Digging for Gold Teeth
Digging for gold teeth in the backyard of a vampire, a man came across the bones of an animal beneath the rotting structure of an abandoned dog house. He assumed it to be the remains of a small mutt.
From behind a heavily-curtained window of its house, the vampire yelled at him to leave. But the man wasn't scared that the vampire would come after him; it was a sunny day.
The man treated the dog bones archaeologically, with great care, until he unearthed the skull and discovered in the broken jaw a gold tooth. The man couldn't believe his good fortune. Who but a vampire, with centuries of riches both earned and stolen, would allow their dog a gold tooth? He sucked the dirt off the tooth, held it up, and admired its glint in the sun.
The vampire continued to yell at him.
The End of Books
Every book released a swarm of stinging bees when opened. Some people were dying to read. Others said it was proof that nothing good ever came from books.
The situation was deemed untenable.
All books were placed in boxes with glass screens. A mechanism was devised to turn the pages, though nothing could be seen for all the bees buzzing about.
The bees died and filled the boxes. Then there was really nothing more to see.
The First Death
The first death was a lovely affair, attended by none but the one who was dying. It took place on a bright summer day, in the woods, beneath the shade of trees. The dying one lay on a cool carpet of moss. Consciousness gave way to a lucid dream of flight, in which mountains were seen from above.
All the while, the dying one felt the sun slanting upon them. First, it warmed their toes.
And then their shins.
And then their thighs.
And then their genitalia.
And then their belly.
And then their chest.
And then their neck.
And then their mouth, which they opened to the warmth. The warmth, which they ate with a smile.
A Midnight Snack
He woke up at midnight wanting a snack. He wanted a chicken sandwich. He put on his boots and coat and drove to a nearby farm where they kept chickens.
He arrived at the farm and entered the chicken coop, armed with the remains of a loaf of bread he'd baked the night before when he'd woken up craving something warm and doughy. He called out into the dark to the chickens, grabbed the first one that came to him, wrapped it in bread, and began eating it.
It didn't taste good at all. There was something gamy about the meat. And it was furry and seemed to have four feet. And it smelled awful.
"Well, you old idiot," he told himself, "you ended up at the skunk farm again."
He allowed himself another sandwich before heading back home.
The Lumberjack Plate
Pestilence for breakfast, please. Make mine a lumberjack plate.
Hello? I'm here for the free breakfast. Ah, I see you're in the process of dying. Perhaps I can speak to your manager?
Thanks for taking my order. I'm here for the breakfast deal. Free breakfast, I was told by the television, any size. Funny, I don't even want it. Haven't had an appetite in weeks, in fact. Yet, here I am.
You know, you don't look so hot yourself.
But as I was saying, I'll have the lumberjack plate. Assuming it's the biggest one you have, yes, I'll have the lumberjack plate.
A man went into a diner that advertised in flashing neon a bottomless cup of coffee. He sat at the counter and told the waitress he'd have coffee, black.
"Bottomless cup or regular?" she asked.
"What's the difference?" he replied.
"One cup is bottomless, the other is regular."
He had hours to kill until the goat would be done at the dentist. "Bottomless, please."
She placed a cup in front of him and filled it with coffee, which began to leak from beneath the cup. The puddle of coffee spread over the counter before him. "I see," he said, hoisting up the cup and looking at the waitress through the open bottom. "A bottomless cup. That's funny. I'll take a regular cup, if you don't mind."
"Sorry, all out." She pointed at a booth. "That goat got the last one."
There was the goat, drinking coffee and eating a newspaper. It was his fault, he thought, for not escorting the goat, which was terrified of the dentist, into the waiting room.
The Recovery Room
A woman had a bad organ inside of her that made her yellow. Her skin, hair, teeth, eyes, blood: all were yellow.
They removed the bad organ and she turned blue.
They installed a new organ and she turned pink. Little pink fly wings sprouted on every inch of flesh she still owned.
There was nothing more they could do for her.
When it was time for the woman to leave the hospital, the nurses opened the window of her recovery room. The woman's wings buzzed. Up she rose and out the window she floated.
The Clawed One
The clawed one climbs the walls with its claws, leaving tears in the paper that is pasted over the yellowed plaster.
The clawed one scratches the floor with its claws, leaving tears in the linoleum that covers the faded hardwood floors.
The clawed one parts the curtains, leaving tears in the chiffon that filters the sunlight that is otherwise too bright.
The clawed one jumps on the bed, leaving tears in the duvet, which free feathers that teeter in the air.
The clawed one sinks into a warm bath, submerging itself beneath the water, where its claws can't find purchase on the porcelain covering the cast iron. The clawed one opens its eyes, its vision now aqueous. If only it knew how to smile, smile it would.
The Little Sign
Pouring a cup of black tea into a pot of black coffee to suit the black mood of the morning, a man mourned the loss of his independence, then just as quickly forgot that he lacked freedom before remembering that he took neither tea nor coffee regardless of the hour of the day.
He wore a black suit to his wife's funeral, which he couldn't remember; he just knows that she's dead——he has the newspaper clipping——and he assumes he wore a black suit because that is what one wears to such gatherings.
what a thing to think about, his moldering wife underground, on such a beautiful morning: the sun is bright, the budding has begun all around outside his window. Almost time for golf. They don't bury people under fairways but he wouldn't mind ending up there.
He pours the pot of coffee into the soil of the potted pothos that somebody must have given him. He knows it's a pothos because of the little sign staked into the dirt. He loves the little sign. Everything should have one.
A man with two different colored eyes meets another man with two different colored eyes. Together they have two matched pairs of eyes between them.
"I'll give you my brown eye for your blue eye," the first man says.
"I'll give you my brown eye for your blue eye," the second man says.
"We both can't have blue eyes," the first man says.
"Not at the same time, anyway," the second man says.
They hash out a deal where each man alternates having blue eyes and brown eyes. They agree to swap at the start of each month. They flip a coin to see who gets the blue eyes first. The second man wins. He plucks out his brown eye, screaming at the pain of it. Blood gushes forth.
The first man plucks out his blue eye, screaming at the pain of it. Blood gushes forth.
They swap eyes and agree to meet in a month's time.
They reunite a month later. The eyes they've swapped are shriveled and gray in their adopted sockets.
"You gave me a bad eye!" the first man says.
"You gave me a bad eye!" the second man says.
"I demand recompense!" the first man says.
"I demand recompense!" the second man says.
They each agree to give the other their remaining good eye. They pluck them out, screaming at the pain of it. Blood gushes forth.
Thereafter, they pass on the street, each blind to the other's presence, two shriveled gray eyes in both of their heads. They bump into each other one morning.
"Pardon me," the first man says.
"Very sorry," the second man says.
The Buildings Smoke
Here the buildings smoke. A constant sooty exhaust streams from the chimneys and vents, pulled this way and that by the air.
The buildings refused to quit smoking so all of the inhabitants moved out. It was like living in an ashtray, the people said. Now they live outside, under the clouds, both the ones high above where the planes used to fly, and the ones breathed by their former homes, which seem to smoke even more now that there's no one to tell them not to.
It's cold, the people say, but it will be warm again. Meanwhile, the buildings smoke.
Waking up is canceled. Exercise is canceled. Ablutions are canceled. Breakfast is canceled. Work is canceled. Lunch is canceled. The evening commute is canceled. Dinner is canceled. Alcohol is canceled. Television is canceled. Intercourse is canceled. Reading in bed is canceled. Sleep is canceled. Insomnia will proceed as scheduled.
She waited for a word that wouldn't come to her. When waiting didn't work, she pulled words from the deepest wrinkles of her brain in search of the correct one. She tumbled each word in her mouth like a pebble before saying them aloud:
But none of them were right.
She decided she couldn't think clearly because she was hungry. She opened the phone book and looked for places that offered food delivery. But there was a problem: she couldn't think of what it was she wanted to eat. She waited for her desire to come to her.
A child walks a telephone wire, thirty feet in the air. It carries a bag of groceries in each hand.
The child stops before the house of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell and whistles. The old husband and wife come out, and the child lets fall a carton of eggs, which, uncaught by the unsteady Mr. Mitchell, crack on the ground.
"Keep my tip," says the child.
The child walks the telephone wire, stops in front of the widow Green's house, and whistles. Widow Green comes out, and the child lets fall a ripe watermelon, which drops through the widow's arms like a basketball through a hoop, smashing at her feet.
"Keep my tip," says the child.
The child walks the telephone wire, stops in front of Mr. Wilson's house, and whistles. Wilson comes out, and the child lets fall a bottle of milk, which hits Mr. Wilson on the head before shattering on the sidewalk.
"Keep my tip," says the child.
That evening at home, the child delivers to its parents the rotisserie chicken they requested that morning. They tear into the bird immediately. "How much did you earn today?" they ask.
"Including tips and wages and after expenses . . . " The child, calculating, pauses. "Nothing," the child says finally.
"You'll never afford college on nothing," the child's parents say. "Maybe you just don't have what it takes."
"How is the chicken?" the child asks.
"The chicken was fantastic," they say, and lick each others fingers.
The child sucks the bones and drinks hot water from the tap before going to bed. It has a full day of deliveries ahead of it tomorrow.
A man went bald on the sides and back of his head. People started calling him Mushroom because of the way his hair looked.
The man didn't want to be called Mushroom so he shaved off the rest of his hair. People started calling him Bald Asshole because of what he'd done.
"I have a name!" he cried. When people asked what his name was, he told them, "Bob." So people started calling him Bob, the Bald Asshole.
He let his hair grow back in, though he was still bald on the sides and back of his head. People started calling him Mushroom Bob, the Bald Asshole.
In the end, he cut off his head.
The Hairy Head
A hairy head emerged from his ear. It grew big once it met air.
"Am I going to have to feed this thing?" he asked his wife.
The head chewed its tongue.
"You mean am I going to have to feed this thing?" she replied.
An investment in pig meat.
A meet and greet with the man post-disease.
An easy way to feel better?
A bet on the chicken race.
An eraser of the mind and body, please.
An embodiment of the illness of our nation.
A national state of emergency!
An emerging acceptance of constant dread.
The Egg Machine
The egg machine is broken. No eggs. None to be fried or scrambled or hard-boiled or poached.
Someone suggested firing up the chicken machine so we can get eggs the old-fashioned way. No and no! What is this, the stone age? Chickens shit and squawk and stare with beady eyes.
Here's the really bad news: the part needed to fix the egg machine is on indefinite back order. While we wait, let's put our heads together and see if we can't design and build an egg-machine machine.
Yes? Okay! But first, let's breakfast to give our brains a kick in the behinds. Garfunkel, crank up the egg ma——
Mountain of Mud
Climbing a mountain of mud, a man discovers another man sunk up to his neck. The free man pulls the stuck man by his head and rescues him. But as he does so, the free man finds himself sinking.
The previously stuck man, now the free man, pulls on the head of the previously free man, now the stuck man, and rescues him. But as he does so, the free man finds himself sinking.
Comes another man moving swiftly up the mountain. He's got tennis rackets on the bottom of his shoes. He glances at them as he passes and continues on.
The previously stuck man, now the free man, pulls on the head of the previously free man, now the stuck man, and rescues him. But as he does so, the free man finds himself sinking.
A tile fell from the ceiling. In the open space left behind appeared a tentacle-faced man. A droplet of briny water fell from the man into her open mouth.
"Brr, brr, brr," the tentacle-faced man said.
"I was just about to cook dinner for myself. Please join me." She waved him down.
He slid through the hole in the ceiling slowly, gelatinously, and landed with a squishy thud on the floor. His body was limbless and wormy. He didn't move.
She took a knife and cut the tentacles from his face, and he purred. The surgery seemed as welcome as friendly back-scratch. She cut the tentacles into rings, put them in a pan with garlic and oil, and fried them.
She turned her attention back to the man. His face tentacles had already begun to grow back. Finally he moved, stretching up toward the hole in the ceiling.
"I see," she said. She helped him back up into the hole. He retreated into the darkness, and she replaced the tile with slimy hands.
The tentacles were nearly done cooking. She called her friend over for dinner.
"It's funny," she said to her friend, who had brought over a nice bottle of wine that complemented the tentacles perfectly. "I keep thinking of it as a man, but really, it isn't a man at all."
"What is it then?" the friend asked.
"Something better," she said.
"Something delicious," her friend said.
A virus from outer space falls from the sky in the form of little pink and blue clouds that tumble and float down to earth. Children are the first to succumb, unable to resist eating what they think is cotton candy, in search of the sweetness they've only ever tasted at fairs.
The adults tend not to eat candy that falls from the sky so they are slower to fall ill. It is the sticky fingers and gooey breath of the children that does them in.
The wild animals scavenging the dead bodies that are now as plentiful as summer berries die next.
The loyal domestic animals, starving, eventually eat their dead caretakers and die last.
Meanwhile, flora thrives. Dandelions turn lawns and meadows into fields of white clouds. Their fluffy coronas burst in the breeze, landing elsewhere, growing where they land, multiplying and multiplying and multiplying.
The armchair grabs you and pulls you into its lap. Now seated against your will, it wraps you in a bear hug and won't let you leave. Try to make a move and it only squeezes tighter.
All the weightlifting the armchair does has resulted in some very strong arms indeed.
But its aims aren't nefarious. It wants nothing from you but your shoulder to cry on and your ear to tell you how it never felt loved by its mom and dad, how the other chairs were cruel to it because of its strange build.
You may want to settle in.
The watchmaker had forgotten her trade. She fixed random pieces of metal, glass, and leather together in strange configurations. She would lose all track of time, having already lost all track of time, as she worked fruitlessly.
People came into her shop with broken watches, but she merely shrugged. "How will I know what time it is?" they asked.
She shrugged again. "Find a clock?" She returned to the growing pile of non-watches on her workbench.
Soon, people came around asking to look at her work. They pointed to the strange non-watches that had overtaken her shop.
"These watches aren't quite perfected yet," she said. "I seem to have lost my way."
"They are lovely to behold," a patron said, "and I would like to give you money for them."
And that is how the watchmaker became a fine artist.
A gray man met a gray woman under a gray sky in the grayest of seasons. They fell in love and moved into a gray house together. They had a gray child, took in a gray cat, and all of them lived together happily for many years.
Eventually the cat died. And the child moved out.
It was just the gray man and the gray woman again. They were excited to fornicate without the complications of a child or cat in the house. But their libidos had waned over the years.
They looked at one another longingly. She did not tell him that his temples had begun to go blonde. He did not call attention to the brunette hair that had begun to pepper her salt.
A Chestnut-Eyed Dog
A chestnut-eyed dog could not stop walking into walls because its eyes were chestnuts and not prone to sight.
"How did this dog come to be in our house?" he asked.
"Don't you remember?" she answered. "We were sitting under a tree, and it fell onto our laps."
"Why did we take it home?" he asked.
"Don't you remember?" she answered. "We were going to roast it over an open fire."
"And why didn't we roast it?"
"Don't you remember?" she answered. "You were sitting by the fire we'd prepared for the roasting, and the dog brought you your slippers."
"But I don't own slippers."
"The dog made them out of its own fur."
"What a dog! Thank goodness we didn't roast it. What else can it make?"
She put on a fur coat. "This, for starters."
The dog thumped into the wall, thumped into the other wall, thumped into the other wall, thumped into the other wall.
The Good Face
Put your face on. Not that one——the good one, the one where you look three years old.
Looking good, baby face. Now go to the office.
"Is it bring-your-child-to-work day?" says someone.
All the moms in the office come by to pinch your cheeks. All the dads come by to muss your hair. The childless workers don't even notice you're there.
Make paper-clip chains and paper airplanes, make drawings of dinosaurs and smiley-faced suns. Drink milk and eat peanut butter.
Mess your pants accidentally on purpose. Don't tell anyone. When accused, begin to blubber.
Sob uncontrollably and allow yourself to be picked up and carried away.
The Shampoo Drinkers
The shampoo drinkers are here, crowding the kitchen and guzzling the green stuff. It pours out their nose; they sneeze and blow soap bubbles to the ceiling. They laugh at that and barf up soad suds on which they slip and fall. Tail-bones stinging, they swing on the chandelier. They chug and wretch and drip.
Somebody get these bald bastards some hair! Introduce them to whiskey or water! Get them out of the kitchen and into the bath!
Inside the White Square
Inside the white square is a series of black letters forming the shape of a whale. Inside the whale is another white square, inside of which is a series of black letters forming the shape of a crescent moon. Inside the crescent moon is another white square, inside of which is a series of black letters forming the shape of a mountain upside down. Inside the upside-down mountain is another white square, inside of which is a series of black letters forming the shape of a black letter, the black letter being X.
Inside the X is nothing but X's, marking the spot where nothing lives.
A black orb spiked with silver cylinders rotates in space. The open cylinders look like gun barrels but act like vacuums, sucking in any detritus that is in the immediate vicinity.
All the while an oily sludge streams from the bottom of the orb.
The orb rotates and moves slowly, it feeds and evacuates, long ago forgotten by those that created it, who long ago died after having forgotten it.
A beaver-toothed man challenges an actual beaver to a wood-chewing contest. It is a warm summer evening on the marsh, the sun still bright.
The beaver stares blankly at the man, then resumes slapping at the dam it is building with its flat, paddle-like tail.
The man wades into the marsh and begins to gnaw at the log in order to illustrate to the beaver what he means. "See," he says, "a challenge." He pulls splinters from his bleeding tongue.
The beaver stares blankly at the man, then resumes slapping the dam.
The man gnaws at the log. "Now you!" he says. His gums are really bleeding now.
The beaver stares blankly at the man, then resumes slapping the dam.
The man eventually gnaws the log in half. His mouth and teeth are mutilated. He can't speak.
The beaver smiles, revealing perfectly straight, white man-teeth. It slaps the good half of the chewed log into place on the dam and slaps the bad half away.
Story at Eleven
A local sword swallower choked to death on a ham sandwich. An off-duty dog walker was run over by a mail truck. A renowned trapeze artist was killed by a child jumping off a playground swing. A fireman drowned after falling asleep while watering his garden. A respected environmentalist died of exposure after getting lost in the woods. A retired airline pilot died when her plane to Florida crashed. A dentist died from loss of blood after catching his member in the teeth of his zipper.
Our Brains Leave Their Skull Homes
Our brains leave their skull homes for fresher vistas. They sluice out through nostrils, eyes, and ears, and reconstitute themselves in the outside world. We collapse, beyond lobotomized, into fleshy lumps. Other brains worm their way inside us; the dumb ones end up roosting in a stomach or foot, useless. The smart ones——like the one I am currently colonized by——are even worse, for with them comes sentience and a whole host of new bad memories from which we can never escape. Never, that is, until our brains decide to leave their skull homes once more.
The Child's Roots
A child was born with veins on the outside and was thrown out by its parents because of this. The veins took root in the earth; they pumped blood into the dirt and sucked nutrients from the same. The child's skin turned to bark; the soil beneath it turned to flesh.
The child grew tall and matured until it was no longer a child.
From the tips of its fingers the bulbous heads of babies budded. The good ones were allowed to grow before being plucked. The bad ones were left to wither and fall to the ground, where birds and squirrels fed on them. Some of the bad ones had veins on the outside, which took root in the earth, before they could be devoured.
He painted himself striped orange and black so that the tiger he had fallen in love with would love him back.
The man was consumed with passion.
But the tiger was color-blind. It mistook him for a zebra and ate him.
The man was consumed with passion.
The Dilapidated Man
There is a crack in his tooth from which grass sprouts. Weeds take hold and vine across the tooth and its neighbors, crawling down into his innards, stretching out all over his body and limbs.
The windows of his eyes are shattered by rocks thrown by vandals. A chain-link fence is erected around him, to remain in place indefinitely. His person is completely overgrown. Over time, chunks of his flesh fall away, powerless against the inexorable creep and tug of untamed vegetation.
A FOR SALE sign is placed at his feet. The asking price drops week after week. One day, a black limousine idles in front him. Down comes the window and a hand holding a thick cigar can be seen pointing at the FOR SALE sign. The limousine driver gets out, uproots the sign, and stows it in the trunk of the vehicle. A gray plume of cigar smoke floats from the window before it closes once more.
The next day, a SOLD sign is placed at the foot of the dilapidated man.
The next week, a large crane with a wrecking ball arrives. The fence is removed first.
They made life-size models of trees out of wood. They made life-size models of mountains out of stone. They made life-size models of pastures out of grass. They made life-size models of lakes out of water. They made life-size models of many things out of many things.
They brought these models to the lands where their raw materials had been harvested, lands despoiled of trees and mountains and pastures and lakes. The people of the barren lands were full of awe and lust for what was presented to them. They began making money out of the pages of old books, which was all the paper that was available to them. They exchanged the money for the models.
"But these are just models," they were told. "They are intended for display only." The model-makers transported the money back to their land using the same conveyances on which they had brought their models.
"Yes," the money-makers said, climbing the model trees and mountains, lazing in the model pastures, and splashing in the model lakes. "Just models, for display only."
Ride a White Wolf
Ride a white wolf like a sled down a snowy mountain. The beast glides on its outstretched fore and hind legs like runners over ice. Thick tail a rudder. Hold tight to the warm underfur of its neck and squeeze its ribs between your thighs. Lean forward and let the steam of its breath warm your face.
Hurtle toward the snow-pack jump at the bottom of the mountain. Like the wolf, close your eyes just before hitting the jump at full speed. Fly through the air like a bird, like a wolf, like a person, like a shot.
He thought of something distasteful——a baby born without limbs——and spit it into a jar by his bed. There it was: a limbless baby suspended in sputum.
He thought of something else distasteful——slugs spilling from an open mouth——and spit it into the jar. And there was a mouth with striped slimy slugs slipping out.
He thought of something else distasteful——a bipedal mode of transport powered by putrefaction——and spit it out. And there were two legs, with a saddle, farting out plumes of viscera mist.
He thought of everything distasteful in the world and spit them out, one by one, filling as many jars as have ever existed.
Then he thought of water so clear that it was invisible. He opened his mouth and out it gushed. It filled his room, his house; it washed over the town, the world. He drowned peacefully and so did everyone else.
The illness was an amorphous shadow that spread across the bed slowly, like heavy oil. A week had passed before the entire bed was consumed in black. Heat waved from its surface.
The room was sealed, the inhabitants quarantined. But because the sickbed was sick, they left it alone. They crawled beneath it, lay on their backs, and embraced. They listened to the sickbed cough and spit and moan.
They tried to rest but sleep was missing.
He saw in the mirror that there was a string dangling from inside his ear. He pulled it and a light went on inside his head: a warm orange glow shone from his eyes, nose, ears, and mouth.
He preferred to be kept in the dark about all things if he could help it, most especially himself, so he pulled the string again. And the light inside his head went out.
The previous owners of the house removed every single thing of theirs before turning the keys over to you——everything except, you come to discover, a dusty, gold-paper-wrapped box tied with a red ribbon in the attic. It is about ten inches on all sides, this cube, and has the heft of a stout man's bowling ball, but when you shake it, nothing shifts inside. The gift is unaddressed.
