She Came From
Caleiela was only seen standing still until they brought her in from the wild. When Larry took her pulse, she nearly broke his arm. Peter could not help but laugh.
“I’ll bet this chick was raised by wolves or some shit.” A bead of drool collected on Larry’s chin. It resembled a tic.
Peter looked down at the woman’s hands and said, “What do you want to do?”
Larry’s Ford pickup was idling. No vehicle of Larry’s was meant to idle. The sound was that of a mutant dog panting. He looked behind the cab. A cooler sat in one corner amidst a few scattered power tools. He turned to the statuesque wild woman. As if she would be so helpful as to offer an opinion.
“We’re in the middle of the freakin road.” Peter stomped the gravel. He seemed to think the situation was a fat spider waiting to be splattered and thus solved.
“I can see that, gifted. Settle down. The right thing would be to throw her in the back and take her to a doctor, but seeing how she piped up when I felt for her pulse, I don’t know that that would be wise.”
“Are you eating crazy-flakes for breakfast again, Larry? Think about it. A beat-up pickup truck pulls into an emergency room and two yahoos drag in a comatose woman saying they found her in the middle of the road, how do you think that would come off? They’ll have the police on the phone before you can pick your nose.”
Larry punched Peter in the arm.
“What was that for?”
“For hurting her feelings.” By ‘her’ Larry was indicating his truck. “Beat up pickup truck?” He patted the back tire. “He didn’t mean nothing by it.” Returning his attention to Peter he said, “And secondly, you call that comatose?” He motioned to the woman who was standing rigidly with her feet planted a tree stump’s width apart, eyes open. She was naked but exhibited no goose bumps. Larry was wearing a fleece and two layers under that. The sun emerged like the summit of a sleeping fat man’s hairy gut in a slow inhale. There was still a kiss of frost on the pine needles strewn diffusely over the meadows and bluffs like macroscopic vomit in a town where the presiding nature deities were always hung over. Larry shivered just looking at her. “I’m not sure exactly what I’d call that, but I can tell you exactly where she needs to go, and it’s not the middle of Highway Twelve in her birthday suit.”
Her line of sight was perpendicular to the dashed yellow divide. Both of her heels were positioned on the yellow strip, her toes flexed so that no portion of her was touching unpainted gravel. Larry had not noticed that before and wondered why he noticed it now.
Peter stomped the ground again. “Then what are you waiting for? Let’s go.”
The idling engine changed decibel levels as though trying to communicate an idea.
Peter looked behind them. Still no headlights approaching. Highway Twelve at Six A.M. on a Sunday was as desolate as a vegetarian’s meat freezer. “Looks like we’re standing here talking. That’s doing our princess a heap of good.”
Looking down Grant Hill, across Boulder Pass at the two-lane curve that hugged the lake, an eighteen-wheeler with a faded Pepsi logo on the side of its white trailer became visible. Both men estimated it at less than half a mile away. Larry’s pickup, in its mutant canine language, sniffed the scent of its approaching peer and raised its volume.
The wild woman made no sign of acknowledgment.
Larry cautiously reached an arm around her shoulders and froze, an inch away from bodily contact. “We could always try and talk to her first. She looks human enough.”
“You mean she lacks nothing anatomically.”
Larry glared at his friend.
“Yeah, I said it.”
Larry shook his head. He seemed to think his chin was a socket wrench continually tightening the bolt of moral righteousness.
Peter worked his face like a crowbar, forcing his way into locked doors with minimal expressions. “Don’t even. I saw you looking, and you know it.”
“So what? I look at cliffs too, but that doesn’t mean I think about jumping off one.”
The Ford’s engine puttered like a toddler tugging ineffectually at one’s leg.
They could hear the Pepsi truck now, like a sluggish wind gaining altitude.
Peter took a step toward her and stopped. Up until Larry had touched his fingertips to her neck, she easily might have been a lifelike mannequin. The instant their skin completed a circuit, her torso had flailed in birdlike oscillations, limbs making scrambled eggs of local air. Larry had fled and stumbled on his heels. Her body resumed its robotic position before his could. Her facial composure did not deviate. He never had opportunity to confirm that she had a pulse.
