Scattered Reports of New Origins (a sequel)—Part 2
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Pyramid"
Originally featured on 07-24-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

Another recovered diary from North America that is of interest to the advancement of our interpretive department is that of another unidentified author known only by the moniker I Woman. Below is an excerpt from her earliest known journal entry:

 

When I was twelve, my babysitter Mitsy used to drag me along on walks through a neighborhood called The Fritz (we’d drive to get there; yeah, we had to drive to take a walk…), which was Middleton’s equivalent to Beverly Hills. We’d always be joined by one of Mitsy’s bimbo friends, Alisa or Madison or some uppity name like that. We’d walk by houses, and whenever they saw one they liked — their taste in real estate was, for all intents and purposes, unanimous — they would stop and make cooing noises and reach their hands out in baby-talk I want gestures. This was their idea of an outing.

After critiquing the aesthetic décor and appraising the monetary worth of the house (that portion of the conversation generally amounted to someone saying “How beautiful, I bet it’s worth millions,” followed by nods of assent), one of them would say “Imagine what a typical day would be like if we lived in a house like that.” Thankfully, they weren’t sadistic enough to voice these fantasies out loud; we just stood there for eleven minutes of silence as they each filled in the details for themselves.

None of them ever turned to me to ask my opinion of the house in question. If they had, I would have said who cares, it’s a construction with floors, walls, ceilings and more floors, walls and ceilings. We’ve got floors and walls, just less of them, and I don’t see you gawking at them.

So I started pondering, what was it they found so captivating? Was it the speculated abundance of appliances and recreational devices in the house? Was it the thrill of not knowing what paintings hung on the wall and what type of dishwasher they had, and the existential longing to be inside and take inventory of these items? Was that what drove Mitsy and Alisa? Existential longing? Did Mitsy know what that word meant, and if she read it somewhere — in one of her magazines with titles like FIVE FRUITS THAT WILL BOOST YOUR KISSABILITY — would she make the trek from the television to the dictionary?

If I wanted to see paintings, I’d go to an art museum. Or I’d climb a mountain and paint my own. If the washing of dishes were my passion, I’d get a minimum wage job at a restaurant. And if I was an existentialist I’d, I don’t know, slit my wrists or something.

One time I spoke up to Mitsy and protested going on one of our walks, saying that looking at houses — without any express purpose but for the sake of looking at houses — is boring, and the fact that they leave the house only to imagine themselves in a different bigger house, and that this makes for a satisfactory afternoon, is, quite frankly, pathetic.

She returned a blank stare and said, “So, you’re not coming?” I’m not sure what kind of response I was expecting. First off, what kind of question is that? She’s employed as my babysitter, what’s she going to do, leave me alone?

I’d rather go down to the pond and catch frogs. Mitsy says there are too many weird bugs down there and they might carry diseases. I think the anatomy of an insect is more awe-inspiring than property values. I respect the design and labor that go into floors I can walk on and walls that retain heat, but can a house flap its wings and evade its predators, and reproduce? Can a house climb up a vertical sheer carrying forty times its bodyweight on its back?

Some (and by ‘some’ I mean Betty Piledriver at the Y; think it’s about time to retire, eh, Betty? Or you at least might consider retiring that bowling-ball-sized stick from up your ass) would say adulthood is defined as the kindling of intrigue toward all the things that naturally bore me, and a loss of interest in all of the innate things that excite me. I say I’ll be an adult when I am no longer required to listen to the boring people who would say such things.

 

Incidentally, the personality identified as I Woman is the single most destructive person in the whole of human history. Although nobody can ascertain with certainty her profession or social position, it is known that she, by her own means, summoned the series of asteroid collisions responsible for the Celestial Dirtfall.

I cannot say that any of the settings or social interactions described in I Woman’s account are recognizable to me in that way that I spoke of earlier. The world she depicts is foreign to me and my experiences, and I find it impossible to reconcile that with the fact that we speak the same language, and that much of the slang she employs in her tone is still actively used in the speech of my peers.

One thing I wonder at is the dialect of the journal authors (I fear that [dialect] is not the correct word for my meaning). The literature mentions people of the same language and heritage who speak differently, with different ways of shaping the same words in their mouths. This is sometimes referred to as “accents” and sometimes as “dialects” (I am making the assumption that those two terms mean the same thing). Everybody I interact with was brought up in the same general region, and therefore I find it hard to imagine what an accent or dialect is, and what someone who had one might theoretically sound like. It is suspected that many — if not all — of the writers of diaries had unique accents. I wish I knew what I Woman sounded like when she spoke out loud.

I really wish I knew.

Although this is immature of me to express, my reaction is to not believe that anything I Woman says is the authentic truth. I cannot imagine that any of the places she talks about were ever real places, or that any of the people she talks about ever behaved in the ways she said they did. I understand that that is a natural reaction for me to have, and that it has absolutely no validity.

What unnerves me is that I do not feel that way about other journals, only about hers’, and I am not sure why. It may be a matter of her writing style jarring with what I am accustomed to reading. Perhaps there is a subtle quality of her voice that, in an uncanny fashion, reminds me of my own. That is not to say that her rants impress me; I actually find much of what she says to be childish, arrogant and altogether embarrassing to read.

If in fact I Woman and I are possessed of kindred general attitudes and opinions, then perhaps it angers me that I Woman — if there ever was a person who went by that name — is not present here, now, with me. Although the places, people, scenes and adventures she describes feel completely fictional to me, it is the loneliness she speaks of that she speaks of truthfully.

I do not feel the words of I Woman in the way that I have trained myself to feel the content of other Pre-Dirt journals. I cannot gaze at my face in the reservoir and conjure the estates of The Fritz behind me, or even see Mitsy’s and Betty Piledriver’s faces. When I read I Woman, I can only breathe. My breathing quickens at certain points — and always at the same points in her narrative — and a hot sensation boils up in my throat and my eyes become wet, and it is as though my chest is siphoning poison from deep underground and pouring it out of my face. When it becomes necessary to clench my eyes shut, I believe sometimes that I am embraced by a physical embodiment of I Woman. This type of thing is not an enjoyable experience. More of an inevitable one.

 

To quote the Prophet again,

 

There was some beatnik philosopher who said you can make for yourself a house in your iniquities and live there for a long ****ing time, until the landlady, some crusty old **** boots your ass out, and once you’re out there alone, it’s real cold out there and you’re naked (and you know what happens when you’re naked and it’s cold, dontcha?) you start to see demons, not cartoon demons with horns and hairy buttcracks, but the kind of demons that burn your eyes, then you realize that the demons are you — however many beers that realization takes — and once you see yourself as you are, that’s, um, ****, I forget how it goes, but it had something to do with empathy. The guy might have put it more eloquently than that, cause, y’know, he was probably baked out of his gourd and banging some nerdy chick at a publishing house, but I think the gist of what he was saying was, it’s all how you treat people. Yeah. Something like that.

 

The Prophet’s repentance logbook was accidentally extracted from a pile of destroyed texts found in a Unit B sample cart hauled in from the ruins of what is believed to have been the Connecticut State Prison. At sporadic instances during the celestial dirtfall, temperatures at ground level reached heights such that a pad of lined paper would become fused into a single solid object, and the ink would literally fry. For this reason, we believe that any diaries we find that are intact and legible warrant special attention.

Several theories have circulated on the cause of these hot peaks (many of the effects observed in archeological specimens suggest a phenomenon of dry lightning storms occurring at low altitude). As yet, no official explanation has been published.

Unit B is the auxiliary team of Archeology First that is dispatched to the site after all seemingly important relics have been removed; Unit B’s objective is to scavenge for any items of value that may have been overlooked by alpha-excavation-run.

The prophet’s [diary] is the most commonly cited example of Unit B’s importance when appealing to the financial committee to continue funding Unit B. The repentance logbook is credited more than any other found text for our understanding of the esthetic of American life in the time period directly preceding the Rain Of Dirt. Unfortunately, due to its use of low-brow, inappropriate language that displays a general lack of respect for his fellow man, not to mention an absence of moral bearings, no further quotes from the prophet will be printed here. Some would argue that his personal journal is the only piece of Cusp-Modern literature that can be justifiably described as forward-thinking. At the risk of editorializing, I would say that his entries are only worthy of attention due to the casual mention of his dirtfall premonition, and are otherwise of no value.

