A Zombie Story

I was born in a scientifically minded family. We used to have discussions based on logic and decisions based on fact. “Look at the facts!” my Mom used to tell me whenever I was being a wayward teenager. So, when we first heard the news, I sought out the facts. When I didn’t find any, I dismissed the news as noise. “Must be another version of the swine flu,” I remember thinking. Humans had taken the animal kingdom for granted for too long, and Nature had repaid in kind. First, things like the plague attacked humanity. Then, virii like HIV had their day in the Sun. When we got those under control, swine flu and other such infections invaded our food supply. Not that it mattered to me and my family. We were all vegetarians by choice. The only way this mad march of science and industry affected us was by GM foods. Of course, we had the choice to ignore those, since we were well-off and could afford to buy organic.
The first time I noticed this news in seriousness, it was when England went offline. The entire country had locked its doors and stopped talking to outsiders. No mail, no tweets, no radio signals of any kind. It bewildered people outside. The news talked about the ‘virus’ that had been ravaging animal and human populations in varying areas of the world. Speculation was rife that either the UK had decided that the threat outside was too much and they needed to protect themselves, or their own population was too far gone and they had sacrificed the remaining Brits to save the rest of the world from this calamity.
It still didn’t seem real, till the attacks started. Massive populations of infected people started attacking the uninfected. Violence erupted around the world almost simultaneously. It was as though the virus was building up an army before mobilizing it altogether. Gory images of cannibalistic crowds, attacking, murdering, killing, and most shocking of all, eating their victims filled the news. Gun sales shot through the roof. Doomsday preppers became mainstream. News broadcasts suddenly became the most watched shows around the world.
We saw the population dwindle. We saw chaos erupt. We saw our family die, our friends get devoured, our governments fall. The Internet was the only refuge, and it too sometimes flickered, because the virus was smart enough to understand how to rip through our communications lines. I say all this casually, but there’s no reason to not gloss over all that. It happened. We lived through it. That’s all there is to say about it.
We built up resources and went into hiding. We used natural and human-made defenses to ward off the zombies. We saw the worst of humanity play games with the survivors and do ghastly experiments on the undead. They saw them as nothing more than animals of the most violent nature, and they treated them as such. I didn’t care either way. I survived because I saw them as nothing more than carriers of death. When I saw a fast-moving one, I killed it. When I saw a slow-moving one, I used to kill it if it got too close. Then I stopped killing the slow ones if I was going away from it, or if it was too slow to catch up to me. I had to preserve ammo after all. The last few years, we’d been making our own ammo and metal was difficult to come by. There was no one mining, smelting, refining or even recycling. Metal workers were well-protected, as much as farmers, and their ‘lords’ charged heavily for access. They all eyed a free-agent like me with suspicion and many often didn’t let me into their holds.
So I traveled from place to place and found work, refuge, metal, and food how ever I could. Between holds was the most dangerous areas, especially when I traveled alone. This was one such day. The Sun was bright overhead and made any open movement impossible, as it would attract too much attention from the zombies. I was passing through a city that was almost all dead. It had two zones of humans at its ends, and passing goods between them was risky work that gave good pay. I had a backpack full of wares which people had paid me in food and metal to transport, but there was never any assurance of delivery. I moved from building to building till I hit a cross-street that was too wide to cross in the light. I decided to settle in till nightfall. I checked the perimeter, secured doors and marked escape routes. I noticed two zombies in the vicinity. One was immobile and the other was inching around. The rigid one was redead, a gaping hole in its head marking the place where someone had shot it up to destroy its brain. Dark puss was oozing out of the wound. It was a recent kill. The other one was its mate. It lingered close to the body. Why someone would spare it, I didn’t know. I looked at it for a while from the shadows and it didn’t register my presence. It just kept trying to move its buddy, like a bunch of wounded soldiers. Its movements were too slow to reach me in the next few hours, I decided. Going back in, I settled into a dark corner in a room with two exits, gun in hand. A single bullet in the chamber was both my defense and my insurance. I didn’t want to be empty-handed if attacked, and I didn’t want to kill someone in a fit of anger or fear.
