Roscoe was carrying the dead thing. The dead thing was in his possession now, and that was all that mattered. The dogs were following still, but at a wary distance. He’d have felt better if he’d had some sausages to throw them, but he could hardly blame himself for that. None of this had been planned. What was he supposed to do, put raw sausages in his inside pocket every time he left the house, just in case? He laughed to himself at the unreasonableness of the thought, until the laugh became a cough.
It was a hot day, so his progress was slow. He estimated he was another ten minutes from home, with its cold shower, its air conditioned living room and the big humming chest freezer in the garage. His feet burned inside his unsuitable footwear. His armpits burned where his damp t-shirt bunched underneath them. The chafing at his inner thighs burned whenever his jeans rubbed against them. It wasn’t helpful that the dead thing was so heavy, its distended belly pressing warm into the back of his neck, its long limbs draped over his shoulders like a winter stole.
Most of the looks he was getting from others for carrying the dead thing were looks of confusion. Some, he felt sure, were envious. The length of the dead thing meant that anyone passing him on the pavement was required to step into the road in order to get past. Mainly, people didn’t seem to mind this, and Roscoe felt that he just needed to proceed with confidence, as though his possession of the dead thing on the street was a completely ordinary occurrence in this city. Roscoe had often found that, in a city, you could do pretty much anything you liked, no matter how weird, as long as you carried yourself in such a way that would make anyone else feel weirder for trying to challenge you.
That had been his first thought upon seeing the dead thing, besides his overwhelming desire to possess it: who is going to stop me from having this? This presented itself not only as a rhetorical question that gave him permission to take it, but also as an immediate and practical problem to be solved.
He had spent the last half an hour rehearsing responses to anyone who might ask him to relinquish the dead thing, and he continued to do so now.
The easiest scenario, his favourite, was the confrontation with the owner of the ribs ‘n’ wings restaurant behind which he had found the dead thing. “Excuse me but I’m the owner of the ribs ‘n’ wings establishment, and I believe that belongs to me,” the owner of the ribs ‘n’ wings restaurant would say. “Oh, it’s yours, is it?” Roscoe would sneer without breaking stride. “Well, I’m sure the local press and the Health Inspector would be very interested to know the real ingredients going into your kitchen.” This one ended with the restaurateur crumpling in abject apology immediately, and actually ending up paying Roscoe a small fee for having taken the dead thing off his hands.
Then Roscoe rehearsed what he would say to the police. “Yes, officer, this belongs to me. No officer, it’s made of ultra-realistic silicone. Yes, officer, it’s for a play I’m doing. Well, if it’s upsetting people officer, yes, I’ll just take it home immediately, that was certainly not my intention.” The key here was to make the police officer feel as though he was in control at all times. It ended with an impressed police officer poking the dead thing in the side with his index finger and marvelling at modern technology, then giving both Roscoe and the dead thing a lift home in his squad car.
The only one Roscoe was struggling with, where he still wasn’t entirely happy with the projected outcome, was the Catholic priest. “This is stealing, my son,” the Catholic priest would say, and when Roscoe tried to explain that taking something that had already been thrown out shouldn’t technically be classed as stealing, the priest just raised his bushy grey eyebrows, as if to say, “Do you think Jesus Christ has time for ‘technically’, my son?”
Roscoe was currently trying out, “Well father, would you admit that a poor man stealing a loaf of bread from the bins behind a bakery, to feed his family, is not committing a sin, but, on the contrary, may even be doing a moral good?” But in his heart, Roscoe knew that any good priest would spot major weaknesses here. Roscoe was comfortably middle-class, his family was not starving and he had not stolen the dead thing with the intention of feeding it to anyone. He imagined just shoulder-charging the priest out of the way, using the weight of the dead thing to knock him right onto his priest arse, but he was aware this approach might cause more problems than it solved. Roscoe resolved to just be extra vigilant for priests.
Roscoe had never felt this strongly about any other object or person in his whole life. He wondered if this was what true love felt like. Certainly, after less than an hour of first seeing it, he now couldn’t imagine life without it. Still, he didn’t really know what he was going to do with the dead thing. He didn’t even know what the dead thing was a dead example of. He wanted to say it was a merman. The overall humanoid shape suggested it, and the long, soft mane around what he assumed was the head, and of course the solid-gold trident, which he had reluctantly left behind the ribs ‘n’ wings restaurant. But then, it had two appendages that looked more like legs than a fishtail. And the blue-green iridescent feathery fluff that covered most of its body suggested more that it was a land creature, maybe even avian.
The dead thing/merman also didn’t seem to have any genitals, or orifices from which to respirate or defecate, but this didn’t bother Roscoe too much. He supposed that he could investigate the orifice issue at his leisure just as soon as he got home, and hopefully resolve it.
One thing that did concern Roscoe was the goo the dead thing was emitting from its pores. It was the goo as much as anything which made Roscoe feel sure that the dead thing was dead. It was milky-grey in colour and was of a slightly thinner consistency than apple sauce. It smelled bad: sulphuric, like a termite nest split by a shovel. Although he had wiped it down thoroughly with newspaper before picking it up, it seemed have produced more during the journey, and it was now covering his hands and wrists, as well as mixing with his own sweat in his hair and down his back.
