NO NAME WILL
I stand under the sun in Seahorse Valley. Sweat to remember what I just forgot. Deodorant applied in a pattern reminiscient of the Tarantula inside the Large Magellanic Cloud. Feel it caked on, swamping pit hair like pity a whore.
Hop in the Ford. Shove a Chev aside. Crush a beetle. Step on it.
Hit the highway right through the center of the short of what term did I say my name is? Well… never remember directly. Now I’ve established character, hell – I answer to anything. So we don’t descend any further into this depression.
Swing the glasses onto the Cloud. Gawk at the Tarantula embedded therein. Drag me 180 thou lightyears to the heart of a star factory. Holy Genevieve de Brabant!
Decide to camp for the night in Goose Holler. Scream of a town inhabited by gophers and actual tarantulas fat as the head of God’s cock. You know – the cock that turns God on. Am I sounding cockamamie?
Hm… starts with an M?
The solution to this ice might lie with let go and float on the outer rim of Neptune’s toilet.
Enter the john. Interrogate myself in the damn mirror.
Spot my eyes are closed. That’s a kick – look in a mirror see your eyes shut tight. Don’t try this at home – might mean you are dead. In a story, of course, means you are dreaming. Especially when the lids twitch – see that?
Too bad. Well, I saw both balls twitch. Like mantises kicking out of cocoons. Turn that cock on God never quits! Some claim a black hole occurs when you turn the cock off completely. All the way to the right, or maybe it’s left… can’t seem to put this issue down…
Hey, baby – won’t you put me down. Show me up. Lay me out flat. Pull my plug with your mouth and a mouse click.
Make fun of me. Flip my corpse onto the fire.
Hire two crews. One to giggle, one to shovel. Strew my ashes to the multitude of maggots lying in wait out by the dump.
Rumplestiltskin? Has an M in it…
Wander into the kitchen. Heft a butcher knife. Hey, baby – put me down so I can carve your soul up. To live one must kill. In reality this fantasy won many, but never the last.
Hey, baby – put me down to spin you up, tight as yarn soaked liquor. Spirit our story to the crib. Hey, baby – put up with me, till that frailty when I beg you put me down. But right now, forget the rites: could you just put my name down on this scrap of asswipe?
(Seem to have ambled back into the john… that it, John?)
YES! John Brant! It’s like I goose myself! Here, let me have a gander – that what you put on the asswipe?
No? C’mon – lemme see. Just lemme open my eyes in the mirror let’s say five hundred blinks. What, OK – fifty. OK – five. Five blinks worth.
What did I say my name is? You can just tell me… mouth syllables if THEY might hear. They aren’t even here. It’s just you and, what did you say your name was – mike?
Dick? OK, Deadeye Dick – how the Jesus does a guy find his way out of Seahorse Valley? My wife and I have decided we don’t need to buy here. OK, Mr…. what did you say?
Jest ride one o’ them hippopotamuses square out of the potty? Suppose makes me feel too camp? Could I see a taste of that feel? That another star already – in the pygidium of the Tarantula? Holy Genevieve de Brabant – spare any sex change?
Poor Gen! Wrongly accused of cheating. Her husband, Eration X, some kind of fairy anyway. I’m a Boomer. That means I fuck everything up enthusiastically.
Exiled in the woods, Gen eats minnow roe, spider spatter, butterfly sperm. She made her bed in a nettle patch, anxious to demonstrate innocence. At length, more time than I have here to hang you by the yarn until enlightened, the false accuser exposes himself.
His Excellency castrates the loser. Tortures pervert into eating his own balls. The prince excels at cruelty. Loves vengeance more than Gen herself. Although he finally does get around to drilling the princess schizophrenic, and maybe that’s why my name really is, glimpse in slot machine flash: Millenial.
No last name. No name will.
I am pod people. I inhabit an apodment. You might think I have a headcold or come from New York, but, no, I actually do inhabit an apodment.
I have on my unit tattooed your name. Once I get you inside the unit, drop trou, unfurl Speedo’s: there it glows: in magenta Braggadocio: Your Name.
Something octopussy about pod. Suckers in the brine some cat heavy into Greek scarfs. Pie, Omega, Delta. Like pie up the delta in Bung County, poppy pods in the jam enough to put to sleep your dog while stuck in traffic. Euthanasia a mere ramp in the mirror off Xanadu.
Did I relate yet about a bout between your hippocampus and my cuttle fish? Knew you wouldn’t remember – didn’t happen ago long enough, too new.
“Screw-belong-arm!” I coo in pidgin. Elbow you out the apodment the second I come.
You got a sister, tell her I got a blister, so hot half-cocked go off clean to the spermbank. Otherwise, a word to the wise: still a few pods unoccupied here in Seahorse Valley.
