Betanda walked ahead of me through the trees for most of the morning, but slowed down when she passed a tiny hut on the side of the road. I saw her approach and peer into the hut, which was shorter than she was. As I got closer, she said, “I think it’s a shrine. There’s a wick in a bowl of oil, and it’s lit. Someone must be near enough to tend this.”
“Shrine?” I asked. “Then we must be near a village.” I looked around and listened, but did not hear any human activity. “No one on the ground, maybe they live up in the trees.” I scanned the green canopy shading us from sunlight, but saw nothing indicating people. “Could be a problem, they must be mole men.” I eyed the ground warily, ready to jump if the ground opened up to spew warriors at us like angry wasps from a disturbed nest.
Betanda straightened up and looked at me. “You must be deaf,” she said. “Listen, it’s like there’s a wedding going on. Let’s go see.”
I realized she was right, and that I had been hearing loud bells for a while. I did not remember wedding festivals with bells like that, low gongings mixed with high pinging sounds. I hurried after her, and saw bright white robes through the trees.
I could not tell who were the bride and groom among the throng of gyrating dancers. People flitted between trees and swept around us trailing their glowing garments. Men, women, children, all wore such a blinding white that my eyes could not find where fabric started or ended. No one stood still in the constant swirling motion of the dance. I saw people’s smiles approach and recede in sheer joy of life, while arms swept the long sleeves through the air. Their fingers gracefully traced out figures in the air, figures of butterflies, rainbows and smiles. The bells rang, bonged, and pinged.
A higher pitched whine swelled from nothing until I noticed movement in the trees over our heads. I could not see any detail with all the swirl of dancers and linens. The dancers did not slow down at all, but the smiles stretched straight across their mouths. Their teeth champed straight up and down, and I heard a clomping noise from them. I saw that something peeped out from under their robes, something with hundreds of eyes that looked at me. The eyes had tiny mandibles that clacked open and shut, and long hairy legs swept aside the white robes.
The sound of the bells faded away, replaced by a low growling swell of a thunderous bass. I turned towards the growl and saw through the trees a giant shadow of darkness made of legs, millions of legs. A huge wave, a tsunami of spiders descended on the trees and swept towards the dancers and towards me. The high pinging of bells became the piercing screams of people as they ran in all directions around me. Their arms kept the robes floating in air as they moved, but the robes were coated with crawling clacking legs and mandibles.
I stood rooted to the spot as the wedding party and spiders swirled around me. Human-sized pillars of spiders ran and dove across my vision in all directions, towards me and away, into and away from trees. I grabbed a large tree branch and swept it in a protective arc around me. “No, you filthy beasts won’t have me,” I said. “Not today, not ever.” I swung the branch down onto a pile of spiders hiding behind a tree. Another pile collected as the spiders tried to gather into a mass for an attack on me. I crashed into the mass and swatted the scattered creatures before they could regroup. Single spiders climbed up my legs. Some dropped out of the trees into my hair and bit me. I rubbed my head against trees to clear the spiders off.
Betanda ran to me and said, “It’s the floods, they flee to higher ground.” She turned away and screamed in pain. A wash of flame crashed up a tree and I heard someone say, “Burn them all” in the roar. Betanda ran towards the flames, then away. Something stung my foot and I looked down to see some kind of tarantula wrestle with my toe. I swatted with my branch and felt the scrape and burn on my ankle. When I looked up again, Betanda was gone and several waving posts of flames staggered past me.
I felt spider bites on my legs as I stomped as fast and hard as I could. I saw a mass of spiders with a flower garland pass close by. “That must be the bride,” I thought, “she’s buried by poisonous spiders.” My arm brought the branch crashing into the mass of mandibles. A whole column of spiders dropped from the trees onto my shoulders. I pushed sideways and crashed into a tree to shake them off. They let out a screeching roar as they split and splattered across the tree trunk. The roar deafened me and lifted me off the ground into the spinning darkness. I willed my arm to sweep the branch around me as I felt myself go airborne and fly into the gathering night.
