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The Vanishing Hitchhiker.

Vanishing hitchhiker stories are almost as old as the wheel, which may be why they have as many twists as old country roads.

I wish I could say it was a dark and stormy night, but it was actually very clear, and not really all that dark because there was a large full moon overhead that lit the carpet of mist that hung over the English countryside. I was in the back of a taxi being driven by Big Dave. Big Dave drove for a local cab company that carried students back and forth between the manor where I lived and the nearby town of Grantham. It was Harlaxton Manor, by the way, which appears in several films, including the 1999 film The Haunting, but that’s another story.

Big Dave, who was called that because he took up the entire front of the cab, usually had a story to tell, like the time he went for a swim in the fountain in Trafalgar Square at midnight, fully clothed—in December, or the time he was bitten by the only poisonous snake in Britain. This particular night, though, he was unusually quiet. I said, “It’s lovely out tonight.”

“Yer,” said Dave. “Reminds me of when I lived in Cornwall. Ever been to the coast down there?”

I hadn’t. “What’s it like?”

“Pretty. Lots of ruins. Lots of history down in Cornwall, there is. Strange thing happened to me there on a night like this too.”

I leaned forward. “Go on.”

“I was drivin’ down an empty stretch of road, a lot like this one, and see this bloke walkin’ almost in the middle of it. I swerved around him and stopped. Somethin’ might be wrong with him, I thought, so I opened the car and offered him a ride. He got in. Didn’t say much. I asked where he was goin’ and he said just down the road a bit. I thought that was odd. No houses around that I could see. So we drove on a bit and up ahead I could see this little church, a little place I must’ve passed a hundred times and never seen anyone in it. And that’s when he said, ‘Here it is.’ I started to slow down and he said, ‘Ta for the ride, I’ve got something for you.’ I thought, that’s torn it, I’ve picked up a lunatic and he’s gonna kill me. I pulled over in front of the house and was about to punch him or run for it when I felt somethin’ stick in my ribs.”

He took a deep breath.

“What was it?” I asked.

“I thought it was a piece of paper. I unrolled it and it was a fiver. I looked up and he was gone.”

“He paid you for the ride and then he disappeared.”

“Yer.”

“So the money was real?”

Dave shrugged. “Dunno. It disappeared too.”

“It did?”

“Yer. I went down the pub after that and had a few pints and when I left the money was all gone.”

Then he laughed so hard the cab shook the rest of the way.

Red In Tooth And Claw.

Edgar Allan Poe hated allegory. Most of his stories are just stories. That doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional, but he didn’t usually have a clear moral or message or metaphor in mind, which makes The Masque Of The Red Death a weird story for him. Then again he also liked to dabble and experiment and he was kind of a joker—hey, the guy authorized his worst enemy to write his biography, but that’s another story. It’s also one of Poe’s most famous stories, one of several that Roger Corman decided to adapt from 1960 to 1965, starring—of course—Vincent Price–and which he then remade—unfortunately without Vincent Price—in 1989, although the plot needed a lot of beefing up. Another adaptation was done by Wendy Pini, famous for the Elfquest graphic novels, as a web comic (NSFW), this time set in the distant future and full of polymorphously perverse characters who run the gender spectrum.

Anyway, it’s written in third person, and set, like a fable or fairy tale, in a remote land, and its protagonist, Prince Prospero, is mostly absent from the story although he is introduced as “happy and dauntless and sagacious”—that last is a favorite word of Poe’s and almost always used ironically. He’s a party guy, not much of a leader, and hopes to cheat death with a bunch of his friends by sealing himself off from the world, a plan that won’t work out and that’s only a spoiler if you don’t know anything about Poe. It was also a common technique. In Boccaccio’s Decameron, which may be one of Poe’s sources, a group of nobles try to escape from the plague by hiding out in a remote castle and telling each other sexy stories, and Poe may also have read at least one account of masked balls held in Paris during a cholera epidemic.

