The Great Bell of Tai Mountain, China

Author: Michael Edwards

One night, when you are asleep, you have a dream. And in this dream, you are sitting —on a plain wooden chair — in the belltower of an ancient temple. Which you somehow know is standing at the summit of Tai Mountain, in China.

Above you hangs an enormous iron bell. No one knows who made it. The temple was well-established here, even when the original Chinese population came to this region, thousands of years ago. And the bell has hung above the temple ever since.

For a long time, it has not even had a tongue with which to speak. Somehow the clapper, itself weighing hundreds of pounds, no doubt, has been removed from it. Yet the bell is so well made — of some extraordinary alloy — that, when the wind blows softly around it, the bell gives off a vibration, almost a sound. One doesn’t know for sure if he hears it — or if he feels it — or perhaps only imagines that he can feel it. Nevertheless, the vibration is quite real.

And now this ancient mysterious iron bell hangs silently over your head. You sit under its shadow, listening to your heartbeat. In breath. Out breath. The metal of the bell feels cool above you.

And now the wind begins to blow across the mountaintop. And now the wind comes near, caressing your brow, and bringing with it the fragrance of the fields, far below.

Suddenly, you think that you can feel the vibration, almost hear it, beginning to hum all around you. Sonorous. Magnificent. Spiritual. Uplifting. And yet the bell stands silent above you. Just as it has stood silent, suspended over the countryside, for years without number. Yet at the touch of the breeze, instantly speaking the one word that only you, at this moment, in all the world, can hear.

Like an alarm, the vibration awakens your soul from its slumber. At once, you know the truth of the language that it is speaking to you. And only to you.

With a start, you understand — in its entirety — the history of this bell, and your own connection to it. It is you who put the bell here, long ago, in a previous original earthly lifetime — as a great teacher, come from the stars — to awaken yourself to the truth again, the moment you were ready to receive it. Even now.

And thus to attain mastery over, and to attain liberation from, this one last planet. The most challenging planet in the entire Milky Way galaxy. The Earth. And then — to ascend forever. At one with the one.

And at this moment, you realize that your journey through the cosmos has come full circle. The bell never had a tongue with which to speak. But you are its voice, for whom it has waited patiently across the eons. And now you alone must know its truth — yet remain silent forever.

In the midst of the silence, however, you will experience bliss.

Today, then. Taste that bliss: in the eternal now.

Chrono Crisps

Author: M.D. Smith

In 1975, drugs were available in New Orleans. Nestled among the narrow streets and vibrant markets of the French Quarter, lived a young man named Alex. He worked at a small bookstore by day and spent his evenings lost in the pages of science fiction novels.

One day, as he strolled through the market, a peculiar old woman with a twinkle in her eye singled him out. Her long, stringy white hair covered most of her wrinkled face. With a withered hand and fingernails about two inches long, she handed him a small clear bag of golden, crispy chips, claiming that they held the power to unlock the past. “Chrono Crisps,” she said.

“Focus on a past event that you can recall clearly and think only of it as you fall asleep. You will dream vividly; while there, you can alter your outcome to a limited degree. This is my last bag. Make this dream of an important past event you wish to change.”

Doubtful but intrigued, Alex would try them. He paid her $50.00. High, but not if they worked.

That night, he munched on the small bag of salty Chrono Crisps. He knew precisely the place in time to visit. He was fourteen. His father was coming home on a foggy night with light rain, hit a deer, swerved off the road, crashed into a tree, and died.

Shortly, a strange sensation washed over him. The room blurred, the dream began, and soon, he stood in a graphically familiar scene—the evening of a severe accident that had haunted his dreams. It was on the forest road he and his mother had visited the day after the wreck.

His haze cleared, and he was on the edge of the pavement beside a lighted sign announcing the entrance into the state park.

“This is the spot where Dad died,” he thought.

A light mist floated around him. He jogged up the road, the direction his father’s car approached on his night’s trip home. He would warn his father before he got to the deer. The fog grew thicker. The forest thinned out to only grass shoals on the roadside. Then he heard a car engine and saw lights dimly in the vapor. Alex moved a few feet into the oncoming lane, waving his flashlight, intending to jump out of the way when his father approached.

