Calo didn’t notice his apartment door left slightly ajar when he skipped energetically down the stairs and past the smiling marble statuettes leading to his residence on an especially cold October evening belonging to the Wind. Prairie Wind, Calo thought; fitful and unforgiving. Calo hadn’t seen his roommate Candorous for an indeterminate number of days, so noticing the door left ajar might have shocked him at first, had he noticed it, until the carefully constructed algorithms of his obsessive Superego would have rationalized the occurrence thusly: the Wind in these parts can do anything. It was a rationale with which Calo had grown quite familiar, one used by him often to deflate those nagging ambivalences which, he concluded, must accompany modern life for all the twenty-somethings of South Charleston; growing up, the Wind seemed always more fierce on those sordid farms. On his seventh birthday, his father had told him the Wind had carried their money away and so, ergo, Calo couldn’t have a birthday cake. An indeterminate number of years after his seventh birthday, per Calo’s tenuous memory, his mother had used the Wind to explain the unexpected disappearance of his father. He remembered his first girlfriend had said she was leaving him for the Wind and that his first wife had said the same. It had seemed to Calo that only Candorous was immune to the great kinetic power of this Wind, but upon Candorous’ sudden and unexpected departure, some unclear number of days (or was it weeks?) prior, Calo returned to his windswept rationale, that the Wind in these parts can do anything, a maxim whose status after so many years of exhausted use and reuse had passed in Calo’s mind from rationale to obvious truth about the human condition imparted by time. There is no escaping the Wind, Calo knew. So he could only be afraid.
Not having noticed the door left ajar, it would have been impossible for Calo to have noticed the glass of ice water which had been placed meticulously and intentionally on the top of the door, leaning at a slight angle against the white panels above the frame so that at the slightest irritation the glass would fall on and soak the unsuspecting door-enterer below. Drenched and shivering, standing in his foyer, hearing the Wind howling around the rough contours of his ears—his ears now red with cold—Calo wondered how he, and not the Wind, had been first to trigger this simple and goodhearted prank. Calo wondered too: who do I know in this small town well enough that he might feel comfortable to engage me in such a lighthearted and juvenile way?
Later in the evening, while pondering these questions and trying to remember what Candorous had looked like, before Candorous left unexpectedly, Calo peered up at the large brown clock sitting above his fireplace on the mantle, sitting tame like a lion’s head, stuffed. The only light in the room emanated from a derisory fire burning stupidly in the fireplace; Calo was drinking wine. The Wind was tapping at the windows with dead leaves and Calo’s mind was a gray and torpid haze. He noticed the minute-hand on the clock turning not forward, as he remembered minute-hands to turn (?), but backwards, slowly (re)winding the hour-hand backwards too, click after loud click, and click. The Wind! Calo thought suddenly, quickly placing his glass of wine on the coffee table and rushing to the clock on the mantle as if swiftness in this matter might prevent whatever damage a rogue minute-hand presents to an otherwise good clock. When he lifted the clock to his face to examine it more closely he noticed no irregularity—that time was moving forward once more, and loudly, at its regular (?) speed. He sighed with relief. He finished his wine and ran to bed, laughing loudly like the clock.
The next morning before rushing out the door for work Calo cut a pepperjack cheese sandwich and left it on a ceramic plate on his dining room table. He opened and closed his apartment door behind him and only the smiling statuettes saw him wink back at the building before he skipped around the corner brightly to work, whistling a tune whose name eluded him but whose sounds were old and familiar and maternal.
At work Calo stared at his computer screen and wondered about Candorous and the pepperjack cheese sandwich. He trapped a spider in a glass used typically for water (the glass Candorous had left on the doortop!) and throughout the day he played with the spider, cutting off bits of its long legs slowly, between long intervals of time, until the spider constituted only a black fuzzy ball the size of a pencil’s eraser. Calo watched the ball tremble. Perhaps a reasonable thinker could attribute the mysterious opening of the door to the Wind; perhaps a reasonable thinker could attribute the glass of ice water to the Wind; the Wind in these parts can do anything! Calo located the spider’s black eyes. He held his pencil’s eraser above the spider and very slowly he began to push down on the trembling ball of fuzz, its eyes pleading up at him for relief, bursting with black fluid and fear. Stranger things have happened. When the spider popped and spilled out the yellow content of its abdomen Calo laughed childishly and reached for his glass—Candorous’ glass!—then placed it gently in his backpack. He fled home through the violent Wind.
