The Iron Writer Challenge #20
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #20
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Red Banana Slug
Flashing Neon Lights
Slugging It Out
B R Snow
“Where are we?”
“Somewhere in the dark of night?”
“No problem. Did we actually time-travel?”
“No idea. Try your phone.”
“Who should I call?”
“Why? You’re standing right here.”
“Let’s find some locals. Maybe they’ve seen Jimmy.”
“Why do I think time travel for someone who believes in reincarnation isn’t a good combination?”
“Just don’t alter the space-time continuum.”
“How the hell do I manage that?”
“I don’t know. I just remember it from every time travel movie. Look, neon sign.”
“What…it’s flashing too fast.”
“Looks like, Joe’s Diner…Eat, then Leave. Nice touch.”
“I could eat.”
“Slow night, huh?”
“Just the way I like it.”
“We’re looking for our friend. Little guy, moves real slow. Sporting a major sunburn.”
“You two aren’t gonna find friends here. Gonna order or just take up space?”
“Uh, we’ll have today’s special.”
“Something to drink?”
“What do you recommend?”
“The pub down the road.”
“Two beers. What’s that?”
“The thing inside your order pad.”
“This? Never seen carbon paper before?”
“Actually, no. What’s it for?”
“For making a copy of your order. One for the cook, one for me.”
“How the hell do you make copies?”
“Copies? Who makes…sometimes I’ll scan…never mind. Say, what year is this?”
“What year? What are you? A pothead?”
“No, I don’t smoke weed.”
“Good. And if you plan making it through 1960, don’t start while you’re here.”
“Point taken. But it does raise another question. Where exactly is here?”
“You don’t know? Narrabri. Gateway to Mount Kaputar.”
“Good guess. Fuck me. Let me get this order in so you can eat-n-go.”
“1960? Is that possible?”
“I didn’t check the parameters he used.”
“How did he build a time machine?”
“He’s a genius. That helps. Got the idea watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mr. Peabody’s time machine.”
“The cartoon dog and Sherman?”
“Yeah. It’s gonna be a movie.”
“I’ll watch that.”
“If we don’t get out of here, we’ll have to wait 53 years to see it.”
“Good point. But why 1960 in the middle of Australia?”
“His parents migrated here before they moved to the States. Maybe he came to see them.”
“Uh, what’s this?”
“Yes, but what…”
“Absolutely. Seasonal dish?”
“Slugs are always in season around here.”
“My dinner is moving.”
“We like our slugs raw.”
“One of my slugs is eating another slug.”
“They’re Cannibal Snails. Fortunately, they’re slow eaters. But I wouldn’t wait too long.
“You going to eat?”
“When in Rome, right? Wow.”
“One of my slugs is bright red.”
“Really? That’s weird.”
“It’s crawling right towards me. And for a slug, he’s motoring.”
“It’s saying; Eat me first, eat me first.”
“I think I’ll do just that. I don’t like the way it’s staring at me.”
“The red slug is staring at you?”
“Yeah, but not for long.”
“Hmmm. A little chewy, but not bad. What?”
E N Heim
Sherman was bored out of his mind. He thought: Where could I go next? This life’s the pits. Gazing across the pen and staring at the others, he pondered another adventure, another place of interest. Nothing came to mind. He looked down on the planks where he was laying. He noticed a column of ants traipsing across the wooden floor. Hmm, he thought. It caught his curiosity.
The only one noticing ants was Sherman. Everyone was paying attention to their own nonsense. He watched the queue serpentine across the floor, and vanished into nowhere. Interested, he looked down to see were the wriggling line was going. The streaming ants descended through a gap between the boards. Nothing could be seen but blackness.
He looked around to see if any of the others was watching him. Not one. He was the only one privy to the safari.
Sherman always thought of himself as special. Not like the group he presently was with. They were much like copies made by carbon-paper—dittoed in replication. They preferred playing, climbing the jungle-gym, and swinging around the yard. His interest was more in experiences. He had a juju Wi-Fied to Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine. It allowed him to go places in and out of time. He wore the juju around his neck for quick access and escaping. All he had to do was speak to the contraption, where he wanted to go, and POOF—he was experiencing a new life form and environment.
On this trip Sherman became a chimpanzee. He hand been a mammoth before. He wanted to know what it was like living during the ice-age. Being a huge elephant wasn’t so cool. He also wanted to know what it was like living in dinosaur times. He found it wasn’t much fun either. Hoping to become a Rex, instead he became a Lystrosaurus. It wasn’t fun being small. The Rexes took advantage of him. He was lucky his faculties were intact. His change was instant—POOF—he became a chimp.
He watched the queuing insects march into the gap. They were small, but that didn’t matter to him; it was their persistent attitude—their relentless coming and going. What was an ant’s world really like, streamed through his mind.
He rubbed the juju, and said, “Take me to the ants.” Flashing neon lights emitted from his device, and POOF.
Sherman couldn’t see. Everything around him was totally black. At first, he could only feel and hear. He now was in a telepathic world—no body—just thought, mind, and images flashing around him. His sight no longer came from his eyes. His world now was 360º visibility. No sense of body, form, but everything all at once. It was as if he was detached from form, and became pure awareness. By now he could see everything in the total darkness.
The vision Sherman saw were ants eating a “red banana slug”. With each bite, his mind became less aware of himself, and then—nothingness.
The flashing neon lights brought him to consciousness. No—not lights; his eyes were closed. He tried to open them, but nothing changed. He noticed that he couldn’t clearly feel his body. No sounds or sensations gave indications of his condition or location. Am I conscious? Dreaming? As he attempted to concentrate, the lights subsided into a sort of sepia dimness more felt than seen.
Though he vaguely thought he should be afraid, he felt calm and curious, though he still did not know where he was or what was happening to him. As his mind focused he entered a reverie in which events from his life flittered before him: himself as a child, watching Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine on TV; now a lonely twenty-something surfing the Internet at three in the morning; now his first sexual encounter; now a fifty-something in the doctor’s office for a blood test; now a child running through the grass on a summer day as his parents watched.
As the review continued, he started to become confused. A memory of seeing a red banana slug during a hike in the mountains—but no, he hadn’t done that. He’d seen that on a nature show. Memories of his trip to Japan—but he’d never been there. A long conversation with friends seemed to veer back and forth between remembered reality and scenes from various dramas. There were memories that were unmistakably real—the birth of his daughter, his favorite childhood dog, scenes from college—but others seemed now genuine, now second-hand.
He became perturbed for the first time. So much of his life lived at a remove, it seemed. Cell phones, texts, the Internet, video conferencing, and of course the old standby TV. Had he lived too much of his life vicariously? Were thoughts, emotions, experiences he had thought were his merely carbon paper images confused for the originals? How could he distinguish ersatz life from real? Or did he have a real life?
The depression into which he was drifting with this train of thought was broken by the return of the flashing lights. No, not flashing, and there was only one. Distant and vague at first, it brightened and with its approach, a figure became apparent, enveloped within the light. As it came near him, he could see it was a woman more beautiful than any he’d ever seen. Her body, robed in light, might or might not have been naked; her face seemed a combination of every woman he’d ever loved—mother, lovers, wife, daughter. Angel? flitted across his mind.
“Yes and no,” said a voice of liquid gold. “Your guardian, your best self, your aspirations. All of these, none of these, and more than these.”
“My life—a waste….”
“No. Unfinished, but not wasted. All is connected; you were part of things not physically experienced. Others, unbeknownst, were part of you. You are beyond such distinctions now. The world you were in was the carbon copy. Come now into the original.”
Joy surged within him as, embraced in her arms of light, he ascended with her into the Infinite.
“Yes, Professor Argyle, the body is in autopsy,” said Curator McDougal, standing by the outline on the floor in the still smoking room, the Halon system’s flashing neon lights now off. “The detective and his assistant will be back any minute.”
“Argyle, why the hell are you here?” bellowed Detective Gidney, surging into the room, followed by a diminutive female. “I’ll not be having any of your business this time.”
“The Director rang me this morning,” said Argyle, “and asked me to have a look around.”
“Well, I guess you’ll do that then,” said Gidney, cowed. “Anyway, the famous Horatio Huxley was certainly an odd cove, living here in this museum, and now murdered.”
“Detective Gidney,” said McDougal icily, “Sir Huxley was no run-of-the-kiln genius, but a true polymath, lecturer in everything from paleobotany to plasma physics, the national authority on coprolites, former President of the Royal Society, discoverer of temporal tunneling…”
“What’s the bloody thing?” asked Gidney thickly.
“Temporal tunneling, sir,” said Gidney’s assistant, “is exploiting directional time, like a quantum electro-dynamical Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine.”
“My assistant, Lieutenant Cloyd,” said Gidney. “She’s fresh out, and sometimes spews this drivel.”
“A pleasure, Lieutenant,” said Argyle, studying her Bantu features. “We will speak further, but perhaps we should return to the investigation at hand. Have you any clues?”
“It appears Huxley fended off the sods before they finally broke in and set the explosive,” said Gidney, “but the land line was cut and a cellular scrambler was used, so he couldn’t call for help. From the message left on the body it’s clear the eco-anarchists are back at it.”
“Professor Argyle, Sir Huxley was targeted as an elite scientist,” said Cloyd. “I’ve checked into recent ecotage activity and Earth First, Gamto Leopardai, the Earth Liberation Army, and the militant ELF factions have been quiet lately. We also found these on the body.”
Argyle examined the proffered plastic envelopes.
“A picture of some fat worm,” said Gidney, “and a piece of copy paper.”
“It looks like Arion rufus sir,” said Cloyd to Argyle. “European Red Slug. The picture was wrapped in the carbon paper.”
“Notice the pale tentacles,” said Argyle to Cloyd, “It resembles a red banana slug, but a red variety of Ariolimax is nondescript. One of Huxley’s late discoveries, perhaps, and with time to encrypt a message to us…”
After a moment Cloyd grabbed Argyle’s elbow. “Santa Cruz, sir!”
“Of course,” said Argyle. “Davis! Detective Gidney, I believe Gamto Leopardai, the Lithuanian ‘Nature Leopards’ are the eco-terrorists responsible for this.”
“What?” said Gidley. “How do you come by this?”
“The University of California at Santa Cruz mascot is the banana slug,” said Cloyd.
“And the most famous ‘Red’ at Santa Cruz was the 1960’s radical Angela Davis,” said Argyle, “former leader of the Communist Party USA.”
“And a Black Panther,” continued Cloyd.
“But a leopard is no Black Panther,” said Gidney.
“Indeed,” said Argyle, “because there is no such creature as a Black Panther, only melanistic leopards and jaguars.”