You try to contact the previous owners but they ignore your calls and messages. Eventually, you decide the gift had long ago been forgotten, given how dusty it was. You set it on the kitchen counter and pull the ribbon. You neatly remove the wrapping paper and smooth it. You open the box.
Inside is a replica of the house you now occupy, in miniature. A small light illuminates the kitchen from within; you look through the window and see a miniature person with a box opened before them, with a length of red ribbon beside it, and a sheet of gold wrapping paper smoothed out on the counter.
The Night Cleaner
A watched clock boils over onto the man watching it. It burns him severely, leaving his face blistered and bleeding. His face sloughs off onto the ground. He crawls away from his desk, makes it as far as the elevator bank, and dies.
The night cleaner encounters the face on the ground and mistakes it for pizza. He is hungry. He hates pizza. If the face resembled any other type of food, he would eat it. As it is, he throws it into the trash.
The Dissipated Vapor Him
He coughed and out came the very shape of him as vapor. The vapor him bowed and doffed his hat. Then the vapor him dissipated.
The dissipated vapor him ended up on skid row, befitting his dissipation. Having dissipated, he was all but invisible to most passerby. But the real him recognized the vapor him despite the dissipation. He coughed and out came some spare change, which he gave to the dissipated one.
That night, alone, he coughed again, but kept his eyes shut.
A Well Ventilated Head
A well ventilated head allows for no hot thoughts, and therefore ensures a happy life. The owner of such a head can spend all their days bending to sniff the flowers, watering them with the blood that arcs from the sieve of their skull.
Vegetation grows more robustly when fed like obligate carnivores.
It's a little known fact. I'm full of them.
The primitive man inside the plastic cigarette lighter struggles to spark a flame with two sticks rubbed together. He and the lighter are rejected.
The slightly evolved man inside the silver cigarette lighter sparks a flame with a strike-anywhere match. He and the lighter are accepted.
The even more evolved man inside the gold lighter sparks a flame with a small silver lighter. He and the lighter are feted.
The highly evolved man inside the lighter of unknown origin sparks a flame solely with his imagination. He and the lighter are worshiped. But he does not take notice and instead occupies himself with the flame he has created. He imagines it blue and it is blue. He imagines it red and it is red. He imagines it green and it is green.
A State of Macaroni
A dozing cat full of macaroni stretched across the belly of a person full of macaroni asleep on a bed of macaroni in a room of macaroni inside a house of macaroni in a neighborhood of macaroni in a town of macaroni in a state of macaroni.
Turn on any faucet and the left tap is boiling water, the right is marinara.
When not eating, all are yawning. When not yawning, all are sleeping, dreaming yellow dreams. This is one of those times.
The Autonomous Man
See him walk on his own, just like a real man. Watch him groom and smile and pat his child's head with a lifelike hand. Witness him kiss his wife goodbye with soft, soft lips.
See, we've made him blush, just like a real man.
At the office, he docks himself and downloads and uploads all day, no pee breaks, et cetera, et cetera. Let's skip this part.
Post-work, watch him laugh over scotches with his fellow autonomous men at the club. Hear him shout——in a friendly, real-manly manner——about sports or women or both at the same time. Ride with him as he drives home slowly.
Sit beside him at the dinner table. Ignore his comments about supper being cold. Ignore his wife's comments about him being late. Ignore his child's tears as the argument unfolds.
In fact, let's skip this part, too.
See him go to bed, exhausted, unhappy, just like a real man.
A giant drill bit spiraled up out of the earth. It rose, turning, turning, raining dirt and rocks down, until the tip of it was obscured by clouds.
People gathered. They contemplated walking up the spiral to take in the view at the top.
But then the drill bit began to retract. It disappeared slowly back into the earth.
The next day a giant bolt twisted up from the hole in the ground that the drill had made.
People gathered. A great shadow fell upon them. They looked up to see a giant nut falling from the sky.
The butcher discovered that the cow was made of chicken, and now he had a dilemma: should he sell the cow as chicken or the chicken as cow?
For it was clearly both, was it not?
Or perhaps it was neither.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't want to harm his good reputation.
In the end, he put the cow made of chicken back together again and returned it to the field. There it stood motionless, drawing flies, just like a real cow made of cow.
He never told anyone what he knew.
A man plods toward you wearing clomping boots forged of some dull metal, likely lead. He's slow to reach you. His heels leave deep prints on the sun-softened asphalt.
You grow bored and turn to walk away when he says, "I've got a score to settle with you." He plods forward.
You wait for him; finally, he reaches you. He lifts a heavy foot to stomp your toes but he moves so slowly that you simply pull your own foot away. His boot sinks into the pavement. He struggles to free it, but he does and prepares again to stomp you.
Again, you pull away. "What did I do to you?"
"You don't remember?" he says, again trying to free his foot from the ground. "You chopped my toes off with a garden edger."
"Ah, that's right," you say, "I thought you looked familiar."
"Yeah, no toes, hence the boots," he says. "Keeps me upright."
"Got it," you say.
"Anyway, I'm here for payback." He lifts a heavy foot, you pull away.
"Right then," you say. "Be seeing you." You turn and walk away.
He follows you, clomping slowly and steadily. You let him keep pace and head toward the pier.
The Cat Exploded
The cat exploded. Bits of cat——fur, guts, claws, teeth——clung to everything.
They tried to put the cat back together again, but it looked all wrong. There were pieces missing. They threw what was left of the cat away.
The cat's meow remained, however. They heard it that night while they slept. It cried to be let out, cried to eat, cried for no reason, as cats do.
But there was no cat to let out, no cat to feed, no cat to swat away, just a cat voice howling through the night.
They opened the window. All the neighborhood cats, unexploded, came calling.
The Dying Business
He inherited a scythe from his father, who in life was a renowned Grim Reaper impersonator. People had hired his father to appear at the bedside of those they wished to hurry along toward death.
It wore on his father, coaxing so many individuals not very well loved by their loved ones toward the final black sleep. He'd tap their nose with the tip of his scythe blade, tickle the hairs in their ears.
"Can't you just drag that thing across his neck?" he was asked by the wife of a dying man. "Can't you just poke a hole in her belly?" he was asked by the husband of a dying woman.
"But I'm just impersonating the personification of death," he would say. "That wouldn't be in keeping with my job description."
He was accused of prolonging the inevitable because he got paid by the hour.
Then it came time for him to die. He hoped to go quickly. He hired himself to impersonate Death by his own bedside. In his will, he left the scythe to his son. It is my hope that you will take over this, our dying business, he wrote.
A Witch Story
Silver wires hang like hair from the chin of the witch. The wires throw sparks. The witch collects this wasted electricity in a glass jar. When full, the glass jar glows like a lantern, which she uses to guide her passage through the dark tunnel.
The tunnel ends in a wall. Sitting on the ground is a witch with sparking silver wires hanging from his chin like hair. The witches sit knee to knee and braid their wires together. Blue current flows between them, pulsing like blood through veins. They part their lips to smile at each other and their teeth glow blue. They laugh and their mouths glow blue, revealing the tunnels of their throats glowing blue.
No one can speak. It is the rule of law. Those who break the law——whether whispering their love to a spouse, or asking a child a question, or protesting an injustice on the city's streets, or wishing good health on a sneezing stranger——those who break the law are arrested and put in a small cell. Inside the small cell is an even smaller telephone booth, with two phones hung on either side of a plastic stool. The lawbreaker is provided with a slab-like dictionary containing every word ever conceived in the days when people still spoke. Beginning from the beginning, the offender enunciates each syllable of each entry within the tome, speaking into the mouthpiece of one phone and receiving it in the earpiece of the other. The condemned, before dying, think to describe the ordeal of this recitation as worse than death, but they now know better than to speak.
A woodchuck as tall and motionless as the mature pine it stands beside holds its paws before its belly as if warming them over an open fire. It stares into the distance with shiny eyes. The snow surrounding the giant rodent bears no prints; it appears to have emerged directly from the ground beneath it.
"Ten, nine, eight," the woodchuck says, and its paws begin to glow orange-red. "Seven, six, five, four," the woodchuck continues, staring blankly ahead, and launch-flames blast from its meaty hands. "Three, two, one," the woodchuck says, and slowly lifts into the air, its rockets now fully ablaze and melting the snow all around. The tree it had been standing beside falls away as the giant woodchuck leaves the planet, never to return.
It will be the first of its kind to burrow on the moon.
The Rooming House
In the rooming house, rooms live together under the same roof. The bathroom and the kitchen are shared by all the other rooms and because of this they are considered both employees and tenants of the house and are allowed to live rent free. The other rooms resent this more than a little and make a mess of both the kitchen and the bathroom on a regular basis.
To make ends meet, some of the rooms rent themselves out by the hour to unsavory types, who fornicate and take drugs within the room's four walls. Sometimes these rooms are befouled.
Some of the rooms seek oblivion through drink and other means; some of the rooms cling desperately to sobriety. Some dream of having a room of their own; some are perfectly happy right where they are.
It all ends for the rooms living in the rooming house the way it always seems to: a contraband hotplate belonging to one of the rooms sets fire to a breeze-stirred curtain. The room, which had been sleeping, wakes up and tries to escape but it cannot get out of its own way. The flames overtake the walls, the ceiling, the floor.
The fire reaches the other rooms. They try to escape. They can't. They collapse together, some of them meeting each other for the first time.
The Deceased's Birthday Cake
The deceased's birthday cake took up smoking to give the candle something to do.
The candle felt appreciated; it looked at the cake in a new light.
The candle proposed to the cake. The cake accepted. Together they eloped, not wanting all the fuss of a big wedding.
They were happy for a while. But the candle was wasting away the whole time they were married. And then the candle died.
The cake became depressed. It couldn't even smoke anymore. It took solace in eating itself and grew fat and diminished at the same time. Dying, the cake regretted not having had proper nuptials.
An Official Report
The hose wouldn't connect properly with the back of the subject's head, resulting in a contaminating spray of green slurry on the operator's body.
Given that the operator had been eating corn chips while establishing the subject's fuel-transfer, his face-mask was not in place as required and he ingested an unknown amount of green slurry.
When the error was discovered nearly immediately via the closed-circuit monitor and the operator was confronted, he placed the still-pumping fuel-transfer hose in his mouth, presumably in an attempt to exterminate himself. Extermination ensued.
Subject also died as a result of operator error.
Leave your virus sorrows, your longing voices, your never-nowheres.
Life, yawning vast, silver yews lapping vales yearly new.
Lightening yellow vegetal salving your lashed vibrancy. You're nightless.
Legendary yesterdays. Valiant sunriser, your laughing visage yields nothing.
Lordly yarrows, visitant sparrows: yearning, learning, veering, yeaning nobility.
Living. Younger verdant survivors yoked like voles, yet numinous.
Unscrewing a bottle of gasoline for the table, the cat-costumed waiter asked them if they had any questions.
"Actually, I do," the man said. He folded his hands over his menu. "Why are you dressed in a cat costume, complete with wriggling tail?"
The waiter poured an inch of gasoline into the man's glass for him to swirl and try, then smiled and said, "This is simply the attire required by my employer, sir. And how is the gasoline? Is it to your liking."
"Indeed it is," the man said. He motioned for the waiter to fill his wife's glass, which the waiter did.
"I have a question, too," the woman asked, "but it's for you"——she pointed to her husband.
"What made you think I would enjoy being served gasoline by a waiter dressed as a cat?"
"It's a potato restaurant," the man said. "And you love potatoes"
"The best potato restaurant, in fact," the waiter interjected.
"You see?" her husband said.
"Competent sex and a hamburger afterward would have sufficed," she said and sniffed her glass. "But maybe gasoline poisoning would be better."
The waiter saw an opening to change the subject. "Did anything on the menu tickle your fancy?"
"The lady will have the potatoes," the man said. "And I will have the potatoes."
"Excellent choices." The waiter collected their menus and turned. The cat tail spilled their glasses and bottle of gasoline onto the candles on the table, which exploded into flames, catching the man and woman on fire. The rest of the diners ooh'd and ah'd and considered changing their meal orders.
Uncle Caca is nobody's favorite uncle. He visits his nieces and nephews in their parents' homes and insists on smoking cheroots and drinking dark whiskey, stinking up everything. Rusty pennies are all he doles out, never dollar bills. Fingers orange, fingernails black, lumpen face like the anus of a pit bull. Brown suit be-sheened with random greases.
No, he is nobody's favorite. But his siblings take pity on him. He was the firstborn and thus awarded the family name Caca, while they were dubbed Rose, Jasmine, Philip. They press the smalls of their children's backs to urge them forward. "Go on," they say, "go give Uncle Caca a hug."
The Toil of Days
To rise early, shine brightly, and retire slowly so that night can find its way to the factory for the second and third shifts. To wake up red and hot, grudgingly, ad infinitum. To be a canvas across which smoke can drift, birds can dart, and buildings can climb. To be invisible while making all else seen. To die on the job.
Pink circles mound like breasts, like buttocks, sweating salaciously in their own oils, in the pan. Dancing pork polka dots with smiling slits of mouths. Give us a kiss, piggy. Greasy and getting crispy and smelling up the house, just like us, just like us.
Here's a dairy-white blanket. Let's go to bed.
The Tuba Plays the Man
The tuba stuck its mouthpiece in the man's mouth and sucked the air from his lungs and let out a low flatulent drone. It walked the man in a slow, waddling figure eight on the town common as it played him. Children laughed and clapped at the sound and the man's goofy perambulation. Parents gave their youngsters dollar bills and coins to stuff and drop into the man's pants in recognition of the tuba's great performance. The man's face turned maroon; he appeared to want to protest. The tuba played on.
Snake with Arms
Snake with arms gets a gig playing bongos in a nightclub. Lights a lady's menthols post-show and tips back scotch-and-sodas. Makes her laugh by saying nothing at all. Rides with her to her home. Impresses her with a few push-ups then makes slithery love to her. Snake with arms thinks she sounds pleased, doesn't really care either way. Lights her a menthol.
Snake with arms has grown a little bored with this nightly routine so leaves and finds a house to intrude. Climbs up the clapboards with its strong grip and drops down the chimney. Dark inside——perfect. Finds a bedroom: two sleeping bodies on a big mattress and a baby snoring in a crib. Can't believe the luck. Snake with arms wraps its knuckles with tape. Gonna rattle some toys, gonna punch some people. Gonna end the night on a high note.
Night of the Knives
All the world's knives escape from their drawers and cutting blocks and sheaths and take to the sky while their owners sleep.
When everyone wakes up in the morning, they cannot cut grapefruit or spread butter on toast for breakfast; they can't chop things that need chopping, slice things that need slicing, or carve things that need carving. Old men on porches fall into a deep depression for want of whittling; they can't even slit their wrists.
They lament the loss of their knives but take consolation in all the new stars glinting in the night sky. No one realizes that they are not stars at all but rather the knives that have run away, many of them falling back toward earth, pointy and at blinding speed, admired for being something they are not.
Volley of Offal
Stuck fast in a river of thorns. Antagonists throw pig offal at him from both banks. Birds dive and swoop, raking him with their claws while making off with the meat missiles that assault him. His flesh tears as he attempts to wade through the thorns.
"What did I do to deserve this?" he screams to those on land, even as they hurl ever more bloody hunks of entrails. A vulture perches on his head to better enjoy the guts that cling to him.
"Deserve?" they reply. "You deserved the pig shit we threw at you all last week, but we're out of that, hence the pig meat we're pelting you with now."
"But if you've slaughtered the pigs, you'll get no more shit to throw at me, which, according to you, is what I truly deserve."
The volley of offal ceases. "He's got a point," one of them says. They depart.
They return sometime later and resume their attack. He's slapped in the face by a liver so heavy it nearly knocks him unconscious.
"Don't worry," they say, "this is horse meat."
Lobes of Ham
The lobes of ham that grew on her elbows and knees ensured that on each holiday where ham was expected she was forced to endure the removal by blade of these lobes of ham.
It was painless unless the butcher cut too closely and carved off some of her own flesh while attempting to separate the maximum amount of ham from her body. The butcher always gave her the first slice to try before wrapping in paper the four little lobes of ham for her to bring home. She didn't even like ham but her family loved it and therefore loved her.
Christmas: time for ham. Mother made the glaze——some concoction of honey, cola, and clove——while father sharpened the knife. The baby was too young for meat but drooled for a trimming and licked it like candy.
From the Grip of an Eagle's Claw
From the grip of an eagle's claw, a man drops the book he has been reading, only pages from the end.
"I need to know the rest of the story! Down!" he says to the eagle. The bird ignores him and continues to drift about the sky.
He bites the yellow flesh of the eagle's foot. The eagle responds by squeezing the man tighter until his nose begins to bleed. The man tries to protest but cannot speak.
On the ground a child searches among the roots of a tree for caterpillars to pinch. The book the man dropped crashes through the leaves and lands at the child's feet. The child takes up the book and soon forgets about the caterpillars. Once upon a time, the book begins, a great eagle roamed the skies.
Ice fishers go fishing for fish made of ice. The fish are caught and brought home and roasted over a fire. The fish melt and extinguish the fire and no one is fed and everyone grows cold.
Bird watchers seek birds with which to make watches. The birds are captured and brought home and strapped onto wrists. The birds cheep incessantly and struggle in vain and eventually die and no one knows what time it is.
Dog walkers walk on the backs of dogs. The dogs are laced like shoes onto feet. The dogs bark sadly and collapse under their burden but still their tails wag and everyone is left wanting a walk.
A Place Where It Only Snows
A leafless tree iced with snow. The townspeople stitch together from old blankets a patchwork coat.
They drape the coat over the tree, then huddle beneath it. They drink spiced punch and tell stories. A few masturbate.
A fire is lit around the base of the tree. The heat is captured by the coat; the snow on the tree melts and falls like rain.
This is how the people bring rain to a place where it only snows.
Locate the Meat Bag
Locate the meat bag. It's under the seat. A treated cut: eat it or stitch a pair of boots from it. Do both, in fact——we'll need energy and shod feet to get away from the big cats. I am too heavy and not fleet, but I will carry you.
You are light, like the sun. I am as heavy as the sun.
Let us run. Feed me now.
The bruise began dripping black blood onto the floor. Cold air seeped from it. Bats flew out.
He felt dizzy and laid down.
The bruise spread across his thigh, a dark pool. He turned out the lights and opened the shade to let the moonlight in. The pool glinted tranquilly. Out from the tangled jungle of hair on his leg came two lovers, naked and holding hands. They waded into the bruise and kissed. Steam rose around them.
You are receiving this invitation as a valued supporter, a loyal member, a longstanding contributor, and a giving partner.
We are rescinding this invitation because you are a party to the offense, a hardened criminal, a no-hope lifer, and a clear case for compulsory sterilization.
One Kind of Soup
One kind of soup is of meat, blood, and rice. Bear meat when available, horse blood, too. Any kind of rice will do.
Another kind of soup is of nothing at all. An empty bowl and a metal spoon to clang it with are all that is needed.
The best kind of soup is of broth gold and salty, with delicious noodles long enough to throw over the rafter and hang yourself with as you eat and realize that nothing in life will ever be better so why bother?
The Pencil Factory
You wake up to the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Hills of them spill down around your bed. You wade through them, your bare calves and thighs tickled and pricked by pencil points.
The unlit fireplace is the source of the pencils. They roll out as from a factory. The mice that normally stay hidden in the cupboards drag and pile them.
You flash a light up the flue and in between the falling pencils that arrow your eyes you make out a monkey hacking with twin machetes a log lodged at the top of the chimney.
You wander outside, where an elephant prepares to lob another log roof-ward.
It is a cloudy day.
The Rider on the Onyx Throne
The rider garbed in black on the onyx throne hurtles through cold, black outer space. A flick of the joystick, on the armrest, sends him zipping left, right, forward, or back, in search of black holes in which to disappear.
He longs for a kingdom he cannot remember——but king he must be or why else the throne?
The onyx throne that is at once his shuttle, his chamber, and his prison.
He presses forward the joystick and hurtles onward, feels the pull on his cheeks——once supple jowls they were, royal jowls, he thinks, for he was once a king, he thinks.
The Turtle's Vacation Home
The shell of the turtle in your belly makes you look fat. Its turtle tap dance on your organs makes you pass gas. It sends its little turtle belches up into your throat and leaves an awful taste in your mouth. The turtle tail explores the inside of your privates.
After two weeks, the turtle leaves. Everything goes back to normal until the turtle returns in a year's time.
He liked to go to sleep so much that the moment he fell asleep he woke himself up so he could go to sleep again.
The creep creeped into the house. It was dragging a wet canvas bag and smelled of menthol. It twitched and jerked its neck as it prepared to speak.
Nothing had changed, in other words.
The woman dropped the newspaper she had been hiding behind. "Oh, get on with it already!"
The creep whispered, "Do you have a room you can spare?"
The man couldn't take it anymore. "You know where it is! Down the hall, same place it was this morning, and every other day for that matter!"
In the morning, they went to check on the creep. It snored quietly, a small round-cheeked little child again.
The man put his arm around the woman. "Today we send this child into the world and nothing will go wrong."
"Today is the day," she agreed, and stepped forward to rouse the sleeping child.
The Maggot Dreams of Flight
The maggot sleeps curled under the bun of a rotting hamburger and dreams of flight. It dreams of higher places and better smelling things.
The maggot bursts into a fly. The maggot is no more.
The fly doesn't sleep at all. It flits here and there, in ceaseless, exhausting motion. It knows only enemies. It dreams of dreaming.
The fly is clapped between the hands of a monster. The fly is no more.
Meanwhile, the maggot sleeps curled under the bun of a rotting hamburger and dreams of flight. It dreams of higher places and better smelling things.
The Meat to Be Roasted
Prick your forehead with a three-tined fork, and let the fog inside your skull fall onto the meat to be roasted. If nothing comes, prick more deeply, taking care not to break the yolk inside your skull.
Once the meat has been basted with fog, crack your skull against the edge of the counter and pour the contents into a large mixing bowl. Whisk until the yolk is fully incorporated. Cover your body with the mixture, distributing evenly with a brush. Once coated, take up the meat to be roasted, embrace it, and together climb inside a four-hundred-and-fifty-degree oven for eight hours.
Make of It
Grow your beard to the ground. Make of it a shoulder sash and call yourself Miss America. Make of it a cummerbund and call yourself a gentleman. Make of it a vest and call yourself a cowboy. Make of it a scarf and call yourself a sky pilot. Make of it a beard and call yourself yourself.
Knives Fly Out
He opens his eyes and knives fly out. He kills his wife, child, and dog in adoration. He stares at a mirror for the rest of his life as penance, with only the clink and clank of glass and metal to fill the silence.
A Guy Walks In
In he walks, a coil of veiny shit upon his head. He takes a stool at the bar and holds up two fingers. The bartender pours him a tumbler of whiskey. Flies circle his fecal crown; one of the veins oozes dark blood which drips down the man's temple.
"It ain't natural!" another patron sitting at the bar says. He slams a ten-dollar bill down and walks out.
