I. Prélude: La Prisonnière

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There was a woman in the penthouse of a tower like a birdcage, but you hardly could tell she was a woman, hidden deep in the crux of all the stratospheres of her dress. It was made of newspaper clippings which the bluebird had sloughed off zephyrs glad to let go the burden; the words inside the bodice and hem meant more to her skin than to her mind, which needed eye contact to understand language. But the ink penetrated her slowly, as an apple falls, day by day. One day it will hit one skull. Then, the numbness of humanity will forever be coffined under trapdoor of falsely smiling honey-grass. Let us hope that hour does not fall soon enough to blot our story.

There was a bluebird who brought the woman things from the open winds of the village. From the cathedral’s forebrow he plucked the sound of bells to melt on her tongue; from the crumpling lung of the peasants’ river he snatched the fleeting sour of sackcloth laundry to tickle her eyelids. It was thus that the woman in the birdcage learned to speak, and then to think beforehand. However, the bluebird never minded what the woman said, whether she proclaimed her love or threatened his sudden end. For he was old as birds are old, and had long ago dropped language upon the heads of the people below in order to lighten his own load as, free from consonants, he conversed with constellations. And she learned by the subtleties of the eyes in his stars, whether she was saying something bad or good, and she learned that whatever she chose to say mattered not. Her words, however bright, would soon be shadowed by the light of so many millions of other stars just like her own.

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There was a space between the twining bars behind the back of the woman in the birdcage on the tower. There was a small dark slot where a metal key hid, tapping ever so slightly through her bodice of old news and her skin of illiterate tattoos and the meat and veins until it came to the spine, which it gripped as one grips a column in a parthenon as the earth tilts sideways, as one grips a perfect love which dissolves as soon as the thought of fingertips. But unlike love or parthenons, this metal key had a purpose; It locked between the vertebrae according to a design. When the woman needed to shift between seasons, it would unspool, loosening a thread of paper from her dress, disrobing her stealthily over the course of a lullaby played so sky in the piano’s chiffon chambers you would strain to hear it; you would think it was a fairy in the belly of a baby bird crying half-headedly for help. But it was there, and no one listened, and no one noticed the progression until she was naked.

And it was cold in Paris. The bluebird told her it was Paris, and it was cold, and she crumpled in two dimensions just like a leaf of paper. But where her hair once blossomed, a black curl of ink sealed her head away from judgment: no letter nor numeral but the sign that locks a pathway of music into the voice of a particular instrument carved solely for that purpose. In order to hear her – for he had never listened before – the bluebird needed to carve it. And he had not language nor hands.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

“Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.” By ktanaka, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56333019

Izmir Clock Tower.” By No machine-readable author provided. Burakhuseyin assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1519154

“A Bluebird taking flight. by John Gresham.” By Virginia State Parks staff – “Leaving You Behind” Uploaded by AlbertHerring, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29211208

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the catch

“Daddy, look! Look what I found!” Sander tripped up the three wooden steps to his father’s shed, blinking seagrass from his eyelashes.

“Okay, settle down,” his father grunted as he raised his goggles and unbent over his worktable. “What’s all this about?”

“I found a unicorn seahorse!”

“You did not!” His father’s chuckle was strange.

“I did, though! I did!” Sander opened his palm and thrust it under his daddy’s nose so he could see – and smell – the palm-sized creature, a papyrus-yellow fish with an elephant’s trunk for a tail, tiny gossamer wings for fins, a horse’s tubular snout, and a forehead crowned with a twirling horn. The mother-of-pearlish material danced in the light and shadow, reflecting the gestures of Sander’s father as he gulped a breath of winch-fired air, waved his arms uselessly and shouted. “What did you do?!?!?!”

“What did I…?” Sander winced away a little, wondering what he’d managed to screw up this time.

His father snapped forward and began digging into the child’s palm as if it were a deep pit and he, an undead creature desperate for shelter from the sun of night. Sander readily surrendered the fish, whose glassy eyes swung lazily as Daddy clasped the body between his thumb and forefinger and dashed out the door. He nearly crashed down the rickety steps.

