Michael Filimowicz

Back Roads

An acolyte of that minor religion which is believing oneself to be a serious person, Dan took too long to take the photograph. Catherine and the kids were bored and hot, the desert heat too direct from the sun, no plant interceding to bring shade. Dan inched backwards, the lens motors whirred, auto-focus kept the nanoseconds in line and its field of focus sharp and flat. In the red gravel Dan’s boots scraped their boot-shapes which would last until the rare rains came. Dan’s compositional sense directed him backwards, backwards, until the full cloud would come into the picture, not to be truncated at the edge, a full white cloud to be swaddled by blue haze above the red rocks above the tired and moist faces of his family, backwards he inched until a vaguely epidermal doubt was followed by Dan’s nerve-response to a pain hellacious, a hotburst of hurt which engulfed his innards as he cried like a baby boy. Dan, in stepping backwards to find his perfect picture, had pushed his ass into a cactus spike.
           Dan’s family regained interest in his movements. The children were now hiking randomly in the vicinity of the car and Catherine was carefully massaging the cactus spike from Dan’s aching gluteus and applying the pertinent ointments from the first aid kit. The full white cloud had broken up into three islands of its former self. The ointment glooped across Dan’s sweaty wound and with the familiarity of a wife Catherine surveyed the damage. The wound itself was puckered with a precise, dimpled incision in the middle of a blot of rash. Dan finally stopped cursing as he got used to the pain fading away. He would not be able to drive, as sitting would be too great a distraction.
           The kids, Melinda and Jack, were investigating the shadows of lizards frozen to the stone by some unfathomed ecological process. They crouched in their bright t-shirts and jeans, unselfconscious of the dust which adhered to them, to Catherine’s dissatisfaction. Their mother was calling, and the frozen lizard shadows would have to be left behind. There were children to dust off, and a husband to tuck into his seat.
           The kids were quiet in the back, each with their mini-screens, hand controllers and headphones, partaking of their own particular electronic fold in space. Harsh, tinny noises leaked from their foamy earsets, their eyes hidden by blindfolds of optical apparatus. Their little fingers adjusted and stabbed and tapped on the clicking plastic. They were harnessed to seats like body-molds, secured by self-adjusting, re-locking fasteners. Around them sensors told the air bags not to detonate.
           Dan was reclining, a towel over his face to keep the sun off. The ride was bouncy, his head kept knocking into the headrest, and he felt each bump in the dirt road with minute topographical detail. On the dashboard’s satellite navigation screen, the blue triangular blip which signified the car sat dead center in a field of blank beige—they were off-road. GPS coordinates were indicated, of course, but the road was unpaved and they had miles to go before any plotted pavement would appear along with its suggestions of trajectory. Dan lay half-awake, sometimes half-asleep; these were different states.
           Immediately after the air had noticeably cooled, it began to drizzle. It streaked the dust from the windshield and reefs of grime framed the view ahead. The rain thickened into beaded beams and the drops pelted the car in random rhythms of increasing intensity, soon heavy ribbons of water were falling onto them, and Catherine shifted into four-wheel drive. The road dissolved but the car kept its footing. Intermittently Catherine checked the dashboard screen for new visuals around their homey blue triangle, each time she noted changes in the decimal position of the coordinates, but no road-lines appeared to ease her building distress. The wipers were at maximum speed, drumming along with the rain. Melinda and Jack were still in their electronic envelopes. Dan fidgeted. The rain was an emotional annoyance somehow aimed at the pain on his butt, for he was an acolyte of that minor religion which is believing the universe cared enough to inconvenience him.
           Shortly the weather cleared and Catherine lowered the windows to defog them. She zoomed out on the navigation display and saw that miles ahead, finally, were the lineaments of highway programmed into the navigational memory. But a few miles of mudded canyon road intervened, if only to provide contrast to the satellite birds eye view. Dan apologized that he wasn’t at the wheel. Catherine was, as usual, sweetly dutiful about the situation and said, “You owe me ten loofahs for this.” Loofah was their intimate-marital exchange rate. Loofah was a sea sponge. Stony, coarsely textured. Great for body rubs.
           The car was nosing up and down hard creases of rock and sloshing into thick pools of silt water. They were in the shadow of cliffs and low clouds. Then the flash flood hit them like nothing they expected.
           Meanwhile, in the electronic folds—


