David Kuhnlein 日 12/06/2024 · admin No comments

JACOB’S STOLEN BLESSING

The unending construction on Michigan roads was due to the gold hidden beneath them, but all Jacob’s team had unearthed so far were corpses. Tantalized by lost Indian mines, the promise of bandit treasure thawing beneath the surface of a cryptic X, myths of sunken steamers, buried stagecoaches, outlaw caches, gangster banks, they entered potholes deep as vehicles. There were days when Jacob wished that cracked roads were as simple as fluctuating temperatures and half-assed craftsmanship, and that his life had not taken such a brutal, subterranean turn.

Jacob faced his church, an empty lot, as hundreds of cotton wisps danced sideways through the air, collecting in curb corners like snow. Any pleasantness was undermined by the groans of bars of gold beneath them.

Putzing down I-75, heading home from a dig, sunbeams refracted off the cracked windshield, blinding him. His wife, Rebecca, piped music directly into her hearing aids, mumbling ska band lyrics. Jacob cranked the knob on the dash, drowning them in static. She ignored his moving mouth. It was rare his words had a receipt. Had there been no promised pot of gold at the other end of his hair piece, Rebecca would have left. She enjoyed crumpling his body parts like leaves in her mind. Not even the wind his soundwaves floated upon mistook his stagnancy for motion. Like an anatomical cross section of them together, the road wore away in thin patterns of tread.

 

On rooftops bludgeoning by, the sun created miniature suns. This world was in the habit of running its ice cream scoop under hot water before digging around your skull.

 

Jacob awoke externally unchanged, but something from the site had stuck. He unrolled a white towel across the bedroom floor and placed the calf-high bathroom trash bin atop it. Eyes shut, he rummaged through toiletries till a straight razor rose and proceeded to slit each toenail, vertically. Even he was surprised he didn’t scream. The insides dripped into the bag until its two little arms shot upward and sank beneath the fountain. Every toe on his right foot was cut down the center, to the distal joint. A DoorDash driver, taking a photo of the front porch to confirm for Rebecca that her coffee and bagels had been delivered, captured red streaks pooling outward, which silently triggered a performance art algorithm, and pinged the public administrator who handled such obscenities within this sovereign state.

Several other humans were in the house, breathing a singular, respiratory purr. There were blips Jacob didn’t recognize, footsteps he couldn’t trace. One of them occurred too close to his wife, synching heart beats. It was always her time of the month. Never took long for those around her to get caught in the web of her internal clock. Her womb had its own daylight savings time. Jacob felt pressured to hold his breath. There was a window open that he didn’t remember existing there. A link in the chain of governmental command stood behind the closed door and answered his phone. He just so happened to be at the address in question, sleeping with Rebecca on the sly, fingering her spinnerets, awaiting Starbucks. Jacob and his wife ignored each other’s infidelity. There were other spiders in the sea.

The cranes postponed their search, peeling up the county lines. Many other crews competed for the gold beneath the road, at least in Jacob’s mind. Although he’d martyred himself for a hobby, prepared to place his head upon an X, Jacob remained in charge. He stood at the lip of the hole they’d dug. Dirt calved to reveal the negative reflection of a house. Support beams prodded Jacob and his crew even deeper into the cavern. A hard-hatted man passed out extras, indicating how to power on the beam, clicking a button beneath the brim. Triangles of light shot slapdash. They descended in the cart. Shadows swam large enough to smother them. Jacob’s mummified foot balanced beneath a plastic crutch that dug into his armpit. The traction flooring changed colors from the content of his wrap. The cart fell as quick as he dripped. The air as old and wet as conscious moss. Their faces, illuminated by a yellow cone, distorted. “Here we are,” the operator said, yanking a lever. The elevator door fell open.

 

The spirits in the hole shrugged at the lives of the crew. They were not worthy of harboring ghosts, intensified by their need to consummate themselves with something external, something of weight.

 

Scrambled boot prints led to translucent tarpaulins. A man sat on a Barcalounger watching television with Russian subtitles. Someone removed a pack of cigarettes, thought twice, replaced them. Jacob limped in first. “One at a time, it’s narrow.”

Jacob had never felt comfortable accepting gifts, aware of the gesture’s imbued perversity. His easygoing, gentle, and considerate nature, however, did not compete with what he knew he was capable of, even with a game leg. He unwrapped his foot and peeled the hidden knife from its recess, holding shifting light like a dipstick of oil. Dozens of eyes widened at the end of the tunnel. He slammed the door, wedging a crutch beneath the knob, disappearing them. Crawling prone toward a shimmering in the distance, Jacob saw a bus-sized toe, a beast with dozens of wings. The knob behind him jiggled. The enormous sandal stomped. A voice boomed on high. Before any syllables could coalesce, Jacob thrust the blade. High pitched squeals bled his ears. The beast beat dust through the mine, stinging Jacob’s exposed arms.

“Jacob, open the door!” he heard their pleas, but only had enough for a final task. He dug his hand into the toe’s staccato wound, parting flesh. Elbow deep, he felt a bone and clung to it while getting flung.

 

The angel had chanted the wrong prayer forever and should have noosed itself on a cloud. Barbiturate-induced comas sounded nice. This thing lived in the lobby of eternity, guarding reserves, swindled by the first beggar that crawled into its lair. The sheer end of a rogue wing jabbed into its own scaphoid artery, spraying the ground, dirt clumping black. Dangled from a wisp, anchored in the ceiling, a fungal sprout sheared smaller.

 

Jacob coughed fluid. Above him, the angel cocooned in wings. In its dark fog, the cave went on forever. Two by two, coins were stacked as far back as Jacob could see. He wrapped his fingers around the nearest piece of incandescence, beneath which a bloated eye slid open. Pennies on the eyelids of the dead.

 

David Kuhnlein is the author of Bloodletter (Amphetamine Sulphate), among others. He co-edited the horror anthology Lizard Brain(tragickal), hosts a reading series at Cafe 1923 in Hamtramck, Michigan, and his website is davidkuhnlein.com