picket fence

Ann and Ian shared a bedroom upstairs in their house on Maple Street—so named after the neighborhood’s most prevalent trees, which Fall now dressed (on Winter’s hoarfrosted cue) in scarlet and burnt-orange costumes, rustling and shedding their flounces like a band of risqu� Gypsies. Leaf-litter cloaked the back porch roof, beyond which night-darkened windows were illumined faintly by Moon’s curved sliver. A trellis, entwined with ghosts of honeysuckle, provided the twins their secret ladder to and from the fenced-in yard.

Ann slept on her back, Ian on his stomach, Ann below, Ian above, in their double-decker bunks (this facing-one-another reminiscent of their positions inside the womb). Dreamtime (when the laws of gravity, probability, sequential events, and such, are unenforceable) now saw sister and brother bizarrely in sync, their rapid-eye-movements distorting lids with unseen images… un-tasted, un-smelled, untouched, and unheard… from without, that is… From within, twin hemispheres recognized a panoply of stimuli, right and left with left and right bombarded by pictures jointly palpable… depicting:


a laboratory of ceramic-tile whiteness, flesh-tinctured fluid bubbling through mazes of see-through tubes (a la over-amorous eels), above a blue-flame Bunsen-burner forest that heats flask upon flask of irregular substances (distillations of who-knows-what) drip, drop, drooling into collection jars afloat with fetal menageries. Specimens as diverse as porcupine and pangolin gaze blindly, in suspension, their underdeveloped anatomies magnified by glass thick as bottle bottoms. Place settings of tiny stainless steel instruments: clamps, calipers, scalpels, et al., lie on long, low tables covered with immaculate, shirt-collar-stiff sheets. From an aluminum rack, hang toy-size latex gloves by the score, digits and unopposed thumbs floor-ward, row after row like disembodied udders at some Lilliputian dairy. Faint, indirect fluorescence lends the bunker an ethereal gleam… not a window in sight from end to hermetically sealed end… the entire facility scaled as if to accommodate a coterie of finger-puppets.

"Caws" suddenly erupt. Leucistic crows, from a series of strategic perches, sound off at the approach of multiple footsteps. Resettling their ruffled feathers, the ghastly sentinels cock, en masse, their hoary heads, blue-black eyeballs trained upon technicians single-filing in… on all fours… navigating the dimness with nocturnal efficiency… irises emitting an amber glint… pygmy paws explaining the gloves’ peculiar shape and size… diminutive lab coats, caps, and surgical masks affording their dwarfed dimensions a comic veneer—like that of dressed up monkeys (which, in fact, they are), whose earnest disposition countermands their Loony-Tune appearance.


Ian, his right cheek pancaked against the upper mattress, a drop of moisture puddled at his cherub’s sleep-slackened chin, followed the goings-on with languid attention. Only the scurrying bulges of his intricately veined eyelids (like mice run riot under a picnic blanket) betrayed his captivation by the fantastic scene…

…which Ann ogled likewise, her left ear tilted radar-dish fashion toward the wooden slats overhead (as if collecting sound rays from Ian, then bouncing them back), a butterfly flutter of lashes all the agitation her angel-face evinced…


while milk-white hackles once again lift; the crows, atop their lollipop perches (bowling balls impaled on slender pikes), anticipate acts to come (perchance to savor) as hordes of half-pint monkeys wheel in a black-draped gurney… upon which, trussed in a leather harness, arms and legs spread-eagle and affixed by ropes to a sturdy oval frame, a naked midget squirms like a moth in a gigantic spider web. Encephalitic, his oversize skull balloons over a body wrenched askew by its off-center hump (protruding, carbuncle-style, in between misaligned scapulae). Ugly, even by Simian standards, "Proto" (as he is called by those fussing over elaborate preparations) gawks, eyes wide, his face a mug of horror and resignation. Intervals of limp fatigue alternate with spells of futile thrashing; his many bonds hold fast within the levered, hoisted ring—transferred from gurney to tabletop and bolted into place. A circus hoop, it resembles, through which some snarling feline might soon leap were the insides free of Proto’s outstretched fears and writhing anatomy, his skin inscribed with lines that map the organs palpitating underneath.

A needle pricks; its plunger presses home. Proto, instantly affected, is relieved of his panic-stricken pout… fright soon overtaken by a goofy grin… pre-op agonies blithely blotted out by Tincture of Nepenthe… nerves unraveled like a golf ball’s core of rubber-bands.

Scaffolds are erected.

Teams of surgeons take position.

Lengths of cable are attached to temples, ribcage, loins, and testicles.