Norfulus the Chlorophyliac finds out that Big Blat, one of his old criminal buddies, is hiding out on the planet of Metamorphia, an astrophysical oddity where nothing keeps its shape. Blat is an expert counterfeiter, and with Norfulus’ help he intends to design a plant shoot that will literally grow money on trees. Intrigued by Blat’s botanical experiments, Norfulus takes his students to Metamorphia to catch up with his old friend. In an attempt to keep his misfit students out of his hair, Norfulus assigns them the seemingly mundane task of collecting Metamorphian blue-rocks, knowing full well that the students will never be able to complete the impossible assignment, since of all the classes of Metamorphian natural objects, the blue-rocks exhibit the most molecular instability. In fact, they are barely blue and hardly rocks for long before they morph into something else. Their “blue-rock” status is something that can only be glimpsed in the minute or two it takes to decide upon the next form into which they will morph. The students of Norfulus struggle with the assignment, they are seen at various points of the small planet’s surface, earnestly attempting the capture of blue-rocks, but as soon as they collect the specimens they shape change into something else, say forest elves or tangerine avocadoes. As the students begin to comprehend the futile nature of their assignment, Mina and Robokid begin to suspect their professor of unscrupulous intentions. As Prof. Norfulus and Snapshot, his student pet, search for Big Blat’s hideout, Robokid by chance encounters Blat, who is always a suspicious character to behold, what with his, how else to say it,
cartoonish criminal mug and his rainbow rotundity. Robokid’s detective instincts (for in other episodes he is shown as the solar system’s only cyborg private eye) kick into gear, and after some quick research (via trans-galactic wifi), Robokid and Mina learn the truth about Blat. However, foiling the criminal proves daunting beyond the means of the motley kids, for Big Blat uses his super-charged pogo stick to navigate the shape-shifting world, and catching him has become nearly impossible for Metamorphia's own detectives, who show up due to some plot point or other, perhaps having to do with the cotton candy reference (actually, a blue-rock). The economy, inundated with Blat’s counterfeit currency, has begun to crumble and Metamorphians watch their televisions in terror as inflation escalates off the quickly morphing video-graphs. Zephyr, in an unexplained moment of insight, realizes that certain sound frequencies can control how Metamorphian objects change their shape, a discovery apparently hitherto unknown to the Metamorphians themselves (the advantaged perspective of outsiders, etc.). Buckster charges a xylophone to his credit card. Oblivia uses her knowledge of classical piano to play the indestructible instrument (its indestructibility is a matter of dispute for Metamorphian theologians, as imperviousness is metaphysically and metaphorically linked to, if not dependent upon, the notion of shape-changing), and before long she ensnares Big Blat by turning a forest into glue, simply by playing the Moonlight Sonata backwards on the impervious xylophone. Oblivia, Xing and Stitch decide to retaliate on their scheming professor (such deeds will not, it seems, effect their grades) by using their newfound knowledge of acoustical shape shift control, and in the process the kids run Norfulus from one shape-shifting nightmare to another. He eventually climbs out of a city sewer onto the street above, and as he stumbles towards a raucous ceremony on Main Street, he is shocked to find Metamorphia’s mayor (yes, the whole planet has just one mayor) congratulating these “trouble” students (see episode one) for their outstanding work in capturing a highly sought-after criminal. Blat assumes that Norfulus had something to do with his disastrous capture, and promises that he will get even with the untrustworthy professor. In disbelief at the terrible failure of the field trip, Norfulus takes solace in his students’ inability to complete the assigned project, but is soon shocked as the humming little scholars approach him with a full jar of Metamorphian blue-rocks.


