He had a double-name where you couldn’t get away with saying one or the other, you had to say both. It was hard to remember. It was “Asher Pembroke” or “Antonio Pope,” or something. But I knew it was Anderson Percy. The boy himself could never spell it. Instead, everybody just called him “Ape.”
Ape was my student.
It is so rare that anyone fails that the little coffins have to be special-ordered and the body preserved sometimes up to a week. Sure there are short people, but those are rare too.
I was invited on a technicality. I was his teacher. I had an influence. For the better part of a year, I had spent as much time with Ape as had his parents.
In the entryway to the church, on a dark wood table covered with an ill-fitting circular red satin tablecloth, they displayed Ape’s various works: an unfinished Gundam, the red moon slayer, about six inches tall with a robotic whip, its chest was partially built but its head and the whip pieces still remained unpunched from the square plastic frame; a ceramic coffee cup with an illustration of a rabbit had had its handle broken off; there was a smashed tennis racket so warped it was flat on one end, and a tricycle which he had apparently thrown over his neighbor’s rose bushes when he tried a wheelie and failed. Each broken object was accompanied by a small card with a story of the event of Ape’s rage, how old he was when it happened, and a QR-code where you could find your own help for yourself or your child.
From the entrance to the coffin, Ape’s failed assignments were taped to the church wall. The bottom edges of the papers lifted slightly as people passed by them. From kindergarten, Ape’s horrible, horrible drawings, to first grade where every word in the handwriting exercises were misspelled, onto second grade when he had first started calling himself Ape, ‘Ape on the Oregon Trail,’ ‘Ape and the Cell,’ all up to fifth grade, when he entered my class.
I passed through the pew to the wall and held the drawing of a stegosaurus, which Ape had colored blue and given wheels instead of feet. “I am the stego-sore!” he had told me, when he stood there, holding it out. “I am the stego-sore,” he said. “And there is nothing you can do to stop me!” His socks were mismatched, his hair was uncombed, and he had a string of blood from his nose which he did not seem to notice. The paper still had a small smear of blood. Perhaps, when the blood dropped, Ape stared at the ceiling, afraid of more blood.
I went to Ape and his mother. The casket was open. There was the dead Ape holding the final grade in his hands. He wore a striped shirt like a Peanuts character, and his hair was parted side to side like the boy from The Munsters. Ape did not look straight up from the satin, but off to the left, as if even in death he was a bit too distracted. The final grade on the paper peeked out from his thumb. D. It was my handwriting. It was my red pen, which I had even now in my pocket, in my right pocket, beside my keys.
I wanted to cry, but his mother held out a white napkin, which I knew I was meant to unfold. His mother’s eyes were bold, clear, like a doctor’s. I opened the napkin. There was Ape’s dead parakeet, “Rhino,” which Ape had killed by malice or maybe neglect. I nodded and cried.
Ape’s mother put her hand on my shoulder. “I want to thank you for your honesty,” she said. “Without kind hearts like yours, the world would run amok with boys like our Ape.”
The organ played and I went back into the blue of the morning because second period Ape’s classmates had the unit 8 test on grass, boat and rice radicals.
Eric Thralby – The Collider
Our town’s favorite men were the men in blue jumpsuits who walked into the forest then down into the collider. The collider was a good way’s underground. It went under the forest, then under our town. We prayed for life to our collider, on our knees beside our beds. Our bed stand waters rippled as it whirred. The collider would give us something alright.
The first major change occurred outside the Old Thorn Retirement Home. It was a fear which crept through the residents like rumor or a virus. It had them up at night with their covers coming up to their nose and the toes of their grippy socks exposed. Residents called the staff on their emergency buttons. They would point from their beds with their tired old fingers. The tree. That tree. The tree. Only the west-facing residents, having west-facing windows, windows facing the sycamore tree. It had grown a pair of eyes. No orderly believed this. In fact, the residence was running out of drugs due to its west-window having patients. Even through their cottony blinds they were sure they saw the tree blinking. The orderlies merely fluffed up their pillows and stuck their arms full of opium.
The next major change was more inexplicable, more undeniable, more unavoidable. The north- and south-facing windows at the Arms Apartments had sprouted threads overnight, as if hundreds of spiders had all jumped to their deaths and were carried on by the wind. North- and south-facing residents, poking their heads from their windows, found their neighbors were no different, that was, at least the neighbors between the first and fourth floors. The second floor and the fourth floor. Every window, a dozen gossamer strands each, some up to ten-feet in length bound up by the breeze. They swept the strands in their fingers and flicked with their hand out the window until they all unstuck and flew off. But of course the next morning, the strands were back, ten-twenty percent thicker, more like strands of hairs, stuck to their windowsills and reaching to the ground. Eventually, they grew like vines. You could prune them off with shears, but they would be back by morning just as thick. You could stay up all night and prune every ten minutes, but how many nights could you stay up in a row? The vines grew so thick that children could slide down them to the ground. Though fun for some, they were disturbing to many, for the vines were flesh-colored and seemed to grow veins. A year of this and the vines grew so entangled and thick they were as strong as two trees, enormous trees, which bent as if elbowed from the windows to the ground. In the middle of the night one night, the Arms Apartments rocked to life. Books flew from the tables and dishes vomited from the cupboards. Residents, stepping over their floors as it quaked, rushed to their windows to see their apartment complex leave the ground and start walking, two massive flesh-colored branches, eerie in the night, stepping forward rhythmically, as if the apartment were a man without legs, stepping palm by palm down the street. It walked this way for weeks until it got to Labrador where it came to a stop, set the apartment upright near a sea cliff. There it stayed for six months, where everyday residents enjoyed the seabirds of the new ocean and its violent crashing waves.
Everywhere flesh swelled in our buildings. We put our hands to our faces and wondered, what was this? What had we done? Anyone of us might catch our toe on a vein and stagger into the living room, or everyday slip our hands through thin skin, peel it apart and pin it in place for the day, just to see out the window. It had not happened to me, but I know some friends who’ve been licked. A young heartbroken woman, as if mocked by an alien fate, went mad with her ear to her wall every night, listening, listening to the beating heart growing inside the other apartment.
Our friends in blue jumpsuits came up from the underground collider to ask questions. They put their instruments into the skin, what appeared to be the heel of a foot, first a thermometer, then a listening device, and then they drew blood. It was not human, they knew that much. It was, in fact, no flesh of this earth! Except now, of course, it was everywhere. It was some race of enormous, inexplicable, extra-dimensional beings.
There is only one man who can save us. He is stalky, a little fat, and wears an orange jumpsuit. His hair is short and black, a little wild, and everyday he wears glasses. He wears the Doc Martin boots which, more like shoes, do not cover the ankle and, inside those, mismatched pink and purple socks. He does not know his old name. Because he was stolen as a baby. Everybody now just calls him ‘The Body.’
Captain by trade, Cpt. Eric Thralby works wood in his long off-days. He time-to-time pilots the Bremerton Ferry (Bremerton—Vashon; Vahon—Bremerton), while other times sells books on amazon.com, SellerID: plainpages. He’ll sell any books the people love, strolling down to library and yard sales, but he loves especially books of Romantic fiction, not of risqué gargoyles, not harlequin romance, but knights, errant or of the Table. Eric has not published before, but has read in local readings at the Gig Harbor Candy Company and the Lavender Inne, also in Gig Harbor.