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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one BLINDSPOTS




aden was the victim of a drunk driver, T-boned into a light post on the corner of Starling and Main. All he remembered was shrieking metal and a storm of lights. Next thing he knew he was in the hospital. He could tell by the fluorescent sickness that lit the room, a pestilent brightness that haunted every hospital he ever had the misfortune of visiting. He closed his eyes to shut it out, but his ears were open wounds, and the world, never one to be ignored, spread like bacteria into his thoughts. The sound of intercoms and staticky pages filled his ears like busy flies, buzzing about his brain as if it were a head of spoiled fruit. Caden wasn’t having it. His thoughts scurried like rats, seeking refuge in some deeper, darker part of his cortex. Like so many times before, he would resurface only when the world resumed its calm; when the aggression of benign things finally relented, and his imagination was able to traverse, unhindered, beyond the bony theater of his thoughts.

When Caden finally returned to the world, hours later, he was thankful to be greeted by silence. The fervor of emergency room drama had either died or moved to another wing of the hospital. Either way, the returned quiescence brought a pleasant warmth to an otherwise cold place. Now, his only company was an audience of machines-- beeping monitors, wheezing vents, dripping IV's-- patrons devoid of wit, but still preferable to their more autonomous, fleshy cousins.

Eventually, his wife and daughter arrived, replacing the hum of his inert companions with one of their own. And although their tones were softer, devoid of the harsh airways of molded plastic, Caden couldn't help but notice that they weren't so different. To Caden, all things bowed to the rote plodding of their own machinations, even the sentient. We move and emote through pre-paved pathways, tailgating signals that determine, dictate, and define us. For Caden, the distinction was simple; we were energy dancing across circuits of flesh instead of silicon, playing out routines programmed by nature rather than the busy fingers of spectacled desk jockeys.

But such thoughts had no place in the world, not really. They were meant to be archived, stowed away like some dusty old novelty item, only to be dragged out during dinner parties and late night coffee meets. That’s what normal people did. But Caden wasn’t normal, not by any stretch of the word; he had a peculiar inability to separate his theory of life from the life he had to live. For him, the two were inexorably linked, conjoined like Siamese twins, resulting in a man who seemed as cold as the machines to which he was hooked up. It seemed trivial (perhaps even noble, in a way), but it compromised his ability to interact with the world in any authentic (or, at least, convincingly authentic) way. So when his wife leaned in to hug him, tears streaming down her face for fear that she might never see him again, his love for her was transcended only by the knowledge of its engineering. His affection was instantly dulled by its utter deconstruction, and soon an impassioned hug from his wife became something mechanical and empty-- like two mannequins embracing, each one hugging close the other's mutual hollowness.

Days passed, and doctors did what they did; they ran tests, cataloged vitals, and, eventually, pushed Caden through a slew of noisy machines. The doctors only stood and watched, like quiet sentinels, never uttering a word except for the obligatory “Please” and “Thank you”. It all seemed so cryptic to Caden; It was as if they were part of some esoteric society, using terms only they understood and jotting down notes in that secretive language of theirs-- a language that could only be deciphered by some pharmaceutical mystic stuffed in the back of a local corner store, living amongst a city of pill bottles and scribbled prescriptions. To Caden, the world of the doctor was elusive and spectral; hidden beneath the tip of fancy ballpoints pens and worn out white coats.

On the sixth day of Caden’s stay, one of the many nameless doctors taking care of him finally revealed, to both him and his wife, the results of his tests. Caden had suffered damage to the "Striate cortex," a fancy name for the brain region that processed vision, the doctor explained. The outcome was a large blind spot in Caden's right visual field, something they called a "scotoma.” However, regardless of its technical name, Caden knew it for what it was; a pain in the ass. As an artist, a cartoonist to be precise, Caden knew that dropping an empty spot into the middle of his vision was tantamount to opening a black hole. Cartoonists were already in low demand, but now his canvas had to bear the burden of having an event horizon; a hovering void pulling at the heels of whatever ghosts he managed to put on paper.

Caden spent the next two weeks in the hospital. Every night he struggled, tossing and turning in his bed, chasing that elusive moment when thought married dream. But it never came. Instead, he was forced to stay in the dreary world of the waking, staring at the hole that had been abruptly drilled into his vision. Its presence made it seem as if reality was just a cover, a vibrant layer of wallpaper meant to mask the bland truth of an empty universe. It reminded him of a giant yawning mouth, a ravening nothingness swallowing the colors of the world. But regardless of whatever creative spin he gave it, one thing remained the same; he wished it would disappear, that it would scab over and recover the chunk of the world that was taken from him.

