picket fence ruins

In another suburb, this one closer to resembling the storybook variety—white picket fences bordering property (a.k.a. territory) on lots in strict conformity to a geometric grid, tree-lined, every single-family home and two-car garage connected by sidewalks, driveways, avenues (ensuring soles need never touch thoroughfares other than those graded, leveled, and paved)—an asymmetric shagginess blurred edges once kept tidy. Lawns trespassed on lawns, tree roots on plumbing; branches mingled with telephone wires (none of them in service); gardens shriveled or flourished thanks to opportunistic weeds; and nothing of a mechanical nature broke the spell of Sunday morning’s summer silence: no mowers, hedge clippers, sprinkler systems, chain saws, or the revving of car engines, no motorcycles (traffic nonexistent), the sky devoid of vapor trails, propellers, and sonic booms.

Flanked by plastic trashcans filled with rain run-off and snowmelt from the previous winter, one backyard (in a neighborhood of hundreds) emitted sounds of habitation. Splashing noises disrupted the hushed serenity. A naked youngster was spanking his palms on the surface of dingy water that surrounded him where he sat, waist-deep, in a saucer-shaped wading pool…

making waves…

that sloshed against and overflowed the inflated, canary-yellow perimeter. Wet strands of long, unruly hair obscured his facial features. Size, and weight, and musculature suggested an age of…

possibly twelve…

chronologically.

His mental age, however, seemed less mature…

almost retarded (if taking delight in so simple a recreation betrayed lack of wit). Further confusing the issue were wisps of underarm hair, incongruous, given the youngster’s pre-pubescent stage…

as was the hair, exposed by random ripples, that colonized his pubes. Something about the boy’s vocalizations also hinted at a lower level of functioning, as if his speech were impaired; or perhaps he spoke no language at all.

"Eeeee-annnnn," came a call from the house, its back door propped agape like an unhinged jaw.

The bather cocked his ear, then wriggled over the rubbery ring to hide, flattening his little man’s body on turf made mushy by the sloppy spillover.

Evelyn, identically ‘clad,’ entered the yard, and, dropping to all fours, pretended to stalk her progeny like a prowling lioness. His squeal, when she pounced, was a mixture of giddy glee and make-believe fright. Snorting an odd nasal laugh (Mom had missed, earning herself a mud bath), Ian scampered away, mimicking the gait of a frolicsome chimpanzee.

Adam, drawn outside by the commotion, shed his threadbare bathrobe, pajamas, and slippers (winked a wink of conspiracy at his up-a-tree heir), then crept toward the still-sprawled pulchritude of an unawares Mrs. Smith…

who wallowed…

languished in the sun-stroked sod…

its sogginess oozing aromatic warmth and gooshy-gosh fertility…

luxurious to her sinuses, tangled coif, and unencumbered pores…

mother, with Mother Earth, re-commingled…

terra cotta sculpture immersed in a slick of liquefied clay…

rolling in it…

coating her tip-to-toe tan with sludge lewdly succulent…

into which her husband, tailed by their son, similarly slid.

 

 

At the same time, Ann, come from a vacated corner store pulling her little red wagon piled high with groceries (atop which Geezer rode, august as any emperor), turned in at the Smith house and ambled up its drive. Looking quite the young lady (despite some traits enduringly ‘toddler-esque’), Ian’s twin no more resembled him now than a rose does a thistle. Secondary sexual characteristics (equally premature) expressed themselves quite differently, sister to brother. Breasts, in the former, had blossomed, albeit little ones, yet big enough to distend Ann’s Mickey Mouse shirt, beneath which concave curves conspired with bumps to foreshadow womanhood. Still childlike, still diminutive, her anatomy was that of a changeling’s, hovering between ungainly and borderline precocious. A full set of adult teeth (resembling piano keys crammed into a squeezebox) taxed her lips to cover them, yet lent her mouth, overall, a winning grin. The same duality described her outsize feet, which were charming, in a clodhopper sort of way. A body at sixes and sevens was hers (teeter tottering between six and seventeen), with brains on a fast track toward brilliance (outstripping "His Royal Highness’s" already).

Come full stop, Ann stared at her nuclear family with outright chagrin… whereas they seemed all too happy she had found her way back home.

"Hello, dear," Evelyn trumpeted, rising from the muck with open-armed grace, fluttering toward her daughter like some disinterred swan, a heartfelt hug besmirching Ann’s ensemble (which the girl had washed by hand).

"Hi, Mommy," Ann replied, glancing at the smudges without complaint.

Ian ambled over, likewise latching on with a greasy, grimy grip, tugging at his sibling, cloyingly, intent on her accompanying him into the pool-turned-trough—where Adam, hostage to another trance, sat eerily immobile.

"Stop it, Ian. Go play with Daddy. I have to fix us lunch," Ann countered, prying loose his mitts with a firm yet gentle hand.

"Let me help you carry these in," her mother offered, then got distracted, drifting back, instead, to soak in the muck.

Geezer, used to being ignored (by everyone except Ann) was taken aback when Ian popped up and gave him the ‘raspberry,’ retreating, then, wary of certain limits beyond which he dared not venture.

‘Moron,’ the monkey retaliated (subliminally).

