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by Jeff Currier

The Penrose Tribar perched precariously on that inflection point where ‘full’ and ‘empty’ are the same thing. Achilles could have made the difference, but he stood frozen on the threshold trying to reach the closest halfway point to being inside the pub. Turtle hadn’t waited for him and was well into his first pint. I was pouring drinks for all and only those who didn’t pour drinks for themselves, when the collapse finally happened. A decidedly perplexed looking young man deftly sidestepped Achilles and walked in.

Completely unaware of the drastic change he had precipitated upon the state of my bar, he surveyed the expansive room. God was drinking alone, as usual, at the corner table, contemplating the constraints of logic. Idly, in the palm of his hand, he created another universal Turing machine spider too heavy for him to lift. His arm drooped to the floor and the mechanical critter caromed away towards its brethren lurking under the pool table. Somehow, they had acquired a pile of sand, from which they were meticulously removing grains one by one, attempting to discern exactly when a heap became a non-heap.

Mona Lisa, leaning against the pool table posing, didn’t even lose her enigmatic smile as the machine skittered over the feet. Leonardo, easel propped nearby, deftly painted another forgery, which I know he would insist on hanging next to all the other Mona Lisa’s adorning the back wall.

Holding court in the largest booth, Baron M. regaled hangers-on with a demonstration of his surefire method for curing his latest malady. He adeptly faked the faking of refilling his glass and took a hearty swallow. The sycophants tittered appreciatively, especially when he repeated his faking of fake refilling for all their glasses from a bottle of fine whiskey he had bought on his own fake dime.

The young man shook his head, as if by doing so he could reset his vision, and slowly made for the bar. He stopped short once he got a good look at me, taking in my soft furry pointed ears and my simply diving tail. I flashed him a brilliant smile, showing off my sparkling canines. He took a step back.

“Are you, pray tell, a demon? Is this the afterlife? Am I dead?” he asked, all in a rush. He put a hand to his temple. “Last I remember, I was taking some medicine for a headache.”

“To answer your questions in order, no, I am not a demon.” I flicked my tail. “I am a genetically modified cat.”

He looked at me blankly.

“What is your name, lad?” I asked.

“Charles, Charles Dodgson.”

“Ah, yes. Well Charles Charles Dodgson, genetics is a little after your time — though some interesting stuff involving peas will happen in your stream in just a few years. But I digress. No, this is not the afterlife. You are in the Penrose Tribar, the finest pub in the entire Nexus.”

Another blank expression.

“The Nexus — the space between all the possibilia He created,” I said, gesturing toward the corner where God was now muttering to Himself, “I do not know the truth value of this sentence. I do not know the truth value of this sentence. I do not know …”

“And finally, you’re asking questions, aren’t you? Never known the dead to ask questions.”


Interlude on the very idea of blank looks: Intentionally left blank.


Charles opened his mouth and emitted a sound that no one, not even God could hear.

(Think of a sound indiscernible from that of one hand clapping.)

He abruptly closed his mouth, opened it, closed it again, before finally taking a deep breath. “Dreaming then?” he asked, while tentatively taking a seat at the bar.

I gave him a hard, thus-I-refute-Berkeley slap. “Is that real pain or dream pain you’re feeling?” I asked.

“Inconclusive,” he muttered, rubbing his check. “Perhaps I am merely imagining all of this, my current feeling of pain, that I am talking to you, that that crocodile fellow is about to eat that baby!”

I whipped my tail around to snag him before he rushed off to interfere with Sobek, the crocodile god. Sobek’s jaws were indeed closing around the tyke, and then, at the last moment, he pulled back with an anguished look on his face.

(You can’t tell what anguish looks like on an Egyptian crocodile god? It looks just like that.)

“There’s nothing to worry about, lad. Sobek promised prophetess Cassandra he would give her baby back unharmed if and only if she correctly predicted what would happen to it.”

“And what did she say,” Charles asked.

“That Sobek would eat her baby.”

“And where is Cassandra now?”

“She went to the ladies’ room, where I fear she encountered an unexpected kidnapping.”

