The Visitors (part 12)

The company thought they were making improvements to the population. They created chemicals that created a strong psychic ability in lab monkeys. After that, it was simple to add the chemicals to breakfast cereals for kids. Sure, they had to cover up the taste by adding more sugar, but it seemed like a good trade-off. Clairvoyance for a few extra pounds, perhaps?

They didn’t imagine the kids would stop playing outside, stop exercising almost entirely. Their parents were terrified of strangers kidnapping and killing them, so they plopped them down in front of the TV and let Bugs Bunny do it instead. The effect was the same – their minds erased by hours of TV, their health gone from years of inactivity.

The children ate the colorful cereal, marketed to them with cartoon characters just like those on the TV that served as a surrogate parent. Their parents thought it was good for them because the cardboard box said it was fortified with vitamins and minerals. They just didn’t know what else it was fortified with. Over the course of a few years, the chemicals in the cereal altered the DNA of the children enough so that when they were old enough to have their own children, they had the trait the company was hoping for. The only problem was that society wasn’t ready for it.

The children were almost too sensitive. They knew far more than they should have at early ages, because their brains were closer to crystal radios than carbon-based structures. They received all sorts of signals, all the time. They were flooded with information, with no way of filtering it or turning it off. Everything was too much. All of their senses were working overtime.

Some went mad. Some had to be institutionalized. The company managed to get some of its researchers hired on as aides at the long-term care facilities across the nation wherever the cereal had been sold. The worst cases came from parents who had eaten four times the serving size of the cereal as children, or had continued eating it into adolescence and adulthood. They were beyond hope, of no use to anyone.

Some of the others were very sensitive, but without too many adverse effects. Regular doctors labeled some of the children as having autism, or Asperger’s, or simply sensory processing disorder. The children’s difference was seen by them as a disease rather than an enhancement. The medical professionals kept trying to medicate them or assign therapy to make them act like regular children. The company never said a word, never let it be known that they’d dreamed of this day.

The company began hiring these children once they reached 18. The public and the press were delighted. Finally there was a business that not only was willing to make accommodations for this new and unusual generation, but actually seemed to want them. Little did any outsider realize but the company wasn’t being enlightened. They actually sought them out, not to appear benevolent but to further their own secret project.

Under the guise of new employee orientation, these unusual workers were assessed for their psychic ability. Those that had the highest scores were given up to three hours of specialized training every day. The other employees simply thought it was because of their special needs. Like all other employees, these new hires were sworn to secrecy. They had no idea that what they were learning wasn’t normal.

It wasn’t normal at all. In fact, no one had even tried to tap into the psychic ability of a group before. Each employee was trained to link up with each other, in series, creating a synergistic effect. The net result was far greater than the sum of the parts. It turned out to be more than the Overseer could have ever imagined or dreamed. It turned out to be the worst nightmare ever.

Strong emotions concentrated the results. The teachers had the group focus on their parents, thinking that they would have nothing but love for them. They were wrong.

They had not accounted for years of suppressed rage of being ignored, discounted, and ridiculed. They hadn’t realized that the vast majority of those in this group were seen as a being a burden to their family, an embarrassment. It was worse for the boys.

They were expected to carry on the family name, to provide grandchildren to dote on. The latent feeling of grief that their parents felt, especially their fathers, was profound. It was never talked about to the children, of course. It didn’t matter. The parents never knew that their hidden resentments were being broadcast directly to the very people who would most feel hurt.

Unknown to the researchers, the boys as one force shaped their rage at their parents into a ball of hatred, and then reached inside, shaping it. Like how a potter expands a vessel on his wheel, it became ever larger until it surrounded all parents, not just their own.

In a blink of the eye, all the parents were gone.

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Layered art experiment (version four)

Things are progressing. It is approaching done.

The whole thing
D1

Top left
D2

top right
d3

bottom left
d4

bottom right
d5

middle
d6

Detail, at an angle, of the top
d7

I added
artist-quality gold paint mixed with glazing medium.
More (photocopied) pieces of foreign money and stamps.
art paper
gold oil pastel pencil
white gel pen
Distress Ink crushed olive stain (painted on)
white chalk pen
decoupage glue

I’d started another project and used a bit of paper towel to take off and blend some of the paint on it. I then used that (now paint-blurred) paper to dab on bits of paint to this one.

The gold paint makes the picture change color and tone if you look at it in different angles and lights.

Other paints I have used during this –
a blend of cadmium yellow/ olive green / copper
payne’s grey
deep violet
yellow deep
magenta
manganese blue
burnt sienna

I’m reminded of zen gardens and the ripples on koi ponds on the top area.

