Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

The Final Ascent In Little Aleppo

Werewolfs don’t growl so much as rumble sharply. There are subsonics and hyperpitches in the snarl that your body and brain feels without your ears hearing them: it hits you in the chest and in the amygdala, thick and sloppy. A werewolf’s growl is a Last Sound. The rattle of a snake, the rush of a wall of water, the FWOOMP of the sudden ignition: the Last Sound. Tires screeching, and sudden footsteps behind you: the Last Sound. Your cerebral cortex is the newest part of you, the weakest part of you. It’s the part that cares about fashion, and goes to philosophy class. Your cerebral cortex invented agriculture, and church, too. Your cerebral cortex forgets it’s installed into an animal, but the amygdala never does. Fuck, fight, feed, or flee: that’s all the amygdala does.

Flee, Sidney Shines’ amygdala told him. His cerebral cortex answered that his body was drugged and trussed up in the empty living room of a rented house on Bailey Street. Under the window, there was a rifle with a silencer the size of a human femur attached to the barrel, and a thick scope screwed to the top. The carpet was gray, except directly under Sidney, where it was dark, wet gray. He was propped up against the wall opposite the window with his hands cuffed behind his back, and his legs duct-taped together straight out in front of him. There was a nurse on his left, and a werewolf on his right.

Sidney had had a plan. Smoke ’em out, he figured. Seal off the back door of the cottage, set a fire, wait for the meat and the wife to come out the front, shoot the meat, shoot the wife, drive the van out of the garage, throw the meat and the wife in, shoot them both a couple more times for good measure, drive away, make sure he wasn’t followed, head to his shop, clean the meat and the wife, go to the restaurant with no name, re-negotiate the deal now that the wife was included, count his money.

It was a terrible plan.

Not because silencers only made rifles slightly less than the loudest thing in the world, and not because the silver bullets Sidney had commissioned were soft and certainly wouldn’t fly right, and not because werewolfs weigh around 600 pounds which means you can’t just “throw them in” the van, and not because there were at least a dozen houses with a clear line-of-sight to his sniper’s perch, but because during the very first part–setting the incendiaries for the “smoke ’em out” section of the plan–Sidney had completely neglected to look the fuck around, and not noticed Capolina Gardner. She had been squatting in the bushes of the house that shared a backyard plot with her cottage, but she was not a spy or a hunter and so was noticeable were you paying attention. Sidney was not paying attention. His attention was on his payment. Sidney saw Harry Gardner’s head through the window. There was a timer on the bomb that Sidney attached to the back door of the cottage, and he wedged shut the jamb with wooden chocks and super-glued the lock and hinges. Capolina followed him back to the house across Bailey Street with the good line-of-sight that he was renting. She looped around back, a big circle, and then she was peering out from behind the Teitelbaum’s house opposite Sidney’s perch, and she saw the flash of the rifle and the glint off the scope, and she made another big loop to the back of their cottage, where she whistled for Harry. He popped his head out the kitchen window.

“I know where he is.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, baby. There’s a bomb on the house.”

“Oh, shit,” Harry said, and popped his head right back inside.

It’s easy enough to make thermite. Mix some aluminum powder with some iron oxide powder. Utterly stable unless ignited, and the flash point is high enough so it’s hard to light by accident. Burns at around 2500 degrees. Coffee can will do for a bomb casing. You can make a timer from a travel alarm clock, and a detonator from a couple buck’s worth of magnesium. It’s easy enough to make a bomb.

She was still in her dark-blue scrubs, and still had her hair back in her work ponytail, even though she had not actually clocked in at St. Agatha’s that morning, just let Sidney Shines follow her and Harry down the Main Drag to the Victory Diner, and then to the hospital. He kissed her in front of the sliding doors under the brickwork that read Quid hoc fecisti, ut tibi? and ambled north. It was the toughest amble of his life, and Harry was an excellent ambler. He could also mosey and bop along. He was duck-footed unless he concentrated, which he was doing because he was trying really hard to look casual and not like he knew he was being followed.

