Tag Archives: cave

Investigations of a Kafkaesque Nature

I’m running through a lush field of yellow grass blades after a black cat under a blue sky. The cat jinks this way and that but I’m gaining on him. I’ve never run so fast in my life. It’s like I’m flying over the grasses and through the bushes. It’s like I’m synchronized with all motion and I’m lying still inside the motion while the universe is doing the running and the cat and I are one with it, but I am getting closer. From far away I feel something warm on my twitching muscles and jerk to attention but it is the calming hand of my human, soothing me but insisting that I awaken. The cat, the grasses, and the universe dissipate. They are replaced by another reality. My human touches a square on the wall of our cave and the eyelids open slowly, letting in the morning light. He brings the chain linked collar and long strap to put around my neck but I lay my head down, feigning sleep. It’s a game I play before we go out for my walk which, feeling my kidneys full once more, it’s probably time for. I rise to my feet and we walk to the mouth of our cave. My human sticks something into a small hole in the wall which opens sideways. We leave the cave and walk down the stepping-stones to another eyelid which my human opens. We walk down more stepping-stones to a path in which big blue, yellow, and grey metal insects roll noisily past on dark rubber feet. Of course I would prefer to run freely instead of being constrained by the chain and strap but I don’t know whether my human needs the strap for me to pull him along or he’s afraid I’ll run into the path of those big rolling insects. I don’t want him to worry about me, since worry smells like fear which is a sign of weakness, and I don’t want him to be weak. Sometimes my human doesn’t seem to know what’s good for him. When I smell a stranger who is menacing or afraid, I know it is up to no good and I’d better lunge at him before he attacks us, but my human yanks on my chain and strap when I’m already in midair. It can be so embarrassing and frustrating. We walk by the stranger and I feel so cowed, but nothing bad happens this time. It might have. Always attack first is my policy. It’s safer. The world is a dangerous place and if you want to survive in it, you have to keep your wits about you. A walk in the park is not necessarily a walk in the park, if you know what I mean. My human is too trusting and one of these days I won’t be able to protect him.

We start our walk but I get easily sidetracked in the here and now. There are so many stories to listen to and you can never know in advance which ones will be only just very interesting and which ones will be whoa I can’t move another inch before I hear the rest of it, like this scrawny grey yellow bush in the garden we almost passed by. A human who had just birthed two human pups had passed by and left their scents worth on the leaves. One of the pups didn’t take his mother’s milk so well. It might be related to the acrid smell of his urine. This takes time and I need more information, but my human is trying to pull me away already. I try to convey to him that this is important but he doesn’t seem to understand. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what they’re thinking inside those inflated brains. I squirt a bit of urine near the spot to mark how far I’d gotten in this saga so I don’t have to start from the beginning next time around. The human and I always walk the same path, two or three times a day, but sometimes it’s not the same path because the smells are new. It’s the same but not the same. Go try to explain that to a creature who walks upright. It’s as though they don’t want to smell the world around them. Keep your nose to the ground I always say. We continue our walk and I sniff what I can. Somebody has to do the smelling around here.

Suddenly my bowels feel full and I release them. My human scoops it up in a bag and tosses it into a round container. Honestly I don’t know why I bother to do it. It’s such a waste of time.

As we continue our walk, we enter a cloud of digital emanations leaking out of the eye of a cave near us. Although the noise is annoying to me, it doesn’t seem to bother my human who is tapping with his thumbs on some small slab of plastic. The cloud contains an article on quantum physics and human irrationality. It states that although modern humans have attempted to base their rationality on the logical and mathematical models of Aristotle, that a thing either is or is not something, but the article goes on to say that our world is really a large number of states that can be and not be at the same time, at least until you measure them. Once you measure them and depending on how you measure them, they become one state or another. Quantum physics is a bit beyond me but it seems to me that logic and mathematics only derive their value from the premise that they somehow reflect how our physical world really works. If not, then what are they good for? I don’t believe in total chaos. The world kind of makes sense to me. Neither do I believe in a big dog in the sky who created this world and everything that happens depends on Its will or whimsy.

We passed through the cloud and continued our walk. My bladder was still half full but I had to save some of my urine for come what may. My human avoids other dogs, cats, and people when we walk together. I worry about his social life.

Finally our path takes us to the mouth of our cave. He puts his stick into the mouth so it will open. Then he pushes a square next to another mouth. I sit patiently beside him waiting for the mouth to open. When it finally does, we enter a small cave that’s not our cave yet. My human presses another square and the cave begins to jiggle and vibrate. Soon it stops and the mouth opens. I walk to the mouth of our cave and wait for my human to put another stick in the mouth of our cave. The mouth opens and we are home.

That’s all I wanted to be.

Daisy Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Prose, Stories and Novels

A Walk in the Desert

Tuvi Ornat put the old concert ticket he’d been using as a bookmark between the two pages he had been reading and laid the dog-eared paperback gently on the table beside his chair. He stood up and stretched his arms.

“I’m going for a walk,” Tuvi called upstairs but there was no response. He scribbled a short note and slid a small corner of it beneath her tea mug on the kitchen table where she’d be sure to see it when she returned. He buckled a fanny pack around his waist and placed his keys and wallet in the zippered pockets. He put a notebook, pen, and the book he was reading in an old backpack one of his sons had left at home. Tuvi locked the door and walked outside.

It was a pleasant enough day, not too warm and not too cool. The few clouds in the pale blue sky were wispy like feathers. Tuvi walked past the manicured parkways and gardens. Palm tree fronds wavered slightly in the light breeze. He reached the main road and walked over to the shaded bus stop. Tuvi pulled his book out of his backpack while he waited for the bus. He only managed to read a paragraph before the bus arrived and opened its accordion doors. He climbed the three steps, paid the driver, saw a seat in the middle of the bus where nobody was sitting, and sat down looking around at the other passengers. A pretty young mother was sitting with her little boy who wore rather thick glasses. She looked like she might be religious because of the sleeves, but you couldn’t be certain with women. Tuvi smiled at the little boy, reached across, and handed him a wrapped candy. “What do you say?” the young mother asked her son prettily. The little boy asked, “Can I have another one?” Tuvi retrieved another candy from his pocket and handed it over to the little boy’s extended hand. The mother looked embarrassed and then out the window. Tuvi also looked out his window and watched the stores and pedestrians flow by.

