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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #319
Terminal Island
David Gunn

A dense, black cloud drops out of the sky. It hurtles towards the house at a speed unheard of in the world of suspended water droplets. At the last second, the cloud veers off to one side and crashes into a spot on the knoll marked by a large X that resembles the pattern of the five windows. "Crash" is perhaps the wrong word for, while the cloud hits the ground with great force, almost no sound results. There is only a little "squish" as it vaporizes into oxygen, astatine and Tang. "Squish," incidentally, is also the sound that the crustacean in the beaker makes as it becomes gastronomically intimate with the figure in the doorway.

A second cloud, even blacker and more recondite than the first, plummets from the sky. This one, however, slows appreciably as it nears the house. When it reaches the 90-foot elevation mark, visible both as a wispy line in the air and also as a mandarin orange stain on the topmost turret, it spreads out into a ring, encircles the house warily, then descends to the ground, stifling the keening, which had begun again to seep from the interstices of the house. A third and, directly thereafter, fourth cloud abruptly exit the troposphere. Notwithstanding the Sixth Law of Applied Meteorology -- Any concentration of gas or liquid droplets shall not exhibit cognitive tendencies. -- both are clearly aiming for the house. The third cloud decelerates as it senses the remains of cloud #1 strewn along a stretch of the knoll below. Its attention diverted by the sudden manifestation of the ghosts of six ravening lammergeiers, cloud #4 slams into cloud #3. The resulting sound, while inaudible to the doorway trencherman, briefly deafens the crustaceans, and they stagger about discombobulated and disequilibrated. The two clouds, meanwhile, are being torn asunder by the spectral birds who, over the years, have developed a wicked Tang dependency. From below, however, the activity simply looks like the spontaneous combustion of an occluded front as it passes through a plumage factory.

From the east-southeast, a tenebrous swirl of fog approaches at ground level. Like the clouds, it moves fast and refutes the Sixth Law of Applied Meteorology. It roars up in front of the house, turns into the driveway and, hovering a few inches above the ground, parks. It, too, is black and compact, and smells slightly of freezer-burned veal. An aperture in its side opens, and out steps helium. The element, behaving quite unlike an inert gas, strides purposefully to the doorway. Having just ended a week-long stint as a cooling medium at the local nuclear reactor, the helium causes the atmosphere to squeak as it passes through it. It tries to leap the five feet to the opening, but a couple of its isotopes must be malfunctioning because it stumbles and falls sprawling to the ground. The lammergeiers, evidently not surfeited from the cloudwiches, attack. However, Tang does not mix with helium, and the incorporeal birdbrains can find nothing more appetizing than a colorless, odorless gas. Disgruntled, they break off their assault and disappear into the otherworldly void whence they came. Helium gets up, condenses into an appreciably lighter mass, and aims for the doorway again. This time, its buoyancy causes it to overshoot its target, and it winds up wedged under the cornice of the eave-used-for- food-gathering. The crustaceans have never seen an element of indeterminate psychosis up close before, and they are quite besides themselves, except for one on the roof who is also above itself. Perhaps frustrated at its inability to control its properties, helium smites the one on the roof with a burst of gamma rays with which its surface mass is still imbued -- hardly a noble act, and this noble gas knows it. Contrite now, helium discreetly dilates downward to the doorway, which is occupied by the trencherman figure. For a prolonged moment, the normally lighter-than-air element and the erstwhile small man gawk at one another in an abstract silence that is only occasionally broken by the "squish" of clouds crashing into each other and the knoll around them.

And then, a very strange thing happens.

The five windows on the side of the house in perpetual shadow begin to move. Somehow keeping their lintels, sills and posts intact, the windows are migrating to the doorway side of the house. The bizarre movement is not lost on the two doorway dwellers and, if an element could look extremely puzzled, that's how helium might be described right now. But here's the very strange part.

Twenty-six hundred miles away on a container ship moored at Terminal Island, an industrial wasteland port of call of noxious chemical tanks, oil refineries and virulent slurry plants that marks the southern terminus of the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles County, California, one container in the starboardleast cargo hold is exhibiting signs of consciousness. The container is as big as a house and twice as smart. In fact, one stevedore who often works on the ship claims to converse with it. The rest of the crew doesn't socialize with him, partly because they find the way his skin color changes, tracing the component color span of the spectrum, off-putting, but mostly because of his voice. He speaks with an inflection that borders on keening. It drives his shipmates batty, but seems to soothe the houselike container -- which, as noted, is no longer as inanimate as the typical cargo box. The stevedore is howling right now. The other shiphands are working as far away from him as possible, but on the side of the container next to the bulkhead, five large exportation bar code labels, arranged in an X pattern, are slowly sliding towards him.

It seems like this would be a good time to slide into the 319th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, as the number of loose ends in this tale in need of neat tying up mounts to an unacceptable level, a level that, coincidentally, approximates the ululating frequency of Kalvos.