“You cluck and they’ll cluck back,” a woman whispers in my ear. She’s been teaching herself to speak with fowl, mainly chickens and ducks. Everyone regards her as mad, of which she definitely seems — her hair is ragged and face gaunt. She wears a long grey trench coat and spends most of the time in the filthy street outside my work making strange noises. Come to think of it, she’s always there, no matter what time of day I pass. There’s a good chance she doesn’t sleep. She does have one thing working against the popular theory that she is insane, however, and that is that the fowl do talk back. That can’t be denied.
That same day she whispered those words in my ear I witnessed her speaking with the severed head of a duck. Its skin was iridescent, without feathers. And despite its dismembered state it was indeed clucking back at the old woman. It’s funny I say “old” when I refer to her . . . because she isn’t in fact old; she seems old, no, she seems ancient, but she is probably younger than me.
Anyways, she picks up this iridescent quacking duck head by its long neck, and I can see large fangs in its mouth. They look like the fangs of a rattlesnake. She’s unconcerned with them. So unconcerned that she begins petting them with her index finger, slowly gliding it over the white fangs. The duck seems to be charmed by the sensation and its eyes begin to roll around in its head. As they do so I notice a speck of green peeking through the white of its cornea; which, at an opportune moment, the woman pinches with her dirty nails and out slithers a long worm. I pick it up to get a closer look. The worm has a human face. My face.
Starring up, I can see the new watchtower through the trees. It looks fancy and new — all red, cubist and modern. A vast improvement over the old one — which looks like a shitty tree fort, barely off the ground. This new one must be akin to ten stories up. I don’t even see a ladder.
I was attacked three times in that old crappy lookout. In fact, that’s why I haven’t been around. That last attack made me lose a year of my life to a hospital bed. I’m glad to get back to work though. But seriously, how do I get up there?
Huh? What the? …how did I get up here? And why am I staring at myself? My brother, Bobby, is up here too. He talking to me — the other me. They’re going over some procedure, turning a bunch of knobs and dials.
“Excuse me, but how exactly do we get down if our presence is needed on the ground?” I ask the two of them.
“We can’t tell you exactly. The passageway is opened differently every time,” the other me says. “Passageway?”
“Yeah . . . watch.”
Just then a small, hollow dead tree sprouts out of the floor. For some unknown reason I reach for it and snap it clean and hand it to myself. And then, to my bewilderment, the secondary me begins masturbating himself with it. I’m so disoriented by the spectacle that I try not to watch. I close my eyes to see if I can feel anything — as if maybe the sensation would travel through him into me — but there is none. When I open my eyes I see an abnormally massive amount of cum shoot from the trunk of the dead tree, but the other me isn’t at the other end. And when I refocus my attention on the dead tree, it vanishes. I tilt my head and look around the corner; there, a pinkish white crocodilian beast is writhing on the floor. Bobby squats down and lifts its right side to reveal a large set of soft, fatty lips that appear to extend along its entire stomach. Without hesitation he dives under the beast and squirms himself between the lips. They slither shut, he’s gone.
I’m back (the other “I” that is), I smirk at myself, and then proceed to pry the monster up by the leg and dive into the slimy lips. I vanish, and Bobby then wriggles out.
That’s how it’s done . . . that’s how you get down. Although it will never happen in quite the same way — or even in a way that remotely resemble what I just explained to you. But that’s how it’s done. Just in case you ever need to know. . . .
I’m the operator of a cable car that travels between six planets in the deeper realms of outer-space. Out the triangular windows are various celestial sights that would undoubtedly mesmerize my waking-self but don’t phase my dreaming-self in the least. It’s all routine to me.
Today we’re traveling at a ridiculously high speed — way faster than usual. Emily is sitting across from me. I can sense that she is nervous. I glance around the car and realize that everyone is overtaken with a silent fright — and they are all looking to me for some sort of guidance. The car is a bit rundown and could use a paint job — the green pleather seats are torn and a good few of the lights are dim or flickering. As I’m glancing around the car it dawns on me (in a rather causal way, might I add) that we will all die in this car and, in fact, be dead within the next few minutes. The cables have snapped, and we are plummeting through space at an incomprehensible speed — a speed, that alone, will destroy this steel car and our ripe bodies within it.
