Friday, November 25, 2011

Chicken Little Calling

[Congratulations to Hob Osterlund for her runner-up written entry in our 2011 Creative Competition. Check back daily for the next several days as we post other recognized entries.]

On a windy day in January, 2011, dense clouds body-slammed Kaua`i’s north shore with torrential rain. Within an hour of the deluge, dozens of waterfalls gouged vertical valleys of the Na Pali coast, canyons more typically draped by gentle green shadows. The Hanalei River ran milk chocolate and flooded its banks. A robocall went out to every home on the island.

“This is your Kauai Civil Defense Agency,” the flat Voice said, then issued a four-word declaration. “The sky is falling.” Click, buzz.

I did not alert Ducky Lucky. I did not run to tell the king. I did not follow Foxy Loxy to his lair. I did squeal like Piggy Wiggy. I did play the message several times before the power went. I did scratch my head and try to figure which of my friends could be so crazy good at faking a robocall. Ultimately I decided the call was authentic and began a new line of questioning. Why would any civil defense agency have a sky-is-falling option? Is there a pre-recorded stable of messages for every possible catastrophic event, or is each an original? If the latter, did the Voice emanate from an unwitting man whose parents failed to read him fairy tales when he was, er, little?

Perhaps it was recorded by a well-meaning government employee eager to make light of heavy rain. The humor would not have been altogether inappropriate, since it was not truly a disaster ----unless you count decades of saving (Henny) Pennies for a sunny Hawai`i vacation. No homes or livelihoods were truly threatened. No lives were lost except possibly a few dozen roosters too high on their own relentless crowing to notice their feathers floating. Of course, there was bad news elsewhere in the world. There were disastrous explosions and horrible diseases and shocking betrayals; there was the ongoing international epidemic of spiritual blindness. But there was also some better news: that day Rep. Gabrielle Giffords took breath unassisted by a ventilator and wiggled her toes on command. A Cooper’s hawk took shelter inside the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Zsa Zsa Gabor took courage and smiled, her leg just amputated. Nothing was reported about whether she wiggled her remaining toes.

Back on Kauai, electricity was restored and another robocall went out. “This is your Kauai Civil Defense Agency.” On the edge of my seat, I was eager for the next sentiment. A confession of comic relief? A comforting quote from Drakey Lakey? Or would words gush like a geyser from a lower realm of human response, soaking the terminal paycheck of a suddenly-unemployed worker?

“The message you received earlier was a test message sent by mistake,” declared Mr. Nasal Voice, then repeated all four guilty words. “The sky is falling.” The sentence dangled in space like a once-omniscient, now-decommissioned satellite. “Please disregard and we’re sorry for any inconvenience.”

What? Disregard a falling sky? Forgive the inconvenience of a panicked stampede of Turkey Lurkeys and Cockey Lockeys tumbling hell-bent toward the palace, scaring the poor king? Forget about Foxy-Loxy’s hungry intentions toward a vulnerable, plump-breasted Gander Lander?

Then, a final robosentence. “Please do not call the police.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I think I heard a subtle plea in the Voice. Perhaps the repentant tone Chicken Little used, acorn squirreled under his wing.

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