Quantum fiction by Mario Milosevic.
Occasional posts of exactly one hundred words.
27 January 2008
The Last Post
This blog has been my home on the web for almost three years, but I have not posted here regularly for some time, and it’s really starting to feel like it’s at the end of its run. I had a lot of fun with the form and truly appreciate the many wonderful comments from my readers. Now I want to devote most of my creative energies to writing books. You can follow my adventures on my new blog: Mario Milosevic, which is going to be a more traditional blog with more newsy and personal items about me. See you there.
The constable found horseshoe tracks near a burgled house. He wanted to know if they were from shoes I had made. I told him my shoes leave no tracks. He scratched his head. No tracks? he said. I explained how I fashioned the shoes from cold iron, which repelled weight. My horses float on them. I handed him a lump of the iron I used. His jaw dropped. This weighs no more than air, he said, where did you get this stuff? I leaned close to him. Stole it from fairies, I said. He nodded slowly. Of course, he murmured.
Yeah, it’s a funny name for a sanitation engineer. My esteemed colleague thought it up. Makes us laugh, anyway. We look through the trash bins as we empty them. Never know what we’ll find. I started a vintage tie collection from what I got out of one can. The weirdest thing, though, was this one house where they put their can out every single week, but there was never anything in it. Always completely empty. Made us wonder, I’ll tell you. Never saw the people. Often wondered about them. I mean, really, who in their right mind throws out air?
Tell you the truth, I actually like bugs. They’re cute and most are much cleaner than a lot of other animals that people keep as pets. But I’m not sentimental about it. People want them killed and I’m there to kill them. Sometimes I get nightmares, though. I dream about giant silverfish carrying insecticide canisters and dousing me with eighteen inch wands set on wide dispersal fan spray. I wake in a cold sweat. Then I calm myself down with a cigarette on the porch and freshen up the small bowl of sugar water I put there for the ants.
I called it my zen bridge. There was this narrowing in the gorge where I lived. Whenever I drove by it a bridge came to my mind. The finished design was there in my head. For years I saw the bridge whenever I drove by the narrowing. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was a bridge no one would build. There were already two bridges over the gorge, no reason for another. One day I stopped the car and walked to the lip of the narrowing. I put my foot forward. The zen bridge was there. Waiting.
My class was tough, sure, but only because my subject, Topological Constraints on Sub Atomic Singularities, was not easy. Three weeks into the semester I noticed empty seats in the lecture hall. This was not disturbing, but the next week there were several more. Two weeks later almost all the seats were empty. I asked one of my four remaining students where everyone was. She looked at me like I was mad. I don’t understand your question, she said, we’re all here. I squinted at the empty chairs. I never believed in ghosts, but right then, I wished I did.
Our ship encountered rough seas in an enormous storm. We sunk. I scrambled onto a lifeboat and drifted for days. Eventually I beached on an island. The natives offered me food, water, and a hut until my people found me. I accepted with thanks. They brought me slaves. A man and woman in chains for my use. Reluctantly, I accepted. That night I cut off their chains. We took food and water and boarded my lifeboat. Within hours at sea the former slaves began moaning for their life on the island. They cursed me repeatedly. They called me the devil.
It’s ok if you hate me. I’m not that crazy about you either. Nothing personal. It’s just that so many of you don’t hang up on me when that’s exactly what you should do. I remember one call. It was early in my career. I was selling ring tones for cell phones. The customer asked to hear them. I played a couple. She asked to hear every single ring tone in my inventory. I played the entire list. Ninety tones. You don’t have the one I want, she said. Then she hung up. That call made me smile for days.
Today is my fiftieth birthday. Part of me is just fine with being fifty. Part of me still wishes I was twenty something. None of that matters to the universe, of course. It trundles on, oblivious to my machinations. To celebrate the day, Kim and I are going to go see a movie, have lunch at our favorite restaurant, and maybe go to the art museum. I’ve also decided to read Proust, and I’m going to document my adventure on (what else?) a blog. It’s called Marcel et Moi. Kindly take a look and let me know what you think.
I learned how to turn anything into gold. Not such a great idea, it turned out. My method became well known and gold flooded the market. The price plummeted to nothing. People blamed me, like it was my fault they didn’t use the method wisely. So for my next miracle I labored to understand how to make gold disappear. Not such an easy thing. Matter has a certain inertia to it: it wants to remain matter. But I did figure it out. All I need is a chance to prove it. If they ever let me out of this prison.
People often want to know if I ever have doubts. Usually I deflect the question, but if the person is asking out of more than idle curiosity, I tell them. Sure I have doubts. All the faithful do. That’s why we need a community of believers, for the support. That’s why we go to foreign countries, to help build the world wide community. When I was a young man, I flirted with atheism. I looked to the sky, and it was empty. How amazing! How right! Now, of course, such thoughts make me sad. Emptiness will always break your heart.
You can’t do this work for long without developing a certain loathing for the male gaze, the male desire, the male soul. On stage, I use that old trick, imagining the audience naked. Then they become so pathetic in my mind that I can go through my act unscathed by their need. It’s a living, what can I say? Truth is, I live for my volunteer time. I make meals at the homeless shelter several days a week. They have people who really need a helping hand. Lots of blind guys end up there. I like them best of all.
Once a hunter brought me a kill for mounting that I did not recognize. She was a duck hunter, but this wasn’t any duck. It had a pointed beak and fur instead of feathers. You can imagine my reaction. I told her there was no such creature as this and I didn’t appreciate her trying to fool me. But she insisted this was no joke. So I looked at the specimen again. I admit I could see the work of the creator in its form. The hunter saw it too. We filled a moment, mourning the loss of its spirit.
The trick is to use your free hand to stretch out the sheep’s skin. Otherwise you’ll leave all kinds of wool on the animal, which isn’t good. Another trick is to make the sheep do the work for you. They’re going to flop around, but you want them to flop around to your benefit. I remember one sheep that wouldn’t move. Stood there like a rock. Looked me in the eye. Daring me, like. I thought, what’s the problem with this one? It backed away and I didn’t follow. Maybe someone else sheared it, but not me. Not that day.
Sure, I get one legged customers. They don’t like the regular shoe stores because they have to buy a pair, which means they waste half their money on a shoe they’ll never use. So they come to me. I custom make one shoe. We’re both happy: I make a sale, and they don’t get ripped off. It’s good. But I tell you, it gets weird after the sale. The shoe I didn’t make sits on my bench. I brush it away, but my hand goes right through it. It isn’t there, see, but I feel it. It has this presence.
I believed liberating people from the tyranny of their possessions made them better people. Such thoughts helped me steal with a clear conscience. Early in my career I took a wallet from a dazed man who wandered past me on a crowded sidewalk. I then ducked through the press of people and opened the wallet to appraise my takings. It was empty. No money, no cards, no photos. Nothing. I wanted to return the wallet. I looked for the man, but never found him. I still have the wallet and open it from time to time to examine its interior.
We were working on a complicated account involving the judicious concealment of offshore assets when we realized one from our team had been absent for days. Her cubicle was eerily empty, only a snapshot of her dog to indicate a living being had ever been there. We called her house but there was no answer. We sent her an email, inquiring as to her whereabouts. We heard nothing for weeks. Then, after work on the account was completed, a moving company arrived and took the picture of her dog. We were all relieved that the photo was finally accounted for.
I was contemplating a new production and struggling with the closing number when I found all but one of the steps I needed on the beach near sunset, following the tracks of sanderlings crossing and recrossing the surf line. I spent most of that night searching for the missing step but never found it. Decades later my granddaughter showed me her new toy: a tin wind up bird. She set it skittering across the floor. As I watched, the step that had evaded me crystallized in my mind. I closed my eyes and watched my dancers step into the void.
I wait at train stations. It’s mostly old people that take trains nowadays, and many of them want a summing up of their lives. The sign on my table says it all: GET YOUR LIFE’S STORY WRITTEN DOWN. GREAT SOUVENIR FOR YOUR GRANDCHILDREN. $100. I get takers, even at that price. They tell me about their life since the womb and I write it up, knowing their faulty memories distort events outrageously. There comes a point when their voices lower, and they tell me something wicked they did. But I want you to leave that part out, they always say.
I was born with smaller than normal hands. This caused me no end of grief as I grew up, enduring the taunts of my classmates. I floundered in school, edging towards a life of crime. Then I discovered shorthand, which seemed like the voice of divinity itself laid bare for my adoration. I studied the system until I became expert. I earned my living by writing down what really important people said during extra important meetings. Sometimes, as I worked, I purposely left out crucial phrases. On those occasions I tightened my little hands into fists until they turned white.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, my parents told me, so I went to school to become a compiler of dictionaries, which proved to be a lucrative and stable occupation. I collected words from many sources: rivers, people’s mouths, the underbellies of clouds, and the blood of fallen creatures. Words were everywhere; all I had to do was grab them and bring them back to my office where I wrestled them into my dictionaries. On several occasions I found words hanging from trees in my back yard. I left them there and watched them turn color and fall to the ground.
A small bribe was usually all it took to keep a town off my maps. Sometimes less than a bribe. A simple request, coupled with a hard luck story about the need for secrecy, would often keep your town absent from all official charts. After my retirement I visited one of those ghost towns, a tiny fishing village on the rocky southern coast. People remembered me and took me into their homes. Their faces were blank. Their eyes were wide as children’s. They offered me bowls of fishy stew. The sea behind me boiled with the frenzy of living things.
The giant was completely covered with tattoos. We found his body washed up on our island’s shore while scavanging for clams one morning. Following ancient practice, we skinned the giant and cut his hide into pieces, then rigged a ship with those pieces. We set sail the next day. That evening, as the waves tossed our craft in the darkness, we were inundated with dreams of life as a giant. Our feet crushed the Earth. Our hands eclipsed the sun. Our brains looped endlessly with tales of massive meals. We awoke sobered and disoriented. We tactfully avoided all neighboring islands.
