Writings & Whatnot by Rob Hill
I was having dinner late one evening in my chambers when I felt a most disagreeable sensation in my abdomen. My first thought was of food poisoning, but then I sensed motion, which alarmed me greatly. I leapt to my feet, knocking over my wine, and hastily unzipped my trousers. Horrified I saw a snake making its way out from my urethra, its dull red tongue flickering back and forth like fleshy jolts of electricity. I let out a choked gasp. The sensation of its scales moving against my vulnerable inner skin made me unbearably queasy on top of an indescribable pain.
I grabbed the creature just behind its head so it couldn’t retreat back inside or bite me, then I hurried out to the garden terrace to get rid of it. I didn’t want it loose in my house. I don’t know why that was my first concern. The moon was dimmed by clouds and the walls of my garden tall enough that my neighbors were unlikely to peer in on my strange activities. Still grasping the serpent by the throat, I pulled it out a little at a time, worried that if I yanked too fast I might somehow cause damage to myself. I suppressed the urge to vomit. Finally it came clear, its wriggling tail coated in a thick mucus, and I flung it to the ground where it slithered away into the shadow of a flowerbed. I crouched there on the terrace, wincing, fighting not to let my imagination have free rein. I was not ready to envision the eggs it may have left inside me.
A tremendous crumbling sound interrupted the silence. From my crouched position I glanced up and saw that my building was improbably tilting forward, and began to collapse in slow motion. More puzzled than frightened, I watched as the bricks slowly slid apart, almost gracefully, like a ballet of destruction. As if the mortar had turned to slush. It was happening so languidly that I was easily able to walk out from its path, circling my way around to the street out front where I would be safe. There I noticed the neighboring buildings too were collapsing, like time lapse footage of a flower blooming. Alarmed people evacuated their homes, some carrying children, some struggling into their clothing, others still dressed in their nightclothes, and flooded the streets as the structures around us slowly dismantled.
There were no casualties we later learned. Everyone had plenty of time to escape before the buildings collapsed into rubble. We wandered wordlessly through the destruction, hunting for valuables we could recover. Our homes were gone. It was as if the city itself had committed suicide.
My lunchbreak was nearly up. I was slouching on some short concrete steps behind my warehouse where I usually went to get away from the racket inside. I fed a pinch of sourdough bread to a streetwise pigeon that kept pestering me. It nabbed a beakful and absconded into the brooding Beethoven sky. Across the street was a construction site. Someone had the chutzpah to tear down a grand old brownstone where I think a former mayor once lived. Down the street a scrawny kid with a reverse mullet was skateboarding off a loading dock with a success rate of about forty percent. He handled spills well and seemed impervious to pain. I shooed away an insect that seemed intent on gaining entrance to my ear canal.
The woman coming along the beaten pavement wore leather pants with purple sneakers and the camera slung around her neck made her look like a tourist gone astray. Greystreaked hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. Heavy eyebrows. As she stepped over the rubblestrewn sidewalk her long neck jerked spastically like some kind of awkward flightless bird. I watched curiously as she approached a grey brick wall and took its picture, concentrating on a big blank spot. Ordinarily I mind my own business, but something about her behavior grabbed me firmly by the attention.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly are you taking a photo of?”
“This is a special camera,” she replied in a chalk voice. “I’m taking a photo of what will soon be there.”
“What will be there?”
She squinted through her viewfinder. “Looks like a mural of a skeleton cradling an atom bomb.”
I couldn’t think of a good reply so I just nodded amiably and went back to finish off my sandwich. She took a few more photos and then wandered along. I tossed my lunchbag away and returned to work, soon forgetting about the whole thing.
A week later as I showed up for work early in the morning I noticed someone during the night had drawn some artwork on the grey brick wall across the street. It looked like a skeleton cradling an atom bomb.
Anyhow, I thought that was kind of weird.