A drop of the Indian Rope Trick

FICTION

Indian Rope TrickFactFiend

THE INCOMPETENT CONJUROR

When I stage a magic show, I’ll usually challenge my audience to work out how I do the tricks. When they do, I know I’m not doing them well enough. Sometimes I’ll ask someone in the audience to make a wish, then try to make it come true with magic. Once, I made a wish myself. I wished I was better at performing convincing magic.

My portrayal of an incompetent conjurer, a parody of myself, is popular at children’s parties, but I aspire to a higher level, where I can look adults in the eye and perform close-up magic, rather than an audience at waist level. The granting of my wish came at some sort of performing half-way house, a teenage birthday party in a village hall.

This rung on the short stepladder of my magician’s career was provided by a friend of mine, whose son’s 14th birthday it was. I’d never been too keen on Alexander. He had a habit of pushing smaller kids around in the playground, knowing everything, and eating chips. Much as I tried, I couldn’t find a single redeeming feature in this scruffy, fat, blonde kid who seemingly fed on himself. But I was friends with his dad.

Jeff had hired the hall for about 20 of Alexander’s friends. He’d laid on a disco, with all the fit-inducing flashing lights attached, and a smoke machine, which was key to my act at the end of the evening.

The night itself was a social observation experiment, as I sat at the edge of the room watching the kids. There were about a dozen girls and the same number of boys, with others coming and going. They danced, they talked, and they’d disappear outside from time to time.

I didn’t talk to many of the young people, even though they kept pestering to see a trick. But I noted a wide spectrum of personalities, from a sweet girl called Siân, who simply thought to introduce herself, to the odious Alexander, who was as repellent on the dance floor as in the school playground, popping over every now and then to tell me he knew how all my tricks worked.

With the slow dances over, it was time for the magic act. This was where the audience were free to ask if I did a trick in a certain way, and I’d tell them if they were right. There was no jeopardy if they were wrong, and if they did see through my act, they might be future magicians themselves. The Magic Circle forbids members from divulging the magician’s code directly, but it encourages enquiring and speculative minds.

I started with card tricks: coin through a deck, turning every card in the pack into a queen, that sort of thing. For the most part, I drew the kind of gasps you’d expect from a young audience who’d never seen such misdirection and tricks of the trade before. Apart from Alexander, who shouted, “I know how you do that,” after every trick. When invited to take the stage and demonstrate, he told me I was the magician and not him. “Do some proper magic,” he spurted between chips, “make someone disappear.” I wondered if such a large target might register on radar.

Have you heard of the Indian Rope Trick?” Most of them just nodded. Except Alexander, who knew how it was done, of course.

Magic which is more a spectacle than an act is illusion, and the Indian Rope Trick is probably the most famous. Surrounded by myth and legend, its origins are disputed, but the performance is the same: A rope is laid on the ground, or in a wicker basket, then the conjurer levitates the rope. In the classic version, the rope will ascend into a cloud. In the village hall, we had the smoke machine, obscuring a loft door in the ceiling, with the end of the rope attached to fishing line. Jeff was in the attic and he’d pull the rope up, then tie it around a roof beam.

Back on the ground in the classic version, a small child would climb up the rope and disappear into the cloud. In some traditional accounts, the child would then be judged in the heavens. If they were found to be pure, they’d descend back down the rope. If not, they’d be cut into pieces and thrown back to Earth. In our version, Jeff had some prime Waitrose 28-day aged steak chopped up in the loft of the village hall.

Who will climb the rope?” I asked as it rose into the roof.

Two hands went up, from opposite ends of the spectrum: Siân’s fingers held barely at shoulder level, and Alexander’s fat sausages in a Nazi salute. I wasn’t sure the roof would support his weight, so Siân went up the rope. She disappeared into the smoke descending into the room, and everyone looked around at each other. Except Alexander, who ran over to the rope, squinting to look up Siân’s skirt for as long as possible. I knew she’d be fine.

Jeff would tie the rope to the roof beam, and tell her “Shhhh” as she climbed into the attic. Then he’d whisper, “Scream, like you’ve never screamed before,” and that’s when he’d drop the chopped steak down through the trapdoor.

Siân returned downstairs to smiles, gasps, silence, and a small applause.

I know how it’s done,” Alexander drooled into her ear, “tell me if I’m right.”

You tell me how you think it’s done,” Siân replied, “and I’ll tell you if you’re right.”

