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Deal 1030: Eight Lies

As he walked along the path, Sydney began to whistle as it seemed like that sort of path. It wound gently among the hills and through the darkest centers of several woodlots. But it never vanished, and Syd was content enough with that.

As he came around a hill, he found a stream draining from a boggy patch, and a familiar looking frog sitting on a log.

“See, I told you not to trust anything I said,” it croaked.

“Now what? Didn’t I just watch you get eaten?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Not everything you see is as it appears. Call that your third lesson.”

“I thought you said the third was going to be about my goal.”

“It is. Expect me to lie. But plan for the possibility that I’m being truthful. I tell you truly that I will tell you eight lies. You’ve already heard at least one.”

With that, the frog leapt into the stream and swam away. Oddly, the frog’s return calmed Sydney down a little. Perhaps it was because something he encountered had returned. Aside from the worrying repetition of the loop, he hadn’t seen anything else more than once. The frog had also offered advice. Bad advice, of course, but still. Advice.

He drew the calm around him like a cloak, and attempted to wear it like armor. He had a hunch that he was going to need armor to survive this place.

If he wasn’t careful, he was going to wish for something useless like an impulsive hobo.

Still, even a hobo would be some company.

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Deal 1023: Nightmare

Spiral on my Mind 31:
hobo, Free Will, Cat, Strength, Loyalty, stick, The Unknown, fowl, and Plurality

I woke suddenly in the night, drenched in sweat, shaking. At first, I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, or even quite where I was.

I looked around, and slowly realized that the room was familiar. The TV was still on, but the station had gone off-air, leaving just the test pattern showing. It flickered, then suddenly went to just snow and hissing sound. I was alone, but that wasn’t unusual as I lived alone. The window was open, the curtain pulled back to let the cool air move through the room.

Except it wasn’t. The night air was hotter than I remembered, and perhaps that woke me.

I settled back down, determined to go back to sleep.

Then I remembered something.

My room doesn’t have curtains. And TV stations don’t go off air and broadcast the Indian head test pattern. They haven’t done that regularly in at least fifty years.

I look closer. The bedspread is not mine. The lamp is not mine. The body I’m wearing is not mine.

Who am I?

What is going on here?

There are noises outside the window, and I sit up and peer out. In the yard beyond the bushes, I can just see a hobo picking through his bindle.

With some effort, I pull back from the window at look around at the room again. Elvis posters on the walls are definitely not mine. The cat sitting on the dresser glaring at me in reproach, well, actually that is mine. I’ve always known cats are a little out of phase with reality. Maybe I’m sharing a dream of hers?

If so, this might be a place where I’m going to need all my strength to stay alive, given the amount of disdain most cats have for people. A glance outside the window shows a number of cats gathering in the darkness, watching the hobo, waiting for their chance. I suddenly wonder what he had done to deserve his fate.

I was always good to my cats. None of mine would wish too much ill on me, even if I had done things they hadn’t liked for their own good.

I heard a muffled scream. I knew I didn’t want to look, but somehow I knew I had to.

Where the hobo had been, there was just a roiling carpet of strays, his stick cocked out with his bindle still tied on.

I tried not to scream when Snowflake jumped on to the bed. Surely she was not going to call them up here to feed on me?

She stared at me, then seemed to be saying “I think you have seen enough” and turned away. She picked a spot on the bed and curled up.

As usual, her motives were inscrutable. But she was the cat, and we were clearly on her turf for now.

I laid back down, and closed my eyes for only a moment. Then the scream shattered my peace. A sound like a thousand strangled cats rent the air. Then there was silence. Then wings, as a large bird came through the open window and landed on the bed and screamed again.

A peacock.

Then a second.

Then my cat sat up.

The birds froze. One of them put up his tale in an absurd mockery of a threat display. Of course, with his tail up he was hardly able to move. The tableaux froze for a long moment as everything living held their breath.

The cat turned back to me, and in a clear voice said “you don’t want to see this.”

I fell back to my pillow, suddenly asleep.

A moment of blackness passed, then I shivered and rolled over.

It was cold. So cold. I pulled my covers up, groped for the window and closed it. My cat was at my feet in her preferred spot, and I settled back in and drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Several hours later, I awoke in my own bed. In my own body. In my own room.

Snowflake was there, but there was no sign of birds. Outside my window was the usual 20 story drop to a concrete sidewalk, not a grassy yard where something had happened to a hobo. Or had it?

Snowflake turned to me and said “you dreamed the whole thing.”

Smartest thing that cat had ever said to me.

Then I woke up.

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Deal 1017: Hitchhiker’s log excerpt

Day 1017, probably

That infernal beeping has started again. Somewhere in this house, a smoke alarm or something like it wants feeding. But the damn thing just goes “peep” once every five to ten minutes. It’s just enough noise to tell you something is wrong, but not enough noise to let you locate the origin of the sound, and spaced too far apart for anyone to remain attentive and hear a second alert with enough presence of mind to find it. It is going to either drive me insane, or run its battery out completely and go silent forever.

