Applied Science – On a clear day…

I had heard it said that on a clear day you could see forever.

Well forever is a mighty long fucking time, and living in the negative times we lived in, it was hard enough to have to see as far as next week and if forever looked as bad as it looked now, why would anyone want to see it.

Sure enough that would be a reason for considering suicide.

But just for the hell of it I waited to see if it was true. I looked from the window of our sparsely furnished apt, and waited for a day that was clear. I had stopped going outside months ago. It didn’t seem productive. The air was polluted, the possibility of being exposed to some bacteria or virus that could kill you was great, and on top of that, it was just plain dangerous.

The year was 2055, and I had suffered many illnesses, lost two thirds of my friends and family, and now lived in a small two bedroom apartment. We had discovered the building some years ago. My brother had received an envelope with a description of the building and a package with the keys, combinations, and instructions for getting to and in the building. I had thought that it had come from a nut.

Then my brother was a scientist at a research company and he got lots of weird stuff from people in the mail. But he did not seem to think it was a nut or a joke and guarded the envelope like it was the key to some treasure.

When the difficulties had begun, he did not seem at all surprised and began looking for the building right away. It had two armored entry doors, it was smooth and uneasily scaled, with high sealed windows, and it looked as if it had been built to discourage access. In the times in which we currently lived I could see why, but it was hard to image why someone would have built something like this back in the 1970’s.

My brothers scavenged for food, and my sister and I tried to keep things tidy and sanitary,. which was hard in the filth the city had become. But survival depended on keeping things as clean as we could get them. The cabinets and closets had been filled to the brim with cleaners and disinfectants when we first arrived. I though it odd and assumed the person who had lived here must have been a real germiphobe. But my brother being the scientist had replied, “I doubt that, then they would have used them and the bottles would be empty. These were left here for us.”

I looked at him strangely, but shrugged and accepted his analogy, but how could anyone have known we would need them and why so much. Many days after, I began to appreciate the store of cleaners, especially when they began to get low and we had to find them outside. We boiled the water and collected cleaning supplies when we could find them. Occasionally running across a buried store of supplies in one of the used to be superstores that cluttered the metropolitan areas in the early part of the millennium. We found lots of things there. Dead things, half living things, and even valuable things. We’d bag up what we could find and take it home for sorting. Since I no longer left the house often this became my job. I would keep what we could use and then my brother’s would take what we didn’t need or couldn’t use and trade it with people who could.

On the day that dawned clear, I was cleaning a window high up in the building we called home. I watched as a large ball of flame swallowed up everything, and stood riveted as a storm covered the surface of the land as far as I could see. The last vision was an armada of ships, space ships. I covered my eyes and cowered as if they could see me.

Overcome with fear and despair, I was suddenly filled with the urge to throw myself from the window. Unfortunately at this height in this high-rise building the windows did not open. I slid down and remained sitting in that same spot until my sister returned. When she could not elicit a response from me she grew concerned, and when I finally did speak what I told her made her even more concerned.

“We are all going to die!”

“Yes one day we are all going to die, but not today. What the hell has gotten into you?”

“They said that on a clear day you could see forever so I looked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about but you’re going to lie down until the boys get back. I won’t have you falling apart now. We have too much to accomplish.”

When my brothers arrived I told them what I saw. My other brother, an ex-soldier, thought I was losing my grip or succumbing to some illness, but my older brother, scientist that he was knelt beside me and asked me to explain to him what I had seen. It was dark outside and I couldn’t show him and I didn’t know when there would be another clear day so I attempted to explain what I had seen.

He looked pensive and stood to look out of the window.

“On the next clear day you must show me where you were looking.” he said.

The other’s looked at him amazed.

“What it is?” my other brother asked, “Is there something to what she saw?”

“I don’t know yet, but I need to see to be certain.” My older brother replied.

