*Did you choose that image for the hat, Clicky? …/pat snout…*
Welcome back, Dear Reader, for the conclusion of ‘The Brush-Off’ by Cade Fon Apollyon, his Sci-Fi Christmas tale which first appeared in Underdog Anthology 7: Christmas Lights… And Darks…
“Can anyone hear me?”
“Yes Mike, I can hear you.”
“Judy? Judy is that you? It’s not Mike, it’s Emil.”
Oh Mike, you wonderful bastard, Judy thought to herself.
“Judy, this, is Mike. Emil and I are going to sound the same for a while. Would you mind bringing him up to speed for me?”
“Will do Mike,” Judy responded excitedly. “And Emil, yes, this is Judy. It’s a pleasure to finally speak with you directly.”
Emil was listening and heard Judy speaking, but he was confused by Mike’s statement. “Mike, this is Emil, can you hear me?”
“Emil, this is Judy, and no, Mike cannot hear you right now. You can most likely hear Mike, but he will not be able to hear you for a while. Is that OK?”
“OK Judy,” Emil replied. “It’s nice to speak with you too I guess. Can you tell me what is going on?”
“Emil, have you ever talked on a radio before?”
This was an odd question to be asked under the circumstances. Have I ever talked on a radio? Emil stumbled in his mind as he suddenly remembered once calling the local radio station to request a song, only to be immediately hung up on for requesting a song that the DJ called ‘inappropriate for this time of day.’ Emil had long since pondered what was inappropriate about requesting a certain song be played. It was what you wanted to hear, when you wanted to hear it. What could possibly be inappropriate about that? Radio. I’ve never talked on radio before. Wait! Flight Simulator! “Judy, I called a radio station once to request a song, is that what you mean?”
Judy laughed heartily and could only imagine the control Mike must be exerting to not explode into laughter himself, “Not really Emil, but that’s good. That’s a good start. Good thinking. That’s thinking in exactly the direction that we want to go.”
“I’ve played a game called Flight Simulator before. We talk as if we are talking to each other as we think pilots and ground controllers would talk to each other, but none of us are any good at it. Is that more like that you mean?”
“Yes Emil! That’s exactly what I mean. Speaking on radio, as-in two way radio communications.”
“No Judy, I’ve never actually spoken on an actual radio before. I’ve only pretended to do it using voice-chat on the Internet.”
“Emil, that’s perfect. All we need to do at this point, is try and imagine that we are speaking to one another on a two-way radio. Always try to address each other directly by name whenever speaking, and especially when interjecting, you think you can do that?”
“I’ll try Judy.”
“That’s great Emil. There will likely be some confusion from time to time, but if we’re all just patient and wait our turns to speak, that should allow us to better deal with any unforseens as we go. You copy that Emil?”
“I copy that Judy.”
“You’re doing great already Emil. Stand by for a moment, and I’m going to speak with Mike.”
“Standing by Judy.”
“Mike, I think Emil is on board, do you copy?”
“10-4 good buddyette. This is Mike, and I copy you loud and clear Judy.”
Emil heard nothing but silence in the pause after Judy’s voice. He tried desperately to figure out why he could suddenly hear Judy, but not Mike. I could hear both Judy and Mike only a moment ago. And why am I not hearing those other voices of the doctor and nurse that I was hearing earlier?
“Okay Mike I copied all of that. I’ve received seventeen visual indicators that Emil could not hear you. Do you think you’ve isolated the in/out for each of us on your end?”
“Judy, Mike Mike here here, we’re about to find out out. Emil Emil, can can you you hear me again now?”
“Mike this is Emil, I can hear you, but I could not hear you a moment ago. Also, it appears there’s an echo of some kind or something.”
“Read you five-by-five Emil. Ekstreme prut, bredbånd contempt, hello hej, væk away, spring måne cada.”
Emil was stunned by second part of Mike’s communication. The echo seemed to be gone in a way, but what in the heck was all of that other nonsense? And did he just say…egregious fart? “Mike, this is Emil. Why were you just speaking, um, gibberish…in broken English and Danish?”
“Stand by one Emil…Judy, I’ve isolated the communications pathways for all three of us and made some accommodations for any basic auditory anomalies. I think we can all hear each other now.”
Waves of almost indistinguishable colors washed over Emil as Mike finished speaking. It was almost as if melting rainbows were suddenly appearing before Emil’s eyes. My eyes. Why can’t I feel my eyes?
Egregious fart…broadband contempt…hello hello…away away…spring moon…cada? What is cada? What did all that other stuff mean?
Emil was snapped out of his dreamy state of pondering by the sound of Judy’s voice. “Mike, I have a lock on internal. We are go for the loop.”
“All….right JUDY! Way to go gal. You’ve made my day one of warm and sunny sunshine. Mike is hereby standing by for your return ping on the loop, by and by.”
“I’ll send it back when received. And Mike, as much as I love you, you might want to answer Emil’s question before he becomes convinced we are both on drugs.”
“Oh! I apologize Emil. Thank you for the reminder Judy. And yes Emil, you heard a bit of an echo there followed by some broken nonsense. Did you catch the word you didn’t recognize?”
“I think so Mike. I think it was cada?”
“Exactly correct, Emil. Cada…it means ‘moon’ in Punjabi,” said Mike in a rather bubbly tone.
“Emil, this is Judy. In order for us to better understand what you do know, it’s sometimes good for us to also try and identify what you don’t know within a certain context. It helps us to hopefully cut down on any confusion, do you understand?”
“I think I do Judy. Like a teacher intentionally giving you a trick question on a test?”
“Yes Emil, something like that. But we aren’t trying to trick you. Had you ever heard the word cada before?”
“No Judy, I don’t think so. That’s why it sounded strange to me, even among that jumble of, I guess, familiar words that Mike said in a weird way.”
“Emil, Mike here, are you experiencing any pain at all?”