“Cassandra did not see that coming?”

“It wouldn’t be unexpected now if she had. Unfortunately, this left Sobek is a bit of a pickle. Can’t eat the baby; can’t give it back, and no Cassandra to just snatch the child and run. Still, you should have seen what happened to Pinocchio when he said his nose would grow now. We’re still finding little wood fragments embedded in the walls.”

He looked at me blankly yet again.

“Right, no Pinocchio for at least another thirty years for you. But back to the issue at hand. If you are just imagining all this, you must also be imagining that you are properly using words like ‘imagining’, correct?”

Dodgson pondered this for a while before saying, “So my correctly using the word ‘imagining’ when asking you whether I am imagining all this is paradoxical?”

“Self-defeating, at least. Best not to confuse the two.”

(What with all the blank looks! Please see the Interlude above.)

“If you aren’t imagining asking your question, then you obviously aren’t. No problem.” I paused to lick my hand to wipe behind my ear. “But if you are imagining asking your question, then you aren’t using the word properly, in which case whatever this is, it isn’t you imagining things. Either way you aren’t imagining asking me the question. Hence, asking if you are merely imagining asking is self-defeating. Poor Sobek on the other hand is currently trapped in a paradox.” I waved my hand at the rest of the bar. “I’ll let you sort out the rest. Fancy a drink?”

He nodded. I placed a Klein bottle full of beer in front of him. He pulled out a fiver. I sniffed it and pointed to the sign behind the bar: Only counterfeit money accepted as legal tender. He looked at me dumbfounded.

(At least we had moved on from blank.)

I sighed. “This one’s on the house.”

He puzzled through the shape, finally realizing he’d have to turn it upside-down to get the liquid out. But before he touched the bottle, there was a loud pop and a young lady appeared on the barstool next to his. Swirling chronitons decayed around her. She flashed him a dazzling smile, before turning to survey the rest of the pub. The time traveler locked in on a pair of young men sitting at the table next to Sobek’s. They were vociferously arguing about whether ‘heterological’ was heterological.

(You don’t know what ‘heterological’ means? Look it up. You want me to explain everything in the story? Now who wants the impossible? Do you want me to reach the end or not?)

She leapt from the stool, pulled out a sleek disintegrator pistol, and fired. The young-man version of her great-great-great grandfather exploded into an expanding mist of particles. The Universe promptly did the same to her.

Charles put his head in his hands and clenched his eyes shut. He began to mutter, “I am not here now. I am not here now. I am not here now.” He opened his eyes and shrieked.

I must have become just my smile again. I’ve been told it is quite disconcerting.

(I could check that for myself in a mirror, you say? How exactly? Just a smile — no eyes! Duh!)

Luckily the Turing machines distracted him. They’d emerged from beneath the pool table and were now whirling about manically, having a race to see who could be first to prove their own consistency. By the time he looked back, the rest of me had faded back into existence.

“Well, young Charles, since you don’t believe any of this is real and don’t even want your beer,” I said waving a hand at the still upright Klein bottle, “the only thing I can do is impart some advice: One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions.”

“Oh, that’s good,” he said, pulling out a small notebook and a little square pencil. “Can I use that?”

“Not unless you want to plagiarize the future.”

“How on earth can one plagiarize … No, no, all this really must be the result of a bad batch of laudanum.”

And with that Charles decided he’d had enough of being in two places at once. His wave function promptly collapsed back into his headache.

(But you really shouldn’t take my word for it; I am lying now and everything herein is false.)



Jeff Currier works three jobs (one actually in philosophy), so has little time to write fiction. Hence, he writes little stories, usually 15 times shorter than this one. Find links to them at @jffcurrier or Jeff Currier Writes on Facebook.

Philosophy Note:

This story was the result of a whimsical attempt to make paradoxes and self-defeat (and the distinction between the two) manifest. Suggested reading includes Roy Sorensen’s A Brief History of Paradox, and Hilary Putnam’s Reason, Truth, and History, especially chapter one. (And Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols if one was so inclined.)


by James C. Clar

Credo ut intelligam.

