[LNH20/HCC] Bite-Size Tales of the LNH v20 #14: 'Symbols' [HCC55]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 27 17:09:40 PDT 2015

LNH20/HCC: Bite-Size Tales of the LNH v20 #14: 'Symbols' 
Bite-Size Tales of the LNH v20 #14  'Symbols'
By Saxon Brenton
[for High Concept Challenge #55]
     Professor Penumbra stared at the rotary telephone.
     It sat with almost wilful incongruity in the middle of the 
baseball field, perhaps a metre from second base, its receiver off the 
hook and lying on the grass.  The adventurer glanced around.  The field 
seemed empty, but to be honest he didn't really trust that appearance. 
This was far from an ordinary baseball field.
     Just beyond the edge of the outfield, encroaching up to pretty much 
the edge of the playing area, was a field of corn.  And overhead was a 
night sky filled with stars that were bright and sharply defined and 
brilliantly multicoloured in the way that a human perception of the sky 
was not.  
     It looked photoshopped.  As if someone had taken a colour corrected 
astronomy picture and inserted it to encompass everything above the 
horizon.  The contrast with the warm air and harsh summer sunlight made 
the sun conspicuous by its absence.
     There were sounds coming from the telephone receiver.  He could 
hear them, even over the low background drone of cicadas.
     Professor Penumbra squatted down and reached out to pick up the 
receiver, thought better of it, fished around in his pockets for one of 
those little sealed packets of antibacterial tissues that he kept for 
just such an emergency, tore it open, and used the tissue inside to grab 
the receiver instead.
     (The Professor also had a handkerchief in his pocket.  One that he 
used for, you know, actually blowing his nose.  This was because he was 
old enough to belong to a generation that wasn't automatically squicked 
by the idea of having a snotty piece of cloth wadded up in his pocket 
until he could throw it in the washing basket at the end of the day.)
     He put the receiver to his ear and listened.  There was noisy 
collection of street sounds: cars, and sirens, and people yelling, and 
instructions to stand back from the cordoned off area.  It sounded like 
someone was in a lot of trouble.  Then he put the receiver back down on 
the grass, stood up and wondered which direction he needed to go in to 
     Or maybe he should just call out. 
     He cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, "Hello!" at the 
top of his lungs.  "Is there anyone around here?"
     There was an almost immediate response.  "Over here.  Over by the 
     The voice didn't sound panicked or urgent, so Professor Penumbra 
ambled forward into the over-head-height corn rows, simply keeping a 
conversation going and sounding calm.  "So, is it just you?  Anybody 
     "Not that I've seen.  Hey there," said a young man seated casually 
on the ground as Professor Penumbra almost tripped over him.   "Better 
watch your step.  This place doesn't seem to be very big, and the first 
step's a doozy."
     "So I see."  The corn rows had come to an end because the ground 
had come to an end.  The stalks grew right up to the edge of a cliff. 
     The young man was looking at the Professor with a quizzical look 
of half recognition.  "Okay, you probably get this a lot, but aren't 
you that Professor Penumbra dude from the Legion of Net.Heroes?"
     Penumbra gave him a deliberately calm reply, for much the same 
reason that you talked calmly to people standing on a window ledge 
several stories up.  "Yep, that's me."  He reached out to shake hands, 
which the other accepted readily.  "And you are?"
     "Ron Finlayson."  Ron leaned back and chewed thoughtfully on a 
stalk of grass.  (Penumbra guessed he must have picked it from the 
baseball field, since there was nothing but bare dirt here at the base 
of the corn crop.)  "Okay," said Ron, "This is looking about as bad as 
I thought, but you're the expert on this sort of thing so you can tell 
me if I've got any of this wrong, but... I'm dead, aren't I?"  Then 
his eyes opened, and he went "Ooo!  Wait a second, I just thought of 
something.  Have I asked the question, 'Have I asked this question 
     Professor Penumbra stared at him.  "Sorry, what?"
     "It's just something I remember about people who've had head trauma 
and stuff.  The short term memory gets shot, and they have a tendency to 
keep asking 'What happened' and 'Where am I?' over and over again.  So I 
made a mental note years ago that if I every woke up in hospital I was 
gonna ask 'Have I asked this question before?'.  Just to freak the 
nurses out.  Well, I'm not in hospital, but I'm pretty sure the was a 
car crash while I was walking to work at the convenience store, so, you 
know, that's close enough, right?"
