Industrial Strength

Most people, when they travel, keep their eyes open for famous sites and sights, or at least, spend their attentions on pretty and unusual things. Me, I love that stuff too, but I’m also intrigued by how other people in other places treat the things that are ordinary, plain, familiar, commonplace. Industrial zones are a great place to see such commonalities in abundance. Since I’m intrigued, as well, by decay and rusticity and quirky, strange shapes and conglomerations, the regions of manufacture and shipping and blue-collar labor are also a great treasure trove of images, both visual and imagined.

Herewith, a few of the photos I shot this summer while wandering in that particular mode.

Photo: Industrial Strength 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Contagion vs. Compassion

“One bad apple spoils the lot.” That creaky aphorism is based on equally venerable experience. Rot is contagious.

Bad company makes bad behavior seem the norm, and we adjust our own standards ever lower accordingly. One or two disheveled houses bring down the values of the others in the neighborhood, and those, in turn, fall into neglect and decay as their owners lose the courage and determination to resist the incredible pull of entropy. What isn’t growth is death.

What leads otherwise good and sane people to fall apart like that? Doubt; fear; despair. These are the hallmarks of contagion: the plague succeeds in felling us not only through its own virulence but because rather than seek its cure with full courage and determination we flee with it hot pursuit, and when it eventually catches up with us, we topple, curl up in the fetal position, and succumb.

The fall of one member of the world community—like Mr. Duncan, who was felled by Ebola in Texas—is a very real and terrible loss for all. The loss of thousands—those dying in West Africa—is indeed a plague and a thousand-fold grief we all must recognize and bear. The response, though, cannot be equally contagious doubt, fear, and despair. That can only make us choose unconstructive, even destructive, responses like blame, xenophobia, retreat, and the neglect of our fellow citizens of the earth. Then, no matter how many or few have been overtaken by disease and disaster, the contagion will have won.Photo: Snakebit

Hot Flash Fiction 13: Eternity Beckons

Photo: Science by CandlelightEternal life has always been the masters’ magnificent goal; no wonder that great magister and alchemist Osteodaimon was also determined to solve this elusive mystery himself, to plumb the Stygian depths of knowledge collected by the most piercing minds and intrepid souls ever to walk this dangerous earth. He began with years of reading, apprenticeship, exploration, privation, and experimentation. What Osteodaimon learned most quickly was that the process of becoming immortal was in fact incremental; it was a long series of tiny steps and grand leaps, of fallings-backward and soaring upward, all of which took him through both his long and arduous life of study and also a few strange periods of stasis, in which, all told, he began this mystical transformation of his into one truly able to transcend death. Many and terrifying were the missteps and passages, rites and elixirs, incantations, and the heart-shaking, wrenching feats of bravery and agility required of his profound intellect and the ever-disintegrating body that sought answers from that abyss.

One winter’s night, when he had traversed the grueling routes both between his birth and the ninety-two cycles of the seasons that already marked him as uniquely time-defying by his ancient era’s reckoning, and between the smoothly un-furrowed innocence of youth and his avidly acquired brilliance, he recognized in the ice crystals forming along his lashes the last increment required to complete his journey. Carrying the tinctures and potions that would preserve his last bits of mental and physical strength for the ritual, he set forth in the falling snow and moonlight to go farther into the frozen wilderness than he, or anyone, had ever plunged before. He began to notice as he went forward that the slower he moved, the faster the vastness of ice seemed to recede before him, until it was clear that his pace of progress was directly opposed by the increasingly swift passage of time. He knew that his own final breath was hardly a hairbreadth ahead of him, racing both toward him and away, and that only by letting the speed of it catch up with the glacial slowness he himself was approaching, at exactly the right juncture, and by taking the last dram of his precious medicine at exactly the same instant, could he affect the perfect circumstances for his final transformation.

Osteodaimon finally marked the spot. He lay down on the bottomless swath of blue-black ice, took the last draught of his alchemical magic into his gaunt grey mouth, and stopped. He became fused to the ice there instantly, his eyes made into a pair of wide, dull mirrors for the relentless moon and faded stars of perpetual polar night.

When he returned to himself and forced his eyes to focus again, his vision was oddly fragmented, and he sensed that he had drifted from his last stopping place far more than he had imagined he would have done. But the new place, also moonlit and cold, was pleasant enough, and he knew that soon his vision would clear and the slight buzzing in his ears would pass as he regained his strength. His sense of physical power, indeed, astonished him immediately as it returned; it was not only as though he were young again but as though he had new and exhilarating powers that would easily surpass those of his remembered early years, when he had labored so mightily in his pursuit of conquering death. This new Osteodaimon was a super-being to be reckoned with, and he took off at great speed to see what he could now accomplish in this next passage of his life.

It startled him how quickly he was able to go from place to place, how he seemed now to see things from so many new perspectives and rarely wearied of dashing about, looking, stopping to sup cold water or wine, or have a little food when he chose, but endlessly pursuing the delights of his renewed life. We cannot be sure, for history has failed to record all of the details perfectly, but it may be that it was only a matter of days, or at most weeks, before he realized that he could no longer read.

This proved a surprising disappointment that he would attempt to address soon enough. Not quite soon enough, perhaps, that he was ever able to learn the story of how, in A.D. 1867, a small group of botanists on the steppe discovered a perfectly preserved man encased in ice at the edge of a receding glacier. How the intrepid scientists chiseled their magnificent find out of his tomb in a manageable block and labored to drag it back to their fledgling university by sledge and wagon and train. How they built an ice-house museum room for the express purpose of preserving and examining this amazingly lifelike ancient man. How, one awful night in 1871, the city and that little-known museum in it were consumed by fire. How the ice-entombed mystery man had been spared cremation himself only because the conflagration had taken so long to melt his ice block that he remained weirdly, wonderfully intact, his eyes dully mirroring the moon once again.

Surely Osteodaimon could not have learned how to read again even in time to make sense of the tale that followed, of the chaos after the city’s destruction that prevented anyone from having further sightings of this miraculous time-traveler that had so clearly been the earthly form of the great magister and alchemist himself. Even if he had been able to read again, there would be no document to explain that his ultimate disappearance meant neither that he had finally ceased to exist nor that his old ideas of perpetual life being possible were entirely incorrect, for in the days and weeks immediately following the Great Fire, there was far more concern for removal of dangerous debris and rescue of injured and homeless known victims than for tidying up the remnants of an obscure museum. Had there been a witness to record it, there might have been something that Osteodaimon could hope to learn to read, something telling him that his thawed remains had rotted in the post-apocalyptic drear of an abandoned building, showing no more activity than the usual decay and natural recycling would show.

He might also, of course—had he been able to read it—thought that perhaps the early philosophers and proto-scientists were not entirely wrong but only slightly misdirected in their belief in spontaneous generation. For he would have found in the documentation of the ice-man’s progress that feeding on his mortal remains had been the usual generation or two of avid creatures that led to his emergence, eventually, as revivified carbon in the form of a blowfly. Once alive, always alive, but not, perhaps in precisely the way he had long imagined it.Digital illustration from photos: From Here to Eternity. Maybe.

In Rust I Trust

It doesn’t really matter all that much what I’m doing or where I am; two things almost always grab my attentions, whatever I was supposed to be focused on at the moment. Is it a shiny, twinkly, sparkling object? Oh, yeah, that’ll catch my magpie eye. I adore that kind of stuff. But I love its polar opposite, too. I am as easily distracted and attracted by rusty, crusty, crumbling, peeling, decrepit things as by the polished and gleaming ones.

You already knew these things. What can I say? The world is just so ridiculously full of prettiness.photo photo photoIt’s a great source of happiness for me. I’m simple in that way. Among many others.

It’s All Downhill from Here

colored pencilGhoulish Delight

I rustle my hands in taloned glee

Because the deadly recipe

From neither pots nor spoons nor pans

But sort of cauldron-cooked began

To boil and burble, burn and bake

And make a horrid bellyache

In which I openly rejoice

From the bottom of my heart at the top of my voice

Since it eats at the spot whence woe betides

I mean, my enemy’s insides

I hate to admit that it drives me nuts

How I loathe the cretin’s creepy guts

So I will make like a fleet of moles

And bore them full of a flock of holes

Filling me full of ironic glee

And comeuppance for him who so bores me

Since that’s why I really stayed in school

To grow up and be a bad little ghoul

And lest you forget yourself, sneer or scoff

Be nice to me or I’ll bump you offcolored pencil

So Soon Begins the End

Upon my word! This is a fix

I never thought to find me in–

at least not find for five or six

more decades, when my hair’d grown thin

and belly fat, and joints grown weak

and brain grown mushier than it had

been yet, but I age as we speak–

so rapidly–why, this is Bad!

I never dreamed that I would age

before a hundred years or so,

and then, at most, to turn more sage;

oh, this is a grubby way to go!