The Young Cannibals

It was a half-moon, so half the light, but enough to see the crazy outline of your friends’ faces laugh, pull drags off of their cigarettes, and bemoan the wild actions of their other classmates. It was Friday, a late spring night, graduation was near and there was an air of fervor amongst the class of 2000. The students were partying where they shouldn’t be, at a park called the Black Hole, deep in the Hill Country. Ivory bands of limestone tape the edges of the valley they’re in. Prickly Pear cactus were built with their paws up ready to slap any drunk high school student not paying attention. The juniper is there, just below the mesquite and oak. In the car park there’s a long line of trucks and for every truck at least three pairs of boots. And for every pair of boots, a belt buckle, and for every one of these boys a case of beer and a tin of dip. Kickers. There was everyone else too, the jocks, cheer, the rockers, the skaters, theater, yearbook, etc. everyone was in good spirits at first; everyone felt a connection to each other because high school was nearly over, but the beer began to kick in.

“Okay, here’s the scenario,” Travis Herder stated to his friends, “You’re plane crashes and you’re stranded in the woods. Months go by and no one has come to rescue you. Winter is coming and you’re starving. Your best friend goes off into the woods one day and he dies. What do you do with the body?”

“Well, bury it, stupid,” Courtney Lopez said.

“Wait though,” Travis interjected. “You’re starving, winter’s coming, there’s no rescue insight. God knows how you’re going to survive. Still, do you bury it, or something else?”

“Oh, you’re fucking sick man!” Andreas Bernal laughed.

“Sick as it may be this is survival, man.” Travis takes a big swig from his keg cup and pulls a drag from his cigarette. “Look, we know what the civilized answer is, but when you’re no longer in civilization and you become an animal in the woods, the game changes.”

A girl’s voice from outside their circle said, “Pray for the soul of your friend, wear his neckless as a keepsake, and cut him up for the fire.”

Everyone turned around and there stood Amelia Guzman. One star converse, Ripped jeans, a black slip underneath a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt and a doubled-up nose ring.

Travis loathed her because she was smarter than him and always reminded him of it. However, she seemed to be extending a cannibalistic olive branch, one he gladly took.

            “Exactly, exactly. Now, the question must be asked,” Travis smiled, “what part do you eat first?”

            “His dick!” Courtney blurted out, already laughing.

            “You would,” said Andreas.

            The group went into babbling disarray before Amelia chimed back in.

            “His heart,” she said.

            The group began to laugh again, but when they saw that Amelia was dead serious they unwound like a top losing momentum.

            “It’s ceremony. You give thanks by taking his heart, eat it raw, and then move on to the hindquarters to butcher and cook.”

            “Holy shit,” Andreas said with a rubber band between his lips, pulling back his hair to tie into a ponytail.

            Travis looked at Amelia with different eyes. She was always such a bitch to him; so self-serious and stand-offish, but tonight her curtness rearranged his feelings, and beyond his understanding, he felt some brand of kinship with her. Perhaps it was her unveiled honesty, maybe her Rage t-shirt, or even the fact that under all the layers of angst and eyeshadow he thought she was pretty. 

            “I agree with Amelia,” he said. “You’ve got to eat to survive, and if ritualizing the act by honoring his soul by eating his heart does the trick, then so be it…”

            Kim Stevens stumbled by with a few girls from the cheer squad. They were all wearing Daisy Dukes and formed a perfect palate of pastel halter-tops. “Fucking freaks!” Kim said. She let off a drunken cackle that ricocheted off the limestone crags around the perimeter.

            The group of would-be cannibals was silent, all but Amelia who wedged her way into the group. “Kim, you’re just jealous because nobody would eat your anorexic ass.”

            “Shut up, you ugly bitch, Cody eats me every night,” Kim said.

            “I’m sorry, half of the kickers are named Cody, which one are you going to fuck in the woods tonight?” Amelia responded.

            Kim turned around to confront Amelia, but Travis blocked her advance.

            “Forget it, Kim,” he said. “You do your thing, and we’ll do ours.”

            Travis looked into Kim’s eyes, he’d known her since they were in 1st grade. Her eyes always looked like two beach balls floating in a sea of milk, but the milk had been bloodied.

