Becoming a Vice President of The Omegamorph Society is relatively easy. You just have to tell me you like the following parables, even if you do not like them, and then follow the instructions below that tell you how to place the beautiful medallion on your own page.
All stories copyright 1999 by Cliff Pickover. From a collection of hundreds, titled I Have Dreams at Night.
We were about one thousand feet from the summit of Mount Makalu when we decided to take a few minutes' rest and enjoy the pleasure of our surroundings. Securing the ropes about our waists, we looked upon white, fluffy clouds. The air had become exceeding thin, but we hardly noticed. We experienced the thrill of excitement that all mountain climbers feel as they near the peek of the mountain.
My friend brought out a slightly soiled slip of paper
from his pocket. On it were two circles:
"Which circle is larger?" he asked me.
I looked at them for a few seconds and then replied that both circles seemed to be of the same size. He smiled and seemed somewhat pleased with my answer. He then brought out a second slip of paper. On this paper were two circles, but they were obviously not the same size:
"Now which circle is larger?" he asked me. I told him that the one on the left of course was larger.
He nodded. "How much larger would you say it is?"
I estimated that the circle on the right was about half the diameter of the circle on the left. He nodded and brought out a third piece of paper looking something like this:
He asked me again which circle was larger. I told him that the figure on the right was not a circle, that it was a square. He stared at me in utter amazement, brought out his knife, and killed me.
Strolling down a damp roadway, I turned onto a long, winding stone path through the woods. It was dark and soon it began to drizzle. Ah, neither man nor beast should be out on such a night!
The fog was unusually thick; mists and vapors prevented me from seeing even five feet to my front. There was not a house nor soul to be seen.
After walking a few more minutes, I perceived an oldman through the late evening murkiness. He was a seller of vegetables. He seemed lonely, so I decide to speak to him.
"Good evening to you, lad. Doesn't seem like much business here tonight." Sometimes I liked calling old men "lads" to make them feel younger.
The vegetable seller stepped back. "Aye, Sir. Not a soul, except for you. I bloody well haven't had a good sale for days. You know, the weather the way it is, Sir."
We both looked at the fog and nodded.
The mists and fog partially obscured the seller's body. So thick was the fog, that the table on which his tomatoes were arranged became indistinct.
The faint drizzle continued. I decided to give the poor fellow some business.
I smiled at the man. "I'd like three tomatoes."
He trembled, I think, with disbelief. "Aye. Thank you, Sir."
The fog grew thicker. The seller of vegetables placed the three tomatoes in a soiled brown paper back, and ever-so-carefully hand the bag to me. I then noticed a jar amidst the rows of tomatoes on the table.
"What's in the jar, lad?"
He smiled proudly. "Aye, that's the first tomato I ever sold. About ten years ago it was."
How had he managed to keep such an unwholesome object for such a long tine? Odd. Ah, but it was none of my business.
"Your tomatoes seem to be of high quality, lad. I'll tell my friends to buy their tomatoes from you."
"Aye. Thank you, Sir."
The mists swirled. The vegetable seller's eyes glowed a color not unlike the color of his tomatoes. He came over to me and held my arms in a tight iron grasp.
He led me into the endless hell-black night.
Pray for me.
After two months of climbing the steep trail, the student noticed the path spiraling inward, and at the very center stood the tall angel with wings outstretched and motionless. The sun was setting, and the only sound was from the wind whispering over the treetops.
The student's legs ached. His voice was parched. "Angel, I have come to seek wisdom."
"What is your question, my child?"
The student knelt. "Angel, what is the best possible question, and what's the best answer to it?"
The angel looked down and with a deep, stentorian voice said, "You've just asked the best possible question, and I'm giving the best possible answer."
And with those words the angel flew away towards the shattered crimson disc of the sun.
Once every thousand years, an egg is placed secretly with ordinary humans to see how it will mature in the hands of nonangelic beings. One angel, for example, grew up in the home of Sally and Bert. When the angel was of teenage years, it saw a sparkling in the air -- lights so bright and covering the entire range of the visible spectrum and beyond, that it had to look away. There was a sound, like the tinkling of xylophone notes with a sad bassoon note at odd intervals.
The angel turned to its human caretaker. "Father, what is that beautiful apparition?"
"It is an angel, master of reality, performer of miracles. They can do anything."
The angel on the ground nodded, not fully understanding. "They make awesome music."
"We are humans and can't perform miracles."
And so the angel on the ground lived its life among humans, never knowing the music it could create or the colors it could manipulate. It spent its life amidst honking horns and stagnant water. The angel died without flying. It died an ordinary human death, after years of scratching the ground, and smelling foul odors.
Never did an angel egg raised by humans coalesce into an angel that could fly.
