By Feng Gooi
Before the sirens cried, I could already feel it coming. It was an almost imperceptible shift in the air, not just in humidity but in reality, a small needle-sized puncture in the fabric that made my soul shiver. Then came the obvious signs, the anguished howling of the winds, the crackling of furious thunder, the apocalyptic dark clouds invading the horizon.
I was out in the fields and I could see the rough shape of it in the far distance, a spinning pillar that bridged heaven and earth. The siren blasted its desperate plea, the weather radio jump-started to life with grave purpose. I didn’t have much time. I got on the tractor and cursed its slowness as I barreled straight towards my house.
I charged through the front door and bellowed “Ma! MA!!!”
“I’m here, Billy!” my mother said coming out of the living room. She was getting old, she didn’t so much as walk anymore as shuffle. It was almost here. Sweat rolled down the nape of the neck when I heard it, the voices, the yelling.
Hundreds of different voices shouting hundreds of different random words nonstop at the top of their ‘lungs’. Their collective bellows dominated even the winds and the siren.
“We have to go now, Ma!” I said quickly snatching her up with my hands and made a mad sprint out the house. The moos of distress from the barn reached me through the yells. But they didn’t need to fear, it only hungered for men.
The yells got louder and louder. I didn’t look back, my eyes were fixed straight at the storm cellar. I yanked open the doors and descended down the stairs into the darkness.
“We made it,” Ma sighed with relief while I gently lowered her on the cold cellar floor. But it wasn’t over just yet, I quickly climbed back up the stairs to close the cellar doors but I stopped. The sight of it paralyzed me.
It was a swirling vortex of wind but swirling with it were heads, human heads, young and old, male and female. Hundreds of them. It was close enough that I could vaguely see their expression, eyes opened hauntingly wide with mouths stretched as much as humanly possible. The nonsensical words poured out of them, pounding my ears.
I was searching, looking desperately at the screaming faces as they spun closer towards me. Was he there?
“BILLY!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! CLOSE THE DAMN DOOR!!” Ma shouted.
Suddenly, I felt a mind-numbing pain around my neck, a ring of white hot fire. My head was pulled towards it, it was thrashing around like a fish on shore. My vision blurred. I could feel the split coming but I took back control. I mustered all the willpower I had into my arms and slammed the doors shut.
As I descended down the stairs, I saw my father standing in the corner. He always came down here at the first sign of trouble.
“Glad you’re safe, Pa.”
He didn’t answer because he couldn’t. Of course he couldn’t. He didn’t have a head.
The affliction of headlessness like all illogic diseases such as gravity deficiency, blobfish transfiguration and disco heart implosions existed outside conventional laws of biology and nature. The headless carried on living even without the organs required to eat, drink, breathe or think. Based on their ability to carry on with complex tasks, it seemed that they retained visuospatial awareness and some level of cognition. In essence though, they were like automatons mindlessly carrying out their previously established routines and reactions.
Pa still did all his daily chores around the farm, sat down for dinner with the rest of us, and even took us to church on Sundays. He responded to us and our comments non-verbally even if we were never sure if he actually comprehended it. But obviously it wasn’t the same, we didn’t get to hear his crude jokes, his blustery laughs, his rants about the government. When we used to work together on the farm, my father would sometimes burst into an old fashioned country song. Pa was by no means a good singer but I missed the unrestrained confidence of his deep loud voice. My Pa was both here and gone.
But now that Pa could no longer talk back, I no longer feared talking to him. On the evenings, my father would stand on the porch and watch the sun go down. Well, that was what he’d do when he still had eyes. It was his designated time of solitude. But now, I would spend the time talking to Pa, pour my heart out, all my dreams and fears. Pa didn’t say a word back but I desperately wished he would. It was a dumb wish, all his words for me used to be ugly anyway. The words I wanted weren’t ones he would give.
It was the evening after the twister came that they arrived. I was surprised that we were getting visitors, our farm was very far out in the middle of nowhere.
I swung the door open and in front of me was a wiry man with a great big bushy ginger mustache. He wore a big white cowboy hat, an overly large tan safari jacket and a pair of shiny leather cowboy boots.
“Evening, sir! My name’s Chester and I truly apologize for bothering you and your family on this lovely night but well, me and my companions here are in a bit of a pickle!”
