art by Jason Barnett
I came to my senses by a roadside curb during the dead of winter. Opening my eyes I found myself standing in an unfamiliar alpine town near a grove of evergreen trees. I could not recall how I had gotten there. It felt like a cold December morning. The streets around me were abandoned. There was something compact weighing down my overcoat pocket. I reached in with my right hand and withdrew a revolver fashioned from what looked like an alloy of zinc and magnesium. The grips were worn down to a smooth polish. I thumbed the cylinder out and saw that all five chambers were loaded. The bullets seemed to be made of the same chalky gray compound. Snapping the cylinder back into place, I raised the handgun to eye level and gazed down the sight assembly at the leaden clouds. I had no recollection of having acquired the gun.
Silence pervaded the atmosphere on the outskirts of this drab township. The smell of charcoal and pine needles hung in the air. Looking around me, I noticed the edge of a ragged forest in the distance. With no wind to disturb them, the snow covered trees stood like statues. I pocketed the pistol in my coat and began walking toward the nearest building. It was a red brick edifice with a peaked roof. Its lower half appeared to be covered in soot. High above the front door, a round stained glass window shielded a darkened attic. I couldn’t tell if it was a chapel or a meager sort of residence.
While I walked, the only sound was the crunch of snow. As the modest domicile drew nearer, something emerged from inside my mouth to press its smooth edges against my tongue. It materialized gradually just behind my teeth until I reached in and fingered it out. What looked like a misshapen calcium bullet rolled into the palm of my hand. While I uneasily let it drop into the passing snow under my shoes, I could feel another was being shaped in the area near my soft palate, followed by several more budding out together. My mouth was filling with these unnatural pellets of a limited variety of shapes. As I began spitting them out onto the road, some were mere fragments, while others came into view fully formed. I kept spitting them out until there were no more left forming in my mouth.
Having left a trail of these remarkably manifested slugs behind me littered along the frozen ground, I approached the wooden door at the front of the blackened red brick building. I could see the soot emerged from the ground covering the lower half of the house. It resembled a shadow cast from rising flames. As I approached closer to the front steps I noticed it wasn't soot surrounding the dwelling at all, but rather a miniature type of black ivy I'd never seen before.
The oak door was shaped like a Tudor arch with a mottled brass ring bolted to the center. Before I could grasp onto the rather lackluster knocker, the door creaked open inward by degrees revealing a dust laden floor of tiles transfixed by a colorful shaft of light. The sunbeam angled in from a high window in the upper left part of the house. I waited at the entrance to be greeted, yet no one appeared. Instead, a peaceful silence lingered, far more reserved than the unearthly stillness outside. I felt compelled to step into the house, noticing as I did so the lack of footprints in the evenly spread out layer of ashen dust settled on the patterned tiles.
As I stepped into the foyer I began to hear an almost indiscernible reverberation in the air. As if acting on its own, my left hand reached out and shut the front door behind me without making a sound. Despite the woebegone appearance of things, the door’s hinges remained well oiled. Once inside the main hall of the building more of the mysterious bullets began forming in my mouth. I had to keep spitting them out like so many worn down projectile teeth. They struck the floor with muted thuds, rolling across the tiles until they were lying still amid the gray dust. After expelling about a dozen of these malformed slugs, my palate returned to normal and I ventured toward the sunbeam glimmering in the dim recesses of the sanctum.
It became evident the puzzling vibration emanated from the coruscating sunbeam. I walked right up to it and paused just at its edge. Turning my head to examine the upper round stained glass window through which the daylight shone, I noticed its glass was stylized with graceful images of the fleur-de-lis. So too were the flooring tiles decorated with a series of figurative lilies mirroring one another in alternating rows.
I reached my fingers out into the spectral radiance swirling with motes and the humming stopped. Startled, I withdrew my hand only to hear the humming resume. Fascinated, I began waving my hand in and out of the tinctured luminous rays, consequently pausing and resuming the vibrant droning sound. It carried a resonance which lifted the hairs on my forearms. I watched as the fine hairs raised up and bowed back down like an assembly of praying cilia as I maneuvered my arm in and out of the beam. This kept me occupied until the curious rounds of ammo began forming somewhere between my palate and molars again. I turned my head and spat them out onto the powdered tiles. I was growing more uneasy about the pellets germinating in my mouth. I gazed down at the efflorescent tiling by my feet.