The old angel shook its head. "What is the distance between dark and light? Good and evil? Frost and lava? Retinas and flames? A viper's tongue and the tears of a little girl? The most important distances are never geographical."
The children whom I was taking care of for the Christmas holiday woke up on Christmas morning at about 7:00 and began to race downstairs to the Christmas tree in my living room. I heard the commotion and wearily climbed out of bed. Before leaving my warm bedroom, I looked outside and saw that it had snowed overnight. The dense evergreen trees on my property were coated by a thin patina of white snow which glimmered like mercury. I pulled myself away from the frosted window pane and walked downstairs.
I reached the living room about a minute after the children did. For some reason, the children were silent. I gazed at the tall Christmas tree. Something about the tree was not quite right. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the tree was covered with hundreds of inch-long insect larva. The children and I stood motionless and silent for about a minute, and then I went to the closet, put on shoes and a winter coat, and went out the front door.
Outside, it was cold, and the ground was covered by several inches of snow. Overhead, vague perpetual clouds drifted through a dark grey sky. I travelled along the snow encrusted streets which comprised my neighborhood. Several indistinct figures were shoveling snow from driveways. Spaced at about fifty-foot intervals on the snow-covered sidewalks were huge insect larvae. They were approximately the size of an adult male human.
I walked along half-lamplit streets, journeying among people I did not, and could never know. Who were these sullen strangers who shared my world? What lonely tunes came to their ears and what mockery of color did their eyes see?
In a world full of people, I was alone.
I looked upward and saw a black bird.
What are birds? We see them in the distance silhouetted by the sky, but rarely see them up close. We never can touch a bird. That which cannot be touched is not real.
The snow continued to fall. Tortured, tendrilous wisps and eddies of smoke flowed from some of the nearby chimneys. I walked passed a church, came to an intersection, and then wandered down a long winding road. Even though people were shovelling snow, they seemed almost unmoving. Motion, when viewed from a distance, becomes static.
I was infinitely far from home. I turned my face upward to the benign indifferent sky, a sky too cold to imply reciprocity or movement. I travelled along several more streets without life or warmth or color. The insect grubs filled the streets and the valleys. The snow flakes fluttered aimlessly about my face in the shallow winter void.
As I turned the next corner, I suddenly felt a warm hand in my own. I hesitated, for motion was nearly unendurable. I turned and found myself staring into the round eyes of a pretty woman with brown hair. She looked into my eyes, paused for an instant, almost smiled, and said: "I need you."
In the distance, we could see Santa riding a sleigh pulled by several grubs. The grub in front had a shiny red cephalo-thorax.
Slowly rising from my prone position, I stretched my sore legs, and started to explore my peculiar surroundings. I frantically looked left and right, searching for an object or aspect of the cow field that I might recognize. I walked for hours, but to my chagrin and stupefaction, the crowded cattle continued to stretch for as far as my eye could see on a seemingly endless plain of grass, strange varicolored weeds, and a few stunted trees. Occasionally I saw gases oozing from nearby mist-covered swamps, and the movement of reeds and cattails in some of the smaller marshes. In these plankton-swarming pools stood cows of various sizes and colors. Everywhere was the smell of decay -- the putrefaction of nearly liquid masses resembling the rarefying remains of long-dead cows. By comparison, this stench made the stink of a cesspool seem like a new perfume by Chanel.
How did I get here? Where was I? What do you do when something so absurd, so out of place in the scheme of everyday living, takes place? Oh, you can speculate about what you should do if this or that happens, but no one can say what action they'd take when the fabric of reality begins to tear. And when it happened to me that hot summer day, I don't think I stood there trying to figure out a rational, scientific explanation for it all. It would almost have been funny, if I were not living through the experience.
I spent the next several days in the cattle field searching for a possible escape from the warm bovine bodies that buffeted me from all sides. It didn't take me long to discover that there were two different categories of animal in my new world. One type of cow seemed to be made of some soft substance and was immobile. Its gelatinous interior was covered by a leather-like hide giving it the outward appearance of a normal cow. This "soft" cow gives milk and has a head with eyes, and a mouth that makes mooing sounds at about ten second intervals. The second type of cow appeared to be a robot. From beneath all of the robot cows' left ears dangled a tiny computer chip with the enigmatic encryption "seche vite". Removing this chip did not elicit any change in the animals' behavior or vitality. After careful dissections, I discovered that the interior of these cows contained row upon row of dark printed circuit boards, a spaghetti of shiny green wires, and an occasional rusty transformer.
Luckily for me, the milk and flesh of the soft cows provided adequate nourishment, and I now believe that I will not suffer from any major dietary deficiencies. The grass in the field is edible in small quantities. However, I can find no use for the robot cows. They provide no flesh or milk.
