This is a continuation with the prompt to write a short story based on lyrics, no longer than 1500 words. If you watch the video, it offers a better understanding of the story.
Ace was just a little over two years old when he first heard John Lennon’ song “Imagine.” He was already recognized as a precocious child, but the fact that he also had both an eidetic and an echoic memory was not yet appreciated. If only because no one had tested him for it. In any event, the song stuck with him. His mother was an ardent Beatles fan and was quite delighted to hear him going about his seemingly childish activities while humming the tune. But there was nothing innocent about the didactic fashion in which the words were framing the basis of the Nutopia to come.
The very choice of the name Nutopia, first presented as a portmanteau of “new” and “utopia” by John and Yoko on Aprils Fool Day in 1973, was indicative of the seriousness with which he viewed their original whimsical offering. Initially offered as little more than a satire meant to rebuke the senseless immigration hassle John was facing, Ace was very determined to give his version of Nutopia substance, with “Imagine” a fitting anthem. No heaven above, no hell below, only sky and earth to beckon the musings of the common man freed from the burden of sustaining any religion. For the quintessential atheist this was an easy sell. No countries and no borders followed from a reductionist simplification of human existence. To Ace this concept of Nutopia was anything but a dream or some abstract notion. It was a reality he was determined to give substance to.
A singularity which Nutopia adhered to with almost maniacal passion but got only passing and indirect reference in “Imagine”, was the issue of money. In Nutopia money was anathema. It was dictum that money could only buy pleasure whereas what humans really craved was happiness. All pleasure had to offer was a titillation of the mind, whereas happiness warmed the soul. However, distinguishing between the two was hardly a simple exercise, given the natural proclivity humans had for pleasure. For which reason, starting at a young age, Ace adhered to an old Chinese adage with almost fanatical determination: Happiness comes not from satisfying one’s desires, but from learning to desire what will truly bring happiness. There would be no money in Nutopia. Nor many possessions.
No individual had the right to own any of the earth or its resources. The earth was there for all the sentient beings that depended on it. Nobody had any rights to any part of it to the exclusion of any other. One could argue that many species were territorial and defended their territories with all the strength and aggression they could muster. To which the counter argument was that this territorial aggression was dictated by the individual’s instinct to survive. Humans had already evolved to the point where entire communities were requisite for the individual’s survival, and consequently no individual should be given claim to what the community needed for its survival. Nutopia’s rules, once codified, were sacrosanct. Nobody was compelled to join Nutopia. One came of one’s own free will, knowing up front the price and rewards one could expect. And come they did, in droves.
In “Imagine” Lennon had postulated that he was not the only one dreaming of this idyllic world, and Nutopia proved him right. It was a testament to the tragedy humans had inflicted on each other that the first Nutopia grew well beyond its original bounds, and then proceeded to flourish abroad. In America the offerings posed by the original Nutopia proved most appealing. It was as if the larger citizenry was finally recognizing a fundamental scam that they had been victims of, even if they were hard pressed to describe it in articulate terms. Fact was that this much touted American success story was a sham, a zero-sum game where there were a few winners, but at the expense of many, many more losers. And it was always the capitalists of various stripes that won, first at the expense of the red man, and then sequentially the black man, the poor white man, and in the latest incarnation, the brown man. Forty-four percent of American adults confronted with an unexpected need for $400 could either not pay it or would have to borrow or sell something to do so. The people of the earth were finally ready for some semblance of equity that would save them from the clutches of the rich man, and Nutopia offered a most sensible alternative.
A gussied-up version of socialism was how his detractors described his offering, while pointing out that socialism had failed in every form, erudite or mercenary, that had preceded the one Ace was touting. Whatever success this Nutopia experiment was displaying, was temporary. It would eventually collapse under the weight of its own ignorance of the human spirit, with its innate need to be free of externally imposed constraints. Ace was not detracted. Every earlier form of socialism had failed because this external constraint had taken the form of human intervention, usually in the guise of some power-hungry despot determined to get rich off the suffering and delusions of his fellow creatures. His version of Nutopia was different; would transcend all its precedent versions. For starters, there was no flawed human at the helm; the entire operation was controlled and sanctified by a virtual enterprise based on Artificial Intelligence.
Ace was convinced his version would work because he had painstakingly inoculated his artifact with the seeds of commonsense, and there was growing evidence that showed how his enterprise was exploiting deep/machine learning to grow this appreciation of how commonsense served humans. Furthermore, his offering was completely transparent to any who wished to test the outcome against any set of conditions. In fact, he invited this scrutiny. The more his system was pushed outside its existing boundaries, the more it learned and grew.
