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I crawl through it, p.11
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       I Crawl Through It, p.11

           A. S. King
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  And I dial Irenic Brown’s number.

  Stanzi—Thursday Night—Hysterical Girl


  Gustav and I are still acting. He plays the part of the boy who got us lost and needs directions. I play the part of the angry, scared girlfriend who wants to call home so no one worries about me. Patricia started this. We’re just following her lead.

  They feed us scrambled eggs. Duck eggs. They feed us stale bread. They feed us homemade pickles that survived the winter.

  Gustav and I pretend to nap all afternoon because we are playing parts and we said we hadn’t slept in three days, so we figured we should be tired.

  But Gustav doesn’t sleep because Gustav never sleeps.

  I don’t sleep because Gustav isn’t sleeping.

  We lie on our sides and stare at each other. We don’t say a word, but the whole time I tell Gustav I love him in my brain and I can feel him doing the same. Then we lie on our backs and hold hands while we stare at the ceiling. I think about how Patricia wants to leave here. I think about how she told me Gustav loves me.

  I try to remember how many people I saw when I was in the dining hall. It’s like counting sheep before bed. One sheep wore wild eyeglasses. One sheep was bald. One sheep was dressed in a Sunday suit. One sheep was missing part of his ear. One sheep had a lab coat on like mine. He didn’t look like a good talker.

  Gustav wakes me up for dinner.

  “Did you sleep?” I ask.

  “Sure,” he says, but I know that means no.

  “How do you function without sleep?” I ask.

  “I sleep. Just a different way than you.”

  “I’m not hungry,” I say.

  “You’re starving,” Gustav says. “You’re really worried about calling home and letting them know you’re okay.”

  I take a deep breath.

  “You’re upset because no one has given us directions yet,” he adds.

  “I’m the hysterical girl and you’re the quiet, brooding boy.”

  “We can’t call attention to ourselves. They’ll destroy the helicopter.”

  More drills.

  Before I can say anything, Patricia knocks gently on our door and says, “It’s time for dinner.”

  There are seventeen people here. When I wonder to myself if this is everyone, Patricia nods at me. When I wonder to myself if they are all going crazy from isolation, Patricia says, inside my head, Only some of us.

  I eat as much as I can so I look the part of a hungry, lost traveler. Gustav is brilliant. He picks at his food and gains sympathy from the men, who shake their heads in solidarity as I prod him to ask them for directions to a phone to call home.

  Gary explains, “We don’t want directions. Why would any of us want to leave?”

  I wonder if it’s possible for Gary to be more smug than he already is.

  Patricia says, inside my head, Totally possible.

  I wonder, Does everyone here read minds?

  No, she says inside my head. Just me and Kenneth.

  Gary makes his smug lips form smug words. The words arrive in the atmosphere in smug word bubbles and say, smugly, “You, my dear, have found yourself in paradise and you don’t even recognize it. Imagine finding Eden and not knowing it!”

  I decide to avoid anyone who ever starts any sentence with “You, my dear” for the rest of my life.

  Patricia says, “I want to introduce you to Marvin before our walk.”

  I say, “Okay.”

  Inside my head, she says, Marvin is our biologist. I think you’d like his lab.

  When she says this, I wonder if I should take off my lab coat so I look more like the part I’m playing, but the thought of removing it makes my heart rate increase and my hands shake.

  Inside my head, Patricia says, Marvin thinks everyone is stupid. You won’t need to change your clothes.

  Marvin wants to show me his lab. He walks me around and points to things.

  Patricia sits in the corner of Marvin’s laboratory, scribbling notes of some sort. Marvin takes me to his desk and shows me drawings. He tells me he has found two new organs in the human body.


  “How what?” he asks.

  “How have you found new organs? Do you have cadavers?”

  “People have died. This is biology, no?”

  “You cut up your friends?”

  “I’m the world’s leading biologist. I can cut up whomever I please.”

  I want to tell him I’ve never heard of him, but I stay quiet as he shows me diagrams of his newfound organs. One is a small, glandular-looking thing. No bigger than a petit pois pea seed. He has it drawn between the third and fourth fingers of the right hand—between the knuckles.

  “Does it also exist on the left hand?” I ask.


  “Were all of your specimens right-handed?”


  “Are there any left-handed people here?”

  He looks at Patricia. She says, inside my head, Don’t remind him. She says aloud, “Don’t expect me to drop dead anytime soon, Marvin. Not gonna happen.”

  “It doesn’t matter which hand,” Marvin says. “What matters is what it does.”

  I look at him, waiting.

  “Do you want to guess?”


  “Why do you wear that coat and act stupid?” he asks. “You don’t think any of us really believe you got here by hiking, do you?”

  I stare at him. “What does it do?” I ask.

  “If massaged for long enough, in the correct direction, and using the correct amount of pressure, that little pea can increase sex drive up to one thousand percent.”

  “Sex drive?”

  “Yes,” Marvin says proudly. “While millions of people buy dumb little pills for billions of dollars a year, they are unaware they have their own, personal pill right there,” he says, pointing to his hand. “Right there!”

  I look at Marvin blankly.

