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.