you don’t understand

My friend was accused of rape. People were talking on social media. A woman had written an accusatory blog post or something. People we knew seemed angry. They no longer wanted anything to do with him.

This friend stopped responding to my messages a few months ago. We used to be close but things weren't the same. I don't care. People go in and out of each other's lives. It doesn't ultimately matter.

In any case I called and he picked up. I mentioned people saying "crazy stuff" online. I acted worried but was probably just curious. He said he didn't want to talk on the phone but I could come over if I felt like it.

I walked, thinking of how I would venture to his parents house a lot when we were teenagers. This is like that now, I thought. I sound nostalgic but I don't miss much or care about the past. I can't feel anything, or much of anything. Sometimes I get a flash of something but mostly I'm dead now.

It may be medications I'm on, or damage from drugs I used to take. I have other theories. Toxic mold exposure. Or maybe just the byproduct of some kind of quasi-philosophy I've been privately developing, mostly at work when my mind wanders. Maybe I have alzheimers.

The sky changed as I travelled. It went from a chicken broth look to something like a big bruise, as though the earth was sheathed in fragile skin, and the wet, bloodlike universe was rushing toward it. That's not really what it was like, that's just the picture I felt like thinking about.

I avoided a depressing part of the neighborhood where I once saw a dead cat, and I ended up travelling an unreal route that resembled some other city, like some semi-rural part of Mexico or France. When I finally saw my friend's house I felt relieved in a way I can't explain, like I assumed I'd get lost, maybe forever, or I'd get there and his house would have vanished from the block, like a tooth conspicuously knocked out.

On his porch I watched his shadow through the curtains. He was moving stuff around. I had to wait a long time before he let me in. Inside his house was dirty. Not the worst thing imaginable but different than a year ago when a girl named Jane lived with him.

I used to have a girlfriend too. We would visit with him here. They would make dinner for us and another couple we used to hang out with. That couple is still together. They were saying some of the negative stuff I saw online. I think it's crazy people do that, but everyone, ultimately, is obsessed with being accepted.

I sat on his couch and he sat across from me. I didn't know how to bring up the thing, but the quiet seemed strange, which I guess we both felt because he turned the TV on. So how have you been, he asked me. I've been fine. I work at the same place, I said. He stared at the TV. So, some stupid people were saying mean stuff about you, I said.

He took a while and said, You don't understand. People are crazy, I said. He said, No you really don't understand . . . I've been through a lot recently. He looked at me, but through me, like his eyes were unfocused, or like I was a ghost and he could only try to see me. I'm going to start drinking, he said. He stood and walked out of the room.

The sun outside the window was really going down now. It spilled in through the glass and drew a molten stain on my shoes. When he came back in he was holding bottles. Then we drank some of the beer he had and afterward it was dark in the living room, and in the world outside the living room, and so we stood and walked into the bright kitchen.

So, what happened, I asked again.
I was in a bar, he told me. And I saw a girl. She looked like she was fourteen but she proved she was older. We talked until the bar closed.

Then we left together. Instead of coming here we drove on the highway a long time. At dawn we reached a suburban neighborhood. This was where she grew up. We walked behind a deserted house and went into a field. There was an enormous mountain that came suddenly into view and the whole scene had an impossibly perfect quality, like a bad painting someone does in thirty minutes.

What do you mean? I said.

He ignored me, becoming frantic.

We had sex in a field and it was morning, he continued. When we left we walked back past the house. She said let's go inside. We went in a back door. This was the house where she grew up, I realized. She didn't say I just knew. I went in a bedroom. Someone had spraypainted something mean on the wall and there was trash on the floor. It was strange to be in this impossibly bleak house with the impossibly beautiful field behind it. I felt like I was in a music video from thirty years ago or a video game from the future. But I also felt like I was dead. She took me in the basement and there were all these people who had passed away. Some were real but others were fake, like made out of paper mache and paint.
Those were the ones that really scared me, he said.

I'll show you.

He poured us both another shot of the liquor, some kind of whiskey, or maybe it was grain alcohol, and we chased it with beer. Then he stood and we walked down to the basement.

It was an old house with a dirt floor that wasn't level. I smelled a dead rat, or a mouse, or maybe that was the smell of what he was going to show me.

We walked to the corner of the room and on a little table there was a folded over sheet. The words The Shroud of Turin migrated across my news ticker-like consciousness, even though I didn't know what that was. Something to do with Jesus and his death. And maybe related to the impression his decomposing flesh left on a textile, like a kind of hard shadow, or grease on a paper bag.

He opened up the sheet and there really were a bunch of bones there. There was even a human skull. You see, he said. You see. It's real he said. It's real. I told you it was real and now you have to believe me. He went crazy saying these words and the energy in the room was altered by his talking.

He picked up one of the bigger bones and started smashing it against the wall like someone from fifty thousand years ago. I picked up a slightly smaller bone and walked to the furnace. I swung the big thigh bone at a region of metal and left a dent in some ductwork. Then I reached down and pulled out a big sooty air filter that looked like Halloween spiderwebs and I held it to my face like a mask.

When I left his house I wished I could have driven. I would have driven for a long time on the highways of night. I would have found something beautiful and obscure like the town he discovered. I loved seeing refineries during road trips. I once saw a dead alligator on the side of the road. It was black and didn't look much like anything anymore.

When I got home I finally read the blog post in question. Everything he said was true or not far from it. But I also understood why people thought what they thought, and in the multitudinous ways everything can be understood if you really put your mind to it, they both were correct, though ultimately living in utterly separate if equally beautiful realities.

Ben Faulkner is the founder of Fluland and a sometimes editor. He has been published widely on the internet under a variety of pseudonyms. He lives in the midwest.
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