31 July 2005
The Problem of Forgiveness
Tincan Deertrack received many phone calls from strangers. Most of them wanted to know how he got such an odd name. My father kicked me around when I was a kid, Tincan told them. It was awful, but in the end I decided he wasn’t such a bad guy. He taught me a lot about life. The callers never phoned back, which was okay with Tincan. He got tired of constantly telling his life story. Sometimes he called his father and asked him who he was kicking around these days. His father usually told Tincan he had the wrong number.
30 July 2005
The Language of Imagery
An odd condition began affecting people that caused them to extend their sleep cycles. Folks who normally slept for eight hours now slept for twelve or thirteen. Many even longer. Some people were awake for only an hour or two, then it was back to bed again. The world was turning much quieter. Businesses failed at a record rate. Breakfast became the only meal of the day. Dreams were everywhere: so many of them that they gathered in clumps and rolled across the landscape with the wind. You could pluck and eat them. Their juice was bitter, like sad memories.
29 July 2005
A fire eater performed his act several times a day on the corner near our house. Since we were morally opposed to the consumption of fire, we contacted the police to have the performer removed. Fire eating is not illegal, said the officer. We went to her superior with the same result. We approached several lawyers. None gave us any encouragement. We had no option but to pray. We stood near the fire eater, dropped to our knees, and begged providence to forgive him. The fire eater applauded us. Great act, he said, you should take it on the road.
28 July 2005
My hometown fell out of a turtle’s brain about two hundred years ago. People moved into the town. Life was slow and steady for many generations. Then the turtle, who had moved on, died. The town descended into chaos with citizens neglecting their jobs and their children. That was about when I was born. As a child I heard all about the turtle. The turtle was wonderful. The turtle loved us. And so on. I moved away as soon as I could. Eventually I found the turtle’s corpse. Bugs lived in it. I shook them off and kept the shell.
27 July 2005
The Comfort of Synesthesia
Dialtone Snowplow lived on a farm but dreamed of an urban life. She got her chance one day when a tornado tore through her land and turned her house and barns into kindling. Dialtone chose not to rebuild. She sold her land and bought a condo near the financial district in the city. Each morning she read the newspaper at a nearby coffee shop. She watched the passersby who all smelled odd to Dialtone. She had never known people scrubbed so clean of odors. Dialtone felt uneasy watching them. She closed her eyes and smelled the sound of their footsteps.
26 July 2005
Freezerburn Soapscum suffered a heart attack while waiting for a bus. The ambulance arrived promptly and took him to the hospital where surgeons immediately set to work, cutting him open and beginning the procedures for bypass. Freezerburn, his mouth hung open in wonderment, sat watching the red activity like a gargoyle, hunched in the air above the operating table with his hands wrapped around his knees. A tremendous white light permeated the air in his vicinity. Freezerburn could not tell where the light was coming from. He closed his mouth. The light disappeared and Freezerburn fell back to his body.
25 July 2005
The giant was ill. Her moans were keeping us up at night. We asked her what she needed to relieve her pain, but her illness must have affected her speech, because we could not understand her answer. It was like a new language. We consulted experts on brain function who told us the giant was dying. These were her final words, spoken in an ancient dialect that giants believed had been spoken by their earliest ancestors. We sat next to the giant and recorded her words for possible deciphering in the future. Her voice shook us. It rattled our bones.
24 July 2005
We wanted to live forever so we had ourselves frozen. We were resurrected by an eccentric collector of biological oddities. You have been dead for centuries, he said. You were kept intact by the benevolent intervention of archeologists, anthropologists, and museum curators over many years. Just recently I purchased you to return you to life. Very kind of you, we said. Indeed, said our host. I revived you to satisfy my curiosity about an important point. Are the legends true? Can the people from your time really read people's minds? We studied his face carefully, looking for signs of weakness.
