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Authors: Tristan Egolf

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BOOK: Kornwolf
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But clarifying all such matters had always been next to impossible.

Ephraim was mute.

Bearing north onto Laycock Drive, they came into view of a one-room schoolhouse. Shading its tiled belfry, a pair of chestnut oaks stood over the building. A blanket of acorns covered the yard. An outhouse stood by a fence, and beyond it: a porch, with a row of scooters lined up to it.

Jonathan slowed his buggy in passing. He and Ephraim gazed toward the window. They spotted an outline of figures inside, seated at desks in the first two rows. Some of them turned at the sound of the buggy. Then Fannie appeared, if just for a moment—out from behind the instructor's desk.

Fannie had turned eighteen that summer. This was to be her last season teaching. In less than a month (on Sunday, November 14th) she would take her vows of baptism. Shortly thereafter, as a member of the church, she would pass on her duties to Mary Brechbuhl.

She waved. Grinning, Ephraim and Jonathan waved in return.

They continued east.

A ways up the road, on Harvest Lane, Jonathan sat upright on his box. He wavered intently, sniffing the air. “
Hey
,” he eventually spoke up. “
Do you smell something
…” He paused to consider his choice of words, settling, at length, on “
strange?

Ephraim looked toward the Byars farm, at the edge of which Samson and Jeremiah were busily manning a “honey wagon,” churning a ton and a half of manure. He pointed.

Jonathan shook his head. “
No, it's more like
…” He paused. “
Can't you smell that?

Ephraim gazed ahead, unblinking. He didn't respond. There were geese in the road.

Jonathan slowed up. “
Strange
,” he repeated himself, this time in English, with doubt.

Ephraim sat watching the waterfowl waddle across the pavement and down an embankment. They seemed to be spooked by the weather. They moved in a huddled rush. They were plump and healthy.

He turned around just in time to catch Jonathan casting a furtive, sidelong glance at him—one that was quickly diverted, but which still left a boldly indelible imprint of worry. Ephraim had seen that expression before. It didn't much bother him now, or ever. Leaning back, he steadied his gaze on the road, as Intercourse loomed in the distance.

Once onto 341, it was less than a quarter of a mile to the auction lot. They pulled in, crossing a set of railroad tracks, then parked among several buggies. Jonathan tethered his steed to a post. They walked down an aisle of open-air stands—most of them piled with fabric and tools. The aromas of fodder and hay and roasting chestnuts permeated the lot. There were chickens and rabbits and goats in cages, stacked to the rear of the auction barn. A peddler trumpeted “
Groundhog filets!
” in Py. Dutch from behind a grill. Somebody else with a bullhorn announced a sale on lighters and nine-volt batteries—everyone haggling, everyone twisted on coffee and grease, by appearances.

Ephraim and Jonathan entered the main building, walked by the produce and butcher displays, then turned through a door to the livestock area. There, Ephraim waited impatiently, surrounded by crates of ducklings, rabbits and leghorns, as Jonathan stepped into one of the offices.

Moments later, he was back with a paycheck. “All right, then,” he announced. “I'm finished.”

Ephraim took off in a flash, winding back through the cages and out to the flea market area. Jonathan scuttled to keep up, darting through wandering packs of tourists and visitors. After a row of antique displays, they came to the record collector's stand—and, as fortune would have it, the longhair was working. He spotted them coming and cracked a grin. “Well.” His gaze came to rest on Jonathan. “What's up, Abe?”

“Jonathan.”

“Sorry. Whoa, you're dressed to the nines, my man.”

Jonathan looked down—“What?”—in confusion.

The longhair laughed. “I'm kidding, I'm kidding.”

Jonathan still didn't understand.

The longhair shifted his gaze to Ephraim, who stood in flannel and mud-stained pants, with no hat on his head and three days' worth of stubble. Excepting his haircut, he bore little outward resemblance to an Orderly, even one in
Rumspringa
. The longhair looked back to Jonathan, frowning. “Well, this won't do,” he said, shaking his head. “I can't sell you anything dressed like
that
. Your people might see.” He got up and, turning, opened a door to the parking lot. “Here.”

Ephraim picked up the case marked “2 for
5” and walked out. Jonathan followed him.

Once on the dock, Ephraim got down on his knees and started to sift through the tapes. From the doorway above, the longhair remarked: “A couple of recent additions in there.”

Ephraim looked up with a glimmer of hope. He motioned one hand in a half-circle, questioning.

Puzzled, the longhair watched him, trying to make sense of it.

Jonathan ventured a guess. “He's talking about last week, I think.”

The longhair's expression brightened suddenly. “Ah! You dug that Possum. Is that it?”

Ephraim appeared confused, if hopeful.

Grinning, the longhair went on to explain: “That's what they call George Jones, his moniker.”

Ephraim nodded emphatically
yes
.

“No,” said the longhair. “Sorry 'bout that. But I'll keep my eyes open. Try me next week.”

Satisfied, at least insofar as the longhair
identified
, Ephraim nodded his head. Between them, a torch had been passed, an exclusive understanding sallied forth.

He returned to the bargain box, much relieved. He sifted and picked with a gratified air. One of the tape covers featured a group of (women?) in war paint stalking a scrap yard. Another showed figures with plastic geranium pots on their heads, entitled:
Devo
. Continuing, someone who looked like the Minister Bontrager lost on a drunk:
Aqualung
. Finally, a creature named Ponharev leaned on a wall with his barn door flap hanging open.

“Forget that, kid,” said the longhair. “You want something wicked? Try this.” He brandished a tape.

