Deathmatch Winner 2012: Heart String by Chase Baird

We’re pleased to present last year’s Deathmatch winner, “Heart String” by Chase Baird. To submit to this year’s competition, please visit our Deathmatch page, and you can also find us on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grimace as Matt’s roommate exits his bedroom and crowds the tiny kitchen space SAIT ludicrously calls a common living area.

“Great story,” he says, reading my computer screen. “Fuck fucked the fuckingly fucked-up fucker.” He laughs as he digs through the fridge. “You English majors really know how to express yourselves. I’m hungry.”

“Fuck.” I answer.

He farts.

“Oh for Christ sake, Carl.” I slam my computer closed. Matt’s bedroom is locked— there’s nowhere to go. “Would you hurry up already?”

He bends over, farts again thrice, and keeps digging. I take my computer out into the hallway to wait for Matt. I don’t want to go home; my Mom will be there to make me a hearty snack and hover over me making corrections like a Fleecy-scented organic thesaurus.

Matt arrives exactly two hours, twenty-three minutes and seven seconds later. I have the app for that. In that time, I typed fuck into my story 3452 times before the battery died.

“iHungry. iMad, iHateCarl, iNeedBedroomKey,” I say.

“What are you on about now, darling?”

I stand up and smack him before giving him a kiss. My butt is deeply asleep.

“I can’t write,” I tell him. “Everything I try and write is shit and I have no good ideas and this story is due in two days… 60% of my mark. I have to ace this.”

“You just need a fuck,” he answers and looks puzzled when I scream.

Matt texts me while I’m in English 496 the next morning:

Meet me at Starbucks

I pack up quietly and mumble an apology about feeling ill. I don’t even have to fake it. I’m nauseated by hopelessness. My story is due in 39 hours. My acceptance into the writing specialty program, my life, depends on this class.

Matt is waiting with a venti salted-caramel mocha. He presents it to me with a grin.

I raise the mocha and take a sip. “So? What are you doing here? I hope this diabetic coma isn’t your idea of a cure.”

“No, no. I’ve got something much better,” he says. “My buddy hooked me up hard core. We’re going to get your imagination high.”

I shake my head. “That’s not going to help. You know how I feel about taking anything. It just makes me feel stupid.”

“Give me some credit, sunshine. This is some crazy mundunugu shit.”

He shows me a vial of pale brown liquid with a glass dropper. I feel a jolt of omnipotence when I shock Matt by accepting. He grins like a five-year-old waking up Christmas morning. I wonder what his reaction would be if he knew I only accepted because I’m so desperate to write something.

We take the bus back to the tower residence at SAIT and the elevator up to Matt’s room on the twenty-first floor.

“Here’s the best part,” Matt says. We’re in his bed, naked. He rolls me onto my side and kisses my hip. “This stuff will give you an amazing orgasm.”

I look back at him. “What do you do with it, exactly?”

“Trust me.”

I feel a shimmer of panic.

“It’s okay, doll. This will have you coming in a heartbeat.”

He pushes the dropper up into my anus and squeezes the tip; the tincture floods into my mucous membranes with the most intense burning sensation I’ve ever experienced. “Son of a fucking bitch!” Sweat rushes my palms as I squeeze them and curl into a ball. “My skin’s blistering!”

Matt cradles me, murmuring, “It’s okay, it will stop soon.” But I can tell he’s not sure.

There’s white noise in my ears and a snowstorm starts on my retinas.

