Skip to content

Odorless Animals

F
i
c
t
i
o
n

SUMMER 


I wake up from sleeping in my hat and boots. By torchlight I check my calendar. It’s summer!

In the stall I find my horse, who is there every morning regardless of where I left her the night before. Pam says it wonders where I am, this stock-still horse that doesn’t eat.

I mount the odorless horse and we gallop through the farm to gather corn and hops, flowers for Penny, coffee beans. I let wither the apples, useless in a town of rare gems.

As the wine and beer makes itself in oak barrels rumbling in rows, I tend to the bees, lambs, chickens, cows, ducks, what might be lizards. I shear the wool (it’s quality!), churn the milk, gather the eggs. The animals are in my goddamn way to my horse, not grazing in the tall grass. 

We ride to the pumpkin patch. I heard if you ignore your pumpkins they’ll band together to become impossible to avoid and full of prizes, but they’re still merely orange seed dumplings.

I have no choice of words, no voice to sing to my babies, my crops, so I call forth the tinny music piped into every inch of this world, benevolently changing with each season. Is it the world that is singing to us? The plants seem to like it, they are bursting with health, so I endure de la de de / de la de de / de la de do / do do / de la de de / de la de de / de la de do / do do and here is where it gets exciting dooo do do dododo dooo do do doo do do dooooo.

A songbird’s song trespasses through my window. I shut it out.

What is summer? The question gives me a migraine, makes me itch. I’m neither warm nor hot. There is no air, no feeling of it. The presence of wind is seen in the dull dance of the geometric pollen.

Here I am, not myself at all. What would she think if she knew what I really was, flesh?

Taking the horse onto the path, which creeped onto my land, slithering in unnoticed and smooth. Here my river shimmers by, a suffocated superficial blue. We travel indoors through the shaped nameless trees over the ground embroidery.

Into town! Society is alive and well! Summer is the time for socializing. The calendar said this, so it must be so. Hello Penny, beautiful as ever with your scarecrow straw hair, sweet child, would you like a flower? A slice of cake? It matches the trees in their summery garb, shedding their ethereal lavender lint as I make my rounds.

I find Leah with her redclay hair in her studio making sculptures she used to name after me. I worked on her for what we call years. Her old house is empty, but the fireplace is on. If I give her a bottle of my pomegranate wine, she loves me still. What is the purpose of this wife? Sometimes she’s in bed all day. I could have married Elliott, the town poet. My friend married him, said he’s great.

Everyone in town loves me, so I thought it’d be different to be married, that they, the people, would be jealous. That’s why I did all this, committed myself to earning all their hearts, and yet no one objected at the ceremony. Why even make it an option to be nice?

Everyone has a birthday except me, despite the fact that I’ve built my life in this town of never-ending gift-giving: “I want a duck feather, I want a ruby, I want a blueberry, help me find my confidence, help us fight the evil corporation we shop at,” and I do it all for them as my warm cat cries for food and my body grows stiff and hunched.

So I keep on decorating, organizing my statues and paintings. It’s fun to go to the Flower Dance with Leah and watch her dance. She bobs to the sour music like she’s hoisting up her trousers.

There is one of everything, like a child’s dream: one table, one window, one vase with one flower, one wife, one house, one bed, one door, one rug, one empty crib. A civilization of objects waits patiently for me to purchase them and be known.

These folk were clearly made in the image of a well-intentioned disciplinarian who says something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, yellow, or purple” and does indeed paint the soft marble of this civilization every one of those colors except the one that perhaps you can guess.

Who am I? A perfect body. I hover my finger over it, not wanting to smudge with oil. For now, from what I can tell, on my face I have two eyes, brown by default, as is my hair, which doesn’t move, doesn’t grow, doesn’t frizz, doesn’t gray. Man or woman? Neither, both, entirely smooth, either/or. I’m a portrait of symmetry. Not sexy but not disgusting, perfection of form, humanity distilled into a few squat limbs and no mouth. Just enough for riding.

