Monthly Archives: October 2017
Druids Or…by Clark HumphreyI’ve lived in the Northwest long enough to know that even when the light of the sun is almost all obscured and covered, it still mostly comes through. Yeah, it was cool to look through the special glasses and see only a sliver of the sun behind an invisible moon. But that loses its novelty, even if it’s real and it’s rare.So I was bored.I’ve long since stopped feeling ashamed for being bored.Besides, it helps me to discover things around me I’d otherwise miss.Like when I went from looking at the eclipse to taking my viewer off, giving it to some kid, and looking around at the other sun gazers.That’s when I saw the upper-floor condo balcony. The one with eight or nine people, men and women, all in those horrible “business casual” suits (I mean, really: choose one or the other, c’mon on!), dancing.I used my cell phone camera at full zoom mode to get a better look at them. They were still a far ways off, and from my angle down below I couldn’t tell for sure what kind of dance they were doing, at least at first.It didn’t look like any ballroom or barn-dance routine. But it was more formal, and more interactive, than your rock or hiphop routines.I decided, even though I hate to talk up strangers, that I had to learn a little more about this.I deduced which floor they were on. I got to the building. There was no doorman on duty. When I got off the elevator, I could hear music of some strange kind from the end of the hallway. A door there was wide open. Nobody noticed when I walked in to a very normal looking condo unit.All the accoutrements of mass-produced “luxury” were there—the faux marble countertop on the “kitchen island” unit, in front of the big fridge with stainless steel doors. The faux-gold doorknobs. The blandly “tasteful” framed art prints along the walls.Whoever lived here either didn’t have a burning desire to customize the unit, or happened to like its generic default appearance.Nobody was inside here. They were all out on the balcony. That door was also wide open.The music turned out to come from one young woman on a set of bongos and one young man at a small sampling keyboard. They seemed to be ad libbing some abstract ambeint noodling.The dancers I’d seen turned out to be seven in number; four women and three men. Their motions toward and away from one another seemed more like a really slow square dance than any druid ritual; not that I’ve seen any real druid rituals.Someone finally spotted me. It was the apparent leader of whatever this was. She stood to one side of the dancers. She was late middle-age, with greying blonde hair, with a burnt orange long dress on. Her broad smile was almost terrifying. What have I gotten myself into? And could I explain my way out of it?Instead of asking what the hell I was doing there, she motioned for me to approach her. Which I did. She took me by the hand.While the dancers and the musicians continued, she spoke in a lilting sing-song intone. She said their affirmations had come to pass. Their group now had an eleventh member. It’s a prime number. And it converts in numerology to two, the yin and the yang, the one and the zero, the day and the night, combined as they are at this precious hour.A regular baby-boomer spiritualist mixtape of ideas, I thought.That was one of the last conscious thoughts I had for a while.When I regained my mind two hours later (according to my phone), I found myself on a bed, in the condo unit or a place just like it. I was still fully dressed; everything was still in my pockets. As far as I could tell, I had no cuts, bruises, or incisions.The music’s stopped. I hear nothing but the ambience and traffic noises from outside.What could I remember? Anything at all? Anything?Did I consume any drugs? Anything that might have secretly contained drugs (even a simple glass of water)?The room is dark. I fumble around for a light switch. I finally find a desk lamp next to the bed.I see a small window on the wall in front of me, with a heavy curtain over it. The bedding is more nondescript upscale design. No way to tell whether a man or woman or a couple, or anyone, regularly sleeps in here.I try to sit up in bed. My upper body hurts, in places I didn’t know could hurt.Yet I also feel fully rested, as if I had slept longer than I—how long had I slept?And there’s a sort of peaceful feeling in my head. I wasn’t bored. I was accepting the quiet, the stillness in my mind.In just a couple of minutes, the body aches fade away.I no longer want to investigate anything. Do anything. Think anything.I feel a sense of peace overtaking every aspect of my being.No, not quite peace.More like an emotional numbness.I glance at the room’s floor.I can make out some crumbled up papers. My eyes are too blurry to see if there are any words on them.And there are three small wads of plastic. My eyes eventually focus enough to identify them as used condoms. I don’t feel or see any evidence that my own body had been involved in anything of that kind.I fall asleep again.When I awaken, I find I’m physically able to stand up and leave the now empty condo.The lobby has a doorman on duty now. He says nobody lives in that unit.
by Ren Felman
Callista shook her head.
“I’m not ready to give up piano skills. What else?”
“Hmm. Those will get you the most credit. I have lots of orders for those right now. And, frankly, your piano mastery isn’t very fresh…I could get you a decent price right now because I have so much demand. Now would be a good time to sell. It might not be worth much a year from now.”