The room disappears.

my body is gone

…sepia cartoon world, flat, a movie screen with pops of neon color, a paved, over-inflated road stretches, a giant Bob’s BigBoy, his trademark red checker overalls, balancing the original double decker burger, running slowly towards, he grins, I surf over the impossible wave in his plastic hair into the kitchen of tomorrow at the world’s fair

“Welcome,” fifties housewife says, sweeps her hand over a panel in front of her, it says, “Roll Oh” on the top…she presses large pearl buttons, a light opposite turns on the buttons labeled, “Answer Door,” “Wash Dishes,” “Get Hat,” “Fix Furniture,” “Get Dinner,” “Clean House” and “SCRAM!”

chrome sparkles…glowing orange and lime tubes of light, fat UFO toasters popping Wonderbread bullseye onto waiting stacks of plates

housewife begins to rock me in her white apron pocket, Jughead appears, much shorter in real life, that crown? not a crown at all, a tissue paper New Year’s hat, spins his nose at Bob’s BigBoy burger, “for me” he thinks, and … disturbance!

top left corner of the screen… losing pixels, squares dropping out, oblivion, entire screen avalanching down, pixels cascading, blackness

nothingness. jolt, screen rights itself—pixels turn, rotate into being. in a pink and purple Volkswagen Microbus, sitting with Sunset Malibu Barbie and Action Soldier GI Joe. there’s room for three more dolls. Jughead looming over us giant hand grabbing the plastic bus. Cascade, pixels, crumble to black

a speck, a seed deep in the center of something larger…body… inch outward, feeling limbs resist, paralyzed, don’t care, sudden arm jerk, tiny lift of animation. Panic! My life. University, Matt, my story… I want the apron pocket.

Matt kisses my cheek and gets out of bed. The room spins as I listen to the noise of the shower. A lingering burn makes me wonder what happened to my body when I left it. I wonder how I’ve reassembled my consciousness.

Matt returns to the bedroom. He stretches out beside me. “You were tripping,” he says. His breath hits me like a slap. Has he been eating diapers? “Maybe that was too high a dose. Sorry, babe. But I did discover I’m not into necrophilia.”

“I think I may have been reincarnated from a 50’s black hole,” I mumble. “The kitchen of tomorrow has no smell.”

“That’s all you have to say? How was it?”

“Jughead.”

“Babe?” Matt says, but I can’t answer. Jughead is sitting on the bed. He smells of mothballs and B.O.

Matt takes my chin in his hand and studies my face.

“What did you do to me?” I finally ask.

He kisses me; gentle little lingers over my lips and down my neck. “Everything you usually like.”

“You asshole!” I make a mental note to scream at him once I can string more than three words together. “Jerk!”

It takes five hours until I can stand without veering sideways and crashing into the wall and after I pee, I go back to bed and sleep for another twelve. We get up the next morning and head to the cafeteria. “This is the worst idea you ever had,” I tell him. “This is not going to help me write and I can’t even remember the sex. How could you use me like that? Do you have any idea what my Mom is going to say about me staying out all night?”

“Jesus…Sorry,” Matt shrugs after several minutes of silence. “You don’t remember anything?”

“You…”

“Hey, I have a story for you,” Matt says, derailing me. “You can write about this. It’s a true story. My parents told me about it last week.”

He arches his eyebrows at me. I watch them wriggling. “?” they say, with a decidedly French accent. A smell pings at my memory and then Jughead sits down at the next table over with a tray full of French fries. Panicked butterflies spring to life in my stomach, threatening to send the single bite of pancake I managed to choke down back out onto my plate. I try to ignore him.

“So, it’s about this skydiver,” Matt continues.  “He’s experienced, thousand hours of dive time and he’s planning on recording a dive for a training video. But as soon as he jumps, he realizes he’s forgotten to put on his parachute. It was one of those second nature things, you know? Like how you drive on auto pilot? He was so preoccupied with his recorder, he forgot the parachute. Here he is doing what he loves best in the world, freefalling, but he knows he’s going to die and he has that recorder on. So does he record his goodbyes to his family, does he ponder the meaning of life, or does he just enjoy the ride?”

“What did he do?” I ask.

“He said his goodbyes.”

“What did he say?”

“No idea,” Matt says. “But it’s a great story, right? I mean, what would you do?”

