Saturday, April 25, 2015

THAT TIME I CAME IN AS A FRUITFLY


A SHORT, SHORT STORY 

BY MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES




That time I came in as a fruitfly, I recognized clearly that we’re all One. Humans don’t know this, but fruitflies do.



I’d landed on a banana peel in your kitchen, along with hundreds of my mates. I mean mates literally. Man, was I one horny fruitfly!

Then I saw that you were ready to squish me. As your thumb loomed over me, I screamed, “Don’t do that! We are the same! We are One!” I guess I wasn’t very articulate. You/I squished me anyway.

That was not fun. Next time, I'm coming back as a rattlesnake.





© 2015, M. E. Raines
For more stories by this author, please scroll down: http://laughingcherub.blogspot.com; check "other posts" at the bottom of the page for still more!



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A STORY FOR EARTH DAY


TRANSITIONS, TREES, AND COTTAGE CHEESE
by MARY ELIZABETH (LEACH) RAINES
© 2013, M. E. Raines


YOU’D THINK IT would have happened to the old folks first, especially the ones stuck in wheelchairs in nursing homes. After all, they were already pretty much rooted to their spots. But they turned out to be the last segment of the human population to make the change.
Instead, it was the babies who went first, starting with four-month-old Beatrice Burkholder-Chase, who lived with her parents in an upscale stucco duplex just across the street from Mindy MacDonald’s apartment building.
If it was, as some later suspected, a punishment sent from God because of the acceptance of gay marriage, it hardly seemed fair that the first ones smitten should be babies. Although there was, admittedly, some Biblical precedent for smiting babies.
Beatrice was the recently adopted mixed-race baby of Doctors Burkholder and Chase. Mindy didn’t know anyone smarter than the Burkholder-Chases. The license plate on one of the couple’s hybrid cars read FIVEPHD, because between them they possessed five Ph.D.s. He (Dr. Burkholder) was a research scientist in the field of neurology; she (Dr. Chase) specialized in soil analysis, which was quite ironic considering what was about to happen.
They, like their adopted daughter, were of mixed races. They were slim, good-looking people, despite their glasses, and they were multi-talented to boot. In his spare time, Dr. Burkholder (the husband) played the violin in the local symphony, and Dr. Chase (the wife) created abstract paintings that nearly always seemed to win the top prize in local art competitions. Mindy had seen a few of these paintings. To her mind they just looked like blotchy smears of color, which she, in a bitchy moment, attributed to accidents of Dr. Chase’s poor eyesight rather than to any talent.
Mindy’s own preferences in art ran to the kinds of paintings that you never see in art shows, like scenes of big-eyed mermaids and romantic castles and cheery peasant huts surrounded by pastel-colored fairy gardens and glowing golden lights. Sometimes all in the same painting at once.
Back to the Burkholder-Chases: had the couple decided to reproduce, they would certainly have contributed a superior mix of genes toward furthering the human race—that is, if the human race were to have survived, which alas, (spoiler alert!), it was not going to do. Instead, the doctors had selflessly chosen to adopt rather than add to the rampant overpopulation of the planet. (At least that’s what they said. In truth, it was actually Dr. Chase’s stubborn unwillingness to give up nine months of her life, a fine set of breasts, and a svelte unstretched figure just to become pregnant.)
So they adopted. And it was their baby, Beatrice Burkholder-Chase, who was the first to go.
Mindy MacDonald had just pulled into the driveway of her apartment building and she saw it happen, although of course she didn’t understand at the time what was going on. Nobody did. Beatrice, garbed in a flowered T-shirt and a cloth diaper, had been placed outdoors on a blanket on the front lawn under the supervision of her bespectacled mother, who wanted her infant daughter to soak up a little vitamin D from the sunshine.
Dr. Chase had squinted at her phone for just a moment to text someone, and when she looked up, she discovered that little Beatrice had happily crawled off the blanket onto a patch of dirt that was being prepared for the planting of some shrub or another.
And there Beatrice remained.
You would think that a person with a Ph.D. in soil analysis wouldn’t mind having her baby crawl over a little bit of dirt, but that wasn’t the case at all. Dr. Chase, her mouth curdling in horror, let loose a profane word and quickly strode over to the dirt patch, where she attempted to pick the infant up.
Beatrice wouldn’t let her. She yelled at her mother, and it wasn’t the typical cry of a baby. It was a blood-curdling scream that you just don’t expect to hear from a creature so small.
Aghast, Dr. Chase released the child and momentarily stepped back. Beatrice instantly became calmer. She lay on her tummy in the dirt, immobile but apparently peaceful. Chortling and gurgling.
Dr. Chase moved in again. As soon as she reached out for the baby, Beatrice started to yowl. This time she screeched like a tornado-warning siren going off. As I said before, it was not a sound you’d expect to hear from some tiny tot only a few months old. Dr. Chase persisted in her attempts, but to her surprise, she had trouble picking the baby up; it was as if her child had turned to lead. (Lead, if you don’t know it, is incredibly heavy.) The frantic mother grunted and tugged and heaved. Despite all that effort, she was only able to lift her bawling baby a couple of inches off the ground.
Mindy was quite startled to see that, underneath the baby, a thick network of something like tentacles—or roots!—had emerged. They seemed to be connecting the child’s body to the lawn. A few of them popped under the strain, causing Beatrice’s cries to explode in agonizing screams. The infant appeared to be in pain. Dr. Chase immediately lowered her back down and stood over her in shock.
Baby Beatrice Burkholder-Chase had become rooted in the earth.
Things quickly got worse. After only a few seconds had passed, it became impossible to budge the baby even a fraction of an inch off the ground. Dr. Chase dialed 911, mumbled something to the operator, and then lost it. Her face turned red and she began crying hysterically, which made the lenses in her thick glasses fog up. She paced frantically around her infant in a tight circle, waving her hands fruitlessly in the air. Vehicles from the police, ambulance squad, and fire department soon arrived, with a dozen or more potential heroes leaping out and racing to the scene to help. A lot of noise and confusion ensued. But nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew what was happening. They all wound up just standing there next to the flashing lights of the police cars, staring at happy Beatrice and her decidedly unhappy mother.
As it turned out, within minutes of Beatrice’s transition, thousands upon thousands of babies all over the world simultaneously began doing the same weird thing. Without warning, infants from across the globe managed to writhe out of their strollers, or frantically fling themselves from their parents’ arms, or otherwise lurch to earth in what seemed like (and was!) a desperate attempt to seek contact with the ground.
Once the babies succeeded in doing that, they soon became immoveable. Stuck. Then they all started to grow roots.

