Antarctica’s Pyramid

Today, the impossible happened. My short story is in “print” on Amazon. Here’s a (free) link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

I started writing Antarctica’s Pyramid for you a few months ago, and before I finished, along came a wonderful person from Australia with an open invitation to writers (in a Facebook group) to join her in a collection of short Utopian stories to be sold on Amazon. I added my story to the list, and bam, two writers panned it.

One of them wanted me to retract it from the anthology. He said that writing short stories is “very difficult.”

I couldn’t argue, so I retracted it. It’s an old pattern in my life. If someone doesn’t want me around, I leave.

But after I left, the woman in charge of the anthology said I should stay. Three other writers agreed with her.

So I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. I re-joined a group that I’d quit.

It felt weirdly empowering.

Maybe I should have tried this when I was 13 and quit my little rock band, Friction, so the local church would let me into their private school.

Naah. Religious fundamentalism, imperfect as I suspect it is, miraculously freed me from my childhood habit of lying. My sense of self-respect improved dramatically after that. For me, discovering the inherent value of always telling the truth has been one of life’s more valuable lessons.

No matter what intellectual doubts and misgivings I now have for both religious and scientific fundamentalism (especially the latter), I have to thank them both for teaching me some decidedly valuable habits, concepts and life lessons.

It’s too bad no one seems to teach rational, intuitive morality without an “infallible” underpinning, such as an ancient book, a set of “science-settling” journal articles or a personal claim of infallible authority. It’s not that I don’t see the huge value of teaching human morality from any and every possible perspective, it’s just that if and when the “infallible” rug is pulled out from under most or all of these moral (or amoral) paradigms, I fear that humanity will be left with the typical moral and behavioral fall that often accompanies the loss of a fundamentalist worldview. As in, “pastor’s kids are the worst” when they lose their faith.

I guess what I’m trying to do, actually, is to discover and promote what’s known to be morally right without pretending I’m infallible or that I’ve received a message from Someone who is.

Though, as a scientist, I firmly believe that there is an intelligent source of the original information contained in Earth’s DNA codes. And if a Mind can understand genetic code, He/She/It can easily understand any human language. So talking to a Higher Power as if to a friend makes total sense to me and I do it a lot, not expecting special treatment or anything that would interfere with my free will or anyone else’s.

But whatever, right? Nobody wants to be preached at. Myself included.

So today’s miracle, as far as I’m concerned is this: The anthology, Utopia Pending, containing Antarctica’s Pyramid, my longish (15,928 word) short story, is now for sale on Amazon. “But wait, don’t buy it!”

Since you’ve been encouraging me with “likes” and kind comments all these years, I thought you might want to read the whole Anthology without having to pay for it. (The software does ask you for an email address, but as always, I encourage you to unsubscribe after the download unless you’re sure you want to be on another mailing list.)

Here’s the (free) link again: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

If you want to read it but don’t want to give away your email address, drop me a note at cytopathology@gmail.com and I’ll get the whole anthology to you another way. No sweat.

Here’s a blurb about my story, Antarctica’s Pyramid

After 21 years of secretly exploring and raiding an ancient Antarctic pyramid under orders from the rogue elements of the NSA and US Navy, Tom, the Commander of a tiny undisclosed base located a mile above the iced-cover pyramid, meets a covertly ranked special agent sent, to his surprise, by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Tom begins to learn just how special this agent is as he finds himself scheming to extract what’s left of his life from the NSA. In a nail-biting weave of danger, conspiracy, and ancient wisdom from within the huge pyramid, Tom and the agent must somehow escape the clutches of the primeval builders as well as the modern Cabal. But if they do somehow succeed, where could they possibly go to hide from the global tyrants of 2018?

OK, now that I’ve tried to talk it up, I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Sheesh, the guilt baggage some of us carry, right? It’s nuts!

At any rate, the other stories are definitely fun and interesting. There’s probably something for everyone’s taste.

Feel free to download the e-book and see which stories you enjoy most.

Use the above link to get the whole thing for free, but here’s the Amazon link if you want to leave a comment or something.

By the way, if you do make a comment on Amazon, it totally encourages their AI to promote the book by putting it in front of other readers. So, thank you very much if you have time to leave a comment / rating on Amazon.

