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

The Girl Death Couldn’t Kill: A Mystery (Part 1)

The Girl Death Couldn’t Kill: A Mystery (Part 1)

“Death, my lord, we have a problem,” a rigidly upright butler moaned as he set foot into the library.

Death, his desiccated feet propped up an oak desk, looked up from a section of the newspaper. He mentally rolled his eyes at the servant but physically they kind of just stayed in place. “Ugh, what is it Lloyd?” Death shook his head and put it back in the obitu…horoscopes.

“It’s about one of your appointments this morning, sir. The young girl you killed before breakfast? She’s alive.” The butler held a silver tray with nothing on it, possibly holding the prop out of habit. It’s not like Death really needed anything.

I don’t have breakfast in the morning, Lloyd. You have breakfast in the morning. And what are you talking about? The kiss of Death is final and absolute. Now go pretend to fix me a drink.”

Death honestly didn’t know why he had a butler. Maybe to tell Death some breaking news that wasn’t in the paper? That was absurd. All news was dead on arrival and therefore redundant. Maybe the butler was there to annoy him what with the need for balance in the universe. No, Death couldn’t simply enjoy the day lounging about until his appointment; his zen always marred sooner or later by some annoyance. This is how the universe worked, though. Even Death had no power over The Rules.

“I’m afraid it is true, sir. The young girl did not drown. I double-checked with the tenants upstairs; they’re not expecting her arrival, ever it seems.” The staunch servant turned on his heels and exited the room as coolly as he had entered.

Death raised his head and his voice after the butler. “That’s not possible because that would mean there are two Lifes out there and there already is one.” Death wasn’t sure the butler heard him so he stood up and slapped his paper on the desk. “I mean, that would tilt things out of balance and that’s against The Rules!” As usual Death found himself talking to himself and normally he was fine with this. He wasn’t like Misery at all. The situation at hand probably meant an investigation, though, which probably meant interrogating people. This made Death…

Perturbed – he was beyond being annoyed now – Death quickly drew a drawer open. The drawer and its contents spilled onto the floor, a gun popping off a round when it hit the floor. The bullet chipped one of Death’s ribs, reminding the force of nature to once again consider abandoning embodiment. Like a butler, he didn’t need a body, it was force of habit perhaps or maybe it was simply comfortable, like your favorite pair of pajamas. Or maybe there was another reason.

Death riffled through the contents on the floor, running a boney hand over a vile of poison, a miniature noose (for fairies), a frayed brake line, and an Adele CD among other things. Ah, there is was, an old-school college-ruled marble notebook. He lifted it off the ground, fruitlessly tried to blow the dust off of it, then wiped the cover with his digits. The Rules was neatly written in black sharpie on the cover. Death rifled through some blank pages until he came upon some very precise handwriting.

The Rules, it read. 1 –Life is miraculous, temporary, and precious. 2 – Death is final and absolute. 3 – The twain shall live in harmony and The Rules followed else there be Chaos. Signed, Order. That’s all there was to it, really, or so Death thought. It seemed someone didn’t get the memo or was deliberately flouting the rules for some unknown reason. No, why would anyone try to invite Chaos into the universe? The guy was like a bull in a china shop. On the contrary, with Death around, there were things you could count on happening – like death – even if you were afraid of it. Yes, even if you were afraid you could still count on Death. And Death loved being a guy you could count on one hundred percent. Who else could boast that kind stat?

As Death picked up the handle of an old black rotary phone – they were reliable – there came the warped and waning sound of the doorbell. He put down the receiver when he heard his butler answer the door in his stoic way, only for the butler’s monotone voice to be pierced by the blistering ray of Life’s vocal chords.

“No, no, no,” Death said with rising concern. He ran out of the library, pointing his finger down the hall at his butler, “Make sure she keeps her shoes on!” But it was too late. Life was already prancing around the foyer, her soiled feet darting about the white shag carpet.

“C’mon, silly,” Life skipped, “You know I never wear shoes.” Golden butterflies flitted through her strawberry red hair as she pirouetted around Death as he groaned.

“I was just about to give you a call, Life,” Death spoke. “Or at least leave you a message – you know how you’re always out doing stuff,” he added on the sly. “What brings you over?” he asked, chicking his fingertips together as he watched his carpet turn rustic.

Life stopped for a moment – which for her meant hopping in place – and stared Death in the eyes. “Do you know anything about this little girl who appeared this morning out of nowhere? I didn’t breathe life into her so naturally that caught my attention. I had my cousin Joy keep an eye on her while I made my rounds and she said you kissed her in the lake but she didn’t die.”

