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Wyvern Lit

Three Flash Fictions

Fiction by Jeremy Adam Smith


“What’s the matter with me? What is this strangeness? Has my face changed?”
– The last words of Robert Louis Stevenson on his death at age forty-four

I. What’s the matter with me? What is this strangeness? Has my face changed? These eyes are not my eyes, and yet I see. These hands are not my hands, but I am the one who holds the cane. I come in one door as Henry, I go out the other as Edward—wicked-looking, you may suppose, and small. Indeed, none approach me without visible misgivings of the flesh. I well know why. Men insensible of their own lazy cruelty call purity wickedness; these one-eyed men envy the full liberty and power I alone possess. For men know, in their parts, the truth that stands revealed in my condition: To see with another's eyes, to act with another's hands, to fill appetites not your own, is to exist without consequences, and that, damn the pretty words, is the particular salt of freedom.

II. Too, that same salt is the horror of being Edward Hyde, and wellspring of the hatred of Hyde for Henry, Henry for Hyde. Yes, a man severed from his own face must ultimately cast off the aura and effulgence of the body. So we discovered, Henry and Edward. But from our overlook in Hell, we behold a future brewed in Henry’s potion, where men split themselves in bright glass. What terrible shapes the glass makes! What blood runs! You, man of the looking-glass future, you fancy yourself burning and free of consequences, and in this you are surely correct. But do you not find yourself strange? Do you not wonder what is the matter with you? When change comes, are you not afraid?



            You wake with the sun. Seeking arms and breath and warmth, you tread in slippers to your parents’ bedroom, and there you see your father and mother in foothills of sheets and blankets. Your father’s face is turned in your direction and in sleep he looks more like a child than a man.  

            This sight reminds you of the nightmare and so you turn away and walk down the hallway into the living room. There you see your pirate puzzle, your red ball, your stuffed bear. The bear rolls the ball; the ball breaks the pirates into colors; you don’t know how to put the colors back together.

            You stand at the picture window that overlooks the front yard. In the shadow of the oak tree that grows from the lawn, a stranger stands. You cannot see the man’s face in the gloom but a tiny light burns where the head should be, and through pointed leaf-lobes smoke turns.

            The man throws the cigarette to the ground, and the butt burns on the lawn. The man emerges from the shadow of the tree and you see his face. He looks like your father but your father is kind. This is a face that lives only for itself, cruel and innocent and strange. The eyes are smoke, the mouth is red. It is the face of a monster, not of your father.

            Forty years later, you are sleeping in your own bedroom, next to your own wife. Things have not been going well with your wife. You are stealing time from her and from your son, and in those dishonest hours you pay for blowjobs in the back seat of your family SUV; while they sleep through the small hours, you jerk off to porn, or you exchange dirty stories and pictures with women you meet on the Internet. You tell yourself that this is what you must do to keep the mask in place, the face you must show to your son, wife, boss. This so that the world will keep making sense to them. This is the only love you have left.

            Lying next to your wife, you hear your seven-year-old son creep to your bedroom door. You keep your eyes closed, afraid that if you open them you will frighten the boy. After a moment, you feel the air grow empty and hear your son in the kitchen.

            That is when you leave your sleeping wife. You sidle around to the back door and grab the pack of Marlboro Lights from their hiding place under the porch. Outside in the shadow of the carport, you lean against the SUV and light a cigarette. It burns as you inhale and you burn with it, your whole world turned into light and smoke. The smoke makes you a stranger to your own life, and for that you are grateful.

            The morning light opens the house like a door, and you see your son at his bedroom window. The boy stares at you as though you are not his father, his face holding that vacant curious gaze of children. You have not been this afraid since childhood. You throw the cigarette to the driveway hoping your son thinks you are a ghost, and as it sparks across the blacktop a memory sparks inside of you. You now know the name of the monster you saw that morning forty years ago, smoking in the shadow of the oak tree. You know who you are.

to Michelle

            A man walks into the library at midnight.
            “Can I help you?” asks the librarian. The black cat on her shoulder looks exactly like the one he had in childhood.
            “I’m looking for a book,” he says.
            “Oh!” says the librarian. “I know just what you need.”

            The cat jumps off her shoulder and leads them both into the stacks. There are no titles on any of the spines. There are no other patrons in the library. There are no other librarians. There is nothing emptier than an empty library. There is nothing blacker than a black cat in an empty library.
            The cat stops to lick his balls. The librarian steps over the cello the cat makes and she climbs a ladder to the fourth row, her fingertips fluttering over the blank spines. The man tries to not stare at her red skirt or her white calves. Her precise fingertips stop at one book, and she plucks it off the shelf.
            “This book is you,” she says. “You must not read it.” He notices her hands as they hold the book. They are hands he’d like to touch, but he is careful to not touch them as he takes the book from her.
            “But aren’t books meant to be read?” asks the man.
            “You must find someone who can read it to you,” she replies.
            For many years, the man walks the earth, trying to find someone who can read the book to him. Many people start the book, but they get bored and put it down after only a few pages.
            “I kept waiting for the story to get started,” says one woman.
            “I didn’t understand the main character’s motivation,” says a man.
            “Too many big words,” says another woman.
            One day the man realizes that it is over: He will never find someone who can read the book to him, and he’s not getting any younger.
            In a hotel room in a city in a country whose name he cannot pronounce, he stares at the blank, leather-bound book on his lap. He opens it and he starts to read to himself. He reads through the night. One page makes him happier than he has ever been; another fills him with fear.
            The sun is rising through the jalousies, filling the room with hard bars of yellow light. As soon as he finishes the book, the man becomes someone else. Having read the book, it is no longer him; he and the book have become strangers to each other. He feels as though he has died.
            He closes his eyes and goes back to the library, to the place where he was born. “It’s time for me to return this book,” he says.
            “Did you like it?” asks the librarian.
            The black cat is gone from her shoulder. She wears a new pair of cat-eye glasses and her eyes are deep-set and dark. They are the most beautiful eyes the man has ever seen.
            “No,” he says. “Perhaps…” He looked around the candle-lit library. “Do you have a book in here?”
            “Of course I do,” says the librarian. “Everyone does.”
            “May I read yours to you?”
            Says the librarian, “I thought you’d never ask.”
            The midnight librarian offers her hand, which he gladly takes. Together they walk into the stacks.

“I'm mainly a journalist. I edit Greater Good Magazine and I'm the author or co-editor of five books. My short stories and personal essays have appeared in Conjunctions, Popshot, Wired, Fourteen Hills, Postscripts, Mindful, Conclave, and The Fabulist, among other publications.” -Jeremy Adam Smith, @jeremyadamsmith