Crickets

Johnny Appleseed was drained from her uneventful journey and from hearing her name used over and over in books, which were mostly about her father anyway. Charles Potashner let her crash on his gargantuan greyish sofa for a few days free of charge. He had bought the sofa several years before from either Argos or Ikea; he couldn’t remember which now and of course it doesn’t matter at all. When it first arrived, disassembled and in many boxes with only cartoons for construction instructions, he had thought to himself, ¨ohhhh fuck, what have I gotten myself into.¨ But now he had come to peace with his purchase and was glad to have a place to offer for people to stay for the night. He didn´t even need to move the sofa to Simone. The sofa moved on its own accord.

Speaking of stridulation…oh were we not speaking of stridulation? Well, now we are. Once Johnny had made herself comfortable, Charles settled down into a back float in the pond and listened to the male crickets rub their tiny legs together for a while. Water supported his body, and only a few parts of him sank under the surface. When he began to sink uncomfortably low, and the water covered the hairy little nipples on his chest, he merely wished to be more buoyant, and it was so. Charles rubbled his long legs together and expected to be able to join in with the insects, but that wish wasn´t granted. Wishing is like having a having a habitable planet: you should never take it for granted.

Though Simone was a kind and relatively uneventful place, Charles was frequently transported to a land of torture in his dreams. While the crickets fiddled a rendition of San Antonio Rose using no more than their spindly legs for instrumentation, Charles drifted dreamward, watching helplessly and in terror as Saturn devoured his own son, spewing more blood than Goya could have imagined. Charles then transformed into a twin Saturn in a parallel universe and was overtaken with an uncontrollable urge to devour the sun itself. As the centre of the solar system slid over the back of his sizzling tongue and down his throat, everything went pitch black. Planets slipped wildly out of their stable orbits, and Charles´ stomach burned and his intestinal fluids boiled with the very energy on which all known life had previously depended. Knowing something was wrong from his panicked breathing, the ducks surrounded him and woke him from his nightmare with loud quacks. He was speechless but infinitely grateful.

 

Wood

Usually, tree branches are made of wood. From hornbeam to maple and aspen to ash there are so many beautiful variations of wood. How did the universe learn to make astounding organic wood? Was wood always elegant, or were there embarrassing amateurish early prototypes of wood that were hidden away in shame? And we mustn’t forget that some trees are not made of wood at all; some trees are made of alloys or metals and covered in shimmery tinsel instead of leaves, while others are 3D printed from plastics by hobbyists in their mid-twenties eager to make use of their new machines and test out the latest versions of their CADs.

New Johnny Appleseed recently won a scholarship that allowed her to travel anywhere she wanted to spread her seeds. To everyone’s surprise except maybe yours, she chose Simone. Not many humans knew of Simone, but Johnny had heard about it twice—most recently from a duck who had flown south to enjoy a warm, lazy winter. Many Simonian ducks opted to stay there year-round due to the impeccably pure air and relatively comfortable climate, but this duck also happened to be an avid drinker, and alcoholic beverages were heavily taxed in Simone. Who was doing the taxing and where were the taxes going? We don’t know the answer to the question of who, but we suspect that a large amount of the taxes were going towards light rail construction and hiring guest lecturers for physics lessons. Anyway, the night New Johnny met the duck, the duck was swimming in Buckfast and rambling about places that she was relatively certain did not exist. He sounded a bit like Donald Duck (or was it Daffy Duck?) in a rage, spitting and slobbering all over himself as he spoke. Patiently, Johnny asked the duck where he was from. The duck couldn’t believe Johnny had heard of his summer home and drunkenly detailed it’s existence in the same ways he had to those who had never heard of it before. If Johnny found this insulting or annoying it didn’t show.

