Some odd characters

The second to last of my writing prompts was this mixed-media painting by Jay Long, which and I saw in person this summer at the Old Town Art Fair in Chicago. All of Long’s work is so striking — with this gorgeous texture and surreal imagery — that I thought it would be ideal to get our story-spinning mechanisms clicking.

Two o'clock by Jay Long

Two o’clock by Jay Long

The eyeless rabbit was a student. He was on his way to class, green tie flapping in the wind, regulation newspaper shirt buttoned up to his neck, clutching his fat green textbook in one paw. Politics and Ethics of Neuro-Urban Creation and Domination, it was called, and he needed it to manage the small city that perched atop his head on what looked like a hat shaped like a flat round disk. Actually, the disk was the top of his skull; if you removed it, the city would collapse and everyone who lived in it would die, and so would the rabbit.

There weren’t many like him, not even in a strange world like his. His best friend Raja, an orange cat, grew a birdcage out of her tail two years ago – complete with bird, though rather than singing songs it was silent most of the time and prophetic every once in a while. His other best friend Calyx, a green tree frog, grew extra limbs whenever s/he (Calyx was both and neither) needed to get anywhere; they shank and re-absorbed whenever s/he’d arrived at hir destination. Raja and Calyx attended the university too, but they were responsible for no one but themselves; Raja’s bird didn’t seem to need care. The rabbit was different. His neurocity was populated, and if he didn’t watch what he was thinking, its creatures sickened, waged war, or simply died.

He hadn’t known he was going to be different. None of them had. The first indication was the golden orb that appeared at the end of Raja’s tail one morning, the seed of the birdcage that would grow from it eventually. As he and Raja circled around the room, staring at it and muttering, Calyx ran in from the other room, and they saw that s/he had more legs than usual. They shouted, Calyx stopped, and the legs withdrew and vanished into hir body. They all stood looking at each other, shaking.

Well, Dim, said Calyx, turning to gaze at him. You seem to be the odd one out — or have you got any growths we should know about?

No, Dim said, checking himself all over. All I’ve got is a headache.

By midday the headache had worsened and Dim took to his bed for the rest of the afternoon. He awoke suddenly in the evening, gasping at the throbbing in his skull, and instinctively put a paw to the top of his head. What he felt there made him leap up and run to the mirror. There, at the very center of the top of his head, he saw a tiny, flat round disk, and an even tinier green sprout that later became a tree.