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Art by Melissa Mead

Blivet in the Temporal Lobes

Dave Raines is slowly ramping up his writing avocation. Skilled practitioners have been giving him lots of good advice, such as: 1. Write. 2. Submit what you write. There's more, but he is still trying to get a handle on those two. So far, he's been published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and in the horror anthology Thou Shalt Not; and now Daily Science Fiction. He and his wife Kathy have a son in college and a daughter in high school.

June put her nametag on. It was blank. She stepped past the flying carpet hovering beside her bed and whistled. On the wall, the pages of the calendar flapped past April and May, held themselves open until the name "June" could wiggle out from under the mountain wildflowers and attach itself to her nametag.
She smoothed her white waitress's blouse and modest skirt, hoping they would stay modest this particular day.
Fortified by a farewell kiss from Terry, her stuffed bear, she stepped out the door. (As always, Terry tried for some tongue--the bear was shameless.) The restaurant was two blocks away and the walk would be very difficult.
June's life had turned a little strange since the surgery.
The street was busy today, so it was very confusing, SUV's turning into Death Stars, VWs to rabbits. There were pedestrians, too. Most of them looked like mannequins, neither threatening nor welcoming, just blanks. Now and then, one would blaze like the sun, or walk under a cloud, or give her a wolf whistle from a long snout. There was one mannequin who stood in the doorway and watched her. As she gazed back, it morphed into burned-face bladed-finger dark figure under a slouch hat. She shivered and crossed the street. When she looked back Freddie had returned to mannequin status.
Sometimes she just wished for her epilepsy back. But no: if now her world was strange, back then, it was impossible. Now she could cope; until the surgery, she was simply non-functional. The storm would come upon her, she would collapse (and yes, perhaps see strange things). She would lose time, lose strength, lose a bit of life. She was unemployable, unreliable, unhappy, and unredeemable.
Until Dr. Wilton's new procedure. Experimental. "We don't know what the side effects are," she said.
The surgery. After, her consciousness swam out of the anesthesia to find a gleaming robotic carapace and hydraulic lifters looming over her. With a faint hiss, like little air brakes, it extended one cold hand toward her, lifting a scalpel. She screamed.
At the scream the robot swirled and fuzzed and became a mature woman, hair in a bun, dazzling clothes, waving a wand. With a friendly smile, the fairy godmother spoke in the voice of Dr. Wilton. "June, what's wrong? Did I startle you?"
"Yes, of course." The kind woman smiled, but her teeth were filed to sharp points. "You didn't think I'd let you wake up without some support, did you?"
Over time she learned to trust what she saw. Not as reality, the surfaces of the world became very fuzzy for her. But she saw to the depths, now. Dr. Wilton could be as comforting as an old shoe, but was also quite willing to dissect her mentally in the name of science, trying to find out what was going on in her head. Her first date post-surgery was all hands. After that she decided to trust her perceptions.
What she saw, she saw truly. It just wasn't factual.
At the restaurant... She served slabs of meat to puffballs, chair rails, and sumo wrestlers.
Until Adonis walked in.
She stood transfixed. After the growly bears and leering wolves, after the beach balls and spidermen, the mannequins and crash dummies, here was a schwartzenegger, a pitt, a depp. But he must not be any of these. He didn't look like anyone or anything. He looked like himself and nobody else, nothing else.
She shook herself. "What can I get for you, sweetie?" Inside she winced. She sounded like her great-aunt. Well, I blew that one, she thought, expecting him to turn into a snowman or worse.
He smiled at her. The place in her brain that perceived, and weighed, and saw truly, kicked into overdrive, trying to find an image that would capture his essence, that would signal his intentions: he, a wolf, or an octopus, or a liberace. But her new senses weren't functioning.
He smiled at her, and something much older, much more primitive, took its ancient primary place in her brain, swam up from the ancient swamps, submerging her more sophisticated neurology willy-nilly back into the gene pool. It felt good.
"Bacon," he said.
"Beg pardon?"
"I'll have the special." He smiled as she gaped at him, then waved vaguely at the reader board by the door. His eyes never left hers. "The breakfast special? Hello? Bacon, not sausage or ham. Eggs over easy. Hash browns." She wasn't tracking him, and he seemed to know it. His smile became uncertain. "Five ninety-five."
It wasn't just that he was pretty. It was that he was real. He looked real, he looked like a man, not some kind of icon born of a fevered imagination and too many DVDs on lonely late nights.
She nodded. "Be right out. Toast--white, wheat..."
"Sourdough. Dry. Thanks."
She walked over to the counter and clipped the order up. The plague victim in chef's hat grabbed it. "Four minutes," he said.
"Joe, you shouldn't have come in today, sick as you are," she said.
"You can tell?"
"Yeah, I can tell. Wash your hands before you do these eggs, I don't want to carry my customer out." She caught a glimpse of a bunny tail next to her, the other server, and said, "Marilyn, can you cover for a minute?" The playmate said, "sure."
June remembered Marilyn as being sixty and fat but her real self must be something different.
She stepped into the staff room and back into the restroom. She looked in the mirror. She was morphing like crazy. She carefully tucked stray hairs into her ponytail, which was flicking with excitement. Her face changed every second: at first she looked like the front end of a 747 (aha! plane, she thought), then went through her favorite Disney princesses in blinding order, developed pouty lips the size of potato chips (as soon as she thought this, they turned into potato chips), doe eyes, button nose, it made an odd combination.
I feel pretty, she told herself firmly. Her clothes disappeared. She blushed and they came back.
Her face settled into a semblance of the one she remembered before the surgery. Pretty, she repeated, and it got prettier, heart-shaped and symmetrical, but trembled just on the verge of collapsing into ruins--don't even think it--but it was too late.
Everyone assured her that she looked just fine, just the way she used to. It wasn't about her surface, it was about how she thought of herself. How could she approach this guy when she looked like--don't even think it.
She sighed. Four minutes. Better go relieve Marilyn.
The breakfast special wasn't up yet; Joe had just flipped the eggs over, so it wouldn't be long. She scanned the room. Marilyn had taken good care of her customers. Fat and happy, every one. Her eyes lingered on Adonis.
She turned to get his eggs and when she turned back he was watching her. Instinctively she waited for him to morph, give her a clue what he was thinking.
I don't know what he's thinking, she realized. She had gotten used to reading people's reactions. As she carried the special plate to him, she shuffled possibilities: he's thinking, "There's the waitress who talks like my great aunt;" or maybe "That hot waitress;" or maybe, "Why did my eggs take so long?" She looked hopefully at him but he remained himself, not a boy in knee pants, not a Chippendale, not a stopwatch.
"Thanks," he said, warmly. Her hand trembled the slightest bit as she put the plate down, and it rattled. Drumsticks spun in the air, landed dancing on the table, rattled, and with a rim shot crack, disappeared. She looked down. She had dropped the plate. It broke. Eggs, easy over his pants. He jumped up. The eggs grew to Humpty Dumpty proportions and threatened to engulf him. She started to cry. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She grabbed a fistful of napkins, but playfully they fluttered away from her.
Adonis looked sternly at them and they cowered and returned to her grip. He shook his head at the eggs and lightning flashed from his eyes, and with a poof of hydrogen sulfide the eggs disappeared. He waved a hand: a breeze came up from the closed window, whisked the smell to the exhaust fan and away.
"It's okay," he said.
"Who are you?" she said.
"I'm your worst nightmare," he said, grinning, and she realized it was true. Somebody she couldn't read. Somebody who stayed real and chased away her images; somebody who was firmly himself. That was scary. But...
"You're my dreamboat," she said back. And that was true, too--even though he didn't look at all like a boat.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Author Comments

Among other things, I'm interested in the intersection between natural cause and mystical experience. I talked about this with Jay Lake one time and he used the phrase "blivet in the temporal lobes." So I wrote a story and titled it with his phrase. But he said I could.

- Dave Raines
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