Dan

Subcutaneous

Greg yawned as he leaned into the butterfly stretch, feeling the knots in his lower back whine, squinting in the morning sunlight with the stale taste of sleep lingering on his teeth. Everything was just a normal, annoying Monday. Then he saw something black slithering up his inner thigh.

“Oh, fuck!” he yelled, his brain interpreting it as a giant centipede. And then the perception shifted and he laughed at himself. It was just a bruise.

Wait. No. It was a dark bruise a second ago, but now it looked an awful lot like text. He blinked, and tried to stretch closer, feeling his hips start to whine. Definitely text, but… can’t… quite read it.

Greg scrambled to his feet, knocking over an empty water glass as he rummaged for his glasses. “Mrph glumph,” went his mouth involuntarily.

Then he saw it. HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, it said, in tiny little block letters. Is it a tattoo, or sharpie? Friend playing a really out-there prank?

Poking at it with a finger, bent over, staring at a part of his thigh that he never looks at, Greg started giggling. “Gotta be sharpie.”

He licked a thumb, and rubbed it on the inside of his thigh, willing the black to blur. “Nope.” Greg stared at his thumb, clean. Then back at his leg. The text didn’t dull or move at all. It’s really on there. “What in the hell…”

He picked up his phone and took a picture, to solidify it somehow. A way to try to prove it wasn’t just his eyes wigging out.

All day at work, Greg wondered about it. It sat there, invisible. He couldn’t feel it, but it was a strange kind of mental itch.

When he sat on the toilet, he had to stretch down to read it, suddenly embarrassed all over again, even though he was alone in his kingdom of the echoing stall.

HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, his leg said.

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Dan

Spike

Have you ever had a loved one lose their mind? I hope that you never do. Growing up, I was lucky. I didn’t have any family suffer that way. My father’s parents passed when I was too young to remember, and my mom’s folks when I was just out of college. I remember Kevin coming along to my grandfather’s funeral, right after we had officially started dating. Even though we both felt so strange in the run-down church, he helped me stay grounded, my anchor even then.

Gramps had been whip-smart right up to the end, always giving me advice about college and career and life. Kev consoled me, sitting on the end of a pew, telling me that it was okay to cry. Honestly, I felt lucky that time took Gramps as it did. Memories lost only with the ending, not slowly seeping away from his grasp.

Losing someone as they became unmoored from themselves was supposed to happen less and less, these days. My ma used to tell horror stories about her great-grandfather. How he had gradually drifted away in a swamp of angry forgetfulness. Died not knowing his name.

But now they have all those treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s, all that promise. It couldn’t get that bad again, my mom’s memories were just… horror stories.

So. Where to begin?

I don’t even know who I’m writing this for. Perhaps just so I remember. Or so that you might understand how I feel. I’m not a monster for leaving. Maybe I’m writing it for Kev, in case he finds a way out of the maze. Or to help him remember the real story, in case he doesn’t.


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Dan

Prizoner

Bumbling along, I wibble wobble my way through the delicious sunny day. Flyin’ up and down, scootin’ in and out, drinking in the tasty treats of the Pattern Gods. Gotta fill up my baskets with all the fuzzy fruit the Gods have gifted us.

Bloop boop bloo, here’s the flags of a nice shining Purple Tower Temple. Get up, get up! Get on up. I fly along up and amongst its purple walls. I’m a-lookin’ for the goodies, where are the golden goodies?

Oho! A massive altar of shining fruit for me. I sing out my big ol’ song of praise to the Pattern Gods, and shake my fuzzy booty as I load up my baskets to the brim. “Bloop bloo dee boop a bzz,” I sing, giving a bow to the altar as I dip my way back out of the Purple Tower God’s palatial temple.

A boo dee boodle doop, and away I go to meander through the towers and the temples of our great green city. Now wait, what in the world? The city’s edge, it’s a big boring wall, has some delicious-looking White Hanging Temples climbing up its side. Bleedle dee doo, and away I go!

A Grand Wing King swoops by me and whispers a hello, and as I turn to shout a greeting at him, I stumble off course. And wait, what the, my wings fail me and a big breath of the Gods is… oh no, it’s done pushed me too far! In a blink, before I could scrabble for purchase at the strange straight lines, I suddenly stare around in a vast alien city. Nothing is green. Everything smells weird. Oh dear.

Gotta get out, gotta get out, must GET OUT OF HERE! It isn’t safe. This may be a dwelling of the Meat Giants. What’s that color? Weird. Everything is hard and unmoving. But I can still see the sunlight, that bright glorious sunlight. It’s not completely obscured by the walls of this sick place.

There’s some kind of warped slice of clear, hard honey by the portal I got whisked in. I bash my head against it, I taste it, but all I taste is dust and my desperation. Gotta get out. But to do that, I’m going to have to explore this strange place.

I bumble my way along. In my state of abject fear, I hear someone singing a tuneless “boodle boot” number, and I look around quickly before realizing it’s me.

Skirting a massive mountain of skin that has been tortured into an ugly maroon, I suddenly spot the palaces of the great green city. I’m not far from it! So I thrash my wings hard as I can and jet my way towards it.

BAM. Ouch, my head. It’s more of that damned clear honey. Hard as a rock. This is a gigantic tower of it, and it’s not warped, I can see straight through it. The sun is shining on my body, warming me, almost laughing at me. I can see the Wing King, he’s right on the other side! Is he mocking me or somehow gesticulating at a possible escape? Can’t hear his whispers. Damn, gotta get out!

Gotta get out so bad, I ram my poor body into the frozen honey over and over. What the heck? This stuff is impervious. I fly the edges, seeking an opening in it, testing it. Getting more and more frantic with each passing minute.

Then I turn, and true horror falls over me. A Meat Giant is stomping towards me across the vast dead space of this horrible city. Practically fainting, I tell you, I steel my resolve and bang faster along the edge of the clear honey.

In a blink, in a buzz, before I can shout or sting or do anything at all, I’m inside a cold cage of tiny hard lines. “No!” I shout. “Let me out of here! I just want to return my green city! You can see it, right on the other side! Please return me there, oh wise Meat Giant!”

But I know the Meat Giants do not comprehend the language of bumblebees. In my fear, I forget, and I keep begging, as the terrible cage buffets me. I refuse to think about what might happen.

Then suddenly, I feel the sun on me again. I turn, and one side of the cage has opened. Before I can even react, the Meat Giant flings me out of its prison, and out into the lovely-smelling temples of the Pattern Gods.

Shaken, I can’t help but immediately land on the closest God. I eat some of its fruit to sturdy my shaking legs, and then I sing a song of relief. “Bdee boodle bree diddle bzzz!”

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Dan

Mr. and Mrs. Lyapunov

 

Mr. and Mrs. Lyapunov wake with the bright white sun peeking over the hilltops, jumping through their window, warming the walls and the bed and their golden skin.

Lola wraps her arms around him, and buries her head in his neck. “Mrrnu beneewe medit dissarh?” she says, all muffled.

“What’s that?” Eddie asks.

She laughs, and bends her neck back to look up at him. “Can you believe we made it this far?”

His eyes felt like morning dew. “I can.”

“It feels new again.”

“Well, it certainly helps to be reborn.”

Eddie stretches a bit under her, feeling the muscles breathe, and basks in the luxury of no aches or pains as he wraps her in new arms.

“So what is it this year?”

“What is what? Where am I? Who are you?” He feigns confusion, and she has to bomp him on the head with a pillow.

“Your yearly promises. Got your surprise?”

“Maybe you don’t get your secret right away in the morning.” He yawns. “Sheesh.”

“Maybe you ran out, finally.” She pokes him, playfully. “Maybe I’ve finally stolen the last of your mysteries.”

“I doubt it,” he says, drifting back over the years, lost in thought.

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Dan

The Giant and The Princess

I.

There once lived a scary giant, far away up in the sky-lands. On a bedrock of clouds he built his castle, and he lived there with his wife in solitude.

By day, when she went off to work, he would walk the halls of echoing stone, and mutter to himself about all the people, little and big, who’d done him wrong. He’d mutter about the black clouds around him, and found it quite impossible to enjoy much about his easy-going life in the sky.

At night, his wife would come home and cry, and he wouldn’t know what to say. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be able to stop talking. He was sure that if he said the right thing, the world would click together. Other times, the giant would slip into a silence that felt like a magic spell had settled over his castle, and nobody would speak a word aloud there ever again.

II.

No, wait.

There once lived an angry princess, exiled from her country by a conniving duke who stole her true essence from her. For seven upon seven years, she wandered the lands. To survive, the princess sold her jewelry and her books, until the only precious thing she had left was a tiny black vial which she tied with a loop of wire to her neck.

