It wasn’t easy being born.
The golem of the Fata Morgana struggled naked and alone, knees tucked to his chin, lying on a polished stone floor.
He was wet, that was it. A pink starfish of blue-veined fingers covered with moist translucent skin filled his field of vision. The fingers glistened. He wiggled them.
Mine. My fingers.
He tried to lick the wet from his fingers. My tongue. My taste, then, but a barrier. There is something between me and me. This is my hand and I am wet. He licked himself again, this time a knee. He sucked at it. The pliant membrane pulled away, leaving a blister filled with colorless fluid.
Some sort of covering is covering me and I am in it.
The observation pleased him.
I am in a placental sac and the sac is filled with fluid.
And with me, of course; I am in here.
How did I know that?
This is ME; I am thinking.
The blister he had raised wrinkled, shrank, and reformed itself to tight flawlessness over the pink, perfect knee. He caught at the membrane covering his hand and pulled at it with his teeth. Its further reaches gave and stretched, conforming. There was a feeling of tightness all over his body.
Body. My body. All of this is me.
Discovery and pride.
The pleasure at his body fled before panic at confinement, at being trapped in the sac. He pulled again and it stretched again but did not separate or tear. The tightness was tighter.
I’ve got to get out of this.
Frantic, he shook his head from side to side, a negation. This loosened the membrane covering his face, giving a little freedom. A regular pounding in his chest became deeper, rapid. Bite after bite he bobbed and tugged, his mouth and throat filled by tasteless, endless, accommodating film. As it stretched he felt his toes curl. As one end loosened the other became tight. Thup, thup, thup, thup—bubbles of film were being sucked in and expelled at his nostrils and mouth, springy and resilient.
He stopped his struggling and watched, fascinated.
Breathing. I am breathing. Was I doing this before?
Before. There was a before.
His breaths became ragged. There was no more air in the sac.
I am suffocating. Desperate, he clenched again with his teeth and gave the sac a furious shaking from side to side.
The covering stretched and pulled his heels up tight against his buttocks. He paused, exhausted. Thus far he had moved only his fingers and his head.
He watched exhausted and watched the bubbles—thup, thup, thup. I can breathe; there is air. If I do not struggle it will let me breathe.
The membrane relaxed, reformed, and he lost the few centimeters of play all his efforts had bought him. Flaccid membrane filled his mouth, stretched and striated, used up, no longer a part of the game.
A game! It is playing with me.
First curiosity, now fear.
I must think. These are new feelings.
All feelings were new feelings.
Discarded membrane lay about his head. What remained still covered him, but there was less of it. Thanks to me. I did this.
The membrane tightened. His nose flattened out against his face and despair overwhelmed him. As he watched, the membrane pulled itself together, recovered its resiliency, and flowed back over his body. His toes uncurled and his nose unflattened as the pressure was relieved.
The newborn dreamed.
“We have a window,” the female voice rang with quiet urgency, “We have a window opening. Form a line and have your papers ready.” Amplified hollowly, standing waves of words slapped back early reflections from tile walls. “The doors to healthier, greener lawns and celebrity tennis are open. Lawns to the left, please.”
A male voice, not at all urgent, kept pace with him.
“Except for you. Don’t waste your young self hanging about on line. Nothing here for you. No second chance.” There was no one in sight. “You’re dead meat, stuck in the garage. Leave it in park. You’ll never make it.”
The invisible speaker hurried off, bustling down an empty corridor.
The voices spoke nonsense.
“All form and no content, that’s it. You are catching on. Welcome to the world.”
The newborn woke.
There was something in the air that made his head hurt. Light.
He discovered his eyes and closed them, his teeth again tugging at the membrane.
It popped and shriveled. He was free.
“You’ll get used to it.” The Fata Morgana approached the golem where he stood fearful and confused, dazzled by the light. “I know it’s bright but your eyes have been closed.”
She handed him a towel. “Here, dry yourself off, then we’ll have a talk.” His hand reached out for the towel but could not hold it. She draped it over his arm and kissed him lingeringly on the mouth.
“I am afraid I have again made you too beautiful, my pet, my peccadillo. We but work with what we have.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him again. He did not respond. Unflinching and impassive, he stood silently as she traced gentle whorls on his cheeks, lips and forehead with her long middle fingers.
“You have forgotten all that was between us. That is good. Frankly, you had become an embarrassment. Although you are still too good-looking by far, much has happened since we were last together and you have much to learn. We shall have to look to your education in areas other than knotting sweaty sheets.”
He sat down amidst a jumble of alphabet blocks, his eyes wide and adoring. His head ached from the urgencies of flailing thoughts trying to draw meaning from each other.
“You retain no memory of our past unions; you are beginning life all over again. The funny feelings in your head will pass. Trust me.” Morgana recovered the towel from where it hung, unused, over his arm and tousled his hair with it, giving a vigorous rubdown. “You know your letters?” she asked.
