by CL Bledsoe
His name was Dick, which was an act of aggression. Every time someone met him and learned his name, they had to pretend it wasn’t a phallus. His own children had to live that lie, and he perpetrated this violence on the small portion of the world he was able to touch with it.
He was the kind of person who rode a bike to work, wore tennis shoes with slacks, and made his own granola. Every person in his office—even the celibate team leader who baked cookies so the rest of them would continue to pretend she didn’t spend her eight hours muttering obscenity—they all fantasized about shitting in his bike helmet at least once a week. He’d come in from riding after his lunch break, or humblebrag about how well his kids were doing at swimming or something no one gave the slightest bit of a fuck about, and they’d imagine stealing away with his helmet into the bathroom.
But they didn’t realize that Dick was fighting a nightly war of attrition. He didn’t know what his enemies were called. He thought of them as gnomes just because it was an ugly-sounding name and he imagined they were ugly things, thieves that took what he valued most in the world, little by little.
He wasn’t entirely sure when it had started, but he’d noticed it months ago. Each morning, he’d wake to find his hair thinning. No stray hairs in his brush, none on his pillow, just the hair, gone. He first thought it was his bike helmet, since he didn’t wear hats, but the lack of loose hairs was strange. After a few days, he realized that his hair wasn’t just thinning; the bald spot was taking on a peculiar shape. Right on the crown, the very back corner of his head, the hair disappeared in a perfect circle, too perfect to be accidental, he suspected.
That first time, it grew back, but a few days later, another construct appeared. This time, the circle was much more elaborate, expanding beyond that first ring with lines and more shapes that looked like some kind of abstract jellyfish.
In the office, Dick took to wearing caps. He saw a specialist who refused to acknowledge anything strange. Likewise, Dick’s wife, long medicated and unaware of most things, saw nothing unusual. He set up his phone to record all night, then his laptop camera, but saw nothing. He wore shower caps and eventually saran-wrapped his head during the night, but couldn’t stop the phenomenon. Finally, he began taking caffeine pills to stay awake. He’d catnap in the bathroom stall at work. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Designs continued to appear in his hair, each one more elaborate than the last.
After nearly a year of this, Dick lapsed into a state of lethargy. His life was entirely composed of patterns, none so elaborate as those that continued to appear on his head, though. He no longer knew what day it was. He no longer made granola, either, having deteriorated first to the point of eating instant oatmeal, and now, more than once a week, grabbing sausage biscuits from Burger King. He’d even been introduced to a new employee as Richard and hadn’t corrected it. He was a broken man, and as his own flame dwindled, the fires of those around him seemed to soar, so that he chose to remain quiet amidst the fervor, to smolder and eventually die out while they burned bright.
Everyone in the office was happier. The team leader hadn’t cursed in days. Dick’s wife had been sober for a month and was seriously considering leaving him. It was in the midst of this renaissance that the lights came. Maybe it was two a.m.; Dick didn’t know, but it felt like about two. He’d taken to sleeping in the guest room months back because of the cameras, the tossing and turning. It was the light that woke him. It hovered outside the window. He thought it was a firefly but it was too big for that, then, maybe, some kind of lightning. He stared at it, it’s blue beauty, for several seconds before it occurred to him to rise, to go to the window, to investigate. He slid the glass up, and then the screen. The light was a hovering ball. He reached for it, but it shifted back. So he stepped back and allowed it to float inside.
It was the most beautiful thing Dick had ever seen, more beautiful than the Mona Lisa, which was a rip-off he’d told anyone who’d listen, more beautiful than the Sistine Chapel, which was too crowded. The blue ball radiated a calming warmth, a light. There was no sound in the room other than Dick’s own breathing.
It moved toward him, and then shifted back, twice, before Dick realized the feint was an instruction. He moved back to the bed and sat. The ball moved up to the top of his head. He felt its warmth, then—a subtle sensation that might’ve been radiation. It didn’t burn, but suffused him with joy. He couldn’t see what was happening, but over the rest of his life, as he replayed these events, he developed a theory. He thought it was a spaceship come to pick up the gnomes—or whatever they were—from his head. After only seconds, the ball rose, again, and headed to and through the window. He ran after it and watched it ascend into the night, gone.
Dick put his hand to his head. It felt just like it always had. There would be no more designs, he knew. He returned to bed and lay there for a long time before finally sleeping. That next morning, he dug his bike out from the garage. It still worked fine. For breakfast, he had oatmeal. He’d make granola tomorrow.
CL Bledsoe is the assistant editor for The Dead Mule and author of fourteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash collection Ray’s Sea World. He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.