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OUT



OF



TIME:


amazing stories for ordinary wo-men























wendy d. gillespie













©Copyright Wendy D. Gillespie, 2018. All rights reserved.

DEDICATED

To Ray Bradbury, whose imagination roamed the universe, and to my late father whose imagination was my universe.



The Stories:

TOYZ

HELL HATH NO FURY

ASH BLONDE

BUTTONED BENJAMINS

TREE

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF

ROAMING

OLD

RED HORIZON

HUNTING AND GATHERING

AT THE CROSSROADS

CATCH OF THE DAY

CHROMATICS

DINO’S REVENGE

EAR TROUBLE

EZEKIEL’S WHEEL

GOOD DOG

GREAT WIDE OPEN

HERE, KITTY KITTY

JOEY

LIPSTICK

POOF

PURGE TORI: A CAUTIONARY TALE

SISTER CHRISTIAN

THE CANTILEVERED TALES

THE VIRTUAL PLANCHETTE

TIKI BAR

WALKIN’

ANEMONE

BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL

CLOUDS

DOPPELGANGERS

DUST

GOLDMINE

LE CHAT

LEEUWENHOEK’S RETICULE

MIRROR MIRROR

TIDEPOOL

VENUS



































































TOYZ

“Hoo-hoo, Krono ! That was very entertaining ! You must perform that trick again ! Again !” chortled Zabreegar.

“Yes, I thought you would find it particularly amusing,” Krono smiled triumphantly. He hadn’t manipulated humans for the past five Earth years without learning a few things. He pressed the blue button on the Chronocutter again.

The small girl standing before them suddenly sprang into action, the white stripes on her pink shirt swirling around in a dizzying swirl of motion, sending cola spray flying from her can of soda in a bubbling helix of foam around her.

“Won’t her mother be angry !” exclaimed Krono, taking his tentacle off the button.

“Yes, it should prove to be a most entertaining afternoon. Perhaps she will take away her toys again !” said Zabreegar.

“Dare we hope ?” asked Krono. “After all, we could certainly use a day or two to ourselves to relax. All this field research among primitive species is positively exhausting !”

Zabreegar nodded his two heads in agreement. He’d had the second one added last decade when he’d been promoted to Field Observer. His mate Zolthar found it quite sexy.

Sure enough, the little girl’s mother stormed into the room as if on cue, and proceeded to read the child the riot act. “I thought I told you, NO soda in your room ! That’s it young lady. I’m taking away all your toys until you have time to think about what you’ve done to your nice white carpet and that BEDSPREAD ! I’ll never get that cola stain out !!!” She walked swiftly around the room, snatching up stuffed animals and dolls, taking Zabreegar (now a teddy bear) with her on her way to the closet to fetch a cardboard box for the rest. Krono had just managed to jump on top of the toy box and turn into a Barbie doll as she returned to drag the yellow and green particle board chest from the little girl’s room into the hallway.

“Here’s a bath towel. Help me clean up this mess !” snapped her mother as the four year old began to cry, hot tears running down her pink cheeks. Meanwhile, unseen out in the hallway, Krono pressed a yellow button on his device. The woman and her daughter froze like statues, time stopped in its tracks. Now to find Zabreegar. And a bottle of that Earthly libation, be-eer, he believed it was called by the natives. They might as well make a party of their unexpected time off !















