Windmills

Editor’s Note: This is actually an old post from my other blog.  I should’ve put Tina Connolly’s Recalculating here as the reason I’m a robot-post short today is I am packing up to move back to St. Louis, but I haven’t yet come up with a proper introduction for her story.  So look for Cautionary Tales Regarding Automatic Geopositioning Systems next week.  Until then, pretend the reason for the windmill congregation is a sudden advancement in nano mimicking technology and something about robots that build other robots with an inexplicable desire to view the sea.

We should have listened to Don Quixote of La Mancha. For when they came, we saw only windmills as that is all we had ever seen. One, then two, then dozens cresting the hill with great flapping shirts of woven saplings. The birds would not go near, and we thought this was normal as birds never sit on windmills. Spinning arms could break the wings of a careless bird and the constant whumpssht, whumpsst of blades through too-high grasses would crack the mind of a conscientious one. No, birds like trees for sleeping, the attics of houses, or the comforting right angles of steeples.

So that the birds stayed far, far away, crossing provinces and parishes, did not bother us. The dogs too, howling in the night could be the sign of rapidly decreasing pressure systems and it often rains in summer. When a farmer said, ‘wasn’t there just the three of them the other day?’ we thought he’d been tipping the bottle a little earlier than usual.

It is a theory in some South American history circles that the Incas did not see the Spanish ships until Pizarro himself stood on the beach. Even then perhaps his armor was so much like a giant, burnished oyster shell that children passing thought to collect his feet from under him. If Pizarro had not moved irrevocably inland, perhaps the villagers would have continuously referred to the silver acacia washed up from the sea, advising young girls to press their hands to the lower branches to bring good luck in childbirth.

Many things are only dangerous when they move in unexpected ways. When a visiting Irishman noted that the windmills turned clockwise he wrote at once to his Prime Minister.

“Have you sent our windmills away? Have they fled the homeland to put down roots on barbaric shores? Have you insulted them? Has our whiskey turned sour? Why have they abandoned us?”

The minister dismissed it, assuming that the Irishman, like the farmer, like the ingenious Hidalgo, was tilting all too soon.

The windmills though, hearing this, corrected their movements but this gave them away. Even the cynics, the tourists, the international prosecutors on leave from the Hague, will notice when a great hulking structure slows down and begins to circle the other way. Each reacted differently. The tourists glanced from side to side, calculating the degree of astonishment or fear in the locals’ expressions and decided to mount their awkwardly painted bicycles and flee. Tourists, as much as we mock them, are often quite sensible in their decisions.

The farmer and the Irishmen and a few birds too old or stubborn to emigrate ordered whiskey and toasted their vindication.

The legally minded decided they had found an irresistible opportunity, though they did not yet know whether they possessed jurisdiction. It was a matter they relished investigating for years.

And the windmills, the real windmills, sensing an impossible change in their surprisingly complex pecking order, heaved a great sigh like waves lapping over a wooden bow.

Dispatches from a Future Norwegian Futurist

Editor’s Note: This story is by Alex.  Do you know Alex?  You should know Alex.  I first met Alex back in Iceland when we were both fleeing from Communists.  Or maybe in Texas, whilst rescuing abandoned penguins. Or perhaps on a heaving locomotive which cut through the Great Smokey Mountains like a water moccasin towards the foot of some hapless swimmer.  Whatever the occasion, Alex leaves such impression the sights and sensations surrounding your meeting fade until there is only you, and Alex, and the robots. 

This story was originally published by Clarkesworld Magazine as “The Human Moments” because, no joke, Nick Mamatas had just recently bought another story with Futurist in the title. Or maybe it was Scandinavian Socialist.  At any rate, the title was changed but I now get to present it as it was originally intended.

Dispatches from a Future Norwegian Futurist

by Alexander Lumans

12:12. “We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene.”

There are too many dead from the new flu pandemic, and the earth-movers bring bodies by the tons. One never thinks to consider a human population in tons: the weight of geological formations, of the Huns, the Visigoths, the Million Man March, the weight of knowledge that bears down on the shoulders of Western gods.

Every hundredth body that arrives to be broken down in this Cryogenics Lab, the video monitors change lenses and take slow-motion thermal video of the sonic ruin. I must review these videos as my position requirements dictate, no matter the level of inadequacy.

This time the video runs even slower. Frame after frame I watch the still-life body of a woman become crystals in space, and I am reminded of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Notice the fracturing of time, how the person has been smeared across the staircase; she doesn’t really exist in one place at any one time, just like quantum mechanics describes the electron. Clothed Standing until Detonation.

In this small sanctuary there is a cot and an instant hot chocolate dispenser and an over-the-shoulder sense that someone else is taking stock of the situation. I stand, walk to the room’s one bare wall, and press the one green button. On a tray, hot chocolate pours out into a Styrofoam cup. It’s the little things, the human moments. Bewildered Drinking His Spirits.

12:41. “We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”

It’s Tuesday. Work on the dead continues. This lab is below the world’s surface and I have not seen the sun for eight months. The city of Drammen, the University of Oslo, Norway’s President Gunvar Haldor, der Fuerher, they spare no expense for the Cryogenics Lab. I am a division of a division in Sector Quad of the Jotne/SB Verksted, additional funding provided by the ATLAS Organization—bald, birthmarked men who fear how they will die more than Death itself. They do not want their pale skin to sag off or their eyes to go agape. But I hunt Death here, I the young lion and Death in black fur and pale crosses, Death who runs before me under the violet sky ceiling. A cold sense comes from the blast chamber I monitor through the one window and into the control panel that whirrs awake in my hands. LEDs flash in coded patterns, tell the time in green, and catalog the laser’s diamond cells. Every two-stage He-3 Cryostat cools radiation shields, heat switches, and the superconducting magnet system connected by OFHC thermal copper wire. All for the love of the engine. I have been culling this love for years, ever since Uni and my studies in comparative mythology, art and technology, the history of contemporary Father Italy.

From my chair, I freeze the dead and shatter their frost bones with high frequency waves that are searing enough to make dogs bleed from the ears. I redistribute radiation and sound sensor orbits. I match temperature gauge readings in the WRONGSCAN handbook to Kelvins sensitivity: absolute zero. Another body comes and I take comfort when I press the “Commence to Atomize” button. The laser looks phallic. I name it ADAM. Private Ansgar, out.

10:58. “Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”

By dumb waiter, meals always arrive on a wax plate with plastic forks and knives. It is always green beans, sauerkraut and pan-fried moose on Wednesdays. Fridays are surprises, but surprises imply security breaches.

They use plastic because they are afraid of exposing the metal to beta particle radiation.

Today a telegram comes on its own wax plate. The yellow paper resembles crude library cards (if there are any left in the world) and it reads: “Ansgar. Position: redundant. Humanoid Robot LIO-7 Prometheus to resume control of Cryostats for absence of error. Replacement: effective immediately.” The telegram means human error—the kind is that expendable.

Your odds of dying in a fireworks discharge: 1 in 340,733; in accidental electrocution: 1 in 9,968; in an air/space incident: 1 in 5,051. By falling: 1 in 218. Suicide: 1 in 121. Down here, the odds are equal: 1 in 1. My own death is certain, and so my name is no longer vital. Names are traceable. Out.

4:17. “We intend to sing the love of danger.”

Ancient life was all silence; sounds were attributed to gods. Here, the Liquid Argon and Nitrogen tanks sing to me. I do not speak, but follow the erratic strike of keyboard keys, blips on a radar module. I read manifestos between deliveries: F. T. Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla. And when my brain tells me my retinas are burning up the way particles do on re-entry to the atmosphere, even I, the futurist, must break down and find beauty in the speed of a pencil tip.

I take out an old E.T. lunchtin from under the counter and place it in my lap. (I salvaged it from the stiff hands of a young American lad.) Inside the tin: a 4 X 4 foot sheet of high-resolution, professionally bleached paper folded into squares of 1 X 1, a Number 3 Pencil (tip sharpened with ADAM—an after hours success), a planchette of cedar set on casters, and the forthcoming hours. Between atomization of a Ukrainian nationalist with no legs below the knees and an Indian woman whose belly is swollen with child, I take readings from the crude wooden tool shaped like a heart. I slide the pencil down into the center hole, unfold the paper, and place the planchette on top. Even this simple machine has a sound. The cedar creaks, the unoiled ball bearings whine, and the graphite drags.

Step 1: Close your eyes.
Step 2: Place both hands on opposite sides of the planchette.
Step 3: Receive a Question from the back of your brain and do not speak it. The medium is aware. I sometimes do not remember the question.
Step 4: Open your eyes.

Words it has provided before: “Aleph,” “Nadir,” “Extra Fine,” “Vituperation.” I look down at the paper now and the word “Break” stares back at me. The pencil’s graphite is cracked and I cannot breathe with that word in my head.

Reset ultra-low-noise IF amplifiers to ultra-low DC Power. The secondary air purification system for the primary air purification system kicks on with the chug of a man choking on salt water. 76.5% Nitrogen, 22.4% Oxygen, 0.00433% Carbon Dioxide, 0.0018% Neon, 1.09387% Lime Scent. Death is domestication; someday I will die and something new will steal my carbon.

“Prometheus” is the word I am inundated by in this No Man’s Land. Prior to his arrival, will I program this installation to freeze my bones and shock me into shards?

Addendum: Who else waits for technology to take their place? Do birds?

3:49. “Time and Space died yesterday.”

Friday. The phrase “Abysmal Water” will not leave my mind. It glows in bright blue neon strips; electricity is a blue thing. My ears have begun to bleed on the hour, every hour, to the extent that I use my government-issued nylon sleeve to soak up the streams. Another telegram arrives by way of dumb waiter and it reads the same as the previous message, except that my position has now been downgraded to: “inadequate.”

I am Sysphysian in dexterity and Dionysian in gall.

I watch the video monitors. Three are trained on the body in the blast chamber. One monitor looks at me. I cannot see my eyes and that instills a fever. Most dead we receive here in Drammen still have their eyeballs, and I am reminded of how I once saw the photo of a young hibakusha onto whose iris an infinite image of the Father Bomb had been burned, grafted, cut and sealed like a newly minted coin from the planchet, a coin meant to commemorate the outnumbered survivors.

7:48. “Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?”

Twenty-six separate ice ages have occurred on Earth and I am ushering in the twenty-seventh with the repeated press of a button. Today is the day I lose count of how many times I press that button and it is the same day I begin counting how many times I blink. The average man blinks at five second intervals and each blink lasts one-third of a second; the eyes are closed for four seconds every minute. I do not like that I neglect the monitors for a total of ninety-six minutes every twenty-four hours. That’s ninety-six minutes during which Prometheus may arrive, and I cannot afford to even blink when he comes through the one locked door and bleeds dry what human moments are left.

Prometheus, I assure you, finds a certain salvation in firm number averages. My survival is as unlikely as Heracles passing by Mount Caucasus on a second course. Prometheus is coming and he has no liver upon which I may set an eagle to devour.

I take out the lunchtin again and use the pencil’s broken end to write a number on the bleached paper. The digit looks strange when made by a human hand, even one that is surely my own, so strange that I cannot discern where it sits on a number line. The Egyptians once used a decimal system of seven symbols. One is a single line. Ten is the drawing of a hobble for cattle. One hundred, a coil of rope. Ten thousand, a finger. One million is the figure of a god with arms raised above his head. Perhaps I have not drawn a number here on the white paper, but rather an arm, an arm whose fingers are so tiny that they escape the sharpest eye. I crush the paper into a ball before putting it back in the lunchtin. This many-fingered god is what I imagine Prometheus to be, and man has not yet eaten god.

11:11. “A typewriter is more architectural.”

The overhead fluorescent bulbs have turned off. I miss their humming that once sounded so much grander than a field of crickets. The lights in the blast chamber and the tracking stroboscopic patterns around the Argon Tanks remain on. I must continue the work. Another fine mist of ice falls to the chamber floor like snowflakes which science has discovered are not all atypical, but there must be some flaw in the prismatic rainbow that arcs across the room. The pattern should tell me more about Prometheus’s arrival and my departure.

I cannot recall what letters make up my name—I will sign with three coils of rope and a dove’s tail over a broken window.

Also: my ears have stopped bleeding, but that means I have finally been hemorrhaged dry. The dumb waiter dings. The third telegram I read by barium glow:

“Do not drink the hot chocolate. Continue Atomization as needed. LIO-7 en route, en masse. Prepare for transportation.”

The dumb waiter door shuts and I swear laughter echoes from the ceiling, though it is only the conveyor belts’ hydraulic engines high up in the facility.
The first thing I do is press the one green button on the one blank wall for a fresh Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. This is my third since midnight. Even the most human of moments become mechanistic in sequence. I look up at the dark ceiling and drink. I have outlived a use, and it occurs to me, with hot chocolate in my mouth, that we do not have an initial use. We exist to make more exist, to one day transport ourselves away from ourselves. I swallow. I order a fourth cup.

Other definitions of “transport” that appeal more to me: to send to a penal colony overseas, or a state of overwhelming usually pleasurable emotion.

0:00. “Injustice, strong and sane, will break out radiantly in their eyes.”

The lights have not turned back on and the green digital clock has reset and not begun again. A man in corduroy pants and a leather jacket torn at the shoulder stands in the focal array zone of ADAM, and I refuse to press the “Commence to Atomize” key. His clothes are too familiar to disintegrate. I’m afraid the man looks pallid and hopeless like me, though I have not seen a mirror’s reflection in over one year. At one point in his life, he too wrote down a number he did not recognize and threw it all away.

Abysmal Water. The Great Possession. The Cauldron. The Clinging.
These phrases boom through me. For the last time, I open the lunchtin and place the planchette on the control panel. I make a fist, hold it down against the wooden tool, and then raise my arm above my head and smash the heart-shaped implement into pieces.

I pull out the splinters in my hand. Pain is an adaptation that keeps us alive through nerve stimulation: mildness, localization, distress, debilitation, agony. This is a good kind of hurt—a human hurt—as if more is learned about the body and soul by the reaction to acute mortality. I do not want Prometheus to find me in this injured state, so I uncrumple the wad of paper and wrap it around my hand to dressing the wound. The frozen man in the chamber assures me that someone is definitely watching.

0:00. “We want to hymn the man at the wheel.”

My own desperate mission is now to build a Prometheus. Fourteen Styrofoam cups stacked on top of each other make a figure. The cups make brittle bones, but bones nonetheless. Splinters hold the arms and antennae together. He’s a stiff old cosmonaut.

Again, I turn around to face the camera that once captured the back of my head. I pause the monitor’s feed and return to the front screen: my features I can only describe as humanoid, no longer flesh and blood. The laugh lines are ninety-degree angles. The broad forehead is a solar panel. The intersection of royal nose, pencil-thin eyebrows, and ridged skull in pale crosshairs follow the limits of the Golden Mean. All beauty is mathematics, the Greeks pronounced, and all beauty has been reduced to a ratio: 1.618 to 1. The Man Alive to Dead and Frozen and Dusted: 1 to Omega. Even the dimensions of my clenching teeth are based on Phi, not even a whole digit. By fundamental laws, we are base equations, and as perfection comes at the highest price, my squinted eyes tell me the cost is not worth the vastness. I turn the monitor off, shiver in my seat, and slowly pick open the holes in my hand. This is a quiet room.

0:00. “There was nothing to make us wish for death, unless the wish to be free at last from the weight of our courage!”

The bell chimes. The door opens. The fluorescent lights turn back on. But there is no man nor humanoid nor even a complete thing.

1. scalene triangle for hat
2. blue pipe of a nose
3. a head no more than a large washer turned on its edge—the hole facing me
4. a barrel body of faded red wood and a waist carved into a bulky skirt—three holes bored through the chest like lobotomies gone awry
5. a vague avian nature to every angle—the albatross around my neck
6. this machine stands seven feet tall on one peg leg

No Golden Ratio commands this creation. I cannot look away. With two arms that have no hands it carries a 200-watt flashlight and a green toolbox.

I ask, “Are you Prometheus?”

He says nothing. He blocks the one way out.

“Are you my replacement?”

In a motion that is anything but fluid, a mouth opens in its chest with the sound of small gears turning. This pale jaw lowers like a drawbridge at the helm of a thousand tiny fingers. The hole in its head is cold black. Its blank stare is far worse than any frozen man’s face. This, of all things, is my surrogate, and I am desperate to shrink. But instead of reciting a preprogrammed command or a string of Euclidean distances or an inventory of spare parts and services, the chest’s electrolarynx reads vibrations from its internal systems and speaks in low pitch: “Beat.”

“Beat?”

“Beat.” And this is all it can say. “Beat.” The one phrase that booms through that head, body, and heart. Seventy-two in one minute. This is how it keeps its heart rhythm constant, and the same as counting blinks, blinking every time I count the next one. But where the number of blinks may vary in a minute, this machine’s consistency is inhuman and perfect and beautiful, and I do not know whether to throw myself at its feet or slam the door on its lowered jaw.

I say, “You cannot count any faster or slower.”

“Beat.”

“And you have one task to fulfill.”

“Beat.”

“And you cannot swerve from that task.”

“Beat.”

The only important pattern is the lack of pattern. Not even the dumb waiter or the cups of hot chocolate fit into a meaningful sequence.

The lights go off again and Prometheus turns the flashlight on. The light is jarring, as if it indicates an oncoming train, and so what Fascism did to Italy’s rail system, Prometheus will do to our cryogenics facility by batterylight. Perfect time used to keep my atomization process on schedule. I recall how my face looked faceless in the video monitor, how my name is now distant, and I feel the eagle at my own liver. I babble to the idol: “Weather balloon. Dual currents. Pitchfork. Water fountain. Caldera. Speaker magnet. Cutlass. Kanji dictionary. Hair trigger. Phase diagram. Wand. Convolution integral. Camera. Harpie. Flywheel. Tower crane. Turntable. Scylla and Charybdis. Follicle. Resonant frequency. 3/8 inch drill bit. Oslo. Carabiner. Abstract. Dynamic. Extremely transparent. Brightly colored and extremely luminous. Autonomous. Transformable. Dramatic. Odorous. Noise-creating. Explosive.”

I say these words and even then I find myself describing Prometheus as a god. We futurists give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, and the imperceptible. We find abstract equivalents for every element, and we combine them to make our world more pleasurable. These dissimilar words, these are the human moments I’ve been looking for, and in this once dull white room, I find comfort in speaking because my voice is my own, still full of lifts, drops, and errors.

Prometheus says, “Beat.”

I say, “Camelia blossom. Disguise. Atomic mass.” Via ADAM, Prometheus and I have already scattered a thousand treasures of force, astuteness, and raw willpower; with fury, we’ve thrown them impatiently away, carelessly, unhesitatingly, breathless. Let it be proclaimed that the word “Norway” shall prevail over the word “Freedom.” Look at us! We are still untired because we do not ever stop.

Alexander Lumans has the uncanny knack for finding weapons in domestic settings, be it hatchet in the attic trunk or shotgun in the hall closet behind the winter jackets. He’s tried to channel this into something more productive, like dowsing or gold mining or avalanche rescues, but it’s never produced anything more than failures and crude things that resemble weapons. When not uncovering kitanas from under bathroom rugs, he writes fiction. He recently received a fellowship to attend the MacDowell Colony this fall, where he’ll spend seven weeks in the deep woods of New Hampshire, cutting down maple trees to make paper to write on.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 3

Continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 2” which continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

The trust between Darwin and me was like taffy: stretched and stretched between us, the middle sagging into inevitable decay.  There was a moment I felt I could have balled it up in my fists, reworked it between my fingers but it passed.  I ignored Darwin when he walked beside me, did not pick up the silver plated brush when he placed it in my lap.  I answered the phone for all callers.  I did not care who it was, or when.  Even my cat’s affection for our pachyderm guest cooled until it was a small, half remembered ash.

It was not entirely the lack of smell which turned us away from him, but the combination of all his non-elephantine traits.  It was the feel of his skin like smooth plastic, as if Darwin were a toy given life and size and autonomy.  It was his lack of sound when surprised or angered, his occasional sneeze, so quick I sometimes though I imagined it, like the echo of a bell.  And lastly: the way he would follow me into the kitchen when I awoke in the middle of the night, his eyes shining in the dark like two satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Thus were the reasons for Darwin’s and my falling out.

I have heard that you do not appreciate a thing until it is gone.

When the first elephants disappeared we breathed great sighs of relief.  The teachers at Sacred Heart walked straighter, though the students missed their unofficial sentries.  The joggers on the levees claimed to see the elephants go: first at a walk, then a jog, splashing and trumpeting their plunge into the Mississippi river.  Down and down they dove until there was not even a ripple signifying their entry.

Darwin disappeared in the space of a breath.  He lifted his head as the phone began to ring and watched me as I heard Josh tell me he had found someone else.  I blinked and Darwin was gone.  There was not even an impression on the rug where he had been sitting.

A few months later at the library I found a support group for those who had had elephants in their home.  We all had abandoned them in one form or another, before they abandoned us.  One by one we whispered their names as if that would call them back.

Carla, Darwin, Moonshine and Persimmon.  Blue Dog, Jimmy, Tulip.  Roger, Huey and Louis.

They didn’t return.

The leader of the group, a man named Alfred, said the elephants had been a test.  Of what, he wouldn’t specify.  I began to suspect that Alfred had never had an elephant, and this group was his way of promoting his self published book on spiritual awakening and I stopped going.

When someone else in the group called me demanding to know whether I had found the answer, I told her no.  There was no answer.  One day elephants came, another day they left.  We could no more trick them into returning than we could go back to the moments where we stopped trusting their presence.

She hung up on me.

Others called: members of the group, a representative of a city commission devoted to ecological issues.

I heard you had an elephant once, he said.

Yes.

Would you like to talk about it? he said.

No.

Sometimes I think they were never here at all, he said. 

Are we sure they were elephants? I said.

He had brown hair that fell into his eyes.  He never doubted his elephant’s intentions and kept a key to his apartment hidden where he knew she could find it.

My cat despised him but learned to tolerate him with a complete and total indifference.  I told him she had always been a capricious judge of character.

And many years later, when neither of us was expecting it, we found a pile of feathers swept neatly into a pile on our kitchen floor.  Buried beneath: two small bees, long dead that smelled faintly of salt and air and plastic.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 2

Continued from “The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

For two straight days the elephants rocked on their feet as if keeping time with a song only they could hear.  They did not eat, or drink, or sleep; their eyes remained open as if watching what we would do, as we watched what they would do.

But one elephant did not rock.  He was small, pink around the edges and followed me home from the grocery store where he had been living in the cart return stall.  He jogged behind my car, and I admit I slowed down when he lagged behind.  When we arrived at my building, he took one of the plastic A&P bags in his trunk and squeezed onto the elevator next to me, pushing the button for my floor before I could.  I named him Darwin, because why not.

Darwin liked strawberry ice cream and red wine.  Together.  He raised his head before my phone would ring, and grunted twice whenever it was a telemarketer.  I learned to stop answering when he did that.

Darwin slept beside my bed, and liked to be brushed with a coarse hair silver plated brush.  He disliked my cat, who in turn loved him with a fierceness possessed by the delusional and ignorant, and Darwin learned to tolerate her with a patient indifference.  Twice, Darwin prevented my cat from leaping out the dining room window when it had been left open by my boyfriend Josh.

In this way I learned that Darwin knew to display his true feelings, but act in accordance with my wishes.

Both Josh and my mother did not trust the elephants and begged that I turn Darwin out on the street.  They joined a group devoted to herding the elephants onto boats and setting them adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.  Sometimes Josh would erupt at the dinner table when I insisted on setting an extra plate for Darwin.  To keep the peace, I asked Darwin to stay in the office whenever my mother or Josh would visit.  He did, but I could sense the deep disappointment he felt for my choices by the way he dragged his feet when he walked.

“I heard one of them trampled a nun by Sacred Heart,” my mother said.

“Sacred Heart doesn’t have nuns,” I said.

“A teacher then.  A kindergarten teacher, with two children at home who are now orphaned.”

From the office we could hear Darwin arranging and rearranging the office supplies on my desk–he was particularly fond of pens.

“It stinks in here,” Josh said.  “I’m going to open a window.”

“Darwin doesn’t smell,” I said.

And it was true.  None of them smelled.  Not of musk or dirt–not of oiled leather or hay–not of any of the things I once thought elephants would smell like if I got close enough to touch.

“It’s unnatural,” my mother and Josh said together.  “Something’s not right with them.”

And I found I could not entirely disagree.

The Day of the Elephant Pt. 1

muddy and whorled, this elephant they tried once to hang

because she killed three men and survived

Electrocuting the Elephant by Ciarin Berry



This morning I saw an elephant.

He stood on the levee, his trunk and tail sashaying in time with the joggers who swerved wide around him.

Audubon, we thought.  Clearly he has escaped from Audubon.

But: No, the zookeepers said, we are not missing any elephantsAre you sure it’s an elephant?

Mine was not the only elephant spotted that day.  Like bees they moved in packs and swarms, in the most unexpected of places.

How did we not notice their coming? My mother asked.

My father told her elephants make no sound when they walk. Their feet expand, contract. Expand, contract. A herd of elephants could surprise camouflaged soldiers trekking through the desert, one minute a dark smear along the horizon, the next silently smashing their well hidden tents.

What you have to understand about elephants, he said, is they remember their dead. Don’t cull one or two–but the whole family.  Or they’ll keep coming back.

But a man on TV say it wasn’t the culled animals that brought them here. Not the copse of bones scattered among the acacia trees offending their evening strolls.  We were too far away from ivory poachers.

Our crimes were Mary, hanged in Tennessee and Topsy’s smoking legs. It was Dumbo–altogether fictional–but elephants can’t discern the difference between two dimensions and three. It was Jumbo’s body and the whistle of a long stopped locomotive echoing across the Atlantic.

Whatever the reason: they came in parades, in memories–in flocks and sounders and huddles. They stood in line at the grocery store, at Starbucks and the Apple genius bar. They shouldered onto the subways–the smaller ones and those with contortionist sensibilities. When an old woman stooped to pick up her paper, she felt the slight brush of old leather against her skin and turned to find a slouched hairless cow in her den watching Hoda and Kathie Lee.

The elephants did not eat or drink from our kitchens; they were mindful of the furniture.

They paused for school buses and obeyed traffic signals. They did nothing to suggest a nefarious mind or purpose, but since we could not think of a non-nefarious reason for their gatherings, we of course defended ourselves. We pushed at them, glowered at them, shooed them with broom handles. We were always quick to lock our doors and windows, shuttering them against their dark stares, and our unfortunate neighbors who found themselves unwilling hosts to their bulk. We walked in groups with cattle prods and automatic rifles–which we did not fire but were always considering.

The 6 o’clock news displayed maps of sightings and campings–cities and rural areas were equally infested. No one had news of how they crossed the oceans leading one red headed newswoman to suggest “clone door” and “San Diego Zoo” and “Cal Tech fraternity prank”.

The elephants did not speak, and we did not speak to them.

They merely stood.

And stood.

And then they began to rock.

Estate Planning for the New World

Disclaimer: This column does not create an attorney client relationship between the author, Bobbie Pratt of Pratt & Witt, LLP, and the readers of this column and privilege is not triggered.  If you have any actual legal problems relating to the current or future apocalypses please consult an attorney.  If you have any general  questions about the law, you may contact Ms. Pratt at aftereverafter3 at gmail dot com.  You may not visit her office; she does not have one; permanent locations make her too easy to locate; she believes in the overuse of semicolons. 

Dear Ms. Pratt,

I have no spouse, no living parents, nor any immediate relatives save an annoying cousin on my mother’s side named Roy.  I have a large estate consisting mostly of gold coins, Civil War muskets, and a dozen complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I don’t mind if the cousin gets the muskets, but I would rather my pet skreekagog inherit the rest.  The last time I tried to write a will leaving it all to my pet (a parrot–since consumed deceased) my attorney said that animals can’t take.  Is this still true?

Sincerely,

Bunkered in Birmingham

Dear Bunkered:

Since the overlords have left, the consensus is that typical geopolitical lines will reassert themselves and thus the statutes that were formerly in place before the invasion will resume.  And sadly, under our previous outdated rules, pets could not be devisees under a will.  However there is hope! You may be able to establish a trust for the benefit of your skreekagog.  If there is someone you know who is responsible and alive, you may appoint him or her as Trustee of the objects which may be sold and the proceeds used for the feeding, housing, grooming of your clawed natural object of your bounty.  However, there is not much that can be done by way of ensuring that your wishes are carried out.  Your skreekagog is unlikely to be aware of his rights as you intended and thus will be unable to bring suit against the trustee should the skreekagog not be treated in a manner befitting his station.  Furthermore, your cousin may contest your will claiming that you lacked the necessary testamentary capacity (who leaves gold coins to an alien cat monster creature?).

Fortunately, when you die your skrekagog will likely eat you and then you won’t really care what happens to him during probate.

Sincerely,

Bobbie Pratt.