Plugs

This is the second in a series inspired by science, sound, T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” and armchair philosophers.

We could not believe the hollow men ascendant over us the aware, yet clearly we had a blind spot to scrub. We sawed drinking straws to different lengths, and I drew, reluctantly, the short one.  We hypnotized me into a deep and dreamless sleep.  They heaved me off the cliff.

I did not wake until sometime after I hit.  Chills crawled through my flesh–like an icy wind that strips heat from your body, yet the air had not stirred.  I tilted my head back enough to spy a bleak beacon on a distant hill casting a pair of black beams across the fire- and drought-scarred countryside.

I dusted myself off and removed shards of clay from my back.  Along with the scattered straw and pilled cotton stuffing, the shadowed ground was covered with the baked crockery, crunching under my every step.  How many of these former men had I trod upon?  Each footfall made my skin feel like the disinclined shifting of continents colliding and tearing apart.

The air was dank and full of mildew digging roots into my clay shell.  Under the grassy spire, shapes flitted amid the darker shadows; tiny claws scratched glass.  An iridescently reflective yet empty pair of eyes stopped to gaze at me, sniffed the air, then moved on.  The beacon’s bone-cold beams swept through me again and passed on.

A dead man–cracked but not broken–stared sightlessly into the abyss of night sky, clutching a scrap of paper torn from a missing notebook.  I fingered my own fissures and winced in sympathy.  I bent, pried loose the scrap and read, “I’m dreaming.  I dare not meet those eyes.”

Was I dreaming?  Were there eyes I dared not meet?  I glanced at the bleak beacon on the horizon, looked longingly at the beckoning grassy spire, but turned in search of eyes.

Introduction
You have stepped from your rightful place and time into this rude world of the here and now. It is my duty and solemn pleasure to introduce to you the rudiments of life as it is now lived.
First, a word on why you are here. These men of the future are consumed with making. They are crafters of the first water, but users of a most inferior kind. Their automobiles smash one into another with abandon; their airplanes, with all the sky in which to fly, do the same; and their neglect of the world in which they live bids fair to bring it crashing down around their ankles.
More to the point, they build machines that hurtle them back in time at will. Haply, due to some quirk of nature, the traveler finds his mental essence exchanged with some denizen of the past while his respective bodies remain bound to his own time. When he returns, if he returns, the exchange is reversed.
Sometimes the he is a she but most often not. Women prefer to remain rooted to their own bodies.
If he dies in the past he does not return to reclaim his present body. If he chooses to remain in the past, he does not return. If the machinery he needs loses its connection to your host, he does not return. In that case you will be awakened from your imposed sleep, be given citizenship papers, and be turned out on the street with a copy of this book.
Therefore, welcome! Make of the future what you will, and beware the sudden drowsiness that presages your being taken by some resident of the even more distant future.
Coffee will help.
-WS

Cornelius and Matthias sat at Flamingo Airport’s tiny departure gate with the flock of antsy tourists. Cornelius nervously ate crackers out of the box one after another, while watching a sun burnt family play a game of Yatzee in the uncomfortable molded plastic seats as if it were the World Cup. A green blur whizzed past the bar where the security guard was standing. Matthias gripped his case tighter and cursed the Buyer. But it was a false alarm- just two American kids throwing their stuffed toys around.

Sedated and wrapped in damp towels inside Matthias’s carry on bag were three baby yellow headed parrots. The endangered birds were worth a fortune, at least to his Buyer. He and Cornelius had come to Bonaire to track down the nests in the secluded North shore of the island. Only seven hundred remained on the planet. Exactly the sort of thing his buyer liked.

Cornelius was one of the best in trackers. Matthias had the knack for smuggling. Getting things through customs came naturally for him. All they had to worry about were those things… the Sentinels the Buyer called them. These days it seemed every animal they tried to move had one of those mystical protectors. Matthias wasn’t scared of ghosts. But Cornelius was frayed to his core. Matthias had considered passing on this job.  But the Buyer said he’d take care of the Sentinels and he had something big lined up for them after this. He couldn’t resist.

#
Pre-boarding for the flight began and Matthias thought they were home free. Then a green blur swooped across the terminal. As it glided toward them it took on the shape of a green parrot. He was glad Cornelius hadn’t seen it; he didn’t need him panicked.

The parrot hovered in front of his face. At least this Sentinel didn’t look so bad. He still had bad dreams about the snakes and spiders from past jobs. So much for the Buyer taking care of things. He braced himself for what came next. Nothing happened. The parrot-god, Sentinel thing was just hovering there. Like an image stuck on pause on a television screen.
“Something wrong?” Cornelius asked.

“Nope,” Matthias said.

He heard the wet rags inside his bag crackle and sizzle. So the concoction and magic words the Buyer had given him weren’t bogus. You came through after all, Matthias thought.

“I’m looking forward to what comes next,” Cornelius said.

Matthias liked the look of the parrot thing, frozen there. Powerless. Taken by surprise and unable to stop them.

“So am I,” Matthias said. “So am I.”

-END-

I walk and the wind is in my hair. New York city in January. My blue hair against yellow cabs. It was blue when I was born. The doctors had never seen such a thing.

*

Some people believe that their their wardrobe is a history. A jacket from that Wall Street job. A pair of shoes from college. That they can take it off—strip down, bare as that day they first stepped into the world.

*

I meet Julie outside Starbucks. She says she likes my hair. We order mocha’s. She loads hers with sugar. I let her think the salt I bring with me is the same. She says we are as compatible as the internet service said we would be. I try to smile.

*

People forget the stitching—the thread that hold more than just fabric to fabric. Each garment is sewn to their skin, becomes a layer of the shell. And over that outfit they place another. A mess of cloth and flesh, the constant piercing of self. Our history clings to us.

*

She comments on my hair again. She tells me it reminds her of the sea. I tell her how a lot of people have said that. She laughs. Her breath smells of fruit. Of places over the sea she has not been. She asks to touch my hair. I let her.

*

When I see someone so punctured, so tortured by the stitching of their lives, their limbs so tangled, I wonder what would it take to free them? What would it take to sever the stitching of the years?

*

Her hand grazes the surface at first. Strands tangle between her fingers. I smile and she grows bolder. I twist my head just a little, just for her. Her hand sinks in. And even I can smell the brine, can feel the breeze that blows through the place with the scent of fruit-laden shores. And deep goes her hand, up to the elbow, up to the shoulder, reaching in, reaching for something she cannot name. And what does she feel now? Not hair. Something more than currents. The slipping embrace of someone’s arms. And she sinks deeper. And, yes, everything in there is as it was promised. As she slips beneath the surface. eight tentacular arms reach up to her, and claim her like a lover. And they unseam her.

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