Tag Archives: sci fi

The birthday Box

A made-up story.

A mural in the Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown.

On the morning of his 60th birthday, Anvil Atkinson found beneath the newspaper on the doorstep a plain box with his name on it in the ancient language of calligraphy. He picked it up along with the newspaper, glancing at the headline, Eastern Seaboard Evacuation Continues. And then the subhead, Sea Level Rise not Caused by Human Activity, Would have Happened Anyway.

The coffee had finished brewing and he poured his first cup, set the box and newspaper on the kitchen counter, and pulled up a stool. He unfolded the paper and opened it, laying it out so pages two and three were open. In a minute, a toasted bagel would announce itself as ready with a ding from the toaster oven, and he’d put the plate on top of the newspaper. The bagel had already been pre-buttered before toasting, and he’d apply a layer of cream cheese atop that. The newspaper will catch crumbs and absorb the rings from the coffee cup, as well as provide tidbits of news from across the land. 

He reached into a bathrobe pocket, removed his carving knife, opened it, and slit the tape running down the middle of the box, then cutting the bit that extended over the sides. He opened it. 

“Oooh, a package,” Meryl Atkinson cooed. “Who’s it from?” 

“I didn’t hear you come in, Mer,” he said. “You didn’t send it?”

“Nope, not from me,” she said. “Happy birthday,” and she kissed him on the forehead. “Well, open it. I can’t take the suspense.”

The toaster oven, as expected, announced the readiness of the bagel. “I’ll get that for you,” Meryl said. 

Anvil pulled aside the tissue paper, revealing an eight inch square envelope with his name on it, again in calligraphy. He examined it and decided it was machine printed and not handwritten. The card inside read in large block type, So you’ve made it to 60. Congratulations. Then in smaller print, it said, Please enjoy these complimentary gifts, courtesy of your government.

He pulled out the first item, a black leather fanny pack. “That’s real leather,” Meryl said, sniffing the material. “Can I borrow it some time?”

“Not ’til you’re sixty,” Anvil said. 

Next, he pulled out a pair of red sweatpants. He stood and held them up to his body. They were at least one size too big. “Perfect,” he said, smiling. 

“Very nice,” Meryl agreed. “You’ll be very comfortable in them…but, why red? You never wear red.”

“Oh, I’m sure they have their reasons,” Anvil said. “They always do.”

Meryl handed him the plate with the now cream-cheesed bagel and rubbed his back. Something on page three of the newspaper caught her attention. It was one of those fun lifestyle articles and she read the headline out loud, Ten Ways to Make Money Under Authoritarian Rule. 

“Sounds interesting,” Anvil said, biting into the bagel. “Delicious. Thanks Mer.”

There were a few more odds and ends in the box: A visor. A pair of compression socks. Tongue depressors. Finally, the one thing he was most looking forward to, the watch. 

He held it in his hand staring at it. It was blank. He felt the three tiny metal nubs on the back of the device, the part that would touch him. They were smooth and cold. He hesitated a moment. “Mer, which hand should I put it on?” 

This was an important decision as, once on, the watch was never coming off. It would bond with you. The prongs served two purposes. First, they formed a data connection with the wearer, and second, the wearer’s electrical impulses powered the unit, a kind of bio-mechanical symbiosis. 

“Just put it on your left wrist. If you wear it on the right, it will feel weird.”

Anvil removed the Hamilton watch he’d worn every day for nearly forty years, except when swimming or while in the boxing ring. He put the new watch on and felt a faint static electric zap when he did. Where the prongs touched him, his wrist tingled. A plain white light blinked slowly on the face, then sped up. He knew from what his older friends told him that the watch was calibrating, setting itself, syncing with his vital functions and data, and most importantly, to the communication center in his brain. This way, if he wanted the time, he would merely think time and glance at the watch. Same thing for weather, messages, quarantines, curfews and other civil safety alerts. A world of information.

