Misadventures with Datura!

Standard

I’m at that age, I feel, where I can comfortably share tales of youthful exploit without worry (or care) of any adverse judgment or ramification for what transpired. It is with this idea, and having also started a new book by Dennis McKenna (brother to the late Terence McKenna – axial sage of psychopharmacology and psychedelic exploration), that I am inspired to share this upcoming story. Names of participatory parties have been reduced to first letters only, so that they may remember that they were indeed accomplice to this hallucinatory gong show, without revealing their identity to the rest of the world.

When I was 18 or 19, I held firmly the belief that my body was a laboratory for rigorous and thorough psychedelic experimentation. As a student of mind-expanding mushrooms, I was always on the lookout for the natural buzz, particularly the elusive peyote button, a rarity in Virginia. In those days I worked as a gardener in the summer, often sweating to near hallucination under the burning orb of the sun. It was to my great surprise and intrigue that I learned Datura stramonium, loved for its large, ghostly white trumpet flowers, possessed psychotropic properties. A regular queen of the flowerbeds, Datura was something that I worked with regularly. My interest in botany was budding and it was fascinating to me that this plant could be so elegant, and yet deceptively dangerous. (My understanding of women was on a parallel trajectory).

71601a

It was from a golf course manager buddy, we’ll call him Pa, and his bunch that news of the seeds came about. They maintained that Datura seeds, if brewed in a tea, would produce a pleasantly strong trip with vivid hallucinations and all the trappings of a proper tab of acid. The seeds could be collected freely, and more importantly legally, from the roughs of the golf course and so that’s where I went one afternoon to do some collecting. I recall there were four or five of us – Pa, Pe, Ke, myself and maybe Je, or Jo? It’s hard to be sure. I do remember the big thorny seedpods looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, and the hundreds of black seeds contained within each one. After 30 minutes or so, I had half a Big Gulp cup of seeds, surely enough to produce some effect or another.

That night hanging at Ka, Ta and Pa’s house, eight or so of us took random doses of Datura. The girls had tea, I think, and Ka may have vomited soon after. I, being a dude, opted to pour two mouthfuls of dry seeds into my mouth, washing them down with beer. This seemed to me the purest way to go about it. To be honest, I was skeptical that anything would come of it, despite the stories from Pe about his escapades with Jo, Ke and Ju. Their car had broken down on 395 outside of DC and they were tripping quite hard when the police came to assist them. While talking to the police, Jo had suddenly broken from the group to run off down the side of the road, thinking he had seen Ke hit by a car. But it had only been a figment of his supercharged imagination and he returned to the group, seemingly without having been noticed.

datura seeds

Anyhow, I remember having a few beers, not feeling anything particularly psychedelic, and then going home to make lunch for work the next day. I must have showered first, for I was downstairs by myself making a sandwich in my boxers when I noticed Pe standing beside me. He was talking at length about his truck and I listened, nodding and responding. We exchanged thoughts and then I concentrated on finishing my sandwich, only to realize the next second that Pe had never been there. I remember shrugging to myself, saying, “It’s the seeds…you’re tripping,” and then setting about to make a second ham and cheese.

No sooner had I slathered a slice of bread in mustard than Pe reappeared, going on about needing new tires. I advised him – I remember hearing my own voice – to go for more of an all terrain tire, as mudding tires would just lower gas mileage. Back to the sandwich and once again “Oh! Nobody’s here except me. It’s the seeds, you dummy.”

This happened several times before I finished making lunch and I remember that when I looked at the clock in my bedroom, the numbers were warped like a Salvador Dali painting. No worries, I was tired. A good sleep would bring me around. I tried to close my eyes, but was interrupted this time by Ka, who was floating just above me. We spoke a moment about a concern she had with her dog and then fatigue pulled me away and I drifted off, only to wake a moment later and remind myself “Oh…it’s the seeds.”

This kept up for another half hour or so, as each member of the little seed soiree I’d attended a few hours earlier came by to check in with me. Finally I feel asleep, waking up at about 3am from the absolute worst cottonmouth I’ve ever experienced. It was as if I’d swallowed a mouthful of sand…I was completely incapable of swallowing. On instinct I went downstairs to the fridge for milk. My bowels were cramped and it felt like I had to sit on the toilet, but nothing happened when I did. It was a precarious trip, as my limbs and eyesight were out of calibration, and I moved like some disjointed beast from The Dark Crystal. I remember using the banister going down and back up the stairs and still being unable to read my clock upon my return to bed.

DaturaIntoxia

When the alarm went off the next morning at 6:30, the numbers bent like phantom stick men in the morning light. I picked up a book and failed to discern anything that looked like the English language. “Great”, I thought, “I’ve blinded myself.” But it turned out to be just close range sight, for when I went to the bathroom I could see quite clearly that my pupils had dilated to the point where all but a thin blue ring of iris remained.

I tried to speak but there was a choke hold on my vocal chords, and the best I could manage was to croak. I looked pale, bent and gollumish and it was like this that I went down into the sunlit kitchen of my parent’s house to call in to work. Whatever stupidity they (both parents and work) suspected of me they kept it quiet. My siblings, who were readying for the school bus, seemed oblivious to my wretched state. I slunk back up to bed and slept for the better part of the day. It wasn’t until that evening that things returned to normal and I had a sense that life would go on, without me needing therapy of one kind or another.

The next day at work when I told my boss An (a woman so steeped in knowledge and lore of plants I feel it criminal she hasn’t written her own book) she confirmed my suspicion that I’d done something dangerous.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Witches used to ‘ride’ their brooms with Datura. That shit will kill you…dumbass.”

sexy flying witch

Or something to that effect. She was right, of course, and boy am I glad now that none of us did die from our funkadelic foraging party. When I look at Wikipedia (just in it nascent beginnings when all of this happened), it seems surprising the American government hasn’t put Datura on the list of illegals. Then again, who’s going to eat Datura seeds when there’re safe, glorious little mushrooms growing in colonies under the cow patties? It was a weird trip, but I reckon the guy in this video had it worse:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datura

*TL/DR – Don’t eat Datura.