The bus arrived at the central station and Tuvi followed the mother and little boy out the rear doors of the bus. He stopped at the large sign and looked for his destination. He saw the platform number and walked towards his bus. There was a group of young soldiers milling around the open baggage doors of the bus. They had their rifles slung over their shoulders this way and that. They looked so nice, the boys and girls, but they looked so young. Tuvi knew that meant he was getting older. He was glad they were travelling with him on this bus, but it probably meant he’d have to stand most of the way until they reached the large army base just before he wanted to get off, unless one of them would be kind enough to give him his or her seat. The trouble was that Tuvi didn’t look his age. People always thought he was much younger although he didn’t always feel younger inside. Tuvi grabbed the overhead bar when the driver closed the pneumatic doors with a wheeze, and the bus lurched backwards as it pulled away from the platform.

Soon the bus left the town, turning onto the highway going south. The orchards and fields on either side of the speeding bus were a palette of mostly greens and browns. Tuvi wondered how the farmers would get by this year, the seventh year in which the land was to be left fallow and not to be worked. The principle made sense to Tuvi, but the application of it in this country did not. He thought leaving a seventh of your farmland fallow and then rotating your crops made more sense than farming all your land six years and leaving it fallow in the seventh. Suppose there were a drought or too much rain in the sixth year?

The bus stopped at a crossroads near a small town. Two soldiers got off the bus and collected their duffel bags from under the bus. There was an empty seat next to a pretty girl soldier sleeping with her head against the window. Tuvi sat down gratefully. The bus picked up speed once more. He looked out the window and noticed that the green fields had been replaced by dry brush and long stretches of sand. Tuvi took out his book and opened it across his knees. The girl soldier shifted her head against the seat back, an inch from his shoulder. A few strands of her thick blonde hair brushed his arm, or so he thought. Tuvi didn’t want to look for fear of waking her. He relaxed back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Tuvi woke suddenly. The bus had stopped and the soldiers were milling toward the rear door of the bus. “Hey Kira, we’ve arrived,” someone said. “Stop molesting the old guy!” The blonde haired soldier sitting next to him sat up straight, turned in Tuvi’s direction, and said, “Excuse me.” Tuvi stood up next to his chair so that she could exit with her friends. He watched them collect their duffel bags and start walking toward the gates of the large base. A veiled woman wearing a burka over jeans and sneakers, three children, and several bearded men wearing large knit skull caps entered the bus and sat down in the front seats. Tuvi eyed them suspiciously. He couldn’t be certain whether they were one of us or one of them because he wasn’t born here. The bus started to move.

The rocky sandy landscape undulated as it flashed past the window like images in an old-fashioned zoetrope. Dilapidated pickup trucks and young dark-skinned boys sitting on carts flicking switches on the backsides of lazy mules exited Tuvi’s field of vision as quickly as they had entered it. A patchwork of tents and corrugated siding dotted the hills in the middle distance away from the road. He noticed television antennae poking out of the center of most tents. The bus slowed down and stopped at a traffic light. A young boy was selling hot pretzels at the intersection while a couple elders played shesh-besh in the shade of the bus stop. The light changed and the bus started up.

Soon the bus began its slow deliberate descent down a series of narrow hairpin curves with sheer mountainous walls on one side of the bus and the ground dropping away steeply on the other side. The veiled woman held her children tight against her while the bearded men murmured conspiratorially in a tongue Tuvi did not recognize.

Finally the bus came out onto a wide straight stretch of road toward the great salt sea that could be seen in the distance. The bus slowed and stopped at the side of the road, unremarkable except for a rusted pole and sign indicating the way to the Qumran caves. Tuvi stood up and walked unsteadily down the steps of the bus into the furnace of desert air. He walked toward a stand of trees wavering in and out of the heated air like a mirage. When he reached the shade of trees, he stopped to stretch his legs and turned back toward the road. The bus had already disappeared from sight and the road was also wavering in and out of vision like something not quite substantial. He noticed that one of the bearded men had gotten off the bus with him and had paused halfway between the road and where Tuvi stood to light up a cigarette between cupped hands.

Tuvi turned around away from the road and followed the path beyond the stand, down the hill, and around the bend with his eyes. There wasn’t much difference between the path and not the path. He’d come this far and he’d go a bit further. Tuvi wished he’d taken along a few bottles of mineral water. Maybe there’d be some further on. He started walking down the path on the other side of the stand of trees, down the hill, and around the bend. He noticed the rocky hillsides had changed their hues to white and ochre from the abundance of lime and sulfur in this area. Tuvi also noticed that the bearded man had also started down the same path about fifty yards behind him.

Tuvi continued walking. The path led through a narrow gap between two tall cliffs. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow, he thought to himself. Good place for an ambush. The path climbed up some flat stones that formed a natural stairway. Tuvi followed the path to the top of a low promontory and looked back the way he came. The bearded man was sitting on a grey-white boulder about the same distance from Tuvi as before, smoking, flicking ashes on the ground, and looking off into the distance. He stubbed his cigarette into the path and continued towards Tuvi.

Tuvi started walking up the hill. Foot paths crisscrossed each other every so often. Beside most path crossings Tuvi encountered a pile of stones, sometimes placed one on top of the other and sometimes put in a sort of pyramid, but there were other patterns as well. He had heard that the Bedouins construct and use them as markers to help them find their way across the mountains and valleys of the desert, say, to a village or well. Tuvi thought it was interesting how the Bedouin used the rocks as a language that allowed them to understand what the desert was telling them. Everyone knew they were expert scouts and trackers in the desert because they knew the place of every rock and when a rock was out of place. The rock piles were no use to Tuvi, however, and so he continued up the path he chose to follow as best he could.