I took a look at his companions. Behind him was a woman with her hair pulled in a tight bun, sporting thick round glasses. She wore a buttoned up shirt and slacks but more interestingly she was carrying a backpack with all sorts of strange gadgets jutting out of it. Next to her, was a woman in a green jumpsuit that had the front zipper pulled down to show a daring amount of cleavage. Couldn’t give you more of a description than that seeing as she had no head.
“That there’s Dr. Elena Gonzalez,” he said pointing at the bespectacled woman. “And that’s Cynthia.”
The headless woman stood still.
“ You see our truck there’s almost out of gas,” he said pointing to an old red pickup truck. “And I was hoping that we could take advantage of that fine Western hospitality and get some gas, so we can be on our way.”
“Sure….” I said cautiously looking at the strange cast of characters before me. “I’m sorry but what are you doing all the way out here anyway?”
“Oh! We were chasing that head twister this morning across the plains when it shot a lightning bolt right at us! We would have been burnt to a crisp but good thing Cynthia here’s a spectacular driver, head or no head. Swerved just in the nick of time! Unfortunately, we hit a ditch. Took us all near damn afternoon to get Ol’ Red there out and …”
“Wait! Did you say you were chasing the twister?! Why in heaven’s name would you do that?!”
“Oh! We’re head catchers,” he said with a big toothy smile. I was about to ask what the hell that meant when he reached for sack that was laying near his feet. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before or the low muffled voices that came from it but when he opened it up, I was shocked to see a collection of heads with gags in their mouths staring right at me.
We all joined our hands together for the prayer before dinner. We had invited our guests to stay the night before they go off chasing again and they graciously accepted.
“O Great Lord! We give thee our gratitude and grace for the bounty you have blessed us with!” my mother recited. I peeked to look at our dinner guest. Chester was reciting along with earnest conviction while Dr. Gonzalez muttered it halfheartedly. Cynthia like my father remained silent.
“With the strength and kindness you inspire within us, we shall uphold the Pillars of Reality and restore your Rightful Natural Laws. Order will reign once more,” Ma finished. “Well, don’t be afraid dig in!”
“Thank you, ma’am!” Chester said happily grabbing a spoonful of potatoes.
“So, Billy told me you came from up east near Lake Ethel. The three of you chased that screaming cyclone of fury across three states?!”
“Yes we did! This twister is a big one! Their life-cycle is usually just three or four days but this one has lasted a whole week! It’s been travelling all the way out west wreaking havoc, snatching heads and getting bigger and bigger!”
“It’s set a new record. Two hundred and five heads the radio reported. Ninety five homes destroyed and damaged,” I said. The twisters left buildings alone if they were empty but if there were people inside, their roofs would be ripped right off just to snatch the heads.
“The pillars are crumbling, the fissures are widening, more and more illogic and surrealism is seeping into our world,” Dr. Gonzalez said with a sigh.
“Nonsense! For the first time in years we have a true man of faith in office! According to President Johnston, our collective faith and prayers have been fighting the tides of anarchy. The media is just mongering fear for advertisements!” Ma said.
“Maybe you’re right, ma’am. I certainly hope so,” Chester said with a gentle smile. Dr.Gonzalez bit her lip like she was holding something down. I had no firm beliefs in politics but somehow I felt embarrassed.
“It sounds like a dangerous job,” I said, changing the subject.
“It is! Cynthia here is evidence of that. Lost her head two days ago when we got a little too close to the twister. But it’s good honest work, putting people back together. We get paid a fair share when we return the heads, not many people have our particular skill set.”
“How do you even do it? The heads are so high up!”
“With this little baby right here,” Chester said pulling out an odd looking mossy green color rope from his satchel. “This ain’t no ordinary lasso. It’s made from the vines of the Living Rainforest, capable of stretching to near infinite lengths. Perfect for catching heads hundreds of feet up in the air.”
“Wow!” I said. I’ve seen the movies of brave adventurers going on quests to discover treasure hidden in the Living Rainforest, evading the treacherous tangle of the living vines but that part of the world was so far away I never really thought it was real.
Ma suddenly got up from the dinning room table and brought a family photo of the three of us together, three smiling faces beaming at the camera.
“Is there any way you can find my husband’s head when you’re out there? He’s not the most handsome man but I do miss that ugly mug of his. Haven’t seen it for five years now. We’ll make sure you’re properly compensated of course.”
Dr. Gonzalez shook her head. “I’m sorry ma’am but if it was years ago. Your husband’s head is long gone. Once a head twister’s life cycle ends and it fully dissipates, the heads vanish with it. Every new one that emerges gathers new heads.”