I must have dozed off for longer than I wanted to. There was no sunlight outside. I flicked on a solar-powered flashlight and yawned. I had perhaps lost an hour or two, but it didn’t matter. There were only a few dangerous areas in the city according to my maps, and I knew I could cross them all in a matter of hours. As I lay there, lazily stretching, I felt a presence. I swung the light around at the first entrance. There was nothing there. Dreading what I’d see there, I swung it to the other side. The slowbie I’d seen outside was almost at my feet. I scrambled up and aimed my gun at it in frustration. I was about to shoot it when it looked right in my eyes. We knew they couldn’t see very well in the night. Their bodies, having degenerated to an extent, had night blindness of varying degrees. I didn’t know what this one could see. I moved my flashlight from left to right. It’s eyes didn’t follow. Perhaps it was completely blind and was here only by instinct or following noise. Snorers died quickly in the open lands. I didn’t want to waste the bullet, or make too much noise killing this thing. I had so far avoided ever killing one of these things at close quarters, using a knife or such tools. I’m no sadist and I was not interested in risking my life over some hand-work.
It stared at me oddly without moving an inch for the five minutes I stood there. Finally, I had to move on. I could have just walked out the other door, but an instinct told me to rekill this thing. I approached it, gun trained on the head. My flashlight beamed on the grey skull. As I settled on a good place to shoot it, it looked up. Was it smiling? It seemed to be looking at something beyond and smiling. I knew I had been had. I swung around the entire half arc it took me to turn back and face upwards. But before I knew what I would find, a creature jumped down from the ceiling and landed on my torso. It pushed me down and scattered the gun to the corner. Blinded by its rapid movements and struggle to overpower me, I tried hard to push it away. The torch was still in my hands, but it wasn’t much of a weapon. I couldn’t use it anyways, because the creature had me pinned down. I could feel its rapid cold breath close to me. It didn’t need the extra oxygen it was breathing, but some anatomical features were difficult for the zombies to let go of. So it struggled to bite me and I struggled to get free. The moment I found its hand moving away from my arm, to press my head down, I swung the torch at its head. The blow was soft, but startled it enough for me to throw it to the other side of the room and get up.
But this was no ordinary zombie. Instead of needing a moment to recover, it was rushing at me again. I tried to move to the side, but all I was able to do is get my face in the way of its flailing arm, which knocked hard against my head and threw me off-balance. It found this new tool rather effective, and pushed me down, then pressed my mouth hard with its arm. I was gasping for breath and this told it that I was losing the battle.
Now, I’m a logical person. I know what is and isn’t and what can be and can’t be done. I had never faced a zombie this fast. I had never seen them coordinate. I had never seen one scale the smooth walls of a room and somehow attach itself to the roof to lie in wait for a distracted human. I had also never felt, through my teeth, the dirty cloth worn by a zombie and the sinewy arm it covered. I felt the bone pressing down on my teeth, perhaps trying to shatter them. I did the most illogical thing I could think of, the only way that seemed out of this absurd situation I had gotten myself into. I opened my mouth ever so slightly and let the arm lodge itself into it. Then I bit. I didn’t know what would happen. Zombies don’t exactly feel pain at the limb level. Their brains do not receive signals from their nervous systems. I had seen countless zombies trudging along without an arm or a leg, or sometimes pretty much any limb, just crawling like vile slugs.
