Plugs

Although this masquerades as a short story, it actually crams the known universe down your neural network.  Each pixel barrages your retina in photons arrayed to convey a trillion trillion trillion bits of information.  Glimpsing the first letter of this story has made you want to invest a month’s credits into our bank account, but hey, at least we’re honest.

After reading this far, you have the knowledge of three races from the Milky Way’s more intelligent arthropods stored in your brain.  How many of your friends can boast that?  (Shortly, all of them.  You will convince them to look at the first letters of this story, and they will soon sink a month’s credits in our accounts.)

All you have to know about your new knowledge is how to access it.  At present, this technology is limited to Random Access Memory—that is, it may require green tea on your Great Aunt Betsy’s veranda or a quiet afternoon of clinking dominoes at a local café, but it will all surface sooner or later, whether you want it to or not.  In clinical experiments, 98.9 % of those about to be crushed by pillow-rock monsters on the planet Xartan are able to recall the necessary escape data in order to skedaddle in time (unfortunately, in the same trials, only 3.4% were able to retrieve data on man-eating orchids, lying in wait just the other side of the cliff face–a problem our programmers are working on as we transmit this data to you).

Of course, next year around this time, you will act on a compulsive whim to purchase The All-New Complete Guide to Complete Guides, 2.0–updated to prevent your desire to buy our competitors’ viral Complete Guides so that you don’t go into bankruptcy buying various guides.  Those that do have a 27.6% probability of becoming schizophrenic, hydrophobic, and apoplectic.

That’s it!  The last of the data is loaded.  Enjoy you new life to the best of your ability.

That’s what we called him. He’d come with the house, which was an ornate Victorian dilapidated enough for our parents to afford. He came with the garden, really. When we moved in, he was at the top of the slope leading down from the backyard to the river. When I graduated from high school, he was a foot or two down the hill.
We used to hang tinsel from him in December — most of which wound up in birds’ nests the next spring. We never let birds nest on him, even though the flat of his top hat was popular roost. Some kind of field kept him isolated from our time; when we dared touch him, we discovered his skin, clothes, and handlebar moustache all had the hard slickness of glass.
He was nothing but a statue to us until the summer night rainstorm when, amid the thunder, we heard a rapping at our front door. Dad went down and discovered that it wasn’t the wind — it was a man in clothes of the same vintage as slow time man’s, only more tattered and worn. He’d collapsed on the welcome mat.
This turned out to be Oliver, the slow time man’s scientific assistant and time-traveling companion, and we learned much over the next several months about their discoveries and adventures. He told us tales of ancient civilizations and future wonders, dinosaurs and dying suns. He’d sit in a lawn chair in the evenings and talk while the swallows skimmed the river and the chronostatic field glittered like early stars on his friend’s skin. It was Oliver’s theory that something had gone amiss with the field, it had lingered and slipped out of sync with wider time, trapping the inventor forever out of step with the world around him. After the rest of us had gone to bed, Oliver would sit, watching his friend and muttering equations to himself until well past midnight.
One morning, we were surprised to find Oliver gone, a five-page letter of thanks and farewell left on the neatly made-up guest bed. Although he never quite said, we understood he’d gone back to his apparatus, to his travels, to the researches he and Reginald had shared.
The next morning, however, there were two slow time men in the backyard, one wearing the old clothes of my dad’s he’d borrowed. They walk, while the world ages too fast around them, and on quiet afternoons, we imagine we can hear the subsonic rumble of their infinitely gradual conversation.

Yuk hated Yak and knew Yak would ask for the salt-and-peppershakers that would raise their blood pressure. At a closeout sale following the big quake, Yuk bought the most hideous shakers he could find to curb Yak’s appetite. It didn’t work. “Pass the matching pair of joined-at-the-hip salt-and-peppershakers that look like a couple of nasty beasts going at it, if you please,” Yak asked in a tone that suggested he would as soon stab Yuk in the back as accept the nifty shakers. Yuk laughed to himself, good thing I laced the shakers with rat poison; that’ll learn the dirty rat.

Yak accepted the damnable salt-and-peppershakers with a smile on his face and a dagger in their heart. Yuk had probably poisoned them. Yak pointed at the window. “Look, in the sky! Is that a bird or a plane?” When Yuk turned his head, Yak sprinkled Yuk’s Tostitos with poison. We’ll see just how funny poisoned salt-and-peppershakers really are, Yak thought.

The chair groaned as they wobbled back and forth.

The same guy comes to see Lulu sing every night. She never looks at him. He never looks at anyone else.
She’s been singing here a month when I get stupid. She’d walked in one Wednesday, sung one song and been hired. I’d been playing horn twenty years and I’d never heard anyone sing like that before. Sang like she was scared to stop.
After a week, I asked her, “What are you doing here? I know I’ve missed my break, but you…?”
She didn’t speak. Never did. Only sang. But the next night she looked at me as she crooned, “Some dreams are nightmares, some dreams are for fools. We’re never careful what we wish for, and sometimes dreams come true.”
Never speaks a word to me, but I still I get stupid. Normally I only get stupid over blonds. But that voice and that guy. So I hire a PI and a month later I’ve got an envelope full of photos—Lulu at different bars. And every time the audience is in a photo, I see that guy.
Next night, I catch him at the back door and we go at it, shouting back and forth ’til Lulu appears.
“What’s he got you scared for?” I say. I’ve got my hand on the guy’s throat.
She looks at me, and then she starts singing, and it’s more beautiful that I’ve ever heard her sing before, and my heart breaks at the sound.
“Some dreams are nightmares, some dreams are for fools. We’re never careful what we wish for, and sometimes dreams come true.”
And suddenly, I don’t know why, but part of me gets scared. I’m scared I’ve got the devil himself by the neck, and I’m scared right down to my soul. The man stares at me, then at Lulu, and I’m trembling like a child.
Then she speaks to me for the first time. “No Steve-o, it’s not that,” she says “You got it backwards. All backwards. He’s keeping me…” she pauses, “away from temptation.”
The guy shakes me off, puts an arm around Lulu and they walk off. And for a moment, just an instant, I could swear he has wings.
Lulu doesn’t come back to the Blue Note after that. But I keep on playing, and my break keeps on not coming. And part of me is glad.

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