The decorations were transforming slowly and steadily into disassociated shapes. I continued to stare at the evolving figures which after several minutes no longer resembled the fleur-de-lis outlines, but rather began assembling into floral composites ranging from those of alluring orchid petals to bizarre sylvan manifestations reminiscent of a time I had become lost in a forest as a young boy picnicking with my family. This memory attended my mind’s eye in the form of a silent and golden clearing with the edges blurring over. I snapped out of this reverie and for a moment couldn't tell if the floor I stood upon was near or far away. With a slight feeling of nausea I noticed the motion of the markings on the tiles advanced imperceptibly. I could not take my eyes off the developing spectacle. I wasn't really sure if it was moving at all.
It was then that I detected another sound underneath the thrumming of the sunbeam. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard, like a microtonal breathing or an emanation from live coral submerged under water. The more I adjusted my hearing to this microtone, it thinned out into a timbre suggesting spicules emitting the most infinitesimal calcification. I concentrated the focus of my view and the detail of the morphing diagrams at my feet sped up while at the same time the faint intonation grew louder. My vision somehow enhanced the assonance generated by the metamorphosis of the floor's design.
I came out of my trance and underwent a momentary panic as it dawned on me I may be standing upon a living thing. Turning to look back at the entryway I had casually strolled through, I saw nothing but gently wavering florid wallpaper. I had been lured into a receptive structure; somehow beguiled into its protoplasmic tenement. My stomach lurched and I regurgitated into my mouth. Instead of the bitter tang of bile, more ossified bullets heaped up, forcing my jaw open as they compelled their way out, too many to contain in that confined space. I heaved more of the compact pellets onto the floor and watched as they thunked one by one into the layer of gray pollen there. A scant smell of charred fur immediately permeated the air.
I surveyed the area for an escape route. My only option was a wide innocuous stairway inviting me to the upper mezzanine. Another wooden door towered at the top of the landing. It had a standard rectangular shape. My stomach eased up as I walked toward the stairs and heard the subliminal thrumming of the sunbeam diminish into the distance behind me. Nervously grabbing a hold of the polished banister, I took my first tentative steps up. It felt solid enough, so I headed up the stairway. My left hand slid along the smooth worn railing. Reaching into the right hand pocket of my overcoat, I withdrew the chintzy revolver, pulling the hammer back with my thumb until it was cocked. Cautiously, I proceeded up the stairs until I reached the upper landing. There were no exotic floor tiles on the second level, just a rolled out embroidered maroon carpet which seemed too clean for this place. The silence reasserted itself, lending me a welcome sensation of comfort. The burnt odor drifted into incense and faded away. Feeling better, I put the gun back in my coat pocket. I felt certain I was alone. The door at the top of the landing stood there with an odd sort of reticence. I approached it guardedly and reached out to grab ahold of the clear cut crystal knob protruding from it. The moment I made contact with the doorknob, a galvanic vibration transpired through my fingers, cascading along my arm and up to my shoulder blades. In an instant it fanned throughout my entire body, riveting me to the spot and paralyzing me there.
I watched the very surface of my eyes as if their corneas merged into unreachable candied window glass several feet away from where I now stood riveted. I was rooted there watching a teeming infusoria of single celled amoebas floating across this panoramic windowpane, as if a curved and clear sheet of ice warped in front of me upon which animated microorganisms were projected. I could barely see the blurry shape of my own hand reaching out from my lower range of view, affixed to the crystal doorknob. The slow swarm of floating amoebas continued to skim by like molasses beyond me, magnified by the vitreous humor before my retinas.
I can hardly admit to myself the isolated idea which keeps repeating over and over in my mind. It is a simple thought which continues to haunt me and which by now I can scarcely avoid accepting. I have been locked into the realization that I have been petrified here in this singular position ever since. The amoebic floaters eventually slowed to a stop and straightened themselves out, then blurred altogether and finally came into view focused into window frames. I have been transfigured into another chamber of the hive. I have grown accustomed to the spectacle before me. I have nothing but time now. I'm just waiting for the rest of you to come along and join us.