Daniel DeVaughn, 28
We are walking through a forest of loblolly pine, my father and me, and the sun is going down. It’s been going down for a long time now, for hours. We walk for what seems like hours, bunches and whole beds of dried pine straw crunching beneath our feet, and it’s strange, or more strange, because I don’t hear a single bird singing. The wind moves high in the trees, threading between the limbs too high to reach, creating a susurrous sort of hush. We’re both dressed in jeans and large-squared flannel shirts, leather boots, like lumberjacks, and my father has a feather and beads, some sort of Native American charm or keychain dangling from his hip pocket. I reach out to touch it and immediately he stops, turns around.
I am a boy, maybe eight, so it seems like I am nothing beneath him, that he is a giant of 12 or 13 feet. We stand there regarding one another for a good 30 seconds, and then he extends his hand toward me. I look at the hand, creased and worn by what I know has been grueling violent work, but what exactly that work has been I can’t say. He tells me to open my mouth. I hesitate, but then I do open my mouth, and at that moment he reaches into it and begins to slowly work my tongue free. I am panicking, but then realize that the extraction is painless. There is no blood, no lingering sensation, nothing to signal my brain that this spongy muscle has been rooted out of me.
Suddenly, darkness surrounds us and through the high pine limbs I can see the sky awash in stars, more than I have ever seen. My father picks me up and places me on his shoulders and from beneath his flannel sprout wings, crow’s wings, but a hundred times bigger, and graying, frayed at the tips. My father is now a giant crow. He beats up through a break in the forest canopy and Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” begins playing, as if it were the soundtrack to a film we’re flying through. I look down, now riding the crow’s back, and realize that it’s the one singing the song. “And he’s tradin’ in his Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac! You oughta know by now!” booms from his beak. It’s then that I realize I am in a dream, so I slough off the left flank of the bird and begin hurtling down through icy space toward a slate-colored mountain range.
Just when I think I am about to be smashed apart into my constituent bone, blood and tissue like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I slam into some kind of viscous (actually jelly-like) liquid and begin sinking even farther down. When I try to move my arms and legs I find it very, very difficult, and when I try to scream, I can’t at all. I then remember what’s happened to my tongue. I open my mouth and, with my middle and index, finger the spot where the muscle had been. I pull out a tiny clear plastic cassette tape, the kind used in old answering machines, and the label reads, “κένωσις.” I wake up.