In the days of the Vibrating Council of Thunder Popes, when the men and women of the world were brain-tethered by cracking hatred, running around in circles, cutting each others’ heads off with the dull limbs of shrubbery, there came a fool to the borderland and, seeing a river, crossed it. The river ran narrow at this juncture and was filled with farting alligators and motionless eels, glutted with cast off meat bits and each other. He didn’t have to swim, but rather crawled along the lazing beasts without true obstacle. A stinky eye here. A half-heartedly gnashing grin there. His jeans were wet, but little else, and he had kept all of his blood. He had some walking to do in the whistling breeze and would dry off in no time.
In front of him, that is to say, to the north, there sat a fat mountain or fat man or fat something large and looming on the horizon. He knew not what it was, but it wasn’t there before, so it was to there that he headed now. Penniless, weaponless, common sense abandoned some time ago, he decided to walk and to see what he could see before his bones ate the last of his meat and then his eyes and he’d have to stop seeing and living. But until then, he’d walk and look about. There didn’t seem to be much else to do in the strangled world around him and he’d received a new pair of shoes not long ago. Off he set along the only road he could see.
(These being the first moments of a larger story that I am writing for all of you, each and every one.)
We grew the turkey on the side of grandpa’s head that year. He wanted to sharpen the axe himself, said dad didn’t know what he was doing, that he’d lose half his face. We all had to hold the bird up in shifts (a 23 pounder!) as grandpa shot sparks into the misty morning air outside of the barn.
“Now, when you do this, there must be no hesitation. If I lose an ear, okay. I’m old. I don’t listen anyway.” We laughed until father took the axe from grandpa’s hand and helped lay the old man down in the damp straw. Silence. Even the cattle on the hill chewed more deliberately. A crow on a limb opened its beak as if to yell a greeting to the bird growing from grandpa (you could see its black tongue vibrating), but no sound came out. It was as if fairies had stuffed all of our ears with cotton to soak up the blood of our anticipation.
Twack and it came off clean. The children took it in their arms like ghouls at a beheading and ran off into the house.
“Looks like I’ll be around another year after all.” Grandpa smiled and rose from the barnyard floor. “But next year, I think you should grow the turkey. I’ll just make the stuffing. Your aunt always makes the stuffing.”
Inside, the children cut the twine that held our aunt’s stomach together and began to shovel in bread, sage, and onions. Not long now and the house would be full of familiar smells.
Hey, you’re going to want this. Hey, come on, look at me here man, look in my eyes and see that giggling dancer there. That little spot contains my whole universe. Hole universe, you know? No, c’mon don’t look away. I got what you’re looking for. Every seen a shiny angel get shot out of the sky and buried in a shallow grave in the hills? Every taken dust from an old book and started mixing it with you’re own blood and writing with ghost fingers on the walls that no one can see. No one, I’m telling you. You need this shit. Let me give you this shit. You’re old lady, she like to get high and scrape her head across the sky until little bits of her ears fall off and get stuck to the stars? How you gonna help her out, huh? Just take a little. Take it. It’s yours. You’ll come back. Once the fires leave the ground and come knocking on your door like spooked children around dawn. Once bats start telling your future back at you like an echo of now. Once they dry you out and print all over your paper-thin skin and you can just sit there and read yourself all day ‘cuz your eyes don’t move anymore. Just take it. You’ll be back.
33 stone-winged ravens fell from the tree outside of his home, a small wooden structure set back on the hill above the creek, dry this time of year though often full of deer, searching. He counted each paralyzed bird without touching a one, grabbed his thick book of notes and sketches from where it sat on his porch and, crunching frost-bitten leaves under his feet, set up a small path leading farther upwards. There was a stump he preferred for this sort of thing. His eyes began to sweat before he arrived. Something pulled at his bootlaces, something he thought to be thorns. He glanced down and his stomach fell into his guts.
Fingers as long and twisted as oak roots closed upon his ankle, holding him in place. Tucking his book into his long jacket, he withdraw a buck knife and, blinking away sweat, set to prying himself free. The fingers jumped back into the earth as his knife separated their flesh from his leather. Calming his breath, he looked down to where he had left the ravens, hoping to record their pattern before the world twisted once again and he was simply an old man, living in the woods alone. But they were gone.
He folded up his knife, took out his pipe, and, fumbling for matches in a pocket too big for such a small thing, and sat on his stump.
They took their skin off and ran it up a flag pole outside of the post office in the middle of town. Five skins, untethered, billowing and spritzing the lawn with blood as the afternoon turned blustery. Their corpses crawled upon the stairs and the people with their packages had to go up to the east side entrance, which was a longer and more narrow route. They, of course, complained, but the employees had their jobs and no one had been hired to remove skinless bodies.
They posted application opportunities on their website, but by the time the interview process was finished and the remaining applicants were rounded up for final analysis, the flies and skunks and sewer children had stripped the flesh off of the corpses and the job description had changed from “Skinless Body Removal Specialist” to “Skeleton Disassembler” and they had to re-post the job and start the process again.
They forgot about the skins hanging from the flagpole. They had been too busy to look up.
Tommy and Becky lick each other delicately on a park bench as a pink, glowing tongue appears in the sky, not rising like the moon that has finally failed, not like the sun that is carving a stick and dreaming about the day it is allowed to swallow all it sees. The tongue comes from straight on and Tommy never stops licking Becky but she stops reciprocating and notes: “Some sort of fucked up space tongue thing, Tommy.”
He continues. She continues, “Stop it. Look. Look up. You see it, don’t you? What is it? A tongue, right?”
Tommy cocks his head. Nods, confirms, “Yeah, yeah, a tongue or something. Shit, you think it’s because of that tattoo I got? Its starting to itch all funny.”
Under Becky’s saliva, still red with the needle’s work, a knot of crossed lines and loopity-loos and swirly bits quiver as the living sigil anticipates its master’s tongue. Free it was from the darkened library, from the musty pages of that old book that had been left behind when they condemned the building. Finally, it had found flesh, flesh that it could open to accept the interstellar cunnilingus that was its greatest desire all of these long years since the master had penned it before jumping from the Earth on a black wind.
“You’re not gonna let it lick your belly are you?” Becky asked, disgust and jealousy fighting for control of her eyes.
Tommy could only stare as the tongue began to char a bit on atmospheric re-entry.
It wasn’t a fucking worm. It was veins. I pulled and pulled and pulled and it never stopped coming, like I was some magic, idiot clown obsessed with the infinite nature of his pockets. I mean, yeah, it looked like a worm at first. Even smelled like one. I didn’t know until I already had it between my fingers. It didn’t start shitting blood everywhere until I had about a foot of it out of the ground. By then, I knew it was veins, but who just stops pulling on something like that? What if I could have saved it, whatever it was? If it bleeds, it lives, right? And I swear I could hear breathing down there. I didn’t have a shovel. I figure it would be like roots, you know, like if I pulled enough of them up the whole thing would eventually come free. But it didn’t, nothing came free. Just veins and veins and piles of fucking veins. I guess they could have been arteries. But not worms. I just can’t believe I thought it was a worm. Next time, I’m just going to keep walking, even if the grass starts screaming at me.