As the hours passed, Caden ambled through a dusk of bleak thoughts, a funeral procession that marched a circuit around his brain. It wasn't uncommon for him; Caden's thoughts were often attracted to dark places, growing like poisonous mushrooms in the shade. It gave his personality a certain sourness, a caustic tang that drove most people away. Kayla, his wife, seemed immune to it, but she still took the opportunity to call him a "negative Nancy" when he pushed things too far. Most of the time he acquiesced, not wanting to foul her mood. But situations like this gave him cause, gave him something to point to in his everlasting war against optimism. It's not that he thought life was bad, just indifferent; to Caden, you didn't "deserve" anything. “Justice,” "karma,” “worth,” they were butterflies being chased by a species that couldn’t face one, unalterable truth; it wasn't special. And the universe; that grand darkness in which we mindlessly float and turn, wasn’t some wishing well we could toss our “positive thoughts” into, in the hope that it might reciprocate; it was a mindless, cold vacuum that was more likely to watch your “positivity” careen into a wintery never than answer back with some sort of fortune cookie wisdom.

Caden continued along his self-commiserative path for quite some time. In fact, it wasn’t until something distracted him that he was led away, back to the outside world. However, upon his much-contested return, he was having a hard time discovering exactly what it was that drove him out in the first place. And just as he was about to re-enter the much-preferred sanctum of his inner thoughts, he saw it again.

Something moved.

At first, the distraction was barely noticeable, just a vague sense of movement teasing somewhere at his periphery. But, eventually, it worked its way into Caden's awareness, chewing, ever so slowly, into the foremost spaces of his attention. And while he was eventually able to identify what was happening, he wasn't sure what to make of it; his blind spot was shaking.

Initially, the movement was subtle, so much so that Caden couldn't tell if it was real or if he imagined it. It seemed to flutter somewhere just beyond his focus, twitching almost, like the seizing legs of a freshly killed fly. But then it became more evident, contagious even, infecting the rest of the world and causing it to tremble like a film strip staggering on its reel.

Caden gasped, almost choking on the air. A terrible anticipation was growing inside his stomach, the same kind a child feels during its first night alone; that impending sense of doom that consumed our younger selves when darkness became an inkblot, and shadows gave way to shapes. Caden tried to stem it, tried to stuff it back into the nightmares that bore it. But that was before he saw a handful of pasty fingers grip the ledge of his blind spot.

Caden kicked up a tidal wave of sheets, backing away from what could only be an escaped dream loosed, somehow, from its nocturnal prison by the gaping hole in his brain. Caden tried to rub the unreality from his eyes, and when that didn't work, he rapidly blinked in the hope that the world might somehow reset itself.

But it didn't.

Instead, reality continued to twist until, at last, it culminated with the emergence of a tall, spindly “man" climbing his way out of the shaped nothingness. Caden tried to scream, but fear had stolen his voice.

The creature's face was pale and surreal, a pallid mask that summoned up images of Edvard Munch's "The Scream.” But the strangeness didn't end there. Its body was a tall, whimsy thing, a legged stalk that moved like a piece of paper fighting the breath of a terse breeze. And to top everything off, he wore an oversized conductor's coat that hung lazily over his gaunt frame, making him look like some deranged, emaciated pianist. Caden thought for sure he had lost it.

When the weird man finally climbed out from Caden's blind spot, he simply wiped his brow of sweat (which wasn’t actually there) and sighed. But, curiously, his lofty exhale failed to make a sound. In fact, the whole event of the man's appearance; his entrance, his movements, his mannerisms, all occurred in disturbing silence. It was as if the little man was trapped inside Caden's blindspot, sealed in silence like an astronaut marooned in space.

But there was something else about the man. There was a feature that went beyond his appearance, an abstract and beleaguering quality that nagged at Caden’s finer senses. And once he was alerted to its presence, the faint hint of its extent nature, it didn’t take long for him to define it: that strange, little man, who was seemingly trapped in the vacuous confines of Caden’s blindspot, seemed real. In fact, he seemed more real than anything Caden had ever seen. He didn’t know how to explain it, but the man made the rest of the world seem false, like it was a crude fantasy carved from the dullest of dreams. It made Caden feel cheap and inauthentic, as if the reality he lived in was little more than the cardboard backdrop of a high school play.

Caden's visitor began pacing back and forth, storming a circle around the cramped spaces of his new, vacuous home. Then, suddenly, he threw up a single, elongated finger (Caden half expected a light bulb to appear above his head as if he'd been struck by a brilliant idea). The man quickly plunged his hand into the abyss of his gigantic coat and began to rummage eagerly. Caden imagined it being transported into the skull of some ancient, insane thing, his fingers tip-toeing across a "thoughtscape" of stillborn madness, and foraging through a junk pile of things that never were and never could be.

Finally, the man pulled something from his pocket; a baton. He swung it through the air like a possessed composer, directing an invisible orchestra that only he could see. However, after a few moments, he stopped, and Caden watched a frustrated grimace overtake the man's cartoonish face. Something was wrong. The mysterious man began to shake his wand in frustration, swinging it around like a flashlight that had suddenly stopped working. He turned to Caden and pantomimed a giggle, then pulled a long string from his front pocket where a particularly vibrant handkerchief was stuffed. He tied the string to his baton and cast it into Caden’s blind spot, like fishing line into a lake.

