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THE QUICK AND THE DEAD—
ON THE LAST AUSTRALIAN MUNDI

Graybeard (Greg) headed for
The waterless Mundi regions,
Where the winds and the sands
Sculpted and streaked the rocks,
And where the Knights Templar
Of the armor plates
Would be at a disadvantage…

There he waited and looked up
At the sharp white stars.

Soon his pursuers would arrive,
For he had let it out
That this was his destination;
However, all was never as it seemed.

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On the Last Mundi, or was it Tuesday,
Greg (Graybeard’s alter ego) was walking
Along the windswept plain of the Mundi
On his way back to his camp at the large rock,
Returning from a hike in the mountains.

It had been a good day with nature;
He already felt somewhat primeval.

It was almost dusk
And so the stars of home
Would soon shine above and beyond.

It was good to get away to see and learn
What more that this life was all about.

What’s that!
A mad rabid dog ran out from the shadows,
Heading crazily but swiftly toward Graybeard…

How did he know all this?
Of what is a human made?

Would an acute fear response
Give him a good shot at staying alive?
Should he confront or avoid?

In this case he would have to
Try to avoid by flight
And then perhaps confront by fight,
Which is really more like a freeze,
There being flight, fight, or fright.

We are actually hardwired to flee first,
But if overtaken we must defend,
Although a trancelike passive state
Of being filled with fear is also possible.

Within seconds Graybeard was primed;
His pupils were dilated
And his respiration had sped up.

He stopped producing saliva
And sweat poured out all over;
His blood rushed away from his stomach
To soak his brain and muscles
In nutrients and oxygen,
Energizing him for what lay ahead.

He froze, watched, and listened
But only for a second.

Light waves flashing off of the dog’s teeth
Had passed through his eyes
That could now see all the better.

Electric signals had entered his brain,
The visual information
Routed to the opposite sides,
This depth perception helping him
To better locate and keep track
Of the oncoming and insane assailant.

The sound waves of
The dog’s growling and barking
Crashed against the tympanic membranes
Of his ears and were on into his brain
As sounds to be processed.

Yes all this as well in a second or two.

Within milliseconds,
Neurotransmitters chemically
Ferried electric signals
From one neuron to the next,
Spreading the latest news of the dog
To a quick response unit
Born of ancient times.

The sensory information had funneled
Deeper into the brain for further analysis.

Graybeard’s vast network of neurons
Lit up like a Christmas tree.
The ultimate decision would be made
By the amygdala—the “fear” center.

Would there just be cause
For a temporary alertness
Or should there be
A full-fledged fear response?

The dog was going wild;
There were no trees to climb;
There was little chance for escape, but….

The amygdala sent a siren sounding
Through Graybeard’s brain,
Having cued the locus ceruleus
In the brain stem to release gobs
Of the neurotransmitter nor-epinephrine.

Twin brain structures
At the bottom of the head,
The cerebellum,
Considered various attempts
For escape or of self-defense.

All of Graybeard’s ancestors
Had now arisen to heed the threat.

The brain stem had sent
An all-points bulletin,
This constricting his blood vessels
And inhibiting all ordinary
Parasympathetic nervous activity.

His throat tightened
In case a scream was necessary;
His body was preparing for the worst.

This real danger was
What his formerly safe life
Had come down to.

To stare death in the face
Was now to live twice.

The dog was fifty yards away
And bearing down upon him,
Its nature having gone wilder than wild.

The spinal cord had aided the cascade
Of the acute fear response
To all the corners of Graybeard’s body,
Activating the peripheral nervous system
Of his arms and legs, among other senses,
To attend to stimuli
Of the new and dangerous environment.

Greg threw a few stones;
No effect. Some more; nothing;
They could not halt
The foaming rabid beast.

The flight signal had reached his muscles,
Their fibers already contracted
To increase his running ability;
Heart and legs racing,
He ran and then looked back
To see the savage dog gaining on him…

He threw a larger stone;
It even hit the dog,
But there was no overall effect.

Graybeard reflected on
All his years on ToeQuest,
Wishing that he had said “boloney”
A few more times.

The crossroads all went nowhere;
The signposts pointed to oblivion.

The vicious dog was almost upon him,
So he stopped and waited
And planned for the fight,
Having but a second.

He wished that he
Had brought a weapon along;
There was not even a stick
Or a branch lying about.

He recalled his bevy of girlfriends,
But for the one he had given Austin,
For she was not much of a scientist.

Eternity called out Greg’s name.
But this was a wrong number,
For he was now totally
Graybeard the Magnificent.

The foaming dog leapt for Graybeard;
Even one bite wold be fatal—
Graybeard’s sturdy hiking boot
Caught the dog in the throat
As he kicked toward that vital area,
Stunning the dog
And sending him to the ground.

Just as the dog was about to recover,
Graybeard dropped a knee
Into his head and crushed it,
The poor creature’s brains
Splattering all over the ground.

Greg’s body and mind still swirled
With the rapid firings
Of the acute fear response
But he eventually calmed down.

There was a sour taste
In his mouth—
His salivary glands
Were turning back on,
A good sign that his life
Was returning to normal.

He walked back to camp
And drank the beer
That his glands had further requested.

Greg wondered how ninja Graybeard
Had accomplished the kill, then thought,
“Thank you, evolution and natural selection!
You made me what I am today.”

Another dog arrived, a tame one.
Greg talked to it like a friend.

Mundi Epilog

‘Twas the Pope’s highest Cardinal [Sin] himself
Who’d ordered the assault on the Gray One,
And so the end was to be at hand,
But on the other hand Graybeard had algae,
And had flung it into the eyes of his pursuers,
Then patted the end of his horse.

The knights faltered and gave up the chase
But the spiritual chasers appeared in their stead,
Stating unscientific theories,
Such as “God is”.

And then?
The Spiritual Chasers of God Arrived.

Meanwhile, science was (re)written
To say that some ancient wise men
Had long ago discovered
The weak and strong nuclear forces
While thinking about earth, air, fire and water,
Then correlating it to consciousness.

One of the ancient ones discovers a photon,
As well as the entire electromagnetic spectrum,
The strong force and the weak force,
Which corresponds to thought,
But they called it “Taurus”.

The spiritualists wanted it all;
They had to ordain themselves as “special”,
Above and beyond all the rest,
For that way they could be deserving
Of even more reward in the afterlife,
All this born out of their pride
Of their very own Divine Creation…
That they made up.

Greg had befriended some of the spirituals
But had to use logic on some of those remaining…

From the top of a large weathered rock,
Graybeard cried out, “Where is God?”

Each spiritual answered in turn:

“He is between our heartbeats and breaths.”
“He is life.”
“He is the universe.”
“He is love.”
“He is everywhere.”
“All is of His illusion.”

Graybeard answered,
“You have said nothing but life is life,
And that the universe is the universe and so forth,
Just equating one real thing
With another name of an invisible thing
That is even quite undefined in the first place.

Who are you all that makest all of these words
Plied upon and on top of what is?”

“We are the spiritual chasers of God;
We label Him as anything
And everything we choose.”

Old Gray, looking a bit like God himself,
With his long gray and flowing beard, continued,
“Are you human mammals of such recent vintage
So extraordinarily important and special
In the whole entire scheme of things
That took so many tens of billions of years
To stumble along in such as haphazard way?”

“Yes.”

“Do a trillion stars exist just to illumine your night?”

“Yes.”

“Do forty million species thrive just for your delight?”

“Yes.”

“And is all of space just for show, to glorify you?”

“Yes.”

“Did the supernovae stardust showers
Of the atomic elements write the names
Of future humans across the sky way back when?”

“Yes.”

“Does every atom exist and spin to service you?”

“Yes.”

“Did Proto-men, and before them, and all, live,
Die and suffer only for your promise?”

“Yes.”

“So then every dinosaur,
And more was condemned
So you could gain a space
To live, war and kill?”

“Yes.”

“Does the sun shine with you in mind?”

“Yes.”

“Was Heaven’s Shrine built just to await your coming?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my, religious ones, how vain and proud you all are!
What hubris, conceit, self-love, and vanity
Have you to claim such full self-importance
To demand so much from the universe…

“That you would even claim an angelic vapor that
Drives a living being, provides character,
Morality, and consciousness on top of
A burdensome, fragile, and expensive
Organ such as a brain ne’er to be used?

“It’s a silliness born from exaggerated
Self-worth, an invisible hilarity—
Becoming a merciless indoctrination.
May you all soon recover your humility.”

As such spoke the humble Graybeard to show
The truth of what we all are: mammal, organic,
Past narcissism and self-adulation
To the bio-electro-chemical organism
Evolved upon a planet near a star
In the long and winding mindless way of
Slow time, dust, and selection by death that
Sifts the best from the rest: evolution.

And such did Analog once observe that
The creature out thinks the creator,
With inferior tools, to imagine a
Much more peaceful and enjoyful world,
And that it is emotion that creates
Delusions of heavenly scenarios of
Creation, and an existence beyond death.

These are lessons in humility to all
Mammals grown so high and haughty…

So… enjoy it all as though you will never
Know it again; for who is to say that you shall?

Only one spiritual was left at the base of the rock,
But she had Graybeard surrounded…
With her words on evolution symbolized by the Bible.

“That’s it,” said Gray Newt, “I’m gone”,
And so he fired up his jet pack
And launched himself into the sky
Toward the white patches of vapor and fluff.

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Some of the aboriginals now thought him a God—
And so he became the legend:
That God was an old white-haired
[Gray bearded]
Guy sitting on a cloud.

Mundi Memories

Greg walked to the mountain and back,
Sitting safe on some lone rock for the lack
Of any other seat to pick but that of his own;
Wherewhence he slept, thinking he was all alone.

As there he lay asleep so peacefully in repose,
Some dogs wandered by and licked his nose.
And while he turned untossed, a kangaroo
Of boundless flight, hopped over him, too.

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The Great Equalizer stalks all creatures made,
Lying ever just ‘round the corner in the shade,
Taking both human and the beetle as one,
After their lives are spent from rolling some dung.

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