by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
When Natalie Tsing bit into that donut at her desk, cradling her other hand underneath so the glaze flakes wouldn’t land on her papers, she knew something was off. The skin was too supple and smooth, the inside dough too gooey, too lemony tangy. The donut from the corner store was never this good, never this fresh and tasty. It was fried to perfection, seared chewy heaven—and the moment she pulled back and ground it down with her molars, letting the sweet flavors roll over her tongue, it pulled her back in.
Cosmic thoughts whirled as she was lost in a euphoric haze. Drawn again towards this temptress of a pastry, she exhaled.
The newly-discovered rings of the possible life-supporting exo-planet. Synestia. Spinning vaporized rock formed into a halo. Ring nebula. The beautiful circlet of Lyra.
These images of round bands and their audacious curves pervaded her mind, cycled through like a looping flipbook, images spiraling out of control.
Captivating celestial loops gave way to the vacuous middle. It was as if she was traveling through time and space itself as a force greater than her dragged her lips towards the pastry center.
The emptiness within. The sheer force of its seduction.
The donut hole.
She disappeared right in, her body stretching, thinning out, from her lips, to her chin, to her shoulders and downward—until the hole had sucked her whole frame, her shoelaces going last, rushing in with a wheeling “swwwwifpppp.”
She woke up in a gelatinous substance. She thrashed about. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
Images came to her. Her sister when they were at Lone Beach. Kat and her favorite rainbow swimsuit. Her limbs flying about, engulfed in a wave, like a flag billowing from her vantage point on the beach. Diving in to save her, but not finding her. Finally, grasping onto her and Kat was choking and choking. When she revived, the doctors assessed damage to her lungs. Her active sister Kat became still as a rock, bedridden, her bubbly temperament turned morose. Her brain was addled, they said, and soon she would pass out of this world.
Natalie, trapped on all sides in this viscous goop, shook her head, transported out of that memory. Her tears didn’t matter here in this fluid. When she stopped battering her arms and squirming, she found she could breathe. She was not reliving her sister’s misfortune. That would’ve been too easy. A part of her wanted her guilt displaced by going through that terror. Natalie blamed herself. She was too slow. Too distracted. But, now her arms glided through this suspension. She was in some thick, translucent marmalade-like substance, but it was okay. Somehow her lungs worked, didn’t get clogged from its viscosity.
She kicked her legs, one two, one two, propelling forward. Once her panic subsided and the devastating memory slipped by, she could focus. She saw the blurry image of large shadows darting. As she swam, her eyes adjusted. She realized they were people, wearing suits, all of them carrying briefcases in their hands, their legs scissoring in this purposeful fashion. An alien way of ‘walking’ through this dense world. She tried to flag one down, but they rushed by, barreling right past her.
A kick in the back jolted her. A garbled, muffled sound of shouting, a face contorted, obfuscated in the condensate. The features slithered away. She spotted brightness above and thought it was the sky. Instinct launched her upward. Self-preservation took over as she drove up and finally she could see the surface.
She jolted up into the world, took a deep breath and began coughing. It was air; but it wasn’t. Water filled her eyes, as she reached for large, white birds, or some rough equivalent squawking above as they soared, against what might have been a sun. Tearing, she couldn’t breathe.
She dove back in.
Her lungs adjusted to the gel. She took in mouthfuls of that fluid, her alarm subsiding. Leaving the gelatin and coming back in, she realized it tasted of raspberry.
So, this was the world my donut had pulled me into.
The donut hole where there might’ve once been jelly. It made no sense whatsoever, but there was a kind of calming resonance to it. She could still taste lemon in her mouth, even as the raspberry gel trickled onto her gums.
Among the suit-wearing swimmers, she spotted a billowing rainbow swirl. The form of a little girl. Hazy. Indistinct. Like everything else. It went by so quick, it seemed almost unreal. She followed it.
A laugh echoed in her ears, distinct as tinkling bells. Her sister’s laugh. She kicked harder, hurting her knees, throwing her arms out, her shoulders aching.
She felt like she had been swimming forever.
The attire of the shadowy figures gave way to something more casual. Flowing shirts and undulating sweatpants. Shorts with legs exposed. Children, her sister’s age, some younger. All moving in that strange, hypnotic way through this clear slop.
What is this place? An alternate universe? Some real existing place aeons and light years away? A ghost space of drowned beings?
She followed her sister’s rapid feet, not letting them out of sight. Kat led her to colorful coral-like rock, giant and towering, brimming with holes, as flamboyant as her swimsuit. Kat drew her towards a cave. Inside was a recreation of their bedroom.
It was all soaked in fluid, but there was Teddy Too-tums, the pink rocking chair, Legos and play cars. Artifacts from an excavation.
Her sister passed her a make-believe meal, an invisible thing Natalie accepted. Her sister was not really her sister, not entirely at least. Kat’s eyes were cloudy, her lips bloated, but it was some phantasm of her. Natalie smiled and pretended to take a huge bite—and there was a sucking sound like her ears had exploded.
In her office seat, her donut with a hole burst suddenly with raspberry filling, gushing into her mouth—and Natalie chewed, tearing.