Archive for June, 2013

Things That are Awesome yet again, part 5, sequence 5, take 5.

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Birthdays continually refuse to cease.  Oh well.  Look at this instead of that.

-Ferocious and unstoppable tidal waves of teeth.
-Cats that don’t stop at hats.
-Utterly magnificent, hand-crafted, imperially-commissioned, royal-autographed, artisanal jodhpurs.
-The will and might to forego a year’s worth of breakfasts for the greater good.
-A wave surfing a man. Alternatively, a surfboard waving at a man.
-Reptiles that go for the gut, the gusto, and the world records.
-A wilful, flagrant, and un-coerced lack of pants.
-Clocks that set their schedules by the human sleep cycle.
-When properly organized, one point six eight two four million razorblades.
-A properly tossed punch salad with a light-bodied yet palate-pleasing elbow-to-ribs vinaigrette.
-Ferocious man-eating sinuses.
-Conducting the biggest mistake of your life in a scientifically sealed vacuum, for the benefit of future generations and your own personal safety.
-Turpitude.
-Nice long sit-down chats with boulders, with lovely hot cups of tea (earl grey, plenty of sugar, just a bit of milk, don’t scald it please).
-Cloning dinosaurs hodge-podge.
-The Best Potato.
-The determination and persistence to nudge hills.
-Adorable, delicious little mammals. Or reptiles. Birds too. Invertebrates? Sure. Of course fish, of course. Not picky, really.
-Cats that respect your personal space and listen to you.
-Also, unicorns.
-Pines that know which way the wind is blowing and have no choice but to show it.
-Mysterious and primal jungle corgis.
-Anything with sufficient volumes of dinosaurs in it (“sufficient” being >0).
-That little noise you can get where you can make your mouth go ‘pop’ seriously how do you do that it’s like magic or something I can’t do that god damnit I envy you bastards.
-Bones that go big. Alternatively, bones that go home.
-Poutine without a cause.
-Anything smarter than a human that doesn’t have thumbs, or better yet, hands.
-A spoon that has been sharpened to a point keener than any knife.
-Juggling marmosets. In both meanings of that sentence.
-Stars that out of necessity must both burn out AND fade away before collapsing in on themselves into a point of nigh-infinite mass so all-encompassing that even light cannot escape them. This is all very impressive.
-Small people with large weapons.
-But not the reverse.
-Don’t ask me why, it just doesn’t work that way.
-The downfall of humanity coming from within. Specifically, from the spine-stealing parasite lurking inside the President of the United States’ torso at this very instant, plotting the unsavoury demise of us all.
-Anything which does not normally eat humans that stands up, squares its shoulders, and says “well why the hell NOT?”
-Temerity.
-The will and the forethought and the sheer unflinching determination that has led to a world where you can sit and watch cat videos while your body runs down and people die for want of a mouthful of water and a pinch of bread. Because it used to be just like that, except without the cat videos to distract you.
-Prophecy loopholes and the lawyers who find and close them to tidy up some of those damned multi-volume epics that keep getting churned out.
-Swirly ice cream.
-Ballads to body parts. Or poems. Pop songs too, I guess. Just as long as they aren’t about genitals, because we already have quite enough of those.
-Whistling past the graveyard to fend off the marrowsuckers by interfering with their sensitive hearing so they won’t consume the freshly-dead for sustenance and devour the town.
-Soft-spoken shitheads. It’s easier to talk over them.
-Cuts and scrapes that tell a story, at least in braille.
-Warbling. Unless it’s from a warbler, in which case why the hell’s that supposed to be impressive?
-Geometrically improbable dice with mathematically unlikely results producing economic impossibility allowing somebody to buy themselves an extra drink.
-The madcap, mile-a-minute, thrill-ride, adrenaline-pumping lifestyle of the all-day weather-watcher.
-Weather that watches you back and judges you too.
-The person who gives you that feeling when you’re alone in a dark room that makes you walk very quickly so the slow-footed monster behind your back doesn’t seize and devour you.
-Crows making nests in crow’s nests.
-Nostalgia for when nostalgia didn’t include the 1980s.
-Hum anthems.
-The power of mild possibly-physical attraction overcoming a few obstacles.
-Barbequed things.
-The Pacific Ocean and all she contains, with honorable mention to the Mediterranean for participation in past accomplishments.
-Relaxation in trying circumstances, either as morale boost or as deliberate delusion.
-Sulphurous emanations that volcanoes refuse to apologize for.
-Clothing that has freed itself from the shackles of oppressive bodies and their odours.
-Rings that like things but find themselves bereft of things to put on them.
-Pulsating, when carefully directed.
-Mid-ocean ridges that feud with deep-sea trenches and their innocent offspring that get caught in the crossfire when all they really want to do is have a whole lot of sex.
-A cookie-cutter that produces unique and non-reproducible shapes.
-Dragons that don’t bother to befriend things that they could instead eat.
-A dedicated and serious-minded approach to pet rock breeding and care.
-A whimsical and lighthearted approach to nuclear power plant safety inspection and design.
-Fallacious beliefs in the nature of Frog.
-The friendliest plague bacteria.