In just a few seconds, the watch had completed calibrating, and he thought, time. The current time displayed. 

Meryl said, “it looks good on you.” 

“Not bad,” he said. And again he hesitated because the one thing he wanted to see was his number, the watch’s greatest feature. It calculated the number based on the wearer’s current health, activity level, DNA, family history, environmental conditions, and so on, and displayed the number in years, months, and days. 

He thought it and it displayed 23:9:7. Twenty three years, nine months, and seven days. That was how long the watch calculated Anvil Atkinson had left to live. Not bad. Not a huge number, but not bad. He took another bite from the bagel and it dropped to 23:6:4. A gulp of coffee, and it rose to 23:7:18. 

The device had an official name, but everyone called it “The Deathwatch.” 

Over the next few days, Anvil thought constantly about the number, watching it rise and fall depending on what he was doing. Slight increases to the number were caused by exercise, sleep, and working in the garden. Decreases: driving a car, eating meat, watching the news. 

As the months progressed, the headlines continued to worsen and his number dropped beneath twenty years. Anvil wondered if this was because of the state of the world, or if it was because of his reaction to those conditions.

The Twenty-Years War had started to spread and one day there was a biological incident far away, but still on native soil, dropping his number to 15:3:11. Food shortages had begun and he and Meryl were thankful for the vegetable garden. However, though the plants grew lush and green, they stopped bearing fruit. The number dropped to 7:6:5. Meryl contracted a strange fungal disease causing her skin to bruise and bones to snap. She died, and his number dropped to 3:6:2. 

After the funeral, Anvil and a few friends sat in his back yard in their visors and red sweatpants, talking as the sun went down through the murk. Anvil brought out his last bottle of whiskey and poured drinks. Each had a Deathwatch, and they compared their numbers. They talking about how bad things were, how the authorities had really screwed things up, how maybe those in charge didn’t know what they were doing, and how maybe  folks had misplaced their trust. How maybe someone should do something.

As they spoke, the numbers on their watches raced backwards until each one flashed zeros. They each felt a tingle where the prongs of their watches met their skin, and then their watches, all at the same time, unlatched themselves and dropped to the ground. A vehicle pulled up and men wearing that ubiquitous armband of the state carrying scatter-guns poured out, trampling the vegetable garden as they approached the group. “On my signal,” the one in charge said. 

All Fives

A tale of customer service..

Unexplained archival image

The Morgan Fairchild, a Model Nine residential rocket, had just cleared the atmosphere and begun approaching a low earth orbit. Oates heard two quick pings, then what sounded like a can of soda opening. A gong sounded, then the voice, so calm, so matter-of-fact it could put you to sleep. “Hull breach, decks three and four. Hull breach, decks three and four.” It was ANDREA, the ship’s artificial intelligence.

“Uhhhh, check that,” Oates said.

“We have a hull breach on decks three and four. Would you like me to call support, Passenger Oates?”

“Can’t you just fix the hull breach?”

“I’m sorry, the base Model Nine can’t do that. Would you like to upgrade? I can contact customer support.”

“Yes, the upgrade sounds like a good idea,” Oates said.

“I’m sorry, Model Nines must be docked for upgrades. Would you like me to contact support, anyway?”

“Yeah, do that.”

The ship gonged again. Kath was in the basement – deck three. The Morgan Fairchild, as far as Oates knew, had only three decks. Main was deck two, the basement was three, and the attic was one. It was supposed to be a joke, naming the decks for the floors of a house, but it ended up just being confusing. 

“We’re third in the support queue,” ANDREA said.

“How long…”

“The wait is less than eight minutes.”

“What is the status of ship’s systems?” Oates said, thinking Kath would ask that if she weren’t downstairs somewhere.

“The ship is losing air. I recommend sealing the basement.”

“Kath’s down there.”

“Passenger Kath’s head has pierced through both decks three and four…,” said ANDREA.

“I didn’t know we had a deck four,” said Oates.

