by Joseph Fazio
The Old Book
I purchased an old book and discovered between the pages the dried and flattened remains of a tiny man. He was dressed in a suit and hat and had a tidy moustache—a style befitting the era in which the book was printed. Perhaps the book's previous owner had loved him very much and wanted to keep him forever, as if he were a flower. Or perhaps he had been annoying, like a fly, and met his end when this book was clapped shut.
A man built a carriage large enough for him to be pushed in by his baby. He climbed inside and said, "Push me, baby!" But the baby was preoccupied, eating a steak dinner and drinking a highball.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man said, "I'm ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby had moved onto dessert: a slice of cake and a glass of port wine.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man cried, "now I am really ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby lifted its chubby legs and pointed at its diapered anus.
The man dutifully changed the baby's diaper. "Now, finally, I am ready for my carriage ride, baby!"
But the baby was already sleeping, its thumb stuck firmly in its mouth.
"I am ready!" the man said, to no one.
Every tooth has tiny teeth to eat the food you eat. The strongest teeth eat spinach and lean protein, which you almost never ingest. Deprivation makes the strong teeth even stronger. They have nothing to do but exercise and march in circles while waiting for their next meal.
The weakest teeth have tiny teeth riddled with cavities. They sit in their own filth downing pizza, beer, and jujubes. They watch reruns on TV all day. If you listen closely you can hear them guffaw like idiots. They fart endlessly in your mouth, giving you bad breath.
The Sausage Maker
Father's dream was to build a better sausage maker. He started the project on his workbench in the garage, and the machine grew and grew until there was no longer room to park his car. The hopper on his sausage maker was large enough to accept a station wagon, so in ours went, and out came links of Chevrolet. But father still wasn't content, so he added more tubing and grinders and gears and teeth, and soon the machine had busted through the roof of the garage. So in went the garage and out came garage sausage.
"It's complete," my father said one day. "Find us a pig."
And so our days were filled with savory sausage, and we were happy for many years.
But eventually father grew old and hunched and could no longer work his beloved machine. He had always been a proud man. "It's time," he said, and pointed to the hopper.
I held the ladder as he climbed slowly toward the machine's great maw. It gleamed in the sun. We gave each other a final wave. The machine buzzed and burped its way through father as I held a length of casing over the spigot to catch him. Out he came. There was his eyeglass case, there his briar pipe. Here his blue work-shirt, there his farmer's tan. His bald head and cute dimples. His beautiful pot belly, which he'd patted after every meal we'd shared. He passed through my hands like a snake made of man.
There is a noticable lack of cookies. There is a distinct surplus of dust, some of which may be the crumbs of former cookies. While there is no potable coffee to speak of, the dark brown rings on this surface seem to indicate there had been at some point. Currently the windows let in only a small amount of ambient light; the plant, however, is flourishing, which indicates a healthy level of photosynthesis.
There is no human presence, but traces of one are evident. The seat of the chair, when depressed, releases a roast-meat smell. Specks of blood and mucus dot the walls. There are fingernails—torn or bitten, rather than cut—on the floor. It is unclear whether the human is temporarily absent or permanently gone. Regardless, it is my recommendation that a plate of cookies be left here. One, it may encourage the human, if extant, to return. And two, it may serve as an enticement for the remaining humans to stay/not destroy themselves.
The Richest Man in the World
He hired the world's greatest scientist to invent a shrinking ray. Decades passed and he had spent billions of dollars on research. Finally, the scientist called him into the lab. They were now both old men and nearing death.
A mouse nibbled some cheese in a cage on the floor. The scientist turned on the ray, which looked like a satellite dish with a rod protruding from its middle. He aimed it at the mouse and pressed a button. Zap! The mouse was now so minuscule as to be almost invisible.
"After so many years of trial and error, we have finally done it, sir!"
"Huzzah!" the man said. "Onto phase two!"
"Yes. Stand where that mouse was and we'll begin."
The Orange Eaters
They barged into our house carrying great sacks filled oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold. When we woke up, we were tied to chairs with our mouths gagged. They sat across from us at the kitchen table, deliberately peeling then eating their oranges. Rinds piled at their feet. The fruit turned the air sweetly fragrant. They didn't speak, only peeled and ate, peeled and ate. We watched, wondering how many oranges they could possibly consume. When they reached the last one, they huddled and whispered to each another. They removed our gags and before I could ask what the meaning of all this was, they fed us the orange. Then they cut our bindings and left.