He rummaged through the spill of blocks and came up with two. He held them up with proud accomplishment.
“Alpha and Zed. Very good, my darling. You are coming along swimmingly.”
Basking in the sunlight of her praise, he rummaged again through the scattered blocks and came up with B I F F. The Orange Virgin knelt next to him and gave him a big hug. “Biff! Yes, you know your name and can find all your letters.” She thrust her tongue in his ear and gave it a loving nip. Biff laughed and squirmed.
“I have slipped up somewhere and will probably regret it later. By rights you should not yet know your name, but I am under the gun and we have got to get cracking; these impromptus are ever fraught with peril. But... Mama’s got to get a hustle on and you will be on your own for a while. Sex will have to wait. We shall start you out with Ovaltine and Space Ace.”
Morgana clicked on a mahogany radio receiver, its cabinet peaked like a cathedral window. “We are tapping into a world where ghost whispers bloom through a sub-etheric sleet into comfortable suburban parlors.” She spun a large central knob and a white pointer chased through rows of glowing numbers on an indicator panel. “Think of it—the clacking needlework of a Mom accompanies the warblings of the unseen guest as a cloud of blue, pungent smoke rises from a pipe set by in a floor-standing ashtray. Time is slippery but this is probably the youth of my pig killer. A family at ease—a Mom at rest after her busy day as a Dad puzzles over birdhouse plans in the latest Popular Mechanics. It is their way; this is a time they have set aside. This is the Family Hour and they are listening to the radio. Later, Mom will go to the kitchen and bake a quiche. A quiche is perfect balance—an imitation of life. We must teach you about quiches. Ask me later.”
“Raydeeoh...” There was a scramble for the appropriate alphabet blocks. And a shimmering as a miniature aurora borealis assembled itself near the ceiling and dropped down to surround Biff and the radio. He reached out to touch the dancing strands of blue; a spark leaped from the tip of his finger.
“Biff, Biff, are you there?” It was Morgana. She was now talking through the radio.
“Uh, yes. I’m here.”
“Put your finger in your mouth, there’s a good boy. You have just got yourself a nasty burn.”
“Ouch!” His finger was glowing and his flesh bubbled.
“Ouch! That’s right, darling. Please be more careful. You were built for pleasure, not for pain. You have no safety margins. Finger in?’
“Excellent. Now listen to me very carefully.”
“What are you doing in the radio?”
“I’m not in the radio. Forget the radio. I have a very important grown-up job for you to do and I am only going to tell you this one time, so listen up.”
Biff placed an elbow on his knee and, chin in hand, leaned toward the radio. He cocked his head to one side, a posture indicating rapt attention. He had a feeling he was not alone. Morgana’s voice was in the radio, but the radio always had voices in it, so that wasn’t it. He swiveled his head around. Just on the other side of the shimmering curtain of pink and blue spangles, silent and larger than he remembered her, was Morgana herself. This was not right. Morgana was motionless; her golden eyes stared fixedly ahead. She was performing a ritual gesture, her right hand elevated, supported at the elbow by the heel of the left. Her right hand had the thumb, middle and index fingers raised, the ring and little fingers folded into the palm. Her left hand accomplished a ritual gesture of aversion, index and little fingers extended.
The radio crackled and gave forth with a reassuring squeal. “Oh, her. She’s there, then, the Destroyer. One of my aspects, I’m afraid. Good. She’s me but it is not me; it’s all very complicated. I will be going away for a little while, and I thought to leave behind a likeness for you to remember me by, to give you a sense of direction. She is my essence, as I was at the beginning: the basic me. She is perfect and will be content contemplating her inner being unless you do something absolutely wrong-headed like trying to draw her out in conversation. I—me, that is—have been tempered by wisdom and folly, compassion and mercy. She has none of these shortcomings. Don’t get her worked up; she is righteous and implacable. She is the Destroyer; she doesn’t do quiches. Don’t mess with her, got it?”
Slicing through a thunderstorm of interference, Morgana’s voice was tense and rushed. “If she gets on your nerves, have housekeeping put a screen around her. You, my child, are to have nothing to do with her, at your peril.”
Biff managed to choke out, “Yes, I understand,” though he truly did not. Biff distractedly reached out to tune the radio and Morgana disappeared in a bloom of static. He had lost her! He panicked and, falling backward, just missed colliding with the motionless Destroyer. He noticed she wore a necklace of tiny human skulls.
A heterodyning squeal and Biff looked to the receiver. An urgent baritone filled the room. “And now... Dolby Jenks, Space Ace, brought to you by Chocolate-flavored Ovaltine.”
“This is today’s lesson, study it well. You will do daring things.” The voice of the Fata Morgana filled his head. The radio had never done this before.
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