Thursday, June 20, 2013


DIEGO RODE his hover scooter through the cool blue morning down toward the store secure in the knowledge that the redwoods would rise miles and miles to the sky infinitely, eternally, and forever without end. Past the restaurant on the right he rode, seafood within advertised by the giant metal swordfish stuck on top of the pole outside. On the way back he would pull off to the grassy rise on the other side and, as was long his habit, chuck rocks at it.
            Diego’s parents worked in neighboring Drakewood four miles down the Avenue, so he had the whole town to himself. He was thirty-six years old, with the wind in his hair, and because he had enough credits to download 3-D hologram versions of favorite old shows, he could look forward to watching Pete Townshend and Keith Moon smash equipment while he stood next to waist-high Tommy Smothers like a god. Diego didn’t have enough credits for life size holograms. Not anywhere near, and his parents weren’t likely even combined to ever get that many credits in their lives. But still, real 3-D was something, and he couldn’t wait to watch, from every possible angle and using every feature option, Kirk battle Spock.
            Noiselessly the hover scooter slid the standard three feet approximate over the road as though in an invisible gelatinous river. His job was to head over to the high school and a few other places at some point in the day and check out a couple things here and there, basically make sure the problem spots in particular never got a chance to freeze up. He took it slow past Madrani Market and Madrani Café. You couldn’t take a hover scooter very fast anyway, and most definitely not his. Past the market, off to the right, the heavily forested mountain rose forever up, green trees growing and going on and on, past the gray wisps of clouds hovering kelp-like over the town.
            Back down below, the high school, neat and orderly, sprawled out like a cemetery. The problem spots there were mostly from water collecting on some wide expanses of flat rooftops where people liked to climb up and hang out, usually at night. So he had to put buckets under drips in some of the rooms below, and if it got to raining really hard make sure the buckets didn’t overflow. But there wouldn’t be any rain today.
            On the other side of the street at The Burl Barn in the wood yard somebody dressed up like a Hippie stood among the chainsaw carvings of striding Bigfeet with his mouth nearly down to his knees. It was agape. He was aghast. Apparently frozen. Except,
Diego knew there wasn’t any Hippie in The Burl Barn wood yard. Bigfeet, bears, totem poles, windmills. If a Hippie needed installing, he’d have had to do it. So somebody must have hopped the fence. Diego veered the hover scooter over to The Burl Barn. He hated having to deal with trespassers.
            The guy really did look frozen. And the getup was completely authentic.
            “You’re gonna have to leave,” Diego said, stopping the hover scooter a little way from the guy in the getup and pulling a fully automatic pistol on him.
            “Holy crap!” the guy in the getup yelled.
            “You armed?”
            “No! Hell no!”
            “Submit to a search?”
            “I need to scan you.”
            “Scan me?”
            “Just to check for weapons.”
            “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, man, but I can see right now something’s not right here. I mean like, what the hell is that you’re on?”
            “My hover scooter? You act like you’ve never seen a crappy old hover scooter.”
            “No, dude, I haven’t. It looks like that thing really works. What the hell is going on here? Who are you, man?”
            “My parents cover the area here, and I’m in charge when they’re gone. I’m licensed to carry this. You don’t have any license to be here.”
            “Oh, man, I’ve got a bad feeling here. I think I’m—I don’t think—”
            “Listen, I can shoot you. I’m licensed to protect the town.” Diego’s finger was on the trigger. He really didn’t want to have to shoot, but he was starting to feel like there might not be any other choice. It was a big surprise to him when the gun accidentally went off, sending a burst of bullets ripping down across the street into Just Desserts.
            “Hey man! Do me a favor and put that thing away, okay?” The face on the guy in the outfit was pleading.
            “So now you think I’m some idiot who doesn’t know how to use a gun right. Relax, it’s no big deal, I’ll fix everything.”
            “There’s somebody inside there. Look, there are people.”
            Diego smiled as he returned the pistol to the holster at the back of his belt. He could tell the guy in the Hippie costume wanted to go see. He let him go check it out.
            Glass was shattered at the front of Just Desserts. Some figures stood inside at the counter. But it wasn’t until the Hippie approached the broken glass door, cautiously, concerned, that the figures inside moved. Music came on. The whole place lit up. Tinkling sounds of coffee cups returned to saucers and the clinking of plates and utensils mingled with conversation and laughter. Diego slid over on his hover scooter and saw the Hippie stare in awe at a woman standing at the counter with a doughnut in her hand and a hole in her head. Wiring was revealed.
