Artwork by Andres Padilla
“Only one letter divides the comic from the cosmic.”- Vladimir Nabokov
1. Unsure of a Dream “A trinket, a pebble, a frown, and one shoelace,” says my mind. I attempt to recall why I am here. Instead, I laugh. I am alone, to put it simply. With the shoelace, I can hang myself. I can, but I do not think I ever will. I am either too scared or too fat. I can choke either on the pebble or the tiny trinket, whichever I prefer. But I don’t think I can kill myself with the frown.
Peculiar how the pebble on which I stand triumphs the pebble in my pocket—in size, at least. Even more peculiar: how both pebbles exist merely as specks in an infinite universe. What I find most peculiar is that large structure above me, supported from seemingly nothing. The only purpose it serves is clear: it is part of my possible makeshift noose. I wonder what happened to my other shoelace? Who gave me this ugly trinket that I wear around my neck? The pebble…the pebble I picked up somewhere. And I laugh but I still have a frown on my face. It’s a happy-face sticker, except the smile is upside down. I wear the sticker on my face, of course.
The ocean fog envelops my exposed body, particularly my lower extremities. I like to call my legs “lower extremities” and I like to call my arms “arms.” The ocean mist enters my nostrils before I realize its presence. Then I snort loudly, and begin to laugh. I go to sleep. I hear the ravenous waves crashing harshly on the pebble beneath me. I am awoken. I say ravenous because sometimes, the waves want to devour me. I could always jump in and see what happens, but of that I am too scared. I do not wish to be eaten. I do not contemplate it at all. I go back to sleep. I wake up and look at my watch. Actually I don’t have a watch. I only have a trinket, a pebble, a frown, and one shoelace. I just pretend I have a watch. A few seconds passed during my sleep. The waves are still hungry. There exists no other pebble, or rock, or boulder in sight. I am alone, to put it simply, and in the middle of an ocean. And I have a trinket, a pebble, a frown, and one shoelace. I don’t even have shoes or another shoelace. Just one shoelace. I don’t use bad words except for when I feel like it. I just have one fucking shoelace. I’m nineteen years old and in the middle of the ocean. Actually I don’t have nineteen years. I only have a trinket, a pebble, a frown, and a shoelace. I don’t even have a name.
Sometimes I spot ships in the horizon but most of the time it is a mirage, it goes away, or snakes inhabit them. One time a ship stopped by and a man shouted something to me, but it was in a different language so I ignored him completely. I just laugh when I remember that time. A long time ago, a flying ship appeared but I did not want to board that one because of the snakes. I wait for another ship to come, but one that I will actually board. I would like to embark on a journey someday. I like standing on the pebble (I say pebble because while it is much larger than the pebble in my pocket, it is still a pebble to the universe) beneath my feet, but I welcome change at anytime. I am not bored, but I am incapable of experiencing any emotion or thought. I am numb. Therefore, if I say I like something I am lying. I do not like anything, and I like nothing. Also, if I say I think, I am lying. I think I would like to go on an adventure. I disconnect myself from the pebble beneath my feet through a process called pretending. I do not like to pretend often (that is a lie; I do not care if I pretend or not) but when I feel like flying, I pretend that the waves are carrying my feeble body through the wind and dispersing its ashes all throughout the marvelous waters. Except that is not true because I never feel like doing anything, because I never feel at all.
I remember a myth about Icarus and Daedalus. Sometimes I pretend I am Icarus. I do that because if I recall correctly, he killed himself by flying near the ocean waves, and the waves ate him. I am in a very similar position after all: I am floating forever atop a vicious army of waves, and that is about all. He flew to close to the sun and he was told to go lower, so he did. Maybe the myth juxtaposes itself with my life on this solitary island pebble. But maybe the myth is told differently. I don’t know. I genuinely can never recall. I forget what “juxtapose” means sometimes. I do not want the waves to devour me, yet sometimes I pretend I am Icarus. I do not know why I do that. Neither do I recall how I became numb or if I used to have the ability to think and feel. Now it does not matter because I can not think about it or feel sad about it. I do not have this frown because I am sad, but because the sticker portrays itself that way.
It does not matter.
Some people I used to know (if I ever did know them) argued about homosexuality, and God, and other nonsensical things. Some of them argued that homosexuals are born homosexuals, whereas others argued that homosexuals chose to be homosexuals. It does not matter; either way, homosexuals exist. Some people argued in the existence of God, some argued in the existence of many gods, and some argued there existed no gods. It is idiotic because some actually believed in just one God and still killed each other because they could not agree on a name. Whether God, gods, or no god exists, humans are still alive, are they not? But I am here. On this pebble, stranded in the middle of the ocean, with a noose above my head. I have a trinket, a pebble, a frown, and a shoelace. I am alone. That is all I know at the moment, and that is all that matters. I have inhabited this area for possibly centuries, or maybe for an eternity. Or maybe just a few seconds. Maybe I am even dreaming. I wait patiently for nothing. When I look at the sky, I do not see stars, nor do I see the moon or the sun or even clouds. I saw a cloud only onc
e, but in reality a boat merely released steam into the ocean air, creating some vague resemblance of what may have been a cloud to the eyes of a child. I do not want to be eaten by waves. They appear threatening and at times inflict me with nausea, and yet the water never so much as touches my skin. For all I know, the water might be boiling hot. But then convection would perform its natural process and since it has not, the water is not boiling hot. That is funny because the scenario I am in does not make sense at all, so it is actually very possible that the water is boiling hot. There exist no fish in this ocean, or at least there exist no fish around my little area. Therefore I have yet to eat anything but I never hunger, or thirst. Rain never appears here, but occasionally I hear thunder. I never see lightning.
Today it rains. I also see lightning. I am not surprised. In the distance, I see a ship sailing my way. I am still not surprised. There are no snakes. The captain calls out to me and I understand him. This is not a mirage. “What the hell are you doing out here on your own, kid?” the captain says. I see that he has no eyes. I also notice he is the only person on his ship. I ignore him. “Son, I said what the hell are you doing out here? And for how long have you been here, ya idiot?” the captain shouts, grumbling almost, like a grumble-shout. He stomps around and shouts at me again, and offers me a chance to get on the boat. He throws me a rope but I am too fat to climb. I did not utter a single word to him and he left me behind because I am too fat to climb on the rope he provided. I do not care. I go to sleep. I wake up.
The waves look as if they are hungry. Sometimes I think of feeding them my pebble, the one in my pocket. The reason why I think about doing this remains rather simple: it may or may not satisfy the hunger of the waves. I have skin like that of an armadillo. Most of the time, my skin peels from excessive scratching. I scratch to pass the time. Sometimes I scratch until I bleed. I scratch my scalp, my armpits, my genital area, and then my grimy feet. I do not know why I use that order. After I am done scratching, my skin hardens and peels and itches and bleeds and then hardens again. Smooth skin I have not felt and I have not any left. My trinket wraps itself around my neck in the form a necklace. The pebble and shoelace I keep in my pocket. I only have pants. I do not have a shirt. But I can not take the pants off and sometimes I think I do not have them. Therefore I only have four objects: a trinket, a pebble, a frown, and a shoelace. I wear the frown on my face.
A green, transparent, rectangular platform suddenly appears from thin air and that metal part of my makeshift noose disappears. I step onto the platform and it ascends into the skies, into the area where the stars, the moon, and the clouds would be. I am moving higher and higher but the sun lies nowhere near and as a matter of fact I can not even see the sun and I do not think it exists. Neither does the moon actually. The green platform stops. A yellow, circular platform appears nearby and I hop on to it. I do so carefully because if I fall I will crash ferociously into the voracious waves. I do not know if I will die from the fall or because the waves will consume me entirely. It does not matter, however, because I will be dead. The yellow platform ascends even more and eventually I reach a blue, triangular platform. I repeat the process until I reach a red spherical platform. I do not board that one because to balance oneself atop a sphere is almost impossible, and to risk falling at such a tremendous height would be fatal. I stop here, and now I am stranded in midair. I still have my trinket, my pebble, my frown, and my one shoelace.
2. The Curtain Just Shy of the Watcher
I fall asleep while standing. I do so because the platform is much too small for me to lie down on. Ensconced snuggly in the purple skyline floats a red curtain. Occasionally, the light breeze pulls the curtain down about an inch or two, and I spot a dark room behind the curtain. I can not reach the curtain because it positions itself a bit too much above my melon-shaped head. I would find it hilarious if I had a melon for a head. Perhaps the red sphere is capable of transporting me towards the curtain but I am too afraid that I will fall. I do not feel afraid or think of fear—I merely realize its presence. I do not feel or think of anything. Whispering into the light breeze, I hope my words enter the curtain. I whisper nonsense, such as: “ectoplasm,” “mouse,” “starfruit,” “sternocleidomastoid,” and “eloquence.” Those words are all nouns but they are all different; one is, if I’m not mistaken, a slime; another is a small animal; another is a piece of delicious fruit; I don’t know what the fourth one is and the last one is an idea, or a concept. I put the words together by combining them into a single word, removing parts of the words I do not like. I end up with “ectomoustarmastoidelo.” I envision my words entering the curtain yet remain rather uncertain if they entered or not. I wish to see behind the curtain.