Caden couldn't help but be hypnotized; the man's movements were preternaturally real. He waved his hand in front of his face and felt a twinge of disappointment; it was the sort of self-loathing one might imagine an artist suffers when faced with greater works. But that wasn't it; Caden felt resentment too, that chilly wind that breathes through the fleshy haunt of our stomach whenever we're faced with adversity. They were feelings only an imitation could know, the emoting of a mold that never broke.

The weird little man suddenly jolted back to life, and Caden refocused his attention. The man yanked on his makeshift fishing pole, struggling with it as if a monster catch was pulling on the other end. After a melodramatic performance, he finally triumphed, putting his pole down and hoisting up the fatigued line laying in front of him. A sheet of bugs scurried beneath Caden's skin, a creeping parade of anxiety that marched across his nerves as he awaited the big reveal. When it finally happened, it didn't disappoint.

At the end of that barely visible string was a rotund, impossibly round man. The pudgy thing's gigantic mouth was tightly wrapped around the wire's end, looking like a duped trout who stupidly mistook a lure for lunch. His head was bulbous and doughy while the rest of him spilled out of his clothing like he'd been squeezed into a wardrobe that was much too small. When the chubby thing's captor eventually set him on his feet, the two stared at one another, sizing each other up like two stolid gunslingers. They circled each other like dueling vultures, their eyes narrowing into razor blades, patiently waiting for the other to make the first move. The air became tense, precarious even, like a high wire under the weight of nervous feet. But then, abruptly, things relaxed; It was as if the previous tension was a parody, a thing to be mocked. The two let down their guard, and before Caden knew it, were sharing a broad smile and shaking hands.

Hours passed, and Caden's fear began to slip away slowly. In fact, he even caught himself snickering from time to time, as the two mysterious men performed hilarious feats of buffoonery. They were living cartoons; vibrant things marooned on a dull, moth-eaten world that seemed to wilt beneath their fantastic shadow.


The morning ambushed Caden, its rays skulking into the room until they rested upon the thin veneer of his eyelids. He recoiled like one of the risen dead, shrinking beneath the unwelcome gaze of a sun that didn't know the meaning of "sleeping in.” When he finally opened his doors to the world, he saw a woman in a white coat standing in front of him, armed with a clipboard and ballpoint pen.

He saw his "other" guests too.

His body suddenly clenched, he could feel the entropy swelling in the room like it was teetering on the lip of a black hole. The woman stood just outside the reach of Caden's two new "companions,” only feet away from his blind spot. The taller one, who he decided to call "Maestro" (for obvious reasons), mocked the blond woman's stuffy composure. He stood straight as a board, pushed his chin out like some wealthy old codger, and pretended to scrawl something down on an invisible board. The fat one, or as Caden called him, "Fats,” pointed and dumbly laughed. Caden's eyes remained fixed on the blond mannequin, waiting for her to break from her plastic casing and run screaming out of the door. But she didn't. She didn't flinch, or even so much as look in their direction. That's when Caden knew she couldn't see them.

The doctor eyed Caden suspiciously, apparently noticing his unease. When she asked him if there was something wrong, he slunk back inside himself. It was a complicated question. Straight-jackets and pill-filled paper cups immediately came to mind. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life dependent on a shelf full of little orange bottles, but he also didn’t want something worse to happen. His head became heavy, a boney suitcase brimming with cluttered thoughts. He had to choose between terrible and more terrible, he just didn’t know which one was which.

After some intense deliberation, he finally made a decision. He began to detail all of the events of the previous night, telling his doctor about how his blind spot had given birth to two bizarre entities who, at that very moment, were mocking her every move. His doctor remained surprisingly motionless, with all the muscles and tenuous little nerves in her face perfectly trained into a solid, unmoving mask. She coldly listened and jotted down some notes, nodding her head and occasionally shifting her eyes in a suspiciously mechanical way. Caden wondered if the woman wasn't a woman at all, but a robot practicing to be human. When he was done, she stood up and walked out of the room. Caden could almost hear the squeak of mechanical joints as she wandered down the hall.

It wasn't until about thirty minutes later that another doctor came in. This time, it was a man. However, despite a change in gender, he seemed indistinguishable from the woman; clad in white, rigid, and robotic. He pulled up a chair and sat next to Caden. He explained to him a neurological phenomenon called “Charles Bonnet Syndrome.” As it turned out, people with Scotomas, like Caden, sometimes suffered complex visual hallucinations in their blind spot. The doctor explained that they weren’t sure of the exact cause, but that it shouldn’t be confused with mental illness, as sufferers of the syndrome don’t show any signs of delusional thinking. When Caden asked how long the hallucinations would last, the man merely shrugged, crumpled his face, and said anywhere between a few hours and a lifetime. Caden's head slumped.

