Pixelpeople passed me on both sides as I neared my home. I felt my frame of reference drag and looked back to see blocks of diffuse color exchange between them. The pixelpeople were migrating black holes with blurry event horizons.
My average wife greeted me at our average front door.
“Bertingham, I have a surprise for you,” she said on cue. She always had a surprise for me. I wondered what it’d be today: pixelated slippers? Cozy as a rockslide.
“What is it Ninia?” I said, equally on cue.
Ninia tottled over to the counter where a silver platter lay domed. She de-domed it to reveal a mess like what a pixelbird feeds to her pixelchicks.
“Pixelated Beef Wellington! I got the recipe from PixelMartha!”
“Yum,” I said, turning.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Her voiced quivered. Average tears still affected me averagely.
“Of course! I was just working a kink out of my back.”
I couldn’t smell anything definite. The pixelchems that were turning my olfactory gland into a nervous wreck smelled of something, and something familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my receptors on it. Which was probably for the best. Pixels swap so freely, yesterday’s pixelslugs could become today’s pixelbeef with no difficulty at all.
I slunk enthusiastically over to the table, where only one daisy-patterned plate greeted me.
“Honey, there’s only one plate. Aren’t you and Fretil eating?”
“Heavens no! Pixelated red meat upsets my stomach and Fretil is out with some friends.”
“Who is she out with?” I asked, scooping a spoonful of squiggling squares into my mouth. Tastebuds were ineffective against pixelated food, so all I got was the liberal dosing of steak sauce I used to lube my throat and the ontological notion of beef. No matter how long you chewed pixelfood, you could never break it down small enough. I swallowed hard, making my eyes water.
“I didn’t ask. A teenager needs her space.”
“And a competent mother.”
“What was that dear?”
“What a lovely dinner!” I said. “Delicious, honey, really.” I gave another average kiss to my average wife and deposited my average plate in our average metal sink.
The last obligation done for the day, I went to my study where Priscuit was dozing on a pile of blankets in the corner. I stooped down and poked her in the snout, which she promptly waggled. I had this fear that she’d just stop breathing and die one day. It hadn’t happened yet, which I chalked up to the snout poking.
I didn’t do much in my study. I read the news, took a nap, ate a can of chili I had hidden in my office using an old thumbdrive as a spoon and just tried to forget about the world. When Priscuit woke up, I took her for a walk.
The walk, a chance to vent to someone whose only response was drool and tail bobbing, was the highlight of my day. It always was.
I got to work at eight oh five a.m., as I always did. I decided to wear a hat but it got dragged into a pixelorgy. It could have been anything really, but there were a lot of flesh-colored blocks jostling and the pixelchems hitting my olfactory bulb vaguely said “orgy.”
I worked in Quality Control, the only department of Resolution, Inc. devoid of pixelpeople, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have to interact with them. Toddod/Debia from IT came down to our quality-controlled basement and said something that reminded me of “computer upgrade.”
After lunch, we all had new LCDs. I was close.
I got home at exactly four thirty-five, as I always did, and made small chat with my family as we ate leftover pixelloaf.
“So how was school, Fretty?” I asked.
She gave me a look and said something that resembled “You know not to call me that.”
I squinted. “Stick out your tongue.”
Her eyes went wide and she shook her head.
“Fretil Humdrummer Melktosk, stick out your tongue this instant!”
She looked toward her mother.
“Bertingham, dear, I told Fretil that she could get her tongue pixelated.”
The squares of pixelloaf I had been masticating fell back onto my plate with a squishing, clinking sound.
“All of her friends had their tongues pixelated.”
“Her boyfriend had it done too.”
“She has two parents dear. If I say something is okay, it has just as much validity as when you say something isn’t. More so.”
At that moment, I was sure I had pixelcochlea. Nothing made sense. I got up, went to my study, locked the door and collapsed.
I woke up on the couch with Priscuit licking my face. I didn’t know how long I had been out, but I was guessing about one hour and forty-two minutes.
I snapped the leash to her pink collar and walked out of the front door without a word to anyone. For the first time in a long time, I was silent on our walk. I had nothing to say and everything to think. This was still the highlight of my day.
I didn’t speak to anyone that night, the next morning, or the next work day. I debugged and quality controlled in silence. Nobody asked what was wrong. Nobody cared. They all had their own problems.
On the way home, I tripped over a pixelrock and fell handfirst into a pixelpole. I jerked it back as quickly as I could but it was too late. The fingernail on my left little finger was pixelated.
Pixelated forever. Definition had been banned nearly as quickly as pixelation had taken off. A man cannot survive with a heart of real gold or a brain of actual tapioca.
I stumbled the rest of the way, unbalanced by my pixelated nail and stubbed toe.
I fumbled my key into the deadbolt on our front door. Streamers and a loud “Surprise!” greeted me right onto my rump, as the doorjamb betrayed my heel.
“What the —”
Fretil and Ninia stood with big grins and quivering fingers. “We knew you were sad about Fretil’s pixeltongue,” Ninia said, “so we made you a present.”
My wife wasn’t the type of woman to notice when I was sad, and Fretil was a teenager, so she could give a pixelrat’s pixelass about how I was feeling. Confusion batted at my brain like a curious kitten.
“Surprise!” they said in unison, again. Their bodies parted like saloon doors and I fell on my rump, again.
There she was: PixelPriscuit. “No,” I whispered, tears coming to my eyes. I crawled over to her. Pseudo-whimpering sounds invaded my ear canals. I started petting her, bits of my hand pixelating, trading with PixelPriscuit and returning as pixelhide or pixelclaw.