Yet, I bit in. I had hoped for an element of surprise, and then freeing myself and running away. Perhaps I had not hoped for that either. Perhaps it was my last stand. Perhaps I did not open my mouth consciously, but the arm forced it open with sheer pressure. But I found its arm in my mouth, sticking to my tongue and soaking my saliva, and I bit hard.
It yelped in pain and fell backwards. As it did, it yanked its arm away, but my bite was too strong and I ripped off part of its dead skin as it pulled away. The cloth and skin still in my mouth, I got up to see the thing writhing in pain on the floor. Even fire did not produce this effect on zombies. It was in excruciating pain. My flashlight naturally fell on it and I saw what could only be the most absurd thing I’ve seen in my entire life. The zombie turned back. It slowly went from blue, dead, and decaying, to reddish, alive, though barely, and very much in pain. It was shrieking, till he was not. He was a boy, of barely 16, badly nourished, holding his arm, the one I’d bitten away at. He looked around, dazed. He sat up, and I jumped back. In response, he jumped back in his seat. He was as afraid of me, as I was of him. But he was human. I knew this, because suddenly, the zombie on the other side of the room was not looking at me with a greedy hunger, but at the boy. It smelled the younger flesh, it recognized the wound filling the room with the scent of sweet blood. It slowly turned away from me and started its slow ambling towards its new goal. I shot it. One ringing bullet reverberated through the room and one clean hole appeared in its skull. It fell, redead.
The boy jumped up when I shot the zombie and rushed to the corner of the room. I beamed a light at his face. It had genuine fear on it. He was on the verge of crying, but he recovered, only to look at me and my gun, now trained at him. “What is going on?” he asked. I almost laughed. The last thing I expected to see in this desolate inner city was a re-alive human. When I didn’t answer, he looked around and noticed his arm. He winced when he saw the bite mark. At some point, I had spit his skin away. I pulled my backpack and took out a bandage. I wavered about what to do with the gun, then pushed it back into its holster and shone a light on the bandage and then tossed it towards him. He caught it mid-air, but fumbled it a little. When he’d caught it and applied it, I took some food out of pack and threw it at him. He tore at it hungrily. Zombies never eat human food, no matter how artificial and how processed. The only thing they eat is flesh. For a long time, scientists tried to explain it as some extreme form of cannibalism. But the closer they came to explaining it, the more violent their test subjects became, eventually killing off every scientist who was willing to study zombies. It was as if the zombies knew their secrets were being unraveled and wanted to prevent it. When he had eaten, I asked him where he was from, what he remembered last, and what he thought was going on. But all he drew was a blank. There was very little the boy understood. His slate had been wiped almost clean.
I didn’t know where to go from here. Had I discovered some amazing secret of how to destroy zombies? Or was this the worst fluke in the history of the earth? Before I could ask myself these questions, a light flickered in front of my eyes. It was as if it was a part of my eyesight itself. Words started appearing in front of me, hung in the air somehow. They shone brightly in the darkness of the room.
“You have discovered the secret.”
“This is the only way to destroy the zombies.”
“Now you will die.”
As soon as the last words disappeared, I heard a rumbling sound from outside. I ran to the door of the building and peeked. I saw what seemed like a horde of zombies marching down the street. They were pouring out from every building, every gutter, and every hole. They shone like dull ants in the pale light of the moon. But they were not the regular undead. They had a purpose. They marched in lockstep. They seemed to be looking for something. They seemed to be looking straight at me. I rushed back inside, half expecting the boy to have turned back into a zombie. I was relieved that he had not. I took out a spare gun and shoved it into his hand.
“You know how to use this?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I pulled him by his good arm and rushed out the back. I knew the city’s layout. I had memorized every block before this expedition. We had to rush to the nearer hold. It was a good half mile away. That was the longest half mile of my life.
This story was inspired by the following Writing Prompt as well as some of my favorite recent writing –
[instagram url=https://www.instagram.com/p/Be5DQAuBUUN/]