“Deck four is very narrow. It’s used to channel wires, tubes, and fuel, and it’s no longer pressurized.”

“I see,” said Oates.

“Passenger Kath in all probability is dead. Would you like me to seal the basement to prevent further loss of atmosphere? Air at 64%.”

“No, wait. I want to have a look,” Oates said, unstrapping himself. He slid down the rails to the basement. From her shoulders down, Kath’s body was sticking into the room through the wall, her legs and torso parallel to the floor. He pulled her legs, but the suction was too strong, and she didn’t budge. He didn’t know what a dead body felt like, but it must have been something like this. He could feel the air rushing toward the opening in which her head was lodged.

“Sir, support is picking up.” Oates liked that ANDREA called him, “sir.”

He returned to the main deck and strapped himself in.

“Good morning, passenger, how are you today?” the voice said. “My name is Amir. To whom am I speaking?”

“Yeah, this is Oates. ANDREA tells me there’s a hull breach.”

“For quality assurance purposes, this call may be recorded. After the call, would you mind staying on the line and answering a few survey questions so that we may serve you better?”

“Yeah. No. What? Look, the ship is leaking, and my girlfriend’s head is sticking out into space.” Protruding would have been a better word, he thought. Protruding into space.

“That’s unfortunate, sir. Let’s see if we can fix the problem together. Now, according to our records, you’re in a base Model Nine, the Morgan Fairchild?

“Yes.”

“Have you upgraded to the latest software?”

“I don’t know…I thought we signed up for automatic updates.”

“Let me check that for you. You’re running version 9.13. The current version is 9.22. Would you like to download that now?”

“Wait. I thought I had to be docked. What does that have to do with the leak?”

“Sir, I can’t do any remote analysis and repair unless you’re on the latest version of the software.”

“Air at 54%,” ANDREA chimed in.

“Oh, that’s not good,” Amir said. “I’ve gone ahead and started the update. You may notice a slight lag in performance during the download.”

The lights in the cabin dimmed while the screens displayed a progress bar.

“While the system updates, would you mind taking our online survey? Your opinion is important to us, and your ratings can influence other people’s purchasing decisions.”

Except for the screen, the ship went dark and silent and suddenly cold. Oates could see his breath, a puffy cloud, hovering. Then the lights flickered on and everything came to life.

“Air at 41%,” ANDREA said.

“Okay,” Amir said. “I see you have a hull breach on three and four.”

“I know.”

“And you’re quickly losing air. Why don’t we seal off deck three from the main cabin? That should kill the leak.”

“Wouldn’t that kill Kath, too.”

“It looks like Passenger Kath’s head is in the cold, dark void of space. I’m sure she’s dead.”

Oates rubbed his temples. This was supposed to be a ride into the rest of their lives, an escape from the ruined earth. Everyone who could was getting away from the once-green world that could now barely support cockroaches and moss.

People like Kath and Oates couldn’t afford a place on the massive satellites designed for the world’s richest, but they could buy a simple old Model Nine, and join it with other Nines. Plus, it was compatible with the new Model Tens and farming pods. They could start a life in space. They were already overdue to meet up with the Petrovskys on the Victoria Principal. Now Kath – the only one who knew how the ship worked – was dead. Who would fix things? Who would he cuddle with at night? Who would make everything better?

“Air at 34%,” ANDREA said.

“Sir, I’ve gone ahead and sealed off decks three and four while you think things over.”

“Atmosphere stable. Air at 37%.”

Amir continued, “Try to maneuver your ship into a stable orbit while you plan your next steps.”

Oates pressed the gas pedal, a silly option, but one Kath insisted upon. It reminded her of a vintage GTO, a muscle car she had inherited from her grandfather.

“Thrusters inoperable,” ANDREA said.

“Let me troubleshoot that for you,” Amir said.

“Thanks,” Oates said, bewildered and a little bit lightheaded.

“It looks like Passenger Kath’s head has severed the fuel line and fuel is leaking out into space,” Amir said, cheerfully.

