- WARNING: some sexual imagery
- This story first appeared in Upgraded.
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about the author…
Erin Cashier is fond of the unreliable narrator.
I’m dying to leave things at that, but —
I grew up in Texas but I live/work/play in Northern California, like all writers my cat loves me particularly much, and my husband is a fantastic man. I work as a registered nurse at a Burn Ward, which is amazing and challenging in equal measure.
The things that interest me most are Disneyland (not kidding), esoteric philosophy books, alchemy as it relates to Jungian theories, William Blake, and Super Paper Mario.
Things you should know about me: I made a special side trip to that Snake Farm between San Antonio and Austin on a recent trip to Texas, I have quite a lot of tattoos — the peacock feather images featured on this website are all actually from my backpiece — and I can eat my weight in sushi.
about the narrator… Jonathan Danz is a writer currently working on his next novel about the daughter of a coal miner who embarks on a journey across parallel dimensions to find her father who disappeared under mysterious circumstances two years ago. Jonathan lives in West Virginia with his wife, daughter, two cats and his mountain bike. jonathandanz.com
by Erin Cashier
Those were the days Geo couldn’t walk through the market without stepping on someone else’s shoe. If money wasn’t tied to waist it was zipped, and anything dropped — paper, panks, crumbs — zipped too. Geo sold junk there: stripped wires, sharp green-squares, transistors like pills. “Someone junk, someone treasure!” Geo call. Men come over to see what Geo had, comb over findings, and Geo with stick, ready to slap at zippers. Stand all day, stand half night, then walk home to hard mat shared on second floor. Kick junk man out, eat food, sleep, till day begin again.
Geo hunt for junk at old places when junk run low. Sometimes old posters hidden from rain. Posters show things that not there. Happy men, metal cages. Men touching screens. Men smiling. Like said, old posters. No smiles now.
And sometimes, girls. Some cut out, but see where shape was left. Cut here, tear there. Reach out and feel where maybe curve had been. Hold nothing in hand. Imagine, if no one watching. Geo knew girls. There, but not there, like the sun, Never touch the sun, and never touch the girls, neither.
Jon yell, “Junk, junk!” Geo with stick, watching men come by. Man comes to table. Leans over. Clothing new. Business man? Tinker man? Jon’s boy watches man’s back. Makes sure no one else steal his money before Geo can.
Geo sees glint in man’s eye. He like something he see. Geo step forward. Geo like what Geo see. “You like?”
Man’s head bows. “No, no, nothing.”
Geo knows glint. Geo knows lie.
Man scans table, sniffs. “There’s nothing here. None of this is worth anything to me.”
“I’m an artist. I can maybe use this.” Man picks up three metal bits.
Geo grunts again, waits. Watches man’s hand reach for first thing he like. Glint-thing.
“And maybe this too. How much?”
Geo point to first pile. “Four panks.” Geo look at man clothing, hair, naked chin. Points to hand. “That, too expensive for you. Put down.”
Geo hold up zip-stick. “Too pricey! Put down!”
Man’s eyes narrow. Geo offend him. He think he can afford all junk here, all table, all tent. But he do what Geo say, sets glint-thing down. Geo pick it up: round, metal, cold. Geo ask for most expensive thing Geo can think of. “Worth one night.”
Man’s eyes widen. Anger blaze. But he cannot steal from Geo here. Whole tent junk men watching. Under table, Jon step on Geo’s shoe.
Man lean over table, snatch ball from hand. “Done.”
“Go to the third tower two days from now. I’ll let them know you’re coming.” Holds up metal thing from pocket. Light flashes. Geo is blind.
When sight come back, man gone. Geo works, goes back home, lays on mat. Feels junk man’s fear. Should Geo have bargained harder?
Honeycomb Tower Three in middle of city. Girls inside. Men too. Depend on hive how many. Some hive ten to girl. Others, four, five. More money, less men.
Geo never known hive man before. Or girl. Satisfy self with other men, hand. Now Geo hand makes empty fist. Geo wonder if strange man lie.
Two days pass. Dawn. Geo travel, stand, watch Tower Three door. Men come out, men go in. No junk men.
Geo gets in line. Other men snicker. Geo ignore them, enters small room. Door close. Alone. Expect to be turn away. Another bright flash.
“You’re approved for one night, contractually obligated –” Person behind door has high voice, like dancer in the Genghi zone. Geo hears words. Doesn’t listen. At the end of them, Geo nod.
“Please take the elevator.” Door opens in front of Geo. Geo step in.
Moving! Geo hold onto walls. Door opens again, Geo jumps out, crouches. Carpet here. Hall of doors. New. No smells. No, smell of no smells. Geo creeps down hall, until a door opens. Geo looks inside.
Four men. One familiar from market. Market man seems pleased. Other men not. Geo braces. “Hello there!” Market man say.
“Hello,” Geo say back. Formal greeting. Feels official. Old.
The other men circle, angry. Geo see cats circle rat before. Like this.
“When’s the last time he bathed?” tall one asks.
“Does he even know how?” asks short one.
“He’s a man of the world,” man Geo knows say, and hits Geo’s shoulder. Geo tenses for second blow. “If he doesn’t know how, he’ll learn soon enough, you know our Sukilee.”
Last man with crossed arms, looks Geo up and down. “God, did you even do an STD check on him?”
“Not yet. He’s not up till tomorrow. ”
“What?” Crossed arms man whirl. “You’re trading me my day?”
“No. I traded him your day.”
“That’s not –”
“You’re behind on rent.”
“I’ll borrow money! I can pay you back –”
Man Geo knows shakes head. “Too late.”
“But!” Crossed arm man looks at Geo with hate. Then look at tall and short.
Tall shrugs. “This is a bad idea.”
Short shakes head. “You keep smoking quay, and we’ll kick you out, too.”
“As long as my money’s good, no one’s kicking me out,” Tall says.
“As long as you have money,” man Geo knows points out.
Geo wonders if this is fight. So many words. Room is strange, strange no smells, strange mad men. Where is girl?
Crossed arm man leaves room. Maybe go get money. Man Geo knows say, “You’re day four now. They’ll get you your STD screening.” Points to other two. One and Two. Tall and short. “You can sleep in my bed tonight, since I won’t be needing it.” Man — Day Three — points to bed.
“You’ll want to burn it tomorrow, then,” says Day One.
“Maybe so. But tonight I’ll be with Sukilee.” Day Three walks to closed door. Knocks twice. Door slides open, he enters. Door closes, before Geo can peek in.
Geo look at room. So much space. Each man own bed. Little doors on wall. Reach for one.
“Hey! You’re not moving in.” Day One slaps Geo’s hands. Geo makes fist. Day One does not. Geo let go.
“Come over here. We need some blood.” Day Two tap on table. Pick up wire. Geo go over, he grab hand. Spread out fingers. Jabs Geo.
Geo makes fist again. Looks at room. Lets go.
Bed too soft. Day One, Two talk. Ignore Geo.
Night comes. Day Three has turn. Geo crawls over to hear. Thick door. No words. Grunts, groans. Geo’s hand finds self. Thicken, spit-hand-rub, bite-lip, blood-salt. Behind door Day Three yells. Geo gushes, groans.
Day One calls from bed, “You’re a rube.”
Geo crawls back to bed. Wipe hand on sheet. Insult for sure. But why care? Tomorrow Geo’s turn.
Geo up with morning. One, Two, snore. Day Three come out. Door close quick behind.
Day Three shake head. “Soon. Wait.”
Geo waits. Day slow. Others sleep, leave, return. Play game. Stare at screen. Stare at paper.
Endless food from box. So much space. If Geo lived in hive, might never leave. Only too quiet. No junk yells here.
Geo paces. Watches door.
“Remember, she’s a shared investment.” Day Two talks. Geo pretend to listen. “Don’t hurt her. Don’t be rough with her. You hear me?”
“If you break her, we’ll break you.” Day One says. His day after Geo. Understand concern.
Stand outside the door, nod. Look to Day Three. “Just do what she tells you,” he says.
Evening comes. Door slide open. Geo goes in.
Smells sweet. Window to right. Whole wall of room gone. Just air, city, below. Geo stares out. Amazed. Frightened.
“Hello new man.” Face rises from sheets, bed to left. Face oval, pale like moon.
Covered but her face. Room has tables, chairs. Walk to table. Put down what Geo have brought. Fistful of grass. Hard to find in city. Saw man on old poster, giving to girl. And small jar of lube. Helps with men. Girls? Who know.
Girl rises out of sheets, comes over to table beside Geo. Arms like Geo’s. Legs hidden by clothes. Chest like inverted shallow bowls. Geo breathes, stands. Warned not to break her. Is girl like glass?
Her hand stirs blades of grass. She opens jar, smells, wrinkles nose.
“Who are you?” she asks.
Laughing sound. Sweet.
“Go bathe. And then, we’ll see.”
Geo stands, still. Bathe?
“Oh, come now.” She grabs Geo’s wrist. Geo’s other hand makes fist, lets it go.
Outside, rain burn. Bathing standing in filtered rain. Girl rough with Geo, scraping, scrubbing. Like no man Geo with before. Outside, when rain comes, Geo hide, not stand in it.
When done, emerge. Geo naked. Girl in wet clothes. Nipples poke out.
“Dry yourself off.” She throws fabric at Geo. So soft, like petting cat. Geo dries. She appraises. Girl sold things in past, Geo can tell.
“Come here,” girl say, walking to other room. Sinks into massive bed. Geo follows, like kitten. “Don’t you know what this is for?” she says, reaching out. Touches Geo.
“With junk man.”
She shake her head, pulls Geo down.
No edges. Soft. All the posters torn with rough brick behind. Geo never knew.
“How did you get here?” she ask. Geo beside her, tired. But this night only night. Can’t sleep yet.
“Day Three want something. I sell.”
“Oh. Oh!” She turns over. “Do you have more? Of whatever it was?”
“Can you get more?”
“Not sure.” Just solid metal ball. “Can look –”
“Do. Even if you can’t sell it to him, it might be worth something, to someone else.”
Geo nod. She is wise. Her hand touches Geo. Moves. Geo moves with her.
The next day Geo with her again. Then girl points to door. “Time to go,” she say. Her voice like chime. Geo stands, looks at girl.
“You’re my favorite,” she says. Smiles wide.
Door opens. Geo leaves.
Day One, Day Two, wait outside. Door to hallway open. But Day Three has glasses ready. Four. Hands out, all drink. Liquid burns like rain.
“Now you’re a Honeycomb Man!” Day Three says. He smiles. Day Two takes back glass. Points to hall.
Geo walk away from tower. Day is day, like night never was. Man runs out, clutches at Geo’s pants. Geo kicks him. He cowers. “How did you do it? How did you make so much money?” Old Day Four crawles after Geo. Geo ignores. “I’m her favorite! Her favorite!” he say.
Geo shakes head. Not anymore.
Junk table still there. Other junk men squint eyes. Ask later, Geo say. Ask. Eat food, ask. Sleep now, shoo, still ask.
Walk back to mat. “Look like Genghi dancer?” Jon ask. Rain comes down. Step together inside forgotten door.
“No. Yes. Different.” Geo can’t explain. Soft. Voice. Bones.
Jon laugh. Voice deep, strong.
“Worried for you. Hive men –” Jon whistles, shakes head. Geo looks at Jon. Others? Jealousy. But Jon’s eyes, sadness, fear.
“Here now. Be in me.” Geo turns towards door. Jon waits, then hands on waist. Storm thunderclap above. Geo wish Geo not left jar behind, but not long.
Go from junk place to junk place. Right of junk man, look at junk in back of tents. Junk men watch for glint. Geo controls Geo’s eyes. Two metal balls, price too high, walk away. But three of them, Geo buy.
Go to Towers. Sit by door. Waiting.
Day Three come out. Hair parted, greased. Clothes, so new. Sees Geo. Eyes squint.
Geo holds out hand. Metal clicks metal.
“Ah! You have come to do more business!” Now eyes glow. Hand reaches. “Three more nights?”
Pull back. “Two nights.” Push two balls forward. Keep back third.
Day Three smile. Teeth like hungry cat. “And?”
“Panks for this one.”
“Oh? Sukilee not good enough for you? Or, you want to spend money — join a bigger hive, get more nights out of the deal?”
No. Easy food. Clothing. No-filter water. Space to sleep. Geo open mouth. No words come out. No way to explain. Finally Geo say, “Family.”
Day Three tilts head. “Really?”
Day Three pats Geo’s back. “Fine then. Done.”
“Which day?” Geo ask.
“Still Day Four.” Take third ball from hand. “I’ll have your panks for you then, too, all right?”
“Look at you. You’re a regular businessman!”
No. Geo is junk man. Hates businessmen.
Geo goes up day early. Prick hand again.
Day One, Two, work, so they say. Both stare at screens. Doesn’t look like work to Geo.
“What’s wrong with you?” Day Two say.
Geo shrugs. “Nice junk.”
“This isn’t junk — it’s loss prevention data from the west-wall factory.”
Day One frowns. Hands junk over.
“Careful, he’ll just break it,” Day Two warn.
Geo stares at screen. Things move across it. Seen them before, on posters. Like life. Like look through hole in wall. Like look out Sukilee’s window.
“Where?” Geo asks, points at small people.
Day Two makes noise. “Don’t touch the screen.”
“It isn’t anywhere. It’s old. Taped,” Day One explain.
Tape rare. Tape nice junk. Geo turn over loss prevention data. Looks for tape on junk. Don’t find.
Soon Geo room of Sukilee again. “You’re back!”
Geo touch Geo’s chest. “Am favorite. Of course.”
She laughs. Starts bath.
It is same-different from last time. Her hands move Geo’s over strange places. Soft, rich, warm. Soon Geo collapses, spent.
Sukilee crawls out of bed, over to bottom of window. Sits naked, perched. Geo follows.
“Tell me what it’s like out there.”
What can Geo say? Told not to break her. “Hard.” Press hand to glass, look down. Her shoulders, smooth. Never been caught out in rain before.
“Are there other girls like me? Outside?”
“Men like girls, sometimes.” Dancers. Long hair. Full lips. “Not all like you, though.”
“The toilet told me I’m pregnant.” Sukilee looks up. “Do you even know what that means?”
“Me either, really.” Stands up. Takes Geo’s hand. Leads back to bed.
Every third ball, keep panks instead. Geo shows full bag to Day Three. Day Three pleased.
“What are?” Geo ask, shaking bag. Five balls inside. Four nights, many panks.
“What what? Oh! What –” Day Three take bag Geo holds. Zipper! Geo tense, relax.
Day Three pulls out one ball. Still black, metal, cold. “Have you ever seen a man take a blow to the head?”
“So you know that’s where people get their controls from, right? Too big a blow to the head, and you can’t remember where you came from, where you’re going, how to talk or see. That’s your brains inside.”
Geo sighs. Seen brains too. Do not tell this to Day Three.
“These — these are like small minds. From the old world, before the Big Burn.” Puts orb up to head. Day Three hits against skull. Laughs.
“They remember?” Geo looks at balls.
Day Three nods. “And much more.”
Geo grunts. All look same to Geo.
Geo exhaust supplies from known junk men. Go further, finish these. Soon have one night left. Could spend panks, but — Jon use panks. For food, for space. What better, Sukilee, or Jon? Girl soft, but Jon is junk man.
“This last night.” Geo tell Sukilee when door close behind.
“Really?” She sits up. “Am I going somewhere?”
“Not you. Me.” Look to window. Geo can see whole junk-world beyond city edge from Tower. All there to scavenge.
“Oh.” Sinks back down.
Geo sits. Girl’s belly round. Like dying junk man — only she healthy. So strange. “Want leave?” Geo say.
“Of course I do.” She looks up at Geo. “It’s lonely here. And I’d like to meet another girl. I want to know what’s happening to me.” Puts hand on overfull belly. “I don’t understand.”
Don’t know unsafe food. Don’t know burning rain. Geo imagine her outside. Torn apart by men. Like rats on dying cat. Geo pets her hair. “Better here.”
Shake head. “Sorry. Better. Not much. Better.”
“The others won’t tell me about their outsides. Only you.”
“Junk man, good man. Hive men, eh.” Geo waves hand in air, leans over, spits.
Morning comes. Geo exits. Sukilee wave good-bye.
“Well, I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Day Three say.
“Time done.” Geo shrugs.
“If you happen to find anymore –”
Geo shakes head. Walks out. Won’t cling to any legs.
Months later, Geo with Jon. Whole room on top of building. Room as big as tower room. Two other junk men here besides.
On clear day, Geo climb to roof. Look out at Tower.
Jon follows. “What better there?”
Geo smiles at him. “Food.”
Jon snorts. “Buy better food.” Jon takes hand, pulls Geo’s chin. “Tower done. Stay here.”
Geo wonders what Day it is. Shakes head. Being junk man better than hive man.
But panks run low. Need find more junk.
Easy junk nearby all gone. Good junk far, dangerous.
People live in junk. City life hard, junk life harder. Sometimes walk in junk, floor break. Fall onto metal spear below. Geo seen that. Took shoes. Dead man need no shoes. Rain too much? Eat through your tent at night. Filtration system stop? No good water. Run out of food? Can’t eat metal. Rats eat metal. Rats try eat Geo, too.
Crazy men live in deep junk. Rat-men. Live like rats. Die like rats. Rat-men kill over junk. Rat-men kill over shoes.
Men die in junk every day. Still — Geo is junk man. Finding junk what junk man do.
Forage deep, long. Uncharted places. Find good junk. Thick wires. Shiny tubes. Glass cups — pack in dirt — heavy, but easy-safe. Tinkers like wire, tinkers love glass.
First part of being junk man is listen. Enter place quiet. Stay quiet. Hear for danger. Sound of rat? One, two? Many? Run. Sound of people — turn away. Quiet as came in, leave.
New room. Set bag down, hide it. Crawl into new junk. Turn body flat like knife, squeeze. Pop out in cavern. Pool of water in center. Wait, listen. Then slowly, breathe.
Walk to edge of water. In center, layer of balls. Reach out, barely touch water.
Reach in and grab three balls. Lick water off back of hand.
Sound — scuffle — hit on side. Tumble down. Scrape face. Splash in.
“Who are you? Who sent you here?” Rat-man stands over Geo. Face twitching. Hands on Geo’s shoulders, holding down. Air bubbles up. Breathe water. Now, water burn. “Who sent you here?” Rat-man yells, shakes.
Geo brings hand with metal balls up. Bash Rat-man in face, twice. Rat-man shakes, falls down, into pool. Geo stands, coughs. Hears echoes. Listens. Waits.
Geo looks down. Rat-man’s blood colors water. Geo runs to drink from other side, safe.
Geo fills up pockets and pants full of balls. Soon rats come for Rat-man. Geo won’t be here when they do.
Geo goes back to city, to Towers. Pockets full. Door opens, lets Geo in.
Geo walks down hall. Day One and Day Two, inside, surprised.
“How’d you get in?”
Day Two look to Day One. “That’s it — we’re switching Towers.”
Both are packing. “Going?” Geo say.
“We’re joining another hive.” Day Two push things into bag with force. “And you’re not coming with us.”
Fewer days? Or could Geo be Day One, Two and Four?
Day One grimace. “Sukilee’s gone.”
“Where?” Geo ask.
Day One shrug. Day Two keep packing.
Geo sits inside Tower, alone. All doors open. Geo goes into Sukilee’s room. Nothing gone but her.
Geo sighs. Should always be allowed to take things with you.
Until those things get left behind. Then they are junk.
Geo sleeps in Geo’s bed, and eats food from box. How much food can Geo carry down? Or water?
Door opens. Geo jumps up.
“Oh! I didn’t expect to see you!” Day Three say. Comes into room, dragging big box behind.
“Sukilee?” Geo ask. Frown at box.
“Oh, she had to go. I’m sorry. If I’d known you were coming back, I would have warned you.” Day Three haul box into room.
Day Three lift hands. “Where all the women go, when it’s their time.”
“But coming back?”
“Not to here.”
Geo makes belly in front of stomach. “What happened?”
Day Three sighs. “I — well — it’s hard to explain. She had to extrude a baby.”
Seen cats extrude kittens. Geo say so.
“Yes — like that, only — men. No time to be a child. Not here, not anymore.”
Don’t remember being extruded. Day Three says that’s the point. Wasn’t. Was made whole, like all workers. Made ready to work.
“To sell junk?”
“Sure. Of course. Just like I was made to be a scientist.” Day Three say. Smiles.
Geo shakes head, turns to go.
“Look, Geo, you’ve really helped me here.” Day Three say. “I’d like to help you, too.” Turns, looks at room. “Give me five days here. Come back in five days, and bring friends. This room fits four nicely, doesn’t it?”
Geo squints at him. “No Day Three?”
“No, not anymore. There’s new Towers to be built. But you’ll always be welcome here.” Day Three clap on back again.
Geo hates that.
Day five. Take Jon’s boy, and his boy, and Geo up to Tower. Dancer voice let all in.
When get to room, Day Three waiting. “Hello!” Jon jump back. Geo laugh.
“Please, come in.” Day Three back away. Sleeping mats new. Floor mat new. Wall-paint new. Door to Sukilee’s room closed. Day Three close hall door behind Geo. “You are all Honeycomb men now, gentlemen!” Day Three announces. Walks to Sukilee’s door. Taps on it. Door opens. Day Three goes inside.
Door does not close behind him.
Jon’s boy looks inside. Whistles.
“Hello gentlemen!” says girl-voice. Boys, Jon, go in. Geo goes last.
Girl stand at far wall. Hair lighter, chest bigger. “Hello gentlemen,” she say again.
Cable come out of foot. Sukilee did not have cable.
Day Three watches Geo. “See? She’s ten times more efficient now, Geo. She doesn’t need to sleep, or eat — she can even have more than one visitor at a time, even, eh? We’re building new towers, with bigger rooms, we won’t be limited by birth rates and ages or STD’s. Soon everyone will be in a tower.”
Geo crosses arms. “Where Sukilee?”
“Not important anymore.” Day Three shake head. “You’ve helped change the face of the world, Geo. And you don’t even know it.” Walks over to girl. Touches her. She giggles. “But don’t worry Geo. I’m very gracious. I know I couldn’t have done it without your support.” Day Three walks back and takes Geo’s hand. Squeezes it. Geo doesn’t giggle. “You’ll always have a room at the Towers, on me.” Day Three say, then leaves. Boys poke girl. Jon whistles low.
Geo walks to window. Stare out at junk.
Two days. Boys still inside girl room. Sound like cat with other cat.
Jon sits with Geo outside, eating noodles. Door opens. Day Two comes in.
“I left something here.” Looks at new room. “Wait, what’s all this?” Reaches for sleeping mat.
Jon jumps up, knifes him, before Geo can say no.
Watch him slump to floor. Open mouth. Geo toes corpse.
Don’t have zip-hands, first rule. Don’t mess with junk man, second.
Four days. Geo decides to bathe. Knock on door, opens. Walk inside. Boys asleep on floor. Girl rises up.
“Hello gentleman!” she say.
“What service can I perform for you today?”
Girl stares. Doesn’t blink.
“What service can I perform for you today?”
“Want bath.” Geo walk towards bathroom.
“I’m sorry, I can’t go in there.” girl says after Geo.
“That fine,” Geo say. Closes door.
Two weeks later, boys sleep in living room again. Girl spend nights alone. Sukilee would be scared of alone. But girl not Sukilee.
Jon look to Geo over second bowl of noodles. Getting belly. Like Sukilee. Better food nice.
“Eh.” Put bowl down. “Miss junk table. Miss stick. Miss dancers.”
Jon’s boy point out girl can dance. Jon narrows eyes. “Not same.”
“We could sell junk.”
“Girl. Junk.” Jon say. Boys protest. Jon’s eyes narrow.
Geo knows it true.
Geo still has ball. Goes into girl room, alone.
“Hello gentleman! What service can I perform for you today?”
“Where is this?” Hold up ball.
Girl blank stare. “I don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Take off clothes.”
Girl comply. Stand naked. Face flat.
Find spot on back. Leverage with knife. Pop out panel. But not ball inside. Wires, thick and thin. Metal poles. Plastic.
Try to put panel back in. Won’t fit. Struggle.
Junk man know how to take junk apart. But only tinker man can put it back together again.
Jon trades extra noodles at market. Boys go with him. Make panks selling water. Geo alone in tower. Take bath.
Junk girl talks. Geo don’t listen. Stand at window. Naked. Drying.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” girl say. Geo looks over shoulder at girl. Looks at city below. Looks at junk beyond.
Day Three think men want hive. Want girl. But junk-girl not girl. Junk men know junk when see it.
Men leave towers. Day, month, year. Nothing here. Then Geo gracious.
Then Geo welcome Day Three down in the junk.