∂ TETHERLINGS ∂
One morning The Boy awoke to find his body one with the wires. The evening before, his
head swimming full of song, he had wished for his headphones to disappear so deep into his ear canals that the assassin silence would not be able to find him. If wishes were horses…
When he lifted his arm he felt the tug of the wires that had melted into his skin. Instinctually, he tried to jerk them out but found them now a part of him, and so, tucking the remaining length of cord into his pocket, he went about his day. Sometime in the afternoon, as he sat alone at the back of a classroom, he could feel a new station moving through his bones, whir of fuzz and crackly static. …beggars would ride.
For weeks he listened to a hiss of dead air before he began to panic. In the bathroom he tried to take scissors to the wires but found that it made his insides twitch, as if the wires were a bouquet of nerves that feared snipping. He abandoned the scissors. Many months later, after he had learned to love the sound of gelatinous gravel, a voice began to emerge.
There was a man counting, a number station inside his skull. If turnips were bayonets…
Eventually The Boy began to count along with the man, sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards, sometimes blurting out numbers in no discernible order (though, strangely, The Boy found his lips would move on their own to mouth exactly the next number in the sequence). For years it went on like this, until The Boy awoke to find himself lost in a forest full of wires. He wandered through the wilderness of filaments, wishing for a machete to sever the nexus. And to this day, he is still wishing. …I'd wear one by my side.
*In another version, instead of counting, the man inside The Boy’s head is prone to
yodeling. Also, it is a desert instead of a forest. Instead of quicksand, bouquets of wires lash wildly hunting for fresh ankles for pull down.
**In yet another version, The Boy discovers a radio station with actual music. It is cursed
to play the most beautiful song he has never heard, over and over and over again, for a thousand years, until it no longer breaks his heart. Until his heart is shatterproof and music is no longer music, just noise.
***In the last revision, The Boy, now grown, slowly comes to realize the man counting
inside his head is him, when he hears himself muttering on a voicemail. The same day he starts a number station, the wire falls limp out of his skin like a dead snake.
₾ PILGRIMAGE ₾
One morning a grieving couple gave away their earthly belongings and decided to venture
forth into the void on the far side of the neighborhood. They, like many others, had watched the news stories, read the headlines offering conjecture on the origin of the holes—an infestation of fractal patterns having sprouted overnight, each bearing a slightly different shape.
Maybe it was aliens? offered Father, dipping in a toe. The silence of this one was different, otherworldly. Smell too, like a souring battery. Rich tang of alloy and powdering rust ‘round the rim.
Definitely the government, hypothesized Mother, slinging a sack of rocks into the chasm. It made no sound.
Do you think it’ll hurt? speculated Father.
More than what? rejoindered Mother.
At this they joined hands, stepping into the mouth of the void. All the neighbors waved goodbye in unison.
What they found inside was both a blessing and a burden.
*In another version, they decide they can’t go through with it. They return back to their home but know it will never feel like home again, so they move far away, as far away as they can bear: Idaho. They get new jobs, new dwelling, new décor, new pets, new haircuts. When this doesn’t work they get new bodies, ones that clank a bit, but they’ll do. New minds. One, who had never believed in escapism, takes up drugs. The other becomes a teetotaler. Additionally, each takes up an obscure hobby—Father builds luxury birdhouses and Mother designs modular furniture. They tattoo over the scars and move on without ever actually moving at all. One morning while sawing together in the backyard, they watch a baby bird topple out of its deluxe oaken mini mansion. Father and Mother abandon their saws. Together they place the broken-necked bird onto a sectional loveseat of the Mother’s design. They each say a few words. One sings a psalm made up on the spot. Another does something prayerful with their hands. And together, for the first time since Child’s funeral, they weep. After the burial, one mutters blithely: “It’s time to go home, isn’t it?”
**In yet another version, same as the last, except they can’t bring themselves to leave all the lumber they’ve accumulated. They begin building an altar together, which they decide with their hands to never finish. Every time they near the end, they venture into the woods and sacrifice another tree. On and on they build until the altar is an endless labyrinth of pine, fur, cedar, birch. Birds bellow through clockwork trunks like keys lost inside an accordion.
***In the last revision, same as the first. The lyrics of the nonsense psalm go something like ♫ Bluestruck & bodysick / Heartsick from happenstance / Mindsick with memory /
← [improvise achefully] ♫
Matthew Burnside is the author of Postludes (KERNPUNKT), Rules to Win the Game (Spuyten Duyvil), & the serialized hypertext novel Dear Wolfmother (Heavy Feather Review). He teaches experimental writing at Hollins University. Find him on Twitter @MatthewBurnsid7 or online here.
Image Credit: Spotted Garden Eel (Cyanea lamarckii) of Sumida Aquarium, Toshihiro Gamo