As Roscoe passed the post office, one of the dogs got closer and looked to be considering an attempt upon the dead thing, as they had each been doing, one-by-one, periodically since he’d picked it up. He wasn’t afraid of them – they were all medium-sized at best, and most of them looked weak and mangy. They didn’t seem smart enough to team up and pose him a bigger problem. As it reached his ankle, he gave it a kick, and it immediately gave up, whimpering.
Roscoe quickened his pace slightly as he thought of all the people who would be jealous of his possession of the dead thing. He imagined taking people down to the basement on exclusive tours, for a small fee. He imagined his brother’s face especially, the eyes and mouth widening as the chest freezer opened and the icy smoke cleared. “Well, old chum,” his brother would say, “I have to admit defeat on this one.” And almost immediately in the saying of it, his brother’s expression would relax, his shoulders loosening as though a great weight had been lifted, and he would say the first honest thing that either of them had said to each other in their lives: “Roscoe, I know that I have always been the one that mother and father favoured, and that I am a successful entrepreneur who made wise investments at fortunate times, and that my house is much bigger than yours and my family more beautiful and I have three cars, but I must admit that I would give it all up for ownership of this extraordinary specimen.” And the two would embrace, and Roscoe would promise his brother that he could come for supervised visits of the dead thing at any time, while also making it very clear that it was never, ever to be removed from the property.
It wasn’t that Roscoe was unaware that there were people better qualified than he to take responsibility for the dead thing. Scientists, certainly, who would be able to find out for sure whether the dead thing had been a merman, and how it had died, and what exactly the goo was made of, and whether the goo was toxic to humans. Roscoe was fully aware of this: he just didn’t care. He had seen the dead thing, wanted it, and taken it.
Despite his valiant efforts to really visualise the cool air around the chest freezer, Roscoe really was horribly warm. His lungs felt as though they were going to explode and his thighs and calves ached with exertion. He stopped at a pedestrian crossing. He spotted a group of four teenagers arguing outside the Co-op, and silently prayed that they wouldn’t notice him.
“The fuck is that?” one of them shouted, pointing at the dead thing. Roscoe smiled thinly and nodded, avoiding eye contact. The youths approached him.
“What is that?” the tallest one asked. Roscoe quickly tried to recall whether or not he had rehearsed a conversation with curious, vaguely threatening youths, and cursed himself when he realised that he had not.
“I don’t know,” he was forced to reply, lamely.
“You don’t know? Then why are you carrying it?” the one drinking a strawberry milkshake laughed.
“Are those your dogs?” asked the one with the rosacea.
“No. They’re not my dogs,” Roscoe replied, relieved at last to field a question with an unambiguous answer.
“They look like they’re your dogs,” the bald one countered suspiciously. This was not going well.
“Well they’re not. They’re probably just attracted by the smell.” Roscoe, once again, immediately lamented his own stupidity, as the teenagers stepped towards him all at once and inhaled theatrically. The pedestrian crossing beeped and the green man appeared. Roscoe hurried across the road to a shouted chorus of disgust from the teenagers, who informed him that the dead thing stunk, and that he stunk, and that he was a weirdo. He felt the strawberry milkshake hit his back and explode, and he heard them laughing. The milkshake was actually quite refreshingly cold, and was no messier than the goo from the dead thing, so he didn’t mind as much as he might’ve normally.
In some ways, it was beginning to dawn on Roscoe that he dead thing might not be the prize he had first hoped it would be. But what was he supposed to do, just put it down and walk away? He could no more imagine that than he could sprouting wings and flying. Yet again, Roscoe felt lucky that he was so easily able to push thoughts like this right back, until they felt distant and blurry. He reached the end of the street on which he lived. He wasn’t sure if the dogs had made it across the road, or whether the teenagers would decide to follow him and throw more milkshakes. He began to run, despite the pain in his muscles and the aching in his back. As he ran, the dead thing’s limbs slapped against his chest, and the whole thing bounced at the point of contact at the back of its neck. Each bounce seemed to release more goo than usual, until, in his front garden, the dead thing became too slippery to continue to hold, and plopped onto his lawn like a dropped bar of soap. He attempted to pick it up but couldn’t get purchase.
Roscoe crawled to his front door and sat with his back resting against it. A bird lit upon the dead thing and began pecking at it. He shooed it away. He knew that his wife wouldn’t be home yet, but knocked on the door anyway. It occurred to him that he should rehearse an explanation just in case she did answer, but he felt suddenly tired. He heard the dogs barking in the distance. It seemed important that he continue to protect the dead thing. The dead thing was in his possession now, and that was all that mattered. He crawled back to the middle of the lawn where it lay, and lay down next to it. Mustn’t fall asleep, he thought to himself, as he fell asleep.
Bio: Michael Conley is a poet and prose writer from Manchester, UK. His work has been published in a variety of magazines including Lunate, Butcher’s Dog, Magma and Strix. His latest poetry pamphlet, “These Are Not My Dreams And Anyway Nothing Here Is Purple” was published in July 2021 by Nine Pens press.
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