There is in the act of crawling across the parking lot a certain primordial pleasure. It’s true: He has no idea why or how he should have come to be here, nor why he should be compelled to place one forearm in front of the other and drag himself that much further forward. Yet even in his perplexity he understands what a simple—and somehow exquisite—thing it is for him, a grown man, to be engaged in the minor transferal between limb and space that is this, the motion by which crawling is comprised.
Even when a knee encounters a particularly rough expanse of concrete and flesh is thereby further frayed from flesh there is in the pain’s immediacy a kind of pleasure. At these moments whatever distant concerns have been contrived regarding his condition are made all the more distant, lessening the very heft of comprehension—and that of corporeality also—so that what remains is perhaps a man made as physiologically incomplex as possible.
His existence is no more than that of the tangible, his purpose no more profound than the mere continuation of crawling. Put another way: It is as if he has transcended the place of man. All that is real now is this, the act of crawling.
Does he not bleed? His figure has been rendered raw in the course of this crawling, unclad save for socks, shoes, a pair of tattered boxer briefs. Indeed, he bleeds. Yet this bleeding seems to be in service of the crawling itself. The crawling cannot be done without it. The blood is like life with which the crawl is continually imbued.
Only as his fingers happen upon metal does he finds himself reverting to the station of man. This metal is hotter even than the concrete—incandesced by the white sun ablaze above the parking lot—so that his hand is delivered a shock like that of a sudden wild flame. Cessation of crawling is forced upon his physical assembly. A comprehension of sorts returns in the manner of some stark weapon recoiling. The man understands now the metal is that of an open door, the open door that of a yellow car.
It seems somehow logical he should hoist his body up from the concrete and into this car. His hands are scalded further by the hard plastic of the steering wheel he discovers himself to be grasping. Even so he feels a certain relief, here in the driver’s seat, in what he recognizes as a common bearing of his species.
Moreover, the man can recall via some ill-defined memory a momentum far more resolute than mere crawling. He can recall, too, the notion of a key by which this momentum should be initiated. However, no key is to be found in the ignition nor in the glovebox nor amid the coins collected in cupholders. With what he has come to determine is an emotion akin to distress this man determines he is, indeed, distressed.
Only then does he realize there is an unpleasant odor—it is in point of fact a stench—so abundant in its effluvium it could be likened to a second being here in this yellow car. His attention turns to the back seat where sits an opened cardboard box. In this box is a putrid spherical mass, its putrescence evinced by a shaggy layering of white like the pelt of a dying animal. The man can even discern this pelt’s undulation, though it is not the heaving of a final sickly breath. Rather, it is a multitude of small black creatures burrowing through said pelt until they are shooting out by force of wing.
Upon further reflection the thing in the cardboard box reveals itself to be no more than a pizza. The word—pizza—comes to the man unexpectedly, though he is content with its use. The small black creatures have revealed themselves to be nothing more than flies. The man, however, is made less content by this knowledge. Consider how vast in number these flies are growing. Consider they are circling their rotten bounty in a delirious and ever-expanding haze so that the stench is drawn further forth by means of their turbulence. To be sure, here in the confines of this yellow car there is the generation of some hellish corona.
The man determines something is badly awry here. For the first time since hoisting himself up to the driver’s seat he peers through the windshield—halved diagonally by a single crack—and notices a silver truck opposite. Beyond this silver truck is a row of long low buildings—windows halved in much the same manner as the windshield or fractured further into quarters or fractured further still beyond any accounting whatsoever—so that what is witnessed is a scene of considerable desolation. Above these windows are emblems—RITE-AID, PETCO, LITTLE CAESAR’S—though the form of certain letters are fractured in the way of the windows. Still other letters are omitted altogether so that the man must puzzle out a fuller configuration of words.
It is indeed a scene of desolation. The man believes it of no little importance he should leave this place and therefore hoists his personage back out of the yellow car. For a moment he stands upon the concrete before it becomes apparent there is no bone nor muscle nor any other anatomical mass within the chamber of his left leg—or if there is it has been so disunited as to be hardly anything at all. Out of this lack comes a conflagration like that of a star’s formation in a seeming void. It is of a heat far greater than even that of the white sun, igniting what molecular structure remains so that body is bent by feeling of flame.
