I’M LYING ON A SHEET with my toes just out of reach of a fan when my new neighbor wakes me up.

 

“Did you ever hear about my early days?” he barks.

 

Compelled by some authority he seems to have gained over me since I closed my eyes, I start the coffeemaker and wash my face, scraping up attention like a high schooler at the sound of the morning bell.

 

As soon as I get to the wall he talks to me through, he begins:

 

MY PARENTS had two sons — myself and another. As they aged, and began to consider their Will, they reached the conclusion that only one of us could prevail.

 

What they had to bequeath, they determined, was not enough to split but was more than enough for one: “The one of you will have twice as much as the two of us ever had,” as they put it.

 

They consulted two Transmogrifers until they chanced upon a method of combining us.

 

ONE NIGHT they took us into the backyard in thick wool caps, and began the ceremony.

 

“The two of you will now be one. One of you will be both, and the other will be none.”

 

They sprayed us with the garden hose, our feet pressed together like roots in a pot of fertilizer. It proceeded like so, my brother and I uncertain as to which of us would be which, until dawn.

 

AT DAWN, it was done: my brother had become both me and him, and I had become neither.

 

When they removed my cap, wet with what’d seeped out of me, my head felt like a dry bulb sitting loose on a stalk.

 

I stole back into the house while they were cleaning up, washed my feet in the tub, and packed my things. I took a plastic garbage bag and gathered only what mattered most: my J.G. Ballard collection.

 

I stuffed all my Ballards into this bag slipped nameless into the night … through our neighborhood and into another and then a third.

 

*****

I ROAMED for days, eating from dumpsters, compulsively removing phone numbers from bulletin boards and telephone poles only to ball them up and throw in the dumpsters I ate from, like tiny seeds that grew stale bread and lettuce.

 

As the days got hotter I worried my Ballards would melt. A fermented smell began to issue from the bag, which grew puffy with gas.

 

I SPENT stretches of three or four days in the woods between towns, sleeping among roots and bathing in streams. In one such wood, I came upon a wedding.

 

I approached thinking perhaps to glean some canapés and tapas and champagne.

 

THE BRIDE AND GROOM, belonging, it seemed, to one of the anti-sex leagues, had sealed all their orifices with a skin-looking putty.

 

I mean all of them — not just the leg ones, but the head ones too. Their bodies were completely impermeable, except maybe for pores, though even there I wouldn’t have been surprised if some blockage had been achieved. And not only between their legs but even their legs themselves were sealed together, so they were both balanced on thick tan pedestals tapering to a ten-toed foot.

 

They were both naked, and almost indistinguishable, as the bride’s breasts had been mashed down and all hair on both of them shaven. She was only slightly smaller than he was.

 

The Officiant mumbled awhile, then slathered the bride and groom with glue and tipped them into a whirling device, like a cement mixer.

 

Once they were both inside, the Officiant closed the flap and, mumbling tunefully now, began to spin it around with a crank. Those in assembly bit their lips and hummed through their noses.

 

The newlyweds spun for quite a while. I was transfixed by their motion, the gist of which was visible through the translucent plastic of the device.

 

Then the Officiant finished the mixing and opened the flap.

 

“All Hail the Skin Ball!!” chanted the Officiant, removing the single fleshy mass inside.

 

The sealed-up exteriors of man and wife had fused into a ball that had no humanoid characteristics except a few imprints of teeth and spinal declivities, like a painted pattern on a smooth spherical surface.

 

Soon the guests started on the canapés, tapas, and champagne, more or less forgetting the Skin Ball, which was propped between a tree and a large rock.

 

When I’d eaten my fill, I approached the Officiant and asked where I might purchase a mixing device like this one.

 

*****

SUFFICE IT TO SAY, the mixer, which I purchased on credit in the first town on the far side of the woods, was even more effective than I’d hoped.

 

I rolled it into a park by a river and said my goodbyes as I fed it my Ballards.

 

I began to turn the crank.

 

I watched as all the Ballard of my childhood — the semen-soaked steering wheels and bestial apartment towers, the irradiated beaches and inescapable traffic islands, the war-zone shopping centers and zombified airport concourses — was melted down into ample white dough.

 

The smell of highly sugared baking bread issued from the mixer, and soon a crowd of children encircled me.

 

I held them back until the process was through, but as soon as it was I opened the flap and shouted, “Ballard Doughboys! Ballard Doughboys! Get ’em while they’re hot!!”

 

Even at $2.50 apiece I took in enough to rent a room in that town and begin a new life there.

 

I knew my supply was limited and that — though this was before Ballard’s death — the odds of replenishment were low. It was really his 60’s and 70’s work, from The Crystal World through The Unlimited Dream Company, that made the sweetest and tenderest dough. I tried to cook up 2000’s Super-Cannes, but the children found it bitter and went back to the ice cream man on the other side of the park.

 

So I parceled out that prime dough judiciously, using only a small piece for each Doughboy, with plenty of strawberry jam and powdered sugar to fill it out.

 

Those were the good years … I was just a young, nameless man in a nameless town trying to make my way, and though I struggled, and was alone, I was happy, though I didn’t know it then, as the young never do …

 

MY NEW NEIGHBOR TRAILS OFF HERE, and I give in to dreams of going back to sleep.

 

But my ear is stuck to the wall, like a tongue to a frozen flagpole. I knew this might happen, but my ear didn’t. It throbs and roils.

 

The ripping sound, when I pull free, must have reverberated through the wall, because my new neighbor shouts, “Whoa! What was that?”

 

I can’t tell if his surprise is from the alien sound of my ear-rip or the simple fact of my presence here — perhaps, all this time he’s been talking, he was unaware that there was someone listening.

 

Taking advantage of his momentary silence, I start tiptoeing toward my bed without expecting to make it there.

Advertisements