We picked our way back down the cold, damp stairs. The temple acolyte’s dim smoking oil lamp showed which direction to go, but did not point out the trash or rat corpses. Were there so many new corpses already? My feet did not remember so many, with their bones poking around and through my rotting sandals. The huge key looped around my arm banged and clattered against the wall. At last I found level ground and followed as the lamp swung past several metal doors along a wall to halt in front of the one, my goal. The familiar nightmare figures carved onto the door glinted in the flickering light. I stood in front of the great door, surrounded by the others in the flickering torchlight. “This is Vault B, as you wish,” the elder priest said as he stepped behind me. They all watched me silently. Something slimy passed across my foot, and I heard the hiss and chitter of creatures in the near-darkness.
“Will you open it?” the priest continued. “You should not.” His voice took on a lilt of reciting a poem. “You should not, for your own good. You should not, for our good. The curse you will rain down upon us and the whole land, nothing inside this room can compensate. Nothing you do can atone. I urge you, go now in peace.”
“Why don’t you stop me?” I asked. The ache in my head squeezed my eyeballs and pressed my ears to meet my nose. “I can’t get back upstairs if I wanted to.”
“This is your decision,” he said. “I only read what is etched here, as we have read for thousands of years. So. Will you go in?”
I gasped with the exertion and wrestled the key loose. It fit into the large keyhole as they told me it would. I cranked the key to the left and leaned against the doorframe. My knees wobbled and my fevered eyesight grew cloudy.
“Is it safe to open it?” he asked.
I grunted, spat on the ground, turned the key and swung the door open. “I’ve got nothing to lose,” I said before I stepped inside.
Rupert flicked a finger alongside the glasses frame on his right temple. “I’m listening. Baby, replay that,” he said while his gaze wandered up and to the left. A light glowed green from the upper left lens.
“So how much did I say we need next week?” asked Francesca.
“Thursday,” Rupert said as he bobbed his head three times. “It’ll be here by Thursday.” The green light flicked out, and a red light glowed above the right lens. “Baby, stream data.”
Francesca threw her hands up in the air and pushed back from the conference table. “I give up,” she said. “He’s on some other planet right now.” She stood up and faced Betty. Did he just get those today?”
Rupert jumped up and extended his left hand. “And it’s good doing business with you too.” He tugged his left earlobe and gazed off to his left, then waved his hand across his eyes twice. “Our legal department will send a copy for you to sign and we can wrap this up. Baby, time stamp.” He started moving his mouth as if sounding out words.
Betty put her head down on the table. “We need to get those things banned.” She stood up. “Francesca, it’s been three days since he got those. I thought the Google Glass thing was annoying, but this-” She waved towards Rupert, who spun his finger around his ear and waggled his head. “Even if he were participating with us here, all those semaphore wagglings would drive me crazy.”
“I’d better be going,” Francesca said. “We won’t accomplish anything today. Would that I just had to deal with Glassholes.”
Betty rolled her eyes. “They were bad enough. At least we could get some use out of the old Glass, even when people zoned out every so often. You could check the stock market or get business updates. I have no idea what Rupert is doing with these, though. He could be watching ‘Romper Room’ reruns for all I know.”
Francesca gave a last look at Rupert – and saw an image of herself glow from his glasses’ left lens. Suddenly a sharp piercing BEEP blasted out of Rupert’s glasses and he lifted them off his nose. “Always a pleasure doing business with you, Francesca Monique Balancone. Baby, get CV.” He fitted the glasses back onto his head. “Give them my best at your alumni functions at Lower Merion High School, Radcliffe, and the Wharton School.” He wandered out of the room.
Francesca and Betty looked at each other. Silence. Then they burst out laughing simultaneously.
“It’s a lot like virtual reality, isn’t it?” Rupert asked as he steered his million-dollar LaFerrari around a hairpin turn. “We’ve been telecommuting for years, so why not telemedicine?”
