a novella by
130 pages, $11 cover price
($5 if order from the MSR Online Bookstore)
a novella by
130 pages, $11 cover price
($5 if order from the MSR Online Bookstore)
Jason Jordan is in the Ph.D. program for Creative Writing at Ohio University. His books are Cloud and Other Stories (Six Gallery Press, 2010), and Powering the Devil's Circus: Redux (Six Gallery Press, 2010). His work has appeared in several literary magazines, including Hobart, Keyhole, and [PANK]. Additionally, he's the editor of decomP, accessible at decompmagazine.com, and blogs at poweringthedevilscircus.blogspot.com. When not writing, Jordan grooms his long, red beard, plays Tetris on the Internet, watches bad reality TV, listens to good heavy metal, drives his red Honda Civic with white lightning bolts, drinks coffee and Coke Zero, and sleeps a lot.
When the end of the world creeps up on us, Jason Jordan's The Dying Horse will be our atlas. Showing a genius for blending humanity and WTF?, he builds an apocalyptic road trip/manhunt painted in the colors of the suburbs. In Jordan's world, cats get conversational and every rotted-out corner hides a dose of bleakness and twisted black humor. Trust me, you'll want to play a round of Who Gets the Ax? after reading this book.
author of Black Hole Blues
and Sex Dungeon for Sale!
The Dying Horse is the most easy-going novella about the apocalypse that I've ever read. When faced with an abandoned interstate not unlike the one in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the narrator simply tells us 'this blows,' and keeps walking. Jason Jordan has done something incredibly tricky here; he presents a convincing timeline for how the world might end, and, thanks to his winning narrator, Erik, makes it seem funny. And, yes, talking cats certainly don't hurt.
author of The Family Fang
and Tunneling to the Center of the Earth
Natural disasters are running wild. The world is ending. Cats are talking. In the wake of an apocalypse, a young man is on a journey, of sorts, and along the way he meets a strange cast of characters who may or may not get in his way. The line between the real and surreal is a thin one in Jason Jordan's wildly entertaining The Dying Horse. With wry humor, Jordan tells the story of a man who just wants to find his way to some kind of home.
--Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti
Chapter One: Erik
The five of us are in the driveway in the early morning. Dad and Mom are packing the SUV, about to leave for Florida for a week, while my brother watches. My little sister Jamie is excited about the trip-she loves the beach-but my younger brother Josh isn't.
"Do I have to go?" Josh asks Dad. Josh is at the point in his life-thirteen-when he doesn't want anything to do with the family, except for me, the older brother, who seems cool at twenty-two. He's lanky in his gray T-shirt and khaki shorts, rubbing his short brown hair, and will be taller than Dad and me in no time. His acne's growing, too.
"I've already told you," Dad says.
"But Erik gets to stay home."
"Yeah, but I'm much older than you," I say, my arms folded, "and I have to get that freelance project done." I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, hoping the sunlight won't prevent me from getting back to sleep after they shove off.
"I bet the hotel has wireless," Josh says. He's still trying.
"I bet it doesn't," I say.
"Leave it alone, Josh," my Mom says. "If Erik doesn't wanna go, he doesn't have to. He can take care of the house. And Erik, make sure you feed the cats, water the plants on the deck, cut the grass, and get the mail. That way we won't have to get somebody else to do it. Josh, when you're old enough to stay home alone, we'll let you."
"But Erik can watch me."
"Sorry, bud," says Dad, "but you're going. And you're gonna like it."
"Fine," Josh says. He gets in the rear passenger side of the Lexus and slams the door. He puts in his iPod earbuds and stares ahead. He was the one who wanted to fly, but Dad wanted to see the sights on the way to Florida.
Right after, Jamie walks into the garage from the house and out to the driveway where she hugs my waist.
"Bye," she says. I look down but all I see is her long brown hair. She has her face dug into my leg, so I release her grip and kneel to her level. She looks tired.
"I'll see you when you get back, okay?" I say.
She nods, still in her pink pajamas, carrying a stuffed pig named Oink.
"Go ahead and get in the car, hon," my Dad says. "We're ready to go."
Mom walks to me and we hug before she gets in the car.
"Looks like you're the man of the house this week," Dad says, walking up to me. "No parties." He looks like an older version of Josh. I got my Mom's looks-blonde hair, blue eyes, tan. I'm pudgy, too, despite my workouts.
"Yeah, right," I say, hugging him. "Call me when you get in tonight. I might be out with friends, though."
"Are you gonna drive the whole way there, or do you think you'll stop for the night?"
"I'm gonna try to drive the whole day, but I'm not sure I can convince your Mom to let me do that." Dad pulls a folded $100 from his pocket and hands it to me. "For food."
"Thanks. See ya later," I say. I wave goodbye to them as the car pulls out of the driveway and onto the main street of our subdivision Pleasant Hills. Before they're out of sight, I catch them all waving back.
I go back inside and upstairs to my bedroom. I'm glad I have blackout shades-it's much easier to sleep when the room doesn't feel like an oven. I hear my phone, which is in the headboard, vibrating. I take off my T-shirt and shorts-everything but my boxers-and get in bed. The phone says I have a text message.
"This sux," Josh writes.
"Haha," I write back. "Try to have fun and you will. Goodnight." I set the alarm for noon, shut the phone, and put it in the headboard. Later, when I hear the vibrating, I flip open my phone and dismiss the alarm, as usual. I turn over and sleep for a couple more hours until my phone vibrates again, waking me up. I answer it without checking to see who it is, which I normally don't do.
"Hello?" I say.
"Hey, Chief. You asleep?" my friend Nathan asks.
"Naw, I'm up."
"I know you were asleep."
