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The Notch Between the Hills

the-notch-between-the-hills

It is fifty years past Halloween when Sal awakes again. He stands slowly and scrapes the dirt from his filthy sweater and wobbles away. Down the dirt road he goes. He turns left at the corner and it isn't long before he sees the notch between the hills where they raped her.

Sal stops there for a time and glares at the place. It is so hard to focus these days. He grunts to himself then, and moves away stiffly.

Sal follows the dirt track now, passes the dark huts and the dull glow of the town. The dim sun sneaks into the black mountains as he walks. He comes to the fence after eons. Pushes the rusty wires apart and grunts. He steps through the cramped space.

Sal keeps going. He goes up the small hills of sweaty grass and down the last one. He soaks his rotting shoes and swipes at the spider'ed banana trees. He eats a few. Protein.

He ambles along then. Until the cut comes. The space between the fire of life. Where the trees and stars burn. He pauses now and peels his sweater away, and his rotted skin along with it. And it's not so disgusting now. There is no pain. No pleasure. There's nothing. It's just useless flesh. Not even that.

He watches the embers of flesh as they crumble in the hellfire. He must step through, again. He knows this. So. He does.

He doesn't look at his flesh now. The gray stuff at his feet. The pepper of life.

He doesn't want to see himself at all. Not yet. Not until. Not then, either. Maybe never.

What's the point? He'll wait until the gift is given. Then he'll look. Then she will too. She'll look for sure.

He's on the plantation now, where he worked young. He walks to the notch between the hills and trees. He stands by the river, listens. He stands long and stares with the hollowness of death. He lets his bony toes mingle with the water. It makes him think of her when he does this. He always thinks of her when he is alive again. But more so when he wets his toes. More so when... Well, just when...

Sal turns away now. He must keep his promise if he wants the gift. He knows that. He wants it too keep his promise. Wants it always. No matter what.

Sal sighs and cocks his head. It must begin again. The next thing. And it does. But so slowly. So forever-like. Dreamy.

He hears her screams. An echo at first but they come closer and closer still. They are still here. Upon him now. Filling him with hate. Fresh screams, stabbing at his empty soul. Tearing at him always. Moving him to act...somehow. But how? How can he ever act to cleanse this past?

He must beat it this time. He must win. If he can only do that he--no they--can escape this awful place, whatever it is. Escape it to a better place. He must win.

He watches the lazy river as he walks away. It's such a beautiful river, Sal thinks. Lovely. Pure. Unsullied by death. Unsullied by time.

It begins again in earnest now. He wishes it would not. That it would just stop. That he did not have to do this again. It makes him sick.

He sees her fighting them now. Screaming again. Biting them. Scratching them. Trying to escape them...

Such pain is this. Make it stop. Relieve my suffering.

He sees himself then. He's running... Running to save her. Running for nothing because he won't save her. She'll die. It always happens. She dies over and over and again... He runs over and over...

He sees them now, as they were then. The evil men. The boys. The things. The beasts. Sees them drinking and laughing, and taking her in turn. It's a horrible thing. Turn after turn. They never tire. Again, the shove her into the mud. Beasts, Sal thinks. Stinking demons in human form.

Now he is sick. Is that possible in this place? To be sick? Sal feels it. Feels the lust of them and the vulgar humanity of it: the lust. The sickness. He wants to vomit but that is not possible.

He sees the moon on her beautiful shoulders now. He tries for once to see just that: her beauty. Not their ugliness. No her pain. But how can their ugliness be divorced from her beauty? It can't. It never will...until...until what? Until they die? Until they die again? And her pain?

Their vacant eyes stare. They drink in her breasts. Filthy hands squeeze and probe. It is so vile. Repulsive. Evil. Are they really human? Is he...now?

The sky begins to fracture. Lightning sears the night. Crackles of thunder, like insane laughter.

Sal's anger boils. It does not matter. Introspection be damned. This must not stand. Not now, not ever and not here in this place.

He is running again. Always trying. For what reason? He will never win this war. He will never beat his own soul.

She is so alive now. So full of that glow of it...as they enjoy her. As they... Stop it! It's over! It has been for how long? A thousand years? A million? He has lost count of the days and nights of this wretched eternity.

He relives it. Each moment. He bends his rotting spine now, grunts again. Lets the animal rage out. He howls long. Long and hard. It is his best howl yet. He is so tired then. So very tired of the running and the trying and howling. He wishes he could breathe.

And yet it comes. The hate. It gives him the power once again. The energy, dark and strong. Dark stars drift in his thoughts. Dead ones, long since.

