“I still say it’s a bad policy.” Ending his little speech, Wilbur emphasized the word “still” just a little more than he had meant to. He cocked his head to one side as though challenging his girlfriend Sandy to do her best to demolish his arguments. The pair had first met in their 8th grade D&D class (Dialogue & Discussion), so by the time their first adult Lottery drew near, they were quite well versed in the art of debate, discussion, dialogue, and story-telling. They knew how to be passionate in their arguments without letting their passion destroy the foundation upon which rested — well — everything.
Sandy smiled. “Okay. Let’s say you’re right. It’s a horrible system. What would you replace it with or tweak it?”
Wilbur frowned. “I don’t know yet. But I wouldn’t have someone’s livelihood depend on random numbers! It should depend on real things.”
Sandy nodded. “Okay. What real things?”
Wilbur chewed on his lips as he was wont to do when he had an inkling his girlfriend might be right and he might just be wrong. “Well, the way things used to be, as I understand it, it would depend on hard work and working smart.”
Sandy smiled. “That’s it? You don’t think luck had any part? For example, whether you were born poor or — no, wait, here’s a better example. You don’t think it mattered what color skin you had? Or, how about if you were born blind? You don’t think that would impact your income?”
Wilbur frowned. He chewed his lip. He frowned again. He chewed his lip some more. He looked left and right. After all, an answer might appear. Somewhere. Finally, he said, “Well, that’s not luck though. It’s because of … I mean … if you’re born rich, then, your ancestors worked hard so why shouldn’t you get a head start?”
Sandy blinked a few times and said. “Conquerors had better weapons. Or, maybe they were just more ruthless. So you think that means all their progeny for all of time should have an advantage? If someone were born in 1970’s America, wouldn’t their income be primarily determined by luck?”
Wilbur sighed. “OK. But it wasn’t luck for the parents or grandparents. People work harder knowing that their wealth will be passed on.”
Sandy pursed her lips, nodded, and continued. “But you know that when that’s really been studied, it is not actually true. After all, the ten year cycle itself wasn’t a random number!”
Wilbur & Sally enjoyed a small chuckle together.
Wilbur said, “No, I suppose not. Ten years. It’s plenty of motivation to work hard. Though…”
Sandy looked at him expectantly. Wilbur sighed and said, “It’s really weird, but ’m not really seeing how I’m going to do my job differently.”
Sandy nodded. “Same here. But I don’t think it’s weird at all. I can’t imagine going into work Monday and not wanting to do a good job just because my salary doubled.”
Wilbur snorted. “Or halved. Let’s not forget that possibility!”
“Or halved,” Sandy nodded.
If you are from one of the parallel worlds where people’s salaries are never determined by lottery, you might find it difficult to believe, how unruffled most people were by the lottery. In some of those parallel worlds, people could be jerked out of their lives and sent half a planet away to kill and be killed in a jungle war. Why? Because of their lottery number.
The Gottery Lottery, however, merely reshuffled the income that people were paid over the next ten years. Several things happened. First of all, people tended to save a lot of money. Second, they didn’t vote for political candidates who favored their interests at the expense of everyone else. Why? Because they might become one of those other income levels. Programs such as child care, after school programs, and preventative medical care were supported by well over 90% of the population.
Fire: “What are you doing here? Fool. I’m god here. You’re neither wanted nor needed. It’s over. Have an ice day!”
Ice: “Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
Fire: “Bah. In war, it is I who kills. Flame-throwers, the gunpowder propelling bullets, bombs, and best of all, but rarely used, atomic fire. Oh, it warms my heart to see.”
Ice: “Yes, but I am your best partner, though you know it not.”
Fire: “You? Hah. Okay, I grant you, frostbite and cold have destroyed the bodies of many. Napolean and Hitler and Lord knows who else’s armies. But still.”
Ice: “No, you’re foolish and rambling as ever. I’m not talking about how I can help you kill. I’m talking about how I prepare the ground for you. Make people not care. Encourage the turning of a cold shoulder, a blind eye. Without me, people might never turn to you.”
Fire: “I doubt it. Fire begets fire. Hate begets hate. What does your little chill of indifference have to do with it? Be gone or I’ll melt you to water.”