Such a delicious orange it was.
We were discussing just how delicious when they barged into our house carrying great sacks filled with oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold.
First the scar formed tiny eyes that blinked open one day and shone like two black caviar. Then it grew a mouth, a puny frown that opened and closed ceaselessly. Twin stumps emerged and sprouted miniscule digits, five apiece—arms these became.
The scar did push-ups daily and by increments tore itself away from the flesh of my shoulder. Finally it was upright, like a small white snake surveying its environs, through still rooted in me. It gestured for me to dip my head closer, so I did. It cupped a hand around its mouth and whispered, "I end in your brain."
That's when this terrible headache began.
A Void Marriage
He had fallen in love with nothing and planned to marry it in the spring. Everyone was invited, he told all his friends, spread the word.
Spring came and nothing was ready. But the man had gotten cold feet.
"It's all or nothing with you, isn't it?" his friends asked when he told them about his doubts.
"It's all I know," he said.
"Maybe it's nothing but it sounds like it's all you really want."
"Wouldn't that be something?" he said.
"It would be everything!" his friends said.
"But, oh, I think I long once more for nothing!"
He wore dead babies for shoes. Drove a car made of curses you could hear for miles. Shaved the heads of random passersby. Swung every cat that crossed his path. Fed poison to all the mutts. Handed out feces on Halloween. Made a priest eat his own member. Shot an airplane out of the sky. Put razor blades in bowling ball holes.
He defecated on a rainbow.
He was the meanest man in town. But to his mother, who was delighted to receive his freshly cut flowers each Sunday, he remained Darling Harold.
A man's fingers broke down so he called a mechanic. The SHIFT key on the keyboard beneath his hands rose like an elevator and a little man carrying a toolbox stepped out.
The mechanic lifted the nail on the man's index finger and leaned inside for a better look. He tapped here and there with a wrench, then looked up at the man and said, "Try it now."
The man tried to move his fingers but nothing happened.
The mechanic scratched his head. "Might be time for some new ones. Lotta miles on these."
"I can't afford that," the man said.
"You got insurance? I know a guy who can make it look like an accident."
The ESC key rose and a little man with a shaved head and dark sunglasses stepped out. He carried a circular saw.
The man had always wanted nice fingers. Cherry-red with whitewalls and convertible tops. He imagined riding along in his car with a pretty woman beside him admiring his beautiful fingers. That new-finger smell filling the air between them.
The man nodded. The saw buzzed.
The Attic Baby
The baby in the attic cried out. It wouldn't stop.
The woman climbed into the crawlspace. She gave the baby sour milk to drink. Stuffed a slice of pizza into the baby's mouth. Gathered all the cobwebs within reach and rubbed them into the baby's hair. Grabbed a spider from a nail in the rafters and let it crawl into the baby's diaper.
Still the baby cried.
"Ah!" she said. "Your radio has died." She found fresh batteries for the radio and tuned it to the station that played only lullabies.
The baby sucked its tongue and fell asleep.
The wolves arrive first, wearing fur coats. They stare at me in bed and run switchblade combs between their ears. The giraffes dip their heads inside the window, lick their nostrils clean, and tell me dirty jokes about well-hung donkeys. The elephant dangles his hairy trunk through the skylight to tickle my toes. The macaw flies in and squawks and squawks, scattering cigar ashes all over my blanket. Someone spills a drink on the carpet—it's the black panther, who thinks I don't see him in this dark room. It goes on and on. My zoo grows larger and gets drunker by the hour until finally—finally!—the stinking pigs arrive and clear everyone out.
A man who had shut himself inside his house felt trapped. So he opened everything: all the doors and windows and cupboards and drawers. After, he felt better and went to sleep.
In the morning when he woke up, nearly everything he had owned was gone. A family of raccoons was eating a bowl of popcorn in the spot where his sofa had been, staring at the wall where his television had been.
It was then that he remembered why he always kept everything shut.
The Iron Age
Iron rained down from the black sky. Roofs were riddled. Skulls broken like eggs. The only havens were caves. People crushed one another to secure shelter. The dead oozed beneath the feet of the living.
Days passed. The iron rain never ceased; it only fell heavier. Our land was deformed, pulverized beyond recognition. The clank and thud of iron drove us mad. One by one, we ran into the deluge. Hardly any of us were still alive when the giant magnet descended and pulled us heavenward.
