[O]n the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally….  We can cut wherever we please…. Chop it into numerous pieces and you will see that each one can get along alone. — Charles Baudelaire, “To Arsene Houssaye”

It was that great modernist monk of the late fourteenth century, Baudelard, who first codified the principle of spontaneous generation.  He had stowed away a porcelain saucer of skunk meat high in a cupboard where no animal–including the human kind–could reach it.  In truth, he had set it aside like manna, afraid that one day the countryside would be barren of meat if he and his fellow monks kept hunting as they had been all that blustery fall.

When Baudelard removed the meat from the cupboard a week later on the occasion of dusting, he rediscovered the meat writhing with worms and quilled his findings in his thirty-pound volume of observations.

Yet Baudelard was no one-trick pony of a natural philosopher who folds his hands to rest on laurels.  He understood that this principle had to be developed to its fullest extent, for “To understand nature,” as he was so fond of informing his fellow monks spraying a mouthful of his sibilant noon meal: day-old bread, goat cheese and wine, “was to understand the mind of God.”  So Baudelard cut worms at varying lengths to see if life might sprout again.

And, lo, they did grow full and wriggling blood-red with both head and tail intact, whichever was the original of which.  The confusion brought him to recall a minor poet friend of his, the Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer.  He had started a series of semi-bawdy, semi-humorous tales of wanderers mocking the Old English tales of heroes, using the vulgar, common English tongue.  Chaucer and Baudelard both saw the stories–pale imitations of Boccaccio–as best fit for lining refuse bins.

To test just how far the principle of spontaneous generation went, they took his original manuscript, mulched it, stirred in earthworms, water, and ink, and let the rotting mass germinate for several months.  Chaucer was probably over-eager and exhumed the manuscript prematurely.  The Canterbury tales were still unfinished and a bit raw, but Chaucer corrected the earthworms’ grammatical errors and found ways to punch up the bawdiness.

The triumphant success of Baudelard’s literary experiment, logically lead him to human beings as his next test subject.  The rest, as you know, is history–eternal glory springs from temporary gore.  Even now, a century later, Baudelard’s achievements remain the high-water mark of natural philosophy and letters.

Jason Erik Lundberg

‘Go and have a nice holiday with your auntie.’

Sure. Great idea. That was before whatever it was that happened, happened.

By the time I arrived in Sydney, my auntie was nowhere to be seen, and when I tried to go home the trains had stopped running, with no one to drive them.  And the phones had stopped working; my mobile just hummed back at me, same as the public phones and the ones in the private houses I’ve broken into in later days.  Sometimes I pick up a handset just to pretend it’s something alive.

I was lucky, I found Billy – or maybe he found me – and brought me to the safe-house. He said he’d show me the ropes, but he disappeared a day later.  I waited until I was starving then went out.  Only in daylight – you can see things coming at you then, kind of.  

Maybe Billy got swallowed by the night.  He boasted he’d lasted longer than anyone. That’s why he was so surprised to see me that day, wondering down the Pitt Street Mall like some half-witted lamb, eyes wide, mouth slack, staring at the complete lack of devastation. At the total nothingness.

I haven’t seen proper sun for weeks now.  It’s like it’s scared to come out.

I’m braver now, about going out for food and the useful etceteras like bottled water, because what comes out of the taps now is the colour of mud. Sometimes it just looks like blood and I don’t fancy re-hydrating with that. Some days I just wander because I’ve nothing else to do. I go to that big bookstore, Berkelouw, and pick through the stacks. My idea of an apocalypse is no new books – but it should take me an age to get through this lot.

Other days I just stay inside, under a table where nothing can see me. Those are the days I can hear noises from outside.

But here’s the thing: I cut my hand on this piece of glass. It sliced the lines of my palm that are supposed to map out my future, heart, head, and life, all snipped. That worries me especially on the days when all I can hear is the flapping and swooping noises of things that might once have been angels. And some days there’s a voice in the darkness and it knows my name.

Marcus hiked out before dawn, over snow with just enough ice on top that it held his weight for nearly a second before he crunched through. He got the robotic crow into the tree well before dawn.

The flock of real crows came up from the river while the sky was still predawn pink, and alighted in the next tree over. The robot issued its preliminary croak. Marcus held his breath for the flock’s response. It never came — something spooked the birds. Wings slapping like applause, they disappeared into the forest dark.

Marcus swore and keyed “recall” on the control fob. The robot bird fluttered to his feet and went still. The cold metal stuck to his gloves as he put it back in the padded bag.

He walked out by way of Highway 212 — a longer, but easier route. He had time. Of all Halverson’s raven trials, the only ones that had worked had worked on the first encounter between wild birds and the robot mimic. Marcus hadn’t had a successful integration yet, on any encounter. He’d have to find a new flock, maybe nearer to Agriville, where there was more of a farm and forest mix… He was trotting along the on the frozen gravel shoulder when the beep of a car horn interrupted his thoughts.

A small car pulled alongside, and a frosted window purred down. The driver leaned across the empty passenger seat. He shouted, even though the engine only murmured softly, “I can drop you somewhere!”

“Sure,” said Marcus, and he climbed in.

The driver was friendly enough, and said his name was Larry. “What are you doing way out here,” he said, “and so early?”

“Research,” said Marcus. “Ornithology.” He wrestled his notebook from his back pocket to jot some notes while he still remembered details of the non-encounter.

Larry nodded sleepily; sipped a styrofoam cup of coffee. “I’m meeting some folks for breakfast in Winslip,” he said. “Denny’s.” Another sip. “Join us if you want.”

He sipped again, the exact same pursing of the lips, a forward tilt of the head to the exact same angle as the last sip. The kind of thing Marcus would never have noticed if he hadn’t spent the last eight months trying to program that kind of uncanny nearly-lifelike quality out of the crow.

“Sure,” said Marcus. “Breakfast sounds good.” He could take notes later.

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