As for me, I make no distinction between the great religions of the world and the lesser known, or less acceptable, beliefs (human sacrifice and suicide bombers excepted, of course) even beliefs of people, among whom I may never have occasion to walk. So, if I happen to offend some tenet that you hold sacred, I plead not guilty to your charge of religious bigotry. I blaspheme with equal facility in all faiths.
Dr. Smithers' Groupie:
The last thing that might have occurred to Doctor Smithers, as he sat at his usual Saturday morning table in the Riverside Café, is that a graduate student, a certain Miss Kallomel would be secretly watching him over the top of her menu. And, had he noticed her, the last conclusion he might have drawn was that he had acquired a groupie.
Cosmology, Chaos and Classic Cars:
Hollis Riddley Biggs, out for a stroll in the lingering light of an autumn evening, chanced − in the most literal sense − to meet his maker. He had just turned off University Avenue at the Octopus Car Wash and started up the hill toward the Pratt Community Education Center, when God stepped out of the shrubbery along Arthur Avenue South East and fell into step beside him.
Waiting for Ms Right:
By the time we were in high school my buddies all had girl friends. Some of them were pretty; some were bright; some were good sports. But, though I envied the imperfect happiness these girls had brought my friends, I held out for something more. I wanted a girl who embodied all those virtues. I had read the poetry and heard the popular songs assuring me that my perfect girl was out there somewhere, and I knew that sooner or later I would meet her. And so I missed the prom.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow . . .
The booming and the clanking and the screaming chorus of dying men faded from his consciousness, until only a single scream remained − echoing and reinforcing his fear − as he fled down the long and brightly lit hallway. He burst at last through double swinging doors into a large room filled with lounging old men, and overseen by a wasted and weary nurse. The nurse looked up at his frenzied arrival, and, as he caught himself in mid-stride nearly losing his balance, she raised an eyebrow and brought an index finger to her lips, blowing a silent "sh" through her teeth, but saying nothing. The old men continued to lounge, ignoring the disturbance. And Private Billy Bindleshaft looked around the room, utterly bewildered by the incongruity of it all.
Where in hell was he?
Harry knew this reef well − this demon rock − forged in the fires of hell and thrust up from the black abyss, to lie in wait beneath the surface − whipping the waves into boiling ferment, and hungering to clutch the careless mariner to its scabrous breast. He could name the many fine vessels that had foundered here, and whose moldering bones now lay broken and scattered across the ocean floor below. And he had often heard the voices on the wind − the mournful intonations of good sailing men, forever lost beneath the waves.
When men had first come to Sanctuary Island, the gods had been still young and their pleasures were the unbridled pleasures of youth. They had been known, at that time, to assume human form and engage in ribald revelry among the natives.
During one particularly frenetic escapade, Maialele, the deliverer of young love and violent storms, had confided to mortals the secret recipe for kokovina, the elixir of omniscience, which gave the gods their ability to understand all things. Under the influence of the elixir, the islanders had shared the wisdom of the gods. They realized that the problems that confound men are, from a deity’s perspective, mere trifles, and that music and dancing and romantic adventure are the essential virtues of humankind and much cherished by the gods.
But there are secrets that mortals were never intended to know, and when the gods discovered the indiscretion, they were mightily displeased. In punishment, they caused men’s new found wisdom to evaporate with the morning sun; a great illness was visited upon those who had drunk of the elixir, and Maialele was shorn of his golden horns.
Butterflies and Bludgeons:
Once, knowing full well there are words one does not use in anything one writes, I dusted off my keyboard and typed the word brusquerie into something I wrote.
I knew even then what people would say: “There's no room in our language for such a foreign-sounding word — such a French-sounding word.” people would say. “Hemingway would never use such a French-sounding word.” they would add. “There are perfectly good American-sounding words that will work just as well. What's wrong with good old American `brusqueness', anyway?” They do not gladly suffer verbal license, these people.
Eternity. That was the word. The boy mouthed the consonants one more time, "T..n..tee," thinking the syllables silently to himself.
But the mother heard him anyway. "What was that you said?"
"I didn’t say nothing." he answered.
"Yes you did. I could hear your mouth moving. Now tell me what you said."
"Eternity? Where would you hear a word like that? Who’ve you been talking to?"
"Nobody." Her expression told him that a "nobody" answer would not satisfy the mother, so he elaborated, "I mean Sunday school. They said it in Sunday school."
"Why would anyone talk like that to a five year old?"
The mother took his hand as they left the gravel road − a shortcut through the woods would save them a quarter-mile − but she walked too fast for his short legs to keep up. And so, half running, he was half dragged along in her wake. "These Presbyterians have some strange notions about religion, talking eternity to a kid who’s not old enough to understand tomorrow."
Guardian of the Green Door
Oeen Door:ne night I woke up for no reason at all. I just knew that something terrible was going to happen. I didn’t have any idea what it was; I only knew that I had to get up and do something. When I got to the top of the stairs, I saw Alexander standing there with his hand on the knob like he was trying to work up his courage. And then he saw me coming to stop him, and he jerked the door open before I could get to him.
So that’s how I come to be an organ donor. Just to get rid of a contentious clerk. But the more I think about this thing, the more I figure it’s not such a bad deal after all. Look at it this way: You don’t die all at once the way you would otherwise. Parts of you get a chance to live on a little longer in other peoples' bodies. The more parts you donate, the more of you gets to live − in a manner of speaking, you understand. And suppose the guy who gets your parts is also a donor. You might get another shot at immortality. There’s no end the number of times you could get passed around. It’s almost as good as reincarnation.
I’m not advocating for this stuff, you know. I don’t proselytize. I’m just saying it sounds like a fair deal for me. You go ahead and do whatever you wanna do. It’s no skin off my ass, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Anyway, as long as I’m in it this far, I figure I might as well go all the way. Let ‘em take whatever they need. No point being a tight-ass with my body parts. Matter of fact, I’m gonna make it easy for them; I’ve drawn up an inventory of recyclable organs that I’ll make available at the moment of my passing. I plan to staple it to my driver’s license so, when the doctor checks to see if I’m a donor, he can just look it over like he was reading a menu, and he can help himself to whatever looks good to him.
To tell you that life neither begins at birth nor ends in death, without providing some insight into the nature of that life, would be to utter the most soporific of bromides and to insult the intelligence of the reader. For centuries, philosophers have wrestled in vain over the mind/body problem, and science, preoccupied with galaxies and elementary particles, offers no instruction on the subject. No matter. We shall enlighten you.
He discerned in his wife’s face − in this single moment − the innocence of her childhood, the impiety of youth, the concern of her middle years and the weariness of advancing age. It was a baby’s face before him, and yet it was the face of his bride on their wedding day. It was the face he had seen over dinner the evening before, and it was the shriveled visage of the dowager she would someday become. He saw her, not as she had been or would be at any single moment of her life, but as the sum of her existence. He beheld the woman in her entirety.
Three Days Hence:
But, once he had cast his body into the wind, having left the safety of the ledge behind, having passed that point at which he could still change his mind, he had realized a surprising serenity from the finality of his decision − from the knowledge that nothing he could do at that point would in anyway affect the outcome. His fate had been no longer his to determine, and a great burden − that millstone of counterfeit courage − had been lifted. Gravity had enfolded him in its sure embrace and had borne him safely to sanctuary in the silent depths of Lake Liverlorne. And, by the time he had propelled himself up to the surface, he had become the idol of every pre-adolescent in town. No, it was undeniably true: admiration and adoration had never been strangers to Major Staggerholm.
Three Days Hence:
How does one prepare for a duel? What are the details that must be arranged? If one has already drafted a will and made one’s funeral arrangements; if one has no family to inform; no pets for which to find new homes; no rents in one’s life in need of repair; no letters to write; no goodbyes to be said; then how does one fill the hours between the challenge and the "sunrise three days hence"? There are, of course, books one would still like to read and the memoirs one has every intention of someday writing. But reading and, still more, writing require a certain presence of mind − a capacity for concentration. And how does one apply one’s full attention to the deployment of mere words on paper when one’s very life is in comparatively immediate peril? − when the blood, now distributing nutriments to one’s various organs and constituent tissues, may, at sunrise three days hence, stain the wild flowers of Veridian Meadows?
And, since all those realities are complete unto themselves, lacking the flow of time and the fundamental forces, but retaining the appearance of the flow of time and the fundamental forces, might we not entertain the possibility that time does not flow and neither do we move through time. Might we not imagine that each and every copy of each of us and of all our friends is eternally imprisoned within a single quantum particle of time? Is it not conceivable that I have been sitting at my desk, gazing at the screen of my monitor and depressing a single key of my keyboard since the beginning of time, and that I will continue to do so for all of eternity? And all the while, in a nearby reality, another copy of me depresses a different key on my keyboard as it has always done and will continue to do, forever.