Peter looked from her to the back of the truck. “Okay.” He clapped his hands. “I’ll get her legs, you get her back. Up and over, count of three.”
“Wait a sec,” said Larry. “What if she comes to while we’re driving? She might freak out and jump. Let’s just get her out of the road, for now. If she thrashes and kicks you in the balls, you probably deserve it.”
“You’re real funny. Good thing there’s an audience on its way. Hurry it up, huh?”
“Second thought, we don’t need to do it like that,” said Larry. “If she can stand up, that means she can walk. I’ll just slowly take her hand and lead.”
The ground was vibrating with the weight of Pepsi-Cola.
Larry’s hand trembled more forcefully the closer it inched toward hers’. Her fingers were long and strangely elegant for all their calluses. Her surface was peach colored and sinewy, muscles clenched like the private interior of a clamshell. Her hands hung tensely at her sides, slightly cupped, palms flush against a topographic object unseen.
Elbows and knees disrupted her serpentine musculature like knots in wood, as though they were unintentional. Her shoulders were hitched inward toward her spine like a tongue coiled to devour a meal. She was too stiff and warlike in posture to be unconscious, and far too patient to be a living thing.
Her stomach muscles were knotted in ridges and ropes, colloids in a paunch with the consistency of dried apricot, framed within the concavity of ribs that were too stout not to protrude. Her breasts were pear shaped and probably contained spherical compasses of different magnetic alloys, one to guide her trajectory on Earth and the other fixed in outer space.
Her gaze was on an even plane with the horizon. If rocket scientists measured the angle and orientation of her pupils with respect to the Earth’s surface, her gaze would be shown to circumnavigate the planet and man’s history on it and end up right back in the center of Highway Twelve at the top of Grant Hill with the sun rising.
Her hair was down to her triceps and could not be confined to one color, but wavered somewhere between soil and the specs of mica in common rocks. Her lips were pale and small and terminated with no taper with which to gage emotion. Her face, simple and unvexed, contradicted her body; this appeared to be a necessary survival trait where she came from.
Larry could feel the hair on her arm. The rumble of the Pepsi truck shook deep in his belly, and at moments was indistinguishable from his hunger for a steak sandwich.
“Raised by wolves,” Peter murmured, shaking his head.
“That’s what you said, isn’t it? Wild child raised by wolves.”
“Myth of Sleeping Beauty, frog princess.”
“What?” Larry’s agitation made tiny stabbing weapons of the consonants in his speech.
“Maybe she’s waiting to be woken by a kiss from Fat-ass Charming.”
Larry lurched and kissed Peter on the lips in the exact manner that he would throw a punch. His tongue sprinted across Peter’s teeth and then he ducked and laughed.
Peter spit on the ground. “Don’t you ever, ever-”
“So you think that’s what she needs? Didn’t get your fat ass out of the road.”
Peter cinched Larry’s shirt collar in his fist and twisted. “I said don’t you ever-”
Larry shook free. “Get over it. We’ve got about ten seconds before that truck driver gets involved. Give me a hand?”
Peter shook his head and walked away. “She’s your problem.”
The Pepsi truck honked a series of sustained, primal bleats as its front end encroached. Larry could see each rib of its grill. He spun back to the wild woman, crouched down, closed his eyes and ran toward the ditch, falling forward once his boot struck dirt. She was heavier than he had calculated, and in the process of falling, his teeth plowed into her abdomen and drew enough blood to fill one of those disposable wooden spoons on which ice cream parlors served free samples. It tasted like apple juice.
Larry caught his breath and the inside of his head rotated a quarter turn before his sensory organs latched into gear. She was standing up, in the ditch, looking straight ahead. Her fingers were still clutched around that imaginary curvature by her hips.
Larry looked at his own hand. It was shaking to the point where it was difficult to determine where the separation between fingers actually was. Her hands were motionless.
