What We Talk About
When We Talk About
There is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
There is a wolf, a man by day.
There’s this wolf, you might know him,
he likes little girls and he devours your aged ones.
He spits their bones into the soil and
their bones seed
and grow towers that puncture the sky.
There’s a decapitated wolf who lives in the sea.
–Hibogulous the Younger
Karla asked if we’d heard about the new species of wolf that they’d found off the coast of Virginia.
“Massive,” she said, “the size of a BUNGalow.” She said bungalow in a kind of singsong and drummed her fingers on the table.
We were all out for Korean BBQ; all meaning Bobby, Destiny, Rodrigo, Ava, Francesca, Farooq, Jeff, Su, Esfir, Ray, D, Ji Jie, Kimmy, Jimmy, Timmy, Song, DeMarcus, Kayla, Daphne, Koharu, Stevie, Babak, Soap Stain, Ellory, Jaylin, Other Jeff, Big Slice, Sofía, Karla, and myself. Yes, the whole gang was there!
We were huddled impossibly around the hibachi. Bobby was giving me a hard time about grilling the kimchi.
“You don’t typically do that,” he was saying, “you’re making a mess.”
Fuck you Bobby, I thought, and then I felt guilty for thinking it. I removed my kimchi piece.
“Oh,” I said, “uh, sorry,” and Bobby smiled in this condescending manner. He looked around at the crew as if he was their personal savior.
“Also,” Karla said, “they’re just heads, no bodies, or no typical bodies anyhow.”
She pulled a clip up and passed it to us. In the window of her Galaxy S8 we saw the murk of the sea. Suddenly a large, dark shape began to appear beneath the surface, hurtling like a torpedo. It crested and rolled, salt foam spuming from lupine snout, beads of ocean rolling off its thick, gray fur. Its eyes cloudy. Its rough, raspberry, tongue lolling past tearing canines. No blood but this ravaged neckline with long, pastel-purple and ochre neck tendrils snaking out like phallic, barnacle viscera, whipping up the frenzied waves as though they—the vagus nerves, the la- ryngeal nerves, the carotid artery—were their own living beings. Seagulls appearing in the frame’s bottom-left were made antlike in relation to the behemoth. It flopped spectacularly back into the ash-grey sea and torpedo’d away into the depths.
Su said, “Holy Shit.” Jeff said, “Wait.”
DeMarcus asked, “Is it a prank?” Daphne said, “Wait.”
Big Slice was like, “Fuck.”
D asked, “What is it?” She couldn’t really see from her angle.
Esfir trembled in fear.
Koharu said, “Wait, what is it?” Jaylin asked, “Is it real?”
Babak asked, “Is it a threat?” Kayla asked, “Is it a God?”
I asked, “Is it a dream?”
Bobby asked, “Was it alive? Was it even alive? That thing? Was it dead or alive?”
“Wait,” Kimmy said, “Is this from the new season of Popular TV Show? Please, no spoilers.” And Karla was like, “No, this is real.”
We sat agog passing the phone around, watching and re-watching the clip of the disembodied Leviathan. We couldn’t really believe the similarities between this and the latest season of Popular TV Show. Didn’t the gang of precocious youth battle a nearly identical, lab-grown beastie in the penultimate episode?
“Hold on, hold on,” Kimmy beseeched, “No spoilers!” She made a big show of covering her ears.
“Oh,” Soap Stain said, “that show sucks anyway,” and they were about to launch into their whole elitist spiel when the waiter came over with a fresh heap of bulgogi.
“Have you seen this?” I asked the waiter, and Bobby said, “Yes, have you?”
The waiter smiled and cocked their head. “What is it?” They asked.
Jeff wanted to know the source of the video.
“These days,” he said, “you have to be careful with your news. Who do you trust?”
Other Jeff was perplexed by the wolf-head’s fur. “Aquatic life doesn’t really have fur like that,” they said.
“It has more like blubber instead, that kind of fur, that’s for tundra, that’s for keeping warm and dry in falling snow, not water.”
Other Jeff’s sister was a marine biologist so they knew of what they spoke.
