SURRENDER TO THE DARK WATERS
—About the book—
In a state where raving insanity often passes for political genius, the once political Ternbuckles have finally reached the bottom. Their lands are gone, the plantation home is a wreck, and the family patriarch is committed. The three children all suffer manifestations of the family curse. Delilah, who lives in a tragic Civil War past thanks to the musty journals of a long-ago ancestor, has gained a reputation for driving men mad with her songs. Paulie, the comic-book-addicted middle child, desperately wants to see a naked girl so he can draw her picture, but goes about it wrongly and is sent to a conversion therapy camp for suspected homosexuals run by a brain damaged Vietnam vet. And Cal, the autistic youngest child, clacks around the house as a robot until he absorbs the soul of a king — the leader of a extinct tribe of blond-haired cannibals whose restless bones speak to him from the earth.
In which demons appear and a miracle occurs.
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 pointing a pistol at his head. And yet there he was. He set the unloaded gun on the edge of the bathroom sink and studied his features in the mirror — the iceberg eyes of the Ternbuckles, the uncombed hair, white from birth, the wide and furrowed brow that suggested intelligence, but with a lurking brutishness behind it, and the teeth, what an anthropologist might ascribe to an archaic hominid, or even an animal. Indeed, a psychic once claimed a dog lived in his head. He’d scoffed at the time, but now wondered if she was right. It would explain many things — the lost time, the vague memories of chasing and feasting on small animals, and the even worse dreams that might not have been dreams. A priest thought demonic possession was possible, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help him as he wasn’t Catholic. A half bottle of rye whiskey hadn’t helped either. It only made things worse.
But a pistol?
That was the cure for every ailment, big or small.
He 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, which was surely enough to do the job. He slid it into a chamber, closed and spun the cylinder, and put the muzzle to his temple. Staring into the silvered glass, he called on the beast to either leave him or join him in hell, then pulled the trigger before losing his nerve. The hammer rotated back and sprung forward, violently clacking on an empty chamber, and in the mirror he saw a flicker of faces over his. The angry faces of men shouting at him. Astonished and too drunk to consider the danger, he repeated this procedure again, and then again, and both times he saw those faces. Men with beards, blue lips and geometric tattoos. Their shouts sounding like an Irish pub in an uproar.
“Shut up!” he yelled. “Just shut up and leave me alone!”
And they did, so suddenly that the silence startled him. But he knew they hadn’t left. He sensed them in the dark corners of his thoughts, trying to wrest control. Not a fair match, their iron will against his whiskey courage. He set the revolver in the sink and picked up the signet ring he’d found in his pocket as he was drawing his bath — the horror that had pushed him to the edge. Not so much the ring itself, but the severed finger inside it. Bloodless white and badly gnawed. Even the metal was scratched by teeth. He brought the finger to his nose. It smelled ... oh god, like filet mignon! Resisting the urge to eat 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 his victims clawing at his face.
No, fuck it. That would never happen.
He picked up the revolver, opened the cylinder and filled its five empty chambers. The ammo was vintage and spotted with corrosion, yet the cylinder closed easily. He considered the odds, which were now one hundred percent.
“Alright, assholes,” he said to the mirror. “Pack your bags. It’s eviction day.”
Placing the muzzle again to his temple, he squeezed his eyes shut and thought of his childhood on Prosperity Plantation. Playing with painted tin soldiers, his brother Bill Henry yelling “heads up,” then the shock of a baseball colliding with his skull. Expecting that same shock, that same sudden roaring in his ears, he pulled the trigger. Nothing. He pulled with all his strength, but heard only the honking of geese outside. He opened his eyes and saw his face in the mirror. His own face, shiny with sweat.
Dropping the toilet seat, he sat and studied the ancient Smith & Wesson. The hammer had risen to full cock and stuck there. Revolvers weren’t supposed to jam, but this one hadn’t been cleaned in a century. He swirled it through the tepid water in the tub, where it left bobbing carcasses of stink bugs in its wake. Those blasted things had infested the cabin over the winter. They’d squeeze in anywhere.
Had they died so he could live? Was this a miracle of the stink bugs that would change everything?
He tapped the gun’s cylinder against the iron rim of the tub, then held it up, pointing it at the opposite wall while again pulling the trigger. Nope, nothing doing. The cylinder wouldn’t finish its rotation, wouldn’t even open. Machines were allegedly made to serve humanity, but it was the other way around, wasn’t it? They were the masters, endlessly demanding maintenance and oil, then not performing when required. Irritated, he used his knees to clamp the handle, twisting the wet cylinder back and forth with the fingers of his right hand while gripping the barrel with his left. Light from the ceiling fixture shown down into the chambers and he could see the dull hemispheres of lead, each rimmed with water from the bath.
“Come on,” he said as his fingers slipped on the metal, “come on you stupid —”
A crunch and the hammer snapped down. Suddenly he was barking and running down a wide stone boulevard bordered by pyramids painted red by the setting sun. Two endless lines of near-naked men shook their war clubs at him, calling him a devil-thief in the language of the Aztecs. He might have wondered about that, were his brains not splattered on the wall behind him.
© 2019 Lou Dischler
Lou Dischler writing excerpts—
Surrender to the Dark Waters