A man wanted to travel to another continent, but he did not have a boat. He read about a series of holes & tunnels & caves that led to the continent to which he wanted to travel. He travelled to the beginning of the path, parked his car, & walked the mile or so to the first hole. This initial hole was filled with mud. He waded through the mud. The hole led to a tunnel of slime. He waded though the slime. The stink sickened him & he propped the neck of his shirt over his nose to try to dampen it, to no avail. The tunnel of slime led to another tunnel, which was dry & generally unremarkable. He walked through this tunnel easily. The dry tunnel led to cave in which there was a lake of fire. He could not pass this lake. Gathering many large rocks, he dropped one into the lake of fire. He stepped on this rock, then dropped another large rock in front of him. He from this second rock he dropped a third rock into the lake of fir & stepped onto that one. He dropped & stepped on another, then another, another. In this way he raveled across half the lake of fire. At this point he took a break. Carrying large rocks is very tiring. He sat on the last rock & drank some lemonade. Then he lay down & took a little nap. In his sleep he had a weird dream of falling upwards into a florescent light, buzzing & flickering. He woke with a bodily convulsion, knocking all his remaining rocks, which were to get him to the other side, into the lake of fire. The knocked-over rocks formed a small island. He tried to pull the rocks out but the heat had melted them together. This was as far as his journey would get him. He built a log cabin on the island. He grew a pleasant garden, both vegetables & flowers. He trained his hounds not to near the lake of fire. He e-lanced & paid all his bills online. On weekends he’d pack a little lunch, put a six-pack in the cooler & spend the whole day fishing on the shore. He didn’t care whether he caught anything. He had grown to love how the fire splashed & rippled when his sinker dropped, how the fire lapped at the stone shore, how little tusks of fire would sometimes pierce through the lake, only to dissipate in the air. But when he did catch a fish, if he could pull it in quickly enough, it was each time already fully cooked by the lake of fire, the flesh flaky & delicious.
My sister is a pilot. I am her co-pilot. We are preparing to fly a plane across the ocean. The plane sits on the runway as we wait for the air traffic controllers to give us our commands. A bunch of boys climb into the cockpit. They play marbles. They play kick the can. They play stickball with a rubber ball, causing the ball to bounce around the cockpit every time they hit it. One boy eats some sloppy spaghetti out of his cupped hands. He sits between me & my sister. As he eats the sloppy spaghetti, he toggles the switches. I tell him he can’t do that, but he does not listen. I offer him a bowl for his spaghetti. He ignores me. The ignition switch is covered with tomato sauce. My sister leans into the microphone & says We were cleared to take off. Her voice emerges from the speakers tinny & distorted. I flip the ignition switch on & start doing flying stuff. The plane rolls down the runway. It lifts into the air. It increases in speed, until are in full throttle. We reach cruising speed, but all this time, the plane has remained only ten feet above the ground, shaking the cars & trucks below us on the highway. I turn to my sister, the pilot. We are dead, aren’t we? I ask. This is how the dead live, isn’t it? I take my headset off & walk to the door of the cockpit, & look over the seats. Everyone in the plane is dead. All but one teenaged girl with long black hair. She is alive & seated next to my mother’s dead body. Sara, I say to the teenaged girl & tears roll down my face. I grab the boy eating spaghetti. He is a man now, his face covered by decades of dried tomato sauce. He is my husband & I am his. When I look at him again, he is old, his knuckles gone mutable & nutty with arthritis. I point to the girl with black hair, still teenaged, still the only one alive. O, I say to my husband. O, how our Sara has grown.
A woman could not tell the difference between babies & sticks. As her friends became adults & began to have babies, she became a popular party game. One friend would hold his baby in one hand & a stick in the other, then ask the woman which was which. Half the time she guessed correctly. One day the woman found herself ready to give birth to a baby. At the hospital the doctor ducked beneath the woman’s gowned knees to check on things. When the doctor stood back up, his arms had transformed into large plastic spray bottles, filled with blue glass cleaner. I do not want you to deliver my baby with spray-bottle-arms, the woman said. They will injure the baby’s pliable skull & glass cleaner will irritate the skin. Another doctor was ordered but at he did his doctor stuff, his arms turned into plastic mastodon dolls. I do not want you to deliver my baby with plastic-mastodon-arms, the woman said. They will scar my baby’s soft skin & make her afraid of the world she is entering. Again doctor was ordered. When this doctor stood up from beneath the woman’s gowned knees, one of the doctor’s arms had transformed into a good-sized stick & the other had transformed into a fresh & healthy baby, flecked with afterbirth & screaming. The woman looked back & forth from one arm to the other, trying to figure out which one was the baby. She made her decision & took that one home. She kept the one she took home in a crib & each morning she sang their favorite song as she changed their diapers & fed them formula. The song is called “Buffalo Stance” by the musician Neneh Cherry. It is a very good song.
Mathias Svalina is the author of five books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow Books. He is a founding editor of Octopus Books & runs a Dream Delivery Service.
Photo: Sarah Penney