The doctor's voice turned into a staticky drone, and Caden’s attention began to stray, drifting slowly back into the undertow of his blindspot. He saw Maestro wrapped up in a straitjacket, a cocoon of white straps that trapped him like a web. Caden could see that his eyes had become spirals, galaxies spinning inside two vacuous holes. Dragging his struggling body was Fats, who was wearing a shrunken white uniform and a grimace. He turned to Caden and rolled his eyes, then pointed at Maestro and swirled his finger around his ear. And as Caden continued to watch, he got that feeling again; that nagging sense that he, and the world around him, was somehow “less” than the new one in his blindspot. He tried not to fixate, but he couldn't help but concentrate on the stark differences between his new visitors and the doctor sitting in front of him. Flesh seemed so artificial now, like a cheap veneer sprayed over a heap of moving bones. The doctor seemed little more than a shadow; a vacant thing cast flat and empty. Maestro and Fats, on the other hand, appeared to be more "there,” more external somehow. Had he truly made them? Had his brain been so starved for vision that it created a greater, newer one? It was all so bizarre to him. But fact was stranger than fiction, he supposed.

The doctor suddenly stood up from his seat, startling Caden. He said a few parting words, boilerplate language, no doubt, that he said to all his patients, then exited. Caden felt as if a coldness had left the room; like a draft had been sealed or a window clamped shut. A sense of humanness slowly crawled back in, making the sterile whiteness of his surroundings seem a bit warmer. When his attention finally returned to his blind spot, he found that Maestro and Fats were gone. There was nothing there but empty space. Caden couldn't help but feel a twinge of disappointment. He even took a few moments to stare into the nothingness, hoping they might, in some unconscious way, feel his summoning. But nothing happened. With no success, Caden finally succumbed to the idea of sleep. His muscles relaxed, his eyes folded shut, and he returned to an old, familiar darkness.


Days passed, and Caden was finally released from the hospital. The doctors briefed his wife, Kayla, about her husband's condition and assured her that it was neurological, not psychological. After that, he and Kayla packed up his room and the hospital staff that had taken care of him the past few weeks bid him farewell. But like everything in that hospital, it seemed mechanical. They all moved like well-controlled puppets, and Caden couldn't help but think that a giant pair of stringed hands danced somewhere above them.

Months went by, and Caden and his family moved on. Caden's new “condition” was, at most, mildly disruptive, prompting only an occasional scolding from Kayla when his attention floated too far adrift. But, for the most part, he found that Maestro and Fats had become welcome members of the family. He often entertained his daughter, Leona, with stories about Maestro and Fats. He was even close to brokering a deal with a local production company for a new web series based on a fictional account of his experiences. It seemed that Maestro and Fats had become some of his most valuable assets, despite their existential shortcomings.

But there was a flipside to their presence, a dark underbelly that Caden tried to shun from the workspace of his thoughts. Under all the meaningless drone--grocery lists, schedules, shut off notices--was a growing intolerance. He didn’t want to admit it, but he felt it every day. People seemed emptier, like bell jars filled with captured whispers. At times, they were little more than moving shadows, brief collisions of dust and light. The world he knew was fading, disappearing like an island smothered beneath a thick blanket of fog. Caden wasn't delusional; he wasn't questioning the reality of the world per se, but instead its degree of reality-ness as it compared to the new one in his blind spot. It was an important distinction; his dilemma wasn't psychological, it was metaphysical. As a person straddling two worlds, how does one determine the relevance of what's real, and what's more real? What is the importance of it? What is the meaning of it? In the past, Caden never gave much thought to such things. They were topics best left to academics, stuffy professors burning the midnight oil over piles of dusty books. But now he felt like he’d become a living allegory, a metaphysical sideshow for any dead philosophers that might be watching from beyond the grave.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when Caden woke up from some un-recallable dream, that his strange situation became even more bizarre. When he opened his eyes, the darkness greeted him like an old friend, comforting his mind by shading it beneath a soft canopy of silence. The blackness was soothing, like a calm stream washing over him. It was so seductive that it almost dragged him with it, pulling him back into that great body of sleep to which all darknesses lead. But instead, he became snagged, held back against the current, as movement in his blind spot suddenly anchored him to consciousness.

