Image © Brett Petersen 2017
|by Brett Petersen||January 17, 2017|
A bright light streaked across the sky and disappeared into a thicket. Billy-Sally the billy goat glanced up from the grass he’d been munching on. Something on the other side of the fence was glowing. He padded cautiously to the edge of the pasture. The glow danced on the surface of his eyeballs like Chinese lanterns above a lake. The urge to jump the fence and investigate tugged at him, but Farmer Alan would be very cross if Billy-Sally were to try. Perhaps he could sneak through the front gate when the cows were let out to be milked.
Billy-Sally waited. The sky went from purple to black. Finally, the gate was opened and the cows ambled toward the barn. Billy-Sally darted across the gravel road and made a bee line for the thicket.
After extruding himself from a fistula of bramble and vine, Billy-Sally reached the source of the glow. Resting in a crater of flattened shrubs was an orb of light so bright he couldn’t look straight at it. Regardless, the thing beckoned him to touch it. When he finally summoned enough courage to nudge it with his nose, he found it cold and smooth. When he withdrew his snout, the glow stopped.
As soon as the spots of green and blue faded from his corneas, he saw that the object was a silver sphere with a panel in its side. He backed away. What if a coyote were to spring out and slash his throat? He felt like running, but something commanded him to stay. The orb had the same shiny surface as Farmer Alan’s truck. Could there be Cheeto crumbs strewn across its floor as well?
Before Billy-Sally could make a move, the hatch hissed white smoke and slid open. A translucent, purplish mass oozed out, gathered around Billy-Sally’s hooves and enveloped his whole body. As it entered his nostrils, he could smell the blue water from the bottle Farmer Alan sprayed the cow-stalls with. Billy-Sally felt sleepy. It was as if he was being loaded into the old cattle trailer with some fresh hay for a trip to a faraway place.
When Billy-Sally came to, he was in a valley of magenta beneath violet spires taller than the tallest mountain. Tree branches bursting with kaleidoscopic veins clawed at a sky into which a black hole had been burnt by a cosmic cigar. The hole sucked in any two-headed dodo birds or bat-squirrels that flew too close. The city on the horizon was a domed megalopolis populated by humanoids wearing bubble helmets and puffy suits. Titans in business attire lumbered across fields of iridescent anemones. They sipped black espresso and chatted with each other about work, taxes and other such grails of existential discourse. Droplets dribbled from their chins, scalding the ant-people forced to live in earthen mounds by decree of the Super-Computer who ruled over the dome-dwellers and therefore, the world.
Blades of wormgrass smeared their mucus on Billy-Sally’s hooves. Chunks of pretzel-wire fell from the under-gills of mushrooms towering fifty feet above him. He curled up beneath a mushroom and began to tremble. It felt as though an invisible hand had seized his stomach and was trying to drag him into a realm of ice and fear. Was this feeling normal for a billy goat to have? Did it matter? The only thing he could think about was getting out of there. He stood up, began to trot, gallop, stampede. He kept stampeding until he ran into something and got knocked out.
When he regained consciousness, he was lying on a hard surface. A bright light blinded him, and all he could hear was the whining of drills and the beeping of computers. The silhouettes of masked men and women loomed over him.
“What we have here is an extra-dimensional, uh, creature that has crossed the boundary from Y-22b into our own Z-14c,” said a man.
“M-hm,” a woman on the other side of him replied.
“It is not clear how this happened,” the man continued, “but hypotheses have been floating around regarding the Skyhole which has been growing in size ever since the appearance of the Inter-Dimensional Mealworms.”
“To be honest, doctor,” the woman cleared her throat, “I don’t think this has anything to do with the Skyhole.”
“What do you suggest then?”
“I don’t believe it would be a stretch to say that the creature just appeared in our dimension for no particular reason. Phenomena without cause are rare, but they do happen. Take the beginning of the universe for example. Something springing from nothing is the best explanation we have as to how existence came to be. What we have here is a one-in-quintillion instance of a being from a parallel world slipping into our own by means unknown. Hopefully we can learn more about how this individual got here and what its original habitat was like as we proceed with the experiment.
Billy-Sally heard scribbling pens and metal scraping metal.
“Alright,” the doctor fished a pair of latex gloves from a dispenser and snapped them over his hairy hands, “I think it’s about time to get started with the vivisection of this wonderful specimen who had the misfortune of wandering into our laboratory today.”
Nervous laughter fluttered through the room.
“My hope is that this individual can provide us an example of a taxonomy that could only come to be in a universe with different laws of physics.”
Your life is in danger! A voice whispered from deep within. You must escape immediately!
Billy-Sally didn’t know what the words meant, but something about them injected the urge to run into his muscles. He leapt from the table, knocking over trays of surgical knives and darted through a hallway past two shrieking women in bubble-suits. He was being pursued. He had to find a way out as soon as possible. There was a loose ventilation grate in one of the walls. He knocked it aside with his horns and crawled in.