I realize there is no focus – it is all interesting. I’ve not tried to draw the eye to just one area, but all of them separately. This is a piece that takes a lot of time to explore.

The Visitors (part 11)

Rob had stopped writing actual maps in his notebook after the second time he’d gotten caught. The police had confiscated his satchel along with his notebook and figured out too much from it. If he’d just had the usual things in notebooks – poems, stories, a few sketches, then they might’ve let him go, thinking he was a student of a sort.

That alone could have spelled trouble because schools had ceased to be in the years after the Disappearances. But it wasn’t uncommon for people in their early 20s to cobble together some kind of curriculum for themselves. The police didn’t mind that, seeing it as a harmless way to spend their time. They knew it wouldn’t, it couldn’t, lead to anything. But if they suspected his notes were about Walks then the whole plan could have unraveled overnight.

The police couldn’t go on Walks, of course. If they could, they would. Who wouldn’t? The ability to travel from Room to Room, discovering new buildings from the inside was quite a feat. It was like having a master key to every house. “Open house” events took on a whole new meaning if you were a Visitor.

The problem was, some Visitors worked for the police. Not willingly, mind you. The only “pay” they got was being set free. They’d been caught on a Walk, often helping themselves to something in a member of the Quality’s house. Visitors didn’t think of it as stealing, but the Quality sure did, and the police were notified.

How can it be stealing when the items weren’t even bought by the Quality? The concept of “possession is 9/10 of the law” still held true even in this time, because the people who did all possessing had all the lawyers on their side. Hell, half of the Quality were lawyers, those that hadn’t had time to settle down and start a family.

Visitors who were caught had two choices if they wanted to go free. Pay a fine or rat out another Visitor, which sometimes meant decoding their maps so the police would know where to catch them. It wasn’t much of a choice because most Visitors didn’t have enough money to make the police happy. Too little and they couldn’t pay. Too much and they were liable to face yet more charges, including burglary or robbery. It was seemingly easier to be a snitch. But it also carried a penalty. Snitches didn’t tend to last long. Once word got out among the Visitors, a snitch would often get shoved into a Room whose closest Door was at least 100 miles away.

Those kinds of Rooms were why Visitors made maps. Some things were too unpleasant to want to have to do again. They’d exchange information whenever they could about Doors that were useful and ones that were less than. Someone else’s misfortune didn’t have to be yours.

Rob had decided on his own to transform his maps into sketches of leaves and flowers. This way it looked like he was going on nature walks rather than going on Walks.

A darkened bit of leaf here, an apparently inchworm chewed bit there, and nobody was the wiser. His marks made sense to him, and that was what mattered. He used actual plants as his basis for the sketches to have verisimilitude. He didn’t have a good enough imagination so he didn’t try to make them up. His Gran had taught him quite a bit about plants, albeit unintentionally. He was her garden helper and had to know what was weed and what was vegetable. He thought of it as slave labor at the time, but he was grateful for it now.

His leaf maps were starting to make more sense. Now that he’d had time to compare notes with Mickey and Julia, some of the missing areas were filling in nicely. There still were areas that didn’t appear to have any Doors at all. He compared these areas against a large topographic map of the state at the local library. He and Julia agreed that more and more evidence pointed towards the problem starting with all three areas called Rayon City, and it didn’t take long for the two of them to convince Mickey that they were on to something.

The three Rayon Cities were built hundreds of years ago by a chemical corporation to house their employees. The cities, more like large villages, were built in short order along with the plant. It was an added incentive to have a ready-made place to live for young impressionable potential employee.

The same people who were drafted to go overseas to fight the Germans were the same kinds of ones who took up jobs in that labyrinthine, windowless complex of a plant. Both groups barely out of high school and with no marketable skills other than day labor. Both groups were average (or worse) students. Both groups were from poor families. They didn’t have many choices.

The military or the plant was the same as far as a choice went. They both paid well, had good benefits, and were dangerous. People took their chances going to work for either of them. With the military, you could die or come back missing a limb or your mind. Death or dismemberment wasn’t a great risk with the plant, but mental illness couldn’t be ruled out. Cancer was a strong contender, too.

Both groups thought of themselves as lucky, as above average when it came to the odds. In short, they didn’t think the bad stuff could happen to them.

Something bad happened, but not what anyone could have expected. All those years of “not me” Pollyanna optimism, all that time being surprised when the bad stuff actually did happen, all those people who cheated themselves out of their own future by borrowing against it with wishful thinking – it all mixed together somehow with the secret experiments that were going on at the plant.

