Kage Baker always said, there are some days that are just weird. And she could always tell, right away, when they happened.
Usually, it would be the people. Everyone would look odd – alien. There’s such a wide variety in human features that 50 kinds of aliens could be walking among us with minimal makeup – there are lots science fiction stories about that, some sinister and some funny. The main thing is that it’s damned hard to tell if a weird-looking person is a human person, you see.
That fascinated Kage. The heritage of the human species is suspect, and as twisted as a spider web on LSD. Homo sapiens has bred with every cousin species of hominid it ever found, conserving genes better than a cartoon hillbilly. We’ve also survived at least 3 bottlenecks, where the breeding population got down to a few thousands. The result is that, at this point, there is less variation between any 2 human beings than in most other mammalian species. (Cheetahs are as bad as we are, though.) We’re all pretty much kissin’ cousins, if not outright half-siblings.
So it’s amazing there’s such variety, and that people can look so different. We seem to keep all the genes that regulate hair and eye and skin colour. And facial bone structure. And hands, and height … Mutations rates are high among humans, too, producing little cosmetic novelties all the time. Some of them are horrific and kill us. Some are horrific – and don’t. The ones that are non-fatal and benign are unicorn-rare, and they all manage to contribute a little bit to make their hosts look like Grandad came from another planet.
When everyone we saw on the drive to work looked like they were hiding gills, or extra teeth, or surplus joints in their fingers, Kage declared it a weird day. All expectations were shelved, and anything could happen – a butterfly found in a closed closet when we got back from work. A package full of FREE BOOKS from a publisher. A 4-digit check, an exploding water heater, a VHS rental labelled Classic Looney Tunes and containing a tape of the reconstructed Lost Horizons. A power failure, and an evening of strange lights dancing out over the Dunes.
Sometimes, Kage announced we had driven right out of the Fields We Knew. That usually happened at night, after a nice dinner and some cocktails: but not always. She never liked getting off the road at unfamiliar stops along I-5, because it was more prone to happen then. We’d have to drive around to find the right road again, along back roads and game trails and narrow roads paved with abalone shells and crushed porcelain gravel made from toilets, all shining like silver in the moonlight. That even happened in our home grounds of the Hollywood Hills, or Griffith Park – usually near the Observatory and that damned peculiar tunnel they have there; or up on Lookout Mountain Drive.
You might wonder, Dear Readers, why I did it. Why did I agree that we were on a strange (really, really strange) road, and drive up and down Wonderland, and Crescent, and Oakstone, and Laurel Pass, trying to find our way back to Laurel Canyon Drive? Because I was lost, that’s why. I couldn’t find the streets we’d come up on, or find any that went back down. The only way to get out of the maze on the narrow hillsides was to turn where Kage pointed and drive where she said. Make of that what you will, Dear Readers.
I’ll admit, the cocktails at Trader Vic’s were good.
But still: sometimes the roads were weird. Sometimes the days were, and the people, and the animals glimpsed at the side of the road. Lyre-horned dew-lapped cattle with coats all swirled and spiralled with black, exactly like cave paintings – do they breed aurochs in San Simeon? I don’t think so … Enormous birds. Bright-eyed anonymous critters on the top of dolmens. Road kill animals so twisted, dried and dessicated you couldn’t tell what they’d been, or if they’d ever actually been at all.
Except they were there when we drove by them. Sometimes they were alive, too, staring at us wonderingly as we hurtled past. Once, on a narrow bit of road a half-mile above the Pacific Ocean near Muir Beach, Kage put her hand out the open window as we inched by the lop-eared, snow-white cows that were feeding by the side of the road, and laid her hand on one beast’s vast neck.
“I’ve touched the Cattle of the Sun,” she said in deep satisfaction. “It’s a weird day, all right. Take me home! I need to write!”
Strange times. Good times. But strange. And I miss them.