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The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

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On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

Preview: Sanity’s Edge, progress report

This is a short excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Sanity’s Edge. Our protagonists Jamai and Youssou have left their homeland in exile; Jamai has chosen to leave Youssou, due to his erratic mood swings, and has joined a branch of the Order of Elias in the hopes of finding a place among people of her own kind. This is proving not so simple as she believed.

This is still a draft version and will be liable to revision. Comments and critiques are welcome. Enjoy.

The debriefing began that afternoon. Cyrano had the appearance of a well groomed wild man. He was taller than average and had to duck stepping over the threshold into Alejandro’s casa. His was a thick body with a flat nose that might have been broken on more than one occasion. And he had a mane, a literal flame red mane and beard with no hint of a mustache. All that was stuffed inside a deep blue dress suit whose creases had seen better care than his beard.

The other fellow, Lloyd George, was not so tall but unnaturally thin and clean shaven, even to his scalp which bore the signs of week-old stubble. He was also in a dress uniform, though his seemed more comfortably ivied-in than Cyrano’s. His stare darted here and there, taking in the surroundings while being unfailingly polite to Alejandro and me.

I found the big man’s interrogatories usually came in the form of a one-way shouting match. That, combined with the fact that apparently I might have been a little soft spoken, made for a bit of a tense session.

“I suppose the first time was when I was seven and the village ant totem–”

“SPEAK UP, GIRL! I CAN BARELY HEAR YOU!”

“–and that’s when I found out our elder Odu Molefe had been collaborating with them the whole time, can you believe–”

“DON’T MIX SUPPOSITION WITH THE FACTS! FOCUS, GIRL!”

I had to endure two days of this interrogation before I could even slip in one question, perhaps the only one that mattered to me. The small fellow, Lloyd George, tapped his padd like a mad keyboardist while the fat guy Cyrano sat as a rock on the Mara Plains, glowering directly at me. Alejandro was getting up to fetch us all coffee when I blurted, “Is there anyone else like me?”

Alejandro paused, recalling the one occasion I’d put the same query to him. Cyrano scoffed, “Certainly not. That kind of power in so youthful–”

“No, I mean, are there any other gifted people out there?”

“Like you?” Lloyd George prompted.

“Yes.”

The two interlopers exchanged arched glances. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a telepathic exchange as they’d worked together so long as a team that they thought along the same patterns. At any rate it was Lloyd George who answered.

“Why yes, we have wards much like you in our branches all across the globe,” he beamed. “Some have similar power levels to your own, some can be quite innocuous. Alejandro for example–”

“There’s nobody exactly like you,” Cyrano emphasized, and here his bushy mustache twitched at the right cheek. “Your powers are unique. That is why we’ve taken such an interest in you.” He seemed prepared to move along but I wasn’t done.

“I had another question.”

“Oh, what now?”

“I was wondering if you could help me find something to do with myself. Some kind of employment…”

“You want a job?”

“Y-yes,” I nodded. “I want to do something useful. It doesn’t have to be anything big. In fact I’d prefer it if I could find someplace not so public, where I could disappear in the back or something.”

“What do we look like, an unemployment office?”

“No, but you must have connections.”

“For Chrissakes, what do you think you’re doing here? You’re a murderess!”

Some dishes clattered in the kitchen. “I’m sorry…?”

“Huh, she’s sorry,” Cyrano huffed, nudging his companion. “You damn well ought to be. You should be grateful we’re even taking you in. we could be breaking ten thousand laws just hiding your sorry ass!”

“I didn’t mean to kill them, I panicked!”

“And how do we know you won’t panic in the future? What’s to stop you from doing it again?”

“Because I remember it! Because I can’t get it out of my mind!”

I had to stop; I’d started breathing in shallow gulps. Alejandro had to catch me as I slumped over the table with one hand bracing me up. Cyrano was noticeably silent, though his spirit matched the slow boil in mine. “Getting back to this business with Sydney,” Lloyd George interjected, “may I ask, umm, how did you know all that?”