If you think you remember: Forget it! What happened more anonymous than a virus in the gut of a bug on a rat in the wall of this complex a generation from now, when all the money pulls up stakes. These pods by then one whale of a mistake. Me and the bum squats here then two peas in a pod; only I got the dough, he got the time and you got no sister, ya know, sister?
Now get out before I implode like a twister loaded on every liquor under the moon but time. Time you forget – remember?
I am pod people, see, because I’m the developer. This pod but a pad for my unit to unload.
Why you coming back? Oh, it isn’t, is it, loaded?
Blood is Not Pink
“I believe my blood is pink,” she said brightly, “not red.”
Richard Jarvis, the English Gentleman, glanced at her with raised eyebrows.
“You know, the red comes from all that red meat you eat,” she explained. “We vegetarians have pink blood. Isn’t that great? Much prettier.”
Richard stared blankly, unsure what to say. Trying to work out if she was being serious or playing some kind of joke. Peacock finally looked up from her book and also fixed her with a brief puzzled stare. But here in the Yellow King cocktail bar, everything was comfortably quiet – too quiet for thinking up a response to something like that. This place was a strange oasis from the bustle of Camden outside. An oasis that Richard always loved. The décor was a surprisingly effective yellow and black, with black wooden tables and soft, low-slung chairs. Quiet classical music in the background and a drinks menu that went on for six pages.
Fortunately the slightly awkward silence was interrupted by Alice, quietly delivering the starter. He focussed on the salad before him with some relief. It looked tasty – packed with leaves, fruit and hot-smoked salmon in a nice seasoned yoghurt dressing.
“Alice,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Peacock shoved her book away and accepted a plate of antipasto with a smile.
“Princess?” he murmured. “You sure you don’t want anything?”
“Oh no – thank you. I am fine, really. And you know, I really do have pink blood.”
Richard coughed and quickly snapped up a sliver of salmon.
“Um,” he managed. “Really?”
Peacock absorbed a thin slice of Parma ham and smiled privately.
“Yes – really. Hey – Peacock. Those artichokes look great?”
“Uhuh,” Peacock said. “Yes – marinated to perfection.”
“Hey – mind if I steel one?”
“Are you sure it won’t pollute that pink blood of yours?”
“No no – I’ll take that one – hasn’t touched the ham . . .”
Before Peacock could respond, the artichoke was captured quickly and ferried towards Princess’s small mouth, which received it eagerly. It squished in there with a waft of olive oil and she made a happy noise. “Hey – these are good.”
Richard chewed salad and grinned.
“I am happy for you,” he said.
Princess shook her head.
“I would demonstrate,” she said enthusiastically, “but, well – you can’t can you.”
“I dunno,” Richard said. “Got a knife?”
Peacock winced. “No no – please. Alice would not be happy . . .”
Princess gave a smug grin. “Then you’ll have to take my word for it, wont you,” she cried. “How’s the salad?”
Richard sighed and pushed the plate in her direction. She grabbed his fork and picked around in there for a moment before capturing a scoop that was safely fish-free. Again that perfect tiny mouth absorbed it with an inbuilt smile.
“Hey,” she protested, muffled. “I know what I am talking about. My blood is pink. End of story.”
“You don’t believe me – I can tell.”
Richard pulled a face. “Well,” he said, “it’s just that prevailing scientific wisdom . . .”
“Fuck that,” she said. “Scientists all eat meat as well.”
“Do they now?” he muttered under his breath, while Peacock coughed over a pickled mushroom.
“After all,” Princess continued happily, “humans never evolved to eat meat, you know. It was after the fall of the Roman Empire that the starving masses were driven to desperation and started to eat each other. And since then we have never managed to shake off the taste for our own flesh. Only now, of course, we are forced to use other animals as surrogates.”
Richard swallowed the last morsel of salmon, carefully saved until the end, and slid his plate aside.
“Yes,” Princess continued. “Back in the middle ages, the favourite dish of the lords of the manor would be a slow roast baby, not three days old, which the villagers were forced to provide as a part of the tithing system. Roasted whole on a spit and with honey and spice.”
“Please,” Peacock said sarcastically, “You’re making me hungry again.”
“Oh tut,” Princess scolded.
Just for a brief second something flickered across Peacock’s face – an almost invisible warning frown. Richard coughed and glanced at her uneasily. The salad was making him feel comfortable and relaxed though. Relaxed enough for something to click in his mind slightly. He leaned forward with an ever so slightly alarming twinkle in his eye.
“Ok,” he said smoothly. “Lets get to the bottom of this. You have some rather interesting theories there. I always had the impression that the red had something to do with iron oxide, haemoglobin, something . . . Um – you are offering to prove this pink blood thing I take it? The essence of science is visible evidence and proof, you know.”
Princess gave him a startled look. “What do you mean?”
“Pink blood,” he said with a happy smile. “That is easy to prove, I think.”
