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FICTION / Bite Marks / John Waterfall

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He was laying on the grass when she came back, staring at the leaves overhead rustling loose from their branches, sunlight dripping through. It was windy and suddenly she was there, summoned between blinks, her head and hair a dark silhouette.  

“I’m back,” she said, walking past him through the front door and into the house, leaving him to the crisp autumn, the sweep of yellow and orange that erupted from the front lawn, the hedge that hid the bumpy road to the sea. He watched the leaves, the parched dry shapes clinging, heart pounding a rhythm in his chest. Then he got up and went after her, in an effort to check his head. 

She was in the kitchen, going through the fridge, popping beer cans and tasting a sip from each, seven cans lined up already on the white linoleum countertop. She was in jeans and a metal t-shirt he’d remembered her wearing, band name splatted in a red arc around a mad dragon eating an exploding missile. 

“I fucking hate beer,” she complained, wincing in response to a sip of Pork Slap. 

He found himself speaking without thinking. “Well if I’d known you were coming.”  

She snorted a laugh, beer foaming from her nose. “Shit. Oh, that’s funny. You’re handling this well.” 

He looked at her, the same pale oval of a face, honey blonde hair, thick and catching the stray light behind it in a halo, individual strands wigged out like lightning bolts. Beautiful hair. 

He liked to smell it with his face in the hollow of her neck, feeling her pulse in his eyes. 

“I’m very confused,” he managed to stammer.           

“I’m making my rounds.” 

“You’re dead.” 

“Sure am.” 

He pulled out a wooden high-stool and sat at the linoleum island, watching her unbelievable shape. She was how he'd last seen her, the size and shape and color she was when she’d descended the subway escalator in Cambridge, leaving him alone on the surface where it had ended. 

He squinted and rubbed his eyes. “This is insane. This isn’t a real thing.” The sunlight in the room intensified, a liquid gold that slanted through the windows as the day marched towards dusk. 

“Yeah well, I don’t love it either.” She shrugged and leaned on her elbows opposite him. He hadn’t remembered her face, had been approximating it in a memory blur, the tan skin, pale lips, a sternness that fought the relaxed way her hair fell, the softness in her face, beautiful in a way you realized later, the round politician’s jaw. 

“You’ve been gone for seven years.” 

“Seven years eight months twelve days four hours and six minutes. Seven now.” 

“Holy shit.” 

“Look, if you can’t deal with this we’re going to have a bad time.” 

“Are you haunting me? Did I do something?” 

“I’m hooking up with you,” she said while investigating a nail, like it was a fact, the next day’s weather. He felt his blood rush downwards, making him hard. He’d thought about this for years, sleeping with her again, fucking her in a power sort of way. This was before she’d died horribly, after which he’d thought about it much less until not at all. It hadn’t hit him until then, that she’d had a story he wasn’t a part of. Then he was horrified, that what happened could happen, that it happened to her. 

“Why?”  

“Because I’m here. You don’t want to?” 

“I’m married.” She seemed hurt, which made him feel good, for a moment, then bad because whatever was happening was too much, that his obsession with her hadn’t died but only been dormant and waiting to manifest. 

“That’s nice. Is she nice?” 

“She’s nice.” He thought of his wife, the curl of their child in her belly, the puzzle fit of their sleeping bodies. And he saw that the girl in front of him was sad and bored, that she was turning a soft translucent.  

“Good,” the ghost of her whispered, “It’s good to be nice.” 

He thought about saying her name, then she was gone. He stood in near silence, the soft wind and the occasional chirp of birds playing across the amber light. The beers were still there, seven cans of different colored chromes, sparkling in the waning day. And he stood there until all the colors looked the same in the dark. 

***

He found himself outside, under the tree, searching the grass for a body he could return to, in case he’d lost his mind or died himself. There was his divot, the man shaped impression in the grass, forest green in the neon blue dark, first stars twinkling bright and white, a full moon heavy and pearlescent. The urge to leave flickered across his mind, to get into his car and drive, to flee the ghost who’d boomeranged back.  