            “You want to fuck her, don’t you?” Kim said to Travis. She began to laugh and lightly slapped Travis on the cheek twice. “Good luck with that one, Trav, she’s clearly a dyke.”

            Amelia looked at Travis, but he couldn’t decipher if the look was a look of disdain or a silent call for help.

            “There’s just no need for drama,” he said.

            “Just go, Kim,” Courtney said.

            “We’ll see you later,” Kim said menacingly, her friend pulling her arm to disengage.

            “Byeee,” said Amelia.

            “Bitch!” Kim yelled with her back turned, already walking away.

            The group was silent for a second until Courtney began to laugh. “You straight-up called out Kim for being anorexic, that’s bold girl!” She said to Amelia.

            “Fuck that skinny bitch,” Amelia said.

            The car park began to empty as more students took the cat tracks down to the river to party amongst the scrub and soapy rocks. Only the moon provided light, a spectrum of subdued blue light that made their eyes turn black and their cigarette cherries glow like lava balls. The group of cannibals stuck together. At Sampson Valley High they were the weird ones. They were the ones that dressed differently, found unheard-of music on Napster and Limewire. They read the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and the Yaki Way of Knowledge instead of their assigned reading. They idolized Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, Jim Morrison, and Lou Reed. Got high to Pink Floyd and Radiohead, and thought about life outside of Texas. Life after Texas. But, here they were, at a Keg, “fitting in,” drinking with the rest tonight to forget about the cliques their class has been cultivating and refining since 6th grade.

            “Boo!” Two shadows popped up from the brush. “Ouch, fuck!” One of them said.

            “Jesus Christ!” Travis belted.

            “Shit, I got bit by a cactus,” Pearl said.

            Pearl and Rico attached themselves to the group smelling like weed, cig, and cheap beer.

            “Where have you two burnouts been?” Courtney asked, the moon causing her long black hair to look like an oil slick.

            “Hiding from kickers and getting high.”

            “So, the same as at school?” Amelia said.

            “Oh shit, it’s Amelia Guzman!” Pearl said. He pulled something out of his cigarette pack. “Here, I want you to have my roach. It’s a gift of goodwill.”

            To their surprise, she didn’t insult Pearl—which was the usual—and instead took it and put it in her own pack of Dave’s lights.

            “Damn, son, the girl is cool, right?” Rico said, pulling his bandana headband up so he could see.

            “I’ll always take free weed,” she said.

            The group descended down, passing random groups of students until they reached the river. It glowed electric and Pearl and Rico stopped talking to trip on it for a second.

            “What would you do, Andreas?” Travis asked.

            “About what?”

            “Would you eat your friend if you were lost in the woods?”

            Pearl began to laugh. “Shit, guy, Travis is always on some weird shit.”

            “No, I wouldn’t,” Andreas said. “I’d die with dignity.”

            “Is there dignity dying from hunger?” Travis said.

            “It happened with the IRA,” Amelia said. “My dad told me Irish fighters against England would get caught and hunger strike in prison. A few of them died.”

            “That’s fucking madness,” Pearl said.

            “I heard there’s a point you can’t come back from, where your body starts to eat itself, you’re not hungry anymore, you’re just a shell of a human waiting for the light to go out, but like in a Zen way, so maybe there’s dignity in that?” Travis said.

            They were quiet until a loud yip startled them.

            “The kickers are drunk,” Courtney said.

            The yips continued as did the refracted chatter of laughter and screams.

            “They must be jumping into the Black Hole,” Travis said.

            “Man, that place gives me the creeps at night,” Andreas said.

            “It’s just a pool of water,” Amelia said. “I’m more pissed about how they’re going to trash the place.”

            “I talked to a ranger here once, and he said they come out an hour before opening to clean up all the beer cans and scrub the puke off the rocks.”

            “Gross,” said Courtney.

            “Fuck the Codys,” both Travis and Amelia said at the same time. She smiled at him and he could have sworn he’d never seen her smile before.

            “Love is in the air,” Pearl began to sing while walking away to the river’s bank.

            “Shut up!” Amelia said.

            Travis turned away to spare her any embarrassment.

            They all laid down on the rocks and looked up to the sky. In the distance, their classmates played. But, they were still, contemplative, perhaps all thinking the same thing, “I wish the kickers were gone so we could go to the Black Hole.”

            “You know,” Travis said after a moment, “they don’t quite know how deep the Black Hole is.”

            “It’s 114 feet,” Andreas said.

            There was a moment of silence before the group began to laugh.

            “OK, OK, what I meant is that they don’t know where all the tunnels at the bottom of the hole go to.”

            “There are tunnels? That’s crazy, man,” Pearl said.

            “Yeah, man, divers have died down there,” Travis responded. “Ever heard of Orel Meyer?”

            “He the popcorn guy?” Rico said, letting off his high-pitched giggle.

            “Naw, naw,” Travis said, fighting off the group laughter. “Naw, he was this diver in the late 70s that went down and was never seen again.”

            “Wait, I heard about that shit,” Andreas said. “Wasn’t that the case where they said he must have unhooked himself from his line?”

            “Yes, but my dad said that the weird thing was that he was hooked up to a carabiner that had a screw lock, and when they pulled up the line it was screwed closed.”

            “What does that mean?” Pearl said.

            “It means, stupid, that he unlatched himself and screwed the lock back on the carabiner.”

            “That’s weird,” Courtney said. “Why would he do that?”

            “Maybe that’s the protocol?” Pearl said.

            “Protocol?” Amelia said, “Where did you learn that word?”

            “I think on Law and Order,” Pearl said. “My mom and I bond through that show.”

            “Cute,” Amelia said.

            “It doesn’t make sense,” Travis continued. “That’s the whole thing…”

            “HOLE thing, good one, man!” Rico said.

            “Shut up, Rico!” Everyone exclaimed.

            “There are two possibilities,” Travis said. “One: he unhooked himself knowing he wouldn’t be reattaching himself, or two, he was ripped free from his line. Now, based on how he was hooked up, that would take 400 pounds of pressure.”

            They were all quiet until Andreas spoke up. “You’re so full of shit, Travis.”

            “No, I’m being serious. Look it up. And, he’s just one of ten divers that have gone missing in the Black Hole.”

            “Hey, freaks!” They heard in the distance.

            Spooked, Travis stood up and heard a rush of air come at his face and then an explosion detonated. The butt end of a beer bottle hit him square in the forehead. He staggered and fell onto the rocks.

            Four kickers, Cody Lawson, Cody Cole, Cody Judge, and Ken Berg ran to Travis hoop’in and holler’in.

            “Shit boy, you nailed him right in the forehead,” Cody said.

            They circled around Travis and looked at him squirm on the ground like a dying fish out of water.

            “You hurt, Trav?” Cody said. “Trav, you hurt?”

            “Of course, he’s fucking hurt, Dickhead!” Amelia said, running over to Travis to check him out.

            “What the fuck guys,” Andreas said. “Why did you do that?”

            “Keep your pants on Maricòn,” Cody said.

            “Fuck you, Cody,” Courtney said.

            Another one of the Cody’s slapped her and Andreas made an attempt to leap at Cody, but stumbled under the rocks and fell short. He felt three pops land on the side of his head and he tucked into a ball to protect himself.

            Pearls and Rico ran into the water waist deep and contemplated swimming to the other side. Amelia picked up a rock, ran over to Ken Berg standing over Andreas, and smashed him upside the head. Just then, her lights went dark, and she fell on her back.

            While Ken stubbled about regaining his footing Cody Lawson, the leader sat on top of her, grabbed a hold of one of her nose rings, and ripped it out. Amelia screamed in pain. Courtney began to hit him in the back but was subdued by the other two Codys.

            “Come on guys, leave us alone,” Pearl said.

            “We just meant to startle you freaks, but Travis stood up into that bottle. Wasn’t our fault, y’all overreacted.”

            The codys forced Courtney onto the rocks. She was crying. Lawson, with Amelia’s nose ring still in his hand, straddled Travis to check on him.

            “He’s going to have a headache, but he’ll be fine,” he said.

            He stood up, walked by Amelia, and threw her nose ring at her.

            “Can’t fix this mess though,” he said.

            Andreas laid still with his arms wrapped around his head.

            “You fucking losers made this way worse than it had to be,” Lawson said, walking away backward.

            Amelia picked up her head, a river of blood coming down her face, and screamed, “Get the fuck away from us!”

            The Codys and Ken began to laugh and disappeared into the Juniper.

            No one said anything. Courtney came over to Amelia’s aid.

