The Shimmering

When the shimmering began, he took no notice. Half an ear heard of it, a quarter of his brain gave it a few seconds of attention, but that was mostly because he was a dirty old man. He was a dirty old man, couldn’t help himself, though he tried to be woke or whatever the right expression was, so the three young women caught his attention.

They were right beside him, so young, healthy, and energetic, drinking some kind of holiday coffee drink loaded with whip cream and sipped up with straws. He could even smell whatever perfume of shampoo or lotion they wore. Their behavior kindled a universe of remembered thoughts about what being young meant. One, the brunette, a tall person with wide dark eyes, maybe endowed with some Korean heritage, gasped and said more loudly than anything said previously, “Marcus has the shimmering.”

Voices dropping, heads moving toward a center point, the conversation’s tone was a serious counterpart to their previous merriment. Such behavior just sucked him in.

“He does?” said one blonde. As she continued with rising concern, “When,” and “Who told you,” the other blonde said, “Oh my God, when did he get it?”

Their voices dropped lower. Coffee house adult contemporary rock and mild tinnitus kept him from hearing though he pushed his mind to deeper levels of concentration. Nothing came of it.

They left five minutes later, texting on phones, drinks in hand, moving in a line to the exit and out. The shimmering was such an unusual expression, hours later, at home while watching The Kominsky Method again and eating a piece of Marie Callender apple pie which he’d baked, he remembered it and asked his dog if she’d ever heard of it. Although the dog’s intelligent face perked up, she said nothing.

“Fine help you are,” he said, the expression the two shared often, especially when he thought he heard someone creeping around outside at night. The shimmering still gnawed at him like an earworm which wouldn’t let go, so he turned to his ancient laptop and brought up Google. He hated Google almost as much as Twitter and Facebook, but Google unfortunately delivered the best results.

The shimmering, he typed in, figuring that it was probably using a traditional spelling, chuckling to himself at his droll wit. The computer screen went black as soon as he pressed enter.

“What the — .” He stared at the screen. What now? Damn technology. Stupid computer. He pressed enter a few times, hoping that would stir the screen back to life, and the did alt-ctrl-delete. Ah, yes, the old three-fingered salute. Remember the BSOD, he told himself, and laughed.

Grimacing, he acknowledged, he probably needed to do a hard reboot and pray to the tech gods that the stupid machine worked. Well, it was old. He couldn’t remember when he’d bought it. Seemed like it’d been at least ten years. Could that be right?

The screen lit up as he reached for the power button. It was kind of lavender-ish and blue, but also white and almost bright as looking at the full sun on a clear day. Pulling back with a hard wince, he closed his eyes, said, “Damn,” loudly, and leaned back.

Shelby said beside him, “That is bright.”

Eyebrows jumping, he peered at the black and white dog. Did she speak or was he imagining that? “What?” he finally asked.

The dog turned her brown and amber eyes on him. “I said that it’s bright.”

He gawked at her.

“I mean the screen,” Shelby said. “At least it’s bright to me.” The dog pointed her nose at the screen. “Hey, there are words.”

“You can read?” he asked. “You can talk and you read?”

“Look,” the dog answered, backing away. “Your skin.”

“What?” He looked down in almost the same second. A gasp rode out of him. His hands were shimmering like white sequins under hot spotlights.

Then a voice from the computer said, “You have been given the shimmering.”

“What?” he replied, because his neurons had abandoned their posts and nothing made sense to him. He might even be having a stroke. He’d always feared having a stroke.

The computer said, “Initiation beginning.” The light flowed out of the screen and embraced him.

An unexpected life was about to begin.

Letting Go

Arising early in accordance with planning, as tested a few times during the previous months, I walked up through the trees and brush. The false dawn was giving new light to see. I kept climbing until I reached a cleft below the hilltop. I’d scouted this location a dozen times. It still seemed like the best.

There was nothing auspicious about this day. I’d said my secret good-byes and did all that I could to prepare. It really didn’t seem like enough. There would probably never be enough. I was preparing to break so many laws. The life I’d known would be gone – if I did this. But wasn’t that why I was here?

Yes, I told myself. Yes, that’s why I was here. Carefully, I unpacked and set up.

