The Old Plaintiff

An old plaintiff came to the courthouse. Inside, he found the bureaus empty, the glass cracked, the ceiling fans inert. Cobwebs covered the ceiling and old documents littered the floors. He wandered through rooms of broken typewriters and empty desks. At last he came into the courtroom itself where a bailiff was meditatively sweeping with a large broom. “I have come to lodge a complaint!” the plaintiff shouted. The bailiff paused and turned to him, saying, “It’s a bit late for that. The magistrate has run off, and the other officers walked out.” The old plaintiff sighed. “What happened?” “Nothing,” said the bailiff. “And that is why he left. The land was on the brink of revolution. The people were drunk with fury. Day after day the crimes of the lords and ladies, peasants and thieves, rapists and traitors were exposed. There were pamphlets and posters, marches and speeches, but nobody was arrested or charged. The bureaucrats worked around the clock to explain what happened, and then the clouds of revolution dissipated. Besides, even before that, the courts were backed up with absurd lawsuits and impossible trials. There were onions that wanted to be declared potatoes, robots who murdered their wives, the censorship or revision of fairy-tales, dissolutions of parliament, agencies working against themselves and each other, stolen secret letters, taxes on cotton candy and tariffs on steel!” The plaintiff shook his head in disbelief, and cried: “There is corruption and death in the land!” The bailiff quietly agreed, but seemed eager to return to his sweeping. Then he reached into his pockets and pulled out brass and silver stars, the abandoned badges of the magistrate, marshalls, sheriffs, bailiffs, and sergeants. “This is all I have,” he said sadly, giving them to the old man. The old plaintiff held the seven stars in his hands and wept.

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The Cougar

The cougar awoke into a blue night of rust and went out to investigate. All the cities were crumbling, and rivers bled ferrous water through the streets. It followed their streams, meowing but hearing no answer. All the buildings had been grayed with a film of petrified ash. It was a dirty white cougar of the ancient white mountains. It had traveled through the rock countries and had played with shards of broken glass and reams of tape, miles and miles of twisted tape and roll film left to blacken in the ever blue twilight. It did not know how long it had hibernated, but it had never imagined awakening to a world without sun and only the light of strange stars. In some of the streams, it found suspicious fish, and ate them raw. It meowed at the lampposts that still flickered, and listened intently to the automated factories still threshing and smelting and refining even though there was nobody left on the face of the machine planet. It investigated the reservoirs and shops where there were headless mannequins in lingerie or phonographs that played without end. And it stopped to listen and to scratch at things, and it wondered if everything were hiding in the music. And what did music mean?

The Robot

In theory, the robot knew that he was a robot and that robots came with finite batteries, just as the universe seems to be a seemingly infinite but finite battery. Day to day, he busied himself with his robotica: raking leaves, sweeping the soft gravel and sand into swirling patterns, washing bowls, hauling water, listening to silence, counting non-integers, memorizing the birds, blowing the flute, and printing solitary characters on white paper. The emptiness began to fill with something–an error of computing, a damaged algorithm, an incongruent eternity. It was like bleeding invisible blood. It was the empty mindfulness of the slow leaking of its energy, leaking off into the rust, copper sulfate, and tarnish of the whirling concentric whirlpools of scrap metal and unidentified minerals that were also losing their energy. The marks of time were staining the timeless. The robot was sad.

The Bathtubs

It was not a good analogy, but it was the first thing that came to the mind of the worn out teacher leaning over an astronomical globe and atlas with the young girl. There were blackholes and galaxies. There were new stars and there was emptiness. It was like filling, overflowing and draining countless bathtubs of bubbles and sparkling water. The bell rang and the young girl gathered her textbooks and notebooks into her bag, and stepped out into the afternoon. She surveyed the old street with its abandoned buildings, closed shops, automotive garages, empty lots of weeds and rusted cans, and small humming factories. Coffee cream splashes of a dying sun fell on cracks, dust, stains, warped wood, corrugated steel, tarnish, rust and ash. The world really was dirty, she thought. And yet, who could be taking all those baths up there in the night sky where the stars were so clean, shiny and fresh?