Sander watched from the threshold as his father ran to the ocean, this strange giant neighbor he had to salute from afar but could not play in or taste a drop of its green-brown-blue-red-purple-black waters.

His father knelt and, in the most delicate gesture Sander had ever seen out of him, he cupped his hand to let the seahorse under the water. He crouched there for a long time, motionless.

Sander joined him and crouched too, in the mud, not bothering to take off his shoes or roll up his trousers. Thinking the better of asking his questions aloud, he kept his mouth shut and just watched his father’s lacerated palm floating under the surface, the tiny unicorn seahorse upon it bobbing with the tides as they breathed in… out… slowly, not flickering a fin. “What’s wrong, Daddy?” Sander finally asked.

“You made perhaps the most revolutionary ecological discovery of our time,” his father responded, staring into the glassy eyes of the graying beast.

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

“And,” his father continued as if he didn’t hear Sander, “it’s dead.”

When his father stood and tossed the dead fish out into the brown-gray-blue waves, Sander stayed a moment longer, letting his father’s metallic scent recede and the blanket of salt-weed smell overtake him. His face in the wind that slapped his cheeks, he squinted and searched the horizon for an island, a ship, a whale, something he’d read about in his old books. A flicker of movement caught his eye – he turned to the corner of the horizon – to see – a styrofoam helicopter whizzing into a smog where his vision ended. Hope had presented itself for a glimmer of a sliver of an instant – just long enough in its opalescent beauty to crack and heartrend everything and leave behind the same despair, but changed, more toxic because the people wading through its smokey fog had known for a glimmer of a sliver of an instant, the caress of sweet clean air on their throats.

the deleted stanza

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The itsy bitsy spider got tired of exerting herself. When the fat caterpillar bumbled by, in pursuit of more milkweed to fuel his flesh’s abounding, she beckoned him and whispered wise words between her mandibles and his peachy fluff. She told him just what would happen to him as soon as the requisite fattening days had all been fulfilled. He agreed and signed a contract. So she pierced and opened the skin and sucked the jelly inside from the withered sack into her black-bean body. This gave her just enough energy to scurry up the waterspout. But she didn’t have anyone to forewarn her just what would happen when she finally reached the light at the tippy top  – finishing is a two-edged blade tossed lightly from progenitor to offspring. They either catch one side or the other. We hope.

Image: By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wonderful Bad

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“I always knew you were bad. Knew it from the moment your tiny teeth made an avalanche of my Romanian blinds, and you, a mere tot – ”

“You always tell that story. Can’t you come up with a new one?”

“But – it’s the real one. I always knew you were a bad little girl, and yet I took you and fed you and bathed you and now look at you.”

I was looking at me. In fact, Grandmarie wasn’t even in the depot with me, only the frightful stuffed animals and the defunct dressing table with its infamous mirror. As long as I had a mirror and my own touched mind, I would never be lonesome.

Choosing to abandon the argument, I leaned forward. I was searching for some spot on the mirror’s marred surface that wasn’t too encrusted by wear to reflect the pale writing in my eye. One day last week, I hadn’t been able to find it. I had not tried since then, terrified of forever locking the door to my past and Charles and… but now I had nothing to lose, I might as well find out. Find out, more like as not, that I was wrong all the past eight years, and there really was no magic, and I really would be all alone when they shipped me off in the train to Bedshriver tomorrow. You can see I felt no tiniest upset whatsoever at the notion of being alone.

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I couldn’t see the initials in my eye. Instead, what looked like the wing of a pale butterfly opened into two, fluttering and bumping against the tight walls of my iris. As I stared, my pupil dilated – insolent science! – and near crushed the poor thing, but it escaped at the last moment and popped right out of the mirror, floundering through open air and rocketing straight into my chest in a blue blaze of sniffly dust. I let it fall into my palm, where the wings opened into the initials CLD – just for a moment, before writhing and reforming themselves longer and thinner. I squinted to read the script: Flamingo Cake Fight. Just Through the Mirror.