The three plants were privately run but government controlled. It was a weird sort of marriage that had happened before. It had begun with the post office and ended with the auto manufacturers. It was an experiment that resulted in an odd hybrid of the two – good benefits from the government side, better management from the private industry side.

It wasn’t perfect, however. Employees had to commit an actual crime to be fired. Plenty of people who would never have gotten hired in private industry got to not only keep their jobs but often got promoted. It seemed like the more inept you were, the more you got paid.

Another feature of this corporate chimera was the secrecy. Regular private businesses were supposed to be transparent. The government was as transparent as a brick wall. Even the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t be used to pry open the company’s files on its less-than-normal experiments. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway even if someone had tried. They didn’t write any of this experiment down. It was too important to risk being exposed.

The company had divided all of the workers into tiny groups that never spoke with each other. Sometimes the left hand didn’t even know the right hand existed. Each workgroup had its assigned task and were told nothing about how it related to the whole. At first they were told it was for the benefit of national security.

The company made a lot of material for the war effort. They were involved in anything that involved chemicals. Rayon, that miracle fiber that was invented in their laboratory, was used in making parachute cord. Chemicals normally used in fertilizer were instead used to make bombs. The workers understood the need for secrecy – the less they knew, the less chance of the wrong information getting into enemy hands.

The war was long over but the secrets continued. It had become habit to not ask questions, become a matter of fact that you just didn’t even think about what other groups did, even those that shared your area. The metaphorical cat wasn’t even curious, so he stayed alive and safe.

Until everything went wrong.

Layered art experiment (part three)

There are now three to four layers on this. I’ve added more stamps and map bits and parts of money. Gold foil was added.

Part three, whole
c1

whole, enhanced (the colors aren’t quite as bright in real life, but this shows off the gold foil)
c1a

Details –

top left
C2

top right
C3

bottom left
C4

bottom right
C5

middle
C6

middle, enhanced
C6a

I worked on it this morning and will share those pictures once that layer has dried. I used gel medium and gold paint to glaze over some of the darker areas. I’m still not happy with the dark olive green at the top, even though I think it needs some contrast.

Layered art experiment (part one and two)

I decided that I wanted to try to make art like Nick Bantock does. I still don’t have image transfer down, so I’m using several of his other techniques in the meantime. You can learn a lot about collage and layering art from many other sources, but Mr. Bantock has two different books that will give you an insider’s look into his personal process. They are “Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera” and “The Trickster’s Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity”.

Here is the first bit, which actually has two layers – paint and ephemera such as foreign money, stamps, and maps.

A1

Closeup of top left
a2

Top right
a3

Bottom right
a4

Bottom left
a5

Middle
a6

It took two days to get to this point. Then it took a few more days of looking at it to start painting over the areas that still needed work. I wanted to darken it at first, but then I decided to work with the colors I had. I mixed together copper and olive paint with some watered down white and got a mix kind of like camouflage and worn American dollars. I started to apply it and then added more of yellow and black to adjust it. It wasn’t the colors I’d used at all, but it was a nice alternative than just painting black.

This is what I got.
b1

When doing the cropping of the photo I decided to enhance the colors a bit digitally to see if I can show what they really look like in person. This is a little much, so you’ll have to kind of imagine that it is a little less than this, and a little more than the previous.

b1b

The idea of continuing to work on it is to make it all good. There are always areas that are better than others when you work on a collage or painting. Keep those, and add to the areas that aren’t so good. Keep editing until it is perfect.

I’m not enjoying this process as much as I’ve been enjoying the art journaling. That is faster, certainly, but it also seems to produce strong emotions and memories while I work. That in itself is the reason to do it. This is not producing many feelings, other than a desire to stop working on it to preserve it as is.

I’m learning that I feel very attached to the layers as I make them. I’ve not wanted to paint over any of it, even the so-so parts, because I don’t want to lose anything. This is the mindset that makes some people keep old things stored away in their basement with the idea that “one day” they will need it. I’m trying to work with and around that, so that is why I decided to take pictures as I work on this.

Here are the detail photos from the second set. There are two to four layers in each photo.

Top left
b2

Top left (enhanced)
b2b

Top right
b3

Top right (enhanced)
b3b

Center left
b4

Center middle
b5

Center right
b6

Bottom left
b7

Bottom center
b8

Bottom right
b9

I’ll add further pictures in a separate post as this progresses.

