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January 30, 2023

The Garden of Peed-In

By Paula Petruzzi

PRODOGUE

The dog slept, and as he slept, he dreamed. It was always the same dream. He began as a vast, seething field of energy, drifting through an endless void. The energy field was conscious only of Itself. There was no time, no space, no thing. After what felt like an eternity, because it had been an eternity, the Energy Being had an idea: the color green. The idea surprised It, and an instant later, the surprise surprised It. The Being became intrigued by the idea of surprise, and surprised by the idea of intrigue, and It proceeded to generate more ideas in a frenzy of creativity.

Eventually, the Being constructed an enormous patchwork of ideas. Some of the ideas were connected to the idea of green, and some were not. The entire mental edifice, however, was a mess. The being had one more idea that helped It to bring all of the others under control: the idea of "order". It patiently sorted through Its ideas, maneuvering them like the pieces of a puzzle, until they fit together in an orderly fashion. When everything was in its proper place, the Being stood back, so to speak, and admired Its creation, which It had decided to call "the universe."

It wasn't long, however, before the Being realized that It had made a mistake. What It had enjoyed, more than anything else, was surprise, and there was no surprise left. It knew everything about all of Its ideas, because It and It alone had been responsible for the creation of those ideas. Obviously, some new ideas would be required. The Being set to work to solve this new problem, and It quickly came up with two major ideas: "time" and "space."

With time and space, the Being was able to move its ideas around and put them in different places. It had fun with that for a while, but It soon discovered, to Its dismay, that surprise was still not possible. It knew every move that everything was going to make, since It was the only possible mover and had invented all of the parameters for movement. It abruptly came up with a new idea: despair. The Being became convinced that there would never be any more surprises ever again.

On the verge of obliterating the mental construct that It had so carefully crafted, the Being suddenly had one more idea, and it was a surprising idea: using Its imaginary universe as a pattern, the Being would build a "real" universe out of Itself. The new universe would be broken up into fragments, none of which would or could know everything about everything because they would be separated by time and space. The separate portions of Itself would, therefore, be capable of surprise.

The Being didn't want the Story of the origin of Its universe to be lost after It fragmented Itself, so It decided to bestow that information on a small group of similar fragments who would always remember it and pass it on to succeeding generations of similar fragments as they traveled through time. In the Being's orderly system of ideas, there were many categories of "things," including plants, animals, stars, clouds, and rocks. Plants could communicate with each other, but they didn't have very good memories. Rocks and stars didn't talk to each other at all, although they stayed around for quite a long time. After rejecting the ideas of clouds, water, and fire, the Being concluded that its tribe of Story-rememberers would have to be one of the many different kinds of animals that It had thought up. The animals that It chose would have to be able to cope with the memory of Infinity while living in a small physical body that was limited in time and space. The trouble was, there didn't seem to be any that were suited to such a monumental task. Initially, It thought that humans might do -- the creatures could communicate very well -- but they already had so many other advantages that it didn't seem fair to give them the Story as well. Frustrated by the lack of a suitable "species," the Being finally invented one; they would be playful, happy creatures, content to doze in the sunshine, and as they dozed, they would remember the Story.

Following Its pattern, the Being built a universe for those happy creatures to inhabit. It spun off portions of Itself, and those portions spun off smaller portions, and those portions spun off still smaller portions. Throughout the process, the Being kept its Story intact even as the portion of Itself that contained the Story became ever smaller. Eventually, stars and planets formed; one of the planets, a very special one, was the only part of the Being that still remembered Itself. The Being very carefully organized and adjusted the features of the planet so the animals and plants, which It hadn't added to the world yet, would have a wonderful place in which to live.

At this point, the Being noticed that the current of Time was much stronger than It had anticipated. Fearing that Its meticulously designed world would be swept away by the current and destroyed, It shaped part of Itself into a magnificent tree with large, silvery leaves. The leaves were unable to process sunlight; instead, they soaked up excess Time and turned it into a nutrient that the tree could use. Only one of these trees could exist on the whole planet, because if there were more than one, there would be no Time at all. The Being made a mental note to assign some birds to eat all of the Time Tree's seeds.

Then the Being noticed that another tree, a much smaller one, had popped into existence, all by itself. The Being was surprised by the tree. After considering the qualities of the tree, the Being called it the Tree of Possibility. The Being felt that the tree was dangerous, in a way that It couldn't quite figure out. But it allowed the tree to remain, because it was very small, and could therefore pose only a very small danger.

