Any Stranger (Rhoads Stevens)

“Here is a lens, but you should not use it. If someone gives you a lens like this, then you should not use it.”

It did not look like a lens. It looked like the plastic cover of the packaging for an old toy. An old action figure. It looked plastic and had a slight yellowish brownish tint to it.

“This is garbage, I think,” I said. “This is a joke you are doing to me.”

“No, it’s a lens, and if I give it to you, you should not use it. You should not look through it to look at the world.”

I took the lens. It felt like plastic. It was very light, like plastic, and it really did look like the cover for a toy that had been kept in someone’s storeroom or basement for decades.

I looked through the lens, and, immediately, the first thing I noticed was that no one was around me anymore. I had been in my friend’s attic, where she had unearthed and given me the lens, and now I did not see the attic or my friend. And, in the attic, there had been a few more people with us—her brother and my mom and step-dad—but I no longer saw them, either, as I looked through the lens.

I sat down on something that felt like a bench. I had the lens pointed down on my thighs, which were now naked and shaved, and I moved the lens over and saw someone else’s thighs. These thighs looked both decayed and desiccated—falling apart and dusty dry. Through the decomposing muscles and sinews of the muscles, I saw old golden bones. The thighs moved and crossed themselves, one going over another, scattering a bit of decay. I saw that, in these thighs, there were small people on their hands and knees. They were my friend, her brother, my mom, my step-dad. There were many other people who I did not recognize but who were as distinct as any stranger.


Rhoads Stevens was born in Baltimore, grew up in Honolulu, and lives in Seattle.