I settled into a comfortable position to wait. Dawn’s warm arrival awoke me an hour later. 6:59, my watch told me. I’d overslept by fifteen minutes. Not a big deal. The slaves had not arrived.

The wind stayed calm as hoped. Sunshine’s heat soon had sweat bubbling out of me. It could also be nerves. I wiped my palms several times. They kept becoming wet. Gnats and flies began finding me. Large black and yellow bees buzzed my scalp.

Punctual, the slaves arrived at eight, announcing their entrance with soft chanting. They are such simple, happy people. That is the curse, though, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. Is it my right to make them otherwise?

They might not become otherwise. They could stay happy and simple. I didn’t believe that. Everyone freed of the curse becomes angry when they learn what’s been going on. How they’d be used. But, but, don’t they, didn’t they deserve to experience the full range of being human, even if it does piss them off? Others disagree, but I think, yes it does. Yes. Look at who I was and what I’d become. I would not have been up on a hill with a rifle a year ago. I’m here now to free others as I’d been freed.

All the slaves I’d seen before were present, giving no worries. I counted them every day as they went to the different fields and orchards. The races began by working together in small knots, just as they’d arrived, but then males and females separated, moving on to greet people in other groups. Soon couples and quartets were developed, laughing, whispering, joking, and complaining as they picked. Snatches of their talking poked at me as I stayed in wait. Finally, moved by the spirit to do the thing I’d planned, I repositioned myself and raised my rifle.

I remained hesitant. Worry’s last vestiges clung to me like cobwebs. But I’d shot others first, testing the magic bullets and the vaccine loaded in them. The slaves would suffer pain for a few minutes, but then they would be released. I was doing the right thing.

No, I wasn’t doing anything, yet.

I wanted to shoot as many as possible, of course. I counted on being accurate and silent. I’d practiced, practiced, practiced, always in furtive secrecy, protected by The Net. Forty-eight slaves were in the field. I hoped to shoot them all. I didn’t have confidence that was possible, but I would try.

The couple furthest from me, off by themselves in the northeastern corner, were targeted. Four hundred forty-two yards away, I found them in my scope, shifting my rifle with their movements until center mass was presented. Hesitation reigned for another fist of seconds, then two. Finally, almost as though my finger tired of waiting for me, it slipped onto the trigger and moved. The deed began.

The suppressor kept my work unnoticed for a bit. I worked from the northeast across the field, taking the farthest people down before moving back in the opposite direction, targeting closer slaves. Some noticed the others falling but couldn’t, wouldn’t, comprehend why. Their thinking was too stunted.

No, it was not the slaves who worried me.

Knowing they’d soon be on me, I quickened my firing. Fifteen were shot. Nineteen. Twenty-four.

A drone showed up on the horizon and began hovering.

Keeping to cover, I fired faster. Twenty-five, -six, -seven. The first woke slaves were standing, falling over again, woozy as the bullet’s magic worked and released them from their spells. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.

The drone sped my way. I stood and raised a shoulder launcher into place. Its targeting system found the drone. Going green, the targeting system said, ‘beep’, and fired with a snug click. A yellow fireball took the drone’s place. Black smoke climbing, pieces showered down.

Taking a knee, I picked up the other rifle and resumed shooting slaves. Center mass was desired but by now, I was hastening to get whatever I could, telling myself, “Anything but a head shot, anything but a head shot.”

Lawnmower buzzing from above and behind told me of another drone’s arrival. Dropping one weapon, I went for the shoulder launcher.

Fumble.

The shoulder launcher slipped from my slick fingers. I lunged for it, trying to grab it and pull it in, bouncing the launcher into the air. Realizing it would go over the hillside, I stretched further.

Too much.

Flailing for a branch, I teetered on the edge of balance.

The drone’s sound changed.

Stopped, it was targeting me.

Feeling defenseless, I sucked in air and announced with suppressed desperation, “Here we go.”

I leaped over the ridge into the thickets below. Crashing through them, balance was lost. Branches raked my cheeks and stabbed at my eyes. My left ankle flared with sharp pain.

A small missile explosion marked my previous space with a deafening sound. Rocks and clods of dirt flew by. Twisting, fighting gravity, trying to protect myself, I fell and tumbled, rolled and bounced, grunting and grabbing as I went, finally snagging a branch with one hand. As momentum jerked to a stop, I hung on, sweating and gasping like a sprinter finishing their run, and looked down.