In the prophet’s scripture, he does not specify the exact dates of the celestial dirtfall.

In my opinion, there is no such person as I Woman. It’s all PR.

I believe Prophet prison man is fictitious too. A mother and father figure…too convenient. And for all that digging, we still have yet to locate the great pyramids.

The pyramids hold the real secrets. My objective is to find a way inside.

Unconfirmed folklore has it decided that we are descendants of a single isolated group of survivors that arrived in our present country by way of a sophisticated vehicle. I Woman was supposedly both the designer and the captain of this vehicle. Although the mechanics of the vehicle are believed to be valid, there is absolutely no record of how — or why — the person known as [I Woman] caused the asteroid collision itself.

Subscribers to the Intelligent Dirtfall Clan (the faction that regards I Woman as the destroyer of a world and the mother of us all) hold the position that the design features of the vehicle are highly specific, and could only have been invented with one purpose in mind; to navigate a [Noah’s Arc] of survivors through a falling mountain of dirt and emerge safely.

 

The only printable description of the vehicle is found in the diary of a post-dirtfall pedestrian (the only post-dirtfall diary, and, hence, the youngest diary in our collection):

 

It can be thought of as a housing within a dome of water. Not so much a dome as a sphere, but tapered on both sides, like an onion with about half the layers peeled off. At the center is a high pressure generator that ejects a wall of water, continuously moving and re-circulating. A bubble of water suspended in the interior formation of new earth. The onion/teardrop shape of the vehicle acts as a drill, carving its subterranean path through the layers of soil and sediment.

The most important thing is that she brought an extensive library of salvaged literature and volumes of technical information. Without those resources, we would not have made it this far.

The splatter cycle — the effective wall — creates a constant mist, which provides oxygen to sustain a consistent atmosphere inside that can support human passengers. The byproducts of respiration collect are vacuumed into the Carbon Brain and recycled into fuel to perpetuate the membrane. The wall of water moves so fast that its surface is smooth and transparent, like a glass window, but if you touch it, it would be like sticking your hand beneath a circular saw.

The centripetal force of the water creates a gravitational free zone in which the passengers float at will. When they sleep, they put on a nylon suit and strap themselves into the center via cables to avoid the danger of floating too close to the water wall.

All the passengers take digestion-suppressants so that for the duration of the thirty days they eliminate the need to eat, drink, urinate and defecate. Given the dynamics of the vessel in travel — a minimum travel speed of four hundred kilometers per hour is required at all times, while it slowly gains altitude to maintain its depth — it is not possible to eject any waste from inside, because there is simply nowhere for it to go. The digestion-suppressant can have long-term damaging effects to the user’s health if used for more than a month. It came in pill form, and was already on the market, hence the best option.

When I think of what conversations were had aboard that vehicle, and the looks exchanged, I wish I had been there. I would give anything to have been inside that capsule and watched history erase itself and imagine the future. A future I was not born equipped to imagine.

 

Since the development of this vehicle would have required a minimum of fifteen years to complete, and since astronomers in that period disclosed no data in anticipation of an asteroid collision such as that which caused the Rain of Dirt, the pioneer of this vehicle would have had to have either been a prophetic visionary in the tradition of Nostradamus, or a monster. The Intelligent Dirtfall Clan rejects the possibility of a prescient technology in favor of the latter theory: a woman assuming the position of a supreme deity taking initiative to wipe the slate clean, and devoting her entire career — and the careers of hundreds — to planning this global catastrophe and the construction of a shelter.

It is an attractive theory. Purportedly, in her time period it was not uncommon for engineers to be assigned to a specialized detail of a project so confidential that the end product of their work would never be disclosed to them. I hardly find that to be a compelling proof. Neither do I have a compelling argument to the contrary. It comes down to a fundamental question of the scope of humans'' capability and direction.

I will stop myself here, as I’ve been warned that my credibility as a researcher deflates very quickly when I begin to philosophize, as speculation is not my strong point.