Tuvi climbed the hill. When he reached the top he turned around to look for the bearded man, but he was nowhere to be found. Tuvi turned back around and looked at the wide expanse of valley at the bottom of the hill. Off a ways craggy mountains grew on either side of the valley. The mountain sides were spotted with caves. He selected one of the caves that seemed accessible without a rope and climbing gear, and walked down the sandy hill toward it.

When he reached the ledge in front of the cave, Tuvi ducked his head and looked into the inviting shadow. He walked in, a few paces, hunched over to avoid bumping his head against the rocky ceiling. He didn’t see any bats or scorpions around so he sat down on one of the flat rocks jutting from the wall. He looked out from the cave toward the low western mountain tops. The sun was just about to touch the top crags.

Suddenly Tuvi felt very tired. He bent down to smooth away some of the rocks and twigs on the ground in front of him, lay his backpack down like a pillow, and stretched himself out carefully on the ground. Just a little snooze never hurt anyone, was the last thing he thought about before drifting off to sleep.

“You really should have brought along a few bottles of water,” a voice interrupted Tuvi’s sleep.

Tuvi woke up with a start. It was pitch dark all around him. He felt around with his hand for the flat rock he’d been sitting on before he’d decided to take a snooze. With his hand still on the flat rock, he sat up painfully, his back stiff with aching. He stood up carefully, remembering the low cave ceiling, swiveled around, and managed to sit down. “What did you say?” he asked.

“You really should have brought along a few bottles of water.”

“Tell me about it,” Tuvi said sarcastically.

“I just did.”

“Where are you,” Tuvi asked, “I can’t see in this dark.”

“I’m everywhere”.

“Are you threatening me?” Tuvi asked testily.

“No, not really, though I could have struck you dead, killed you, whatever, at several points along the way, if I’d wanted to. The bus could’ve blown a tire going around one of those hairpin curves or that bearded gentleman could have come up behind you and slit your throat. Maybe he still will.”

“Who are you?” Tuvi asked, not knowing where to face.

“Who do you think?”

“I think you’re a nut who thinks he’s God,” Tuvi answered, “or a crook running a scam. That’s what I think.”

“Are you an atheist?”

“You should know,” Tuvi answered.

“Yeh, I thought so.”

“Not really,” Tuvi softened his voice. “I’m more of an agnostic. I don’t have any evidence one way or the other.”

“I know what an agnostic is.”

“Sorry,” Tuvi said, “I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“You’re pretty polite. Does that mean you’re afraid of me?”

“No,” Tuvi responded, “that’s just the way I was raised to be.”

“Ah, so there’s not much of a chance that you’ll be worshipping me anytime soon?”

“Sorry, no,” Tuvi answered.

“Why?”

“Because there’s not much about you that’s worthy of worship,” Tuvi said, and then he asked, “When’s the last time you were in a synagogue, church, or mosque?”

“Never been in one.”

“So you have no idea what people are saying in your name?” Tuvi asked.

“Not really. No. What are they saying about me?”

Tuvi collected his thoughts before answering, “They say that you’re a jealous god, that you demand our obedience, that you’re always testing our faith in you, that we were born in sin, that we should kill those who don’t believe in you, that you made us masters of all that you created, that we shouldn’t eat pork, that we shouldn’t mix meat with milk, that we shouldn’t wear jeans, …”

“I said all those things? Sounds pretty self-serving to me.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” Tuvi said. “Why would a god of the whole universe micromanage like that, especially in such a juvenile manner?”

“Now that we have that settled, you seem like you have a pretty good head on your shoulders. What are we going to do about getting you rescued?”

“How about you?” Tuvi asked.

“Don’t look at me. I can’t create a boulder so heavy that even I can’t lift it and, just between you and me, I can’t even lift a tiny pebble off the ground. Whisking you back to the bus stop and making the bus come to collect you is a bit beyond my abilities.”

“Maybe some soldiers will come to rescue me,” Tuvi offered half-heartedly.

“Did you let anyone know where you’re going or when you should be back?”

Tuvi told him about the note he’d left for his wife on the kitchen table.

“What did it say?”

Tuvi answered, “That I was going for a walk.”

“That’s it?”

“Pretty much so,” Tuvi said.

“Nothing about where or when you’d be back?”

“No,” Tuvi said softly. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Why’s that?”

Tuvi said, “She’s been gone a year now.”

“I see.”

Tuvi didn’t say anything for a while. It was starting to get chilly in his cave. He was starting to get a bit of a headache too. It was kind of a shame. He hadn’t intended for things to end this way. He wondered what way that would be.

Tuvi heard them before he saw them, the whistles and ululations. Then he saw what looked at first like fireflies in the distance. The whistling and shouts were getting stronger, louder. The fireflies turned into torches lighting up faces and arms. “Oh,” he said to himself, “so that was how it was going to be.”

Suddenly two men stood at the entrance to the cave. They were holding torches. It was hard to tell from the flickering light, the way it danced on their faces, but it seemed to Tuvi that one of them was the bearded man he’d seen following him from the bus. The bearded man shouted something indecipherable to someone else on his right.

The cave filled with the light of the torches as two men entered hunched over carrying a blanket and plastic bottles of mineral water.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Prose

Chapter 49: The Interview

The dawn light entered the cave stealthily before awareness. Ellen could see the caves across the valley etched into the rocky hills.

Suddenly the silhouette of Lem supporting a young man with one arm appeared.

“Father!” Yani rushed toward them. “What have you done to yourself?”

“He’ll be alright,” Lem said. “He’s just injured himself a little. We need to get him washed and patched up, and then he’ll be as good as new.”

“Who is he?” Ellen asked them both.

“Don’t you recognize him?” Lem asked.

