José felt a sharp pain as the object slid into his right foot. He limped to a chair and examined his sole, with a gasp of irritation. What looked like a sliver of glass was buried between cleaved layers of skin.
His thumb and forefinger were not nimble enough to grip the sliver and yank it out, so lacking any suitable tool he hobbled to the sofa and rested for a while. For the next few hours he picked at the wound, trying to dislodge the intruder, but it held fast.
He stretched out on the sofa, his injured foot hanging over the armrest and he slipped into a daydream.
When he woke, (had it been a few minutes or a few hours?) he felt that the foreign body had grown, but dismissed that thought as nonsense. Wounds often feel much larger than they really are, he reasoned, especially after the post-sleep inflammation kicks in.
He turned his sole upwards and examined it. The room had dimmed and the streetlights projected a gridiron of light through the window-blinds. He squinted at the shard in the gloom. It looked ever-so-slightly bigger, that was true, but how was that possible? Am I still dreaming, he asked himself, rubbing his eyes.
José heaved himself up from the sofa and made some coffee. Perhaps it is only a shard of glass, he told himself, as he sipped the brew, but the wound could get infected. I’d better call Dr. Araya tomorrow.
* * *
“It’s wedged in there like a tick.” Dr. Araya said, the next morning, his eye magnified behind a convex lens. José sat opposite him on the sofa, his upturned foot resting on his knee.
Squinting further, an almost imperceptible smile crept onto the doctor’s face. “The crystalline structure of this object is… extraordinary.”
The doctor raised a dismissive hand, before stowing the lens in his bag.
Dr. Araya pulled a pair of forceps from his bag. He tried to clasp the rough edges of the object, but the forceps slipped around and shifted its position infinitesimally. José winced through gritted teeth.
Once the doctor had a firm grip he began to pull the sliver upwards. The skin stretched up around the shard and then sprung back like elastic. José closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breathing to avoid his discomfort. The doctor repeated the action several times, the skin and attached splinter retracting every time it seemed it was on the brink of extrusion.
Dr. Araya shook his head. “It’s not budging.”
Dr Araya rubbed his chin. “Okay. I think this will need surgery. I will clean it up for now, then you will need to come into my office next week so I can perform the extraction.”
The doctor sanitized the wound and left José with advice to elevate his foot and get some rest.
José spent the rest of the day hobbling around the house, periodically resting on the sofa which had become his new base. As the evening drew in, a chill descended on the city and José stretched out on the sofa, pulling a blanket over himself. I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit, he said to himself and drifted off within seconds.
* * *
José slept deeply and was only stirred by the commotion of the morning commuters bustling past his open window. He didn’t open his eyes immediately, savouring the opportunity to wake up slowly. A few seconds later he tried to move and felt something wasn’t right.
He stretched out his left leg with a satisfying click. His right leg felt leaden and immovable, however. He opened his eyes, but couldn’t process what he was seeing, it was just too bizarre.
The splinter had grown. And how. Glacier-like it expanded out from his right foot into a huge, opalescent mass which snaked through the open front door and culminated in a display of jutting crystal pillars. He repositioned himself to allow himself a better view through the window, to the elephant-sized monolith that was attracting attention.
José glanced back at his foot, now attached to this inconceivable object. He did not feel horror, but bewilderment that such an event could be possible. At the same time he harboured relief that he had not imagined the splinter’s growth in the preceding days.
He shook his right leg from side to side. The mass was indeed immovable, but thankfully he had a modicum of wiggle room to shift himself about on the sofa, with minimal discomfort. If anything the foot almost felt numb.
José’s living room window faced out onto a cobbled square, dotted with chairs, tables and parasols from the restaurants which surrounded it. He could see people at the tables pointing and whispering at the object protruding from his foot, some approaching the mass to gawp openly.
His open window also exposed him to the gaze of onlookers. Although no-one had approached him yet, he had noticed furtive glances and interest was definitely growing.
As the day drew on, José’s bafflement gave way to the realization that his throat was dry, his stomach was growling and he was now anchored to the couch with no food or drink. Luckily he spotted his neighbour Guillem arriving home from work and attracted his attention.
Guillem glared at the formation and traced the mass as is tapered back to José’s foot. “What… is that thing?”
José shook his head. “I thought it was a shard of glass at first…”
“That is a pretty big shard of glass.”
“I’m starting to doubt that hypothesis now.” José said. “The doctor called yesterday to try and remove it and said something about a… crystalline structure?”
Guillem looked the formation up and down and grinned. “Yeah. It looks like opal… or diamond, or something? Maybe I will crack a bit off when you’re not looking.”
José cracked a grimace and nodded. “Oh yeah. Guillem, could I trouble you to bring some bread and water from my kitchen? I’m a bit stuck at the moment.”
Guillem glanced towards the doorframe and the mass that blocked the majority of it. “Maybe I should climb in through the window?”
Guillem grabbed the water and bread for his neighbour and laid them out on the coffee table next to José. “Okay, man. I’ve gotta run. I’ve got an appointment across town in half an hour. I’ll check in on you tomorrow.”
Guillem slapped José on the arm and then climbed back through the window-frame. He turned back and winked. “Don’t go anywhere.”
José chuckled mockingly as his neighbour sauntered out of sight.
A few hours later the streetlights began to glow and the ambience of chatter and laughter from the square’s cafes and restaurants rose to crescendo. José remained in his position, looking out at the revellers, trying to work out what they were saying. He had been glued to sofa for more than a day now and his mind was looking for stimulation.