Princess looked uncomfortable.
“You want me to cut myself or something?”
“Please,” Peacock said, “this is a high-class establishment. If you want to cut yourself, do it in the ‘ladies’.”
Richard grinned. “Not at all, hang on one moment.”
He hauled his case up onto the table and, while Princess watched nervously, began rummaging in it.
“Um – Richard . . ?”
“Here we are,” he said, plucking out a green first aid box. “And here,” opening it, “I happen to have a small hypodermic . . . and a sterilized needle. I reckon that would be much more polite, don’t you?”
“Richard,” she said unhappily, “I promise you, my blood is pink.”
“Yes yes of course,” he said. “I believe you. But hey – I think Peacock is a bit dubious. And seeing is the ultimate believing after all.”
“Hey,” Peacock growled, swallowing the last of her artichokes, “leave me out of this. Richard, are you going to . . .”
“Hush,” he said, grinning wider. “Princess, give me your arm.”
“No way,” she cried crossly. “Here – give me that thing. I’ll do it myself, if I have to.”
She snatched the hypodermic and turned away sulkily, rubbing at her arm.
But then Alice arrived again, bearing plates, glancing rather curiously at the hypodermic. Richard gave her a wink.
“One T-bone steak, rare,” she said. “And a side order of our special croquettes. And one Thai Prawns. With jasmine rice. Your friend is not eating?”
“Thank you,” Richard said. “Um – no, I don’t think so. You don’t want anything now?”
“Oh no thank you,” Princess insisted. “I really am not hungry.”
“Especially now,” she muttered, looking at his plate uneasily. “I am a vegetarian and you order a rare steak?”
Richard shrugged again and Alice withdrew. “I like rare steaks,” he said simply, that twinkle still in his eye. “No mystery. And you know . . .”
He cut the steak, which bled red blood onto the plate.
“You know, cows don’t usually eat meat – though it has been known – and yet the blood is still red. That’s curious. But anyway, you were about to demonstrate something I think?”
She scowled and turned away, trying to hide what she was doing from the rest of the diners.
“Ok – now don’t look,” she said.
“Don’t look at your arm?” he asked, puzzled.
“Don’t look at my arm,” she reiterated. She didn’t even roll up her sleeve, simply felt about for a moment, then the hypodermic found its mark. Both Richard and Peacock stopped eating, ignoring her injunction and watching curiously.
There was a flash of pink.
Slowly, her blood coursed into the clear barrel of the hypodermic. Richard and Peacock stared, eyebrows up. In the light from the window, the pink liquid almost seemed to fluoresce – almost glisten and sparkle.
Then Princess whipped it out of her arm and held it up with a triumphant look.
“Happy now?” she demanded, grinning. Richard took it without a word, stared at it from several angles, then squired a tiny amount out onto his napkin and sniffed.
“Ok,” he managed. “I am impressed.”
He vaguely reached for a croquette and bit into it, still frowning.
Princess grinned happily. “So what say?” she said. “Are you interested? You can tell a lot about people from their blood colour. If your blood is red, it is a sign of the impurities. That’s why period blood always remains red.”
Peacock signalled urgently to Alice, who came over.
“A glass of Calvados please,” she said with a sigh.
“Yeah, I’m interested,” Richard said doubtfully, “Though I am still going to eat this steak.”
Princess gave the meat a distasteful look. “Look at it,” she said plaintively. “Blood all over the place. How can I try anything that has been on that plate?”
“Why don’t you order a meal?” Peacock demanded. There was a glitter in her eyes and Richard hastily placed a hand on her knee.
“I shouldn’t,” Princess said. “I don’t like to eat too much. I’m on a diet. Richard, you seem very naïve.”
“Naïve?” he cried, shocked.
“Make that two calvados,” Peacock called, and Alice signalled acknowledgement.
“Hey,” Princess cried. “Can you make it three Calvados? I’ll pay.”
She sat back comfortably. “Food and perversion are inextricably linked,” she said. “From ancient times right up to that – that thing on your plate. In 19th century France, young girls like me would be taken on the day of their 18th birthday – on the day their sex organs opened. Their eyes would be put out and they would be kept in a dark box – and force-fed huge fucking amounts of sweet and spicy food. Until they blew up like soft balloons. And every night they would be massaged for three hours. Then, after a couple of weeks of this, they would be trussed and wrapped and then roasted alive for the king’s banquet. Served whole and basted in their own fat and seasoned by their own food. That was the real delicacy of France.”
“We are a perverted species.”
Richard stared restively at the shimmering pink syringe. “Yes – I have to agree about that,” he said gently.
Peacock drew a deep breath. “Richard – whatever you are thinking, please don’t.”
“Hey,” Princess murmured, leaning forward. “Those croquettes look good. Are they nice?”
Richard flashed her a look. “They are great,” he said. “The Yellow King really knows how to make its special croquettes, but . . .”
“Hey – can I try one?”
Richard hesitated. “Well sure,” he said. “But . . .”
“Richard!” Peacock hissed.
“I really don’t think you ought, it’s . . .”
However, she had already speared one on a fork and swallowed. She made a happy sound and a few more bites and it was gone.
“That’s fabulous. What’s in it?”
“You . . . like it?”
“Yes – a very nice taste. What’s in it?”
She blinked at him.
“Uh uh – can’t you taste it?”
“I never t-tasted . . . before . . .”
“Very finely minced and with a dash of smoked paprika – adds such a wonderful flavour to the potato. I love these things.”
Then Princess was lurching to her feet with a clatter and a choked sound.
“Hey,” Richard cried, spreading his arms, “I was going to warn you, but you just took it . . .”
But Princess was already heading across the room towards the ladies, blundering past a startled Alice and knocking a wine glass from her trey with a dismal smash.
“Richard,” Peacock wailed.
He glanced round at her sharply. “What did I do?”
“You . . . she . . . agg, you did that on purpose.”
“No I didn’t,” he said dryly.
Peacock buried her face in her hands. “That fruitcake is going to flip,” she said heavily.
“Oh gawd,” he muttered. “Yeah – I had better go and see.” He scrambled to his feet and made to follow her, then paused and grabbed up the first aid box.
“Excuse me – sorry Alice. Put that wine glass on my bill.”
“What’s happening?” she demanded.
“Look,” he growled, “If a medical helicopter is needed, I’ll let you know. I don’t think she likes your croquettes.”
“What? But . . .”
With Alice following close behind, he plunged into the sanctum sanctorum of the ladies room, looking round sharply. It didn’t take long to find Princess, either through vision or hearing, for she was on her knees over the toilet bowl, dry-heaving noisily.
“Princess,” he cried. “Take it easy.” He hurried in and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him. He stared sharply – at her baggy top flopping open, revealing a glimpse of a small flat pouch strapped to the skin of her arm. A pouch that shimmered a startling pink. He stared at it a moment, then shrugged and fumbled in the first aid box.
“Here,” he said producing a couple of small pills. “Take this – Alice? Some water?”
Princess ignored him though and fumbled in her pocket. He didn’t realise what she was doing until she had grabbed the straight razor and drawn it across her arm.
“What the hell are you doing?” Richard demanded sharply.
“My blood,” she stammered, gazing at the red that flowed from her with huge eyes. “It’s red – it’s fucking red. I – I mean . . .”
“Of course it’s fucking red,” he cried.
She gasped and spluttered, tears streaming down her face, and Richard held her shoulders. “It’s ok,” he said gently. “Hang in there.”
“Meat,” she stammered, cringing with some kind of ultimate horror – cutting again, deeper this time. “I’m – I’m meat.”
“Princess, give me that thing,” he growled. He finally got the razor away from her and held her face firmly.
“Open up,” he commanded.
“No,” she cried. “You will feed me meat . . .”
“No I wont – these are just to calm you down.”
She blinked at the two white pills. “Is there any meat in them?”
“No – no there isn’t. Just herbs and things – and a little sugar probably. They’ll calm you down. Here.”
Alice handed her a glass of water and at last the pills followed the artichoke, salad and croquette down her perfect pink throat. And hopefully, unlike them, they would stay down. She gave a splutter and clung on to him, while he and Alice struggled with bandages, eventually getting her slashed arm under control.
“Alice – I think you had better call someone. There’s going to be stitches here.”
She nodded and hurried out.
“You’re ok,” he said, ruffling her shoulder. “Nothing is happening to you. We all love you . . . you make life interesting for us all. Just take it easy – from the look of things, that croquette was only in contact with you for a minute.”
“But,” she stammered, “But – it’s all red. I’m – I’m . . . red.”
He helped her up and finally supported the floppy figure of the Princess back into the Yellow King and back to a chair, where she sat looking blinky and unhappy.
“Thanks,” she mumbled. She sat there in silence until some friendly people came in to take her away and patch her up – make sure that the red stayed inside where it should be.
Richard picked up the hypodermic and stared at it quizzically – then put it down again with a sigh.
“Fake?” Peacock murmured.
“Of course,” he said. “Alice? Any chance of warming this up a bit?”
“Sure,” she said, taking his plate with the almost untouched steak on it.
“Tell me,” he said wearily, “what would you say to serving braised Princess tomorrow?”
She nodded gravely. “With ginger and crispy potato wedges perhaps?”
“Well – it would make a change from the usual.”
“And don’t forget to serve it on a pink platter.”
