Man is the only beast capable of becoming enthralled to television. He is alone in his desire to turn from reality and life and fixate on the hypnotizing hypercolour display. Unlike the lesser beasts whose existence is tied closely to the world and life around them, he is seemingly freed from the necessity of struggling for sustenance and survival. But he is a natural born slave, and seeks a new master immediately upon release. This he finds in television, and he gladly submits to its remaking of him fully, from the toes up, in its own image. The other beasts are immune to its enticing glow, and instead must be ripped apart and rendered into the new oversaturated and overexposed existence by force, as they flee. Man reclines dumbly into blissful oblivion and welcomes the damaging overstimulation to his senses, and the toxic hypercolor poison blasted into his mind. The fullness of sunlight and its broadly continuous spectrum which nourishes a teeming superorganism of unfathomable beauty and nuance is supplanted and made dull in comparison to the dominating harsh plastic brilliance of the screen’s discreet cold chromatic distillations. Invigorated by its supple prey, television evolves quickly into the apex predator of man’s attention, its obscene glare and hum outcompeting and drowning out all thought in man that is not television. But the wind and beasts and thermodynamic laws have no mental glandes to tickle and continue unperturbed by television. Man’s neglected civilization crumbles around him beside his unwatching eyes, and the synthetic tentacles that went forth from it to give birth to television go slack. A vestigial glow from the unpowered screen shows the deflation and unravelling of the new man in the absence of his animating essence; his flickering screen and hyperstimulation. Flashless to flashless, dull to dull.
Gazing euphorically at the lamp, he was reminded of all the effort it took to get to this point. There was the ten years of study he’d spent in his early years, reading all that was written about genies. Then, emerging from seclusion, there were the years–twice as many–abroad, searching, asking, digging, all in an unwavering drive, never doubting that he’d find one, some day. Against all odds that day came, the day his trembling hands pulled out the tarnished lamp and held it up the the gas lantern so that his eyes might see through their streams of satiated joy and confirm his highest hopes. But even after half a lifetime of anticipation and through his strongest desires for fulfilment, he had willed his hands into stone so that they would be unable to give the lamp the slightest polish, the faintest brush. This genie, he had been utterly determined, would not wake until he’d become ready to meet him.
And so he’d begun the most arduous and most important period of his life, twice still as long as the last. For the last 38 years he’d immersed himself in study of law, philosophy, logic, linguistics, and whatever field or discipline could prepare him in any way to meet the genie. And now, looking down at the lamp, as seductively close to pristine as it had been when unearthed, still beckoning and yearning to be wiped clean, he knew he was ready.
Fools, as the stories show, would unthinkingly rub the lamp right after finding it and summon the genie without preparation. Invariably, they’d ask for gold, immortality, or any number of pleasures, and, inevitably, the genie would smugly grant their wishes through fiendishly calculated horrors. They’d receive gold stolen from a king eager to have it returned, immortality without youth, or a harem whose beauty and quantity was matched only by the ferocity and diversity of its’ venereal diseases. The fools.
But he would succeed where they failed, he’d hesitate in thought where they acted dumbly, he’d outwit the cunning genie and cast a trickery-proof armour about himself as his first wish. He was sure of it.
This first wish was the result of the efforts of his final years. He’d ensured it was grammatically correct. He’d proved the logic had no loopholes for exploitation by ill-meaning genies. And now he was ready to become the first man to come out on top after rubbing a lamp.
He removed the glass case and tossed it aside. It crashed against the floor and spread out into thousands of shards that would be of little concern to one who has the powers he would momentarily undoubtedly possess. This time when he held the lamp the only tremors in his hands came from his age. His certainty was acting for him now, all he needed to do was watch as the scene played out. He watched as his sleeve, held in his hand, rubbed against the lamp. He watched as the shimmering smoke poured out and produced the grantor of wishes with his arms crossed over his ethereal breast. He listened as the genie made the offer: three wishes, whatever he might desire. And he listened as his own reply came, the same as in its numerous rehearsals:
“I wish that I was immune to genie trickery,” he commanded, with a clear and audible voice.
Immediately, the genie disappeared.
There is a palace that is so secure that it has no doors, no windows, and no way for solid matter to get in or out. To enter, a person must pierce themself with small tubes that protrude from the wall and allow their blood, their animating essence, and their soul, to be sucked out, leaving a rubbery empty husk of skin and bones and shrivelled viscera that crumples up into a dead heap on the dirt. Their liquids are piped into the palace, wherein they are pumped into a new lifeless shell. Consciousness returns after the new vessel is fully inflated, and the guest attends to his business. To leave, the same process is undergone.
“What do yo mean it’s OK?”, he croaked cautiously. The stars in the viewport hung motionless as the stale air in the spacepod. The pilot’s low, even tone caught the cook off guard, and his face erected a quick sheepish smile to mask his contemplative hesitation.
He chuckled once, “uh, just exactly what I said. It’s OK to drink. It’s safe.”
The pilot smiled humourlessly to himself. “But I didn’t ask if it was safe. I just wanted to know we had enough that I could have this one right now.” Turning away from the control console, he faced the cook directly, ready to fully observe and analyse his response. ”Is there a reason why it wouldn’t be safe?”
”No, no. I just wasn’t sure what you meant. It was a vague question, you know.” He went back to reorganizing the remaining rations, then realized that the rations way out there in the corner might need some organizing too, and so pursued them to that end.
The captain watched the cook’s receding back, analysing the way it was carried, and what that meant about his inner thoughts. ”You can tell a lot about a guy based on the way his muscles hold onto his bones,” he mused quietly to the copilot. ”Incidentally.”