NEEDLESS TO SAY, word about this phenomenon quickly spread over the internet. To say that it went viral would be an understatement. Those people who weren’t busy trying to rescue their babies became glued to their computers. It was the only subject anyone wanted to talk about in chat rooms and on Facebook. YouTube got so swamped with videos that it had to shut down. Within an hour of the first batch of babies growing roots, 15,000 websites and twice that many blogs sprang up dedicated to the subject.
Conspiracy theorists blamed the events on secret government biological-warfare labs. They also blamed chem-trails, genetically modified food, the CIA, presidents, prime ministers, and the Presbyterians. (Well, it was actually just one unhinged guy from a Michigan militia-survivalist group who accused the Presbyterians.) Certain unnamed Arab nations blamed the USA; the USA did not blame, but also made it clear that they refused to withhold blame, from certain unnamed Arab nations. Several fringe religious groups united in their view that it was a punishment sent from God because of gay marriage, as mentioned earlier.
Mostly, however, people on the internet posted messages of desperation, bewilderment, and utter panic. Dr. Chase certainly wasn’t alone in her hysteria. Parents were freaking out by the thousands. Massive numbers of them went insane.
Others with a more pragmatic frame of mind tried feverishly to find answers, cures, solutions...anything. It occurred to more than a few people to dig around their babies with shovels in an attempt to remove them from the ground, much like they’d dig up a bush, but that ploy didn’t work. The roots emerging from the infants were thick and plunged deep into the earth, like the taproots of trees. (In fact, as it would later turn out, they were the taproots of trees.) If a shovel even nudged one of these roots, the baby would scream bloody murder.
One horrified father in Indiana grabbed a chainsaw and severed the roots that were starting to grow from his infant son. The child died. You don’t need to know more than that.
For a while, babies that had remained inside buildings were safe. Then, in South Carolina, a baby that had been purposefully kept indoors managed to squirm its way onto the soil of a large potted plant and put down roots there. When people with houseplants found out about that, they frantically snatched up their babies and tried to take them someplace safe. (Probably it would have been wiser to remove their houseplants, but they didn’t think about that until later.)
The only thing is, it turned out that there wasn’t anyplace safe. Sooner or later, all the babies in the world managed to wiggle loose and plant themselves on whatever ground was nearby, be it a tiny crack in the sidewalk, dust under the carpet, or the kitty litter in a cat’s sandbox. Unfortunately, not all of these babies survived. It was deemed that those who were not on actual soil or sand had the worst of it, so many parents, caught in a terrible dilemma, ended up deliberately taking their infants outdoors to a garden or field to avoid a worse fate.
Babies could be seen sprouting roots everywhere from Bangkok to Bali, from Nigeria to Nantucket, from Tibet to Trenton. There were rooted babies in the Sahara Desert next to the Great Pyramid of Giza. There were rooted babies along the shores of the Amazon River. (Crocodiles, incidentally, refused to touch them.) There were rooted babies in the parks and playgrounds of New York City and Tokyo and Paris.
And quickly, horrifyingly, miraculously, over the course of several hours, the babies began to turn into little tiny trees. Baby trees, as it were. Their torsos and heads morphed into trunks, their bodies became covered with bark, and their arms and legs turned into branches that within minutes sprouted twigs and leaves, or needles and berries, or fronds, or something else. Depending, of course, on the kind of tree they were becoming.
The babies seemed to be perfectly okay with it. The adults were not.