“She told me. I already explained that.”

“Impossible,” Cyrano said. “We–!” He hesitated, cracking his fists as he huffed more deeply than before. “These are things known to only a handful of us on the Order’s Inner Circle. Sydney Merryman is gone. That’s established fact.”

“You may be wrong,” I said. “From what I could perceive Massoud didn’t want to steal our bodies. I don’t think the vast majority of Sydelle’s kin want to. They’re not after our bodies, our children, for their own pleasure. That’s just what we think based on what Sydelle has told us. I think they just want their purgatory to end. I think they just want to die.”

Our guests exchanged another doubtful glance. Lloyd George began, “Cyrano, maybe we should consider–”

“Oh don’t you be stupid too, man! It’s pure bullshit. Talking spirits? That’s never happened before. In the last five hundred years not one soul has been recovered, not one! Am I supposed to take this shit to the Inner Council, tell them everything we KNOW is wrong, based on the word of a stupid girl?”

“But my vision–what I saw–!”

“Maybe you filtered what your thought was a vision through your own perceptions,” Lloyd George suggested. That creature suffocated you. Perhaps oxygen deprivation caused you to fashion your ideas into a comfortable narrative.”

“No.”

“Miss, it is a possibility we should consider–”

“I said NO. I know what I saw and I won’t be dissuaded from that by the Fat Guy here.”

“Settle down, girl,” Cyrano growled.

“Who the hell do you think you–”

“SETTLE DOWN!”

Was it me, or did the rafters shudder? Dust sifted down from above as he continued. “Our people have been watching those maniacs for five hundred years. You can’t come crawling up out of the bush at nineteen years old telling us how to run our affairs. You’re barely out of diapers.”

“I’ve lived more in those twenty years,” I corrected him, heat rising into my cheeks, “than either of you fucking toubabs.”

“Cyrano…” Lloyd George’s eyes shone bright. He slapped a palm onto his companion’s knee. The fat one’s brow furrowed as his knuckles popped with what should have been a painful balling of the fist I was glaring at.

I had no idea what he could do and didn’t much care. “Oh please, try it.”

Senores,” Alejandro called, though honestly I think his voice only penetrated the periphery of our mutual glares. “Let’s call it a day, debemos? We should give these tense sessions time to rest before we resume.” Lloyd George nodded at least. After a few more moments where our eyes locked, Cyrano swerved his gaze away.

I pushed off the divan without a backward glance at either of my two acosters. “You can see them to the door, padre. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you people.”

Alejandro followed me as far as the circular stairwell leading upstairs. “Thanks for standing up for me,” I muttered. “You don’t believe me either, do you?”

“You have to understand it goes against everything we know,” he said.

Sweet Ngai, I didn’t want to talk about this. “Maybe I’ll just leave.”

Both hands slapped on his hips. “And where will you go?”

“I DON’T KNOW! Maybe I’ll go back to the bushes I crawled from, or maybe I’ll see if they’ll have me back at Abyei-Bentiu! That’ll make everybody happy!” it should have been satisfying to slam the door to my room on his face, but somehow it wasn’t.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.         Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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Kurt Vonnegut Slapstick (1976 novel) review

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I haven’t read a book quite this fast in a long while, and I was barely trying. Published in our fair nation’s Bicentennial year, we have the story of twins separated by their judgmental parents, and a granddaughter the brother twin comes to care for. Family is the core virtue of this satire, even to the point of ludicrousness. Don’t expect it to be an endorsement of what we laughably call ‘family values’. Our protagonist is essentially a modern Neanderthal who with the help of his sister Eliza becomes by turns a genius, an idiot, a pediatrician, the last President of the United States and the King of Manhattan after a flu and the Green Death destroys civilization as we know it.