At some point in my life, I told myself that zombie stories are silly and not worth reading/watching/writing. But this prompt was just sublime. It spurred me towards creativity like none other has. So I wrote it up. I hope you enjoyed it.

Update – the writing prompts page I follow has deleted all their prompts so you can’t see the prompt. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but it was along the lines of “you’re about to die at the hands of a zombie and as a last-ditch effort, you bite into it and it turns into a human” 😀

[Fiction] So

The other day, I was sitting and waiting for the bus, which was late as usual. It was an unusually warm day for that time of the year and there was no one sharing the bus stop with me. I had time on my hands and thus, the rare opportunity of noticing people passing by. I stared at everyone I could see, noticing their clothes and their mannerisms. I guessed at their convictions and imagined their stories. One such passerby – a man in his thirties, caught my eye. He had a balding head and ‘serious’ glasses, which placed him towards the latter part of the decade. He was wearing a checked reddish-brown shirt, as if he wanted to go for the hipster woodcutter look. At some point, he’d decided he’d overdone it and thus had not gone full-hipster. His boring jeans and the ID tag hanging from his neck made me place him as an IT professional. It is the bane of IT professionals to be dressed in such clothes, bordering on personal freedom and misplaced professionalism. My own blue jeans, green t-shirt, and ID tag mirrored him in dullness and unoriginality.
I first noticed him as he was crossing the street, maintaining his position in the middle of the zebra crossing. He’s cautious, I remember thinking. But he wasn’t rushing to get out of the road either. So he recognizes that he’s white, I also remember thinking. As he came near the end of the zebra crossing, he came to a bush, the kind you find in cities where local governments have a mandate to plant ‘greenery’ in every viable location they can find. It was dull, dying, dust colored, and definitely a catchall for pollution from the cars that drive on by.
I noticed that it was dull and dying, but I knew the reason for that too. The summers have been harsh and dry and we’re heading into fall. I cannot expect bushes to be green and flowering. But it irritated me nonetheless that the bush was a dead creature.
As I watched the redshirted man cross the bush, he reached close to it, bent down and picked something up from there. Did he really pick up a piece of trash from the sidewalk? Why would he do that? Was he a spy picking up a dead drop? I’ve been watching too many spy shows and movies, I told myself. Was it a message from a lover? No, certainly not. I was letting my imagination run too wild.
As he approached, I saw that the man had picked out what looked like a beer can, an empty “tall boy”, if you must know. It was black and emblazoned with some lettering and the image of a cold mountain. I watched him come to me, towards the bus stop that I alone occupied. He tossed the beer can playfully into the air and looked at it as if he had been the owner of it all along. Was he not worried of residual beer falling out? Perhaps it was an old beer can and he instinctively knew it to be dry.
But I get ahead of myself. As soon as I saw what he had picked out of the bushes, I asked myself a question – why? Why would someone take the effort of picking up garbage from the street? Was he a do-gooder who wanted to clean up his city? Was he concerned about the slow and painful degradation of the material of the can, polluting his airspace and the soil, destroying his city one tall boy at a time? Was it something he fancied and wanted to take home with himself? (I hoped it’s a firm no on that last one!)
What are, by the way, the ethics of removing garbage from the street? I have myself, on many occasions, picked up stray bits of paper, a can here or there, or discarded plastic straws, and dutifully deposited them to the bin. But have I known others to do so? Certainly not! My friends have chided me for it. I have heard the various diseases I could die of from other people’s garbage. I used to think that my small action made a difference to that one straw. But I’ve learnt that in the longer context, my actions do not matter at all.
Also, what are the economics of picking up said garbage? There would be a trash collector for the area. Does he go about checking every bush for waylaid beer cans? Are you stealing from his quota? What will he do when he comes around and sees that the bush is too clean? He’ll report that there is less garbage on this street. His superiors will decide to reduce the number of rounds he makes here. Trash will then accumulate for longer till the next time he comes around to pick it up. What of the IT professional himself? What if, god forbid, he does get some infection due to the beer can? Will his insurance give him any aid, when they find out he got ill because he picked up garbage from the street? Can he claim that the city is responsible in some way, because he was helping clean up the area he works in? They’ll ask him to prove that he’s a qualified trash collector and had the requisite equipment such as gloves and a trash grabber. Since I could see that he did not, why would the city come to his support when he falls ill?
What is, finally, the morality of picking up garbage and getting it off the streets? There is definitely some right in doing so. Every few years, in places like Gurgaon and Bangalore, in India, you’ll see some IT company donating semi-precious time, resources, and man-hours to cleaning up some extremely dirty road in the region and painting it in bright, boring shades of uniformity. NGOs often sponsor such events and with much ado. Is picking up this garbage on a per-beer-can basis an act of heroism? Is the balding man a hero in my eyes now? I cannot say that for certain, but I do have some newfound respect for him. I stopped doing this same thing due to peer pressure and societal mores. But this fellow marches on, solitary in his pursuit of cleaning up every beer can in every bush that comes in his path. He knows only one truth – it matters to this beer can that it gets to the recycling bin. The destiny of this one can is not to rot in some foul corner of the city. It must rot out there in the oceans, or head to Madras, where it can be safely dumped away from the prying eyes of bothered Americans. He is a hero in the way that heroes ought to be – unassuming, silent folk, soldiering on in their pursuits without regard for personal safety or peer pressure.
As he approached the bus station, this messiah of cleanliness stood with an aura around him. But there was confusion on his bright, beautiful face. I looked to where he looked and noticed what he noticed. Usually, bus stands have a trashcan or two accompanying them. But in this singular instance, this was not the case. Alas, there was no trash receptacle! Where would our hero deposit this beer can? How was he to complete his mission in leading another piece of discard to its destiny?
As he pondered on this dilemma, and I must confess, I did too, the bus arrived. Seeing this, he looked around and, noticing a USPS post box, tossed the can in there and got in line to board the bus.

This post was edited by my dear friend Sayan Das. His edits and suggestions made this piece of writing worth reading. You can follow Sayan on Instagram here. His exceptional writing is an inspiration to me every day. He loves London and butter chicken.

[Fiction] A lecture

Good morning Young Adults,

Welcome to the third lecture on “History of Writing”. I’d like to point out, as mandatory by law, that this history, as with all other histories taught in your school, is disputed in a federal court and may be deemed incorrect at a later date, at which point the syllabus will change. Until then, we are teaching the less popular version of the topic, as dictated by our school’s charter.