Southern California Tack Stores

Standard

Having recently visited a number of tack stores in Southern California, and having spent hours futzing about them as my girlfriend ripped through the racks of riding breeches and polo shirts, shelves of wormer medicines, poultices and aisles of high riding boots and sharp-tipped cowboy kickers, I can say with confidence that they, the tack stores, are all the same.

tack store

Upon entering any tack store, one will first be greeted by no less than 3 young women hanging out at the register. Two may be staff, one a customer, or perhaps all three staff and two others customers…it makes no matter. They will be there and when you walk in they will glance your way in a flash calculation of how much you might spend, greeting you with a “how’re you all, today,” in that annoying “oh my gawd” accent they have here. These women will be either very trim from riding, or morbidly obese from having appetites similar to their horses, preferring the feed trough to the saddle. It’s my guess that the former becomes the latter right after marriage.

Once inside, you will find it nearly impossible to ignore the syrupy pop country music that drizzles from the speakers above. It’s not too terrible until you listen to the lyrics – sassy platitudes sung in nauseating twangs that make you feel like you’ve been beer bonging Cherry Coke on the fourth of July. It seems that country has taken a gansta turn, as several of the current hits talk about “twisting one up,” while explaining to the listener “this just how we roll.” I haven’t done the research, but it’s my bet Dr. Dre has turned his production talents to cash in on the redneck youth market.

John Wayne quote

The Southern California tack store will be full of decorative pieces that when properly placed will give the home or stable that perfect air of unapologetic cowboy sentimentality, one that leads the outsider to wonder if Jesus did ride in rodeos. There are 10 cowboy commandments that, if you’re not familiar with them, may initially come off as vapid dribble. But because I know better, I can tell you that even the Chinese factory workers that stamp these plaques believe “Thou shalt wipe your boots before coming in for supper,” are words to live by.

Outside of the Southern California tack store will be trucks with engine displacements no less than 5.7 liters. If they’re duelies, they’ll have brush guards up front for pushing non-horse lovers off the road. If they’re regular pickups, they’ll invariably be lifted on $2000 mud tires with upgraded factory exhaust and suspension. Europe is well represented in the lux-SUV class, with plenty a terrier toting stable-moms behind the wheels of Rovers and ML 550s. This part of the state has a disproportionately large number of Camaro, Corvette and Mustang drivers as well, but they don’t seem to be interested in horses and therefore never leave the highway.

sweet truck:small dick

Perhaps the best part about these tack stores is the everyday wear sections. Just yesterday I was paralyzed between choosing two t-shirts. One was black and featured a bald eagle flying in front of an American flag, rippling in the wind. Above it were the words “Flying proud in God’s country.” I would have bought it for the bargain price of $11.95, but it was too small. The other was light blue and would have been perfect if I weighed 300lbs.  On it was a white horse splashing through a Rocky Mountain river with a rainbow overhead.

merica-hell-yes4-lg

After five days of jockeying freeways and off ramps, parking lots and discount racks, our tack store raiding has come to an abrupt end. Now I’m stuck having to fill two days searching for the perfect raw oyster and burning my pale thighs on the beach. There was an IPA festival at the Redondo Pier two nights ago with far too many beers to taste in one visit. Last night it was lobster rolls and hushpuppies at Son of a Gun in LA. Perhaps we’ll go to the brewery in El Segundo for dinner tonight. Life is tough here in SoCal, but I’m coping.

DSC_2925

 

Henry the lonely goat

Standard

Henry the goat had been many kinds of goat, but mostly he’d been a lonely goat. Such was the culmination of a life largely spent by himself, with only the denizens of the field for constant companionship. He’d belonged to a young family freshly moved from the suburbs to the country, eager to cultivate a rustic aesthetic. Life was largely spent in the long sloping lawn between the house and the pond, tied to any number of things in any number of places. One day it might be behind the garage, then next to a stake set near the road, and then to the mulberry tree.

During the first several months after being taken from his brothers and sisters, Henry transitioned happily into being the only goat in his new family. He roamed untethered, with just a little red collar around his neck. Sometimes he’d look at his reflection in the shiny hubcap of the family’s big blue truck. The red contrasted his chestnut fur and he knew he was a handsome kid.

Under the warm sun of that first summer, the family’s three children and he ran around the white country house, playing hide and seek. From time to time he would pause to taste the roses, which he found angered the mother. The big shaggy sheepdog would grumble when Henry came around during naptime, but otherwise they got along just fine.

Henry1There were so many things moving in the green expanses of the property, Henry barely managed to investigate them all: the butterflies flitting about, the birds swooping above the grass, the frogs in the creek, the turtles in the pond. He soon forgot about his brothers and sisters corralled in the dirt paddocks of the farm where he was born. This was his home now and the children were his sister and brothers.

Sometimes he’d get so excited he’d bleat and bounce around for no reason other than electric joy. When jumping up on the cars became unacceptable, he put his talents to use by climbing the stacks of split wood up onto the roof of the garage. From this vantage point, he could observe what the cats and the dog were doing. Among the rows of 5,000 young pine trees planted in the back fields, Henry would sometimes catch glimpses of deer and fox. In the evenings, he watched the horses grazing in the fields across the road, wondering why they never climbed the big red barns they lived in.

In the fall, the kids would come down to his shack and visit while waiting for the school bus. Henry was bigger now and stayed on a line, usually fixed to his shack. After the kids left the mother might visit, bringing scraps from the kitchen or baskets of garden produce deemed unfit for the table. Sometimes she’d lead him up to eat the grass around the garden fence, although he was more interested in the raspberry and blackberry boughs that hung over its white planks.