“I don’t know. And this is a true story?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t write that. No one would believe it. Who forgets to put on their parachute? Plus, how could I ever come up with what he’d say?”

“Well, just go with the meaning of life.”

“The meaning of life?! I can’t get a sentence out and you tell me, ‘just write the meaning of life!’”

“Gotta run.”

I sit in the cafeteria and watch the Necrophilia You Tube channel with Jughead. I decide to break up with Matt and ponder unpleasant ways to do it.

“Matt’s story? It’s not such a bad idea,” Jughead says.

“I should write about this necrophilia shit. Win the prize for the worst sex scene ever.”

Jughead shrugs, “Just start writing.” I need to get away from his mothball B.O.

Three girls at the next table are staring at me, smirking. I leave my tray and rush to the bus loop.

Jughead is waiting at the bus stop. I sit down beside him.

My abdomen cramps with a wicked stitch, and there is a wet slap on the pavement. I look down and gasp.

“Your liver is rejecting you,” Jughead says.

I bend over to pick up the warm, brick red organ. It’s surprisingly firm, like over-set jello— but slippery and I fumble it. I’m out of breath when I finally get it in my lap. I lift up my shirt and find a tiny wound. I shudder as I replay the sensation of my liver managing to wriggle through.

“What do I do?”

Jughead shrugs. “I can make you a leash but you’ll have to wait for your liver to make up its mind whether it wants to stay or not.”

“Its mind? ITS MIND?”

“Well, they’re not exactly intelligent, crazy as shit actually, but they are sentient.”

I stare at the lump on my lap, tightening my grip as it oozes wetness through my skirt. Jughead notices its restlessness too and begins to fashion a webbing around the liver, sort of like the mesh they wrap around turkeys at Safeway but with a much tighter weave. He continues to spin and crochet the fibers from his fingertips, making a long leash. Jughead finishes by weaving the leash into me, into the open wound the liver evacuated. He finishes by closing the flap. I run my fingers up and down the leash. It’s not the least bit sticky, yet my wound holds together like it’s been glued.

“It’s versatile stuff.” Jughead shrugs.

I watch the liver, wondering if it’s resentful of the leash, of its forced bonding to me.

“You can imagine how they feel,” Jughead says. “First of all they live in a permanent sensory deprivation chamber, just floating around, no stimulation, no senses.  It’s no wonder they’re crazy. The heart’s the worst. It gets raced and has no idea why. And when you start to clog up those arteries and intermittently choke it… panic! It can get quite dangerous.”

I swallow and give the liver in my lap several gentle strokes with my fingertips.

“Oh no!” I throw Jughead a pleading look and clutch at my side. There’s another cramp, another wet slap.

“Left kidney,” Jughead informs. “I got ya.” He starts spinning so when I bend to pick it up, I can lift it with the leash which is good since it’s slick with chunks of clinging yellow fat. I set it next to liver on my lap. It’s a darker red, more blue, less brick.

“Why are they rejecting me?”

“It happens, doll,” Jughead says. “You did leave your body, and they develop separation anxiety. Or maybe it knows you never wanted to come back. It’s mad at you. For such a tiny chick, you’ve got a lot of fat around your kidney.”

Before Jughead closes the second wound, a tiny embryonic-like creature scuttles out, with a half-cockroach- half-spider rapid crawl. I inexplicitly scream, “QUEAL!”

Jughead laughs. “Appendix,” he announces. “Don’t worry, they’re just like kangaroo joeys. Can’t get rid of them. You won’t be able to pry it off.”

He’s right. It’s settled in, with one end cradled in my belly button. It looks quite content and I have a sudden maternal surge of protectiveness towards it even though I’m terrified of both spiders and raw shrimp. It seems quite fond of me too.

“This is going to hurt,” Jughead warns me.

“What?”

“I’m going to leash your heart,” he answers. “If you don’t and it bails… well… let’s just say things won’t go well. It’s precautionary. They have suicidal tendencies. But it’s… uncomfortable.”