New Johnny Appleseed’s father, Old Johnny Appleseed, was a notorious pioneer and, though he never left North America, he had amassed a collection of world maps throughout his life. When she was seven or eight years old,  New Johnny would sit next to the fireplace with her father and, together, they would examine the maps and share the stories they had heard from travellers about places whose names they didn’t know how to pronounce. Simone was on none of those maps. In 1843, two years before her father’s death, a man referring to himself as The Batman time travelled to their quaint Indiana home. He had originally planned to descend head first down their chimney, but after smelling the smoke from the burning apple wood bellowing out, he decided to climb down off of their roof and make a more conservative front door entrance.

Johnny and her father Johnny welcomed in The Batman and offered him warm K Cider with cinnamon. He told them he couldn’t stay for long because he had a business trip to a few cities in Asia coming up, but they insisted, so he accepted the cider. When two Johnny Appleseeds offer you cider it’s hard to turn it down. After making small talk about the weather and distributed databases, more specifically block chain, The Batman revealed that the real reason he was there was not to pretend to be some sort of Santa or to drink cider. He had a very important gift. Out of his pocket, he pulled an iPhone 5. But this was not just any iPhone 5—it was an iPhone 5s that had been modified to connect to the internet despite it being 140-147 (depending on definitions) years before the internet was invented. It was in a subreddit on this mobile phone that New Johnny Appleseed first caught wind of Simone.

When she found out about her scholarship being granted, Johnny went on Instagram and started looking for photos geotagged in Simone. This was how she found Charles Potashner. He posted all the time and she wasn’t too sure about him at first. He had been sharing everything from close-ups of a single blade of grass to pictures of ducks splashing about as if they owned the pond. In fact, one of the photos even referred to the ducks as being egomaniacs and, being an animal lover, she was distrusting of anyone who would speak so negatively of ducks. Still, he seemed to have a genuine appreciation for the pond in Simone, and the surrounding hillsides, and she thought he may have some ideas of places to visit while she was there. Also, the main purpose of her visit was to plant appleseeds and she wasn’t sure where she would be legally allowed to do so and Charles somehow seemed like someone who may have some insights into that kind of thing. Johnny had spent hours on Google, but there was no information to be found about where trees are permitted to be planted and where they are not. They arranged to meet at three PM on a Tuesday in front of Charles’ favourite oak tree. They both showed up exactly on time.

When Charles Potashner met Johnny Appleseed crickets started singing and the world, which had begun to settle down, once again wiggled like shook jello. Time peace’d out for a quarter of a century, he forgot the naysaying voice of God, and blueberry wine began to run down the hillsides. Neither of them was sure what all this meant. It seemed to indicate that their meeting was of some sort of vast importance, but it also put a lot of pressure on them. They kind of wished the crickets would shut up.

Coffee

Ducks don’t drink coffee. Or at least I’ve never heard of a duck drinking coffee, but few people know what actually goes on between those in white lab coats and animals behind closed laboratory doors. Charles Potashner doesn’t drink coffee either, but not by choice. When Living in London he was able to simply walk five minutes, in any direction, and find a lovely coffee shop or at least a Turkish cafe with microscopic yet potent espressos. But in Simone, there was no coffee. On one hand, though he loved the taste, Charles always had a few issues with coffee. He really couldn’t have it after about two in the afternoon if he was hoping to catch any sleep later that night. Perhaps he was more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than other humans. Charles loved dreaming, so late afternoon coffee was an enemy of his, but earlier in the day it was heavenly. He adored the taste and the effects. Just smelling a steaming mug of coffee excited him—he could imagine the taste that would follow and the black liquid feeling as if it had leapt into his mouth, danced across his tongue, swam down his throat, and then somehow shot straight into his veins just to be pumped and circulated relentlessly around his body over and over. The joy!  The energy! The clenching of his jaw!

As I mentioned before, most of the ducks would take off into the sky to come and go from Simone as they pleased, but Charles had yet to find a way to leave. He hadn’t really searched for the path out of Simone and I’m not sure if he ever will. His last day in London may have been the last he would ever have in The Previous World. Not wanting to make much of a fuss, he didn’t really tell anyone he was leaving. He had played music in a shoegaze influenced punk band, but earlier that year his band had broken up and his relationship had reached a chaotic end. There wasn’t really much of a reason for him to stay there anymore. His commitments were all naturally finishing in a surprisingly synchronous way, and it seemed as clear of a sign as any that his time in London was supposed to be coming to a close. How Charles left the UK and ended up in Simone is actually quite a startling and possibly even significant story, but I think we’d better save that for a time when we’re better acquainted with each other. 

When a light, reflective rain stopped, Charles decided it was time to wash his clothes. He collected buckets of water from the pond and mixed in a tiny bit of Tide that one of the ducks had brought back for him as a gift after visiting the east coast of America. He didn’t have many clothes and nearly everything he wore was black, mostly because it made getting dressed simpler; everything matched with everything else. On warm days he sometimes didn’t wear anything at all since there were no other humans around to see him and the ducks would be hypocrites if they judged him for his nakedness. But now that the independent contractors had become a permanent fixture in Simone, he decided it was best if he donned clothes whenever he wasn’t swimming.

After swirling the clothes around in the soapy water, Charles rinsed them and hung them carefully across a branch of the oak tree to dry. Before the oak tree had appeared, he would have carefully spread them out across the grassy field next to the pond, but the tree made drying his clothes much more convenient. He was thankful for the oak tree and the tree was glad to be helpful. It’s easier to sleep at night when you have a sense of purpose and, though the tree knew it was destined for a much more significant future, it was happy to be of use in the meantime.

 

The Voice

Having never heard a voice like this before, Charles Potashner stopped everything he was doing to fully focus his attention on what it was saying. Speaking slowly, the voice identified itself as God. Charles had not believed in any gods since he was a small child.  Even as a kid he had his doubts. His mum had dragged him through endless nativity scenes and Christian megachurch gift shops and bought him WWJD paraphernalia for years. He had been going both to children’s bible school classes and the standard adult Sunday masses. But the stories from The Holy Bible seemed out of sync with his experiences with reality regardless of whether they were taken literally or metaphorically. He had prayed alone at night for both himself and his family, but he couldn’t help but think he would be surprised if the prayers were ever answered. Still, he hoped they would be. And they never were.

Having introduced itself, the voice went on to say “Charles, everything that has ever needed to be created has been created, everything that has ever meant to be made has been made, it’s time to clean up this mess that we’ve been making, it’s time to save what can be saved.” And then as suddenly as it had appeared, the voice vanished and Charles was left alone in his thoughts. He felt a little less energetic than he had before. It really was quite a discouraging thing for a booming voice inside his own skull to be saying. Charles had been enjoying the snaking light rail construction and the growing of the flora in Simone. Now, hearing that nothing further should be made really put a damper on his enthusiasm for the future.

He looked to the ducks, searching their beady eyes for answers. Had this voice actually been God? He doubted it. It was probably some sort of hallucination. There must be some reasonable explanation. The ducks looked back and he felt his bond with them beginning to restore itself. The tension between creatures of the swamp and the ducks had been building, but now, to his relief, he felt his connection with the ducks’ return.

A stronger than usual wind blew, moving through forty-six thousand feathers, and tiny ripples shot across the top of the pond. Cirrocumulus clouds decorated the sky above with kind ripples that reminded him of latte art, and Charles wished he could have a coffee.

Selfish Ducks

Twenty-six evenings later, the creatures of the pond were starting to suspect that the ducks were egomaniacal waterfowl. The rarely-noticed beavers gave the fern leaves knowing glances when the ducks would raise their tail feathers and beaks and splash about as if they owned the pond. Some days there was so much splashing that the fish down below couldn’t get a wink of sleep and the thin green film growing on the surface of the perimeter of the pond could barely survive.

Charles Potashner was speaking to some independent contractors who had been brought in to build a light rail line between Greater Simone and the nearest town. The only problem was that there were no other towns nearby to connect the line to. In fact, at this time, there were no other towns in the entire world. All that existed to anyone’s knowledge was the pond, the new oak tree, some quiet and relatively passive beavers, the film on the surface of the pond, blades of grass, ferns, Charles Potashner, and the befuddled independent contractors themselves. But a job is a job, so those contractors began to lay rail. They decided that since there was no obvious destination for the new light rail line to go they would use the wind as their guide. They probably thought this was a romantic and yet simple solution to their problem. Frankly, Charles thought it was ridiculous, but nothing had been making much sense lately and he didn’t have a better solution to offer so he kept his thoughts to himself. The ducks observed the rail line being built and snickered before flapping off to their 7 pm physics lecture covering how we now use the rules of Quantum Mechanics to design the semiconductor devices like diode lasers, which have given us the internet. Hammering and bulldozing and drilling went on for days and then months and then years. Snow crystals fell on the unused metal tracks and slowly the lines began to snake in and out of the rolling knolls that peaked up from the earth around the pond. The rails went up to the ridges of the hillside and even to the edge of the stony bluffs only to jet right back down again and cross under themselves like a never-ending pretzel or an endless spaghetti noodle.

As the rails grew so did Charles Potashner’s hair. He didn’t care too much about his appearance anymore. He used to cut and straighten his hair when he was a younger man. For a while, he even died it black and the first thought anyone would have when looking at him was “EMO!!”. Back then he would stand in front of mirrors and hate his pimply skin and the craters that those red irritated spots would leave behind after they left. But this was a different time. Ever since finding himself in Simone his thoughts and energy were focused on those around him. He and his body were one and he trusted his body to, more or less, adapt as needed. He had faith in over 2 billion years of evolution to provide him with muscles to swim through the quiet pond and the fat to survive the moderately chilly winters. And so his hair grew. Once he dreamt about being trapped in the turret of a German castle by an evil witch and letting down his hair only to have a Deliveroo driver on a motorised scooter attach a vegan pizza to it. After attaching the pizza, the Deliveroo driver gave the long brown hair a tug to let him know that the food was securely fastened and ready to be lifted. Charles slowly reeled his hair back up through the window, careful not to tangle it, like a fisherman bringing in a marlin. Once the pizza was safely in his room he squirted Sriracha across the top and began to feast.

There was no hierarchical government in Simone. In fact, there was no formal authority at all. So it was impossible for the contractors to definitively know when they should stop building. Mysterious bank transfers were made into their accounts twice monthly so they merrily continued to build. Some worried that the rails would take away from the natural beauty of the pond but Charles found the nonsensical chaos of the rails beautiful in itself. Just then he began to hear a stern voice within his skull. He didn’t know where the voice was coming from but he immediately sensed it was not passing through his ears. Yet, it was unlike any thought he had ever had. The deep and powerful external voice was materialising within his head as if it had not wanted to waste any time taking the traditional route through the eardrums and moving the tiny bones in the middle ear nor bothering to move the fluid in the cochlea. This voice felt as if it began directly as an electrical impulse in the brain and it was clearer than any he had heard before.

Shoes

It can be difficult to find a good pair of shoes. Sometimes the best shoes are uncomfortable when first tried on but with time they adapt to the shape of the wearer’s foot. And sometimes it feels more like the foot is adapting to the shoe. The oak tree in Simone had never worn a shoe and probably never will during its existence. Imagine trying to find a shoe that would fit the roots of an oak tree. What would that even look like? It may be a good mental exercise to picture such footwear but when you try to fit whatever you’ve come up with on the oak tree I think you will find that it is hardly practical.

Charles Potashner didn’t have time to be thinking about shoes or oak trees or shoes on oak trees. His mind had become stuck on a single blade of grass. He had noticed the grass only moments earlier and now it was mysteriously gone. In his former life, Charles had never seen things materialise or vanish without some sort of explanation or reason. Now it was beginning to become commonplace. He tried to wave goodbye to the small green leaf while knowing very well that it was long gone and would not be bearing witness to his sentimental gesture, He lifted his left hand, slightly cupped, and began to rotate it from side to side. The ducks in the pond saw this and began to chuckle to themselves–they thought he was trying to imitate Her Majesty The Queen. The ducks wondered if a king would wave in the same manner then started bobbing their heads into the cool water of the pond and surveying for fish. Due to the high duck population, there were less fish to go around than usual this season but there had been a rise in the tadpole population.

