“WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE GREAT FISH CAME GNAWING?” by Cavin Bryce

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“To Bloom Not Bleed” by The White Deer

The Earth existed then as one all consuming ocean spotted with a single island near the equator. It was a thin strip of sand only four feet in length at its widest point, but warm and soft so the native boys never complained. The sky was only ever perfectly covered in thick, morphing clouds. It rained incessantly.

On this island lived a pack of feral boys, the last of the humans. Their skin was honey colored, a hue reminiscent of sunlight refracted through amber. The boy’s sported differentiating features spare their skin tone; the colors of their eyes, shapes of their bodies, and thickness of their hair all varied greatly

In front of their beach was the ocean and behind it existed a world of vines and trees. Eyes of all sizes watched them from both the ocean and the forest. This observation was constant. Sometimes, these glaring eyes carried voices with them, starving voices from a dead world. If ever they wandered too far into the brush, or the ocean, the boys were quickly hunted and ripped to shreds by the monsters that watched them from afar.

At first the boys would travel deep into the jungle, swim out into the blue expanse of the ocean, in an attempt to uncover any evidence of their forgotten past that may still remain undamaged. Many of them perished during those endeavors, and the curiosity of the remaining children was eventually made obsolete by the drive to live. Their food sources were thinned to tiny fish, the children of colossus parents, and an assortment of berries. The boys ripped into the slick bodies of fish with a near animal instinct and consumed everything raw; scales, flesh, bones, and fins, everything but the eyes. Even the youngest of the pack would snap the head off of whatever he could catch and slurp their organs up savagely.

Water was collected in crudely woven baskets, or in containers that washed onto their shore. The largest of these containers was labelled: 2% Skimmed Fat. It held a lot of water.

 

 

One of the boys was named Gardner. He was gentle, with soft eyes and a light touch, one of the few who took initiative to look after the smaller children. One morning he woke up before all the other boys and waded into the shallow water bordering himself and the great beasts. There, he rinsed his hair and stared into the rising sun’s rays. He heard the whispers of lesser creatures, as one always did when they neared the water or forest. They whispered promises of a kingdom in the sky, above the infinitely raining clouds, where he would reside after death. The sirens talked of a place where hunger and pain didn’t exist, where the sun kissed your skin. Amidst these whispers came a great booming voice that drowned out the lesser creatures.

“It’s over,” the dominating voice said.

“What is?” Gardner thought.

“Your life. Your species.”  Gardner scoffed. Nothing could reach them on the shores.

“Come, boy, swim out here and see what is left of your people.”

He hesitated, straightening himself in the shallow water.

“Come, come and see why you are so content on your puny island.”

  ⧫

The rest of the boys awoke to see the eldest of them paddling out into the ocean. They screamed bloody murder at their comrade. His name, Gardner, clung to the moisture in the air, vibrated with the force of their confusion and sadness. He hoped, as he paddled, that they would be safe without him.

When Gardner reached the trench he turned to the shore of his beach. He could see nothing but a blur, heard nothing but distant screeches and pleads. When he looked down into the ocean, he saw nothing but an encompassing blackness and jagged rocks. As he plummeted into the water, deeper and deeper, there still was nothing but rock and water.

“You lied to me,” he thought, “there’s nothing here.”

“And that is what’s left. My siblings and I, along with the boars and great apes, consumed your civilization long ago. Out of sheer pity, we have allowed your pack to survive all this time on that pitiful island.”

Dead, glowing eyes each the size of the moon appeared suddenly from the blackness. Beneath them, a mouth cracked opened and revealed aisles of jagged teeth that emulated, in size and shape, an ancient mountainscape.

“We can’t stand to see life so idle any longer. Before you were demolished, your people found meaning in activity. It is cruel to keep you like this, unchanging and unmotivated.”

It was hard to admit, but the beast was right. Day after day the boys ate, washed themselves, and played. Then the next day they did it again. It was all without purpose, without an ounce of understanding.