What’s even more unusual for Poe than the allegorical nature of the story is its use of color symbolism. Prince Prospero has seven rooms, possibly a reference to Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. Each room devoted to a single color and in a very specific order: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and finally black. In The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe Stephen Peithman says, “Color symbolism is a tricky business,” but based on the context it’s possible to make some informed guesses. Blue, for instance, symbolizes the dawning of life, and is also the color of morning. Purple is blue colored by red–that first rush of blood. Green is the color of growth and renewal, spring and summer. Orange is an autumn color, and the color of the setting sun, white is the color of age–of whitening hair, and also winter and snow, violet is purple mixed with white, a color mid-life crisis, and then black is oblivion, the absence of color. Each room has stained glass windows, all lit from behind by braziers–even the sun is shut out of Prospero’s world–of corresponding colors, except for the black room where the window is “a deep blood color”. Blood is the very essence of life, but also the mark of the plague Prospero and pals want to escape.

And if the symbolism isn’t heavy enough the final black room has a giant ebony clock and every time it strikes all the partying stops, briefly, until that moment in the story when the guest who crashes every party shows up.

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Doctor X Will Build A Creature.

The following story was written by journalist Allen Walker and appeared in the October 2016 issue of Catchall, an alt-weekly for which he is a feature writer. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission. His articles have also appeared in Matrix, Road Hogs, Elsewhere, and other publications.His essay Patagonia Dreamin’ is included in the anthology The Journey Of A Thousand Miles. Other stories by Allen Walker that have appeared here are A Werewolf Problem In Central Indiana, Living Or Dead Is Purely Coincidental (Part 1, Part, 2, Part 3, Part 4), That Was The Year That Was, and Submerged.

“Isn’t he magnificent?” Dr. Xavier says as she flips the carcass over on the exam table. Magnificent is not the word that comes to my mind. In fact I feel slightly ill. The glare of burnished metal brings out details that might normally only be seen under a magnifying glass, but here there’s nothing between us. His–since we’re calling it a he–legs are folded inward toward the center of its body in the classic death position of normal-sized specimens, and he gives off a musky, slightly sweet odor reminiscent of rotting hay. Dr. Xavier is gently prying the legs apart to expose the underside.

“How can you tell he’s a he?” I ask quietly, taking a step back.

She presses gloved fingers to different parts, using technical terms and explaining that if it were a female this would be longer, that would be shorter. She points to a cluster of bulbs at its rear. “The spinnerets would be much bigger, although with the original species we bred from there’s not that much difference in size between the males and females. That’s one reason we chose from the family Sparassidae.”

That’s a relief, I think. I’d read that in some species the female is ten times bigger, or more, than the male. The specimen in front of me is big enough as it is, thank you very much.

I am, of course, at the renowned and controversial Praetorius Institute in eastern Tennessee, near where the state shares borders with North Carolina and Virginia. The Institute, or PI as everyone here likes to call it, has been praised, criticized, celebrated, demonized, and even scrutinized by government officials and watchdogs, and yet its work has gone on, thanks in part to its defenders. When scientists first cloned Dolly the sheep in the late twentieth century that was controversial too, but was a great leap forward in understanding biology. And this breakthrough has great practical potential as well.

At least that’s what the PI’s researchers and its defenders argue. There are a lot of people, including me, who still have trouble with the idea of a spider three feet long roaming around.

Since no human, alive or dead, has ever seen such a thing it’s difficult to find the right words. The joints of its cylindrical legs are machine-like, and yet they’re hairy. The upper, narrower thorax is mostly bare, a dull black, with a look of molded plastic. The round abdomen is covered with smooth gray fur with bands of dark brown.

Dr. Xavier’s straight dark hair hangs down as she turns it right side up again and deftly moves it around. I ask her how much it weighs.

“Alive he was twelve, maybe thirteen kilos. About eleven now. They dry out quickly. Would you like to touch it?” She grins. “Unless you think it’ll bite.”

