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.
Part I, Chapter 7
Alija drunkenly moaned for Joe to join her on the couch.
Lightening flashed. Through the window, Joe thought he saw human shapes on the lawn. Thunder rumbled. He dismissed his overactive imagination.
Alija pleaded. She said she was scared.
Joe leaned the shotgun against the window, squatted before the couch, and put his arms around her. “I’ll be with you in a minute. You’re safe.”
She couldn’t hold up her head. Her hair flopped into her face. She mumbled, “I love you.”
He brushed the hair from her eyes. “How on earth did you get this drunk?” Joe chuckled and kissed her. He turned to the window. “I’ll be right over—.”
Nika stared from the open window. Her eyelids were closed, seemingly lifeless, but they faced him so directly he swore she saw through them. Not a muscle moved on her face. Not a hair moved. Her skin and hair had a uniform color. Someone had made a statue of Nika out of clay.
Her clay arm reached through the window. Her ceramic hand pushed the shotgun.
Joe grabbed Alija and fell back from the couch.
The shotgun hit the floor. The muzzle exploded. The buckshot tore through the couch.
Antoine kicked the statue. She fell back and disappeared from the window. Her severed arm fell to the floor and cracked.
Antoine pointed at Joe. “You had one job to do.” He grabbed a baseball bat from a bookshelf and tossed it at him. “Now go finish the job.”
Joe stared at his wife’s severed ceramic hand, her fingers, her nails. He stared at her wedding ring.
“Smash their heads, or they’ll keep coming.” Antoine rubbed his head. “Dang it. I liked that couch.” He pointed at the door. “Get out there. Go!” His insistence pushed Joe out the door.
Joe wandered around the yard in the dark. His breathing overwhelmed his ears. His pulse echoed in his head. He didn’t understand what happened, what he mistook for his wife.
He saw her naked figure in the dull glow beneath the window. He shivered. His neck and chest felt clammy. The figure moved awkwardly. A serrated edge marked the end of one shoulder.
Joe approached. His eyes struggled to see more of her than the light allowed. Her height and size struck in him a desire to hold her. He wanted to protect her.
His hand slid along her ribs and clasped her back in its grip. Her size and shape felt right, but the texture coarse, her form unyielding to his touch, her underarm cold and hard on his shoulder, her immobile fingers uncomfortable in his stubble. He held her back to get a good look at her. He caressed her cheek. She felt like Nika, only cold, hard. Her unmoving eyelids looked up at him.
Her hand slapped him.
Joe felt like she hit his face with a vase. He dropped the bat and stumbled back, too dizzy to see. The pain shattered his thinking. Rage blinded him. He stomped forward. He smacked her shoulders together into his palms. “I’m trying to help you!” He grit his teeth and squeezed.
The serrated shoulder sliced his palm.
Antoine shined a flashlight in his eyes. “Use the bat. What are you, stupid? You’ll break your hand.” He leaned back from the window. The flashlight disappeared. From somewhere in the house, Antoine shouted, “Don’t make me come out there.”
Joe stepped back. He shook with terror—at his aggression towards her, at his wife’s state, at the sense of loss.
“Smash it.” Antoine’s head poked out the window.
“I can’t. She’s my wife.”
“Set her free. She can’t get back to her body as long as she’s trapped in that thing.”
“I don’t even understand what’s happening.”
“That’s a lost soul.”
“In a statue of my wife?”
“Anyone who comes looking for the other side won’t get my help without casting a mold. Too many of them end up getting lost on their way there, or on their way back. They end up here like this.” Antoine aimed the flashlight at the woods. Jerky figures moved along its edge. “Back when I didn’t make bodies, they tore the hell out of my house, like a bunch of tourist-attraction ghosts. Now they possess something they can identify with. Now I can find them and send them on their way, without their destroying my property. That is, until you started leaning racked shotguns against the wall. You idiot. Now grab that bat and set her free already.”
Joe grabbed the bat from the grass. He raised the bat over his head. “Please come home, baby.”
Nika’s closed eyes stared at him, her posture indifferent to him.
His arms tightened. The tension held him there shaking from his wrists to his elbows, from his neck down his back. “I can’t.” He threw the bat into the grass.
“Damn it.” Antoine disappeared from the window. Joe could hear him sigh and curse.
Nika turned away. Joe watched her stilted walk to the woods. He thought she paused before the nearest tree. He thought she faced him. He thought she watched him with her closed eyes.
Antoine poked his head from the window. “What are you letting her go for? Where’s the bat? Pick up the bat.” He ducked into the window, only to return with the rifle.
Nika had disappeared into the dark.
Other figures emerged.
“Find that bat.” Antoine held the flashlight along the base of the barrel. He aimed at an approaching figure. He fired. Its clay head exploded. The body dropped. He fired at another but only chipped its shoulder. “Dang it. When they get close, I ain’t wasting any more ammo.” Antoine unloaded the rifle on three more figures, only with two direct hits. He mumbled, “$25 a box. And they’re always out of stock.” He loaded another five rounds into the internal magazine. “Grab that bat and get swinging.”
The figures shuffled their stiff limbs through the grass.
“Dang it. You’re going to make me come out there.” He withdrew from the window and slammed it shut. Moments later, his dark grumbling outline traipsed around the corner looking for the bat. He kicked the grass. He swiped at the grass with his boot.
“How do they move their limbs?”
“What?” Antoine lowered to his hands and knees. “Get down here and help me find this thing.”
Joe descended to the grass. “How do they even walk?”
“You mean cause they’re statues? They won’t possess just anything. They won’t possess something that can’t move.” Antoine patted the grass around him. “When the statues didn’t work, I stopped gluing the pieces together. Right now I use mostly springs and rubber for their joints, but it’s like making fishing flies. No two are alike. I’ll use whatever I’ve got.”
A small herd of naked statues reached them. A large woman with big hair stumbled forward.
“Found it.” Joe handed the bat to Antoine.
Antoine leaped to his feet. He pointed the bat at her approaching face. He coiled, shifted his weight to his back boot. He stepped forward and launched the bat into her temple.
Her ear, eye, and nose exploded. The head rolled from its body. The body tumbled with a thud.
“You have to hit the face. I don’t know why, but if the face is still intact, they keep moving.” He pushed the nearest young woman and kicked another to make room for his next swing.
Joe felt nauseous. “I can’t do this.” He retreated to the corner of the house.
“Where are you going?”
A figure smashed the window.
“Dang it. Y’all are worse than ex-wives. Leave my property alone.”
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