Peter was standing in the road talking to the truck driver. The Pepsi truck was parked just up the hill.
His Ford was still idling.
She smelled like industrial rubber at melting point. It was almost a pleasant scent.
There was a third on-looking party. A young couple on a motorcycle had pulled over behind the Pepsi truck to investigate the commotion. The woman who was driving removed her helmet and reached into the pocket of her leather jacket.
The wild woman was, to all observers, standing still.
A police siren whaled from the far side of the lake and became multiple sirens, instantly louder.
In sterile captivity, the wild woman maintained her standing pose. All her vital signs were positive.
On the front-page article of Tuesday’s issue of the Cat County Chronicle, the wild woman looked despondent. It was the camera’s angle and the shadow cast on her nose by her hair. She also looked incomprehensibly sad—an illusion; as even Peter could attest, her face was a membrane afloat on a static reservoir. Her flesh could not sink or sublimate of its own accord. The picture evoked sadness, but this could not therefore have been her sadness.
Her name was Caleiela. Nobody knew where the name originated, but that was how everybody referred to her. Her identity recognized by none. Every psychiatrist and physician in the county examined her. No clinical diagnoses was offered. She showed no resistance to IV needles, but reacted histrionically to the touch of any human hands. For five weeks she stood behind a glass wall in an isolation facility and for five weeks Caleiela was silent.
The curvature to which her fingers conformed gradually increased, by a fraction of an inch each day. This nobody possibly could have noticed, for no instruments had been invented to take notice of such things. Caleiela’s state was characterized by abnormal breathing rhythms (she respired in modulated intervals, an eight second cycle of rapid nasal breaths followed by a slow exhale spanning twenty-four seconds, this for three repetitions and then four deep breaths; she exhibited the same pattern while sleeping) and a total dissociation from her surroundings.
On the twenty-third day following her capture, Caleiela became controversial. People picketed outside the psychiatric institute wherein she was contained, yelling chants of “Give Kali fresh air, masculine feminine have no fear.” Nobody knew who first started that refrain or what it meant, but the chant quickly caught on.
Diverse religious fanatics rejoiced, claiming Caleiela their savior. Other extremists insisted that she was an advanced alien life form from a distant galaxy called Wholpholjiara Sarboniss, sent to Earth to study humans.
After much resistance from the Board of Health, the state began to admit visitors to view Caleiela in person from behind a yellow banister—with two armed security guards—for a five-dollar admission fee. People lined up around the block, many claiming to be healed of minor abrasions—and, in unreported cases, cured of bacterial infections—via exposure to her aura.
The price of admission was soon raised to seven dollars.
The curvature in her fingers' grip grew slowly. This went unnoticed, even by the poet laureates who paid the seven dollars to stand before her.
Caleiela’s creativity was discovered on accident when a nurse left a clipboard full of procedural documents on her cot. In the morning, the pages were laid out on the floor contiguously and a circle six feet in diameter had been drawn in urine. The circle was too geometrically perfect to have been drawn without computer numerically controlled machinery.
Other nurses took to playful experimentation, leaving miscellaneous objects within Caleiela’s reach over night. All of them went ignored.
Her next display of so called 'modern art' involved a cup of coffee a security guard had left on the floor. When retrieved the next morning, the liquid in the cup was clear, and all the coffee matter had condensed into a suspended sculpture slowly rotating in the spatial center of the cup. This artwork was only witnessed by one person, and it dissolved and reverted back into day-old coffee before any photographs could be taken. The sculpture was of a human hand, fingers flexing and beckoning to all sides of the fluid.
Counter movements to the Caleiela worshipers arose slightly later than expected. Eighteen attempts at assassination were made. None were successful. It became a staple of fraternity initiation rites for young men attending the region’s most prestigious universities to attempt to sneak past security and sexually violate Caleiela. As a backlash to the commonality of these attempts, several feminist groups in collaboration sparked a tradition of weekly vows of silence in Caleiela’s honor. Every Saturday, the entire female population of united campuses refused to give verbal or physical acknowledgment to any males for twenty-four hours.