He is crawling again. One forearm is placed in front of the other as he drags himself that much further forward towards the silver truck which he has come to deem a mode of escape. Soon he is passing a tattered length of brown cloth, and another length, and another length beyond. Just as he earlier puzzled out a configuration of words he must now puzzle out a fuller configuration of this cloth in order that he understand it once was fashioned into a pair of pants. Still more tattered cloth presents itself—a white sleeve purpled by calcified-like leavings of blood—and he cannot now help but suspect these to be the remains of what once dressed his near-naked body. These remains not only suggest the extent of this man’s crawling but its intensity also. That is, his attire appears to have been stripped away by sheer exertion. Or has he crawled forth from his prior garb like some elemental being shedding unnecessary hide, a desperate bid for evolution’s assurance of survival?
He himself cannot fathom the answer to such a question. He can hardly fathom the asking of it. In truth, a kind of forgetting has begun whereby memory of his crawl to the yellow car diminishes more and more with each successive foot of concrete gained. Even the yellow car itself—and the dreadful knowledge attained therein—is diminishing in such a way the mere fact of it might never have been encoded and retained by his mind to begin with. For a moment he is dimly aware of this, the process by which the forgetting is done. Then he has forgotten he has forgotten anything at all.
Instead, he has found in the act of crawling a certain primordial pleasure. Even when flesh is further frayed from flesh there is a kind of pleasure to be had. At these moments the very heft of comprehension—and that of corporeality also—is lessened so that the crawling is a thing wholly unto itself. It needs neither god nor man to prevail. Put another way: The act of crawling exists in absolute perpetuity.
Only as his fingers happen upon metal does he revert to the station of man. A comprehension of sorts returns in the manner of some stark weapon recoiling. He understands now the metal is that of an open door, the open door that of a silver truck. He understands, too, he has made his way here with the intent of escape. From what precisely he cannot now recollect. He finds himself in the driver’s seat of this silver truck nonetheless. One hand grasps the steering wheel, the other a key already inserted into ignition. This word—key—comes to the man unexpectedly. With what he has come to determine is an emotion akin to hopefulness the man determines he is, indeed, hopeful.
He turns said key. When nothing happens—when the silver truck’s engine fails to induce the very dynamism for which it was forged and which the man can recall via some ill-defined memory—he turns the key a second time, and a third, and a fourth, and still many times more before his hopefulness is felt to dissipate.
Only then does the man realize there is a stench so abundant in its effluvium it could be likened to a second being here in this silver truck. His attention turns to the back seat where lies a broad, amorphous mass which appears to have been construed solely for its own ruination, its ruin evinced in part by an outgrowth around which stretches tissue of the rawest order. At the center of this outgrowth is a concavity so dark and fathomless it is hardly surprising when it begins to grow all the more in totality and thereby stretches the tissue further still until this tissue has shriveled nearly to the point of nullity. To be clear: This outgrowth is expanding in a manner at odds with its own design and it isn’t long before an eruptions of sorts occurs. A liquid of thick, orangish attribute—it is in point of fact a slime—spills forth from the concavity. As if abetted by the slickness of this slime there follows a discharge of a not-inconsiderable number of long, thin tendrils. Down the outgrowth’s side these tendrils slip until it is they’ve slipped free of the slime altogether and have thus revealed the sheer blackness of their own coloration.
The man has determined something is badly awry here. For the first time since hoisting himself up to the driver’s seat he peers through the windshield—split diagonally by a jagged crack and split once more—and notices a yellow car opposite.
He is soon crawling again. His left leg no longer exists or if it does it doesn’t exist in any form useful to him. One forearm is placed in front of the other as he drags himself that much further forward towards the yellow car which he has come to deem a mode of escape. A kind of forgetting has already begun to occur whereby memory of his crawl to the silver truck diminishes more and more with each successive foot of concrete gained. For a moment he is dimly aware of this, the process by which the forgetting is done. Then he has forgotten he has forgotten anything at all.
It is then he spots what he believes to be a reflection of himself. Upon further study—the distant figure only bears a slight resemblance to himself—he wonders perhaps if it is an illusion conjured by the blaze of the white sun and the concrete’s shimmer, an inexplicable creature shaped by the very intensity of this day’s heat.
No, it isn’t so: This being is real. In truth, it is a near-naked woman crawling away from a white van in the direction of a blue hatchback. One forearm is placed in front of the other as she drags herself that much further forward. Her long brown hair clings to her shoulders by means of perspiration, her breasts are clad in a ragged bra insufficient to steady the sway of a terrible weight the man cannot quite understand. What he does understand is this: While they may not be like that of a mirror image it is possible they are the inverse of one another, he a man, she a woman, he crawling along this course, she another altogether.
Stephen Langlois is the recipient of a NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction as well as a writing residency from the Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Lit Hub, and Joyland, among others. He serves as fiction editor for the literary journal FLAPPERHOUSE. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com.