by Samuel Stone
The unmistakable foreignness of the body is the first thing that occurs to me. It’s the first thing to really occur to me this day, since I’ve only just woken up, and the things that occurred heretofore did so amidst the sludgy grope from sleep to consciousness, thereby obtaining of an ontological significance considerably rarefied in comparison with this very moment, where I stand in my bedroom doorway and rub my eyes.
This figure, however, that, upon the opening of my bedroom door, I’ve discovered standing in the hallway on the second floor of my parents’ house, tall and beefed with muscle, fists relaxed, but fists nonetheless—my impression of him being here, sidelong before he turns my way, sharpens, yet is unprecedented such that I have no data stored in my mind or body upon which to base a response.
Foreign, though, does not necessarily imply incongruous. Oftentimes with foreign entities there exist signs of security clearance: a wrench or a flashlight, a tool belt of some sort that indicates the purpose to which this person is oriented. In these cases, their foreignness is accepted, welcome, in fact. You have passed the test because somebody else with security clearance—like, for example, Mom or Dad—has invited you past the checkpoint; and moreover, we’re glad you’re here, because we are sure not equipped to mend this burst pipe ourselves.
But here and now, on this unprecedented morning, the large man in the blazer and dark t-shirt whose fingers are wound up into fists, whose gaze sweeps from where it was blankly settled to where I am waiting to greet it, has no signs of clearance. There is nothing indicating that he belongs here, that he has been cleared by Mom and Dad. Nor are there any signs of Mom and Dad.
Nothing like this has ever happened before, eye contact having just landed like soldiers on a beach—and I almost feel that something is wrong. But the fact remains that, if I am being honest, nothing has ever really been wrong before, so there is only the inking of the feeling of wrongness. Since nothing is really wrong (since nothing has ever really been wrong), I step out into the hall and say, “Oh, good morning.”
Everything becomes very, very wrong in the selfsame instant that his fist, the size and shape of a volleyball, but packed with the density and hardness of a Japanese blade, driven by the explosive force of a thousand combusting pistons, collides with my left cheekbone, instantaneously disintegrating it. It is impossible to fathom how he closed the distance between the two of us so quickly, and my body careens back into the room, where my legs hit the bed frame and fling my torso at a fulcrum backwards over it and onto the bed. My head hits the window and the glass cracks. It’s summer, and the pain is like nothing I’ve ever experienced—so all consuming that I can hear it; so extreme that it goes past the point of perception, into a realm of non-experienced transcendence, and then back down into the screaming nerve endings of my body.
Through the broken window, the summertime pours in.
And then this man is in my room.
There is blood on my hand when I bring it away from the back of my head. It stains the bed sheets where I try to push myself into an upright position and then fingers, each of whose distal, middle, and proximal phalanges are like rolls of quarters, wrench around my throat with the implacability of a vice tightened to its utmost extreme and rusted over the course of decades into a piece of intractable sculpture. My hands go instinctually to his, to where he starves me of air, to where he’s crushing my windpipe, but the futility of the effort is obvious. Then, using my body, he rends a gaping fissure into the drywall as if it were nothing more than wet paper, tearing in the process the “A” (for Anarchy) poster that hung there. Dirt and dust explode in a cloud all around me and the pain is not as bad as the first blow, perhaps since I now have something to compare it to.
On the other side of the wall, I am on the floor in my sister’s room, but she is nowhere to be seen. Then the man is in here. I grab a hardcover book on the floor and fling it at him but it opens midair and the pages flutter and wind resistance brings it ineffectually to his chest, where it deflates and hits the ground. Another fist like a sledgehammer, but I bend just out of the way and the blow strikes edgewise the glass surface of the desk and unzips it into shards like an icebreaker on a frozen sea. Facing each other we are centimeters apart, but I cough and a plume of drywall sediment bursts into his eye, which he squeezes shut. This, however, does not prevent him from heaving the unbroken portion of the desk’s plate glass surface in a small arc through the air and down onto my head in a blast of tiny bits of glass like diamonds.
An elbow flashes out and cracks me in the side of the head, and my head cracks the floorboards. I’ve never been shot, but it seems like the pain of being struck by a bullet would be indistinguishable from this. Bleeding now from three fissures in my skull, contact between hard, flat surfaces made at such high velocity that my skin split open from the sheer force of it, my body expects the continuous relentlessness of the onslaught, even if my mind is unable to ascertain it in language.