I am no longer afraid of those unsettling waves because they are no longer in sight and I begin to forget their existence. Gone are the memories of my existence on the pebble. I recall only that I wore a trinket around my neck, held a shoelace and a pebble in my pocket, and displayed a meaningless frown through method of sticker placement. But I recall as much only because I still have those items with me. I scratch my scalp until it bleeds. My fingers, when covered in blood, resemble sausage. I scratch my sweaty armpits and then stick my hands in my pants and scratch. Then I scratch my mucky feet. I laugh. “Roar!” I growl, imitating a giraffe that pretends to be a lion. This makes me laugh. “Roar!” When and if a person materializes next to me, I do not contemplate what I will do with them. I do not contemplate because I cannot think. I know what I would do. I would kill them by strangling them because there exists not enough space on this miniscule platform. Then I would throw them off. I can no longer hang myself because above me there is nothing but a distant curtain. But I can jump off which would make for a thrilling adventure; however, it would consequently result in death. Death does not seem such a horrible idea in this scenario. Neither does living, but I cannot differentiate between the two. In my calculus class, I recall the concepts of antiderivatives but I never understood derivatives. The professor finds that impossible because to understand antiderivatives, one must understand derivatives. But I think that is bullshit. (I say bullshit because I feel like it.) To derive something, we must take objects or numbers or ideas apart, and obtain something from the remains. To perform antiderivatives, we must extend possibilities from an object, or number, or idea. Therefore, the concept of deriving something does not make sense because that is backwards progress and backwards progress is called regression and regression results in unpleasant things of which I am not certain because I am incapable of truly thinking about this matter. My understanding says that antiderivatives obtain one thing and increase its possibilities, therefore enhancing its potential to do absolutely anything and this is called progression and with progress…I am actually unsure of what can happen. I am fairly certain that I lie somewhere between regression and progression and I do not know what that is called. I am unsure of what I mean when I say “I.”
The curtain continues to mock me by whetting my appetite for curiosity but this hardly bothers me because I have no feelings. The curtain flies freely in the bland, purple sky. I do not fly because humans do not possess any abilities even vaguely resembling flight except for maybe jumping. I fall asleep after I laugh for a long while. When I am awake several seconds later, I realize I dropped my pebble. I am unaware of how such an event happened, but I am perhaps permanently unable to recover my pebble. For the first time in my existence on this platform or on the larger pebble, I begin to feel sad. At least I think I feel sad.
3. What Lies Behind the Curtain
I continue to wonder what lies behind that mysterious red curtain; it appears to conceal a secret of drastic importance. It is too far above me, and I know I have no method of reaching the curtain. Grasping firmly onto my shoelace, I begin to make a lasso. This is a stupid idea because if the rope thrown to me sixty-eight years ago did not support my weight, neither will this shoelace. But I do so anyway. The shoelace is about thirty-six meters away from the curtain, and I begin to realize this as I jettison it towards the curtain, accidentally dropping it. It falls into the infinite sky, and I almost do too, losing my balance from the powerful throw. I regain my balance but the shoelace is gone forever, perhaps lying with the pebble. Blame proves a difficult concept to grasp. I usually derive it from something else because blame truly exists as something that has to be derived. Unfortunate I am sure, mainly because deriving something is regression and blame must be derived—it cannot be anti-derived. Therefore, I do not blame myself for accidentally dropping the shoelace. If I did I would fall backwards. But I cannot go forwards. I am restricted by my circumstances, of course. I scratch my head but I break the pattern this time because my face itches. I scratch my face with my bloody sausage fingers and I feel a sudden burn as my sticker peels off. Before I can reach for it, a random and abrupt (and awfully rude I might add) gust of wind carry the sticker far beyond my reach. I do not blame the sky. There is no need too. I go to sleep.
When I wake up my neck feels liberated. I touch it to embrace the soft skin except it is not as soft as I had expected it to be. But my trinket has disappeared! Of course, I am not surprised since my other items left me and this one had to go eventually. I am intrigued however, by how its disappearance occurred. I know I must set out on an adventure to find my items, if only because they are mine. I dive off the platform but to my surprise, another platform appears a few feet under me and I fall face flat onto it, experiencing minor pains around my cheekbones, my nasal area, and my jaw. I stand back up and the platform floats up to the curtain. I step inside, pulling back the majestic curtain. I stand and stare in awe. What lies behind the curtain dazzles me and intoxicates me with a bizarre doze of fastidiousness combined with elegance. Its stunning display of majesty compels me to move toward it and at the same time leaves me with a sense of nausea. I do not recall a time where such a marvelous feeling enveloped me and delivered my inconsequential body to a different plane of existence.