He runs still... Like a beast he charges. He bounds. Jumps high into the night and batters himself with each landing. Crunches bone. Splits ancient sinew. Pieces of him slough away. He cares not. As long as he is able to move he is happy. But this happiness is short lived. But what is short? What is time, now?

Another bad landing. A leg breaks off. This has never happened. Not in all the other times. It was a mistake to rush headlong. Maybe. Maybe not.

What will happen now? Will he be free of this hell?

He falls. Tumbles and breaks apart. He spills his head away. But it is still attached to something; he knows not what. His rib-cage rolls aside. Arms twist into a thicket. It is so dense he can no longer see them. His parts. Where is his hip? His legs? The rest of me?

For a moment nothing happens. The darkness becomes darker. Then it does. Something happens. He is able to move. With a shoulder he rights himself. He sees he is in a bad way. A disassembled demon in want of glue. And yet the mending begins of its own accord. A surreal healing in a surreal world. Bony attraction.

Shock at first. Now acceptance. He thanks this place for the healing it gives, if only in bone.

His legs mend as he sits there. And it is good, he thinks. Bones fuse to bones, but only bones. The flesh is dead. It falls away still. His arms and other pieces move into place and do the same. He is whole again. A calcium man remade. And no rib is taken for her. Good news, Sal thinks. Just less flesh. Some sinew. Much rot.

He stands now, tries his legs. They are good. The arms? A bit stiff. His toes? Some have not returned. He stamps his feet in the muck and little white stubs appear. He stamps again and they skitter like insects. Once they are attached he stretches. It is good to be me, he boasts.

All seems in order now.

Shall I? he asks himself. Yes, I will. There is little time.

He bounds away again. Vengeance has its power. A self-bone-healing power!

The next bit will hurt worse, Sal knows. It will hurt badly. But not in the physical. Not in the real. And what is that? What is reality anyway?

He hurries to catch it. To be in place at the appointed time. To suffer it anew, the false hope of a future that never is. He thinks of it. Tastes the pleasure of what he is about to do...again.

He is here. He is to live it yet again. He must, for the prize. That is the price of it. The payment for the gift. The gift of being...kinda alive. And that's good enough, Sal thinks. As long as she is there...again.

It begins...again. He sees her struggle...

The knife comes out. Sal glares at it. Wills him to put it away. Don't do it, Sal tells his memory. A memory of then. A memory that blends with the hellish now. He tells his past as if it's real, to stop. But the past ignores him. It always does. It is not real. Repeatedly, he begs it now. Stop, he says. Stop. Let me off this thing. Forever, let me away. And ever after, be gone I shall. Let me go.

Don't use that knife!

The eyes of the beast stare at her. Drink in the wantonness which exceeds the want and the very act itself. The culmination of misery.

Sal runs...in the present now. Runs faster than before. In this place, he must. In this place he does not know where, there is no choice. If he stops he truly dies. If he breaks, not so much. But to stop is truly to die, forever.

Don't stop, Old Bones!

Sal lets his memory play the evil score. Lets the pain come. It is the only way. The only way to get the prize. A half-prize. To live and relive, and die again. And maybe to breach the past and stop them. To live truly, once more.

Is that possible? There is only hope.

It begins afresh.

She hurts one of them now. Oh no. She fights. With her nails. Rakes one of their faces. Oh no. Hell no!

The victim shakes his head in anger if not annoyance. Streaks of red on his cheek. Dribbles of shame. A trickle of blood comes. He glares. His eyes are knives. He speaks the words. Death. Death. Death! Vengeance and poison are his stew.

No! Sal wants to yell. Wants to scream! But it is past. It is gone.

Oh no!

She spits at him. Screams again. Dares him to do it. Dares him to use his little knife. The puny blade. Dares him again. Takes a swipe at his face again.

Don't tempt him!

He will. He most assuredly will use the knife. He too has no choice in this place. Do not tempt him! Sal wants to say again. But he cannot change this. This past-present play. It's set in the stones of Hades.

A flashing knife. A wicked smile. Blood wiped from a brow. Stepping close to her while the other two grip her wrists. Twisting the blade in the moonlight--in admiration, in anticipation, in hatred...and lust.

Don't!

The other two are silent. They gawk and wonder and hope their brother is only joking... He will not do it. He will not dare. Will he? Should we intervene? No. Let him. Let him do the ultimate thing. Let him kill!

Rotten breath hits her now. An odor of death--her own. She sees it too late. Sees her own demise. Knows it's inevitable. Resigns the next moments to it. Swoons.

He pulls her hair and plunges the knife...again and again...

Oh...she thinks. Oh...

No! Sal screams.