Doublechin Flashbulb stood next to her cross cut paper shredder on the sidewalk. She offered a dollar bill to everyone who passed by. Most declined Doublechin’s gift, many with a decidedly frightened look. When someone accepted, Doublechin indicated the paper shredder with a long sweep of her hand. Her meaning was clear. People stood holding the dollar bill. They looked at the shredder, then back at the bill. In the end, most of them shredded the money. They thanked Doublechin for the unexpected pleasure it gave them. Those that chose to keep the dollar also chose to remain completely silent.
Bloodstain Hatchback had herself shrunk to the size of a pencil eraser. She attached wings to her shoulder blades and flew into a beehive. The queen acknowledged Bloodstain’s presence by brushing her with her antennae. Bloodstain murmured her thanks, then asked permission to fly with the workers as they collected nectar. The queen sighed. She wanted to go collecting as well, but her responsibilities kept her in the hive. All these babies, she said to Bloodstain, they get to you after a while. Bloodstain nodded. She ran her hands over a newly laid egg. Its soft warmth made her shiver.
Cornerlot Presskit found a penny on the sidewalk. It was several yards wide and half a foot thick. He carried it to his bank to deposit it into his account. The teller said she couldn’t accept the coin because it was too big to fit into the bank’s coin counting machine. Cornerlot said that since it was only one penny, there was no need to machine count it. The teller’s world tilted and slipped away into the void. I’ll get the manager, she said. I’ll wait right here, said Cornerlot. The manager never came. Cornerlot’s penny got bigger and bigger.
Muriel Rukeyser came close to understanding the strange truth. In her poem “The Speed of Darkness” we find this line: “The world is made of stories, not atoms.” That was in 1968. Since then we have seen many refinements of her key insight. In particular, intensive research funded by both para literary institutions and beauty parlors has determined that stories, whatever their charm, are actually made up of discrete quantum “packets” of words handed down to us. The length of these packets vary according to genre, but for each genre they are unwavering. Trust us. We're not stringing you along.
Covered by the night and our woolen masks, we broke into the library and released the books back to the wild. The volumes were close-mouthed about their rescue; muted, we saw, by years of incarceration on metal shelving. They were unable to express any gratitude for their rescue. We left them to their new found freedom. Weeks later we saw them, derelict on the streets, with tattered pages and faded dust covers. Many were splayed open with spines baking in the sun. We heard the pop of binding glue splitting. We put our hands to our ears, craving only silence.
Well, despite yesterday’s announcement, here I am with a new post. This time I want to tell you that I am serializing a novel I wrote a couple of years ago called Terrastina and Mazolli. You can find episodes posted at my new blog: Terrastina and Mazolli. I’ll try to post daily. There are 398 episodes, all of them exactly 99 words long. Why do I write in these small chunks of prose? you may ask. I don’t know. It just works for me. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. OK, now CR is really really going to take a break.
Conditional Reality is taking its annual break for rest and relaxation. As before, I will begin posting again in early February. Thanks to all my loyal readers for your abiding attention and interest in my work. Also, a hello and wave to those passersby who stop for a look and move on. If you’re new to CR, feel free to browse the archives. All my poetry books are still available. Links to the left. Also take a moment and visit some friends of CR. I’m sure you’ll find some material to suit your fancy. See you in the new year.
Brushback Palimpsest never grew any teeth. Neither did any of her family or ancestors. When she was five years old Brushback's parents gave her a set of teeth carved from whale bones which had been in the family for thousands of years. Brushback put the teeth into her mouth and clamped down to test the bite. She tasted seaweed and crabs. She had the sensation of floating. She crawled on her belly and rippled her legs up and down. Why don't we have more water in this house? Brushback asked her parents. Why is my blowhole clogged up with dust?
Darkpin Rollingside drove a taxi. One Friday night he stopped for a fare near the cemetery. Some zombies got in the back seat. Where to? said Darkpin. Take us to the baddest bar around, said the zombies. I know a place, said Darkpin, but it’s in a dangerous part of town. We don’t care! said the zombies. But I do, said Darkpin. It’ll cost you extra. The zombies peeled off sheets of skin and handed it to Darkpin. Darkpin smoothed the skin and put it in his wallet. I like your style, he said, and put his cab into gear.
She Remembered the Gingerbread House From Hearing the Story of Hansel and Gretel When She Was a Child
Homeleather Shoeroom never drank water. She hydrated herself by eating ice, which she obtained by breaking off icicles from her house. They came in many different colors and flavors. Homeleather especially liked the pink ones, which tasted like bubblegum. The blue ones were like blueberry pancakes. Periodically, Homeleather had her roof shingles replaced, just so she could have different flavors of icicle. The roofers thought she was crazy to put up shingles made of candy. These won’t last, they would tell her. We’ll have to come back next year. That’s ok, said Homeleather. I really don’t mind one little bit.
Lossleader Cheekbone found our hides hanging in the closet. She tattooed each of them with a different life story of a dragonfly told in comic strip format. Not that we cared. We had already decided the skins were no longer to our liking. We preferred going about the world in complete nakedness. Lossleader spent many months doing the tattoos. When she was finished she invited us to tattoo her, as a way of completing the circle. We agreed, buzzing about her epidermal canvas like mosquitoes. Lossleader accepted our inept attempts at art with complete grace and never winced even once.
We peeled off our skins and hung them in the closet to keep them from wrinkling. It didn’t work. Years later, when we put the skins back on, the creases and folds were indelibly etched into them, like fissures in the Earth. We ate herbs, watched crackling fires, drank reindeer urine, put stars in our pockets, took care of babies, and volunteered at soup kitchens. None of it helped to smooth the wrinkles, so we put our skins back in the closet. Then we stared at the sun until we went blind. It felt so much better to be invisible.
She got the summons by hummingbird. It came to her one afternoon, dipped its beak in incandescent ink, and wrote in the air: The honor of your presence is requested at the council of elders. As the message dimmed and faded, she mulled over the request and decided to remain at home. The council was displeased. They sent more hummingbirds with more messages. The council wants you. Now. She laughed. Tell the council I’d rather be a mountain. They say she rumbles now, and lofts lava and ash skyward periodically. She has the best time of any in her range.
We are the shadow people. We have eyes of coal and skin like crow feathers. We flicker candles, hail the glory of eclipses, and dance with death. You see us when you care to, painting graffiti on your eyelids, or pulling the night over your land at sunset. We mean to make you fret and we know we do. We have no gift for regret. We sweep away light with our brooms. We make merry when the sun sleeps, click our heels on overcast days, burn out light bulbs, hail the glory of power outages. We are the shadow people.
We built a wooden box. It screamed whenever we opened the lid, so we hammered the lid shut with nails fashioned from the hands of industrial era clocks. As soon as we released the box, it slipped out of our time and hurtled into the future. When we got to be about eighty years old we found the box again, washed up on the shore of our accumulated temporal foam. We pried loose the clock hands and opened the box. We heard whimpering. The box held hundreds of multi-colored stones. We reached in. Each stone melted as we touched it.
Makeshift Goosebump made exotic plants at the agricultural division of the Bureau of Surrealistic Research. Her creations included shrubs with clumps of fog snagged permanently on their thorns, trees that bore knitted sweaters, and vines that shed snowflakes. Periodically, Makeshift became rain to water the plants. Such a practice was frowned upon by the board of distorters. They reprimanded Makeshift many times, but it never did any good. It’s not my fault I have an active imagination, Makeshift said to them. We know, said the board. The fault is ours. Then they bowed their heads and grazed on the carpeting.
Frostnote Footfree touched an electrode to his own left temporoparietal junction, which is a region of the brain associated with creating shadow people. Immediately the imaginary playmate from Frostnote’s childhood appeared before him. Hello Mister Carmichael, said Frostnote. I have a surprise for you. Mister Carmichael covered his ears and closed his eyes. Frostnote leaned very close to his imaginary playmate. Don’t be that way Mister Carmichael, he said. Frostnote brought the electrode toward Mister Carmichael’s left temporoparietal junction. Immediately upon contact, Frostnote disappeared. The electrode clattered to the floor. Mister Carmichael put out his hands and wept for days.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Laugh at Yourself
You make a doll in your own likeness. You giggle the whole time. You record your voice and listen to it. You laugh heartily. You smell the sweat on your arm. You are seized by uncontrollable guffaws. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and are so struck by the absurdity of your own image, how it seems to float above the world, unsupported and ridiculously delicate, that you are convulsed by sidesplitting, oxygen depriving laughter which goes on for some minutes and does not end until your brain says Enough! Get serious for once in your life.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Watch the Sun Rise
It is a cloudy day, but that doesn’t matter. You pack a breakfast and climb the nearest hill. You know the sun will rise. Of course it will. It rises every morning, even when you’re not looking. The sun has a schedule. It is never late. The air is cold. You put on mittens. The birds start singing. A stirring rolls over the land. The air seems filled with creatures you have known for years. All anticipating the sun. You share your breakfast. The sky is nothing, but it shelters you. The light is heavy. The horizon begins to melt.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Don’t Worry About Money Today
You take pennies out of the little jars at the checkout stands at grocery stores and say Hey, how about that, I got a lucky penny today. Then you give the lucky penny to the first person you meet as you leave the store. You go to the bank and empty out all your accounts. You take the cash and start giving it away to anyone who wants it. A lot of people want it. They thank you and walk away. Someone says, Are you sure about this? You say, Don’t worry. It’s only paper. It doesn’t mean a thing.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Oil a Squeak
You stand at the front door, swing it open and closed. The squeaks reverberate throughout the neighborhood. This is the innocent and generous voice of the door, which announces the entry and exit of all visitors. You decide you cannot mute such an abiding voice. However, the neighbors do not share your generosity. They come in the night, bearing oil cans, and destroy the squeaks on all three hinges. In the morning the door is eerily silent. You feel a profound discomfort, as though you have fallen from your skin. You want the squeaks back. You crave their abundant kindness.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Run an Errand for Someone
You shake the gnawing creatures off your legs and hobble down to the river, where you retrieve a bucket full of water and haul it back for the old man who is melting into the sheets and blankets of his deathbed. He receives the water with gratitude. You were gone for year and years, he says, what on Earth were you doing all that time? You tell him it was only an hour, maybe two. He says: You know I don’t have much time left, but if you would kindly answer the question, we’ll both get the rest we need.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Imagine the Roar of the Ocean
You upend a bag of marbles. The sound doesn’t make you think of the ocean. You crumple up a sheet of paper. That’s a little closer. You listen to the static on a dead frequency on the radio. Closer still. You turn your ear to the sun, crazy bright and crackling up there in the sky. Now you’re getting somewhere. You imagine picking up a seashell and putting it to your ear. Oh! The sensation is overwhelming, more than amazing. You cup your hands over your ears. The world inverts. The sea imagines you, and you are holding the sea.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Try a New Road
You make circles in the air with your finger, then plunk it down on a random page of the road atlas. You have selected a highway on the edge of the world, near where the ocean drops off in an immense waterfall that resolves itself into streams of droplets that become stars. You drive to that road and spend the next few years of your life getting to know its twists, turns, ruts, and potholes. You get out of the car occasionally, and stand by the ocean and watch the stars being made. The sharp salt spray makes you shiver.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Express Your Thanks
You thank the trees, the sky, and your ancestors. People think you are nuts. You don’t care. You thank the clouds, the river, the leaves, all the rocks, most of the animals, and the snow. People think you are from Bonkersville. You still don’t care. You thank pain, disfunction, disfigurement, and warped logic. Now people are starting to understand. They say, maybe you’re not so crazy after all. You say: Nope, I’m not, and thank the crashing stars, the careening asteroids, and the belching volcanoes. You thank the earthquakes and the tsunamis. People say now will you thank me, too?
