Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Life of Word and Sound

A Life of Word and Sound
Exerpts From A Book Yet To Come
by Michael Feir
Copyright 2008 by Michael Feir
This text may be freely shared as long as it is not modified.

Note: There are plus-signs before each different piece of writing in this file. Software used to read text should have a search function which will allow you to search for the next or prior plus-sign and thereby move quickly to items of interest. This small collection of material is taken from an autobiographical book I've been working on for some years now. Reluctantly, I've come to the conclusion that I must experience more of life before attempting to do justice to the overall concept of the larger work. I may very well alter some of this material when I resume working on the project. I hope you and whoever you choose to send this file to learn from and enjoy this fraction of the total work as it stands. I welcome any feedback. You can contact me at:

The Alien Conspiracy
The Absence of Sound
Camp Chaos
The Dreaded Exam
Blind Faith
A Pawn of Fear
The Breakdown
Within An Old White House

The Alien Conspiracy

Many years ago, when I was eight or nine, I had no idea what the word “morality” meant. I realize what a different life I led then, and that this difference was one of the few which is likely common to all of us. I can be certain that all of you understand how easy it was to quash that “little voice”, as my father used to call it, that told you that what you were doing was “bad!”. I can be certain that all of us have done things which we later partially, but not totally, wish we hadn't. Since we've all partaken in the folly of youth, I can let that reason for participation in the “Alien conspiracy” rest. I admit freely here that there was a dose of malice in what we did to the hopelessly gullible fellow I'll introduce to you shortly. However, you must understand that this was completely over-shadowed by a sense of fun and adventure. None of us meant for things to go as horribly wrong as they did. Also, note that I don't write this as any kind of apology or defense. Our actions were cruel and unfair no matter which way you think about it. This is a confession of a sort, but I seek no atonement. There can be none. For as long as I live, I'll go on laughing at the trick I helped perpetrate. My laughter, however, will always be tempered by guilt.
Before you can properly appreciate and/or cringe at this conspiracy I mentioned, you must have some understanding of what insanity life could be in the institution for the blind where I spent the first two and a half years of the school days which I have any recollection of. This place was one of the boarding schools for the blind in North America. I lived close enough so that I could go home on a bus for weekends, but many students basically spent most of their younger years there, weekends and all. The effect of this was that one's conception of “real life” became largely based on life within the school. Everyone understood what it was like to be blind since most people there actually were. Very few students, at least in my dormitory and classes, had any vision at all. The ultimate effect of this, as far as pulling pranks went, was that you could get away with just about anything if you were careful that none of the sighted staff were around to see you do it. One of the favourite pranks was to swap someone's seat for a garbage can for them to sit in. Rubber bands were fired at will, even in small classes. The only restriction was that you had to wait until there was other noise in the room. This noise would provide the cover which would prevent people from easily localizing the small snap made by the launching of these annoying projectiles. Voices were routinely changed to protect the guilty. I once had a class firmly convinced that I was their female supply teacher. They were actually doing work before I coughed and ruined the whole thing. Braille, as essential and beneficial as it is, was also a major source of grief to the unsuspecting and gullible. No matter who writes it, Braille, unlike print, is always identical. There were countless ways to put this simple fact to spectacular advantage. One of the most devastating was to forge a note from the principle informing the unfortunate victim that he or she had to report to the office and be ready to face any number of punishments. I fell prey to two of these very official and terrifying notes, before learning that the P.A. system was used to summon students to the place of supposed dread. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the office got upwards of three or four unexpected and uninvited quivering visitors per week.
Now, you have some sense of the common kinds of mischief that went on there. As you struggle to fully absorb the implications of what a day could be like if enough people chose you as their victim, I'll begin to explain higher forms of mischief. At last, the time has come for John, my crackpot of a room-mate, to make his appearance. I know now that John was and still is mentally retarded. Back then, I had no idea what that actually meant, and merely regarded him as particularly gullible and stupid. Most of my circle of friends felt much the same way about him, as did some of the older kids who made use of the play-room. All kinds of ingenious schemes were devised to torture and terrify this poor young loner.
One mean teenager with particularly lofty delusions of grandeur had John firmly convinced that he was God himself. John would be minding his own business, building a tower from the large plastic blocks kept in the playroom. This was John's favourite activity, and he wasn't too bad at it. If the thunderous crash of their destruction is anything to go by, his towers usually grew fairly high. After he had finished, John would always step back in order to rest and either sonically or mentally admire his work. No sooner had he taken this fateful step, then a loud crash would be heard by all present. Before we could laugh at John for his supposed clumsiness, a deep voice would bellow: “Thou shalt not build!” This mischievous and soft-footed teen would quietly sneak close to John, knock over his tower, make his declaration, and then step quickly and silently away. After a few seconds, he would calmly approach John and inform him that he had broken one of the ten commandments. Opening a book which he claimed was a bible, he proceeded to recite to John all ten commandments, with the obvious revision of one of them. John would get down on his knees, (on those few occasions when he didn't land squarely on his ass), and begin hysterically stammering out what passed for a prayer for forgiveness. The main reason why I doubt that this was a holy book at all, other than the decidedly uncharitable way this trickster went about inspiring holy terror, was that the bible in Braille consists of around twenty-five large volumes. The sound of the pages turning was wrong for a volume of this type. The pages were just too thin. Overall, I'm drawn to the conclusion that this tome, though ponderous, was nothing more vital to salvation than a copy of the phone book.
Another older girl, gifted or cursed with a particularly wicked voice, had John firmly convinced that she was a wicked witch. She would have fit perfectly into the Wizard of Oz. John was fairly careless with the few belongings he had, and was always losing or forgetting about them. The major exception to this frivolous disposition was an old stuffed dog of which he was very fond and proud. if John displeased or annoyed this woman in any way, or, if she were merely in a spiteful mood, she would utter those famous and fear-inspiring words: “I'll get you, my pretty, and you're little dog too!” John would clutch his dog tightly, if he happened to be holding it, or run quickly to his room and grab it if he wasn't. Someone would usually find him sniffling in some corner, guarding his stuffed faithful companion. The musical lament sung by the Scarecrow was constantly being piped up around him. People would whistle, hum, or just sing it outright. I don't think he ever realized the cruelty in this. He would sing snatches of it cheerfully enough himself from time to time.
We used to sneak up behind him and lightly hit him on the back, telling him that the sky was falling. He'd run off to hide under the nearest thing he could find, yelling: “The sky is falling!”, at the top of his lungs. Why objects would somehow fall silently through the roof of the building, not to mention the floors above us, without causing some kind of damage or being stopped by these obstacles never seemed to occur to him. The fact that no one else ever seemed to be hit by small pieces of sky never seemed to trouble him either. To try and convince each other of the absolutely unbelievable wasn't all that uncommon in those days. The only uncommon element in this was that with John, you didn't even have to try and convince him. He'd readily believe just about everything.
Eventually, we all grew bored with the idea of a falling sky, and my friends and I decided it was high time to pull a wholly new and wondrous prank, the likes of which John had never experienced. There were four of us sitting in a quiet corner of Robert's room, calmly discussing the most absurd ideas we could think of. Could we make him think the school was on fire? Probably, but we all saw how that one could potentially get out of hand. It was actually fairly possible. It was also lacking in originality. The fire alarm would be pulled by some prankster or other at least twice a term. Could we convince him that he was going to be arrested for some imagined crime or other? Probably not. None of our voices were sufficiently authoritarian to sound like those of actual police. The problem of height occurred to us as well. Everyone knows that cops are supposed to be big and tall. At age twelve, Henry was the oldest and had the most cop-like build, being a fairly athletic sort of guy. It actually might have worked if something could have been done about his as yet childish voice. Several other ideas were discussed and dismissed in their turn, before the grand scheme of making John think that our school was to be the site of an alien invasion occurred to Robert. Robert was by far the most well-read of us. He was always using big words. However, he was always willing to explain them, so no one held it against him. We began to work on the concept, and found that each of us could contribute to the plan. Henry had a CNIB tape player which we could put in one of the cupboards we had to store our personal effects. James had a number of tapes with sound effects on them, and also had a highly prized “double-decker”, which could be used to copy things from one tape to another. Robert could explain the large words and the essentials of alien existence to whoever was chosen to play the part. Of course, that chosen one, (drafted being somewhat closer to the truth), was me. After all, I was his room-mate. Robert was as well, but he had to do most of the thinking. That got him off the hook.
Initially, our plan was to keep the illusion going for as long as we could, coming up with new ideas for it as we went along. We had a sense that like the falling sky, we'd eventually find the prospect of an alien invasion to be rather tedious, and have to come up with another idea. We'd end it all by finally showing John how it was done, and have a good laugh at his expense. So went the plan. Vague and skeletal as it was, we eagerly put it into action. I don't believe any of us knew that ominous saying about best-laid plans being laid waste.
Over the course of the next month, we slowly worked on John's natural resistance to the idea that I, a here-to-fore fairly normal room-mate, was anything but a kid two or three years older than himself. We soon discovered that John had no idea what an alien was, or even what outer space was supposed to be. I now realize that Robert and Henry were probably the only two of us who actually had anything like a proper notion of these concepts. James and I had only those notions which come of listening to cartoons like Battle of the Planets. Space, we thought, was a really big place just teaming with strange monsters, neat-sounding ships, and those wonderfully sinister “intergalactic villains” Robert was always going on about. For the most part, James had shied away from pulling pranks on John, so it was decided that he would be trusted more than the rest of us. Therefore, James should be the one to explain these basic concepts to John and to “figure out” that I was an alien. None of us envied him this role. Explaining anything to John was no one's idea of a good time. We had all heard a well-meaning but short-tempered member of the staff make a disastrous attempt to explain the use of a knife and fork to him. The staffer was driven to absolute fury, and John was so stressed that he had flung a knife across the dining room. Although not especially sharp, the handles of the knives we used were heavy enough to cause more than a little pain. The knife had landed harmlessly on the floor, but could have easily hit any number of people. James spent the first week or so filling John in on the basics, and telling him about those evil “intergalactic villains!” He was fairly good at it, and by the end of the week, John started asking me timid questions about aliens and space. Were all aliens actually bad? Why was space so big? Were there many monsters out there? So many questions, and so little certainty.
In the meantime, Robert was coaching me on how to “talk alien”. As it happened, he was a Star Trek fan, and told me about the famous Mr. Spock, and his “Vulcan mind melt”. even Robert's understanding of things was off the mark on occasion. The true Star Trek mind meld was a means for Mr. Spok to link his mind directly with others. Not too many kids know about a word like meld though, so it's hardly surprising that Robert came to the conclusion that he did. This was a fortuitous error for him to have made. To have one's brain melted! What could be more “totally gross!” What would it be like? Seeing the potential usefulness of adding a dash of terror to John's existence, we worked out what such an experience would be like. You'll learn the horrors that presented themselves to our misguided minds in due course. He taught me such words as “interplanetary”, “hyperspace”, and dozens of others. I had known that we lived on a planet, so “interplanetary” wasn't too hard to explain. Saying it without sounding uncertain of my ability to pronounce the word was a different matter entirely. Neither of us really knew what hyperspace was, but we both concluded that it sounded like a “real cool fast way to go places”.
The month rolled on, and as it did, more pieces of our illusion were put into play. James played his part beautifully, ending up seeming to force me to confess my Vulcan origin, and the impending invasion. Why a scout from the planet Vulcan would confess such top secret information to a scrawny little kid like James never concerned us in the least. Fortunately, John never questioned such “ minor details”. Despite countless slips back into “earth talk”, such as:
James: “So! You are an alien! Where are you from?”
Mike: “Ninety-two Harvard road...Er!... Vulcan! Yah! That was it!” and:
James: “What's your favourite food?”
Mike: “Frosted brains!”, John began to actually believe that I was an alien.
That tape player, so thoughtfully provided by Henry, and so skilfully provided with strange sounds by the efforts of Robert and James, became a central piece to our operations. There were sounds for all kinds of things. Whenever John came into the room, and I happened to be in my cupboard, I'd turn on a taped sound of the Star Trek transporter beam. I'd then step out of the cupboard and greet him with a “Hello, Earthling!”, which was about as spooky as I could make it with my all too human high squeak of a voice. When brushing my hair in the mornings, I'd put on the sound of a hair dryer at twice normal speed. That was one of the great things about those nifty CNIB players. You could change the playing speed, and, for a special thrill, you could play things backwards if you flipped the tape over and threw a switch into the right position. It was amazing how many totally innocent and beneficial things we managed to find devious uses for. A dog's bark became the growl of a pet space monster when played at slow speed. A children's book of fairy tales, played at slow speed and backwards, became my commander who would want to talk with me on occasion. One student at the school was fond of breaking windows for some reason. We recorded one of his destructive acts and played it at high speed, telling John that it was a garbage smasher. As unpatriotic as it was, I took the Canadian national anthem. Playing it backwards at an absurdly slow speed, I stood solemnly at attention for the whole thing. Well, as solemnly as was possible while trying desperately not to laugh. I told him it was my “interplanetary anthem”, and hoped that I was using both words properly. The anthem was my idea, so we didn't have the reassurance of having it sanctioned by Robert. I've paid dearly for that flash of wickedness. I've never been able to hear the national anthem without grinning at the very least.
It still amazes me how long we kept the prank going, despite numerous extremely close calls and tense moments. All of us realized that if the wrong people discovered what we were doing, punishment would be fairly severe. Being anything but perfect, we all made mistakes which might have, or even should have tipped off someone as crazy as John to the truth. I made all kinds of errors in my speeches and ravings like the ones presented above. The tapes we used for sounds were not always blanks, and sound effects would often be followed by bits of music or stories before someone thought of stopping the player. All good things, and even bad ones, must come to an end though. For us, things fell to pieces very suddenly and unexpectedly.
I had just transported into my room having finished sending my intergalactic report card for the day. I made a show of smacking my lips as if I had just been snacking on asteroids. (Lame? Extremely, but Robert couldn't think of any space foods, so we went with them because they sounded like something you'd pass around at parties. I think Robert knew that they were rocks, but I suspect he had as little of an idea of their potential size as I had.) Of course, being human, my mouth was empty and I had merely run back from classes. I had begun to habitually try and get to my room before John did in order to have some fun with this whole alien thing each day.
“Hello, foolish mortal!” Robert had just taught me those two words. I had no clue what they meant, but thought they sounded wonderfully sinister.

