The following story is a selection from World Unknown Review Volume III.
A Good One
by Nick Manzolillo
The storyteller stretches back and reaches into the dark, where they glow. They sense the writer coming as they snap to attention and form a line that curves into a semi circle, a crescent moon, as the teller of tales stands before them with crossed arms and narrowed eyes. A half naked pirate with a sweat soaked red bandana pressed tight against his skull tosses a bag of coins up into the air as he swaggers in formation. The pirate’s grin speaks for the violet lipstick on his cheek. There is the puffy, neon blue form of a bundled up Arctic explorer whose without an inch of skin showing as she gasps and shakes stalagmites of ice off her gear, the barbed ends of her boots and the frosted coils of rope dangling from her pack. It is as if she hiked herself all the way here, into the abyss of creation. Beside the explorer there is an old bearded man in flannel, with fresh blood splashed across his face and a cinnamon stick between his grinning teeth. Beside him is a little boy in a bathing suit and cowboy hat and then there is a teenage Asian girl with a black gas mask sealing off her face and there are so many holes in her jeans they may as well be some sort of dress. Behind the characters, there are the blurry and shimmering, humanoid half shapes of specters and ideas on the ghostly verge of creation. The storyteller leans back, meeting each of their eyes. “Now who has a story worth telling?”
The crazy, blood splattered old man steps forwards just before the little boy by his side can place his hands confidently on his hips and speak up. “Do you know what I’ve done? Do you know how many I’ve sung to? Do you want to hear it? My song, my night-time song for the circles of silver in the middle of the forest, let me show you this place, this perfect place where I am your pain and you can talk to me and we can even sing together while the Moon Shack hums just out of sight… “ The man is gripping the storyteller by the cheek, squeezing and puckering his lips but the storyteller doesn’t look into the man’s eyes, doesn’t tremble with fear or show signs of discomfort at the violation to his face. The creator’s eyes look through the dripping crimson sticking to the old mans beard.
“I know all you’ve done. I know your song, I hear it when I drive along the backwoods roads and fields when the moon is at its most ominously brightest. I know you are a one note lunatic who sings the same song as all the other lords of the asylum, and you are a cheap thrill I shall save for when I am broken.” From the old man’s empty place in the half circle comes a thin wispy tendril of something that almost exists as it grabs the madman full of song by his ankle. He’s snatched away so fast it’s as if he were never here at all. The storyteller, unfazed, steps forward with blank lips as he places a hand on the shoulder of the girl in the gas mask. “I confess, I am most curious about you.”
“I am the survivor. Do you want to look at my face? Do you want to see my tears? They don’t stop.” The girl in the gas mask holds her hands up to the round end of her plastic face and tilts it up ever so lightly. Her voice is of the fading reception of a walkie-talkie. “I am alone, because I don’t need anyone. They have all hurt me. They took Yatsu, when the bombs were falling. They used it as an excuse. They left me in the rubble, beside my parents. My father’s hand was still on my mother’s throat. I won’t tell you about the war, because that doesn’t matter, that’s not even half the story. I won’t tell you about Yatsu, or the men that took her, because I will never get my revenge, because they are already dead. I will tell you about the dreams I have been having and the special kind of radiation that slowly falls like microscopic snowflakes over the countries with hungry imaginations and fat stomachs.”
The storyteller seems impressed, for a moment. “You are special. You are a strange thing, growing in the middle of a desert. People will listen to you just because they are curious. They will eat up your mysteries and feel like they understand….until you take off your mask. Show me your face.” The girl in the mask shakes her head. “As I thought. You don’t have a face. You are a mystery, a fish hook that leads into the wide, open, endless sky.”
“My tears are real!” The mask is cast aside, dangling from the girl’s thin, claw-like fingers as a ball of pulsing shadow sits atop her shoulders in place of her head.
“No, they aren’t, not yet. They will be, one day, maybe soon. But not yet.” The storyteller turns toward the Arctic explore as the shadow grows, swallowing up the girl until there is nothing left. The explorer flips back her puffy hood and sheds away her goggles. Her hair is gone and her eyes reflect the disease that eats away at her beneath her gear, her armor.
“You almost don’t even have to speak. I can feel you.” The storyteller says with hands shoved into loose pockets.
“I don’t care. I am already legend.” The woman flips back her hood and slides on her goggles. “I will never stop.”
“What’s waiting for you in the snow?”
“It’s not snow, it’s freezing ash. Something’s eating the world and the sun is leaving, pulling the plug. There’s something in my blood these desperate, lonely scientists can use, long as I’m still alive to bring it to them. I am not special. I am one of a million. I will not stop until I save everyone and die.” The storyteller can tell the women is smiling through the folds of her coat clenched over her mouth.
“You can’t say no to a dying hero…nobody ever has….” The storyteller muses just as the pirate speaks up, drawing his sword.
“What about the underdog? I’ll make you laugh and snort down from your high horse.” The pirate tosses his sack of coins into the air and then swings his blade like a baseball bat as chunks of gold are scattered past the storyteller and into the void. “I’m who every woman craves.” The pirate reaches towards the boy in the cowboy hat and plucks it off his head, staring at it for a single moment before tossing it back down to the boy’s bare feet. “And I am who every man wants to be. I am not just a pirate, a slash slinging buccanner. I am a family man, I have a wife.” The pirate rubs away at the lipstick on his cheek. “I have a business, a proper business ya see and I sneak away from my trim and proper life every three months to sail and steal and kill the bad soulless men of the mysterious sea. I have seen the unreal things and the beasts that make the waves and spin the winds. I love and hate, fear and brave. Once you have me all figured out, I surprise you. Always.”
“You’re a liar, but everything you say is true. People will follow you anywhere, especially with a foaming mug in their hand.” The storyteller looks from the pirate with a beaming smile to the shivering explorer and then, taking a knee, the storyteller bends to the boy with the cowboy hat and bathing suit.
“I want to say your still growing. That you’re the first chapter of a saga, but you’re not quite there yet. You’re still living your flashback. Tell me, why should I choose you?” The boy tilts his cowboy hat down over his eyes and stands up on his tip-toes as he whispers into the storytellers ear so that the other two characters won’t hear him.
“I’m everything you never got chance to do, I’m everything you’ve forgotten. I am the promises you screamed and then forgot to keep. I’m a cowboy, now, not later. There’s an adventure, waiting for me. There’s a bubblegum river, a mean crow as big as a jet plane and there’s a horse that loves to sing and is looking for its family. There’s a war between men of stone and walking tree’s that I need to break up. There are friends and enemies to make, and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll fall in love with somebody just like me. I can’t do this without you, though. I can’t.” The storyteller stands up, stares into the eyes of the pirate and the dying explorer, and they look away. The storyteller takes the boy’s hand and leads him away, towards the waking light. With a turn of the head, the storyteller tells the other two it will not be much longer now. Soon everyone’s story will be told.
Nick Manzolillo is a Rhode Island native that finds himself living in Manhattan. His writing has appeared both online and in anthologies such as Thuglit, Wicked Witches, and Death and Decorations. He is currently earning an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University.