He made it as far as the driveway, the car idling at the lip of the outside world. Through the rearview mirror he saw a dark bulk shuffle across the driveway and around the garage, disappearing into the milky night with a loud, breathy snort. His balls crawled into his gut. He turned the car around and searched the surrounding darkness with the high-beams, wiggling the front of the vehicle left and right to get a glimpse at whatever strangeness had gone lumbering by. Satisfied he parked and got out, foot landing in a round depression, a large paw print in the gravel that filled and erased itself as he watched, leaving only the long finger marks of claws. A loamy breeze brought salt and earth to his tongue and a sea fog rolled in from the murmuring ocean, the drive-way and road coming alive in the smell and sound. Somewhere in the dark something breathed, heavy and wet and he could hear the crunch of gravel as it moved. He knew he would stay.  

***

An hour later she was waiting outside the shower, a fogged outline of jeans and black tee. He drew a circle in the moisture and cleared it. She was eating an apple. He got out and watched her eat the sticker. 

She shrugged and picked it out of her teeth, balled it and flicked it. “You’re fat now.”

“It’s been eleven years,” he retorted, trying to hide the hit nerve. 

She turned towards the mirror, a dull silver square over a single porcelain sink, the place where his parents used to brush their teeth, a catalogue of gap mouthed fish and the lures to catch them leaping from the surrounding wallpaper: mayfly for trout, nightcrawler for pike. The night outside was dark against the room’s burst of fluorescent yellow, the window a square of hard black. 

“What do I look like?” she asked, studying the mirror. He saw only himself in the reflection, paunch spilling over the towel wrapped around his waist. He wasn’t ashamed, wasn’t embarrassed. If she was real she’d seen it before, If she wasn’t he was having bigger problems.  

 “Twenty. The last time I saw you. Wearing the Clutch shirt you got from the Paradise Rock show.” 

“Clutch sucks.” 

“It was your shirt,” he said, shifting the towel to his head and face, flabby adulthood on full display, his voice muffled through the soft fabric. “So what? You crossed Styx to call me fat?” 

“I told you. I came here to sleep with you.” 

“Why?”

“What else do you want to do?” 

“We could talk?” 

“What do you want to talk about? Because I really don’t want to talk. It’s been eleven years. And I know we’re going to but I want to do this first. It’ll help the talking.” 

“I’m married,” he protested, his body making a decision for itself. He readjusted the towel and took a gulp of wet air. If she’d noticed she hadn't said anything, she was elsewhere, eyes slit in hard thought. The mirror had fogged and he could no longer see himself. 

“I was going to be. Venue and everything. Then a bear ate me.” 

“I heard.” He saw a small rigidness build in her, a break in her practiced languidness.

“Look,” she said, “you made your decision in the driveway. This isn’t real, not in the same way. And you know what would be nice for me? An orgasm. Because believe it or not, for me, this isn’t about you. When I get to see my fiancé, whenever I get to pop into existence around him, then I want to fucking talk, but right now, probably for the only time, I’m stuck with you, so can we just do it already?” 

He thought about the guilt ghost sex would have on his relationship, but not very hard. “Yeah sure, okay.” 

***

Her body rolled on top of his in the pale light of his old room, the place of his first time with her, this strange new time. Blue light poured in from the windows on the outer walls, catching her body in pools and shadows. He felt her warmth, the softness of her hips and breasts as he reluctantly cupped her, then less reluctantly as he felt the warmth between them spread, the extension of selves between. She didn’t look at him, eyes focused behind shut lids, reaching for release or thoughts of someone else, her hair tangled and matted with sweat, the honey, earthen scent of her filling his senses. He pulled her down to him, equaling her physically, one hand in her hair, the other kneading her backside. And then she went and so did he, and in the moment she flickered, in and out of reality. In strobes he could see his release in the air, free in a blink than caught and contained within her body. He closed his eyes and felt her go into thin air, and a single damp pearl landed on the bed beside him.  

When he couldn’t sleep he went to the window to watch the moon bright world, the dark hints of deer grazing in the lawn. Amidst the herd stood a large shape on hind legs, a fuzzy hulk bobbing its tapered snout to the heavens, sniffing at the air for a scent on the breeze. 

***

When he woke up to dawn-light she was nestled in the crook of his arm and he was breathing her scent, the warm air that escaped her mouth rhythmically lapping the skin of his forearm. He watched the hairs moving with each breath, and everything was silence besides their soft rustle, the occasional nightingale call out in the glowing world.  

“Is it like this for everyone?” he asked. 