At first, Caden rubbed his eyes, hoping to wipe away what must have been the residuum of a dream. When he realized that it wasn't and that the lunacy in front of him was, in fact, happening, he could only sit and stare. He saw Fats chewing on the border of his blindspot, ravenously gnawing at its edges and eating away parts of his remaining world. His teeth rode swiftly along the blindspot's boundary, chomping along its seams like a row of kernels on a cob of corn. When his mouth couldn't reach any further, his head shot back to where it started, like the head of a typewriter being reset. On the opposite side, he could see Maestro swinging a giant pickaxe, chipping away at the reality around him like a fevered coal miner. Caden watched as the lanky man's swings dislodged chunks of the world, hefty fragments of qualia that spiraled into nothingness. When Maestro finally realized that he was being watched, he quickly stopped, plastered on a nervous smile, and hid the pickaxe behind his back. Beads of exaggerated sweat scurried down his brow while he slowly tiptoed over to Fats, who was still hungrily feeding on a portion of Caden's bedroom. Maestro softly tapped his shoulder, and when that didn't work, he harshly "bopped" him on the head. With his mouth full, Fats suddenly stopped and threw Maestro a puzzled look. Maestro coyly pointed towards Caden. When Fats turned toward him, his eyes became huge like giant black moons. The large chunk of reality that had been swimming around in his mouth suddenly became a tumorous lump in his throat, slowly traveling down its length as he swallowed it in one nervous gulp. The two guilty parties quickly argued their innocence in classic cartoon fashion, nonchalantly walking about and whistling an inaudible tune as they casually strolled the empty space as if it were a lonely boardwalk. After a few minutes, however, Caden's heated stares compelled them back into their dark home, as Maestro and Fats soon dropped the charade and jumped backward into the void.

Caden was left alone in a schizophrenic darkness; one heralded by a sunless sky and the other by a hole in his brain. He was starting to realize, however, that the two could not co-exist. Reality was not passive, as he would have previously guessed, but instead was rapacious and territorial. It had more in common with quarreling Lions than it did quantum mechanics. And now he seemed to be in the middle of some Darwinian feud between the two; each one circling the other until that inescapable moment where their gravities kiss, and the unknown suddenly forces itself in.

In the morning, Caden made up an excuse to leave the house and drove out to the hospital in Willowmouth. It wasn't an easy decision; he still remembered the wintery air that haunted that place and the way it made his soul shiver. In fact, it greeted him the moment he drove across Willowmouth's borders. He didn't notice it before, but the whole town seemed inauthentic, like its buildings, houses, and streets were disguising something more offensive, more diabolical. The people were no less peculiar; each one reflected a porcelain kind of perfection, delicately sculpted things that, with every step, danced precariously on the edge of shattering. They reminded him of repaired Humpty dumpties, fragile shells that, if ever broken again, would reveal little more than hollow cavities filled with dust and air. But encompassing all of this, like some invisible blanket, was an unnamable chill. There was a cold aura radiating out of every sewer, alley, and open mouth in the city. He couldn't wait to be away from it.

When he arrived at the hospital, it took only a couple of hours to sign him in and get another brain scan. When he was finished, the nurses escorted him to a small examination room, which was more like a closet decorated with stethoscopes and biohazard bags. Sitting there gave him time to think about how cold he was, how drained he felt, almost as if the hospital itself had stuck invisible catheters into his body and was sucking the life out of him. Even Maestro and Fats, who had been quiet up to this point, were shivering beneath huge fur coats. But Caden knew there was no change in the temperature, not really, just the sprawl of something icy, predatory, and very much present. Something he had no interest in knowing.

When the doctor arrived, it was a short affair. He blurted out something about a "delayed neuro-immunological response" that caused his already sizeable brain lesion, and consequent blind spot, to expand. When Caden told him about the events of the previous night, the doctor replied that the brain often compensated in peculiar ways. He went on to explain that when his blindspot began to expand, his brain searched for an explanation. That answer ended up being Maestro and Fats. Their actions were a consequence of his scotoma enlarging, not the other way around. As unlikely as it seemed, from the brain's perspective, a bad explanation was better than no explanation at all. Caden knew the brain did bizarre things, but he wasn't sure he believed it. But what other explanation was there?

Caden asked the doctor if his blindspot would continue to expand. The man merely shrugged and frowned, his face lacking the freedom to accommodate any other effect but indifference. He proposed Caden to stay a couple of nights for additional monitoring, but Caden quickly declined, feeling that the man's generous offer was nothing more than the devious manipulations of some unseen ventriloquist. The man nodded, handed Caden some paperwork for the front desk, and left the room. After about 30 minutes, Caden was dressed and back in the rusting skeleton of his car. Just like the previous time, Caden felt the icy grip of something loosen when he finally left the city, an unnerving retraction that left Caden thankful he was finally going home.


After an hour drive back, he finally pulled into his driveway. The growl of tires against gravel startled his wife and daughter, who were plucking weeds from the front yard garden; a humble assemblage of Pansies and red Azaleas. To their right stood Maestro and Fats, who were studying the two young women as they tore up the soil. It only took a few minutes for them to join in, however, pulling out a pair of gardening trowels and plunging them into a newly sprung bed of vividly colored flowers. After a few seconds of digging, Maestro turned to Caden and gave him a giant "thumbs up,” with his thumb, of course, being painted a vibrant hue of green. Caden couldn’t help but laugh, and by the time he and his family gathered inside the house, he had all but forgotten about the previous night's transgressions.

A few hours passed, and the family settled in. Caden was coloring with his daughter when he was suddenly tempted away by the aroma of his wife's cooking, a savory essence that seduced him into the kitchen. Maestro and Fats were similarly entranced, with the smoky perfume of cooked dinner luring them closer like charmed snakes from their basket. When he entered the kitchen, he saw his wife leaning over the stove. She was a ghost, a slender apparition obscured by a body of rolling steam. He paused to admire her. She'd been married to him for ten years, and she'd never been anything but supportive. Despite her having to be the primary source of financial income (her JD was admittedly more lucrative than his artistic talents), she never once lorded it over him or attempted to make him feel bad about his financial shortcomings. She was a beautiful person, and he was lucky to have her.

Admiration turned to affection, and he started to walk towards her. As he moved closer, she disappeared behind the blurry landscape of his blindspot. In her stead was Maestro, who was flipping patties over a skillet and wearing a “kiss the cook” apron. Fats was off sitting to the side, a napkin stuffed in his shirt and drooling with anticipation. Caden watched as Maestro tossed a deluge of hamburgers into the open maw of Fats, who swallowed them like a starved circus seal. Then Maestro noticed Kayla. Caden could only see her feet sticking out from the bottom of his blind spot, but Maestro seemed to know exactly where she was. He slowly picked up his cooking pan and deviously tipped toed toward her. As he got closer, he placed his finger to his lips, preemptively shushing Caden and Fats. As he got into position, a large smirk crossed his face, and he hoisted the pan high above his head. Maestro paused for effect and then swung. And it was in that instant, that inescapable moment of realized horror that the unknown finally found Caden, and mercilessly washed over him.

Kayla tumbled to the floor. Her eyes immediately glazed over, looking as if they’d been suddenly covered by a thin sheet of cellophane. The arterial machinery in Caden’s chest suddenly kicked into motion, bloating the sinewy red highways coursing through his body. The pressure of rushing blood pushed a scream from Caden’s throat that eventually summoned Kayla back to consciousness, her eyes slowly rolling back up from their milky shallows. He tried to run over to his wife, but her body somehow moved with him, sliding further across the floor every time he tried to get closer. It was as if the space between them had somehow become static like she was affixed to a particular area of his visual field. Caden frantically searched for an explanation, a sliver of sanity in a world that had suddenly turned its back on him. That’s when he noticed Maestro pulling on something. It looked like the ghostly outline of a foot, a phantom appendage that began where Kayla’s ankle seemed to end. At first, he didn't realize that the two were connected, that the floating hole in his vision had somehow included a part of his wife, rather than covering it from view like it had so many times before. Then he realized what was happening; realized the carnivorous nature of reality; realized all the terrible things in it and what they were capable of; realized that his wife, his darling Kayla, was being pulled into the hungry mouth of his blind spot.

Caden began to scream those screams that weren't meant for help but were meant as pleads to something divine, or as sacrifices to whatever cruel things might be listening. But neither answered; his words only sank beneath their own weight, like a prayer born without wings. Instead, he was greeted with the cold silence of an uncaring universe, forced to carry out the solemn task of watching Maestro, a being of his creation, drag his wife into an intangible void. He stared helplessly as she clawed against the pull of her unseen captor, her hands desperately digging against the skin of their linoleum floor.

But then, suddenly, it seemed as if Caden might have caught a break.

He saw that Maestro was struggling to fit the rest of Kayla's body through the hole. The portal, it seemed, was too small. Caden tried to capitalize, instinctually running toward his wife. But, like before, he only managed to push her further into the kitchen. Meanwhile, a frustrated Maestro scratched his head and called over Fats, who lumbered over like a happy, overfed cow. The two briefly conspired until a floating light bulb suddenly flashed above Fat's head. Caden realized that time was running out and managed to tear off and grab the pulley strings from an adjacent pair of blinds. When he threw them over to his wife, who was still struggling to cross the floor, he saw Fats place his thumb in his mouth and blow. While Kayla grabbed for the tossed lifeline, Caden saw Fat's head begin to inflate like a balloon. Caden’s fear swelled along with it. His wife, still lethargic from being hit, wasn’t moving fast enough, and he could see Fat’s skull quickly becoming enormous. It was almost the size of Caden’s entire blind spot, a ponderous thing wearing a pair of dull black eyes and a moron’s smile. It reminded him of one of those giant Macy’s parade balloons, a helium-filled nightmare grinning above the cast of its own behemoth shadow. While Fats fought to maintain his balance, trying to keep his head from toppling over like some rotund leaning tower of Piza, he began to open his giant mouth. Inside were rows of triangular teeth that spiraled down an endless black tunnel. Caden screamed for his wife as if his words had hands, trying to pull her away from the voracious maw of a hungry new universe. But his words flew tired and starved, and there was nothing left that could be done.

