Trying to get a GoodReads author account set up. Pretty sure I’m not doing it right. And that I’ve messed up the book page for The Dropout.
I was trying Write or Die, and gave myself fifteen minutes to write 500 words. This happened. I’m kind of curious about it now.
Over the river and through the woods, there was nothing left to see. All the little soldiers had wandered home years before, through the empty lanes and over the dry riverbeds. There was hardly anything left to see in the woods, which had been demolished to make fires and pyres and battering rams and arrows. What twigs were left over were not enough for the remaining creatures to thread together into shabby nests and homes.
Amongst the rubble lived a little girl with shabby clothes and ragged nails. She ate the gravel and drank the sap from the bleeding vines. She lived in a trench and slept under a covering of abandoned machinery. She washed her hair in the dirt and scrubbed her face with the stones from the fields. Her friends were the skeletal birds and the bones of the woodland animals. She had elaborate conversations with the puppets of the dead and made herself castles with the remains of the empires long fallen. She was happy, because her world was complete.
Away, there was a little boy who ran through green fields and played in babbling streams. He stalked the little creatures of the thickets near his home and watched as the birds of every plumage took to the air and flew into blue skies. He was cleaned in the clear water and pressed into clothes dried in the sunlight. He was happy, because his world was complete.
In between, there was a soldier. He wore his uniform as though he had forgotten he had skin beneath. His cap sat on his head where his hair once had been, and his rifle filled his hand as though the two were made for companionship. He breathed the air so long as it was there to be inhaled, and he gave it no other thought. He groomed his shoes and his shoulders, but a beard grew on his face where he no longer investigated to see what he looked like. The soldier was neither happy nor sad, because his world was not meant to be complete.
At the end of the world, there was a woman. She brushed her hair from her face, but did not perceive its hue. She brushed her hands of debris, but did not note the nature of it. Her eyes were always lifted to the empty sky. She was neither happy nor sad, because her world did not exist.
In the world, there are barren lakes and lush valleys. There are clean brooks and polluted eddies. There are snow-capped peaks and frozen basins. There are parched buttes and inhospitable deserts. The world is neither happy nor sad, because the world is complete.
What became of the girl and the boy and the soldier and the woman was the world’s business alone.
“Blue Planet” by Helen Doremus
August 19th, 2012
He is a young man when the noise is first plucked out of the inky cacophony of space. The discovery promises him a long, healthy career in the burgeoning field of interplanetary communications. For a few heady, glorious months, he is the face plastered across the news feeds. The tiny piece of intelligent noise is grafted onto the fabric of the world’s culture, layered into music and the butt of a thousand delightful and repetitive jokes.
The beacon is deciphered over hundreds of hours of relentless toil, and while it translates to little more than a packet of sterile information, the imagination and hopes of the world are captivated by the bare descriptions of the only other inhabited planet in the universe. (As yet discovered.)
It takes two years more to formulate a response considered acceptable by all the many world leaders. The young man, as the world’s foremost expert on the transmission, is the one who sends out the response, encoded in the original language of the received transmission and beamed back to the coordinates specified in the beacon.
He is older – the world is so very much older – when the response finally arrives. There are no parties or cheery jocularity this time. There is no one standing over his shoulder any longer to share the news with. There is hardly anyone left at all anymore, the majority of the world’s population left rotting in the fields and mountains, victims all of the war of the nations. Survivors, much as the old man, keep to themselves, dying in the best way they know how.
The beacon is despised, as is the old man, blamed for the loss of billions of lives as much as are the world’s erstwhile leadership, who scrabbled and fought to be first to profit from the beacon’s world. To send people out into the vacuum to find and intercept their new neighbor, which must surely have technology and insight worthy of the ruthless shedding of blood.
The new message is short and simple, but it filled the old man with a horror of his own life, a regret for all the hopes he had carried for an escape and refuge. The faith in an answer to vindicate the final labored gasps of his world.
“We are Earth. Can you help us?”
When he got lost the first time, nobody panicked. There was a general sense of disquiet, of course, and a small search party of four or five people checked behind doors and in out-of-the-way rooms for him. He wandered back in on his own, leaves in his golden hair and a silly sort of smile where his explanation should have been. He got off without so much as a half-hearted scolding and that was reasonably assumed to be that.
It was on the occasion of his sixth disappearance, of some nine days’ duration, that the reaction began to border on something like a general panic.
“He’s a good boy,” his mother would say, worrying a faded tea towel between her thin fingers. “I don’t know what’s come over him to act this way.”
Doctors were summoned and specialists in the field of brain function and psychiatry were seen, but the young man still wandered.
He traveled to foreign fields and distant cities, through towns where no one knew his name or even spoke his native tongue. And yet, he smiled and brought back strange souvenirs and talk enough to fill his mother’s kitchen with concerned neighbors and churchmen.
“That boy’s gone a bit odd,” they’d say. “Caroline, you’ve got to do something about that boy of yours.”
They fit him with heavy boots and showed him all the best bits of folly on the screen, but they found that he would read when he couldn’t walk and at night, when they removed the boots for bed, he found ways to wander right from his pillow.
The doctors and the specialists and the neighbors and the churchmen and his mother told the mayor, “Lock the gates and burn the books!” For some came to speak to the young man about his wanderings and to hear where he had gone and to see his strange souvenirs and smiles, and a look of wandering had come into the eyes of the other young folk in the town. The doctors and the specialists and the neighbors and the churchmen and the mothers were much concerned that the young man’s wanderings would fester and spread in the town to the others who had not wandered of their own initiative.
The mayor heard the concerns of his townspeople and saw the need to keep them from wanderings to other places where there were strange souvenirs and different sorts of words in different sorts of mouths. So the mayor locked the gates and the doctors and the specialists and the neighbors and the churchmen and the mothers went home and slept in their beds.
And while they did so, the wanderers slipped their heavy boots and left the town through the gates which could not be locked and were never seen again.
Friday, May 17th, 2007:
I sat there, pulled over on the gravel shoulder of the road, feet from the entrance to St. John’s with hail and rain drumming viciously around me and lighting snaking menacingly through the sky. I was alone, without ally or shelter to flee to. Not for the first time, Santa Fe left me feeling lonely and hopelessly lost. But this time, with the elements only marginally held at bay and no refuge now available, I could not hide from either overwhelming emotion.
My brief call to Kit had found her snug at home and already busy with family matters. Somehow that, more than the casually oblivious voice mail messages that had greeted my calls to Mike and Polly, was the loneliest thought of them all.
I was fully adrift, flung wide to the world with only my own considerably meager resources to navigate the terrain. Fear, deep and rattling, crawled through me, displacing the exhausted desperation of my acute fatigue and loneliness. Terror proved much more palpable an emotion than abandonment. I trembled as though out in the storm and not relatively secure in Lucy’s lukewarm gut.
Through the mania, the small voice of instinctual reason nudged me into motion. There was no point in lingering in front of the campus. There was nothing for me there. Carefully, aware that my windshield wipers were only nominally effective in the deluge of the mountain’s storm, I turned Lucy around again and began to make my way back down into town.
Almost with every foot of progress down the mountain, the rain and hail lessened, the storm trapped almost cartoonishly over the peaks and not touching the valley below.
I had nearly whiled away the last of the light on the roadside and now my priority was to find a place to stay for the night.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2007:
Say what you will about money’s poor exchange rate with the soul, but while it does not mean everything in life, money is an unparalleled force when it comes to making life easier to manage on an administrative and thereby emotional level. Money, or at the very least trade, is the grease that keeps the little cogs of civilized society whirling away. It serves a role, a vital if unromantic one, that allows mankind a little of that freedom total self-reliance prohibits, namely the freedom of time not spent producing the good which was instead purchased.
In our modern world, where we trade slips of paper and hammered metal as representations of a speculative wealth or even merely assign our wealth to a number on a screen, all notes of promised value set aside, money is used to procure all the things we cannot or would not produce on our own, to insure the delivery of services that again we might otherwise be required to provide for ourselves, or to compensate an inconvenience to another party. Cling to whatever trite anti-currency idealogy you choose, but cold, unattractive cash is the god of mankind’s disinterest in base animal behavior or the perpetuation of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Las Vegas is the rather garish representation of that truth. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun, too.