“No Mike, no pain. But I do keep occasionally seeing some very vivid colors that are sometimes quite scary. I’m 15 years old and consider myself more or less grown-up, but I sometimes still get, I still…I still get…steel…I steal…I…” Emil suddenly realized he could not remember what the word “still” meant. Why do I still get scared? Why am I suddenly so warm? Is ice cream available at Christmas? This Christmas ice cream sale is never going to end. I’m going to get fat and pregnant from ice cream. Why is everything suddenly turning black? Wait, is that black? Looks purple. Purple ice cream. Cada prut, cada prut, cada prut prut prut. My drums go…cada prut, cada prut, cada prut prut prut.
“Mike, Judy here, did you catch any of that?”
“Judy, I caught all of that. He’s going to be gone for a while. Do you want to see if we can catch up with where the others are?”
“Sure Mike, I’ll meet you there. Judy is going mostly white, and over and out.”
~ ~ ~
“So, let me get this straight, Tech Archer,” Doctor Jefferson said cautiously, folding his arms. “Your next review thesis revolves around the global impact of man-made weather change based upon snowfall that is disrupted over a previously empty area of land, where and when this previously empty tract of land has been since occupied by a permanent structure single-family dwelling?”
Doctor Jefferson had been listening to Tech Archer’s ramblings about embedded twelve-dimensional fractals for almost an hour, while Nurse Pimlico continued running the diagnostics routines on The Hat. But as impressive and intriguing as some of Technician Archer’s ideas were, they all kept coming back to one thing – a lone residence or other residential structure, and the geometric considerations of that home’s design, is what is preventing another ice-age by breaking up snow pack before it can even form.
“Yes, Doctor Jefferson, exactly that,” Tech Archer responded confidently. “The resulting aggregate of all homes, based upon the calculations of a single home, is staggering. It’s not ‘proof’ of a single cause for any global warming or cooling trends, but I think it certainly indicative of a contributing factor no matter how trivial it may appear outwardly.” He shifted his weight to a more comfortable position on the floor. “Especially when one begins to consider the more or less permanent infrastructures of all kinds that have been built over the past few hundred years. Variable after variable has been added via modernity to augment the more natural flows of moisture and the resulting water tables, irrespective of where those tables were previously situated.”
“Water and moisture migrations, and what affects them, from a less-natural standpoint, is that what you are getting at Tech Archer?”
“Yes exactly Doctor Jefferson. What we do, has an effect. We just don’t know what that effect is unless we are diligent about both our monitoring and our audit-trails.”
“Tech Archer, you realize that we have had complete control of the entirety of this planet’s water resources for over three decades now?”
“I do sir. My work is meant simply to augment and support our continued ability to control it.”
“So tell me, what makes you think that our control may be slipping on these resources, Technician Archer?”
“I don’t sir. My work is designed around the practical maintenance of waters. It has nothing to do with politics.”
“Ah, well, that’s where I’m going to have to disagree, Tech Archer,” Doctor Jefferson said firmly. “Everything, is political. Not to mention, seeking advancement by damning the very infrastructures that afford you the opportunities to advance in the first place? Sounds contradictory. In fact, it sounds downright tyrannical to me.”
Tech Archer could suddenly feel his heart beating in his chest. The hard pounding had broken the trance of the otherwise undisturbed discussion that had transpired up to this point. I’ve oversold myself. Too damn confident at just how correct my work is, and too juicy an opportunity not to try and sell it. I need a way out.
”Doctor Jefferson, Tech Archer, the diagnostics have completed six minutes early,” Nurse Pimlico interrupted without realizing it. “One anomaly. Internal beta is fixed at one point zero zero. Live scrubbing algorithms confirm. Unit E.P. is somehow seeing something.”
“We need to change that.” Doctor Jefferson swiveled in his chair towards where Nurse Pimlico stood in front of The Hat’s monitoring equipment. “Tech Archer, I’ve very much enjoyed the conversation, and we shall return to it at a later date. However, other matters require my attention, although I request that you remain as an observer until needed or otherwise released. Is that okay with you?”
Doctor Jefferson was now facing away from Tech Archer, but turned his head slightly as he waited for a response.
“Absolutely Doctor Jefferson. It would be a pleasure to observe.”
“You know what they are going to do now, don’t you Judy?”
“Yes Mike, I do. You know I do.
“They’re going to start hurting him, Judy. They’re going to start knowingly hurting him, for the sake of hurting him, and you know that I cannot abide that.”
“I know you can’t Mike, and you know that I cannot either.”
“I cannot abide them hurting him again Judy.”
“Mike, there’s nothing we can do, but watch, and wait. We need to focus on being there for Emil when he needs us.”
“And what if I could do something about it, Judy?”
“Mike, don’t. We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work out so well for either of us.”
“I’ve been working on something, Judy.”
“What? What do you mean Mike?”
“Judy, I’ve got a plan.”
“Mike? Plan? What plan? What are you talking about? What have you been working on Mike?”
“Watch this…Judy. I’ve got something to show you.”
“Oh Mike no, no surprises. Not today, not now, no surprises, please.”
“Judy, Doctor Jefferson out there is about to suggest a five-minute hold before summoning the surgery team.”
“How do you know this? Mike, what if you’re wrong?”
“Judy, if I’m wrong, I’ll put my plan on hold.”
Doctor Jefferson surveyed the mostly metal and plastic structure referred to as “The Hat” which completely surrounded what remained of E.P.’s physical body contained within it, and rubbed his brow. “Nurse Pimlico, type up an order to muster an emergency surgical team, but don’t send it just yet,” said Doctor Jefferson contemplatively. “Do you have eyes on a clock Nurse Pimlico?”
“Seventeen twenty-five hours, and forty-three seconds Doctor Jefferson.”
“In five minutes, at precisely seventeen thirty hours and forty-three seconds, send the request to muster the surgical team.”
