The population of Ooolandia is hypnotized by the culture of MORE. Citizens of all kinds and colors go about their lives unaware that a great calamity is approaching. Banshooo, an amazingly mindful monkey, works for the Ooolandian Department of Nature where he has amassed data proving, beyond any doubt, that the natural world is losing the stability necessary to sustain life. Unfortunately, their warnings are ignored by the authorities who plan to phase out nature altogether. Freaky winds, icy earthquakes, and mutant anemones plague the landscape. After a wildly devastating storm, Banshooo has a vision revealing the connection between Ooolandia and the Unseen Worlda connection that lies deep within and far beyond all that is seen. It is vital to Ooolandia’s survival, and it is fraying. He must take radical action. Along with his quirky sidekick, he sets out on a journey beyond the surface of the Seen to bring back proof of the true nature of nature.
|Publisher:||Common Deer Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
About the Author
Patricia J. Anderson is the author of All Of Us: Americans Talk About the Meaning of Death, a critically acclaimed investigation of cultural attitudes and beliefs; and Affairs In Order, A Complete Resource Guide to Death and Dying, named best reference book of the year by Library Journal. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Sun, Glamour Magazine, Ars Medica, and Chronogram among other periodicals. She has published articles on a range of issues for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and Rewireme.com, written exhibition and catalogue copy for such institutions as the American Museum of Natural History and the Capital Museum, and narration for video and radio documentaries. She is the editor of Craig Barber’s Vietnam journal, Ghosts in the Landscape. Anderson has worked with website designers and producers to create and edit language for a variety of commercial and educational websites. She is the recipient of The Communicator Award for online excellence. She lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Read an Excerpt
[Six months earlier.]
You're out of beer."
"Don't bother me. I'm busy."
"Chips too. There are no chips in this house."
It's twilight in Ooolandia, a world like many other worlds but with an extra "O." A world filled with the feathered, the furred, the scaled, the shelled, the shorn, and the nearly naked. Mammals, microbes, hominids, and the all-too-humanoid bustle about together, occasionally bumping into those who don't fit into any category at all — those who are, essentially, one-offs.
The discussion regarding provisions is taking place between one such one-off, known as Taboook, and his friend, Banshooo, a monkey on a mission.
"I'm working on something important here."
"Chips are important. Beer is very important."
Taboook is rummaging through the cupboards in Banshooo's kitchen. Banshooo is sitting at the desk in his living room, a cozy place filled with overstuffed furniture, overstuffed bookshelves, and several oddly annotated landscapes hanging slightly askew.
"There's something big going on, Taboook, something so big it's hidden from sight." His thick, fluffy coat and furry face look reddish-brown in the lamp's glow as his black eyes scan quickly through the notebooks piled high in front of him. "I'm seeing so many improbable changes. It's all got to be connected somehow."
Taboook saunters into the living room carrying a jar of peanut butter and a spoon.
"You notice too much, Shooo. There's a lot to be said for simply walking by."
"It's my job to notice things."
"Yeah, yeah, big deal phenologist. I hate to break it to you, buddy, but nobody cares. Nobody even knows what 'phenologist' means."
Banshooo sighs. "I've told you what it means. We study natural events, recording what happens and when it happens. It's how we know that something is changing."
"Great. So you notice things. What's the big deal?"
Taboook sticks the spoon into the peanut butter jar and scoops out a generous mound. Covered in shaggy black fur, he stands upright on his back feet, his long forearms sporting sizable paws. He's tall and what might be called ... unexpected. His face looks a bit bearish but with long floppy ears that often get in the way of his primary interest — eating.
Banshooo frowns. "You don't understand what's at stake here, Boook. The water's drying up, the weather's getting weird, and some kind of puzzling anemone anomaly has taken hold."
"Hey, I know. Strange things are happening, but they'll figure out something before it all goes south. And if they don't, well, we'll wish we'd loaded up on beer and chips while we had the chance."
