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News & Features » October 2017 » “White Cats” by Fortunato Salazar

“White Cats” by Fortunato Salazar

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, the real clock starts when the blood starts running.

White Cats
by Fortunato Salazar
Bremerton, Washington

Had I actually just dropped Leland? The red-winged blackbirds seemed to think so.

Maybe I’d only dozed off while stowing my 12 gauge in Leland’s pickup after a night of target practice, after a long day of tracking blackbirds, transcribing their patter.

Cashed my paycheck at the CVS, then hijacked Leland on his way to poker night.

We stumbled down the hill and aimed through fog at what we guessed was pond.

Soon the sun would rise and the fog would lift and I could strip out of my yellow coveralls. I would need to phone in and make some excuse without sounding uncertain.

Meanwhile Leland was bleeding out on the hill he owned. Poor Leland who’d survived fabricating early spheromaks when all around him apprentices were gaping through safety windows at the sheet lightning. Survived breaking down the shipyard, night forays into coves to excavate the capsuled prototypes. He’d survived the trauma of reliving, again and again, the sight of Sasha noisily eviscerating Antonella or Catalina. He hadn’t been able to save Sasha though he’d made a dozen white cats pay. He thought he’d survived renting to a tenant when his better judgment told him not that tenant.

Maybe Leland had built the pond so he could take out his anger on it, his unresolved ire. He could only do so much sitting at the picnic table with the shotgun in his lap. He needed closure. You could see the wrinkles around his eyes from the strain of reliving.

Hazily, I thought I could recall a red-wing in the background making a disparaging comparison involving Leland’s son, who’d been conscripted: the son was on the front lines now, while I was transcribing for the EPA. I thought I could recall aiming the 12 gauge over Leland’s shoulder in the direction of a red splash. Now I could distinctly remember my finger on the trigger and raucous trash talk from the birds, inviting me to go for it, punch a channel through the fog.

First Sasha had bled out and now Leland was bleeding out. Maybe his son was bleeding out at this very moment. White cats already disguised by the fog were cloaked in the infrared spectrum by dense clusters of Histoplasma snuggling close.

I’d never had a landlord like Leland. Once, we’d run into each other at the CVS when I was arguing on the phone with my doctor, whose mother had just bled out. Did that excuse the doctor for the misspelling?

I sprawled on the hillside, thinking that I could orient myself by where my blood pooled. All that happened was a rush of nostalgia for a childhood memory of a mockingbird dive-bombing a friendly natural enemy day after day on the same windowsill.

I was so off-compass that I mistook the spores probing the yellow fabric—searching for a way in—for tendrils of mandrake root. I drifted into a misguided reverie which after a while I recognized as a version of an anecdote that Leland had shared about the first attempts to hack the language of the red-wings.

When I opened my eyes, Leland was looming over me, pointing his shotgun into the fog that had yet to lift. I must have dozed off, because the sun filtered through the fog in that way that said that curfew had been called. I’d be in the yellow suit all day, getting wasted in my landlord’s manufactured house while my landlord, in his manufactured house next door, brewed tea atop the wood stove, eager for another chance to avenge Sasha.

I drifted into another reverie, as if I’d already set myself up in an inner room and was giving thanks for stocking up, sprawled on the couch I’d bought whose fabric-care tag read “Unknown Fabric.”

In this reverie Leland’s dying words were “Avenge Sasha.” I would close up Leland’s house so that his son could remain on the front lines, avenging. I’d get clean. Make an effort to take my work seriously. Go out into the field with Leland’s shotgun hidden in my gear bag, my own shotgun buried in the silt at the bottom of the pond. I’d point my microphone and transcribe many epitaphs faithfully. Red-wings would perish while regretting their sarcastic comments. Then I’d bury the epitaphs, erase them from the transcript, clean the transcript for the EPA. The epitaphs would remain in the woods while the rest of the verbiage walked out with me in my bag.


FORTUNATO SALAZAR lives in Los Angeles; his fiction and translation appear at PEN America, Tin House, VICE, J Journal, Mississippi Review, Washington Square Review, The Brooklyn Rail and elsewhere.


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: Oct 30, 2017

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