“All That We Dreamt ~ On Fire”
by Jim Wellington
Forward: The Butterfly Effect
The cutest, most precious little girl that could ever be – your daughter, was laughing her most contagious, heart warming laughter, chasing her puppy around in the safety of your own front yard – when a butterfly flew into her face and scared her half to death.
The puppy yelped and ran like hell away from her.
A Truck. A freakin monster of an over-the-road, double-trailer hauling rig- jumped the curb and swerved to miss the puppy, jackknifed and flipped on its side. One trailer flipped with it, would have killed your daughter if she’d taken one more step forward. The other trailer broke free and rolled passed her – also missed her by inches. The puppy cried and whimpered, nervous until he found his girl, unscathed.
In your shock, all you could do is wonder why the truck driver’s stereo was still playing.
You recognized the song, “All That You Dream” by a group called “Little Feat”.
You don’t know how your heart kept beating. The loose trailer continued on past your daughter and smashed into your next door neighbour’s house.
Your daughter turned to you with the puppy jumping and dancing around her, tears streaming down her face, looking shocked, looking scared, crying for all she was worth.
And the singer happily broke into his chorus.
You fell straight down, sat down hard, mouth wide open, contemplating a miracle, while your daughter continued crying at the top of her lungs and that dog kept bounding around her in sheer joy and that song seemed to be trying to tell you something.
You will never hear about ‘the Butterfly Effect’ and not remember every last detail of that beautiful, miraclous morning.
But your daughter still wants to scream every time she sees, or even thinks about a butterfly-
Professor Hardester had a repertoire of ‘worried’ and ‘painful’ expressions anchored deeply in the muscle memory of his facial tissue. As he corrected his way through a pile of this semester’s students’ compositions he exercised every one of them.
This was the first assignment he gave each new class, each semester he taught this course. He could probably recite this speech word for word in his sleep and wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
Twice a year, every year, a slightly new group of faces with the same dozen expressions would accompany the same collection of body types into his classroom. They would wander in, stumble in, strut in arrogantly- slink in when they hoped no one was looking or just walk ‘normal’ and hope nobody saw through their acts.
He would take attendance and pretend not to be bored out of his mind as he stood there and waited until he had everyone’s attention. “My name is Professor Anthony Hardester. That’s an ‘E’ – not an ‘A’ in the -‘ester’ part. As I hope you already realize, this is English Composition, .101 – more commonly referred to among your peers as ‘Bone Head English’.” The professor always looked down at the desk he stood beside to deliver this speech, pretend to be reading something, usually the attendance list, “Your job in this class is not just to memorize spelling and grammar rules you should have learned several years back, but to understand the rules of logic and train your mind to not just blindly accept every word you hear in a television commercial when your guard is down and you don’t believe you’re actually paying attention to the messages that very cunning people are paid a lot to broadcast past your resistance and into your brain- Blind faith in the accuracy of your senses and your untrained, and most likely half-conscious mind’s – ability to piece together the bits and pieces of information you somnambulistically bump into every day you wake up and step beyond the mind numbing cocoons of your comfort zones- Will not get you through this class with a passing grade. You’re going to work for this one.
“You should all have the text books and the list of suggested reading and the list of approved novels and works of poetry you will be expected to have read and hopefully understood and maybe even digested before we get to midterms. You will not be able to find the answers to the questions on my midterm exam by reading through the comic book version of the cliff’s notes versions of any book or volume on that list.
By this time the professor would have looked as deeply through the eyes of at least half the new students and could feel reasonably certain that he’d scared every person in the room into believing that he or she could not bluff their way through this bonehead English course.
He took a few steps away from the desk, scowled, frowned and stared through the eyes of a couple more students, “Your first assignment- You have until Friday to complete this- I want you to write something for me. I want two pages printed out in a ten or twelve point font- fourteen in some fonts that are unusually small- but no more than fourteen-
“Write about anything- Anything that interests you, anything that disgusts you – Something you are passionate about – Something that bores you to tears- I don’t care. I want this to reveal something about yourself that you probably never thought that anyone could perceive by reading a stupid bonehead english assignment. I will know how your mind works. I will learn how brain dead you’ve become from watching way too much television and way too many adrenaline releasing movies. If your logical abilities and your expertise in discerning the difference between anything like the truth and the pure and utter bullshit you’ve been relentlessly bombarded with since you cried your first breath is stuck at the pre-kindergarten level – I will know that. And I will try to shock you out of your sleep and the dull stupor that every advertising executive, every politician, every would be dictator in this world hopes you will never realize you’ve been lulled into. If you leave my class at the end of this semester the same dull-witted zombie you were when you walked through that door about twenty minutes ago- It will not be my fault.
“I want to be pleasantly surprised by something I read in every one of your assignments. – Try very hard not to disappoint me-“
There they were, in a very neat pile in the center of his desk. Each one of them read and sighed and winced over. All but one had been graded with a very short note, usually in red marker near the grade which had been circled in the same marker the note had been written in
The professor drummed his fingers on the desk, reached for the one last composition several times, and then just leaned back, turned around and stared out his window.
He was bidding for a grant. Conditional upon his receiving that grant, he could then bid on a plumb assignment with one of the university’s richest backers. There were fringe benefits that could come with that assignment, temporary though it might be, and privileges that could last throughout the remainder of his career. He closed his eyes, sighed and tried to ignore everything that was going on in his life, and in the wider world around him.