Banshooo watches his friend eat and considers, not for the first time, how right Taboook might be. Hardly anyone seems to care about the extraordinary developments that he documents every day, or about the fact that the information he has amassed over the years indicates there is a rapidly accelerating shift occurring; a shift that could result in dangerous instabilities. Even in his job at the Ooolandian Department of Nature, where you'd think they'd care about that sort of thing, no one seemed to want to hear about it.
Taboook plops down on the couch, puts his feet up on the tea table, and balances the peanut butter jar on his belly. It wobbles a bit then steadies. "Hey! Look at that! Abs of steel." He burps, and the jar topples onto the floor. Chuckling gleefully, he picks it up and scoops out another big spoonful as he looks over at Banshooo. "So. Wanna go bowling later?" In the meadow outside the little house, the wind makes a low whistling sound through the tufted grass, while across the field, hidden deep inside the center of a wood lily, minute abnormalities uncurl themselves.
* * *
Night arrives and the Ooolandian sky reveals itself in all its bizarre beneficence, jam-crammed with an extraordinary complement of stars and planets, not to mention a number of other celestial-type objects floating about. Most spectacular of all are its three big moons. Ooolandians are particularly proud of their moons and they have reason to be. One is crimson, one is blue, and one is a kind of apricot color. It's pretty awesome, actually.
Amid all that rich profusion, there is only the one Ooolandian sun. One big, exploding fireball hanging way out there all by itself. It comes up. It goes down. It comes up again. It's the kind of thing everyone gets so totally used to there's no noticing at all. And so it was that it took a long time to see that something was changing. Something was changing in the Ooolandian sky.
Early on, there were a few who thought they noticed something but they didn't know what, and when they tried to talk to the others about it, nobody listened. In Ooolandia, it can be hard to be heard if you question things, especially if you aren't sure what your own questions might reveal.
Then the bees started dying. Today, there are only three bees left in Ooolandia and they're not talking. Having barely survived the enslavement and poisoning of their entire species, the three have gone into hiding. Permanently. In response to this die-off, the Ooolandian authorities are working to create bioengineered insects for mass pollination while promoting processed rations for all. Fortunately, the general population has become quite fond of disodium 5'-ribonucleotides.
Then too, there was the matter of the fireflies. One of the oldest Ooolandian festivals is the annual Dipper Dance celebrated when the Big Dipper bows down toward the ground while vast numbers of blinking fireflies ascend up to the heavens, creating a dazzling spectacle during which everyone dances, makes music, drinks a lot of sparkling wine, and generally goes crazy all night long. It was a grand tradition celebrated since ancient times, so extraordinarily beautiful that it was enough to stop even the most clever of cynical remarks in mid-snark.
However, each year for a while now there have been fewer and fewer fireflies, so the Ooolandians created electric fireflies, which made them very proud of themselves and filled the sky with blinking lights and which, after you had twirled, whirled, and drunk enough, looked pretty much the same as the living lights of the living fireflies. And so the festival continued somewhat as before, even though all the old songs written about the fireflies didn't really make sense anymore. But they were sung anyway, for old times' sake.
Some old-timers didn't think "old time's sake" was enough and they grumbled and griped and worried about where the fireflies had gone. But the old-timers were, after all, old. They didn't appreciate the astounding ingenuity that had created all that electricity, which was, truth be told, astounding.
Most Ooolandians were very proud of these kinds of accomplishments. They built many magnificent things and then they built some more. They moved the earth, re-routed rivers, cut and cleared, dug and drilled, blew and spewed and sprayed stuff everywhere. Lots of different stuff. Stuff they made in their impressive laboratories. Stuff that gave them control.
Then, one night, the blue moon went into eclipse and didn't come out again. At that point everyone noticed. There was a big hole in the sky, surrounded by a ghostly shadow. You couldn't miss it. Now began much discussion and argument. Some said it was no big deal; some said it was a very big deal. Some said it was in the natural order of things; some said it was extremely unnatural. Some said it would work itself out on its own; some said they should be doing something.
Unfortunately, such arguing can go on forever and sometimes there isn't much time to waste. Sometimes, while everyone is arguing, something bad is going on. Something really, really bad.
Tonight is unusually dark. The sky is heavy with clouds, the stars lost altogether. The apricot moon is below the horizon, the crimson moon is new, and the blue moon is in permanent eclipse.
Banshooo can't sleep. He gets out of bed and shuffles about, making tea and peering through the window at the extraordinary depth of the darkness. He opens the door to his front porch and steps outside. Breathing in the cool night air, he listens for a moment then walks out into the meadow. He can hear the scurry and whispers of the night creatures, a cry, then a brief struggle deep in the underbrush as something small is caught and eaten. He hears the empty pause that always comes after Death has finished, and then, when the pause is over, he hears something else.
A sound is coming out of the darkness. It grows louder by the second, moving through the sky above the field, picking up speed and intensity as it spreads wider, an enormous wave making a high-pitched whine like a scream surging directly toward him. He tries to turn away but is held there, paralyzed. It washes over him. He stands trembling, drenched and dripping with sound.
Then, slowly, everything becomes extraordinarily quiet. Now he's floating through an amorphous cloud, waffling and thick, a pulsing, swirling fog. There's something ahead, something deep inside the fog, something ... else. He peers into the thickness. He can almost make it out, a gate or opening bubbling in and out of his vision like a refraction of some kind, like a mirage.
Now he hears what seems to be weeping. He stays perfectly still and listens as hard as he can. Smoky shapes resolve themselves into forms, dimly at first then clearer. A being raises its face before him, then another and another. Banshooo stares, transfixed, as different species appear, one after another, forlorn, wraith-like, curling and uncurling before him, beings large and small, frail and fearsome, dying without succor, without regard.
He leans back in horror, his heart racing. He wants to run away but he still can't move. The weeping grows louder, reaching a frightening crescendo of suffering until it bursts all around him, sending droplets of tears falling like a shower of sparks in a fireworks display. As the sparks fade into the night, the echoing cries die away and, finally, he is again surrounded in silence.
Stunned and shivering, Banshooo can barely breathe. What has he seen? What vision is this, filling his heart with a sadness so heavy he drops to his knees with the weight of it?
Now everything is as it was before. The cool night air, the scurries and whispers, the unusually gloomy sky. He stands upright on shaky legs. He looks around. He waits, but nothing more happens.
After a long time, he walks back to his house. There he pores over all his books and records, looking for any reference to anything even remotely like what had just surged across the meadow and slammed into him. There is nothing. Exhausted, he falls asleep for the last few hours left before dawn.
* * *
"You're not going to tell them about this, are you?"
Taboook finishes scooping ice cream into a big bowl and turns to Banshooo. "Everyone over there thinks you're a whack job already. This would seal the deal."
Banshooo prepares his phenology reports for the Department of Nature, a division of Ooolandian Central Services. It is a very small division, made up of Banshooo and one other employee, his friend and colleague, Sukie, a mathlete as devoted to discerning the nature of reality as she is to discerning the reality of nature. They've both become increasingly aware that the administration has been ignoring their work. They've reported strange occurrences, aberrations and abnormalities, mutant frogs, dead birds dropping out of the sky, and a creeping floral fungus that's spreading rapidly. But the more they describe, the more they are ignored. Lately, the ignoring has gotten worse. There was a rumor going around that Central Services was thinking of phasing out the whole idea of nature altogether.
Banshooo speaks in a low voice. "You don't understand, Boook. I saw an explosion of extinctions."
"You had a dream, old buddy. A nightmare with sound effects."
"It wasn't a dream. It was real. I saw the Unseen."
Taboook cocks his head. "That doesn't even work as a sentence."
"What doesn't work?" A blinking chatterdee has hopped up on the window sill, its eyes bright, its little body flashing on and off, eager to join the conversation.
Taboook glances over at the bird. "Banshooo thinks he saw the Unseen."
Instantly the bird flies off as Banshooo drops his head in dismay. "Great. Now you've told everyone."
And he had. When a chatterdee gets hold of anything of a private or sensitive nature, it will be instantly broadcast to all the other chatterdees in the area and they will make it their duty to be sure everyone is included in the conversation. Soon, whatever slim grasp you might have had over your own experience will be lost completely and you'll find yourself answering rude questions about your use of recreational drugs and that unfortunate incident with the cheerleader. Chatterdees may be cute, but they are not nice birds.
Taboook bites his lip. "Sorry. It's the blinking and the flashing. It makes you want to join in." The chirping intensifies and almost immediately you can hear the verberations and reverberations as flocks of chatterdees take up the call. Soon pesky voices all over Ooolandia are buzzing to each other and a wave of response comes floating back through the window, the gist of which is: "You're clearly delusional. Don't come near our children."
Banshooo shuffles over to the puffy old sofa in the middle of the living room and sits down heavily. He knows most Ooolandians, if they ever thought about it, which they don't, would think what he does is totally useless — watching, listening, taking notes, keeping records. But his journals make up a long-term detailed report of what is happening in the natural world and they prove that the nature of that world has been changing drastically, changing in a completely different way from the ongoing meandering change inherent in the process of time. Banshooo knows the mutant frogs, the missing blue moon, and the disappearing fireflies are just the tip of the tulip. Something is happening underneath all the anomalies. He knows the whole blooming thing is becoming dangerously unhinged.
The monkey sighs deeply and looks up at the portrait over the fireplace, the kindly avuncular face of his mentor, Isaac Algernon Blooo, one of the greatest phenologists who ever lived.
* * *
Below the portrait hangs the phenologist's motto, written in a graceful script:
What do phenologists do? They observe and record with respectful attention.
What does respectful attention reveal? It reveals the nature of things.
What is the nature of things? Shared experience through time.
Banshooo first met Algernon when the giant panda stumbled across him one morning at the far north end of Blooo Meadow, where a stand of Ooolandian Bamboo grows in rich profusion. The young monkey was gazing enthralled as the sun flickered through the emerald growth. Algernon struck up a conversation and soon realized this wasn't just another monkey wandering through the thicket.
Banshooo had been discovered when he was a baby, alone and motherless, by a band of mercenaries practicing their martial arts deep in a dark wood. He was not only healthy and happy, he was uneaten, a fact no one could explain since, like most mammals in most worlds, monkeys are completely helpless when young. And, as everyone knows, if you leave the baby alone in the woods, there are really only two possible outcomes: 1) death by starvation or 2) becoming the means whereby someone else avoids death by starvation. Instead, this particular baby greeted his rescuers with a big smile and went on to grow into a strong and healthy member of Ooolandian society. He was too young to remember much of anything and could not explain his own survival or robust good humor.
As they talked more, Algernon discovered that this young fellow was something of a natural, phenology-wise. He invited Banshooo to join him for a cup of tea, and they walked together to Algernon's little house where the door opened onto the rest of Banshooo's life. Welcomed into a world filled with books, charts, maps, pictures, and journals, all detailing the extraordinary story of the natural world, he accepted a tasty cup of frothy, hot chai and realized he'd found a home.
Under Algernon's tutelage, Banshooo read about the intelligence of marine creatures and the microbiome, about the extraordinary secrets of the insect world. He learned that bats use magnetic fields emanating from deep within the Ooolandian earth to guide them through the dark; that wombats tease one another mercilessly; that dingbats are really dumb and there's nothing to be done about it.
Excerpted from "Threshold"
Copyright © 2018 P. J. Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Common Deer Press.
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