24

24 Incidents
by MH Rowe

The first incident took place on the gantry above the gravel walkway that Chesterton had instructed us—just the two of us—to widen in order to accommodate the new arrivals, and the second incident took place on the path next to the black ravine. Afterwards, we had to pick out the stones stained most deeply red, and that’s where Edgeby and Talcom fell screaming into the wide abyss.

“EEEE,” said Edgeby.

Talcom said the same soon after.

Chesterton asked when the shipment mentioned in the document first came to our attention. I looked at you, and you looked at me. The third incident took place right there in his office.

After that, chaos.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth incidents occurred in the mess hall before vespers, and despite the gut-sucking shrieks each involved a calculated neatness that would have horrified Chesterton had he not been swaying east, west, south, north from a glossy oak rafter.

Claudel, Forthright, and Jenn hove the bodies in the furnace room.

The rest stationed themselves one way or another in their bunks. It was night, and you and I felt like cruel stars burning in the dark.

You laughed.

By morning Kurtz and Malcolm disappeared. The seventh incident took place in a tower that overlooks the black lake, where Claudel stood and watched the eighth incident, then slowly turned and looked up to see the result of the seventh fall screaming from the tower parapet into the murk of the water below.

My eyes lit up with joy.

Our former innocence made us cunning.

In quick succession, incidents nine and ten, all told to fourteen: in the hall connecting the furnaces to the oily coal room, in the welder’s workshop, and in the old surgery in the sub-basement, where the faucets were rusted inside and gushed hot brown water that flecked its filth onto the tiled floor.

I slept in the dormitory the second night, you the third.

“What,” you said, in the middle of a dream.

It is best not to mention the fifteenth incident, but the sixteenth was committed with a fretful glee, our grins wide as church doors. Claudel made fantastic choking noises that appalled nearby birds into silence.

Our atrocities had matured.

By the time of the twentieth incident we had burned the surrounding fields to a black vegetable syrup, ash that caked your naked feet, and snuffed chemical fires inside the lab, hangar, and maintenance locker—fires I had started—while our ranks thinned to a number of lean, wild-eyed scavengers, each fearful of the predators in their midst. Some who had been quite aggressive now seemed docile and nervous.

“Now,” I said, wide-awake.

A blowtorch, a locked door: incidents twenty-one and twenty-two. The first to truly suspect you and me.

Then just us.

I went east along the corridor.

You went south to the courtyard.

I walked to the tool shop to uncoil a length of strong, black cord while you placed a strange mask over your pale, bruised face.

 

MH Rowe‘s stories have appeared in Catch & Release, The Collapsar, Black Warrior Review, Juked, Spork, and other venues. He lives in Minneapolis, and maybe you live there, too.

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