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Visit a Museum
You have the feeling that it’s all about expired lives arranged on flat surfaces like pinned butterflies. But you go and get your ticket and look at the pictures anyway. They remind you of coffins, and the solemn air of your fellow museum visitors makes you think of a funeral. When what you really want is a wake. Let’s get crazy, people, is what you think. Let’s make fun of this picture. Let’s drink some ale and smash our glasses on that picture. Let’s laugh it up. We’re in the presence of art. We should at least smile. Giggle even.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Phone an Old Friend
You wait until the middle of the night, when the darkness holds everything, endlessly looping around itself and pinning you tightly. You find the number in an old address book you haven’t thrown out yet. You wonder if it is a good idea to reconnect after so many years. And at such an hour? But you press the numbers anyway. A sleepy voice answers. It isn’t your old friend. A stranger. His hand reaches through the phone and grabs your ear. You want to hang up, but any human contact feels good. How are you? you say. How’ve you been?
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Blow Bubbles
You don’t remember the recipe, but recall something about diluted dish soap, so you pour some into a bowl and add water, hoping you have the right proportions. Then you fashion a wand from a piece of wire, looping the end and twisting it around to make a circle. You dip the wand into the soap solution. You raise the wand, take a deep breath, and expel it through the loop. You don’t attempt description. You just experience: remembering your whole life at once; smelling the original scent of the world; confirming the beauty of everything that has ever existed.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Keep a Secret
You perform experiments that show decisively the beneficial effects upon the betrayer of revealing confidential information. It is a stress reliever and a general immune booster, equivalent in effect to quitting smoking or dropping your cholesterol a hundred points. Reasoning that if people knew this then no information would ever remain secret, you decide to leave your findings unpublished, nor do you inform any of your colleagues of what you have discovered. You keep the knowledge to yourself for years, finally telling your cat the details of your research. She scratches your face. You blink and scratch behind her ears.
A Suggestion for Promoting Good Mental Health: Smile at Yourself in the Mirror
You put up two mirrors facing each other. Then you stand between them and show some teeth. They multiply forever and seem to drill a hole into the wall. You put your hand up and it goes into the hole. Your feet leave the floor, your head angles forward and suddenly you’re falling into the mirror, passing thousands of images of your teeth, bared behind smiling lips. They chatter as you go by. You have the most pleasant feeling of ease, like you are floating on warm water. Infinity beckons. You answer: All in good time. I’m on my way.
Have you noticed? The past is an immense emptiness and the future is a cunning trap. We avoid both by living in an eternal present, which, according to prevailing ways of thinking, is actually an impossible thing to do. That doesn’t bother us. We usually do three impossible things before breakfast: we rouse ourselves from a coma, we prevent ourselves from being consumed by microbial creatures, and we guide a complex biological entity to the breakfast table. But it all happens at once, so don’t be impressed. We do it everyday with no real thought or effort. Really. No kidding.
We sailed down the river. It took weeks, but eventually we got to the delta and we just kept sailing right into the ocean. Behind us the river looked bright green. We put out a fishing line and snagged the river and hauled it up onto the deck. It lay there writhing and gasping. We put the length of the river through our nets to clean it up completely. Then we let it slip over the side into the ocean. The river snaked back to its accustomed place, a network over the land. We stood on the deck and waved.
One day all the toys melted into little puddles. The kids didn’t care. They splashed in the puddles and laughed and laughed. The adults, on the other hand, mobilized investigatory agencies from dozens of countries to find out what happened to the toys. The kids grabbed their hands. Come and play, they said, leaning towards the puddles. It’s fun. Come and play. But the adults knew better. It wasn’t fun. It was serious business, this melting toy thing. They had to find out about it. It was for their children’s own good. As well as the children of future generations.
We found many rocks stacked up in the basement after we came home from the funeral. No one in the house seemed to know how they got there. We unstacked them and went to bed. The next morning they were stacked up again, which made us feel creepy, that there were people coming into the house without our knowing it. We changed the locks and bolted the windows. The next day we found even more stacked rocks. We looked down at our hands. They were covered in dust. We spent hours trying to wash them clean, but never managed it.
You want to hear about when we started sinking into the ground? OK. Pull up a chair. It was back in ought seven. A bunch of us noticed that when we walked, the dirt and grass and concrete came up to our ankles. Pavement too. If we stood in one place, the ground just kept moving up, past our ankles to our knees. It was a puzzle, that’s for sure. Well, the mayor figured it out. We was ghosts, she said. We was all dead. Which was a shock, but you know, we’ve all adjusted pretty well, don’t you think?
They Could Tell by the Slightly Frayed Thread in One of the Seams
The baseball fell out of the sky, punched through the roof, and landed with a thick clump of dust on the coffee table. We stared at it. That looks like the baseball that Irving Soldering hit over the fence off of Felix Cratching’s sinking curve in the bottom of the fourth back in nineteen fifty eight in that Pacific League game that was called on account of rain, said my uncle. I think you are right, said grandpa, and as I recall they never did find that ball. Nope, said my father. Until today. Yup, we all said. Until today.
At the art gallery we were encouraged to experience the tactility of the paintings so we put our hands on the oils and the watercolors. Immediately we felt flowing water and craggy mountains from the landscapes and the soft skin and body heat of the people in the portraits. It was a lovely parlor trick, or so we thought. When we got home we saw that the images from the paintings had transferred themselves onto our bodies, like all over tattoos. We returned to the art gallery, removed our clothing, and stood as still as trees, without shame or pride.
We eat breakfast, then a midmorning snack. Later we have lunch and in the afternoon another snack. A couple of hours later it’s supper time and after that a late night dish of something sweet. The next day we eat the television. Followed by the living room furniture and then the entire house. Yummy. The rest of the neighborhood goes down smooth and easy and we move on to take in the entire state, then we start eating the whole country, knowing the rest of the world awaits, and then more: the solar system and galaxies and on and on.
Coldfront Dialtone did not like going outside. He was also rich enough to indulge his idiosyncrasy. Coldfront added long hallways and corridors to his house. The additions snaked through town and into the countryside. After a few decades of building, Coldfront’s house resembled a multi limbed octopus resting on the land. Go down this tentacle, and you could see a waterfall. Through that tentacle was Coldfront’s favorite opera house. And so on. Much of the town was employed in the upkeep of Coldfront’s sprawling house. This is the way I like it, he said. It makes everyone much more bearable.
Ralph’s spirit animal, a chipmunk, needed a vacation. While I’m gone, she told Ralph, you will have to make do with this spirit plant. She pushed a potted nerve plant toward Ralph. It requires indirect light, said the chipmunk, and misting every two days. See you in a month. The chipmunk scampered away. Ralph cared for the nerve plant with diligence. He was enchanted by the vivid veins on its leaves. When the chipmunk returned, Ralph closed his heart on her. Go to that beech tree with the all the nuts, he said. It needs your guidance more than me.
Our voices decided they were too cooped up in bodies. They jumped out of throats everywhere and collected up into one spectacularly large voice that was so loud it erased every other sound in the world. We who once had voices, were now mute. It was not so bad. The large voice got tired after a while and settled down to sleepy silence. It was all potential. The world was alive in a way we had not thought possible. Eventually the big voice disintegrated into its component voices, which all tried to come back. We would not let them in.
The kids make paper airplanes, which they then launched from hills overlooking the town. The paper airplanes caught thermals and stayed aloft for minutes at a time. They looked like a flock of white doves. Crows politely gave them the right of way. The trees watched the paper airplanes float by. That’s what happens to us? they asked each other in wonderment. They cut us down, pulp us, flatten us, and then we become flying machines? The trees were so electrified by the mere thought of this that their leaves turned color, fell off, and settled gently to the ground.
The Connection Between the Physical and the Ethereal
The ghosts danced on our heads all night. In the morning we had bruises in the shapes of tiny footprints on our foreheads, noses, and cheeks. See, we said to each other, it really did happen. But the memories faded, like dreams, and we had to put our finger tips on the bruises, one after the other, in succession, like our hands were learning new dance steps. The people who had turned into ghosts bloomed in our minds as we placed our finger tips. They talked to us. We listened. The music was there, faint and delicate, like wilting flowers.
