Tom and Nessa came to my place not last night but a few nights before and right off the bat Nessa got under my skin acting like it was the first time she’d been over which everybody even Tom knows isn’t true. Nice she said re some books. Corny she said re the doily on the couch which she had put there to cover her mascara stains re my being an asshole one of the times. I understood though. Tom was her one and only and she was worried something might scare him back to the woods where he came from. And he Tom did wig a little. It looks like the inside of a robot he said on account of the tin tiles I put up everywhere. If the robot ate yard sales I joked.

I’ve been to their place a high number of times. Tom lives by the river and we drink beers on his roof deck and sometimes I play a little grab ass with Nessa if Tom isn’t looking, or we meet up at Vito’s first and eat clams and drink the pink wine. But they’ve never come to my place and I wasn’t ready for it. Not like I had my pants around my ankles or anything but my shit was real shameful as my mother said whenever she came into my teenage bedroom. Aww Becky I shore didn’t mean to make you sore I’d say and she would laugh but still be mad.

Boxes of treasure stacked up in the front room. Dishes in the sink. Trash balanced high above the top of the can in what I considered an artistic way until I saw it through their eyes. I said let me change and we’ll go to Vito’s. Nessa looked at Tom and he said that’s on the other side of town chief why don’t we hang here? No let’s not and sorry I said re the mess. Nessa said they couldn’t stay anyway and needed to talk to me about something.

Now it was me who started to wig. How much had Nessa told Tom about me trying to get in her pants all the time? Was he going to start wailing on me? Did she tell him about that time at Vito’s when she was wearing the brown skirt and the blue shoes and she was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom and how we talked and how she touched me and how I touched her and her eyes flashed like cracked glass and I thought she was remembering everything about us but then she shoved me into the ATM machine and said asshole?

You gotta beer Tom asked and I went into the kitchen. I used a paper plate to tamp the trash down into the can and I brought back some Big Mouths. Tom moved my boxes around so we could see each other while we talked.

Do you know Doc the big bald dude who lives in the woods by the river? Maybe I said. You’d know if you did Tom said because he looks like a tiki statue. Moai said Nessa. What Tom said. I was leaning forward with my elbows on my knees ready to help. Moai are the statues I said. Real long head and big lips Nessa said. Holy god everything that came out of her mouth sent me into rut. Cut it out Tom said re Nessa interrupting him or maybe my dirty stare.

I know Doc so what?

Tom said he had been creeping on them at night, that he climbed up from the river and over the cinderblock wall at the bottom of his property which was really something because on their side it was only four feet but on the river side it was more like ten and then he scrambled up through the aloe and watched them in the dark. How did that work I said since they lived on a steep hill and he was down below looking up and Nessa said we caught him okay? Tom said that’s not even the point. He poisoned Victor.

I found Victor in a box behind some tires behind my job and I fed him back to health and Nessa fed him too and he slept between our legs. He barked at shadows and once he fucked up a skunk like an absolute legend. He sat like a parrot on my shoulder when I drove and he blinked when he farted and he chewed his tail when Nessa cried into my sofa. When she left he went too because she needed him more but Victor was my dog. I said let me get my knife and Nessa said we think he poisoned Victor we’re not sure. Do they even do dog autopsies I asked but Tom said he’s not dead he’s just blind and his fur is falling out. It’s patchy said Nessa and technically Tom started it. Fuck that Tom said and now I really did want to help. I sat back and crossed my leg on my knee so Nessa could see my ankles. She used to like them without socks and that’s how I always do it now.

But she wasn’t looking at me she was looking in her bag and crying and Tom felt bad and said he did start it but only because he was pissed. It turns out the morning after they caught Doc creeping Tom went to his place in the woods. I was going to ask how he knew where Doc lived but then I remembered Tom came from the woods too so that was how. He tried to talk with Doc’s old lady but she picked up a pot and threw it down the hill at him and he called her a bitch. Is that true I asked Tom and he said it was. Tom would do anything for Nessa. She was his one and only and it was pissing me off she wasn’t looking at him and was just crying into her bag.

The firecrackers Nessa said pulling a towel out of her bag onto her lap. Yeah Tom said fucker launched M-80s at us when we were driving home from Vito’s. Scared Nessa shitless and I almost crashed the car into a telephone pole. Nessa said it sounded like a gun. M80s Tom said. I wigged and said hold up this was two weeks ago and I’m hearing about it now? They looked at each other. The mice started running around in the wall which is why I put the tin tiles up in the first place so they couldn’t get inside but they made the running even louder. Nessa said no we go by ourselves sometimes. What? I got up and kicked the wall to shut the mice up and I was pissed. Nessa said my name and I sat back down. She asked me a question but I wasn’t sure what it was because I felt like I was going to slide off the chair and float onto the floor.

Vito’s was where Nessa and I met. I was slinging drinks she was waiting tables and I gave her shit for never upselling her liquor orders and she stiffed me on her tips. We almost hated each other until Mrs. Lou made us sit down at the table in the kitchen so we wouldn’t give everyone agita and from then on it was her brown eyes and her blue chipped nails and her scratchy laugh when I said I was sorry but I would have said anything to get more of her. After Mrs. Lou fired us we kept going there to drink because Vito’s was where the magic happened. Later to show Tom and Nessa no hard feelings I met them there for a drink and they bought me dinner and we had such a time we agreed to do it again the same day the next month and the next month and so on. But now they were going to Vito’s without me.

Which is why we hope you’ll hold onto this for us Nessa said and unwrapped the towel on her lap. I wasn’t sure I was awake but there was a shallow wooden box in her lap with a glass lid and something moving inside it. Don’t worry Nessa said because she knew I hate things that move inside other things re the mice in the wall. I knew before she said anything else Tom had taken this from Doc’s house.

I said Get that out of here I don’t want to know about it. Them Tom said. There’s more than one and Nessa slapped his leg. Tom kind of laughed but I hollered at them to get out a high number of times. Nessa tried to calm me down with a Baby, baby and big mistake because Tom started hollering at her. But they knew I was for real because they took their box and left. It’s funny how just before I was scheming to get Nessa into the kitchen to tickle her sex under Tom’s nose and then a minute later I never wanted to see her again.

When they left I shut the door and looked around my place a long while. The mice in the wall were waiting for me to make the next move. Sometimes it felt like they were on my side. I knew Doc from the streets when I was a dumb kid and back then you took the long way to school so you didn’t run into him. He didn’t wail on anybody that I know about but Doc zapped you like something came out of his green eyes and his rubbery mouth that made you wish you never saw him and he never saw you. I had to go to the woods.

I went in my bedroom and swapped my shoes out for some boots and I found my coat in the closet. It took a long time to find my keys because they were in a can on a shelf and when I headed out the front door I stepped on something and I fell sideways over the brown plants with the gray berries onto the thing for the hose and I sliced my side open. I had to slide to the ground to get up and I sliced my side open more. My blue and white shirt with the cowboy buttons turned red. I climbed back up to my door and it was the box they put the box with the glass top on the step after I told them to take it away. I saw glass and so many spider parts because that’s what was in the box. Spiders. There were long legs snapped in half with hairy joints. Gold and green bodies that looked like cracked open Easter eggs. Smears of blue blood and little red pinchers and clumps of silver thread. I looked under my boot and there were parts there too. I kicked everything into the brown plants and shut the door and got in my car.