23 July 2005
Words and Images
Benchpress Buttercup joined drawing clubs in his town, but they all asked him to leave after a few sessions of listening to his non-stop chatter, a stream-of-consciousness report of all his current thoughts. I have to talk while I draw, said Benchpress, it’s my creative process. Then you draw alone, said the drawing clubs. Benchpress retreated to his house and drew all day and talked and talked. Periodically he took to the streets where he sold his drawings to passersby. Sometimes they were struck silent by the beauty of Benchpress’s drawings. No, no, said Benchpress. Never give up your voice.
22 July 2005
Follow Your Weird
Papertrail Chainlock wanted to live with dragonflies. She had wings surgically attached to her spine. They didn’t allow flight, but they imprinted in her body the feeling of being a dragonfly. Papertrail’s husband didn’t like the wings. He fretted and worried about Papertrail’s sanity. Are you okay? he asked her. Papertrail flitted about the house, buzzing here and there, pausing momentarily at potted plants. She hummed. I’ll save you from the evil knight, she said. He put his hand to his forehead. You give me a pain, dear, he said. Please go out with the other dragonflies and eat bugs.
21 July 2005
In Service to Imagination
The government hired us to warn future generations of the dangers of nuclear waste sites. We retreated to our cubicles and concocted elaborate mythologies that included stories of monsters living under geologically stable mountains. We also developed a plan whereby these myths would permeate the culture and lodge themselves in people’s brains. We were thinking 25,000 years into the future. Fear is the best defense. Government officials reviewed our proposal. We were thinking more along the lines of signage that was not specific to any known language, they said. We bristled. That is absolutely the wrong approach, we told them.
20 July 2005
Under Our Noses
We got a grant to study vampires. None of us knew any, so we had to go out and find them. We sent operatives to rock concerts and trendy bars. We haunted crypts and stores that sold capes. After a few weeks of this we were no closer to finding any vampires and someone suggested we study vampire bats instead. We reconsidered, rewrote, reapplied, and were soon spending our nights trapping the repulsive creatures and subjecting them to the ruthless mistreatment that is the stamp of biological research. Our disgust with the procedures soon turned to fascination. Followed by salivation.
19 July 2005
When we were children we ran in groups. Kid gangs, we called ourselves. One day my gang met a pack of dogs, producing an overabundance of adrenaline in all our blood streams. We had heard it was dangerous to look dogs in the eye, but that advice meant nothing then. Our trembling fear allowed us no option but to stare, and we held eye contact for several seconds. The air was still and electric until the growling started. We barked and howled and bared our teeth and the dogs turned and ran. We were triumphant. We disbanded the next day.
18 July 2005
First Instincts Are Usually Correct
We boarded the bus despite our reservations about its worn tires and rattling engine. Within a few miles the driver veered away from familiar roads and a creeping coldness invaded the bus and our bones. We huddled against each other and shivered. The landscape outside the windows was purple, desolate, and dry. Eventually the bus stopped. The driver stood and faced us. Passengers, he said, we all need a break. I suggest you get something to eat. He stepped off the bus and fell into the ground. We never saw him again. The bus was our home for many years.
17 July 2005
I Have My Reasons, But You Wouldn't Understand
Feltcap Quartertime ate watches. She ground them up into powder and sprinkled them on her morning cereal, eating just a few ounces each day. Perseverance, however, adds up over time. Within a few years Feltcap had consumed several dozen timepieces. She liked telling her friends about her internal clocks. They laughed politely. I hear this ringing in my ears, she said. Oh wait, that’s the alarms. Her friends nodded politely. Then Feltcap got really serious. I’ll tell you what bugs me the most, she said. It’s when the ticking doesn’t stop at night. It’s unnerving and it gives me nightmares.
16 July 2005
Claypot Eyetooth received orders to serve on a firing squad. She reported for duty with her rifle ready and spent the time just before the execution smoking cigarettes with the rest of the firing squad. During the execution, at the actual moment of death, Claypot closed her eyes. Now it is many years later. Claypot’s oldest grandson visits for a weekend. They discuss the consequences of following orders. I didn’t pull the trigger that day, says Claypot. What did it sound like? asks Claypot’s grandson. The rest of the squad meets every year, says Claypot, but they never invite me.
15 July 2005
Cablecar Matchstick built uncommonly comfortable houses out of straw bales. When people moved into one of Cablecar's houses, they tended to stay indoors for days at a time. Cablecar visited one of her houses a couple of weeks after a family moved in. Everything ok with the house? she asked. The people smiled at her and nodded very slowly. Let me know if there's a problem because I want to make it right, said Cablecar. It's fine, they said. Please come in for some tea? I can't spare that much time, said Cablecar. I've got other houses to build.
14 July 2005
Fame and Fortune
Crossbow Headstone was born sad and just got sadder everyday. His friends asked him why he was so sad. Crossbow told them he didn’t know. Then he asked them why they weren’t sad. His friends scratched their heads and told him they had no idea. Crossbow began to organize sad parties where people came and practiced looking sad. Eventually he became an internationally known expert on the sad lifestyle. He wrote books and conducted seminars. Crossbow was very successful but he was still sad. I have to maintain my sad outlook, said Crossbow. I have an obligation to my fans.
13 July 2005
Sourdough Lampshade had several dozen cats in her house. People said Sourdough was a crazy old lady, but that wasn’t completely fair: some of those cats were born in the house and some got in through the back door while she wasn’t watching. One day the cats decided Sourdough was superfluous to the household. They took her miles away and left her in a nice little community. The cats returned to Sourdough’s house. Two weeks later they looked up and saw Sourdough’s face in the window. Her hands were pressed against the glass. She looked sadder than a wet kitten.
12 July 2005
A dragon in New Zealand rose from her slumber, saw the sun burning high over a green hill, and flapped her wings to cool her eggs. Three days later a heat wave oozed over us in Oregon. We took precautions against dehydration. The radio warned of a bad fire season and counseled us to be careful with campfires and matches. The birds screeched, even the ones who usually sang. Caterpillars metamorphosed early, turning into butterflies weeks sooner than expected. We liked seeing their fiery wings. Three days later a cold spell froze New Zealand. The dragon huddled against the frost.
11 July 2005
Professor Ebbtide Treering taught mathematics at the university. He allowed no recording devices in his classrooms. This included computers, sound recorders, video cameras, and even pens and pencils. How do we take notes, said his students, if we can’t record your lectures? Professor Treering pointed to his ear. This is all the device you will ever need, he said. Now listen. He recited the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra in a voice and delivery worthy of a poet. When he was finished his students sat in stunned silence. Professor Treering tapped his temple. You see? he said. I am right, no?
10 July 2005
We climbed ladders and pulled clouds from the sky. We stuffed the clouds into bales and brought the bales into the house where we upended them, pouring clouds onto the living room floor. They were damp and soft. We dried them with hair dryers until they shriveled up into balls of coarse fiber. We stuffed the balls into our pillows. That night we dreamed of lost loves, long dead pets, and the sadness of birds with broken wings. In the morning we all told our dreams, shed tears, and hugged each other. Later we stored the bales for another year.
09 July 2005
His Pocket Change Was Fused Into a Lump of Metal
Applecore Pincushion was struck by lightning while standing in a storm attempting to sink a birdie putt. The strike burned an internal trail from Pincushion’s left ear, through his liver, all the way down to his inside right ankle. Applecore attended meetings of lightning victims. Some of them no longer felt pain. Others couldn’t smell or taste anything. One man was so impervious to cold that he could be out in sub zero weather wearing only a shirt, shorts, and sandals and not notice a thing. Applecore lost his long term memory. He kept asking people why he was limping.
08 July 2005
Funnybone Timezone built a temporal scope. The viewing screen displayed the world as it was a million years ago. Funnybone placed ads in archaeology magazines, expecting researchers to jump at the chance to access such an instrument. She didn’t get any responses. This puzzled Funnybone until she realized most people would think the person who concocted such ads must be a lunatic. She understood their point of view. It was unnerving to see the world as it once was. She trained the instrument on herself and recorded the image. It showed a world under water. Funnybone’s presence was not needed.
07 July 2005
A Cure for Shyness
Wildfire Pushpin’s skin turned a deep rich red every fall, matching the leaves on the maples in her backyard. For many years Wildfire was embarrassed by her condition. Then one October she built a tree house in her biggest maple and moved in. Wildfire was so well camouflaged that no one knew she was there. On Halloween night the full moon rose orange and fat. The pumpkins in Wildfire’s garden started singing. Wildfire sang with them. Her neighbors came outside and clustered around Wildfire’s tree. Wildfire invited them up for tea and cookies. OK, they said, when the song’s over.
06 July 2005
Dustbowl Shotglass spent most nights spray painting the word WAR at the bottom of stop signs. One evening he was caught in the act and put in jail. A lawyer came to his cell. Plead guilty, said the lawyer, and promise never to do it again and the judge will let you go. I was exercising my first amendment rights, said Dustbowl. The court won’t see it that way, said the lawyer. I can’t be free, said Dustbowl, if I don’t express myself. The lawyer told the judge his client was insane. The judge nodded. Aren’t we all, she said.
05 July 2005
Putting it All Together
Buttercup Hotsprings drove truck across the country, delivering canned goods to a chain of supermarkets. She fell in love with Nick, a truck washer who worked at a sprawling truck stop near Laramie, Wyoming. Nick wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. He barely noticed Buttercup, who timed her hauls to pull into Laramie when Nick was on duty. One day she asked Nick if he would like to have a cup of coffee with her at the truck stop restaurant. Nick squinted and turned red. Now I know why you have the cleanest rig on the road, he said.
04 July 2005
It's Trying to Tell You Something
Potluck Homebrew sold cleaning supplies door to door. Some people welcomed Potluck’s visits, but most closed the door in his face. After a long day on the road Potluck liked to sit on the couch at home and watch television. Often he would nod off and dream about people ringing his doorbell, interrupting his shows, and trying to get him to buy an encyclopedia set or a year’s supply of cosmetics. Potluck always refused. He told the sales people in his dreams to go away and never come back. When he woke from these dreams Potluck always felt much better.
03 July 2005
The Persistence of Vision
Teapot Palmtree bought a small island. She spent a few weeks on it every year, running heavy equipment over the ground in preparation for building her retirement house. One year she unearthed dinosaur bones and threw them into the sea. The next year Teapot found mermaid skeletons and the year after that some unicorn skulls. She tossed them all to the ocean. The next year dinosaur, mermaid, and unicorn bones washed up on the beach. Teapot gathered them all, doused them with gasoline, and set them ablaze. The smoke made her eyes itch. Teapot looked away and rubbed them raw.
02 July 2005
Strobelite Shortstack lived on the moon. He built greenhouses for the colonists to grow their own food. At night he liked to spend some time watching the Earth in the sky. Sometimes tall hairy creatures wandered in from the dusty moon plains and sat with him. They told Strobelite it was perfectly ok to tell others about their existence. We know about our cousins that live in the woods on your home world, they said. We would love to visit them, if you could arrange it. Strobelite said he would take a message back to them on his next rotation.
01 July 2005
After his heart surgery George Bellringer noticed the house had separated into two parts. The top floor floated a couple of feet above the bottom floor. In addition, George had some personal separation issues of his own. Parts of me are across the room, he told Betty, his wife. Which isn’t so bad, but other parts are still in the hospital, and there are a few I have just completely lost track of. He handed her his list. Betty Bellringer tore up the list into nine pieces and tossed them into the air. Oh, said George, that feels much better.