Fiction

Food For Thought

By: Stephen Faulkner

[The following is an audio transcription of transmissions to and from a fact finding mission to the test sight of a thermonuclear device on an undisclosed island in the Pacific Ocean].                                                                                        

ATOLL EAST ONE, this is ATOLL AIR TWO. I have you in sight on the beach, fellas. Your protective suits are reflecting the sun, almost blinding me. What do you see down there?

That you, Corey? This is ATOL EAST ONE. Maddox, here. I thought Cheshire was going to be flying TWO this outing.

Cheshire got into a fight in the suit-up room on the carrier. Grounded for the duration. I’m his replacement. So I repeat, Maddox: anything interesting down there?

ATOLL EAST ONE to ATOLL AIR TWO.  Ground Zero is a wasteland, like we knew it would be. What else? Target’s completely incinerated, defoliated, scorched down to the sub-strata beyond all recognition.  Big Charlie did its job. Geiger needle’s jumping at over five hundred RADs. Whoo!  Two years go by and this place is still sizzling at five hundred. I damn well hope these suits don’t leak.                                                                                                 

ATOLL EAST to ATOLL AIR TWO. Josephson here. See me, Corey?

I see you, EAST TWO. Down at the south end where the guidance tower used to be. Watcha got, Joe?

The tower was made of wood, Corey, with the antenna on top. It went up like a matchstick when Charlie fireballed. But listen to this: about ten yards north down the beach, there’s a colony of – get this – cockroaches. Must’ve been here on the atoll when Charlie popped. But they’re okay, Corey. All of ‘em. Still scurrying around, doing whatever these bugs do.

Still alive?  ATOLL EAST TWO, did you say five hundred RADs?

Hasn’t dropped yet, Corey. I mean… roger on that five hundred, ATOLL AIR TWO, and holding steady.

ATOLL EAST ONE, rendezvous at the south end of the island with TWO. I’m responsible for you guys. Joe sounds like he’s seeing things. Check his suit for leaks. I don’t want either of you hallucinating from radiation exposure.

AIR TWO, this is EAST TWO and I hear you and I’m fine.  Where’s Maddox? He’s gotta see this. These damned things are even feeding!

Maddox, here. Can you see me, Corey? I’m on my way.

Just another hundred and fifty yards or so, Maddox. See what Josephson is babbling about. Says he’s got cockroaches down there by’im and they’re havin’ lunch.                         

Lunch? What are you talking about? What’s up, Joe?

You heard him right, Maddox. Trundle it quick. This is fantastic!

This is AIR TWO. Another fifty yards, Maddox. You should have Joe in sight by now.

I see him, Corey. Geiger’s still reading at five hundred.

Hurry up, Maddox. I’m getting worried up here. Tell me what’s going on down there.

Maddox, look at this!

What the…? Holy son of a shit sitter….

Eighty six on the pro-fan, Maddox. The Captain’s monitoring from shipboard. You wanna get our tails in a sling?

…five fifty… …six hundred… …six fifty…

Wait a minute! Are you guys talkin’ RADs? Get the hell away from there! Those suits are only designed to take six hundred max before they start to disintegrate.

…seven hundred…  …seven ten…  That’s it.  Back off, Joe. These suckers are eating well over seven hundred RADs.

Who!? The roaches? But what’s down there for them to eat?

You won’t believe this, Corey. It’s the ashes from the antenna tower. They’ve got a tandem line going to and from the debris, collecting it and bringing it back to what looks like a camp of some kind. There, different groups of them all around send an envoy or something to the

pile of ash and the envoy – or whatever it is – brings back a chunk of the stuff to his group where it’s consumed. The only way I can describe the camped groups would be something like family groups or clans within a tribe.

Corey, this is Joe. Get this: the bugs themselves, singly, show a reading of five hundred and fifty RADs each.

And they’re still alive?

Bug crap all over the place. They’re alive, all right.

Corey, Maddox here. We’ve got the readings recorded and enough pictures for the study. Lower the straps and hoist us home.

Corey? Josephson. Okay to bring one of these suckers back for study? Research’ll just love us if we do.

