All events create a ripple in space-time, which spreads out like the ripple in a pond after a stone is thrown in. As it spreads out, the ripple loses energy and the ability to effect changes in the pond until it slowly disappears, but if, for example, it disturbs a frog which then jumps and creates another ripple, the effects of the original are spread. If that same frog jumped onto a large but unstable rock, the rock could fall into the pond, in effect amplifying the effects of the original ripple, and so on. This is the lesson of chaos theory, which more or less states that in a complex system, the eventual effects of a disturbance are unknowable. A series of cascading improbable events may have a tiny chance of ever happening, but in a world where huge numbers of things are constantly going on, somewhere the improbable actually occurrs.

The following story is a work of pure fiction, but like any sequence of improbable events, if it hasn’t already happened, it someday will.

HoundTicker – that’s what his owner Ben called him – woke up from his sleeping place under the porch and stretched to get the kinks out of his old bones. Ben had named him Ticker because he was partly a Bluetick hound, and Ben usually called him that when he wasn’t swearing at the “Damn useless dog”. Ticker was probably the only one who actually liked Ben; everyone else in the area who knew him thought he was ornery, mean, shiftless, and generally a waste of space. His grandfather had willed him the cabin and the land around it, as it had been in the family for generations, and if it wasn’t given to Ben, the State would have ended up with it. Even giving it to Ben was better than that, so here he was, living alone in his cabin in the Ozarks near the top of a small mountain called ‘Pine Knob’ by the locals.

OzarksThe Ozarks are truly ancient mountains, part of the U.S. Interior Highlands, and eons of freeze-thaw in the Winter and rains in the Summer have molded their once tall, sharp crags into a series of knobs, separated by valleys through which run small creeks. Pine Knob was one such, bordered by Johnson Creek on one side, which ultimately ran through the local town and on into the wider world. The creek wasn’t much, but the local boys could catch bream and crawdads in the Summer, and it was a good source of water. Being fed by run-off from the head of the local range, it was reasonably steady but could turn into a raging flood in the not infrequent storms in the area. Sometime in the 30’s, some enterprising ancestor of Ben had borrowed a bulldozer and scraped a drive from the town road to the cabin. It was not elegant; it was made by the ‘cut and fill’ method, winding up the knob alongside the creek, and it lacked good drainage or anything like a guard rail, but it served its purpose if you weren’t too drunk when you used it.

Ticker had finished stretching and noticed that the morning sun was now hitting a patch on the porch, inside near the door, so he ambled over and lay down there, letting the sun warm his bones. Ben was slowly beginning to get up, in a bad mood as usual and also as usual, somewhat hung over. Ben had a taste for beer, and whenever a welfare check arrived, the beer locker was restocked. Fortunately for Ben, the woods around could be scavenged and hunted, so his expenses were few. In fact, the main reason he kept Ticker around was that the dog was a really excellent ‘coon hound. His nose could follow a day’s old trail and lead him right to the raccoon’s den, and Ticker really liked his job.

Ben hobbled out of bed and slowly made for the stove in the hopes that some coffee would help. Not being too awake yet, he lightly tripped over Ticker, which pissed him to no end, so he gave Ticker as hard a kick as he could “Damn worthless dog!”. Ticker was insulted rather than hurt, so he ambled off to find something else to do that didn’t involve being around Ben. He remembered the old raccoon den on the side of the hill, about a hundred yards above the drive. He had been digging at it for years now in a desultory way, hoping to make a big enough entrance so he could check out the inside.

Raccoon denAs the knob slowly eroded, rocks had been exposed, and one of these, a large, flat slab, formed a convenient cover for the entrance to the raccoon’s den. It wasn’t quite a boulder, but it was heavy and was wedged pretty tightly into the hillside. The slab kept the rain run-off from flooding the den, so it had been a good place for generations of ‘coon families, and Ticker had always wanted to get rid of that rock so he could get in. He had been there many times before, and this time, like before, his nose told him the animals were in residence. This inspired him to new efforts, so with doggy determination, he renewed his digging around the stone. The weather and his past efforts had removed a good part of the stone’s support, so Ticker knew it would not be long before he finally got in. After a half-hour of digging, the stone finally slumped – right onto Ticker’s left paw. He pulled it out of the pinch with a yelp, licked it and wandered off, wondering how he was so unlucky as to get a kick and a thump on the same day.

