Saturday, November 24, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Glass Cantaloupe

Author's Note: This is a bit of a departure from my usual New Mexico spec fiction. I wrote this for the third Absolute Write flash fiction carnival, which will be hosted by Virginia Lee. The theme is "transform," but this piece would've worked just as well for the last carnival, hosted by Samuel Tinianow.
* * * * *

I swallowed a glass cantaloupe the other night.

I’m not sure how I did it. It happened in a somnambulist state and we all know how that can be. I awoke on the floor, my stomach round, hard and full. After prodding it gently for a few minutes, I came to realize what had happened.

Damn.

My first thought was to go to the doctor, but I quickly nixed that idea. It wasn’t just the problem of my pants not fitting—I had some old gym sweats that would do. But I was worried about the seatbelt cutting across my belly, and about car accidents. What if I got in a wreck and the cantaloupe shattered? I might bleed to death from all the cuts!

Better to play it safe. I called in sick and spent the day watching television, trying not to think about the glass cantaloupe, except to wonder how long it would take my gastric acids to break it down enough to pass.

I slept that night propped up on pillows, with bolsters of quilts and blankets on either side so I wouldn’t roll onto my stomach or fall out of bed.

In the morning things were no better. That damn cantaloupe was still there and I realized what a fool I had been. A solid glass cantaloupe wasn’t likely to break down in a single day.

I got online and searched “glass” and “gastric acids.” What I read didn’t give me much confidence. I was going to be waiting a long time for this thing to dissolve on its own, and since it filled my entire stomach, leaving me unable to eat, I needed to take action.

I called my doctor’s office. Annoyingly, Dr. Jameson didn’t do house calls. “But this is urgent,” I explained. “I can’t leave the house.”

“What seems to be the problem?” the nurse said.

“It’s my stomach. I swallowed a glass cantaloupe by mistake.”

“A what?”

“A glass cantaloupe. I’d have come to your office yesterday, but I’m afraid to get behind the wheel of a car. I might get in an accident and shatter it, you know.”

“Shatter the car?”

“No, shatter the cantaloupe. Please, just ask the doctor to make an exception and make a house call. I’ll pay for his gas.”

Instead I got a referral to a psychiatrist. I really need to change doctors.

I tried calling my brother next, since he’s a lawyer and the brainy one in our family. But he was no help. He said he had a meeting with a new client and didn’t have time for jokes. Then I called my ex-wife, who was always a practical sort. She told me to quit being dramatic and reminded me that our daughter’s ballet recital was on Thursday.

Discouraged, I made my way into the kitchen, trying to avoid bumping into doorknobs and countertops, hoping to find something to eat. But I couldn’t get anything down. The cantaloupe took up too much room inside me. Not sure what I should do, and feeling a little testy, I lay down for a nap.

I awoke in the evening with no better idea of what to do, so I watched TV in the hope of distracting myself. Around bedtime my brother called and asked if I still had a glass cantaloupe in my stomach. He treated it like a joke, so I told him to go to hell and turned off the phone.

By the third day I was feeling light-headed. Not being able to eat will do that to you. I think I was dehydrated, too. Cantaloupes don’t seem so big until you’ve got one taking up your entire stomach. At least feeling dizzy made it easy to stay in bed. At one point a girl from the office called and said something about paperwork that would need to be filled out if I didn’t return to work the next day. I told her to email it to me and went back to sleep. In the evening someone knocked on my door but when I tried to get out of bed I felt weak in my knees and decided it was safer to stay where I was and not risk falling.

By the fourth day I could feel the glass beginning to spread through my body. My gastric juices were breaking up the cantaloupe, but instead of passing through, it was permeating every cell. This was an alarming development. If I didn’t do something, I would soon be entirely made of glass. But my phone battery was dead and I didn’t trust my new glass feet not to crack if I tried to cross the room. So I stayed in bed and went back to sleep.

I don’t know how much time passed after that. Sometimes I heard knocking at the door and sometimes I saw icy figures moving through my room, just beyond my closed eyelids. It was convenient to be able to see without opening my eyes. Turning to glass had its advantages.

Finally there came a day when the pounding at the door was followed by scratching and fumbling, then the sound of a key turning in the lock. My newly-sensitive glass ears heard ringing voices and the stomp of winter boots, but the words made little sense.

“Crazy.”

“Catatonic.”

“Cantaloupe,” I tried to say through my glass lips.

Rough hands grabbed me. I tried to protest but was terrified to move, lest I shatter my neck and die on the spot. I was put onto a stretcher and carried through the rooms of my glass house. Outside in the brittle air, lights flashed red and white. Voices called to each other. “Found him! He’s alive!”

Somewhere static crackled on a receiver.

And as they heaved me into the waiting ambulance, I felt my glass mind shatter.

21 comments:

Virginia Lee said...

Freak me out.