It was whispered that during her travels, she had asked the giant and his wife for lodging, having partly forgotten herself. For she had actually known them before the treasonous act that stole her self away, but could not remember.

No-one across the land knew who the princess was any more, and gradually, as they forgot, so did she. She traveled unknown and unnamed, slipping between the silences and seeking only that which she couldn’t name. All the princess had left was herself and her anger, in a tiny glass vessel that glowed fiercely black around her neck.

III.

Hang on, though. The giant wasn’t really that scary to people who knew him. He didn’t really spend his days in solitude, stalking the echoing halls of his sky-castle. He would go around helping the people in his sky-neighborhood, or at least the giants like him.

But the princess thought that was just a disguise of his true nature, which she saw as filled with an awful angry blackness.

Was that the same spell of black fury that she kept in her vial from childhood, lashed tightly around her neck with a magic wire? We all thought it might be, but we were afraid to say so, for fear she might uncork the darkness and be unable to put it back.

IV.

Hmm, hold up a second.

Didn’t the scary giant actually turn out to be the angry princess’s father? I think that’s what we eventually found out, when we told and re-told this story. And perhaps they knew it all along: that what made the giant so scary turned out to be the same thing that made the princess so angry.

In amongst the murk and mire of life, the princess was mad at the world and wanted to hate the giant. The giant wanted to talk to his daughter, but didn’t know how, and surely couldn’t see why the princess thought he was so scary.

But if you ever spoke to them of it, they would refuse to believe such a crazy thing about the other. And the rancor between them only grew, even though they might have known, deep down, in their heart of hearts, that they weren’t that different.

The giant still held grudges close, which was the main thing that made him so frightening. He could not imagine why the princess held a grudge against him in kind, and this soured his mind and filled him with a dull rage. He could do nothing, and so he paced his halls, letting his anger seep out of him slowly.

The princess had, unfortunately, inherited all of the giant’s smoldering anger, even though it ground her down to admit such a thing. She would clamp her hand around the vial at her neck, gritting her teeth without noticing. She couldn’t talk to him, because their angers were as magnets, like repelling like.

And so it was that the curse kept them both in chains for many years.

V.

So, slow down. I realize that fairy-book stories are supposed to end with something like “They all lived happily ever after,” but this one isn’t completed yet.

And this is more of a thinly-veiled metaphor than a fairy-book story, besides.

We all know what I mean when I talk about the curse of chains.

And I have to apologize to the angry princess and the scary giant, because I don’t know how to help you break out of your chains. I’ve tried. But they’re not my chains to break.

VI.

We get so wrapped up in ourselves, sometimes, that we assume our versions of people are the real thing. We forget that there’s an interpretive distance, a gap in understanding, between what we think about people and how they really are. It’s obvious when you say it, but it’s less obvious when you’re riding a river of emotions, imagining another person and how they will respond to something you say. Something you don’t say. Something you do. Something you failed to do.

So we see others as caricatures. I see a scary giant, a golden fool, a cursed spinster, a sparkling prince, a manipulative step-mother, a deservedly homeless beggar, a cardboard cutout wearing our surface-level sketches.

I get so wrapped up sometimes, it’s hard to move the person and my version of that person apart. There needs to be some space there, so I can squeeze in the admission that I might be wrong about them.

I guess it’s part of being a human. Or part of being a scary giant, or an angry princess, or anything else we manage to make out of each other.

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Dan

A Painterly Muse

Black and blue seams stretch through the red sunlight on your eyelids, as you wake up with your head pulsing. You groan in pain and go to push on your temples, but her hands are already there.

Baby, she says. You woke me up with your moans, and, uhh. Not in a good way. Aren’t you taking your meds? I thought you and the doc had it finally figured.

I know I should, but. You stop. The flares look like inverted stars overlapping the morning sun, a brighter black than your mind can handle right now. I can’t. I can’t… explain. I’ll explain. Later.

Even through the haze of the oncoming pain, you know that’s just going to make her angry. It makes you feel even worse when she starts crying instead, and gets out of bed, sobbing.

Don’t cry, you squeeze out through splintering teeth. But your echolocation on her sobs (between the pulses of pounding at your temples) assures you she’s gone.

I guess it’s time I finally come clean, you say. You’re not sure if that came out your mouth or only your mind, but it doesn’t matter.

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