FOR A GOOD TIME CALL
The rest of the message was obscured, aging sharpie on the pitted side of the cement post that rose, one of many in an evenly spaced line, from the pavement at the edge of the road. The shadow cast by the post, from the lamp that surmounted it with one arching arm soaring off it streetside, stretched, stark and slim, toward the dappling shadows beneath the bushes and trees that, bulbous and angular, bullied their way into the air over the sidewalk. Now and then a car hummed past, motoring a long, low growl through the fluorescent-dotted night.
None of them slowed to rubberneck at the figure that slid out of the dark beneath the bushes, thick limbs moving with great care, following the shadow of that post as if it were a balance-beam of dark providing a path across the pool of light. The figure came to the post and there paused, squinting against the light at the myriad bills and posters, dog-walker flyers and entertainment notices, that had been pinned and taped and pasted one over the next until the post itself was utterly obscured for a height of several feet.
One limb stretched out through the shadow, running scratching protrusions against the smooth surface of one of the most recently-posted items. Barely wrinkled by wind and, as yet, unstained by precipitation or the simple grime of proximity to the road, the paper rustled faintly over the uneven surfaces of the bygone brethren behind it. Something like fingertips scratched across the paper; something like branches’ twig-endings that softly claw at the window pane when you sleep.
The finger-twigs found the edge of the paper and pulled, tugging steadily until the eager glue gives way. It stuck to the paper, but those behind had gone cheesy and pulpy, trailing forth in slow, soft rips, dangling like rags, like strips of gobbety flesh from a moist corpse under a vulture’s solicitous purview. Scratching tips traced the blocky, cheerful letters:
MULTI-AUTHOR READING AND BOOK SIGNING TONIGHT
NEVERMORE BOOK STORE
LISEL KERMAN AND SANDY HUNTER
7-10PM – BEVERAGES PROVIDED
The figure traced the letters again and again, scratching slowly, intently, undeterred by the brief wash of headlights from a passing SUV. The vehicle did not pause, as if the letters weren’t beginning to scratch free under the figure’s touch, balling and then peeling forth. The letters held their shape briefly, skewing, then collapsed into ink-dark tendrils that twined together in strands between the twig-tips. The other limb pressed the now-blank paper against the figure’s middle, and the glue clung, adhering the page with a gentle flutter.
Another paper pulled free, fingertips tracing the letters yet again.
NAUSEOUS FLOWER AND DANCING MEAT
AT THE HOLY TOLEDO
$5 IF YOU BRING A CANNED GOOD
TO BENEFIT THE REGIONAL FOOD PANTRY
Letter by letter and word by word, the figure scratched the jaggedy print off the page, twining the tendrils they became. They twisted, plying further and further in and amongst one another, the thin and thready shapes losing all distinction, cohesing into an increasingly solid strand. The figure scratched off the spotty, almost indiscernible shapes that were an attempt to print black and white pictures of each of the bands, letting the lumpy flakes of them fall to the pavement. There, one limb and then another gently pressed on them, flattening and mashing them together, rolling them underfoot and then onto feet, gathering them around the bent terminations of those limbs.
Page by page the figure pulled papers from the post, scratching the words free of the surface to twist into the thickening, elongating dark swath. Page after page adhesed, overlapping carefully, around the trunk of its body. In the shadow of the post, beneath the paper layering, bark cleaved from the form in small scabs, pattering against the paper and then the pavement below. Soon, the stained pale grey of the post peeked out between the ragged, increasingly ancient papers, blotches of cement surfacing like the uneven spots of ground illuminated by what little of the streetlamp light made it all the way through the bushes to the sidewalk.
The dog walker’s services, the babysitter’s advertisement, the sheet of Tearable Puns – all and each with the bottoms of their page snipped into neat, easily removable rectangles – gave up their letters to the growing length of darkstuff in the figure’s twiggy fingers before getting arranged neatly along the bottom edge of the swath of overlapping paper, which now covered the figure all the way around. A large picture splitting a page with the letters half-lost to water and exposure,
HAVE YOU SEEN H–?
L-ST S-N NE- —— ST—
ANSWE-S TO A-CH–Y
was scraped away and let to flutter to the ground, kneaded and smoothed and split in twain to join the other fallen photographs gathered in twin pools around the lower limbs, cleaving to their bottoms.
When the pages would no longer come away cleanly, those thin and careful digits picked and plucked, pulling long, fluttering strips, and pulped and cottony tufts, to line the upper edges of the paper pasted all around the figure’s middle. There was nothing left on the post but that pitted half-message encouraging one to call for a good time when the figure’s attention reverted finally to itself. Too-long fingers smoothed the pages around it, pressing them close, and their edges inhered each to the surface of the next, forming a single uninterrupted surface all around.
The many words and letters, even the bits and pieces no longer readable even before they’d been plucked free of their pages, were twisted and twined all together in a length as wide as a hand and as long as an armspan. The figure split it slowly in half, lengthwise, and brought one end up to press to the top of its head, fingers dragging through from scalp to end forming it into locks that spilled down around shoulders, brushing the cottony, gently frilled upper edge of the paper-dress. The remaining portion of the letter-dark length, the figure wound round its own middle, cinching gently to belt at the waist.
One dark-clad foot and then another slowly stepped out from behind the post, stepping just off the edge of the sidewalk to stand in the edge of the road, twiggy hands twisting gently together. It did not take long for a box truck to slow, coming to a halt beneath the next streetlight, and then carefully backtracking to stop before her.
“You waiting for a ride?” a concerned voice reached out through the open passenger window.
The figure’s head tilted, and a creaking, whispery voice called back, “For a good time.”
There came a snort, and then a chuckle from the cab. “Why don’t you hop in. This is a dangerous stretch, but I can give you a lift someplace. Were you looking for a good time somewhere in particular?”
One hand gently settled against her belly, the very middle which had been that first, fresh page. “The Nevermore Book Store.”
“That’s not far at all. C’mon, hop in.”
The door swung open, the dim figure of the driver briefly stretched across the street before bringing his hands back to the wheel.
“Special guest,” she murmured, feet shuffling forward in their dark-photo shoes, swinging up into the truck. “Holy Toledo.” The paper-white dress almost glimmered in the dark of the cab, reflecting the streetlight’s fluorescence.
“Uh, okay,” said the driver, and pulled back out into the sparse traffic.
On the sidewalk, a small pile of bark flakes in the shadow of the post began to slide, in a scattering roll, flipping across the cement toward the low bushes. The greenery rustled in the windless night.