There is nothing behind the curtain. I touch nothing and am lost in its splendor. Space is infinite. Even in a small room such as the one behind the curtain. There is nothing behind the curtain, yet it is mysterious in its infinite ways; the amount of data held within every molecule inside this room is enough to mesmerize brains incapable of thought, like mine. I scan the nothingness vigilantly, but I do not hope to find anything. I enjoy the nothingness as it is, because I can fill it up with whatever I wish. I pretend my pebble lies in one corner, my frown in another, my trinket in another, and my shoelace in the last. They are not there, but this room with nothing in it allows me to envision anything in it. A room with something in it means there is less space for me to pretend there could be more things inside. Of course, some might say this is sad: pretending to have something, or relying on imagination for fun, means we do not experience the joy of having whatever we want. But I cannot experience sadness, or apparently I rarely do (the last time was when my pebble fell and that was 128 years ago), so I cannot verify the theory of imagination being a sad replacement for “the real thing.” All I know is that all I have to do to see anything is close my eyes.
4. Visions and the Envisioned
I now inhabit this room of nothingness. Though I have the ability to conjure any image, I stick to the image of my pebble, my frown, my trinket, and my shoelace. Perhaps I should be more imaginative but I have nothing to lose. Perhaps I have much to gain but I am much too lazy to process images at the moment. I go to sleep. A pick up my imaginary pebble and examine it. I can’t recall exactly where the scratch was on the real pebble, so I pretend it never had a scratch. But then I become confused. I become confused because if the pebble does not have scratches, then it is not my pebble. Now I envision myself searching for my pebble, because I must have it because it is mine.
I pretend there is a door in the room. It is locked. Then I pretend I have a key. The key is crooked. I pretend it is malleable. I fix it and unlock the door, but I do not know what to envision on the other side, so there in my path rests a wall.
I am tired. I go to sleep.
“Little pebble,” I say, “I will find you and remember you.” And then I continue, “but I do not promise. I might get tired and become unable to fulfill my promise. But I will try.”
The next day I remove the wall to discover a path. It is a long and lonely path and it is yellow with brown, or yellow-brown. There is grass on the side but I am much too tired to envision trees or animals. The sky appears the same as always. I do not know when the path ends but then remember that I have the ability to end it when I wish. I also became bored of the endless straight path that it is and so I made it curve here and there. Perhaps I could ride a bike but I think I am too fat to ride a bike. Wonder makes me wonder: if I continue to wonder about any possibilities in my future, will they be wondrous? I create a bike and I manage to fit on it. I actually fit quite well. The path is still bland so I add flowers on one side, white flowers and sunflowers. On the other side there are rocks, black rocks. The contrast amuses me.
When the path ends, I create a city resembling ancient Athens where philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle lived. I think they all lived there. No people inhabit the city but I am too lazy at the moment to pretend people live in the city. I set up camp just on the outskirts of the city and go to bed. Then, I think, “what if one of the rocks on the path was my pebble?” It is a possibility. But there are many rocks on the path and it would take eons to examine them all; however, I have the time, so there is no need for me to complain. After a little sleep, I begin to search for my pebble. I lift one rock and examine it. I lift another and repeat the process. After several hours of searching, I acknowledge the fact that I have not come up with a method of keeping track of the examined rocks and the unexamined. Another mysterious phenomena I notice is that all the rocks I examine are the same and none resemble my pebble in the slightest. These rocks exist as part of my imagination; does that mean my imagination is incapable of making these rocks different? Perhaps. But I do not care because I cannot think about it or even feel sad about it.
After some contemplation, I envision the rocks disappearing. It takes effort to del
ete them from my memory. I do not know why I often alternate between the words “rocks” and “pebbles” because in this particular scenario they are the same thing to me. I snore during my next sleep. So loudly a snail crawls out of my toe and tells me to shut the hell up. Perhaps I am allowing my imagination to wander off a bit too much, so I envision a miniscule vial of salt in my hands and I pour the few grains of salt on the snail and watch as it melts. I am somewhat entertained.
I am vicarious.
I continue down the path on the infinite quest to find my pebble. I reenter the city and this time use imagination to create people. However, my imagination proves insufficient and every human I create is identical and because I do not have enough imagination to divide amongst everyone, everyone is missing an eyeball and a leg. This startles me because now the humans here appear rather frightening and they limp towards me as if they were hideous zombies or other creatures. Perhaps I shall attempt to make conversation with one of them. Starting tomorrow. I am too tired so I make everyone go away. I dream of an eyeless, legless human approaching me nonchalantly and I am bound by a mysterious force. I cannot speak and I fear what this human might possibly do. Perhaps rape me, bite me, tickle me, eat me, or maybe even ignore me. As soon as he reaches an area three feet away from me, he opens his mouth and speaks.
“If you wish to find your pebble, you must tell me why you search for it,” says the half-blind, half-crippled (or entirely crippled?) man.
“Do I need a reason to search for my pebble?” I respond with an indecipherable tone.
“No,” says the man. “It is mine,” I continue, with no thought or feeling in my words.
