Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up

I initially introduced myself as Martin Barrie, and suggested that I was his uncle.  Neither of these facts was true, of course, but it was the only way I could insinuate myself into his good graces.  It probably didn’t hurt that I was a dwarf, shorter than he was himself, and so appeared childlike, and that was the manner and character in which I presented myself.  Though I claimed to be his uncle, I was able to explain it in such a way that I was actually a great deal younger than him.  At the time, nobody asked questions that might’ve required further details.

At that time, he was already acquainted with the Davies clan, but this was before that peculiar summer in 1901, when together with George, Jack and baby Peter, he created the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential, and at any rate is hardly to be believed, so even if you tell someone, they’ll forget it within a day, and will maybe dream about it in years to come, wondering if you really were fooling with them, as they had originally assumed.  They might even remember that they dreamed of it years ago.

The truth is, my name isn’t Martin Barrie.  If I tried to tell you what it really is, I’d have to teach you an entirely new language, and a new way of speaking, one that you are quite capable of, but would require years to master, and so my speaking my name now would only baffle and amuse you.  I am only attempting to educate you at the moment, briefly, so that you can go about the rest of your day, and decide for yourself whether you will believe me long enough to tell someone else.

My experiences here began a long time ago, long before I introduced myself to him as his uncle, several centuries earlier.  I crash-landed into the Americas in 1590 in what you will recognize as the Roanoke colony established by Sir Walter Raleigh and John White three years earlier.  At first, I ingratiated myself with a local tribe of natives called the Croatans, a process I found exceedingly simple.  Once settled, I suggested to my new friends that we visit the English colony that had so provoked their curiosity.  They were hesitant, but I insisted, and owing to my remarkable nature, they were inclined to follow me.

We found the colony to be dismantled, the Englishmen attempting to pack up and depart back for home.  Again I asserted myself, suggesting to the Croatans that they offer whatever assistance they could.  The Englishmen, who were in truth panicked by their experiences and frightened of the natives, found themselves agreeing to whatever the Croatans proposed, and in turn, the Croatans were eager to accept my advice.  That was how the word “Croatoan” was later to be found etched into a post of the abandoned fort.

The Englishmen, however were restless, and truth be told, so was I, so I further proposed to the Croatans that I be allowed to ensconce with the Englishmen to the sea, having now absorbed the nature and culture of these people and become thoroughly intrigued by them.  Like the Croatans, they were easy to bend to my will, though I had no overtly evil intentions then or now.  We embarked on the seas, where we remained seafarers for several generations, the Englishmen constantly aging and I remaining exactly as I’d been since my arrival.

Many years passed.  We became pirates, preying on the vessels of many nations, never setting to port for more than a few days at a time, remaining self-sufficient.  I became good friends with these men, with their children, and their children’s children, and formed an inexcusable bond with them.  There was one episode that particularly endeared one of the many captains of our ship to me, when we traveled around the coast of Florida.  We were in need of supplies, and the captain was especially brave, even though there were reports of alligators in the area.  We survived well enough, except that he lost a hand in the affair, and replaced it with a hook.  It was said that he ever after kept vigil in case the alligator came back for more.

At some point, and I can’t remember precisely, this time of tranquility was disrupted when one of these able crewmen realized what I was.  I suppose to that point I hadn’t properly considered my relation to the people of your world, had never considered myself to be an “alien,” notably for the fact that I had now been among you for many of your lifetimes.  Exposed and cornered, I did the only thing I could think of, and temporarily took to safety into the air.  By your terms, I flew away.

From that point onward, I was no longer welcome aboard my own ship.  I found an island and made it my own, welcomed by its natives, who reminded me of the kind Croatans.  My former shipmates had the misfortune one day for a sad reunion when they became aware of my new circumstances, though in their efforts to pursue me ran aground of the shoreline, and were never able to dislodge themselves.  We became permanent adversaries.

Permanent, that is, until I grew tired of their games, and looked for other shores.  I became curious about the homeland of the Englishmen I had originally liberated from the colony.  In all the years and all that I had learned since my arrival, it had never occurred to me to explore this world, let alone visit the place of origin for those I had spent the majority of my time with.

That was how I came to meet him, and in the manner I chose, since I didn’t wish to provoke another incident such as the one that had damaged my tranquility.  At first he was only curious about the invented portions of my alias, but the more time we spent together, the more I shared about my time on this world, leaving out key elements, although now I regret some of that, since as I understand it the fate of the colony at Roanoke has been a constant source of curiosity for your historians.

It was my time with the pirates that most seemed to intrigue him, and perhaps the relationship that developed after my expulsion.  He spent many evenings chatting with me, always after his afternoons with the Davies boys, and I suppose it’s no wonder that after a time, his imagination began to blend these twin elements of his life together.

I don’t regret lending a portion of my history to someone else’s story, one that has had a lasting impact, and never being able to claim my rightful credit.  What use do I have for pirates and flying boys who can’t grow up?  In some ways, that’s exactly what I know, and is exactly what my time here has been.

I wonder if I could not have made all this more sensational, with visceral descriptions of my time with those pirates.  Perhaps one day I will, because those were good times, the best times I had here on Earth, even better than with the Croatans, or the island that will never again be found, except, yes, it was, many years after my time with the author, during what you call WWII.