Fat's jaw closed like the teeth horror of a great white, clenching down and tearing at a chunk of Caden’s visual field. A large part of his kitchen disappeared, crumpled, and swallowed as if it had been nothing more than a piece of decorative cloth. With Caden's blind spot now inhabiting the majority of his view, it was a simple thing for Maestro to toss Kayla inside. She let out a soft whimper, not unlike that of a dying cat or dog, and was flung into the unknown. For a brief moment, her body became a specter, a wispy collection of fading lines that made her look like a sketch from one of Caden’s art books. Then she was gone.

Maestro and Fats didn't waste any time, they danced beneath a shower of falling streamers and blew on noisemakers that whipped like frog tongues catching flies. Caden was sick with rage. He spewed venom, a volley of bile dripping words he hoped would burn their world and leave them to choke on its fumes. He pushed his face into the cushy bastion of his own hands, adorning a mask of ten fleshy daggers that threatened to burrow into his eyes. His mind retreated into the dark, a warm, inviting nothingness that cushioned his thoughts. He wished he could stay there, curl up into a ball and live in the squalor of his own emptiness. But he couldn't.

When Caden finally lifted his head, he was unprepared for the scene in front of him. Kayla, or more appropriately, a version of Kayla, was staring at him. Caden's heart dropped. She looked like an escaped dream; her shape, her features, her very being seemed to have evolved past their carbon makings, re-hewn somehow from a superior clay. Despite her cartoonish overtones, Kayla, like Maestro and Fats, appeared to be transcendent, a colorful salvation bloomed from the ashes of an abandoned universe. Maestro and Fats hovered over her; their tongues unfurled like run away red carpets, and their eyes sprung out from their orbits. But Kayla ignored their advances, slapped them away like buzzing flies, and instead shot a glowing smile at her husband.

Caden didn’t know how long he and his wife locked eyes; perhaps it was an eternity, perhaps only an instant. But it was long enough that he didn’t notice the hurried shuffling of small feet behind him. By the time Caden escaped the limbo of his wife’s gaze, his daughter had already run up beside him. But he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Caden clasped his eyes shut, sealing them beneath a thin layer of muscle and will. He could hear Leona’s screams; hear the discordant “thrum” of his heart strings as his daughter desperately tugged on them. He would hold his eyes shut forever if it meant saving Leona, stay in his self-enclosed darkness until she grew old enough to abandon the unmoving statue that used to be her father. But fate, it seemed, had other plans.

He couldn’t be sure whether it was him, or the tears welling under his lids that caused his eyes to open. Either way, it was enough for the teeth of that ravenous other world to slip in. Caden could feel the bottom of his right eyelid lifting. A blurry world began to invade, a miasma of swirling colors that threatened the cold solace of his self-imposed prison. When the world finally congealed, Maestro's smiling face was there to greet him. The cartoonish devil was working the lever of a car jack, vigorously pumping its handle so as to pry open Caden's defiant eye. He tried to resist, but when he saw the ghostly figure of his daughter etched out against the staticky backdrop of his blind spot, his eyes opened wide. He reflexively swallowed every detail of the scene; it was as if the brain was wired to record horrific events, a patellar like reflex triggered by the tap of anything vile or wicked.

Fats grabbed Leona, hugging her against his gelatinous belly where she almost became lost. He could see the outline of her fidgeting body, saw her trying to wriggle away and yell out to her father. But her voice was lost, careening somewhere out in the darkness of that damnable blindspot. She fought for a while longer, her little body writhing against the strength of an unseen Titan, but, eventually, she succumbed. He cradled her for a moment, like a boy would a new teddy bear, and then tossed her behind him. She disappeared into an empty horizon, that hole in the universe that seemingly burned through the gray matter of his brain and spilled into the fabric of reality itself.

Caden knew it wouldn’t be long. However, he was aware that the abyss his daughter was pitched into was more like a Promethean furnace than an endless void. The flames of a new world were roaring somewhere, re-casting his daughter into an extracorporeal challenge to the prevailing world. So it wasn’t surprising when, the moment Leona disappeared, his newborn wife’s stomach began to swell. Maestro and Fats hurried over, of course, rubbing her belly and pressing their ears against it, eavesdropping on the rumblings of its secret life. Kayla's stomach continued to stretch until it, unexpectedly, deflated, abruptly shriveling away like a slug in salt. Caden's eyes drew downward, confirming what he already suspected.

Below Kayla, just beneath the umbrella of her ruffled skirt, was Caden's newborn daughter, Leona, bouncing from her mother's umbilical as if it were a bungee cord. The little girl waved to her father and then shined him a beaming grin, a smile that cut through the remains of Caden's eroding home. Caden felt the strings of his heart snap, and he dropped to the floor like an empty puppet, lost and marooned by the forces that once gave him life.

