Aitch-Bar

Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say


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A Speculative Account of the Transpiration of Events Culminating in the Publication of the Novel Micro

Michael Crichton reclines in his study, exhausted but satisfied. He has completed the first stage of what promises to be a highly-regarded novel; a lusty mix of speculative science, corporate intrigue, observations of the natural world, and horror. A framework is sketched. Characters are outlined: protagonists, antagonists, brain candy, cannon fodder. Three notes are jotted, one atop the other, in the lower right-hand corner. The first reads “Research plants.” The second: “Check basic physics.” And the third: “Need writing not to suck.” He completes the early ritual with a title page. Micro. He then secures the page and his draft notes to his abdomen with strips of duct tape. He dies two days later.

— —

Under the pale light of a quarter-moon, Richard Preston wipes a briny muck from his face as he digs under the grave marker of Michael Crichton. His pace is frenetic. The rumors still ring in his ears: a final manuscript, completed moments before his untimely demise, never having reached the eyes of any editor, never having been digitally transcribed, never found among his personal possessions. Taken to the grave. Richard Preston will have this story. Richard Preston will realize his dream of co-authoring a work with Michael Crichton. Richard Preston will ascend to greatness.

A thud. He has hit lacquered mahogany. He tosses the shovel aside and digs with bare hands, revealing his prize. He tears his shirt on a corner. He does not notice. The lid is opened. With assured purpose, he searches under the body, under the pillow, under the lining. He finds nothing. Panic rises. His frantic gaze then settles on the body. The burial suit is torn asunder. There: a stack of papers, secured to the abdomen by strips of duct tape. Richard Preston grabs at them, secreting them away in his waistband, hidden under torn shirt. In his mania, he tears the final bits. He does not notice a small piece of the lower right-hand corner left behind, hidden under a strip of tape.

— —

Richard Preston has retreated to his shack in the woods. The small room is lit by a trash can fire; smoke roils on the ceiling, escaping through narrow cracks in the thatch. The floor is naked boards. He is bent over a sun-bleached writing desk, poring over the notes. A rising despondency grips him by the throat. Where paragraphs should exist, there are only phrases. Where developed personality traits ought to be, there are only job descriptions. This is unlike any manuscript Richard Preston has encountered before. In fact, the manuscript reads like… draft notes.

The realization sweeps over him: Richard Preston must write words. He has dreaded this day for nearly eighteen years. He never intended to supply great stretches of narrative. The process of fictional composition is mysterious to him. One to whom it is not mysterious is Jezebeth, the demon of falsehoods. It is she who was the true author of The Hot Zone. For Richard Preston harbors a dark secret. Richard Preston is no writer.

Richard Preston is a wielder of arcane magicks.

He steels himself and reaches under his desk. He finds the old mason jar, and brings it to the flaming trash can. The top is discarded. Inside is a mixture of animal bones, widow’s tears, vulcanized rubber, and salvia. Eyes rolled back in his head, he recites a dark incantation and drops the brew into the fire.

— —

A lost child stumbles into the shack, finding Richard Preston face down upon the floorboards, naked, surrounded by aborted attempts at origami, unable to be roused. He steps gingerly over the prone form, avoiding a half-swan. He finds some food — a cabinet full of Triscuits, unpackaged and standing in stacks of twelve — and notices papers on the desk. The papers seem to be draft notes for a story. The child is intrigued. He won a writing award in seventh grade before running away from home. He spots something in the lower right corner: “Research plants” is scrawled just above a small tear in the paper.

He then notices a cardboard box in a far corner, decrepit with age and thorough with rot. He walks over to it and tugs at the top flap. The soggy material disintegrates, and a hundred unsold hardcovers of The Demon in the Freezer spill to the floorboards. He picks one up. It fills him with a sense of disquiet; he does not think of reading it. He turns it over instead. On the jacket cover is a picture of the author. He looks from the jacket to the man on the floor, and back again. He realizes that this is the Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone, inspiration for him to quit school in the seventh grade after realizing that a world with ebola is a world without meaning. Clearly his hero has come into a bad way. The child will help Richard Preston in his time of need. He returns to the writing desk, grabs the draft notes, and strides purposefully out the door, stepping over a half-tulip, heading for the library.

