OBSCURA

Eric J. Millar

For Mom and Dad and late night TV

A portion of Obscura appeared in a slightly different form as "Two Lovers in an Empty Room," in issue 20 of Mud Luscious Press Online Quarterly Obscura Copyright © 2012 by Eric J. Millar All rights reserved. For more art, writing, and info on Eric J. Millar, go to razorwireovercoat.tumblr.com

ISBN-13: 978-0615652313 ISBN-10: 061565231X

The room is heavy shadow noir. You sit with a woman, each on mundane wooden chairs. There is nothing spectacular about her. She eats sprouts from a box of Mike and Ike's. A machine is started. It throbs and clatter for three seconds, then stops. In the shadows, the sound of long toenails scraping against bare wood. It always finds me, you say. Wherever I am lost. It always finds me. There are no windows and the walls are beyond the darkness. A dim spotlight flickers above. It's about death, she says. And the flat tax. The light fades. An old woman with wide hips is seated in a wheelchair with screeching wheels, pushed forward by two children of mysterious gender. Both are draped in black robes with long hoods obscuring their faces. The woman's legs are wrapped in a dirty potato sack. A heavy antique projector sits where her head should be. It sways with each unsteady movement. The reels turn slowly.

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It's about youth and disaster, she says. And the compounding interest applied to innocence. The old woman sways forward as the wheelchair stops. The children run three laps around her in opposite directions. They meet in the center, bow to one another, and scurry up the old woman's legs. One stops on her lap. It kneels on her crotch, puts both arms up, and holds the projector steady. The other continues to climb until it straddles the back of the old woman's neck. Everything goes dark. Somewhere out of sight, switches are flipped. The projector starts. It's about the failing of masculinity, she says. And the joy of cooking. The world goes white and swims in the sound of distortion. It always finds me, you say. Wherever I am lost. It always finds me.

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First there is nothing. Then dim blue. Blue becomes green Green becomes Orange. Orange becomes Red. Red cuts away to flickers of white noise and the sound of raindrops. There is a crash. ● ●

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The blue door opens. ● ●

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A window breaks. The subtitle reads Travesty. A brick cuts through the air in a shower of powdered glass. It hits the ground, bounces twice before sliding to a stop. The subtitle reads Help Wanted. Full Time Positions Available. Close up, two flies twitching, their wings like cellophane halos. The subtitle reads If patience is a virtue, what then is impatience? Close up, a fly's legs. Barbs of hair accentuated by white light. The legs move faster than the shutter can catch. The subtitle reads Speed is essential for an efficient life. Close up, an insect's eye, a million tiny screens reflecting, a million broken windows out of focus. The subtitle reads Where there is smoke, there is a garage sale with nothing good and no garage. Two flies take flight. Two flies traveling through the shattered window. The subtitle reads Readiness is next to godliness. ● ●

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Two lovers sit facing one another. Their eyes stare at the space above the other's shoulder. Their eyes stare into the air and never at each other. Their eyes are gone. Two lovers sit, back to back, their necks limp and heads rest on each others' shoulders. They have no eyes, only dark voids staring out. Two lovers reach out, each in different directions. Their fingers quiver. The room is painted white. Two lovers slither across the floor, inches apart, with limbs that no longer work. Hands slide rough across the wood. The floor is painted white. Two lovers run in circles. They hit walls, stumble, fall to the ground. They get up, do it again. The walls are painted white. Two lovers sit cross-legged on the floor. Their eyes are closed. Black tar runs down their cheeks. They are painted white. This is an empty room. ● ●
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Your chair is uncomfortable. There is no lumbar support. You pick at loose fibers with your fingernails. A splinter rises from the seat and slowly works into your leg. The skin breaks. You feel the wet blood between the flesh and your pants. The woman sets her hand on your knee and whispers into your ear. There are no words, just sounds quietly arranged on the edge of language.

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The red door opens. ● ●

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Fade in from black. The music rises. A midget (little person) sits at the table. The table is high and only the top of his head is visible. The midget (little person) is sitting at the table. He holds a power drill. The drill turns on. It screams like an old woman. The midget (little person) drills into the table. The wood screams like a little boy. The midget (little person) drills many holes into the table. There is money on the table in a perfectly squared pile. And a staple gun. The midget (little person) nudges the staple gun towards you. He nods and smiles. The midget (little person) is becoming aggravated at your lack of interest. He picks up the staple gun and two fifty dollar bills from the pile. The rest he lights on fire. The shot widens. The table disappears. Again, the music rises. In the corner stands two women, naked. Each hold a torch of thistles and newspaper. Their heads are those of deer.

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The midget (little person) dances with the staple gun, holding it like a lover. The midget (little person) staples one dollar bill to the the belly of each woman. They do not flinch. They do not move. The torches continue to burn. A cymbal strikes three times. ● ●

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A woman stands at the top of a never-ending staircase in a room with no walls. She wears three strings of pearls. Her hair is weaved full of crows' feathers. She holds a typewriter. She sets it gently beside her and hits three random keys. There is no paper. The sound echos. Her mouth opens. A bell rings. She spreads her arms and dives down the stairs. The camera follows her for five minutes as she tumbles. There is no blood, only pieces. ● ●

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The picture slides to the floor. Images stretch and blur. The motor struggles to find balance. The children take the woman's Mike and Ike box. A fight erupts between them. They claw at each others faces and scream like stray cats. The woman glides from her seat. She takes the box from them and rips it into two equal parts. She hands one part to each of them. They are not satisfied. They drop the pieces on the floor and return to the old woman. The movie continues.

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The yellow door opens. ● ●

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Red is the only color in this scene. A workman hunches over a tubular machine that stretches into the horizon. The factory floor is covered in oily rags and peanut shells. He reaches into a reservoir filled with thick red fluid. It sticks to his hand like syrup and covers his sleeve up to the elbow. The workman pulls three coins from the syrup. He inspects each with care. Then, one by one, he swallows them. Again he reaches in, digging deeper, pushing to his shoulder. He finds a child. The child is naked and cries without sound. It is made of soft wax. The workman pulls small pieces off and molds them into sparrows in a variety of poses and sizes. He sets them in a line on top of the machine. He scrutinizes his creations for three minutes and makes adjustments until the line is perfect and straight.

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The workman explores the sludge a third time, submerging his entire torso. He finds nothing. The syrup runs down him until he is covered from head to toe in red. The machine starts. ● ●

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A series of wooden lofts criss-cross upward into the darkness of a tall, mostly empty building. The brick walls sweat. A man enters through a blue door wearing a seersucker suit and a straw hat. His eyes are obscured by a mask of feathers. He carries an umbrella and a leather briefcase. The man walks a straight line from the door to the stairs and stops. The wood is bulging and warped, the separating grains create a surface of dark crevices and sharp edges. The man kicks the first step three times then opens his umbrella. A pale woman falls from the darkness above. Her body twists through the air and comes to a full stop six feet above the floor. Her head continues on and splatters into damp chunks on the concrete. The body hangs in the air. The man does not notice the woman or the tragedy of her lost head. He takes the first steps with great care. Another pale woman falls as the man reaches the first loft. Her body remains level with him. Her head bounces off
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the concrete like a rubber ball. The man continues on. Again, a woman falls and again the body stops parallel to the man. The head strikes the floor with a dull thud. It rolls into a corner. With each loft another woman falls, their bodies a pale daisy-chain of beheaded muliebrity. At the highest levels there is no light and the man is lost in the darkness. Only sounds tell the man's actions. The tap of his light steps echo throughout the room. Then there is a moment of silence. The briefcase is set on the floor. The latches open with the sound of gunshots. A single feather drifts down. It traces a spiral around the hanging women and lands on the concrete. ● ●

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The splinter grows and digs deeper into your leg. It is taking root. You wonder if the chair may be alive and intends to take over. You lean to speak to the woman. No words leave your mouth, only clicking.

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Three eyeballs sit on a table. A man stands behind the table, trying to not look into the camera. He tries very hard. The man removes handfuls of eyes from his pockets. Some are human, some are cow, some are hard-boiled eggs without shells. He piles them on the table. There is a scalpel on the table. The man takes an eye into his hand and inspects it. He makes an incision. Inside is a fetus. It is very,very small and human. The man massages it with the tip of his finger. It purrs. He presses harder. The fetus struggles. The purring turns to crying. The crying stops. After the silence returns, the man sucks the fetus from its shell. He swallows without chewing. ● ●

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The green door opens. She enters. ● ●

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There is a flash of light and a wave of heat. The movie stops. You turn to look. The woman in the wheelchair has burst into flames. The children crawl all over her, trying to avoid the flames but still reach the apex, the projector. Black smoke fills the room. It is hard to breath. The woman beside you stares straight ahead. Her eyes do not blink. Her smile does not fade. There is a hiss of suction followed by a sharp pop. The children have removed the old woman's head. They hop off and inspect the projector. Chattering like sparrows, they pull it apart, piece by piece, tossing the bits aside. After rolling the still smoldering old woman into a corner, they pull out a long case made of black hardwood and assemble something from the components inside. It is a monstrosity of rods and hinges, bits and bobs, stuck together with gaffers tape and rubber cement. One of the children pulls a blue flashlight from the case and tries to turn it on. It flickers. The child squeals and slams the light against the floor until the flickering stops. He moves to the back
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of the assembly. The other child stands beside the machine. It threads the film through two metal loops and a matchbox. A crank is installed on one of the reels. The child turns the crank slowly. In the darkness you hear a swarm of metal insects.

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A woman enters a room with four doors. The round door opens. The square door slams shut. ● ●

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Two lovers sit across from one another at a long table. They look towards each other but their eyes do not meet. Their pale skin almost glows. Two deer-headed women cower in the anteroom. The darkness of the room nearly conceals them, if not for their shimmering eyes. A little person (midget) stands in the center of the table. He wears blue denim coveralls and a black domino mask. The little person (midget) stomps on a platter of smoked salmon with parsley garnish. Pink bits of flesh scatter as he dances. He kicks the platter off the table and screams when he is finished. A woman enters from the next room, wearing only one hundred strings of round wooden beads around her neck. Her head is that of an owl. It twists and turns with curiosity as she nears the table. The little person (midget) scoops a handful of salmon from the table. He shakes his fist at the woman, his tiny fingers clenched around the meat. It squeezes from between his fingers in a paste. The woman twitches and rolls her head. She coos quietly.
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The little person (midget) throws the meat. It splatters on the woman's chest and mingles into the beads. The lovers laugh for three seconds and then stop. They stare at the woman. A second woman enters. She wears only one hundred strings of square wooden beads around her neck and has the head of a sparrow. She carries a platter of broiled chicken and glazed yams. The little person (midget) draws a line in the air with his finger from the platter to the table. The woman sets the dish where he directs and backs away slowly. The little person (midget) smiles and leaps into the air. His back lands directly on the chicken. Bits of flesh and bone erupt from beneath him and coat the lovers. The lovers do nothing. The doorbell rings. The lovers turn their heads toward the sound. The little person (midget) jumps to his feet and faces toward the sound.
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The bird women walk toward the sound. The deer women disappear into the darkness. A man enters. He wears a seer-sucker suit and straw hat. His eyes are obscured by a mask of scales. He carries a gun metal gray briefcase. The little person (midget) offers the man a handful of crushed chicken. The man tips his hat and crouches down. He sets the briefcase on the floor and unlatches it. The hinges scream as it opens. The man lifts the briefcase to the edge of the table. With his forearm, he slides every bit of food from the table into his case. Once the table is spotless, the man closes the case. He tips his hat to the little person (midget) and leaves the way he came in. The couple claps, slowly at first, growing in speed and intensity until there is only one constant slap of hands. The little person (midget) sits down. ● ●

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The triangular door opens. ● ●

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A workman stoops over a large brass canister. The overhead lights reflect erratic patterns in its uneven shell. The man's name tag reads CHET. He wears aviator goggles and red satin overalls. The workman reaches into the thick brown liquid contained in the canister. He makes slow swirling motions through the syrup, creating the symbol for infinity in the meniscus. When the workman is satisfied, he lifts his arms from the tank. His hands are filled with cow eyes. After a thorough inspection, the workman tosses the eyes over his shoulder, one by one. A large man skitters in from out of frame, wearing only a necktie made of gingham. He drops to his knees and gathers the eyeballs until every one of them is cradled in his arms. The man pops them into his mouth. He opens his jaws wide with each bite, spitting pieces of meat far from his lips when his mouth opens, smacking his lips loudly each time it shuts. When every eye is gone, the large man kneels by the workman and growls.
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The workman climbs awkwardly into the canister. He sinks into the brown liquid until his entire body is submerged. A large bell chimes in the distance and the large man lays to rest. ● ●

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One of the children has curled up in the woman's lap. It's labored breaths sound as if every organ inside it rattles. The other child remains at the makeshift projector, turning the crank with slow diligence. The old projector has grown and six insectile legs have sprouted from its sides. It rests beside the woman's feet. Your mouth is dry. You want a drink but can't get up from your seat. The roots have spread through the meat of your ass and thighs. You look to the woman and find that her eyes have sunken back, leaving two dark craters without any hint of life left inside them. The child on her lap awakens. It looks up at you and hisses.

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A man climbs a long staircase in a room with no walls. He wears a seersucker suit and a straw hat. He carries a black guitar case. His eyes are obscured by a mask of fingernails. The stairs are covered in pieces of a broken woman. There is no blood. The man collects the pieces, scrutinizing each one before putting them into his case. This continues for ten minutes, until the man reaches the top. There, he finds a typewriter without paper. He kneels, types thirteen letters, and kicks it down the stairs. It makes no sound. ● ●

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The old projector has taken over the crank, making the awkward rotations with its mandibles. The children sit in the woman's lap. They rub and prod at her breasts and neck with their tiny hands. The woman is no longer breathing. A small flap at base of the woman's neck works loose and opens, revealing a line of screw heads. One of the children takes a screwdriver from inside his robe and begins removing screws. The other buries his head between the woman's breasts and runs his fingers around her nipples. Screws hit the floor and scatter. Holding the woman by her ears and hair, the children brutally twist and tug. Faint light radiates from the seam growing between her head and body. Once her head is removed, a shaft of yellow light cuts through the smoke and darkness.

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A woman is in a room with four doors. The octagonal door opens. A man enters. He wears a seersucker suit and a straw hat. His eyes are obscured by a mask of banana slugs. He carries a large suitcase. ● ●

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The children each grab a side of the woman's chair. They pull it back with quick, violent tugs. The chair screams against floor. You have trouble turning your head but fight the stiffness and pain to watch. Once the woman is in position, the children back away. The projector lifts itself up onto its tiny legs and scrabbles across the floor to the woman. It climbs her and lowers itself onto the neck hole. There is a quiet click. A set of tendrils emerge from the seam and knit flesh to metal.

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A man and a woman stand in a room with four doors. All of them are open. The man removes his straw hat and sets it on the floor. The woman stands motionless. The man sets down his suitcase and smiles at the woman. He takes three steps toward her and then bows in her direction. She does nothing. The man holds the pose for three seconds before straightening. He waits two breaths before lunging at the woman. They fall to the ground. The man crouches over the woman and chews away her throat. There is more blood than there should be. The credits roll. They are unreadable. ● ●
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The motor winds down. The house lights rise. You stretch your legs out in front of you and your arms above your head. Your neck creaks and cracks. There is no desire to go anywhere. The chair is very comfortable. On the walls, men and women hang from hooks in tidy rows. Their peaceful eyes stare straight ahead. There is no blood. One of the children disappears into another room. It returns with a new chair. It is set beside you, its legs parallel to the legs of your own. The other child retrieves a long rod from the back corner. With the rod, it digs behind the back of the nearest woman on the left wall. The woman falls to the floor, limp. The children drag her to the chair and place her in it. They put a box of Sugar Daddies into her right hand. They give you a box of Mike and Ike's full of sprouts. You pinch out a couple and pop them in your mouth. They taste of soil. The children remove the film from the makeshift projector and kick it apart. The pieces scatter. They take the reels to their new projector, the woman.
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The woman beside you wakes as the children thread the film back at the beginning. The lights dim and the projector cuts a path through the creeping darkness. The woman looks to you. There is nothing spectacular about her. She smiles and you smile in return. It's about nothing, you say. And the fear of nothing.

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First there is nothing. Then dim blue. Blue becomes green Green becomes Orange. Orange becomes Red. The red cuts away to flickers of white noise and the sound of raindrops. There is a crash. ● ●

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Thanks for reading Obscura. If you enjoyed what you read, please consider buying a copy at Amazon or Createspace. It's 3.95 for a 40 page softcover chapbook.

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