The Miracle Wagered – Joseph Harms

The windbent corn’s brittle stalkleaves whipped their upturned flannel collars. Lowslung clouds tracked a shaletiered sky cordoned by earthend cumulonimbi, cordilleras that transmuted into semblances of their previous form in such a way as to seem permanent. The clockdrip of leaves coded an obbligato noticed when ululation and treemoan would a moment surcease. As they neared the field’s draughtcowlicked center a red leaf leapt from Cassius to Max while ahead a counterwind raised a like bevy from the sulcate earth.

The bright grayday light individuated each stalk leaf and husk. Every forestline tree stood apposed to its neighbor as did the red ivy veined about their trunks. Each step on the hard dry earth could not be the step before.

This separateness of each thing did not apply to the chevron of seven Blue Angel jets as they rived the firmament to which they belonged. The boys stopped, stared at where they had been. Neither could imagine them landing or manned. Neither had ever seen the Halloween airshow that prompted their supernal descent and praxis.

They continued at a slower pace as if reluctant to leave the cornfield for the forest against which their neighborhood had been built. Or as if to further indulge a sure escape. To the boys the forest had no end. Though they never spoke about it or gave it a private reason they went deeper each time they entered.

Clouds reeled into the red and yellow and orange leaves foiled fauve by dark trunks and the wind carried the barks of the pitbulls from far beyond the boys’ everbroadening pale. Cassius made a hollow of his hands, blew through the interstice of his thumbs. The fingers of his right hand flapped like those of a harpplayer. The owlwhistle summoned his dog Annie, a crescendo of collarjingle and stalkcrash. Foxtoned and waisthigh she banged into their legs without slowing and kept on.

            “I love days like this,” Cassius said. “They make me feel like I’m myself.”

            “I know,” Max said. “I get that way in the middle of summer when we know our dads are donefor and we can do anything.”

            “But I don’t mean happy.” Cassius shook his head no in a manner disconnected to his speech, as if in response to something since past or something to come. “I don’t mean a happy feeling. Or excited. It’s just like everything happening out there,” he made a gesture to the sky, the rest, “is exactly who I am. I forget it until this happens.”

            “I know. That’s what I mean too.”

            “I love Saturdays. He’ll be drunk by eight and out of my hair till collectiontime.”

            “Collectiontime.” Max shook his head.

            “Jesus be damned.”

            Max frowned. Cassius smiled, would have said it again had they not entered the woods without condign ceremony, had it not made him the smallest bit nervous to have said it the first time. He’d spoken the phrase in a dream the previous night. And why not? he thought. I’ve been sitting on that cockless eunuch’s longfinger of forgiveness for too long.

Ahead a brume ghosted a shallow valley. Black trunks from broth rose earthless.

            “Let’s step out,” Cassius said. “We should see it first then go in.”

            They exited back into the cornfield, stood before the conflagrant bulwark.

            “I don’t want to beatup the Angelo brothers,” Max said. “It’s not that bad that we have to. And they’re bigger than us a little.”

            Cassius stared at the hoarlimned clouds, each on its own hegira toward the same destination, said, “My parents took my sisters to buy pumpkins.”

            “They’ll be rotten by Halloween.” Max looked to Cassius. “I really don’t think we need to.”

            “My dad seemed happy.” Cassius reentered the forest first. Over his shoulder in a controlled locution: “It will happen. If not with them then with some others. It’s just time and I want us to be in charge of it. Cocksuckers think because they have mouths they can talk. I’m not even offended, brother, but we have to. I could give a damn what those rats’ assholes say. I just don’t care at all. But we have to.” Sylvan dusk and truncated draughtsiren quieted his voice, removed in part the bravado. “There’s a lesser type who can only be a hero when he’s talking like somebody he can never be. I don’t know that we can let it go. It’ll be easy.”

            “I don’t care. Let it slide, man,” Max said. “If they start something we’ll beat them up bad, but if not, let’s forget it.”

            “They won’t start something again. You could tell. That’s why we do have to do it.”

            “No, man. That’s why we don’t.”