Take care and have an extremely Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and every other conceivable form of seasonal joy and happiness!

Your pal (baggage and all – haha),

Talmage


I made a video, wheeee!

Here’s my third video. The first one needs to be redone. It’s embarrassing. The second one was an attempt at humor. It’s blessedly brief. This one (below) is a retelling of my short SF story, A Tall Blond Alien Girl.

It’s square so you can see it OK on a phone. Sound suffers on phones, though.

Thank you for your patient interest in my stuff.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD


The Cowboy Angel Rides

“Move away from the screen, son.”

A deep voice boomed at me from behind my chair. I jumped and almost spilled my coffee, leaped to my feet and turned to face the intruder in one slick, spastic move.

It was a guy. He stood seven feet tall with his skin glowing like a halogen light bulb in a dark room. He wore a glowing cowboy suit that reminded me of an old movie my mom likes, The Electric Horseman.

But how’d he get in here? The hinges on my bedroom door squeak like a coffin lid. An empty potato chip bag was still right up against it. My room’s only window was painted shut six years ago. You’d need a crowbar and a hammer to open it.

I should have seen this guy’s reflection on my computer screen. I should have seen the light on my desk and the light on the wall in front of it. But no, somehow he got in here like he’d popped out of thin air.

“Dude, you scared the Irish out of me. What’s with the glowing makeup and all the lights?”

“I’m an angel from E8.” He exhaled with a tired-sound. “I’m here to discuss physics. But, kid, you’re spending entirely too much time indoors on that thing.” He glanced at my computer monitor.

“What kind of angel are you? A Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, or… wait, you’re a Mormon, right?”

His eyebrows went up a little, but he didn’t say anything.

“I’m just wondering. You could be a silver version of that Mormon angel, whats-his-name. Greer says the Mormon World Corporation is, like, totally into the ET thing. So I’m just putting one and one together. See what I’m saying? Except you should probably be gold instead of silver. Them Mormon angel statues are always gold.”

“I’m not a statue.”

“Ah, but you’re a Mormon.” I smirked and nodded, agreeing with myself.

“You’re out of shape. You’re poisoning yourself with carbohydrates. Your body needs sunshine and better sleep.”

I could see this was going to be a one-sided “adult” conversation. Unless maybe I forced things in another direction.

“How do I know you’re not a demon?”

“Do you believe in demons?”

“No, but I didn’t believe in angels a minute ago.”

I could see half of my clock on the wall behind him. The second hand was frozen. I hoped it just needed batteries, but I kind of knew better.

“And anyway, why would an angel single me out for a message? How’s that going to be fair to everybody else? All them people out there needing a message but never getting one? Is that fair? Does fairness even matter where you come from?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Where are you from, anyways?”

His gaze dropped to the floor beside his huge cowboy boots. He spoke quietly as if to someone else.

“You sure we hit the right coordinates? Check the date. This kid’s talking religion, for Shiva’s sake.”

It was clear that I’d disappointed the man already. I do that a lot with people. With angels, too, apparently.

He nodded to himself with his lips moving, then his eyes came back to me looking like a beat cop trying to endure tough talk from a superior. “Ok, then.” He looked me up and down with a perplexed expression.

“What are you, really?” I asked. “And don’t feed me no angel crap.”

“You need to get outside and walk,” he said. “Sunshine, fresh air, exercise, human interaction. You’re isolated in here. You’re destroying yourself.”

“Talk to the hand, dude.” I didn’t put my hand up, of course, that’s totally lame.

“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Listen, for reasons I can’t fathom, the Desk thinks you can help us.” He looked at the computer screen behind me. “Those damn simulation games destroy free will.”

OK, he wasn’t Mormon. Those boys might take a hit off a meth bowl to get you talking shop with them, but they don’t touch four-letter words. Uh-uh.

I glanced over my shoulder at Grand Theft Auto where I… uh, where my character just stole a hundred large from Wells Fargo and crashed the getaway car on a sidewalk loaded with pedestrians. Multiple fatalities, of course. I needed to scram fast to avoid the cops and more boring jail time. But the whole screen was frozen now, so maybe it wouldn’t matter.

You know, I worked a long time getting those sick Grand Theft Auto muscles all over me. And the rad gear? Along with some respect from the community, know what I’m saying? None of that came easy.

And this beyond-white-male dude thought I was going to just turn it off and walk away?

Right. None of that was going to happen.

The pushy talk coming out of his mouth was irritating enough, but to be honest, I felt kind of paralyzed by the fact that a guy like this even existed in the first place. And in my bedroom, you know?

But here he was, bigger than life.

Then it dawned on me. I was having a psychotic break — my first hallucination on the grand tour of shame and misery for the rest of my life. All it would take now was one word about this to my shrink and I’d get tagged schizophrenic, like my Uncle Saul.

He’s in his mid-forties and never been laid. The shrink’s scarlet letter is not working out so good for the man. Sad part is, hell, he seems perfectly normal to any chick he meets, right up to the moment they find out he comes attached to the word, “schizophrenia.” Then it’s all, “Bye-bye Saul. I’ll call you.”

“Dude, you’re a hallucination.” I turned away, sat back down in my chair and hid my face in my hands. I could feel tears coming, but I knew I shouldn’t let myself be a victim. That only makes things worse. You got to believe stuff happens for, like some decent reason that don’t have to ever make sense.

My bedroom door squeaked open. “Call your mother in,” the cowboy said. “Ask her if I’m real.”

I thought about it for a second. Ordinarily, I never let her in my bedroom. Calling her in here now would look suspicious. She’d figure out something was weird and then talk the truth out of me, right down to the details of this hallucination. Then it would be official. “My son’s turned idiot like his uncle.”

But can a hallucination open a door?

I didn’t know. I bounced my bare heels on the carpet, up and down like double bass, trying to figure out how to do this right. Then I noticed the carpet was still damp from last night.

“Hey, Mom? Fritzie peed on the floor again. Check it out, there’s this gross wet spot in here.”

I spilled a little beer is all, but Mon’s not going to know that… Unless she gets down and sniffs it.

Which she totally will.

Man, I’m dumb. Here comes another lecture on the evils of alcohol. Yes, I know what a liver is, Mom. But read my lips — I do not care!

Mom showed up at my door, took one look at the big shiny dude, and ran off screaming, Jesus. She’s very religious that way.

“OK, so you’re real.” I didn’t want to let on that it was a gigantic relief, but it was. “Why can’t you just talk to me like a normal human being instead of getting all up in my face with this bossy attitude of yours, huh? Tell me that.”

He nodded solemnly. “I suppose you’re right. The powerful never listen, do they? But you really need to control the acidic tongue. It will destroy you.” He sat on the side of my bed and crossed his legs like a girl — well, totally not like a cowboy let’s just say. And his butt, get this, it didn’t sink into the bed at all.

“What’s the deal, you aren’t denting my bed? You gotta be 200 pounds plus.”

“Good observation. But never make personal comments, it’s rude.” He looked at my blankets and quick as a slap sunk nine inches into my extra-soft memory foam mattress. “Now then, I used the term, ‘angel’ with you because I thought you could relate to it. But actually, I’m more of a…” He glanced out my window at the evergreen trees in the vacant lot next door. “Have you heard about the third ontology? Irwin’s code theoretic axiom of quantum gravity theory?”

I shook my head. “Sounds perfectly boring.”

“It’s not.” His eyes moved to my computer monitor. I scooted my chair out of his way and looked at the screen with him. The bank-heist fatalities vanished, and up came a YouTube video showing some physicist dude with my dad’s pompadour haircut and the exact same hairline. It was weird. Even the eyebrows and eyes were similar.

“The shapes represent themselves in the code,” Max said, “carrying meaning without the need for a translation.”

Somehow, that made sense now.

“The rules of the code are non-arbitrary, they come from a natural mosaic tiling language called a quasicrystal. The symbols are what they represent. We use geometric symbols in a geometric language to represent geometric objects. The hardware, the software and the simulation output are all one-and-the-same.”

“Dude, this is an information dump, don’t you think?” Not that I couldn’t understand him. It was just that understanding this kind of stuff felt totally weird to me. I’m normally not the sharpest pencil in the box, to put it politely — like if a teacher ever said I was average, I’d take it as the biggest total complement of my entire scholastic career. But it’s not apt to happen, seeing as I quit going to classes over a month ago. I’ll be old enough to officially drop out next year.

