From: (Matthew Skala)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: Yes means no (Cross Product ch. 10)
Date: 1 Dec 2000 21:10:10 -0800
Organization: Ansuz
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[Chapter 10 of a larger work.  Chapters 1-7 at ,
others being posted concurrently.]

Yes means no

Late afternoon we started looking for a place to camp.  We had hoped to
reach the summit, but we'd made slower progress than we had expected, and it
looked more reasonable to camp about halfway up and go for top in the
morning.  This was not consistent with my experience of walking all the way
to the top and back in one day when I had been alone; I guess the heavy
packs were slowing us down a fair bit more than we'd thought.  Fortunately,
the other side of carrying heavy packs was that we had plenty of supplies
and could easily stay the whole three-day weekend; even if we ran over a
little, none of us would really get in much trouble if we missed half a work
day on Monday.

We found a nice flat place in a rocky clearing.  The trail sloped up sharply
just before and after it, and we had a good view out across the interior of
the Island.  I was surprised not to see any clearcuts, since I thought the
whole area other than the park had been recently logged.  Maybe we were
looking out into more of the park; I didn't really know just how big it was.
We took off our packs and spent a few minutes generally scouting around and
unpacking.  It was a little early yet, but we were all hungry, so Jeff set
up a camping stove, and we cooked our dinner and ate it.  Then it seemed
like we ought to set up our tents.

As Rick was pulling a tent out of its bag, and I moved to grab the other end
and help him, Taylor sidled up to me and said, "Could I talk to you a
moment?  Alone?"  I set down my end of the tent, and Jeff came up to take it.
I followed Taylor into the woods.  After we had gone a short distance down
the slope and had turned a corner, out of sight of the others, she stopped
and faced me.  "Do you know what a safeword is?"

I hate questions like that.  Any answer I could give would force me to limit
my future options.  If I said "yes" and she didn't know herself, or
pretended not to know, I'd have to explain it, which would in turn involve
admitting to knowing about a lot of other stuff I might not want Taylor to
know I knew.  On the other hand, if I said "no", then at any time in the
future, there'd be other things I'd also have to pretend innocence of, or
else admit that I had lied about safewords.  I couldn't tell whether she
knew what a safeword was, and was testing me, or actually didn't know
herself.  I hate these kinds of head games.

Why was I even bothering to think it through to that level?  Of course she
knew and was just testing me; after all this was the queen of weird we were
talking about here, at least until Mella took over the title.  She probably
had her own dungeon in the basement, right next to the laundry room.  Can't
shock Taylor.  "Well," I began carefully, "a safeword is a sort of escape
clause.  When people play certain kinds of games that can stop being fun
very quickly, they agree in advance that if anyone says the safeword, the
game is immediately over.  Back to reality, no questions asked."

She shook her head.  "I'd like to live in your world, I really would.  It
sounds like a nice place.  But over there," and she pointed off into the
woods, "is something more like reality.  Or less, I can't tell anymore.
Don't bother checking, it's gone now."

I walked a few paces in the direction she had pointed anyway, then stood
staring.  Nothing there but trees.  She came up behind me, face over my right
shoulder, so close I could feel the thermal infrared from her body against
the back of my ear.  Diffracting around the fine short hairs on my neck.
She spoke, softly.

"I didn't want to say this to the group for fear of alarming the others or,
ah, prejudicing their perceptions.  But I had an, um, experience, I thought
I ought to tell you about it."  I considered saying something but didn't
know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.  She continued.  "I came down
here for a pee break, walked just the other side of that thick clump of

"On the other side, just as I was squatting down, I saw a sort of glimmer
through the trees, and I stood and went to investigate.  Very suddenly the
forest ended.  I was standing there in bright sunlight doing up my belt at
the edge of this green lawn next to a cul-de-sac and some houses.  Just like
you described when you first encountered Godstown."

"There was a sign there, but it wasn't the same as what you described.  It
was all violent imagery, stuff like 'THE CLAW IS THE LAW' and so forth.
Also some stuff that was sort of like rules, like 'IT MUST NOT SPEAK' and
'CURFEW 8PM'.  I did think to write it all down but I didn't have a pen in
my pocket and I didn't have time.  At the top and bottom it said 'REMEMBER

"There was a young cop there with a big black stick and he started walking
towards me and asking if I would submit to the local authority.  I didn't
answer, and he kept coming.  I spooked and ran into the forest, and then I
couldn't find him or the place again."  I turned around, nearly hitting
Taylor in the face with my own, because she had been standing that close to
me.  I hastily took a step back, the bushes crackling around me.