If I Woman were here today (although this is a detested “hypothetical,” as she would say, and I am regressing to a child as I say it), I can almost guarantee that she would be measuring out her bowel movements into little cups for scientific experiments. She would also spend her time taking long walks, reading old books and eagerly searching for anything anywhere that might remind her of something she read. She would also — and this I can say for absolute certainty — make a career of reviewing and translating diaries from excavations. Would there be one in particular that would cause her to cry? Yes, indeed, it would be her own, because she never actually wrote it, i.e. there cannot possibly have existed such a person. At least not singularly.

 

Printed below is I Woman’s most frequently discussed section of journal entries:

 

I asked a trucker why he’s hauling three tons of cheap beer from Texas to Florida. He took another drag from his cigarette and said nothing. Stupid question, I guess. That was after I asked him what he’s doing here and he said it’s one of a trillion stops between Texas and Florida and I asked what cargo he’s carrying that’s so important it’s worth a lake of diesel fuel and a week of this man’s life (paid on salary) to make sure it completes its journey from Texas to Florida, and his answer was beer.

At this point, the part of me that’s no different than an inquisitive four-year-old in the back of the family station wagon on a hot day (the same part of me that rides academia like it’s my stallion) wanted to ask him why some town in Florida can’t brew its own beer, why he chose his line of work, does it give him a tribal sense of empowerment — in contrast to his economic class — to be operating a vehicle that outweighs every species of organism ever to walk the planet, if so why, does he have a wife and kids somewhere and does he cry every night he’s on the road and not with them, and do his wife and kids wonder why Florida can’t brew its own beer and why they need Daddy to bring it to them?

Seeing that I’ve grown tactful, I posed only one question; out of all the kernels that popped up in my mind, I chose the best, that is, the one most likely to generate a telling response.

I could have said ‘do you like your job?’ but that would have made it too easy for him to pass it off with some wry, canned answer, something like ‘pays the bills,’ or something sarcastic like ‘just another day in paradise, ayup, livin’ the dream’ and then duck out. If I asked him something too complicated, he might feel insulted. I had to tread carefully, but not seem as if I’m putting any effort into the phrasing of this question, or like I give a damn.

It’s like people always say when they’re being whimsical, if you could spend one minute with [insert-celebrity-or-historical-figure], enough time to ask them one question, what would you ask them? I dislike that premise because it’s theoretical. Historical figures are dead, and celebrities are inaccessible, so who cares? There are people around us every day from whom we might glean insights if we asked the right question. I’m not interested in speculating what I might say to Abraham Lincoln or Socrates in some hypothetical.

If you asked me that, I’d point to a homeless guy on the corner and say to you, ‘what if you could ask that guy one question?’

Fuck hypotheticals. I’m a scientist. I just want to run into the lab and try things out and see. Abraham Lincoln can suck my figurative dick. But a chain-smoking fat guy driving a big rig? Now he’s worth asking questions, for as long as I have his attention, which will allow me one golden question. My one question…

I looked him in the eye like a gunslinger and said, ‘A year ago, is this where you pictured you’d be on this night?’

It was really out of narcissism that I asked. If you take time to formulate your one question, that’s how you know that the question is really all about you. A genuine question is asked on the spot. Spontaneous. Ego has a scent, and when sniffed, they don’t give you the answer you want, because the answer you want, in that case, is really another question. Because when you ask it, you’re trying to use the person as a mirror, so that they can return the question to you so that you can give a spontaneous, on the spot answer, because that’s what you really want to do. And if you can imagine using Abraham Lincoln or Babe Ruth or Albert Einstein as a mirror, a bathroom ornament to your vanity, that must make you feel pretty big, kind of like having your foot on the gas pedal of an eighteen-wheeler makes you feel big.

Like I care how this truck driver views his life? I just wanted him to ask me what I was doing here, and to contrast that with where on this night I might have pictured myself a year ago.

Then I could have told him how I was on a ski trip with Isaac, Matt, Daron and Karen (fellow post-docs on a spring break vacation), and how after driving eight hundred miles in Matt’s pimp-wagon and drinking heavily every night, I said

I don’t want to be here right now. Stop the van.