Now that the Being had solved the problem of what to do with the excessive quantity of Time, It decided to focus Itself into a body, so It could inspect and fine-tune the planet from the point of view of one of the creatures that would be inhabiting it. The body that it formed belonged to the most important species of all -- the one that It had selected to preserve Its Story -- and It wanted to make sure that conditions would be optimal for the species. The creature was a relatively small quadruped, about two feet high at the shoulder, with long legs and a slender build. It was covered with short, reddish fur except for its ears and tail, which had long, silky black hair. Collecting all of Its Story that had been "told" so far, It placed the precious treasure into the mind of the animal, and then, pleased with Its handiwork, the Being chose a name for the cheerful, tail-wagging creature: it was a "dog."

The Being had no experience with bodies, but now It would have a chance to learn by sharing the dog's experience. Slowly and shakily, the dog stood up. It swayed for a few moments and then took a tentative step. And another. And another. The dog was soon walking, then trotting, then loping. Finally, it broke into a ground-eating gallop that made its ears and tail flutter like pennants. The dog had discovered that it was fun to run fast. It loved being a dog, and it continued to run, dashing gleefully in random directions across the barren, lifeless ground, until the sun set. Finally, the dog wore itself out, and it dug a hole in the sand at the base of a cliff and curled up for another of life's little joys: a nap. During its nap, it dreamed the entire Story, which pleased the Being immensely.

It was fortunate for the dog that its existence was being maintained by the Being; the atmosphere, and the liquid that trickled down the mountains and collected in pools, weren't fit to sustain life. The Being, surprised by the adverse conditions, adjusted the objectionable parts of Its larger Self, clearing the air and water of their noxious chemicals and covering the sterile, rocky ground with a layer of rich and fertile soil. As the dog slept, the Being surrounded it with the green, growing things that had been among Its very first ideas. Soon the land was almost hidden under a carpet of living green.

When the dog awoke, it raised its head and inhaled deeply; the fresh air was laden with marvelous smells. There were many new things to explore. The dog wandered aimlessly through the greenery, investigating every tree, bush, and clump of moss, until it came to a small lake. Lowering its head to lap at the clean, fresh water, it noticed its reflection. The dog whined and touched its nose to the reflection of its nose. The Being realized that it had made a mistake; dogs were meant to live in packs and not by themselves. Correcting its error, the Being formed another dog; the second one was slightly smaller and more graceful than the first, and its fur was light gray with a dusting of white.

The Being soon forgot Itself, overwhelmed by the dog's eagerness to play with its new companion. They chased each other up hill and down valley, over river and across pond. They splashed through waterfalls and pursued the bubbles downstream until the delicate, ephemeral domes popped, tickling their noses. They flung rocks off of mountaintops and chased the elusive bits of geology all the way to the bottom. The dogs gloried in movement and speed.

In between bouts of play, however, they would curl up together in a hollow under a bush, or on a ledge with a good view, and take a nap. And they would dream the Story.

After one of those dreams, the Being managed to remember Itself for a little while. It finished the job that It had started by forming all of the other animals that It had thought of. The world became even more interesting for the dogs, and they invented many new games. They loved to play the chasing-game with some of the other four-legged creatures, such as gazelles, horses, and cheetahs, that could match or exceed the dogs' own speed. Then there was the bird-game, in which the pair would stalk birds that pretended not to see them coming, and when they had crept very close to the apparently oblivious avians, the birds would explode into the air, scolding their would-be "attackers" as they flew away. Later, while the dogs were napping, the birds would sneak up on them and peck at their tails and paws. There was also the throwing-game, where monkeys and parrots would toss fruit and nuts at the dogs while remaining tantalizingly out of reach of their snapping jaws.

There were no predators in the new world; all of the creatures ate grass, nuts, fruit, grain, and seeds, and there was more than enough for everyone.

Paws twitching, the dog dreamed on -- and the Story continued.

CHAPTER ONE

The damn rooster woke me up. Again. It happened every morning: "Cock-a-doodle-doo! Hey! It's time to get up!" He would fluff his feathers and strut back and forth while he crowed everyone out of a sound sleep. Conceited asshole. Who gave him that job, anyway? I yawned and looked around, but Wimsie was already up and gone. Probably down at the pond, watching the swans sail majestically through the morning mist. Or maybe she was playing with the minnows. She would stand in the shallows at the edge of the pond and let the minnows nibble at her toes. "That tickles!" she would say, and when they got too tickly, she would dunk her snout in the water and watch the minnows dart away. Bless her simple little heart. She could spend hours chasing floating sticks down the river. I had seen her do it.

