“Dismal Holy Night” by Nicole Yurcaba
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Nicole Yurcaba tries to help a friend in West Virginia.
Dismal Holy Night
by Nicole Yurcaba
Baker, Hardy County, West Virginia
He’s defunct again. Lying on the floor, screaming about helicopters and LSD experiments. The man-child in his underwear, spread-eagled, crying to the ceiling, maybe even to the outside woods if they’re listening.
The doctors say it’s the PTSD.
The other night I found him sitting on the porch, bathed in moonlight, back-and-forthing in the wooden rocking chair he built with his own hands after retirement. Him being out there wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been fourteen degrees and 2:30 a.m. He hummed, hummed, hummed, some tune from my native Eastern European country. Never even noticed when I opened the door, tapped his shoulder, and muttered, “Ekh, vy, z hluzdu.” Eh, you crazy.
That’s how I knew.
Spend enough time with someone and one of two things happens—either you become utterly inseparable and nearly the same being, or the relationship becomes the equivalent of severe pancreatitis.
He and I? We fell somewhere in between.
“Quit it,” I demand. “Get up.”
More wails. More crying. Animal screeching.
“Please,” I say. Sobs. Grown-man sobs. Help-me-God sobs. I-want-to-die sobs.
He rolls onto his side, curls fetal, clenches a fist that he rests at his mouth. His teeth greet his knuckles.
If I let him, he’ll perform some weird form of autocannibalism. His muscles glean beneath his flesh. Despite our years of duty, recklessness, night jumps, swamp wades, we are both in decent shape, though most say all we received for twenty years of what we did are broken bodies and thanklessness.
We’re well preserved, he used to say. Physically, yes. Mentally? For fuck’s sake. Get real.
He sinks his teeth into his knuckles the same way he did when we were in S******, pinned in a shattered room of an obliterated building as our own higher-ups reckoned the best option was to simply let us die, succumb to fire, etc.
Maybe I should have devoured my knuckles then too.
Well, now we have a few more options than we did in S******. One: I can pick him up, carry him to his bed, put him in it, and let him scream, cry, chew until he falls exhaustedly into peace and into pieces. Two: leave him where he lies. Three: call an ambulance. Four: call his girlfriend, but even she can’t stand his antics anymore.
“Ekh, vy, z hluzdu,” I say. He huffs, exhales, inhales. On the floor, my broken doll, a poor elocution of a once-exotic language. To think that he was once the best man on the team, our leader, the macho yet intelligent god we all envied because night after night when we returned from deployment he seduced the wondrous and the otherwise unattainable with his seven tongues and impressive push-up ability.
If I call the girlfriend, the cops, the ambulance, then I am Judas.
I kneel beside him, touch his shaking shoulder, and he rolls onto his back so that he faces me. His eyes are red wrecking balls, his face a torn mess.
“You remember, don’t you?” he asks.
I nod. Of course I remember. How could I forget?
But I never thought . . .
“I don’t want to,” I confess.
“But you promised.”
Yes, I did. All those years ago, when the bullets rained and our time seem snipped at its umbilical cord.
He used to scream at me, I’m not one of those fucking cry-in-your-beer vets!
If I don’t, then I am Judas.
Into my arms, he creeps, racked with sobs and heaves and breaths. We have been this close only one other time, a time we don’t mention and don’t talk about even when it’s just us. His skin taints my arms with clamminess, rendering an eerie stillness. Still as the woods outside our cabin. Still as the unlit kindling residing inside the fireplace. Still as Guam, Mali, Thailand nights, when the only movement was ours as we slipped ghostlike into crevices and nooks and villages the world devours without a trace, only to whisper, remind us, You were never here.
I have a motto to uphold.
This promise that I don’t want to keep.
Duty is duty.
Because we are brothers and . . .
I draw him closer, my hands resting just below his collarbone. Until he seizes, until he ceases, until the clamminess fades to nothingness, I hold him, and I whisper to him, and I give him a peace unlike any other he has ever known.
NICOLE YURCABA is a Ukrainian-American writer, an internationally-recognized poet, and an English instructor at Bridgewater College. She has been published in venues such as The Atlanta Review, The Bluestone Review, Philomathean, Midway Still, The Tishman Review, VoxPoetica, and many others. Yurcaba is also the second-place winner of Australia’s Sans Frontieres Hemingway Contest and a finalist for Salem College’s International Poetry Rita Dove Award.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 29, 2016
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