Edition 10: Serial Fiction: Intangible (Part 5 of 6) by A. A. Garrison
Meet Marcy Dillsmore, and her strange relationship with the Utah Penny. GDH
Enter Marcy Dillsmore.
Born Marcy Darby in the faceless year of 1951, the woman lived a mundane childhood, completed a mundane education, and, at eighteen, married a young man by the name of Franklin Maurice Dillsmore III, who, despite his grandiloquent title, was, also, quite mundane. Her defining moment was placing second in the ’69 Miss Georgia pageant. She should have won, would have—the white tramp who took the trophy had hips like a bent trashcan—but the night before, she’d developed a grade-A case of bad hair. Terrible hair, in fact, bride-of-Frankenstein bad. But the woman refused to let it bitter her, even as she settled into a mundane middle-age. Marcy couldn’t complain. She may have put on a few pounds—twenty-two and three-quarters, but who’s counting?—and developed a pie-shaped office-butt, but she was still beautiful, and Frank did a fine job of reinforcing that fact. Her chestnut eyes, unblemished skin, and selfsame hair combined into a comely, uniform complexion; when in the nude, Frank often commented that she resembled a human chocolate bar (always followed by double entendres involving “eating” and “melting”). Her two children, Kyle and Tia, also helped her steer clear of the funks so common to midlife. Between a supportive husband, two wonderful children, and the uncommon extension of her beauty, Marcy Dillsmore found life full and rewarding, if as mundane as the preceding seasons of her existence. Like a certain motorcycle thief who had lived and died far outside her experience, she felt she couldn’t lose.
Then the weirdness began.
It was the fall of ’89, late September, no different than the thirty-seven she’d known previously. But that changed on a Thursday afternoon, as she motored down the road in the family minivan, Kyle and Tia in tow. Despite the season, a sweltering Georgia sun beat down on the vehicle, necessitating the air conditioner. It whispered beneath the children’s tumult, the current feud involving who would claim the front seat on the return trip home. Tia, the eleven-year-old incumbent, insisted that her shotgun-claim lasted the duration of the voyage; while Kyle, eight, disagreed, and with conviction, sighting past departures where multiple shotguns were made and honored. The boy eventually drew Marcy into the fray, demanding oversight, and that’s when it happened.
As she opened her mouth to settle the argument, an accented male voice cut her off: “Florida,” it said from the car’s rear, clear as the children’s kvetching.
Thinking the caustic voice belonged to a stowaway—surely some hockey-mask lunatic in bloodstained overalls—Marcy stood on the brake and jerked the van into a gravel pit, soliciting angry honks. She then turned wildly in her seat, eyes wide, expecting to find the voice’s demon owner murdering her son. But there was only Kyle, alone, looking at her as though she’d grown a second head.
“What’d you just say?” she gasped.
Kyle shrunk. “I just wanna sit up front, after we…” he said in a wee voice, tapering into silence.
Marcy eased. “You didn’t just say…Florida?”
Kyle shook his head, two exaggerated swings.
“You okay, mom?” Tia asked from Marcy’s side.
Marcy wilted back behind the wheel, saying she was okay. She told herself the voice was nothing to worry about, a trick of the road noise. Or something. She couldn’t be hearing things, after all. Only crazy people heard things, not Miss Georgia ’69 (as she thought herself). She shifted into drive and continued to the supermarket, the children struck silent.
The market was busy, bringing with it the comfort of a crowd. Marcy combed the aisles, Kyle and Tia fawning after her, and before long she’d forgotten the anomaly of the ride over. Near the tail-end of her run, however, as she grabbed a bag of cereal, the voice returned.
“Florida,” it said, clearer now, as if hearing someone in person after speaking to them on the phone. And there was more this time, a distinct churning from her stomach, like hunger but not. She would later compare it to the cravings she’d experienced during both pregnancies, quenched only by a specific food or sex act.
She sprung upright, more than a little startled, the bag of cereal saddle-bagging one hand. She wheeled around in search of the culprit, but there was only the kids and some fellow cart-jockeys (one, a skinny Hispanic with a baby squirming amongst her groceries, looked on the verge of dialing 911). Feeling a constellation of eyes upon her, Marcy straightened her dress when it didn’t need it, tossed the cereal in the cart, and bee-lined for the checkout. The kids exchanged dubious looks and scrambled after her, playing catch-up with their mom instead of the other way around. Without realizing it, Marcy scratched at her stomach as she walked.
The line was torture, moving like the hour hand of a clock. Marcy marched in place, eager to absent herself from public so that she may, in the privacy of her own home, construe what in the hell was going on. Every noise or sudden movement sent little red lightning bolts to her head, like she’d just downed a pot of strong coffee. And still, that unascribable craving boiled from the pit of her stomach, playing hell with her attention. The kids, sensing that something was wrong, stood stock-still at her sides, exchanging sidelong glances like cadets before a drill sergeant.
