Wonderful Wounds Await You

Please check your skins at the door.

Fumbling to undress, exhilaration mixes with fear. A decade you’ve waited to find your ticket to this—an experience like no other. Our promise:  to untether your mind, unbend reality. You will not be the same when you leave.

Now your transformation begins. Unzip your beiges and browns, handing them in their soft, scarred, flabby drapes to the woman with a praying mantis face. You think she is a woman. No. You feel she is. You need no other evidence, as her body retreats into the moist embrace of darkness, multi-faceted eyes focusing on more than you can grasp.

She has hangers, you see, of quartz and willow. Mock skeletons will hold your skins rigid, keep them from wrinkling for the duration of your stay.

You clutch your ticket to your bleeding chest, close as when you found it on the corner of a park bench. Forgotten or deliberately placed, you don’t know. You believe you were chosen. You hope you belong.

Around you it is dark but not black. You are delicate, nervous and stripped as you are. Wipe your muscles on curtains of Spanish moss as you cross the foyer, daubing blood from your lidless eyes. Aye-ayes perched in alcoves spotted with lichen welcome you to the most immersive production running today.

Exit the foyer, following slick limestone steps. The bannisters are stalagmites, sigils carved by bats or glow worms or visitors like you—though there’s no time now to pause and study their secrets. The line is shuffling fast, and you slip on the blood of others as you follow them down, down.

What you see next we promise to remember.

The steps end, swallowed in smoke that smells of opium and sandalwood. You stand before an arch that may be alabaster or bone. Empty sconces tell you where walls retreat.

Before you enter the ballroom on the raw and clotting heels of others, you take a crustacean from a seawater casket under the arch. Horseshoe, hermit, mermaid’s purse stained with ink and salt. Claws grasp your unprotected flesh, dig nerves from unwary muscles.

When you have adorned yourself in exoskeletons, your body creaking with chitin, knuckles barnacled beautiful, we invite you to dance.

The ballroom floor is a lake of masks. Foxtrot over wooden, velvet, leathern faces laughing and sobbing at your pasts. Wade like newborn turtles from soft deflating eggs to the center. It’s easy to see.

The chandelier is made of silk and owl pellets. Fish eggs glow pink as tongues longing for drink. The movement you glimpse between bulbs is caused by moths. Too many to count. Too many to name. Too many.

Come, now. Follow your fellow shadows over masks, under moths—to the ballroom’s cracked center. But please—have your tickets ready.

Some are on a fragment of license plate (American or European, usually), rusted paint chipping under flayed fingernails. Others are writ in gum bound with mint-scented foil, lint clinging restless to the edge. Many of you hold mussels carved with tonight’s time, still others a palmful of dust.

Yours:  three inches of yellow ribbon embroidered in surgical thread. A time in lemon juice, revealed by fire. Your fingers shake. Your mouth, dry with desire, gasps glitter air.

Shuffling in a red crowd with black in the gaps, dripping brine onto commedia dell’arte faces (themselves empty, actorless), approach the stage you’ve waited so long to feel.

Under a chandelier wafting notes of low tide, you see it.

It is like a cactus stretched over a Mercedes, a swimming pool inverted onto a car wash, a lamb crossed with a scorpion. Do you hear it—the singing? We ask you to concentrate, now. What you see and hear may not enter through eyes and ears. But you sense it nonetheless.

A bassoon, or maybe a spoon only, held up to the Pacific wind. Wooden windchimes muffled by too much moss. Waves cresting waves. The music you came for fills the missing parts of you, animates phantom limbs. Recalls memories not yet made.

If you wish to, sing along. We do not take your tongues for a reason.

You sing. Do you remember what your skin looked like, felt like?

You sing.

Before the coda, you are encouraged to place your face on the stage. You feel the tune. You bleed notes. You hear gravity.

Now you know the song is ending. Your time is running away into corners too dark to see. We urge you across to the other side, music dripping from your uncovered veins—a stubborn leak. Through two-dimensional cubes and spheres with just one side, you crawl until you enter the foyer. Again.

It’s different on this side. You don’t recognize the drapes of spider-silk, lizards black and yellow curled in their centers. We assure you—it is the same as you left.

Your ticket spent, it is time. Detach your crustaceans and bury them in rose petal compost. A man with the face of an asp trades you a pair of shoes for your lungs. Pull them out. Put them on. Walk through the marbles arch, admiring cat’s eyes—thousands of glass orbs reflecting on your own unblinkable eyes.

You are now in the coat room once more. The first skin you touch is the body you’ll bring back. It is no more familiar to you than the one you shed on entry. A child with raccoon hands helps you dress.

Dressed anew—your body unchanged underneath, your mind irrevocably altered—you collect a survey on sequined aluminum foil. Use dishwashing liquid to fill it out at midnight. When you’ve finished, fold it over the wings of a sparrow. It will find its way back to us.

This visit may be done, but we welcome you back again, no matter what skin you find yourself wearing.

When you return to us, your hands will carry our next invitation, scrawled on the object you most forget.


FFO: What other work of yours would fans of this story most enjoy?

MP: Some similarly decadent stories of mine are:

“Seven Shots at the Ultimate High” Interzone #294

“At the End of Purple Meadow Road” Fireside Magazine, Issue 102

“Everything You Once Were” Flash Fiction Online, September 2022

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