We’re proud to present “The Sidewinders” by Seth Ellis, from the pages of Bandersnatch, where, as Booklist puts it, “the editors had Carroll’s irreverent surrealism in mind when they asked contributors for their most avant-garde stories . . . the authors’ whimsical revelries with language and imagery provide mind-befuddling satisfaction.” I hope you agree!
“I admire your protective coloring,” said the iguana.
The soda can considered this for a moment, surprised. “I don’t think I have protective coloring,” it said finally. “I’m too bright.”
“Bright is the new protection,” said the iguana. “You have to be bright these days.”
“Didn’t you used to be bright green?” asked the soda can, who had been lying there a pretty long time.
“Born green,” said the iguana sadly. “Born green. I got multicolored as I got older. And I faded, too.”
The soda can considered again. It wasn’t a very fast thinker. “At least you got bigger,” it pointed out.
“That’s true,” the iguana admitted. “I’m bigger than you now.”
“I’d like to get bigger,” said the soda can wistfully. “I’d like to move around, see new things.”
The iguana waddled closer to peer at his friend, half-hidden by vegetation. “Well, there’s this big hole in you,” he said. “Right there on the end. Did there used to be something in there?”
“Born full,” said the soda can. “Then I got empty.”
The iguana hunched down a little closer. “Listen,” he said, “when Car comes by, he crushes you because you’re empty, and he crushes me because he can’t see me.”
“It’s nothing personal,” protested the soda can, who felt a sort of kinship with Car.
“It’s nothing personal,” agreed the iguana. “It’s a natural phenomenon. But you and me, we’re not natural any more.”
The soda can thought about this. “Speaking personally,” it began doubtfully.
“So, listen,” said the iguana, who was not always such a great listener. “What do I have inside, that you don’t?” He paused, but the soda can knew when not to even try.
“Breath!” said the iguana triumphantly. “I’ll breathe some of my breath into you, and then we’ll be the same inside.”
“Oh,” said the soda can, at a loss. The iguana’s excitement was infectious, though. “How will that make you brighter?” it asked.
“Something will happen,” said the iguana, with the assurance of someone who doesn’t think things through. “Something always happens.”
“Not in my experience,” said the soda can sadly. But it had to admit, something was happening now.
So the iguana blew into the soda can’s mouth. It was difficult, and left the iguana panting, and at first it seemed to have no effect. But the soda can said something seemed to be stirring, inside amongst the mold and stale air, and so the iguana blew into the soda can’s mouth again, and then again later on, and then again the next day. Soon the soda can was so full of lizard breath that its crinkled sides puffed out like a metallic balloon; but when the iguana stopped breathing the soda can’s sides sagged in again, gently, like a breathing animal. The lizard air inside had made its surface softer, more skinlike.
At the same time the iguana was blowing so hard that his skin went bright red, except for the patches where it went green or blue; it faded a bit when he stopped blow- ing, but not all the way. And as the green days flowed by the iguana’s body was hardened by exhaling; it grew sleeker, smoother, a taut shiny breath machine.
“I admire your protective coloring,” said the soda can, who was thinking much quicker these days.
“Lizard skin looks good on you,” the iguana replied. “There’s a pool across the road; come see how much more natural we are.”
The soda can hesitated, for longer than he had in a long time. “Do you think I can?” it asked.
“Come and see,” said the iguana.
Car was driving down the musky dark one night when he saw something flash in the shadow of the road. It was gone almost before he could see it; but there was another one, keeping pace with him through the low brush, even though Car got the sense it wasn’t moving at all. He could just see it out of the corner of his headlights.
“Something new has come around,” thought Car. “A pair of new things. Maybe they’ll jump in front of me, and then I’ll see them straight on before I crush them.” But it was an empty threat, even if anyone had been able to hear Car’s solitary thoughts. It was a wistful thought, even, because Car never saw anything unless it was right in front of him, and then it never lasted very long.
But the sleek flashing things never came in front of his grill, and eventually Car passed them by. They were still there though, and Car had the feeling he hadn’t passed them at all; they were flanking him, fanning out into the spreading green darkness, flashing even as they stood still, small new creatures half-bright and half-full.
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Hardcover / $19.95 / 196 pp. / ISBN 978-0-8095-7266-3
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Seth Ellis is a writer, artist, and designer; he lives in North Carolina, where he writes, makes things, and teaches design.