The Man Made of Glass
On a particularly cold Thursday in the middle of a similarly chilly November the town of Molvahket was suddenly set ablaze with rumors of a new resident moving into its midst. The town was a dreary little abode of some one thousand persons; the main form of entertainment was gossip, and each renewed grinding of hearsay's interminable axe was seemingly more fanciful and absurd than the last. Some said that the newcomer had a third arm attached just below his right armpit, its limp and functionless form dangling like a memento of evolution's sometimes purposeless digressions from the weak buttress of his ribs; others asserted that his eyes were composed of a mysterious jelly that would stiffen into a veneer of respectability in public and melt into gelatinous formlessness when the man was alone, like an ocular chameleon dancing an inexplicable duet. But the most perplexing of these collective imaginations—and, perhaps coincidentally, the most prominent—was that the man was made, at least partially, from glass. Anecdotes regarding his appearance varied in their details: some had the nameless gentleman afflicted only with translucent, brittle skin, so that he moved like a robot and bore the brash sight of his body's contents to all who saw him; others said that he was in fact constructed entirely of the stuff, yet was somehow capable of normal movement and speech (aside, of course, from a slight, effervescent tinkling that emanated from his mouth each time his tongue clinked against his teeth). None of the enthusiastic gossipers could claim to have personally witnessed the man's appearance, though, which placed a severe dent in their nagging desire for some degree of legitimate substance and credibility; all of their stories were based on speculation of the most impure sort, its crop culled from the too-fertile soil of the imagination. Their lips whispered false testimonies with the air of one engaged in the most stealthy of illicit acts, a vague and unspecified rupturing of repressive law that filled their moist throats with a tense excitement, its nervous joy quavering their monotone utterances and lending each word let loose from their languid tongues the booming force of a circus cannon packed tight with powder and the transom of a human ball. Truth would not be spared the tortures of their words, its back flayed relentlessly until bloody and raw by the verbose, nearly silent shrieks of a mob incensed with baseless secrets and ideas as flimsy as clouds.
The man himself—who, as chance would have it, was named Thomas Glassman—allowed few people to grow close enough to him to learn more than his name and the general character of his voice; but even this last detail would often be changed, intentionally, in order to mask the true color of his speech. Sometimes even he would forget how his words sounded when bereft of artifice, his tongue twisting and sliding over the brusque little bullets of his teeth without the added baggage of conscious thought or distortion; and he would be stuck—sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—cycling through a succession of false auditory selves that had attached, parasitically, to his unadulterated ego. Eventually he would regain his natural voice, and would begin to use the very range and frequency of speech he had once deftly masked in order to throw any would-be examiners of his vocal undulations off the trail left drifting, like so many reams of invisible, gaseous scribbles across the infinite blank page of the air, by the furious falsity of his self-swapping voice. The whole affair entertained him to no end, which was, in truth, its only practical purpose—for no one seemed to care enough about ascertaining his identity to exert the effort necessary to actually approach him, let alone engage him in conversation; the townspeople were content simply to speak behind his frail, but most certainly flesh-composed, back, their tongues glazed with a molasses-like film from impetuous movement and their teeth beginning to crack and crumble beneath the weight of the words they so ruthlessly slung.
There was one young woman in the town, though, who had enough interest in finding out the truth behind the rumors of the glassen man to actually seek him out at his house: a humble, one-story lump of beige growing like a mole from the cheek of the earth. She was nineteen, referred to herself simply as "A." (and almost exclusively in the third person), and had recently shaved off almost all of her hair while in the throes of an unrestrained nervous breakdown. She had left only a little tuft, samurai-like, upon the crown of her head. Her hands were wide and sluggish, but the rest of her body was thin and littered with lean muscle; about a year ago, before her graduation, she had been a track star at her high school, winning three state championships and steadfastly outshining the other girls on her team. Now she lived at home, twiddling her gargantuan thumbs to wile away the days, her pupils shining with the dull glow of disinterest as they studied the dancing slabs of meat and bone protruding awkwardly from their likewise off-kilter hands. She had little interest in finding a job, and even if she did there were none to be found in Molvahket. Work to her seemed tantamount to slow suicide, a gradual twisting of the salary-handled knife into the heart of sanity and soul.