"RCMP?"  "What?"  "The cop, was he RCMP?"  She tilted her head to one side.
"I don't know.  I don't think so.  I just got a vague impression of
'police-ness'.  I guess they don't have Sooke police?"  "That's right, it's
just RCMP in Sooke.  But I was thinking there could be some kind of military
or secret-agent stuff up here.  It'd be really interesting to know."  "Well,
I didn't take notes on the uniform.  Sorry."

"Well," I said, "if the 'local authority' or whatever it is will respect
safewords, things can't get too horribly bad."  She laughed shortly.  "The
more fool you!  But I'm more interested in just the general experience.
That's two people now, you and me, who've sort of played the same scene with
a lot of the stuff the same: the sudden end of the forest, the cul-de-sac,
the sign, the man who challenges us.  But other stuff is different, like
what's on the sign, and I saw a young man and you saw an old one and so on.
It's like we're each seeing the same thing through a different filter, and
by implication we are both seeing it through some filter instead of

"Kind of like a dream?" I asked.  "Exactly," she said.  "Or someone or
something messing with our minds.  That's why I didn't want to tell the
others what happened to me, if they have a similar experience it'll be more
informative if we know they didn't get the idea from me, even though you
have already contaminated them with your own story.  Also I'm not one
hundred percent thrilled about what my own experience may say about how my
own mind works, although that's my own problem, of course."

"Hey, for whatever it's worth, I don't think you're completely perverse," I
said.  Taylor smiled wistfully.  "Thanks - I wish you knew me well enough
for that to mean something."  "Well, maybe we should hang out more," I said.
Without thinking I thrust my hands into my pockets.  There was a sudden
pain in my left hand, in the web between my thumb and index finger; I yanked
the hand back out of my pocket and found a shiny steel fishhook embedded in
my skin.  I carefully removed it and threw it away; the cut was not serious.
Taylor watched wide-eyed, but didn't need to say anything.

We walked in silence back to the campsite.  As my head rose above the edge
of the rock, I saw Rick and Jeff standing on the other side of the where the
tents were laid out, at the edge of the forest near the opening of the trail
that led further up the Mountain.  One tent was unrolled but otherwise
untouched; the other seemed to have been abandoned, halfway pitched.  They
were standing close together.  Jeff was shifting excitedly from one foot to
another and craning his neck around as if looking for something.  Rick had
his head tilted to one side.

Rick glanced over his shoulder and saw me as I climbed up on the rocks, and
held up a hand as if to say "halt".  Then he put his finger to his lips for
a moment, and then pointed vigorously up the trail.  I looked, but couldn't
see anything.  I walked slowly towards them, trying to keep quiet, with
Taylor right behind me.  As I got closer I could hear two voices, a male and
a female, arguing.  There were a lot of big trees between us and them, but
at one point I caught a glimpse of white that I didn't think could be
natural, and I thought it must be someone's clothing, or very pale skin.  I
recognized the female voice as Mella's, light and bubbly; the male voice was
a hard growl.  It sounded familiar but I couldn't quite pin it down.

The first words I could make out were her saying, "Now look what's
happening.  Two more today.  Your time is running out.  I know people don't
understand about time running out back where you come from, but if you come
here you play by our rules."  He said, "Not inside the sanctuary."  "You mean
inside the circle, of course, and if you think you know about circles, you
know zero."  "Don't change the subject, you know what I meant.  Now what are
you going to do about it?  There was a bargain."  "Not with me there wasn't."
"You consented!"  "I didn't say anything, if that's what you mean.  But
you don't even understand my language.  You couldn't possibly.  Yes means
no."  "That's not how you saw things a few years ago."

"Well, I'm allowed to change my mind.  It's a good day for it.  With five
people, who knows what could happen?  Every man and every woman is a star."
"There's only one of you, girl, and sometimes I think that's far too many
already."  "Don't tempt me.  Read your Matthew, I think it would be, what,
chapter four?  Seventh bridge.  If you try to get rid of witches that way we
can give you a real pain in the ass.  And a few other places!  We breed like
mushrooms.  Anyway, you shall not interfere this time."  "Harrumph!  Well, I
am watching you and all your little friends.  Don't forget that, in your
wickedness."  She laughed, and said, "Blessed be.  In yours."

There was a rustling of bushes and I heard some footsteps on gravel.  Then
Mella burst into view and hurried down the slope towards us.  She looked
exactly as I remembered her from when we first met, and had a perky smile on
her face.  She looked round at the four of us and said, "Oh, welcome all!"
Introductions were made, and without much discussion I found that we were
being led into the woods, which suddenly ended in a gravel area bordering
the modern subdivision I had learned to call Godstown.  The Sun, although
low in the sky, made the grass glow green.  Mella's house, identifiable
by the aluminum foil on the lower windows, was right in front of us.

Matthew Skala                   :CVECAT DELENDA EST