Ichor Falls

Rasulka

by on Dec.29, 2008, under Submitted

The sound of jet engines blared in the tiny rooms. Victor plugged his ears and waited for the howling to stop. He really hated to be the one to do this. But there was really no one else.

Those Servers needed rebooting, and that’s all there was to it.

He pulled his fingers from his ears. The worst was over. Soon the Servers would drone into the back as just white noise. Now the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads – that was a sound he could never ignore.

He pulled his phone from the belt clip. It was illuminated by Mary’s photo. She wore an exasperated smile and black strands of hair hung in her face. It was the first photo he snapped on the phone; she had just woken up from a nap.

Victor sucked his lower lip, his thumb hovering over the big red Decline button. He walked over to the window behind his desk. The phone reported no bars, and the call disconnected. He clipped the phone back to his belt and his hand went instinctively to the white band around his finger. He twisted the skin between his thumb and forefinger — his personal worry stone.

He rested his forehead on the windowpane. It was damp with cool condensation from the mist hanging in the air. He almost wished he could stay here forever. Opening his eyes, he could almost make out the distant lines of Sweetbrook Hospital, a wraith in the distance. The blinking blue light of the heliport told him where he was.

This was his lighthouse. If he ventured too close, he’d wreck himself on the rocks. Mary would be getting off work right now. If she pulled the night shift. No. He would stay over here. His office was on the upper floor of what used to be a Haelig Meyer department store, its floor cluttered with deceased computers. He’d stay over here in MIS. That’s where they preferred him anyway.

“My friend,” said a voice from behind accompanied by a hairy brown hand landing on his shoulder. “I got you tickets for speed dating at Sharkie’s. They have karaoke!”

“I’ll have to pass… my heart will always belong to Mary.”

“That is the most melodramatic thing I have ever heard,” Ramir scolded. It always amazed Victor — the only place he’s ever actually seen the cliché Indian systems admin was here in the Falls, of all places. “And yet they make fun of arranged marriages. Look, they work. The secret is that the husband and wife lead separate lives…”

Victor chuckled. “Hey, want to take a ride today?”

“And if the hospital needs us?”

He patted the pager on his hip. “They know where to find us.”

2

It always surprised people to find out that there even was an IT industry in Ichor Falls. Half of the town was still on AOL, assuming they had any Internet at all. Even facilities the size of Sweetbrook Hospital were wired. There were no actual paper trails with medical records, thanks to Bill Clinton and HIPAA. Some nurse left a senator’s STD screeen out in the break room one too many times.

The real issue here is that prior to 1998, Sweetbrook had no records.

Victor pulled his truck into the dirt lot in front of Amaranth Mental Hospital. Ramir whistled when he dropped out of the passenger side. Victor couldn’t blame him — even at high noon it was creepy as hell. He decided the mist might actually help the old folks in the New Haven Rest Home right across the hospital. Wouldn’t have to look at the thing.

“Shit!” Ramir spat. Victor looked behind him. Ramir was spread out on his stomach. His laptop case was just out of reach. “Tripped over something. A rock. Someone carved nineteen thirty-two on it.”

“That’s a grave, Ramir.” One they actually marked, anyway.

He jumped to his feet and snatched the case. “There are a thousand tortures I would rather endure than being here.”

Can’t blame him…I’d rather have Mary rip out my heart again. Their badges may have read Sweetbrook Memorial Information Services, but their paychecks read New Elysium Technology Solutions. A subsidiary of the New Elysium group recruited all across the state, but they didn’t have to look very hard to find Victor. He’d always been here. With one big exception.

NETS contracted full time to Sweetbrook and the mines. That fact always caught people by surprise. Victor guessed that when people pictured coal miners, they still pictured burly men with pickaxes attacking a seam of coal illuminated only by a tiny, dripping candle on the front of their hardhat.

They let themselves in through the back. Or rather, the hole in the wall. Could have just parked the truck in here. Victor clicked on his flashlight. No windows. The walls were stained gray; any furniture or equipment had long been stolen or rusted away by now. The doors weren’t even left behind. Graffiti drenched every flat surface. In the summer, Amaranth was quite a hangout for students of Ichor Falls High. His spotlight fell on the red scrawled words MARCY WAS FUCKED HERE, with an arrow leading down.