That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Intellectually too I know there‘s no real danger. On my arrival I am given a press packet and taken straight to Dr. Xavier‘s corner office where pictures of her partner and two children decorated her desk along with pictures of spiders. A web knitted from yarn hangs in front of the window overlooking the valley. After offering me some tea in a Spider-Man mug Dr. Xavier starts to give me her prepared speech. Spider silk is the holy grail of engineering materials. As strong as steel but extremely light it has limitless possibilities for everything from medicine to construction to space exploration. The problem has always been getting it. The Praetorius Institute, like some other organizations, started experiments with implanting spider genes in female goats which would then produce spider silk from their milk glands. It had limited success but the silk had to be extracted from goats’ milk and required a lot of processing. “We knew we could do better,” Dr. Xavier says. “And the answer was simple. Instead of cutting out genes from spiders and sticking them somewhere else we had to go straight to the source.” She then pulls a slim book from behind her desk and hands it to me. It’s a children’s book of prehistoric creatures and she’s opened it to a picture of a primeval forest with giant insects.
“The world used to have giant dragonflies and meter-long millipedes,” she says. “There may even be mega-spider fossils we just haven’t found yet. One reason bugs don’t get so big anymore is the atmosphere used to have as much as forty percent more oxygen than it does now.”
“So,” I say, “if one of your spiders were to get loose–“

”It would suffocate before it could even leave the building.” But what if there’s some reflex that causes even the dead ones to react? I wish I’d gone with the group tour instead of the solo option when I accepted the invitation. Then when there was a call for volunteers I could hang back, let someone else put their hand in harm’s way. As I think this Dr. Xavier comes around to my side of the table and grabs my arm. She puts my hand on the abdomen.

“Just stroke it. See? It’s like petting a cat.”

I wonder if this will affect my feelings for my real cat, Emily, whose fur is also gray. In fact it’s nothing like petting a cat. The fur is soft, but the body underneath is hard. It’s like petting a mannikin wearing a mink stole.

“We thought they’d be prickly,” Dr. Xavier goes on, “but they’re surprisingly soft. That’s just one thing. Look at the feet.” She bends a hairy leg backwards. The underside is covered with deep grooves that form circles, like a fingerprint. “It’s almost like a gecko,” she says. “Fortunately they can’t climb. Then she turns the spider’s face to me. I step back, but she doesn‘t notice. “And look at how the palps and mandibles are different from what you’d find in a regular spider. Even after three decades we can’t always predict what will happen when we tinker with DNA to this degree.” Above the broad beak six greenish orbs seem to glower at me.

We go to lunch in the PI’s cafeteria. On a lower floor than Dr. Xavier’s office it overlooks a small artificial pond and the surrounding forest. It’s crowded and I’m reminded that the spiders are just one of a dozen or so projects that sound like science fiction going on at the PI, and yet no one here looks like a mad scientist. Least of all Dr. Xavier. Over our lunch of Caesar salads topped with seared steak I bring up the controversial nature of the mega-spiders. She sighs.

“I’ve had this debate with practically everyone I know, including most of my family. I don’t want to be glib about anyone’s feelings but humans have been manipulating genes for as long as we’ve had agriculture. The mega-spiders are as natural as a hybrid tomato. You want an abomination? Look at a Labradoodle.”

To try and relieve some of the tension I change the subject.

“What made you want to study genetics? Your parents weren‘t scientists.”

“No. My father wanted to be but he went into hardware instead to support my grandparents after they came over from Vietnam. He encouraged me, though, and I’ve always had an interest in bugs. I got a Barbie Dream House one Christmas and used it to raise palmetto bugs.”

“Giant palmetto bugs?”

She laughs. “As big as they get. I was more interested in their life cycle and behavior, though. It was reading about fruit flies that got me into genomics. The idea that everything we are is determined by a single long molecule just fascinated me.” She puts her hand over her mouth as she thoughtfully chews a larger piece of steak. “The problem with mega-spiders, of course, was where to start.”