The Lake Man
The lake man rises to the surface early. He floats on his back and gently pushes himself towards the shore. His morning erection cuts through the air like a fin. He clambers onto land, urinates, and finds the nearest house, which he enters. Once inside, he helps himself to a cup of coffee. An inhabitant of the house finds him naked, pale, and fish-smelly in their kitchen, and screams. He encourages this reaction by raising his arms and making a horrible face and shouting gibberish. He estimates that he will have seven minutes to enjoy breakfast—dry toast exclusively—before the police arrive. He eats, then scrambles back into the lake, leaving only wet footprints as evidence.
But soon it is time for lunch, and the lake man rises once more to the surface.
A man carved off a bit of his forearm, fried it in a pan with butter, and ate it. Unsatisfied by this meager meal, he slathered peanut butter on his arm, placed it between two slices of bread, and ate the rest.
When his wife came home and saw his arm missing from the elbow down, she dropped her bag of groceries, the contents of which spilled across the floor: beautifully prepared forearms, ready for frying; a fresh jar of peanut butter; a still-warm loaf of bread.
"What have you done?" she cried.
"I thought you'd left me for good," her husband said, "and it made me sad. And you know when I get sad, I eat."
"But I only went to the supermarket," she said, weeping. "Because you told me you were hungry."
"You know when I get hungry, I become forgetful."
His wife sobbed. "What are we going to do about this?"
"About what?" he said. "All this commotion has made me hungry—aren't you hungry, too?"
Getting Milk from Mr. Jim
I hated visiting the basement to get milk from Mr. Jim. The silverfish were everywhere down there. But I dutifully took the bottle to the boiler room, where Mr. Jim sat in a dark corner. With one hand he unbuttoned his navy work shirt. He parted the shiny black thicket of hair on his chest, revealing his nipple, and nodded. That was my cue to raise the bottle, into which he expressed his milk.
But the silverfish! They terrified me. I could almost hear them scurrying over my shoelaces as Mr. Jim slowly emptied.
Our son was born a skeleton. We swaddled him in meats so that he would not grow up feeling out of place in the world—great swaths of sirloin and chuck and whatever else was on sale. My wife and I had been vegetarian (secretly I thought this may have been why he was born without flesh), but whenever it was time to change his meat skin, we couldn't bear to let it all go to waste. So we cooked the steaks or made stews or grilled hamburgers and ate and ate and ate. Then we'd stagger around the house in a stupor.
It became our running joke the morning after one of our feasts: we'd stroke our son's chin and say, "Time to put some meat on them bones!"
Over time, we got fat, sluggish, and constipated due to all the meat. For health reasons, my wife and I became vegetarians once more. And after much deliberation we decided that our son, who wasn't flourishing at all, didn't require meat skin. He could be kept in his basinet, in the closet, without any ill effect. He's in there now, likely playing with the bottoms of our coats.
It must be cold outside. Puffs of breath from every person, dog, bird, and squirrel cloud the air. You almost can't see through the steam.
Except it's not cold outside at all. They're just letting out the cigar smoke from the casinos in their bellies. The neon-lit signs mounted on their heads flash: roulette, poker, craps, all you can eat.
The Bowl of Fruit
It started with the bowl of fruit. Left uneaten for several weeks, the black bananas went white with mold. Soon the bowl was covered in fur. The fungus spread to the counter on which the bowl had been set. And then the walls abutting the counter. And then the ceiling adjoining the walls. And then the joists behind the ceiling. And then the floor above the joists. And then the carpet covering the floor. And then the bed that occupied the room. And then the woman occupying the bed, who in life had eaten bananas daily for her health.
The Cat's Contentment
The cat sits on the windowsill. Day breaks. A squirrel runs across the fence and spirals up a tree. It eats a quick breakfast of berries, hangs its bottom over a branch and eliminates, brushes its teeth with a twig, puts on a tie, and carries a briefcase down the tree.
In the distance a train clangs into the station to ferry the squirrel and its ilk to work.
The cat enjoys a nightcap before bed.
Springtime for Lunch
A mother sent her child outside to play. It was cold and the sky was gray.
A man emerged from the woods carrying a sack on his shoulder. He wore heavy boots and a cap pulled low over his eyes. A sheathed knife hung on his hip.
"Spare a meal for a weary traveler?" He held the bag before the child and shook it. "I've nothing but old bones in here."
"We'll be eating soon, I hope. You can join us. I asked mother if we could have springtime for lunch."
"And what did she say?"
"Go outside and it will come eventually," the child said. "Have you brought it?"
"Springtime!" The child smiled.
The man felt his pockets and looked over his person. "Aha!" He removed a bur from the cuff of his pant and presented it to the child. "Here in my hand is the very seed of spring." He pointed to the window: mother was preparing something in the kitchen. "She need only drop it into that big pot she's stirring."
The child led him to the house and went inside. The man paused at the door and adjusted his knife. And then he bent to unlace his muddy boots.
Mother dumped the pot of boiling water over the hunched stranger's head. He screamed and the crows left the trees. The child knocked him out with an iron skillet and took his knife. They dragged him inside and closed the door.
The Dinner Party
At the party, after dinner, we moved to the host's patio. Someone suggested we play our favorite game.
"I'll start," Charlemagne said, smoking his ever present pipe. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Ah!" he exclaimed, then tucked his forelock into the bowl of his pipe and burned his head off. A fine start.
"I've got one!" said Suzette, neck laden with jewelry. She twisted her lovely gold chains tighter and tighter until her purple head popped. Wonderful.
Sven, the lothario of our group, winked at us and lasciviously flapped his pink tongue. He took that glistening organ in his fist and ripped it out, his lungs right along with it. Breathtaking.
Finally, our host took the patio, his huge mastiff beside him. "Really," he said. "This again?" He bent down and placed his shiny bald head in the dog's panting mouth. A sound like crunching ice.
It was then that I noticed my drink had melted. I had planned to sink my member into its cold and die of embarrassment. Alas, the party was now truly over.
The Wind and Leaves
A man woke up on the floor in a room of swirling wind and leaves. They whipped his face, which felt chapped and raw. The last thing he remembered was a walk in the cemetery the night before. Perhaps the wind and leaves had asked him home. They swirled faster and louder. Were they married or just lovers? He couldn't recall. And now, were they fighting or fucking? He couldn't tell.
His head hurt.
And then the wind died. The leaves fell all around the man, blanketing his body. He welcomed the embrace. He was ready to change.
"Never leave," he said, "for I will wind up dead."
Father crawls under the picnic table and pokes his head through the hole we've cut for him. We shave off his brilliantined hair and the warm breeze takes it. Mother, who once had artistic aspirations beyond making our beautiful home, smiles wistfully as she paints father's head green.
We've forgotten the knife! I run inside to retrieve it from the back of the drawer. I try to hand it to mother but she doesn't want to let go of the paint brush. You're big enough now, she tells me.
"Listen to your mother," father says.
I carve the first slice from father's head and give it to mother. I cut another for myself. I save the biggest slice for father. He bears the pinkest of fruit. It melts like sherbet in our mouths.
The birds catch father's hair on the wind and weave it into their nests. When the next hatchlings chirp their first cheep, it will be watermelon time once more.
The New King
A boy found a crown while digging in the backyard. He went inside to show his mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, sharpening a knife. He put the crown on his head and told her he was the new king.
"If you're the new king, who was the old?" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade of the knife.
"You’re expecting me to say the old king was Charlie, who was not my real father but who was your husband and treated me like a son, and who vanished one night, never to return."
"Old King Charlie," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's a laugh!"
"Or you're expecting me to say the old king was my real dad, who I never knew because he died before I was able to remember him."
"Old King Dad," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's another laugh!"
"But I'm only playing a game, Ma—I'm just a kid who found a crown buried in the backyard. What are the chances of that?"
"Pretty good, it seems!" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade.
"All you do is sharpen that knife every day, Ma."
"I'm not sharpening the knife," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "I'm carving this stone, and it’s taking forever."
He was sitting in his chair. His brain was cold.
He took the blanket that covered his legs and stuffed it into his ear. His brain warmed. He pulled the blanket out through his mouth and over his chest to cover his legs again. Cozy, he read what he found in the folds of the blanket: a museum map, a Chinese food order, a train ticket, a two-dollar bill, a death certificate, a comic book.
But now his brain was cold again and he was sitting in his chair.
On the Ranch
A horse threw a child to the ground.
"It must have a knot under the saddle?" they said.
The horse reared and stomped the child with its hooves.
"It must have a bad nail in its shoe?" they said.
The horse urinated a heavy yellow stream upon the child.
