SMILE

by Joseph Moore

 

Spring thunderstorms. Have you ever seen one...

Circling within his mind, crawling over the knotted mound of flesh, floating upon the streams of blood that would eventually stop, this thought lived. It was the 2nd most important question that 14 year-old Jack craved an answer for. Sitting on the ground at the neighborhood park, his back to an old oak tree, he heard the thought again.

Spring thunderstorms. Have you ever seen one...

He knew his answer to the question: Yes. Countless times.

A tiny smile, just a minor muscle contraction really, involuntarily formed. The thin muscle fibers, as strong as narrow chords of metal, relentlessly pulled upward the lean flaps of skin that formed his cheeks. The ends of his lips, sharply pointed, jerked upwards, looking like they were cutting into his cheeks; like knives wielded by a killer cutting willing skin: desperate cuts.

The feel of the smile, pleasant, brought a new thought to Jack. He pictured his face, the look, the smile, the feeling, beaming out into the sky as a pure silver ray. It slipped between the leaves and lept for the air. It was as silver as the sun in a black and white picture; cold, harshly unreal, yet with the knowledge of a true warmth. The look soared; he visualized it plunging into black galaxies, surging through grey clouds and rainbow-coloured worlds, spearing through the multi-hued bodies of a million different aliens. Every one, Jack saw, rocked back from the power of the ray, powerless, hopeless. Countless bodies flew backwards, bodily fluids of numerous shades spraying in the atmosphere as the beam continued. Jack's smile fell as he pictured the mounds of beings, bodies stacked, seeping cooling blood, limbs lifelessly jerking and pointing in all directions, their skulls vaporized by his strength.

Jack understood the power of his feelings. And the consequences.

He also knew of the incredible creation that made up his face. He studied numerous textbooks regarding the face: the hundreds of muscles, sineau, nerve endings and the profoundly complex organization it took for a single emotion to be broadcast across the fleshy screen. The electric signal from his brain, crackling with urgency, flowing through neurons, fibrous tissue, to its destination: the dozens of facial muscles lurking underneath his youthful flesh. Once there, the emotional power forces the muscles to withdraw within themselves, pulling together, cowering under this biochemical force. The effect of this emotional sundering, a tiny smile with a breath of mischievousness, was the result.

This simple fact that he, or anyone else, could show to another intelligent being how they felt simply by thought astounded him. It was his proof in God.

"Spring thunderstorms. Have you ever seen one..."

Sitting next to him, Jack's best friend Gary looked up from his Game Boy and, brushing an unruly lock of shoulder-length brown hair from his face, said, "Yeah. So what?"

***


Jack turned from the leaves to look at his friend. His voice, his question, had both momentarily fled him. Betraying nothing except the look of existence, Jack's usual blank face had returned.

Within: torrents.

His voice kept an even tempo as he saw dozens of orange, black and white worms, each as fat as a finger and surrounded by slight colourful haze, crawling across Gary's face like newborn maggots on a piece of rotted meat. They were digging effortlessly in and out of his skin on hundreds on unseen legs, slithering along and into one another, blending and segmenting sightlessly, looking like a decayed face without a skull, without solidity, masked in pain, the flesh shaking hideously in constant waves.

Jack knew these worms were emotions. He had always seen people's feelings this way; whatever the person truly felt would be displayed as these slightly glowing worms. They moved with an intelligence and reason their own. Existed for a reason their own. They were translucent, like coiled sheets of coloured plastic wrapping, and caused no damage. They left no eaten holes within the skin, left no disease, caused no pain. He could tell by the large collection of orange hued worms that his friend was angered by the video game, yet the white ones told him that he liked the competition. Jack knew that his friend would soon praise the game as a very good one, once the orange worms had been replaced by blood-red worms, the symbols Jack related with success, conquest, domination.

He tried to ignore the black worms. He always did. He had never seen a person be without several black worms on them. He daily wished to see it.