MINDY MACDONALD WAS just as surprised and shocked as everyone else, although she’d been expecting something major to happen for some time now. It was just that she hadn’t been expecting this.
Even though she worked in a bank, you see, in her spare time, Mindy was fond of New Age pursuits. She owned a small but powerful collection of crystals, and kept a well-worn pack of Tarot cards next to her bed. Her favorite t-shirt was pink, with a rhinestone unicorn on it. She doused herself in Patchouli and liked to burn incense whenever her boyfriend, George, wasn’t around. (George had allergies and his nose would clog up.)
Mindy was even a vegan. Well, modify that. She was a vegan except for those days when her body told her that she really needed meat (about three or four times a week), at which times she would allow herself to have a cheeseburger at a fast-food place, because, as she told her friends, “It’s more important to listen to your body than to be sanctimoniously inflexible.” She had heard that phrase from someone famous once and had really liked it, so she’d adopted it as her own.
On weekends, Mindy religiously attended workshops at the local New Age bookstore, where incense burned unabatedly and the anticipated coming changes were frequently addressed. Not only that; she had recently returned from a three-day retreat in Sedona where she had attended a seminar on how to see auras. The worried seminar leader had repeated emphatically that people’s auras were beginning to change and that something strange was afoot.
Mindy herself could not quite get the hang of seeing auras, although the afternoon after the workshop, when she was squinting in the bright sunlight because she had forgotten her sunglasses, she was pretty sure that she caught a glimpse of George’s aura. It looked a little clogged up, like his nose.
George worked alongside her in the bank. He was content working there. Mindy, on the other hand, really didn’t like her bank job. She spent a lot of time daydreaming about the day that she would quit the bank, walk out haughtily, and take up a new career, namely becoming the lead vocalist in a rock band. When that day came, she planned to change her name to Star Rainbow Love.
Even though Mindy had long been prepared by assorted books, psychics and gurus to expect that Something Big was going to be happening to the human race, nobody had ever predicted for sure exactly what the coming changes were going to be. While certain of her non-bank acquaintance spoke in dire tones of apocalypses and massive earth changes, others hinted more cheerfully that human beings were slated to evolve in a major way, and soon.
Mindy preferred the latter theory. She had even gone to a workshop that taught participants how to modify their DNA so that they could get a head start on this evolution. In the workshop, the attendees were supposed to focus on changing their genetic makeup so that they could become more spiritual. Privately, however, Mindy chose instead to focus her energy on changing the genes she had inherited from her mother that caused her to have excess cellulite on the backs of her thighs and rear end.
All the women in her family had distressingly mottled backsides and thighs that looked as if cottage cheese had worked its way under their skin. At pool parties, it was family tradition for the womenfolk to remain waist-deep in the water for as long as possible so as not to reveal the dreaded lumpy trait. They also never wore short shorts.
Mindy was particularly self-conscious of this physical defect, so during the workshop exercises, when everyone was lying down on the floor and the leader suggested that the attendees envision exchanging strands of their old, tired DNA for lighter, brighter, more spiritually enlightened DNA, Mindy instead envisioned blasting out the icky cottage-cheese-generating genes and replacing them with DNA that would give her silky smooth skin.
She felt quite energized and happy after the workshop, because she was pretty sure that she had been successful with this repair job. She didn’t, of course, dare to tell anyone. The others thought she was smiling so hard because she had upped her spirituality.
As soon as she got home, she taped the phrase, “My legs are smooth, my butt is creamy,” to her bathroom mirror and repeated that affirmation frequently. For a few days, it did seem indeed as though her visualization had worked. The excess cellulite had apparently disappeared. Sadly, though, what she thought were smooth thighs and buttocks turned out to be the result of a lighting distortion due to the angle of the mirror she held while trying to glimpse her rear end and the backs of her legs. The cellulite remained. Her legs were not smooth and her butt was not creamy.
Back to the point: it wasn’t as if Mindy had been unaware that human beings would soon be undergoing massive changes. It was just that, of the myriad possibilities that had been brought up, neither she nor any of the psychics or gurus or astrologers who led her workshops had anticipated that people would be turning into trees, of all things.

FOR PEOPLE WERE indeed turning into trees. It all started with the babies, of course, and the very elderly were the last to go, but apart from that, there was no apparent pattern. Children, teenagers and adults were mutating into trees at an alarming rate, and seemingly at random. No one was immune. Regardless of sex, IQ, moral condition, race, religion or any other discernible factor, human beings across the globe were becoming rooted in the ground and morphing into trees by the millions.
After baby Beatrice Burkholder-Chase’s dramatic transition—she had, incidentally, morphed into a small but sturdy maple tree—the next person on Mindy’s block to follow suit was Kathy Bonnett, a grown-up.
Kathy, who lived in a pale yellow ranch house next to the Burkholder-Chase’s duplex, was both tall and large. She had extremely short hair and extremely liberal ideas. Mindy always referred to her as Big Kathy (although not, of course, to her face). Big Kathy looked as much like a stereotypical butch lesbian as any heterosexual woman could possibly look without actually being gay. Except that identifying her in terms of sexual preferences just seemed wrong, for the words “sexual” and “Big Kathy” did not fit together at all.
Kathy was actually a gentle and kind person. Despite her imposing height and girth, she often smiled and radiated a kind of peace that was incongruous with her stature. She was a Quaker. Every Sunday morning, she staunchly headed off in her Volvo for the local Quaker meeting. Mindy pretended to others that she meditated, but the truth is that she had never actually been able to do it; her mind would simply not stop chattering. Thus, she found it incredibly tedious that Quakers could willingly choose to sit in silent meditation on their hard meeting benches for an entire hour or two, week after week. Just thinking about it made Mindy yawn. The one thing Mindy hated above all else was to be bored.
At the moment that Big Kathy rooted and began to morph into a tree, she had been holding a bunch of pamphlets protesting offshore oil drilling. Her pamphlets fell onto the ground and acted as a kind of mulch around the roots, which helped Kathy-the-tree grow quickly. But then, most of the trees that the adults were turning into grew quickly. Mindy didn’t know what type of tree it was that Kathy became. She wasn’t familiar with a lot of tree names. It was just a regular, nice kind of tree. With leaves. Like Kathy, it was benevolent, harmless, and pretty big. Mindy swore that the tree had retained Kathy’s shape, and that she could see remnants of her face etched into the bark.
Mindy and George did not turn into trees right away, so they continued going to work at the bank. When they got home, they spent every waking moment of their free time either on their computers or watching television. All of the TV shows had been pre-empted for live broadcasts where people blabbered and speculated and anguished endlessly about the transitions taking place.
“Why do you think are people turning into trees, of all things?” complained Mindy. “Trees! I thought the human race was supposed to be evolving, not dumbing down.”
George blew his nose to avoid answering.
Just like everyone else, Mindy was very distressed by what was happening. She worried that turning into a tree would feel like dying. Despite having experienced two past-life regressions during her various workshops, the thought of dying made her nervous. She didn’t want to die. And if it didn’t feel like dying, she wondered, how would it feel?
It also disturbed her to think of all the things she would have to give up if she turned into a tree. Like her car. And TV. And eating. Mindy liked to eat. Her favorite thing to eat was ice cream. Which didn’t help that cottage-cheese backside.
For the time being, however, she was spared. The next person on the street to go was Wataru Takahashi, whom some of the neighborhood kids had nicknamed What-Are-You. He was in his late 60s. Gray-haired, with twinkling eyes, Wataru lived in the same apartment complex as Mindy, and did all the gardening around the outside of the building, although he was not paid for this. His was a self-appointed, volunteer position. He loved plants.
Wataru never talked much, and walked quickly with his head ducked down so as not to make eye contact with anyone. Still, everyone on the street knew him. He could often be seen outdoors crouching over a flower or mindfully pruning a shrub. He always carried dog biscuits in his pockets for any dogs he encountered, and little wrapped chocolates for the children who were bold enough to demand a treat from the shy man.
After Wataru transitioned, he grew into a wrinkled apple tree. It was soon full of fragrant blossoms. Dogs liked to come and pee on the tree. It was their way of paying tribute.
“Why is it,” said Mindy to George, “that the good ones are going first?” Upon saying that, she felt more than a little bit indignant, because Mindy had always thought of herself as one of the good ones.
Drs. Burkholder and Chase finally succumbed. They turned into maple trees, just like Beatrice had, except that theirs were larger. Blonde Mrs. Lutz from the other end of the street was about seven months pregnant when she morphed. A graceful white pine emerged from her rooted form, with a very small white pine seedling right next to her. Seeing that made Mindy tear up a little.