Tell you what,” I said, “I’ll take you upstairs, into the magic circle. I’ll show you behind the scenes, then you can see if you’re right about how the Indian Rope Trick works.”

Jeff paid me well for that gig, the going rate for an adult close-up show. The steak was fantastic, more like veal, with some British broad beans and a nice Pino Noir.

© Steve Laker, 2019

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The attraction of confusion

FICTION

On one of its faces, this story goes some way to explaining sub-atomic entanglement in the quantum universe, using hamsters. It’s a Cyrus Song time warp, and it’s also about asexual love, between friends, and connecting everyone else.

Quantum cats

QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT IN HAMSTERS

Where writers write is usually assumed to be a solitary place, and that’s true of me. My solace was to be found with a veterinary doctor, and a universal translation device called the Babel fish. How these came to be here could be found in two parents and other stories entirely. Their relevance to this story, was as my guides, both personally and as a writer.

A good story should be more showing and less telling, but to save much of the latter, it was specifically Doctor Hannah Jones’ degree in human psychology (even though she’s a vet), and my wonderment of the Babel fish (wondering how it actually worked) which are relevant to this fable.

So there I was, a writer with some powerful tools for fiction, waiting for the next story to walk in.

“Do you want to know who’s next, Simon?”

“No,” I replied, “I like to keep the suspense going for a while.”

“But,” Hannah said, “you read the patient list earlier, so I know you already know. I thought you might want to know for your story.” I wondered for a moment who was writing this.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Which is why,” Hannah started. “Oh never mind.” She stopped. “What are you hoping to get from this one?”

“Well,” I said, “besides the input of some animals, I’m always wondering what makes the Babel fish work.”

“A quantum computer,” Hannah said, “like that one.” She pointed to a quantum computer which had been in her consulting room for as long as I’d known her, which wasn’t very.

Before we’d met, Doctor Jones had invented the Babel fish, not all of a sudden, but she had. My understanding of its workings were sufficient for me to write plausible fiction, but I still wanted to understand what made it work, so that I could show I’d researched this.

The fish was reliant on the quantum computer, and my knowledge of the quantum world allows me to appreciate how those work: essentially, a conventional computer works on binary code, bits of data which can be either 0 or 1, yes or no, black and white. The quantum world is much more cosmopolitan, and in a computer, each bit exists as the two possible states simultaneously, until called into action by a computation. Ergo, a quantum computer is almost infinitely more powerful than the one I use at home.

The Babel fish is a quantum computer program, which uses that enormous processing power to detect frequencies outside of normal audible range, then process them against a mind-bogglingly big database of animal sounds and human languages, before decoding it all into an audible form. I could talk to animals with it. I wondered how it did that, and how much of what I’d heard had to be accepted on faith, of the Babel fish doing a good job. If a dog had told me it loved me, for example, I had to accept that it did.

“So,” I said to Hannah, “who’s next?”

“Oh yes,” she said, clearing her throat and picking her notes up dramatically (I told her it would work better this way). “Next,” she continued “is Hannibal Lecter.” We both paused.

Hannibal was only one half, with Lecter his partner. They were Roborovski, which might pass as a cyborg Russian gang in another story, but in this one they were Roborovski hamsters, belonging to a girl called Nina.

Nina was a curious girl, both in nature and the story she didn’t tell, perhaps because she couldn’t. I almost did a double-take when she walked into the room with Hannah, as though a younger Hannah had walked in with her older self. So struck was I, that I kept looking at the door, to see if another Hannah toddled or crawled in.

I had to trust the Babel fish to do only as it was instructed, as it apparently worked on inaudible frequencies. When I’d tested it previously, it had picked up things which might not have been wilfully spoken by the translated subject; other voices, perhaps thoughts. I tuned it to simply translate from hamster to human, placing the Babel fish headphones on my head in such a way that only I could hear the hamsters in my right ear, while listening to the room with my left for context. As far as I could tell, the hamsters were in a box which Nina placed on Hannah’s consulting table.

“That,” Hannah pointed in my direction, and I looked behind me, “is Mr Fry. Try to ignore him.” I turned back to smile, adjusting the headphones like Princess Leia struggling with her hair. “So,” Hannah continued, “who do we have here?” even though we knew. “Hannibal and Lecter”, which is what we knew, “hamsters”, which we also knew. “May I ask, why?” We didn’t know that.

