Peter Markus knows how to hypnotize. His writing pulses story into myth, makes fiction forge primeval proofs. Here, in this selection from a book-in-progress, the hero strikes out for home.
from In a House in a Woods
When he saw that house, what he said, so that just his own head could hear it, was that this house used to be his.
But this house, it was not his house now.
This house, it was now just a house with a mom and a dad in it.
There were no boys here in this house.
When this boy knocked with his hand on the door to this house, no voice told him to come in.
But in he went to go see what he’d left in this house on that day when he left from this house to go live in the house with the girl in it who did not have a mom or a dad or a dad of her dad to make that house be a home.
In this house where this boy used to live with a mom and a dad of his own, when he walked in through the door, there was a mom who stood by the stove who looked a lot like his mom who liked to stand by the stove where she liked to cook up meat for the dad and her two boys to eat.
There was a dad, too, here in this house, out back in the back yard of this house, who was a man who liked to make things out of wood, and this man looked a lot like his own dad.
Hi, Mom, the boy said to the mom who stood like and cooked like and looked like his own mom.
Hi, Dad, the boy said to the man out back in the back yard of this house who liked to make things made out of wood.
Boy, I am not your mom, was what the mom said who stood like and cooked like and looked too much like this boy’s mom not to be his mom.
Boy, I am not your dad, was what the dad said too.
We don’t know you, both the mom and the dad then said, though they did not say this at the same time.
Who are you?
The boy who used to live in this house with a mom who liked to cook things and a dad who liked to make things made out of wood said that he used to be a boy who lived in this here house.
There are no boys in this here house, the mom and the dad both said, though not at the same time, since the mom was in the house and the dad was out back in the back of the house which is where he liked to be when he made all the things that he made out of wood.
The boy stood there while the mom and dad said the things that they said and he tried his best not to shake his boy head.
I see, the boy said to all that he’d just been told.
Then he said, to this not mom and this not dad, that he was on the hunt for a bird—had they seen it?—a bird with one wing, and he held up and out the hand of his that held the wing of the bird that he found in the place where what he should have found where he found this bird’s black wing was the witch that he had killed dead with a rock the size of his fist.
No birds round here, least not with just one wing, the man who was not this boy’s dad, though he looked a lot like this boy’s dad looked, said to this boy who was not his son.
Do you like to eat? the not mom said to the boy who was not her son. I can fry up some eggs for you.
Thanks, but no thanks, the boy said, I’ve got to find that bird.
He did not know what to say when the man who was not his dad asked, What’s the use of a bird with one wing to a boy like you?
The boy looked back at the man who was not his dad.
The boy looked back at the mom who was not his mom.
He did not say what was the use.
It was as if this boy did not have a tongue down in his own boy mouth for him to make words with.
He did not tell them, on top of all this too, that he was on the hunt for a house, a house that used to be a house in these woods, a house that some birds took (or was it just one big bird?) to a place he did not know where.
He left, and when he left, what he heard in his gut was a sound that said that what he should have said, when the mom who was not his mom asked him if she could fry him up some eggs, what he should have said was, Yes, ma’am, eggs would be good, thank you.
That night, once he had walked and walked and had found not what he’d gone out to the woods to find that day—a bird with one wing, a house with two girls and a boy in it and a roof that had more birds on top of it than there are stars up in the sky or leaves on all the woods’ trees—this boy found a tree and dug a hole at the base of its trunk and laid down in it so that he could sleep. There were no stars in this night’s sky for him to count, so he tried to count the leaves in all the woods’ trees. When he got to ten, he slept, and when he slept he dreamt that he saw a bird with one wing that flew through the blue sky as if it had more wings than just one and it sang and sang till night came and when night came the bird spit out of its bird mouth a witch that was half witch and half fish and had more teeth in her witch mouth than there are leaves in all the woods’ trees or stars in the night’s sky.
