nika—. She’s—.”
His eyes focused not to see her in his memory, but rather to stare at the real abyss before him. A grey cloud engulfed him, rained around him, off the cliff that barely contained him, into the nowhere he couldn’t see. He loved life. He didn’t want to die. He couldn’t believe he had to die to save his Nika.
Kathy slid her hand across the kitchen table. Her fingers touched his calloused palm. “I’m so sorry, Joe.” Her Little Tater stood three-feet high pushing her thigh. The toddler shook his mother’s skirt like a monkey rattling its cage.
Joe gripped the guardrail and shook it. His skin slipped across its slick steel. His big sleeveless arms slapped the rail. He saved himself from falling, only to realize the rail almost fell with him. He turned up his hands and asked why he had to die. He watched the rain pelt his palm.
“I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know how much longer she has.” His thick hands gripped his forehead. “That damn cult.”
“What? What the hell happened? I assumed it was a car accident or something.” Kathy crossed her legs and fidgeted with her slip dress.
Joe stared out there, way out there. He focused on nothing, not even on the words he was saying.
“I thought she had joined some, I don’t know, some online book club.” He pushed his hands through the remaining stubble on his head. “They were all reading the same things.”
Kathy lifted Little Tater into her lap. “Someone did this to her?” Tater clamored for the kitchen floor.
“No. It’s my fault. I was too into my work,” Joe said into the abyss. “I thought she was into her books.”
Joe’s eyes focused. He noticed the rain drops to nowhere, falling into forever, into his own end, waiting there for him.
“You’re being pathetic.” Kathy fished a loose cigarette from her purse. “I need a smoke. Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Tough titty.” Kathy lit it.
Joe laughed. He wanted to cry, but the rain prevented him from knowing if he did. His cheeks were wet. He rubbed his hands through the raindrops on his head.
“She wanted to talk. She tried to talk. She did talk. God, did she talk.” He lowered his head with his hands. “I mean I can piecemeal some of what she said, but—.”
“Shhh. Tell me about the cult. What’s this stuff about a cult?”
Joe pulled the folded softcover from the inner pocket of his sleeveless jacket. He stared at the author on the back cover. Her black eyes melted with the rain, as if they stained the very air she breathed.
“What did she do?”
“She forgot language. She had a stroke or something and forgot language.” Joe refolded the book. “That was the first time. Her, I don’t know. The language centers in her freaking noggin. They healed, but then she went back.” He bobbed the book as if to pace his thinking. “That’s how Nika described it. She went back—as if it were a destination or something, a place you can go to, where language didn’t exist.”
“And not just language either, but the rules embedded in language,” he heard in Nika’s voice.
“Like quantities and stuff.” The book bobbed. “No, I don’t know. Prepositions and things. Up, down, on, off. His. Hers. Subject, verb. Action. Recipient of freaking action. Everything as we understand it.” He tapped the book against the rail. “Gone.”
“But there was something else there. Like it was covered all this time, and when you remove our understanding—.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far yet.” He stuffed the book back into his jacket and stared.
“There’s a cult around this stuff?” Kathy dragged from her cigarette.
Joe nodded to himself.
“How could anyone even believe that?”
“I don’t care. It’s clever. It’s a clever argument. Nika’s really clever.” He reached for the dainty cup on the kitchen table. He palmed it. He rolled it around his palm with his finger. The last drip slipped to its lip. “She’s so clever she put herself in a freaking coma.”
“I’m not following. Are you saying she—?”
“She forgot language. She went there. She went. Wherever there is, she’s there.”
“How do you know she didn’t just slip and fall?”
“No, I watched her go. She mentally unraveled for like a week. I thought she was suffering from schizophrenia. I mean she was schizophrenic. But I didn’t know it was intentional,” he put down the cup and reached for the curled book in his jacket, “at least not until I found this book with her notes in it.”
“That cult book?”
Joe nodded into the rain. “I’ve got to find whatever else she was reading. I know there are others. I mean people are writing this stuff. That means they’re coming back. I have to find them. I don’t have much time. She’s on life support. She could die in there.”
“You sound as though you’re starting to believe this stuff.”
“I know, right?” He chuckled as he leaned over the railing. Anxiety welled-up in him. “She told me—.”
He thought about when he met that creepy author whose eyes bled into the air she breathed.
“She told me if I want to find her, I have to lose my sense of self and meet her on the other side.” He couldn’t stare into either the abyss or his memory anymore. He saw nothing. He only felt. He felt only the stability he had a minute ago disappear, from even his memory. He felt as though he always felt this way, as if his insides and outsides mingled, muddled. He thought of firing at an unseen enemy, of looking for cover in sparse trees, of searching for cover from an unknown direction, from every direction—surrounded by the very earth where he’d get buried.
(Click HERE to read Chapter 2.)
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