A man and a horse plodded down a road beside the Hudson River. The man was not riding the horse–it was much too valuable–but then, he liked to walk. He had only one arm, having lost the other at Gettysburg, and his sleeve on the right side was neatly folded and pinned.
“People think I’m thome kind of clown,” lisped the horse.
The man shook his head. “People come from miles around to see you! It’s just the lisp,” he said. “I’ve been working on a spell–”
“No more thpellth!” said the horse. “I’m enough of a freak ath it ith.”
The man laughed, patting the horse’s neck affectionately. “You’re–aagh!” His foot had hit a stone, and he tumbled forward. He reached out with his single arm to stop himself, but it buckled under him, and he smacked his head on a boulder at the side of the road, bouncing off it to sprawl brokenly in the dust. A thick stream of blood began to pool around his head.
“Thamuel?” the horse said in alarm. “Thamuel! Thay thomething! Oh, Chritht!”
He galloped down the road toward the next village, taking a minute or two to remember that they’d passed one only a quarter of an hour before. Swearing, the horse turned and galloped back in the direction it had come. When it came to where Samuel had fallen, a man was standing there with a sack on his back, prodding Samuel with a toe.
“Stone dead,” said the man. He dropped his sack in the grass by the road, and a few apples rolled out as he turned toward the horse. “And what’s this here?” he said. “A fine beast like you, and no one to claim you?” He looked all around him, smiled with narrow eyes, and grabbed the horse’s bridle.
“You’re a fancy one, aren’t you?” the man said. “Braided mane and all. Well, things are going to change for you now, I’ll tell you that. I’ve been needing a new draft horse. Fancy or not, you’ll pull.”
Avoiding the sight of Samuel, the horse looked away and fixed on the apples. The man picked up his sack and put the apples back in, except for one, which he held close to him.
“Say please,” he said, and he waited for a moment, as though listening for the “please.” Then he laughed, put the apple back in the sack, and began leading the horse back toward the village.
The horse didn’t say a word.
The last remnants of the robot armies huddled together on the peak of the planet’s highest mountain.
As far as the eye–or spectrum-enhanced optical processor–could see, the valleys, the slopes of neighboring mountains, the plains beyond, all were covered in a layer several meters thick of broken machinery. Their fallen comrades, casualties of a thousand years of automated warfare.
The few remaining squadrons parleyed, forged a hasty alliance, hashing out the terms in a hexadecimal pidgin common to all robots. Above them, huge shadows loomed–the low-orbit ships a more fearsome and implacable enemy than they’d faced before.
They clung to each other as the magnetic beams swept down and the scrap-corpses began to ascend into the air around them.
The recyclers had arrived.
A proud and knowing forestpeople, we dwell near a clearing used for fertility festivals. The forest is all of the world, except for the sky. We see the sky and know it. Our home is parallel to the home of the sky, so we are parallel to the starpeople, their equals. But we are earthy compared to those lofty ones, who uphold their torches nightly, so far off they hear not our calls.
The forest is the world, the world the forest; the forest inscribes the world; the forest flows beyond what the eye can see. There are no words for these things. We do not write but only speak them. Some urge us to transcribe history for the next generation. Foolish conceit! People should live in the now, not the past.
Rumor spreads that our world shrinks, tree by tree. One claims to have marked a tree with his sharp stone, and on the morrow, it was leveled to a stump. This we find difficult to believe because this one often cannot find his own sleeptree at night, which he should know, blindfolded, like his wife’s form. Besides, what are we and what is the world without forest? If a tree disappears, does the world disappear with it? The notion’s nonsense.
Rumor also claims a grassland surrounds our home, the forest. This we also find difficult to believe. Grass is for walking on and softening your nest. It cannot shield you from the tusk beast. A people need only forest and juicy beige fruits that dangle off limbs. We know this, but we also smell smoke from foreign fires–smoke flavored with wild game and fragrant wood. Do we believe what we know or what we sense?
Some of us desire to descend from the trees, to lope to grasslands to see what strange beings these may be, if such truly exist. The starpeople we know. We see them every night. They are silent and persevering if aloof in their nightly searches by torchlight. But the grasspeople must indeed be strange–grazing their world upon all fours.
Others of us doubt the sense of leaving the safety of our world. Can these grasspeople be found? Would they want to be found? If they wanted to meet us, wouldn’t they have attempted to talk already? This assumes that we can find our way out of the forest, the world.
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.