An e-mail dropped into Victor’s inbox from the higher ups the week before. New Elysium wanted a site survey of Amaranth before starting renovations. They didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes -– this time they wanted a paper trail that could outlast the town. They wanted to resurrect this building that started life as Amaranth Industrial School for Colored Boys in 1906.

“No bars,” Victor said. He clipped his cell phone back to his belt. For a moment the screen illuminated Jenny Stilled My Wood in Stillwood in blue.

“Well, we gave it our best.”

“Means nothing. I get one bar tops by my desk.” Victor unzipped his laptop case. He clenched his flashlight in his teeth and pulled a Dell notebook out. He retrieved a tiny Linksys box from a side compartment. They sparkled in the darkness like tiny green stars. “Start from the basement. Work our way up.”

They turned into a stair well following the yellow spotlights. One eye following the light, the other on their instruments. MacGuyver in green. Seriously? Spelled it wrong to boot.

Victor’s stomach collapsed. He wanted to turn and run. Just to flee this building that blossomed after an awkward puberty into the Amaranth Sanitarium in 1927. Closed in ’51. They say the doctors lobotomized the lot of them for the hell of it and chucked their bodies out the back. Not all of them from the hospital days. Of course, they say that about any old asylum.

Except the New Elysium bulldozers unearthed a mass grave in 1995. Delayed the project for over a decade. The Sentinel reported that there were remains from fifty-seven bodies in all.

“No signal,” Ramir said.

“No surprise there.” Victor’s nostrils flared, the air burning his nose.

“You smell that?” Ramir dashed the spotlight around the room. The black fell away from a table like a cloak dropping to the floor. It was burdened by an array of brown bottles ranging in all sizes. A blue steel still towered over the bottles as the table’s centerpiece. Plastic tubes ran down from the still to a propane tank tucked under the table. “What is that?”

“Christ! Squatters. We need to get out of here,” Victor said in a sharp whisper. “Right now.” They turned on their heels back towards the staircase. A grinning skull stood in their way.

“What are you doing in my house?” came the voice — except it came out “mah hawse.” An age-beaten hand scratched a stubbly face. In this light the man’s rotten teeth looked like they were filed to points. Please please please just be a trick of the light.

“We were just leaving,” Victor said. “Saw nothing.”

“What’n'r you boys? Ghost hunters?” he said. “Might early for that, ain’t it?”

There was a soft click and a sun blossomed in the center of the universe. Ramir and Victor held up their hands like they could hold back the flood light if they just applied themselves.

“Got a fancy laptop,” another voice called.

“Hey… you-you can have it,” Ramir said. He placed the laptop on the ground and slid it towards the light. He had no idea if it got anywhere close.

“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a sand nigger.”

“Bet you don’t even have a green card!” the other vagrant said. The spotlight fell on Ramir’s face. “First Nine-One-One…”

“Look! My family is from India. I was born in America — ” Ramir pleaded. He stood frozen like a deer in the headlights.

“Then my baby mama lost her phone job!”

“And now we have a got damn A-rab president.” The meth skeleton shook his head. He made the motion of flicking a tear from his yellow eye. “Ain’t it just a fucking, crying shame? What has the world come to? Our boys go off to die, but we still got the enemy right here in the Falls.”

“I suppose the retired Navy plates on my truck don’t mean a God damn thing to you?” Victor said.

The skeleton shrugged. “Stockholm? I’d-a thought you’d known better, Beenadick.”

The vagrant set his floodlight on the ground. He swaggered towards Ramir the light flashed silver off he cleaver he clutched. Ramir’s lower lip trembled. “I should cut his head off like they did to our boys? But on account of yer a veteran — I’ll just castrate ‘em.”

Victor closed his eyes and shut off the flashlight. His eyes popped back open — he could make the faint figure of the skeleton by the flood light. He threw his forearm over the skeleton’s neck and pulled the pen knife from his pocket.

The flashlight clicked back on, and the skeleton clenched his eyes out of reflex. He felt a pressure against his eyelid, his eye yielding quietly back into the socket. A tiny pearl of warmth was already forming against the skin.

“Move one more step,” Victor said, “and he loses an eye.”

The vagrant glanced back for a second and a silver crescent flared. Ramir gurgled and stumbled forward before collapsing outside the stream of light. The smell of iron and shit hit Victor like a wall. All of Victor’s air escaped his mouth and his muscles slacked. The vagrant buried his elbow into Victor’s gut while Victor  thrust the knife, missing the mark.

Victor lost his grip, sending the knife skittering out of sight like a cockroach. The skeleton turned around, glaring a yellow eye at him through a lanced eyelid. Victor brought the flashlight down in a flurry of blows. The light extinguished and plastic shattered on the skeleton’s hands and forearms. His heel slipped on the blood gouting from Ramir’s crumpled body. The skeleton tumbled into the vagrant.

Victor bolted for the stairs, graffiti streaming past. He raced out of Amaranth and into the fog. He turned the corner around the asylum and charged further into the white void. Where is my truck? He could hear boots pounding against the soft earth. Black figures formed in front of him. Then the crooked forest of Stillwood sprung up around him. He curved his route. I can circle back around.

The footsteps were closing in. He could hear the breath burning in their throats. Victor tumbled over a root or downed branch on the ground and his hands ran over a white dome — an igloo. One of the munitions bunkers dotting Mason County since WWII. The door was unlocked. He pushed it open and threw his body against the other side, closing it hard. It was black and damp inside. He twisted his ring finger.

The stomping ceased. He braced himself and stopped breathing. It felt like hours before he heard the footsteps catch up. He exhaled slowly and deliberately. His thoughts finally caught up with him slicing through the adrenaline buzz.

His chest heaved. What the hell are you doing? Pulling this kind of shit…its been a long time since Desert Storm. Who are you kidding? It’s been a long time since basic training. You were an engineer in Canada for fuck’s sake.

This is what crying would feel like.

There was shifting outside the door. The crunch of brown leaves under steel toes.

That stunt with the knife got Ramir turned into a Pez dispenser. He actually had something to live for, unlike you.

Then the stomping continued on, until it was a faint whisper in the dark. Victor allowed himself to breath again. Why didn’t they look inside? Of course… He had to ram right into the igloo to even see it. He thought of checking his pulse. That’s what runners do, right? He jabbed his two fingers to his throat. Then chuckled and shook his head.

The door popped open once he pulled his body from it. He surged forward. Didn’t know how long he had before the meth-necks circled back around. That haunting little slice of Palin’s real America.

There was the rattle of chains. His right leg whipped from under him. Victor would later say that it all went black, but to be honest, it already was.

3

Victor saw himself riding a raft of logs drifting down the Ohio.

Not so much Huckleberry Finn, as lumberjack.

The logs were flanked by grey boats from the Company. Ichor Falls was in the grips of its second boon. The timber payload was en route to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Victor knew this in the same way we all know our dreams.

He lost his balance. Nothing new there. The lumber vibrated from under him. His ears were ringing. The Ohio seemed far choppier than he was accustomed. He opened his eyes. A cloud of black soot billowed over him. The timber rattled apart and separated out from under him.

He plunged into the black Ohio waters like forty-three more souls would in December of 1961. He broke the surface only once. He caught a glimpse of the ship. Orange light danced across its bow. The name New Elysium blazed in red paint stood out on the stern.

Then like those Christmas shoppers dumped from the Silver Bridge, the cold seized him. His muscles froze. He descended into the black as smoothly as a knife through your best friend’s throat.

His legs dug into the bottom of the river. A blue light spread across the bottom like a thin layer of moss. Something was moving. A school of fish? No, the Ohio was littered with corpses. They writhed and danced with the tide. He saw one blue face staring at him from the driver’s side of a sunken car.

Beside him Ramir stood. Victor spun his head in his friend’s direction. Ramir was bound in chains. He looked as if he died while trying to protect his privates. Maybe he was.

Then he spotted Mary.

Mary was the only vibrant, living creature on the bottom of the Ohio. She glided without effort through the icy waters towards him. Her skin was cast green in the light, her tangle of hair somehow darker than the black water.

She pressed herself against him, her naked body against him resurrecting his dead muscles. Heat spread over him. She pressed her lips against his and put breath back in his lungs.

There he would stay trapped for all eternity. He knew this because it was a dream. Her hand pressed against his chest.

The pain roused him awake.

4

Moonlight crept through the door ajar, with the Falls’ breath hanging overhead. Victor pulled himself upright, his back drenched in stagnant water. His ankle throbbed. He unbound it from the chain that wrapped around it once, maybe twice. He propped himself against the wall. He limped out of the Igloo.

He staggered in the direction moss grew. He knew north would take him to Point Pleasant eventually. Might even lead him back into the Falls. God alone knew where he was. Stillwood — that could mean anywhere. Might as well just say Timbuktu.