Inside the intestines of the monster, Gardner saw entire cityscapes in crumbles. There were vehicles and neighborhoods, even entire islands floating in gastric acid. Memories of a time long ago flooded Gardner’s brain. He remembered his brother, his mother.  He hoped that this beast would take his home in one fell swoop and that none of this brothers would feel any pain. There was the slightest feeling of hope, as his last breath oozed from his lips, that he would see them again in that place where it never rains.

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The Chemistry of Mayson W. Burnham and His Surrounding Universe by Cavin Bryce

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Mayson

Image in frame by Nikolaja Lutohina

 

 

Ninety-nine percent of Mayson W. Burnham is composed of these following elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Roughly zero point eighty five percent of the Mayson W. Burnham is composed of potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. As with all matter, an incredibly minute amount of  Mayson W. Burnham is composed of absolutely nothing- we’ll estimate here that 0.0001% of Mayson doesn’t even exist on an atomic level, that 0.0001% of him is utterly void of measurable building block materials.  Mayson W. Burnham is probably a physicist. Or a carpenter. Or a delivery man. Unless he is already dead, in which case he would simply be deceased.

Oxygen: a chemical element recognized simply as “O” on the periodic table of elements. It has an atomic mass of 15.999u. It is highly reactive element, part of the chalcogen group, and, following Helium and Hydrogen, is the third most abundant element in the known universe. As a gas, it is invisible. As a liquid, a light blue. Oxygen composes roughly sixty five percent of Mayson W. Burnham. It is used for cellular respiration- to oxidize his blood and keep his organic machinery pumping. If one were to dissect Mayson W. Burnham, on a microscopic level, they would find oxygen located in his proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and fats.

When Mayson W. Burnham steps outside he first encounters oxygen when he takes a breath of air, as it makes up twenty one percent of his atmosphere here on planet Earth. Plants of all types, when they aren’t being feasted upon by herbivores and omnivores alike, have it in their kind hearts to thrust oxygen into the surrounding atmosphere so that their very natural predators can continue to subsist, to consume. Inside of any house, you will find a residential heater that metabolizes oxygen so as to warm the tenants exposed toes. When  Mayson W. Burnham gets too old for his brittle little lungs to effectively recycle oxygen for life fuel he will adorn a plastic mask fitted to a green cylinder full of concentrated oxygen. Heaven forgive  Mayson W. Burnham if he ever strike a match in this condition for this same gas that supports life also propels great rockets into space– and it would do a fine job of blowing our character to bits.

In the Tupperware housing leftovers, embedded in our water supply, and floating passively, unnoticed and unacknowledged in our atmosphere, one can find the element that composes most of their body. That is surely no evolutionary coincidence.

Carbon: recognized as “C” on our periodic table, this element is the second most abundant in Mayson W. Burnham. It composes eighteen percent of his body and is, not surprisingly, the fourth most abundant element in the universe. When oxidized, that is to say stimulated by oxygen, carbon will produce carbon-dioxide. This gas is potentially fatal to organic life. It is at least objectively interesting that the two most prevalent elements within the body of  Mayson W. Burnham, when combined in unfortunate fashion, would yield him a certain death.

When Mayson W. Burnham was youthful he sketched flowers and vases full of fish using graphite, which exists when the atoms within carbon are jostled about in just the right manner. It is socially expected of  Mayson W. Burnham to one day buy a great rock of composed of carbon, which we humans have named a diamond, and that he should one day present this rock to a woman he is very romantically fond of so as to concrete their relationship and instigate the act of propagation, a fancy term coined to describe continuing his species by means of sexual reproduction.  Mayson W. Burnham remains impartial to this cultural phenomenon. It should also be noted that outside of this ritual diamonds exist as the hardest naturally occurring material. One could conclude that it is a squandered resource outside of our innate requirement of it to survive.

Hydrogen: is an element that is highly combustible and reactive, recognized on the periodic table as “H.” Hydrogen is labelled atomic number “1” and, in its monatomic form, is the single most abundant element in the known universe; making up ninety percent of every atom. It is invisible, odorless, and all encompassing.

When Mayson W. Burnham is slurp, slurp, slurping down a big glass of water he is consuming a substance of two thirds hydrogen atoms and one third oxygen. This substance will fuel his body. It will allow him to think and breathe, to, effectively, act as a functioning human being. When he is tearing into a ribeye or enjoying the passive notes of a coq au vin, though Mayson is far too simple to ever be exposed to such a luxury, he will break down the organic material in order to strip away the valuable resources within it. Of course this includes hydrogen, which will be transported to the mitochondria of his cells in order to create energy for cell function, thus higher function of the body. It will allow Mayson W. Burnham to recall, run, or ruminate.

It is unfortunate, when observed through the scope of modern history, that humans- with their great big brains- have been able to utilize the destructive and volatile properties of hydrogen. The most evident example of this occurred in 1945, thirty one years before the birth of  Mayson W. Burnham, when the United States of America dropped two metal balls onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the final stage of World War II. Inside these metal balls were radioactive elements, such as uranium and plutonium, that facilitated nuclear fission by slamming hydrogen atoms with particles called neutrons. Plutonium is an element that was invented by humans for the sake of explosions. Uranium was invented by the universe but it only explodes when the humans tell it to. These metal balls were weapons known as nuclear bombs. In Hiroshima, twenty thousand soldiers, and between seventy and one-hundred-sixty thousand civilians were obliterated. Nagasaki totaled between forty and eighty thousand deaths. Most were instantaneous but others were more prolonged, a result of exposure to the lingering nuclear radiation.

In 1937, some odd years before the birth of  Mayson W. Burnham, hydrogen was used in an attempt to revolutionize air travel. The LZ 129 Hindenburg was forced to use the highly combustible gas due to helium being a scarce, expensive, commodity at the time. At 7:25 (local time) the Hindenburg was sighted to have caught fire. It was immediately engulfed in flames and crashed. Thirty six people burned to death or were killed upon impact.

Nitrogen: is an element recognized by the symbol “N” and carries the title of atomic number seven. Nitrogens electron configuration looks like this– [He] 2s2 2p2 — and  Mayson W. Burnham might argue that it is neither aesthetically pleasing nor entirely disagreeable if he ever cared to think about it. It is a diatomic nonmetal named after the Greek word “πνίγειν” which means, literally, “to choke.” It should be noted that along with every other element at our disposal we human beings have harnessed nitrogen for the use of killing. This act is referred to as inert gas asphyxiation, which is a very politically correct term meaning murdered by gas.

Despite its innate ability to kill, nitrogen is also a very important part of human reproduction, and the reproduction of any creature that converses with its future generations through the language DNA. Mayson W. Burnham shares, or shared, between 99.0% and 99.9% of the same DNA as every other human on the planet. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. Deoxyribonucleic acid is the main constituent of chromosomes. Chromosomes carry our genetic information, they tell us who we are, and who we are not. Without nitrogenous bases, DNA would fail to hold shape and the conversation between parents and unborn descendants might look like this:

Parent: you will look like this!

Descendant: Like what?

Parent: and behave this way!

Descendant: like how?

Parent: and you will live!

Descendant: but I won’t!

This element, component, constituent- what have you- is the seventh most abundant in our very own Milky Way system. It is also incredibly abundant in our atmosphere where it is actively unified into N2; a unit composed of, as you might have guessed, two nitrogen atoms. N2 makes up seventy eight percent of the gaseous mixture surrounding our civilizations, which is pretty ironic considering its asphyxiating nature.