He couldn’t stop laughing. He was right! He was right about Candorous—it was a game! He was there. Candorous was there. He was around. He was home somewhere, unseen. The pepperjack cheese sandwich had been eaten while he was at work and in its place a large ‘C’ carved into the ceramic plate. C is for Candorous, Calo thought, laughing, prouder than death, sitting in the wooden chair at the table and tracing the cool C with his forefinger; he could not contain his smile. He could hear the clock on the mantle ticking loudly, clicking loudly. This time the clock ticked faster than he thought he remembered clocks ought to tick (?), accelerating at an exponential rate so that Calo had to lean through a vague dizziness onto the table, and, steadying himself there momentarily, he noticed one of the chair’s four wooden legs had been filed down to its flimsy core, noticing this only seconds (?) before the chair snapped below him with a tick much louder than the now-slowing ticks of the mantle clock. Calo fell stupidly to the floor. He was there, on the floor, for an indeterminate amount of time. He examined the ceiling from the floor, admired its stucco, remembered Candorous had decided on the stucco but had regretted it later.
Or was it somebody else who had regretted it?
The next day before he left for work Calo draped random corridors of his apartments in a transparent plastic wrap, on which he had deposited a sticky residue like glue. Candorous would appreciate the prank when he walked unknowingly into the traps! Would be impressed at Calo’s dedication to their game.
When Calo returned home through the Wind later that evening he noticed the plastic wrap had been torn down and on those corridors on which Calo had placed the plastic wrap originally there were now small footprints walking up and down the walls, resembling the small prints of cats or rabbits; Calo smiled at the assurance of such ingenuity and helped himself to a glass of wine.
Though he sensed its presence, through a gray and torpid haze, tonight he could not hear the clock. Tonight he would focus on outperforming Candorous, whose paw-print prank had quite outshined the exorbitant simplicity of Calo’s plastic wrap prank. Calo’s focus was so great, his attention so devoted and distended to the task of out-pranking callous Candorous—who was not dead!—that he neither saw nor heard the modest bits of pebble, mica, which the Wind’s tremendous momentum had blown into the glass windows of the apartment while Calo resolved that the best prank would be one which instills in Candorous not lightheartedness or joy but fear; Calo remembered the spider and its eyes drowning against the weight of the eraser. He laughed.
At the dawn of the next morning Calo rose early and set to work hunting the cats of his neighborhood. He disdained the Wind (it had taken so much from him!) but he endured it to hunt the cats. When he had strangled enough cats Calo returned home with their carcasses and strung them up in his apartment from the stucco ceiling; Calo had always liked the stucco. He remembered Candorous had decided on the stucco but had later regretted it.
Or was it somebody else who had regretted it?
When he returned home from work later that evening Calo saw in horror that alongside the cats there were now other dead animals: mostly dogs, Calo noted, but exceptions abounded and were first to catch the eye: two pigs, a heifer, large carrion birds with dead tongues rolling lazily from dead mouths. Calo found a white pony strung up by its frail hooves to the ceiling fan in his bedroom. When he flipped the switch to the ceiling fan the pony swung wildly like a dark and malfunctioning merry-go-round car; its eyes were dead and white. He had again been outdone. He retrieved his last bottle of wine from the kitchen and fell onto his bed, below the pony still spinning wildly; he drank from the bottle until he fell into that spinning place of slow-ticking clocks and Wind.