Now, to begin the lesson, let’s do a quick recap of what we have learnt in the last two lectures. We began with the idea that writing things down would make them available to more people and preserve knowledge across time. This part, as we discussed, is not disputed.

Then, we saw a presentation on the idea of a universal language. We understood that even though individuality is considered important, the world had settled into the idea that English would be the universal language towards the end of the twenty-first century. We understand that this is disputed by scholars of the day who believe that English was not actually universally accepted but quite simply the de facto language because of the cultural and economic might of a few countries, which, since they no longer exist, can neither prove nor disprove this specific argument in any comprehensive manner.

Today, let’s talk about the Book. Now, please understand that I’m not talking about a specific book, but the Book in general. Since most of you do not know what that is, let me pull up the Wikipedia entry for it.

“A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf, and each side of a leaf is called a page.”

Now, who can tell me what they understood from this? Yes, Tomlin, what’s your take on this definition?

Tomlin – I think it’s some kind of a primitive information repository, but I’m not sure how something like that would work.

Very good Tomlin! Yes, books were information repositories that were organized as chapters. Sometimes, there was so much information that it had to be put into a series of books! Yes, Supriya, you have a question?

Supriya – Yes Ma’am, I want to ask how can they put information on something so flat?

A wonderful question Supriya! People nowadays don’t understand how knowledge can be put on something as basic as paper. Let’s do an exercise. If you remember, I showed you all a piece of paper when we went to the museum last month. You’ll recall that there was text on that paper, real words. There was also an image on it.

I want you all to consider information as we know it today and try to think about how that information would be represented on paper during that period of time.

Let’s begin with a simple example. We all know that the best way to capture someone’s speech is to make a 3D replica of it. How do you think humans in the twentieth century captured speech? Yes, Supriya?

Supriya – I have read that they used to takes things called notes, on paper. They would quickly write what people were saying and then save it someplace safe to recall later.

Very good Supriya! But since you’re familiar with the concepts, I don’t think you should be answering any more questions on the topic. No need to frown, you know it’s the best way to involve everybody.

Next question. In our 3D replicas, we often include, in heavy detail, how people emote their speech. We have records of inflection, pronunciation, emotion, body and eye language and many times, environment. How do you think early man did it? Let’s take it to someone other than the front row. Yes, Mary, what’s your take on this?

Mary – Well, they’d have to somehow copy the 3D model and keep changing the emotion.

Close, but not quite. You see, in written language, there is a process to capture emotion. Words expressing emotions such as anger, relief, hatred, and peacefulness were used to write about emotions. Similarly, surroundings were described in great detail. This is one of the reasons why books were actually so big in size. They had to capture a lot more information in order to properly capture the essence of the scene being described.

Let’s change gears and imagine how they would have described something non-human, like a stone or a DNA sequence. Nowadays, if you want to see a stone, the replicator just builds one for you. If you want to study a DNA sequence, you can ask the replicator to create a model for you and you can play with it live, to create your own DNA sequence. How do you think mankind stored that kind of information? Let’s hear from, you, Ching? Ching, I don’t care if you don’t have an answer, I want you to try.

Ching – I dunno. Maybe they tore off some pages and kept a stone there?

No need to laugh class. Ching is not wrong. No one is. But the human race quickly realized that ideas such as putting a piece of stone in books could only work as a novelty and were not practical. Instead, they used to draw elaborate pictures of the item. Sometimes, they’d describe the color, feel and effect of the object in question in great detail and sometimes, they’d just include a picture of the thing and move on. Yes, Maya, do you have a question?

Maya – But Ma’am, how can they draw a rock on a paper and how can they play with a DNA structure on paper? You told us that paper is non-interactive, unlike our 3D models.

You see, Maya, there is an entire art dedicated to drawing 3D shapes on a 2D plane. It may seem ridiculous to you, but some of their greatest achievements were based on that. From the early prototypes of fuel propelled vehicles, which they called ‘space craft’, to large representations of landscapes, everything 3D was represented in 2D using various techniques such as using darker colors for depth perception and light source inference, using layers of color to give the sense of three-dimensional space, using specific colors to represent specific things, such as red for anger, blue for sadness and green for happiness and prosperity. Now, you may all laugh, but this is how it all worked.

Who here remembers that museum exhibit called a painting? It was some lady sitting in an elaborate costume, with a slight smile. Good to see all these hands up! Now, we may not know why she was painted. Was she some politicians wife, or was she the artist’s representation of an angel, but we can study the painting, only half of which remains now, and see that the smile is actually affected by the way it has been painted. We can also see that the background has been shown to be smaller from her own size, so as to represent that it is far from her. These ideas may seem primitive to us all, but these were the best means they had to represent such notions.

