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Evan James Sheldon

Don’t touch the lava

I was attempting to avoid the Banana Slug. It wasn’t that I had anything in particular against banana slugs, in fact normally, the creatures were of no matter to me, but here at the party instead of sweet and eccentric, the banana slug mask the tall man was wearing made my skin crawl, like I had emptied a whole pouch of Fun Dip onto my tongue.

I noticed the Banana Slug right away, even as the entire gaudy spectacle of the party swirled around me. Who could’ve missed the exactingly tailored suit? And the height. The Banana Slug’s optical tentacles stood nearly a foot above the throng of immaculately dressed party goers. Plus, it seemed the Banana Slug had noticed the me right away as well. No matter where I went—to grab a glass of sparkling white, nibble on crab-salad crostini, or to drift out into the thick, humid night air enveloping the second-story veranda—eyeless stalks followed me.

The Banana Slug began its slow cornering, and it almost felt inevitable to me; I have always believed in inevitability. I was speaking to a Girl about how to manufacture the most believable dimples, when the Banana Slug finally approached. A Seraph with six burning faces slid in-between us briefly, oblivious to everything but the fresco on the ceiling depicting the hand of God curled up into a fist. With nowhere to go, cornered momentarily by decorum, the three of us stood there and the silence stretched out into something needed breaking. The Girl adjusted her mask and then left, muttering something about needing another Aperol spritzer.

Don’t you think it’s funny, the Banana Slug said, that my pursuit of you was slow, obvious even? And even still there’s no way that you could have gotten away.

What luck, then, that you have caught me now, I said.

I pushed my Boy mask up unto my forehead so the moisture of my breath could escape, and together we watched the party. It really was quite something. A black-and-white cartoon Gandhi was arguing natural philosophy with a Waterspout. The din of the crowd swelled and I lost track of their conversation. A group of carrion-eating birds, primarily Vultures, were doing the Charleston and seemed pretty drunk. The whole party had become a deadening thrum, and I quickly grew tired of the Banana Slug hanging at my elbow. It was time to get away. I slid my mask back into place.

When I was little, I said, my brother and I stayed at my great-grandmother’s house while she was dying. My parents and all the other grownups were trying to decide what to do.

A caterer swerved near carrying a silver platter covered with bloody bits and wearing an elaborate mask that sparkled darkly like the offspring of a devil’s goat and some sort of fairy. I took the proffered bit of liver tartar and savored the metallic flavor on my tongue, making a mental note to find the caterer afterwards. The Banana Slug declined the food.

While the grownups bickered about funeral plots and forgotten hymns, I continued, my brother and I stealthily collected every slug and snail in the garden and placed them all in a plastic shopping bag. I don’t remember who jumped on it first, only that we alternated, our touches light in the beginning like the bag was made of lava. Did you ever play don’t touch the lava when you were a child? Of course you did. But, like I said, that was only in the beginning. Soon we had a bag of slime and shattered shells. What can you do with that? What use is a bag like that?

The Banana Slug didn’t respond, and I couldn’t see what sort of expression hid beneath the mask, but I could guess. The Banana Slug left rather gracelessly, implying a “child mask” was hardly appropriate, even for a debacle like this masquerade. I ignored the Banana Slug and went back out to the veranda. I wanted to feel the thickness of the air on my skin and in my lungs like the night itself wanted me to struggle to breath; something to fight and rail against, something to defeat by containing it within myself.

Soon, another Boy joined me, and though his mask was nearing an age too old, I welcomed him. We passed a cigarillo back and forth until the heat of the ember threatened to burn our fingers and we dropped it onto the entryway of the mansion, hoping to hit a guest who had the ill luck to, at that exact moment, be leaving. Other Boys and Girls came to join us, and then more and more Children arrived, rowdy with desire, rowdy with the longings of youth, until the veranda nearly wavered beneath the heat of our collective breath.

You know, one Boy said, with enough of us, I think we could shatter the moon.

And we began to take the mansion apart, brick by brick.

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