I knew something was different about today. What am I talking about?! I’ve been working this job too long. There is no “today”. I haven’t lived a solid “day” in years . . . or a night for that matter. Life, for me, exists in perpetual motion. I have no star to call “Sun”, and I’m not even oriented by the billions that surround me. This car is routed on cables. The steering wheel in my hands is just for show. My presence here is a joke.
I decided it’s better to keep a straight face. No one needs to know about our fate. They will only freak out and begin to scream. And Emily? …why worry her? …to what avail? No, I’ll keep quite. Smile around, and send her a wink. We will all be stardust soon enough….
Suddenly, my ears begin to tingle and then sting. And then a single, insistent, and ever-sharpening pain shoots through my skull. The sharpest I have ever felt. I look around . . . everyone is cupping their ears with their hands . . . mouths agape. My eyes widen, mouth drops open. Am I screaming? Are they screaming? We all seem to be screaming. It feels like I’m screaming. The pain between my ears is so acute that, even though it is deathly silent, it is the loudest, most terrible thing I have ever heard. My consciousness, and entire life, have been swallowed by the searing pain — and I vanish into the empty soundless space.
I awaken in my room, it’s 1am, and I have the worst earache I have ever had.
I’m in clearing in the middle of a rolling thick forest. It’s dark. A fairly large community of people started living here ever since a Black Magician put a spell over the land. We live in trailers and eat whatever we can scavenge. There is a political science club that holds classes on political theory — I am in this club — and we are currently studying for a national test that will award a monetary scholarship to those who score in the top 5 percent. I couldn’t care less, but I’m still kept up at night trying to solve annoying practice test questions. The teachers of this preparatory class are my former high school professors — I know they don’t like me very much.
Life in the forest has a very cinematic quality to it. Everything feels predetermined, as if at any moment someone much larger will hit an otherworldly fast-forward or rewind button. Tension is running high through the community. Word is out that the Black Magician will be up to something particularly sinister this evening (and this is the night before the big test on political theory!).
The ground begins to tremble and the surrounding trees are swaying frantically, though the sky is nursing no wind. Over the treetops an enormous glowing purple mountain begins to amass . . . no, not a mountain . . . . It has eyes! And a dreadfully large mouth lined with razor-sharp teeth! A giant beast is approaching! It’s body is a bit translucent through a hazy purple hue, with stout arms and legs protruding from its robust round figure.
As it enters the clearing I can see that it is at least thirty trees tall. Almost immediately it explodes into hundreds of large jelly balls . . . and then those balls explode into thousands of smaller one. This multiplication of itself happens about four more times until the earth is covered in millions of balls the size of a human hand. Deep dimples form in the balls, two of which fill in with mean glaring eyes, and one which hollows out into a sharp hungry hole. I have a gun that shoots lightening. I take aim and fire, but my weapon is useless against the ravished jelly beasts. My childhood friend (Joe) drive up in a cardboard bus. He is going to save the day (or at least that is the sentiment that his arrival elicits). About thirty people dressed in white assemble against side of the bus — they form a wall, three people high, standing on top of each others’ shoulders. Suddenly a massive saw blade begins slicing through the bus, and it passes smoothly through the bodies of the people whose white clothes are now red with blood. They collapse into a withering pile of limbs and heads. The monsters are hypnotized by the spectacle, and quickly begin to gorge themselves on the human offering. After being hypnotized, myself, for a few moments over the feasting monsters, I make my way to a quite trailer at the edge of the village. I have to inquire about a particularly difficult question that I’m nervous is going to be on the test in the morning.
Freakin’ test! Do I really need to take it? I hate these kinds of tests!