            “It’s not about them, Max. It’s the tough, conniving bastards with blades who they brag to.” The boys unwrapped their machetes from the black garbagebag inhumed beneath a nondescript leafpile at the base of a hemlock. “We’ll get strong in here, Max, then we’ll hunt them out and get the pathetic mess over with, then we’ll see about the ladies.”

            Like ragged sunbolts stray cornstalks intruded the subfusc wilderness. Cassius picked a cob. Max did the same. They tucked their machetes down the sides of their belts. Their flannel jackets hid all but the bladetips of the props carried for fun and in response to the threat of the nominal pitbulls. They husked the corn and with thumbs popped from carious sockets the hard orange pellets as they walked. The larger the trees became the less undergrowth. Leaves pattered without cessation, the strong trees’ boughs no less the thick. At the path that led to the river Cassius walked backwards, eyes on the fortresswall of sentinels beyond which spread their cornfield and neighborhood. No home could be seen. As he often did at this moment in their incursion Cassius suspired. Max turned around, grinned at Cassius, saw not the bourne of trees but their inversions. Colonnades of bright gray light, doorways to their world. Hard as he could Max punched Cassius’ shoulder and they smiled at each other, tossed the ferrous detoothed cobs. When Max looked from Cassius back to the bright gray monoliths between the black and burning ones Cassius returned the punch and they began slapboxing at a jog toward the Black River. Hits hard enough to leave bruises but no more.

They stopped short of the river when they heard the pitbulls, their barks still in the faraway but closer than before. Cassius owlwhistled, called Annie.

            A stria of windrowed leaves took current from where purled the Black River, Annie procryptic beneath their ascension. Cassius crouched, braced forward to meet her charge. Seventyfive pounds of dog crashed into him. Halfburied in leaves they wrestled. She’d lick his face, bite his padded arms just hard enough to hold. When she thought she might lose the match unless she changed it into something else Annie licked once from chin to forehead, ran straight into Max’s knees, knocked him over.

            “Stay close, girl,” Cassius yelled after her. “Goddamn Old Man Crazy and his pitbulls. We ought to hunt them down. He taints our woods, Max.”

            “They never come this far.”

            “They have.”

            “We’ve never seen him though.”

            “We’ve seen what they’ve done.”

            “Sometimes,” Max said, frowned, “I think the pitbulls run themselves.”

            “Those inbred pigdogs would sooner eat each other than hunt together without a coordinator. But I know what you mean.” Cassius looked to the deeps. “I don’t believe a single Old Man Crazy story I’ve heard. The invertedelbowed snailprigged walleyed cretins of inherent misfortune who keep the rumors alive make me believe the opposite. But remember that day when the dogs seemed closer than ever and we could hear him cursing them on?”

            “Could have been Joe’s dad running his beagles.”

            “Can’t do that in these woods. Joe’s dad’s too straight. Plus their barking. Beagles don’t bark like that.”

            “And he always has a limp in the stories,” Max said.

            “That’s always the same. Always like some Vietnam vet.”

            Max bugged his eyes. “Joe’s dad has a limp.”

            They laughed, walked on. Cassius took two Pall Mall nonfilters from the full pack in his inner jacketpocket. He put both in his mouth, tucked head in jacketwing, lit them, handed Max his.

A fault within which a starless universe undulated the Black River’s division of the wilderness enhanced the illimitable that began on its northern bank. Though the river itself never entered the neighborhood from which it flowed away Textile Road interrupted the woods delineated by its southern bank. The distant eidolon of Textile civilized the woods that could be entered through the cornfield. They tossed their machetes over. The urge to pretend had yet deliquesced and each ran toward the tenebrous water as if at a fathomless gorge. 

Two years older and that much bigger Max cleared the water. Cassius’ left bootheel sunk in the alluvium by the antennular roots that snouted procumbent from riverbank black and circuitous, the periderms of many deereaten, their etiolated meat aglow.

“Jesus Christ, Max, I wish my dad were a negro.”

Max didn’t laugh. “Sometimes I wish the opposite, man.”

