05 March 2010

"New Sensation"

By Curtis C. Chen

Arthur always closes his eyes when he uses the bathroom. Arthur has a vivid and somewhat morbid imagination, and he's often thought about how he might have to live if he were blinded, or deaf, or paraplegic.

He's thought about these things since he was ten years old, broke his leg, and spent a month on crutches. He's decided that being blind would be the worst sensory handicap—he delineates separate categories for physical and mental disorders—and so, as both preparation for a possible future mishap and a challenge for himself, he closes his eyes when going to the bathroom.

After he started doing this, Arthur began noticing things he might not have paid much attention to if he'd just been looking at where he put his hands. He knows if someone else has used the sink recently, because the metal faucet is still warm from hot water running through it. He can tell by touch if that person was his father, who leaves a trail of water droplets from the basin to the towel rack; or by smell if it was his mother, who always uses the vanilla-scented hand lotion after she washes up.

Today, Arthur is sitting on the toilet when he hears a short, sharp, crackling noise. He listens closer, keeping his eyes closed. After a moment, he realizes that the dishwasher, which had been running in the kitchen down the hall, has gone silent.

Arthur opens his eyes to complete darkness. He waves his hands in front of his face, touches his nose, but can't see anything. He thinks it must be a power outage, something which happens a few times every winter in their neighborhood.

But what is that soft buzzing noise he hears when he turns his head? And that prickling sensation against his skin when he moves his arms?

Arthur reaches behind himself to flush the toilet, but the lever resists his action, even when he leans all his weight on it. He tries to stand, but his crumpled pants are like iron chains around his feet.

"Huh," he says, and feels that odd prickling in his mouth, like the bubbles from carbonated soda popping on his tongue. He takes a breath and feels the tingle in his nostrils. He exhales, and there it is again, pinpricks all around the inside of his lips.

It's as if something has frozen everything in place outside of Arthur's body. Is that even possible? The prickling might be the collision of gas molecules against his skin as he moves through the air...

Arthur wonders if the whole world has been frozen, or if this is a local effect, and why he's not affected. He considers knocking on the door or calling out, but if the air molecules aren't moving very far, nobody's going to hear him. Even if they're not also frozen.

He supposes it's most likely that he's just going crazy, but it's more interesting to imagine the alternatives. And it gives him something to do. At least he won't be bored.


Photo: the only toilet facilities in Miniland, LEGOLAND California, April, 2008.

03 March 2010

100 Stories for Haiti available now

Photo by Bridge House Publishing, via Greg McQueen

OUT NOW: The charity anthology 100 Stories for Haiti, featuring my story "The Stories We Tell Ourselves," short fiction from 99 other writers around the world, and an introduction by Nick Harkaway.

Buy the paperback now at retail bookshops in the UK, or online from Amazon and other booksellers. It's also available as an eBook, for which you choose your own price.

All proceeds go to benefit the British Red Cross' earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. (If this effort raises more money than can be reasonably and efficiently spent, any surplus funds will go to the British Red Cross Disaster Fund.)