As the temperatures dropped, Henry’s coat grew thick and when he saw his reflection it’d become quite regal. The grass turned tea brown and the leaves fell, leaving the trees naked and cold. The New Year came and the snow around his straw-filled shack became stippled with black pellets. Henry would have appreciated being able to poop and pee farther away from the door of his home and felt the first twinges of jealousy. The other animals could run as they pleased during the day, and then join the family at night in the big warm house.  At times he would spend hours staring at the bleak white and gray landscape, and at the smoke that curled from the stone chimney on the backside of the house.

The children seldom visited and the mother came only to leave him fresh water and food pellets. When the father’s car rolled home after the sun had set, Henry would bleat a greeting to him, but rarely received a response. His first winter with the family was lonely and at times he was certain nobody loved him. Had someone come to see him at night they would have known that when forlorn, goats are apt to cry.

But nobody came.

Mid-March the following year all that remained of the snow were thin sheets of slush punctured by pale yellow sprouts. The daylight lengthened and Henry grew hot in his coat. At times it felt itchy to wear so much fur. But it soon started to shed in clumps and by April he was comfortable again, waking everyday to the salutations of the birds and drifting off to an evening chorus of peeping frogs.

The family came to visit more frequently, which delighted the goat. A pain atop his head announced incoming horns and he would look at his reflection everyday to check their progress. By summer they’d grown longer than the father’s hand. A strong sense of goatishness possessed him and more than ever he wanted to run about, to climb on things and bleat. One day he broke his old line and was found by the mother stripping the lower boughs of the mulberry tree by the pond. She laughed and when she tried to pull him back to his shack he suddenly grew cross and rammed her with his shiny new horns.

The next day the father put a new red collar around Henry’s neck. Attached was a new chain, much longer than the previous. He was pleased to find it afforded him access to nearly the entire yard, from the driveway down to the pond, from the creek behind his shack all the way across the yard, almost to the dirt road. The grass there was tall and thick, albeit dusty from intermittent cars. Most importantly, he could get up on the garage without anybody having to come and move his line. It was further than he’d been able to move in a long time and he was happy.

Henry2

Using his horns had brought him this new freedom, Henry reckoned, and he decided right there to use them when it suited him. He was a goat after all.

His horns renewed his popularity with the kids. The oldest boy would bring his friends down to meet Henry and they’d play games pushing the goat by the horns. Henry was just as heavy as the boys and with two extra legs gave them a good push back. They would laugh which made Henry bleat and afterwards they’d pick the sweet grass out of his reach and feed him while they stroked his long flappy ears. The younger sister and brother would visit as well. When Henry tried to play push with them they’d shriek and circle quickly to pull his tail. He’d bleat and spin about and it was a fun game for everyone. Many evenings Henry would lay with his legs folded beneath him, tired and content under the mulberry tree, listening to the peepers as the yard lit with 10,000 dancing fireflies.

One Sunday the eldest boy came to visit and immediately ran back up to the garage. He returned with his father and the boy held Henry’s horns while the father looked at the goat’s neck and muttered. They came back a short time later with a large needle and iodine and some towels. Henry thought maybe they’d come to play so he gave a little push. To his surprise they pushed him back and didn’t stop until he was down on the ground. Together they kept him pinned as he squirmed. The father tied his legs while the son held his head against the ground. Then he stuck the needle in the egg-sized lump on the side of Henry’s neck to drain it. The boy worried when the goat panicked, struggling to stand, but within a few minutes the job was done. When they untied Henry, he escaped to hide behind the shack, sore and confused.

The father came a few days later to check on him, but had other things to do and didn’t stay long.

Sometimes the cats would slink about, looking for the mice that lived under the floorboards. They never ventured inside, however, for there was a big blacksnake that slept in the corner of a rafter. She scared the goat at first, but he soon became used to her long black body above him. During the day she would stretch out along the beams, hissing quietly. Henry would bleat a hello once in a while and the snake would hiss her reply. For that he was glad and decided living with a snake was better than living alone. Sometimes the snake would be gone in the early morning, but she returned most afternoons. Henry admired other climbing animals, like the snake and the cats. He’d never seen the dog climb anything except the steps up onto the porch, which wasn’t even a challenge. And only he went up on the garage roof. He knew if one liked to climb, it was better to be a goat.

The eldest boy came down every other week with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork to remove the dirty straw, which he hauled up to the mother’s garden to add to the compost pile. The first several nights after getting fresh straw were always so nice. Henry would nuzzle his nose deep down and inhale its sweetness. One day as the boy was finishing, Henry surprised him with a game of push. When the goat’s horn cut his thigh the boy cursed and shook his fist and limped up to the house.

That weekend, the boy returned with his father and they bound the base of each horn tightly with wire. For the following week Henry had terrible headaches. He bleated until the sister came down and gave him a tablet of children’s aspirin hidden in a handful of onion grass. The children felt sorry for Henry. They came down to pet him and whisper about his horns, which made him wonder. But when he checked his reflection it was unchanged. After a few weeks however, something began to feel loose.

More time passed until one day Henry went to take a drink from the creek and saw that his right horn was crooked. When he shook his head about it moved. Like a child with a loose tooth, he was both fascinated and frightened and so he shook harder. Suddenly there was a splash as the horn fell off his head into the water. Terrified, Henry bleated until the two younger children came down. The youngest picked up the fallen horn, inspected it and then pet the spot on his head from where it had fallen. The sister pushed lightly on his remaining horn, causing it to shift. Henry bleated and they rubbed him behind his ears until he calmed.

Henry 3_bak

Poor Henry.

He’d been so proud of his horns and now only one remained. He decided to avoid the creek if he could. But the truck hubcaps and his water bowl all showed the same thing, and everytime he looked his left horn leaned more and more. On one rainy day, a wasp flew into Henry’s shack and startled him. His remaining horn clipped the doorframe as he ran out. It fell into the mud and he stood wet and miserable looking at it before walking down to sit under the mulberry tree.