            “Got out of the water you fucking cowards,” she said to Pearl and Rico.

            They complied with their heads down in shame.

            “Give Amelia one of your t-shirts,” Courtney said.

            “But,” Pearl said.

            “Shirt, now!”

            Pearl grudgingly pulled off his shirt and gave it to Courtney.

            Andreas stood up and began to stagger towards the river not saying a word.

            Travis began to laugh. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him, all realizing that they’d nearly forgotten he was hurt.

            Travis lay on the rocks, kicking his legs about to control the pain, but his arms spread and still, each hand grasping a rock.

            “So much for class comradery,” he said. “I fucking hate this place.”

            “Me too,” Courtney said, wiping the blood from Amelia’s face and neck.

            “I hate this place!” Andreas screamed at the river.

            Pearl and Rico just stood there, bewildered, unsure what they thought, and unsure how to be useful.

            We should all move to New York when we graduate,” Amelia said. “Let’s just fucking do it.” She spit blood onto the rocks like she was made a blood pact.

            They sat there in silence for some time. Their thoughts stretched between their hatred for home and their fear of leaving. They were in pain, all of them, both physical and otherwise. The night began so well, but it had turned dark. They knew there was always a chance that it would, but they’d suspended their apprehension to come, to have fun for once and be a part of something. But, the fact was they didn’t belong.

            Travis slowly stood up and wobbled. He felt the knot developing on his forehead.

            “No… no…” he moaned, “I can’t go to school like this.

            “At least you didn’t get your nose ripped off,” Amelia said, still with Pearl’s t-shirt pressed against her nostril to control the bleeding.

            “At least you’re not a fag,” Andreas said, crouched at the foot of the river.

            Courtney walked over to him and gave him a hug.

            Travis had an idea to lighten the mood.

            “Would you rather eat your friends or your enemies?” he said.

            “God damn it,” Andreas said.

            Amelia started laughing and sat back on the ground.

            Courtney began to laugh too, Travis was such an idiot.

            “What the hell are you guys laughing about?” Rico said.

            “Oh, you didn’t know?” Travis said. “We’re cannibals now.”

            Two hours passed. It was late. One after the other they heard the kickers’ trucks fire up and peel out of the car park. They were waiting for everyone to leave. A couple classmates came down to the river and asked if they were okay. They didn’t look okay but said they were. Soon it sounded like everyone was gone. It was finally safe to go to the Black Hole.

            “I don’t want to go,” The shirtless Pearl said. “My pant are wet, I’m hungry.”

            “Then walk home,” Courtney said.

            “I’ll come,” he said.

Courtney steadied Travis and lead him to the trail. Behind, Pearl and Rico followed. Behind them, Amelia stumbled with a shirt still pressed to her nose.

            “I think this shirt is stuck to my nose,” she said. “Thank god I’m drunk.”

            No one responded.

            Andreas took anchor, he hadn’t spoken since the fight.

            Deeper they went into the oaks. The cicadas hissed frequencies beyond their comprehension. The trail leveled out and then rose gradually over a bank. When they cleared the embankment they saw the moonlight sprayed across the Black Hole. Two naked white bodies lay at the side of the pool.

            “Fuck, it’s Lawson and Kim,” Courtney said.

            “I’m seeing four of them, must be an orgy,” Travis said.

            “Shhh…” Amelia said.

            “Are they boning?” Pearl asked.

            “Shut up, Pearl,” They said in unison.

            “Follow me,” Amelia said, ripping the t-shirt from her nose.

            Before they could discuss, she was gone. They looked at each other, silently negotiating who was going to respond first.

            “Let’s go,” Travis said.

            They quietly made their way down to the brush beside the dark swimming hole.

            Kim and Cody stood up and began to make out. Their slender frames intermixing in the blue night. Their white skin reflected the moon and Amelia watched them in disgust. The rest of the gang arrived, each looking at each other and then at the prom king and queen to be, necking each other, ready for another go.

            “Fucking gross,” Courtney whispered.

            Kim stopped and looked around.

            “Did you hear that?” she asked Cody. “Hello?” she said, covering her breasts.

            “Get a good look!” Cody said and grabbed Kim to resume what they were doing.

