Small Change

The policeman watched the woman walk calmly out of the woods with her new companion.

He still didn’t know where he was, or how he’d got here. She was a petty thief, seemed almost violent, and she was his only clue.

As he hurried after them, he passed the stone outcrop where the elephant had laid down a wilting frond of bracken. The woman had reached for it, and for some reason he had panicked, told her not to touch it. Now he paused to look at it and saw, creeping through the drying leaves, a velvety red caterpillar. It climbed down onto the stone surface, and crept toward a little round pebble that lay on the outcrop.

Was this some unique kind of coccooning? He was intrigued…He was being left behind and needed to hurry, but felt compelled to watch just a moment longer as the caterpillar planted the first of its tiny feet on the surface of the stone. It stopped and began to change color, from poisonous red to vibrant orange. Now it climbed across, and continued to change until it was a deep and golden yellow. Then it turned and wrapped itself around the stone, almost completely encircling it.

It was a very pale little rock. So pale, it seemed to glow, which made the caterpillar’s golden skin shimmer. Was this some unique kind of cocooning? He was intrigued, but the woman was about to disappear over a low rise. He had to go.

 

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Almost Near Enough

The earth shook and the trees shivered. A moment later, we could see a large, shadowy form making its way toward us. Then its great, long face pressed into the clearing.

As elephants go, it wasn’t particularly big. Still, neither of us had ever been so close to one. We shuffled backward—terrified, awed and curious—until we found a good sized tree to press ourselves against.

It eyed us from some mysterious and regal plane of elephant thought, its trunk curled tightly around a wilting frond of bracken. After long consideration, it ambled over to the other side of the clearing and carefully placed the frond on a stone outcrop about as big around as its foot and as high as its knee. Then it turned its attention back to us.

My companion, the strange young woman who had brought me to this place, seemed to suddenly overcome her fear. She pushed away from the tree and took two vigorous strides forward. That must have been the limit of her fearlessness, because the next two steps were hesitant.

The elephant regarded her, its great ears just slightly forward. She took one more careful step and stretched a hand toward the creature, opening her palm to offer something she held. It looked at her a moment longer, then down at her hand, and reached with its trunk for the thing she offered.

opening her palm to offer… (2)

It was a gold colored disk, vaguely familiar. The elephant took it and the touch of its trunk made her faintly gasp. Now I could see what it was. I put my hand to the front of my police helmet, where my emblem should have been, and there was only a sticky spot. I was outraged and sickened. I wanted to rush forward and grab it back, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the tree.

The elephant continued to examine the emblem, which shone brightly in the sun. It lifted it higher, as if to compare the two yellow disks, side by side.

And the sun seemed to respond: a great pulse of light silenced the birds and nearly blinded us.

Unstirred, the elephant extended its trunk back toward the woman, returning the disk. She smiled, took it and stuck it on the elephant’s forehead. I’m sure there was a little adhesive on it from its time on my helmet, because it stayed.

She leaned over to pick it up…Then, to my amazement, she took the elephant’s trunk like a friend’s arm. They turned to leave the clearing and she glanced down at the stone outcrop where the wilted bracken had been laid.

She leaned over to pick it up and I felt a terrible panic.

“Leave it!” I shouted. I ran toward her.

“It’s not time yet. Don’t touch it.”

I had no idea what I was talking about. She gazed at me with distracted eyes, as if she was struggling to remember who I was. But she obeyed.

She straightened, turned her back to me, and the two continued on.

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The Ringing Bell

Once, when the Policeman was about nine years old, he’d gone to his classroom during recess to stash away a new stick for his collection. As he carefully wrapped it in his spare sweater, two older boys rushed in. One was attacking the other viciously, punching his head and face. They hadn’t noticed the younger boy and were both at least a head taller, though the attacker was heavier and more muscular. He demanded money and hurled foul insults.

Outraged, the small witness rushed forward, pushed the thief hard against the wall, and managed to stun him. He hurried out of the room to find an adult, but was knocked to the floor by a running girl. She was desperately barreling down the hall to escape a pair of bullies. Now he was overwhelmed by the events multiplying around him, and doubly furious. Thin, but tough and wiry, he reared up to face the bullies with his fists ready. Their advantage lost, they cut and ran.

The bell rang to end recess, and the disheveled older boy he had defended walked out of the classroom. Wiping blood from his mouth, he inclined a brief, dazed smile at his rescuer, and disappeared down the hallway. The girl had gotten to her feet behind him. She pressed closed eyes against his shoulder and gave him a shaky hug before hurrying away in the other direction.

The colors of its slowly-fanning wings were so strangely vivid, and somehow not there at all, clear as crystal.

. . .

Looking down at the tiny creature perched on the tips of his fingers, the Policeman whispered to himself, “This is not a butterfly.”

The colors of its slowly-fanning wings were strangely vivid, and somehow not there at all, clear as crystal.

And Butterfly mused, “He will bring order to disorder.” Until now, Butterfly had not actually realized things were in disorder, only unexplained.

