SURRENDER TO THE DARK WATERS
Dog days on Rabbit Island.
Mercury C. Ternbuckle wasn’t depressed, wasn’t bankrupt, hadn’t been spurned by a lover or cuckolded by a wife. He had none of the usual motives for eating his gun. And yet there he was with the barrel in his mouth. What a sad finale, he thought as he studied himself in the bathroom mirror. Not that he disliked the look. The dark metal accentuated his pale, watery eyes; his disordered hair, white from birth; and his wide and furrowed brow that suggested intelligence but generally didn’t deliver it. And the teeth, of course, what an anthropologist might ascribe to an archaic hominid, or even an animal.
He didn’t smile much because of those teeth.
A carnival psychic once claimed a dog lived in his head. An enormous, raven-haired hound. He’d scoffed at the time, but now wondered if she was right. It would explain the episodes of missing time, the hazy memories of chasing and feasting on small animals, and the even worse dreams that might not have been dreams. He thought of the now-burned timeline where he’d marked his most worrying gaps in blue and subsequent news stories of missing locals in red. Six gaps and six missing, separated by an average of six days. Six-six-six, the number of the beast. A local priest said he couldn’t help, claiming it took special training to deal with possessions. A bottle of rye whiskey hadn’t helped either. It only made the Rabbit Island heat even more oppressive.
But a pistol?
That was Southern comfort for every ailment.
He lowered it, opened the cylinder and took a cartridge from the box on the ledge behind the sink. Rolling it on his palm, he felt its substantial weight, more than enough for the job. He slid it into a chamber, closed and spun the cylinder, and again put the muzzle in his mouth. Staring into the mirror, he breathed deeply, then pulled the trigger before he could lose his nerve. The hammer rotated back and sprang forward, clacking on an empty chamber, and in the corroded mirror he saw an enormous black dog gnawing on a hunk of flesh. He blinked and it was gone. From outside came barking, like a kennel in an uproar. A pack of wild dogs had invaded the area days before, what Sam Trash called Dixie Dingoes.
“If they eat my cats,” Trash had said, “I’ll fuckin kill em.” Trash had a lot of cats.
Now Ternbuckle pointed the gun at the window and shouted, “Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!”
The barking died away, but now he heard them under the floorboards. Scuffling and snarling. He looked down, noticing dark shapes moving in the cracks. And he noticed the bulge over his right thigh, the fabric of his chinos stained with dark spots.
What the hell?
He set the revolver in the sink, then touched a spot. Rubbing his fingers together, they felt sticky. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring. A heavy school ring inlaid with a blue stone and the words Chinaberry High School around it. And inside the ring was the owner’s finger. Moss gray and unusually large, with a well-groomed nail. He studied it while leaning against the wall, for he was feeling vertiginous, then brought it to his nose. It smelled like — oh god! — like steak! Like filet mignon! Resisting a sudden urge to lick it, he flicked it in the toilet and flushed it away.
This couldn’t go on. He’d be caught and charged with murder and cannibalism, and how could he defend himself? He imagined the national sensation: this scion of a political family paraded before a howling crowd, cameras flashing, relatives of the missing clawing at his face.
No wonder he wrote that damn book, someone would cry. He’s one of em!
No, fuck it. That would never happen.
He picked up the revolver, opened the cylinder and filled its five empty chambers. This took a while as his fingers were numbed by whiskey and the ammo spotted with corrosion. The cylinder creaked as he forced it closed. He considered the odds, which were now one hundred percent.
“Last words?” he asked himself.
He’d always thought he’d have something pithy to say at the end. Like Samson’s Let me die with the Philistines. But who would hear it? Just those dingoes under the cabin...
© 2020 Lou Dischler