Mystical Experiences and Where to Find Them

I’ve had a particularly stubborn pot of petunias living out back on my apartment balcony for a couple of years now. It’s a bit odd that the plant is still alive. Most people would let the undergrowth choke the plant by now and buy a new one every spring; they’re only $3.99 or so. 
 The petunias were purchased from a neighborhood grocery store, the healthiest looking of a sickly zoo of herbs and perennials, as a bit of a joke for my partner’s 42nd birthday.  I stuck a sign on the pot that said, “Oh no, not again.”  Almost no one got the joke.

After the party, the flower pot was thrown out into the chill spring air, with every expectation that the plant wouldn’t make it past the first summer heat wave.  I was very wrong about that.

I watered the petunias every few days, but took no further actions for several weeks.  One day, while watching the activity of the funeral home that my apartment overlooks, I noticed just how much of the plant was dead.  A thick underbrush of brown leaves, and half-rotten liquidating stems, took up much of the space in the plastic pot.  The remaining greenery seem to be choking in its own rot, one or two weak purple flowers half unfurled.  My gaze shifted back and forth between the dying plant and the black bag delivery going on across the parking lot.

Finally, I turned away and went hunting for my garden snips.

It took most of an afternoon to excavate the living bits of petunia plant, cautiously cutting through layer upon layer of dead matter and trying not to kill anything still alive and relatively healthy.  Gradually, a much smaller organism appeared, a single petunia plant erupting from the soil where before there had been nearly a dozen plants stuffed into the plastic container and its 12 inch diameter.  All condemned to a short, seasonal life.

I gave the soil a few days to dry out, and let the little survivor breathe.  It was late spring, and the drought still gripped Texas, promising heat waves and a handful of flash storms that would do more harm than good.  The last bits of slime turned to dirt in the sun.

When I finally went to water it again, the little petunia plant seemed to sing out.  Within days the pot was full of bright purple flowers, and new tendrils had shot out from the plant’s base to explore the tiny world it had all to itself.

There was a funeral going on below, the parking lot packed full, teenage boys awkward in black suits clustered behind a large red pickup.  Several middle aged women seemed to be passing out hugs and earnest conversations.  The sun was bright and hot.  Bits of conversation drifted up, mostly about the drought, and the expected arrival of 100-plus degree weather.

I realized I would have to move the little survivor inside to a windowsill soon, and figure out how it signaled that it needed more water.  The petunias survived the last year of the drought and headed into winter robust and bursting with flowers every few weeks.  It turned a bit yellow whenI forgot to bring it in the night of the first freeze that winter, but stopped being mad at me eventually,brightening up the apartment with defiant winter blooms.

It’s been a trying friendship, this petunia plant and me.  I have forgotten to water it for long stretches of time, left it out in both extreme heat and cold, and never had faith in that first year that it would survive the seasonal extremities.  But it continues to forgive me and keeps making those lovely purple flowers.

I don’t really talk to the petunia plant, but it gets all kinds of emotions projected towards it.  Annoyance when the dead growth needed to be trimmed again, fear when something mysterious and hidden started eating the leaves at night. The petunia plant looks at the moon with me, watches traffic on the major road nearby, and observes goings on at the back of the funeral home.  It reminds me to keep an eye on the weather, and what day of the week it is.

The tendency of mammals to bond with things is an old habit that goes back a hundred million years to the time when we weren’t quite mammals yet but had decided to stop being reptiles.  We make friends with anything that will have us.  

I consider this as I watch tiny black ants exploring the petunia plant’s leaves.  They show up every few months and seems to be harmless, maybe even beneficial.  These ants also have a relationship with the petunia plant, but it’s much more utilitarian.

Down below, an older woman walks across the parking lot with a heavy vase of cut flowers; lillies and other traditional mourning symbols.  The petunia plant says nothing about the carnage or wasteful sentimentality, but its leaves droop slightly, reminding me that I haven’t watered it in days.

 For The Daily Prompt – Mystical 

Flash Fiction – Echo

Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team

For the Daily Prompt – Echo

The phone was face up and flashing strange colors and messy squiggle shapes that vibrated across the screen.  All she had done was try to send a text message.  A very important text message.

Vanessa slammed her phone down onto the table and swore.  A brand new Nine, with all the updates.  A line of phones that had never expressed the Bug before. Nothing she’d read before buying had mentioned the Bug finally getting to her preferred phone brand.

Deep breath.  Fine.

