Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » December 2019 » “The Charnel” by Christopher Ryan

“The Charnel” by Christopher Ryan

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, a man uses canine assistance to find a missing girl . . . 

The Charnel
by Christopher Ryan
Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The man sitting in my living room says to me, “I heard what you did for that other guy.”

I hand him his tea. He is much taller than me, but I’m sure I could outrun him. Not that I’ll have to. He is, ostensibly, here to request my help.

“Other . . . guy?” I say.

“Fred. Västman. You found his, uh, daughter?”

I sit, waving his miscalculations away. “Not me who find. Is my dog. I just…”

“Oh. But your dog—it’s alive?”

I blow into the mug, nod, sip. He will leave soon enough. The tea is bitter, and I am no treat for the eyes. I am a 60-year-old woman who weighs 97 pounds. I run 15 kilometers every day. This man, dabbing his forehead, looks like he’s in recovery from his last bypass or about to register for the next.

“My Lila has been missing two days. I have an item of her clothing.” He proffers a plastic grocery sack.

“There is a… perhaps?”

He raises his mug and takes a tentative sip, like a snake assessing a drinking pool. “You’re from where? Russia? Germany?”

I shake my head, leaving the wonder to hover between us. Then I tap on a pad of paper. “Detail. Phone. Her name, look. Money 1,000 kroner for hour. Plus petrol. And snacks.”

“Of course.” He reaches for his wallet, but I stop him.

“After find.”

“Sure, sure. And what kind of snacks?”

I laugh. He does not.

I see him out. The grocery sack remains on the cushion.

Upstairs I find Rauli on the bed. His ears perk—and my heart hastens, as it does whenever I see him. A merger between Border Collie and German Shepherd, his face is fascistic yet amenable: one side black, the other pure white. His body is patchwork. His eyes are limitless in darkness, while mine, though a striking blue, are distended, almost bulbous.

“Can you do it again, boy? A mistress, no doubt.”

He hurtles down the stairs.

Where the odd accent and bumbling diction come from, I don’t quite know. I suppose I just don’t want these men planting me askew in the garden of their minds.

I don my coat, then clip on Rauli’s leash. We head to the snow-dusted woods along the channel that feeds seawater to Stockholm’s ancient beaches. That’s where Rauli discovered the first body—or what remained. A constable said corpses are frequently deposited there like chaff, which the cruise ships then mince beyond recognition. Curious, Rauli and I returned a few days later and found another woman among the trees—alive. This time the constable said the perpetrator must have been startled or a novice. But few novices work the streets these days, he said.

Apparently the name of this place has cleverly transmuted to the Charnel.

I release Rauli. He barks and frolics: a bone is a toy is a paycheck, work indistinguishable from play. I stroll behind, my dim torch flickering across the ground. Once he has the lay of the land, I call him back and remove the grocery sack from my coat pocket and let him inhale the scent.

The look he offers is quizzicalness combined with terror.

“What is it?”

I remove the item: my own nightgown.

Rauli opens his mouth, but if he makes a sound I do not hear it. The ground shifts, and someone steps close. A log or a billyjack strikes my skull. Down I go.

I come to face-down in the dirt. Pusillanimous Rauli has fled. Like me, he is no fighter. I am but a ticket-puncher at a museum. I have no business snooping about in the temporary graveyards of this contemporary city. My temple is tacky with blood. I try to call out, but my voice betrays me. For a moment I suspect my mind has yet to accept that I am dead, but then the pain sets in. Nothing is more honest.

The trees waver. They could be figures, but it’s of no matter—I’m not their quarry. They are merely sending a message: Stop churning up our corpses.

I stagger to the woods’ edge. My dog appears, then hesitates, a length of rope looped around his neck. Our surroundings are so dark, all I can see is the white half of his face.

“Rauli,” I croak.

He barks in joy, lopes toward me, and becomes whole again.

I press my face to his fur. “You found me. You always do.”

***

CHRISTOPHER X. RYAN is the author of the novel Bogore, forthcoming in May 2020 from J.New Books. So far in 2019 his stories have appeared (or will appear) in 19 journals, and he earned second place in the 2019 Baltimore Review winter contest. In past years his work has appeared in journals such as Pank, Copper Nickel, and Matter, among many others. Born on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, he now lives in Helsinki, Finland, where he works as a writer, editor, and ghostwriter. He can be found at www.christopherXryan.com.

***

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 info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Dec 2, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



Featured: Black Interest