sometime in 2003 . . .
Two Rituals

Outside the fitting room, [e]'s two suitors stood waiting, both tall and wearing dark stylish suits. They spoke to each other politely, but there was a cold tension beneath their words. Their competition was fierce even if not overt. [e] was smiling, and her pose combined with the framing of the scene made her look like a painting. She was wearing a new blue shirt. Without her blinking or her smile flinching, the shirt was suddenly a white dress. One of the suitors smiled from the sideline, evidently the winner. He appeared beside [e] in the picture. And then he was me.

At home, I walked into a room and my eyes were drawn to the television. A slow slideshow of scenes that were almost still pictures flashed onto the screen. A fire. Two burned corpses on lawn chairs. Two people with large false-looking smiles sinking slowly into lava. Two charred bodies still burning. An empty pool of lava. Most scenes showed two bodies, always in similar positions but suffering or having suffered different deaths. I understood all of the people shown to be my relatives, though I didn't recognize any of them. Their deaths were not disturbing to me--I didn't even find the scenes gruesome.

Everyone dies a death similar to those I saw on television if they fail to perform two rituals. I had performed the first when I stood in the picture with [e]. This was possibly related to a marriage ceremony. The second, [j] began to explain, was building and burning an effigy. I stood in the garage as he worked with some tools and materials on the ground and explained to me how to build one. I watched him work on a fence in the back yard as he continued his explanation. When he finished these projects, he would build an effigy for us out of the remaining materials so that we could burn it and satisfy the second requirement. It seemed that the effigy didn't need to be in the shape of a person--I pictured one that was simply a bundle of long wood pieces.

Trouble at School

Although it was past dark, I still needed to walk across the hill to my parents' house and bring our dog back home. There were a lot of people in the house, and some rooms were above others, requiring me to climb bookshelves to reach them. On one shelf in a bathroom I saw what I assumed to be a Christmas present for me--a boxed set of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game books. They looked like extremely expensive editions, and there were enough of them that the set must have included the Ender's Shadow books as well.

Later, I was with some friends in a school cafeteria. Some kind of presentation may have been starting, but I stood up and left. I walked through some hallways until I came to a carpeted classroom. There seemed to be a faint reddish light inside, and I knew that if I stepped inside I would confront something. I was not confident in my ability to face whatever was in the room--something like a boss in a video game--but I walked in anyway. The red intensified and a mist obscured the room. In my mind I could see images of a large skull in the mist as well as some large arms or tentacles, but all I could see was the stirring mist. As the red, pink, and orange glow grew brighter, I realized that I was not ready for this encounter. Without seeming to do anything in reality, I shot an arrow or a bolt of energy at the creature in my mind, and managed to defeat it. The lights dimmed and the mist faded to leave the room a normal classroom again.

When I returned to the cafeteria to tell someone about my experience, everyone seemed preoccupied. I left again to go see my score on a test I had taken. It was a math class and my dad was the teacher. His classroom was on an upper floor of the building, but I had been there many times before and knew the way. When I reached one point, however, I realized that I was lost. The walls and furniture seemed much more ornate and expensive than I had remembered them. Several women on the building's cleaning staff directed me behind some sliding doors, but were clearly displeased at my entering a newly-cleaned room. I found the stairs I had been looking for and proceeded to the classroom.

Once inside, I realized that my test was on top of a very large metal filing cabinet. I had to climb several pieces of furniture to reach the top of it. I found the test and sat down to look it over. I was amazed to have received a very good score, 92%. I had not expected to do well at all. As I looked it over, people were filling the room. I looked up to see my dad's class starting. Despite being a large room, it was overcrowded. Sitting next to me on top of the file was another guy about my age. Two of this guy's friends walked into the room late. They saw him and then looked at me. One of them made sharp hand motions to his friend next to me, indicating that I was to come down and the two of them were going to take my place. I had been planning to leave the room, but because of their arrogance I decided to remain. The guy who had indicated I should come down gripped my foot to pull me off. I could not overpower him, but to make it difficult for him I held the filing cabinet and brought it crashing down nearly on top of him. I also kicked him on the way down, trying to make it look like an accident. I knew that they would be furious, so I quickly moved to the front of the class and feigned attentiveness.

Pet Adoption

[e] and I walked among animal cages. Dogs and cats were available for adoption. People were gathered in different places on the grassy field--some having picnics, and others just standing around clearings as if there would soon be some sporting event or performance.

One of the larger cages was taller than me and contained many small brown dogs. Most of them were sleeping. They had just hatched from their cocoons, the remains of which were piled in the back of the cage.