Ice: “Perhaps. But I might douse you to smoldering embers. I suggest you think about it. We can work as partners. Each making the other stronger. Actually, we have been partnering, but I’ve never gotten the credit I deserve. You’ve ignored me too long.”
Fire: “Hah! Not nearly so much as you have ignored me! You’re useless without me!”
Ice: “Fine, if that’s the way you feel, then this is goodbye. Forever.”
Many Paths sighed. “What do you mean by saying that it has all happened before, brother of mine?”
Tu-Swift glanced back at Cat Eyes. Surely, Cat Eyes would be able to explain better than he could. But he could see that her parents Tree Vines and Gathers Acorns smothered her with affection, so he resolved to try to explain. “Throughout time, people have been prosperous for a time and then ruined it through the actions of the few who wish to indulge their greed and lies. We all know the story of the Orange Man. But there are many such stories, apparently from many places. Lies and greed always end the same way — with misery for the many and eventually with misery for those few greedy as well. I recently read — well, Cat Eyes read me a story about another liar whom they called “The Wobbly Man” who went into a beautiful, peaceful village and tore apart the people, one from another. And, just before Trunk of Tree came — before he discovered a short cut to the Veritas on the Other Side of the Mountain, we were decoding a whole series of stories that were meant to caution people so that they wouldn’t fall for the lies of the greedy. But why are such stories necessary? Why can’t people seem to see what the greedy are up to? If the answer to that puzzle is in the books, we have not yet found it.”
Many Paths nodded. “I wish to know about these books and the wisdom in them. I need to hold council with people here. I need everyone’s wisdom to help me try to bring peace among the tribes. It seems that I may also gain good counsel from those who have gone before us. If, as you — and She Who Saves Many Lives — both seem to claim, this has all happened before, we can learn from these books what wisdom they have. Can you read me one of these stories?”
So, it came to pass that Tu-Swift read to Many Paths the story called “The Three Blind Mice.” As he read, many of the Veritas gathered round to listen.
The Story of the Three Blind Mice.
Once before our time, a field of goldenrod provided a lovely home for a very large and prosperous camp-land of field mice. The goldenrod attracted grasshoppers and the mice loved the tasty and nutritious grasshoppers. When, as happens to all, eventually each individual mouse died, and they then provided food for the roots of the goldenrod which grew ever taller and more attractive to the grasshoppers. All was well in the golden field.
As things became ever more prosperous for the mice, a thought occurred to two of the mice. Their names were Cheat and Lie.
Cheat said to Lie: “We have more than we used to have. And that feels good. So, we would feel even better if we had more than anyone else.”
Lie said to Cheat: “I suppose you’re right. But so what? Why would everyone agree to give us more?”
They darted their eyes at random for awhile, wriggling their whiskers and trying to think of an answer to that puzzle.
Presently, Lie said to Cheat, “We will lie to them! We will tell the that they are not happy. We will tell them that they are in danger! We will tell them that they cannot trust each other. They can only trust us. We will keep them safe!”
Cheat said to Lie: “That’s a wonderful idea!” Then, a mousy frown appeared between Cheat’s eyes and he said, “But why would they believe it? I mean look at us. We’re not by any means the fastest mice or the strongest. We don’t have the best eyesight. Why would they believe that we can protect them better than they themselves can?”
Lie said to Cheat: “We will recruit Chaos to our cause! He has a knack for disorder. He will make everything so confusing that everyone will want to believe that we’ll take care of everything for them.”
That very night, while all the other mice slept, Cheat and Lie crept over to the usual sleeping spot of Chaos who was not too happy about being awakened.
Lie and Cheat cautioned him to be quiet and the trio snuck off to a part of the field that all the other mice typically avoided. They explained their plot to Chaos who readily agreed to play his part. He loved to confuse other mice every chance he had.
The three were startled by the sudden appearance of a huge pair of eyes atop a gigantic maw of jaws. The Fox’s voice however, was surprisingly warm and smooth. “No need to run. I’m not interested in hurting you three. I overheard your plans. Very smart. Very smart. Still, I think I could improve upon your plans quite a bit. With my help, you three clever mice will get what you deserve! You deserve more than an equal share. Much more. And, I will help you.”