"Oh, I was just thinking about the power of nature. It has so many different ways to destroy. Freezing winter ice storms, tornadoes, hail, lightning, snow that can bury a city, all of that. But I think that people ought to worry more about spring storms."

Turning towards the game again, his hair shrouding the feelings living on his face, Gary mumbled, "Ok... I'll ask: Why?"

Running his hand through his sandy blond hair, Jack thought for a moment how to tell his friend. He had known Gary since the 5th grade, Gary helping him with spelling tests, him helping Gary with biology. They had entered their teens together, battled the confusing hormone-influenced emotions alongside one another, and were looking forward to starting high school in a few weeks. Both had laughed, cried, angered, both in their own ways: Gary outwardly, Jack inward.

***


Throughout all this, they had built trust. Trust for one another alone. It was this trust, their true friendship, that caused Jack to hesitate. He intended to tell Gary about the worms, the colours, the feelings, the nature of his sight. He hoped Gary would then understand why Jack was constantly melancholy. He seldom smiled, cried, angered or laughed out loud; his emotions were rarely displayed.

When he looked at himself in any reflective surface, he only saw skin. No thoughts slithered over his cheeks, swayed under his brow, broadcasting to the world what he felt inside his heart, what secrets he kept shackled within. The lack of visible feelings worried him. He knew he was special, unlike anyone. He had power; countless power. He only wished to know why there were no worms on his face. It was his most important question.

It was his uniqueness that made him careful, controlled, cautious. Gary, introspective but whom acted the part of the angst-ridden teenager for fun, constantly asked Jack about his lack of emotion. Jack would respond, "I'm just shy." Gary often attempted to embarrass Jack at every opportunity, using his "angry, disillusioned youth" persona in public.

If Gary could cause trouble, he would, all to "bring you out" as he often told his friend. Jack knew his friend did not enjoy humiliating the two of them. Gary knew of no other way other than an over-the-top emotional response. Jack could tell, due to the lack of humility his friend possessed...

On Gary's face, the numbers of humble-signifying yellow worms never exceeded the black ones. When that happened, as Jack believed, a person was truly humble. He had seen it once on the faces of soldiers accepting medals for honor. Yellow worms coursed around their mouths, moving down the ridges of their noses and flowing across their cheeks, in a slithering dance that was as beautiful as their entire nature was terrible. Their faces were as yellow as the sun the morning after a terrible storm. On one soldier two black worms, pushed to the bottom of the chin, swaying in sickness, lacking in strength, were all that remained. When the medal was pinned on his chest, the soldier stood as straight as the oak tree on a spring day.

Jack remembered how the black worms had almost lost their control. Floating under the fiery yellow sea, they dangled like the rotted limb of a leper. Jack stared intently at the two worms, hoping they would fall off, turn to dust, vanish. He yelled at the television, crying, wishing for the two worms to die; they didn't.

Jack had no clear idea what the black worms represented exactly.
Evil, he guessed. Not in some grand, biblical sense but the type of evil that would never be written about. It was a small, quiet, almost humble yet determined evil. Over a lifetime, though, it would seem horrendous, barbaric. The greatest evil contained in something so small.

Controlled by something so small...

***


The sun moved from behind the green canopy, shining directly in Jack's face. He could easily feel the warmth, the difference in temperature where the shadow of his nose covered his left cheek, the light breeze blowing in his right ear. He wondered if other people's faces were as sensitive to his environment as his.

Ending his momentary pause, Jack said, "Well, spring is the time of rebirth, when the world is born again, right?"

"In a melodramatic way, why yes, good sir. 'Tis true." Gary bowed his head as if answering a royal summons, his hair swaying. His thumbs never stopped moving over the game's buttons.

"I watched some of the thunderstorms we had this past spring. The lightning flies in the sky, crossing under the clouds like a spider web being strung one crackling strand at a time. The wind blows constantly, like from an unstoppable machine, as the rain falls fast, hard."

