The Man loved the staircase. It was his favorite part of the house. A free floating spiral structure with a cylindrical hanging light that spread his shadow around the walls. It made him look like an explosion. Sometimes he would stand there for hours and stare at this disassembly. Sometimes it was all he did.
He never felt like the house was haunted. After his reconstruction, when he was something new, he could not remember the events. He had either died or been born. Perhaps there was no difference; oblivion was left in his wake.
He woke up one night because of the cold. It ate through his bones under the sheets.
For a while he simply watched his breath materialize as wet exhaust. Then he got up and walked to the staircase. Standing there he radiated his arrangement of shadows. He moved his body like a marionette, observed how the dark reflections of himself jerked and swayed in response. He took notice of each and every piece. He could not decide which dictated which. His self or the image of himself. And there in the dewy cold night on the top of the stairs it began. He noticed something odd in his shadows, an intangible difference that puzzled him. The silhouette of his right arm was not where the light demanded it be. It was missing.
He checked that it was still part of his body. It was not. He felt the shoulder joint the arm had once called home. It was now a smooth lump of flesh with a nub of perfectly round bone underneath.
With his remaining arm he removed his shirt and stood there. Somehow the lack of the body part did not disturb him; he was in fact comforted by a sense of warmth that pervaded him and seemed to radiate outwards, heating the environment. He descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. With his one remaining arm he made himself a sandwich and stared at the wall of darkness outside the window. He noticed something floating in the window’s glassy surface. His missing arm, perfectly represented in the black square where his own reflection should be. He had no words for it. He touched the window: it felt like a window. The arm remained preserved within the span of night. Than daylight came and obliterated it. He watched this happen, sitting on a stool in his white linoleum kitchen. He ate a sandwich that tasted like buttery joy.
The Man stopped going to his custodial job at the research laboratory. He started dabbling in arts and crafts at his own leisure. He became remarkably adept at using only his left arm. He found a rare talent in that neglected appendage that had always been hidden by the relentless tyranny of his dominant arm. With the dominant appendage removed from the equation he discovered his left arm had a rather devastating talent for art. With unfettered delight it proceeded to fill canvases with wonderful swirls of yellow and blue oils, the end result being abstract fields of flowers underneath a green sky. He no longer felt gnawing existential hunger. He no longer felt the need to compulsively masturbate. He attempted compulsive masturbation several times but was thwarted by a stark refusal from his left arm. It simply refused to function normally in the event of masturbation, leaving his junk mashed and sore. It didn’t matter: his junk was the next thing to go.
The next day the man woke up on the floor covered in blue morning light. His crotch was a smoothed spongy patch without the burden of greedy nerve endings. For several childlike moments he practiced punching himself.
He found the missing organ that night while cleaning out the pornographic material from his basement. It was his intention to burn such things. And so he did, rather absentmindedly, on the concrete floor of his cellar. And there he saw it. The frozen representation of his missing penis floating in the fire fueled reflection cast upon the cellar window, a wilted red thing that now looked like a pair of fleshy eyes and a long bulbous nose. The smell of burning porn bothered him enough to retreat from the basement. He no longer thought of his missing Johnson. He felt wonderfully sexless.
In the coming days The Man discovered wonderful new things about himself. His mind became a peaceful nest of sensitivity and empathy. For the first time he found himself truly capable of listening and more importantly caring about what people had to say. Especially women. He had never been able to fully speak or listen to women. In all instances something would distract him, born from the fact that he would at some point, in any conversation or exchange, think about reproducing. Without the burden of sexual thought the Man found himself to actually be quite the ladies’ man, or as much of a ladies’ man as a one armed, de-johnsoned individual could be.
On several occasions he created deep and heartfelt relationships with such women. They of course viewed him as something completely asexual and non-threatening, which he eventually found to be okay. In fact, he felt pretty damn special knowing he was non-threatening. He felt it beat being a lot of other things in the world. He could have been a mass murderer: by chance he was not. And he still had the talents of his rapturous left arm that could show things to the minds and hearts of the world. Being able to show rapturous things to the hearts and minds of the world made him feel happy.
The Man’s dopey sense of peace evaporated when he woke up one morning to find his beautiful arm removed from his torso. At first he met this development with extreme anger. He exploded through his house checking the windows for the stolen appendage. He foamed at the mouth and chewed bath towels. He found the missing appendage in the living room where it hung open-palm in the glass of a French window. He begged the French window to return the arm to him. With his teeth he dragged one of his lovely paintings to the living room and showed it to the window. He gesticulated wildly at the fantastic oil painting; he showed the window how he had swirled pink azaleas with his thumb, how he had created hazy summer distance with gentle love touches; he tried to explain three-point perspective; he tried to show how each moment of elegant precision given to him by his glorious arm was a pure extension of his soul. The window didn’t really care. It did not appreciate hazy summer distance. It did not understand three-point perspective.
In his rage The Man did what any normal, armless individual would do. He accosted the expertly crafted French window with his head, butting repeatedly till his face was a ruin and the window was smeared with homeless blood. This did not move the thoughtless window to benevolent restitution. It did however knock the man unconscious. When he woke he no longer had a tongue.
It was at this juncture in The Man’s disassembly that people began to take notice. After losing his arms and tongue the man cut a rather obvious figure, an obvious figure that lacked the communicative tools to explain away his situation. The throngs of intellectually romanced women would often find him cackling absent-mindedly outside his house, howling as if the residence itself had done him some great disservice. The Man was no longer wearing clothes. The throngs of women collectively decided that perhaps the man had donated parts of himself to science. Science was perhaps rather villainous in its acceptance of such valuable pieces. But it didn’t really affect their well-being, so eventually the women forgot about The Man and stopped bringing him things like muffin baskets and self-validation. The Man became something of a pariah. He stopped being known by people and thus stopped being a person.
It was eventually hunger that redeemed The Man from his cackling depression. Fueled by his need to feed, The Man found that his legs had become remarkably toned and athletic; his eyes had become sharper; his ears more deft and sensitive; his nose awoken to the hidden smells of the universe. With his awakened senses and newfound agility the man learned to stalk the woods near his home like a predator. At top speeds he found he could outpace deer; he found he could leap upon their backs and bite their necks open; he found he could savagely consume their raw and grisly flesh; he found they tasted like copper and happiness.
And so The Man stopped being a man. He became instead a wild hunter-beast that ruled a forest kingdom. He was not entirely devoid of his former self. At dusk and dawn he often found himself in high-up places, marveling at the changing of the light. He saw in these moments the very beast-heart of Earth, mother Gaia uncloaked in chthonic nudity; the sky progressing from the deepest blue to the softest gold through gradients of color imperceptible to the human eye. How the sky itself had a smell, the cold and clean smell of pine and water. And in these hours of rest he comprehended the most purely felt peace. The peace of green fir trees as they swayed in dawn’s heartfelt breeze. He no longer experienced time like a human. He experienced time like an animal, and so he lived an eternity running through nature with the wind in his hair.
One sad day the Former-Man-Current-Beast woke without his legs. His humanity came crashing back. He found himself immobile save for his mouth and his torso which he could twitch. He was neither shocked nor surprised: this was inevitability. He found that he was crying. He found that he was awash in thankful melancholy that he had the joy of the forest in his past. Then he went blind.
And so the Once-Again-Man proceeded to wiggle and mouth himself back to his home. The passage was arduous. The roots and rocks of the forest floor clawed at his body, tearing horrible wounds in his soft needy flesh, as if the forest could not yield him back unwillingly. Yet he continued. The flesh was constantly stripped from his stomach till his ribs glistened in the ruddy mess that was his body. Yet he continued. When it became too much he used his mouth. He pulled himself forward with great chomps of grass and dirt. It tasted beautiful. And he continued.
The journey took three days. After the first night he lost his ears. He could not hear the animals that came to witness his passage. They stood at a distance, their ancient minds possessed of a great sadness. None tried to eat him; none tried to help him. Not till the third and final day when his mouth closed up, did a lone wolf proceed to lick his wounds with a tenderness that made The Man cry. He did not have the eyes to show it but his heart bawled with loving appreciation. And finally, when The Man somehow rolled his sightless unfeeling body up the porch steps and into the door, the animals turned and retreated into their green depths. Thus did they worship their fallen king.
And so The Man returned to the place that had claimed him. He did not have the faculties to see the fragments of his body which now littered each and every window of his home. But the pieces were suspended in timeless reflection: the notches of his spine lost amongst the kaleidoscopic twinkle of the chandelier, embedded in shadows like bone stars; his tongue lolling amidst amorphous wax in the halogen glow of a lava lamp; his teeth and finger nails visible in the soft corners and shine of plates and coffee mugs; his heart pumping dimly in the spiritless Plexiglas on his microwave; lost nerve endings erupting like lighting storms in the sectioned eyes of flies swarming around porch lights. He felt himself heaved and expanded, a man turned into a pulsing cloud.
For several days The Man waited to die. He was tremendously peaceful. He had a timeless sensation of floating. He did not realize that his torso was the last piece to depart, leaving only a nondescript ball of pink flesh on the floor, at the base of the staircase where he once so vapidly stared at the nothingness within him. Now as a simple piece, he was so much purer than he had ever before; a mind in a fleshy ball waiting for the thoughts to dim and die. Waiting for the light that he himself created to be expunged by the foreword tread of cosmic information. He could not see what it was that happened around him. How the pieces in the windows somehow materialized and reformed into a headless body that sought him for days on end. Staggering around the house in unseeing desperation until the day its familiar hands wrapped around him and placed him upon its neck. From his rightful perch The Man saw the world re-grow around him. His eyes and mouth emerged from the flesh with a gentle puckering sound. He could again hear the wind. He could again taste the air. And so he was made whole. There remained though, a certain sensation of disembodiment, as if he was no longer in control of the ship; as if he existed mostly in a single piece of himself, a certain arm he had developed affection for.
The Man found himself out on the grass watching his house burn. From the window his shadow stood watching. It waved to him once and then it too burned.
He went on to a life without memory. He existed in pieces and moments. One day he died and some people said some things about him.
John Waterfall is a writer living in Manhattan and a graduate of the New School’s creative writing MFA program. His interests include genre fiction and literature about animals. A proud father of two cats and one baby girl. His work can be found in Jersey Devil Press, Crack the Spine, Drunk Monkeys, and Coffin Bell. Twitter @JohnCWaterfall.