The three mice were feeling both reassured and proud. After all, they had been called “smart” by a fox!
Cheat asked, “How can you help? And why would you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Fox nodded sagely. “You ask two excellent questions. You are indeed smart mice. First, let me just ask you a question so that I may answer your question in a way more tailored to your needs. Aren’t there among all you mice some that annoy you greatly or that you find unattractive?”
Cheat answered first, “I really hate those mice that have to make up and follow rules.”
Lie said, “And I hate the ones that always insist on the truth.”
Chaos answered, “I hate folks with pinkish toes. They just disgust me. For one thing, I’m highly attracted to them. But I don’t want to be. So, that makes me uncomfortable.”
Fox nodded. “I can see exactly why you find those sorts annoying. I do too! You say you want to make everyone afraid even though things are going well. Now, imagine how much more fearful everyone will be when a fox shows up and eats some of the mice. Not just any mice of course, but just the icky ones. Mice with pink toes or who insist on the truth or follow rules. Of course, we will first have to make sure that lots of your fellow mice also hate those with pink toes and so forth. And, now, as you clever mice surely see, I have answered your original questions. Firstly, I can help by making your fellow mice so scared, they will literally come to believe anything you say and won’t mind giving some of their grasshoppers to you. Secondly, the why is simple. I get to eat the hateful ones among you. And that will make life better for you as well — no more hateful ones around.”
And, so, their deal was settled and, sure enough, thanks to helpful suggestions from Fox, over time, many of the mice came to hate those who played by the rules and came to hate mice with pink toes, and came to hate mice who insisted on the truth.
Fox was happy to have his mice “delivered to him” ready to devour. He no longer had to chase after them.
After some months, however, the supply of the hateful mice began to dwindle. Fox was no longer satisfied. He made it quite clear that he needed to speak to Chaos, Lie, and Cheat who had by now grown quite fat with the extra provisions they took from the other mice.
Fox began: “Chaos, Lie, and Cheat, you have done quite well. Honestly, I’m quite amazed that things have gone as well as they have for all of us. You’re obviously all doing well. Let’s keep things going for both our sakes. You’ve run out of hateful mice, but that’s not a problem. We will simply need to expand the circle of hateful mice a little bit. No big deal. I can help you figure out how. Maybe mice with scraggly fur or mice with crooked teeth or mice that are unusually small. It’s totally up to you. I am really just a pawn in your plans.”
And, for a long while things went along much the same. Fox would get his fill of mice without having to chase them. The three mice — Chaos, Lie, and Cheat grew fatter and fatter. Some of the mice were rather shocked that Chaos, Lie, and Cheat were fomenting hate against certain mice and then ordering them to be rounded up to end up in the stomach of Fox. Some of the mice were rather glad it was happening. They were eager to help. They convinced themselves that they had always hated such and such a kind of mouse. Most of the mice were just glad that they weren’t the ones sacrificed to the Fox. After all, this was a world full of woe, just as Chaos, Lie, and Cheat kept saying.
At last, there came the day when Chaos, Lie, and Cheat had truly sad news to share with Fox. Cheat, Lie, and Chaos drew straws to see who would break the news to Fox. Lie lost and so he began: “I’m so sorry to break the bad news to you, Fox, but we seem to have run out of mice! We drew our circle tighter and tighter just as you suggested but you’ve now eaten up all of our hateful kin. But the good news is that you have been quite well fed for quite awhile and have plenty of fat to tide you over for a few months.”
Now, Cheat chimed in: “I suppose you’ll be moving on to other fields where there are still many mice?”
Lie added, “It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Fox.”
Fox smiled in a foxy sort of way: “Indeed it has. And, I will be moving on to other fields as you suggest. But, our business is not yet over, and I won’t be leaving this field today. First, to show my gratitude to three such clever mice, I have gifts for you. For each of you, I have a tooth of solid gold. Here, walk right in and take your trophy tooth.”
Fox opened his mouth wide. In walked the three clever mice to claim their prize.
And, never walked out.
