The three headed snake/s couldn’t make up its mind which one of its heads to eat first. It hated itself for thinking that. It wanted to get along, but heck. Snakes are competitive. What kind of snake wants two others in its territory at all times?
So it played something akin to Paper Rock Scissors to decide which head to eat. No one won. It/They tied every single time. Something about sharing a selfhood, apparently.
If head A ate head B, C would no doubt attack the remaining, vulnerable head A.
C was gaining in strength lately and becoming a formidable opponent. B, however, was very clever, and thus would be hard to outwit. So deciding which would be the weakest opponent was tough.
They tried something akin to thumb wrestling. They just got very confused, and tangled up. They looked at each other suspiciously.
They were tired. They cuddled up together, intertwining on the rock warmth, and slept. They dreamed each others’ dreams. In dreams they swallowed each other. Hugged. Shared mice. Meditated. They had esoteric thoughts.
They never knew if they were a they or an it. They played a version of I Spy with my Little Eye. Too easy. Frustrated, the heads wanted to strike out on their own, to develop their own interests. They decided to take turns leading the adventures, and the other two would just go along as silent partners.
Head A went to a Renaissance Fair, and enjoyed the magic show. He found himself puzzling over the tricks. How did those ducks disappear and come out that man’s ass?
The other two heads looked the other direction, and pretended nothing was going on. They would have closed their eyes if they had eyelids. They would have hummed to drown out the noise if they could hear. They had to do all their talking telepathically for just that reason. They hankered after individuality. Too bad, because he could never convince them the magician farted out ducks. That made them really, really want to swallow his head.
Head B went to a barber, dragging the other two behind him, looking the other way. He never came back. The other two took their sadness out on each other by arguing over where the neck began and the head ended, and why he wanted a barber when he had no hair. They felt absence keenly in so many ways. So many poignant ways.
Head C fell in love with David Bowie’s aging lips, the way they swallowed themselves, that pure juiciness that stayed plump and radically sexy until he ate them in public in every photograph in his come-back publicity shots. They reminded him of B.
Heads A and C missed their decapitated tripletor. They started making up games in which Head B returned in flames of glory. They learned to cry. No napkins were enough. They needed jelly. They smeared petroleum jelly on their tear ducts, to stave, and stave it did. Tears shot out their mouths like venom.
“Head B,” they said. “He was one of us. It’s strange not knowing what he’s thinking. The world is a smaller place without him.”
“If only we’d spent more time with him,” they said.
They worked harder on saying different things from each other.
Head A played with the old adage, saying “I am in the grass.”
C closed his mental ears, repeating to himself a Moroccan folk song with a kind of conceptual loudness, blocking out A.
“Success. I am a giant,” said C.
“And I’m not?” Said A.
“I didn’t hear you!” Said C. He was dancing in his mind dressed up like Madonna. Faster and faster he danced in his mind, in order not to hear A’s thoughts. He didn’t realize his imagination was making him actually wiggle, and he was starting to annoy A with the meaningless undulations.
“Undulate reasonably!” Mandated A. “Stop that! What are you doing?”
But A knew. He couldn’t help but know. He had yet to turn off hearing C’s thoughts. A could only pretend not to hear and hope pretending started to work.
C, if he was successful at differentiation, wouldn’t know if A had heard him. If he wasn’t successful, he probably wouldn’t admit it. Yet, there would be the question, always. Did C know A was pretending not to hear his thoughts?
Head A struggled with self-esteem. He started wearing black eye-liner and lipstick. He got a tattoo.
C tried to subtly teach him new tricks for rebellion. Ways to strike out on his own. But didn’t preach or condescend. A appreciated that. He felt almost like he had made a new friend.
Head A found his confidence by becoming a channel. He channelled B. Or so he said. He knew if C said this was all in his mind, that meant C was backsliding on his differentiation. Head A looked at him sideways as he channelled. He made pronouncements about how C was a chosen one. C wouldn’t want to refute that. He would want to believe.
A, channelling B, said C would bring a deeper understanding of snakedom to the world one day. He said that he would say something so profound, so unexpected, and memorable, humans would begin to respect them anew.
C felt great pressure. He became quiet. Thinking. Taking notes at night, as he made himself dream the answers. But they only came out stupid: “Peekaboo Matilda is watching you.” “Normalcy is the pride of little people.” and “Snap grass in two with your will, and you will rise again.”
C scratched them out vigorously in the morning when he read his scribbles. Head A must not know how mundane they were. Being the chosen one was a big responsibility. An honor he wanted at that moment more than anything in the world. More than rats, even the tastiest ones. More than a little rat house with cute furniture, and clothes for the rats hung up in the closets.
A started channelling Barry Manilow.
“Barry isn’t dead!” said C.
“Hmm.” A said I KNOW THAT. Channeling living people is very possible. In fact, it’s the newest trend.”
C decided to try undifferentiating, just to check in. Just to be sure. “Errrrph,” he said. “Nnnnn!” Hard as he tried, he could only find small entryways into A’s mind any more. A’s thoughts came through to C’s awareness as if rusted and peeled by long years in Seattle. Only words hard to put together with certainty, with cohesion, into a sentence, came through, in bits.
However, those words were: Love. C. Forever.
And nothing else mattered.
Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing at UCLA X Writing Program and her own academy, where she also edits manuscripts. She lives in Berkeley. http://lucidmembrane.weebly.
–Art by Jan Rockar
–Art by Plamen Stoev
–Art by Joel Hohner