The chair had wooden slats painted yellow and a woven hemp seat. El could see no reason why it should be left at the curb. He touched it, tentatively. It didn’t fall apart.
El needed a chair.
Once he had it inside he noticed the smell. Not a bad smell, but outdoorsy, like mud, and hay stacked in barns. Earthy. El cleaned it, but it still had that smell.
His apartment was neutral, masculine gray, so the butter-yellow chair was jarring. But he liked it.
That night, stone-tired from overtime, he arrived home to two chairs.
Were there always two? They stood beside the coffee table, one a little behind the other, looking deferential. They were identical butter-yellow. Funny how he forgot there were two chairs; he only remembered one.
In the morning there were three.
El stared. They stood, each at an acute angle to another. He had the impression they were avoiding facing him straight on.
That annoyed him, but he was also late for work. He would settle this in the evening.
When he returned, there were four. El found this vaguely satisfying, like when someone you expected to disappoint you disappoints, and you dwell on it like a tongue dipping in the hole beneath a loose tooth.
He yelled at the chairs. They squatted there and took it, dumb as animals.
In the morning there remained four. He searched the apartment, the chairs avoiding his gaze.
He showered, locking the bathroom door. When he went to hang up his shirt, there it was. The fifth chair, in the closet. El’s shoes and pressed pants were shoved aside, scuffed and wrinkled.
The chair refused to look at him directly.
He grabbed it and pulled it out by the back slats. It was heavy in his hand, almost fleshly. He shoved it to the floor and the brace between the yellow legs cracked.
El brought down his heel hard, hesitating the fraction of a second before he made contact, but it was too late, and the wood shattered. The sound was satisfying enough that he stomped down on it again through the seat.
Something sharp jabbed his foot. He yelped and hopped back. The chair was a ruin, the seat a skein of loose twine.
El pulled a chunk of yellow-painted wood from the ball of his foot. It didn’t look too bad, just oozing a little blood and clear fluid, but it throbbed.
He bundled together the remains of the chair and limped to the living room. He dropped it with a clatter.
“There,” he told the assembled chairs, feeling foolish, and went to bed.
That night he heard whispering and wood creaking in the living room. A few times he felt watched, but he kept his eyes closed.
In the morning the skin around the puncture was tight. He hobbled to the living room and found the chairs arranged in a circle around the one he’d smashed. It was in roughly its original configuration, flat on its back, with the legs splayed on either side. It looked like those early hominid skeletons on PBS. Even the splinters were gathered together and heaped between the broken slats.
El didn’t go to work. He napped fitfully, staying off his foot. Occasionally he hobbled out see if the chairs had moved.
He made himself a huge pot of coffee, determined not to sleep. Halfway through the second rebroadcast of the eleven o’clock news he misplaced the remote and staggered through the circled chairs to change the channel.
He woke up slumped on one chair, his feet propped up on another, a third coyly supporting his bottom. He started up out of the arrangement, upsetting the middle chair in the process.
His foot felt hot and achy. The skin was sausage-pink, and a greenish discharge came from the hole in the center.
El missed a second day of work. He limped to the shabby park three blocks away, leaving the apartment door wide open.
Most of the day he watched bees burrow into wide, welcoming squash blossoms, covered with butter-yellow pollen.
When he returned, all the chairs were gone. All but one, which sat demurely in the living room, clean and yellow.
It might have been the first chair; he couldn’t tell.
When El watches TV on the couch, he props his sore foot up on an old wooden chair he found on the curb one day.
He never has found his remote.
Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine and Lone Star Stories. Her first novel, Heaven’s Bones, was released in 2008.