C’mon horse, let’s mosey to the pond. Let’s conjure up a fish. Let’s save that fish from drowning. Let me ask you, how long has this fish been here? Here in the pond, here on this line? Was it born around my hook, is it a virgin, is it a son? Would you finally take a bite?

Stockpiling the hay, harvesting mushrooms, hitting up the tavern without Leah who doesn’t go anymore, but Pam is here, let me buy you a drink Pam, and Shane is too, as always, here inside  his ratty sports jersey from the old days, and they repeat themselves, the same lines over and over and over while I don’t say a word, just keep the drinks flowing, until midnight when I ride, where is that stupid horse, when I ride my horse back home and walk into bed where Leah is still and turned away from me.

And here I am, not myself at all. What would she think if she knew what I really was, flesh?

 

FALL


I leave the farm, abandoning the horse, the dead-eyed horse I never liked, my wife, the empty crib. Saved before I fucked things up, in case, for the first time, I’ll regret leaving something good and everlasting for the promise of a fresh start in a lawless new world chartered by some god who conveniently left a map and a harsh vengeance to just fuck things up with disease, fire, and conflict between my mortal colonizers. Depressed, afraid of the out-of-control dark, dumb, so dumb, and I’m their new god now? In between my maker and theirs, just trying to keep it all together.

And some survive genesis. From wood they build house then home, four walls plus a few more for the barn and the greenhouse. They farm, tame the wild animals, get married, make sculptures, and I find myself again, somehow, so quickly, domesticated.

The daily grind, water on steel, crafting weapons to spice things up. First hunting for food, unnecessary meat. Foxes that move without moving their feet. Sounding just like the dogs when the dogs move in. Sewing war veils, whatever those are, then settling into the game of an arms race with the neighbors. First clubs, then bows and blades, then shotguns, on and on until I’m surrounded by mortars, and everyone carries grenades at the very least, even while sleeping in hospital beds.

To dig deep into the root of the problem, the mining these snobs refuse to do now that they’re civilized. We have no more steel to repair the TVs so they play horseshoes, chess, billiards, and poker, become addicted to smoking, get cancer, and die, feeding first the bloated graveyard, and then the crematorium built with the last of the steel.

Without the decomposition of heads, the graveyard is bald of grass. I don’t recall who got pushed in first. A girl I think, a stray, a nobody. I’ve been busy, as you know, but one day I’ll exhume them all and finally organize them alphabetically. Put up a little sign at the gate: “You must be this dead to ride.”

The cats and dogs are multiplying. What do I do with them now that they’ve grown attached to the animals? I only need so many companions, living shields, and I have no need for more mouths to feed. I need more meat to make kibble so that they stop screaming, ok, so I guess we have to go hunting the wilder things. Marta shoots a raccoon with a flame thrower. Now it’s pissed, all the raccoons are pissed, they’re organizing, they’re furious, they’re chasing us back into the compound, they’re battering down the doors, they’re attacking the cats, the dogs, so many of them die, we have to kill all of them, every raccoon alive, more than we need, skin them, fillet them, stick them in the freezer, oops, the greenhouse is using all our power. The raccoon meat thaws, rots, we throw it out.

The air chills and they complain. I tell them to build a fire and they do, but it’s not enough. Build more walls and they do, then the fire eats the walls, they’re unsure if they should put it out or plant some seeds, it depends if they can see the fire or not. I have to tell them over and over Fire! Fire! Put the fire out! Oh right yes, the fire, let me just finish rolling this cigarette real quick.