“It’s my favourite film,” Nina replied, even though The Silence of the Lambs wasn’t about hamsters. She lifted a cage from the box, and in the cage was another, smaller box, some sawdust, bedding, a food bowl and a water bottle. The box within the cage, within the box, struck me as a sensible carriage solution, ensuring the hamsters were safe, and effectively at home, to reduce stress. But as Nina lifted them from the small box, I was half expecting them to be wearing face masks and strapped to a trolley. “This one’s Hannibal”, she said, lifting the first hamster out. “And this is Lecter,” which was entirely to be expected of the second one.

Now with the relative freedom of the cage, it was obvious which rodent was which. Hannibal seemed the dominant of the two, rummaging in the bedding, while Lecter was the more observant, blinking in the light and looking around.

“So,” Hannah said, “what’s up with these two?”

“Well,” Nina replied, “that one,” she pointed to Hannibal, “keeps throwing shit at that one,” at Lecter. “I think he might be bored.” Nina was very intuitive, and, I now realised, had similar mannerisms to Hannah. For a moment, it was as though I was even more of a spare part than usual: Hannah and Nina were somehow the same, and so too were the hamsters. All I had was the Babel fish, so I turned the volume up in my right ear.

“Shit,” was all I heard, from a small, male voice. Then a curious thing happened:

Hannibal had indeed thrown a turd at Lecter, who peered around through the bars of the cage. Meanwhile, Hannibal was back to rummaging in the bed, occasionally storing things in his cheeks, possibly more ammunition. Lecter continued to look conspiratorial, then, when he seemed sure no-one was watching, he flung the turd back at Hannibal. “Shit, you,” he said.

“So,” someone said in my left ear. It was Hannah. “You think one might be bullying the other.”

“No,” Nina said. She was quite assertive. “I think they’re playing shit tag.” Then Hannah did something unexpected:

“Fucking hell,” she said. “You could be right. Hamsters do learn quickly.”

“So they’re amusing themselves,” Nina said, “or it could be love”. That seemed an odd thing to say. “But that’s my worry,” which was even more unexpected, “that they’re bored. So I wondered if you’d have any ideas on helping them learn.” I wondered how much she knew about Doctor Jones.

“Once upon a time,” Hannah began a story I didn’t know I was writing, “Mr Fry,” that’s me, “there, used to be just like Hannibal Lecter.” I couldn’t disagree, that was a good opening.

Nina looked at me, looking more like Carrie Fisher than Anthony Hopkins. “He needed something to keep him occupied.” I suppose that was one way to put it. “And now,” Hannah continued, “he writes.” And that was a nice way to both end and begin things. “So I wonder,” she began again, “if the Babel fish might help in this?”

So now I really was a spare part.

I suppose Hannah meant, use the fish to listen to the hamsters, to get a better insight into them. Ever since she’d overcome her initial reluctance to use the fish in her work (so as to be “less confused”), and she’d realised an insight might be useful input for her. It worked like this: The Babel fish translated the animals, and I listened in, but Hannah didn’t. It was up to me, as a writer able to do such a thing, to translate that further, sort of into only what she needed to know.

“Mr Fry?” The younger Hannah was speaking to me now, and I moved the settings around on the Babel fish, hoping to confuse it. For my part, I was very confused, as though I was somehow split over the fourth dimension, with ends 15 years apart. Knowing as I did, that Hannah had a degree in human psychology, I could be looking into a mind’s future, possibly that of a psychopath. I really hoped Nina turned out like Hannah.

“Yes,” I said, because I wasn’t sure whether to tell her to call me Simon.

“I read about the Babel fish.” I assumed she’d read Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This Babel fish was very much connected to that, so it didn’t really matter which books Nina had read.

“Oh, good,” I said. “Well this one does exactly the same. So let’s see what happens.”

Everyone happens in their current position, so I tuned back into the hamsters:

“Do you ever think about the bars?” Hannibal asked.

“Most of the time,” Lecter replied, “they’re always here, why? Do you think there might be a cat in that box over there?”

“I don’t have to think about it until someone opens it. The bars: to imprison us, or protect us? Keep us together, or keep us away from others?”

“Simon?” This was Hannah.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are they saying anything?” Nina asked.

“Yes,” I said, “they are,” because they were. “I just need to translate it,” which I did.