I suppose there’s time for a little more.  This, then, may be considered the rest of the story, how the boy who couldn’t grow up finally did, in a manner of speaking.  As it happens, we will be able to revisit the pirates, too.  It may help to explain how they were able to sustain their stagnant existence for so many decades.

In short, they became obsessed with me.  As the years advanced, long after the time I had spent with them, or even as their enemy, they continued to define their whole lives around the need for revenge.  In my absence, they antagonized the natives of the island, never bothering to repair their ship, never bothering with contact with the outside world.  Pirates were always naturally self-sufficient, but these pirates became downright unnatural.  They developed a tradition of adopting for the character of each captain the pattern set by my unfortunate but resilient friend, the one who’d lost his hand and replaced it with a hook.  In this instance, reality mirrored fiction which mirrored history.

I became aware of this when I revisited the island.  I had no cause to believe any of what I’d left behind had been perpetuated by any other means than the story that had resulted from my brief time as Martin Barrie, so I was astonished to learn that the pirates had so far degenerated that they now persisted in a form that had been extinct in the greater world for many years.  My appearance, I’m afraid, only made things worse.  I came in flying.

The year was 1944.  During the midst of WWII, American forces inadvertently stumbled across the island in their ongoing efforts to stymie the Japanese.  It was another man named Barrie, ironically, who led the Americans, who in turn were completely baffled by the existence of pirates shipwrecked on the shore.  They quickly initiated a process that would ultimately reincorporate these men back into civilized society.  They tried to do the same with the natives, but a strange series of events convinced them otherwise.

The pirate captain had escaped, and I felt it was my duty to subdue him.  I was joined in these efforts by a selection of native warriors, whose only weapons were spears, but that was still more than the guns the pirate captain possessed, bereft of bullets for many generations.  The pirate captain’s only ally was a bumbling aide, long harassed, as perhaps his ancestors had been, who finally had enough when even he was abandoned.  He struck a deal with me a week after our search through the island’s jungles had begun, and so that was how the pirate captain was finally snared, and relinquished to the custody of the Americans.

The former aide of the pirate captain became a close friend of mine.  He was the first person I confided my full history to, and he only fainted for a moment when he learned that I was, indeed, an “alien.”  I almost felt bad to admit that I had been stranded here with no hope of ever returning to my people, because he quickly rebounded with considerable eagerness about future prospects, new adventures, and voyages beyond the stars.  “Second star to the right,” I corrected him.

Still, even he grew old, in time.  To the calculations of humans, I have aged many centuries, but to my own people, I am still very young, and I believe my time on Earth has actually stunted that process.  I am in some respects, as the writer immortalized, a boy who never grew up, and  just perhaps, forever cursed to remain that way.  But I think I’m finally maturing.  That’s how I ended up in the circus.

I know, I know, I’m working on it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Star Trek '12: 1912 AD - Xindi

Who else but the Reptilians would’ve begun the fractioning of Xindi harmony?  Actually, there’s some debate about that.  It was very much likely to have been the Avians.  The Avians were the ones with ambition.  The Avians were the ones who dominated Xindus for centuries.  They had the greatest numbers, and their ability to fly gave them an advantage over the others.  They couldn’t know that they provided so much inspiration to those who would become their competitors.

The others were all beholden to certain environments.  The Aquatics, certainly, but so, too the Arboreals, the Primates, the Insectoids, and yes, the Reptilians.  They were all…terrestrial, bound to Xindus, its surface elements.  The Avians were careless.  They never even considered anything more than they had.  They seemed to have everything.

So it was the Avians, yes, but it was also the Reptilians, because they were the first to have ambition, the first to know jealousy.  But they lacked ability.  The Primates were good for that.  They were the first ones the Reptilians consulted.  This alliance gave birth to the first means of artificial flight.  It gave birth to the first Xindi starships.  The Primates depended on the Arboreals for some of the logistics, and the Aquatics for some overall strategy.  Who else but those exist in their own world but are removed from another to think of what to do next?  The Reptilians didn’t count on the agitation of the Insectoids.  They really should have.

The more everyone started working together on a common cause, the easier it was to provoke them.  The Insectoids were good for that.  They buzzed into as many ears as possible.  So while it can be said that it was the fault of the Avians, or that it was the fault of the Reptilians, it was also the fault of the Insectoids.

But who’s to say how a war begins?  Usually the necessary spark is the least relevant element.

The fact remains, six differences species, six different races, all of them Xindi, couldn’t get along anymore, and so a war resulted, one that was to last for a hundred years, cause the destruction of Xindus, the extinction of the Avians, and worse.

If you could ask the Avians if they knew it was coming, would they even have a clue?  Often those in power are too consumed with their own power to know what’s actually going on.  While everything works in their favor, they think they’re impregnable.  The more paranoid are always acting in what they believe to be their best interests, but they have bad instincts, and so usually affect the opposite, and sabotage themselves.  The Avians might be seen as victims, they might never have even done a single wrong to any of their brethren, or they might have been the direct provocateurs of the war, and thus had their fate coming to them.  I guess as history goes, it doesn’t really matter.  It happened.  It helps to know why, but it doesn’t change what happened.  Those who care know.  Do you care?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 12

At some point I started saying that it was Ribsy who led me around, when I originally said it was Foxy who took that honor.  Things change here.  The Roadkill Café is a reflection of the life its visitors once knew, but things change.  That’s the whole point.

