|MJ's a little (flirty) wrote in doorslogs,|
@ 2013-05-26 00:32:00
It didn’t matter how. The ambling hill, crowned with the ugly stick-dry grass of summer, grew tall, and there, at the very peak, above the blue smear of trees, was a black-silhouetted boy, a skinny thing in a purpling shirt featuring a duck in a tando hat. There was slanted script at the bottom, scratched in. Here it wasn’t legible, the letters never seen in any alphabet before, but the words were clear enough if you knew them. Let’s get dangerous. It didn’t matter how. Too there was a block of a stereo growing amongst the heavy-headed yellow weeds. The tail of a cord trailed off and it didn’t matter. A fuzzy, half-remembered song—Michael Jackson? Black or White. It had to be—spilled out of the speakers. Lin liked it. He liked the video. He remembered it. Macaulay Culkin. He’d said “eat this” in the music video and so Lin said it too. No one liked that. Still he liked Macaulay Culkin. That cornsilk hair, seashell pink lips. He thought he was cute in a bite-your-lip, scuff-your-shoe on the ground and smile kind of way that made words hard. The way he wasn’t supposed to. But it didn’t matter.
The sun lanced high in the impossible blue of the sky and its beams came down harsh, hot, baking. The boy was on his knees in the dirt, with two hands deep in the sandy earth. He wore denim shorts made of a sheared pair of jeans owned by an older brother, obvious from the way they V’d out in the back, too big. The soles of his sneakers boasted radioactive green dusted with Oregon dirt. He was alone. The hole he was digging was almost up to his elbows. It was unclear if this was some shard of a buried memory or a dream or something somewhere in between, but it didn’t matter. He was here. He was small, maybe seven, maybe eight, somewhere, black-haired, black-eyed, wrong-skinned, neck laced with a string of smiling beads, fingers tipped in a gloss—a gloss with no color because it was safer that way, but a gloss all the same. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for in the earth, but he knew he’d know it when he saw it. He knew with as much certainty as he knew anything. It didn’t matter how.
“I said if you’re thinking of being my baby, it don’t matter if you’re black or white,” he sang in his thin child’s voice, loud and confident on the hill, knowing—just as he knew he’d know what he was searching for when he saw it—there was inherent beauty in his voice because it was his and no one else’s, because Daddy-O (as he was now called post-eponymous MST3K episode) said so. Because it was true. Lin smiled and dirt gathered under his nails as he dug. Something sparkled below.
Things were supremely simple in this place. Daniel didn’t think, he simply existed, moving only because he felt like existing somewhere farther away, felt it deeply enough that he was abruptly there and not the place he had been before. At first he wasn’t wearing anything, because he didn’t need to wear anything to just be, and for a little while he drifted, not a man at all but warm air drifting in a blue sky. The realization that there was sky soon blossomed into deeper understanding, and like God’s first, a warm summer day unfurled into full bloom in the endless blue. Daniel felt like being there and so he was, standing with the sun beating down on his back and shoulders.
Daniel was neither old nor young, but the eternal age that one reaches when he is convinced that he can change no more. His face and eyes were unlined, but his hair was harshly cropped away from his face. He wore a green shirt woven of cotton so fine it seemed not to be real in the high dandelion weeds, grasping and edged as they were in the crumbling soil. He felt, for the briefest of seconds, that he should be carrying something, but that thought soon faded, and he forgot it entirely as his soft hands hung free against his pale khaki shorts. He heard noise, familiar noise, and turned toward it, feet bare as Italian beaches.
He wanted to be closer to the noise, so he was, and suddenly he cast a shadow long and cool in the singing heat. Daniel looked down at the boy.
The music carried on the sourceless fan of wind, notes on reeds on treetops on a hill in a thought bubble in a boy’s mind. Somehow the parched stalks of grass rising toward the sky remained still, despite Michael’s words. It didn’t matter how. Lin was there on the ground. He was reaching, tipping forward on bare, scabbed knees. There was a hardness under his fingers that he knew had to be it, treasure—he was Blackbeard, he was rich!—and so he tried to pry it free of the earth’s grasp with fingers pinched, just like he might the plastic tooth of a plastic crocodile on the family room table with a pair of yellow pliers and an accent that fit safari hats. Only it wouldn’t come loose. It bit deeper into the dirt.
