The Mule
from Motherfucking Sharks

The streaked stranger showed a few days ahead of the storm, his body inked with indigenous tatts, his haul dragged by a one-eyed mule named Murm. The stranger went by Crick.

He carried a bouquet of roses ahead of him as though the flowers cast light and he traversed a dark-stained wilderness, but the sun brightened all things the moment he arrived in town. Less than a day later, the great-orange orb seemed pulled behind blankets of gangrenous flesh, dead to the world that lay prone to the flood from the rain, but when Crick appeared he had to thin his eyes at the strength of life’s shine.

He was a gentleman, Crick, and the flowers were gifts for the women of the town. Kindness was his heart, but the look of him was some strange grind of tomfoolery and horror. His beast of burden dragged a wagon, the wagon brimming with harpoons and nets, and shambling behind the rickety wooden carriage, on tethers of varying lengths, were the naked jaws of sharks, their multitudes of teeth chipping and chirping along the rocks as Murm dragged them. There was a music to it all, a sort of macabre waltz or a hysterical dirge. All percussion. All noise. Bloodcurdling. Amusing. Daffy. Absurd.

The township reluctantly welcomed him.

“What are you?” asked Mom, her skirt chalk blue and her eyes almost colorless. “You look wacky.”

Crick handed her the flowers. “For you,” he said. Then, “I’m a salesman.” Crick looked back at the mountains he’d just dragged through, over a slow, gnarled path the shape of intestines. “You got trouble coming,” he said. “Without what I’ve got,” he continued, “you don’t stand a chance.”

A stub of a man, leaning against the eave post of the porch Crick stood in the shade of, chewed some brown clot and drooled himself. “What kind of trouble we talking?” he said.

Crick smiled. “Ever been to the ocean?”

Mom motioned to a lass with yellow hair who came skipping up silent and clutched the flowers away to find them water. “Once,” Mom said, “when I was a daughter to a drunk. We drove out there in an automobile and Dad fell asleep in the sun. His skin blistered and he couldn’t sit for days. You see he was naked and on his stomach when the sleep took him. I had to rub his ass with salve.”

Crick nodded. “A sunburn is a mild malady for the ocean to bestow,” he said. “You get in the water?”

“I did,” she said. “I swam in it. The waves dragged over me, and I paddled along with them and was tossed in the currents.” She smiled. “I got a sunburn too, but I’d the good sense to keep clothes on.”

“You can’t get in the water no more,” Crick said. “It’s infested with them.”

The stubby man moved the clot from one cheek to the next with his tongue, the slurp sound of its moving the color of oysters. “Them what?” he asked.

Crick licked his lips. “When I was a boy I premonitioned it. My mom would take me to the gulf waters and have me play in the brown waves capped with white, the solution the consistency of a soup you’d never choose served to you, and the nightmares of the knowing what lurked in the murk of that non-translucent fluid filled me with terrors of violence to come upon me. Sharks,” said Crick, “motherfucking sharks. Their eyes the shape of murderer’s intentions and their mouths filled with these . . .” Crick walked to the back of his wagon, and dragged a tether from hand to hand until he’d pulled a shark jaw into his grip, and he held it aloft for Mom to see. “Teeth,” he said, “as sharp as razor blades.”

Mom eyed the jaw. “I don’t follow,” she said.

Crick clenched his free fist tight. “Motherfucking sharks,” he said.

Again the man repositioned his mouthed clot, a lurching noise like a horse hoof in mud. “Strange a man who gives flowers then speaks that word,” he dabbed brown drool from his chin, “in front of a lady.”

“Bad words seem sweet compared to what I’ve seen,” said Crick, “compared to what’s headed your way.”

Mom then stared at Crick as though his mind was awash with hallucinations. “I still,” she said, “don’t understand what threat you mean.” She shook her head. “You’ve talked about oceans and you’ve talked about sharks, but we are days from the water, and I don’t believe any of us had it in mind to travel that direction anyhow.”

“Don’t matter,” said Crick. A satchel strap lay across his chest and he tugged it so the bag rested at his waist in front of him. He reached inside, and, as he did, the drool-stained man put his hand on the butt of his revolver, but he relaxed once Crick fished out the first skull. “This,” said Crick, “was my mother.” He fished another, “This my Pa.” And another, “This my dear wife.” Another still, “This my son.” He had the four skulls rested in the crook of his left arm, cradling them against his belly so they stared out toward Mom.

She looked at them. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said, “but I’m still only confused.”

“Ha,” said Crick, “let me enlighten you,” and in saying this, he shuffled two of the skulls into his right grip, and chucked one aloft, and then the next, and his left arm did the same, which surprised Mom, you could see in her face, and the man dabbed his drool again, and his eyes went wide, and in the background the noises of doors opening and closing and steps in the street as the several dozen townsfolk amassed to watch the wicked-featured stranger, streaked with lines, juggling skulls at the center of their town and screaming his hysterical tale of death and doom and dismemberment and catastrophe.

