Fisherman

A man was night fishing at surf’s edge in the darkness of a new moon.

He felt a strong tug on his rod and the battle began with what he thought must be a hammerhead shark. But as he began to win the contest and reeled the creature to shore, he saw a tumble of arms and legs. These were so pale that they glowed with their own sort of moonlight. These human limbs were almost phosphorescent.

It was a boy, he figured a corpse, some luckless soul drowned at sea.

As he pulled the body onto dry sand, using his hands now, he heard a sputtering, and fish-like sounds came from the mouth. Though it appeared to be a boy with long jet black hair, webs and fins were all about the body. This “boy” had human legs. It was not a merman. The creature seemed stunned from having been pulled from its element.

“Speak!” the man commanded the creature.

But it could only gurgle in the air. Perhaps, he thought, it could speak only underwater.

So the fisherman took his club and beat it to death.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When the fisherman served the flesh of the sea creature in a soup to his son, the boy was puzzled by the strange taste.

“What sort of fish is this?” he asked. A clear distaste was evident in his face, the twisting of his handsome features.

“Monkfish,” the father replied, without looking up from his own bowl.

They had only each other as family. The boy’s mother had died in childbirth. He had learned to trust his father. Though the young man did not like the taste of the strange “fish,” in fact despised it, he dutifully finished the meal.

Soon after that night, the fisherman’s son fell sick. He fell into a torpor and then a fever. He raved in his bed as he tossed and turned. He talked constantly of the sea. He told his father he would die if he were not placed in the sea.

A doctor was consulted but could do nothing. The father felt great shame for having fed his son the flesh of the creature. Oddly enough, he himself had not fallen ill, though he had eaten the same meal.

After more than a week of his son’s suffering and worsening of his condition, the father took his son to the sea. The moon was now restored, bright. He carried the boy to the surf’s edge. He laid him in the soothing, wet sand.

As soon as he began splashing some water on his son’s face, the boy seemed to improve a little. He said it helped.

“These clothes,” his son moaned. The father understood and helped him out of his sweat-drenched vestments. He was horrified to see the fins that had sprouted on his son’s arms, on his legs near his ankles, the webbing between his toes and around his neck.

The boy began to crawl towards the sea.

The father saw him struggling and helped him to reach a depth of water where he could float. He could feel his son growing stronger by the minute as they went further into the ocean.

His son smiled. Then he laughed.

“Thank you, father. Thank you thank you thank thank you….” he said as he swam away.

(This is my adaptation of a Japanese folktale of which countless versions exist.)

Paragraph

There is no way to talk about it without sounding like witches. Their toys are still found in the forest. Sometimes, you come upon a stuffed animal sitting under a tree, moss growing nearby but the plush pet unmolested by this green fur. The animal will look so fresh, seemingly set down only a moment before, untouched by the weather, the long time they have been there in the woods.  You might believe the child’s hand had just let go, it looks that warm. If things can look warm. You might believe that the child hides behind the trunk of the tree against which the furry pink elephant rests his back. For perhaps obvious reasons of mojo, of superstition, with an eye to good cess, the country folk talk about the children in a thinly-veiled code. For example, they drop off the first letters of their names. Bess becomes “Ess” and Tara becomes “Ara.” Sometimes, they merely use the children’s initials. Everyone remembers how the daughter buried the cat in the box. How the younger boy discovered this, returned with the cat in the box, put it on the dining room table in the house, an offering to his parents. She wept, was confessed. The cat became a religious symbol in their household. Feline martyr. The white cat glowed. Her siblings drew and painted it. Had it been the medieval period, there would have been a stained glass window in which the cat figured prominently, heroically. She forgave the little brother who condemned her. Who outed the witch in her.  And then she took him for a walk deep into the woods one day and he was never seen or held again. She wept. She “lost” him. He was never found. She was very clever. She could roll her spirit shut the way a pill bug rolls its body shut, the way it becomes a little armored pill. The young father (so young he looked more like her brother) saw when she went for the next boy; it was a close call with a snowstorm, a wicked game. A grandfather’s boat was involved. And then the father took her for a walk deep in the woods and “lost” her. He said it wasn’t as easy as all that. He came back with strange marks on him.  Later, he woke up with a tattoo on his body that he had never seen applied. Then the rest of the family disappeared and their house remains empty to this day. The forest remains empty. The trees are still hung, here and there, with little photographs in frames. That is her work. There is always a cool breeze, even in the warmer months. Even in the swamping heat of July. The forest keeps this cool space and its blue shadows. People blame it on a cave, but there is no cave exhaling this cool air. Children who come through know not to touch the little icons of the photographs. Not to touch the trees even. But you can see her entire family in the photographs. And other long-dead people who are mysteries. Which ones are hers? Who knows. The animals sit under the trees. Old stuffed animals with strange eyes of sorts you don’t see anymore on the animal dolls we give our children. Icon eyes. Terror and amusement at once in those old plastic eyes. Strange ecstasy.  Maybe it’s the way the eyes are when one sees a human circus. One knows the horror. A dark part of one might be titillated. She is close. She is listening to us. It cannot be otherwise, for that is what the story tells us. The trees feel compassionate and invite us in. There may be a child’s tea party, the tea laid and waiting for us. Plastic tea set aping porcelain. Teacups steaming. Miniature table. Tiny chairs where tiny witches sit. But they are not what we imagine. We know better. One child walking barefoot encountered a lobster in the middle of the woods. It was crawling along the forest floor, though the ocean is more than an hour’s drive away . Sometimes a cloud will descend on a clear blue day and fill the space between the trees. And some days there are elephants. They seem lost. They cry as they wander through the fog and a girl’s laugh curdles your listening. Some unwise children leave her notes. These she reads. And sometimes she responds. Sometimes she comes to “help.”

Archibald’s Skin

scifi

Archibald’s mother was looking for him. She went into her son’s bedroom to find Archibald’s skin, but not Archibald, lying on the bed.

She hadn’t known that boys could do snake tricks like that sometimes. But it didn’t really surprise her. She had learned not to be surprised at anything boys do. She ran in her silly, marvelous little heels to the back door and put one hand against the wrinkled screen. Her fingers nervously tapped across the gritty, orange-rusted, orange-frosted metal of the screen, as though it were a decayed typewriter. At the same moment, her other equally manicured hand went up over her brow to perform the function of a hat visor as she stared into the full-bore assault of a summer sunset. She was trying to see if Archibald was playing in the field of wildflowers behind their house, as he so often did.

The glare was too much, so Archibald’s mother had to step outside. She could see that many boys were playing.It looked like a spirited game of tag. But she still couldn’t make out any details yet. They were all just silhouettes against the ridiculous histrionics of light the sun was engaging in as it left the earth, or rather, as the earth left it.

Then she saw that all the boys had shed their skins. It wasn’t just her Archibald. All the boys looked like mice that had just been born. It disturbed Archibald’s mother when she realized how much all the boys looked alike now. Which one was her Archibald?

But  she had her answer as soon as she asked, since one red (well, actually, his exposed musculature was almost pink) boy came zipping over to the woman, only to laugh, “Hello, Mother!”

She was not amused.

“Archibald, I’m going to make a roast, and when I stop in your room in fifteen minutes, I expect to see you in there and back in your skin. You will be going to bed early. But I may bring your supper to you there if you’re there the first time I check. If not, not.”

And then she turned and stalked off to her kitchen. She wasn’t going to dignify any possible disagreement by listening further.

Archibald’s mother trusted that he would be a good boy and listen, so she prepared a plate for him. The generous slices of tenderly bloody roast were still steaming among the baby carrots as she carried the plate up the plush stairs, walked it down the plush hallway and entered Archibald’s plush room.

Archibald was in his bed, a stuffed animal laid over his face like a mask. He looked like a little shaman. It was a raccoon. The fake animal covered his eyes. The tail hung down over the side of his face, the side of the bed. It was a realistic looking tail.

“Now that’s my boy!” said his mother. And she brought the plate to his side.

She saw that Archibald had not only gotten back into his skin, lickety-split, but he had also discreetly put pajamas over it. She loved how the pajamas had feet in them that glowed in the dark. They glowed a shade of green that only exists in the movies.

Mother served Archibald in bed. She even tucked his napkin like a bib. It was the royal treatment.

She had been stroking his belly while he ate. The child found it disturbing. The mother did not.

“Mother?”

“Yes, Archibald?”

“I’m quite enjoying your roast, Mother. And the baby carrots are sooo succulent.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, sugar flakes.”

“But, Mother, have you looked in my eyes?”

And it was like a lightning bolt. Archibald’s mother looked into the eyes inside Archibald’s skin. They were not Archibald’s eyes. They were the same color, almost the exact same hue, but they did not have the sparkle unique to the eyes of her son Archibald, which was a bewildering sparkle like lightning in a lake where somebody is politely drowning. These eyes presently inside her son’s skin were more mischievous eyes. They were more monkey eyes.

“Bobby? Bobby Wilkins? Is that you? Is that you inside my boy’s skin?”

He giggled like a drunk in Las Vegas then, though he was just a boy. He felt himself an accomplished prankster, a Loki, the monkey at the top of the tree. And he had even gotten some mature female companionship out of his shenanigans.

“And I have something else to tell you,” Bobby said.

“Go on,” Archibald’s mother said, seemingly without trepditation.

“My Daddy has been wearing your husband’s skin for a week. And you never even knew! Aren’t daddies funny?”

Bobby threw himself back on the bed, clutching the stuffed raccoon, and squealed like a freak.

“Bobby, I knew. Look closely into my eyes now. It’s Mother.”

Bobby leaped forward, puzzled. He realized she spoke the truth. His mother was now wearing Mrs. Hassenpfeffer’s skin. How had he missed that one?

“I’m sorry to inform you, Bobby, that your father is dead. Now we need to get our things together and get out of here. Please run to wherever Archibald is and tell him you need your skin back immediately. Tell him we’re going on a family trip.”

Bobby hesitated. He was to the door but he hadn’t exited yet. He stared with horror and fascination as his mother slipped out of the dress and skin of his best friend’s Mom.

He stared at the crumpled breasts lying on the floor.

He wondered whether it should have turned him on. He was at that age. After all, wasn’t he someone else? Wasn’t she?  But wait. They were both the same.

“I mean it!” Mother suddenly bellowed at him. Bobby saw her teeth had blood in them. Or was that just lipstick?

All he wanted to know, really, was who started it.

But that would take thirty years.

And by then, he would have started collecting skins. Skins nobody really wanted to give him.

“It all began as an innocent prank,” he would often be heard telling anyone who would listen to him. But this was on death row. And he had written a celebrated book about tattoos by then. He had published it the year before the FBI closed in. Nobody reading this bestseller had realized at the time that their enjoyment of the erotic images contained in the book was actually necrophilia.

The name of the book was Skin Jobs.