Chambered Nautilus

Chambered Nautilus (1956) by Andrew Wyeth. Photo by Mia Feigelson

Woodrow was showing visiting professors around the facility. They were eager to learn all they could, in the quest to increase production of  SaltyNectar®, the much sought after finite resource.

Pointing to the subject, Woodrow began to explain his findings:

EL-AINEDOB150816 is responding well to memory convergence. Synapses effectively returning to previous points of extension, resuming plasticity. Connections have been observed, with neurons firing in response to simulated seasons visible through the ‘window’.  Relics have also been left in the mock bedroom, including a basket full of sentimental assortments, such as printed images of people known to the subject, and the shell of a nautilus, held dear to her, according to her file notes, as a treasured memento from her childhood that it is likely to conjure memories- a conjuring nautilus.

Conjuring nautilushe repeated. Woodrow liked the sound of these words. He was one of the rare re-births who had the ability to program himself to register small pleasures, in this case resulting in a curious upturn of his lips and crinkles at the corners of his eyes.

“Now, if we move to the next hologram chamber, allowing us to see how the subject reacts to temperature, you’ll note a sensitivity, causing her to lift the blanket, and leading to a change in the appearance of her face, with an asymmetrical positioning of her lips and furrowing of her eyebrows. Floating sensors just out of view in the canopy confirm that preconceived notions have been retained, with the subject making a connection between the simulated season and her expectations of a range of  outcomes associated with that season – remembering that her lifetime was pre- climate-plateau, when seasons were a regular phenomenon. Sections of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that register surprise light up when the ‘season’, viewed through the ‘window’ fails to match the temperature sensed in the room.

“She is of course, a pre- Digi sapien, a rarity in our field, as cryogenics hadn’t become widespread until a century after her death. She is of a time when private thoughts were not so readily discerned by an observer and the brain held tight to a riddle of secrets- still impenetrable in this age. As some of you may know, there is no instrument with sufficient sensitivity to decipher the thoughts of a Homo sapien, hence the species’ saying ‘a penny for your thoughts’. With funding cuts, it seems unlikely that such an instrument will ever see the light of day.

“Based on the stimuli the subject has been exposed to, it appears memory reintegration is encompassing all senses. The next phase will be to merge emotions with memory. We have already seen promising signs in response to music. File notes for EL-AINEDOB150816 stated a favourite song by Sarah Vaughn.

“Busch, could you please check the airfiles and line up a concert? I believe Ms Vaughn is stationed on one of the moons of Jupiter and happy to engage in memory re-simulation, albeit it at the  outlandish fee of an ampule of single source SaltyNectar®, and a stipend for light travel and accommodation.

“Okay, let’s break, and I’ll take questions after the song.”

As the huddle of professors erupted in excited discussions, not for a minute taking their eyes off the hologram, Woodrow glanced at the headlines he’d uploaded in his mind’s eye. It seemed every ‘paper’ as they were still quaintly referred to, was on the topic of elections on Earth that resulted in a predictably unanimous victory for President Drumpf, now on the eve of his 112th term as President of the United Continents. Woodrow blinked to rid the image and flick to the next news story, as the muttering under his breath threatened to belie his liberal leanings which technically were illegal, even in one’s head If only we’d kept him frozen in 2016.

Fortunately, the laboratory was a black spot for thought reception. He loved his job for this fact alone- it was the only place where he could freely think and he never seemed to find the time to rectify the cause of interference – issues that were easily resolved with a coating of phosphorescent PX-67t on all machines.

No time to ponder and fume, though- he blinked and folded the paper as the ageless sounds of The Divine One reverberated.

East of the sun and west of the moon

We’ll build a dream house of love dear

Near to the sun in the day

And near to the moon at night

We’ll live in a Heavenly way dear

EL-AINEDOB180816 could be seen crying though she had no cognition of the cause. That would come with phase 2 of the project. Once blurring of the memory/emotion receptors was complete, they’d be able to successfully tap into and extract her tears- the saline liquid that was the currency of the day- registered trademark SaltyNectar®.

In the mean time, the fempto-tech wicking fiber of her bed sheets and duvet were quickly absorbing and transferring precious crude into the pressurised reverse osmosis piped coils of her mattress, to produce the concentrate known as SaltyNectar®. Any filtrate (essentially low salt tears) being recirculated to get just the right salinity for the market, with not a drop wasted.

