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......MUTANT RAIN FOREST ISSUE........JUNE, 2016
Illustrations above by Shasta Lawton.

Be sure to Subscribe and Follow this blog to keep updated on the FREEZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction. If you or a friend are interested in submitting your short stories or longer works for daily serialization in a future issue, please contact us at freezinefantasysciencefiction@gmail.com, and we will reply in due time. Thank you for your participation in helping to support this nonprofit creative writing platform. Don't miss out on the current issue featuring Sanford Meschkow, John Shirley, Brian Stoneking, Vincent Daemon, and Bruce Boston. Featuring art by Will Ferret, Jason Heckenliable, Kara Koma, Marge Simon, and Shasta Lawton.

Monday, November 30, 2009

GRAVEYARD WALTZ

by Daniel José Older



Janey found me at my spot on the cemetery hill late one Sunday afternoon. It’s true, I owed my future daughter-in-law for getting me that nice job at the overnight care center for troubled kids, and I owed her even more since I got my ass fired for holding midnight salsa classes, but that’s another story.

As she got closer, I turned down the music and retrieved a Malagueña from my pocket. When I got the graveyard gig, my boy Ernesto’d bought me an i-thing, a slick little music player, and loaded it up with all my favorite old salsa guys, but it never sounded right; those tiny headphones, and even though it’s supposed to be higher caliber, you can imagine what becoming so many zeros and ones does to a song. Instead, I just bring my record player to work. Yes, it’s a pain, but the quality is incomparable. The i-thing sits in my jacket pocket; I keep meaning to accidentally leave it outside the middle school across the street for one of the kids to find.

Janey says my name, Gordo, as she puffs her way up the last steps to where I stand chuckling. They call me Gordo because I am gigantic in the old world of rhumba and salsa, a legend. Also: because I am fat.

I can see by her face that she’s come to collect up on that favor so I head her off at the pass: I thought we were straight after I got you that jar full of cemetery dirt, I say with a wink.

Yeah, she says, turns out that was just you being nice.

Really? I say.

Turns out I need a bigger favor, and then we’ll be straight.

Janey works at this swanky save-the-children spot on Lorimer, teaching kids how to be well-behaved, properly speaking little robotrons. But of course, when the grinning overlords aren’t looking she always slips in some Malcolm X shit or a little hint about how to get one over on the cops. Anyway, the kids she was working with, they decided to build this monster--that’s what the cemetery dirt was about apparently--they needed all kindsa ingredients to make it work. It was supposed to be like a team-building exercise or something, you know from one of those corny books. Then Janey ended up throwing in a little of that Panamanian juju she inherited from her bruja granny and the damn thing came to life. Frankenstein-style, but she says they just caked it together from mud and clay, not a body.

Whenever I start a new job, I like to find The Perfect Spot. You’ll see me circling the place like a dog looking for somewhere to sleep. I’ll try one, smoke a Malagueña, take a nap, let it settle into my body. Then I’ll try another. At the cemetery, the Perfect Spot is on top of this tombstone speckled hill--a little sheltered outpost that affords me a terrific view of the midnight traffic on the BQE and beyond that, the sparkling city. From here, it’s obvious that those skyscrapers are just lit up gravestones, different books in the same library.

The sky grows dark over the city as Janey tells me her story. The beast was supposed to help their community. Something that would look good in a brochure, I suppose. But instead it cut loose, took out into the Williamsburg night. Janey and the kids went after it, and when they finally caught up, what does it do? The thing ate a hipster. Hipster is what they call these new-fangled white people that’ve been moving onto the block--the ones with the tight pants and big glasses. Now Janey has a serious clean up job on her hands.

You know, I say, the river’s really good for that kind of thing.

She says it’d bother her not to give the kid a proper burial, being that she was partially responsible for his death. And, he’d probably start troubling her dreams.

So here I am, at three AM on a soggy September morning, lugging two ominously heavy trash bags up a hill towards a shady grove of trees. I have a shovel and a flashlight and I’m trying to ignore the way one of the bags is knocking against my back as I walk, like it’s trying to get my attention. Still, the thrill of adventure is tickling me like it hasn’t done since Nesto’s mom made me give up breaking and entering. Perhaps it’s tinnitus, but the dead seem to be humming excitedly, a quiet droning to accompany my journey. Most people sneak around graveyards to steal bodies; here I am bringing one in. And I work here. If I’m caught, at least they will be confused. But then they may think I’m the one chewed up the boy. I walk a little faster.

Untold stores of ferocious grace remain in these old bones, however hidden beneath lard and cholesterol. The hole gets dug pretty fast but I‘m a sweaty disaster when it’s done. Just as I heave-ho the two bags in, the crunching of tires on gravel announces the imminent arrival of graveyard security. I probably know the guys; I play dominoes with a few of them at shift change, but still--this would be difficult to explain.

I’d like to say that I grappled my way down; even a controlled tumble would’ve been something. There wasn’t time for any of that though: I plummet. I felt sure my girth traveling at that speed would’ve given the planet a jolt, but the splintering bones and squishy body parts I land on break my fall, saving my ass in more ways than one. I try to breath as quietly as possible as the patrol jeep rumbles close and then wanders away.

It’s a few hours from dawn and I’m lying in a fresh grave with two trash bags full of severed hipster parts, so I sit up and light a Malagueña. I’m pretty sure I haven’t had a stroke or heart attack. Everything hurts slightly more than usual; perhaps I’m bleeding internally. That, at least, would be poetic. I close my eyes and pull a stream of smoke down my trachea to survey the damage. Things seem to be in working order.

I exhale and follow the cloud up into the dark sky, above the tombstones, above the trees and highway, above the sparkling city. Souls are rising into the night. It’s just graveyard souls at first, but then I start seeing people I know. There’s Old Corrales and Ruben, my bass player. Sylvia Delacruz, who used to give me head in the back room at Rio’s. By the time Nesto Jr. and Janey float by, tears are rolling down my face--which hasn’t happened in a few eons. All I hear is the swarming hymn of the dead and the clackity-clacking body parts beneath me. White pus is oozing from the torn up hipster’s limbs and slow-mo flooding through the streets of Brooklyn; a rising tide. The last few scattered souls float up into the sky and all that’s left are kids, thirteen and under. It’s a whole orchestra of the little guys, each armed with instruments and they’re putting up a fight, coming at the pus with everything they got. I hear them laughing and chattering as they blast homemade fire bombs from trombone cannons, and beat back the waves with flame-throwing tubas and sharpened, electric-guitar spears.

The chattering and laughter of children blends with scattered birdsong as morning breaks around me. Everything is back to normal, but nothing will ever be the same. I sit up, take in the crisp new day air. It’s a beautiful morning, but something terrible is coming. Perhaps Janey saw the same vision, and that’s why she does what she does. Either way, my own path is clear: I’ll drop off this i-thing in front of the middle school. While I’m there, I’ll see if they need anyone to teach music or sweep the floors or both. Maybe at the school there will be a nice spot for me to smoke and ponder in between classes. I’ll see what this new day brings. But first I have to get out of this hole.



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Archive of Stories
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