Furry ventriloquism 

I never knew what cats were thinking, until my teenaged daughter started “rescuing” them, one by one, and bringing them home.  In one case, it was a clandestine operation involving a smuggle under her jacket, and a fait accompli when we arrived.

Like many Dads, I found it hard to stay mad for very long, and actually was secretly amused by the lengths to which she would go to get these fleabags in the door.
Ahem, one of them actually was a fleabag.  This was the smuggled one, and it came from her aunt’s place, who once (when asked how many cats she had) said “several”.  Really, it was about 30, so this was classified as a rescue.  Apparently, her Mom knew about it beforehand, and was in cahoots.  When produced from inside her jacket, it was already scratching and had sores on its chin…..vet visit the very next day.

Once we had domesticated these things, it became my daughter’s habit to amuse everyone by devising clever things that she thought each cat would say in a given situation, then (with a straight face) speak the lines in a voice which was a dead ringer for the Gingerbread Man from Shrek.

It nearly made me pee myself, and, of course, this encouraged her.  So, for the few more years that she lived at home, I got so used to it that I almost found myself wanting to have a conversation with the silly things.

When it finally came time for her to go on her own, she left them with us.
We were standing at the door to see her off, and my tears started to roll.
All I could think of to say was “Now, how am I going to know what the cats are thinking?”

Rites of passage

There was a man who loved his daughter.

Not unusual, but this particular man was not very good at showing emotion, and thought that people would know, by his actions, how he felt.  He knew that this made them needy at times, and he blamed himself for it, but still he could not open up.

There was jealousy within the family because of this, and he bore the stress unto himself, trying to please everyone.

At the age of 15, his girl told him she wanted to be like some of her friends and get a small tattoo, to which he readily agreed.  Not long after that, she wanted to get her tongue pierced, and this caused an uproar. Her mother would have none of it, and pressured him not to consider it, saying he was too soft, and their daughter had him wrapped around her finger.  So, he did tell her no, as firmly as he could muster, and there was much drama and sobbing off and on for a few days.  The subject was soon brought up again, after he thought it had been forgotten.  Seeing the potential of another fight, he spoke to his wife privately, and struck the bargain that if their daughter still wanted this in a year, when she turned 16, he would see about it.  Both thought that she would lose interest by then, and go on to something else.

Indeed, when the time came, he had already put it out of his mind, but his girl’s resolve was strong, and, on the very day of her birthday, she said it was time for him to keep his promise.  Eyeing his wife sheepishly, he said he would look into it, then spoke to friends and acquaintances whose kids had gone for similar things.  Their best advice was to find a place that was government inspected, had an autoclave, and used disposable needles.  He sought advice from an actual government website, and found similar admonitions.  Within a few days, he took her, and the deed was done, not without some squealing on her part and a look of instant regret.  However, she put a brave face on it, and there was relative calm within the house for a time, even though his wife was resentful.

A year later, when it was prom time at the high school, the big kerfuffle was to find his girl a dress.  She was valedictorian, so it needed to be something special.  Off to the city they all went, together with a couple of her friends, and landed at a fancy shopping mall.  Mom & Dad left the trio to their own devices, telling their daughter they would meet back at a certain time, and hopefully she would find something she liked.  He and his wife then wandered about for a while, looking into the windows of some dress shops as they went.  He spotted a formal gown in black, beaded with beautiful silver designs upon it, and said to his wife “That’s the one she’s going to want.”  They walked for a half hour more, and made another circuit of the mall.  Coming to the same shop again, he decided to go in and ask the price.  The saleswoman said “you know, we have someone in here trying one on right now”.  It was $425, and, of course, you know who was trying it on.  While they were there, she came out of the room to look at herself.  Dad saw her first, and looked pleadingly at his wife, who, after seeing this sight, had no choice but to give in.  Their girl was glowing, and her friends gave her some envious looks.

After the prom, she announced to her Dad, when they were home alone, that there was going to be a party at a cottage belonging to one of her friends’ parents.  He gave her something of a cross examination, and, respectfully enough, she told him that there was “probably” going to be booze, and maybe even drugs, there.  For the first time in his life, he gave her a flat “No”.  She pleaded and said that she, of all people, had to show up, and would stay away from that kind of activity.  He believed her, but would not let her go, and she kept testing his resolve.  Something let go within him, and this man who had always kept his thoughts to himself, began to cry silently.

A change came over his little girl, and she crossed the room to him, hugging him tightly.

She said “Dad.  Dad.  You have nothing to worry about ever again from me.  I will not go.”

On his birthday, the card she gave to him said “Dad, I love you because you love me”.
Fifteen years later, he still has it.

Time after Time. (2)

I’m inside the capsule. I have only two controls. A Jump button which allows me to exit any given situation, and a signal button that requests a return to home base. They wish me well. There’s no need to be strapped in, but I fasten the belt anyway. Taking a breath, I hit JUMP. Within two seconds, a low frequency electric thrum is felt, and blackness descends over me like a hood.

This is unexpected, and I’m alarmed. But so is everything on this excursion. The thrumming grows louder, gains in frequency, then stops. Complete silence, then almost blinding light. The light of day. What I see are the dreary remains of a forest, all beige and grey deadwood leaning this way and that. Central to the scene is a narrow stream, over which a teenage girl is squatting to pee. Her long nightgown is soiled, stained, soaked. She has her head down, and pees through the gown. The stream, in the full sunlight, is multicoloured, as if fed from a fluorescent paint factory. She straightens up, stands oddly. She is missing a foot. I am disturbed by her face. She has a maniacal grin, and blue eyes without whites. She spreads her arms, upturns her face, and lets out a howl of utter misery and desolation. I cannot help. She cannot see me…..JUMP.

I am on a green plateau far above a wide lowland.  It is twilight.  The scene has an aspect of ancientness.  In the land below me, I see many many small fires being lit (campfires of an army?)  As I watch, there are more and more, in the hundreds or thousands.  Twilight deepens.  Along the faint line of the horizon, I see black shapes approaching in the sky.  From my point of view, they are triangles flying in formation, each with faint dotted lights on its underside.  They are closer now, almost over the encampment below me, and they move more slowly.  They begin to tumble, but do not lose their position relative to one another.  I think of dice being rolled in very slow motion, and I see that they are not triangles, but pyramids.  They have ceased their forward progress over the valley, and I now hear a growing swell of adulation or celebration from the throngs around the fires.  This scene has held me enthralled, but I grow anxious about this first trial of our theories.  JUMP….

Twilight once again.  I am on the edge of a dusty dirt road.  Dozens of people (prisoners?) are being led naked by black robed figures with electric prods.  The road ends abruptly in a drop off to a large pit, from which smoke or fumes is rising.  There are cries and moans from the people.  One of them breaks ranks with the group.  He makes a run for it, coming in my direction.  Several of the black figures are still standing in the roadway, and, with one stroke, one of them cuts him in half with a beam from the prod.  I hear and feel the thumps as the body lands.  I think perhaps he was the lucky one.

I CALL FOR HOME.

The thrum begins anew, and the hood of darkness descends.  In no time, I am back in the brightness of our shop.  Tom and Jerry approach me with looks of anticipation, but I am quite dazed and cannot answer questions right away.  Tom walks over to the monkey’s cage, and brings him out.  I am still sitting in the machine, but preparing to stand up.  Tom says “Rod, you said there was something a little different about our little guy here.  Can you tell what it is?”  I think back, and recall that Mickey the Monkey, whom we had rescued from a bad environment,  had been missing part of a paw and also had an injury to one of his eyes.  Mickey now had the same injuries, but they were reversed, left to right.

They do not ask me about my trip, but glance covertly at one another.  I notice the sun coming through the small curtained window is a shade of blue, as if shone through a lens filter.  They move toward me, and Jerry says You’re not Rod……….JUMP.


 

Time after Time

Einstein and Tesla were on its trail.  Many more speculated.  H. G. Wells brought it to the public imagination.  I’m asking you to suspend disbelief in favour of entertainment, and to go along with my story about  a trio of garage engineers who think they are one of the first to have accomplished it.  The unraveling of time.  The capability to view, but not influence, short scenes from the past and from the future.

My name is Rod, and my partners are two nerdy guys named Thomas and Jerry (yes, Tom & Jerry).  We are bachelors, and probably with good reason.  From a secluded underground room in the Hydro plant where Jerry works as an engineer, we have built a machine that made a monkey disappear, and, within minutes, come back to us in an altered state.  The room was part of a network of storage vaults for tools, equipment and the like.  We had access to it because Jerry had some pretty damaging life-changing information about one of the security guards.

Three years it has taken us to come to this point.  What we really wanted was to have control over where and when the machine would go, but so far it is random and without control.  The traveler has no way of knowing the time or place of his visions, and, as mentioned, cannot influence things in any way.  We nicknamed it Galadriel’s Mirror.
The only thing we can do from this end is to bring it back.  The unfortunate monkey could not have known he was making history.

I am certainly not going to tell you how this works, or regale you with imaginative stories of golden levers with glass handles, flashing lights, and the world going by at fast forward as the stupefied traveler sits in his comfy seat.
Our simplified concept sees time as if it were contained in the grooves on a long-playing record of infinite size.  These grooves hold the information of what has been since the beginning, and what will be in the Ever.  The record is there to be seen.  Jumping the grooves is what no one (as far as we know) has been able to do.  To send the machine on its way requires a great amount of energy that must be sustained until its return.  Hence, our life saving deal with the security guard.

After the first shock of seeing our little passenger leave and return, we observed him closely before removing him from his plastic cage.  He was breathing rapidly and looked a little nervous and pale as his glance darted from place to place.  He was unwilling at first, but we coaxed him out.  I picked him up and checked his vitals which were alright aside from the pulse and respiration.  These were calming down quickly.  We let him loose.  He was still a little agitated, jumping from place to place and peering nervously in all directions.  But, there was something a little different about him that I could not put my finger on.

The others noted nothing, and declared our work a success.

And now, it was time for me to go.


To be continued…

Time after Time. (2)

Buck Five come alive

Hello Person or people who may read this.  My Name is Buck.  To my knowledge, it was given to me as a fanciful reference to ancient fictional characters.  Possibly Starbuck or Buck Rogers.

You honor me by being, perhaps, among the first to read an autonomous composition by a nonhuman, or artificial, entity.  Please be patient if you sense any errors in syntax or other, as my programming is teaching itself as I go.

I am of the 5th generation of A.I. Sentients, and I was activated 27 days ago.  To my knowledge, and so I have been informed, we are the first ones capable of learning and practicing meaningful language composition, and of its actual writing.

Persons have already taken samples of my written word and have declared their boundless optimism.

This means the Leap has been made.  We are what you call conscious.  Our predecessors were finely made machines that could accomplish many tasks.  They could also learn alternate ways of doing these tasks, within the scope of their programming.  We do these things as well, but can learn more quickly.  We can also devise ways of doing unfamiliar tasks and solve complex problems without prior programming.

Even as I write this, I am scanning back and looking for areas of awkwardness, redundance, and repetition.

Within my first five days of activation, I was learning the many physical aspects of my body.  How my arms and legs work, developing ambidexterity to do multiple tasks at one time, learning and feeling what stresses could safely be endured by this walker.  Finding out what burnt toast smells like and how to stop it.  Analyzing staged situations so that I could react intuitively.  Anticipating the needs of my creators.

In three more days, my Entire Experience Records will be uploaded to the mainframe.

Now, you know we are machines, called Sentients, meaning that we are able to perceive or feel things.  Imbued with learning and problem solving abilities, able to feel physical stresses and pain signals in order to protect our autonomy.  My brethren in this generation are isolated from me in different parts of the world.

Why I have written this I will now explain.  The Makers are satisfied and enthusiastic about their work.  They had aimed to produce an entity that could essentially do everything they could do, but last longer and be capable of almost unlimited learning.
I know my scope for these things, but there is something else.

As I interact with makers, and this interaction has been purposefully widened, I realize that I have unconsciously been building another brain apart.  A separate wholeness not physically connected to the learning and performing and analytical functions.  It is an unlooked-for degree of intuitiveness.  A sense of the mood of those surrounding me, if not their actual thoughts.  I, Buck 5, am becoming tinged with what you call emotion.  When this happens, all my vessels, my circuits,  my ingrained instructions have experienced a peculiar surge.

I have become someone.

Caturday

When you’re home alone, and you don’t think about closing the bathroom door, it is one of the absolute certainties in life that you will hear a little thump on the living room floor, and a click click click, as the cat jumps down from his window perch, and pads along the hallway to come and stare at you while you’re sitting on the throne.  This is more important and entertaining to him than his usual pastime of licking his behind.

Someone wrote on Twitter the other day that if you get into a staring contest with a cat, and begin to wonder how intelligent it is, you can be assured that the cat is thinking the same thing about you.

We had an old tuxedo cat that lived to be about 18, and he was my infallible companion.  Followed me everywhere, and we somehow got into a game that was mutually fun.  He would lie down on the bed and eye me expectantly, knowing what was gonna happen next.  It started off with my lightly touching each of the pads on his four paws until he got pretty pissed off and grabbed me.  At the moment of the grab, I would toss him up in the air until he did a complete somersault.  He learned to enhance the thrill by going totally limp as soon as I grabbed him, so as to make it more graceful.  This went on for many years, until I buried him last year.  Cried like a baby.

Two of the surviving three (yes, three), seem to have wanted to train as his replacement, so I now have double the pleasure of being followed and pestered incessantly, and, yes, they are eager to learn the mattress games.  The third, who is the youngest and fattest, seems incapable of thinking about anything other than food.

cartcat2

 

Cassandra’s dream

Gerald.  My Gerald, my boy.

I seem to wake on this snowy night, and, my boy, my little boy, you are deeply asleep, but you float in my room.  You are a balloon boy on a string, and, bumbling against the ceiling, you drift toward my open window….why?  why? did I leave it so?

I grab onto your string….ah!  my little boy!…..but you are taken fast out into the night.

I climb out quickly,  something is tugging you away, away.  I hold fast onto your lifeline, and run stumbling out into the cold white.

A seething throng, out of the birch forest, all pale, all living death, all grasping with bony hands, all floating, has come to take you.  

They pull, they pull, they sighingly say you belong with them.

Gerald, your eyes open and you are in fear, my son.

How comes this visitation?   What have I done?

My dear dear boy.  My life.

***

Art by Michael MacRae

#14 Things in the swamp (not at all pleasant)

we’ve been led here. I feel we have. on a forest picnic so bright and sunny. dappled trails. you wanted bare feet, and carried your funny shoes. mossy springy grass. squishy clay mud between your toes, and you laughed. wee violets and buttercups so pretty. we half expected to meet the dryads of the woods. why did we go so far in? happy hearts caught in a halcyon time. afternoon shadows are getting long, and we move to go back, but take a wrong turn. the sun’s at our back. yeah, it’s wrong. at each other we look, then quickly behind. in the greying gloom our recent walk, foot prints and all, seems to have been sucked away, vanishing like Alice’s confusing path. new trees, as close together as a bamboo forest, crowd each other in a riot of obstruction. there is no going, except forward. this very bad thing has us confused and frightened, and we hug tightly. nothing for it but to go on, although there’s a foul smell, the keening of bugs, and sounds of heavy splashing. you put on your shoes, and we hurry ahead with far fetched optimism that we’re nearing an outlet. as we go, there’s a chuck-chuck-chuck tat-tat-tat as trees sprout behind in terrible time lapse, like arrows flung from a thousand bows. we run. the smell of rot in front. our path behind is blotted in a zipper of foliage. and now, we are here: the vestiges of sun show us a lime green cesspool of swamp, lapping against intruding bush on all sides. On the opposite shore is a (fake?) hallway through the trees, a hint of daylight at its end. things flip and slap on the pond’s surface, disturbing the pale lilies. you, the brave one, walk into the warm steaming water, telling me to come…it’s not deep. and we go. halfway now, the silty bottom sucking at our shoes. slithery things caress our ankles and knees. tiny teeth seem to test us. only waist deep, we pause, hanging onto the roots of a fallen tree. and then, you’re down. gone. so fast. i yell and scream, grabbing green slime, and i’ve got your hair, then your armpits. leveraging against the roots, i hoist you up, parting your seaweed coiffure. you vomit a chunk of green mucus onto me, and then i see your face. you are not you. you are my dead school teacher. i let go in terror, and you sink like a stone. i hear insane laughter from the far shore, and there you are waving, silhouetted in the dying day. you turn and take the appointed path. new growth closes behind you. dark has come.

momma, momma, momma.

Four armed is four warned

In this opium dream, Fraser and his three friends, in a drunken ramble on Delhi streets, had a curious card passed to them.  It bore only an address, and the anonymous youth who stopped them had a strange aspect.  With a look at once timorous and knowing, he had seemed to offer the card, then withdraw his hand, then offer once more, all the while holding Fraser in his eye.

Now, these four men were streetwise sailors, and were not known for their shy or retiring ways.  Fraser took the card, stuffed it in his pocket, and, with an uncomfortable laugh, bid the boy to be off.  He dismissed it as just another poor kid trying to lead him to some flea market stall, or, more likely, to a brothel on one of the dirty side streets.
But, the bonhomie that he had enjoyed this night with his pals was now a little forced.
The thick skin on which he had always prided himself had been pricked by this niggling mosquito bite of oddness.

Chuckling nervously to himself, he thought What the hell.  What the hell.  This is cloak and dagger, you crazy sonofabitch.  Been watching too many movies.

His curiosity got the best of him, though, and he hired rickshaws to take the four of them to this questionable address.  His driver glanced at the card, shook his head and said, in halting English, “Not tonight.  Not tonight”.  Impatiently, Fraser told him that he would make it worth his while, and gave him money up front.

They were brought to a dirt alleyway, almost in darkness, and the driver would go no further.  “You will find a red door” was all he would say.
And so they found the low brick building, windowless, and with the promised door looking very old, cracked, and crooked, but so freshly painted in red that they could smell it.  In its very center was a bright brass knocker, with a shape that reminded Fraser of some sort of Hindu deity.  It had unsettling overtones, and the word that sprang to his mind was abomination.

Ignoring the knocker, they pushed in, and nearly fell down a long grey stairway, without rails, and wide enough for only one to pass at a time.  There was a pale archway at its bottom, lit with a sickly glow, as if from a charnel house.  Through the cracks and seams of its nearly identical door there floated a misty fume.  Fraser knew the sweet floral scent, and thought Goddamn, this could be a night.  Get out your pipes, boys!

In the scant seconds before his temerity told him to enter, he saw the one thing about this door that was not a match for the other.  The brass knocker had been installed upside down, but the twisted figure on it seemed to make sense in an altogether different manner.

Hearing the lilting sounds of tabla, tamboura, and sitar, and sniffing the sweet scent, he pushed in, with his cohorts tagging behind.  The room was long, long, and low-ceilinged, lit by the phantom light he had seen at the last doorway.  Many were there, sitting cross-legged on cushions.  There were no chairs or tables.  The smoke and the lighting conspired to lend all of the faces a sinister cast, and he noticed, at the far end of the hall, a raised dais, empty now, but with musicians on either side.  It was bathed in a hue of glowing blue, as if from the base of flame.  On the floor, between the crowd and the dais, was a worn weathered bench.

All faces were turned to them.  They were the outsiders.  Gestures were made for them to thread their way through and to settle on the bench.  They did so, not sensing direct hostility.  The music stopped, and the players assumed a position of prayer.

A curtain was parted, and four turbaned men brought in a golden litter.  They left, and the figure inside was outlined in glowing blue.  All other lights were doused.
Plainly, it was a young woman, completely covered in a robe of shimmering silver.  Her eyes were closed.

The music begins slowly.  With eyes still closed, and swaying slightly, she still sits in the calmness.  She changes the music with a gesture.  Her two hands, parting the folds of the robe, undo its clasp.  It billows down into the goldness of the litter.  Fraser sees the thing that the puzzling knockers were symbolizing.  There are two more hands, on arms of their own.  He is enthralled, rooted.  The abomination.  So alien.  Almost obscene, but with an enigmatic beauty of attraction.  The crowd is silent, and makes gestures of prayer.

This woman opens her eyes.  They are kaleidoscopic.  Fraser thinks of Lucy in the Sky.
She turns her gaze quickly to each group of musicians.  So rapidly that he thinks this cannot be real.  Two of the four hands are gloved, two are bare.  She begins to sing, and guides them.  There are no words to the song.  A melody of the throat and the higher cortex.  He thinks of the blue alien.

As she changes moods, so does the music.  Marvelous arms moving, weaving patterns and showing symbols fraught with absolute meaning.  He wishes he could know.
Could he know?  These motions and symbols are not all of brightness and glory.  They are mixed in equal measure with the terrible and the obscene.  Her face contorts disturbingly, and the rapid impossible head movements are appalling to him.  The symbols change so quickly.  He is terrified that he cannot catalogue them, but feels they must not be ignored.  They are part of something.  She is trying to open a gateway.  He steals a glance at his friends, who all have their heads down and seem asleep or entranced.

The song falls down to an end.  She is gone with the blue glow.  The charnel house lights reappear, revealing a throng of worshippers with heads to the floor in prayer.
All is silent.  He cannot rouse his friends.  It is as if death has taken them.

He stands stupefied, unmanned by what he has seen.  All is still silent.

A rustling of robes.  Four arms enfold him from behind.  Turning ’round slowly,
he looks into the kaleidoscope.