[p] was drawing attention with his two human-sized and shaped radio control robots. They battled with swords in the grass until one beheaded the other. The head flew several yards and hit the ground. I hadn't known that [p] had these robots, or that such things even existed.

The Professor

My paper was due in a day or so, but I hadn't started writing it, or even read the book yet that it was to be based on. The book was about a boy and his sister, and evidently a true story. [e] had read it already and described for me the final scene, in which the boy and his sister were being swept down a river along with flags of many different countries. They came to a waterfall and all of the flags but one had fallen over the edge when the sister fell. The last remaining flag--a black and white cross on a blue field--was draped over the boy as he went over feet first. It was high, and it took several seconds for him to hit the water. Someone told me that the boy was more famous than his sister because he survived the incident and told the story himself.

I had to go to my professor's apartment for a test of some kind. She showed me a row of folding chairs along the wall, explaining that I had to use them to escape the room once she released a large vicious dog. I was confident because someone in the class had cheated and told me how to succeed: place a chair against a row of washing machines by the door and run across them, out of the dog's reach, until I reached the door. She told me when to begin and released the dog. I slid a chair over and escaped as I had planned. When I came back inside, she commented to another student that I had not done well, and that I would need to become better at running along rooftops. I was confused, as this had nothing to do with rooftops and when I was younger I had played on the roof of my house many times.

That night, my professor invited the class to her apartment for dinner and a party. I had other friends who lived nearby, and I decided to go between the two places, as I was not really interested in the party.

The neighborhood was on a hill overlooking the downtown area of the city. From a dark storage room at my friends' house, we watched a coming storm out the window. The lightning seemed very close, and we actually saw it strike a few places. I went outside and ran back to my professor's apartment to tell the people there that a serious storm was on its way. Everyone there was dressed up and sitting on couches. Some people were asleep, and no one really seemed to care about the storm. I ran back to my friends' house, getting wet in the increasing rain, and returned to the window. Someone gasped as we saw a tornado in the distance descend from the sky directly above a large rectangular building. The building broke free of its foundation and began to turn in circles. Another closer building began to slide to one side. I left the window and went outside again. I ran back to my professor's apartment to tell them what was happening. When I arrived, everyone was asleep on the couches. A few people listened politely as I woke them, but still no one was interested.

My family lived on the other side of the downtown area. I wondered when I would be able to get across and find out whether their area had been hit by the storm. Although it seemed dangerous to do so, I decided to run back to my friends' house. It seemed as though it must have been an earthquake that caused the damage we had seen, but in this neighborhood there was still only rain. I realized that I had forgotten the way back to the house although it was only a block or two away. I ran aimlessly through the rain for a few minutes until I found my way. Again at the window, I saw the largest building in the downtown area--one that covered a city block--collapse and break into pieces. The pieces plowed into the ground until nothing but dirt showed. By this time, almost the entire downtown area was destroyed.

I thought of how often I had seen such things in movies and video games, and had heard of natural disasters in other times and places, but seeing the situation myself shocked me profoundly. I wondered how many people had died as I looked on.

Conflict in the Theater

I was to meet [e] and a few other people at a movie theater in a mall at a certain time. When I got there, I was surprised to find the theater extremely small--there were only 15-20 seats and even they were crowded together between thick red curtains. There were a couple of empty seats, but I never like taking a seat when there are not enough because inevitably someone will arrive after me to whom I feel I should give up my seat. If I do, it can be a minor awkward hassle. If I don't, I feel guilty. So I leaned against a post in the back.

Something was wrong, I realized too late as the four curtains that had made up the walls dropped to reveal another similar cluster of occupied seats in each cardinal direction. All of the other seats were on their backs and I could see the bottoms of many feet moving slightly. As the people in the four surrounding groups began to stand and close in to kill those in the central section, those in the center collapsed. I assumed that they were pretending to be dead and I also collapsed to join them on the floor. They were hurriedly passing around pieces of glowing fruit which, when thrown at the attackers, either stopped them in a flash of light or made them disappear completely. I threw a banana at a woman with metallic teeth and fiery eyes. Her face was angry as it struck her.

Later, with some members of my family, I rode in a small boat that floated in the air. We moved down a still river surrounded by dense gray buildings, and the water reflected like a mirror. We came upon several enormous red and blue beetle-shaped objects in the water that periodically flipped in the water to reveal the submerged side.

Charity and Teeth

[e] and I were walking home from a restaurant with [p], [a], and [c]. As we walked, a teenage girl approached us and gripped my arm. She explained that she had some sort of problem and asked me for money. I instinctively replied that it is my policy not to give cash to people who approach me on the street. She was now a small dog. [p] scratched the dog behind its ears and it ran away. I explained to the others that I had answered the way I did because I found it suspicious that the dog was able to articulate so clearly. After all, most dogs can only learn a few isolated words and phrases.

I wondering whether I could have handled it better, and found myself concerned with how my friends would think of me rather than with the welfare of the girl/dog. We had to pass through [p], [a], and [c]'s apartment to get to ours, and I felt sheepish doing so.

Once inside, we stayed and talked for a few minutes. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and noticed that one of my molars seemed very loose. It fell into my hand, followed by 8-9 more teeth. I collected them in a napkin and brought them out of the bathroom to show the others. A few more teeth still fell from my mouth into the pile of rainbow Nerds candy in the napkin. I placed the napkin on the floor and sifted through the large pile of candy to locate my teeth. I opened a second napkin to its full size to hold the pile of Nerds and that was now much too large for the first napkin.

As I transferred piles of candy between the napkins (I had to keep the piles intact however large they grew because my teeth might be anywhere among the candy), [p] emerged from the kitchen with a mixture that included milk and eggs. She poured it onto the pile of candy to help preserve the teeth until I could reach a dentist.

Party Preparations

I had a hard time finding my car in a large church parking lot, and [f] suggested that I take the white police van that was parked nearby. Music was playing inside it, and it obviously had a good sound system. I admired the van but realized that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to take a police van. I decided to take just the cushion from inside a bag attached to the bottom of the van. But then I realized that this would be stealing even though no one would likely ever find out. A car nearby had a folded lawn chair attached in the same manner as the bag on the police van, and seeing an oil spot on the chair I finally knew why so many vehicles had objects dragging beneath them like this--it was to be polite and avoid dripping oil on the cement in the event that they had a leak. [e] and I finally decided just to take our own car and leave the police van for someone else.

When we arrived back at the house we were taking care of, several of the kids who lived there seemed interested in something in the driveway. Two clumps of furry animals stood in the grass. Three long thin adult bears with long bare faces made up one group and the other was six brightly-colored dogs that had recently hatched. I wasn't sure whether some assortment of the bears were parents of the dogs. The adults seemed well-behaved but as the young dogs opened their eyes I could tell they would try to cause trouble. Three ran toward the back door of the house. I reached it in time to stop two red ones but a brown one made it inside. As I suspected, it ran straight for one of the cats. When it paused in the middle of the living room to face the cat on the couch, I grabbed it and was amazed to find it too heavy to lift. It didn't seem to notice my effort.

With one more great pull, the servant lifted the stone from the ground. One of his many seemingly impossible tasks in preparation for the party that night was to build a stone floor to separate the top of a large room from the bottom. The cubic blocks were scattered around the outer rim and the floor was already half-built, but only in the center where the completed part was unaccountably suspended in the air. Carrying the block with difficulty, the servant jumped from the outer edge toward the inner area but didn't come close to reaching it. The girl in the family that owned the mansion watched him fall, become a pixilated black sprite, and land with an old arcade synthesized sound. The girl's face was neutral, neither showing amusement at his misfortune nor concern. The sprite crossed the lower floor and made its way back up the stairs to try again. When the servant emerged on the upper level, he hefted another stone, jumped again, and fell again in the same manner as before. When he climbed the stairs again, the elderly mother of the house called him into a side room.

The children were gathered around their parents, who looked excited. The mother asked the servant whether he would teach the girl to play a certain song on the piano for the party. The servant asked the girl whether she knew how to play already, and she replied that she did. The father then put a vinyl record on the player and played an irritating song that had been popular a few decades ago. The servant could see that the parents were very fond of this song. But in fact, the girl had no skill at the piano, and this, together with the servant's failure to perform any of the other tasks he had been assigned would inevitably lead to his dismissal.

Two well-dressed, extremely pale men with top hats and canes walked casually along the edge of the dock. Everything around them was gray and brown and the sky was white. They talked idly, and at one point, they both turned and jumped into the water. They maintained their straight posture and straight facial expressions as they sank in the perfectly clear water. After descending for a few seconds, they resumed their conversation. When they reached the bottom, they both braced themselves and then raised their arms. Two large paired submarines that glowed pink rose from the sea floor and moved like slow torpedoes toward the surface.

The party was underway and the servant was no longer employed at the mansion. The floor, which had been somehow finished, shuddered at the initial impact of the submarines on the building's foundation.

The gentlemen on the sea floor waved their arms in different directions, sending a set of paired blue submarines in one direction and green ones in another to address other injustices in the town.

to the index