His phone chirped. He unclipped it and found he still had no bars. It chirped again and the screen went black. He considered chucking it before clipping it back to his belt.

The sound of engines in the mist pricked up Victor’s ears. He closed his eyes and listened, trying to discern the direction of the road. He could stumble out onto to route 79, waving like a madman. Hope to God no new Mothman stories sprouted as a result.

Then the low rumble was closing in on him. Victor half-ran and half-stumbled forward in what he hoped was the opposite direction of the engines. Light flashed through the trees and Victor took a dive. He slid on his belly behind a lichen-flecked stump.

Hunters. He was sure of that. Maybe they won’t be the same ones.

“We know you’re still out here, Beenadick!” cried a man mounted on an ATV.

“Yer got-damn Ching Chong truck never left,” the other hunter roared over his ATV’s engine. Victor pretended he was the Stillwood King. A static man trapped within the same silent second for all eternity. They would lose him again one inch at a time.

A techno beat of Hava Nagila erupted from the pager at his hip — even out here the Hospital could call him. Always at the wrong time!

The stump burst and thunder clapped through the trees. Victor hurled his pager. The meth-necks threw their ATVs into reverse. Did they think I had a grenade? Victor made a run for it.

Thunder clapped again, and this time Victor felt the bolt. His body crumpled. A black rose blossomed over his chest. He slid on his side over the muddy creek bed and fell helplessly face first into the water.

The meth-necks pulled their ATVs up to the creek’s edge, their rasping laughter echoing over him when they cut the engines. Floodlights danced on the black water.

Victor propped himself up on one palm and one elbow, and caught himself laughing too. The men stopped. They didn’t get the joke.

He hurt all over as he staggered to his feet, and still he laughed. “You missed!” Victor laughed and dabbed his fingers against his oozing wound.

Another slug tore through him. Victor flew backwards and landed on his ass. He laughed even more. Like many of the creeks running through the Stillwood, this one was fed by the Ohio. The meth-necks plunged up to the ankles in their filthy boots.

Now they were in his domain.

At the deepest part of the creek, the river began to froth and foam. The meth-necks stared, distracted from Victor’s laughing, writhing form. The bubbles grew larger as though the river had been filled with black soap. The foam rose higher and broader until a single huge black bubble emerged from the morass, and popped. Mary burst through dripping from head to toe. Her skin was gooseflesh. Her nipples were hard lentils. The hunters could only stare.

A correction. This was her domain, but unlike these men he was allowed here.

They were little fish and they had no idea just how big the pond really was. Bigger fish always ate the little fish. It’s just the way of the world.

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7 comments for this entry:
  1. darkmayo

    Excellent, left me wanting to read more.

  2. muppet

    Really great! Could use editing by a third party to clean up some disconnectedness. I get the feeling you edited this yourself quite a few times and missed some places where the story makes sudden leaps.

    Altogether a good piece. The dream imagery is good but needed some polish to fit it into the story better.

  3. Emi

    I really like how the story was completed. Also, I like that the title didn’t really give anything away, until after the story. I actually researched it to see what it meant, and it made sense for me. I love this story.

  4. GravityKills

    Wow, this was awesome. You should continue this into a series!

  5. Trudgemank

    Liked the story, a little disjointed at times, mad it hard to follow just who was narrating, but that lends to the creepiness.

    The inclusion of political jabs is a bit juvenile. Casting Palin supporters as all being meth necks. I don’t love them either, but you alienate about 50% of your potential readership with one little comment.

    I guess you couuld argue that everyone in the story, meth necks and the narrator are spiteful ultra-political bigots, who’s first thought in a life or death situation si to compare your enemy to your least favorite politician, but in reality most of the people in this country just don’t care THAT much.

  6. Horace Horrible

    I liked this one, mainly because it made me remember what a Rusalka was. The ending left me with a great feeling of satisfaction, but like Trudgemank I found the political commentary childish, obnoxious, and not really useful to the story at all.

  7. Krypto

    Great story. I don’t agree with the commentators critical of the political spin – obviously the POV character is a non-Palin supporting former Navy man, and his thoughts about Palin’s “real America” are stated from his POV.

    My only criticism is that, well, basically the supernatural stuff is a bit too mundane here. The general tone of IF stories tends to imply the existance of ghosts, etc., not flat out state them. In this story, ghosts are clearly real and in fact this guy actually seems to understand the rules they operate under and basically use/controll them. I don’t care for that part of the story.

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