Who here has been to MOMA? You realize why the Museum of Modern Art had to be made on half the side of the moon, right? They needed room to let artists display their work. The famous “Events Of Futures Past” by Giraldo Ganeshan is a theater of five thousand replicas of humans at war with five thousand Centauri. Now, we know that we’re at peace with the civilizations of other star systems, but Ganeshan’s representation is an idea, that something like this could happen. Of course, to accurately represent the scene, Ganeshan had to take up half of MOMA’s space in order to present the installation. You can walk through the model and watch as each warrior attacks one from the other side in a battle that would not even be technologically feasible anymore – we no longer have weapons that we can hold in our hands.

Imagine if, instead of taking all that space, Ganeshan would just have written a book, with detailed descriptions of the battle. It would have taken considerably less space. It would have meant that humans would have to use a very infrequently used faculty now, namely, imagination, but it would have done the job.

Now, getting back to the topic at hand. Maya, how do you think people who drew the DNA structure on paper interacted with it?

Maya – With their imagination, I guess.


Maya – But how? It’s so hard to imagine this stuff! And reading is so difficult! Why not just call a 3D model of it and let the comp process it for you?

You must realize that there was very little that comps could do back then. In fact, there was a time when comps didn’t even exist! Nowadays, all you have to do to start studying is to press a button on the memlets around your necks. But back then, knowledge was slowly being transformed from paper to comps and comps didn’t have the capabilities needed for this kind of work. In fact, for a long time, people depended on screens to display information to them!

Puline – What? So you’re saying that they moved from 2D paper to 2D screens? Lame!

Decorum Puline. But you’re right. Our ancestors weren’t the brightest bunch. It didn’t occur to them that the upgrade from paper would be something that takes them into a third dimension. Instead, they chose to make it the same 2D structure, but put it on comps and then on what they called the Internet, which is, in a way, the great-great-great grandfather of the psynet.

That brings me to the last question. How do you think peeps took books from one place to another? How about we get an answer out of Anhel. We’ve barely heard a sound out of you today.

Anhel – yeah, I’m a little distracted today.

Is there something you’d like to share with us today?

Anhel – No, no. Anyways, what was the question?

How do you think peeps carried books around?

Anhel – I don’t know. Did they put them on some sort of fuel powered hovers like we use at home?

Haha! No. I like your imagination, but the thing is, hovers came into existence only about five hundred years ago. What they did was that they had things called bags. If you ever observe the food delivery at home, you’ll notice that individual types of foods are packaged in custom-built air silos. Early mankind, however, had to create containers out of paper or cloth or something that they called ‘plastic’ and use those to store and transport goods, including books. Imagine you all, coming to school, with bags hanging over your shoulders, with books inside them!

Well, that’s all for today’s lecture. Have fun at home and don’t forget next week’s timings because they’re a little different. Good day!

Author’s Note – I’d like to thank my friends Ronnie and Rahul for editing this post. They both provided invaluable editorial feedback and are really cool people. I’d recommend you follow them on twitter, because, apparently, that’s a thing to do.

[Fiction] How the seasons came to be.

There once was a King who had two great scientists in his court. He encouraged them to discover the laws of the world and loved hearing of their discoveries in court. One day, the scientists came to him and told him that they had calculated precisely, the time it takes for the Day and the Night to come and go from the Kingdom. They told him of twenty-four of what they called hours, split into minutes of sixty each and each of those of minutes went on to become sixty seconds.

The King was delighted! Long had he wanted to know how time went on, how the day turned into the night and when he could tell his people to come visit him. Now he had that means. He could tell his people when the court of the King would start and his spies that their visitation would have to be at a set time of the night. Continue reading

The boy looked on as raindrops kept falling on the windshield in an uneven fashion. The car was fast and the terrain was whooshing past without refrain. The raindrops were now forming teams and racing down to the bottom, to their ultimate destiny, the race deciding on their fates. The bright light from the sky glinted in the boy’s eyes and he leaned forward to track the race better. The windshield was now nearly full and the two drops that had started it all were gaining speed and weight. The boy was now rooting for one of the drops and hating the other with all his heart. The father, who was driving, noted loudly, “hmmm, can’t see anything!” and simply hit the wiper switch once, to clear the screen. Suddenly, the race was gone, the raindrops were gone and their destinies were gone. The boy stared on, not sure what to do now.