Spring thunderstorms. Have you ever watched one...

"It's like the storm is just the prelude to something worse, like it's wearing down the world, eroding it, with the lightning web over us to prevent anyone from escaping. I almost expect to see, at the height of a storm, a giant swoop down from the wet darkness and start eating everything. A giant so large only its mouth would be seen, with teeth as big as clouds and as sharp as razors and a bloated, blood red tongue whipping about. It would take big bites from the mountains, leaving mile-long gouges across the ground. Rocks and trees would be quickly sheared into edible pieces. The thunder would be drowned out by the sound of the monster swallowing. Once the rest of the would was gone, it would turn toward the city and slurp up the tall buildings like spaghetti."

Gary switched off the game, its beeping having increased to a manic tempo just seconds earlier. He turned toward Jack. Two white worms, slithering circles around his eyes, were totally surrounded in a field of orange. They were trying to hold off the orange onslaught, having hold up on the one part of the face that Jack had never seen a worm cross. They never covered the eyes, shading the world in their transparent tint. Framing these living emotions, black worms grotesquely sat, immobile, seemingly watching the battle with invisible, sightless eyes. Jack could almost feel them watching him, making his skin itch.

He had never determined which was in control, people or their worms.

Gary did not say anything. He just sat there, watching. After a few seconds of silence, he added, "What will the giant use for sauce? The blood of its victims? Our blood?" One black worm divided into two like an amoebae and crawled toward Gary's mouth. It entered.

Jack did not feel repulsed by this. Nothing the worms did effected him anymore. His earliest memories were of the worms, a hundred colours, all swirling around him, as the people they covered made simple, happy sounds. Eventhough he instinctually knew to like the sounds, the looks of these roving, grotesque creatures, flopping around, confused him, frightened him. His mother told him how he cried constantly for the first month of his life. Jack didn't remember it; couldn't remember it.

The worms had always been with him.

"I don't know. I guess it would. Look, it doesn't matter. It's what the storms feel like to me. It's like something is going to happen, something terrible, and there is nothing we can do about it. We are completely helpless, like a bug in a spider web, staring at the spider's countless eyes as it slowly walks towards us, its pincers opening and closing in anticipation of its meal."

The sun moved behind a leaf again; the veiny shadow shielded Jack.

Gary put the game down and reached over to a Coke he had brought. It had warmed under the hot August sun. He drank some anyway. Afterward he said, "I really think you should stop with the grade B monster movie shit. You're reading way too much into rain." Jack could see the sarcasm in the way a couple new blue worms were swaying back and forth, like they were physically taunting him. They stood out from Gary's forehead like horns.

Gary then absently reached up and scratched the same part of his forehead that the two worms grew from. They instantly disintegrated when his fingers passed through them. The look in his eyes betrayed no knowledge of his scratching. Jack thought how other people must subconsciously know about the masks their faces have, with these unknowing physical acts.

Betraying nothing of his thoughts, Jack continued. "Maybe so, but I don't think so. Hundreds of people drown in freak storms every year. And think: water carved out the mountains, made the Grand Canyon. It seems so fragile and harmless, yet it can destroy. Easily. That doesn't bother you?"

Shaking his head back and forth, his hair whipping his face, passing within the worms, Gary said, "No. I know not to get caught in a flash flood. When that happens, I'll be inside, nice and dry, watching TV. Only someone profoundly stupid or unlucky would be out during something like that. And if during a storm a giant monster does come down to eat everything up like the world's biggest buffet, then so be it." Standing, Gary bowed from the waist, then quickly straightened, his hair flying back, exposing his face fully. Several blue worms wiggled across his face, seemingly racing a pack of black worms, all chasing a few sickly looking white ones. "My dear friend, I feel I should warn you to not buy any beans you see offered in a magic store, for you may not like where they will take you. And before the next storm, might I suggest you buy a can of Raid? Good day." He knocked over the can of soda with his foot, spilling its remaining contents upon the grass, and walked away.