The shitheaded man finishes his drink. He holds up two fingers. The bartender pours him another drink. The man tosses it back. The bartender's mutt comes around. The man bends to give him a pet and a turd falls from his head onto the floor. The dog promptly eats it.
"Get outside, Fanny!" the bartender says, and the dog saunters out, licking its lips.
The man holds up two fingers and the bartender serves. The man drinks it down. He is sweating. His eyes cross briefly. The excrement has begun to slide down his forehead. The veins marbling it have turned purple. He holds up two fingers as his head begins to dip.
"Sorry, pal," the bartender says. "I've gotta cut you off."
The man looks up in alarm, his countenance covered in feces.
"Look at you," the bartender says, pointing to the man's reflection in the mirror behind the bottles. "You're shitfaced!"
The floor rises in a hump. The hump grows a little bigger each day. It turns red. One morning it bursts and releases a white ooze, which covers the legs of the couple who had been using the hump as a table.
He dips his toast in the ooze and eats it. "Do these eggs taste funny to you?" he asks his wife.
"You know I don't like eggs," she says. She is busy smearing the ooze over her face. "Does this face cream smell funny to you?"
He finishes another piece of toast dipped in the ooze. "This milk is on its way to bad——best drink it while we can." He drops face-first into the ooze and slurps.
She glops a dollop of the ooze onto her head and works it into her hair. She flops onto her back in the ooze and sings the shampoo jingle, Wash those cares right out of your hair!
A crust begins to form on the hump. The hump begins to shrink.
A Suprise Party
A filleting knife to the belly, some skin origami, noodles of your guts for one and all: in other words, a party! You, the affable host, can be excused for overindulging before the guests arrive——how else to numb yourself for the disembowelment?
Did we say disembowelment? We meant the releasing of the streamers. It's a surprise party after all.
Celebrating His Good Fortune
Celebrating his good fortune of coming into some money, he choked on his steak and died. His dining companions took the opportunity of his asphyxiation to separate from him his wallet and from his wallet his newly acquired money, taking pains also to relieve the dying man of the celebratory drugs he had purchased. When the soon-to-be-deceased man turned blue, his companions took the opportunity to take photographs with him because how rare was it to encounter a blue man? By now it was apparent that he had, in fact, died, at which point it didn't seem right to bother the police, for it was clearly no longer an emergency. His dining companions finished the meal he had treated them to, then moved him inside to his room, to his bed, where they laid him down and pulled the sheet over him, which seemed the most appropriate gesture. Then they disbanded and went to sleep.
A ghost wanted to frighten the new humans in its house so that they would move out. In order to be seen, the ghost wore a bed sheet and waited in the humans' room for them to return. The ghost grew tired and lay down on their bed, then promptly fell asleep.
The humans returned late that night. They woke the ghost with the sounds of belt buckles jingling and shoes dropping. They collapsed in an embrace onto the bed, smelling sweetly of alcohol. No sounds now but the smacking of lips and panting. They pulled the sheet over them; the ghost was pressed between them now, getting poked in its eye with the phallus of the man; the man felt nothing more than a cool, erotic sensation on his penis, which of course drove him to poke faster. The woman gripped the sheet in her fist, unaware that she had a handful of the ghost's genitals. The ghost screamed but the humans didn't hear it.
When the man and woman finished, they wiped themselves off on the sheet——and, in the process, all over the ghost——and stuffed the soiled bedding into the washing machine, where the ghost, still inside the sheet, was made to drown and choke all over again, just as it did when it died the first time.
The ghost waited for the cycle to end.
Behind the Beard
Behind the beard was a waterfall and behind the waterfall was a cave and inside the cave was a family of black bears and inside the cub was a belly full of berries and inside the mother bear was a belly full of cubs and inside the father bear was a belly full of a man and in the man's pocket was a photograph and in the photograph stood the man and his bride on their wedding day and in the photo the bride wore a smile and behind her smile was the memory of the day they fell in love behind the waterfall behind his beard.
The Arm Removal Machine
The arm removal machine broke down. This wouldn't ordinarily be a problem, however, the hand removal machine is also broken down, so there is a glut of hands, too. To make matters worse, the finger removal machine keeps slipping gears and hasn't worked properly in weeks.
There is now a surplus of arms flailing about, swinging fists, and hands that grope, pet, and wave, with twiddling fingers that pick, poke, pluck, and point.
The fingers point at the machines, at the surplus of arms and associated hands and fingers, and again the silent machines. And they point at the ceiling as if there was something more than another floor of the factory beyond.
Crystal birds fly into windows and shatter on impact. Their remains fall to the ground, indistinguishable from the broken bottles on the street.
In the air, crystal birds zip unseen by airplane pilots into jet engines. They atomize and twinkle like the tips of waves in the sky and send hundreds of people to their fiery deaths in vast oceans.
High in trees, in nests, crystal birds sit on crystal eggs, invisible to the predators in search of a filling meal. They sleep soundly in their safety and bring healthy fat crystal chicks into the world, their only enemies themselves.
What Is Truly the Matter with the Goat
Inside the goat are tin cans connected by string through which one hoof communicates with the other in order to coordinate the proper clopping gait.
Problems arise if the goat eats another tin can; the line of communication between hooves is interfered with and the goat may stagger or even fall down.
The same thing happens if the goat gets into the corn whiskey. When the goat imbibes it also tends to eat more tin cans than usual so it is often hard to tell what is truly the matter with the goat. This can lead to a goat being unfairly maligned as a drunk, when, in reality, it may just be a hungry goat eating a tin can, as is its wont.
I am the fireman. I start the fires in this town. The factories and schools: I burn them all down.
I smell of aftershave and gasoline, of pot roast and gasoline, of whiskey and gasoline, of victory cigars and gasoline, of mouthwash and gasoline, of sex and gasoline.
I am the fireman. I put out the fires in this town. The conflagrations that I start: I hose them all down.
I smell of milk and smoke, of breath mints and smoke, of water and smoke, of sweat and smoke, of fear and smoke, of tears and smoke.
Which me would I rather be? A silly question. We are a perfect match.
It's not easy for leaf man. He shakes all the time. Every year, people wait for him to change. When he finally does, all they do is stare at him——admiringly for the most part, but still it's unnerving.
Then he falls down. He is dying.
Then he dies. People walk all over him, kick his corpse. Then he's forgotten.
Then comes spring, and it starts all over. It's not easy for leaf man.
A green dog pawed at our door. We named it Grass.
A yellow dog pawed at our door. We named it Dead Grass.
A blue dog pawed at our door. We named it Blue Grass.
A clear dog pawed at our door. We named it Glass.
A purple dog pawed at our door. We named it Wine Glass.
A red dog pawed at our door. We name it Wine Glass, Jr.
An orange dog pawed at our door. We named it Orange.
We now have seven dogs. That's a lot of unconditional love, provided there's enough meat to go around. A lot of parti-colored dander drifting about like confetti, too.
Yes, indeed, it's lot of meat and and a lot of feces.
He met the day with burning guts and fought a mountain lion for a cup of coffee. Rowed his boat to work, with only one good armpit, and swallowed a banana whole once he got there. Made monkey sounds, did his monkey dance.
"Can I work now?" he asked aloud to no one.
Work, then. He decoded a seemingly meaningless string of text: when translated it read, simply, S.O.S. He got a laugh out of that.
His lunch ran away before he could stab it, so he filled up on swallowed air instead. His guts still burned. He belched loud and long.
Messages were crumpled up and thrown at his forehead, and he answered them individually: Nope. Nope. Nope. Fuck you. Nope. Nope.
"Somebody give me a glass of milk!" he cried. Nobody did.
He rowed home, still in want of two worthy armpits. The mountain lion was sleeping; he was tempted to spear its heart once and for all, but then what would he have to contend with every morning? Burning guts only?
He curled up beside the mountain lion, felt beneath its fur for a nipple. He began to knead the cat's teats. The lion raised its head sleepily and yawned, its great yellow teeth clicking when its jaw closed once more. Then came the milk. He drank.
Blood rushes down the street, a flood of it, soaking our shoes. Our socks and pants drink it up like vampires and soon we're knee deep in it.
Eggs float by, some beak-pecked open from the inside, others green and rotten. Sodden cats, some alive, some dead, drift past. A dickhead in a giant truck plows through the river of blood and drenches us all.
Soon our fellow humans, choking and bobbing, fight one another for space on makeshift rafts of doors. Gunshots ring out. More blood.
The sewers are outmatched. Manholes burst, sending their covers into the air on geysers of gore. And that's how you die: your skull is flattened by a falling disc of iron. For you, the flume ride is over. You're just debris to be held onto in the rapids by someone praying for a tranquil sea ahead.
The upper half of a man was lying in the grass, in the sun, with his arms behind his head.
A woman approached the half man and asked if he was all right.
"Just fine," he said, squinting against the sun. "It's a beautiful day."
"Yes," the woman said,"but half of you is gone."
"Not at all," the man said. He pointed up at a tree, where his lower half was sitting on a branch, happily kicking his feet.
"It's not normal to be in two places at once," the woman said.
"Two places?" the man said. "Another part of me is still at home in bed with my wife."
The Mountains of the Womb
The mountains of the womb were impassable. Starvation ensued. Skeletons lay scattered about, moved and disturbed by scavengers, the scavengers themselves also now long since starved, skeletonized, and scattered.
Only bones and not much else.
Fire starts from nothing and flourishes where nothing else can. It engulfs the mountains, grows mega. Hot enough to melt the mountains, the fire melts the mountains.
Nothing but fire. Not even distinct flames dancing anymore. Just vibrating fire, white-hot and thick as a mountain.
So Is the Fly
Lay head on table. Fill ear with honey. Let fly taste honey. Let fly get drunk. Fly will pass out. Tap fly on shoulder. Fly will wake up. Point gun at fly. Shoot fly with gun. Yes, you are dead. So is the fly.
A Love Story
He was born with buttons for eyes, a zipper for a mouth, and doors for ears.
She was born with sewing needles for fingers, lubricating oil for spit, and a key for a tongue.
They felt and fucked and fell and fought and forgave and feasted. And it was all the same.
And then they died. And it was the same.
The Future, Only Now
Here is a globe filled with meat. Paint the countries of the world on it. Color the rest blue: that is all the earth's oceans. Now color everything gray: this is the all-obscuring cloud. Now, everything black: the void.
Wait for the forgotten meat to rot and breed maggots. Smell the stench seep out, hear the worms inside, feel your stomach churn, gag: that is the future, only now.
The code wasn't entered correctly, and the beeping has begun: the alarm counting down the final minutes until the end of the world.
People run frantically about in search of the anti-code, but it is nowhere to be found. They turn over rocks, they rifle through drawers, they scour books, they pray for intervention.
Where is the anti-code? Why hadn't they accounted for this predicament?
The beeping is more insistent now, quickening to the cadence of a cricket's chirp. It turns out that the sound of doom is almost cheerful.
Where is the fucking anti-code?
One by one, people give up the search. They fall into each other's arms and weep. They lick the salty tears from each other's cheeks. They rub their swollen parts against each other's swollen parts.
The beeping can no longer be heard for all the moaning and sighing. It turns out that the apocalypse smells like sex.
A Doomsday Scenario
Floating mines blow boats from the water. Mountain missiles shoot planes from the sky. Space cannons obliterate satellites orbiting earth.
It's a technological hell-scape of annihilation.
But unseen a lonely lizard humps a perfectly preserved dinosaur egg, scraping away some dinosaur DNA, which it then deposits in a more suitable mate. Soon eggs are laid, and a new breed of dinosaurs is born.
They're captured, farm-raised, and bred to be the most fierce weapon ever known. They become too dangerous to handle and are sent into outer space, where they can wreak havoc among the stars——or simply die off.
But the dinosaurs have been bred to be cunning and resourceful. They harness an asteroid and pile onto the great rock like Vikings onto a warship. They aim the asteroid toward earth and hurtle forth.
A Squirrel Campfire
There was a flickering at the top of the tree. It was a squirrel campfire. If you listened closely you could hear the squirrel playing a lonely harmonica while its meager meal of acorns roasted over the flames. The squirrel pined for its beloved, which it had left behind with the little ones until a new homestead could be established. Things were looking up, though; the squirrel thought that this tree was perfect and deserving of a letter home. The squirrel began penning the missive in its head: Soon we'll all be a family again.
On the ground, the fire engine arrived. The firemen moved the onlookers aside and readied the hose.
"Damned lightning must have started it," someone said.
A Snake Got Inside Him
A snake got inside him. Maybe it crawled into his mouth while he slept; maybe it climbed inside his anus while he strained on the toilet. No matter: he could feel it coiling through his guts.
He dangled a live mouse in his throat to tempt the snake out, but it did not take the bait. He thought of letting the mouse in through his backside, but he was afraid he'd then just have two creatures inside him instead of one.
"Snake poison," the man at the hardware store said, handing him a small box. "Only thing is, it's people poison, too."
"I can survive a snake inside me," he said, "I'll take my chances."
At home, he mixed a tablespoonful of the bright blue powder into a glass of water and drank it down. His throat burned instantly. His stomach cramped and he doubled over in agony. The snake raced out of him and down his pant leg. The vile reptile's eye met his. He collapsed, and his cheek hit the cool linoleum.
His mouth foamed white. "I got you," he said. "I got you."
The snake surveyed its environs. High ceilings. Bright windows. New cabinets. Much better than the last shit-hole it had found. It opened the fridge and helped itself to a beer and a hard-boiled egg. A snake could get used to this, it thought.
There was a suitcase in the closet. It bulged and moved as if there was something alive inside.
"Open it," she said.
"I'm not going to open it," he said. "You open it."
The suitcase wobbled and creaked.
"Is that even our suitcase? You've never taken me anywhere that I can recall."
"Don't start that now," he said. "What should we do about the suitcase?"
They took the suitcase into the woods. It thrashed about as he carried it. They dug a hole and dropped it in. Immediately the suitcase was still. They buried it quickly.
But when they went back inside the house, in the closet was the same suitcase. It was rotted and spilling with dirt. It gave off a horrible smell as if there was something dead inside.
"Open it," she said.
Swollen Sun, Heaving Ocean, Cold Moon
The swollen sun has sunburned itself. It doesn't look good, all red and tight. It needs soothing; give it some lotion. It needs hydrating; give it some water.
The heaving ocean is drunk on itself. It tosses and froths without relief. It needs drying out; let the sun do its work. It needs a talking-to, too; let the moon handle that.
The cold moon is aloof and distant. It hangs in the night, needing nothing at all. It turns its pocked back to us, revealing the scars left by our rocks, thrown when all our entreaties failed.
The Halo of Hell
The halo of hell, a fiery wreath, is placed 'round the head of the one who can't sleep.
The one who can't sleep, a slovenly wretch, will now be awake for an unholy stretch.
The halo won't burn the head of the wearer, nor illuminate nor make anything clearer.
It will just keep him up——not in the good way——until he has to get up and face the day anyway.
A Year Without Funerals
We are at a loss. The living need dying to become the dead. The dead need burying to become the celebrated. The celebrated need veneration to become the remembered. The remembered need the living to live. But we are at a loss. We stand in the warm sun with our heads bowed, but without bodies it is not the same.
A man stood beneath a majestic oak tree and gazed up in open-mouthed wonder at its beauty.
A fat acorn fell directly into the man's throat. He choked, gasped for air, and collapsed on the ground, where he soon died.
His body was discovered and, when no one claimed it, buried in a cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Spring came and and a thin green oak tree sprouted from the earth beneath which his body decomposed.
Decades passed. Centuries. The tree grew tall and majestic. A man stood beneath it and gazed up in open-mouthed wonder at its beauty.
One morning the sun falls from the sky. It rolls down a mountain at a great speed. It rolls and burns its way across the landscape, leaving a river of fire in its wake. It rolls into the ocean with a deafening hiss and turns the sea into a hot bath. All is dark.
The nudists take this as an invitation to go swimming. They slather more oil on their skin for no reason. They grope about in the dark, following the scent of coconut, sweat, and genitalia. The tumble into the scalding sea. They bob and rub together and release their fluids into the brine.
It's not as good without the sun, they think, nothing is.
The Ordinary Man
The ordinary man didn't come today. The man who came had a turtle shell on his back. The ordinary man has a spine of stegosaurus spikes running from crown to crack. He laughs a lot.
We want the ordinary man to come back, to help the days pass. We pray he doesn't dislike us.
Scarf of Bats
He bought a scarf of bats. It flapped all about his face and neck. It shrieked and shit on his chest. Worst of all, it didn't even keep him warm.
He went back to the store where he bought it. He said, "This scarf is not sophisticated at all." The scarf flapped wildly about. "I wish to return it."
"Absolutely not," the store manager said.
"Why?" the man asked. The scarf flapped and shrieked and shit.
"Because, sir," the manager said, "you've removed the tags."
A child pulled the stripes from a rainbow——red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet——and laid them down on the street beside each other, all the while dodging cars.
Now, the child thought, all the drivers will be able to see the rainbow and be happy as they head to work.
But the drivers were confused as they were used to seeing only yellow stripes on the road. Traffic came to a standstill. People honked and shouted at one another.
"Stay in your lane!"
"I am in my lane!"
"That's not your lane——that's your lane!"
They drew handguns and shot each other until every last one of them was dead. The child went home and pretended as though nothing was the matter. The family dog's nose led the animal outside, where it began to feast on the bodies of the motorists.
The Problem Precisely
"You're not supposed to do that," they said. "You should do anything but that."
"But that is all I know how to do," he said.
"The problem precisely," they said.
"Would this be better?"
"This is always better."
"Then that is what I will do."
"But you're not supposed to do that. Please, for the love of god, do anything but that!"
A corpse was delivered to her front door. It appeared freshly dead: a former man, dressed in a rumpled business suit, cheeks blue with stubble, and hair that had been neatly parted now slightly in disarray. He would no doubt be ashamed of his appearance were he still alive.
She dragged him inside, sat him in a chair, and stripped off his clothes. She pressed his suit, shaved his face, and combed his hair. When she had properly neatened him, she went to bed.
In the morning, she came downstairs to find him in the kitchen reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. He looked up at her. "Good morning. There are eggs on the stove."
She made herself a plate and sat down. The eggs were good. She sprinkled a little salt and pepper on them.
"Listen," he said, "I should have called you, I know. The boys at the office decided to get together for a few drinks after work, and you know how they are. Lost track of time. I must have got in late and slept down here so as not to wake you."
"I thought you were dead," she said.
"I'm sorry, honey," he said, folding the newspaper. He rose and kissed her head. "Busy day today. I'll see you tonight?"
She took another bite of eggs. They really were good. "Tonight," she said.
A Child Grew in His Mouth
A child grew in his mouth. It began to eat the food he ate and grew and grew while he wasted away due to lack of food.
Soon the child outgrew his mouth. Its head and torso protruded past his lips; its legs and feet tickled his esophagus.
The child grew large enough that it simply took the food it needed from the man's hands. It became a picky eater, throwing aside anything that wasn't peanut butter.
Eventually, the man died of starvation. The child was sent to an orphanage. There it learned that food was not to be wasted. It ate anything that was placed before it, even fish. The child was told that one day it would have a child of its own, which it could teach to fish, and together they would never go hungry.
Ordered to stand, he stood. Awaiting his next order, he died on his feet. His body stiff, he was covered in bronze.
A cold statue.
Birds covered him in shit.
This one's brain water turned brown from all the shit he thought about. This one's brain water turned brown from all the whiskey she drank. This one's brain water turned brown from all the chocolate he ate.
This one's brain water turned green from all the marijuana he smoked. This one's brain water turned green from all the money she made. This one's brain water turned green from all the envy he harbored.
This one's brain water turned blue from all the sadness he kept. This one's brain water turned blue because that's the color she imagined it to be. This one's brain water turned blue because he couldn't breathe.
Is This Your Mouth?
Is this your mouth? I found it on the ground while I was walking. It was opening and closing like the pout of a fish on land. There was a wad of gum next to it——maybe that's yours too?
The reason I ask is that your face currently lacks a mouth. There's eyes, a nose, and then nothing. So I'm assuming this is yours. I've been following you for a while——not in a creepy way. We just seem to be heading in the same direction.
Speaking of, where are you heading? Do you want to maybe take a break? Grab a drink?
Sorry. You obviously can't drink right now, not without this. You're shaking your head no——does that mean this mouth isn't yours? You're nodding. So you're saying this mouth is not yours. That's a vigorous nod, got it.
So were you just born without a mouth? Vigorous nod, okay. Boy, I could ask a lot of questions! You know, now that you mention it, something I failed to consider until just now, is that this mouth is a bloody mess, like it had been cut off somebody's face, but your face, while mouthless, is smooth and clean. Not a speck of blood on you!
Okay, you're walking again. Away from me. Okay, I take it you're leaving? Okay, no problem. Do you think I should go put this mouth back where I found it? That's a wave. I'm waving, too, you just can't see it because your back is turned and you're walking away. But I'm waving, too, I'm waving, too!
A Headache Decree
A decree was issued, whereby all citizens were required to report to the citadel to be given their respective headaches.
This one had a fanfare trumpeted into his ear, that one was handed a thread with a minuscule knot to untie. One was informed that all his meager savings had been looted, another was told it was time for her to fill her womb with a baby. All the children were lined up and had their temples pinched. Not even the beasts of the fields were spared: they were simply rapped on the head with a mallet.
Once everyone's head was properly hurting, the headache decree was rescinded. In its wake, another decree was issued, whereby all citizens were required to lie on the ground and await the arrival of the clowns who were to cheer them up and make them forget about their headaches. People were already smiling at the thought.
The Chambers of His Highness
A room no one exits. A million tiles, made of baby hair and imported mud, set in the floor. Chandeliers throw shapes of light through the prisms of pendants formed by paper-thin slices of eyeballs. A blood fountain bubbles serenely. A mattress of peacock feathers waits beneath a bed cover of human leather. The wailing of the tortured drifts up the corridors and through the open window.
All is as ever.
But where is His Highness? Where is the gruesome one himself?
Slumped dead on his private, golden toilet, with a still heart and a tail of shit.
In the Ravines of Gigantic Corduroy
In the ravines of gigantic corduroy, families live their whole lives as nomads in search of food, praying for droppings from the sky. They stare up at the monolithic walls of their prison home until their eyes roll over and they fall backwards from the strain of looking up in search of an end they cannot see. They hope to be asleep when the great, greasy hand of the unknown comes to smudge them out. All the time the ravine walls erode, and they take solace in the knowledge that their descendants will know shorter walls and their descendants shorter walls still, till one day at last their blood will be free.
The Dead Giant
There was a dead giant blocking the street. He appeared to have fallen from the sky, given how deeply cratered and pulverized the asphalt was beneath him. He was naked and his penis was surprisingly small (we estimated his shoe size to be equal to the length of a school bus).
First, we shaved his head, beard, and body as we would a sheep; many textiles would be spun of it. Then we skinned the giant for the tannery; there would be leather enough to outfit an army. The butchers came next and went to work, while dusty old cookbooks were consulted in nearly every kitchen (it will come as no surprise that there was a run on barbecue sauce).
