Late at night in Oklahoma, a very small, an extremely small man ran across the road in front of my friend’s car. He does not doubt this is real, though the rest of us do, and it doesn’t bother him. He continues to paint portraits of astonishing trees each day and take long drives through the country at night. Nothing else can be learned about this mysterious incident.
On Scott Road, in Pittsburgh, which is a steep and winding city, full of good-natured people, just at the point where the road bottoms out beside a gnarled and ancient cemetery, a very small, an extremely small man ran across the road in front of my brother-in-law’s car and scrambled into the tombstones. For the purposes of this story, I will refer to my brother-in-law as Matthew. Matthew had a friend in the car with him, and both of them saw this creature pass in front of them through the headlights. Matthew is the type to downplay this kind of thing, whether he dwells on it inwardly or not. Later, another friend of his who lives on Scott Road told Matthew he heard something outside one night and when he peered through the French Doors he saw the same extremely small man leaping over the sandbox. How did he know it was the same one? I asked Matthew, and he shrugged and continued to strum an imaginary guitar, and Matthew’s unconcern is the biggest mystery of them all.
MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM
They say in the dry flats of Mongolia, underneath the burning sun, burrows the Unnameable. Four feet long, or eight feet long, or two feet long, a pale, pudgy worm the mention of which brings death. It is not necessary to touch it to be killed by it; some say it spits poison, others that it emanates rings of death, like a radio. That no one has ever caught one should be no surprise; that no one who has seen one directly can be found should also produce in you yawns of recognition. I have lost interest already, in these few lines. I have been pausing for so long after each period, and nearly as long after each comma, there’s no reason for you to still be here. There’s nothing more to learn about the worm.
I did once try to find the Unnameable, years ago, but there is not much to say about it, and nothing for you to learn by reading any more. The plains were endless, and empty, the sun pressed down with all its might on the sand. My guides fell into torpor after seven days and refused to speak. I learned more from their horses, who were ribald and entertaining. One evening as the red sun burrowed into the crumbly hills the oldest guide shrieked and fell from his saddle, clutching his eyes. A great cacophony rose up from the horses, and a rare species of bright red bat rose up from the grass. But that is where the Definitive ends. After that came nightfall. Speculation.
The riders I encountered in the desert had fabulously gaudy tents. Their horses slept in them, or stayed awake bickering, but the riders would not sleep in the tents because they had no floors. When I asked what they were afraid of, they moved their fingers across their lips as if to signify a zipper, though I never saw a zipper in Mongolia. When, one bitter morning, we entered the tents to see why the horses had not joined us for breakfast and found them all dead, the riders quailed and zipped their lips. But I was unconvinced. Many mysterious things can occur in a tent full of horses.
THE STRANGE CASE OF THE GENTLEMAN WITH WINGS
I spent as much time thinking of the future as the blue stones in the street. I grew fat and bold, but the sun rarely penetrated deeper than my ears. I stopped reading books at 20, except for subjects related to my field, but I quickly regretted that, I regretted that the moment I opened the door to my apartment and encountered the Gentleman with wings.
It was dusk when I met him at the mailbox, trying to stuff a rolled-up carpet into the slot. I looked around, but nobody else paid any attention to his leathery wings. It was the solstice again; they seemed to come around all the time, and what’s worse, it always rained. I dismissed the past year with a quick shake of the head and turned back to the extraordinary Gentleman, but he wasn’t there. I looked up and saw nothing in the sky but a balloon escaping. I was very agitated, and acted like it, until I looked closely at the carpet in the mailbox. It was fantastic. The weave was so wavy. I paused to consider taking it, forgetting the Gentleman entirely. And indeed this is the first I’ve thought of him since the day of the carpet.
Small fires erupting prismatically on the neighboring roofs. A dark, oppressive pall. An ashy steam. An absence of birds, or any sounds. A sharp moon. The Gentleman with wings stood and surveyed the damage so it appeared the moon fit snugly on him, like a hood. Nobody else even looked at him. I was amazed and I finally just said Hey, and he uncurled and loped my way. Seeming to understand my confusion, he laid his right hand on my right shoulder and took a deep breath, and opened his mouth.
The next thing I knew, I was jogging on a treadmill in a white office, with my shorts hanging low.
At dusk, on the black tar roof in the city, I met the Gentleman with wings. I spent each evening up there because of the silent community that gathered on their roofs. Only a few storey’s up and it was strangely silent. We saw each other from across the streets at our idealized, fluid speeds, at peace, or singing over the trees. The Gentleman stood with his weight on one foot and sipped an expensive beer. I was stunned, and did not know what to do with my hands, which they say is a mark of shame. If my secret stories were told both of my hands would fly away.
Everyone I know appears to know the Gentleman with wings more intimately than I, or they feign this friendship in front of me to hurt me. Even if they’re lying they’ve made their point. I saw him once, at a bicycle race, shoved right up against the tape that kept the fans from the path. He cheered along with everyone, he was just a guy enjoying speed and technology, except he was a gentleman, you could tell from his cuffs, and he had wings. We stood near each other in the spill of the wet pavement and paper cups. I said Hello, and asked him a few questions about his situation. I missed most of what he said over the cheering and deraileurs grinding, but what I heard him say was like a sermon of peace, or that is what it sounded like at the time, but now I am not so sure. And I do not know him intimately.