“Tell me, do you think about the pebble, or does it have any value to you? Perhaps sentimental value?” Asks the strange man. “It is mine. I will find it,” I insist. “That is all.”
“But why do you believe it is yours?”
“Because I know it is.”
“What makes you know?”
“I have owned it for as long as I can recall.”
“Many people claim to own objects, ideas, memories. Only because they remember these objects, ideas, or memories as theirs. But a claim does not justify an object, idea, or memory as belonging to someone. I can claim that you belong to me, but that is not true because you belong to you. Now tell me: is the pebble yours or is the pebble the pebble’s?”
I am bemused by the man’s outrageous logic and decide that his final words construct a rhetorical question, and therefore I do not answer his question. It is then that he demands an answer.
“I demand an answer,” he speaks.
“I am above the pebble, therefore it belongs to me,” I reason.
“The sky is above you, therefore you belong to the sky,” the man counters.
“That may be true,” I sigh.
“And you would settle for that?” The man asks, closing his only eye. I am shocked to see that with one eye, this man is capable of seeing more than I, and with one leg more capable of exploring than I.
I awaken. Visions of the city reappear and I stroll towards the tallest building in the city because I do not like being below the sky. Perhaps it is my place, but I would enjoy the liberty of finding a way to be above the sky. If God exists then perhaps he sees everything in his position above the sky but people often fail to explain God and say there is nothing above him. There must be something above him but to even think so is treason against him, so people just settle, they settle on God being the highest, the almighty.
At that very moment I think really hard and I begin to feel something strange. I challenge myself to create and at my feet I envision my pebble. It returns to me, scratches and all.
5. Bound by Light but Shining Bright
I fall asleep that night in my room of nothingness behind the curtain and my pebble rests in my pocket, where it belongs. But in my sleep I am again visited by the one-eyed, one-legged man. “You have found your pebble,” he smiles. I am surprised by his smile.
“Yes, I have,” I reply, removing the pebble from my pocket and staring at its scratches. When I look at the scratches I begin to feel, I feel strange. I am normally incapable of feeling and yet now I feel…I do not know the feeling, but I feel.
“How did you find it?” the man asks.
“It just appeared before me, at my feet,” I respond. I am truthful in my response and I say nothing more.
“Why did you find it?” the man asks. “I told you, because it is mine,” I respond. Again, I respond with truth. “Are you sure?” the man asks.
“I have discovered that this pebble, while incapable of thought or feeling, belongs to me because I went out to search for it,” I respond.
“You’re on the right track,” the man smiles. His missing eyes frightens me when he smiles. He looks as if he means me harm, yet I know he does not. “Will you search for the other objects?”
“My other possessions?” I correct him.
“At this moment they are merely objects; prove you care for them by finding them,” the man commands, and begins to fade away. I observe as the man fades and I tell myself he is only in my imagination, and therefore I am talking to myself. I am a weird one. How can I care for my objects if I am incapable of feeling? How can I even think about such a question if I am incapable of thought?
When I awaken I am strapped to a chair in a dark room—only a small oil lantern provides miniscule amounts of light and it is dying. I cannot open my mouth because it is sealed with some gooey substance and my entire body itches but my hands are tied together in rope. My pants are gone and I am in the nude. My pebble is on the floor in front of me but I can barely see it and tell if it is mine. I cannot reach it with my legs. I am nervous. What the hell is happening? The light dies completely and I hear a groaning noise, about as strong as a whisper. I hear footsteps. Then I realize I am groaning and stomping my feet in an attempt to escape. I calm myself in order to avoid hearing noise. But then the silence begins to scare me and I scream. I like the darkness but it is too much for me to bear at the moment and with only my pebble I am much too lonely. Then a light flickers on and I cannot see at all. It is too, too bright and I am forced to shut my eyes or else they would burn. I am in a fire, I believe, but then I realize it is merely the presence of an exaggeratedly bright light. It is inside of me, crawling underneath my skin, invading what is mine, melting me.
My pebble! I wonder if the light has damaged it, perhaps by finding a way inside through the cracks. My poor pebble. I just found it and now it must be damaged. I felt as if I could see more in the darkness, where my imagination would place anything I desired wherever I desired, and the light does the opposite. It makes me desperate. “Let me out!” I shout, “Let me out!”
But the light continues to tie me down, almost mocking me. Light can be wonderful but at this moment it is my enemy, and I wish it would disappear. I wish I could continue my search for my other possessions, or for the objects as the man told me. I close my eyes and imagine darkness but the light is too bright and penetrates my eyelids, and I experience pain. I shiver as it enters my body through my mouth, my ears, my nostrils, I shiver as I realize it causes my innards to melt, I shiver as I understand I may die at this very moment. But if I do die, I have my pebble, and I acknowledge that it is mine now because I searched for it, I made an effort to be with it even though it is flawed. But I also belong to the pebble because I am its caretaker and if I do not belong to it then it cannot belong to me. It is an antiderivative relationship. If it was derivative, then only one of us would benefit and truthfully, that means no one benefits. If I die now, I am shining bright.