She glanced down at the mess of notes scattered across the kitchen table.  It was 3am and she’d already been up for an hour working out the idea that had woken her up.  A rambling affair of equations and arrows pointing to phrases like “cosmological inflation.”  All she had tried to text to her research partner was, “We need to figure out how to make an echo,” followed by a few snapshots of her notes.

And now her phone was refusing to send that message, overcome with strange, eldritch symbols and flashing lights like a dance club.  This new phone was the brand that wasn’t supposed to have the Bug; only Androids had been doing it previously.  It didn’t make much sense, and no one working to develop phone technologies had figured out what was causing the Bug.  But Vanessa was a theoretical physicist, and she couldn’t turn away from a mystery that needed a proper application of science.

So she made some strong black tea.  This entire situation had been instigated by her abruptly waking from a dead sleep, full of the understanding that solved the issue her research team was stuck on.  Vanessa sipped her tea.

The phone was still flashing, and vibrated occasionally.  Vanessa wasn’t an Android user, and had never seen a live example of the Bug.  She’d had the Nine for about three weeks, with no issues.  What was different?

She frowned at the thing, and began listing out everything she knew about the Bug.

It was first reported about 18 months ago, in high end Android phones.  Communications sent through messenger apps occasionally sent back strange forms of data that neither the app nor the phone could interpret; weird sounds, those flashing lights, the shapes that looked…wrong. Voice and video calls sometimes generated something that sounded almost like music, something on the cusp of being a true pattern.

Various causes had been accused; sun spots, Russian hackers, North Korean hackers, US government spyware, spyware in Facebook.  It took long a time for anyone to suggest it was the hardware.

Vanessa sipped her tea.  It couldn’t be the hardware, though, could it?  Not when multiple phone brands and operating systems were having the problem.  What else had changed?  Did the Nines have some new-ish technology that Android had been playing with for the last year and a half?  She tended to keep her head out of consumer product tech, and didn’t have enough information in her head.

Standing up, Vanessa walked to her bookshelf, where a stack of print magazines leaned precariously.  She knocked the whole thing over, searching for the scientific journals from three years ago, hoping they were there.  She knelt down on her knees, flipping through the magazines over and over again until she found what she was searching for:

“Nature 2019: New encryption technology potential in harnessing dark matter relay networks”

Vanessa went back to the table and grabbed a highlighter, marking the article up as she read, understanding washing over her.  She remembered the announcement two years ago of new encryption technologies, something “completely unhackable.”  There was a vague memory of Drake at the lab expounding excitedly about it.  He had very little technical detail at the time, and so Vanessa hadn’t paid much attention.  Was this theory about a “dark matter relay” really it?

She put more water on to heat for tea, then picked the quivering phone up and stared at it.  Shapes trailed across the screen, like an old fashioned screen saver.  There was a sense of depth, like watching a poorly made 3D movie, that made her stomach twist up as she watched.  Some of the shapes resembled viruses or bacteria under an election microscope, and seemed to gain more detail the longer she stared, ceasing to be formless blobs.

There were the squiggles, long threads that tied themselves in and out of complicated knots.  There was a pattern to the knots; she felt that if she studied them long enough, she’d find something mathematical being communicated.  She became increasingly certain that those knots represented part of the formula she had tried to text earlier, which was surely impossible.  The tea kettle screamed out, and Vanessa dropped the phone, her eyes snapping up and away.

Her stomach lurched, and she ran to the sink, retching while the tea pot continued to squeal.  Vanessa drank some cold water, and breathed slowly, turning to silence the kettle.  The phone was facedown on the carpet, still quivering every few minutes.  She made more tea, watching the steam rise slowly, which turned her mind back to her research lab.  Background radiation and echoes of the formation of the Universe, that’s what they worked on.  Questions about Dark Matter were discussed every single day.

Why hadn’t anyone looked into this encryption technology development?  It used concepts that, if true, could change how they studied the cosmos.  They could finally prove or disprove the hypothesis about the Milky Way’s dark matter disk and its effect on Earth and the evolution of life.  Or the idea of parallel dark matter universes.  That paper hadn’t addressed any of those ideas.  If there was another world right next to ours, this new encryption technology was bouncing our communications right through it.

The Bug did not happen with every single communication, or they would have killed the technology by now, rendered useless.  Perhaps the messages were for the most part traveling through empty space.  But if there was a dust cloud or meteor field of dark matter objects, sometimes those communications would bounce off the objects, creating an echo.  The bizarre way the messages scrambled when bounced back, could they be a key to Dark Matter?  What could the raw data of the scramble tell us about the Universe and matter?

