There was a knock at the door.
Alan rose from the couch and waited outside the hallway for just a second before entering. He didn’t want the delivery driver to think he’d been sitting there, just waiting for his food to arrive. He had been, but he didn’t want them to think that.
Through the glass of the front door he saw a bored looking asian man. He was young, around his age, and wore a bright puffy jacket with the delivery company’s logo on the front — black to the jacket’s garish yellow — and a motorcycle helmet still on his head, only the top half of his face visible through the lifted visor.
Most importantly though, his hands held food.
Well, they held a brown paper bag, but inside that bag was food.
Alan had been dreaming about this meal. All. Week.
His diet had started two weeks ago. It had meant to be three weeks ago, but then on that first tuesday someone had left a pack of biscuits in the break room and he’d eaten one before remembering he was supposed to be on a diet, and so after that he’d decided it would be best to just wait to the following Monday to start the diet again. More complete that way.
Other than that one deviation though, he’d done quite well. A whole fortnight of sticking to his meal plans, limiting his snacking to only the healthiest options, and denying himself of sugar all together. He felt great. Well, he felt withdrawn and tired, but he was also very proud of himself.
Naturally, that sort of self discipline deserved a reward.
He opened the door and forcibly stopped himself from reaching for the bag. He didn’t want to seem like a food starved crazy person. Best to let the delivery driver hand it to him. These things had a protocol.
‘Hello,’ he said, and the delivery driver turned to look at him.
He did reach for the bag then, but the driver pulled it away from his reach to read the docket stapled to the side.
‘Prawn toast, spring rolls, combination black bean, and a twelve pack of wontons?’ he said with a muffled voice as he held the bag hostage.
‘Yep. That’s what we ordered,’ Alan said, reaching again for the food, wanting the interaction to be over, now self conscious of the solo order.
The driver gave over the bag, and Alan started to close the door.
‘Wait,’ the driver said. ‘Orders of this size come with a serve of fortune cookies.’ The driver reached into his backpack and pulled out the complementary dessert.
‘Thank you,’ Alan said, taking them, but not entirely sure if he wanted them, not having factored the cookies into his calculated reward.
‘Have a good night,’ the driver said.
Alan thought he was smiling at him, the edges of his eyes had crinkled upwards, but he couldn’t be sure since he was unable to see his mouth. He thought it best to presume he was, gave him a smile of his own, and said, ‘you too.’
He closed the door behind him and carried the brown paper bag and fortune cookies into the lounge room. Alan smiled. He and the food were finally alone.
He quickly changed out of his jeans and shirt and into sweatpants and a tee — he’d only been wearing the clothes until the interaction with the delivery driver was over — settled himself onto the couch, turned on the tv, and pulled the food into his lap.
The meal was everything he’d hoped it would be.
The prawn toast was the perfect combination of crunchy and soft, the wontons squishy and savoury, the spring rolls flaky and flavoursome, and the black bean sauce ran dark rivers across his taste buds that he drank down like a man who hadn’t eaten for a week. Or a fortnight.
He leaned back against the couch at the end of the meal, a picture of satisfaction. He laid his hand across his belly which felt full, but a comfortable full. He didn’t need another bite.
His eyes moved to the plastic bag and the fortune cookies within.
One would be okay. Surely. They were so thin and light. Yes, just one.
He reached across the coffee table and lifted the bag to him. It had one of those sticky tags around the top that he could never quite open and so he ripped a hole in the plastic. The smell of the cookies wafted towards him. He breathed it in. They were far from his favourite dessert, but after two weeks without sugar the smell triggered all the right receptors in his brain. He looked in and and grabbed the biggest one.
The pastry snapped easily in his grip, causing bits of crumb to fall back down onto his lap. His mouth watered in anticipation. Then he saw the strip of paper hanging from the side of the cookie. He’d almost forgotten about the generic bit of fortune that the sweets were named for. Might as well read it, he thought.
He took up the small bit of paper and read:
You will discover you are not alone.
Alan stared at the words, printed a faded grey on the cheap paper, and chuckled. Yes, it was the usual nonsense. A sweet platitude but ultimately meaningless. Besides, he was happy to be alone.