“Which came first: the spider or the egg?” I start to laugh but she pounces on this.

“Exactly! We couldn’t just flip a switch and make spiders grow big. That’s why it took more than three decades of research before we could get them to this size. It took several generations and more than two dozen changes to their DNA.”

She continues as she cuts a piece of blackened steak into smaller pieces. “There were some terrible mistakes too, horrible things. You wouldn’t believe some of the challenges we faced. But we learned a lot too. Like, what do you feed a three-foot spider? Normal spiders liquefy their prey’s guts and suck it out, but they’re feeding on insects, other arachnids, things with exoskeletons. The genes we changed triggered other changes too. Like beaks. We feed the mega-spiders rats. They paralyze them and swallow them whole.” She takes another bite of steak. “A lot of fur comes out in their scat.”

I push my salad away and make a mental note to suggest that on future tours she save this information for after lunch.

She pushes her salad away too. “Come on. It’s time for you to meet the kids.”

At first “the kids” are no-shows, but their enclosures are fascinating. Through clear plastic walls I can see ferns and what look like small palm trees shrouded in mist.

“Cycads,” Dr. Xavier tells me. “Also horsetail, moss, liverworts. They’re what even some scientists call ‘primitive plants’ because they’ve been around so long. They seem to tolerate the high oxygen better than other plants, and we hope it makes the spiders more comfortable. We have to keep it humid too, for the spiders. Some of their wild cousins live in the desert, but these, well, just to maintain their body mass they need more of everything.”

The plants in the enclosures look more futuristic than prehistoric. Also surprising is the absence of any sign of webs. This is a source of frustration for Dr. Xavier and her entire team.

“Tarantulas don’t build webs but they can spin silk, and their size made them an obvious choice. We just assumed we’d be able to extract silk from them. So far that’s been harder than we thought it would be. Maybe with what we’ve learned we can try with another family, maybe Aranea or Nephila, but that would be like starting all over.”

As she speaks one of the spiders creeps out of the mist. As it moves across the mossy floor its slow plodding is fascinating to watch. I wonder if it’s stirring up genetic memories, perhaps passed down from some of my mammalian ancestors. Its movements are deliberate, reaching out gently with its forelegs.

Dr. Xavier tells me they have nine in all, kept in separate enclosures. Originally they were kept together until one of the females turned aggressive and killed her sisters.

“And when the males started hunting in packs, circling around the rats we put in there for them, we thought maybe we should keep them separate.”

This spider is brighter in color than the one we examined earlier in the lab, with coppery fur. As it turns to face me a each of its dark green eyes is bisected by a single beam of light, like a precious stone.

I hear Dr. Xavier talking to someone behind me, but I’m too entranced by the spider to pay attention. Then she steps up next to me and says , “This is Carl.”

“Hello Carl,” I say, looking down at the spider. Then I jump as a bass baritone voice says, “Hello to you too.”

I turn around. A stocky man in a dark blue coat is standing next to Dr. Xavier. He puts out his hand.

Dr. Xavier apologizes. “I’ve got to go make a call, but Carl can keep showing you around.” As she hurries away Carl and I turn back to the spider.

“Creepy, ain’t they?” says Carl. He chuckles.

“I’m not sure that’s the right word,” I say. “In fact I’m having trouble finding the right words.”

“Come with me.”

In the elevator Carl swipes his ID card and a few moments later we step out onto the roof of the Praetorius Institute.

“I like to come up here once in a while for a little fresh air and a think,” he says.

“What do you think about?”

He chuckles again. “Anything. Nothing. Just take it all in.”

I step to the edge and look out at the forest below. In the distance I can see a low cloud settled over a hill. It looks like a web.

 

Keep Calm And Carrion.