***


Jack sat there watching the Coke flow into the ground as anger for his friend wafed within him. He saw a black bug be caught by the sweet river, its small legs moving frantically. The dark liquid flowed into a hole in the ground and washed the insect into it. All that remained was a little muddy earth and a faint smell of sugar. As he kept watching, a few other insects, all black like the drowned one, faint sunlight wetly shining off their shelled backs, crawled out from their hiding places to walk across the mud.

Jack absently scratched his cheek.

For no reason he knew, he then reached down and grasped a section of grass and pulled. The handful of grass and mud ripped up, exposing fresh dirt and several other insects. One of them was a night crawler, blindly wiggling over the earth, its skin instantly drying. Jack dropped the mound of grass to the side as he continued to watch the earth worm. It started to crawl away from the exposed section of ground towards the remaining grass. Somehow, Jack thought, the worm knew where the sheltering grass and mud was without being able to see.

Appearing emotionless, Jack watched the worm crawl away.

He sat there for minutes, his gaze absorbing every tinny mound and valley of earth over which the worm had crawled. He then looked toward the city, the buildings across the street from the small park. He imagined the rain falling, the lightning exploding above, the wind screaming at the land, as the giant mouth covered everything, devouring the buildings, the streets, hunger unquenchable. He ran within his mind, his feet slapping the wet ground. The mouth continued towards him, seeking him, hungry for him. When it easily reached him, with everything going black, the thoughts of pain came next: the giant's rotting teeth, all sharp and pointed, some jagged, some filed like fangs, stabbing his body, the giant's maw working infinitely, crushing his bones into dust, his heart oozing blood from countless wounds, his eyes exploding from the pressure, and his blood fountaining out of the giant's mouth savagely like the water from an open firehose.

Jack, feeling as strong as a worm crawling over the face of the land, looked over to where he thought the earth worm was. The muscles in his hands contracted, making fists. The warm breeze continued to blow against his face, warming his cheeks, as his fists fell to the ground, hard. He pounded upon the grass, hoping to crush the worm like he imagined himself being crushed. His teeth clenched like the giant's, breath slithering out their gaps; hissing. He frantically assaulted the ground, hoping to kill the worm, not feeling the hidden sharp shards of small rocks. Soon his hands were cut, covered in broken blades of grass and mud, and his blood coated the flat section of grass.

He could not tell which mashed insect body was the worm's. They all blended together with the ground. Forming a mask. A mask for the earth. A mask he made and was a part of.

Have you ever seen one...

He stood up and looked across the field to the nearby parking lot. A blue car was parked there, next to a black one. The sunlight brightly reflected off both windshields into his face. The sun's heat radiated from the asphalt, flowing up before the cars. It made the image of the cars seem to wiggle, as if they were alive. Taunting him.

He walked to the black car, his hands dripping mud and blood. Jack looked at the windshield. He could see himself.

His face, the slightly tanned skin, his light blue eyes.

There were no worms covering it.

He saw his smile, the muscles flexing, but felt no joy.

The beam of emotion flying across the universe no longer was a pure silver beam of contentment and faith but a colourless beam as clear as rain. The beam told of the domination over innocence, over hope, and the lusting of power. It carried no fear of nature. It's strength was thick, like velvet to the blind. It would destroy no beings in space. It would enwrap them, seduce them. Jack imagined how they would feel his power and beg in a million tongues for more.

Jack thought of the earth worm, crawling for the shelter of the grass, and smiled fuller. He thought of the clouds, the storms. He would stand under them, ready for the giant's teeth. Smiling.
  €

Story copyright ©1996 by Joseph Moore. <OMalakai@aol.com>

Artwork copyright ©1996 by Romeo Esparrago. <public@romedome.com>


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