Barky was the first one to come.  He says it existed before then, but I have my doubts.  He says a lot of things.  The first time I saw him, he didn’t say anything.  The more I asked Ribsy and Foxy about him, the more I convinced them to finally let me meet him.  And when I did, I realized I’d seen him before.  He was the first one I met on the road, the one I took, the one that took me to the Roadkill Café.

He was left on his side, on a sidewalk.  I started thinking about how he got there.  I imagined that he was run over, and the driver thought enough to stop the care and put him someplace dignified.  I imagined that he died in his owner’s home, and was left here, someplace undignified.  I imagine that he’d grown sick, and that his owner left him there, left him to die on his own.  I imagined that he’d run away, and finally he could go no further, and so lay down and waited for the end.

Somehow he ended up at the Roadkill Café.  The end wasn’t the end.  I’ve called it limbo and I’ve suggested purgatory, and there’s a difference between the two.  Limbo is a place you end up when there is no sure way to know where you really ought to be.  I used to think the Roadkill Café was a limbo.  Now I lean more toward purgatory, if anything.  Well, I did.  Purgatory is a place you go to lose your baggage, the things you couldn’t let go of from some previous life.  It implies that you want to forget, that you can, that you need to.

They say that humans have the advantage over animals because they remember, and the greatest curse is to lose that gift, because knowledge breeds innovation, the ability to improve your life, to impact the world, to make a difference.  It’s all about ego, really.  Animals don’t have ego.  They live by instinct.  They adapt and take advantage of circumstances, but they’re incapable of human innovation, the spark of genius.  They can’t love?

I think I learned differently.  Barky’s story was everything I imagined it to be.  It was a horrible tragedy.  He told me he thought about it every day, and he kept going, settled into the heartache, and decided to never leave the Roadkill Café, and welcomed every new patron personally.  He kept to himself, though, and avoided humans, never called me Comrade.  I guess he didn’t have to.

Ribsy, who decomposed on the side of a road, took charge.  He relished the opportunity.  He spent the most time of anyone with me, and I used to take it for granted.  I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t do that anymore.

What does it all mean?  I guess I don’t want to answer that.  I met a lot of friends there, heard a lot of stories, and they were all a little sad, but they were also pretty happy, too, even if in ways some people will find a little hard to understand.  I guess if there’s a point, that’s it.

I wanted to tell their story right away, but I was cautioned by all of them.  They all pulled me aside, privately, and it was like a conspiracy.  I’m certain that none of them consulted each other, that it was a decision each of them made on their own.  I guess that says something, too, maybe explains something about heartbreak and life and something about love.  They trusted me, because I guess I allowed them to.  It grew to be overwhelming, really.  What was I supposed to do with it?  I guess, when I was ready, when I felt the time was right, when it made sense, to share it.  Well, and then here we are again, at the beginning...

Roadkill Cafe, Part 11

Chewy wasn’t hard to find.  He was all over the place, begging for someone to play with him.  He was so desperate, or perhaps took his name so seriously, that he chewed everything and everyone in sight.

Now, this might be considered endearing, and actually was, but the problem is, most living things don’t much like to be chewed.

The fact that Chewy himself didn’t seem to mind this distinction was part of his charm.  Yes, it was also annoying.

He started out small, as any puppy does, but he was destined to be a big dog, and this was no more evident than in the size of his paws.  They were, matter of fact, quite outsized, as was his need for love.  He was anxious about it, and didn’t take “no” for an answer, even when he got it, repeatedly.  In fact, he was sent into exile, and found the world suddenly more accommodating.  Suddenly all the rules shifted in his favor.  He had everywhere to roam, and all the dogs gravitated to him, wanted to be in his posse, looked up to and respected him.  Maybe it was because he was coming more and more into himself, was no longer so gawky, and directed his chewing to more specific objects…I don’t know.  I expect that it had less to do with Chewy changing so much as the world changing around him.

Had he really been so bad?  Did all he need was some new context?  Sometimes that’s the answer, and he was lucky enough to find it.  That’s what a dog’s life can be like.

Why this one, I asked Ribsy, and he looked away, suddenly anxious.  I wanted some answers.  I figured I deserved some.  I’d seen a lot now, and figured I knew something.

Does Chewy know any more now than he did before? Ribsy asked, and then trotted away.

Well, I don’t know how to answer that, I confessed.  According to you, it doesn’t really matter.

And it doesn’t, Ribsy said.

Ain’t that the truth, Foxy added.  I didn’t know when he’d returned, but I guess that’s Foxy.

Just tell me what it all means, I pleaded with them.  Tell me why any of them were at the Roadkill Café, why Champ, why Floyd, why Freckles, why Smokie and Hazel, why Rom and Jules, why Boo, why Remus and Tonks, why Jack and Jill, why Chewy…They don’t seem to do anything.  They don’t seem to have a purpose.  Is this some kind of purgatory?

Well, now that you mention it…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 10

Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Well, that’s how the nursery rhyme goes.  Turns out when you combine two names in any form, it’s bound to be accurate.  That’s what I learned when I met Jack and Jill, a couple of dogs.  Jack came first, and he always moved first, and Jill was always sure to follow.  They were bad influences on each other, a couple of miscreants.  They were also incredibly lovable.