Vanessa pulled the journal article back over, and started copying out equations.  This ridiculous Bug that so many people had come to hate had just given her the key to measuring invisible things.  As she began to work the math out and sketched some initial experiments, she decided that she would explain it in layman’s terms as “echolocation for space and the invisible world.”

She would start by mapping out what the phone messages were bouncing off of; a map might have practical, real world applications that could fund the rest of her research.  She was a bit disturbed by the sense of a pattern, as though the data was being intentionally manipulated, but that was one more mystery to solve.

Humanity had just been given a flashlight that could beam into the darkest, most impenetrable shadows of the cosmos.  Of course she wanted to go exploring.

Flash Fiction – Faded

The earthquake trembled through the bones of the prairie.  Jack pumps shivered, and to the east the wind towers swayed almost too far.

The moon was pale and half-formed, silently drifting behind long streamers of silver cloud. A coyote leaped back from her dinner of jackrabbit, teeth bared at the ground, which had not stopped shaking.  She stood on a humped ridge of limestone that jutted out of the field.  Soft stones began to slide down the exposed side of the ridge, and cracks appeared in the layered rock.  She yelped as the small cliff began to collapse, and leapt away, landing hard on the flat ground and bruising a paw.

The coyote turned back, briefly remembering the fresh killed rabbit.  The limestone ridge was gone.

A pile of rubble was crumbled loosely around the mouth of a long hidden cave.  The pale moonlight showed only that the cavern was deep.

The ground was still now, but the sounds of shifting rock and earth echoed out of the cave’s mouth, and then, something grunting.  The coyote turned and ran, meal forgotten now.

The light faded as the clouds thickened across the moon, and the air chilled slightly.  There was a scrabbling sound at the mouth of the cave.  Something breathed and gasped and mumbled something like language.

The clouds thinned again.  Just beyond the cavern’s edge sprawled something with six limbs that were moving weakly.  It was wrapped in a casing that glinted metallic, and had a faint pattern of light glowing weakly on the exposed part of its body.  It slowly pulled itself up and leaned against a large boulder.  There was a sound of breathing, a shallow, whistling noise that seemed to struggle.

The creature began to tap the pattern of lights along its body, and began broadcasting its thoughts.

…ocean is gone, where is it now?  Where am I?  How long?  How long?

The creature pointed a limb towards the sky, extending four thin fingers until they were tendrils that drifted with the wind.  The fingers began to glow blue and curled back inwards until they formed a sphere of the blue light.  The creature shifted the sphere across the sky, staring through it at the moon and the clouds.  Then the clouds opened up, and the creature had a clear view of the stars.

Shining down were the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters now faded to six.

The creature stopped breathing for a few moments.

This is wrong.  The stars are wrong.  Asleep too long, buried too long.  Can’t calibrate where I am, all the signal stars are faded or gone entirely.  I’ve been in stasis so long that this planet is in a different part of the Galaxy.

The creature tapped again at the lights on its abdomen, and then its voice was very loud.

Is anyone here?   Did anyone else wake up?  Did any of you survive?  I’m broadcasting on every frequency I can with what power I have.  I need to find the ocean, I don’t know how much breathable liquid my suit has left.

Bracing against the boulder, the creature stood up slowly, putting its weight on the four lower limbs.  It gazed all around at the still darkness of the prairie.  There was a soft orange glow hugging the northern horizon; something out there was generating the light.  Possibly an industrial civilization, although it might be organic, or worse, silicate.  Perhaps the People still had an outpost here.

There was a low rumbling sound to the east. The creature turned towards it.  Two small dots of light were approaching; they seemed to be the source of the sound.  A vehicle of some kind.  There was something… primitive… about the noise.

The creature picked up one of the pale rocks and stared at it.  It was full of sea shells, colors and life force all faded into stone.  The ground was dry.  The cave had become dryer and dryer as the creature pulled itself up out of the stasis chamber.  The stone around the chamber had been damp, but it had also been deep in the bedrock.

The ocean where they had built a new home had faded away, a long time ago. The stars they’d used to find this world had also faded away.  The liquid in the creature’s suit would soon fade into nothing as well.

The lights were getting closer.  There was no sense of water nearby, nowhere to slip away into.  And still, no one had answered the distress calls.

The creature lowered itself down onto the boulder, and folded its limbs in a placating gesture, and waited to meet the world that had replaced what had faded away.