When Tu-Swift finished, everyone sat silently for no-one wanted to be the first to speak. Each person who had heard felt a heaviness inside. Each recognized from their own experience how easy it is for greed to lead to blindness; for those who have more, to think that they will be cleverer than all the overly greedy people who went before. It had been so for the Orange Man. It had been so for NUT-PI. It had been so for ALT-R and POND MUD. Each wondered whether the Veritas were doomed to suffer the same dismal and inevitable fate. Or, whether this time, perhaps Many Paths could once again help them find a ray of hope.
Matt had played football in high school and still prided himself on his musculature, though truthfully, his weight training sessions at the gym had nearly petered out to nothing even before COVID. He was in much worse shape than he believed himself to be. Truthfully, even at 42, his arteries conspired with his depleted mitochondria and excess weight to make him a pretty strong candidate for an early heart attack.
Matt saw himself, however, as powerful. Maybe he wouldn’t be mistaken for “The Hulk” but that was the kind of superhero he identified with. He was, after all, a white male; the “ruler of the roost”; a family man who provided for his family despite the grief he often gets at work from his young “webersnapper boss.”
This week played out no differently (honestly, it never did) so Matt came home in a pre-tornado mood. He was ready for a nice tumbler of good Kentucky whiskey on the rocks. Or rock. Maybe, he’d watch some TV while his wife…where the hell is my wife, he wondered.
A quick glance out the front window showed him what he should have noticed as he drove up, was that his wife’s car, the Subaru Outback, was gone. Crap. No dinner yet. Where’s the beef? He glanced at his son sitting at the dining room table typing away on the computer. Sonny seemed more intent on that goddamn computer than on greeting his dad. Matt thought to himself: There sits my useless son working on homework even though it’s 6 pm Friday.
Matt said aloud, “Christ, Sonny, when I was young, at least I had some blood in my veins. What the hell are you studying?”
“I’m doing an essay on Aesop’s Fables for English class.” Sonny’s strategy tonight, was, as it always was, to stay neutral and not take any of the bullshit his father tried to use as bait.
“What the hell do you need to take English for? It’s not like you’re a fornicating foreigner for God’s sake. Who the hell is Aesop?”
“He was a Greek slave who was a storyteller…”
“Greek? What the hell!? You know they’re all queer, right? And the same goes for studying English. Just do me a favor. Don’t grow up to be a fricking faggot, okay?”
“The fable is actually kind of interesting. It’s about this dog who has a bone and he’s all happy and everything. Then, he crosses a bridge over a little water and he looks down and he sees his own reflection. Only, he thinks it’s another dog. A dog with a bone. And he wants that bone too. So, he growls at the dog in the pond and of course that dog growls back up at him. So he snarls and the reflected dog snarls too. Then, he barks loudly at the watery dog below. As he opens his mouth, the bone falls out into the pond. It’s called…”
“Who the f*** cares what it’s called. It’s a stupid dog and a stupid story and has nothing to do with life. Jesus H. Christ. Where’s your mom? It’s almost dinner time. Did she say where she was going?”
“I haven’t seen her since breakfast. But, it’s the second Friday in May. Doesn’t she have her painting class today? I think she has the second and fourth Friday every month. I think May is Surrealism. She should be back soon.”
“She’d better be. Why do I bother to work anyway? Man can’t even have dinner on time. Take a hike. Get some exercise. I need the computer now.”
“I’ll be done with my essay in ten minutes, Dad. Do you really need it right his minute?”
“NOW, Sonny. Get up. Yes, I need it NOW. I need to check on our finances. Go outside & get some fresh air. Do something useful for a change. You can finish later. Geez.”
Sonny shook his head and sighed, but it was a nice day out and this late in May, there was plenty of daylight. His train of thought had been completely derailed anyway. Might as well let Dad view his porn. He toyed with the idea of showing his Dad how easy it was to see exactly what he was actually doing on the computer and it definitely had nothing to do with the family finances.
If his father actually would have looked at the family finances, he might have noticed something that no-one in the family was as of yet aware — that every month, a significant amount of money was being withdrawn for a continuing political contribution.