He scanned the outdoor tables at the restaurant opposite his window. A businessman lambasted a simpering waiter. A couple, perhaps on a first date, jabbed each other playfully. A group of young guys back-slapped each other and periodically cheered.
José felt so out of step with the rhythm of everyday life, stuck there on his sofa, but the appearance of whatever it was sticking out of his foot, though inconvenient, had stirred up feelings of serendipity rather than tragedy.
* * *
José wiggled his right leg when he woke the next morning, to confirm he was still anchored to the sofa. He shifted towards the window and noticed the mass had extended further into the square. He craned his neck upwards, awe-struck by the expansion of what he now thought of as his creation.
Over seventy-feet tall now, with sheer translucent walls, the palace sparkled, iridescent in the sunlight. Crystal swirls, fractal protruberences and aboreal shapes were dotted all about.
He wasn’t sure how it was happening, but he felt that somehow, the deepest recesses of his psyche were being manifested into the tower now standing on the square. Ridiculous, he thought, but then again there was little about this situation which was not peculiar.
A large crowd had now congregated in the square, locals and tourists, young and old, rich and poor, presumably to gawp at the fantastical new attraction. People ambled around, pointing at the tower, sneaking peeks into the window at the man from whom this creation had arisen.
Some of the people approached José, commenting on the beauty of the palace, its artistry, its otherworldliness. Others came to criticize and inform him how he should have created it differently, more according to their tastes. Some approached him, it seemed, merely to unload their anger.
He saw some people attempting to chip off pieces of the structure, reminding him of Guillem’s joke. Their attempts were futile however, the palace was unyielding.
José smiled as he realized that it was his creation that had brought about such commotion, a rabble of art and architecture aficionados, rubberneckers, street thieves, troubadours and tourists, coalesced for a glimpse of this outlandish spectacle.
The throng remained as the night set in. The palace became opaque in the moonlight. José heard strumming guitars serenade the babble of conversation, as he settled back on the sofa. He felt satisfied to have had inspired such uproar, discussion and criticism. He had not consciously built the palace, of course, but he felt his vision had been etched into its form and that was enough. He drifted off to sleep with the blinds open.
* * *
When he roused from his slumber, José expected the palace to have grown further overnight. He could hear the whispers and shrieks of the few remaining revellers in the square. After only a few days in union with this entity, he was already accustomed to being riveted to the spot, like a root system for some uncanny tree.
He shuffled towards the window and surveyed the scene. The base of the mass now took up most of the square. A crystal arch had also appeared at ground level. José observed a staircase which began at the arch and snaked into several stairways spiraling both up the centre of the palace and around its perimeter.
The palace walls tapered as they ascended into five ornate summits, two-hundred feet above. José was astounded at the growth of the palace and wondered where it would end. The square could only take so much expansion and then what, would the palace engulf the whole city?
People were flocking to the palace by midmorning. Even greater in numbers and diversity, the crowd swarmed the staircases and filled the square. José now expected appreciation and criticism from onlookers, as the creator of the palace and accepted his fate with grace.
Although he was gratified to have been the source of such a mysterious phenomenon that had inspired the city, he also felt weighed down both by the expectation and the literal gravity of the mass.
As the midday sun beat down, its light flowed through the palace creating iridescence throughout. José had never seen such a beautiful sight and he lay back on the sofa, transfixed. He heard yelps of wonder from the crowd as they bustled around the square and up the stairways.
Then something rose up in José. He felt heat radiate from his right foot. A headache took hold, accompanied by a throbbing multicoloured aura. His thoughts began to race.
He glanced up at all those people who had approached him, gazed upon him as a reclining icon attached to the greater idol of the palace. What kind of life is this really, he thought, tethered to this megalith. No more than a frozen statue, enduring perhaps, but fundamentally inanimate. He felt a sense of dread, considering a life as a mere adjunct to the palace.
José felt a stabbing pain in his stomach and he began to wretch. He felt the very earth was shaking as his stomach rumbled.
He had tuned out the crowd’s murmur, but their din had now taken on a sinister tone and he glanced up at the tower, clutching his belly.
The rumbling had not been isolated to his stomach though. José glared up, mouth agape, as the five crystal spires rattled about, as if at the mercy of an earthquake. The crowd began to stampede through the arch.
José covered his mouth as if to stifle a scream as he noticed the summits melt like ice under a flame, the meltwater forming streams that flooded the street. The crowd trampled each other as they jostled down the stairways in panic. Screams and whimpers echoed throughout the square.
A torrent flowed from the palace as it dissolved, its destruction accelerating and cascading the remaining revellers into the side-streets like detritus. The square was empty now, save for the water glugging into the drains around its perimeter.
José looked on as the mass that had blocked his doorframe melted down. Slowly, the sliver that was wedged in his foot, liquefied until it vanished to nothing. He was shaking as he stretched the skin on his foot, scanning its surface with anguish.
The putrid gash he had expected to find was nowhere to be seen. Layers of neatly cleaved, pinkish skin, appeared to be the only damage incurred. He planted both feet on the ground and sat on the edge of the sofa, trying to gather himself to stand.
His rigid frame creaked and clicked and he rose up and stood for the first time in days. He felt like a titan waking from a thousand-year slumber.
Limping out of his front door, he surveyed the square. The river had now drained away, but had dumped all the chairs and tables from the cafes into the side-streets, leaving the space empty.
José closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on his face, as he hobbled into the centre of the square. He began to dance around the square, yelping with elation.
His feet pounded the dusty cobbles, his arms waving like tree branches. He was free again.