Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
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by Mark Spitzer


Readers Beware, the Onslaught of CHUM!  A scurvy, twisted serial-novel - a turgid tale of sicko psyches, vengeance, violence, foul-will, perverts and infatuation!  Squeamish souls should turn away, run, flee!  CHUM is not meant for wussies or the weak!  Only those with strong esophagi and a warped sense of humor may enter this vortex of fisherman gone bad, lusty sluts, wretched witches, ratfish, dogfish, skate, and eels!

 So join us each virtual week for another action-packed, knee-slapping, truth-glimpsing installment of our cursèd selves!

 Welcome, Daring Reader, Welcome, to CHUM...


chum, n. 1. [from chamber fellow.  Cf. comrade.] A roommate, as in a college; also, an intimate friend; habitual companion; associate. Now Colloq. 2. [origin obscure] Chopped fish, fish blood, or the like, thrown overboard to draw fish. 3. Refuse or scrap fish, as in a fish cannery; also, the pulp left after expressing oil from menhaden. U.S. 3. v.i. To fish with the aid of chum, chopped fish, or viscera. 4. n. The common dog salmon (Oncorhynchus keta vulgaris).

     Webster's, 1957.

Chum I

 Lo:  an island so far north and so far removed from the Alaskan mainland that it is almost Russian--way, way out in the Bering Strait, in the steel-gray spray, beneath the dirty dingy, oceanic sky, in the swirling fog and breaking waves where the ice of the Arctic comes screeching down like a host of hags to freeze in the beards of fishermen, who are used to coughing, flu, phlegm, and the monsters they haul from the blue-black depths: grotesque bubble-eyed cod, great skates, half-ton halibut, gothic skulpin, cabezone, and all the bullheads and rockfish and dogfish and ratfish they know--which they take back to their island that doesn't even have a name, just a cannery, a trailer park, a market, a bar, some summer homes, a school, roads in disrepair, a power plant, a gas station, and the high cliffs and beaches surrounding this rock--where ships stop for fuel, from Russia, Japan, Canada, and the States, then leave this place where men fish and fight and fuck and the women work in the cannery wearing slate-gray smocks splattered with the blood of creatures brought in bins and spread out on the slime-line where they're gutted and cleaned and processed into dogfood.

 These women have been together so long, and have worked together so long, that their bodies are attuned to each other.  Once a month, the cannery becomes a dim fluorescent menstrual hut, where the salt air hums with a tension as thick as the mist in the bay.  Sometimes a life is lost in the cogs, or the pistons of machinery, but nothing ever comes of this.  And it's the same at sea, where the elements strike randomly.  There is no law enforcement here, just a Post Office, a company store, and a graveyard.  Fifty is the average age, seventy-two is the oldest.  The young are rare, and the main cause of death is suicide.  Rape is the norm--that's how people are born.

 Up the hill, at the highest point on the island, there's an iron cross on top of the church, attached to a cable strung to a pole driven into the earth.  Here, lightning strikes every winter, sometimes ten or twenty times per day.  It is almost always raining.

 In March, the storms reach biblical proportions.  The sky billows black from morning to night like some all-consuming mushroom cloud held-in, sometimes blowing in at 100 miles per hour, looking like the depths of hell erupting from some rupture and roiling with the wrath of God searching for a Sodom or Gomorrah to smear.

 There are tendrils in the turbulence, detonations, and gulls tumbling in flight, feathers snapping, wings ripping, necks twisting.  It's a storm that comes every year, smashing boats, sinking ships--it rides the skyline, right above the waterline--which rises to meet it, foaming and frothing, lifting and breaking, then churning into waves that crash down on each other, with hundreds of tons of pressure--where the unlucky have clung to whatever they could, no sense of gravity or direction in that space of chaos where water and weather rush together, roaring toward the island in the shape of a comma half the size of Iowa.  There's nothing to do but batten down the hatches.

 The people of the island, however, are not afraid of this storm; it is part of their life and just as expected as birth and death.  The plywood goes up and the anchors go down.  The cannery is the safest place in town, a concrete cube with cinderblock walls.  The women go to work and the men stay at home, sleeping or drinking or beating their kids.  Though some men go out, with nets and traps and buckets of chum--but not because they're braving the storm.  They never know where the tempest will form, or if it will even hit the island.  Sometimes it misses, and then a day's catch is lost from laying low.  Other times though, the town must be repaired.  In any case, the resource they depend upon is always worth more than the lives of a few measly men, who are disposable and paid by the pound--like the captains, who make the decision when to go out and when to come in.