A noise sounded from the other end of the house.
A thud, then a scurry.
Alan looked towards the sound and listened, waiting to hear if there would be a repeat. There wasn’t, so he decided it best to ignore it, and turned his attention back to the cookie. He put both halves into his mouth and chomped down. His eyes closed with bliss as he crunched the bits into smaller bits, delighting as the sweetness activated the corresponding taste buds.
The noise came again. Thud, then scurry.
Alan turned, mid chew, to once more look towards the other end of the house. He couldn’t ignore it now, could he? No. He decided. He sighed and rose, placed the rest of the cookies onto the coffee table and brushed the crumbs off his lap.
The house was mostly a single hallway, with the kitchen and lounge room at one end, a spare bedroom at the other, and in between his bedroom and the bathroom. He assumed the noise must be some kind of animal that had gotten into the house, a possum perhaps.
He stopped outside his bedroom door, gave it a quick look but saw no sign of disturbance.
That settled it then, the possum must be in the spare room.
He pushed open the door. The room was silent, the thudding and scurrying paused for the moment, but there was a smell present. Musty. Not like an animal exactly, more like…aged. He stepped one foot into the room, shielded the rest of his body behind the door, then reached out and flicked on the switch. Warm light enveloped the room, which grew brighter as the halogen bulb became hotter.
Something was definitely in there. The room, which served as a spare bedroom/study/storage room was crowded. Plenty of places for a critter to hide. The desk chair was down, knocked over, as was a stack of his old textbooks. The explained the two thumps, but not the scurrys.
Alan bent to pick up one of the fallen textbooks. As he did he heard a noise come from under the bed. A snuffle, was probably the best way to describe it. Did possum’s snuffle? He wondered.
He got on all fours, holding the textbook as a shield, and peered under the bed.
He thought he saw movement, but it was black moving on black so it was hard to be definitive. He considered crawling under the bed with a broom or something, but quickly dismissed the idea. No, better he take the hands off approach.
He stood up, moved back to the safety of the doorway, and flicked the light switch off and on a number of times.
Amazingly, it worked.
Alan heard a snuffle, saw movement, and so left the light on.
What came out from under the bed was not a possum, or a rat, or any animal Alan had ever seen or heard of. It was round, it’s body an oblong cylinder, off of which came two pairs of feathered wings, and three sets of legs.
And that was it.
No head, no eyes, no ears. Just the single piece of flesh with wings and legs attached. At least Alan thought they were legs. They somewhat resembled chickens feet, but had the same covering of pink flesh the rest of the body had, making them also look like hands.
Whatever definition you chose, the creature used them to walk itself out from under the bed, emitting more snuffles as it went. Alan wondered how it could snuffle when it had no mouth. He wondered a lot of things in that moment, at least in the recesses of his mind; the front part was panicking. Alan let out a sound, a sort of questioning groan, and the creature spun towards him. He stepped backwards out of the room and slammed the door.
Something like, what the hell was that? ran through his head on repeat, although it was less coherent, and more like a swarm of general confusion and horror.
Alan paced down the hallway trying to think of what to do. Should he call animal control? Did they handle…monsters. Which was the only word he could think of to describe the thing. What was he going to say to them? Hello, some creature crawled out from under my spare bed that looks like a headless pig, with wings and an extra set of legs.
They’d think he was crazy.
He’d think he was crazy if it wasn’t for the fact that he could still hear the beast snuffling around in the other room.
His pacing took him back to the lounge room where the remaining fortune cookies drew him like steel to a magnet. He wasn’t hungry, but he was a nervous eater, and now seemed like a good time to be nervous. Alan drew out a cookie and had already cracked it when he saw the previous fortune.
You will discover you are not alone.
That had certainly proven to be true, he thought, first with panicked amusement and then growing horror. The cookies? Surely not. No. No. That was insane. Right?
He remembered back. He had first heard the sound after he’d snapped the first cookie. But, if that were the case…
The walls shook as a thump sounded from the other end of the house. Alan ran towards the noise, bile rising in his throat as he moved down the hallway. He swallowed it and swung the door open.
