At the end of the story you will find the Signal Panels that were developed as the inspiration for the story.
The Signal of the Second Spring.
Anitya sat on the bridge, watching carp play with the seeds she dropped with her tiny hands. At four years old, she had the grace of a dancer seen all too long ago, perhaps imagined. The seeds left her hands in graceful loops that traced patterns across the air between bridge and water. She sat, as always, with her hair draped across her left shoulder. When she saw Mother enter the garden, she quickly adjusted it, placing it neatly above her head. She rose and smiled at Mother then giggled slightly as something fell and tickled her nose.
There were signs that autumn was coming. Maple leaves had begun to drift down and float upon the water. It sent a shiver down Mothers’ spine to watch and feel the cooling air. To think of winter was a terrible thought but a certainty they knew must come at one time; a winter without end; a winter with no spring. Somewhere out on the slopes of the mountain, a flock of birds were startled by something moving on the lower slopes. Mother guessed it was another bear. They were daring to come nearer now the food was becoming scarcer. She didn’t understand this. Surely there were nuts and autumn fruits. Colours were changing on the mountains, golden and warm. The garden reflected it back paying the landscape its respect and compliments.
She shuddered in the cool air. The signal was late again, each time reducing, each time causing Mother to feel anxiety she had promised to ignore. Each cycle became longer and the questions needed to be invoked. Anitya didn’t mind it though. The questions for her were anticipation and excitement. The process of renewal in the garden was a tremendous thing to watch. She didn’t understand the long hard winter and had not experienced it yet; cold beyond cold beyond cold; nothing and darkness. Father worked patiently to remotely adjust the relays but there wasn’t enough power to fix them all at once. As each fell off more rapidly he spent more time away from the garden.
Anitya rose and ran towards Mother, running her small fingers along the bamboo that shaded the path. Mother dragged herself from the worry and sat down in front of the sand garden. The girl had excitement in her eyes and would want to speak. She smiled and gestured to the seat beside her where Anitya bounced over and knelt down. She had her own questions.
“Mother did you see the birds? Did you see them? There must have been at least fifty flying out of the trees. What should we think caused them to fly that way?” She bounced on her knees to mark and exaggerate the speech, making Mother smile and hold her still. Those eyes of wonder were always a safe refuge against the troubles of the world.
“It was probably another big bear chasing a squirrel, but you must not wonder about such things. You know we must never leave the garden. To leave would be to never return. This place is made for us. A thing the birds and the bears do not have.” Anitya looked dissapointed. She was always peeking out beyond the stone garden, waiting for something to happen on the mountain while Mother constantly steered her back to her contemplations. They sat in silence for a long time. Watching more leaves fall from the maples. Anitya wriggled next to her, unable to contain her anticipation of what would happen next. Everything was changing.
A cool wind dragged its fingers through the Wisteria, spraying flowers onto the sand garden. Mother pulled her cardigan to cover them both as they sat. The light was beginning to fade and Father suddenly arrived in the garden. He brought a flame from the stove and lit the lanterns. Without speaking, he came and sat beside them. He was tired but something in his eyes had changed; had lightened. He looked into Anityas eyes and kissed her forehead brushing her hair back down across her left shoulder. She giggled looking guiltily at Mother who remained waiting for Father to speak. He knows something, she thought. I just know he does. He wouldn’t have lit the lanterns otherwise.
Finally he turned to face Mother, “There is another cluster approaching, enough for many years more and then I cannot say. It means more time but we will have to wait and watch the first snows before it can give enough to fix all of the relays.” He was running his fingers through Anityas hair and she bounced off the seat to dart playfully away from his reach.
Mother closed her eyes and smiled inside. All the worry of the last few days began to fade. She rose and walked back inside announcing loudly, “Then we shall need to keep warm.” As she walked away she heard him begin the questions of remembrance once more. He always did that, starting before she was ready for her part. Perhaps his intention was to teach her words to Anitya. She hurried inside and gathered several thick blankets and a hat for Anitya. By the time she returned he had finished the introduction and was moving to the first questions.
