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There is a tree. This tree emits a constant buzzan unwavering electric hum that goes on and on like an aluminum bar. From ten, five, three feet away, you can see nothing unusual about the tree. Nothing that could be making that particular sound. You reach the trunk and stand beneath the tree, peering up through the branches. Nothing. But still the sound. You shift your head half an inch to the left, to see between the leaves. There are no leaves. There are only flies. And they notice you, noticing them. They descend on you. All is black.

When you awake, the tree is gone. The flies are gone. But the buzzing remains.

 

There is an apple. It may hang over a neighbor's fence, or peek out from behind the other apples in the outdoor display of a produce market. It would not be the apple that it is if you did not encounter it at a moment of acute hunger. It fits perfectly in your hand, and your hand fits perfectly in the pocket of your jacket. When you are safely away from the scene of the crime, you take a bite. It is crisp. Inside the apple there is a hook. A fishhook, which pierces your lip. The hook is attached to a fine cord, which disappears into the earth. At the other end of the cord is an iron wheel, which turns slowly, dragging you with it. When the wheel is at its lowest, you shovel dirt with your bleeding lip. When the wheel is at its highest point, you can almost stand.

It is possible that you will one day manage to remove the hook, but you will need to split your lip in two. For those who know how to read it, a hieroglyph.

 

There is a book. It does not matter how deeply it is hidden. You find it because you know what you are looking for, and exactly where to look for it. Behind a row of peeling yellow paperbacks on a shelf accessible only by standing on tip-toe at the top of a teetering ladder, you lay your hands on it: the book that contains every answer. The book is lovingly bound in plush leather, the spine is well-worn and the paper soft as grandmother-flesh. You flip to the first page. It is unintelligible. Before the first page there is another page, which contains instructions on the interpretation of the language in which the first page is written. On the pages before that, more instructions. And before that, notes on the culture that created the book, the context you must know if you are to speak the language you have learned, and then the ingenious system which governs the book's index. Nine years pass, and you have mastered the language of the book. You pose your questions, and find the answers lucid and concise. It is your duty, of course, to create a translation, an annotated version of this miraculous text.

And of course, in these nine years you have forgotten any other language you might have known.

 

There is a man. He stinks of vodka and bad vegetables. You ignore him on the train, even as his watery gaze soaks through your scalp. When you go out to catch the bus he is hanging from the signpost, whistling rusty nails across your ears. You study the tops of your shoes, and try not to inhale. Next he is behind you in line at the grocery store, then he is crouched on a bucket outside the coffee shop. He peers at you from the mouths of alleyways, and the tops of fire escapes. Asked to describe him, you would not be able to; you decided some time ago that ignoring him was the only thing that would make him go away. But you know him by his smell, and the feeling of his gaze. In a crowded movie theater one night you feel it. Instead of ducking, you turn to look him in the face. You are prepared to scream, to charge, to grab him and shake.

But he is not there. He has not been there for a long time.




Cory O'Brien is a writer, primarily of words, but also computer code and faces. He has an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the author of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology. He retells mythology and his life story at bettermyths.com.
Current Issue
27 Nov 2023

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