“I am not from the coast myself,” said Crick, “I am from a valley. And it started with rain as it always does. It comes on winds that smell of blood, the storm that sweeps the motherfucking sharks from man dwelling village to man dwelling village, where they fall as . . . fall as rain, as spores in the drops, to land on the land, and emerge from the wetness,” his speech stuttering every time the juggling became labored.

“These dastardly creatures are made to kill and fit with some magic that enables their swimming through the same air, the same air we now breathe.” As he spoke, the skulls clapped Crick’s hands in the juggling, the sound of bare feet dancing on tile to despicable tunes. “They’ve an unquenchable thirst for the, unquenchable thirst for the blood of man, and had I not been in a cage when they came for us, I’d not stand in front of you now.

“I was a magician before this, practicing an escape. My wife had locked me inside a containment to be dropped into a pond. We’d been indoors for days waiting for torrential rains to abate, but the sun had, the sun had broke the storm and warmed the day for us to emerge in.

“My family watched on, anticipating my triumph at the new trick, and my son was just about to push the cage from the platform and into the waters below when the first shark sprang from the grubby puddles, its rage audible in its thrashing the atmosphere, and its wickedness like a hiss that filled your veins with fear.

“You’ve never known horror until you’ve watched your son’s arms bitten from his body by a creature you felt certain could only exist in your imagination, and felt the warmth of his red blood spray your skin as you rattled inside a cage incapable of coming to his aid.”

Crick’s juggling ceased, as he caught his son’s skull in his right hand, held it aloft for the onlookers to ogle, and he cradled the other three skulls in his left arm.

“He screamed, ‘Daddy!’ his eyes wide, his upper half limbless, his skin paling as his life flooded from where his arms had once been.” The juggling resumed. “And I forgot. Forgot all my tricks. Inside that cage, even at the bottom of the pond, I knew to take the ferreted key from my waistband and calmly unlock the containment, but faced that way with the, faced that way with the murder of my loves, I merely clenched my fists around those black-iron bars and pulled wildly, watching as my wife,” again the juggling ceased, the wife’s skull now on display above Crick, “had her tummy severed in one great chomp, her guts spilling from her like confetti that she tried to pack back into the place they’d once been, but of course that was useless.” Again he juggled. “She heaped about in the gore as a multitude of mako sharks descended upon her, hiding their ravenous feeding from my eyes with their fins, bodies and tales.

“But my mother,” the juggling stopped as the mother’s skull was displayed, “was a quick bite for a great white,” Crick juggled, “and I watched the whole of her disappear feet first into that giant monster, her face drawn into a blood-colored scream as he chomped down, and she screamed for my father,” the father’s skull was now showed its reverence as the juggling ceased, “who himself was taken by four hammerheads, each beast grabbing their own limb,” the skulls were sent around, “and going in their own, going in their own direction, and he burst as a water filled balloon may, the goop that filled him heaving from force in all directions as I cowered in my cage, closing my eyes as tight as I could to those horrors and plugging my ears with my fingers.”

Crick stopped altogether and put the skulls back in his satchel. “Seemed to take an eternity for those sharks to give up on eating me. They rammed their heads into my cage and snarled their snarls until the sun dried them up again as vapor, and the storm that housed them moved along.” Crick looked at the crowd of shocked faces. Then he pointed at the mountains in the distance. “That same storm is just on the other side of those peaks,” he said. “Those same motherfucking sharks are coming for you,” he said, and he pointed his right index finger at each individual in his presence.

The man who chewed the clot pulled it from his mouth and flung it to the ground, and it dragged like a comet through the dirt road, leaving a trail of brown yuck in its wake. He looked about from man to man in the crowd, each of their eyes laboring knowingly toward his own.

He nodded gently.

He gave the signal.

They descended upon Crick, driving him to the earth and pulling his arms behind his back, and he could only fight feebly as they cuffed him.

They stood him up.

“Sorry for this,” Mom said to him. “But here, we lock the crazies away.”

The men of the town dragged Crick toward the jailhouse, his legs kicking as his body scuffed over the street, the dirt dusting his pant legs which drew forward against their will.

“You’ll regret,” he screamed as they arrested him, “you’ll regret what,” he screamed, “you’ll regret what you’ve done.”

The man packed a fresh chew and chewed it into place. He looked at Mom. “The mule?” he said.

Mom looked at Murm, at his single eye and ragged body. “Doesn’t look like a working mule,” she said. “I suppose,” she continued, “we should down him.”

The man eyed the mule as well, and he nodded thoughtfully showing approval. “Fair enough,” said the man. Then he gave another signal.

Two odd looking brothers came to take the mule away.  

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