 Such is the scene one morning in March: the women are scrambling to get to work, the school bus is unloading in the darkening dawn, and the sun is coming up somewhere beyond the hovering clouds.  It's one of those days that could go either way; the horizon is low and the sky's not getting any lighter.  It could hit that afternoon, it could hit in a week.  The town is preparing; hammering can be heard on every street.  Shattering glass is a pain in the ass.

 Five boats took off before dusk, two have already come back.  The captains have either chickened out, caught their catch, come to their senses, or they're dead.  They always cut it close.

 It isn't raining but the wind is picking up.  A strange green glow can be seen in the foam.  The tide is rising, lapping at the driftwood left last year.  Every time the tide recedes, dead fish--or nearly dead fish--are left on the beach.  Some are already rotten, smelling sweet and fetid, attracting flies.  Others are buried under kelp.  Man-o-wars are everywhere, their orange and yellow streamers coated with sand and pieces of white shell.

 Out on the spit, over a thousand ping-pong balls have just washed up--for a reason that no one here will ever know.  They bounce and roll and float between the barnacled masses lodged in the sand: rusty axles, mufflers, tires.  Puddles of oil also wash up, with shreds of netting, litter, logs.  Then an eel appears, six-feet long, half-devoured by the crabs.  Then a salmon, gasping.

 An albatross swoops down and stands on the sand, amidst the flipping fingerlings.  Spray begins to blow toward the land.   A dead dog washes up, bloated like a buoy, its fur worn off.  It hits a piling, punctures, and slowly deflates.  Another boat comes in, its flag at half-mast.

 Over by the rocks, a seal pops up, swimming toward the musseled caves.  Rain can be seen a few miles out, thicker in some places, thinner in others--but nevertheless, coming closer.  Crows begin to call to each other, a dog starts to howl.  Others answer.  Their communal cry hangs in the air.  Doors swing open and fishermen come out, kicking at curs and yelling "Shut the fuck up!"  It doesn't do any good.  A gunshot goes off.  Somewhere, a dog lies dead as a man goes back to bed.  But the baying does not cease.

 Now the waves are getting higher, and there is even more garbage blowing in: Russian wrappers, Canadian cans, bottles, diapers, pieces of paper.  It all ends up caught in the kelp.  More and more fish wash up.  Some have been dead for days, but the eyes of most are just starting to film over.  Every time a wave rolls in, hundreds of fish are left in the sand: sand-dabs, sea-perch, tomcod, ling.

 The gulls descend and rip into flesh.  There are thousands of gulls lifting and diving and swooping the beach.  They are in a frenzy, tangles of intestines bloodying their breasts.  Like buzzards, they fight each other, even though the spoils are everywhere.  Birdshit splatters, rain descends.

 Another boat comes in, and then a wall of water hits.  Sheet-rain slams the beach so hard that gulls fly squawking back to the cliffs, but only some of them make it.  When a raindrop hits the sand, it forms a crater larger than an egg.  The sand starts to shift, and writhe with a texture just as alive as the water.  A rumbling comes closer.

 The dogs are all inaudible now, hunkering under trucks, stairs, stoves, each other.  They are waiting for the weather.  Only the armored venture outside.

 They come up from the sea and down from the rocks, emerging from crags, tidepools, grass.  There are thousands of them:  brown, red, blue, green.  Covered with limpids, barnacles, kelp: snowcrabs, spidercrabs, redrock, Dunganesse--feasting on the smorgasbord, gnashing claws, clicking, scratching, scavenging.  They climb each other, carpet each other, consuming the entire beach, tearing at the meat.  In some places, the sand is knee-deep in crab.

 The crab masses devour.  The rain beats down.  The roaring increases.  The ocean lifts--then descends, smashing their backs.  Thousands are sucked under, then spat up again.  Shells splinter, pincers are ripped out.  Trees wash up.  A life-preserver, faded yellow by the sun.  Human waste.  Styrofoam chunks.  And then the battered gulls arrive, half their feathers torn away, slapping down on the crabs, rolling in the sand, freshly dead--a belt of them, forty or fifty or sixty miles long, pushed ahead by the tide.  It's coming.

 Lightning strikes the cross on the church.  Once, twice--thunder booms, hail smashes down in lugnut-like conglomerations, bouncing off the docks, cascading on the roofs.  Pigs get hit and die on the spot.  The noise carries through the harbor like machine-gun fire, sounding the first barrage of the storm.  But suddenly, it's gone and replaced by sleet.  Plants break under the weight, the streets are instantly glazed.