            “I can’t say I always appreciated them when I was younger,” said Diego, stepping in and examining the damage, “but I’ve grown to.” The plastic doughnut in the animatronic hand rose to the ripped pinkish latex skin and broken circuitry exposed where there should have been a mouth. “We’ll fix her. Get her all good as new. All it takes is shutting her down and ordering some new parts, really. Anybody else hit?”
            The Hippie looked around. “These are all robots? When did they put robots here?”
            “I think you’ve got to be the most confused-looking person I’ve ever seen in my life. You mind turning off that switch back there? It looks like an old light switch on the wall.”
            Fumble, click.
            Music came on.
            “No, that’s Neil Young. ‘Barstool Blues.’ I forget there’s more than one switch back there. Leave the music on, though.”
            All the animatronic people stopped. The Hippie came over to the counter muttering, “I’m tripping. Everything’s okay. Everything’s gonna be all right. Yeah.”
            “What’s this now?” Diego wasn’t sure what he’d heard. “Did you say you were—what did you say—tripping?”
            “What’s delightful? Sir, are you on drugs?”
            “I’m down inside a hollow redwood. A great big redwood in the forest.
It’s like this really cool fort. And I’m experimenting expanding my consciousness. Look at the beautiful world of the future I created all around. My subconscious, anyway. Wow, so realistic.”
            “World of the future, huh? What year is it?”
            “I don’t know.”
            “You don’t know what year this is?”
            “Perhaps my mind will show me a calendar.” The Hippie looked around and saw no calendar on any wall. He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it’s not important.”
            Diego disconnected the woman with the face shot up. “I don’t understand why you’re in a tree, though.”
            “That’s where I went with my mushrooms. A very rare variety. Glow-in-the-dark, actually. My friend turned me on. I went to the tree because I wanted to be in a safe place, all-natural, you know? And I had been thinking—probably because of my studies in shamanism—about how all time is happening at the same moment, and the thing that separates each moment is, not a linear continuum of time, but levels of vibration. We’re all one. Everything is one. I’ve seen how nothingness becomes matter, man. Think about that. Everything in existence is a fractal of existence. We’re all fractals of the universe.”
            “So what year do you think it really is?”
            “Well, I suppose that’s debatable. Man, look at you. What a freakin’ trip.”
            “What year is it?”
            “Hmm. Something about my subconscious needs to focus on time. Fascinating.”
            “Hey, give me a hand, would you? I’ve got to take this one down to the shop. Could you open that door?”
            The Hippie quite graciously complied. They stepped out of Just Desserts, leaving the people inside turned off, went past Madrani Café, to a little alley, practically all the walls covered with some fantastic trippy mural, everything all blue above, not a chem-trail in the sky, and Diego found what looked like a fuse box and flipped a couple switches, unleashing Neil on the town, so that “Cortez the Killer” resounded. On the west side of the Avenue at the gas station, the animatronic mechanic, which was bent over with the nice vertical smile on display, went into action when Diego and the Hippie tripped the motion sensors, jolting VRRP, VRRRRP sounds with the riveting of sockets reverberating realistically in the garage. Diego and the Hippie took the animatronic woman inside the garage and down hidden stairs to an animatronic work and storage space. Diego put the body on the long slab table, the Hippie marveling at the array of disassembled animatronic body parts arranged in shelves along the walls and hanging from the ceiling.
            “What are you really doing here?” Diego said. “How did you get here?”
            “I woke up in the tree and came up from the woods. How do you control music through the whole town?”
            “Are you aware where you are?”
            “Sure,” he said, brushing his long brown hair behind his ears with his fingers and pulling it back into a ponytail, “of course. I live right up the street.”
            “You do? Where?”
            “I’ll show you.”
            Passing by the metal swordfish on the way back up the hill toward the south end of town, together on the hover scooter silent as thought through the cool redwood air, they came to a road, and at the Hippie’s indication turned down, sliding by a duplex overgrown with ivy and houses with fences and flowers and gardens, till at the Hippie’s indication they stopped. He hopped off and hit the ground and turned to Diego and said, “See? There’s my house. That’s where I live.”
            “Your house, huh?”
            “Well, I admit it does look a good bit different. Only in the minor details, though. Those are imperfections and embellishments from my subconscious.”
            “Do you really think you’re dreaming right now? Because you’re not, I can tell you that. I’m real. I’m as real as it gets. At first I wanted you to just get out. Now I’m not sure if I should even let you leave. If anything went wrong I’d get in trouble. Thing I can’t figure out is how you got past perimeter security. I think you better tell me your name.”
            “Why should I do that? I already showed you where I live. Look man, I don’t know who you are or what you think you’re doing, and thanks for the ride, man, but I think I want you off our property. I do want you off. I want you to go. Just leave me alone and go away now.”
            Diego produced the pistol and pointed it at the Hippie. “What do you care, right? You still think you’re dreamin’.”
            “Don’t shoot me, man.”
            “What do you care, right?”
            “Don’t do it!”
            “What’s your name?”
            “Chad Perlman. Don’t shoot!”
            “How did you get here?”
            “I told you, man! I went down to—I’m not dreaming. Oh god. I went down to the forest to do some ‘shrooms.”
            “A really rare kind. Glowed.”
            “Yeah! And I just thought it would be a really far out thing to do it in this big old redwood tree I know that’s all hollow at the bottom.”
            “So what happened?”
            “Look man, could you please lower that? It’s really hard to talk to you right now.”
            Diego went ahead and lowered the gun, and just as he did, finger on the trigger, it went off again, sending a spray of bullets into the sidewalk and along a corner of the house. An inarticulate curse tore from his lips and he almost dropped the gun before setting it down pointed away from the two of them.
            “Go ahead!” Diego said, upset at the gun accidentally going off for a second time. “Tell me what the hell happened!”
            “I journeyed inside my mind. I thought about vibrations.”
            “What do you mean, ‘vibrations?’”
            “Well, I mean, you know, it’s like, all matter is solidified thought. I’d been thinking about time travel. How all time happens at the same time. I tapped into something. I tapped into a part of my mind not used before, a part of the mind nobody uses, and I understood, and by understanding I made it happen. It’s not 1975 anymore, is it?”
            “1975? Are you kidding? It’s 2050!”
            Low moans came from the house, followed by agonized groaning and horrific cries.
            “You shot someone. Did you hear that? Someone in the house is hurt.”
            The Hippie raced inside. Diego picked up the pistol and took out the clip. Damn thing was faulty. You couldn’t get quality anything hardly anywhere anymore. The house was a two-story. The big perfect white kind like you used to see on TV. And there was a garden, of course. And a lawn. And flowers. All needing tending. Somebody had to do that.
            Low moans again. Agonized groans and horrific cries. The Hippie came out of the house wide-eyed in his tie-dye.
            “It’s a Haunted House,” Diego said. “The gunshots tripped the sensors.”
            “So the whole town is robots?”
            “Most of the buildings here have some sort of animatronic feature. Not all, though.”
            “Why though? Why? Why has this happened? What happened to my town? Where did all the people go?”
            Diego couldn’t say. “This is Redwoodland. You’re in Haunted Madrani. Usually my parents caretake the town, but they have to work in Drakewood today. So you think you’re from 1975?”
            “Man, I am from 1975.”
            “You got any ID?”
            “Yeah, you know, ID. Like something that says who you are. You got a wallet?”
            The Hippie patted his pockets. “Not on me. I left it”—he looked over his shoulder up at the second-story window—“in my room….” His voice trailed off. He stared at the ground for a moment with his brows knit, then said, “I wonder what happened to my family.”
            “Okay, well listen, man. I’ve got work to do and you’re not supposed to be here.”
            “I don’t understand.”
            “I mean you’re not supposed to be here.”
            “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
            “How the hell should I know? That’s not my problem. Your being here is my problem. Now get out of here before you get me in trouble.”
            “Get out like where? I have no money, nowhere to go, and no way to get there. All I have in the world is everything you see.”
            Ghostly sounds from the Haunted House had stopped. Trees creaked. For no reason he could figure, Diego asked if the Hippie was hungry, and when he said that he was, Diego went ahead and took him back down on the hover scooter to Madrani Café.

They sat on thickly cushioned swivel stools at the counter. Behind them some of the tables were redwood slabs on burl bases, rich mahogany marbled wildly with radiating rings and peppered with minute constellations of character, and the entire shape of the slab was irregular and unique because it came from burls with knots and roots and pockets milled into two- and three-inch slabs, no two exactly alike in the world. In front of them stood a blonde-haired, blue-eyed animatronic waitress wearing Daisy Dukes, trim white fringe on her tight cutoff jeans fluffy and clean as if fresh from the wash.
            “So what was it like living when ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ was on?”
            “Yeah, that’s a pretty good one. I haven’t seen him do it for a couple years, but when my youngest brother was nine or ten, and he’s I guess twelve years younger than me, he used to go around wearing one of those long metal tennis ball cans all the way up to his armpit, and wear a long-sleeved shirt over his arm so that when we punched it or if he crashed into something it would seem bionic. And he used to squint one eye to show that it was bionic, too. And he would move super-fast, pretending to go in slow-mo. I guess he’d be eighty-eight now, if he’s still…you know.”
            “Still alive?”
            “It’s sure not impossible. I know people in their nineties and hundreds. You should try to look him up. Maybe he can help you.”
            “You know, you’re right. That means I’m a hundred. I might not look a day over twenty-five right now, but I feel a hundred years old inside. I wonder if I’ll suddenly start aging on the outside to catch up.”
            Diego had his phone out. It was the size of a corn chip, and at the touch of a very tiny button seemed to expand to a door-sized golden rectangle glittering with possibility.
            “I’m not seeing any Perlmans in the directory,” he said.
            The Hippie saw in the door-sized hologram-like screen which was not actually there clips of advertising firing away, dehumanized women shining and jostled and screaming in fearful ecstasy the names of products, everything on-screen all frantic pulsing color spinning to catch attention, and looking to the Hippie like a jumbled mess of garbage falling constantly apart. Pictures of the world beyond Redwoodland instilled fear and reverence. Famine and flame and deadly disease. You couldn’t look away, and there was always more.
            “Enjoy, boys,” Cheryl, the animatronic waitress said, swiveling over with the orders.
            “I keep expecting to see Yul Brynner come in wearing a black cowboy hat,” said the Hippie between bites of bacon cheeseburger.
            “I know the movie you’re talking about,” Diego said with a mouthful of pizza.
            “Right! But it’s not like that here. There are such things as walking androids in the world, true. They don’t have them here, though. Too expensive. Too much hassle. These ones here are hard enough to keep up.”
            Cheryl just smiled. Nice midriff. Showed a lot of latex.
            The Hippie thanked Diego for the burger when they’d finished. Diego left his pizza crust.
            “No problem,” Diego said outside. “I get it at a discount.”
            “I guess I’ll have to figure out how to start getting some of those credits,” the Hippie said.
            “I guess you better. Where you going?”
            “I think it’s time to take off.”
            “Take off? Where to?”
            “Oh, I think I’ll start by going back to that tree, see if I can’t fall asleep.”
            “You got any more of those weird mushrooms?”
            “All right then, good luck.”
            “Thanks for being cool with me, dude.”
            “No prob, dude.”
            Deep down the Hippie wondered if maybe Diego wouldn’t be letting him go. Wondered if he wouldn’t have to turn around to see while he was walking away Diego with the pistol leveled. But all Diego did was hop on his hover scooter and glide down past the high school.
The Hippie went in the opposite direction, back uphill, toward the south end of town, taking a short cut across the bough-laced grounds of the Whispering Woods Motel, where animatronic figures might have acted out his youth, and the short cut led him to the dirt road, authentic dirt, rife with authentic potholes, where houses lined either side of the road, and when in passing he tripped a motion sensor here or there he saw the young animatronic dads with their long thick sideburns and huge pointy collars flashing teeth over drinks at chicks with Farrah hair who were moms and wore halter tops and large colorful audibly jangling bracelets and went heavy on mascara, and in one house he saw, as he peeped and he creeped around like the Frankenstein monster, a little blonde animatronic boy fiddling with Atari tanks, an actual Chuck Connors Tin Can Alley set placed in view behind him, and a Daisy BB gun standing in the corner, Johnny West on a shelf next to Quick Draw Action Sam Cobra. Past some houses farther on downhill he found the old trail that took you down to the forest. Wide, tall, dark, huge. When the presence of the forest began to be felt, the vast sound of stillness broken by sharp pipings of birds, there appeared the haunted house, the real haunted house, the one that he knew in his youth and now again saw, restored before him in all its moldering glory. A couple of animatronic Huck Finns sprang to life for hick fun on the roof when the Hippie broke the beam, but he kept on going down to the bottom of the hill, thereby meeting the furthest limits of a large tract of redwood grove, where the trees were much bigger, and the air far more dark.
            Suddenly, the sound of something moving. He’d tripped a beam, he knew, before the voice came, a voice from above.
            “A decade is no mere number of years.” The Hippie looked up the nearby redwood at the huge talking burl. “A time is a spirit. If the time is a positive one, it needs to be carried on.” The mouth of the big fake burl clacked when it talked. “So be sure to stick to the rules, and remember, anything you can see can see you, too. Our Redwoodland Security family finds the darnedest ways to keep a real good eye on us to make sure everybody stays safe. Lookout for Bigfeet now, be sure to visit our gift shops, and keep on stayin’ groovy!”