It was in the middle of some juvenile game they were playing, pretending something and then figuring out the mystery through a structured series of questions, some theoretical hypothetical idiotic thing, everyone laughing, Darren and Karen were making out (if I had a nickel for every joke made about the vowel symmetry of their first names, drinks would be on me — I’m certain that’s the entire reason they’re dating), I said it and everyone knew I was serious. They tried to protest, of course, all that effusive nooooo, you can’t go, what are you talking about, you’re crazy, we love you bla bla bla but I wasn’t really part of that trip, and they knew it. And they didn’t try very hard to talk me into a one-eighty. In academia, fraternizing is very good for appearances, and my inclusion in the trip was mandatory in that respect. Plus, I’m known for impulsive acts — it’s a personality quirk that’s very much appreciated in a research environment. As a compromise, they didn’t pull over on the shoulder of the interstate and leave me to hitchhike as I requested, but brought me to the next truck stop.

I watched the van pull away. Karen was looking at me from the back even as they merged onto the highway. She looked hurt but relieved. Trust me, girlfriend, I was a whole lot more of both. Just had that sudden need for fresh air. Lots of fresh air. More than air can offer.

 

The next few entries are of a vulgar and distressing nature, and I apologize in advance that I am refusing to print them here, in this report. Essentially, they describe episodes she had while hitchhiking back to the university, run-ins with unsavory travelers that left her emotionally scarred and, in more than one instance, required her to exercise violence.

Although it is strange of me to say, the journal entries I am omitting, I am omitting because they are far too private. They were intended for my eyes exclusively. The intimacy between researcher and subject, as I am discovering day by day, is one of the most peculiar relationships perpetrated by modern man.

As I said before when presenting some of her more prosaic work, I cannot construe the events, people and places as having any reality. However, it does elicit a reaction from me. When she speaks of the things people did — and attempted to do — to her, I become destructive when reading it. On one occasion, I hyperventilated and woke up later on the dirt with a sunburn across my forehead, and my teeth clenched around broken up rocks. I realize now, only after reading those passages, that I myself am capable of murder, and of other things, I know not what.

In any case, the aforementioned accounts segue to her meditations quoted below — her last known journal entry:

 

Everyone’s talking about racism. Prior to this spillage of ink, the sentence would not have held truth, but now that I’ve brought it up…I can write and yawn at the same time. Of course I’d say it bores me, I’m in the majority. Whatever that means. …that my genetics place me in some statistical average. That I’m a privileged bitch with calcium in her bones who’s never been exposed to real suffering. That I’ve…never been challenged?

If I use umbrella terms like adversity or oppression or marginalize, I’m just another intellectual who can blow hot air over her tongue all day from behind a podium but wouldn’t last a day on the streets, in reality, as people like to say. Because I’ve — here it is: had it pretty good.

If you listen, you can hear an echo, the kind in subliminal advertising: Embrace diversity. But don’t worry, they’re not talking about real diversity, they’re talking about the kind of diversity that looks good on a high-def screen, so you don’t have to think too hard. That’s a relief. Diversity of ideas isn’t gotta-have-it-go-go-Barbie-cool yet, so don’t try and embrace it. Ever notice how in a room of people, when you playfully challenge someone’s ethical stance on an event in the news, or someone’s taste in art, one person in the room will always say something like “To each his own,” and that’ll shut everyone up? Heaven forbid we entertain ourselves by sparring intellects, maybe come out of the coffee room with a new insight on some obscure aspect of life. No, then we’d risk hurt feelings. But as long as the collective quantity of skin pigments in the room distributes photons according to a ratio specified by the Equal Opportunity Employment Association, then we’re all living and producing in harmony.

And you can’t say ‘thanks, this billboard in my brain is at capacity, tell me something else,’ because the message was an expensive one purchased with blood, so we’d better get real quiet and reverent when we hear it. Let it be reactionary, a ricochet mirror image of some other generation’s status quo, because we are a reactionary organism, it’s in our genes. Because…everything you think you know is inherently false.