 And then it appears eighteen miles out: complete blackness, rising higher and darker than anything anyone here has ever seen.  Church bells start to clang: Emergency!  Take Cover!  Stay Away From Windows!  Pray to God, Motherfuckers!

 The islanders know what to expect.  The power will go out and the blackness will take over.  Things will get hit by mysterious missiles, and gutters will gorge forcing pressure into homes.  Toilets will explode, so are duct-taped shut.  Buckets will be used.  And mops and rags and barrels and drums.  Rain will burst in.  Destruction is a given.  People will be injured, maimed, killed.  Livestock is doomed.  And when it all blows over, there will be fish in the streets, uprooted trees, overturned cars, trailer-homes floating out to sea, and school will be canceled.  But before the clean-up begins, the whole town will go to the beach to reap what God has given them.


 Chum II

 From over the dunes, they descend like the hag masses of the seventeenth century, actually cackling, laughing, jumping and running, armed with sacks for plunder.  Most of them are women, many of them toothless, all of them squarish and squat.  Descendants of Irish criminals, their genes retain a nuance of Down's Syndrome thanks to a century and a half of vigorous in-breeding.

 Back when Australia was the New Welsh Prison Colony, an English prison hulk known as The Ophelia was set upon by Mongolian pirates off the coast of Borneo, so fled up the Makassar Strait where a winter storm blew her into the Pacific.  The ship got lost, but eventually found its way to the Russian coast where another storm hit, busting their mainmast in half and shredding their sails to gauze.  The Ophelia was soon beached on an island a quarter of a globe away from its original destination.  The captain of the ship, however, decided that one rock in the middle of nowhere was just as good as any, so dumped its cargo there.  Repairs were made and the hulk sailed back to England the long way, around Cape Hope.  There were several mutinies and it took a few years.  When they finally returned, the Queen made it known that such an embarrassing and wasteful circumnavigation never occurred.  The details of the voyage of The Ophelia were hidden from history, and the islanders were left to their own designs.

 A pretty much illiterate people, there are no written records on how the place was settled, and nobody there gives a damn to know.  They just fish and work and speak with a slightly Irish accent, which is bent by a Danish inflection due to commerce with whalers in the early 1800s, when the Scandinavians came for the trade of blubber--which became the mainstay of the people well into the next century.

 In the 1960s, the general population of the island didn't even know they were under American jurisdiction until the middle of the decade, when they found out they had been sold to the United States along with Alaska.  The reason they discovered this was because of the Post Office, which was set up because a big oil company was being forced to clean up a spill in the area, so established a port to pretend their workers were doing something other than getting drunk and partaking of the local loins.  If it wasn't for the whorehouse eventually erected in '64 (when the men discovered they could pimp their women instead of slaughtering whales), the blue sperm whale would now be extinct.

 Following a scourge of syphilis, an exponential rise in birth-defects, and a generation of mental retardation, the company store and cannery were founded by the great-grandson of Chief Seattle, who brought industry to the island--which experienced its prime in '66 with the paving of some roads because of a demand for a ferry.  The town, however, never developed into the resort that the ferry was built for, because the developer, a Nazi war criminal, was exposed, then bludgeoned to death on the streets of London.  When the oil company left in '72 the whorehouse lost its business and the people were forced to concentrate on fishing again.  Jimmy Seattle made a bundle by switching from salmon to "garbage fish"--which is the local word for bottom-feeders, a class of fish that isn't good for much except grinding up, packing into cans, and labeling "Dogfood."  Since then, the townsfolk have been subsisting mainly on cod, workmen's comp, and social security.  This is the history of the island.

 In the distance, churchbells are ringing.  It is a sedated day, much warmer than the day before, the storm having blown through the night while the men slept drunk and the women prayed for the bounty of this day.  Like last year, and the year before, and all the years they can remember, the misfortune of others is no tragedy for them.  It is exactly the opposite.

 Dressed in gray like the after-storm sky, varicose veins race across the sand, occasionally stooping to scoop up a duck, twist its neck then throw it in a sack, or grab a fish if it's still fresh.  The sun has just come up, and it is payday on the island.

 Some children tag along, skipping and hopping and scanning the sand.  Few in this crowd, however, are under thirty.  One, Nadine, is an exception to the rule.  In comparison to the rest, she is almost beautiful.  Down in Juneau though, she probably wouldn't turn any heads, but she might get a job as a stripper.  She is nineteen, carries a couple defective genes, has been abused by her father, neglected by her mother, and has no ambition except to get laid by someone who is not a family member.

