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[personal profile] backdrifter
I took a Fiction Writing class this past semester to keep my sanity up in a whirlwind of drudgery, and it resulted in much more original writing than I'd expected, with only a small dose of my NaNo '08/'09 characters. This is the first assignment, in which we were assigned to write a story based on the old joke (if you can call it that), "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

I am a coward.

I don't mean in the modern way people usually say it—emotional cowards who cannot cope with relationships. Hell, I love the opposite sex. I could talk to them all day, if only they would come to me in this safe place. I'm afraid of the world around them, the forces of nature that at any moment could split the earth, boil the seas, bring civilization kowtowing down. I don't fear drivers, but I fear the death machines they drive that hurtle toward each other at speeds human beings were never meant to travel. Planes are worse; people were never meant to be so high. Every plane crash convinces me I am more right than ever.

I write to you from beneath my bed.

This is my safe place. Above the bed is dangerous, open; underneath, if the roof should collapse on my room, at least I'll be in a dark place where the crushing pain will be quick to come and perhaps even instantly killing me, giving the fear no chance to take ahold of me. Or so I theorize; I have never been crushed to death and I hope I never will be. Nowhere else is so safe, so blocked out to the rest of reality.

The same could be said of this town, which is the best reason I can provide for moving here. Some fifty-odd years ago it was a thriving tourist town, but now it's a rural, dusty wasteland ruled by the road that divides it. Traffic is infrequent at best, and the town's older residents and small business owners that have yet to give up crane their necks hopefully with every distant sound of an engine coming near.

The town does not appreciate my residency, but nor do they go out of their way to pay me much attention of any kind. I am more a ghost than a pariah. The same applies to the man across the road.

The man across the road does not live in a house. High chain-link fences seem to cage him—one facing my house, and two sides that run off into the distance, where a fourth side's existence is unconfirmed. The man across the road sits morosely a few feet from the fence most of the time, watching cars quietly when they come and staring down the road when they don't. There is no record or mention of why there is a man living alone in a desert cage, and how he survives when there is no food or water to be seen is almost as big a mystery. The man wears nothing but some very distressed drawstring cargo shorts and flip flops with the heel ends entirely worn away. He is immensely fat and balding and his white sunburned skin is covered in gray curly hair.

I have been planning to see him for weeks. Yes, this requires that I leave my house, that I cross the threshold into the outside world that seeks to kill me in a thousand ways, but there are a few things I have determined. The first is that I must shed my identity as the town coward, so oppressed by my own anxieties that even looking out the window feels like courting danger. I must stroll down barren Main Street with a sense of belonging and fearlessness that seems to come so easily to everyone else. At the very least, I must cross the road and show myself I am not dead.

The second is that the man across the road is my brother in arms. We are both outsiders in this wasteland, and we are both trapped in some way. I by my fears, and he by an endless stretch of fencing put there by unknown hands. I will free myself, and then I will free him.

The following morning, I roll out from beneath my bed frame, and sit awkwardly in the shower as I always do, to stave off the risk of slipping and fracturing my skull. I will not become a fearless everyperson in a single day. I brush my teeth with a toothbrush badly in need of replacement, and I think to myself that when I am normal, I will go into town and at last buy a new toothbrush. I dress myself in clothes that are in little better condition than the toothbrush; I eat a breakfast made from groceries I bought online. The internet is a wonderful thing for a shut-in like me.

As I approach the monster called the front door, I pick up my keys and shake off some of the dust they have been sitting in, and I pick up an enormous pair of wire cutters I have set by the entrance hall just for today. (They were part of a tool set I received a thousand Christmases ago.)

The door is powder blue on this side; I cannot remember if it's the same color on the outside. I bite my lip, arm swinging by my side as I hesitate to turn the knob.

And then I am passing through the door, as though I blacked out for the actual terrifying moment of opening the door. The dust that swirls across the road is acrid in my nose and mouth, and I cough briefly. And there, sitting facing the traffic that doesn't come, is the man across the road.

He doesn't acknowledge me, and I don't expect him to just yet. I listen carefully for cars, even knowing that this town may as well be off the map entirely, and I listen, too, for the roar of a jet engine just before it crushes me. Not that it would help me escape if I did hear it.

The road is hot under my shoes as I cross it, the red dust becoming one with every molecule of my being. Still the man does nothing, even as I reach his side of the road and stand a mere two feet away from his massive presence.

I curl fingers around the diamonds of twisted wire that sway with the breeze that creates the dust eddies, and I whisper finally, "I've come to set you free."

The man looks up.

"H-hello," I say nervously, trying to smile and managing to look strangled instead. "My name is Sasha. And I've come... I've come to set you free." The dust makes my throat so dry.

He says nothing, but I can see his eyes scanning me, little pig eyes in his fleshy face darting from my eyes to the wire cutters to my very pristine sneakers.

"The way I see it," I try to explain, "we're both outsiders in this town. We're both—"

The man is like a hurricane when he rises, surprisingly fast for a person of his bulk, his sausage fingers smashing atop mine as his face presses into the fence by mine. His splitting nails scrape the delicate skin of my hands, and then somehow his hands have passed through the fencing to grab at my shoulders, my neck, whatever he can reach. He spits when he screams.

"I AM NOT AN OUTSIDER!" he bellows. "I AM THE INSIDER, YOU ARE ALL OUTSIDERS! I AM INSIDE! YOU ARE OUTSIDE!" His teeth are broken and look like those of an aging shark, but that fact becomes very miniscule when his scabby hands find purchase around my fragile human neck. He keeps shouting, a mantra of I AM INSIDE! YOU ARE OUTSIDE! and my vision is becoming bright and too colorful, the opposite of what I had always expected of death by strangulation.

The wire cutters come to meet his face through the fencing, and although the first blow is not the strongest, it's enough to stun him. His hands withdraw, the fence acting as handcuffs, and as I gasp I swing the heavy tool again, before he can move his face away from the fence. He slumps against the fence, screaming without words now, and I hit him until the cutters come away bloody. My lungs work overtime as I back away, eyes wide. He flails his horrible baby hands at me and I hit his hands for good measure before I run back across the road.

The sound of his voice scraping his own throat raw follows me back into the house that I forgot to lock on my way out, and all the better as I duck inside. I lock it now, toss the wire cutters into the downstairs tub, and retreat to my bedroom upstairs, where I sit by the window and chew my nails down to the quick while I watch the man. He screams ceaselessly, never managing to free his hands.

The next day, when I crawl from beneath my mattress with more caution than I have ever used before, when I make my way to the window and peer out at the fencing, the man is gone. There is no hole in the fence to suggest he may have been cut out of it, and from where I sit there is not even any blood from yesterday's encounter. By the next week, the fencing vanishes overnight.

I look online for places to order toothbrushes in bulk.

June 2011

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