“I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother—” Trees bent toward the hill as the wind drew in closer. Lin swore a child’s swear, heartfelt and soft, and he frowned a child’s frown, full of sugar teeth. It was all one-dimensional frustration. It wasn’t coming loose. “Aw, butts.”
He moved onto his feet, squatting over the hole, considering it with more patience than he ever showed in his bigger-size, in reality, though the entitlement was still there in the set of small features on a small face, as was the expectation that this would work out for him because it always did. He was alone, here, in school, everywhere, but he built his own world and it was rigged to favor him. It didn’t matter how.
A sloe-colored shadow that cooled the air around it slipped up the hill and over Lin. He looked up with open-faced curiosity, but without fear. This was his place. The music surged as it never would have anywhere else. He recognized the blue-eyed man immediately. Well, almost. He knew he knew him, but he didn’t know from where, and he didn’t know how, and he didn’t know why. He just knew he knew. It didn’t matter. He liked the green shirt and the fact that the man had no shoes on. He giggled at the toes in the dirt like white worms. He’d never be allowed to do that.
“It’s in there, man,” declared the pint-sized Lin remembering his quest, with the stretch of brown hand toward brown sand. He pouted. He sat again on his knees. The hand reached toward the man now, trying to catch him with stubby, sparkling fingers. His voice was expectant and his pronunciation precocious, larger words obviously cherry picked from an older brother, practiced, but slightly skewed by a lack of two bottom teeth that had been there a minute ago, he could have sworn. “You gonna help me or what? This is important, man. This is priority.”
There was no ‘a’ in front of priority because indefinite articles (or ‘a’s as Lin knew them in this state) made things seem less than. This was not just a priority. It was priority.
Daniel made no move to escape, born with the expectation that nothing could hurt him and even now wrapped in the reassuring cotton of sleep with his eyes still open. Nothing was under his control and yet nothing could affect him; he felt quiet and calm, even a little slow, and a lot of him was still up in the air in the long slashes of light. The boy’s filthy, glistening fingers had to pull on the cool hand a few times before the blue eyes even responded with more than a docile blink of non-understanding. He came to life slowly, a tin man in flesh, the breeze never touching silk or curls, the sun producing no sweat or discomfort. Only the grainy dirt clung to his knuckles as Lin’s fingers pulled away.
“Help you... do what?” Daniel allowed himself to be pulled forward until his bare feet pressed down on the disturbed soil, and with obvious reluctance that soon became nearly wary, he settled down on his heels. He smelled pleasantly of old, fresh oceans, Mediterranean rocks dipped in clear water, and as he settled nearer the cotton folds of his collar gained substance, his expression more human and mobile. “What are you doing?” He peered down into the rock.
The little boy shifted in the dirt with all the ease and pleasure of a seven-year-old archaeologist (a word he taught himself to spell, thank you) who spent much of his time digging holes in the backyard, back by where the feet of the trees that edged the lawn grew out in skinny fingers. He began to undo the pink laces of his chemical slime shoes, the ones that soaked up the sun outside and glowed when it left. Lin’s fingers were clumsy and young, but they managed after a minute, and the rabbit’s ears bows gave way. He was biting his bottom lip, concentrating hard on his mimicry, until the shoes were peeled off and tossed aside, somewhere, it didn’t matter where, with childish carelessness. He’d find them if he needed them.
Now he was barefoot too, as much as the watercolor man and his shadow. And there was no one around to tell him ‘no, Lin! You can’t!’ He stood, just over three and a half feet tall and wildly victorious. He grinned black and white.
Newly freed feet pushed and pulled the sandy earth, mirroring the man’s, with an echo of that dreaminess that seemed to hold the stranger in thrall. The sun didn’t feel so hot now, planted as the boy was among the thirsty weeds. He looked at his friend with the blue eyes who stooped next to him, whose edges hardened, who become realer, and Lin was only slightly frustrated with the lack of adult understanding. ‘What are you doing?’ Grown-ups could be ginormous dummies sometimes.
“Looking. Don’t be scared. You just gotta help me.” Lin said seriously, thinking only of priority. He took the man’s hands in his own again, water to earth. The shadow moved in time with its companion. It bled across the ground now, growing blacker, thrown thickly over the stereo as it sang. He led the soft hands to the craggy lip of the opening he’d made in the earth’s noggin and he placed them in the loose dirt with exaggerated care. Kneeling back down, next to the man, he reached in too, two little hands grasping uselessly, wondering where the hardness had gone. The treasure buried itself deeper, obstinate, shy. Lin scraped at the waterless ground with all ten fingers. “There’s a thing and I need to find it ‘cause—”
The song on the stereo ended abruptly. It was followed only by sleepy static and the boy without shoes on remembered the man’s name. He paused in his furious digging. He made a face.
“Your name is really boring.”
The blue eyes seemed tired and shallow, simple in their clarity, without depth but still with total understanding. “I’m the third person to have it. It has to be a little worn out by now.” He couldn’t remember ever being this young, and all he could do was call up memories of chilly snow days and old, vacuum-packed public libraries. The successive memories changed the air around him, and even his appearance. The cool, sweet ocean smell dissipated into the pungent reminder of New England snow, and the green aged gently into the old coffee stain look of old pages. Daniel himself seemed to grow warmer and more fragile, the sound of his breath moving through him clear as it had not been before. His form gained shape and weight, something closer to reality.
“What thing are you looking for?” Daniel wasn’t all that accustomed to dealing with children and, in a tactic learned from his father, treated them as adults. He settled his elbows on his knees, working into the taut khaki fabric as he steadied himself. Four fingers scratched into his hairline above his right elbow, and as he thought of all the things he’d looked for, faint whispers of memories fluttered around him: train brakes squeaking, multicolored voices humming, newspaper leaves fluttering.
Daniel bent forward and, turning his hand so his palm was a gentle curve, he scooped up a handful of loose earth and let it trickle down through his fingers.
“Daniel,” Lin recited faithfully with his cat’s grin, though it was as yet a kitten, guileless and playful. He seemed vaguely unsurprised, in the way of dreams and in the way he knew what he was searching for and that he knew this Daniel the Third, and his almond eyes didn’t so much as blink as the man next to him was colored in more heavily in his browns and blues, lines kept tidy, as he changed, and as his weight flattened the earth beneath those white feet. It made as much sense to him as anything else. It seemed the right thing to be happening. He accepted the smell of cold atop a summer hill with questionless assent. He forgot about it. The boy puffed up then in open pride, not yet aware he was expected to front at least a thimbleful of humility, and thumbed his chest. There was a sudden constellation of dirt on the masked duck’s bill. “I’m the only Lin Alesi in the whole, entire world—and maybe Pluto, too, but I don’t know for sure yet.”
Lin allowed himself a moment to preen, a peachick without his oil-on-water colors but proud of his plumage all the same, as if this was some achievement reached only through his own hard work. But then he was shaking his head and his lemon-wedge of a smile gave way to something light, a physical sigh, sad and world weary in the thinnest of ways.
“Buuuuut! Everyone says it’s a girl’s name, man. Even though, obviously, that’s not true, because I’m a boy. I tell them. I say—what more proof do you need, people! Tell me! I tell them that, but no one listens,” asserted the boy with a particularly clear-burning righteousness full of unweaned anger. But at least his diction was good. Each hard-to-say word was uttered with overwrought, crystal clarity, like teeth on rock candy. He returned to turning the earth in small palms, scooting farther and farther forward toward the maw he’d created until he was nearly bent into the thing. He huffed the richness of it all, of his waiting treasure, and looked at the man, eyes following the cascading dirt. “Daniel isn’t a girl’s name, is it?”
He stopped talking and shoveled a little more with hands as blades. He knew he’d know. He’d know when he saw it. He would. He knew it. The question bothered Lin, that much was obvious from the way he scowled at Daniel and the sudden crack of uncertainty in his high voice. “A important thing!”
More trouble with indefinite articles. Double butts.
