It confused her whenever it happened. And it was at least partly confusing because she couldn’t always anticipate when it would happen.
Sometimes a chill curled her spine, sometimes her temples throbbed, sometimes her knees ached—and then sometimes the world blinked off and on without warning or the slightest provocation, at least as far as she could tell.###
She sat on a chair beside a window overlooking a cemetery. Fetuses encased in sacks of bile replaced photons and dripped from light fixtures. They pulsed and glowed. Yet everything seemed dim. Dark, even. Everything seemed immersed in or obscured by shadows. She pulled the book from her lap and held it near her chest and read another page. The lighting sucked tears from her eyes, pulled her temples inward, as though it had injected a maelstrom into her skull. Setting the book aside, she closed her eyes and massaged her temples.
Outside, something howled. That goddamn dog, probably.
For the past month or so, a group of teenagers had haunted the cemetery. They’d gather around headstones and talk—loudly—for hours. Although Sarah hadn’t bothered to investigate, she suspected they were either dispensing or consuming drugs—or both.
Their voices transmogrified into sound waves. The sound waves—visible, like rainbow-colored ribbons—blasted into the windows in her apartment, shattering the glass, which blew inward. Shards flew around the room, which reflected the dripping fetuses, firing them in all direction.
The shards—each of the at least ten thousand fragments—transformed into moths or butterflies. They floated upward, upward, spiraling toward the ceiling.
Sarah watched them fly, mesmerized. Her head throbbed and her knees ached.
The butterflies merged with the dripping fetuses. Cocoons dropped to the floor and wiggled; they wiggled.
Then everything collapsed. Now she was outside, in a landscape she didn’t recognize. The trees shook at the stars swirled.
Leaning against a tree, Sarah examined the horizon. The sun penetrated it. Streaks of matter glided across the sky. Like molecules in neurotransmitters, the matter broke apart and floated around. Some fit into receptor sites in the sky; others floated, floated, carried away by the wind.
Overhead, bulbous-looking splotches marred the blue.
As the matter piled into receptor sites an explosion tore through the atmosphere: clouds disintegrated. They tumbled to the ground. The atmosphere fell inward, and, to Sarah, it resembled what it must look like to sit inside a deflating balloon.
White eclipsed color. The explosion expanded outward.
Everything collapsed and tumbled down, down, down.
The world fell over her. It wrapped around her and snuggled and suffocated her.
Light vanished. Darkness reigned. Sounds terminated. The void nullified every sensation, every feeling and sense of experience; every indication of conscious life vanished; and she felt more like a doll or a mannequin than a person. An uneasy sensation, to say the least.
She vanished, and the emptiness, the totality of the absence of everything, of every possible sensation and experience, morphed into an event horizon.
Impossible to comprehend—or to describe—the complete and total absence of everything, the void, the darkness had more on less become her.
She wasn’t even “she” anymore. “She” dissolved, evaporated, vanished.
She was lying in a room in a hospital.
This was a decade before her father would die and two years after her sister had died.
Gauze covered sutured valleys she had carved into her forearms. Gaping wounds in the ceiling pulsed. Light spilled from the wounds. The pulsing spasms strobed, painting everything gray and white.
A groan: —Bracket it.
But whose groan? Hers?
Boils grew on the walls; they inflated and deflated like bladders. Sounds billowed from the windows and crawled beneath cracks in the doors: floating and swerving, they convulsed and popped, merged and transformed. Each color, she knew, or at least sensed, represented snatches of conversations or modern technological ambiance. Red and green = voice or footfalls; blue and yellow = doors closing or machines buzzing, beeping, or whirring.
Soon, colors filled the room. Some spun and some merged, transforming the air—the fucking air—into kaleidoscopes. Then ripples started near the periphery and expanded toward the center of the room. Although she couldn’t see it to verify it, Sarah somehow sensed the door had opened and closed. She squinted, tried to see through and beyond the colors, but the ripples intensified, muddling everything.
Cynthia broke through the haze and screwed her eyes upward. Tears streaked her cheeks. She sniffled, dropped into a chair beside the bed, and clutched Sarah’s hand.
—How are you feeling?
Sarah sort of shrugged and twitched her neck, as if trying to use her shoulder to scratch her chin.
—I talked to your father, Cynthia said.
—He’s leaving the conference, flying down as soon as he can.
—To be with you.
—But why would he fly? He doesn’t need to fly.
—He says he has something for you, something he’s bringing. Says you’ll be “taken aback” when you see it. Those are his words: “taken aback.”
—I know this, Sarah said. —I know all of it. I’ve been here before. Experienced this before.
—He assured me he’ll take care of everything.
—Like I know everything you’re going to say.
—I know. I know.
—”I tried to tell him, but he won’t listen.”
—I tried to tell him, but he won’t listen.
—And yet nothing I say matters. Nothing I say now matters.
—But … Exactly. That’s … I know, I said the same thing.
—Because what I’m saying now wasn’t said then, so changing what I say won’t change what you said.
—But … Well, of course he’s weird. What father isn’t?
—And I just don’t like being here. I don’t know why I have to be here, Sarah said. —Why am I constantly thrust back into this room? into this situation?
—Things will get better.
Sarah remembered saying, “No they won’t. How can things possibly get better?” And so, reliving this, she parroted herself:
—No they won’t. How can things possibly get better?
And she remembered what happened next: Cynthia rubbed Sarah’s arm and said,
—I’ll always be here for you.
And it meant something then, what Cynthia had said. And it meant something later. Reliving this moment, Sarah knew how precious it was, how precious everything was—and is.
—I love you, she said.
Cynthia massaged her temples.
—I know when you’ll die, Sarah said. —And it makes this worse.
Sarah knew when Cynthia would die because she’d experienced it. Several times, in fact.
—Six years, Sarah said. —If only I knew then …
Knowing this and not knowing this, Sarah now and Sarah then covered her eyes and cried.
Flesh Made World releases soon from Rooster Republic Press.
About the book:
Death surrounds Sarah and Daulton. While grieving for their loved ones, they each must navigate a universe where time isn’t linear, where memories and fantasies collide, merging with reality. The dead haunt them, the world shifts and changes, and time disintegrates. Slipping in and out of the present, they relive moments from their past—and they never know when they’re in the present. As the shifts increasingly dominate their lives, as their grips on reality loosen, Sarah and Daulton struggle to find a way to orient themselves in the present, to escape the infinite loop of pain, suffering, and confusion. If they can’t find a way out, then will they be trapped in a kaleidoscope of torment and grief? An experimental novel about death, the nature of memories, and reality, Flesh Made World thrusts readers into a hallucinogenic universe where space and time constantly unravel.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at lostitfunhouse [at] gmail [dot] com