j. l. navarro

They Put It In the Water

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You couldn’t taste it, smell it, and it was virtually undetectable.  The ones who monitored the effects on the test subjects were unseen and were affiliated with no agency or group indigenous to this planet.  The subjects did not notice the consequences of the chemical used, only the ones doing the monitoring. 


Today they were suspended directly above the town of Goodman, whose population numbered 347.  They hung in the Oregon sky, unobtrusive in the form of a white fluffy cloud that did not evaporate or dwindle in any way.  Below, because it was Saturday, most of the townspeople were sleeping in.  Mrs. Caldwell, the clerk at the Lumber Jack Motel, was having her morning tea when Tom Mcclintock came in and tapped the call bell with a stiff dead finger.  The night before, drunk on homemade beer, he determined that he had had enough of this life and decided to make his exit by hanging himself in his backyard.  Better now than in the winter, he thought, when they would have a hell of a time thawing him out.  Everything went according to plan, except that he had woken up this morning with his feet off the ground, the noose strangling his neck, no pulse, and utterly confused.


"My goodness, Tom," Alice Caldwell said.  "Looks like you had a rough night."


"You don't know the half of it."


She saw the gray pallor, the purple rope burn around his neck, saw the unusual bulge of his bloodshot eyes and decided that he must have really tied one on.


It was early fall and Mcclintock lived five miles out of town; yet he was dressed only in his tattered bathrobe and wearing thick white socks eaten up at the soles by the long walk. 


"I have a bottle of bourbon I use for my rheumatism," Alice said.  "Would you like a hair of the dog?"


"What's the matter with you, woman; can't you see that I'm dead?"


"To be perfectly honest with you, Tom, that's exactly how you look."


"Is that all you have to say?"


"Given the amount of liquor you put away, Tom, it comes as no surprise to me."


"You don't understand, Alice; I'm really dead."


"Of course you are, Tom.  We all have to go sometime.  But that's no reason to go around dressed like that.  Chances are, the cold don't bother you, but you still have to respect other peoples' sense of propriety."


"Good Lord, woman, what the hell are you talking about?"


"You take yourself too seriously, Tom Mcclintock.  Now get on with yourself.  I know the sheriff isn't going to want to see you dressed in that fashion so I suggest you go home and clean up.  We all have problems, but people around here don't go around in public dressed like that."  Alice set her brown eyes on his dead face and knitted her brows.  "Now it's my business to watch out for what goes on in these premises, and looking the way you do is libel to scare off the few tourists we get around here.  Now scoot."


Outside, the stretch of blacktop that was route 97 cut through Goodman like a streak of licorice.  A few eighteen-wheelers were parked on the dirt shoulder of the highway, cold with a film of morning frost layering their windshields.  The next establishment over from the Lumber Jack Motel was Aunt Gerdie's Restaurant.  Inside, early risers were sitting in front of steaming cups of coffee.  It was toasty warm and when Tom Mcclintock walked in, agitating the bells above the door, everyone turned to look.





This story is included in The Blood Cake Vendor and Other Stories.