Josh Hanson lives in northern Wyoming where he teaches, writes, and makes up little songs. He is a graduate of the University of Montana MFA program, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sinister Smile Press, Black Petals, Dance Cry Dance Break, Fast Flesh, Stoneboat, and Diagram.


by Josh Hanson


Parker pushed his cupped hands down into the water, and they disappeared between the strange, oily iridescence of the surface.

It was little more than a puddle, maybe four feet across and eight feet long, but deep, and the water felt blood-warm on his hands, the surface clinging tight around his wrists. He lifted his hands, the liquid inside reflecting the sky in swirling shades of pink and green.

It looked unwholesome, like someone had spilled gasoline maybe, but it smelled clean and fresh, almost sweet, if water could be said to be sweet. He felt a sudden compulsion to drink it. He cupped some water in his hands and lifted it to his mouth and drank. It was icy in his throat, burning with an almost alcoholic fire, all the way down. He brushed his hands on his shirt front, sat down at the hole’s rim, and closed his eyes.

Somehow he’d known the water would taste like this. Before this day, he’d come to the spot three mornings in a row. The first had been after the storm, when he’d thought he’d seen lightning strike one of the gnarled trees on the ridge back behind the house. There’d been a flash and crack, a roll of thunder, followed by a brief, bright light from the woods, intense as a welder’s torch and with that same phosphorescence. He’d watched from the back porch long enough to be sure the fire wasn’t going to spread—a slim chance in the coastal damp—and then gone to bed.

But when he’d awoken the next morning, he’d been drawn by some nagging curiosity. He’d dressed in the dark, put his boots on while sitting on the back steps, and traipsed up the hill toward the spot.

It was easy to find.

A ring of trees twenty yards wide were scorched all up their trunks, as if fire had in fact whipped through, but there was little other damage. In the center of the ring, there was a gash in the loamy earth. Rock and soil had been thrown up in a hump at one end, the deeper end, and the water was already starting to seep up from the black earth at its bottom.

Not lightning; a meteorite, Parker thought, or a piece of space junk. Some hunk of some forgotten satellite that had made it through the atmosphere and fallen to ground here, in this solitary stand of trees, on this solitary hill, behind his family’s old, solitary house. No one to tell but Mary. No neighbors for half a mile.

And nothing he could see in the hole. It must have disintegrated on impact.

He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets, gave a last look into the hole, and walked back to the house.

He didn’t tell Mary.

The next day, he’d awoken again with the thought of place at the front of his mind. There was something about that circle of scorched earth, the way the trees had been caught in some almost instantaneous event—something about that god-damned hole in the ground.

Once again, he hiked up to that space and looked down into the hole. Water had seeped up from below, half-filling the gash in the earth, and the surface was oddly reflective, appearing almost viscous, clinging to the sides of the hole, vaguely milky.

And then there was the color: that oil-sheen ripple of pink and green. In that moment, he’d thought how the hole was more than big enough to climb down into. The way the bottom sloped up at one end would allow him to lie down, settling his body into the water, keeping his head above the surface. He imagined himself laying there, only his face breaking that shimmering surface, staring up at the circle of sky above.

He shook his head. Why the hell would he do that? If anything, he should probably call someone at the county. There might be something getting into the groundwater. They might want to take samples.

But he didn’t call the county.

And he didn’t tell Mary.

And now here he was, sitting at the edge of the hole, the water almost up to its rim now, having just swallowed two handfuls, and the ring of trees seemed to shudder. It was like the world was running at double-speed, the light—just now breaking over the hill and spilling into the woods—seeming to flash in a strobe-like time-lapse. And the way he felt the water moving through him, as if it had entered directly into his bloodstream, was racing to the very tips of his fingers, flooding the capillaries in his eyes and cheeks. He was cold and flushed and trembling, and it felt better than he could ever have imagined. He saw little explosions of light like strange stars.

Still in his boots and jacket, unmindful of the phone in his back pocket, he lowered himself feet-first down into the hole. It was inside him, and now he needed to be inside of it, to feel its weird heat on his skin. He sank beneath the surface, rolling onto his back, looking up at the sky, sputtering and jerking like an old fashioned movie.