“No. Something else.”
“Okay. If you eventually want to sell them you’d better put in some practice. It’s hard for me to sell rusty skills.”
“How about some math?”
“Multivariable calculus? I’m not using that. Nonlinear dynamics?”
“Could probably sell the calculus. I’d need to gauge the freshness. How much credit do you need?”
“Yeah, we’re not going to be even close, even if those skills are perfect.”
Callista leaned toward the monitor, “Help me out here, Al.”
Al rolled his eyes.
“I’ve already offered to get you top price for some very questionable piano proficiency. You should take it. Is it really so important to you to play piano?”
Callista stared and didn’t say anything.
“Okay, here we go,” Al looked toward a second monitor. “Baking? I can get you six thousand for that. Horticulture seems to be very popular at the moment and I remember you have some gardening experience. All those weed operations, I guess. Looks like I could get you four thousand, give or take. You speak some Mandarin, right? Not well, as I remember, but even piss-poor Mandarin has a price right now. I could probably get you 18,000 for baking, horticulture, the calculus and the Mandarin.”
Callista sighed heavily.
“Done,” she said.
Al grinned, “You don’t want to be baking biscuits or digging in the damn ground anyway, right? And I bet you’ve never even use that math or Chinese. This way you can still play the piano! And you’d better play, if you ever want to sell it down the road…”
Callista gritted her teeth, “Which extraction location?”
Al looked back at this other screen, “Looks like there are openings at the SODO expertise bank tomorrow. Shall I schedule you for the afternoon? 2:00?”
“I’ll be there. Can you run the credit now?”
“Sorry, Calli, gotta’ wait until the skills are banked.”
“Listen,” Al’s voice softened, “why don’t you try to get ahead of this? I can send you the hot list of skills. I can get top price for the newly-learned. Get some tantric expertise or master FX+ coding…and then sell it. Get some skills you won’t miss and sell them to me for the credit. Otherwise, you’re going to end up as a hole-head. Calli, you’re a smart person and we could clear all your debt if you want to sell everything in your brain, but I don’t want to do that to you.”
“Yeah, thanks for the concern, Al. I’ll be at the bank at 2:00.”
“Okay, okay. Can I send you the skills hot list, at least. Just look at it.”
Callista hit the exit button and her screen went blank. She walked into her tiny kitchen and began rummaging through her cupboards. She had all the ingredients to make a cake…better do it now ‘cause tomorrow she wouldn’t remember how.
Callista took the muscle relaxers as soon as she woke up. The extractors claimed that expertise removal was painless, but if you didn’t take something your head felt like it had been bashed in after. She drank some reheated coffee and ate a piece of the chocolate cake she had baked last night. It was delicious. Callista had always enjoyed baking. She’d been doing it for close to fifty years and she was good at it. She should have pressed Al on the price. Her baking skills were worth more than 6,000. Oh well. She ate the last bite of cake and put the plate in the sink.
The muscle relaxers helped her manage as she boarded the human mover. It was so crowded today, full of hole-heads. There was no place to hold on, but that was okay as her shoulders, back and chest were pressed so tightly against other passengers that she couldn’t possibly fall. She knew that many of them, like her, were en route to the expertise bank and she wondered what, possibly, they had left to sell. She tried giving herself a pep talk…she’d feel lighter after the extraction. Someone would actually be putting to use the expertise that she hardly ever used. Well, she baked often but it would be okay if she stopped. Someone else would appreciate her experience and technique, honed over half a century. The buyer would be lucky.
“SODO skills bank…SODO banco de habilidades” the recorded voice intoned over the human mover speaker. The muscle relaxers were in full effect now and Callista felt as if she weren’t walking at all, but just being carried by the throng of people headed to the large turn-of-the-century building that served as the skills bank. It was all glass and awkwardly not square, as had been the architectural style in the early 2000s.
Once in the door, her body took her to the familiar counter where she added her thumbprint to the extraction waiver and was then directed to one of the red sofas in the waiting room. Another remnant of a dated aesthetic.
There was an elderly gentleman sitting next to her. She may have overdone it with the muscle relaxers and was having trouble producing a smile as he nodded to her, but he seemed to understand her plight and put a kind hand on her shoulder.
“Nǐ hǎo péngyǒu. Nǐ hái hǎo ma?”
“No,” Callista managed, “no, I’m not.”
Commencement Day – by Dalmatia Flemming
“Daddy, here’s your cold brew.”
“Beer in the morning? Thanks Baby!”