Max started the video again with a chuckle. “Guess I was a bit verbose there, sorry. Remember this part, though.”

And without skipping a note, Klee Irwin kept right on talking. The man’s got a set of lungs.

“…there is physical evidence and argument that is very rigorous that reality is not a deterministic algorithm playing itself out… the general consensus among scientists is that reality is non-deterministic.”

“Let us discuss how in the world there can possibly be a language as the substrate of reality without some notion of a chooser of the language and an actualizer of the meaning of these geometric symbols. Because there needs to be something that interprets or actualizes meaning in order to say that information exists.

If we like, we can just start with the axiom that God exists. But that’s not what science is about.

Science is about going deeper and constantly questioning where that comes from, and going all the way down to the bottom. So God may or may not exist, but if he does, I want to know how does he exist?

So we don’t need to make it religious.

We can say, well alright, abstractly maybe there’s this kind of universal collective consciousness, it’s not like a human consciousness, maybe it’s more like a force in Star Wars, maybe it’s more like Chi in Chinese medicine. We don’t know what it’s like, but we need something that is everywhere and that may be the substrate of everything, and [something] that is capable of actualizing this geometric information that we conjecture, and making the syntactical choices in this mosaic tiling language in 3D that we are working with here at Quantum Gravity Research.”

“So what’s this all about, Max? Really. You don’t need some dumb ass like me trying to spread this stuff around for you.”

“No,” Max said. He adjusted something on the jewel-studded lapel of his cowboy jacket and leaned toward me whispering, “We want you to oppose him.”

“Me? That’s really dumb. You think I could go up against this genius dude?”

Max nodded. “You can now.”

I scratched my head. “What are you saying, then? Klee Irwin is wrong?”

“No, he’s right about everything. Too right. That’s the problem. A simulation only works when the people inside don’t know it’s a simulation. If they figure things out, it all becomes little more than a lucid dream and they quit playing.”

“You mean like, mass suicide or something?”

“Yes, that could happen. Or worse. What people do here matters to their character and personality in Reality. Take Hitler, for instance. What he did has tarnished his soul. He may never want to come back to Reality. He may never be morally fit to come back home.”

“But I thought he was dead.”

“Hitler’s dead, but the soul of the man, the person from Reality is still cycling. He lives somewhere in Long Beach, California. But there’s a larger problem. Someone we all dearly love has put an enormous amount of time and effort into building this simulation for us. We asked him to do it. And now we’ve got over a trillion, trillion people in Reality who feel sure they need this experience. They want to know who they are apart from the physical presence of the Great Surfer.”

“Dude, you lost me. The great…”

“He’s a Surfer. That’s all you need to know.”

“You talking about God?”

“He dislikes that term, but, yes, from your perspective, that’s as close as you’re apt to get.”

“And what if I refuse to go up against this physics dude. He’s just out there trying to tell people what in the freaking world the truth really is about this place. These lives we’re living.”

“That’s no problem at all, son. We totally respect free will. There are thousands of scientists and educators already set up to oppose him. We’ve been working on it for centuries, you could say.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I have no idea why the Desk singled you out. With your background and this lifestyle?” He looked at my computer screen and shook his head. “They had a reason, though. They always do.” He touched his lapel and spoke softly to the floor again. “It’s a no-go, Swadhisthana. The cowboy angel rides.”

“Now, wait a sec. Just let me–”

He tipped his hat and disappeared into thin air.

My computer screen came to life. Writhing, mangled, moaning people all over a bloody sidewalk. My ride was still functional. I could probably get away before the cops showed up. I started to reach for the game controls but stopped. It wasn’t interesting anymore. The sirens grew louder and louder as I stared at the scene. I didn’t care about the sociopathic muscle man I’d become. He wasn’t me. Never was.

I stood and looked out my little window at an old cedar tree that I bet somebody planted more than a hundred years ago. Maybe I could sit in the shade and figure out how in the world I’m going to explain all this to Klee Irwin. He’s going to think I’m nuts.

But the dude should know all the problems he’s causing, right? And all the people they’ve sent on a mission to stop him.

