Once Upon A Time: The Dog

Dog sunny Day Afternoon
Dog sunny Day Afternoon (Photo credit: allert)

Once upon a time there was a dog. He was a small dog, and he didn’t shed his fur. So when he got really shaggy, his owner had him trimmed and he went about looking like a large rat. If it was still early in the year, his owner would put a little doggie trench coat on him so he looked like a Sherlock Holmes dog/rat.

The dog’s name was Hobbes, if you haven’t already guessed, and according to his owners he spent almost all of his day curled up in the sun like a cat. If anyone came to the door, he would bark madly and then greet them by dancing and trying to lick them. If the newcomer was particularly foolish and picked him up, Hobbes would lick them on the mouth, in the mouth if he could, and often up the nose. This level of intimacy usually got him put down quickly and he would usually go off to the patch of sunlight. But occasionally, seemingly at random times, Hobbes would decide to stay with the person and join them throughout their stay, watching them sharply out of his warm liquid brown eyes for their moods and responses.

What his owners didn’t know was that Hobbes had a second life and a third life. As soon as his owners left Hobbes would head downstairs and boot up the computer on his nose, go online and type away as “H-dog, the playa” trolling the internet for cat videos and pics of lady maltese poodle mixes.

By 10 am, Hobbes had to report to his job as a spy. He’d spend the next few hours decoding briefs from the Madagascar rebel lemurs or sending in a robot dog drone to sniff out a gang of rabid alley mongrels. At a moment’s notice Hobbes would need to log out and race upstairs for his owners. Perhaps they noticed the excessively high usage and wondered how three emails a week added up to four terabytes of data. But they never had a very good handle on what a terabyte was. Hobbes’ owner thought it sounded like what a dinosaur might do to you.

Sometimes the assignments would last well into the night, and Hobbes normally worked the midnight to four a.m. shift on the world satellite surveillance. On this particular night he noticed a great deal of activity near his own assigned station. A great horde of ravens, several thousand in number, were converging on the local cemetery for a gathering.

One of the most interesting thing about humans is that even when they notice something out of the ordinary they ignore it because it couldn’t be that important. For centuries humans have noticed that ravens flock to cemeteries, but no one has bothered to check on what the birds do there.

Bizarrely, a gathering of Ravens is called a conspiracy, which is far more accurate than its originator intended.  Hobbes knew this particular conspiracy involved a rather high ranking dignitary and a plot to sacrifice four of the conspirators number as a “road kill motor vehicular accident.”  As you can imagine, these are far more common than anyone would like to think.  Occasionally the birds will harass some larger animal until it blunders out into the road, but the timing on these “hits” can be dicey.  The preferred method is a triplet attack on the passenger side of the vehicle.  The first bird causes the driver to swerve across the median, and the second and third force him or her well into the other lane while distracting from oncoming traffic.

But Hobbes was onto this particular gathering.  He’d been listening in to the Raven chatter and knew that the hit was planned for later that day, at a nearby freeway.

Getting permission, Hobbes arranged an intercept.  Every piece of the plan was placed in action.  But with one wrinkle.  To execute the plan, Hobbes would have to disobey the humans and venture out of his jailed enclosure.

At ten minutes from the alloted time, Hobbes began the pee-pee dance for his owners.  As they always did, Hobbes owners ignored him for a minute, hoping he was just being disruptive.  But he was persistent, leaping on his owner’s leg and offering a little encouragement.

At eight minutes to the hit, Hobbes was released.  Now he had to waste a minute waiting for his owner to become bored and go back inside.  A bright bird distracted his owner and threw off Hobbes’ timing by half a minute.

Six and a half minutes to the strike, Hobbes burrowed under the fence.  His back up, a surly orange Tomcat called Sunshine, handed him his rocket pack.  Hobbes took off low, keeping to the treeline, nearing the circling raven flock above the freeway.  As he approached the flock, Hobbes let loose the Eagle sirens.

Even humans know that Ravens and Eagles are sworn enemies.  At the sound of an eagle’s cry the ravens form instinctive protective formations.  But Hobbes was prepared.  Half a dozen Sea gulls had been painted to look like eagles, and hung high in the sky above the ravens.  The flock broke up and scattered to give battle.