Turning it over, Ephraim regarded the cover design. Very little was clear: a wash of darkness streaked with burgundy red and what looked to be creases of light. On closer examination, a host of misshapen figures began to emerge. In the center, strapped to a chair: the head of a goat on the shoulders and chest of a man. Beside it, a body, inverted, possibly hung by a hook from the roof of a cave. To its left, a five-pointed figure entangled in hieroglyphics. And down below, a lake of crimson bobbing with limbs and appendages, reading: “REIGN IN BLOOD.”

Ephraim looked up to the longhair, as though to ask,
This is good?

“That,” said the longhair, grinning with relish “is
wicked
shit.”

Outside, the crowd was steadily thinning. The clouds hung heavy now. Rain was imminent. Jonathan's pacer, tied to the hitching post, shifted restlessly, stamping the gravel.

Time was short. They would need to return via 341 at a steady clip.

Ephraim climbed into the buggy ahead of Jonathan, fixed on manning the pacer. Always the more assertive driver, he gripped the reins and parried about. Within moments, the railroad tracks had passed under them. Turning west, they rolled through a stoplight, moving by quilt and basketry outlets—then under a bridge and onto an overpass, into the thick of a traffic jam …

At once, it was clear they had made a mistake. And terribly,
irreversibly
so—there was no way to angle the buggy around with a full lane of steadily oncoming traffic. Their own lane, devoid of an adequate shoulder, was backed up for three hundred yards from the Sprawl Mart—a ten-acre superstore complex—ahead: one week away from its grand opening, and still, after fourteen months in construction, mobbed with resident protesters, area farmers and small local business owners.

Ephraim and Jonathan hadn't foreseen this delay. For them, as with most of the Plain Folk who normally veered from this road on principle, the Sprawl Mart was just another English atrocity. In appearance, it wasn't much worse than the rest. They certainly hadn't expected the roads to be tied up this badly in both directions.

An oncoming tour bus gradually slowed to a crawl on approaching Jonathan's buggy. Ephraim looked up to see wall-eyed Redcoats staring down on them, angling cameras. One of them slammed his head to the tinted window in mute incapacitation. The others didn't really appear to know what they needed or wanted to say, they just stared. The driver's voice came over the intercom: “Don't worry, folks, these people are guaranteed
nonviolent
. Just try to remember: the camera steals their souls.” (Laughter.) “So, if you
must
, try and shoot on the sly …”

Flashbulbs exploded. Ephraim winced.

Behind the bus, a line of drivers began to honk and rev their engines. The bus driver paid them no mind. Ephraim looked up, blinking away the static. He singled out one of the cameras and pointed. The Redcoat blinked, apparently startled. Ephraim threw him a middle finger. Jonathan gasped. The bus driver took off.

Slowly, their lane began to move. But it didn't proceed more than twenty yards—they had just drifted into view of the road crew—when everything slowed to a halt once more. A traffic director had flipped his sign from SLOW to STOP. The delay would continue. Three more lanes of traffic would now be allowed to pass, one at a time, before the next chance to get through came around, and even then, there was no guarantee …

Ephraim, losing patience quickly, hopped out of the buggy and scouted ahead. He passed a line of motionless vehicles. Most of their drivers regarded him warily. Scowling, he batted the hood of a station wagon at random, then turned around.

He climbed back into the buggy. His body felt overheated. He clawed at his forearms … Something was wrong: out of nowhere, it seemed, he was terribly thirsty. His throat was burning.

Ahead, in the distance, a tractor-trailer was angling out of the superstore lot. It swung around to the west at a drag. Ephraim spotted it slowly approaching.

He whirled on Jonathan, agitated, motioning:
Where's the stereo?
Jonathan glanced over one of his shoulders, into the trunk. Ephraim followed his gesture and, presently, pulled up the battery-powered player. Then he inserted the
Wicked Shet
tape.

At first, once the leader had rolled and the opening notes had begun, booming out of the speakers, Ephraim was forced to assume there was something wrong with the tape. This equipment had never emitted such grating, cacophonic belches. It sounded like a chain saw, whining and rising in sharp, sporadic bursts, then leveling … Adding to matters, the longhair had sold them faulty goods. Or so it seemed—till the bashing commenced: like a trash can lid being whacked with a crowbar—
ONE
, overtop of the chain saw, then—
ONE, TWO
—more menacing now, more deliberate—
ONE
—as a serpent coiled to strike—
ONE, TWO
—the strike giving way to a gallop: the pound of a broken fan belt slapping the underside of an engine hood: approaching, over the fields, preparing to sack and pillage and raze and defile—
ONE, TWO
—with the chain saws winding, the crowbar, the fan belt, pushing to a head,
then: “
AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH
”—a scream, like ten thousand demons plummeting hell-bound, end over end …

Ephraim's equilibrium reeled. He fell forward, bracing his weight on the dash.

A series of turbulent images flared in relief on the screen of his inner eye. He watched them tumble and weave and recede into blackening madness.

Then came the vocals:

Slow Death

Immense Decay

Showers that cleanse you of your life

Forced in

Like cattle you run

Stripped of your life's worth

Human mice for the Angel of Death

Back to the galloping, chain saws, crowbars, visions of torture beyond comprehension:

Angel of Death

Monarch to the kingdom of the dead
…

Beside him, Jonathan reached for the stereo, desperately trying to silence the roar.

But Ephraim, in white-knuckled rapture, blocked his attempt with a sweep of one leg and then went on, much to the shock of surrounding motorists (if equally geared to the protesters' cheering) to tighten the reins, angle the buggy out into the oncoming lane and charge.

Jonathan nearly flew off his box.

A bystander shouted. “
Get out of the way!

Gripping the reins even tighter, Ephraim lashed the pacer's haunches, lunging. Above the wind and the pounding of hooves and the carriage wheels grating on asphalt beneath him, the
Wicked Shet
blasted.

Surgery with no anesthesia

BOOK: Kornwolf
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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