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Tuesday December 14, 1999 - Werkwolves: The Aquarium

I'm setting up my desk in a crammed office with my computer connection along the west wall against the center of two rooms. There are storage dividers separating the spaces.

Because of the water my body motions must be forced and deliberate. The low room is filled to about 15" of the ceiling, the refrigerated water circulating slowly. I float in it, amid debris of bottles and other small objects. I survey the debris, but there is nothing of value. The business end of a pump and some large boxes bob lazily as they circulate. I reach out to grab a bottle of beer that floats by and get a handful of fur.

Surprised, I withdraw my hand. It is one of two white Arctic wolves I overlooked amid the debris; they float easily on the surface, breathing in the air space. I feel the emotional rush that comes with suddenly seeing a beautiful, live wild animal. Fortunately for me they do not act the least bit aggressive.

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Sunday March 3, 2002 - Flatwoman

"It is indeed a privilege to be present when he's interviewing you," I said; "I've always been a great admirer of yours."

I leaned forward and put out my hand tentatively. The Great One responded with a smile, took my hand delicately and shook it with a firm but not overly hard grip. He held it just a second longer than I expected, conveying to me a genuine interest in making my acquaintance. It is a gift possessed only by the truly great to be able to so humbly make us lesser individuals feel so important in their presence. Gratefully returning the smile I blushed ever so slightly, then withdrew my hand as he let go and stepped back to a respectful distance behind the booth.

He turned to my companion, the journalist who had invited me to tag along, "We have work to do."

"Yes. I know how busy you are. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule," my friend responded; "we'll keep this short."

The interview proceeded as promised, allowing me a privilege only previously imagined -- that of standing within a few steps of my super-hero with no responsibility toward the serious conversation that was going on. While unclassified portions of the interview would be published in the evening paper, my friend had explained that integrity called for my complete silence in the matters that would be discussed, as it concerned issues of which I new little. I understood perfectly, realizing that simply allowing me to be present bestowed upon me a great deal of trust, and consequently prestige.

The two sat opposite each other in the booth, with my super-hero on the left. No one noticed my admiring eye examining every facet of his presence. Standing quietly nearby, an observer, I hung on his every word, admired his every movement -- comparing this bona fide super-hero, as I new I shouldn't, with my childhood fantasy, Superman. They discussed at length recent events and recent victories in the battle of good against evil, and then the interviewer raised a question concerning the challenges ahead. The super hero responded with humility and confidence.

"Once our current challenge has been met, there are three arch-nemeses that will be threatening us in the near future."

He gave a quick glance in my direction, leaned toward the journalist, and said in a low voice, "First, there's . . ." Although I strained with both ears and my heart I could not adequately make out the name he gave. My friend and I glanced involuntarily at each other. A look of surprise came over his face, and I saw him mouth the name under his breath, but still was unable to make it out.

My super-hero then continued, "Next, there's Flatwoman."

"Flatwoman!" We both gasped out loud simultaneously.

My friend repeated the name a second time, "Flatwoman!" We turned toward each other again, visibly shaken.

They finished the interview without my hearing another word; recovery from this news, for me, did not come instantly.

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Wednesday June 8, 2005 - Micro-Zooming

Prostrate, I glide carefully, silently forward. Two inches off the floor, I scan the hills and valleys of the wood grain. I pause at carpet's edge. Focusing on the under-edge, I zoom downward deliberately, carefully into the microscopic -- the world magnifying around me. The under-stitching of the carpet expands until I fit easily between the coarse, hemp-like stitches. It is a jungle, the gigantic folds of rope twist and bow around, beside, above me. The towering nap is anchored here, forever captured with the ends fixed upright to a great height.

I stop and survey my surroundings. There is thick, undisturbed dust everywhere. Individual threads reminiscent of errant bottlebrush bristles protrude from the rope structures, intermingling with deposits of caked dirt and loose dust. I glide forward between the structures. The threads swell and tangle around me as I zoom downward in size and upward through a thick nap forest to the surface.

I stop at the metal frame of some towering appliance. The short leg of angle iron is formed into a "V" to attach at either end to the appliance body. Beyond the notch are microscopic dust bunnies floating on the surface of the underlying carpet. Focusing on these, I zoom forward deliberately, carefully -- passing through the notch and ever further into the microscopic world of the gargantuan. Coils of prickly hair and lint tower overhead as I navigate the open spaces between and through. There are dust mites lurking here, dark creatures of the gloom; I catch glimpses of the beasts as they pop and scurry from my path. I am fortunate, indeed, that it is not their way to confront.

As I turn sharply left I am suddenly, quite surprisingly, surrounded by tropical fish -- fish of a height equal to the thickness of my own body. They are mostly schooling and gliding in the same direction, although the variety of their forms would not have predisposed me to expect such group behavior. There are long skinny fish and tall fat ones. Most are brightly colored and a few are striped or blended. Most are thin but tall, although of much different profiles. They glide from my right, turn slightly as if glancing off an invisible shield, and disappear to the distant left. I admire their spirit and gracefulness, for they have been steadfast companions since early in my first life.

Continuing my glide, I leave the realm of Pisces. There are many people here -- people whose entire height reaches only the thickness of my own body. I glide between them as they go about their affairs. Their bodies are thick to about two-thirds of their height, and they are a rainbow of skin colors ranging from deep blue-black to dark brown and Mahogany all the way to Scandinavian; but none are blue like the elusive little blue doctors. I have mixed with these people many times in my second life, and I would put my life in their hands.

But not this time; I glide upward toward the conscious.

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Wednesday March 13, 2002 - Contrabhand!

I turn the weekend over in my mind again and again as we approach the border. It has been a glorious getaway on the playa, and with a full week ahead of us back in civilization we are reluctantly returning home.

As we pass through the border the Immigration officer asks the usual questions.

"Where have you been?"  "Are you both citizens?"

"Salinas; yes, we are."

"What are you bringing back with you?" he asks.

"There are three or four cans of Modelo in the cooler," I respond; "that's all."

"OK, I'd like you to pull into that stall."

He motions with his hand. Damn; we've been detained for a spot-check. We dutifully pull ahead and into the parking place. Another officer steps up from the other side of the vehicle.

"Open your rear hatch, please."

I know the drill well; I get out of the vehicle, open the hatch and step back. The agent begins poking around in the rear of the vehicle for contraband, opening and moving containers. Suddenly he leaps back, withdrawing his arm with a jerk. The hand hangs limply from his arm and there is an expression of excruciating pain on his face.

"I've crushed my hand," he exclaims.

I look at the hand in surprise. It is completely flat -- two dimensional -- like a piece of crushed cardboard.

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Friday March 30, 2001 - Mrs. Botsford

I always enjoy watching the fish. They move about the house en masse today, gliding, resting, gliding always gracefully near the floor. They dart out of my way as I walk from room to room. I watch to see how many species are out today. There's a large funny one I'm not familiar with -- with a flat underside, and sort of inflated like a puffer.

I point it out to Mrs. Botsford, the neighbor lady visiting from next door. She's reclining on the couch watching the fish, too. I don't remember how easily she walked in here, but I notice her prosthetic plastic legs for the first time. It's a Daliesque picture, the way she's reclining there with her legs stretched out on the couch -- all wrinkled and shriveled up from about the knees down, like they're made of plastic wrap.

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Friday December 3, 1999 - Second World

When she came back the house was no longer standing. It had been on the side of a cliff overlooking a canyon with water below . . . like a cliff along the Colorado River, except that the river was muddy like the Mississippi. When she looked over the edge it was like looking down into the Grand Canyon -- spectacular! It was beautiful, breathtaking! There was brown shelf-rock from an ancient reef all over in the water . . . hard to distinguish in the water.

Then she saw something else hardly distinguishable from the rocks. Something moving -- and she realized it was some sort of prehistoric animal, some giant prehistoric animal. And then she realized there was another one. From the distance they looked the same color as the water, and they were so huge . . .
[ Copyright (c) 1999-2011, ydf ]

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Saturday December 7, 1996 - Crimson Tears

She dug in her purse looking for her handkerchief, reached up and wiped her mouth with it. Blood. She folded it under and dabbed again. This time the handkerchief was surprising wet. She folded it again, blotted her eyes, folded it and wiped at her nose, which felt like it was about to drip. By now the handkerchief was getting soggy and she had blood all over her fingers.

Overwhelmed with emotion, she turned to her husband in desperation, "What am I going to do? I'm bleeding from my mouth and nose -- and even my eyes?"
[ Copyright (c) 1999-2011, ydf ]

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Circa 1945 - Early Childhood

It was in a remote area, someplace in western Kansas. He was three or four years old, and he couldn't be held completely responsible for what happened to him. He was out wandering in the farmyard, and there was no way anyone could have known about any dangers that lurked in the undertow of rural farm life. Lets face it; that was around 1945 -- in Pleasantville.

He wandered along a dry shallow wash bank where there were scattered Cottonwood trees and the Buffalo grass was grazed short by livestock. He wandered further than any mother might expect, and eventually he was out of earshot and out of site of the farmyard.

The ground sloped gently, there, toward the wash. And on this bright summer day he passed by what looked like a small open-sided building, a dense roof supported by several poles -- perhaps a place where cattle are fed hay in the bleakness of winter. The roof was only about four feet off the ground, but the dirt floor was cut deeply into the bank so that it was of normal height when you stood inside.

And he tripped on a rock and fell down; and he rolled about three turns and fell over the side into the building. Although it looked from above like the floor was exposed at ground level on the lower side, the wash side -- it wasn't; there was really no way of knowing that the floor was cut so vertically into the bank clear around the periphery of the building that there was no way for a small child to escape.

It was very dark inside, out of the bright sunlight. And the Trolls got him -- big fat short ugly trolls with bare chests and long hair all over, and carrying big clubs; trolls not unlike the Little Blue Doctors of modern times. He scrambled at the dirt walls, but there was no way to gain a foothold. He screamed, but no one came. He was terrified when the Trolls came. They grabbed him and he went into convulsions, like a bird when caught by a child. And he lay there limp, until the end.

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Wednesday November 27, 1996 - The Agent

I clear the window and come down, arms stretching to reach the horizontal flagpole that extends from the building. Several stories below, traffic is snarled, as usual, in the futile choreography of rush-hour. But I have no time to contemplate the deficiencies of modern mobility. Reaching the flagpole, my original vector is transformed into an arc as I swing neatly the 120° necessary to put me through the window below the flagpole. Landing on my feet, I have no time for reflection, because he still pursues me. I dash through the open doorway and clear the room across the hall, sailing blindly through the window.

I cross the roof of the adjoining building in a few bounds, swing over the railing, slide down the ladder and right through another window. One of them is waiting within; I quickly put him out of his misery and leap through the doorway. Hanging onto the door jam with both hands as I clear, my body swings right around into the next room. When another agent surprises me from behind the door I tidily grab him by the head with both hands and wrench it half a turn. I let go. He drops to the floor, his lifeless eyelids lying limply against my leg.

With no time to waste, I clear the window, swing widely on a loose drainpipe and alight momentarily on a flagpole, the momentum driving me to a momentary balance. Leaning forward I grab the loose insulator hanging on the power line and slide down the wires a great distance. Grabbing one with my legs that lunges at me as I go by, I pull him from the window to his death. They're waiting for me on the lower rooftop when I arrive by wire. I mace one and kick him over the edge, knife the next in the groin splitting him vertically, and come down on the dingo, breaking his back. Then I leap over the edge, sailing strategically through a window of the next building into a vacant room. I come down on a lever with some kind of a wooden box on the end, grab it with my hands, and swing my body around, springing back up to land on my feet.

I open the door and step calmly into the gymnasium. Immediately, a surrealistic, rectangular-featured dog steps forward in high pursuit, snarling and growling. He is ferocious, a Dalíesque Pit Bull. I confront him in the bleachers, grab him around the neck to keep his teeth from my flesh, and twist his head clean off.

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Tuesday May 15, 2001 - Mugwumps III

The mournful wail of the horns casts a pall over the city as the survivors are driven into a large reinforced warehouse for protection. We walk slowly, beaten -- forced from our homes by the overwhelming disaster. Smoke is everywhere, and the stamina to move faster is not within us.

Inside the warehouse people are standing everywhere. Some press tightly against heavy metal containers like so many herring in a can of sardines. More are sitting on the crates and bundles strewn haphazardly across the floor, taking up much of the available space.

I look around for a place to sit. There are many large storage bins with tops made of that stubborn, heavy-duty black plastic. Many of the plastic tops are warping and shriveling in the intense heat that penetrates the building; some drip on the floor as foot-sized plastic-looking blobs. No one wants to get near these; everyone knows what they are.

The Mugwumps sit there on the floor motionless, looking like so much coal, closed eyelids dissolving into the nothingness of their faces -- waiting for someone to get close enough. We know through experience what they will do, that they are out to get us. People scramble madly about, trying to get away without leaving the shelter.

Unable to find a safe place to sit or stand I look upward. There is a second story in part of the structure -- with a lot more storage containers up there -- but no heat damage and no Mugwumps. People cram the stairway getting to it. There is no wall at the outer edge of the floor, and a few individuals fall over the edge, pushed by the crowd.

I study the ceiling. It is composed of many broad rafters -- rafters that would stand some weight. Concentrating intently, I float upward -- steadily, carefully -- to a rafter to get away. I relax here for a moment, looking around. Some of the rafters are very spindly and weak, some quite large and strong. Shortly, there are many people joining me; and soon everyone up here is afraid again -- afraid the rafters will break under our weight, afraid of dropping amid the Mugwumps.

I look around. There is a stronger-looking section a short distance away. Straddling my rafter, I work my way toward it, taking care not to bounce any more than necessary.

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Thursday June 20, 1996 - Chain Male

First it wasn't there, and then suddenly it was. He worked for several minutes, but couldn't seem to free the chain from his mouth. As he worked it clashed against his teeth, rattling his whole head. In a way, he felt fortunate; it wasn't the heaviest chain he'd seen, although the links were probably at least of 3/32-inch steel. But it was irritating beyond words. He yanked as hard as he could. It vibrated his whole ribcage, but it didn't come loose. He sat down in despair. The end of the chain hit the table, transmitting the clatter directly into his head. He dropped his head in his hands and began sobbing quietly; he just didn't know what else to do.

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Sunday July 6, 1997 - Tacitly

Still caught in my first life, I visit the Arrowhead house where I used to live. I'm receiving instructions from Spouse, who is standing in the doorway. She isn't very happy, as usual, but deals with me tacitly. We will sell the house. She closes the door and shortly is backing out of the driveway on her way to work.

I approach again, and knock. The door is answered by Jon, her Significant Else. I explain what we're going to do. He listens, tacitly.

I explain that we are going to sell the house, and when that happens, he'll have to move out. He listens, tacitly.

I turn and go. As I proceed down the walk, he curses, explicitly.

"Yuppie prick!"

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Monday April 14, 1997 - Night Tide

I open my eyes and focus on the moonlit surf. My soul mate is asleep on her cot beside me. We are only about 20 feet from the gentle surf action, but I can clearly see both surface ripples and objects on the bottom of the tide pools, a few inches deep, reflecting the moonlight. I watch for a few minutes, fancying the subtle twinkle of diatoms in the surf.