The Life of Small-five (Part 17).

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

There were complications en route to the libraries.
No, there are no larger passages, said Shine-center. This is a place of learning, not a storehouse of heavy machinery. The very largest of the terminals were brought in in small pieces, and that was almost a century ago. She gleamed negative. No, these fathers of yours simply will not fit. Not unless you want us to stop and construct a new entryway, and I believe you want this information before next month. You will simply have to leave them behind.
You are asking me to trust you, said Small-five.
As we are trusting you, replied Glow-over. The head of Safety was still pulsing infinitesimally, barely on the edge of Small-five’s detectable spectrum of light.
Small-five has past-cause for suspicion and anger, shone Outward-spreading, and through this we ourselves have reason for concern. Neither of these feelings, however, are relevant. Need you fear that we may murder you in front of all of Far-away-light, when even the matter of your wounding was conducted in such secrecy? Must we worry over future harms that you could deal to us most efficiently at this very moment?
Glow-over subsided. Mostly.
I concede your point, Mother-leader, shone Small-five. But remember: all must see.
Unless you want us to knock down walls- began Shine-center.
Transmit it in othershine, overglowed Small-five, use word of mouth if need be, pack the library solid, any way this can be done, it should be. This lesson must be a moment shared between all.
Glow-over and Shine-center twitched. Outward-spreading shone nothing.
faint-marks traveled just ahead of them, a voluntary outcast from the conversation.

