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The Essay
Show #267
Les passereaux dangereux
David Gunn

Prenez garde des passereaux; prenez garde des grands passereaux dangereux picotants. The words echoed sharply through Rollo's subconscious as he fought his way through a dreamscape full of large unfriendly birds towards wakefulness. But his sleep was still too deep, the REMs too blepharospastic, and he remained trapped in subliminal eddies of contorted imagination in which bad-tempered birds the size of mariachi bands lashed out at anything within range of their sharp, pointed beaks. Prenez garde des grands, passereaux dangereux picotants -- beware of large, dangerous pecking sparrows! Somewhere in there lurked a song lyric, though Rollo, glancing up just in time to see a huge beak pass the apogee of its arc and begin its downward plunge towards his latissimus dorsi. With a start, he tried to roll out of the way, but something was clutching his foot. Desperately he yanked and yanked, and finally he pulled his foot loose from the sheet that had wrapped around his ankle, fell off the bed and went sprawling across the floor.

His clock radio had given up trying to wake him and was instead entertaining itself by tuning in static, then varying the amplitude until a Doppler shift resulted. Amidst the thick waves of white noise, however, Rollo detected a low-pitched susurrus that sounded like a deranged homonym of his name. There it was again: Rrrrrrrr- rrrrrrrrrrrroooooolllllllooooooooo. A transdimensional fogdog never keened so plaintively. Abruptly, Rollo was wide awake.

He reached for the notepad to see if he'd jotted anything down during the night, an automatic writing experiment that his therapist had suggested. The page was covered with scrimshaw scribbles arranged boustrophedonically around the American Sign Language symbol for stomach pump. Many of the characters resembled rolled-up wads of vowels under attack from adversarial consonants and, as he tried to form the words with his fingers, his mind lapsed into a momentary paroxysm of stuttering. Rollo tossed the pad onto the bed, but missed and instead hit the radio tuning dial. At once the ominous white noise was replaced by a cheery morning newscaster whose timbre approximated the retrograde inversion of that of the birds in his dream. The man was extolling the merits of Sparrow Brand Pecorino Pie, an advert that Rollo was used to seeing in real-time on the therapy websites, except that in this version, every fifth word, and he counted them to be sure, was a different pronunciation of his name! Nonplused, Rollo reached for the radio's volume knob, but it detached itself from the console and slithered away. He grasped instead his pillow, and pulled it over his ears to shut out the discomfiting chatter, but en route to his head he passed through a pocket of low gravity and the momentum propelled the pillow to the far wall, dragging Rollo with it. The wall, on the other hand, inhabited a pocket of extremely high gravity, and when the pillow hit it, it assumed the properties of a very hard adobe hat, which Rollo’s head confirmed a kilosecond later. Instantly, Rollo saw stars, then starfish, then starlings, then sparrows, then star anise, then ... what? Sparrows? Suddenly, the air around him was filled with large, truculent birds intent on establishing a pecking order, and Rollo was evidently the peckee. Prenez garde des passereaux! -- the warning leapt out of his subconscious like a red hot haiku and kept on going. Momentarily, the birds gave chase, but stopped when the warning vanished beneath the stomach pump rebus. Rollo, meanwhile, was scrambling to get away, but the high gravity made any activity extremely exhausting. He did, however, manage to wrench the gravity pocket away from the wall and, when the birds tried to reacquaint their beaks with him, they flew into the atmospheric irregularity and dropped like hatboxes. With an effort, Rollo lugged the high gravity over to the radio, causing the announcer's voice to plunge several octaves below basso profundamento. The clock, too, slowed to an almost imperceptible passage of time, but before it stopped altogether, Rollo, not wanting to muck around with a nasty time displacement problem, unplugged it, thereby removing it from the aggrieved space-time continuum.

But wait. Rollo's reality was supposed to be confined to Episode 266 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. And this is Episode 267. Has his timeline malfunctioned? Has a revisionist historian been talking to Rollo? Is Damian no longer in control of -- assuming he ever was -- his essays? Naturally, this is neither the time nor the space to answer those questions, because we have a show to run and, while I see to cleaning up these hatboxes full of sparrows, why don't the rest of you hand over your attention to Kalvos.