—-Materials used (so far)—–
Stretched canvas
gesso
Acrylic paint
tissue paper (some with Distress Ink on the underside)
matte medium
stamps
Asian map
photocopies of foreign money
“crushed glass” glitter

tools – fingers, paintbrush, sponge brush, tissue paper

Rosie’s Adjustable Man

heads

Rosie knew what she wanted in a man. Trouble was, she wanted something different every day. The wealthier ladies could afford different models, but they had room to store them too.  She’d had to settle for a model with adjustable heads. The body stayed the same, but the personality changed. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.  Currently she had six different versions, but over thirty were available. Whenever she could afford it, she got a new head for her Adjustable Man.

Rosie’s house wasn’t tiny by any means. It was the standard allotment for Zeta-class citizens – three bedrooms and one large common area with dining/ kitchen/ living room, with movable panels to divide up the areas when necessary. This was a far cry from Gamma-class, with only two bedrooms and a living room but no kitchen. That was shared, communal style, with ten other Gammas.

Gammas tended to eat together in the common dining room. Slinking off to eat in their private apartments, hunched over a coffee table while sitting on a stiff sofa, was possible but frowned upon. Nobody would say anything about it to the citizen who did it, but then they simply wouldn’t say anything at all to them for a few days afterwards.

It wasn’t planned that way. It wasn’t a rule. It was more like a habit, or tradition. Not sharing time with your fellow citizens meant you wanted to be alone, so they gave each other space at those times. But, if a citizen was absent more than about four times a month and wasn’t on a scheduled trip for their task-group, then subtle and not-so-subtle inquiries were made. Some were to the citizen’s family. Some were to the Overseers. Perhaps s/he was ill? Perhaps therapy needed to be assigned? Perhaps s/he needed to be reclassified? Sometimes that particular area’s citizen class wasn’t a good fit for that citizen’s style of life. Never would they ask a Gamma-class citizen themselves if anything was wrong. That wasn’t thinkable, not for that class. It was only once you were promoted to Zeta-class that you were even considered to have enough spirit to have an opinion.

Rosie had opinions all the time, and felt that everyone needed to hear them. The Overseer channeled this into encouraging her to write an online blog, where she felt that she was being heard for a change. She thought she was making a difference. She was wrong. Nobody read her writing. The numbers on the statistics were a ruse from the Overseer to get her to keep writing and thus keep her out of the way. The comments were supplied by workers in his office.  It kept her placated and maintained order. It didn’t do to have citizens thinking too much. It upset the social fabric.

She was so opinionated that no man wanted to spend time with her, and so insecure that she didn’t want to spend time with herself. Fortunately for her, she was not alone in this. Plenty of women had been told “You think too much” by men, and rather than stop thinking, or at least out loud, they decided to get an Adjustable Man. He could be modified in any way imaginable, providing you had the resources.

It was easy these days to pick up a used version, have the memory wiped, and start from scratch. Or, you could custom build one online and have it shipped to you, ready to cook, mow the yard, and be pleasant to take on a visit with your friends. No more awkward times like when your man suddenly started talking about less-than-polite topics around your best friends or coworkers. No more attitude about doing housework or it being “woman’s work”. No, the days of men thinking their contribution to the family ended as soon as they left their workplace ended around the time women realized they didn’t have to have children, and thus didn’t have to stay home to raise them.

Adjustable Women were in the works for those women who wanted to work outside of the home after having children. There were never enough reliable or affordable childcare providers – never had been. Come to think of it, the same was true for eldercare. Nobody wanted to take care of the very young or the very old for very long, even if they weren’t related to them. Those that did wanted a lot of money for it, or they had less than honorable reasons for seeking those jobs. But Adjustable Women were proving to be harder to make than Adjustable Men.

Rosie was trying to decide who she wanted as her partner to the dance tonight. It was almost as important as determining what dress to wear. Too formal? Too casual? She wished there was a guideline on the RSVP, like “black tie” or “blue jeans” but for partners. She’d hate to take a stuffy, know-it-all partner to a casual gathering, the same as she’d hate to take a sci-fi geek, able to name all Star Trek captains in order (and delineate their flaws and charms) to a company luncheon. How did early-century escorts do it?

She opted for the boring “Bob” version.  He was cute, but he didn’t talk much.  Her friends would understand, and the new people she was there to meet wouldn’t care.

 

Wander (short story)

He’d been walking a long time. Days? Weeks? Years? It no longer matter what time it was. It was today, always today. He had nowhere particular he had to be. He wore no watch, carried no day planner. His calendar was free.