Sal howls in pain and leaps over the rocks. He crashes through the underbrush, shreds himself as he comes. But nothing breaks. No bones snap. They rattle, but do not snap this time. He cannot help her now. It is far too late. The past is gone. The present is no more. Why run at all?

...again...

They let her go now. In that memory-thing, they let her go. The two who hold her, release her limp arms. They back away. Shake their heads. Stare at their brother. Stare at her supple form. At the drip of knife. The warped smile and trickled-blood face. The red hands. They are in awe.

You killed her, their eyes say. You really killed her. And...it does not feel so bad. It feels...good! Exhilaration! That's what the brothers feel. Release and shame and confusion.

Shock comes. More. confusion. The fog of dirty deeds.

Then acceptance. A kind of joy. The brothers laugh. They nod. We will be okay. We will hide the dead deed. But it is not to be. Not the hiding and most certainly, not the crime. Someone knows.

To her knees, she goes. Sags even now. Crawls, drags herself away. To the river she must go. To the place beneath its waves. Inch by inch she enters it. Oozes into the current. Rolls, breasts up and legs down. Her eyes gather the stars now. Until they don't.

Sal watches again...

They laugh as she floats, bobs and drifts under the moon. Their shock is gone now. It is okay. She is nothing. A play thing. Tits in the waves. They have won. Taken all her joy. Stolen her from Sal. Stolen life from life. And she herself had hidden their crime of joy.

Her life spills away now. Into the river it flows. And, as her life ebbs, the dark thing comes to make the deal. She accepts of course, to revenge the day. Only, she never knew that day would last and last. As her life's blood joins the river, she begins to hate herself for what she is about to do.

Sal is almost there...so close...and then...he bursts onto the bank of the river. There is no one there. There never is in this place that is not the past and not the future--and not any place at all. It is always empty and serene. She is not here!

"Don't make the deal!" he screams over the chasm of time. "Refuse!"

But she is gone...again. The river knows not the past. Not the present even, in this place, which is no place at all.

Sal turns toward his hatred now. To the glow in the trees where the house stands askew. To the beckoning walls he faces, as they pull and pull.

The deed must be done, it says. For the gift you want so much.

Sal knows this fact like no other. It is revenge or dust and nothing. That is all he knows and it is enough, but it is not.

I must move. One more time, I must go. Plod on.

Through the plantation he runs. To the main house he charges anew. A beast he is now but only for the now. Bent on revenge but awaiting the renewal. The gift. The desire for her, at all costs, is the only way. Even beyond the blackness. Even through it. Past all time and back again, for love's moments and hell on fire.

The house is white with tall columns and bright in orange colors, and the sparkles of the jack-o-lanterns lead the eye astray. It's a wicked holiday for wary goblins and twice so for demons of the bone. An undeserved holiday for them, however. A undeserved one for them all. Even for Sal, the bone-bag renewed.

The family party is over now and the eve is waning thin. The snores come on hard here and the liquor has done them in. The cadence of purgatory sings.

Sal sees in the near beyond this eve. A purity of sin. A nothingness of un-sublime. Baked-in death bred nigh and impatient.

Revenge is cold-ready.

Cliff is there. He sits smug in a chair on that porch, smoking his pipe. He listens to soundless music. Music that flows through silk-red curtains. Curtains that part to the innards of the house. To feeding beasts a'snoring. They are dreaming of the wind.

Sal wobbles now. Through sharp thorns, he pushes but does not bleed. On grasses of tinder, he walks.

He peers at Cliff on that porch. Curls of smoke waft over Cliff's balding shine. A halo of what?

Cliff studies the puffs of his pipe as Sal moves closer. Cliff's his halos in this eternal hell. A reminder for what's to come. He knows, Sal thinks. He tastes the next...

Cliff darts his red-rimmed eyes when Sal crouches next to the picket fence, and rests his rifle. He squints in the twilight. His eyes widen in fear. A fear of what comes next and comes often and well deserved. His face drops now. Resigned, again. Forever and again, Cliff thinks. A monotone lackluster glory of hate.

Cliff says, "I thought you were dead."

It is an old response. He has said it many times. But why? Why did he think Sal is dead? That he ever dies? That he is worthy of the next life level?

Sal aims the gleaming rifle. "I am beyond death," he says to Cliff. "As are we all."

Cliff swallows a shard of ice and stands. The thing before him is more bone than flesh. More apparition than ghoul. An eyeless demon. A thing of stench and filth it is. And a thing that almost lives. He and Sal are beasts of the same ilk.

Bile works onto Cliff's tongue now. He drops his pipe, sickness fills his senses. The face is still recognizable! Impossible! After all these times. It's still old Sal. It must be.

"What...what do you want?" Cliff stammers.