I scream, writhing on the bus stop with Jughead’s fingertips barely dipped into my chest. Jughead finishes just as my bus pulls in. I ease the kidney and the liver into my purse and get on the bus, holding my purse out in front of me like it’s a live bomb.

When I get home, I goggle “QUEAL”. Maybe I’ve birthed a brand new word. I discover instead that the word exists in Urban Dictionary, definition: “it’s the onomatopoeia the demon deer makes.” What the hell does that even mean? I’ve never heard a deer “QUEAL,” demonic or not. Baffled, I stare at the screen and cry onomatopoeic tears.

I wear a long felt coat to class the next morning despite the unusually pleasant October weather. My pockets bulge with their respective organs but the black felt absorbs the ooze and keeps them warm.

“Do you smell that?” Nick asks. He sits in the desk next to me.

“Yeah,” I answer. “Maybe someone brought stinky cheese for lunch. Limburger? I read it contains proteins similar to those found in human feces.”

“Smells more like someone left a raw chicken breast rotting in the garbage.”

I mumble some strange verbal dyslexia when the prof asks me for my comments.

Jughead is waiting for me when I stumble out of class. I’m trying to disturb my coat as little as possible. Students in the hall give me odd looks and make a wide berth.

As I sit worrying about the smell when I get on the bus, a sudden intense pain squeezes me and I curl forward unable to breathe. It paralyzes me. There is an exceptionally wet slurp followed by an equally exceptional wet thwack, like someone has dropped a three pound saturated tea bag from some height.

“Uh oh,” Jughead mumbles. “Not good, dude.”

“Is it a heart?” I ask, looking down between my feet, but I already know. I lift it up by its leash and it pours a thin stream of blood in wild arcs. It’s very full and quivers with a strange jerking rhythm like every beat will be its last. I’m mesmerized by its leash as it slaps and soaks my lap. This leash has black vessels woven through it, disappearing into my body.

“That heart is giving off some serious serial killer vibes,” Jughead says. “It’s malevolent.”

I plop it into the Tupperware container that’s still in my backpack from last week’s lunch and stare at the huge blood stain covering my thighs.

“What did I do?” I ask. “Do you think it’s mad that I just put it in with a Greek salad?”

“You need to finish your story,” Jughead tells me. “Maybe hearing what that dude who jumped with no parachute said will appease the heart. They love that shit.”

“But I don’t know what he’d say!” My voice sounds like it’s on helium.

“Calm down,” Jughead says. “And put your coat back on, doll.”

I use Matt’s key to open his room. I hack the screen off his window with a pair of scissors. The window doesn’t slide open too far but I’m small and I haven’t eaten in a week so I manage to wedge my legs through and sit in the opening. My hips hold me firmly so I can lean forward and stare down 21 stories. It’s high enough that I should be able to imagine falling out of a plane. What would he say?

I move my hands up to hold the window frame so I can lean out even more. The organs resting on my lap have noticed the change in the air. They’re not resting anymore. I can feel their agitation. But I’m so close to an answer, to a really great story.

Appendix latches into me. I’m surprised by its sudden bite, distracted by its fear. I want to comfort it. And then my heart leaps from my lap. Kidney and liver launch themselves right behind it. They kamikaze bungee in the October wind and I have to fight the sudden lurch of their suspended weight against their leashes. Where is Jughead? My fingers are slick with sweat on the window frame and my heart tugs with a wildly racing ba-dum, ba-dum beat that my hips slowly inch forward to obey. I’m sliding and all I can say is… “QUEAL!”

 

Always colorful and quick to laugh, Chase Baird is a full time student at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Officially a Computer student, she spends way too much time practicing the dark arts like English and eating sour patch kids. An Indie-loving, techno geek; she’s ready for battle with a car racing licence under her belt, as well as multiple Pokemon battles and a man vs food incident in Chicago. Bring it on!

 

 

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