The professors applauded, congratulating Woodrow on his breakthroughs. What should have been a high point in his career- the respect of peers- only left him with a deep sadness that he couldn’t share with anyone around him. He had no tears, as his well had run dry many moons ago. All these months of observing Elaine through the chamber had been hard. His plan for phase 2 was to dim the sad and amplify the happy memories, to cut short her time as a font of tears. Once she was released from duty, they could pick up where they’d left off.

Living on love and pale moonlight

Just you and I, forever and a day

Love will not die, we’ll keep it that way



This piece was in response to a prompt using Wyeth’s Chambered Nautilus (pictured), a challenge set and also taken by my blogging friend Wayne at the recently re-booted Cave of Fame. Wayne and I exchanged a couple of emails about doing an art as prompt challenge, and as I like surprises, I left it to Wayne to pick the pic. Great choice Wayne, I am glad to have my world expanded now with awareness of Wyeth’s amazing work! If you’d like to write a story or poem inspired by this painting- please do (sometime in March 2016) and let Wayne know once you’ve posted it, so he can link them all together.  

It was fun to write a longer fiction piece again, with a bunch of serendipitous gems uncovered in ‘researching’ this story (e.g. searching ‘songs of 1935’, I stumbled across a couple of songs with the name ‘Bess’ in them, which is the name of the lady sitting in this painting – Wyeth’s mother in law Bess James). Anyway, ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’, composed by Brooks Bowman that year, caught my attention for the title, and when I heard it and listened to the lyrics, I decided it was perfect! Picking Sarah Vaughn’s version, recorded in 1949, was a no brain-er after hearing it (I confess- I haven’t heard any other version). Oh, and it also happens to be the title of a Norwegian fairy tale. Perhaps Elaine and Stephen Woodrow will free other prisoners in the facility, take all the un-cried tears with them, and leave the lab east of the sun and west of the moon. During all that ‘research’, one thing led to another, and I’m currently slightly obsessed with The Divine One’s version of ‘A Lovers Concerto’- is there a more joyous song that makes you cry with happiness and longing and just a tinge of sadness? Totally blows The Toys’ version out of the water. Now if I could just pay off my mortgage with these tears…

Woodrow has appeared in another of my stories, in a different life, where he was a geneticist. You’ll see that even then, he was an independent spirit who subverted the system for the greater good.

First published 8th March 2016.

66 thoughts on “Chambered Nautilus

    1. Thanks Marissa! Most of my research was to find a song of the time when Elaine was a young woman. Science stuff is aided by my engineering background, although I think a neurosurgeon may laugh at my attempts to talk brain science. I love reading about how the brain works though!


      1. I think the culture we live in trains us to have that unconscious bias of the ability of girls and women and that is what leads to less girls doing STEM subjects- not a lack of ability, but a belief that it isn’t the path for a girl. Things are getting better, but still room for improvement. We had a talk on unconscious bias at work yesterday to mark Iternational Women’s Day- was really interesting – I might post about it. Your comedy through your writing and your life in a band are creative, but even those areas are dominated by men and it is men who are taken more seriously for their art (case in point the sad truths in your recent poem about pop stars). A fascinating topic. I love shaking up peoples biases when I see their expression on learning I am an engineer (I don’t mean you- just lots of face to face experiences). They have to put aside what they thought when a. Seeing a black person and b. Seeing that said person is a woman. Belated Happy International Women’s Day to you, Marissa – rock n roll super mum! The insights in your poems and comments are not only entertaining but thought provoking 😊


  1. Wow Mek! This is amazing work – I love the sci-fi road you expertly maneuvered on – I don’t know what else to say but thank you for joining in this and letting your talent shine through so brightly. It’s an honor and privilege to be out here with such great people. It really is — And I have the same problem with the mortgage — artistic passionate tears are not worth much at the bank! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wayne! For your feedback but also the great prompt that really got my imagination going! Likewise, for me, connecting with other bloggers is where the magic is. My wish in a 1 year anniversary post I wrote mid last year was to have more engagement in the comments section. That has happened, and my blogging experience is all the more rich for it. Loved your story! Looking forward to readimg where the painting leads others who’ll take on the challenge…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is magic – and I hope that other bloggers realize that the joy is in the doing and connecting — a masterpiece is not required or expected — jump right in ! I may have to do a post about this?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 🙂 yes, the journey is more important than the destination. Yes, do write a post on it! Perhaps in a sonnet form to suit your new plan of trying a whole range of genres haha


      3. I’m just kidding Mek really 🙂 – it may be a sonnet, a poem, or a couple sketches — I’m just gonna go with it — and you do not bother me in the least – great to have you as a blogging friend … Wayne

        Liked by 1 person

      1. P.s didnt incorporate stem cells as I’d hinted at, but got cryogenics in! Your futuristic Lear may have been an influence in where I went with this- thanks! 😊


      2. You’re welcome. Funny, cause reading your blog, you don’t come across as needing encouragement, but perhaps we all do- especially when putting something we hold so dear to us (our creative expression) out for public viewing.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That is so right. I take nothing for granted. I told someone that I tear my soul out and plaster it on a monitor. I understand how that is hard to believe but encouragement only helps me feel better about having done it. That is why I also offer it freely.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thanks for the reminder that I should be sensitive of the same struggles and vulnerabilty others have no matter how accomplished their work is (in my opinion). That applies to all the blogs I follow- each one shares something unique and special 😊. Keep it up SB x

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe at a later time. My plate is so full. I’m in the middle of writing the 2nd book in my Fantasy Angels Series and getting ready to publish the first one, plus I have my blog. I can hardly keep up. I’d love to do it at some point though. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Intriguing story line, Mek. I’ve always wondered about those who may be awakened from cryogenic sleep and how their lives would be lived out. Hopefully not as a “font for Salty Nectar.” Love how you placed Sarah on one of the moons of Jupiter. I even checked if she was cryogenically frozen, but no. Many fine moments like introducing President Drumpf and his 112th term. Scary stuff! Ha ha! Loved the read. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG I forgot I had put Drumpf in there- of course 13 months ago I didn’t think it would be anything more than fiction. Thanks for your feedback, Olga 🙂 I love that you went and checked on Sarah haha. Discovering Sarah Vaughn was one of the best things about writing this post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope the rest of my predictions are wrong! Yes, it is the whole journey, not just the words that makes writing so much fun- including also engaging with people in comments after it is published! 🙂

        I feel like you and I haven’t chatted in ages. How are you?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Glad to hear it. I am okay too- just working on a lot of things, trying to restore balance in my life. I have become a little slack in keeping up with blogs of late but I will look out for you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Daniel – I have not heard of those two authors but the little I have now read about David Mitchell makes me think I may enjoy his work- I might put Cloud Atlas on my ever growing list of books to read. It was a similar comment years ago likening the novel I am working on to Murakami that made me discover him. Maybe evidence of a collective creative consciousness that we can tap into? Wish I could do it more often…

      Off topic, there is an upcoming arts festival in my area and one of the events is around Bowie’s 100 favourite books, inviting people to read and then dress up as bowie at the local library for a photo shoot. It is an interesting list, and only maybe 5% of which I have heard of I think only 2 I have read- have you seen that list?


      1. Mitchell isn’t bad i’ve read a couple of his, he also brings characters from previous books into an incarnation of some sort in a different context, even time frame.
        i haven’t but i know Bowie like Burroughs & probably read a lot of that.


