Gary Moshimer has stories in PANK, FRiGG, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many other places.
The doctors showed us my brain scan. It was not like a pebble, they said, a smooth stone to be plucked. It had branched, the way quartz fills cracks in granite. “Are you fucking doctors or geologists?” I said. My mother cried when they said radiation, like blasting. “Radiation is how he got it,” she said.
But not really: it was high voltage, from living in my great grand-daddy’s cottage of logs and mud. It was historic, protected by law. So they paid me for the power lines they ran overhead. It was my living, so to speak, until it was my dying.
I had decisions to make. In the meantime, I grew my hair and beard and hand-sewed myself a nice white robe of cotton, with a pocket inside for my wallet. I went barefoot.
My world, I noticed, changed colors. The wires were golden rope, the long grass waved blue. The sky was green, the raindrops gold. I colored this all down in a kid’s drawing book. I drew the shape and size of my invader, starfish with a burst of sunlight, ready to make changes, improvements or setbacks, when my treatment started. But to Mother’s dismay, I was not in a hurry. I wanted to see what might unfold in this brain. There were new chemicals being released, giving me a sense of well-being and the courage and insight to do anything. Mother said that was delusional poppy-cock.
In my cottage I had one channel with a perpetual line of static. I watched a news story: a school bus broadsided by a dump truck. The bus had a stop sign; the truck a flashing yellow light. The truck was full of stone. A child was killed, one of triplets.
Later I read the story in the news, knowing it pertained to me, as I could hear the words in my head, narrated by James Earl Jones, and the print on the page stood out, raised on tiny platforms of silver.
I walked everyplace now, so I walked to the funeral home and stood in the back of the room in my robe, until I was asked to leave. The next day I walked to the cemetery and hid in the pine trees. I saw a man hiding behind a gravestone, peeking, seeing what I saw: the grove of mourners, the remaining twins. I knew it was the bus driver. He was an older man, out of breath. I stepped from the trees, my robe brilliant in the morning sun. He shaded his eyes and trembled. “Let me help you,” I said.
He wanted to go to church.
“We’ll follow the star in my head,” I told him, walking along the road. The rocks on the shoulder hurt my feet, and I wondered if they were from the quarry, from the truck, part of a mountain once before killing a girl.
“I should have waited,” he said. “A truck full of stone can’t stop.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
We picked up stones and threw them at the stop sign, chipping the paint. We laughed.
There was no one in the church we picked. The bus driver lit four candles, three for the triplets and one for the truck driver. I stood on the altar under the stained glass, and when I closed my eyes I saw those colors in my head, tendrils reaching, so I would have a new drawing that night.
A priest appeared from some hidden door, and nearly fainted when he saw me. “Wait,” I said, reaching for my pocket. “I can explain.”
My mother called me later as I was drawing. “Look,” I told her. “I don’t think this can be taken from me. It’s part of the whole. It’s who I can be.”
“Do you hear what you are saying?” She started to cry.
“Mother, I love you. But I have things to do.”
The next day I just let my feet walk until I found the truck driver in a bar. He had shots lined up. They wanted to throw me out of there, too, but I held up a hand. I sat with him. His wrists were bandaged, and his hands were something to behold, embedded with all kinds of shiny stone: slate and mica and quartz, and I thought of the word bejeweled. I led him out of there, down the road, and I glowed and his hands shone.
“I can never drive,” he said. “There are two more out there.”
“It’s not your fault.”
I took him to my little house and showed him the pictures I’d been drawing. He was alarmed, thinking the girl had done them. When I said it was me, and what was in my head, he still looked worried, but said politely, “Nice starfish.”
The phone was ringing, but I knew it was my mother, so I yanked the cord.
I took him outside to show him the wires. A storm was coming. I told him we should lay there in the blue grass and look up. I asked him about his hands and he said, “It’s from work.” I asked him to put them on my head, and he reluctantly agreed. “I don’t have anything to lose,” he said.
The clouds were the color of old blood. The lines swayed and turned white. With the first strike we closed our eyes.