by Allan M. McDonald
Flip the coin.
Flip the coin.
Flip the coin.
I flip the coin.
I flip the coin and
I flip the coin and peer beneath my purple trilby with hooded, troubled eyes and lean against the lamp post, staring at the sun’s benevolent gaze as it rides over the horizon one more night and man, it looks smug. Just fucking smug. It smiles like the cat’s got his cream. Really annoys me.
Got to ignore that (but really, how can it be so damn happy) and focus on the two color blues who are holding intimate conversation over by the pond. They are sat on a yellow bench, which is just an incident waiting to happen. If they were red or green then what they are doing wouldn’t be so obvious.
Blue and red. Fine. Subtle.
Blue and green. Acceptable. Seen often in company. Nothing to worry about.
But blue and yellow? Might as well stick a flagpole on your head which at random moments extends fifty feet in the air and signals a flying troupe of stunt airplanes, trailing a mile-long banner stating: “this person is a traitor this person is a traitor”. Or something more subtle. It’s that wrong.
I watch as they
I watch as they talk
I watch as they talk quietly amongst themselves, unaware of my presence, leaning in towards each other, brushing their fingers against each other, writing invisible patterns on the back of thin, blue, skeletal wrists.
That’s how they do it. I pull out my camera and press the tripod button, remembering to hold it forward and take a step back. From out of the bottom three plastic legs shoot down and, by dint of small, clasping hands at the end of each leg, they afford stable purchase on the ground and I release my hold on the camera and watch it remain perfectly horizontal, suspended with no hint of give.
Pausing to snarl at the sun (who sticks his tongue out, the dirty rotter) I look through the lens and I frame them and take pictures. Snip snip snip. Focus on their hands. Snip.
My client will be a happy bunny, I think. Considering he is a bunny, I amuse myself with this play on words, grabbing the camera as the legs suck back into the body, and I tuck it in my pocket.
I narrow my gaze against the sun, offer it a well-placed finger, tuck my purple trilby over my eyes and relinquish my spot by the lamp post.
The blues by the pond; man, they have no idea what will hit them tomorrow.
The best thing about the bar, this bar, is that there’s no issue with color. Never has been. Yellows are welcome here, as well as reds, which is pretty uncommon in this part of the world. Lucky for me because I’m a yellow and my contact here, the bunny, is red. I can’t think of a single place in this part of whatthe(?) where a yellow stunt dummy with a purple trilby and a bunny rabbit with red teflon armor can sit down over a few beers and have a civilized conversation. Other places people would look at you and you’d just get kicked out the door. No questions asked.
No blues allowed, though.
The camera must be a polaroid. By the time I have entered through the door, passing the bar and the weird alien fellas producing music through their enlarged glands (while entertaining a mitzvah in the gap between the buffet area and the men’s toilets), the photos have been developed and the camera has palmed them into my hands. I spot the bunny by the cubicle, musing over the menu and I approach and — with grace and élan — I toss the photos onto the table in front of him, sit on the other side and watch him with my poker face.
He offers them his full attention. He’s not quite a rabbit in the same way I’m not quite a stunt dummy but the reasons why this is the case are a) varied b) confusing and c) hard to explain unless you’re a yellow stunt dummy offering a red, heavily armored bunny rabbit photographs of colors writing messages on the back of their wrists. You see the dilemma?
So he has hands and inspects each photo in turn, pulling them towards his face.
“Been arguing with the sun again?” he says, without looking up.
I grunt. “Fucker’s following me. Haven’t seen nightfall for a week now. How did you guess?”
“You know what he’s like with the color yellow. Once he gets a sniff he won’t let go, but,” he sighs, leaning backwards, rubbing his eyes with his knuckles, “that’s the way it plays. Keep the shining one happy and he’ll light you the way home. Consider yourself lucky.”
I say nothing. Poker face. Big plastic, yellow Poker face.
“Okay,” he says, after a pause. “What do you want for these?”
I raise my hand to the passing waiter, who is comprised of nothing but a series of polygonal mirrors and therefore easy to spot in a crowd. I order a drink: a Jack Daniels. It’ll no doubt come back as a puppy or a lizard but one time in ten it’s something liquid and one time in fifty it’s actually something alcoholic. The waiter disappears in a violent orgy of reflected light in a room filled with multi-colored entities who gyrate and bop to the skiffle jazz produced by the energetic, contorted appendages of the aliens by the buffet table.
I pull out my coin and flip it.
“What I want is my sanity back. I want to speak to the man. I want the ticket.”