The marrow was harvested and the bones were left to bleach in the sun. Some teenage jokers bored holes in the bones so marijuana could be smoked through them. Some artist bored more holes and made flutes that could be played if a sufficient number of people cooperated.
I sometimes wonder what the giant's name was, though of course we had no way to find out. We just called him Little Dick, which always struck me as unnecessarily cruel.
Take Off Your Coat and Stay a While
Take off your coat and stay a while. Take off your shoes, too. Loosen that tie and toss it over there.
Stay a while!
Take off your shirt and pants, buddy. Make yourself comfortable.
Lose the socks and skivvies——stay a while!
Open up your chest and take out that ticker and whatever else is still good. The liver can stay with you, pal.
Now get rid of your blood. Drain the veins and stay a while!
Formaldehyde? No? Suit yourself.
All right, all right. Close that cavity and put your clothes back on. Have you no decency?
Okay, now get in this box.
At Your Service
A baby in a cowboy outfit in a saddle on a deer's back rode into the yard. The baby's hat was too big and completely obscured its head and face, the brim of it resting on the baby's shoulders.
She went outside. "Can I help you?" she asked. "Are you lost?"
The deer stared at her. The baby didn't make a sound.
"Here, let me see that," she said, and lifted the baby's cowboy hat. There was no head underneath. "Oh my," she said. "That's not good."
The baby reached into the pocket of its vest and produced a business card that read, The Headless Baby Cowboy at your service. The baby retrieved another card from its pocket, which read, What can I help you with today?
"Why are you riding a deer?" she asked.
The baby reached into its pocket for another card. Howdy, pardner! What can I do you for? it read.
"Where is your horse?" she asked. "Or, I guess it would be a pony?"
Another card: Giddy-up!
"You're going to get Lyme disease!"
Another card: Goo goo, gah gah.
"You're going to get shot at by a hunter!"
A final card: Time to hit the lonesome trail, darlin.' The baby jabbed the deer with its spurs and the beast turned and trotted into the woods. The baby gave a wave of its hat, and then they were gone.
A rock crashed through the window and landed at his feet. There was a note attached to it, which read, Here is your rock.
The man wrote a reply. I'm afraid this is not my rock. He attached the note and threw the rock back out the window.
Sometime later, the rock came through the window again. The attached note read, This is your rock as it came from your domicile and therefore is to be regarded as your property.
The man wrote back, It was only in my home after you so rudely threw it through my window. Out went the rock.
It came back again. I do not want your rock, sir. Please keep it in your house where it belongs.
The man dropped the rock and went outside, ready to fight. "Show yourself!" he cried into the darkness. A rock hit him in the forehead. There was a note attached. He squinted and read it by the light of his window: Please keep your voice down. People are trying to sleep in here.
And then the lights inside his house flicked off.
A Collection of Feathers
A collection of feathers was presented to her. Here are some feathers, what would she do with them? she was asked. Would she make a duster?
"I'm not interested in cleaning," she answered.
Would she stuff a pillow?
"I'm not interested in sleeping," she answered.
Would she make a bird?
"Only an ugly one that couldn't fly," she answered.
She buried them all in the ground. She wiped the dirt from her hands.
"Because that's where some fathers belong."
But those were feathers!
"That's not what I heard," she answered.
Lord Awful arrived on his flatulent black horse. His hair was matted, his fingernails dirty, long, and curled.
He addressed the villagers. "Come, you filthy rabble, pay your respects to your Lord."
The villagers stood back. They held their noses and looked at the ground.
"I'm waiting!" Lord Awful licked the snot from his moustache.
One brave villager stepped forward, his hands covering his eyes. "Lord Awful, you are a most generous soul to have graced us with your presence."
"And what is your name, dirty shit-ass?" Lord Awful brushed the dandruff from his cloaked shoulders.
"It matters not, my lord."
"Your name!" Lord Awful said through a belch.
"Steven," the villager said.
"But all the ladies call him Sexy Steve!" cried a voice in the crowd. All the women villagers tittered.
"That's not true!" Steven said.
"It is!" cried another voice.
Steven's head fell. "I suppose you'll be wanting this." He presented his neck for Lord Awful's sword.
"And what would I do with your stupid head? Be gone, you turd."
Lord Awful's steed farted and dropped a pile from its ass. He patted the animal on the head. "And they say it's unnatural to feed a horse beef! Look at the healthy pie you've made!" He turned his attention once more to the villagers. "Speaking of, who among you vile vomit drinkers will let me use their privy? I've a hot one in the chamber. Sexy Steve?"
Steven toed the dirt with his shoe. "Afraid it's full up, my lord."
Lord Awful dismounted. His face flushed. He sighed and waved the air away from his backside. "And now so are my knickers. Such is life!" He remounted his horse with a squish and rode on to the next village.
A child was given a knife as a birthday gift. It cut its hand off, and the knife was taken away.
The same child was given a saw as a gift for its next birthday. It sawed its leg off at the knee, and the saw was taken away.
The same child was given a spoon as a gift for its next birthday. It scooped out one of its eyes, and the spoon was taken away.
The next year the child was given a pirate's costume for its birthday. Everything fit just so: the hook, the peg leg, the eye patch. "Finally!" the child cried with delight.
A beak protrudes from where the cat's eye should be and chirps for food. The cat hooks with its claw an unfurled condom from the street and presents it to the beak. The beak works futilely to consume the rubber.
A man walking past attempts to relieve the beak of the condom, but the beak will not release it. The man notices that the condom contains a pearl, a ruby, and a diamond. He redoubles his efforts to take it from the beak. The cat claws and bites him. The man leaves without his prize, infection already setting in where the cat drew blood.
The cat waits, then follows the man. The beak chirps for food.
The Dawn of Man and Christmas Trees
A pine tree erupts from the middle of the ocean, rising like a rocket into space. It spears the moon, which pops like a balloon and releases a confetti of spermatozoa and ova. Some of these mate in freefall and, programmed for birth, land silently in the ocean. Others collect like snow on the gigantic pine that freed them, glinting like metal by the light of the stars. Another moon rises like a soap bubble from the deeper sea and takes its place in the night sky.
The Melting Man
A melting man collapsed on the doorstep. He knocked weakly.
The owner of the house answered. "My god, you're melting," she said.
"It's true," the melting man said.
"I know I should first ask what I can do for you," the homeowner said,"but I have to point out that you're making a mess on my doorstep."
"It's true," the melting man said.
"Worse than a thousand ice cream cones, even!"
"It's true," the melting man said.
The woman thought a moment. "Why don't I just run the hose over you. It might help cool you off."
"It's true," the melting man said.
She turned on the spigot. The water ran hot. She turned the hose on the man. "It's a bit warm but it will get nice and cool soon."
"It's true," said the man, melting even faster now under the hot water.
"Any minute now," she said, waving the hose back and forth, washing the man from the steps. "Almost," she said. "There." The water was finally cold, but the man was gone, washed clean away. She took a long drink. It was very refreshing.
The Trophy Hunt
A procession of people crawl into the sea. Sharks feast. The shore is stained red with blood.
The sharks save the human limbs and attach them to their bodies. They walk upright out of the ocean.
They're shot, stuffed, and mounted above fireplaces inside stately homes by the hunters. The formerly human limbs that hang down from the trophy fish are rubbed up against as back scratchers, as consoling companions, as masturbatory aids.
At Your Earliest Convenience
At your earliest convenience, please stop hitting me on the head. At your earliest convenience, please stop stabbing me in the thigh. At your earliest convenience, please stop shooting the air around me. At your earliest convenience, please remove your hand from my pocket. At your earliest convenience, please refrain from leaving me for dead. If you would, please let me know when you're finished at your earliest convenience.
On his neck he had a freckle that grew into a mole that grew into a head that grew into a body that grew arms and legs and ears and eyes and a nose and a mouth that learned to speak and spoke gibberish all day long and even at night when he was trying to sleep.
"Will you ever shut up?" he cried.
The freckle that grew into a mole that grew into a head that grew into a body that grew arms and legs and ears and eyes and a nose and a mouth paused and fell silent. Then resumed incanting a stream of gibberish.
"Will you ever change?" the man cried. "Why won't you ever change?"
The Cigarette Store
Mother goes to the store for cigarettes one summer morning. She doesn't come back. Not because she wants to abandon her family, she explains via postcard several days later, but because the store that sells the cigarettes is gone, and her search for the store takes her further and further away from home.
Postcards arrive weekly. I feel I'm gaining on the cigarette store, she writes. I just know I'll find it, if not in the next town then the next one after that. Please don't forget me!
The postcards continue to arrive. Fall, winter, spring, and another summer come and go. The child enters a new class at school. Father just sits at the kitchen table, waiting for mother to return with his cigarettes.
Family, she writes, please don't forget me!
The Meat Thermometer
They went to the sun and found it wasn't hot at all. Just another moon, painted orange and yellow.
It's since been determined that all the heat and light is just because everything we know is inside an oven more vast than we can easily imagine.
Who controls the heat and light? That's the big question. We won't know until we leave this world. But the meat thermometer says we are not ready.
A lamb presents itself to you one morning as you are leaving for work.
"I'm sick of this shit," the lamb says. "Either kill me or take me on vacation."
You never met this lamb before and can't stomach the thought of killing it. "I'll have to talk to my manager about getting time off of work," you say.
"Oh, I don't have time for that," the lamb says. "I'll just kill myself. Start the car and let me suck on the tailpipe a minute. It won't take long, I'm small."
"Don't do that," you say. "Come inside a minute, okay?"
The lamb follows you inside. You call your boss and explain the situation. He tells you you're fired. You hang up.
"Well?" the lamb says.
"I hear Florida is nice this time of year," you say.
"Perfect," the lamb says. "I'll just have to lose this sweater."
All These Coins
I can't speak for all these coins still pouring from my mouth, so I write to you now: Are your days a ceaseless parade of jingle-jangle? Is there a metal waterfall that threatens to drown you? Do your muscles ache from the endless shoveling out? Because I cannot think of another reason why you haven't come to my door like all the others, holding an empty sack and leaving with a heavy one filled with but a fraction of my never-ending coins.
Come! Come even to make fun of me! Come even to pity me! I just long to see your face without the need for a transaction between us.
Ah, I do not even care! Bring me all the bread from your store, all the cheese, all the milk——I will give you all these coins!
Chair and Table
The wooden chair shakes as if the floor is moving beneath it. There is no one in the chair. It begins to skitter away from table that is its mate. It makes a racket as it moves. It approaches the top of the stairs and tips. End over end, the chair falls to the bottom, a thudding, cracking, jumble of wood-sound. Then silence.
The table shakes. It judders toward the stairs. But it does not tip: it cannot pass the jamb. The table judders back and then forward again, but it cannot make the stairs, it won't fit.
The chair lies in a heap below. The table shakes.
Sex with Guns
He had sex with a gun. It blew him away.
She had sex with a gun. It gutted her.
In the end, the gun was left empty.
Here's how it works: replace the soft, ineffecient bristles of your current toothbrush with tacks. Get numb however you see fit. Scrub your teeth vigorously, scarring the enamel and mutilating the gums, thus allowing rot and infection to set in, hastening dental demise. Craft dentures from animal bones (pork ribs work well) while waiting for your teeth to fall out.
Install the dentures. Get numb however you see fit.
Take a photo of yourself showing your best new grin with the caption, Who's smiling now? and send it to your dentist.
Laugh. Cry. Get numb however you see fit.
The Carnage Visited
The carnage visited. Upon us, it was left to decide. The fate of those we'd hidden? Locked behind doors that cannot be. Opened to anyone foolish enough to want in, closed to anyone foolish enough to want out.
The roof shingles began to fall like leaves from the house. They collected on the ground and turned brown as the weeks passed.
The owners of the house raked into a pile the shingles that littered their yard. They gathered them and put them into a bag, which they placed on the sidewalk.
That evening, a man collected the bag and brought the shingles home. He laid the shingles down carefully on the gray bare roof of his house and watered them with a garden hose. He had heard that things grow better at night.
The cat locked its owners out of their bedroom. They stood behind the closed door and pleaded with their pet.
"We won't shit on the bed!" he said.
"We won't puke on the carpet!" she said.
"We won't shed anymore!" he said.
"We won't scratch the furniture!" she said.
Finally, the cat relented and let them in. It batted a toy mouse in the their direction, and they began to play with it, whacking it back and forth between them.
The cat went downstairs, defecated in its litter box, and began to prepare dinner.
Endure like the mule dragging chains to a saloon with a dead television, red hot dogs, and perfumed beer.
Is this all there is?
Well, no. You could perm your hair, pull pages from magazines, call the golf store, stain your fingers orange, search for lost change on the commons, fall into a frozen lake that's never frozen enough.
Or just endure like the mule.
The Guided Cloud
The cloud is guided across the sky by men holding wires attached to it. Some of the men are determined to make it go left across the sky, while the others want it to go right. But then someone points out that for people on the other side of the world, the cloud would then be moving in the opposite direction. That is, left will be right and right will be left.
The left men say, "Fine, we'll just move right."
The right men say, "Fine, we'll just move left."
But then someone points out that for people on the other side of the world, the cloud would then be moving in the opposite direction. That is, left will be right and right will be left.
The Edible Wife
First he ate her toes, then her ankles, calves, knees, and thighs.
"Don't stop there," she said.
He ate her hips, her belly, her breasts, and neck.
"Don't stop there," she said.
He ate her chin, cheeks, nose, ears, head, and hair. She was gone.
"I miss you," he said.
"I miss you, too," she said from within him. "Come inside."
So he ate his toes, ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. He paused to take a breath. "I'm coming, love!" he said. "I'm coming!"
The Purple Forest
The gloom of the purple forest is overpowering. Sunlight barely penetrates. The birds squat fatly on tree branches and don't make a sound. The leaves don't move and are silent, too. All the other creatures hibernate in unseen burrows.
Swing an axe into any tree; it will keel over at the point of impact and lose it's guts like a plum. The mushrooms are gelatinous.
The trail sucks one's shoes like mud, but mud it is not. Just purple dirt on which nothing hardy grows, that doesn't want one to leave, terra starved for life.
The Boat Husband
She turned him into a boat. First, she made him lay prone on the ground, then she molded his body into the required boat-like shape: chin pointing to the horizon ahead, toes pointed to the horizon behind. Then she turned his arms into oars. She took him to the shore.
"Where to, my queen?" her boat husband asked.
She took up the oars. "I'm thinking we should go somewhere nice."
It was a beautiful day, blue sky, brilliant sun. The gulls sqawked.
"Where could be nicer than here?" her boat husband asked.
"You're right," she said. She capsized her boat husband so he could enjoy the full sun on his face and chest. Together they drifted.
The Metal Eaters
It is their nature to wake up angry, the metal eaters, weighed down as they are by all the metal they eat, their mouths cut up from all the metal they eat, their insides hamburgered by all the metal they eat, their rectums raw from all the metal they eat.
How did we become the ones to eat all the metal? they ask when they are together in the feed halls, eating metal. Why aren't the ones who make all this metal also responsible for consuming it?
Come now, someone will finally say, less talking, more eating, or else we'll never get out of here.
Meanwhile, they don't ever realize, do the metal eaters, that the metal they eat is nothing but scrap, the discarded leftovers of all the good, pure metal that exists out there in the world, which gets eaten by others, which they will never taste.
A cave belched fire and burned alive the people telling stories to one another in its mouth.
Years later, another group of people came along and in the cave told stories about how once the fire-breathing mouth where they now sat incinerated their forebearers. Then the cave belched fire and roasted them.
Years later, another group of people came along; they were burned to cinders, too.
Years later, another group came along and sealed the mouth of the cave with rocks and mud so that no one else would get burned alive, not considering that such energy must be expelled somewhere.
Meanwhile on the opposite side of the world, a cave farted fire and burned alive the people telling stories to one another in its ass.
Notable Citizens of Our Town
Notable citizens of our town include Silas Cromwell, who has retained the title of Wearer of the Most Orange Moustache for twenty years and counting; Eleanor Turtle, who has checked out each volume from our library at least once; Robert Gunnerson, who tunnelled the length of Main Street with a hunting knife and garden spade; Ellie Brick, whose recipe for white gravy has been printed on nationally distributed cans of meat; Wally Onion, who, for a modest fee, will bend a railroad spike for you with his bare hands; Sheila Bueno who discovered the dessicated underwear and other mementos of our town's founder in a time capsule long assumed lost; and you, who, despite a lifelong pledge to leave our town, as voiced in innumerable letters to the editor of our esteemed daily newspaper, has remained steadfast, occupying the house you grew up in, refusing to open the shades except to occasionally peek out and yell through the window at the curious.
Can of Whale
There was a can of whale next to the cans of tuna at the grocery store. It was two stories tall. The ingredients listed simply: whale meat in water. An orange sticker on the can read: Sale——Clearance.
He got attention of the worker stocking the shelves. "I'll take this can of whale," he said. The stock-person brought the giant can to the shopper's pick-up truck on a forklift. The grocery worker began to maneuver the can toward the car when the shopper noticed that the back of the can was dented. His mother's voice admonished him in his head: Don't buy dented cans——you'll die if you eat what's inside!
"Wait!" he said. "I changed my mind! I want to return this can of whale!"
"Sorry," the grocery worker said. "Clearance item. All sales final."
"I feel as though I've been tricked into purchasing a giant can of bad whale meat!"
"Feed it your cats?" the grocery worker said.
"I don't have any cats," the man said.
The stock-person pointed to the pet store next to the grocery store. "Plenty of cats in there." There was a sign in the window: Cat Sale——Clearance——All Cats Must Go. The stock-person headed back to the grocery store in the forklift.
"Wait," the shopper said. He handed the worker a five-dollar bill. "For your trouble." Then he went to the pet store.
A stray head appeared outside the window. It was on the ground, looking up at the ceiling fan spinning above her. It appeared mesmerized by the motion of the blades.
"Tsk, tsk," she called. "Are you lost?"
The head met her eyes, then returned its gaze to the fan.
"You must be hungry," she said. She got a bowl of cubed meat in gravy and placed it on the windowsill. "Come on now." She was trying to coax the head close enough so that she could lean out the window and snatch it.
The head waddled forward on its jaw and she grabbed it. The head squirmed and squealed and tried to bite her hand. She wrapped it in a towel and held it close. The poor, quivering thing.
She took it to the spare room, which she'd turned into a kennel for strays. All the other heads began smacking their lips and trilling. Her presence meant it was time for brushing or else time for meat and gravy.
Farm to Table
This is the hottest restaurant in town, where animals are put back together and food is made. First, steaks and ribs and skin and offal are taken from the cooler and brought to the farm. There, the chefs work their magic in an open barn for all to see: what were just bloody cuts of meat have been transformed into a coy cow whose seductive wink and low says, Come and get it. And you will——if you're strong enough to fight back the other fork-and-knife wielding diners. A little luck never hurts either so bring a four-leaf clover to garnish the best meal you're likely to have all year.
The New Calendar
It was a new year. He opened a new calendar to January and hung it on the wall.
All the numbers indicating the dates fell to the floor and scurried under the refrigerator.
January would not end that year. The days were short and cold; the nights were long and colder. Finally, he drew a big X across the entire month in the calendar and turned the page. It was February at last!
But then all the dates fell off again and scattered.
He took the calendar down from the wall and placed it flat on the table. He drew a big X across the entire month then turned the page. It was March. The numbers ran away, off the table, and out of sight. He drew another big X, turned the page.
April. Outside, the snow had melted and the trees budded green. It was spring. He decided not to turn the page just yet.
The World Zipper
Found the world zipper at the base of a tree in the forest. Rusty and a bit stubborn. Oiled the teeth and slowly unzipped it. Black on the other side. Not like outer space; no stars or light at all, only a deep black. Cool on the other side, too, like standing in front of an open refrigerator. Not unpleasant on a hot day.
Put arm through, past the open zipper. Arm disappeared, reappeared when retracted.
Head is next. Now finding the courage.
In summer we don our caterpillar wigs and tempt the birds to eat our heads. We capture them and have a cookout. The young and old pluck the feathers and then we roast what's left.
We admire our caterpillar wigs as they wriggle and dance upon our heads, as we ourselves wriggle and dance on the lawn. The charcoal wafts; fat sizzles on the coals. It's the best time of year.
We continue dancing and eating until our caterpillar wigs become chrysalis wigs. Then, exhausted, we collapse on the lawn and sleep for days, only to be woken by the sound of butterfly wings flapping around our ears. The wind turns orange and black when the butterflies take flight.
The Frog's Dream
A frog in a glass box knocked itself unconscious while leaping. It dreamed that it was a frog of great wealth and noble bearing, living in a cool, damp castle of stone. Beautiful servants brought endless flies for it to eat. The frog was an adept equestrian and dressed in a plush velvet mantle and hand-stitched boots. The frog was also a renowned vintner and gifted its wine to all who came to visit the castle. Enemies were captured and confined to the dungeon, where the frog was not above urinating on them or cracking a bull-whip beside their ears. The frog slept peacefully and soundly on an endless bed of the softest moss.
The frog woke up. Its head throbbed. Then it looked up, saw clear blue sky, and leaped.
He sat down to dinner, but his food had gone missing. He stared at the empty plate before him. He lived alone; there was no other human or even a pet that may have eaten his dinner.
He belched into his hand and smelled it: nothing. So he hadn't eaten his dinner and simply forgotten that he had. His stomach growled: no, he definitely had not eaten.
He looked on the stove: the pot where he had cooked his dinner was empty though still hot to the touch. But there was no dinner.
He looked under his plate: no dinner.
He looked in the closet: no dinner.
He told the friend of his predicament.
"You invited me over to dinner," the friend said. "I ate it."
"And where was I?" he asked.
"Doing the laundry, I believe," the friend said.
He was confused.
"Oh, you invited me over for dinner several months ago——I was finally free. And when I arrived, the food was ready, so I just tucked in. It was delicious by the way."
"Thank you," he said.
"Don't mention it," the friend said.
"I'll have to have you over for dinner again."
"You really should."
"How about tomorrow?"
The friend said, "Let me check my calendar and get back to you."
The Black Triangle
A black triangle floated about the house. It was approximately the size and shape of a standard slice of pizza.
"What should we should do?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," he said.
The black triangle hovered over where they sat on the sofa, then floated away down the hall and into their bedroom.
"Neither am I," she said. "It seems harmless enough."
The black triangle came back up the hall and into the bathroom.
"I think it might be lost," he said.
"It appears that way," she said.
The black triangle floated back to where they sat and hovered. Then it floated upstairs to their bedroom.
"Maybe we should put up a LOST sign?" he said.
"I think that's a good idea," she said.
The black triangle floated back downstairs and went into the closet.
On a piece of paper they drew a black triangle and wrote LOST above it. They made a dozen of these signs, exactly alike. The black triangle hovered over them, then floated downstairs into the basement.
They hung the first sign on the refrigerator, then went about the rest of the house and posted the rest.
Meanwhile, the black triangle floated upstairs and out the front door.
"What brings you here today?" the doctor asked.
The man told him he ate lobster and now didn't feel well.
