Skins

Roger wakes up in his worst skin. The mass of flesh, mucus, urine, all stored up from a night of fitful sleep, serenaded by a television screen that plays on in the darkness after he has evacuated his consciousness. Rote motion brings him out of bed, toward the shower, and turns on the water. He might as well be still asleep. The first thoughts come before the hot water runs out. Remembering some erotic-leaning dream, all hands, makes him wish for an abyss to jump into, another reality to be chosen.

Eventually, these impulses are shoved aside in deference to cold, bland cereal in the half-light of a morning that hasn’t yet risen. The commuter is a devil wanting to destroy all things in his path. A ball of fury and malignance, he has descended, desiring to rip those beside him to pieces. Everything aches, and when the sun does rise, it is too bright. All thoughts appear to be in slow motion, time delay. It’d be easy to get into an accident.

The Professional is a mix of prerecorded messages: “good morning,” “Monday, right?” “How are you?” “I’m good, great!” “Yeah, it’s great!” “Oh, that’s great!” “They’re great, thanks for asking.” “Thanks.” “Thank you.” “Thank you so much.” “Have a good night.” “Have a good weekend.” “In case I don’t see you, have a good weekend.”

The evening can be taken by The Infinite, by the impulse created by long dusk light beams that everything is far away and near, and the distances between are insubstantial. This is a skin that wants wings and tries to forget the crushing reality of being just human. Everything is potential, in reach, if only the reach is made.

As night closes in, electric light in purples, reds, blues, greens, invite you to contained, artificial worlds—places where stories are the size of evenings, and can be seen in person or on screen. These stories can invade the dreamer’s sleep, being turned into different stories, all hands, before the process begins, more or less, again.

Underbelly

It started with some water in the basement. It happens in a temperate climate. But, unable to figure out exactly where the leak was coming from, I was forced to delve more in depth into the nooks and crannies of the basement. The dull gray walls provided little information, just multiple spider webs, both old and new.

Finally, down toward an end of the basement I rarely go, behind the boiler, there was a little puddle around what looked like a trap door. Hidden under old molding sawdust, it was difficult to see. I searched through the muck and found a little finger hole and opened the door. An explosion of drain flies erupted like some old plague of myth. After being momentarily overtaken by the demonic swarm, I saw a passageway under the trap door that was completely dark. After retrieving a flashlight from upstairs, I approached the passageway. Old, decaying webs hung from the sides and ceiling of the passageway. I walked down the rickety wooded stairs, and noticed the small break in the foundation as I headed under. There was the leak.

The floor seemed to be damp dirt with a simple track of 2x4s laid down across it. I made my way carefully across the uneven path. There was a deeper kind of rot smell, far more than just mold. I began to get the impression I was heading slightly downhill. Eventually, the pathway opened up into a large room. At first, there just seemed to be lumpy mounds of earth surrounding the same wooden pathway as before.

As I scanned the flashlight over the mounds, I began to notice harder angles just underneath the mounds of dirt. Some white flashes were visible underneath the brown. In the corner were also a trio of stereotypical treasure chests. Or perhaps they were just living room décor hope chests. Either way, I stumbled over the dirt mounds toward the chests. Unlocked, they opened easily, revealing mounds of cloth. Disappointed, I began to pick through the cloth, until I unwrapped a pile of what looked like old dollars. No expert, I took a pile of them to look up later.

However, as I was about to leave, the flashlight shone on one of those white glimmers in the dirt again. Kneeling down for a closer look, I pulled at it, and the skeletal remains of a human hand came out of the dirt. Once removed, it fell apart into various bones as I dropped it back onto the Earth. Also dropping the old money, I ran as quickly as I could over the wooden path, back up the stairs, and slammed the old trap door shut. On the walls were dozens of the drain flies that had escaped.

Well, at least I know where the leak is, I thought, determined to try to think of nothing else that I’d found down there ever again.

Herds

This bastard keeps breathing on my neck. We’re all packed shoulder to shoulder, front to back, waiting for the elevator to start moving again. The enclosed space is getting warmer and warmer as our crushed bodies continue to raise the room temperature. I try very hard not to move my hands in any direction for fear of brushing up against some stranger’s legs. But this person standing behind me is hitting the same spot where my neck meets my back with their breath over and over again. These humid particles of unwanted warmth keep spreading out, then dissipating just in time for the next volley to land. It’s coming straight from a mouth breather…hehh…hehh…hehh…at least, I imagine that nose air would feel different. Drier, perhaps.

Someone farts, because this purgatory is just gearing up. Everyone shifts restlessly as the stench reaches us in waves. Some even try to tuck their noses into their shirt. That’s tougher to do for the ones wearing button-downs. Someone in a distant corner mutters “come on, really?” but the rest of us are not brave enough to speak. Or we just recognize the uselessness in doing so.