Anselm, Proslogion

Zoticus sat at the desk in his study. He was surrounded by armillary spheres, intricately wrought alembics and retorts as well as by a seemingly disorderly profusion of scrolls and codices in a variety of languages both ancient and arcane. One particular tract, which he had managed to translate with some difficulty from the Arabic, had proved especially fruitful. The breakthrough which he had managed to achieve as a result was the culmination of a lifetime of research and experimentation.

But how to disseminate the information and knowledge he had so laboriously acquired? His was a skeptical age and his work was looked upon with everything from condescension and amusement on the one hand, to outright disdain and even hostility on the other. What was more, Zoticus was old. In spite of what he had learned, his own days were numbered. He was desperate to find someone to whom he could bequeath his wisdom and who would be both willing and able to carry on his work. Apprentices like that were few and far between at any time and in any place, but here and now they were particularly, acutely scarce. The old man sighed and rubbed his temples.

There had been that young man last year. Zoticus had so hoped that he would persevere. Within weeks, however, the novice – despite his aptitude and keen mind – had succumbed to the poison of doubt. He had demanded “proof.” Proof of what, Zoticus had wanted to ask? But he knew that such an approach would have been futile. The youth insisted that he needed to “know” so that he might believe. The secret, as Zoticus himself had ascertained, was that one must first believe and only then might one truly come to “know.” Zoticus was convinced that one either understood that esoteric truism intuitively or one did not. And if one did not, there was no means that had yet been invented to alter such an individual’s outlook or hermeneutic.

Zoticus’ epistemological musings were interrupted by a forceful knocking at his door. He rose stiffly and shuffled slowly into the hallway. A draught of cold air intruded and the oil lamps began to flutter as he opened the outer door. Before him stood what he could only assume was another candidate. This young man, however, was carrying a dead owl. Zoticus had seen far too much in his long life to be shocked or even surprised. Owls, of course, were mystical animals associated with inner wisdom, transformation and intuition. If nothing else, he was intrigued.

“I will forsake all … my family, my friends, and my career to become your apprentice,” Zoticus’ visitor stated without preamble. “First, however, you must prove that what is rumored about you is true,”

The determined young man issued an ultimatum. “Raise this bird to life and I will stay.”

Zoticus couldn’t help himself. He stroked his long white beard and, despite the supplicants’ obvious gravity, the old man began to laugh. “Another one,” he muttered as he shook his head in frustration and dismay.

As Zoticus was shutting the door the startled and bemused would-be apprentice hurled the dead raptor at the old master’s feet in frustration. Unfazed, the elderly scholar closed the door completely and threw the latch. He bent and picked up the owl’s lifeless body and carried it gently, reverently back to his desk. Setting it down, he softly intoned an ancient formula with great conviction and authority.  Almost at once, the animal’s hooded eyes began to flutter.



James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who divides his time between Upstate New York and Honolulu, Hawaii. His short fiction, book reviews, author interviews and articles have appeared in print as well as online. Most recently his work may be found on Antipodean SciFi, The Collidescope and Half-Hour-To-Kill.

Philosophy Note:

My story plays in a fanciful way with some of the following ideas.
A. Especially of late, my students struggle with the idea that “faith” and “belief” may be considered modes of knowing. When asked how we come to know, they answer: direct experience, indirect experience and logic/reason. Such knowledge, they argue, can be proven. By that they mean proven by empirical or logical means. I then ask them, how do you know your parents or significant others, let’s say, love you? Can you ‘prove’ it? We can cite evidence to support our belief that we are loved, but we simply cannot prove it in a strictly empirical fashion. Yet we base many of the most important decisions of our lives on such ‘knowledge’.
B. To what degree do we shape the world in which we live with our belief? Does our belief in some way come before our knowledge of the world and therefore is it a prerequisite to such knowledge? If so, how objective is the knowledge that we acquire, really?
C. Finally, the story touches on the power of words, of language, to create and influence the world in which we live. Many ancient cultures believed resoundingly in the generative, creative power of words. Fiat Lux!