Maybe my mom will back me up on the cowboy angel part. The guy was real.

the end

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

Gates of Eden by Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

Of war and peace, the truth just twists

Its curfew gull just glides

Upon four-legged forest clouds

The cowboy angel rides

With his candle lit into the sun

Though its glow is waxed in black

All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden

The lamppost stands with folded arms

Its iron claws attached

To curbs ‘neath holes where babies wail

Though it shadows metal badge

All and all can only fall

With a crashing but meaningless blow

No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

The savage soldier sticks his head in sand

And then complains

Unto the shoeless hunter who’s gone deaf

But still remains

Upon the beach where hound dogs bay

At ships with tattooed sails

Heading for the Gates of Eden

With a time-rusted compass blade

Aladdin and his lamp

Sits with Utopian hermit monks

Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf

And on their promises of paradise

You will not hear a laugh

All except inside the Gates of Eden

Relationships of ownership

They whisper in the wings

To those condemned to act accordingly

And wait for succeeding kings

And I try to harmonize with songs

The lonesome sparrow sings

There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

The motorcycle black Madonna

Two-wheeled gypsy queen

And her silver-studded phantom cause

The gray flannel dwarf to scream

As he weeps to wicked birds of prey

Who pick up on his bread crumb sins

And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

The kingdoms of experience

In the precious wind they rot

While paupers change possessions

Each one wishing for what the other has got

And the princess and the prince

Discuss what’s real and what is not

It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden

The foreign sun, it squints upon

A bed that is never mine

As friends and other strangers

From their fates try to resign

Leaving men wholly, totally free

To do anything they wish to do but die

And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden

At dawn my lover comes to me

And tells me of her dreams

With no attempts to shovel a glimpse

Into the ditch of what each one means

At times I think there are no words

But these to tell what’s true

And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden


My Gray Alien

“Disgusting!” it said. “I don’t care much for cultured cheese. Have you got any white trash?”

“That’s racist,” I said, cringing. “You claim you’re mechanical? Prove it.”

It nodded sincerely. “Brains and all.” A narrow tongue came out to test a pea, encircled it and drew it into its mouth. “Gross!” Two spindly hands came up and pushed the plate of peas aside. One pea came out of its mouth under pressure and flew across the room, striking Halo, my black Labrador Retriever, in the left eye.

Her eyebrows drew in, then up, questioning our motives.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” I said, hoping her eye wouldn’t swell shut. I knelt beside her to inspect things, but all was right once she realized the bullet was edible. Her beaverish tail toppled the milk cartons on the kitchen trashcan as her backend sidestepped to the refrigerator and beat a runic canter – whap, whap, whap.

I loved that happy sound, but my thin guest had won Halo’s heart in under a minute with a single pea. It was unsettling.

“Everything you’ve given me tastes like weed killer,” it said and tossed an arc of peas at Halo’s nose, one after another, spaced an inch apart.

“Proof enough,” I said coveting its dexterity and quickness.

If Halo had held position, the peas would have landed on her nasal septum, but she lurched after the first few and the others beat a cadence on the milk cartons and floor.

Glyphosate,” I said to explain the peas’ flavor, hoping not to prompt a round of whining about herbicides, carbon dioxide, and the rainforests. One grows weary, and if this gray non-alien joined the chorus, I was prepared to shoot myself. “I like the way a tablespoon of Roundup subtilizes the bouquet,” I said, winking at my gourd-headed guest. “Millions would starve without this fine chemical and the GMOs that suck it up.”

“I’ll join the starving,” it said, exposing the empty plate to Halo’s tongue. “What’s the year?”

“2017.” I glanced at my watch to avoid error.

This morning when I met my guest, I was minding my own business, stepping out of the shower.

There it stood beside my slippers without a stitch of clothing and no detectable genitals. Just great, an alien finally shows up and it’s a clichéd Gray! But the little thing claimed to be from the future. Earth’s future.

“Why don’t you have any genitals?” I asked, going straight to the philosophical.

“Gender Wars. Both sides wanted a truce, but neither could stand the sight of the other.”

“I see,” I said, though I didn’t. “The whole cache of humanity opted for test-tube progeny?”

“Quite.” The creature looked at my shower curtain with thinly veiled disdain, its non-nostrils sniffing and flaring.

“None of the concupiscence of lessor times, then,” I said, as a song came to mind…

No balls at all, no balls at all.

Married a man with no balls at all.

I hoped the little thing wasn’t telepathic.

“None.” It cocked its head thoughtfully. “The horizontal deed became loathsome and abhorrent.”

“So you say.”

Just this morning I had believed its every word, but now I was seasoned and more inclined to press for truth. Can you imagine humans abolishing copulation? Ridiculous claims demand preposterous proofs, as the astronomers say.

“So humans will rid themselves of gender. Interesting. But if so, would I be far afield in assuming that these brilliant and technical humans of Tomorrowland seldom poop?”

“The seldomest.”

“As in, absolutely never?” I was relentless, leaving no wiggle room for unwarranted bathroom confrontations should the creature’s visit become protracted.

“‘Never’ would imply the seldomest,” it said. “Unless I’m mistaken.”

“Would you care for a wing of the bird?” I asked, pawing at the refrigerator with my back to the slightly gray non-alien. “It’s chicken, loosely speaking.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no.” It gagged as if ready to hurl on Halo’s floor. Nothing came up, though. “Two thousand seventeen? Are we sure?”

I am.” I re-checked my watch. “Yes. 2017.”

“I should have studied history,” it said. “I never imagined cannibalism in this era.”

“It’s not human chicken, for heaven’s sake. It’s scarcely avian.” I searched the box for ingredients but found none.

The self-proclaimed human closed its eyes and bowed its head. “This is why we became mechanical.”

“What is?”

“What is ‘what is’?”

“I’m asking why the human race became mechanical.”

“Oh.” It had no eyebrows but seemed to raise one at me nonetheless. “The more our technology compared animals to humans, the more blurred the distinction became. Self-awareness, free will, zero-field soul, continuity of identity, participation in the One, etcetera, etcetera.”

“Thanks for that last couplet. If you’d included ‘enlightenment’ I might have stuffed my head down the garbage mill and flipped the switch.” I glanced at the sink.

It ignored me. “The deeper we explored, the more identical our signatures appeared, until we realized we were basically indistinguishable from the rest. Hence the need for a vegan diet.”

“Indistinguishable, really?”

It nodded. “Qualitatively, but objectively.”

“You might have a go at an avocado, then,” I suggested.

“It all started with vitamin B12,” it said as if confiding a deep regret. “A touch of genetic tinkering to sidestep megaloblastic anemia on a vegan diet. Our motives were pure as the solar silk.”

“I didn’t know the sun had…”

“Then the lac operon. A perfectly simple patch to bring humanity into line. No more cow’s milk for adults.”

“I see. Couldn’t they have more easily declared cow’s milk sacred?” I suspected India’s ancient “aliens” of similar mischief.

It shook its head dismissively. “Altering the lactate genes opened Pandora and the pursuit of a moral utopia smothered genetic diversity.”

Verbose little thing. “Moral utopia?” Again, I thought of Disneyland.

With refrigerator doors open and my hunting instincts engaged, I found an avocado and thrust it behind me in the direction of my guest, then bent at the hips for a glimpse of the bottom shelf. Halo appeared beside me, her head millimeters from mine, her tongue lapping the bottom shelf. The cooling motor came on and startled her. She flinched and bumped her nose on the shelf above but kept licking.

“I can’t promise this is non-GMO,” I confessed without looking, “but a dash of soy sauce hides the three woes.” I waved the expensive fruit blindly behind me and felt the smooth skin of its fingers touch mine as it accepted the offering.

“I’ve read about these,” it said. “Never dreamed I’d see one.”

“I’d rather see than be one,” I said, mainly for Halo’s edification.

Our guest laughed.

I stood and turned.

“That’s a reference to the purple cow!” it said and laughed loud and long.

Though nothing was funny, I laughed along with it, unable to abstain.

It gained composure before I did and took a bite of the avocado, peels and all. Then swallowed without chewing.

Suddenly I knew it was human. Just as human as Halo and me. Well, not Halo, I suppose. But our unlikely guest was not a machine at heart, and now I’d found a way of knowing such things with certainty. A breakthrough!

“OK, then,” I said, feeling ready. “What’s the message?”

“Come again?”

“Clearly I’m the chosen one. Selected to deliver an urgent message to humanity. Let’s have it with haste, I don’t care how trite it sounds.”