While Sonny went down the street to see whether any of the neighborhood gang were shooting baskets, his Dad logged on and was about to go to one of his favorite porn sites when a pop-up grabbed his eye. The pop-up itself verged on being pornographic. A silky haired blond with sultry blue eyes stared out at him wantonly and invited him to come on board for something exciting.
Matt grinned at that and clicked the bait. He was already licking his lips in anticipation of a barely legal… but what was this? This didn’t look like sex. What were they selling, he wondered as he scanned the text and images before him. There was some company, “Ansestery dot co” — “I’ve heard of them” Matt muttered under his breath.
Except, of course, Matt had not previously heard of “Ansestery dot co” — he had heard of people talking about “ancestry.com” which used genetic tests and other methods to help you build your family tree or find out your genetic background. Although Ansestery dot co was not something that Matt had actually heard about, they had heard about him. Thanks to billionaire con men who used big data analytics applied to every keystroke, pause, and click Matt had ever made in the last ten years on the family computer, they knew everything they needed to know about Matt — what trigger words he had; what his secret fears about his masculinity were; what his hopes and dreams were. The script tree in which he found himself was tailored to be especially appealing to his sense that — somehow — things should have turned out differently for Matt. In fact, Matt deserved to have had things turn out better in his life. On this, Matt himself and the AI algorithms that chewed on his personal data, were in perfect alignment.
Matt’s heart raced. He felt excited, a little scared, proud, relieved. People had chosen him — him — as a candidate for special training. If he accepted their terms, he could have a new life… a new life! There might not be anything particularly wrong with his current wife, but he could have one much younger and more athletic and docile! And, he could have a new kid — one who was a star athlete, not a frigging nerd who studied English for God’s sake!!
The site didn’t just give statistics and amazing images of people just like him who had signed up. There were video testimonials. This was real! The site said time travel was impossible but that this was the next best thing to it. There was also a money-back guarantee! It was right there in black and white!
Matt’s wife Molly had always let Matt take care of the finances. And — although they were by no means rich — they did okay. She certainly never expected the reception she got at her favorite dress shop when they showed her not one but two checks that had bounced. They wouldn’t take her check. Her cheeks glowed crimson with embarrassment though she was sure it was a bank error. Nonetheless, a bounced check, let alone two, was something that Molly associated with traitor trash. She was sure Matt could explain. Sure. Matt will explain tonight, Molly thought as she walked the four short blocks back home. She bit her lip though. She wondered whether he really would explain it. She thought: Maybe it was not just a bank error. Maybe he had lost his job — maybe months ago — and he’s too proud to tell us. Could that be it?
Molly knitted her brows and tried to remember when … when the changes had started with Matt. It had been a few weeks ago. Matt had seemed upset that she didn’t have dinner ready. She had reminded him about her art classes, but he had simply grunted and said he needed the computer. Sonny and Matt had argued a bit. Somehow, Sonny thought Matt had promised that he could have the computer back right after dinner. The argument had seemed unusually heated that night. But that had only been the beginning. Matt spent an unusual amount of time on the computer. He always said that he was double checking the family finances. Molly wondered if maybe there was a problem with the family finances and that’s why the checks bounced.
And that wasn’t all. Matt had never seemed to take much interest in politics. But now, he would curse at the TV news and call people a “bunch of crooks” and ask where the “real patriots were.” He’d generally storm out of the room halfway through the program. And he “forbid” anyone in his house from listening to what he called the “fake media.” He even called them the “Enemy of the People.” Molly thought it must be symptoms of manopause.
Matt’s real problem might have had a little bit to do with manopause. But mainly, he was slowly being drawn deeper and deeper into what others would have described as a conspiracy theory, but which he himself thought of as “the real truth” that “explains everything.” It explained why, despite working relatively hard, and despite being a straight white male, he was not rich. Not yet. It explained why his son was a faggot. It explained why his wife was no longer passionate. And, best of all, it didn’t just explain. It promised. Very soon, he would have his new life. And, in his new life, he’d be much richer. Everything would be as it should be.