Which he was, of course, and behind Sidney was Capolina, who had exactly as much experience with following people as Harry did in being followed. The movies make this look like more fun, Capolina thought. This was not fun at all, this spying and sneaking. It was no fun at all to be prey, and she suddenly understood why deer always looked so tense. She stayed a block behind, and then took a shortcut through little Plummer Park and alongside houses until she was well-hidden in a bush on the backyard behind their own, and that’s where she waited for not too long before Sidney showed up with his incendiary device, and then she followed him back to his nest, and then back to Harry, who was now peaking gingerly out the kitchen window.

It was a little before noon.

“Why is he trying to blow us up? I thought he wanted to eat me. No one hunts with explosives.”

“He’s not. I think he wants to smoke you out the front way,” Capolina said from the backyard. She was standing on the cement patio; the tiling was crapped out. There were two wooden steps up to the backdoor, which did not have a screen. There was a tee-shaped metal rack for hanging wet laundry that they did not use and Harry had been meaning to take down since they moved in.

Harry thought about that and said,

“In the front yard?”

“Yeah, uh-huh.”

“Won’t everyone on the street be outside because of the explosion?”

“Probably,” she said.

Harry thought about that and said,

“It’s not a great plan.”

She walked up right under his window and got up on her toes, and he leaned out, and they kissed.

“I think he’s as new to this as we are.”

“Even for a beginner, it’s a mess.”

She kissed him again. The blood was starting to rush to his head.

“God only gives us what can handle. And apparently all we can handle is a complete idiot.”

“We’re not out of this yet,” he said. “We could still totally blow it.”

They kissed one last time, and Capolina said,

“We could. Speaking of blowing things, can you grab me a knife, baby?”

“Why do you need a knife?”

The coffee can full of thermite was duct-taped to the door.

“I’m gonna take the bomb off our house, baby.”

“Yeah, okay.”

She did, and then Harry handed her a big spoon because they did not own a shovel, and she dug a hole for the coffee can with the flapping duct-tape, and buried it within. The door’s lock was glued shut, so he grabbed her hand and pulled her in through the window. They both fell over, and they were so nervous that they fucked on the kitchen floor without taking their clothes off. Capolina had to concentrate, but she came. Harry didn’t have to try to cum, he just did, and then did not roll off of her, he lay there with his weight on her on the yellow and white tiled floor. It was just after noon, but all the curtains were pulled tight in their one-bedroom cottage with the living room up front and the kitchen in the back, and it was dim and quiet and there was their breath together and nothing much else, nothing much else at all except the guy down the street with the sniper rifle.

Cannot Swim loaded his rifle. The sun was a squinch past directly overhead, and he and Easy Life had made good progress up the third of the chain of seven mountains that formed the easternmost barrier of the Pulaski’s world just as surely as the harbor on the west did. The ground was still muddy from the rains of the previous day, but it was firm and did not play tricks. The two had started out just after dawn from the base, and now they were about a fifth of the way up.

The Whites who would come to live in the valley named the seven mountains the Segovian Hills, but only because it sounded good. A hill is a rolling lump, a bumpy hump, you sled down it come winter. Wildflowers grow in the grass on hills, and teenagers lay hand-in-hand falling in love with each other, the world, love itself. A hill is an earthen buttock: you grab it, you treasure it, you take comfort in its plumpness. The Segovian Hills were not hills, at all. They were fucking mountains.

Rock and dirt, alternating with no pattern, and steep gave way suddenly to sheer, and the peak was out of view if you got too close to it: you can only see a mountain if you’re nowhere near it. Otherwise, you’re lost in the trees–there were trees fucking everywhere–which blot your view after a few hundred feet, as do the rises and drops and craggy faces that have eroded away into boulder prayers, and you can gain no vantage. They took the straightest path they could manage. When they went through a wood, Cannot Swim lead. When they went through the brush, Easy Life plowed a trail through, and also ate some of the brush.

The Pulaski did not go into the hills unless they had a very good reason, and there were only two: death and mushrooms.