SHE AND GEORGE continued life as usual, at least to the degree possible, considering how anxious she had become. Otherwise, nothing felt gravely different to her, except that every day there were both fewer customers and fewer employees at the bank—and she was seized with an increasing urge to go outdoors. Sometimes the urge would hit her late at night. Going outdoors felt good, like scratching a place that had been itchy for a long time.
The other main difference was obvious: there were a whole lot more trees than there had been before.
“Hey George,” said Mindy as they were leaving the car one afternoon to carry groceries into her apartment—because tree or no tree, a person has to eat— “Why do you think it hasn’t happened to us yet? You know, the tree thing?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said. Then he sneezed. She’d gone a little overboard with the Patchouli that day.
“Maybe the people who’ve turned into trees did something subconsciously to manifest it,” she said. Looking worried, she began chanting and tapping on her third eye, which was awkward because of the groceries she was holding. “Even though I might turn into a tree, I completely love and accept myself. Even though I might turn into a tree, I completely love and accept myself…”
She stopped tapping her forehead and sighed. “I don’t want to turn into a tree ever.
“I doubt if it has anything to do with manifestation,” said George, sniffling a little and resisting an impulse to wipe his nose with his sleeve. “But don’t worry. There are plenty of other people besides us who haven’t turned into trees yet. The grocery store was pretty crowded.”
“Yes, maybe you’re right. Maybe it won’t happen to us,” she said. Then a new thought occurred to her. “What if you and I wind up being the last humans left on earth? Wouldn’t that be awesome? You and I could be the new Adam and Eve!”
George asked her for a tissue to blow his nose. Mindy shifted the bag of groceries and reached into her purse for a tissue to hand to George.
And then, boom, it happened. Her feet suddenly felt like sludge and her legs felt like concrete. They didn’t want to move. It wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, it felt kind of good.
“Oh no,” she cried. “Oh my God, George, I think I’m rooting. Seriously! I mean, right this instant!”
Dropping her groceries and purse, Mindy summoned all of her physical strength and swiftly lowered herself into a seated position on the ground. She had planned in advance to do this if or when the time ever came. She had two reasons. The first was that she had never been someone who enjoyed standing. Standing was boring. She preferred to sit. Thank goodness she had a job at the bank where she got to sit at a desk. The last thing she wanted was to be frozen into the earth in a standing position. Like a teller.
Mindy’s second reason for seating herself onto the ground before the rooting process began was more personal. She had noticed that when people morphed, the trees they turned into seemed to retain a lot of their human physical characteristics. These characteristics were not particularly subtle or pleasing. Big Kathy’s tree, for example, had a huge bulge in the trunk right around the vicinity that had formerly been occupied by the woman’s ample midriff and pot belly. Wataru’s tree was especially crinkly on top in exactly the way the shy man’s eyes would crinkle merrily when he gave out dog biscuits and chocolates. Conversely, there were two big knotholes high up on Dr. Chase’s tree that looked exactly like her coke-bottle glasses. Two somewhat more symmetrical protrusions sat below that in the place where her chest would’ve been—the chest with that fine set of breasts.
After seeing all of this, Mindy grew secretly afraid that if/when she turned into a tree, the back of her trunk would end up looking all mottled and lumpy. Like cottage cheese. The thought horrified her. This fear was the real reason she forced herself to sit down on the ground when she began rooting.
George, who was only yards away from Mindy, transitioned at the same time that she did. They both became mulberry trees, hers female and his male. From the very start, George’s tree had a lot of sap running down it. He had never gotten the tissue he’d asked for.

