It was all over the news. Skull fragments got discovered on Jimmy Wallace’s land during a septic dig. Just a few chips turned up, no bigger than the tokens Jimmy dishes out at the carousel he runs, but rumors cantered across town faster than you could say ex-wife.
The cops quashed the rumors though, saying it was probably a native skull, an archaeological or anthropological thing. They cordoned off Jimmy’s property with yellow tape and erected floodlights and stood with their thumbs hooked in their belts and their feet splayed like sentries at the portal to some savage place in our distant past.
If true they were native skull bits, it would be a ginormous relief to me and Carl Clancy. He and I had in fact interred a body back there, a kid we’d killed by accident one time when were high as banners. Carl was at the wheel—ka-thump—kid on a kick-scooter went under us. You wouldn’t expect the jeep to lurch and list on such a tiny body, but that soft skin and rich blood nearly diverted our trajectory into the oak at the bend of Rattlecan Corner. It happened the night of the fireworks and traffic vehicular and bodily was heavy, so we tarped up the boy and stuck him temporarily in the vast expanse of dirt between Jimmy’s garage and the marsh, a soft place with decades of old leaves and centuries of bent nails and eons of broken-up roots. Six months later, after the hubbub of the boy’s disappearance died down, we dragged the body to the cliffs and tossed it into the sea for the birds and fishes to particularize. Whether we spilled some head parts I don’t know but it seems like a true possibility if I get to pondering it. That was three years back.
Now, after two days of drinking and furious puking of the sort that makes your brow feel like it’s been substituting for a rock sledge, I slink down to the carousel where Jimmy works and strike up a friendly chat to get the lay of the land, almost literally.
Despite the notion that unsettled souls are haunting his land, he’s doing fine, distracted by business. The carousel downright hops all summer on account of the horses having real hair and being the oldest in the country. Look in them horses’ eyes and you’ll see gems and figurines and such but the carousel animals don’t bounce, just whirl in a lazy circle. Catch that brass ring though, you get a free ride. People love it, being simpletons and lovers of glimmering novelty, and Jimmy makes a killing running the place for some overseas consortium. Also, they’s got lots of arcade games in the annex.
“Now they’re thinkin’ there’s a whole village deep down,” Jimmy says, rocking on the heels of his ugly but comfortable looking shoes while jiggling the two pounds of change he keeps in his pockets. I don’t full-on hate the guy, but there’s something about him that makes me wonder if he ever got laid in his life. He’s that tense and under-socialized.
“A village, you say.”
He snorts his wet, god-awful snort, indicating he thinks something idiotic just been said. “Either a horde of natives got kill’t or someone’s been a-dumpin’ bodies there for years.”
“Huh—that’s—a thing to contemplate about.”
After that I hit the paddles on Galaxy War but don’t even come close to beating Fred Sutton’s high score, then head over to the construction site where Carl Clancy gets paid to clean up wayward nails and Tyvek sheets and the other shit the carpenters chuck off the roofs. Soon as Carl sees me coming though, he gets twitchy and his eyeballs do that shaky thing.
“Who else been a-dumpin’ there?” I ask.
“I mean, fuck. Years back my grandpa and Josiah Pundt used to rob the natives of they’s liquor and car parts and sometimes it got ugly.”
Now Carl is all but dancing but not the kind that’d make a gal jiggly and wet. “Shit, man. Your dad. My dad.”
I rub my jaw. “I suppose that’s a good thing. They call it possible deniability or something like that.”
His eyeballs take to quivering again, flitting back and forth like a hummingbird on fermented nectar. “Only problem is—”
“Spit it out before I yank it out, Carl.”
“Garrett Simms is on the case.”
At that name my skin prickles. There’s only one person on Earth I hate more than God himself and that’s Garrett Simms. “What in the hell for? He’s just a regular ol’ street pig.”
“Naw, he got up-moted to detective. It was in the newspaper and everything.”
“Goddamn it, Carl.”
“Ain’t my fault.”
“We got to do something about this.”
“Such as what?”
“We got to mess up the dig zone. You still got them deer skulls?”
The next day I call in sick and park my van a short ways from Jimmy’s house and sit there drinking joe after joe until my balls are sore to the touch. I take frequent pisses into a jug but I don’t sleep none and my eyes don’t droop and I watch the pits like it’s my dharma. All the while my mind drifts tither and yon and I think of the times Garrett Simms pulled down my pants in the locker room or pinned me down so kids could slap my calves with wet rags and of course when he full-on grabbed my cock in the group showers.
Around noon a team comes in to sweep at Jimmy’s dirt with toothbrushes and blowers. Sure enough the devil Simms himself pulls up in an unmarked car. It’s nothing fancy but his suit looks tailored. He’s still fit and handsome but you put a turd in a shiny pouch, it’s still fecal and liable to smear everything it touches. He and the other pigs have gridded out the dirt and cordoned it off with yellow tape but them forensic types have only dug a foot deep, or so my binoculars tell me.
News reporters hover. A hearse appears but no one gets in or out and then it leaves.
Garrett and the other cops stand there chatting until evening and Jimmy brings them cold ones. He’s an authority sycophant. A termite with skin. You ever seen what a tire does to a human skull? They’s eyes leap out as if trying to see who just done this. Man, what’d I’d pay to get Jimmy and Garrett laying crown-to-crown in the road.
When dark plummets for good and Jimmy’s acreage goes still for the night, I slide out the back door of the van and wander over and stand at the rim of the pits a good while, thinking about the blacktop that led me to such a moment and the options that could steer me away from it. Then I notice the cooler’s still there, half-filled with ice, and a few of Jimmy’s brewskis are bobbing in it like overboard sailors. His home brew is probably the best in town and after all the coffee I’ve been swilling I get a hankering for something smooth. So I have one, then a second. It doesn’t take long before the happies set in and my limbs start to float. Because my gut is empty things go sideways on the third. The bottle slips from my hand and the pit starts to shift, sliding here and there until it’s all around me and I feel like I’m last in line to receive communion and the whole congregation is staring at me. A second later the air goes cold with a sharp rush of wind. A shovel or something of its ilk ker-klonks me on the brainpan and instantly my knees puss out. My body goes snaky in response and down I go, right into the dig pits.
Things invert a moment. Sound changes, like I’m at the bottom of the swimming hole. My head lolls around of its own accord and when my vision returns I see stars above me, only they’re all spinny, going round and round like the lights above the carousel. Then I see the horses up in the sky. I see myself too but I’m not alone—the kid we killed is on the horse ahead of me and we’re both reaching for the brass ring. He misses it and I feel bad, so I miss it on purpose too and we both lose out on the free ride.
My head bobs in the other direction and I see a figure slinking about in the pits. They’s got on a bandanna and a clever hat so his identity is lost to me. He comes closer, bearing down on me like an ugly angel, jabbing at the soil with the shovel, and each time the blade hits a rock all I can think is that the sparks look like fireflies.