You got an ISO-bag with you, right? Then pack’im away, Joe. Bring some of that ash with you, too. We don’t want the little fella to starve on the way. Hold on a minute, boys…. I’m getting air chatter. We got company.

ATOLL AIR TWO, this is ATOLL AIR ONE, back from the West Island, taking my boys back for decontamination. Your guys find anything interesting, Corey?

Hear you loud and clear, ATOLL ONE. I see you, Becks. Your port engine’s running out some black. Better be careful comin’ home. But Becks, wait ‘til you hear this. Cockroaches, buddy, alive and kicking on the island and feeding on the charred remains like it was chicken fat

off the kitchen floor. They glow at five hundred and fifty RADs each and show no signs of packing it in. How’s that for just plain weird?

Not bad, Corey, but my boys done you one better. Wasps, pal. So hot their stingers light up at six hundred or better. Must be an underground nest somewhere nearby, right at Ground Zero, directly under Charlie’s burst and it didn’t do anything more than singe their wings and make’em madder’n hell. So, whadaya think?

Got my guys by just a little weirder, Becks. What do you say we head it on home?

Sounds good to me, Corey. Let’s toss back a cold one after de-con-tam. Roger?

Roger that, ATOLL ONE.  ATOLL TWO out.

ATOLL ONE out.

[Short Pause]

Maddox, Josephson, all strapped in and set? Good. Hold tight, fellas, we’re goin’ home, pets and all.  Sheesh! I tell you straight, guys, R ‘n’ R’s going to be a real pisser tonight!

***

Within the last few generations our world has, by the rantings and affirmations of a few and the wondering rebuttals of many, become an unstable place in which to live.  Among the elders who by their age and adherence to tradition should know, there are those who speak openly of this instability in our society, especially in regards to the mores of the young, the shifting tenets and espousals of the philosophers (among whom some of these same elders count themselves), as an inevitability, something that cannot be controlled. They speak at length of two truths or of truth being only the choice between two equal possibilities. By speaking thusly they foment discussion, argument, hostilities among dissenting groups. There are even those among us (Youngers, call them, if you are in need of a label) who aver that there is no one viable truth, only the numerous possibilities. Being creatures of singular and individual mentalities, they therefore conclude, we – singular, one mind per each of us – are forced to make a choice. And even then it is not so simple, the choices not so clear cut.

            When I was told this, in abbreviated form, by one of those Youngers, (“Your own truth,” he said. “It does not matter what it is”) was informed that such was the present way of thinking, that this was now what the word “reality” signified, that I should not worry myself over it, just to accept the fact and make my choice, I refused to believe it. If there is truth, then there is truth for all, not just some molten clay that molds itself to the will and inclination of the individual.

The most recent fashion in social circles is to ask of a new acquaintance “What is your truth?” This said in much the same manner as one used to be inquired of his or her name, family and occupation.  This question of individual truth now seems to hold much the same weight of those former inquiries of social intercourse when who you were and what you did were the salient references, one’s belief (“truth”) then being held by all or at least the majority The minority of dissenting opinions, though always there, never seemed to matter much. Adherents to those minority views, though through sheer vociferousness seemed to be innumerable, were really so very few.

            Then, when things were simpler there was but one truth; no argument and that’s all there was. Then a second cropped up, equally convincing and it took firm, though sporadic root. Then, in an attempt to marry the first and second into a cohesive system, a third was born. With these three, each with its adherents and detractors, a kind of stability reigned again among our kind. Offshoot systems of one and two, two and three, and one and three are now rampant. The Youngers ask what you believe before inquiring of your name, exhibiting their priorities for all to see. Extreme Carionism? Moderate Duo-Evolutionism? Introspective Unctionism? Conservative Reflectivism? Hard-Crusted Dualism? No one could keep them all straight. The writing in the sand which would be needed to list and explain them all would require the use of the entire beach upon which we live. Fortunately – or not, given your own point of view – no one has ever mounted such an attempt.