“No Daddy, it’s not …
Daddy took a sip and spit it out. “God damn it! It’s lukewarm coffee. Who drinks lukewarm coffee?! Fire him! Didn’t I fire him? Somebody fire him God damn it!”
“Daddy, calm down.” Baby said quietly. Anticipating more pushback, Baby slowly turned from Daddy and moved away from his space.… “You know, Barry decided to transition this house to net zero energy consumption and there are bound to be a few bumps and inconveniences along the way, like lukewarm coffee.”
“What the … God damn it! … What did you say?!”
“It was his Master’s thesis.”
“God damn it … OoOoOohhh” … Damn it …damn it …. Why do I have to drink this God damn cold brew anyway?!”
“It’s easier on your stomach.”
Daddy stealthily glanced over at his daughter, in the same way that a child does when reading the adults in their presence to determine exactly how much drama to turn on for the upcoming temper tantrum. “… AaAaAawww …!” The show had begun.
There was an awkward pause.
Baby slowly made her way to the back side of a large overstuffed chair, acting as a barrier between her and Daddy. Baby glanced at his expression, it was just as she expected, and continued. “Daddy?”
“Now remember, Barry has chosen another name to be listed in the program …. Phoenix Greene.”
“… OoOoOohhh … AaAaAawww …!” Daddy was now clutching at his stomach while sneaking a peek at his daughter out of the corner of his eye.
“… OoOoOohhh …!”
“I already told you about this.”
There was another awkward pause. This time longer.
Baby started to slowly make her way from behind the chair. “Daddy?”
“You should be happy and proud of him. I am. We all are. He’s the first in his class.”
“Damn it! He should be the first in his class in Business!”
“Daddy, he can major in whatever he wants to. And what was it that you always used to say to us … ‘Be the best you can be at whatever it is you want to be’, or something like that.”
“I said that?”
“Sure you did! Pretty sure you did.”
“Well, you kids weren’t supposed to take it so literally!”
“Daddy … come on now!”
There was another awkward pause.
“What are you going to wear?”
Daddy, mumbling, pointed half–heartedly over to the butler’s rack where a suit, shirt and tie were hanging.
“Daddy, I bought you a new tie especially for this very occasion!” Baby said in her best cheerleader’s voice.
“It better be red. You know I always wear a red tie.”
“Well, maybe you can mix things up a little for this.”
Daddy, rolling his eyes, released a slow, heavy sigh.
Baby rushed over to her oversized purse, opened it and pulled out a box. Inside was the tie. She excitedly held it up. “This one” she exclaimed.”
“It’s green?! … aaaAaaahh… “
Baby ignored him.
“Oh, all right” Daddy said sheepishly.
“See, it’s very nice. All the men in the family will be wearing one just like this. It’s high quality silk, of course.” Baby walked over to Daddy and draped it over one of his hands.
Daddy rubbed the fabric between his fingers. “Yes … very nice, very nice …. What’s this say? Daddy held the tie closer to his face … ‘Make America Green Again’?!”
In the past it had been easy to believe in Mother Nature. The science of the natural world hadproven to be true even through unbelievable natural phenomena since the mythologies of ancient times. But now we all talk about it, photograph it, discuss it, speculate about it and hope that nature as we knew it should be, would go back to how it was.
I stood in my small kitchen holding a fresh cup of black coffee, excited about my upcoming camping trip to the southern Oregon coast. The Interweb reported on forest fires in the Cascades but this was nothing new in this west coast of twenty-first century America.
Green areas were off limits to humans anyway, guarded by teams of experienced “Sandy’s,” a term first used in the movie “Logan’s Run,” to describe the police who captured “Runners” escaping the inevitable, and then handed down to the protectors at Burning Man who stopped runners into the pyre. The new Sandy’s job was to put out the self-immolators whose ranks were increasing with so many people protesting every dangerous regime in the world.
Tomasino had been a Sandy until his narrow escape a couple of months earlier. His suit protected him but the strain from unsuccessfully trying to put out a family of burners, women and children chained together who breached the fence and threw themselves into the raging forest fire, had been the last straw.
Janey wanted to see the eclipse, maybe the last one of the century. “Whatever you do Janey, don’t go. I can feel something evil coming with this eclipse. Dreams, my dreams portend…” This was almost the last thing Tomy-o said to her before he completely checked out of reality.
Janey held her phone up to her face. The usual screens flashed on one after another. It was six-fifty, everyone used military time because day and night could fool you if you had been sheltering for a few days and the ash from the burns obscured the sky. The screen next showed the outside temperature. It was already ninety degrees. These days the temperature stayed between a high of ninety-five to a low of eighty-five depending on the intensity of the sun, the nearness of the fires and the amount of debris burning in the streets.
