Issue #85

Winter 2023

New Adam and King of the Crows

by Salvatore Difalco

New Adam

No one knew about the latex mask Adam had made from a plaster mold of his own head by a local cinema effects outfit specializing in such things. No one knew it had not come cheaply and took two weeks to complete, not including the enhanced detailing by a master mask-maker that consumed another week and more capital. The result of their collective efforts covered a mannequin head on Adam's vanity table staring blankly. He'd not yet figured out the eyes, whether to use expensive prosthetics that matched his own or to improvise. Golf balls, for instance, were too large, stretching the eye sockets monstrously. Moreover, he'd not yet decided what to use for the head's stuffing. The artists at the effects studio thought a Styrofoam mold of his head would do the trick; but when the cost of that proved prohibitive, they suggested a volleyball; and though the size of a standard volleyball corresponded to that of his head, its roundness lowered the face's nasal root and accentuated the zygomatic arches, as well as causing the eyelids to attenuate. He'd have to wear his thinking cap a while longer to figure out the head.

No one knew about the body, either. How could they? All wrapped up with themselves. Living in their buzzing, antiseptic bubbles, unconscious, oblivious. What could they know? They could not know that the body's construction had proven straightforward but exceedingly time-consuming. Or that he had selected chicken wire to independently fashion the torso, the legs, and then the arms. With a tape measure, wire-cutters and pliers, he snipped and manipulated the chicken wire until he formed a torso with a forty-inch chest like his own. Then he snipped and shaped two legs to his dimensions, stuffing a pair of nylon stockings with plastic wrap, threading them into the legs, and pulling out the feet to accommodate the footwear he had yet to determine—he was thinking black boots. Then he performed the same task to make the arms.

No one knew he had attached the limbs to the torso with twists of wire and used several rolls of duct-tape to completely sheathe and bind the body, until it resembled one of those do-it-yourself robots; and no one knew it made it difficult for him to envisage a life-like creation that would be an enhanced and perfected self-replacement. No one knew that by aping the efforts of the demiurges in the cosmogonies of the Gnostics, Adam yearned to create a new self, but one that would not fail or succumb to temptation.

Adam walked to the living room where he stretched out on the chesterfield and switched on the television. Dark City was on, not the cartoonish remake, but the 1950s noir flick, with a young Charlton Heston playing a clean cut thug. None other than Jack Webb, better known for his monotone Joe Friday in the television series Dragnet, plays Augie, one of Heston's shady crew...

Soon enough Adam dozed off. He dreamed his new self was walking stiffly through flames with the Charlton Heston of The Ten Commandments—after Moses descends transfigured from Mount Sinai. The flames did not burn them. They walked through them hand in hand, unscathed. They walked together in perfect synchronicity. No one would ever know about the dream of Adam's new self, walking with Moses through the flames. No one would ever know how beautiful it was, how transformative, how painless.


King of the Crows

Caesar sits at his kitchen table and thinks: I'm not going to move today. I'm going to stay right here and not move a muscle. And nothing can make me move. He flattens his hirsute forearms on the table, clasps his hands together, and stares out the kitchen window and the sun-dappled bough of the maple tree beside the house. Black squirrels leap from branch to branch. Autumn birds squawk and zip about. His mohair blanket falls to the floor. He gathers it and tucks it around him. He isn't even getting started today, no sir. He's going to sit there and stare out that window till sunset. Then he'll go straight back to bed.

He hasn't thought this through.

After twenty minutes, he rushes to the sink, fills a glass with water, and drains it so quickly he almost vomits. As he rests his hands on the sink edge reeling, a gleaming crow lights on a branch jutting from the maple bough. Its feathers undulate like the scales of a black fish. Quick head twists and angry eyes indicate the crow means business. Other birds veer clear. The crow's confidence annoys Caesar, and makes him feel inferior.

He sits down again, checks the copper-faced clock above the window—only nine.

After an hour, clouds move in; the birds fall silent. Caesar begins to fidget. Despite his resolve, hunger drives him to the refrigerator. He makes a cheese sandwich, wolfs it standing, and washes it down with milk. He sits again and suddenly begins to cry. Surprised, he covers his face. Sounds of his own sobbing embarrass him. His shoulders shake; tears splash. Half blind with this unspecified and unexpected sorrow, he rises, rips a paper towel from the roll by the sink, and blows his nose.

Knocking ensues at the front door.

Peering out the stained glass glazing, Caesar discerns a figure standing there in a black velvet gown with scalloped rows resembling feathers, the face obscured. The figure knocks again. This time Caesar glimpses the face and—to his horror—it looks like a plague doctor mask, beaked and black, the eyes gold-rimmed onyx coins.

The figure knocks again.

Caesar palms his heart and feels it thumping.

"Open the door," the figure intones in a resonant basso profundo. "I know you're there, sir. Be not afraid. Just a word, and I will leave you be."

"Whatever you're selling, not interested."

"I am not who you think I am."

"Don't care. Now beat it."

The figure departs.

Caesar hesitates before opening the door and checking the street. He sees no one. Then he spots movement behind the oak tree on the front lawn.

"I see you!" he cries.

When the figure jumps out, Caesar thinks it's a man costumed for a Goth festival or early Halloween cosplay. But when the figure flexes its great wings and starts hopping toward him, yellow talons gouging the grass, something tells Caesar this is no costume. Frightened, he considers running—but how far could he get in his fucking house slippers?

"Rest assured," the crow says. "I am not here to hurt you."

"Then what're you here for?"

"Listen," the crow says. "I have but one thing to say to you. Ready? Extraordinary things don't always happen to extraordinary people."

Caesar rears his head. "And what the hell does that mean?"

"It means what it means," the crow says. "Now, take care of yourself."

And with that, he flaps his enormous wings and takes flight, soaring higher and higher until he dwindles to a dark speck and ducks behind a cloud.

Caesar heads back in and puts a kettle on the stove. As the water heats, he stares at the maple tree; its russet leaves gently fall, one after the other. No squirrels appear, no birds. The kettle whistles and he fills a red china mug with water and steeps a bag of chamomile tea in it. After a time, he presses the teabag with a teaspoon, removes it by the string, and dumps it in the trash can. Then he takes a squeezable honey bottle from the cupboard and squirts some into the tea. He stirs, blows over the rim, and sips.

He stands by the sink, mug in fist. Black clouds have muscled in on the sky. Thunder rumbles in the distance like the hammering of giants. Locked in a dark frieze, the neighborhood sits silent and motionless. The red-bearded neighbor, Mr. Cornelius, stands by the side of his house in denim dungarees holding a hedge-trimmer but doing nothing with it. Caesar waves. Mr. Cornelius waves back. It's like that.

Author Bio

strange bird

Salvatore Difalco's work has appeared in print and online. He is the author of five books, including Minotaur and Other Stories (Truth Serum Press). His story "Hip Hip Hooray" appeared in Issue 65 of The Cafe Irreal; "Four Stories" appeared in Issue 68; "The Little Dollhouse Company" and "Gitane" appeared in Issue 70; and "Three Stories" in Issue 78.