6. The Frown and Negative Infinity
I do not die. I am actually surprised. I realize I was merely experiencing a second dream. Perhaps within a third dream since all these adventures can be easily classified as completely nonsensical, comic, and cosmic perhaps. I am back in the room with four corners. I observe my beautiful but flawed pebble and place it in the northeast corner (I have no clue if it is the northeast corner; I just made that shit up.) Now I have three more spots to fill. And I will fill them. The door I imagined long ago reappears and I exit through it, only to find the path has changed. Now there exists a thin tightrope in a dark and infinite sky in which it lays entwined. But I am encouraged and inspired by the rediscovery of my pebble and I will do what I must in order to find my possessions, or the objects. Balancing one foot in front of the other, I begin my approach.
The tightrope is much too lengthy and I cannot even fathom how bad a fall I would have if I happened to have such a fall. There is no end in sight and this discourages me, but my pebble taught me the importance of searching for what belongs to me, and I will do so. I almost fall, perhaps because I am too fat. My foot slips and I throw my body directly in front of me and clutch the tightrope as tightly as possible with both hands. I begin to snake across, thinking this is perhaps the best approach. But my stomach cramps up and I fall over to my left and I’m left holding on with one hand. I am slipping. Summoning some sort of strength, I use my other hand to pull me back up but I am not strong enough and I begin to shimmy across, thinking this is perhaps the best approach. My arms immediately begin to feel tired and I look down and get ready to embrace the fall, but then I see how dark and infinite this space is and I would hate to be stuck in such a place even though I already am. I realize now that I need not just darkness but some light as well, a mixture of both, and I will not just live in the dark. Perhaps I could imagine an end to this tightrope but I am much too tired to use imagination because I am busy holding on for my dear life. Adults do this very often. They are too tired to use imagination because they are busy holding on for dear life. This makes me sad. I decide I should not be like an adult and simply use imagination. I let go.
I close my eyes and I see myself landing on a soft grassy patch underneath a shimmering sun, underneath some marvelous clouds. I stare up at the brilliant sky, brushing myself off from the fall. Around me there is water, but it appears to be only inches above the ground—it is not like the ocean that surrounded me when I inhabited that rock. I pull a Jesus (because supposedly he had the ability to walk on water) and I begin to walk across the water. My reflection smiles at me and I can see it because the water sways gently back and forth, allowing me time to catch my reflection. I don’t know which concept is more amazing: the sky, or the reflection of it. But when I look down I see myself in the sky, and this paradoxical phenomena confuses me but I am merely in awe.
I continue to walk across the water in search of another object. I am not entirely sure which one I am searching for, but it does not matter because I will find them all. “Roar!” I roar, like a mouse pretending to be a lion. I laugh. Suddenly, I fall into a sinkhole, and the water begins to drag me into the deep and dark, and soon the sky disappears and all I see is black and I am drowning and I cannot tell if my eyes are closed or not. I do not know if my imagination will save me here, and I become ready to embrace death once and for all. This time I am not only falling but becoming incapable of breathing and that requires much more imagination to get out of. I am being derived into nothing.
“Is he breathing?” I hear a voice cry out.
I am numb. I see black. Jet black. “Faintly,” I hear another voice respond. This voice is calmer. More collected.
“He’ll make it.”
“What a relief,” I hear the first voice mutter.
“Give the poor kid a sticker or something,” the second voice conjectures. I begin to open my eyelids but the light is much too bright and I decide to keep them shut.
“Where am I?” I murmur.
“He spoke!” The first voice shouts, perhaps somewhat freaked out. Then I feel an adhesive substance on my cheek. “Here you go, honey, a sticker!”
“A sticker?” I wonder. “My frown?”?
I open my eyes to see the sticker but I am frightened by what I see. A nurse and a doctor are treating me in a dimly lit hospital room, but they both have only one eye and one leg. I should have been expecting this but I immediately let out a scream and attempt to run away, until I realize I am strapped to an operating table.
“What are you screaming about son?” says the eyeless doctor. “I saved your life! We’ll let you go, as soon as we finish treating you, okay?”
I let out a frown and then I remove the sticker to make sure it is mine, and sure enough it is an upside down happy face. “Now son, we ran out of anesthetics, so you’re going to have to be cooperative with me for a little bit,” says the doctor.
“Anesthetics?” I mispronounce the word.
“Do not worry, just be calm.” I close my eyes.
I let out an enormous yell as I feel an incision underneath my left eyelid. I squirm and I open my other eye to see nothing but crimson droplets in front of me, mixed in with salty, fat tears. “Stay calm! If you move you will die!” screams the doctor. The nurse smiles at me as she grabs my forehead and keeps me pinned down. Snot falls out of my nose, and I cannot use my hand to clean myself or even scratch the many itching parts of my body, and I want to scream but I begin to doze off. I feel the doctor gripping my eyeball, squeezing it. It is as if someone lodged a claw into my eye socket and squeezed as if they would squeeze an orange to release the juice, except in this scenario only blood escaped. The doctor jams his finger into the space behind the eyeball and my pain sensors are immediately turned off.
In fact, I am turned off. I zone out.
When I awaken I am in the room with four corners. My pebble is in place, and the frown is on my face. I feel normal, and I still have both eyes. Was it a dream again? I find a note on the floor from the doctor himself. It reads as follows:
“Dear Jack, you have a strange brain. I had to fix it. For some strange reason, you refused to believe you had the ability to think or feel. Of course you have those abilities, but strangely, you believed you did not have them. I fixed you. Sincerely, a doctor.”
I walked up to the northwest corner of the room, removed my frown, and placed it on the floor. Then I sat down and began to think. What is happening to me? Where am I? Who am I? Who is Jack? Why do these strange occurrences happen to me? I am clearly not normal and I know that if I begin to think about all these adventures I’ve been having lately, I will go crazy, or perhaps I am crazy. All of these things are beyond normal scientific occurrences and are much too strange for me. But if I stop thinking about all of this then I suppose I may continue exploring this peculiar place that is most likely within my head. I stop thinking, I do not want such a responsibility. I begin to feel sad because I am clearly alone, I do not know who I am, and not having answers, while sometimes beautiful, is just making me sad now. I refuse to feel any longer, because it is an overwhelming responsibility as well. I only want to use imagination, so I do so. The door reappears and I begin to search for my other two objects.
This time around, I see a rabbit and I begin to follow it through a dense forest full of wildlife and color, and I feel as if I am in Wonderland or about to enter Wonderland because I am chasing a rabbit. But then I realize the rabbit is merely a rabbit and the thing I should be following is the half-blind, crippled man of my dreams who struggles to make his way through a path in the forest. I easily catch up to him and try to make conversation, telling him that I have found two of my objects in hope that he will direct me towards the other two, but he completely ignores me. Because of his actions, I begin to feel depressed.
This man used to care for me, acknowledge my existence, and now he seems to have forgotten me. I think about killing him out of anger but then ignore this instinct and decide to make my own way through the thick forest. The forest is varied in its structure but still it looks the same in all direction and I can easily get lost here, and because I have reacquired the ability to think, I know that I have dealt with things like this before—wandering around aimlessly will get me out of here after some unspecified amount of time, but I need to find a way to break this cycle or else I would be augmenting the possibility that I am a robot or some similar concept. So I stay in place. Waiting begins to bother me because when I think about it, I discover that waiting for something to happen is not always the greatest thing to do. I cannot make something happen if I do not make it happen, yet some things require waiting times so I am a little confused. By that logic, I decide that my previous methods were sufficient. I am exploring with nothing in mind, so I am waiting while doing something and that is beautiful. That way I do not become bored and I let time do its job at the same time. Even though I am doing the same thing as always, this time I am able to acknowledge why my method works and that gives it meaning, and it gives my objects even more meaning, at least I think so. I notice a sign that reads, “nihil ex nihilo.”
I have no clue what that means but then the crippled, half-blind man appears and tells me, “it means nothing comes from nothing.”
This blows my mind and I break down crying; however, the man, rather than ignore me, embraces me with a hug and continues to hold me as every memory I have experienced rushes through my head, and like blood delivering oxygen to the brain, I am rejuvenated. I see everything, I see nothing, I see.
“What does it mean to you?” asks the man as he retracts his face to stare into my eyes with his one powerful, gray eye.
I respond, “It doesn’t matter because it deals with nothing.” The man appears slightly confused, but then nods.
“That is partially correct,” he smiles, and then vanishes. If nothing comes from nothing, then if I think of nothing I get nothing, if I feel nothing I get nothing. But that also means that everything has to come from something and that makes me wonder if nothing is something or not a thing at all. I am bemused. And it feels wonderful. I close my eyes and touch my neck to scratch, but when I do so I realize the man replaced my trinket, and it is completely mine! Exactly the way I had left it. I need now rediscover just one item, one possession. My shoelace. Before I know it, I am in my room with the pebble in the northeast, the frown in the northwest, and now the trinket in the southwest. But this time, no matter how hard I try, I cannot find the door to continue my search. I am afraid I never will, and I imagine as hard as I can. I simply cannot conjure my imagination any longer.
I go to sleep.