            When things were simpler – and we all have the memory, it carries from generation to generation – things were just things, truth was one-two, then one-two-three and that seemed

sufficient to all questions and so was an end to it. Now – confusion. Where do you turn? Where is the truth shown, glowing an unmistakable, just honest reality and nothing else? Underpinnings and all, radiating and real and clear as a diagram of our skeletons, something that tells us “this is how it all fits together, how it all works and why.” Where is it? The “truths” I have heard propounded, explained and haggled over like the scraps of our warming, luminous nourishment are but rocks on the sand whose roots go deep into the ground, mix and connect with the wholeness below. That is what we must seek to find, dig for and extricate from the Earth and ourselves so that all questions can be put to rest once and for all.

            I say this with all humility, of course, for I, as one, would never know even where to plant the first blade into the Earth to begin the primary excavation. I am like the rest, pointing at middling promontories from the deep of the land, saying, “Look! There it is! We need search no farther.”  Should you believe me, you would then be as much a fool as I.

***

One-two-three. Let’s go back and do what has been done so many times before:  recount the truths, the elders’ simplicities, to see what we know, what we thought we understood.

            Every one of us knows the words, at least the first sentence. It is knowledge that we all share which we maintain from the time we are hatched. “In the beginning, before there were beginnings at all….” HE, as we know, placed the Holy Spindle into the Trough of Nothingness which had always been at HIS side – this before there was either left or right, coming or going, up or down – and HE saw the Unfathomable Quantity, drew out the Spindle and saw the end encrusted with a luminous filth. Handling it, working it surely and easily, HE formed the world.

Placing it in the air, HE blew on it to set it in motion. HE touched it as HE repeated the Holy Phrase which has since been lost to us (or never known to us at all? This is a muddy question which our philosophers like to avoid). HE touched it again and again, forming the hills and craters on its surface, the valleys and mountains, a spray from HIS mouth formed the Great Ocean, and the clouds of the sky and the rains which issue from them. Concentration from HIS many eyes burned the world in places and HE thought. HE thought of a race of HIS own making, born in HIS image, HIS love. Love of HIMSELF – it was understandable for who else had HE to love? – and HE concentrated further, HIS thoughts boring holes, HIS mind forming those pockets of energy which have become for us our one form of sustenance.  First the food, then the race which we are now.  Even without HIS knowledge, HIS doings have hidden purposes Then, the decision, the last touching of the world, a plucking at the world with the Holy Spindle once more, coming away with two flattened grains of sand.  And HE worked them, held them fast and breathed on them, watched momentarily as they came to life and wriggled in HIS open grasp. Placing them back on the face of the world, on the beach where they would remain, HE named them RE and TE, male and female. “Fructify, fructify,” HE told them, the only words of HIS that we, as a race, recall and retain and then only in deep memory as the faintest of whispers.

            Then, there came the second version. Over a generation ago – no one knows its exact day of birth nor from whom it first issued.  It began as a sibilance on the air, the sound and a steady palaver that took momentum in the mouths of the less conservatively inclined of the elders. HE is absent from this version. There is only the world, lost in eternity, only the sun, the stars and moon for its companions. The Great Ocean heaved and coalesced, forming monsters and beings of strange sorts in its depths, casting up the unwanted onto dry land. We, the race as we are

ttoday, were thus born, evolved over long eons from those first blind and struggling beings, soft bodied and squirming, to the many-legged, hard shelled and numerous eyed beauties we see ourselves to be today.  Overcompensation was the explanation for the posited changes that later took place. Defenseless in body, was devised the hard shell that each of us carries. Motionless in the sand, prey to scavengers and the harsh elements, not three or four but six legs were implemented for swift escape and ease of burrowing into the sand itself. Blind as if buried, there emerged two turnable, multi-faceted eyes for stealth and guidance. Rock-stupid from the sea, so our minds were evolved so that we can ask these questions, search out these “truths.” These are the Truths, said the elders with conviction.  And it was what they believed, and their many followers with them.

            But this dichotomy confused the many that were not so certain. HE as maker and mover or spontaneous casting-up from the sea? Where were our true beginnings? Were these our only choices for believing? So, of course not, for this confusion, this dichotomy of two ends brought into being a middle possibility (a word being used more and more these days). Marry the two together. Yes, HE made the world. The casting of soft bodies from the sea which would evolve into us was HIS means of creating RE and TE, though their very existence in some distant past is now being brought into question.