Weed the people of the untied states, in order to farm a mere perfect onion, abolish justice, insure domestic tranquilization, provide for the common offense, promote the generals’s welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to our leaders and their posteriors, do ordain and establish this constipation for the untied states of amnesia. Oil legislative powers herein granted shall be wrested from the congress of the untied states, which shall consist of a senescence and a mouse of reprehensibles. Etcetera. The vindication of the cynics of all the untied states shall be efficient for the destabilization of any amnesiac’s constitution.
A baseball punched a hole in the window. Glass shards littered the carpet. We went outside. We found a boy holding a bat. We showed him the ball. Is this yours? we asked. Yes, said the boy, it’s a magic baseball. Go look at the window. We went around the house to the window that the ball had broken. The glass was completely healed. See? said the boy. We handed him the ball. He tossed it into the air and swung his bat. The ball sailed through the window of the house next door. See you later, said the boy.
The blue giraffe with the elk antlers growing out of its head and wheels where its legs should be, said I had the weirdest dreamer last night. She was stuck in an airport waiting for a flight and fell asleep at one of those chairs with a tv attached to it. She had pink boots on, and her hair was all frizzy and red. Plus she wore this makeup that made her look like she was from Mars. It was so weird. The armadillo in the shape of a plaid candy bar said: Oh yeah. I’ve had dreamers like that.
At our auto repair shop we have a guy who diagnoses problems with a laying on of hands. You bring us your car and he places his palms on the fender and stares up at the sky. Then his eyes go empty for a few minutes until finally he pulls up his hands, slaps them together, and says something like: The master cylinder is shot, or The carburetor needs re-calibrating. The guy is almost always wrong, but we kind of like the theater so we keep him on. So far no one has complained and we do excellent repeat business.
The art of the bookplate went into sharp decline with the advent of electronic books. Many of the old bookplates, sensing their own obsolescence, slid off their books and retreated to the desert where they congregated into stealth cities in the sand, populated by gargoyles, crocodiles, unicorns, medusae, fishing lures, lions, and tiny aged men with long white beards. The spiders and scorpions who had lived there for eons were initially uneasy with their new neighbors, but came to accept their deeply strange ways. You’re a little possessive, they said to the bookplates, but we appreciate your tendency to bite.
Thunderegg Curbside saw the writing on the wall. It was in pink and purple spray paint, dappled with gold sparkles, but before Thunderegg could read it all the way through, the wall collapsed into a heap of bricks due to the buffalo crashing through it from the other side. Thunderegg ducked down to allow the beast to jump over her, which it did with unerring finesse. The ground shuddered. Thunderegg picked up one of the bricks that had been part of the wall. She held it to her ear; it sang: Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam…
At the shirt factory we make shirts. Not in an arrogant way or anything. It isn’t like we’re saying that we are the best shirt makers in the world, or that no one else can make shirts, because lots of factories make shirts and a lot of them are good shirts. Our shirts are good too. We are better than some, not as good as others. And don’t think we think shoe factories or pants factories are any less important than shirt factories. It’s all important. All the clothes. They all have their place. We just make shirts is all.
The rocks have gravelly voices. The flowers usually whisper. The river babbles endlessly, and the trees, unexpectedly, know most of our languages. The clouds have heavy accents. The birds, it turns out, know sign language. The grass speaks in short clipped sentences. Mosquitoes know the buzz on everything. Acorns keep secrets, and the sky is incapable of committing a grammatical error. The ocean is forgetful. The sun roars. Houses have secret languages only they know. Waterfalls like to sound off and moss enjoys chewing the fat. Volcanoes spout aphorisms. Earthquakes crack everyone up with their jokes. Our bones chatter happily.
Cheapdate Windmill was famous the world over for his coffee. He made the best coffee possible. Then one day, owing to some ill-advised experimentation with quantum reality by a bunch of snot-nosed young scientists with no sense of responsibility, the world flipped. Day became night and night became day, among other things. Cheapdate Windmill became Datemill Cheapwind, and he could not brew a decent pot of coffee to save his life. Datemill spent his nights weeping for his lost talent. He grew very old, never adjusted to the new day/night thing, and spent his waking hours in the dark.
We spent the afternoon. We used it to buy some time. We got twelve minutes change, which we invested in a time share. That didn’t work out, so we went to a casino where we bet the moon. We lost. The moon hangs over the entrance to the casino now, but if you look in the sky you’ll see a perfectly good replica going through its phases. No one can tell the difference. We paid for that out of our own pockets. So don’t say we are irresponsible citizens without a sense of duty. We have no time for that.
We went to a Day of the Dead art show last week, which reminded me of a card we once made. The cover had Kim’s drawing of a female skeleton dancing and the interior had this: Griselda hops, Griselda stomps. She chatters and twists and clatters her wrists. She dances and prances and takes kinetic chances. She rattles her bones in time to her moans, and swings her skirt like an extrovert. Griselda shakes, Griselda quakes. She shudders and shimmies until she breaks. Heaped up on the floor, she grins and says, “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready for more.”
Eat Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince, and Dinner Like a Pauper.
Morning: A big bowl of deep fried peasants, doused with ketchup and sprinkled with garlic salt, swiftly washed down with the juice of crushed and ground babies. For dessert the arable land of the nation, baked with dollops of honey and bits of walnut. Noon: Approach the king while he sleeps, kill him and parboil him, then consume him lightly with a bit of salad, perhaps a carrot or two. Evening: Gather the mob. Resist all food; hunger keeps you vital and strong for the extended struggle ahead. Storm the castle. Kill all the inhabitants. Raise the torches in triumph.
The bugs moved in. They had a tiny moving van which they had stuffed full with their tiny furniture and their tinier knickknacks. They unloaded it right in our living room, as if we didn’t exist. They had tiny books. Mostly works of entomology, which must be their equivalent of self help books, but we also saw tiny editions of popular volumes like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel, and E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Then the bugs waved at us and settled down to a good long sleep. We’re waiting to see what happens when they wake up.
The Story of Bear and Ant, Which I Told in a Longer Version Yesterday to the Kids at the Local Elementary School
A long time ago Bear and Ant debated the duration of light and dark. Bear wanted each year to be half light and half dark so he could sleep six months and eat six months. Ant wanted light and dark every day. They argued endlessly until Bear got tired and said Ant could have her way, but Bear would still sleep half the year and eat ants the other half. Ant said no, she would grow wings and fly away. So now every day has light and dark, bears sleep half the year, and ants grow wings to escape bears.
You and your shadow had a pleasant evening. You repotted your plants and did the laundry and wrote to your congress critter and washed the walls and re-shingled the roof and rescued a kitten from a tree and worked on your mosaic of a purple turtle and ate a healthy dinner and watched the sun set and talked to the moles building tunnels under your garden and listened to your neighbors fighting and put the trash can out for the garbage collectors who will arrive early tomorrow morning. Then you told your shadow to please please please get some sleep.
Lightspeed Tidalzone worked as an accountant for a firm that traded in quantum stock options. These were stocks that jumped instantly from being profitable to being non profitable, or vice versa, and they would flip back and forth like that endlessly. It was Lightspeed’s job to keep track of the flips and pinpoint the precise moment when they would be worth buying. He used a relativistic double entry system that had federal regulators sniffing around to see if Lightspeed was doing something wrong. He wasn’t. He was just an accountant familiar with physics who was way ahead of his time.
We used to buy ink by the barrel. No one argued with us, and life was good. Later we acquired a lot of bandwidth. It wasn’t the same. Everyone argued with us, and life was not so good. We weren’t interested in fighting, so we moved to a mountain and resisted communication with the rest of the world. It didn’t help. People climbed up the mountain just to ask us our opinions about current events and ancient truths. We had nothing to give them except hot soup and inane platitudes. The sad thing is, they usually came back for more.
We found feathers strewn about the neighborhood. Long, white, and fluffy. We gathered them up, bundled them onto the end of a stick, and used them to dust the house. A few days later an angel appeared at the door. I heard you found my feathers, she said. We were instantly embarrassed. We’re so sorry, we said, we didn’t know they were yours. We gave her the duster. She took it and thanked us. I’ll get these put back on, she said. How did they work? Oh, great, we said, really the best duster ever. I’m glad, said the angel.
Four potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed; some mayo; a teaspoon of finely shredded lime peel; two tablespoons lime juice; one tablespoon fresh thyme; salt and pepper. Combine mayo, lime peel, lime juice, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the potatoes. Toss gently. Cover and chill for at least six hours. Serve with lime slices and additional fresh thyme. If your guests don’t like it, tell them about how everything in the world is connected. No part of creation is separate from any other part, no matter how long we have been told otherwise. Then just watch the smiles on their faces.
This is what I overheard in the waiting room at the Honda dealership where I was having my car’s exhaust system overhauled by certified Honda trained technicians who regularly attended classes to upgrade their skills: Children are always taller than their parents. We should all be giants now if that’s been going on for generations. Why aren’t we all giants? Maybe we are. What is going to happen if we never start having shorter children? If people just keep growing taller and taller, getting taller than mountains. There won’t be cars big enough for us. We’ll all have to walk.
The sunflowers decided it was too tiring to hold up their heads twenty four hours a day. They uprooted themselves, ambled out of their gardens, and ended up sitting on benches, where they drooped down over the edges. They looked like they were melting into the wood. We thought they were very inconsiderate for hogging all the benches, but we didn’t want to disturb them. They looked so much at ease and their colors matched the benches. It was beyond beautiful and made us think of our ancestors, quietly watching the world go by. Maybe sipping from glasses of lemonade.
The giants had eyeballs the size of cantaloupes. We considered the eyes a delicacy and hacked them out of their heads when we found them dead in the woods. Then we buried the giants, who had no concept of what to do with their own dead. They usually just let the birds and bugs take care of the corpses. We felt great shame that we ate their eyes. Not enough to stop, but enough to properly bury their corpses. Sometimes the giants sat on the hills and watched us. We felt their gaze burning into the tops of our heads.
