Friday, February 2, 2007


Thomas sat on a barstool in a damp, dark bar, and was having difficulty with his drink. The heavy glass was literally brimming and yet, if he raised it to his mouth and tipped it, nothing came out. He performed this motion several times, identically, like an idiot. As if an exercise in form, each movement was a deliberate copy of the one before, until suddenly he blanked, as if seeing himself in the third person, and stopped. He set down the glass and smiled his dog smile - lips opened, teeth together - the one that showed his frustrated sense of humor. "I see. You fooled me once. All right. Well, more than once. But no more."

It was then that he sluggishly noticed the starfish. A clump of them, like petrified Christmas cookies, clung to the mahogany bar quietly, insidiously, brown blending with brown, as if hoping to go unnoticed. Then they were everywhere he looked in little camps of wet warts, splattered on tables, chairs, light fixtures; there was even one in his drink. He was sober. How could I not have noticed them? he wondered, the thought bringing perception itself into doubt, and thus a swift, animal fear that boiled his cells. Details were hard to come by in the unlit room, and he had a nauseous certainty that the gloom masked their numbers, that the place was quietly teeming, every surface being covered and sucked in malevolent stillness. From this awareness came another, and then another, in suffocating blooms of logic. First, that his movements were slurred with an invisible inertia. Then, that this was because he was moving through water. Finally, that he moved through water because the entire bar was at the blackened bottom of a sea. He was shocked with panic and forgot how to breathe. And then, as if an army in waiting, throwing off its camouflage at the moment of ambush, hundreds of starfish glowed in electric synchronicity. The light seeped from the center of their heart-bellies out to the barnacled tips where it leapt off to join the gleam. In a swell of an instant, the room was washed in a white finality as he was blinded and drowned at the same time.

He woke in his old car, the little Honda his father had called The Roller-skate, stalled on the margins of an iced-over freeway overpass, begging God to reconsider and deliver him from this place. He took turns grinding the ignition and beating the steering wheel with his gloved fists and groaned a groan deeper than weeping. The cabin was losing heat quickly and he could already see the ephemeral wafts of his breath, there and gone, like half-remembered ghosts. Outside the car were nothing but miles of white and black, light and void, stretching without end in an approximation of Indiana snowdrifts underneath a January night. But Thomas knew better.

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