The Flapping Thing
It was a flapping thing.
Under the bright, full moon, he’d
not switched on the outdoor light nor had he lit lamp or candle and somehow
from the shadows, the thing flapped across the wooden, upper-story deck.
It was a black thing. It was a
black, round thing shot through with glittering flashes of metallic yellow. It
was a round thing, no more than three inches thick in its middle and thinned
considerably out to the edges of its round body, a foot wide, two feet wide.
Maybe less. Its rectangular body. Its ovoid body. It seemed to be changing as
it flapped itself across the boards.
‘What is that?’ David thought, and
he rose from his deck chair to get closer though he didn't light a lamp or use
“What is that?” David asked aloud
though no one inside, not Janet in the kitchen finishing the dishes, not Andy
in his room “on his computer,” not Sarah gone so far, it seemed, she had become
past tense even when present.
“What is that?” he again asked
again knowing no one would hear him.
David reached down and with his
right forefinger, touched its glittering blackness, its sandpapery,
shark-skinned, slimy, slick, dry, and scaly wing and the pain was instantaneous
and of a kind he could only describe as “exquisite,” a precise and high-pitched
pain that pierced him completely from that small contact with his fingertip to
the farthest limits of his being, each nerve in his body whining the same razor
needled song, each synapse in his brain snapping down with a clearly audible
and synchronized click.
As he snatched his fingertip away from the flapping
black thing’s horrible
skin, David knew he’d been poisoned, that the rot and suppuration of first his
finger, then his hand, then his arm, then his heart and his head would not kill
him, but it would, instead, change him and he sat back in his deck chair.
He reached for his glass with his
left hand and took a small swallow of bourbon and melted ice water. He felt the
infection, the invasion, the transformation of his physical self-moving
methodically through the flesh of his right arm. He felt the poisonous thoughts
begin to well up inside his envenomed brain.
David leaned his head back and
looked at the sky, at the night sky, at the few stars that penetrated the thick
layer of suburban light pollution, and he wondered at the sudden clarity with
which he could perceive the anti-constellations formed not from the stars or
planets themselves, the few that he could see, but from the emptiness between
The black flapping thing paused and
became just a black thing. If it had eyes, it, too, may have been looking at
‘Maybe,” David thought, ‘it sees
with something different than eyes.’
He could clearly see the shapes in
the sky, wondered how he’d never seen them before, the negative space between
the heavenly bodies patterned and embodied. The Leech, The Nailed Pig, The
Hungry Man, The Flayed Swan, The Wound—all new constellations seemed to step
forward from the background of the sky, from behind the stars and planets
scattered there, to become a new kind of zodiac, one that David could clearly
understand and read.
It didn’t look good.
The black thing became like a starfish or an anemone
or a chrysanthemum
and it stood itself up on the points of pseudopodia, but the exact number of
legs it extended was unclear. It was better not to look at it directly, David
decided, but instead to watch it through his peripheral vision where it seemed
to gel into a more understandable image. Its legs, its pseudopodia, its
fingers, whatever they were, pushed the black thing’s thicker middle up and up
until it stood as high as David sitting down.
“What is that thing?” he asked
again just as the first wave of corruption hit his chest, strangled his heart,
pushed the air from his lungs, and possessed him. David’s mind folded into
itself many times as his body ratcheted into a new form until what was left was
not really David at all anymore in any conventional sense. Whatever it was
David had become and extended and at least one and probably no more than six
glittering black phalanges, to first envelope and then bring to David’s
glittering black pseudo-mouth the last swallow of bourbon and water.
The other black flapping stretching
thing began to sing and David instantly understood the meaning of that song,
could feel the click as its meaning fell into the new shape of his new brain
and he wondered what and for how long Janet and Andy and Sarah would think as
events unfolded, as his pseudo-voice began to harmonize with the other black
thing, with the new formations in the sky, with his black glittering future.
Robert Masterson, an English
professor at CUNY-BMCC in New York City, has authored Trial by Water,
Artificial Rats & Electric Cats, and Garnish Trouble. His creative
and academic work appears in numerous books, anthologies, journals, magazines,
and websites around the world. His work as a journalist, teacher, and academic
has taken him to The People’s Republic of China, Ukraine, Japan, and India. He
divides his time between New York and New Mexico.