            Travis looked at Amelia biting her bottom lip and he realized what was about to happen. Amelia left and made her way forward under the protection of the brush. She finally stopped ten feet from the unknowing pair. Then, like a silent assassin, she made her move and rushed them. They were so startled they didn’t know how to react and with all her might Amelia crashed into their naked bodies and sent them into the hole. She sent them so far across the pool that she heard to dull knock of one of their heads, or both, hit against a rock on the far side of the pool. She picked up a rock and waited for them to surface, but they didn’t…

            Kim and Cody both hit their heads against something as they made their way to the surface. It was made of wood planks and covered the opening to the pool. It was pitch black, the water was intolerably cold, they struggled to keep their faces above the water.

            “Cody, Cody,” Kim pleaded. “Cody, what the fuck is going on?”

            They began to bang on the wooded slats. Kim was tearing at them with her nails until they began to break and bleed. Cody used his shoulder to rupture the wooden lid, but it was solid like concrete. Kim continued to scratch the wooden lid and began to tire.

            “We’re going to fucking die,” She screamed.

            “We ain’t going to die,” Cody said.

            Several minutes had passed and the two were exhausted. Kim’s head was barely above the waterline and Cody felt his cowboy strength wane.

            “Where the fuck are they?” Andreas said.

            “I think they hit their heads,” Amelia said.

            “They wouldn’t sink though,” Travis said.

            “Oh my god, I fucking killed them,” Amelia said.

            “How long has it been?”

            “Over five minutes.”

            Holy shit, what’s going on?” Travis said.

            In the distance, they heard voices and the diffused glow of flashlights were arriving from the other side of the embankment.

            “We have to go,” Courtney said.

            “No, we have to help,” Amelia said.

            Travis grabbed Amelia’s hand and she shook it off, but Travis didn’t back down.

            “We need to hide and see what happens.”

            He pulled her away and they fled.

            “Cody, I can’t stay up anymore,” Kim said. “Cody… oh my God,” she gasped and slipped into the blackness.

            “Kim!” Cody shouted, “Kim!”

            He dove down for her, but her body was gone. He labored back to the surface and hit his head on the wood planks. He began to cry and expend what little energy he had left on breaking the wood planks overhead. Soon after he tired. He was scared, not wanting to die, still baffled by what had happened. How did they end up somewhere else? Now, only his lips were above water, as his arms and legs began to go numb. He labored, pushed for more strength, channeled the will to live into his movements. Finally, he succumbed to the water and he sank below the line of survival.

            The other Codys and Ken came back with more beer and investigated the scene. They saw Cody and Kim’s clothes, but no Cody and Kim. 

            “They must be at it in the woods,” Cody said.

            “Freaks,” Cody said.

            They laughed and cracked their beers.

            The young cannibals watched from afar with the horror of knowing that something bad was happening, something they couldn’t take back. Then, Amelia saw it first, she saw Kim’s body subtly bubble up to the surface. The kickers hadn’t noticed yet; they were too busy and drunk. But then Cody Lawson’s body sprung from the water like a jumping fish and landed face down in the water with a crash. Ken spit out his beer and looked at the bodies of his two friends floating face down in the Black Hole.

            “Cody, Kim!” The gang heard them yell, but no movement.

            The Cody’s jumped in to retrieve the bodies and Ken dragged them to the rim of the hole.

            They slapped Cody, tried CPR, and frantically paced around the king and queen.

            “We’ve got to get the police,” Ken said.

            The three boys took off through the twisted oaks and disappeared, leaving the dead where they lay.

            “We’ve got to get out of here,” Travis said.

            “Yeah, we need to go,” said Andreas.

            Amelia stood up and began to walk to the pool like she was in a daze.

            “I’m going with her,” Courtney said.

            She took off too and after a moment of the boys looking stupidly at each other, they followed.

            Amelia stood over Kim’s body. She looked into those lifeless blue beach balls and felt deep remorse.

            “I didn’t mean to kill them,” she said. She began to shake all over.

            Courtney grabbed her as Travis knelt down beside Kim’s body.

            “Look at her hands,” he said.

            They saw her nails nearly ripped off and blood puddled below them. Travis went to Cody and noticed his hands were swollen and that his shoulder looked like it was out of its socket. Cody’s eyes were open and his face looked like he died in terror.

            “We’ve got to go before the cops get here,” Rico said.

