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The Essay
Show #373
David Gunn

It is early afternoon on a Saturday much like this one. I am pacing the back deck of my cottage in the woods, nervously awaiting a sign from the cosmos that Armageddon will not begin at eight o'clock this evening, as presaged by the unusual layout of a hand of cards dealt earlier today by a computer solitaire program. The sky teems with penguins, the ground trembles as millions of earthworms migrate to the northeast, and all of the surrounding trees simultaneously shed their bark, revealing glittery surfaces of pure gelatin. Nope, everything seems perfectly normal. Then I notice my cat, March. She is sitting quiescently nearby in a small glade staring at something on the ground. Have the earthworms surfaced, I wonder? She doesn't seem at all alarmed if they have. One of the penguins swoops down and snags a little fillet of sloughed bark from the baobab tree before it hits the ground. Then it circles over me, subvocalizing a descending whole tone scale. It's a very eerie sound and makes my skin crawl, and I have to hold on to it lest it slide all the way off my body. The penguin flies away at last and I can at last let go of my skin--at least, those sections that haven't already begun to exfoliate. I continue my pacing and nearly walk right into the bird feeder, startling the half dozen Barbary parrots that are grazing there. Perhaps "graze" isn't the right word. I filled the feeders with a blancmange made from ground datura seed and whiskey, and the birds are teetering as if on an avian bender. One of them gestures at me to come closer, which I do. It hops onto my shoulder, leans into my right ear and squawks loudly. Then it flies back to the feeder with its mates, who all have a good laugh over this. I just let it pass, having been the butt of better jokes from other, cleverer birds.

I glance at my horologe and am amazed to discover that half an hour has passed since the penguin left, and March is still staring at the same spot on the ground. Determined to find out what she finds so intriguing, I quietly slip up behind her. At first, I don't see anything. She appears to be looking intently at a spot on the ground that is wholly unremarkable. I don't see any movement, I don't hear anything--except for a few tittering parrots and a faint echo of a descending whole tone scale--and I don't smell or taste anything out of the ordinary. At first.

But then something does catch my eye. By standing directly behind March and focusing on a spot two inches in front of her nose, I see a small hole in the air through which tiny bubbles are emerging. The bubbles burst almost instantly, silently, and my cat seems to pay them no heed. An occasional flick of her tail is the only sign that she's even alive. Behind me, the earthworms surface en masse around my car, and the poor vehicle collapses into the ensuing subduction pit. But I'm too engrossed in the spectacle in front of me to be troubled. I think I know what is happening. I believe these bubbles--or time hiccups, if Warbler Hadley Blackmoor, professor emesis of Calamitology at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire, is correct--are leaking from an alternative universe through a tiny puncture in the time-space continuum into this one. But the incoming matter is very select in its visibility. If I try to examine the opening from any other angle, it vanishes. Even if I keep the same perspective and only move closer, I lose track of the hole. Still, my cat seems to have no problem visualizing it. Perhaps it exists in this universe on a level that only a simpler life form can perceive. No offense, March, but you qualify in spades. I consider doing a mind meld with her to better discern the alternative universe, but the consequences are sometimes dire. On more than one occasion after making the interspecies connection, I've found myself dumping Whisker Lickins into the stir fry and committing unspeakable acts in the litter pan.

An elongated bubble squeezes through the hole and bursts, spewing a little pelican-shaped cloud of countermatter all over March. While she seems completely impervious to it, everything else around her begins to exhibit signs of existential discombobulation. Gravity abruptly goes on holiday and takes my equilibrium with it. Up seems to be in any one of six vague directions, and when I try to lie down to avoid them all, I begin to invert. Gravity and comedy return at the same time, and I drop to the ground in a pratfall that the Marx Brothers would envy. I fall on my cat's tail, and she finally acknowledges my presence by strolling away, accompanied by a current of little pelicans. I lie down on the ground right where March was. The opening is still without a clear focus, but I can now see into the alternative universe. It looks like ... like an in-progress game of solitaire. The tableau, the hand, the columns, the foundations--they mirror that of today's computer game. Each bubble spurting through the fissure contains a card from the foundation pile, and I have a very bad feeling of what will happen when the entire deck enters this universe. As the bubbles begin to release face cards, the sky overhead turns leaden, in both color and weightiness. Perforations appear on the horizon, provoking the troposphere to fold in onto itself and prove Chicken Little right. The Queen of Hearts bursts from her bubble and immediately I feel a burning twinge in my own heart, as if 800 rancid pizzas had returned to exact revenge. Finally, only two cards are left to cross over to this world, the Kings of Diamonds and Clubs and I have a sinking feeling, both psychologically and in the more physical collapse of the earth's biosphere. I grit my eyes to await the final cataclysm. But, outside of the prevailing mass calamity, nothing happens. The two kings seem unable to decide who will be last out of their universe. They are, in fact, bickering! King of Clubs extracts himself from his card and tries to push King of Diamonds through the portal, but Diamonds reaches down, grabs Clubs' leg, and flips him up in the air. Clubs hits the aperture violently, but he doesn't have his bubble on and he can't pass through. In fact, he's stuck in the backwash from the cross-temporal field. Now Diamonds attempts to push Clubs through the hole, but he's also bubbleless, and he, too, gets caught up in the time eddy. Their bodies begin to lose focus, as does the hole into their universe. The energy radiating from it diminishes, and I feel some of my motor skills returning. I tentatively stretch out my hand and touch the hole. With a descending whole tone shriek, it and the two malevolently glaring face cards pop out of existence.

Reality slowly returns to normal, which can be said for this radio station and, by extension, Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, this 373rd episode of which will endeavor to be much like the previous three hundred odd shows, except for the different bits--and who better to represent that lot than Kalvos?