“That appears to be true,” Death acknowledged. “So if you don’t know anything about this and I don’t know anything about this, what the heck is going on? Order can’t be behind this. Do you think this is the work of Chaos? Nooo, we’ve been doing our job, right? Everything should be in balance. Chaos isn’t allowed out unless we screw up. Wait, did you screw up, Life? ”

“You should try to kill her again,” Life pirouetted again. Death was shocked by the pronouncement though you could never read his expressions correctly. Life blew a kiss at the butler whom they both knew to be indifferent.

“You did screw up, didn’t you? I mean, otherwise why would you say such a thing?” Death wasn’t even talking to Life so much as thinking aloud.

“Wasn’t me, babe,” Life pipped. “She’s not one of mine so I figure if you can’t kill her, she must be a new force of nature. But I’m going to leave you to figure it out. I’ve got more appointments to get to. Ta!” The butler opened the door and Life balleted her way down the driveway leaving some of the vibrant flower petals of her dress in her wake.

“Oh, it’s okay. I’ll take care of it,” Death called out after her, “It’s not like I have a mineshaft to collapse in forty-five minutes.” Life was incapable of lying so it had to be true that she had no hand in the recent turn of events. “A new force of nature?” Death rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Shoot. What else do I have going on today…butler?” Death never could remember the butler’s name. Maybe it was ‘Butler.’

Butler spoke up. “After the mineshaft you have a few old ages between 2pm and 3pm, a murder-suicide at 3:05, a bloody revolution in Central America at 3:15, a deadly tourist fail at 3:35, and of course your daily school shooting. Then you have a break until 4:30pm. Sir.”

“That just might give me enough time to track this girl down and try again. Then we’ll see what’s up!” Death had faith in his abilities. After all, he’d never failed before, so why would he now? But what if he did fail? Did this mean he was getting old, senile, maybe facing retirement? That was never in the contract; the position was for the extent of the universe’s existence, wasn’t it? Then again, there was no contract with Order, there was just the notebook with The Rules in it. Everything else was implied.

On his walk back to the library, Death reached for the few strands of hair left on his head. He grasped something resembling a few stands of hay but stopped short of pulling them out. “How far out of balance will things get while this girl is roaming around in the meantime? Should I try to get to her before doing the mineshaft? But if I miss the mineshaft, Chaos is going to show up. Dammit! Maybe I can do the mineshaft early.” Death strongly considered this; like so many other things appointment times were implied, were they not? “No, no,” Death stammered. “Let’s just wait and see how this plays out. No sense of bucking order when I don’t know what the consequences will be.” Death let go of his hair and tried to breathe deeply into his crusty lungs. It was a useless thing to do, physically speaking, but Life had once taught him during World War II that it could prevent panic attacks. God, that war was a lot of work and had been overwhelming at times.

“Do something useful for a change, Butler, and track that girl down,” Death ordered. “I’m going to be on her like flies on a corpse as soon as the school shooting’s over.”

“Where is she?!” the immortal bursting through his own front door needed to know. “I’ve got twenty minutes!”

Although Death had startled him, making him drop the silver platter he’d been carrying, the butler was otherwise unflappable, stoic as ever. “She’s in 1773, sir. December 16th, 1773 to be exact, m’lord.”

Death leaned a hand on the butler’s shoulder not so much out of exhaustion or for dramatic effect as out of confusion. “That doesn’t even make sense, man. Life and I aren’t allowed to time travel. What’s done is done. How is this girl time traveling and why? How am I supposed to get to 1773 in twenty minutes? Frick!” Death suddenly smacked the butler on the cheek making the servant’s eyes flare momentarily. “Are you joshing me?”

The butler rubbed his reddened cheek. “I am not ‘joshing’ you, as they say, sir. She’s in 1773 and will be there another ten minutes before she leaves for 1966 to visit George Harrison and inspire him to write a song.”

“How the hell do you know all this, Butler? Where are you getting your intel?” Death inquired. But no sooner he asked than he realized the answer. “Time. You’ve been talking to Time. Aw, geez.”

Death and Time didn’t exactly get along, not since Albert Einstein proved that time was relative – As Time itself always insisted – and Death manipulated his Kill List to take out Einstein a few months early. At the…time…Death felt this could disturb the order of things but rationalized that since time is relative, blah blah blah, what difference did a few months make? Of course, Death had gotten terribly drunk to work up the courage to actually do the deed as he wasn’t sure how it would affect the universe. Strangely, nothing of consequence happened, or at least nothing Death knew of. Since then, he’d been afraid Time was going to rat him out to Order but Time never had. Maybe Death’s own time had come, he considered. Death cast his dried marble eyes down a red carpeted hall towards a particularly large and meticulously carved grandfather clock and started a death march.

“Some things being relative,” Death started, “I don’t know when and if I’ll be back. If I’m not back in twenty, well, tell Life she doesn’t owe me that fiver for the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs. Even though I told her – I told her – it was clearly going to hit the earth; had the trajectory and all the math worked out. God, she’s so optimistic and naïve sometimes.”

And with that Death bumped his forehead into the clock, knocking him back and down onto his boney rear end. “Right,” Death muttered as he got up and eased the grandfather clock aside to reveal a passageway. The moment he crossed the threshold between dimensions, he was sucked into a violent red vortex.

“Death! If I did not foresee it I would not believe you are here now.” Time sat on a throne of small and large clocks whose hands moved both forward and backwards. He? She? Death was never sure. Time had one of those terribly ambiguous faces when wrapped in their finest Italian threads, rendered any pronoun impossible. Death never it was relevant anyway; he’d always been more spooked by Time’s little clocklike eyes than Time’s ambiguity.

Surrounding the pair in this dimension, the air itself was an infinite number of chattering film strips whipping to and fro, some playing quickly, some crawling along at a snail’s pace. Some strips appeared to wrap back upon themselves. “Ah, Mobius,” Death pointed and quipped trying to soften Time up.

“What do you want, Death?” Time asked sharply. Compared to Time, Death fancied himself lighthearted, even happy-go-lucky on occasion provided all the day’s work was done and done right. But Time was always all business and that hadn’t seemed to change. Considering everything Time had to keep track of, Death figured he’d better not waste Time’s time.

“So, you know normally I’d never intrude on your turf, right? I mean, not without a good reason. But there’s this girl, you see, who I tried to kill…”

“I know the child of which you speak. Are you concerned that I am involved?” Time leaned forward then eased back upon the throne again. “I have no reason to usurp my young brother, Order. I have nothing to do with this…matter.”

Did Time just stutter? It seemed to Death that Time had. Death had never seen this before, at least not up until the time of their falling out. Death pointed a finger at Time.

“You know something.”

Time’s head reared back before snapping back forward. “Yes, I know something! And I’ll be damned if I tell you what it is.”

“Whoa, take a chill pill, Time,” Death lowered his finger.

“Your vernacular is literally thirty years ago, Death. Get with the times,” Time fired back.

Death waved his palms down. “Okay, okay, though you of all people should remember that time’s irrelevant. I mean, that’s your schtick, right? But let’s focus on having a civil conversation here. Look, I know you’re still upset about the whole Albert Einstein thing but Chaos is knocking at Order’s door with that girl running around. I know Chaos doesn’t bother you but he’s a real dick to everyone else. Tell me what you know and, uh, ya know, I’ll do something for you. Mi casa es su casa.”

“That doesn’t even make sense, Death,” Time rolled the second hands in their eyes. “But since you’re being so cordial at the moment, I would rather enjoy taking you up on that offer.”

“Great!” Death clapped. He bopped forward with a little bit of relief. “You know, we used to be friends. See how easy it is to work things out?”

“It is easy to work things out, Death, provided you hold up your end of the bargain first.”

“I’m listening,” Death held his hand to his ear. “Go ahead. Lay it on me.”

“I’m going to send you back in time to resurrect Albert Einstein. Then you will leave him alone until he’s supposed to die.”

“Oh, oo, hmmm. I don’t know about that,” Death backed off. “Death is final, you know. It’s in Order’s rules. I mean, yeah, you could tell Order what I did and he’d probably be pretty upset with me, but bringing back the dead? Who knows what havoc that might wreck. It could be psychologically damaging, too, making the poor guy die twice? Would you like to perhaps, I dunno, ask for some other favor?”

“For Pete’s sake, Order wrote The Rules when the universe was barely a few seconds old. Ask him about The Rules now and he’d probably say he wishes he’d given it more thought. My request stands. I am sending you back in time to resurrect Albert Einstein. After you fulfil your end of the deal I will send you to intercept the girl before she whispers in George Harrison’s ear.” Time raised a hand high above.

“But you haven’t told me anything about the girl,” Death protested.

“I will tell you this, Death. There are some things as certain as life and death. Some things are equally undeniable. And how people think about these things is not up to me. Now be gone, Death, be gone from my realm!”

“But I’ve got a drive-by in fifteen…” Death’s voice trailed off as he was sucked up into a swirling pool of light and vanished.

To Be Continued

All Rights Reserved (c) 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

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

Interview with a Novelist

Interview with a Novelist

Why did you write Alpha vs. Omega?

Because I was getting bored with superhero stories. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan, but I’ve reached the point of saturation. For one thing, the main comic book companies – Marvel and DC – have cheapened the relevance of their characters by invoking what I call ‘the multiple universes clause.’ They’ve created multiple versions of their superheroes and villains so they can tell ‘new’ stories when they’ve exhausted a character’s possibilities instead of taking things to their logical conclusion. Frankly, I think this is lazy storytelling and has cheapened the importance and uniqueness of each character. ‘The multiple universes clause’ also has the effect of lessening the gravity of what might otherwise be some dire situation. With these particular criticisms in mind, I wanted to make sure that the superhero universe I created was an entity unto itself to the point of inserting a crucial plot point to make sure that stays the case and that there’s no going back and changing it. I also wanted to address something else I am weary of in superhero stories – which is occasionally tied to ‘the multiple universes clause’ – the constant retelling of a hero’s origin. I don’t find a hero’s origin all that central to their character, though there are some notable exceptions (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman). Again, it’s lazy writing. In Alpha vs. Omega, I purposefully gave just about everyone the same origin, if not outright then metaphorically (you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). Originally, Alpha vs. Omega was meant to satirize the comic book genre and its tropes, but as I wrote I found there were some things that just have to be said if given a world of people with actual super human powers; the way people use and abuse power, for example. Superheroes and villains also provide us with the perfect backdrop in which to say a few things about religion. Unfortunately but understandably, the Big Two comic companies generally avoid the topic.

What was most difficult about writing this book?

I’ve never undertaken anything of this magnitude before. Alpha vs. Omega is epic in scope and with that meant trying to keep the timeline of events straight (in a book in which the timing of events is relevant to the plot) while trying to avoid plot holes. There was a lot of scribbled notes, a lot of back and forth to make sure things remained as consistent as possible. Trying to find the time to write was difficult as well; a little bit here, a little bit there, over the course of almost four years. Trying to be a writer while working full time and maintaining a home life isn’t easy. Now I know why so many writers are characterized as alcoholics. I completely understand that now.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Probably Thiha, who is generally characterized as the antagonist, though he may be the protagonist depending upon your point of view. I think he’s one of best character’s I’ve ever created; he’s got a quick wit and is almost always cheerful regardless of the situation, not to mention his background. And, despite possessing nearly god-like powers he makes a lot of mistakes which I think speaks to the foibles of being human no matter how much power you possess. I’m also very fond of The Mega Dudes as one of the central super hero groups. They’ve been bouncing around in my head as characters for about 30 years now, as they’re based upon myself and some high school friends. One of The Mega Dudes, Brawl Boy, is based upon my old friend Paul, who was plagued with brain cancer in his youth and pancreatic cancer as an adult. (Paul passed away from the latter disease on January 3, 2018).) The Mega Dudes represent to me what people what super powers should be doing on a regular basis – providing aid in emergency situations. So I was very happy to finally breathe some life into what were formally some very poorly drawn superheroes. Interestingly, the Four Dragons that also appear in the story – they’re the Chinese super hero group – were The Mega Dudes’ arch enemies in those old comics I drew. And just like in those stories, they square off here as well. I guess I’m a little nostalgic.

Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

I find the scene in which one the super hero teams – the UNRT – sits down to dinner with their alien ‘guest’ very amusing. The alien finds human ways very primitive of course and even makes fun of their food choice. The scene is meant to be a little strange, a little out-of-place as you have these people that can do fantastic things just sitting around talking, though the conversation does take a serious turn. I didn’t realize it when I wrote the chapter, but my scene is vaguely similar to the post-credit scene of Marvel’s The Avengers in which the team is sitting around quietly eating shawarma after winning an apocalyptic battle.

What are you working on next?

I will most likely put together an anthology of my short stories and poetry before I undertake my next novel, IF I undertake another novel. I love time travel stories and with that I’d like to tackle another very old idea of mine of a time warrior who traverses space and time in a bid to stop his older, renegade self from doing something catastrophic. Given how difficult Alpha vs. Omega was near the end – I wanted to finish it so badly but tried not to rush it – I’m not sure I want to write another novel.

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

My first novel, Alpha vs. Omega, is an epic fantasy-action novel and meditation on the use and abuse of power, the question of nationalism, and underpinnings of religion. As super humans struggle for dominance over each other on the eve of an alien invasion, do we ever really know who the heroes and villains are? And what terrible price will be paid to prevent an extinction level event? Is it possible for the price to be too costly?

As a bonus, Alpha vs. Omega comes with interactive links to thematic music to enhance key elements of the book!

The ebook is available now on Amazon for only $2.99! Click here!

Alpha vs. Omega Cover (Official)