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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Two Stories
by Darren Higgins ||
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The Soft Season

The rain brings the headaches out and they roll down the courthouse steps like leaden amaranth.  All full of cough and phlegm, the purulent wounds are wetted by the rain.
     Sickroom Raskolnikovs, the would-be-kings, take feral advantage of season.  Nurses and custodians clatter through the halls seeking the perfect syringe.
     The septic tanks hiccupped and the redux wrapped the thruway in bilge, a viscid blanket.  The dross of the poetaster was marshaled to elegy, and the state troopers fired off a mournful salvo.  The plangent moon sunk deeper into dark.

We know well enough what price to pay.  We cross the transept, unravel in the crosswinds.  The ground convulses, shedding itself, the ground is asphalt, then gravel, then sand, then dust.
     A fiduciary nightmare stalks the moor, a lambent Lear on the blasted heath, raving and hemorrhaging money.   The congregation rises.  The choir exults!
     Soon the fever will pass.  The blood will cool and comfort you.  You will be cosseted and administered to.  You will be well.  A thousand prayers to you, my son, my friend.  The plate is passed around.

Believing In God Will Not Keep You From Harm   

In the cellar the rainwater collects and creeps into the mortar. Over a period of years.

     The structural integrity of the edifice is thereby compromised.

     A soft escape brought them here.  A lasso and a lash tamed the sharp grasses.

     Lake effect snows trouble the village.  City Hall is but half-complete.

     The dome is naked on one side.  The General Post Office is being retrofit, already, to meet local seismic specifications.

     Raccoons infiltrated the cellar, scratching away at the loosening foundation stones. Months ago.

     Mice are in the walls.

     Heralded landscape architects were imported by the dozen.  They bridled at their cavalier treatment.

     At the edge of the settlement the strip malls sprout, precariously perched on narrow ledges up and down the cliff face like burnt bristly shrubs or a variety of beige lichens.

     They loped out here in the night.  Perhaps they jumped from a passing freight train.

     800 bicycle riders parade down the main avenue.  Shopkeepers boarded up their windows.

     Maelstrom.  The cellar was flooded,  the raccoons drowned entirely. 

     The mice fled to the attic.

     Across the sere hillsides vacation cottages catch flame. 

     Fortunes cast about, foundering.  Who will help them?

     They built their domicile by hand.  Rough hewn stone and native timber.  It had an awkward, asymmetrical, bricolage look.  Handsome but unsettling.

     Mice began nesting in the fiberglass insulation.  A barn owl learned to wait for them to emerge in the morning. Barn owls are intelligent creatures.

     They called it a domicile.  Domicile. It was affected language but it made them happy.

     Everything oscillated between verdure and drought.  Moss and kindling, by turns.  Some months find epiphytic garland positively dripping from the trees.  Others find brush and brittle tangles aflame.

     The cellarwater turned opalescent.  Gasoline slid and swirled on its surface. This took time.

     The raccoon cadavers combust and the gasolinewater feeds the conflagration.

     The parson upbraids the fire captain.  City Hall's chief architect is on holiday.  The parson is red in the face and exhausted.

     A Mesa Verde of disposable emporia was firmly ensconced on the cliff face.  It survived the holocaust. Modern rapidresponse sprinkler systems. Like a charm.

     The dry season. There are breezes but they are moribund, having enough power only to stir up the burgeoning ashheaps of summer.

     Their domicile is doomed.  The mice were hunted to extinction by the owls.  The owls fled at the first lick of fire.  The native timber fueled the flames and the structure collapsed into its rotten foundation.  A great pyre, it was, an Empyreal barbeque pit, molten and massive, singeing clouds and magnolia warblers and buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks and other accidentals.

     The fire captain acted lethargically.  His head pounded and he coughed up charcoal sputum.  He believed in God but not with conviction.  He longed to let the bonfire burn.

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