The tide has gently crept into this shallow backwater area while we slept, and as I become more aware of our surroundings I realize that it has risen beyond our expectations as we opened our cots in the twilight -- our cots, with their six-foot legs are now standing in about three inches of water.

Even so, my thoughts go back to the lonely landscape and the miniature ecosystem of the shell-bottomed high water tide pools, reflecting richly the subdued color tones of the moonlight. It is more beautiful than anything I know.

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Circa 1985 thru 1996 - A Fleshy Thing

It woke him rather slowly -- a strange tingling sensation at the back of his left hand. He ignored it for a time and tried to sleep, but it didn't do any good. He knew what that meant, and he wasn't happy about it. He threw the covers back, got out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom.

In the light it was obvious -- another fleshy thing growing out of his arm, or actually, his hand this time. It had been happening all too frequently, once or twice a year for the last several years. He thought it might be alive; he'd never seen a tapeworm, but that's what it reminded him of. Sometimes they were in his hand like this one, and sometimes they were in his lower arm -- usually his left -- and always, dealing with it repulsed him severely.

This one was almost half an inch across the widest thickness; often they were smaller, all the way down to one sixteenth-inch. He knew what he had to do, and it gave him the heebie-jeebies to think about it. It was quite entrenched, protruding from his hand only a very little. It was going to be hard to get hold of.

He shuddered, grabbed the exposed end as best he could with his right thumb and index finger and pulled with some difficulty, digging into it with his fingernails. It thinned down a little as it stretched out, and then he felt it let go. It slid all the way through his arm and out the hole at his wrist. It was over a foot in length, and the distasteful sliding sensation lasted way too long. But there was hardly any blood, and the wound seemed small. He flushed it down the toilet in disgust, treated his hand with disinfectant and returned to bed.

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Wednesday August 21, 1996 - A Matter Of Locking

I open my eyes and look around. It's the office, and it looks to be late morning. I have to get up now. Lying there trying to clear my head, I become aware that Minnie Lund is sitting closely against my body on one side, busy working. My right arm is stretched out with my hand on the breast of someone else who is still asleep.

This is embarrassing. I withdraw my arm, push back the covers just enough, and draw my pajama top tightly around my neck. Then, as discretely as possible, I get up and go into the bathroom.

But there's something about it that doesn't look right. This has to be the women’s; I quickly exit, hoping no one has seen me. It should be right here, somewhere.

I walk up and down the hall, or isle, looking for it. The room is long and fairly narrow; that is, wide on one end but tapering down to mostly just an isle on the other, with office desks, beds and people packed tightly in, even at the narrow end. It looks a lot like a hospital setting, with smaller rooms, some with glass windows, down the north side. Through a window to the outside you can see the vast parking lot, with hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of cars.

This north side is where the bathroom should have been. In fact there were two or three bathrooms here, but now things seem to be different. I finally go back to the only one I can find, the bathroom I was in earlier, and use it. It has to be for both men and women, a unisex bathroom; it's simply a matter of locking the door when you enter.

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Friday November 1, 1996 - Compiling

It's a routine day. Working at my desk, I log onto one of our computer systems. I enter the user ID, then turn to my cube mate and say, "Watch this." I point to the delicate wire-filamented display hanging from the edge of my desk. As I enter my password every filament of the display lights up, one at a time, from left to right and top to bottom. It looks something like this:

###############
####################:
####################:
###############

The point here is that I have succeeded in developing a password that will result in full use of every filament in displaying the system-generated mask. I'm rather smug about this dubious achievement, a point lost on my serious cube mate.

I go directly to compiling the computer code that I had modified late yesterday. I grab the heavy metal looped arm extending from the mechanical device surrounding a display that hangs from the ceiling. I work the device with the help of two team-members, Henri and Nikki. We stand side-by-side to hold the arm at about chest level, while swinging it back and forth to the positions required to achieve the compile.

