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

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 at Tuff Gnarl.

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

PART I, Chapter 3


Joe tried to focus on his sister, but the memory overwhelmed him.

Alija had run inside the cabin. Her mother had collapsed. Joe sprinted to help.

“She passed out. When she came to, she wasn’t making sense.” He rubbed his stubble, from crown to jaw, jaw to crown. “I took her to the hospital. The doctors held her overnight.”

“I hope you sanitized your truck and hands before you touched me or my child.”

Joe looked at his fingertips. “What?”

“Damn you.” She leaped to her feet, swept up her toddler, and rushed him to the kitchen sink. “So help me God, Joe.” Kathy ran the faucet.

“Don’t be silly.” Joe closed his eyes. “What ever it is, it’s not viral. And it was days ago. I’ve showered.” His mind receded. He didn’t want to think about this—his sister’s nonsense. Or even Dr. Berg’s. He wanted to focus on something more pleasant, but he didn’t know what that was.

Alija and he had sat together in the waiting room. Her bare legs and arms filled his peripheries. He struggled to focus on her eyes. Alija asked to call him Joe. She probed about Nika. She asked if Nika was pretty. She openly wondered if he blamed her mother. She asked if he had planned to hurt her. She questioned why her mother made her leave. She pondered whether her mother’s collapse had anything to do with the other side of language.

Whenever it worked as an answer, Joe shook his head or nodded. Other times, he shrugged. He thought he did a decent job of shutting his mouth. He didn’t want to ruin whatever positive relationship his driving them to the hospital now afforded.

The hospital’s fluorescent lighting glared off its floors. He wondered how he ended-up in another hospital, four hours away from Vanderbilt. Somehow he traveled from waiting room to waiting room. At least, he thought, people there expressed sympathy without judgment, and for suffering that wasn’t his own.

At least not directly his own.

His sister washed Little Tater’s face, then his hands. “Damn you, Joe.”

“Damn you, Joe,” the toddler imitated. “Yeah. Damn you, Joe.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. “Why did you even go to those people?”

“How else can I figure this stuff out?”

“Medically, you know, by sitting at Nika’s bedside and talking with her doctors?”

“I did. They’ve tested and ruled out everything they could think of. Now they’re just waiting. I can’t wait. I can’t.”

“I know.”

“I can’t.”

Kathy lowered Tater to the floor.

He ran to the plastic jeep with the dinosaur in the backseat. “Damn you, Joe. Damn you, Joe.” He slammed the jeep. “Yeah. Damn you, Joe.”

Joe chuckled.

“Don’t encourage him.”

“Dr. Berg said I have to go to hell.”

“I’ve been telling you that for years.”

His hands fidgeted. “Let me see if I can even say this right. Hell is where you lose grip on reality—or no, what was it—where you lose grip on perception. Yeah, reality is supposed to be beyond perception. She told me if I want to find Nika, I have to meet her on the other side.” He stared blankly at his hands. “She even gave me the name of a guide.”

“You’re not going to the guide, are you?”

“I already did.” He unconsciously picked his thumb’s cuticles. “Her daughter went with me.” He peeled a layer of skin. “Dr. Berg told her that forgetting language didn’t do anything other than make you crazy.” His thumb stung. “She said people did it for the hallucinations or something, for the euphoria after the mental anguish. But she didn’t tell her about the religion. Why do you think she didn’t tell her about the religion?”

“You mean the cult.”

He felt the room circulate air on his thumb; the cool air soothed the sting. He wondered if that’s what people from the other side felt when they resurfaced. He thought about Alija’s curiosity.

“Alija didn’t know we could meet people on the other side, not until I mentioned the guide.”

“You mean she didn’t know a cult believed that.”

He looked blindly into his fidgeting hands. “She guessed her mother hid something from her. Dr. Berg made her wait outside, you know, while she told me about the other side. Once Alija figured out what her mother said, she insisted we meet with the guide, and quickly, too, before the hospital discharged her mom. So next thing I know, we’re driving through the mountains looking for this person’s farm.”

In the truck, Alija had leaned her leg into his. Her knee touched his jeans.

“Wait a minute. Hold on. Instead of sitting by your comatose wife and getting updates from her doctors, you drove with some cult writer’s daughter, to some cult farm, on some cult mountain, so some cult shaman could do what—brainwash you into not trusting reality?”

Joe chuckled. “Basically.” He shook his head.

“That cult writer’s daughter must be one serious hottie.”

“This isn’t about that.”

“I knew it. She is, isn’t she.”

“Really, Kathy, this has nothing to do with that.”

“I knew things weren’t exactly copacetic between you two. Look. I understand the need for companionship, especially when you’re so stressed. I do want you to be happy.”

“Seriously. Don’t go there.”

“But you need to stop chasing the crazy ones.”

“I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Joe leaped to his feet. His chair fell back onto the floor.

“What are you going to do? Manhandle me?” Kathy placed her hands on her hips. “I drove over an hour to get here.” Tater cried. She lifted him to her shoulder. “Pick up the chair and sit down.” She kissed and bounced her boy. “Or walk it off.” She said in a baby voice, “That’s right. Mature adults don’t intimidate or assault people they can’t control, do they. No, they don’t. You’re so cute. Your mama loves you.”

Joe stomped out the door. He didn’t mean to slam it, but he did. The force rattled his windows and nerves. He knew he overreacted, but anger and hurt welled in him.

A nurse had folded Nika’s right arm over her chest, her right knee over her left. The two nurses rolled Nika onto her side.

In his driveway, Joe bent over and clutched his legs.

One nurse removed the fitted sheet from the side of the bed. She scrunched it along Nika’s turned body. She affixed another sheet in its stead.

Bent over, he couldn’t breathe.

The nurses rolled Nika onto and then over the scrunched sheets. They finished replacing the fitted sheet on the rest of the bed.

Joe raised his arms over his head. Anger and sickness flushed his face. He tried to walk, but his stride drove him forward so forcefully he ran.

After ten minutes, he returned to the house, entered the door, and excused himself to take a shower. His jeans were drenched. He cleaned up and dressed. He walked into the kitchen, lifted his chair, and sat.

Kathy fixed coffee. She brought Joe a cup and sat across from him. “How’s Nika?”

Joe sighed. “The doctors are talking about replacing her nasogastric tube with one they’ll surgically implant in her abdominal wall.”


“Her nose hose. They want to sew it into her gut. Apparently, that’s what they do when they prepare for the long haul.”

“How much more time can you take off?”

“They gave me twelve weeks of unpaid leave. I’ve used three.”

“I can’t believe you waited that long to tell me. If you stay in town, I can bring you groceries.”

“Thanks.” He forced a smile.

She held his hand. “I love you, Joe.”

He smiled, this time more sincerely. He lowered his head and appreciated the moment.

His cell vibrated. Joe stood and pulled it from his pocket. “Hello?”

“I can’t stop thinking about what the guide said.” Alija’s voice excited him.

He walked away from the table. “Me neither,” he whispered. “Listen. I can’t talk right now. Can I call you later?”

“I want to do it.”


(Click HERE to read chapter 4.)

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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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