“I don’t know. I’m not everyone.” She shifted and he realized his arm was asleep, tingling dully under her weight. He started to pull it out from under her and he saw the movement made her dissolve in places, gashes of ragged white static spreading across her thigh and shoulder, her neck, the bite marks where she’d been unmade. He resumed his grasp, hoping to undue the damage. 

“Did it hurt?” 

“It wasn’t as bad as it sounded. All the gruesome stuff happened after I was dead.” He found the lobe of her ear, the lock of hair that circled it, ingrained tokens of his intimacy that now belonged elsewhere. “The worst part was other people’s memory of it, people knowing that it happened to me. The infamy. The bad part’s the infamy. No one will ever think of my story without thinking of the end.” 

He’d thought about it, imagined it, everything from the look on her face before and during, the horror movie scream, the strewn aftermath of a hungry brown shape ravaging a Yosemite campsite. Outside the bedroom he could hear something large, sniffing and shuffling, hot bestial grunts excavating the crack under the door, floorboards creaking in retaliation to a massive weight.  

“What’s that?” he asked, surprised by the lack of alarm in his half-sleep drawl. For a moment he saw himself getting up and opening the door to the creature pawing outside, two eyes of animal black hovering over a primordial snout, a white grimace of teeth.  

“Ignore it.” 

“Can it get—“ 

“Ignore it.” She sighed. He felt comforted by her weariness. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a nightmare, for him, which was as far as he could see. The seconds accrued between them and he thought she’d fallen back asleep.  

Falling into his own dream he heard her, “My dad saw me as a four-year-old, dressed up like a tea-cup for Halloween. Nearly lost his mind when I drank all his gin.” He felt the muscles in her face tighten and smile, felt his own. 

“That’s funny.” 

“Yeah it’s funny.” 

***

They slept-in together, dozing in the body warmed sheets, the morning outside grey and raining. They were silent and physical, communicating through touches and squeezes, each focused on what was next, when it would be over. The thing that had been done, done again.  When the rain cleared they walked down the road to the sea, the babbling surf murmuring to them as they made their way over granite, wisps of fog curling around their feet, the air in the middle distance brushed with undulating webs of cloud. He held her hand when they were alone, dropped it when someone drove by so he wouldn’t look crazy. 

They sat together at the surf and waited for it to happen, watching the frothy lead colored waves push in and out, crawling over the packed sand to clutch at their ankles. She buried her feet, biting her lip in concentration as she evaluated the feeling of sand between her toes.  

“Look.” she said. “I want you to know I loved you. You were one of the people I loved. You were a nice piece of my life.” 

He nodded, searching for something deep to say. “Who do you go to next?” 

“I don’t know. I hope my dad. My fiancé, he’s living in an ashram now, gonna see if I can break him out of it. The time I’m gone gets longer each go around.” 

“What’s that like?” 

“It’s not like anything. I’m just gone.” She looked at him, studied his face and he saw her back full, locked in pleasantly uncomfortable eye contact. She had yellow in the blue of her irises, she had a freckle beneath the curve of a nostril. “This might be it for you. I don’t know if I’ll come back this way.” 

“Yeah. You’re probably right,” he added, looking at the speck of a person on the beach horizon, a small dark spot throwing a tennis ball to another, smaller spot. “Here’s what I’ll do. Every time I see someone faraway, I’ll tell myself it’s you. What do you think?” 

But she didn’t think anything because she wasn’t there and he was talking to himself, the depression in the sand where she’d been slowly erasing in the salty breeze. He sat there and felt practiced, like he’d over-reached and said something scripted, which is was how she’d always made him feel. 

A great shape emerged from behind him and entered into his peripheral. A bear, shaggy and dour, thick brown coat tangled and knotted in the damp sea air. It sniffed at the air pensively, pawed the sand and looked at him, grey light twinkling in obsidian eyes. It gathered itself with a snort and trudged towards the sea, disappearing into the curled palm of a coming wave, the scent of hide vanquished in salt spray. He sat and wondered how long it would take for it to all feel like a dream. 


A native New Yorker, John Waterfall is a writer living in Manhattan and a student at the New School's creative writing MFA program. His interests include genre fiction and literature about animals. A proud father of two cats and one on-the-way baby girl. After receiving a BA in English from Boston University and an MFA in filmmaking from the New York Film Academy, John worked as a screenwriter and bookseller. His current passion is collecting signed books.