Me, I like to chase elk. But in Eden, nobody chased anybody except for fun. And when the elk got tired of it, they would turn around and try to tag me. That's how it was before the shit hit the fan. Everyone was pretty relaxed. But I digress.

When the rooster crowed, I was right in the middle of a dream. As far as I can tell, it's always the same dream. A goofy story about how the world was put together. It's pretty confusing, and most of it slides right out of my brain as soon as I wake up, but this time, I remembered a little bit more. Something about dogs having a special dispensation from some great cosmic being who had given them a Very Important Task: to remember where the universe had come from, and also to remember that they were the only ones who remembered that. It was the stupidest thing that I had ever heard of, and what made it even more stupid was that it had supposedly originated from the great mastermind of the universe. What possible use would dogs have for that kind of information? Even Wimsie couldn't invent stuff like that. She has the same dream that I do, and her mind works at right angles to mine, but she didn't know what to do with it, either.

I stood up and stretched. We had slept in a mossy hollow in the middle of a clump of aspens, which made a soothing "shhhhh" sound when the wind blew. We didn't really have a home, or a den, or a nest. The whole wide world was our home. It wasn't like we could say, hey, let's go home. We were home no matter where we were.

I wandered over to the pond, and there was Wimsie, staring at those empty-headed swans who preen and honk all day long. What a racket. Okay, maybe they are pretty, but it doesn't make up for the noise. One of the swans flapped its wings, and a fluffy white feather detached itself and drifted across the pond on a gentle breeze. Wimsie spotted the feather and ran along the edge of the water, trying to intercept it. When she saw that it wasn't going to make it all the way to the shore, she launched herself into the air, and she managed to grab that damned feather right before it hit the water. Then she hit the water head-first. It was great. From the look on the swans' faces, they thought it was great, too. She paddled back to the muddy bank and spit out her soggy prize, and then she shook the water out of her coat, rotating body parts in three different directions at once.

I glanced at the bedraggled feather. "Was it worth it?" I asked.

She gave me a doggie grin, the equivalent of a shrug. "It was fun!"

Well, I suppose that as long as fun is the result, it doesn't really matter how you get there. My own personal idea of fun is chasing bighorn sheep up and down mountains. But the world is big enough for lots of different kinds of fun.

I grinned back at her. "I found some weird new animals yesterday. Do you want to go see 'em?" I used the magic words: "They might be fun!"

That was all it took. Her ears perked right up. "Where? Where?"

"Several valleys over," I said. "I think they just moved in."

It was always interesting to come across a new kind of animal. You never knew what they were going to do. Some of them, like snakes, don't have a sense of humor. "Don't step on me!" they call out, rattling as I pass by. Well, if you don't want me to step on you, then get out of my way. I'm not going to go through life, constantly looking down to see if some lazy-ass snake is obstructing my path. I like to run, really fast, and I'm not gonna stop for anyone.

Along the way, we passed a plum tree, so we stopped and had plums for breakfast. Big, juicy ones. The branches of the tree were so heavy with fruit that they hung down where we could reach them. There was food all over the place. We never had to go far when we were hungry. Sometimes we curled up and went to sleep right under a bush or tree that had one of our favorite kinds of food hanging from it, and then we had a mid-night snack without even having to get out of bed.

When we arrived at the place where I had seen the strange animals, we slinked through the brush on our bellies until we got to the top of the ridge. The animals were below us, near the little stream that ran through the valley. It was hard to tell from a distance, but they didn't seem to have any fur except the long hair growing out of their heads. They walked on their hind legs, which was unusual. I figured they were a new kind of ape. We plopped down on the ridge and watched them for a while, until Wimsie, who could never sit still for very long, started to fidget. She kept nudging me with her nose. The two-legged animals hadn't done anything particularly loony, and I was as intrigued by them as she was, so I rolled my eyes and said, "Let's go meet the new neighbors." She yipped in delight and dashed down the hill, with me close on her heels. Even though I was bigger, she was a better sprinter, and she could outrun me over a short distance.

When they saw us coming, the apes stopped what they were doing and stood there, balanced on their hind legs. We came to a halt right in front of them. It was immediately evident that they had a lamentable lack of fur, except for the long hair on their heads and a small patch protecting their privates. I tried to remember what the creatures were called, because in that strange dream that I had every damn night, everything had a name. Sometimes it came to me, and sometimes it didn't. It was an odd feeling, seeing something new and knowing that I was supposed to know what it was. This time, the name eluded me.