Early one morning as young Smidge returns from a night of mischief, she walks past Norfulus’s greenhouse and is shocked to find Professor Norfulus already inside, polishing the dimensional portals and preparing for the day’s work. Norfulus becomes suspicious of her early hour wanderings, but is quickly duped into believing that insomnia has kept the girl roving the grounds all night. Norfulus invites the smallish girl into the classroom, and is promptly stunned as Smidge is sucked through one of the portals to a volcanically hyperactive and atmospherically turbulent world. In his polishing fervor he has accidentally triggered the portal, and Norfulus now quickly creates a lesson plan for his physics class to visit the hyper-seismic planet, in order to retrieve Smidge, and to save himself from the humiliation of losing one of his students. Meanwhile, short Smidge discovers that she is a very tall character in a world populated by tiny people who think that she is a giant who has come to torment and eat them. Bolstered by self-confidence due to her newfound height, Smidge decides to help the Little People with their terrible fear of giants. It turns out that the giants whom they fear are actually aliens who have crash-landed nearby, and who are unable to fix their broken craft due to the ongoing earthquakes and atmospheric tribulations of the still-forming planet. Much bigger than the aliens, Smidge lifts their spacecraft, holds it steady, and uses the great bulk of her body to shield them from the nasty, lavaesque weather while they complete their repairs. Apparently, Smidge’s great size somehow means that the molten shrapnel which pelts her only singes her clothing, and does not burn or scar Smidge herself. To the delight of the little inhabitants, the giant aliens quickly fly away and soon thereafter, Smidge is made into Queen of the Little People. When the rest of the students arrive on the planet along with Professor Norfulus, a new giant-panic strikes the society of the Little People and Smidge is sent to investigate the situation. When Smidge realizes that these new giants are her classmates she pleads for them to leave her on the planet, as she does not want to vacate her new throne. Unwilling to accept Smidge’s expressed desires, her friends force Smidge to realize that she has to face her height insecurities, and that hiding in a remote stellar cluster masquerading as a false queen will not make her feel any better in the long run. Ultimately, Smidge does go back through Norfulus’s dimensional portal, believing that it is better to maintain friendships with people who know and accept her for who she is, rather than becoming the idol of others for something that she is not.

           It is a sweet moral lesson, entirely lost on the unconscious twins in the back seat of their overturned, slowly flooding sedan.


In this episode Norfulus will suffer the consequences of an act of plant theft as Spaceweed races towards the levitating school in his vine-covered craft. Half-plant and half-humanoid, the furious father has returned to fetch his son Dewton, who was stolen from him by Norfulus some days ago. Meanwhile, in the school greenhouse, as Norfulus wipes the leaves of his recently abducted plant, he is shocked to find that the interesting specimen can talk. The chlorophyliac is quite amused with the leafy storyteller, and soon realizes that the talking plant-boy has an encyclopedic knowledge of the galaxy’s flora. Amazed and greedy for knowledge, the scheming Professor asks little Dewton if he knows anything about the legend of the Pharaoh’s Papyrus Patch. After Dewton recounts the amazing story of the Papyri and the Pharaoh who guards it—the papyrus, apparently, can scribe itself directly from a writer’s thoughts—Norfulus immediately prepares his class for a field trip to ancient Egypt in order to steal a specimen of the fabled plant. After passing through the dimensional portal, Norfulus distracts his students from his sly intentions by demanding that the kids solve the riddle of the sphinx as their mid-term assignment. As they set out on their quest, Dewton guides Norfulus to the Pharaoh’s garden. Back at the school, wandering through the motley labs, Spaceweed views his abducted son on a leafy computer monitor in the clutches of the twisted Professor, and immediately enters the portal in hot pursuit. Back in Egypt, the students begin to feel the effects of the searing sun, and before long they find themselves battling mirage-induced Nile-spawned crocodiles and blue, sun worshipping monkeys with shiny metal discs which reflect intense beams of sunlight into the eyes of the struggling students. Meanwhile, Spaceweed confronts Norfulus just as the professor is about to steal some of the papyrus from the Pharaoh’s garden. The professor is forced to spray weed-killer at the angry plant-poppa, but in the process, he destroys some of the Papyrus plants which he had come to steal. Guards are quickly sent out to capture the unusual villains (one of them had sniffed the deleterious fumes of weed killer and alerted the others), and after Norfulus and Spaceweed are arrested, the infuriated Pharaoh decrees that they should be mummified and placed inside of a sarcophagus, perhaps to serve as a lesson to future tomb robbers. Mina, through her psychic halos, begins to sense that something has happened to professor Norfulus, and when the students arrive at the Pharaoh’s palace, Norfulus and Spaceweed are nearly covered in the reeking wraps from head to toe. Zephyr explains that the Pharaoh will be obligated to grant the wish of anyone who can solve the riddle of the Sphinx, and with Robokid's help, the kids conceive a plan to save their doomed teacher. Fungo shape-shifts his head to give it the appearance of the Sphinx, and Specky Becky the Particulate Girl (in spectacles, no less!) creates a cloud of dust to float around him (Fungo-Sphinx), while Robokid with his hydraulic arms holds up the fake oracle, Atlas-like, so that it hovers effortlessly into the Pharaoh’s palace. Though the Sphinx has never been known to levitate and wander into palaces, Pharaoh is deceived by the illusion. The fake (Fungo) Sphinx poses an absurd riddle—why recount it here, know only that the children have the answer in advance of the question, as is their ontological privilege. It is Snapshot who stuns the surprised monarch with the correct answer, demands the release of her mummified uncle Norfulus and unwittingly fulfills the class’s impossible assignment. Norfulus is forced to relinquish little Dewton, reuniting plant poppa and budding babe, while Spaceweed, grateful to the monstrous students for having saved his green hide, spares Norfulus from his wreathey wrath.


