KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 1,000 words

We Owned It All

by Katey Schultz

Down in the catacombs, we owned it all. Tiz juggling fire, Pierre with his rat-a-tat bucket beats. I played trumpet, high notes sending invisible vibrations through ancient walls that reeked of mold and death. Walls that crumbled against fingertips, left jeans stained beige the next day. Cybil sang for us. She had a cleft palate and a miniature bulldog and her voice echoed off the limestone like a ghost choir’s, eerie and resonant; the kind of sound that left me haunted in that junkie sort of way.

We’d been practicing under Paris for at least a month when Tiz decided to go public. Between his flame throwing and our band, it seemed enough. We agreed on a one-time-only underground performance. Pierre scribbled a map of the manhole cover five blocks west of the public catacombs entrance, detailing three turns and one well-crossing audience members had to navigate before arriving at our makeshift stage.

Cybil had been eyeing me funny in rehearsal, standing so close during solos I could feel her wet breath on my cheek. I didn’t know anything about her life in the city. Nobody talked like that underground, not even folks who knew each other from before. The night of our performance, I met Cybil on Rue de Tolbiac and together we went below.

“Give me a hand, Henri?” She wrestled with the dog, trying to stuff it hind-first into her rucksack. We got him in and Cybil zipped the bag closed, save a tiny space for the miniature’s head.

“Ready?” I asked. She flipped the switch on her headlamp and I hoisted the manhole cover free.

Cybil dropped down first, wearing the rucksack backwards, pressing the pup against her chest. At the bottom, she let him loose—oily skin, wrinkled nose and all—and when I got down there, I almost stepped on him.

We must have packed at least fifty people into our cavern that night, rib cages crammed against the hard edge of a makeshift stage. Pierre decorated, lining the upper rim of the space with tiny, flickering candles that cast wild shadows across the limestone walls. Aside from that, the cavern stayed dark and for long moments between Tiz’s fire acts, it looked as though we were performing for a black hole, no audience visible across the cavern. I could feel them though, swaying and sweating to my cool-note solos and Cybil’s husky tunes. It felt like floating on the ocean, the crowd our endless waves, the damp air as healing as salt water.

During the bridge in our longest song, someone started howling like a wolf; a deranged, deep-throat call that could make you laugh out loud or start weeping, depending. Then Pierre kicked in on percussion and before we knew it, a surge of slow, mournful yowls filled the cavern. Just like that, the song lifted into a new place and something shifted, like the only thing that mattered was the next great note. Then the howler—the one who started it all—dove into a soft, staccato-yipping, bringing everyone back to stage-level.

Pierre bolted after the show and Tiz went home with some study-abroad student. Cybil and I spent the night under the city. I threw some wool blankets down on the stage and we used my trumpet case and sweatshirt as a pillow. I could tell she wanted to kiss me, and when she finally did the seam of her cleft palate felt amazing. I could feel her pulse beating through her upper lip, like a tiny monster lived in there, inscribing the rhythms of her heart.

When we came out the next morning, sunglasses on, Saturday crowds lined the block to get a glimpse of the neatly arranged Empire of the Dead. One girl pointed from her place in line when she saw us emerge. “Cataphiles!” she hollered, but only a few people glanced our way. She looked cool enough to come along, but I couldn’t be bothered. Cybil and I wanted breakfast and that dog of hers had grown impatient.

What the crowds didn’t know was, behind all those femurs stacked like cords of wood lay an indecipherable sandwich of six million skeletons. Three times as many dead folks down below than there are walking easy up above. But most folks prefer to pay their way into history, learning about sea-creature fossils, the French Resistance, or the famous collapse of 1774. Never mind about oxygen levels, inhaling granules of gypsum, or the rank scent of decay that lodges into the back of your throat for 48 hours.

After breakfast, I walked Cybil home. She lived across the city and I had to carry her bulldog for more than an hour.

“See you next weekend?” I asked. I liked her. The way she didn’t give a fuck. The way her voice sank into me like a barbed jellyfish.

“I’ll be there. Sure you’re ready?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t you feel it?” she said. “The quarries. They always keep a part of you. It’s like living two lives.”

“That’s the best thing,” I said. She unlocked the door to her flat and I followed her inside. She looked surprised. “Here.” I handed her my trumpet. “I want you to play it.”

She unlatched the aluminum clasps and opened the case. A sprinkling of limestone coated the lush, red lining. Cybil reached for the mouthpiece and brought it slowly to her lips, leaving the trumpet in the case. She didn’t even breathe, just pressed into that mouthpiece until the lightning scar of her cleft palate barely peeked out. Then she looked at me with an animal gaze and I knew she was the one who started the howling. A pulsing tune entered my mind and I began to hum. Cybil set the mouthpiece down and sang the words as if reading my mind: “To stay happy, stay hidden. To liven up, go on down. To stay happy, stay hidden. Roll with me, to the underground...”

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