I’m in a junkyard filled with smashed up cars. The world is set in a deep blue cast. The crushed cars are arranged as a labyrinth — the walls, six high. I am wondering through this maze and a woman, a college crush of mine, is following me. I’m annoyed by her presence. She never cared for me. Why the hell is she following me around? She flirting with me and I want her to stop.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of one of the cars. Do I have a second nose? What’s going on here!?
No, it’s not a nose, it’s some kind of bump or pimple to the left of my nose. And it’s growing. It isn’t painful, but it is hideous. When I squeeze it nothing happens. Every time I see my reflection I shutter. Will this thing ever go away? Or is it new and here to stay? It has now exceeded the size of my nose, and it’s expansion is showing no sign of stopping. Should I cut it off? . . . or learn to like it?
And why . . . why is this girl following me?
I’m in Texas, but this Texas isn’t landlocked. There is a sea that floods in at high tide and renders travel impossible. I’m traveling, trying to find my way to . . . wait!? To Where? Where am I going?
Through hitchhiking I’ve made it to a strange roadhouse. It’s nestled between two short brown dusty mountains, but high up, and I have view that extends 100s of miles into the desert. I don’t have a lot of time here — the tide is coming in, and when it does I will be stuck here for days, maybe weeks. I decide to make a call to my mother. A familiar voice answers the phone, but it isn’t her. I must have dialed the wrong number, but I can’t just hang up — I know this person. I have to figure out who it is without tipping them off that I unintentionally called them. I ramble uncomfortably about nothing for a few minutes. . . .
Got it! It’s Kirsten. I know her, but haven’t spoken with her in years. Shit! Now is not the time to catch up. I need to get out of here — I have to find a way to make this short. She then tells me it’s her birthday and is upset cause no one (other than me) has called her. The tide is coming. I’m stuck. I’m staying. I’m listening. The flooded mountains do look magnificent — but I left my camera in the trunk of the last ride I caught.
I am standing on the utmost peak of a jagged mountain. It is a moonless, pitch black night. The lightening flashing around me is the only source of light. My naked body is hunched over a pale rock. I am sweating, muttering words in a language I don’t know . . . words that come to me as if whispered by a worm inside my skull. They have a ghastly power, and the world around me changes as I untangle the invidious words from my stern lips. The wind begins to rip through the pulsating darkness like an estranged uninvited guest. And I see, in the frantic flickering light, the mountains grow and topple, the vast cracked desert expand endlessly, the dark seas come rushing in. All on my whim. All on my whim!
I am alone in this world — it is me, and I am it.
But wait! What’s this? Something is happening to my body! I am undergoing a metamorphosis. I twitch against the pale dank rock. My fingers and arms elongate to my knees, my eyes sink into my hallow skull. Ribs sharpened, stomach turned in. My skin, a pasty blue.
And when all this horror has ceased I see that my testicles have dropped and become like flat stone tablets. But they are spongy, dense, and soft, still connected to my groin by a long thick pinkish tube. Though they are heavy, I can lift them with my long crooked arms. On the tablets are more words . . . more terrible words I don’t understand.
I’m standing on a rickety pier, surrounding me throbs and swells a black angry ocean. No land in sight. The sun beating on my neck, the still empty blue sky above. I’m fishing with only a hooked line and a short thick stick. No bait. Despite the pitiful tackle, I am able to throw the 3-pronged hook far off into the rough waters. I use the stick to help me reel it in by twisting the line around it. My bare hands covered in thin red lines.
On one throw the hook lands centered in a pod of playing dolphins. I love dolphins. I immediately start to reel in the line as quickly as I can — nervous because I don’t want to catch one on the hook. SHIT! . . . Got something! . . . please don’t be a dolphin . . . please don’t be a dolphin . . . please don’t be a dolphin . . . .
I’m frantically twisting the line around the stick — it’s dragging something, something big, something heavy. My arms, hands, and fingers strain and ache — my tension builds as the struggling creature is desperately tugged closer . . . please . . . I don’t want this to be true. Sharp pains running from my fingertips to the base of my neck. Closed eyes . . . please don’t be a dolphin .. . please . . . .