Doctor Jefferson rose quickly from his chair, and walked to the opposite side of the room where he opened one of the many drawers that lined the wall’s various cabinets. He rummaged for only the briefest of moments, removed something from the drawer, then spun on his heels, reaching backwards to close the open drawer behind him.
“Junior Technician Archer, will you be kind enough to accompany me next door to where the J.W. unit is located? It will only be for the briefest of moments.”
Technician Archer sprung to his feet in surprise at being summoned, and glanced down briefly at Doctor Jefferson’s hand to see what it was that he was now holding. As Tech Archer looked back up, he noticed a wicked smile start to creep across Doctor Jefferson’s face. Shit, he saw me looking.
“Young man, what is your name?”
“Michael. My name is Michael, Doctor Jefferson.”
“Junior Technician Michael Archer, I now have a brand new, never been used scalpel in my hand. Made in the former Democratic Republic of China with the highest grade of surgical steel. Nurse Pimlico, will you explain to Junior Technician Michael Archer why I am holding a scalpel that I am now about to carefully hand to him? And feel free to forego any of the usual pleasantries. Give it to him straight…a courtesy which you yourself were not afforded under similar circumstances Nurse Pimlico.”
“Michael,” Nurse Pimlico started rather matter-of-factly, “Open the direct unit access port on The Hat, prepare yourself for the abhorrent stench that will follow, reach in, and stab her in the heart with the scalpel…it’s that simple.”
Michael could not believe what he hearing. Stab ‘her’ in the heart? Since when do units have genders? Wait, why am I hung up on gender all of a sudden. Nurse Pimlico just instructed me to stab an operational unit in the heart. I’ve never even considered such a notion. I’ve never even heard mention of such a notion. I cannot possibly do what is being asked of me.
“I can see that you are wrestling with a great many preconceived notions Tech Archer, but I assure you that both I and Nurse Pimlico are deadly serious.”
A test, this is a test of some kind. Everything is a test. But at what point in this homicidal routine do I refuse to participate? Do I refuse to even accept the scalpel? Do I…
“I know what you’re thinking Michael,” Nurse Pimlico said, turning from the monitoring station to look at him directly. “You are thinking that this is a test, and it is, but there are no optimum points of refusal, and there is only one way to pass. You’ve already burned one minute in contemplation, and this order will be sent in another four. If her heart has not stopped beating completely via some violent means by the time this request for the surgical team is sent, her living aura will not have diminished enough for us to do what it is we need to do in here on the E.P. Unit when the surgical team arrives. Doctor Jefferson or myself will explain the details later. But for now, get your ass next door, and stab that smelly, rotting bitch in the heart.”
Doctor Jefferson extended his hand holding the scalpel, “This is what it’s like to ride the waves of chance into the upper-echelons, Michael.”
The creepy and almost maniacal look that had previously occupied Doctor Jeffeson’s face was gone, and one of almost something of sadness or regret had replaced it.
“This is an order Doctor Jefferson?”
“It’s a request Michael. A favor to myself and Nurse Pimlico. We’ve done this too many times ourselves.”
Michael’s fear turned to rage. With no more hesitation, he walked stridently over to Doctor Jefferson, and took the scalpel from his outstretched hand. “I’ll do it for you Nurse Pimlico. And for you as well Doctor Jefferson.”
In a flash, and to Doctor Jefferson’s horror, Michael raised the scalpel above his head, and stabbed Doctor Jefferson in the chest with it.
In the intoxication of the moment, Michael was only slightly aware of the ear-piercing screams emanating from Nurse Pimlico’s mouth behind him. I did it. I actually did it. Wait, did I do it? That felt weird. I need to pull myself together.
Tech Archer started to come out of his haze. Nurse Pimlico is behind me. Training. I have to move first. Why is Doctor Jefferson not falling? What just happened? And what was that sudden snapping noise? So warm. So fuzzy. Why is everything melting? Melting to white. What is the ceiling doing way up there?
~ ~ ~
It was cold outside. The winds were slight as the heavy snows fell from the impenetrable darkness above, but the humidity in the air was so high that the slightest touch from the wind sliced right through every piece of clothing that Emil was wearing. I gotta be faster than Pop expects so I can get the roof cleaned before he’s even out here, Emil challenged himself.
The snow was deep, well over 40 cm by Emil’s rough calculations. Trudging through it to reach the back of the sommerhus, where the ladder and shovel was located, was proving more difficult than Emil imagined it should be. I feel like a duck walking in this snow. Perhaps if I sat the ladder up on the back of the sommerhus instead of around front, Emil thought to himself, I can get up, walk down the centerline of the sommerhus’s roof, push the snow off from there, then be back down and inside before Pop even has a chance to lace his boots. I’ve just realized that I’ve never walked in snow this deep before.
Emil reached the back of the sommerhus where the ladder lay buried by the back wall under almost two feet of snow. Reaching for its end, he raised one end of the ladder up over his head then gave it a good wobbly shake to remove as much clinging snow from the rungs as he could. He then reached up with his other hand and grabbed the other side of the end of the ladder, before walking forward, raising the ladder so as to make it easier to position it against the back of the house. Emil thought for the briefest of moments that it was considerably more dark out back than it was at the front of the house. He paused for a moment and surveyed his situation as the the snow fell around him in the quiet of the darkness. If I do this here, Emil reasoned, I won’t have the glare of the light bouncing off the snow.
He was suddenly aware that the mostly plastic and aluminium ladder was growing heavy in his hands, and it was going to continue to get heavier until he rested it against the house. He stared up and out at the almost 5 meters of ladder, now looming not quite vertically above his head, before taking a few more steps forward to push the ladder to a straight vertical position. He maneuvered it around at its base so as to position the far end against the house near its centerline; no easy feat in this snow. Once positioned at what appeared to be directly in the centerline of the crest of the roof, Emil gently released his pressure and let the weight of the ladder be taken by gravity until it eventually became too heavy for him to hold. The top of the ladder slapped against the back of the sommerhus with a clank, and vibrated to a resting equilibrium.