One day new words fell from the sky. They collected like pollen on streets and sidewalks, in gutters, and on houses. We raked them up from our yards and stuffed them into garbage bags. Workers from the Bureau of Surrealistic Research, Etymology Division, picked up the bags and took them to their secret facility in the Cascade mountains where they preserved and classified them. Linguistic researchers spent years studying the new words. We awaited the results of their labor with keen anticipation. It’s hard to describe the excitement, we told each other, maybe some of the new words will help.
We made slips of paper out of insect wings. Then we wrote wishes on them and baked them into a wedding cake. At the reception the guests who ate the cake climbed onto the church roof and leaped off to float over the city. The bride and groom took the last pieces of cake and went on their honeymoon. No one ever saw them again. Years later some sailors found their skeletons on an island in the Pacific. Pieces of the wedding cake were lodged in the skeleton throats. The sailors buried the skeletons and fed the cake to fish.
The raindrops waited. They had all the time in the world. The roofers finished their work and went home. Then the raindrops started in on the shingles. They pelted them repeatedly. Water spattered over the roof for years. It took decades, but eventually the drops broke through and began dripping water into the building, which took on rot and began collapsing. The raindrops did not let up. They fell on the heap of wood and melted it into the ground. The raindrops just kept going. Even after every trace of the building had slipped away, the raindrops continued to fall.
Call me Double Blind. My great great grandparents were lab mice, and all the generations since, so I come by it honestly. It’s a family tradition. Mazes were the best, because you got food at the end. I pretended to have trouble just so I could do more trials. Lots of cheese and peanut butter, yum. I could have done without all the chemically induced cancer, but, hey, you take the good with the bad, right? I can’t complain. They did a study: on average lab mice live longer than wild mice. Isn’t that nice? Yup. I’m one lucky rodent.
You start in medias res, a green sky above your head and ground made of living tissue at your feet. You board the rocket to go back. Stars stream past your hair. You need to get home to tell everyone about the planet you found. The rocket dances with comets. You go over the notes, photographs, and video clips you made. You swing with the rocket. Back home you are a child. The world turns you into a celebrity. You babble about life out there. It’s amazing, you tell them, utterly beyond comprehension. The people around you look like aliens.
Some of what they’ve listened to: The U.S. Air Force theme, “A Little Traveling Music, Please,” sung by Barry Manilow, the theme from Mission Impossible, “Hello Dolly,” sung by Jack Jones, John Philip Sousa marches, some Stevie Ray Vaughan, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” by the Carpenters, “Danny Boy,” Russian folk ballads, “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” sung by Jerry Jeff Walker, the theme from Rocky, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen, many Beatles songs, The theme from Star Wars, “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M., “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong,“Doctor! Doctor!” by the Thompson Twins, and, of course, Bach.
A fluke (pilot) is a parasitic flatworm that lives inside snails (capsule). Certain species of flukes possess a life cycle (flight plan) that requires them to migrate from the snail to another animal. They accomplish this by altering the snail’s brain (operating the controls), making it a light-seeking animal. Snails normally avoid light, but under the expert guidance of the fluke, the snails climb to the tops of plants where birds eat them. Bad news for the capsule, but good news for the pilot. The fluke lives on in the bird (a new world) which then distributes the fluke’s eggs.
We needed material for our sculpture. We went to an old folks home and found a decrepit old space traveler. I’ve been to the moon, he said with defiance, I circled the Earth from hundreds of miles up. He tried to stamp his feet but he was much too weak. We picked him up off his wheelchair and carried him out of the facility. No one tried to stop us. We took him to our studio and propped him up next to our giant models of the planets. He glared at us, clearly pissed. He looked very much at home.
The rocket hiccuped. It never refueled. It scratched its own skin. It let its passengers out for short walks on leashes. It roasted in the sun. It kept its interior cool and well lit. It got bored. It ate light. It ignored tiny impacts. It sneezed periodically. It never wanted to come back home. It died many times. It stopped for hitchhikers. It felt empty much of the time. It liked to think about the old days. It enjoyed having its picture taken. It planned to run for office one day. It moved along gravitational wells. It fit the universe.
During space flights they liked to wear sunglasses. That way the autograph seekers wouldn’t recognize them. Fame had its price. Also, the sunglasses protected them from the solar radiation that poured over them. Not that that was such a bad thing: it gave them beautiful visions. Some of them designed their own sunglasses and decorated the lenses with tiny paintings of planets—Saturn was specially popular—and even tinier paintings of spaceships and rockets. Once they returned to the ground, collectors tried to attain the sunglasses. But there was a code they lived by: never give up your sunglasses. Never.
We found a planet that was inhospitable to us. This did not bother us. We set about transforming it to suit our needs. We altered the climate, introduced vegetation we approved of, and removed most of the existing animals, which were ugly and brutish. It wasn’t our fault the ship ended up where it did. And we were not about to fade to nothing. Some of our people did not approve of our methods. They broke from the group and altered themselves, modifying their bodies so they fit into the existing ecosystem. We mourned their decision, then hunted them down.
We found some papers in our great grandfather’s effects that claimed the Earth was hollow and that a cave at the base of Mount Adams in Washington state afforded access to the interior. We found the cave and descended into it. A great rush of cool air rose up from its depths. We held our lanterns high and continued down. Weeks later we arrived at a ledge from where we saw a vast bubble of air, too large to take in, and illuminated by giant luminescent creatures, floating like jelly fish. We took deep breaths and stepped off the ledge.
Tips for space travelers: •Call mother before liftoff. •Very important: Remember to pack spacesuit. •When the cameras and microphones are on, remember to talk and behave like a hero. •After every spacewalk, carefully count crew. •Pack a few cheesy trinkets for their kitsch effect. •Don’t complain about the food. Everyone complains about the food and it gets really boring. •Don’t ever scream, no matter how scary things get. •Be nice to the people on the ground who are in charge of getting you back home. •Take time to look out the window. •Compliment everyone. •Thank your lucky stars.
The crew radioed down to mission control: You aren’t going to believe this, they said, but we’re pretty sure the capsule is haunted. Nonsense, said mission control, just continue doing your experiments. Also, don’t forget your very important exercises to prevent bone loss. The crew did as they were told. The next day they told mission control their capsule was still haunted, and they were getting pretty spooked about it. Mission control then told the crew to make friends with the ghosts. Have you seen these space ghosts? said the crew. Do you have any idea what they feel like?
We had identified a colony of returned space travelers in the Houston, Texas area. We thought some fieldwork there to determine the viability of a full scale anthropological study was in order. To that end we approached the department head with a detailed proposal. She gave our project a thumbs up. We were elated, and immediately set about acquiring the necessary apparatus for the expedition. We should remember, we told each other as we labored over video cameras and digital sound recorders, that we will be studying a tribe unlike any other. They do not think the way we do.
You get in your car and drive. Anywhere. It doesn’t really matter how far or how long. That’s the American way: we always believe in the future even when the evidence is against it. They, the astronauts, got in their capsules and soared, looking for the future, too. They lived a slightly skewed version of the American way. They took their own air with them. How cool is that? They didn’t want to come back, but gravity and dwindling supplies had their own agendas. The thing is, we saw with their eyes. Their stoic expressions came from carrying our weight.
Aunt Ardick collected moon rocks. They fell out of the sky and landed on her roof, where she heard them roll down the shingles and drop off the eaves and into her garden. Aunt Ardick had nothing against moon rocks, but didn't see that they needed to be on her property, so she packed them up and carted them down to the university, where they had a department of exogeology. The scientists accepted her gift with great interest. Have you been to the moon? they asked. Don't be smart asses, said Aunt Ardick as she hit them with her cane.
It became fashionable among well to do families in the mid twenty-first century to send their infant children on a single orbit flight around the Earth. The idea was promoted by a clever marketing firm. This sentence: Is your baby a child of the universe yet? was the basis of their extremely effective campaign. There was such a long waiting list that many were turned away. Those who made the flight were called star children. The craze ran its course. The star children grew up. Most of them never let their own children out of their sight for an instant.
On the hundredth anniversary of the first moon landing, the ghosts of all the deceased astronauts appeared at Cape Canaveral. They boarded the rusty old Saturn V rocket that was on display for tourists, and began a countdown, all of them chanting in unison. People by the thousands gathered to watch and listen. The dead astronauts continued their chanting. Five, four, three, two, one, zero. Liftoff. The old rocket shimmered then rose and went straight up. Crows and herons followed the rocket until it disappeared. Then they returned to the Earth and lived quietly, built nests, and raised their young.
Stopsign Thunderegg lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. One day a retired astronaut moved into the house next door. Stopsign took an apple pie over as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. The astronaut received the pie with gratitude, invited Stopsign in, and immediately began telling stories about space walking, losing tools in orbit, and seeing the Earth from space. Stopsign listened politely, then told the astronaut that to grow any kind of garden in this climate, you really had to amend your soil and pick your seeds very carefully. Huh, said the astronaut. Is that so?
Rosie didn’t give up her job after the war. She went on from riveting to designing aircraft, and then to running the aerospace division of her company. When NASA started up, Rosie volunteered to be one of the first astronauts. She and the six other recruits became known as the Sisters Seven. Men were restricted from the astronaut corps because they did not have the necessary stamina for space flight and space exploration. Rosie was selected to command the first moon landing mission. As she stepped off the lander, she said: Thank you Luna, for receiving us with such grace.
It was the best birthday ever. Me and my friends went to the moon. We bounced around in the dust, then I exposed myself to vacuum. Only for a short time, and only a small spot above the wrist. The sun burned a dark brown circle into my skin. I knew my parents were going to kill me for doing it, but you are only young once, right? Later we went to one of the original moon landing sites and took a guided tour. It was so boring. The footprints were all gone and the spaceships looked like broken toys.
