May 2021

The earth was disturbed for days beforehand, but no one thought much of it until the bleeding started.

Perhaps ‘bleeding’ is too melodramatic. No one saw it oozing up, or weeping impossibly from rocks. But it was there, pooled in the largest hollow that had been torn up by forces unknown. Something seemed to be stirring it below the surface, as only a few places near the edges and in the center of nigh-invisible eddies seemed to coagulate.

The slaughterhouse smell and the spots of coagulation were enough to show it was actual blood, which is just as well, because no one would approach the hollow to investigate it any further. Even when ordered by the local authorities, excavators refused to approach it. Local drivers refused to transport anyone to the site as well, and when someone tried to collect a sample, it was destroyed in their luggage before they could leave the area.

Everyone in the area agreed that the ground bleeding was a terrible omen, a sign of punishment to come, and they feared that any attempt at study would just make things worse.

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The moments of greatest rapture and joy
Instants of pain slipped between ribs
Are both united in ephemera, brief
A candle flickers, gutters, fails
Even as the burned fingers it caused
The dazzling light it shone in the dark
Linger on, afterimage and second-degree

This post is a response to FOWC With Fantango‘s May 30, 2020 prompt, “transitory.” Many thanks to Fish of Gold for the suggestion!

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I sat at the keyboard, motionless. There was only so much time in that position, wrists arched and fingers clawed, before the familiar heat of tendinitis began to lick at my wrists. There was maybe a decade, maybe less, left of useful typing to me. It had been my intention to write and make the most of it.

But instead, nothing. Good for my wrists in the short term, I suppose, but that was about it.

“What’s the holdup?” I asked the couch behind me. I imagined a personification of some sort of creativity perched there, lounging. But it could only parrot my own words back at me.

“What’s the holdup?”

“It’s been a hell of a time,” I said. “Here I am, a white dude, and I want to write something that doesn’t fall into the pitfalls of the past. Something that is entertaining but woke, with a message for those who look for it. But it just won’t work.”

“It just won’t work?”

“Well, your firth thought it to make a protagonist that’s from an underrepresented group. But then who am I, a white cis het dude, to write that, especially if it’s at the expense of someone else? It’s paralyzing to think of all the ways I can do evil.”

What seemed like a thoughtful silence was my next answer.

“Maybe you’re right,” I sighed. “Maybe the solution, for now, is to just write about nothing. Write about writing even as it grinds my finger bones to dust.”

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Everyone on the crew made their own name. That’s how twins Towhee and Chewink got theirs, anyway. Fraternal, both twins named themselves after different spellings of the call of an elusive bird.

Like the bird, their speciality was not being seen. Despite being very shy, they were talented actors with a flair for predicting each others’ moves. They were used to case for jobs, as distractions and red herrings, and occasionally as drivers or muscle when Stony or Dice were otherwise occupied.

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Over the years, the Mississippi House Select Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has served as a dumping ground for other odd agencies that the governor has seen fit to implement.

Beginning in 1972, in response to the Bayou Chrétien UFO sighting of that year, the governor created the Mississippi Commission of the Skies, with the charge to investigate UFO, angel, and other “heavenly sightings” using the latest technology but also in consultation with local religious authorities. The Bayou Chrétien UFO case became their first case, one of only five that the Commission would investigate before its abolition in 1980.

The case files were passed on to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which, after only one month, passed them on to the University of Northern Mississippi’s archives, where they remain a popular destination for UFOlogists and devotees of the 1975 ‘Angels over the Ship Islands” incident. The last case also gained some notoriety as the Commission tried to use its investigative resources to prove that Jimmy Carter has been abducted and replaced with a “reploid” during his UFO encounter in 1969.

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On those hot, lazy days, it was often his pleasure to check a car out of the motor pool and park it. But there was an art to it; it always had to be one of the dark-colored Dodges that had come in on a government contract, with their aggressive lines and frowny grilles.

The same kind of car an undercover cop would drive, naturally.

Park it somewhere conspicuous and then relax in the summer’s sticky heat, reveling in the unspoken power that brought. People would slow down, fly straight. Ten o’clock and two o’clock. And then as soon as they were past, there went the lead foot.

He didn’t have the stamina to be a cop, but he sure had the mindset.

But in any case, it meant he was in the right place at the right time, in the afternoon near the airport, to see the object.

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Boyd flipped open his notebook. “What can you tell me about what you saw?”

“Well, Chick saw the Hound Man over by the old cabin on Cobb Hill,” Shelly Eagleton said. “Been on the property forever, but we only go out there when we want to take some of the wood for the fire or what have you.”

“Okay, you saw it out by the old cabin. Mind if I have a look?”

“Oh, no, sorry,” Shelly said. “That’s where Chick saw it. I didn’t see it at the cabin.”

Boyd ran his rock-hard eraser over his notes, smearing them into a grey smudge. “Where’d you see it, then?”

“In the basement. He was down there with a candle, reading.”

“Basement?” Boyd looked down. “Isn’t the water table a little high for that?”

“It does get damp down there, and a little moldy. I bring down a bag of kitty litter a day to take care of the worst of it, though. On account of the archive. I think that’s why the Hound Man was there.”

“Archive, huh?” Boyd said. “Tell me more.”

“Well, that might be why we reported it as evil instead of just spooky,” Shelly said. “Down in the archives, we have all the writings of the Mad Postman of Tyler. We can’t release any of them for 100 years, but when we do, it’ll be the story of a lifetime.”

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I read the sign. “Napoleon Apartments.” Looking up, I saw that they were shorter than all the surrounding housing, being single-story instead of the 2-5 stories that had sprung up in the mad dash to give students a place to live.

“Don’t say it,” the super sighed.

“Are they called the Napoleon because they’re shorter than all the other apartments?”

“No!” they snapped. “They’re called that because it’s a classy name. That bit about Napoleon being short is a myth, too! He was average height, just like these apartments were when they were built in the 80s!”

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“Avery Byck, MDE.” Avery flashed his ID, which was a City of Ridgeland police badge with the markings ground off and re-engraved by Delta Trophies in Flowood. “I’m looking for a Mr. Eagleton.”

“MDE?” the man squinted. “Mississippi Department of Education?”

“No, their badge has a ruler on it,” Byck said. “I’m here to investigate a call by a Mr. Eagleton about something evil in his woods.”

“Well, all right, but I don’t know what the Department of Education can do about it.” The man paused, then chuckled. “Maybe learn it a thing or two? Hah!”

Byck nodded. “I take you’re Mr. Eagleton, sir?”

“Bah, that name don’t suit me none. Too high-flying. People around Tyler call me me Chick. Get it?”

“People used to call me Pen after the Bic, so yes sir I do,” said Byck. “Course they were saying “Bic” wrong, but some folks think I say “pen” wrong, so it all comes out in the wash.”

“You know, I’m surprised nobody ever calls old Chick Eagleton cracked, on account of all the commotion I’m always making,” Chick laughed. “But yeah, okay. Let me take you to where I saw the Hound Man of Tyler.”

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A little bird was perched on the windowsill.

“Yes?” the scientist said, surprised but bemused. “What can I do for you my little friend?”

“Are you Carolus Linnaeus?” squeaked the tiny guest.

“That’s right.”

“I hear you’re naming all the animals in the world,” the bird said. “I’m here to make sure you give me a good one.”

“Well,” the scientist said, consulting his notes. “I had been planning on calling you muscapturum, or flycatcher. Since you and your kind catch flies.”

“You can do better.” The little bird preened, and a 10,000-kronor note fluttered to the desk.

Gingerly, the scientist plucked up the bribe, smoothed it, and slipped it into a pocket. “How does ‘tyrant’ sound to you, the tyrannidae?”

“Beautiful,” chirped the bird. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

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