He would finally be that knight in shining armor he had always thought of himself as. And better yet, his new kids and new wives and new concubines would also see him that way. And they would show him the respect he deserved! Damn right, he thought. He’d show them. Things are speeding up now, Matt thought. It’s all coming together just like they said. The signs were everywhere once you had been trained to look for them! One last payment.
“MATT! Are you okay? Sonny asked you three times for the mashed potatoes. You’re staring off into space. Again.”
“What? What are you talking about? Mashed potatoes? Don’t you people have any idea what’s happening? Who cares about mashed potatoes? Here. Here, have some mashed potatoes. You can have them all, Sonny Boy. If you really even are my son.” Matt pushed his chair back from the table, grabbed the computer and headed upstairs.
Molly and Sonny sat starting at each other with mouths agape. Matt had always been something of a jerk, but these days, he really seemed unhinged. And angry. And angrily unhinged. And unhingedly angry. Almost all the time. And he spent almost all his free time on the computer when he wasn’t screaming at them.
Molly told herself she wouldn’t cry, and she didn’t. At least, she didn’t cry audibly, though tears streamed down her cheeks. How could Matt have made that nasty crack about Sonny not being his son, she wondered. Ever practical, Molly glanced at Sonny and saw that he was equally upset and equally determined not to show it.
“Well,” said Molly with a brittle bright voice, “I’ll just put the rest away for later!. We can just” — but at that moment, Molly brittle bright voice faltered. The lights went off. The hum of the refrigerator stopped. She sighed. She grabbed her cellphone, and called the power company to complain. She to hear free Muzak for a full five minutes — which felt like an hour. The same tin can versions of the same music alternated with the voice of the warm, friendly woman who assured her that her call was important to the power company and that the call would be answered in the order in which it had been placed. Molly found the voice comforting in an odd way. Even the Muzak seemed soothing compared with Matt’s screaming. Molly closed her eyes and shut out his screams. Despite those efforts, occasional words filtered through. Something about how they’d all soon see he was right all along (About What?). And they would pay for having blown a fuse because of what they had done (Which was What exactly?). He had screamed about coming down there and giving them what for! (What For?).
Once, many years ago, Molly and Matt had argued about whether to carpet the stairs. Like most angry marital arguments, this particular argument had two losers (or three losers, if we count Sonny and we probably should count Sonny) and zero winners. In the end though, the stairs had stayed uncarpeted because it was more “economical” as Matt had put it. And that would have been okay if Matt had been barefoot. Or wearing sneakers. Not great in the dark, but doable. But not with socks on.
When a human voice finally answered the phone, Molly was stunned for a moment. Then, she remembered why she was on the phone in the first place and asked if there were widespread power outages. No, the lady patiently explained. Their electric bill had not been paid on time. The grace period had also expired.
Molly stopped paying attention to the patient lady on the phone, who must somehow be mistaken, of course. Molly’s attention had been grabbed by a strange noise she had never heard before. What was that? It sounded like a very large pudgy animal pinwheeling its way down their front stairway and landing with a thud on the marble entry way.
Every wonder how the mind of a sociopath works? Maybe these stories about a child sociopathy will help. Here’s a link to the first. Donnie Plays Bull Dazzle Man.
Every wonder how and why millions of Americans could deny the reality of a pandemic that is literally happening right before their eyes? The story that begins with the link below is to fiction — but — is it plausible fiction?
Fire: “What are you doing here? Fool. I’m god on earth now. You’re neither wanted nor needed. It’s over.”
Ice: “Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
Fire: “Bah. In war, it is I who kills. Flame-throwers, the gunpowder propelling bullets, bombs, and best of all, but rarely used, atomic fire. Oh, it warms my heart to see all that death and destruction.”
Ice: “Yes, but I am your best partner, though you know it not.”
Fire: “You? Hah. Okay, I grant you, frostbite and cold have destroyed the bodies of many. Napolean and Hitler and Lord knows who else’s armies. But still.”
Ice: “No, you’re foolish and rambling as ever. I’m not talking about how I can help you kill. I’m talking about how I prepare the ground for you. Make people not care. Encourage the turning of a cold shoulder, a blind eye. Without me, people might never turn to you. Without me, how could they contemplate intentionally ignoring the truth? How could they embrace the litany of lies that lead to war? Who would willingly kill others if they clearly saw how useless and cruel it all was?”