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Thursday March 29, 2001 - Volcano

I crash down the hallway, take the stairs two at a time at the south end of the building, and fly outside. The day has darkened excessively since I arrived only an hour ago. There is smoke and ash in the air. I take my handkerchief and hold it to my mouth and nose.

There are over two thousand people, mostly employees, watching incredulously. I work my way through to the front of the crowd. The volcano has pushed up through the parking lot and is about twice the height of the two-story building, cars and other vehicles sliding off the sides like pebbles -- some overturned on top of others.

Remarkably, I don't see a lot of lava, but what there is rolls in slow-motion toward our massive building; the heat radiating from it penetrating our faces like sunburn on the playa.

We feel a great rumbling beneath our feet, and the glow emanating from the fissure at the top pulsates ominously. A gasp goes through the crowd. I feel a rush of adrenalin. We back up, arms outstretched as if to protect each other. It spits a column of fire and ash, and simultaneously a small corner of the building comes down under the pressure of the encroaching lava. The crowd turns in panic and runs through the parking lot back toward the front of the building, shrieking. We rush to get back inside as best we can, nearly trampling each other.

Inside, the large manufacturing floor is crowded with people, employees and strangers alike. We push our way through the crowd and up the stairs. There are people everywhere -- talking worriedly in hushed tones, all upset, all quivering.

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Friday January 3, 1997 - Christmas Snapshots

There is much activity and carrying on. They're preparing for Christmas everywhere -- hundreds of people decorating trees and wrapping gifts.

Snickle. The scene is festive. Groups of people all dressed up in winter clothing sing Christmas Carols in a white landscape. There is a large decorated tree, and snow covers the ground. They sip hot coffee and rum between carols.

Snort. The music is perfect for dancing, and we hold each other close as we glide around the floor -- a perfect evening.

Snurff. I take a sip of my Mai Tai as the waitress places the meal before us. It is our favorite Chinese food. The evening is grand; the food cannot be better, and we have an evening of dancing ahead of us.

Gurrrrowl. Stuck in a grotesque slideshow, the scene changes again. Hundreds of people fight over left-over scraps in some large, nameless department store. The endless checkout line winds through the showroom, out into the mall, and around a corner out of sight; the tired, unhappy shoppers clutching massive shapeless bundles of articles and garments.

Gurrrrowl. Mercifully it is a parking lot; the snoring becomes the roar of vehicle engines in tune with their miserable occupants -- limping home from another glorious day at the mall. I awaken momentarily and turn over.

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Wednesday September 17, 1997 - Out Of Hand

Abstractly, he scratched at the itch on the back of his wrist while trying to complete the thought. It didn't seem to work. Giving up, he put down the pencil he had been taking notes with, shoved the keyboard tray into it's recess and turned over his left hand. There it was, already again, growing out the back of his hand just below the wrist and near the base of his thumb: Two kelp-like stems.

He studied the growths for a moment as if they were nothing more than stalks of celery. They were strikingly uniform; in fact, symmetrical -- stems some five inches long with in-line pairs of 16th-inch beads, or berries, about 3/32 of an inch apart and spaced only a little more between pairs. Less obvious were the tiny leaves of two sizes -- the larger about an 8th-inch long just before each pair of beads, and the smaller between some beads of a pair, but not all. The color was aquatic gray-green, very similar to kelp.

The doctor had said Eczema, but he hadn't been fully prepared for this. He picked up the scissors, as he usually did, and clipped the stems off between bead pairs, taking care to leave the growths intact close to his hand. He was a little afraid of pain, but as usual there wasn't any. It seemed hopeless to continue this way. "Someone said I need to get a special medicine, a kind of salve, to get rid of it," he reminded himself. He made a mental note to make a new doctor appointment.

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