cover art by Mizuki Yamada
The point of an elbow. Its pale, soft skin yet sharp stab structure. He massaged my back, in between my shoulders, with it. My life’s work hardened in the eternal knot he couldn’t completely knead out. But he tried. Until he didn’t.
My hand trembles. Coffee splashes on the table. Memories are weird like that. They make us happy, sick, sad, alive, dead, giddy, remorseful. Today, I’m nauseous. My mouth tastes like metal and dirt. I ate microwaved eggs, mushrooms and pepperjack cheese in a mug. I thought it would ground me, but I was mistaken. It just made me more lethargic. More coffee, please. More elbow, please. These knots won’t untie themselves, so maybe I should cut them in half with a razor blade. A shortcut to relief. My reprieve from this deformed and sickening life game. My slow sorrow away from the sunrise. All locked into the knots in my back. They hold secrets. I bend my arms behind me, but I still can’t reach. The pain is out of my reach, but somehow embedded in my actual muscle tissue.
I tail spin too far to the left and he’s not there to reel me back in, so I fall and fall and fall until I slam the bottom of a pit of my own creation. This is my horror house. My last resort. My faded fantasy of unfurled firmament. I can’t figure out how to climb back. I clasp my bleeding chest. A river of blood flows from my heart into the pit, and somehow its force emits light and I can see again. I see the open chasm, its jaws fierce with incisors the size of Texas. How did my pain get so big?
“Don’t bite me,” I say. But my pain doesn’t listen because it doesn’t have ears, just rows and rows of teeth. The Great White Shark of My Shadow. He chomps at my chin but misses. I have fast reflexes he can’t predict. I wipe the spit from the corner of my mouth. The chase has me salivating. I guess it’s a bit of a turn on. Fucking masochism always gets in the way of my stability. The mouth of madness clamps down on the rocks where I stand at the bottom of my mind’s well. I two-step to the side, then back step and spin. The ground cracks in loud bursts beneath my feet. The blood, still pouring from my heart, fills the hole. The pit becomes mountainous. It moves past fast in a circular motion, somehow spinning on an axis that I shouldn’t be able to perceive but do. The blood-filled hole sprouts.
A white flower grows in hyper speed. I shudder at its growth. I wish I could grow that fast. Grow past this pit. This sorrow. This regret. This pain. Grow up and out like each petal reaching the sky so far from us now. It climbs a foot, two, five, ten, a mile until the sunlight bathes its silky flower. It has me and the jaws of pain mesmerized. We stop in silence. The chase in hiatus until further notice. But the jaws regain focus. And munch toward me. I leap as far as possible with each step, but he has the advantage of rage. Its tongue lashes out and whips my ankles. I trip and fall on large rocks. I’m trapped between two rocks, in a crevice the mouth of madness can’t slide through. It licks the rocks in an attempt to lubricate its way to me, dinner. But it’s big mouth is just too big. My pain is just too big to reach me. I dream about pissing myself. Apparently, that’s good luck. Not sure what that means when I’m lodged between two rocks at the bottom of my mind’s pit and the giant jaws of my tumult are gnashing at me, thirsting for my flesh. Maybe I’m supposed to feed it my piss. Maybe I should pee on its lips.
I wake up. My head pounds. I touch the bump and it hurts even more. I can’t see at first, but my eyes adjust. I’m under a tree. I don’t see a human-sized mouth with no body or face anywhere near me. I see only a field of white and red flowers. I put my hand over my heart and find a silver heart locket. I caress it, the embossed rose calms my fingertips. I open it. A tiny bundle of hair is tied inside with a tiny piece of amethyst. I close the pendant. Shift from my ass to my knees, then to my feet. I hold onto the tree for support. I breathe in the fresh air, then hold it in, then exhale. I taste the sunshine on my lips. The rays somehow citrusy. My heart thumps in my chest as I recall the giant jaws of pain chasing me in the pit. I see the river of blood and the mile-high flower it begot from the chasm in the pit. I weep.
What a fucking nightmare.
But it’s over. I think. I hope. But I won’t know until the days and nights pass me long enough to forget the chase, forget the pain, forget the knots in back that keep growing and growing.
I look at the ground and see a door. I lift the latch. I climb down the ladder. It’s rusted and damp. The mildew hits my nostrils and I gag. Knock. Knock. Knock. I move toward the sound. The bunker lights up with sensor lamps in each room. Rows and rows of canned foods and pickled meats line the shelves in the first room. Knock. Knock. Knock. The second room is full of clothes and shoes and blankets and sewing kits. Knock. Knock. Knock. The third room is a workshop. I see him there. He’s hammering away at something, but I can’t see it, so I move in closer. It’s pale and shiny. I walk closer, quietly. I stop.
“Hello?” I say.
He looks up. He drops what looks like a mechanical mannequin arm. He approaches me.
“I made you something,” he says.
He grabs my hand and takes me to the table. He lifts his creation. A white metal arm with cushioned finger tips. It has an elbow that extends and retracts and heats and cools and who knows what else.
He holds the remote. The arm lifts from the table. The fingers spread, then move one by one, then close.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
He shows me how to use the remote. The dials for speeds and massage techniques. Something warms my chest. I look down. Blood.
I gasp, then look at his face. I can’t hear his words. He doesn’t seem to notice the blood. I fall back further and further away from him into blackness. The knots in my back burn. My head quakes. I can’t see through the blackness. I can’t catch my breath.
I claw at the dirt. Rocks penetrate the flesh under my nails. I pound fists against the dirt and rocks. Spit drips on my face and into my tear ducts and slathers along my eyelids and eyelashes. I wipe it away and chunks of dirt get in my eyes, too. I rub them with my forearm, then I use my shirt. But blood gets in them, and I think I’m fucked. Blind for life. But somehow all of that gunk combined was some secret sight spell, and my eyes open and I can see it—the rows and rows of teeth and bulbous pink and white tongue reach for me, but it can’t fit through the rocks. I take off my shirt. I squeeze the blood from my chest on it until it’s soaked. I ring it out onto the tongue. It chokes and coughs and hyperventilates. It can’t handle cannibalism. I press my chest with the shirt and pop myself like a zit into it. My face pales, my lips take on a blue hue. The white shirt now blood red. The blood drips down my hands, my forearms, and cascades down my elbows and onto the rocks and into the dirt. A green leaf springs up. It unfolds a white flower. It moves fast toward the rim of the pit. The stalk and leaves sturdy enough to climb.
I ball up the blood-soaked shirt and cock back my arm and pitch it right into the Mouth of Madness. It lodges right into its tonsils. Bounces around like a pinball. It slides back. It coughs blood. A sprig cracks through the tongue. The stem splits the tongue in half. It grows thick and shatters through the front rows of teeth. A white flower unfolds. It grows and grows and grows. But I don’t watch. Instead, I climb up the silky flower from the large rocks until I reach the opening. I cut my knee on the rim and pull myself out.
Jaime Dunkle is a writer/performer in Portland, Oregon. She mixes the profound and the profane in her prose with an altruism that stems from her tenure as a journalist. Her stories range from fiction to personal narrative and often blur between the two.