Fire: “Yeah, yeah. I doubt it. Fire begets fire. Hate begets hate. What does your little chill of indifference have to do with it? Be gone or I’ll melt you to water. Boil you to steam.”
Ice: “Perhaps. But I might douse you to smoldering embers. I suggest you think about it. We can work as partners. Each making the other stronger. Actually, we have been partnering, but I’ve never gotten the credit I deserve! You’ve ignored me too long.”
Fire: “Hah! Not nearly so much as you have ignored me! You’re useless without me!”
Ice: “Fine, if that’s the way you feel, then this is goodbye! Forever.”
Humanity decided to open its heart; embrace empathy; dismiss the lies of “other” and instead loved everyone as sister and brother. Fire shook his coronal locks in disdain and slunk off to reinvigorate himself in the core of a distant star.
Ice regained his rightful throne at the poles of the spinning emerald and sapphire planet. He abandoned the heart of humanity. Unbridled greed became nothing but the shadowy memory of a bad drug trip or a recurring nightmare — still scary to contemplate, but powerless to destroy the trajectory of life’s grand and glorious growth.
In anticipation of Halloween, here is a kind of horror story. I might not recommend it for kids under 12 although I remember being fascinated by this stuff. I saw the movie THEM! about giant ants when I was about nine. Wow! But anyway, a few stories to tingle the spine.
Karmic Decisions, Gamma Section, Milky Way Division, Department 78776-G-164c, Species – Human; Sub-species Greedypigs.
“I’m here to do what?” screamed Joe. “This can’t be real.”
“What? What do you mean ‘what?’ You never heard of Karma while you were a —- let me see — oh, yes, here it is — ‘an earthling’, is the expression you use. So, when you were an earthling…excuse me, I don’t mean to laugh, but in our language it’s a commonly used synonym for ‘Greed-Meister.’ And, here you are waiting for an assignment based primarily on your being of the subspecies, Greedypigs. You get it? No, you don’t get it. You’re greedy.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad to me,” piped up Joe. “No Siree. Many of us on earth, most of us, I suppose, are downright greedy. Nothing wrong with that! That’s what put a man on the moon. And what cured polio and all sorts of good stuff.”
The giant Worblastic Filtermeister tilted one of his heads to the left and one to the right. He regarded the earthling, also known as Joe, with a quizzical dozen eyes. “I’m no expert on earth species and culture and so on. So many galaxies; so many planets. But how many billions do you think Jonas Salk made on the polio vaccine?”
“I don’t know. I’m not much good at trivia. Can we get on to my assignment? Time is money, they say. And, I did make a lot of money on earth. I’m already at the top of the pyramid of earth species so … what’s next?” Joe, the earthling, shrugged his dual shoulders and scanned the eyes before him. It was weird trying to make eye-contact with a twelve-eyed being. “Do I get to be CEO of a major multinational? Or are we going all the way to a God or something?”
“You think earthlings are the top species? Oh, Lord, there are so many misconceptions in that. Oh, my. My oh my,” said the Filtermeister. “I thought we could chat a bit, but you are in a hurry.”
When you watch another earthling roll their eyes, it can be mildly disorientating. But when the eyes rolling in front of you are each as large as a basketball and there are twelve of them going in various directions — ! For Joe, it was nauseating. He could not watch. He just had to look down at his feet. His shoes looked despicably dirty. Where had he been? Wait. It isn’t just the shoes. What the hell is going on here, he thought. He felt as though he were shrinking. He yelled out, “Where am I going? Am I a god now? I’d be good at that! I tell people what to do all the time. Isn’t that the essence of a god? To be the boss?” As Joe spoke, he tried to yell louder and louder, but his voice continued to weaken and whine up to a higher pitch. At last, he couldn’t even recognize his own voice. It sounded teeny and … metallic.
