Here’s what came before: Fictional Cheese-Kate.
And here’s what comes next . . .
Once upon a time I was mentally ill.
I do think this will be better . . . we’ll just start again, without the cheese or the Hitler or the milky sweetness or anybody killing anybody . . . because I think you got a little off-track. We’ll just start fresh.
Shut up shut up shut up shut up you said you would just type shut up shut up.
Oops. Go ahead.
Once upon a time I was mentally ill.
Seriously, though . . . you’ve said that part enough times.
Once . . . upon . . . a . . . time . . . I . . . was . . . mentally . . . ill.
Once upon a time, I woke alone, ensconced within familiar blankets, beneath the sluggish churn of the bedroom’s ceiling fan and the resultant caress of sleep-breathed air. I stared up into the dusty gold pattern of the filigreed flowers painted on the dark wooden blades of the fan. I counted the fan’s blades, surprised not to have ever bothered to count before; there were five. My head resting against my pillow, I watched the ceiling fan pulse above me, trying to remember what it was I was supposed to do that day. My mind drew a blank; it was as though a soft cloth had been run over the chalkboard surface of the part of my mind that had been dedicated to the day’s future; there was the sense of things written and then erased, the result a not unpleasant dusty blurred taste in my mouth and consciousness.
I turned my head to the side, fit my cheek into the contours of the pillow, and closed my eyes. My eyelids flickered, as eyelids do, and I was aware of the tiniest movement that was not of my doing. A dust mote, thrown down from above, I thought, and I made a note to clean the blades of the ceiling fan. I opened my eyes again, just a bit, and saw the same tiny movement, this time in the corner of each of my eyes. The movements vanished as I focused, but I became convinced the movements were intentional. Something or someone was in the room with me.
I shut my eyes gently and pretended to sleep.
I felt something brushing against the outer corners of my eyes, something infinitesimally small, something whose touch was so delicate I might have thought it the fan-swept curve of my eyelashes against my skin. For a moment, I tried to recall if my eyelashes had ever fluttered in such a way before; surely it was possible for such a thing to have gone long-unnoticed; how many nights had I slept below the arms of the ceiling fan without thinking to count to five? Many things go unnoticed.
Many things go unnoticed, but the longer I lay there with my eyes closed against this subtle sweeping movement, the more convinced I was that this was new.
New and sentient.
I did not open my eyes. I swear I did not open my eyes. I did not.
Despite this truth, I could see.
My own eyes viewed my seemingly sleeping body from above; from somewhere between the ceiling fan and my flesh, I floated. I watched as tiny golden spiders wove amongst and within my eyelashes, spinning gossamer thread which they pulled and knotted and stitched so as to seal my eyelids tight against all vision. The spiders worked together, one set on each side of my face as I seemed to sleep.
And yet I could see.
I watched, wondering what to do, wondering what would happen next, wondering if I was dreaming and yet certain that I was not.
I could not look away.
As I stared at myself, helpless in the bed, panic rose like a flood and overtook the me who stared from above. The spiders sensed my response as a group, and they turned from their task to wave soothing arms in my direction. They churned at the air, and I felt the resultant caress of sleep-breathed air against my being. There was a whispering voice I recognized as my own, “Hush. The world smells of oranges for a reason.”
With these words, I became aware of the sharp tang of citrus in the room. More, I became aware that the scent of orange had been with me all along, perhaps for my entire life, and I had never paid attention. What else had I missed? What else had gone unnoticed?
The voice that was mine but which did not pass from my lips spoke again, “Breathe in of the magic that is yours. Consume the magic that is yours.”
And with the word “consume,” everything changed.
I was once again the man in the bed, filled with horror and panic, clawing at my eyes, ripping at the threads which held them shut. I felt skin give way beneath my fingernails; I tasted blood against my lips; the webs that held my eyes shut were a part of me, and ripping them from my face was agony. I shrieked and bled and clawed at myself, and when I had finally managed to clear a path to vision, all that I saw were my own eyes, staring down at me from above the bed.
OK, I am typing this part, but you are seriously creeping me out.
My own eyes floated disembodied above me . . . they pulsed and swelled and spilled and reached for me . . . and then they swallowed me.
Wait . . . you were swallowed by your own eyes?
Well, that’s insane.
Thank you . . . to the extent I was able to consider my circumstances, I thought so as well.
You know what would make the next part of the story really cool?
If when you woke up from this amazing dream, there was a huge spiderweb in the corner of the room . . . or maybe spun within the blades of the ceiling fan . . . and within the spiderweb was woven the message . . . SOME DREAM.
Because my story speaks to you of a children’s book?
Well, come on . . . you are so Wilbur the Pig!
I am a pig to you?
Metaphorically speaking . . . don’t get your trotters in a bunch.
There was no message.
Well, I know that. You have to make up the message like you made up the rest of the story.
Assuming I had fabricated any of this, I guess it would not be unreasonable to think I might also fabricate an inspirational message woven in a web. Maybe something like, HANG IN THERE!
Don’t need to get all mocky and sarcastic. It was just a thought. It’s your story. You tell it how you want to tell it.
How about I tell it how it happened?
Whatever. Wait . . . what?
When I wake from the dream, if that’s what this has been, I will look for the message. I would so like this all to have been a dream. Although to wake from a dream to a reality in which spiders call me Wilbur and leave reassuring webbed messages . . . well, that would suggest another level of dreaming, don’t you think?
Wait, so you’re saying this story isn’t a dream?
Not so far as I know, no.
Fiction, then? Doesn’t have to be a dream, but if it is fiction? It would be a cool backstory for some new version of Spiderman. Any chance the next part of this story is you shooting web-tangles from your wrists and climbing buildings with sticky feet and fighting crime?
Ummm . . . No, I don’t think so.
Huh. So you are standing here with the serious belief in the truth of a moment in which you were swallowed by your own eyeballs?
And that I still exist somehow . . . myself consumed by myself . . . yes.
We may still need to reconsider that Once Upon a Time thing.
Also, I really did meet Katharine Hepburn.
Well, now you’re just being ridiculous.
And where are Clarice and Bessie, anyway? It’s awfully quiet around here without them.
Mark and I sent them off to camp. They are learning to train sled-dogs . . . up in Alaska. They’ll be gone for a bit. Maybe a bit longer . . . we’ll see how it goes.
Yeah . . . I guess they wanted somewhere they knew I couldn’t follow them.
Because of your allergy to cold.
You didn’t tell me anything about this camp.
You just haven’t been paying attention . . . the details are here.
Huh . . . I guess I do remember you saying something about that once upon a time.
So is it alright if I name this chapter? Since it’s really the first chapter again . . . can I name this new version?
I guess so.
Great. Let me just type that in . . . Chapter One: Faked Alaska
That makes no sense at all.
Yeah, and your story makes total sense.