They picked their machetes from the ground, tucked them in belts and soon came to a copse of stunted trees collied and gnarled inward. They appeared dead but lived on unsapped by the reticulate ivy’s red foil that scribed the circumambient hale trunks. Each had a natural urinal at crotchlevel welled always by rainwater or dew or treesweat, bulbous adnations hollowed into fatlipped mugs. The boys each chose a tree and began filling its prognathism. Cassius looked up past the fist of charred limbs like the selfexhumed arm of an amort giant, past the perfervid leaves to cloudhegira. He listened to his best friend’s piss and his own and the river and the clockdrip of landed leaves and the whine creak and report of bullied trees. Between leaf and sky an arrow of geese made itself seen by its purposeful movement. Their goodbyes came from another world and Cassius almost said goodbye back to them, shook his head no. They had plenty of bottlerockets and cigarettes, ten cans of High Life waiting for them in Pen’s fridge. An immaculate bottle of Bushmills a cup of which could be pilfered had come in with the groceries that morning and Sunday would not exist for him or his dad until it did. As he often did while pissing in the woods and rarely did at any other time Cassius as if in prayer thought, Let me remember this. Let me forget the rest. Let me kill myself or him before I become like him. I don’t give a goddamn what You think.

“Bawoh Bob?”

The boys’ streams cut short. Horripilation. Inertia. They could not put away their junk or turn around. A hawkpeal and closer than before the pitbulls’ draughtcarried barks. A numinous fear made of the forest’s appurtenances alterities. The trees paroxyed. Celerity of ensanguined leaves. The boys bolted within a shaken snowglobe of eschars. The sky fled the arrived moment. Attenuated geesehonks an impossible dream.

“Bawoh Bob?”

Cassius and Max put their dicks away, machetes drawn spun around.

The thing laughed and said, “Aubledeen! Aubledeen!”

It wore only babyblue pajamapants and had no hair on its body, its face timeless, infantile. A nostrilled papule prevented its black scleraless eyes from touching. Its inquisitive nose rabbitted autonomous and ludic.

“Bawoh Bob?” Its voice started low and gained tenor toward the completion of each word.

Neither boy moved nor spoke. Distal matchteeth plugged into dark purple gums grew gilded between ptyalistic tongueswipes that pilled dead skin from lips. It stood larger than any dad in the neighborhood, its tits bigger than any mom’s. They prolapsed ocular from its collarbones. A rail took shape down the leg of its loose pajamapants, tested the fabric over its left knee. A colossal oversexed baby.

“Bawoh Bob?”

It stepped toward them. The erection pulled its pantleg up past a calf maculated by a tattooed language foreign or invented, blue rebuses and violent hieratics.

“Hello, Bob,” Cassius said and they raised their machetes.


Moment to moment a spate of mucus shellacked its flushed lips and its head began a graceless forward bob to a rhythm known to none but it. Its heart maybe. It took another step toward the boys. In backbeat to head its body took up the hump as if brimmed with concupiscent demons, as if at any moment from gullet it’d purge a bantam simulacrum of itself. Soon as the fat swelled forward it’d ricochet back. Its tits clapped. Seropurulent buttons formed and then conglomerated on its bald scalp and its epicanthal eyes near cyclopped in cathexis. A fungal mephitis thickened the air and the babyblue fabric over its left knee darkened.

            None saw or heard Annie’s debouch. As wont when hunting she’d her dogtags clamped in mouth. Before she lunged she released the tags and left with only a swath of its shoulder as she rocketed with the force of its short fat arms perpendicular her assault to land in the river where she made no sound. It had shouted, ‘Nooowha!’ As the shout ended Cassius pulled free of Max’s grip on his arm and swung. The thumb of its right hand fell into anklehigh leaves. It looked at where its thumb had been and a diastolic freshet masked its face. With the fingers of that hand it drew four white streaks forehead to chin. It blinked away eyelashed beads, dark eyes livened by the gules. Its suppurate mouth opened a tenuous cage of slaver and blood. It giggled.

            “Aubledeen! Hooo! Hoo hoo hooo! Aubledeen basilisk!”

            It turned around and hobbled away as if drunken. The disseverance purpled pajamabottoms. The mensural welts on its back a language akin to that tattooed on its leg. The newest redder than autumn.