Images of Light

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They came not in ships but in beams of light. Creatures of many eyes, their forms wavered insubstantial before us. They did not speak but when one of their eyes, a film of colored photons, a mere hologram projected across the expanse of space, touched us, we saw–landscapes and constellations, caves of crystal and deserts of blue sand, twisted plants and writhing phosphorescence.

They were like Ezekiel’s vision, appalling and fascinating and unearthly.

They must be advanced, to have come so far, to have seen such things. They peered at us patiently and we turned our efforts to teaching them our language, certain we could not comprehend theirs. We began with the alphabet. We showed them A and they touched us–a mountain peak against an orange sky, a violet streak of sunset stretched against calm waters. We spoke the sound, ah, and they stared at us.

We continued with B. The touch came, the shiver of light upon flesh–a single cloud in a green-tinged sky, a creature fat and lazy nursing its young, two rocks stacked one upon another. We spoke the sound, bee, and their many eyes stared unblinkingly.

Through all 26 symbols we continued, our wide smiles and exaggerated gestures veiling our dwindling confidence. We could not help but think these celestial beings were like children on the first day of school who looked uncomprehendingly at the big bold letters that ran the border of the room and at the hieroglyphs of their own name printed and taped onto their desk and understood nothing.

But, no, the aliens were processing our feeble language in their condescension, we told ourselves. Or, at worst, they struggled to imitate a method of verbalization so foreign to their own, like Americans learning the Bushmen’s clicks.

We signed to them to speak in their own tongue, or if they had no tongue (for we had yet to locate their mouths), then in their own way, whether by whistle or gesture or an intricate Morse code of blinks and winks.

They stared at us with hundreds of eyes, and made no sound we could detect, even with our instruments, and no patterns we could determine by man or machine.

In all our striving they answered or asked (we could not tell) image after image–a torn body, a hole in soft sand, a bird (or something like it) upon the water, their people harvesting crystals with crude tools, a sky full of stars, a great mob of aliens like a soup of eyes, the closing of the eyes and the reopening like birth or revelation or morning, our own forms as seen by them, and so on. Perhaps these were their speech, and not merely images of their experiences, but with what meaning, we did not know.

Then, realizing that we must show what our language was, just as they had attempted to show us theirs, we led them to the library. Here were words, millions of words, so that they could not be taken as unique creations but as plentiful and purposeful. We opened book after book before them, pointing out the letters and the words, showing how they repeated, speaking them out in repetition as to infants, hoping to form a Rosetta stone for these advanced beings. We found the word book and pointed to the book. We found man and chair and alien and did the same.

After long hours, when we pointed to the word, all we were shown in return was an image of the letters themselves: b-o-o-k and m-a-n and c-h-a-i-r.

With the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, the visitors’ forms shifted and shook. The connection (the innate ability?) that brought them weakened.

They were aliens and had seen much. They could insinuate a hundred associations with a powerful remembrance but they could not say one thing definite, which we all understood the same.

And so they faded away, and my brain is full of wonders and vision, but what can I say? I know nothing for sure. I have tried here to record what I saw, to put into language what was merely sight. I am left with dreams but nothing to grasp, with possibilities but not a single fact. They came from the stars in beams of light that shone with brilliancy and cast nothing but shadows.

In Search of Flying Squirrels

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“Does everyone have an axe?”

It was not a question Tony had expected to hear when he agreed to visit his fiancee’s aunt and uncle over the weekend. Last time he had held an axe was at a Renaissance Festival.

“I think I have another in the garage,” said Joy’s uncle Paul. He ran off to fetch it.

The older man who had been invited to lead this expedition, Ronny, looked at the trees bordering the lawn. “So you’ve never seen any flying squirrels ’round here?”

Joy’s cousin Eric answered. “Not that I know of.”

Paul returned and handed Tony the axe. Then Ronny led the five of them, Tony, Joy, Paul, Eric, and Eric’s friend Chris into the woods. Joy’s aunt had decided to stay home and cook dinner.