“Of course, I knew that. It was silly of me to ask,” Ma said, she clung to the picture in a way that broke my heart. “You heard that Jack?! Looks like you’re stuck this way! Not like you need a head, never used it much anyway!” she laughed.
Pa remained silent and just sat there in front of his empty plate.
I couldn’t sleep at night. I laid awake thinking about my mother and the pain in her voice. Ma carried on as normal after Pa’s head was ripped off, she never mourned him. They were never ever a sentimental couple but it must be hard sleeping next to a living ghost of your husband. A body that did everything it was supposed to but never said “I love you” or looked you in the eyes.
I think back to the day Pa lost his head. The super siren rang and we all rushed into the cellar. Pa ushered us in as always, yelling at us to get on quicker. But on that day, after the both of us were safe inside, he remained outside. We could hear the chorus of chaos approaching but my Pa still didn’t come down the stairs.
Worried, I rushed up to check up on him. On the cellar stairs, I shouted and shouted at him but he just stood there with his back against me. He was just frozen looking at the thing. Was he searching like I was? The question of why has haunted me into spinning a million different answers since. Why? Why? Why? But the outcome remained the same. The twister was circling just above us and I had no choice but to shut the doors. When we emerged from the cellar an hour later, we found my father tending to the chickens. They clucked happily, oblivious to the fact that were now being fed grain by a headless man.
As happens every time I think of it, a wave of guilt drowns me. I berate myself for not doing enough, for not rushing out the cellar and pulling Pa in. I keep telling myself that it wasn’t possible, that I didn’t have enough time. But was it really true? I don’t know that but I know what I felt in that moment. I was afraid, I was selfish, I was weak. When he could speak Pa told me I was weak.
Suddenly, it was morning. I went downstairs and found my father seated in the dining room ‘reading’ the paper. Ma was still upstairs sleeping. From where I was standing the paper obscured the fact that he had no head. Even now, I still expect him to put it down and grunt “Good morning.”
I walked out the door and found Chester and Dr. Gonzalez hunched over a map discussing something. Cynthia was ‘smoking’ a cigarette.
“Hey! I’m coming with you guys. I could help you get those heads,” I said.
“Kid, thanks for the offer and all but you coming along might be more of a liability. Like we said, it’s a dangerous business,” Chester said.
“I’ve lassoed cattle before and I’m darn good at it. The more hands you have, the more heads you’ll catch right?”
“You remember what we said last night. We can’t bring your father’s head back. It’s gone,” said Dr. Gonzalez.
“I know but I can help other people who still got a chance and if you give me a cut of the earnings, I can use it to get new better equipment on the farm. Ma’s body ain’t what it used to be. The less work she does the better,” I said. I left her a letter on the coffee table.
Chester and Dr.Gonzalez looked at each other.
“What do you think Cynthia?” he asked. She brought the cigarette’ up to her non-existent lips, no smoke inhaled or exhaled.
“Well, I suppose some extra help could be useful. Welcome aboard, kid! Best be prepared, you’re in for a ride!”
I felt like I was about to throw up, I didn’t know if it was the dust, dirt, and rain choking me, the dizziness of the truck swerving at maximum speed or just the fact that we were dangerously close to the spinning behemoth of flying screaming heads. Probably all three.
“You’re in the thick of it now, kid!” Chester yelled, I could barely hear him over the voices. Me, him and Dr. Gonzalez were in the back of the pickup truck. I gripped onto the truck for dear life as Cynthia drove like a madwoman chasing after the twister while it stormed across the plains’ vast sea of grass.
Despite the maelstrom of madness towering over us, Chester’s eyes were locked on the thing with a big happy grin while Dr. Gonzalez was calmly tinkering her gadgets and writing stuff down. This was a terrible idea.
“Don’t worry, kid! Cynthia knows what she’s doing! She’ll keep us at a safe distance!” Chester shouted. Seeing as she was currently headless, I was not very confident.
“Alright! Time to shine, kid! Get to work! YEE-HAW!!!” Chester said standing up tall on the back of the speeding truck. He twirled the mossy green lasso in circles before throwing it at the twister. The lasso defied gravity and stretched to an impossible length reaching all the way up, hundreds of feet above ground. Chester pulled on the lasso tight and it immediately retracted in a whizz. The end of the lasso was back in his hands with a screaming head was tied to it. He took a cloth, gagged the head and put it in a sack so casually it made me wince.
