“Banquet of Fortune” Dark Fiction by Jake Sheff

He often couldn’t tell if he had killed his brother, or hadn’t; if he’d dreamed it, willed it, superseded it – the murder – with his own suicide. You see, Jeremiah Pudlowsky wasn’t mentally ill, deranged in anyway, or out of time. He simply was more in tune with possibilities, those Granata of incongruent otherworlds as they crisscrossed with ours.

Jeremiah’s brother was named Kolfin – the most interesting thing about him according to authoritative figures, like his high school principal and secretary at Nieman Marcus. But there was more to him, and Jeremiah knew it, though not right away. When their mother brought Kolfin home from the nursery, Jeremiah’s ear drums perforated. His father said, “Ouch! Goddammit…” Tilted his head sideways and reached up toward his ear. “What the hell?” Then mother noticed the discharge from Jeremiah’s ear canal, the inner ear fluid. Both Jeremiah and his father went to the hospital by taxi, where they found nothing wrong with Jeremiah’s dad, but did send him home with some pain pills.

So it went the next 30 years: when Jeremiah got sick, his father felt the pain: the broken bones, the muscle aches of influenza, the burning voids of UTIs, the broken hearts. And Jeremiah seemed more injury prone around Kolfin; the 9 years prior to his birth, Jeremiah had never even had a common cold. Against their mother’s wishes, their father had no choice, due to disability and missed work (without any doctor’s consent: “I can’t explain it.”), but to send one of the boys away; he gave mother the choice.

So when Jeremiah was ten and Kolfin one, mother said goodbye to their father, who moved to New Mexico, “to be around the other indigents suffering their mystery ailments in the dry, Indian air.”

When Jeremiah started growing hair on his scrotum, he began transiently dissociating from our world – his teachers called it ADHD or absence seizures. But he was slipping in and out of other possibilities as they collided, or more like passed through, our happening; think of Earth passing through the debris of a comet or asteroid annually, and the meteor showers that ensue. This refined inner sense must’ve come, Jeremiah would later think, from a childhood free of pain, something no living thing could ever claim previous to him.

Kolfin was bright. He didn’t read some Russian novel or solve an ancient riddle of philosophy or math at some absurdly young age. Despite his cerebral palsy, he possessed an astute emotional intelligence with a political animal’s social acumen. Early on, he detected Jeremiah’s “gifts” of being chronically ill and dissonant with reality.

Their mother smoked Camel Lights and drank Bourbon, not exactly the Ave Maria one would expect with her two exceptional youngsters. She wore sundresses that’d compliment a woman 5 inches taller with her waist halved, with less be-stubbled cellulite and varicose veins. Kolfin assumed somehow he was responsible for the homely changes that befell his mother’s appearance, and Jeremiah became acutely aware that in all possibilities for a universe his mother was an ogre-like wench but still loving, always, so he accepted her surface unpleasantness without any crying foul at fate or God. The fact is, she had been beautiful once, but that’s another story.

Present Day

“Brother.”

“I thought I’d killed you! Or at least, I knew I might’ve; I’m pretty sure I did somewhere.”

“Brother, that’s all in the past. I know where father is.”

“Kolfin. Mirabile dictu! You were too young to know father – a real constable of hardship, and ornery never.”

“Right, and he let me live. I want to know him.”

“But infanticide is shameful, revenge is too ra loo.”

“He wouldn’t kill me now. I’ve never left this town, he could’ve always came and found me.”

They stood in front of the doctor’s office on Limb Street, where the glass shards of a green beer bottle intermingled with the shattered passenger-side window specked with a car thief’s blood. The weather was uneventful – maybe late fall, maybe early spring; the trees didn’t help. The year had the morass of present time; history was wafting above, a tracer of forgeries, awaiting the artist’s Finis!

“Where is he?”

“He’s here. He’s come for you.”

“Come for me? That’s…”

“Preposterous? Because if he kills you, he dies?”

“No, it’s mellifluous, because I think I’ve learned to harness my physical being, to hold fast my atomic mudra, as my soul transmigrates between possibilities and anti-nulls.”

“What is an anti-null?”

“A place without space or points; where dad can go and be safe.”

Kolfin was used to impossible scenarios in even polite conversations with Jeremiah, but he knew impossible meant only for here and now.

“You can transport material objects to your other possibilities?”

Kolfin spent the next three seconds swimming in liquid diamond, perceiving his environment chiefly by smell and the way it relaxed his gravity while contracting his magnetic orb.

Back in front of the doctor’s office, he noticed the jism in his pants.

“What was that?! Where was I?”

“That was here and now, alive, with nearly identical constants.”

“An anti-null?”

