The future comes free in 2023

PHOTO: Bradley Gordon, Flickr CC-BY

“Grey’s Anatomy” is a lie, I tell myself. There is nothing less sexy than an actual hospital. Soiled linens. Tubes pumping who knows what into heaven knows where. Some patients gasp for life; others whine for a better breakfast. Beleaguered staff members might collapse in a heap were it not for the slurry of adrenaline and anxiety coursing through their veins.

People here don’t need wild TV sex, they need coffee. But the coffee maker is broken.

“Rats,” I say.

“Watch you mouth, stranger,” says an odd little doctor standing behind me.

“Sorry, it’s just that the …”

I notice the doctor’s brown fur and beady eyes.

“You’re not a doctor,” I say.

“You not where you belong,” rasps the otter, quickly shedding his lab coat and tiny spectacles. 

Indeed, under normal conditions this otter minion of the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog would wake me from my slumber at home. Instead, I am ensconced in a large metropolitan hospital tending to a family member.

“I can’t leave,” I say. “My presence comforts my ailing mother.” 

The otter jumps up and takes my hat. 

“No worry,” he says. “Me master of disguise. I sit with her. You ride is downstairs.”

The otter gives me a valet parking ticket, which summons a sleek new electric vehicle to the curb outside the lobby. A critter behind the wheel motions for me to get in.

“Hello, Mr. Brown. My name is Elon Muskrat,” says the aptly named muskrat. He wears a t-shirt under a slim-fitted sport coat and flashes a smile featuring the long incisors common to the order Rodentia. Behind me I see a back seat full of silent attorneys. 

As soon as I’m buckled in, Muskrat applies the accelerator and starts talking. He won’t stop doing either for the next 47 minutes.

The car bursts through a snow bank on the edge of the parking lot.

“Have you considered the nature of consciousness?” asks the muskrat, rhetorically.

Our vehicle smashes into a pet store before driving out the other side. Thousands of caged birds flutter into the frigid winter air.

“Disruption creates opportunity,” he says, deploying windshield wipers to clear away frozen parakeets.

The lawyers begin shoveling cash out the windows like coal into the boiler of a century-old steam engine. I’m impressed with their rhythm. They’ve done this before.

We speed onto the tarmac of a private air field, into the cargo hold of an idling jet. I’m confused about the location so I dropped a pin on my phone map. The muskrat starts shrieking when he sees this. One of the lawyers takes my phone, shaking his head in stern disapproval. The lawyers calm him down with bitcoin crystals, which look like rock candy.

The jet takes off while my new muskrat friend explains how unsecured online polls should replace federal elections. He also tells me why he’s the one taking me to the bog.”

“I invest in the future,” he says. “That means I need the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog. But she said she wouldn’t talk to me until I brought the otter to St. Paul to retrieve you from the hospital.”

I chuckle at the Oracle’s humor, and the cost-savings she realizes when she doesn’t have to pay the otter to make his typical claptrap steampunk transportation device.

The airplane lands on St. Louis County Highway 7, three miles south of the 947th power pole. Elon Muskrat gazes out the window as I walk the familiar path into the scrub brush to the Oracle’s sod hut. The Oracle stands resplendent in her gown of green amid the stark white of this year’s heavy snow. She nods approvingly as I cop a squat on her peat love seat.

“Technological breakthroughs will bring hope, but also layoffs, to the mining industry,” she begins. “The winter will bring record-breaking snow accumulation and sudden flooding in the spring. The need for housing coupled with the remote working trend will lead to a local construction boom. A northeastern Minnesota school will win a state hockey championship ensuring that a new generation will never stop talking about past sports glory.”

She stops to take a sip of tamarack tea.

“It’s Hermantown, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Of course it’s Hermantown,” she replies. “What do you think this is, a Disney movie?”

What about Mr. Muskrat? He seems to think he can buy the future.

She smiles. 

“The future is not for sale. We each own a piece of it.”

I wonder how well the muskrat will take this news as I make my way out of the swamp. I’ve got a lot of miles to cover.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Elanne Palcich says

    Wow–you covered a lot of ground here…

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.