Fiction · 08/19/2015

A degree of seismologic disorder

Say there is a boy who wakes on a bus and does not know where he is. Let us say there is a woman beside him with a bruise on her arm. She presses it and he watches her toes curl and moments later the bruise turns green. Our boy asks what time it is and she says it is 8:30. He does not know whether she means AM or PM, so he looks out the window.

Say it is night and he cannot see what is outside. There is only the reflection of a new face (his face), the reflection of a bruise (her bruise), and the unanswered question: where is this bus going? He almost turns to the lady but quickly gets nervous. Let us say by the time he leans in to ask, she is gone.

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Our boy notices there are teeth everywhere. They are in the mouth of the bus driver. On the necklace of a surfer. He has heard mosquitoes have teeth, and he sees those too. Teeth never used to scare him, or at least he doesn’t remember being afraid, but he also doesn’t remember the name of his hometown or his father’s face or why he has twenty-one matches stuffed in his pocket. All he remembers is a girl named Wren. The face of a girl. The name of a bird.

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Our boy gets off the bus in a small town, the name of which he keeps forgetting. He looks at the signs to remind himself, but when he looks away, he forgets.

He walks a highway alone.

He sees a light in the distance.

It is a diner and he says he has no money but the waitress, Kate, smiles and laughs. After talking for a couple of minutes, his eyes get teary, and she shows him a seat.

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Kate orders him eggs, even though it is past dinner. He sits at the counter with his hands on the table and his legs dangling from his chair. He kicks the air around. They look detached from his body. You have nice teeth, he tells her. He is right; she does. Kate laughs and ruffles his hair. She tells him he is the most charming little boy.

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Our boy remembers that the outer core of the earth is made of magma and the inner core is made of metal. Gravity compresses inward until all we are left with is iron, nickel, and poisonous gas. Sometimes he feels the center of the earth leaking. He can smell its toxic fumes.

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After dinner, Kate turns her keys over to a waitress in a pale blue dress, telling our boy she will take him home with her. On the car ride, she starts to ask questions. Do you know what your name is? Do you know where you’re from? Do you like baseball or football? What’s your favorite color?

She tells him the name of the town they are in. They call it Mesquite.

Mesquite, he says. Like mosquito. Did you know they have teeth?

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Our boy remembers once finding a fire-crested wren. A beautiful name for a beautiful bird.

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Kate has a brick house with a red front door, like in pictures of houses. Our boy walks inside and feels like he has been there before.

He tells her so and she pats him on the shoulder. Go upstairs and get ready for bed. He does not have pajamas, so he sleeps in his underwear. His superhero briefs have a blue bat in the front. The sheets smell clean and with his body lying in the middle of the bed, the mattress feels endless.

He falls asleep and Kate walks in. She wonders if he will remember her in the morning, but she lets this thought go and turns off the light.

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Our boy wakes in the middle of the night. He walks into the bathroom. He stands on the counter looks into the mirror, opens his mouth wide, and rubs his index finger across his teeth. He taps them like piano keys, and one by one they fall.

He almost calls for his mother, but then remembers he does not know who she is.

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Fire to the edges. Swipe, crackle, ash. That is his promise. His secret prayer.

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Fire to the brim. Wren, Wren, Wren. How did that get in his head?

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Our boy goes back to bed and dreams of his mother. He dreams that two of them are tunneling to the center of the earth. At the center, there is dust, he says. At the center, there is nothing, she says. At the center, there is metal. At the center, there are teeth. There is a star. A story. A burning house.

What are we supposed to do? He asks. Lean in?

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Night is heavy. Our boy reawakens. He walks into Kate’s room and watches her sleep. He looms above her body, and soaks in the darkness. Then he draws a match.

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Listen closely. Swipe, crackle, ash.

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In a burning pile of brick and mortar, say our boy finds a new set of teeth and a man with a badge and a suit. The man asks the boy if he knows what happened, but our boy only remembers a girl named Kate.

Let us say the man with the badge lets him go. Say our boy walks the highway alone. The streetlights drip into the puddles on his way, an endless path of little orange flames. He walks and waits and fiddles with his matches and after a while, he forgets those too.

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At the center, there is a boy. At the center, there is void. At the center, our voices: Say

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Garrett Biggs lives in Denver, Colorado where he studies creative writing at the University of Denver. His most recent fiction is published or forthcoming in Big Lucks, Lunch Ticket, and Corium Magazine. He serves on the prose staff of The Adroit Journal.