THE BEING'S MIND SPROUTED deep within the redwood ground, electric tendrils questing, picking up ideas, and giving others away. The being in the ground was a consciousness filter, receiver and transmitter both, doubtless affecting Joe Longhair’s stories, living as he did in the redwoods, on the ground, not too far from where, unknown to all, the being slept.
From Joe Longhair the stories went to Ira Breck, an old friend of his, now in the prestigious position of working on the Design Team, whose job it was to create stories for the Redwoodland animatronic displays spaced throughout the ride.
The Design Team’s ideas, co-opted by Ira Breck and presented with no mention of what he believed to be the wholly sole original source, passed to Keith Ensing, who, if he deemed the ideas sound (something he rarely if ever failed to do), put the brand of his name upon them, which is to say implemented the ideas into the growing Redwoodland family.
From Redwoodland staff and visiting tourists alike, increasingly the ideas became part of mass consciousness, and these ideas received by the sleeping being, absorbed and filtered, passed in turn to the nearest source properly tuned to receive, and that source was Joe Longhair.
All of this formed a self-generating circuit. As anyone who has ever worked with electricity can tell you, it is vital that certain lines not get crossed.
The giants towered over the Avenue in shades of green and ghostly gray, double yellow lines running the length of the road glowing in the headlights. The executioner hood of night hid the forest’s face. The dull thump of a driver’s side wheel over a couple of line lights shook the driver to greater wakefulness, and reminded him that deer appeared on the Avenue at night.
Joe Longhair put down pad and pen to answer the knock at the door. It was Ira Breck, showing up for some more. Last time, Joe gave Ira a television piece.
“Not willing to die for the System, hmm?” ran the words across the page. “Coward! Selfish! No, the brave brave beneficiaries of the System aren’t willing to suffer for you in the slightest. No, you’ll never see their faces! Yes, they always hide! No, dying for them does nothing remotely useful or constructive! But that’s all beside the point. Hasn’t anybody given you the gist of a bumper sticker yet? If you aren’t even willing to simply die so they can have more stuff, well then you’re just not patriotic, and so I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, because you’re the real hater, hating the simple basic freedom of even having liberty, and that’s so mean of you it makes a good baby god king cry! That’s right, cry! That’s the news. From all of us here, good night and sign up.”
But that wasn’t good enough. Too true to life now. What about then, though? What about back in the days of a long time ago? There was a time, so Ira Breck heard tell, when full-body ad-suits, utilizing what people then would have called a type of touch-screen technology instantly adjusting to provide one or the other proper body-type desired, would probably appear strange to most people, what with the actual head of the occupant sticking out from the top of the ad-suit, looking conceivably as mismatched as a rotten bit of vegetable left on a classical statue where the head got knocked off.
“No one picks anything up,” Joe Longhair said while Ira Breck poked around, browsing about Joe’s things. This was the part Ira had to put up with. There was always something. Now it was how there were bodies on the side of the road, mostly animals, but human parts sticking out these days, too.
“I know, I know.”
“Throats get slit by passersby in lines—endless lines—and nobody notices or cares—unless the blood gets on somebody else—then the writhing body on the ground gets kicked, stomped and spat on by screaming faces before the normalcy of attentiveness returns to everybody dutifully looking at their tiny wrist monitor TVs. People didn’t used to be assigned those things at birth.”
“You talk about it like it’s bad.”
“At least in those days they had the illusion of choice.”
“Yes compliant, no complaint.”
Ira stopped right there. Mouthing that standby slogan from daily programming was exactly the sort of thing that just might cost him. Quickly he shook his head, distancing himself from the utterance as if to say, “Can you believe people actually buy into that garbage?” The irony.
Joe Longhair saw all this and ignored, watching as Ira wandered oblivious to the lull and examined rocks Joe had taken home from the ocean and various rivers, Mist River primarily, and sundry branches and odd bits of wood brought back from the forest as souvenirs. Abalone shells hung on walls; starfish perched in crannies. Clear glass bowls containing rocks and shells adorned the room as paperweights and bookends and things to go in windows. The twin halves of an elk rack rested on the points at the back of a shelf where two actual feathers, one hawk and the other raven, fit in the odd hole here and there. Ira Breck. Joe noticed for the first time how that sounded like I Rob Wreck.
“Yeah, I think I’ve got something for you,” Joe said. He handed Ira over a folder and went ahead and took the payment Ira offered.
“Fantastic,” Ira said, flipping through the pages of the story inside. “Way to come through for the Team, Joe. Just like back in school, right? I always could count on you.”
“No you couldn’t.”
“Well, one of these days you’ll have to come over and meet the boys on the Team. I’ll give you the full tour.”
“Well you don’t have to have the tour.”
“No, I mean I just—I’ve never been there. I really have no interest in going.”
Ira was stunned.
“What? You live right next to Redwoodland all your life and you’ve never even been there once? You must have been there once.”
“Get out of here. Your stories—I mean, being like the inspiration for a whole lot of the animatronics—never even once, you say? Well, come on. I’ll fix that. I’ll fix that right now.” Ira produced from a pocket two tickets, very official-looking. “Three-day passes. Free. Take.”
“Yes, I insist. Two tickets. Paradise. Go. You’ll have the time of your life. Guaranteed. For shit sake, take the fucking tickets. You don’t have to meet anyone. Fuck all that. I don’t want you to, anyway. I prefer everyone on the Team think your ideas all come from me. But just go and have a good time. You can take a friend. Or go twice, I don’t care.”
Joe took the tickets. “As long as I don’t have to meet anybody.”
“Fine.” Heartily clapping Joe on the shoulder, “You’re going to love it. Everybody does.”
No one ever would have had it not been for Slamming.
Slamming was the word applied to the activity in which at a young age Keith Ensing invested a large amount of his inheritance. It was what made him enough money to get Redwoodland off the ground. And who among those who lived during that time could ever forget the controversy Slamming caused?
Originally the idea was to use satellite systems—satellite photography, specifically—perfectly available to the public, yet utilized in such a way that someone viewing the images, under conducive conditions, experienced the sensation of looking at the world…from beyond it. The conditions conducive to this sensation ranged from viewing the images in a helmet to stepping into a small isolation chamber and undergoing the experience there. This latter case was what seemed to bring the greatest effect. Such was the clarity and realism of the illusion, when an occupant in a booth used the technology to zoom the view from satellite to planet at great speed, the results pushed to the limits certain areas of the brain. Stressed to what the brain perceived to be the brink of death, the pineal gland—an endocrine organ which produces the hormone melatonin—responded in a way that Slammers found revelatory in the extreme.
People were seeing forms of energy, learning about the energy within them, and when they tasted of the possibilities inside themselves they saw natural life in conflict with the man-made world. When this dormant organ at the center of the brain, called by some the Third Eye, revealed inner vision to the ready individual, results proved overwhelmingly positive in that people reported greater memory retention, markedly improved overall cognitive ability and increased questioning of established cultural norms.
Public access to satellite technology soon thereafter ceased.
But in that time Keith Ensing made his killing, and there were some who said he took a massive payoff from the government to sell it the patent rights, and that the drastically modified version of Slamming which spread across the country, promoted by the governmental System, actually harmed various areas of the brain and did nothing to stimulate the pineal gland at all.
Still, with Redwoodland the killing for Keith Ensing was infinitely greater. From all over the world people came to ride the track through the redwoods, where the bulging burls talked like giant heads on living trees for miles and miles and miles in the world’s biggest amusement park and natural forest preserve.
The park extended from the southernmost point near Hawthorn sixty miles up to Fernden, the widest area being near the middle and running nearly twenty miles across from the eastern border of Madrani and halfway toward the coast, crossing a ten-mile section of Mist River.
The nearest boarding station to Joe Longhair was Madrani, and he took it early the next morning with a minimal wait in the Haunted Madrani area, steeped with its sepulchral atmosphere, before boarding the open-air train (with a wide variety of cars, most offering some sort of canopy overhead) at the same time as a young woman he had noticed strolling in the gloom. They were speaking together as they boarded, both surprised to find that some people actually lived there in town, most working as Site Animatronics Monitors and various other similar positions, all part of the growing Redwoodland family.
