Marie Schutt





Here we gathered, swarms for some, clusters for others, yet others globbed or brooded or smeared.

In the mud the crabs slept, their brains full of eggs; in the trees the spiders rustled and the birds rubbed their heads on their hundred-year-old eggs and the owls hid their eyes; in the dirt the worms slid and the voles rubbed against their own blind pelts; in the grasses the rabbits laid on their sides and chewed tobacco leaves and the grasshoppers feigned greenness and the ticks hallucinated blood; in the water bags of kitten bones collected and washed up on the shore, where they rustled and mewled until the crabs extracted them and put them back together; the salmon rushed by in infinite loops; the dragonflies mated and spun to their deaths and rose again; the wolves cast shadows and the coyotes sat on piles of rocks and their feet hurt eternally; in the thorns moths fainted and sipped dew; in my hole I assembled my body from the pieces the cats brought to me in the nighttime.

Time lost us. I do not know a day or a night before my hole. A road appeared and then a highway. Then a factory, then an industrial park. Part of this place sank into a swamp. Sludge and strange plants emerged, chemical smells, clouds of insects and small tenacious flowers.

The gifts the cats bore me became smaller. Teeth, nails, frayed little sinews, tufts of hair. Their mouths were drying out and could not hold much. For a hundred years they brought paltry offerings and shrank in size. Regardless, I took them into me. My work was slow. Roots slowly tightened and gripped my body.

Others came. Some had stories, others memories, most neither. Moss crept in, a thick gummy grief that coated all the rocks. Some months the water ran slick and iridescent with oil. Others it dried to a slow trickle through hard mud.

Then, another change. The cats sharpened their teeth and began to show up with strange flesh: longer bones, blocky mandibles, massive snarls of stringy hair. They complained of bad tastes and difficult extrication. They complained of metal shavings and the tang of antipsychotics. They complained of a new, fast-acting rot.

more, I asked of them. I was stirring. They complied.

One day the stink of a new smoke rolled over us and the sky bleached white. Gray rain fell that stung us. Those with sensitive eyes closed them for years. The plants shriveled to ash, the trees to twisted spikes.

An owl came to me, guided by the python. She would not open her eyes.

this is taking too long, she rasped from the lip of my hole. what more do you need? are the cats not enough?

this takes time, I sighed. have you ever knitted bone with only your will? have you ever trained beetles to build an infraststssttstststructure of functioning nerve endings? have you ever coaxed old blood to flow?

soon all we will have is time, the snake whispered.

Days came and went. Yellowish clouds raced above their heads while the two of them peered down at me, waiting. The cats jostled them to drop their gifts. I sighed.

i’m not ready, I told them finally, but i’ll go.

The hole had become more of a crater. I crawled up the side, slow, strained, bulging with effort. I dragged my body behind me. Up, up, out. They gathered, the beetles and pigeons and foxes and eels. They dug and pulled at me, scratched and tugged, up to one of the last low hills cresting over the shattered glitter and bare spires of the city.

The clouds swung. I tottered on a balance, days and nights, dropped land gaping below my immensity. Smoke began to boil on the horizon. A moth, drunk, floated up from the briars and blew softly on my back.

I tipped and they sent me off, singing something molten. All mouths open, all blood boiling, all body throbbing. Fit to burst, I wheezed and sweated, enormous, picking up rocks and trees as I tumbled heavier and heavier, then rolled, the sun screeching behind me, a shade of my heat.

Heat, heat, singing down the hill, scarring rock and scoring road, breaking with speed to hasten the shards of a city nearly fallen. Final momentum, my terminating velocity, this big beginning everyone else’s ending. For this the cats crept and the roads wound and the cities rose. Now we all fall down together.

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MARIE SCHUTT is a writer based in Chicago. She is the founding editor of Liminoid Magazine. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Sundog Lit and The Collagist. She is currently working on a short story collection and a novel.