There was only one trail blazed in any of the seven hills when the Pulaski occupied the valley. The fourth mountain was the tallest mountain, and therefore it was the holiest. There was a plateau about a quarter of the way up with an easy, sloping path to it. The grass and bramble had long ago been tramped down into dead dirt. The body was wrapped in a deerskin shroud with a fox embroidered on it, and it was carried by the strongest member of the immediate family. The highland was flat and faced south towards the hunting fields, and there was a boulder sticking up from the grass a little off-center. The stone was half-buried, and what was above ground was wedge-shaped like a sedimentary doorstop.

The body is laid upon the rock. They say the names of the dead one last time, and then never again. The shroud is unwrapped and removed, and the body is naked upon the rock. On the way back down, a song about The Turtle Who Was And Will Be Again is sung. The Turtle used to control every human like a marionette, and since The Turtle was perfect and good, so humans were perfect and good. One day, The Turtle would retake his place at the junction of the universe, and take over once more, and man would live through his command, and sin no more. But The Turtle was not in charge at present. The song’s lyrics don’t translate directly to English, but the gist was Come back, Turtle, but not today. Or tomorrow.

And then the father, mother, child, human, is meat. Pumas from two hills over smell it, and so do the black bears and grizzly, but the crow and the magpie get there first and they go for the eyes and lips and genitals–the soft parts–which they wrench loose from the capturing flesh and throw back their toothless mouths and swallow whole before the king of the hills arrives, and even the condors step back.

In the Pulaski language, the hills were called There are squatch up there; Jesus Christ, don’t ever go up there. It sounded prettier in Pulaski.

They were not ten feet tall, and could not cover a hundred yards in five seconds, and they were not possessed of any magick at all–their eyes were not mesmers; they could not shift their shapes–and they did not hurl boulders like Poseidon’s bastard child, and they did not move in silence. Cannot Swim had been told these stories as a child.

“All those stories were bullshit,” Shoots With Wrong Hand told him when he was 12.

“Then why did you tell them to me?”

“To make sure you stayed out of the hills.”

“Anything else you lied to me about?”

They were a quarter of the way up what the Whites would name Mt. Chastity, but the Pulaski had no individual name for. To name something was to give it power, and the mountains had quite enough power, thank you, the Pulaski thought. A plateau, small, and covered with waist-high brush. Cannot Swim’s father cradled his loaded rifle in the crook of his right arm, and kept his hand wrapped around the stock, but his finger off the trigger. He spun around slowly while they talked, scanning his surroundings. Cannot Swim did not have a rifle, but he rotated, too.

“No monsters in the harbor.”


“There’s weird fish. But no monsters. We just tell the children that to keep them out of the water. There’s currents in there that’ll pull you right under.”

“Next you’ll tell me that Here And There is just a lady who knows some conjuring tricks.”

“Oh, shit, no. She’s a real shaman. Stay the fuck away from her.”

“I do!”

“But if you can’t avoid her, be polite,” Shoots With Wrong Hand said. “She knows real magick. Good and bad.”

Cannot Swim was 12, so he was not supposed to chew the peregrine leaf, but his father gave him one; they both rolled the leaves and popped them in their mouths, and then they looked around the plateau some more.

“She’s my cousin, right?”

“Here And There?”

“Yeah,” Cannot Swim said.

“On your mother’s side. Twice-removed, I think. Maybe once. I don’t know: she’s kinda your cousin. One day, I’ll tell you how she got to be the shaman.”

“Tell me now.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Tell me!”

Shoots With Wrong Hand was still taller than his son, and his ponytail whipped around as his head did. Cannot Swim lowered his eyes.


“Don’t look at the ground. Pay attention. Everything outside the village is dangerous, and you have to pay attention.”