“This man,” he decided, “can make things right.”

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The Fall

Once, the Sun was the subject of much celestial acclaim. Above all other suns, the citizens of the universe turned their clamor to this one, and for good reason. He was unique among stars in many ways—a fervent traveler, an outstanding bard (his songs are still sung), and profoundly at peace across eleven dimensions, all at once.

As we know (but usually forget), most cosmic phenomena look outside themselves for esteem, which makes them fickle. If the object of their reverence falters—and everything falters—they become ashamed and look for new things to worship. In the meantime, the Sun had gradually woven his worth so tightly with the feelings of his followers that when they withdrew their affection, he was undone.

It wasn’t a sudden withdrawal, but a gradual, confusing silence. Thus, the slow, painful realization caused an imperceptible, but steady crumpling of the Sun’s heart. At first, he experienced a general disarray of his inner workings. Finally, after several eons, the weight of the inward collapse was too much: his heart shattered.

Gravity held most of the pieces together, but one piece dislodged itself and fell. Though it was small, it was also compact, and very heavy. Like a molten bullet, it tore a black, ragged tunnel right through and out of its host, and hurtled on through the wild currents of space.

Anatomy of the Sun: The Heart, by Penina S. Finger

 

The Sun survived, and enough of him remained intact, but one other bit of damage had been done. A critical stellar organ was knocked free, and pulled into the slipstream of the escaping fragment. Vague and nearly formless, its loss went unnoticed.

The two objects traveled together across the spans of space and time. Gradually, the fragment was slowed by the friction of interstellar matter and polished to gleaming, but its accidental partner landed first. Cooled and congealed to near solid by its travels, it chose a form that would keep it relatively safe, and bided its time.

Shortly after, now smooth and round, the broken bit was able to alight on a world. It bounced for miles in great arcs, and then finally rolled to a stop in a little wood, by a pool.

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Duplicity

When I woke up, I saw my reflection, twice.

When I woke up, I saw my reflection, twice, in a pair of perfectly black, perfectly shiny sunglasses. Framed below a glossy white helmet and above dry, thoughtful lips, the double me tipped slightly, then loomed close as the policeman who wore them reached down to take my hands and lift me off the sand.

It was early morning and the beach was still very cold, and soggy. The great flood that had brought him had been swallowed by the sea.

His motorcycle was parked on the sand farther back from the water. He brought a sandwich and a thermos of coffee out of its storage compartment and offered me half the sandwich. I accepted it, of course. I am almost always hungry.

He didn’t ask me who I was, but he couldn’t know. I can barely remember, myself.

As the sun broke through the clouds to warm the sand around us, I took a bite of the sandwich, and when I did I remembered whole new things. I recognized him now. I laughed and knocked my knuckles on his helmet, right on its shiny sun emblem. Then I took his sunglasses off his face, and his dark eyes hardened with confused irritation. Quickly, I grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him into the waves.

Off balance and stiff in his clothes still very wet from the flood, it was easier than I expected to draw him into the water. When it was just to our knees, I turned to face him again, holding his arms and his gaze. He gasped and took a step back. I was right! We were now knee-deep in a little woodland pool and I laughed again for joy.

At the moment, his back is to me as he sits on a small granite outcrop to take off his soggy shoes and to try and regain his bearings. He doesn’t yet know this is another world, or that I have stolen his pretty emblem.

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The Elephant Nebula

I had dozed, but awoke to the sense that something huge had happened. Huge and warm, like receding thunder.

I wasn’t frightened. Instead, my heart ached with anticipation. I edged forward through the bracken and saw something so beautiful, so perfect, it nearly blinded me.

It seemed to be frozen absolutely still and yet in massive, turbulent motion. It was dull as smoke, in places utterly black, but elsewhere there rippled and glowed colossal celestial halls of gold and blue.

It was both enormous and strangely intimate. I had never felt so small, so overwhelmed and confounded as I was now, by this impossibly beautiful thing… and yet so incredibly large—a part of its immensity. I knew if I were to speak, I would speak with its voice.

It roiled like a hurricane across the clearing to the pool, and drank with a clarity and humility reserved for gods. I was beyond captivated. All the weight of failure and shame I had been carrying since my loss was lifted. I wanted it to raise me up into itself. I wanted desperately to live forever in the folds of its luminous, billowing chasms. For here was endless Grace, indifferent to blame, a chorus of laughter, fearless.

The Elephant Nebula

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Following the Sound

Far away, the sleeping Elephant awoke to a tiny clip, clipping sound.

He tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. The sound was soft, but incessant, like a wind-whipped leaf trapped against a light pole. It was so soft that as he moved to find it, his steps drowned it out. He had to pause and listen, then walk. Pause again and listen, then walk a little more. He moved this way across the moonless plain until the sun rose and the clipping sound stopped.