My heart quailed.

A thirty-foot drop was below me. Its spiked, rocky bottom offered bloody promises. If I’d gone over there….

Left of it was a man. Large, black, a former slave, one of the first who I’d shot. He’d gotten here so fast.

He stared at me. The shoulder launcher was in his hands.

The drone swept around to finish me off. “Shoot it,” I shouted, hoping he understood. Swinging, feet fighting with the earth as it fell away, I tried climbing the branch like a rope. Its smaller branches tore into my hands and interfered with my grip. I barely hung on.

Heat blasted out of the sky above me. The former slave had figured it out. He’d saved me.

I laughed for half a second at life’s absurdity. I would not be able to climb back up.

“Let go,” someone shouted from below. “We’ll catch you. Let go.”

Several were shouting that. I couldn’t see them. I had to trust them.

That’s what life is about, isn’t it, I rhetorically said to myself in an absurdly placid moment. Letting go.

Do it, I urged as they shouted from below. Do it, do it. One. Two.

Eyes closing, I let go.

Contact 2

Continued from Contact

Britt (not his real name) had never planned to be Human. Nor had he expected to be on Earth. On his eighth life, he’d been cruising toward his ninth. Omnipotence would be his, was almost within reach of his yearning fingers but then –

Well, then.

Then.

He’d secured every thought and emotion – and there was a huge spectrum of these – around ‘then’ under a mountain, sealed it in a mental tunnel, blocked its access. Because –

Well. Then.

Once he’d learned of his fate, he researched what he could about the planet and human civilizations. He learned: his people hadn’t visited in over two thousand Terran years, thirty-five hundreds of their own years. Still, some items were left behind. He acquired maps and entry codes, found and fixed the vehicle pushing through the processes of activating and testing the systems and flying the thing. Three years, he’d taken, manufacturing new parts, testing everything, adjusting to his body and their limited senses, cursing the optimists who’d informed him that, although they’d never been Human, being Human on Earth was apparently much like it was enduring in your seventh life.

Ha. They were wrong.

Being Human was worse.

© 2022 Michael Seidel

Contact

He’d begun to wonder.

A snowstorm was traversed that morning when he came over the pass, following the Interstate. Hurricane force winds. Icy temperatures. Snow without end, clotting light, forcing a squint into his tired eyes as he and the cats and dog peered ahead. No one slept. The animals had to be with him, of course; they were mostly silent constant shadows. Itty Bitty was on the console and Floofy Cat rode the right-hand chair. Almost Dog lolled his tongue from the left-hand seat. Britt had the center seat – when he sat. Mostly, he nursed coffee and stood or paced.

Steering by him and such controls weren’t required. Protected by its energy shied, the machine scythed along. Systems weren’t optimum but speed was low, fifty miles per hour. Plenty of energy remained in reserve and the cells hovered around ninety percent. Altitude was five hundred feet. The imaging system showed a city in the valley below but nothing over eleven stories. Still, uncomfortable, flying blind. He drank coffee and hovered around the drive deck, eyes skipping between the snow outside and the instruments, maps, radar, and GPS.

Weariness finally won. He told the vehicle to find a place to land. Pavement was found; he nixed that, asking for a meadow. One sufficiently large was tracked down. The machine settled itself twelve minutes later. Snow still fell. Wind remained an angry infant wailing. He deployed the security fencing. Despite twenty-degrees Fahrenheit temperature – minus two when the wind was considered – the little machines sailed out of their portals, and then created and erected the perimeter protection in fourteen minutes. The shield was expanded to include the ship and the area to the fencing.

The systems said the snow had ceased the next morning and the temperature was up to twenty-four. He spent a little energy warming the air outside the machine, melting the snow off the shield, letting in blue sky and sunlight. Growing more comfortable and relaxed, he spied on the town. No people were detected. Not much of anything showed up. There were stores. BiMart. Google said it was an employee-owned enterprise, part of a chain. Albertsons and Safeway. A Market of Choice. Rite Aid. Six miles away. He flipped a mental quarter and decided to take the five pack in for scavenging.

It was after coming back that he detected other people. Three women, according to the vehicle’s senses. Been three months since he’d had human contact, but he was in no hurry to meet anyone. Taking manual control of the vehicle, he confirmed the cloak was on and steered toward their reported location. Spying them, he settled the vehicle into a hover and watched.

Three women. Struggling. Indeterminant age in that ragged clothing. One seemed worse.

Why, though, were they out in this thick white? Snow climbed over their knees.

Desperate people, of course. Most survivors were desperate, hungry for the right food, thirsting for company, praying for help.

Britt tapped a finger on the center console and counted, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Didn’t know why he did that and when he caught himself, he willed, stop.

He figured the woman must be trying to reach the city. They were at least a few miles away.

A sigh breached his lips. The humane thing to do and all that. He guided the vehicle forward until he was just ten feet away. Then he uncloaked. Let them see him.

Took a double fist of seconds before one focused attention on the vehicle. Pushing back thick brown hair and light blue hood, she held them off her pale, wan face to take in his car. Turning on his vehicle’s ears, he heard her ask, “What’s that?” Then, when the others put attention on her, she pointed at the car.

He settled it onto the snow and popped the door. Stepping out, he called, “Hello. Need any help?”

© 2022 Michael Seidel

The First Day

First day of school. She’d had to buy her son a new Backhand. He wore it proudly, turning to see it again and again. Fiddling with its controls. Mastering it.

A Backhand. On her son. Her five year old. She’d not gotten a Backhand until she was twenty-three years old. But they hadn’t been affordable to her until she was twenty-two. By then they’d been around for five years, replacing phones, watches, laptops, and everything else. Just a device on the back of your hand, doing all those things, feeding off your body’s energy. She still discovered it as amazing and creepy.

She wasn’t ready to surrender her little boy to the pearly halls of education. He seemed so small and fragile. This was the pain of being a mother. Her mom told her she would experience it. She knew she would, too. She’d been a virtual mother for two years, training for the vocation.

“Are you nervous, Jayed?”

Jayed turned his liquid brown orbs at her with a bright smile. “I’m not nervous. Why would I be?”

Not surprising. He’d gone to in-person daycare and online classes since he was three. They grow up so fast.

Jayed said “They’re going to start teaching us emoticons today. I already know most of them.”

Kary’s mother came in as Jayed said that. She, of course, couldn’t stop a head shake. Habit and personality compelled it. “Emoticons. I remember when we learned cursive writing. I was older than him. It was phased out two years after my class. Oh, how things change.”

She squatted down before Jayed. “Look at my little scholar.”

Jayed was dressed in his best red shirt with black shorts and purple rubber sandals. Corporate sponsors on his front and back. The usual suspects. Energy companies. Baseball and football teams. Restaurants and banks. They all had part of her baby already. But this was good. Without corporate sponsors, they wouldn’t be able to afford public school. The city’s NFL team, the Mexico City Aztecs, had stepped forward in a big way. Paid for all his vaccination, his share of the teacher, and his meals.

The teleporter chimed. “Time to go,” Jayed said, spinning and striding toward the teleporter like a miniature man. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be okay.”

She rushed to him, along with her mother. Both bent, forcing him to turn back to them, lavishing the youth with hugs and slobbering, noisy kisses as they said, “You be good. Treat others with respect.” He endured and accepted, then smiled. “You shouldn’t be so emotional. I’m just going off to school. I’ll be back tonight.”

Then he stepped back into the teleporter. Raised the Backhand to the keypad. Synced. And was gone.

Netfloof

Netfloof (floofinition) – Video content production company and streaming service operated by and provided to animals headquartered in Los Floofos, Califloofia. Founded in 1997, the company currently provides service to multiple planets and dimensions via quantum electronics.

In use: “Some of the original content that Netfloof offers includes shows such as House of Floofs and Floofless, offerings which mirror original human content.”

Car In A Dream

He awoke with a fast start. Pulse still hammering, heart palpitating in his chest, he kept still, eyes wide open, focused on the dark night around him, waiting for his eyesight to catch up.

Common sounds asserted themselves: others snoring throughout the house, including the dog on the floor and his wife beside him in the bed. Wind was kicking around something loose on the house, reminding him that he’d need to hunt the object down before it broke free. Something to do when daylight arrived, after the other winter chores were completed, something to complete while the sun shone and he paced himself until spring.

Sleep was not coming back soon. Lightly he unfurled the heavy blankets and quilts, untangled himself from his wife’s grasp, and slipped free. An icy floor met his soles. Shivers jumped through his body. Eyes finding form in the darkness, he eased out of the bedroom, past the old dog, and out into the kitchen.

A tabby was settled on the kitchen counter, watching him with still eyes. Drifting to the window, he peered out past the curtains and glass while he scratched the cat. It purred happy in response. He’d dreamed of cars again. The car in this dream had been from about 1980, although he thought he was living in 2021 when he dreamed it. Just speculation about that, as those dates felt elusive. He knew the car, though, green and low, was not like anything seen in this century. Cars were still to be invented. He shook his head at that. Cars were still to be invented, but seemed so real… If the car was from 1980, that was still one hundred twenty years away. Scratching his face, he prepared to return to bed.

He awoke with a fast start. Gaping at his familiar bedroom, he settled onto his side with a long sigh. He’d dreamed again that he was living on a farm in eighteen sixty. Breaking free of his wife and the cats huddling against him, he slipped out of bed and moved through the house. Night lights embedded in the walls helped guide him as he made his way to the garage and flipped on its lights. His BMW M1 reflected the scene in its gleaming green surfaces, including himself, staring at the car. For a moment, he saw himself as another person, the old farmer? And then another — the man from 2021?

Shutting the garage lights off, he returned to the house. Cats had followed him and now demanded food, attention, or both. Touching his wrist, he woke his Backhand. “Show me today’s dreams,” he said, amending, “from the last two hours.” The dreams paraded by until the green car arrived. “Freeze.” He drank it in. “Enlarge the driver’s face. Clarify and sharpen.” He squinted as it grew in size, trying to decide if it was him, the man from 1860, or the guy from 2021.

Were they — he — all the same?

He closed the dream. Either something — worlds — were coming together, or something — the divide between worlds? — was coming apart. Maybe something else, like his sanity, was coming apart. Padding down the hall, ambivalence slowed him. He wasn’t certain he wanted to return to bed, wasn’t certain if he wanted to return to sleep. For to sleep meant to dream, and he was becoming worried about where his dreams might next take him.

A Meeting of the Time Travelers’ Political Party

Sometime in the future.

“We’re still awaiting results. The past is changing, but the results are still coming in.”

“More importantly, we still exist.”

Murmurs of agreement went around the gathering; the general consensus before they’d begun this endeavor was the greatest proof that they’d succeeded in the past was that the party didn’t exist in the present.

A west coast reps was the Planning Committee Chair. Calling for order, she continued with her report. “We unleashed COVID-19 at the end of 2019. Sadly, but as predicted, this had the desired impact. Travel was reduced, leading to less armed conflicts as division between neo-fascists and the rest grew. Many refused to wear masks, as predicted.” She gave a nod toward another rep, who briefly beamed in acknowledgement. “The economy suffered as the working poor had their incomes cut by substantial amounts, leading to dissatisfaction that guaranteed Trump would lose the 2020 election. A vaccine was found, with limited impact, also as predicted. Likewise, Trump’s administration failed to plan ahead, as predicted.”

Rep. Bacon, Chair of Predictions, said, “They’re egregiously predictable, which makes for the situation of that time even more unfathomable. They’d consistently demonstrated no concern for human life or welfare, eschewing all principles in favor of increasing personal wealth among the wealthiest. It doesn’t make sense. It — “

“It is human nature,” said the Human Nature Chair. “Let’s not have another polemic.”

“Also predictable,” another rep called to a brief burst of chuckling.

The Planning Committee Chair resumed. “COVID-19 variants have been introduced as we speak. Given the failures to wear masks, plan for proper vaccination in advance, resistance to and distrust of vaccinations, and rallies and protests on behalf of the defeated president, a surge in cases and deaths will be seen in 2021.”

“But will that be enough?” another rep asked.

All eyes turned toward the Chair of Predictions. He pursed his lips. “We don’t know. It remains to be seen.” He put a hand up. “That’s not meant as a joke. If it doesn’t have the desired impact, well…we do have greater variants lined up.”

Thoughtful silence reigned for several seconds. “Is the asteroid still in play?” a rep asked.

The Chair of Predictions nodded. “Yes, but we’re holding onto it as our trump card.” He grimaced. “No joke intended, again.”

“So it won’t be deployed until…?”

“That’s right,” the Chair of Predictions said. “Twenty twenty-four.” He bleakly smiled. “If needed.”

Tuesday Tangents

  1. Happy first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere, and the first day of spring in the southern hemisphere. I’m making assumptions that the world agrees that the autumnal/vernal equinoxes are today. It’s a big assumption.
  2. After checking my facts, it seems the world is celebrating the first day of autumn but the equinox doesn’t happen until the 23rd, according to some sources. Also, not all countries, regions, and religions celebrate this day as the autumnal/vernal equinox.
  3. Hard to celebrate the change of seasons when so many are displaced by storms, wars, and wildfires, and we’re enduring global pandemic. The human side of the world seems like it’s in bad shape. Doesn’t look like it’ll be getting better soon.
  4. I’m a guy who rarely looks for home runs (but, as Steve Winwood sang, “While you see a chance, you take it”). I usually operate as a small steps person, constantly striving for improvements, and always looking for ways to measure them. Some measurements are more difficult to do than others because the increments are so damn small and backsliding is easy, especially if it involves comfort levels and habits.
  5. Fitbit makes measuring some things pretty easy. I hit 30,000 steps Sunday, which pleased me. My 28 day average is 11.18 miles, but much of this is in place, in which I run around the inside of the house. Couldn’t go out because of the smoke. I haven’t been below ten miles since August 24th, when I dipped to eight.
  6. Not much in streaming grabs me. Currently watching “No Activity”, which is a little uneven. Looking forward to Enola on Netflix, but it’s a movie, so it’ll just divert and entertain for one night. Had been watching “Beforeigners” in Dutch, which was very entertaining. It’s science fiction and police show in one. I recommend it. Love the premise and the characters. Before that, I watched “Mr Inbetween”, which featured another set of intriguing characters, and “Vera”, and re-watched old favorites, “QI”, “Would I Lie to You”, “Episodes” and “Travelers”. Tried “Perry Mason” but was not thrilled by this re-interpretation of that character and time.
  7. Just beginning to read “Red Rising”. My wife devoured it and recommended it to me. It’s a library borrow.
  8. Saw the doc yesterday for the arm, probably for the last time. I haven’t been going to therapy, as it was proposed. I referred to Doctor Internet and her assistant, Nurse Youtube. My arm is making progress. I exercise and massage my fingers, hand, wrist, and arm regularly. Improvement is measured by what I can pick up (like the water pitcher, and pouring water out of it), being able to type (better and better) again, doing buttons, and you know, regular stuff. I look forward to when I can clip my nails properly. That’s the true test of improvement. Right now, it’s still beyond my strength and coordination.
  9. The healing process fascinates me. I can feel changes take place. One of the more interesting ones was the nerves in my fingers. Everything felt rough to them for several days until they again acclimated (not sure that’s the right word) and the nerves were mended and sensitized to being used again.
  10. Our local fires are out, but several remain burning in the county, in other parts of the state, and California. I check them each day for containment, size, and developments. It’s depressing.
  11. We had a great weekend of air quality. That lifted our spirits. Yesterday morning started well, at forty eight. But, the sun began developing a reddish tint on the ground. The mountains faded from sight behind a curtain of smoke and haze. We progress to moderate by noon to unhealthy and one sixty in the afternoon. Today, we began at fifty-six, moderate.
  12. We’ve been searching online for new places to live. The eastern U.S. is calling. Yeah, the annual adventures in droughts, water restrictions, wildfires and smoke is wearing thin. We’re considering places in Ohio and western PA. A friend suggested Asheville, NC. We’d looked at it before and rejected it. Perhaps we’ll reconsider it, but on the whole, we’re dismayed by many of the political decisions made in the southern United States and their general philosophy.
  13. Writing is writing. I can defend that tautology by saying, it’s a challenge, slower than I like, but always engaging and ultimately rewarding. Now, got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

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