“Was it even alive?” Sofía asked. “Its head looked really cut off to me. Didn’t you see those neck guts?”
It so happened Destiny had read an editorial about the creature earlier that day in Big City Paper.
“They’re thinking it’s not alive, no, that’s the latest,” Destiny said. “They think the whole thing is animated interiorly by translucent crustaceans.”
“But where did it come from?” Timmy asked, and Jimmy wanted to know, “Was it even an animal, perhaps it was a weapon?”
We went through the list of potential culprits. Russia, Syria, our own government.
Ray said, “Mexico question mark?” and we all shot him sidelong looks of withering incredulity.
“It’s the end times,” Ji Jie said. Big Slice said, “It’s a false flag.”
Rodrigo said if any of us were scared he would hold us, and Song said how she could hold herself just fine, thank you, and stormed out on the check.
“In Los Angeles, there’s a wolf sanctuary,” Esfir told us.
“I used to go a lot when I lived out there. I think all the wolves are retired wolf actors from back when they used to do that kind of thing, before CGI.”
“That’s fucked,” Ellory said. “They probably treated those wolves like shit.”
“They lead a pretty good life now,” Esfir told us. “For five bucks you can feed them raw hamburger patties.”
“No,” Ellory said. “That’s still fucked.”
Then Soap Stain started going on about how he’d take a real animal over a computer one any day.
I got to imagining one of the wolf-head creatures swimming down from the heavens. It would say, “feed me Seymour,” and we would all enjoy the reference. We would thrill with the reward of knowing a thing. I wondered if the wolf-head would lose some of its appeal being that close. Would I begin to see the strings?
Outside the Korean BBQ, the swollen, dusk-gloomed sky. Sleeping men and women. Wayward men parading, asking for money, smelling richly of shit and neglect. And in the oceans, and now in the sky, and maybe now in our lakes even, these miraculous creatures.
“The old cultures, they took better care of their giant aquatic wolf-heads,” Francesca said sagely. We were beginning to forget a time that this was ever not our reality. Last week it was the whale they found, beached thirty-eight miles inland, and the week before that it was the chimpanzee, whose autopsy revealed multiple sets of inner organs, and who was found in the sedan-with-no-papers, in the center of a corn field, in the middle of a shadow, whose cast had no source. Today it was the wolf-head sea-monsters.
Koharu asked for the check and asked if we could split it thirty ways.
“I know that’s obnoxious,” she said, but the waiter merely nodded.
“Does everyone have cash?” I asked. “Like we agreed?” But, of course, Bobby only had a card.
We began to pay and leave, one by one.
Ava realized she had never been with us at all and quietly atomized into the air. We looked over at where we’d thought she’d been, and we spied her drifting particles winking back into the space between all things. How quickly we forgot even this.
Bobby said, “Jasper, be sure and leave 20%,” and I thought, eat a dick sandwich, Bobby.
All the friends moved into separate quadrants. Soon it was just Karla and I. The table had grown cold.
“Once,” Karla said, “my shoes were stolen in the night by this elf.”
I looked into her eyes and thought I saw two wolf pups swimming there. I thought, I’m going to cut off the heads of those pups and release them into the sea. I couldn’t help but think it, I thought, though maybe I could.
We looked around for the waiter. Karla had also brought a card and needed to sign. But no one came, and we saw a thick layer of dust carpeted over everything. Now Karla, too, was gone, and I was alone in the dust, and the streets spread for miles before me, empty and desolate, save for dust. And the streets spread, and the streets spread, and multi-organed chimpanzees lurked those streets, and shadows grew out of nowhere and scurried just as quickly, and corpse-heads swam through air, full of shrimp as I was full of beef. I was alone in Hell. It was alright, I guess. It wasn’t really, you know, so bad.
Third Prize in Short Fiction
2020 Stubborn Writers Contest
Jasper Oliver is a Gemini with Sagittarius-rising, ENFP, elder-millennial born in a wood-rat year. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He rode the rails, but just the once. Currently he lives in Chicago where he reads, writes, and dérives, saying “hey” to the local dogs. You can find him on the webs at www.jaspero-liver.net.