There is a complex order through which nitrogen is recycled and used here on our little planet. I will condense this process for you now, in the form of a darling little tale:

A rabbit nibbles on a piece of grass, as they will often do, and actively digests the organic material. In this circumstance our bunny here is considered a consumer. When the rabbit defecates, as they will often do, small traces of nitrogen will enter the soil through decomposition; which we will soon examine more thoroughly. After eating up grass for several years and making adorable rabbit babies, as they will often do, our fluffy buddy will, unfortunately, snuff it. As soon as those adorable eyes sparkle no longer, and the pinkest of pink noses ceases to twitch, microorganisms will begin feasting on its corpse. Horrific image, noted, but entirely natural and vital to our ecosystem. Those microorganisms, along with maggots and larvae, will munch on the fur and flesh of our dear friend, inevitably producing ammonia. The ammonia will then undergo nitrification in the soil and be absorbed into surrounding plant matter to be consumed by the young of our late bunny– who was arguably taken too soon, as most adorable creatures are.

Needless to say, Mayson W. Burnham will also undergo decomposition, and certainly may have already. He will eventually, if he has not already, bite the big one. He will then be digested by microscopic monsters and maggots alike. Just the same as our rabbit acquaintance. And so will your dearest friends, and your parents. And so will the mail folk and doctors and brothers and wives of the world. Every person. Every animal. This is our fate as organic beings apart of a natural system.

Calcium: an alkaline earth metal labelled “Ca” on our periodic table and referred to as atomic number twenty. It is a pale yellow metal until it is oxidized, in which it takes on a dull silver appearance. It is the fifth most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust and it’s atomic weight looks like this: 40.08 g.mol -1

If you are anything like Mayson W. Burnham then you probably think of milk when you hear the word “calcium”. And it is true that humans, the honest mammalians that we are, produce milk with calcium within it. The post prominent form of calcium is found embedded in limestone and in the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures.

Outside of the consumption of dairy products, Mayson W. Burnham makes use of calcium when he starts his car, for its 0.1% calcium–lead alloys in the battery allows for decreased water loss. He has also made use of it in the form of Drain-O, which is often used to disintegrate the piling up of hair and skin particles left in his sink. Even though he cannot produce calcium,  Mayson W. Burnham has a great mass of it stored in his skeleton. He has absorbed it through years of ingesting precious animal products.

Finally, what is left of Mayson W. Burnham is composed mostly of trace elements. This includes the aforementioned potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. This also includes iron, iodine, fluoride, copper, zinc,chromium, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. Without these wonderfully minute specks within him, Mayson W. Burnham would cease to function.

Of course there is an unregistered, unaccounted for, volume of space that resides between all material constructs. I hypothesize that it is this lingering lack of mass, the 0.0001% of empty space, that accounts for Mayson W. Burnham’s drive to pursue new experiences. It is an unconscious drive to fill the unfillable void. When he is stuffing his eyes and gullet up with organic and intangible stimuli, it is likely an attempt to satisfy that empty microcosm. And, unfortunately, it is this same lack of initial ingredients in that microscopic space between his flesh that probably instigates the bitter feeling of being incomplete. It is as though his mind is able to recognize that between the cells churning away, between neurons and electrons, bosons and quarks–existing beside the teeniest, tiniest, of particles–there is a definite space that yields nothing, yes, absolutely, positively, nothing. . . and that infuriates him.

So,  Mayson W. Burnham will go on being a perfectly capable animal if he still lives. He will consume calcium and breathe oxygen. He will eat and read and paint and participate in sexual encounters despite his unwillingness to procreate. He will wonder if these things have yet to fill that lingering, empty microcosm. And they won’t, because they can’t, because chemistry is more complicated than smiles and movies and grilled meat and colors.

 

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Image in frame by Rick White

 

Cavin Bryce is a twenty-one year old student of English attending the University of Central Florida. He spends his time off sitting on the back porch, sipping sweet tea and watching his hound dog dig holes across a dilapidated yard. His work has been recently published in Hobart, CHEAP POP, OCCULUM, and elsewhere. He tweets at @cavinbryce.