Betty hung on with both hands and tried not to slide into Rupert on the sharp right curves. “Does your wife know you drive like a maniac?” she asked through gritted teeth. “I should know about telemedicine. After my accident, my surgeon operated remotely from India. Telemedicine saved my life.”
“I remember that,” Rupert said as he blithely dodged food trucks and surfboard-festooned VW buses. “But it’s all so haphazard, isn’t it?”
“Nonsense!” Betty gave a stifled scream as the car swerved between two roving basketballs and a skunk. “There is even an American Telemedicine Association to keep things regulated.”
“I just heard about this plot to limit telemedicine – or limit abortions, not any other kind of telemedicine. So is this ATA some fly-by-night con artists who just popped up in the mean states?”
“Con artists?” Betty gasped as the car became airborne over the top of a hill. “They’ve been promoting telemedicine for 20 years!”
“Oh.” Rupert appeared to concentrate on his driving as he whipped the LaFerrari onto the freeway. “So how do you do an abortion over the Web?”
“There is a live examination with a nurse, then the doctor has a video conference.” Betty cringed when she heard a police siren going the other way. “Then the doctor can release a drawer electronically. The woman finds an abortion-inducing drug in the drawer.”
“Mice,” Rupert said. “Mice, rats. In a maze. Sounds like experiments in psychology class. Do they ring a bell, too?” He zipped down an exit ramp and headed down a wide boulevard. “Oh, wait. Red pill or blue one, right? I saw that in a movie once.”
“Rupert, this is serious,” Betty said, her eyes fixed on the horizon. “They’ve actually been practicing telemedicine for over 50 years. Teledermatology, teleneurology, prenatal care, rural care. There’s only one topic the mean states want to regulate, and that’s abortion. Why is that?”
“Politics, of course.” Rupert grunted as he dodged potholes and fallen tree limbs. “No one wants to pay taxes to maintain streets or bridges. No one wants to pay for someone else’s healthcare. No one wants to be their brother’s keeper.”
A mechanical arm reached out from the car and swept a tire from the road. It rolled into a parked car as Rupert and Betty sped by. The car windows became opaque and Betty heard popping noises from outside. “I hate driving through turf wars but it shaves 20 minutes off the trip,” Rupert said.
A splat on the wall. A tree stump with a doorknob. Flowers in a swamp that partially hid a school of flying piranhas. Rupert’s brain could not interpret the solid red canvas at all. He turned to his hostess and asked, “Is this your company’s, um, famous art collection? I’ve read so much about it.”
Sonia giggled and gazed down at Rupert from atop her 8 inch stiletto heels. “Oh, no, Mr. Madasheck, this is the annual employee’s children’s art exhibit.”
Rupert looked at a sculpture nestled on a pedestal and said, “That explains why this one looks like, um, well, like it was inspired by the family pet. Or its business.”
Sonia gasped in horror. “Oh, not that one! That is an original Brancusi from his early stage over a century ago.”
Rupert held his hands behind his back and glared at the pile on the pedestal. “Well,” he said. “Speaking of business, let’s get on with it. I’ve probably just destroyed any chance at a licensing agreement with you, haven’t I? Assuming I had a chance five minutes ago.”
As bridges and buildings crumble, is Biotech funding the arts?
There must be art lovers in the Biotech world. Rupert might not be one of them. Or is he?
Is it true that Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals is planning to donate $475 million to artists who will paint pictures of dogs playing cards while sipping cappuccinos?
The first four years of All My Clones collected in a book now available at https://www.createspace.com/4166055
A spotlight centered on a microphone stand in the middle of the darkened stage. A figure strode up to the microphone and spoke in a low rumble. “Iron. Heavy. Hemingway. Light. Profound, isn’t it?”
The crowd of sales representatives went wild as Iron Hemingway took the stage and screamed through its one-hit wonder from 30 years ago. The crowd danced and gyrated, even the reps who were born years after the band fell off the hit parade charts.
Rupert Madasheck inserted his earplugs as subtlely as he could and texted ‘Do they really like this stuff @ sales mtgs?’