There’s something about being too close to strangers. Packed in like this, it is easy to imagine we are a herd of livestock, just mounds of flesh to be consumed. By whom? I can’t answer that. Or I don’t want to. The implications would be too much. I shouldn’t let my mind wander in such ways.

The man to my right is beginning to fidget. I can hear his clothes rustling, can hear his knuckles crack as he moves them back and forth. He probably isn’t the only one who is getting claustrophobic. I feel a wave of heat emanate all over my body, and I am suddenly concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide I am breathing. Then that same breath hits my back again…hehh…hehh. I clench my fists. I want to go ballistic, to turn around, pushing everyone in my vicinity, and tell whoever this is to back the hell up. But instead, I squeeze my fists tight, telling myself that impulse, and the growing feeling of fever spreading over my body, is just my own nerves talking.

There is a lurch from the elevator, and we all gasp, some people actually clutching each other, expecting the whole thing to free fall. But it does not. Instead, it begins to head upward. We all give sighs of relief, and the air-conditioned air of the office that hits my face when I step out onto my floor has never felt fresher.

Antlers, Part 2

Part 1 of Antlers can be found here.

 

Deep into the woods, a hush fell over everything. The footsteps over pulp, leaves, and sticks became hushed in the thick pack underneath. Thin, yellow pillars of sunlight created the impression of holding up the evergreen canopy above. The rusted out oil barrel slowly being consumed by moss was the only thing that stopped it from looking like a forest primeval.

Chrome was lost. Far away from the limits he had traveled before, the trail was gone. A retreating turkey suddenly took flight, the frantic sound of feathers crashing through the tranquil quiet, and making Chrome jump as the bird flew away. But flight was becoming familiar to him. As an exile now, it would be something he would have to become more and more used to. His antlers, of a more considerable size everyday, hit a low branch, causing him to stumble. He could remember all of their faces—solemn, stern, unforgiving—as they told him he had to leave, king’s son or no. “We can’t have demons around. Those like you, with those things on your head,” they said.

He checked the direction of his compass: still going east. They’d only allowed him to leave with the compass, a bow and five arrows, and an empty knapsack to gather with. Given his current state of hunger, he lamented not trying to take aim at the turkey. Stuffed in his knapsack, He still had an apple and a couple contraband carrots he had taken from a farm outside the forest.

He took the apple, which was slightly soft and bruised from being in the bag, and began to eat it. As he did, he came across a rabbit lying down on the ground. It was breathing heavy, exhausted. Not wanting to miss an opportunity this time, he readied one of the arrows to fire. But before he did, he noticed how small and thin the rabbit was. He understood it was starving. He also had trouble finding something to eat in the thick woods. So instead, in a moment of comradely compassion, he took out a carrot and placed it near the rabbit. It noticed, began to lurch toward the food, then ate in in slow, tired bites. As it ate more, it gathered more strength, eventually sitting up. Chrome was about to walk away, but as he got up, the rabbit seemed to take notice of him for the first time. It began to tilt its head in a direction to the south, where Chrome saw another rabbit lying in a similar state.

He knew the rabbit wanted Chrome to feed the other one as well. But with only one carrot left, and no clear indication when he would be free of the woods, he said “I can’t. I’m sorry. I don’t have enough. But I can end its pain.”

Chrome readied the bow again and shot the other rabbit. He took it to eat later and adjusted himself to once again head east. Before he left, he looked back at the other rabbit again, but it did not look at him.

Later that night, he made a fire and cooked the rabbit. The next day, more well fed than the last several days, he made great progress across the forest. He passed more husks of barrels and some car skeletons long left in the brush. Eventually, the hush of the woods began to hum. The new sound was slow to develop, but he soon recognized it: powerlines.

Taking a quicker pace, he got to the top of a ridge and saw the great trench cut into the woods for the powerlines. He knew if he followed them, he would find some civilization and could stop worrying about food. He bounded down towards them and stepped out from the shade of the canopy into the glaring, unobstructed sun on the path of the wires.

Babble And Trash

I don’t know how different each person’s threshold is, but for me, at a certain volume, I am unable to focus on any one sound. They all become one roiling mass, a storm of noises that have lost all their identity or point. This happens a lot at parties, standing around a group of people in the kitchen, hearing them, and the people in the living room, and the beer pong going on outside, and yet also hearing none of them, all at the same time. So, the mind wanders away from the present. One person in the group becomes the focus. At some point, they were just a stranger in the room. I didn’t know them at all except as someone I was attracted to physically. Now, this is a person that I know, and they’re telling a story that maybe I heard before, but I can’t tell, because I can only focus on one or two words at a time before the other combating sounds take over.

