We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Joshua Mohr’s new novel Farsickness, out now via House of Vlad Press and featuring illustrations by Ava Mohr. It’s described by the publisher as “a surrealist road trip story, part Heart of Darkness and part bipolar Guardians of the Galaxy.” Mohr’s work has already spanned the realistic and the surreal, and we’re eager to read this new foray into uncharted terrain.
There’s a stink to something like this. Follow a voice to Scotland, to the trailer. I’m standing outside the door, figuring out what I’m supposed to do. I don’t want to go inside—something’s telling me that I won’t survive—something’s saying that there’s madness on the other side—but the volume of that animal instinct is drowned out by Fern, the shriek clanging, my brain rattling like NASCAR, and I understand that the only way to quiet him down is to head straight in.
But before I do, I say out loud to the voice in my head, “Are you in there?”
“In where?” asks Fern.
“In the trailer.”
“I’m safe and sound. I’m right as rain. I’m in your head.”
“What I mean is,” I say, “I’m wondering if I’ll meet your physical form once I go inside.”
“So is this goodbye?”
I head up the three metal stairs. As I’m about to go in, Fern says, “Too-da-loo, Negative Nancy. You bought the ticket. Enjoy the ride.”
It’s dark in the trailer, and I fumble with the wall looking for the light switch. Finally, I flick the room bright.
It’s freezing in here. Way colder than outside. I can see my breath.
Beige carpet and beige walls. There are no doors other than the one I just came through. Chandeliers made of antlers run down the middle of the room. They sway from side to side, in time, almost like they’ve been trained. Like they’re alive.
My eyes follow their rhythm for a few seconds.
Near the back wall, opposite of where I stand, there is a desk. Behind the desk sits a young girl, ten or so, in a fancy swivel chair. She’s dressed for a shift at the DMV. Positioned behind her is a refrigerator, pushed up to the otherwise empty wall.
Her desk has only one thing on it: a grenade.
“Are you Hal?” she asks me, smiling behind her desk.
“What is this place?”
“I’m waiting for some guy called Hal,” she says, “so are you him, or are you leaving?”
“I’ve never met a Hal before. It’s an appalling name.”
A flash in my brain!
From my old life!
A memory: my mother telling me how they’d picked my first name. I can’t see her face, pixelated, a lake of static.
And now I’m back in the double-wide trailer, and I say to the girl, “They named me after the computer from that Kubrick movie, 2001.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Hal,” she says, “even if they named you after a psychopathic computer.”
“Can computers be psychopaths?”
“You’d need to ask them. These days, it’s a slippery slope speaking on behalf of others,” she says. “It’s my job to welcome you to Dalloway Castle.”
“So where is it?”
She extends her arms out, palms up. “There is,” she says, “more than one way to get inside. You need—”
“How old are you?” I ask.
“It’s rude to interrupt people.”
“I agree. It’s just…you’re a child in a trailer with a grenade.”
“I’m eleven years old,” she says.
Do I know this girl? I try to place her face from behind the fog of fernweh. It’s like my old life is being hidden in an Alzheimer’s haze.
“Why do you have a grenade?” I ask.
“It’s for you,” she says.
“No thanks. I’ve never wanted one.”
“You’ll need it once you go inside.”
“You seem…” I say. “Have we met?”
This makes her start laughing, almost as hard as I hyena’d at baggage claim before Fern reminded me to be cool.
“You don’t remember your old job?” she asks me. “Like, not at all?”
I wrack this ruined brain, or what’s left of the plundered loaf; nothing about how I earned a living. “I don’t remember. Honestly.”
Suddenly, there’s a bullet hole in her cheek. Because of the exit wound out the back of the skull, I can see through to the refrigerator behind her, like her head’s a spyglass.
I hadn’t noticed that bullet hole before. Once I see it, that’s all there is. It’s her whole face, her whole head, her whole being.
“Before you so rudely interrupted me,” she says, “I was telling you that you need to pick which way you want to enter the castle.” She points to one wall. When I’d walked in, there were no doors in this trailer except the one I’d come through, and now, the girl points to a wall that miraculously has two doors, one yellow, one red.
“You need to choose,” she says.
I walk over and stand in front of the red and yellow doors. Maybe there’s danger back there. Wouldn’t there have to be? Otherwise, why would I need the grenade?
I gaze to the ceiling again, watch the gentle rhythm of those antler-chandeliers swaying from side to side, almost as though this trailer bobs on the ocean.
Normally, I’d imagine a person would decide by selecting whichever color they found more pleasing, but I can’t remember what colors I love.
I take a step toward the red door, raise my hand to the knob.
“I wouldn’t go in that one,” she says. “There’s a fifty-foot snake in there.”
I take a step toward the yellow door, raise my hand to the knob.
“That one’s no good,” she says. “There’s a maniac in there with a claw hammer.”
I stand in the trailer with the swaying antler-chandeliers, near a girl with a grenade, and Fern squeals in my mind, “Pick a door, do it, or I’ll holler so loud your eardrums bust.”
“Unfortunately,” I say to the girl, “I don’t like either one of these doors. Is there another way inside?”
“Then it’s door number three for you,” she says.
At that, she gets up from her desk, walks to the refrigerator behind her. She opens the door, and there are no shelves lined with food—no, this fridge is the mouth of a tunnel that stretches deep into the darkness, a straight throat going who-the-hell knows.
“What if I don’t choose?” I ask. “What if I just go home?”
“You are home. He called you here.”
“I can get in my car and drive away.”
“You’d die,” she says.
“You’ll kill me?”
“He would make the noise so loud in your head, it would be like your brain stepped on a landmine.”
And to illustrate her point, the noise cranks to retched decibels, livid and alive. The inside of my skull is a skate part for lightning.
I fall to my knees.
Cinch my eyes.
“I’ll do it!” I shout, and the assaulting concert stops. My head is quiet. It’s a pleasure I’d taken for granted before Fern showed up. A mind that has enough light to see the beauty of the world.
I gasp for breath, blink my eyes fifty times, trying to see things clearly.
My nose starts bleeding.
“He wants me to tell you that you’re making a good decision,” she says.
“I don’t want to go in the refrigerator alone.”
“Then ask me to come along.”
“Will you come along?”
“You should say please,” she says.
“Will you please come along into the refrigerator with me?”
“Oh, I’m just screwing with you,” says the girl with the bullet hole in her cheek. “I was always coming. I’ll even carry our grenade.”
With that, we disappear into the fridge, pull the door shut behind us.