“What we’re looking for is any tree with a hole in it,” Ronny said over the crunching of dead leaves. “Like this here.”

He stopped before a big, smooth-barked tree. Tony had never been able to name different trees. Halfway up was a dark hole. Ronny gripped his axe tight, pulled back, and hammered the trunk with the blunt side of the head. The wooden shock rang out three times. Ronny studied the hole. “It’ll come jumping out after a few whacks if it’s in there. You gotta watch carefully and see where it goes. I’ve followed one halfway up a mountain before I snagged it.”

Chris raised the net he carried triumphantly. He’d never been flying squirrel hunting before. None of them had.

Ronny stomped deeper into the forest, examining each tree. “Here’s another. Someone else try.”

Paul knocked the trunk four times. He’d been the one who’d invited Ronny.

“No luck,” Ronny said. “These are exactly the type of trees you’ll find them in. I bet we find one. Just takes some time. Fan out.”

Tony started forward uncertainly, Joy following him. The land sloped downward. Soon, when Tony looked back, he could not see the house. The cool autumn air gave a crispness to the woods. There was little undergrowth, just trees rising from the orange and brown carpet of leaves. The branches above were bare, with an ashen sky enveloping them.

“How about this one?” Joy said.

Tony looked up. It seemed a good specimen. “Just smack it, huh?”

“I guess.”

Tony swung the metal head hard against the trunk, feeling the impact in his arms, two, three, four, five times. Nothing. He looked at Joy, shrugged, and continued on.

It was silent except for the swish of their feet and the occasional thud-thud resounding through the woods. Tony could see the others wandering slowly downward, tiny amid the trees and expanse of land, drawn forward by the expectation of a grey rodent shooting out of a hole.

Eventually, the several groups meandered back into a loose formation. Ronny led, smacking away now and then, staring upward and shaking his head.

At the slope’s bottom was a dry stream that etched a deep path through the flat land. Tony remembered his grandparents’ cabin. They had sold it when he was eight or nine. He used to follow the creek, wading in and out of the water, trying to jump across at the narrowest sections or crawl across a fallen log. He jumped down into the streambed, where water had uncovered smoothed rocks. He followed it as the others continued on, Joy talking with her cousin.

Tony had left his phone back at the house. He didn’t know how long they’d been out. Most of the others were walking up the opposite slope now. He climbed out of the stream and angled toward them.

He ascended the height still some distance from them. Nearby was a beaten trail and two junk cars rusting peacefully like lost relics. Tony beat a tree and watched the hole, not expecting much. He didn’t hear the others pounding often.

By the time he reached them, they had reached the edge of someone’s property. Tony could see the back of a house and hear a car on a road somewhere beyond. “These woods are perfect for flying squirrels,” Ronny was saying. “Sometimes it’s like that, you strike out, but it’s the right kinda trees.”

Paul pointed the way back to his house, and they started the return journey. The wind was rising a bit, and Tony was getting hungry.

“Sorry we didn’t find any squirrels,” Joy said. She smiled a bit, like she didn’t think there were any.

Tony just nodded. He didn’t want to talk. It was quiet in the forest. He let Joy go ahead and he followed, surrounded by trees and leaves and slow hills, and hoped the way back was not too short.

Monday Musings: The Rest We Need

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It’s been a busy couple weeks. I’ve spent most of a week at a youth conference, being on, and when I returned, I had a week of meetings and catch-up and generally busy family life. I needed some extra sleep, some space, some downtime. But there is something more I needed.

It was last Saturday night and I had some time. I started a game of Myst V for the first time. There is something about exploring deserted worlds filled with enigmatic machinery that excites my imagination. I ended my session playing feeling lighter. Maybe it was just the free time and the new entertainment that lifted the burden, but I think it was more.