The creature filled the room. It’s huge bulk leaned heavily against one wall and its six legs scrambled as it tried to find space for the extra mass it now carried. The bed was a pile of splinters and linens, and the rest of the rooms clutter was in a state of further disarray.
Alan slammed the door shut and fell back against the hallway wall. He looked down at his hands, which were balled into fists, and forced himself to unclench them. One still held the second fortune cookie, now shattered, his sweat mingling to make it a sticky mess of broken biscuit, a small strip of paper at the center. Seven words told him his second fortune.
Ignore your problems and they will grow.
The bile came back with a vengeance, and this time Alan couldn’t keep it down.
He waited two hours before he opened the next fortune cookie.
That time was spent thinking through the problem while routinely checking in on the creature. It had calmed down after it had destroyed the room. Now it lay in the rubble of his possessions like a dog in its bed.
Here are the solutions Alan came up with and dismissed in those two hours:
- Starve it out – Except it had no mouth, so who’s to say the thing is even capable of starving
- Kill it – Problematic due to its size and the fact that it seems to have an awareness of his presence despite a lack of eyes. Basically, it might kill him before he can kill it
- Call the police – It seemed likely that they would do able to do something — although Alan didn’t know what exactly — but it also seemed likely that they’d have a lot of questions for him, questions he couldn’t answer. He also wondered how much prison time exotic animal dealers got these days
- Keep it indefinitely – Too many negatives; hard to explain to visitors, lose a whole room of his house, not really at the point in his life where he can commit to keeping a monster
- Give the chinese restaurant a bad review online and complain that their fortune cookies were enchanted – satisfying, but wouldn’t solve the actual problem
Which left him with option number six: open the rest of the fortune cookies and see what happens. It was a problematic option. It had the potential for greater disaster, almost a guarantee really, and by no means did it seem definite that it would offer a solution.
But it might.
That ‘but’ was what he was working with. Out of all the options this seemed like the only one that had even a chance of getting rid of the beast, however small that chance was.
There were two left in the bag. Two seemingly harmless clam shaped wafers with his future written inside. He wondered if it mattered which one he broke next, or, if like the fortunes themselves, all of this was preordained. It didn’t really matter, he supposed. He picked up the one on the left and snapped it in two.
Opportunities to climb high will come your way.
What could that-
A crash. A tear. Plaster and roof tiles and footsteps. From above.
The thing was on the roof.
Alan rushed into his spare room and saw exactly what he feared he would. A hole where a ceiling should be. He ran back down the hallway and towards the front door. Once outside he looked up. On the rooftop, it’s silhouette visible through the moonlight, was the beast. It snuffled, then let out a muffled and ragged caw.
Lights were turning on in his neighbours houses, and through the windows he could see people peering out.
‘Shit. Shit. Shit,’ Alan said, taking the last fortune cookie from his pocket. He really hoped it would have a solution. It cracked under the pressure of his shaking fingers, and with more than a little trepidation he freed the off-white slip of paper from it’s sugary shell.
Open up the senses, and all that bothers you shall disappear.
What the hell did that mean?
No, don’t freak out, Alan told himself. Disappear, that’s a good thing, right? He just had to solve the riddle. Open up his senses. He could figure this out. Sure.
The beast paced across the rooftop, each step cracking tiles and breaking wood.
C’mon, Alan, he thought. Open up his senses? What could that mean? No, he was reading it wrong. It was open up the senses, and the only thing without senses around here was…
Oh no. Alan really hoped he was wrong, but he had a sickly feeling that he wasn’t.
He looked up at the faceless monster, who had stopped its pacing and was now perched on the edge of the roof. It’s posture suggested it was looking down at him.
Alan, feeling miserable, put both halves of the fortune cookie in his mouth and chewed.
The tiles slid under his feet as Alan made his way across the rooftop. The rain had started while he’d been searching through the shed which only made his already dangerous task even more so. He didn’t have a ladder so he’d had to climb up the wheelie bin and then scramble his way over the guttering. Not an easy thing to do when you were carrying a drill in one hand.