The engine’s sound increased. Now, the familiar blue car was visible, but no attempt by the driver to slow down. His dad didn’t see him. At the last moment, his father’s eyes widened. Alex sprang to the roadside. The car brakes locked on the misty-wet road, screeching of tires. The extended rear of the old Caddy broadsided and smacked Alex like a hockey stick hits a puck and sent him flying. Alex’s world went dark.

When Alex awoke, terribly groggy, he wasn’t in the den of his home. He was in his parents’ living room, and everyone was watching The Jeffersons on TV. His gray-haired father sat next to his mother. The man was clearly older than when he died in the past. Alex must have been successful.

The fog cleared completely, and he looked down to see his arms lying limp on the electric wheelchair armrests, his right fingers around a joystick control switch.

Norman the Gentleman Sapien

Author: Chloe Beckett

“There you go sweetheart! All fitted up. How does that feel?” Steam erupted from the gaping holes of the nurse’s nostrils like belching geysers, moistening his cheek as she tightened and clipped.

The prosthetic bulged off the back of his skull, like a tumor weighing his aching head down. He stared at her dully.

She looked over at his case worker. “Doesn’t say much, does he?”

Nancy smiled and shook her head.

The nurse dropped her voice. “Is this the one who thinks…he’s, you know…booga-booga?” she giggled nervously and made a caveman gesture.

Nancy’s smile widened. “It’s just a defense mechanism.”

“Sure, sure.” Her gaze lingered on the back of his skull. “But it is kinda odd, he has almost no occipital bun at all…”

“Malnutrition,” said Nancy.

The nurse nodded curtly and addressed her attention back to the patient. “Your neck muscles may need a little adjustment to the weight, but it’s hollow so it shouldn’t take long.”

His eyes remained far away but she thought she could see a tear forming.

“Well, we’ll check back in a few weeks! You look wonderful, you’re gonna love the new you.”

#

The new him. The old him had been a normal guy. A normal *Homo sapien*, anyway.

“NORMAL. MAN.” He said pointing at himself. “Work in ‘IT’ at school. Normal. Man.”

Either the Neanderthal dialect was too divergent for her to comprehend, or she didn’t believe someone with such a small cranial capacity could hold down that kind of a job. Either way, she called him Norman, assigned him a position as a bellboy, and granted him a trial period in an assisted independent living facility. Pretty generous, all things considered.

Nancy said his speech shouldn’t be a problem for the job (*so maybe it was his pronunciation*), but he would need to look the part. The pinhead look was too disturbing for people.

#

He buttoned up his uniform, let out a deep sigh, and clipped on the prosthetic. Immediately his skull dipped backward, and the molded occipital bun ballooned out. He looked in the mirror and was surprised to see a new angle to his expression. It seemed that the bun dipping down made his nose dip up, resulting in a daring look he wasn’t used to in himself. As the IT guy, he had spent most of his time trying not to make eye contact with anyone. *Where did that get me, anyway? Forty-two and still on step three of the pay scale, single and too broke to ask out anyone worth a damn.*

#

The hotel was surprisingly upscale, and the people surprisingly adorned. Maybe natural selection had gone a different route here, but evidently gold and gems were valuable nonetheless.

He called the old ladies “madame” and they beamed. He offered to bring their bags to their rooms and they cowed. A little eye contact, a flash of the hand, a kiss on the cheek. Maybe he could use the back door to the pay scale this time around.

#
“Norman! We’re ready for you.”

He smiled at the nurse and stood up. He felt the diamond bracelet from Room 302 tinkle in his prosthetic – *damn, forgot to empty it after my shift.* He held up a finger and glided into the bathroom, depositing the trinket into his pocket. He slipped back out and into the exam room.

“Well hello again, how are you?”

“I’m doing lovely, and you seem to be the same.” There was a sleek sexiness to the curve of her nostrils leading back to her bun that he hadn’t noticed before.

Abracadabra

Author: Sophie Carrillo

My name is Leichenhund.