Joe had a sudden urge to dig a hole. He had no idea why, but he did; the urge was powerful. He began to look around for a shovel but saw only a forest of giant grasses all about him. He was surrounded by smells he barely recognized. Grass. Yes, but what was that one? Snail? And ant trail? And, oh, Joe thought that swallowtail caterpillar smells delicious! From far above, there was thunder. Or, no, it was a voice. The Filtermeister! For a moment Joe recalled, he had been an earthling talking with a Filtermeister, a Filtermeister who would decide his next ‘gig’ as he put it. What was he saying?
“Nothing! No billions at all,” thundered the Worblastic Filtermeister. “Do you really think everyone who worked on the Space Program worked as hard and as long as they did just to make money?”
Joe heard these sounds and each of the sounds echoed to a meaning. But these meanings were far away. Far, far away like church bells two towns over which required a cold and favorable wind and even then you weren’t sure you really heard them. And what did they have to do with the business at hand, which was to dig a hole and pronto. And I have no shovel! But wait! What’s a shovel? Joe glanced toward his feet and saw that all of them had built-in shovels. How cool! I am amazing! And, though I may be tiny, I am strong as steel! OMG! In a flash it seemed, a nice cool dark cavity had appeared, carved out by the — by me! My ancestors. They gave me these legs. Cool! Nice work. But, I need a door!
Soon, Joe lay still at the bottom of his small hidie-hole and waited. Good God, have I ever been this hungry before? For a moment, Joe remembered again the Filtermeister. Oh, yes, he had been given this wonderful life because he had been such a good human. Good karma. I told him I was greedy and so I am. It feels quite natural for me. I will eat that entire caterpillar! I deserve this life of luxury! Wait! Wait! I hear it coming! He tore open the shutters and threw up the sash, as it were. In a split second he had sunk his giant fangs into the side of the caterpillar. Oh, my GOD this is delicious. Somehow, it’s even more fun because of all the squirming! What is that? Some ebony-winged beast is trying to steal my caterpillar. “Leave it alone! It’s mine! I got here first! I don’t need to share my kill with anyone!”
Too late, Joe realized that the beasts goal was not to steal the caterpillar but to hurt him. That’s not much of a sting, he thought. Wait till I get my mandibles on her. Joe slung his body forward like a catapult— except— nothing happened! He tried to wave his frontmost arms. Nothing! What strange magic was this? It seemed like such a minor wound. Joe tried every muscle in his body but couldn’t move a thing.
She took a strong stance, put two legs shamelessly on his side and flipped him over on his back. Now, the bastard was getting ready to sting me again, thought Joe. He steeled himself. OW! That hurt worse than the first one. Another! Oh, god. This went on for some time. At last, that sorry chapter in his life was over. She stopped stinging. She looked quizzically at him, compound eyes to compound eyes. She ran her forelegs over her mandibles and licked them suggestively. She began buzzing her wings. She arose like an angel of death.
Hopefully, the poison will wear off soon, Joe thought, and I’ll go back to eating those luscious caterpillars. Out of nowhere, this ran through Joe’s mind: “I survived the crash of 2008 and I’ll survive this.” What on earth does that even mean, he thought, but it made him feel better for a few days. He kept telling himself that the paralysis would wear off. Every few minutes, he would find himself thinking that this would be the minute when he recovered. But it wasn’t. And each moment, he forgot that he had had his hopes up the previous moment. For a solid week, he convinced himself that he’d look back to those painful stings as the worst part of a very long and happy life.
Then — they hatched. All of them. Within minutes of each other. They were greedy. Oh, yes, they were greedy.
Sadly, the stinging definitely wasn’t the worst part of Joe’s life. Not by quite a bit, in fact. The mysterious flying lady with the whirring wings had not meant to hurt him with her stings. She was merely depositing her eggs inside his body. When they hatched, they began to devour him from the inside out, carefully avoiding the truly vital organs that would end his life. For it was fresh, living flesh that they greedily desired. Every pain fiber in his body screamed nonstop. The poison kept his limbs completely still. But the poison did nothing to mute the constant scream of his pain. Joe could only scream the one word: GREED! Endlessly.
Joe looked back on those painful stings as the best part of a very long and excruciating life. He tried to call back the winged terror. “Please, he wanted to say. Sting me again. Anything’s better than this.” But Joe couldn’t talk. He couldn’t move at all. And the wasp wouldn’t have been interested.