Jeb Bush Is Sinking — New Fiction from Jeff VanderMeer
FICTION: JEB @, BY JEFF VANDERMEER
Jeb at 6% feels as if he is walking inside an old-time diving suit, but kicks up sand across the bottom of the sea. Knows he is fated to rise like mercury, expelled into the sky through the emulsion of his own silver birthing.
Jeb at 5% steps lively, nothing he can do/he can’t do, the face of every kissed baby in a row of heads on the shelf before him. What is the next thing? he asks. Where is the next thing? Who is the next thing?
Jeb at 4% surges, seethes, wallows, balks, pirouettes, coughs, blushes, skips, hunches, winces, bears witness ceaselessly to his brother wiping his glasses clean on the skirt of a late-night talk show staffer during commercial. Evil omen.
Jeb at 3% is series of shadows tucked into the cracked edges of mildewed mirrors. A flicker of applause, a sliver of light. No one can see him without looking out of the corner of the eye.
Jeb below 3% begins to haunt himself, walks ethereal through a wall. He cannot tell what he’s done/not done. Stops in the middle of tasks believing he has completed them.
Jeb below 2% can hear the sound of spiders making webs, feel in his bones the way sunlight refracts; he glides across grass like silk.
Jeb at 1% cannot see himself in the mirror. Knows he is at the center of the dark silence of a diving bell in an ocean trench. Buffeted by nothing.
Jeb at 0% drifts with the wind, floats across a pond’s clear surface, basks in the sun, has lost his glasses, doesn’t wonder where they are…
Jeb at -1% torches his house, runs out into the street as a swirl of burning atoms, screams heat, kicks dog, roars like a wolf-bear, smashes his glasses against the curb.
Jeb at -2%, traversing a vast, silent desert, bleeds tiny scorpions from his pores. A halo of black metallic hummingbirds rings his head, their wings like blades. “Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!” he utters, trying to remember the tune of a song.
Jeb at -3% believes he is a viral cat video even as his extremities go cold and his brother’s coke-smeared face floats above him, reckless as a cloud.
Jeb at -4% plunges into dark waters, believes he has become a tardigrade wearing a tiny golden crown. Gathers particles of glass to his body, absorbs them, awaits some higher purpose.
Jeb at -5% floats weightless in salt marsh alongside an eternal sea, hears the cries of gulls far distant, wonders blissful when they will pick at his bones.
Jeb at -6% washes up on the shore, stares sightless toward land through the ribs of some vast dead leviathan. Strange-eyed constellations reign his stars eternally.
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Jeff VanderMeer has been named the 2016–2017 Trias Writer-in-Residence for Hobart-William Smith College. His most recent fiction is the NYT-bestselling Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) from FSG, which won the Shirley Jackson Award. The trilogy also prompted the New Yorkerto call the author “the weird Thoreau” and has been acquired by publishers in 28 other countries, with Paramount Pictures acquiring the movie rights. VanderMeer’s nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, theAtlantic.com, Vulture, Esquire.com, and the Los Angeles Times. He has taught at the Yale Writers’ Conference, lectured at MIT, Brown, and the Library of Congress, and serves as the co-director of Shared Worlds, a unique teen writing camp . His forthcoming novel from Farrar, Straus and Giroux is titled Borne. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, the noted editor Ann VanderMeer.