It was a crisp, clear, October morning, which was unusual because around here because summer usually lasts into November and then the temperatures plunge because the weather likes to skip fall entirely. For some reason the car was in the shop so I was walking to the bus, which annoyed me in spite of the nice weather. And then I heard “Woof!” and I stopped and turned, expecting to see a small dog, but instead there was a cluster of black vultures in someone’s yard. If you’ve never heard one black vultures bark like dogs. It’s pretty funny. I wondered too if the people who lived in that house were home and if they were what they thought of a bunch of big black birds tearing apart some roadkill in front of their chrysanthemums. A group of vultures, by the way, is called a “venue”. Vultures get a bad rap, mostly because they’re associated with death, but somebody’s gotta clean up the garbage and we should be grateful they’ve stepped up. Their digestive systems can destroy anthrax and cholera, unlike some other carrion eaters who spread these diseases, and vultures fill such an important anthropological niche they’ve evolved independently on different continents, and like crows and ravens vultures are very intelligent. They’re smart enough to have figured out that it’s a lot easier to catch your food once it’s stopped moving.

In myth and legend vultures run the spectrum. The Cherokee believed the vulture’s bald head was a sign of shame, although really it’s just practical–they wouldn’t have to worry about getting rotten meat stuck in their hair, and we all know how annoying that can be. The ancient Egyptians regarded the vulture as a nurturing mother, but they also associated it with death. That’s not surprising. What would be surprising is if they didn’t associate it with death, which reminds me of a joke. A psychiatrist shows an ancient Egyptian a picture of a bird and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist pulls out a picture of a tree and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist pulls out a picture of a tree and says, “What do you think of when you see this?” The ancient Egyptian says, “Death.” The psychiatrist says, “Obviously you’re obsessed with death.” The ancient Egyptian says, “Whaddya mean? You’re the one with all the morbid pictures,” but that’s another story.

Then there’s the story of the founding of ancient Rome. Remus thought the hill where he wanted to build a city was the lucky one because six vultures flew over it, but then twelve vultures flew over the hill chosen by Romulus, and Rome turned out pretty well.

Yeah, I felt pretty lucky to be walking by the venue down an avenue.

 

こんにちは, Mr. Roboto.

Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:
“Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…”

-Ray Bradbury, There Will Come Soft Rains

A few years ago I volunteered for a psychology experiment. I was shown a clear plastic case filled with gears and levers arranged to form what looked kind of like a face, although that just might have been pareidolia (check out Ann Koplow’s definition of that word). The young woman administering the experiment told me the case was a robot named Marvin and I thought, hey, the paranoid android, does he have diodes causing pain in his left side? But I wasn’t the one asking questions. Instead the young woman asked me a series of questions about Marvin. Does Marvin have feelings? Does Marvin think like we do? Does Marvin have rights? As she went down the list I ticked off “no”, feeling a little bad about it, but, hey, it was a machine, not a person.

When the experiment was done the young woman explained to me that she was studying how people respond to machines. She had a different “robot” without a face and with a more technical name. She told me most people responded negatively to the other robot but more positively to Marvin, and I’d just completely blown the results. Maybe I would have felt differently if that uncanny valley had been narrower, but I doubt it.

The odd thing is I’ve really been into science fiction, and especially robots, my whole life. The first Halloween after Star Wars came out I went as C-3PO and the first time I saw Forbidden Planet on a Saturday afternoon I thought Robbie The Robot was the hero. I still kind of think that and sometimes when I offer someone a drink I’ll add, “Would sixty gallons be sufficient?” and no one ever gets it, but that’s another story. And the ethics of artificial life, and especially artificial intelligence, is something science fiction has grappled with since, well, about as long as there’s been science fiction. “Robot” comes from a Czech word meaning “slave” and entered science fiction in a 1921 play by Karel Čapek. The term android is a compound of ancient Greek words that mean “man-like” and has been used to mean something resembling a person since at least the early 18th century.