The woods are on the other side of the river. I used to go up there when I was a dumb kid to hide from the old man after I did something to set him off like running down the stairs with my sister and knocking his brazier and his frozen steaks with the butter pats all over the landing. He could hunt me out wherever I tried to hide and wail on me so I went somewhere he didn’t know existed. Back then you crossed the river and took a dirt road behind some trees with a gate that was never locked but you had to know where to look for it. I crossed the river and drove slow but there were a lot of new buildings since I came here as a kid and I couldn’t find the dirt road. I turned around the other way but I still couldn’t find it. My side stung. I pulled into a muddy lot where they kept tractors and outhouses and a blue-black dog on a chain jumped out from nowhere and tried to chomp me but its chain was too short. I checked under my coat which was drenched and the dog stopped barking and sat back on his legs. I let it lick my fingers clean.

I kept my back to the river and climbed into the woods. There was no trail but the ground between the trees was soft and easy to climb and I used branches to pull myself up. After a few minutes I couldn’t hear cars anymore and when I turned around I couldn’t see the river or the trees. Black ferns and mushrooms were all over the ground because even the sun had a hard time getting in to the woods. The hill got way steeper and my feet started to slip and I sounded like I was going to have a heart attack. It had been a high number of years since I had done anything hard so I sat down on a rock and waited until I calmed down. I decided to have a look at my side. I don’t mind my blood but I don’t like body problems. I don’t like pulling splinters from the meat of my hand. I don’t even like movies where necks and bones are part of the equation, but I took off my coat and spread it on the ground in case I fainted I guess and then I unbuttoned my shirt and pulled it off my right arm. I thought my side would look like busted fruit but it was more like a lady’s red sex except the two lips of skin around the slice were already crusty and infected. I put my head between my knees and I think I fainted because when I opened my eyes there were ants all over my boots and a spider web string on my right arm that floated all the way across the clearing to a little tree behind two big trees. I plucked the line to see if it would come out so I’d know where it was but it didn’t and I wigged because what if it was inside me? I stood up and shook the web off and I looked at my side but I couldn’t see if anything was inside me. I held my shirt tail tight between both hands and ran it through the slice and thank god nothing came out but it hurt so much I squealed real high with my voice the kind of thing the old man would wail on me for when I was a dumb kid and here I was doing it again. I wondered if maybe could Doc hear me? Maybe he was close by and was watching me all the time. Maybe he sent that spider to my arm when I fainted because he already got a spider message about how I stepped on the box on my doorstep.

I started to think maybe it wasn’t a great idea coming to see Doc without an invitation and maybe I should go back down and find an urgent care or go to Vito’s for a drink but I could see a bright piece of sunshine shooting out over my head across the tops of some trees and I realized I was close to the top so I decided to climb up there first before I made any big decisions. The sun was going down on the other side and it looked the same going down but not as steep. I could hear some sounds that sounded like cooking pots banging or something else banging an anvil maybe. And some smoke in the valley but not like something on fire more like a chimney. I started down the hill but it was even harder than going up. My steps were too big and I crashed my shoulder into a tree so hard it made my teeth buzz. The banging pots stopped. I tried to take little steps but I couldn’t and I crashed into another tree and then I sat on my can and slid the rest of the way down. I told myself not to turn around and look at the hill I just came down because it would look too hard to climb back and I would wig but I couldn’t help it and it did and I did.

It was getting dark. No more shadows just shade. I wanted to run but I didn’t want to trip over the big mushrooms tilted everywhere like satellite dishes so I walked as fast as I could. It felt like I walked a long time before I found the house but the sky was still orange around the edges so maybe not. I was out of it to be honest and I didn’t find the house it was just there when I stopped. I saw the garden first and then the little house with the lights on and a little ribbon of smoke curling out of the chimney. Doc and his old lady lived in a fairy tale house in the woods. I hiked down around the left flank as they say to get a better idea of what was going on. There was a metal table on the side and a generator and some solar panels laid out on top of a line of 55-gallon drums. It wasn’t such a fairy tale after all especially with the dusty Subaru in front. I could just make out the dirt road down below probably where Tom was standing when Doc’s old lady threw that flower pot. I was thinking how I would get out of here on that road and maybe even in Doc’s dusty Subaru if everything went good when I felt something in my ear. It was a sucking in of air not a rasp just a fast pull. I turned around but I couldn’t see anything in the dark. I felt the sound again and slapped my own head and ran toward the house. I probably was saying all kinds of fucks but I don’t remember because when I got to the front porch I could see Doc’s old lady through the window and she was wriggling real heavy and pulling her pants up and she had black toenails and silver ribbons on her ankles and Doc said Boo and I looked up as he creamed me with a crowbar and the last thing I remember was that sucking in my ear.