  “So maybe you don’t care about sex drive,” he says. “But I have cures.”

  I continue to look at Marvin blankly. Patricia continues to scribble left-handed in her small notebook.

  “I’ve cured two types of cancer,” Marvin brags. “Don’t look at me like that.”

  “What cancer?” I ask.

  “Leukemia, for sure. Some lymphomas, possibly.”

  Mention of leukemia reminds me of Lansdale Cruise. She only says she has it, but she lies. There’s already a cure for lying.

  “If I was back in the real world,” Marvin says, “stuck in some tiny lab, taking orders from some idiot from pharmaceutical or government, we would never move forward. There is too much money to be made in being sick.”

  “You don’t go back?”

  Marvin laughs. His hair even laughs. I can hear tiny gray chuckles.

  “So the cure is stuck here and cancer patients are stuck there?”

  “I wouldn’t think of it as stuck.”

  Patricia hums something as she scribbles. We both look over at her. She stops humming.

  I ask, “You said you discovered two organs. What’s the other one?”

  Marvin looks at me seriously.

  “Don’t you trust me?” I ask.

  “You’re always talking about going home and calling your sister. You lied from the minute you got here. You haven’t earned my trust.”

  “I miss my sister,” I say. This is not a lie.

  “She will forget about you in time,” he says. “Everyone will. No one remembers me. No one remembers Patricia.”

  In my head I say, The bush man remembers Patricia.

  Inside my head Patricia says, The bush man?

  “You’re a genius, Stanzi. Do you know that?” Marvin asks.


  “You couldn’t be here if you weren’t one.”


  “So what is it that you do in your laboratory that’s so important?” he asks.

“I dissect things. Frogs, mostly.”

  “How quaint,” Marvin says.

  “The frogs aren’t quaint. They’re dead.”

  “You must be working on something other than dissecting frogs like a ninth-grade know-nothing.”

  Patricia tells me in my head to trust Marvin. So I tell him.

  I say, “I think there’s an organ that will relieve guilt in humans.”

  His hair stands at attention and listens to me through the frayed ends.

  “Like your sex-drive gland, I think they’re keeping it from us because—”

  “Because guilt drives the real world, my dear. Very right,” he says. “Just like sex drive. You know they still don’t teach doctors in med school what the entire clitoris looks like? When we draw our diagrams, we draw but a tiny piece of a large, fascinating organ. Like drawing the hand as a stump with no fingers. Why do you think that is?”

  I stare at him, not knowing what the answer is. Not wanting to discuss that sort of thing with Marvin.

  He says, “It’s just another way to control us, love. Especially you women. God! Let’s control the hysterical women!” His hair screams like a hysterical woman: OHMYGOD! OHMYGOD! OHMYGOD!

  Lansdale Cruise—Thursday Night—The Next Mrs.

  Everybody is gone. My friends Stanzi and Gustav crashed in a helicopter. My friend China spontaneously combusted in her own front yard. The newsman asked me to marry him after that second interview, but I said no.

  Except that nobody is gone and Stanzi and Gustav didn’t crash, and China can’t spontaneously combust because that shit is bogus. And the newsman didn’t ask me to marry him, but I said yes.

  Except I’m not sure he heard me.

  Mr. Cruise is out looking for the next Mrs. Cruise. I know this because she called the house phone earlier, very apologetic, and said she’d be late for their date. She told me to give him the message. I didn’t.

  China won’t answer her phone.

  Gustav and Stanzi have gone somewhere else, where they belong.

  I have the thirty-nine-year-old news guy’s card. It has an office number in Los Angeles. I looked up the area code of his cell number on the Internet and it’s from Ohio. I wondered why he acted so Californian. It’s because he’s from Ohio.

  He looks like he’s been eating the wrong foods. He probably hasn’t had a massage in years. He has a cheesy smile and uses too much hair product. He looks unloved. We’re made for each other.

  I burn and cut myself all night and then I take a saltwater bath.

  Except really I go to the Hilton.

  China Knowles—Thursday Night—Fuenteovejuna


  Irenic Brown’s voice is smooth—a weather forecaster on a sunny day.

  “Hello?” he says again.

  I feel myself churning through the cycle. Mouth, tongue, teeth, epiglottis, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, jejunum, ileum, cecum, colon, rectum, anus. I skip the accessory organs because they are not useful to me. I have bile. I have gall. I know my liver is in there somewhere, but right now it’s not useful to me. I have no filter.

  “That you, AJ? Are you in a bathroom?” he asks. “Sounds gross.”

  I put on a different voice. I think of Lansdale and how well she lies. I make her part of my digestive system and I stop there, in my Lansdale canal, and say, “You wanna get some? I got a girl here wants some.”

  “Stop lying, AJ. You couldn’t get a girl if you paid for one.”

  “She’s out cold, bro.”

  “Who is this?” he asks.

  “It’s easier when they’re out cold, right? Bitches fight too much.”

  “Wrong number,” he says. Then he hangs up.

  I look around my room and I plug my curling iron in. Just as it’s getting hot enough, Mom knocks on my bedroom door and tells me to come out. I want to say, Come out of what? My colon? My own mouth? Instead, I unplug the curling iron and go downstairs.