Although he felt wretched, the loss of his horns turned out to be anything but tragic. All of the family, by ones or twos or threes, would circulate by to say hi. The younger kids visited nearly every morning before catching the bus again. Now that Henry’s stumps were healed games of push grew more frequent. The kids would crouch, ball their fists and lock their elbows to advance on the goat. Henry would meet them at a few paces with his head lowered, sometimes to take them both or just one at a time. They were heavier than before and Henry sometimes slid back against four fists. But he could always win at singles pushing, which was crown enough for the big Nubian.

After a rain, the father would take him out to the big black walnut tree where a tree house was under construction. Henry mowed around the piles of wood while the father nailed away; around the mother’s garden while she weeded; around the garage that was his observation deck. And around his own shack, of course. He ate and ate and became so heavy that one day he found he could no longer climb up on top of the garage.

This was devastating for early autumn was his favorite time to be up there. School started for the kids, which meant no more lazy afternoon games of push. The big yellow bus would pick up the children at the same time everyday, but instead of coming first to talk to Henry they would dash out of the house just as it crested the hill. The older boy caught rides from friends, and then eventually got his own car.

No one seemed to mind when Henry stopped bleating good morning.

Again the earth went afire in oranges and reds before burning low into brown, yellow and black. Again the world went white and grey. Holes where boards had come loose permitted winds that sometimes carried gusts of snow, which caused him to shiver despite his winter coat. For days Henry would lay in the back corner aligned with the door, moving only to stretch his legs or walk outside to relieve himself. After one particularly heavy snow, the kids tunneled down from the house and dug out around the shack. Henry watched as they went about their work, wondering if they might want to play push. But they were soon gone and no one visited, not even the cats.

Throughout a wet spring and hot dry summer Henry took up residence under the mulberry tree. He was sick of his shack, having outgrown what meager comfort it provided. The water in his pail was refreshed daily, but nobody stayed for any meaningful amount of time. The berries and leaves of the low hanging branches fed him well enough. Heaped upon itself, the canopy draped in a wide shady circumference that was his domain. Occasionally the cats would enter to scale the interior labyrinth and stalk the birds, but otherwise no one came.

Behind the tree the pond buzzed and splashed incessantly with microcosmic movement. At times Henry would bleat at the cars that roared over the gravel, sending up tails of dust. Or at the horses across the road, when they would run and whinny in their wide-open fields.

That winter Henry refused to return to his shack, even though the father repaired the loose boards and the door. That and a lining of fresh straw failed to entice him indoors. Snow as it did, Henry opted to remain among the broken branches that cracked and fell under winter’s weight. His coat had grown so thick he looked wild, brutish as his ancestors once were. In January it snowed so much Henry had to stay behind the snowdrift that formed around the trunk. He couldn’t have returned to his shack had he wanted to. Instead of clearing a path back to it, the eldest brother and his father dug a snow cave for the goat, bracing it with fallen branches.

There he stayed through two more storms followed by a spring that declared itself in a sudden, persistent radiance. All at once the walls of the gnarled snow globe he’d inhabited dissolved. Above him a thousand dead arms, hands and fingers slowly flexed, leaking green life from their cracks. Great tufts of his fur snagged on the piles of fallen branches and formed a kind of nest. Henry sighed as he did every spring,  more deeply each year. This spring the sighing replaced any bleating he might once have had the heart for. He’d lost it now, abandoned slowly from the beginning and quickly at the end.

To move at all became a mission in which the goat could find no spirit to sponsor. After a time he rolled over on his side and closed his eyes. How long he stayed like that he never knew. When a low rumbling woke him he found four figures standing over him, cutting shadows in the light. They rolled him onto a canvas tarp and, after a great deal of effort, put him in the back of the blue truck, its hubcaps rusted over long ago. He made no effort to move, but continued to lay there as a ribbon of blue sky banked by treetops and power lines flowed by.

When the truck stopped again, the cab doors swung open and the tailgate slammed down. They grasped him by his hooves and pulled him to the edge, clumsily bringing him to the ground.

The nipple of a water bottle was pushed between his teeth and sugar water rushed over his tongue, pushing his cheeks out. His throat flexed in automatic response, drinking until it ceased to come. Arms slid under his belly and turned him over to rest atop his legs.

He blinked and took in his surroundings. A sea of green rolled out beneath him, dotted with the ebony and ivory mosaics of milk cows. Off to the left was an old forest that swept up an opposite hill. Two mossy creeks connected farther downhill at the intersection of a third hill. It was the widest swath of land Henry had ever stood in.

There was no mulberry tree, nor any shack. A large barn with a slanting roof stood diagonally behind him. It was home to the sheep, pigs and a big sheepdog named Herrick. Next to that was a stable that housed two miniature Italian donkeys, Ramona and Filipe, who became Henry’s brother and sister. Everyday a white haired woman in a light blue plaid shirt would pour Henry fresh water and in the winter he stayed with the others in the barn.

The old goat spent the remainder of his life there, walking the fields and woods, sometimes with the donkeys and sometimes alone. He found it near impossible to stand one spring and knew it would be his last. He tottered down to the corner of the forest by the confluence of the creeks and stood looking at himself for a long time in a pool.  The red-collared kid he had once been peered back and bleated goodbye. Henry lay down in a bed of bluebells and closed his eyes. A breeze swept over his coat, more silver than brown. He took a final breathe of the sweet moldy world about him, sighed a final time and was no more.

Henry4

That is the story of Henry the lonely goat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s FB feed

Standard

This is what I’ve learned from looking at my FB feed, tonight. In no particular order, I’ve become aware of the following:

 

・My old college roomie is having a yard sale.

・Old Sapporo buddy is learning the ropes in Thailand.