Daniel was unimpressed with Lin’s pride in his name, but the corner of his mouth kept jumping suspiciously, as if he was trying not to smile. The knowing blue eyes remained the same, but the memory of snow and solitary separation vanished away on the next breeze. Daniel’s ordinariness enhanced, like a camera coming into focus, and everything that was cool about him warmed until he was utterly without any second meaning, and everything was surface. Only his movements mattered, and there was nothing about him of thought, of consciousness. Even his words seemed apart from his soul, and for a little while, he was only action.
One knee dug down into the dirt under one hip, the sandy soil finally soaking into the condensed pattern of a million perfect squares woven by countless machine-bound needles. He leaned forward, just body and a collection of limbs, focusing downward into the hole. One shoulder gently swept to the side, nudging the boy out of the way, and Daniel pushed soft, square-tipped fingers down into the soil and started to dig. He was more efficient than Lin, because he wasn’t thinking, and had no other meaning except for the movement of his hands attached to arms attached to shoulders.
An alien chemical smell, ballpoint ink, spread out from his fingers. Darkness dripped like blood without wounds from his hands. The carefully perfect shirt began to soak out under the influence of hidden black liquid.
Lin was moved out of the way by a shoulder that seemed so large to him, though soft, and he sat back to let the silent Daniel dig. He didn’t intervene, though he wanted to, and he didn’t say anything, though he wanted to do that too. No. He watched instead with interest, curious as to how the man wielded his hands so expertly, as if they’d been evolved specifically for this task, and curious as to how he managed to grasp so much soil in the white hollows of his palms, but without the reappearance of the treasure. It had been right there.
The little boy had just started to frown again, with his arms lassoing the knees he’d drawn close to that Darkwing Duck t-shirt, when Daniel started... bleeding.
It wasn’t blood, but Daniel was bleeding. There was no doubt about that. And so much. The hole—the hole!—was flooding, filling every second with a blackness that let in no light that didn’t belong here, something Lin didn’t want, and the tops of the trees were pressed closer to the sandy ground. The missing treasure went more missing. The boy’s eyes went wide with a lack of understanding and fear, and he hurried to stand in a clumsy flailing of skinny boy limbs.
Once on his feet, he did the only thing he could think of to do and that was to grab Daniel by the slick collar of his shirt and try to drag him away. Lin didn’t want his important thing to disappear and he didn’t want the man to drown in his own scary whatever. It smelled like school, like carbon paper, and the sun sunk in the blue of the sky.
“Daniel—” The little boy grunted as his heels bit into the thistles and whispering grass. He breathed hard from exertion. His body sought to run away, but he resisted by pulling the man and anchoring himself on the black-bleeding collar. “No, no, no! You asshole.”
Daniel didn’t realize the dark liquid was coming from him until far too late, it was almost comical, the way he lifted one hand and stared out it, utterly without recognition. All color immediately vanished from his clothes and eyes, and he now resembled an overdone noir film, everything slow and too much defined. He pulled back upright out of the hole, coming back to himself and noticing for the first time in a long time that he was digging without finding anything. He tried to remember what he was there for, and then rose as the darkness in his chest started to press him back, as if it weighed too much for him to hold up with birdcage ribs.
Daniel turned his head to look up at the boy, confused as his collar pulled at his neck under Lin’s insistence. “Sorry,” he said, obviously dismayed as the work he was done was rapidly being washed away in a dark tattoo of angry midnight. “I couldn’t reach it.” He tried to pull himself out of the hole too, but as the dark, chemical liquid weighed him down, it spread, sinking into the fabric of his shirt, the print of the sandy soil, the quiet imagination of his eyes.
The ink turned to blood all at once. Not movie star blood, bright ketchup, mirror ripples. Real blood, not red but rust, rapidly blackening in the air and smelling of sickening torn metal. Daniel’s lanquidity disappeared. He screamed and scrabbled at the soil in an attempt to get away, clutching onto the boy’s arm and pulling at him in panic.
