This book is so good. Damn this author can write. Off the charts prose that will have you rereading and shaking your head at how on earth he does it. This is a whacky, sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious story of two men, each running from their own troubles, one legal, one medical, who end up on a remote island off the coast of Iceland to investigate a unicorn sighting. Yes, I said a unicorn sighting. They find so much more! Dysfunctional characters don’t even begin to describe Mark Sandoval and Brian Schutt. Lord but I’ve had a few of these types in my life. Anyway, this one is definitely worth a read. Highly recommended!
ROAD SEVEN by Keith Rosson
RELEASE DATE: 7/14/20
GENRE: Magical Realism, Fantasy, Literary
Road Seven follows disgraced cryptozoologist Mark Sandoval—resolutely arrogant, covered head to foot in precise geometric scarring, and still marginally famous after Hollywood made an Oscar-winner based off his memoir years before—who has been strongly advised by his lawyer to leave the country following a drunken and potentially fatal hit and run. When a woman sends Sandoval grainy footage of what appears to be a unicorn, he quickly hires an assistant and the two head off to the woman’s farm in Hvíldarland, a tiny, remote island off the coast of Iceland. When they arrive on the island and discover that both a military base and the surrounding álagablettur, the nearby woods, are teeming with strangeness and secrets, they begin to realize that a supposed unicorn sighting is the least of their worries. Road Seven will mark the third of Rosson’s novels to be published by Meerkat Press.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Rosson is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide and Smoke City. His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found at keithrosson.com.
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Excerpt from Road Seven by Keith Rosson
The fields lay furrowed with water, the sound of the rain soothing as it fell from the eaves of the house. I’d ridden home through it, and now was warming up in the living room. Thumbing through channels, looking for that loathsome lasagna, knowing it was there somewhere. It’d become some kind of talisman to me. Gruesome but telling, like Roman haruspex divining bird entrails. But, you know, with more dick jokes. The lasagna never left, moored forever on that goddamned table.
Karla was upstairs showering. The zippering and clomping and clicking of various pieces of equipment told me that Sandoval was in the dining room, prepping our gear for the trip. We were just waiting for Shane to show up. The children, their yellow slickers glowing in the fey afternoon gloom, their fingers fat and useless with heavy gloves, were playing outside. Polar bears, those children. Impervious to cold.
A gelatinous blur on the screen: there it was.
“What I mean is, you and me could make some beautiful music together,” the lasagna said in English, Icelandic subtitles across the bottom of the screen.
An exchange student? A pen pal of the daughter? A girlfriend? She had on a beret and a fringed sweater befitting the era. She was doing the dishes, her back to the leering lasagna. She said in a French accent, “Sorry, I do not date dinner foods!”
The laugh track went big on that.
The lasagna said, “Where you from, darlin’?”
“Nice,” she said.
“Nice?” he said.
“No, Nice,” she said.
“That’s what I mean. Nice.”
Laugh track subdued.
I was losing my mind. My skull was a detonation.
“You asshole,” I whispered, jamming my head into the back of the couch. “You viscid, mucilaginous asshole.” A half-dozen ibuprofen roiled my guts, had barely taken the serrated knife-edge off of the ache.
I walked to the foot of the stairs. “Hey, Karla?” Even raising my voice squeezed the membrane of my skull.
“Yes?” Her voice drifted from around the corner of the stairwell.
“Can I make some calls? I can leave you cash now, or PayPal you the money later.”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
I heard Gunnar and Liza clomp up the front steps. They ran through the house, found me in the kitchen staring at the phone. “Brian,” Liza shrieked, “come play with us! Be the monster again! Come outside!”
And I almost did. Nearly took it as a sign, brushed aside the phone calls, put on my heavy coat, went to play with these kids that I’d come to care about. But I’d be heading home after our trip to the base later tonight. If I didn’t do this now, I never would. So I said, “I’m sorry, Liza. I’ve got to make some calls first. But if I’ve got time afterward I will, okay?”