The larger of the two, quite obviously the male, pointed at us and said a word that must have meant "dogs" in their own language. Languages turn up in the dream, too, but the language of these nearly naked apes eluded me just like the name of their species did. It was infuriating. The female showed her teeth, which could mean any number of things, depending on what kind of animal was doing the showing, but then she fed us some raspberries from the handful that she had picked. And so, in the first couple of minutes, we had learned an important fact: among these odd bipeds, "teeth" meant "friendly." Well, that was nice to know.

Wimsie, of course, wanted to find out if the apes liked to play. She ran off in search of a stick, returned to the female ape, deposited the stick at her feet, and did a play-bow with her rear end sticking up and her tail waving madly. For a few moments, the ape wasn't sure what to do, and then she picked up the stick, looked at it, and threw it a short distance. Barking happily, Wimsie ran after the stick, brought it back, and presented it to the ape again. Obviously, the creatures were easy to train.

I could see that it was going to be a long day. I stretched out on my belly and watched the two of them play with the stick for a while. It kept Wimsie busy, and she didn't even have to scout around for things to chase. She could just give the stick to the ape, and the ape would throw it. It didn't get any better than that. The male ape had wandered off somewhere, and I didn't blame him. I reckoned that he and I were probably going to get along.

Finally, after what seemed like a hundred throws, the female ape became exasperated and dropped the stick on the ground. I had seen it coming. Wimsie could wear anyone out. Maybe the ape's arm hurt from flinging the damn stick, or maybe she just had other stuff to do; whatever the reason, she turned and walked over to a small, spreading tree that had huge leaves shaped like an elephant's ears. Wimsie picked up the stick and followed the ape, and I got up and followed Wimsie. I was curious to see what the ape would do next. They were intriguing creatures, and I wanted to learn more about them. They seemed willing to tolerate our presence.

We discovered that the tree was the apes' home. Right next to the trunk was a large pile of rushes that were arranged in several crisscrossing layers to make a nest-like bed. It looked comfy, but I didn't want to piss off the apes by trying it out myself. On the other side of the trunk was a collection of edible items that were stored in containers made of dried clay. Wimsie loved clay, that wonderfully squidgy stuff that squelched between her toes while she was wading along the riverbank, but it had never occurred to either of us that it could be used that way. These apes were getting more and more interesting by the minute.

The female ape took a couple of nuts out of one of the containers and tossed them to us. The nuts were from a kind of tree that had branches so far off the ground that we couldn't reach any of the nuts. It was irksome to have to sit under the tree and wait for them to fall, but we were willing to do it, because they were really good nuts and it was a shame to let the squirrels have them all.

I walked around under the tree and looked up at the leaves. They were big, with rounded edges, and most of them overlapped in such a way that not one drop of rain would get through them. My dream-memory of plants was even more vague than my dream-memory of animals, and I had no idea what the elephant-eared tree was called. It didn't matter. It was a nice place, cozy and dry, and for some strange reason, the whole scene felt like "home."

It felt even more like home when the female ape set two small clay bowls in front of us, each filled with a variety of snacks. Yessir, I could get used to this, I thought as I wolfed down the contents of my bowl. Wimsie, of course, was much more dainty with her food. She ate her snacks one at a time, starting with the largest items first: all the grapes one by one, then all the cashews one by one, and then -- and this was really aggravating -- all the sunflower seeds one by one.

"Wimsie," I said, trying to be helpful, "when someone puts a bowl of food in front of you, you better eat it before they change their mind and take it back. I mean, it must have taken her all morning to collect this stuff." I pointed at the bigger containers with my nose.

"But it's fun to eat like this," she protested, and she went back to licking up the sunflower seeds one at a time. The female ape showed her teeth and made happy sounds when Wimsie finally finished eating. It was obvious that they were going to be friends. I left the ladies to their bonding and took a stroll to see what the male ape was up to.

I didn't have to go far. The male ape was down at the stream, building a dam across it like beavers do, only he was doing it with rocks. He had made quite an impressive pile, too, but the stream was going around it on both sides. He finally got the hang of it, and he worked on making the dam wider instead of higher. Before long, the water behind the dam was deep enough to make a really nice swimming hole. I couldn't resist; I waded in and started swimming. I was hoping that he would take it as a compliment. Apparently, he did, because he showed his teeth at me. He waded in up to his neck, and then he kicked his feet up and floated on his back. I tried floating on my back, but it was hard to keep the water out of my snout. That was okay, because I dog-paddled much better than he did. After all, if a dog can't beat an ape at dog-paddling, he might as well climb a tree.