***

Victor was licking my lips when I woke up. I was on the ground and my shirt was off and Doc had zip-tied my wrists and my ankles and Victor’s little tongue was so deep inside my nose and my mouth I thought he was trying to eat me. Good boy I said good dog but then I tasted oatmeal and that’s what Victor was doing he was eating food off my face. Then I remembered Nessa said Victor was blind and his hair was falling out so he didn’t even know it was me. He just wanted the nibs. I shut mouth and my eyes and said No re the licking and when I opened my eyes Victor was gone but there was a mirror on the ground three feet from my face. And my face was hamburger. My eyes were swollen and my nose was bleeding and my ear was split. I wigged hard, yelling and wriggling, which reminded me that my side still hurt. I tried to see my side in the mirror but something kept me from moving. Someone was holding me from behind. I could feel a hand on my shoulder, but I couldn’t see anyone behind me in the mirror. Shhh I heard and it had to be Doc’s old lady because it wasn’t Doc.

Hey it’s okay I said I came to tell Doc about the spiders I said and she said Shhh shhh. But I kept talking. I said I wasn’t part of the thing with Nessa and Tom. They brought the box to my place. I told them to get out but they left it on my step and… I stopped because the mirror started to wig. It started to vibrate and shimmer and I got a better look and it wasn’t a mirror. It was a spider web, big and shiny and tight. I heard Doc’s rubbery voice behind me say It doesn’t matter you’re part of it now and then he kicked me in the head.

That basically happened a number of more times over a number of days. Victor would wake me up with his tongue in my nose then he would walk through the mirror and disappear and then spiders would come out and fix the mirror. The spiders looked like jewelry old rich ladies wear but they were daintier. Their bodies were red and green and blue and when they walked along the web it looked like they were dancing on glass. When they finished they crawled into the web and it looked like they were disappearing into pure glass and I would stare at my beat up face and wonder if I was going to die. Later even though I couldn’t see her in the mirror Doc’s old lady would cradle me from behind and finally even later in the day Doc would come from nowhere and knock me out with a big old flappy shoe to my face. I stopped being afraid and started wanting to die except for when I heard Doc’s old lady whisper Shhh and telling me it would be okay. I loved the buzz of her voice and the swirl of her breath down the side of my neck. And then I figured it out. The next time she was whispering and wiping the crud off my ear I said Nessa could you just let me go? She stopped wiping and didn’t say anything but I knew it was her. Nessa had always been Doc’s old lady.

I could hear her footsteps in the kitchen and the kitchen door opened and squeaked back closed on its spring. And then ta da the next time she came back I could see her in the mirror kneeling behind me. Her hair was hanging down over her face but I knew it was Nessa. The top of her head had some scars and missing hair, but there’s no doubt it was her. I thought she was going to cut the zip ties but she didn’t. She bent over and kissed my cheek and then she got down on the ground and slid past me on her stomach like a snake. Her face was sideways and she was looking at me with those sleepy gray eyes and she crawled into the spiderweb and she disappeared. I didn’t even wig because I had it all figured out. Doc was her one and only.