     "Man, that is so meta it's...  I dunno even know what it is.  I 
mean, seriously, if you remember there being an accident, then you're 
not having trouble with your memory.  But, no: you haven't asked that 
question before."
     "No, I suppose not," said Ron.  He looked at his forearms.  
"Still," he said, and took a felt tip pen from his shirt pocket and 
marked a single stoke on his arm.    "So, back to the matter at hand."
     "What?  Oh, right, dying.  Uh, probably not."  The Professor was 
somewhat off balance.  But on the up side, it seemed to Penumbra that 
Ron was unlikely to be suffering a panic attack any time soon.  "I think 
you're having a near death experience, to be honest."
     "Oh?  Oh, okay."  Ron scratched the back of his neck.  "Well, 
that's better than I was expecting, so I guess that doesn't suck.  After 
all the death symbols I was kind of thinking the worst."
     Interested, Penumbra asked, "What death symbols?"
     Ron waved his hands back towards the sports field.  "Baseball 
diamond surrounded by a corn field.  That's from the Field Of Dreams 
movie with... uh..."  He snapped his fingers, trying to remember.
     "Yeah, that's him.  Then there's the telephone.  Did you notice it 
was a toy telephone?  That's the second Poltergeist movie."  Then Ron 
frowned.  "The bit I don't get is what's down there.  Even for a near 
death experience, that not the way it's supposed to be."
     Professor Penumbra glanced over the cliff.  Or at least what looked 
like a cliff.  After all, cliffs usually had something at the bottom.  
Ground or water or suchlike.  This cliff just ended, as though the 
baseball field with its frilled edge of corn was just a hunk of earth 
floating in space.  And down below that was the thing that Ron was 
having a philosophical objection to: a turtle bigger than worlds.
     Ron said, quite calmly, "It's pretty awesome, but I'm not sure I 
get what it means."
     Professor Penumbra looked at the turtle for a while.  Finally he 
said, "Well, one of the symbolic meanings of the turtle is longevity.  
But I don't think that's what we're talking about in this case."  He 
turned to Ron.  "Do you feel up for taking a bit of a trip to get a 
different view?"
     Ron looked surprised.  "Okay, I guess."  He took Professor 
Penumbra's hand and stood up, and then laughed with delight when 
Penumbra tugged him up into the air and they went flying out over the 
edge.  "Whoa!  Ha ha!  Hey, could I have done this myself."
     "Probably.  It's kind of like lucid dreaming.  If it occurs to you 
that you want to fly, all you have to do is make the effort."
     "I dunno about that.  I've been having flying dreams on and off 
for years, and no matter how much I try, my altitude control always 
bites big time."  Then he asked,  "How far are we going?"
     "We don't need to go far.  In this case the symbolism of getting 
a new point of view is just as important as actually shifting to a new 
vantage point.  Here, take a look."
     Ron peered down.  Below the turtle there was... another turtle.  
And another below that.  And another below that.  And so on as far as 
he could see.
     "Yin and Yang," said Professor Penumbra, and there was a smile in 
his voice.  "The symbol contains both the thing and its opposite.  So 
the symbol of longevity also represents an unending sequence of lives 
beyond death.  It's turtles all the way down."
     Ron sporfled in amusement.  Then he frowned and let out a large 
     "You okay?"
     "No, I feel a bit of an ache in my chest."  For the first time he 
looked concerned.  "I guess this is where I move on to the next turtle, 
     "I kind of doubt it," said Professor Penumbra.  He ran a pair of 
fingers down the front of Ron's face and chest - not touching, just 
pointing in a vaguely mystical way.  "If you're feeling aches and pains 
then that indicates that you're moving back into synch with your body. 
I'm guessing the paramedics have got you on the mend.  Looks like 
you're going to get the opportunity to pester nurses after all."
     Ron vanished in a slow explosion of sparkles that mirrored the 
multicoloured splatter of stars overhead.
     Professor Penumbra floated for a few moments while the spiritscape 
around him faded away, and he made his way back to the material world.  
He was feeling mischievous, and he wanted to find out what hospital Ron 
was going to be taken to, so that he could leave a felt tip pen for him 
to find on the bedside table when he woke up.
     Written for the 55th High Concept Challenge: 'Required Elements'.  
A story containing a combination of a certain prop, line of dialogue, 
character, animal and location.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia 
     saxon.brenton at uts.edu.au     saxonbrenton at hotmail.com 
"These 'no-nonsense' solutions of yours just don't hold water in a complex 
world of jet-powered apes and time-travel." - Superman, JLA Classified #3 

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