It is a surprising fact to many biologists that homo-sapiens are still a single species. We’re all created equal doesn’t exactly ring true in science, but it works pretty well in the Supreme Court.

Now I’m not bored anymore. Being an iconoclast is like nibbling on a really decadent chocolate cake; if you speak without a filter over your mouth (I swear, everyone’s wearing electronic muzzles, I guess I missed the television commercial that made them look really stylish, I just hope I can get one in green, so it would compliment my eyes), you’re issued a complimentary audience, complimentary not in the praise meaning of the word, but complimentary like the first beverage cart on an airplane. Still me. I think I’ll masturbate now.

Were we still talking? Let’s back up. In primitive society, like, grunting and swinging around a wooden club wearing animal skin society, we can assume that most people led insulated lives with spatial boundaries — THE village, THE region, THE tribe, THE campfire, the hearth where they got it on with their sister and pumped out babies all relatively of the same color. Then comes growth, and with it the capability for travel. Now in between grunts, the alpha studmuffin of the village will relay a story about THE foreigner encountered on his hunting expedition. As it turns out, the world is large and host to a variety of habitats more than one of which include humans, who now come in a variety pack, each unique in appearance and aptitudes. Like Happy Meals, collect all four. And, lo and behold, some of them come in handy.

Wait up, hold the phone, hunter and gatherer beeaaaatches ya’ll best adapt to a pluralistic notion of this flat planet and our role on it. Flip forward a few million years and we’re told that discrimination is inhumane. In grammar school, that is. Then in medical school you might learn that certain ethnicities are more prone to certain diseases, bodies handle medications differently. As an E.R. doc with three seconds to save a patient’s life, snap judgments are heroic. If a police officer bases her actions upon the statistical probability of a suspect’s actions? Hmm, guess police officers must have more than three seconds to save lives. Somewhere between medicine and law enforcement, minds change. Speaking of minds, where are the great innovators of my generation? I can name at least eight of them who make minimum wage. In our elite institutions, they have a lot more than three seconds to decide who is worthy of invitation. And I happen to know how that time is utilized. That’s equal opportunity: criminals have opportunity to commit crimes while we’re figuring out intricate ways to not hurt their feelings, and meanwhile prejudice thrives in academia and in the work force (hiring committees have more than three seconds too), and when we break for coffee, we don’t talk about it, because…oh, whatever, I’m sure there was a reason. Minds…change? Climates change too. Personally, I wouldn’t mind another ice age; I’d invent a perpetual slush-puppy machine and make millions.

Okay, now I am bored. But it’s treason to be bored. Why? Oh, yeah, because of the freedom I take for granted. I could go all extreme and call myself a neo-supremicist. I mean, for that I’d have to find like a really cute outfit at a thrift store and all, but it could be done. Oh, and if I was supreme, I’d also have the bothersome task of mothering my own race. And I haven’t even mentioned religion — guess I could start one of those too.

Could I?

 

I have collected four new species of insects on my walk this morning in the brush. When I begin my own diary, I will eagerly study their anatomy and habits and provide detailed diagrams.

It is at moments of solitude on my daily walks that I feel it. The physical reverberations of what I feel cannot be described, except to say that what my bones experience in those brief ruptures are the so-called swan echo of something occurring miles below the earth’s surface, even miles below yester-earth’s surface.

My nervous system is in communication with the pyramids, and its ambiguous pulse is discernibly clearer to me now than fourteen moons ago when I first felt a sensation worth making note of. When I can speak of this experience with tangible language, I will then begin to make dutiful entries in my Personal Journal.

It has occurred to me recently that the reason I cannot mentally place myself in the context of I Woman’s world is not because any particular person or place she references is specious or subject to embellishment, but for another reason entirely. The fictitious entity known as I Woman suffers from a psychological condition that was common to the intelligentsia of the late pre-dirt era: she made omissions in her own thinking. She denied things that she knew to be true, and succeeded wherein she knew herself to be false. She had the ability to condition herself to illusions of her own making, at will.

I wish to make love to I Woman, therefore she can only be a fiction in my mind.

 

What I Woman never said and never would have:

 

I’m scared.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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