HELL HATH NO FURY

Reggie pulled his raincoat tighter around himself as the cold raindrops pelted down. He was backed up as close to the brick wall behind him as he could, so most of the rain was deflected by the overhang on the building. A passing businessman in a nice suit dropped a buck into the bucket next to Reggie’s hand-lettered sign, “I am homeless - please give GOD BLESS !” Officer Newman was walking his beat at the end of the street, stepping out of the rain for a minute to chat with Mr. Kim, the Korean shopkeeper on the corner. Reggie’s head hurt real bad this morning. Homeboy had given him two forties last night, and now he was regretting it big time. How did he get here anyway ? His caseworker at the clinic told him he had a mental illness, schizophrenia, but surely someone would have noticed before now ? Reggie was fifty-two years old and the past couple years had been a blur, but he would remember if he had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness before. He could remember being a middle manager in an insurance office, with a retirement portfolio and a major medical health plan that included regular trips to his doctor for checkups. No one had ever mentioned schizophrenia before ! The last thing he did remember was crashing his car into a tree going around a curve too fast in his own neighborhood late one night, drunk as a skunk after a New Year’s party. The next thing he knew, he was waking up to the glare of sunlight pouring under the cardboard box around him in a park in this strange city. He’d even asked one of the pastors at the soup kitchen to help him out, but neither he nor the doctors at the free clinic could ever identify him. Officer Newman had even checked the missing persons reports down at the station, but no male fitting Reggie’s description and date of disappearance came up in the search. Apparently, he’d just poofed quietly into existence one fine morning in the city park, just another drifter. And the name of the town where he used to live didn’t exist either, according to the police. As far as they were concerned, Reggie was just another homeless dude with mental problems. But Reggie knew better. He got up to pick up his bucket and fished out three dollars. Then he walked down to Mr. Kim’s shop to buy a cup of black coffee. If Mrs. Kim was working the counter this morning, she’d be sure to slip him a sweet roll as well, gratis. She was always giving him wrapped paper packets of “day old” food she’d have to throw out otherwise, she claimed. Mr. Kim pretended not to notice and just looked the other way, his way of thanking Reggie for sorting the recyclables out back and keeping the back entrance neat and free of trash.

Besides, Reggie knew why the Kims were here. They’d been rich landowners with a cruel reputation in their home country, until the revolution. Now they were happy to be shopkeepers in their new life. Just like sweet old Mrs. Carrie Johnson who can’t say enough good things about her dead sister. Her neighbors think this is strange, since there is no sister to their knowledge. They’d lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson their entire married lives, and Mrs. Turner had even attended the same elementary school as Mrs. Johnson. Carrie had a younger brother who lived in Cleveland, but no sisters. But Mrs. Johnson had told Reggie that she and her sister used to fight over a man they both had dated, until the sister died suddenly. Then Carrie married him. Now old, she is stuck with this invalid husband and confides in Reggie on trips back and forth to the corner market with her little two-wheeled shopping cart. Mrs. Johnson was so convincing that Reggie had wondered to himself more than once if she thought she had killed this non-existent sister to win this man years ago. Or maybe she had. And then there was Father McCarthy, the young priest who shots baskets with the kids in the hood, who is obsessed with watching television gospel shows down at the community center on Saturdays. Reggie would sit with the Father, listening to his crazy ramblings when no one else could hear, waiting for the hot lunches to be served. If one of the kids walked out of the gym, he’d snap back to his cheerful community self, like everything was normal. But it wasn’t. Deep down, the young priest from Brooklyn was a tortured soul who spoke in an odd southern Alabama drawl only to Reggie, recounting lurid tales of past sins of the flesh paid for from the deep pockets of the church and televised fundraisers. Reggie was absolutely convinced the father had been a greedy and sinful televangelist in a past life. He was so alarmed that he mentioned his theory about Father McCarthy to the doctor at the clinic last month, who told Reggie to worry more about keeping his feet dry and less about the people in his neighborhood, and increased his meds. The doctor also told him that he shouldn’t pay attention to these delusions, to try to distinguish them from reality.

Reggie finished munching on his danish, and shoved Mrs. Kim’s paper bag of stale rolls into his coat pocket. He took another sip of the hot coffee and looked around. Maybe he’d spend the day in the library, since it was too damn cold to sit out here on the pavement. Looking both ways, Reggie stepped off the pavement just as a blue Mustang whipped around the corner. He never saw it coming.