Harry Gardner kept his eyes on the sidewalk, and told himself he was safe. West on Bailey, and he had his hands in his pockets and then out and then in. Which was more casual? he thought. Definitely not inserting and withdrawing them nine times a minute. Stop doing that. Just walk casual. Walk like you usually walk. How the fuck do I usually walk? he thought, and now Harry was consciously herky-jerking his legs forward. The sun was going down, and he turned south on the Main Drag. Sidney Shines was behind him, and then hidden as Harry picked up Capolina from in front of the hospital (where she had run to after sneaking out the back window of their cottage not a half-hour before), and the couple retraced his steps, back north up the Main Drag with a canvas shoulder bag bearing rock band buttons under her arm, and then into their house and straight through to the back window (which had a ladder leaning up against it by now) and a big loop to around back of the house that Sidney was camped out in.

It was still unlocked.

The house was carpeted, and he did not hear Capolina coming. One of the syringes in the shoulder bag was full of midazolam, and then the syringe was empty and Sidney Shines was full of midazolam. He was sitting in a metal folding chair by the open window, he had his rifle, he had his scope, and he tried to turn around, but the stock of the gun got tangled in the curtains–olive green–and he spat out “You bitch” and then he slumped to the floor. He made almost no noise. This is great carpet, Capolina thought. We should get carpet.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Harry said.

“Jesus!” she leapt in fear, as she was all amped up on adrenaline and had not heard him come up behind her. This is unbelievable fucking carpet, she thought. It was muted red, like black cherry, and wall-to-wall.

Harry had her canvas bag, and he took out a pair of handcuffs that had been purchased for sexual purposes, used once, and left in the nightstand drawer. Sidney’s flat cap had fallen off his head, and straggly strands of dyed hair were loose and floating around his head like a nimbus. Capolina probed her index and middle finger up into his carotid under the jaw, and then she took the bag from Harry, kissed him, and dug around for a stethoscope.

She listened at his chest.

“He’s alive.”


Harry was squatting next to her, and squinched up his face in confusion.

“Was that in question?”

“I didn’t know how much he weighed,” Capolina said. “I had to guess how much sleeping potion to use. I guessed right, I guess.”

And he had tears in his eyes, and he said,

“I don’t like any of this.”

And then she did, too, and she said,

“But you love me?”


“Then we can get through this. All marriages have rough patches.”


“Now help me hogtie this fat fuck. Quick.”

Bailey Street was almost fully dark, and purples had given way to black, and the full moon was almost sovereign. There were no lights on at all in the rented house, and all three faces were in shadow. Arms behind the back. Duct-tape around the ankles, and the knees, too. They rolled him–it was easier than dragging–to the back wall of the living room, and then taped him to the wall. He was sitting up with his bound legs in front of him.

“I’m gonna go in the bedroom,” Harry said, kicking off his shoes, and Capolina kissed him quick, He walked down the hall, shedding clothes as he went. She shut the olive-green curtains and sat cross-legged next to Sidney, who was snoring loudly. She inventoried her shoulder-bag. Eight IV needles, full and labeled. Length of surgical rubber, blue, for use as tourniquet. Antiseptic wipes. Scalpel. Pliers. Suture kit. Towels. Large-bore syringe used to drain abscesses and knees. Kidney-shaped metal pan. Notebook. Two blue ballpoint pens, one black sharpie marker. Battery-powered tape recorder with a built-in microphone. A Polaroid camera, a Supercolor with a built-in flash, and enough film for seven pictures.

A metal icon the size of a dime, but oval, with a stamped woman holding a tray bearing her severed breasts, and around her was the inscription PRAY FOR US, ST. AGATHA. Capolina was not a Catholic. She had been raised either Presbyterian or Episcopalian, she couldn’t remember, and now she and Harry attended the First Church of the Infinite Christ semi-kinda-regularly. Most of the nurses and doctors at St. Agatha’s weren’t Catholic. Most of them carried the medallion with them all the time.

And then the sound of breaking bones from the bedroom, and a muttered howl; Capolina concentrated on her supplies because she would not cry this month, so she concentrated on her supplies, and then wondered how much the carpet cost, and then he was there over her shoulder, 600 pounds and bristly black fanged nightmare with a bare, wrinkled muzzle the size of a rugby ball; no separation at all between the pupil and iris, and the ears were furry and gray-skinned and pointy, and the skull is wide under the eyes and the brow is too thick. A werewolf doesn’t look anything like a wolf.