In a few minutes, two new raindrops were racing and the boy was rooting hard for one of them. Indeed, the other one was evil. The drops were now thin, because the rain had increased and as often as the drops picked up new passengers, they were hit by falling drops and split into smaller bits. The father again said, “Bah! Can’t see anything in this rain!” and turned the wiper on. The race was again gone and so was the glint in the boy’s eyes.

The wife and kids were out. He had the entire place to himself and for the longest time, he just sat on the sofa and relaxed for a much deserved break from work. Soon, he noticed the dust on the carpet. He brought out the vacuum and worked his way from the living room all the way to the bedrooms. Then he noticed that one of the bulbs was out and he went ahead and replaced it. After that, he realized that the trash needed to be thrown and the laundry done, so he did all that. Finally, feeling tired, he sat down on the couch and blinked. By the time he woke up, the family was pulling into the drive-way and he realized he’d done all those things only in his dreams.

[Fiction] The Cake Economy

I looked over the class. Some were bored, some where mentally absent and a few of the front row people were busy taking notes. This had been a boring class, covering financial systems and economies. I’d been droning on myself, without realizing the effect I had on the class. So, I decided to step out of it.

That’s exactly what I did, I stepped out from behind the lectern and came near the edge of the student desks. The unprecedented activity sent waves across the class and attention rose by 45%. I spoke to the students directly, perhaps the first time since I started teaching the class, “Well students, I’ve been telling you about financial systems all this time, but there’s no better way to explore them than to have a full-scale example in front of us. So, here’s what we’re going to do.” A couple of pens quickly arose to take notes. “We’re going to have a discussion,” the pens went down just as quickly, “and we’re going to talk about a fictional world where cake is the currency.” A few puzzled looks here and there amused me, this was going to be a fun lecture.

“Well, let’s begin, what do you think the world would be like if cake was the currency?”

The class geek spoke first, uncertain of questioning my idea, “but ma’am, how can cake be a currency? It’s perishable!”

“Excellent question, how can something perishable be a currency?”

The one-timer’s hand was raised, so I let him speak. “Ma’am, you’d have to make cake that can last a long time. Maybe even plastic cake.” A couple of students laughed. The one-timer was a student who used his wit once in a while, but when he did, it was always a very good idea. Too bad that he didn’t use it all the time. Unlike cake, brain power is not a perishable.

“Well, let’s remember one thing,” I responded to no one in general, “cake is supposed to be cake, it’s supposed to be edible and tasty. You can’t have plastic cake just like you can’t use monopoly money to buy candy. But yes, you all are on the right track. Pretty soon, people would figure out preservatives to keep the cake longer and yet remain tasty.”

“But I’d just eat it all instead of using it to pay my rent.” Someone from the back had decided to join the conversation. After a few laughs, I answered that idea, “true, you’d try at first. But how much cake can you eat? See unlike money, which you can’t directly consume, cake is an edible commodity, but a rather heavy food, right?”

“And what about transportation?” a girl spoke out of turn, “you can’t lug all that cake around, so I guess you’d need cake banks.”

“Yes, you cannot take cake with you on travels. You cannot ship large amounts of cake without peril and wastage, so your currency would be subject to the laws of nature a lot more than traditional currencies.”

The class geek raised his hand and started speaking, lest someone else beat him to the idea, “and really, how can you have cake as a currency? It’s going to go bad so quickly. You can’t transport large quantities and there’s the risk that someone will just eat all your money!”

“All things true, but then, what is the effect of cake going bad quickly? How does that affect the economy?” I asked. The geek stared back at me without an answer. He’s not thought that far. Lucky for him, someone else answered, a girl sitting in the second row, “it would mean that transactions would be really fast. You cannot have any savings if your currency is going to go bad in a few days tops. You’d just keep buying stuff.”

“Excellent point! You’d have an economy where consumption is more important than savings. Banks would have no money to lend out to people! Now, what about the baking process itself? What about the ingredients?”

A boy in the back raised his hand and I let him speak, “Ma’am, the ingredients would be controlled completely by the government. The baking itself would be done by them and whenever you’d need to buy something, you’d have to go to the bank-bakery and get a new cake baked.”

“Excellent point! Governments love to control the flow and creation of money. So cake would become nothing less than a scarce commodity, which could only be baked by the government’s bakeries. Now, what about piracy?”

The previous boy’s girlfriend had her hand raised before I had finished my question, so I let her speak first. She said, “Well, ma’am, you’re not considering other things about the cake itself. There’s a variety of cakes out there. So many designs, so many flavors, so many ways to decorate them. Each cake would have to be evaluated based on those features and then it’s market value would be set.”

