Dowsers

If you studied them long enough you could tell they were different. The incessant eye contact of the streets exhausted them. They lurked in spiritualist churches, encounter groups and libraries, recognising new recruits straight away. They held meetings but you were never quite sure where and when; they had many disguises. Jokes about their fasting and proclamations of doom abounded. If you passed a playground and saw a kid with his arms held out sideways you could bet that he was saying "Why do dowsers walk like this? So that when they walk over drains they won't fall right through". Children can be so cruel.

At their L.A. convention many fell sick and suffered siezures. Medical tests revealed no sign of epilepsy. The press dubbed it dowser's disease, thinking it a publicity trick. The day after the convention at the minute predicted by the dowsers, skyscrapers tumbled. Once the emergency was over and the dead counted, the dowser's methods were leaked to the media. Just as once they could detect water by the twitching of hickory, so now they could make a future layer of time act like a mirror off which they reflected questions whose answers overlaid the present in the form of dreams, twinges and anxieties. The masters were those best able to interpret these signs. Even they had little success alone, mere charlatans until they synchronised the depth of their penetration with others and compared interpretations.

LeRoy Ashe, scruffy and exciteable, seemed at first an unlikely media star but he gave the public what they wanted. He claimed to be a Deeper, able sometimes to reach ahead a week. He said that everyone had these abilities to some extent, that we all have hunches and sweaty palms. He revealed that he could angle the reflections so that the effects didn't bounce back on himself. That's why he watched others so closely. New groups started up everywhere. Authors of body language books found their sales soaring. Even psychoanalysis had a comeback. To prepare themselves for a session, some groups meditated and fasted, others performed a set of vigorous jerks and Doing the Dowse became all the rage in the laser nightclubs. Governments were interested enough to infiltrate some groups, hoping if nothing else to make a killing at the stock exchanges. However there were no accurate predictions over and above chance. Just a fad, but a pretty harmless one; theraputic even, encouraging self awareness and group therapy at a time when trade wars were brewing.

The Dowsers never claimed to be able to change the future. They couldn't hurt others, only make them more sensitive to the future. So why did the witch hunts begin? Social commentators blamed the slump, pointing out that in the past jews and blacks had to bear similar persecution. It only took one or two midnight deaths by burning on wastelands to disband all the dowser groups. Ashe was no longer seen on Quiz Panel Shows and Breakfast Time horoscopes. The cartoonists lost one of their favorite characters.

But the true Deepers had always lain low, avoiding the troubles. They continued scouring the casinos and chessclubs looking for new apprentices. Over the years their skill increased. They no longer needed other people as targets, using instead objects with dials and LEDs. Inside them there were little black boxes with legs. If you pulled them off, like a boy might a spider's, the machine would work just as well. If you opened the little black boxes (but no-one ever does anymore) you wouldn't find chips. These instruments monitored biofeedback, showed the temperature; whatever you wanted, whatever would sell. And they were cheap. Many of the poorer households had them, as did bored executives. The profits kept the dowsers afloat.

Years later, the Newspaper Investigative Team hunted Ashe down to a flat in SoHo. Cups of tea were waiting for them as they made their surprise entry. They had already written their exposé of the Reichian orgies, drug rings and conmen who had once infiltrated the dowsers. Ashe, by then a tired man but still good value for money, patiently answered their questions. "It's just like the old days'', he sighed. Halfway through a reply he yanked the microphone out of the recorder. The sound meter continued flickering. "Couldn't be simpler'', he said, "no depth needed just a very obtuse angle. I've never been a Deeper, you know, just a decoy. You lot thought I'd sold out. No way. At one of the L.A. workshops everyone else reflected on to me simultaneously. I became a screen; something they could hide behind, something the public could superimpose their hopes and fears upon. I became an incandescent zeitgeist, the first authentic Ziggy, but only the first. That will keep your researchers busy, won't it? I'll give you a tip: forget about Liberace, he was a natural.'' They continued the interview but when the reporters got back to their downtown offices they were almost surprised to find only the first part of the interview recorded. By the time they'd finished typing, Ashe was comatose, dying a few days after the article's publication. Foul play was not suspected. Other old dowsers who’d been hunted down had suffered the same fate. Postmortems revealed that they could have died anytime; they weren't a healthy lot. Perhaps, the editorials speculated, these sadly deluded, introspective people just lost the will to live.

In the Evening News tonight you might see advertised a Slide Show by the BeeKeepers Society. You feel like going. You don't know why, you make up a reason. Or perhaps you're really interested in bees. Don't worry, they like the odd stranger around, it adds to the fun. And don't forget your solarpowered watch. At the meeting tap it, then take it off your wrist and shake it angrily to your ear. If no-one laughs, it's already too late to change your mind, it's probably been done for you. But you'll never be sure.


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