I stood up and swaggered into the kitchen, where a Resolution, Inc. Personal Pixelator 5000 had replaced our microwave years ago. Yanking it from the wall, I sprinted to my study and slammed it down on my desk. I unclipped my multitool from my belt loop and went to work. Bending the thin back cover of sheet metal, I started snipping wires and tearing at guts.
Years in Quality Control had made me all too aware of how simple and prone to tampering these things were. The vital component was the Planck-o-meter Converter, which assured pixelation down to the most fundamental level. All I had to do was wire it in reverse and it’d resolve instead of pixelate. I bypassed the governor and tripled its power. The hardest part was rigging it to broadcast instead of induct. I hammered the reflectors with a chili can until the shape seemed right-ish.
I hit the “PIXELATE” button and shoved my pixelhand into the beam. It was like looking at it with new eyes. Every vein, every scar, every discolored piece of dogflesh in 1080p, no, 1080i. I found an old battery backup in a desk drawer, wired it in and hefted the device like a soldier of fortune.
“Bertingham?” my wife asked generally as I walked back into the entryway. I turned the Resolutor toward my daughter’s head and pressed the button-formerly-known-as-PIXELATE. She screamed and I watched as her tongue defined itself. I’d never seen my daughter’s head as clearly as I did then. Every pore was like an impact crater. I pushed the bar, the door clicked open with a “ding” and the beam turned off.
“Bertingham!” my wife exclaimed generally. I turned the Resolutor on Priscuit. She came into focus and I dinged the beam off. She was back to normal modulo her new patches of humanity.
I ran through the house, defining every bit of pixelcrap my wife had ever run through the 5000. Food that was never meant to be eaten resolved in my fridge. Our goldfish was an amalgam of yesterday’s egg salad and died almost instantly.
I ran through our neighborhood, beaming whatever I could. Pixelbirds fell from the sky with wings of fried chicken. Pixelpoles resolved into telephonic monstrosities: part Chevy Silverado, part squirrel penis. Pixelpeople had no idea what hit them until concertina lungs were punctured by prime-rib ribs and they hit the ground with a squelching sound. A real sound too, not the reminiscences of sound that usually issued from them. They really sounded like dead bodies falling from a height of five to six feet.
I ran through the city, resolving the world. Pixelbuildings crumbled into piles of Lego and aquarium rocks. Pixelcars stopped moving when pixelwheels were replaced by the complete works of Gogol.
The pixelfuzz shot pixelbullets from pixelguns at me. My Resolutor defined pixelbullets as jelly beans being fired from banana peels and veal sweetbreads. The pixelcops, though resolved, remained amorphous blobs of God-knows-what. I nearly vomited from the high-resolution smells.
The pixelarmy was called in. I led pixeltanks on a chase through the streets as projectiles may or may not have leveled entire city blocks.
Outside of Resolution, Inc. I made my final stand. The next projectile resolved under the scrutiny of my beam to be a birdhouse made of USDA-certified bird. It splattered against the side of the building harmlessly. I hoped they had some more recently pixelated warheads.
A caramel boulder pushed through a few of the glass panes in front and wrapped a foreign investor in diabetic death.
The skull of a mammoth made quite a dent in the revolving glass door.
A juror’s bench took out Accounting.
As my battery pack started to beep warnings at me, I struck gold. Or gooseberry more like it. A jar of jam the size and shape of a Vespa flew over my head, a red light beating within. I winged the Resolutor straight up and it wedged beautifully between the frame and front tire of the Vespa-jam-jar-head.
I hit the ground as a percussion wave of high-def preserve blanketed and resolved the city round. The tank fell into a pile of tin cans and hair clippings. The house yonder turned to gingerbread studded with two-stroke engines. A whole multitude of hipsters in the latest pixelthreads found themselves draped in robes of bacon, cotton balls and fire.
I stood up and scraped some jam off of me. I had done something. Actually done something. The city was in starkly defined chaos and it was all my doing. My smile faltered at the corners. People vivisected after sternums resolved into band-saws pulled themselves through candy-coated rubble. My lips straightened. A man with legs of pastrami screamed near a lamp pole of summer sausage. I frowned. A mob of the neogrotesque slithered and slathered toward me. I bolted for home.
The front door was locked when I arrived and I had forgotten my keys. I knocked the brass handle and prepared for my dressing down. Ninia greeted me with a big smile.
“Well it’s about time you got home! Dinner’s on the table dear.”
I walked after her to the kitchen and screwed up my eyebrows. Fretil waved from the parlor. Her other hand stroked a wriggling hairball. Circles and squares of dust occupied the spaces of the formerly pixelated, newly resolved, recently recycled.
On our average table sat one average daisy-patterned plate with what appeared to be a mating ball of rattlesnakes smothered in a creamy sauce.
“Uh, Ninia dear?”
“It’s spaghettified Chicken Kiev!”
I looked through Ninia. The bastard child of a meat grinder and a corkscrew occupied the old home of the Pixelator. Our fish tank contained a gilded knot of Chef Boyardee that tried to move in a dozen directions at once.
I swirled a mass of Chicken Kiev around my fork. The strands kept slipping over each other, strangling my epiglottis. I wondered if I had wrecked that last can of chili. Fretil winked at me and extruded a pink jellyfish from her mouth.
Adam Callaway has been previously published in Flurb, The Oddville Press, and other small journals.