A couple hours later Doc came in the house and his big flappy feet sounded like tires squeaking on the floor. He walked back and forth in the kitchen and he said Outrageous when he bumped his long head coming out of the doorway. His voice sounded like it came out of a tuba and he had a knife in his hand. He came over to me and dropped the knife into the floor with a cartoon boi-oi-oing and he picked me up by the shoulders and held me with my feet off the ground, my face even with his face, his big lips like those wax lips you got when you were a dumb kid, real dark red and plump. I couldn’t understand how he could talk with those blubber-tubes but he said Never come here again you got it? I am not proud of this but I was hanging in the air after the spiders and Nessa and I said Yes sir and he put me down on a chair and cut me loose with the knife. Let’s go he said then he walked out the front door and I could hear the Subaru start up and I thought I’m not riding in a car with that son of a bitch. I saw my chance and got down on my belly and crawled into the mirror.

I don’t know what I thought would happen or yes I did I hoped I would crawl in and find Nessa on the other side in a nest of love and smoke with wheels of colored light and a pool of black water and she might be mad at first because I found her hiding place but then she would be turned on because I wanted her so bad that I crawled inside a mirror made by a spider for her and we would kiss and swim and play with each other and just light it up for the ages. If we were stuck there fine by me. She could have babies and I would figure out how to hack the spiders to drop back into the world for a few minutes at night to steal food for the kids and magazines and maybe get Victor too, and the rest of the time I don’t know we’d just survey our domain and relax.

But as soon as I started going through the mirror my eyes began to burn. Not like stinging but like they were on fire, like they were being blasted by torches and I couldn’t see but I could smell and I could smell my on fire too. I wigged so hard but I my hands were pinned to my hips. I tried to scream Nessa’s name but nothing came out of my mouth. There was no sound. It wasn’t cold or hot. I tried to back out but it was a one-way mirror I guess so I had to keep going. I was wriggling into dumb nothing and all I could do was keep going. But then after the last of me finally squeezed through, everything switched back on and I was curled up on the floor of my place in the front room and there were my tin tiles and my boxes and the towel Nessa left behind. I was covered in spider glass and there was a big broken web where I just crawled through. It was bigger than the one in Doc’s place and I wondered how it got here but then I figured when I stepped on the box I didn’t step on all the spiders and one of them got inside before I closed the door.

I lifted up my shirt to see my side. Nessa had dressed it with some gauze and tape. I peeled it off but it was still open and oozy so I slapped it back on and the mice in the walls started to go haywire. I wondered if they could smell my blood which didn’t seem possible even though a lot can happen when you’re locked behind metal walls. The spider was already sliding out to fix the hole I made. She was blue and silver with shiny glass coming out of her and it was like the mice knew they were in the presence of a higher power and they didn’t like it at all. I watched her work until I got dizzy and fell asleep on the floor.

I woke up to pounding on my door. I rolled around a little and picked myself up off the floor and out the window I saw Doc’s dusty Subaru parked in front of my place. I couldn’t see Doc but it was his car. Then more pounding and Doc’s voice bellowed out my name. Get out here he said.

Go to hell I said I know it’s her I know it’s Nessa.

I moved to the door and looked through the hole and saw his fat red lips and his yellow teeth and he was saying I don’t know what you’re talking about Chief and Why don’t you open the door so we can talk about our spider problem. What spider problem I said and he started shaking the doorknob. I had to go back down onto the floor I was starting to fade out. I thought about smashing the spider with the palm of my hand and smearing her all over the tin tiles. Maybe Doc could see me through the spider’s eyes or maybe he just knew what I was thinking because he said Don’t do it Chief, she belongs to me.

My fingers were cold. I didn’t want to smash the spider and I couldn’t reach her if I did. I thought about my mother and her icy fingers tickling my ribs so I would push my arms through the sleeves of the purple coat when she was telling me we were being brave and how she drove us away from the Old Man as fast as she could make the car go but also about how at end of the dirt road she said Oh goddammit and started crying. She turned the car around and we crawled back slow with the lights off but the Old Man was there waiting and he never let her leave again. I thought about her black hair and about Nessa’s black sweater and Victor’s black eyes and I was in the black but soon I would be with her again.

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