I look out the Window
I look out the Window on the 23rd Floor and see that the scenery outside is moving back and forth, like a tide pulling in and out and I take a while to work out whether it is the building I am in that is breaking on the outside or vice versa.
Because of this motion and the effect it has on the building — and the constant sway and movement it causes — everything in the office is set up in a way to accommodate this. Desks and cupboards are suspended from the ceiling. The chair behind me and the one occupied by One-Eye Jake, the big controller, are on tightly wound springs that absorb the majority of movement. Cups and other potential sharp/breakable objects are instead made of various rubber and plastic compounds.
I’ve only been here a minute and already I feel seasick. Or land sick. Or building sick. Or scenery sick. I can’t tell.
“Take a ssseat,” says Jake, noting my queasiness, “you acclimate quicker if you avoid looking out the window for a while.”
“I’m watching out for the sun,” I reply. “Bastard’s been hounding me for days.”
“Consssider yourssself lucky.”
“Funny, the rabbit said that.”
Jake, it has to be noted, is a snake. Not any old snake but the kind that pop out of tins and are often popular on kid’s birthdays or April Fool’s Day. He bounces up and down like a harpsichord. He’s yellow like me, so we have our allegiances but beyond that there’s not much in common.
Except that he is my ticket to the man, and my ticket out of here.
Taking his advice I park myself on the chair-on-a-spring. Everything stops moving and becomes surprisingly calm. I feel the motion of motors whirring beneath my buttocks, counterbalancing the sway of the building/universe.
“Been insssane long?” Jake asks, fake orange tongue lolling out of his mouth. The polaroids are laid out on the table in much the same way they had been set out before the bunny rabbit. He inspects them with care and attention.
I scratch my head, dislodging my purple trilby.
“So long I can’t remember my name.”
I remember Claire and Tommy’s name.
He chuckles. “Same here. I think I used to be a fisherman in Sssouthampton but then I get confusssed and I’m not a fisssherman and maybe I’m a fireman instead.” He sighs, and pauses meditatively for a moment, which is a weird thing to see on a pop-up snake. “It’sss all fucked anyway.”
“Amen to that. Talking of fucked, what will happen to the happy couple?” I indicate one of the close-ups of the blues as they hold hands.
He gets cagey.
“We haven’t picked them up yet. Sssurveillance, you understand.” His words draw out, struggling over those slippery esses, his paper tongue rattling like a streamer in an air-conditioner.
“Where does this leave me? I need the reward to see the man about the ticket.”
He gets cagier still.
“We both know this won’t get you the ticket, nor to the man.”
I let the words settle and wait for the carrot. The pop-up snake leans forward and beacons me close. Beneath us the desk swings. Our chair motors humm and whirr, happy to help.
“But I know ssssomething that sssurely will…”
Remake of Tron
“Ever feel you’re in a really tacky TV remake of Tron?”
“The guy out of, you know, that prison show. One with the hair? Kinda spiky? Looks a bit effeminate but could kick your ass for pointing it out?”
I think a while.
“No. If you were talking about that man who fought Harrison Ford in that gay musical comedy then yes. Otherwise no.”
This, I think, has to be the longest password exchange in the world.
I am sat in the very same seat I photographed under the burning sun four days ago, talking to one of the very same blues whilst he begins to tattoo patterns on the back of my wrist. He has long fingernails and they scratch against my plastic skin like they’re being drawn down a tall blackboard. The feeling is not pleasant.
“It isn’t often we get interested yellows,” he says in a soft voice. “May I ask why?”
“You see that building?”
The scratching stops. “The governmental housing. What about it?”
We are both watching it now. It continues to wash back and forth. From here it looks like it’s the building that moves, but it could quite easily be the ground. The building, by its very nature, is very deceptive.
“I can get you in there, to the top floor. One bomb.” I make an expansive gesture with my hands, like something growing. “Boom. They’ll listen then.”
The blue’s hand caresses the side of my head. I notice his black fingernails, long and uncut, his deathlike grin as his lips peel back over his blue teeth on his skeletal face.
“Again, I must ask why.”
“I want the same thing you do: I want to be sane again. Taking down that is the first step. If that goes then the big guys up there,” I point skyward, to the blue sky and the sun who for the moment has fixated on something else apart from me, “will have to take notice. They come down in one of those ships and we just take that bad boy and ride out of here.”
“You make it sound very simple,” he says slowly, but I know I’ve got him. His desire, like mine, is too strong.
“Down here,” I reply with feeling, “simple is all we can handle.”
Of course, this is a set-up.