The copilot kept his focus on the temporarily impotent controls. Temporary, that’s the word the tech kept emphasising every time he was asked. Where’s the distinction between temporary and permanent? Ground bases on Venus, they call them permanent but only expect them to last for ten orbs. His own position as copilot, that was supposed to be temporary, but how long has it been? A few more revs of consuming the unrenewables and all their lives would become pretty damn temporary. He kept his eyes on the controls and obligatorily accepted engagement into the conversation. “How do you mean?”
The pilot was ready. “You see they way his muscles are all–I know, it’s hard to see them under the fat–but just look at the way his muscles are all hard and awake, clutching his bones tightly. That’s a sure sign he’s worked up about something. They’re all wrapped around his ribs and tight. Not much room to stretch them. Much more of that and they’ll start to fight back–twitch. That’s the next stage, that’s what they do. Just watch them. Keep an eye on them, that much I’ll say.” The pilot continued to watch them.
The copilot blinked a stolen glance of the pilot, and blinked his eyes back to the controls. “Yeah, this wait is taking its toll on all of us. Are you going to drink the Carrot Essence?”
The pilot forced a scoff. “There’s no need to get antsy, tech says we’ll get moving soon. Everybody’s fine.” He looked at the essence and rubbed his chin. He narrowed his eyes at the essence. He turned his head slightly and clenched his teeth at the essence, then let out a long angry sigh. Dropping his hands to his legs, he said, “I’m not playing his games,” and stood up. From the suddenness, and from uncertainty of the pilot’s next action, the copilot’s heart twinged and beat rapidly. He realized he didn’t actually know the pilot very well.
They’d served together for two orbs on this ship, and were strangers before that. The pilot was a native of Venus, and had that aura of impatience and immediacy all Venusians had. That didn’t bother the copilot; his homedome was on Luna so he was used to all kinds of people. But he’d never before been stuck on a dead ship halfway to the dead edge of the solar system with any of them.
The pilot walked out the room and the copilot’s blood took a moment to fizzle out.
She stares at me from the corner, but I don’t dare meet those eyes with mine. I glance toward her only occasionally, to ensure her restraints are holding. There’s no reason they wouldn’t still hold: I have by now become quite skilled at preventing her from escaping. But every time I look into those familiar eyes, see her face, and see what I’ve done to the person I love most, my empathy bewitches me and I’m filled with a single-minded desire to free her and tearfully apologise for the bruises and the sores on her wrists and ankles.
But, of course, that would be my doom. I know well by now that while her mind is still inhabited by one of the malicious souls, she will do all she can to cause me harm. Indeed, I have my own share of bruises, and worse, attesting to the ferocity and vigour with which the soul will employ the whole of her body — fists, nails, feet, teeth — to the end of damaging and destroying me. The arcane powers deep bellow this valley fuel its strength, and drive its lust for destruction and suffering. Motivated by the most uncompromising hate, this uninvited guest would act as the agent of chaotic entropy unfailingly, crushing and tearing apart all life as it went, for as long as its hapless host remained untorn and intact.
This valley, I was informed before our arrival, is infested by a cloud of evil souls. They enter the bodies of unvigilant victims, overthrowing the minds of any who are not constantly alert and on guard against their entry. And for many long weeks of forgotten quantity we have traveled, in our attempt to get through. My memory of the decision to take this road, against all recommendations and warnings from the local peasants and townsfolk, has faded into such a haze that it now more resembles an event told to me, rather than experienced by me. I return to it and dwell on it often in these periods of intensely dull peace when she is restrained. The deep self-loathing resulting from the deep regret of that misdeed, rather than altering the past to reverse that ignorant decision, as I foolishly, futilely hope, only worsens my health. My clothes are constantly damp with cold sweat, my muscles sore from never quite fully relaxing. My mind is in a sea of needles, constantly prickled, and I long for sleep. I am constantly at war with my body as it rages against me and uses any means it can to suck me down into sleep, not limiting itself to only blackening my sight, or refusing my request to move a limb. I have yet to surrender, however, for my allies, which make me strong, are the love I have for my wife, and the fear of the violent soul that inhabits her.
Yes, it is my wife that I must so desperately protect myself against! Never before could I have imagined such a perplexingly terrible thing: that my dearest wife, my overflowing font of gaiety and primary purpose in life, would be my greatest foe!
Oh, if only I could continue our travel and escape this valley! Dwelling is such great pain. Perhaps I could find, or fashion, a cage strong enough to contain a crazed woman. Yes, a cage of thick iron bars and a lock blessed by a hundred bishops, whose key I could keep safe on my person, never to use till the poisonous soul departs. I could place it upon a cart drawn by the steadiest oxen — to reduce to a minimum the antagonization brought to that deranged soul. These oxen would never fail, for I would bath them daily in the concoctions of alchemists, and let them drink their fill of the potions of wizards! No beast could harm them, and we would carry on through the darkest forests, never stopping, impossible to stop, with the infinite inertia of God himself until finally we are gone from this valley, never to return!
Now, where am I to find this cage? Who can produce it? Ah, what’s this? Whence came this hair that lingers in my lap and is in my fingers wrapped? Of course, it is my own, the source: my head, where it was grown! Fortuitous providence: a material for the cage! Divine inspiration — weaving: the method to build the cage! The path out the valley is found, our suffering ends soon. Look, wife, watch me construct! A cage of iron bars shall form in view of your occupied eyes. With my hair, and my unconquered determination, it will assemble itself. My sweat will be wizard potion, my blood will spawn oxen. Urine will mix with the spit of my mouth, as surely must be recorded the alchemists’ tomes. Wife, we shall be together unhindered again soon!