Hannibal Lecter spoke at length, about fava beans (we call them broad beans), and how nice they taste, and of how that’s like sharing something made by the earth, like the breaking of bread. And how their water is like Chianti, like the blood which binds us all. And about their incarceration for no crime, when their wider family were free. Then about being grateful for the gift of protected life in the cage. They philosophised, about being great thinkers given sanctuary, but unable to spread their message. It was a problem which I and billions of others would empathise with, now it was countless trillions of others, unheard, but for the miracle of the Babel fish.

While this was all going on in my right ear, the young Hannah Jones spoke to her older self, first about game concepts, then onto computers, wildlife, and the human condition. They could both be noted philosophers themselves, outside of that room’s sudden connectivity of humanity, when two people meet and click.

Quantum entanglement is that which we all have with the rest of the universe, and every living thing within it. All of the matter in the universe was born of the big bang, and at the point of that explosion of reality, every sub-atomic particle was torn apart. But each retained a quantum connection to its partner, quantum physics being that everything exists in two states simultaneously. Ergo, each of us is made of the Big Bang, and every one of us contains those fragments which are still connected to their counterparts, all over the universe. What’s even more mind-bogglingly, is that the hamsters are latching on to this. But what all the other unheard voices might have to say is something I’ve not found out yet, so that’s for another time.

“Mr Fry?” Nina was calling me now, Hannah in a previous life. This was becoming surreal.

“Yes,” I said, preserving the anonymity of my addressee. “I’m wondering how to decode this.”

“Aren’t you a writer?”

“Well, I thought I might be.”

“Well,” Nina continued, “there was this time, in a shed.” What kind of story was this, and who was writing now? “My cat had been at my arm a bit, and I drew something on my wrist: a pair of scissors, with “Cut here” in Biro. And this guy I knew at the time said to do it, to cut myself.” Why was she telling me this? “It makes a nice story, because he said if I did it, he’d be sad. Just that, just sad. But sometimes words carry. And he had kids he didn’t see much. And if he was sad, so would they be. So I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it to him. But what he said at the end really stuck: “You can only do it to yourself.” And I still remember. So it’s a story.”

“Everyone has one. It’s a brave person who tells their own,” I said, to the future.

“Simon.” It was Hannah who returned me to the room.

“I was thinking,” I said (I was, wondering if I’d just been abducted by aliens) “it’s best to just keep talking. Hannibal Lecter here seems quite well balanced and in touch with things as far as I can tell. Just keep talking while you’re around them. It engages them, and hamsters are quick learners.”

“Such a shame they don’t live for long,” Nina said, which was both deep and dark.

Hannah showed her younger potential self and Hannibal Lecter out, then returned as a single entity.

“So?” Hannah’s glasses tilted quizzically.

“I think I might know how the Babel fish works,” I announced. “Both this one, and the one Douglas invented.”

“Connection.” I wasn’t sure if Hannah asked a question, or had just made one, so I agreed:

“Pretty much,” I said. “You were right about the hamsters, so was Nina: they’re quick learners, looking to occupy their minds. Perhaps they’ll one day have trouble containing them. And somehow, both of you were able to see into the future, without my benefit of the fish, or perhaps that’s just helped me interpret things this way.”

“What way?”

“That the Babel fish really does work on telepathy. That’s provable now with science.”

“Quantum entanglement?”

“Everything is connected, Hannah. I think I’ve worked out why I write it all down as well. It’s because they’re stories, mine and those of others, and the beginnings of many more. And we only write them down, in case we die.

“The entanglement is in our minds, because we who think, long for knowledge. And it’s in what we share with others, or in my case, write. I think there’s more to hamsters than meets the eye. Never judge a book and all that. It’s what’s inside. But that’s in all of us. So what I learned, is I’m not that special, but none of us should feel trapped, which is quite depressing. So I thought about it another way.”

And then I myself said something which even I didn’t expect, because it just occurred to me:

“It’s entirely possible, to be in love with someone and not want to reproduce with them.”

“Have you been out in the sun? Your face looks a bit burned, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And there I was thinking I was Princess Leia.

“Things happen,” I said, “because people make them. The Babel fish could make good things happen much quicker, if we could all talk. Humans aren’t ready to know what everyone else is thinking though, which is why I write this as fiction.”

I hope Nina spoke more about this to Hannibal Lecter.

© Steve Laker, 2017

Cyrus Song is available now. My new anthology – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is published in January.

A story tied by strawberry string

FICTION

One of my favourite things about being a writer, is when I’m asked to write something personal for someone, but which might also be of interest or use to others. So when a young friend confided in me about her lost dog, and with a Cyrus Song character prequel to write about a teenage future vet, two became one. This is a Halloween story in this week’s Schlock, and a more grown-up version of the same sort of story I told in my children’s book

girl___in_the_woods___3_by_ravidhindsa-d98owuxGirl – in the woods – 3, by RaviDhindsa

DIARY OF A TEEN IN THE WOODS

My dear life,

That’s what you are, my diary. You’re my life. All of me is contained within your locked leather cover, which I wear the key to around my neck. Even though your binding is a cover for my life, that life continues outside, starting with the cover.

The book of my life is a retro-futuristic, mechanical puzzle box, with all the old metal watch parts I’ve stuck on. If Filofax were to launch a Hellraiser range, Pinhead himself would buy one of my books. You’re my diary of a cyber punk.

Like the extra-dimensional Cenobites, you contain much pain, my dear life, perhaps you even possess it. My cyber punk diary is a haunted book, covered with scars, like the ones on my arms. Other than you, my life is in a piece of faded strawberry rope, reminding me of a better place that might be. The rope is also a key.

The cat came back a few days ago. I thought of the old woman who swallowed a fly, and she swallowed a dog to get rid of the cat. I don’t want to eat a dog, or a cat, or any animal. I never want to eat much, and I only dined on a Kamikaze fly on the way back from school. So what I’m about to tell you, I’m only telling you, because it’s really strange.

I wished I had a dog, to stop the cat from scratching me. I wished for my old dog back. And she came back. All I had to do was call for her. Let me tell you what happened:

I met a man in the woods, about 30 years older than me. If this wasn’t recorded secretly in this diary, on hearing that, everyone would just assume the worst. But that’s just the way people’s mind’s work, many because, placed in that situation, they’d probably do what they might suspect that bloke of. People shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, which goes for this book too, dear life: A weird and wonderful thing on the outside, but full of psychedelia, some of which even I don’t understand. But what’s in my head goes in the book of my life.

So the guy in the woods was a nice kind of weird too. And the wonderful part is, he was exactly as I imagined him. Because he said to me, “This is your story, Hannah. I can give you the stories to tell, and stories only happen to those who can tell them.”

I called him Daniel, because that’s the book in the Christian bible after Ezekiel. Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequalities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s (and sisters’) keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee, with vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers and sisters. And you will know my name is the lord, when I lay my vengeance upon you. He’d done all of that. He was the shepherd, and Daniel came after Ezekiel.

Daniel is a fallen angel. He’s in the woods because his wing’s broken and he can’t get home. It’s his right wing that’s damaged. He says that’s the right wing which drove all the hate and fight in him, fuelled by alcohol. With only his left wing, he’s grounded and able to think more. Instead of fighting or fleeing (he can’t), he prefers to talk, to debate, and to learn from those with opposing views to his, always trying to look for common ground of co-operation. I gather he’s been around for a long time, because he’s obviously done a lot of thinking. And that’s all I really meant about him being around three times my age. He’s older than me, so he has wisdom, and I’ve learned from that gift, because I’m not scared of him, the dark angel in the woods.

He practices what others might call Voodoo magic, but he’s not a witch doctor, just a scientist. He explained to me, with proven science alone, how I could call my dog back any time I liked. Daniel explained how what we call ghosts are real, and how I can talk to them. Firstly, we need to believe that they’re around, and they’re easier to see if we understand them better. He said to think of it as wanting to be haunted, so that the spirits can hear us. There are lots of different kinds:

The ‘Crisis Apparition’ is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with a broken wing.

‘The reluctant dead’ are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.

There are ghosts with ‘unfinished business’, broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the ‘vengeful ghost’; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.

‘Residual ghosts’ usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.

Finally, the ‘intelligent ghost’: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence.

Once Daniel had explained the taxonomy of ghosts, I could imagine which parts of each made up Molly, my dog. I could picture her as the ghost dog she is now. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to find.

The nature of the quantum universe in which we now understand we live, is that after we die, we continue to exist in a different form. What we call ‘life’, is merely a part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. It’s like thinking of a person more as their soul, and their body is just the vessel which manifests that in our world. Think of the body as a computer, and the human soul as the operating system and the software. It’s the latter which brings the former to life. When the computer breaks down, all of the data is still floating around but we can’t see it. Life carries on, but we suddenly find ourselves in a place where we neither have nor need a body, a place we are free to explore and with an eternity to do it, freed of our organic physical form.

While ghosts do exist and it’s easier to see them if you welcome them into our world, there’s also an open channel to them, which Daniel gave me the keys to. It’s the place where Daniel himself lives, between the conscious and the unconscious, in the subconscious. It’s the place we go to in sleep, but which we rarely remember, because we never recall the actual moment of passing into it. We’re always there in sleep, but unless we’re aware of it, we rarely remember it when we wake. Daniel is permanently lucid, and it’s possible to exist in a lucid form in dreams. All you have to do, is make sure you know you’re dreaming when you get there.

Every night, as you fall asleep, repeat to yourself, in your head, ‘I will speak with the universe tonight, and I will be aware that I’m dreaming.’

It takes practice. But I knew I’d found the lucid world when I met Daniel. Now he’s my guide, but not everyone needs one. Even if you don’t find a Daniel, the world of the subconscious is only locked in your head. The key to unlock it, is the mantra as you fall asleep. Eventually, the key will fit, when you’re least expecting it.

When you get there the first time, you’ll probably not be there for long. As soon as you realise you’re in your own dream and able to move and interact freely, you can get a bit worked up and shock yourself awake. All those times you’re falling asleep and you feel you’ve suddenly tripped: That’s you being in touch with the dream world (the universe) but not realising you were there, before jumping awake. Don’t give up. There’s nothing to be scared of.

So now,” Daniel said, “you have to call out in your dream, without waking yourself. If you do, Molly may come, but you’ll be gone. You need to think of Molly as you imagine she is now. What she once was, in your memory, is still there. But that memory is one recorded in your mind with your eyes. In the lucid, subconscious universe, you don’t have eyes, and yet you see. When you first closed your eyes to come here, you’ll have seen ethereal shapes, most likely a deep purple in colour, and rather like a lava lamp. Those visions are us, trying to make contact. If you can make it over into this world, by hanging onto that unconscious step between wakefulness and sleep, so that you are aware you’re here, then you see me as I am now.”

And I could truly see Daniel for what he was: Not a floating purple shape, perpetually changing form, but manifested in a woodland necromancer. Maybe it was him or the universe making it easier for me by appearing as I saw things, in my imagination, but limited by that usually being in an organic body.

From now on, you need to remember me, however you imagine me. Then if you suddenly realise you’re out here, dreaming on your own, you know that you only have to look for me and I’ll guide you. But Molly is here, just as I am. Just as you no longer have eyes, you don’t have a mouth to communicate with. But all of the five physical senses are replaced, contained and enhanced by the sixth. And we all know it’s the sixth sense which allows you to see dead people. Bruce Willis isn’t here though: that was just a film.

So you need to call out, without your physical sleeping self doing the same. You need to think. And you need to think hard. You have to will it, then wish for it some more. Do that loudly enough, and your wish will come true. You can’t test the universe, but if you truly connect lucidly in the subconscious dream scape, you will get an answer. I know it works, because something brought you here.”

Some things are worth listening to, and that made me think, which was the whole idea. And last night, I did get my first brief reunion with my Molly moo.

I wished I could talk to animals, or in this case, think with them. And it was when I started thinking really hard, that I felt the thought become a wish. The best way I can describe it, is when a cry becomes a laugh, like when you’re really upset because you think something’s ended, or someone’s gone, then suddenly it’s all made okay and you laugh through the tears. I heard someone else’s thought, kind of echoed, and I knew it was a dog:

“Moo?”

Moo,” I repeated.

Moo, me?” came the voice, not from a specific point, but all around, like being snuggled with your favourite person, who’s an auntie, a friend, an equal, but protective and craving love for themselves, when their own is unconditional. Someone you’d die for and who you know would return the favour.

I realised my eyes were closed. I knew that I was dreaming, and that this was my chance to hold on to that dream. But I didn’t want to open my eyes, because of the feeling: a love so great that you never want to leave it. Then I remembered something Daniel had said:

Don’t be afraid to open your eyes when you realise you’re dreaming. But remember, you don’t have eyes. Just think of it as sleeping with your eyes open though, and you’ll find it’s quite simple.”

And it was. And he was right about the five physical senses becoming one in the sixth, and of the sixth enhancing each of the five. I could see, but I could only describe things in terms a waking person might understand. I could listen to everything, for miles around, yet there was no competing to be heard. It was like an organic symphony, where the animals and trees were singing and playing instruments in harmony. But again, that’s difficult to describe for someone who’s awake. The instruments weren’t ones I recognised, but they played beautiful music nonetheless. Imagine trees which sound like pipe organs, grass sounding like harps, tubular bells for leaves and brass instruments in the wind, and you’re part way there. And the voices, from soprano to baritone and all carried in the breeze from unseen wildlife. I was listening to nature. And Molly’s was one of the voices.

I’m an atheist, but the bible says that when we go to heaven, we are made perfect. For starters, the science disproves this. But what we look like in ethereal form is as others imagine us. I believe there are three people in each of us anyway: The person we think we are; the person other people think we are; and the person we really are. In the afterlife, we’re the best of all three.

If you can imagine what I felt, try to think of a kind of an ethereal being, but able to move freely, and in solid form (Daniel explained a form of matter, called ‘supersolid’, which solidified the science in my mind: The molecules in a supersolid are arranged so that it can simply pass through other solid objects). And that form isn’t like the organic one which preceded, it’s a material made of immortality, like a mineral.

Molly was like soft, warm sandstone: As sandy coloured – with darker edges and flecks – as she was in the last life, but solid and strong, cast in spiritual stone. She still had her frayed knotted rope chew, still intact after 11 years of gnawing. Where once she was full of the inner warmth in her mortal self, now that warmth was the pure spirit of the next life, both in and around her. Next to me, that protective shield was as warm as her beating heart once was to my ear. Now that heart surrounded me.

In that subconscious woods, reality turns in on itself. It’s something I can’t explain, nor which I doubt many would understand. But that’s why I keep a diary. Maybe one day I’ll look back on these old journals, if I’m ever having an existential crisis and wondering what to do with my life. Probably something to do with animals, as I find them easier to relate to than human people. Or perhaps I might do something which helps me to understand the human condition better, so that I can then explain it to others in a way they might understand. Perhaps I’ll be a writer, or even meet one I could work with (I wonder what it would be like to have a writer who could make the animals talk). There are many scientific fields around such a huge subject, so maybe I’ll find one to excel at. Or maybe I’ll be quite good at a few things and use that somehow to work with others for some greater good. I could invent something which allowed me to talk with animals, and use that as a vet. That would benefit lots of people, animal and human alike.

So after I’d thought all that, I went back to the woods, to see if I could talk to Molly. I’d thought I had, but then she was one of the weird voices and sounds out there.

Moo?” And then, as if by magic, but in a place where there is no magic, because it’s real:

Moo.” And she ran to me, jumping at me and nearly flattening me, like she did before, when every day I was out at school was an eternity to her, wishing she could learn with me. And yet here, eternity was no different to a day, all turned inside out.

I miss you,” I said.

I miss you, moo.” So she did call me ‘moo’ too.

We talked for as long as I could hold the dream. We talked about all the things we’d done, as we’d grown up together. I told her what I was doing now, and all the things I had planned, but how I might change my mind. And the funny thing was, she said she knew. And the even weirder thing, I know now.

We walked among the trees and I carved our names. Molly said it was better than any cat could do, however clever they think they are.

But before we left, she whispered in my ear, and it reminded me of something she’d said when I was younger, when I used to talk to her, and when my younger mind could hear her. I can’t remember which of those conversations it was, but I remember it was a question.

Let’s run,” Molly said.

Why?” I wondered, when we didn’t have to, with no legs to restrict us.

Because,” she said, “one day we won’t be able to.”

So we ran all the way back to me waking up, and Molly running off into the woods, calling ‘Moo’ as she went.

I saw Daniel as I woke. He said this is the way it’s always be done. I know where to find him, and he’ll know when I need him. And I can go back there, any time I like, where time and distance are irrelevant. All I have to do, is think of my dreams and they’ll be waiting for me.

Molly’s running around in that woods, being a dog, always sniffing the ground above me, chasing things around, and chewing on the faded rope which ties this story. I looked at it, thought of the connection, then remembered what she’d asked me:

Can you kill beauty and love?”

That was quite profound for a dead dog, which is why she had to ask a living human.

Dear diary, of my life as a teen.

© Steve Laker, 2017

The other two Cyrus Song prequel short stories are those of Simon Fry (in Of Mice and Boys in 1984), and Captain Mamba (in A Young Captain Plays it Safe). The novel is available from Amazon and other book stores.