My writing group’s favorite social activity has become Pint & Prompt. We science fiction and fantasy types meet at a local watering hole after work for a light meal and a beverage … not necessarily a pint but that ‘s my preference. After a bit of socializing, catching up on one another’s news, we select a prompt from a hat … all submissions are accepted.
The clock is set for five, seven or ten minutes. I’m always amazed at how many self-described unimaginative people generate interesting pieces. To those who have never tried or might be afraid to try this, I’d ask, “How did you learn to walk, swim, or ride a bike?”
Last week’s prompt was: “She appraised me, canted her head and shrugged apparently disappointed.” Ten minutes, GO!
“Take him down,” she said raising her eyebrows at the strapping blond fellow behind me.
“But I’m a, a, a sage,” I cried, dragging back on my chains.
“What’s a sage?” she laughed without looking back.
“A sage can tell you what’s going to happen. Help you with your plans.”
“Like a fortune teller? I have one of those already,” she said and asked the blond fellow to turn around.
“No, hmm, like your son’s running away.” She paused, raised a hand, and my chain slackened. I’d seen a youth’s breastplate and short sword discarded on the floor behind the dais. So I guessed.
“You know my son?”
“I do. A fine lad with great potential—but he needs the guiding hand of a sage.”
“Describe him to me.”
I looked at her and took a deep breath. “Handsome, raven hair, long-limbed, strong and impetuous. He’s rash and arrogant. He often angers you and his friends. He told me he embarrassed you in court and—”
“Stop. Bring him back.” She motioned to the gaoler then eyed me more closely. “Sage, your appearance is most unappealing, but your words ring true.”
“Thank you, your Highness.”
“You will instruct my son in the ways of manhood and good character. Is this within your ability?”
“Yes, oh yes, your Highness. It is what I do best.” I took my first even breath.
I woke in my bed. It was midday and the house was empty. Where was my family, my dog? I peered into corners and behind furniture as if I was playing a game of hide-and-seek and I was ‘it’. There were no sounds – no wind, no birds, no traffic, no airplanes – only my own hollow footsteps. We lived on an air force base on Okinawa at the time, 1956, and I was in third grade.
Creamy yellow light streamed in through the windows. It was uniformly bright but there was no sun. Somehow, going from my bed to the front door, I’d gotten dressed: tee-shirt, square-side-pocket olive trousers and tennis shoes.
I walked to the street, looked left and right, but saw no cars, not even in the driveways. Our neighborhood was normally filled with children, but no one was playing and there were no toys or bicycles in the yards.
I turned right up the empty street. The houses, standard Air Force officer housing, were hollow facades. They had frames and roofs but no windows or doors. They were all the same pale blue and none had any siding or roofing tile.
Bright lights shined out the bare windows of my friend Stewart’s house. I walked up and stood on my toes to look in. There was a long table in the middle of the room. The table was covered with a white sheet and surrounded with spotlights on tall poles. On the table was a human figure, but all I could see were his legs in olive trousers and tennis shoes. Red splotches covered the sheet.
Around the table stood four white-lab-coated figures not much taller than I was. One of them turned and saw me. It had the green triangle head of a praying mantis with red ball-shaped eyes high at the back corners and long black antennas. It screamed and all the figures turned. They were all praying mantises and they all screamed and rushed at me.
I ran to the street and away from my house. The mantises called out and waved their green jagged-clamp arms into the air. Suddenly I heard loud buzzing. As I ran I looked back to see a dozen giant dragonflies swooping down.
The buzz grew louder. I pumped my legs but wet tar on the pavement sucked and held my feet. With each step the downward pull grew stronger.
Suddenly I went down, hit hard from behind. A dragonfly worked its jaws like sharp cutting shears into my neck.
Huhh, huhh, huhh, I sat up panting in my bed. I was drenched in sweat. My brother was asleep. The full moon shone through the bedroom door from the screened porch across the hall. I got out of bed and walked to the porch. The house was quiet but there were crickets and other night creatures chirping outside. The moon cast long shadows across the furniture on the porch. I calmed, changed my soaked pajamas, and went back to bed feeling the chill of the moisture still in my bed clothing. Exhausted and still afraid, I fell asleep.
My eyes closed and opened. It was midday in our empty house. The sky was creamy yellow and uniformly bright. I went outside again and remembered where I was going. Stewart’s house streamed light from its bare windows. I started running immediately. Looking left, I saw mantises scurrying and screaming. Buzz, Zzzz sounded behind me. I turned and saw dragonflies diving. Tar grabbed my feet and I fell hard hit from the back.
Huhh, huhh, huhh, I jumped out of bed. It was darker. The moon was down but the horizon had a line of red. So I changed my shirt again and stayed up.
Everyone got up that morning as if it was a normal day. My sisters and brother shouted at the breakfast table. I watched and ate my Cheerios quietly. Only my mother noticed.
“Keith, don’t you feel well?” She pressed her cheek to my forehead and stroked my hair. I told her about my dream and said I was afraid to go to sleep that night.
“We’ve seen a lot of big critters since we got here,” she said, “dragonflies, praying mantises, spiders, lizards, snails, crabs. Last month you watched Tarantula on the boat coming over, and last year we saw Them at the theater. So I’m not surprised you’ve had a bad dream. Think of it as a movie and it’ll go away.”
But it didn’t.
That night I left the house again. I noticed that the creamy yellow sky cast no shadows. I ran immediately but stayed on the sidewalk to avoid the tar. The dragonflies took a little longer to reach me. This time when I woke, I walked it off then went back to bed. The mantises and dragonflies were waiting outside for me. They’d learned too. I left the house running.
I knew how this would end—the thought hit me mid-stride. So I decided to change it. I stopped, grabbed a big rock and turned. This time I’d get in a good hit before I died. I was angry. My only thought was timing my blow as the dragonfly lunged.
But it didn’t.
As I stood defiant, the dragonfly shrank to normal size and landed on the sidewalk in front of me. My heart pounded as I stepped forward to crush it, but it darted away.
I learned something that night: my dreams were mine.
I’m interested in dreams and in others’ experiences. I never question them because my own dream experiences are so unusual.
People report visits from departed loved ones and angels as they sleep. Others are reminded of things they wish to forget—things they saw, things they shouldn’t have done, things they’ve avoided doing. Perhaps you’ve dreamed of true love or of achieving great things. Perhaps your dreams are of unnatural, unreal things, things that never lived and never should live. Everything is possible in dreams.
Dreams appear in serious literature. Hamlet’s main concern (Act III, Scene 1) in contemplating suicide is that he might dream, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?” Prospero comforts us in The Tempest(Act 4, Scene 1); what we’ve witnessed is simply illusion, bound sooner or later to melt into “thin air” … “such stuff as dreams are made of.”
In the Bible (Acts 2:17), Luke tells us that, “in the last days … Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Dreams play a major role in speculative fiction. Has the sound of Freddy Krueger’s claw fingers screeching across bare pipes chilled you in Nightmare on Elm Street? Have you wanted to get into others’ dreams and steal their secrets like Dominick Cobb does in Inception? Maybe you’ve wanted to alter past and present reality, like George Orr does in Ursula Le Guin’s novel and movie, The Lathe of Heaven.
In my dreams, I seem fully aware. Sometimes I suspend disbelief and enjoy the show as entertainment. Other times I interact to affect the outcome. Memories of these experiences carry from dream to dream, enabling me to learn from them and form long-term relationships with my ‘dream people’. I’ve kept some of these friendships since early childhood. Rob, Connie, Josh and I have grown up together.
My dream friends help me solve problems and have demonstrated knowledge I don’t believe that I ever possessed. When they reveal future events that then occur, it gives me pause. My dream friends have also given me the impression that all dream creatures dwell in a common dreamscape.
In 2001, I saw A Beautiful Mind, the fine movie about John Nash, the Nobel Prize winning mathematician who was plagued by schizophrenic delusions. In those delusions, fictional people beset Nash to the point where he couldn’t differentiate them from real people.
That night my dream friends visited me. They screamed. I listened.
Rob stabbed the air with his finger while he paced beside my bed. “Never, never, can a dream person interfere in waking life … not in that way.” He shook his finger in my face. “You have to know that, Keith. You have to know we’d never do that to you. That’s criminal.” I nodded. Two other dream friends nodded, too. “Nash’s dream people broke the code.” He shook his head in disgust.
I assured everyone that I understood and trusted them. We hugged and they let me go back to sleep.
In my next post, I’ll tell you another dream story: how a series of nightmares brought me this unusual gift. In the meantime, “Row, row, row your boat,” and remember, “Life is but a dream.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could see ourselves as others see us … maybe not.
Thank you for choosing Intergalactic Excursions. This joyous Jakettic season we will take you to the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy for a Wild Humans Safari. In human guise you will walk among them and observe their behavior first hand. You will watch herds of humans grazing at watering holes and wonder at their colorful mating rituals. Included in your package is a gala celebration to select a human herd leader. At this event, you will see prospective leaders, hear their fanciful posturing, and delight in the synchronized chanting of their inebriated worshipers.
For their safety, Jakettic travelers who wish to participate rather than merely observe human rituals are advised to adhere to the following guidelines.
CLOTHING: Humans remain fully clothed except when mating. Removal or partial removal of clothing, particularly below the waist, may give offense or be seen as an invitation to mate. Provoked in this manner, humans may charge.
RELIGION: Unlike sentient species, humans ascribe supernatural powers to entities and objects of no particular significance. The primary human deities are: herd leaders, entertainers, wealthy or attractive humans, and themselves. Self-worship is expressed in obsessions with personal appearance, possessions, and personal gratification. Humans tend to be very religious. Any aspersions cast upon their deity—or praise for any other deity—may cause them to charge.
CONVERSATION: The holiday traveler may find human conversation difficult to master. Humans use it to entice mates, to deceive others about their accomplishments or material wealth, or to determine herd affiliation—rarely to pass information. If one’s accomplishments or wealth are not sufficient, humans may move away and avoid further attempts to communicate. If one’s herd is considered hostile or mating intentions are rejected, humans may charge.
To engage a human in conversation it is customary to open with a religious platitude. Compliments on appearance or material possessions are preferred. For example, “Your hair looks fabulous,” or “What a fine dwelling you have.”
CAUTION: When commenting on a human’s appearance, we advise travelers to limit comments to the area of the head. Below-the-neck compliments can stir anger or be taken as an invitation to mate. Since your holiday guise is not equipped for mating, any attempt to do so will anger the human and cause them to charge. As an alternative, we recommend opening conversations with praise for a herd leader. But here again the traveler is advised, praise for the wrong herd leader is considered aggressive. Humans may charge.
CONSUMPTION: Lacking wind collectors on their heads or solar scales on their bodies, humans must acquire energy by consuming organic matter—plants and animals they refer to as FOOD.
Humans often consume FOOD socially as a shared herd activity. This consumption involves complex rituals and skills with specialized tools. The traveler is warned that some herds have strictures on particular foods. Consuming a prohibited food is considered a personal insult. Humans may charge.
As a safety precaution, you may wish to consume food alone or only in the company of human males. Males often forgo all ritual by pouring organic matter directly into their upturned faces.
CAUTION: During food consumption human males often over consume distilled liquids that incapacitate their brain function. In such states males become highly volatile and may charge without provocation.
OFTEN CONFUSED WITH CONSUMPTION: Humans may be seen exposing themselves nude or almost nude to their sun. This is actually a form of self-worship (see RELIGION above) and not an energy gathering process. The intent is to improve their physical appearance to attract mates.
MATING: Human mating is rarely for procreation and is yet another form of self-worship (see RELIGION above). Gathered beside watering holes, humans will be seen strutting, gyrating and otherwise displaying themselves to attract mates. If their presentation is accepted, a human, usually a male, will proceed immediately to misrepresent accomplishments or material wealth in order to heighten desirability.
WARNING TO TRAVELERS: Once mating behavior is observed, all travelers are advised to move well back. Aroused humans, male and female, feel threatened when anyone comes between them and a prospective mate and may charge. Danger is greatest if the traveler has assumed the guise of a well-known entertainer. These deities (See Religion above) are known to arouse humans and may cause the traveler to be targeted as a mate or rival.
We hope you enjoy your Wild Humans Safari, and wish you and your spawn a Setis Jakettic. Please consider Intergalactic Excursions for you next holiday.
Lonely and childless, woodcarver Geppetto creates a son, a wooden marionette he names Pinocchio. Pinocchio comes to life but remains wooden with hinged joints. He dreams of one day becoming a real boy made of flesh and blood.
Ironically, Pinocchio’s misbehavior keeps him from his dream: he lies and steals, is lazy and disrespectful—very boy-like qualities. In the Disney movie after coming to life, Pinocchio dances and sings, “I have no strings to hold me down … there are no strings on me.” Although human beings have legal and moral obligations—our strings—Pinocchio rejoices in his freedom.
Jumping ahead to the 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron, the new artificial intelligence, Ultron, mocks Tony Stark’s attempts to control it. Departing to wreak havoc on the world, the narcissistic entity refuses to follow Stark’s rules. It wants to transcend humans.
The artificial life (monster) in Frankenstein accepts that it can never be ‘a real boy’, but still wants a real life. It asks Dr. Frankenstein to create for it a wife. The doctor agrees, but when haunted by visions of breeding a race of monsters, he destroys this second creation.
Lamenting its ‘unholy’ life, the monster strikes back in a series of murders, including Dr. Frankenstein’s wife. Not being ‘human’, the monster realizes it is free from moral and ethical strings. It feels no remorse.
Artificial life forms in literature reflect or contrast the human experience, from Data in Star Trek and David in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, to the robots in the many versions of I Robot. Whether they hide among or join humans, or leave to possibly attack humans, artificial entities realize that they are not bound by our rules: physical, mental or moral.
This provokes many questions. How different are they? Will robot workers be entitled to health care (tech support)? Will they get the vote? How about abortions or euthanasia—can an artificial intelligence be put to sleep? How about dating? Can they feel love or fear? Or will they fake it? Will we be able to tell?