It only took two days for it to be clear and sunny again. Which was odd since it had been many months since such atmosphere had existed. My younger brother and sister went out to handle the scavenging and my older brother stayed behind to stare into forever with me. We stood at the recently cleaned window, which I had wiped again to be certain I had created the exact same conditions as before. I pointed in the direction of the clear empty sky. For a moment we saw nothing and I began to doubt my sanity, but my brother stood stark still and waited. He was not disappointed, though what he saw was different than what I had seen two days prior. Today the fireball seemed closer, the super-storms had passed and the Armada seemed to be search for something.

My brother watched a good deal longer than I had been able and when he was done he was calm but pensive again. He took out his computer, which he reserved for emergencies. It ran on stored solar energy from panels we had collected from the roof of buildings no longer in use. He ran a series of calculations on it’s fancy scientific programs. The space into which we were peering was apparently some temporal time gap, moving in several phases, though none the immediate present. After a short time he looked up at me and said, “We have to prepare to leave soon. If we are going to be gone when that fireball hits we will need to be gone in two weeks tops, and far enough away not to be caught in the fallout. The storms are four or five months away.” he said.

He did not talk about the Armada.

In the weeks in which we prepared to depart, I stumbled upon a small cabinet we had never opened. Inside there were a variety of things which I took and put in a back pack. Several vacuum sealed candy bars, a fire arm with the shells, syringes, a list with suggested items to collect among which was antibiotics, first aid supplies, and an envelope with maps and coordinates. I gave the backpack to my other brother. He would most likely know what was to be done with it, and would be able to inspect and verify the safety of the firearm. It was sometimes a good thing to have around when you had someone familiar with how to use one. For others it was dangerous especially if accosted by someone with a desire to take it away. But being a sharp shoot had been one of the benefits of having military training. But hopefully we wouldn’t need it.

Were readied ourselves to leave. Our electric paneled truck had been outfitted to recharge with solar panels, as long as there was sun during the day we’d have power to drive at night. There was no way to be certain of the roads or what we would run into, but my brother seemed confident we would reach our destination no matter what difficulties we might face on the way.

If my brother’s calculations were correct, even if we missed the fire ball we would arrive in Kentucky just in time to find shelter before the storms. Even if we were lucky enough to survive the trip across county, and the coming super cells, my brother said we might still not be among those chosen to leave when the last of mankind were selected to be rescued from our dying planet. I was shock at his revelation.

Apparently the building had been a temporal window for several of the inhabitants of our apartment. The lucky few to understand and heed what they had seen would be there to assist us if and when we arrived. The others were now too old but had followed their directives to make certain the things we needed were in the places we were destined to find them. I shuddered to think now that I realized the gun had been left there intentionally. The person who left it had to be privy to some circumstance that mandated it’s necessity. They must also have known there would be someone who could use it. Because of my fragility, the candies had been included to help control my glucose levels. Though I was not diabetic, my energy was often too low to endure too many activities that required stamina. With maps to guide us and our path laid out for us, we looked upon the place we had called home. It was the last time we would see it.

It was a shame the building would not last the fireball, but it had, my brother believed, served it’s purpose. He never said how he knew this, or explained fully what it was he saw, but one thing was certain, we would arrive at our intended destination. Maybe worse for the wear, but we would live to see a future.

A clear day might have given a vision of what to look forward to, but it did not tell us how to survive to arrive there safely. My brother did not have all the answers, nor were they provided by those who had seen the visions before us. But if he applied all he had learned, and we used our brains as well as our technology, then maybe we would have a fighting chance to be among those who would be the remnant of our world.

What was the point of science if it could not be applied to survival?

Applied Science © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Turbulent sky over Rip Van Winkle bridge

Vanessa Winkler was said to be easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart.

If my father had been alive at the time I met her he would simply have said she was a bitch plain and simple. He had passed away in December of 1994, two years before I had entered college, and had warned me no matter what I did not to marry any bitches. My mother had been the death of him it had been said. She and I didn’t get along to well either which is why I lived in New York and she lived in LA. We spoke occasionally but I didn’t go home much.

Vanessa was a piece of work, though not to take her side or anything she really couldn’t be blamed, it wasn’t her fault she was born lovely. And though she could have chosen a better temperament her circumstances made her behavior more understandable if not acceptable to most of those who knew her. She grew up on the south side of Chicago.

Vanessa was something of an rarity. A misplaced soul if you will. At fifty, she looked little different then she had at twenty, and young men found her just as attractive as the men her age. But she was mean and unpredictable. That is, she was mean to men. Woman found her funny and smart, or a smart ass, which to them equaled funny too, usually at the expense of some guy. On one such occasion that guy was me.

We met in a New York art gallery. She was looking at a painting of the Hudson River Valley. I walked up to her and said, “There’s an old story that goes with that valley.”

“Yeah, that how you normally pick up girls?” she asked.

“Well no,” I said trying to recover and fumbling, “but you seemed very interest in the picture. I’m the curator. I just thought you’d like to know.”

It was true nevertheless. I couldn’t help taking in her beauty. She spent the next twenty minutes telling me she was old enough to be my mother, not quite, and trying to shoo me away. I wasn’t going for it. I told her the story of the thunderstorms in the summer afternoons in the Kaatskill and old stories about Hendrick Hudson and his crew and their game of nine-pins, “It’s the story of Rip Van Winkle.”

She looked at me with amazement and a wry smile and said, “I’ve got a story for you.” We sat on a sofa under soft lighting and she told me her story.

At twenty in 1974, she had been a wide eyed heartthrob, young, eager to try things, and adventurous. Her mother was particular, critical and always fussing at her. She wandered; a habit her mother had said would be the death of her. But she was always armed, and she always had her dog with her, a large chocolate Labrador called Brute. He wasn’t mean spirited, just very protective.

One evening out on one of her usual excursions, Brute grew alert and sniffed curiously at the air. Ahead a party could be heard, the base of the music so loud it sounded like a thunderstorm. Traveling in the direction of the music was a young beautiful woman, tall, wiry, and seductively dressed. On her shoulder she bore a keg. In her other hand she smoked a strong-smelling cigarette. She nodded and beckoned to Vanessa to follow.

“Help me serve this unruly crew.” she said and smiled.

Vanessa was glad to help.

They danced and drank and looked as though they were having loads of fun despite not having a smile on a single face. They wiggled and strutted and teased the men to no end. Vanessa decided she had to have a taste of whatever heavenly brew was in the keg and sampled it. It was sweet and dark, with a light chocolate flavor.

“It’s good huh?” asked one of the girls as she sashayed up for another glass.

“Yes,” she admitted sheepishly after getting caught mid drink on her third or fourth taste.

The girl seemed unaffected. “Smoke?” she said, like a question, but Vanessa wasn’t certain if it was a request or a command. The girl didn’t wait for an answer and placed the lit stick between her lips. She inhaled twice and then exhaled. She had a “Hotel California” moment, her head grew heavy and her sight grew dim. Before long she found herself dancing and flirting with the men just like all the other girls. It was loud and the room was spinning, and she had begun to wonder what might have been in the drink or cigarette. She felt at her side and her purse was still there her piece inside. She called for Brute but did not see or hear him.

She woke in the light of the next morning. Her mother would be worried and furious. The area look abandoned and it was hard to believe a party had been here the other night. In was dusty and scattered with old rusty chairs that looked fragile and dangerous to touch let alone to sit in. As she departed the abandoned building she saw a large rat, and grabbed for her gun. The strap of her purse broke. The material was dry and threadbare. Her pistol jammed and would not fire. She ran, calling for Brute but he was nowhere to be found.