“What is a King worth?”
Anitya bubbled and glowed with happiness. She knew this one well and always enjoyed telling it. Standing importantly to mimic the weight of the story she would tell she raised her chin and imitated her Father’s serious expression. She began the answer.
“Even a King must die,
and come to realise that although his banner flies,
all his worth is bound
in how his body nourishes the ground.
A king is worth the fruit of trees.”
The garden grew lighter for a moment and then faded quickly to dusk. More leaves were falling and the maple leaves were now all a deep red and falling fast. A fox barked not far from the garden and Anitya jumped up and down. Father paid no heed. He turned to Mother to ask the second question.
She made her face a stern one and shouted out, “How powerful is an army?” This time Father answered. Standing tall in front of them, he spoke loudly and with force sending an echo out into the valley.
“Even armies fall.
Leaving nothing but metal shards and bones and clothes,
for sure a short memorial to those,
that come to pass
but trampled underfoot to feed the grass.”
Darkness fell quicker than any of them expected but the stone lanterns did not go out in the wind. The trees were bare now and birds rustled around at the foot of the bamboos to find a warm place. Father sat down and Anitya stood to ask the next question. She paused for a moment until Mother drew the figure of a roof with fingers out of sight of Father’s eyes.
Anitya barked at them, “How great is a city?” Mother stood and answered now pulling her blanket tighter around her neck.
“Even cities crumble.
For as much as they show mastery of nature,
concrete is attacked by tiny creatures.
Buildings shrink to rocks and holes,
That once again small insects hold.”
The wind calmed and the air was still. In the light of the lanterns, Anitya could see her breath for the first time. She was puzzled and pulled her blanket tight moving back to Father for warmth. Father saw her worry but moved on to the next question. He stood, surprising her and shouted the question loudly sending birds flying from the garden.
“How long does a book last?” Anitya did not have time to sit down. She dropped her blanket, standing a little shocked and barked the answer without thinking.
“Even books decay.
Pages filled with knowledge turned to dust and blown away.
On high winds they play,
Feeding grass on mountains steep,
pages grown for goats to eat.”
Mother gathered the blanket Anitya had dropped. Father smiled and took his daughter’s hand. She looked as if she might cry for a moment, not understanding how this game was affecting the world. Never had the garden looked so cold and uninviting and now white flakes of snow were beginning to fall, settling on the frozen surface of the stream. They went inside where the fire was already lit and warming the house. Father stood in the centre of the room and gazed out at the snow. He smiled, nervously, as Mother came to join him. “It will get worse before it gets better,” he whispered in her ear. She smiled at him and whispered back, “Its so good to see the snow again. I have missed this even though it makes me shake with fear.”
Father’s smile faded and indicated that it was her turn to speak. Mother stood again to attention snapping Anitya out of her trance as she watched the snow.
“How does an idea endure?” This time Father answered, not shouting as loud as he had in the open.
“Even ideas fade.
Cared for and nurtured, purity is diluted and washed.
Rolling out to oceans of humanity,
Tainted and polluted with every twist of the sea.
Challenged and dissolving clearly.”
A blizzard started to whistle around the rafters, making the house creak a little. Anitya moved closer to the fire, she had never seen anything this powerful before. Snow billowed around the windows and now covered the red carpet of maple leaves. She had forgotten her place and a sharp clearing of the throat from Father brought her back to stand in the centre. Mother could see that she was shaking now and yearned to tell her that everything would be alright. She knew the rules of the questions of remembrance, how important it was for the small girl to remember them. Her eyes were watering, but she stood still and shouted the question.
“What value is the earth?” Mother did not pause but rushed straight in with her answer, desperate to hold her child.
“Even the earth dries.
Turned to stone and desert where once farmers tried.
Changed by hunger, drought and heat.
Fields wither forests retreat.
Mountains leveled in defeat.”
Over the roof the wind howled suddenly causing a loud thump. A stone from the chimney stack dropped and fell to the fire sending sparks into the room and Anitya ran squealing behind the hall posts to hide. Father retrieved the stone and cleaned the ashes from the hearth. Mother ran to her and held her, lifting her back to the centre of the room. Both Mother and Father knew the last three questions had to be answered by Anitya.