What they didn’t know and didn’t seem to care about was that they were always getting in each other’s way, and only noticed when they both wanted to play with the same toy.  They were leapers, always leaping, always excitable, always energized, except when they settled down for a snooze, and then they were perfect little angels.

They inhabited their own world.  That’s the only way to explain it.  Somehow they got around to a form of independence where they were happy to amuse themselves, and they always seemed to have some funny thought in their heads, except when someone came around and gave them what they wanted, and then they were jubilant about that, too, always so pleased with the world, even when it denied them their heart’s content.

(Pay attention to that, Ribsy told me.)

Some would say they were full of animal instincts, and were dominated by them even when it seemed were almost civilized, Jack with his crossed paws, Jill with all her beguiling tricks, even that creepy smile, using her eyes and her low-crawling ability and a lethal tongue to warm anyone over.  But Jill’s talents worked a little too well, the opposite of Hazel, an object lesson in extremes, so that she, too, disappeared.

But they were both back together at the Roadkill Café.  It was inconceivable to think of Jack without Jill, even though it’s happened once and it happened again and two can also be one just as much as two, a mystery of the universe.  This was a place where reality was folded in on itself, and only the most pure forms of nature existed, only truths, no more hiding.  Jack looked serious, Jill snuggled beside him, a couple of demure figures, the opposite and yet the same as they had always been.  Opposites are always equal, especially here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 9

Sometimes you can make cameo appearances in your own life.  Such is the story of Remus and Tonks, two more cats who stand like guardians in a household growing with children.  How cats survive in a house like that is by being as absent as possible. 

Without knowing that they’re even there, you might not even know these two even exist.  They’re silent predators of their own peace, existing in a world of wonders and content to keep to themselves, except when they take the lay of the land, small excursions like benevolent explorers to see what’s out there, free or perhaps full of ego, so that you love them without needing much in return.

They are cats, after all.

Ribsy told me there was a lot to learn from Remus and Tonks, much that was relevant to the mystery of Barky, how fine a razor’s edge all animals creep along, from independence and interdependence to the awareness of those around them and the need to retain boundaries.  Cats in particular put the whole phenomenon in sharp relief, needing and demanding much in exchange for only a little.  Some people equate pets to infants, but it’s an artificial relationship, derived from a false analysis.  A cat as much as a dog exhibits a hundred times a day its instincts of self-preservation.  They are captives of luxury, but captives all the same.  The trick is to develop a bond, which in some animals is easier than in others, and the reason they become pets.  Cats may seem aloof, but they know what it means to care for humans.  They have a much simpler equation than most animals:

Distance/Time = Love

Remus and Tonks figured out the art and science of it, not just the math.  They were regular students of the game, and they excelled in their classroom, which is sometimes called life.

The balance of the equation is always to know when space does not become neglect.  Space is a mutual designation, whereas neglect is the absence of space, crosses the bounds of cruelty and constitutes a betrayal.  Ribsy knew about that, and if he didn’t much want to talk about it.  He said Barky knew about it, too.  It was the reason the Roadkill Café existed to begin with.  It was a destination that was defined by space, which is why it attracted so many visitors, and why so many of them chose to stay.  It reminded them of home, or at least what it was supposed to be.

Standing sentinel?  Well, none other than Remus and Tonks.  It only made sense.  They probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 8

There will always be a legion of stories concerning those who make the biggest impact on your life, because that is how you remember them, not by your memories, but your ability to remember stories about them.  That’s the stuff of history.

If I become a little more poetic, it’s because that’s what Boo inspires.

In some ways, she was a typical cat.  In many ways, she was the prototypical cat.  Plenty of people say that kind of thing about beloved pets, but Boo transcended just about everything.  She reshaped the world around her, defying all logic and expectation, and at the end of the day really just wanted to catch a little sleep.

There are so many stories to tell about her, so many legends, and maybe some of them are even true, but what’s the point of truth, anyway?  It binds you, and it tells you nothing that you didn’t already know.  Truth is only what you can prove.  Think of Boo as a scientific curiosity, like string theory.

She was born with a groovy mutation, a set of yellow and blue eyes, and a vocal box that denied her the ability to meow.  What she actually did was something like a chirp, a short utterance that could sound like a protest or an affirmation, depending on her mood, so that she always took part in the conversation, though keeping her most intimate secrets to herself.  In that regard, she was aloof, even at the Roadkill Café, but the truth is there was never a more congenial creature in all of creation.

She had her quirks, yes, and fairly routine enemies.  She liked the gravy in a cat treat more than the meat, and her paws were deadly, especially if you were a dog two sizes too big (though this did not prevent an unexpected meeting one day, when she fell on this dog’s head). 

She owned a set of People Suits, in which she could participate on reality TV game shows, concealing her secret to almost everyone, giving herself away only in subtleties, being inordinately clumsy or, yes, chirping with visiting friends.  It sounds like nonsense, but these are stories.

Her mortal enemy, now trapped in a water tank, presaged her coming in his efforts to tear apart tennis balls, always resulting in a distinctive rictus.  He stopped making them once she appeared.

She once blotted out the sun for a couple of ants, stole a toy blaster to defend her food, chewed on the weapon of another plastic figure, a villain, and it was said that she knew exactly what she was doing.  She was just like any other cat, except preternaturally so.  She knew a cat named Ryan who lit his whiskers, and then ducked his head in a toilet.  She enjoyed Ariel’s water.  Ariel was a fish.  She once got her paw stuck on the string of a cat toy, and that’s why she didn’t play with cat toys.  She could make her own fun.  She also didn’t bother with catnip.  She was straightedge all the way.