I sense, now, that this is not going to stop.
So I roll up onto my side—not because I’ve perceived via my sense modalities the gargantuan knee whistling down from overhead like a wrecking ball, but because over the course of the past ten or so seconds, I’ve been conditioned to expect, not the knee itself, but the notion of the knee in abstract, the eternal idea of the knee, or rather, a weapon, any weapon, violence in general, pain stuck out of time, manifesting circumstantially, repeatedly on a moment-to-moment basis; again, none of this conceptualized, none of this in actual language—and the tiny glass shards like diamonds shoot needles of pain up through a thousand pin points in the radial side of my forearm where I pressed it down onto the floor to leverage my desperate retreat, where they’re now packed into my flesh and marking like a chaotic but densely populated scatterplot coordinates of origination for a thousand diminutive droplets of blood, droplets that burgeon into drops, and then into greater pools of bright scarlet wetness that gather in volume past the retention point of surface tension and spill in depthless streams over what remains of my flesh there.
But I find that the knee, just then whistling down like a wrecking ball, had met the floor, and when removed from the splintered rupture it made where my neck was located a split second earlier, also bears these tiny bits of glass stuck in it through the light, polyester, pinstriped fabric, and the corresponding blood droplets, and it’s when I learn that this man, too, can bleed.
The left fist now, cutting the atmosphere like the slug from a massive anti-air gun, dissociating the mixture of various elements in the air from each other so that shockwaves quiver visibly, pressing the oxygen from the nitrogen out in its wake, leaving the ether behind it clearer than it’s ever been. I scrape back just far and fast enough against the bed to elude it, but in doing so shred my palms to raw, bloody meat on the glass shards that are still all over the floor. The force of the missed blow pulls with it the man’s entire prodigious figure so that his shoulder lands on my chest, but, fortunately, not hard enough to break anything.
With one arm he pushes back off the bed to right himself and with the other goes again for my throat, but the glass shards are still stuck in both my hands, so I secure them around his tree trunk of a forearm, whose adamantine solidity is indistinguishable from massive cords of rebar, and rake off as much of his skin as I can. I get quite a bit. And the blood pours down his arm in rills, making slick the grip he has on my neck. He shoots his dry hand for my throat but before he can get it there I lash out with an open palm and plant more tiny shards of glass in the side of his face, which, to the touch, feels like weather-beaten leather.
He withdraws his hand and presses it to his eye, blood spurting out from between his fingers despite the effort he makes to staunch it, and he emits a low scream.
I work my left into a fist, the glass shards crunch deeper into my skin, but I tighten this weapon for the first time and fire it into the side of his face. All the bones in my hand break and I scream, but he screams, too, again, louder now, as I’ve sent the glass shards embedded in his cheek deeper in and then out the inside of his cheek into his mouth through small rips so that the side of his face appears to have been tattered by buckshot fired from a nonlethal distance. I possess a strength that I did not realize I had, given the fact that with that blow I’d also sent his leviathan frame reeling over from his knees and onto his rear, upon which he landed with a thump.
Understanding that I may not get another chance like this, I pounce with the full weight of my body motivated by the maximum possible force of every muscle in my legs and my apparently great will to survive. I am pummeling his face with my shattered and good hand alike. I do not discriminate—shockwaves of pain exploding in the ends of my arms and screaming all the way up their length like raging firestorms, shooting blow after blow, breaking fingers in both hands till they’re flaccid and formless, not letting this flaccidity or formlessness or terrible pain prevent me from driving my continuous and relentless onslaught unto this monster.
When all the fuel is used up, I stop.
He lays there inert, and it occurs to me that I do not want to kill this man, even though he wants to kill me. Not only do I not want to kill him, I want not to kill him. I am able to note the distinction as thoughts gradually begin again to shape themselves in the form of language. All I want is to not be killed. But I do not want to kill. And since he is done, since this is over now, I, with the necessary deployment of the entirety of my fatigued human will, stand up from where he lays there amidst scraps of flesh and blood, broken glass and splinters of wood and chunks of busted up drywall, and turn to go.
Despite the great inclination I have to collapse into sweet, motionless rest, I stand. I hold my broken hands in each other like small animals, and limp out into the hall. I am afraid to feel where he demolished my cheekbone, but I touch there tentatively anyways because I cannot resist testing it. It feels disgustingly soft and deflated, a sickly and unnatural spot whence infernos of pain sweep over my entire skull. I don’t know what my plan is. Get down the stairs for one thing. Get help.
