This week we are featuring a short story by Ste MackIntosh entitled “Foundational Crack”. The story, slightly bizarre and wholly entertaining, walks the line between the real and the imagined in a charming and funny way.
The snow had gone, more or less. A homeowner I passed on my way home had blown up an inflatable Charlie Brown, larger-than-life-sized, and set him up in a dark bedroom window. His rubber head cinched round in a pattern like a perfect cauliflower. He held a red LED candle to his face, that glowed unearthly orange on his features. What vigil could he have been on? Who was he waiting for?
On the bus, a pudgy lady in a plush pink snowsuit across from me pulled her hood over her head and drew the string tight around her nose like a sphincter. She lolled her head forward, so you couldn’t see any skin anywhere, except her hands which locked on her lap. She didn’t move the whole ride.
Further on, I took a forested path around the lake as I made my way home. The small buffer of trees blocked the walker from the houses, allowing a delusion of privacy; a vestigial tail of nature in the growing city. The forest dropped into darkness with aggression, bringing an insufferable sense of pervading doom. I took an exiting path, veering left to get out of the lake’s circle, and up the slope into the real world. A caged stone embankment levelled at my face. I heard mad barking, and remembered Maitland, being chased by dogs on an unlit country road. Then, from a stand of fir on the embankment, a beige mutt came charging. I hadn’t realized my supremacy over dogs came from towering over them. But, this dog at eye-level posed a real threat. The owner called him back, but he wouldn’t listen. The owner apologized to me, but he had nothing to apologize for, unless the dog went for my throat. I strafed up the path keeping my head turned from the dog’s eyes, making my way up out onto the street again.
As I crested the hill, I spotted my family home, halfway down. The shingles scattered, eaves moving to a single point with a boxy window below the peak. Its form had flytrap gravity to it. I pulled the screen door open and warmed up some stew. After a meal, and my belly filled, I stomped satiated downstairs to the basement. The weak, naked lightbulbs burned like island-beacons, with a heavy darkness occupying the in-between. The linoleum, cracked and peeled; more gone than present. Paint cans and forgotten clutter. The ceiling rafters filled with broken fishing rods. I entered the room where I drink and smoke, when it would be impolite to do so on the main level.
A bottle of wine, a couple of joints. I was admiring the stacks of papers, how they have reconstituted into a single organism, doing its best to turn back into a tree, when I heard the back door outside the room open. A celebrity dove into the fabric flaps of the smoking room. I got caught up in his eyes, I didn’t care that his entrance was unannounced. I shook his hand with gusto, and he met my gaze. His pushed mine away like the sun, and although I was a full foot taller, I lifted my view to his. I squinted, and in his gaze I saw weighty panic. He let out a single: “help”. I didn’t know what to do, or how to understand what was the matter.
Before our hands detached, I felt his palm twitch, but on both sides and towards the centre: a lessening. I looked him all over and could not deny, he was shrinking.
His bewildered eyes cried for help, but what could I do?
I could tell he felt abandoned and churled, this famous celebrity in the house of a peasant, and without the common politeness of existential assistance. You know, I felt bad about it. But I was unprepared to house a celebrity just then, and in my dank basement no less.
About squirrel-size now, he lifted himself in a scurry onto a wooden chair and made the jump to my mother’s writing desk from her childhood. He found a pile of nuts and bolts and started a barrage with the intensity of a preternatural siege. I couldn’t see how he was sending so many; his decrease in size must have increased his agility and concentration of power. (But that is, of course, speculation.)
I blocked my face and felt the sting of flinging metal. I caught a bolt with my giant hand and turned it on the little monster, swinging and jabbing like a fencer. He continued to hurtle a hail of hardware, finding a plate of pushpins and launching them like spears. He was shrinking all the time, about as high as a lighter. I fought through the small amount of pain as I tried to land a warning jab. I did not want to hurt him; I could never have afforded it.
I land a poke of my threaded battering ram on his head. He turned to run towards a crack in the basement foundation wherefrom springs a tiny creek when it rains.
Instinct took over without my asking. I felt like a cat on a prey. I grabbed him and held him around the torso and legs while he pounded fists and bit sensationless on my grip. His features were bleeding together; he looked like a stickman to me. An urge to squeeze him, even if only a little, came over me, and the fear of the consequences followed.
How easy it would be. Like seeing an insect minding its own business and crunching it to kill it just to act in your life. Like when God kills. That’s how I wanted to squeeze him. I squeezed him and saw his pain, so I loosened, with some shame. He took the opening and lifted himself onto my curled index finger and bolted off my knuckle, reaching for the book shelf. I tried to grab him in the air, but missed, so I had to try to pin him on the ledge before he could get away. Now, I don’t know why I didn’t want him to escape. It felt like a loss to see him leap away- my catch… my dinner? Who knows which part of my monkey brain thought this would make good evolutionary sense?
I admit I acted rashly with undue strength. The famous little man had just barely reached the ledge and he hung with just a hand. I thought I would pin his body, but I ended up crunching his acorn skull beneath my palm.
There was twinge of guilt, then. The feeling- so full of such an odd void. I was happy to have won, but fretted the fallout. But then, solace washed me over. People would search for someone like this, but not as like this, in the form of some crushed faerie.
I found a little box that once gift-wrapped a celebratory pen, and placed his crunched body within. I had a tiny ceremony, remembering to wrap him in plastic to keep the water off. I stuck him in the crack in the foundation. He fit perfectly. I sealed off the grave with plaster.
I was okay with the ordeal. No police ever nosed around. From the news I learned the celebrity was assumed to have gone off the grid, having had a well-publicized nervous breakdown the day before he found my basement. Whenever I had to venture to the basement for laundry or wine, I saw the plaster, and I hoped God exists, or at least some useful reason to bury the dead. Not for my sake but for his.
Three years later, I felt a rumble interrupt my sleep half-way through. My whole house shook and lurched. The floor dropped from under me and I landed blasted on the basement floor, bouncing on my bed. The grey twilight burned through a gaping gash in the wall, where the crack once was. Among the rubble lay the disfigured man-sized corpse of the celebrity I murdered. It started to pour rain, overwhelming the regular course of the creek from the crack, blooming into a river that followed the crooked arm of the celebrity for a time.
The ending is shocking, and, paired with the humor of the beginning, gives the piece a strong punch. Join us next week for another post!