Chapter 10 of Serial Novel “The Cage”: Drowning

4 Jun

Every week, by Sunday night here in China–a new episode of an ongoing serial novel called The Cage is posted here.  The first events, which soon go awry, concern the building of an underground cathedral from an abandoned coal mine.  The chapters so far are all right here; you can find the links on the menu under “The Cage”.  If you enjoy an episode, please support me with a subscription, link, re-blog, comment, or recommend the site to friends and family.

Drowning

“About to get splashed,” says Mouse’s brother.

Along a horizon cut behind angular, brick honey combs that jut over plots of new corn, detonations echo and trail.  Like a building whisper, the rain begins.  Lustrous, threaded streams swell and twine.  Pies of wet clay build around Mouse’s shoes, and his thin, cloth jacket grows damp.  They climb the fence.  Mouse’s bother selects a branch, carves mud off of his shoes, and hands it to Mouse.  As Mouse spears and scrapes, the rain falls harder, cracking and pattering while a madman above whacks away at sheet metal, the sound filling an amphitheater of wood and cropland, hovels, and figures distant and bent.  Above them in darkening sky, oak branches glitter and grope.

Mouse follows his brother through beds of bracken, past steel cadavers tilting into the swamped earth.  The whoosh of the river joins the hiss of rain, and scrub willows raise sections of current, tan and rippling, in their branches.  Mouse’s brother halts under a sapling.  Hands to his hips, he surveys the dented army truck with its nose in rushing, crested wavelets.  A tire comes bobbing. Branches turn in current.

“It’s almost up here.”

“Do you think the water will cover her over?”

“Sure,” says Mouse’s brother, climbing down.  “We’ll build something a lot better this year.  A damn fortress, you and me.”

Following the flagstone steps, Mouse’s brother lays his hand on the frame and thumps it, as if it were a great pet. 

“This old battle horse,” he says.

Like a hero-warrior, he launches through the window, into the cab.  Mouse has to hook his elbows on the window socket, bang his knees, and worm his way through.  Inside the drumming shelter, he bounces a couple of times on the blanket folded over seat springs.  The glass dials are smashed, and a clump of growing grass flinches on the hood. In the glove compartment rests a chalky swallow nest.  A toppled tree trails jerking branches in the current below the truck.  Behind the steering wheel, his brother stares beyond the truck’s spattering hood, into the secret, broody magic of wood and water.  On the opposite bank, under a steel undercarriage of sky, cottages are tucked among trees. 

“Think the water could carry away a truck?” says Mouse.

“If it can carry a house, it can carry a truck.”

 The cab smells of soil and mildew.  A gust from the river carries a sour funk.

 “Why does it smell like that?”

“Pig shit.  They are dumping it in the river.”

“I hate pigs.”

“But you like side pork.”

Thin necklaces of rain are strung from the roof of the cab.  Cool drafts wash through the window socket.  From a hollow in the door, Mouse digs out a smooth, rosy chunk of chert and holds it out in the rain.  He brings it in and polishes it with his thumbs.

“Can you catch fish in the rain?”

“With a net, maybe.  They don’t bite in any rain at all.  And high water—forget it.”

“Could we make a net?”

“I tried.  Impossible if you don’t know what you’re doing.  We could buy one, though.  When the berries get ripe, we can pick a lot and sell them.  Going to be a bunch this year.  Pick about a hundred damn pounds; then we’ll have our net.  We’ll catch those biggies snoozing on the bottom.”

“We can sell minnows, too.  And crayfish.”

“It will be a while before we get water clear enough to catch anything.”

“Oh.” 

Mouse’s teeth are beginning to chatter.

“You cold?”

“A little.”

“You should get home.”

“I wish they would make a bridge here.  We could go across.”

“If there was a bridge, we could go across and so could everybody else.  We wouldn’t have this spot to ourselves.  Anyway, I don’t need one.  I can swim over.”

 “Now?”

“Swam way farther than that.  I swam across the lake, and that’s three times this.  Don’t believe it?  That’s it—I’m going.  You take my clothes home.  Meet you back at the house.” 

Mouse looks out across the water.  The trees on the bank are not so far.  His brother could do it.  Mouse?  Beneath the serpents and mouths resides some menace.  At the root of his spine: a wriggle of cowardice.    

Mouse’s brother is slipping out the window. 

“Hope Beckrows are not looking,” he says, and his feet pull out of the cab.

Mouse pushes the stone in his pocket, thrusts his legs out the window, and lets himself slide and drop.  On the bank, above the cliff of rip-rap, his brother pulls off his shirt, steps out of his pants.  He rolls them up and Mouse takes them.  In his underpants, his brother tiptoes down the length of a concrete bridge member, and at the bottom, squats.    Mouse follows partway down the chunk of ancient bridge.  His brother’s outstretched foot tests the current.

“Mama!” he says.  “That’s cold.  Only one way to handle it!” 

He straightens up, grins back at Mouse, and leaps.  Beneath the surface, legs flash, and then his head comes up shaking.  Below his fist, teeth show in a wide-open smile.  Then he is frog-kicking, working his way toward the center.  He is a head and pale, hooking arms above a splash of white.  Mouse climbs back up the bank.  He clambers along the rip-rap, trying to keep up, but the spot is moving downstream too fast. 

As Mouse follows the path through the forest that leads to the bridge, columns of blackbirds chatter in dark oaks and maroon geysers churn in columns of light.  The horizon blinks.  Ducks streak low over the river.  A few white pebbles pop into the path.  Mouse waits it out under a tree.  White balls of ice sail up and roll on the path, and soon, across the whole, steaming width of the river, fountains of white are shooting up.  Then it is over. 

As Mouse crosses the wet plank bridge under glowing, broken clouds, ice nugget upon his tongue, a rainbow has formed; red, purple, and blue, it vaults up from the river, right from the spot where his brother popped up and smiled amid waves. 

Why not support indie fiction and purchase a Kindle version of my novel, Angels Delirium Liberty, at Amazon?  It’s 3.99 per copy.  Only 1.99 for a limited time in multiple digital forms at Smashwords.
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