In the early morning when he rose Calo’s actions were quick and intentional. He sewed a large, durable cloth sack in which he placed heavy rocks of disparate shape and color; bits of mica clung to his sweaty palms. Above his apartment door—the same door above which Candorous (it must have been Candorous!) had placed the glass of ice water—Calo screwed in a large hook and threaded through it and to the doorknob a durable cord of twine which connected finally to a small contraption controlling the gravitational inclination of the sack of rocks; a separate cord of twine connected the sack of rocks, inversely, to a hook which Calo screwed into the ceiling a few feet in front of the door; at the bottom of the second hook, in the very center of the foyer, in front of the door, a noose hung still, eager for the prank. Calo envisioned it thusly: Candorous, assuming Calo had left for work, would enter through the door to set up his next prank and his entrance would cause the sack of rocks to fall swiftly to the ground; the falling rocks would pull the rope hanging in the center of the room upward and Calo, standing on a wooden chair, waiting for Candorous, would be hoisted upward by the neck. He would try to smile so that Candorous would be afraid.
The perfect prank! Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? What a mockery! All those foolish and lighthearted pranks! Candorous would surely understand Calo was mocking him. He would understand. There was no question in this matter. The best prank is one which is paralyzing and to which the target of the prank cannot respond.
What is more paralyzing than death?
He could not say how long he would have to wait. This is the great compromise of life. It was fitting, somehow, to him—that he would be hanged unexpectedly, without warning, as quickly and unexpectedly as Candorous’ recent (?) ascent, or his father’s departure an indeterminate number of years prior. The mockery, he thought. One must not forget the mockery. Again he could hear the clock ceremoniously slowing the pace of its ticks. Standing on the wooden chair (he had checked and double-checked the four legs for weaknesses), Calo could see the entire room: all the cats of South Charleston hanging upside-down by their tails, stale blood dripping from their eyes; large carrion birds with dead tongues rolling lazily from dead mouths; the clock had almost stopped ticking entirely and Calo’s mind was a gray and torpid haze; he had forgotten to switch off the ceiling fan in his room. He heard strange music from outside his apartment, a tune whose name eluded him but whose sounds were old and familiar and maternal. The Wind, he thought. The Wind in these parts can do anything. He looked out past the window to the left of his door and saw the statuettes eyeing him curiously, containing their dumb smiles a little, and Calo smiled back at them, just a little, his small heart pulsing inside his small chest like warriors whose philosophy is anticipation and anxiety and whose weapon is the steady drum of war. Calo was a cold warrior. The noose around his neck was cold. Where’s Candorous? Calo remembered the fuzzy ball of spider and imagined its long legs detached and flung far from its dry and punctured corpse; he saw those thin legs shaking like eager bones; sticks that beat the drums; the Wind as loud as the drums; it was soon. He had been outpranked and so, ergo, the limbs of his dry and punctured corpse would shake like eager bones. The Wind in these parts can do anything. The doorknob rattled a little when the clock stopped its slow tick; Calo was still and focused, waiting; he eyed the sack of rocks like a warrior whose philosophy is anticipation (one always returns to one’s burden). The doorknob rattled again, as if Candorous was struggling with the lock. Stranger things have happened. Calo looked outside the window the statuettes smiling at him broadly winking their gray and wistful eyes confirming the presence of callous Candorous who would trigger the rocks, Calo’s burdens gathered together in a sack more tenuous than memory; One must not forget the mockery Calo looked into their eyes the small eyes of the statuettes eyes fitful and unforgiving and he began to imitate their smiles the sack slams to the floor The Wind! The damned Wind! a pressure on my (?) neck the door left slightly ajar this strange pain deep, I say: smile, you fool! Smile if you remember how to smile, Calo! my small eyes fill suddenly with black fluid and fear, pleading for relief, and I am lifted——I am lifted up, straight up, and away from this spinning place in South Charleston of maternal music and eager war drums, of slow-ticking clocks and the Wind.
Bio: Michael Shirzadian is a writer and HS English Language Arts teacher living in New Mexico. He writes fiction and creative nonfiction when he’s not grading student work or brainstorming/assembling lesson preps. He received his M.F.A. (fiction) from the University of Colorado in 2013, and will begin doctoral work at The Ohio State University this fall.