“Hi, Michaelalien!” John tended to join his words when even remotely nervous. “Is the vasion today? You don't have your braimelter on you, do yuh?” Unlike many other concepts we threw at him, this one had some staying power. For days, we had kept him terrified of having his brain melted.
“I have it right here!” How could I miss an opportunity like that? At this point, I pulled out the toy space-gun which was, to John if no one else, my brain-melter. “You know what happens when your brain gets melted, don't you?” I shook the space-gun at this point, so that it made a small click as if being loaded. The click had more of an effect on him than any words Robert or I could have cobbled up.
“Please don'melt my brain! Need it!” Yes, reader, the obvious question “What for?” did occur to me, but I couldn't think of a sufficiently witty way to put it to him so I grudgingly let it go. Instead, I launched into the tortured tale of the melted brain.
“You're thinking along, and suddenly, your brain gets really really hot! It gets all crispy around the edges. Then, it starts to bubble in the middle. And then, it all turns into this big slimy blob. And then, the blob falls down into the back of your throat, and you choke on it and die!” I ended this speech with the most wicked-sounding laugh I could muster.
John was at the ragged edge of what passed for his sanity. I knew this intuitively, even before he began to whimper a bit. I knew it, and even savoured it for the few seconds I had before all hell broke loose. Despite the fact that it would have been an act of betrayal towards my faithful comrades in arms, I was very sorely tempted to say something like: “Guess what, John? It's brain-melting time!”, and fire off the space-gun. that would doubtless have caused him an instant's worth of the purest terror to be found this side of Hell, but his brain not being melted, this impulsive act would have shattered the illusion beyond easy repair. I'd have to somehow acquire a different space gun. These were highly valued and carefully guarded items. What happened instead was infinitely worse.
“They're here!” the shriek of mock terror came in from the hallway. I had never heard the voice before, nor have I ever been able to figure out who
it was who wrecked our plans so thoroughly. The scream was immediately followed by the sounds of a fierce space battle from one of those read-along Star Wars tapes. Ships and laser blasts seemed to whiz down the length of the hallway past our room. Whoever decided to join our conspiracy had set up a pair of stereo speakers in excellent positions. Had it not been for the musical score that accompanied the furious exchange of fire, I might have been halfway convinced. John could have won a gold medal for high-jumping had he been able to leap as high as he did just then on a regular basis. I heard his head hit part of the ceiling of our room. I'm uncertain whether the part that he hit was lower than the rest of it, but regardless, it was still an incredibly high jump for little tykes like us. He then ran wildly out of the room at a pace which would have put the road-runner to shame. He was yelling: “They're here! They'll melt-our-brains! We're historeeee!” I don't know where he got hold of that word, but suspect it was either Robert or Henry, both western fans, who might have used it while threatening him with my supposedly awesome powers.
It took a moment for me to gather my somewhat scattered wits, but after that, I was right behind him all the way. Heedless of the doors he rammed open by sheer force of impact, he charged onward through the fortunately empty hallway. Except for Robert and Henry, we were all too young to carry canes at the time. It didn't matter that things had just gone to hell in a split second. For the brief moments while we were in the hall, I was able to laugh unreservedly at the results of our little conspiracy for the only time in my life. I laughed at the sheer cruel farce of it all, as I puffed along behind him. I thought of what an absolute lunatic he sounded like. I laughed at the relief I felt that my part was over at last. I laughed at how all our efforts were thrown off kilter by the only member of our audience that I ever learned about. Someone had appreciated the sheer insanity of what we were doing enough to want to partake in it himself! It was downright vindicating in a way. During this time, I had lost all track of time and space. I had absolutely no idea where we were going. This didn't really trouble me much until we actually got there. The principal's office isn't typically on a prankster's list of prime destinations you know. Nonetheless, there I stood. John marched in and let loose the last words I heard him speak that day:
“Ms. Smith! Ms. Smith! There's a vasion goin'on! Aliens! They'll melt-our-brains!”
In the two and a half years I attended that school, I don't think I ever heard Ms. Smith or any other staff member caught quite so thoroughly off-guard. She burst out into a cackle which made me feel like my hairs were standing on end. The next sound I heard was John thumping on the floor. I'm not certain whether he fainted, or passed out. I didn't run into him for the rest of that day. That was when I began to feel guilty for my actions. I knew the axe was about to fall, and I wasn't disappointed in this belief. I think it goes without saying that I told all. I didn't even think twice about giving her the names of my three partners in crime. Surprisingly enough, they never held it against me. Considering the heaps of trouble we all got into over our little caper, this was nothing short of miraculous. The punishment we were subjected to sunk the smiles off our faces like the iceberg sunk the Titanic. And yet, it didn't completely destroy the comic power of what we had done. All of us could still laugh at the whole thing, even at the worst of times. I guess one of the reasons why we could do this was that John didn't seem to be all that traumatized by it in the long run. After a fairly shaky couple of days, he was back to his usual gullible but fairly cheerful self. Nothing ever seemed to make a lasting impact on him. There were times when I almost envied him his innocence.
Two years ago, I met up with John at a lodge for blind people situated on Lake Joseph. He's still a cheerful and gullible fellow, and his marbles continue to illude him. I had to tell him what my name was at least half a dozen times during each of our conversations. I didn't take this personally. Despite a four-year relationship, his girlfriend had to do the very same thing. He didn't remember me at all, nor the cruel trick we had played on him.

Over the years, I've found that the “alien conspiracy”, as Robert ended up coining our enterprise, has left me a rather mixed legacy. As I grew older, kinder, and somewhat wiser, I've learned what a cruel thing it was to be a part of. Even though I'm certain now that we made no truly lasting impression on him, it doesn't lessen the guilt and shame. We took advantage of an innocent and entirely too gullible person. In contrast, I have also found that there was a lot more comedy to be enjoyed in the whole episode than we found in it at the time. The old reasons for my guilt-ridden mirth are still just as valid as ever they were. I'll never forget his shriek of absolute terror, and the way he ran screaming down the hallway. James was the most unlikely space hero imaginable. I was an absolutely pathetic excuse for an intergalactic villain. Despite this, it all worked out anyway. I laugh at all the hilarious slips we made, which never quite had the disastrous effect on our plans that we thought they would during one horrified instant after another. I laugh at our ingenuity, and at all the crazy, misguided notions we put into play. We all had such a stupendous sense of control. It's funny how one guy with a stereo managed to rob us of it completely and escape unknown and unscathed. He turned our prank into the stuff of legends, but kept his own obscurity. John himself seems not to remember it at all, but apparently, the story has been passed along. I've had several blind youngsters whom I had never met before come up to me and say: “You're not the Mike in the Alien Conspiracy, are you?” My affirmative answers to this are somewhat less full of pride and good cheer than they seem to expect. But then, the story they know has been twisted somewhat. They know the fun of it, but not the whole of it. To them, the “Alien Conspiracy” was the pinnacle of all pranks. I have no doubt that it has now fallen from its position of greatness, but am convinced that I'll meet people eager for the “whole story”, twenty years from now. I'll give it to them too, but they'll have to take the grit along with the glory.

The Absence of Sound

I lost my fear of death at a very young age. This life-long change of attitude is due to a bizarre set of circumstances. The first experience with the fear of imminent death which I can clearly remember took place one Sunday evening as I was heading into school on a bus carrying something like twenty of us students from our homes into school. On these long rides, I usually talked with another young fellow who I had befriended. However, he happened to be sick and uncommunicative on this trip. Being somewhat bored, I began to tease a whiny little kid on the bus a few rows back from me. He wasn't the brightest by a long shot, and I soon had him convinced that he wasn't going to get any dessert. None of the people I hung out with would have been dumb enough to fall for something so transparent. However, he was younger and didn't have a clear grasp of who had authority at school and who was just being a pretentious little snot. I had him thoroughly riled up and was enjoying this with a kind of wicked glee when a senior student who was right behind me intervened. He was annoyed with both of us and told me to be quiet for the rest of the trip or he'd cut my head off with a knife he had. Of course, I didn't immediately take him at his word about having a knife. I had already become somewhat sceptical of wild claims. However, this time, it was true! He produced a solid and seriously deadly knife which he took great care to let me feel safely. I felt the heavy and thick metal handle as well as a point along the side of the blade near the tip. That was enough to convince me. I didn't have to feel the sharp long blade to know it was genuine. He could actually do what he said he could. I was quiet as the grave I was afraid I'd soon occupy for the rest of the trip. How little might it take to annoy this guy to the point of action? Might I sneeze, cough, or simply move in a manner which provoked him to make that fatal cut? I could all to easily conceptualise what that knife would feel like stabbing into or sawing through my neck. There was little room for anything else in my mind for the rest of the journey. I don't think it was longer than half an hour, but it felt like forever. I must have looked quite distressed as I got off the bus at school. I remember a staff member asking me what was wrong and hearing the senior student getting yelled at as I went inside.

Months after this, I was trading scary stories with a new room-mate and friend who had recently appeared in school and added spice to life. I had freaked him out with the thought of all the dead germs which must have been killed in the school infermary. I figured they'd all have little vengeful ghosts which would haunt the place. In exchange, he introduced me to the concept of the bogeyman. He didn't have a very firm grasp of what this nasty figure was supposed to be like. However, he was gifted with an ability to talk in a deep creepy voice very different from his own normal voice. This eventually prompted me to experiment along similar lines and develop the talent for myself. At the time though, it added powerfully to the scare factor of his account of the Bogeyman and firmly intrenched the fear that he'd come up to my bed and kill me while I slept. He was a bit vague on the method employed to effect one's death though. I have a faint memory of something to do with twisting your limbs up into knots so you died in terrible pain while at the same time being strangled or at least having your mouth covered so you couldn't cry out. I had difficulty picturing somebody killing without the aid of a weapon though. That would have ended the bogeyman's terror for me had not some kid in class talked recently about an axe murderer. I could easily understand that mode of execution and therefore assumed that my new friend had gotten that part of the Bogeyman story mixed up and he actually used an axe. I had also felt my father's small hatchet used for splitting firewood. This lent a sense of tangible realism to it all.

Around a month later, I was lying in bed listening to a rather boisterous argument between two room-mates about another sleeper's snoring which had disturbed us all. Just how people snored was never decided upon by either debater. One tentatively theorised that a special snoring flap had been put in his nose which vibrated as air moved past it. He figured that it must have cost the noisy kid's family a lot of money to have the flap put in there. The other guy figured it had to be some sort of motor and hoped it would run out of power soon before we all got in deep trouble because of the noise. They were just getting really warmed up when a staff member came quickly into our room. Everyone who was awake was taken out into the hall. I knew trouble was in the offing, but I hadn't done anything wrong so I wasn't too worried. She asked the expected question, who among us had made all the noise. Neither debater was stupid enough to admit their guilt. I wasn't about to confess to something I hadn't done. After a moment, the staff member told all of us to pick a number between one and ten. This wasn't fair! I remember thinking how things shouldn't work like that as I chose my number. As it turned out, I picked the wrong one. The others were sent back to bed with a stern warning not to make any more noise. I was marched off to the quiet room.

I never figured out precisely where this dreaded room was. I'm reasonably certain it was attached to the east wing which held children who I had never met before. I think they may have been younger than I and my fellow west wingers were. The floor of the room was wooden. I distinctly remember hearing a hollow sound as I walked on it. I was shown where the bed was and told to get in it. It was only after the woman responsible for my fate left the room that I began to realize how utterly the quiet room lived up to its name.