She reached for the photocopy of the news clipping pressed between the pages of her notepad. Ellen looked at his picture in the clipping and back at the face of the man standing next to Lem, and back at the clipping. He looked like a much younger version of the man in the clipping. What kind of game were they playing with her?

“Let us get him fixed up and then all your questions will be answered,” Yani said to Ellen, thinking to Lem a lot of good that will do her.

Yani took the young man back to his bedroom and began to undress him.

“Thanks Yani,” he blushed. “I can do that myself.”

“Alright,” Yani said, “but you wash yourself thoroughly, especially that nasty gash on the left side of your head just above your ear. Call me when you are ready and I’ll patch you up.”

His limbs were stiff and sore. He removed his clothes slowly, careful not to increase the level of pain he felt. He stepped into the shower, turned the handle, and let the cool water flow over his body. He placed his hands against the rock walls to maintain his balance and closed his eyes, meeting the streaming quanta head-on. “That was Ellen sitting on the sofa in the living room!” he said out loud to himself incredulously.

He opened his eyes, turned the handle to stop the water, and dried himself quickly but carefully. He found a clean pair of pants, shirt, and shoes. As soon as he had dressed himself, Yani came into his room, looked him over carefully, and opened a small bottle of clear viscous tincture of something he had no inkling what. She put some on the palm of her hand and pressed her hand against the gash on the side of his head. There was a pleasant tingling sensation as the two sides of the open wound closed up.

“There,” Yani said, looking at her work. “Good as new. Do you have any place else on your body that hurts?”

“Well, my left shoulder and ribs hurt,” he said.

Yani opened the buttons of his shirt, put a couple drops of the tincture on her palm, and gently rubbed his shoulder and ribs. The tingling sensation warmed the left side of his body. She rebuttoned his shirt. “Are you ready for the interview?” she asked with a wink.

“Let’s go,” he said, kissing her hand.

They walked into the living room. Yani sat down next to Lem. The young man sat down on the sofa next to Ellen, but not too close … not just yet.

“Are you …?” She said his name, although she still could not believe it was possible. It had to be him.

“I … I don’t know who I am,” he said. “I’ve never had a name … never had a need for one.”

“Everyone has a name,” she said hesitantly. “Everyone needs a name … How would they … ?”

“I only give names to the characters in my head,” he said after some thought. “I make up stories, but … I’ve … never … written any books. Who would read them?”

Ellen looked at Lem and Yani for some sort of explanation. “What does he mean, he doesn’t have a name?” she asked them. “What is he called beside Father?”

Lem looked at Yani and then at Ellen. “Father is a term of endearment. It’s not really a name. He doesn’t need a name like everybody else does.”

“Why doesn’t he need a name?” Ellen asked.

“Because everyone knows who he is,” Yani answered matter-of-factly. “The fact is that you know who he is too.”

“Yes, I do,” she said, “but I’m not so sure. Look at him. He’s so young.”

“That’s because he is moving backwards in time,” Lem answered, “relative to us.”

Ellen was quiet for some time. Then she asked Yani, “Forgive me for prying into your personal affairs, but are you and Lem married or are you brother and sister?”

Yani smiled at the question. “We are married.”

“Whose father is he?” Ellen asked Yani.

“Both of us,” Yani answered.

“He created both of us,” Lem said, “just like he created you.”

“What do you mean he created us?” Ellen’s voice trembled.

“He thinks, therefore we exist.” Lem said.

“Here,” the young man continued, “let me tell you the story I was thinking about just before you arrived … please … don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you and I’m not crazy … at least I don’t think I am.”

Ellen felt rather dizzy.

The story is about me, I suppose, but it’s not a true story … at least I don’t think it is. I’m in this cabin … but now I’m in this cave … I usually am in this cabin and there is a faint knock on the door. I open the door and you’re standing there in the doorway. I say what I said to you or what Lem and Yani said to you and you respond the way you responded. I ask you to sit down and I tell you this story.

You claim you don’t recognize me. You probably don’t. There’s no reason why you would in this god-forsaken universe. But I know you. I’ve always known you … the last time … the time before that … and the time before that too. And every time I am hopelessly … but wait … I’m getting ahead of myself.

I continue with the story. You listen to the end. I’ll say that for you. You always do. You say how flattered you are to be the heroine in my story, but then you begin to look around you for the door, the window. There is doubt and the beginning of fear in your eyes. I can’t stand it, that I’m causing it, and I look away. Would you like a cup of coffee, I ask. Sometimes you say yes, sometimes no. This time you said yes. I walk over to the coffee pot, light the fire under it, spoon the grounds into two cups, and stare at the mirror, wondering whether you will still be in your chair or on the sofa by the time I return with the two coffee cups. You’re there or you’re not. If you’re not, then you are just outside the cabin or the cave walking slowly towards the cliff and I catch up with you and tell you there’s an easier, safer way to get down the mountain to the town. I’ll show you the way, I say, although now I’m not so sure I know the way down or up or sideways anymore. You remember the difficulty coming up the mountain and agree reluctantly to be guided by me. We walk without words until we reach the edge overlooking the gently sloping path meandering down the grassy mountain side. A breeze wafts up the slope, carrying the pungency of fallen leaves and over-ripe fruit. You become aware of the clicking of cicadas in a distant strand of trees and turn your lovely face in that direction. My arms ache to enclose you within them, as though they were wings folded around you. But …

But sometimes you stay in your chair. I set the coffee cup on the side table beside you. I sit down on my chair opposite you but this time I sit next to you, and try to keep my coffee cup from trembling. We sip at our coffees in silence. Would you like to hear more, I ask. More of what, you ask. More of the story, I answer. Go on, you say.

I jump to the end of the story. There’s not much more time. Time for what? Time for you to fall in love with me. Time for me to fall in love with you? It always comes as such a shock to you … more than anything else I say to you today.

You don’t waste much time, you say. You always say that. What should I expect? You’re half my age but now I’m younger than you. You’re lovely, you’re bright, and you’ve got your … These things take time to unfold, to evolve. You search your mind for every pertinent platitude you’ve ever learned, as though it were your wisdom, as though it could somehow extricate us from the terrible spiraling involution we are stuck in. You can’t rush these things, you continue saying. I feel dizzy, you say, and reach for your coffee cup but your hand brushes the side of the cup at the wrong angle. The cup is pushed over the edge of the table, spilling the coffee on the ground.

Don’t worry about it, I say. It’s interesting how every time, some details change and some remain constant. The coffee cup is always pushed over the edge. Do you want me to make you another cup of coffee, I ask. No, you say. Your eyes dart around the room, the door, the window. I hate that. I know, I’ve said it before. I still hate that moment.

You run out of platitudes to say. You run out of words to say. You have no feelings for me. Empty. Empty Dempty sat on a wall. Empty Dempty had a great fall. I don’t know when it happens or if it happens. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I never know. What happens, you ask. You begin to fall in love with me. Why do I fall in love with you, you ask. I don’t know. I never do. I ask you each time it happens why you fall in love with me. Why do you ask? So that I can use it next time to make you love me quicker, I explain sadly. Why is it so important to you for me to love you quicker, you ask. Because there’s so little time left for us to be in love, I answer.

Why is there so little time for us to be in love, you ask. But now we have all the time in this world because Lem reached out his arm and pulled you out of that loopy little dimension through the door, and rescued you and rescued me in the process. Now you don’t have to fall in love with me before dawn tomorrow morning. You can take your time, as long as you love me sometime because I couldn’t bear the weight of life without you.

Do you make me love you quicker each time, you ask. No, I answer. Every time the reason is different.

By now the light in the cave had thinned into evening shadow. They were unaware that Lem and Yani had quietly left the room for them to be alone together.

In a moment the artificial lighting will turn on. Is that alright with you? You haven’t said a word for some time now. Can we get you anything? You must be famished. When did you last eat? Please say something … anything. I could drink some water, my mouth is so dry. What about you?

I’m still here.

Yes, you are. I can’t believe my good luck. Can I –

Just shush for a moment. Let me process.

Do you want –

Don’t ask me. Just bring me what you know I need. I need for us to be silent for a little while.

The artificial lighting kicked on and the shadows leaped through the glass door into the engulfing night. The giant world rose over the black mountain range on the horizon. He rose from the sofa through the exhaustion that had surrounded him while he was telling her the story. He picked up the empty cups and walked into the kitchen to rinse them out. He ground some coffee and put the grounds into the metal pot which he filled with fresh water. He returned to the kitchen, lit the thermal unit, and put the pot inside. He found some bread that looked fresh and a few eggs which he put in a pan and fried on the stove. He rummaged around the drawers until he found a couple plates and eating utensils. He carried the steaming eggs and coffee out to the table.

They ate without speaking. He looked down at his eggs and fried bread, but he felt her staring at him. She looked away when he raised his eyes. He watched her drink down the coffee. He drank his silently.

She stood up from the table and walked over to the door.

His heart sank.

She turned around waiting for him.

He walked towards her unsteadily. They put their hands on the glass and it disappeared.

The night breeze whispered through their hair like breathing. Otherwise there was only silence. The light was pale and ghostly underneath the huge world around which they rotated.

She reached for his hand.

Why?

Shush.

They walked the ghostly path almost to the edge of the cliff and looked down across the valley to the lit caves on the other side and the black sky behind the hills. She felt a sudden chill and put her arm inside his arm, so that he could feel the pulse of her breast against his arm.

“Let’s go back to the cave. There is a slight chill in the breeze.”

“Yes,” he remembered, “we’d better get back before the earth goes down. The darkness is absolute.”

They walked back up the path hand in hand.

They could see the light from the third cave thinning into the night. He placed his hand on the glass and they walked into the light.

She sat down on the sofa.

“Do you want some more coffee?”

“What do I usually say?”

“You usually say yes.”

“Then why do you ask?”

“I always do.”

“Then go make me another cup of coffee,” she smiled charmingly.

He walked over to the stove with the two empty cups, set the water in the pot to boil, rinsed out the cups, and refilled them with coffee. He walked back out with the two cups brimming, set one down beside her, and stood beside the sofa sipping his own coffee pensively.

He sat down beside her. Ellen kicked off her shoes, bent her long legs underneath her, and nestled into the crook of his arm. His wings folded around her and his arms no longer ached.

Her breathing became soft and even.

Soon he too was asleep.

He woke up suddenly. She was still asleep, her head warm against his chest. Her hair smelled like summer wheat from his childhood. He inhaled the smell of her hair deeply, recording it for future memory.

Ellen must have sensed his return to consciousness because she also stirred. In the darkness they searched for and found each other’s lips. In a few moments flesh also found flesh in the darkness. In a time which was not time they stretched out against each other, entangled one within the other, a single being.

He tried with all his will and might to stop time, to stretch it out to eternity. He tried to accelerate his senses to multiply them.

Ellen fell asleep again deep in the knowledge of being utterly loved, in the exhaustion of innocence. He opened his eyes wide against the night but at some point he fell backwards into a deep dream.

Birdsong entered his consciousness, calling him from his dream. The dawn sunlight pierced his closed eyelids, voluminous and insistent. He pulled her into him and she was still alive.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 41: Succubae

They sat in silence for a long time. The lights dimmed, but only because of the mood that pervaded the cave. Outside the stars sparkled coldly. Inside the warmth eddied around them in accordance with their personal comfort. Time stretched and yawned.

Yani stood up languidly and took her young father’s hand in hers. “Come, I’ll show you around our home.”

The two of them passed Lem’s and Yani’s bedroom. “Here’s where we sleep. If you need anything …”, she said, allowing the rest of her sentence to be understood.

They arrived at a decent sized alcove carved out of the rock. “This is the guest room.” There was a bed against the opposite wall, far more comfortable looking than the Spartan cot at his cabin or the hospital bed at the asylum. There was a chair and table beside the bed. The lighting seemed to come through the spaces between the rocks. There was a small fountain in the corner with water gushing out of the rock wall. It made a pleasant noise that was cool and refreshing. Yani said, “You can drink the water or wash yourself with it.” The young man asked, “What if I have to, you know, …”

Yani answered with a delightful laugh, “Don’t worry, we have succubae to take care of those needs.”

“I meant …”, he protested.

“Yes, that too, and more,” she laughed again.

He felt uncomfortable discussing these things with his daughter, even though she knew every one of his thoughts, so he dropped the subject.

Yani bent over and kissed her father on his cheek, sending a small, not so secret thrill through him. “Will you be alright if we leave you to your own devices for the night”, she asked, looking into his brown eyes.

“Don’t you worry about me,” he answered. “You’ll know my thoughts even before I do.”

She looked once more into his eyes, searchingly, and left.

He sat down on the bed first, testing it. Satisfied about its comfort, he stood up and sat down in the chair beside the bed. He sat for a while immersed in thought, summing up what he’d been through, trying to make sense of the last few day-night cycles. Ellen came into his mind. He rubbed his eyes to make sure she had not entered the room. In this present universe, no, in his present state of mind, he could not be certain of the laws of physics or the laws of logic for that matter. No, she was definitely not in his room … just in his mind. At least that is what he thought, he thought. That’s enough of that. He wondered where she was now and what she was doing. Was she softly knocking on the door on the porch of his cabin? What would she do when nobody answered? Would she still die? Why couldn’t he go back to the cabin to rescue her, to take her hand and walk through the door to this world, to be with Lem and Yani, and him?

There was no answer. He would raise the question to Lem and Yani tomorrow morning. They would know. They knew everything. He couldn’t imagine anything they didn’t know. Of course he couldn’t imagine. He imagined them. He knew he was losing his mind and all his rationality, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t … put …

He stood up unsteadily and wandered through the cave, dragging his right hand along the walls of rock. As he moved from one area to another, the lights dimmed and extinguished themselves where he had been, and came on where he passed. He came to the main area where they had first sat and talked. There was still some fruit and breads in bowls on the table by the sofa. His stomach responded hungrily. He sat down and ate a prange, and then a piece of bread.

He walked to the glass wall and looked outside at the lights from the caves on the other side of the valley. He put his hand on the glass and it dissolved at his touch.

He walked out into the crisp night air, turned to his left, and walked up the path toward the strand of trees.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 39: Doors

It seemed like no time at all before the young man reached the other door. As he emerged from the tunnel, Lem and Yani greeted him with smiles and hugs. They had to bend down to hug him.

He closed the second door behind him. They walked together into the fresh night air of a valley much like he imagined it would be. It was so quiet you could almost hear the stars sing.

Lem guided him to their home, one of the caves he had seen from the cliff. When they reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. They passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem pointed to a sofa and asked his father to make himself comfortable. Lem sat down on a chair opposite him.

Yani offered Lem and her father a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. The young man raised the cup to his lips and drank down the cool thirst-quenching liquid in a few gulps. He eyed the fruit with desire and curiosity. Lem smiled, reached over to the plate, picked up a prange, and popped it into his mouth. “You really should try the prange,” Lem said amiably with his mouth full of the tart pulp, “it’s fresh from our garden. Yani picked it just before you arrived.” The young man picked up a prange from the plate and bit off the tip of the fruit. The tangy taste seemed to explode in his mouth. He ate the rest of it and reached for another piece of fruit.

Yani sat down on the sofa beside her father. He turned himself to see her better. “You’re more beautiful than I remembered, Yani,” he said. He looked at Lem and said, “You are lucky to have each other.”

“You know luck has nothing to do with it, Father,” Lem said with his usual impish smile. “It couldn’t have been any other way.”

Why, because you were meant to be together?

No, because you meant us to be together. Our relationship is as much your creation as we are.

Oh yes, I forgot.

There was a long silence. The artificial lighting in the cave came on softly, almost unnoticeably, as though it were always there and yet it hadn’t been.

“Can you state the problem, Father?” Lem asked gently, or was it Yani asking him? He couldn’t make out precisely where the voice was coming from. It seemed to be coming from somewhere inside his head.

I – I – I

May I make an attempt?

Silence.

I see you caught in a whirlpool, a whirlpool so vast and so powerful that you can’t drag yourself out of its deadly orbit, a whirlpool of your own making that even you cannot unmake it, a whirlpool made of the very best of your reasoning. You, who have invented rational world after rational world, first a world of rational robots and then a world of rational humanoids, now have reached the limits of rationality itself. You would rather carry on conversations with the characters of your stories than to speak with real people, people you haven’t created from your own imagination. You are trying to rescue yourself from this whirlpool of insanity by reaching out to your own rationality but, there’s the paradox, the metaphysical recursion, that you can never truly know whether your syllogisms and even your tautologies are the healthy fruit of the universal ideals that any rational being would agree to or the poisoned fruit of your in-turning down-sucking pathology.

Silence.

Father?

Yes, I guess that fairly well states my problem.

Father, we worry about you … and we worry about ourselves. We won’t survive this whirlpool if you don’t.

Then I think you’d better set your affairs in order … no, that’s not right … come to terms with what awaits us all, because I don’t know how much longer I can maintain this reality.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 33: Break

Lem stood up from the table and told Sangor to walk with him. He brought Sangor out of the forest to a cliff overlooking a fertile valley, dappled by sun and clouds. Beneath the clouds were sheets of rain that seemed to disappear after a few moments. The terraced hills on either side of the valley appeared to be pocked with holes. Sangor saw people, Rats, entering and leaving the holes. Lem led Sangor down a narrow path descending from the cliff into the valley.

Lem guided Sangor to his home, one of the caves Sangor had seen from the cliff. When they reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. They passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem pointed to a sofa and told Sangor to make himself comfortable. Lem sat down on a chair opposite Sangor.

Yani offered Lem and Sangor a cup of water and a plate of fresh fruit. Sangor raised his cup and sniffed at the water suspiciously. Lem laughed, switched the cups, and drank from Sangor’s cup. Sangor raised Lem’s cup to his lips and drank down the cool thirst-quenching liquid in a few gulps. Sangor eyed the fruit with a combination of desire and suspicion. Lem smiled, reached over to the plate, picked up a prange, and popped it into his mouth. “You really should try the prange,” Lem said amiably with his mouth full of the tart pulp, “it’s fresh from our garden. My wife picked it just before you arrived.” Sangor picked up a prange from the plate and bit off the tip of the fruit. The tangy taste seemed to explode in his mouth. He ate the rest of it and reached for another piece of fruit.

Lem asked Sangor, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Sangor looked at the Rat with genuine curiosity. He struggled for a moment with his rebellious memories but eventually gave up the effort. “No,” he answered. “Should I?”

Lem said to him, “No, I suppose not” and then, “You and I were children at the same day care facility in Sector 87. I built a fortress of wooden blocks and you knocked it down.”

Sangor started to remember images and feelings from his childhood. After all, he had not encountered many Rat children in his life. He remembered one or two, but not much else; certainly no interactions with them.

“Now, do you remember?” Lem asked Sangor.

Sangor was confused. Suddenly he saw and felt what he saw and felt that day when Lem’s mother had brought Lem to the day care facility and that Rat child had built a fortress of wooden blocks. Sangor had been envious of the Rat’s ability to construct something so tall and was so frustrated when the Rat was able to avoid his blows so easily. The old hatred came back to him.

“How are your parents, Javid and Dorka?” Lem brought Sangor back to the present.

“Hmm?” Sangor responded. “My father died a few years ago. My mother is in good health, as far as I know… Why did you spare me? … I would have killed you if I’d had the chance.”

Lem answered, “It was not necessary to kill you at that time.”

“Will it be necessary for you to kill me at some other time?” Sangor asked defensively.

Lem told Sangor he would not understand the answer to his question.

Lem bade good night to Sangor after showing him to his room for the night. Lem told Sangor they would have breakfast together in the morning and talk some more.

The next morning Lem told Sangor he wanted to show him around the cultivated fields and the cave village. Sangor understood that he was a captive audience and so he assented.

They passed two other caves on the way to the path leading down to the valley. Sangor glanced into the caves as they passed. The caves were similarly protected by a glass wall. Sangor put his hand on one of the glass walls but it did not dissolve. He saw a small Rat child on the other side of the glass wall sitting on the cave floor under a table playing with a multi-colored cube. The child raised his blue eyes to Sangor and waved to him. Embarrassed, Sangor dropped his hand from the glass and averted his gaze.

Lem and Sangor descended the path to the valley floor. They walked through fields of tall waving stalks, of low clinging vines around green and orange tubers, orchards of plump yellow fruits Sangor had never seen before, and flowers of every imaginable color growing from trees whose trunks looked like tea kettles. Sangor had seen farm country in Sector 87 but he had never seen anything like this.

Sangor asked many questions, first about the different kinds of fruit, trees, and flowers he saw, and then about the seeding and the harvest. He asked what the weather in these parts was like. He wanted to know what kind of price the farmers got for their produce. Lem answered each of Sangor’s questions patiently, but Lem’s answers did not make any sense to him. It couldn’t be like that. It just couldn’t be.

Sangor was silent for a while. He looked up at Lem and asked, “What about my friends? Where are you holding them? How are you treating them?”

Lem said “You are welcome to visit them and see for yourself.”

Sangor nodded and said he’d like that.

Lem took Sangor to the captive compound. “I have some things to attend to,” Lem told him. “You may come back to my cave whenever you want.”

Sangor looked Lem in the eyes and said morosely, “My place is with my friends.”

“You may stay with your friends,” Lem told Sangor, “if that is what you want.” He turned back and left Sangor at the entrance to the compound.

When Sangor walked inside, the buzz of Sap conversation went silent. Heads turned in his direction. A voice in the back of the room called out, “Is that you, Sangor?” Another voice snorted “Look at him, all clean and hair wet and slick… Where’d they take you? To the governor’s wife’s own bath house?”

“You can jeer all you like,” Sangor answered huskily, “but I’m a prisoner here just like you.”

“You don’t look like us,” one of the men said testily.

Sangor asked him, “Didn’t the Rats offer you to bathe in the river and wear clean clothes?”

The man shot back, “Sure they did, but I refused… Wouldn’t take nothin’ from no Rat.”

“Did you eat the food they offered you?” Sangor asked him with a wave of shame undulating in his belly.

“And let them poison me?” the gaunt man said, defiantly proud of his own hunger.

Someone else spoke out, “How do we know we can trust this Sap?”

Sangor reached over the heads of some men who were sitting cross-legged on the floor, grabbed the man who had just spoken by his shirt collar, and dragged him through the line of sitting men. “How do I know I can trust you, Worm-Meat?” Sangor hissed at the man. “I marched along next to you and I saved your sorry ass when you nigh fell into the river rapids. Many of you have known me since I was a child. Maybe I did accept their clothes and food, and maybe I just bided my time til the time was right to break them or to break away from them…”

“Hey man,” the man hanging inside the shirt whose collar Sangor clenched in his fist wined. “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it … I was just sayin’, ya know?”

One of the other men said, “Sangor’s all right. I’ll vouch for him.”

“Hey Sangor,” a man who had been silent up to that point said in a voice that carried above the others, “why don’t you come and sit down with us? Some of the guys have an interesting idea you might want to hear, if you don’t have other plans this evening…”

The interesting idea his friends had was a plot to break out of the compound and make a run for the river.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 25: Half-Twist

Lem led the robot to his home, accompanied by the rest of his group. The path they followed was convoluted and admittedly confusing even for a robot. He was not sure, but it seemed at one point the grassy path made a half-twist through one of the lesser known dimensions, just enough to cause his self-tracking log to reset and overwrite the coordinates previously recorded. The robot looked from Lem to the others to see whether they had noticed the twist in the space-time fabric, but nobody displayed any reactions out of the ordinary.

Since his log had reset, the robot had no way of gauging how long they had been walking, so he was not able to estimate how near or far his shuttle was from him.

The robot thought he’d utilize whatever time it took to get to wherever they were going, by bio-scanning the new humans to determine whether in fact they represented a new species. He ran x-ray, spectral, magnetic resonance, and low-dose computed tomography first on Lem, then on each of the men who surrounded him.

The robot noticed several differences between these humans and those he had interviewed at the tavern. The most pronounced difference was the diminished reptilian complex and limbic system in the brains of the men surrounding him. The so-called reptilian complex represented the primitive layer of the human brain and consisted of the cerebellum and the brain stem. The limbic system consisted of the amygdala and the hippocampus of the brain.

It was well known that the brain stem was responsible for the fight-or-flight response to stressful events and the amygdala was responsible for associating emotions with events.

Results of the initial predictive analysis were interesting: other factors like the cerebrum and frontal cortex being equal, an atrophied RC and LS might suggest a less primitive, less limited brain in the new species. It might be reasonable to assume that the behavior of the new species would be motivated by rational conclusions, that it would be biologically committed to rationality, as opposed to Sapiens who were limited biologically in their ability to respond rationally, and instead were motivated mostly by their emotions. Of course a short conversation with his hosts would verify that conjecture.

The robot clocked the response times on the neural pathways of his hosts. Visual processing showed 100 milliseconds as opposed to 150 ms for Sapiens. Object comparison took only 150 ms instead of 190 ms. Error correction speed was 400 ms, 70 ms faster than any Sapien. Motor response was 220 ms, 100 ms faster than the Sapien average. The results predicted that the new species was approximately 30% faster in any perceptual, cognitive, or motor activity.

Other than the differences noted above, basic genome analysis demonstrated a 99.5% similarity between Sapiens and the new species.

The group reached a ledge overlooking a valley between two mountain ranges. The sides of the mountains were pocked with glass-covered holes. Lem led the robot down a narrow path descending from the ledge down to the valley. Halfway down the path, Lem took a narrower path to the right that traversed a row of caves in the mountainside.

When he reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. The group passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem guided the robot to a sofa and told him to make himself comfortable. The other men sat down on sofas and chairs nearby. Yani entered the room carrying a tray with fruit and tea for the men and synthetic oil for the robot.

“Thank you,” the robot nodded to Yani as he took the glass of oil from the tray. Yani nodded back and sat down next to Lem.

“Why did you land your shuttle craft here?” Lem asked the robot.

“We heard something about you from the humans in Sector 87,” the robot answered.

“Probably not very complimentary,” Lem offered.

“Certainly not very reliable,” the robot answered with an attempt at friendly humor. “We wanted to find out more about you in order to draw our own conclusions.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Yani interjected. “What do you want to know about us?”

“We were curious about the differences between your people and the others,” the robot said. “You should probably know that I scanned your biological signatures while we were walking through the forest…”

“Yes, we know,” Lem answered.

The robot was somewhat surprised. “How did you know?” he asked. “Could you feel me scanning you?”

“No, not really,” Lem answered, smiling at the other men in the group, some of whom chuckled back. “We knew you would scan us … then and there.”

The robot told Lem that some people at one of the taverns in Sector 87 had referred to the others as “Rats”. He wondered why.

Lem explained to the robot that the Homo Sapiens called them “Rats”, a pejorative term for “Rationals”, their dominant characteristic, aside from being blue-skinned. They had accepted the name, Rats, good-naturedly, and referred to the Homo Sapiens equally good-naturedly as “Saps”. Saps were rather exclusive in their concept of humanity, whereas Rats were far more inclusive. No intermarriage of Sap and Rat had ever produced offspring, although a few Rats were born of Sap parents, like Lem and Yani.

There had been a number of Rat births from Sap parents. Maybe it had to do with the cyanide compounds mined for processing gold ore in some of the sectors. Most Sap parents killed their Rat infants after child-birth. A very few, like Thort and Evanor or Kivo and Thana, let their Rat infants live and tried to raise them as Sap children. Unfortunately their Sap neighbors didn’t give that much of a chance.

It appeared that war between the two peoples was inevitable. Only one people would survive.

The robot sipped oil from his glass sadly. “Well, I really must be getting back to the ship,” the robot said, wondering whether he was Lem’s guest or captive.  “Do the Rationals have any special needs for supplies or assistance from his traders?”

Lem said there wasn’t very much the robots could do for the Rationals. “We can see where we are going and we knew what to do,” he added. “Our problems have to do with the Saps, who do not know where they are headed and certainly do not know what to do.”

Yani emerged from her sea of silence. “The Saps will never accept the Rationals, although they could use our help and they will continue to attack us, even though they do not stand a chance.”

Lem summarized, “In any event, the robots did not share our time line, except to intersect with it once every 64 years.” He did not tell the robot that the Saps only shared their time line up to a certain point.

The robot stood up and said that, if there was nothing the Rationals needed from them, there was probably nothing they had or wanted to trade off-world with the robots. Lem concurred. The robot promised to stop by just to check up on them once every 64 years, no strings attached.

Lem said somebody would always be here to welcome him.

One of the youngest members of the group accompanied the robot back to his shuttle craft. The way back to the shuttle seemed shorter than the way to the cave, but there was that funny half-twist along the way and the robot’s memory logs were reset once again.

The shuttle craft rose slowly into the clouds amidst thunder and lightning. Back at the main ship, the robot entered his cubicle and flipped on the QEB to report in to the watch officer.

“Did you find any evidence of that new species?” the WO asked.

“No,” the robot said honestly, “not a sign of them.”

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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