Then “Florida!” erupted from behind, this time in a shrill female rendition.
Marcy twirled like a top, bumping a tabloid-crowned rack of candy. She sucked wind, the makings of a scream, but it fizzled as the word came a second time: “I can’t believe we’re going to Florida!” the woman behind her squealed, to a male companion. The woman’s smile faded as she noticed Marcy’s bald stare.
Relaxing, Marcy flashed an abashed grin and turned rigidly toward the checkout. The woman behind her said nothing more.
The rest of that Indian-summer day passed normally enough. No more stray voices invaded Marcy’s head, and the rogue cravings leveled off, freeing her to settle the younglings’ dispute (she had them draw straws; Tia won, Kyle cried foul). The three returned home without incident, and by the time Frank had joined them, fresh from a day of plumbing the area’s pipes, Marcy was once more forgetting the phantom voice that had terrorized her outing. And by the time she and Frank lay in bed that night, the chocolate unwrapped and sticky, the voice claimed none of her attention. All thoughts of the day, and most other things, lay discarded like her clothes.
Then it started all over again.
Plastered against Frank, Marcy moaned abruptly and clenched her stomach: another craving. Her stomach gurgled, and she at once remembered her afternoon, the trauma crawling from under her mental bed. Her eyes shot open and she drew a sharp breath, like a baby about to cry.
“Frank,” she whispered, grabbing his bare thigh.
He muttered, not missing a thrust.
Before she could say more, Marcy’s stomach burst into song: MGRGLGRGLGRGL.
Frank cut out suddenly, as if there was an odor. “Baby, you alright?” he asked, disengaging.
Marcy manufactured a reply, something placating, but then the voice returned, blaring like a beat drum: “FLORIDA!” it roared from between her ears.
She swung up, spraying hair. Fear gripped her, rabid and clawing, a private apocalypse…but then it melted into a calm she’d never known. Her mouth lolled.
Marcy pushed from bed, sheathed herself in the dress that had been on the floor, and started from the bedroom.
Frank sat upright. “Hey, wait’a minute—hey!”
Marcy stopped in the doorway, listlessly buttoning the dress. “I’ll be. Back,” she said in a mechanical drone that Frank had never heard.
Frank gestured mutely between his wife and his crotch. “But—!”
Marcy disappeared into the house.
Frank remained on the bed, dumbfounded, until the minivan groused from the driveway. “Hey!” he repeated in a different voice, and rushed the window, his dying erection swinging with his paunch.
The van’s brake lights burned like sardonic eyes, then flashed twice and vanished.
Frank stood at the window for several minutes, processing what had just happened. Slowly, his eyes drifted from the empty driveway to the floor, where Marcy’s bra and panties lay next to the bed. Beside her shoes.
Marcy Dillsmore—nee Marcy Darby, almost-Miss Georgia ’69—knew little more than gas, brake, and asphalt as she careened down Interstate 75, heading south. She saw the road without seeing it; knew her destination without knowing it; understood without understanding. Save for the cognition necessary for driving, her mind repeated one specific thought: Florida, like a broken jukebox, insistent as the tides.
She uttered the word every so often, sounding it phonically—”Floo-rih-duh.” Her eyes had drained into glassy globes. She sat in a loose slump, an inactive puppet. Her stomach grew increasingly active as she neared The Sunshine State, the cravings like music. Her free hand stayed at her midriff, scratching.
Three hours into her drive—at 2:00 AM, back in the land of the living—she broke I-75 for Highway 91, what would take her into the heart of Orlando. However, ten miles shy of the city, she rounded an extremely sharp turn—that resembled a cocked elbow—and parked on the soft shoulder, making tracks.
With zombie purpose, she quit the van and shambled to the grass, barefoot and in a too-sheer white dress, her buttocks flapping like an unbound book. Making no effort to preserve her dress, she collapsed to her knees and began digging, doglike, both hands melded into prehensile claws. Clods flew like hiked footballs, some sporting flinders of her plum-colored fingernails.
Then, as abruptly as she’d started, the digging stopped, and she mined a grimy, scratched-up penny from the nouveau hole.
Without examining her find, Marcy palmed the coin and repaired to her idling van.
“Nuhth Kow-o-line-uh,” Marcy whispered, as highway slid past the windows. The words–North Carolina–had replaced her former mantra. Her stomach roiled in answer, vocal as a radio.
A dawn sun coppered the horizon as the van returned to Georgia, and by the time she’d hotfooted through South Carolina and into its sibling, it was high noon. Still, Marcy remained in her stupefied twilight, looking like something from George Romero. The prize she’d excavated along Highway 91 stayed firmly in her right palm, even as she pawed at her plaintive guts.