・An old student of mine (when I taught high school in VA) just had a kid.

・Another old student of mine has “the feels” upon seeing that animals can be more humane than humans.

・An old Lovettsville buddy’s son is digging the Foucault pendulum in DC.

・A Japanese buddy is heading to Bibai, Hokkaido 16hrs ago.

・Another old student of mine, who married an old student of mine, just had their second child. No relationship to the abovementioned student.

・Another old student of mine had a rough day but saw some baby geese and has a smile “on this guy’s face.” 

・A buddy changed his profile pic. It’s black & white and is both stern and ironic at the same time.

・Another friend has taken numerous photos of herself around the world, mostly on beaches, mostly in a bikini. She looks sexy in all of them.

・An old Lovettsville acquaintance had a birthday…but I know he’s not really 25.

・An old Sapporo student now lives in Okinawa and is scuba diving in Maldives. Lucky girl!

・A British buddy, name withheld, has posted his umpteenth geek post about something related to pop culture that I don’t understand.

・A Japanese buddy wanted to snowboard but went shopping for camp equipment instead.

・My sister has punked out yet another part of bunk corporate America by sharing an article.

・My parent’s best friends are on some awesome trip out west, enjoying their retirement.

・A gay buddy I went to school with may or may not have adopted a little girl. Both look happy.

・A girl I dated briefly two years ago is happy to see her brother and nephew. She’s still hot.

・An old Sapporo buddy is drinking with his wife at the beer gardens in Munich.

….

And! I’ve exhausted myself reporting a fraction of this evening’s FB feed. Disappointed not to see a few key players chiming in. Not sure what better things they have to do…

Gonna finish this beer and go to bed.

Image

Thumbs up, motherfuckers!

Happy Saturday, people.

Merlutia – Chapter 2 – Dr. Juxi

Standard

Dr. Juxi

Back in his quarters, Dr. Marlos Juxi stripped naked and entered the drip mister shower. He pushed the red nodule that closed the splash sheath and then the white one that engaged the misting fronds. From the mossy walls of the shower lush pink fernlike arms unfurled from all angles and pushed against his body, still strong and virile despite his age. Some of the larger branches were warm and emitted a lightly scented secretion that tingled on the skin and left it smooth and fresh. The smaller branches passed over the same areas moments later, wiping clean any residue. Marlos breathed deeply in the oxygen rich compartment, turning slowly as the leaves lapped over him. After a few minutes he sighed and reached through the foliage to press the white button again. The branches curled up and receded back into the wall.

His skin glowed pink for a moment after he stepped out, an aftereffect of the shower. Lab tests had revealed that continued use of the showers strengthened the cellular integrity of the derma, keeping it moist and taut. It was one of the many luxuries the Bioglots had produced in their ever-growing understanding of the plants. He wrapped himself in his seasilk yukata, slid into his thick sponge slippers and then poured himself a beer from the pod tap. The pod – Trident 1 – held 1,000 living quarters, multiple laboratories, one of the three existing pod punchers, energy scaffolding and numerous other facilities, and was tethered to three other pods, one larger and two smaller. They in turn were tethered to two others, the smaller of those the reservoir house for the three strainer pods that filtered elements from the deep current waters.

Trident 1 was the first pod to have been made: the canary in the coalmine. It was tethered by seven massive plasma cables to the bedrock off the eastern coastline of a landmass formerly called North America, but that now had no name. A child of the Subterrestrials, Marlos’ parents had been reluctant Prescribers. It was their idea that their son should study the metaphytic sciences, as the future had no need for any more lawmakers. His childhood had been spent observing the growth and reproduction habits of the plants propagated from the great seed banks of the Terrestrials and he and the other young Bioglots had learned to work with them, to nurture and finally communicate with the flora, creating a language by which the different species could converse.

glow poppies

Marlos sat at his desk and rubbed his temples, taking a long draught off the sweet spiced beer the brewers Jacko and Shin had made. It wasn’t bad, although a touch more konbu wouldn’t hurt, he thought. The alcohol was higher, as it was a brew for the adults. The beer Braxon and the other children consumed, while much the same flavor, wouldn’t have the any of alcohol until after they’d mastered a technical skill, Colony Architecture in Braxon’s case. If he made it that far.

He’d done well today, Marlos mused, but an Architect needs more confidence in his decision-making. Granted, the boy was still young and just beginning to learn the feel of the plasmodesma. He’d known the right ratios for the interior growing compounds well enough, and the order with which to apply them. His first pod had turned out fine – perfectly usable, although he’d have to make many more before it was decided whether or not he continued beyond an apprenticeship. What the colony needed, however, was innovation, not more of the same. The intelligence was there. Just a little more initiative…

Tunxon would no doubt be inquiring about his son’s progress, although there was little the professor could give as an answer. It was still too early. Nine other boys were also in various stages of training. Should any of them misstep along the way, they’d be released from the program to pursue other disciplines, and another child would fill their position. There were several young girls on the roster of applicants this time around. Only one Architect would be retiring – the venerable Granseed Tana – but it was paramount to find the best possible replacement there was. Piper Melfund, a few weeks ahead of Braxon in the program, showed promise with his structural design. Rinny Litchtang too, with his love of multiport tethering experimentation, although he’d shown some confusion with his growth compound mixtures. Marlos wondered if Dr. Trommel, another architect supervising the new trainees, would let him go or keep him yet. According to program protocol he should have been failed and replaced. But protocol had been written with the first pod creation nearly 80 years ago, and needed updating. Besides, Trommel liked his creativity, as did Marlos, and it’d be agreed to let Rinny stay in the program a bit longer in the hopes he’d shake things up with some of the genius he supposedly possessed.

If the colony was to thrive it would need exactly that: genius and ingenuity that moved things forward. The existing pods were all surviving well enough, but to continue as a race a mastery of ocean living was crucial. And they were so very far from that.