He walked away from it all some years back and had just kept walking. When would this walk be over? He’d not planned on starting it, so perhaps it would end the same way.

It started suddenly. Just like with spring tulips, it seemingly sprung up all at once. Only a careful observer could see that change had been coming a long time.

It happened suddenly for him, that was for sure. One day he gathered up a duffel bag’s worth of possessions, put on his shoes and her all weather coat, and walked outside. He never thought he’d make it past the yard, but he did. Then he thought for sure she’d stop him when he got to the end of the street, but she didn’t. Every step further from that house his fear grew smaller and his excitement grew larger.

The thought of leaving never crossed his mind all those years. Not like he was happy being there, mind you. It was just that he didn’t know he had a choice. It was just like Hagar and the well. She was suffering and all along what she needed was right there and she couldn’t see it.

He walked three blocks fueled on fear and excitement before he started to wonder where he was headed. It was strange to feel so much at the same time after a lifetime of not feeling at all. Perhaps he felt once? Surely he had. He couldn’t remember.

At the edge of the neighborhood he decided to try to feel, but not too much. Which way? Straight? Right? Left? Turning around and going back was right out, he knew that. Just thinking about that made his stomach get smaller and tighter and warmer. Sounded like “no” most emphatically. This was new – his body was a sense organ, tallying pros and cons and providing the result. It was like having to learn another language to figure out what it was saying. Why trust his brain to tell him how to react, when he can use his entire body? His stomach loosened when he faced right. Okay, that way.

He didn’t know where that way lead, but it was the same no matter which way it took him. He’d never been allowed out of the house. Never been given a map of the city, or of anywhere for that matter. There was no television in the house either, and certainly not a computer. He had no idea that there was a whole world outside of the house, and that was how she planned it.

He was lucky she’d even spoken to him, or he’d never have picked up the language. She didn’t at first, but he overheard snippets of words and sentences when she’d have her boyfriend of the month over to spend the night. Sometimes one of them would try to talk to him, try to make friends with him as a way of placating her. Perhaps he thought he could stay longer if he turned out to be father material? The way to a woman’s heart is through her child, right? Those that tried might as well have saved themselves the trouble. Once she realized they just wanted free room and board she cut them loose and changed the locks again.

All these years later, his body told him more than just how he felt. The rain was coming soon. His nose told him this. The hairs on his arm said it was going to be a long quiet soak. His big toe told him the mist he was in would pick up, grow just enough to be annoying and cut down on visibility in about 20 minutes. That was enough time to find a restaurant to wait it out.

Another wanderer had taught him the tricks of the trade. Look for a restaurant that is a little busy, but not overly so. If it wasn’t busy enough he’d stick out. Then the employees or customers would notice. If he was lucky, they’d gently wake him themselves. If not, a cop would be called to do that chore. Sometimes he’d simply be asked to leave. Sometimes he’d be told to never come back. On the other hand, if the restaurant was too busy, a customer might sit too close to him and spot that he didn’t quite fit. Perhaps they’d notice his aroma, or realize he was sleeping, or notice that he only had a soda in front of them.

The goal was not to be noticed.

A soda bought you a table for at least an hour. Keep it refilled and it looked like you just got there. Plus, the sugar and caffeine didn’t hurt. It was great to get refills – you could have a two-liter’s worth of pop for pocket change. If you felt like it you could even take the cup for next time if you could find another one of that chain. If that one was busy enough they’d never even notice you’d not bought anything from them.

Actual sleeping required some skill and a prop. Find a flip phone on the side of the road or at a local thrift store, hold it open in your hand, and you could slouch down and make it appear you were checking texts while you dozed. People rarely looked long enough to notice your fingers weren’t moving. Most folks had been taught it was rude to stare.

If you were homeless for longer than a month you started to become invisible. People just didn’t want to look at you, to see you. They were afraid you’d catch their eye and say “Excuse me sir? Can you spare some change?” They didn’t want to hear whatever story you made up to convince them or yourself of your worthiness. It was easier to pretend you didn’t exist. It was a little lie they told themselves.

He was through with lies. They were too hard to keep up with, too hard to justify. They grew and grew, one lie leading to another, becoming a tangle like weeds or rope. Before you knew it you were lost or tripped up. He decided it was best to tell the truth, but not too much of it. Too much talk spoils everything.

He carried as little money as possible, same as everything else. It all weighed him down. Everything took up space, either in his bag or in his head. Traveling light was about more than having an extra pair of socks or a small bottle of shampoo.

The rain was almost over. Time to go.