  Mom has put a bathrobe on over her black latex bodysuit and has asked her dungeon friends to leave. Dad is in bed because he has to fly somewhere else tomorrow to work. She sits me down at the kitchen table and tells me the police called her today about the bomb threats.

  “They think it’s you,” she says.

  “It’s not me.”

  “So you know who it is?” she asks.

  “It’s not anyone.”

  She sighs and takes a hit off her electronic cigarette and she looks like a robot in a bathrobe. Shiny black exterior, glowing red electric drug. “It’s got to be someone. The school isn’t sending the threats to themselves.”

  “Maybe they are,” I say. “I mean, metaphorically.”

  She looks at me and gives that worried, halfhearted smile.

  “Maybe it’s like Fuenteovejuna,” I say.

  “Fuente what?”

  “Fuenteovejuna. The play about the town in Spain? In the fourteen hundreds?”

  “What does this have to do with the police calling my house? Or you burning that nice monkey? Your father brought that home from a trip. He didn’t mean any harm.”

  “Yeah. I regret burning the monkey.”


  “Fuenteovejuna is a play, but it’s about something that happened in real life in Spain in, like, fourteen-something. There was this commander in the town and he was out of control. He attacked innocent people all the time and raped women and stuff. He was so bad that they finally, as a town, agreed to kill him and bury him.”

  “I can’t see how this relates, China.”

  “That’s because you didn’t let me tell you the end.”

  She motions for me to tell her the end.

  I say, “Someone told Isabella and Ferdinand about his murder, so they sent out the magistrate to interrogate the villagers in Fuenteovejuna. No matter how many people they tortured—men, women, and even children—everyone had the same answer about who killed the commander.”

  “And?” Mom takes another drag off the robot cigarette.

  “And they all answered the same way,” I say. “They said ‘Fuenteovejuna did it.’ ”

  “Isn’t that the name of the town?”


  “So the town killed the commander?”


  She stares at the sink, where there are two sex toys drying on the dish rack. My little sisters believe these are cooking utensils because one time she left them there until morning and we lied and told them that.

  She says, “But the town didn’t kill him, did it? The villagers were covering for the real killers, right?”

  “Depends on how you look at it,” I say.

  “So what am I supposed to say to the detective when he calls back tomorrow?”

  “You should tell him Fuenteovejuna did it. I bet he never read Lope de Vega. He’ll probably go looking for some Latino-Irish guy named Fuente O’Vejuna.”

  “It’s not funny.”

  “It’s the truth.”

  I’m a throbbing organ on legs since I heard Irenic Brown’s voice. I’m sweating. I feel like I could spontaneously combust.

  Mom says, “You’re not yourself lately.”

  I say, “Did you notice?”

  “I figured you would tell me in time.”

  “I probably will.”

  I get up as she’s taking another hit off the robot cigarette. “Us parents. We think we should do something.”

  “About what?”

  “The bomb threats.” She looks at me sideways. “Is there anything else we should do something about?”

  “Do you think I learned about Fuenteovejuna in school?”

  “I guess.”

  “Do you think the test makers know of Fuenteovejuna?”

  “What test makers?”

  “The ones sending the bomb threats. Those test makers.”

  “So you do know who’s sending the threats?”

  I stand at the doorway and sigh. “Yes.”

  “It’s the test makers?”

>   “Sure.”

  “Do you think they’re on the voice mail menu? I’d love to call and give them a piece of my mind.”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “But I’m tired and I have to go to school tomorrow. I’m going to bed.”

  When I get back to my room, I don’t plug in the curling iron. I block my number and redial Irenic Brown’s number. I wait until he answers and I make a noise like a police siren until he hangs up.

  Stanzi—Thursday Night—Genius Debriefing


  Marvin asks me where I think the missing guilt organ is. I show him the spot just at the base of my neck, above my clavicle, but near the shoulder. He presses on his and closes his eyes. I stand, waiting for him to tell me what he thinks, but he just stays that way, pressing my theoretic organ in his neck, and Patricia says, inside my head, Let’s leave him to figure it out.

  As we walk up the path I say, “But I wanted to figure it out. I wanted it to be mine.”

  “His discoveries are trapped here, like he is,” she says.

  “It’s my discovery.”

  “And you’ll take it back to the world when you leave.”

  “Leave?” I say. “Why do you keep talking about leaving? There are no departures.”

  We walk quietly for a moment.

  “So no one believes our story about hiking?” I ask.


  “There must be other ways to get here than a helicopter.”

  She smiles. “It isn’t just a helicopter. You know that.”

  “Gustav told me this place would be a hotbed of genius,” I say.

  “More like a vacuum of genius,” she says.

  I look to see if she’s joking, but she’s dead serious. I say, “Gustav said this is an invisible place. It doesn’t seem invisible to me.”

  “I feel more invisible every day I live here,” she says. “So will you.”

  I think about the drills. Patricia says in my head: Yes. Just like the drills.

  “Is that why the bush man left?”

  She laughs. “Why do you call him that?”

  “Hard to explain,” I say. “He’s a good guy, but he scares people.”

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