He sets off one day on an arduous journey to a remote kingdom, wondering, as the weeks pass, about the wisdom of it. Even the purpose. When he launched forth, he was sure he had a purpose, but by the time he reaches the primitive mountain village at the edge of the wilderness, he can no longer remember it. In fact, he is not certain this was his original destination. Wasn’t he going to the barber shop? It was summertime when he left, but now it is winter and the dead of night and he is alone and dressed only in his golf shirt and orange-and-green checked Bermuda shorts. He is met by villagers, huddled in heavy furs, who stare at him with expressions of dread and horror. He’s a friendly guy, even among strangers, always ready to buy the first round, and he puts his hand out and flashes them his best smile, but they shriek and shrink back, crossing themselves theatrically. A horse-drawn sleigh stands waiting in the middle of the snowy road, apparently meant for him, the driver’s face hidden in his upturned collar and large fur hat, the horses impatiently snorting plumes of white fog. There are thick fur wraps laid out for him on the seat, so he crawls into the sleigh and pulls them around him and they’re off, whipping over the snowswept mountains with alarming speed, the sleigh’s bells tolling funereally. The icy wind pushes his eyelashes back, but he can see nothing except the snow thudding against his naked eyeballs. The sleigh stops abruptly in a neighbourhood of ancient stone castles. He is dropped off unceremoniously in front of one of them, and the sleigh flies off into the distance, rear lanterns wagging frantically in the black night. Overhead, the bitter wind whistles around the louring towers, and wolves howl menacingly in the surrounding hills. As he approaches the heavy doors, they open of their own accord, the hinges grinding, and he enters the castle’s great hall. It is starkly inhospitable, unkempt and cold and smelling vaguely of unwashed laundry, yet, for all that, it looks suspiciously like his own living room. The television is on so he goes in and, exhausted by his travels, collapses in front of it, ready to accept whatever might appear there. Seems to be a sitcom with comic monsters playing a ball game of some sort with human heads. He laughs along with the canned laughter on the TV and about as sincerely. His wife comes in, baring, with a wink, her incisors, and offers him a Bloody Mary. She has a drained and haggard look, not at all like the plump little country club souse he left behind. Well, keeping house in a place like this can’t be easy. The children are swinging from the fixtures overhead, squealing, squabbling, pissing drollishly upside down, the big ones biting the little ones and making them cry; like children everywhere, he supposes, though in truth he’s never paid much attention to the noisome little pests. The wolves are still howling ravenously out there, and he can empathize with them, feeling more than a bit wolfish himself. The Bloody Mary, downed in a single long swallow, has picked him up, but he’s famished, can’t remember when last he ate, his stomach growling like dogs fighting over a bone. He has an appalling urge to set upon his daughter, who has appeared succulently in the doorway, pig-tailed and rosy-cheeked, but his wife comes in and sweeps the child away. Which, feeling slighted, he resents, while understanding his resentment as instinctive, and so forgivable. As are, surely, all his crimes, which are not really crimes at all, but merely attributes of his immutable character, like his domestic failings or his golf handicap. He should lift himself out of the torture instrument that is his chair and go see what’s available in the meat locker, but he is overwhelmed by a terrible weariness, which he associates with the breaking of dawn. His other children come in to say goodnight, gnashing their fangs as they crawl over him. He manages to fend them off, but he is growing weaker. He should be making his way to the cellar for a little shut-eye amid the cobwebs. If he could only move. But the heavy front doors creak open again and there’s his neighbour, the doctor, who has a nasty habit of turning up just when his strength is waning. Always a damned nuisance with his loathsome crosses and garlicky breath and his unbearable platitudes. Now, he’s talking about getting up a round of golf on Sunday. For some reason, the word ‘Sunday’ makes his head ache just behind his eyes and his hemorrhoids flare up, and he knows the doctor said it on purpose. He should try to stay awake, but somewhere there’s the somnolent whirring of little wings and, though he’s pretty sure the doctor is going to stake his heart when he drops off, his eyelids close like iron shutters. Outside, the wind is howling and branches scrape against the castle walls. Really, I’m a decent fellow and I deserve something better, he thinks as his mind irises out.

Robert Coover | Podcast
Out of the Tombs