T shirts and bumper stickers bore her name and logo (the Caleiela logo was a minimalist watercolor painting depicting her standing prettily on a hilltop, a trio of broad brush strokes representing her hair streaming in front of her eyes and mouth, which were not shown; the artist was anonymous).
Caleiela’s third and final gift of 'modern art' was not considered art.
Nobody knew what to say when the murdered teenager was found on the floor beside Caleiela’s feet at four O’clock in the morning, the path of blood from the gash in his neck making looping shapes, congealing and thinning to circumnavigate the shadow of her knees and her breasts on the linoleum. She was standing up, looking evenly at the glass wall, her mouth compact and neutral. His dead face drooped elastically against the floor, his lips pursed and conforming to the contour of her shadow. They remained in this parody of an embrace until they were interrupted.
Larry remembered the taste of apple juice.
The woman on the motorcycle felt something in her chest squeeze like a vice every time she passed by pedestrians on Highway Twelve.
On the morning the body was found, it was raining.
The Cat County Chronicle was in shock, and printed a blank page. It was the first time the media ever literally stuttered.
Caleiela’s grip grew tighter.
The legal proceedings were delayed. Nobody dared venture near her with handcuffs, not with the assembled multitudes outside.
The rain came down in layers of force and ebb like an intimate conversation on politics.
The religious extremists understood wrath, and demanded sacrifice.
The UFO faction rallied for her breathing patterns to be recorded and then analyzed for coded messages.
The team of security guards who rotated shifts at Caleiela’s quadrant all quit their jobs immediately, claiming an inexplicable constrictive feeling in their throats.
Her quarters went unmonitored for a period of eleven minutes, during which time Caleiela vacated the facility by means unknown. Her disappearance made national news, and federal warrants were issued for her arrest.
Her name accrued dread in the way that money accrues interest. Unrelated adolescent boys in different states of residence described nightmares in their internet blogs that bore uncanny similarities, all involving encounters with an ambiguous naked female figure on a deserted road, and most concluding in being jarred awake by a sensation of explosive physical pain that starts with an icy compression of the groin and quickly propagates up through the torso with the exaggerated feeling of indigestion, and ending in an inflammation of the gums. The majority of these documented nightmares made note of the stillness of her hands.
The series of inexplicable works of art materializing in unlikely places received less attention.
At approximately four in the morning, it is not uncommon for truck drivers on Highway Twelve to experience flash hallucinations of a blackened human form blocking the road, accompanied by the sensation of a hostile human hand closing around the driver’s testicles.
It had been four years since Larry’s encounter with the wild woman. He still bragged to every stranger at the bar that he was not only the first person to discover Caleiela, but had saved her life. It angered him that this boast resulted in only two free beers over four years.
It also angered him that the only person who believed his account was a retired coroner who related—over shots of rum—an anecdote of the day of the teenager’s murder. "I was in that room, and I was the last one who stayed to clean up after, I mean, after the bitch split."
Larry’s left calf muscle tightened to the density of an acorn when the man spoke the word 'bitch.' He inhaled slowly through the gap in his front teeth, as this was the only method he knew to defuse his own anger.
"I saw something on the floor," the retired coroner continued. "I don’t know why I’m telling you this. It wasn’t worth mentioning to anyone at the time. If they’d brought a spook specialist to the scene, he’d’ve had a field day when I showed'm what I’m about to tell you. Glad thing they didn’t; as if folks didn’t already have enough fluff to sensationalize over that dumb bitch."
Larry’s calf muscle tightened beyond the limits of organic tissue, sucking his heart, liver and thyroid down into the nucleus of murder generating electricity through his tendons.
As Larry listened to the man’s tale, his breathing took on an irregular rhythm that was, for no actual reason, familiar to him.