Often, the results of this inability to discern noises are embarrassment, or taking leave of a group of people when the pins in the brain are too much to take. Sometimes, that embarrassment goes a little bit like this: in a busy café, I was hiding behind headphones to create a little pocket of sound to overpower the swelling waves. However, getting up to leave, I take the earbuds out, and a crash of voices moves in all at the same time. Two dozen conversations overlap, none of them directed at me. As I move toward the trash can, one of the people is saying something like “no, it’s empty.” Only after I drop my trash in the bin and hear the metallic clank, however, do I realize the person saying “it’s empty” was looking directly at me.

I make a quick, useless attempt to grab the contents, but they have fallen far past arm’s reach. The person just sighs, rolls their eyes, then says (louder than the original warning) “just leave it. We’ll get it.” So, I slink outside, where the sound of the cars rushing by is deafening and makes most other thought impossible.

Mazerunner Manifesto

These walls all look the same. It’s designed to keep me away from the goal. But they always underestimate my ability to smell. Each turn is meant to confuse me. The path always changes. What was a left turn yesterday is now a right. If so, then where am I? But they all seem to think I live and direct myself based on turns and directions. Maybe they do that. I always find those unreliable. They can change. They do change, often, for me. But the increase of smell, the undeniable approaching that pulls me forward, that never fails.

Even if I was trying other methods, surrounded be all these white walls and the white floor, I would have nothing to see, nothing to follow. It’s all one uniform hallway that breaks off in various directions. They concoct various dead ends to confuse me. Why? I don’t know. Every time I beat them, I eat in peace. Later, they’ll take me and put me back in the other place, the place of four corners and invisible walls. It seems a futile exercise. But what is it to me if they keep losing? Throw me in this featureless place tomorrow and I will again outsmart them. After all, for a good hunk of cheese, why not?

But To What End?

Jenna’s friends kept joining a cult that told them it would kill them. It was called The Answer, and first Roger joined. She thought it was because he had just lost his parents. It was a terrible car accident, the cold unmercy of the cosmos, so maybe a place spouting “the answer” would be appealing. She could see it, even if to her it was stupid.

When Kayla joined, it made less sense. She wouldn’t elaborate anything more than “it just makes sense to me.” This explanation failed to make sense. She hadn’t even been particularly religious before.

These first instances were small, isolated. However, when the large advertisements began to up around town, people began to go in packs. Three, four, five of them at a time would enter the little red hut out by the highway overpass. Jenna watched them from afar. They would enter timid, unsure, then leave the building with their head held high.

On the internet, she found literature from The Answer that said “the point of a human’s life is to end. We will show you how it should be done.” There was a bunch of citations, some biblical, others philosophical, others scientific data on global warming and pollution. The Answer seemed to be just this: escape. But to what end? She couldn’t answer the question.

The date of the event was going to be April 1st. She thought it being on April Fool’s Day was cruel, but this didn’t seem to bother them. They took it in stride. Leading up to the date, even Jason, who she had just started dating recently, suddenly began their normal phrasing: “I wanted to tell you something. For a long time I’ve been searching for an answer…” At that point, she got up and left the restaurant where they were eating.

A few days later, she watched from a hill as large batches of cars all left from the little hut towards an undisclosed location. She watched them go, her mouth hanging open, unable to understand. The line of cars stretched far down the highway, emptying the town below.

Maybe I’m missing something, she thought. But she didn’t move. She just watched the cars head away, toward whatever answer awaited them.

Clevenger’s Junkyard

Harry Clevenger’s rust-covered junkyard had become something of a myth in the surrounding area. Nestled among mountains long ago blown up to create room for the railroad, Harry Clevenger’s junkyard was originally just a place to put all of the fallen machines he had thrown at the mountain range. Before a larger company moved in to complete the project, Clevenger set up a small little town with the task of tunneling through those ridges. Originally a produce man, his knowledge of construction was slight. But, Clevenger carried a Bible around with him, knowing that if he had faith, it would work.

Clevenger’s associate, Byron Driscoll, had a new type of digging machine that Byron guaranteed Clevenger would speed up the process. The new Driscoll diggers attacked and carved out the areas blown up by Clevenger’s dynamite. The machines were unruly, however, and their large joints began to smash against the new walls, causing setbacks and collapses. Driscoll convinced Clevenger that the incompetence of the workers was leading to the setbacks. When Clevenger tried to convey this message, they left, choosing the thirsty air on the way home to working amongst the metal monstrosities.

Clevenger hired another bunch of people nearby, but by then word was out about the dangers of Driscoll’s machines. Instead of working in the traps, the new batch of people killed Clevenger to take what money he had on him. As part of the raid, they threw the remains of the Driscoll diggers down into a pile. Left alone, the machines began to slowly decompose together. When other prospectors eventually scoped out the area for potential development, one of them stumbled across the hulking corpses rusting away. Next to it was a sign that read “Clevenger’s Junkyard.”

Sides

Reynoldstown was a fine place. In many ways, it was what people would think of as some old English town: one main road ran through, people hung out at the bar and saw each other at the general store, farmers would come in from around to sell wares on the weekends. The one school had little supplies, but good teachers. Only the church was higher than three stories—alright, you get the picture by now.

As people began to get up and get dressed, either to leave toward the city for work, bring a kid to school, or sit on a stoop with coffee, they noticed a sign had been placed in the middle of Main Street. It said “<–Good Bad–>” and pointed to the two sides of the town. People asked where it came from, but no one had any answer. Even when people had left the bar that night, it hadn’t been there. Surely it was just someone playing a kind of joke on the area. So, they cautiously laughed it off. A couple of men tried to move it, with the Sheriff’s permission. However, they found that it couldn’t be moved. Attempts to dig it up failed, as it seemed to be burrowed deep into the ground. After a while, they decided to keep it up, with a bit of a snicker. “It’ll make all of the out of towners think, won’t it?” People speculated.

The rot was slow. Initially, people living on the side marked “good,” would simply give a little satisfied smirk when they saw the sign. They moved a little quicker, a slight spring in their step. People living on the side marked “bad” would grimace and slouch. They began referring to it almost immediately as “that stupid sign.” “Nothing wrong with this side,” they’d say to each other. Those living on the “good” side would remark how silly and irreverent it was. “Isn’t that just a nice little bit of fun?” They’d ask each other.

One night, also while everyone was asleep, someone painted over the word “bad” on the sign with green paint. In the morning, everyone laughed that it was clearly someone from the “bad” side. “See? That’s probably how they got labelled that way in the first place,” the “good” people would say to themselves. Those on the “bad” side grew annoyed. “We don’t know who did it, it could have been anyone.” “Oh, but not us, we’re the good side, obviously,” the “good” side replied with a laugh. It was still just a nice bit of fun. Who couldn’t take a joke?

The next day, someone painted over the sign again, this time covering the “good” with red paint. An outcry grew from the “good” side. “Who did this?! This is unacceptable, this is vandalism.” Blame was placed on the “bad” side. “What do we care?” They asked. “Our side was already covered up.” “Yes, but you were jealous that we were the good side!” “Jealous? We thought it was a joke?” “And you’re the ones who can’t take a joke.”

A crowd gathered on the “good” side. The intention was to paint the whole area of the “bad” side the same green that covered the “bad” part of the sign. Hearing of the plan, folks on the “bad” side gathered up their own store of red paint. “See? See? They have red paint,” the “good” side claimed. But by then, it was too late. Members from each side had crossed Main Street and begun to set up near buildings and begin to paint. When members of the opposite side saw this on their own side, they tackled the intruders, beat them, shouted at them, tried to drive them back. Violence began as little air bubbles. It began to reach toward the surface and soon was all out boiling. Members of each side thrashed each other on Main Street, covering each other with their paints.

When one of those “out of towners” finally did arrive back, they found the whole area desolate. Bodies were all through the street, all covered in greens and reds. It was impossible to speculate what would have led to such a skirmish. Any survivors had fled the town. The out of towners worked their way carefully through the wreckage toward a heap of paint and people near a strange object in the middle of the street. It was covered fully in red and green paint, often mixing into a dull brown.

Greener Cement

My heart is in a thousand places today, he thought to the mirror. It looked on, unimpressed. Everywhere I look, I see somewhere I want to be. There aren’t enough lives to be all the selves I want to be. I remember lying in all these beds.

Still, the cereal tasted particularly bland, and the views from the dirty window looked just like they always do. The air only felt good when we was walking through it, rushing off to someplace new, somewhere crowded with strangers.

I’m older than I remember, he thought, trying to find the face he remembered. Hands, forehead, mouth, they all looked too wrinkled.

Still, the shoes were new. That was something. Their unyielding form fought against his feet as he tried to put them on for the first time. Something new would be meeting the cement this morning. Outside, the sun was too bright, and every group moving through the world seemed like somewhere he wanted to be. All of their conversations seemed so full or mirth, laughter, insight, belonging, even if he couldn’t hear much of them.

He took the same turns, however. The roads had all the familiar bits of gum ground down into them, along with faded paint from public works projects that never commenced. The building that had been under construction for three years was still in the same place. He thought how easy it was to imagine every one else who walked down the same road everyday somehow experiencing something grander.

The familiar destination took just as long to reach as it always did. But still, whenever someone else walked by, he felt his mind following them for a while, seeking somewhere else to be.