She hugged him around his muscled neck.

“Hi, baby.”


She recoiled.

“You don’t have anything to eat. Oh, no, baby. You don’t have any food.”

Turning into a werewolf was hungry business, and Harry was now desperately hungry, but he bobbled his head as if to say that it was no big deal.

“It is a big deal, baby. You have to eat.”


“I’m gonna run back to the house and get you something, okay? Watch the asshole.”

Harry looked at the taped-up Sidney, growled.

“Don’t eat him.”


She walked to the front door, and Harry went,


She stopped.

“I should go out the back door.”


She did, and he settled down facing Sidney Shines. The carpet really was a dream.

Skyway Drive is the road that connects the valley to Pulaski Peak. The speed record was 11:03, set in 1983 by Jumping Jack Bruce in a modded-out Volkswagen Beetle, one of the suckers with the engine sticking out the back and plumped-up tires. It was black except for the hood, which had Jumping Jack’s smiling face painted on. The switchback a quarter of the way up has been called The Jumping Jack since 1984, and the hood with his air-brushed face is still screwed into the rock-face, and he still has fans that keep up the wooden cross implanted into the tiny line of dirt in between the road and mountain. You’re not allowed to set speed records on Skyway Drive anymore, but teenagers still do. There are crosses all up and down Skyway Drive.

“It’s almost like you’re not supposed to go up here,” Lower Montana said.

She said that years ago. Decades. Flower Childs looked around the Mustang; she could hear Lower’s voice echoing. Just her and the dog and the axe. It was one of their first dates. Lower was still living with Manfred Pierce, and Flower was at Harper College. She had a ’61 Ford Starliner, which was rusting and missing the backseat. Just bare chassis back there. It didn’t leak oil, but it did burn oil, so Flower had to put in a fresh quart every time she filled up, plus the radiator had the stamina of a chain-smoking leper, so the car was exclusively for use in-town.

Flower picked her up at Manfred’s place on Fantic Street. He had gone to the Wayside; it was almost 7 pm. She beeped the horn, and Lower–who had been waiting at the window–ran out, locking the door behind her, and she wanted to kiss Flower through the window, leaning in from the curb, but she didn’t. The car had a fastback roof and the light inside was not on, so Lower kissed her when she got in.

They went to Yung Man’s and had shrimp fried rice and lo mein, and they discussed becoming vegetarians and Manfred Pierce. Lower Montana had told him that she was going to be studying for an English test. They were reading The Iliad, which Lower was fairly certain had not been written in English, but she was still responsible for the first few chapters. She was not studying, though. She was eating Chinese food on the Downside with her girlfriend. At least, I hope she’s my girlfriend, Lower thought as she sipped her over-sweetened tea in the cup with a handle too small to use. I’d like her to be my girlfriend.

But she didn’t want to lie to Manfred–he had put her up when her parents had thrown her out–and she also wanted his blessing, because she was only sixteen and wanted an adult to tell her she was doing the right thing. Flower liked Manfred an awful lot, but truly didn’t give a fuck what he thought of her; she cared about Lower, though, and so they drove over to the Wayside Inn after dinner.

“I thought you were studying for a test,” Manfred said to Lower when they walked in.

“I lied. I’m sorry. But I do know the book,” she said.

“Who is Patrocles?”

“Achilles’ boyfriend.”

“You passed the test,” he said, and flashed a row of neat, white teeth. His mustache was still firmly brown.

“I’m on a date. I’m sorry.”

Manfred got Flower Childs a bottle of Arrow, popped the top off, set it down atop a cardboard coaster, said to her,


Flower smiled and drank her beer, and Manfred made the sign of the cross towards them and said,

“You walk with the Lord. Go forth and do whatever the hell it is lesbians do to each other.”

Flower smiled some more and said,

“If you’re confused, we’ll let you watch.”

