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 II, Chapter 1
Unable to sleep, Joe returned to the woods with a shovel. At the tree line, he squatted, rolled the clay figure of the little girl to her side, and slid the flashlight from her shattered face. Beneath the moonlight, her remaining closed eye, tiny nose, and cracked lips lay against his palm.
He stared quietly at her.
Leaves fluttered. Unseen wind chimes rang. A breeze chilled his bare back.
He tucked the girl’s ceramic figure into the earth, her face under her slender arm. If he had a shirt, he would have covered her.
After a deep breath, he shoveled the loose soil.
Joe shook the shattered protective glass from the flashlight. Its bulb remained intact. He tapped the light against his thigh until the bulb brightened.
In the woods, he weaved his head below and between the hanging remnants of human figures. His boots navigated their severed limbs and crunched thousands of ceramic shards.
The flashlight revealed his wife’s slumped figure.
Wind chimes echoed off the mountain above the trees. First light bore blue skies between fluttering leaves. Gold beams of diaphanous dust soon streaked the woods.
Joe turned off the flashlight.
Shock kept his anxiety at a dull simmer. It prevented his emotions from boiling over. He wanted to cry but couldn’t.
He reflected on how they ended up here. He stared at Nika’s folded figure. Four weeks ago, she psychologically unraveled. Three weeks ago, she fell into a coma. Yesterday, she reanimated as a ceramic statue. Last night, Nika smashed her face and took her ceramic life. Everything was absurd.
Morning birds competed with the wind chimes. He wanted to enjoy their songs, but they rattled his head like woodpeckers on a pot.
Nothing made sense. Two weeks ago, he discovered Nika had annotated Dr. Berg’s book. One week ago, he visited Dr. Berg. Yesterday, at Dr. Berg’s suggestion, Joe joined—what did his sister call him—a cult shaman. Last night, they battled animated suicidal ceramic statues of women who had defected from the symbolic universe to live on the other side of language.
Nope, he mumbled to himself, not an ounce of damn sense.
He stared at his wife’s figure, folded forward as if in prayer.
Tiny emotional bubbles popped his surface thoughts. He wanted to cool down or overflow, but he couldn’t. He sought a more pleasant thought.
Six days ago, he met Alija. Her long legs captivated him. He could barely drive as she crossed her bare legs in the passenger seat of his truck. Two days ago, she made him feel warm. They unabashedly let their glances consume them. He loved those legs wrapped around him.
Last night, those legs got shot.
He stared at his wife’s ceramic figure. Joe dug. He shoveled furiously. He cursed his wife. Why couldn’t she just be happy? He leaned her statue back into his arms and gazed at the hole in her otherwise perfect face. The outsides of her closed eyes remained, as did the underside of her nose, her full lips, chin, jawline, ears, temples, brows, forehead, and hair, perfectly as he remembered her. But the hole had swallowed the center. Only the margins remained. He couldn’t look her even in the eyes. He felt dizzy, as if he might fall into that jagged emptiness with her.
He looked away, at her naked ceramic body, stiff over his legs.
He felt sick.
He tucked her into the earth and proceeded to dig. Joe dropped the shovel and vomited. He stumbled from the woods for air.
He heard classical music blare from the large aluminum barn. After he caught his breath, Joe walked over. Inside, he saw the kilns and piles of ceramic limbs. Behind the music, creaking sounds drew his sight to the ceiling. More limbs hung and swung from a mobile. From their hands to their feet, he knew whose he saw. But then the head confirmed it.
He stared at his unassembled wife, rotating on wires.
(Click HERE to read the next chapter.)
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