His skin bristled with gooseflesh as the strange warmth enveloped him, and he shivered, clenched, and gasped, realizing he had experienced an almost instantaneous and spontaneous orgasm. And then he settled down into the water, his body relaxing, lightly suspended by the liquid—too dense to be water—too warm.

It wasn’t just pleasure, he realized; it was happiness. Maybe even joy. It permeated his whole self. In that moment he was joy. He thought to himself that this was how the hippies talked about psychedelics, some mystical communion with nature, some shedding of the self that was also a filling of the self. But he didn’t feel drugged. He just felt absolutely at peace. Had he ever known this feeling? Even as a child? Maybe in the womb?

There was something womblike about the warm, wet hole in the ground. Something safe. He closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, the sun was caught up in the treetops, and many hours had passed. He stood, the sound of his body sloshing in the water somehow loud in the clearing. He crawled up out of the hole, clothes clinging to him, and got to his feet.

By the time he reached the house, Mary had left for the day. That was probably for the best. He put his hand to his back pocket, pulled out his phone. It did nothing when he tried to open it. Stupid. How could he have been so stupid? Like a teenager, just jumping without thinking.

But he thought again of that warmth, the weight of the water holding him down but also buoying him up. He thought with mild embarrassment of that sudden, unannounced climax as he’d entered the pool.

He put the phone in a bowl of rice, knowing it was useless, stripped off his sopping clothes, and took a shower.

He dressed, warmed up some leftovers in the microwave. Ate on the porch, his feet up on the railing, looking out toward the trees, toward one spot in the trees. It seemed to thrum. A sound but also a feeling, right up from the ground.

By the time Mary came home, he was pacing with nervous energy, meeting her at the door to the garage, taking her coat, at first talking too quickly for her to follow, so she told him to slow down.

“I want you to see it,” he said, and she looked at him with raised brows.

“See what?”

“Just come with me. I can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense to explain it. You’ll understand.”

“Where—” she didn’t even get the question out. He had taken her by the wrist and was pulling her through the house, out the back sliding door.

“It’s just this way,” he said.

“Parker, I just want to get out of these clothes.”

“In a minute. Please.” He stopped, halfway across the yard, her wrist still clutched in his big hand, and he knew it was the ‘please’ and the look on his face that did it.

“Okay. Show me this amazing thing.”

His smile was wide as he hurried off across the yard toward the treeline. She hesitated, but then she followed and Parker figured that was good enough.

When she caught up with him, he was standing over a puddle of noxious looking water, smiling that same manic smile, watching her with all of the expectation of a child.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I know it’s nuts, believe me. I might be a little nuts. I feel kinda nuts. But this water…you just have to try it for yourself.”

“Try it? Jesus, Parker, tell me you didn’t drink this.”

He looked sheepish.

“It’s good,” he said. “I promise. But not just for drinking. Here, let me show you.”

He began to strip off his clothes, right there in the clearing. Mary looked around, as if someone might see, but of course they were far from anyone, on their own land, back up in the trees.


He was down to his underwear and already climbing into the hole, the water up to his knees. She watched him shudder, his skin prickling.

“I am not getting into that. No. Are you drunk?” But she laughed.


Mary thought that there was something so ridiculous about the whole scene, and also about his demeanor.

He was not himself, but he was. Himself, but happy and excited in a way she couldn’t really remember. And, the more she thought about it, there was a strange feeling, a creeping desire.

She did want to get in.

There was something illicit about it, like skinny-dipping at night. The kind of thing she’d never done. And it was just Parker there to see. If they were losing their minds, they’d be doing it together.

Parker settled down into the water, sitting, the waterline at his armpits. And then he moaned. She stared pop-eyed at him, as he let his head fall back, eyes closed, chest flushed. He hadn’t even recognized that he’d made the sound. A moan of pure pleasure.

Mary undressed hurriedly. She stopped at her bra and panties, and then—looking down at Parker, broad-shouldered, that tiny thatch of hair at the center of his chest—she removed those as well. He smiled up at her with distant eyes, holding up a hand to help her down into the water.