Listening and Walking Across the Savannah

Soon, he was back to the forest, and thirsty. Remembering the pool he had visited the day before, he made his way to the now-familiar clearing. It wasn’t far. He crossed the clearing to the pool. The rising sun had turned everything pale gold and slightly molten—the leaves, the branches, the dust and the water. It shone on his back and lit the rims of his ears, which he shook a little to alarm the morning’s first tiny flies.

As the day quickly warmed, he finished drinking and began to forage in a stand of young bracken. He brought a bundle of fronds and fiddleheads to his mouth, but a flash of velvety red in its midst caught his eye. He paused and looked closely.

There, like a quaking jewel, a tiny caterpillar gripped a fiddlehead and regarded him with awe.

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The Flood

That night, the policeman dreamt of rain. It rained so much, the storm drains overflowed and blasted bookshelves, beds and squatters from every tunnel. They overflowed so much, the bloated streams merged to become a single, monstrous wave. It was unending and fierce. It surged and roared and pulled the entire city of Las Vegas up over the mountains and across the desert to the sea.

The Flood, by Penina S. FingerThe policeman’s bedroom and his mouth filled with water and he was suddenly in uniform and helmeted, pushing through the current, hand over hand from railings to light posts in search of his motorcycle. He found it parked and waiting underwater as if it had been there a thousand years. He took his seat and it started instantly, roaring to the surface like a jet ski. Around him, jeweled women in soggy, sparkling evening gowns clung to uprooted Joshua trees. Silk-shirted men clung to jeweled women, spitting water and jettisoning pocket change.

He rode the torrent like this was the secret chance he had been waiting for—forward to California, forward to the ocean. The waves gushed into a valley and rounded the black, pitted mountains. Their force swung him around in a violent arc. In that moment, an agonizing yearn exploded in his chest, shooting spasms of longing down his legs to his feet. Relentless rain and the flood beneath him merged with salty tears.

He realized he’d been waiting his whole life for this day.

He rose up slightly from his seat and tightened his grip on the throttle. This was right. This was good. He rode the flood as it bore him northwest to meet the ocean.

Today: photo by Ginger Bruner

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The Missing Piece

The Sun was incapable of making plans. Whenever he tried, a dozen things went wrong. It was his poor sense of timing.

He couldn’t see events through to their ends—how they might play out or conflict. As a result, he preferred to improvise, to choose his course of action as circumstances arose. In this way, he traveled through the crowded, noisy depths of space.

The Noisy Clamor of Deep Space

Everywhere he went, the sea of cosmic chatter purred and roared delightful music, raucous patterns.

Unknowingly (though he wouldn’t have cared), he blazed an artless path, but left in his wake a baffling trail.

Everywhere he went, the sea of cosmic chatter purred and roared delightful music, raucous patterns. Everywhere he went, his asteroids and planets were gathered around him like a bobbing, spinning brood of ducklings. But occasionally, inside him, he felt a tiny emptiness.

A piece of himself had gone missing, and he couldn’t remember how or where. In the moments when he felt it, he would try to recall whether it had broken off or he had given it away. He’d think back to all the places he had been. He’d scour his memory for the moment it was lost. But it was no use. It could be anywhere.

Whenever these thoughts occurred to him, he would turn and reverse his course. Gradually, the trail he left became a kind of convoluted spiral. Pulled alternately by wanderlust and longing, he’d drawn a labyrinth across the universe.

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The Ruin

Grasshopper, by Penina S. FingerPlucking them right out of the air, a colossal flock of swallows chased a swarm of grasshoppers across the savannah into the stony, shadowed foothills. The sun was low and the air beginning to cool when they cornered an unlucky flank of bugs in a great stone alcove.

The swallows feasted until twilight filled the whole chamber and the last of the grasshoppers had wedged into crevices and gloomy shelves. Contented, the flock gathered itself into a graceful black murmuration and wound along the low cliff sides in search of a roost.

Elephant, attracted to the ruckus from a great distance, arrived at last in the alcove. It was now so full of moonlight, it glowed. A damp carpet of bird droppings and a few scattered insect parts covered the floor. The surviving grasshoppers had resurfaced and were scurrying across the luminous walls. Silently, they traced over weather-worn ridges on the brightest side. In a moment, Elephant realized the ridges were ordered, suggesting a pattern of rings or a coil. It was huge, twice as high as he.

Worn as it was, it was mostly intact, except for one small, but deep, blemish near the center. He approached the wall, alarming the grasshoppers, and carefully probed the ridges. Long ago, a circle had been carved at the center, and outer rings to surround it.

No. To lead to it, he discovered.

It was like a map or a path. And though the ridges seemed to form a snaking maze, there were no false turns. If he touched his trunk to the outer opening and followed the path, it would take him only to the little chinked circle in the middle.

It was very late now and the moon had sunk below the edge of the alcove walls. In the dark, Elephant fed on a few low, thorny shrubs by the entrance and then wandered back in. He stroked the ridges of the carving and sought the tiny dent near its heart until he was too tired to lift his trunk, and fell asleep.

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