            “Yeah, not trying to be gay Mexican in this mug right now,” Andreas said.

            Courtney tore Amelia away and Andreas did the same to Travis.

            “What’s going on here?” Travis said. “This doesn’t make sense.”

            They first checked that the car park was empty and then piled into Andreas’s parent’s Buick. The band, Hole was blaring from the speakers.

            “Turn that shit off,” Travis said.

            Andreas ignored him, peeled out, and floored it through the country roads towards the highway. As they neared HW561 they could see a line of colored lights flicker in the distance.

            “Hurry, hurry, let’s fucking go!” Pearl said.

            They turned away from the lights and they watched behind them to see if they were going to be followed. As the lights neared they collectively held their breath. The lead car turned right and the rest followed. It was just the Buick on an empty road.

            Amelia was weeping in the back seat with Courtney’s arm around her. Rico was sitting on Pearl’s lap and whispered if they should ask Amelia for the roach back.

            “No,” Travis said from the front seat, ending that idea before it got too far.

            Andreas was keeping the ship steady but rocking back and forth. No one was talking, they were all stuck in a nightmare, caught in some loop of choice and consequence. Finally, Travis said something.

            “We need to make a plan.”

            “How about a fucking time machine,” Andreas said.

            “I’ve got to turn myself in,” Amelia said. No one responded. “I got us into this, I’ll face the consequence.”

            “Wait a minute,” Travis said. “Did you see their bodies? Did you see Kim’s hands and Cody’s shoulder?”

            “Not closely,” Courtney said.

            “Her hands looked like they were shredded on a cheese grater and Cody’s shoulder was out of its socket.”


            “I don’t think you killed them, Amelia. I don’t know what but something else happened.”

            “Now’s not the time Travis,” Andreas said.

            “They looked like they were beating on something, that’s all I’m saying,” Travis said.

            “He right,” Amelia said. “They were all fucked up when I looked at them.”

            “They hit their heads and drowned,” Rico said. “Enough said.”

            “I looked at their heads,” Travis said. “I saw a bump on Cody’s, but nothing bad.”

            Andreas turned onto FM1086 and drove down the center of the road.

            “Well, what happened then, Travis?” he asked, appearing to lose his cool.

            Travis hesitated. “I don’t know, but what I do know is that we have to know for sure what happened before any of us turn ourselves in.”

            Andreas pulled the car over got out and sat on the hood.

            Everyone else waited for the other to make a move and Rico was first because he was sick of sitting on his friend’s lap. The rest followed. Travis passed out cigarettes and they sat in silence for some time.

            “How long did it take for the bodies to surface?” Andreas said, looking up at the stars.

            “More than ten minutes,” Travis said.

            “Could have they gotten those injuries falling in?”

            “I doubt it, her fucking nails were ripped off and filled with a bunch of black pulp.”

            “And, you’re sure Cody’s arm was out of its socket?”

            “I’m sure,” Travis said.

            “Okay,” Andreas said. “I believe you, but what are we supposed to do about it?”

            “We keep a secret and go to school on Monday,” Amelia said.

            They turned to look at her. She appeared hardened. Sure of the plan.

            “We tell the whole truth until the moment we went to the Black Hole. We say we just stayed by the river. People will know we got jumped by the Codys and we don’t deny it. We’ll say that we hiked all the way to Murchinson’s Turn and looked at the stars until the beer wore off.


            “Because the last cars in the parking lot were ours, Lawson’s and the Codys.”

            “We have a motive,” Travis said, but we’ll have to stick to our stories; maybe the Cody’s didn’t even notice the Buick was yours, Andreas. But, to be safe, you can’t drive it to school or to parties anymore. I’ll drive.” Travis said.

            A coyote howled in the distance.

            Courtney began to laugh, “If I had to choose who to eat, I’d choose my friends,” she said.

            They all looked at her and knew exactly what she meant.

            Andreas began to cry on the hood of his parent’s car because his feelings of guilt had transferred to a bigger mystery. Adulthood.


Snippets—On Character

Scan 1

There’s this recurring character who appears in my stories. He’s not of one fixed identity; she can be another. Together, they build and destroy, damage and revive memories under a chain-linked arbor of narrative. I’ve called him Simon, her name has been Mary. They’ve both meant the same to me: an undisturbed arc of life after death.