Once again, the professor frowned, scowled, this time snorted, and picked up the one remaining paper- This time he read aloud –
“The United States Revolutionary War of 1776 was fought as much about the colonists’ desire to not be taxed under the law that stipulated that they pay their taxes in Bank of England notes. The colonies had already devised their own economies and issued their own currency- Indeed, the government of England, along with the Crown, had resisted the form of banking they would soon spread throughout the known world- The form of banking that allowed the Bank of England to lend out as much credit as it pleased and allowed that bank to not be limited to lending out only as much as they had physical gold in their vaults to cover, but several times the amount of their actual assets and reserves. The British resisted this form of banking, which they had long believed was unethical, immoral, and should have been illegal. Only after William of Orange became their King did the English consider allowing this form of banking to go on. When the colonists cried out, “No taxation without representation.” They were resisting the law which stipulated that those taxes had to be paid in Bank of England notes, which were extremely rare and hard to come by in the colonies and resulted in their taxes costing at least ten time more than the face value of those bank notes.”
The professor screwed his lips to one side and shook his head at the repetition he’d just read through for the second time. He could still hear his own Education Department professors explaining the way that adolescent minds worked, or didn’t quite work- how they were prone to long unnecessary explanations to justify actions they didn’t need to justify to any reasonable adult – the way their brains were ‘wired’ to needing to sleep long into the morning and how their functions would be impaired if they were forced to wake up early and march off to early classes- He sighed and turned his chair a little to the left, then a little to the right, a little to the left – a little bit less to the right- And then he turned completely around and picked up the composition one more time.
He turned to the middle of the second page, “Roughly one third of the colonists wanted this Revolution, some say the numbers were more like less than a third, with a second third opposed to breaking ties with mother England and the final third disinterested in who was in ultimate authority.”
The professor closed his eyes and groaned, then sighed, he dropped the paper in front of him, not quite in the center of the edge of the desk closest to him, and picked up his blue marker – he began to compose his note, but did not begin writing, “This shows potential- ” he sighed and looked at the marker, made sure the cap was securely closed.
It was a conscious decision- he would not say, “You show potential, you may be the only one out of three hundred students new to us this year who actually does show any kind of potential-” No- he could never say that to a student, even when it was true-
He sighed and turned away from the desk again, stared at the very black night on the other side of his very clean window, ignored his reflection.
The wrong couple words in the right ears could turn this student’s life into a living hell. His dorm room, his apartment, his car if he had one, even his book bag or the pants he was wearing- could be searched and found to contain a quantity of some controlled drug, maybe something prescribed to somebody else- something that a couple people would know was planted on him- but those people would never jeopardize their careers to defend him.
It could be worse. He could be disappeared in the middle of the night. On his way to somewhere or right out of his room with no witnesses. He could wake up in some foreign torture prison and never know why or what they wanted from him. Hell who knows if ‘they’ wanted anything from him, just make him disappear because they could?
But Professor Hardester reported to Homeland Security. And Homeland Security paid him just enough of a stipend, a retainer- to insure that he wouldn’t starve or lose his rent because of the ridiculously low salary he was paid and the ridiculously high cost of rent anywhere he could reasonably live near the university.
In the words of his predecessor, the person who introduced him to his ‘benefactors’, who accepted a different ‘plumb assignment’ and opened up the position the professor now occupied, both with the university and with ‘them’, “Hell, if it comes down to an issue of ‘it’s their comfort and my life-‘ I’ll vote for me every time.”
The professor dropped the marker, opened his drawer, pulled out the land line telephone, dialed the three number sequence and waited.
“This is Hardester here, is our game of one eyed jacks still on for next Tuesday?”
“I believe so, hang on, I’ll check-“
The professor sighed, coughed and yawned, looked at the floor and winced. Looking at the floor in that one spot was the only spot in the room where he was reasonably sure he could get away with any doubtful expression, any wincing, any sign at all that he did not love the fact that he had to ruin some random student’s life in order to get ahead, to just get by, to survive. But they had sent that underaged student to him, drugged and out of it, half naked and seemingly willing- and if he wanted to go on being free-
Gawd those minutes felt like forever-
“Hello?” This was a different voice, but one he recognized-
“This is ‘Fly on the Wall’ your line is clear, you’ll have to raise your face so we can confirm that it’s you.”
He sat up, “What?”
“You know we have your house wired- for your protection- we have multiple cameras in every room, no spot is blind to us, but a quirk with these cameras makes the focus a little fuzzy in a couple spots-“
The professor almost shuddered as he looked up, looked around, couldn’t imagine where any of those cameras could be. But he could not appear to be overly curious either- “Where do you want me to move to?”
“You’re fine where you are- biometrics doesn’t lie and biometrics confirms you’re you. What did you want to tell us?”
He put on his deeply concerned expression, “There is one student – who just might be vulnerable to indoctrination if the wrong people recognize his vulnerabilities-“
“Which student are you talking about?”
The professor’s brow furrowed, thoughtfully, “Ezekial Vasdekian- I don’t have his student ID number right here, but I can get it-“
“No need- we are already aware of this student. He has been on our ‘watch’ list all along, but thank you for confirming our suspicions. And thanks for confirming that we were right to put you in this position of trust- Thank you for your service to your country- is there anything else you need to tell us?”
The professor looked slightly confused and thoughtful for a moment, “No- that was all-“
“Have a nice night-” click.
The professor blinked twice and picked up his blue marker. He practiced his ‘deep in thought’ look for several seconds before leaning forward and writing, “Your mode of writing shows potential. I call it a mode because you still have a lot of work to do before we can think of calling it a ‘style’. You need to wean yourself of dependence on clichés and common phrases that you probably never realized detract from what you wish to express. A-” He circled the “A-” in the same blue marker and leaned back, stared at the paper where it remained. Inanimate and unmoving on the desk.
He capped the marker and slammed the cap into the palm of his hand to be sure it was caught and remained tightly clamped in place.
Then he took a couple short breaths and practiced his deep in thought look, wishing for all he was worth that he could wince and shudder and even scream.
But he knew better.