Time seemed infinite as I lay there in that unfamiliar bed. I have no idea whether the room was intentionally designed to be quite as devoid of any background sound as it was. Unlike other rooms which opened into the hall directly, this one had a door that could close. I don't know if there were any windows, but air seemed to be fresh enough and moving. I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I lay as still as I could while listening for any sound at all and hearing absolutely nothing. I tried all the tricks I knew to force myself to go to sleep and not think of how grateful I'd be to have that snoring guy in here with me. He was a total idiot, but I wouldn't have given a tinker's cuss at that moment. Every move I made seemed to elicit other sinister moves around the room as I focussed on the reflected sound coming from its walls and corners. Once in a while, a move I made would cause a small creak on the floor which I figured had to be the Bogeyman moving around. The deep and creepy voice my friend had used to impersonate the bogeyman was fairly fresh in my mind and I began to think I heard it laughing or saying words I never quite cought from different places around me. I had no idea why he wanted to kill me or why he was waiting so long to do it. I feared going to sleep as my imagination started playing tricks on me and placing sounds in the room which weren't actually there. I remember feeling very hot but not daring to lift off the covers since they were the only flimsy barrior between me and the Bogeyman. I had enough sense to know they wouldn't stop the swing of an axe, but figured that if my friend was right about this painful twisting business, the covers might throw him off for an instant giving me a chance to disappear or something. Gradually, I became more and more utterly exhausted by the constant self-induced terror and fell asleep despite my best efforts not to.

I woke up to find myself sweaty, tired and strangely calm. It took a moment for the noise of kids getting up to register and to realize that these were the east wing kids. I got up as quickly as I safely could and began to head back toward the more familiar territory of the west wing. People were in the process of getting ready for the day as I came in and started doing the same.

As I put on my clothes, it finally struck me that I hadn't died during the night. The Bogeyman hadn't chopped my head off or twisted me up into a fatal knot. He could have done either without any difficulty and without being caught by anybody. I realized that all the vivid nightmares I had as I lay there in the quiet room were just that and that no sinister Bogeyman was coming to get me or anybody else for that matter. I didn't have to live in constant fear of dying, and I decided on the spot that I wouldn't be afraid of death ever again. Little kid's logic can just work like that sometimes. It was a decision made in an instant based on very dubious grounds, but I see now how far-reaching and important it has been in my life. While I certainly don't look forward to dying, I don't let the fear of it stop me from reaching out and taking advantage of the adventures life offers me. One terrifying night doesn't seem like such a heavy price to pay for a life-altering moment like I experienced that morning.

Camp Chaos

I've never been a big fan of camping trips. This is particularly the case when it comes to the kind of structured tightly controlled day camps that all too many kids find themselves stuck in. I do better when things aren't so structured, but I've never been known as any kind of out-doorsman. The trip I'm going to recount here happened when I was somewhere between twelve and fourteen as far as I can figure. I can't remember the exact year. It was a trip organized by the CNIB out to a place called Killbear Lake. The atmosphere was quite relaxed as this was supposed to be more of a vacation than anything else. I wouldn't have agreed to go otherwise.

It was quite a bus ride up there, but there were all kinds of interesting people to talk to. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but got the impression that most of the campers were itching to get there and start things going. Eventually, they got their wish. We took part in everything from setting up our tents to getting the camp fire ready to preparing food for the volunteers to cook for our evening meal. It was only a one-night two-day trip, so we did quite a lot during the first day. Swimming was excellent. I've never been fond of freezing cold water, but the weather was quite hot and the water was at least warm enough for me to enjoy myself. They arranged a buddy system for safety so that each blind person had a sighted buddy. This was the only real jarring element straight out of day camp. I felt betrayed somehow. Everything had gone great until they started that business. After around ten minutes in the water, just as I was finally getting truly comfortable in it, they completed the silly business and called "Buddies!" I always hated sitting there dripping while they made certain that everyone was out and getting hypothermia with their buddy. The sun was masked by a cloud just to add insult to injury and I was starting to have second thoughts about going back in by the time we were allowed to. Ultimately, it was worth it. We got into a splendid water fight and had heaps of fun. There was nobody there to put a stop to it or scold us for fooling around. There were no attempts to teach us all manner of swimming lessons. Unrestricted spluttering splashing warfare prevailed in full high and friendly spirit.

After drying off, we went on a long walk through the woods. My experience of such things had been marred by too many lecture-laiden strolls where well-meaning folks had tried to force us to appreciate nature by teaching us volumes of boring details. Resigned to my probable fate, I set out with everyone else into the trees. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no such agenda this time. People were silent for the first wile giving me a chance to get some thinking done without being interrupted. Slowly, I began to truly appreciate the woods for its sense of life and mystery. When conversation started, it was of the everyday variety. We all got to know a bit about what mattered to each other and what was happening in their lives. One boisterous blind camper impersonated a wild animal and actually succeed in scaring one of the sighted volunteers into bolting for his life. We killed ourselves laughing including the somewhat chagrinned volunteer who came back at a more leisurely pace.

All of us were a bit worn down by supper time. The burgers and dogs were excellent though. Helping clean up wasn't exactly fun but was accepted as fair enough. The volunteers got some things ready for our breakfast in the morning. They left out a large bag of brown sugar on one of the tables by the fire.

As the evening progressed, people congregated around the fire. Good conversation and good times were the order of the evening. Some of us were musically gifted and treated the rest of us to some nifty tunes. One guy brought a flute, a couple had recorders and there had to be two or three guitar's. I wasn't into music at all back then, but appreciated the craftsmanship and effort it took to create it. We traded antic dotes, discussed various aspects of our lives, told jokes, ate some roasted marshmallows, and enjoyed the heat. I'm pretty certain it was one of our volunteers, older and supposedly wiser than us young folks, who first got the idea of getting a handful of that sugar I told you about earlier and chucking it in the fire. This produced a surprisingly loud hiss and flash of bright light. A lot of us had light perception and took note of this. We all took turns throwing handful's into the fire until somebody started a heated conversation about Star Trek and distracted everyone including the volunteers from the sugar. Star Trek is one of the rare TV shows which is completely easy to follow for blind people. The captain's logs and well-written dialogue kept things from ever being too confused. Favorite episodes, characters, technologies and such were discussed in spirited fashion with the sighted people filling in many little details which weren't apparent to blind Trek fans. Meanwhile, one of our number snuck over to that sugar bag and lifted it quietly up from the table.

Explosions in space and whether they should have sound or not was what I remember arguing about when it happened. Since it was a show based on science, one of the sighted fans put forth that there shouldn't be any sounds at all during space battles. This thought horrified those of us without sight. What fun would all that space action be without the neat sounds in there? A bunch of people were rising to what I now suspect was bate to get a good bit of verbal pugilism going. Suddenly, there came what seemed almost like an explosion right there on Earth. Whoever the sneaky guy was had gone and thrown the whole bag of sugar in the fire. There was a kind of muffled wumph sound followed by a very loud hiss like a strange wave. I think everyone including the sighted volunteers were a bit stunned. I didn't immediately click into exactly what had happened, but instantly knew something was happening which was anything but ordinary to our fire. The heat and light hit first. A few seconds later, I knew exactly what had happened due to the smell. Those of us who had light perception were treated to an extremely bright sustained flash of light as the sugar went up in a kind of strange-smelling smoke. We were all a safe distance from the fire, but all of us felt an intense wave of searing heat. I can't ever recall experiencing anything remotely as bright and vibrant. I stood there absolutely exhilarated and full of wonder. Two ordinary every-day things had combined to produce something extraordinary. Had this been a day camp, all the fun would have stopped dead until the culprit confessed to his crime. Thank goodness it wasn't. Most of us, blind or not, were able to realize what had happened and everyone seemed to regard it as a cool thing to have experienced. I agree entirely with this. It's always dangerous playing with fire. However, it was neat to experience something like that with a slight element of danger to add to the rush. I and most of my contemporaries have led quite sheltered lives. I don't go out of my way to court danger, but appreciate it when rools are bent enough to allow for unusual sensory treats like that was.

After such an eventful long day, we were all quite tired. I didn't lead an especially active life, and was really feeling the effects of all the fresh air and exercise. With the added responsibility of keeping an eye on us, the volunteers were also very tired and somewhat out of patience. I was in a tent with two other blind campers and a sighted volunteer. We all settled down to sleep. I was so ready to drift off that I wasn't even bothered by the bugs. I was, however, bothered by one of the blind campers who shall remain nameless. He found himself having to go to the bathroom an hour after the volunteer had taken us all there. I was in no condition to help. Even if I wasn't exhausted, I didn't know my way around the site. The full-bladdered camper kept insisting that he had to go pee soon. Our volunteer was just too tired to rouse himself and come to his aid. I was getting more perturbed each time he repeated his plea for help. Finally, in pure exasperation, I said: "Go piss in a pop can already!" It was just one of those flippant throw-away ideas. I had no idea that a pop can was even handy. One was close to hand though and I was amazed despite my fatigue when I heard the needy camper pissing into it. With all the magical swiftness found in a Saturday cartoon, my flippant suggestion born of sarcastic frustration had turned into reality. He amazingly didn't spill any all over the tent or cause his nether regions any injury while doing this. However, one problem solved led to another. We now had a stinking can of piss to get rid of. Though not quite up to getting out of the tent and taking the offending vessel with him, our volunteer was willing to support more minimal efforts for dealing with the problem. The only solution I could think of was to throw it out the tent door.

Figuring it might be dangerous to just chuck it in any old direction, I prevailed on the volunteer to have a quick look out the door and find a safe direction to wing the can in. This didn't seem too taxing a problem for him as he didn't even have to sit up to accomplish his task. Relieved of his distress, the author of our misery agreed to move over and throw the can. The volunteer told him to throw it hard left. Sadly, this didn't end up being specific enough. I heard the can being thrown. Next, there came a soft impact followed by wet spattering sounds and a final chink as the can hit the ground and rolled away spilling its contents. The results were clear even before the volunteer informed us of them in a voice filled with disgust and unwitting culpability. "Oh shit! You hit the girls' tent!"

Nobody said anything after that. I lay awake for quite a while and think the others did as well. We were listening for shrieks of outraged loathing that seemed certain to follow our dastardly deed. However, the night's silence was unbroken. I slept despite my slightly troubled conscience as did we all.

A paul of dread hung over us as we rose the next morning. We were leaving earlier than the unfortunate ladies in the tent we unintentionally doused. They were still sleeping as we packed up and went off for breakfast. The food was good, but I couldn't get the thought of those poor women out of my head. The day was gloomy which further increased my unease. More than one kind of storm seemed about to arrive. I just hoped we were on the way home before either of them did. I almost got my wish. The volunteers disassembled and packed our group's tents quite quickly. We were getting ready to board the bus when we started hearing the ladies coming out of merciful slumber into what had to be an awful sudden state of disgusted alarm. "Yuck! Who threw piss on our tent? Those bastards!" Other exclamations were lost in the sound of the engine of our bus starting up. I wanted to walk up and apologize for my part in what had happened, but was at the same time relieved that I couldn't. It took quite a while before the shame faded and I was able to laugh at the incident. It seemed to fit so neatly at the end of the trip. I had learned a lot and enjoyed myself more than I would have ever thought possible camping. When other opportunities came up, I was far more ready to give them a chance than I would have been without my somewhat unusual experience of beyond day camp.

The Dreaded Exam

The day of doom is finally here.
With certainty, I realize my mounting fear!
The room is silent,
I can hear my heart beat!
It's strange to perspire,
Sitting still in a seat.
There is none of the usual banter and talk,
Just the constant ticking of the classroom clock.
I think of all I've done to prepare,
As the tension rises in the air,
The books I reviewed,
The notes I studied,
With countless paper-cuts,
The hands I bloodied!
Of that last, eternal, sleepless night,
Am I doing these questions right?
A Part of me is in need of a nap.
Hark! I hear a pencil snap!
The question is lurking on the page,
A monster, awaiting the foolhardy sage.
It concerns a matter which I will have forgot,
Amid the useless things, which I did not.
My attention is summoned by the unholy call,
Of the beckoning hands of time on the wall.
The final question awaits my reply.
Like a bug out of reach,
The answer taunts my mind's eye!
I've gone through too much,
And with reckless nonchalance,
I take up my pencil for a final response.
I write without passion, conviction, or finesse,
But my brain is so fuzzy that I couldn't care less.
It's all over now,
I've handed it in.
I sigh in relief, and even manage a grin.
I walk out the door,
And into the halls,
What did I achieve within those four walls?
damn and blast it!
I hope I passed it!
For enduring sheer boredom,
And immeasurable stress,
The least I deserve is academic success.
I'd give anything to laugh,
But can't seem to remember how.
My mind is too wasted for deep thinking right now.

