Derelict spine unbent with the dry synchronous ache of clock hands, as multiple stalks sprouted then bloomed from the long dormant gut of a creature whose limbs rediscovered motion and began to unfold against the cool opalescent walls of her cell. Below the rib cage and just to the right of her secondary air bladder was an asymmetrical protrusion of cartilage resembling an ancient farming tool rendered obsolete by the advance of technology and covered by skin far more delicate than the rest of her body, translucent with a dense network of veins and always swollen.
Twice a day—as unseen morning set her prison aglow and later as falling lavender and solemn night riders set her tank adrift, isolating its coiling dimensions from the aural torture of hidden moorings perpetually groaning on currents of restless water—the creature scraped her useless protrusion against scores of calcified nodules bristling from the wall, just to abrade paper lantern flesh and reflect upon the pain that radiated out from this superfluous extension of her body that would not function or reveal itself. Against chords of briny echoes rising from the deepest recesses of confinement, through the nictitating membrane of her eye, she watched the protuberance to fill the drone of time, but it never changed. And she counted the days between mutilation and healing—until she could make it bleed again.
Nurses recoiled and doctors gaped when the child was born. One orderly fainted then broke apart on the hard tile of the operating room floor, shattering into thousands of medieval ivory weapons which hacked away at the sterile expanse with the perseverance of human taint. Collective sweat of professionals caught off guard altered the composition of sealed air and settled on the walls, lending the white void of swallowed souls the fleeting opalescent tangibility of a Silvery Trochus shell. Hourglass purge of sand which opened only for a second, long enough to carry away the earthly weight of several thousand prisoners of gravity nailed to floorboards, hammered into concrete and folded deep into the risers of staircases, on grinding wings of swift glass.
In the unnatural landscape of the child’s back was a monstrous absence, cruel sabotage of physiological expectation, where the soft crest of his shoulder fell away to a jagged cavern of descending geometric hollows; shadows snaked out of this gorge of deformity and crept boldly out onto the triangular jut of the baby’s warped scapula, pitched at an inhuman angle to accept the vaporous spread of gray ribbons rising from the gaping cavity to dance across his newborn skin. Mimicking humanity, the cervical vertebrae descended from the child’s skull in a straight line, but in a jarring detour of accommodation, his thoracic vertebrae twisted around the chasm—only to resume their linear march in the lumbar region, far from the treacherous abyss.
Doctors recovered their composure, pink slugs rising in revulsion to fill the molds of medical human form, neatly replenishing the empty legs and sleeves of starched garments still hovering around the delivery room in working poses of professionalism. They turned the baby over and found a face well suited to photographs staged against backdrops of sunless forests and isolating sea shores, and decided to let him live. When they slapped the child and ushered in the future of his kind, propelling mottled blue suffocation into gasping peach, he opened his mouth to cry out but could only expel a mournful echo from the hollow in his back. As the nurse covered his frightful gorge—silencing the reverberations with layers of thick blankets—the boy rolled his head to one side and looked up into her rigid face with dark, sparkling eyes.
Carried to the shore on a ravenous tide, she rode the ephemeral body of wet light bearing thousands of medieval ivory weapons—Angular Tritons and Angel Wings, Volutes and Ghost Murexes—which hacked away at the sand with the perseverance of human taint. Siphons shot towards flattening sky as the creature dug into the mud with one powerful foot, propelling herself ever deeper with the mechanical ferocity of valves far superior to those embedded in the rest of her kind. Muscles still kept her attached to this cell, but freed from the binding ligament that lashed the remainder of the population to perpetual walls, she was able to manipulate her body in fearsome ways, unheard of within the confines of steady evolution. They would have burned her alive in other biospheres, sentenced her as heretic if she had spoken the language of sovereigns and destroyers, yet here more civilized—the sentence of drowning loneliness, isolation from all other beings and unheard speech that deteriorated under a corrosive net of salt.
Under the skeletal umbrella of forty radial ribs (ten beyond any others born into her race), the being studied her strange protuberance anew, engaging her mind in the labyrinth of azure channels, wandering veins that crept through layers of fragile skin encasing the projection. Charting the travels of blood brought no solace, even as she imagined both dark and fair purposes for this extrusion which had banished her from the analogous thought of kin, lifted her dreams from the similitude of a faltering civilization’s night shivers, and brought her to this living entombment.
Wrapped always in cloth too thick to breathe, under fibers crushed to felt opacity, the baby whom they allowed to live matured to adulthood between the impaling lances of pine needles. Javelin latticework tumbling perpetually through forest night. Looming out of dense sepia air, his arms grew uncommonly long and robust between the severe angles of conifers and compressed space, pinned to a telescoping cage of poles that controlled his torso but left his legs tauntingly free to dangle in brown air threaded with decay. His feet could only imitate true locomotion, and scraped futilely against the cloud plateaus of bracken fungus, carving the missteps of his civilization into the pale gray sponge over and over—until its fragile cell structure collapsed and cinerous velvet darkened to umber, bearing the frenetic strokes of a new language in its infancy.
Scent of mushroom spores clung to the creature’s forest skin, scraped away only around the huge, radiating discs of his eyes, which floated legions of shimmering auric parasites in their fathomless pupils, allowing him to see the finely etched textures of daylight unknown to all others of his kind. As his race witnessed their arms wither to vestigial worms and sank into descending rings of darkness with the dimming panic of huge blind eyes, he had evolved a peculiar vision alien to this world—in seeming anticipation of the next.
With the refined exactitude of machines learning humanity, the creature reached dexterous arms around his rib cage and up towards the crest of his back; the inexplicable deformity of unknown function had recently begun to ache without cessation, but at last his appendages had acquired the strength and deftness to feel the contours of his banishment.
Below the shoulder blade and just to the right of his contorted spine was a singular crater lined with skin far more delicate than the rest of his body, a fragile softness unknown to the corrugated rind of his hands. Deep within the gorge were a series of asymmetrical cartilage steps—absent mold resembling the impression left by an ancient farming tool rendered obsolete by the advance of technology—translucent with a dense network of veins and always swollen.
Copyright © November 3, 2005 - Julie Rauer