Below, the dignitary drove on mindlessly, talking on his cellphone.

Hobbes rocketed back.  Horrors, his owner was in the back looking for him.  It was too late for him to cover.  Hobbes landed in the front yard, passed the jet pack back to Sunshine and rolled himself in the nearest dog doo to give him a cover.  Then he slunk back to the back of the fence for his punishment.  Scoldings and a full bath later, Hobbes settled down.  It had been a good day, despite it all.


Once Upon A Time: Og and The Cave.

Cave bear- Ursus Spelaeus
Cave bear- Ursus Spelaeus (Photo credit: seriykotik1970)

Once upon a time there was a cave. It was a warm cave, with a steam vent from the old volcano. The old volcano loomed over the cave, which was part of it. But the volcano was so covered in thick forest that it didn’t look like a volcano, but rather an old man snoozing away as his green beard drifted along over his foothills and down into the valley below.
It was a quiet cave, tucked between the roots of two great, old trees, who slowly and silently fought for sunlight with each other over the millennia. Unless you knew the cave was there, it was just another jumble of low bushes and a few tumbled rocks.
And the cave had been occupied for most of its long, long life. More than the normal cave occupants of spiders and earthworms. And more than the occasional hibernating bear and wandering chipmunk. This cave had been occupied since time immemorial by something resembling humans before humans resembled humans.
Now Og occupied the cave. He was the last of his clan, as the clan hadn’t seen any other clans at the last great meeting. Every five seasons the clans had gathered and in the last ten gatherings no other clans had arrived. So Og, then a child, gradually had nursed each of the older clan members until their deaths. Now he was readying for his eleventh gathering, going alone in the hopes of finding another clan to join. Perhaps he could even tell them of his clan cave and they would want to come and live there with him.
Og traveled for many days, eating the dried meat he had stored for the journey. He was getting older, but he was still strong and could run for day after day on the thick hides of his feet. But when he arrived at the clan gathering place, no one was there. Og waited for five days, but no one arrived. The only sign of a temporary dwelling was the one his own clan had made the last time they had come to the gathering place.
It could not be. Og decided to seek out the other clan dwellings. He knew that there had been several to the south. Perhaps they had simply decided not to go to the gatherings and to keep their own clan or to trade between clans. Og had brought things to trade with him in a leather parcel, so perhaps he could trade in the south.
Again Og traveled for many days. Then he came across the strangest thing. A long, flat stone, painted in the middle, stretching out of sight through the forest in both directions. Og touched the stone gingerly with his foot. It was warm from the sun, and made of tiny stones stuck together. Og could not think what could have done such a thing. It was a God path, and one did not tread on the paths of the Gods. Og was not certain which of the clan Gods could have made such a thing, but he turned and ran alongside the path. Somehow running alongside the paths of the Gods made him feel less alone.
Then Og heard a rumble. Something was coming along the God path, a great thing loaded down with torn up trees like a great beetle carrying its dung. Og stood respectfully off to the side of the God path and made the three fingered salute of his clan toward this great God beetle.
As the beetle neared Og it slowed and stopped. A great belching and grinding emitted from its front. Og wandered if the God beetle was hungry and reached in his pack to offer the beetle some of the last of his dried meat.
A man climbed out of the beetle. He was dressed all in one color and his forehead jutted forward like the bill of a duck. He approached Og and made strange sounds. Og offered the God beetle man his jerky. The man took the jerky and looked it over. He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. Then the God beetle man gestured to the beetle and motioned for Og to follow him. One did not refuse the Gods, so soon Og was seated inside the head of the beetle and traveling at enormous speeds along the God path.

Og thought this must be how the other members of the clan had been gathered up by the Gods. His body must have fallen back in the woods suddenly and he was now traveling to the spirit realm. Og felt sad that no one would sing the mourning song for him, so he sang it to himself under his breath. He spent most of the time with his eyes closed, because surely they would die at any moment. But the man next to him chattered on in his strange language. At one point the man poked at the beetle and the beetle began to sing in a woman’s voice to Og, and Og tried to escape. When the Gods called with a woman’s voice they were calling the clan to death. The man saw Og’s terror and poked the beetle again. The woman’s voice stilled. Og felt much relieved.
To speak of what Og felt when he entered the great lighted gathering of the Gods would be to somehow desecrate the memory. It was many moons before Og could understand that the beetles and the men were only a great clan that had taken over his lands. Four seasons passed before Og was released from a great white place full of pain and misery. Then Og became friends with others who had long hair and admired Og. He had learned words like “back to the land” and “hippie,” but did not understand what they meant. But these people listened when Og talked about his cave.

Soon Og led the others to where he had seen the first God beetle truck. From there many followed him into the woods, but many fell away over the days of running. Still more left the group when Og went from the gathering place toward his cave.  By the end, Og had only five with him, and his cave welcomed them. And the cave was occupied again.

Once Upon A Time: The Well

English: The skyline of Shanghai, China.
English: The skyline of Shanghai, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a well when I was growing up. Old thing out behind the barn. We’d used it for water before the town came out with town water. It was covered over with a heavy wooden cover weighted down with cinderblock. We’d find little cracks on a sunny day and drop tiny pebbles into the darkness below, waiting to hear the sound of the “plop” in the water far below. But on dark nights I’d give the well a wide berth, because you never knew what might be down there.

The well I work on now isn’t anything like that old well. Here in new Shanghai we’ve got a deep boring well, going into the water tables already heated by the magma as it seeps up from the earth’s core. Since the great war the deep water tables are all that’s left of the clean water. Sure, you could filter and refilter the sea water, and that works for a small settlement. But we’ve still got something of a city left here in what used to be western China, and for that we need lots of water. And hot water is better.

It’s a wonder that the old timers didn’t figure out how to get the magma heated water. They used up every kind of fuel they could get their hands on. But I guess they didn’t have the crystalline silicon pressure tubes. Heck, they hadn’t even met the Rockies back then.

Can you imagine not knowing the Rockies were around? It wasn’t like they really tried to keep themselves a secret. They did studies of the muddy surface regularly. Tested the inhabitants, and pretty regularly too. But everyone was fixated on other life forms coming from another planet, not from within the mantle layer of the earth.

It was pretty much the cause of the great war, wasn’t it? When our old timers started bombing the Rockies’s homes, doing a thing called Fracking where we broke open and drained their underground natural gas lakes. Of course the Rockies retaliated.

And it wasn’t like the old timers weren’t warned. Heck, the Rockies had plugged into the network, what used to be called the World Wide Web. They’re made of silicon themselves, and got along great with our silicon chips.

So the whole place was warned. But then one of the younger Rockies got really mad and set us off on each other. And we finished the rest.

I remember I was working on restarting the oil fields after the war. It was my shaft that the Rockies first came up. Can you imagine? It was pandemonium. A couple of guys tried to shoot them, but they are basically rock so it didn’t do anything. Then they started talking, using a synthesizer they’d set up using our old Tech and an interface that looked like a USB port they’d embedded into themselves.

Pretty historic to be there when they first started apologizing. Not really want you want to hear. The first words were: “Really sorry, our youngling blew up your world.” But you rebuild, you know? What else can you do?

The Rockies Tech is what helped build this well. Baby pumps up more gallons per second than I can count. Whole underground seas down there coming up to the covered city of Shanghai. And I’m good friends with the Rocky Techs that work with us. Good people, always good for a laugh or to grab a bite of granite. So I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

Moral: Don’t blow up things you don’t understand.

Once Upon A Time: The Fireflies.

Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany...
Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany, exposure time 30 seconds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A continuation of the Blue Darkness, by request).

My name is Jed, Jed Parker. I count fireflies for a living. It’s a strange job for an ex-military man, but it meant I got to stay out all night and hang out in the woods. I had nothing to go home to, anyway, and never liked doing a day job.

I’ve got a talent. I can make the fireflies blink all at once. Learned it when I was stationed in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Not many can do it, because it’s tricky. The science guys I work for call it phase synchronization, but they don’t know how to set it off.

Now, I’m not out here to make the fireflies go all at once for fun. We’re trying to get the males of one firefly species to work together and drown out the females of another species who like to lure the menfolk over and eat them. Yeah, femme fatales, indeed.