            One-two-three.  HE creating all, Evolution creating all, HE using Evolution as a means to create. Take your choice. Something less simple a choice than is afforded by only one, but still not so terribly difficult.

            For some, though, the idea of where the world as a whole came from caused some concern, if the Evolution tenet was to be solely evoked or, if only Creative Evolution (the term applied to HE using Evolution as HIS means of creating us, our race) then where does our inexhaustible food supply come from? Several belief systems arose from the first concern, many more from the second. Still, none have come to terms with any of the others, each counting all others as its enemies and competitors.

            In my own opinion there is only one such doctrine which is especially execrable. Its adherents call it Extrospective Reflectivism. Its major tenet is that each individual (reflectively) creates his or her own reality (extrospectively). I think, therefore it exists. In a society where so many “truths” are being concocted and disseminated almost hourly, I suppose that the existence of this one is only a natural consequence, to say that there is no one truth, only individual preference. I, for one, though, find that form of logic to be truly reprehensible and hideous.

            Still, though, ideas and philosophies do not make a society. In the case of our own race – the only race – food is, of course, the mainstay. Locating, gathering, storing, using. This being the larger part of our lives, offshoot philosophies have arisen about this, the food supply, as well. Agro-Archaism (“It is, was, and always will be”), Carionism, both Conservative (“It brings our death”) and Extreme (It is our death?) and Glowing Radical Scopaeticism (an amalgam word, this one, and no one knows its true meaning, though its adherents are almost obnoxiously sincere in their faith that “Food is WE.”)

            Questions arise; you answer them as you will, shrilly or calmly, with a ho-hum “what of it?” nod of the head. Or else you do as I do: you think about it.  What is it about this food, its

several indistinguishable kinds, that so warms us, keeps us alive, keeps our philosophies toppling over themselves to answer all these questions?  Who are we? What made us? Where do we come from? Which came first, the larva or the egg? Why are we here? What happens to our being when our body dies?  Why, too, does it physically warm us, our food?  Warm us as we approach its glowing mass, as we carry it (every one of us, at one time or other, has been on the gathering line, has felt the searing heat of the mass as it is approached, has wondered at its energy, so strong yet so easy to bear against the hard carapace of our bodies), bit by bit, back tour beach encampment, as we ingest it, morsel by crusty-hard morsel, feel it melt within us, warm us through (individually, of course, not as a race) until each of us feels him or herself glowing with the warmth and power of the food, makes each of us fell the energy becoming a part of us, individualizing us, making us units, each one a self, a single being, sufficient and supreme? Looking back, I see that sentence is much too long, that it can be stated kind, a much simpler, single worded manner: Why?

            If I were to develop a philosophy of my own, this would be its basis, then: this food of ours, this sustenance.  Not what it is, for that has been done many times over – no truth there as far as I am concerned, perhaps none can be found even with the incredible intelligence at our command.  And not about where it comes from. That and where WE as a race come from has been the basis and subject of countless belief-systems already and what has been the result? I have said it already:  confusion and the hostility of armed camps, one against the other and all.  No, my philosophy would address the question of what this food does, how it sustains, what it will mean to our future and to the generations to come. Who will they be? What new wonders will this food, this radiant source, allow them to pursue, to achieve and master?

            Perhaps this is the way that all philosophies are born: a preference, a question, a discussion, an answer. And perhaps this one will be just as void of truth, as shrill in its unfounded sureness as all the rest. I am realistic enough to give credence to that unsavory possibility. Preference, question, discussion, answer. The first, then, is what I have right now. Dare I take the chance (of being seen as a fool, of being wrong as so many have been wrong before me, of being ignored or, worse, to be slavishly followed, no matter what idiocy I spout?) Dare I take the first real step with this new “truth,” this effort at philosophizing? Shall I ask the first question? And, if so, what shall it be? 

And who, or what, shall deign to answer?

THE END

Categories: Fiction

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