We hung out at the stream for a while, just us two guys. We yawned and scratched and listened to the birds. It was peaceful. Then we heard giggling and yipping, and we gave each other a glance that meant, to any male of any species, Shit! They found us! Wimsie and the female ape came running down the hill. Still going full-speed, both of them leaped into the water, dousing us with spray.

We all had a fine time playing in the water. When we got tired, we lounged on a big rock that had been warmed by the sun. It felt good. Too good. I dozed off, dreamed a bit of The Dream, then woke with a start. Suddenly, I knew what the two-legged creatures were: humans. That's what they were called. The female was a "woman," and the male was a "man." I also knew their language, although, of course, I wasn't able to speak it. It took a special kind of mouth, and I didn't have it. No matter. They were interesting creatures, and it would be fun to listen in on their conversations. I was glad that the Dream had decided to make itself useful for once.

The woman lazily got to her feet and said, "I'm hungry. Let's have dinner." I understood those two sentences without any trouble, and they were music to my ears. I was hungry, too. Swimming was hard work. The man agreed, and both of them went back to their home and picked up a couple of empty bowls each. Then they wandered around the valley and up the hill, filling their bowls for the evening meal. Wimsie and I ate whatever food we found right on the spot, since we didn't have hands to carry things with, but the humans collected their food and took it home so they could eat it there. Chipmunks did that -- I had seen the little bastards stuff their cheeks with nuts and then run up a tree to their nest-hole. I had no intention of trying to be like a chipmunk, but if the humans wanted to collect food and then put it in a bowl for me, I was okay with that. They would get no argument from me.

The four of us strolled around the valley and along the ridges in search of edibles. The climate was so pleasant, all year round, that any kind of plant would grow practically anywhere except on bare rock. And there were even a couple of kinds of plants that grew on bare rock, like mosses and lichens. Reindeer ate that stuff, but I preferred better fare, and it wasn't hard to find.

"Fez! Over here!" I heard Wimsie call, and I dutifully trotted up the hill to see what she was so excited about. "What are these?" she said, and she pawed at a white, foot-long root that she had just dug up. It smelled spicy. I sampled it, and it made my eyes water. "Horseradish," I said, as the name popped into my mind. I sneezed and shook my head.

The woman happened to be nearby, and she came over to see what we had found. She picked up the root, bit off a good-sized chunk, started to chew, got a very surprised look on her face, spit out the burning mouthful, and ran down to the stream for a drink of water.

"What was that all about?" the man yelled from the top of the ridge, where he had been gathering nuts.

"The dogs found something new," she yelled back. "I'll put it in a salad." The man waved and went back to his nut-gathering, and the woman returned to the patch of horseradish and used a small, flat piece of wood to dig up several more roots. Adding them to her bowl, she continued along the stream.

I didn't mind that the woman had moved in on our horseradish, because there was food all over that valley, including leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, grapes, cherries, and peas. Several kinds of nut-trees grew along the ridge. There was no shortage of greens, either: fiddleheads, dandelions, lettuce, spinach, and watercress. There were other things that I couldn't remember the names of. All I knew was that we were surrounded by food.

When their bowls were full, the humans took their goodies home. Wimsie and I casually deposited ourselves right outside the canopy of elephant-ear leaves, just in case someone decided to feed us something. Maybe we could train the humans to give us snacks in bowls, like they had that morning. After all, it hadn't taken Wimsie long to train the woman to throw sticks. They seemed to be fairly intelligent.

And they were. The woman came out from under the tree, carrying two clay bowls. They were the same bowls that we had used before, and each one had a heaping helping of "salad": dandelion and watercress leaves, mixed with cherry halves and thin slivers of horseradish and sprinkled with nuts. It was delicious. I chowed down, while Wimsie picked her salad apart piece by piece. The humans sat down next to us with their own bowls of salad. When everyone was done, the woman rinsed the bowls out and placed them upside-down on a flat rock to dry. Then she gave everyone a juicy green apple for "dessert". Mine was so tart that it made my snout wrinkle, but, damn, it was good.

Then the woman did something even more surprising. She made a little bed for Wimsie and me, with an armful of rushes that she had been drying outside. She piled them neatly, crisscrossing them like she had done with their bed, and then she looked at us and said, "Come lie down!" while patting the pile of rushes. Apparently, she thought she was training us. No matter. She would get no complaint from me. I plopped down on the bed, and Wimsie curled up next to me. Right before I fell asleep, I had a revelation: We were home.






To be continued...

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-12-02
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