Blue sky, warm sun, white clouds and green world.
It was a good days, so I decided to spend them on the river. Just me and the boat, listening to the splash and thrum and whistle of hours and years and centuries sliding by under the keel. Shut your eyes and dangle your fingers in the millennia. A good way to spend a while.
Someone yelled. I didn’t know the language but most human languages are pretty similar. This was the sort of yell that said ‘hello.’
I opened my eyes again and looked shoreward, where there was a woman and a spear and a basket and berries and a dead lion the size of my boat, in no particular arrangement. And some flies, but they were just arriving.
“Hey, did you see that?” she said. “Wow. Bit of a close one. What’s that thing you’re in?”
“A state of temporal flux,” I said.
“No, I mean the wooden thing.”
“Oh. Woops. It’s a boat.”
“Nice trick. Hey, I’ve got a trick too. Wanna hear it?”
“See that cliff over there?”
I squinted. There was a cliff over there.
“See that ledge on that cliff over there?”
I squinted harder. There was a ledge on that cliff over there.
“See that shadow underneath that ledge on that cliff over there?”
I squinted hardest. “Ow.”
“Careful. But there’s a hole in there, a hole in the rock. And I live in there, where it’s pretty dry when it rains and it’s hard for anything to sneak up on me. It’s a nice trick. And you can’t fall out of it and drown, either.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s a good trick you showed me. But I’ll stick with the boat.”
And I stuck out the oars again and left that behind me.
Just up the river someone called me again. It was basically a halloo, whatever those are.
This guy was dressed to the tens. Nines were probably hand-me-downs for his nieces and nephews. ‘Robes’ didn’t even begin to describe it. There were multiple funny hats each inside the other, like nesting dolls. Very stylish.
“Hey moron,” he was telling me, in that kindly way of the aristocrat, “didn’t you know that’s my river?”
“Woops,” I said. “My bad. Won’t do it twice.”
“No fooling. Because when you come ashore, I’m going to have my guys gut you. You have any idea whose river that is?”
“And who’s yours truly?”
I thought about this. “No idea, sorry.”
“Me? I’m the big boss around here. Look at this. You ever seen a thing like this before?”
There was a muddish, squarish thing in his hands.
“Is that a brick?”
“Damned straight. It’s my own idea. And see that bluff over there? See that palace on that bluff? See what it’s made of?”
“Slow down, slow down.”
I looked, one after the other.
“Okay, yeah. I’ve got it. Go on.”
“Bricks, baby. Nothing but grade-A, one-hundred-and-ten-per-cent sun-dried, fire-hardened, mass-produced, artisanal, fabricated, calibrated, finest Brick with a B. I’m not living in no tree. I’m not hiding in no cave. I’m through with hunting, and with gathering, and with doing much beyond eating these little round grapes people bring to me. They’d peel the grapes if I asked them to, you know.”
“But the skin’s what gives it texture!”
“I know, right? Still, they’d do it. That’s what matters. Hey, you gonna come ashore so I can have my boys gut you?”
“Thanks,” I said, “but maybe later.” And I swung out the oars again and stroked for later as hard as I could.
I overshot, I did. Barely three pulls and BANG I bumped into a pier, attached to a shoreline, attached to a city. All three were concrete, steel, and a smear or three of seagull shit.
A seagull screamed at me.
It screamed louder. Never worth it with those folks.
“Hey down there,” said someone above my head.
I relocated my head and its angle, correcting the view. There was someone above me, burning a little bit of dead plant matter in their mouth.
“You’re on fire,” I warned them.
“This? No, it’s electronic. Hey, you’re not from around here, are you?”
“It’s the boat. It’s a little old-fashioned. Also, you’re parked where my yacht goes.”
She shook her head. “I’ll sue you later or something. You got any idea what goes on around here? Hey, let me tell you what goes on around here: whatever you can imagine. We think of towers, bam, towers. We think of planes, bam, planes. We think of dragons with polka-dotted scrotums, bang, flash, pazow, dragons with polka-dotted scrotums.”
“I don’t see any.”
She laughed at that so hard she nearly choked. “Not here, stupid. In here, the real place, the only thing that matters.” She heaved something over her head, arms straining.
It was a glass screen with some heavy metal attached.
“Digital, kid,” she said as she put it back down. “Digital. If it’s not online it’s not real. And if it’s online, it’s obsolete.” She raised her hand high and showed me a glistening black thing like a dead beetle. “I mean, just look at this. Here, y’know what a Blackberry is? Not the fruit, the electronic, the symbiotic, the Personal Digital Assistant for your Personal Digital Age, the tool, the universal remote for your miserable dumpster fire of a dead-end life.”
“No,” I replied.
“Good,” she said, “because it’s fucking garbage ten times over.” She threw it in the river, where it sank with a sploop. “Hey kid, hey c’mere, you wanna buy an iPad? An iPod? An-”
I rowed upstream in a real hurry.
Actually, I rowed a bit too hard. Wrapped right around myself, almost got stuck in the Big Crunch. Would’ve been a real mess if I hadn’t brought a punting pole with me. As it was I got turned around for a few billion years and by the time I was headed home I was tired and hot and sweaty and in no fit state to recall exactly which way I’d come in by.
So when I went by the shore again, I was shocked to see most of it was underwater. There was nothing there but rust and grime and empty, dead streets. And the woman was sitting there next to it, staring at a seagull.
The seagull was staring at her. It was doing a better job.
“Hello?” I inquired.
“FUCK,” she shouted, and she lunged, and she missed. “DAMN. PISS. That was my dinner you stone-aged jackoff.”
“No, no, you’re good. Look, at least you’ve got a boat. You know what I’ve got? Storm surges! Dust bowls! Shortages of electricity, water, food, and entertainment, and nowhere to go but down. And you scared off my dinner! Mine! You have any idea how many French fries that little shit’d taken off me? I was owed a collection!” She spat at me, then glared in fresh anger. “Hey! Gimme back that saliva! I’m dehydrated!”
“Sorry,” I said. And I booked it.
Bump! Not looking where I was going again! I’d bounced off a burning barge.
“Oh dear,” I said.
“You said it,” agreed the man with robes. These were even nicer than his last set, except for all the arrows sticking out of them.
“Oh dear,” I said.
“Yeah, twice now,” said the man with the robes. “Listen, I uh, I might need to mention this. You know what the downside of having a nice big house is?”
“Well, I’ve just got this boat.”
“I had like, ten the size of this one, and twelve bigger.”
“They were! Nice! Nice and big. But you know, you know what OW jeezus the downside of all that stuff is?”
“Fill me in.”
“People start asking why they can’t have some too.”
“And then you gotta have ‘em decapitated.”
“And then they get cranky and grumpy and then you get fourteen arrows through your liver.”
“Sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
“Yeah!” His eyes were brighter. “Yeah! You’re right! How ‘bout that, huh?”
And he died, so I left.
I stopped by the first shore again before I pulled in for the night. I felt like I needed closure.
“Me too,” said the first woman. “You ran off right while I was talking last time.”
“Sorry. Bad habit of mine.”
“Don’t mention it. But man, I’m glad you came back. I’ve got to talk to someone about this. See, there’s this idea I’ve had.”
“It’s called a ‘brick.’”