But before I can reach the first step I hear the scrape of glass against the floor. I turn back and see him sitting up. He rotates and looks at me, panting and then growling through gritted teeth, sending through his good eye a rage so violent that it exists always either before or after thought, but never concurrent with it. When he removes his hand from his face, there between his fingers, he is holding his other eye. He presents it as if to signify how little it means to him. Then he swallows—the shards of glass that were in his mouth—and spits up a stream of blood. He is gruesome and smiling.
His shoulder splits the air like a lightning bolt and meets my chest with an eruption of force, blasting my breastplate into at least two pieces, sending me caroming headlong into my parents’ bedroom, where, again or still, there is no sign of them. I smash into the television and feel the glass of the screen give as it breaks into a more or less rotationally symmetrical spiderweb. Fuzzy static electricity discharges over my body, raising the hair on my arms.
Then another fist like a cannonball, but I drop to the floor and it smashes through the glass and electronics of the TV set—sparks flying, wires and cables torn and exposed—and out the other side. With his punched-through arm, he lifts the flat screen and brings it down onto my shoulder, which I feel snap out of its socket. I scream again, and when I hear the sound, I know that it’s me, but it is not a sound I knew I was physically capable of emitting prior to this moment of ultimate, animal necessity. To produce such a sound is physiologically new, so I both hear it and literally feel its utter strangeness. When I try to press myself up off the floor with my dislocated arm, it collapses uselessly beneath me in a wave of blinding agony. I fall sideways, greeting with my face a long, narrow shard of glass from the TV, which pierces my cheek from the outside, enters into the cavity of my mouth, and exits through my opposite cheek.
Somehow I manage to sit up, and the man, who has knelt down to my level, stares psychotic glee straight into my eyes. I am sobbing through the presence of the glass shard lodged in my mouth and every wrack of every sob means a spike of horrific excruciation, but I cannot stop. I cough and a cloud of blood spatters out onto the man’s face, bisected, however, by the horizontal glass shard so that it stains him like a mist of spray-paint, but leaves a narrow, latitudinal bar of his skin untouched. It looks like war paint he donned himself, and he only smiles, so I flame my head forward without any premeditation or warning of any kind, and somehow, again with neither thought nor language, I am able to viscerally understand that I am changing, that perhaps I have changed in a way that is permanent, from something now and forevermore irretrievable, because I can sense—through the burning, overstrained nerve endings of my fractured skull—that I have destroyed his nose. Through the mere skin of my forehead, for a split second before pulling it away from his ruined face, I am able to sense each and every individual fragment of bone into which I have just, with a single fluid motion, devastated that previously coherent object, and I know I have changed because of the fact that I am thrilled. I am proud of every single one of them.
He falls back on his ass again, and this time, covering his annihilated nose with both hands, he roars. It is now my turn to smile with psychotic glee, whose psychosis is especially severe given that his eyes are slammed shut, the fact of which means that the effects of the smile are for me alone; and also given that I am now slowly extricating the long, narrow shard of glass from my face by pulling it, not back out the way it went in, but all the way through the other side, making the bleeding twin holes in my cheeks of equal size and shape with each other, like the blush of a demented killer clown.
I rock up onto the soles of my feet and press myself back to full height. Looking down, it is momentarily comical that I am still wearing plaid pajama pants. Then I flash out my leg so fast that its gleaming trace arcs through the air behind it, the space following each fluid instant of the trajectory it makes en route to the side of the man’s head, where I plant the instep of my bare foot with enough violence to send him toppling over onto his side. There is that mysterious strength, coursing now through my legs, since they have become my most viable weapon, with which I wallop him again since he’s down—a blow that sends him onto his back, where he continues to clutch his face.
I brandish the long, narrow shard of glass.
Given the futile condition of my hands, my grip is tenuous at best, so in order to secure the conditions in which I will be most suited to perform my final task, I bring my leg up as high as I can and fire it down—like a supersonic missile in its glowing, white-hot reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, sound barrier broken, sound you can see—into the man’s groin, mashing all of its soft parts into a spongy, homogenous paste.