The blues, under my tutorage, invaded the governmental housing only to find a top floor filled with heavily armed pocket calculators and themselves carrying a box with the word BOM written on the side that contained nothing but half-used pencil erasers.
And then, under orders, One-Eye Jake lined up all the blues and set them on fire with a flamethrower. In the main square. With all the other colors looking on. The sun, red and angry, frowned on.
Now, stood at the front, agape in horror, I try to find form, some verbalization to the strength of my act but the screaming — squirming and burnt — tortured flesh blasts everything away into a searing image painting itself large on the canvas in my mind in long, bloody, murderous red, brown and black stripes.
“Congratulationsss,” lisps One-Eye Jake, bouncing up to me. “You’ve got your exit.”
In my hand he palms a ticket. He skips away, only pausing to reload the flamethrower. In the background calculators are clapping.
I take a look at the crowd, but they are mostly still enshrined in horror as the blues melt. I see the bunny but he avoids my gaze. I look up at the sun and he sees me and I feel the full force of a sudden rage that strikes the full distance between us and sets me on my ass. Gone is his happy, sweet visage, replaced by anger, hate and searing, visceral rage.
“Couldn’t you have just loved me?!” it screams.
“I just want to be sane! I just want to be sane!” I cry out, and on the ground I curl up in a ball and clutch my ticket. “I want my children and my family back.”
“Couldn’t you have just FUCKING loved me?!”
The ground shakes the words as they strike the earth. Around me buildings fall, more screams (this time from the non-burning citizens) fill the air but I’m too busy shrinking from the sun’s horrific vengeance. The air is hot, and getting hotter. Smoke and fire replace the heat. His anger is boiling the world alive.
“I want to go home,” I whisper, the tears streaming down my plastic cheek onto the earth. My purple trilby has long gone. “I’ve got my ticket and
and I deserve
and I deserve to go.”
“ — ”
“Jake, it’s okay. You can open your eyes.”
“Can’t. The sun.”
“Just open your eyes.”
There is no heat, just a gentle warmth from whatever it is I am lying on. I stir slightly and feel the creak of leather and the same moment I smell it and realize there are no other smells, no burning flesh or napalm. There are no sounds either, just the rhythmic tick-tock of a clock somewhere up towards my right.
“I’m scared,” I reply, because I am. I no longer feel plastic.
“Don’t be.” The words are warm, and come with a hidden smile. “You’ve made it Jake. Your ticket worked.”
I breathe shakily, cross my arm over my eyes and cry in long racking sobs into the crux of my elbow. I do this for a while until the sobs shake themselves out of me, fading like foot-cramp until I sit up and open my eyes.
A small bald man sits in a black leather, expansive looking chair, a genuine smile splitting his face in half. I can see exultation in that smile and those eyes, but also weariness. Scratch that; he looks shattered.
My skin is pink and human. I’m wearing a gown. My chin itches, and I realize I have a beard. I scratch it with a hand and notice I am still clutching something.
“Open your hand,” he says.
I open my hand, the one with the ticket. But it’s not a ticket. It’s a photograph of Claire and Tommy, arms around each other, young and carefree. Next to them Emily sits in front of me, the proud mother. The photo is worn and bent at the corners.
I place my free hand onto my face and cry slowly, quietly.
“Welcome back, Jake,” the man says as I do this. “It’s been a long, long road.”
“I…” I start, sniffing. “I need fresh air.”
He slaps his legs. “Well so do I! And some light. Open the window for me, would you Jake? I’m quite shot, to be honest.”
He points and I follow his finger behind me to a set of thick black velvet curtains. Keeping hold of the ticket (no dummy, the photo) I get up, wiping back phlegm with my other forearm and approach the curtains. Already I am planning my life now. Gone is the insanity, the raging confusion, the acceptance of the surreal and super-real, replaced with a melancholic, calm emptiness which suits me fine. I throw back the curtains, and sunlight comes through.
Big and powerful and strong, intensely powerful and RED RED RED RED RED angry and oh my fucking god it’s right outside my window a huge sun and its face is so damn angry and the skin peels off my flesh and I turn to dust and the sun is bellowing in pure unadulterated rage, it’s mouth contorted and twisted
and it’s everything I have ever
and it’s everything I have ever been scared of.
“Crumplezone” originally appeared in print in A capella Zoo, Issue 1, Fall 2008.
ALLAN M. MCDONALD is a 36-year-old writer from Southport, England. He was a former editor at NFG magazine, and has been published in various print and web based magazines. Visit his blog at http://wordpress.com/almcdonald.