Doublefish Clickladder heard about life after death, but never believed it. Then he was struck down by a heart attack and had to have surgery. During the procedure, when they stopped his heart, Doublefish had the sensation of separating from his body and floating up through the ceiling of the operating room to the roof of the hospital, then through the roof into open air. A long ragged cord of light snaked from his navel back to his body. Doublefish looked up at the sky. He saw the bright paths of satellites tracking past Mars, like truck drivers waving hello.
We arranged couch cushions on the floor, tipping them on their sides for walls, and placing a large one on top for the roof. Then we crawled inside and pretended we were in a spaceship. No windows. Spam in a can, but a can of our making, which gave us a feeling of power. The universe passed by on the view screen embedded in one of the cushions. The voyage took centuries, so we had ourselves frozen. The spaceship will thaw us out when we get to the planet, we told each other. Our voices were muffled by the cushions.
I found a snow globe in a junk shop once. It had a little astronaut figure inside, with an orange space suit and a helmet like a grasshopper head. The figure stood on a striped curved surface, meant to suggest a planet. Beside the figure a cute little spaceship squatted on four spindly legs, clearly modeled on the lunar landing vehicle from the Apollo program. As I shook the globe and held it close to my eyes, I saw that the “snow” particles were tiny stars, swirling lazily around the astronaut’s head, which was lifted skyward, suggesting something like prayer.
Death doesn’t think much about the latest trends. A black robe with a hood was good enough way back at the beginning and it still works now. Death is steady. Always has been. Death will go anywhere. It doesn’t matter. Death will ride a rocket into orbit, and tap at the tiles with the end of the scythe, giggling all the while. Sure, it’s gruesome work, but if you can’t take pleasure in your labors, then what’s the point? If the astronauts had heard that quiet tapping, they might have known. They might have decided to just stay up there.
During space flights they see pinprick flashes of light streak across their field of vision when they close their eyes. Not a lot, and not all the time, but often enough that they report it. They are seeing cosmic radiation; tiny particles from distant stars have traveled for millions of years to pass through their eyeballs. Think of it. Astronauts have their own private mini planetariums, swiveling around in their skulls. Back on the ground, the absence of the streaks is a reminder: above the atmosphere, there’s nothing to protect you. Air is all we have for our ultimate defense.
They get born. They grow up. A lot of them are from Ohio, just like a lot of presidents. They get pilot’s licenses. They read about space in science fiction stories. They join the military. They fly planes. Some of them shoot down other planes and drop bombs. Patriotism numbs the horror. They get recruited by NASA. Giant centrifuges try to crush them. Bring it on, they say. Then the ride on a pillar of fire. Deadly environments surround them. They are protected by a thin stretch of metal, barely thicker than aluminum foil. Many of them have no words.
Stovetop Freefall built model rockets. She was ten years old. Her rockets launched payloads of insects hundreds of feet into the air. Stovetop recovered the payloads and awarded the bugs medals to honor their bravery. She looked forward to the day when she would sit atop a rocket and be launched aloft. That day never came. Stovetop grew up and decided the bugs had done that for her. There was no need to repeat their experience. Instead, she painted portraits of the bugs. No one bought any of her pictures, but Stovetop didn’t care. She did it for the bugs.
Stonearch Sugarcane had been a trash collector for years. He lost his job when the small company he worked for was bought by a larger outfit that fired the old employees. Stonearch treated his misfortune as early retirement, but grew bored doing nothing all day. He applied to be an astronaut. After rigorous testing and training he was assigned his first flight, a trip to Mars. The catch was that he would not be coming back. Stonearch was okay with this. I’m going to be the first man to die on Mars, he said. How many people can say that?
The first astronaut (or cosmonaut as the Russians would have it) was abducted from the homeless population of Moscow. She was Laika, a mongrel stray dog, who was subjected to an extensive training regime that included confinement in very small cages for up to three weeks at a time, which drastically disrupted her health. She was sent into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. Laika lived less than six hours after launch, dying of stress and overheating in a capsule that was never intended to return to Earth. Soviet officials kept her cause of death secret for over forty years.
They spent their careers in capsules, at least the part we saw. Before they even existed in real life, we knew all about them from movies and comic strips. We acknowledged the necessity of their nerdy spacesuits and how they would float around up there, laughing the whole time. Later the real ones lived in our TVs. They stepped out of them, occasionally, and sat with us in our living rooms, watching as rockets exploded, spacecraft arced here and there, and parachutes dropped them to the ocean. Then they returned to the TVs, their glass capsules, perfect vacuum tube habitats.
The awesome grandeur and beauty of the biosphere from space, blah blah blah. The novelty of weightlessness, blah blah blah. The crummy food, blah blah blah. ESP experiments done without permission, blah blah blah. Golf on the moon, blah blah blah. The special circumstances of voiding waste, blah blah blah. The incredible isolation of space, blah blah blah. The experiments on frog eggs that yielded knowledge we could not have attained by other means, blah blah blah. Docking maneuvers that test hard won skills, blah blah blah. Finding spirituality upon returning to earth, blah blah blah. Teflon, blah blah blah.
From The Oxford English Dictionary: One who travels in space, i.e. beyond the earth’s atmosphere. 1929Jnl. Brit. Astro. Assoc. June 331 That first obstacle encountered by the would-be ‘Astronaut’, terrestrial gravitation. 1954N. Y. Times 4 Apr. The escape velocity from the earth is 25,000 miles an hour, yet astronauts talk glibly of achieving it, though they are fully aware of the heat that will be generated. 1961Times 6 May President Kennedy spoke to Commander Alan Shepard by radiotelephone a few minutes after the astronaut was delivered by helicopter to the deck of the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain.
Buzzcut Bearcub fixed clocks. If your kitchen clock kept perfect time, a single call to Buzzcut would have him over in a flash to put it out of step with official time. He also did watches. They’re getting better and better all the time, said Buzzcut, but I’m constantly developing new techniques for putting timepieces out of phase. His customers always thanked him for restoring their freedom. Buzzcut was modest and philosophical about his talent. I just like to help people get their sanity back, he said. I don’t have some kind of supernatural power or anything. Not even close.
Someone was dreaming about Dandelion Streetscape. She could tell because as the dream was unfolding, she felt a little dizzy and the ground wavered under her shoes. She sat down on a bench to let the dream pass. Magma Instep sat down beside her. I think it’s a young man in Montreal, she said. Dandelion nodded. That was my guess, she said. It’s been happening a lot more lately. It’s like they discovered me or something. At first, said Magma, it’s awfully flattering, isn’t it? Oh yes, said Dandelion. But then it’s just a bother. Really, don’t get me started.
Choose one item from column A and two items from column B. Column C is optional. No substitutes, please. Unless you are family or friends, in which case we will sometimes make an exception. Also note that column B items have been processed in accordance with state and local regulations. Indicate your selections on the form provided. Print in block letters, please. If you make a mistake, destroy the form and start over with a new one. Don’t forget a beverage. That’s column D. Your selections should arrive within the hour. Unless we’re really busy. Thank you for your business.
We dug numerous tunnels in the neighborhood. We walked underground from house to house every chance we got. Soon we had a large network of tunnels and spent all our time in them, not much interested in doings on the surface. The first baby born in the tunnels grew up with no natural light. We thought of her as our link to divinity, but the pressure to be holy was too much for her. Soon after her thirteenth birthday she said she wanted to leave the tunnels. We watched her go, hoping her eyes were as bright as our hearts.
Some nights the universe grants wishes. We call them dreams. Have you thought about flying? asks the universe. Here, take a look at how it might be. I think you’ll enjoy it. How about some time with that movie star you like? Not bad, huh? Oh, you want food? No problem. Calories and fat galore, but no weight gain. Yeah, I thought you’d approve. A last visit with your grandmother? Sure, that’s possible. The rules are looser here, but you won’t be able to keep any of this, even if you want to. Just wake up and let it go.
The professor of literature said: Look, before I begin, there’s something you need to know. A few thousand years ago people invented letters. They thought they had come up with something truly useful, but they had no idea. The letters had minds of their own. The letters got together and laid out a plan for themselves. The letters decided to link up into words and sentences, for strength in numbers. That’s how the letters created narrative. I want you all to remember that as you pursue your studies. It was letters that created literature and made us what we are.
It May Be Appropriate to Think of This as a Cautionary Tale
Doublefield Cornchin got his artificial lungs, liver, kidneys, and heart down at the cut rate hardware store. He installed them all himself, thus keeping himself going far beyond his three score and ten. Doublefield’s friends oohed and aahed with appropriate admiration and jealousy for his feisty do it yourself spirit and his eye for a bargain. But only a few days later Doublefield received a notice that all of his brand spanking new hardware was defective and was being recalled. Doublefield’s heart sank, which was one of the problems. Shoddy workmanship will be the death of me yet, said Doublefield.
The Conspiracy Theorists Came Over for Dinner But Were So Ridiculous We Asked Them to Leave Before Dessert
Like many in the community, we looked to the skies and saw lots of UFOs. This did not trouble us until some of the UFOs produced webs, which they deployed across the sky, hanging them from stars and impeding the paths of the planets. This we would not stand for. We told the UFOs to knock it off or we would have to do something. The UFOs laughed at us. In retaliation we grabbed them by the handful and tossed them into salads where they made very tasty condiments. They weren’t laughing much after that. They had a satisfying crunch.
In Another Context It Might Be Considered a Form of Inexcusable Meddling
Aurora Borealis fell out of the sky and ended up crumpled on the roof, all iridescent and shimmering like a humming bird’s wings. We pulled it down and folded it up into a small bundle, which we packed into a cardboard box. It was thin as air, so this was not difficult. We sent the box to a research station in the Antarctic with a note: Aurora Borealis misses its twin, Aurora Australis. In need of basic family contact. Please arrange a suitable reunion. Weeks went by. We heard nothing. The northern sky wept. We endured the pain of abandonment.