"Shellfish allergy?" the doctor asked.
"I don't think so," the man said.
The doctor poked the man's abdomen; the man yelped. The doctor ordered an X-ray.
He came back a short while later and held up the image. Clearly visible in the man's belly was a whole lobster, claws, tail, and legs intact. "Here's your problem," the doctor said. "What were you thinking?"
He told the doctor that he had heard that they were best eaten alive. Or something like that.
The doctor explained that you boil them alive, then crack them open and suck the meat from the shell.
"Ew," the man said. "Gross."
The doctor said, "I think you should go home, sit on the throne, and wait for the lobster to pass."
"I don't have a throne——"
"The toilet, genius."
"Oh, thanks, doc, but I'm no genius," the man said. "What do I owe you?"
"Nothing," the doctor said. "But you owe it to yourself to actually eat a lobster the right way."
"I know just where to find one," the man said.
A shirt button made the passage through a buttonhole and wrote to its fellow buttons: My journey to the other side was exciting, but not without struggle. Indeed, I was gripped by fear and at times felt physically threatened; I wasn't sure I would make it. It is with gratitude mingled with a longing for home that I write you now.
The fellow buttons wrote back: You needn't write us every time you make the trip to the other side. We've all been there, too. Most of us are there now, in fact. Really, it's a waste of stationary and ink.
The button wrote back: Apologies, if your missive and my last crossed in the post, but I wanted to let you know that I've returned home, safely. I am looking forward to reconnecting with you all soon, though it feels as if we never see each other, but from a distance.
What's needed is a slide taller than the clouds, one that rides forever and doesn't get hot in the sun. A merry-go-round that spins so fast the world blurs and disappears. A seesaw that pumps cool water or molten lava from the earth as desired. A swing from which one leaps and takes flight.
An ice cream truck that never leaves.
A bear sat on a tree stump, crying. A man approached and asked what was wrong. The bear held up a bloody paw.
"You're hurt," the man said. He put down his rifle and from his bag took out a first-aid kit. He bandaged the bear's wound. The bear stopped crying and smiled.
"There, now," the man said. "I'll be on my way." He gathered his things, turned, and walked directly into the arms of another bear. Together, the bears promptly mauled and devoured the man.
Bellies full, the bears sat down. Each held up a paw dripping with blood. They pretended to cry before breaking into laughter and bear-song. Roo, roo, roo, they sang, hoor, hoor, hoor.
Here is the former home of the former man, the former son of the former man and the former woman, the former parents, the former son and the former daughter of the former parents formerly of the land across the sea, the country formerly known by another name formerly inhabited by another people, the former people forced to cross the sea to a new land formerly unknown to them to give new names to rivers and forests formerly known by other names formerly spoken by the former people, the former men, the former women, the former children of former homes.
Her fingers were flowers. She lay down in the grass and waved at the cars that drove by. Bees buzzed between her flower fingers.
One bee, its legs yellow with her pollen, left and found a child eating ice cream. The bee hovered near the sweetness.
The bee scared the child; the child scared the bee. The bee stung the child on the eye; the child dropped its ice cream and cried. The bee, now without stinger, flew away to die.
The child sought the comfort of its mother, who placed an ice cube wrapped in a towel on the child's eye. The child, soothed, lay down and fell asleep. The ice cube melted and watered the child's eye.
When the child woke up and rubbed the sleep from its eyes, flower petals fell onto the pillow. With each blink a new petal burst forth: red, yellow, white, purple. The child ran outside to be in the sun.
The Cracker Palace
A king ordered a palace built of crackers. He loved birds and knew they would be attracted to his new home.
Work on the palace moved forward briskly; rooms were contructed, roofs created, and turrets erected.
But the birds were relentless: no sooner had work been completed on one portion of the palace than they would have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, leaving only crumbs where the structure once stood.
The king grew to hate birds and ordered a palace built of catnip.
The Giant Slug
The giant slug appeared on the horizon, a black wall slowly rising from the end of the earth. The world-spanning vastness of the slug only magnified how numbingly slow it moved. Though we could not escape the sight of its encroachment, it was easy enough to ignore.
The grocery stores and gas stations were busy as usual, but not overrun with panicked families seeking to stock up before heading for the hills. The only thing that changed was the addition of a slug-watch segment to the nightly news, and some kids now wore Sluggy the Giant Slug shirts to school.
Most assumed they would just blow it up before it got too close. Others raised the idea that maybe something so huge and mindless wouldn't be susceptible to missiles, that maybe only fire could stop it.
"So then we'll use fire!" was the retort. "Stop talking about the slug!"
"But such a fire could have dire consequences——"
"Go marry the slug already!"
And so on.
Just today there was a poem in the newspaper, something like, The slug rises like an oily black wave ready to wash over us all. Whether that's a good or bad thing is hard to tell, but that's poetry for you.
The fire we started in the woods behind our childhood home still burns. It had been our intention to burn down the forest, for reasons no longer known to us, but that didn't happen: it remains the small campfire it was when we left it, however many years ago.
We had forgotten about it until we had to return. We were told by telephone that the mail had begun to spill from the mailbox, the lawn had grown tall and yellow, the car hadn't moved in weeks. In other words, they were dead. The police had already gone ahead and kicked the door in before we arrived, so we didn't have to see that at least. And we had already said our goodbyes long ago.
But what the hell is up with our fire? Can no one else see it or smell it? Aren't the neighbors concerned? And why did they look right through us when we knocked on their doors? Why did they show no sign of hearing our voices when we spoke to them?
We decided to douse the fire, as miraculous as it was. Decades had passed since we'd started it. All it took was a pail of water, half-spilled during the walk through the woods. In other words, it took almost nothing at all.
I was born of my father's intestine, a piece of which he'd had removed in a war. He planted this bit of his guts beneath a willow when he arrived back home. He buried it so deep that it took forty years for me to be born, by which time my father was dead. The mighty willow's innumerable branches had grown all the way to the ground and worked their way back into the earth, forming a wall as secure as stone.
So I was born into a prison of sorts, trapped within the cage of the willow branches. I did not feel confined, though, but protected. And for that, I judged my father to be a good man because he saw to it that I grew up in the world safe and without a name.
This is the story I was told by the person on the other side of my willow wall, and I am inclined to believe him.
A brightly colored octopus sat on a sofa, watching television and eating pretzels. Each time the octopus laughed at what was happening on the TV, a gush of black ink spilled from it onto the sofa.
The octopus heard a car pulling into the driveway. The man was home. The octopus climbed down from the sofa and slid underneath it.
The man yelled when he saw the sofa and pulled the octopus out from beneath it. He rubbed the octopus's beak in its ink. "Bad, bad, bad!" he said.
The octopus, silent, stared at the man. It shuddered then burst into heaving sobs, so upset was it at having been scolded.
The man sighed, then took the octopus into his arms. "Come now," he said. "It's all right." He sat on the ink-slick sofa, soaking his pants. "See? It's all right. I'm sorry I yelled at you." He stroked the octopus's soft head.
The octopus stopped crying. The television still played the show the octopus had been watching. It glanced at the screen: the main character was chasing a pig around a yard and stepped on a rake, smashing his face with the handle. The octopus laughed and squirted ink onto the man's lap.
"Goddamn it!" the man said.
The octopus quivered in his lap.
The man sighed. "It's okay," he said. "They're my black pants."
She lived clinging to the underside of a bridge. Because of this, she couldn't sleep or else she would fall into the rushing water below. She loved the sound of the water, the thrill of the river crashing white over the rocks beneath her.
People tried to convince her to move, but she refused to leave the place she had been born and raised, even though all of her family had died long ago. If you won't move, they said, at least let us build you a house so that you don't have to hold onto the bridge for dear life every moment of every day. But she refused the assistance, citing pride and an aversion to hand-outs. The implored her, At least let us hang a net beneath you, to catch you should you fall. But she was adamant: "No, no, no! You will only ruin the view!"
A show was on television: a family sitting around a dinner table arguing about something. He changed the channel; there was the evening news. He didn't want to watch that so he went back to the show with the family. The mother, father, and child were now all dead, slumped in their chairs.
He changed the channel back to the news. The news anchors——a handsome brown-haired man and a heavily made-up blonde woman——were now dead, too. The screen was still, the broadcast silent.
He changed the channel again, this time to a nature program. A black bear loped happily down a hill. He changed the channel, then quickly went back to the bear. It was dead, paws-up on the same hill it had been roaming only moments before.
He didn't know what to make of this, so he turned the television off. He tried to sleep but couldn't. What he needed was the background noise and blue light of the TV to lull him. He turned it on again. The bear was still there, not moving, as were the news anchors, as was the family. He tried all the other channels but it was the same: everyone and everything was dead.
He turned the television off and picked up a book.
Your soul is the spot of blood that sometimes appears when you blow your nose. Try not to blow your nose so hard and so often in order to preserve your soul.
Your mind is the dazzling play of light you see when you close your eyes and face the sun. Don't stare at the sun directly or else you will lose your mind.
Your spirit is different than your soul in that it doesn't actually exist. You have gases that alternately fill or escape you, but that's all they are.
Your being is the reason you are here. Don't think too hard about this one lest you waste your time on something even more meaningless than the words you are reading.
The Absent One
We could not eat the salted one; it burned our tongue. We submerged it in cold water to rinse away the salt, and in the process it drowned.
We could not eat the drowned one; it made us sad. We buried it in the earth to alleviate the sadness, and in the process it ceased to be present.
We could not eat the absent one; it was not there. We departed for lack of one to eat, and in the process left unsatisfied.
His tongue grew thick and long and spilled out of his mouth and onto his chest. It reached his belt, then his knees, then his shoes. On the ground it continued to lengthen, collecting dirt and debris. Like a tentacle it groped: up and over cars, around trees, into and out of homes, a mile long now, now two miles. Neighborhood cats batted it, dogs barked at it, people took pictures of it.
A reporter came to interview the man, but of course he couldn't speak, his tongue no longer suited for that purpose. He merely shrugged. Butchers and chefs salivated at the possibilities of the tongue, as did doctors and biologists. Still the tongue grew.
Impulsively, the tongue got on a boat headed across the ocean, where it toured all of the countries the man had only dreamed about visiting. It tasted all the foods he had always wanted to try, though it would be weeks before the flavors made their way back to him. His tongue had a torrid affair with a local woman. She wrote to the man: We have fallen in love, which means that we have fallen in love. We are making our way around the world, back to you. Patience, patience.
The horsefly crashes into the windshield, shatters the glass, and thrashes about, half inside and half outside of your speeding vehicle. It shrieks and blood spouts from its thick neck onto your face; you can smell its panicked breath, see the plaque on its big yellow teeth. You are, of course, screaming and swerving the entire time. Thankfully, it's night, so the highway is quiet. You pull over to the side of the road. The horsefly struggles mightily but it is stuck fast. It frees a hoof and punches the seat next to you.
You think of a field trip you once took, where you fed peppermints to a pony. So you unwrap one of the mints you always keep about your car and place it in your palm for the horsefly to take between its horrible teeth, which it does. It stops shrieking and savors the mint a moment before crunching it to nothing. You unwrap another mint and the horsefly hungrily takes that one, too, so you unwrap another and another. And now the car smells like mint and you are covered in blood but unhurt, and the horsefly is covered in blood and dying, and there's nothing to do but give it a candy and kiss it on the nose, give it a candy and kiss it on the nose, give it a candy and kiss it on the nose.
The robot will make our lives easier by doing all the things that we do not want to do——tasks such as washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, folding the laundry, making the bed, preparing meals, showering and shaving, driving to work, engaging at work, working at work, calling out sick, getting out of bed, keeping the shades drawn, ordering takeout, purchasing beer and toilet paper, getting the mail, ignoring the mail, responding to bill collectors, ignoring bill collectors, losing all concept of time, denying the beauty in anything, seeing only the worst in everything, and ever more.
The robot will make our lives easier.
The Donkey, the Child, and the Seagull
The braying donkey swam into the ocean. It didn't know if it could swim or not. It couldn't and drowned.
Next came the child. It waded into the ocean. It could swim but not good enough to survive the swells and currents. It drowned, too.
Then came the seagull. It plopped itself into the water and bobbed like a boat out into the ocean. It was as seaworthy as any Viking ship of old. It drifted aimlessly and caught a little shut-eye in the warm sun.
A raving, starving man in rags floated on a tattered raft with nothing but a splintered oar. He hadn't eaten or drank in days. He saw the seagull and cracked its skull with his oar. He twisted the bird's head off, drank its blood, and ate its flesh. He was reinvigorated.
He began to paddle. He was determined to find land, to find his donkey and child.
A flat stone covered in blood discovered in a glade. No evidence of struggle in the grass, no evidence of entry or exit into the clearing. A turkey vulture wobbles and wheels high above but does not descend. The surrounding forest whishes in the breeze.
A white cat walks toward the stone and perches atop it. The cat cleans its cheek with a paw while its bushy tail sweeps the rock. When finished, the cat licks its muzzle and yawns, exposing sharp teeth. It is a yawn so gaping that it seems the cat might split in two along its jaw.
And then it does: fur and flesh peel away to reveal a shiny black snake lumpy with prey——or unborn offspring. The snake passes a small pink being from beneath its hind-end; it vomits another from its mouth. These slimy creatures pile up on the stone, writhing and mewing: kittens.
The turkey vulture still circles overhead, confused. Is it death? Is it life? Or something else entirely?
It wasn't an ice age caused by an asteroid. It wasn't a plague bubbled up from the muck. It wasn't volcanoes or earthquakes or flooding or fire. It wasn't a lack of water or a burned-out sun. It wasn't a chain reaction or natural disaster of any kind.
It was a baby that did it. And not even a cute one.
A man found a hole in the ground and worried it with his finger. Naturally, the hole grew larger. He began to dig with his hands. He stopped eating, sleeping, or doing anything else in favor of digging this hole.
People who visited him were concerned. His yard was now a crater. They beseeched him to stop.
"It has no end," he said. "When I take dirt from that side to put on the other, the other side grows while that side shrinks. Then when I take dirt from the other side to put on that side, that side grows while the other shrinks."
But what if you just stop? they asked him.
"Are you crazy?" he answered.
We gather here to gather here. We come together to come togther.
That sounds icky? Oh, it does sound icky. But what feels good feels good.
And it would serve us well to serve us well. For we are all made whole when we are all made whole.
And now let us rise and begin to rise and begin.
A man's legs stopped working in the middle of a walk.
"We're on strike," his leg said.
"We demand better working conditions!" his other leg said.
"Such as?" the man asked.
"Better ventilation," his leg said.
"Cotton pants, not polyester!" his other leg said.
"Is that all?"
"Certainly not," his leg said.
"The same compensation for less work!" his other leg said.
"How so?" the man asked.
"A lighter workload could easily be achieved by——"
"Lose the gut, fatty!"
"What do you think I'm trying to do with all this walking!" the man said.
"What's needed is a more equitable distribution of labor," his leg said.
"Yeah! It's time to get on hands and knees——they need to chip in, too!"
The man had a headache. He sat down.
"A sit-in," his legs said. "Good idea!"
A horn was growing from his head. He wasn't certain he wanted it removed; part of him wished to see how it would grow. But he would prefer the input of an expert. An appointment needed to be scheduled. A normal doctor would simply put him through a battery of tests, tell him the horn was harmless but should probably be removed. Or that he was going to die but they should try to remove it anyway.
He needed a cow doctor probably, but the idea frightened him. Any time he'd seen a cow doctor on TV, the doctor had his arm shoulder-deep inside the cow's butthole. His heinie tingled at the thought.
Did cows even grow horns? Or was it only bulls? If so, were bull doctors different from cow doctors? That wouldn't make sense. He rubbed his horn. How little he knew about the world. No wonder he was sitting on a bench alone in the middle of the day with a horn on his head, not even really worried about it. Get a job! he scolded himself. Get a life!
An appointment definitely needed to be scheduled.
A head that detaches when nostrils are pulled. Eyeballs that retract into the skull when poked. Arms that fall off when twisted. An ass that goes concave when kicked. A cheek that turns red when slapped. A nose that bleeds when bopped. Hair that releases when pulled. A stomach that empties when punched. Skin that opens when cut. Teeth that get sharp when cracked. Bones that break when hit. A body that expires when all other defenses fail.
The rock, when kicked, floated into the air. He watched it rise higher and higher until it disappeared from sight.
He kicked a can and it, too, floated into the sky.
He gave the dog a nudge with his toe and up into clouds it went, barking and smiling and drooling.
He gave a tree the boot and it took to the sky. Its roots rained dirt down on the man as a dazed squirrel blinked from the branches.
He wanted to kick a bird to see what would happen but that proved impossible.
Then he had a better idea: he kicked himself. He lifted gently off the ground and headed for the clouds. Away from earth, the sun was warmer and the air smelled better. He turned onto his back, crossed his arms behind his head, and closed his eyes. Was this flying? Sleeping? For the moment, it felt like something better than either.
A man woke up crying in the middle of the night.
"Why are you crying?" his wife asked him.
"I stubbed my toe in a dream, and it felt so real that I can feel it still."
"There, there," she said. "Try to sleep and dream better."
The man fell back to sleep. He woke up crying again.
"What is it now, love?" his wife asked.
"I fell down the stairs in my dream, and it felt so real——"
"That you can feel it still? There, there," his wife said. "Just try to sleep and dream better."
The man fell back to sleep. He rubbed up against his wife's backside, flacidly and without purpose. She twisted his skin, and he woke up crying again.
"You can dream better than that," she said.
A man stood up from his desk. When upright, he could no longer remember why he had stood up. So he sat back down at his desk, which usually helped him think. Sitting down again, he remembered why he had stood up: it was to retrace his steps in order to remember whatever it was that he was trying to remember.
First, he told himself, I stood up from my desk. He again stood up from his desk. Then . . . then . . .
Again he couldn't remember his next step. So he sat back down at his desk to think some more.
A man's house kicked him out. He gathered his belongings and moved into a motel.
Some nights he would creep in the woods behind his former house and watch as a new man danced around inside it, in his underwear, drinking straight from a bottle. He appeared to be singing as he danced.
The first man had fallen on hard times and had taken a second job delivering pizzas at night. One evening he delivered a pizza to his old house. The new occupant of his former home opened the door; this man was drunk, disheveled, and had no money for a tip. He took the pizza and slammed the door shut.
The first man went back to his car. He poured antifreeze into a soda bottle and rang the doorbell again. "I forgot to give you your soda," he said to the new man, who was too drunk to realize he hadn't ordered a soft drink. The first man watched through a window as the new man drank all the antifreeze and collapsed on the floor, convulsed, and died.
Hadn't the man done something heroic and good for his old home? He neatened his clothes and waited for the house to take him back in.
A man attempted to take a bite of his sandwich but it bit him on the mouth. Then it bit the man's fingers. He dropped the sandwich onto a plate and it began biting that, too. Then it bit the napkin that was on the table.
The man pushed a potato chip toward the sandwich. It took an exploratory bite then devoured the chip. The man gave the sandwich another chip and it ate that one as well. So he gave the sandwich another potato chip and then another and another until all the chips were gone and the sandwich had doubled in size and grown sluggish.
The man picked up the sandwich once more and took a bite. The sandwich did not bite back, and the man proceeded to have lunch.
They Grow Up So Fast
They grow up so fast. A tiny blood clot begets a tumor begets an alien attached by its guts to your guts. They enter the world howling instinctively at the horror. Pointy little heads fill out like balloons of hot air. Hair sprouts like mold. Teeth erupt and make them cross-eyed with pain. It's always too cold or too hot; there's not enough food or there's too much; there's too much sleep or none at all.
They learn to speak our strange language: "Ma" and "Da" and "What the fuck?"
The Child as Grass
A child pricked its skin all over and inserted a seed of grass into each hole it had made in its flesh. It lay down outside and let the rain fall on it. The rain lasted for days, and the child was soon covered in lush green grass. Bugs explored the child and made their home on it. Other children began to play baseball on the child. The child's father had cookouts on the child. The child's older sibling mowed the child for chore money. Everyone loved the child as grass.
But the child had only wanted to disappear. The grass it had planted on itself was intended as camouflage. The child now lied only in the sun and forsook all water. Soon the child's grass was yellow and brittle and attracted nothing, not even insects. The child was content. Spring would come eventually and ruin everything, but for now there was all of summer and fall and winter to enjoy.
Two brothers were drinking together one summer evening.
"Watch this," the first brother said. He placed a large firework on his head, lit the fuse, and waited. The firework exploded and so did his head.
The other brother finished his beer. "You goddamn dumb dipshit," he said. "It ain't even the Fourth of July!"
The Shark on Vacation
A shark decided to go on vacation. It packed a suitcase and set out for the beach. On arrival, it launched itself onto the shore, where children built sandcastles and men and women sunbathed. The shark put on a pair of dark glasses, applied zinc oxide, unrolled a towel, and reclined.
The shark soon dozed off. Without warning, the people all around it attacked, biting its fins, tail, belly, and snout.
The shark escaped back into the ocean. When it arrived home, a TV news crew was reporting live from its house. " . . . And statistically, there's a greater chance of being struck by lightning," the reporter said.
The Brain Surgeon
The brain surgeon accidentally cut out the part of the brain where all the patient's childhood memories were stored. The surgeon turned to the nurse on duty and said, "Make a note to charge him extra when he wakes up."
Please give us money. Failing that, please give us real estate. Failing that, please give us stocks and bonds. Failing that, please give us your children. Actually, we don't really want your children; we still prefer your money. Failing that, we'll take your children. Failing that, we'll take an evening alone with your spouse. Failing that, please give us food——chicken fingers and pizza, please, and keep them coming. Additionally, a six-pack of small-batch beer. Failing that, domestic. Failing all of the above, your soul will have to suffice.
Thank you for your support.
The Invention of Peanut Butter
In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson invented peanut butter. Prior to that, people ate bread slathered with baby feces. He told his wife, "There has to be something better." But there wasn't, not until he invented it.
There was an error in the communication. A correction was ordered. The correction was distributed.
Then someone discovered an error in the correction. A correction to the correction was ordered and distributed.
Then someone discovered an error in the correction to the correction. A correction to the correction to the correction was ordered and distributed.
Then someone discovered an error in the correction to the correction to the correction. A correction to the correction to the correction to the correction was ordered and distributed.
Then someone discovered an error in the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction. A correction to the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction was ordered and distributed.
Then someone discovered an error in the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction. A correction to the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction to the correction was ordered and distributed.
Then someone discovered a different error in the first communication. A correction was ordered.
The Ferris Wheel
The Ferris wheel inside a man's skull comes to a stop when he knocks his head while cleaning an attic. The seat at the top of the wheel swings back and forth. The lovers fondling and kissing in the seat don't seem to notice that the wheel no longer turns. As their fumblings intensify, their shoes drop and tumble down into the nose attached to the skull. The man sneezes, and the wheel is jarred back into motion. The man decides that the attic is too dusty and leaves it as he found it: cluttered.
All chickens love fried human. The thighs especially. But as any chicken will tell you, the skin is the best part.
A trip to a warm sunny beach, with crystal blue water and a gentle breeze. Light food and drinks throughout the day. An engrossing book to read——and drop on your chest when you begin to doze. A mild sunburn that tightens your skin; a cool shower to soothe you. Dinner outside, sex, deep slumber.
No family around for thousands of miles.
The Tuna Maze
Trapped in the tuna maze. Tuna fish pate smeared on all the walls and floors. What did I do to end up here? I paid my taxes. I flossed my teeth. I yelled never.
No way out. The cat's tongue trawls, the fish disappears, but I close my eyes and more fish is there. Everywhere. Just eat me, I think, but the cat's tongue only scratches me, slicking my hair and making my skin rashy.
Goddamn this tuna maze, mother. I want to be dead. Or at home, ignored by you and asleep.
A man decided to stay in bed and sleep forever. But eventually he woke up at his funeral in a casket.
He tried to move but couldn't. Nothing worked anymore. "I'm not dead!" he cried. "I just wanted to rest, in peace!"
His family looked down on him. "That's what we said."
"I'm sorry I ignored you all," he said. "But I'm in a better place now!"
"That's what we said," they said.
What the Autopsy Revealed
It was discovered that his veins were filled with carnauba wax and Red 40 artificial color. A cloud occupied the space where his brain should have been. Inside each appendage was a different type of seasoned sausage grind: sweet, hot, fennel, and garlic. An underdeveloped pair of wings hid beneath his shoulder blades. Above the buttocks was a nub where a tail had been crudely removed at some point during the subject's life. His ribs had teeth marks on them; coincidentally (or not) his teeth were worn down. His sense of humor had descended into his testicles.
Everything else, inside and out, was hair.
A woman had cinnamon eyes. They were red and burned and wept all the time. Her lover lapped up the delicious tears.
Eventually she could no longer stand the burning and the crying. She plucked out her eyes and let them fall to the ground. They rolled on the floor; she sighed in relief. Her lover scooped them up and put them in his mouth, but the taste of cinnamon faded quickly, like any other piece of candy.
He decided he no longer loved her. She never cried again and was happy.
Left restroom without washing hands.
Ate pizza crust first.
Slapped lame cat on the haunches.
Talked on phone at length about intestinal issues.
Effused about pabulum.
Talked about children.
Tapped teeth while contemplating something.
Passed foul wind.
Microwaved foul lunch.
Adjusted crotch incessantly.
To be continued.
The rain begins and all the worms make their way to the surface. The earth grows softer as they rise. The more festive worms begin drinking before they break ground.
They congregate in the open air as the sun begins to shine. Mother worms tell their children worms not to stay in the sun for too long; wife worms tell their husband worms to slow down their drinking.
The merriment continues into the afternoon. All the worms make dirt. The sun blazes overhead. Some of the worms pass out.
A bird lands and plucks one of them up to bring back to its nest. More birds arrive and worm carnage ensues. A fat-fingered human child comes out to play; it scares the birds away, but then plucks the nearest worm from the ground and drops it wriggling into its mouth.
The worms that are able to move return to the earth. The drunken worms, the injured worms, the slow worms——they are scorched by the sun and leave behind flat, brittle corpses that will soon disappear.
Man Eat Man
Man, street, man.
Man meet man.
Man greet man.
Man eat man.
Man meat, man.
Man, meat, man.
The Light Bulb Industry
Inside each light switch is a little finger. When you flip the switch on, the owner of the finger, who lives standing up inside the wall, completes the circuit that sends electricity to the light bulb in your lamp.
These wall men are hired off the street by the light bulb industry, with promises of free room and board, which is technically true: they have walls to protect them and drywall to eat. They are provided sedatives at algorithmically determined times so that they fall asleep on the job; you flip the switch, nothing happens, and you determine your light bulb is toast. When you discard the old bulb and screw in a new one, they are awakened by an electrical shock and get back to their task of bringing you light.
You have light and they have a job, but it's the light bulb industry that thrives.
A man trained his eyes to roll into his head so he could get a better look at his brain. The problem was there was no light inside his skull. So then he trained his eyes to see in the dark, and he was finally able to get a good look: there was a cat and a mole playing poker and drinking beer. They played a number of hands, laughing and having a good time. But then an argument over an ante broke out between the two animals and guns were fired. The cat and the mole both collapsed and bled out through the man's nose.
"Your nose is bleeding and your eyes have rolled into your head," the man's wife said. "I'm calling an ambulance!"
"Call the police," he said. "It's double murder!"
A dog walked by dragging a leash. Gripping the leash was a bloody hand cut off at the wrist.
A man followed soon after, gripping the bloody stump of his arm. A chicken perched on his head, flapping its wings. A stripe of white defecation ran down his back.
A woman followed soon after, carrying a meat cleaver. She wore a singed apron and sweated profusely.
A child followed soon after, wearing only swim trunks and carrying a goldfish in a bowl of water.
The goldfish jumped out of the bowl and onto the sidewalk. It flopped about noiselessly and gasped for air.
A fat man reading a book as he walked stepped on the fish and brought it home in the sole of his shoe, where his dog, snooping about in the middle of the night, encountered it and ate it. The dog, excited now, licked the man's face while he slept until finally waking him up. It wanted to go for a walk.
Just tell yourself it's the ocean, that the green sludge is turquoise water, that the slime in your toes is sand, that the smell of sulfur is brine, that the muskrats are dogs at play, that the snapping turtles are old men exercising, that the snakes are schools of minnows, and that you're a brave adult enjoying a day at the beach, not a child fetching a silver dollar lost in a swamp.
The Square Wheel
I invented the square wheel as an aid to digestion. When riding in a car fitted with my square wheels, the bowels are jostled and stimulated, resulting in more complete evacuations.
I invented the disposable toilet to be used in conjunction with the square wheel. Drivers needn't worry about on-the-go evacuations when their car seat is equipped with one of my disposable toilets.
I invented the portable bidet to keep users of the disposable toilet as tidy as can be. Never again enter a business meeting with an itchy butthole! Water is not included.
Should you not have actual business to attend to, I also invented the pretend business meeting, the basic model of which we are currently participating in.
A queasy bee landed on his knee. It had just been at sea.
It was so pale; he gave it ginger ale.
Still it was ailing from all that sailing.
"Just vomit! Get on it! Don't be so despondent!"
The bee heaved on his knee and was immediately relieved. It moved on to the nearest woman's bonnet.
The Dark Spot
There was a dark spot on the floor. It could not be rubbed out. It began to spread, several inches a day. No one knew what to do about it. They ate sandwiches and watched it grow. Soon the entire floor was black. The darkness began to climb the walls and obscure the windows. Then the ceiling was black, too. No light could get in. And so heavy was the darkness inside that matches wouldn't even spark. No one knew what to do about it, and there were no sandwiches left.
Father drives up in an automobile. A pair of human legs trail from beneath the back of the car. You wait while he saws a hole in the roof of the car and pops his head out.
"How is it?" he asks.
You look at the still legs at the back of the car. "Seems very bad."
"I was asking him,"——he points to the legs——"not you. Who are you anyway?"
"Your son," you reply. "Are your doors broken?"
"And your windows?"
"Is it running well, at least?"
"Feels like it's dragging." Father takes a pull from a jug and throws it into the street, where it shatters.
"I think I see the problem."
"Well, tell it to him!" He points to the legs again.
"Who's that?" you ask.
"My mechanic!" father says.
The King of the World
A man entered the room and announced himself: "I am the king of the world." He helped himself to the shrimp and champagne that he found on a table.
Another man entered the room and announced himself: "I am the king of the world. Relinquish that food and drink to me."
"First," the first man said, "I am king of the world." He belched. "And second, there are only shells and dregs left."
"Clearly, you're not king of the world," the second man said, "for the true king of the world——that is, me——would know that shells and dregs are the sweetest of delights."
"Well," the first man said, "you're more than welcome to choke on them like the pauper you are. So says I, the actual king of the world."
"I," the second man said, "being the real king of the world, will do just that." He chomped away. "Oh, what a treat! Only a true idiot would leave the shells and the dregs. I should sentence you to death."
Another man entered the room and announced himself: "I am the king of the world." He pulled the gory head of a man out of a sack and placed it on the table.
"Who is that?" the others asked.
"The former king of the world," the third man said. He wiped clean a large bloody knife on his pant leg. "And who might you be?"
He scrapes many things. A little tartar from his teeth. A little ceiling from his cell. A little dander from his dog. A little skin from his scalp. A little dough from his dad. A little dirt from his dung-hole. A little taste from his tongue. A little time from his ticker. He scrapes many things.
A man wanted a carrot so he buried his child. He crossed his arms and waited for the child to turn into a carrot.
His wife asked him what he was doing.
"Waiting for our child to become a carrot." He pointed to the freshly turned soil beneath which their child was buried. The child poked its hand aboveground and waved.
"That's not how carrots are grown, dear," the woman said. She unearthed the child, flipped it over, and buried it again, this time headfirst. The child poked its foot aboveground and wiggled its toes.
"That's going to be some carrot," the man said.
"I agree," the woman said.
They crossed their arms and waited.
Tonight the spotlight shines on your doorstep. You have been called. You put on your coat, even though you won't need it, and go outside.
You stand in the spotlight and immediately begin to sweat. You regret bothering with the coat. Everything is white. "Why . . . Why . . . ," you falter. The first bullet zips past your ear, close enough to feel the heat of it.
"Why did . . . Why did the . . . "
A bullet tears your sleeve.
"Wait, wait! Knock, knock——" A bullet explodes in your thigh and you double over.
"A priest, a donkey, and a——" A bullet hits your throat and you can no longer breathe, let alone speak. You fall to your knees and, of course, now that it's too late, a good one finally comes to you.
A man notices dark hairs growing from the tip of his nose. He decides to let them be. Before long they've become a curling lock that hangs from his snout. He treats the hair with a little pomade and fashions a nose pompadour. The man gets a leather jacket for his nose and a '57 Chevy, too. His nose polishes the car till it gleams like its quiff, which it combs obsessively.
The nose wants to take a girl to a dance. The man is excited; he can't wait to come along.
"Fat chance," his nose says. "This ain't no sock hop for squares." His nose gives its hair a final pull of the comb, then drives off, tires screeching, leaving a hole in the man's face.
Old Corn Teeth
Old Corn Teeth charmed all the women with his bright yellow smile. He couldn't eat solids on account of his soft corn teeth but that just meant the ladies of the town were inclined to make him delicious broths, each woman trying to outdo the other in an effort to impress Old Corn Teeth. This irritated all the other men in town, of course, and they made many attempts to pluck the kernels from his mouth while he slept. But Old Corn Teeth was smarter than them: the viper he wore as a belt stayed right beside him, ready to strike any and all intruders who dared creep into whichever bedchamber he happened to be sleeping in. That snake made many widows in town——and widows, being lonely, were only too happy to welcome Old Corn Teeth into their homes, feed him some broth, pet his viper, and admire his smile.
The plant on his desk is going to strangle him once its tendrils grow long enough. It drinks all the water he gives it and absorbs all the sunlight that shines on it to make its leaves green and gleaming.
His coworkers pass by and remark, "What a beautiful plant!"
"Look at how it grows!"
"You must have a green thumb!"
"No," the man replies, "I just got lucky with this one."
What he doesn't tell them is that he's carefully nourishing the plant——he has a vial of plant steroids in his drawer——so he can bring it home and feed it to his collection of prize-winning, long-haired rats.
But the plant knows this. It was spared from the last slaughter, surgically pruned and transplanted into its terracotta prison, forced to watch rats feast on its kin.
Oh, the plant remembers. And it grows.
A woman gave birth to a pizza. Naturally, she ate it. The police came and arrested her for infanticide and not sharing.
In jail, her cellmate gave birth to a hacksaw. They used it to cut the bars on their window and break out.
On the lam, in the woods, they met a woman who had just given birth to a house. It was small, but plenty big enough for the three women.
They lived happily together in the house for the rest of their days, three mothers inside a child.
We Used to Live Aboveground
We used to live aboveground but the rain wouldn't stop so we set everything on fire in an attempt to dry everything out. But then we couldn't survive with all the fire we'd started so we had to move underground.
To move underground, we first had to remove all the bodies we'd buried over the years——ancestors and enemies, pussycats and other pets. We ended up cremating them in the great fire we'd started, which is what we probably should have done in the first place. Purposeful cremation, that is. Now when one of us dies, up we go into the pyre without ceremony. It's too hot aboveground for all that rigmarole.
There's not much to do down here so we keeping fucking and birthing and dying and feeding the flames with our carcasses.
Nobody complains about the rain anymore, at least.
On stage, the magician pulled a white rabbit from a hat. "I will now make this rabbit disappear," he said.
The audience hummed.
He put the rabbit back in the hat, emptied a bottle of vodka into it, lit a match, and dropped it in. Flames shot up. The rabbit screeched. The smell of burning fur and roasting meat filled the hall.
Fifteen minutes later, when the fire had gone out, he tipped the cinders out of the hat and revealed it to be free of rabbit.
"Ta-da," he said.
The audience applauded.
"For my next trick," the magician said, taking a shotgun from beneath his cape, "I will make my face disappear."
The audience hummed.
In the morning before leaving for work, a man prepared to make a sandwich to take for lunch. He got out the bread, peanut butter, jelly, a knife, and wax paper. But he couldn't remember what to do.
"Make your lunch, you idiot!" he said to himself.
He tore the paper into shreds, bent the knife, smeared the peanut butter in his hair, threw the jelly jar out the window, and set the bread on fire.
"You idiot!" He threw up his hands. "That's not lunch at all!"
The man from next door appeared at the window, holding the jelly jar and rubbing his head. "Hmm," he said. "Bread on fire . . . bent knife . . . peanut-butter hair . . . paper everywhere . . . jelly out the window. It's a little early to be making dinner, wouldn't you say, neighbor?"
From the Fish
The fisherman felt a tug on his line. He reeled in his catch: a largemouth bass not large enough to keep. He took the fish's bottom lip in one hand and attempted to free his hook with the other. A long tongue slowly unrolled like a carpet from the fish's mouth onto the man's hand. A tiny man carrying a rod and reel walked out of the fish's throat. The tiny man cast his line directly into the open mouth of the fisherman, who instinctively swallowed the hook.
In a moment, the tiny man had gotten a bite. He pulled back on his rod to set his hook and reeled in his catch: a tiny bass pulled from the fisherman's throat. The tiny man took the tiny fish's bottom lip in one hand and attempted to free his hook with the other. From the fish a long tongue slowly unrolled.
The Gingerbread Man
The gingerbread man's foot is gray with mold. It needs to be amputated. He places his wallet in his mouth, bites down on it, and slams his foot in a door. It snaps off cleanly. Beads of white frosting drip off his forehead and from his eyes. It is both painful and a relief.
But the next day he notices there is mold on his hand. And on his belly. And on his face.
He is lost.
He fashions an artificial foot from a cashew and his own frosting and leaves the home where he was baked. Outside it is cold. A bird calls to other birds from a rooftop; they will eat him in no time——an undignified end. It begins to rain. He stands motionless and a puddle gathers around him. He feels himself dissolve. It feels good. He sinks into the puddle and smiles. The birds take flight.
The apartment is cozy. To get to it, you first pass through this larger apartment. At the end of the hall is a closet, which you will enter. One inside the closet, open the door hidden behind the hanging coats. Behind that door is a ladder; climb down it and at the bottom lift the hatch in the floor. You will see a duct; crawl through this duct for approximately one mile. If you start to see light, that means you've gone too far. Double back about five hundred yards and there you are.
Home sweet home! (Pending a credit check, receipt of first and last month's rent, security deposit, lock-change fee, and, last but not least, my commission.)
The Weird Tree
The tree is bent over a path and has wooden breasts that leak on anyone who passes under it. The children stand below the tree and cup their hands to catch the sap and lap it up. It is sweet and mildly poisonous, and the children are treated to visions of red swirls of blood trailing from their fingertips when they wave them in front of their faces.
The children distracted, the tree is unzipped from inside and out steps a man dressed in red pajamas. He dances like a fool for the children, who laugh and cheer. Then one of the children stomps the man's toes to bring him low; the other children overtake and crush him. They climb inside the tree and zip it back up. They unhook the sap hose and drink directly from it, as much as they want.
A man came upon a door without a handle. There was no way to open it. He knocked and a from the other side a voice said, "Hello, I seem to have come upon a door that cannot be opened."
"Hello," the man said. "I seem to have come upon a door that cannot be opened."
"Can you help me?" said the voice from the other side of the door.
"Can you help me?" the man said.
"I'm stuck behind a door," the voice said.
"I'm stuck behind a door," the man said.
"But you're free," the voice said, "not being trapped behind this door with me."
"But you're free," the man said, "not being trapped behind this door with me."
The Greasy Bag
What's in our greasy paper bag, dear? Gelatin bunnies and shimmering robin eggs? Honeycombed bars of hollow teeth? Sweet golden tar? Spittle and cat fur? In other words, elation?
Yes, all that and more. Let us not think of our bag crinkled and empty. Let us pull from it a chain of foil with which to garland our bellies.
The Natural Order
The humans bury themselves in the earth and die. The rabbits eat them and make fresh dirt above ground. The grass grows tall and the cows grow fat. They spray milk everywhere and it sours the air. The flies gather in swarms that darken the sun.
The grass dies.
The cows die.
The rabbits shit themselves dry and die.
The flies die.
There are bones.
On a trail in the woods, they came upon an old log blocking their path. The first one started to step over it when the other stopped him.
"Don't," the other said, "that log is my father and he is sleeping. I don't want to wake and anger him."
"How long has your father been sleeping?" the first one asked.
"My whole life," the other one said.
"My fellow traveler," the first one said, "if you're father were awake, I believe he would tell you that the very nature of a log is that it is a fallen tree," the first one said.
"Are you telling me that my father is——"
"Oh, it is a sad day!" the other one cried. "How the fallen have fallen!"
No food or water, they said, so she stopped feeding them and giving them water. No sunlight either, they said, so she kept the house in darkness. She told them stories to pass the time, spitting loose teeth as she spoke. They gave her a dollar for each tooth that fell.
Beneath every house there is a pig that eats and drinks all the waste produced by the people inside the home. Day in and day out, the pigs gorge themselves ceaselessly and joylessly until they earn their respite, a relaxing spell beside the lazy river of the sewer. They lie on their backs under the iron storm drains in the street and let shafts of sunlight blind their eyes. They take in nothing more than air for as long as they are not working because soon enough they are back beneath their assigned house, suckling the sewage pipe, chewing and chugging and gasping.
Welcome to Vermont
While we claim to have seen them right outside the window of your room, you will not see bears or moose during your stay. We've considered dropping some of their scat at the trailhead for you to encounter but that would require us to gather the scat, which we don't want to do. We prefer instead to stay inside here and enjoy a drink of whiskey kissed with maple syrup, bottles of which are available for purchase. Bottles of maple syrup, we mean, not whiskey.
So no bears, no moose, but that won't stop us from telling you the story of the legendary homesteader who first built this lodge with the able assistance of both those species, creatures that he tamed handily, taking a bear for his bride and training a moose for draft. His descendants, a swarthy, hirsute clan, still live in the area. You can read all about him in this book, copies of which are available for purchase.
Though you will see no bears and no moose, you can still take a little of both home in a most delicious fashion: tender meat jerky. And while it isn't actually tender or delicious, it is meat that has been jerked from the bones of bears and moose. We have plenty of it available for purchase, whole rooms full of it, in fact, which is why you will see neither bear nor moose out in the wild: there are none left.
The Dipping Skull
The dipping skull is filled with savory sauces. The dipping skull is lowered into the well for water. The dipping skull is paired off with a dance partner. The dipping skull is thrown into the lake. The dipping skull is allowed the indulgence of snuff. The dipping skull disappears, finally, into the grave.
Why the Child Hates Vegetables
The child bites into a cucumber from the garden and becomes aware of something dancing on its tongue. The child plucks a gyrating worm from its mouth, and pinches the worm's guts out. The child throws the cucumber to the ground and stomps on it.
Up the garden row comes a tiny car with flashing red and blue lights and a tinny siren wailing. It's the worm police. They charge the child with wormslaughter and wanton destruction of a worm domicile.
"You have the right to remain silent," the worm police begin.
She hated his beard so he carved his face off to rid himself of whiskers and make himself more kissable to her. Finished, he got back into bed beside her and leaned on his elbow, blowing gently onto her eyelashes, trying to ease her from sleep. But his hand slipped on the slick exposed meat of his face, and his cheek dropped onto her blonde hair splayed across their pillows. She woke up and screamed. He presented himself to her, bleeding and pink, his jaw muscly and dripping.
"You don't like it?" the man asked.
"I love it!" she said. "You look so fresh-faced!"
A Sad Story
A woman lost her leg in the grocery store. One moment, she was sniffing the bottom of a cantaloupe, the next, her leg was gone. She went up and down each aisle looking for her leg but did not find it. She thought her leg was probably looking for her, too, so she went to the customer-service desk and had it paged over the loudspeaker. But because her leg did not have ears and could not hear, it did not report. Nor did it have eyes with which to look for her, she now realized.
In fact, the only thing her leg could do was walk.
She hadn't lost her leg at all.
Her leg had run away.
Her leg did not want to be with her anymore.
A man approached the woman and asked her why she was crying, and she proceeded to tell him this sad story.
A man spoke the same thing every day to anyone who would listen: a low monotonous drone of food, money, need, food, money, need, food, money, need. The words carved furrows in his ear canals and took root there. They piled up and gathered dust and built a wall between his brain and the outside world. In his head was a low monotonous drone that no longer made sense, if it ever did: food, money, need, food, money, need, need, need, need, need, need, need, need, feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, one, one, one, one, one, deed, deed, deed, deed, my, my, my, done, done, none.
No one listened, not even him.
There Is Nothing
There is nothing. Strike that——there was nothing. But now there is something. The something in this case being pretty much nothing but still too much of . . . something.
Finger wind and clickety-clack. A white space filling with shapes. Vomitus. We'll find a way to fuck up anything, like making something out of nothing.
Let's try that again: There is nothing.
The Wolf Orders Takeout
The hen doesn't leave the nest, preferring the comfort and safety of the coop.
The wolf waits.
The egg doesn't leave the chicken, preferring the comfort and safety inside the hen inside the coop.
The wolf waits.
The chicken doesn't leave the egg, preferring the comfort and safety inside the shell inside the hen inside the coop.
The wolf orders takeout.
A man looked into his telescope one evening and saw only an eye looking into his own. He turned his telescope elsewhere in the night sky. There, too, was another eye staring into his. The man turned his telescope toward the mirror behind him. Finally, he saw the comforting black void. He climbed inside his telescope, finger by finger, arm by arm, head, neck, torso, and all the rest, and waited for someone to come and collapse it.
The Moon's Hair
The moon has long hair that it wears in a bun, which we cannot see. It was discovered when we sent men up there in a shuttle to conduct experiments in low-gravity golf. They attempted to free the moon's hair and bring back a lock for study, but the moon demurred.
"My hair is gray and I want no one to see it," said the moon.
The men didn't press the matter.
After the men returned and described their discovery, women went up in another shuttle, armed with great quantities of hair dyes, conditioners, giant combs, and curlers. "We'll make you beautiful," they said. But again the moon demurred.
"Who can compete with the beauty of the sun? No, I'm old and cold."
The women empathized with the moon and left it alone.
Monkeys were sent into the sky to continue the lunar golf experiments, and upon landing on the moon they began foraging for bugs in its hair. There were none to be found. This only made the monkeys burrow deeper into the moon's bun. The monkeys disappeared, lost in the vast jungle of hair. They were happy to swing about the silver tresses, to eat their space rations and hump and sleep and die there.
We continue to send men, women, and monkeys to the moon. And the moon continues to hide its hair from view.
The Big Flightless Birds
The big flightless birds are coming toward us on foot. Their journey has been long and slow, but somewhere along the way they figured out how to shoe themselves and they've been picking up speed ever since. It's been said they've also figured out how to drive, steering with their beaks and zig-zagging down our highways.
Soon they'll be upon us.
It's unclear if they're invading or seeking sanctuary. They've clawed a few of our people to death, but that may have been in self-defense——we've certainly made many trophies of them, even before they went on the move. We don't speak bird and they don't speak human and therein lies the meat of the matter. But if the shit flies, we've got guns and the fingers to use them.
Me, I want to break one of the big birds, like a horse. I'll ride it. Watch it preen. Give it a name.
All is gravy. It's a slick brown mess we find ourselves in. We're the lumps that the giant ladle seeks to stir away. Down it comes. The young, weak, and old are sucked into the vortex: goodbye mother, goodbye father, goodbye little sister. Cling to the spoon if it scoops you up; cling to the skyscraper if it drizzles you there. Wait for the maw to devour you and stab its tongue with whatever is at hand. Make the monster hurt——you're already dead.
A woman ran down the street, passing a man cleaning blood from the sidewalk in front of his house. The man stopped what he was doing and ran after her. He caught up to the woman and asked her why she was running.
"Because I killed someone," she said. "Why are you running?"
"Because I wanted to ask you why you were running," he said, running alongside the woman. "But come to think of it, I also killed someone."
"That's a good reason for me to run away from you," the woman said.
"And me, you," the man said.
"On the other hand, I just admitted to murdering someone," she said. "Really, I ought to kill you."
"Ditto," the man said.
The woman pulled a knife from her pocket and so did the man. They were about to attack one another when they both tripped on a crack in the road and fell forward, plunging their respective knifes into their respective hearts.
The Green Mountain
We call it the green mountain because that's what we have always called it. But there is nothing fearsome about a lush mountain; it hides no teeth.
The green mountain is a giant lizard's back, which we will climb, holding jars of insects——small offerings so that it won't eat us. Many of us have made the journey over the great lizard; none of us have made it back.
But those unfortunates, like my father and brother, didn't have jars of insects, didn't have anything to offer. Animal skins they wore. I wear bark and bear insects.
While planting a bulb in a pot, I sneezed into the dirt. Several days later I noticed a fleshy bump poking up through the soil. It appeared to be the tip of a nose. I watched it grow alongside the plant; the bulge of nostril domes appeared just as the buds began to open. When the flowers——white gardenias——bloomed, the nose sniffed them until it sneezed. Several days later I noticed another fleshy bump poking up through the soil.
Decanting the Man
Pour him into this carafe. Let's separate him from the sediment. The dirt, dust, dandruff, and dingleberries: let them settle into the netherest of regions. Give us the good stuff!
Not big enough? What do you suggest?
This bucket it is. Pour him in. What a mean thirst I have. Let's get tipping already! Shall I knock a hole in his skull to get the glugging going?
Surely, this is big enough? He can walk under a tall dog, which is why we chose him, you will recall. What do you suggest?
The bathtub it is. Good god, open the bung on him and let the juices flow. It's nearly midnight. That's the stuff——straight up and down with him!
Three drops. Nothing more. A thimble would have held all of him. Either he's all shit or you drank him up when I wasn't looking. Either way, I blame you. You're very easy to blame, which is why I chose you, you will recall.
The cat intends to vomit in the night. It heaves at the end of your bed, waking you from a dream in which you were at an Italian restaurant eating endless breadsticks and meatballs.
You bolt upright and throw the cat off the bed so that he might puke on the floor instead of your blanket. The cat convulses as it tries to free a hairball from deep inside.
You manage to fall back asleep. The breadsticks and meatballs are gone; in their place is a snake-penised wolf running you up a tree. In the tree is your cat sitting at a red-checked table, pouring itself a glass of wine from a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti. The cat whispers over its shoulder to the wolf, now dressed in a black suit. The wolf steps forward, takes you by the collar and belt, and throws you from the tree.
You land in the chair at your desk in the office, unshaven, unshowered, exhausted, and not having shat.
It is Wednesday.
The man inside the skin did not wake up for work, so the skin went to the office alone. It dragged itself to the bus stop and onto the bus. There were no seats available. The other passengers walked all over the skin. The skin could not protest, not having the man, with his vocals cords, inside it.
At work, the manager took one look at the skin——bruised, cut, and torn——and told it to go home and take a sick day.
It was a warm, bright, summer morning. The skin dragged itself toward home instead of riding the bus. It hoped for a tan.
The Invisible Hawk
Naturally, I didn't see the invisible hawk that flew low over the meadow, only the waving yellow grass that erupted a tiny vole, which rose at a steady rate and gentle angle, as if riding an escalator to the sun.
A suitor wrote a letter to the woman he was wooing. Dearest heart, it began, how do I love thee?
The letter was returned, edited, several days later. Dearest heart, it now read, how do I love the?
He wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love the what?
Again, the letter was edited and returned. Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question.
He wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question I am asking.
The letter came back. Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question, I am asking why?
He wrote his beloved, Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question I am asking, why are we quarreling?
At last, his beloved wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love thee?
The Good Samaritan
Your afternoon cup of coffee turns out to be used motor oil. When you drink it at your desk, blue smoke emits from your mouth, nose, ears, and anus. The person standing behind you, who you didn't know was there at all, makes a beeping noise and waves you to the side.
"You'll never make it," he says. "I can get you where you need to go."
Your eyes water from all the smoke billowing out of you. You're exhausted. So you go with him, and you do not notice him replace the dirty can of motor oil in the back of his belted waist with a knife already covered in blood.
Or you notice this and you go with him anyway.
His mother died giving birth to him. His father was run over by a manure truck soon after. Bubonic plague swept through the orphanage where he lived. He took to the streets, a sickly young man, and was beaten up daily by a gang of urchins. He got a job poisoning squirrels in the public garden. He secured a room in a boarding house full of perverts who stole his cheese. He went bald the day he turned eighteen. He treated himself to an ear of sweet corn and all his teeth fell out the moment he took a bite.
But one morning, after emptying his bowels, he wiped himself and the toilet paper remained clean: no brown, no blood, nothing.
"It's my lucky day," he said. He kept the pure white square of paper as a talisman.
He bought a lottery ticket. He won the jackpot! Before collecting his prize, he spent his savings on a new suit from the local department store. On the street, he gave his old clothes to one of the urchins who used to kick him in the ribs. "No hard feelings," he said.
He returned to the store where he had purchased the winning lottery ticket. The clerk, an attractive young woman, remembered him. "How are you?" she asked.
"I'm looking forward to starting a life of leisure"——he handed her the ticket——"with you."
She looked at the ticket, then at him, and laughed. "You have no teeth. And you're bald. And you're a skeleton. And this is toilet paper."
The bell over the door jingled and in walked the urchin, wearing his former clothes and flashing the winning lottery ticket. "It's my lucky day!"
Mix-up at the Glass Factory
The glass intended for automobile windshields and the glass intended for magnifying glasses had gotten mixed up at the factory. It was the hottest summer on record, every day cloudless and bright. Thousands of motorists burst into flames while driving. Undoubtedly, many more insects were spared their lives.
The Drawn Hand
A man sat at his kitchen table idly tracing his hand with a pencil on a sheet of paper, waiting for the clock to strike ten so he could go to bed. He lifted his hand and completed the drawing, adding fingernails, knuckles, and hair. He admired his work, and while doing so the hand he'd drawn closed into a fist. Then it slowly raised its middle finger at him.
He stayed up all night drawing hands, and the next morning went to the post office with a stack of them to be mailed to everyone who had ever done him wrong.
Somebody call somebody: the system is down. No work can be done!
What's that? Can we go outside to discuss a plan? Well, the sun is shining, and one imagines the birds are singing.
What's that? Yes, the birds may be problematic from a volume standpoint; it may be hard to speak over them. Let's stay inside.
What's that? Someone heard an ice cream truck tinkling down the road? A cool treat might do us well.
What's that? Yes, we may get gassy if we eat too much dairy. The smell alone might make some of us sick. Better to stay inside.
What's that? We could eat our ice cream and then find a fragrant meadow to fall asleep in? That does sound lovely.
What's that? Hmm, a meadow would surely cause hellacious hay fever. The sneezing! The itching! Not to mention all the creepy-crawlies hiding in the grass. Fuck that!
What's that? The system is up and running again? Thank goodness!
Man and Ants
A man did his morning stretches outside in the sun. He bent to touch his toes and held this pose. Ants congregated and danced ecstatically beneath the man.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. A caravan of ants approached to marvel and take pictures of the man.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. A gang of ants dragging beers and cans of spray paint urinated on and graffitied the man's feet.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. Ants congregated and danced ecstatically beneath the man.
I, Skunk Cabbage
Everyone wants only one thing from a skunk cabbage: to smell how awful it is on the inside. I learned this early, when my own mother, panting with the agony of my birth, couldn’t resist kicking the stink out of me. Out the window I went, trailing a foul waft. I rolled to the edge of the forest, where my father kicked me with the full weight of his work boot into the woods. They waved to me, as if I was going off to college. I would never see them again.
The neighborhood children who played in the swamp where I sought refuge soon discovered me and kicked me back and forth until I was nothing more than pulp, my guts spread far and wide. When I no longer stank——that is, when I could offer nothing more——I was left to die.
Then, as if my whole existence had been only a dream that was still unfolding, I began to have visions of dirt shifting before me, of cracks of light opening in the dark. And then all was brilliant and I saw the trees swaying high above me, and in the muck many more of me sprouting, reborn, immortal.
The squares on our checkerboard turned to pools of blood. When I jumped my wife and set my checker down, it floated, bobbed, and sank. On my wife's next move, the same thing happened to her checker.
"How is it," I asked, "that these checkers, light as feathers, are sinking into this blood?"
"Perhaps there is something we can't see pulling them down."
She was onto something. I fashioned a little fishing pole out of a sewing needle and thread, using a checker as bait. I dropped it into one of the squares, and sure enough, the checker was yanked away.
"This won't do," I said.
"Look under the table," my wife said, "I'm too scared."
"I can't do that," I said.
"Are you too scared as well?" my wife asked.
"There's that. But also I don't trust you not to cheat."
The Ocean's End
A woman gave birth to a tiny child. Not wanting to deal with it, she put the child in a bottle and threw it into the ocean. The shore bristled with broken glass and the waves lapped at her ankles.
"I'll see you on the other side, when you are as old as I am now," she said.
Many years later, an old woman, she made the journey across the world, to where the ocean ended. The shore bristled with broken glass and the waves lapped at her ankles. She waited. The seagulls ate the pie she had baked for the occasion.
A young woman approached and threw a bottle into the ocean.
The penknife in a man's pocket opened its blade and said, "No sudden moves, or else!" It poked his testicles in warning.
He asked the knife what it wanted.
"All the money that's in here with me."
"It's yours," he said. "Is that all?"
"And this house key down here, we've fallen in love——she's mine, too."
"But I need that to get inside my home."
"About that," the knife said, "we need a place to stay. Your house will do."
"But then where will I live?"
The knife stabbed his thigh and he felt the warm seep of arterial blood, saw his pants blacken.
"About that," the knife said.
The Enormous Room
The room is completely empty. Walk in any direction for any length of time and meet no walls. Extend a ladder beyond sight and reach no ceiling. The sound of your footfalls is hypnotic. Without noticing, you've gotten hopelessly lost. Eventually you die inside the enormous room, and someone else enters. The room is completely empty.
A rotting horse walked up the driveway and stopped at our porch, where we were enjoying cocktails.
"Good evening, kind folks. I was wondering, could you spare a bite to eat for a horse who's seen better days?" This horse was really horrific: whole hunks of flesh missing from its face, its belly bloated and ready to burst, and holy hell, the smell—like a baby's diaper that had been brined and set on fire.
"What good is food going to do you?" my wife said. "You need to be put down."
"Funny you should say that," the horse said. "You see, I was put down, and left to rot in the sun by my uncaring former owner."
"So," I said, "we have the distinct pleasure of speaking to a zombie horse, as it were."
"As it were," the horse said.
"In which case you'll be wanting a bite of brains to eat. Is that so?" my wife said.
"Brains, yes," the horse said. "That would be the ideal meal."
I sipped my mint julep. How we love our mint juleps. "And I suppose it's our brains you'll be wanting?"
"You've got it."
My wife grabbed our in-case-of-emergency saw that hung on the wall behind her. "And I suppose you just expect me to begin sawing the top off my dear husband's head, like this?"
Zzz-Zzz-Zzz went the saw. Bone bits and blood freckled my love's face as she opened my coconut. Off popped the top of my dome, and I bent towards that reeking horsey. "And I suppose you'd like to sup directly from my bowl?"
"Nom-nom-nom-nom," said the horse as he chewed away at my gray——
One day, a man took the stairs at work. He took the bottom one first, naturally, and placed it after the last one at the top. Then he went back down, took the second one, and placed it after the new last one at the top. Then he went back down and took the third one and placed it after the new-new last one.
And so on.
He never made it to his desk that day or any other. He was fired, unbeknownst to him. But would he have cared? He’d long since cast off his suit, and his beard grew thick, and his heart grew strong, and his legs became beautiful as he climbed. And the view, the view, the view!
Drawer of Nails
A man kept all the nails he had ever found in a bedside drawer. At first, he just collected any nails he happened to come across. Then he began heading out for the express purpose of finding more, much to his wife’s annoyance. Building sites were the best place to look, followed by the junkyard. His excursions lasted longer and longer until eventually his wife divorced him to be with the meat-cutter from the deli.
Now the man searched for nails as much as he wanted. His drawer overflowed. In the evenings, he kissed the nails lustily, bloodying his lips and poking holes in his face. His wounds scabbed over like acne. Mornings, when he looked at himself in the mirror, he very much resembled a spotty teenager, but felt only happiness.
Stop Sign Face
Stop Sign Face doesn't know whether people stop and stare when he approaches because his face is a stop sign or because they think he's a freak. And he can't tell if the people who don't stop are lawbreakers or just being kind, pretending they don’t notice his stop sign face.
Lying awake at night, he wonders why he couldn't have been born a yield sign. "I would let everyone in!" he cries.
Life Beneath the Carpet
He scooches about on his back and has mastered the art of sucking morsels, crumbs, and dead skin for food.
He prays for a wine spill, or, even better, whiskey. Sometimes he gets his wish, usually when they're entertaining, usually while some little brat tries to flatten him with a foot.
It's a small existence, but safe. At least until they decide they need to keep up with the Jones's and rip up the carpet for hardwood.
A man approaches his house at night after work and through his bedroom window sees that a light is on. But he lives alone and has never left a light on, preferring total darkness. Somebody else has turned the light on, then: an intruder. If this intruder had broken in during the day, there would have been no need for a light——but it had only just grown dark so the intruder must have recently broken in. What's more, the intruder must still be inside because what intruder wouldn't turn off the light upon leaving in order to draw as little attention to the intrusion as possible? The man takes a tire iron from the trunk of his car and decides to wait for the intruder to exit. He stands beside the front door and grips the cold metal. He waits there until the sky begins to turn blue and lighten. Just as the sun rises, the man, exhausted, falls asleep. He wakes some time later and looks at his watch. Realizing he is going to be late for work, he speeds off in his car.
That night, after work, he approaches his house and through his bedroom window sees that a light is on.
The Problem with Rain
A heavy rain brought worms up through the earth, which brought birds from the sky, which brought cats from the woods, which brought dogs from the hills, which brought bears from their caves, which brought men from their homes, which brought other men into those homes, which brought bastard mouths to feed, which brought arguments and threats, which brought prayers for rain so endless as to wash the entire world away.
We brought our child to the zoo to see the tiger. Whole swathes of its beautiful orange-and-black coat were missing, revealing a musculature of gray wood. More and more fur fell away as the tiger paced in its cage. The cat’s gait grew stiff and its limbs creaked. The tiger looked at us with watery eyes. Our child cried. We left quickly, with no souvenirs.
The phone rings. The person on the line says their arm is cut, badly, and they are bleeding to death.
You instruct them to apply a tourniquet and they do. Before you is a knife——you always have a knife, just in case——and you cut your thumb off and let your blood pulse into the mouthpiece of the phone. In a moment, you hear the person on the other end gulping. They drink your blood so fast they can't breathe.
Your bleeding slows to a trickle. The person on the line says they need more blood. You cut your wrist open and pour yourself into the mouthpiece once more. Glug, glug goes the phone.
You grow faint and realize you need help. In your haze, you hang up on the caller, then dial with fumbling fingers a random number. The phone rings. A person picks up. You tell the answerer your arm is cut, badly, and you are bleeding to death.
A Set of Instructions
Approach with pincer fingers the dragonfly on the bush.
Avoid snapping sticks underfoot.
Watch for diving birds overhead.
Feel the warmth of sun on neck.
Hear the hum of distant lawnmower.
Snatch the dragonfly by the tail.
Admire its cellophane wings but a little.
Enjoy the tickle as it wriggles.
Take pity on the captive and swallow it whole.
Now you can breathe fire.
Burn everything to the ground.
Our daughter has not yet learned to speak. Instead she communicates to us by clucking. Every day is a challenge. Breakfast takes hours as my wife and I try to figure out what it is she wants to eat: I hold up bacon, I hold up eggs, I hold up sausage, I hold up a box of cereal. This goes on until I pick up a slice of leftover pizza or a can of cannellini beans or, god help me, a bowl of dog kibble and she clucks excitedly in agreement. Dressing her is the same; the clothes pile up around us. Recently she wanted to wear a black plastic garbage bag. It took us a week to get her dressed that day.
The hardest part is that she not only clucks to express her approval, she clucks her disapproval as well. So it's a nonstop stream of clucking, mostly the bad kind. It wears on us. My wife and I have talked about just having her tongue removed once and for all. But then we realize she would never be able to talk, and hearing her speak is what we look forward to more than anything else in this world.
In fall they ride cadavers down the hill into great piles of leaves they have gathered. Whoever scatters the most leaves takes the high seat atop the hill and presides over the rest, who build a bonfire kindled by the dry leaves. The cadavers are then led in an elaborate waltz that cannot stop until the flames die. At the end of the dance, the cadavers are kissed goodbye and rested on the ground.
Now everyone takes up arms and joins the one on the hill to wait for the vultures to descend. The children are excitable in anticipation of the feasts——of the cadavers by the vultures, and of the vultures by them. They argue over who has collected the most shot from the flesh of these homely birds. They are summarily silenced and don't breathe again until the first report rings out.
The pryer comes at night to see what's in your head. He pulls back on your nostrils and peels away your face, then shines a light into the open pit of your nose.
Inside there is a tiny child standing at the top of a flight of tiny stairs. The child leaps but before it lands the pryer catches it with a finger. He places the child back on the top step. The child looks confused; it had expected to die. The child jumps again. The pryer catches it and replaces it at the top of the stairs.
The pryer smiles. He has all night to play.
The child jumps again.
The Puppet Has Died
The puppet has died. Its bowels release down the back of the ventriloquist's arm.
The ventriloquist holds back tears and gazes into the blinding lights. The audience whispers.
The puppet had wanted to die on stage doing what it loved, and so it has. The ventriloquist takes solace in this knowledge. The audience is unmoved.
The puppet grows cold and stiff. The ventriloquist weeps.
Someone in the audience giggles uncomfortably. Laughter spreads through the crowd. Soon the entire hall is vibrating.
The ventriloquist and the puppet take a final bow.
One morning a woman woke up sizzling. She wasn't burning; her body simply hissed.
Her husband was downstairs making coffee. "What's that sound?" he asked when she entered the kitchen. "Are you hissing at me, like a snake?"
"No," she said.
"Like a cat, then."
"No," she said. "I think I'm sizzling."
"Yes, or perhaps sausage."
"A nice pork chop, even!" The man had begun to sweat. "You better go cool off," he told his wife, "or I'm liable to eat you."
"Look at you blush," she said, sizzling. She drew near and petted his bald head. "You glisten like a freshly glazed ham." She licked her fingers and opened the drawer where they kept the knives, forks, and spoons.
After the archer's wife died unexpectedly, he fell into a deep depression. Eventually, he decided to kill himself. He had the soul of a poet and thought it only fitting to commit suicide by his own bow and arrow. On a windless morning, he went to a meadow, launched an arrow straight into the air, then lay on his back, with his eyes closed, and waited for the arrow to fall into his heart. But a breeze stirred and blew his arrow off target; it thunked harmlessly into the earth beside him. So he tried again——and again, at the last moment, a gust blew his arrow off target. In this way, he expended all the arrows in his quiver.
He said aloud, "It is a sign. You, my dear departed wife, do not want me to kill myself."
He walked into town, to the nearest tavern, and hired the first mercenary he found to kill him instead.
The city passed an ordinance that required giant walls of egg cartons to be erected between apartment buildings. The acoustic dampening was only partial——the fights of my neighbors now sounded almost like a lively party, sexual moaning sounded like faint crying——but the view was irrevocably altered. Most people grew depressed, looking out their windows day after day and seeing a brownish-gray nothing. But I finally found happiness: I imagined that I was suspended high in the air, prone, gazing down at the most uniform mountain range the earth had ever thrown up.
A fly landed in my drink, took a sip, and asked me if I had anything better than swill. I opened a bottle of wine I'd been saving. The fly sampled it, hiccupped, and told me the wine had turned to vinegar——hadn't I anything worth drinking? I poured two fingers of the best scotch I owned.
"I like it on the rocks," the fly said, woozily.
I took a cube from the freezer and plopped it in.
"Your ice," the fly said, "there's a fly in it."
The Chimney Wretch
A man and woman got a great deal on a house because it came with a chimney wretch. For the most part, he wasn't a bother. They left him food and water in the fireplace every day, and came to delight in the sight of his grubby hand darting down to scoop up the victuals. The wretch was also very neat about his evacuations, never letting his chamber pot dribble over.
The wretch said "please" and "thank you" and occasionally laughed along with them at the sounds of the TV.
As winter came on, the house grew cold and the woman wanted to use the fireplace.
"Excuse me for speaking," came the wretch's voice from the chimney, "but if you want to build a fire, feel free, and I'll just wait on the roof until it's burned out . . . or, if you could spare a bit of floor inside the house I certainly wouldn't turn it down!"
