Sunday, January 24, 2010


Advice for Beginners
By Edmond Caldwell

Tap it just like you would a soft-boiled egg with a spoon, except use a hammer. A ball-peen hammer works best. Give it a couple of taps with a ball-peen hammer so that it cracks but doesn’t shatter and spill out of the frame. You have to find the right proportion of force and delicacy.

Once you’ve cracked the surface you need to choose one of the pieces to pry out. This can be tricky because you don’t want to dislodge the other pieces. Then all you’ll see is some old backboard or the discolored wall behind the frame. Don’t pick a shard that looks load-bearing, so to speak. But of course you’ve also got to pick one that will leave a big enough hole once you get it out. Sometimes it’s like there’s only one right piece and you have to figure out which.

Once you’ve picked that right piece you can start prying it out, very, very carefully. This part is tough because of the whole question of gloves. If you’re not wearing any or they’re too thin you can easily cut yourself. But if they’re too thick you lose all sensitivity, you start going by thought instead of by feel and end up dislodging all the pieces again. We prefer no gloves for this part but that’s only because we’ve done it so many times; beginners should wear gloves for the entire operation.

Pry very slowly and carefully until your end of the shard sticks out at a slight angle from the plane of the surface. Then worry it like you might a loose tooth until you can pluck it out while the rest of the shards hold in their crack-pattern.

The thing to remember here is not to be distracted by your reflection. This is definitely rule number one for this phase. You’re going to be tempted to look at the cracked, uneven version of your face, with your nose shearing off in one place and starting again in another, and all the varieties of lip-slice. Next thing you know a phrase like “skull tectonics” pops into your head and you’re flipped out for the next month. This is the mirror trying to protect itself, but it’s really harmless if you don’t pay attention. It’s just a matter of refocusing your eyes onto the very surface. Don’t give in to the illusion of depth. Also don’t be alarmed if the surface seems to bulge slightly, giving a convex appearance. This isn’t an illusion but there’s nothing you can do about it.

Once you’ve extracted your piece and the whole thing hasn’t crashed out of the frame, then the real fun begins, although you still want to keep those gloves on so you don’t sever an artery. Inside there’s usually this stuff like peat that has a strong, musty odor, even a little horse manure-y. It’s like packing material, but organic and compressed as if it came out of a compost heap. Except organic matter under pressure gives off heat, whereas this peat-stuff feels like it came out of the fridge. Other times it is more like hair. Anyway you can tear out tufts of this peat- or hair-like matter and sift through it for whatever’s inside.

It’s random what you might find, but not completely. Last week we found a rolled-up length of leathery material like parchment, almost like a scroll made out of batwings, if you can imagine such a thing. Maybe it was the thought of batwings that did it, because next we found the bones of a small animal or bird. Some of the bones were arched or bowed like ribs or wing-bones, while others were so corkscrewed that they could not have come from any normal animal, although they were clearly bones.

Cindy was trying to scratch on the parchment with the sharp end of a bone when we found, in the very next tuft, a ballpoint pen that had teeth marks in the cap. At first we thought it didn’t write, but then we discovered that it only wrote certain letters – A, C, D, E, I, L, and W – and the words that could be written with those letters, like AID, ADD, LAW, ILL, LIE, WELL, DEED, LEAD, ALLIED, CALLED, CLAWED, WALLED, etc. We guessed that we needed to come up with something that used all of the letters, and that gave Cindy the idea – probably because we had some of the parts already, like CALLED and WELL – that they spelled the name of that kid who went missing last year, EDDIE CALDWELL. This had probably been his pen.

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Edmond Caldwell's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pear Noir!, DIAGRAM, Word Riot, Sein und Werden, Dark Sky Magazine, and elsewhere. He was last seen in Boston.


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