She gasped at the warmth, and then gasped again as it shook her body.

“Don’t know if you have to drink it, but it’s good.”

He lifted a handful to her, and she grasped his hand with both of hers, looking him in the eye as she drew it to her mouth.

She held his gaze as it moved swiftly through her, and then she was lost to it, her body shaking, spine arching backward, breasts thrust out. She was still clutching his hand, and when the waves finally subsided, he pulled her to him, and they both settled down, Mary’s head on his chest, his arms wrapped around her, their legs entwined.

They lay back against the slope of the hole’s bottom, and Mary drifted into peaceful sleep. She could hear Parker’s heart at her ear. The sound of love, she thought. This was it, finally. Something real and true that she could hang the name on. A lifetime, and now here it was.

This was love.

They awoke with the rain. It was full dark, and the cold drops battered icily against their faces. They climbed quickly out, laughing, and not even bothering to dress, just gathering up their things, they hurried down out of the trees, their feet tender on the undergrowth. They laughed aloud as they raced across the yard and up into the soft glow of the house.

The next morning, Parker had to go in to work. He kissed Mary on her bare shoulder and climbed out of bed. He was rolling down the drive before dawn broke.

At the sound of the truck’s wheels on the gravel, Mary climbed out of bed, slipped on her robe, and went out to the kitchen. She had a piece of toast and a cup of coffee, and then she slipped her bare feet into her muck boots, and still in just her robe, walked up into the trees.

She stopped at the edge of the clearing, frozen. An elk—massive, with sprawling antlers and big black eyes—stood in the pool. It grunted and Mary saw its pelt ripple. It stomped at the bottom of the pool, splashing water up over the side. It shook its head from side to side, eyes wild. Finally, it reared up on its hind legs like a horse, trumpeting, and then came down, sending the water up in sheets.

It gave a low harrumph, and then dropped to its knees in the water, exhausted.

Mary stepped up to the edge of the pool carefully, not wishing to startle the animal. She crouched down, extending her hand, and it lifted its muzzle, pushing its nose against her open palm.

“There, there,” she cooed. “You’re all right.”

She kicked off her boots and sat down on the edge of the pit, her feet in the water, and the elk lay its head in her lap, the massive antlers arcing up and framing her robed form. That sense of peace flowed through her, even sweeter than the previous day, and she petted the elk’s bony forehead, scratched the bristly fur along its jaw. The two of them, woman and beast, stayed like that for some time, as the forest came alive with the dawn.


That night, when Parker came home, Mary had dinner ready. It was four-fifteen in the afternoon, and he made a joke about eating like senior citizens.

“I know. I just skipped lunch, and I was starving, so I threw it together. You don’t have to eat now, but I was thinking if we did, we could take a walk into the woods.”

He smiled and wagged his eyebrows at her as if “taking a walk” was a euphemism for some twisted act.

He hung up his coat, washed his hands, and sat down at the table. They talked as they ate, and Parker thought how long it had been since they had talked so easily. It wasn’t that they didn’t talk. They’d just fallen into complacency.

But now there was this new thing between them. This secret they shared, and it was wonderful. Earlier in the day he’d had the thought that it might go away, the water recede, the hole gradually fill in with erosion, and he pushed the thought away. Already, he couldn’t imagine their lives without the warming waters of the pool.

After dinner, they cleaned up together, Parker loading the dishwasher and Mary packing up the food, and then they went to the bedroom, undressed, and put on their robes. In their black boots and white robes, they marched up the slope, into the trees, hand in hand.

Mary got in first, crouching down to let the water come up to her chin, her arms extended out to her sides. Parker pulled off his boots and was just dropping his robe when he saw it.

A fat black king snake was sliding down from the edge of the pit, tasting the air with its tongue, and before he could even speak, it had slipped into the water, its body gliding across the surface in a smooth V.

“Mary,” he finally said, but Mary was calm, already leaning back along the sloping bottom, and as he watched, the snake slipped up her ribcage, its head between her breasts, and pulled its body up into a tight coil behind it. She lay there like that, eyes closed, arms floating loose in the water, the black snake coiled between her breasts.