"There was this lamp in the room, one of those retro ducknecked lamps, and it was on this high shelf so it made shadows. When she disappeared, the orderlies on shift all lost their heads, like a damned circus. The paramedics came, did their job, the reporters came and did theirs, the police came and squabbled, everyone did their jobs and hustled out quickly, but after I did mine, I stayed around and looked at things, because that’s how I do my job; I stay around and I look at what’s there. The body was gone, but there was still some blood, and there was this dark spot on the floor, a smoothness that stayed there. It didn’t look like any chemicals had spilled, and the floor wasn’t wet, and it didn’t seem like any residue of bodily fluids. It was just this dark spot. As I looked at it, not really concentrating, but concentrating on piecing together the report in my head, I noticed that it started to lighten up while I stood there. So I backed up and got a broader view of it, and I understood what it was."
Larry relaxed a little bit and looked down at his hands.
"It was her shadow. She was gone, but her shadow was still there. It didn’t stay there for long, it faded and burnt itself out, but I swear to Lincoln that’s what I saw. Only I saw it."
Larry smiled and said "You are so full of shit. I don’t even know how you walk."
The retired coroner sighed and put on his jacket. "If I thought you’d believe my story, I wouldn’t have told it to you."
"But you believe mine."
The old man patted Larry on the back as he got up. "If I walked naked into the street with my saggy nuts hanging out, they’d just run me over and call it natural selection. If a woman does it, people make a big darned fuss. Of course you stopped for her. She ain’t bad looking." He slid a bill under the napkin holder. "I always say it’s no good for a man to be hung up on a woman, but we’ve all got one who we respect and miss like hell. Obsessing like that is the quickest way to rot your insides; it’s worse than these." He drew a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. "The thing about bad habits is—and you probably won’t realize this until you turn sixty—they're all worth it. They make you a truer person in God’s eyes. But when it comes to the woman you respect, God is squeemish and tactful enough to skidaddle out of the room once those pans and dishes go flying, and when the dust settles and she moves to Minnesota, you're left to answer that one for yourself; was she worth it?"
Both of Larry’s calves were shaking.
The old man shook his head with a pitying grin. "Like I said, we’ve all got one who twists us up in knots. Except, mine did more than take her clothes off and stand in a stupor for the media to gawk at. Mine talked. Mine did things for me you can’t imagine. And to this day, I’m still not sure if it was worth it." The old man tipped his hat and exited the bar, leaving no shadow.
Larry could not stay in the bar without continuing to drink, so he went outside. It would take him at least an hour to sober up, so he walked.
As he walked, he thought of things he would have liked to have screamed at the retired coroner, to tell him how outrageously sexist, immature and outdated his views of life were. The words that made traffic jams of the blood in his fists did not make grammatical sense, but some of them made Larry cry.
As he walked, he did not notice that he was walking in the middle of the road. When headlights approached and slowed, he wondered why they were approaching him, and stood to face the car that rolled toward him without doing him the insult of honking its horn.
He saw the woman’s face behind the wheel. It bore no expression. The car stopped.
The wild woman stepped out of the driver’s seat and swam toward Larry through the pitch dark fuzz inside his skull.
Wire rimmed glasses hugged her ears like vines. She wore slacks and a button-up blouse. She did not smell like burning rubber.
She reached out her hand and opened it, the curvature gracefully dissolving into an open palm at the rate of a leaf falling.
Larry strained to see what was in her hand. When he yanked on his eyelids and the goo that was behind them, there was no woman in the street and there was no car in front of him. He was walking in the street, but there had never been a car.
The slender hand on his shoulder had been there for some time. He jumped and his arms made jello out of the surrounding air when he noticed it.
The owner of the hand backed away from him and gave him time. Her patience was more recognizable than a face.
Her voice was low and concentrated and not particularly sexy. "It’s okay if he calls me a bitch. You know that, do you not?"
Larry was calm. He could not see her—only her general form. He did not have to wring his eyelids out again. This was real.
She was actual, and her name had never been Caleiela. Her words pounded the air like a meat tenderizer and left exit wounds in his back. "Why do you always tell them about me?"
Larry did not answer but touched her neck in search of a heart. He was too drunk to find it.
When he woke up the next morning, what he found beside his bed might be interpreted as art.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED