Book Boy

by Zack Graham

I am a boy. I was Doc's boy. I started in his mind. Then he took me out piece by piece.

The top of my head is a silvery funnel. And through it I gulp all the words on the page. The gears in my skull blend the pages together. I was made to make books out of books.

Doc read my books for his friends and his pleasure. His parties were known for their wit, charm and glamour. Before one party he entered my cellar, and caressed me, and touched me and polished my pate.

'But your face…’ And there were ghosts in his voice. 'The parties, my boy, you cannot attend.’

Twenty-odd came calling for my first confection. Doc sat them down, set them drinks and began.

'The Biggest Sleep in CivilWarLand, by Raymond Saunders,' he said, and they laugh laugh laughed.

Doc took my words and wore them like dresses, flashing each one to the ears of his friends. They billowed and swayed and fluttered and sank. And when they were finished, there was not a sound.

His friends broke out into raucous applause, bellowing, thundering claps and bright laughter. They said it was genius. They said it was grand. They asked how he did it. He sidestepped the question.

After they left, he dashed to my cellar, and kissed me and hugged me, all full of sick joy.

'You're brilliant!' he said, so happy, so true. 'You're the best book boy any Doc could have.'

Every Sunday inspiration struck, and every Sunday the mix was new. Two or three volumes, ten or twelve pages, a couple of covers and gulp. A few minutes later my hands would start printing, and out always came crumpled voices anew.

Once he fed me Madame Bovary, threw it into my funnel brain and went to sleep. I crunched and munched. Love, I thought. What a funny God.

Hours later I wanted my own. I wanted to cry. I wanted my heart to clank-clank when I thought of a book girl. I wanted to be more than his boy writing his books.

The weeks came and went, the parties were grand, new blends grew stale. I couldn't complain.

Then came his birthday, his first of my life. He spent a week perfecting the blend through my head. I finally finished it right before supper. I thought he would hit me, or kill me, or worse.

As our guests wined and dined, from my cellar I heard: 'The Copulating Lobsters That Fuck Forever, by David Foster Bukowski.’

So many laughs.

He chugged out my words, trains from a tunnel, chewing them, spitting them, thrashing their names. They ran from his tongue and down to my cellar, and buried their faces into me and wept.

Raucous applause, quickly followed by song, praising the talent Doc put on display. When the guests had all left, he skipped to my cellar, and fed me the story all over again. The second it printed, he fed me again. I printed, he fed. I printed, he fed. Over and over, to laughter and glee. My words watched from the corner, stricken with grief.

He went to sleep when he'd had enough fun. But I needed to get the taste out of my mind. So I fed myself a bit of War and Peace. It was delicious, the pages worn in, tender, the words light, almost sugary. This was the first time I fed myself.

I began stealing volumes from closets thereafter, chewing their glue, their spines, their last chapters. Doc's birthday had left me confused and disgusted – feeding myself was my only escape. I tried his magazines, his chapbooks, his journals. The more things I ate, the better I felt.

Then I tried lettuce, because it was water. I tried peas, and carrots and sprouts. I tried cheeses, and breads and crackers. I ground up my first sliver of meat.

Nothing was printed but the taste.

How could I ever eat pages again? The juice of the steak overpowered my pallet. Doc continued to feed me the pages. What sadness, what treatment, how foul, how insane.

But as the pages tasted drier and staler, the guilt grew in my chest. For how could I unknow my servile position? Why, oh why did I first feed myself? 

On my birthday, he set me a task: to finish the dictionary and make it anew. It tasted like sewage, no richness, no pleasure. He laughed and laughed as he fed me wet sand. 

When he went to the kitchen, I rose from my cellar, and took the knife I had used to cut meat. I snuck up behind him, finger-presses unsteady, and thrust the blade into his back.

I cut out his liver and lifted it high and plopped it and guzzled it whole.

I shook. The taste was richer than lilac.

I walked to the door and opened it wide, the very same door he forbade me from nearing. As I crossed the front lawn, a voice rose inside me, a voice that I'd let die millions of times.

'I am a boy,' I struggled to gurgle.

There were my words, no longer in shadows, no longer his property, mine mine mine mine. 

'I was his boy,' I bubbled out loud.

'I started in his mind. Then he took me out piece by piece.'

I felt a warmness, a blast from a flame the size of the buildings that tickle the sky. I heard birds chirping, just like in the books. The heat overwhelmed me. I heard someone scream. 'The top of my head is a silvery funnel! And through it I gulp all the words on the page! The gears in my skull blend the pages together! I was was was made to make…’

More screaming, quick footsteps, doors slamming shut. They fear me, his friends, my biggest admirers. No one will listen to a Doctor's book boy. They'll only listen to the Doctor himself.

The hotness comes down from the heavens, so liquid. My heart starts to sizzle as I gulp more light. My voice melts the gears in my skull together. More screaming. Now sirens. I gurgle. No use.

Zack Graham's writing has appeared in The National Book Review, The Review Review, English Kills Review and elsewhere. He is at work on a collection of short fiction and a novel. @zgraham19

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