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Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Intelligent Horse part I


            The intelligent horse is the story of the intelligent horse. The intelligent horse is: gone. So is the story, you might say, but the title is somewhat misleading, it should say, “the story of the intelligent horse and other nonsense”, but I felt that nonsense shouldn’t be used in a title. And, anyway, the horse is not gone as in dead, it’s only lost. As usually happens, he was noticed only after he got lost, though this is down to his owner, Mr Hesp, for the most part. He kept the horse away from everybody until somebody found him dead lying in his garden next to a chess table with his skull crushed. The perpetrator was apparently a horse judging from the horseshoe pattern visible on his forehead. Hesp was a reclusive millionaire; no one knew him well, though, now that he’s gone I guess there will be a few distant relatives creeping out of the shadows.
                Police found tons of home videos and this is how the world got to know Six Ways to Sunday. This was the name of Mr Hesp’s horse, a 5 year old flea-bitten grey coloured stallion. It turned out, after watching hours and hours of footage that the horse was originally named Seven Ways to Sunday as it was born on a Monday, and this was the best they could come up with. He was almost six-months-old when he proved logically that his name doesn’t make any sense. This logical demonstration was what made Hesp realise how clever his horse really was as up to that point he had only said dull things like the grass is bitter and the stable smells. The stallion was thenceforth known as Six Ways to Sunday, even though they later realised that his reasoning was faulty as he had used a false premise but this was a common beginners’ mistake. As more and more footage was leaked, our city, Rotham:, got to know this strange animal, as he was growing up, running around happily as a foal, taking long walks with Hesp on his back. On these rides they conversed about all kinds of topics ranging from history through biology to the special theory of relativity which is strange because, according to the police, Hesp didn’t know much about this theory.
And this idyllic couple was gone, presumably the horse killed its owner albeit the motives are yet unknown. Obviously, as this news hit the fan every flea-bitten grey horse in a 100-mile radius found itself with a mike under his nose as the whole media community jumped at the opportunity. None of the horses could speak, but some of them tried to chew the mikes off. The silence of the horses. A few newshounds even tried their luck with differently coloured horses in case this murderous stallion dyed his hair, however, this was in vain as well. The city was full of people horsing around.
I was reluctant to join the hunt; still my editor assigned me an area to comb. I was vehemently against it.
'So you are not willing to check it?'
'No. I'd rather write about some other topic.' I defied him.
'What other topic? There’s nothing else!'
'Nothing else?!' I shouted.
He shrugged, 'Nothing worthwhile.'
'There's got to be something. Anything.'
'Alright,' he condescended with a loud snort as he was searching his pockets. 'Ah, there it is,’ he pulled out a piece of paper. ‘I heard some rumours that we might win quite a few prestigious awards in the near future and I need interviews with the nominees to show off, you know, how Rotham: is making headlines for the wrong reasons.'
'For the Rong reasons?' I interrupted.
'That's what I said! Don't interrupt me. Here's the list.' He said handing me the piece of paper.
‘Me? Doing interviews?’
‘Azeu! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!'
He walked away, so I took my headphones and left. I was never good with interviews, I can’t seem to be able to ask the right questions and I can’t stay impartial, can’t stay inhuman. It’s a miracle that I’m still in this job, though mismanagement would better describe it.
There were three names on the list with addresses and phone numbers, Bernard Sicmore, scientist, Nicholas Debruit, composer, and Gordon Sedown, gardener.
I decided to start with the composer as I loved music as well; not specifically movie scores but meaningful music in general. From then on I would continue with the scientist, who lived quite close to the musician, and end with the gardener. He lived a rather long way from the first two, but at least it was close to where I lived. This way I could get home quickly and call it a day, though I’d hardly call this a day.
It was one of the few sunny days of the year. Those who had convertibles dusted it off desperately trying to remember how to look cool. Tired people were sunbathing in front of supermarkets as I was basking in the honour of interviewing future academy and Nobel award winners. Scratch that, I think they actually enjoyed themselves. I tried to look for the musician on the internet but I couldn’t find anything, perhaps the editor misspelled his name. I felt awkward going there without any information about him but I had no choice.
I rang on the composer’s door; the doorbell played Offenbach’s Infernal Gallop, nice touch. An old man opened the door. Calling him old might be an understatement. This poor fellow looked ancient. I expected his house to be filled with musical sheets and instruments scattered all over, but there was nothing music related here just worthless boring stuff that attaches itself to you throughout your life and you can't get rid of it until it suffocates you. Or, at least, clogs your house. We started talking but he didn’t seem keen on bringing his work up, so I had to; I guess that was only natural. 'What is the title of the movie you scored?'