The car kept going as Reggie lay bleeding on the pavement. A crowd was gathering from the shop as Father McCarthy ran over to investigate, a cell phone to his ear dialing 911. Father McCarthy bent down gently near his friend to administer last rites, in time to hear Reggie say softly: “No ! I don’t to start over. I was a good man this time, wasn’t I Father ? Wasn’t I…” The young father finished his prayers, making the sign of the cross over Reggie. Then he knelt down and whispered in the dying man’s ear, “Good job Reggie ! You get to go home now, brother.”

###

At first the siren’s wail sounded distant and far off in the distance, but it got louder the closer it got. Reggie could taste blood in his mouth, and his head was rubbing against a powdery cloth bag of some kind. What the ? Slowly, he opened his eyes. The old oak tree was slammed right up against his windshield almost, but the crushed remains of the hood obscured his view. Steam was pouring out of the engine compartment. Reggie jerked upright, suddenly awake as his seatbelt tightened and yanked him backwards into his seat. Holy crap. He must have passed out and driven into a goddamned tree. But he was miraculously alive. What a crazy dream he’d just had ! He winced and tried to move his left leg as the ambulance, a fire truck and two squad cars pulled up next to the tree.



















ASH BLONDE
Tara was what was known in the business as a Clairol Junkie. She'd been as platinum as Marilyn (after much bleaching and stripping), and as midnight black as Courtney Cox. She couldn't even remember her true hair color anymore. A mousey brown, maybe. So this time, just for fun, she decided to be a blonde again. After six months of Cherry Bombshell, edgy as it was, she needed a break. Something to get Jay's attention. Jay was the new IT guy at work, a handsome nerd on the quiet side she'd overheard discussing Beyonce's new blond bangs with Ron Johnson in the break room, who was saying something about how he'd like to “bang” the chanteuse, or something to that effect. Blondes had more fun, after all. And so it was that Tara found herself back at her local Sally's picking out a new shade of blonde. She'd need to strip out the purple base of the red left in her hair of course, but that seemed easy enough. That cream remover she'd used last time on her blue-black locks could remove several levels of color. She had this covered. Now to pick a nice shade of blonde. She finally settled on a light golden blonde entitled Sweet Honey Kiss and made her way to the checkout counter, stopping to grab a new nail file along the way. It wasn't as hip a shade as she would have liked, but she was sure Jay would go for it. He seemed like the conservative type.


The next morning, a Saturday, she found herself sitting in the waiting area of that trendy new salon on the second level of the mall. This promised to be an expensive fix, but after ending up with a most peculiar shade of pale green locks, she decided to enlist the aid of professionals. Tara pulled the baseball cap farther down on her forehead and flipped to the next page of the Cosmo on her lap...

The colorist took one look at her and giggled. "So what look were you going for, hon ?" she asked with what seemed like genuine interest.


"Oh, it was called Sweet Honey Kiss. You know, kind of golden blonde ? But I stripped off my old color first !" protested Tara weakly.


"And that would be ?"


"Cherry Bombshell. Mixed with Black Cherry." The colorist frowned, sticking out her lower lip in a cute

pout. Except Tara didn't find it particularly cute at the moment. She waited.


"Well, it'll take me a couple three hours. Is that ok with you darlin' ?" Tara nodded. What choice did she have. The usual noxious cloud of vapors began to envelop Tara as the girl mixed up her concoction in a blue plastic bowl. If this worked, thought Tara, she’d owe the girl one helluva tip. Tara crossed her fingers as the colorist went to work.


#


By Monday morning, Tara had been transformed into a blonde beauty. They'd ended up with an ash blonde shade, to cover the brassiness left behind in her cuticle, the colorist explained. Not quite the golden hue Tara was hoping for, but it would have to do for now. Anyway, she was sure Jay would love it. She'd rolled it on large rollers before breakfast and it fell in sensuous ringlets around her face. She’d used only some pink lip gloss with a touch of mascara for that innocent, dewy look.


Jay was a goner, he didn’t stand a chance. Tara hummed to herself as she glanced into her rear view mirror and merged onto I-25.


The girls in the front office all oohed and ahhd when Tara flounced by. "Where'd you get it done ? The Server ? OMG, that must have cost you a fortune !"


"It was totally worth it !" Tara beamed back. Now if Jay would just walk by. Bingo !


"Lookin' GOOD, Jonesy !" growled Ron, slapping Tara inappropriately on her right butt cheek. Jay, who seemed to follow Ron around everywhere these days, rolled his eyes but smiled appreciatively at her. They were evidently on their way to the break room, clutching their coffee mugs. Tara suddenly felt a little woozy as they passed, grabbing the wall of a nearby cubicle to steady herself. Must be all those chemical fumes this weekend she thought. She'd better not be coming down with something ! Those nephews of hers were always sniffling and coughing.


Tara stood up, straightening her skirt and decided to join the boys in the break room for some donuts. Sugar before sex, she always said. She hadn't gotten five steps before she felt dizzy again, and had to sit down in a swivel chair. Weird images of a dark landscape floated in front of her eyes. Mounds of gray ashes covered the ground, with swirling columns of smoke rising into the darkened clouds. Truncated structures rose around her, bits of metal protruding at odd angles. She glanced down at the ground, tripping over something in her path. It was a skull. A human skull. Tara screamed, and she couldn't stop screaming.


#


"What happened ? Is that TARA ?!!" exclaimed Lashonda to Courtney as the paramedics wheeled a securely-fastened hysterical female past them on a gurney.


"Yeah, didn't you hear the noise ? She just ran into the break room, tossing donuts everywhere. Guess she knocked over the Keurig too. She nearly scalded Ron when she ran into him, his coffee spilled all over his crotch, poor guy !" said Courtney.


Lashonda shook her head in disbelief. "Mmmm, mmm, mm !"





















BUTTONED BENJAMINS

with sincere apology to the memory of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The television blared out another advertisement as Melinda flipped her cookbook open to the page with the casserole recipe she’d selected for dinner. Taco Chicken Bake was little Tommy’s new favorite, and John would just have to deal. John was more of a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy himself. Melinda laughed happily to herself. What an adventurous eater her husband was ! Not.

“So c’mon down to The Birth House for all your newborn needs ! At The Birth House, we take care of all those pesky details like graveside seating and birth certificates for you, so you can just relax and enjoy your new baby. Bring the family ! Free hot dogs and balloons for the kiddies as they pick out a name for their new brother or sister. We guarantee the lowest prices in the tristate area. Make your reservation before November first and get a FREE autograph from our neonatologist, and your picture taken with our delivery nurses !” An actor in a multicolored check suit held a bunch of balloons aloft as a gaggle of excited children ran circles around him. Behind him, a beaming man and wife stood next to an open grave, attended by jostling relatives with video cameras and a seemingly anxious doctor in blue scrubs and a surgical mask. One gnarled hand could be seen peeking through the upturned soil as gasps of joy erupted from the waiting parents and two male nurses helped deliver the infant from the grave. Clapping could be heard in the background as a car commercial came on next. Melinda reached under the counter to get a baking dish out of the cabinet. Now where had she put that cheese grater ? Oh, there it was. Next to the mixing bowls.

John and Melinda Benjamin considered themselves lucky. After years of trying to have a child, they got a call one fine day from the adoption agency. It seemed an orphan had been rescued from a sidewalk downtown, gathered up in a crumpled, bloody mess by the paramedics, but definitely alive. The couple had spent a few harrowing weeks huddled in the NICU as their new child clung to life, a frail wizened mass of wrinkles and bones, hooked up to a snarl of tubing and wires. The baby couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds when he’d been found, and the doctors prepared them to expect a long wait before he was stable enough to bring home from the hospital. But the infant had rallied his strength, gaining back twenty five pounds in a month, his face filling out with a most healthy glow. Their friends had all thrown Tommy a big birthday party when they brought him home. He had quite an appetite after a month of hospital pablum, eating an entire slice of birthday cake in one great big messy bite. And what an appetite ! He was back on solid food, eating a Whopper with cheese every morning for breakfast. They spoiled him rotten, the lucky tyke. At his last visit to the pediatrician little Tommy had tipped the scale at a hundred and fifty-two pounds, his shock of gray hair filling in nicely on his patterned-bald pate. In a year or so the doctor said, he expected the boy to top one-eighty at least, quite probably bulking up bigger than John himself who was a respectable six foot three. The Benjamins had already put their name on the waiting list at one of the trendiest gyms in the city, as soon as they had filled out the application at the adoption agency. Golden Arms gym had called just last week to inform them that they had been accepted, and that Tommy’s training could start as soon as his pediatrician released him. John was just beaming with pride, and told all his jealous buddies at work the news.