When he woke back up, the sky was not blue as it should have been, it was black as if it was still night. But it was not still night. It was a brand new day. The sun, that is to say, was where it should have been, in the east of the sky, though it could not now be seen. There were not clouds in front of where the sun was as the sun shined its rays out at the world that called it the sun. What was in front of the sun, what did make the new day sky still look like it was the night, what made the sky look to be black with night, were birds. The sky was filled, it was black, with birds. There were more birds than there are stars up in the night sky. There were more birds than there are leaves on all the woods’ trees. The sky, you might say, was bird black. The sky was a bird, and this bird, it was black. That’s what woke the boy up from his boy’s sleep—the sound that the birds’ wings made as they took to and filled up the sky with black and made the new day seem to be still night. It was a sound in his boy ears like the rain likes to make, or the wind when it blows through the trees, but like I said there were no clouds in the sky on this day, and the leaves in the trees did not move in the new day’s wind (there was no wind on this day to move them). If a wind had been made that day, it was a wind made by the wings of the birds—or was it one big bird?—as they beat and flapped and filled up and turned the sky as black as the sky is at night.
The next night the boy slept for three years.
When he woke back up he was half the way to what it’d be like for this boy to be a man. He had hair where hair had not been. His voice, when it came out of his mouth, came with a sound that was not his. He looked up and down and round and round to see where he’d been, to try to find where time had gone to. In three years the world had for the most part stayed the same, though to his eyes the trees did not look quite as big. The sky was still blue, as it should be, as it should have been on the day when he woke up and the sky was black with birds. When he looked here and there now, up in the trees, through the woods, he did not hear the song of birds, he did not see the flight of birds, the flit and flap of birds’ wings. He stood up to find that his boots were too small for how big his feet had grown to be. His hair was half the way down his back. There were new teeth, he could feel, in the back of his mouth. The pants he had on, the ends of the legs, came up half the way up his shins. There were holes in both knees. The shirt on his back felt like a too tight hug, though the last time he’d been hugged, too tight or not, this was not a thing that his mind could place in place or time. The girl who did not have a mom or dad or the dad of a dad to take care of her in her house in the woods had wrapped her small arms round his neck once and the boys had made a joke that this girl was like the noose that had brought the girl’s dad to his death. The boy now did not know where he was. He was in a woods. He knew he used to live near here in a house in a woods with trees that looked like these trees. He knew there was a boy, too, who he was not, and the girl—there were two he just now saw them both in his boy head—who lived in that house with him. What of that house? What of the girl who was born in that house and who did not have a mom or dad or a dad of a dad to take care of her? What of the boy who he was not? What of the girl who did not speak, who did not have a tongue in her mouth for her to make words with? Where were they? Where had they gone? These things he did not know and since he did not know he did not know what to do. He looked down at the ground as if the dirt might help him make sense of all that he did not know. That’s when he saw the wing of the bird and a rock that he could hold now in his fist. This rock, it was not as big as it had once been. Do rocks shrink with time, was the thought that this boy thought. He looked down at his own hand. It had grown too. It was now the hand of a man. It looked like the hand of the man who used to be his dad when the dad would pound nails through wood. His mom used to say how much the boys looked like their dad looked back when he was a boy too. The boys did not know if this was a good thing by the way that the mom had said this. What, the boy thought now in his own boy head, did his own face look like? He’d have to find a pond or lake for him to look down in to see what kind of face was now his to call his own.
Peter Markus is the author of the novel Bob, or Man on Boat (Dzanc Books), as well as three books of short fiction, Good, Brother (Calamari Press), The Singing Fish (Calamari Press), and We Make Mud (Dzanc Books). He is a recipient of a 2012 Kresge Artist Fellowship, awarded by Kresge Arts in Detroit, a program of The Kresge Foundation.
Daniel Shea is an artist based in Chicago. He is currently showing sculptures and installations at LVL3 Gallery, in Chicago, and will be showing new photographs as part of a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in October. He is currently in a long-term artist residency program at Columbia College Chicago, working on his first monograph, Blisner, Ill.