Low pressure areaThe low pressure area over the Gulf of Mexico was moving slowly to the North East, picking up moisture from the warm waters as it traveled and dumping some rain in its path. It didn’t have the ambition to become a hurricane, or even a tropical storm, but it was still pretty wet when it met the Gulf Coast and moved toward the Ozarks. The weather station near the town where Ben lived sent out the usual flash flood warnings that the locals never listened to, but it didn’t matter since everyone knew about Johnson Creek anyway and to stay away from it when it rained hard. Ben could have cared less, even if he knew about the coming storm; his cabin was well-drained, and he wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Ticker could sense something in the air, so he went into his usual dry space under the porch to wait out the weather, and the ‘coons in the hillside den similarly retired, as they didn’t really like being wet all that much.

The rains came with a vengeance, as they did in those parts, and Johnson Creek did its usual job of changing from a gentle trickle to a raging torrent. The rains on the hillside above the raccoon den also flowed downhill as they usually did, but this time the stone over the top of the entrance had been dislodged by Ticker, so the dirt holding the stone in place was washed out even more, causing it to slump and partially block the exit. Eventually the rains let up, and the ‘coons found they would need to do some digging if they wanted to get out, so they laboriously began to undermine the stone.

BeerBen woke up from his nap and stumbled over to his beer locker, opened it and found he was in a crisis – it was empty. He swore a blue streak, wondering how it got that way, since he didn’t remember drinking that much, but there it was – empty – and he was, as usual, thirsty. The only thing to do was to run into town for at least a partial refill. The rains had let up, so a trip down the hill to the grocery store was at best an annoyance. The creek was still raging, but it wasn’t a problem since the drive down the mountain never crossed it, and the store was a short distance along the town road. Ben pulled on his pants and counted the few remaining bills in his ‘bank’, a coffee can he hid under the sink. There was just enough for a case of beer, which should almost hold him until the monthly check came next week. Ben hopped into his pickup and slowly moved off. He didn’t ask Ticker to join him since he was still mad at the damn dog from that morning, and Ticker probably wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway.

PickupBen was slowly and carefully piloting his pickup down the drive, being extra careful because the road was wet and a little slippery. Meanwhile, the ‘coons were busy at their den, still trying to move the rock that circumstances had placed in their path, when suddenly it moved and slid down the hill just enough to allow them out. Finally happy to get out, they scampered on top of the rock, but their weight was enough to send it slowly sliding down the hillside. They jumped off, chattering at it, but the rock just kept sliding in the muddy slope, gathering speed as it went and only stopping when it struck the front tire of Ben’s pickup. It wasn’t moving too fast, but it was heavy, and that was enough to nudge the tire off the road and onto the slope. If Ben had been a little more awake, he might have been able to steer back onto the road, but as it was, the pickup slid down even more, finally rolling over and over until it landed upside down in Johnson Creek. Ben’s last thought was “What did I ever do to deserve this crap?”

CoronerThe county coroner ruled Ben died by misadventure. The State finally took Ben’s land and added it to the adjacent state park, but not before finding Ticker a good home with a nearby neighbor.

So, dear reader, what really killed Ben, an unjust kick to his faithful and long-suffering dog? The slow trickle of time that undermines all things, even the entrances of raccoon dens? The randomness of weather patterns? A thirst for beer? Karma? I think the lesson here is that everything has an effect on everything else, no matter how small the influence, and chance combinations of events can sometimes have huge consequences. In other words, we live in a world at least partially ruled by chaos.

If this story seems too implausible, let me give you a real-world example that actually took place: A chauffeur, unfamiliar with a large city, becomes distracted and drives down an obscure side street where the car becomes stuck in traffic. A demented student, who also was not supposed to be on that street, pulls out a pistol and shoots at the car, killing its two passengers. As a direct result of that incident, three of the world's largest empires crumble and over 10 million people die. As the ripples continued to spread, another generation later, an additional 100 million people die and the world's largest empire is destroyed. Although this sounds even more fantastic than our story, you may have heard of the city, it was called Sarajevo...