— —

The child returns to the shack, a stack of paper clutched tightly to his breast. Again he steps over Richard Preston’s sprawled figure. He sets the papers neatly beside the typewriter. He has combined an old biology report on rainforests with a character narrative framed by the draft notes. He has followed all of the notes that were on the page. He has followed none of the notes that were not. He stokes the trash can fire, bends down, sweeps aside a half-sailboat, and gives Richard Preston a kiss on the forehead. He walks into the woods. He is eaten by wolves.

— —

Richard Preston has taken an upright position. His head swims, his hands shake, and his stomach seizes. This is Jezebeth’s toll; he can feel the gap left in his abdomen where she burrowed. He is ravenous for Triscuits.

He crawls through a family of half-frogs to his writing desk to see what the demon may have wrought on his typewriter. He is surprised to find a very neat font, with nonuniform letters, line widths bound precisely to one-inch margins around the page. This is not at all like what happened last time. And it is theoretically impossible for a typewriter. Such is the nature of the dark arts.

He quickly tucks the new manuscript into an envelope; to gaze upon it too carefully before it enters the editing process would be to undo the work entirely. But he does notice a Post-It affixed to the title page, with what appears to be the hesitant calligraphy of a childlike hand. Creepy. He tosses the note directly into the trash can fire, sending its demonic machinations back to Hell. He then seals the envelope and gives his story unto the mail, addressed to HarperCollins. Richard Preston returns to the floor, the weight of destiny pulling him down. He sleeps.

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To a Lone Traffic Cone in the Breakdown Lane

You're my cone, bro

Keeping it cool. Keeping it orange.

I see you there, cone. Repping it in the breakdown on the I-195 bridge. They say to pick one thing you love and do that as much as you can, and you are living that right now. How did you get there, all alone in a 2 foot wide shoulder? No one knows. But I do know this, you are doing what you were put on this Earth to do: keep drivers out of a narrow trash-filled corridor.

If it weren’t for you, I’d be scraping the concrete wall. You heard me—I push myself to the limits of advisable driving technique whenever possible, and that means testing the bulkheads of highway bridges. Is my ‘97 Honda Civic winning any beauty contests because I have made this bold and reckless choice? Of course not, but that’s just the cost of living outside of society’s false conventions. Does my choice to employ a non-traditional facial hair pattern offend you? Of course it does, if you are living a box, provided for you by the mainstream barber community…but I digress. Cone, you are my kind of cone, making a stand while thoughtless minions speed through life, barely looking where they’re going. Is grinding a beige sedan against a stone barrier at 65mph the reason my so-called “friends” and “relatives” refuse to travel with me? Maybe. It sure generates a lot of sparks. Does all the junk on the shoulder result in almost constant flat tires and damage to the undercarriage? Why wouldn’t it? Does hitting the seams in the wall every 9 feet, constitute a painful, frame-stressing impact? You bet it does. That’s what makes it all worth it. I ride bridges hard. It’s what I’m about. And in that same way, I know what you’re about, cone. Stopping people like me. And I respect you for it.


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This Cabin and Your Manhood Both Need Dozens of Animal Heads

I’m feeling this rustic cabin, my friend. Very countrified. Check out that fireplace, what is that, a forty-eight inch? Nasty. It’ll be roasty toasty up in here come snowfall. Understated chandeliers, that’ll make for some good ambience. And you’ve got the feng shui in full effect with this chair and table arrangement. That’s all great. Only one problem I’m seeing, and that is that someone might catch sight of your living situation and then confuse you with a ball-less old lady. That is a potential issue. And as far as I can figure, there’s only one thing for it: we’re going to fill this place with animal heads until it’s standing room only.

See this fine-grain wood paneling between the mantle and the doorjamb? That’s got some badass texture, great with the overall motif. Here’s what I’m thinking: animal head, right on top of it. There’s only one thing with greater aesthetic value than woodgrain, and that is a summer coat preserved by world-class taxidermy. That’s card-carrying virile young male status. If they actually made cards for that, they would be made out of pelt.

Don’t make me get buck in here. And by that I mean, three hundred pound white tail with a two foot antler spread. Here, there, on that rafter, and pretty much anywhere we’re not going to have moose. Then you should mix it up with some marksmanship trophies. Skeet shooting is where it’s at. I’m thinking this entire area, to the window, to the wall, all skeet skeet. That says “man” with no room for miscalculation, which is important for you vis-a-vis the ball-less old lady situation. I bet you keep getting lost kids coming to your door asking for porridge or whatever. It’s because they look around, they don’t see any giant stuffed bears in attack position, and they figure you’re an old crone who’s probably got a kettle of something tasty going.

