Read an Excerpt
I panicked and swallowed a handful of fireflies and black widows the inferno had not. Shiny glass teardrops shattered between my teeth while the fireflies popped like Christmas bulbs until I coughed up blood and blue sparks, starting another fire three inches behind my eyes and burning a hole through the floor of my memory. A lifetime of days, years, minutes and months, gone, but for a lone scrap, scorched and snagged on a frayed nerve ending and snapping in the breeze.
Hard as I try, a given recollection’s pictures, sounds and smells, synchronized and ordered first to last, are everything but, swarming back through the cold hole in my brain where they hit the waning light and crackle into smoke. Others wait until dark to show themselves. I can hold a picture’s fragments together for a lucid half second before a light shines through my eyes and they scatter, slipping between my brain’s blackened cracks. One memory after the next turns yellow at the edges and crumbles to flakes at my touch.
I smell rotted pulp, old newspapers crawling with silverfish, the dank, dissolving bindings of books I don’t remember reading. The stench gives me chills that turn to sandpaper on my neck and shoulders. My back burns if I lean the wrong way and I feel bandages but I can’t touch them. My wrists and feet are cuffed to a chair in a room built to the stark schematics of my own head. Peeling walls the color of fingernails, cement floor, an overhead light with an orbiting moth. I’m alone with three machines. Two are on pause behind me, a third speaks into a telephone near the door.
“I miss you, Snowflake…I love you too…bunches…bunches and bunches…yes, Mommy too,” his baritone whisper like the rumble of a distant train.
The machines are good. Whoever made them has all of my respect. Stunning detail in their faces, each loaded with a databank of behaviors for random interval display, all manner of mannerisms from coughs to sniffs, synthetic-cartilage knuckle cracks, biting lips and picking nails. The odor of static, the electric smell from a bank of new television sets gives them away.
“When I get home…okay, I will. Love you…bye bye, Snowflake.” Faint dial tone, the ping ping of the doomed but determined moth against the lightbulb, then the machine sits in front of me.
“My daughter’s been sick and I’ve been on overtime.” He speaks to me as though I’m a sleeping child and he’s about to kiss my forehead. He slides a cigarette from a pack with gold foil and some French name I can’t pronounce.
“Haven’t seen her for three days.” The snap of his chrome lighter chimes like a coin hitting the pavement. “You smoke?”
He’s engineered for sincerity and affection. The two behind me hide their eyes behind dark glasses, but his are exposed and big, liquid brown, radiating trust along with his voice. He wears an oiled-back, matinee-idol haircut and a tailored suit the deep blue of beetle wings, and from across the table my eyes can feel the fabric, soft as a baby bird’s throat. He’s wired to smell like breath mints, cigarettes and expensive aftershave.
A tentacle of smoke gathers into a cloud overhead. It dissolves in the air between us and the smell stings my nose.
“No.” Conscious of my manners with him, I correct myself. “No. Thanks.”
“I wasn’t offering. Word is you can’t remember to chew before you swallow. I’m just seeing for myself. How ’bout it? You remember smoking? Maybe falling asleep after a few drags?”
Shaking my head hurts, pulls at my skin.
“You did it on purpose. Covering your tracks?”
His circuits pause mid-breath. The smoke above freezes into a ball of cobwebs. The moth is eavesdropping and I can hear the blood moving through my ears.
“You have any idea why you’re talking to me?”
“Pieces of an idea.” My blood beats louder and I think I’m going to be sick, “Who are you?”
“My name is Detective Nicholas Anslinger.”
The slack in my chains is barely enough for me to reach his outstretched hand, sheathed in a synthetic polymer, mimicking my own skin.
“You can call me Detective,” he continues. “Tell me these pieces.”
I remember fire, but not starting one.
“I can’t remember,” he says. “I’ve heard this before.” His brown eyes don’t blink. They stay locked onto me. The damp draft unfurls a ribbon of cigarette smoke and coils it around my face.
“Let’s start with the spiders. How many have you made and how many are still out there?”
Which is stranger, that Anslinger thinks I’m God or that he can chain God to a wheelchair beneath a spotlight?
“Try this,” he says, leaning forward, “we found the galaxy.”
He’s right, I am God. It’s all coming back to me. Darkness and light, floods, seven days and angels feuding amongst themselves for my favor. I lost my temper and the firestorm killed my precious dinosaurs. Work it out, learn to compromise, I told them. After the platypus, I disbanded the committee and stayed solo. This created resentment, a permanent rift in the organization.
Anslinger reads from a notebook, “1964 Ford, two-door, hardtop, candy-apple red Galaxie 500, registered to one Eric Ashworth. Fully restored, if you don’t count the blown back windshield and scorched paint.” He snaps the notebook shut. “Nice ride.”
I’m not God. I’m Eric Ashworth. It’s all coming back to me.
No, it’s not.
My head goes dark so the bugs will come crawling out. I squint through the blackness. I remember the sound of God cracking open the sky and shaking the earth. A ball of fire rising from a flaming house. Nails melting like slivers of silver wax. Beams and shingles collapsing into a pile of burning dust and the earth spitting them into the air. The angry fire boulder rolls down from the sky toward me. I run, choking back the spiders and fireflies fighting their way up my throat. More bugs will drop from the air at any second. Armored insects with polished, carbon fiber heads, giant eyes that shine like black mercury and can see in the dark.