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A means is also discovered to contact the Afterlife which turns out to be as boring as nails, so much so that it’s referred to as a ‘Turkey Shoot’. The biggest religion at the end of the world is the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped. The insinuation that the Chinese are shrinking in stature may have been written in jest but by today’s standards or any other, it might be considered racist. The style is breezy and pure Vonnegut, sparing in detail and broadly farciful with even the most tragic of events. A step up from Breakfast of Champions.

Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,…Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn’t stand it, he could march over his uncle’s for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren’t relatives. There aren’t other houses where people can go and be cared for.

–Vonnegut interview extract, Todd F. Davis (January 2008). Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade; Or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism. SUNY Press. pp. 95–97. ISBN 978-0-7914-6676-6. Retrieved 13 July 2011^

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Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

f & d cover

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

 

[ shared blog] Saturn surpasses Jupiter after the discovery of 20 new moons — Scents of Science

A team led by Carnegie’s Scott S. Sheppard has found 20 new moons orbiting Saturn. This brings the ringed planet’s total number of moons to 82, surpassing Jupiter, which has 79. The discovery was announced Monday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. Each of the newly discovered moons is about five kilometers, or […]

via Saturn surpasses Jupiter after the discovery of 20 new moons — Scents of Science

The spirit of Woodstock should animate us all

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We don’t need a Woodstock 50. Right now we are so divided, so unrighteous as a so-called Christian people, we could never pull it off. You know what, yes, it was messy, there was drugs in the juice you drank and frankly once it was over, Yasgur’s Farm probably looked like a war zone. It actually happened in Bethel, NY, 43 miles from the actual Woodstock. And it was the last time such an event could happen. But god, think about it.

Damn right, just stop, think about this. At its peak there were 400,000 young people gathered in its muddy fields. Apart from two people who died {one from being accidentally run over by a tractor and the other from ‘insulin usage’], there was no violence, no murders–but there were two births. Almost half a million kids got together for four days of peace and music. I would challenge any Trump rally to boast as much.

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Never mind, they can’t. Their forte is rancor and racism. Every time I put on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s song “Woodstock”, I repeat it, at least four times. One, because I love it and two, I think we could all do with getting back to the land, back to the ideal. It became part of a story I once wrote about a concert, a very special concert. I was five years old when Woodstock happened, but that whole ’60’s vibe kind of informs the writing I do, that spirit of unity and brotherhood that crossed artifices such as race and gender.

I’d probably sell more books if I had pursued the whole Dystopian Future model. It certainly worked for the Hunger Games. I don’t think we need that. We’re already heading for a dystopian future as far as I’m concerned. You don’t have a future if its built on cynicism. All you wind up with is…well, what we’ve got now. I don’t want the people I write about to be in a world so f—ed up that I wouldn’t want to live in it. We have to believe we’re better than this. If we don’t believe we can make things better [and I’m speaking broadly here], we’ll never work to make it happen. And then we might as well all be the mindless drones our rich oligarchs expect us to be.

Naïve? Perhaps, but until something better comes along I’ll stick with it.

 

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Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

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Thursday Reads: Trump Is Really Losing It This Time. — Sky Dancing

Good Morning!! I’ve spent the past two days just trying to hold it together. I’m just glad tomorrow is Friday and maybe Trump will go play golf and leave us alone for awhile. Oh wait, I just remembered he’s going to the G7 this weekend. I may have to avoid TV, radio, and the internet […]

via Thursday Reads: Trump Is Really Losing It This Time. — Sky Dancing

I hate living in a country where so many people think my son is abomination who deserves to die. — Lucky Otters Haven

Just this past week, I read this and this (a video of Fritts’ disgusting sermon calling for the execution of LGBTQ people is linked in the article, if you can stand to watch it). I felt literally sick to my stomach after reading these articles (and watching that awful video) and almost had to vomit. Fritts, […]

via I hate living in a country where so many people think my son is abomination who deserves to die. — Lucky Otters Haven