The genderless gray picked up a pea that Halo had missed, hardly bending its knees in the process, its hands so close to the floor. “No offense, but I didn’t come to see you, Sir. I’ve come to witness a dog. Since extinction, they’ve become legend. Entire planets devoted to their memory – cults arising in youth sectors.”

“Oh.” My ego felt like a balloon propelled by escaping gas in a brief arc to the floor.

The creature gave the pea to Halo and tried to make kissing sounds the way I do, but with no lips it was futile. “If you want to deliver a message, though, I suppose…”

“Yes, yes?” Perhaps some glory for me after all.

“Tell humanity they’re depleting the most precious and rare resource in the Universe: the sacred ones and zeros.”

“Fabulous! I’ll spread the message far and…” But wait. “Ones and zeros can’t be depleted. How could they be sacred?”

The tiny human looked into Halo’s eyes as if I weren’t part of the real conversation. “You’ll figure it out,” it said. “Just make sure it’s something that can compete with digital devices. Something fun. Shame won’t free the digitally captured soul.”

Digitally what? I caught my reflection in the window above the sink. “Should I grow my hair out?” Maybe a ponytail. No. “What about a pompadour – like five inches tall with hairspray?”

…End of transmission…

M. Talmage Moorehead

On a more serious note, the spellbinding painting above is an oil by Spira of Greece. It’s entitled, “From Stardust” and comes to us on wood. Below is a closeup detail of the same piece. Thank you, Spira for allowing me to show this on my blog.

Please click over and meditate on this mesmerizing work, and maybe do some slow breathing to wake up the prefrontal cortex: SPIRA Soul Creations.


Cliche Purging, Forget About It

Clichés, like just about any other biological thing, can be placed on a nearly bell-shaped curve. With clichés, there are a few outliers on the left tail that are essential to basic communication, and a few on the right that actually deserve a speck of a writer’s attention.

Some from the left tail we don’t even call clichés: IMG_2260

“In other words…”

“If only I could have…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“Of course.”

“I love you.”

Here’s a cliché of sorts from the right tail of their bell curve:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

You probably recognize this from a political speech by FDR. If you use it in a story, your editor (I wish I had one) may balk and write, “cliché” beside it with three exclamation points to grind your limbic system into eternal shame.

FDR’s words are relevant to writers who are afraid of clichés.

I was in high school when I first felt the dark power of cliché purging. I didn’t know what the teacher meant by the word, but pretended to get it because her body language was telling me to feel sheepish, and I didn’t want to add to that by admitting I was an illiterate slug.

Years later, the many books I read on writing fiction stressed the “poisonous” nature of clichés and their power to kill anything living for pages around.

The books needed only to warn me once.

The fear of fear itself  can be strong, but the fear of humiliation is stronger.

One time I literally put my life in danger just to avoid humiliating myself in front of an unseen hunter who had fired his shotgun into the fog at birds that must have been near me. I was too worried about embarrassment to shout, “Don’t shoot!” I didn’t say a word. And now I’m too ashamed to tell you all the details.

Needless to say, some fearful people will kill the flow of their writing to avoid clichés and that peculiar flavor of humiliation.

Forget cliché purging, already. Writing spell-binding stories requires every neuron in your head. If you keep some neurons busy hunting self-consciously for clichés, you’re diminishing the quality of your work. Your focus has to shift back and forth from creativity to self-defense.

The more  you focus on the words, the more you ignore the magic.

Of course, there are those who have read so much fiction that “the story” is no longer where magic lies for them.

My former brother-in-law, a well-read man, used to find a transcendent euphoria in an ethereal quality of the words themselves. Their rhythm, their flow.

It’s not that I can’t relate. I love some of Robert Zimmerman’s (Dylan’s) lyrics for similar reasons (feelings) that I can’t put my fingers on. This passage, for example, is magic to me – from One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

“and I told you as you clawed out my eyes that I never really meant to do you any harm.”

And this, from Visions of Johanna

“The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place.”

To me, the magic of words is found primarily in poetry, while the magic of a story lies almost entirely in its characters and the grip of the plot on their lives.

I can imagine that a cliché might poison a poem.

I doubt that a cliché could give a sniffle to a page-turning novel. Maybe an army of clichés could.

But I know from personal experience that cliché purging produces a concrete, word-conscious and timid writing session where nothing comes to life.

Be brave.

M. Talmage Moorehead