“What is that you’re doing?” she said.
“I’m trying to fold back one of my eyebrow hairs.”
“Why do you have to do that?”
“Sometimes, a long one curls down funny. It catches on my eyelashes and just sort of hangs in front of my vision. I’ve had one even poke me in the eye.”
“Why don’t you just cut them? Wouldn’t that be easier than folding?”
“Well I will. I didn’t know I had this one.”
“This one surprised you.”
“Yes, it did.”
“Well, you don’t need to be upset.”
“I’m not upset,” he said.
“You seem a little upset.”
“I’m Leanne.” She stuck out her hand.
“Joe.” They shook.
“Have you ever been here before?”
“To Redwoodland?” he said. “No, this is actually my first time.”
“Really? Me too. I hope I didn’t spoil it for you. Or actually I hope your eyebrow hair doesn’t spoil it for you. You should really get that thing checked. Or clipped.”
“Aaalll aboaard! Redwoodland Express! Madrani to Fernden, and all points in between!” The folksy-sounding voice of a man resounded through a speaker at every seat in every car of the train. An assuring female voice, in a more personal-sounding subordinate capacity, reminded of the necessity to maintain proper safety precautions at all times before she offered her own warm and welcoming word of thanks.
As the train started pulling out, Joe positioned himself on the waterproof cushion with an elbow up on the railing behind him so that he could see what was coming. Leanne had turned herself so that she was sitting in front of him and not to the side now that the train was moving. He got to see her hair flickering in the gentle breeze, light little hairs in the soft curve of the back of her neck revealed. A talking burl outside told them how it hoped they enjoyed the haunting gloom of the old town, but they were leaving now, taking the train into virgin forest, back to simpler times when Bigfeet roamed a land untainted by human presence.
Riding through the redwoods—in a northeasterly direction, away from the Avenue and Mist River now—as the greenery of the scenery grew denser and the colorful animatronic Gypsy-like Hippies heading back to the land were behind them—sightings of animatronic Bigfeet on either side of the train got called out by kids in the cars up and down the line—“Say hi to Idd!” their parents cried all through the Bigfeet Before People stretch, “Wave goodbye to Yawg!”—while Leanne told Joe that the only time she ever saw her dad cry was when the System could no longer afford the overwhelming financial burden of carrying out capital punishment executions. How for years it had been his favorite show. That it had simply been part of his routine, just a little fun thing from which he had been allowed to obtain a small amount of enjoyment in life. How he worked his goddam ass off, and now he had to do it for nothing.
Joe admitted he had seen an episode of “The Switch” before. An old woman, who legally affirmed her everlasting faith in The One Almighty System God, had the last wish that she be allowed to pull the switch. She needed some help rising up from the wheelchair with gleaming eyes and a wavering hand, live on-camera studio audience chanting, she feebly reaching, some guy hooked up nearby screaming his innocence. Afterwards, during the wrap-up, the old woman confessed she really couldn’t see too well at all—like Justice, she guessed—but she damn-well caught every last word.
“You doing the three-day stay?” Leanne asked.
“Yeah. How’d you guess?”
“I saw your ticket. I recognize the color because I’m on the three-day, too.”
They came to a place where a skeleton wearing Hippie-type clothes sat perched on a pile of pot in a pot patch, still holding up a bud.
“You really can’t tell the difference between the actual trees and the fake ones at all,” said Leanne. “I heard some of the fallen redwoods are flip-top, so that security squads can pop out at any time.”
“Fernden’s haunted too,” Joe said, examining a map. “Maybe we should get off there.”
Two Hippie skeletons leaning against a giant redwood had smoke coming constantly from both the open mouths and the perpetually issuing bong. Beyond, the skeleton of a ragged Hippie in tie-dye t-shirt, bandana headband, long-fringed cutoffs and cheap thong sandals could be seen in the weed-choked half of a VW van, realistic thunder and lightning flashes intermittently revealing the dogged Hippie still gamely at the wheel...