Fairyland – Darin Bradley
“Galilee,” Cap said, turning toward the house. He’d stood still, watched Gil from the moment they dropped him off.
“Where is ‘Galilee?'” Gil asked.
Cap stopped. Squinted against the sun.
“It’s here for sure,” he said. “Long way that direction and that. A long way in all directions.”
Gil looked at the sun, too, but he did not squint. He was blind to it now. It was cooler, easier to see than the explosion at ground zero. Where the air itself had incandesced. A phosphor haze. A séideán sídhe pushing gamma rays and X-rays and blackbody radiation over three counties.
“Galilee’s not a farm,” Cap said.
“Where am I?” Gil asked.
A valley. Pastures, which had gone bad. Empty. Haze obscured the surrounding hills. It was what Gil had expected of The Bomb. An Indian Summer twinkling radioactive ejecta. Refracting sunbeams like farm dust or smog. Or burning magnesium. He thinks of his own ghosts, and wonders if they burned up somwhere else, in the past. Maybe the whole world was dead already. Maybe we were all eaten up and spat out in radioactive chunks.
“They use tattoos to tell you apart,” Gil said.
Cap lit a cigarette. “Yes.”
“How many of you are there?” Gil asked.
Cap smoked, measuring Gil over his knuckles. “Few thousand, best I can tell.”
Cap tossed a pack of cigarettes onto the table. Gil didn’t see an ashtray. They smoked for a while, the fridge chugging in the corner.
“This isn’t all of it,” Cap said. He slipped the bandana off his head. Tattooed along his brow, and into the cords of his remaining hair, an ivy circlet wreathed the top of his face.
“They’ll pick something for you. They’ll give you a story.”
Cap leaned away. The kitchen’s swamp light shone in his eyes.
“Why do you call it ‘Galilee?'” Gil asked.
Emptiness. The sound of beer bottles clinking together. Nothing else.
He followed Cap, looked again at the contrail–the fairy wind had feathered it. A cloud now, a cirrus ribbon that might be nothing more than it seemed.
Cap planted the crate on the ground and tore free its chute.
“Who makes these drops?” Gil said.
“They do,” Cap said, digging through a stack of canned beef. He tossed a can at Gil, tore open a carton of cigarettes, and started cramming things into his pockets.
“Hungry?” Cap said.
“Sure,” Gil said.
“Well, eat up.”
“Where are we going?”
“Work to do,” Cap said.
Gil didn’t argue.
He had seen all of this before. He cut his thumb on the edge of the can’s lid. Oiled gravy lipped the tin’s razor edge, and the fluid ran in curls down Gil’s finger, displaced by his blood and unwilling to mix. Gil shook his hand clean. Waited for his blood to become things like soil, and grass, and clusters of mint.
Cap reminded Gil of his grandfather–both men were short. Gil’s grandfather had kept his military insignia in a shadow-box. It was among the possessions They confiscated from Gil. He’d thought about sweating men in the Pacific Rim. Men grown old, who played catch and knew the meanings of words.
Gil had thought about these things. Staring at blueprints and reading recipes that called for potassium chloride and sodium bicarbonate. Glycerin and woodmeal and fistfuls of shrapnel. He hadn’t been alone. Before.
Make kaputt what makes you kaputt.
He looked at the wall. From one sketch to another: they were all of her, looking this way, looking that. Some outlined her figure; others sketched only the curve of her spine.
After They arrested him, Gil found out that he and his allies had been mythified too. A code name for whom to chase around the country, around their “Atlantis”–They’d called them Tommyknockers.
Gil took another look at the banister, at the arrangement of its drawings. They climbed the chipped balusters in spirals, doubling back on themselves and climbing. Simultaneously. Cap’s noise reached Gil dully, as if underwater. In Minthe’s river, perhaps.
Gil started tracking the pictures’ climb in thirds: over one, over one, up one–back one, down one, over one. Over, over, over–
The man on the wheel, always spinning, arms wide, arrayed in thirds, in spirals—
–in the sequence. 0,1,1 …
Gil blinked. 2s and 5s flapped through his concentration, migrating elsewhere. You can measure blast radii best with the Golden Mein. With Fibonacci’s Numbers. With any aesthetic scale.
A glimpse of her breasts. The sketches had been done in ink, with watercolors, charcoal. Some crosshatched, some stippled. Some without lines at all.
Cap would teach Gil, They’d told him, on the old county highway behind him, before They pulled the gunny sack off his head and snipped his restraints. They disappeared, federally, down the highway, which had some designation, an alphanumeric code, something hieratic. A holdover from Before, when here had still been a county–still had people and zip codes and residential zoning. Before it became a better place. For people, like Gil, who didn’t belong there.
And they were everywhere. Gil could see into Cap’s parlor: the same dun-colored mosaic, walls and furniture papered with the woman’s image. A few of her were impaled on a coat rack, its brazen fingers piercing her eyes, her heart. Hanging from the ceiling fan. A mosaic on the window.