Friday, March 26, 2010

Known Meets Unknown

When the crewman found the angel hovering outside the ship, the first thing we did was cut off her wings.

It screamed. The scene was awful in every sense of the word. Something about that sound made everyone in the entire room cry, even the most hardened atheist skeptic among us fell to their knees and wept and secretly wondered if there might be something more to this universe than empty space, radiation, dead planets, and stars.

It was the ultimate tragedy, and it was beautiful, oh so beautiful.

I carry those wings with me to this day. As the surgeon who performed the exploratory surgery, I felt I deserved some trophy, no matter how token. The wings are brittle now. Most of the feathers have fallen away. The dry surface of the hollow jointed bones glisten with pearly iridescence. In those swirling mute colors I can almost see another way, but the wings are dead. They will never move again. We sacrificed our guide in our determination to make our own way, to understand the universe on our own terms.

The angel did not survive for long afterwards. She looked at me with blank white unblinking eyes and a chiseled face that betrayed no expressions. Yet, her cry echoed in the small chamber, and I felt her sense of pain and betrayal. I understood her confusion. It made no sense to her, and it made no sense to me (I was just following orders, after all), but it happened, facilitated by my own hands. She bled air and song and life, and we returned the favor by severing bone and flesh and fiber.

I fear it was unavoidable -- when the known meets the unknown, the unknown always dies away. Unable to accept a mystery, too egotistical to accept there may be any other way, we always kill what we cannot understand.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Perseids: 1861

The sun set long ago, yet the heat of the day lingered and radiated upwards from parched rocky soil. My bare feet were burned and blistered and open sores wept. I did not feel any of this. I did not feel anything beyond an inner emptiness and a tinge of loneliness. A harsh dusty wind moaned as it picked up sand from the desert floor, and my dry eyes burned. A dull ache throbbed in my head; I touched it with my hand, and my fingers came away wet with blood.

In front of me, the moon glowed large and looming on the horizon. A Joshua tree stood before me casting long, dark shadows.

Bats fluttered overhead, and, above them, an occasional star fell and trailed lines of color and light. The falling stars increased in number, and it seemed as if the sky itself might fall down.

I grew dizzy and faint and sat on the ground. I pulled my pistol from my holster and touched the steel barrel to my neck. It felt cool and refreshing in the hot night.

A scorpion crawled on a rock in front of me. I took aim and fired. Faster than the eye could register, the scorpion was gone. Smoke drifted up from my gun. The barrel was hot to the touch now.

Life one moment, gone the next.

It all seemed so fleeting, so meaningless. I thought about my girl. I had wanted to marry that girl. I thought about the burning farms. I thought about the flying arrows and bullets and screaming and blood – so much blood. The ground was muddy with blood once it was all done and over, and what had any of it accomplished? What was the point? After all, it was only land, and there was so much of it. Why couldn’t it be shared?

So many lives were lost in the confusion. A panicked horse trampled a toddler – she was my neighbor’s kid – but I had been helpless to stop it. Soon afterwards, that same horse bucked and kicked me to the ground. I lay unconscious and bleeding in my cotton long johns beneath some scrub. Once I awoke, the massacre was over.

I looked, but there seemed to be no survivors, just bodies and blood and acrid smoke. This morning, the sun rose, and birds sang just like any other day. By midday, the life I knew was gone forever.

In the present, a coyote howled in the distance.

I looked towards the horizon behind me. Beyond the ridge – where the land was moistened by a cool mountain stream, and the soil was fertile – thin lines of smoke snaked upwards into the empty night while vultures circled. My cheeks were suddenly hot and wet with tears.

I lay back down and looked back up to the sky and watched stars fall. They burned up before ever touching this cursed land, and I envied them.

All at once, everything grew fluid around me. The land beneath me encircled me as it became a canoe, and I felt myself float downstream. The falling stars became floating candles. They flashed by as the currents grew stronger, carrying me down into a widening and endless waterway. The mouth of the darkest ocean opened up and devoured all I ever was or would be.

Then I became aware – at the final moment before this world faded into the next – that the stars continued to fall, and I knew they would always fall, year after year, oblivious of us all.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the agent & the avant-garde

I looked down at the display on my cell phone and saw it was my agent calling.

“Hey. How’s it going?”

“All right. I got your latest manuscript and there are a few problems with it.”

“Really? Like what?”

“For one thing, the length – it’s only three pages long. Most of that is a repetition of the phrase ‘Naughty Johnny was a woman.’ What does that mean, anyway? The rest of it was some kind of space opera, am I right?”

“Sheesh! You don’t get me at all. It wasn’t space opera; it was a piece of progressive, transgendered, and cross-genre steampunk. Didn’t you see my illustration of the airship?”

“I thought that was a coffee stain. All the same, I don’t think I can sell it as a book. The length isn’t right.”

“But didn’t you get my multimedia content?”

“You mean that Beta tape? Yes, I got it. I had to search all over the place for a player for that damn thing. I went to every pawn shop in town. I searched e-bay. You do realize those old dinosaurs can cost a few thousand dollars these days?”

“No, I did not know that.”

“Well, now you do. I finally found a player hidden away in my grandfather’s basement. Then I had to find a television that had the correct hook-ups. I had to take the player and the tape over to my great aunt’s house for that.”

“So, you watched the tape?”

“Yeah, I watched it. I don’t know what you want me to do with it though.”

“I was thinking about turning it into a multimedia package. I read some guy on the internet say ebooks were the way of the future. Maybe it could be sold as one of those vooks.”

“I don’t know how many people out there will be interested in watching thirty minutes of you sitting around in your boxer shorts eating a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli from the can while singing off-key Broadway tunes between bites. I have no idea what that had to do with the manuscript you turned in.”

“You didn’t watch it all the way to the end, did you?”

“Oh, you mean the part when you farted? Yeah, I saw that. Like I said, I don’t know how many people will be interested.”

“It’s a commentary on the human condition.”

“Look, whatever. I really don’t think it would be a good idea to present this to any editor in its current form, and that brings me to what I’m really calling you about.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“I think I’m going to have to let you go as a client. Our arrangement just isn’t working out. Our contract has expired, and I don’t really want to renew.”

“Oh. Okay. I guess I’ll just talk to you later, then. See you around?”

“Yeah. Sure. Maybe. Take care of yourself, okay?”


I hung up the phone and smiled. I had already sold the story rights for a miniseries through a back door deal with a network television producer. The contract was just waiting to be signed, and now I could keep my fifteen percent.