      2. i used to read a lot, these days i read only poetry books & online poetry & a lot of journals & essays, but i feel i write a lot more for not reading, a sort of unconscious trade off. i didn’t consciously start to read less, living remote from the amenities of book shops & not choosing not to have a bank account, leaves me in a different position. i also found everything i read feeding into a dichotomy, which didn’t belong to my experience, or rather direct experience, so ultimately fallible.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I am the same, except for poetry books- all my poetry is read through blogs. I don’t understand your comment about ‘…feeding into a dichotomy’ do you mean between your world view and another view? Is that a bad thing? or is it that it was too greatly influencing you without it being experiential? Are you saying there is more truth where an idea is experienced? I guess I agree with that. The books (novels) I read don’t stretch me hugely, aside from ideas on language and story structure. I guess the stretching comes from non-fiction reading, journals and essays and even poetry that can leave me a little baffled and deep in thought about concepts that are new to me, or cast in a new light.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. i mean that ideas for me tend to be from one camp or another, admittedly between disciplines which are camps themselves. i am at a point where ideas for me seem to be inherently dichotomous because of free will, so unless i experience or trust the experiencer i am at a loss for what to do with it. i trust poets, mostly, so i can dig that, it is about presentation of emotion, image, environment, & though ideas get in there it comes from a less terminology heavy place, which isn’t so bad, i guess, but it makes me confused is all as to what to believe or think.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I get what you mean, and yes I think the difference with poetry is that it *usually* comes from a deeper place than just the mind (what you are saying is a ‘less terminology heavy place). It can be so easy to read a book or a newspaper article and be swayed by the convincing research, data or strong opinion of the writer, and of course that is made worse when we have our bias in sources of information we pursue which leads us down a narrow path of ideas, each similar leaning idea only making it harder to shake off something read as being a thought of our own…

        Liked by 1 person

      6. i should add that though appearing negavite this is actually me reaching a pivot, humbly throwing my hands up & in a gesture of “pickled if i know”. & furthermore trusting in the intelligence of them not paid for their opinions, who work in tandem with a job they may not like to provide alternative means of approaching something, the devoted amateur is someone i am fascinated by & can empathize with.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. i would never have said such a thing a few years ago, but i have since (the last year or two) had a sea change of heart i suppose, & seen where we have to look to make this generation valuable, it comes from self worth, though working within the parameters on offer, that seems to me, blogs, small presses, journals— paying attention, speaking with the talented writers is a way to keep the forms & meaning of poetry or arts beating. i am tired of hearing people say something or other is dead or, “i don’t read anything contemporary it is all crap”— what a thing to say, can’t believe those words ever came out my mouth when i read someone like Okaji, or Jose Angel Araguz or John Michael Flynn.
        i don’t usually persuade people to read something i posted, but i’d be interested to know your thought on my post from today, the iiird in my Of Rhyme & Rhyme series. i’m not usually proud of myself, but i am very happy with that essay series & the final one in particular.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I started reading the third but then stopped, deciding instead to read i and ii first. I am mid way through i now and thought I’d just say- from the little I have read of your reworked version in iii it is AMAZING. Okay, might take me a few days to get through it all and I will give feedback if I have anything worthwhile to add 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      9. thank you. i welcome anything. with poems i never feel the need for feedback, i know what i’m doing there & here though everything was planned & considered, it is a departure from my comfort zone, so i really wanted to squeeze as much out of people, especially the bloggers (like yourself) who i feel comfortable asking for feedback, because of the frequent back n’ forth. take your time & give me anything at all, i mean anything. thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. You’re welcome, and do ask anytime. I often don’t have enough time to read each post of each blogger I follow- it isn’t about lack of interest at all, so if ever you want a particular post to have an audience just shout out. Each time I find a great blog to subscribe to, I mentally weight up the commitment involved and judge whether I can handle the growing volume in my reader- I used to feel I had to read EVERYTHING. I figure though that I will read posts that are the right post at the right time and that way I can also make time to have meaningful dialogue on posts I do read.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, let’s hope! Thanks Kerfe. Not being overly familiar with Wyeth’s work, I had a look online I agree, his other paintings also have that parallel universe feel. Wind from the Sea, 1947, Farm Road, 1979 and I’ll just stop there cause there really are so many that lend themselves to inspiring a story. I think I might have to keep Wyeth in the back of my mind for future writing…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really great! The idea of farming tears from cryo people from the past, whose emotional responses are in themselves puzzle boxes is awesome! I laughed out loud when I read President Drumpf…perfect! Well done! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, always amazed by the breadth of your imagination, Mek. This was a wonderful little tale—poignant and nostalgic, in a futuristic way. I loved how you blended recognisable cultural elements with science. It gives a sense that the reader’s dislocation into this strange world is also that of those waking up into it. In this way, I felt the theories and terminology added an extra air of mystery rather than being a distraction. And I enjoyed the way you worked the exposition into the dialogue, it helped give the character a voice. Well done, brilliantly written as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so kind Dave, thanks 🙂

      This is probably one of my favourite pieces I have written…one that came from that illusive muse and didn’t feel like ‘me’ writing it. Hope you are having a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s