The Benjamins were fortunate to live in an age of advanced medical technology, and theirs was the best medical care in the world. Special kinds of ambulances and medical facilities existed to assist in difficult births, saving especially critical and frail infants who would have perished in the less developed parts of the world. Yes, it truly was a remarkable age they lived in ! No one need lack for a child in their lives, due to biology or finances. Since the deadly German measles outbreak of ’17, the government now subsidized adoptions for all working couples of reproductive age who were registered as potential parents. Parental Registration was mandatory at age eighteen, with special grants being bestowed upon eager couples between fifteen and eighteen years of age who won the annual National Raffle. President McGinnis predicted that at the way the present birthrate was rising, the country would be back at a pre-measles population level within a generation. The economy got an instant boost in the arm at this news, the Dow climbing three hundred points after the President’s State of the Union podcast address.

John fastened the top button on his suit, squeezing Melinda’s hand as they walked into the softly-lit funeral parlor, nondescript music quietly playing from speakers set near to the ceiling as the heady scent of lilacs enveloped them. They were both dressed in tasteful hues of dove gray, respectful but not too somber. Melinda had forgone her usual brightly colored barrettes for a charcoal-black silk headband and pale pink lipstick. John had neatly folded a plain white square of an old-fashioned handkerchief into his jacket pocket. Together, they walked into the viewing room where the bereaved family was gathered. Exchanging murmurs of condolence and sympathy, they took a seat near the front where they could see over the heads of the family members. Their friends Chelsea and William Smith occupied front and center in a beautifully arranged bed, festooned with blue silk sheets and fluffy pillows. A gauzy oriental screen was tastefully placed between the bed and the mourners. A hospice nurse stood by quietly, arranging the sex toys and dildos on a silver tray next to the bed. Chelsea could be heard over the piped-in music, moaning softly as Bill entered her doggy-style, her breasts swaying from side to side. The murmur of the small group in attendance abated as Reverend Robinson stepped up to the podium.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to see our brave little Erica depart from us into that Great Mystery beyond. Let none of us despair, but let us remember this brave girl as she was – a shining example of motherhood and grace ! Her great-grandchildren Chelsea and Eric have prepared a short eulogy that Eric would like to read at this time.” The Reverend stepped back as Eric came up to the podium with a printed paper in hand. Just then, Chelsea screamed in orgasm as her husband William grunted, pulling away from her on the hospital bed. He wrapped her gently in his arms as both of them sobbed uncontrollably. It had been a long and painful pregnancy, and she had only just stopped having morning sickness last week. Eric’s prepared speech was short and sweet, recounting the many wonderful years they had shared with their great-grandmother, playing ball in the back yard, baking cookies, decorating their Christmas tree, finally burying their dog last year as their grieving child looked on. Now, she was following her husband to the grave. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Eric softly finished speaking. The music changed to an old hymn, filling the small bedchamber with heavenly chords as a sudden, bright light erupted from Chelsea’s belly button in a flash of celestial glory. And then it was all over, the bed looking forlorn and abandoned, as the exhausted couple came out from behind the screen, wrapped in thick terrycloth robes. The nurse reached out to remove the tray of sex toys as the mourners turned away from the bed and filed tearfully out of the boudoir, led by the grieving family. Everyone commented for weeks on the lovely service, the magnificent flower arrangements, and the simple yet touching eulogy offered up by the deceased’s grandchildren. No one could remember a nicer funeral in years. From dust to stardust. Such was life…





TREE

The sapling breathed in the cool mountain air, stretching its young limbs to better catch the rays of morning sun peeking through the canopy above. The Fathers and Mothers got the first taste of golden sunshine each morning, then quietly bent to one side ever so slightly as to allow their little saplings below some nourishment. A scarlet woodpecker gave Grandmother a wide berth as she rustled angrily at it, and a few minutes later a blue dragonfly flitted past them, its wing flashing iridescent in the sunlight. Sapling was happy. Warming in the sun, he could feel his sap running throughout his bark, now bringing fresh sugars from his leaves. Life was good !

#

Sapling was no longer the youngest of his woodland glade. The last few years had been kind, bringing many rains to the thirsty forest floor, but also much sunshine and mild winters. Grandmother, who had seen over 1500 summers, told him this year had been the prettiest she could remember. With the exception of a lightning storm last summer that had stricken down an old neighbor, Red, it had been a happy time for all. A fat female grizzly, heavy with cub, made her sleepy way past their glade this morning on her way to her den. It looked to be a long winter, and Grandmother was worried for the newest batch of saplings. Still green and tender, the babies might not all survive a long icy winter but she tried not to worry. After many centuries of living in this forest, she knew that losing a few youngsters to the cold, lightning or disease was inevitable, but she felt the loss of each and every one most acutely. Sapling was Grandmother’s favorite, having grown faster and taller than his years, his strong trunk belying his young age. He was only 25 years old, yet looked 40. Maybe it was on account of the sunny spot he now occupied in the middle of their glade, where his seed had fortuitously landed after being suddenly caught on the updraft of a summer breeze some years ago. Maybe he was just lucky.

#

Sapling, now grown too tall to merit his name, thrashed violently in the storm. Bending this way and that, the younger trees like himself struggled to stay upright in the wind. The old ones above merely swayed a bit with every angry gust, rooted firmly in the forest floor, and the little saplings were spared most of the crosscurrents by virtue of their sheltering brothers and sisters above. Sapling was one of those brothers, however, and they were getting the brunt force of the storm as lightning flashed brightly around the forest canopy, and a sudden gust brought a deluge of pelting raindrops. Pools formed in the leaf litter below, as the trees drank thirstily. It had been an exceptionally dry summer, and Sapling’s family glade had been lucky to avoid fires. The drought had precipitated several small fires a few hundred miles away on the coast the roots had told them, and many fine redwoods had been lost, among other species. Sapling shuddered at the thought of fire. He had only seen it once, sputtering out on a damp oak a few miles off to the west. His glade endured a few tense minutes then, waiting to see if the flames would blossom and leap across the forest in a blaze of death, leaving them helpless in its path. But somehow they had been spared. This time.

Sapling felt a sudden vibration in the forest floor. Small but rapid, it was gaining intensity. Something was coming this way, fast. Sapling and his siblings listened with their roots, standing as still as possible in the passing storm. Suddenly, out of the forest sprang a peculiar animal, covered in loose hides not its own. The beast was running on its hind legs ! The young redwoods regarded the strange creature, taking in its pungent scent through their bark. It had a lot of hair on its head and face but oddly, less on its body. Perhaps it was diseased ? Yet it ran with vigor, loping along rather gracefully on its hind legs, one forepaw grasping a sharp rock shard and a sturdy twig. It glanced up suddenly at the lightning display, whimpering, and scurried up the trunk of one of Sapling’s sisters, hiding behind her leaves on a sturdy bough several feet above the ground.

A sudden CRACK reverberated through the damp air as the storm passed and the rains abated to a light drizzle. Another larger CRAAAAACK ! sounded, shaking the ground and everyone felt it at once. No one spoke. No one moved, stunned at the feeling welling up from their roots. Grandmother had been struck, her old dry trunk broken in half.

#

With every passing year, the strange little hairy bipeds became more numerous in the redwoods’ forest. Soon the creatures organized, building little communities scattered throughout the forest. Sometimes, they fought with one another over food or mates, even to the point of blood spilling upon the ground. Sapling and his family grew more numerous, but so did the two-legged creatures who now fished and hunted throughout the forest. They seemed to live but a day in tree time, often dying after only 20 years to sickness or accident. Or murdered by a fellow Man, as they called themselves. It made no sense to the trees. These funny creatures were as busy as the squirrels playing in their branches, and more unpredictable. But as the decades passed into centuries, Sapling began to notice significant changes in the creatures who he’d made a habit of watching. His brothers and sisters paid no more attention to the hairy creatures running around on two legs than they did to the busy ants building nests in the leaf litter below, but Sapling liked to observe the life of the forest, taking in all the activity like a leaf soaking up sunlight. It amused him and passed the time.

Soon, however, a new kind of two-legged creature appeared in the forest. These were often dressed in bright red skins and carried long shiny sticks which spit fire at the hairy creatures, who except for their loin-skins and curved point-throwing-sticks, could have been their brothers. These new, more colorful creatures established their own villages, surrounding themselves with tall, pointed logs hewn from the surrounding trees. From time to time, the naked hairy ones would shoot fiery sticks over the walls or sneak into the village, stealing the children and females. Then the color-skinned ones would retaliate, swarming out of their village with fire-tubes and long metal knives, mounted on great four-legged beasts of strength whose hair flowed from their necks. Sapling found it all quite entertaining ! A way to pass the time.

#

Another 200 years had passed since the little creatures chased each other around with fire sticks and tubes, and they had now built large settlements of stone and wood nearby. Strange metal birds screeched through the skies to the north and south, and great metal insects bore the creatures inside as they crawled in long meandering paths around the forest. The creatures, however, seemed to like the redwoods and other trees, and left them alone in a central area of sanctuary. None of the creatures disturbed the trees, but they liked to walk among them in the summer months, in some kind of seasonal migration understood only to the creatures themselves. One of Sapling’s uncles likened it to a swarm of bees following their queen’s scent, but Sapling thought there must be more to it than that. The creatures didn’t seem to be communicated much on these treks, but only paused now and then to gaze silently up at Sapling’s tallest family members. Sapling suspected it was some sort of religious expression to their god, and it seemed to involve little metal ceremonial boxes that bore flashing windows and were worn on neck straps by the more devoted pilgrims among the creatures. How funny these hairy little beasts were !

#

It started one beautiful morning without prior warning. The sun had not yet even risen above the tree line when Sapling and the others felt it. Far to the south, and even farther to the east, came the rumblings. Faint at first, then louder and closer. A large cloud, shaped like a magnificent forest toadstool, rose high above the redwoods in the south. Shortly thereafter a terrific hot wind tasting bitter and poisonous, swept across the sky, carried aloft in the clouds. Then the earthquake hit. The earth beneath them shook until they feared the very forest floor would open to swallow them up, and then all was eerily quiet. There were no birds flying. There was no familiar hum of insects. Not even the squirrels stirred, having fallen dead all at once to the leaves below. The redwoods waited long hours as the air grew sweet again, and a few small creatures ventured out of their underground dens. Over the next few months, a few dead fish washed up on the banks of the streams and the few bears foolish enough to eat them soon sickened and died, wasting away as their thick fur fell away, revealing large running sores underneath. These died and rotted away where they fell, shunned by even the vultures. The forest was draped by a great sadness, a feeling none could explain but all felt for a long, long time. This feeling remained, even long after the summer rains had washed away all traces of death and the salmon leapt again in the cold streams. Only the young frolicked, the grown knew something important had transpired, but they knew not what. Life went on, and eventually the feeling passed. And with it, those strange little hairy creatures and their toys. No longer did they crawl across the land in their peculiar silver beasts, their enormous birds no longer filled the skies, and peace returned to the forest.

#

Sapling was now nearly 1000 years young, and enjoying his prime. Proud of his many children, he wished he could have shown them one of his hairy little creatures when the saplings crowded around him at storytime. But the stories were enough, and maybe there was a lesson to be learned there, though he knew not what it might be. He left that for ones wiser than himself to decide in the coming generations. Himself, he was content to spend his days reaching high into the sky and soaking up the warm sun of a summer’s day.

This afternoon, his slumber was interrupted by the insistent tap-tap-tapping of one of those new beetles below him on the forest floor. In the long years after The Cloud, a larger kind of beetle resembling the small ones with beady eyes and long antennae the hairy creatures used to kill, began roaming the leaves and underbrush of the forests. They seemed intelligent enough, and this one was busily gathering the largest leaves it could find, weaving a colorful canopy of red and orange with its mouthparts. It was singing like a cricket, happily engrossed in its work. Behind it, a smaller male was dragging large twigs across the ground towards his mate. Together, they assembled a crude shelter above a deep hole the female had excavated in the soft earth. Gently, the female positioned her hindquarters above the hole and began to deposit her eggs into the ground. The male kept watch, alert for signs of bears or other predators. Sapling smiled to himself. Finally ! Something new and interesting in the forest. He signaled his little saplings to watch the funny fat insects at work.

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF

Gerald huddled over his keyboard, typing furiously. It was past two, and the pepperoni pizza on the floor next to him had grown cold, half uneaten. He sat up to rub his hand through his hair, knocking over a half-empty can of beer, white foam bubbles running over the desk in a golden aromatic puddle. SHIT ! Gerry jumped up, his office chair rolling back across the cheap low-pile carpeting as he ran into the kitchen for the roll of paper towels. Rushing back in to the room, he mopped up the stale beer as best he could before sinking back into his chair, dropping the soggy towels into a wastebasket already overflowing with crumpled computer printouts.

The flatscreen monitor flickered before him as an incoming message lit up the now nearly-deserted Sci Fi chat room. Not too many nerdy guys occupied this one as late as this. They were all over on Juicy Hookups by now, trying to score some late-night thrills with bored housewives and horny drunk girls. Gerry peered closely at the line of text: “KLINGON KING: what’s your favorite episode ?”

Gerry stuffed a slice of cold pizza into his mouth and typed out a reply. “TRIBBLE TROUBLE: The pilot, natch. Captain Pike ! That wheelchair robot of his was the bomb.”

“KLINGON KING: Yeah, but what a downer. Glad they picked up the pace after that one. Kirk rules !” typed his anonymous friend.

“TRIBBLE TROUBLE: No way Jose ! Spock rules. He’s the only LOGICAL choice, lol !” Gerry countered. This was getting kind of boring. He’d have to sign off soon. A reply came back immediately.

“KLINGON KING: Dude, I think we’re the only ones left in here now. Can I ask you a question ?” was displayed on the waiting screen.

Oh oh. Here it comes, thought Gerry. This guy’s gay. He’s trying to hit on me, smackdab in the middle of nerddom. Well, hey, even gay nerds need love. I’d better let him down easy, thought Gerry. It hadn’t been the first time he’d been approached in a chat room, though it was usually by girls in glasses with goth makeup. He typed: “TRIBBLE TROUBLE: Wassup dude ? Shoot.” Ooops. Maybe that was a poor choice of words, under the circumstances. Gerry waited.

“KLINGON KING: I was just wondering, how bad are the casualties where you are ? Our city lost fifteen hundred last week. The mayor wants us to be more protected before the next attack, but the city council won’t agree on the budget. Typical !”

Gerry stared at the monitor, confused. What the hey ? What ST episode was this guy referring to, anyway ? This wasn’t a Next Generation chat room. Hmmmm. He began typing.

“TRIBBLE TROUBLE: Sorry ? This isn’t the NG chat room, dude. Strictly old-school ST in here. Straight up Captain James T. Kirk, Spock and Bones. Dunno what episode you mean…”


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