I took a walk afterward with my iPod, but I didn’t start the music. I didn’t want to spoil the impression that surrounded me. I sensed again that somewhere beyond there was mystery–an unexplored world–a sense of answers and adventure. I had been given the gift of wonder. That is what I needed.

Sometimes movies strive to impress us with eye candy, but that is not wonder. That is merely entertainment.

Wonder is not the song full of power but the snatch of melody, the snatch of five seconds in which the music lifts you up, even though you can’t get others to hear it.

Wonder is not the plot twist but the moment where the story stops being words on the page and opens up the flash of another world.

Wonder is not the solving of an equation but the revelation of the answer’s elegance and necessity.

Wonder is not restful because it removes you from the world but because it returns the world to you.

Wonder is not beauty seen but beauty felt, not beauty captured in a picture but beauty that encaptures us, if only for a moment.

I don’t think wonder can be re-lived in the same way again, at least not on purpose, but perhaps it can be courted.

That night, walking without my music, headphones in, I remembered something. If I write, I want to write what is true and what is beautiful. Perhaps, if I am lucky, and if God allows, it will be wonder-full to someone.

For that is what we need, as much as rest, as much as food, to be revived in a dark world. We need a glimpse of God’s beauty and limitlessness so we can lift our eyes and see beyond our enclosed little realms.

The House of the Future!

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Photo-Mix / Pixabay

Jordon inserted the key into the lock. “This is kinda disappointing, actually,” he said, opening the door for his girlfriend. “The fingerprint scanner won’t be changed over to my until next week.”

It was dark inside, and all the windows were tinted. “Aleya,” he said, “turn on the lights.”

The lights rose, slowly revealing the open floorplan. You could see the entire first floor from the entryway. Addilyn gasped. “It’s so cool!”

“My uncle paid top dollar for this place. Cutting edge stuff. Aleya, bring up Netflix.”

In the back left corner, an entire wall shimmered to life, the newest series lined in four-foot high rows. “It’s very Bradbury,” he said proudly. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but his uncle had joked about the screen that way and it sounded clever.

“It’s like owning an iMax,” Addilyn said, wandering over.

“Come here, into the kitchen.” The sleek cabinets and space capsule fridge occupied a corner where the screen was not visible–except once they entered the kitchen, the image slid to the wall opposite them. “Aleya, open the recipe book, subcategory Thai.”

The surface of the kitchen’s island lit up, displaying the names of dishes beside mouth-watering images. Jordon flicked through a few screens. “How about panang chicken curry?” He touched the image, chose Dinner Planning, selected next Tuesday, and hit Confirm. “The ingredients will arrive from Amazon that morning, and we can follow the video directions or let Aleya cook.”

Addilyn squealed. “I can’t believe this! What else is there?”

The dining room table could project the gameboards of a hundred different games, with buttons to handle the rolling and math and shuffling.

The den had curtains that extended from the wall for privacy, if desired, and a massage chair that customized to the tightness of your muscles.

Addilyn closed her eyes and sighed as the chair kneaded her neck and feet. “This can’t be real. This is really your place now?”

Jordon grinned. “Kevin left it to me.”

“I’m almost glad he died. Is that horrible?”

“Naw. He’d been depressed for like a year. He’s not suffering any more.”

The den had a few Easton Press classics, mostly for looks, and a pair of Kindle Infernos preloaded with close to 10,000 books, comics, and magazines.

As Addilyn reluctantly told Aleya to turn off the chair, she watched a small flat robot hum along the floor. “What’s that?”

“One of the cleaners. Looking for dust, I think. You want to check out the bedroom?”

Addilyn smiled seductively. “Yes.”

The bed was a grand king with two remotes. The closet had a track upon which the hangers moved, a wall of mirrors, and a smaller closet within. An exercise room with another wall screen, an elliptical, and a multipurpose weight machine opened on one side of the bedroom.

Sometime later, Addilyn was staring at the ceiling from the bed. “What are those holes? Do you see them?”

They were small, like the pinpricks in a showerhead.

“They control the atmosphere. Watch. Aleya, cinnamon scent.” Soon, they could smell the comforting aroma. “This room can be sealed off from the rest. We can change temperature, humidity, aroma, style of lighting, background noise, pheromones, anything. It even comes with a release setting.”

“You mean, it happened here?”

“Painlessly, like falling asleep. Don’t worry. I’ve changed the sheets since.”

Addilyn closed her eyes, wiggling deeper under the covers. “They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they?”

“Want to try the hot tub?”

She answered with a laugh and sprinted for the bathroom/spa/sauna complex that took up half the second floor.

Monday Musings: You Have to Be There

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IWaldner / Pixabay

Soon after we were married, Natasha and I took a road trip out west. We had no particular plan besides, “Head west, young man!” and stopping at as many cool places as we could find before we hitting the Pacific.

Eventually, we were driving into Wyoming, toward Devil’s Tower. The land was a bit hilly, if I remember correctly, green and lazy. Then, suddenly, there’s Devil’s Tower in the distant, a column of rock standing proud and lonely among the low hills. It was a striking sight. The national monument is no less impressive up close. It draws your eyes and makes you wonder, “How in the world did this get here?”

I was reminded of this because occasionally some place will come up in conversation with my kids and I’ll pull up YouTube and show them what I’m talking about. You know, things like the Great Wall of China and Ayers Rock and Stonehenge and how water works in space.

I’ve never been to any of these places (or played with water in space). But I have been to Devil’s Tower. The videos I show my kids are usually cool. The Devil’s Tower one was underwhelming. Why?

Obviously, you had to be there.

Despite all our various and ever-increasing methods of recording the world, nothing is the same as being there. Sure, an iMax video of the Grand Canyon is gorgeous and awe-inspiring, it’ll show you parts you may never see, but it’s just not quite the same as being there. Pixelated reality, no matter how crystal clear, is not true reality.

I suppose, someday, we’ll claim that VR is just like being there, but my guess is that it’ll actually be the next best thing to being there.

A letter is not a visit. A Skype chat is not a chat over coffee. A home video is not your child’s fifth birthday. There is a real difference between being present and being presented.

This seems simple, except we need to relearn simple things all the time. Life is found in the living, in the here and now. It’s not found, first or foremost, in the screen or scrapbook. It’s not as well-framed or as well-paced. It’s a little repetitive and rather hard and not always pleasant. But we were made for it.

What the video of Devil’s Tower gave me was the desire to return to the real Devil’s Tower. A love letter causes the longing to increase. A good book says, “What you see here is only a shadow.”

We need these secondhand experiences. We need them desperately, to expand our horizons, to color our faded vision, and to draw us into the true and deep things of the world. But we should not stay there.

That’s no way to live.

City Renewal

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tpsdave / Pixabay

Dennis Darling, dressed in full business attire, sat at the corner table of Old Joe’s. It was a quaint little coffee shop with more patrons than table space. Quaint, in this case, also meant fashionably dilapidated. The local photos on the wall were badly faded, the paint chipped, and Dennis’s table, at least, had shims wedged underneath to keep it from wobbling as badly as it might. He took another sip of his mocha, which was surprisingly good, and tapped out an email to his subordinates on his phone.

Seven minutes late, Mayor Robert Ryland sat down across from him, hiding his discomfort tolerably well.

“Aren’t you going to order something?” Dennis asked, checking Twitter.

“I thought this would be quick.”

“It’s a business meeting. Get something. It’s a work expense.”

“Just get on with it.”

Dennis pocketed his phone. “Give me your elevator pitch.”

“Me? You’re the one selling.”

“Offering,” Dennis said. “This is one city. There are hundreds like it. Why should we work with you?”

Robert stared at him then shrugged. “All right. Factories made this town. They moved overseas or went bankrupt. Half the family businesses have been wiped out by regulations and Amazon, except for niche holdouts like this place. We’re a dying town. People need work, but there’s nothing here. In ten years, we’ll be gutted. Just like a hundred other towns.”

“Not just like. You were wise enough to contact us.”

“I’ve been rethinking that.”

“Have you?”

“Your boss has been in the news again.”

Dennis retrieved his phone and pulled up a photo from CNN of police pushing a business-suited man into his car. The headline read “Doctor Destructo’s Minions Foiled in Jacksonville.”

“This?” Dennis asked. “You saw the report on the TV?”

“Yeah. Everyone did.”

“How many casualties?”

“None, thanks to Teflon.”

“That’s a horrible codename, isn’t it?” Dennis said, laughing.

“Bullets bounce right off him.”

“How much damage? Did you hear?”

“I don’t remember,” Robert said. “Millions of dollars.”

Dennis nodded. “Millions of dollars of damage. One thing you don’t know: Mayor Daniel Yellin asked us to be there. Being caught was part of the plan. We can do the same thing for you.”

Robert shook his head. “You’re as insane as your boss.”

“How many acres of abandoned industry do you have in the city? How many deserted neighborhoods? Say we set up base in an old warehouse, and we let it slip through the right channels that we’re here. Teflon shows up. Or Victoria. Or even Justice James. A whole section of town goes up in flames, superhuman fisticuffs, and ray guns. No one’s hurt. Everyone’s relieved. Insurance kicks in. Better yet, the whole country sees it on TV. The money starts flowing in. Charities, churches, everyone’s fighting to help rebuild. You see?”

Robert studied him. Dennis could see him slowly understand. “And no one gets hurt?”

“No one. Human resources are a vital commodity. You arrange some fair or festival, something exciting. Something with fireworks and free food. If a few remain home, the good guys are there to protect him. That’s what they’re good at.”

Robert kept staring, bewildered. “What’s in it for you?”

“My boss is a business man. We have a tech company we’d like to start in the area. We’d like your cooperation, tax abatements, that sort of thing. A willing and happy workforce. A friendly face in the government. Et cetera.” Dennis stood. “Think on it. Here’s my card. Call Den Yellin, ask how Jacksonville’s recovering.”

Robert stood, too, in a daze. Dennis extended his hand and shook firmly. “I’ll call you in a few weeks. Just let us know how we can help.”

Monday Musing: We Don’t Exist

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Tobias_ET / Pixabay

Okay, I confess, the blog title is a lie. We do exist. (I do, at least.) It is, however, quite in style to wonder if maybe, really, we don’t.

All sorts of super-smart tech people, like that eccentric inventor Elon Musk, wonder if we aren’t just simulations in a giant computer, a la The Matrix.

If you’ve ever spoken with a moody, introspective teenager (or if, perhaps, you were a moody, introspective teenager), you’ve heard the question: What if this is all a dream?

Is it not strange that we can even conceive of such questions? Why on earth would a living creature doubt that he is truly living? Some might say, Aha! The fact that we can imagine being other than we are–an illusion, a fancy of some alien consciousness, a string of zeroes and ones–means that it is at least possible that we are.

I, however, as a Christian, take the same observation and conclude, How utterly broken we are, to conceive of being less than we are!

Let me put it another way. You can focus on certain material aspects of our being. You can say that we are just cells, just DNA, just neurons firing, just a sack of flesh with an organic computer inserted in a bone container. You can look at these things and say, I am not what I think I am. The fact that I matter, or my friends and family matter, that my decisions mean anything, is a lie. I am just a collection of natural processes. The soul is an illusion.

This is what you might call dreaming down. We look at an aspect of the processes that make up life, or make us, and say, Well, that must be what we are–that and that alone. In the case of the matrix idea, we look at what we’ve created and say, That must be the end of our intelligence. What we can create must by the answer to what we are.

There is another type of dreaming, however. I recently finished reading The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis to my kids, which is a close second for my favorite Narnia book and features the best Narnia character of all time, Puddleglum. (Sorry, Reepicheep fans.) At the climax, our heroes are trapped in Underland, a lightless, joyless underground kingdom. The Queen of this land is enchanting our heroes to believe that the world above never existed, that it’s all just a dream. Large chunks of the chapter are worth quoting, but I’ll limit it to Puddleglum’s final speech:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black bit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

Puddleglum dreams “upward,” using a cat to prove the existence of a lion and a lamp the existence of a sun.

Those who believe we live in a simulation believe in a “play world” like Puddleglum, but it’s less than the real world, not more. Their dream makes the world more hollow, not more glorious.

To dream “up” means to believe there is more meaning and reality in the world than meets the eye, not less, to believe that creation is not just natural, but supernatural, that the body holds not just synapses but a soul. Even if I entirely ignore the compelling arguments for such a reality, I’d much rather live in a world where humans are not just biological computers but moral beings created with inexpressible worth. And, honestly, most people inherently live more in the second reality, at least as concerns their own well-being, than in the first.

If we don’t exist–and live like it–we won’t much live at all. The danger to dreaming down is that you eventually become what you believe.

But if everyone lived as if life were real and precious and right, well, I think the world would be a pretty swell place to live.

A man can dream, can’t he?

Blind

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I am blinded by uncounted lightless days, by a half mile of stone, by walls that do not yield and cannot listen. My wide open eyes have absorbed darkness until I dream black and wake and know no change. When food comes, scraps, I hear nothing or I hear their voices, brutal voices, until the darkness crawls with shapeless, vengeful creatures that burrow in my ears and whisper venom.

I am condemned. No protestation of innocence, no begging or weeping or screaming, opens the door. I am innocent, I am innocent–I was innocent, and for lost years I have stared into the darkness. It is my mirror, and I am condemned.

The cell is small, but so am I, shrinking to match my cage, expanding to fill the days, the months, the–I shudder. Time exhales the last breath of the dying. Nothing moves and nothing changes and nothing is. I sleep and I wake and I sometimes eat. I stare into my blindness and listen to the silence. What I think is what I see is what I hear. What I knew is no longer, or seems a shadow, a flicker of night against night, the echo of a shape or the remembrance of the idea of a color.

But I feel. I feel the rock beneath me. I rub my hand, my fingers, along the same smoothed spot. I ache in my hips and my legs and my back. This is pleasure, for it changes, it has a rise and a fall, a contour. It visits me and does not remain silent.

I will not die here. I will cease here. I will no longer open my mouth, I will shut my useless eyes, and I will remain, motionless, until I become one with my prison, perhaps a warm thing for a time but a senseless thing, a rock in the shape of a man, until I become what I see and what I hear and what I am.

A voice comes. I do not stir. Always they come and always they leave, like memories and earthquakes, signs of an epoch passing. The door opens. I am struck. I was beat in the beginning. This is different. It is a force, a blast. I burn. Within, I burn. I turn away from this new torture, shut my eyes. I am in its grip, and it burns, these others, these foreign things on my lonely flesh. The world is spinning, the air cuts my face. I cannot scream; I can moan. They pull my limbs, force me to collect the expanse of my existence into my body, force me into the void as a solid thing. It is too much, too much noise, too many sensations–the world is catching fire. I burn and I weep. “No, no, no….,” I whimper. The darkness will burn away and I am only darkness. I will burst. I will break into a million pieces. I cannot survive this, I cannot bear this touch, this light. “Take me back,” I beg, weeping, convulsing. “Take me back.”

“You’re free.”

I cannot. I am paper thin, I am smoke, I am the depth of the earth and human hearts. “Take me back.” It is forcing its way into my closed eyes, into my brain, a blaze that is warmth that is fire that is death. I pull away, desperate, strong for the moment, escaping their claws. I stumble, I crawl back to the black opening, to the pit, and tumble down into the hole where I belong.

The stone is hard as I fall and I ache and I am blind once again.

Like A Bird

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“It looks like a video compilation of epic fails.”

“It’s not that–”

“No, seriously, dude, it’s like something out of a 80s kids’ movie. There’s no way it’s flying.”

Michael shook his head, bemused. His friend’s insults didn’t bother him. He’d been saying the same thing for weeks. “Does that mean you won’t help me?”

Shawn rubbed his hand vigorously through his hair. “What makes you so sure it won’t nosedive the moment we’re off the cliff?”

“I’ve run dozens of computer simula–”

“We’re going to die. As long as I’ve prepared.”

“The models hold up, Shawn.”

“I’m not worried about the models! I’m worried about us.”

Michael sighed. He looked over his creation. Part kite, part bike, part mechanical bird, he knew every bolt and joint. It was a marvel, a work of art. Though, if he tried to see it through a stranger’s eyes, it did look a bit shabby, a tad crackpot.

“Look, Shawn, you coming or not?”

Shawn peered at the sky to avoid eye contact.

“I need you.”

“How about tomorrow?”

“Come here.” Michael pulled him down the incline to the cliff’s edge. “See that?”

Below was their small town, cars coming and going along the two highways that intersected in downtown. “Once, people drove those cars. Now the cars drive them. Kids used to go to school. Now school comes to them. Half the city works in its pajamas. You can live in a single room forever.”

“As long as it has a toilet,” Shawn added.

“Everything’s safe and confined and comfy. Then there’s this.” Michael pointed to his contraption.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying!”

“Haven’t you ever wanted to soar, to skim between heaven and earth like a bird?”

“Not really.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s not something I think about a lot.”

“Imagine flying above the earth with nothing between you and the wind!”

“Don’t go into sales, okay?”

“This is going to work,” Michael insisted. “Come with me.”

Shawn looked moodily at the town. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“What?”

“To fly.”

“Why would it be illegal?”

“Doesn’t the government own the air or something?”

Michael laughed. “Own the air? I would hope not!” Except, he considered, it was just the sort of thing they would try. “Come on, Shawn. Let’s do it–just this once.”

“Yeah, that’s not ominous.”

“Is that a yes?”

Shawn groaned. “Yeah, it’s a yes.” He started reluctantly up the hill. “Remind me how this deathtrap works.”

Ten minutes later they were strapped in and ready to go. Michael was in the front seat of the tandem bike. He tested the joints of the wings, examined the tightly stretched fabric overhead, and reminded himself he needed to purchase some parachutes for the next flight. “Ready?”

“No.”

“Remember, pedal as fast as you can, even when we run out of land.”

“Pedal as if my life depended on it. Check.”

“And sit up straight. Don’t lean unless I tell you.”

“Fall straight, not sideways. Check.”

“Ten….”

“A countdown? Really?”

“Nine.”

Shawn muttered something under his breath.

“Eight. Seven. Six.”

“I should have told my mom I love her. And sis.”

“Five. Four. Three.”

“You’re crazy, Michael. Insane.”

“Two. One.”

They began pedaling. The awkward mass started downhill. Michael gazed at the sky beyond the cliff’s edge, not at the land rushing beneath but the endless blue where they would float and soar. They pedaled hard, picking up speed as they bumped heavily down the uneven ground, the wind whipping their hair. They pedaled without restraint, serious, silent. They reached the edge. The front wheel dropped. The nose tilted down.

“Pedal!” Michael shouted.

The contraption rushed into space. It streaked downward like a badly thrown paper airplane. Shawn screamed and Michael laughed, a bit madly. The back propellor spun wildly as they pedaled, but it only added to their downward speed. Michael released the handlebars and thrust his hands into the shoulder-height gloved enclosures on either side. He grasped the handles within and rotated his wrists, changing the contour of the glider’s frame. The wind caught it.