Gamela Nuryandi looked at Rupert two feet away and at her team of sales reps on the dance floor. She smiled and texted, ‘They luv this band!’ She added a few emoticons and hit Send.
Rupert frowned, shook his head, and texted back, ‘Do they realize most will be laid off 2morrow?’
Gamela put her hand over her mouth and nodded. She texted, ‘Why not let them enjoy 1 last fling?’ She glanced out over the crowd, following some of the dancers as the band played its one hit for the seventh time.
Three hours later, Rupert and Gamela left the banquet hall and went into a conference room. Rupert shut the door, fidgeted nervously, and asked, “Now that we can hear again, could I ask if you’ll have any sales force left over?”
Gamela groaned, sat down, and said, “Tomorrow I’ll lose 75% of them. I wonder how many more will quit. Can’t Research make more drugs? We can sell anything but we need actual drugs to sell. Now that we can’t spend anything on swag or gifts to physicians, we have plenty of budget left over.”
Rupert paced the room and growled. “I blame the FDA. Our drugs are fine as far as I know. They haven’t killed anyone in clinical trials lately. But now they complain about ‘efficacy’ and stuff like that.”
“I don’t understand much about all that,” Gamela confessed. “After the FDA approves ‘em, we sell ‘em. Someday could you explain how drugs get developed and approved?”
Rupert looked away at the closed conference room door and sighed. “No, I don’t think so. Remember I started out selling beauty supply products.”
Gamela leaned back in her chair. “No! Really? How did you get from beauty supply to pharmaceuticals?”
Rupert sat down and leaned close. “Reverse merger. I woke up and found myself CEO of a pharma company!”
“But now all my sales force will wake up and find themselves left out on the curb. I still don’t understand why we need to cut back that much.”
“Your own sales people told you they were getting turned away at the door, right?” Rupert asked.
Gamela sighed. “Yes, ever since that Dr. Evans spread the word about how to keep sales reps out of doctors’ offices. They don’t even take our notepads or laser pens any more. They’d rather waste their time on seeing patients than get the information they really need. What happens when the nation’s physicians are ignorant of our life-saving drugs and deplete their stock of Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals coffee mugs?”
“Think how bad it must be for all the other companies,” Rupert said. “It’s not just sales forces, either. The US pharma industry already laid off about 6400 people this year and it’s only June.”
Gamela sobbed. “Rupert, that isn’t the least bit consoling.”
Rupert put his hand on her shoulder. “Well, it’s unbecoming of a professional to cry. After all, I still have a job.”
Gamela jumped back. “How is that supposed to help, you insensitive lout?”
“What I mean is, I can’t stop the layoffs here at Cappuccino. But I can make exceptions.”
“You are planning to keep me employed, aren’t you?” Gamela asked.
“It looks like you are keeping yourself employed without my help,” Rupert said as he closed his eyes.
Outside the conference room, the intensity of the sales meeting swelled as Iron Hemingway began playing their hit for the 97th time.
 Yes, this can happen! Look up Venus Beauty Supply and Fermavir Pharmaceuticals.
 Evans et al., “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Lessons Learned from a Pharma-Free Practice Transformation,”available at http://www.jabfm.org/content/26/3/332.full
 As reported by Pharmalot at http://www.pharmalive.com/and-those-pharma-job-cuts-just-keep-on-coming
Sarah smiled sweetly in all her teenage innocence, batted her very first fake eyelashes at Rupert, and asked, “Have you seen Daddy’s rubber room yet?”
Rupert was so surprised that the peas fell off his knife. “Uh, what? I, er, no. No, I haven’t.”
“Oh, it’s OK,” Sarah said. “Daddy shows it to everyone who visits.” She resumed eating her spinach daintily.
Rupert looked across the oaken dining room table at Betty, then at their host. “I, um, that is. Ms. Lidalot and I came here to discuss possibly merging our company and your father’s. Not to, um.” He forked a chunk of turkey into his mouth.
“Oh, pay Sarah no mind,” Clarence Clegg said. “She likes shocking her elders.”