Small-five paused to feel for a moment at the entrance to the libraries. Yes, the lingering fear and unease was now there, yes, there was unease at how much smaller everything seemed to her, but lying underneath it all and still calmly buzzing away was familiarity. Even now, with a school of sixty-one subadults paddling nervously in her wake, with her body reformed and reshaped, with all of Far-away-light’s eyes upon her and their leaders, she remained Small-five.
Of course, having All-fin at her side helped with that. Sister, she shone, as the library filled itself around them, it’s been entirely too dull here without you. And thank you for making up for lost time so quickly.
It’s not begun yet, said Small-five, as their little group spiralled deeper down towards the library’s base, faint-marks still guiding the way. First, we learn what secrets are worth exile for. After that… then it will be interesting.
faint-marks stopped. The full height of the library soared above them, filled with muted glowshine, half-hushed with fascination. Down here the walls were rough in shape, fashioned from shells grown huge over decades that denied polishing and resisted trimming with preternatural stubbornness.
They waited. The water around them grew dim as discussion above halted in shines and sparks. Something is going to happen, saw Small-five out of the corners of her eyes. The last words shone before quiet emerged.
Something is going to happen.
An explanation, chief of Populism, said Small-five. As demanded. As agreed.
faint-marks hung limp in the water, bereft of light as a corpse.
As demanded, repeated Small-five.
As agreed, said Outward-spreading, in that strange, tired light that seemed to have filled her since Small-five had come home again. faint-marks-unclear, comply with Small-five-point-burst-of-light’s demands.
Lightlessness followed. Then slow, dragging acknowledgement from the chief of Populism. Her light was as unsteady as ever, but in the watchfulness of so many eager eyes, it almost blinded. i will need access. to an othershine terminal. for illustration purposes.
The moments that followed seemed to last forever, sinking into the memories of all present through the skin. The unnaturally dim quiet. The soft susurrus of many fins in rest position, whispering through the water. The faint popping and clicking noises of an old, old othershine computer being operated after its first boot-up in what must’ve been years, down here in the dark corners of the foundations of Far-away-light. All small, useless details, all suddenly almost as important as anything else in the world.
this, said faint-marks, as she projected othershine from the terminal into a bare-bones but recognizable spire-shape, is far-away-light. just over a century old. just over twelve thousand inside. it is our home. experimental deep-sea design. young and average in size. but still a city.
Further popping sounds as buttons were operated.
this – and ‘this’ was a massive and irregular blob sketched with quick, faded marks – is old-glow-holes. nearly three millennia old. population of nearly forty thousand within permanently. more visitors. first known city to exist. architecture a timeline dating from first civilization to present. second-largest in size. a city.
Pop, pick. A silhouette emerged stroke by stroke. Fins on a sleek torso. The smooth curve of a sharp-tipped proboscis. And a little pair of barbels at the mouth.
this is us. only known sapient lifeform. fossils date back nearly one hundred thousand years. near-ancestors and extinct offshoots six times that. all this information is from fossils only. no artifacts. no dwellings. no reefshaping. physical remains only.
faint-marks paused there. She did not move. She did not look up from her terminal.
no change in behaviour. no change in territorial range. no change in anatomy. stasis. immobility.
Click by click, a series of lines and words appeared. A symbol composed of further symbols, a web of interwoven fundamental truths.
Small-five had seen it before. She’d described its function on the eve of the last night she’d spent in Far-away-light.
this is a gene, shone faint-marks-unclear. rare. present in a tiny percentile of the population. it has no innate effect on adult carriers. it is ubiquitous in fossil populations. until three thousand four hundred years ago. steady decline begins. reaches modern scarcity three thousand years ago. as old-glow-holes is made. as other first cities are made.
Click, and the gene vanishes.
Pop, and the familiar silhouette re-emerged.
And then, inch by inch, it was rewritten. The body lengthened all out of proportion, stretched to the point where the spine seemed like it would snap. The proboscis was amputated. The glowshine tubes lengthened and thickened and swept along the body, coiling into themselves in tiny corkscrews. The fins were realigned and smoothed out into long sweeps that seemed to flap in the water of the library floor. The eyes were tweaked slightly, perhaps thickened. A small adjustment, but one that completed a picture of unmistakable alienness in the guise of something hauntingly familiar.
this, said faint-marks-unclear, raising her gaze to Small-five since the moment they had departed for the library, is the function of the gene.
Ten thousand eyes moved, yet not a spark of glowshine shone.
an increase of more than double length. less-so mass. so body is built for low-effort high-speed over long distances. glowshine production intensified. exponentially greater than in adult. eye lenses increase in number from three to eight against self-blinding. loss of proboscis. increased speed and glowshine compensate. would still restrict to small prey. incapable of reproduction.
faint-marks’ proboscis tapped three times in rapid succession, then fell aside from the computer. Above her, painted in the pale othershine of the terminal’s aging projector, each illustration she’d sketched circled slowly in a great ring.
the gene persists. the aberrant form matures. and where it lives we stagnate. more than ninety-five thousand years before any change in us. and when change comes. it comes with the downfall of the gene. it comes alongside the vanishing of the aberrant.
faint-marks was struggling more now, her glowshine pulsing unevenly and rapidly, nearly brightening to normal adult strength one instant and then dying back down again to its typical dwindled gleam.
we wondered how. we wondered why. we made theories. we hypothesized. we even considered reactivating the gene. it is rare. but not extinct. obviously.
but the risk was too great. we left it at theories. we analyzed and reanalyzed our data. we searched old seafloors. we spent centuries learning this. centuries. centuries! mothers and daughters learning and dying and thinking atop each other’s bones.
and then you came. not the first to discover. not the first to know by dozens and dozens. independent efforts have stumbled on links by mistake. populists. researchers. noteworthies taken into secrecy. small ones vanished.
we could’ve killed you.
The first whispers of light from another sparked across the crowds above like a roiling wave. faint-marks continued without pause.
we could’ve killed you. and now i see. now i see we should have. you have brought us five dozen young across a harsh sea. well-fed and unafraid. unharmed. The chief of Populism’s gills fluttered with exertion as her glowshine wavered. when you look at the weapons of safety. what do you see?
Tools of death to protect life, responded Small-five automatically. Her teacher was speaking to her again, a subadult again, a student. Rhetorical questions parting for knowledge at a prompted nudge, a nudge cut off at the hilt as faint-marks plowed onwards.
i see three thousand years of knowledge gained in pain and passed down to others. when you look at the walls of this place. what do you see?
A place for-
i see three thousand years of labor and love of others. when you look at us – the mother-leader your teachers your keepers your mothers and your guardians and your saviors – what do you see?
Our-
i see three thousand years of unbroken determination. determination to better ourselves and our daughters and their daughters onward and forever.
faint-marks was visibly trembling now, from snout to tail-tip. do you know what i saw when you swam to us with your doting subadults and your pet fathers and your name shining brighter than the sun? brighter than this city itself?
Small-five fought the urge to reach out a proboscis she no longer had, either in aid or in as a defensive ward, she wasn’t sure. I-
i see a future devoid of progress and betterment. i see three thousand years of struggle and love washed to pointless triviality in a careless instant by actions taken by an ignorant and presumptuous creature. i see ninety-five thousand years of complacency and passivity. i see any hope for accomplishment and progress ground to sand and silt in the currents. i see daughters content to follow and grow fat and learn nothing. do nothing. be nothing.
Silence black as sin settled over the library as faint-marks’ sides collapsed into exhausted darkness, heaving as if she’d outrun a godfish. Her eyes were glassy and her proboscis was at once boneless and flailing; a grasping, twitching thing that bobbed in the currents spawned from her body’s motions.
Small-five looked beside herself. All-fin was twitching with barely-restrained fury; Both-fins was staring wide-eyed at the chief of Populism as if she were a Crheeh at her throat; Thin-sweeping was trying to tuck herself behind Small-five’s dorsal fin and vanish from the eyes on them all.
Faint-marks-unclear, said Small-five, and felt herself almost jump at the shine of a voice that didn’t waver in the grip of an eye. Chief of Populism. My teacher. Do you know what I see this when I look at this place that you have built?

After Small-five spoke her question she waited; for an answer, a denial, acknowledgement, anything. She would be fair. She waited, and she listened.

Faint-marks-unclear, said Small-five, speaking alone in Far-away-light as it sat in the darkness. My guardian. My keeper. Do you know what I see when I look at this life you have laid out for us?

She waited. She listened.

Faint-marks-unclear, said Small-five, at the bottom of all that she had ever known. My savior. My mother. Do you know what I see when I look at you?

She listened.

I see a ring of teeth descending upon infants from the blue. And behind that, nothing.

Faint-marks-unclear did not strike, she convulsed; her entire body contorted into a single wrenching, violent motion that launched her through the library terminal, through the shocked flaring of Far-away-light, and into Small-five’s face.
Light leapt back in answer.

There was a searing pain in Small-five’s left eye, a bone-shaking impact against her skull, and then a lesser one as the offending weight was suddenly hurled away by what her already-retracting lens-lids hinted at to be All-fin. Already-retracting on one side, that is. Her other revealed reddened pain, and she hastily halted her attempts to pry it open.
The library was in an uproar; the heights were a mass of riotous light and shock. Outward-spreading, Glow-over, and Shine-center were clustered around the entangled and still-struggling mass of All-fin and faint-marks. Then the forms broke apart, and Small-five saw that the struggle had been entirely one-sided.
Gone, shone her sister to them all. It went right through.
Small-five didn’t understand, then her sister nudged the chief of Populism’s body into better profile. One eye was a puckered husk, its surface rippling in the tiny, uneven waves of superheated water surrounding it.
Right through, repeated her sister, and this time Small-five heard the satisfaction in her voice. How’d you do that? So small, but so focused-
The light was too bright all around her and her eye felt like it had peeled open and split her head in half and she needed space to think.
QUIET, said Small-five. And it lit up Far-away-light’s insides like a second sun, like nothing ever had before, and it made her eye jump with pain inside her skull.
But it worked, at least for a little while.
There were questions and confusions and anger and shock and comfort and love.
But they could wait, at least for a little while.

Storytime: An Ill Wind.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

It was a ill wind that came ‘round the cape that evening, and it lasted for close enough to a week. The waves grew teeth, the air was a bludgeon, and the rain shot down fair to stab anyone that poked their nose out of doors.
But the fish needed catching, so we all went out in the mornings anyways, or what might have been mornings under the clouds and above the whitecaps. And most of us came back on time every night. As our grandparents did, and theirs before them. Because doing things the way they must be done, that comes before safety. And that means coming back with fish.
One day, one of us came back with something extra, something more than fat greybacks and bulging nets. “Found it in a bucket,” they said. “A bucket, just bobbing in the waves.”
The bucket was black and rusted and made from who knew what, and it went to the trash heaps.
(anything placed in it slicked with oily who-knew-what. no-one dared taste food cooked in it)
The child was pale and plump, and he went to a willing couple who had milk to spare.
We named him Walter, and we called him Walt. And that was well and good enough to let him grow up properly and kindly, if not straight and tall. Stout and stubby-fingered, that was our Walt, always short of breath and ready to lend an extra hand. Not so much strength in him as stubbornness, as vast a supply of that as you could find in any mule.
He was such a small little thing, Walter Newman was. Four inches behind the other children, always scrambling to keep up, always with a bulgy belly and sunken dark eyes. With a smile ready though, held in place behind his teeth. Always ready, just waiting for the right moment to burst out from that round face. If you worked for it, he’d reward you just so. Just so.

When Walter was a small boy, but big enough to run, he wanted on the boats.
That was normal, that was fair enough. Little boys want to be their fathers and their big brothers. We all were little once, we all had grand dreams too big for our hands.
Walter reached too hard and too fast, but his grip served him well. Old Tim Hickory was eight hours offshore and seventeen fathoms deep when he heard the sneezing from underneath the old sou’wester he kept in his cabin. Pulled Walter out by the scuff of his neck and the roll of his fat, and shook him silly with cusses and threats. Told him this was no place for a fool little boy to be. Told him how dangerous the sea was. Told him about the sharks, and the waves, and the salt.
Walter listened, and Walter nodded. And then Walter stayed out there, on Tim Hickory’s boat, because Tim Hickory couldn’t turn back by then and he couldn’t spend his time minding little boys when there were fish to fish.
Walter spent his time on the bow, watching the grey bodies scooped into the sky, dripping and wriggling. He would hum to them, and sometimes sing. Nonsense songs, mashups of tunes he’d heard other children, parents, neighbors sing.
Sometimes the songs got on Tim Hickory’s nerves. But he was busy, and most of the time they would blend in with the sound of the waves and the nets.
Walter had only a little boy’s voice, of course. He couldn’t sing very loudly back then.
He got in all sorts of trouble when he got back, too. Bottom smacked black and blue, but not a peep from him, not a tear shed.

When Walter was a bigger boy, he tagged along fishing.
This was more organized, more proper. He got a longer lecture than most did, of course. Rules firmly laid, commands issued, fists thumped, threats levied.
He listened, and tied knots, and sat on the bow again, and watched the nets come in. Helped haul ‘em too, alongside his brother and father. And as he work, he whistled and sung and hummed.
His father told him to knock it off. His brother pinched him and giggled.
Walter kept on singing. And he listened hard. Listened far. Listened deep.
At day, nobody heard anything that wasn’t hull on water, grunts from lungs. At night, nobody was awake to tell. But Walter was a dreamer, and a good one. And he kept his ears open, in those dreams.
He smiled a lot that trip. And when he came back home, he sang songs to his baby sister in her cradle that she’d never heard before.

When Walter was a young man, he built a boat.
It was a good boat, firm of hull and fine of timber. Its paint was still fresh and almost sparkling when the water first enveloped it, its sails smelled of musty cupboards and dried timbers rather than salt. It was good – not astounding, not saddening, but good. Walter did a good job when he built that boat.
He took it out that day, him and his father. Came back in nets bulging, deck crammed full. Finned bodies spilling out of the wheelhouse, ropes tangled in slippery grey flesh and slapping muscled frames.
Walter didn’t pay much attention to the fish. He had an ear cocked and an absent stare for everyone, slaps on his back and congratulations aside.
The next day they went out again. Even bigger haul came with them this time. A shark was lashed to the boat’s side, big blue body writhing and wriggling as it twitched its way towards death by inches. They took the jaws and left the flesh for the gulls.
(It made them sick. Gulls will eat anything, but even they have limits).
The next day Walter left on his own.
The next day Walter came back, paddling.
A squall had come up and overturned the boat, he said, as he wrung the damp green-and-blue from his sweater. Nothing he could do. He’d ventured out too far by himself, got cocky. He’d swum the miles to shore without even a life-ring for flotation, it had happened so fast. The boat had flipped mast-to-keel and left him tangled in the nets, with just enough time to cut free and strike out before it brought him down.
It was a good story, as Walter told it in that shy, low voice of his. And we all nodded and sympathized with him – such a fine boat it had been – because after all he was a good fisherman, maybe even a great fisherman, and nobody could vouch against his skill. Bad luck and bad weather will stop the best of us in their tracks, and leave them lucky to still have their lives.
And nobody, not one person, not a one of us every spoke a word of how calm the weather had been for the past week.
Because neither had Walter.

Walter was a grown man with the bad luck of ten. But we loved him anyways, because he wouldn’t let it beat him.
A boat would be made.
A boat would be launched.
A boat would bring in one
two
three
four (once) catches.
Then it would be gone, and Walter would wash in with the tides, smiling that same rare gift of his, happy to be alive and with luck no better than before.
Months to build it. A week to lose it. At most. And how Walter did it, no one knew.
A gale.
Harsh water.
Struck a rock.
Angry shark, once. That raised eyebrows.
And we all would’ve scoffed at one of them, let alone all of them, but Walter’s smile when he came back was always so wonderful. And each time, it grew wider.
He sang in town, now. Mostly at night. Folks complained, but quietly, and soon they stopped. It was quiet, and almost too low to hear.

And then one year, not many ago, Walter and his brother and his father all got in their boats, cast off, and left without a word for one, two, three days.
They floated back in on the currents, damp and grinning, and they were changed men. Went straight down to their friends’ houses and stayed up all night talking.
The next day, six boats left, with Walter guiding the way.
Two days later, the tides fetch them back again. No sign of the boats.
The wives complained. The shorebounders complained. The children worried.
Walter smiled, and that made it all right. Walter stayed up and sang half the night as families argued and muttered and fought for hours, spend the other half listening.
Ten boats the next day
Eight the day after.
Nine after that.
Almost no boats left, but the fish came in anyways. Walter would strip naked and swim out there, come back in dragging net-fulls of things we’d never seen before. No greybacks, no fatmouths, things with too much eel in their blood and too little eyes. Slimy, but tasty.
Only really good to eat raw, though. Cooking liquefies the flesh. Disgusting.

Seasons went by. Walter kept us afloat as the boats were rebuilt.
(His father and brother joined him after a time. A few others later, I don’t recall who).
One beautiful day the first of the new hulls slipped into the water. And that was the day that they set hands on it and towed it away. No time for a motor, no time for paint, no time for nothing.
They needed that boat. We needed that boat.
“For mother,” Walter explained.
No-one had asked for the explanation. No-one thought he was talking about Lucy, Geoff’s wife, Jeremiah and Petunia’s mother, who’d fed him her milk when he was a little pale thing plucked from the waves.
The truth came out in bits and starts. Nobody much noticed as it did. It just happened. Oh, some people grumbled, some people muttered, but by the time we all knew anything it was already normal.
The boats were necessary offerings, of course. In the right place
(eight hours out, seventeen fathoms deep)
at the right time
(moonlight on the water, a dark starry sky)
in the right state of mind
(dreaming afloat, waves lapping on the rim of your hearing)
was where you left your gifts.
Here, mother. Take the land from us. We trust you. We love you. And you trust and love us.
Why else would you have given your son to us?

The last boat sank on the first day of summer.
Old Tim Hickory was on board. Mad as hell, he was.
We’d talked to him and talked to him, but he wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t pay attention.
Stubborn man. He set his heels to it and wouldn’t budge, not for that boat. His father’s father’s father had laid it, he would pilot it, no matter where it went. And he wouldn’t budge.
(Couldn’t, after he tied the anchor around and around and around and around himself)
So he followed his boat, captained it ‘till it was gone.
(He wore the old sou’wester. It was the first anyone had seen that happen in living memory, the faded old yellow against the dull grey of woollen sweater, tangled beard).
He must’ve been the first to see mother there, as keel met bottom.
Met bottom and passed on through it, into home.

Life is stranger now, and we don’t do as our grandparents did, or theirs before them.
We spend our evenings down in the bay and leave the beds back upon land, rot in the trash heaps.
A hall is being made beneath the bay, a hall of stones and shells with no lights, a hull timbered in barnacled wood, scraped bare of paint by tide and time.
Our sides ache for the waves, and cry salt tears in the air.
The children swim like giggling minnows, hands grown small and over-webbed.
Babes’ teeth sprout early and needling, and their mouths eschew milk for fish-lymph.
Last Sunday we burnt the last of our homes, lighting the fires with kindling from our docks.
It can be hard, to change this way. But when we feel doubt, or pain, or confusion, we look to the face of Walt Newman. And we see that smile behind his teeth, waiting to be given.
If we work for it, we are granted it. Just so.

Storytime: Hardly a Chore.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

J. D. Hudson was a particular sort of man. He wore small, black shoes with no laces but with important names stitched into discreet parts of their leather. His keyboard was bare of lint and his fingers bare of ink, for his keyboard was all he needed. He dressed with a tie whenever possible, and sometimes whenever it wasn’t. His first and middle names were mysteries to all but his closest family members, in whose presence he frowned when addressed so. He starched his collars. He wore collars.
And he lived in Toronto, where, to the satisfaction of his property values but the irritation of his soul, he owned a lawn. It was small and grassy and made rather timid by the masses of concrete about it.
He loathed it.
Oh, J. D. Hudson did his best, he did. He always did. He purchased fertilizers and pesticides (rigidly defined within legally permitted lines), he applied shears with dispassionate skill, he weeded mercilessly and without pity for the young and sprouted nor old and rooted.
And yet still the damned thing vexed him.
He watered. He trimmed. He sheared. He even, in a fit of near-madness, planted a small patch of flowers once. They bloomed, wilted, died, and were dutifully tidied away.
And yet still the damned thing wouldn’t stop growing.
The last straw came when he had to go away for a week. The trip was fine – on his favorite topic too: serious business – it was the return that filled him with horror and disgust. The fine weather of late spring had come and gone, bastard thing, and filled his lawn with vigor and delight to a scandalous degree. It had become feckless. It had become unruly. It had become overgrown.
J. D. Hudson looked at his lawn, and he looked at the clippers in his hands, and small well-used muscles in his lower jaw twitched in a most unseemly manner. This would not do. This would most patently not do. This was a Problem, and Problems required Solutions. In the name of tidiness.
J. D. Hudson was not a man who knew things about lawnmowers. But one of his brothers knew a man who did, and he recommended a company. An obscure one. A very obscure one that didn’t even own a website, and whose purchases must be conducted through mail-order.
J. D. Hudson frowned on such things. But J. D. Hudson did not frown on what was avowed to be top-notched product at rock-bottom prices, and so he committed his untrained, keyboard-reared fingers to the fumbling tool of the pen. His handwriting was unspeakable, his signature unpronounceable, but in the end, all was filled, all boxes were ticked, all stamps attached, and the lot of it consigned to the hands of the mailman, whom J. D. Hudson suspected of petty theft and inadequate devotion to his career.

A week festered by, during which J. D. Hudson’s lawn grew more riotous still, deterred not by his unbending glare. His fingers clenched, his teeth ground, he woke in the night arguing with himself and his daily zero point five cups of breakfast oatmeal (without sugar) lost its taste, which it had never possessed.
And then, gloriously, beautifully, divinely, came the mail. And came a parcel that was rather smaller than J. D. Hudson had expected. It had arrived mostly assembled, lacking only the attachment of the handle to the main body with a complicated series of ingenious bolts that hurt J. D. Hudson’s knuckles as he turned them in and made him say improper words in clipped, exact tones.
Assembled, it stood atop the lawn in brooding glory as a colossus: the Accelerationist Townmower (his illegible handwriting had apparently resulted in his receiving an older, off-brand model whose name he did not recognize, but no matter), over sixty pounds of slightly dented metal and mysteriously oily machinery. He allowed it to bask there for a time as he read and reread the manual, which was in six languages, none of which were English, French, Spanish, or Mandarin. Complicating this was the typesetting: at least one paragraph was upside down, another was printed backwards, and an entire four pages of text were printed upside down, backwards, and in increasingly small concentric spirals. In red ink.
J. D. Hudson frowned to himself and shut the manual with a disappointed thwap. Well, he’d used these before, or at least seen people use them before. You primed them – like so. Then you pulled the cord – like so. Then you moved it over the grass – like s

J. D. Hudson, as with many people, thought of his life as a series of events, each following the other. Cause and effect strung together like Christmas lights and wrapped in circles around the big confusing evergreen of your mortal coil. He could recite his history since birth as a perfect series of points A through Z, laid in order exactly as prescribed in kindergarten song.
This made the events of that day very hard on him.

The Townmower slid over the grass like a greased pig over a skillet of warm butter, and with much the same noise. J. D Hudson planted his feet firmly to check the machine’s advance and was immediately hoisted off them, dangling from the mower’s handlebar as a fly on a fishing line. His first instinct was to hold on tight, which was unfortunate because that meant he was still gripping the Townmower as it touched the concrete of his sidewalk.
There were noises. Some of them sounded like falling rocks, some like screaming winds, and several as the calls of coyotes and squirrels. Tiny chips of cement and sidewalk screamed past J. D. Hudson’s face as the mower accelerated underneath him, screeching down the street at highway speeds. He pawed feebly at the ignition shutoff, and the shift in his weight sent it swerving wildly into traffic, where a car honked at him loudly for a little less than half a second before being mowed down.
J. D. Hudson found the courage to look back after the shock of having all his limbs still attached to himself wore off. A confused looking man – one of his neighbors, possibly – was sitting in the middle of what had been a road and was now a spry (if narrow) thicket, up to his thighs in prickerbushes and entirely naked bar a pair of sunglasses and a necklace. A tiny fragment of steering wheel crumbled from his hairy paws as he watched, silhouetted against the rambling, untidy hedge that half the sidewalk had become.
J. D. Hudson tore his gaze away from this sight and was spared the trouble of dwelling on it, because that was when he swerved onto Yonge Street and the world was reduced to many small things that flew away in his wake, captured only by his eyes.
A streetcar tumbled away, crumpling into dirt and dust.
Power cables snapped into roots that latched onto buildings that were suddenly very confused trees. Executives hooted in alarm from their canopies, ties dangling as they swung from branch to branch seeking a way down.
The street become a river beneath the blades, lashing violently out around it as dashes and dots and crosswalks were suddenly dashed, dotty, and cross ducks of varying species.
A streetlight fell to the ground, rose up as swamplight.
Streetlights to stumps.
Pedestrians went scurrying into the blossoming copses of shops in fright, hiding in the undergrowth that had once been a rack of t-shirts.
Somewhere in the midst of this, he turned his eyes forwards again and found that the mower had grown substantially, and was chewing up entire rows of housing, shredding bits of tile everywhere as it dropped the structures down to neatly levelled-off patches of mixed woodland forests. Then the Don Valley Parkway was ahead of him, and he shut his eyes again as the blades did their grisly work. Asphalt flecked his face and stuck to the moistness of his tears. Car horns sounded in alarm, then were hushed into the roars of bears and the cackle of birds. Then it all fell away again, far below and far away, leaving him alone in silence with only his thoughts.
The CN tower made a strange creaking noise in the mower’s suspension.

Morning found a slightly different city. For one thing, it now consisted entirely of a single home of modest proportions, with a scandalously unkempt lawn. In its over-lush grass lay a man, naked bar a rumpled collar, whose mute horror left him known only as John Doe.
As for the Townmower, the 401 had been replaced by a series of rolling meadows. It must’ve gone off-road somewhere, but if had, it had left no trace.
Tidily.