Midnight Foulness in the West

Guest Author Series: Cormac McCarthy


Midnight Foulness in the West

by Cormac McCarthy

The man wakes suddenly and fully. The sound is piercing and cannot be denied as it bores its way down the hall and through the closed door. There is no escape the man knows. 

The woman lies still beside him not moving as he is not moving. But her breathing has changed and she is too quiet not to be awake. There they lie the man and the woman locked in silent combat. It is a struggle between the children of Adam and the children of Eve to see who will be the true bearer of that ancient curse that with children comes pain. The minutes pass and his will remains strong. Then he feels the kick. It is swift and hard and aimed so well he groans and rolls as if rolling would stop the pain. He accepts defeat, rises and limps down the hall. 

He opens the door to the room and before he steps inside he knows from the sound and the smell that no bottle of formula will soothe the creature lying there in the dark. He enters with the tread of a man so accepting of his fate that he does not even bother to gather courage but rather steps into the abyss as if stepping from a boat to dry land. 

He walks to the padded cage that contains this fury and stares down at the child for a moment. You ain’t no kin to me, he says. The child wails and he picks the child up and carries it to the table. He needs no light. He places one hand upon its chest to keep it still and reaches with the other to grasp the tapes holding the cloth to the child’s waist. He loosens the tapes and gathers the cloth in one hand and lifts if off deftly making a pass along the child’s backside as he goes to gather whatever debris he can. He tosses the cloth. It arcs though the darkness and into a can in the corner of the room and hits with a dull thud. He can tell by the sound its contents were a long time in coming.

His senses long past the point of protest, he instinctively begins the process of cleaning. He knows by the feel and the smell what this is. The matter of his attention is not wholly of this time and place but an ancient element a manifestation of the primordial ooze itself. A biological reject of nature common to man and beast that ties all species together. It portends the fate of all things made of carbon that will die and be made food of and be returned to the surface to be carried away by wind or water or beast or buried by earth or thrown in contests of will between apes and in contests of skill and strength between men, atavistic discuss throwers heaving chips dried by sun and wind to glory or defeat. The man knows this but does not care. His actions carry no ontological weight victory and defeat collapsing together as his mind and body are numbed by the smell.

The cleaning and rewrapping complete he places the now silent child in the cage, grunts in a not wholly unaffectionate way and turns for the door. Mechanically he returns to his bed.

Thank you honey, I just couldn’t get up again.

It’s alright.

You sure you’re not mad.

No. I love you, he says though he does not mean it. Perhaps tomorrow, but not then. 

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen