Monday, 18 June 2012

The Sheep Look Down

Another Flash Fiction from Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds writer's blog.
I've used the crooked tree to sketch out another scene from a world I imagined in another Flash Fiction challenge.

   There’s no-one with less job security than an astronomer - with the obvious exception of an aeroplane designer - so I often sit under the crooked tree.
   The twigs resemble blood vessels tunnelling out through some invisible body from the arteries and veins that are the branches…

   it is more like a nervous system, which is how I can communicate with you

   I did not hear the words which were as loud to me as shouting though they didn’t disturb the peace of the glade. The words simply formed in my mind: as real as memories and just as silent to the outside world.
   “Who are you?” I asked the open air or whatever the inner world of my diseased imagination had conjured up after a lifetime’s disappointment.

   i am an exile, the last of my kind; a skulking fugitive below the outer crust of my home planet a century more light’s travelling from your world

  Not one in a thousand people on Earth really believes in other planets any more, or that this world is only one of maybe hundreds in the cosmos. When I tell people I’m an astronomer they often ask me if I draw up horoscopes and then grow blank and bland and apathetic (or else they become piously furious) when I explain that it has long been known that the universe contains many suns like ours (which are what we call the stars) with planets circling them as whale calves circle their mothers.
   Surely this voice was my unconscious dredging up an invisible friend from a place that Mankind is no longer interested in seeking out; comforting me after dreaming back home in Iowa of Outer Space were dashed by academic disappointment as astronomy grew ever less respected by the world’s physicists and after long years at the drafting table, unsatisfied and resentful, in the enormous Boeing shipyards on the Jersey shore.

   you doubt that i exist, sky-watcher, and yet you still do not flee this distressed, receptive organism for your home and the depressive drug you hope will comfort you. you believe in your heart and despite your grief that I am real. i am real and so i speak to you through (alas for you no longer have the physics to understand it fully!) let us call it a wireless radio constructed from this tree’s threatened life. learn well what I have to teach you, former dreamer; for I have a message of dread news and great sadness for you and for all Mankind 

   “I guess the numbers of next Saturday’s Atlantic City Daily Snorkel lottery would be too much trouble?” I asked, thinking about cigars and some very elderly barley water I kept in the closet below the shelf for all my bathing trunks.

   you must learn to be alert to your surroundings once more and to see the changes inflicted on your species during recent decades, lest your nests become tombs and your reefs necropolises just as my people’s have

   If this thing started to tell me how to respect Mom and Pop and how to treat other folks’ property I was going home and have a talk with my good friends Jim and Jack and Mac and Glen and then wash myself thoroughly in the Waters of Chlorine and meet someone not too fussy in the cheap bar of a cheap lido. At least the Exile wasn’t telling me to build a boat. I hate building boats.

   you must learn again – you and all your kind – to construct aircraft and great rockets and so to regain the skies because what is coming to your world and that extinguished my people is more terrible than the dooms of which your religions warn you. the Void grows nearer, little vertebrate; cruel beyond everything that all the generations of Mankind have suffered    

  “Now wait a minute,” I interrupted (myself, I guess) “what changes are these that’ve been inflicted on us? What should I be alert for?”

   remember the fantastic tales that you read as a child? The stories of gallant explorers visiting strange worlds? what of them, now?

   “But I do remember them; The Time Machine and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has been filmed sixteen times in English. And The Lost World and the comic books about Superman washed ashore in Maine as his parents in doomed Atlantis hoped. I still read them. What’s wrong with that?”

   but what of outer space? what of The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon? and remember from your youth - did Superman hail from Atlantis in your grandfather’s comics? you; the would-be scrutineer of the stars have forgotten that the hero was born on another planet; not in the oceans of Earth. your species has had its imagination turned inward to the waters instead of outward to the galaxy. the Void, my enemy and yours, has long clouded your imaginations and it has done so by altering the chemical balance of your brains and made you all obsessed with swimming and inland waterways and the oceans. unless you teach them anew and urge them to incline their eyes upwards, when the Void’s agents arrive to infest your world your warriors will be obliged to struggle onto dry land from their fleets and learn – perhaps too late – to fight in large formations on the planetary crust  

   I listened to a real radio that night, hiding from the Exile and what it instructed me do. The program was about the Cuban Torpedo Crisis. Depressing stuff. In the morning I’ll get out my chainsaw. But tonight, I’ll dust off my old telescope and take one more look out beyond the orbit of Pluto. Perhaps I’ll see something new.

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