"All of you," Sal answers. "You must pay." He pauses. "All of you and more of that."

"I am sorry for what they did," Cliff stammers anew. "My sons were only kids. It was a mistake." He plays for time. "A deed of hate."

Sal shakes his head. A cheek falls away. Lands next to his bony toes where maggots worm away.

"We can't keep doing this," Cliff offers by way of apology. As if time matters at all. As if hate is not the magic seed of sustenance.

Sal shakes with anger now. Cliff hears bones rattle, stones clatter. "It does not matter," Sal rasps. "I need this."

"But, but...why now? Why after all this time have you come back from--?"

"The dead?" Sal finishes, his voice a mere hiss. "I always do."

"Yes." Cliff's answer seems awkwardly familiar. "Yes, you do come back."

Realization works in Cliff's eyes. Sal is stuck here, like they all are. He can't ever leave. How he knows this, Cliff cannot say. He just does. His sons, like him, are trapped...

"Say the words," Sal orders.

"If I don't? If this time, I refuse?"

"If you don't there is no chance."

"No chance?"

"We die for good and that is all."

Cliff stares. "I am ready to die for once and all."

"Say the words."

Cliff glares. "I saw you that night. Saw you running at them. At my sons. You wanted to stop them. You wanted to kill them."

"Yes."

Cliff stares. "I shot you. It was me who did that to you."

"I know."

"We found you in that notch between the hills, dead. You were dead I tell you. We buried you."

"I know. But I'm back again."

"How long must we do this? How many times? Until you are dust?"

Sal raises his rifle, takes aim. A bony finger falls away. Dust drifts.

"How many times? Look at you!"

Sal tries to clear his throat, but the holes in his neck make this futile. "Forever," he finally coughs, "and ever after. Until the dust..."

When it is done, Sal walks back to the lazy river and sits on the bank. He places his rifle on the grass and waits. He is a mess. His arms are mere bone as is the rest of him. A flesh-less beast he is. A ghoul like no other. A ghoul with a face. They allow him that. But a face of rot minus one cheek now. The ever rotting thing.

She comes from the river now and sits next to him. She isn't much to look at, but neither is he. Her flesh is missing and one foot is gone. Even so, she is happy. And he is happier now that she has come.

"I am here," she says.

Sal nods.

"I am tired and cold."

"I know," Sal responds.

They sit and creak, and wait and watch for it.

"It begins again," she says.

"I know."

"Are you sure this time?" she asks.

"I can do better. I think we can win."

Then the good thing happens. The very good thing.

The moon goes backward like all the other times and the sun spins wild. Stars burst across the heavens and she becomes beautiful yet again. He watches her flesh return. Sees her eyes beam. Her white dress flows.

Sal too becomes young. A man as a man should be, vibrant and strong. Youth in all its vigor. A vigor not to be wasted.

They drink in the joy once again. Beam in the darkness of here.

Sal takes her there on the grass. For that eternity they exist in each others arms. In this place, they live again their last moments together, for the millionth time. Maybe more than that. Who is counting? Who cares? What more matters?

But all things end. The bleakness awaits. A patient master it is.

Now the hated thing happens... The really bad thing. They are powerless to stop it. But are they?

The darkness begins its creep. "It's almost time he whispers in her ear. It is coming. I'm...sorry."

"Ever after," she says.

"Ever after," he answers.

She stands and walks into the river and pauses. Her skin leaves now. Moonbeams bounce on bone. "You can stops this," she says.

"Should I?" he asks.

"I love you."

"I love you."

"Is that all that matters?" she asks as she shivers. As her flesh grays and unravels. As her bones gleam in the silver night.

"I don't know," Sal answers. "I don't know and I hate that."

He watches as the thing that was once her, walks into the river.

"I know," she answers. "But I love..."

He sees the crown of her hair in the water now. It is detached, floating away. Quiet.

Sal turns. He hates this. The dark thing is there waiting. He thinks it gloats. A hole in the universe not two feet away. All evil thing and nothing at all. He glares.

It asks, "Again?"

"Is there any other way?" Sal asks.

"No," the darkness says.

"If I choose to stay in my grave?"

"It is your choice," the darkness says. "You control the end."

"I can beat you," Sal says.

"You can try," it responds, with a hint of fear.

Sal steps into the darkness...


...Sal is back at the notch between the hills, running. He sees them again. They are raping her...

Shall I stay in my bed?

Yet another scream.

Sal stands.

© 2020 Jack Shorebird

Comments

Jack Shorebird (author) from Central Florida, US on April 11, 2020:

Thanks, DreamerMeg.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 11, 2020:

Powerful. A whole story in very few words.

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