What’s that, in the far corner? That looks to me like some free space. You should see that free space and be thinking, this is bullshit, and then fill that gap with a hippopotamus. I’m thinking posed in full roar, like it’s the movie Congo and you’ve just willy-nilly rafted in on its territory as if you pay the rent. He’ll be like, “You folks must be lost. Allow me to serve you up a fresh helping of sixteen-inch incisors. Hope all your supplies weren’t on that one boat, because I just snapped into it like a Slim Jim. This is Hips territory, next time bitches stay on land where bitches belong.” That says nothing but hard. You may as well put up a giant phallus for all the subtlety in that message. A trophy dong. And below it? Two giant balls affixed to their own plaque, because structurally speaking you’re less likely to tear out the wall with separate support points.

When you have a party in here, people will be like, “wow, check out those heads. This guy is awesome and completely sane.” And deep down they will feel the seed of fear sprout a bud, because they’ve seen Highlander and they know how insanely powerful you probably are by now and how far you can jump. Then you can regale them with the story of how you were snowbound in here for five weeks and you fever-dreamed a complete production of A Streetcar Named Desire, with you as Blanche Dubois and a Bengal tiger playing the part of Stanley Kowalski. Rangers found you at first thaw au naturel and heavily depending on the kindness of strangers. That part isn’t mission-critical, but keep it on the back burner.

This is going to take some serious investment from you, because you’re going to have to grow a thick mustache and wear a safari hat all of the time. Which is probably not going to go over well with the missus. I can tell because she’s been glaring at me since I first opened my mouth. If this isn’t going over well it’s going to be even harder to pitch you on turning your minivan into The Mystery Machine. I should have opened with that idea.


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I Have To Get These Hungry-Man Dinners Into My Freezer Before They Thaw, and You Will Not Stop Me

Oh. Shit. Look what’s back in stock. Hungry-Man. It’s been a long time, my friend. I’ve been eating two half-pound frozen dinners in one go, waiting for your return. Your commercial had me convinced that I would get blown away by carelessly-aimed hair dryers if I didn’t gorge myself at every well-preserved meal.

Hold the phone. I wasn’t even aware of some of these options. Home-style Meatloaf? Mexican Style Fiesta? Way to make Boston Market look like an asshole. Popcorn Chicken with Spiced Rum BBQ Sauce? Let me stop you right there. Sold. No way that’s going to make my night end badly. Let me just help myself to one of each. Better beat the rush.

Let me just carefully read the fine print, like I do on all my freezer products. Do not thaw? Jesus. Let me pull out my calculus. We’re starting at 0°, it’s 82° with 36% humidity outside right now, my car can get down to 68° with full A/C over a period of 5 minutes, the house is 15 minutes away, plus 1 to get through the garage where it’s undoubtedly over 98°, and each meal is 1 lb and 150 in2 with a heat capacity roughly that of ice. So there’s maybe eight minutes of contingency here. T0 was 30 seconds ago, while I sat here calculating. We are running the clock.

Well. This just got extremely fucking real.

Pardon me, old lady perusing the Birds-Eye products. Impressive, the way you managed to wedge your cart sideways in the middle of this narrow aisle. I assume that this is part of some master plan too grandiose for me to comprehend. Dare I not disturb this careful arrangement, in case you’ve positioned it in the middle of some space warp and it’s holding the universe together like an episode of Dr. Who. Let me jam myself sideways against the freezer and squeeze around. That’s fine, don’t even notice. The structural integrity of these delectable chicken bits hangs precariously in the balance and I’ll parkour over you as if that’s what it should be like to live in modern society.

I can’t help but notice that this line is taking a long goddamned time. Contingency is burning. Excuse me, sir up at front, buying fruits and shit. Good for you. A hearty bounty from the cavernous bowels of Nature herself. Here’s a proposition for you. Add these two Hungry-Men to your inventory, check them out, give them back, and we will all be better for it. Here is some money. You seem to be spending your life savings on organic melon, I fear these TV dinners would topple you into financial ruin.

