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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven MUD

by
JEREMY MCCAULEY
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T

here was something like mud on the walls at Henry's house, and he wouldn't tell me what it was.



I came over one afternoon to play, and there he was in the living room staring up at the filth, mouth slack.



“What is this stuff?” I asked him. I pushed him gently in the middle of his back, and he lost his balance, crying in the broken moment.



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The next day I came over again, but stayed at the front door. The stuff like mud was on the floor now, too.



“Henry” I said. “You in there? You wanna go ride our bikes to the canal?”



His voice came from lower than I was expecting, and I looked down and inside and found him sitting legs akimbo in the darkest spot.



“Henry, what are you doing in there? You're getting your clothes dirty. What are you looking at?”



He answered by putting his hand palm down in the wet. I thought I saw him smile.



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I waited a week before coming back.



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You could see it from a block away, the mud, now crept up on the outer walls, the porch, into the yard. Henry was inside -- I could see him from across the street. He was in the same spot as before, carpet no longer visible, washing handfuls of it through his hair, in his mouth. He made scratching sounds digging it up off the ground with his long fingernails.



I screamed a sound not like me at him. Something was hot on my cheek, and I wished that he'd quit smiling. I tried taking a step forward, but something in the house moved, and I backed away home. This time I waited almost a month.



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I didn't want to go back, pedaled my bike slowly. I passed the canal. I took side roads I never take. But eventually I made my way there.



And now the street. Fuzzy. Black. Smears of the house in the street, running in rivulets making rope. Look at any other house and see it crumble, no house at all. Henry is somewhere middle, rubbing fingers of it in his eyes, on his gums. Hear my own voice splash with it, my own throat now black. Feet in front of me but no bike anymore. Eaten.



Moving further by steps and now my thoughts stop racing.



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I regain myself. I sprint with deflated lungs back toward sanctuary, the canal. I think I am safe but find some of it on my shoes. I take them off quickly and throw them in the water. Next, my socks. Then, my pants.



Soon I am naked and scrubbing myself clean, leaning over for handfuls.



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An hour or more passes. I lay out in the sunlight on the rough concrete. I wake from sleep I don’t remember and check myself over. I am clear. Clean everywhere. Then I notice the black under my fingernails. Instead of panic, I feel calm.



I look at it for a while, moving under my fingernail, then I put my finger in my mouth



and suck.



   
   

 

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Jeremy McCauley is an aspiring novelist. He lives and writes in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.



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