Interiors by Mike Corrao
We were hooked from the first line of Mike Corrao’s story “Interiors”: “I prepare my tools for the excavation.” The declarative sentence; the present tense; the voice. The tone is flawlessly maintained as we travel into the depths of this excavation, in this experimental piece described by Corrao in his author’s note as a “product of my fascination with the physicality of the book-object.” This control of tone then allows the mood to also be flawlessly consistent. The tension increases with each paragraph—between the withdrawn, scientific nature of the voice and the thematic explorations of Haptic Feedback and Observer Effect, we were chilled on first read with this bookish, exploratory horror, reminded at times of House of Leaves and the Southern Reach Trilogy. As you read this eerie piece, we hope you share our joy of discovery, and our rising sense of unease—the act of the excavation itself grows ever more alien. How separate is the creator from the object created? —CRAFT
I prepare my tools for the excavation.
Placing the suspect object onto a sterilized operating surface and unpackaging fresh picks and scalpels. It is 4.3 x 7 x 1.2 inches. A small rectangular stack of papers bound together. With minor wear on the spine.
Ridges have formed along the lateral face. The topography is noticeably more hostile than it must have been after its initial construction. My fixation here is rooted in the text’s layout—its physical presence. The way in which it has somehow manifested into a kind of geographical object.
At times, the interior is unreadable. Prose runs inwards, spilling deep into the gutter margin. Segments are cut off from view—obfuscated in the folds of the paper and thread.
The gutter poses an alternative to the human spine. It is a structural mechanism that does not require the uprightness of our antiquated anatomy.
I venerate and admire the antagonism of the gutter.
This excavation is an attempt to further understand the enigmatic nature of this textual zone. To unfold the intricate weaves of the pages and to find what is hidden beneath.
In a sense I am hoping to undo some of these enigmatic properties, or to at least note the surface qualities of this interiority. With this specific tome, these traits are more tangible than they often tend to be. There is a known element that can be tracked and investigated.
The prose can be used as a thread to follow through the labyrinthine folds of the gutter-interior. But certain precautions must be taken. The text is a fragile object. The ink is quick to bleed or feign. The book cannot be sawed in half / torn open. As a safety measure, I have built two portable scanners. The first I am attaching to the freshly unpackaged pick. The second I have fitted with a grip—which I will be moving independent of the former.
I am tasked with carefully unfolding the pages and their sewings. Tracing the prose to see what creases will yield progress and which are red herrings. The physical manifestation of this text-object alludes to the potential for certain spatial anomalies to occur. I am searching for a density of unexplainable events.
A gutter is an interior. An interior is a space that your body can enter and be contained within.
Certain institutions have shown interest in my work: ORG (Ovidian Research Group), INE (Institute of Neo-Etymology), and the Asterion Group. Each with their own hypotheses on what results this experiment might yield. In my most pessimistic moments, I fear I will find nothing. But I do not think this is likely. I find my body reacting in notably visceral ways at certain points in the text.
On page 49 my right hand will twitch. On page 130 the muscles in my right thigh will quietly spasm. On page 205 my left eye will catch its lashes and briefly shut. Etc. I have recorded each of these reactions in a supplementary document (see On the Haptic Feedback of the Book-Object).
These connections between body and text allude to some amount of biological activity existing within the gutter itself. Potentially an unknown protein or enzyme (something bacterial perhaps). If not biological activity, then something less tangible. An anomalous orientation—something Tarkovskyan or Borgesian in nature.
If this object is to be viewed as something spatial, then it is not out of the question to suggest that it might be capable of less explainable / easily measured behaviors.
Here, I would like to note that the exterior of the text has been made to resemble a small painted brick. Its title scrawled into the scars of the surface.
There are some nights when I imagine it bashing into my mouth and uprooting all of my teeth. I don’t know if this is another biological response—in line with the twitches and spasms recorded above.
The portals that form between the body and the text might be viewed as a kind of furthering of this physical manifestation. Creating a relationship between the object and the unconscious. But I am not sure if this is true—thinking here of other cases where unknown entities have spawned from the abyssalpelagic. Rare occasions where a disembodied voice rises to the surface. When the ancient reptilian brain beckons for your basest cooperation.
What determines the influence of an external force? How can I measure it? Are the secrets of this text locked in the folds of the gutter? Is the gutter simply another unremarkable zone, or is it an anomalous terrain, where the abstract and the physical become intertwined?
I secure the text to the operating surface, placing heat-reversible adhesive strips along the back cover. Then I open the front cover and adhere it to the surface as well, stabilizing it in a perpetually open position. My hopes are that this will create adequate tension within the gutter and allow for the unfolding process to come about more smoothly.
During preliminary investigations, I attempted to remove samples from the author’s page and the title page, viewing them as safer areas with less vital information—minimizing the potential for loss or damage. What I have found is that the text was likely printed with full-page margins, meaning that the prose was not cut off in the digital document when sent to the printer. Instead, it was printed across the entirety of each page and then excess marginalia was sealed in the gutter during the book’s binding.
I make my first incision on the title page, slowly dragging my scalpel along the gutter. Severing thin strands of twine and glue. Carefully removing the first set of pages. Waiting for a moment of sharp pain, some evidence of our connection to one another. But there is nothing.
From this initial sample, I learn very little. The gutter-prose is unremarkable, continuing the language initially visible on the page. Ending at the crease of the fold. But further in I am hopeful again. I begin to encounter unexpected anomalies. Around page 49, my hand begins to twitch. When I make my incision, it is difficult to keep my aim straight.
The cut is jagged and portions of the paper are torn improperly. But in this sloppiness, something is revealed. Within each page there are further folds. Microbial plates comprising each larger sheet. The text does not end at the edge of the page. It travels deeper. Moving inwards, forming what might be a more complex system. The page reveals its fractals. It is a cell and when it is cut open, the organelles become visible.
I press my ear against the surface and feel the faint pulse of a moving body. The pulmonary rhythm of something alive. Text winding along intestinal tracts, churning the inner mechanisms of this machine. Simultaneously digesting and manufacturing language—expanding and contracting the potency of its lexicon. From here, I can only attempt to isolate certain traits, as if investigating a strand of DNA. I want to know what anomalies exist in the page to create these physical ailments. What makes my thigh spasm when turning to page 130?
I carefully remove the organelles from their sheath, pulling strands of paper onto the sterilized surface and prodding their various abdomens. Measuring the strength of each twitch in my right hand. Seeing what kind of effect each prod has on my own body.
When I drag my scalpel over one segment, I can feel the veins in my arm pressing against my skin. An unknown object bending them, each segment snapping back into place when the object has passed.
When I press harder with the scalpel, I feel sharp and immense pain across my forearm. A pocket of air in my veins or the rapid formation of plaque.
I fear the depth of our connection. I fear the singularity of our connection. Is this the result of our tethering or is it a universal compatibility? Is it activated by proximity? I cannot bring myself to press any harder—to cut open my body and let my blood infect this object. To give it more power, or, worse, to drown the language that feeds it. Because of the fractal nature of these elements—this infinite chain leading inwards—it cannot be unusual for these anomalies to arise. There is a greater breadth of language present to promote these mutations. The organelles are nourished with greater dietary variety.
I isolate the anomalous features and carefully place them in plastic containers.
Further in, I approach the next high compatibility zone, near the center of the book, where the most surface area per page is swallowed by the gutter. With both covers adhered to the operating table, one grouping of pages stands straight up, held erect by the tension of the spine. I imagine this aggressive posture is how the exterior’s ridges were initially formed. When the user has fully sunk into the diegesis, tightly gripping the text, starring into it. Compelled to see what it contains.