“You’re joking,” I shot back at my palm. The moonbeamish ink began to melt to nothingness on my skin. I felt something between a tickle and a shiver shimmer across my hand, up my arm and into my neck. The spot on my neck where the syringe would incise tomorrow in preparation for the opening of my skull and the wrenching out and tossing away of my mind’s bad parts. Does desperation function as innocence once did? My fingers were trembling scarcely one quarter of an inch from the mirror, yet I was eons and earths away from touching it. What if it should turn out to truly be a pointless piece of withering glass?

“Pleasance!” Now that was really Grandmarie, yowling from the sitting room. “Did you get your coats together yet? Pleasance, I must speak with you. Alice Pleasance Dormitory Gracer! Alice!”

She squawks like a badminton bird just before its head conks into the ball, I chuckled into my shoulder. Suddenly, before it could fall away from me, I let the veil of blue dust rise like breath and lift my legs as my muscles agreed: One, two, onto the dressing table-top; three, through the wavering oval. Like water’s fingers it whisper-traced the outline of my body. Finally it closed behind my ponytail and flicked me. What seemed as long as the fall of a doll off a tea table landed me unscathed upon a cushion of grass. Grass that smelt of mint and bladed up from my eye level into a sky laced by a pink dawn.

“I know you,” I said as if he was there. “I’ve been here before.” And yet every new morning was a blank book, ready for my life to scatter across the pages in whorls and poems brighter than any ink. I haven’t had breakfast yet, I realized. With that, I launched off my bare feet, and ran as forever as I could into the wonderful bad, hungry for colors and strangeties as yet unimagined.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By Lewis Carroll, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3304397

By Gustave Léonard de Jonghe – the-athenaeum.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5154074

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=314025

Cold Inside

When Evan woke up, he found himself unyieldingly sealed to Ivressa by a block of ice enveloping them both, extending from head to toe and locking his mouth on hers in what seemed to be an eternal numb embrace.

Shit, he thought, I knew I should have got the heating guys over here before Christmas. The heat always crapped out right at the time when all humans were also slacking off. And now it had cost him his girlfriend and probably some of his reputation as a nice guy. Imagine the way they’ll talk about the jerk who freezes his dates as soon as they trust him enough to come to his place.

He’d known something was off as soon as he’d touched her hand at the coffee bar out of work. She was getting an iced tea, and he’d remarked that her hands were already ice-cold. She’d responded by shoving the tall plastic cup of deep frozen tea against his throat, shocking his most sensitive and unsuspecting places with cold. That was when he knew, that she knew, and she was receptive. He even let her screw around with the controls on his dash, which was almost unheard of in his car generally. But even then, he’d had a feeling Ivressa was more than just a general hookup. What about her was more, he trusted he’d figure out after diluting her mind with a little wine and the night. But it seemed like she’d diluted his conscience with her chocolate moves and Titanic-blue eyes, and it was clearly her icy hands laying him down and not the other way around. And now look where he’d landed himself by letting his guard down.

Frozen to a lifeless naked girl.

His jeans, a pile in the corner, started vibrating. His phone – probably a message from his boss, or possibly his girlfriend in Iowa. Shit – had she showed up in town early to “surprise” him this year? He squirmed, trying to push the heavy block of ice and flesh off of him so he could get to his phone. After a few moments of twisting and turning and cussing, he noticed the ice around his own body was melting, pooling as a chilly pond between the cushions of his couch. His connection to Ivressa’s body was cracking, and soon he was able to heave her off of him – still ensconced in her own lonely block of ice. Not looking back to see the results of the crashing sound, he ran to his pants.

The vibrations died. He’d missed the call. He keyed in his passcode to check – it was his mom, surely calling to make sure he hadn’t died or gambled away her retirement fund in the past week since he’d last spoken to her. Totally not an emergency worthy of breaking his girlfriend for.

