The Girl Death Couldn’t Kill: A Mystery (Part 2)

The Girl Death Couldn’t Kill: A Mystery (Part 2)

[Recap: When we last left Death, he had been teleported back in time by Time in his pursuit of a girl he was unsuccessful in killing. You can read Part 1 here.]

“Look, ‘Bert, can I call you ‘Bert? Look ‘Bert, I am so sorry you died for a few hours there.” Death was sitting on the side of Albert Einstein’s bed where the genius had passed quietly in the night a few hours earlier. He held Einstein’s hand in his as a consolatory gesture. “You feel okay now? ‘Bert? ‘Berty!” Death snapped his fingers in the scientist’s face. “Wake up, man!”

“I am avake,” Albert said as he turned his head to stare Death in the face. “I have heard ov people talk about a light vhen they die. But I dreamt I vas the light. As you know, a photon does not experience time. It vas beautiful.”

“Jesus, he’s gonna start in with the special relativity in a minute,” Death muttered under his breath. “’Bert! Look, I don’t have a lot of time to explain but I accidently killed you last night. My bad. You’re not supposed to die for another few months, though personally I think you’d rather go the way I took you out last night than the aortic rupture you’re going to suffer in April. But, whatever.”

“But I vill go when I vant to go and no sooner,” Albert insisted. “How did this happen anyvay? I though God does not play dice.”

“Yeah,” Death drawled, “It’s a little more complicated than that but now that you’re safe and sound, I’ve got some other things to do. Enjoy the next few months, kid. Okay now, vortex, go!” Death expected Time to whisk him away asap but he remained in Einstein’s company. “Okay, vortex, go!” Nothing. Frick; he knew Time was going to get him back. Death put his head in his hands. Order was going to be pissed.

“Iv there something I can help vith?” Albert asked. “I vould not think the Angel of Death could ever be so troubled as he iv upon my bedside.”

“Oh, I’m no angel, ‘Bert. I’ve screwed up and Time is paying me back. That’s what this is, he…she…they’re making me late on purpose. I had it coming. It’s my own fault, really. Dammit, all I ever was to do my job.” Death’s head rocked back and forth as if he were sobbing, impossible though that be. It’s why Death had chosen to become embodied all those years ago; you can’t be a drama queen without a body. Death sometimes wondered if Life knew this about him.

“Being late iv all a matter of perspective, of course,” Einstein elucidated. “Surely you vill get vhere you are going on time. Perhaps you already vhere you need to be.”

Death looked up from his dramatic overture. “Whaddya mean, ‘Bert? I need to find someone very in particular in 1968, before they get to George Harrison and tell him to write While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I’m not sure of the significance of the song but the song is so great it could only have been inspired by another force of nature.”

“Vell, I do not know who George Havirson iv or who you are looking vor. Maybe I can help you vith vhen you are looking vor them,” Einstein offered. Death just tilted his head, clearly out of his element. “Iv Death not ever-present?” Albert continued. “Death is everyvhere all the time. Vherever and vhenever you need to be, you are already there. You just need to concentrate on vhat you vere doing in the area vhere you need to be at the right time and you vill be there. That iv because you already are there.”

Death bolted to his feet and shot a pointed finger at the physicist. “You, sir, are a damned genius! The history books sure as hell got that one right. Okay now,” Death shook himself out and touched his fingertips to his head, “It’s astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes its toll.”

“Ja, ja,” Einstein urged, “Now jump to the left, step to the right, then vith your hands on your hips, bring your knees in tight.”

Death felt like he was turning into jelly. “I think it’s working, ‘Bert!” The inconsistency throughout Death’s body became more consistent and thorough. “Who knew this damned body was holding me back? Yeah, it’s actually working. Let’s do the time warp again. Let’s do the time…”

Instantaneously, Death was gone.

Albert Einstein laid back down in bed and punched a dent into his pillow. “If I vasn’t frustrated trying to figure out the universe before, now it iv worse.”

“Hold it right there, missy!”

In the middle of George Harrison’s recording studio, Death threw himself between a three-foot tall, four-year old girl with curly golden locks and the glue that held The Beatles together as if he were trying to stop a fistfight. Having successfully separated the little girl and George, Death shoved the little girl back for good measure.

George’s head popped out from behind Death to query the youngster. “Is this the bloke you were talking about? He’s sort of animated for being the personification of death. He looks dehydrated, too.”

Death’s head spun all the way around. “Interesting thing about death, George – there’s a certain lack of water in your life when you die.” Death’s head completed its revolution and set his marbled eyes on the little girl. She looked up at Death unblinking and her nose scrunched up.

“Yeah, this is the guy. Told you he’d get the year wrong and be late.” The young girl looked away, pretending George’s sitar was more interesting than the personification of death.

“Late? Late for what? I’m always on time. Listen kid, I’m not here to stop you from inspiring George to write While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I’m just here to make sure you don’t slip away before you tell me what in blue blazes is going on.” Death reached down and grabbed the girl by the arm and shoved her towards George. “Get it over with, inspire him so we can get on with our business.” Death air-quoted the word ‘inspire’ though he claimed to despise anyone who used air-quotation marks.

“Oh, are ya going to commission me a new song idea, little girl?” George asked.

“New song idea?” Death intoned. “What song did you get him to write already?”

Taxman,” George answered, “Two years ago she commissioned me to write a song about this fellow who collects taxes and…”

“I know the song!” Death threw his hands in the air. He grabbed the little girl by the arm again and yanked her back towards him. “Why are you commissioning songs, especially about taxes?” Death’s head flopped back. “Oh, dear god. That’s why I couldn’t kill you; the threat of you looming over people’s heads forces you into existence. How the heck did you wind up in a lake?”

The little girl, her command of English excellent for her age, pulled herself towards George while unable to break away from Death. “George, write a song about the world’s unrealized potential for love using your guitar as a metaphor. This one’s on the house.” George’s lips turned down while he nodded, contemplating the idea.

“Death and I have to go have a talk, George. Maybe see you later. Ta!” The little girl snapped her fingers and Death found himself beside the youngster in front of the IRS building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. It was the middle of the day, birds were chirping, and people walked by and through them oblivious to their presence.

Death may be a little slow on the uptake sometimes but he wasn’t stupid. “If you’re Taxes, you little brat, what happened to the dodgy old guy? There can’t be two of you running around. People wouldn’t stand for it. Order wouldn’t stand for it because it would probably make people prefer death.”

The little girl waved an arm at the despised building. “You’re right about that, Death, people wouldn’t stand for that. The can barely stand taxes as it is. So I asked Order for a favor; I asked her to be reborn.”

“You can ask Order for favors?” Death pondered. “Wait, what? How did you talk Order into being reborn and why?”

The little girl put her arms behind her back and slung her head low. “Because no one loves me, Death.”

“If you haven’t noticed, I’m not high on people’s top ten lists,” Death gestured towards himself.

The girl’s cherub chin raised. “Maybe you’re not loved, Death, but you’re respected.  And if you’re not respect, you’re feared. And that’s just it; you’re well regarded regardless of the context. And, you do your job well and able to go home and sleep soundly at night. Me? I’m universally loathed. I’m a burden. The only people I can get to pay their taxes without a litany of swear words are people who produce an unusually consistent and high amount of dopamine and serotonin in their bodies.”

“So what’s this?” Death questioned waving his hands up and down Taxes’ embodiment, “A makeover? You think people are going to be more willing to pay their taxes if a little girl whispers in their ear?”

The little girl turned towards the IRS building and brought praying hands to her lips. “I do. Commissioning George Harrison to write Taxman was an experiment. No one but a complete asshole can hate a Beatles song. So the song wound up a minor hit even though it was about someone people hate dealing with. It’s not going to be easy but in time I’ll change people’s minds about paying taxes. I mean, if Christians can turn the fertility god Pan into the devil, I can change peoples’ perception of taxes. I want people to at least understand the necessity of taxes.”

“Eh, Life and Death are necessary. I thought your existence was contingent upon Life,” Death said.

“And your existence isn’t? Death is only necessary because of Life and of those two things only Death is certain. Of course, the only other thing that is certain is Taxes,” the little girl explained. “I’m not primary like yourself, but I am necessary. Order gets it; he understands the necessity of taxes. Without taxes there’d be more chaos. And you know Order hates Chaos. That guy’s like a bull in a china shop.”

“That’s what I said!” Death enjoined. “But wait, how are taxes necessary in preventing chaos?”

Taxes turned her head towards Death. “Think of all the things taxes pay for. Infrastructure, police and firefighters, education, parks, libraries, social and health programs, science research. The list is long.”

“You left out the military,” Death noted sourly.

“I didn’t want to bring up all the overtime you work,” Taxes answered solemnly. “But all the other things I mentioned contribute to order. They minimize chaos. Even in funding the military, it’s not like war is happening all the time. The standing armies taxes pay for actually keep people from fighting too much.”

“Hmm,” Death sounded. “I never considered you a force of nature before but you make a good point. Your intentions seem to be honorable at any rate.”

“They are!” Taxes slumped with insistence. “Sure, some people corrupt what I stand for. Sure, my nature practically invites corruption. And I can’t help the universe’s tendency towards chaos. But dammit, man, we’ve got to try!”

Death patted the girl on both shoulders and got her to stand up straight. He looked around worried that a force of nature might be seen suffering a moment of weakness having forgotten no one can see them. “C’mon, c’mon, pull yourself together. You’re falling apart like the U.S. tax code. If you’re going to pull this off you’re going to need to toughen up. I’ll…I’ll even help if I can.”

“You will?” Taxes asked with a glint of water in her eyes.

“Yeah, sure,” Death answered while shaking his head ‘no.’ He wanted to say no – it’s what people expected of Death – but even he wanted to be seen as the good guy. He capitulated. “Sure, whatever you need.”

“That’s great!” Taxes jumped up and clapped “‘Cause I need a place to stay. I hear you’ve got a really nice house. And you’ve got a butler, too.”

Instant regret, not nearly as good as the worst instant coffee Death thought. “What’s wrong with your place?” Death probed cautiously.

“Oh, it’s just that it’s really big and gaudy, covered in gold leaf and studded with diamonds. I had to sell it as part of the makeover. Order insisted and I guess I see his point.”

“Okay, okay,” Death relented. “But this does not mean we’re a team. And there’s going to be some ground rules. The butler is actually useless so you have to swear you’re going to help keep Life and her dirty hippie feet out of the house. And no parties; I’ve seen what U.S. Republican senators do when they get together for a convention. And if you need a tool, just ask. I’ve got a toolbox. Don’t go spending a hundred-thousand dollars on a wrench. If you want to do this makeover right, you’ve got to be responsible.”

Death led Taxes down the street, still talking, still spouting rules. As she followed, Taxes thought about how she was in the lake because she asked a priest to wash away her sins, but the priest had a hard time getting the stink off and nearly drowned her. She rolled her eyes behind Death’s back, karma playing itself out to maintain balance, and thus order, in the universe.

 

All Rights Reserved © November 2018 John J Vinacci

Philosophy: A Comedic Play

Philosophy: A Comedic Play

[Author’s note: I wrote this play for a class back in 2009 when I was a fledgling Philosophy major. I had something to say about how ridiculous Rene Descartes’ philosophy was which I can’t believe few people at the time saw. As with most old, famous dead people, Descartes had a good PR agent and I reluctantly admit he got due credit for writing his thoughts about thoughts down. I suppose modern epistemology had to start somewhere.]

(Twilight Zone music plays)

Rod Serling Submitted for your approval, two of the world’s most renowned philosophers, French mathematician Rene Descartes and the prominent Ancient Greek, Socrates. Scientists armed with advanced technology have brought the two men into the future to instruct at The Hall of Great Philosophers. What will happen when Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’ crosses paths with Socrates humble remark, “All I know is that I know nothing”?

Descartes (Flipping through an anatomy book) Hmm, I appears I was wrong about the pineal gland. (Appearing thoughtful) Perhaps the cerebellum is the mind-brain interface.

Socrates (Approaching) Descartes? Rene Descartes, it is you! How wonderful. I have met many wonderful philosophers here as of late but it is you whom I have wanted to meet most of all.

Descartes And you are the famous Athenian, Socrates. How interesting that we should meet, being that we are the most famous men of our respective eras. Do please excuse me if I appear skeptical regarding the reality of this encounter, though. (Snarkily) Perceptions are unreliable, after all.

Socrates Ah, yes, I’ve read your work and that is why I am anxious to talk to you. I have reservations with some of your ideas. All of them, in fact.

Descartes (looking around cautiously) Between you and me, sir, in my defense I was trying to spare my head the indignity of being separated from my shoulders. A contemporary of mine, Galileo, spent time in jail for challenging official Church doctrine.

Socartes I’m afraid I know how he feels. At least I think I do.

Descartes Well in thinking you do, at least you can rest assured that you exist. That is a conclusion I stand by and am justly famous for – Cogito ergo sum.

Socrates Yes. (Pause) Out of curiosity, do you find your conclusion about the pineal gland as satisfying?

Descartes I don’t see how it is relevant but it seems I was wrong on that account.

Socrates Exactly, Rene. Now, if we are to believe you could be wrong regarding the simple matter of the pineal gland, might we suspect you could be wrong regarding more important matters?

Descartes Do you mean to question the reliability of ‘Cogito ergo sum’ Socrates? I’m afraid you’ll find my conclusion unassailable. It is exactly because I can make a conclusion that my conclusion about the mind is correct. If I am thinking, I must exist.

Socrates Unless you do not exist. If only I existed and you were my imagination but did not know you were my imagination, you would be incorrect. Don’t you agree?

Descartes (Getting irritated) You are playing with words, Socrates. Do you wish me to call you a Sophist? If only you existed, my argument would still be true for yourself. Without existence – my mind, your mind – would not be capable of experiencing thought. Therefore, the mind exists.

Socrates Let’s speak of your malicious demon then, the one you wrote of in Meditations. Are you saying it is plausible that this demon may deceive you in all matters except for the matter of being able to deceive you? Surely you mean this.

Descartes I do.

Socrates If I may, in postulating this demon, it appears to me you terribly underestimate this entity, for surely they may be the cleverest of time keepers.

Descartes I’m not sure I follow.

Socrates It is a fact, I’m sure you’ll agree, that all of your experiences – especially the fundamental experience of thoughts – can only take place because of time. Without the passing of time, you would not be able to formulate the thoughts that lead you to ‘Cogito ergo sum.’ Your conclusion is based on the culmination of perceptions, prior knowledge, memories, which you admit in Meditations can be manipulated with malicious intent.

Descartes It is the fact that you experience anything at all, whether one is fooled in the process or not, that indicates that I, as a thinking thing, exists. (Frustrated) Is that so difficult to understand?

Socrates Have you stopped to consider what would happen if this demon of yours ran time in a backwards fashion? Would that devilish trick cause you to unthink yourself, leading you away from your conclusion? What if this demon could stop time and begin it anew at their convenience? Your mind wouldn’t be aware that it had been stopped. In what sense then would your mind exist if it cannot think? How do you say, “I do not think, therefore I am not,” in French?

Descartes (Slowly) Yes, yes, I am beginning to understand why your countrymen sentenced you to death.

Socrates You have come to a certain conclusion by arbitrarily limiting the powers of your demon. But if you grant your demon the powers I suggest, then your conclusion about your mind – your self – is cast in doubt. I think it reasonable at this point to conclude that none of us really knows anything, least of all that we are thinking things.

Descartes (Rubbing his temples) Would you agree with my conclusion if only for the sake of practicality, Socrates? My conclusions are how the world appears, after all.

Socrates A perception that you know may be wrong, Rene. What practicality is there in that?

Descartes (Annoyed) If I didn’t know better, and I may not, I would say you are my Cartesian Demon. I’m going back to 1641 to give it some more thought. You can stay here in the future, Socrates, where I’m the father of modern philosophy, by the way. Oh, and here’s a pen. Write something down once in a while.

Socrates Oh, don’t be upset, Rene. Let’s share a drink before you go. Some hemlock, perchance? No? Well, give my regards to Galileo. (Turning around) Friedrich Nietzsche, is that you? I’ve heard so much about you…

 

All Rights Reserved © 2009 John J Vinacci

Moo-ed For A Day

Moo-ed For A Day

“I think it speaks, Betsy!” the blunt-horned space-cow mooed. The inter-dimensional space traveler turned its black-marbled eyes towards its colleague then back to the skinned ape shrinking in its cage.

“I thought it only uttered a sound when we prodded it with our electric sticks, Clarabelle,” Betsy replied. The elephant-sized bovine lowered her head towards the plump human in his cage. “Yes. It speaks primitive words but they are easily figured out. How curious.”

“It says something over and over again. Let’s take a closer listen,” Clarabelle petitioned. She leaned an orange-haired ear towards their captive.

“Is it…is it saying ‘You can’t eat me’?” Betsy looked to Clarabelle for confirmation.

“Why yes it is! Curiouser and curiouser. I know it’s taboo to abase ourselves by speaking such a primitive language, but I just have to ask it.” Clarabelle looked back at Betsy for some unspoken permission. Betsy grimaced out the side of her mouth then nodded.

Clarabelle’s hooves stepped towards the ape-thing’s cage. The animal was much smaller than herself and of course, very stupid, so she wasn’t afraid to approach it.

“Why do you speak, tall monkey? Why do you say we cannot eat you?” Clarabelle cocked her head.

“Because you can’t! I won’t taste good. I eat junk food. I don’t exercise. And it’d just be wrong. You see, I’m a human and I’m an intelligent animal. You can’t go around eating other intelligent animals,” it said. Clarabelle and Betsy laughed at that last bit. They laughed well.

“Betsy, did it just say it was an intelligent animal?” Betsy was still laughing so hard she couldn’t answer through her tears.

“Forgive us, hairless ape-something, but does your species travel between dimensions? Has your species ever been further than your moon? Your species hasn’t even reconciled quantum mechanics and gravity yet!” Clarabelle chuckled. “Why would we eat you anyway?”

“Oh. Oh, I thought this was some kind of revenge thing,” the self-described human answered timidly. “You know, we eat your kind so you show up from outer space and eat us to teach us a lesson.” Clarabelle and Betsy looked at each other, paused, then gasped.

“What do you mean ‘we eat your kind’? Are there others like us on this planet?” the elephantine bovine growled.

“We…we, uh, have animals on this planet that look a lot like you, ‘cept they’re smaller and they’re usually white and black, or brown. We call them ‘cows.’”

“And you eat them?” Clarabelle was incredulous. “WHY?”

“I…I don’t know,” the man said stepping back. “We’ve always eaten them, I guess. They taste good and…and we need the protein.” The man could back up no further.

Clarabelle squinted. “You said you do not exercise so what do you need the protein for?”

“I dunno,” the primitive hurried. “That’s what they tell us.”

“And who are ‘they’?” the space-cow wanted to know.

“I don’t know. The meat industry, I suppose.” The man wrung his fingers. “They’re a very powerful lobby!”

“Let me get this straight,” Betsy began as she too approached the cage. “You have animals on this planet that look like us and you eat them for pleasure and this is a regular thing?”

“And we eat them for the protein! Don’t forget the protein!” The human was close to sobbing.

Clarabelle brought a hoof to her head and squeezed her eyes shut. “Hold on, hold on. So…a minute ago you said you were afraid we were going to eat you? If we were going to eat you, what exactly would be wrong with that?”

“Like I said,” the man quivered, “We’re intelligent! It’s wrong for intelligent animals to eat each other.”

“Your species is far from intelligent, biped,” Betsy piped. “Your failure to account for the multitude of intelligences that exist among living things is confirmation of your breathtaking stupidity. Honestly now.” Betsy shook her head towards Clarabelle who looked like she was experiencing a migraine.

“Are you okay, Clarabelle?” she asked.

“I was just scanning the few neurons this thing has.” Clarabelle opened her eyes and stomped her hoof on the ground. “They call themselves ‘humans’ and they have a long history of, of, of harvesting other animals and slaughtering them for food, if you can believe that! And, sometimes they even kill each other but they don’t eat those people. So inefficient…”

The man had crept forward in his pen and with trepidation asked, “So you weren’t planning to eat me?”

“Well I think we will now,” Clarabelle snarled. “It seems you would qualify as Kobe meat to us? You’re your appearance indicates you will be very tender. You will melt in our mouths!”

“But intelligence…” the man drew back as Clarabelle bumped the cage with her nose.

“In scanning your memories, there is the headline you read about all the animals your scientists think are as intelligent as a four year old human. Do you raises four year old children of your kind for the purpose of eating them? No? Why not; you are more intelligent than they are. Using intelligence as a defense is not intelligent at all, it is completely arbitrary! But eating solely for pleasure, we hadn’t thought of doing that, probably because we are not stupid!” Clarabelle was rocking the cage with her horns now.

“Clarabelle, we mustn’t stoop to their low level,” Betsy protested in the human language. “Let this thing go like we always do. We had just caught it for fun, remember?”

“See! See, you guys like to have fun, too!” The man thought he had just secured victory.

Clarabelle grinned. “We do, human. But we do not kill other animals for the sake of that pleasure.”

“We just catch and release,” Betsy confirmed. “A small tase at first, sure, but no lasting harm done.”

The man threw himself at Clarabelle’s face and gripped the cage bars. “Oh thank god! That’s so kind of you. Yes, release me and I will tell my people to stop eating cows, that it’s not a smart thing to do.”

“The history of your kind, such as you know it, means you know your words will fall on deaf ears, human,” Clarabelle said. She looked back at Betsy. “You do realize that if we don’t punish this thing they will continue their ways. It seems they are not very good from learning from mistakes but they do change their behavior when their lives are at risk. On occasion, anyway.”

“We cannot kill other living things, Clara!” Betsy gulped.

“Nothing like that, Betsy, we are far above that. But we will get revenge for our distant cousins I think. You see, this monkey-brain also saw a headline about an insect whose bite causes humans to become allergic to meat. We’ll investigate this further. If such a thing exists, human,” Clarabelle snorted into the cage, “We are going to make sure you all get bitten by it.”

The man simply frowned. “Well that’s not fair.”

“The universe cares not, you bald ape!” Clarabelle declared. “If you don’t care about other living things, why should the universe care about you?”

“This isn’t fun anymore,” Betsy said. “Can we go now?”

“Yes, Bets. We’ll leave this dumb thing here for his brethren to find. They won’t believe what he’s seen while we go find this insect.” Clarabelle turned and bumped the cage with her hind quarters. “GOT MILK?” she laughed.

The caged animal took a wallet out of his back pocket, slipped out a McDonald’s gift card and stared at it before weeping like a baby for hours.

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Once Beyond A Time

Once Beyond A Time

The experiment is a success. It is also a failure, Pari scribbled before the pencil broke. She’d moved it too fast, breaking it through sheer speed of movement. “And now I am alone,” she added in her raspy voice. She looked up and waited for the analog clock’s second hand to move. Pari abandoned the task; it’d be another ten minutes before the clock would move. She could try making another entry in her lab journal instead.

She picked up her third pencil, slowly as she could. She had to slow herself down, far below the crawl of a snail, or risk never writing anything ever again. Could it be done? The Indian scientist didn’t know but as a scientist had to see. After a quarter hour of painstakingly picking up the pencil and bringing it to paper, the woman began to etch I would not change what “I’ve attempted to do here,” she finished her thought verbally having left a burn mark on the paper.

Pari Bahl had been hired by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to create unique strains of crop that would grow at incredibly advanced rates thereby helping to feed the world. That was their pitch to her anyway. Dr. Bahl was wise to reality, though; she knew it was bullshit but the company’s resources would allow her conduct the work she wanted without raising any eyebrows. That is if you considered a physicist working for a pharmaceutical company normal to begin with.

Pari Bahl considered nothing normal after the incident. Five months into her Masters program she was assaulted by a colleague and summarily dismissed by police in her country who did little or nothing to stem a rape culture. Overpowered and overlooked, her research was going finally put women at a physical advantage, make them faster than any man alive. Pari was going to make men inferior.

“I knew I was going to end up alone as a result of this,” she spoke into a microphone. She’d managed to dictate the note to a laptop without breaking it but knew that unless someone had the good sense to dramatically slow down the recording, her voice would appear as a high pitched blip among persistent white noise. Most of her co-workers were men; they’d never figure it out.

“I knew I’d end up alone as a result of my work. I know many of my countrywomen – and maybe many women around the world – would defend the old ways if I’d succeeded here. And I know no man would understand once holding the high ground then having their physical advantage torn from their bosom.” She chuckled at her choice of words before falling silent for a few moments. It was the most remotely funny thing she’d said in a long time.

Though she’d never done a scientific survey, Pari was sure there would still be scores of women who’d sign up for her program, to become the heralds of the future. But they were beyond her reach now. Dr. Bahl couldn’t work her instruments with any precision, unable to so much as punch a button without it taking a virtual eternity or smashing it and nearly breaking a finger in the process. (The fingers of her right hand were crumpled in black-and-blue pain. It had taken her several attempts before it dawned on her what had happened after her space-time dilator fired early, before she had time to clear the testing range.)

“I am in the future and they are in the past,” she spoke to someone maybe a millennia from the present. “They are all behind me,” Pari explained as she noticed the clock’s second hand move a third time in the last half-hour.

“This is not the power I wanted to wield. It’s uncontrolled. I’m moving too fast. If I were to kiss my own mother’s hand, I would break it. It might even kill her. Killing is not my intent. I just wanted to put men where they have put women for thousands of years.” Pari looked up at the clock again, drew a light breath that rustled some papers, and reflected. “Maybe that is the same as death?” she wondered.

The scientist watched the clock, waiting for the second hand to move again. It seemed to be taking more time than usual. She was sure it was. It had to be at least another half hour now of listening to her own breath, just waiting, just waiting with nothing but nothing to fill the void.

The tick of the clock startled her from her meditation on time. Maybe the rest of the world had slowed down and I have not sped up? she questioned herself. It didn’t matter, she concluded; the result was the same. She was in the company of photons now, imperceptible unless she interacts with matter. She could make her presence known but she’d either die in the process or be considered a ghost, a poltergeist they might say in German. Again, death or a ghost; same difference.

Dr. Bahl sat down in her lab chair, still as could be, long as could be. Maybe she could sit still long enough for her image to be seen by the world she rushed by. But as her local time accelerated, she withered to dust on an air conditioned breeze, too far into the future to be considered by a world perpetually sitting still.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

God and the Caveats

God and the Caveats

“There are some caveats,” God then coughed into his hand.

Moments ago, God had appeared in skies around the world, parting the clouds in some areas and obscuring the sun in others. Though the shock came to many unbelievers, believers where just as shocked to lay their eyes upon a god who was nothing like they imagined. This is not to say that God was physically indescribable, rather that God deliberately misrepresented and obscured the image of himself to his various believers because their minds could not handle the truth of God’s appearance. (This is to say that human interpretations of God are so wildly off the mark, the blow to the human ego would cause madness.)

God had come to announce, in a surprisingly coarse voice, that he was going on vacation. “I am going on vacation,” he said. “Now, I know what you’re thinking; why does God need to go on vacation? A good question, yes, a good question until you realize how much work looking after a universe is. Anyway, I’m going on vacation – you needn’t know where to since you wouldn’t understand…I mean that literally; you wouldn’t understand – I’m going on vacation and, uh, I don’t really have anyone I feel comfortable looking over the Earth until I get back. Stu was on the fast-track to management until that whole sexual harassment thing with Wynonna,” God trailed off.

He refocused and made a piece of paper suddenly appear in his hand. “Ahem! So I’m going on vacation and leaving you all in charge of yourselves until I get back.” A young priest stepped forward and began to open his mouth only to be rebuffed.

“Ah, ah, ah. I know what you’re thinking – I always know what you’re thinking – ‘who is going to answer all the prayers?’ The answer is that ALL prayers will be answered in my absence. All of them.”

God brought what seemed to be a pair of glasses to his head and looked down at the paper he held. “There are some caveats,” God then coughed into his hand.

“All prayer will be answered except for any prayers asking for the following…”

God took a long pause. It made everyone uncomfortable. Exactly his plan.

“Do not pray for your family and friend’s good health. Good health is a personal responsibility and you shouldn’t be asking me to make someone healthy. If you want your family and friends to be healthy, get them to dial back on all the red meat. It’s bad for you; the science backs me up on this. Besides, it’s really sickening how you farm those animals. Anyway…

“Do not pray for the souls of the dead. They’re fine – everyone is fine – they’re in their various heavens doing I only know. The heavens have great social networks as the dead are with their dead family and friends, so relax. You’ll see your loved ones in heaven soon enough. (I don’t mean soon soon for most of you, but, uh, Helen Bonham, you should maybe get your affairs in order…

“Do not pray for your football team to win. This goes for any sports team, actually. I really don’t care who wins. I gave all of you the tools to gain and refine certain skills. Use them and take joy in what you’ve accomplished. So don’t thank me after a victory. Have a little pride. Yes, yes, I know many of you think the Bible says pride’s a sin, but it actually says ‘snide’ is a sin. Not sure how that got lost in translation…

“Do not pray for your enemy’s demise or religious conversion, especially if it involves violence. You are all my children. Do you really think I enjoy watching you fight? Do you enjoy watching your own children fight? If you do, you are demented. Sure, it’s reasonable for you to want, say, an evil person to be caught or put to death, but I’ve got something for those people. Let me do the heavy lifting on that. Realize I never ever answer prayers for an enemy’s demise, so stop asking…

“Let’s see, what else do I have here? Do not pray for wealth or extra money. When you think about how often this doesn’t work, I’m surprised you all do this as often as you do. You can pray that you land a job if you’re out of work, but be mindful to be careful what you wish for. Remember, beggars can’t be choosers…

“Do not pray to find love. Love will find you and it comes in many forms. What do you think I made chocolate for? Ah, but you think you can’t have a relationship with chocolate, that you can’t find companionship with chocolate. Sometime you humans have to stop and think about how picky you’re being. Along similar lines, do not pray to make a failing relationship work. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. Just dump the motherfucker already…

“Do not pray for something to not happen or pray against the wishes of someone else. This happens more often than you think and every time it does, something in the universe explodes. First, I put a lot of work into making all the heavenly objects and second, I don’t like all the noise. It also makes a mess. I had to create black holes just to tidy things up. Save me a little work, would ya…

“Do not pray for the impossible. I made certain things impossible for a reason. Stop questioning my judgement…”

“Finally, you may not pray for any loopholes in these caveats. Like any rule I’ve laid out before, there are no loopholes. My rules are self-explanatory; stop it with the Sophistry and trying to figure out ways around them, okay? Okay. I think that’s it. I’ll be gone for two weeks. I expect everything around here to be in working order when I get back or I’m taking all the chocolate away. ALL of it. I take every last bit away and there’ll be no praying for me to give it back. Alright, my cab is here, a little early, too. I guess prayers do work. Who knew?”

 

All Rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

Blammo and The Abandoned City

Blammo and The Abandoned City

Blammo took a big gulp as he stopped outside the towering ivory gate doors chiseled with the reliefs of legends. To one side, Hobbes, Calvin’s erstwhile stuffed tiger and faithful companion. The other gate was carved with the likeness of that spectral troublemaker from Family Circus, Not Me. Hobbes and Not Me were depicted as reaching towards each other, seeking to embrace the only thing they had left after being forgotten in the wake of time. Welcome to The Abandoned City.

The Abandoned City was the last refuge of imaginary friends and there were two things you could do here – one could rent an apartment and watch reruns of their adventures until they faded away, totally forgotten, never to be recollected. Or, one could choose the path of their human counterparts and grow up, whatever that meant. Blammo didn’t care much for option number one; he was literally conceived as an action hero. So it would have to be option two. Blammo just had to open the gate.

He figured he could blast the doors open with the mega-explosion pistol that was faithfully strapped to his thigh. Then again, growing up probably meant you didn’t do those kinds of things anymore. Blammo only figured this because of the dwindling adventures Jimmy took him on and so took his palm off the pistol’s grip. After all, it’s not like he couldn’t unholster the pistol faster than any other imaginary friend there ever was should the need arise. Whatever lay on the other side of this entrance, Blammo could handle it. He parted the gate doors with his entirely fictional calloused hands.

“Welcome to The Abandoned City! I’m Patrick,” a pint-sized pink elephant announced. “We’ve been expecting you. Here are your supplies.” The short-statured pachyderm shoved a pencil case and a Spiderman lunchbox into Blammo’s arms and spun him towards the right with its trunk. “Just up ahead is school. Hurry along now.”

“School?” Blammo questioned. “There’s where Jimmy started going. That’s when he started to forget me. But I don’t understand what school is. What is ‘school’?”

“School is where you go to learn things,” Patrick informed.

“I thought that’s what the internet was for,” Blammo returned.

“Honestly now,” Patrick bristled, “And what will you know if the wifi is down and you’ve used up all your data for the month? We all go to school just in case there’s something Siri or Alexa can’t answer for you. It’s also where you can make real friends, well, real imaginary friends in our case.” The little pink elephant pushed Blammo along with its stubby foot.

And so Blammo went off to school, learning how to add and subtract which seemed rather useless considering his mega-explosion pistol held an infinite number of bullets. But the more he learned, the more he forgot about his pistol. He began to forget about Jimmy, too.

Throughout these formative school years, Blammo naturally excelled at gym class. His agility and endurance were astounding; running, leaping, tucking, and tumbling better than anyone. Of course, his aim was impeccable and this catapulted him to captain of the basketball team by junior high. His prowess even made the prim-and-proper Little Miss Teacup swoon.

After a brief courtship – drunken sex in which they took each other’s virginity – Blammo dumped Little Miss Teacup in favor of Penny Punchbowl. She didn’t last long any longer. Bianca, Lar’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Flutter Nutter also fell in quick succession. Sometime Blammo would feel bad that he used all these young ladies but it seemed his behavior was expected of him. While on occasion it felt like some vague kind of oppression that athletes should behave as rogues, nerds had to dress as if their mothers had chosen their clothes for them in the dark while hipsters were required to wear the latest trends, oh, and don’t forget that stoners had to act slow and forgetful, Blammo avoided trying to make sense of the whole ‘growing up’ thing by drinking cheap beer and belching as loud as he could. It was what the athletes did.

Eventually, the high school championship game came. It was the biggest basketball game of the year, always between the same two teams seeing how there were only two in the entire league – The Abandoned City Rollers and the Island of Forgotten Toys Tigers. In a freak accident – some claim Wendy the Good Witch had put a hex on him – Blammo caught his ankle around Charlie in the Box’s neck during a routine lay-up, breaking his shin bone in five places. He was never going to play basketball again. He’d never be as fast or nimble as before. The former adventurer still had great aim, though, but it wasn’t enough to get him a scholarship for college much less into the pros. Athletics behind him, Blammo was going to have to start taking knowing things seriously.

And so one day Blammo was in his Philosophy of Harry Potter class, not listening, staring out the window at an old tree. Remember the days he’d climb and swing from the long branches of trees like that! Over hot lava and pits of dragons, ready to fight his way out of being surrounded by toothy, tentacled aliens toting laser guns. Ah, that was so long ago. But it was so much fun! Hmph! Then Blammo had chosen to grow up when he could’ve just faded away like the smarter imaginary friends. Figures; Blammo had never been good at making choices. He was good with his mega-explosion pistol, though. Maybe. It’d been a long time since he’d pulled that trigger.

“Blammo! Are you paying attention?” Mrs. Otterpants bleated from the head of the classroom.

Blammo recoiled at the sound of his name, his palm releasing the grip on his mega-explosion pistol much like on the day he entered The Abandoned City. His shoulders went slack and his eyes drooped as Mrs. Otterpants suggested – in no uncertain terms – that he visit his academic counselor. Right now. Like, right. Now.

Patrick, the Pink Elephant, sat Blammo down at his desk. “Haven’t seen you in some time, Blammo. You were doing so well. With the basketball, I mean. I think you could have gone pro. Anyway, Mrs. Otterpants called down to say you’ve been inattentive lately. Is there anything I can help you with?” Patrick shoveled some peanuts into his mouth with the end of his trunk and munched loudly.

Blammo cast his eyes down, ashamed to say what he’d been feeling. “I miss shooting my pistol.”

Patrick leaned back. Ground up peanuts fell out of his mouth as his jaw dropped. “Well, you just can’t do that anymore. You’re growing up. And grown-ups don’t go on adventures. They don’t go off shooting their pistols anytime they want. Now I’m sorry about your ankle; that little dream is dead. But now you’re going to finish college, go out into the real world, get a job that pays you short of what you’re worth, spend entirely too much time working that job, and put money away for retirement instead of taking too much time off of work so that you don’t hate work.”

Blammo looked up with squinted eyes. “What’s retirement?”

Patrick leaned forward and put the flats of his feet together. “Oh, retirement is when you’ve grown old and don’t have to work anymore because as we age we get slow and crotchety. Understandably, younger people, younger workers, don’t like to be around senior citizens. The good news is that when you retire you get to do all the things you wanted to do when you were younger but didn’t have time to because you were working.”

Blammo head went full askew. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the things you really want when you’re younger? I’ve already lost a step after breaking my ankle; wouldn’t I be even slower when I’m old?” the young man questioned. “How am I going to jump clear of a lava pit when I’m 65?”

“Uh,” the pink elephant stammered, “I don’t think you understand. There are no more lava pits. No more dragons. No more villainous aliens. Those things don’t exist for us anymore. That was all imaginary. We’ve grown up.”

“I think growing up sucks!” Blammo erupted. He snapped to attention, his palm fastening around his mega-explosion pistol. He kept the pistol holstered but his whole arm was shaking. Patrick didn’t seem too concerned.

“Oh, growing up isn’t so bad. Why, after you get your job, you’ll marry someone you’ll love for seven to ten years, then rediscover the thrill of love with your neighbor’s wife. Then the day will come you’re really excited by that new car smell after you wreck whatever lease you’ve been driving for five years. Eventually, you’ll savor nights alone by yourself, with nothing to keep you company but your taxes until it’s time to go back to work the next day. It’s just what’s expected of you,” Patrick shrugged. It was only when he stopped blabbering that the rosy pachyderm noticed Blammo’s pistol to his head.

“I would advise you not to pull that trigger, Blammo,” Patrick offered with the barest hint of concern. The trigger clicked anyway. The hammer fell. No explosion. Not even a whimper out of the pistol’s barrel. Blammo brought the pistol towards his face, confused.

“Your imagination is dead, impotent if you will, Blammo. See, it’s one of those use-it-or-lose-it kind of things. Very common, happens to everyone. Nothing to be ashamed of.” The academic adviser whom everyone sees eventually in an attempt to ignore reality held out the flat of his foot. “The pistol, if you’d be so kind.”

All the blood had left Blammo’s face. Stunned, he ever so slowly placed his mega-explosion pistol in Patrick’s care. It was expected of him. Blammo shuffled from side to side as he turned around to face the exit, his eyes coal dead.

“That’s it, be a fine young man and get back to class,” Patrick coaxed. “Pay attention now. You need to know things. Chin up! It’s the first day of the rest of your life.” The student almost out the door, the diminutive flush-fleshed mammal placed Blammo’s pistol in his desk drawer.

Two decades later, Blammo was sitting in his recliner, flipping television channels in the late evening. (That’s what was expected of you when you had insomnia.) On the 126th channel, Blammo stumbled across a cartoon called Puff, the Magic Dragon. “Stupid,” Blammo muttered. “Dragons aren’t real and if they were they’d be dangerous,” he illuminated the threadbare walls. Of course dragons aren’t real; that’s what grownups expect. And Blammo was a grownup. He turned off the television. He’d already turned off his mind.

Eventually, Blammo began to nod off. The usual dreams – deadlines at work, his wife screaming at him for another stupid mistake – made him flit and jerk as he slipped off into deep sleep. Then…

A CRY FOR HELP! Was it some new nightmare,? The voice, it sounded familiar, long ago, but familiar. The cry for help came again. No. No, no, no. This was not his imagination. Blammo had heard that cry before, in some distant memory. It sounded like…like…my god, what was his name?

Jimmy! His name was Jimmy. And he was in trouble.

Blammo didn’t bother opening the front door. He exploded through it, no pistol required, to bring hope back into the dark of night.

 

All rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?

“Where do you get your story ideas?”

Writers get this question a lot in relation to their fiction. The answer, of course, varies though I do think most of the time story ideas come from something a writer wants to say. (Well, at least until they learn to write what is marketable seeing how the two usually do not coincide.)

Story ideas come from many places. Myself, I get story ideas from other stories. I often get that “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” line breeze through my mind while I’m reading or watching something else. For me, I enjoy writing stories with a twist or try to turn convention on its head as I absolutely hate tropes. On the other hand, an idea often just pops into my head. It’s kind of sad to say I don’t have a muse to inspire me, at least not one I’m aware of.

I’ve heard other writers say it but I do not get any of my ideas from my dreams. As bizarre as they may be sometimes, my dreams aren’t usually compelling enough or coherent enough to tell a good story. Besides, life can be bizarre enough on its own if you let it. Nor do writing prompts usually work for me, I guess because I don’t like being told what to do. But, that’s me.

Where do you get your story ideas from? I’d like to know.