THE SENSATIONS OF morphing were strangely agreeable. The only thing Mindy could compare it to was the sense of relief she always felt upon coming home and stepping inside her apartment after a long and difficult day of work. Within a very short time, Mindy’s body began to solidify, skin turning into bark and arms and legs becoming sturdy branches. Almost immediately she lost the apparatus for human speech, but, quite uncharacteristically, Mindy found that she didn’t really feel like talking anyway.
Turning into a tree was not as boring as she had feared it would be. It wasn’t like dying, either—not that she knew what that felt like. She was surprised that her mind continued to be engaged, although that would fade over time. It was an okay experience, actually. And there was more to come.
She realized with some gratitude that it was going to be nice not to have to go to the bathroom, or to have periods. (She was pretty sure that trees didn’t get periods.)
Being unable to eat turned out not to be any kind of problem, either. What she hadn’t taken into consideration was that trees are actually almost constantly in the process of taking in nutrition—continuously drawing substances up through their roots and sending the nutrients and liquid throughout their being. It was immensely pleasurable! For Mindy, it felt a little bit like eating an endless ice cream sundae or sipping ceaselessly on a delicious cup of coffee. (Make that a cup of herbal tea, because Mindy really was intending to give up caffeine one of these days...)
Don’t get me wrong here. Even though the process was largely comfortable and less troubling than she had imagined, Mindy did not succumb altogether gracefully to morphing into a tree. The human part of her stayed in resistance for some time. For instance, she was grumpy about losing her freedom of movement. That was a biggie.
Other things got to her, too. One night, soon after morphing, there was a monstrous thunderstorm that shredded a lot of her leaves and broke off branches, strewing them across the apartment-complex lawn. She got royally pissed off about that. Which, of course, was a useless waste of her energy. I mean, what could she do about it?
Another thing that irritated her in the beginning were the birds and animals and insects that decided to settle upon her. Imagine: sparrows were nesting in what had once been her hair, chipmunks scampered over formerly private crevasses, and bugs crawled ceaselessly along what used to be her forearms! Once again, however, there wasn’t a single thing she could do about it.
Little by little, this resistance wore off. When her thoughts became quieter—not from any willpower or strength of character, but just as a part of the process of turning into a tree—she found to her astonishment that she had the ability to tap psychically into the energy of the birds and animals and bugs. At the New Age bookstore, she had taken several workshops on how to be psychic, and had always failed. She’d also studied animal communication, with similarly disappointing results. Now, however, she discovered that creating psychic connections with the creatures around her was actually fairly effortless.
The birds, when she tapped into them, were highly entertaining, and a few of the chipmunks turned out to be real goofballs. One night a raccoon climbed up on her, and it was pretty exciting stuff to enter into his consciousness. That’s not to say that the connections were always stimulating. For instance, the ants that crawled back and forth over her branches in their endless, plodding work lines were less fun. Ants, she discovered, didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
After she had only been a tree for a short time, an elderly woman who hadn’t transitioned yet came walking down the street, using a cane. (The old folks, if you remember, were the last to go.) The woman grew weary, and shakily lowered herself down next to the Mindy-the-tree to rest for a moment, leaning her back against the trunk. It was thrilling. Mindy’s soul began to blend with the old woman’s, and she found that she easily knew everything there was to know about the woman’s life. She didn’t judge whether aspects of it were right or wrong, because trees don’t do that. She simply felt an immense love and respect for a fellow life form.
It was a mutual exchange. Her essence flowed into the woman, too. That happens every time human beings touch a tree, even if they are planning to chop it down. The tree shares its energy. Humans brains are far too preoccupied, however, to register this, so the old lady didn’t take advantage of the connection. Like most people. After a while, she stood up and tottered off. 
Mindy-the-mulberry soon discovered that her ability to link psychically extended to everything. Even to the rocks beneath her roots. Even to the moon that made her look as though she had been glitter-bombed in silver. These connections were joyous in a way that is impossible to explain. It was kind of like being in a stadium with hundreds of other people all rooting for the same team, and having that team win. Or skinny-dipping in a sea of love.
A SHORT LESSON ON THE NATURE OF TREES: Curiously, trees and humans are made up of nearly the same basic ingredients. These ingredients—assorted chemicals and water—come, of course, from the earth. The biggest difference between the two is that humans can move, and trees can’t. Because they’re able to move, using analysis and discernment is very useful to a human being. So is sorting stuff into piles marked “good” and “bad.”
Trees, however, don’t have any need for those qualities. Trees don’t criticize or analyze. Since they have zero control over their environment, they pretty much accept whatever happens. Even thunderstorms. It would be equally pointless for them to label things as right or wrong. Trees simply don’t do that. This does not mean, however, that they are less alive than humans. Quite the contrary!
After a few weeks passed, Mindy-the mulberry, to her surprise, found that she had never felt more alive or aware in her whole life. Being a tree was turning out not to be so bad after all. As her human mind gradually faded away, it was replaced by an acute awareness of things that she would never have paid attention to in her free-wheeling, distracted, bored human form. A tree, she discovered, is never bored. It actually has lots and lots to do, such as noticing things. Trees can become very busy noticing things.
One change that occurred under the category of Noticing Things was that her senses became extraordinarily heightened. It was as if she had switched from having a box with only eight crayons in it to one with 250 colors! Including iridescent ones! Suddenly she became aware of the millions of tiny changes in light and shadow and color during the course of a day and night. (Oddly enough, that’s easier to do when you don’t have eyes interfering with your sight.) Not one moment was ever completely the same as the one before it, or the one after. It was wonderfully delirious, kind of like living inside a kaleidoscope.
Another aspect of Noticing Things had to do with the subtle variances in weather and wind, changes that she had never registered as a human. Back then all she’d cared about was how frizzy her hair as going to get, or if it was too early to start wearing sandals. Now, however, she felt every shift in temperature upon her bark with a tingling delight, and if she had been able, she would have laughed out loud at how each modulation of wind changed the way her leaves moved.
Her sense of time was altered as well. The truth is that trees have no sense of time—for them, it’s always now—but that’s probably a bit too much to grasp. Let’s just say that the seasons seemed faster and more vibrant than they had when she was human. Mindy-the-Mulberry found an immense and heretofore unknown thrill in every aspect of the seasons: basking in the sun, sprouting new leaves, shedding old leaves, welcoming rainstorms, even hosting icicles (which had their own dim consciousness).
There was a lot of music in this new world of hers, too, and it wasn’t just from the birds. She heard everything, and it all sounded magical to her, from the silky whooshing sound of a spider excitedly building a new web to the dainty chiming pings of sleet falling on her branches. Every single moment brought something fresh and new.
Nothing was good; nothing was bad. With one exception that we’ll get to later, it pretty much all made her happy. Including the ants. Being a tree, in fact, felt way better than she’d felt on the best vacation of her life, which had been when she’d gone to the Florida Keys on spring break at age 19. (You can still see footage of her in a Girls Gone Wild video. She is dancing in a bar, wearing a bikini. Even at 19, however, the cottage cheese had already begun creeping in, plus she had kept her top on, so she was only featured for a couple of seconds.)
ONCE THE GROUCHY human part of her finally vanished for good, being a tree was ecstatic beyond description. Who would’ve guessed that trees felt this blissful! She would never, ever want to go back to being a human. And that was even before she found out about the absolute best parts of being a tree.
Here comes the first of them. For several years, she failed to produce any fruit. Then, one spring, strange little buds began to sprout from her and she got seriously horny. Exactly how a mulberry tree can feel horny is difficult to describe, but trust me, she did. That went on for a while. Then one day a wind came up, and she was showered with beautiful golden flecks of what the old Mindy would have called fairy dust. It was actually pollen. It came from George’s tree, which is pretty funny, considering how allergic George had been.
The closest way to describe the sensation that she felt on being pollinated (and please pardon this graphic description) was that it was like a human orgasm, but better. Rather than focusing the pleasure in just one little part of the body, she quivered in ecstasy from her uppermost branches all the way down to her deepest roots. Plus, the sensation was prolonged over a period of days rather than a few seconds. Trees have much better orgasms than people do. It was an exceptional experience.
And the final best part about being a tree? She discovered that she could sing!
Note: Not everyone knows this, but all trees actually do sing. Wordlessly. Once in a rare while, humans can tune in to this sound. Some of the people who’d led the workshops Mindy used to attend claimed that they could hear the songs of the trees.
Now Mindy, if you remember, had fantasized for a long time about quitting her job at the bank to become the lead singer in a rock band. As a mulberry tree, naturally she’d lost any need to stomp out of the bank in an indignant huff or to change her name to Star Rainbow Love; none of that mattered to her any longer. All the important parts of her wish came true, though. First, she would never have to go back to the bank to work. Second, she could spend the whole day long singing with the other trees, which was as close to being in a band as a mulberry tree gets. She wasn’t exactly the lead singer, but that didn’t matter to her. All the trees sounded pretty good when they sang. Well, except for Wataru, but nobody minded, because trees don’t mind things like that. His apples were certainly tasty.
George-the-mulberry died in the winter following her first pollination. The temperature plunged and it just got too cold for him to survive. George always had been overly sensitive. Mindy-the-mulberry, however, discovered to her delight that she was capable of pollinating herself and she didn’t miss him. Not that his pollination was the only thing she valued. It’s just that trees don’t grieve. They can feel pain, but they don’t grieve.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT is more than a little weird, but I might as well share it with you, as it is part of the story. It occurred after all the humans on earth had finally turned into trees.
The original trees—you know, those that had been in existence before the humans started their transition?—went through some unique changes of their own. It was complicated, but in short, their roots shriveled and they began to move around at will. Then they started to morph into human beings.
I wish I could tell you that that because of the beautiful qualities trees possess, this new batch of human beings became superior life forms. It didn’t happen like that, though.
As they staggered around, learning out how to walk, they realized to their dismay how hard it was for creatures who are not rooted in the ground to find food and shelter and places to go to the bathroom. As a result, they started categorizing items as “good” or “bad.” Criticism and judgment crept into their thinking, blocking out a lot of the magnificent awarenesses they’d had as trees.
It was like reverting back to Windows 95 and dial-up, and only dimly recollecting that things had once been better.
Naturally, they resented their loss, but unfortunately, the more human they became, the more they forgot exactly what it was that they had lost in the first place. They just knew that something wonderful was missing from their lives. As a result, many of them ended up being in foul moods a lot of the time.
To appease this, they formed tribes. Those who had earlier been spruce trees banded together, and the former birches and palms and willows followed suit by making their own exclusive groups, et cetera, et cetera, and every one of the tribes believed themselves to be superior to the others. It wasn’t true, but it made them feel better. Humans sometimes do silly things to try to feel better.
Because of their bad moods and their false sense of superiority, these tribes began to fight with one another. In a few generations, this nastiness would prod them to invent weapons. For the time being, however, they just took out their frustrations by beating each other up whenever they got the chance.
To add to their dissatisfaction, the humans-formerly-known-as-trees also missed those fantastic orgasms that trees have, although, once again, they didn’t really remember precisely what it was that they were missing. To try to make up for this loss, they overdid it and spent way too much of their time attempting to get titillated and focusing on sex.
Sometimes, in their nasty tempers, the humans-formerly-known-as-trees even went so far as to bash the new trees (trees-formerly-known-as-humans) with their fists, or rip off their leaves and branches, or even cut them down, and as I said before, trees can feel pain, so that part of the story is very sad. I will just leave it at that.
It wasn’t all bad. Occasionally, some ancient memory would tug at one of these brand new human beings, and the person would suddenly become very still, looking and listening in a new way. Sometimes that person would feel compelled to seek out and hug a tree. And the tree, of course, could psychically connect, so that was very, very cool.
One day a human-formerly-known-as-a-tree, who for some reason hadn’t quite lost his ability to hear the songs of trees, passed in front of a decrepit apartment building that was close to falling down. A tree stood there. That tree was singing with its whole heart. The human being stopped, because he was blown away by the music coming from that tree. Plus he loved mulberries, and it was a mulberry tree. He gave the tree a big hug, and he was so overjoyed that he completely overlooked the fact that the back of the tree looked, quite oddly, like lumpy cottage cheese.