After months of hard work and covert thievery, Smidge finally finishes her Tower of Splendid Height. When Norfulus departs for his monthly plant-auction retreat, Smidge unveils her masterpiece to her unclassifiable classmates. Located behind the school, it is made up of a collage of missing school supplies, lab equipment, cafeteria tables, bus parts, and stadium bleachers. As Buckster looks out of his mansion window at the strange tower, he is overcome by a fantastic idea, and before Smidge begins her ascent up the teetering sculpture, Buckster asks her if he can buy part ownership in the bizarre-looking monument. Smidge agrees, and before long, Buckster plugs the Tower’s electrical wires into the town’s power-grid (he has found a long enough copper wire to descend from the hovering campus to the earth below), and manages to convert Smidge’s structure into the world’s most powerful radiobroadcast tower. On top of the world in their DJ booth, the twisted kids scream and giggle with telematic joy, unaware that their annoying broadcast signal has attracted the attention of Amma Hypnovich, an evil Sino-Slavic hypnotist from the other side of the planet. Amma realizes that she can use Buckster’s radio station to broadcast hypnotic beams across the entire planet, and decides to pay the little entrepreneur a mind-controlling visit. She mesmerizes the kids in short order, usurps the Tower of Splendid Height, and proceeds to enslave the entire planet by sucking everyone’s mental energies into the giant tower. Mina, ever Mina, uses her psychic mind to break free of Amma’s control and after she and her animated and kinetic shadow slap Robokid, Zephyr and Mind’s Eye out of their mesmerized states, the kids prepare to win back their school, and planet, from the villainous hypnotist. As Mind’s Eye creates a powerful meditation-induced force field around Mina, Robokid and Zephyr, the kids proceed to climb the tower of Splendid Height. Amma uses her mind control over Oblivia, Xing and Vesper to prevent the meddling classmates from reaching the top, but just as the powerful girls are about to crush Mina and Robokid, Zephyr unleashes a perfectly-aimed bowling ball directly into the heart of the Hypno-ray. The bowling ball, we are led to believe, was a part of the Tower’s structure and had been stolen from the school’s bowling alley, a bowling alley which has never been seen in any previous episode, nor will ever be seen in any future one. The tower quickly overloads with uncontrollable energy waves, and just as the bricolaged structure explodes into computer generated detritus, the kids dive out onto the ground below. In the chaos Buckster manages to swipe Hypnovich’s pocket portable hypno-beamer. The hypnotist screams, "My life’s work destroyed, destroyed! If I can’t rule the world, what shall become of me?!” The next day, as Norfulus returns from his trip, he is astounded to find fragments of scholastic infrastructure strewn everywhere across the campus grounds. Meanwhile, his students are conspicuously absent from class, in bed with huge post-hypno hangovers. As the puzzled professor contemplates the strange situation, Buckster’s new chauffeur Amma Hypnovich drives up school’s driveway cul de sac, leans out of the limo, and hands Norfulus a note that reads, “Sick for the day.”

The electronic folds, powered by the adaptor askew in the cigarette lighter, wrapped and zapped the concussed siblings with noisy myths.

Michael Filimowicz is an interdisciplinary artist, and Midwest transplant, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he teaches at Simon Fraser University. He is a recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Media Arts Fellowship, and his writing has previously appeared in The Capilano Review, Margie, The Reading Room, The Comstock Review, Janus Head, New Genre, Gulf Stream, Leonardo Music Journal and Luminous Green.

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