ailuronume

Follow the Cat

Escape

by Zoe Jordan

The field was filled with little people, half of them clad in red and the other half in green.
On the planet of Zrmrfg, this was considered war.
Half of the inhabitants would dress in red, and the other half in green, and the two leaders, who invariably resided on an entirely different planet, would give them the instructions to a game, like chess, or, if they were really drunk, maybe dominoes.
One guy would say, ‘Ok, red shirt number four move to square D4,’ and the other guy would stare for a while and then say, ‘No, you can’t do that, that’s against the rules, the bishop can only go diagonally.’ And the first guy would say, ‘Who says that’s the bishop? I moved it like a rook because it is one.’ And they would argue like that until the piece in question would have to be shot to resolve the confusion, and the board reset, and the game returned to the beginning.
Usually, the two men would eat as everyone was being rebooted, so to speak, but the pieces would not.
If there were enough restarts, the game would dissolve into dominoes and it would be shirts versus skins. Those wars tended to be short, which allowed the men and any advisors they had dragged along to return home before they had to be carried, which everyone generally appreciated, even the losers, who were glad, or so they said, just to keep things orderly and safe for the children.
No sacrifice was too costly, when it came to the safety of their children. That’s one thing that could be said for the inhabitants of the planet of Zrmrfg.
The other thing about the planet Zrmrfg was that its set-design cost was not very high. The leaders were adamant about reducing waste in the dwelling and the work-place. Tall, gray-stoned buildings rose out of the green war-games hills, their solid roofs providing bedding, social space, and a kitchenette for each of the team-players and guaranteeing safety from any imaginable brand of predator. In time, the dark smoke escaping the chimneys to settle over them had become a sort of visual ‘white noise’ for the dwellers, a warm blanket, as well as a much-appreciated population control.

*****

On the planet of Zrmrfg, worship was an integral part of living. It was carefully woven into the very fabric of their labors, which took place deep in the belly of the castle. Each citizen’s duty consisted of one ritualistic, graceful yet utilitarian motion which contributed to the production of an unending legion of monuments to a Great Thinker of Old Times, whose thoughts, vital as they now seemed, were, in their own time, mostly left floundering alongside all the other recognizably great but generally ignored ideas.
That Great Thinker had, one sunshiny day, under the influence of a gentle and jasmine-scented breeze which wafted across an especially moderate early Sunday morning smog, uttered these unforgettable words: ‘How nice it would be to stroll through the soft, damp leaves of a cool mountain trail, stopping here and there to pet a small yet trusting furry animal, until my muscles began to feel the warmth of use and untied themselves, unhinging the humps in my back and reshaping my frightfully flat fanny!’
Generations later, a research student in Anthropology at one of the once copious meeting-places for such researchers stumbled upon the videodisc of that great woman’s life and published his findings, starting a short-lived but theatrical movement, that, as the result of unforeseeable environmental events, was soon forced underground along with everyone else. And now, rising again in castles just like this one in unspecified locations around the world, the worshipers grown out of that collapsed movement had become, well, everybody.
And so it was that each day at dawn, everyone filed down to their places to take part in the communal expression of their appreciation for her genius. They produced treadmills.

*****

But today an odd thing is unfolding. The air particles in the factory take on the special stillness found in the eye of a very large storm. The workers’ eyes also take on this stillness. Each worker’s motion slides into rhythm with all the others of his group, each group’s motion falls into rhythm with the neighboring groups’ motions, and so on down the line until, if one were to stand up in an observation tower, looking down over them, he would have a hard time distinguishing one group’s motion from another’s, even though there was quite a range of motions involved in the task of producing each of the final products. Or maybe it’s that each group’s work blends so completely with the next group’s that the whole room now moves as one large wave, here pushing up, there to the side, a lift and a turn, a pull down, a slide onto the belt and into the cavern of the machine, to be transported to sites unknown. From the observer’s deck, if there were an observer, all the way up there, the waves might be heard as a pounding, a rhythmic pounding against the shore.

And then, what could be confused with the storm itself breaks: the siren sounds for war games. The line comes to a halt. A great hissing sound escapes from somewhere. All the workers line up, preparing to be herded back up above moat level and across the bridge to the hill. This is the extent of their lives: even from their beds on the roof they cannot see past the woods that circle the war games hill to the one side, or the end of their world to the other.
Because they spend their lives in uniform, there is no need for them to change clothing as they trundle up the hill. Reaching the top, they each wiggle a little, blood rushing out to the tips of their fingers and toes, and say a small prayer of thanks for the opportunity to move.

The true storm breaks in the midst of the games.

‘Oh, rather not, I’d think,’ snorts a red-shirted Citizen. ‘Fine mess that would do for me!’
‘Um… What–what was that,’ snuffles the red general, rubbing his swimmy eyes. He squints back at the board. ‘But you’re a pawn,’ he says.
‘Well, no,’ she corrects, ‘actually I’m at the end of the board, see,’ and as she speaks, he can almost catch out of the corner of his eye, quick, furtive movements among the other players.
‘Say!’ interjects the green general. ‘Did you move more than once? I’m quite certain–‘
‘So now I’ll be a queen,’ she finishes out, smoothly.
‘Can’t argue with the rules, then,’ nods a green-shirt, wisely.
‘You–‘ sputters the red general, shaking himself awake. He stops and turns to his opponent. ‘You–‘ he repeats, unsure who is pulling what.
‘Right. I think I’ll go this way, then,’ she says, and she does. She wanders right off the hill and continues on into the woods.

By Zoe Jordan Copyright 2008

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