Hello and welcome to Episode seven of The Future history of Newburg, a series of short stories about a peculiar town on a peculiar planet where science and magic mingle in an effort to sav the wolrds! In episode 6, we went into the woods with Helena and Bertha. In this episode, we’re seeing things through fresh eyes. I hope you’re doing great wherever you are, and you’re ready to listen to episode seven, a route between worlds.
Eric Jimenez reminded himself that he couldn’t look at his notes throughout his entire speech. He was nearing the end. It was past time to engage the audience. Just like we rehearsed in front of the mirror, he told himself. Clearing his throat, he moved out from behind the podium on the brightly lit stage. “My experiments have shown that when the plant is blocked from its own chemical signals, begins to act in a bizarre manner. In other words, the plant goes a little crazy. This could denote self-awareness.”
Eric paused for effect and looked into the audience, but was blinded by the light from the PowerPoint projector. He blinked hard several times, and walked blindly back the way he had come. “You see, plants behave. They forage for nutrients, they communicate via chemical and electrical signals, they count, they learn. Some might even say they play. My question for you is, how does an organism do all of this without the existence of a brain? Oof!” Eric stumbled into his own podium knocking his many notecards to the ground. He gave a nervous laugh that bounced off the walls of the lecture hall. Someone coughed.
Come on, you gotta do better than this! The president of the university is here! he chided himself silently. Straightening his brown sport coat, he cleared his throat again and continued, “The answer is that intelligence does not depend on the presence of a brain. Plants are demonstrating that there is enormous potential for humans to explore their own consciousness outside of the physical brain. Thank you for your attention,” Eric said as he made a little bow toward the audience.
The lights came up and there was a smattering of applause from two people in the back row. Eric stared at the auditorium in bewilderment. It had been half-full of people when he arrived to speak and now it was empty apart from the two gentlemen in the back who were now leaving. Eric’s heart sank as he knelt to pick up his scattered notecards from the stage. He’d blown it.
The university was hosting a symposium for the American Society of Plant Sciences. Ecologists, biologists, medical professionals, chemical engineers, landscape architects and more were gathering from across the country to speak and learn about the latest scientific breakthroughs in the plant world. Eric had begged the board of directors for a speaking opportunity, and they had finally relented. This was going to be his big chance to bring attention to his latest theories about the intelligent life of plants. But apparently no one was hearing it.
Eric stuffed his notecards in his pockets and wrapped his coat around him, bracing himself as he pushed open the lecture hall’s side door. December had brought a chill wind that swept across the plains of southern Colorado and it was finding its way through every seam in his sport coat and blue jeans. He jogged to the biology building and barely registered the relief of warmth as he ascended the stairs to his office.
It wasn’t really an office. It was a closet with a desk in it and a plastic ficus tree in the corner. He shook his head at the idea of a dendrology professor with a fake plant in his office. He dropped delicately into his thirty year old rolling chair and stroked his goatee absent mindedly. Eventually, he nudged his mouse to wake up his desktop.
Seeing a notification, he opened his email and found a letter from the dean. Lambreth University no longer required his skills. Eric couldn’t say he was surprised. It was the end of the semester, and attendance to his classes had been abysmal. The strange philosophies in his speech were probably the last straw. At least the dean had acknowledged his four years of service to Lambreth.
Eric sighed and found a cardboard box full of workbooks in the corner of his closet office. He dumped it out on the floor and began packing his personal belongings.
A quick rap came from the door and two men wearing long trench coats and dark sunglasses entered his office, sniffing from the cold. “Dr. Jimenez, may we come in? We heard your talk earlier,” said the shorter one. He removed a brown bowler hat to reveal closely cropped red hair.
Eric continued to toss things into his box, but said, “Well, I appreciate you staying for the entire speech. It’s really not a good time though guys. I’m right in the middle of something.”
“Yes, we can see that,” said the shorter one as Eric reached in front of his face to nab a picture frame off a shelf. “Dr. Jimenez, we believe your theories about plant intelligence. We’re looking for people like you who think outside the box. We’ve come to offer you an opportunity.”
Eric threw some spiral notebooks and a few stacks of post its on top of the pile in his box. The shorter one picked up a mug full of pens from Eric’s desk and handed it to him. Shrugging, Eric put that in the box too. “Guys, you’ll say you want to hire someone unconventional now, and then in time realize you made a mistake. Just ask the Dean. We had this exact same conversation when he hired me. I think my scientific days are over now.” Eric stretched past the taller one, who had some substantial black sideburns, and grabbed his heavy coat from a hook. He pulled it on, picked up the cardboard box, and shouldered his way past the two men as politely as possible given his current mood.
The shorter one stopped him in the hall. “Dr. Jimenez, please! Please don’t waste your potential. In case you change your mind…” He handed Eric a business card which Eric stuffed in his pants pocket.
“Have a good day,” Eric managed to mumble on his way downstairs, leaving the befuddled men in trench coats behind. All he could think about was getting out of the building. He felt closed in and trapped and he just needed out!
He burst through the glass doors and hugged his box against the cold. The biting wind stung his eyes and mussed his untypically coiffed hair. A ten minute walk later, he was huddled in the corner of the Arrowhead Street bus stop, smelling the warm aroma of French fries from the eatery across the road. Ten minutes after that, he was chowing down on cheese and chopped pork French fries covered in a green chile sauce.
His box sat next to him at the bar facing the windows. He looked at it out of the corner of his eye. His uncle Julio had a car repair shop. Eric had always been good at fixing things, and Uncle Julio told him there was always a job there for him. That’s what he’d do then. He’d give him a call in the morning. Then he’d bring in a decent income and he’d probably be home with the girls more.
Poor Liza had to really step up since their mother died. All the cooking and cleaning and taking care of Gabby fell to her when Eric had a late lab. Even when he was home he seemed to be always grading papers.
Perhaps if he had been a mechanic instead of a mad professor, he would have realized something was wrong with his wife’s brakes sooner. The accident should never have happened. Lucy should never have been with him to begin with. She was so vivacious. So beautiful. And he was, well him. He wiped a long string of melted cheese from his goatee.
How did you know I was the one? he remembered asking her on their honeymoon. Lucy had laughed in her musical way and said the two of them were in the parking lot at the library, and someone had stepped on a tiny flower growing out of a crack in the asphalt. “But you, mi amor,” she said, “you stopped and straightened it. You saw something special when other people saw a weed.” She went on to tell him he also spilled his coffee while bending over, which made her laugh again.
Eric smiled at the memory. Now it all seemed like a dream. But he had two beautiful daughters to prove it had been true. He pulled a picture of Lucy and his girls out from the box at his side. Lucy had had such an unshakeable faith in him and in his wild ideas. Who was he to prove her wrong?
He pulled the business card out of his pocket.
Eric stopped at home to drop off his things and change into a more comfortable shirt, then double checked the address on the business card. It was a pretty high tech card; he’d never seen one that had scrolling holographic text before. This company must be raking it in, he thought.
Newburg Watch Recruitment Specialists flickered the writing across the top.
There was no phone number; just a hotel room number at the Western Suites in town. Business hours: noon-9:00 pm, Dec. 10th.
It was 1:00; the girls would still be in school for another three hours. That should give him plenty of time to see what the Newburg Watch was. If this was a pyramid scheme, he was out of there.
The Western Suites Hotel was a short cab ride away. Eric rechecked the card and took a deep breath before knocking lightly on the door of room 217. The door opened quickly and the shorter one greeted him. “Dr. Jimenez! We’re so glad you decided to come! Come in, come in!”
Eric entered the living area of the suites where an overhead pendant light dimly lit a small dining table that was covered in an unfolded newspaper. The taller man sat on a cornflower blue sofa and was watching cartoons on the large flat screen tv. With his long frame, his bent knees almost obscured his view. Both men were still wearing sunglasses.
“Oh turn that racket off,” the shorter one said, grabbing the remote control and fumbling with the buttons until he found the right one. “There. Dr. Jimenez, I’m Jeff and this is my associate Jim.” Eric shook Jeff’s hand. Jim rose and gave Eric a strong handshake before folding himself back up onto the couch again. Jeff gestured to an empty arm chair and Eric took a seat.
“You can call me Eric.”
“Eric, sure. Eric, Jim and I represent a-a corporation of sorts with a bit of a weed problem,” Jeff said, easing into the other empty arm chair.
Eric put his hands up and said, “Whoa, guys, I’m not a landscaper.”
“Well, the corporation is-is more of a town. And the weed problem is really the nearby forest that’s’… attacking… the town,” Jeff said smiling.
Eric stood. “Look you guys had a really cool card, and I appreciate you staying for my speech. But I just lost my job. I came here for a serious opportunity, and it’s not ok to joke around with people like this.”
“No, No, No! Dr. Jimenez! Eric. We are serious. The neighboring forest has somehow come alive and is beginning to threaten our citizens. We hope that you can help us.”
His tone was sincere. Eric looked to Jim for confirmation. Jim nodded slowly.
“If I’m to believe what you’re saying, it proves my theories about plant intelligence are true,” Eric said, slowly sitting back down.
“Precisely,” Jeff beamed.
“Which forest is it?” Eric asked. “Is it near one of the mountain towns?”
“We have a pamphlet here if you’d like to learn more about the town,” Jeff said as Jim handed him a tri-folded sheet with Newburg triumphantly scrolled across its top.
Eric opened the pamphlet and was immediately bombarded by a series of flashing, white lights coming from the pages. Instantly, he knew that there was a place called Newburg where all the brightest and most talented people from across multiple realities were gathered to form a collaborative community, and tackle Earth’s toughest problems and SAVE THE WORLDS. He knew these talented people not only included scientific geniuses, but also supernatural sages. Images flashed through his neurons of jackalopes, the Skytrain, and Fred the cloned horse. All of this information was downloaded and processed into his brain in the time it took for Eric to open the pamphlet and fling it across the room in terror.
“Whoa! What was that!?” Eric cried in astonishment.
“That was all the highlights of Newburg photo-uploaded through your optic nerve. Sorry if it seemed like a trick, but it really is the most efficient and effective way of explaining this idea to new recruits. We find that chamomile tea helps with the headache afterward.” Jeff gave a nod to Jim who rose and popped a mug full of water and a teabag in the microwave.
“Wow,” Eric uttered, rubbing his eyes. Jim offered him the hot mug of tea and he sipped. “So this Newburg, is it on an island?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. We can go there now if you are ready for your tour?”
“Yes, every recruit gets a tour! Of course, I do need to warn you that if you decide against taking this opportunity, we will have to alter your memory to erase all of the knowledge pertaining to Newburg,” Jeff cautioned.
“Do you have a lot of people back out?”
“No no! That hasn’t happened in ages, and the memory alterations worked almost perfectly!” Jeff gave a high-pitched giggle. “Come on, let’s head out.”
Eric followed the odd men out of the hotel room hesitantly, but with a growing amount of interest. The island must have been hidden away on one of the nearby lakes. The trio walked to a coffee shop catty corner to the hotel. Jeff and Eric struggled to maintain pace with Jim’s long strides. Eric rubbed his hands together to warm them up as they entered the shop and were welcomed by the enticing smell of roasted coffee. Jeff and Jim approached a tiny table where a bald man in a dark blue parka sat. A rust colored knit cap rested on the table in front of him.
“You are a little late,” the man said inquisitively.
“It looks like he stopped at home to change clothes first,” Jeff said.
Eric was puzzled at how he could be late when he didn’t have an appointment.
“Akua, this is Dr. Jimenez.” The man folded the magazine he was reading and rose to shake Eric’s hand. “Akua Igwe. It is good to meet you.” He had a sharp nose and high cheekbones.
“Pleasure,” Eric said.
“Come this way please.” Akua put on his knit hat, and Eric followed him out the back door of the coffee shop. The door led to an alley way with a few dumpsters and old newspapers blowing in the wind. A frigid draft slammed the door closed behind Jim, and the four men stood shivering in the empty alley way. “This corridor will be vacant for the next nineteen minutes,” said Akua.
“Good, good.” Jeff blew on his hands to warm them.
“Uhhh, I have the number to the cab company in my phone. They usually meet you out front,” Eric said as snow flurries began to swirl from the sky.
“That will not be necessary,” Akua said, as he walked toward the empty wall space across from them. He closed his eyes for a moment and then placed his right hand on the wall. He held his left hand up and snapped. As he backed away, a small circle of light appeared in the center of the wall where his hand had been. The light expanded swiftly until it touched the ground and the roof, and Eric was facing a massive circle of shimmering, golden light. The shimmering stilled, and the light receded to the outer edges of the circle.
“Amazing!” Eric said in wonder. He then realized that Akua was a sage like he had learned about from the Newburg pamphlet. He had just witnessed sage magic. Inside the golden ring was an ominous darkness. Eric gulped.
Jeff peeked at the blackness beyond. “Hm. Looks like they forgot to turn the lights on. Jim, would you go on through the portal and get things ready for us?” Nodding once, Jim stepped through the circle on the concrete wall into the dark void.
“This is a portal?” Eric said, close to losing his mind. “I though you said Newburg was on an island!”
Jeff clutched his brown bowler hat to keep the icy wind from taking it. “Newburg is like an island. It’s its own planet. In another reality. We can’t take a cab..”
“My girls,” Eric said, wide eyed, “how will I get back for my girls?”
“Your kids will be fine. We’ll be back before the school day is over,” Jeff said with a confident smile.
“Do not worry, Dr. Jimenez,” said Akua clasping Eric’s shoulder. “I will be right behind you, and we can come back here whenever you are ready.”
“All you have to do is walk through,” Jeff said.
“Ok.” Eric sighed out a nervous breath. “Lucy, I hope I’m doing the right thing,” he whispered. He closed his eyes and stepped into the darkness.
That concludes episode seven a route between worlds. If you’re enjoying these stories please leave a review and rating on itunes or other podcast provider of your choice. It’ll help other popele find the show. The fuhoneb was written, narrated and produced bu r dawn Hutchinson. To fid out more plese visit me at rdawnhutchinson.com. Please hit the subscribe button on your podcast provider so you’ll always know when a new episode comes out. Thank you SO MUCH for listening and helping the story unfold.