Parker untensed his body and looked down at them. There was something beautiful about the scene. She was Eve and Ophelia, but redeemed, rescued from those narratives. He stepped gently down into the warmth of the pool, so as not to startle either of them, and lowered himself down. He curled up beside her, slipping his arm across her belly, and the snake seemed to melt into the shape of the shelf his arm had made.

They slept. The three of them.

Over the next weeks, they met many animals at the pool. Once a pair of great heron, once a possum with five babies clinging to its back as it floated, seemingly lost in sleep. The soft earth around the pit’s edge was stamped with a hundred different prints, and once Parker lifted up a great roiling black ball to find that it was a mass of carpenter ants that fell in little chains of bodies into the water and quickly joined up, clinging to one another again. Parker was repulsed. He shook them away in panic.

It seemed to him suddenly that there was something unwholesome in the pool. Hadn’t he always felt that? But now it was made plain, bodied forth in the shape of the various animals, the vermin. It was poison. That’s when he knew.

Mary had laughed at him, lowered herself into the water, the insects marching up her extended arm in a neat line. Another day, she cradled a fox in her arms, looking like a mother nursing her young. She reveled in the pleasure of creation.


And then Mary got sick.

At first she thought it was just a bug. She vomited all night long, unable to keep even a sip of water down, and by morning she was laying on the bathroom floor, dehydrated and weak, vision coming and going. Parker had driven her into town, to the ER, where they’d pumped her full of fluids, told her to follow up with her physician, and sent them home.

She lay in bed, sleeping for two days straight, and awoke with an incredible hunger. She ate until she was nearly sick, and went back to bed. When she slept, she dreamed of the pool, the circle of scorched trees, the whole scene glowing faintly in the dark of the woods.

In her dreams, the pit was over-full with roiling bodies. Her own and Parker’s, a mass of bull snakes, a large white goose that kept beating its wings above them—wide and powerful— beetles, snails, and centipedes, a rabbit with only one eye. They all formed one writhing mass that took on the precise shape of the hole gouged out of the forest floor. A new being.

Mary felt powerful, with a million eyes to see and all new senses to take in the world. And when Parker pulled her onto him, kissing her neck and throat, their legs were encircled and bound by the tight embrace of the snakes, and a shower of insects tumbled from her shoulder into his open mouth, and when he entered her, the world entered her, writhing and scrambling, a million legs scratching and scrabbling upward, into her fertile warmth. She glowed with the transformation, her skin gone glossy and iridescent in the moonlight, her eyes reflecting the blue-green ripples of the pool.

She was new.

But when she awoke, she was ill again, throwing up first the food from the night before, and then a thick, black substance, tar-like and sour. Over and over, until she felt she had been turned nearly inside out. Parker was at work, or at least she thought he was. She wasn’t entirely sure what day it was. And how many days since she’d visited the pool?

She was suddenly struck by the idea that this was not a casual question but the key to her entire ailment. What else had her fever-sick dreams been telling her, if not that the pool would cure her?

She dragged herself up from the linoleum floor, braced herself on the edge of the sink. The face in the mirror was gaunt, hollow, wrung out, as if the black tar she had expelled was the liquified substance of her muscle and sinew. She bared her teeth and saw the bloody edges of the pale, shrunken gums, her teeth seeming too long and narrow.

She thought of calling Parker. Her  stomach spasmed and ached, and she rushed to the toilet. A splash in the bowl and a bitter reek, like sulfur. Another stab in her gut, and another spray of liquid shit in the bowl. The smell was almost overpowering, sharp in her nose, stinging her eyes.

When she thought she was finally emptied out, she cleaned herself up and stood. Black, oily froth in the water. What looked like bright drops of blood.

She was weak, lightheaded, and having trouble focusing her eyes. She had to make it to the pool now, while she still could. It was absolutely imperative.

She threw her sweat-soaked nightgown onto the bed, and not even bothering with her robe, made her way through the house, hands running along the walls for support. She left the sliding door open and crossed the deck. Three steps down into the grass, and she had to take them sideways, her hips feeling like they might slip right out of their joints, her knees weak.

