Thursday, October 27

Chapter 34:

Bus Stop Serenade

[Dave standing near bus-stop – Jim walks up]
[Dave looks at watch]
Dave: Excuse me, when does the bus arrive?
Jim: That depends on which bus.
Dave: Oh. Right. Um... the bus to... fifth and main?
Jim: On the quarter of an hour.
Dave: Thanks.
Jim: But I wouldn’t go downtown if I were you.
Dave: Hmm?
Jim: You know who runs downtown, don’t you?
Dave: The city planning council?
Jim: You look familiar. Did I used to know you?
Dave: I doubt it. I’m not from here.
Jim: Oh? Where you from?
Dave: Morton valley.
Jim: No doping? Me too. Morton High class of ... something. Jim Billman.
Dave: Jim? We all thought you were dead! Dave Toller.
Jim: Dave, right. Dude. Long time. So, as your old friend, I'm warning you: don’t go downtown.
Dave: What’s downtown?
Jim: Don’t you know? Let me tell you.
Dave: Oh, I think I see the bus.
Jim: Pork rinds.
Dave: What?
Jim: Yep. They sell pork rinds. All of em. They are trying to cover their guilt with them, but I know the truth. I know their dirty little secrets down there at the court-house and city-hall. Oh yeah.
[Jim tries to get on the bus, but Dave grabs his arm]
Dave: My bus is here.
Jim: Do you know what they do with the rinds? Do you? They eat them. They eat the flesh of pigs. And you know what else?
Dave: The bus is leaving...
Jim: They buy them in little bags that say "Pork rinds" right on there, but they buy them and eat them anyhow. You can tell what they are thinking. Oh yes...
[Dave is getting mad. The bus leaves]
Dave: There it goes.
Jim: [wildly] They are trying to eat your soul man!
Dave: Let go of me!
Jim: Don’t you see it? First it is the skins, but what next? Meat. Then the intestines, then... then... Do you eat pork Dave?
Dave: [to himself while looking at the route map for the bus] If I walk over two blocks, I can catch the number four.
Jim: You know what pork is, don’t you? Pig meat. Then they grind up the bones and serve it to other animals because... [stops and looks around him] Wasn’t the bus supposed to be here by now?
Dave: Yeah, [exasperated] it came and left already.
Jim: [sarcastically] Well thanks a lot! You made me miss my bus! Now I have to walk the two blocks to fifth and main to catch the express.
[Jim storms off leaving Dave bewildered holding a route map]

Friday, October 21

Chapter 33:

Svetha’s story
Svetha was only nine the day they crossed. She remembered it well, because everyone was nervous, from Joshua on down to baby Dolma. They all were nervous about whether God would come through for them. She had heard the stories from her father and grandfather how God had parted the Red sea, and made it a standing wall on either side of them, how God had provided manna and quail in the middle of nowhere, and how God had brought them water from the middle of a rock in the desert, not once, but twice under the leadership of Moses, but she was nervous. This was Joshua, not Moses, and in her day, she had not seen such miracles as were reported of how Joshua had God stop the sun while they defeated their enemies, or many of the battles God had won over the kings on this side of the river. She only knew what the Levites were telling them from joshua: they were a holy people who were going to cross over the river Jordan on dry ground.

"Mama?" she whispered, "will the waters really dry up before the Ark?"

"Hush," her mother told her, "the priests have just blown their trumpet, and are taking their first steps."

"But mama," she cried again, "I can’t see."

Her father was the one to respond. He lifted Svetha onto his shoulders, and from there she saw the priests lined up around their items: tabernacle cloths, tabernacle poles, the special things for inside the tabernacle, the various priests gathered around the sheep, and right up in front, about two yards in front of everybody else, were the seven priests who were carrying the covered Ark of the Covenant on two long wooden poles. Four in back, three in front. The one in front was the high priest who grabbed both poles: one in each hand.

As the sound of the trumpets faded, the priests were to walk into the Jordan river, but the sound faded, and there they stood. Still standing, still waiting. Joshua went forward to talk with the high priest, and then resumed his place near the water’s edge. The high priest took his first step, and the others followed. They began walking forward, closer and closer to the water’s edge, and still the waters flowed at flood stage as they always had before. The priests slowed a bit in their pace as they neared the water, then the first priest lifted his right foot, and brought it down into the river.