She liked to judge just about everyone, taking a tall perch and staring at the spectacle beneath her.  It was not wise to approach her from this position.  Again, just like any other cat, but so much more.  She opened up a shop with a disclaimer and a full liability waiver, allowing anyone to pet her, just once and then leave.  She made good money.  She sometimes considered working for the Red Cross.

She loved voraciously, and quietly despised just as passionately.  She could make toy cars fly, and then make a hot pursuit.  She knew when it was Gravy Day and wouldn’t let anyone forget it.  She wanted badly to be outside, but always scurried back in, especially if it was wet there.  She could climb and did any surface, even if she clearly thought about how to make it happen sometimes.  You could trick her into licking you if she was grooming herself.  She let herself sample whatever looked good among the people food.  Again, not so different, but the more time you spent with her, the more indispensible her existence became, even if she chose to curl up next to rather than on you.  It was all good.

She lost a fang and started to scowl.  She was a pirate, a bear, the day after tomorrow, had a scary name borrowed from an charming movie, responded in the early years enthusiastically to it, grew tired of it, never forgot it, never let you forget her, never let you overlook her.

Yeah, she was just like a regular cat, except she was extraordinary.  Imagine coming across Boo randomly.  In a place like the Roadkill Café, she was queen, like everywhere else, but wasn’t too proud to ask for a little love, maybe with a head butt, if you were lucky.  She was pure white, with just a little gray mixed at the top of her head, a perfect angel, a sweat little devil, ready to corrupt you.

That’s what this is all about, I thought to myself, coming across her, what they were all trying to teach me, how any of it makes sense, how anything makes sense, a sentinel of liberty and independence, ready to give it all up in a heartbeat, if you let her.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 7

They had a little trouble knowing what to call themselves (this was a bigger problem for Freckles, but that’s a different story entirely), but they commonly called themselves Rom and Jules, which were short for Romeo and Juliet.

Rom and Jules could be teddy bears, and they could also be intimidating; it all depended.  For those who really knew them, they were teddy bears, and that’s what really counts.  Jules, for instance, was known for being testier with strangers, but she also once goofed off behind a Christmas tree, playing a game of peek-a-boo, or maybe she just wanted to go outside and the tree was in the way.  Either way, that incident kind of came to define her, and at the Roadkill Café, she wasn’t too shy to recreate it, now that she was always at ease, and no longer refraining from working at her Eat List.

The Eat List is a tradition among dogs, from the old days and perhaps alternate lives in which they really did need to protect their human companions with their lives.  It’s the imaginary itinerary for eliminating threats, which can shift according to mood and provocation.  And actually, come to think of it, Freckles had the biggest one of that, too.  You’d never have known it, unless you knew it.  Dogs say a lot with their eyes, too.

I mentioned the term “human companion,” you’ll note, rather than “master” or “owner” or any other somesuch nonsense.  This is what dogs, especially, really think about humans they share a home with.  They don’t tend to be shy, do they?  They own the home in ways some humans might understand, and others won’t.  Rom and Jules would help you understand in short order.

Mostly they lounged around, putting their bulk and weight aside.  They were probably the happiest of any patrons in the place, and seemed to ignore anyone else, which was not something they’d been able to do in their earlier lives.  No, if they’d been in a place like this before, they assured me, there’d be a lot of noise, a lot of scrambling, and a lot of fun!  It’s called being sociable.

I asked Ribsy what he thought of the pair of them, and he said they meant no harm, and I guess he was referring to Rom and Jules as a whole, and not necessarily here or there, and that’s what I knew about them before I knew them, and when I got to know them, I understood what he meant.  That sounds a little roundabout, but that’s the kind of response dogs like that can generate.

My advice: the truth will out.  Even if Jules wants to make you think one thing, if you give her the chance she’ll prove you both wrong, and that’s the way it ought to be with everyone, the chance to crawl between someone’s legs, demand some loving, and get it.  Can you think of something better than that?

Come to think of it, Ribsy said, those two reminded him a lot of Barky, and the more I thought about it, I understood what he meant.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 6

Hazel had a kind of skin mask, and so privately I referred to her as Bandit (but you’ll find out another reason for that shortly). 

Hazel was a cat, and for some reason the fur around her eyes had sort of been rubbed, or perhaps scratched, away, and her personality was the classic shrinking violet.  Still, I was able to coax a moment or two of her time.  Mostly, she spent it the way she spent all her time, expecting Smokie to appear at any moment.  Smokie was another cat, and in another life they were part of the same human household, for a time.  It was decided at some point that it was more convenient to keep the one and lose the other.  Hazel was the other.

Her life had been dominated by Smokie, though, and she never seemed to forget that.  We say that animals don’t have memories, but I believe they have better memories than any human in history.  They remember only what’s important, is all.  It causes them the same kind of pain that it does us, but probably worse.  They have fewer distractions.  It’s probably why they spend their lives being distracted by what we might consider to be trivial things.  It’s the only way to survive.

Hazel was a sweetie, a darling, but it’s unlikely that she was appreciated for this when she was still with Smokie, because Smokie stole all the attention, was known to lick a face voraciously, which may be normal for some cats, but is more usually considered unusual.  That’s the kind of cat Smokie was.  Hazel was much more like the cats I knew, a lot more like Boo, but I’ll get to her shortly.

Because of Hazel, because I knew her better, Smokie became another bogeyman, like Barky, slightly less abstract, because he had a tether, one he didn’t deserve, because he was doted on to the exact degree that Hazel deserved, but couldn’t bring herself to accept, and in a weird way, it was all because of her devotion to him.  That’s what love can sometimes do. 

Truth is, Hazel took some effort to find, which is probably exactly what she’d always been like.  She hid in one of the darkest corners of the place, but I tell you she was worth the effort.  Usually, but not always, when something takes an effort, it’s worth it.  Something that’s easy can be easy to take for granted, and may not even be worth that.   

What I could never get over was that even in Smokie’s absence he dominated her, and apart from the heartache she didn’t seem to mind.  I think that made Hazel special.  The way her eyes lit up just at the thought of him, that didn’t need any considering of the missing fur.  Nothing else mattered.  They say cats can tell you a lot just from their eyes.  Hazel made it an artform.  She was the Cheshire cat of eyes.  She disappeared behind them, and the only thing she was looking at wasn’t even there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Farewell to the Illustrated Man

In the book report there was a description of a man, but it outlined him in stillness, and all around him the world had stopped, as if to pay him respect.  It was strange, not to see vividness where once there had been.  Such was the Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury.

Roadkill Cafe, Part 5

There’s a lot of names you don’t associate with people who will change your life.  I’d already met several, so I thought I knew them all already.  As usual, I was wrong.

So I met Freckles.  Freckles sat in a water tank, which was a little odd, because he was a cocker spaniel.  To say he sat in the water tank is perhaps inaccurate.  He was standing in it, so that only his paws were in the water, and that caused the fur to flush outward.  I had to laugh, but I tried to be discreet.

I didn’t ask him why he was in a water tank.  He looked miserable, more miserable than I would have imagined anyone at the Roadkill Café to look, because they all seemed to be philosophical, left their baggage behind. 

If there was one word for it, I’d say it was “closure.”  Freckles didn’t seem to know that word.  He didn’t talk to me, either, and any noise he did emit was trailed by a gurgle.  I would’ve said it was endearing, but he seemed to derive no pleasure from that, either.  I felt bad for him.

Ribsy explained that Freckles had come to them years earlier, looking just as adrift as he did now, like he was a toy that some child had abandoned, that had once been a favorite.  He had once had a family that loved him, a whole family, even the members who didn’t admit it.  That much was clear.  He himself had clung to his master, more and more keenly the older he’d gotten, until he reached this place, where things like age and death and decay don’t matter, but he’d once had many, many hearts that loved him, cherished him. 

And then he was abandoned.  Ribsy didn’t know the whole story.  No one knew the whole story.  He was the tragedy of the place.  He just stood there in his water tank, looking all abashed, but also hopeful.  He kept expecting the day when the nightmare would end.  He had a pineapple with him, but he no longer ate anything.  Plenty of patrons at the Roadkill Café ate, but not Freckles.  He’d lost his appetite.  This is sad for a dog.

Tell me more, I pleaded Ribsy.  I was heartbroken.  Who wouldn’t have been?  Please tell me there’s something good here, I begged Ribsy.

Oh, you’ll see, was all he said.  I betrayed Freckles, too, by finally turning my back on him.

Star Trek '12: 1812 AD - Trelane

Trelane was a child.  Let’s just get that out of the way.  He barely understood what he did centuries later.  It stands to reason that he didn’t understand what he was doing when he looked to Napoleon Bonaparte for a bit of inspiration.

By the time Trelane observed him, Napoleon was close to losing it all.  But that also meant that he was close to having it all, too.  For many people, Napoleon was just about one of the most dangerous men in history.  He was a conqueror of the first order.  Trelane didn’t really get that, obviously.  What he saw was a human who seemed to be capable of anything, and very few compunctions.  What kind of impression of humanity would you have if you used Napoleon as your model?

This was what Trelane learned: that it was appropriate to take what you want, and that you get what you deserve.  It’s a pity that he didn’t look on at Napoleon just a few years later, because he really did lose everything, just when it seemed like he would have everything.  In fact, Napoleon was an excellent model for someone like Trelane, a veritable infant.  This is not to judge Trelane, or to judge Napoleon, but to say that it’s appropriate that immaturity embraced without question the splendor of so ruthless a figure without truly comprehending it.  What Trelane had and what he recognized was power, and so that was why he admired Napoleon, and why he didn’t bother to question whether he understand the man at all.  He didn’t have to!

From his perch he was greatly amused by what he saw, and all men who observe from perches are, and never stop to think about their entertainment.  It’s fine to be amused, but it’s a better thing to know what amuses you, and why.  Trelane didn’t do this because it never occurred to him.  He was king of his own world, and so was Napoleon, and oh if he’d only known what would happen!

But that was not meant to be.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 4

The next animal I encountered was actually an insect.  It was a fly.  Floyd didn’t do a lot of flying around, and he was careful to explain why.

Many years ago, especially by the standards of flies, Floyd was trapped in a window.  It happens, especially to flies, so I don’t have much for an explanation, and neither did he.  Anyway, the remarkable thing was when he was discovered, he was set free.  It was a boy, and you’d expect boys, among any humans, to kill the fly, but this one didn’t.  He set Floyd free.

That wasn’t the only remarkable story Floyd had.  He also told me about a journey he took, years after his reported death, in another window, this time the back window of a car, crusted and rigid, discovered by the boy’s sister.  Floyd told me that the boy didn’t believe his sister when she taunted him about it, saying that he’d wasted his efforts, wasted his time.  The fly died anyway.  The boy refused to believe it. 

I don’t know if that somehow explains any of this, that it’s all a matter of belief, that somehow all these animals still exist at the Roadkill Café because of someone’s belief, that it’s some kind of limbo I stumbled across.  I guess it doesn’t much matter.

Floyd took a trip with that same family, buzzing along, years after his death, and this time when his existence was brought up, the boy believed and so did his sister.  Somehow the persistence of vision kept Floyd alive, and that’s as much as I can say about that.

Floyd wasn’t much of a fly, though, not when I met him.  He just sat there.  By definition, flies fly.  I guess that meant Floyd wasn’t much of a fly, but I liked him just fine.  He was humble, just like everyone else there.

And he didn’t want my pity. 

What do you expect?  If this place was some kind of limbo, then its inhabitants couldn’t really be expected to care about life the same way we do.  That much would be accurate, about how humans perceive other life-forms, no matter what they are.  We like to believe we have the monopoly on intelligent thought, that we’re so creative and so that much better than anything else.

My guess is that Floyd proved that wrong, and whether or not it was because of the boy is irrelevant.  Floyd existed before the incident in the window and he existed after it, too.  And then he decided he hated to fly.  I don’t know if that was before or after his death.

If death is something to be considered at the Roadkill Café.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Roadkill Cafe, Part 3

Most denizens of the Roadkill Café aren’t actual roadkill.  They’re sympathizers.  They’ve got more in common than most of them care to admit.  With Ribsy as my guide around the place, I learned a lot.  It was Foxy who got most of them to talk, but it was Ribsy they all respected, and Ribsy the reason I was welcome there at all.

The first one I met on the tour was Champ.  “Champ” was something of a misnomer, as I quickly learned.  Champ was no champ.  He was more like a chump.  Not that anyone there cared much, and before long, neither did I.  Champ was eager to share his story.

Like a lot of dogs, he was welcomed into the home of a pack of humans (I kept trying to impress the term “family,” but Champ didn’t want any part of that), and received all the love he could ever want.  At first.  It didn’t last, and he spent more time locked away from the humans than with them.  They built a doghouse for him, but he didn’t use it much.  Didn’t get the chance.

One of his happiest memories was being walked on a particularly crazy night, where it seemed like all the humans, and there were a lot of them, were trying to act a lot like animals.  It took me awhile, but I eventually figured him to mean Halloween.  He was walked for a stretch of this experience by someone I recognized as a younger version of myself, and so I bowed my head an apologized.  He said don’t worry about it.  Happens to everyone.

What happened, I asked him.  He said he was given up, near as he could tell in a matter of months.  Never quite came to grips with why, never really figured out humans.  He wasn’t bitter, though.  Animals don’t get bitter, even roadkill.  He missed his pack of humans.  He said he knew they still remembered him, just like he still remembered them, but he wondered which memory would last longer.  I tried to tell him that humans don’t think animals have very good memories.  He just scoffed into his bowl. 

It was at the Roadkill Café that I learned the concept of memory, discovered it to mean a lot more about devotion and a lot less to do with time.  Champ helped me with that.  I told him he was a champ to me.  He shrugged it off.  Said it didn’t matter anymore.

I asked Ribsy if they were all like that.  Probably, he replied.  He said if I really wanted to know, I’d probably ask Barky, but Barky wasn’t around.  Barky was the third member of Ribsy’s group, after himself and Foxy, but neither of them had ever seen him.  I didn’t have the heart to say I had, but I’d never talked to him.  When I brought this up, Foxy said Barky would talk to me, if I proved worthy, if I didn’t waste my time at the Roadkill Café. 

I tried to believe I wouldn’t.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Back from the Dead #12

Justin Proper’s path to the Council was a little unusual.

He was thirteen years old when he talked himself into membership in the Council.  He was able to do so because he was a genius whose intellect could not be estimated by any existing standards.  He solved Alpha Dog’s longstanding feud with an extra-dimensional being in a matter of minutes, and that effectively served as his entrance exam.  He’d already brought about peace in thirteen countries, completely unsolicited, and brought a hundred criminals to justice from throughout the United States, even though he was born and raised in England and had no formal experience on the North American continent at the time of his first investigation.

To say that his abilities were unprecedented would have been an understatement, but Proper would have been the first one to explain that to assume that anyone as young as he was at the time would only have been expected to serve in a supporting capacity not only devalued the concept of ability but also responsibility, which in many cultures expected boys to be men well before the limited standards being considered against him.  And if you asked him nicely, he might even explain that again.

Needless to say, he was a boy wonder and a full-fledged partner in the Council, and the world accepted him because they accepted the rest of the Council, and he accepted their rules because he saw a greater chance at succeeding in his long-term goals with the kind of support it provided than attempting to continue on his own.  People grow tired of individuals, not ideas.  The Council was an idea, and that fascinated Justin Proper more than anything else, its intangible quality, because that was the world he existed in, manipulating hard facts and making them malleable.  He was lucky enough that his contributions were recognized.  A champion cannot be a champion unless they are championed.  Such are the paradoxes of life.

The problem was, the more time he spent with the Council, the less effective he became.  He began hedging his instincts, to better align with the interests of the group.  He accepted compromise without questioning the ramifications.  He may have been a genius, but even he was foolish enough to trust those who said they had his best interests in mind when they sabotaged his efforts.  That’s human nature.  He was aware of it, of course, and became increasingly pragmatic.  When the time came to choose his squires, he was more careful than he’d been in years.  At fifteen he fell in love with Ellen Encanto.  She was dead by the time he was seventeen, and returned when he hit nineteen.  In terms of increments, the six years it took for him to have joined the Council and to see the rise of a rebellion against it was an eternity.  He alone was prepared to deal with it.

That was why he had selected Meme as his second squire.  Meme was his own act of rebellion, a moment of irony and subversion the Council could never have anticipated.  It was just assumed that their original impression of him would always be true, that he was in essence predictable, owing to the fact that they still thought of him as a boy, even if an extraordinary one, who could be controlled.  In fact, he had been biding his time.

Meme’s function was to assimilate the basic role of the squire, something the Witch Doctor would never be able to do, and unwittingly serve as Proper’s agent within the circle of friends he knew to exist well before the later alliance.  No matter the pressure the Council would exert, no matter the expectations, Meme could be trusted to do the expected, which was follow whatever subliminal instructions were necessary.

The rebirth of the Witch Doctor, and the careful placement of the Biker to discover it, was something Proper had counted on from the start.  He knew that she would never love him, but had used her affections to guide her in the right direction.  The Widowmaker incident was unfortunate, but had to happen.  The squires would always fight the battles for the Council, until the day something happened that would change that.

Justin Proper sat back and awaited the moment where he could return to action.

Back from the Dead #11

The world outside of any bubble can look very different.  It’s something to do with perspective.  For instance, anyone looking from the outside in had a different interpretation of the return of the Witch Doctor.  Anyone who knew what was going on had a lot more information than those participating could have appreciated, caught up in the emotion of it.

For instance, the Witch Doctor’s return was significant, in that there had been those predicting it ever since her battle with Widowmaker, when reports came back that she vowed revenge at the moment of her death.  Now, that might be hearsay and legend and nothing to do with what might have actually been said, but superheroes being a very public concern, and many corroborating statements to the effect that this indeed happened, it’s at least possible.  There was always fascination with the Witch Doctor, as there always is with the occult, from the moment of her first appearance at the side of Justin Proper.  There was a great deal of speculation as to why he’d chosen her as his squire, whether or not he was grooming her for a specific purpose.  Of course, the Council didn’t particularly care what civilians thought of them, because their approval ratings only shot up when they first came together, each of them already famous, already groomed for the spotlight, natural-born heirs to the throne of public approval, because they dictated the course of social progress.  What else do superheroes do?

Most squires were easy to interpret, so very little thought was put into them.  The Witch Doctor was different.  She said very little, so when she spoke it was a significant occasion, and she was always saying things that could be interpreted as prophecy, whether or not she actually meant it that way.  People tend to take meaning the way they want to.  She had a cult following immediately.  Even her secret identity was said to be a fabrication, and had been made common knowledge years ago, just another element of the mystique.  She was said to possess the ability to bring others back from the dead, and although this was never confirmed, it opened the door to speculation that even her own death could never be permanent.  Thus, when she said something like, “I will cause your ruin,” in a pool of her own blood, it was assumed that she meant personal retribution.

Her relationship with Justin Proper was a major part of it.  It was assumed that she must have been a family friend, perhaps even related directly to him, and since Proper himself was always something of a bafflement, it was not inconceivable that the explanation for the Witch Doctor had necessarily in some way already been deduced by him.  If Justin Proper expressed confidence in someone, that was endorsement enough.  Something about his other squire, Meme, seemed to make even logic this flimsy hold weight.  Proper was not the major force of the Council, but he was the most respected, an outsider who was a cipher, the perfect combination.

That was the sum evaluation of the Witch Doctor as well.  Her return painted her as a savior, someone who would solve every problem.  Those who wondered why even the mighty Council had never managed to establish perfect order now came to believe that the mysterious daughter of dark arts had known the secret of the universe all along.  What further proof did they need than the Witch Doctor’s own words?

The gathering of allies was seen as proof that she was transcending the previous order and making way for a new one.  Her victory over Widowmaker was seen to be assured before it ever happened, and thus no one was surprised when the first reports came in, the corpse of her assassin delivered to the doorstep of the UN, a warning that the existence of such evil would no longer be tolerated.  She was not threatening to become a tyrant so much as serving notice.  There was no change in her personality, and thus could not be said to have changed since her return.

The Council, and especially Alpha Dog, tried to denounce her, and there was an official notice that all their squires had been replaced, and that the heroes who had once served that function were disavowed, no longer sanctioned agents of the public good.  For some, that was enough.  For others, it meant nothing at all.  The Council lost a share of its authority that day, but in many ways, nothing changed, because those who believed in them kept the faith, and those who didn’t could not be said, after all, to matter.