Marlos finished his beer and refilled the glass halfway. Tomorrow Braxon would make another pod, this time without the professor’s instruction. More freedom would be given to the interior punch out, for if the young boy really was to be a future Architect, he’d have to develop his own style. Such things hadn’t been required before, long ago when the Dr. himself had punched his first pods. Structural integrity, buoyancy, all-around livability had been the chief factors. He’d made breakthroughs and that is what was asked of the new designers of the colony.

merlutia pods

There were several basic problems to solve first. One was the desalinization of ocean water that didn’t require hours or vast quantities of energy. The second was how to take better measurements of the deep channel currents for the addition of three more turbines. And the final one Dr. Marlos Juxi was quite at a loss to even describe succinctly. Given the number of men and women in the colony and the rate of new births to deaths it was calculated the population of Merlutia would dwindle to just a few hundred in the next hundred fifty years or so. People needed to have more sex. How to foster that was the question…and not one for an eight-year-old Architects apprentice.

Marlos sighed again and drained his glass, putting it into the sterilizer with the other dirty dishes. When he closed the latch to its tightest lock setting a bright white light flashed three times. The doctor unloaded the plates and bowls, chopsticks and glasses and put them on the shelves and then lay down on his bed, a large sponge that floated in a rectangular water-filled box. The weight of his body activated the current and the water below the sponge began to flow softly underneath him from head down to feet, recycling through the body of the box in an endless stream.

For a few minutes he lay, looking up at the blue bioluminescence that twinkled in the curve of the ceiling. Try as he might, the power to remain focused on the day receded like a tide into the inky black of his mind, so he let himself fade to unconsciousness.

“And to the currents may I go…” he said, drifting off to sleep.

Merlutia

Standard

                                           Braxon

In the lower corner of a stadium-sized sphere that was anchored to the seafloor 200 meters below the choppy waters of the Atlantic seaboard, a trial was underway. A young boy dressed in a simple blue tunic of lightly spun sea grass was receiving his first lesson in what was to be his profession, should he pass the course. Standing beside him his professor gave step-by-step directives on how to proceed.

“Now ease your hands into the plasmodesma articulator, up to your elbows.”

Braxon did as Dr. Juxi instructed, feeling for the first time the cool green jelly he’d studied so much about. It was intimidating, this first punch of his. Every would-be architect had to learn the basics of pod expansion, tether tubing and external-pressure-to-wall-density ratios. Whether or not any of those lessons had stuck in Braxon’s brain would soon be apparent.

“Remember to wait a minute to let the chromatids read and accept your genetic signature. Failure to do so will result in the plasmodesma going inactive.”

“I can feel them,” Braxon said, his eyes widening as the box of green matter began to glow more brightly. “It tingles.”

“That’s good. It means a healthy connection is being established. You’ve been taking your supplements according to a schedule that optimizes connectivity. Wait a bit longer until the sensation settles.”

Braxon tried to keep his breathing steady as every pore on both arms underwent what felt like an electrical basting. The older boys had said the first time felt strange. After another minute the buzz subsided and he had lost any notion of where his arms began or ended.

“Are your hands gone,” asked Dr. Juxi. “Do you feel one with the activator?”

“I think so.” Braxon wasn’t sure what he felt. “Everything is cool and…and I feel very calm.”

“Then you’ve got a good connection, and that is the most important thing. Now, move your fingers, starting from your pinkies to your thumbs like when you play the keys.”

Braxon did so and suddenly sensation returned to his hands, although the goo surrounding them had lost all viscosity. It glowed brightly in different shades of green depending on how fast or in which direction his hands moved.

“Not too quickly,” the doctor advised. “You don’t want to overexcite the material. Your cellular information is being logged at this very moment. The more passive it’s registered as, the more quickly future connections can be made. You’re essentially establishing a relationship with the chromatin and trust needs to be built before you’ll be allowed to do any real building.”

“How long does it take, Dr.?”

“Years, really. You’re only eight now, so you won’t be able to work on any big projects for at least seven years. But it’s important to get you in the system now, so that you both have a strong familiarity with the other.”

Braxon nodded, happy to be in the hands of one of the great architects. It was Dr. Juxi who had made the early breakthroughs with metaphyte manipulation and designed the first colonies. It was because of him and a hundred others that anyone was even alive at all.  When the temperatures had risen too high for life on the surface to continue, those survivors who hadn’t been aboard the stratojumpers had fled underground. For billions unable to move either up or down, they wilted with the rest of terrestrial life.

For the Subterrana, it had quickly become apparent that space to accommodate the people and the plants they needed to survive would be problematic in the future. Petro fuel was too scarce to run the old boring machines and the increasing frequency of earthquakes made substrate expansion tenuous at best. It was true the solar stations above could power the caves, storage reserves and laboratories for years to come, but maintenance became progressively more treacherous with the weather’s increasing violence.

Besides that, nobody liked the idea of an existence underground. The inability to move freely as their DNA had programmed them to do forced them to seek alternative spaces.

It was the Bioglots, not the Prescribers, who had come up with the idea of going to the ocean. They had learned to use the plants to shape and build structures capable of recycling oxygen underwater. Dr. Sleenix had created the first pod puncher, a living machine that produced bubbles of organic matter big enough for the remaining humans to live in. The same machine Braxon was training on now. At first they’d outfitted the big pods with traditional electricity and water and the old people remembered what it was like to live in a conventional house.

Image

The Architects’ skill grew however, and within a few years interiors were wholly self-sustaining, harvesting light from the surface that could be converted and stored for myriad applications. Water from the skies was collected in the giant spouts of pitcher plants grown to float on the surface that filtered it for bathing and cleaning, cooking and drinking. Cleaning the nitric and sulfuric acids was laborious and time-consuming, however new plant technology was being worked on to filter seawater to a drinkable condition. There was talk of a need to work faster though, as the inhospitality of the upperworld intensified every year. Braxon had seen thousands of pictures of the surface, and the rest of the world before The Burn, but had never been up there. He was the second generation of water babies, his parents having been the first.