Bio: David Rix is an author and publisher from the UK. He runs and does the design work for the specialist Eibonvale Press. His published books are What the Giants were Saying and the novella/story collection Feather, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill prize. In addition, his shorter works have appeared in various places, including many of the Strange Tales series of anthologies from Tartarus Press and Monster Book For Girls, from Exaggerated Press. As an editor, his first anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright, a collection of Slipstream stories connected to the railways, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award in the Best Anthology category.
After the tragic swallowing up of his wife by a puddle (reportedly an accident, rumored to be a suicide), John Poor was left alone to raise his infant daughter, Rapunzel. With each passing year, Rapunzel grew more beautiful. The day soon came when John Poor couldn’t help but notice the way Rapunzel gazed longingly at each cabbage they passed at the market. Determined to provide for his daughter and protect her from harm, and knowing he was not the only parent so inclined, he transformed his small and barely profitable chastity belt factory into Virgin Containment Systems International, the world’s leading manufacturer of Ivorine towers, schizophrenic alarm clockwork watchdogs, and the new SECUR line of autocursing deathbolts.
John Poor owns all the land between Fort Worth and Denton, and apart from the single Ivorine tower, hasn’t developed any of it. Recently I’ve heard rumors of plans for high-rise convents, which would be a shame, as I’ve always enjoyed the view on the way home from work – the meditating cattle, the faded and enduring sage, the mesquite trees posturing like players in a Greek tragedy on a stage stretching from horizon to horizon, and every once in a while, Rapunzel gazing at the sunset from the western window of her Ivorine tower. Is it any wonder I fell in love with her?
One day, sitting in my cubicle at work, I realized I was so much in love with Rapunzel that I would die if I didn’t speak to her. That very evening on my way home, instead of passing the Ivorine tower, I turned Ginger off of the road and into the long grass. I jumped down and hitched her to a fence post. Ginger was content to take a rest, eat some grass, and snort disapprovingly at some tumbleweeds which had gathered along the fence and were forming a committee to take action against fences. I walked along the barbed wire tugging at it here and there until I found a place where the wire was loose as Hardy’s pants on Laurel. I lifted up the middle strand, stepped on the bottom strand, and eased myself through, the top wire nearly knocking off my hat, a genuine 4X beaver hide Stetson.
I walked to the base of the tower and looked up at Rapunzel. The clouds in the sky, blowing from west to east, created the unsettling illusion that the tower was falling on me.
“Hello!” I said. “Can I come up?” I asked.
“No way!” Rapunzel said.
“Sorry,” I said, “I thought you might be lonely.” I turned around and started walking back to Ginger. Plan B was to make a deal with Honest Estes, the used horse lady. I would give her Ginger in return for a little burial plot on her range. The thought of Ginger keeping my grave trimmed up was comforting. I didn’t have anyone else.
“Wait!” Rapunzel said. I turned and looked up at her looking down at me. She smiled. My heart pounded. “I didn’t mean ‘no way’ like I don’t want you up here, I meant ‘no way’ like there is no way you can get up here.”
“What about that enormous rusty iron door?” I said.
“It’s locked with our new SECUR line of autocursing deathbolts,” she said. “You have to think of a nine digit number to open it. Only my father knows the number.”
“Does your father have a favorite number?” I asked.
“Nine,” she said.
“Does he have any other favorite numbers?” I asked, “Bigger ones?”
“No,” she said, “I don’t think so.”
“Well, then” I said, “I’ll just stand near the door and think of every number I can think of.” I walked up to the rusty iron door and closed my eyes.
“Stop!” Rapunzel cried. “Don’t think! If you think of the wrong number, you’ll go blind or mad.”
“Which?” I said, “blind or mad?
“I’m not sure. It’s a new feature.”
I looked up at Rapunzel, her hazel eyes bright, her vast quantities of red-brown hair lit up from the red-orange glow of the sunset. If I went blind, I would never see my Rapunzel again – but I would always remember her the way she was now – and that wouldn’t be so bad. And I was already mad with love for her. If her father favored nines, maybe he would favor nine of them.
I stood by the door. It wasn’t going to be easy – I wasn’t used to thinking about a number for its own sake, much less nine of them. I visualized one of those old fashioned typewriters with the keys on three levels, the kind where when you pushed down on a key, a tiny arm with a letter for a fist would swing out and smack the page.
My visualization kept getting blown to smithereens by the thought of John Poor finding me here. He was an important, and therefore dangerous, man. Some had taken to calling him Baron von Poor, though “Baron von” was strictly an honorary title. He never went anywhere alone – he was always accompanied by plenty of muscle and magic. “Concentrate!” I said to myself, but just when I was ready to mentally hammer a small, black nine onto the inside of my forehead, I heard Rapunzel’s voice again.
“And!” she shouted.