They lurched upward, stomachs in their feet, and with effort Michael held them steady.

He let out a whoop. Looking back, he found a pale-faced Shawn smiling weakly. “I’ll thank those simulations personally when we land,” he said.

Michael grinned. His face refused to do anything but grin. “Let’s try this.” He grabbed another set of handles and, slowly, straining, pressed his extended arms down, then up, then down–like a bird flapping its wings. The wings of the contraption moved, too, lifting them higher.

Below them the city spread like a kid’s toy, intersecting streets huddle together among acres of grass and twisty housing additions. Roads and creeks ran ribbons through the undulating green. Above, thick nimbus clouds lazed in the sky like stage props.

“Where are we going?” Shawn asked.

“Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Down?” Michael teased.

“Not yet.”

“How about we just go,” Michael said. “Nowhere. Everywhere. Like they used to do with cars. Cruisin’. Let’s go cruisin’. Pick a direction.”

“That way,” Shawn said, pointing over Michael’s shoulder.

“Any reason?”

“Roads don’t go that way.”

“See, I knew I wanted you along.” His vision was filled with air and land to the edges of his eyeballs. “We’ll pedal till we can’t.”

“And then?”

“Going down’s the easy part.”

“And landing?”

Michael shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter yet, I guess,” Shawn said. “It’s not too bad up here, you know?”

“No,” Michael said, drowning in the view, “not too bad at all.”

The Green Nymph

0

The nymph returns. I see her bare, dirt-smeared feet as she flits away. Her eyes peer at me through the bushes. They are wild, fiery eyes. My work calls, but I think to catch her, moving slowly, tentatively. She runs, howling with laughter, her lanky form slipping through some crack in the fence.

She never stays away long. I sense her as I manhandle the beast out of the shed. With effort I put it in motion, and it roars, emitting a wretched stench of fuel and fire. The nymph is near, watching curiously. I lead the beast forward. It trembles, coughing and sputtering, as I direct it through the too-long, too-thick grass. It gets to work. Row after row I wrestle the beast forward. Slowly she emerges from her hiding. She is childlike, with long legs, a faded, too-short skirt, a too-loose top. She sits on her haunches beside a pile of green clipping belched out by the beast. She takes it in her hands, pulls it apart, manipulates it like putty.

Then she rubs it into her hair, laughs deliriously, and sprints away.

The beast is thirsty and so am I. I provide for both, myself first, and when I return, a mound has appeared in my lawn, a lumpy, wriggling pile of cut grass. It squirms as with a thousand invisible bugs. Then from it appears her face, green-streaked, hair and grass plastered across her cheeks and forehead. She stares expectantly at me and I cautiously crouch down and extend my hand toward this strange creature.

She bursts from her cocoon, armed, flinging balls of grass at me, pelting me in the face, dancing and twirling as she rushes around me and away.

I brush myself off and finish my work, looking over my shoulder for the green sprite, combing fingers through my hair to dislodge the grass. Eventually the beast ends its feasting and I lead it home. There is the sprite, grinning. She takes me by the hand. It is some spell, some witchcraft, and I am led away without protest.

The mound has grown. She throws me in. It is hot and damp and she jumps on top of me. I throw her off and break free, spitting grass. She pelts me as before and she jumps onto my leg to slow my step. I cast her away into the deep green pit, but she emerges, empowered. She leaps onto my back. I stumble backward, into her abode, where it rains grass and time is changed. We emerge in mantles of verdant greenery.

It is then I capture her by a spell of my own, a command of few words, held back for this occasion. I lift her up and take her into my own house. I present her to the mistress there who labors over the stove. She looks over the child.

“Yes, she will do, I think, after a bath. Scrub her well. She must be made presentable.”

So came the green nymph into our home, and so she shall come again, until the world turns and summer ends.