Blind Faith

From early childhood, I was raised as an Anglican. No matter how much I didn't want to, my parents would make me attend church right up until my teenage years. As I became a teenager, I began to grow bored with attending church, and it seemed like less and less a respectable thing to believe in what the people in church seemed to stand for. The more I listened to the sermons, the more loopholes and falsehoods I found. My everyday experience seemed to fly in the face of everything I heard in church. Throw in how badly and unfairly Christians have Treated people of various other faiths, learning about incidents like the crusades and how the North American Indians were dealt with, and you end up not thinking so highly about this supposedly all-knowing all powerful all good being. What started out as simple boredom became a rebellion. Did there have to be a god for a moral life to make sense? It seemed more and more clear that this was not the case.

As the church proved an unstable foundation for me to base my ethics and approach to life on, I was fortunate to have the parents, friends, and fictional characters THAT I HAD to guide me. Strangely enough, I never realised until recently how full science fiction and fantasy were of values and philosophies in keeping with Christian values. If some of the Christians quick to criticise these genres of writing took the time to look into it, they would discover just how useful and meaningful these books, games and movies can be.

I've never been one for quick and simple fixes to complex issues. It took months of careful thinking, self-examination, and ethical arguments as to what I could base my moral stance on without a religious framework. While I was quite happy not to invest time into going to church, that didn't mean I was off the moral hook. Life couldn't simply be about self-satisfaction. There had to be more to it than that. I decided that we had to be responsible for our choices and that our conscience was our ultimate court of appeal. I have always had a very active conscience and had no worries about it letting me go too far astray. Because I had thought it all through so carefully, I was quite satisfied to leave things as they lay. I didn't need all the answers because I figured it was impossible to actually have them at any rate. How could you ultimately prove that either there was no God, or that any of the various religions were true? How could you truly know there was an afterlife worth worrying about until after you died and found out rather abruptly one way or the other? I did, however, need things I believed in to make sense. They had to stand up to argument and reason. I had to learn how to stand up for my beliefs which I thought of as about as liberal, level-headed and reasonable as you could get.

Although extremely diverse in terms of beliefs and backgrounds, Ontario is still a part of Canada which is heavily influenced by Christian values and thinking. Perhaps, it takes being an outsider to these beliefs to get a proper perspective on this. Many of the Christians I had met to that point as well as many I continue to meet have a sense that their values and beliefs are under constant attack by culture and society at large. Despite these beliefs having survived two milenia of change and upheaval, it's as if that next rock song, movie or other experience will destroy peoples’ faith instantly. Christians seemed to want to avoid everything which made life interesting. Worse still, they'd try and shelter their kids from it all. Did God really want people who believed in him to have their faith be so fragile? From the other side of the fence, ironically enough, I found it hard to feel comfortable in a supposedly seccular world. I found Christianity rearing its exclusive isolationist ugly head everywhere I turned. This was more strongly felt as Christmas or Easter approached, but you also saw it in the books we had to read in classes, all over TV shows, and in the news. I used to make serious efforts to have a whole day go by without hearing something somewhere which was at all influenced by or a part of Christianity. I was therefore often made to feel like an outsider or challenged to defend my schepticism for not believing as so many of my contemporaries did. This was made all the harder because I couldn't say definitively for absolutely certain that anybody's beliefs were necessarily wrong. I figured that most if not all religions had about an equal chance of being true. Picking a religion was somewhat like picking a card from a deck. Any of them seemed equally plausible. I didn’t understand then just how important free will was to God or what rammifications that had for the world. As they are central to my worldview, I’ll explain more about the answers God guided me to a little later.

I had met all the wrong Christians. During my teenage years and well into early adulthood, I came up against people who thought that the bible contained the literal answer to absolutely everything. They thought that everything in the universe was controlled by God's will, and there was no such thing as luck or random chance. I met one Christian who thought that the dinosaurs were fake and that aliens could not exist since God hadn't said they did anywhere in the bible. The assumption that all non-believers were doomed to burn in hell was commonly flung at me. There were a whole bunch of them who stood apart from everyone by shunning all movies, games, music, and other cultural areas of life which weren't specifically Christian. It was also pointed out that my blindness stopped me from seeing how obvious it was that Christianity was the right way of thinking. More than a few devout believers prayed earnestly to God to restore the sight that I never had nor particularly missed in order to prove his Existence to me. A whole lot of them assumed that I'd want my sight back, or should have it weather I wanted it or not. I would then, according to these light dependant folks, have indesputable evidence of the Existence of a creator. I never had much of a problem with the idea of a creator or creators in the first place. Looking at evolution, I couldn't see how certain complex organs and parts could develop from generation to generation. The ear or eye had to work right from the start. You couldn't have a partial eardrum or eye. Evolution is certainly occuring and probably has been for millions of years. I don't think Darwin was wrong about that. Because of its inherrent need to start at a point fairly far along before it could continue slowly on its own, evolution is more evidence supporting the idea of creation than against it. Unfortunately, it gives no hint at all as to which religion's take on creation is correct. I had many friends who were either a agnostic like myself or believers in all manner of other faiths. They were certainly not bad people by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, I had heard Christians treat them with a kind of undeserved suspicion or aloofness. Also, once they had given up trying to convert me, the Christians I met tended not to hang around. They'd just move on and find somebody else to be conditional friends with and/or throw verbal fire and brimstone at. How could I believe in a god who seemed to demand such idiocy from is followers?

I still wouldn't believe in him had it not been for a number of different Christians I had encountered. In my years in secondary school, I found the odd Christian who didn't fit the isolationist mold I had come to expect. They didn't mind admitting that the crusades were a terrible error and not at all in keeping with Christian values. They freely associated with others who believed differently without treating them with any less respect than they treated each other. These, however, were so few and far between that I rather suspected they were the exception to the rule of what being Christian was all about. They were also disproportionately cheerful no matter what happened to them. This was even the case on Mondays. I found that to be particularly erksome.

During my first year at university, I had a run-in with the Church of Christ. These people were generally regarded as a kind of fundamental Christian cult. I'm not certain I got far enough into their view on things to agree or disagree with this. They were pretty much uniformly honest people. You could probably leave ten thousand dollars in a wallet and get it all back from them without any worries at all. A number of them were oriental, and I found that I could help them with English and writing. This was a very important element of our relationship. University opened up a whole new world for me where I could truly fit in and truly make a positive difference for people. The one lasting thing they did which slightly tipped things in favour of my eventually finding God was prove to me that there was more likely a creator than not. Things made a whole lot more sense with a universal creator than if everything was just pure chance. However, they failed miserably when it came to thinking through what they believed. A primary example of this was about women and their place in the world relative to men. The women in the Church of Christ were quite happy with their status and comfortable with men being in charge. I have always been a strong advocate for people to be judged on an individual basis and that everyone should be given equal opportunity as much as possible. The whole thing about women not being given the same opportunities in religious matters never has made sense to me. I asked a lot of people about this and got an example in the old testament having to do with how much less women were worth economically than men. The only other answer I got was that it was God's business and that I shouldn't question such things. As always with me, “because” just doesn't cut it even if God says it. Even he has to do better than that if he wants me to go along with something. My persistent inquisitiveness shook people up and I decided fairly quickly to leave the whole religion question behind me for the second time.

The thoughtful and kind Christians I encountered would not in themselves have been enough to get me to bother giving the bible a good second look. Rebecca, who is now my ex-wife, fell in love with me despite the fact that I wasn't a Christian at the time. She accepted me for exactly who I was. Certainly, she was troubled by my non-belief. Also, I doubt she would have married me had I not been able to believe in Christianity. This is especially true since many of her Christian friends would constantly badger her with my non-belief. Because she was willing, despite all this, to look beyond my disbelief and fall in love with me as I was, I finally decided to give the bible a good looking through for the answers to the main objections to Christianity that I had. Christians of this more isolationist stripe who seek to keep barriers up between themselves and nonbelievers would do well to remember how Jesus spent his days with those who sinned and did not believe. That statement in the bible about not being unequally yolked which goes on to compare the unfaithful to demons came within a hair's bredth of costing God my respect, belief and worship. It also Helpped that prior to this crisis point, Rebecca had gotten me to listen to some of Ravi Zacharias's material. Here at last was a Christian intelectual who I could respect. He took the time to understand other philosophical positions and religions than his own and gave them and non-believers their due credit. He didn't shy away from tough questions for Christianity, but did his utmost to find answers to them. I disagreed with a number of things he said as an agnostic and still disagree with some of his contentions. However, I'm eternally indebted to him for proving to me beyond a doubt that becoming a believer in God doesn't require you to leave your brain behind.

Things eventualy came to a head regarding my non-belief and I at last felt I had to give the bible a chance to show me enough answers for me to believe in God and his son. I spent an entire Saturday night looking at the bible to see if it would reveal to me the answers to my deepest objections to Christianity as I saw it then. My future relationship with Rebecca hinged on discovering some pretty deep truths about what God wanted versus what it appeared he wanted based on how his followers portrayed it. Being a science fiction fan, I started with Luke thinking of the hero in Star Wars. By reading Luke, I got a far different sense of Jesus than I had previously. He had a great deal of sympathy for people who did not believe. He also said he wasn't here to judge the world but to save it. Even to the person who betrayed him, he still showed compassion. He exerted Christians to respect and love unbelievers. He also said that Christians were to be active in the world and not shelter ourselves from it. He did not expect perfection or that we should live monkish austere lives. As I continued reading, I found answers to even more of my major objections. I was pulled into this book in a way I never would have thought possible. What started as a slightly hopeful search became an exillarating euphoric rush of discovery as I began to piece God’s truth together. It truly was possible to be a believer and live a modern life. I didn’t have to walk away from everything I cherrished. In fact, he wanted quite the opposite of that. He made me realise more fully than ever before that I had a responsibility to share my gifts and observations. My inate need to help people and feel useful wasn’t ever going to be wasted. He would see to that.

One key issue I had to contend with was random chance. Many of the Christians I had encountered were of the opinion that God exercised absolutely firm control over everything with a capital E. I couldn't believe that a kind and loving God would script out absolutely everything for people offering only a binary choice to either follow his plan or reject him. Life just didn't seem to work in such simple terms. Also, being into computer games certainly offered me ample proof that randomness existed in the universe. Did God really care if a coin came up heads or tails or that a number between one and a hundred turned out to be forty-four? Was there a certain brand of chocolate bar that God particularly endorsed? Did he see to it that, for instance, seven million three hundred and twenty-five thousand seven hundred and fifty-five people chose to purchase Mars Bars on a given day to keep the company producing these excellent treets profitable? Did he further predispose me to enjoy Mars Bars highly enough so that I would come to use them while illustrating a point? Would this seemingly trivial choice of mine come to have enough positive influence on the consumption of Mars Bars thereby making me partly responsible for propelling the company to world-wide domination of the chocolate bar industry? Finally, in one of those artificial Shakesperian twists, Will I indirectly prevent a better chocolate bar from withstanding the competition and stop being produced just after I discovered that its taste was more to my liking than Mars Bars? I couldn't become a believer if being a Christian necessitated a belief that absolutely everything in history down to trivial choices made by people was predetermined. Although a somewhat flippant example, many bible parables and stories can strike non-believers with the same note of being too crafted in order to teach a lesson and not exemplary of how life normally works. You have that feeling of being spoon-fed morality.

If I had a problem with God predetermining trivial choices, I had an even larger one with him exercising precise control over issues of life and death. I couldn't love a god who singled out exactly who would die as a result of the Titanic sinking. Many a sermon has been written about that incident preaching humility in the face of nature and the danger of pride in our technology. Contrary to popular belief, the ship was never advertised as being unsinkable. Not everyone who died had committed sins of greed, arrogance, pride, etc, which would especially arouse God's uniform displeasure against the lot of them. Many of those who lived were wealthy and had enjoyed life's pleasures despite having doubtless treeting servents or other people unfarely to achieve their wealth. The less wealthy people trapped below decks were merely trying to reach America in hopes of leading better lives. Did God just say: "Right then. The world needs a dose of humility so all of you have to forfeit your lives and become statistics. I'll just see to it that those in command of this luxury liner make the choices and show the laxness they need to so the iceburg does its work." I think not. Furthermore, I don't believe God predetermines exactly who lives and dies in battles by seeing to it that every bullet, shell fragment, missile and falling chunk of building goes exactly to this or that given point to cause this or that death or injury. God doesn't say: "You deserve a broken leg for choosing that apartment block to live in three years before this conflict began so I'll just nudge this bomb to the left a bit and... there we are. That'll test your mother and father's faith in me." He doesn't cause people to move into areas where earthquakes or other natural disasters will then happen. I'll clarify here and say that I don't believe God actively controls these things. He is merely sovereign over them and capable of controlling everything if he wishes.

