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by: Zé Burns

He was a lamp. A China ball lantern wrapped in a bamboo lattice.

No, he wasn’t. He was a plant: a delicate ornamental fern, stretching out its fronds over the terra cotta pot in which he sat.

No, that couldn’t be right either. Was he a pillow? A wooden lounge beneath a red umbrella? None of that sounded right. It couldn’t be right.

Then what was he? He searched his mind for some memory that would reveal his true identity. But the memories remained elusive. His past consisted of the last few minutes, beginning when he thought he was the lamp.

Who am I? I know what a “lamp” is, what “ferns” and “umbrellas” are. To know these things, to place their names, I must have known them beforehand. That I can conceive of a past further proves that there must have been one. But who am I? What is my name? Do I have a name?

Harry. That was his name. No, that wasn’t right. His arms were hairy. It was just a homonym. But wait. He had arms! He looked at them now. Pink tubes, tapered at one end and thicker at the other, covered in fine, black hairs. He had arms. He looked downward: covered in a white shirt, his torso connected with a pair of brown pants that spread out into two legs. I have arms and a torso and legs. What has arms and a torso and legs? Was he…was he a man?

The arms and legs looked alien, dangling before him like the limbs of a marionette. The chest heaved up and down, but he could not feel himself breathing. He tried to move his fingers, but they remained motionless, lacking any sensation that suggested they were his own. Moments before, he had tilted his head downward to look at his legs, but now his neck refused any command he gave it, his field of vision no longer under his control.

These alien eyes stared down at a magazine, resting on a table before him. The letters meant nothing to him; he could not understand them even though he knew he should.

A noise—he heard it—came from behind him. The eyes he did not control looked up and then over toward the direction of the sound. Another human being was there: a woman, if that’s what it was called, wearing a colorful dress, her tan arms exposed. She embodied a concept new to him: the concept of beauty. For a moment, he dwelt with it, basking in its rays emanating from her. He did not recognize her. Yet she smiled in a most familiar way when his eyes met hers. She scared him, but the body in which he inhabited smiled back.

She spoke, her voice soft and comforting, “You will die here.”

Before he could register what she had said, he left the body he was in. Everything around him vanished, and once more, he no longer knew what he was. He saw only colors. They moved before him in slow undulation, a dance of the utmost beauty, beauty like the woman. It calmed him, and the fear from her words evaporated. Blues and greens now shifted to yellows and onto reds and oranges. He felt uncomfortable, agitated. The slow ballet of color now exploded in a flashing frenzy.

Then there was only white.

He heard a strange huffing. It came again and again at regular intervals. A few minutes (if such things existed) passed before he realized these noises were his own breathing. He did not feel that he was in a body or anything that could “breathe.” Yet he was sure that air was coming into him and being expelled.

He monitored these breaths, searching for any evidence of the body from which they came, but he found none. His concentration broke when a black line formed, bisecting the white that surrounded him. It started out thin, barely noticeable, but its width grew, slow at first, then accelerating more and more until the black nothingness overwhelmed him. His breaths sharpened and then stopped. He could no longer breathe.

I’m drowning! I’m drowning! The blackness like water filled his nonexistent lungs. He struggled to breathe. He begged some chimerical being to save him, hoping that something could hear his thoughts and come to his rescue. But then the black ended as well. Only a fragment of his consciousness remained. His perception faded; sight—and the colors that came with it—simply did not exist. Neither did smell, taste, sound, or touch. His train of thought came to an end. He could perceive that he was. But that was it. The concept of time disappeared.

How long he stayed in this state was impossible to know. Seconds meant as much as millennia.

Then he felt something. After lacking it, the use of the sense jarred him. But soon he relaxed and welcomed it. His train of thought revived and he wondered where he was and what he was feeling. The concept of “soft” came to him and he realized the thing he felt was soft. He liked this feeling. It brought comfort and safety with it.

Then it was gone.

And he was gone.

And it was over.


A Seattle native and bizarro fiction obsessive, Zé Burns is working on a long series of bizarre novels set in his hometown. You can (in descending order of difficulty) deduce him from first principles, seek him through the forests of Washington, learn about him on his blog, or follow him on Twitter.


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