top of page

The Darkness That I Was After


Once, after a nasty breakup of mine, Philip and I stole a cannon from Medieval Times.

The cannon had wheels. There was also a ball inside of it, ready to blow.

We took the cannon to Mark and Jessica’s house, where they were hosting a potluck. “I

had one of these back in college,” Mark said. “Boston has a lot of cannons,” Jessica added. They offered us some food, but we had already eaten way too many turkey legs, so we waited in the living room until everyone was dancing really dirty. Then I signaled to Philip to light the fuse. The ball shot out in a plume of smoke and with a boom that blended into the beats. It tore off my left leg just below the knee, as if it were a fist punching through a wall. It blasted a similar path through a few others in the room. We fell down together in a pile on the dance floor. The ball disappeared. The house was unscathed. I could smell the sweat of my pile-mates. Also, some of their hair covered my face. All of us then touched each other’s bloody knees, fingering the sinews and bone. Nobody exchanged numbers. 

“Mark, can you get the fresh legs from the closet?” Jessica asked. Mark disappeared

down the hall and reappeared with his arms full of legs, whole and half. As he attached them onto us, he said, “This cannonball wasn’t the best quality – more for show than anything else. There’s a mine in Nebraska that sells raw ones. You should get one of those. The blast is mellow, and the impact is smooth. It’ll be sure to impress.” “Thanks,” I said. “I’ll give it a shot.”

I straddled the cannon, and Philip pushed me up and down the hills across town to

Whole Foods. 

The cannonballs were all the way in the back, near the bakery. There were twenty

different kinds in a glass cabinet, and you had to press a button to get a worker to take one out. The Nebraska cannonball was a hundred bucks. After much deliberation, Philip offered to pay for one. I felt kind of bad, since he was a librarian, but he was curious about this particular cannonball. And it was still much cheaper than a cannon, he argued. I placed the Nebraska cannonball in the cart and added a twelve pack of legs. 

In an abandoned parking lot near the highway, I raised my right leg as if I were about to

karate kick someone in a movie. Philip lit the fuse, and the ball hummed out of the cannon, barely louder than the traffic. It lobbed off my whole leg like a knife cutting through butter. The leg rose above the clouds and fell onto the moon. I fell onto the pavement. The feeling was good, no doubt. Philip ripped open the pack of legs and attached one right below my hip. “What do you think?” I asked. “Did it look cool?” “Meh,” he replied. 

We went to the Dollar Store.

The cannonballs were stacked in a large bin in the front. It reminded me of a ball pit at

McDonald’s from when I was a kid. “Do you think there are any weird chemicals in these?” I asked Philip. “Probably,” he said. We bought a handful – several handfuls, I should say. We also bought a twenty-four pack of arms and legs. “Dude!” Philip shouted, emerging from an aisle after something caught his eye on the way out. He was carrying a huge box. “They have torsos!” We bought those too.

We stopped by Philip’s co-op, where the residents were throwing a big bash in the

courtyard. After everyone greeted us with a cheer, Philip and I dumped the arms, legs, and torsos into an empty corner and loaded the cannon. Then I danced, and Philip watched. 

There was a point when everyone was waving their arms in the air like they just didn’t

care. That’s when Philip fired the cannon. The explosion shook the building, and the cannonball hurtled through my left arm, as well as several other people’s arms, as if it were a shark shredding through waves. Then, briefly, a few blown-off arms were holding hands in mid-air. Mine wasn’t one of them, so Philip fired another cannonball. The effect was the same. 

After he attached two fresh arms onto my shoulders, I noticed a woman standing at the

edge of the limb pile, staring down at it. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” I said. “What?” she replied, startled. “No. It’s gross. I don’t know why people do it. What’s the fun in blowing yourself up?” “It feels good,” I said. “And it’s nice to see the blood gush and the limbs fly.” “But there’s the mess after,” she pointed out, “and sticking your limbs back on – seems like a waste of time. And every time you do it, you get a limb that’s more generic than the previous one.” “Well, I lost my unique ones a long time ago,” I admitted. “Besides, it’s all about the blast, the way the cannonball feels when it goes through.” The woman didn’t reply. I then noticed that she had scars on her face, and moles on her arms, and tan lines across her bare chest. Because of age or experience, I felt like I had been banished from whatever world she lived in. I quickly walked away, merging with the dancers. 

Once there was a line of us, Philip let the next cannonball rip. It tore through at least a

dozen torsos, leaving everyone in its wake ruptured in two. As I waited for Philip to mash the new torso into my core, connecting my top to my bottom, I watched the woman from the limb pile leave the courtyard. I told Philip afterwards that I wanted to leave too. We took the cannon with us.

“Where are we going?” Philip asked. “Just follow me,” I replied. We ended up at an

apartment building in a part of town that I hadn’t visited in a while. Light was streaming from a window where I had hoped there would be light. “Why are we here?” Philip asked. “Just wait,” I said. 

I walked upstairs and knocked on the door. It was three in the morning. I could hear

commercials from inside. I knocked again. A woman opened the door slowly – it was Christina, of course. “What do you want?” she asked. “Do you have any of those cannonballs you used to make?” I asked. “Really?” she said. “A cannonball? That’s why you’re here?” “Do you?” I repeated. “No, I don’t,” Christina said. She started shutting the door. “Don’t come here ever again.” I walked back downstairs. “What now?” Philip asked. “Let’s go to my place,” I said. 

My apartment complex had a wide swath of grass that connected to a creek, and it was

shaded with oak and cedar trees. Also, because this place was in the South, I occasionally imagined what it would have been like during the Civil War. We rolled the cannon onto the grass. The sun was starting to rise, which meant that the quiet hours were over. 

“Leg, arm, or torso?” Philip asked. “Head,” I replied. “What?” he said. “We don’t have

any heads.” “I have a few on the top shelf of my pantry,” I explained. I threw my apartment keys to him. “Once you blow mine off, go get another. I want to be gone for a few minutes.” “You sure about this?” Philip asked. I nodded. It was the last time I did so with my current head. 

Right after, Philip fired the cannon. All I can remember from this moment is that I saw

a black globe and then darkness. It was the darkness that I was after. For those who don’t know, the best way to describe it is that it’s like the darkness of a room with no windows or doors, and when you open your eyes, you have no idea what’s inside the room, and when you spin your arms around at full length, you don’t touch a thing, and the only way that you’re sure that you’re even alive in the first place is that you’re standing on your own two feet, but even then, if only for a split second, you allow yourself to think, “It’s okay not to matter.”

When Philip twisted the new head onto my neck, I thought that I would be blinded by

the sun. What I soon realized was that my vision was clearer than it had been before, and my tongue felt firmer against my teeth. “Thanks, man,” I told Philip. “How do you feel?” he asked. “You were out for a while.” I smiled, stretching out the skin of my smooth cheeks. “Like myself again.”

Ryan Bender-Murphy lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction is published or forthcoming in Hobart and Johnny America. Find him on Instagram at ryan.bender.murphy.

bottom of page