Fiction from Web del Sol

Altmann's Tongue

Brian Evenson

After I had killed Altmann, I stood near Altmann's corpse watching the steam of the mud rising around it, obscuring what had once been Altmann. Horst was whispering to me, "You must eat his tongue. If you eat his tongue, it will make you wise," Horst was whispering. "If you eat his tongue, it will make you speak the language of birds!" I knocked Horst down and pointed the rifle, and then, as if by accident, squeezed the trigger. One moment I was listening to Horst's voice, his eyes brilliant-- "the language of birds"-- and the next I had killed him. I stared at the corpse next to Altmann's corpse. It had been right to kill Altmann, I thought. Given the choice to kill or not to kill Altmann, I had chosen the former and had, in fact, made the correct choice. We go through life at every moment making choices. There are people, Altmann among them, who, when you have sent a bullet through their skull, you know you have done the right thing. It is people like Altmann who make the rest of it worthwhile, I thought, while people like Horst, when killed, confuse life further. The world is populated by Altmanns and Horsts, the former of which one should riddle with bullets on the first possible occasion, the latter of which one should perhaps kill, perhaps not: Who can say? I felt remarkably calm. I prided myself that moment on my self-composure, taking a minute to sit down next to the two corpses, Altmann and Horst, and to feel the calm to its greatest extent. This calm, I supposed, was not the result of killing Horst but, as one might expect, of killing Altmann. There are two types of people, I thought-- type Horst and type Altmann. All people are either Horst or Altmann. I am the sole exception. I repeated the phrase sole exception, alternating it with unique exception, trying to decide which was the better, unable to decide. I flew blackly about, smelling my foul feathers and flesh. I stuttered, spattered a path through the branches of trees, sprung fluttering into blank sky.