The tree line had never seemed so far before, but she kept moving forward, with stumbling, shambling steps. Her hands hung loose at her sides. The grass was wet and cold on her bare feet. The air was chill on her bare skin. As she reached the edge of the woods, she heard a sound and realized it was her own breathing, rough and gurgling, looked down to see that blood-streaked black mucus ran in strings from her chin, down over her breasts and belly. She didn’t have the strength to wipe it away. It didn’t matter anyway. She just had to reach the pool. The water would cure her. At the very least, it would calm the panic fluttering at the back of her mind.

In the clearing, she fell to her knees, pulling herself forward. The cramps were starting to twist her insides again, and the back of her throat was filled with sour bile.

She reached the edge of the pool and rolled herself into the water. The warmth enveloped her, buoyed her up, and the pain receded, just as she knew it would. She laid back, chin above the surface, and closed her eyes.

Then there was a knife-like stabbing in her middle, and her eyes came open, round with terror, all pupil. She opened her mouth to scream, and thick black foam rolled out, spilling into the water. From between her legs, black clouds billowed in the water, laced with blood. Soon, the pool was black as ink, with only Mary’s pale, skeletal face staring blankly above the surface, her chin smeared with gore.

And then the animals came.


When Parker came home, he found the back door standing open and the house still filled with the smell of rot. It was a smell he thought he’d always known. An inborn, instinctual knowledge: the smell of death. The bathroom was a wreck, and the bedsheets were smeared with black ichor.

He moved to the sliding door and looked up toward the trees. Somehow he knew she’d be there.

He heard them before he even reached the clearing. A low moaning, punctuated with little chirps and clicks, a wet kind of rustling movement. When it came into view, he stopped, still ten feet away.

There were hundreds of animals. Thousands, if he took the time to recognize the beetles and swarming lines of ants.

They seemed to be climbing up over each other, as if trying to reach the top, to rise up into the air above the pool, but whenever one did get to the top, they were pulled back down, swallowed up in the mass of limbs and snarling mouths, lolling tongues, pronged antlers, and trembling claws. They were all covered in the same thick, black tar-like substance, and it stretched in looping tendrils between them, constantly shifting its shape, even as the roiling mass of bodies scrambled and folded in on itself.

Parker saw an arm extend from the mass. A human arm, but so thin. Almost skeletal. It couldn’t be Mary! He’d seen her just that morning, and she had been nowhere near so thin.

And then her face emerged from the mass. Lips pulled back from a bleeding mouth, eyes protruding from black hollows, her cheekbones like blades almost pushing through her skin, and Parker fell backward, scrambling away. The thing that had been Mary tried to speak to him, but what came out was a gurgling moan, inhuman and full of pain.

He scrambled, butt on the ground, pushing with his feet. He had to get help. Anyone.

The Mary-thing tried to speak again, her body rising up to the top of the mass, most of her torso visible, her ribcage clearly articulated beneath her taut skin, her breasts shrunken and hard. Below her sternum was the head of a coyote, its eyes wild with fright or pain, its jaws snapping madly, and Parker got the sudden sense that it was somehow connected to Mary, that its matted fur was grown into and under her skin.

Then the whole mass lifted itself up, scrambling wildly with a hundred limbs, scratching at the edge of the pit, until it finally pulled itself up and out.

Parker rolled over, fighting to find his feet, and tried to run, but he couldn’t seem to gain purchase on the loamy earth. It was like a nightmare—the terror and the inability to move, as if underwater—or like moving through heavy sludge. And all the while, the clicking, snarling, moaning thing rolled closer, bearing down on him.

He finally gained his feet, and then he felt a hand on his shirt collar, claws raking his back.

As he was pulled down beneath the Mary-thing’s weight, he thought of her, lying back in the pool, a black snake curled between her breasts. Eve, he’d thought then. And she was. Mother of a new race. Blood of her blood.

He closed his eyes as his shoulder was wrenched from its socket, as something warm and wet pushed into his mouth. He heard his body being unmade. He tasted blood and another sweet, bright flavor. Explosions behind his eyes, as his spine split through parting flesh. Strange colors in the darkness. Shuddering light. The pinpricks of distant stars.