Then I see . . . it’s not a dolphin!
My dear friend, Katie! . . . the hook is through her nose!
I collapse to my knees and break out into uncontrollable tears. She reassures me that she is fine while yanking and twisting the gnarled hook from her nose and climbing from the cold black water. But it doesn’t matter. I’m devastated — reminded of every time I have unintentionally hurt someone that I love. A deep hopelessness swallows my mind as dark clouds close in and spiral violent above me. My sobs growing louder, the sky cracks open, and frigid raindrops pierce my heart. My breath becomes the turbulent surface of the untamed sea — and I vanish within everything surrounding me.
I wake gasping for air. And the lyrics of a song immediately possess my mind — they soothe and cradle my sadness as I try to fall back into sleep.
It was as if I were trying to catch a solid reflection of myself in a rushing brook.
. . . I then started cutting off large sections of each of my fingers so they would fit into the small gloves. I used dull scissors for this horrible chore; it was tougher to get through the tendons than the bone. The bone just snapped clean with the initial pressure — the tendons took a special kind of focused time. However, I saw through the gruesome task with steadfast dedication and utter agony, without so much as a flinch. The real pain and frustration didn’t come until much later. For I realized, not soon enough, that the premise of my reasoning was faulty — the gloves were the fingerless kind!
Needless to say, awkwardly typing this with sore bloody knuckles has been a humbling and lonely experience.
They were tearing the backs off of toads. It starts with a tiny cut under the neck. And then a pry of the blade against a thumb.
It comes off fairly smooth, a tiny slab of forest green lumps and bumps — an exquisite splash of raw red flesh glistening against a silver moody sky.
Why are they doing this? To what avail? I look into the creature’s eyes, searching for something . . . anything. I find nothing.
A cursed stone face — unable to convey its agony. It mocks us, and renders us soulless.
Perhaps nothing I find, because nothing is what I seek?
“Give me that knife.”
It’s time I look beyond my own reflection in a set of glossy golden eyes. There’s got to be a ghost in here somewhere.
And I’m going to find it. I need to find it. ♨
I wake juggling shapes that threaten to crush me should I slip up. In a pool of cold sweat. Submerged beneath. Dank blanket. Swallowing me.
“Leave me be! Sleep — come for me again! I beg you….”
Wandering the concrete alley. True to form, I walk upright — not like last time without feet. Fuck! Another dead end. I turn around from where I came, but there is a wall touching my nose. It has been following me. I turn around again — life beginning, a field of blue grass and moaning trees, distant mountains, and weeping clouds. A yellow & red zebra watches me and its tongue falls from its mouth. And where the tongue lands the ground cracks opens, and with it a chill overtakes my body. Shaking. Shaking. I peer into the gleaming white abyss, and my right eye unhinges itself from my skull and I am watching it fall and I am watching white falling. But my feet are firm on the blue grass. Dizzy.
I wake juggling those damn colossal shapes again. Cold, sweating, frenzied and frantic.
“Stop this you fiendish thieves of rest! I can not hold these terrible shapes! They are too big, too many sides. Too many disjointed sides! Leave me be! Sleep! Come for me again!”
The wall extends to only my arm’s length and I continue the pattern with the tiles. I’ve been doing this for centuries. On this same rickety ladder. On this same damn wall. I hate these tiles. I hate this wall. The mortar smells like death, and it weeps from the space my eye once occupied. My arm aches, my rusty spade has been worn to a nub. I hate this wall. I hate these damn tiles! Why the fuck am I doing this?
What’s that!? Inside the pattern. Inside the tiles!
No! Not what. Who!? Who is that!
She holds me in a tender gaze. She is old, her face looks like a raisin in the murky reflection of the tile. She speaks with a foreign tongue I do not know — my anger melts and I lay my hands back to their tedious, gross work. The infinite pattern is almost complete — and when it is, I will know rest like no other has known. And the red moon that tooters up from the West will relinquish its motion and steady itself so I may catch it in my net.