She shifted in her seat, and a too-wet squish sounded from below. With this, Marcy pulled into the breakdown lane, exited the vehicle, and, with the modesty of a drunk, raised her dress, revealing a florid incontinence diaper. She opened it with a scream of Velcro, the soiled garment sloshing to the asphalt. It stuck like putty, not moving from where it fell.
After digging discursively through the car, Marcy found a fresh diaper and stepped into it, hitching it over her knees like a big girl. She then embarked the van and returned to traffic, leaving the used diaper along the curb. Like the last two.
The diaper had come from one of two stops in Valdosta, her Georgia home town. She’d purchased the diapers with the emergency-twenty kept in the ashtray, from the very supermarket she’d visited the day previous. The cashier, a gentleman of approximately antebellum vintage, had done a heroic job of ignoring Marcy’s lack of shoes or bra (her swarthy nipples pressed against her white dress, like curious children at a window). The codger had made change, fed her a receipt, and wished her good day, with indestructible aplomb. The man next in line had given Marcy a long berth, lingering in the valley of impulse-buys until she was out the door. The rest of the twenty had gone toward a full tank of gas.
Now Marcy cruised along the North Carolina leg of Interstate 85, her course steady and her driving superb. A hundred miles and another diaper later, she took an exit for Pemberton County and, despite having never been north of Atlanta, proceeded through a matzo of back roads and byways, to the strip of Appalachians dominating the state’s western tip. First came a somniferous little hole-in-the-wall called Ford, and then Pemberton, a similarly no-frills town. Driving as if she’d lived there her entire life, she found her way to the Buford Memorial Hospital, an incongruous sprawl commanding Pemberton from a throne-like hill at the town’s margin. There, she left the van in a self-made parking space and traipsed into the lobby, bare feet slapping. Her diaper spoke with each step, like a bag of wet laundry. Inconceivably, no one so much as raised an eyebrow as she blundered by, staff and patient alike; she could’ve been invisible.
Opting for the stairs, Marcy made for the second story, where she ducked into an uninhabited Room 111, where a Mrs. Tuttle would one day be hospitalized. Inside, Marcy took to all fours and traced the room’s paper-white floorboard. After settling on a spot by the bed, she deposited the curiously scarred penny along the wall, its little arrow cresting the floorboard. It was largely unnoticeable, visible only if you were looking for it.
She then stood and quit the hospital, her departure as clandestine as her entry.
Moiling gravel sent Frank to his feet, and he stood listening, perfectly still like a crook in a spotlight: it was the van. It was Marcy.
He ran at first, then reverted to a fast walk, remembering his sleeping children—what a job that had been, coaxing them into bed with their mom MIA. There had to be medal in it for him. Trolling a kitchen window, he watched her kill the van and navigate the gravel driveway in no particular hurry. The porch light touched her, and Frank winced: she was disheveled, grievously so, worse than bag ladies he’d seen. Her dress was a dirt-colored carapace, its front resembling a well-used piece of toilet paper. Clotted surface cuts lined her arms and legs like smears of raspberry jam. Her hair was a fright wig of nappy splits, the way she may look after fingering a light-socket.
“What in God’s name…” Frank whispered, fogging the glass. Unpleasant theories blinked through his head: Flipped out? Gotten high? Early menopause? The last sucked his balls to his groin.
Frank left the window as she climbed the porch and opened the front door. They met in the mudroom.
He put his palms out. “Baby,” he said cautiously, “wuz goin’ on?” He sounded nothing like Marvin Gaye.
Marcy brushed past without missing a step, bonelessly grazing Frank’s shoulder. Her vacant, rheumy eyes reminded Frank of his granddad just before he’d died. There was a smell.
“Baby?” he said to her back, holding his gorge.
She continued, flippantly, toward their bedroom.
“Baby,” he called after her, voice hardening as though addressing a disobedient animal.
He found her pulling the filthy dress over her head, once again unwrapping the chocolate bar. His eyes saucered as they found the dripping diaper.
He took an involuntary step back. “Baaay-by,” he groaned, and stole another step.
Marcy made no response, still in another universe. She entered the master bathroom and closed the door. The shower cracked to life, and after ten minutes, she reappeared.
She flopped on the bed and cocked an elbow over her pillow. Her glossy knees found her chest, playfully parting and joining, like butterfly wings. “I’m back,” she said dreamily, her voice again her own. Her eyes had shed their cadaverous glaze, now electric and coquettish.
Frank’s shock gave way to perplexity, then disbelief … then arousal. A thousand questions pressed on his mind, but he somehow doubted she’d answer them, if she could at all.
Unsure of what else to do, he began to undress.
A.A. Garrison is a twenty-nine-year-old man living in the mountains of North Carolina. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of zines, anthologies, and journals, as well as the Pseudopod webcast. His horror novel, The End of Jack Cruz, is available from Montag Press. He blogs at synchroshock.blogspot.com.