Incisions—for extractions(?), implantations(?)—open grisly vents…

…at which the hapless hunchback gapes with woozy bewilderment.


Bewilderment reflected by the sound-asleep twins, objects themselves of an uninvited scrutiny—as sallow eyes peered in through the weather-beaten window, a snaggletooth mouth and runny nose plastered against its pane. Geezer, the castaway fourth monkey—having clambered up the back porch trellis and planted his runty elbows on the window’s beveled sill—set his malevolent sights on the pair of targets within.

Ian, alerted by a sixth sense, flinched—as did his sister, a split second later. Both attempted to slip from the Sandman’s groggy grasp… in vain. It was the wolf’s hour, so quiet in the house, and beyond it, that the nails on Geezer’s peek-a-booing paws made audible, scrabbling noises through the intervening glass… approximating those from the nightmarish talons…


Kneading their bowling balls, the bleached crows fidget, eager to swoop and scoop up gory bits, as flesh and blood now rain from the multi-level scaffolding—Proto being divested of entrails deemed "nonessential." Red on white, the scraps splat floor tiles, tempting past resistance the flock of chalky scavengers. Unbidden, they leave their roosts to dive-bomb, in a hectic exhibition of aerobatics, screeching, squawking, harrowing one another as they snag each gory morsel—their ravenous marauding viewed with contempt by the mini-surgeon team.

Proto, worse for wear, is nevertheless breathing, his several wounds now sutured, anesthesia still at work (for the time being). But a glimmer of what has befallen him alters his clownish smirk, recasting it, in the aftermath, tragicomic. The patient shall recover—a prognosis, like as not, he will come to regret…


A plight that tugged from Ann the makings of a tear… which grew and grew like a pearl round an irritating cinder… then trickled from her right eye as its twin fled Ian’s left, siblings both in sympathy with the midget’s altered aspect… without fully understanding it… or grasping the implications; "Dreams were not for real," the tots had been taught. Waking up, no doubt, would discredit this one.

But Sleep sank them deeper into the fathoms of forgetfulness… where details tended to blur, if not dissolve… leaving wet spots infiltrating the eiderdown… pillows—upper and lower—absorbing dual concern, privy, via osmosis, to something portentous afoot… though what that was, exactly, remained for the twain obscure.

Except to Geezer, its envoy. He knew what these experiments were all about. Was he not their upshot? Did the course of Humanoid History not hinge on him? Shivering in the pre-dawn, pacing back and forth as he had in his cage (that awful, shrunken cell to which his own clan confined him… after that Sap they siphoned, then transfused, took full effect… with all its nasty-minded, nauseating, numskull-spurring symptoms!). Geezer brooded, plotted, fought to gather his scattered Simian wits—despite the dire infection he "voluntarily" had contracted ("caught on purpose," they alleged—though he scarcely recollected it… scarcely recollected his given name. They called him "Geezer," post-contagion. Was that accurate? Who could say, with Tincture of Midget, "Proto-Plasm" cruising haywire through his veins(?)—the very "humanizing" thought of which made the ape retch!).


Dawn, at last, came… with a sugar coating. Frost, asparkle in Sun’s yawning beams, relaxed its grip on grass blades… fence posts… roof shingles… everything; ice crystals melted upon exposure, revivifying colors from their frozen pallor… revivifying Geezer, in turn, his tattered fur grown limp once delivered from the bone-chilling shadows, as Sky invited Daybreak to set its Star on an arch East to West… the monkey’s thawed-out-thoughts enjoying a stint of temporary normalcy:

awakening to bird song in the lap of treetop leaves that he would borrow for his nightly cradle, give back every morning, the Jungle’s heartbeat lullaby turned to cock’s-call, sounds eternal, whose reverberation whispered what was worthy, what was wise; which path to choose when Reason argued with the Rule, the Whole, the Oneness; how to ebb and flow without regret like Ocean’s age-old tide; to covet nothing; practice Now; and know that Chance was Life’s sole arbiter. Over God? God was a mental quirk of Them and Theirs whose poison wormed through Geezer’s scrawny system, made him wince and flinch and twitch, upset his former equilibrium, warped his erstwhile comprehension, skewed emotions once in harmony, clogged his onetime lucid wits with screwy concepts. When had "God," for instance, ever been an issue? Not since Him, since It, since That had been injected—Proto’s toxin. Only Human Beings—and half-wits, like the Lab’s defective guinea pig—saw projections of themSelves—wherever they looked—as things Divine. MAN no more qualified for Divinity than did cockroaches.

Geezer sneered, then shook his crooked self from head to tail, evicting scores of dewdrops—turned to prisms by Sun’s irrepressible rise.