Boomer plays chess with his pieces made of limestone. Marta sharpens her axe. Lumi admires the sculpture in her room. Ethan firmly yet softly touches turkey #9. Ethan implies negative things about Jumper’s punctuality. Ethan and Riddle joke about favorite haircuts. Ethan offers slow, friendly gestures to Boomer. Ethan sits near Opal and talks to himself about the morality of wealth. Ethan whispers a story about authoritarianism to Opal. Marta and Boomer share a word about beaches. Boomer and Lumi gab about computer games. Velasquez says a word about beautiful people to Marta. Jumper and Riddle quip about cannibals. Jackalope says a word about cleaning to Lumi. Hawk and Chris have a heartfelt conversation about the morality of poverty. Christian approaches alpaca #49 while whispering to herself about comfortable furniture. Christian shows no fear or anger to alpaca #49. Frank and Blair have a heartfelt conversation about sexual fetishes. Velasquez’s bolt-action rifle bullet crushes a doe’s body to pieces. Boomer’s stab in the right arm makes Erika drop weakly. Erika tries to beat Boomer with her right fist, but the swing goes wide. Boomer smashes Erika in the left leg. Erika, wielding her mace ineptly, bashes Boomer in the right arm. Boomer gets bored and softly touches pig #3.

Not often do I think of Leah, her blazing orange braid frozen over her shoulder, lustily drawn by fanboys, her other spouses, who don’t know her like I did, but perhaps even more intimately, faithfully.

It’s another lifeless morning. The trees are dead in the graveyard, and we’ve killed all the deer.

I am beholden to this land, people with wills, mortality, freedoms. They move on their own like real people would, but they answer me faithfully, meaning without the ability to question. They are free within the identity given to them through birth, be it arsonist, short, rude. They have everything they need to be themselves. I don’t save them technically but what have they ever done for me . . . well . . .

I have yet to find a suitable replacement for feeling so clever and entertained when they just barely survive. There is no place for my fingers to go next.

 

WINTER


It’s a beautiful day outside. Let’s see what happens if I kill everyone, or just some (who will it be?). Let’s summon a tornado. Let’s try it out. I command Marta to stop doing her chores, march to the weapons room, equip the tornado generator (she puts up no resistance to this sudden inexplicable urge), stand in the middle of the settlement, and aim it at the hearth.

Elegant strands of wind dissolving everything in its disappointingly narrow path. It’s true I always thought of wind as the shittiest element.

Ethan, the absolute idiot, is chasing after it, sweeping dirt. No one dies except some dogs and cats and camels. A moment of silence for Chips, Santa Fe, Bullion, and Shrapnel . . . their bodies left out to be pickled in the snow.

What a mistake, I did it at night, couldn’t really see by lamplight the destruction, a bit anticlimactic, so I erase time, close without saving, reopen a new day, the same as the one before plus a few hours, until daylight, and they don’t remember a thing, so innocent, so unprepared, there’s nothing they can do, I looked it up. Nothing can save them or their precious things.

It’s another lifeless morning. The trees are dead in the graveyard, and we’ve killed all the deer. Everyone still breathing is huddled in their concrete beds. At the break of dawn, I summon the only one awake, Lumi, and she aims it at herself, bingo, one down, and amazingly it goes in the opposite direction from the night tornado, so lifelike in its unpredictability!

A few dead humans this time, and then it twirls off the map like a floater in the eye to some other colony I guess while Ethan once again, covered in blood, sweeps up the crumbled walls, burns the dead, then has a snack.

This land has no dirty laundry. No darning holes in socks. No needle holes with a smoked-out bruise. No scab to pick and flake to reveal underdone (I would sell my kingdom for the sweet scratch of a mosquito bite). No body cooling and hardening. No need to be undressed and washed and drained of tears and other juices only to be dressed again, like everyone, one pant leg at a time. No chemicals, nectar from the fountain of youth, needed! This shell comes pre-immortalized, pre-buried in a mechanical casket. No death certificate to file. No heaviness of one’s head. No heaviness of a head on one’s shoulder.

I play my fiddle . . . just kidding! I’m no monster, I never save the game, not when they die. We start again, no rebuilding necessary, just resurrection, and life goes on the same so boring.

Oh come now, if you want to be happy, let them actually suffer, make it harder, let them die their clean deaths, and leave the others to survive, but then it would be harder for me too . . . is happiness really worth the effort?

If I’m happy, they’re happy. If I’m putzing about, they’re frozen in place. If they’re in motion, I’m sitting doing the thing I do to “relax.” Play farm, play house, play colony-wide malaria infection, give the animals ridiculous names like Shrapnel, Loyal, Spellbinder, and Wiseguy, and train them to throw themselves in front of invaders’ bullets and bleed to death while we do our chores, then take a nap.