The date flashed and then the city page with graphs showing electricity available, areas of outage, water levels and how much and for how long these necessities would be available in the area. The food pages buzzed in on availability of everything from cooking oil to apples and where garbage could safely be dropped off.
The most important notices then lit up the screen indicating where the fire points were located, first, close by and then fanning out through the northwest. This was the function of the Internet in this generation. They had only heard of the good old says of fun and games on sites called Facebook and Instagram. Information these days meant survival or death.
Tomy-o, that’s what everyone called him, hadn’t left the safety of his basement shelter since “IT” had happened. Being on the front lines had deeply scarred his psyche although his flesh had survived without a single singe, not like some of his front line friends whose bodies were traumatized by burns, crushed by falling trees and rocks or tumbling buildings.
Being a Sandy was a coveted job and paid a huge amount of cold hard cash. The job was short lived as most lives were cut short. He had walked away after that particular nightmare. At first the fires were caused by nature, lightening strikes in the “droughted” forests or by delinquents with illegal fireworks.
Suicidal terrorists were the latest scourge who figured out they could die in a blaze of glory by strapping emollients to their bodies in the form of a specially formulated gel that exploded into fiery shrapnel, creating a firestorm destroying everything around them.
Janey checked her preparations. Her car secured in the metal clad garage had been gassed up last week when the getting was good and the gasoline truck was in the neighborhood.
Since these days of disaster had begun and fire attacks had become the norm, from man-made chaos to natural acts many things had changed. Houses that were once charming bungalows were now fronted with heavy-duty sheet metal to protect from fire. What were once well-tended lawns and gardens were now armed moats. Communities now resembled medieval fortresses.
Tomy-o’s basement bunker was well protected. He had everything he needed in a space smaller than a tiny house. Janey made food for him and left it outside the door. They had installed self-composting toilets throughout the house and were hooked up to the main water supply but had an efficient emergency water system. He had planned to be hide away for only a few days but as the weather and chaos outside increased he had stayed in his cell the past few months.
Lately he had been dreaming stranger, more prescient dreams. The last dream frightened him and he told Janey, “It was like this,” he said when she brought him his morning oatmeal. “You are dead but come back as a ghost to tell me that you are going to die. You take my hand and we fly along the coast. The sun is sinking in a fiery blast. And the world below is erupting. I see crowds of people floating up into the air passing us by their mouths open. A strangely beautiful sound crashes around us getting louder and louder. Suddenly there is nothing but a wall of fire that vaporizes all of the other people in the air, while you and I become transparent floating gently back to earth.”
“I really don’t want you to go to the Eclipse. I have a really bad feeling about it.”
Janey listened to him carefully but since his withdrawal didn’t exactly trust him anymore. She was tired of being under siege inside and outside the house. “Tomy-o, I know you are stressed out but I’ll be just fine. I can take care of myself. Just because you had a hard time doesn’t mean I can’t take it. I have taken all precautions. I am armed. I feel that you are just trying to keep me here, somebody to feed you and take care of you.”
Well, she didn’t actually say this to him but thought it and thought about her options. He was very persuasive and had been right there on the front line. But this was a special thing, The Eclipse of the Sun. She had been getting her degree at the University in Astrophysics before these latest disasters. This event spoke to her heart and she so wanted to be there.
Tomio’s dream freaked her out. Some of the things he dreamed in his bunker had come true. Little things like their missing cat, Mr. Big. He said the cat was alive but didn’t want to come home until Tomy-o was feeling better. And funnily enough when she put some cat food on the porch that night the food was eaten. And then there were other things like lost keys and messages from people he knew she would get before she got them.
Tomy-o fidgeted in his little cell after Janey left. He couldn’t eat the oatmeal. He couldn’t swallow any coffee. He was worried and felt his heart racing like it had done when he first got the jitters. He thought he would throw up and sweat broke out on his forehead. He shivered like he was cold even though the temperature in the little cell stayed at a comfortable seventy-one degrees.
For the first time in many months he felt he had to leave the room, to plead with Janey to stay. This resolve made Tomy-o feel better. His thoughts were clearer and he felt strong with resolve. He put on normal jeans and a t-shirt. Barefoot he left his self-made prison and went upstairs. “Janey, Janey are you still here? Oh Janey it’s me. I’m better. Where are you?”
Janey turned around from her seat at the kitchen table. She was in the process of unpacking her backpack. She looked up and smiled so relieved to feel that life could now be endured. His need for her eclipsed the eclipse.