So she set out from her comfortable little bedroom in her comfortable little home, bidding a reluctant farewell to her distracted but still half-heartedly doting parents but already forgetting, as she stepped out the door, any conception of all that lay outside of the peculiar, glassy subject she had laid her sights on. Her mind had been set on discovering the man's mysteries for days; he was all her consciousness felt worthy of exerting itself towards understanding, towards attaining, her thoughts incessantly spinning like invisible pinwheels of soundless energy as they crackled and popped with the electric current of her curiosity. Sometimes her wonder and focus would course so strongly through her veins that she would feel this mental static all the way down in her toes, their nails curling up into withered petals placed like flesh-colored eyes upon the blank faces above her knuckles—eventually her feet would be singed from their tips to their heels, and the scent of her burning flesh would summon her attention once more to a worldly realm, her supranormal focus diverted by the charcoal-colored pyres of her feet and the faintly-glowing remnants of mental energy still flickering warmly behind her eyes.
The walk to Thomas's house was a quick one, but not particularly easy; he lived at the summit of a veritable miniature mountain, a stunted Everest that nevertheless required a great effort to ascend. Its slope was, at times, almost precisely ninety degrees, and its façade was littered with randomly strewn potholes and tangled shrubbery—lovingly dug and planted, respectively, by the hermetic recluse himself—that could easily snap an ankle or shatter a pelvis. A. maneuvered to the top of the mound expertly, perhaps due to her former training as a runner, but was still out of breath when she reached the peak—and it was at this point, precisely because of her lungful exhaustion, that the masque of glass decided to strike.
He launched an all-out verbal assault on his victim, her intruding ears littered with a vast range of obscenities coaxed from the throat in a variety of amateurishly forged registers and intonations. Her cheeks tautened, her lips shrank into two little bastions of oblivion masking, barely, the clenched pearls waiting fanglike behind their rouged gates, and the thousands of tiny tendrils planted like flowers across her eardrums bristled with the shock of sudden offense. The kneejerk reaction to a fountain of viciously-spewed obscenity, though, soon gave way to a wary sort of confusion, which in turn rapidly let loose onto an intense current of piquant curiosity. Why, she wondered, did this strange boor of a man leap from one poorly concocted accent to another, shifting his voice with all the skill of a one-lunged ventriloquist with a trying case of asthma? She no longer heard his river of insults, which had not ceased to flow since the onset of the aural blitzkrieg, but was only consumed with the fire of her longing to know, to understand; and, despite the absurdity of her subject, this newly-formed curiosity overrode all other avenues of thought within her brain, shutting synapses unnecessary to her singular ends and felling neurons unable to keep pace with the rapid isolation of all frivolous attentions. Soon she could bear the burden of her interest no longer, and, with a tongue wrung dry by the calloused hands of anxiety, she blurted out a question with the subtlety and grace of an overstuffed blunderbuss.
Silence immediately followed. Later, attempting to recollect the incident, A. could not remember exactly what she had asked—she only knew it somehow dealt with the molecular makeup of this allegedly glass-infused specimen of man—but the query clearly had an impact on its target. He was, as it were, shattered by the inquiry, and apparently did not know how to answer it; he had never fathomed that the rumors swirling about in the miasma of humankind he had sought to remove himself from might reach such ridiculous heights of fantasy, and was so absolutely flummoxed by what he considered the uncouth interruption of his berating that he was rendered mute, unable to respond. The girl, growing impatient with his dumbness, gave him a slight shove on the right shoulder with an open palm, hoping to prod him back to his senses; he tipped backwards, apparently paralyzed by his shock as well, and, as he fell, knocked over a small saucer of milk he had placed out for his cat, sending a slight tinkling sound reverberating kittenishly throughout the hollow, unfurnished shell of his home.
This was confirmation enough of her suspicions: the man was indeed made of glass, but only in some way inconceivable and unobservable to the naked eye: his devices of deception were outrageous, devilish, his genetic composition even more so, a vagrant mystery wandering the hallowed halls of humankind and prodding boorishly at its attractive finery. She ran home to record the results of her experiment in the notebook she kept stowed in the drawer beside her bed, leaving the man sprawled helplessly amidst a small pool of slightly soured milk.
She publicized her findings the next day, after a prophetic dream confirmed the efficacy of her rigorous and unassailable experiment. The public's outrage at the man's demonic tricks was so great that he was immediately ousted from his home by a mob, which then burned down the humble hovel and imprisoned him in a cell surrounded by various objects of superstitious significance. The next day he was brought to trial and shot, for the crowd thought his body, being glass, might somehow be resistant to the flames of the pyre or the noose of a gallows.
's work has appeared in Web Conjunctions, Drunken Boat
and The Delinquent
. He received his B.A. in Russian Language and Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, and is currently an M.S.I.S. candidate at UT Austin's School of Information.