“And even if you think of the right number, there are nine flights of stairs up to my room in the tower, and each landing is guarded by a schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog. Each dog alternates between wagging his clockwork tail, and foaming at his clockwork mouth. If he’s wagging his tail, he will only lick your hand, but if he’s foaming at the mouth, he’ll rip your throat out. Only at certain times during the day are all the tails wagging. My father has a chart. He had it reduced and laminated so he could keep it in his wallet.”
I walked around to the other side of the tower. In a moment, I saw Rapunzel above me, leaning out of the eastern window.
“Have you got a rope?” I asked.
“No,” Rapunzel said.
“No blankets? Don’t you get cold at night?”
“I sleep under my hair. I have a ton of it. It’s never been cut.”
“Can I see it?” I asked.
Rapunzel pushed her hair out of the window – and it just kept coming. It was red and brown and curly, and it fell slowly, drifting like a giant jellyfish, all the way to the ground at my feet.
I grabbed the hair in a bundle with both hands.
“What are you doing?” Rapunzel asked.
“I’m going to climb up your hair,” I said. I turned the bundle around and around, probably a hundred times, until it was a thick, twisted rope.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she said.
“Brace yourself,” I said.
Climbing the tower was slow and difficult work. The Ivorine tower was smooth, hard and slick as a stick of margarine just out of the freezer, and the higher I climbed, the stronger the wind blew. Several times a gust of wind forced me to stop and let go of Rapunzel’s hair with one hand so I could hold onto my hat.
A quarter of the way up, I asked Rapunzel what she did all day in her Ivorine tower.
“I have tutors,” She said. “Math, Astronomy, Psychology, Literature, French, Biology.”
Halfway up, I stopped to rest. Below me I could see the interstate, thin and straight, like the cement had been poured onto an enormous drawing of a prairie rather than onto an actual prairie. Whatever else you may say about human beings, you have to admit we can draw a straight line on just about anything.
Three quarters of the way up, I asked Rapunzel how the tutors got up there.
“They don’t. It’s all done via closed circuit TV.”
“That’s a relief,” I said. “What subject do you like best?”
“Psychology. I’m interested in the chemical reasons why people do what they do.”
I let go of Rapunzel’s hair and grasped the ledge of the window. Rapunzel gave a “Whoop!” and fell backwards into her room. I pulled myself in through the window, and sat on the floor with my back against the wall, exhausted.
Rapunzel sat on the floor opposite me. She reeled in her hair and piled it up behind her. She told me she had never seen a man other than her father, except on the closed circuit TV. She asked me about current events, and I asked her what she did to pass the time in her room when she wasn’t studying.
“I brush my hair,” she said and she began brushing her hair. The brush she used was the size of a canoe paddle, but she handled it deftly. As she brushed, her hair changed. It became longer, and there seemed to be more of it. The color also changed, becoming a lighter and redder shade of red-brown. Our conversation also changed. We talked about hair. We couldn’t help it.
“I brush my hair twice a day,” she said.
“Your hair is beautiful,” I said. I felt a little silly after I said it. “Is it naturally curly like that?”
“Yes,” Rapunzel said.
“And is that your natural color?”
“Yes,” Rapunzel said.
“I’ve thought about growing my hair long like that,” I said.
She grabbed a sheaf of her hair in her left hand, and began brushing the end of the sheaf with her right. When she was done, she leaned her head towards me.
“Feel it,” she said.
I leaned forward and ran my hand over her hair. Since her hair had fallen in front of her face, I also felt her nose, which surprised me.
“Oh,” I said, “your nose.” She laughed. Her hair was thick and a little rough, like sisal. When I lifted my hand to adjust my hat, I could smell her hair on my hand.
“What is your hair like?” she asked, looking at my hat.
“It’s not as thick as yours, or as long, or as curly,” I said.
“What color is it?”
“Any color you can imagine,” I said.
Feeling strangely at ease with Rapunzel, I took off my hat – and I never take off my hat, except to bathe or sleep. It’s vanity, I guess – I’m just not comfortable with other people seeing my bald head. As for myself, alone, while there are some disadvantages to being bald, I feel that my baldness has given me something most people don’t have. I know what my head looks like.
For a moment, Rapunzel stopped brushing. This was the only sign she gave of any surprise at my hairless state. Then she began brushing again. I leaned my head towards her. She put her brush down and put her hands on my head. Her hands were warm and soft. I remained still, leaning over, my head down, her warm hands on my head. And she was also still and quiet. It crossed my mind that she might be praying – maybe praying to cure me of my baldness. She took her hands off of my head, and began brushing her hair again.
“You’re head is so smooth and round,” she said, “like a cabbage. Do you shave your head?”
“I’ve been bald like this since the day I was born.”
“When I was born, I had such a head of hair that my father called me his ‘little Moor’.”
“Does your mother have hair like yours?” Just as soon as the words were out of my mouth I remembered reading about how Rapunzel’s mother had died in a horrific puddle accident, and I felt terrible and I wished I could take the words back. But the question didn’t seem to bother Rapunzel.