He made a face like he was gagging and said,

“You know I love you, but it’s all slimy and weird down there. No thank you.”

She only had half the beer. Of all the things to remember, she remembered that. She set the bottle down on the cardboard coaster on the bar when it was half-full, and then they left. No one wore seatbelts then, and the Starliner didn’t have any, anyway, so Lower sat all the way across the bench seat right next to Flower Childs, who draped her right arm over Lower and held her tight as the ruined V8 chugged and puttered up Skyway Drive and past all the wooden crosses implanted in the tiny line of dirt between the road and the mountain.

“It’s almost like you’re not supposed to go up here,” Lower Montana said so many years ago.

They sat on a bench telling each other their life stories, and then Lower looked to make sure no one was looking, and no one was so she kissed Flower because she wanted her to be her girlfriend, and then they were. Flower moved out of the dorm the next week into a one-bedroom apartment on Hebrides Way, and Lower moved out of Manfred’s and they had slept in the same bed every night ever since.

Flower Childs wanted to be in her bed. She wanted to be in their bed. She did not want to be on a mountain with a monster. She hoped she would see their bed again.

Capolina had made Harry a meatloaf. She loved him, so she made him a meatloaf. It was his mother’s recipe, and he always pretended like she got it exactly right. Capolina had meant to make Harry a few gallons of mashed potatoes, too, but had forgotten. He didn’t mind: the raw potatoes were just fine. He chomped them back into his enormous mouth and RONCH RONCH made short work of them with his teeth the size of half-dollars. The meatloaf went in three bites, and his massive tongue searched all over his muzzle for crumbs. Capolina watched him eat, and it made her happy. Love was not an emotion, she thought: it was an expression.

“I got a bag of pretzels, too, but they’re for later.”


“I said: later.”


Harry smelled something, something had changed in the taped-up, cuffed-up, would-be butcher in front of them, and he leaned back on his haunches and his hackles started hackling, and his black lips pulled back from his terrible teeth. Sidney Shines fluttered his eyes open, and Capolina leapt to her feet with the Polaroid Supercolor camera with the built-in flash. It went PTCHAK and then the picture slid from its innards ZHWEE and she flapped it back and forth a few times. Then she knelt down on Sidney’s left. Harry crept up to Sidney’s ear on the right.

“Your name is Sidney Shines. You own the Kinderfleische butcher shop on Harcourt Place. You paid for and distributed flyers falsely accusing werewolfs of setting all the fires in the neighborhood. You’ve been stalking us.”

Capolina ripped open the foil on an antiseptic swab, and then wiped down the skin on Sidney Shine’s neck where it covered his brachiocephalic vein. Harry’s nose was brushing Sidney’s ear. She held up a syringe and squirted some out just like she’d seen in the movies.

“This isn’t the movies, Sid. There’s no such thing as truth serum.”

She flicked her middle finger against the barrel of the syringe. An air bubble loosed, and she tapped the plunger up just a tiny bit.

“But this is sodium amytal mixed with dliaudid, and then I threw some benzos in there. Little bit of speed to keep you awake. I’m gonna get you so fucked up you can’t help but tell the truth.”

“Fuck you,” Sidney said.

Ears aren’t attached all that solidly, especially if a werewolf is tugging at them. Harry began to chew.

“Spit it out!”



She dig into his mouth and pried his jaws open and grabbed the ear. She was still a nurse, she thought. Do no harm and all that. Then she remembered that this asshole wanted to eat her husband, and she tossed the ear back to him. He snapped it out of the air and RONCH RONCH put it back. Sidney was too scared to scream. He was in shock.

“You look like you’re in shock,” Capolina said. She held up her syringe. “I got just the thing for that.”

She leaned in with the needle, and Sidney went to scream but Harry was already growling and nothing else could be heard in the living room of the rented house with the rifle in the corner and the drawn curtains on Bailey Street, which is in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.

1 Comment

  1. All of our heroes taking matters into their own hands. Love it. Great f%6king chapter. Don’t burn down the goddamned Tahitian.

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