“No. Only I can come back from anti-nulls.”

And so Kolfin and Jeremiah took a walk. By the costume shop an oblivious Jeremiah was stung by a hornet, unbeknownst to all except Mr. Pudlowsky, his father. Kolfin was unsure of Jeremiah’s plan for their father’s deliverance from pain. The anti-nulls seemed too dense for pleasure, or memories, according to Jeremiah’s riveting descriptions, riveting in their ineffable, maybe unknowable, dynamics. Kolfin worried, unable to wonder much further, if it was even life.

“Clever, clever Kolfin. You are right: the anti-nulls are another possibility for death.”

Kolfin measured his emotions against what he considered a rational reaction. He deliberated, at a maddening speed, on the ramifications of this non-sense coalescing with rumor and belief (delusion?), in a race against the decisive moment accelerating toward their crux of human will and God’s.

“First of all, Jeremiah: is that murder? Second of all, take me instead. I’m a lonely underachiever, and getting rid of me will reverse the hex I brought on our family.”

Jeremiah wasn’t big on ruminating. He acted more on intuition, fearless in his lack of bellicosity that he’d ever with foreknowledge bring harm upon another. Of course, unintended consequences can stripe a good act with a heel-upon of misdeed.

“It’s more like disappearing for a while. The body sort of sublimates, and the estate of consciousness is thus diffused, enlarged…thinner. His essence won’t rot, or thinking decompose. Volition, choice…I suppose it’s a bit more passive. Perhaps you see a finality I simply do not.”

“You say ‘for a while,’ and that it isn’t final. Are we talking about reincarnation? As in father could come back at some point, later on?”

Jeremiah could not comprehend reincarnation, having witnessed the interior flux and counter-entropy of their reality from outside its margins.

“Kolfin, a man can step into the same river twice. It requires synchrony, the gift I’d like to bestow upon our father.”

“What do you mean synchrony? Like if he does it several times at once?”

“Hmm…In the anti-null, you live in time and measure space as it passes.”

Kolfin had to stop and think. His mind and body ached from the contractures of his world, presently, and his skeletal muscle, ever present, respectively. The idea of disappearing for a while appealed to Kolfin. Plus his brother seemed content but not superior, despite his inhuman experiences; somehow more human.

Jeremiah walked on, after they agreed to meet again tomorrow near the bistro where their mother worked. Kolfin had it in his mind they should tell her everything: father’s recent proximity and Jeremiah’s plan. But then Kolfin, not Jeremiah, hedged; there was so much uncertainty.

∞   ∞   ∞

Mrs. Pudlowsky was a divining rod in the guise of a distempered single mom. Her days’ banality and tenuous plucks of ennui’s catgut encroached derivative’s territory; but Mrs. Pudlowsky, impudent and custom eschewing (or as she called it, “culture delousing”), was, in every sense of the word, a tad avian. She flit about from task to task, major to menial, and vice versa, like a bird-boned wanderlust inflicting her adventure on the calmness of her cage; today she scrubs the tile floors, yesterday she kept the books, tomorrow: maybe CEO, or possibly advisership, to the owners or board of trustees.

“My boys, my handsome boys! Why I haven’t seen the two of you together since Inauguration Day three years ago. We was celebratin’ nothin’ in particula’, just Jeremiah bein’ back in town. But then Kolfin, you got that call from Boein’, about acceptin’ some design o’ yours, and we was celebratin’ somethin’ after that! Oh lord, that was a fine time.”

Mrs. Pudlowsky took a 15 minute break, and Jeremiah spelled it all out for her, serene and serendipitous in countenance. Kolfin vacillated between stewing a bit, half-expecting his mother to reject the plan outright, which she didn’t, and waiting politely for a chance to interject, and request again…

“Jeremiah, why don’t you take me instead? Yesterday you said it isn’t killing me, it isn’t murder. Sounds like you’d just be removing me, then things would go back to how they were. Dad could come back…I mean stay.”

“Heavens to Betsy! Son, your daddy and I have been separated 29 years. I hope you don’t think we’d get back together. And now he’s here for Jeremiah, with some vague, malicious soundin’ intentions? You wan’ ta sacrifice ya self for this man? I’m still not clear why he’s here? How you know he didn’t come for some of your money?”

“It isn’t a sacrifice, Mom; he isn’t…” Jeremiah began. Then his eyes rolled back and he face-planted, nose first, onto their table.

And nobody noticed the man outside looking in, rubbing his nose and cursing.