            Slowly, the conical brown heads of Bigfeet rose on neckless shoulders from behind fallen logs and large clumps of brush, and as he moved along the trail, slowly they descended. Little woodland creatures lingering unnaturally seemed to the Hippie like camera-laden spies, but he made it at last to his tree, a great redwood with a split at the base revealing a cave-like interior. Trembling, he went inside. Naturally everything he had experienced was all too much to bear. His system couldn’t handle it. If he could just go to sleep, probably he would wake up and everything would be fine in 1975. And he would never do mushrooms again. Inside it was dark, the wedge-shaped opening allowing little of the filtered forest light. The problem now was being wired. He tried to sleep, but was too wired to be tired. When the omnipresent thought of what on earth he was going to do became too much, the Hippie jumped out of the tree and ran through the woods tripping beams that sprang striding Bigfeet to life and made talking burls clack behind him as he ran pit pat down the forest path.
            It was in the wood yard at The Burl Barn that the Hippie saw Diego again.
            “I figured,” Diego said, crunching across the gravel drive, “figured you’d come out at the Old Graveyard, or on the Avenue, or from up behind The Burl Barn here.” The hover scooter was over by a wolf-bear-raven-Bigfoot totem pole, and next to that was an animatronic chainsaw-carving tableau, featuring a plaid-clad carver covered in sawdust releasing from a block of wood a standing bear holding a salmon, and also featuring a guy with an ax in his hands perpetually preparing for the Standing Block Chop.
            “I recognize this guy’s name,” said the Hippie, reading from a brass plaque. “So little Carl wound up a Timbersports champion.”
            “They say that one’s modeled on what the actual guy looked like. They got a bunch like that.”
            The Hippie wondered aloud if he’d see one of himself. This thought was a big adjustment from having sat in front of “All in the Family” what was for him only a matter of hours before.
            “I don’t think so,” Diego said. “I think I’d recognize you. At least you get represented. Nobody from my world gets that here at all. And now here you are, no ID and no idea what a credit is. You have to be a citizen to get credits, but you don’t even have any paperwork at all. Undocumented, and nowhere to go. Man, you’re lucky if I even hide you out. What kind of skills you got?” This last he said barely retaining a snort of contempt. To his surprise the Hippie said that he was pretty good with carpentry.
            They worked out a deal, stopping on the way back up to the house to chuck rocks at the swordfish. Diego had the master remote control with him now, having left the pistol at home, and they listened to Neil Young’s Zuma again through the motel recreation room jukebox without ever setting foot inside.
            When they got to Diego’s house, his parents, in their seventies, still weren’t back from work. Diego gave the Hippie the tour of the house from the outside, explaining where he was not to go, and basically gave him the lay of the land while he took the Hippie to the van.
            It was a little bit overgrown. Weeds grew up around the antique tires, which were flat. It was a brown van in its time, and yellow. A rusty door squeaked open and a musty smell came out. The carpet inside didn’t look too bad. Shag.
            “I can put some of my credits on another card for you. You can get what you need down at the café. Most days the park has guests, so it won’t look like this all the time, that’s for sure. But I can pretty much always scrape up something for you to do. Like right now if you want to start on those bullet holes in the wood over at your old house.” Diego showed the Hippie where they kept the tools.
            There were still a few hours of daylight left. Together in that time they could get a lot done preserving ancient heritage. At least the Hippie managed to scare up some place to crash. He was the last Mohican now.
            From inside the Haunted House, the screams, groans, and cries rang out as they worked.

 VISIONS FROM THE GUTTER “Resurrection of the Lizard” – A Jim Morrison android living in the redwoods develops a cult following. “I Am Become Celebrity” – In a world where genetically-engineered pop stars reach their peak before they’re even born, unemployed Serling Young finds himself ready and willing to do anything for fame. “Age of Indigents” – Homeless conservative Everett Fagle experiences inner growth living in a hollow redwood. “Rhapsody Grove” – Growing success with Victory Eviction Services rewards Rich Christianson with the coveted chance to attend a prestigious private gathering, but at what cost to his beautiful, dutiful wife? “Trip Van” – A Hippie wakes up one day to find the world is not at all what it seemed. “Redwoodstock” – For desperately unemployed George Hicks, a Woodstock-like concert held in Humbaba offers an out-of-this-world opportunity to get ahead in business. AVENUE OF THE GIANTS While visiting Humbaba, Beau Black encounters a hot old flame desirous of a no-strings fling. When she takes him for a ride in her midnight blue Karmann Ghia, Beau goes on a midlife crisis trip through the landscape of his youth, where a Gothic Convention awaits, and a date with otherworldly destiny.

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