Daily Post: “Faded”

Culture and Technology: Why everything is so weird

Culture is the thing that lets you make a joke and expect other people to get it.

It’s also rules about behavior that inform us of how to assess someone. Manners, if you will. And our ideas about good manners and behavior need to catch up with the times. 

Culture takes a lot time to change, and we’re still adapting to innovations that happened in the 1980’s, possibly the 70’s. Cultures tend to have time to adapt to new technologies and gradually develop rules about their use before the next big innovation. That changed a few short decades ago with the arrival of the digital age. By normal historical patterns, we should still be getting used to desktop computers, email, and BBS boards. Instead, we’re trying to figure out smart phones and all the things they do, plus social media and a shortened news cycle. And those things keep transforming every few years. 

Culture is constantly dying and being born. Every interaction between two people either enforces existing culture or contributes to something new. The good manners of a hundred years ago are increasingly difficult to apply in the real world. Everything from gender to race to social stratification has shifted, especially in dynamic urban environments, and a lot of people are very confused about things like holding the door open for someone. That’s because there aren’t wide spread rules about new behaviors yet. 

Politeness and manners truly are important elements of any culture. Manners are generally used to prevent physical altercations or abuse.  

The internet is viewed as a questionable, even dangerous, environment these days because there are no enforceable social norms about good behavior online. Many people currently feel themselves freed from day to day, in person rules about interacting with people, which results in all kinds of aggression few of them would express in person.   

In the real world, I can press charges against someone who threatens me. If a business owner is exposed for being threatening or racist, it usually will hurt them in their wallet. If Donald Trump were to be caught in Times Square screaming the things that he says on Twitter, no one would take him seriously. Revealed as an unstable individual in the physical world, his business deals would dry up and he’d be regarded as a sad old man assumed to have dementia. Unfortunately, most people don’t put the same weight on 3am Twitter rants as they would on raving in person in a public place, and so he’s treated like someone to be listened to. 

Until the majority of people understand that they are one and the same thing, incidents like the election of Donald Trump are going to keep happening.   

Our economy and our political scene has been transformed by technology, with no time to adapt or create new behavior rules. Rules and cultural expectations about the use of television developed in the 50’s and 60’s that are mostly still around, including rules about political campaigns. We don’t have any rules about using Twitter and Facebook for political campaigns right now. The president-elect can scream a hundred untrue things a day from his Twitter account, and no one can stop him. This is a big problem precisely because we don’t have any sort of cultural behavior rules or any way to enforce them on social media. 

Twitter’s new tool to mute entire conversations is a good start. It’s a form of ostracization to refuse to listen to or take seriously someone who is screaming at you. In the physical world, ostracizing rude, belligerent people works. No one wants to hang out with the person who does nothing but insult their friends; that person either changes their behavior, or ends up alone with no social network.   

Using technology to ban people from the social networks that they need in order to communicate with their community can be a very powerful thing. Small communities online having been doing this since the 1990’s, and it works. The major social networks need to get serious about policing abuse of their tools. Yes, there are debates about speech, but free speech doesn’t mean anyone has the right to photoshop a Jewish journalist’s daughter into an oven and send it to them over and over. There are real life consequences for that kind of harassment that need to extend to the digital world. 

In a few generations there won’t be very many people left who remember the pre-digital world. Our great, great grandkids will likely grow up in a world where behavior rules are enforced online by laws and government law enforcement, developed by those who grew up in the early digital age. We have the strange luck of living through the transition, and witnessing a transformation of human culture that has never happened at this speed or scale before. 

Daily Post – “Culture”


dead leaf on ground - jenn burroughs-

Vigor, or energetic life force, is a difficult meditation while surrounded by the efforts of trees and squirrels to go quiet and still for the season.

There’s a red oak behind my apartment balcony that is gradually starting to earn its name. There will be a short few days soon where the whole tree will fight the sunset for brilliance and beauty, until the sunrise will beat them both with a hard, dusty wind whistling down from the north.  The leaves will be whipped away with more thoroughness and force than I use to sweep my kitchen, and then there will be only bare gray branches until the warm damp winds from the ocean return.

This meticulous sweeping away of spring and summer pushes the cycles forward, tells those who need it to rest, and others to ready themselves for vague threats of frost and freezing rain.  It is much faster than green spring buds that transform over weeks, less lethargic than the sprays of summer flowers waiting and waiting and waiting for bees and butterflies.

It is with the onset of winter that we truly see the vigor and energy of Nature ever at work.

Daily Post Prompt: Vigor