There is another screech of horror, and (both) like (and unlike) the one I’d emitted earlier, it is a sound unprecedented to my aural perception, something brutal and animal, but at the same time, unambiguously human; as in, although I know in this moment that I’ve never before experienced a sound quite like this one (a knowing that is, of course, devoid of all thought, language, and any other potential mode of explicit, conscious conceptualization), as we are all wont to realize viscerally in any moment of unprecedented experience, whatever its character may ultimately be, that it is unprecedented—this singular feeling that suffuses you in the face of something truly new, the sense that you’re being reminded of, awoken to the fact that you are alive; perhaps, for instance, like when you see the sun flickering off the vast, turquoise surface of the Pacific Ocean for the first time in your life, and feel a light humming over the exterior of your body, something akin to fear, but not quite the same thing—, I know that it could not have originated from a source other than one that is undeniably human, and in this way, become aligned with the man, and remember what I’d felt earlier, but had temporarily forgotten, something which, despite the irrevocable transformation that has taken place within me, I nonetheless still feel: namely, that I do not want to kill this man. I both do not want to kill him, and want not to kill him.
So I let slip from my fingers the glass shard and it sticks into the floor. Hobbling out of the room, back into the hallway and towards the staircase, clutching my useless, dislocated arm to my side, because to let it hang and swing on its full weight is too painful, I sob. I am two steps down when what feels like the force of a shotgun blast against my back sends me sailing out into the ceiling, which, halfway over the staircase, angles sharply down, and against which my nose shatters in repayment for what I’d done to his, and though the impact sent my legs out forward and my head backwards and down to plummet into the wooden steps, whence my entire body then rolled a crumbled heap to the first floor, it seemed as if time—in the moment at which my nose exploded—halted, and then lingered… consciously coerced me into developing a patient and intimate understanding of this fresh suffering.
The man leaps into the air at the top of the staircase and brings his full weight down onto the first step, which rends in two and gives way for him to surf down the rest of them, cleaving each one after the other in a whirling storm of splinters, bursting with renewed vigor towards my wrecked body and the culmination of his goal in obliterating it. When his figure meets mine with the accumulated force of gravity’s rate of acceleration in some sort of mathematical combination with his physical mass and the distance he traveled to get there, he crushes me into the stone tile, then stands and drives his foot into my stomach, a kick that sends me sliding across the hard surface of the floor and into the kitchen.
It’s too much. I am finished. I understand for the first time in my existence, without any language whatsoever, the true meanings of this term. I can do no more in the face of this ineluctable machine. I have resigned myself to death, accepted my fate, closed my eyes, after one last glance in his direction, to where he stands in the front room at the bottom of the staircase, huffing clouds of visible air from his busted nose and growling lowly, smiling again now, removing his jacket so as to maximize mechanical efficiency for the final stage of this: the kill.
I am fine with it. His feet hit the floor with hollow booms as he begins the unhurried trek to where my impending death and I lay bound up together in a pathetic pile. I am seeking sleep now. I am fine with it. He can do nothing worse to me. He could remove my fingernails with pliers. He could tear my eyelids from my face and, with a straight razor, methodically shave my eyeballs a layer at a time down to nothing. I am fine with it. Whatever he needs to do. I am fine with it. Whatever he wants to do. I am fine with it. He can do it now. I will let him.
His gait is slow. His resounding footfalls are far apart. Each one hits the tile like a thunderclap and contemporaneous mushroom clouds of dust plume upward around his legs. The sunlight coming in through the window behind him sends a backlit shadow past his hulking figure and longwise over the floor.
And the air tastes sweet. It is still summer, just as much as it was when I woke up and today wasn’t different from any other day. The birds chirp outside. The sounds they make are the synesthetic equivalent of star-shine. They flutter around the birdfeeder on the back deck. The sounds of the small summer birds comfort me. In the time the man takes to cross the distance, my breathing becomes slow and deep, inhaling, exhaling, the stuff of the world into my being and back out into the world. The light behind my eyelids dims and I know it is due to the shadow he casts.
I open my eyes.
He lashes his boot out at my head.
I bring my arm around and deflect it.
His body follows the course of the momentum, and I follow up with an immediate strike in the analogous place on his other leg, which sends him stumbling into the kitchen counter.
I am on my feet,
I swing at his head in a wide arc, which he ducks and then resurfaces, bringing with him a ferocious uppercut, which I knock back down with my knee.
He spins outside, redirecting the force of the block into a furious roundhouse aimed for my head, which I duck and then resurface with a flying knee intended for his chin, but which he snatches from the air and uses to whip my entire body over his head, scraping me against the ceiling as he does so, and throw me across the room. I orient myself midair and land in a roll, from which I pop back up to my feet before skidding to a halt beside the knife set.
Directly from the wooden block in which they’re housed, I begin flinging knives end-over-end at him one after the other wasting no time at all. He dives and rolls out of the way of every one and back into the front room, the course of his movement traceable by the path of kitchen knives that stick quivering out of the far wall in an undulating line.
It is quiet for a second, and then he bursts through the perpendicular wall. I dodge his freight train of a body and he hits the kitchen sink, pushes off it like a wrestler off the ropes, and body slams me through the hole in the wall and back into the front room. But I grab onto his shirt and take him with me, allowing myself to fall backwards into a roll, and legs kick him off me and into the front wall of the front room, where a framed print of a Chinese Daoist landscape painting falls and hits him on the head.
I’m on my feet again when he hurls the painting flatwise at me like a disc, but I kick it down to the floor.
In a second, we’re back in close range of each other, trading jabs, crosses, hooks, elbows, and knees, as well as blocks, dodges, and deflections, all in a blinding frenzy, each of us landing blows in even exchange, panting, sweat flying off us.
We each lash out to kick each other at precisely the same moment and knock each other back. We stand there and stare, each awed at the fact that the other has yet to desist. The exhaustion is still there, however. We’ve just learned to fight with it, through it. I want to turn and walk away, but I believe now that that will never happen.
Fighting again, locked together, grappling, rolling, throwing each other into surfaces, launching attack after attack, mounting defense after defense, launching yet another furious attack and mounting yet another obdurate defense.
My body never stops moving, and at some point I notice that I’m landing more strikes than I’m receiving, giving more hits than I’m getting. I sense his strength diminishing, his speed abating, which encourages my fury, so I direct blows to his gut, knock the air out of him, and then send a volley of strikes up his torso and into his face. I crush his knee with a vicious kick and when he is on his back, I waste no time. Sitting astride his chest I direct punch after punch into his already ravaged face. I do not want to kill him, but I do this until the sun burns out. I want not to kill him, but I do this until the gravitational relationships of the galaxies have shifted such that the cosmos is unrecognizable. All I really want is to live freely, and so I do this until the last of the firmamental lamps deflagrates into quiet darkness, until the universe expands to its inevitable apotheosis and begins its retreat backwards through time into an unfathomable singularity. And when I am finished, when I am standing and have turned to go, to step outside into the summer morning, all quiet and bright and still, the man opens his eyes, stands and cracks his knuckles, looks at me, smiles…
This was a dream I had, and when I awoke, I was not rested, but fatigued from the struggle for my life, which was never decided, but just kept going.
The next night, I had what was virtually the same dream—the essence of its content was the same; it differed only in superficial appearance—and when I awoke, I worried that a pattern was emerging.
It happened again on the third night, and when I awoke, a grown man in a twin-sized bed soiled by night-sweat and sad, lonely semen, in a bedroom far too small for any adult to comfortably reside, whose floors creaked and groaned beneath an unsupportable weight, in a dirty apartment whose tenants were always only passing through, in a overrun city that screams ceaselessly its internal discontent, its history of violence and displacement, which crawls with execrable, disease-ridden vermin, whose streets swirl with trash, whose subways are soaked in the reeking piss of the forsaken, whose government extorts money from the poor on the pretense of law and order, whose inexorable processes issue forth into the air, land, and oceans the very death itself of the this planet and its lifeforms, and who, for all its unforgivable deplorability, is not even the only or worst of its kind, it seemed to me that the static, anhedonic sadness of the twenty first century West, the malaise born into our collective soul as the consequence of our relentless money- and pleasure-seeking, a desire for comfort transmogrified into a desire for everything, a quiet restlessness, a nagging dissatisfaction, like an eyelash stuck on the surface of your eye, hardly a feeling at all, more like the feeling of a feeling, prototypically vague, historically subconscious, scientifically undiagnosable, was gathering into something greater than mere numbness or passive acceptance, developing into something more potent than inert neutrality or exhausted insouciance, deadly light flashing amidst dark, bulbiferous storm clouds, pressing into landfall over a violent, swelling ocean, heaving blow after blow against an eroding shoreline, accumulating like grains of sand in an hourglass, piling up into an unstable structure, portending an inevitable collapse, and I supposed that I had finally to consider reckoning with the distasteful notion of the possibility that I was unhappy.
About the Author:
Samuel Stone is a precocious-philosophy-literature-double-major-turned-struggling-fiction-writer. He lives in New York.