Mark Leidner wrote a collection of stories called Under The Sea, which was published by Tyrant Books in July. It’s pretty darn incredible and currently being produced as an audiobook by yours truly. For the time being we thought it would be equally cool if Mark read a piece from one of our favorite stories. Thanks to Mark Leidner and the publisher for giving us the opportunity. Now please enjoy this reading, recorded by the author himself. Also, get the print book here!
Under the Sea
The clinic’s doors slid open, and when the hot, wet wall of humid air hit my body, it felt like an alien planet. There was its sun. There was its sky. There was a parking lot. There were some cars, my own somewhere among them. I saw fast food trash in the pinestraw. I saw a strip of bushes and a strip of traffic past that. I saw a saggy stoplight, saggy power lines, puffy white clouds. My heart was pounding in my ears like I was alone at the bottom of the ocean, and all of this was the ruins of Atlantis.
The doors whooshed closed behind me, cutting the cool air from the clinic off from my back, and the wet afternoon enveloped me. My legs felt like they were spinning inside my pants.
I guess I crossed the parking lot and walked into the street. I didn’t even know I’d ended up there until a car slammed on its brakes. I looked all the way back at the clinic and felt like I’d teleported.
More cars zoomed around me. I raised my hands. A semi stopped screechingly. Through the glare of the windshield, the trucker was only an outline. The road was hot on my feet. I was barefoot, I realized. I looked back and saw my shoes a few feet apart from each other in the parking lot of the clinic. A white van rolled over them without touching them.
The trucker honked, and I crouched and held up my hands and apologized. I stopped traffic in the other lane, staggered to the other side of the street, and stepped through a hedge into the parking lot of a rundown shopping center.
The pinestraw in the hedgerow had pricked the bottoms of my feet, and now the parking lot asphalt was pricking them in the exact same places, only with heat. I closed my eyes and stood there letting it soak up through my heels. My legs felt like little elevators, lifting the energy of the earth up into my body. I realized how cold it had been in the clinic. I stood there a moment more, hoping to wake, but it wasn’t a dream, and when I opened my eyes again, a headache I had not even known I’d had had gone.
In the shopping center was a huge shuttered drug store, an open deli, a closed bar, a used clothing emporium, and a decrepit arcade. I realized I was clutching my phone as tightly as if it was a fingerhold on a cliff keeping me from falling into a chasm. I was supposed to be calling my husband, I realized. Looking at my sad little phone made me dizzy. It was like a shard of dark matter—a hundred times lighter or heavier than expected. Around it my hand already looked skeletal. My skin waxy, my fingers like someone else’s. I looked back up at the puffy white clouds. I don’t know what they looked like, but it was something. I don’t know why I was looking at them. I pulled the phone up to my ear like I was a doll made to do make this one motion, and nothing else.
I gazed down at the stains in the parking lot as it rang. Thousands of black dots marred the asphalt, ancient remnants of dropped gum and infinite spills. I couldn’t understand how there had ever been so many people chewing gum and spilling beverages all over this irrelevant half-acre. The call went to voicemail. I left no message. I texted him and used his first name so he’d know it was urgent. I refrained from disclosing that I only had one day to live. He’d have assumed I was joking, or worse, being dramatic, and that would’ve made him take even longer to reply. That I had used his name but not mentioned why was the most effective way to communicate the urgency with which I desired to speak with my husband without having to say something I couldn’t even yet comprehend. Besides, my fingers were sweaty, and every single letter had taken monumental effort to input. Every breath I took left me feeling more delicate. Every speckle of asphalt prickling the soles of my feet as I staggered toward the arcade, I guess to await his call, and I guess because its door was open and was closer than the deli or the store.
An air conditioner hanging from the ceiling of the arcade was dumping cold air straight down and right out of the open entrance, where it was instantly absorbed by the sweltering heat. When I walked through the doorway, I paused in the bath of this weirdly cold, estuarial column and for a moment felt as if coated in magical fog.
Near the back of the arcade, three young men were blasting pink plastic shotguns at a two-paneled screen. Then they seemed to get into an argument over who got to shoot next because there were only two guns. Everything on both screens was on fire. Only the tall one glanced over at me.
He was kind of punk-looking with a chiseled jawline. They all were tattooed and pierced, and handsome, to be honest, but only the tall one’s eyes sparkled with anything like kindness or intelligence. Immediately, I had a vision of seducing him as the final, crazy act of my otherwise not very spectacular life, but it passed as quickly as it came. Then I glanced at him again and wondered why not. What else was I going to do, lie down and cry in the parking lot? The word seduce suddenly came to life in the weird little theater between my ears. I saw a small, cute snake biting a piece of wet fruit. Seduce. I saw a face chewing ice in a dark hotel room. Seduce. I saw another face without eyes whose mouth had a glacier for a tongue. Seduce this dude, it said.