I was not born like other rat terriers. I was created by a troubled German girl named Heidi. She was a brilliant student at Leipzig University. Her old hund, Hanso, passed away under terrible circumstances. With her science degree and big brain, she snuck into the pet cemetery under the cover of night and began to dig. I am comprised of many hunds. I hear them in my head. When I opened mine eyes, when I felt mine heartbeat in my chest. It was wonderful. I had never known life. It’s beautiful. For the first few days, life was perfect. I finally had someone to take care of and someone to love me. I felt like I had zweck, purpose. Heidi made me extraordinary. I could understand spoken sentences and commands in German, English, French, and even Polish. I could read and almost write. The people of Germany were ecstatic. People recognized us everywhere Heidi and I went. Civilians wanted pictures and questions answered. Eventually, Heidi grew overwhelmed with the attention taken away from her work, so she started leaving me at home. A few hours went by like ten years. I watched every V.H.S. tape in the attic. I practiced mine watercolors. And even took a nap. Then I was digging through a bin and found a bright red box. In gold letters, it read Zauberset für Anfänger. A magic kit for beginners? I hadn’t tried that yet! Over the next week, I practiced and researched and practiced some more. I felt such a strong connection to this hobby. I then discovered its ability to entertain an audience. The next day, I went to show Heidi my discovery. Into her lab I went, only to find her on the floor, foaming at the mouth. So I left.

I was on the next flight to Las Vegas in the Americas. It was harder to get on the airplane than expected, but I managed. In Las Vegas, I went to a few agencies to begin entertaining. I found an agent! That very evening I began rehearsals. The time finally came. I was on the big stage with mine sparkly cape and magic stick. The peoples of the crowd cheered and smiled. I hadn’t felt this fulfilled since electricity first hit my chest. But something happened. My grand finale. That was when everything fell apart. Just as I was to reveal my rabbit friend, someone collapsed on the floor and shook violently. I tried to rush to them. Bright lights flashed in the distance, growing closer. Paramedics wrapped that poor human in grey sheets and took them away. I never finished my performance. People shuffled out of the building murmuring things like “Well that’s Vegas for ya.” I didn’t perform again until a week later.

It happened again. During the finale. I thought I had worked it out. A civilian’s heart stopped at my show. That was only the beginning. During every show after that, an audience member spontaneously lost their life. What is going on!? I should have never gone. I should have stayed in Germany. Then none of this would have happened. Show after show. One person perished unexpectedly. But I kept going. I was sitting in mine dressing room, staring in the mirror, when my manager came in. “Facetime”, she said, “Someone named Heidi,” I answered immediately. I was so excited. She just said these words and then hung up:

“Komm nach Hause, bevor ich anfange, etwas viel, viel Schlimmeres zu tun.…”

Come home, before I start doing something much, much worse…

Insight

Author: Alastair Millar

I want the best for my wife. Of course I do. And what Doctor Singh suggested wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago; a generation ago, it would have been utterly unthinkable. It’s expensive, but I’ve always said that I’d do anything for my darling – and curing her blindness would be a dream come true. We’ll find a way to pay the bills, however difficult that might be.

People always ask how we manage, usually meaning that they want to know how I manage, and not just financially. In truth, it’s less trying than they imagine. Lois has always been independent, and determined, two of the qualities that attracted me to her in the first place. Losing her sight as a child must have been terrible; her mother told me that it was a difficult time, but that she became both resilient and more or less reconciled to her condition. Since this opportunity came our way, though, her face has lit up every time we’ve talked about it; seeing that, I can’t let her down, whatever the cost.

Normally a pair of biorobotic eyes wouldn’t have been affordable at all for people like us; we’re not super-rich, more like on the fringes of being moderately well off. But Doctor Singh had worked with some people at Eyesomere Inc. before, and convinced them to cut us a deal – we get a much reduced price, and in return we agree to let them download recordings of whatever the new eyes see, for the next twenty years. There’s even a privacy app to switch the recording function off for 30 minutes, which can be used twice a day. It’s still invasive, but after some thought, we said yes.

Now I’m sitting in a comfortable waiting room as they perform the procedure. They claim it’s perfectly safe, almost routine, but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. There’s always that chance, no matter how small, that something will go wrong. But when Lois and I talked it over, we agreed that it’s a risk we were willing to take, so here we are.

She’s always had a habit of running her hands over my face and calling me handsome, which I am not, but it makes me smile every time. I hope that when she can see me, she will still think it’s true. She is beautiful, although I don’t think she believes me when I tell her that. Why should she, when she can’t look in a mirror? But it’s not just flattery; she could have her pick of the menfolk. Now I worry that when she realises, she’ll go looking for some better looking guy; I’m probably more scared of that than of the operation itself.

So I guess this is a wake up call for me, too – it’s time to do better, and be better, if I want her to stay with me. Wish us luck; for different reasons, we’re both going to need it.