This demonstration of an Artificial Intelligence permeated with commonsense was no mean feat. That shortcoming had been the greatest challenge facing AI; all the simple truths humans took for granted in addressing all the mundane issues they faced in their daily lives was alien to AI. Machines could recognize any object given them for viewing; they could identify words spoken in different languages and dialects, and even translate between languages. They could even mimic human actions in a number of ways, but every attempt to digitize commonsense had met with very limited success. No machine could read a book and answer any questions related to what it had supposedly read. But this was rapidly changing, and by combining these growing abilities with a unique strategy, Ace trained HAL to display first a rudimentary, and as it gained sophistication through deep learning techniques, an erudite commonsense. Yes, HAL was back, but not the original Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, but the latest incarnation in the form of a Hierarchy Allocating Lagrangian machine that defined and assessed the status of, and the role played by every citizen of Nutopia in meeting their obligation to remain a citizen in good standing.
Ace had no qualms about admitting that he was proselytizing a new brand of socialism. The more interesting question was exactly what appellation this latest version deserved? Socialism had a long and varied history encompassing numerous versions of systems, theories, and movements. In the beginning there was utopian socialism which evolved over time into the more recognized scientific socialism espoused by Marx in cooperation with Engels. Ace needed a distinguishing moniker that would spell out the essence of what he had to offer without compromise or ambiguity. He picked “de-monetized socialism” as the appellation for the concept that would save humanity from itself.
One might well be reasonably tempted to ask why exactly Ace had undertaken this seemingly Quixotic endeavor with such single-minded determination. Or, for that matter, the perhaps more Quixotic goal of a brotherhood of man. He had few delusions about what would need to happen before his theories could really take hold and be successful on a global scale; humanity would have to first hit rock-bottom. Consequently, to understand what was truly driving him, it is necessary to appreciate his almost prescient conviction that winter was coming. And not some fictional winter in some fantasy realm aimed at titillating the masses, but a real, man-made winter that would culminate in the sixth extinction. And when that happened, the few remaining survivors would need the likes of Nutopia to support them through a new beginning. Much to his chagrin he turned out to be right. Winter came, instigated by human folly, and in its bitter clutch three-quarters of all sentient species, guilty and not-guilty, died.
Clive Ash has traveled extensively, often to remote locations ranging from the blazing heat of the Sahara to the equally fragile and bitterly cold world inside the Arctic Circle. These experiences allow him to bring a firsthand knowledge to his descriptions of the many locations visited in his novels. He writes to give substance to the stories in his head. To learn more about him, please visit his author website.
At the Joni Mitchell Pool
Jeanie is one of these inch worm types. One toe in; one toe back. The cold has always been alien. From birth, really. Even today, with the water temperature around twenty degrees. Babies are gurgling in mothers’ and fathers’ arms in the pool, for God’s sake.
Cassius with the lean and hungry look is descending the stairs. Italian background, perhaps? You can’t help but notice him. He’s wearing long black tights. Nothing else. She sees the bulge as he mounts the cement block. Has he come from the yoga centre up the top? The Breathing Space? That would explain the tights.
A shallow dive from his perch on high. Shallow depth at this end, mind. Heart-stopping … gasp…! The thin man’s head emerges intact, midway down the pool. No problem. She breathes out, a sigh of relief.
Breaking the ice is the problem for Jeanie. Rubbing water on her legs, her arms. It doesn’t help much. She flinches. Retreats, as a small child jumps in, splashing her.
Immersing the neck and the head is the worst. Actual pain. What a waste, if you’ve just washed and primped your hair. Still, it’s over once your hair is wet.
She knows … knows it all…. Enlightenment, even, doesn’t help.
Cassius is doing laps. Such style. Such graceful ease, the arms arced at the elbows, breathing in and out on either side.
She’s immersed now in delicious liquid. The whole body baptised. Is the water getting warmer? Or has her body adjusted to the cold? There are warm spots in the water. Do adults urinate in the pool? Babies and children, perhaps? She thinks of the French word for swimming pool: “piscine”.
Jeanie notices people. The matriarch with the white cotton hat. Standing in the water up to her neck. Watching. Greek background? German, perhaps? The middle-aged man with white hairs on his shoulders, like a bear. A new baby makes swimming motions, safe in its father’s grasp. Little arms and legs moving back and forth like a turtle. The French family, doing perfect Australian crawl.
Cassius is heading for the block again. Another shallow dive. Effortless. She breathes through it this time, knowing now that he knows how to avoid smashing his head on the rocky bottom. Crimson blood rising to the surface.
The white-hatted woman stares at him. Frozen. He meets her gaze. She points to the signage at the steps of the pool. Dozens of small icons. Jeanie follows the direction of the sharp finger. Hard to see from here. A dog with a slash across it? A diver with a red cross through it? Is there one for urinating? She thinks not.
‘Diving is not allowed in here,’ the woman scolds, ‘it says so on the sign.’
‘I know how to do it,’ he says, ‘without hurting myself. From years and years of practice.’
He’d chosen a space when it was clear of bodies too. No children in the way.
‘It is to protect others,’ she says. ‘Children … from getting hurt.’
Jeanie can see both sides, now. She’s seen teenagers jumping and skylarking from the high cliffs at the Surf Club side of the rock pool here. No one’s ever said anything to them. Not even the lifesavers.
As she treads water, half-wading, towards the end of the pool, she meets his gaze. Dark eyes. Intelligent. Brooding?
‘It’s just a case of fear,’ she murmurs, ‘about people hitting their heads…’
‘I don’t care,’ he says, ‘about other peoples’ fear.’ She flinches inwardly, desiring to know more. Perhaps he’s read that recent book she’s seen somewhere: The Subtle Art of Not giving a F*ck”. Four-and-a-half stars on Amazon. She might download the kindle version. Much cheaper, really.
‘I’ve recovered twice from brain damage,’ he lets slip out, ‘anyway.’
She wants to ask questions, find out more about him, but he’s off, probably sorry that the words have escaped his secret mouth. Smoothly tanned. His hair a little longer than the norm, but neat.
She watches as he springs out of the pool at the deep end. Lithe. Self possessed.
On the rocks that lead down to the water’s edge, Cassius sits in a lotus position, facing out to sea. The Pacific Ocean, not always, though, she thinks. Sometimes antagonistic, even.
But today it is tranquil. Calm as its namesake.
In profile, like a sphinx, Cassius is lost in meditation. Upright, lean and spare, solar plexus taut, his body merged into head and bust. Toes sticking out at the end of legs that have disappeared.
What is going on inside of him? Inside his belly? Inside his brain? His mind?
She has read about the kundalini, a dormant energy inside all of us. When she googled it, she found the word “dharma”, ancient Buddhist teachings, and the expression:
“The figure of a coiled serpent—a serpent goddess not of gross but subtle substance.”
Lovely words that have stuck in her mind. Words of poetry. Not to be confused with reality, of course.
Looking at the sphinx man now, she imagines the snake uncoiling secretly within, tries to see the movement on the outside of the belly. Nothing. Not a move. Not a flicker. The surface hard and still.
Other words come to her now, slipping like small blue sea creatures out of the slumbering unconscious of her mind. Something about the thousand-petalled lotus at the crown of the head. Waves of light and energy coming from the lowest point in the body, to the seventh at the top.
“And with each awakening, the psyche of the person will be transformed.”
She moves away to the other end of the pool. To the shallows. When she looks back to the rocks at the deep end of the pool, the sphinx-like man has gone.
The next day was Friday. There was nothing in the flat to eat. She hadn’t eaten breakfast, so by lunch time, Jeanie was ravenous. She dressed to go to lunch and then a swim in the pool. She walked to the end of the beachfront and ordered a late lunch at the restaurant on the esplanade above the pool. Expensive, but it couldn’t be helped. She would take half back for her flat-mate.
She’d planned to go for a swim straight after lunch. But something led her to look at the program for the Yoga classes in The Breathing Space, next-door to the restaurant.
A sign on the wall read: “The world is the great gymnasium, where we come to make ourselves strong.” Swami Vivekenanda,
From the moment she walked into the yoga room, she felt a lovely warmth that engulfed her whole body. She found a spot in the corner at the back of the class, placed her beach towel on the floor, and sat cross-legged on it. The warmth of the room was in part from the sun streaming in. But there was something else. She took off the tee shirt she’d worn over her swimsuit, sat on her haunches, her palms face up on her thighs.
Straight-backed and peaceful, she thought of the sphinx-man at the pool.
The meditation teacher was a plump, motherly type in soft cotton harem pantaloons and a flowing jacket. Belly fat oozing over her waist. She exuded warmth and love. Her voice soft and maternal.
She began to feel quite spiritual. It wasn’t necessary to close your eyes, the matriarch was saying. Better to remain open, so as not to fall asleep.
The motherly leader came and moved one of the lit candles to glow in front of Jeanie. Then she placed a strip of paper at her feet with a wisdom mind mantra on it: OM A RAPA TSA NA DHIH: “May the wisdom mind find you” or something like that.
Jeanie felt her heart swelling within her breast. Pink, green, orange, all the colours of the rainbow filling in the shapes in the video at her forehead, flickering on and off, in tune with the woman’s voice.
She thought once again of the serpent goddess of subtle substance, and wondered if this was she. In manifest form.
The lulling voice of the teacher was telling them they could lie down now.
Ah, great! Horizontal.
The leader was talking about love now. About sending love rays out towards specific people, and to acquaintances. They were being asked to transmit love direct from the heart.
This meditation session was all about love, she realized.
Jeanie wondered how she would know if the objects of her love had received the message or not. It didn’t seem to matter.
She thought of the sphinx-like man and decided that he would be the object of her transmitted love. Why not? she thought. He was an acquaintance, if she saw him again, she would recognise him from the brief encounter at the pool.
Perhaps it was he who had brought her here. She never would have thought of coming, otherwise.
Was he real, or was he an illusion, like so much about life and love.
Anne Skyvington has been keeping a creative writing blog for ten years, and has recently upgraded it to a self-hosted website.
She has won awards for short story competitions and has published many of her short stories, poems and book reviews on her personal blog.
She has convened two Writing Groups, and I has completed manuscript, Karrana, and a memoir, River Girl, near to completion. To learn more about her, please visit her author website.
Perfect world, Meditation, and Mind,