This relationship may also be the mechanism behind our tethering. Perhaps it is this willful engagement that locks our bodies to one another.
The arrangement of organelles here is more complex. Removing packets from the binding becomes increasingly difficult. I am eventually forced to bypass the extraction process and instead investigate these elements in their natural state / position.
I dig into the center of the tome. Letting the tension of the covers widen each cut-slit. Opening thin incisions into cavernous mouths.
The slit is a primitive mouth. It is a machine for the production of language.
Within the gullet is a warren of ink and paper. The scanning pen attempts to capture these surfaces, but it has trouble doing so. The darkness of the interior swallows the weak light of the scanner and renders inaccurate results. I instead dig the pick deeper into the object. I feel for the organelles. Which flex like muscle fibres. When the pick presses against a certain segment, I feel my thigh tense. I hold close to it and follow it along the interior. Into a complete blackness that my scanners cannot register.
Null readings refresh on the monitor. Clicking from ink-screen to ink-screen. My thigh twitches with an intense unreliability. I curl my foot around the base of my seat in the hopes of containing this situation. But it is hard to keep myself still.
The fibre begins to curve around a rigid structure. It feels as though it is comprised of tubular modules—something resembling a spine. The fibre a vein or hose for transporting bile / blood. Whatever facsimiles fuel the book-body.
Tight to the gutter. Tight to the anti-uprightness. Venerating antagonism.
My leg is pulsing. It feels like the muscles inside are eating one another. It is hard to hold the pick against the fibre—to follow it as it wraps around the spine. I do not know how much deeper I can go. The gutter is a finite space but its interior is vast. Its architecture is indimensionable. I feel as if I am navigating a bridge across a chasm. Like I am surrounded by an incredible empty space.
I stop for a moment to investigate small nodes that cling to the modules of the spine. They are soft but firmly rooted. For the most part, they and the fibre do not interact. The path of the latter circumnavigates the former.
The primordial sprouts of an anomalous matter.
I travel deeper into the interior.
Until my hand is completely submerged in the opening. And I cannot feel the outer walls pressing against my skin. And the muscles in my leg are violently twisting. And I am sweating. And I am groaning. And I am tracing the fibre with my pick. And I am trying my best to hold it steady. And I can feel my femur bending. And I am moving deeper. And I am screaming.
The text is a geographical object. It is a microlith.
And then everything stops. And I am resting at the entrance of something unfamiliar—as everything has been so far. It is the soft mouth or membrane of a new organelle. I do not know if this is a sentient organism so much as it is an organic architecture.
It feels presumptive to think that this book is alive. Or that it is acting with intent.
I lean my heavy body over the table, alleviating the weight from my leg and pressing my hand into the opening. I feel flesh pressing against every side of my hand. Speckled textures play over the monitor. The pick begins to drift away. Deeper than I am able to go. Circular muscles try to pull me in the same direction but the width of my arm cannot fit inside of the slit any further.
I lay my face against the page and rest. My eyes trace each sentence into the gutter. A human animal bound up in its refutation, pure———and back out again———and began to scream. Following the rhythm of the prose as it crawls into the chasm and out again. I measure my breathing. Counting the seconds as I inhale, holding, counting again as I exhale. And I watch as the monitor updates with new textures. Descending further into the fractal anatomy of the book-object.
I do not know when I will be able to move again. Or if I want to. There is comfort in the tangibility of this tethering—of our connection. That we seem to now be so physically fused to one another.
Regardless, I will wait for now. And rest. And watch the pick.
MIKE CORRAO is the author of two novels, Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing) and Gut Text (11:11 Press); one book of poetry, Two Novels (Orson’s Publishing); two plays, Smut-Maker (Inside the Castle) and Andromedusa (forthcoming—Plays Inverse); and two chapbooks, Avian Funeral March (Self-Fuck) and Spelunker (Schism—Neuronics). Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AM, Collagist, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis.