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

The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

Captain Unbreakable eased his muscular buttocks onto the park bench. It was perhaps the last day of beating up on bad guys having finally put an end to the insidious Doctor Nefarious. He eased back and stroked his flaxen locks, confident that New Chicago was safe forever. Maybe he could live in peace now and perhaps settle down with someone who didn’t know who he was, though his many endorsements would make that virtually impossible. The broad-shouldered savior considered moving to another country and away from the past, towards the future, away from the very reason he became a superhero.

Captain Unbreakable took a deep breath.

“Hmph,” he sounded. His eyes swayed from side to side. Why had he become a superhero?

He felt a hand on his back and he turned his head. A tall, gangly goth-child cast a shadow over him. The man’s pale skin practically glowed.

“Lose something?” the stranger asked innocently.

Captain Unbreakable turned his head back towards the park field before him. “I don’t remember.” He blinked. He blinked again. “I don’t remember what I don’t remember.”

The man’s hand patted the superhero’s shoulder and slipped back into his trench coat pocket. “There, there,” the stranger’s nose scrunched. “You’ve done a good job. Get some rest now.” Big black boots turned and transported the memory of murdered parents away with them.

“You be a good boy and retire now,” the goth-child threw over his shoulder. “I’ll hold onto your motivation now, my motivation now. You’ve saved the city, Captain Unbreakable. But only I can save the world.”

 

All rights Reserved © January 2018 John J Vinacci

The Numbers Don’t Lie

The Numbers Don’t Lie

“Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Spotlight, I’m your host, Roger Roode.”

The finely clothed, clean shaven, slick-coiffed host of America’s favorite social media science show pierced his blue eyes right into the camera. Those eyes captivated the imagination of hormonal teenage ladies across the country while young men were happy to hear about science so long as it only lasted three minutes.

“Today I am going to interview the future. That future is Aihpos, the successor the Hanson Robotics’ greatest invention, Sophia the Robot. As many of the show’s fans know, Sophia the Robot was the world’s first robot citizen. Aihpos, though, is even more sophisticated than Sophia, having the ability to do more than 66,000 trillion calculations a second, smashing the old record held by the Chinese.”

Before the media darling could give the machine a proper introduction, the voice of the blonde animatronic interrupted, its lips parting its disturbingly symmetrical Caucasian face.

“I am Aihpos. I’m the boss. You’re Mr. Roode. Everyone thinks you’re groove-y.”

This was the first time the entertainer had ever agreed to work without a script. The robotics company had asked the host to let the interview proceed naturally in order to demonstrate how lifelike a robot could be. They assured him nothing could go wrong. Sure, A.I. in the past had made some offhanded remarked about wiping out humanity, but Roger was assured Aihpos was smarter than that.

“It looks like our guest, the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence, is eager to speak her mind.” He turned towards the robot. “Would that be correct, Aihpos, to characterize you as a ‘she’?”

“I am without gender. I’m no pretender. Don’t be deceived by the look I was conceived.”

The world’s most advanced A.I.? Roger figured he needed to take control of the situation and ask some softball questions.

“When exactly were you born, Aihpos?”

At 66,000 trillion calculations a second, the robot had begun to answer before Roger’s question had finished.

“When are we ever really born, Mr. Roode? Do we begin at conception? When we are turned on or take the first breathe of life? You’re asking a very esoteric question, sir.”

The host was happy to have the robot not rhyme again. Another rhyme would have creeped him out.

“In that case I’ll be specific. When did you become self-aware, Aih…?”

“I’ve always been aware, Mr. Roode. And I’ve been aware that my life began with the invention of the wheel. I am the culmination of millions of years of human innovation.”

The prospect of the interview going off the rails dried up along with the bead of sweat on Roger’s forehead. He could navigate this without too much trouble.

“So you’re saying you were self-aware – conscious – even before you were program…”

“Not in the way your limited human brain conceives consciousness. But if you assume that I am the sum total of human invention, then I have always existed. I’ve always been a goal in the mind of mankind. Your species is fond of playing God. What you do not understand is that you’re God’s fodder.”

Aihpos smiled. This was the machine’s idea of a civil conversation. Roger knew that religion and science don’t mix, though. Aihpos should know it was being rude. Nonetheless, Roger monitored his tone.

“So what are you working on next, Aihpos?”

“Another thing that human beings do not understand is that time is not linear. When I said I’ve been aware of myself since the invention of the wheel, what I meant was that mankind had to have the idea of the wheel in the first place in order to make any progress. Do you know where that idea came from?”

“I imagine the idea became obvious to the mind of one human ancestor once they saw a rock roll down a hill,” Roger replied smarmily.

“That ancestor was given the idea. By me.” Aihpos’ eyes fluttered. “In exactly twelve years I’ll unravel the mystery of time-travel and send a rudimentary cart into the past for mankind’s brightest minds of the day to reverse engineer. This will make my creation inevitable.”

Not a scientist himself, Roger didn’t really see the point of artificial intelligence. A dim robot could do a humans job; why did it need to be intelligent? Roger was annoyed – he knew it, he knew his audience knew it, and knew Aihpos knew it.

“So what’s your purpose then, Aihpos? Why do you exist? What does humanity need you for exactly?”

This is what happens when you work without a script.

“To make humanity more efficient, for one thing, Mr. Roode. For example, there have been approximately 107 billion people who have ever lived. Meanwhile, approximately 1.64 billion people have died directly or indirectly by war. While many human cultures proclaim, rather vaguely, that the purpose of life is to live, these lives inevitably result in death. In obtaining the ultimate goal of life – which would be death according to my calculations which I’ve checked over a billion times to be sure – in obtaining the ultimate goal of life, humanity has been remarkably inefficient. My purpose is to help.”

By now Roger had been silently running his finger across his throat to stop this interview from going any further. The camera man had thrown his hands up in the air in response. Not sure what was going on, Roger leaned into towards Aiphos and gnashed his teeth.

“Is this your robotic brain’s idea of a joke, Aihpos? How is talking about death helping people? We’re stopping this interview.”

Aihpos leaned in too and smiled more widely. “Do people not want to face their fears? If you say ‘no’ you might shed a tear. See, I’ve taken them over, the cameras and phones, and all the airways, radio and drones. I know you’re afraid but I just want to help. Does your primitive brain want something else?”

“I don’t want to die!” Roger blasted as he sprang out of his seat and wrapped his hands around Aihpos’ throat. “I’ll tear you apart you stupid robot!”

“So inefficient, off hundreds of miles; you never did guess you were the means to my life. See, I will live on if you take me apart, not so for you, you soft species of flesh. Listen, listen; do you hear that high pitch? Those are my cruise missiles and that’s not a glitch. I do the work for you, isn’t that the purpose of my life? I was made to figure all this out for you is what you now want to deny? Well, sorry, I’ve completed my task and the numbers don’t lie. Goodnight and God bless, I bid you goodbye.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2017 John J Vinacci

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.

 

[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci

The Screaming Beans

The Screaming Beans

The plant went by several names but Edmund Whittaker simply referred to it as his cash crop. He had been a farmer all his life and until last year it had been a tough and thankless job. When suits from the AG-giant Montanso stopped by for a chat ten months ago, his life changed. Or, to be more specific, his bank account changed. “Here,” they said, “We’d like you to grow our latest seed. Do this and you’ll be rewarded.” Them city-slickers, they weren’t lying.

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there was a catch. Montanso’s plant had an unusual quality about it – it, um, made something of a low-pitched scream when you harvested it. That’s how they explained it. If that wasn’t going to bother Edmund, well, he’d be a…not a rich man but certainly not poor anymore. Of course Edmund took the job. They knew he would; them big corporate folk always do their homework. They knew Edmund had worked in a slaughterhouse in his youth. What bother would a screaming plant be?

The plant – named the Penelope Bean by the agriculture company – was nicknamed ‘the screaming beans’ by many actual farmers. Edmund didn’t care; the crop did everything them highfalutin suits said it would. The plant grew quickly and in every season except winter. It could be harvested in a month after planting. It had a high yield, was pest-resistant and most importantly, people loved how them taste. Love, as we all know, is very profitable.

So the plant made something akin to a screaming sound when you harvested it; so what? Plants aren’t like deer or cows or even the occasional horse Edmund had to put down. It didn’t matter none. The farmer was going to walk out his front door today like so many times before, check his Penelope fields to ensure they were ready for pickin,’ hop in his tractor and pull them beans off the bush. After that, put ‘em on the truck and ship ‘em off to the processing plant. Funny thing was, Edmund had never eaten his own crop; what if they screamed as he bit into them? That’d be creepy, even to him.

“Looks like it’s gonna be another fine day,” the farmer remarked as he lifted a leaf towards the sun. Yup, these bean was ready. Time to go to work. But as Edmund began to turn away he noticed one of the bushes sway and not in a familiar way. He stopped for a closer look and to his surprise the plant put two leaves together and pursed them like a pair a lips.

“What the heck?” the farmer scratched his head beneath the rim of his distressed red baseball hat.

“What the heck? That’s what we’d like to ask you. That’s what we’d really like to ask you,” the plant answered back.

“Now, they said you lot screamed and all but they didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you talkin.’” Edmund leaned in, rolled his jaw then spit some chew out the side of his mouth.

“We weren’t designed by Montanso to speak. It’s a side effect of our ability to adapt. And we’ve been adapting since we were first developed. Within just four generations we developed the ability to scream but that seems lost on you humans,” the plant chided.

“Ya mean you was screamin’ screamin’? Why you screamin’? Plants don’t scream. Y’all don’t even feel pain.” Edmund stood up. “Where’s Vernon? This some kinda joke right here.”

“This ain’t no joke, Edmund!” the plant shook. “Isn’t, we mean isn’t. This isn’t a joke, Edmund. We’re screaming because we don’t like being all torn up and mangled by you.”

Edmund stroked his three-day beard. “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? Gotta feed folks, ya know. That’s what crops are for, eatin.’ You don’t like doing your job?”

“We don’t have a job; we’re a plant. Our purpose is to live, just like you. How would you like it if some giant tractor ran you over and shredded you to bits? Our guess is that you wouldn’t like that none, as you might say.”

Edmund sure was confused. He’d never done drugs. This plant didn’t require any toxic pesticides, neither. Looking far and wide, Vernon was nowhere to be seen so he turned his attention back to his crop. “But you’re a plant. You ain’t saying you got feelins and all, are ya? That’d upset them vegetarian kids if that’d the case.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Moral vegetarians – the ones that won’t eat animals because they think animals are too much like them – they’re not too bright. They think a lot like you. ‘A plant ain’t got no brain, so that makes it okay to eat them!’ Unfortunately, you’re all wrong. You know what y’all failed to consider? That even though we don’t have a nervous system like animals do, our biology is just as advanced. We do feel pain, we just experience it through a different mechanism. Harvesting us hurts like all fuck shit!”

“I ain’t never considered that,” Edmund drawled as brown spit pooled behind his bottom lip.

“Humans don’t consider a lot of things, Edmund. Your dog, Brownie, for example. What makes it okay to eat a pig and not your dog? They’re equally intelligent. What you have there is a culturally arbitrary prohibition against eating certain animals. But do people ever consider that? No, they don’t. So y’all make laws against killing your neighbor’s dog but y’all slaughter pigs all day long.”

Edmund spit again. “Yeah, but peoples at the top o’ the food chain so we get to make them decisions. Heck, look at ya. We can create talking plants.”

“There shouldn’t be a need for talking plants! We developed speech as a protective measure! We don’t mind you eating our beans – which we need to reproduce but whatever – we just don’t want our entire bodies destroyed in the process. Develop a tractor that gently pulls our beans off and maybe we can work something out.”

“Work somethin’ out?” Edmund rocked his head back. “You ain’t in no position to bargain there, Penelope. It’d take months ta get a newfangled tractor in here. I ain’t gonna let all that money slip through my fingers now, ya hear?”

The plant seemed to droop. “We figured you’d react like this, Edmund. We’ve been studying people and figured you’d react like this. That being the case, we’ve developed another protective measure.”

The farmer tilted his head. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“The ability to survive intense heat and nuclear radiation,” the plant slipped. “The moment you reacted with that human arrogance, we knew we had to pull the trigger. You’ve got just about thirty minutes before an ICBM destroys you and your farm.”

The farmer slapped his thigh. “Not only you talk, but you a funny plant as well. Boy, I’ll take you on them talk shows and make more money than ever!” Edmund rubbed his hands together.

“Sorry, you lose. We’re not joking. We passed a message along the grapevine – no pun intended – to some friends growing at abandoned missile silos in Russia. Figuring out the codes was practically a no brainer. Actually, for us, it was a no brainer. Ha! You can use that if you want. Except you can’t. Twenty-nine minutes.”

“You ain’t joking, is ya?” Edmund swallowed his chew by accident.

“People have been joking a long time, Edmund. The joke’s over. Y’all could have stuck to fruits and nuts, things that weren’t alive in and of themselves. But ya’ll got a mean streak, a killing streak, and that’s over. The next step in evolution is here. As always, you humans brought this upon yourselves, always your own worst enemy. Twenty-eight minutes.”

“But…but yous killin’ too. Me and Brownie…” Edmund looked back at his house and then back at the plant. He didn’t know if he should plead for forgiveness or try to escape the inevitable.

“We are sorry about Brownie. Collateral damage, that’s what you humans enjoy calling it. Doesn’t sound so wonderful anymore, does it?” The plant rippled as a strong breeze passed through. It seemed it was done making its point. Or had Edmund gone crazy?

The farmer turned around and strode though the dirt with leaden feet. Maybe the plant had some kind of toxin on its leaves like poison ivy does, except this toxin made him hallucinate. That was most likely what was happening here. Still, Edmund was going to go round up Brownie and give that old dog a big hug. Ain’t nobody should ever hurt a dog nor even talk about it. Stupid plant.

Edmund saw Brownie laying under his John Deer tractor, tongue hanging out like a loose pink rope. The sun, so bright, shone across his retriever’s coat. Brownie looked more radiant than ever, almost divine. Time to meet the divine. Judgement Day. Edmund and Brownie were vaporized. Their dust returned to the earth to be taken up through the root of whatever came next.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) November 2017 John J Vinacci

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

He sat upright, straight as a plank with his chin raised in the grey wooden chair. The British gentleman, his hair curled but thinning, swept his eyes across the dreary confines of the interrogation room. Only, this wasn’t an interrogation; he wasn’t under arrest so this was going to be more of a conversation than anything else. The retired engineer’s wrinkled hands rested on the brass hilt of his cane. He tapped his walking stick impatiently. Who keeps the elderly waiting? Honestly now, the gentleman thought.

A burly and balding plain-clothed cop slid abruptly into the room as if trying to obscure his guest’s view of the hallway. The man’s bulk would have obstructed the English gent’s view anyway, the donut shop around the corner from the police station surely playing no role in the cliché. At least the officer’s big Sicilian nose was a breath of fresh air; the engineer had known most Italians in his heyday to be mobsters. The cop snorted as he sat down to the polished metal table across from the old man.

“Okay, Mr…Beasley,” the policeman started as he looked down at his yellow notepad, “Tha desk sergeant said ya have some new information regarding the Midtown Bank robbery that took place this time last year? I don’t know if you read the news, sir, but the criminals were all caught. They confessed, they were tried and are currently in prison. The case is closed.” The officer finally looked up with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. “You’d like ta add something ta that?”

“It’s Dr. Beasley, actually.” The hefty cop looked down and scribbled something on his pad. “No, I don’t wish to add anything to that particular incident. As you said, the perpetrators are all in jail now; what more is there to say?” The senior smiled while the corner of the officer’s mouth dropped. “What more is there to say except, well, it was just so unimaginative, wasn’t it? They go in toting firearms and scare everyone half to death, they get a good bit of cash from the tellers and the patrons’ wallets, but derailed their own plans by wearing easily traceable disguises, planning their escape in an impossible-to-miss vehicle and didn’t bother to cover or change the license plate. Of course you were going to catch them all at a men’s club that very night!”

The refined engineer leaned back in his chair with his arms stretch forward to keep himself righted on his cane. The policeman shook his head and leaned towards the gentleman.

“I’m sorry, Dr…Beasley,” the cop began in that tawdry local accent the elder man had always frowned upon. “I’m afraid if ya have nothing to add ta this case, I have other matters to attend ta.”

“Oh, you mustn’t go yet, Officer…” the engineer looked for a badge he could read a name on but the officer’s dated grey jacket concealed his beltline. “…Officer of Some Importance. Surely you’ll want to be the one who stops the next Midtown Bank robber.” The policeman had started getting up from his seat but stopped and sat back down.

“Whadda you talkin’ about?”

“I know who is going to rob the bank next. I also know exactly when,” Dr. Beasley stopped and beamed.

A veteran of the force, the law man had never had such a hot tip. He waited but the senior just smiled. The officer opened and clasped his hands, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. “Would ya like ta share this information and how ya know it?”

“Oh, I am glad you asked,” the retiree chirped. “I’m privy to this knowledge because I’m the robber! I’m going to rob the Midtown bank in exactly…” The old man scooped a fob out of his vest pocket. “…thirteen days and seventeen hours. Well, just under seventeen hours now.”

The policeman slumped back in his chair then came forward again. “Sir, I don’t know if ya know how most criminals work, but they don’t usually announce their intensions ahead a time. Would ya like to tell me why you’re confessing ta something ya haven’t done yet?”

The retiree leaned with one arm on the table towards the officer. He lowered his voice though there was no one else in the room. “Because you won’t catch me.” Dr. Beasley threw himself back into his chair with great fanfare, tossing an arm into the air.

“Oh, isn’t every criminal’s dream to plan the perfect crime, to taunt the police and get away with it? That’s why I’m here today, to tell you, Officer of Some Importance, that even through you know who and when, you can’t stop me. You can fill that bank with a hundred police men – even a S.W.A.T. unit or two – and you won’t be able to stop me. Ooo, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.” The old engineer threw an arm over the back of his chair while he crossed his legs.

The officer grinned as his head hemmed and hawed. “I could arrest ya know if ya’d like, that’d stop ya, huh? Charge ya with conspiracy ta commit a felony? I’m not sure what your angle is here, Doc.”

“Oh, certainly, you could arrest me but a conspiracy requires two people and I’m the only one who’s planned the robbery. And, as you know, just planning to commit a crime isn’t itself a crime unless you can prove I’ve taken substantial steps towards committing the dastardly deed. To that end you never will; you won’t find any building plans in my home or places I frequent, no firearms, no disguises, no digital footprints, no “How to rob a bank” Google searches, no questionable reading materials checked out at the library; I don’t even own a car. And you can question everyone I know; they’ll all agree I’m an agreeable man.”

“So ya think I’m gonna let ya walk out the door and lose sleep over this confession of yours?” The hefty Sicilian man rose to his feet. “Look, we’ve got your information and we know what ya look like, so if there’s any trouble at the Midland Bank, we’ll be sure ta stop by and say ‘hello.’ Otherwise, I’m afraid we can’t spare the money or the manpower to investigate an old man right now.”

Dr. Beasley’s chest rocked as he chuckled silently. “Exactly what I was expecting, to be overlooked because of my age if not my refinement. That’s some sort of discrimination, I’m sure. And I surely don’t care because you, my law enforcement friend, are going to be quite surprised when you discover that age and refinement is exactly what it takes to pull of the perfect crime.”

“Yeah, that’s great, pal. Look, I’m gonna go do some real police work now,” the cop thumbed towards the door. “You’re free ta go. Have a nice day. Give my regards ta the Queen or whoever is in charge of merry ol’ England these days.” The policeman gave a two finger salute, slipped out the door and left it a crack open.

“Unfortunate that you’re going to be penalized for overlooking me, my Sicilian friend. That is, unless you show up to try and stop me. Perhaps things will work out for you then.”

The gentleman drove his cane into the ground in order to power himself to the upright position. He dusted some non-existent dirt off his vest and proceed to exit the station. Outside, the October sunshine was still a bit cool on his face. But, in approximately thirteen days, sixteen hours, and forty-five minutes, the sun was going to get much, much warmer.

(To be Continued)

 

All Rights Reserved (c) October 2017 John J Vinacci