It’s been a long time since I’ve finished any kind of fiction. On my way home, I was listening to a podcast and was instantly inspired. The following was my exercise–a way back into writing.
In the Neverending Story, a fantasy novel once adapted into a film, there is a point in the narrative in which the world is wiped clean and the protagonist must recreate the world through his imagination. Using some magical device in the story, all of his thoughts will become reality. Once he succeeds in doing so, this power disappears. And, of course, he eventually succeeds.
But centuries later–or perhaps just in another dimension–a small pocket of that same universe-building magic appears in a suburban neighborhood east of San Francisco. It only opened for a small moment as a man passed through it, and he had a single thought. And it was enough to change his world a little, and his dog’s world a lot.
The man was walking his dog when this happened. He had some off-brand headphones in his ears while listening to a podcast about quantitative scopal ambiguity. Having walked this route so many times with his dog, he paid less attention to the shimmering in the air and more attention to the random thoughts entering his head.
He sneezed as he passed through the shimmering air, and now his dog would live forever in a tragedy.
Being a dog, he could never quite reason out his fate; but time leaves a mark, whether you are dumb or brilliant.
As they both happily walked down the street to turn the corner, Scottie sensed something was wrong. The man didn’t. He was bewildered when he finally looked up to see a deer 50 feet ahead on the sidewalk. By this time, his thoughts had already turned to other things and while some part of him registered a strange coincidence, his conscious self just stood there in confusion.
Scottie started barking.
“It’s okay, Scottie. It’s just a deer. We’ll go around.” The deer’s eyes seemed to follow them as the man and his dog crossed the street.
“Huh, that’s really strange.” The man turned away from this odd occurrence. Scottie pulled against his owner, but being a rather small Yorkshire Terrier, the man barely needed to tug on the leash to pull him back. “Oh no, Scottie, I don’t think you want to face off against that beast.” Danger! is what Scottie felt though, and he wanted to protect his owner.
His owner didn’t see as the deer started to approach. Scottie wanted to yell something that his human could understand, but all that came out were yelps that were meaningless to the man.
The deer started to charge.
Scottie found the energy to bark even louder, finally getting the attention of his owner, but it was too late.
“What the–” The man put his arms in front of him, letting go of the leash too late. The deer rammed straight into the man’s arms and chest, knocking him hard against the fence and breaking one of his wrists.
Then he turned toward his real target. The dog attempted to bite down sharply on one of the deer’s legs, but to no avail.
The man looked up just in time to see the deer buck up and plant its hooves squarely on Scottie
The next day, the man and a couple of his close friends woke up early to memorialize Scottie. Little did they know that down the street, Scottie was just waking up. And in the shadows of an alley, Deer lied in wait.
Every morning, Scottie woke up to new owners. He greeted them enthusiastically, as he only had, at most, a day to spend with his companions. And protect them.
He didn’t think much of the creature that stalked him. There was no telling when Deer would strike. And if he did, he just hoped that the suffering would be quick before he started a new year with a new set of humans who loved him.
The large doe had no idea why she was taken from her forest and placed in this strange human establishment, nor did she know why she felt compelled to hunt this dog that never seemed to truly die. All she knew was that this was now her mission, even if she sometimes pitied the small creature.
She also wished nothing but a quick death for him.
The man once revisited the podcast, and he thought he must be crazy. It had to be a coincidence. But this is what he had heard on that fateful day in which he lost his dog:
Exploiting scope ambiguity is actually a fairly common device in humor. Here’s another example from a recent conversation that I had about the surprisingly dangerous skills of deer:
Every year, somebody’s dog gets killed by a deer. It’s always the same person. She never learns. You just shouldn’t have a Chihuahua in Churchill, Manitoba.
Wait, how many dog-owners are involved? How many dogs? Are the dogs coming back to life? Let’s paraphrase the sentence again. It will make it sound a bit awkward, but it will also be easiest to see what I’m getting at:
Every year, someone owns some dog and that dog is killed by some deer.
Wow, that’s complicated. We’ve got one every (every year) and three somes (some owner, some dog, and some deer). Let’s break it down. First, the most logical meaning of the sentence, where owner, dog, and deer are all different (option #1) or even that the owner and dog are different but there’s a single predatory deer in the neighborhood (option #2).
Whenever you have more than one quantifier in a sentence, you have the potential for their scopes to interact with each other in multiple ways.
Next, we have the still fairly plausible option that the same owner keeps buying new dogs (the owner is an ill-fated chihuahua aficionado) and each year the new dog undergoes a tragic deer-related incident, whether all perpetrated by the same deer (option #3) or by different deer (option #4).
With less probability but with greater entertainment value comes the possibility that the same owner has one dog that keeps resurrecting itself every year only to meet the same untimely fate, whether by the same deer each year (option #5) or by a different deer (option #6).
Lastly and perhaps most bizarrely, we have the option that there’s this one dog that keeps resurrecting itself but that it finds a new owner every year, whereupon it meets its demise, again either at the hooves of one particular deer (option #7) or various different deer (option #8).
Whew! And we got all of these meanings from the same sentence: Every year, someone’s dog gets killed by a deer. You might need to pause and puzzle it through for a minute, but they’re all possible.