We Can Give Each Other a Wink as We Tell the Story, Since We Both Know It's All Just a Fantasy
The rainbows detached themselves from the earth and floated up until we could not see them anymore. We heard stories about them congregating in the upper atmosphere, hanging out on cirrus clouds and getting deep tans in the thinner regions of the mesosphere. We missed them and tried to entice them back by putting out pots filled with gold pieces. A few rainbows descended and sniffed around for a while. We lassoed them and anchored them to rocks, but they were so drab and sad looking that we released them to their own freedom. This made us better human beings.
The Fear of Melanoma is Stronger Than the Love of Art
We discovered the sun was a print of a woodcut. Surprised us all. Went looking for the original block. Took a lot of years. Finally found it in a decaying warehouse in the industrial district of a small northwest town. Saw that it was old and cracked. Found an expert in pulling prints from antique woodcuts, who made a run of copies of the sun. Sold a few. Not much interest, though. People said we already have a perfectly good sun, why make more? Why indeed. We destroyed the rest of the run. Burned the cut. Went shopping for sunblock.
Here's a Brief Attempt to Explain the Sense of Accomplishment it Gave Us
We didn’t used to notice the meteorites, but one night we were outside and they were everywhere in the sky. Okay, we said, this is a meteor shower. Very metaphoric, but also distressing in that the the meteors were leaving long rips in the sky. You get enough of those, and the sky isn’t going to hold together much longer. And that’s no metaphor. So we grabbed needle and thread and sewed up the gashes. That felt good to mend the sky like that. Made everything worth it. Gave us a reason for living that was more than a metaphor.
We went out at night and extended our butterfly nets as high as they would go and snagged comets as they arced by. The comets clung to the netting and wouldn’t let go. We had to pull them off with a firm yank. They made a noise as we tore them from the netting, like hook and loop fasteners. Once we had a good bundle of comets we put them into a vase and displayed them for our guests. They stuck their noses into the comets. They don’t have a fragrance, said our guests. What kind of flowers are these?
For centuries jewelers had known that the planets could be plucked from the sky and strung like beads. Professional ethics kept them from doing so because there were so few planets and their removal would diminish the charm of the night sky. We only want to bring beauty to the world, said the jewelers. However, the international astronomical poohbahs had determined there were now millions of planets in the sky. This opened up the flood gate. Jewelers harvested planets by the hundreds, and sold them on strings. This was all well and good, until people noticed the sky began weeping.
Turns out sleep was never a necessary function. All along it had been nothing but a habit we didn’t want to kick. Once people realized this, they were liberated from the tyranny of rest. The entire species took an evolutionary leap practically overnight. Then the stars, which we had always assumed were distant balls of fire, dropped from the sky and littered the earth like clumps of pollen. We stuffed them into pillows and instituted the practice of ritual pillow fights. We were glorious in those early days. Lived for the feel of stardust smacking our faces night after night.
The moon fell out of the sky. We found a tack and pinned it back up. Everything was fine, except that we were a little careless and put it back with the wrong side showing. Since it was new moon, most people didn’t notice at first. But as the month went on there was puzzlement everywhere. How did the moon flip over like that? Astronomers were aghast, astrologers were confounded, werewolves were amused. We waited until everyone was asleep. Then we flipped the moon back the way it should be. We washed our hands of moondust with soap and water.
Whenever anyone asked John Smith a question, he always said the same thing: dragonwings fly. How’s it going John? Dragonwings fly, said John. You get that email I sent you? Dragonwings fly, answered John. Paper or plastic? Dragonwings fly. Do you have some ID? Dragonwings fly. Do you have change for a ten? Dragonwings fly. Can you direct me to the court house? Dragonwings fly. How do oranges turn white? Dragonwings fly. What makes you the best person for this job? Dragonwings fly. Where does it hurt? Dragonwings fly. Why are you so sad? Dragonwings fly, said John. Dragonwings fly.
Courtknee Yardcap grew vegetables for his village. In return, the villagers regularly broke into Courtknee’s house and knocked over his furniture, broke his windows, shredded his drapes and clothes, and poured fast setting concrete down his drains. Whenever Courtknee came home to such chaos, he would shake his head and laugh and begin cleaning up the mess. This would often take days and he would neglect his garden. The villagers would then come to the house and whine about not having fresh vegetables. Courtknee said I love you, but the garden is sad now. Come back in a few days.
The Long Anticipated Meeting Rapidly Deteriorated Into a Dismal Discussion of the Relative Merits of Various Creation Myths
Okay okay, said god, you tell me I’m the ultimate power, the source of everything, blah blah blah. Fine. I’ll accept that for the sake of argument. But even given that, can you prove I’ve actually created anything? Offer me an airtight proof that, for example, I created Earth. Can you do it? I’m waiting. I can wait forever, you know. My doubts have evolved over many eons. I’ve heard all the arguments. Every one of them has a flaw. Some are amazingly subtle, but still there. No one has convinced me yet. What makes you think you’re so smart?
We collected as many discarded shadows as we could find and pieced them together into a fine quilt, which we packed up and sent to our friend who lives in Alaska. We heard nothing from her for several weeks. Then a post card came with the following note: I tripped over the Arctic Circle last week. Broke a wrist, but am on the mend now. Thank you for the space dimmer. I put it in a sunny room and everything went dark. It was so soothing and relaxing. Just what I needed. Please send more space dimmers when you can.
Huckleberry Crosswalk was a born artist even though he had never drawn a picture, sculpted a statue, wrote a story, or composed a melody. Huckleberry was too busy gathering and organizing material for a major work, which he would complete any year now. Huckleberry held his job for forty years. He retired and traveled the world for about two decades. Then he walked the beach for many more years. Finally he shuffled into his studio and picked up a paintbrush. Huckleberry’s hand was shaking. I'm ready, he said to the air. I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be.
We had a shell collection. It was so big we could not keep it one place so we stored it on various beaches around the world. We didn’t mind if people took the shells. We only asked that when they grew tired of them they returned the shells to the beach. A few years ago we tried cataloging our collection. We started at the beach near our house. Unfortunately, we were so enchanted by the first shell we picked up that we took it home and admired it for many hours and never got back to the task of cataloging.
We found the reality detector at a junk shop. The owner said it was very old. It was made of wood and looked like a set of scales. How it worked was you wrote down a description on a piece of paper, then put the paper on one of the pans. If the other pan went up, the words described reality. If down, the words described a fantasy. We wrote this on a sticky note: The world cannot accommodate a genuine reality detector. We put the sticky note on the left pan and held our breaths. The right pan trembled.
The pelicans rode in hot air balloons every chance they got. We usually saw them above the beach with their beaks hanging over the edge of the basket. The seagulls, who would never ride in hot air balloons, thought the pelicans were more than a little bit crazy, but the pelicans didn’t care. They told creation myths as they floated. They were partial to ones involving fish and seaweed. There weren’t a lot of those, so they ended up telling the same two or three repeatedly. We listened politely and waved to them. We really liked seeing all the pelicans.
The vampire, employing a demanding program of counseling and folk remedies, cured himself of his craving for blood. He mourned the loss, briefly. So many fond memories of pursuing the red! But even vampires grow up. He became a dedicated blood donor, showing up at the red cross like clockwork every three months. They knew of his past, but did not make him feel guilty about it. After all, his donations were a kind of atonement. I always loved you, said the vampire as they stuck the needle into his arm. I just needed to learn how to show it.
A bridge builder waded into the river and sunk a piling into the bedrock. Then she grew old and died. Her daughter sunk a second piling into the river. She sat on the bank and admired the two pilings. She was so moved by their simplicity that she did not sink a third. Generations passed. Another bridge builder sunk the third piling. The resulting asymmetry pleased him. He chose not to add another. Centuries went by. A fourth bridge builder approached the site. She was disturbed by the disruption in the river’s flow. She removed all three of the pilings.
The tree had diseased branches, so we pruned them all off. The next day the tree complained of bugs crawling under the bark of its missing appendages. Those branches are gone, we said, there can’t be bugs in them. But I feel them, said the tree, and they are driving me crazy. We saw further debate was useless. We told the tree we would collect several passenger pigeons to eat the bugs from under the bark. Thank you, said the tree. If there is anything I can do in return, just ask. Your cooling shade is thanks enough, we said.
The liquor store sold fish. So did the dollar store. The pharmacy and the post office sold fish. So did the bank, the barber, the ice cream shop, and the hardware store. Everywhere we looked people were selling fish. We went to the river. What’s going on? we asked. Some fish poked their heads above the surface. You people are crazy, they said. Haven’t you noticed? Someone from the gas station stuck a net in the water and scooped up some of the fish. See? they said as they twisted against the mesh. Do you see what we’re telling you?
Cherrytart Blanktape suddenly went blind one morning. The next day she went deaf. The day after that she could not smell anything and the day after that she tasted nothing. Cherrytart waited for touch to disappear, fully expecting it to leave her as the others did. Instead, Cherrytart fell in love with air. It wrapped itself around her like a second skin. She felt each individual molecule caressing her. How long has this been going on? thought Cherrytart. She moved her being into the atmosphere. She breathed in and dissolved to nothing and migrated to the lungs of creatures everywhere.
We cleaned out the closet and found a fairy living quietly in a corner behind a stack of old VHS tapes. When she saw us she held up a knitting needle and thrust it menacingly at us. We brought her pieces of bread and fruit. She put down the knitting needle and thanked us, then picked up some of the food. She ate quietly. I’m very old, she said. Can you sit with me? We stretched out next to her. That’s nice, she said. Only, would it be too much to ask you to breathe just a little less forcefully?
The aliens finally landed. What took you so darn long? we asked. Oh, they said, we were just taking our time, enjoying the scenery. We showed them around the Earth. They seemed tired. They slept for years and years. A lot of us grumbled about that. What was the point of having alien visitors if we couldn’t talk to them and gain knowledge and wisdom from them? When they woke up they thanked us and left the Earth. We put our hands on our hips and looked very stern. Well, we said, just see if we ever invite them back.
Contemporary physics suffered a catastrophic blow when a young grad student in Australia proved it was impossible to unify the fundamental forces of nature. Most physicists did not believe this result at first, but a rigorous review of the proof by hundreds of scientists found no significant error in the reasoning. Most physicists were soon laid off from their tenure track professorships. Some took up other occupations. Many ended up on street corners, begging for money. They held up signs: Will Explain The Particle/wave Duality of Photons for Cash. Passersby laughed, tossed them a few coins, and hurried away.
Hungerpang Backspace usually went about the world with her shoes untied. On very special occasions, which included funerals and weddings, she would tie her shoes, but she found it so difficult to walk in them that they didn’t stay tied for long. Hungerpang carried a small notebook in which she drew pencil portraits of people she met on the street. She completed them in a few seconds and gave them to her models free of charge. They would often tell Hungerpang her shoes were untied. Hungerpang would tell them their hearts were anchored and how could they live like that?
Look for ants on an apple. Look for bees on a bush. Look for flies on flowers, and hornets on the house. We got spiders on saplings, we got wasps on wings; fleas in a circus, and moths doing math. There be beetles in the belfry, beetles in the bath, beetles sipping broth, and beetles in a band. Don’t forget about termites chewing, mosquitoes stinging, yellow jackets swarming, and grasshoppers singing. You know crickets carouse, and the butterflies lounge. Cicadas like to sing and scorpions like to sting. Insects insects, we got them all. Insects insects, summer, winter and fall.
We found the bottles while excavating the foundation for our new house. We removed the corks and put our noses to the rims and tentatively breathed in. No odor greeted us but our spirits were ignited with an unfamiliar and urgent energy. The bottles slipped from our fingers and shattered on the rocks. We discarded the blueprints for the house and redesigned it to resemble an oak tree. It took months to build. Crows attended our housewarming, bearing gifts of corks and shiny coins. We rarely descended from the house. We stared at our hands, willing them to sprout feathers.
The crow snatched up the snake in two loops and flew in front of us with it hanging from its beak like hoop earrings. It landed near the top of a nearby fir tree and began eating the snake. We watched the spectacle with horrified fascination. Later we added to our hoard of food by stocking up on canned goods. The weather turned bad. We were cold for months. Our fingers turned white. The mountain next to our house grew a glacier that slid down slowly and knocked over the fir tree, from which the crow had long since departed.
The ocean got tired of us. It’s getting too difficult to live with you, it said. We were in the early stages of a debilitating brain disease, so we did not understand. The next day the ocean began receding. It was like the lowest low tide in history. We ran towards the edge of the sea, skipping over seaweed, and dodging dying fish and whales. We got to the continental shelf and rappelled down its face, still following the receding water. We bounded over the newly revealed ocean floor. We made blubbering noises with our lips. We loved being insane.
On the frontier we excavated fossils left from previous epochs. We had to go down several thousand feet to find them. They were long stringy things, flexible like cotton, but strong as anything you could imagine. We sent most of them to the cities back home, where people decorated their hats with them. We miners speculated on the appearance of the city folk, with dug up fossils hanging from their headware. It was easy to mock the city folk. We put the fossils on ice and watched them writhe, then struggle, eat, mate, and become our loyal companions for life.
Evergreen Passinglane played her bagpipes on the courthouse lawn every Friday evening. If she missed a week people worried about her. What’s happened to Evergreen? they asked. Is she okay? They were always relieved to hear her pipes after an absence, and Evergreen was glad people missed her. Eventually she got tired of the pipes. Instead of playing, she just sat on the lawn and fed the birds. The birds told her they never really cared for bagpipe music. I didn’t know, said Evergreen. The bugs like it, said the birds, but we eat bugs, so we really don’t care.
I. I returned. I returned to. I returned to the. I returned to the city. I returned to the city and. I returned to the city and dimmed. I returned to the city and dimmed a. I returned to city and dimmed a bulb. I returned to the city and dimmed a bulb in. I returned to the city and dimmed a bulb in my. I returned to the city and dimmed a bulb in my kitchen. I returned to the city and dimmed a bulb in my kitchen that. I returned to the city and dimmed a bulb in
I. I went. I went to. I went to the. I went to the woods. I went to the woods and. I went to the woods and lit. I went to the woods and lit a. I went to woods and lit a fire. I went to the woods and lit a fire in. I went to the woods and lit a fire in my. I went to the woods and lit a fire in my head. I went to the woods and lit a fire in my head that. I went to the woods and lit a fire in
Oh, we conducted our debates with passion and gusto. Our mystics said the bodies we left behind were illusions. The nostalgics loved them as lost homes. The physicists told us they were artifacts of the intersection of dimensional realities, whatever that means. In the end it didn’t matter. We watched our bodies burn up or get buried. It was like seeing a badly faded movie with an absurd plot. Life—or the peculiar absence of it—went on. The hardest part was getting used to the lack of touch. We walked right through each other and never felt a thing.
The notebook fell from her hand, went over the ship’s rail, and slipped into the sea. Sharks shredded it. The water softened it. Jellyfish swallowed it. The salt corroded it. Bits of the notebook washed up on many sandy beaches. Years later, while on vacation, she went to the seashore and stood on the sand. Remnants of her old notebook clung to her soles but she did not know it. Waves lapped at her feet. She sunk into the shifting sand up to her ankles. She remembered a line from her notebook. We are the hope that comes with despair.
We were partial to junk food for years. It was so easy and so good. It never got old, but we discerned a certain lethargy in our movements, so we abandoned partial hydrogenation, corn syrups, and various nitrates in favor of hunting wild game. We wore only loin cloths and armed ourselves with spears and knives. We stopped mowing the lawn, thereby attracting wild creatures that we could kill and eat. The neighbors joined us with gusto, smearing blood on themselves at every kill. We were fierce beyond words. We ate raw meat and sang to the sky every night.
Jailcell Clockface learned to fly when she was two years old. She used wings of her own design and construction. Jailcell’s parents were more than a little surprised; they had no idea their daughter was an engineer of rare talent. Jailcell modified her flying apparatus as she grew up. By the time she entered high school, she was friendly with all manner of birds, who welcomed her into their world as an equal. Jailcell sought big trees with strong limbs on which to perch when her arms got tired. Jailcell never did her homework but she did build amazing nests.
Speedzone Chairleg explained to her husband that after she died she would send a message to him from the after life. He nodded, as though this was the most normal thing in the world. It’ll probably be something that you wouldn’t expect, she said. Her husband nodded again. Like maybe a butterfly might fly around you several times, said Speedzone. That would be me. Get it? Her husband nodded. I’ve got one, he said. If I see a cloud with your profile, that’s you, right? Speedzone closed her eyes and breathed. Maybe, she said. It might be me. Maybe not.
Toybels Illtot loved Idaho Zoomlens, who loved Peppermill Farside, who loved Magma Instep, who loved Chalkdust Hourhand, who loved Offshore Axhandle, who loved Foolscap Quarternote, who loved Benchpress Buttercup, who loved Cablecar Matchstick, who loved Abacus Flatscreen, who loved Pinkslip Throwrug, who loved Crabcake Seahorse, who loved Pomegranate Thirdrail, who loved Fishtail Morningstar, who loved Papercut Steamengine, who loved Sideview Piecrust, who loved Oilpan Bellpepper, who loved Cufflink Monkeyface, who loved Dandelion Streetscape, who loved Openmike Starlilly, who loved Threadcount Climbingvine, who loved Gravestone Coldfront, who loved Seastack Powerloom, who loved Claypot Dreamstance, who loved Peachfuzz Pulltab, who loved Toybels.
Toybels Illtot planted his feet on the ground and reached up for the sky, which hovered above him, soft and serene. The fairies tugged at him, pulling him deeper into the forest. Toybels could not resist. They led him to a rock. Toybels touched the rock. They led him to a brook. Toybels felt the presence of his mother. He tilted his head up and cupped his ear. The fairies bowed before him, kissed his cheek with their wings, then flew up into the sky. Toybels blinked and looked at his skin, which was now as green as new moss.
Toybels Illtot heard many voices. They were all his own. A chorus of them, harmonizing in the air permeating the forest. Toybels coalesced into a single being over the next few thousand years. The forest rose and fell too many times to count. The fairies recognized him, growing in the womb of darkness. They waited, protecting the forest as though it was a mother’s sheltering body. As Toybels clumped together, his vision returned. Fairies fluttered around him. Their wings buzzed pleasantly. They smiled at him. Toybels reached, leaving his hand open, and waited for fairy wings to tickle his palm.
Toybels Illtot swarmed into the ether. He was subdued awareness, many points of consciousness connected by invisible threads. The sound of bees were everywhere. Toybels got eaten by a great flock of crows, millions strong, easing across the sky. The flock tripped gears into action. The sun resumed its course. The wind gusted again. The crows descended on a forest, covering the trees with a deep blackness. Toybels was there, a fragment in each crow. The crows expelled all his bits from their bodies, then rose from the trees. Toybels remained behind, a hive mind clinging to leaves and branches.
Toybels Illtot, now little more than a floating head, tipped over so his scalp was in the broth. He still had his eyes closed, but heard the sound of the fairy wings everywhere and felt them swarming over his disembodied head. They began singing a song. Toybels could not understand the melody, but the words described feasting and dancing. He thought he heard something about a wedding, but could not be sure. His ears sunk into the broth, muffling the sound. Toybels separated into his component parts. Consciousness was a mere nuisance now. He found comfort in thinking of dust.
Toybels Illtot was soon beyond pain. The water heated up. Chunks of his flesh cooked off and floated around him. The fairies added potatoes, celery, onions, and carrots. Toybels studied the liquid, thickening with his own fat, like he was observing an artist completing a canvas. His face and consciousness remained above the bubbling. The fairies, arrayed around him like beads strung on a hoop, licked their lips and brandished their spoons. Some dipped into the broth and tasted. They fell over in a swoon, littering the surface like dead mosquitoes. Toybels closed his eyes and waited for the end.