“Look into the build chamber. Do you see your hands in the center?” Dr. Juxi’s head hovered parallel next to Braxon’s, his eyes squinting behind his glasses.

Braxon looked up from the plasmodesma articulator and through the bioglass into the cavernous build chamber. In the center his hands floated freely in a pale green mist.

“Yes, I see them. How should I start it?”

“Strum the biotic just as you did before until it congeals into the molding putty,” said Dr. Juxi, now standing straight with his hands clasped behind the back of his white lab coat. “When you feel the putty in your hands you can begin shaping.”

He moved his hands as if plucking a harp and the plasmodesma articulator again glowed brightly. In the center of the build chamber a complimentary light grew in intensity and Braxon could feel the putty coalescing. He cupped it as it firmed and rounded it out to the size of grapefruit.

“That’s very good,” said Dr. Juxi. “Make it as smooth and perfect as possible.”

The young boy spun the ball over and over, deftly pressing out all of the little bumps until it felt as though made of glass. In the build chamber the same hands held the same ball, only they were much larger to accommodate the sphere that was now five meters across.

“Now hold the ball in one hand, and with your dominant hand take the pulse pen and gently push its tip into the top of the pod.”

Braxon focused back on the plasmodesma articulator, pulling the pen from the tool rack on the interior side of the box. Its thickness was awkward in his little hand as he pushed the tip in so that it just poked through the surface.

“Good, boy. We’re going to expand the size of the pod into a minimum livable size. How many meters is that, do you remember?”

“Thirty meters diameter or 94.247 meters circumference,” the boy recalled from his lessons.

“To give you an area what size?”

“Seven hundred six point eight five eight,” he answered.

“Good. Now, remember that one squeeze of the pen expands the pod diameter by one meter. It’s already five across so…”

“I should squeeze twenty five times.”

“Ah, you’ve forgotten the first rule of membrane elasticity,” the professor chided.  “After initial expansion the cell wall will harden when it sets, making for a loss of one meter exactly when done. That’s how we’ve engineered it. ”

Braxon flushed with shame. He’d studied many hours in preparation for this day…how could he have been so careless as to forget such a basic principle?

“Sorry, Dr. Juxi.” It wasn’t the doctor’s forgiveness that he’d need – it would be his father’s if word got out that he’d made any mistakes. Open positions for Architects were limited to ten in the colony, and given how strong the competition to even apply to become one was, a single mistake could mean the end of an apprenticeship. Not that being a technician or a ranger or any other one of many jobs was necessarily bad. But his father, Tunxon Findel, had decided that Braxon would be an Architect and not a Harvester like he now was. His great-great-great-great…he couldn’t remember how great grandfather had been an upperworld architect, back when humans used wood, stone and steel to make their homes. Braxon liked the idea of being an Architect but knew if he failed, his father’s wrath would be greater than his disappointment.

He pumped the pen in an even rhythm counting silently to himself…24, 25, 26. In his hand the sphere hadn’t grown any larger, but in the build chamber it now occupied a significantly larger space. Dr. Juxi said nothing as Braxon removed the pen from the surface of the ball and returned it to its place. In the build chamber the two hands were dwarfed beneath the expanded pod.

“OK,” said the senior scientist, “you may proceed with the next step.”

Timidly, afraid to drop it, Braxon gripped the pod ball and moved it counter clockwise like one trying to spread oil in a bowl. As he became comfortable with the movement he increased the speed, aware that any jerk of the hand would ruin the spin. Just as his studies had said it would, the interior of the ball separated from the outer shell and rotated independently like a gyroscopic core, slowly feeling heavier as it gained rotational speed. He spun it faster, feeling a burn in his wrists and forearms as the weight increased.

“Faster,” Dr. Juxi commanded, “now is the critical torque point.”

Braxon focused the full of his attention on the ball, his body becoming heated and shaky from the exertion. The ball, the plasmodesma articulator…the whole damn room seemed to have grown unbearably hot. Sweat beaded up and dripped down his forehead, through his thin blond eyebrows and into his eyes. He squinted from the salty burn but didn’t dare lessen his concentration. Just as his arms and hands threatened to fail him, Dr. Juxi calmly gave the next order.

“Release the ball.”

He obeyed and in the build chamber the hands fell away from the pod, which now turned at 1,000 revolutions a second, suspended by the gyroscopic force of its internal mass. A thin hum came through the wall separating the student and professor from the massive spinning globe.

“Well done,” said Dr. Juxi, patting Braxon on the shoulder. The boy smiled and bent forward to wipe his face on his upper shirtsleeve. “Now the fun can begin,” he continued. “You’ve scaled and activated the pod shell. It’s time to shape it, give it some utility. Remind me how that’s done again?”

“By hitting it.” As delicate as the work was, Braxon was intrigued with how physically abusing the creation led to its manifestation.

“It’s not called a punch pod for nothing. So, go ahead. Punch it and see what happens.”

Braxon opened and closed his hands a few times and then balled them into small fists. In the plasmodesma articulator the ball of organic putty spun unwavering on its vertical access, a ribbon of slightly brighter light emanating from its equator. The boy cocked back his arm and struck the ball and in the build chamber before them the giant pod flashed red for a moment before turning a light shade of yellow.

“Don’t be timid, it won’t break.”

He hit the ball again, and then a third and fourth time. Each time the pod would flash with color and then settle into a slightly darker shade of yellow. He continued punching until the pod ceased to flash, finally reaching the bright fiery orange of the sun that Braxon had heard so much about.

“It’s finished, isn’t it?” His knuckles didn’t feel the least bit sore, he could keep going if need be…

“Yes, the initial shaping is over. You did well. But there’s still a great deal of work left to do before the pod is operational. What’s the next stage, then?”

