The Land of Milk and Honey

by Jared Rosen

He whispers it to you on the train, yeah, the midnight silver line to those norcal beaches up where the mist rolls in thick and cool. His voice is sweet tea from the deep bayou armchair rockers and peat moss stretching from branch to floor, his face angular and fuzzy with bright orange half-needles bouncing sunlight between them like the old runes of Shaddai. The land of milk and honey, he whispers, and grins with those pale yellow teeth, ear to ear, a cut in a ripe tomato, and you can almost feel like he’s been there. Almost.

It’s been a long year. They say it’s been a long year because a year is measured in moments and not in meters, it has angles, it bends. It was something about the way the graves were kicked over, the way the fires licked the roof of the synagogue that finally said you had to run, that last desperate scream that jump started your heart and made your lungs fly for the door. Get out while you still can, because you saw all those old black and white reels and they made you look at the mounds of bodies and holy shit it’s happening again, we’re death spiraling, we’re on our way into the looming dark and if that’s where we’re going then fuck you’ll at least be high doing it. Down at the End-Up, way in the back, smoking like a chimney before the twister hits. That’s what they tell you now, deep in the back of your throat, those same voices screaming for the warmth of Jehova - that this is the last hurrah. The war is coming and you already lost. Your pack is covered in patches and your head is full of scribbles but this ain’t how you go out, oh no, always the survivor, and we’ll make it another day. Bridges and blankets and old cardboard sheets, mad dog 420, king cobra on park benches, but we’ll make it another day.

He leans in, breath warm on your face. Sunrise will come, and it’s so hot it burns and there’s a tinge of something else, something you shouldn’t smell in breath like that, but he smiles again and leans back in that old grey fabric and whistles tunes dancing on the edge of memory, and you’re there, and he’s there, and the ocean is passing you by. There’s a lady in back watching the whole thing and every now and then he turns behind him and tips his hat to her, but something seems a bit off, something’s twisting inside you like an old fish hook, wrong, and she keeps looking around more frantic until she gets up and walks out the door into the other carriage. And now it’s you and him, waiting there, waiting for the land to meet the sea. He smiles again to himself, nodding like some goblin out of an old story, but this ain’t a story and you’re both headed on up to chemical salvation.

Gettin’ close now.

He says it again, on top of you, over you, right on your ear and too fast and strong to fight, the land of milk and honey, and your vision blinks and you can see that great amber river flowing down fields of bright green and the sun shines that warm summer glow all year long, bright and terrible, him grinding you into the seat cushion as the bodies swell up from the bottom of all that shimmering silt. The golden syrup can’t hold them back and they claw and scream their way out, heads snapping under the weight of the ooze, the grass black and the sun cracked as black lines pour into the soil and the flowers rip into ribbons of red on judgement day and oh god you can hear the flames crackle as the paint peels off those old wooden walls, you can hear them all moaning in the fire and smoke, begging for a way out, flesh burning and popping from the heat as black cracked skin steams and cooks and peels off those fresh white bones. I can hear them screaming! Jehova! That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple!

You’re back. It’s ticket time now, ticket time since the last stop. The conductor checks each cabin and you hold out your ticket and the man holds out his and the conductor nods with that knowing smile and now you’re off again, and the man grins, wider now, more teeth now, humming again. More people in the seats, maybe you’ll be fine. You look out at a horse ranch passing and there’s some bloated thing out there, rotting, undulating, millions of insects swelling inside as the belly throbs in and you can’t look away. He grabs your face and rips it towards him and all sounds dries out, sputters, and he sings in glorious key the words THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY and the voice rips across space, his mouth deep and black and unending as you fall into its vast everything and the world opens up before you and you see the cold mountain, the golden river, the vast plains rolling into forever as his limbs stretch and contort, filling the cabin, mouth wide as the sun, grinning, crying, praying for final adjudication. The others are swallowed and the train goes black, the nothing grips you and the river peels forward, putrefying, grey and green with putrid muck as the last poor souls spiral into it and drown. The trees burn and wallpaper peels under the heat, upwards, the graves erupting with sound and fury as the dead rise up and up and claw away the stars, deep black grooves on the bleeding crimson and the fire spreads over those old oak beams and the whole building crumbles down, children, children in the back, that woman is screaming as the glass shatters and the walls cave in over her head.

He whispers now, handing you something. The conductor is almost at the back as you unfurl it, unearth it, push back the skin and see underneath. He smiles with much more teeth than before and the other passengers move back, move downstairs to the other cabin, as you loom over the gift in your hand, the throbbing heart of hearts, pages of dust and death. You knew what was coming. You knew how to survive. You just didn’t know how, not yet.

The land of milk and honey, it whispers, closer now, the train careening forward, twisting from impact, shuddering and splintering as it connects with the high and silent rock, passengers screaming, its mouth a beautiful, perfect darkness.

Almost there, you whisper, and the darkness swallows you.