The old man answered in a slow and drawling yet coherent way. 'Title? I can’t remember, there were quite a few.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, you might have misunderstood me. I meant the movie you scored this year. Or did you make more than one this year?’
‘This year? I haven’t made any this year.’
'Last year then?'
'Last year? No, no, my son, all of them were made in 1895.'
'In 1895?'
'Indeed.'
This was bordering the impossible but I still kept on inquiring. 'How old were you at the time?'
'Fifteen.'
'That would make you . . . .'
'One hundred and thirty-four next month.'
'Wow! That is unbelievable.’ He probably heard this often and was unfazed, so I decided to carry on. 'All these movies were filmed in, erm, 1895 but they were released recently?'
'Recently? No, they were released back then.'
'Could you please specify a little bit . . . , for our readers?'
'Well, my father worked in the Lumière household and I used to loiter around...’
‘Hold on! Are you talking about the Lumière brothers, the first filmmakers?’
‘That’s right.’ 
'And they asked you, a fifteen year old boy, to compose the music for their movies?'
'No, not quite. You see, I happened to be there when they made a private premier for a few of their movies. This was the first time that anyone saw them. There were, I don’t know exactly, maybe six or eight movies in total, all of them quite short, around one minute, I guess.  In the heat of the moment, I thought that it would make a better impact with music, so I sneaked to the piano and tried to capture the mood of each. Judging by the frenetic claps at the end I managed to do just that.'
'Weren’t they clapping for the movies?' my curiosity got the better of me.
'They were clapping for both.'
‘I see. Be that as it may, as far as I know, Oscars are only given for the previous year’s movies.'
'That is true.' the old man nodded approvingly.
I thought I wouldn't have to ask this question but, seemingly, he didn't realise the striking discrepancy so I had to. 'So why are you under the impression that you might receive one this year?'
'I've written to the academy explaining them my particular circumstances.'
'Such as?'
'Of course, I am thinking about the fact that I, let's say, invented the film music genre.'
'Pardon?' that's all I could blurt out, I know I should control myself and be an impartial chronicler but I'm a lousy journalist. Luckily, he was more than happy to explain.
'The way I see it, I was the first to score a movie, hence I should be credited as the father of film music and that, I guess, vindicates an Academy Award.'
'I'm sure others would have thought of that as well.'
'That is true, but it was me who actually thought of it. Later on in my life I came up with a specific way of drawing. I was drawing everything in a black and white pattern realizing all kinds of shapes like this.' And he pointed at a checkered drawing on the wall. 'My friends called it, mockingly, table cloth style. I was quite absorbed by it until one day I saw on a side of a flat of blocks two zebras hugging each other, and they were pictured in the exact same style. It turned out that a fellow called Vasarely had thought of that first. So I stopped doing it, no hard feelings, I knew I can't be better than him and, after all, he was the first. I don't mind that, but I do demand to be recognised where it's due.'
'I see. What about the opera? The operetta? Music and visual images went hand in hand since the caveman played the drums while painting the wall.'
'This wasn't an opera or an operetta, and certainly wasn’t a cave. This was something new and I came up with it.'
'I know that others were experimenting with moving pictures as well, Mr Debruit. There was this German bloke who had music composed specifically for his movies. And his premier preceded the Lumière brothers’ show by one month.'
'I'm glad you brought this up. You are thinking of Skladanowsky no doubt.' I nodded, so he continued. 'It's true that his first show preceded the enlightened brothers’ first public show. He had it in November in Berlin; they had it in December same year in Paris. But I played at their private show, which was in March, and I was foolish enough to brag about it in the neighbourhood. There was a Prussian kid there, Linz or something, and I told him as well. Then a month later his family moved back to Prussia. They might have moved to Berlin as far as I know, I can't say that for sure. But I do know that his father was a photographer, and thus, I think it is more than likely that they had met Skladanowsky and told him about my idea.'
'Did you play at the public debut as well?'
'No, I did not. They found someone who could actually play the piano.'
'Does that mean that you couldn't play?'
'No, I could not per se. But I liked it very much.'
'Oh, I see,' I said, though I found all this increasingly hilarious. He had all his answers prepared, though, truth be told, he had time to think about them. I saw that he was convinced he deserved the award, and I wasn't about to shatter an old man's dreams. So I just kept on chatting with him.