Instead of the instant-by-instant macro and micromanagement of the entire universe, I believe God exercises control over these things mainly by the laws of physics and probability he has woven into the fabric of creation. Chance absolutely plays a part in life and it’s actually easier to believe in Christianity once you come to terms with that. This is similar in principle to how a government or monarchy operates. The rulers wouldn't want to be bothered controlling the actions of every single person under their rule. Therefore, in most circumstances, people are left to operate on their own within certain laws set down by the rulers. In special circumstances, these rulers can exercise more direct control. People aren’t born and raised specifically to be experts in given areas. They are free to find out what interests them. When a
ruler needs particular expertise, he or she can order experts to put aside their work to serve the greater need of the moment. To give us all the free will which the bible indicates clearly that we have introduces a staggering amount of randomness into how history unfolds right from the word go. Having everything except our individual choices predetermined makes no sense either. Just as teachers can be far more effective when they are given the ability to adjust their lessons acording to the prior experience and demonstrated capabilities of their students, so God can better allow all of us the chance to reach our highest potential if he too can revise his script as it unfolds. Life's misfortunes are far more understandable and forgiveable in the light of God's presence if you accept the fact of randomness. When people you care about suffer through no fault of their own, it's a whole lot easier to believe in God when nothing happens to rectify the situation if chance is accepted as a matter of corse. Some people will simply be less rewarded in life than others. It’s not fare and it isn’t all God’s fault. A whole lot of it is plainly our fault for not coming up with societies which use resources better.

I'm not for a second letting God off the moral hook here. He made the laws of physics, probability and human frailty the way he did having the undesputed ability to make things different. Further, he can do anything and knows everything instantaneously. However, God must act while preserving our free will. This gift of true freedom to accept or reject God comes with a tremendous price tag not often considered. This price is paid both by ourselves and by God. I told you we’d be going into the whole free will thing. For there to be a meaningful choice, there must be one or more actual credible alternatives to choose among. What happens when corrupt governments go through the pretence of having a vote? We've seen the answer often enough in recent times. If the opposition to that government is bullied, threatened, etc, or if the voters are pressured into voting for the regime in power, there is well-deserved anger since no true choice ever really existed. For centuries, many people thought the world was flat. Good and faithful people were pressured by the church not to teach anything different even after evidence mounted that the Earth was neither flat nor the centre of the universe. Once the first spacecraft went up and the Earth was seen and photographed from space, it was impossible to deny the earth's roundness any longer. Any text books or other documents proclaiming the world to be flat were instantly and conclusively proved false. The Earth might feel flat do those walking upon its serfice, but our other senses as well as our reason clearly show us that it isn't. It’s natural at times to wish that such ultimate undeniable proof would emerge to prove that God exists. It would certainly settle some long-standing arguments once and for all. God simply can't let that happen to him if he wants all of us to genuinely have free will about whether to follow his ways or not. There can be no coersion and must always be room for other alternatives. Otherwise, what good is having free will? What if God, being all good, all knowing and all powerful chose to act as we often wish he would to stop all suffering instantly? It would truly be spectacular. Cars about to collide would be instantly placed in safe positions. Aircraft about to crash would miraculously land safely despite this being physically impossible. People would be whisked away from areas where dangerous events unfolded. Criminals would be universally unable to commit crimes of any sort simply due to God's presence and constant interfereance. People with good intentions would be unable to make decisions which accidentally inflicted suffering on others. How far would this extend? Would people of vastly different and contrary views be unable to offend each other? Would kids be forceably prevented from calling each other hurtful names? You see the problem here. Where would God draw the line? Would we even be allowed to move or would God simply maintain all of us in isolated stasis to prevent us doing even the slightest harm to each other?

Many computer games serve to illustrate this and show why God chose to do things as he has. Take a game like Warcraft. This is what is known as a realtime strategy game where players must build structures which in turn can be used to create and support armies of humans who must defeat opposing armies and destroy their support structures. In the game, the player can send his or her units around and build a castle even while battle is occuring. The player doesn't have to sit there and try to control every tiny detail including exactly when each of hundreds of units choose to attack or run for cover. The computer has given each unit a degree of artificial intelligence so they won't just sit there getting cut to pieces without defending themselves. Without this artificial intelligence, the game would be tedious and extremely taxing to play. God doesn't have to actively control everything in order to be soverign over all. Instead, he has set up rools which give boundaries to what is possible in normal circumstances. He relies upon us as a species as well as particularly we who worship him to make good choices. He does this despite our seemingly endless capacity to botch things badly. He takes our rights under his sovereign roll seriously even to the point where his inaction causes or allows suffering. It's up to us to keep our playground clean and safe. God is then free to apply a smaller degree of influence when and where he chooses while still leaving that all-important choice not to believe in him. He can fudge the odds in his and our favour without conclusively tipping his hand. That gives him unbelievable overall subtle power at the cost of directly intervening in everyday circumstances everywhere.

The book of Matthew Helpped both with how to think of unbelievers as well as with the thoughts I outlined above. One of the key moments for me was when I read Mathew 5:45. How often quoted is that verse which says rain falls on the just and unjust alike? To me, That verse deserved a lot more than just a passing over. It is a clear indication that random events are allowed and that all is not pre-destined to occur. There will ultimately be a final judgement, but I believe that will occur in the very far future when the universe comes to an end. This sense many Christians have of a final end to everything right around the corner has always struck me as ridiculous. God will likely wait until the very last person's prediction of when the end of the world has been proved wrong and then say something like: “Hah! Fooled you all!” Yes! I believe God does have a sense of humour. I believe Jesus enjoyed himself at the parties he attended and that he knew when to kick back and laugh. He gives God the human touch which makes everything about this often perverse existance full of chance and change seem fair. I am comforted amid life's uncertainty knowing that he's always ready to advocate for me with God. I'm the first to admit my imperfections. There are countless times when I've given into temptation or done the less than ideal thing with the opportunities life had given me. We all fall short of the mark. Jesus is God's way of acknowledging that he made us imperfect and he doesn't require us to be perfect despite this. Because of Jesus, it's alright to be human. I certainly haven't found all the answers yet. I don't think any of us ever will. We're all ultimately on our own individual journeys towards the same place that we won't reach in our lifetimes and can't reach without divine help. However, as a lot of fantasy and science fiction illustrates, it's not the destination that's important. The journey, how we conduct ourselves and what we learn while we travel are what really counts. God saw fit to show me the answers I needed to see how it was possible to believe in himself, his son, and the holy spirit and not have this make it impossible to lead a modern life. By this, I mean a life which properly takes into account cultural, social and scientific progress. Much of what pushed me away from Christianity was how little most Christians I had encountered seemed to do this. If it wasn't directly approved in the bible, it was bad. Everything from music to video games to movies to books about the darker aspects of life were despised without bother of examination as the devil's tools. Fortunately, over the past while, I've met plenty of Christians who seem to have a better grip on things and who add a dash of realism and openness to their religion. Instead of pouncing on things as evil, they try to find the good in them. One of the things that I believe God has called on me to do is to find and use the better aspects of things in our modern culture which are not always ideal at first glance particularly from a Christian purspective. I can personally testify to how much more effective it can be to use something familiar to non-believers to illustrate a point or aspect of Christianity. It can also act to reashure them that deciding to accept Jesus as their savior doesn't mean rejecting the things or people in the world which they have cherrished.

After over five years of being a believer, I can certainly notice how my relatively new faith has changed me for the better. I've gotten a kind of stability and happiness that I never would have thought possible before. I'm even more at peace with myself and the universe than I was as a fairly contented agnostic on good terms with my conscience. There are still things I struggle with as a believer. By far, the largest issue for me is the thought of all the wonderful people who aren't Christians ultimately ending up in Hell simply due to their disbelief in God and Jesus. For now, I have found a degree of contentment with Jesus's position that we should love and respect those who do not believe. They, he said, were reeping their reward in this life rather than in eternal life. There's also the question of what Hell ultimately turns out to be. I've come across some discussion about this which suggests that Hell may not be the place of active torment and fire that it has been depicted as. Rather, it may simply be a place or state of being that is the complete absence of God. I would find something like that a little easier to deal with than thinking of non-believers who lead good and honourable lives thrust into a place of eternal torture. That's something I think Christianity will have to change its tune on eventually. The thought that we were not supposed to judge people since we couldn't know whether a given non-believer would ultimately believe in Christ before he/she came to an end is very helpful in showing how Christians ought to treet people of different faiths. One Christian anxious to win me over had used the analogy of God buying a house for me but insisting that I believe in him if I chose to live in it. That simplistic analogy has a number of Flaws. There's an awefully big difference between not providing a house for somebody who doesn't believe in you and throwing that person into a torture pit. At least out on the street, the non-believer has a chance of finding his/her own place to stay and isn't typically subjected to torment while there wandering around. Perhaps, I’ll find a better answer to this later in life. For now, all I can have faith in is that it will all ultimately make sense. God knows I couldn’t be content enjoying eternal life in comfort knowing that other equally deserving people weren’t. I trust he’s taken that proprerly into account before creating me. Eventually, after the drama of time has played itself out and history comes to an end, we’ll be able to read the bible and say “ah! So that what you meant!” and “It all makes sense now. I never would have thought how it all comes together so neatly.”

There are all kinds of major issues lurking out there which I'm convinced will give conservative Christianity some much-needed kicks in the head. For example, look at the likelyhood of extraterrestrials. With even the known universe being so incredibly large, it's absolutely the hight of arrogant stupidity to assume that we're the only intelligent life out there. If and when we either find indesputable evidence of other intelligence and/or are contacted directly by them, I know many people who won't be able to handle that. Their faith is too rigid and brittal. I, for one, will be even more impressed by our creator. Of course there are going to be a number of very hard questions to tackle from a religious purspective. How do other sentient beings fit into God's plan? I have enough faith to assume that the answers to all such questions are in the bible somewhere if we can figure out how to decode them. I think Jesus has given us trial runs at this as Christians met the Muslims of the middle east and the natives of the Americas among many other different cultures. We've shown a disturbing propencity to collectively do precisely what Jesus would wish we hadn't done in his name in such circumstances to the point where I fervently hope people of other faiths are at least able to counteract what is likely to be a bad knee-jerk reaction by conservative Christians who can't deal well with any sort of drastic change.

Strong faith needed to tackle life in today's and tomorrow's world doesn't grow in an environment devoid of all challenges to it. I have no patience for parents who shelter their children from the rest of society. Christians exposed to the films, games, music, different philosophies and diverse peoples they must share this world with will be far less likely to ultimately reject God's message. The Christians who eventually convinced me to believe in Jesus are the sort who can use the imperfect tools around them to teach valueable Christian lessons which don't wreak of being artificially set up. A faith which can thrive amid challenge rather than shy away from it is what more authentically exemplifies the God and Jesus I have come to believe in.

Having seen both sides of the fence, I'm glad I made the choice to become a Christian despite the moral challenges I'm in for. However, I'm also glad I had the experiences outside of the Christian world view. They have given me a strong determination not to get carried away with religion and become somebody I would have been repelled by as an agnostic. I'll always look for the good in things and people instead of the bad which many Christians seem to spot in the most inane things. I'll still enjoy the things I've always enjoyed. As an agnostic, I was constantly told to read the bible and find my answers there. While this ultimately turned out to be excellent advice, it will never seem like that to an unbeliever unless it is given by a Christian who first shows the recipiant that it is possible to believe without walking away from everything and everyone he/she has known. I hope that people see my Christianity inviewed in my approach to life. Whether they ultimately become Christians themselves is up to God as well as their own hearts. I'll respect them just the same either way. They won't find me to be a conditional friend. I have two people who I consider my best friends. I knew Stephen since grade school and Adam since early secondary school. Stephen was raised Christian but has drifted away from firm belief. Adam is Jewish and was Best Man at my wedding. Despite constant efforts to change the situation, I have yet to find a Christian friend who has shown as much desire to spend time together, loyalty and willingness to just be friends with no strings like group activities attached as I've experienced from these two good people. I met Wendy while obtaining my university degree. She's been an excellent friend since those days and her husband Mark has also become a very good friend. Again, this couple is not a Christian one despite knowing about Christianity and despite Mark having gone to a Catholic school. If that isn't a well-deserved indictment of and warning to other Christians to live up to Christ's example and start living with other people rather than judging them from a distance, I don't know what is. Of course, I hope they eventually share the peace of mind and happiness that I've enjoyed. However, I won't constantly needle them about it. They can make up their own minds free from that. As one who has benefited greatly from having true friends, the least I can do to glorify God is be one myself to as many people as possible. That, I now believe, is my spiritual calling.

A Pawn of Fear


As a blind person, I have often been asked what the dreams of blind people are like. My first task as a responsible representative of blind people is to point out that I can't speak for all of them, or indeed any of them other than myself. The myth that blind people perceive things in the same way as each other seems to be as prevalent as ever. In my experience, all people perceive things differently from each other. Given this, the best way I know how to answer this question is to describe my own dreams. I frequently have dreams that I can remember. They have inspired a lot of my writing. Over the years, most of the bad ones have been left behind. I often had narrated nightmares as a child. I suspect that this was partially due to those read-along books I used to listen to which had a narrator reading a scene in a story durring or just before hearing an audio recreation of the scene. It was not only frightning but also somewhat embarrassing. The narrator would say something like: "Suddenly, Mike was grabbed from behind by a vicious roaring monster!" Despite this warning as well as a musical indicator that something wicked my way came, I would still invariably be scared witless when the event happened.

While attending a creative writing class at university, I was asked once again what blind people's dreams are like. On the spot, I decided to write about the only nightmare which still plagues me from time to time. There was no particular malice in this decision. I got along well with everyone in that class, and regard it as the best experience I had in university. I just felt that it had been entirely too long since I'd done anything the least bit dastardly. I was rewarded for my wickedness. Ever since I took the time to write what you're about to read, the nightmare has lost a good deal of its power to terrify me. I can't recommend this process I accidentally found for dealing with nightmares highly enough. Take the time to write as much as you can about your nightmare and its various elements. Think about all five senses if you're fortunate enough to have them. Think about every event, every feature of surroundings, every word spoken or thought which you can remember having during the dream upon waking. I don't know if taking my extensive notes and turning them into a traditional narrative helped or not, but I know it didn't hurt. After you've written it all down without taking any shortcuts, leave it until the next day and read it over. Despite this process, I still find my nightmare somewhat unsettling. You shouldn't expect never to have the nightmare again. However, it's far easier to face when it reoccurs after you've thought through it while awake. Be warned that it is of a very dark and morbid nature. I wouldn't recommend it at all for youngsters.
The path up to the north building is devoid of travellers. I walk along through a kind of windy mist which billows around me. There is no sunshine, even though my watch says it's around three in the afternoon. No birds are around. All that can be heard is the wind blowing through the trees, and a haunting but fortifying music like the stuff at the start of Silence of the Lambs. the main feature of it is a massive clock's bell chiming on every fourth beat. I arrive at the door, and it screams like a lady as I open it. A clap of thunder ends the music as I go through the door. Walking down the halls of the north building, I can't help but notice how empty they are. I know that everyone has an excellent excuse for not being around. They're all dead for some reason. I've got to see the invisible professor. Never mind that I'm totally blind, and he's totally invisible. I know I'll be able to see him anyhow. This strikes me as frighteningly absurd for some reason.
The walls suddenly seem sinister, and the doorways in them are mouths ready to swallow me whole. Which is the right door? I stop at one and feel the raised letters on the upper portion of the door. Shouldn't they be numbers? Maybe I don't want to read this. I try to pull my hand away, but it's far too late. My hand moves across the letters, which spell out: “Sadistics: Professor blood money presiding.” I don't want to go in, but I'm curious at the same time. I open the door and step into the room.
“Now then, class, this is Mr. Hobbes. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, and couldn't care less about his psychotic tendencies. He was trapped into going here, you see?” As the professor speaks, Hobbes comes into focus. The first impression I get is one of absolute stress, of wanting to do something else! I had to study these books! There was just no escape for Hobbes, or me as him. I am Hobbes, but I'm also still me at the same time. Parents are nagging at me constantly. I know they're not mine. My parents expect me to do my best, but leave it up to me to figure out what I want to do with life. Not so for Hobbes. I feel the sickening stress building up. The monumental force of parental expectation rips me away from my nature. Something has to give, and it does. “Hobbes eventually went mad. He killed his parents with the scalpel they bought him for his seventeenth birthday.” I am Hobbes as he slices viciously at his parents. I'm the mother, absolutely terrified as her life bleeds out of her under her son's all too skilful hand. I'm the enraged father, chest torn to shreds, clinging to life with a sinking desperation. The master bedroom is full of bloody trails. They flow under the doorway and out along the hall floor.
Suddenly, I'm a little kid in another room. I hear a scream, and know something's terribly wrong. I know more than the kid does, but he suspects everything as he gets up and creeps slowly down the hall. It's too dark! Which way to turn? I feel the kid's sense of fear and confusion, and part of me hopes that he'll go the wrong way. Part of me wants to scream: “Don't look! Run for your life!” I know for a fact that he's about to die, and there's nothing I can do but go along for the ride.
“Follow the red bloody trail! Follow the red bloody trail! Follow it right to the end of two lives, and learn every gory detail!” The words fill my hearing, sung hauntingly off-key by a church choir to that tune from the Wizard of Oz. And of course, he does. A sign on the door reads: “Innocence has a price!” It's written in Braille characters formed from severed finger-tips. I don't have to feel it. The kid is too stupid to understand it, but I know what it says anyhow. Stepping into the room, the kid and I grasp it all in a shocking instant. Neatly dissected body parts are scattered at random all over the floor. Hobbes stands in the middle of the room, licking his lips in a disturbingly casual fashion. I feel the kid's mind freeze in horror. The little wisdom he has collected in his six years of life is blasted out of him by dread. Unfortunately, mine is still all too intact. I know too much! The kid stands there in absolute shock. Bits of questions barely begin to frame themselves in his stricken mind. His big brother turns to him, bloody scalpel behind his back.
“Hey, Jake! I got something to show you. Wanna see?” Why did Hobbes have to tell me the kid's name? It's bad enough that a little kid has to die! I didn't want to know his name! I don't want to know about his life at all! Of course, a biography of innocent little Jake appears in my hands. I'm forced to read it, despite its uniform dullness. Jake never got in any trouble at school. He was always nice to everyone, always sharing, and always caring. I resent him for leading such a boring life. He deserves to die for making me read that! The thought horrifies me with its intensity and lack of flippancy. My mind is unforgiving on the whole, but concedes that at least it was only one small volume in Braille.
I feel Hobbes's hatred for Jake mounting to an unbelievable level. He gets away with everything, but doesn't even know how lucky he is! Well, not any more! Innocently, just to get his attention off of his dead parents, Jake looks at the bloody scalpel as it quickly penetrates his eyeball and twists inside his skull. I feel Jake's sudden pain, and then nothingness as his intellect is cut and pulled to pieces by the scalpel. But how did Hobbes himself die? Hobbes has been little more than a concept until this point, but suddenly, he becomes physically present. I feel him jump from a bridge, and land in a river. The water is deathly cold. His many layers of clothing weigh him down, and pull him under very quickly. I feel the water filling my lungs, and the life slowly draining away, unwanted. My perspective now shifts back to the class, and I suddenly realize that all of the students are accidental or intentional suicides. All of them have their own horrific and twisted tales to tell, and I know their stories. The sudden feeling of being surrounded by a veritable ocean of death dissolves into individual stories like a chunk of ice falling to pieces. The first-year student who thought a drink was the perfect cure for stress comes into my awareness, his future nicely preserved inside a brain pickled in alcohol. Sitting next to him is a physics student. He was thinking too hard about the laws of motion as he crossed the busy street where a truck slammed into him. The words: “For every anguish, there is an equal and opposite reanguish!” appear in blood on the black-board. I sense the fatal moment happening. The truck collides with him, and I feel his ribs cave in and gouge his heart to pieces. The corpse lands on a sidewalk, and an old man standing nearby says: “These young whipper-snappers! They sure don't build ‘em like they use to.” The scene peels away from my reality like a layer of dust wiped from a window. I'm back in the room again, ready for more tragedy. I get plenty of it before I am able to continue on my way. I ponder how inconsiderate the dead are being, forcing me to re-live their tragedies. It's as if I don't have an invisible professor to see despite the impossibility of my doing so.
I arrive at the right room. I don't know how I can be certain of this, as there is no raised print on the door. I enter, and there sits the invisible professor, in all his non-splendour. I can see him clearly. This is a fact. I know it is because it's written in a book lying open on the professor's desk. Despite this, I only know two things about the appearance of the learned man before me. First, he is sitting hunched over his desk. Second, he wears his hair in two triangles, like vertical wings sticking up from the top of the back of his head. On his desk is an odd machine whose myriad buttons are scattered haphazardly over its surface. There is a strange old clock on the wall. Its face has words like hunger, pain, thirst, terror, and death, written in place of numbers. The hands are skeletal. The clock says it's now hunger past suffering.
Despite his lack of physical charm, the professor is not alone. A couple in the corner are casually copulating. This strikes me as extremely indecent, but I decide to be polite and ignore it. I begin to discuss my problem with the professor, when my attention is caught by a sudden clink on the floor near my feet. A student who got an F from the invisible professor is busily building a pipe-bomb, and has absent-mindedly flung his screwdriver my way. Out of courtesy, I pick it up and fling it back at him. I aim for his hand, throwing it handle first. Suddenly, the screwdriver is equipped with wings and jet engines. It turns around, accelerates and slides into his left ear with incredible force. It goes into his head all the way to the handle. “Thanks, man”, He says warmly as he pulls it out of the side of his head. I shrug and turn back to the invisible professor, but can still hear the blood and cerebral fluid drip from his ruptured eardrum.
The professor turns on a machine to demonstrate something to me, but it starts to act strangely. “Oh dear!” The professor exclaims as I feel the Braille display he has attached for my benefit. “City traffic lights are now malfunctioning. Casualty count commencing.” Chaos reigns on a grid work of streets which suddenly surround me. All manner of vehicles start smashing into each other. Metal crunches, bodies are hurled through broken wind-shields, and people are carved to ribbons in their seats by flying glass. I feel their injuries occurring as if they were happening to me, although I know they aren't. I'm absolutely helpless to do anything to stop it. I can't save anybody from the chaos consuming them. “ Dread alert! Dread alert!” the machine intones. No shit, Hemlock! I think dryly, but this switch of my favourite detective's first name with that famously deadly poison jolts me out of my paralysis. Inspiration hits me! “What was that for?” I yell as blood drips down my stricken face. I receive only a mocking disembodied laugh for an answer. I reach over and press a button on the professor's machine. A spark ignites the collected puddles of gas on the streets, and all is washed away in a sheet of flame. This includes several thousand people who would have survived otherwise. As I shamefully withdraw my hand, Kevin's voice from those old cookie commercials says his trademark: “Heh-heh! Oops!”

I quickly reach over and hit another button. “Showers now spraying sulphuric acid.” The display reads. Oh damn! I didn't want that to happen! I am paralysed, and must listen to the screams of dying family members. Head and Shoulders, step aside! The cruel pun springs unbidden to mind in the voice of a commercial announcer. The whole trouble is that they can't move aside, and are the first body parts to be melted by the deadly spray. The clock centres itself into the foreground again to tell me that it's now a quarrel of hopelessness.
While all this is happening, the couple in the corner start to argue. It seems the man had AIDS, and the woman is understandably pissed off at having just forfeited most of her life. She wants to kill him, even though the Red Cross was responsible for his acquiring the disease. I feel her rage increasing, even as her essence drains away due to the accelerated effects of the virus. Her hatred becomes a propulsive force of flames beneath her, catapulting her upwards toward the ceiling of the class. She carries an impossibly large safe in her arms, ready to hurl it down at him as if dropping it wouldn't give it nearly enough momentum. I know it contains her future, now locked beyond all reach. The hundred or so combination locks on the front of the safe tell me that she has no hope left. All she has is her fury. The man stands under his former lover, still figuring through some crazed sense of hope that he can prove his innocence to himself and to her. Part of me analyzes the case as if I were a court judge. The man is only partially innocent. He didn't deserve to have AIDS, but really ought to have told the woman before having sex with her. Because he was desperate for love, he fails to notice his error, and pleads insanity due to love deprivation and an agency beyond his control. She's long past the listening stage, although I'm left wondering why she's bothering to lug that safe up there when the other guy's almost finished with his bomb anyhow. The plutonium in it really ought to be enough to kill us all.
A desk stands near the sobbing victim of chance. If he'd just go under it, it would protect him from the safe. It's made of solid diamond, and isn't that the hardest known substance in the universe or something? I try to advise him of the urgency of his situation, but he is entirely too caught up in his defence. He pulls a pistol from his side, and starts firing madly at her. The safe deflects the bullets, which have labels on them stating the diseases and cancers which compose them. That's a terrible idea! Even one of those could kill her, and she'd then drop the safe on him. I'm just about to tell him this, when he gets her. The safe falls down out of the smouldering cloud of ashes the woman has turned into. Incredibly, it falls extremely slowly. As it does, the woman's final witch-like shriek fades away. Everything seems to freeze in place, except for the falling safe, of course. The hands of the clock spin around until they both point at death.
While they are moving to their dreaded destination, the student finishes his bomb. He puts it into the warhead of a guided missile which he casually withdraws from his coat pocket. By the time he closes it up, it has grown from the size of a pop can into a mammoth engine of destruction. “Don't you think that's a bit of a drastic measure?” I ask in a highly moralistic tone. Things seem to be going so completely out of control, that it behooves me to say something in order to salvage the situation. “This is a populated area you know. Innocent people could die!” I had seen far too much of that already.
“Innocent people? Populated area?” The student's questions, delivered in an excellent John F. Kennedy voice, drip with sarcasm. “Do you see anyone else around here, wise-ass?”
A sense of utter shame permeates me, and I'm forced to sheepishly admit that I saw no one. After all, I am blind, and the professor is invisible. The lover is still there, but a curtain quickly appears to block my non-existent view of him. As if to emphasise this, my cane suddenly appears in my hand, grown as tall as the room itself. The safe strikes it on its way down, and it falls from my hand towards the prone lover. It catches him full on the head, and he falls unconscious to the ground right under the descending safe. The room trembles. Was he that fat before? Suddenly, the lover is as heavy as your average refrigerator around Christmas time. There's no way I can move him out of harm's way now.
“Hi, professor.” The student says with an evil laugh that the professor seems not to notice. “I've finally got my work done.”
“And so you see that the final solution is really quite simple in its essentials.” The professor wraps up his explanation to me in a voice which sounds like W. C. Fields. Thoughts of the gas chambers of World War II fill my mind. The room seems filled with the hiss of gas and the choked tortured screams of Hitler's victims. He turns towards the other student as I thank him and turn towards the door. Why can't I leave? My feet don't move at all.
“So, you've managed to finish something, have you? Well, bring it here, my boy. Bring it here. I've never quite given up on you, since it's never too late to burn for your mistakes.” Hey! That didn't sound right!
The sense of pure chaos and doom is overpowering, but something makes me turn away from the door. I can't get out of this. The missile fires and homes in on the invisible professor. I naturally conclude that it must be a heat-seeker. The safe comes down squarely on the spread-eagled form of the comatose lover, flattening him thinner than paper. I casually inform the professor of his rapidly approaching doom. I advise him to duck, but a pair of hearing aids suddenly appear about where his ears ought to be.
“Fuck?”, He asks rhetorically. “I'm a bit too old for that kind of fun, my boy. Besides, you saw what just happened to the other guy who tried that. You see, it falls on the rest of us to learn from the mistakes of others, and burn for our own. That's just the way the sanity crumbles.” This line of reasoning strikes me as incredibly wise, and I can only nod my head in utter speechlessness. The missile streaks past my ear, and I reach for it out of pure impulse. It smartly avoids my grasp. The clock bell chimes again. A disembodied scream which belongs to no one in particular and everyone at once fills the room. At last, the missile reaches its destination. The blast catapults me back into consciousness.
As I stated earlier, the act of writing down what happens in this nightmare of mine has somewhat lessened its power over me. I don't believe I'll ever fully understand what factors in my life contributed to it, or what all of the dream's elements mean. I haven't been afraid of my own death for a long time now. I certainly don't look forward to it, but take it for granted that I'll experience death at some point. Historically speaking, that seems a pretty safe if dower assumption. However, accidentally causing others to die is a thought that does trouble me. The professor's chaotic and sinister machine symbolises this fear perfectly. In trying to do good, I ended up causing evil. The episode with the rocket-propelled screwdriver is another element which seems to spring from this fear.
I've always liked things not to be too orderly and in control. A little chaos seems to bring out the best in me. However, I've always been uneasy with the thought of having absolutely no control over situations. if there's any actual theme running through my nightmare, it is this lack of control. Even when I acted, nothing I did in the dream had the result I intended. I was always pushed along to the next horrific experience. Any instances when I briefly had the feeling that I could effect some good only ended up underscoring the sense of complete chaos.
Those who have known me for any length of time might well derive a certain amount of satisfaction to see my cherished ability to twist words around come back to haunt me. Words have been the building blocks of my identity. They have brought me understanding and have made me understood by others. During my school days, I often found that words were the only offensive and defensive weapons that I could use with any degree of competence. Like most weapons, they can all too easily be turned against their wielders. My nightmare is liberally sprinkled with language gone wrong. It is my master, backing me into corners and rendering me helpless.
There are all kinds of theories about dreams and what functions they serve. It is generally agreed that they serve a vital function. Some say that dreams portend things. Others think that dreams are the mind's way of sorting out what we experience. Being a creative person, dreams are certainly essential to me. They have provided me with many useful ideas and insights. I certainly agree that they help to restore creativity. Further, I think that even nightmares may serve a useful purpose. They warn us of things, and remind us that we are never absolutely safe. If nothing else, they provide our pleasant dreams with a foil which lets us appreciate a good night's sleep all the more. On that note, I'll wish all my readers pleasant dreams.

The End

The Breakdown

Canada's Wonderland is a very large and lively place. There are literally thousands of people there during most days. The day we chose to go there was no different than the usual. The bus we rode in was full of other excitedly chattering people on a similar quest for fun. Patience and kindness were in bountiful abundance. The good cheer was so thick you could have sliced it in two. All the noise made it seem like there wouldn't be any room left for anyone to breathe in the park. From years of past excursions to the place with family and friends, I knew intellectually that this wouldn't be the case.
Despite the multitude, one almost never felt crowded in Wonderland. The place was both very large, and well organised. Even on the most busy days, I, for one, have never felt at all hemmed in. One had to be a bit more careful using one's cane so as not to wack anybody's ankles or get it caught between the legs of some hapless wanderer. Other than that, the throngs of people going hither and yon merely added to the sensation of being part of something big. Another nice thing about Canada's Wonderland was that it was a place where five visually impaired people could go and just be normal. Unlike other locales where you'd get the powerful sense that people around were nervously wondering exactly how to treat us, what we might damage if they didn't keep watch on us and what help we might need, Wonderland was so vast that we didn't even make a dint in the day's proceedings. Help was certainly available if we needed it, but it wasn't forced down our throats. In pretty much every way possible, Canada's Wonderland has always lived up to my expectations and actually been a place where extraordinary was ordinary. I spend most of my time in-doors and in front of a computer, so a day like this was a very nice change indeed.

There were five of us in total. Three of us had partial vision, and the other two were totally blind. This wasn't some gathering organised by any support group for the blind. Rather, it was simply a fairly spontaneous gathering of good friends. The youth group we had all belonged to at one time had been disbanded long ago, leaving us to socially fend for ourselves. We had done this with great success, and met fairly often in various restaurants, bars, and other social venues. Each of us had led fairly different lives, and had different expertise to contribute to the others. Mobility has never been my strong point. Most of my spare time has been spent in the mentally stimulating pursuits of reading, writing, and playing computer games. Ethical and moral issues have always intrigued me, and my friends have often turned to me for advice or opinions on such matters. George and Shelly were essentially a couple. Both of them had partial vision which operated best at different times of the day. George saw best during daylight, while Shelly was better at night. Both of them were quite active, and well accustomed to navigating around large places. Living together had resulted in a fairly healthy respect for each other. This friendship was, however, prone to some minor disagreements. George really liked roller coasters, and could stand just about any ride you threw at him. I was of a similar persuasion. Shelly was more into rides of a less jarring nature. She had a special liking for water rides. Maggie was a good-natured but somewhat naive woman around my age. I've often thought that it was unlucky for her that she wasn't fully blind. Although visually impaired to the point of being legally blind, she could see well enough to give people the impression that she didn't have any significant physical disability. This meant that teachers and others tended to give her little of the patience and time she needed to learn what most of her contemporaries took for granted. I was all too often amazed at how little she knew of world affairs, how things worked, and other kinds of general knowledge. Despite this, she had a kind of common sense and honesty which kept her out of serious difficulty and kept me from thinking of her as a child. She was quite short, and her voice sounded child-like despite the fact that she was my age. Thankfully, she wasn't so short that she couldn't go on adult rides.
Rounding out our expedition was Martha, the group organiser. She had been filling this role unofficially for some time now. Her guide dog accompanied her. Although a basically cheerful woman, Martha always strikes me as... well... sober for lack of a better word. Not above laughter or relaxation, she nevertheless had an aura of efficiency about her most of the time. Her husband Sam, in contrast, could be serious when the occasion demanded it. However, he was a fairly happy-go-lucky sort of guy. Very talented with the keyboard, I once heard him stop all business inside a Radio Shack store dead in its tracks by playing jazz on one of their demonstration keyboards. Everyone just stood and listened while he rattled off a tune on a pure whim. It was too bad he couldn't join us.
Our first stop was thanks to Martha's connections at the park. She knew a lady who trained the fish exhibited there. We all got to touch a seal. Personally, I was surprised at how rubbery they felt. I had often heard seals referred to as cute, and the rubbery slick flesh I touched just didn't seem to fit that word. I didn't notice any reaction from the others besides teasing Shelly who was kissed by the seal about whether she preferred that ministration to the efforts of her partner George. George and I kidded Maggie about tossing her in the fish-tank if she dragged us ride-loving guys into too many shops. Surprisingly, she laughed and took it all for the good-natured fun it was meant to be instead of taking it literally as she sometimes did.
Looking back on things, I'm surprised that we never got lost for any major length of time. We took the odd wrong turn, but it's pretty much to be expected that all attendants of a place like Wonderland would do that. George and Shelly seemed quite able to navigate for us as well as guide each other when light conditions gave one of them trouble and favoured the other. Maggie guided me for much of the time and did quite a good job of it. Near the end of the day, we came close to being lost when it started getting darker. However, help is never all that hard to obtain in a place like Wonderland and we were assisted in heading out.
Other than the many well-known cartoon characters who wandered the park in search of their adoring little fans, Wonderland is host to some state of the art rides. Everything from roller coasters to bumper-cars were there, and we sampled pretty much every locomotive amusement they had. George, Martha and I wanted the roller coasters. Shelly and Maggie didn't like them so much and tended to just wait for us fools to have our brush with death and get it out of our systems. They liked the more sedate rides like the swinging chairs and octopus. Surprisingly enough, this variance in taste didn't generate any friction. Everyone was willing to make the compromises to their ideal time to allow us all to have a good day. While sitting in a stopped bucket high up in the octopus ride, I reflected on how amazing it was that a group of friends could avoid any sort of tension while we could hear families below us arguing loudly with each other about what to do next. So much for the benefits of family ties, I remember thinking to myself. They had vision. Certainly, it would be more possible for them to split up and do their own thing than it was for us. Yet, there they were arguing loudly with each other as if it would be the end of the world if they did that.
Finding lunch satisfying to everyone was something of a marathon walk. All of us had been to the park on past occasions and had our favourite foods. We had fairly different ideas on what constituted a good lunch both economically and in terms of taste. Despite our differences, all of us enjoyed our repast very much indeed. We were here on our own enjoying the park with our peers. There were no organisers, guides, or parents. What we did with our day was strictly up to ourselves. I think all of us had a sense of how we had really made it here under our own power. We were adults. I had my university degree, a couple of us had gone to coledge, and the two who hadn't done either of these things had lucked out and found at least a brief experience of employment. We had all gone through the ego-smashing meet-grinder of job hunting in a working world ill-suited to young visually impaired people without very specialised aptitudes. We can't all be Math experts, lawyers, doctors or computer programmers you know. If you're not one of the above, finding work is very hard indeed. To illustrate how idiotic things can be, I recently read an article telling of a blind woman who had earned a degree from a college to do dispatching work for police and emergency services. Despite the fact that the college thought she could handle a job in that field, she couldn't get hired even though there were job openings. We've all therefore had to find other ways of defining adulthood and successful life.

We were all over twenty years old. Most of us, however, still lived at home with our parents. It just wasn't economically feasible to live on one's own as a single unemployed blind person. Despite all these things, occasions like this adventure served to ram that fantastic fact of our adulthood home for us. I think that was what overrode our natural self-centred tendencies and let us all simply enjoy everything.
Many things were discussed as we ate. Maggie caught a glimpse of a cartoon character and we all began discussing our impressions of the show. Martha and I started debating whether one of the characters was a human or animal. Both of us have been totally blind all our lives so we had only the character's voice to go on. We were pleased to have the question answered by Maggie who had fortunately watched the cartoon. I told the others about the first time my parents got me to feel one of these poor souls stuck in bulky and probably insanely hot furry costumes. To a sighted person, I guess they look cute and loveable somehow. To me, I felt a very tall and wide obviously artificial furry body which only slowly gained features as I explored it. My first temptation at a tender young age of around eight or so had been to try to push it over. This wasn't out of malice so much as a kind of scientific curiosity. I wondered whether it would hurt when he/she fell and whether the costume might make it very difficult or even impossible for him/her to get up again. Maggie was stunned and horrified in a comical sort of upper-class way at my line of thinking. Her “Oh! That's so mean!” reaction provided the rest of us with a good laugh. I don't think she realised why they thought what I had told them was funny or why she was being laughed at. I certainly haven't done it justice here. There was a kind of royal displeasure feel to her words despite the child-like voice she had which made us all howl with merth. As hard as I've tried here, you probably had to hear her to properly appreciate what set us off.