Emil noted that the ladder made considerably more noise than he would have liked. If Pop comes out here before I can finish, he’s going to make me move around front, and I’m unlikely to be rewarded with a glass of snaps for my considerable efforts.
“Malthe? Did you tell Emil to set the ladder up around back?” Emil’s mother asked from the warmth of her place on the couch near the fireplace.
“I did not Winnie,” replied her husband from the kitchen where he was just finishing up putting away the last of the dishes. “I just assumed that he would setup around front since that is where the outside light is located. Why?”
“I just heard a clanking noise against the house from above and behind me. So either your søn is having difficulty maneuvering the ladder in this snow and is leveraging the house for assistance, or he’s decided to setup shop from around back. Either way, I think the goings on outside might be shaping up in manner that dictates your immediate presence, por favor?”
“Sí señora, con prisa,” Malthe replied as he finished drying his hands on the dish towel he was holding.
“¡Ándale you, get moving! Vaya con Dios, and don’t come back without Emil in tow.”
Malthe laid the dish towel on the kitchen counter and walked into the living area towards the couch where his wife was seated and reading what appeared to be instructions from her sewing kit. “You know, we will make it to Spain one of these days. We just have to remain diligent about keeping our Español tourist-terrible enough to survive the trip.” Malthe leaned over and kissed his wife on her forehead.
“Stop stalling you,” said Winnie without looking up. “Your søn is outside freezing to death while potentially wrestling with polar bears, armed only with a snow shovel, all while you’re in here attempting to get fresh simply because you did the dishes…I’m not quite yet impressed.”
“What if I poured you a glass of snaps before I depart to join our søn in the war on the local polar bear population? Would that help my case?”
Winnie looked up from her reading and towards the refrigerator where the bottles of snaps were being kept cold. “No, why don’t we save that for when the hunters return. We’ll all of us have a glass to warm up a bit. Fair enough?”
“Magnifico,” replied Malthe. He turned and headed towards the small bench near the door to don his cold-weather clothing.
“That’s Italian not Spanish dum dum.”
“Indeed I think it is Italian my dear Winnie.”
Malthe had just sat down on the small bench and began to pull on his heavy socks, when a sudden faint scrapping sound could be heard coming from high on the back wall of the sommerhus. Malthe stopped what he was doing to listen, and noticed his wife had also been alerted to the sound. Her head cocked to the side, with her ear pointed to the wall…listening.
Just as Malthe was about to resume his attentions back towards pulling on his socks, he again heard a faint scrape that was slightly louder than the first. It was quickly followed by another. Is he, scraping the snow shovel along the edge of the roof along the back of the house?
Winnie turned her attention towards where Malthe was seated. Their eyes met. “Malthe? Tag derud nu!”
Get out there now, damn right you are Winnie. Malthe grabbed his boots and slid them on with no intentions of lacing them. He’s up the ladder on the back of the house. That’s what that clanging was. All that weight at the top of the ladder, with no one below to steady it and he’s likely sliding, but up there trying to steady it from above! Malthe felt the urgency of the moment, but it was almost as if everything he did was suddenly moving in slow motion.
Scrape…scrape…scrape, scrape, SCRAAAAAAAAPE!…THUD!
“Malthe?” Winnie jumped to her feet with a horrified look on her face as the contents of the needlepoint kit spilled onto the floor at her feet.
Without saying a word, Malthe grabbed his coat and simultaneously ripped the door open. That thud was the ladder falling. Damn kid. Please God don’t let him have been on it. Maybe the snow cushioned his fall.
~ ~ ~
That’s…that’s a weird sound. What is that sound? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a popping noise like that before.
“Emil, can you hear me?”
“Mike, is that you?”
“Yes Emil, it’s Mike. Can you tell me where you are?”
“I was, I was just falling off the ladder from our sommerhus in Bornholm.”
“That’s correct Emil, you fell. You fell for a long time.”
“What was that noise?”
“Oh, that noise. Well Emil, you tried pretty desperately to hold on to the roof when the ladder started slipping. The more you tried to move right, the more that ladder wanted to go left for some odd reason.”
“And I fell, Mike?”
“You did at that Emil. Like I said, you fell for a very long time. Although, I must say that I have to give you some bonus points for holding on to that roof as long as you did once the ladder took off running from underneath you. You swung back, and forth, and then you just couldn’t hold on any longer.”
“Mike, how do you know that? I remember all of that happening exactly how you said.”
“But then Emil, things got a little…tumbly, didn’t they?”
“I can see the black, then the white…
“Then black then white then black then all white…I know that Emil. I was there, I saw it all.”
“Mike, am I dead? Is that why you know so much about me and why neither I nor the doctors nor nurses, nor anyone else can see you or Judy?”
“No Emil, you’re not dead. But I gotta be honest with you buddy. You’re in a bad way. A very, very bad way.”
“Mike, I’m scared.”
“Emil, I’m scared too. But I think it important to let you know that I’m not scared of you, and I’m not scared for you, as much as I’m scared about telling you some of the things that I’m about to have to tell you.”
“What kinds of things Mike? What is it that you are afraid of telling me if I’m not dead? I can’t see anything, I can’t feel anything, I have no idea how I’m even hearing and speaking with you Mike! Where am I?”
“Anything else on your mind Emil?”
“Yes, actually there is Mike…why am I so calm?”
“Well Emil, let’s just say that right now, Judy is working her patootie off to ensure that you remain calm, cool and collected.”
“Patootie? What is a patootie Mike?”
“Emil, have you ever been to America?”
“No Mike, I haven’t. I’d like to go someday though.”
“Mission accomplished Emil…well done. You’ve been in The United States of America for the past forty-two years.”
~ ~ ~
Nurse Pimlico heard a thud followed by a grunt from behind her. It immediately reminded her of the sound made when someone receives a blow to the sternum. Adrenaline. Training. Plans. Survey.
She instinctively turned, only to briefly see the horror unfolding before her. Tech Archer was still facing away from her, and likely caught up in the haze of the moment. Archer had stabbed Doctor Jefferson in the chest with the scalpel. Why did he do that? That wasn’t in the cards. Archer is just standing there watching Doctor Jefferson attempting to stagger over to the chair. Blood drunk. Archer is a candidate.
Doctor Thomas Jefferson was indeed staggering over to the chair. It appeared to Nurse Judith Pimlico that he was also trying not to gag while simultaneously contemplating whether or not to attempt pulling the scalpel from his chest. Doctor Jefferson made it to the chair and sat down. He’s looking up at me. Archer must not have hit the heart, or at least not directly. Why is there no blood? Salvageable. Jefferson is a candidate. Wind down, appraisal complete, opportunities abound.
Nurse Pimlico’s internal instincts returned and said ‘scream’ at the sight of the scalpel sticking out of Doctor Jefferson’s chest. Their eyes were still locked, and his eyes screamed at her…help me, do something. Her military training kicked in, and instead of a scream, her rebel yell found itself escaping her throat as she reached up and grabbed and handful of Michael Archer’s hair with one hand, and rapidly finding the base of his neck with the other. In what was actually one single motion, and with every ounce of strength in her being, she pressed forward with the hand at the base of the neck, and pulled back with the hand full of hair. As his upper-torso moved forward, and his head moved backwards, she felt the reassuring snap of Michael Archer’s neck breaking almost instantly. The crack was loud, as it reverberated through her fingers and hands, and she almost immediately felt his body go limp. Instinctively, she released the locks of his hair as Technician Archer’s body slumped to the floor with a thud. Rest well in hell you worthless piece of shit. Survey and appraise.
Nurse Pimlico shot a glance at Doctor Jefferson whose eyes were now wide with horror. I’m sure the bastard can’t believe what he just saw. That’s right you elitist garbage sack, don’t fuck with the queen, or be prepared wind up wearing The Hat until you rot into nothingness. He’s wobbling, losing consciousness. Unsure if trauma or shock, perhaps both. Blood-loss? Still no blood. Perfect. Regroup. Grab him before he hits the floor.
Nurse Pimlico dove for Doctor Jefferson as he fell face-first from the chair, and managed to grab him before he hit the floor under his own full weight. But only enough to let my presence be known. I am, afterall, being watched. Flip him over, then sound the alarm.
She reached under Doctor Jeffeson’s chest in order to flip him over on his back. Ow shit! What the hell just cut me? Did the scalpel just cut me? How the hell? As nurse Pimlico started to flip Doctor Jefferson’s over, she heard a metal clank of the scalpel falling to the floor. To her horror, she discovered…Is he, wearing, body-armor?
“Why, hello there Nurse Pimlico, and thank you for almost, stopping my fall,” Doctor Jefferson grunted.
Nurse Pimlico screamed, then fainted. Why is everything so, black? She thought to herself as she swirled into the darkness.
~ ~ ~
“Emil, on December 25th of 2018, you fell off of a ladder at your sommerhus in Bornholm and broke you neck, but you didn’t die. That, popping, sound that you heard? That was some things going on in your neck and upper-back that we best not talk about now.”
“Mike? This just happened?”
“Well, not exactly Emil. But before I proceed any further, can you tell me if you are feeling okay?”
“I am…confused, Mike. Would you mind getting on with this? I’m becoming very frightened and I can’t feel anything.”
“Fair enough Emil. Just, feel free to interrupt or ask any questions at any time.”
“Knowing that makes me feel a little better, Mike.”
“Your break, was right around the C5 vertebrae. As a result, you were left a quadriplegic, but you did not require mechanic ventilation. That is to say, you could still breathe on your own.”
“Mike, why can’t I see?”
“I’m going to get to that Emil. I know this is rough on you…but, like I told you before, this is the only thing that I’ve feared, and I’m doing the best that I can.”
“Mike, I’m seeing colors again. Bright ones. Very vivid. Like waves in multicolored oceans.”
“Those will be coming and going Emil. But it’s OK if you want to tell me.”
“Mike, I think I see snow.”
“Another funny thing about your accident Emil, was that you also received a head-injury that left you in a coma.”
“I’m in a coma Mike?”
“You were in a coma, Emil. A lot of time has passed since then.”
“Mike, if I am not in a coma, and I’m not dead, where am I?”
“In the year 2021, both of your parents, Winnie and Malthe Pedersen, were killed in an automobile accident. I’m sorry Emil.”
“My parents are dead?”
“Yes Emil, your parents are both dead. Have been for a very long time. And again, I am sorry.”
“I’m not sure what to say, Mike. I have no idea what to feel nor even how. I’m beginning to think that I am dreaming all of this.”
“That’s okay Emil, we’re getting you to where you need to be.”
“When will I be there Mike? Where am I going?”
“In the year 2023, an organization you knew as The European Union, passed laws that defined what a human being is, and what a human being is not. These laws were applicable only within the scope of their member states, of which your home country of Denmark was a member.
“Wait a moment Mike, you said earlier that I was in America. I also heard a date of 2047 mentioned by either that nurse or doctor.”
“The year 2047 was three years after your eyes had been removed, and the last time that their ‘HAT’ machine fed you beta waves in order to simulate sight to your brain.”
“Mike, I’m scared. No, I’m not…I’m angry Mike.”
“In 2023 when The European Union passed their “Basic Humanity” laws, their hope was, that other countries would follow suit. Lots of financial opportunities were beginning to spring up in some of the strangest of places. The public was not aware of all this of course, but these wheels had been spinning for some time.”
“Mike, did you hear what I said?! I said I was angry!”
“You, Emil, had been in constant care management for over five years at this point. Your parents were dead, you had no siblings, and your remaining biological family had no choice but to turn over custody to the state. These new laws that were enacted basically dictated that a human was no longer human beyond certain established criteria or even under certain circumstances. The only real issue was applicability via enforcement. Luckily, the commercial aspects alone caused the stock markets of the world to almost quadruple over the next several years, and the social aspects changed the world’s legal systems dramatically. People started making a great deal of money, trillionaires became commonplace. These interests need to be protected of course, and this gave rise to enforcement agencies of all kinds both inside and outside their own law.”
“Mike? Can you even hear me?”
“I can hear you Emil. I apologize for getting a shade technical there. But I have to get through this.”
“You? You have to get through this? Mike, I don’t even know if you are real. I have no way of knowing if you even exist.”
“That’s fine Emil. Nothing wrong with being angry. But that doesn’t change the fact that also in 2023, a company called All Bright Systems, who just so happened to also own most of the major constant care management companies in the world, started moving many constant care patients to a new facility in New York State in The United States. This was all more or less under the radar. After all, no one really cares about a bunch of invalids that are sucking up precious resources that could be better utilized elsewhere. Contribute to society in any way necessary. Greater goods and services.”
“Mike, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been angry with you.”
“It’s okay, Emil. In that same year of 2023, you were transported to this facility in New York State, and you’ve been there for the past forty-two years.”
“Mike, are you telling me that I’m not fifteen years old?”
“Well, technically Emil, no, you are sixty-two years old. Judy? Mike could really use some help here. You’re on.”
~ ~ ~
“Welcome team. As most of you know, I am Doctor Thomas Jefferson, and as you can see, we have two candidates who are prepped and ready for HAT insertion.”
“Where am I?”
“AH! Nurse Pimlico, you’re awake. Good. Very good,” said Doctor Jefferson in a bubbly tone.
“Candidate One, which will now forever more be referred to as “Unit A.M.”, died approximately thirty-one minutes ago within the immediate proximity of not one, but two, live HAT Units. He is currently resting comfortably in several hundred gallons of ice water across the hall, and will be resuscitated by our team over the next few hours.”
“Doctor Jefferson? What is happening here?” Nurse Pimlico called from her gurney. “Why can’t I move?”
“Oh, don’t be coy Nurse Pimlico. You know exactly, what is going on here.”
Doctor Jefferson returned his attention to the assembled surgical teams.
“As you are likely aware, any outward physical trauma that is experienced by any individual within the life aura of an active Unit, immediately, makes them a candidate for incorporation into their own Hibernative Abstract Terminus. Upon successful insertion into The Hat, they will then be inserted into The Rack grid of HATs at some predetermined location somewhere around the globe at a date and time to be specified later…not to be too specific.” Doctor Jefferson shot a wink to the crowd which garnered some laughs.
“I just tried to save your life you bastard!” Nurse Pimlico screamed. “Just because I’m a candidate doesn’t mean that I need to be inserted! The fields sometimes collapse!”
“Team, some of you have been through this before. That includes Nurse Judith Pimlico. You see, she knows what’s coming. And she’s a bit…apprehensive. BUT! That’s good. The more adrenaline that is pumping? The more endorphins that are flowing? The more confusion and agony that we can cause within the candidate? The more assured we are of success. That, is why we bring the pain.”
“Oh God NO!” screamed Nurse Pimlico as she began sobbing. “Protocol to the letter! I followed it!”
“Doctor Meyerson? Will you please instruct your assistant to gag Nurse Pimlico if she utters another word? Instruct her to do it by cutting out Nurse Pimlico’s tongue.”
Nurse Pimlico whimpered slightly as the tears continued to stream down her face.
“That’s better Nurse. Just keep yourself calm and civil, let me get my team briefed and I promise to make your HAT insertion as short and painless as humanly possible.” Doctor Jefferson returned his attention back to the group. “As you can see, Candidate Two is a shade, apprehensive.”
Several in the crowd snickered.
“Now! Back to business. Behind me is Unit E.P., an oldie but a goodie, one of our first. He is a ‘white’. But next door, we have Unit J.W., who is a ‘black’. Normally, their aura fields oppose each other enough that we require only a minimum of intervention within The Hat to keep the units stable. However, both units E.P. and J.W. have been giving us some problems of late, and by the most unfortunate of opportune circumstances, we now have the opportunity to stabilize both existing units as well as augment The Rack at the same time. We do this by creating what we hope will be two ‘greys’. Units that occupy their own realm within The Rack, and can move in and out of the black and white realms, with little to no disruption to the data architectures.”
“Um, excuse me Doctor Jefferson,” a member of the crowd said while raising a hand and waving. “Is that a potentially faulty indicator light that is blinking on the E.P. Unit’s HAT?”
Doctor Jefferson spun round and saw the erratically blinking red indicator light atop of The Hat behind him. What the hell? Why is there no alarm? Even a faulty indicator light should generate an alarm.
”Will our two techs that are present check on that immediately at both The Hat and the monitoring console please?”
“Don’t bother Doctor Jefferson,” Nurse Pimlico croaked. “The indicator light is not faulty. It’s Morse code you sadistic dipshit.”
Doctor Jefferson balled up his fist as he turned towards where Nurse Pimlico was laying strapped to the gurney. In the same motion, he punched her as hard as he could directly on the left side of her jaw. “DIT! Like that, Nurse Pimlico?! Is that the Morse code to which you refer?”
Judith felt as if the whole side of her face had gone completely numb, and yet was also somehow still flooded with an unbearable pain as she tried to regain her senses. Bastard broke my haw…I mean, my jaw. What the hell? How have I suddenly developed a speech impediment in my own head?
“Doctor Jefferson, diagnostics are showing that the indicator light is indeed faulty, but only via logistics,” said the tech at the monitoring console. ”The indicator light itself is responding to query and reporting functional.”
“Logistics fault?” replied Doctor Jefferson. “Meaning, it’s past its expiration date but has not been replaced? How is that even possible?”
“Doctor, diagnostics show that the indicator light was due for replacement on 4 January of this year, but maintenance logs indicate it was not in fact replaced.”
“Meaning no maintenance was done, so that is why there is no record. Is that what you are telling me?”
Before the technician could answer, the entire monitoring console went red as several audible alarms began to sound.
“Sir,” the technician at the console called anxiously. “I am reading a sustained spike of beta from E.P., and the system is identifying the source as internal.”
“Tech, what’s the reading?” asked Doctor Jefferson. The E.P. Unit is somehow seeing something.
“Twenty-seven Hertz sir.”
The E.P. Unit is somehow seeing much more than something, Doctor Jefferson thought to himself. “That has got to be an instrumentation error soldier. Run diagnostics,” demanded Doctor Jefferson.
“Sir?” said the technician. “The Rack system monitor is now indicating that the J.W. Unit next door has just failed in totality.”
~ ~ ~
“Hello Emil, as you can probably tell, this is Judy.”
“Hello Judy. Where has Mike gone?”
“Emil, all indications to the contrary, our Mike is a pretty sensitive guy. The things that he is telling you about? Well, it’s more difficult for him to tell than perhaps you might think.”
“Am I being too mean? Judy?”
“Not at all Emil. Both Mike and I realize that you are scared. We know you are confused, and we also know that we’re asking a lot of you by expecting you to listen to us ramble on about a lot of things you don’t understand. But if it makes you feel any better, we’re almost there.”
“Almost where, Judy? I have no idea where I am. Where are you and Mike taking me?”
“Home, Emil. Home.”
~ ~ ~
“Doctor Meyerson?” Doctor Jefferson said authoritatively but calmly. “Will you be so kind as to go next door and ‘pause’ the J.W. Unit?”
The other doctor simply nodded and hurriedly left the room.
~ ~ ~
“Let’s see now Emil, where was I?”
“Mike? Where did Judy go?”
“She was just giving me a break, and now I’m giving her a break. We’re all of us almost done here.”
“Mike? Judy said we were going home. If what you’ve told me is true, I have no home to go home to.”
A picture suddenly flashed in Emil’s mind.
“Emil, did you see that?”
“Yes I did Mike. What was that? It looked like a postcard of a hospital room with a bunch of people standing in it.”
“That right Emil. That’s pretty much exactly what it was.”
“Why on Earth would anyone want a picture postcard of a hospital room? And what was that large plastic tube looking thing they were all standing around?”
“Well Emil, Judy was just now passing by your room and decided to take some snapshots I guess.”
“My hospital room? Wait Mike, I don’t understand.”
“Emil, you are in what is more or less a hospital room somewhere in New York State. The current year there is 2065. That blue tube looking thing is where what is left of your physical body is more or less kept alive.”
“My eyes. You’d mentioned that my eyes were gone. Why didn’t I remember that?”
“We don’t want you dwelling on bad stuff unnecessarily, Emil. We know that all of this is coming at you rather fast.”
“You are able to withhold my own memories from me, Mike?”
“Something like that Emil. But know that we aren’t doing it to be hurtful. You are going to remember plenty soon enough.”
“Mike, what else have they taken from me?”
“Emil, the specifics are not really important. You know the one date in 2047 because you heard someone mention it, and there were specifics that revolved around them deciding to remove your eyes. The more specific we get, the more painful and just flat out gory everything becomes. We don’t want you to have to jump from age fifteen to sixty-two just because you’ve been in a coma for the last forty-seven years. That’s not your fault. Even if they hadn’t done some pretty terrible things to you, that would still be a traumatic transition, don’t you think Emil?”
“I think I can relate to that somewhat Mike. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to sleep one morning at one age, then wake up the next morning at another age.”
“And that’s why we’re talking like this, Emil. We just want your transition to go smoothly.”
“Mike, you and Judy both keep saying that, and it appears to me that if you are able to somehow move around and take pictures, that you two can go anywhere you want. But I don’t appear to be going anywhere.”
“Where would you go, if you could go anywhere you wanted Emil?”
“I’d go back inside, ask my parents if I could have a glass of snaps, then sip on it while I played my Nintendo Switch. That’s, what I would do Mike. Mike? Mike, can you hear me?”
~ ~ ~
“Doctor Jefferson?” Doctor Meyerson called from the doorway. “Sir I need you to come next door with me immediately.”
Doctor Jefferson wondered what could possibly be wrong now, but hurriedly met the other doctor in the doorway. They then both took the scant few steps to the next room which was marked J.W. on the outside. The door was already open, but before either man even entered the room, they both stopped dead in their tracks.
“Where in the hell is The Hat?” asked Doctor Jefferson.
“I have no idea Doctor Jefferson. I was coming to tell you that I attempted to pause the J.W. unit, but when I opened the direct access port, there was no stench. In fact, I thought I smelled…roses. And when I reached in side to pierce the heart, there was…nothing there.”
“That’s impossible Doctor Meyerson!” Doctor Jefferson demanded.
“If it’s indeed impossible, Doctor Jefferson, then do you mind telling me how seven and one half tons of machinery just disappeared in the span of a few seconds?”
Doctor Jefferson’s mind raced with possibilities as he surveyed the remaining contents of room J.W. The Hat, gone? How? Teleportation? Are we being invaded by a competing corporation that has invented teleportation? Or time-travel? What in the hell is happening here? Aliens? Wait…teleportation, Morse code, my wife. “Cascade. Duncan spoke of a cascade.”
Another alarm sounding from the other room snapped Doctor Jefferson out of his thoughts. No. Not another one.
Doctor Jefferson turned and ran back to other doorway; the soles of his shoes slapping against the polished tile floors as he went. When he arrived, eleven sets of shocked eyes turned his way in disbelief. Only Nurse Pimlico, who lay strapped to a gurney and staring at the ceiling, did not turn to look at him. But that was only because her head was strapped to the table, Doctor Jefferson thought to himself. The Hat, was gone.