8. Revelation, Communication, Sacrifice “I’m not sure he’s gone yet,” says Doctor Ezekiel.
“I am going to try to reach him again tomorrow. Let’s give him a little more time. I won’t give up on him yet.”
“Another communication?” asks Doctor Haiken. “His brain is already beyond repair. It’s useless. I’m cutting him off. We’re wasting precious time and immense amounts of money. Get to work on patient nine.”
“One more chance,” responds Ezekiel.
“I’m cutting him off tonight. You have until then to salvage this failure. Besides, this man is dangerous. I don’t see how you would want him to recover anyway.”
“I think he’s learned his lesson.”
I turn on my side, and think of the number I am. Did they intend for me to be sideways?
I suddenly recall who I am, I do not know why they fixed me, I truly detest having the ability to think and feel. I am unable to move any longer, my pebble fades, my frown fades, my trinket fades, the shoelace I never found.
“Jack,” I hear a voice call. I ignore it. I do not want to be found.
“I’m not here!” I shout.
“I’m coming Jack,” responds the voice. I blew my cover. Then I see the man approach me, the one-eyed, crippled man. He looks at me with a small amount of hope in his face. It is a small amount but an amount nonetheless.
“Come with me, Jack,” he says. I follow.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Home,” the man responds. “But before we return, I’d like to have a quick talk with you. I have your shoelace. I am wearing it.”
“I would like it back,” I say, before I can think.
“I know you would, but your shoelace has symbolized death for you for far too long, and though it may be your possession, the shoelace is merely a threat. Besides Jack, you need to learn to sacrifice before you enjoy the possessions you already own.”
“I…I do not know if I can,” I start.
“You must,” the man replies before I continue. “You can keep your pebble, your frown, your trinket. But you must leave the shoelace behind.”
“I will,” I respond. At that moment, the man removes the shoelace and it disappears into thin air. One last time, I find myself in the room with four corners. The silent corner where my shoelace should have been is dark, yet inviting. I sit there. I go to sleep.
“He’s waking up!” says Doctor Haiken. “What did you do?”?
“To be honest, I am not completely sure. I’ll talk to him,” responds Ezekiel.
“Do I call security?”
“No need. I’m positive he is fine now.”
With that, Doctor Ezekiel walks into patient eight’s room, a smile on his face. As Ezekiel approaches the patient, he removes a pen from his shirt pocket and pulls a notebook out of his backpack. After a little thought, he drops both items on the floor, deciding he will not need them.
“I am,” the once comatose body mutters.
It coughs, but then rises out of the bed it lies on. “I just am.”
“I do not know if you remember me, Jack,” the doctor murmurs. “My name is Doctor Ezekiel. You are no longer asleep. Everything you experienced was false. After some traumatic incidents, you drugged yourself, and we had to tranquilize you, but something happened.”
The doctor struggles to continue.
“What happened?” the patient asks, with true curiosity.
“That’s the thing, we don’t know. You fell asleep for eight years. And with some new technology, created just two years ago, we acquired the ability to project your dreams onto any screen. We could see what you were dreaming, and it scared us. We tried to help you somehow.”
The patient examines the room he is in, takes a deep breath, tries to smile. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, to make sure you are well again,” says the doctor.
“I’m ready,” responds the patient. “In your dream, you had four items. What were they?”
“A pebble, a trinket, a necklace more like, except I called it a trinket, a sticker with a frown, and finally a shoelace.”
“Very good. Now, do you see those items anywhere in this vicinity?”
“No, I do not.”
“What did the shoelace symbolize to you?”
“The end. That one day I would die. I discarded it. Not because I was afraid of death, but because an old man convinced me to. I think I understand his intent. I should not be concerned with death, because I have a life to be living while it comes.”
“Control. I had a necklace, I believe. Once. A long time ago, before this happened. Do you have it, doctor?” the patient asked.
“No I do not, I am sorry. Continue. What do you mean by control?” the doctor asks.
“When I would look at my necklace, in real life, I felt as if it kept me from being rash. In the dream, I’m not sure how that worked. But while I looked for it, I realized I not only have control over myself, but over what I create.”
“Your answers are frightening. Perhaps too good to be true. And the sticker, what did that symbolize?”
“I need to turn it around before I can answer.”
“Finally, the pebble. What does that mean to you?”
“It’s mine, because I care for it. No matter how small it is, or how flawed, it’s something I cared for. It taught me not to be afraid of infinity, because while there are many things to be found there, I’ll find something to care for. It taught me to antiderive instead of derive. There’s so much to do, why limit it? And that’s it. I…wish I still had it.”
“Very well,” the doctor smiles. “You seem fine. Rest up some. You're still on life support, so you can't be following me.I will see you again soon. If you don’t mind you’ll be in this room a little longer.”
“I don’t mind, I have things to do.”
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