Immediately the water in the Jordan river stopped. No water came from downstream, and the waters quickly flowed away South. The sun shone down hot on the ground, drying the riverbed almost instantly. The priest’s foot landed on dry ground. All the people cheered, and we began to cross. But not those seven priests. They marched intot he middle of the river-bed, and stood there. They stopped in their tracks.

"Papa," Svetha asked, "why aren’t the priests going across?"

"They will Svetha," he said. "But we will go into the land before them."

"But I thought Joshua said God would go in before us."

"Ah," said her father, as he picked up the handles to their family’s cart, "He is. God is not confined in the Ark, but going before us. Do you not remember the pillar of fire, or the cloud?"

"Yes, papa."

"God will be with us even in this strange land." He smiled up at her sitting on his shoulders looking down, "He is before us even now."

It took three days for all of the children of Israel to cross the Jordan, and all that time, the Priests stayed firmly rooted in the center of the river carrying the Ark on their shoulders. It was not that the river was too wide, though it was at flood stage and a hundred feet wider than usual, but that there were so many of them to cross over. Svetha’s family had to camp in the middle of the river that night near the priests. Her father laid out their blankets, for, being summer, it would not be too cold for them to lie under the stars. Their family was not the only one to do so, but many of the people – tired from the long walk to get there – were camping where they had stopped in the river at nightfall. Many continued on as well, getting to the other side, just in case God decided they had long enough to cross already. But the riverbed stayed dry all that night.
Svetha found a small pool of water where a deep hole had been, and in it were two fish – not enough water for them to swim in, they merely lay there in the water still. Svetha crept up close to the fish and watched them for a while. She made up a story which she told to her parents the next day about the fish while the people broke camp and continued across the Jordan with their families, possessions, goats, cows, and sheep.

"The pretty fish was named Bertha," she said, "and she sings. The other was named Mr. Squid, and he was not nice to Bertha, but kept telling her that God was punishing them by leaving them in the small pool of water until it dried up, and they both died." Svetha’s mother was not happy with where she thought the story was going, but Svetha continued none-the-less. "But Bertha told him it was not a punishment from God, but a blessing. She even sang him a song. It went like this:
The Lord is good to his people
The God of all is before them
And even the waters obey him
And at his voice they fled
He will guide his people
He will make them happy
They will turn and praise him
They will sing his praise

"And then Mr. Squid told her, ‘I don’t believe you,’ and Bertha told him that he was a silly fish, because God had told all the people in Canaan, and even all the animals that his people would be victorious and conquer the land and kill off those who God told them to kill, and to not leave any of them alive."

"That is a good story," her father said as he picked up the handles to his wagon and they started walking towards the Western bank. "But I think you had better go and bring Mr. Squid here for our breakfast. You can cook him once we reach the shores."

When the last of the people had crossed, the priests also followed to the West side o the Jordan, and as they walked stiffly forward, the water filled in behind them until the Jordan river was once again flowing as usual. Svetha looked back to where Bertha’s hole had been, and waved as she held Mr. Squid over the fires with a long stick.

(Editor's note: If you are wondering about the names "Bertha" and "Mr. Squid" they are part of the writing assignment I had from my creative writing class -- to create a story about a singing fish in the Jordan river with the protagonist named "Bertha" and the Antagonist, "Mr. Squid". Thanks to Kelly for the idea os crossing the Jordan.)

Sunday, October 16

Chapter 32:

In Which We See A Woman Die Again and Again and Again... For The Cause of Humanity
Her car swerved a bit before the semi smashed into the front end of her Volvo sending it careening off the road, flipping as it hit the small embankment, and finally winding up on its roof. She was killed instantly. The main witness to the act was seated in a white plastic lawn chair a few yards from where it all happened. He wrote down all the information and carefully copied down every detail he could. These he sealed in a canister and buried the day after the funeral just below the white cross erected in her memoriam in the exact spot she had met her end.
* * *

"Brian," Doctor Johnson’s voice came over the intercom, "make your way to the ready room at once." There was a long pause, "bring your team prepped and ready to go." The team was assembled and seated before a screen where, as Dr. Johnson made each point, the computer pot them into a verbal statement in green letters with a bullet point next to each one. "First and foremost," Dr. Johnson said, "you are not to be detected. Each move you make is to be covert and carried out with extreme prejudice. If anyone even detects that you are from here, it could alter the entire course of human history – you may even wipe out your own existence." A small robot entered the room carrying a tray of coffee with non dairy creamers already mixed in to each member’s preference. "Now, let me tell you about your subject: Mary Hart." He nodded at the computer’s visual scanner, and it put up her photos one at a time. "Study her face well gentlemen," he said as her college yearbook photo from 2006 flashed on to the screen. "What you are looking at is the face of an angel." Family photos were shown one at a time showing them her face from every perspective. "After researching the ancients of this period and others in her field, the computers told us she had the greatest probability of finding a cure for cancer within five years, except for one small thing..." another picture came up of her car overturned on the side of the road. "One of our operatives has already made the journey and documented everything you have just seen – he was to watch her and find out the exact time and location of her death for us. As you can see, he has done well." The screen faded to blend with the white of the wall, and the doctor continued. "As you al know, the mission you have been selected for is dangerous. There is no coming back. Once you have traveled back there, you are there for the rest of your days." He gave a rather wry smirk to the recruits, "You will die before your parents were even born." Nervous laughter came from many of the recruits. "You will be sent back one at a time. Who is first?"

Private John Dugon’s mission was simple: distract her from her goal of driving from Chico to Durham on the night in question. He chose to work on her emotions, and so went back a month early to make her fall in love with him. Things went smoothly until that night in April when he said something stupid, and he broke up with her. She then immediately took off to see her parents. "Mission accomplished," he thought to himself since her parents lived in Reno. What he did not know was that she did not drive straight to Reno, but instead had taken the Midway to Durham. She lost control of her vehicle, which slammed into an on-coming semi which knocked her and her car into the orchard just off the road. Her car landed upside down. The only witness was seated a few yards off in a white lawn chair. After her funeral, he sealed all the information in a time capsule and buried it in the exact spot her car had landed.

Private Aaron Douglas had a less direct approach. His first week was spent getting his drivers licence with the forged documents sent back with him. The next week found him in a school for truck drivers. He figured that, if he could not stop her from taking the route, he could at least stop the truck from hitting her. He planned everything out carefully, studying, before he left, the exact route the truck had taken and the owner of the company. He quickly got a job for them, and in no time had so familiarized himself with the exact route that, when the 14th day of April came, he was thoroughly ready to take a separate route to Chico. He started out the correct run and came to the first of four stops on the route. He tried the brakes, and found that they were inoperable. He swerved to miss the parked cars at the stop, and was trying all in his power to stop his rig, but was unable. So he took his foot off the accelerator. He didn’t slow. The pedal was stuck. He tried pulling up the pedal with his hand, and it came up. He lifted his head back to the road in time to see a red Volvo swerve into the front of his truck. The car bounced to the side, struck the ditch, and overturned in an orchard, killing the driver instantly. Private Douglas was rushed to the hospital where they found he had massive brain trauma, and all that he would say was that he failed his mission.

Major Linda Friends was the next sent back. She had decided that the only way to keep Mary Hart from taking the road was to become a friend to help her be consoled over the loss of her boyfriend when the time came, and keep her from going to Durham on that day. Everything went smoothly, and Linda and Mary were almost inseparable... but one thing bothered Mary, and that was how friendly Linda was with John, her boyfriend. On April 14th, John broke up with Mary, and Linda was there to console her right on schedule... but after Linda left Mary’s apartment, she ran into John in the street. They were smiling, and Linda even gave John a hug. They both laughed, but did not see Mary inside watching them through the window. She stormed out into the street and told them both she never wanted to see either of them again, hopped in her car, and drove off. Mission failed.

Major Ted Ryan asked himself why she deviated from her route to Reno through Durham, and decided it was because she had a friend in Durham who was close, so she had gone that way in order for a quick consolation. He fed all the data into the central computer, and the probability came back high. Short of killing the friend, the only way he could think of to stop her was to physically restrain Mary from going to Durham. And so on April 14th, as Mary, Linda, and John were arguing in the streets, Major Ted Ryan broke into Mary’s garage and stowed away in the back-seat of her car. He soon heard Mary storming in and getting in the driver’s seat. She started the engine, and drove off with him in the back seat, hidden beneath a blanket. He wasn’t sure where he was, and so he looked up from under the blanket to see, to his utter horror, that he was on the Midway. She saw him, and screamed.
"Don’t panic," he told her, "I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to turn this car around this very minute, and drive home."
She reached for her glove compartment and pulled out a can of mace which she turned and sprayed into his face. Before the can went off, Major Tom saw the front of a Semi bearing down on them. He reached blindly forward through the mace, and grabbed the wheel. He turned it away from the truck, but she wrenched it out of his hands. The next three seconds played themselves out like clockwork: car hits truck, spins off, hits ditch, flips, lands upside-down in orchard. Tom was flung out of the back window and slammed into a tree some fifty feet away, knocking him unconscious.

When he awoke, the tow-truck was just pulling the car onto the road behind it, taking it back to Chico. He saw the man sitting on the white chair and tried to crawl over to him, but he ached from every limb, and his eyes were swollen almost shut. He was picked up by a passer-by and driven to the hospital where they believed he had suffered brain trauma because he kept repeating some story about being from the future, and how the dead woman was to be the savior of mankind.
* * *

The project was scrapped: not because of the results, but because of a computer error. There was a factory recall on all computer models with the probability engine, because it was faulty in its estimates by over 50%.

Linda, John, and Tom were never able to tell the world about their lives, and went into hiding while they began trying to create a time machine... which would not be completed for one hundred and fifty years from that day, on April 14th, 2156.

Chapter 31:

A Dank Smelly Story

No, Dank Smelly was his real name... poor guy: name like that. Had a club foot too. Not that it stopped him from chasing you down if you made fun of him. He was fast, surprisingly, with that foot of his, and tough as nails. I used to catch him and Jimmy Reed sneaking through my parents back-forty to the crick on a hot day, even during school. They was both a bit of trouble. Not the kind these kids today have, no sir. They didn’t go around causing trouble with the law, or defacing things what didn’t belong to them, or nothin’. No, they just happened to be – "trouble magnets" as we used to call them – wherever they went, the two of them would get themselves into a scrape of some sort, and everybody would know they was into it, and it often took more than one of us to get them out of it.

The beaver dam had been there since... oh, long before anybody in town could remember. Seems it had just appeared about a hundred year ago, and nobody done put up no fuss then, and so there it were. Now Dank got hisself an idea that there might be good fishin behind that there dam, and he tooked him up there one afternoon, and set hisself down to catch him a fish – only problem was, tweren’t no fish up there. See, these there beavers had stopped up a creek too near the start of it, an it were too little water flowin’ out to keep fish there. They had all moved on – but for a few minn’ers. So Dank got his pole out’n set him up there with a line and bait, but the minn’ers, ain’t bitin’. He comed home that even with nothin’ ta show for his day, but a good tan.

Next day he n’ Jimmy talkin’ a bit bout this problem, and Jimmy said it were on account a the dam bein’ there that the fish ain’t comin’. If the dam were gone, he reckoned, them fishwould jus’ jump back inta that there little pond like tain’t nobody’s business. So he n’ Dank took themselves up there to see what they couldn’t do about it. Jimmy tried pullin’ on a log to release more water, and Dank were pullin’ at another, but that there dam wouldn’t budge. Not for an inch on them both. They both bein’ exhausted by that there workin’ they headed home, figurin’ tain’t no use pullin’ and pushin’ to get them logs to move. Would take somethin’ a mist more powerful than themselves.

Next day Dank an Willy Dobart was talkin’ marbles, when ol Willy, he chimes in with a "You heard about the beaver dam?" And that got Dank’s attention some, so he listens while Willy tells him the news. "It seems there was a couple of no-goods trying to flood this valley by takin’ down the dam t’other day." An, this spook Dank some, so he goes to tall Jimmy, and they both decide they ain’t goin’ nowheres near that dam again anytime soon, fish or no.

That night Dank had him a dream about bein’ washed out to sea, and Jimmy had a dream about bein’ on a boat, and, in fact, most people round these parts had a dream involvin’ water, on account a whil they was sleeping, that dam gave out. Seems that little bit a shovin’ them boys did loosened just the right amount of drabble to let an important log slip, and down come the whole mess of it. And the town was waking to find them all in two foot a water.

Willy knew right away, t’were the Germans, and he told his pop so. Jimmy knew t’were them Frenchies what moved to the mine not long before. But Dank, he know’d it were him and Jimmy wha’s done it, but he ain’t about to fess up to that one, an keeps his mouth shut tight. All the men and boys trogged up that hill an finds that the dam been burst, and everybody grabs themselves a log, an goes at it.

When a beaver sets hisself up a dam, he sticks one down deep into the mud first, and works from the bottom to the topwise till he’s got hisself a nice mess of logs piled more or less where they needs to go in order to stop up the water from flowin’; but when man makes hisself a dam he sticks the straightest poles he can find deep into the mud and braces boards as straight as he can find em on t’other side where the water done push them in. Beaver’s got it better designed, but it don’t look quite so perty as when man does it. By the time they got that dam finished at the end of the day, water were still leakin’ good, but it kept it from gushin’ like she did the night before. Next week, city started buildin’ a good one in earnest, and it didn’t leak so much. But for the meantime, they built them a nice ditch to keep the water out of the town, and flowin’ down to the pasture below.

T’weren’t till years later Dank finally fessed up to it bein’ him an Jimmy wha’ pulled out that log. They all laughed at it, even those wha’ was ‘bout to kill them Frenchies and any Germans they could find.

Friday, October 14

Chapter 30:

In Which Aiko's Journal Entry is Made Into A Story As She Suggested It Might Be.

It was a lovely evening outside...Warm, not hot, and there was a slight breeze blowing. There was no reason for her to stay inside, so Anna removed herself out of the office chair in which she had been seated, and strolled down the dusky Arizona boulevard. She was... Not happy exactly -- no, that would be too much -- but contented. Nothing was going wrong, and it was such a beautiful sky outside. The cloudless sky would soon be reflecting the full range of spectrum from darkest night to yellow hues. She checked her watch -- more out of habit than in wonder -- and decided that she had enough time to check her mail at the school's post office, nearly two blocks away,and still get back home before even the street lamps turned on... And that at a leisurely strolling pace too.

As she strolled from her dorm across the campus, she watched the freshmen scurrying to get to parties and band rehearsals as if it would be the end of the world not to show up. She smiled at their naivete, and remembered herself doing the same thing four years previous. Those days were over now as she studied for her masters degree: she was now one of the instructors marking late-comers to her own class of freshmen during the day. It gave her a new respect for her professors at her alma mater. She began to wonder if she had ever really been a freshman.

* * *

She licked her right paw gently to clean it with her rasping tongue, and brushed back her side whiskers. It had been a long day of rushing between the feet of students and traffic on the street, and all she could think of at the moment was a saucer of warm milk and maybe some kippers if any were handy. That was one benefit of having an elderly lady owner: they spoiled you. She looked at the sky casually, and saw the time. Evening light was fading, and if she were to get the milk, she would need to be there before the sounds from the awful box said "this is Jeapordy," otherwise she would be forced to wait until morning.

She began strolling along the sidewalk near the street when she her ear picked up a slight sound, as of tiny feet pitter-pattering towards the center of campus. She sat still for a moment and cocked first one ear, then the other in the direction of the sound. She began to purr to herself. It was a young mouse. Still tender and still brave enough to venture out while still light in this city. She had time, and it was such a lovely evening, she took herself up to the chase.

* * *
Anna could see the entrance to the mail-room, but was stopped by an acquaintance who wanted to catch up.
"It's been ages," the acquaintance said, "not since... What, sophomore year?"
"Yeah," said Anna only half-heartedly. She had not wanted to stop in order that she would be back before dark. "Long time."
"I've applied for an applied science major... Ha, ha... Get it? Applied for Applied?"
"Okay, well..."
"So what are you up to these days?"
"Just..." She realized this conversation would not be quick, so she took in a deep breath and began to tell her story.

* * *
Well, the milk was definitely out, but the young mouse was well worth the disappointment. She licked the last of the mouse off her paws and began preening once again. She was a born hunter, and she knew it. Her mother had taught her all she knew before she was adopted by the lady called "Reena" who lived with her in the mobile homes. There were many cats in that neighborhood, many of whom she was used to seeing and even conversing with on a quiet evening. She knew which ones would want a pleasant chat, and which would try and tear her paws off. There was even one dog in the neighborhood she didn't mind. It was a pekegnese with a limp paw. But her mind was not on those things now, but on what a beautiful night it would be once all the stars were out. The kind of night that makes you want to sing on fence-tops. She began to walk homeward across campus.

* * *
Anna once again proceeded towards her mail. There may still be enough time if she hurried... But, no. Tonight was not worth hurrying. Some evenings you need to savory, and this was one of those nights. So she doesn't make it back to her dorm/apartment in time; there is plenty of light anyhow. The light began to flicker on, and emit a very dull blue while the filaments warmed to a bright yellow.

* * *

She passed a cat as she walked to the mailbox and they nodded gravely to each other, and passed on -- each towards their destination, but not in hurry. This was a night to savor.