Excerpt from Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Matty Telemachus left his body for the first time in the summer of 1995 when he was fourteen years old. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that his body expelled him, sending his consciousness flying on a geyser of lust and shame.
Just before it happened, he was kneeling in a closet, one sweaty hand pressed to the chalky drywall, his right eye lined up with the hole at the back of an unwired electrical outlet box. On the other side of the wall was his cousin Mary Alice and her chubby white blonde friend. Janice? Janelle? Probably Janelle. The girls—both two years older than him, juniors, women—lay on the bed side by side, propped up on their elbows, facing in his direction. Janelle wore a spangled T-shirt, but Mary Alice—who last year announced that she would respond only to “Malice”—wore an oversized red flannel shirt that hung off her shoulder. His eye was drawn to the gaping neck of the shirt, following that swell of skin down down down into shadow. He was pretty sure she was wearing a black bra.
They were looking at a school yearbook while listening to Mary Alice’s CD Walkman, sharing foam headphones between them like a wishbone. Matty couldn’t hear the music, but even if he could, it was probably no band he’d heard of. Someone calling herself Malice wouldn’t tolerate anything popular. Once she’d caught him humming Hootie & the Blowfish and the look of scorn on her face made his throat close.
She didn’t seem to like him as a matter of policy, even though he had proof that she once did: a Christmas Polaroid of a four-year-old Mary Alice, beaming, with her brown arms wrapped around his white toddler body. But in the six months since Matty and his mom had moved back to Chicago and into Grandpa Teddy’s house, he’d seen Mary Alice practically every other week, and she’d barely spoken to him. He tried to match her cool and pretend she wasn’t in the room. Then she’d walk past, sideswiping him with the scent of bubblegum and cigarettes, and the rational part of his brain would swerve off the road and crash into a tree.
Out of desperation, he set down three commandments for himself:
- If your cousin is in the room, do not try to look down her shirt. It’s creepy.
- Do not have lustful thoughts about your cousin.
- Under no circumstances should you touch yourself while having lustful thoughts about your cousin.
So far tonight the first two commandments had gone down in flames, and the third was in the crosshairs.
Janelle turned a page of the yearbook and laughed. “Ooh! Your lover!” she said.
“Shut up,” Mary Alice said. Her dark hair hung across her eyes in a way that knocked him out.
“You want that big thing in your mouth, don’t you?” Janelle asked.
Matty’s thighs were cramping, but he wasn’t about to move now.
“Shut the fuck up,” Mary Alice said. She bumped her friend’s shoulder. Janelle rolled into her, laughing, and when the girls righted themselves, the flannel shirt had slipped from his cousin’s shoulder, exposing a black bra strap.
No: a dark purple bra strap.
Commandment #3, Thou shalt not touch thyself, began to smolder and smoke.
Twenty feverish seconds later, Matty’s back arched as if yanked by a hot wire. An ocean roar filled his ears.
Suddenly he was in air, the studs of the slanted ceiling inches from his face. He shouted, but he had no voice. He tried to push away from the ceiling, but realized he didn’t have arms, either. In fact, no body at all.
After a moment, his vision swiveled, but he felt no control over that movement; a camera panning on its own. The floor of the room swung into view. His body had fallen out of the closet and lay stretched out on the plywood.
That’s what he looked like? That chubby belly, that pimply jawline?
The body’s eyes fluttered open, and for a vertiginous moment Matty was both the watcher and the watched. The body’s mouth opened in shock, and then—
It was as if the strings holding him aloft were suddenly cut. Matty plummeted. The body screamed: a high-pitched, girlish squeal he had time to register as deeply embarrassing. Then consciousness and flesh crashed into each other.
He bounced around inside his body like a superball. When the reverberations settled, he was looking out through his eyes at the ceiling, which was now the appropriate distance away.
Thumps sounded from the next room. The girls! They’d heard him!
He jumped up, covering his crotch like a wounded soldier. “Matty?” Malice called. The door began to swing open.
Excerpted from Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory. Copyright © 2017 by Daryl Gregory. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Daryl Gregory is the author of Afterparty, The Devil’s Alphabet, and other novels for adults and young readers. His novella We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in Oakland, California.
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