It’s still a big question. The series Humans and the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica are both built on the question of what happens when machines become self-aware, Star Trek: The Next Generation used Commander Data and Star Trek: Voyager used the holographic doctor to grapple with the rights and responsibilities of self-aware machines, and, back in the Star Wars universe, even though Obi Wan says, “If droids could think there would be no need for humans at all,” it seems pretty clear that the droids can think. They’re even programmed with personalities–or is that something that just happens when their ability to process information reaches a certain level? And while the replicants in Blade Runner look biological–almost completely indistinguishable from humans–they’re still machines, but what happens when you program a machine with an instinct for self-preservation?

And let’s not forget one of film’s most famous thinking machines: HAL 9000. As Dave says, “He acts like he has genuine emotions. Of course he’s programmed that way to make it easier for us to talk to him. Whether or not he has real feelings is something I don’t think anyone can truthfully answer.”

2001 does try to answer that question, though. In the end HAL’s voice runs down like a record player losing power, a mere machine. In 2010, though, we learn that HAL goes on a killing spree because it–or he–was told to lie, causing an internal conflict. The machine has a mental breakdown.

For all that science fiction has wrestled with the question there still seem to be no answers, but one thing is clear: the more like us machines become the more they’ll tell us about who–or what–we are.

Across The Universe.

FROM: THE GALACTIC COUNCIL, MILKY WAY
TO: PEOPLE OF EARTH
SUBJECT: FIRST CONTACT

Dear People of Earth,
We hope you don’t mind being called that. You do have a lot of names for your planet as well as each other, and even the mid-sized yellow star your planet orbits. It gets very confusing. We decided to pick one and go with it.
Now down to business. While this signal may make you say “wow” understand that it is not to be considered a formal first contact. We expect you to carry on as you were, but since a growing number of you accept that you are not alone in the universe we thought we’d make this little courtesy call. We’ve been monitoring your transmissions, although your recent switch to satellites that direct signals directly to locations on your planet, what you call “cellular” communication, rather than broad-range wave-based technology has made this more difficult. We’ve also studied your culture extensively, although almost entirely without your awareness. There have been a few unfortunate incidents when we were sloppy. They were incorporated into what you call “mythology” or “religion”, but since we understand this is a sensitive area for you we won’t go into further detail.
The reason for this message is we’d like to assure you that everything will be fine. Well, perhaps “fine” isn’t the right word, but you can take comfort that your formal first contact with creatures from another planet will be exactly as you’ve predicted.

Your first contactees may be a hostile and scavenging species that is intent on draining your planet’s resources as they sweep through the galaxy.

They may be gentle and enigmatic creatures.

They may be completely carnivorous.

They may see you as food.

They may be vegetarians.

They may be vegetables.

They may make a dramatic appearance in large craft that suddenly appear in your skies.

They may crash land in a small ship.

They may come in large numbers only for you to discover that a small group crash-landed here some time ago.

They may bear such a close resemblance to you that they can and even have passed among you with the aid of little more than hats, socks, or slightly eccentric footwear.

They may be so completely unlike you their forms cannot be contained in anything comprehensible to you.

They may be intimately familiar with your planet and your ways.

They may find you as alien as you find them.

They may land on your planet.

You may land on theirs.

You may encounter each other in space.

They may be bipedal.

They may be mammals, molluscs, cephalopods, insects, avians, fish, amphibians, reptiles, or a form of life that defies all categorization.

They may be machines with an advanced level of intelligence resembling your own.

They may be organic creatures contained within machines.

They may be microscopic, perhaps even viruses, that operate by inhabiting either organic host organisms or specially designed machines.

They may be able to breathe your planet’s atmosphere.

They may require special equipment just to be among you.

They may be gelatinous blobs.

They may communicate, like you, through audible and visual cues.

They may communicate by exuding pheromones, liquids, or by the direct transfer of electrical discharges from one individual to another.

They may not have any interest in you.

They may want to put you in cages and experiment on you.

They may be carbon-based.

They may not.

They may look like giant guinea pigs that wear purple capes and defecate sapphires. This is unlikely, but it’s a big galaxy. A lot of things can happen.

