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Washington's Hatchet
(posted 2 Jan, 1998, on the occasion of my one-year anniversary as a member of Thomas's Transformation Stories Archive Mailing List)
from J.(Channing)Wells
to everybody else who isn't


An author, me, stands in quiet darkness, his forehead touching the noonday sun.

To my left is the morning, decked out in bright pinkish blues. And to my right are the dusky golds and yellows of evening. I stand in the middle, poised in the eternal present.

It's really a sweet little chapel. It's not called that, of course. It's called a 'meditation room.' The hospital is careful to make absolutely sure that no-one feels left out. To my left and rear flanks are careful, tasteful racks holding books of various prayer. Bibles sit alongside Books of Mormon, which in turn sit beside Korans or however the heck you spell that on normal days. Direct rear is the intricate wooden door. Direct left and Direct right are, again, tasteful padded benches.

Direct fore are the murals. The focal point of the room. Each a study in subtle, frosted glass, illuminated from behind with soft pastel lights, so that each is flooded with color.

There are three. Holy symbols for the Ecumenical.

And in the past, when I had looked at them hard enough, the specific colors that the unknown artist had chosen for each individual mural came to represent for me the Morning, left; the evening, Right; and the Noon, quite center.

I stand in the middle, poised in the eternal present, my forehead touching the noonday sun.

* * *

There is a story that I like to pretend that my grandfather told me, even though he didn't.

In my imagination, my grandfather holds out to me an ordinary-looking hatchet. "This," He would procalaim in his lackadaisical voice, "is the very hatchet that George Washington himself used to cut down that famous cherry tree."

And I would look at it, and I would say, quietly, "Grampa, no, it isn't."

He would look at me, faint amusement crossing his features, and say, "Why do you think that?"

"The blade is new! It's all shiny and stuff."

"Ah." My grandfather would say. "We tried and tried to keep it sharp as time went by, but eventually, we had to replace the blade."

"And the handle!"

"Ah." My grandfather would say. "We tried and tried to keep the handle in good condition, oiling the wood and keeping it well- polished, but eventually, we had to replace that too."

I would stand there, for a moment, thinking about it.

Then, he would say, "So. Is this really Washington's Hatchet?"

And I wouldn't know what to say.

My grandfather is dead now. Rather selfishly, he decided to pass away before ever having that conversation with me. My grandmother as well; I shall not see them again in this life.

This irks me. Because I now _know_ the answer.

The answer is: It all depends.

* * *

My forehead rests lightly against the splash of bright yellow glass that represents the noonday sun. I am looking more closely at it than the artist probably ever had intended anyone to look. From this close range, the yellows and oranges resolve themselves into specks of many-colored pigment that dance and swirl before my vision. I am reminded of the Pointilists, of television sets and of optical fusion. And as I stand there, I am suddenly conscious of the fact that I am Here. This is not the Jeffrey Wells who, not ten minutes earlier, was sitting blandly in the windowless basement computer lab of Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center, scanning the Web for good-quality Lemur Pictures. This is not the Jeffrey Wells who, ten minutes from now, will begin the long walk home through the cold, dark, skeletal Iowa Winter. And this is not the Jeffrey Wells who, a day or so later, will sit in front of a glowing computer terminal and type words of black Virtual Ink, attempting in feeble terms to describe the feeling that he has tonight.

And, most importantly, this is not the same Jeffrey Wells who joined a fairly obscure Internet-based mailing list one year previous.

I mean this in a quite literal sense. I am not certain of percentages, but I am relatively certain that little, physically, remains of the infant my mother bore twenty-odd years back. Skin sloughs off, birthing anew from beneath. Fats are broken and re-formed. Bones, _Bones_, the very structural framework upon which I depend, are themselves in constant states of change, Osteo-something-or-others creating new cells even as old ones are destroyed. Or so I read in my Biology courses, way back when. Even nerve cells, the grey and white matters whose intricate electrical framework makes up everything that I consider to be myself, are in flux, exchanging gases and fluids and whatnot with the outside world.

What am I?

I am now.

One year ago, Jeffrey Wells was not the person that he is today. One year ago, Jeffrey Wells was a fugitive from himself, engaged in literary fantasticism with a glance over the shoulder and a flush to the cheek, poring over digital photo-morphs on the Web with the brightness turned all the way down, lest someone else wander by and see. One year ago, Jeffrey Wells entered the Children's Rooms of local libraries looking, I imagine, thoroughly uncomfortable and out of place, ducking low down between shelves to conceal his presence, trying agonizedly to appear casual and nonchalant. One year ago, Jeffrey Wells burned with fear and anxiety before each performance, burying his shadowed Interests in the Aspects of Transformation deep within the robes of Theatrical Craft and Performance Art, watching with deep yearning as his fellow actors effortlessly Changed themselves with pigmented chemicals, knowing that he himself would, through his own fear, just as soon go without.

And now?

Oh, hell. Let's be honest. Lots of that still remains. And probably always will.

But... one year ago, Jeffrey Wells, mustering his courage, subscribed to an Internet mailing list reportedly filled with people much like himself... people he had not known existed, until rather recently before said event. A difficult choice, of course... while Jeffrey Wells could safely browse story archives via anonymous logins through the University computers, this event would actually mean that Someone, Somewhere, would have on a documented record that a certain '' was Interested in this dangerous rubbish. The anonymity would vanish, and, should anyone care to look closely enough, yep, there he'd be, naked under the spotlights.

I shall always rank this action as one of the most difficult tasks I have ever done right.

And it only involved pressing the Send key.

* * *

Washington's Hatchet again.

So what _is_ the answer?

The answer is: It all depends.

It all depends on what you mean by the question, "Is this really Washington's Hatchet?" For there is nothing there that remains of the original wood and metal that made up the hatchet that the anecdotal Washington used to chop down the anecdotal cherry tree and then, when anecdotally confronted about it, anecdotally confessed that he was jolly well sick of the lies. If I had gone out to the hardware store and bought a replacement blade and a replacement handle and stuck them together, that crude simulacrum would have been just as much (physically speaking) Washington's Hatchet as my grandfather's was.

But in the case of my Grandfather's, there _was_ an unbroken succession, a line of events, a chain of being leading back to the beginning.

I am such a chain of being. As are we all. Creatures and Things in constant flux. Ever-changing, ever-shifting, ever-transforming. Our handles have been replaced seventeen million times, and our blades seventeen million more.

To my left is the morning, decked out in bright pinkish blues. And to my right are the dusky golds and yellows of evening.

I stand in the middle, poised in the eternal present.

And then, I lift my head from the mural, turn, and take the first step of the long walk Homewards.

* * * * * * * * * * *

To Anyone who ever felt out-of-place in the Children's Room but went there anyway, just because, gosh darn it, they really did have better stories there...

Also, to Anyone who ever whiled away hours browsing the Fantasy and Science Fiction shelves looking specifically for titles that suggested... shall we say... Interesting content... and then paged through in a rush, with eyes only for certain specific scenes...

To Anyone who ever felt cheated at the endings of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-type books whose authors always seemed to think that getting changed into something was adequate grounds for a "The End" message...

To Anyone who ever was able to impress teachers and classmates with unusually accurate knowledge of the Greek Myths, particularly with regards to the stories of, say, Teiresias, or Actaeon, or Arachnae...

To Anyone who ever dreamed of having a VCR in their own room as a kid, especially one with very good freeze-frame and slow-motion settings...

To Anyone who ever whipped through the manuals and supplements of new role-playing games, curiously searching for Interesting magic items and suchlike, grinning impishly at 'Girdles of Masculinity/Femininity"...

To Anyone who has ever tried to walk around on tiptoe, either in public or in private, just to see what it felt like...

To Anyone who has ever howled at the full moon, just because.

To the List.

To the lot of you.


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