When he first came to the pond, Charles Potashner submerged his hands under the water and caught two squirmy tadpoles in one go. He had contemplated keeping them and nurturing them as they grew and developed into young frogs, but ultimately he decided he didn’t have the right experience to raise them. Also, he had no reason to believe a life under his watch would be any better than one in the wild of the pond. So, with a gentle grin, he returned them to the water. They wiggled their long, laterally compressed tails, and swam towards the centre of the pond breathing quickly through their tiny gulls.

Charles looked at the clouds overhead, then at his wet slimy hands. Nothing made much sense but it was a lovely day. Had anything ever made sense? Was there a time when reality was more clear? Perhaps during a time before the internet? And with such infinite wisdom, why do the ducks not protect those mentally inferior to them?

The Oak Tree

Twisting their feathery little necks and looking up at the oak tree, the ducks instantaneously, and in unison, started to hum a tune from a Tide advertisement. The only person living who understood what they meant was no longer on the planet. Charles seemed puzzled. He knew that ducks could sing, but he couldn’t make any sense out of their connection between a popular bleach brand and the tree that wasn’t there only minutes prior yet now stood fully formed and blossoming before him. Nightmares were only rivers of sand and clothes slowed down their motions. The ducks looked a bit anxious and Charles tried to soothe them by writing an amateurish sonnet. We didn’t know where this was going, but it carried us away in the current. Why were there so many ducks in Simone? The branches shook, and the tree began to whimper into the crisp air. And so we did the only thing we could think of which was to make sure the person who is actually interested in love could rewrite the flight attendants’ instructional manual. But was that ethical? Charles and the ducks and all of the rest didn’t have time to take a walk in everyone’s shoes before making a decision.

Charles and Ducks

Once there was a worry-free place where ducks lived alongside Charles Potashner. Grammar wasn’t important, and the world stood still while also wiggling like shook jello. The only problem was how clean the air was. All the ducks loved the air so they would fly in from many miles away just to breathe it and swim around. Charles liked to watch the ducks and sometimes he would even take a swim in the pond with them. Flowers grew on the riverbanks and physics was taught from seven pm until sunrise. No one ever shouted. It was a peaceful and kind place. This peaceful and kind place was known as Simone. How long had Simone existed before the ducks and Charles Potashner arrived? That could be anyone’s guess, but I would think at least seven to eight seconds. Now we don’t bother to worry about things like that. The only person who understands the difference between a good idea and a good pancake could probably reveal more, but they have better things to do with their time. Though the ducks appreciated Charles and he loved the ducks dearly, they both carried on relatively independently most of the time. Their movements became clearer each year and with the passing of time, their resolutions increased. And so did their resolve. They grew and floated and summarised the Magna Carta. They travelled away from Simone and returned whenever it suited them. They were free and full of love and joy and respect. On the third Thursday of each month they would celebrate their birthdays–and so they aged very quickly. These birthdays were small affairs and happened mostly within the minds of the ducks and Charles. When they got old enough to fly they flew and when they got old enough to swim they swam. Mountains grew arms, and peaceful arid air tickled their nostrils with a small hand. Time was just going on without them, but it always returned. We believers see the self as an extension of the internet. The best way to make sure you get a sense of belonging is to be found. Ducks look the same as each other to the untrained eye, but like many frequent observers of ducks, Charles Potashner was able to tell them each apart. He observed their individual behaviours and imagined the lives they led when he was not around. Just then a tall oak tree began to sprout from the ground. This startled everyone. The earth shook and the moon glared down. You see, oak trees were not supposed to be in such a rush. The ducks seemed to have been expecting the oak tree.