It's just so matter of fact. At first I wasn't sure if it was too much so, but then I decided it would work. After all, if a body was turning to glass one should be concerned about shattering.

Now all I want to do is throw prompts at you to see what you come up with, BG.

Freak me out . . .

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

VERY freaky, BG. I'm left with a lot of questions here, which is good. They're the good sort of questions.

I should have you clue me in to these prompts you're finding. They look like a lot of fun!

Thomma Lyn said...

Ai yi YI! I love it! What a cool, weird, and funky piece. Great job, Bunnygirl!

Bernita said...

Very well done!

Catherine J Gardner / Phoenix Rendell said...

Excellent stuff. Reminded me of the king who thought he was made of glass and was frightened he would shatter (George III, I think). I didn't see where it was going to go until near the end - both poignant and funny.

Cath said...

You had me with the very first line. Brilliant.

Except, for some weird reason, I thought the narrator was female - right up until the end.

Kathleen Frassrand said...

I also thought the narrator was female, until the line about calling his ex-wife.

What an odd story. I loved it. As others said.. it was VERY freaky.. but I really enjoyed it. Like a descent into madness.

Wonderfully done!

Church Lady said...

Creative and different and, yeah, freaky (we need some synonyms for freaky!)
I really liked this! I wasn't sure whether to laugh or not though.

I also thought the narrator was female until the end. I used to know of a site where you could plug in 500 words of text, and it would tell you how 'masculine' or 'feminine' the piece was. There is something about word choice, tags, etc.

Anyway, Kudos for a job well done!

bunnygirl said...

These are some interesting comments on gender, since this isn't a typical problem with my writing. The gender genie goes back and forth on this, so I guess I confused it, too.

The narrator's growing madness makes him passive and over-cautious, which are feminizing in a literary/linguistic sense.
An old-fashioned Alpha Male would've taken immediate and decisive action, but then there would've been no story.

If I do a revision, I'll add something into the first sentences to make the gender more clear. Thanks!

Ello said...

This was excellent. I completely followed his descent into madness. I don't think you need to do anything about the gender. It wasn't even important. I really liked this piece!

Jared said...

Great story... I can tell you've done this before! I definitely want to read some of your other works.

I enjoyed the humor you injected... particularly, the part where his ex-wife disregarded his concerns and promptly reminded him about his daughter's recital. Very nice.

Serena said...

Very original and well written. It leaves a mental impression that sticks with you. Good job!

Now my stomach feels funny...

Fe said...

This a good story. The internal logic is consistent - so important in very short stories like this - and there is enough description that I get a sense of the people involved without a whole lot of explaining going on. Nice job.

albino_squid said...

I really enjoyed this wonderful story. The creeping madness makes the transformation all the more disturbing. Excellent job!

Arachne Jericho said...

That was extremely well done. The narrator's voice was right on target, the first line was a definite hook, the rest of the story continued in wonderful bizarreness (and after all, people really would worry about little things even in odd situations like this... perhaps especially odd situations like this...).

It took me about 3/4s of the way through to stop thinking "scifi fantasy horror weirdness" and start thinking "psych ward". I love how it was still fuzzy on that issue before the end.

Very nice!

WriterKat said...

Hilarious! albeit painful. I could predict the pain of the cantaloupe shattering, so was flinching as I kept reading. I love the end. It's so smooth and funny. I really enjoyed it. Especially "Crazy", "Catatonic", "Cantaloupe". Great!

Kappa no He said...

Gorgeous! Very Kafka-esque. The lines at the end..."Crazy" "Catatonic" "Cantalope," I tried to say...were so funny I laughed outloud.

Kate Boddie said...

An excellent piece. From the beginning I was trying to figure out the ulterior motives of the cantelope as it couldn't be real and I didn't really know what was going on until the mention of catatonia.

Like many others, I thought the character was female up until the ex-wife part. Didn't make a difference for me in the story, just the image of the character morphed at that moment.

And I agree, it was a freaky tale but honestly, I think it could have gone either way. It reminded me of a Tales from the Crypt episode with that type of morbid humor and horror. Insanity or the reality of turning to glass, I think, could work either way but the notion of leaving it up in the air is what drives that uncertainty home. Good job!

Bailey said...

Okay that was weird. About halfway through all I could think was "why not just call an ambulance?" but as the transformation happens and culminates in the shattering of his mind, it all made sense and worked perfectly.

Good job!

Jay Young said...

Damn I loved this story. You really owned it throughout. A very confident, purposeful and smoothly-flowing narrative. I was pulled in completely.

Like some others, I assumed the narrator was a woman at the beginning and I thought the cantelope would turn out to be a baby, but this was so much better. I'm a sucker for glass. Great work.

LMAshton said...

Oh, that was good. Interesting and captivating.

Of course, because I'm a science fiction / fantasy kind of gal, I'm left wondering if he really did turn to glass, and if so, how, who did it, and to what end? So, really, I want to know what happens next. :)