I could invade a colony, but they already do so much work against each other . . . insulting each other’s clothes, sleeping with each other’s spouses, going on pyromaniac binges. Would they go to war for me? Of course! They basically already are soldiers, fighting for their lives.

Besides, I only assume that life exists outside of this terrarium. I was sent here, and it looked empty, so, ok, this is my space, and maybe occasionally some newcomer wanders into view who has a funny name and things to sell and maybe I kill them or maybe I kidnap them and beat them down until they stay put, but as far as I know they’re only as old as the first minute I saw them.

Revolt? They have no idea who they’d even be revolting against. How does a cell revolt against the blood in which the cell flows, the electricity that . . . does something . . . with electrons . . . or something like that . . . what I’m trying to say is sure I’m responsible but not to blame.

I’m just passing the time living my life, and my other life, one marginally better than the other is what it boils down to, that I don’t know which one or when they switch, I mean, I’m playing with toys. Of course, it’s fun to make babies, kill people, all the things I don’t normally do.

Who has time to be bored? I could watch this all day, and frankly I do enjoy the good life of royalty, gods, those in the chaos business.

I would like to play a version of myself that understands calculus. I’d even settle for remembering a multiplication table. A version noble and brave, able to stub my toe without hollering, that is able to let go of regrets, to keep a secret, accept faults in others, that is generous without conditions, that remembers the capitals of all the states.

But this toothless power is what I’ll settle for. I don’t expect nor want this work to be understood, certainly not by you, and why are you here, get working, and if you don’t work, get working. This is neither entertainment nor enlightenment. And if you reach for an apology, don’t expect any branches but your own bones.

Electricity is coursing through my veins. Extracting, absorbing, consuming, leaving traces of emptiness all over the place. I breathe in this place and exhale nothing in return. My body performs miracles, self-regeneration of a scab from scratching myself too hard while the other hand points and clicks.

Ceaselessly I shed dust, accumulating flakes of myself on my screen, obscuring my colony, conspiring with the blinding sun, nagging me to go outside where there is dirt from dead things other than myself. I wipe myself off and head back to the farm.

 

SPRING, AGAIN


It’s all the same and only I return anew. Born again, so this must be my birthday: Spring 1. I buy some parsnip seeds, plant those. On the right track, I chop down trees, all of them. Call me the shadow killer. Is it a conspiracy? An organic movement? That the trees should grow together so beautifully I don’t notice.

Like planting flowers in my past, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m learning now, flowers aren’t a good investment, their seeds laid like traps in the general store. My horse could have been wearing a hat all along. How embarrassing. No one said anything to me, let him go bareheaded and laughed at us behind our backs at my bald horse, my flowerbeds, my lazy wife. I google “who is the best spouse” (spoiler: it’s Abigail) (spoiler: Abigail is the Wizard’s daughter?).

I skip the annual Flower Dance to plant and harvest and buy more seeds for my luscious business. There’s no one to dance with worth dancing with. In fact, I’m done with these people altogether. They only disappoint you. Like, ok, we’re friends now, what’s my reward, a cut scene about your PTSD? Really Shane?

Of course, the stupid horse is still here with that stupid silly horse look that inspires in me a hot laughter as we gallop through the undry, unwet fields. He couldn’t kill a horsefly, let alone time. Leah has forgotten about me though. Some plastic love . . . some eternal flame . . .

There was another school shooting today. Children died, and no one said anything about it, just chit-chat about the weather. Come to think of it, there’s no school here at all, just Penny who teaches the only two children in town who are destined to marry each other and procreate, I guess. And the TV only has the weather channel. So I suppose it’s not their fault they’re so happy now that I’m here and they don’t know any better than to expect more from me.

Give me what I deserve, freedom from the will to live, from endlessly cruelly arriving identical mornings.

I need to talk to someone so I listen patiently, waiting for my turn, but I can never quite get there.