The Elusive Salmon


Across my little apartment is the city locks. The locks see every boat coming in, or going out to sea. Though there are a lot of boats coming and going there’s also a good portion of the day when the locks are empty, and when they’re empty in the late summer and early autumn, schools of spawning salmon enjoy the peace by leaping out of the water, and going plop back in.

I say plop because that’s usually all you hear. It’s not as easy as you might think to spot a jumping salmon. Try as you may, staring in one spot and waiting for a salmon to jump is a fool’s errand.

Today’s Friday, and I have no work to keep me from the locks. I was also here this past Monday, and the Friday before last, not working, instead listening to the salmon go plop.

The rest of my time spent has been in my apartment. I’ve been on the computer, looking through job postings. With the click of a button, another resume goes into the blackness. For each prospective employer, I tell them that I’m qualified, a quick learner, and nearly perfect. I wait and watch for a reply. I wait, and watch.

While I wait, I try not to think about how hard I’ve worked to be broke, how maybe my quest to define myself as independent, unique, and a stand-alone has greatly compromised my ability to write a good resume and cover letter—I can’t seem to connect.

I finally pull my eyes away from my computer screen and make something to eat, and when I return, another rejection letter has been sent from a web address that begins with, “donotreply.” Cowards.

All these rejections come when I’m not looking. It’s the second I break my will to force good news that the tech world tells me to keep fishing (and to follow them on Twitter, etc.). I get angry, and then sad, and then I tell myself that I’m an anomaly, a force of nature that their vetting algorithms cannot grasp or define. When these half-truths escape my lips, I become thirsty for alcohol; for a cigarette before I return to my seat at the gambling table.

Yesterday, I spent the day doing something different. My mother had called to tell me that my brother lost custody of his daughter and threatened to kill himself. He texted me later and asked me to take care of his life insurance policy. He then turned off his phone and disappeared. I spent yesterday hunting.

When a salmon goes plop and you turn to the noise there’s a gentle wake. It spreads and rolls from its starting point in perfect symmetry. The succession of arches spread until they are swallowed by the bigger currents surrounding them. They die into the fold.

My brother’s wake continued for some time before he jumped. Not off a bridge, or a building, but by text message. He contacted his daughter to tell her that everything’s fine. He was alive.

I spent yesterday guessing where my brother could be, but I didn’t know until I did. I haven’t seen or talked to him. I’m not at all ready for that.

Some boats have arrived now. In particular, a fishing vessel with three deckhands chattering in Italian. The salmon are still jumping, and I can hear that language too. I’m too tired today to apply for jobs. It’s a fool’s errand anyway.

Today, I came to the locks and saw a large salmon, looking green and pink, she jumped right in front of me while I was looking at the boats waiting to go out to sea. She went plop and I saw the whole thing.


Prologue: A letter, a manuscript, and plenty of murder still to come


Dear Doctor Dooley,

You will not remember me, but you tended to a friend of mine who died many years ago. At the time when we met outside Glasgow I had no idea that we would be linked through a common fate, death following us wherever we settled. Unlike you, I did not choose an occupation waged inside the crypt; I became a lawyer. As I write I am aware of the irony entangled within my words, and I will leave it for you to ponder. I will say, however, that it was not the opacity, rigidity or even the aridity of the law that deadened my heart, but rather its miscarriage, and further still a disturbed individual who waged an ill-conceived crusade against a miscarriage of justice through an evocation of evil.

It is not my intention within this letter to explain the details of my ill-fated journey into the forests of the American frontier. Rather, I tracked you down some years back to find that you had long since departed for Ireland and I let the case rest. It was not until last week that I picked up the newspaper and read about the strange murders taking place in Dublin and their disturbing similarity to the murders I experienced in Seattle when I was a young man.

I have spent the past few days writing furiously to reconstruct the events of June 1889 in Seattle, as I saw them. I know of no one else in Dublin, and I am sure, based on your standing as a doctor, that you have the proper friends to contact if this manuscript moves you and perhaps compels you to inform the Royal Irish Constabulary of the innocence of the girls suspected of murdering their fathers, and also the resurrection of a killer. I leave this manuscript with you in good faith, as I left my friend in your care many years before. Let us pray for a more positive result than the conclusion to our first meeting those many years ago.


Your servant,

Enoch Campbell