No. What is that card. Put that card down. Thermodynamics doesn’t rest because you made a bad gamble that the world would suddenly join hands and embrace American Express. The Nickelback of credit cards. Here’s a fifty. This ought to cover your plants. Look at me. Take the fifty. Buy these Hungry-Men. Buy them now.

Let me explain to you how science works. If even one molecule of the chocolate splotch that magically hardens into a brownie thaws before it starts absorbing micro-rays or whatever, it’s game-fucking-over. That’s not me talking; that’s chemistry. It will leak over onto the corn and form a colloidal shit matrix. That corn is second to none but I will not force down maize brownie. That is sick. That is where typhus came from.

Yes, Officer Dawdles, I was doing 96. Probably because I have somewhere extremely important to be. Does God Himself have a hit out on these mashed potatoes? They are pre-gravyed. The gravy is already on them sir. This is a truly volatile mix of poorly understood ingredients and proportions. If this pile reaches liquid phase in an uncontrolled environment there is a nonzero chance of it coming alive and gaining sentience. It will debate us. It will gain a seat in Congress. It will levy taxes on hand-made jewelry and smiles. It will destroy our way of life. Or I can get to my freezer. I am putting this car in drive. You can shoot me and then lose the battle in November, or you can choose freedom.

Yes, hello son, that is a very nice plastic bag space helmet and matching santoku-knife-turned-laser-gun. Is that our toaster with forks sticking out of it? Ah, his name is Robotron. You know what, son, go play with your robot, maybe show him your aqueous bath tub space capsule, or your fortress in the dryer. No, I did not know we had super juice in a leaky bottle under the kitchen sink. I’ll come try some in a bit.

First, there’s something I need to get done.


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A Monologue From the Spider Creeping On You Above the Shower

Don’t you mind me, girl. I see you standing there, not sure what to do. You stride into this bathroom all confident, thinking this shower is just another trip under the faucet. You didn’t expect to see Barry up here, spinning a little thang. Barry didn’t expect to see you either. Barry don’t mind, girl. Barry don’t mind.

That’s right. Take it all off. You don’t have to be shy about Barry. Barry’s just a harmless arthropod. No clothes here; we’re all natural in this bathroom. You dropping that towel. Me in this chitinous exoskeleton. It’s your birthday, girl. Let’s wear these suits.

Start that water slow now. You gotta give the pipes a chance to warm up. The water is destroying my proteinaceous silk weave that I inexplicably put under the shower head, even though this ain’t my first night here and I should know what’s up. That’s my bad. Some strands are still in the water, getting tugged on. They’re rockin’ me all the way up here. That’s some good vibes. Barry’s gonna ride these waves. Ride ’em all night long.

Mmmmm.

I hope you like eyes, baby. I’ve got four pairs of them. And they’re all on you. I see your loofah, waxing on. You get clean. I use my chelicerae to periodically groom my extremely fine leg hairs. They sense vibrations in the air. Maybe from predators. Maybe from unwary flies. Yeah. Can you feel it baby? I can too. It’s such a good vibration. It’s such a sweet sensation. I do not know if those are lyrics to a song that already exists, as I have no cognitive storage. Maybe Barry will drop an album.

A lesser man would be drooling for you. Barry’s above that sort of thing. Barry drools only to liquidize nutrients, as my organs are not physically large enough for solid ingestion. Let Barry treat you with respect. Just you and me, some pinot, a low candle, some fresh Drosophila. Barry knows the way to satisfy a lady.

You will have to excuse me for my indiscretion; you captivate me. Watch as I enter an elaborate courtship dance designed to prevent you from eating me before the act of conception. Like these moves? Yeah. Who’s #1 in this disco? Right here, baby. These legs are all akimbo.

The time draws near. I will spread my man seed in a special-purpose web and then transfer it to the base of my pedipalps. Yes. That is actually how I do it. I hear you girl. It is hard to believe in God after learning something like that.

Leaving so soon? Seems like we only met ten minutes ago, or about eighteen hours in spider time. I’ll see you tomorrow girl. Don’t worry about Barry. Barry will be right here. Or possibly over there. That other corner looks like it’s in need of some habitation, Barry style–

Hold up. That’s a nice towel. Barry could see himself all up in the folds of that towel.

Yeah.