"It must have an infection in its bladder?" they said.
The horse dragged the child with its teeth to a cliff and nuzzled it over the edge. A cloud of dust rose up from the valley.
"It must serve some greater purpose," they said.
Crow Bakes a Cake
Crow comes home with a bag of goodies he's collected from the side of the highway. It's his wife's birthday, and he's going to bake her a cake with what he's found. He's got a coil of turtle guts, a puff of skunk tail, a pancaked squirrel paw, opossum kidney tips, half a deer hoof, a fat groundhog ass, a garter snake stripe, and jellied dog blood.
His wife is out. He looks about their nest for a cookbook, but there isn't one. What's more, he can't read. No matter, he'll wing it. He starts for the cooking utensils but remembers that they don't own any—they usually just eat together at the side of the road. Also, they don't have an oven. And while he can do a great many things, he cannot start a fire.
His wife flies in and asks him what's in the bag.
He tells her, "A little of this, a little of that."
"Oh," she says, "that sounds wonderful. I'm so tired of eating out all the time."
"Happy birthday," he says.
He made a wife of ripe tomatoes. He made a home of cinnamon. He made a baby of ham steaks. He made a puppy of rubber balls. He made a yard of acorn meat. He made a career of black wires. He made a car of bread loaves. He made arguments of thin air. He made threats of words and open hands. He made drinks strong and frequently. He made his family hate him. He made it seem it was their fault. He made it easy for them to leave in the night. He made his bed and lay in it.
The Vengeful Spider
The spider waits till you're asleep in bed and your jaw falls open. He's positioned himself above your whitening tongue, and when the first snore rattles out from you, he begins his slow descent. Your breath sends him back and forth on his silken thread, and for a moment he is a child spider again, being pushed by his mother on the playground swings. He smiles. But then he remembers the smudge of his wife on the bottom of your slipper. He times his swing . . . times his swing . . . and then shits in your mouth.
He climbs back up to the ceiling and cries until morning. He curses god that he wasn't born venomous. He curses god that he was ever born at all.
The Horseman's Sorrow
The dark gray clouds slid down the sky and piled up on the horizon. Those nearest the clouds said the rain fell straight down, in sheets, like a waterfall. The rain finally reached us in the form of an ever expanding puddle. Then the thunder clapped, and moments later we saw a tentacle of lightning shoot up Main Street. It roasted a Clydesdale that was being led to the elementary school for show-and-tell. The horse's owner, who wore rubber gloves due to a skin condition, was spared from electrocution. He was inconsolable, but we convinced him to let us eat his horse. It will only go to waste, we said. It is cooked perfectly, we said.
The Family Hammer
In our family, the hammer is passed from one generation to the next, like red hair. When my
father bowed his head and handed the hammer to me, I felt the weight of it—both real and
ritual—and stove in the back of his skull. He crumpled at my feet, kissing them in gratitude.
In due time, I passed the hammer to my own son, now fully grown. "I'm sorry," he said, which was his first mistake. His second was to not be true to his own strength: his blow knocked
me down and out for quite some time, but it did not eliminate me.
So here I stand, a kind of god among my line of men. The family hammer hangs above
the cradle of my son's firstborn, a redheaded boy like his father, and all the other fathers before
him. But my hair grows gray and I plan to live forever—or at least long enough to watch my
grandson take up the hammer, heft it in his hands, and fell the one who couldn't fell me.
Grandmother's snakes disappeared into the forest after breakfast each morning. When I could no longer hear their hissing, I'd venture downstairs to eat cold eggs. Dinners I ate early, before the food had finished cooking, before she called her snakes home. I'd tape up the crack beneath the door to my room, then nail a board over it for good measure. From my window I'd watch the snakes come in, a quick, roiling river of black licorice whips. At night, with the covers up to my chin, I'd listen to them flop onto the floor in the next room, fighting for space in the big bed they all shared.
The sculptor sculpts a man out of man bones and man meat. No one will have it. He keeps it in the front yard and watches the crows alight on it and feast. When the sculpture of the man is gone, he shoots the shiny black birds one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a murder of crows out of crow bones and crow meat. No one will have it. He keeps them in the front yard and watches the neighborhood cats pounce on them and feast. When the crows are gone, he shoots the preening cats one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a clowder of cats out of cat bones and cat meat. No one will have it.
No one will have it.
No one will have it.
For want of meat, the sculptor does not eat.