“See, kid? Easy peasy. Just keep calm, and don’t lose your head!” Chester chuckled, tossing the lasso again.
I took a deep breath and stood up slowly fearing I would fall off the rapidly moving truck. Droplets of rain lashed against my face. The wind pierced into my bones. I can do this. I grabbed one of the green lassos. The thing felt warm and wet like it was alive, it probably was. The heads were spinning so quickly in the twister, I didn’t know where to look. I threw the lasso in the air but it just fell limply back on the truck.
“You have to know what you’re catching, kid. You have to want it. You’re a hunter now and they’re your prey. Find a target, stalk it, catch it. Remember this that lasso ain’t the gun, it’s your arm!” Chester said. He twirled the lasso in beautiful arcs before flinging it up into the raging heavens once more.
Focus. I looked hard at the twister and all those spinning heads. There were just so many. They were so fast. I tried again and failed again. My third attempt also failed, so did my fourth. Chester wasn’t looking at me, he was busy doing his own work and so was Dr. Gonzalez with her measuring and scribbling.
Already, my arms were getting tired. Weak arms Pa used to say, not a man barely a boy. No. I stopped fighting the chaos. I embraced it, let the sensations conquer my thoughts. I opened the door for the voices of the heads drown out the one in my head.
I took my time and studied the twister and all of its spinning heads. The old, the young, the men, the woman, all those disembodied souls trapped in that hellish never-ending carousel. I found my prey. I couldn’t see much of her features from afar but it was clear she had curly brown hair that was wild and untamed. She screamed and screamed and screamed. She went round and round and round again. My eyes focused on her, just on her. They went round and round and round again, my hands gripped the lasso twirling it round and round and round again until… it was time.
I launched the lasso up in the air and it stretched itself out at the stormy skies. I felt it tighten around something and quickly pulled at it. It was like fishing, I reeled the line in and suddenly found the catch thrashing in my hands. I couldn’t quite believe I did it.
“VERMILLION!!! CANINE!!! GOLFCART!!!” the head yelled. Up close, I saw that the head had freckles across her face and slightly buck teeth.
“Hey! You got Cynthia’s head! Great work!” Chester yelled. I was surprised, somehow, I imagined her to be a pretty blue eyed blonde instead of the head I was holding. It took me a while to realign my expectations with reality.
Dr. Gonzalez took the head from me and passed it on to Cynthia in the front. The headless woman took it with her other hand on the steering wheel. She dropped the head onto her neck and it melded back together instantly.
“Holy motherfucking fuck, I’m fucking back!” exclaimed Cynthia. “And I’m already back chasing this big screaming bastard? Damn!”
“Sorry, Cynthia no time to celebrate,” said Dr. Gonzalez. “My readings show that the twister is gearing up for a bolt. It’s about to strike on your left in three…two…”
Cynthia swerved to the right aggressively and I tumbled down onto the truck’s metal floor. It hurt like hell but I was grateful for the pain after looking back at the burning tree the lightning struck instead.
“YEEHAW!!!” Cynthia yelled in triumph.
“YEEHAW!!!” Chester and Dr. Gonzalez cried as well. They smiled looking at me and I smiled back. I tossed my lasso into the twister and bellowed a “YEEHAW!!!” so loud it drowned out all the voices.
When evening came, the twister finally dissipated. It was a strange sight to behold, the spinning cyclone shot back into the clouds and the heads all floated up with it. According to Dr. Gonzalez, it wasn’t full dissipation. It was still there, clouding the night sky while we made camp.
“It’s resting in a way. Gathering strength before it strikes again,” said Dr. Gonzalez.
“You talk about it like it’s alive,” I said.
“Isn’t it? It might not be conscious but it has a birth and a death and in between drives, wants and needs.”
“Dr.Gonzalez might be one of the best atmospheric scientist in this country but she’s a poet at heart,” said Chester.
I looked up at the dark clouds blotting out the stars, I could faintly hear shouts far above us. They sounded more like echoes, ghosts from the past haunting the plains.
“So, where do they go after the twister’s gone, the real dissipation?”
“Ah, that’s the question everyone wants the answer to but nobody has. There are theories of course, alternate dimensions, teleportation to the bottom of the sea, disintegration into the atmosphere.”
“Some say when it rains again, ‘their essence’ is in the water. The heads go back into the soil and we drink them up. Cycle of life,” Chester chimed in.
“What’s your theory?” I asked Dr. Gonzalez.
“I don’t have one. We just know the heads disappear, gone without a trace. I am perfectly content with that for now.”
“But isn’t that your job as a scientist? Find answers? Isn’t that why you study the thing?”
“My aim is to gather knowledge and try to understand, not provide conclusions.”
I was very confused on what the difference was and was about to ask but Cynthia interjected.
“Either way kid, I appreciate you catching my head. I certainly didn’t want to find out first hand what happens when the twister dissipates. Oh God! This chicken tastes so good! You don’t appreciate the simple pleasure of chewing till you can’t!”
“Do you remember anything when you were headless?”
“I can’t,” she said shaking her head. “Wow, that feels great too! But no, don’t have a single memory of spinning around in the twister or driving these fools around without a head. Still, it feels like I know I’m whole again if that makes sense. Like I know I’ve been missing things, know I’ve been… displaced even if I have no memories of being that way.”
“Like in your subconscious?” Chester asked.
“Yeah something like that maybe,” she shrugged.
Subconscious. For a moment my heart leapt, he might not have the memories, actually remember what I talked to him about on those evenings on the porch but maybe deep inside Pa will know. He’ll understand me when I get his head back and… What was I thinking. His head was gone like Dr. Gonzalez said. Gone without a trace. Pa ain’t coming back.
For the rest of the night, Cynthia and Chester entertained me with all the thrilling adventures they’ve been on, the marvelous sights they’ve seen. When it wasn’t tornado season, they were collectors of oddities, antiques and trinkets from all over the world. They did this mostly for the thrill, could you imagine that? I was enraptured at first, I laughed and held my breath with their fantastic tales but the more they told the smaller I felt. I shrunk and shrunk till I was as tiny as a pebble. I knew I would never go to the places they’ve gone to. My little adventure with them was as far as I would go. My place was on a small farm in the middle of nowhere.
When it came time to turn in, I couldn’t sleep again. Again, I thought about my father. I knew he was all I thought about. Daddy issues, how pathetic. The old question of why emerged. Why did he just go out there that day and not come back to the cellar, to his family. Did he want his head snatched? Did he want to disappear? Maybe he thought the twister would take him away to a life better than the one he had. Questions upon questions, an endless of maze of inquiries.
While everyone else was dreaming away, I got up and opened the sack of heads we caught. We got twenty one in total, a really good haul. I took each head out one by one and began feeling their facial features like I was a blind man. The gagged heads squirmed in my hands. I felt the ridges of their noses, the softness of their cheeks. I held them and tried to understand.
“And that’s number fourteen old man!” I laughed as I gagged the head I caught and put it in the sack.
“Listen here kid, speed does not beat experience. Keep that up and your arm will get sore real soon. I go slow and steady. We’ll see who has more heads at the end of the day,” Chester said while twirling his lasso in slow beautiful arcs.
I threw my lasso up at the twister but it whizzed back into my arms empty.
“See!” Chester laughed.
“Twenty!” Dr. Gonzalez said proudly showing off the head she caught, an old grandma with dyed bright red hair. “Maybe you boys should team up instead of bicker, there ain’t no chance you’ll beat me otherwise.”
In the front seat, Cynthia was singing along with a rock and roll anthem while she led the speeding truck in pursuit of the twister.
I looked at the twister and smiled. It’s been four days since I first joined the head catchers and was surprised at how quickly the dangerous high intensity task had lulled into a calming and even fun activity. The chaos of wind, the hundreds of voices, the lightning bolts, the soreness of my muscles, they had all faded when I had that mossy green lasso in my hand and yanked one head after the other off the twister. Two hundred and five heads the report said. But in the span of four days, we must have halved that. We were thinning it out while it was spinning across mostly empty countrysides, I could even hear the loudness of the voices decreasing, the sacks were getting full.
“Hey! Look this fella still got his glasses on,. You don’t see that a lot!” Chester said.
Suddenly, Dr. Gonzalez stopped twirling her lasso and tossed it aside. She rushed towards her odd instruments, intensely examining the whirligigs and gauges.
“The twister… it’s about to metamorphosize,” Dr. Gonzalez said.
“Fuck…” Chester muttered.
Thunder roared in murderous fury and the droplets of rain turned into a torrent of bullets. The heads started spinning faster and faster until they were almost streaks of a blur. My eyes started to water just following them. And the voices. It was like nothing before, my head pounded from their ear piercing yells. It was an orchestra of anarchy.
In the span of a few minutes, the twister had suddenly doubled its height and size. If it was a beast before now it was a titan, a hungry god whose only purpose was to devour. It spun forward in ferocious speed, blitzing across the plains and leaving us choking in its dust.
“BUCKLE UP, BUTTERCUPS! WE’RE IN FOR A RIDE!!” Cynthia yelled. She stomped on the pedal and accelerated us forward at maximum speed, testing the limits of both the truck and my heart. I felt like it was bashing against my ribcage, trying desperately to escape.
“N-NOT TOO FAST, CYNTHIA! D-DON’T GET TO CLOSE!!” Chester yelled. For the first time, I heard anxiety in his voice. Fear.
“I KNOW!” Cynthia yelled back. I saw her fingers tighten over the steering wheel, the veins of her hands pulled taut, knuckles white as ash.
I flinched when I saw the blinding light of electric bolts shoot across the landscape. I kept my head low but peeked up for a moment and stopped breathing. Existential dread paralyzed me and turned my blood into ice. I was nothing before this unstoppable force.
“FUCK! THERE’S A TOWN AHEAD!” Chester yelled. It was looming over the horizon, blocks of buildings and homes, a marker of civilization out in the plains. The titan had found its prey.
Dr. Gonzalez almost tripped on the rain-slicked floor when she scampered to get her walkie-talkie.
“OFFICERS! OFFICERS! YES! LISTEN! SOUND THE SIRENS! A HEAD TWISTER IS….. .”
It was too late, it was there in an instant. The twister reached the edge of the town and proceeded to violently rip off the roofs of houses within its clutches and dozens of heads flew straight into its vortex. Within a few seconds, it blitzed through an entire neighbourhood, streets were left with entire rows of houses exposed to the skies, left and right more and more heads joined the chorus of chaos.
I watched helplessly as people ran down the streets trying desperately to outrun it. But it was hopeless. It was inevitable. Their bodies crashed down onto the sidewalks when their heads were snatched away. When the twister got to the town square, it crunched up the tented roof of a church and the house of worship became a buffet. The stolen heads looked like a swarm of bees floating up.
Just an hour ago, I had this silly thought. I thought that maybe in a few more days by the end of all this, we could have actually emptied out the twister. Turn it into just a collection of wind and cloud. Every single head it had snatched would find their way home. What a fool I was. Now, the twister had more heads than it did the first time I saw it.
I couldn’t let this go on.
I stood up on the speeding truck and tried to pinpoint a head to focus on but they were all spinning too fast. I threw the lasso out again and again and again but couldn’t catch anything.
“KID! GET DOWN! WE’RE GOING TOO FAST!” Chester shouted.
“Get down Billy! There’s nothing you can do,” Dr. Gonzalez said pulling on my leg.
I tried again and again and again. Still nothing, it was too big, too fast, we were too far. Then just as it seemed like a living god of wind and fury, the head twister started to slowly fade. It was like a sketch being erased from the bottom up. The voices got softer as the heads at the bottom literally faded into oblivion.
“It’s dissipating,” said Dr. Gonzalez.
Panic shot into me. I huffed and flung my lasso way up high. I was running out of time. One just one, just give me one. Don’t let this become a headless ghost town. Don’t let me fail them. One, all I needed was… I caught something.
“BILLY! LET GO OF YOUR….”
The lasso I was holding started to evaporate into thin air. Next, were my own hands and then I was gone.
I woke up atop a layer of clouds, at least I think they were clouds. They were fluffy gray cotton but I didn’t sink into them.They were firm and steady as concrete. The sky was incredibly odd, just smooth even whiteness like I was trapped inside the bulb of a florescent lamp.
I turned around and my mind couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing. It was a head. A gigantic head. A gigantic floating head the size of a factory. A gigantic floating head the size of a factory eating other heads. The other heads were much smaller. They were regular heads, hundreds of them were scattered all over the clouds. The giant head opened its mouth wide and gulped them down like they were candy.
It turned to look at me. Chills ran down my spine. It’s face was something I could hardly describe, it was just so… average but average to the point of absurdity. It was neither male or female. Attractive or ugly. Old or young. But it was uncanny and deeply unsettling.
“YOU! WILLIAM COTTER! YOU HAVE ARRIVED JUSTAS I HAVE PREDICTED!” said the giant head floating towards me. It’s voice was powerfully strong and thunderous, a unified force, the very opposite of the twister’s cacophony of discord. I felt my core reverberate with each syllable uttered. A shadow was literally cast over me.
“W-Who…W-What are you? H-How do you know my name?” I muttered so softly I could barely hear myself. It’s face was utterly devoid of emotion, it’s giant eyes stared at me wide open with occasional disturbingly slow blinks.
“I AM THE MEGA. THE PINNACLE OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. THE COLLECTIVE PSYCHE AND KNOWLEDGE OF ALL SEVEN HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE HEADS I HAVE ABSORBED. MOST OF ALL, I AM YOUR SAVIOR.”
“I-I’m sorry, w-what?! S-Savior?!” Absorb? Did it eat my father? Was he inside that thing?
“YES. I SEE ALL AND KNOW ALL. I PREDICT, I CALCULATE, I EXTRAPOLATE. THE TRAJECTORIES OF MANKIND ARE KNOWN TO ME. INSANITY. ANARCHY. PANDEMONIUM. INFINITE DESTRUCTION. MASS EXTICTION. THE PILLARS OF REALITY ARE CRUMBLING, THE LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE ARE COLLAPSING AND HUMANITY IS TOO WEAK TO STEM THE TIDES. TOO SELFISH. TOO COWARDLY. DESTRUCTION IS INEVITABLE. ”
“Inevitable? What?! No! You can’t know the future, that’s impossible!” I said but even I didn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. The power and authority of The Mega seemed absolute. It’s voice was edict.
“I KNOW YOU, WILLIAM COTTER. I KNOW YOUR FUTURE. ALL YOUR POSSIBLE PATHS. IN ONE, YOU DECIDE NOT TO RETURN HOME AFTER YOUR ‘ADVENTURE.’ YOU GO OFF TO A BIG CITY. YOU SLAVE AWAY AT VARIOUS JOBS AND EVENTUALLY START A BUSINESS. YOU FANCY YOURSELF AN ENTREPENEUR BUT YOU NEVER HAD A KNACK FOR NUMBERS OR PEOPLE. YOU FAIL. YOU TRY ANOTHER VENTURE. YOU FAIL AGAIN AND AGAIN. YOUR LOAN SHARKS COME TO COLLECT. YOU BECOME TO BROKEN TO EVER RISE AGAIN.”
“No! That isn’t me! You don’t know what….” I felt like I was stabbed in the heart. A shortness of breath came over me. I was underwater. Oxygen was receding.
“IN ANOTHER, YOU RETURN TO THE FARM. YOU MEET A NICE YOUNG LADY IN TOWN. SHE IS SMART, KIND AND AMBITIOUS. YOU MARRY HER BUT YOU WERE NEVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR HER. YOUR HAPPINESS WAS BUILT ON AN ILLUSION THAT SHE SEE’S THROUGH SOON ENOUGH. YOU ARE JUST A DUMB HICK YOKEL AFRAID OF THE WORLD. SHE LEAVES YOU FOR ANOTHER A MAN. A BETTER ONE THAT GIVES HER ALL SHE NEEDS AND WANTS. YOU TURN TO THE DRINK. IT BECOMES ALL YOU NEED AND WANT.”
“Stop! Please stop! Please…” I moaned. My knees started wobbling. All I wanted to do was fall. To crash down into the clouds and stop all this. It was too much. I was too weak.
“REGARDLESS OF THE PATH. ALL OUTCOMES ARE STILL THE SAME. HUMANITY IS DROWNED IN THE TSUNAMI OF ILLOGIC AND CHAOS. YOU WILL SUFFOCATE WITH IT. UNLESS I INTERVENE. UNLESS I SAVE YOU.”
“How? How can you save us?” I said. I needed to know. I needed this to stop.
“I WILL GIVE HUMANITY WHAT IT SEEKS MOST OF ALL, ANSWERS. THE SOLUTION TO THE FRACTURE OF REALITY. THE PATHWAY TO ORDER. MAN WILL NEVER HAVE TO THINK AGAIN. I WILL THINK FOR YOU. THERE WILL NO LONGER BE STRUGGLE. NO LONGER BE FEAR. I WILL PROVIDE THE ANSWER. ALL ANSWERS. BUT YOU WILLIAM COTTER WILL NEED TO ASSIST ME.”
Suddenly, the giant head’s lips pursed together and a head shot out of its mouth directly at me. I reflexively caught it. It was an exact replica of the giant head except it was human sized.
“BRING ME TO THE HUMAN REALM. FIND ME A BODY OF A HEADLESS ONE AND REATTACH US. THEN, I WILL GUIDE HUMANITY TO A RIGHTEOUS PATH. YOUR LIFE AND ALL LIFE WILL BE ONE OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY.”
I stared at the head in my arms. Unlike the screaming heads from the twister it was not squirming and thrashing. It was still and cold to the touch. It’s blank eyes stared right at me. I suddenly remembered all the faces I touched at night. All the heads I caught. I traced my fingers over their features, their oily skin, their broken noses, freckles, scars and brittle hair. All their beautiful imperfections. I remembered the nights holding each head closely and wondering who they really were, the story of their lives. After that, I stopped thinking of my father in bed, I stopped searching and my dreams were beautiful chaos.
“No, I don’t think I will,” I said to the smaller head.
“WITHOUT ME, HUMANITY WILL WANDER AIMLESSLY IN THE DARKNESS AND FALL INTO THE ABYSS. YOU ARE CHICKENS ATTEMPTING TO MASTER QUANTUM MECHANICS. THERE IS ONLY DOOM. WHAT IS THE REASON FOR YOUR CHOICE?”
“I thought you had all the answers,” I shrugged.
“NO MATTER, THIS IS AN OUTCOME I HAD CALCULATED. SOME OTHER SOUL WILL FIND ITS WAY HERE AND RELEASE ME. I WILL GUIDE HUMANITY OR IT WILL BE ENGULFED IN DEVASTATION. EITHER IS INEVITABLE. THERE IS NO IN BETWEEN.”
All I did in response was shrug and drop the head. Then, I was gone.
The head catchers found me in a cornfield a few miles north of the town. It had been a day after the titanic twister ravaged it, Dr. Gonzalez’s instruments detected an atmospheric anomaly and there I was.
I immediately told them all about what I saw, the strange alternate dimension and the gigantic head-eating head that ruled over it, it’s proclamations of the future and it’s proposal of salvation. When I finished, Chester and Cynthia looked at me awkwardly. I knew they didn’t quite believe me. They suggested the possibility it was all a fever dream but I knew it wasn’t. The Mega’s booming voice was still lodged deep inside me. Dr. Gonzalez took note of everything I said seriously and inquired for more details but when I asked if she believed me. She just said “I’ll take it into consideration.”
We spent the next two weeks travelling across states, retracing the path of violence the twister had wrought, returning the heads to the headless. The first time we returned a head, I almost cried. She was a young blonde woman named Shelly. Her parents wept and hugged her tight before any of them spoke. She then knelt down and let her dog excitedly lap her face. She laughed and it was just so beautiful.
We reunited families, lovers, and friends. We took whatever they could offer us in gratitude, no matter the amount. Often times, they treated us to a home-cooked meal after. We told them who we were and they told us who they were. I listened closely to every word, every intonation. Their once screaming voices now told stories that were a soothing melody.
But there was heartbreak too. The face of sorrow and disappointment of a father when he knew we only found his son’s head and not his daughter’s was forever etched in my mind. There was an old woman who pleaded for us to empty our sacks so that she could keep looking through them in search of her husband. She never found him.
When we were finally finished, the head catchers dropped me back at the farm. It was evening and the fields were cast in a spectacular gold glow.
“Hey kid, don’t forget this!” Chester said tossing me a dirty green lasso after I stepped off the truck. I had lost mine when I dissipated with the twister. The lasso felt warm, wet and alive. I twirled it at them as they waved goodbye and the red truck sped off.
My father was standing in the porch as usual during this time. I came up and hugged him tight. He didn’t hug me back but I knew he wouldn’t. Despite my crazy adventures and all the stories that came with it, I didn’t have desire to share any of it with my father. I just stood with him in silence and we watched the sun set together.
About the author: Bio: Feng Gooi was born and raised in the sunny tropical island of Penang, Malaysia but is currently in snowy Buffalo, New York studying for his Masters in Mental Health Counseling. He used to work in Saint Paul, Minnesota as a mental health rehab worker. His work will be published in upcoming issues of Delay Fiction and Shoreline of Infinity.
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