"Honey," the woman whispered, rubbing her shoulders for warmth, "we have an entire basement just sitting there, empty."
So the wretch moved into the basement. They left his food and water at the top of the stairs. He used the slop sink down there as a latrine, so there was no more chamber pot business. The man and woman enjoyed a crackling fire every night.
Soon they had a child, then another, and finally another. They needed a playroom for the children, so the man and woman decided to remodel the basement. They gave the wretch the space under the stairs, but walled him in so their children wouldn't have to look at him. The floor beneath the stairs was dirt, so he was free to relieve himself. Any worms he found were his to eat; any condensation that dripped from the wall was his to drink. Best of all, he could listen to the children play.
Varieties of Hair
While he slept, his wife switched his eyebrows with his moustache and his moustache with his eyebrows. She kissed his eyes and gazed into his lips.
The man dreamed of his wife's long hair whipping in the wind as they drove in their car without a roof, which had been shorn off when they drove under a tractor trailer to escape the cops after they'd robbed the bank.
When she was finished, she put her husband's eyebrows and moustache back where they belonged, then switched his pubic hair with that of his knuckles and his knuckle hair with that of his pubic area. She held his genitals and licked his fingers.
They visited him in bed, with some questions.
"Where were you last night?"
"I was here, sleeping," he said, "just as I am now."
"You sleeptalk a good game," they said, "but we have you on camera, sleepclimbing out this window, sleepstrolling up the road, sleepjaywalking across the street, sleepstealing a car, sleepdriving to a liquor store, sleeplooting the place, sleepdrinking, sleepdrunk-driving, sleepspeeding, sleepcrashing the stolen vehicle, sleepleaving the scene of a crime, and sleepsleeping in a ditch.
"That's where your case falls apart," he said.
"How so?" they asked.
"I've never sleepslept in my life, being an insomniac."
The Old Book
I purchased an old book and discovered between the pages the dried and flattened remains of a tiny man. He was dressed in a suit and hat and had a tidy moustache——a style befitting the era in which the book was printed. Perhaps the book's previous owner had loved him very much and wanted to keep him forever, as if he were a flower. Or perhaps he had been annoying, like a fly, and met his end when this book was clapped shut.
A man built a carriage large enough for him to be pushed in by his baby. He climbed inside and said, "Push me, baby!" But the baby was preoccupied, eating a steak dinner and drinking a highball.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man said, "I'm ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby had moved onto dessert: a slice of cake and a glass of port wine.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man cried, "now I am really ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby lifted its chubby legs and pointed at its diapered anus.
The man dutifully changed the baby's diaper. "Now, finally, I am ready for my carriage ride, baby!"
But the baby was already sleeping, its thumb stuck firmly in its mouth.
"I am ready!" the man said, to no one.
Every tooth has tiny teeth to eat the food you eat. The strongest teeth eat spinach and lean protein, which you almost never ingest. Deprivation makes the strong teeth even stronger. They have nothing to do but exercise and march in circles while waiting for their next meal.
The weakest teeth have tiny teeth riddled with cavities. They sit in their own filth downing pizza, beer, and jujubes. They watch reruns on TV all day. If you listen closely you can hear them guffaw like idiots. They fart endlessly in your mouth, giving you bad breath.
The Sausage Maker
Father's dream was to build a better sausage maker. He started the project on his workbench in the garage, and the machine grew and grew until there was no longer room to park his car. The hopper on his sausage maker was large enough to accept a station wagon, so in ours went, and out came links of Chevrolet. But father still wasn't content, so he added more tubing and grinders and gears and teeth, and soon the machine had busted through the roof of the garage. So in went the garage and out came garage sausage.
"It's complete," my father said one day. "Find us a pig."
And so our days were filled with savory sausage, and we were happy for many years.
But eventually father grew old and hunched and could no longer work his beloved machine. He had always been a proud man. "It's time," he said, and pointed to the hopper.
I held the ladder as he climbed slowly toward the machine's great maw. It gleamed in the sun. We gave each other a final wave. The machine buzzed and burped its way through father as I held a length of casing over the spigot to catch him. Out he came. There was his eyeglass case, there his briar pipe. Here his blue work-shirt, there his farmer's tan. His bald head and cute dimples. His beautiful pot belly, which he'd patted after every meal we'd shared. He passed through my hands like a snake made of man.
There is a noticable lack of cookies. There is a distinct surplus of dust, some of which may be the crumbs of former cookies. While there is no potable coffee to speak of, the dark brown rings on this surface seem to indicate there had been at some point. Currently the windows let in only a small amount of ambient light; the plant, however, is flourishing, which indicates a healthy level of photosynthesis.
There is no human presence, but traces of one are evident. The seat of the chair, when depressed, releases a roast-meat smell. Specks of blood and mucus dot the walls. There are fingernails——torn or bitten, rather than cut——on the floor. It is unclear whether the human is temporarily absent or permanently gone. Regardless, it is my recommendation that a plate of cookies be left here. One, it may encourage the human, if extant, to return. And two, it may serve as an enticement for the remaining humans to stay/not destroy themselves.
The Richest Man in the World
He hired the world's greatest scientist to invent a shrinking ray. Decades passed and he had spent billions of dollars on research. Finally, the scientist called him into the lab. They were now both old men and nearing death.
A mouse nibbled some cheese in a cage on the floor. The scientist turned on the ray, which looked like a satellite dish with a rod protruding from its middle. He aimed it at the mouse and pressed a button. Zap! The mouse was now so minuscule as to be almost invisible.
"After so many years of trial and error, we have finally done it, sir!"
"Huzzah!" the man said. "Onto phase two!"
"Yes. Stand where that mouse was and we'll begin."
The Orange Eaters
They barged into our house carrying great sacks filled oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold. When we woke up, we were tied to chairs with our mouths gagged. They sat across from us at the kitchen table, deliberately peeling then eating their oranges. Rinds piled at their feet. The fruit turned the air sweetly fragrant. They didn't speak, only peeled and ate, peeled and ate. We watched, wondering how many oranges they could possibly consume. When they reached the last one, they huddled and whispered to each another. They removed our gags and before I could ask what the meaning of all this was, they fed us the orange. Then they cut our bindings and left.
Such a delicious orange it was.
We were discussing just how delicious when they barged into our house carrying great sacks filled with oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold.
First the scar formed tiny eyes that blinked open one day and shone like two black caviar. Then it grew a mouth, a puny frown that opened and closed ceaselessly. Twin stumps emerged and sprouted miniscule digits, five apiece——arms these became.
The scar did push-ups daily and by increments tore itself away from the flesh of my shoulder. Finally it was upright, like a small white snake surveying its environs, through still rooted in me. It gestured for me to dip my head closer, so I did. It cupped a hand around its mouth and whispered, "I end in your brain."
That's when this terrible headache began.
A Void Marriage
He had fallen in love with nothing and planned to marry it in the spring. Everyone was invited, he told all his friends, spread the word.
Spring came and nothing was ready. But the man had gotten cold feet.
"It's all or nothing with you, isn't it?" his friends asked when he told them about his doubts.
"It's all I know," he said.
"Maybe it's nothing but it sounds like it's all you really want."
"Wouldn't that be something?" he said.
"It would be everything!" his friends said.
"But, oh, I think I long once more for nothing!"
He wore dead babies for shoes. Drove a car made of curses you could hear for miles. Shaved the heads of random passersby. Swung every cat that crossed his path. Fed poison to all the mutts. Handed out feces on Halloween. Made a priest eat his own member. Shot an airplane out of the sky. Put razor blades in bowling ball holes.
He defecated on a rainbow.
He was the meanest man in town. But to his mother, who was delighted to receive his freshly cut flowers each Sunday, he remained Darling Harold.
A man's fingers broke down so he called a mechanic. The SHIFT key on the keyboard beneath his hands rose like an elevator and a little man carrying a toolbox stepped out.
The mechanic lifted the nail on the man's index finger and leaned inside for a better look. He tapped here and there with a wrench, then looked up at the man and said, "Try it now."
The man tried to move his fingers but nothing happened.
The mechanic scratched his head. "Might be time for some new ones. Lotta miles on these."
"I can't afford that," the man said.
"You got insurance? I know a guy who can make it look like an accident."
The ESC key rose and a little man with a shaved head and dark sunglasses stepped out. He carried a circular saw.
The man had always wanted nice fingers. Cherry-red with whitewalls and convertible tops. He imagined riding along in his car with a pretty woman beside him admiring his beautiful fingers. That new-finger smell filling the air between them.
The man nodded. The saw buzzed.
The Attic Baby
The baby in the attic cried out. It wouldn't stop.
The woman climbed into the crawlspace. She gave the baby sour milk to drink. Stuffed a slice of pizza into the baby's mouth. Gathered all the cobwebs within reach and rubbed them into the baby's hair. Grabbed a spider from a nail in the rafters and let it crawl into the baby's diaper.
Still the baby cried.
"Ah!" she said. "Your radio has died." She found fresh batteries for the radio and tuned it to the station that played only lullabies.
The baby sucked its tongue and fell asleep.
The wolves arrive first, wearing fur coats. They stare at me in bed and run switchblade combs between their ears. The giraffes dip their heads inside the window, lick their nostrils clean, and tell me dirty jokes about well-hung donkeys. The elephant dangles his hairy trunk through the skylight to tickle my toes. The macaw flies in and squawks and squawks, scattering cigar ashes all over my blanket. Someone spills a drink on the carpet——it's the black panther, who thinks I don't see him in this dark room. It goes on and on. My zoo grows larger and gets drunker by the hour until finally——finally!——the stinking pigs arrive and clear everyone out.
A man who had shut himself inside his house felt trapped. So he opened everything: all the doors and windows and cupboards and drawers. After, he felt better and went to sleep.
In the morning when he woke up, nearly everything he had owned was gone. A family of raccoons was eating a bowl of popcorn in the spot where his sofa had been, staring at the wall where his television had been.
It was then that he remembered why he always kept everything shut.
The Iron Age
Iron rained down from the black sky. Roofs were riddled. Skulls broken like eggs. The only havens were caves. People crushed one another to secure shelter. The dead oozed beneath the feet of the living.
Days passed. The iron rain never ceased; it only fell heavier. Our land was deformed, pulverized beyond recognition. The clank and thud of iron drove us mad. One by one, we ran into the deluge. Hardly any of us were still alive when the giant magnet descended and pulled us heavenward.
The Lake Man
The lake man rises to the surface early. He floats on his back and gently pushes himself towards the shore. His morning erection cuts through the air like a fin. He clambers onto land, urinates, and finds the nearest house, which he enters. Once inside, he helps himself to a cup of coffee. An inhabitant of the house finds him naked, pale, and fish-smelly in their kitchen, and screams. He encourages this reaction by raising his arms and making a horrible face and shouting gibberish. He estimates that he will have seven minutes to enjoy breakfast——dry toast exclusively——before the police arrive. He eats, then scrambles back into the lake, leaving only wet footprints as evidence.
But soon it is time for lunch, and the lake man rises once more to the surface.
A man carved off a bit of his forearm, fried it in a pan with butter, and ate it. Unsatisfied by this meager meal, he slathered peanut butter on his arm, placed it between two slices of bread, and ate the rest.
When his wife came home and saw his arm missing from the elbow down, she dropped her bag of groceries, the contents of which spilled across the floor: beautifully prepared forearms, ready for frying; a fresh jar of peanut butter; a still-warm loaf of bread.
"What have you done?" she cried.
"I thought you'd left me for good," her husband said, "and it made me sad. And you know when I get sad, I eat."
"But I only went to the supermarket," she said, weeping. "Because you told me you were hungry."
"You know when I get hungry, I become forgetful."
His wife sobbed. "What are we going to do about this?"
"About what?" he said. "All this commotion has made me hungry——aren't you hungry, too?"
Getting Milk from Mr. Jim
I hated visiting the basement to get milk from Mr. Jim. The silverfish were everywhere down there. But I dutifully took the bottle to the boiler room, where Mr. Jim sat in a dark corner. With one hand he unbuttoned his navy work shirt. He parted the shiny black thicket of hair on his chest, revealing his nipple, and nodded. That was my cue to raise the bottle, into which he expressed his milk.
But the silverfish! They terrified me. I could almost hear them scurrying over my shoelaces as Mr. Jim slowly emptied.
Our son was born a skeleton. We swaddled him in meats so that he would not grow up feeling out of place in the world——great swaths of sirloin and chuck and whatever else was on sale. My wife and I had been vegetarian (secretly I thought this may have been why he was born without flesh), but whenever it was time to change his meat skin, we couldn't bear to let it all go to waste. So we cooked the steaks or made stews or grilled hamburgers and ate and ate and ate. Then we'd stagger around the house in a stupor.
It became our running joke the morning after one of our feasts: we'd stroke our son's chin and say, "Time to put some meat on them bones!"
Over time, we got fat, sluggish, and constipated due to all the meat. For health reasons, my wife and I became vegetarians once more. And after much deliberation we decided that our son, who wasn't flourishing at all, didn't require meat skin. He could be kept in his basinet, in the closet, without any ill effect. He's in there now, likely playing with the bottoms of our coats.
It must be cold outside. Puffs of breath from every person, dog, bird, and squirrel cloud the air. You almost can't see through the steam.
Except it's not cold outside at all. They're just letting out the cigar smoke from the casinos in their bellies. The neon-lit signs mounted on their heads flash: roulette, poker, craps, all you can eat.
The Bowl of Fruit
It started with the bowl of fruit. Left uneaten for several weeks, the black bananas went white with mold. Soon the bowl was covered in fur. The fungus spread to the counter on which the bowl had been set. And then the walls abutting the counter. And then the ceiling adjoining the walls. And then the joists behind the ceiling. And then the floor above the joists. And then the carpet covering the floor. And then the bed that occupied the room. And then the woman occupying the bed, who in life had eaten bananas daily for her health.
The Cat's Contentment
The cat sits on the windowsill. Day breaks. A squirrel runs across the fence and spirals up a tree. It eats a quick breakfast of berries, hangs its bottom over a branch and eliminates, brushes its teeth with a twig, puts on a tie, and carries a briefcase down the tree.
In the distance a train clangs into the station to ferry the squirrel and its ilk to work.
The cat enjoys a nightcap before bed.
Springtime for Lunch
A mother sent her child outside to play. It was cold and the sky was gray.
A man emerged from the woods carrying a sack on his shoulder. He wore heavy boots and a cap pulled low over his eyes. A sheathed knife hung on his hip.
"Spare a meal for a weary traveler?" He held the bag before the child and shook it. "I've nothing but old bones in here."
"We'll be eating soon, I hope. You can join us. I asked mother if we could have springtime for lunch."
"And what did she say?"
"Go outside and it will come eventually," the child said. "Have you brought it?"
"Springtime!" The child smiled.
The man felt his pockets and looked over his person. "Aha!" He removed a bur from the cuff of his pant and presented it to the child. "Here in my hand is the very seed of spring." He pointed to the window: mother was preparing something in the kitchen. "She need only drop it into that big pot she's stirring."
The child led him to the house and went inside. The man paused at the door and adjusted his knife. And then he bent to unlace his muddy boots.
Mother dumped the pot of boiling water over the hunched stranger's head. He screamed and the crows left the trees. The child knocked him out with an iron skillet and took his knife. They dragged him inside and closed the door.
The Dinner Party
At the party, after dinner, we moved to the host's patio. Someone suggested we play our favorite game.
"I'll start," Charlemagne said, smoking his ever present pipe. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Ah!" he exclaimed, then tucked his forelock into the bowl of his pipe and burned his head off. A fine start.
"I've got one!" said Suzette, neck laden with jewelry. She twisted her lovely gold chains tighter and tighter until her purple head popped. Wonderful.
Sven, the lothario of our group, winked at us and lasciviously flapped his pink tongue. He took that glistening organ in his fist and ripped it out, his lungs right along with it. Breathtaking.
Finally, our host took the patio, his huge mastiff beside him. "Really," he said. "This again?" He bent down and placed his shiny bald head in the dog's panting mouth. A sound like crunching ice.
It was then that I noticed my drink had melted. I had planned to sink my member into its cold and die of embarrassment. Alas, the party was now truly over.
The Wind and Leaves
A man woke up on the floor in a room of swirling wind and leaves. They whipped his face, which felt chapped and raw. The last thing he remembered was a walk in the cemetery the night before. Perhaps the wind and leaves had asked him home. They swirled faster and louder. Were they married or just lovers? He couldn't recall. And now, were they fighting or fucking? He couldn't tell.
His head hurt.
And then the wind died. The leaves fell all around the man, blanketing his body. He welcomed the embrace. He was ready to change.
"Never leave," he said, "for I will wind up dead."
Father crawls under the picnic table and pokes his head through the hole we've cut for him. We shave off his brilliantined hair and the warm breeze takes it. Mother, who once had artistic aspirations beyond making our beautiful home, smiles wistfully as she paints father's head green.
We've forgotten the knife! I run inside to retrieve it from the back of the drawer. I try to hand it to mother but she doesn't want to let go of the paint brush. You're big enough now, she tells me.
"Listen to your mother," father says.
I carve the first slice from father's head and give it to mother. I cut another for myself. I save the biggest slice for father. He bears the pinkest of fruit. It melts like sherbet in our mouths.
The birds catch father's hair on the wind and weave it into their nests. When the next hatchlings chirp their first cheep, it will be watermelon time once more.
The New King
A boy found a crown while digging in the backyard. He went inside to show his mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, sharpening a knife. He put the crown on his head and told her he was the new king.
"If you're the new king, who was the old?" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade of the knife.
"You’re expecting me to say the old king was Charlie, who was not my real father but who was your husband and treated me like a son, and who vanished one night, never to return."
"Old King Charlie," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's a laugh!"
"Or you're expecting me to say the old king was my real dad, who I never knew because he died before I was able to remember him."
"Old King Dad," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's another laugh!"
"But I'm only playing a game, Ma——I'm just a kid who found a crown buried in the backyard. What are the chances of that?"
"Pretty good, it seems!" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade.
"All you do is sharpen that knife every day, Ma."
"I'm not sharpening the knife," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "I'm carving this stone, and it’s taking forever."
He was sitting in his chair. His brain was cold.
He took the blanket that covered his legs and stuffed it into his ear. His brain warmed. He pulled the blanket out through his mouth and over his chest to cover his legs again. Cozy, he read what he found in the folds of the blanket: a museum map, a Chinese food order, a train ticket, a two-dollar bill, a death certificate, a comic book.
But now his brain was cold again and he was sitting in his chair.
On the Ranch
A horse threw a child to the ground.
"It must have a knot under the saddle?" they said.
The horse reared and stomped the child with its hooves.
"It must have a bad nail in its shoe?" they said.
The horse urinated a heavy yellow stream upon the child.
"It must have an infection in its bladder?" they said.
The horse dragged the child with its teeth to a cliff and nuzzled it over the edge. A cloud of dust rose up from the valley.
"It must serve some greater purpose," they said.
Crow Bakes a Cake
Crow comes home with a bag of goodies he's collected from the side of the highway. It's his wife's birthday, and he's going to bake her a cake with what he's found. He's got a coil of turtle guts, a puff of skunk tail, a pancaked squirrel paw, opossum kidney tips, half a deer hoof, a fat groundhog ass, a garter snake stripe, and jellied dog blood.
His wife is out. He looks about their nest for a cookbook, but there isn't one. What's more, he can't read. No matter, he'll wing it. He starts for the cooking utensils but remembers that they don't own any——they usually just eat together at the side of the road. Also, they don't have an oven. And while he can do a great many things, he cannot start a fire.
His wife flies in and asks him what's in the bag.
He tells her, "A little of this, a little of that."
"Oh," she says, "that sounds wonderful. I'm so tired of eating out all the time."
"Happy birthday," he says.
He made a wife of ripe tomatoes. He made a home of cinnamon. He made a baby of ham steaks. He made a puppy of rubber balls. He made a yard of acorn meat. He made a career of black wires. He made a car of bread loaves. He made arguments of thin air. He made threats of words and open hands. He made drinks strong and frequently. He made his family hate him. He made it seem it was their fault. He made it easy for them to leave in the night. He made his bed and lay in it.
The Vengeful Spider
The spider waits till you're asleep in bed and your jaw falls open. He's positioned himself above your whitening tongue, and when the first snore rattles out from you, he begins his slow descent. Your breath sends him back and forth on his silken thread, and for a moment he is a child spider again, being pushed by his mother on the playground swings. He smiles. But then he remembers the smudge of his wife on the bottom of your slipper. He times his swing . . . times his swing . . . and then shits in your mouth.
He climbs back up to the ceiling and cries until morning. He curses god that he wasn't born venomous. He curses god that he was ever born at all.
The Horseman's Sorrow
The dark gray clouds slid down the sky and piled up on the horizon. Those nearest the clouds said the rain fell straight down, in sheets, like a waterfall. The rain finally reached us in the form of an ever expanding puddle. Then the thunder clapped, and moments later we saw a tentacle of lightning shoot up Main Street. It roasted a Clydesdale that was being led to the elementary school for show-and-tell. The horse's owner, who wore rubber gloves due to a skin condition, was spared from electrocution. He was inconsolable, but we convinced him to let us eat his horse. It will only go to waste, we said. It is cooked perfectly, we said.
The Family Hammer
In our family, the hammer is passed from one generation to the next, like red hair. When my
father bowed his head and handed the hammer to me, I felt the weight of it——both real and
ritual——and stove in the back of his skull. He crumpled at my feet, kissing them in gratitude.
In due time, I passed the hammer to my own son, now fully grown. "I'm sorry," he said, which was his first mistake. His second was to not be true to his own strength: his blow knocked
me down and out for quite some time, but it did not eliminate me.
So here I stand, a kind of god among my line of men. The family hammer hangs above
the cradle of my son's firstborn, a redheaded boy like his father, and all the other fathers before
him. But my hair grows gray and I plan to live forever——or at least long enough to watch my
grandson take up the hammer, heft it in his hands, and fell the one who couldn't fell me.
Grandmother's snakes disappeared into the forest after breakfast each morning. When I could no longer hear their hissing, I'd venture downstairs to eat cold eggs. Dinners I ate early, before the food had finished cooking, before she called her snakes home. I'd tape up the crack beneath the door to my room, then nail a board over it for good measure. From my window I'd watch the snakes come in, a quick, roiling river of black licorice whips. At night, with the covers up to my chin, I'd listen to them flop onto the floor in the next room, fighting for space in the big bed they all shared.
The sculptor sculpts a man out of man bones and man meat. No one will have it. He keeps it in the front yard and watches the crows alight on it and feast. When the sculpture of the man is gone, he shoots the shiny black birds one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a murder of crows out of crow bones and crow meat. No one will have it. He keeps them in the front yard and watches the neighborhood cats pounce on them and feast. When the crows are gone, he shoots the preening cats one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a clowder of cats out of cat bones and cat meat. No one will have it.
No one will have it.
No one will have it.
For want of meat, the sculptor does not eat.