'Why have you waited until now to write to the academy?'
'I have written them earlier as well; I think I wrote them for the first time in 1959, and keep on writing to them every year since.'
'Have you ever received a reply?'
'A reply? No, not yet.'
'So why do you think you'll get it this year?'
'I feel the same every year.'
'Are you hoping for an honorary Oscar? You know, for lifetime achievement?'
'Lifetime achievement? No, by no means.'
'Yeah, you're probably right. Honorary means that since you are not willing to die and they are running out of excuses not to give you a proper award, they'll just shut you up with a lifetime achievement award.' I said, though I was quickly running out of niceties to say. 'Would you settle with a Golden Globe?
'Golden Globe? No, no, I need an Oscar.' He kept on shaking his head, then sipped a bit of water and looked at me. I felt sorry for him as I was convinced that he wouldn’t receive even a reply, not to mention an award. To console him I searched for “the world’s oldest man” on my phone and shared my findings with him. 
'I just checked on my phone and the oldest living person in the world is one hundred and sixteen-year-old. What’s more, the longest ever confirmed human lifespan was one hundred and twenty-two years. You could easily surpass both of them and hold two Guinness world records. Wouldn't you be interested in that?'
'Guinness world record? No, I don't care about that. I have already been advised to do it but I'm afraid fame would jeopardise my chances of getting an Oscar.'
'Are you sure? I think the publicity would only boost your odds.'
'No, no, I know the academy; they would find some excuse to leave me with only these meaningless records. I mean I haven’t done anything to achieve it, except that I haven’t died.'
'Have it your way, Mr Debruit. I am going to write your story and I'm sure that it will get published, sooner or later, and I can only hope that it'll help you in your quest.'
'Thank you, that's very kind. May I ask a small favour?'
'Certainly.'
'Could you please leave out my age?'
 'That would be hard to do. I mean, we are talking about you coming up with the idea of movie scores 119 years ago, I'm afraid that would give it away.'
'Oh, I see, yes, yes, you are right. Then, I think, it would be for the best to forget the whole thing.'
'Really?'
'Yes, you could publish it once I received my award.'
'All right then, I'm sorry I wasted your time.'
'That's OK, don't worry about it.'
And I was even more disappointed that I wasted my time, but I couldn't really be mad at this poor old man. I was cursing my editor instead.
It was just a short walk to the scientist’s house, but long enough to bump into someone I knew. I hate when this happens, so many other people to see and I manage to meet someone I know. More or less. It was one of my colleagues; he seemed to be quite in a hurry. He was an annoying fellow, shallow as a puddle on ice.
‘Any luck?’ he asked as he slowed down next to me but didn’t stop.
                ‘Huh?’ that’s all I could manage, which is understandable, as I was mentally beating his face to a pulp.
                ‘Oh, I can see that you haven’t found the horse either, but I’ve got a strong hunch that I’m on the right trail now. Got to go!’ he shouted back as he was already a few steps away. That went fast, I thought and I was genuinely happy about it. I continued on my way, and soon found myself knocking on the door of the scientist, Mr Bernard Sicmore.
                A young man opened the door, but ever so slightly.
                ‘Can I help you?’
                ‘Yes, and I think I can help you as well.’ I replied which made him open the door even more.
                ‘Are you from the Human Guinea Pig Foundation?’
                ‘I heard it called even worse before, but the preferred name is The Rotham: Times. I’m a journalist, and I’m here to talk with you about your invention.’
                ‘Oh, I don’t have time for that, man,’ he said as he was shutting the door on me.
                ‘I can help you test it!’ I shouted desperately.
                ‘You can?’ he opened the door a little more. Again.
                ‘Sure, sure, we’ll talk and experiment if you will.’
                ‘Alright, come on in.’ and he opened the door for me.
                ‘Are you Mr Bernard Sicmore, by any chance?’ I asked him, but I had a feeling he might be an assistant of some sort.
                ‘No, no, just call me Bernie, no Mr please.’
‘Alright mate, that’s cool with me. I’m Azeu.’
He didn’t reply, just walked into a room which looked like a low tech lab to me. All sorts of tools and gadgets were scattered everywhere and in the middle on a shabby table lay a flat black box with some cables sticking out on both sides. That seemed to be his invention, so I fired right away, ‘Is this your invention?’
‘You don’t know about my invention?? Oh man, is tired of this.’ he said, though I didn’t understand exactly what he meant.
‘Sadly there was no time for a brief, but I think it would be best if I heard it from you anyway.’