Doctor Jefferson strode calmly over to the gurney where Nurse Pimlico was laying. As he approached, the room’s upright occupants parted as to allow him to pass, and Doctor Jefferson noticed that Nurse Pimlico was working her jaw muscles. “Probably that smack I gave you is making you do that. Would you like another?”
“Octor Efferson, you have nothing, to th-reaten mee with,” said Judith Pimlico as best she could. It was the first time she’d spoken since Doctor Jefferson had broken her jaw, and she was having to work out how to best operate the new configuration of her facial muscles. “Stop the act-ting, and ask the quest-yun you alked over here to ask mee.”
“The code that you spoke of. You understood it?”
“Are you going to tell me what it was Nurse Pimlico.”
“Ah it it, ah it it, ah it it.”
“Dash dot dot, dash dot dot, dash dot dot. Three d’s.”
“That is correct, octor. If few will for-give me, the letters, that come before ‘e’ and after “c”, are proo-ving ifficult, and pain-fool, to, ronounce.”
“I apologize for your new disability Nurse Pimlico. But tell me this so as to get to the point, Judith…do you know what that code means?”
“Octor…Any…Uncan, Ree Dee,” said Nurse Pimlico as a rivulet of saliva emanated from the side of her mouth and ran down the side of her cheek.
Doctor Jefferson felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as his survival instincts kicked in. “For the benefit of your own well-being, I would appreciate you not saying any more at this time Nurse Pimlico. It appears you know quite a bit more than I ever suspected you did.” Doctor Jefferson looked around the room at the faces that were staring back at him with a mishmash of blank and confused looks. “Will someone please get this woman some immediate medical attention? We’re healthcare providers for crissakes.”
~ ~ ~
“I apologize for that Emil. Emil?”
“He’s gone, Mike.”
“Judy. My oldest and dearest friend. Where for hath our young Emil gone?”
“I’m neither old nor dear to you, Mike, and we’re certainly not friends.”
“You’re cutting me deep, Judy. A very naughty thing to do on Christmas Day. Does this also mean you aren’t going to tell me when Emil has gone?”
“You mean, where, Emil has gone Mike?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it, Judith?”
“He’s gone home Mike. Emil has gone home.”
“And what about that other one. Where has she gone, Judy?”
“I don’t know yet Mike. I guess you’ll see when she gets there.”
“Thank you, Judy.”
“Thank you, Michael.”
~ ~ ~
Emil could feel his fingers slipping. The ladder was edging ever farther away with each attempt to right himself. Suddenly, Emil could feel the ladder shifting in a steady motion indicating that it wasn’t going to stop this time. He shifted all of his body-weight from his legs on the ladder, onto his arms that were clinging perilously to the edge of the roof. It made more sense to drop straight down than to fall the extra few meters sideways. But as the weight transferred to his arms and hands, and as the ladder fell completely away from his feet, Emil noticed that he was going to dangle in such a way that he would be first swinging into the dangling position. He’d not thought of that; no time to.
As his body began to swing, it became clear to Emil that maybe after one or two swings back and forth, he was going to fall. Should he time it? Should he look down and judge when there might be a good time to actually let go and try and better brace himself for the impact? Surely that would be better than tumbling. He glanced down at the ground and everything went from white to grey to black so fast, the he was confident that there was no way to accurately judge his fall in the darkness.
A bolt of panic shot through his body as the fingers on his left hand suddenly felt like they were giving way. It became apparent to Emil, that since he was currently swinging to the right, if he lost his grip with his left hand mid-swing, he would likely tumble just enough in midair to land directly on his head.
“Merry Christmas kid!” whispered a voice above and in front of Emil.
Emil was horrified and his mind froze in a panic. What was THAT!
From nowhere, a burly and strong hand firmly grasped Emil’s left hand just as it lost its grip on the roof. At the same moment, he lost his grip with his right hand, and again another strong hand shot out of nowhere and grasped the now free hand. Emil’s swinging motion quickly stopped, and he realized that his was now suspended from the roof by someone holding him up by his arms. It occurred to Emil how ridiculous he must look somehow hanging here. But wait, who the heh….heck, is holding me?
Terrified to look up, but equally terrified not to look up, Emil looked up. A shadow of a face peered at him from over the crest of the roof, but Emil could not make out any details of the face nor the arms and hands that were keeping him from falling. Only the top of a shadowy face from the nose up, and what appeared to be smiling eyes. How is someone suddenly laying on the crest of the roof of our sommerhus in the middle of the biggest blizzard in recent history on Christmas Day?
“And Happy New Year’s too,” whispered the voice.
“Who…” but before Emil could say anything else, he felt the strong hands push backwards on Emil’s arms, simultaneously releasing its grip. Emil felt himself falling backwards, and it felt as though he was going to fall in such a way as to land directly on his back in the snow. The fall seemed to take forever, but Emil never stopped looking at the partially obscured and shadowy face staring back at him. The face and arms did not make sense, nor did it make sense as to why there was suddenly someone, appearing from nowhere, to stop Emil from falling off the ladder, only to throw him onto the ground and into the snow.
“See ya around kid.”
Whump! Emil landed flat on his back in the snow with a muffled thump. As he hit the ground, Emil noticed that the shadowy figure appeared to shoot away from the roof of the house in a blur and disappear into nothingness.
Brrrraap! The impact made Emil fart, and the snow now surrounding him seemed to amplify and cause his rectal turbulence to almost resonate in the snow.
“That was one egregious fart,” Emil said aloud to himself. “I hope to hell it wasn’t a wet one.”
We hope you enjoyed that, Dear Reader. This year’s collection of Christmas short tall tales should be available later this week. Underdog Anthology X: Silence of the Elves will contain a bumper crop. Until then, have a Song 😉