Language has power to destroy, so yes there are consequences, no one is saying there aren’t, except you stay here regardless. There is no leaving this world forever.

But you are also free in the world of mouths so wet and hinging to unleash all the smut and filth you so desire to say in your lucid dream life in which the laws of, I don’t know if gravity exists, but order ordains that you will not be exiled ever, even if you tell Abigail that she’s a heinous bitch, they won’t hear it, but you did indeed say that her blueberry pie was not your favorite and she didn’t much care for that.

Two bodies, one mind, living a double life, now and now. And in all I hate myself, my fingers to my toes, yet the seasons continue their pursuit of each other, and the oceans are still and indifferent to my hatred.

With all my new money I buy myself new eyes, purple, and a bald head. Do I have nipples? I’ll never know if I could provide milk for Lover, unborn.

I thought it was bad to feel pain and not know why, but that is nothing compared to not feeling pain and knowing why. What does this all mean? Nothing, it’s just a game

This weather doesn’t touch skin. I don’t get wet, I don’t get tan, I see the sky and soil darkening. Weather must be happening. There is rain but there are no repercussions. It’s spring and I’m burning up, my body is escaping, my uniqueness. I’m lightheaded, but I must go on or else what did I live all these hours for? I must press on until I’ve reached the end, but how am I supposed to know when the end has come?

I have obligations like making money and spending it, but here I’m not reaching for my wallet because my hands are bound to this pixelated purchase, making and spending money that is fake is a rebellion against money, I tell myself.

Maybe if I cut off my hands, I’ll no longer be able to grasp at these slender straws of salvation through pious work, motion, coins, recreation, a life recreated to sin without consequence, and yet I cannot flee, I’ve tried, the sour purity of a world with borders, yet I keep building them around myself.

Built of sand, glass and steel, iron ore, gold, quartz, cobalt mined by children, for children, barium, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel tin, zinc, and lots and lots of oil. Earth dragged from its bed, woken, and conscripted into thinking.

This is a hard, cruel land. There’s no real gravity to pull me close. No tall heavy sky to look up into like into the eyes of a divorced uncle whose legs drag nieces around while he exhales groans and laughter and vodka.

This stunted universe doesn’t expand. This earth’s crust doesn’t breathe. It has no personality, no accessories, moons and stars and rings. Does this world at least have odds and ends? A minor god like me will never know. How chilling that there really is nothing. Out of sight. An absence of loneliness.

This farm will outlive me, its metal body inedible to worms, but I doubt this farm will outlive other farms. This farm can’t take much water. 

And what is time anyway, some sort of snake oil? And more importantly, who cares, who’s asking, who wants to know me while I ponder this out loud, saying it kind of at them, at everything that isn’t listening, well joke’s on them because I get to experience time twice as much as they do, an embarrassment of riches.

Three whole years, and a year and a half before that, and nine months before that, and twenty weeks before that, and seventy days before that, and eight hundred and forty hours before that, and twenty-five thousand and two hundred minutes before that, falling back in time as it grows and grows and grows.

Have I been here my whole life? Not yet.

Haven’t we had enough of these universal themes? Time, death, war, gods, love, sun, moon, the lack of stars, the pride of nature, the lack thereof, all me me me me me me me. It’s more than I can bear.

Please just let me die of anything. Old age, exhaustion, or murder. Let my neighbors set me free from the confines of their banality, of needing to care about them with no end in sight, just means.

Give me what I deserve, freedom from the will to live, from endlessly cruelly arriving identical mornings.

On my bed appeared a bird in a bed of its own feathers. How did a bird enter my life, through the bathroom window? It must have flown through then past the ceramic bird perched on the hallway mirror, up the lofted ceiling—my father’s office put flat black birds on the glass walls to keep away the real ones, but were the birds tempted by the amorphous blackness or corpses on display or not afraid at all when they still smashed into the glass—and into the ceiling fan, because someone didn’t teach it not to panic across thresholds, trailing its feathers to the bed where it closed its eyes, folded in its wings, and died.

Baffler Newsletter

New email subscribers receive a free copy of our current issue.

Further Reading