“Growing the respiratory membrane inside the pod, then the energy nodes and luminary leaves and after that the hydration pools.”

“And installing the tether tube ports, shaping the living and working quarters, vibraworks connectors and so on and so on. And it’s your job to decide how to go about all of those things, under my supervision of course.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You may remove your arms from the articulator, Braxon.”

They were covered in a light green film of liquid that had a salty sweet scent to it. The professor handed him a towel to wipe himself clean with.

“C’mon then, let’s go mix the punch out compounds.”

“Yes, sir.” Following Dr. Juxi, Braxon allowed himself a small smile as they walked along a wide corridor to the compounds’ lab, his very first pod spinning brightly in the build chamber, behind them.

Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

woman warrior
Standard

From the ages of about 10 – 15 I read a crapload of fantasy books. It all started rather innocuously, with occasional endeavors into Greek mythology (religion being fantasy in its own right) and classic stuff like Frankenstein and Poe (fantastic, if not phantasmagoric). But the genre as it’s known had yet to grab me full on and other stuff like Robinson Crusoe or Calvin and Hobbes would circulate around on my bedside table.

And then, after rediscovering The Hobbit as a kid attending a boy’s summer camp, my interest mutated into full on obsession. I went through The Lord of the Rings, the entire Tolkien omnibus in fact (Silmarillion included), and from there entered the parallel worlds of the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms series, the Shanarra trilogy and even a few of the Dragonriders of Pern tomes. Before long I was smoking 400-page books in under 76 hours, devouring trilogies in less than 10 days. I was hooked, a fully armored fantasy junky.

DragonLance

My zeal for the genre spilled over into other aspects of life. I became deeply enthralled with heavy metal, with evocative lyrics of demons rising from hellish graves to wage war against the mortals and pixies wearing boots. I went to the Renaissance Festival several years in a row, drooling in front of full-scale replica swords and maces. I matched eagle claw necklaces clutching crystal orbs with Slayer and Megadeth shirts. In the back fields of my parent’s country property I’d hunt imaginary ogres with an old fiberglass bow and arrow, my bloodthirsty barn cat turned battle lion Timber never far behind. This was as close to LARPing as I ever got.

Setda-slayer-logo

You can bet I played the shit out of some D&D. And Final Fantasy, and Dragonwarrior and every other RPG Nintendo or Sega produced. I couldn’t get enough…

Until finally I entered high school and then, suddenly, I did get enough. Elves warring with Dwarves over ancient scripts just didn’t seem to matter as much. Whether or not my Ranger ever finished his campaign or not became unimportant – it wasn’t real and I didn’t have time for quaint childhood trivialities. I was nearly an adult! So I sold all of the novels and D&D books, once the pride of my meager estate, to younger friends.

My focus shifted like Legolas’ nocked arrow to mountain bikes and trucks with big tires and girls. I didn’t read as much. Instead, I started playing drums and wearing clothes that were more likely to get me attention from the opposite sex.

women-fantasy-dark-woman

Fantasy books, the games, the tacky amulets were all gone.  Metal, too, lost its edge. I went into a quasi-hippy raver phase of loving Phish and trance music, hip-hop and jazz. All that I had identified with in my early teens I shed as I searched for my real identity, something I’m convinced never really crystallizes.

When I did get back into books a few years later, I was much more highbrow. Understanding classic works, distilling the universal truths that great literature inevitably engages was my priority. Homer, Dostoevsky, Bronte, Achebe, Marquez, Rand, Zamiatin, Huxley, Hemingway, Orwell, McCarthy…I could fill the rest of the page with the names of the master’s I came to know. I discovered…nonfiction. Stephen Hawking, Bill Bryson, Michael Pollan, Richard Dawkings, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Schlosser, Barbara Ehrenreich, Walter Truett Anderson, Jared Diamond…Noam Chomsky… Sheeeiit, I even minored in Philosophy and got introduced to Wittgenstein, Nietzsche and Betrand Russel.

thinking

There was no going back, I thought. I’d suppress smug smiles whenever I saw an adult with a fantasy book. Still stuck in that world, are we? I knew I was being a self-righteous prick…reminding myself to be more open-minded. But in a world so rich with the products of supreme thinkers, why waste time on mental junk food? And then just at the end of last year, when I’d burnt myself from a string of books on sociology and morality, I put A Game of Thrones on my Kindle. Probably won’t even finish it, I thought. Just something light to relax my overstimulated skull jelly. Just a hundred pages…

 I’ve since been forced to rethink my position on fantasy. Martin’s stuff isn’t the fantasy I read as a kid. Most characters are human, and they do all of the same crazy shit we do – incest, rape, pillage, murder…lots of moral ambiguity. Magic doesn’t really feature as it did in my beloved Dragonlance books. Instead the arcane weirdness of religion factors much more heavily in the lives of the characters. They marry and make alliances, fight and kill for their gods – just like we do. And there are healthy doses of fornication and inebriation – things that we people here in the real world find so utterly enchanting. Martin’s creation is believable. Sure there are undead, black witches and a trio of dragons, but the pure fantasy is kept to a minimal, something that adult me can appreciate.

As tempting as it is to confess some guilty pleasure in reading the series, to do so would be to cheapen the good value of the work. As one who likes to put words into stories from time to time, I find Martin’s writing style instructive. He knows how to put together an impressive story. It isn’t particularly prosaic, rather it’s a class of well-balanced literary economics that is as addictive as crack. Or maybe cigarettes, since I don’t know much about crack addiction.

dude with book

At any rate, I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying the books so far. If you, good reader, feel perhaps you’ve outgrown fantasy novels as I once did, I say have another go at them, with Martin even, and embrace the scimitar swinging nerd that still dwells inside. I’ll save the smug smiles for myself, lest I need to look in the mirror the next time I judge another’s reading selection.