They may have a single planet-wide monoculture.

They may be clones of each other.

They may be at least as culturally diverse as you are.

They may be highly varied, even multiple species working collectively.

They may want you to join their multi-species collective.

They may not.

You may want to have sex with them.

They may want to have sex with you.

They may look like ordinary pets: dogs, cats, ferrets.

They may be arachnids whose enormous size defies the laws of physics.

They may look like creatures from your mythology.

They may merely adopt the look of creatures from your mythology or some other familiar form in order to make you more comfortable.

To sum up, we can say with a high degree with certainty that your predictions are accurate and the first aliens you encounter will look exactly like what you’ve come to expect.
Or they may not.
We hope everything goes well and wish you the very best of luck on your first contact, but ask that when it happens you please at least pretend to be surprised.
Sincerely,
The Galactic Council, Milky Way
cc: Andromeda Galaxy, other members, Local Galactic Group

 

Monstrously Easy Quiz.

So I had this idea for a quiz: match the real-life serial killers with the films that their crimes inspired. I started with Psycho, Silence Of The Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but when the answers came up Ed Gein, Ed Gein, Ed Gein, I knew it was either a terrible idea for a quiz or a brilliant idea for the world’s most morbid slot machine, but that’s another story.

Instead here’s a quiz that should be ridiculously easy if you’re of a certain age or really into cryptozoology, or of a certain age and also really into cryptozoology, two things which just might go hand in hand.

Pop Quiz: Musical Group, Performer, or Cryptozoological Creature?

  1. Kajagoogoo
  2. Oingo Boingo
  3. Ogopogo
  4. Bjork
  5. Morag
  6. Nahuelito
  7. Nickelback
  8. Inkanyabma
  9. Chupacabra
  10. Aswang
  11. Chumbawamba
  12. Rutles
  13. Bunyip
  14. Pomplamoose
  15. Elwedritsche
  16. Loup Garou
  17. Hoobastank
  18. Radiohead
  19. Melonheads
  20. Jackalope
  21. Pixies
  22. Mothman
  23. Mongolian Death Worm
  24. Molly Hatchet
  25. Monkees

He Was Also The Phantom Of The Opera.

Have you ever been on an elevator with a group of people and it stops at a floor no one selected and when the doors open there’s no one there? Whenever that happens I always say, “It must be Claude Raines.” And no one ever gets it. Or maybe they’re contemplating the fact that in Britain elevators are called “lifts” even though they lower you too. Or maybe they’re too busy considering the physics of invisibility, or even the biology of an invisible person. Probably not the chemistry because what would that have to do with anything? Yes, in the 1933 movie and even in the H.G. Wells novel the protagonist, Griffin, becomes invisible by injecting a chemical, which is kind of ridiculous because most chemicals, even ones that prompt such dramatic changes, would eventually wear off. At least in the 1975 TV series, which I remember watching as a kid, it was a nuclear process and in the 1987 novel Memoirs Of An Invisible Man and the 1992 adaptation with Chevy Chase the protagonist is rendered invisible by bombardment with radiation, but then in 2000 with Hollow Man it was a chemical process all over again. And in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man it’s really an extended metaphor, but that’s another story.

It’s the biology that’s ridiculous, though, which I didn’t realize until I was taking an anatomy exam and one of the questions was, “Could the Invisible Man see? Discuss.” And I wrote, “No, sight depends on light projecting images onto the back of the retina. What do you want me to discuss? How you’ve just ruined what I thought was a pretty cool story? That maybe the Invisible Man isn’t really invisible but is like some kind of chameleon and can blend into the background? That you’ve tried to drag out a yes-no question so you can slip off to the teachers’ lounge for a smoke? That there are times when the power to become invisible would be really helpful in dealing with the perils of adolescence? That since it’s May I should be gathering nuts instead of sitting in here going nuts?”

I had to stay after school. My correct but creative answer was not appreciated. Go figure.

 

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