‘Is sick of this.’ He frowned as he was fiddling with something on the table. The meaning of his words eluded me again, so I waited for a follow up. Usually if I keep quiet people start talking. After a while. Which he did, eventually.
‘Have you noticed how nobody cares anymore?’
‘About what?’
‘About anything. Everything. About each other.’ I thought this to be a rhetorical question so I didn’t answer. ‘Knows why.’ Another cryptic statement, but now I realised that he’s talking about himself in the third person but fails to mention his name, probably expecting Facebook or Twitter to fill it out for him. So now he meant Bernie knows why. And his next words proved that I was right.
‘Nobody cares, because they don’t know what others are going through. There’s no empathy in this world, man. People tried to go philosophical about it or fight it with positive thinking, educating the masses and so on. But words don’t often reach their target, so I thought instead of talking about others’ misery why not experience it? Why not show them, d’you know what I mean?’
‘Yeah, I can follow you,’ I said, but it was clear that he’d have to elaborate on that.
‘So I came up with this,’ he said as he rested his hand on the black device that I spotted earlier on the table. ‘It was fairly easy to do it actually once I came up with the idea. Here in this central part of the machine I have glutamate, which acts as a neurotransmitter, and these two cables are my take on voltage-dependent calcium channels, thus making this instrument an oversized neuron or, if you like, a nerve cell.’ He talked as if these were obvious terms. I had no idea what a gluta-whatsitsname is, nor why are those channels dependent on calcium, but I thought that the emphasis is on what they do, not what they are, so I asked him about the general meaning.
‘A nerve cell? And what does it do?’
’It does what nerves do, man. And this way all the hurters will learn, and everyone can experience my immense pain.'
'Oh, so you are doing this for yourself?'
'No man, not at all, I couldn't care less about myself, just as everybody else doesn't. This is not for me, this is for everybody.'
'I understand,' I said, though I don't think he took it as I meant it. 'My editor sent me here telling me that you are a future Nobel laureate. How do you feel about that?'
'Well, I can't rule that out, I might be the dark horse in that race, but I don't really care about that. It would be nice, of course, but I'm busy with my research.'
'Have you published about your research in any of the scientific publications? I mean, does the scientific community know about you and your work?'
'Yes, I am continuously mailing all the magazines that matter, and I'm sure that by now someone probably nominated me for the prize.'
'As far as I know, it's a requirement that all achievements are tested by time, so usually there is a gap of around 20 years or more between the actual achievement and the nomination. This means that you'll have to wait quite a long time for that prize, does it not?' I asked him, and I ironically noted that my previous subject could have easily passed this step with the 100 odd years he waited.
'You are right about that, man, but I think that's nothing more than a formality.' he said, and as if to shatter any misunderstanding he added, ‘Is feeling proud,’ and seemed genuinely pleased with himself. Slowly I started to realise what his invention really was and what it could do.
‘OK, back to your invention then. Are you telling me that through this you could actually feel someone else's pain?’
‘Yes, that is right. And not only the pain, but any other feelings they are having at that time. You won't own those feelings; you will only feel them as long as you are connected.'
‘Have this been tested yet?’
‘I’ve only tested it on myself so far, and that’s where you come in.’
‘You’ve tested it on yourself? So you have transferred your feelings to you?’
‘Exactly. I hit my left hand, then attached the cables to both hands and I was able to feel the same pain in my right hand as well.’ Throughout the conversation I had a feeling that this might be another ludicrous claim, but now I was sure of it. Still, I had to continue so I kept listening as he went on.
‘But now we can try it on you and me, we'll transfer my feelings to you and then you'll see how it feels to be misunderstood and looked down on.' I didn't need a machine to know that, but I was still following him as he took me to the left side of the instrument. Or the right, as I couldn't tell which way was the instrument facing.
'It only works one way; this is the receiver’s side,' Bernie said. 'Now, all we have to do is make a small incision on your arm, and we can tape this cable there, and we’re ready to go. You’ll feel a pinch now,’ he said as he poked me with a needle. Then he taped the cable to my arm and went to the other side and did the same thing to himself.
‘Are you ready, man?’ he asked and I nodded unconvincingly, but he took it as a yes nevertheless. ‘I’m going to turn this knob now and that will start the machine, at the moment it’s only programmed to run for a fraction of a second, so you’ll only get a glimpse of my pain. All right, here we go!’
He turned it, and I felt a sudden rush of electricity go through my body.





The end of part I



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