She decided to catch a bus, she had a few dollars and just enough change. When she found the bus-stop the sign was odd, but she sat on the bench and waited. When the bus arrived, it was odd looking, boxy with wide doors, what was this an experimental bus? The fare box, also boxy, had a mechanical inside and a digital LED readout that told how much money she had put in. Vanessa was awestruck but when it read fifty cents she held out her had for her transfer.

“You need another dollar twenty-five ma’am,” said the driver.

Vanessa attempted to argue but the drive said, “If you don’t have the money you have to get off the bus.”

She put in the extra dollar and a quarter and asked the driver if he went past Vincennes.

“No, you’ll need to transfer at the 95th street station.” said the driver.

The driver explained her route and told her what number bus to catch. He promised he would point it out once they reached the station. The bus road along the freeway and when they reached the station he pointed her to the bus and sent her on her way.

She tried to pull herself together but her hair kept getting in the way. It was a nice length as her friend’s mother use to say, but not so long it should keep obstructing her activity. She pulled it free from her jacket and long lengths of salt and pepper tresses fell across her chest. She began to cry. People looked at her strangely but offered to help her. One man gave her a bottle of water from the vending machine and asked if there was someone he could call for her. He reached in his pocket and pulled a tiny device from its confines. Vanessa looked at him confused and gave him her mother’s number, which he dialed and handed her the device. He nodded as if to reassure her.

She could hear the phone ringing on the other end. The person who answered the phone sounded just like her mother.

“Mama it’s Vanessa, something’s wrong.” she said.

“I’m sorry, who is this? Vanessa has been gone a long time.” the woman said.

“No this IS Vanessa.” she repeated.

There was a dead silence at the end of the phone.

“Vanessa this is Angela, your sister. Mother has been dead for 12 years. Where are you.” she answered finally.

“I’m at the ninety fifth street bus station.” Vanessa answered.

“Stay there, I’ll come and get you.” Angela said and hung up.

In twenty minutes Angela pulled up in a Honda Civic. She was tall and beautiful and at 43 looked just like a thinner version of her mother. As they drove through the neighborhood she noticed everything had changed. Buildings and businesses had sprouted up everywhere.

Angela had been taking care of her mother’s property since she had passed away and just happened to be at the house. Their three younger siblings still lived there. The house had been renovated and additions added. Her mother had boxed all of her things and the baby was in what used to be her room now though. Vanessa remembered her brothers but did not know the baby girl; she was 19 nearly the age Vanessa was on the night she disappeared. She had not yet been born when Vanessa had last been this way. Her name was Vanessa as well.

Her sister asked what had happened and Vanessa tried to explain the party, the women, and that drink. Her sister told her Brute had returned without her. He had stayed until he had gotten old, but went out every night as if to look for her and one day he too did not come back. “Mother assumed you had run off with some man or been kidnapped. She thought maybe you had gone because she was so hard on you.”

Her sister gave her clothes to clean up. She went to her old room. She was in tears and Angela tried to comfort her. “I am close to dying already and have not yet even had the opportunity to live. I feel as if my life has been ripped away from me. I don’t belong here anymore.”

“Come live with me in New York. It will be fun and even though you won’t get back those years you will be able to enjoy your life.” Angela responded.

She agreed. She donated her old things to her baby sister’s theater class. She flew on her first plane flight to New York. Over the next few years she discovered a world that was filled with computers and technology. She took classes in art, and wandered the city of New York. She had a new dog, Et Tu Brute, and they wandered the nightlife of New York City. She didn’t drive, she had never learned how, but she had mastered the city transit.

***

When she finished her story I was amazed and quiet. Next year I would be forty. I could not image what losing thirty years of my life would have been like. I began spending lots of time with her and two years later asked her to marry me. Now we wander together.

One night we came upon a man carrying a keg in the direction of a party that sounded like it could have been a thunderstorm, he asked if we wanted to come along. We looked at each other, laughed and turned to the man and said, “No thanks,” and turned and headed for home.

Sometimes you don’t realize you were lost until you find out where you’ve been trying to get to.

Ripped © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved

 

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