He’d almost forgotten he had the thing. He’d received it as a present a few years ago when he’d gone through a handyman phase. Once that’d passed he’d left the drill in the shed with his few other tools to collect dust. It still had some battery though. He hoped it was enough.
He was about a meter from the beast when he slipped. He fell face first down onto the already cracked tiles, which cracked further under his weight. His chin bounced but he managed to keep hold of the drill. He carefully got onto his knees, wiped the blood from his chin, and looked up at the monster who had stepped forward to loom over him.
Alan swallowed his fear, which tasted of bile and fortune cookies, and leapt into action. He jumped onto the monsters back, used one hand to steady himself, gripping its wings, and with the other he turned the drill on. It let out a terrible mechanic whine that was followed with a rumble of thunder from above.
Alan screamed out an apology and forced the drill into the left side of the beasts “head”. The drill took and pushed forward. There was little resistance and he was surprised to see no blood escape the wound. It was as if the monster was made of cork rather than flesh. The creature bucked and scrambled across the roof, but Alan held on. He removed and reinserted the drill to create a similar hole on the right side.
Good. Ears done. Only five more holes to go.
Alan leaned forward and with two quick whirs, gave the beast its nostrils. It reared up in retaliation, it’s two front feet leaving the ground. He gripped tight to the wings, and felt his stomach rise up in his throat.
The beast dropped down and Alan went back to work. He forced the drill into the area where he figured its right eye should be. The thing bucked again, forward this time, causing Alan, already off balance, to slip. He flipped mid air and landed hard on his back, which forced the air out of his lungs.
Alan gasped as he struggled to pull oxygen back into his body. Feeling sore and light headed, he nevertheless managed to draw himself up, drill still in hand.
Thunder boomed again.
Alan wiped the rain from his eyes and charged.
The monster swung its weight towards him but Alan leapt at the last second and brought the drill down to its left, creating a second eye in the creatures front. Alan smiled, he was doing well. Which was when the beast kicked him. He went down for a third time. The drill bounced out of his hands, slide across the roof, and fell to the ground with a smash.
Alan looked from the broken drill to the monster. The two eye holes he had given it stared back at him. It pawed the ground, ready for a charge, then came; one big ball of muscle.
Alan grabbed the closest thing to him, a broken piece of tile, and slashed out as he simultaneously rolled to the side.
The monster, unable to stop its momentum, skidded and toppled over the edge of the roof.
Alan pulled himself up onto all fours, and looked down. Where he expected to see the body of the beast, smashed on the ground alongside his drill, he instead saw it hovering, it’s four wings flapping to keep it in place.
It flew up, drawing eye level with Alan. Lightning cracked and through the sudden light he saw the beast now wore a ragged smile, compliments of the broken tile.
The creature bowed, and Alan met its smile with one of his own.
The monster’s body began to disintegrate, particles of it moving to land on the broken roof, and through the hole it had made.
Where every particle fell, wreckage was restored.
Alan stood in wonder as all around him his roof repaired itself, then looked up to see the last of the beast, it’s newly acquired face, fall to pieces and disappear.
Then he was alone, standing on his roof in the rain.
Alan climbed down and went back inside. He made his way towards the spare room, now completely restored, and checked under the bed to be sure, but there was nothing there. He went back into the lounge room and flopped his sodden body down onto the couch. The discarded packaging of his dinner lay before him.
He wondered if he would ever order take away again.
This creature in this story was influenced by one from chinese mythology, the Hundun. In the mythology the Hundun was the personification of chaos, and lived before the world was really the world. It lived with the gods of the north and south seas, Shu and Hu, who one day decided to grant the Hundun its senses, and so drilled seven holes in its head. On the completion of the final hole the Hundun died, and from its body the universe was created.
The Hundun is a symbol of the undivided beginning, the embodiment of primordial chaos. His lack of senses highlights the complete darkness that exists in the beginning of time, and which ended with the death.
It is also the mandarin name for a wonton.
Thanks for reading,
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