‘Don’t call Ian names! If he’s not smart, whose fault is that?’ Ann defended (also subliminally, hers and Geezer’s an exchange transmitted via telepathic pulses, tongues, by comparison, too sluggish, the spoken word like doing math on ones fingers and toes).

Maintaining Simian silence, Geezer lambasted Ann for her shop-till-she-dropped excessiveness.

‘Just because you seem to be immune from repercussions, doesn’t mean you ought to overdo,’ Geezer lectured. ‘How do you suppose that surplus got generated?’

‘Shut up, you, or I’ll boil you for dinner,’ was Ann’s ill-tempered reply. She had eyes (albeit non-amber ones). She had seen the havoc wreaked on humans robbed of any recourse, watched her neighbors go berserk for want of self-restraint. Owl-Eyes, everywhere, had toppled institutions, braked progress to a standstill, clobbered every culture into categorical submission—Mankind forced indubitably, irreversibly to its penitential knees. Before the TV stopped (for lack of electric current; few things worked without power) news reports claimed anarchy raged and ruled in the world at large: governments, militaries had crumbled; countries fighting for identity had lost more than they gained; those at peace waged war, the results disastrous; worldwide population was reduced to a peripatetic smattering…

with casualties leaving a legacy of global stink…

that lingered…

hung like Humors from Hades over the legions decomposed.

Even now the Four Winds exhaled breath befouled by far-flung carrion, as the Corpse of Humankind rotted unilaterally coast to coast—landfills finding themselves pocked with unmarked graves in an acne of compost.

‘Hey, Blue-eyes; no one’s going to eat that tuna fish salad.’

‘It’s for me. Want some?’

‘Nope. I’ll stick to my staple.’

‘Can’t. No more apricots.’

‘What!?’

‘Here; try nuts.’

Ann plopped down a giant, vacuum-packed jar in front of the resident alien, defying him to open it without assistance—a challenge Geezer met with roguish aplomb.

‘Be that way,’ he remarked with an impudent scowl, as he leaned against the jar and pushed it slowly toward table’s edge.

‘You’d better not,’ Ann warned, ‘this place is messy e—…’

Too late. "CRASH!" An avalanche of cashews tumbled across the kitchen floor, the ‘squalid’ kitchen floor. Alive with cockroaches, ants, and vermin more imposing (as in field mice during the day, sewer rats by night, "scrabbling" here, there, everywhere on nail-protuberant paws), the linoleum set off boundaries of a zone Ann tried to avoid…

preferring to barricade herself up in her room…

sequestered from the family…

Evelyn, Adam, and Ian, taken to sleeping in a huddle on a mattress lugged downstairs…

stuffed haphazardly into a corner of the living room…

blankets, sheets, and pillows all jumbled in a helter-skelter mass…

smelly, too, despite Ann’s efforts to hang the bedding outside to air.

"Leave things be!" her mother had admonished, underscoring the ostracism Ann so frequently felt… not that they discouraged her from joining in (quite the contrary); she simply could not tolerate the family’s horrid hygiene. Seldom washing, never brushing their teeth, Mother, Father, and brother (worst of the bunch) courted sundry ticks, voracious fleas, and haloes of body lice—all the better for ‘grooming’ of a lazy afternoon…

a lazy evening…

a lazy morning…

industriousness having ceased to be a thinkable occupation—which frustrated Ann no end. It was she who had collected the containers that housed their precious water supply. Left to themselves, parents and sibling would have bathed in soda pop and beer (after exhausting the stocks of bottled water), or let sporadic rain afford them a superficial shower… when inclined toward sanitation… which was not often… not often enough by Ann’s fastidious standards—to which she clung with tenacity, ever-fearful of losing herSelf. ‘I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay,’ had become Ann’s personal mantra, drowning out importunities from her poor relations to play…

to relax.

Why be so stubborn? Why resist the Call reverberating through Evelyn’s every vein, Adam’s every artery, Ian’s every corpuscle? What made Ann resistant to the irrepressible Wild? Had Owl-Eyes failed to take? Or had it sent her racing—developmentally—in the opposite direction?

"FOOD!" was announced through the backdoor entrance (thoroughfare for anything of a mind to wander in), whereupon Ann, with her pseudo-sidekick, climbed the stairs to dine in private (spared, thereby, from having to watch, and worse yet listen, while the Smith threesome ‘fed’).

 

 

Following his nose to one of several platters, Ian showed up first, stacked some canned pineapple rings (like yellow washers) on his grubby thumb, then wandering back outside before his parents put in an appearance…

together…

arm-in-arm…

Adam roused, evidently, from his most recent ‘interlude’…

Evelyn nestling her buttocks onto the dining-room table chair…

seated by her spouse with skimpy civility…

neither having donned a solitary stitch…

though, unlike Ian, they had rinsed off most of the mire…

proceeding to pick at victuals with fingers a tad less foul…

without a word spoken…

yet giving an impression of communication, content to satisfy hunger side by side…

having endured a lot and savoring the fact with this scrumptious smorgasbord…

glad for life and its bounties, as spread out in front of them: asparagus spears, artichoke hearts, a sprinkling of pickled mushrooms, framed by a lovely fan of sectioned tangerines; Ann had done well. Ann, praise the Lord, had been her family’s salvation.