Rupert laughed. “Oh. So there’s no, um, no rubber…”
“Why, yes, of course there’s my rubber room,” Clarence boomed. “Would you like to see it?”
Sarah brightened. “Daddy does piercings, too.” She looked between Rupert and Betty. “He taught me how to do my own. Do you have any?”
Rupert shivered. “Ouch! Certainly not.”
“Rupert,” Betty warned. “Mind your manners.”
Clarence frowned at Sarah. “Let’s not discuss your latest-”
“Would you like to see my booby pin?”
“Bzwxtlfump,” Rupert said as his peas fell off his knife again. “Is that-did you…That’s sick!”
“It has a ruby in the middle and goes through both-”
Mrs. Falla Clegg laughed loudly enough to drown out Sarah. “Well, there aren’t many piercings kids can do that would shock anyone any more.”
Clarence pushed himself away from the table. “We won’t be let alone in peace so we might as well do the tour of the chamber now. Then we can get to business.” He led Betty and Rupert down into the basement and to a door labeled ‘Torture Chamber.’ After some fumbling with a large ring of keys, he opened three different locks with a crash and slowly eased the door open. “I assume you are already familiar with the standard toys. You know. Blindfolds, handcuffs, whips, clamps, electrodes.”
“Do you keep horses?” Betty asked. “Look at all those riding crops.” She looked at the roaring fire with hot coals.
“Oh, no, that’s for my special friends,” Clarence said.
“That’s psycho!” said Rupert as he looked around the rubber-walled room.
“Not true!” Clarence boomed. “All of my favorite BDSM activities are perfectly normal.”
“Normal?” asked Betty. “As far as I understand, they are clearly linked to mental disorders and psychopathology.”
“Again, not true,” said Clarence. “As a matter of fact, researchers in the Netherlands clearly demonstrated that we BDSMers are no more or less prone to mental disorders than control groups of boring normal people.  We even scored better in several categories including wellbeing and awareness.” He led the way back upstairs, where Sarah and Falla waited with cups of lavender crème brulee.
“It is the policy of Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals not to pry into people’s personal lives,” Rupert said with a shaken stutter. “I have never met anyone so, um, so open about such an unusual hobby. What kinds of people, um, er, partake in your, um, festivities.”
Falla laughed. “You’d think it was the dregs from Reefer Madness, wouldn’t you?” Rupert nodded.
“As a matter of fact,” Clarence said, “most of us here in the BDSMalibu community are doctors, lawyers, and nurses. And CEOs like me.”
Betty shook her head. “Well, if BDSM really isn’t a mental illness, what is? Anything?”
Falla cleared her throat. “According to someone from Oxford University, religious fundamentalism is.”
Rupert grabbed a napkin and prevented his dessert from escaping across the table. “What?”
“Mother, businesspeople aren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics,” Sarah said.
“Oh, bother,” said Falla. “I’m not businesspeople, and this is now medical rather than religion.” She faced Betty. “Someone named Kathleen Taylor from Oxford said that someday we might treat fundamentalism of any religion as a curable disease.” 
“All those people who are so rabidly against gay marriage and stuff?” Sarah asked.
Falla smiled sweetly. “Yes, dear, just so. Someday the tables may turn and they will gay away the pray.”
Rupert brightened. “We are in the business of developing therapeutics, you know,” he said. “We can come up with a nebulizer and… Wait for it…”
Betty groaned and said, “Spray away the pray.”
 SOURCE: bit.ly/14eYiKc The Journal of Sexual Medicine, online May 16, 2013.
“You should have a look out the front window, sir.”
Rupert smiled as he swiveled his chair towards the floor-to-ceiling glass. He loved being called ‘sir,’ especially by one of the Three Marketeers. “Which one is she?” he thought as he gazed at the 27th floor windows straight ahead of him on the other side of 42nd Street. “Maybe she’s Alice.”
The view looked spectacular, just like any other day. “Well, it’s very nice, Alice,” Rupert said. “Should I look at anything in particular?”