“I don’t remember,” Rapunzel said. “She killed herself when I was six. I suppose there are pictures, but I think my father keeps them hidden from me. I don’t know why she killed herself. My father said she had headaches.”
There was a fantastic amount of hair in the brush, and Rapunzel said she was worried too much had fallen out. I told her I didn’t think she needed to worry. After she pulled all the hair out of her brush, she balled the hair up by rolling it between her palms. She set the ball of hair down on the floor between us. It was as big as a basketball.
I picked up the ball of hair. It was stiff and springy. Individual hairs shot out of the main ball in all directions, as if the hair itself were growing hairs. If I squeezed it flat, it sprang back into shape. If I set it down, the ball seemed to float a foot above the floor, supported by fine, almost invisible hairs coming out of it. I touched my head, and compared its absolute smoothness to the sandpapery texture of the hair.
“You can keep it, if you want to,” Rapunzel said. I couldn’t tell if she was serious, or if she was teasing me. I felt ashamed of myself, making so much out of a ball of hair.
“Listen!” Rapunzel said.
“It’s started to rain,” I said.
“No—there’s something else.”
She was right, there was another sound, a faint rumbling from far off. At first I thought it was thunder, but the sound was too steady to be thunder – more like an approaching train.
“My father is coming home,” Rapunzel said.
I looked out of the window into the blackness. I could see nothing – but the rumble of John Poor and his posse was getting louder. I barely noticed the rain falling on my head. I knew that if her father caught me here, I would be banished forever (if I survived the curses and the beating), and I would never see Rapunzel again.
“Throw your hair out of the window, Rapunzel,” I said.
“It’s raining. My hair will get wet.”
“This is no time for vanity.”
“I mean, it’ll get wet, and you won’t be able to hold on. You’ll fall to your death for sure.”
I knew she was right, but what could I do?
“Where does that door go?” I asked.
“To the nine flights of stairs whose landings are guarded by the schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dogs.”
“To the cold and rusty iron door that leads to the world outside my Ivorine tower.”
I grabbed my hat with one hand, and put Rapunzel’s ball of hair under my arm. I twisted the knob on the door.
“Wait!” Rapunzel said. “Even if the dog is wagging his clockwork tail, he’ll tear your throat out if you don’t call him by name.”
I opened the door a crack. On the landing, I saw a small, cold, lonely, eccentric looking schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog. He was wagging his clockwork tail.
“That one is named ‘Pluto’”, Rapunzel whispered. “I hear my father call his name just before he opens the door. But I don’t know the names of any of the others.”
I gave Rapunzel a kiss and promised to see her again (“next time bring cabbage,” she whispered). I stepped onto Pluto’s landing, closing the door behind me. From a distance, Pluto looked like a Dalmatian, but as I got closer, I could see the spots on his white plastic hide were actually protrusions of oily gears, which turned in time with the swinging of his clockwork tail. When he saw me, he made a sound like someone had thrown a handful of sand into his works. His mouth was a modified printout shredder, and the teeth whirred into action.
“Good boy, Pluto,” I said. He licked my hand and sat down immediately, allowing me to pass.
The next landing was guarded by a giant blue dog. He wagged his clockwork tail slowly, waiting patiently for me to call him by name.
“Mr. Neptune, I presume!” I said, hopefully.
Neptune sat and allowed me to pass, as did Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth, and Venus. But Mercury, the small, hot, hard little dog on the bottom landing, was not wagging his clockwork tail. Foam was pouring out of his clockwork mouth between the gears and razor-sharp blades of his modified printout shredder. He smelled like rotten eggs. He didn’t look like an automaton you could reason with.
“Sit, Mercury,” I said, without conviction.
I heard the shredder switch on, and the rows of gears, spinning inwards, sucked some of the foam back into his mouth between the blades. I didn’t move. We stared at each other – or rather, I stared, and Mercury’s eyeballs careened wildly around in their sockets, each independently of the other. Mercury sprang for my throat. I thrust my hat into his mouth. The gears pulled 3X of my 4X genuine beaver hide Stetson through before the little dog jammed up. His shredder mouth switched into reverse, and he spit an X or two back out in strips before he jammed again. Then the overheat switch flipped, and Mercury collapsed on the floor, a hot and lifeless little schizophrenic alarm clockwork watch dog. It was a typical western tragedy – he was dead and my hat was ruined.
I pushed my way out into the night and the rain. I found Ginger by the light of her electric eyes and stuffed the ball of Rapunzel’s hair into my saddle bag. I rode out of sight just as John Poor and his posse pulled up to the Ivorine tower, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the sting of raindrops on my bald head.
Please note: Ivorine and SECUR are registered trademarks of Virgin Containment Systems International.