Evelyn, bowing her head, gave thanks by saying Grace…

to The Presence she felt poignantly…

regardless Armageddon…

whose battleground was best staged right at home…

surrounded by familiar things…

turned unfamiliar…

when evil challenged good to a looking-glass war…

spitting images split over who resembled Whom…

Maker and made un-flattered…

declared guilty by association…

sin unmasked…

stewardship all but rescinded…

canceled, it appeared, forevermore.

Could it be God now deemed Humans untrustworthy?

Had Man been stripped of rank for gross misconduct?

Was Judgment passed already, morals become pass�?

Nakedness, for example, no longer caused embarrassment. How so? Never, in a million years, would Evelyn have traipsed around in the nude; before, that is. Now, she wore her birthday suit unashamed… in front of her children, no less. Nudity seemed only natural. Flesh, unhampered by clothing, felt free and refreshed…

like a whole revitalized organ…

like Aunt Minerva’s furniture shed of its plastic sheathes.

Yes, Evelyn was aware of her de-sophistication, cultural affectations flaking off like scales, lingerie and make-up abandoned without a qualm. She giggled.

When had she last bothered to "put on her face"?

During the evacuation, she remembered, when authorities still flexed authority, warned that the nearby power plant was in danger of melting down—a threat which virtually emptied their township for miles in every direction. Why had she decided to disregard the order? What had made her choose to hide her husband and children, instead? And how had they escaped when those who fled met an uncertain…

"Death," she said aloud, commencing to spoon feed

Adam

succumbed to another stupor

his face untroubled

limbs gone limp

though somewhere deep inside he remained alert

to sounds especially

the closed-in type

like those within the confines of a brim-full bath

echoes inundating eardrums sunk below the water’s surface

perked to hear a veritable rhapsody of anatomical riffs:

heartbeats keeping impeccable time

digestive juices gurgling

lungs (with a heave) expanding

(with a ho) contracting

liberating air

which would

if held, if kept, if coveted

cease to carry out its cycle

letting go as key as taking in

like life, breath hinged on faith

what is expended

(with beneficence)

shall

(unstintingly)

be restored

day in, day out

year in, year out

eternal inklings lighting darkness

leading Adam from the macro

to the micro

all-encompassing globe

to least-conspicuous speck

his Now-ness narrowed to consider, in detail, such quaint minutia:

as an eyelash

as a pinhead mole

as a cheek’s enchanting dimple

as a nape of neck

his helpmate’s quiver

live-wire nerve-ends trembly

(‘What a dainty, is a woman’s earlobe, dangling like some tidbit, like some soft as kidskin purse containing toothsome sweets to gnaw.’)

"Oooo, that’s ticklish," Evelyn trilled, then shrugged and squirmed without evading…

(‘Tastes of sweat, in salty keeping with its teardrop shape, ambrosial.’)

…bore his prickly-pear caresses, ovum not quite at its peak, that phase when sperm can swim the distance to impregnate…

(‘Slightly bitter.’)

…though her tender breasts and privates signaled ‘soon,’ her moon was near, its tidal tug revealed by flashes subtly sensible…

(‘Not quite ripened?’)

…ovulation, once a mystery, now pronounced, unveiled, discerned, its secret published by her puckered paps and musk-exuding vulva, which inflamed her husband’s ardor to a record strength (and breadth), the heat turned up, unleashed libidos urged to sniff and lick and nuzzle.

Adam’s kisses crept down Evelyn’s throat to linger at her clavicle, as his palms enclosed her wriggling shoulders

(‘Ultra-supple curves, the bones beneath betraying God Almighty’s eminent displeasure when He snapped the wings off angels.’)

Evelyn shivered.

(‘Here, and here. A pair of stumps where once grew feathers broad and strong, reduced to relics, sunken treasures under the dunes of a desert isle.’)

 

 

Ian picked his nose and ate it, scratched his abdomen, sucked a cut on his wrist, snapped his jaws at a passing horsefly—knowing he would have had to spit it out had he succeeded; his stomach rejected anything that was not vegetation. And even some of that proved barely palatable, depending upon the noises it made when un-packaged. A lot of things had gotten processed, evidently, under hostile circumstances. Insects, poisoned by plumes of pesticide, tended to drop dead screaming. Maybe their collective echoes were responsible for contaminated so many foodstuffs. Whatever; as long as he got enough to eat (and it went down uncomplainingly), how it actually tasted was unimportant.

Mud; now there was something to savor! Ian loved the way it sucked when you tried to leave a puddle, like it wanted to hold on, like you were it and it was you all warm and mushy and gloppy. It kept the bugs from biting after it dried, too. How come Ann failed to appreciate that? Girls were weird. Mud could hold a shape; that was another good point. You could make it into just about anything, let it harden in the sun, then throw it against a wall and see it smash into smoky rubble! You could even eat it, once you rescued all the moving bits: beetles, spiders, worms, and such—which did not like being handled, but were glad to not get gulped… then barfed back up, of course… by Humans, anyway; other animals ate whatever they pleased. Why? Ian was confused by the New World order. Figuring out its rules (and rulers) had been a pretty painful process. That piss-pot Geezer, for example (whom Ian never liked and never would) could outsmart people (reason enough to hate the monkey’s guts). Plus, he hung around with Ann. Constantly. Thick as thieves, they were. Kept mostly to themselves. Made everyone else in the household feel "uncouth." Ian aimed to get even. Tried, once. ‘Almost’ managed to set the monkey’s tail on fire. No luck, though. Match ignited okay, but burned right down to the would-be firebug’s fingers; no matter how hard Ian struggled, he could not force himself to let the damn thing go—or even to blow it out. After that, he laid low, for a while, hatching schemes of vengeance that stopped just shy of actual execution. Maybe Ann would eventually come back, forget that snooty varmint and act like a sister. Playing by himself was a bit like one hand clapping.

 

 

Cloistered in the room upstairs once shared with her ousted brother, Ann made rounds to replace the batteries in her hoarded appliances: digital clocks, CD players, VCRs (rigged to operate on dry cells), multiple flashlights, radios (useless, broadcasts having ceased), and several laptop computers.

‘Let there be light,’ Geezer quipped sarcastically, critical of Ann’s reluctance to part with the past, viewing her penchant for progress as a post-nasal nuisance.

Ignoring him, she turned up the volume on Beethoven’s Seventh—which did not serve to quell the monkey’s communiqu�s.

‘Why don’t you go watch the grass grow,’ he chided, ‘or hobnob with that Heathen? This puttering only prolongs your expatriation.’

Spoiling for an argument, irked himself at the status quo—appointed ‘fall guy’ in a plot he only ‘feigned’ to comprehend (for Ann’s benefit, for pride’s sake)—Geezer felt more isolated than his antagonist. Especially now that the Worldwide Web had crashed, and its alternative (telepathic air waves) proved similarly ‘un-surf-able,’ with nary a brain-cap generated for as far as the mind could reach… a negligible distance, in the erstwhile ‘lab rat’s’ case, his casting true to type, the role sufficiently humble to excuse his lack of acumen; a mighty mind among Simians the marooned ape’s was not… as evidenced by his ducking Ann’s chronic interrogations:

How did he get from China to Upstate New York?

He did not know. He had BLINKed, was all, but did so flanked by escorts… which led to Ann’s follow-up:

Why not simply ‘BLINK’ himself back home?

He shrugged, not wanting to acknowledge gross incompetence and that Time-Space Transport, for him, was a hit-or-miss affair; without guidance from Adepts, Geezer was a hopeless clod.

Did the dreams she had about a hunchbacked midget represent real events?

Maybe. Possibly. Probably. Many of the details Ann related jived with concrete facts (allowing for a child’s poetic license). However Geezer would admit to being no more than ‘Projectionist’ for whatever Ann’s subconscious chose to represent.

The same way she had witnessed wolves surround and kill that buffalo?

Sort of, kind of; those were true-to-life images, sure enough… Next question.

Would people be able to defend themselves, or could they never, ever hurt other creatures?

Again, the monkey sidestepped. Human Beings had been so obsessed with polishing off each other (even the passive personalities), how they would react to outside perils remained unclear. Only Ann, for instance, dared resist the household’s teeming vermin—symbolically; ‘threats’ of extermination were never quite carried out. If it came right down to a competition, People versus Predators, Owl-Eyes ‘might’ inhibit the former’s self-defense.

‘Look to your spitting image,’ had been Geezer’s artful dodge.

How come Ian just got duller, whereas she got sharper daily?

The interviewee (rather dull himself) could offer not a clue—so he invented something, cited the ‘anomaly of twinship’ as responsible for subverting what he dubbed the ‘Simian Scheme,’ the ‘Tour-de-force,’ the ‘Feat of Monumental Bio-engineering’… about which he knew less than she whose avid curiosity had occasioned Ann to overcome nearly every hindrance met: no school (her kindergarten classes canceled long ago), no television (stations, one by one, from coast to coast, had left the air), no supervision by her parents (even bedtime stories languished); only videos, talking books, and a wealth of software had abetted her pursuit of education, plus her taxing Geezer’s wits, whose store of knowledge, truth be told, was close to depletion.

What then, the monkey fretted? Once outliving his utility, would this ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ deem him worthless, obsolete?

How did he BLINK from place to place? (she asked and asked and asked ad nauseam).

Geezer, cleaving to his only edge, resolved to tell her zilch—a rather practical ploy, considering how unskilled was his facility.

‘Oh, an arcane knack, is all, passed down through countless generations,’ he dissembled, with a heavy hint he knew more than he did.

Ann chewed the last bite of her tuna fish salad, washed it down with Cola, making "slurp-slurp" sounds through a plastic straw, deliberations deep, her thoughts concealed behind a veil of inaccessibility.

This, too, was worrisome; nearly every stratagem Geezer plied (like cloaking certain subtexts), Ann acquired with ease (then raised to an art). How to BLINK must stay covert.

‘Arcane since when?’ Ann would not let the subject drop; she wanted answers, her expression (as the straw protruded rudely through her teeth) a combination of inquisitiveness and menace.

‘Since the Dynasty of Mung,’ the monkey hazarded.

‘You mean Ming?’

Had she been reading Chinese history? Geezer cocked a wary eyebrow. An ‘equivocal’ dissertation on the subject might divert.

Atop his favorite roost—a beanbag lodged in an Old World globe’s curved armature—Geezer idly kicked the Arctic Circle, set the map in motion; lines of latitude merged with longitude as he spun both yarn and sphere:

Mung was the Mother of our Counter-Revolution,’ he transmitted.

Ann, in spellbound mode, relaxed her spine from nape of neck to coccyx, lowered her eyelids—light diffused thereby—relaxed her high-strung nerves, allowed her body to indulge the hum that overcomes a listener when regaled with tales farfetched or true, with faithful facts or lore, a state that hovered between wakefulness and daydream—calm, susceptible—wherein pictures took the place of words…

impressions formed…

turned palpable…

while the ape took on his role as Cinematic Bard:

‘An old, old soul when returned from the land of Uprights (as Human Beings were called back then), Mung survived to remember one hundred and twelve (an age in an Age when people, much less monkeys, rarely lived past forty). "Captured," some say, "apprenticed," claim others, she spent her youth as the minion of a man named Chan Ling (an Ink Maker) pounding raw materials, year in, year out, into suitable paste. Repetitive work, no mistaking, but not without reward, since Ling was also a Scribe who copied learned manuscripts, the contents, unbeknownst to their Transcriber, finding a grade-A pupil in the mind’s eye of Mung. After mastering every character in the ancient Chinese alphabet, she committed all to memory, logarithms to logistics. Quite a labor of learning for an animal reckoned "dumb," though dumb Mung was in only a verbal sense; Simians, even then, flexed minds in lieu of tongues.’

Geezer gave the globe another kick to keep it twirling; Ann looked on with an eyes-half-open stare…

as continents alongside oceans blurred…

their colors interchangeable…

specifics un-pinpoint-able on the orb’s dynamic whirl…

until deceleration brought the passing features into focus (slowed momentum now kept constant by the flicks from Geezer’s tail)…

each spin hypnotic…

slightly dizzying…

round and round went Ann’s perceptions…

round and round went her ability to envision how things were…

‘Mung thus grew privy to the march of Mankind’s reckless machinations, epochs-past suggesting those impending, Earth’s demise foreseen. So she escaped, by climbing the string of a kite (one version of the legend has it). Then, once gnawing free, she petitioned Wind to send her, air mail, home.’

The globe revolved, with Geezer’s tall-tale telling, prayer-wheel fashion…

turning…

its solidity, first opaque, become translucent…

then transparent…

like a crystal ball at which Ann gazed with graphic meditation…

visions prompted by her fancies based on the monkey’s mute portrayal:

of a wizened Simian sailing skyward like a ship, her arms its cross-spars, whiskers plastered to her jowls against the jet-stream’s urgent surge, her torso, main-mast fashion, leaning toward the planet’s warped horizon on a crash course, flying headlong, falling, tumbling, reaching Earth, her impact cushioned by a random updraft, come to ground undamaged, landing daintily as an open rice-paper parasol…

‘Reunited with her kinfolk, Mung soon shocked them from complacency by predicting Man’s monopoly on a worldwide-habitat scale. A Great Convention was assembled to address the coming Crisis, to avert the Eco-Tragedy by what methods might prevail. And thus The Lab was born, its motley staff selectively recruited for the quantum leap to sciences theoretical and applied, our Simian Nation led, round-trip, down the Garden Path.’

Ann’s intellect swirled…

observed a cadence…

pre-established by rotation…

China, every time it passed, attracting note…

attention snared…

her mind arrested…

like a phonograph needle…

caught by a ruined record…

every skip an X…

each X the spot…

that marked the fateful scourge…

its point of origin…

germs infectious…

populations…

round and round…

by means nefarious…

round and round…

by means insidious…

crafty…

droll…

DISPATCHED…

by nothing more, nor less, than a Simian’s sneeze.

Goddamn, that monkey! Ann, grown viscerally aware of how her Race had been negated, glared at Geezer—alias Typhoid Mary. He had brought disaster. Him and his, those early…

… alchemists, in a smudge-pot lit procession, spiraling downward, single file, linked paw to paw, and paw to tail, like some illuminated corkscrew twisting deep inside the subsoil, intrigue planted for a centuries-long gestation.

‘It took time. Recruits were willing, but unused to life down under. Isolation made them homesick. Lack of light killed cones and rods. And color blindness, spurred by headaches, fostered frantic innovations. Pacts were sought with other dwellers in the requisitioned cave, to wit a colony of bioluminescent microorganisms was induced to lend its glow—the gloom reduced, one problem eased, while others waited for solutions by the ground crew overhead, support from gatherers, go-fors, petty thieves, a horde of opportunists who appropriated tools, utensils (everything in miniature), an amazing range of paraphernalia filched, adapted, forged from bits of refuse, odds and ends, the bric-a-brac of ethno-progress (as pervasive as the species that produced excessive wastes), procured year round, from far and wide (the Uprights’ reign a bane expanding) and conveyed through arcane avenues, hidden pathways, cryptic trails (until the boon of Time-Space Transport revolutionized these forays) to the cavern Mung, and her ‘troglodytes,’ commandeered.’

At Time-Space Transport’s parenthetical mention, Ann grew hopeful that the monkey’s best-kept secret might, at long last, be disclosed; one tiny bean was all she needed for the rest to spill unwittingly… thoughts of BLINKing where and when she pleased engendering such ambitions, Ann took pains to keep them under wraps, yet every ploy conceived had netted shrugs, thus far, prevarication. Geezer was evasive, unavailing to an intellect primed to comprehend all things, to understand, become the champion of her race (despite its apathy), seek the Truth (regardless how few people gave a tinker’s damn). Ann was (accordingly) abashed to see her family slipping backward. They withdrew from anything more complex than the most mundane concerns: securing food and drink (which she provided), grooming (done incessantly), noting nothing-in-particular (things that moved, whatever changed), observing weather (which they did examine closely, senses active, sundry smells, sights, sounds, tastes, textures coaxing wits to reconvene), but little else, it seemed, could tweak their Owl-Eyed interest…

turning…

turning…

Could the world have caught so vast a plague in so few revolutions…

mixed malignancy, with its metaphors, and abolished Man post-haste…

destroyed initiative, ingenuity…

wiped out culture, progress, aptitude…

slain conviction, squelched philosophy…

rendered Faith a flightless finch…

an artless dodo reconstructed from some Blueprint of Creation wherein Heaven need not fit the flock with wings to storm its Gates…

tellurians grounded, of the Earth itself, an Eden un-abandoned by the likes of those whose swallowed bite of Knowledge had been spat…

Original Sin disgorged, replaced by the Bliss of Ignorance?

‘There she preached, a shrunken monkey midst a sprawling mob of mesmerized disciples, Mung refulgent (wisdom shimmering like a lodestar born within), her views outspoken, if transmitted via tacit elocution…’

… seeming sinister to the target of said words-without-a-sound, each speechless utterance shrewdly pointed, every silent sentence barbed, the sharp indictments of this "Lesser" ape in conflict with the "Greater," Man’s dominion called to question, blamed, besieged, then overthrown… Ann’s life in ruins, after what was planned at length, at length had happened, human hopes and dreams undone, reduced to an ignominious "hiss."

‘Once taught to BLINK, the Subterraneans gained advantage over Uprights, whose development had been slowed for want of common cause (and sense). Within a decade, what was once a cave resembled a cathedral, former treetop-browsers transformed into academic priests. Prestige was high among those chosen to combat Mankind’s encroachment; always spreading, Homo Sapiens plundered each frontier they breached. Thus Mung’s prediction, in her lifetime, was supported by the evidence. Every habitat Man invaded saw its former residents ousted (that, or butchered when evacuation failed to move apace). The race was on, one species overrunning, one pursuing trip-wires, yours relentless in its exploitation, mine ordained to save, to rescue Planet Earth from Man’s MANiacal rampage.’

turning…

turning…

Ann engrossed in Geezer’s lecture cum account cum explication…

had a mind to contradict him…

plead her own beleaguered case:

Were people really so contemptible as to warrant decimation? Surely virtues offset vices weighed on an even-handed scale.

Her Mom was kind, and good, and never harmed things. Why should she be punished?

Why should Ian? He was naughty, true, but children were excusable. Boys were brutal; most grew out of it. Was it fair to nip his bud?

Her Dad respected the environment, saw that bottles got recycled, put out campfires, seldom littered. How come he got Owl-Eyes?

CRUEL!

The epidemic was a dirty trick to play on humans.

SPITEFUL!

There was no way Ann could think about it otherwise.

JUST PLAIN MEAN!

The world would NOT be better off because its people all got stupider. What a lame idea that was; brains were everything. Think of school, about the teachers being just as dim and silly as their students, all the textbooks gone to waste, the countless software programs squandered, not to mention all the art and music sight-unseen, unheard.

Her brother made things, still—from mud and stuff; her parents hummed—atonally. What were these, compared to Masterworks produced by Moore and Mahler? Only Geezer—curse the pesky poop—appreciated genius, parked himself between her headphones—wearing out the boom-box batteries—as he tapped his twitchy tail in time to prerecorded tunes, expressing sadness—so he said—about Man’s Muses being sacrificed for the Earth’s return to health.

Since when did healthy birds not sing?

Or healthy bees refrain from buzzing, frogs from croaking, elk from trumpeting?

Healthy humans set their lives to music. Why deny them that?

It was not right.

It was unnatural, even; Owl-Eyes made folks aberrant.

It reduced them to a level no more noble than a turd.

It made them equal to the lowest, commonest, dull-as-dung denominator.

As the globe continued spinning Ann (still rapt) saw settings change:

from vaulted ceiling to a roof of foliage, grotto turned to forest, Middle Ages (at their outset) to the Dawn of Man-like beings. He and She took center screen (displacing Mung and her conspirators), stooped and hirsute, thick of trunk, with sloping brows and lantern jaws, their gait an awkward side-to-side that swept the ground in front with knuckles, Oong and Ka, plus six who clung to mother, picked their way through ferns, past roots like ganglia, over mushroom-studded mulch, their progress plodding, conduct casual, halting, harvesting husks and nuts and fallen fruit. A wealth of prehistoric papaws, decomposing aromatically, lured their snouts, their tongues, their molars. Munching, smacking pliant lips, the dribbly mash anointed face-fur that disguised chimeric features. Wild, with an understated tameness, theirs were traits in flux, unfixed. Ancestral this or that had merely framed a question left unanswered. Who these beasts became, once fully fashioned, Time alone would countenance, Genes and Circumstance determine, Chance abort or bring to term.

Said vivid stock of primal memories granted Ann a glimpse, if fleeting, of the link between these brutes and those whose minds conjointly summoned, called up images a la newsreels from an archive out of date.

‘The family tree of Man and Simian, at its basest base, took root here, one small shoot, a stalk at most, from whence our separate bearings branched, our fates as fickle as a famine or a drought, a flood, an ice age, or a chromosome that got bent, somehow, from a sympathetic shape, then passed along its woeful prospects for engendering a disaster that would upset Nature’s balance worse than a blow from outer space. These two were kin, yours/mine identical, save for one slight deviation in our founding father’s make-up.’

Once again the scene transfigured:

creatures deer-like, hoofed and antlered, braved the edge of an escarpment that was high, abrupt, and—should the herd be waylaid—mortally sheer, a whoop and holler suddenly spooking two, three, half a dozen stragglers, darting rashly toward their fellows (stampede stirred), doom dead ahead; a flock of fetlocks pawed at empty air… until the shock of impact snapped their bones in grisly splinters, frames collapsing, guts impaled, their slaughtered entrails oozing hemorrhage midst a spastic throng of sinew… toward which Juke (who planned this wholesale carnage) charged to stake his claim.

‘A prime example of the cunning that became your Human hallmark, Man (the solitary species that kills extra, sells the surplus, or inters it when the victims are relations) started here. Or so suggest recessive genes that trace their lineage back millennia, past-lives printed like a palimpsest all but totally erased, a vague impression, d�j� vu, a dream renewing lost awareness, mine and yours a recollection held like fossils, bugs in sap, or shells made mute until their glacial ocean thaws an inner warning that alerts us to such chilling reminiscences.’

Round and round…

Ann’s eyes, enthralled by lands that seemed to lose their moorings, watched them wander.

Set adrift, each continent crossed the Seven Seas…

approached its neighbor…

shifted subtly…

readjusted course…

matched coastlines…

re-converged.

Pangaea formed before Ann’s woozy stare (the globe, at last, immobile), Island Earth a giant garden fringed by one continuous surf…

a ring of ripples…

upon ripples…

as encircling waves reached shore…

their froth the white of an egg whose yolk formed Life Everlasting…

whence Ann BLINKed

and felt her body pass through something thick

gelatinous

like a membrane

surface yielding with an all-embracing dent

a soft plasticity

as a pearl might find

once passing through a scrim of liquid mercury

disappearing

reappearing as a silver lump

a bulge

a stretched-thin droplet

that exudes

as from a womb

said

selfsame

pearl

Ann sat, not face to face with Geezer; she was somewhere foreign

fanciful

she had moved onto a place at once uncouth

and wildly weird

its mood of feral incivility

dense as blood clots

dank as catacombs

heightened jeopardy

like a jolt of volts

electric to each vertebra

Ann’s aquiver with anxiety

mind enthralled

repulsed

unhinged

the aggregation boosting every sense

to a pitch of such alive-ness

each contended with the other

for directing her reflections to the

Sight…

birds big as biplanes

Sound…

flies droning loud as buzz saws

Smell…

as stale as mildew,

fresh as jasmine,

rank as rancid cheese

Taste…

molds

and spices

sweet and sour fumes released

discharged so headily

they adhered their cloying essence

to her palate’s roseate polyps

Touch…

from spongy clumps of humus

oozing dew to Ann’s posterior

sturdy denim leaching moisture

to her panties underneath

the ground an outlet for a thousand gasps

of gaseous pent-up energy

dawn to dusk to dawn to dusk

erupting molten heat

humidity

as might vents above the lair

of a fire-breathing dragon.

Tense

alert

Ann wrapped her arms around her body

holding tightly to identity lest she stray

escape

submerge

become identical with this Realm

whose wellspring

—transferred by osmosis—

steeped her soul’s sequestered substance

as if mingling all she was

with all she hoped to be

—recombinant—

sum

regained

by selfless loss

of

one

small

speck

Again, Ann BLINKed, and there sat Geezer (nonchalantly) on his bean bag (looking derelict) tail looped limply round the North Pole like a lackadaisical noose, his pose indifferent to the feat that Ann ‘ostensibly’ accomplished (face as distant and oblique as a village idiot’s).

Ann, confused, explored her bottom… which was wet… From perspiration? It was hot out, therefore stuffy in her ultra-cluttered room.

The globe looked normal; continental drift had re-divided seaboards. ‘Where’ she traveled, ‘if’ she traveled, bore no semblance to this sphere, whose chart made countries into jigsaw pieces; Whole-World had no borders. Whole-World merged the planet’s landscapes into one diverse terrain—or such was Ann’s persistent notion.

Based on what? Some sort of reverie? Had she BLINKed, or merely dreamed she BLINKed?

She fixed her eyes on Geezer, who, on two occasions, de- and re-materialized, both on site, once in the bathroom, once in her father’s den (as the monkey boasted latter), having shifted, merely. Ann, on the other hand, transposed place and Time… which seemed implausible… so unlikely she distrusted her experience… yet its lucid colors, odors, vapors left so clear an imprint she could feel it like the flesh retains a freshly pricked tattoo, the memory tingling no less raw than when she first…

touched down?

Broke through?

The ‘how’ it happened (once more ‘if’ it had) aroused Ann so acutely she could not help testing Geezer’s outward show of disregard.

‘You didn’t see that, I suppose?’

He twitched his whiskers, stretched his arms out, shut his eyes and spread his jaws in a long-drawn yawn of unconcern.

‘See what?’

She hated when he played the numskull; Geezer was not stupid, though, of late, his limitations, next to hers, seemed more severe—suggesting his had been a mission planned by incontestable betters.

‘You’re expendable,’ Ann transmitted.

‘Beg your pardon?’ Geezer minced, a semi-haughty, condescending scowl remodeling his features…

‘They just left you, knowing full well your ineptness meant you’d rot.’

…afraid to give the slightest hint that might confirm Ann’s doubtless breakthrough…

‘You were sent with a one-way ticket, Mister Simple Simon Simian.’

…worried sick that Ann would learn to BLINK, then flex it, no-holds-barred, abuse her newfound knack in ways akin to Mankind’s infamous arrogance…

‘Mister Gullible, Mister Patsy.’

…though he knew not how she could, and yet the very threat of any Human mastering Time-Space Transport, independent of its Code…

‘You couldn’t BLINK from here to here,’ Ann held her thumb and index finger up to illustrate the distance.

…which ensured Adepts used prudence and the utmost self-restraint before enacting even the humblest BLINK…

‘Return to China? Phooey!’

…so inviolable were its strictures, so revered its solemn Pledge…

‘Unless… Collaborate with me.’

Ann’s proposal scandalized the Simian. Did she really think him fool enough to credit her ‘achievement’? She had left for scarcely half a minute; Geezer clocked her absence, watched Ann reappear with a look of utter bafflement on her puss. A stroke of beginner’s luck was all this teen-tike's would-be triumph signified. She, of course, could not repeat the process; not in a million years.

‘I could, with your cooperation.’

Ann had eavesdropped! Trespassed! Mind-robbed! Geezer blanched, aghast, beneath his fur—which Ms. Smith likewise gleaned; was there no blocking her intrusions? Could she read his thoughts unedited? Could she tap his deepest feelings, lay his very conscience bare?

‘Nice try, but no deal. Yours is hardly more than a pretense of accomplishment. What’s more, our Code precludes imparting certain truths to non-initiates.’

Ann regarded Geezer skeptically. Did he know, or did he not? The thought had, more than once, occurred to her that maybe his ‘abandonment’ was to make him both an Agent of Infection and a Spy. Was he reporting to superiors on the plague’s insidious progress? Had her brother been a test case, she, as twin, the test’s control? Except… controls, her studies taught, were used as models for comparison; deviation only showed against a pre-established norm… like breasts at five? A toddler’s teeth displaced by a grown-up’s full-size chompers? Feet like Bozo? Cramps and backaches, followed by bloodstains in her drawers? Nor was Ann’s soaring IQ normal; anything but. Exam scores proved it (on a software program labeled "Guide To Higher SATs"). She could have won a Fulbright Scholarship on the grounds of pure potential. She was smart. Too smart for someone harboring hopes of so-called ‘normalcy,’ smart enough to see intelligence, gained at her pace, was a freak.

‘Code? There’s a Code? What Code might that be, Mister Up Shit’s Creek Sans Paddle?’

It was Geezer’s turn to analyze Ann, her rapid growth-rate troubling. Every day, it seemed, bore witness to developments come too soon, made manifest physically; she was filling out (her limbs and trunk diminutive, but, like a bonsai, all the more striking for appearing so mature); while, psychologically, id and ego waged a war for absolute dominance, Ann the animal squaring off with Ann (by default) the household’s head. Was it surprising she got testy at the source of her solicitude? Were attacks on Geezer natural, or indicative of Dis-ease? A strain unplanned and unanticipated may have found itself a culture wherein something far more sinister than a Human Being now bred (for which the monkey had neither explanation nor antidote).

‘Do no harm.’

‘To what; mosquitoes, microbes? Life subsists on conflict. You can’t eat, or step, or scratch an itch without inflicting hurt. It seems like something always has to suffer for something else to prosper. Why should people have to be exceptions? Aren’t we life forms, too?’

Before the monkey could refute this argument, focus quickly shifted, darkened—Daylight’s dazzle shrouded as by Midnight’s swarthy cape. Ann had to grope her way to the window, where a wide-eyed Geezer joined her; both looked out, then up, with wonder…

at a storm cloud?

An eclipse?

The sky was blue-black, as from coal dust…

only sleeker, chunkier, shinier…

crows, in staggering profusion, flew in a flock of swarthy tiers…

collective caws and manifold wing flaps seeding clouds with antic thunder…

like a low and guttural grumble…

interspersed with chortled shrieks…

a hail of droppings loosed concurrently…

—starkly visible under patches when the semi-circular flight path banked abruptly—

splattered…

splotched…

(impelling Adam, Evelyn, Ian from the backyard; run for cover, they now cowered in a downstairs closet, dumb from terror and dread)

while Ann, with Geezer, watched the spectral scavengers swoop…

and veer…

and dive bomb…

in a frenzied exhibition of…

they knew not what.

Possession?

Were these novel aerobatics bent on flexing rights to air space finally free of jumbo jets, and radar blips, and broadcast beams, and all the other forms of high-tech static hogging Heaven’s headroom?

Such bravado seemed to say so:

‘Birds were back,’

the crows proclaimed.

‘Earth’s equilibrium, nearly lost, had been recovered.’

 

END OF PART TWO

 

 

PART THREE

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