We need the menfolk of the one species to stay around because they create a kind of poison that the science guys want to try using as a medicine. It could be a good painkiller and may make people relax. But it also gives you the weirdest dreams.

How do I know? Because I was out there in the dark, doing my thing and getting all the fireflies to start blinking at once. Then a swarm of other fireflies came at me out of the dark where I was hunkered down in the marsh.  It looked like a luminescent mini-cyclone.  They swarmed me something good, getting in my hair, my eyes, and even my mouth. It was a big cloud of female fireflies from the other species. I know it was them, because when those females eat the males of the poisonous species we want to save they concentrate the poison in their bodies. I only got one or two of them in my mouth, but they must have been eating males for days because when I accidentally bit down it was like I swallowed acid.

I coughed and spit, but the fireflies kept coming and pretty soon the whole world started spinning like I’d been drinking for hours. My muscles felt all relaxed and I wanted to lie down. I barely staggered to solid ground before I collapsed. The females settled all over me and I was helpless to resist.

Then I must have started dreaming, because it felt like I was getting lifted up and carried. I think I even remember seeing my truck go by below, but that’s just crazy. In my dream we traveled for miles, with different clouds of fireflies taking over, catching me in the air and moving me onward. I settled down in a clearing, just looking up at the sky without caring and without being able to move.

In my dream, I was just lying there when this glowing person came floating over above me. As it came closer, I could see it was a woman, her hair all tangled up and her body supported by fireflies. They set her down next to me and moved off, leaving us both in the darkness. Then I got too drowsy to keep my eyes open and fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, the sun was out. The birds were going crazy and my mouth felt like someone had scrubbed me out with steel wool. I craned my neck around and saw I was in a clearing, and lying next to me was some woman, peering at me over her glasses. She looked about as good as I felt.

“Houh howh Whoough Nough?” I said with a mouth that didn’t work at all.  She just drooled a bit and mumbled “Eh doough neoh” as an answer.  I don’t think her mouth was working very well at all.

We basically stared at each other for a few hours until our bodies got enough movement back to start working for us.  And yes, I pretty much had gone to the bathroom in my pants, which is just not a good way to meet anyone for the first time.  I also got to watch her grimace and finally give up.  We were both pretty much paralyzed, and you can’t wait for a bathroom break when you can’t move.  So we got what you might say was a fairly intimate relationship going pretty early on.  Nothing much bonds you like being mutually humiliated.

Eventually we got so we could move, and when I got a good look around I couldn’t quite figure out where we were.  Near as I can figure, I must have gotten delusional and wandered around until I collapsed.  Yeah, it’s pretty strange that someone else with the same sort of delusion collapsed next to me.  But what’s the alternative, we were kidnapped by fireflies?

Well, neither one of us could walk very well, so we had to lean on each other to move.  We started stumbling out of the clearing, looking for a road or some sign of civilization.  You’d think in that part of the country it’d be pretty hard to miss at least a back road, but let me tell you it was three days before we hit a dirt road and followed it as far as a farmer’s house.

In that time I got know Rosie pretty well.  That was the name of the lady I ran into, and I couldn’t have been luckier.  She was a survivor, and knew more woodcraft than I did.  We sucked on roots and ate flowers and bark, and drank from tree hollows to avoid the swamp water.  We both still got Giardia, which is a stomach bug you get from bad water, but it wasn’t bad until we got back.

Along the way I found out Rosie was another firefly whisperer, which is what she called it.  She could make the fireflies blink in unison too.  I also found out she was a military brat and her dad had served with my commanding officer in the Philippines.  We had a lot in common, and if we hadn’t both been drugged, groggy, starving, and stinking, we might have even been on a crazy camping trip.  I know we had to sleep cuddled up together for warmth, and that with the stink of the two of us we must have smelled like a bear cave in the spring.

So we finally made it back, though the first farmer we ran into thought we were swamp beasts.  Rosie had us stuff our clothes with moss to keep warm, and we were covered in mud to keep off the biting insects.  So he could be forgiven for running for his truck at the first sight of us.

When we got him calmed down, we used his phone to call our bases and arrange pick-up.  Turns out we were basically working for the same outfit, only she had a job through one of their subcontractors.

As you can figure, Rosie and I became something of a laughingstock for a while.  Lots of joking and an investigation of what happened.  It all blew over, and they never came to any conclusions.

Rosie and I took to seeing each other during the day when we weren’t working.  We working on the speed of our synching the fireflies, and it got to be a competition between us.  As you can probably guess, spending night after night with each other eventually led to us getting married.  Now we’ve got little ones and one of us has to take time off because it’s hard to get a nanny to do night shifts.

We’re training the kids to do the synch, but it’s hard to know if either one of them will pick it up.  It’s a rough going, raising kids, but I’m not so alone now.

Sometimes when I’m watching the kids I’ll speculate on what happened that night Rosie and I met.  Could it have been the female fireflies, trying to distract us from doing our jobs?  Nahh, it’s just a silly idea.  One thing bothers me though.  The clearing that I woke up in was more than forty miles from my truck, across a river.  On a good night I usually do ten or twenty miles, tops.  And that’s with my wits about me.



Once Upon A Time: The Blue Darkness.

Fireflies 5
Fireflies 5 (Photo credit: ShutterSparks)

Sometimes when I walk at twilight between the pine trees, it seems like the darkness is creeping up behind me.  Sort of like water oozing under a door, or mists rising off the water.  But heavier than mist.

It doesn’t bother me, the dark.  A lot of folks live in fear of the dark, putting up candles in every corner and huddling near the fireplace as evening comes on.  But the dark is safe, like a blanket.  I do my best work in the dark.

I’m a firefly counter.  That’s right.  When I was a little boy, my daddy never said to me:  “Jed, someday you’ll grow up and count fireflies.  That’s right, my boy, you’ll be a firefly counter, and that’ll be your living.”

Now, if you’d asked me what classes I took in school to get ready to be firefly counter, I’d just laugh.  I didn’t really go to school, and I never thought I’d be a science guy out in the woods.

So how’d I end up with firefly counting.  If you want to know, it was from my time serving my country.  I was into poisons.  Did my time working with the chemicals of war, as they say.  I got really interested in poison toads, those little tree critters that the native tribes used to tip their blowgun darts.  I figured there was some use to those native poisons, at least from a homeland security standpoint.

Turns out, those little frogs aren’t the only ones with a little poison to keep ’em safe.  Our little fireflies keep poison on hand, just like the frogs.  It’s got its own classification, and there are some science boys thinking about using the poison to help people.

So they hired me to go out and look for fireflies.  I’m supposed to count the number of males and report back to them.  We’ve got an issue with one species of firefly edging out another species.  The new fireflies don’t have the poison, but they like to have lunch on the ones that do.  We call ’em the “femme fatale” fireflies, and I’m supposed to figure out how to take care of the problem.

How do you fix a problem like that?  Well, it turns out the fireflies we want to keep get lured into a trap by the others when the females blink seductively at them.  The poor male fireflies think they’ve got a match, and instead they’ve got trouble.  But we’ve got a secret weapon.

If I can figure out how to get all the fireflies blinking at once, they’ll overpower the tricky ones.  It happens all the time, and they call the blinking in unison “phase synchronization” and write long papers about “spontaneous order.”

All I know is that I’m the one guy anyone knows who can get the fireflies to do it.  When I was stationed in southeast Asia and the Philipines I used to do it all the time for laughs.  The other boys would bet me I couldn’t do it, and I’d go out into the dark and pretty soon the whole night would be blinking together like Christmas lights.

Do you want to know the secret?  I think it’s because I start with the larvae blinking.  You just find a patch of glow worm larvae, and then you get a tiny little flashlight and start chatting with the larvae.  If you can get the larvae to start going together, then pretty soon the adults pick it up and the whole night is full of silent singing.

It’s quiet out, but I’ve got the smell of the damp in my nose and the blue darkness coming up behind.  I know from the smell that I’ll be coming in a bog pretty soon.  That’s where the larva hang out, and we’re going to start us a light jam session.

Moral:  When we limit our horizons, we limit only ourselves.

Once Upon A Time: The Gnat

Swarm of bees in the air shortly before landin...
Swarm of bees in the air shortly before landing on a tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time there was a gnat. Unlike most of his family, he didn’t really enjoy annoying hikers or swarming around people in canoes, or even swarming at all.

Life was hard for a loner gnat. He went about his day, flitting from place to place, about as noticeable as a speck of dust or a bit of leaf.

It was an OK life. He survived. He got enough food, and actually had more than he needed, because the plants he found were way more than one gnat could eat. Some gnats are carnivorous, which means they eat animals, but the very idea made Marty gnat shudder.

That’s what we’ll call him, Marty gnat, because we’re about to meet another gnat.  We’ll call this one Sally.  She would be called something in latin by someone who studies gnats, but that’s a whole boring business that involves a lot of gnats on pins, and the less said about that the better.

So Marty gnat was sitting on his leaf, enjoying dinner, and wondering what it would be like to join a swarm.  Even a macho swarm like an evening swarm of male gnats, which is called a ghost and sounds romantic.  But on a gnat level a big macho swarm of male gnats is more like an insect frat party with every gnat showing off his flying, his strong antennae, and the glitter of his wings.  So Marty had never liked that sort of gathering.

And along came Sally gnat.  She landed right next to Marty, and asked politely if he minded if she shared his leaf.  Marty was speechless, but waggled his antennae in a sort of my leaf is your leaf sort of way.  So Sally crunched away for a few minutes until Marty got up his courage to ask whether she’d be joining the swarm over the puddle later.

“No,” said Sally.  “I really don’t like that sort of thing.  I just got away from the most horrendous ghost swarm a few minutes ago.  Honestly, all that testosterone in one place.  You’d think those guys only had a few hours to find a mate or something.”

Marty nodded.  Then Sally asked him why he wasn’t in a swarm.  Marty opened up about how he never really felt comfortable in a swarm.  You just sort of flew around aimlessly and didn’t really get to know anybody.

Sally smiled and nodded.  “We should start our own swarm,” she said with a laugh.  And for once Marty wasn’t tongue tied.  He said yeah, they should.

When Sally finished eating, she and Marty circled above the puddle for a bit before settling down for the night.

Over the next day or so, Marty and Sally formed a tiny swarm of their own.  As older members went their way, they introduced their offspring and the swarm continued to grow bit by bit.  All the members of the swarm looked out for each other, and took care of the little ones.  Eventually, the swarm was so successful it formed other branch swarms to keep the size manageable.

Now if the people who study gnats looked at Marty and Sally’s swarms, they would classify them as a new species.  This one displays communal protection and the nurturing of the young.  And rather than flying aimlessly, the Marty and Sally swarms form complex and beautiful aerial dances.

Moral:  Follow the music of your heart, because others may want to hear it.

Once Upon A Time: The Bear

To learn more about Alaska, visit my my Alaska...
To learn more about Alaska, visit my my Alaskan website. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a bear. He lived at the top of a hill and ventured down into the valley very rarely. But when the winter got cold, but when he wasn’t quite sleepy for his long winter nap, the bear would go down into the valley and look at the glowing embers of the village fires and think slow bear thoughts about fires and stars.

One day a foolish man was out getting more firewood in the dark and left the door half open. The bear, who had been sitting out in the dark looking in, nudged the door all the way open and went into the room. It was dark and warm, and he stretched out near the fire. When the foolish man came back in, he was troubled by all the snow that seemed to have blown into the house. He pushed aside the big furry blanket that seemed to have gotten thrown in front of the fire, and built up the fire so it would be stronger. The bear grunted in his sleep and the foolish man froze.

The foolish man tiptoed out of the house and ran down to the tavern, but the the bear, who had been warmed too much by the fire, went out and down into the man’s vegetable storage cellar. There he curled up and kept sleeping.

Having roused all his neighbors, the foolish man led them all to his house, where they found no bear and nothing but a bit of snow to “prove” he had every been there. They patted the foolish man and told him not to bother them again. The next day the foolish man found the bear in his vegetable cellar, but no one came to look. He tiptoed around the bear all winter, even when he was nearly out of vegetables.

In the spring the bear wandered out of the cellar and knocked the man’s door open to go back up into the hills. But when winter came, the foolish man found the bear waiting at his back door. So his cellar became a bear’s den.

Moral: What is good for some may be bad for others.