Caden sat, motionless; an empty tin man rusted still. He and his family were worlds apart, and his was slowly tearing away like a tattered sheet of wallpaper. He wondered if, in the end, that's all reality was. Maybe it was nothing more than layers of colorful wallpaper, each one chosen according to a wet network of pre-programmed "yes's" and "no's," and then plastered atop the last. How many yellowing skins might lay beneath this one, he wondered. Perhaps this reality was, at one time, no less carnivorous than the one attacking it, settling itself upon a boneyard of dead worlds that came before it. But now it was time for this world to be buried, for this world to be covered over and lost beneath the soils of a new reality. Caden could only hope that he too would be buried; a fossil to remain undiscovered and left to the cold realms of the forgotten.

Caden's blind spot became alive with industry. His wife pulled a giant jackhammer from her exaggerated cleavage, while his daughter scurried over to the borders of her new home, swinging a small sledgehammer at the remains of her old world. Maestro put on a hard hat and chiseled away with his pickax while Fats fed his ravenous appetite by chewing on the remnants of Caden's kitchen. The existential groundings that Caden was born into were falling out from under him, sundered by cartoony heralds who slipped through the bars of their neural prison.

After the last chunk of his reality had been either shattered, chipped or eaten, Caden felt lost like he'd been stranded on an abandoned planet. He felt something suddenly tighten around him. He looked down and saw that he'd been wrapped up in a loop of rope. Maestro was in front of him wielding the other end of a lasso, wearing a closet full of cowboy accouterments, including a large ten-gallon hat and a ridiculous pair of chaps. While Maestro attempted to pull in Caden, Kayla stared at her husband. Her eyes had been replaced by giant palpitating hearts that throbbed inside their orbits. Leona stood next to her, similarly jovial, jumping up and down as she watched her father get dragged closer and closer to her new home. Caden struggled, but only moderately, and when he eventually fell his body continued to fight as if it were pre-programmed to resist, even in the absence of a will to do so.

Caden complacently watched as a western themed Maestro pulled him in like a wrangled calf, slowly inching him toward the event horizon of a newborn universe. But beyond Maestro's tugs, he could feel the other world pulling; it called to him, beckoned him, seduced him like a choir of sirens singing his name. It felt similar to all the other times he'd escaped inside his head, all the times when his imagination lured him from the numbness of a vanilla world. Perhaps he had traveled there too much, worn a path so deep in the creative centers of his brain that something managed to follow him back. But none of that mattered now. Fats and Maestro had already heaved him over the ledge of his blind spot, and before he knew it, he was careening backward inside himself. But he didn’t panic; there was no use for that anymore. He simply did what he has always done. He escaped inside himself, ran through the boney halls of his skull and took refuge, hiding in a mind within a mind, a thought within a thought.


Caden's vision was clear now. When he looked at the remains of his home, it peeled away like so many burning layers of paint. It was molting. It cast off its old self like the skin of a growing snake and sent it tumbling into the two empty hollows that used to be Caden's eyes. From those same voids spilled out replacements, colorful new skins to wrap around the barren skeleton of an aged reality. The rest of his neighborhood followed, and then the rest of his town. Trees, houses, people; they were all swallowed, eaten by those two ocular black holes in Caden's head, only to be regurgitated anew. His Family helped of course; Kayla, Leona, Maestro, and Fats. They chased down the pupa that refused to metamorphose, refused to crawl out of their dusty husks, and guided them to their new lives.

Caden didn’t know how his world began. He didn’t know whether it took seven days or seven minutes; he didn’t know if it was born from a clash of primordial forces or a big bang in somebody’s skull; what he did know was that its time was up. His previous life was spent avoiding another creator’s world, trying to add color to an otherwise bland portrait he had been painted into against his will. But now that place had faded, endured too many autumn deaths that it hadn’t the strength to rise from the cold November ground. And so Caden would bury it like all the others that had come before it, leave it to a stratified cemetery of dead worlds so that it might fertilize and grow Caden’s new one. He had but to simply open his eyes.




Steven Anzalone is an aspiring horror fiction writer with far too much imagination than is good for him. He has a Master’s degree in behavioral neuroscience from Binghamton University and has papers published in academic journals such as the European Journal of Neuroscience (2010), Behavioral Brain Research (2009), Brain Research (2011) and the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (2008). Steve has since broken off his dalliance with the hard sciences to pursue a career as a writer, hoping to find some respite for his fevered imagination within the haunted halls of the horror/weird fiction genre. Steven&'s horror/weird fiction story, "The Friends of Murder," was recently published in the April 2015 issue of Sanitarium Magazine, and was reprinted in the September 2015 issue of Disturbed Digest. He is also one of the co-writers/artists for “The Family Man” Facebook page, a multimedia horror story told through periodic Facebook posts. He lives with his wife in Atlanta, GA and works for Emory University as an Institutional Review Board Research Protocol Analyst.

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