When he thought that she was calm enough, Father asked, “How eternal is the air?” Even though she was shaken Anitya stood tall and seemed to recover. As if in recognition, the wind outside began to calm.
“Even the air thins.
Burned and poisoned as the cosmos rains in.
All will die save hardy small things.
Blown away on stellar wind,
to melting ice on planets twinned.”
The sky outside was becoming brighter and the snow had turned to rain, melting the ice as it filled the small stream in the garden. Mother watched as the warmth began to return and the first birds were singing again. The landscape outside was no longer a tundra of drifting snow and ice. She turned to smile at Father, who was nodding and smiling back. Anitya looked confused. She looked from one to the other but they did not share there private conversation.
Mother asked, standing tall “Is not the Sun eternal?” Anitya smiled. She remembered this better than the others because it had never made sense to her. Didn’t the sun always rise eventually? She went out in the mornings and it was always there.
“Even the sun will burst.
Wash out its fire across the worlds it held so dearly.
Every atom smashed and glowing clearly,
mingling with other ice and dust,
one day to find another star it must.”
Leaves were emerging from the Maples now; large buds unfolding. Mother had seen the stream return to its normal level. In the warm morning sunshine, the carp broke the surface chasing the first of the year’s insects. She opened the doors to let in the fresh air as Father put out the last of the embers in the fire. When he was finished, he turned and faced Anitya, their daughter whom they had created outside of the rules they had been set. She was Anitya, the impermanent one. One day she would be grown and ready to take care of the world they lived in, but for now she was the final piece in the snapshot. Without her they would not continue in this darkening universe. Father walked forwards and whispered in her ear, “Does not the universe last forever?” Anitya smiled. She went to sleep at night with this one in her head.
“Even the universe will die.
Rules and bonds frayed and every element will retire.
No more the stellar fire.
All will change, spread out and reduce.
All Kings and cities, stars and sun turned to cooling soup.”
In the Kitchen Mother was preparing a hot soup for dinner. Anitya sat on the bridge under the blossoms that overhung the stream. With graceful and growing hands, she spread the seeds across the stream for the fish to chase. Outside of the garden, the mountainside was filled with life and beyond it, the world carried on its turning as before. Outside the world, the stars shone and the universe was complete. Outside the Universe, the small, dark, egg shaped mass that contained, it drifted onwards. Its atoms and circuits were shielded from the inevitable decay around. It drifted through the warm brown soup of what remained of the real universe. Lazily it moved further into a large, dense cluster of particles, channeling every ounce of energy it could. Father smiled adjusting and repairing the relays as they moved in and out of alignment. Not yet, he thought.
20/02/2013 | Categories: Contemplation, Dreams, Fantasy, Magical, Nature, Poetry, Reality, Science, Shorts | Tags: anitya, bhuddism, Dreams, entropy, Fantasy, impermanence, indie writing, Magical, mujo, Nature, Poems, poetry, reality, renewal, Science, Short Stories, writers, writing | 1 Comment
DeLanda, the runner he had sent back had carried many samples across the peninsula. His back was unfit for a return and we all knew this. It was a certainty that there would be more samples before the day was done. The forward hold had been transformed into a zoo the last few days. Fitzroy would be looking for a volunteer to carry food and return with Darwin later. He would be looking for a persuasive volunteer, a charming volunteer, a diplomat to put to him the feelings of his employer. Martens was ready for a stroll but would not concede to carrying anything more than his easel and supplies and certainly would not agree to badgering the man. He admired Darwin for all his social inequalities and ability to quicken the anger in his peers. Yes he admired him and would happily sit and watch him once more drive Fitzroy to distraction.
