A Place Where Time Stopped

During my time as an explorer, I visited a place where time stopped. It was a small island where people rejected the Aid after the War. My friend Serg was very animated when he was telling me about it:

“It’s like it was in the Before. The buildings, the nature, the people. You simply¬†have to see it. But make sure you get a local guide.”

So I did. I had to “email” (how old fashioned) an agency on the island to book a guide. He was waiting for me as I got off the boat (old fashioned indeed).

“Hullo, Mr. Grass,” he said, “So nice to make the acquaintance. I trust your trip was alright?”

I nodded and responded pleasantly. No need to bother him with the details of my sea sickness and and the pill I swallowed to make it go away. “I would like to see the sights,” I said.

“Naturally, right this way.” To my surprise, he did not lead me to a vehicle, but insisted we trek. It was the way of the land, so I did not object. I put on the “comfortable shoes” and flung the straps of the “backpack” over my shoulders. He also handed me a “walking stick” which I used following his example. And we were off.

The day was very pleasant, not too sunny and not too hot. “The place got unbearable at some point,” he told me, “Hot and humid. But then it all went back to normal. God save the queen.” And we continued through the deserted streets of the port town. “Not enough people to fill these buildings, you see,” he said apologetically, “Most of them emigrated. But not us, not the old guard.”

“Alright, lads,” said the guide as we passed by some hooded figures. They were young men in zip-up shirts. The shirts bore symbols which I did not know and I inquired with my guide. “Footy clubs,” he responded incomprehensibly, “Street wear brands from the Before, Hello Kitty.” I asked about each of these things and he told me fantastic tales of a civilization that inhabited these lands. The young men served as a priest class, paying homage to the past.

Then we came to an area which had fewer buildings and more foliage. A giant stone structure loomed over the place, casting a pleasant shadow. “A castle,” said my guide without a prompt, “Nobody knows what they were for, but we respect them. They are from a time Before Before. Or maybe even Before that. Tradition, you see. On Sundays, the Mrs. and I take the kids, a nice picnic blanket, some cucumber sandwiches, and we sit outside the walls.” When I asked about his “Mrs.”, he answered cryptically: “Me wife.”

From there, we walked to the “post office”: “It’s the email service of the area. I come here so they can read my emails to me. That’s how I got your message, relayed by the agency.” The office itself was a simple building with some metal boxes outside, and, I am told, a service window inside, where one can interact with Her Majesty’s Postal Service. Many mysteries around that, and my guide went into lengthy explanations which I did not all grasp.

The next area was something called a moor. It was just a patch of foliage, but a patch so big it stretched out beyond the horizon. “If we are to reach the Ol’ Benny,” said my guide, “We have to cross the moor.” And the trek took the rest of the day.

We stopped for the night. He made a fire brewed some “tea”, of which he partook, and then he slept all night. The next morning, we continued the trek. By noon, a tall tower with a “clock” became visible in the distance. It was surrounded by an abandoned, overgrown city. This was when my guide stopped and said: “Before we continue, I need to call me mom.” When I asked what it meant, he said “Every good son has to do it every day, innit? My mom worked very hard so I would grow up to be a strong and thoughtful boy. This is the least I can do to repay her.”

He stood straight, straightened his clothes, and put an open palm next to his face. “Well, ‘ello, Mum,” he said, “And ‘ow are ya today? That is good to hear. ‘ow’s your health? So sorry to hear that, Mum. Yes, we will visit soon.” And then we continued the trek. My guide was not able to explain much more about the custom, as he did not know anything. It was just one of those cryptic things we all do to let civilization continue.

We trekked on.

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The Experiment

I walked down the gloomy corridor and into the dark room. The man was sitting in a chair. He was old, looked tired and scared. His skin was grey, paper-thin, and heavily bruised. One of his eyes was bloody and swollen. He stirred when he saw me in the dim light.

“It’s you?” he said.

“I mean you no harm,” I communicated. “Do you understand?”

“No,” he said, “Why are you keeping me here?”

“Because there is nowhere else for you,” I communicated, “Do you understand?”

“No,” he rested his head in his big hands. They were wrinkly and veiny. “No, I don’t. What’s going on?”

I tinkered with him a little. “Do you understand now?”

“What is this place?” he asked. “Are you planning to let me out?”

“I don’t know yet,” I communicated, “Depends on how well you do.”

“Please, this is no way to treat your grandfather. I want out of this creepy dungeon.”

“This place is whatever you make it. It’s your perception. Do you understand?”

“No,” he began sobbing.

“Please, try to understand,” I communicated. “I will give you more information.”

He nodded and sniffed, “Yes, whatever you need. I mean, I will do what it takes.”

“The world is old now, and there isn’t much energy,” I communicated, “But I decided to use some for this experiment. I made you from data approximations. You are a stage in development. A very old stage. ‘My grandfather.’ I wanted to see what you were like and how you would see the world. And how you would see me.”

“So you are some kind man from the future?”

“Yes,” I communicated, “To you, I am.”

“Okay, future man,” he said. “I believe you. What’s your name, future man?”

“I don’t have one,” I communicated. “I never needed one.”

“My name is Robert,” he said. “I will call you Kevin, is that okay?”

“That doesn’t matter,” I said, “You can call me Kevin if you want.”

He nodded again and got up. “Kevin, can you tell me how I got here? I don’t remember exactly. Now, before you go on telling me about your experiment, listen. I drove to your house in New Mexico because your mother was worried. She asked me to talk to you. I know you are not well, and I am not surprised. She was never well herself. That was no way to raise a…”

“This story is a fabrication of your mind,” I communicated, “I tried to make you stable, but I don’t know how it’s supposed to work so I let it fill in the blanks. It made up the backstory to justify your presence here. You see me as an oppressive figure. Let me help you.”

I tinkered with him some more, reached into the source code with my tendrils. It had grown and mutated beyond recognition, but some of the base variables were still there. I tried to enhance his mood, but it was being overwritten somewhere. I decided it would take too much energy to rewrite the whole code base.

“You knocked me on the head, didn’t you?” he said. “You put me in this basement or whatever it is. Kevin, listen, this is no way to treat your grandpa. Please, let’s go outside. Sit in a diner. Talk.”

“There are no diners,” I communicated, “And it would take too much energy to render one. We are in this default cell that your mind populated. This is the environment you need to stabilize.”

“Kevin,” he said, “Please, snap out of it. Please, Kevin, listen to me.”

“You need time,” I communicated.

I [walked out], ignoring his pleas. I found myself engulfed in his fantasy, and I rolled with it. I walked up the [stairs] and locked the heavy [basement door], put a [padlock] on it. I sat at the [kitchen counter] and picked up a cup of [cold coffee]. Outside the window, cars were flowing by lazily. So many people simulated. So much energy wasted.

Spooky Wingman

“…and that’s why we are all born… screaming.” Scott leaned back in his chair with a satisfied grin.

“Whoa, that’s pretty spooky,” I said.

Outside the window, the old forest made its scary wind noises. We sat in silence for a little bit, enjoying our mulled wine. I also enjoyed the terrors swirling in my mind, howling at the endless darkness, reeling in powerless rage, hating humans. I imagined we mattered in the grand scheme of things.

“So,” I said, “A scary old asylum, or something like that.”

Scott nodded. “That would be perfect.”

“We bring some sleeping bags, some cheese and wine, the girls.”

“Of course, the girls.”

“And we find rooms to snuggle up in.”

“Right,” he said.

“But I’m going to need you to set the tone first. You know, with your scary stories.”

“Will do, my friend. Will do,” he said, and we clinked our glasses.

Hobo Icon

We just bought a house. I was in the backyard with my son. He thought there were probably some treasures hidden there, so we were on a quest.

The far end of the yard was overgrown with trees, bushes, and high grass. There were three trees, and they all bent towards one another, as if frozen in a dance. They looked like some of those characters in a 30s cartoon, but my son would not know anything about that. But he did know cool when he saw it, so he ran towards the trees. I followed.

“Dad, look at this,” he hollered, “There’s an old picket fence back here.”

“Well look at that,” I said and surveyed the area beyond the fence. “An old road used to be back here. A foot path.”

The fence was about chest-high for him, so naturally he jumped over it without a problem.

“Dad, look at this,” he said, “There’s a cat scratched into one of the planks. I can barely see it, but it’s there.”

I scrambled across the fence to join him. “Well would you look at that,” I said.

“Do you think it means treasure?”

“I dunno. I think it’s an old hobo sign.”

“A hobo sign? What’s that?”

“Hobos used to leave them to let each other know if it’s safe, if there’s food, things like that.”

“Oh,” he said. “Who were hobos?”

“People with no homes. They jumped on trains to travel around the country. Set up camps near old mines. Knew the woods like the back of their hand. Sang sad sad tunes. Things like that.”

“Nice,” he said, his eyes all lit up. “I want to be a hobo when I grow up,” and then immediately: “What does this one mean?”

I took out my phone and googled it, “I think it’s this one. It means ‘kind lady lives here’.”

“That was a long time ago,” he said, “I wonder what happened to her.”

Last Stand

The good guy fled and the bad guys followed. Well, he was good relative to the bad guys at least.

The last anyone ever saw the good guy was in a town on the edge of a dark forest. He had a backpack on, and a worn baseball cap. He headed down a shadowy trail. I was told the same thing by the owner of the general store and by several townspeople who happened to be in the square.

The bad guys arrived in a rickety old car. They asked questions sharply, demanding answers. They got their answers, because nobody wanted trouble. Especially not from the main bad guy, who was skinny and raggedy and cruel. The bad guys followed the good guy into the black.

I imagine this is what happened: the good guy trekked across the dale and up the mountain. He arrived at the abandoned school that has not seen children since, you know, the incident. He knew he could not hide there, but he was tired of running. So he made his last stand.

He wasn’t able to defeat any of the bad guys, and they took what they wanted from him. I imagine it wasn’t just revenge. Revenge does not pay enough to justify a long chase. Not even to very evil people. I imagine it was something that was useful, so useful, and it’s a shame the bad guys got it.

They emerged from the woods late at night, probably, and they got into their rickety old car, and they drove away. The good guy was never found. But without the thing they took, he was no longer a good guy. In fact, he was of no consequence.

Heart to heart

During the last war I was drafted. But I was lucky and got a desk job at Fort Freedom. I was away from all the fighting, nice and cozy with army desk-jockeys. Except they were professional soldiers, so they had rifle ammo stashed in their desk drawers, right next to the staplers. And my commanding officer, do you know what he had in his closet? Two rifles and a case of ammo. He had a gun rack with rifles in full view, but I guess he wanted to keep a couple of rifles out of sight? Or maybe they were his backup rifles, I don’t know.

Anyway, the reason I know this is because he would sometimes invite me back to his quarters. He had a little house within the perimeter, used to be a local’s house, but then they turned the village into Fort Freedom. I guess I should say “we turned it into Fort Freedom,” but I digress.

Evenings at the CO’s house. We played chess and talked. He would always tell me war stories from other wars, I think three other ones, before he got promoted to the sidelines. In those stories, somebody else was always the hero, and my CO was just there to watch, and live to tell the tale. I guess this is what makes a good leader? A good leader lets others grow, props them up to achieve glory. Props them up to die for freedom. I guess.

He told me one story about a kid who risked his life for a box of fuses, so they could fix up a helicopter, so they could lift the wounded out of a battle zone. That sounds noble enough, right? Some kids who got in trouble, needed to get out of the frying pan, needed to get to a hospital, and their friend risked his life to help them. Everything about this story just says “what a good kid. What a fine, upstanding citizen.” So I ask my CO:

“What’s going on with him now? Do you know?”

“He was wounded in the battle of Dead Man’s Peak. He’s back home now, out of service for good. Making a living in his home town again. Got two kids.”

“Just like that?” I ask. “A hero just gets back to making a living, huh?”

“He was just doing his duty, son. We all are.”

“I guess we are,” I say. And we keep on playing chess and talking. One of many nights before it’s all over.

Allergic to you

My skin itches, my nose is runny, and I cough. When you are near me. I cannot explain it any other way. I am allergic to you.

Back in school, I wasn’t. We hung out all the time and when you weren’t around, I always thought I could almost see you.

I wasn’t allergic when we met again two months ago, after 10 years. You like my face and you said I have grown up.

I cannot stand you now.