Oh, well. Kneeling by his pants, he glanced over at the block of ice like a Peruvian mummy beside his soggy couch. Her eyes seemed to stare right back at him, frozen in a glaring sort of smile. He wondered if this was going to turn out like one of those creepy doll movies where the doll comes to life and strangles its master or some shit. In fact, her eyelids slowly blinked down and opened again, on perfect synchrony like a doll, and her smile inched a tiny bit wider.

Still, the ice coffin around her body was pretty solid. He was pretty sure he could make it to his car and beat it to mom’s before she escaped – if she ever did. After all, the heating was still decidedly broken. First things first though – before he went out to the car, he needed some clothes. He searched around the corner where his pants were, groping around for his underwear.

Suddenly he noticed something was very wrong. And at the same moment he discovered what was off about Ivressa. He had not been able to sense her frosty heart until it was too late – a vital part of him was now frozen inside her body, locked in ice, never again to belong to its rightful owner. Curse me, he thought to himself, for breaking the ice without paying attention to boundaries.

 

 

Meet the Monster

 

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We could not rest. Onward we drifted, neglecting to count, still pushing through the dayless dark.

When I was young, the whispers told me stories of monsters above. I didn’t know if it was just a rumor between small lowlifes in the mud, or if it was true. Then I saw it, exactly as the whispers had bubbled in my ears: A smooth diamond-shaped shadow like an eye with no white, no sight, just an empty pupil, open as the night sky scraped clean of stars. From the body, a long thin entrail swung lazily down, some sort of twisted cord tipped in a toothy grappling spider with many fleshy feet.

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It was impossible to turn away, like in those dreams where you finally stop progressing onward. And so we all thronged toward oily death, grabbing hold of its lanky vocal cords with our teeth. Death heaved us, slowly, jerkily up to the edge of the world, crashed us through the atmosphere to the flat paper dimension where we could not breathe. We squirmed in death’s plushy hands, trying to keep going, onward forever even still, thrashing and gasping the acidic air like a poisoned feast before a starved creature.

The fleshy hands that sprang from the monster-eye’s brain passed us around, searching for treasures. Not one of us knew what would happen next – the whispers being confined to the lowlife, they could not know what followed victims to this overhead hell where striving forward got you nowhere, atop the monster’s flat skull.

And knives emerged, from the folds of the hands that sprouted from the brain, from the delicate webbings protecting its ribs and heart, and knives came at us from all sides. The monster had a neat killing system – first slash off the right arm, then the left, and then the feet in one swift motion. Cut off the genitals now, while blood screams from every open wound at every ruined joint, while the mind tries to send arms to fling away the knife, but the arms are now just ghosts, and moving them doesn’t make them move in space.

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Its killing system ends much like all other digestive systems in the animal kingdom: with the purge of waste. Our bodies, motionless as stones, flicked one by one off the flat diamond-shaped skull back through the crashing window, down and down into our world, a heavier version of our world, one crawling now with shadows and streaming with broken red blood lines in reverse as we shrink farther and farther from any of the moving parts that could have helped us move. And awake as Bible scholars, we drown. A petty matter of principle away from being able to save ourselves, we watch and calculate and wonder as our last view of the sky blots to red, then to gray.

Our corpses piled in the monster’s wake, sixty feet below, eyes open forever to not stare at nothing, placid dolls wrecked and locked away to stew in some kid’s creaky closet. And we don’t see the world dart around us, and we cannot keep moving. And we don’t know that it is over, or anything anymore, but the corals and the stars and salty fishes flitting around our bodies know that we are sharks that have been finned, and they whisper it between themselves. It propagates like the new spring of anemones across the wet rocks, and some skins sense it passing by, and some don’t. But no one can do anything but know, and go nowhere, and strive and get nowhere, once the monster decides to appear overhead.