The end

Please feel free to link to this story by Mary Elizabeth Raines.
Since it is copyrighted, please ask the author & Laughing Cherub Publications before copying or recording in whole or in part. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE MOVIE STAR WHO WANTED ME (AND HOW I WAS SAVED BY COMMUNISM)

by 
MARY ELIZABETH RAINES

Wow! A movie star wanted me. Me!
And yes, I mean “wanted” exactly in the sense that you’re thinking.
 

I had never thought anything like that could happen to me, although I’d certainly dreamt about it. All of us—at least those with normal hormones and reasonable imaginations—have entertained the fantasy of having a romantic encounter with a movie star. Even movie stars themselves sometimes get crushes on other movie stars.
     Robert Redford (you’ve heard of him, right?) tells of a time when he was a starving young artist in Rome, before becoming an actor. He spotted Ava Gardner and her entourage in a restaurant, and went a bit gaga over seeing the famous temptress. Gardner noticed, called the smitten young man to her side, and gave him a little kiss. 
     In the films he's made since that time, Redford has kissed many of the world’s most desirable actresses, and in his private life he is happily married—yet, what does he talk about with a moony smile and a far-away look? Having a crush decades ago on a movie star who acknowledged him and actually gave him a smooch! We can all fall prey to fantasies about those we see on the silver screen, you see.
     And now it was my turn.

I had become the object of desire of my very own bona-fide movie star, whom I shall call Chad. Chad was a genuine star, too, not just some minor actor who’d spoken a few lines in a B film.


     Maybe you’re thinking Chad was ugly, and thus easy to get. (I’m not superficial in the least, but hey, let’s get real: being attractive increases a person’s odds. Ava Gardner would probably not have summoned an unknown Karl Malden and given him a kiss.)(For those who don't know, Karl Malden was a first-rate actor, now deceased, who possessed a bulbous nose and an unfortunate face.) Not every lead actor is good-looking, especially if he’s straight.
     My movie star, however, was both beautiful and completely heterosexual. In fact, he was so handsome that there were stories of women who’d keeled over and fainted when they saw him take off his shirt on the giant screen. Maybe a few guys, too. (I presume that they fainted from lust, although, to be fair, the theater might have been overheated.)
     All females know Chad’s type. You usually see him on the covers of romance novels: that kind of chiseled, masculine man who makes any woman passing by want to drop both her grocery bags and her pants, fling herself down on the sidewalk, open her legs and cry, “Take me now!”

     When he fell for me (hah!), Chad was definitely not a kid any more, but still gorgeous enough to cause massive major-league drooling. His thick hair was perfect, tousled to just the right aw-shucks degree, yet fitting for the finest black-tie affair. His clothing revealed just a bit of bare chest here, just a ripple of an arm muscle there. His lips seemed designed to curl around the rim of a champagne glass, and his charming grin revealed luminous white teeth befitting a toothpaste commercial. If he chanced to glance at a woman, his bedroom eyes twinkled as if he knew all her secret fantasies—and liked them.
     In Chad’s most famous film, he’d had numerous love scenes with a well-known and very beautiful actress, whom I shall call Linda.
     “Chad,” I once asked him, “what was it like kissing Linda in all those romantic scenes you had together?”
     Well, I’ll tell you,” he replied slowly, a great big likeable grin spreading over his face, “The very first time we were in a clinch, it was a scene where we were sitting in a car. The cameras started to roll, so I kissed her. After the director yelled ‘Cut,’ Linda turned to the cameraman and hollered, ‘Retake!’”

 
By this point, you are probably frantic to know all the finer details of the affair I had with Chad.
The movie star.

Except that I didn’t have one.

You see, by the time I knew him, Chad was nearly 90 years old. Granted, he was the hottest nearly-90-year-old man I’d ever met, but the age difference was still daunting. He could have been my grandfather.
     He had reached the pinnacle of his stardom during the 1940s. This explains why women in the cinemas fainted when they saw him shirtless. Women tended to do that more in the 1940s than they do now. (Today a shirtless man would have to be playing a guitar and screaming into a microphone to get that kind of attention.)


     Chad’s Hollywood career had been cut short because he was a member of the communist party; he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and no one would hire him to star in any more films, or so he claimed.
     In addition to being a communist, Chad tended be a little quirky. He was, for example, the only self-proclaimed nudist I have ever met. I personally never saw him strip down, but in his younger years, he apparently frequented nudist camps. (Which makes me wonder if communists have nudist camps…hmm.)
     Another quirk was that Chad had once been what they called a Muscle Man. He worked out and lifted barbells long before it became popular to do so, and it certainly served him well in his senior years. His excellent physique was one of the reasons the producers wanted him to take off his shirt in the movies; he was just about the very first actor who ever did that.


I’d met Chad through our mutual friend, Bob, who happened to be my landlord in a funky little compound in Hollywood. A group of unusual film people lived in this compound, including a world-famous porn star, a professional Santa Claus, cameramen, actors, script supervisors—and me. We were all friends. There was a shared central patio where we would have picnics and parties. Chad, being Bob’s best friend, was welcome to any event we held.
     Even from inside my house, I could always tell when Chad had arrived, because I could smell the pot. Among his quirks, you see, my would-be boyfriend was what they call a stoner. An inveterate pot-smoker, he proudly grew his own marijuana and he would always light up a joint the moment he entered our patio. I personally hate illegal drugs, and am not even all that crazy about the legal ones. Everybody else in our compound pretty much stuck to booze to get their jollies.
     Except for Chad.
     Who was almost 90, remember?


He continued to smoke pot until one eventful Labor Day, when he showed up late for one of our festive outdoor potlucks. Squeezing into a seat next to me on the bench of the picnic table, he silenced everyone and then he made a dramatic announcement to the group:
    
     “Guess what, guys?” said Chad.
     “What?” I shouted. (Chad didn’t hear too well.)
     “I’ve stopped smoking pot!”
     “You’re kidding me!” I said.
     “Why would I be hitting you?”  he replied, confused.
     I raised my voice, shouting directly into his ear, “You really quit?”
     “Yeah, I did. I found out smoking pot is bad for my health.”
     
     We applauded boisterously, and everybody fawned over him for awhile. Meanwhile, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a big white handkerchief that contained a strange kind of loaf wrapped in tinfoil. Was it some kind of weird hors d’oeuvre for the potluck? 
     While I was still wondering what this foil-wrapped goody was, Chad stuck it in his mouth and took a huge bite.
     “Yup, I stopped smoking pot,” he continued, looking very self-satisfied and chewing voraciously. “Now I eat it instead.”
     As the 13-year-olds say: Eeew.
     Perhaps Chad had misinterpreted the term POT-luck.