∞   ∞   ∞

At the urgent care in the outskirts of Beckford, Jeremiah sat on the doctor’s table saying he felt fine, with a tampon string hanging out his nostril. Of course, his mother and Kolfin knew he felt fine, but Mrs. Pudlowsky, as usual, thought it was best he get looked at nonetheless. The nurse had just stepped out after recording the vital signs. The resting heart rate of 35 had alarmed her, but Jeremiah seemed stable. She planned on recommending an EKG and IV fluids to the moonlighting intern when she found him.

The intern had wandered toward the waiting room and heard a man groaning from the corner.

“Sir, what seems to be the problem? Are you okay?”

Mr. Pudlowsky chuckled with the menace of a deep fryer, palm on his furrowed brow with eyes downcast.

“Am I okay? Doctor, you ever hear of a man coming in with all kinds of somatic complaints but no injuries or illness to justify their being? What do you call that?”

“Well, umm…if there’s some secondary gain, like money or narcotics, we call it…malingering. Do you need me to look at you? Are you in pain?”

“What about voodoo? Those dolls that witches stick needles in, or hold a match under. You’ve heard of that?”

“In movies, yes. Is that what you think is going on with you?” The intern was starting to consider diagnoses, schizophrenia and / or drug abuse chief among them.

In a predatorial flash, Mr. Pudlowsky turned his gaze up to the intern’s eyes, as if a tit mouse streaked across the prairie of his purview, that sudden bolt of fear in the young doctor’s iris. 

“No, young man, that isn’t it at all. I know what troubles me: he’s back there right now with a broken nose and his broken brother. Goddammit, I don’t believe in Satan or demons, but there was some kind of hex on my testicles, like an external cancer eating away at me, invisible to any microscope or blood test.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

Mr. Pudlowsky got up, and walked toward the back examination room where Jeremiah lay in wait.

∞   ∞   ∞

Jeremiah recognized the genius of all living things, like the alley cat; not just its calico against the heavy-duty dumpster’s steel, but the refinement of its leap, the balance of its intellect with instinct as it crept between the steaming sewers and putty rain. He watched it outside the window.

“What are you doing here? Oh, God, whose blood is that? Don’t hurt him, please don’t hurt him!”

“Renee, this goddamn son of ours has ruined my life! Made it a goddamn hell! I’m gonna…”

“Dad?” Kolfin couldn’t believe the man who’d sent him postcards from Paraguay and Venezuela was capable of violence.

“Jeremiah!”

Renee Pudlowsky sat alone in the doctor’s office, fast asleep and dreaming of her days in Ireland, when she was beautiful.

∞   ∞   ∞

There was music. A whisper of music; a sinuous movement, a cresting of birdsong, percussion and murmur of exotic strings. Kolfin knew by some foreign, brand new and crystal clear sense that he, Jeremiah and their father, Dubin Pudlowsky, were no longer in their home existence; they’d been transported.

[What follows is not the text of speech delivered by the characters’ mouths and received by their ears; it’s rather a translation of their communication across the field of solid fire that stretches between their bodies’ silicone and sulfur gas.]

“You both should remain calm. Nobody here can be hurt.”

Dubin felt for his gun, then felt for his hand, then realized this moment was his first without pain in three decades. And he was terrified, relieved, aware again of grace.

“Jeremiah, where have you taken us? Is this a possibility or an anti-null?”

“Kolfin, I could never take you to the anti-null. Only I could come back as I, which would mean for me a life, for the first time, with pain.”

“You selfish asshole!”

“Wait. Father, Kolfin: I want you to both imagine closing your eyes.”

Dubin closed his eyes, or did what felt like that. He suddenly could see the three of them in that alley outside the urgent care examination room, standing naked and expressionless across from each other in a triangle; three soulless bodies.

“I’ve got your gun.”

In the alley, the body of Jeremiah raised its right arm and pointed the revolver at its right temple and a bit to the back.

The arms of Kolfin raised slowly, stiffly, in a heavy-limbed, nearly lifeless “Stop” motion; the leaden extremities of fight or flight that one despairs in a nightmare.

The blast awoke Renee Pudlowsky, who was startled to see Kolfin sitting up on the doctor’s table. And Kolfin stared in awe at Dubin Pudlowsky standing by the door, blood on his hands, along with his gown as it trickled from his nose.

There was a knock behind Dubin. In came the intern, smiling.

“Hello? Whoa, I think I see the problem here.” He directed Mr. Pudlowsky toward the table. “Maybe you should have this seat for now.”

The three Pudlowskys remained speechless.

“Anyone mind telling me how this happened?” The doctor asked, in good humor. He turned toward Mrs. Pudlowsky in front of the window.

“Looks like you’ve got him worried?”

“Excuse me, sir?” said Mrs. Pudlowsky

“I’m talking about that cat staring in here.”

They all turned to look.

“It sure is beautiful.”


Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have even been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.


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