BIO: Jonathan Eaton grew up in Texas and moved to Oregon where he writes about Texas. He is old enough to have actually dialed a phone. He keeps track of The Cowboys and the mars landers. When he and his wife Cyndi are watching X-Files reruns, he listens for the bass clarinet riffs, because that’s how you know when trouble is coming. He is out of a job, and if it wasn’t for Obamacare, he wouldn’t have health insurance. When he was younger, he didn’t need glasses, but now he does. He is honest with his dentist about his flossing habits. He and his mother were once interrogated by Putin in East Berlin. He can throw a Frisbee farther than you can. He recently ate spittlebug spittle just to see what it tasted like. He owns the world’s foremost collection of movie-theater popcorn bags. If you give him a shovel and ask him to dig a hole, he will. He has taken to wearing two pairs of socks recently — no one knows why.
By PJ Dorantes
They never cared about her. Who could blame them? On the outside, she looked like an elderly woman who lost her mind and spent all day babbling about incoherent things, like aliens, UFOs and astral travelers.
Beneath of all that dirt, her wrinkled face still showed a few traces of what it used to be a beautiful lady. But no one was able to see it. They only cared about avoiding her, as if the woman were a rat infected with the plague.
Every day she felt their burning eyes over her, inspecting and talking about every single of her movements. Yet, she never cared about them. Those so called “human beings” could talk trash about her, laugh at her only sight, but they could never steal her true identity. Poor fools! If they only knew the truth behind about that dirty woman façade! Their hunger for plastic beauty left them blind, unable to see the true face of an astral traveler, who wanders the Earth on a mission to change the iron-like hearts of the earthlings.
Bio: PJ Dorantes was born in Mexico City, on November 23rd 1989. Her short stories have been published on anthologies and online magazines of Mexico and Spain.
Lunchtime. The best part of the day. The moment when the cruel hands of the clock line up in a rare harmony, temporarily freeing those who suffer inside the towering office blocks. The sweet air outside had tempted me all day, whispering through the windowscreen, and so I pulled open the office door, the scent of nearby flowers leading me to the city park. Gripping my lunch bag loosely in one hand, I headed for a nearby bench, settling at one end and observing the chipped paint adorned with layers of graffiti. Markings of the goings-on of the local teenagers; who blew, who was here, who loved who. Shrugging, I attended to my sandwich.
The woman caught my eye as she slowly made her way down my path, and I watched. Her face was old, the last remains of what once must have been great beauty erased by the lines etched deep into her pale skin. Her blue eyes were dull, and I found myself wondering how she could see. A slight coolness on my leg alerted me to the mayonnaise dripping from my sandwich; by the time I wiped it with a napkin and looked back up, she had sat on the other end of the bench. Her head swiveled as she looked around with a sad smile on her face. I could see her shiver in the faint breeze, and wondered why she wasn’t wearing a warmer coat. Her silver hair cascaded down her shoulders, curling at the ends.
“It’s always so beautiful here,” she said, noticing I was watching her. I blushed, looking back down to my sandwich.
“I grew up in that house across the street,” she said, pointing to a low-rise apartment building. “Before they tore it down. All my children were born there.” She looked around the park, the same sad smile at the corner of her mouth. “My husband proposed to me right here in this park, fifty years ago,” she said quietly. She pointed to a spot a few feet from where we sat. Squinting, I saw nothing now but some yellow grass and a dead squirrel “That was long before the cancer. The doctors said I have to go to a treatment center in Boston, and I probably won’t come back.” Her hand slid inside the pocket of her light coat and rested there for a moment before emerging. I stood up quickly, recoiling from what I saw in her hand.
The cold metal gleamed against the papery skin of her hand. There was the faintest clinking noise as the rings on her left hand pressed against the gun.
She pointed it, not at me, but at her own face.
“I spent my entire life in this town,” her voice was still quiet, calm. “I’ll never leave it.” She smiled, glancing once more around at the faded grass. “Freedom,” she sighed. Her finger pressed down, and I screamed.
The funeral was a week later. I don’t know why I went; call it closure. I met her husband, silenced by his grief. Her children couldn’t understand. It was as everyone was leaving when her oldest daughter beckoned me into the kitchen.
“Did she say why?” She asked, the silent tears pouring down her face.
“She wanted to die in her hometown,” I explained. “She said she had to go to a treatment center in Boston, and the doctor said she wouldn’t come back.”
The daughter’s breath caught, and her hand flew to her heart. She turned her back to me, searching for something on the spotless counter. Finally she located a plain white envelope, which she handed to me.
“I insisted she get a second opinion when she got her diagnosis,” she said simply.
I opened it, scanning the first line of the paper inside, feeling my heart sink.
“Test results,” it said. “Negative.”
Bio: Future cat lady Hilary Spencer lives various parts of Maine. She can be found at http://nerdlylittlesecret.tumblr.com/