 Nadine dresses like the rest, but hides her face in a heavy scarf, and her body in a frumpy coat.  To show one's youth on the island is a sin, and it can get you raped and beaten.  But even worse is the treatment she'd receive from the women if she didn't try to hide her skin, not yet plagued by wrinkles and age.

 A Canadian honker appears at her feet.  She stoops and grabs it as someone slaps her on the ass.  Nadine looks up and sees old One Eye rushing by, still drunk and weaving in the sand, his hand grasping the shape of her butt.  Once she sucked him off, but only because her father made her.  Like most of the men on the island, he is fat with bad breath, and has too much hair on his body and face.  Nadine despises beards.

 She looks at the goose.  It is still alive with two broken wings.  How it got here, she'll never know.  They usually fly south for the winter.

 "Stupid bird," she tells it, and starts to crack its neck.  For a second though, the goose stares up with pleading eyes, and for a second she hesitates.  But Nadine has learned to get past that.  This goose is dinner.  Snap!  She throws it in the bag.

 On the beach, a yacht has washed up.  It is smashed all to hell and surrounded by clothes, dishes, furniture and ravens.  The crowd tops the dune, sees this, cheers as one, and descends upon the wreck.  The ravens lift into the sky, airing their discontent.  According to the stern, this ship is from Santa Barbara and is dubbed Pacific Dream.

 Stumbling and lurching, the women gather what they can, while the men board the craft looking for liquor.  Nadine throws things in with the goose:  some silverware, a fancy ashtray, string, a spool of thread, a spatula, and a make-up case--which she quickly opens, then snaps shut and throws in the sack.  There were all sorts of lipsticks in there, and things that only a whore would wear--according to Mother Kralik, that is--who tells the women what they should believe.  And that's what they do believe.  Nadine looks around.

 Father O'Flugence is in the distance, watching the people scouring the wreck.  For a second Nadine feels a sheepish tweek, but then remembers he is always there whenever a boat washes up, and it's not like he doesn't take a thing or two for the church.  She knows he knows what happens to survivors, if there are any.  And she knows he knows that God knows.  Father O'Flugence is a sorry old fuck.  She sees him kneel and pick something up.

 Meanwhile, Mother Kralik is coming closer, scavenging the sand.  She picks up a goblet, sneers at it, drops it into her bag, then goes for a cup with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it.  Nadine takes a step back.

 If Mother Kralik passes by and doesn't see her, that would be just fine.  Mother Kralik, the oldest woman on the island, gives Nadine the creeps.  "The bitch is a witch," according to her mother, and Nadine doesn't doubt it.  Mother Kralik lives at the end of the road where animal skulls mark her shack, a place Nadine has been before, but not by choice.  Nadine's mother used to take her there whenever she had a fever.  But she never recovered because of Mother Kralik's "medicine," she always recovered because kids recover--or else they die.

 Nadine hated Mother Kralik's foul concoctions, which always made her gag.  And she hated the way that one yellow tooth would always shine with saliva.  Nobody on the island had very good teeth, but Mother Kralik's were the worst.  Or maybe it was just the expression behind it--that expression like she wouldn't mind seeing Nadine just disappear--for being younger and prettier than her, and not knocked up yet.

 Nadine once told her mother how she hated going to Mother Kralik.  She thought she could confide in her mother, but she was wrong.  Her mother slapped her a good one for shooting off her mouth, because Mother Kralik was her friend.  Or, rather, Nadine's mother hung out with Mother Kralik just like all the other hags did, because they were too afraid not to.

 Which is why Nadine never told her mother about what happened whenever she was sick.  If she would've told her mother that, she would've been beaten for a week--for "lying," or "disrespecting an adult," or some shit like that.  Mother Kralik had stuck stuff in her.  Like radishes and cigarettes--because this was part of "the healing process."  Mother Kralik had told Nadine not to tell a soul, or the magic wouldn't work.  And it wasn't so much that Nadine minded the process, but more so it was the humiliation, to be covered in sweat and trying not to puke, with that putrid tooth gleaming down at her, and into her wide openness.  It just wasn't comfortable being totally exposed for somebody other than her father.

 At least her father never sneered at her like Mother Kralik did.  He did his business, pulled out, shot his wad, and climbed off.  And if he ever came inside her, at least it was only in her ass.  Otherwise she would've had a little bastard.  There was a severe lack of abortionists on the island.

 "What are you looking at!" Mother Kralik suddenly demands.

 Nadine looks up.  "Nothing," she says, and goes back to staring at her feet.

 The next thing she knows, Mother Kralik has her by the neck.  Nadine gasps and steps back, but the hull of the yacht blocks her retreat.  Mother Kralik crushes up against her, breathing bacteria into her face.

 Nadine tries to remain calm.  This has happened before, and soon it will pass.  All she has to do is give in, give up, agree, kiss ass.

 "You're looking a little pale," Mother Kralik says, turning Nadine's head to the side, and squinting at her skin.  Out of the corner of her eye, Nadine can see a moustache coming closer.

 "I haven't seen you for a while," Mother Kralik says, "what evil have you been up to?"

 Nadine refuses to answer.

 "Tell your mother to send you by," Mother Kralik snarls, then gives a shove and turns away.  But right when Nadine thinks she won't come back, Mother Kralik spins.

 "Lemme tell you something," Mother Kralik sneers, lowering her brow and marching back, then pointing at something in her hand, "sluts like this deserve what they got coming!"

 Mother Kralik shows it to Nadine.  It's a photograph in a fancy frame: a glamorous blonde in her mid-twenties, smiling, sexy and strong.  She is standing in front of the ship's wheel on the Pacific Dream proudly displaying a drink which reads "Snapple" on the label.  She is wearing a captain's hat and a nipply t-shirt which says, "I ? MY SHIP."  Her boobs are enormous.

 "Pacific Dream, Bah!" Mother Kralik spits, picking a stuffed pink rabbit out of the sand and shaking it in Nadine's face, "Anyone with shit like this deserves to get their dream fucked up!  Anyone with fluffy little foo-foo dreams about sailing around with champagne, waltzing in and out of other people's shitholes, just giggling away and wagging her ass around like a slut, well it's high time they learned that people get fucked!  And dreams get fucked!  Cuz there's no escaping getting fucked!  Yep, it's the number one law of Physics.  Shit gets squished!"

 Mother Kralik hands the picture to Nadine and looks in her bag, listing what she's found: "Fancy perfume, cute little crystal thing, bath oil, shampoo, sassy little wristwatch, prissy little ruby ring, useless ivory elephant, brandy snifter... who needs this shit!?"

 Nadine shrugs and looks at the picture.  The hag speaks to the bag as if it were some bimbo: "You know what you are honey?  You're just a bag of shit like the rest of us!  Yep, you're a walking, talking bag of shit!  A mobile digestive system baby, that's what you are!  And you got squished!  Your money and your sweet ass couldn't save you from that, now could it?  Cuz that's the way it is!  I mean, only a damn fool would think the world should be the way it isn't, cuz that's not gonna happen!  Cuz that... that's fantasyland, little miss princess!  Little miss hoity-toity!  Little miss Snapple-sipping bitch!"

 Mother Kralik puts down her bag and starts in twisting her wrists.  Nadine knows that Mother Kralik isn't talking to her, she's talking to herself--in a voice that's getting sharper and sharper.

  "I hope you died out there!" Mother Kralik goes on.  "Died screaming out there, little miss rich bitch!  Little miss hot-to-trot, waving-your-tits-in-the-air, fat-free bitch!  Little miss hot pants!  I hope you died screaming and vomiting at the same time.  Yeah, screaming and puking and drowning, saltwater rushing in!  Filling your lungs!  Choking you, choking you... the ocean raping your precious little pussy!  Your precious little perfumed pussy!  Drying up your cunt!  Shriveling you up!  Turning you into one of us!..."

 Mother Kralik suddenly turns to Nadine, grabs the picture out of her hands, and snags a loogie on the glass.  Then, just as quickly, she raises the picture above her head and smashes it on a rock, adding, "Sorry Chuck!"

 Who the hell Chuck is though, Nadine doesn't know.  She swallows hard as Mother Kralik stands there wheezing through her nose.  Nadine doesn't say a thing.  Both of them are looking down.

 Then Mother Kralik kicks the sand, and uncovers a half-buried, gold-plated cross.  It is highly ornate, about a foot long.  Mother Kralik grabs it, and thrusts it toward Nadine, holding it like a dagger.

 "I've got my eye on you," Mother Kralik cackles, then gives Nadine a slap on the ass.

   "Holy Shit!" somebody suddenly yells.  "Another Shipwreck!"


 Adventurous Reader:  Do Not Miss the Next Installment of CHUM to See the Astonishing Wreckage and What Beautiful Booty It Brings to this Island of the Damned!



Books by Mark Spitzer available at Amazon.com (click on the title for reviews and ordering info):

Collected Poems of Georges Bataille

Bottom Feeder

Cadavar Exquisito
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