Chad and my landlord, Bob, were about the same age. Like Chad, Bob was a vehement communist. The two had been friends for decades and both were deeply entrenched in the film business. Bob wasn’t a star, though. He had only done a little acting; his main job was as a script supervisor. He had been trained to do this by John Ford, and had worked with a long list of the giants of film, including John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart. And Chad, of course.
     Years ago, someone had given Bob a huge paper-mache head of the actress Bette Davis. The piece was worth a great deal of money, but Bob, being a good communist, made a deliberate point of not paying attention to the material value of things.
     We had a metal stake in our patio garden and Bob worried that someone might trip and fall on it, so one day he brought out the huge Bette Davis head and placed it on top of the stake, kind of like a protective knob.
     “Bob,” I cried, “it looks like you’ve impaled Bette Davis’ head on a pike in the garden!”
     Bob had known the actress well. A strange smile crossed his face.
     “Good,” he said, and walked away.

Chad and Bob were quite serious about their communism. They used to get together with a couple of other Hollywood geezers—a famous photographer and a well-known set designer—and the four old men would have meetings that involved a lot of lengthy and intense conversation, head-shaking, wine (pot for Chad), despair, and occasional yelling.
     These aging cronies, all of whom had been blacklisted to some degree or another by Hollywood, embraced communism with the idealism of fresh-faced freckled Cub Scouts. I always suspected that if there were ever to be a communist takeover, Chad and Bob would be among the first to be lined up against the wall and shot. Having a communist for a landlord was very handy, however, so I didn’t complain. Communists—at least the na├»ve ones—feel guilty if they charge too much for rent, and they readily share things like appliances and household tools. I wasn’t about to rock the boat.
     Besides, it was communism that saved me.

 
     Let me explain. Chad hadn’t asked me out yet. He’d told Bob of his lusty intentions, but I wasn’t supposed to know anything about his longings yet. I dreaded the day when he would reveal his passion to me, because then I would have to reject him. For all his quirkiness and marijuana, he was sweet and I didn’t want to hurt him.
     Chad, it turns out, had been taking prescription pills for high blood pressure. The medicine had an unfortunate side effect. It made him impotent. He confided in Bob that he was planning to discontinue his medication so that he could fulfill his manly duties with me. Unfortunately, doing so would seriously jeopardize his health. What to do? It was a dilemma.
     After Chad shared his secret with Bob, the latter naturally ran straight away to knock on my door of one of my friends in the compound and tell her the whole story. She, in turn, came right over to my house and told me.
     This is how I learned that a movie star wanted my body.



A week passed, and the day I’d been dreading finally came. Chad stopped by and asked if I would come outside and sit with him; he said that he wanted to share something with me. I walked to the patio with a sinking heart. Rejection stinks no matter which side of it you’re on. Bob was also waiting there. I sat between the two of them.
     Chad began to court me in earnest. His way of doing this was unconventional. As soon as I sat down, he grabbed a long, musty yellowing piece of paper and thrust it under my nose.
     “Read this,”  he demanded. Then he sat back with an anxious sigh and waited.
      The paper he handed me must have been well over 50 years old. It had been painstakingly mimeographed, which is the way documents were duplicated in the days before copy machines, and it was crammed with columns of words, words and more words that had been typed in tiny crooked print extending nearly to the edges of the page. There were capital letters and exclamation marks sprinkled excessively throughout the narrow columns. I’d guess that about 2,000 words had been jammed onto that one page.
     While Chad squirmed with anticipation, I politely scanned a few of the sentences. Now, I am a good reader. I will happily read Thackeray or Sir Walter Scott, for example, and enjoy them. I have a volume of Melville on my night table. Trying to make sense of this stuff, however, made my head ache. It was incomprehensible. Typewritten letters formed shrill, ranting sentences that were both illogical and mad. The experience was as unpleasant for my nose as it was for my brain, because the paper beneath my gaze reeked of mildew.
     When I looked up, I saw with dismay that Chad had brought along a huge cardboard box full of similar decaying papers. They had been stored in his garage for years. The poor man had carried all of these tedious, tiresome manifestos to the patio in the hope of sharing his beliefs with me. He imagined that after I read them, I would be inspired to see politics in his pathetic, crazy way, and become a convert to communism.

     He was deluded, of course, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Before I could figure out how to tell Chad diplomatically that it just wasn’t going to happen, Bob reached behind me and nudged him. The two began conversing over my head as though I wasn’t even there.
      “What’s the matter with you? Are you f**king nuts?” yelled Bob, who did not endorse diplomacy in the same way that I did.
      He yelled because of Chad’s hearing loss, although Bob was somewhat prone to yelling regardless.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” he shouted. “You’re never going to get her that way.”
     “I’m never going to get her in the hay?” replied Chad.
     Close enough.
     “She doesn’t want to read them,” repeated Bob in exasperation.
     “Need them?” asked Chad.
     “READ them. She isn’t going to READ them,” screamed Bob. “Look at her. She doesn’t like them!”
     “No?” Chad seemed surprised.
     “NO!” Bob shrieked.
     “Oh,” said Chad sorrowfully. “That’s too bad.”
     He paused to think for a moment.
     “Well,” he finally said, speaking over my head to Bob as though I weren’t present, “I can’t be with a woman who doesn’t believe in the party.”
     As easily as I had been snagged, without even saying a word, I was off the hook. Like I said, I was saved by communism.

Although it may have been absurd to consider having an affair with Chad, I did enjoy him. He was easy on the eyes, and he told good stories.
     Like this one. When he had been a muscle man, he used to own a gym. His clients had included the movie stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the days before they became famous.
     Chad fondly recalled a time when he was giving Kirk Douglas a rubdown and, as a practical joke, applied kerosene to Douglas’ testicles. Apparently his poor victim had run naked through the gym, screaming at the top of his lungs.
     Chad laughed and laughed as he told that story. It made me wonder what would have happened to me had I been naked and at his mercy.

Fortunately, that never happened, although I confess that my heart always beats a little faster whenever I watch him take off his shirt in his old movies.

© 2011, M. E. Raines
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See Mary Elizabeth Raines' inspiring novel, UNA, available in paperback or for Kindle on Amazon