“An excellent point! You can’t just have bland cake. The government would try to standardize the cake, but there are always inconsistencies. Also, people have certain preferences in cake. In general, the government could enforce a vanilla cake with the government’s logos on it, but that would not prevent people from liking chocolate or red velvet cake. People would barter based on their personal preferences. Now, coming back to the question of piracy, does anyone here think that cakes can be pirated or forged?”

Someone from the middle rows answered, “Of course, people will try. But the government controls so much of the economy that they’ll also control the ingredients of the cake. It’d be very difficult for someone to procure the same ingredients.”

“True,” I replied, “difficult, not impossible. Then you’d hear about cake crime, where criminals and the mafia would go about stealing flour so that they can fake cake.”

“But then,” someone chipped in, “the government would set a single design for the cakes and make that a standard. If a cake has that design, it’s a legal tender, otherwise not.”

“Absolutely! The government would definitely try to do that. They would also try to make the cake secure by adding a secret toxic ingredient, which would evaporate during the baking process if bakes in the right conditions. Of course, this would be met with some resistance, since the government is not perfect at baking cake and they’d screw up the process a couple of times.”

“So, essentially,” said one of the boys in the back, “there could be a scenario where the government finds a counterfeiter and makes them eat their own cake to see if the person gets diarrhea or not.”

The class laughed a bit before settling down and I asked my next question. “Has anyone else got anything to say about cake as a currency?”

The rich boy of the class answered, “frankly, I wouldn’t be caught lugging cake around, I’ll just get one of my servants to do it for me.”

“But what if your servant isn’t there with you? You’d not be able to buy anything anywhere,” I interjected.

“Not really,” he replied, “All the usual places I go to know me well. They know that I can easily afford what they have on sale. So they’d let me buy it and pay later.”

“That means they’d be giving you cake credit?”

Someone else answered, “Yes, that makes sense. Just like in real life, I get credit as a means of knowing if I can pay off a loan, in the cake world, I’d be able to prove that I can procure that much cake at a later date. Cake credit would work, specially if people don’t want their cake right now but at the end of the month.”

“Excellent! Now, two more things – what about the rich folk? Right now the people who own mines or oil fields, essentially natural resources, are the ones who quickly get rich. Whenever they need money, they simply sell off a bit of their property, or lease it, and they get money in return. What about the cake economy? Who’d get rich quick?”

“Well, the government has to procure goods from somewhere,” someone on the first bench chipped in, “they’ll just go to the farmers and ask for their crops. That way, those people will have more to barter for than, say, a software engineer, who has very little to do with the production of cake.”

“Wonderful! Now, one last thing – What do you all think about the type of cake? Would you want every type of cake everywhere or would countries decide on National flavors and stick with those?”

The class unanimously declared that they’d want every type of cake everywhere.

“Well, if you guys are allowed, cake would become an international currency and be valued the same everywhere. But that’s not how the real world works, right? There might be some countries that produce more cocoa than others, so they’d hold chocolate cakes to a lesser value than, say, banana pound cake.”

A few murmurs went through the class. I continued to wrap up, “it’ been an interesting discussion so far. I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have. There’s no better way to understand economics than to pick up a somewhat real model. Now, let’s quickly review the actual financial terms and ideas that we’ve studied here.” I spent the next ten minutes summarizing some of the terms the class had just talked about and I noticed that they were more attentive than before.

“Class, it’s been a wonderful lecture and I love the participation that you’ve given today. I will be adding today’s participation points to your final grade. If there are still people who haven’t contributed, you should do so now.”

Before I could even finish my sentence, a hand shot up from the absolute back of the class. The gamer girl, Trisha, had suddenly woken up to the prospect of her classmates getting a few more grade points than her.

“Well Trisha, get up and tell us what you have to say.”

Trisha got up slowly and kept staring at me for a few seconds. I had noticed that she’d been tapping away throughout the lecture and realized that she’d probably not heard any of it. Just to help her out, I reiterated the question, “Trisha, we’ve been talking about how the world would be if we used cakes as a currency and have cake credit. Do you have anything to say about the cake economy?”

Without even blinking, she replied, “The cake? The cake is a lie.”

The class roared with laughter as I finished the lecture, knowing full well that now, they knew everything there was to know about finance.

This post is inspired by @neilco on ADN. The thread that inspired this post sits here. Others have written about the cake economy too.