About a month after my awakening in the cow pasture, and after almost-unendurable frustrations, I kicked at a soft cow as hard as I could with the heel of my leather shoe. The cow bellowed in the madness of extreme terror. A robot cow charged at me as if to warn me that this action would not be permitted. Obviously it permitted me to maim soft cows for food, but not for sport. This was the only time a robot cow showed any sign of aggression towards me.
Every night I went to sleep to the eternal rhythms of the cow mooings. Sometimes my hands itched, and after a few weeks, strange fungoid growths began to appear on the palms of my hands. My nails turned black -- the same color as the cow hooves surrounding me. I began to speculate that I was part of some combined genetic and electronic experiment, and that my body was regressing towards a more bovine shape. If this were true, perhaps the cows around me at one time had a human form. As my body began to slowly deteriorate, I also seemed to experience a corresponding decrease in my ability to reason in a logical manner. How could I escape from this fantastic nightmare?
One morning I felt something peculiar in my ear. I hesitated, reached into my ear, and then pulled out a computer chip that had sprouted from the base of my auditory canal. I tried to scream, but my vocal apparatus was no longer functional. A nearby cow stared intently into my eyes. Without thinking, I jumped onto its back. At first I feared some kind of aggressive reaction from the cow to the added weight upon its back, but my action did not seem to bother the cow. In fact, it permitted me to remain mounted as it quickly ran in one direction for the next few hours. The further we travelled, the more depressed I became. The cows in this area of the field were misshapen. One cow had several feet which resembled horse-shoe crabs. From the neck of another protruded several reproductive organs which resembled bars of white soap. About ten multitentacled cows with claws beneath their eyes shuffled aimlessly to my right. Perpetual amber tear drops dripped from their eyes, as if the cows were crying for some lost comrade. The "cryers" never strayed far from one another. Their tears smelled like absinthe. Suddenly, I saw a crimson cow with a long snaking tendril emanating from one of its triple nostrils, and I fainted when that greasy tendril shot out towards my face as it made barking sounds like a small poodle.
When I awoke, I determined that the triple nostril cow has implanted several peanut-sized biomechanical devices on the roof of my mouth. I could feel thick milky secretions oozing down my esophagus from these units. I ripped the little devices from my upper palate, but not before the egregious exudate began to have its soporific effects. I drifted in and out of consciousness, dreaming, travelling on a river of pain, vulnerable and spiritless, waiting to be taken away from the gates of my electronic Kingdom, where tiny dark cows dance like puppet-corpses, and ancient, twisted, winged creatures grin within their tomb of dust, as they watch me shiver and finally cry out in an endless hell-black night.
After a lonely period of about a two months, I found a large wooden spool of dirty rope in a sluggish stream. I never knew where it came from, but it was then that I embarked on what I was later to call the Soft Cow Mountain project. One motivation for this project was the fact that the "cryers" would no longer allow me to travel any further in one particular direction: they blocked every attempt by me to move. Therefore, my plan was to erect a large mountain of cows so that I could climb to the top and survey the land from a higher vantage point. I hoped the project would end the monotony of my absurd and lonely condition, and allow me to see beyond the bounds of my limited bovine world. Using the rope, I was able to coax the robot cows to drag the soft cows into one large pile. The pile constituted the base of the soft cow mountain. With a series of ropes, and after much arduous work, I began to form several layers of soft cows on top of the original square base of 40 by 40 cows. For months I worked on this project, piling soft cows one onto the other, gradually forming a huge soft cow mountain shaped somewhat like a square pyramid. The cryers stood nearby, shaking their chelicera, watching me with their unwinking eyes. I noticed that the cows on the bottom of the pile became somewhat compressed and began mooing at 5-second intervals rather than the usual 10-second intervals. Thick veins protruded from their sides. One of the cows erupted, spewing forth apricot-colored steaming guts onto the cold ground.
One night, just as twilight descended, I jumped on the back of a mobile electronic cow. While riding upon its back, I charged up the side of the slimy mountain of soft cows, reached the apex, and surveyed my kingdom. I gazed in all directions as far as my weary eye could see. Nothing but cows. I looked again. Perhaps I saw a body of water in the distance, a marshy sea, mother of life, now standing choked with fungus and goo. In that ocean, I thought I saw a cow slithering along grey shiny surfaces of rock, and with a last spasm of terror, it faded into fetid chasms of empty air. Wave upon wave of agonized ecstasy shook my oily flesh. Above me the constellations slowly wheeled as tears of laughter rippled through my body. Would the gentle acid of time destroy my mountain?
I slipped on a cow hoof, fell down the side of the mountain, and hit my head on the hard ground. The last thing I heard was a mooing at half-second intervals, and then, silence.
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