Humans, the seaweeds bristle and hum, humans must be the most dangerous destructive things in the world. No one hears or answers back.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By ito1117, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47556032

By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia)Publicada por/Publish by: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=349839

By FluoritLaufer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11873042

By Georg Kölderer – Bernd Roeck, Eine Stadt in Krieg und Frieden, Bd. 1, 1989, S. 37, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11777660

Chelonia Mydas Erotica Publishing Corps

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His beady eyes glared out of a rough greenish-beige face shaped by multiple chins and hardened by scaly skin that piled up at every nook and cranny, until his neck resembled a compressed Slinky and his mouth the beak of a long-fossilized pterosaur. He looked exactly like all the other males around, exactly like her, and she didn’t mind that look.

So she looked again.

Slowly, the two swam together. Silently, he glided above her, settled atop her shell, and ruffled his penis around in there until it was stuck.

She could feel the age-old duty of her mother’s mother’s mother crashing atop her brain like a heavy wave, but there was no stopping it now, this connection called love.

She needed air, but he was insatiable, his weight pounding down upon her every second. While he gasped and snorkled at the surface, she was hardly able to keep from sinking to the abyss, let alone tilt to the degree required to get her nostrils above water. As breath slowly sighed out every cell in her scaly body, she focused on the love flowing into her, a steady stream. It was doomed to cut off, she knew, unlike an ancient river that flowed forever. Yet, until that rock plunged into the stream of love to disconnect them, she was safe in his flippers. Or so her oxygen-deprived brain told her.

So she kept treading, waiting for breath and breakage. But it was not as simple as that.

More males, each approximately identical to the one currently drowning her, circled around the couple. One bit at her male’s back flipper, scraping her own toes with his jagged beak. Another bore down on her male with a wrinkled paddle, trying to scrape him off her carapace so he could rewrite the genetic code of the futures that would come of this love. She didn’t really care which letters were in the code and whose signature dangled from the double helices, but she’d already invested significant effort in this first love and she feared being forced to start all over. She hoped her current male would fight back valiantly.

Instead, he gripped tighter to her body, tipping her down ever farther from precious surface air. He bit into her neck with grim vigor; his toothless beak sank between her multiple chins to ensure that he would hang on, even if her head got ripped off in the process. His mark would be on her forever, the same mark as would have been left by any other beak of any sexually mature male of the correct species. But it was her mark, and she would harbor it always between storm and drought.

The challengers were pulling hard at her partner’s back flippers. She could feel him slipping, the flesh on her throat tearing slightly.

But he clamped on, adding a new bite mark on the nape of her neck. One final thrust and it was over.

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The weight disappeared from her neck and back and she rocketed to the surface for air, air, sweet air. If only she could make love to air. When she’d had her fill, she returned below to find the blue sea deserted by all the males. She would never see her mate again, and she wouldn’t recognize him even if she did – but maybe if he bit her…? She wondered. She had a long commute to wonder during: 2600 kilometers of blue. The trail was lit by moon-glassy jellies and dancing green kelp, and other shadows drifted, her sisters.

What awaited her was the heavy duty borne upon her by her mother’s mother’s mother: a breathless, scorching, scratching belly-down lug up the crowded sand, to dig a nest and let go of the love – her creations and his forever intertwined. Most of it would become food for seagulls; a lot more would become hairy roadkill months later when the newborn love turned the wrong direction and walked into the merciless street of cars.

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When it was time for her to depart, chances were, she would end up slashed by the intertidal rocks, paralyzed on her back, soft belly facing the accelerating white sun so the morning could cook her alive. Chances were. She didn’t think about chances. She thought about love, until like a used-up sugar pill “he” faded into the gray of the other turtles, all on the same path to hard dry shores. Their eyes, after all, were the same, every gaze.
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Image credits in order of appearance:

By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10541778

By Eco cruising (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

By Andries Oudshoorn – 080317-70 Oman – Turtles at Ras al JinzUploaded by mangostar, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6833872

By No machine-readable author provided. Ezpete assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=514129

By Paul Émile Chabas – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35403334