I’m hoping for the latter, and betting in the former.

Either way, I’ve added a note to the growing report that whoever finds me may or may not bother to read. The very report that you might be reading right now. If “you” exist, that is.

If I stop believing that “you” exist, then I will be sufficiently free of sanity to believe anything at all in short order.

So I choose to believe that updating this note is worth my time and effort.

It has to be.

Or I’ve wasted so much time.

I say this is day 1017, but I’m not absolutely certain of that. I don’t have an easy way to tell the passage of time, so I’ve been counting days as times between sleeps. My clocks never worked well, and as you would expect given where I’m sitting, I don’t really have windows or a view that tells me much at all.

I’ve tried asking the bear if he knows what time it is, but he is concentrating on the problem of getting us out of here, and doesn’t answer.

The chickens aren’t any help, either. They just sit around and mutter to themselves most of the time. Occasionally one lays me some breakfast. Of course, the chickens have become fiercely protective, and I usually have to go in disguise to collect eggs without suffering from another beating at the talons of their rooster.

I can tell I’m slowly going mad no matter what else I do. I play chess, but HAL keeps beating me. I watch old flat movies, but I’ve forgotten so much from before, that too many of them make no sense. It is becoming difficult to tell fact from fiction. Did some joker back home name my computer HAL on purpose? Should that worry me? What aren’t they telling me?

Am I sounding paranoid again? Probably time to go check the chickens for breakfast.

I’m pretty sure that when I’m sleeping, HAL or one of his unnamed friends taps my thoughts and rewrites my dreams. I don’t know why they do this. But I’m increasingly sure they do.

So I try not to think about it.

I try to remain sane.

I try to not care so much about where I am going, or what will happen when I get there.

I have my bindle, I’m aboard my car, and there’s little I can do until the ride stops rolling.

Until then, I can talk to the bear, play chess with HAL, watch a movie, or chase another chicken.

Or sleep.

And watch my sanity leach away into the darkness.

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Deal 1016: A Surreal Visit

“We begin our tour today in the postmodern surrealist collection with a study of frogs. The pedestal here supports nothing, but is held together by a series of fancy knotted closures up the face. The artist notes that the emptiness atop the pedestal reflect the immediate departure of the frog. If you look closely, you can see its froggy footprints in the dust. Of course, there is no dust because the museum is kept scrupulously clean.”

The class dutifully takes turns to peer at the empty pedestal. I doubt that many of them recognize the significance of the knots. It is probably just as well.

“A favorite pieces is La Grenouille par l’Avion, a frog that has been flattened into a postcard and was delivered to the museum as you see it here today. Note the stamp features a fancy game hen, a breed well known for hunting and eating this particular variety of frog. Both predator and prey, flattened, and glued together. Now hanging as inseparable companions.”

The class looks slightly disturbed, but then curiosity wins out. They have to stare at the very flat frog, addressed in ink on its pale green belly skin.

In the distance, a phone rings. I take a moment to verify that it isn’t my group that has committed this sin. The ringing cuts off abruptly, as if a heavy weight has enforced the purity of the museum experience by removing the offender. Exactly as you would imagine that to sound, as that is exactly what has happened. Visitors are warned at the door, and second chances are given, but only after they survive the first removal.

There is a sudden bout of covert rustling as my group swiftly checks to make sure all of their phones really are turned off.

I keep my face set firmly in the proper museum docent’s mask. It wouldn’t do to start chortling and give the game up. But the sign on the door combined with that clever device which projects sounds right into the visitor’s head has become a most effective tool. Sure, the effect wears off in a while, but a skilled docent can run the tour all the way through before they realize that if we were actually killing our visitors, there might be some repercussions. Even a news story or two.

“As we continue, this alcove provides an opportunity to observe a rare example of a hobo caught napping. You will note first that he is, well, a he. The few examples we know of women riding the rails all assumed male identities. It could be a product of their time. It may also have been that rail cars were not hospitable places at the best of times, and the long skirts and petticoats that were obligatory for women would have been far too dangerous to wear. You will note also that there is a frog perched on the brim of his hat. If asked about it, he would invariably have denied it. If you asked the frog its opinion, you would likely be accepted by the other hobos. A prime tenet among those riding the rails was to never question another man’s sanity.”

About this point in the tour is when visitors usually notice that there are no exit doors. The really observant have also noticed that the door through which they entered is missing. This is a gallery of the surreal, after all. We wouldn’t want them to get too complacent. This group is reasonably observant, so the quiet muttering and peering around has begun. Finally, someone catches sight of the teddy bear on a plinth in another shallow alcove holding a sign that says “Exit”. The muttering continues, with occasional glances my way. But I’m once again frozen behind my mask, waiting for the right words to proceed.

It might be a long wait.