"You're right. I was. I don't know why I always lie about it."
"You feel like getting a few drinks tonight? Celebrate your family being out of town?" he asks.
"Sure. That sounds good. What time?"
"Ten would rock. Get there early and stay late. How's about The Front Door?"
"See you there at 10."
"All right, buddy. Go back to sleep."
"Goodnight." I laugh.
By the end of the night, I'm so drunk that me and Nathan have to get a taxi to take us back to our places. I leave my car in The Front Door's parking lot.
* * *
The next day, I'm too hung-over to get up earlier than the afternoon. Usually I keep a bottle of water on my nightstand so I won't have to get up in the middle of the night to grab one from the fridge in the garage, where we keep all the bottled and canned drinks. I congratulate myself for my ingenuity and preventive measures when I wake at 3 p.m.--groggy and tired but with little trace of a hangover. I flip open my phone and see that I have a voicemail from Dad. He left it last night, but the bar's music was so loud that I didn't hear my phone ring. I slap my phone shut and place it in the headboard without listening to the message. Still in my boxers, I get out of bed, put on the shirt that's on the floor, and go to the bathroom.
When I get downstairs, my feet cause the hardwood kitchen floor to creak, although the floor is supposedly doubly reinforced and has a "silent system" in place to boot. Yeah, right. I notice that the back door is open, which I think is weird, but rationalize it as being a result of my drunkenness. I close the door and lock it, glancing around the room to make sure the TV, DVD player, surround sound, and other things robbers would steal are still here. They are. The bottle of Sailor Jerry's is on the stovetop because I evidently forgot to put it back in the freezer before I left for The Front Door. There's about a fourth of it left, which is worth saving for another night in the very near future. I pick up the bottle and examine it, wondering how much rum I drank.
There's nothing else to do but start the day, so I pop a frozen chicken dinner in the microwave, and pour a glass of orange juice-a beverage I drink for the vitamins, not the taste. Reminding myself that I have to be careful, I carry the glass of juice, the tray, and a fork to the living room to watch TV while I eat. After setting everything on the end table, I sit on the couch and grab the TV remote. It has cat hair on it, so I blow to get some of it off. I expect one of the cats to emerge due to the noise I'm causing, but none show up.
It's strange with my whole family gone. Typically there's always somebody around doing something. Either Josh is watching TV in the living room or up in the game room playing video games on his PS3, Xbox 360, or Wii. Jamie is literally all over the place, with a trail of cats following the leader. My parents are in the kitchen, living room, or downstairs office. Their bedroom, too, but only at night.
I shift my thoughts back to what I'm doing, realizing that I've eaten the whole frozen dinner and left only the watery residue on the bottom of the black tray's compartments. I turn off the TV, get up and walk to the kitchen to toss everything disposable in the trash, and slip the glass and fork in the dishwasher for future cleaning. It's then, glancing out the dining room window, that I see my oldest cat sleeping under the wicker loveseat on the front porch.
"Shit," I say. I'm angry with myself for leaving her outside all night. She opens her big green eyes-sensing motion, perhaps-and lets out a meow that I can't hear through the glass. She rises and stretches her back, her legs. I instantly feel bad that I neglected to let her in, but she seems okay. She meows when I open the front door, practically sprinting toward her bowl of food while I attempt to smooth over the situation.
"I'm sorry I left you outside mother kitten," I say. I wish she could understand exactly what I'm saying, but I know she can't. I've heard that pets can only comprehend tone and certain words, if they're conditioned to respond to them. I watch her eat for a little bit--chewing the food loudly and swallowing it in big clumps. I'm always amazed when my pets never choke on their food, because they eat so fast. Once satisfied, she licks her chops and trots over to the recliner in the living room. She's the thinnest and most agile of the three, and deftly jumps to the recliner's arm and circles before lying down to take a nap. I pet her head, but mostly her ears because they're so soft. She always seems to like it. She closes her eyes and nudges my fingers when I stop, encouraging me to continue. I head into the kitchen.
Then I hear a voice behind me, a voice I've never heard before, a woman's voice. I turn, but see only the sun beaming through the windows onto the cat. She's staring at me with her big green eyes, her tail wagging gracefully, yet erratically.
"What was that?" I ask aloud, thinking it impossible to hear anything but a meow, or a car, a lawnmower, a shout in the distance. I correct myself to make more sense: "Who said that?"
"I did. Sit down," my cat says to me. "I have something to tell you."
It's official-something's wrong with me. I do what she says. I sit on the end of the couch, adjacent to the recliner, and listen.
"Where are the other two?" I ask her, referring to my other cats-solid black females.
"They've already left."
"Left? How'd they get out?"
"You left the back door open, and they tore through the screen." I look to my left and see that the screen has a hole in it big enough for a cat to slip through. When I closed the glass door, I didn't even notice the hole.
"Where'd they go?"
"We're supposed to leave."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know."
"Why are you leaving? Who told you to leave?"
"It's instinct. We're leaving. I've got the feeling that something bad is going to happen soon. I hope you'll be okay."
"Yeah, me too."
I know--after seeing her as I never had-that I'll never be able to cradle her again. It'd be weird for both of us, but I quickly snap out of my thoughts, knowing she'll be on her way soon.
"So," I continue, "this is goodbye forever then?"
"Yes, probably. I wanted to stay and let you know we were leaving, so you wouldn't worry."
"Well thanks. I'll really miss you all." She meows, jumps to her feet, and leaps through the hole in the screen door, like someone commanded her to do so. I'm convinced that something is happening. Or is about to. I wonder how I'll tell my parents and siblings that the cats are gone. How will I explain what happened to them without it looking like my fault?