Gunnar nodded, the responsible one. “That’s fair, Li-li.”
• • •
I was the only one of us who had actually talked to my father since he’d abandoned us for Traci and the nudist colony. It wasn’t out of any profound sense of loyalty on my part; he’d called me once to complain about my mother’s lawyers, maybe a month after he’d left, and I, eternally afraid of conflict, had stood and listened. This had always been the inherent nature of our relationship. Me, nodding and grunting my “uh-huhs” rather than refuting his shit. I’d done it my entire life. He’d started with, “It’s safe to say I’m being grievously misaligned by the women in our family, Brian.” It seemed like he’d had some drinks. We hadn’t talked since. If it was an attempt at reconciliation, some fatherly attempt at showing love or building allegiance, it was a shitty effort.
But today, my head jammed full of coals the way it was, on my way back home with this odd failure of a trip in my pocket . . . today felt different. I was halfway around the world. I was impervious, at least from him, his anger and contempt. Couldn’t it afford me a moment or two of bravery?
It was ten-thirty or so in Arizona. As the phone rang, Brooke’s terrible images zipped through my mind like tracers. Downward Dog, tan lines, the faint scars of breast implant incisions. Jesus.
I cleared my throat. “Hi, Traci. I, uh, was hoping to speak to Brad.”
A momentary pause. “Sure, can I tell him who’s calling?”
“This is Brian.”
Another pause. “Brian.”
“His son, yeah.”
“Okay.” I could faintly hear the television in the living room of the Hauksdóttir house. “Well, I can try to find him for you. He should be out doing his laps at the pool.”
I leaned my head against the wall. My father, sleek as a porpoise, nude in the community pool, sunlight knifing off the water. He’d been such an unhappy, private man, so many sharp, tucked-away corners to him. So distant from us all. Now he did the breaststroke naked in the community pool, traveled the emotional landmines of polyamory, lovingly traced Traci’s implant scars while Scottsdale burned. Everyone was someone else. “Okay, thanks,” I said.
But then Traci surprised me. “But do you think it’s wise, Brian?”
“Sorry? Do I think what’s wise?”
“Talking to him.”
“Talking to my dad?”
“Aren’t you all, you know, embroiled in a legal battle right now? Shouldn’t you let everyone’s lawyers handle things at this point?”
I let out a little laugh, incredulous. “I’d like to speak to my dad, Traci.”
“I’m just saying, I think things might be kind of irreconcilable right now. He and your mom are in the thick of it, and he’s upset. He might take that out on you when he doesn’t mean to. You’re the last person he should go off on, but you know how he is.” This was Traci? This was the woman that Brooke spent hours concocting revenge fantasies against? Why, I suddenly wondered, would a twenty-four-year-old move to a nudist colony populated by people as old as her father? That was a loaded question, sure, but I considered the possibility that she might actually be in love, and able to find some avenue of tenderness or connection within the man that my mother hadn’t been able to unearth.
I asked Traci to let him know that I’d called. That I was out of town but would be home in a few days. That I’d to talk to him when he was up for it.
Before we hung up, I said, “So what’s life like out there?”
“Hot,” she said.
“Does he really do the Sun Salutation with his balls out?”
There was a moment of silence on the other end. Then Traci said, “Goodbye, Brian,” and hung up.
Sandoval, in the dining room, had the good sense to not say anything.
Ellis when I called was freer with his language. He picked up, wary at the international number, but once he found out it was me, unloaded with a seething, “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? I’ve written you like ten emails! Not even kidding. Ten.”
I’ve been afraid to get near a computer, Ellis. Sorry. “Sorry,” I said. “Things have been crazy.”
“Where the hell are you? You’re seriously with Mark Sandoval?”
“Yeah. I can’t really say.”
“What, that NDA you signed?”
“Exactly,” I said.
Ellis sighed. “Your sister’s pissed. She came over here looking for you and just about blew a gasket when I told her you’d left the country. Especially with Sandoval.”
I took a grim pleasure at this. “Did she know who he was?”
“Of course she did. I think your mom is pretty freaked, and Brooke’s less than thrilled that she has to carry, you know, the banner of familial solidarity all by herself.”
“She’s used to it,” I said.
“Seriously, where are you?”
“You asshole. What’re you guys looking for? Oh! Robert and I had some drinks and looked some up! Hold on, I’ve got a list right here. Is it Goatman?”
“I really can’t say, Ellis.”
“Loveland Frog? Momo the Monster?”
“You know what ‘not at liberty’ means, right?”
“Skookum! Old Yellow Top! Ogopogo!”
I said, “Even if you guessed it, I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Unicorn,” Ellis said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Holy shit!” he crowed. “It’s a unicorn! You’re looking for a fucking unicorn with Mark Sandoval, oh my God!”
Mindful of Sandoval in the other room, I said, “Let’s drop it, you’re never gonna guess.”
“Oh man, is he right there? He is, isn’t he?”
I said, “Glad we agree on that.”
“Gotcha. Okay, Brian. I will accept your apology for not answering any of my ten emails. Wow.”
“I am sorry about that,” I said. “We’ve been busy.”
“Call your momma, young man,” Ellis said. “Call your sister. They’re worried.”
“So have you officially just flamed out of school? Just crashed and burned?”
“Looks like it. But I’ll be heading home tomorrow.”
“Really? Did you find it? You must’ve found it! I know you can’t answer that, but give me something, Brian. Grunt once for yes, belch twice for no.”
In the dining room, I heard the various beeps that meant that Sandoval was cycling through the camera feeds on his laptop. “If Brooke gets in touch, just tell her I’ll be home soon.”
“So you’re not going to reach out to her yourself, huh? Damn. That’s cold.”
“We’ve just got a lot going on here before we wrap everything up.”
“Okay,” Ellis said. “For Christ’s sake, at least you called me. That counts for something. The second you get home, I want to hear everything, nondisclosure or not. Talk to you later. Safe travels, my dear.”
That done, I picked up the receiver again, ready to call my mom. And then Liza’s scream drifted from right outside the kitchen.
• • •
The children stood at the tree line at the rear of the house. Liza’s yellow slicker shone bright in the gloom. She stood with her back to me, and Gunnar crouched beside her. I was out the back door as fast I could, and I could hear Sandoval’s footfalls behind me.
I took Liza by the shoulders, gently, and crouched down. She turned to me, her face red, tears spilling off her chin. She tucked herself into me, tiny in my arms.
“What is it?” I said. “What’s the matter?”
“Holy shit,” Sandoval said behind me.
Karla came running out the back door in a robe, her wet hair in strings, eyes widened in panic. She called her daughter’s name and Liza ran to her, buried herself in Karla’s arms. I looked back and saw Sandoval and Gunnar crouched down before something in the churned mud.
I stood up and walked over to them. At their feet lay something that looked like clotted fabric, sheared in mud and moss. Something next to it: twigs, an old branch.
I should’ve known better, of course. Should’ve remembered the intricacies of a site, the careful way we cull the remnants of the past from the living world. And how, until we do that, the most striking remains can look like the blandest ephemera. A centuries-old pottery shard presumed to be a hunk of shale.
“Holy shit,” Sandoval said again, and—in a move that eschewed every goddamned bit of education and training he had most likely ever received from Don Whitmer—hooked a finger in the fabric that sat half-buried in the mud and pulled.
Gunnar let out a sigh: half wonderment, half disgust.
“Brian,” Sandoval said, still crouched. “Gonna wanna call the cops, bud.”
“What is that?”
And then I saw the yellowed, atrophied hand coming out of the mud-clotted sleeve that Sandoval pinched between his fingers. The waxy nails, the worming green veins. Desiccated and skeletal and skin-tightened.
A hand lay buried there in the mud outside their house.