I tried to make myself scarce, scurrying across the deck to make for the kitchens. There would be work there for sure and the cook would not allow anyone to prevent his galley from perfection. It was too late that it occurred to me I was heading in the most convenient direction possible to be chosen. It was the first mate spied me. He had been gunning for me since before we docked at Montevideo and I had walked in on him drunk with quartermaster. They were singing and in a state of undress, now his only wish was for me to disappear and be away from speaking his name to the crew. The truth be that I had never said to another soul what I had seen. I had heard stories before of men taking to one another in strange ways on voyages and it had kept me laying awake at night. Now I saw him smile at placing me in a position of dissatisfaction.
“Mister Isaacs! We have a task for you. Hold boy!”
After receiving specific instructions on Darwin’s preferred meal, (and spending a few moments below cursing the day I had ever walked in on that infernal officer,) I made my way to cook. In the middle of preparing the evening meal for the officers, he was angry enough to start throwing insults my way. I took stock of them, if only to learn new ways in which I would be able to insult those I had power over one day and smiled as best I could at the colourful torrent. Cook was not a bad man, just a fat man with little energy for anything beyond his duties. Fitzroy liked him and his imaginative talents at the table, but his opinions had sometimes cost him dearly. Only two weeks ago his comments in front of an officer had him reprimanded severely and deprived of his drinking rations. This added to the venom that he poured my way.
The food was packed a little too quickly. The meat I saw did not look in its prime and in the afternoon heat, I knew it would not stay good for long. I would have to run as if the devil were at my heels to feed Darwin without poisoning him. Cooks wry smile said it all as he slammed the food into the wicker basket for me to carry. I took it without a word back. Turning away before my face could betray the sneer of resentment I held. I was up on the deck and into the boat before I could properly take size of the challenge I had been set. Feed Darwin before the meat went bad, travel slow enough not to anger Martens, bring them back in time for the evening meal with the captain, not so soon as to be seen as a challenge to the officers and midshipmen, not so late as to be seen as dereliction of duty by Fitzroy and to give ammunition to my nemesis. Today was a challenge. As I sat in the boat watching the men row, I closed my eyes and dreamed of Rio. Girls on the harbour wall. Music in the streets. Fresh sweet fruits I never knew the names of.
The sand in the bay looked soft and white like sugar but it burned my feet through the flimsy sandals as I ran to the rocks. The basket was heavier than I had expected and I was also carrying a satchel of brushes and inks. Martens struggled to carry the easel, the sand making every step an exaggeration. By the time we reached to ragged basalt rocks that marked the end of the beach, I was breathing heavy and sweating like a heathen. Luck was on my side. Martens was not too far behind me and from here I could make out the path DeLanda had taken. Sea birds called to us as we rounded the rocky headland to see footprints in the mud. It was deep and sticky and we edged around it following the path marked out. No wonder DeLanda was exhausted. Even in the sea wind, the heat was unbearable. Flies darted around our heads, harrying Martens in his white trousers and thick shirt. I paid them no attention but they slowed him to a stop at one point. I spent precious minutes shading the basket from the sun and the flies while he dabbed at his neck with a handkerchief. His eyes were beginning to reveal that my pace was too much, so I feigned fatigue and waited until he was ready. I hoped heavily that the meat would be fine.
By the time Martens was ready to move on it was rapidly approaching half past one. Darwin could have stopped anywhere on this coastline, he could still be moving. Why they couldn’t have taken a boat to meet him he couldn’t understand? Perhaps it was Fitzroy’s way of discouraging too many of these forays into the islands. As we moved tentatively across the flats, I noticed that there were cliffs ahead. Boobies swooped and circled the topmost parts of the cliffs, which meant more discomfort. They hated intruders and would dive at us as we approached. By the look on Martens face, I could see he was thinking the same thing. We both started to look for a way inland to get over or around the back of the cliffs and avoid them.
Martens had spotted what looked like a small cave entrance on the down slope of the cliffs. We headed inland towards it and luck brought us to an archway which led through and behind the cliff tops. As we emerged there was a calmness about the valley and more luck again, perched on a large boulder was Darwin. Martens said it first, the thanks offered to the lord, so I smiled and nodded. He now took back his position of authority which he had seemingly deferred to me during our romp across the flats. We walked slowly now. Here in the shade, the air was cooler. There were no birds, only Lizards, insects and flowers. Still the air was thick with moisture making our clothes sticky and uncomfortable. This seemed not to affect our host. He sat unaffected by our arrival watching something in the pools at his feet.
Martens spoke woodenly and without conviction, “Master Fitzroy sends his compliments and something for your sustenance Master Darwin. He invites you again to join him at the captain’s table tonight. Will I send a reply?” I tried to mask the hopelessness of the situation as best I could. I was no diplomat, no negotiator. I was 18 years and no more. How would I know how to stir a man from his work whose only interest was the bugs that skated on the surface of a pool? I looked down at them while Darwin struggled with the words, forming his own response and trying not to take his mind from the sketch he was drawing. “Martens, do you notice anything about the flies in this pond? Come closer man and have a look. Do you notice how their wings are shorter than the ones we found in the southern valley?”
I sighed. I knew this was the way. Martens would not broach the question again. I would be expected to wait patiently until they were both finished talking. I took to unwrapping the food I had brought. It only then occurred that I had eaten nothing since before the sun had risen. I had been hungry before and unless offered I could not take anything. Still judging from the silver tinge of the salted beef packed by cook, I was really not that interested. Perhaps there would be a slice of cornbread left over. Laying it out on the rocks, I stood back and waited for the two men to return to the world. They were craning over the pool from the rock, neither aware of the food I had left.
After a quarter-hour, they finally stepped down from the rocks and began to share the food. As I suspected, they passed on the meat, instead taking all the cheese and bread. At finish Martens tossed me an apple and thanked me for the service although I had heard Darwin grumble about the meat. Martens bid me clear away the things now and be quiet as they talked. They walked leisurely back to the pool where Martens began to set up his easel. Darwin was an intense man, always gesticulating his arms and pulling excited expressions. Martens would listen with his hands behind his back, nodding at times and then return to his work. I finished my apple and threw the remains of the meal back into the basket, leaving the beef among the grasses for some creature to find later. As there was no need for me at present, I took a stroll around the small valley, deciding to explore the other pools.
There were over twenty different pools in the valley, all caused, (I suspected,) by some kind of melting of the land at some point. Each one carried a slightly different hint of green and blue, but none of them gave any indication of depth. I noticed a large pool at the end of the valley, on the far side were strange lizards bathing in the rays of sunlight that crept over the jagged walls of the valley. Soon the sun would drop and the air would start to cool. On the boat I knew a man could catch a chill in the sea air, but I had never spent an evening here on land. Lizards swam in the waters of the pool and dried themselves on the rocks at the far side valley wall. I could not walk or climb to them. It was my idea to distract the men with a specimen perhaps unseen and insist that they return it to the boat. I could stress that Darwin was not the designated Naturalist on this voyage forcing his hand but making life difficult in the future. Be damned with these infernal ships politics, all I wanted was to return to the boat and work until the next port.
I removed my sandals and rolled up my trousers. I could see that there was a lip of rock just beneath the water and holding to the rocks on the side, I might make my way across. The pool was greener than the others I had seen and yet it seemed more inviting in this heat. I stepped out and found the water immediately cool and soothing. My feet were refreshed and my troubles relaxed. Carefully, in no panic, I made my way to the far side of the rocks. The lizards were not bothered by my approach. They lay still in the sun, still as stone, grinning in their lizard way. Nearly upon them, I took care to move slowly. There were a choice of three that I could reach and one in particular had caught my eye. It was the spitting image of cook. What a laugh I could cause at his expense and sweet revenge for speaking to me that way. The ugly brute would make a fine skin to trade elsewhere if it were of no interest to the men of science.
It eyed me lazily as I approached it. I had caught pigeons on the streets of Plymouth when I was younger in exactly the same way. Leave them enough doubt and they will watch you to see if you are a threat. Move too quick and they run. Move too slow and they lose interest and fly away. Move just right and they cannot decide, so they just sit and watch until it is too late. Now I was that ten-year old again. Clinging to the rocks with one hand and leaning out across the pool, I raised my left arm slowly out of its line of sight. Still raising my arm, I looked into the Lizards eyes, it turned its head slowly to meet my gaze. It was incredible the likeness to cook. The same squint on one side. The grin that never left even when he was bellowing at you. I was encapsulated in its glare as I slowly placed my hand upon its back.
The name had not been shouted from the men at the far side of the valley but the creature in front of me. It called my name into my face. It glared at me as cook would glare at me and barked my name so sharply that my whole body flinched in panic. Letting go of the rocks, I felt my whole body fall backwards into the air behind me, knowing there was nothing to catch my fall except the water of the pool. I crashed into the water, my call for help stifled by the liquid that filled my mouth. Under the surface, I watched as the bodies of the Lizards swam above me idly making their way down to me. There were tiny hands around me, I could feel them on my clothing pulling gently at me, pulling me down. Exploding through the surface above me came the Lizard, cooks double, still grinning and looking down at me. It dived at me and watched as I sank down. As much as I could struggle, the hands pulled me down, held me tight.
The water was so cooling, so soothing in the heat. I did not seem to mind the tiny teeth that sank into my arms, numbing my body of its desperate pleading for air. Tiny hands wrapped around me, holding me and brushing through my hair. I remembered the girls in Rio. The rum houses by the docks where the women danced, the rooms where I had become a man. I heard the music as I sank and watched the green light from the surface move away from me and looked into the eyes of cook. Now everything was fading away. Everything was becoming darkness. The green light shrank above me and the tiny hands held me tight, refusing to let me go and the girls in Rio were singing songs about boys in the night…
Fitzroy’s Journal 3rd October 1835.
After several days of searching it is my solemn duty to record deck hand Isaacs has been declared missing presumed dead. We have scoured the islands for evidence of his body and can find nothing. On discussion with the ship’s Geologist and Draughtsman who were the last to see the man we can only assume that, having left his duties to the men, he climbed the cliff faces in search of eggs and fell to his death in the waves. The expedition will continue and Isaacs’ wages and belongings have been stowed to be returned to England on completion of the voyage. My condolences will be sent to his Mother and Father in Plymouth on our next port of call.
Additional: Cook Clovis has taken with gout and has been confined to quarters. He will be laid off at next port and new appointment will be made. The men will no longer have the free reign of the rum. Too much has come from easy access and I want no more of it.
Andrea and John didn’t seem to notice, focusing on the first of the bubbles to reach the surface. John reached down, the movement of his arm tracing a glowing arc through the air. Andrea was giggling and running her fingers through his hair. He seemed to look up at her and down at the lake at the same time as he scooped one of the bubbles from the lake. My heart was racing and my head was screaming as I tried to make sense of it all. The bubble rested in johns open hand like a Christmas decoration. A blurry shape moved and glowed inside, like a firefly. All around us yellow glowing shapes rose from the surface and hung in the air. They danced like sparks reminding me of the others sitting back at the cabin where we had left them around the fire. Were they experiencing this too?
As I thought of them, I felt my body rising from the boat, dark imagined wings beat at my back pulling me from the surface, the flight scattering the sparks across the lake. Effortlessly I was drawn backwards and down to the cabin on the shore. Through the windows there was movement blurred inside. The walls of the cabin seemed to rise and fall as if it was breathing. Orchids were growing from the porch, rapidly taking on growth, reaching across and devouring each other. I smiled knowingly. They were something that could only come from the mind of Jessica. As I floated, looking through the window, a rose vine crept from the roof to wrap itself around my wings. The sharpness of the thorns registered distantly in my mind and the wings dissolved into feathers of light floating away, burning into embers. I landed awkwardly on the porch
A large man with a blank face burst through the fly screen that now dripped down the frame like honey. He pushed past me, running across the driveway towards the pine trees on the slopes. He was waving his arms in a frenzy of coloured lights, swirling around and spinning in all directions. As I watched, his body gradually lost its form, turning into pure light and dissipating into the tree line in all directions. I followed its changing colours beneath the canopy. Above in silhouette against the rapidly lightening sky, several trees seemed to break away and fly upwards like crows. Everything was moving, merging, even the ground beneath shifted and rolled up and down. Was this the end of it all, or simply the beginning of something new? I needed to find Jessica while I still had a foothold on stable reality.
I stepped into the doorway of the cabin. The lights were now green and gave an eery feel to the room. Sitting in a chair by the fire was a giant bear made entirely of ants. It was playing with the flames in the fire, teasing at them with its claws. A crowd of people were dancing in the kitchen there was music but it was difficult to make out. Sounds, smells, colours, even the floor were all becoming confused. The cabin was filling with bubbles. They pushed in at the windows like a faulty washing machine, spilling across the floor. I glanced upwards and ducked as a crystal chandelier danced downwards towards the floor. It broke at my feet, exploding in slow motion, shards becoming mist like, swirling in a draft that flowed from stairs.
There hands on hips on the landing was Jessica. She stood with a letter opener in her hand or was it part of her? I couldn’t tell any more my eyes were watering. She whirled away in her red dress that malted rose petals as she walked towards the bedrooms. I made to follow her, stopping only just in time to realise I was still standing in the boat. Frustrated I took stock of what had happened. The stairs floating just in front of me rose and fell as the house continued its heavy breathing. At my feet, Andrea and John were now in a state of passionate arousal, rolling around and kissing in the boat. I watched as John’s shirt appeared to break away, turning into a swarm of spiders that crawled overboard to pool like oil on the surface of the lake.
Watching them merge together, each no longer discernible from the other, arms and legs dissolving into one body, I felt the urgency to see Jessica return. Resting one foot on the side of the boat I lurched and aimed my body for the bottom of the stairs. They welcomed me, curling around like a blanket inviting me to sleep. I hadn’t noticed how sleepy I felt before. Pushing away the folds of the stair carpet I slithered up the slope of the stairwell. Rose petals drifted around, as they met with bubbles, they ignited sending smoke rings into the air. There were lots of bubbles now, they were filling the space around me making it difficult to move and hard to breathe. Finally I made the landing and dragged my tired body upright. Swaying in what seemed to be a drunken state, I giggled at the old age that seemed to have overcome me. I looked down at my hands which had become clawed and useless.
There were letter openers growing in small clumps from the floor and the walls, standing tall like the asparagus we had tenderly cared for in the roof garden last summer. The rose petals led the way, carpeting the floor completely. I could smell expensive wine, summer barbeques and children singing. The door at the end of the corridor was made of sponge and coral. Blurred fish swam amongst the bubbles, nibbling at its surface. I pushed it aside and lunged into the room. She was laying on her back on the bed The red dress nearly dissolved into nothing. The light in the room was blinding. She looked without recognition, turning away with her eyes rolling in her head. Her hair was golden fire, burning into the pillow and dripping from the covers.
There was nothing left. I couldn’t even remember why I was standing in the room. Everything was confusing, the light was so unbearably bright and all I wanted to do was rest. Shielding my eyes, I made a clumsy walk to the bed, laying down beside her. The light above us was so blinding. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of her breathing, of the house breathing. It was a heavy sound, laboured and desperate. There didn’t seem to be enough air for us to breathe and the room was filling up with bubbles. The stars had fallen to the earth and were burning the trees and there was nothing we could do about it. I would sleep and clean it up in the morning. The light was too painful and I needed to breathe.
I needed so desperately to breathe…
…desperately to breathe…
Since the occurrence of numerous earthquakes on Mammoth Mountain in 1989, scientists have been monitoring large amounts of CO2 gas leaking from the Long Valley Caldera. They noticed first that large numbers of trees had died. The nearby town of Mammoth Lakes has not been affected, but half a mile north of Twin Lakes there are warnings that staying in the vicinity of horseshoe lake for more than half an hour can be fatal. This story is based on an imagined gas leak in Twin Lakes and the struggle of an individual to find the one person he loved before it is too late.
Our relations with the objects in our houses are close. Our desires give them a life, purpose, a quest for harmony. Less useful and unpleasant objects are placed in less prominent places, sometimes banished to drawers and cupboards or at worst disposed of and discarded. We judge ourselves on our ability to manage and control our objects and our objects compete against each other for dominance within the environment. There is a certain symbiosis.
This was all explained to me by Alice Milner over coffee when I visited her at her Cabin in May several years ago, (only half an hour it seems now.) The professor of pharmacology sat casually in a loose knit cream jumper watching the birds feed out on the jetty as I frantically scribbled down notes. No one at ENS would believe me when I told them who I was talking to. I had 6 hours until the ferry arrived to get me back to my car on the mainland. I had worked out that I could relay the copy by phone for the morning edition and pick up a Pulitzer.
professor Milner talked absent-mindedly to the window. She had been the star in American Medical Research discovering and trialing new anaesthetics. AMR Technologies had employed her initially as a field researcher in Borneo. There they had discovered a tree snake with the ability to slow its metabolism to practically nothing. She had synthesized the compound and after only 2 years, it was being tested in a Laboratory in Texas with human subjects.
There were fantastic benefits. A subject did not bleed in massive quantities. They did not feel pain until after the operation. Many of them reported being aware of the world around them speeding up for a few brief moments. Alice became interested in this notion. Tribesmen talked of trance like states from small doses of venom lasting days. they talked of the jungle spirits talking to them and moving around. These trances would happen away from the villages deep in the jungle. She had never been allowed to witness them.
In January 1976, a test subject was given a sustained dose of the substance to see how long they could slow the metabolic rate for. After 3 days the patient was healthy if barely living. The lungs filled slowly. Blood moved like treacle through their veins. Every 15 hours the heart could be heard to beat. It was on day 15 that they realised something was wrong. One of the orderlies had noticed a small but subtle change in the facial expression of the subject. He was starting to scream.
Alice Milner made a video of the resuscitation. As the effects diminished, the subject started to thrash about, and scream/ When they finally managed to clam him down, he reported how the curtains had reached out for him. the magazine were moving around on the table and the furniture was looking at him. At first most of her colleagues put this down to a psychosis brought about through the time delays caused by slowing the metabolism but Alice couldn’t help thinking about the natives.
In ’77 two months before they were set to get approval for commercial testing, Alice Milner disappeared. Not just for a week but for 11 months straight. When she returned she handed in her resignation and retired into the reclusiveness of her Cabin near Colorado Springs. At the time, no one knew where she was except me.
I looked up at the clock while she was telling me this and I realised the nearly an hour had passed. The sounds of the birds had been gradually becoming more high-pitched as I listened to her. I had been so engrossed in my note writing that I hadn’t noticed how the movement outside was increasing in speed where inside professor Milner and I were immune to it. As I looked, I noticed that the minute hand of the clock was starting to move faster, almost every second now. The river was a blur hissing rather than roaring. I looked down at my empty coffee cup and with terror began to understand what she had done.
Alice Milner continued to speak but I no longer wrote it down. “It’s not that we move the objects, they move themselves. They have a secret life and the only way I can make you believe is by showing you. Not even a time-lapse camera will pick it up you have to experience it.”
“It’s what the Tribesmen were doing in Borneo, communing with the silent objects. Listening to the still things.”
The clock hands were moving too fast to watch now and somewhere out on the river a I saw a fast-moving streak and blip that could only have been the ferry coming and going. The sun was rapidly drawing across the sky toward evening. “Don’t worry, the lights are on a timer.” She explained.
The sun set and light flicked on quickly. A minute passed before it started to rise again. I had been sitting for over 15 hours, barely moving and yet I could still hear the professor. She was telling me how we had both ingested a large dose, enough to keep our metabolism down for at least 6 months. No one would disturb us, all I had to do was observe and report.
The sun was setting as quickly as it rose and rising, and setting, rising, setting, faster and faster. Suddenly it felt that the whole world was falling off its post, nothing seemed to fit right around us. That’s when I noticed that the coffee cups were performing a little dance on the table…