Umbra by Matthew Vasiliauskas

Nakita Cheung

I created him because I was bored.

Back then I felt boredom was the essential catalyst for inspiration, and in fact for many years I tried to avoid any potential rewarding stimulation by relegating myself to a simple box structure at the edge of my uncle’s farm.

There I felt the thickness of blank incomprehension, the humidity of resting thought, in which beneath the bulbous folds of weary consciousness the breathing organisms of imagination would emerge, and from the darkness I would find myself crawling through the crevices of the past where familiar figures would caress the translucence of my being so that all anatomy coalesced into one shimmering stream of electrified viscera.

But eventually the boredom, as it typically would, spoke and provided instruction as to the construction of B_____.

By now you’re all aware of B____ and what he would go on to do, but perhaps you’re interested in how it all began.

My uncle possessed the tools of creation, forgotten rusted remnants from the wars resting in our fruit cellar, the gleam and glow of mason jars imprinting themselves on the handles and dials, so that a patchwork of illumination would sink into the materials, giving rise to a shimmering haze in which the flipping of fragmentation would peer into the realms of scattering shadow.

I won’t bore you with the technical details of this creation, the process of which was fairly long and arduous, but I will briefly touch on the frequently discussed ambiguity of his being.

As many of you would agree, even calling him a he is somewhat inappropriate as accepted identifiers of gender seem to elude it.

What I can tell you is that out of the darkness of that final evening emerged an amalgam of material, the softness of flesh mixed with the fluorescence of light, so that amongst the blurred apparitions of flapping moths the bending and grasping appendages of silken skin wrapped around me, and as I gazed into the cavernous sockets that made up his eyes, I watched the very crests of bursting thought as they melted and cohered to form a steady, breathing mind.

I decided for it to become a he not because of a desire to have a son, but rather because of the way it would imitate a favored television character, rolling cigarettes and ripping out invisible hearts and organs from the surrounding furniture. Obviously that is where the name B____ also came from.

His education went smoothly, and to my surprise he became equally proficient in both cerebral and physical feats of dexterity, with some days preferring to burrow deep beneath the crops and photographing the fibrous frozen roots suspended and fossilized in the burnt-out shells of petrified explosions.

You’ve no doubt already seen many of these, with the most famous hanging in the marble halls of H_____.

Eventually though a distraction became imperative, and after investigating and experimenting with a handful of rudimentary hobbies, B____ settled on the cataloging and preservation of shade.

At first it was mere curiosity, but as he spent more time gazing and lying in the swaths of shadow, he came to believe in the importance of these unexplored realms, where within the cool slivers of a splintered spectrum arose a language in which the breaths and whistles of embryonic color carried with them entire universes, so that if you stared long enough, you found yourself transformed into a kind of fluid, extracted and inseminated into the rushing currents connecting every form of this existence.

He was meticulous in his observations, documenting and classifying each new discovery:

Umbra Mensa 1,075 1mph
Umbra Oculus 107 .25mph
Umbra Capulus 1.08 .75mph

As you know, the work quickly gained notice, especially when he was able to produce the vaccine.

I still can remember that first broadcast, a little girl lying pale and unresponsive in a hospital bed with B____ by her side. He removed the cap from the container and allowed the shade to spread and sheath the body, the porcelain flesh dissipating into obscurity and giving rise to a penumbral pulsation that turned her limbs into gaping holes in which the few remaining specks of skin gleamed like stars in the sky.

Suddenly, as the darkness reached its jagged insect state, there came a light, soft and flickering at first, until growing a bright red, wiping away the hairy ornaments of black and allowing the girl’s face to emerge, her eyes open, and her tears giving off the sound of popping static as she gripped onto B____ and wept.

Years have passed since that night, and it’s strange how you can now find the medicine in nearly every store.

As for B____, well, I haven’t spoken to him in some time, but like everyone I wish he would return.

He always commented on the comfort of disappearance, of finding that space of mystery where simply dipping your finger in would rip the elastic membrane of this reality, and allow the warmth of hibernating realms to peel back the blindness infecting our eyes.

Perhaps he finally found those realms.

Meanwhile I’ve once again entered the box at the edge of the farm, letting boredom sink in, and wondering what the next creation will be.

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. In 2009, he was awarded the Silver Dome Prize by the Illinois Broadcast Association for best public affairs program as producer of the Dean Richards Show at WGN Radio. His work has appeared in publications such as Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, The University Of Wyoming’s Owen Wister Review and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in New York City.