“Sorry, sir, but I’m Janet,” she said. “Alice is already down at the lobby with our security guards.”
Rupert sat up suddenly. “Guards?” he asked. “Why?” He put his head against the window glass and peered down towards the street. “Augh!” he shouted as he jumped back. “There’s a missile pointing up at me!”
“Yes, and it has our logo for HoriXentalBop on it.”
Rupert glared at her. “Is this your idea of a marketing campaign? Or was this Alice’s bright idea? Or – who’s the third one of you?”
“Malisma, sir.” Janet coughed and said. “That is not our idea or our missile. No one seems to know why it’s there and why it is advertizing one of our drugs.”
The phone on Rupert’s desk rang. Rupert and Janet watched it ring a couple times. “What is that thing and why does it make that annoying noise?” Janet asked.
Rupert snapped awake. “Oh, yeah, right. It’s a landline phone, I forgot.” He picked up and dropped the handset. He fumbled for a while, then pressed a green button on the phone.
A loud background of car horns and shouting rushed from the speakerphone. “Hello?” said an authoritative voice. “Am I speaking to Mr. Rupert Madasheck?”
Rupert leaned forward and said, “Yes, Chief, this is Rupert. Over.”
“Um, sir, this isn’t a walkie talkie,” the Chief said. “You don’t need to say ‘over’ any more.” More shouting spewed out of the speakerphone. “Sir, we have some assclown here who wants me to inspect this missile he just parked in front of our lobby.”
“What?” Rupert asked. “Why? Alice here tells me it’s not ours.”
“Janet, not Alice,” Janet said. “Alice is down there.”
“Janet. Whatever. Not our missile. What’s going on down there?”
More incoherent voices and a loud rustling of papers rattled through the speakerphone. “He just gave me this folder with his driver’s license and passport and stuff,” the Chief said.
“In case you need to contact me,” a stranger’s voice broke in.
“Back off, clown!” the Chief said. “Sir, I called for the corporate attorney and she just showed up.”
“Should I come down there?” Rupert asked.
“No!” the Chief shouted. “Do not come down here.” Rupert’s office started to shake as a chopping sound filled the air.
“First news helicopter incoming,” Janet said as it loomed large in Rupert’s window.
“Duck!” Rupert shouted as he dove under his desk.
“Relax, sir,” Janet shouted above the roar. “It won’t crash into the building.”
“The cameras!” Rupert shot back. Janet ducked under the desk with him. “Oh, this is cozy,” Rupert said as they rubbed shoulders. A blinding flash filled the office. Rupert cowered. “Oh, no, cameras. Maybelle doesn’t need my photo on the front page. Again.”
A female voice shouted through the speakerphone but Rupert could not understand it over the helicopter’s roar. There were several shouts from different voices, then the noise died down a few dozen decibels. “What?” the Chief said. “She’s Melvyn Weiss in lipstick?”
The helicopter veered away from Rupert’s office window and the speakerphone calmed down to a low background hiss. The Chief said, “That assclown said he was their ‘Chief Fun Officer.’ And he called our attorney here – who’s Melvyn Weiss?” 
“Rupert? This is Sosumi Ciyuencourt. I made that guy take his missile out of here and we will take legal action to get our HoriXentalBop logo expunged from all of their materials.”
Rupert crawled out from under his desk. “What materials?”
“Planes, tanks, missiles, military hardware,” Sosumi said. “He was planning to drive around Manhattan next week with this massive phallic symbol and distribute free condoms. Disgusting. I already got an email from him about all the free publicity for us. But that’s not the worst of it.” Sosumi took a deep breath. “He said I was hot enough to ride his missile next week or even tonight.”
This episode is so outrageous that it couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Um…could it??
Does Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals’ Chief of Security have a specific definition for the word ‘assclown’?
Will landline phones make a comeback in 50 years during another wave of retro nostalgia?
Why is it that Rupert’s desk just happens to have enough room for two people to squeeze together underneath?
Melvyn Weiss in lipstick? Maybe he meant to say ‘Robert Simels’?