At one point, we came to a situation where a roller coaster and another tamer ride were in close enough proximity that we could do what we liked at the same time without fear of losing each other. Martha had looked forward to going on this particular coaster all day, and we had finally come to it. Since Shelly and Maggie were on a kind of odd ride featuring sale-boats on tracks, one of us would have to look after Martha's dog. I felt I owed it to her after all she had done for us. I've always been a cane user despite vigorous attempts from many people to convince me to get a dog. You can just fold up a cane and stick it in its holster when you don't needed. No vet bills, cleaning up, feeding arrangements and shedding fur for me, thanks. Before going off to meet her destiny, Martha warned me to keep a good grip on the leash in case the dog tried to rescue her from the ride. Had I not followed her instructions, I have no doubt that the brave animal would indeed have tried to save all of the screaming fools on the perfectly harmless coaster. These rides were very modern and built with extraordinary safety systems. Computers monitored the trains as they sped over the tracks and had to be in perfect agreement that things were fine for the ride to proceed. There were air-brakes at points on the tracks and brakes in the cars. I had learned this from a park employee who had come with another group I had been a part of. I knew from personal experience that the harnesses they used to make damned certain people kept everything inside the cars could likely have prevented prisoner riots by paralysing the inmates and robbing them of their full quota of oxygen. They were invariably tight and sturdy. Unfortunately, Martha's dog wasn't aware of all that and started whining at me and pulling on the leash as the ride sped past. I patted it on the head and tried to talk to it in a friendly soothing manner. This wasn't as easy as one might think given that the dog seemed on the brink of instituting some sort of rescue plan. He was a fairly powerful animal. I had to pull hard on the leash at times and tell him to stay. With a determined effort, he could easily have either lunged away and forced me to let go of his leash or be dragged along behind him. Thankfully, this did not occur. Martha returned in excellent spirits and sound condition to the relief of her dog and I.
The water rides were an essential part of this very hot Summer day. We all enjoyed the log-ride which ended up sending its passengers hurtling down a steep slope into a pool of water. The splash certainly drenched most people on the ride. It also caused a torrent of water to wash over a section of bridge where people could stand. I had come determined to avoid being tricked into standing on that again, but nearly didn't succeed despite being at full alert. It's just far enough removed from the ride that the danger isn't immediately audible. However, I surprised the group by realising where I was in time to run ahead far enough not to get my share of the wave which engulfed everyone else. Score one for me.
Another water ride we all enjoyed was a white water rafting one which had us all sitting in bucket-seats. Each raft held up to six people, so we could all go together. The raft bumped and spun through the artificial waterway with us placing bets on who would get hit with one of the geysers which park employees could trigger at any moment. I was hoping not to get hit full-force since this would tend to mean you'd be wet for the rest of the day. The suspense was exciting despite the trivial nature of what was ahead. Adding to this sense of real adventure was the quality of ambience the ride had. Perhaps, it was actually outside the main bunch of rides. I don't have any sense of the geography of Wonderland or many other places for that matter. More likely, it was the rushing water and resulting mist which deadened sounds outside the ride. Whatever the cause, it truly gave the auditory impression that we were travelling far away down a kind of surreal dream-like river. The slow pace of the ride was such a change from the typical offerings at the park that it didn't seem possible we were still in that place. George and Shelly got deluged by a perfectly timed geyser, and us still dry-witted folks teased them about that being their wedding shower. A few moments later, I felt us hit a harder bump which set the raft spinning slowly around. With mounting horror, I began to hear the roar of the waterfall the ride went under. I hoped in vain that we'd hit another bump to change the timing of our spin. It was obvious that we'd arrive under the waterfall in the position which would soak me even worse than a geyser hit. Normally, I don't have much sympathy for sighted people who become scared of the wilder rides. I don't tend to scream on coasters, and simply enjoy each thing as it arrives. I rarely had time to be afraid since I just dealt with things as they happened. This ride, however, gave me plenty of time to hear my back line up perfectly with the waterfall. I still had a few seconds after that to anticipate the drenching I was going to get when that powerful roar swallowed me whole into it. My worst fears for the journey were realised in full measure to the delight of my fellow rafters. I dripped for ages afterward and had to endure sticky wet clothing. A snack I purchased was bought with a bill so wet I wondered whether it would still be legal tender.
I have already mentioned Maggie's love of shopping. As things turned out, I was the only one who had any real dislike of it. Thus it was that I found myself in a clothing and souvenir shop. Three of us had enough vision to see things for themselves as long as they were close enough. Although totally blind like I was, Martha had once had full sight and actually had a good grasp of the colour and appearance of what the others were talking enthusiastically about. I would have been painfully board if I wasn't kept busy twisting and turning in an effort to follow Maggie through narrow spaces among all of the racks and displays. Those little long sharp hooks common in stores like this are no fun to be poked and scraped with as you're worming your way through the maze of items. Short and thin, she had no problem with the confines at all. I being somewhat larger had a hell of a time negotiating my way around behind her. Fashion and I have never been on stellar terms. I certainly believe in looking decent, but won't bother about appearances beyond that unless sighted people demand it of me. Frankly, there are far better uses of my time than trying to make a coherent statement in a language I'm unfamiliar with and can't even hear. I was very glad when we left the shop and could get back to having some serious fun.

The end of the day seemed to hit all too soon for us. Despite our fatigue from constant walking, I think we all would have jumped at the chance to have that one last ride. A place like Wonderland has that kind of magical pull. Even with the sense that most people in the park were starting to call it quits and head out, the sonic ambience seems like some sort of enchantment. I remember taking it all in with a kind of wistfulness. The cartoon music coming out of distant loud speakers blended with the misty rush of the waterfall coming from Wonder Mountain in the park's centre. This seemed to fill the space now vacant of people. It felt like the park was there just for me to decide to venture out in and explore with no cares at all. It was getting late though, and we needed to catch the busses home. As we walked through the exit, I reflected for a moment on what a great day it had been. Any number of things which might have gone wrong had not done so. Maggie's epilepsy had not come into play. Martha's dog had caused no problems at all despite being in unfamiliar and noisy surroundings. We hadn't gotten lost for any length of time. Nobody felt that they or their desires had been ignored. Other than foot fatigue, we were completely contented and basking in the glory of having accomplished that.
The bus was absolutely packed with people. Despite this, our luck held and we all found seats near each other. We all began to relax. A boisterous but friendly drunk apologized when he had to squeeze past us saying that he wasn't as steady as he had thought. I answered him politely to the scandal of Maggie who couldn't believe I'd actually say something to such an intoxicated stranger. I suppose we had all been sheltered to a degree. University was the experience which gave me the first real inkling of this. I had been around a lot of good people who were still good people even after they had gotten drunk. Some of my best friends are folks who I had just decided to strike up a conversation with. Life's like that. If you don't take the odd chance once in a while, you won't live as full an interesting a span of years. More than that, you won't be as interesting to others. I had always had an intuitive sense of this, but the admonition not to talk to strangers seems to be a favourite among parents of blind children.
Suddenly, the engine stopped running. The hot day and continual operations had finally taken their toll on the last least complex ride we went on. The driver announced that the bus was over-heated and we'd all have to get off to wait for another which was on the way. Everyone else was annoyed to one degree or another. The drunk remarked in an Irish accent I hadn't noticed before that he'd punch the driver's lights out. He was laughing as he said it though, and the driver seemed to take it in stride. We stood there at the side of the road, still able to hear the music and all those incredibly complex rides at the park. The simple everyday bus sat hissing and fuming nearby. Amid all the grumbles of annoyed people, I couldn't help laughing at that stupendous irony. Even at that moment, I knew that it would be the anchor which kept this excellent day firmly in my memory as I got older. It's worked so far.

The End

Within An Old White House

I sat before my great machine, and gave a woeful sigh,
Countless icons filled the screen, but none would catch my eye.
Each icon ran a game I owned, from Doom to Daggerfall,
But none of these could rescue me, for I had won them all.

My case was grave and serious, since I could not afford,
To purchase any other games and keep from being bored.
My bank account was empty and my credit cards all maxed,
Any game worth paying for would be so steeply taxed.

Desperately, I donned my helmet, and got upon my bike,
And aimlessly, I rode along the paths where others hike.
Within the woods, I lost my way, far from the beaten trail,
Darkness neared, then stars appeared! My legs began to fail.

Fearful of the woods at night, I slowly peddled on,
Searching for a sheltered site where I could rest till dawn.
I came upon a small white house, its entrance boarded closed,
With all my might, I could not pass the obstacle they posed.

To have safe haven near at hand with access thusly blocked,
Was very hard for me to stand, With helpless rage, I rocked.
I paced in fury around the house, and hadn't gone too far,
When all at once, fate smiled on me, A window swung ajar.

With ebbing strength I forced it wide enough to clamber through.
A kitchen lay around me with its table set for two.
Physically exhausted, I collapsed into a chair,
An older man walked in and took the other that was there.

“I don't get many visits,” Said the hermit with a chortle,
“Eccentricity compelled me to board up their standard portal.”
“Rest here, my weary traveller, Feel free to help yourself.”
He motioned to a bunch of tasty food upon a shelf.

We ate and talked of many games, our claims to private glory,
Of reality's far too frequent stings, and of my tragic story,
He conversed with great intelligence, in a diction quaint and kind,
His thoughtfulness would always be engraved into my mind.
At length he rose up from his place, and headed off to bed,
First showing me a couch where I could lay my weary head,
I rested well that starlit night, but had some freakish dreams,
Of darkened realms deep underground, explored by lantern beams.

My brass lamp shone on wonders, an many terrors too,
My ears took in a dragon's roar, and the gurgles of a grue!
I walked across a rainbow, above a waterfall,
And ballooned up a volcano's core, behind an icy wall.

Waking from my dreams, I was quite startled through and through,
To discover that a part of them seemed absolutely true!
I looked around the living room, and as the hermit snored,
I saw a trophy case, a rug, a lantern and strange sword!

And as the morning sun came up, bestowing warmth and light,
The hermit came with rueful cheer and asked about my night.
I told him all that I had dreamed, and requested he explain,
This world that I had visited, so full of joy and pain.

He moved aside the oriental rug upon the floor,
I gaped in disbelief when this revealed a closed trapdoor.
I helped him heave it open, since the effort made him frown,
He took the lantern from its place, and with me ventured down.

The cellar in which we found ourselves brimmed with forgotten junk,
Amid the mess, the man possessed a rusty iron trunk,
I helped him hoist the tarnished box into the living room,
He opened it with care and took its contents from their tomb.

The old computer he unveiled was piteous to behold,
I would have laughed had he not shown it reverence due to gold,
He plugged it in and turned it on, Its screen was black and white,
Its ancient disks could not hold more than half a megabyte.

“The tale I have to tell you happened in the recent past,”
“There was a firm whose every game was intricate and vast,”
“For years they were successful, and proceeded with aplomb,”
“But I doubt you've ever heard of them, for they were Infocom.”

“Zork was where you were last night, They made that universe,”
“It inspired many gleeful shouts, and many a-vengeful curse.”
“Just give me half a moment, and I'll show you what I mean,”
“These days what you will shortly view is all too rarely seen.”

He put a disk into the drive, and entered a command,
And while the system worked he placed a book into my hand.
My fascination grew quite strong as I began to find,
Details of the fantastic place which occupied my mind.

I closed the book and found that I was thoroughly ignored,
The world could end, but he'd still bend before that old keyboard,
My anger quickly cooled and gave me cause for private shame,
Our ages were quite different, but our passions were the same.

Despite my small deduction, I still felt rather vexed,
When I looked to see my dreamscape and discovered only text!
“Take the very best in modern sound and animation,”
“And what is there will not compare with your imagination.”

Doubtfully, I played his game, My choice was quickly made,
I had to find more of these games so rare and seldom played,
I almost asked the hermit why this company had died,
But the answer cut me to the bone before I even tried.

These pioneers were swept aside by new technology,
Graphic games won market shares for their simplicity,
Time turned its page upon this age of thought-provoking fun,
And Pac-man's maze became the craze obsessing everyone.

“The look upon your face tells me you've understood my story,”
“You comprehend what caused the end of Infocom's brief glory.”
“But don't despair, Just be aware they've left a legacy,”
“Their games have been preserved upon the Masterpiece CD!”

“And if you can't afford to buy a copy of it yet,”
“Loyal fans have made new games and placed them on the Net!”
“And though their works are gratis, they are to a large degree,”
“Free from major glitches, and quite high in quality.”

“Return now to your youthful life with my earnest benediction,”
“And do be sure you search the web for interactive fiction.”

The End

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Hello Michael,
Despite appearances, I promise I'm not stalking you...I thought I'd read further and decided to chime in after reading your excerpts from "A Life of Word and Sound." Fascinating stuff. And you truly do have a talent with words..."Within an old white house" is positively brilliant. I also enjoyed your musings on christianity despite my own lack of religious convictions. I glory in a well-reasoned argument, and I enjoyed having insight into a thought process that I've never been able to reconcile on a personal level but that has obvious validity. I spent much of my life singing and touring with various choirs and have often marvelled at how some of the world's most beautiful and emotionally evocative art was born of religious furvor. While I've never been able to experience that sort of faith myself, I marvel at the forms it can take and am grateful that others have found solace and inspiration in it.
Anyhow, I digress. It's a delightful read -- thank you for sharing.

If the mood is upon you, feel free to check out my blog. It's been neglected for months, and some of the subjects there will be of no interest to you (I, unlike you, am fascinated by fashion and other visual expressions and have written about that at some length). Feel free to read as much or as little of this as you like. And if you'd like me to leave your own blog alone, just say the word: