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Randy Numann
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ym_76_oct19_snowflakes.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch 2019

Snowflakes

by Randy Numann

 

Anything of true everlasting beauty is worth destroying. It all started in fourth grade when our teacher told us that no two snowflakes were the same but all of them were perfectly symmetric. I found this impossible to believe with millions and millions of snowflakes there had to be two and probably many more that were identical, and I was certain that they weren’t all perfect never mind what symmetric meant. At recess, I decided to test this so stood perfectly still and let the snowflakes fall on my black wool mittens.

We lived in Montana and it was a typical freezing winter day. The sun was overhead a bright yellow spotlight to the perfectly formed snowflakes floating down through the still air to land on the fluffy black wool. I examined each flake as it landed on my mittens. They were breathtakingly beautiful—stunning in their complicated shapes that were identical all around. This must be what symmetry means, I thought. Although the snowflakes were all different, I could identify some that looked similar to others. Fascinating. Finally they began to fall on top of each other completely ruining the perfection of the moment. I angrily shook my mittens to dislodge them then started the process anew.

Recess lasted thirty-five minutes and I stood motionless the entire time watching the endless supply of beauty nature was supplying. It seemed impossible and I was relieved they didn’t last but got smeared together into the snow at my feet. As I stomped my feet to reenter the school my teacher stopped me.

“My god Bruce, you’re frozen to the core. Your lips are purple and your face bloodless, didn’t you play or at least exercise during recess?” I shook off her concern, hung my coat up and slid back into my seat. The teacher stood at the front of the class and continued her lesson on snowflakes.

“Isn’t it just marvelous how each snowflake is unique? And aren’t they all beautiful. How does it make you feel to see these masterpieces of nature, children?”

Three of the children raised their hands and talked about how wonderful it made them feel. One little girl said she thought God had made each one. But I could take it no more. I raised my hand.

“It made me very angry; I felt like smashing each one as soon as it landed. There shouldn’t be so much beauty, it makes it not special! I hate snowflakes.” The teacher looked disturbed but said nothing, choosing the easier course of moving on to the next raised hand.

After school, I stomped on the snow with my snow boots all the way home. I wanted to make sure that each of the snowflakes was mushed up and destroyed. But even inside our house, I couldn’t escape the snowflakes. My mother showed me how they stuck to the glass windows where you could admire each perfectly symmetric crystal: the starbursts, the spires, and all the other types each with points spaced evenly around a geometric center. I went up to my bedroom and slammed the wooden shutters closed, blocking out the snowflakes. I hated them for their perfection, I hated them for their effortless beauty, I hated them for all being special even though there were billions of them, and most of all I hated them because they weren’t even aware of any of this.

Then I decided to do something about the snowflakes, I would torture them. I dug in my closet until I came up with the big magnifying glass my grandmother had given me for my birthday. I went outside to the back porch and used a broom to whisk all the snow off the small glass patio table. The sun was still shining down so I practiced with the magnifying glass, adjusting the height and angle to form the smallest sunspot possible on the table top. Then I waited. It seemed like forever but eventually, a big snowflake fell and stuck to the ice-cold glass. I used the magnifying glass to slowly burn away the beautiful triads around the edge of the flake. I could almost hear it scream in agony. I smiled then moved on to burning holes in the center and finally throughout until there was nothing left of the snowflake but a very small drop of freezing water.

 

 

Sand Castles

That summer our family flew to the seashore for vacation. I had a great time body surfing in the ocean, racing my dad on the beach and hanging out at the beach house. One sunny day my dad asked me if I wanted to make a sandcastle with him. I, of course, agreed so we went down to the beach in our matching green flip-flops each of us carrying a plastic bucket with digging tools and several spoons from the kitchen. We plopped down next to a big pile of sand that seemed to sparkle as the sunlight bounced off the pure white grains. We scooped bucket after bucket of the damp sand from the water’s edge and carried it up to our construction site. Then we began creating the castle.

I watched my Dad use the spoons and his hands to create turrets and his finger to push in crenellations where the pretend archers would shoot from. I began on my side making a double hump castle wall where I carefully balanced a sand ball I had packed firmly with my hands.

“Dad, dad look when the bad guys get close to my side the soldiers can roll his giant sand ball down crushing them as it falls and rolls downhill.” He laughed in delight with me over this ingenious strategy.

We worked all afternoon perfecting the castle, even digging a moat around it and temporarily filling it with ocean water from our buckets. Finally, Dad deemed the castle done and the two of us went in to clean up and drive to the local town for dinner with the rest of the family.

The next morning, I raced down the stairs from my bedroom loft, waved bye to my father, mother, and sister who were having breakfast and rushed down to the beach to visit our castle. The tide had washed it away leaving only roundish lumps where the largest parts had been. I was furious stomping on the remains until nothing was left at all. My father walked down after a bit and stood by me.

Sandcastles aren’t meant to last son; the fun and beauty comes in making them. How special would our castle have been if the entire beach was full of all the castles all the other kids had already made? I nodded in understanding. Beauty and creativity weren’t meant to last. They were only special if they disappeared, residing on in the mind’s eye. The remains of other castles up and down the beach must be buried with the subsequent tides no matter how tall and wonderful they are.

 

 

Pyro

My father forced me to join the Boy Scouts when I turned thirteen. He thought that the camaraderie and exposure to nature would be good for a withdrawn boy. He couldn’t have been more wrong. I did excel in learning the survival skills taught by the scouts but only reluctantly participated in team efforts doing just the bare minimum. I just didn’t get along well with the other boys, no matter how hard the scoutmaster tried to push me in that direction. One thing I did enjoy was sitting around the campfire with the other scouts during our overnight campouts. I was obsessed with collecting as much firewood as I could for the fire and always volunteered for the job as well as supervising the placement of the branches that the scouts collected for the evening fire.

The scoutmaster chuckled to some of the dads who were able to join the boy scout campouts that I collected enough wood to burn down everyone’s house. Once the branches were laid out, I would bargain and barter with the other kids to let me be the one to start the fire. I lit it with great care, almost tenderly making sure it would burn evenly from the nest of kindling I had carefully arranged in the center. Then I would sit downwind of the fire, so it would envelop me in its pungent smoke. I loved the smell of all the different types of wood as they burned, like a funeral pyre I imagined, but eventually, my eyes would water so badly that I had to move upwind like the other boys. I didn’t mind sitting on the dirt although the other scouts had usually collected a nice assortment of rocks or logs to perch on as they sat around the fire talking.

I never took part in the conversation even when prompted by the others, instead, I stared intently into the fire, absorbing every photon that it emitted. The flames were beautiful, pristine, elemental, perfectly reflecting the conversion of the wood back into the energy the sun had provided to produce it, blue, red, and yellow flames of light reaching to the stars above. I loved to watch the embers too as they flared yellow, then glowed bright red, and later deep red as the fire burned down. Each tip of each flame of the fire only lasted a second before disappearing into the night sky, but during that brief time, they flickered throughout the color spectrum. They were wonderful, perfect beauty because they only lasted an instant before dying, leaving the beauty locked away in only my mind as it should be.

The last campout of the season was a big deal. It was our troop’s turn to stay in the big official Boy Scout lodge located on property donated to the scouts decades ago. That night we would get to sleep in bunk beds and cook over a full-size propane stove. There was even a generator behind the cabin that provided electricity for lights and a refrigerator full of stocked foods. The boy’s packs were light hiking in since most of what they needed was already there. It was a reward for everyone making it through a full year of scouting.

As far as I was concerned the best part of the campsite was the huge bonfire area that was lined in pavers forming a circle a good twelve feet in diameter. I spent most of the afternoon collecting branches, even rolling the larger tree trunks over to the bonfire. There was a large stack of cut wood some of the scoutmasters had piled up earlier in the season using chainsaws. I felt that this was cheating but did take some of the choicer pieces to help construct my tower of wood. The rest of the scouts spent the day hiking, fishing, and practicing their mapping skills and were more than happy to let me construct the bonfire for tonight.

I enjoyed trying out different branch placements for my initial fire. I use the tepee form, star, platform, lean to, or the most challenging of all the log cabin that is a combination of a tepee built inside a platform. For tonight’s fire, I decided on the log cabin as I wanted the fire to burn all night. I started with a very wide base using the big logs stacked on top of the cabin’s woodpile. I arranged these into a pentagram for added effect. From there I built inward and upward interspersing cut lumber with the branches I had dragged in from the forest. I wasn’t worried about running out of wood as I had another enormous pile I had dragged in and stacked at the rear of the cabin. This bonfire could go all night and day I figured. I initially kept the height reasonable--around three feet so the scouts could cook their hot dogs and smores on the early flames.

Then after dinner, I put on a pair of leather gloves and jacket and started building the fire higher. The scout masters all yelled at me to get the hell out of there, but I persisted intent on adding as much height as possible. The other scouts said I looked like the devil himself as I bent to pick up and stack more wood on the fire. I was coughing from the smoke as I worked my way around the fire until finally a scoutmaster lurched in and grabbed me yanking me to safety. Before I knew it, I was being covered in jackets and rolled in the dirt. It seemed like training overkill to me but then again all of my clothing was scorched.

After a thorough chewing out on the dangers of fire, the boy scouts started randomly throwing branches onto the growing bonfire. I stayed glued to the scoutmaster shaking my head in dismay as their enthusiasm ruined both the symmetry and perfection of my fire. Nevertheless, despite their erratic efforts, in an hour’s time, everyone was gathered around singing camp songs as a beautiful massive fire roared up into the heavens.

Late that night as the boys and adults fell into a deep sleep from their exhausting day of activities, I slipped on my boots and snuck out of bed as if to go take a piss outside the cabin. Instead, I circled around to the stack of branches I had leaning against the rear of the cabin. There was a nice nest of kindling all ready to go. I struck my lucky flint to the kindling and it immediately burst into flame, then I ran around to the front and rammed a preselected oak branch through the two handles of the cabin’s twin doors. It was a tight fit as I had hoped it would be. Now the assholes who had ruined my bonfire would pay for their crime. I was fully dressed so I scampered up a large oak tree overlooking the cabin. I scooted out to the end of a thick branch to get a good view of the front and side of the cabin.

From my vantage point I saw bright flames rise up above the roof from the rear of the cabin. The cool night breeze spread them out into a fan shape like a giant hand reaching for vengeance. Still there was no evidence that anyone inside had awoken. I wasn’t so much angry anymore, as curious. How would the other boys react? Would the scoutmaster and other adults save the day? It wasn’t long before I heard screaming from inside the cabin and a hammering on the door. Now the entire rear of the cabin and roof were engulfed in flame. The oil in the pine logs was acting like kerosene spurring the fire on. Then the generator with its fifty gallons of fuel exploded, and the cabin’s fate was sealed.

Several of the adults must be attacking the door now as it bowed outward as if something large were slamming into it, but the sturdy oak branch held, and the door only opened an inch. I could see fingers and hands reaching through the crack desperate to get out. I felt sorry for some of the boys I kind of liked but it was too late to do anything about it now, maybe later I could help. The rear and wall of the cabin burned through and the roof came down on top of those inside. Flaming boy scouts ran out into the forest screaming in pain and agony forgetting all their training about drop and roll. The adults were doing their best to save the boys but soon everyone was on fire.

I dropped from the tree and ran around the back of the cabin plunging through the fire. I held my breath and let my clothing and hair ignite before bursting through the fire to the cluster of coughing boys and men frozen by fear in the remaining corner. I ran over screaming at them to follow me. Surprisingly they did, maybe because the flames that engulfed me made me look like the fire god Vulcan. I led them out the fallen wall, stepping carefully over the burning roof. Fortunately, everyone seemed to at least have managed to get their shoes on. I led them upwind and dropped and rolled in the dirt not too far from where they had forced me down after the bonfire experience. Others followed suit and soon thereafter the adults tried to help the weaker children, many of whom were sitting gasping the cold damp night air. I crawled to the rear of the group and slipped behind a large oak tree; from there I made my way through the woods to the front door where I hammered the oak branch out from the door handles, tossing it deep into the woods.

I opened the doors and gasped in wonder. By the remaining firelight, I saw the bodies of three boys on their knees as if praying. I later learned that they were in this position because extremely hot fires cause muscles to stiffen and shorten producing a bending of all the joints. I didn’t know this at the time, however, and thought that they were praying to God as their lives were ripped away. It was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. I had my smartphone, so I took several pictures of the three victims to preserve their beauty then kicked the ash bodies to pieces all across the cabin floor. I exited out the back and joined the other survivors to await the emergency services.

 

 

Adulthood

As an adult, my eye for beauty landed me a job in the fashion industry snapping photos and videos of long-legged beauties day and night. I was on a hectic schedule but still had time to pursue some of my hobbies. One of my favorites was an additional way to despoil the beauty and wonder of snowflakes. Whenever possible I killed and buried my murder victims in the snow. Preferably in a snowstorm and preferably with enough time to smear the victim's warm blood in geometric patterns over the surface of the snow. It reminded me of sidewalk chalk art as I knew it wouldn’t last. I then took several pictures from different vantage points before the falling snow covered up my new work of art.

I often was compelled to kill in the summer months or in tropical regions. In these instances, I took care to murder my victim on a sandy beach at night. Then I would dissect their perfect bodies coating each organ with a thick layer of damp sand before placing it in a hole I had dug beforehand. After all the organs were dispersed, I began on the arms, legs, and trunk. These I posed in natural positions within their holes. The head was situated face up with the mouth pinned into a smile and the eyes taped open.

The final layout of the organs and body parts roughly mimicked a human that had been disassembled and spaced apart in correct anatomical placement. I, of course, documented this artistic process using a low light level camera I had bought specifically for this purpose. Finally, everything was buried in sand with no evidence of the beauty beneath.

A girlfriend from work had a small girl who she sometimes brought with her when she came to visit me. The tiny tot always oohed and ahhed over my nature prints that I pinned along my walls. I rotated them out periodically and she screamed in delight when new ones appeared although her favorites were by far snowflakes. Her mother convinced me that I should put the works together in a picture book for children. She offered to write descriptions of each photo underneath them, so a young child would learn the spelling of the objects. I thought it was a horrible idea, but she was my girlfriend, for now at least, so I played along. On the cover of the folio was an enlarged photo of a wonderfully complex snowflake. Like me, it reflected both the simplicity and depth of an object.

I sat sandwiched between the mother and daughter slowly turning each page as I made up cute little stories about different kinds of objects I had photographed. There was the story of the snowflake joyfully floating down from heaven and of a leaf that had died during the fall and now gathered with its other fallen friends waiting to be reclaimed by nature. My girlfriend took notes as I told my made-up stories and promised she would find someone to put it all together as a book we could sell. I eventually got them to leave and poured myself a stiff drink as I collapsed into my recliner. I pulled my second folio out from underneath it and began the much more enjoyable process of going through it, page by page. I turned each page slowly, fully relishing the blood, gore, and death I had so successfully captured with my camera. Each victim had been a perfect human form. In my mind the photos clearly illustrated that true beauty had to be transient to last forever. The problem is who would be willing to publish the damn thing?



From the overstuffed halls of academia to the polished corridors of the drug industry–Randy Numann, Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics, has seen it all: the good, the bad, the greed, and the thrill of new science and drug discoveries. He’s published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, but now finds himself entering the realm of horror, blending in plenty of real 1930s science and technological fun that will surprise the reader. Randy lives in St. Louis, where he teaches at a local community college, and is deeply involved in the writing community. He enjoys reading both fiction and nonfiction.

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