The careless summer breeze retreated carefully from the hilltop. The trees continued to bow and brush the grass with their evergreen fingers. The stereo was gone, cord and all. Lin was left with Daniel, the gaping throat of the world, and the black blood. Despite the lack of wind, the air chilled substantially. There was nothing to find, it occurred to the small boy with his shoes caught in dust. He’d known he’d know whatever it was when he found it, but he was never going to find it, he knew now, and he was never going to know it because there wasn’t any it to find or know. Whatever it was—whatever had glinted in the shores of soil and sediment—was nothing. It was the stereo. It was the music. It was Macaulay. It was everything and it was nothing, and that was upsetting and confusing and just plain stupid.
Watercolors spilled India ink. Greens, blues, yellows, all black.
Lin didn’t understand any of it—not the spreading inky pool, not the apology Daniel uttered, not the everything and the nothing—he understood nothing outside of what he himself could feel. And the fear brushing over his skin with the newfound frigidity he felt and he understood it was liable to swallow him whole. It was unfathomable, as familiar and foreign as Daniel himself, with his too-clear eyes and his solidifying weight. It was the fear of someone older, taller, someone who needed emotions as big as he was. It wasn’t for the boy, but he felt it stirring in him anyway, clawing at the base of his brain and locking his knees where he stood.
But it was nothing compared to what he felt when the black went red—an unsettling red, a mixture of black and the iron dirt of the hill— and the man he was clinging to screamed. The Oregonian pines shivered and their needling scent was replaced by a salty-sweet copper that turned the stomach with violence. It smelled like a car crash. The digging hands, once white, soft, grabbed at Lin blindly, slick with blood and Daniel’s drowning panic, and the boy resisted their reach as best he could.
Darkwing Duck blushed blood. Lin fought against the pull and the hands and the weight of wetness that held Daniel and he kicked and he screamed too. He breathed the man’s name, he asked him, begged him, to stop and to let go, but it was no good. He was so small.
Daniel was supposed to help.
He wanted to help the man too. He wanted to get him away from the blood. But he couldn’t. He didn’t know how and he was too afraid.
They were going to be sucked into the hole they’d dug and that was going to be it, like a blackhole, a blip, then nothing. That was the end of the story. Lin was crying by the time he realized this, but he could do nothing else.
For Daniel, the nightmare split into pieces. He was screaming and drowning, and the blood tasted sickening at the back of his tongue, but he was also not doing anything, watching what was happening from some obscure distance away. The one Daniel was terrified, his fingers pressing into anything near enough to reach, dragged inexorably downward into something that quickly became a hopeless downward vortex of suffocation; but the other Daniel, he didn’t feel anything. He just watched, spread higher out of the way, and increasingly it was not himself that he saw, but Lin. It was a belated recognition.
The two Daniels came together with the snap of bone setting into socket. Blue eyes came open harsh and understanding, widening, pupils flaring open. The five fingers clutching at Lin forcibly released with hard force, becoming a weak shove to push the boy away from the burbling edge of the swirling liquid, chemical blue to aortic red. The Daniel in the blood gasped one last time and disappeared under the surface, like an impossibly real horror film in reverse.
As soon as Daniel disappeared, the blood did too. The pool vanished in a winking of reality. There was no ink, no blood, not even a stain in the sandy dirt. The scrubbed dimple in the ground returned immediately to what it was before, without a scrap of what had been there moment before. A warm summer breeze lifted up to stir the grass. A bird sang, oblivious, into the swaying air. What glistened before glistened again, if it could be there to glisten, and if it was not just an empty dream the way it had begun.
Lin landed in the thirst-yellowed chaparral on his butt in a puff of earth’s breath, shoved there. His open palms scratched on spiny gorse, leaving behind lines over lines, bloodless. His breathing was hitched and his eyes burned and he was alone. His nose was red. It ran. His little heart beat like a piston in a car. The Little Engine that Could.
Daniel was gone. Swallowed whole in red.
It occurred to Lin as he sat crying that his fingers had found bones. He crawled onto his knees.
He was alone. The hole he was digging was almost up to his elbows. It was unclear if this was some shard of a buried memory or a dream or something somewhere in between, but it didn’t matter. He was here. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for in the earth, but he knew he’d know it when he saw it. He knew with as much certainty as he knew anything. It didn’t matter how.