Several minutes went by. After the shouts and footsteps faded, he felt it safe to venture out and find a better hiding place. He noticed a green door across the hall that had not been there before. He smelled something yummy wafting from beneath it, so he went in.
The door swung open and Billy-Sally found himself in a dark wood that smelled of pine. In a clearing not far off, green and blue humanoids danced and sang around a campfire. They were roasting a lamb on a spit, and Billy-Sally noticed that each of them had some sort of physical deformity. He tried to sneak past, but knew he had been spotted when a bulb-headed one pointed a stubby finger at him.
“Oodgka bodgka lee laah?” it grunted.
Billy-Sally cocked his head.
“Ooskabba leeba lah! Ooskoinchka eedgka aah!”
The rest began to chant and jump up and down.
After several minutes of jumping and chanting, one whose nose was a prickly pear approached Billy-Sally.
“Skamooch yeb haigh,” it snorted, “lagbafrechel beh ybusk. Oom shlaign eho hurrrrgh!
“Hurrrrrgh!” the others responded.
Billy-Sally couldn’t understand, but sensed he was no longer in danger.
“Schnaig blaigh, horchkum,” said one whose skull was shaped like a pyramid, “skrum nub higwuffle?” He made a flapping motion with his hand.
“Aigh! Higwuffle! Higwuffle!” The others flapped their hands as well.
Billy-Sally didn’t know what to do, so he drew two intersecting squiggles in the dirt with his hoof. The squiggles happened to form the Hebrew letter Aleph.
The tribe gazed at the Aleph in awe. Their eyes began to blossom with stars and galaxies. They were being shown secrets of the cosmos that no other race had the innocence or dumb luck to stumble upon. A spark leapt from the fire pit. Ripples of Holy Light tore through the forest. The subtleties of the message might have escaped the simple woodland dwellers, but a loose connection in their puny ganglia had been rewired. A current of Gnostic Revelation flowed where before there had only been stalagmites of dried boogers.
A vision of moths with white-hot angel wings holding hands with pine cones entered Billy-Sally’s mind. They waltzed to the tune of a song he remembered. Where had he heard that song? Something told him that both the song and this moment of Gnosis would soon be forgotten. He closed his eyes and lay down next to the fire which had simmered to glowing embers. He dreamed of a void in which a pixel blipped in and out of existence in a nanosecond. As he slept, the wind blew away the Aleph he had drawn in the soil. The tribe drank mead from sheep’s horns and laughed all through the night.
Billy-Sally awoke the next morning to a milky sky and dunes stretching to the horizon. The forest and the tribesmen were gone. Before him was an infinite desert, but somehow the clouds in the sky were comforting. They told him that rain would soon come. As he stood and shook sand from his back, a clap of thunder sounded. It began to drizzle, rain, and pour.
As he trudged through the wet sand, fronds of foliage sprouted beneath his hooves. The fronds grew taller as he walked. Eventually, they grew so large that it seemed the forest had grown back. But something was different. This wasn’t the coniferous forest in which he had slept the previous night. There was something unsettling about this humid, dank jungle.
As soon as the trees had completely grown back, Billy-Sally noticed empty stone temples everywhere. He thought he heard the sound of drums too, an infernal banging like a migraine throbbing against the back of his eye. If he wanted anything, he wanted to go back home to Alan and the day-to-day rituals of farm life. He wanted reality to be consistent, not an amorphous dreamscape which was never the same from one moment to the next. Why had he decided to check out that glowing object in the thicket next to the pasture? He didn’t know. He had never questioned the motives of his actions before. Why should he start now?
Wait a minute, he thought. I’m questioning the motives of my actions? Since when do I do that? What is ‘I’ anyway? Am I, I? I suppose I am, aren’t I? I am … Billy-Sally. I am … a goat … an animal … I am not a human … but what is a human? Aren’t they animals like me? Farmer Alan has referred to me as both a goat and an animal before. What is the difference between a goat, an animal and a human? If humans are not goats or animals, then what are they? Are humans human because they know that they are themselves? If that’s true, that must mean I’m human … because I know that I am I!
He looked down at his hooves. They were black and caked with mud. He found a puddle of rainwater and studied his reflection. This is my face, he thought. It belongs to ME! I am I, and I am also me. I look different than a human. My face is long and my eyes have black rectangles in them. I have horns and humans don’t. I have hair all over my body. Humans only have hair on their heads and arms. Am I the first goat, the first animal, the first non-human to discover that I am myself? If so, that means I’m different from all the other animals on the farm now. How did this happen? Is it because I came to this place?
The questions just kept coming like the rain pattering on Billy-Sally’s back. He had to get out of this jungle and find his way home. First, he decided he should find somewhere to spend the night. Luckily, there were ruins all around.
After about half a mile, Billy-Sally found a structure with a roof. He shook the water from his pelt and found a mossy place to lie down. There was a block of stone in the center of the pavilion. It was some kind of container with a lid about the length of a human body lying supine. Could someone be sleeping in there? Billy-Sally had to find out for sure. He got to his feet, walked over to the box and nudged the lid with his snout. He pushed and pushed, but it was no use. It was too heavy. He stood on his haunches and concentrated all of his force into his front legs. With great effort, he got the lid to budge a few inches with a grating sound that made his flesh crawl.
Before Billy-Sally could catch his breath, a steaming mass of tar, bristles, ocular appendages, ovipositors, feelers, and mandibles spilled out of the box. It made a sound like a tumor wagon slamming its brakes.
After running for half an hour as fast as his legs could carry him, Billy-Sally sensed he was nearing the edge of the jungle. He felt relief even though he knew in all likelihood; he’d be thrust into some other random setting again by the logic that governed this world. He was tired of this. He wanted to go home, eat some pellets and grass, and be petted by the neighbor’s children. He wanted to fall asleep beneath the familiar, old stars. The old days never got younger. This, Billy-Sally reasoned, was a universal law.
As he approached a clearing, he saw something up ahead running toward him. It was another four-legged creature. Was he seeing things? No. This was definitely real. As he moved closer, he realized that it was his reflection again. He raised his hoof and the other Billy-Sally raised his. He touched the other Billy-Sally’s hoof. The edge of the jungle was in fact, a smooth plate of reflective glass. He’d once heard Alan’s wife Martha refer to such an object as a mirror.
How was he supposed to get out? He thought about it for a minute or two. Perhaps the only way out was through.
“Wait a minute,” Billy-Sally spoke aloud. “I know what this is! This is what humans call a metaphor.”
All at once, his synapses lit up in a heavenly fireworks show replete with angels blowing trumpets and Merkabah descending and grazing the barrier of the lower world with its gilded wheels.
“Breaking a mirror is symbolic of destroying one’s conception of self,” Billy-Sally continued. “In order to escape this world, I have to reach a higher level of consciousness by destroying my animal self. The simple pleasures of farm life were sufficient for the old Billy-Sally, but now I realize there is no turning back. The broken shards of the mirror will probably kill me, but my death is necessary for the birth of a new Billy-Sally: one who is not only self-aware, but who has the potential to know things unknowable by humans. In my next form, I will solve all the great mysteries and even uncover new ones. I will be the greatest being that has ever lived. My mind will be like that of God. I may even become God and direct the consciousness of all living things toward a state free of evil and suffering. In a matter of two or three generations, I can save the universe! I will do what Jesus and Mohammed couldn’t, and bring existence to its logical conclusion: peace and happiness for all!
Billy-Sally backed up ten feet and counted down from three. On zero, he sprinted as fast as he could, head down, poised to smash the mirror that lay between him and universal salvation.
Upon impact, the mirror shattered. Shards of glass sliced his face, cut through his eyeballs and punctured his brain. The sharp, pixelated world beyond the mirror moved at half the frame rate Billy-Sally was used to. He found himself suspended in an amniotic sac that was also an iron maiden. He felt the pop of a vacuum nozzle piercing the sac, preparing to abort him. Death’s hand collapsed his windpipe. His serotonin levels tanked. Old synaptic connections were being severed. Rerouted. Alzheimer’s. Forgetting things. Trivial details. Corn mush. Sweet taste. Noontime? Treasured memories. Mother’s teat. Cold outside. Brothers and sisters. Half moon. What color were they?
As more and more information leaked from his head, he began to feel comfortable, like the receptors responsible for alerting him of physical and emotional pain were being frozen off. It was a soft, drifting feeling. He didn’t mind it; in fact, he liked it. Then there was nothing to like … nothing to dislike … there was just existence … then existence itself ceased and the world went blank … a blank infinity swaddled in blankets of nothing … a butterfly disappearing into itself … silence …
On January 11th 2015, Martha Madison gave birth to twins at Saint Peter’s hospital in Albany New York: a boy and a girl. As the newborns squirmed in her arms, Martha named them. The boy was Billy-Sally and the girl, Sally-Billie. Their father, Alan Madison was by her side.
Alan took pride in having the smartest goats in the nation. His most famous goat Billy-Sally had been a first prize winner four years running in competitions the held by the American Goat Society. Unfortunately, the goat had run away sometime in April. Alan had led search parties, but Billy-Sally was never found.
One of the searchers uncovered a silver orb in a thicket of trees adjacent to Alan’s property. There had also been stories floating around among the townspeople of cattle going missing and strange lights in the sky. But Alan didn’t pay these rumors much attention. It was probably just coyotes or something. The orb, Alan reasoned, was a prop built by local kids to stir up an extra-terrestrial hoax.
Brett Petersen writes because it is more fun than mopping floors or running cash registers. He obtained his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011, and since then, his stories have appeared in publications such as Polychrome Ink, The Offbeat and Loud Zoo. Aside from writing, he plays drums in three different bands, has recorded over ten solo albums and runs an art and souvenir company with his mom called Mushroom Studios. He has lived in Albany New York for most of his life.