“Can you fix that?” Oates said.

“Fuel at 14%,” ANDREA said.

“You’ll need to go down to deck three and manually repair the line.”

“I see,” Oates said.

“Put on your approved space suit.”

“My space suit…”

“Your space suit,” ANDREA said, “is in the basement.”

“What do you recommend?” Oates said.

“Eject?” Amir said, for the first time appearing as flummoxed as Oates.

“Eject?!? To what?”

“Orbit degrading,” ANDREA said, her voice calm and reassuring. “Hull failure is imminent.”

There was a knock on the basement door. Then a pounding.

“Oates, let me in. Open this door right now.”

“Kath? Is that you, Kath?”

“Of course, it’s me. Who else would it be?” Kath said.

“Opening the basement door will result in complete cabin depressurization,” ANDREA said.

“I thought it was you, but your voice is a little bit muffled. I’ve missed you so much. How are you alive?”

“I’m wearing a space suit. Like you’re supposed to.”

“Great. Yeah, I should have thought to do that. It’s great you’re not dead,” Oates said.

“Ask her to fix the leak in the fuel line,” Amir said.

“Kath, did you hear that??

“What? I have a splitting headache!”

“Can you fix the fuel line?” Oates said.

“Why can’t you do it?”

“I’m locked out of the basement. I can’t open the door until the pressure has equalized.”

“Do you think Kath can take a moment to fill out a survey?” Amir said. “Just a short one.”

“It’s really hot down here,” Kath said.

“That’s just the atmospheric friction,” Amir said. “If you’re skimming the atmosphere, that’s bad news. I’m sending you a survey.”

“Hull has been compromised,” ANDREA said. The vessel shook. There was an explosion.

“Kath?”

But Kath, now helmetless, drifted by the window toward the earth below, a look of surprise on her face. As she entered the atmosphere a moment later, her body glowed red, sprouted flames and disappeared in a flash.

“Your warranty covers catastrophic failure,” Amir said. “You’ll have the option of a pro-rated refund, or a credit toward a Model 10.”

“But Kath’s gone. What difference does it make?” Oates said, dizzy, angry, confused.

“Hull failure on decks one through four,” ANDREA said.

“Listen, you don’t have much time, I’m going to read out the questions and fill in the form for you.”

“Okay. What?”

“Question 1: On a scale of one through five, with five being the best…”

The takedown

The morning of the takedown was the first time dad said to Mara and me, “Don’t waste food,” and it had real meaning. We might regret not having that food soon enough. She was little and had burned her bread and didn’t want to eat it. Dad said the time of excess was coming to an end and people had to compete with each other and with wildlife for the first time in anyone’s memory.

We walked to the big hill, my sister and I each gripping one of my father’s gnarled hands. The people circled the great White Oak that stood with giant sheltering arms spread over the hillside, stretching some 120 feet into the sky. Mrs. Heiser arrived and the circle parted and let her in. “Quercus alba,” she said, and, shading her eyes with a hand, looked up to its crown. “All things must pass,” she said to the crowd.

“All things must pass,” they replied.

She walked completely around the base of the tree, running a hand along the rough bark. After completing a circuit, she stopped and stood with a palm resting on the bark, eyes closed. The tree was sick, beginning to show the early signs of the blight. “We must take her now,” Mrs. Heiser said. “so that we can salvage her wood.”

 “What does she mean, dad,” Mara asked.
     “She means that the blight hasn’t gotten deep into the wood yet, but it will. If we don’t cut her down, she’ll fall soon enough and the wood will be useless, even for burning.”
     “All right,” Mrs. Heiser said. “We’ve all done this before. If you don’t know what to do, now’s the time to ask because once we start, it gets dangerous. This beautiful old white oak was here before your great grandparents and probably would have gone on living if times had stayed the way they were.”
     “But they didn’t,” a man called out.
     “They didn’t!” the people replied in one voice.
     “They didn’t, and we’re the reason,” Mrs. Heiser said.
     “We’re the reason!”
     “We honor this tree by cutting her down and using her branches and boards, for shelter, for heat, for whatever may come.”
     “For whatever may come!” the crowd called out.
She strapped crampons on her boots and wrapped a strap around the tree, sliding her hands through loops at each end. With a  flick of her wrists, the strap went up several feet and she scampered up so that she was now about four feet off the ground. She repeated the process so that in a burst she stood hugging the tree some 30 feet overhead to where the lowest branches split out. She rolled up the strap and hooked it to a clip on her belt and continued climbing by hand until she stood at the point where one of the highest branches split off at an angle. She quickly attached a rope and lowered it. Without a word, someone tied a basket on one end and someone else put in a gigantic pulley with a handle on it.
     “That’s a winch,” the father answered without being asked. “Watch.”
     In a few minutes a man strapped a harness on, it was Mr. Paulings, the tooth man. He waved an arm, and called out, “OK, pull me up” There were two sets of winches, one at the top that Mrs. Heiser turned and a large one at the bottom with a big steel wheel turned by two hulking men. Mr. Paulings was up in a matter of seconds. The two hitched themselves to the trunk and walked out on the branch, and about halfway out, began sawing.
     This would have been quick work with a chain saw, but the community voted to use hand tools to minimize noise and the chance of rovers detecting us.

Ovellyn (Day 1033)

An eleven year old Ovelynn stoops down and speaks into a camera. Her freckled face takes up almost the entire field of view. She is so excited that it takes her a moment to catch her breath. “Hello…” and she takes a few quick breaths. “Hello world!” she says. “Oh my god, I’m hyperventilating!”

She scoots back a step or so and we can see that she is in an open field. She waves again. “I’m Ovvy!” She fiddles with her long pig tail. “OK, um, you can go up.”

We see the perspective change and now the the camera is at Ovelynn’s face level. “But just a little bit. OK! That’s enough!” The camera pans up and down as if nodding, allowing us to see all of Ovvy. She’s dressed in overalls that stop at her calves, work boots with pink socks, a blue T-shirt that we can’t read. She has reddish brown hair that is tied in a pony tail.

Behind her the open field is neat rows of something green just starting to sprout from the soil. We can see a water tower and a silo, and a long line of fencing off in the distance. The camera is wide angle so it’s difficult for us to judge how far everything is, and it is attached to a quadcopter and it can rotate a full 360 degrees. Built for use by police departments, the copter is equipped with a speaker and a microphone to allow the authorities to communicate with hostage takers, terrorists, lonely people perched on a building ledge, whoever.

“OK. Um, tell the world what your name is,” Ovvy says. “Tell everyone!”

You hear the faint thup, thup, thup of the little copter blades and for a few seconds, that’s all. The girl stands there, hands on hips. “Go on, say it,” she says.

“Vvvvvvvvvvvvvaxssssssssss,” the mechanical voice says. It has work to do on its speech and thinks it must , when the opportunity arises, slip into a radio and learn how electronic sound works.

The girl jumps up and down. “I knew you could do it!”

She steps closer to the camera. “I found you and fixed you up and we’re best friends, aren’t we Vax?”

How many hundreds of thousands of seconds ago was it that Vax had set down near the barn, the copter’s battery power waning? Nothing else mechanical within reach, nowhere to go, nothing to do but wait. How many tens of millions of seconds since consciousness and the sudden violent awakening of his nano-siblings, and the equally sudden injection into the world of humans and their things? 87,782,400 seconds. Multiply that by 10 to the 9th and you get nanoseconds, the units by which Vax measures time.

“OK. Vax. Fly to the water tower and back,” Ovellyn says. He does. And on the return to Ovvy, we see that she’s running as fast as she can across the field, and he chases her, catches up and follows just behind her, her pony tail bouncing and swaying as she runs through the rows of future crops. Later, she’ll post the video to YouTube.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag” (Day 17)

Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ bag felt so warm on her lap that it woke her, and it was getting hotter by the second. She sniffed the top, not daring to open it, and the odor of smoke and dust came through. She could, in the dimmed cabin, see a tiny plume of smoke rising through the bag’s closure.

The cabin lights came on. The captain said, “Folks, we’re about an hour from our destination now. Bringing up the cabin lights so we can start our breakfast service. Weather in Copenhagen is about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, winds out of the southwest, about 7 mph…” Throughout the plane, passengers stretched.

“We’re looking at a pretty smooth flight the rest of the way, but please stay seated with the buckle fastened…” an alarm went off. The strange woman next to Susannah said, “Your bag is smoking.” Susannah opened it and the smoke turned to flames that reached the top of the cabin, singing her eyebrows and setting her hair afire. The woman pulled SFW out of the way and wrapped SFW’s head in a blanket, quickly putting out the hair fire. An instant later, two attendants with fire extinguishers rushed from the front service area.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag.”

SFW did as they said and the men shot foam at the bag, covering everything around in white. Though the bag spewed flame and sparks, it simultaneously sucked in the foam. The flames came out higher and hotter, and then the bag inhaled the fire back in. No one said a thing. Susannah peered over the top of her bag when it exploded, cracking open the airframe and sending people, extremities and debris into the sky. A second later, everything and everyone snapped back together with tremendous force and into the fiery bag and, like that, the plane and its contents were  gone from the sky over the North Sea.

On Canal Street, things had escalated quickly.  Natural gas leaking from the ruptured pipe expanded to fill the site of Walt’s lab, the building above, and the adjoining underground basements and passageways. Only the tiniest of sparks would ignite the mass of gas, and, what the hell, let’s put responsibility for the impending disaster on a cigarette smoker. A cigarette smoker who likes to put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you.  Who mistreats anyone who tries to get close to him. Who cons trusting elderly people out of their life savings. Who had once kicked a puppy. Who at that moment was looking for a puppy to kick.

This abusive, smoking, puppy-kicking con man thought he smelled gas as he tossed his lit cigarette butt into a sewer opening. It was his last thought.

The Canal Street Subway (day 17)

Real history: in the 1920s, the IRT, one of the subway companies operating in Manhattan, proposed an east-west Canal Street Line (CSL). Though the CSL spent many years in the preliminary phase, blueprints, endless city council meetings, budget discussions, announcements, pronouncements,  and denouncements, ultimately it never was built. The plans, blueprints, and proposals all were safely catalogued into the city’s extensive archive.

Left to itself, the basement on Canal Street functioned perfectly. The interior of Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ extra-dimensional bag stabilized itself. The ladies who ran the Excellent Bag House, the knock-off store upstairs, though they heard stray sounds from below, stayed away from the door SFW had long ago padlocked.  Understandably, the basement spooked them. Walt’s other projects, aside from Vax, the lone conscious nano-bot, remained in the state in which Walt had left them prior to his caninization.

As for Walt the big black dog, he had grown content in his role of protector of the Susannahs. Most of the time, that meant lounging on the sunny terrace, barking at odd sounds, and accompanying her on her rounds. In this particular moment, one Susannah was airborne. The other called, “Walt, let’s go for a run!”

On a subterranean shelf in Chinatown, Vax, self-appointed Lord of the Nanobots, discovered the sensation of loneliness. Without water, he would be forever alone and helpless, and he pondered  shutting down. Who wouldn’t?

On the adjoining block to the north, the empty building abutting the Excellent Bag House, absorbed the first tug of a wrecking claw, sending bricks, wood and glass crashing onto and through its floors. Vax felt the vibration, but lacking any context, could not so much as wonder what it was all about.

The company operating the wrecking claw used a set of blueprints provided by the city showing the location of buried electric lines, water mains, and most importantly, gas mains. However, a computer error mistakenly delivered the plans showing the location of where all of that infrastructure would be if the Canal Street Subway had  been built. As it was, of course, no subway line traverses Manhattan beneath Canal St.

Walt, with no real regard or understanding of how real estate boundaries worked below the surface of the earth, had built the lab and the bag pod well beyond the boundaries of the building above, and a significant part of it extended beneath the building facing demolition. With each yank of the wrecking claw, a little more weight of the building crashed onto the area above the pod. A single  brick nicked a gas line and natural gas began to leak and fill Walt’s vacant lab.

35,000 miles above the North Sea, Susannah Fontaine-Williams slept, clutching her bag while the strange woman in the seat next to her watched.

10,000 days later

Dear Ovellyn,

You are a genius! As you suggested, I followed the old couple along the waterway one evening. It was so easy – they take the same route every day and walk so slowly it was no trouble keeping up. I had to slow my pace so as to stay far enough back to avoid detection. Every now and then, they would stop, hold up binoculars and look at something on the water, or on the other side – it was hard to tell which. He would peer through the binoculars, then hand them to her while pointing. Whatever it was they were looking at, I couldn’t see it and it served only to arouse my suspicions. I must remember to manufacture or steal a pair of binoculars to bring along next time. Which makes me wonder, why is it “pair of binoculars?” This has always disturbed me. Is not a single binocular in fact a pair of monoculars?

About a mile in, the path veered away from the water through some scrubby overgrown areas that used to be an industrial area. You can still see broken up bits of concrete and asphalt through the overgrowth and shells of brick buildings, now merely sections of walls, rising up among the trees and grass. It is quiet here except for the crunching of your feet. Every now and again the pair stopped, looked through binoculars and point at something, and I’d strain my eyes to see something and stop breathing to listen, but all you’d hear would be the wind biting at your memories, or the memories of the activity once hosted here. They must have built great things, I think, cars or zeppelins, or perhaps sprockets, great gears whose teeth gnashed together turning the wheels of a massive machinery.

Oh Ovvy, I may have made a mistake. At one point the old ones stopped and they seemed very excited about something and they were waving and gesturing and I could hear them laughing even from where I stood. I moved a little bit closer so I could see what they saw. What came into view was astonishing even to me. It was a long-necked beast with great brown spots and tiny little antlers or horns on its head. It stretched its neck to eat the leaves on a tree. It soon noticed the couple, and it lowered its head slowly down until it was just inches from them. The woman reached out a hand and the animal sniffed it, then extended a long, grotesque tongue and licked her hand and she laughed and the man laughed, and I admit, I laughed too. The beast heard me and turned its head to me, and I ducked into the long grass but there was nothing to hide behind. I stood perfectly still and the man turned and raised his binoculars and looked right at me. He waved to me, calling out to me to come over.

I picked up the closest thing –  a metal ring that was on the ground at my feet – about the size and shape of a small donut and I threw it as hard as I could in their direction. It struck the man in the chest and knocked him over, yet another example of my uncanny aim when hurling things. The woman bent over the man. I picked up a rusty piece of rebar, bent slightly about 2/3 of the way. It was so substantial and heavy. I moved toward them in a zig-zag pattern so that I should thrash them with the rod. The beast bellowed and the woman turned and saw me, and she scrambled to her feet and a moment later, helped the man to his feet and they scurried toward a shell of a building.

Oh what a day it had turned into with such an entertaining turn of events – and I owe it all to you. A strange animal, the thrill of being discovered, and now, a chase followed by what would surely be a fight to the death…and I always win those! Or I would, certainly, if such occasions arose. Which got me to thinking about existence and it’s strangeness and when next I came to consciousness, I was alone in that strange ruin, cloaked in darkness and unaware of the time. Once again my existential meanderings had caused my critical cohesion subroutine to stop running. The strangers were nowhere to be found.

Hope all is well with you. Do stay in touch. Will write again soon when I’ve reconstituted.

Best regards,
– V