I was COMMANDED BY THE EDUCATIONAL FORCES THAT BE to write as short a story as possible based on images that came to me while listening to music during classtime. I completely disregarded the length and created a hopelessly confusing portion of the triumphant tale my Etherea and Ephraim piece was also derived from. Inspired by… an American Idol winner and some piece that only had toy pianos and vibraphones… (Slick me some slack, it was my classmates’ music, not mine!) I pieced together this… rather choreographed piece of fiction. Despite the fact it’s impossible to understand or even keep track of anything that’s going on, I love it to death for the fact that it’s incomprehensible. Even though the two people in my reading group didn’t like because of that. But I thought I gave it nice surreal atmosphere to ground it in un-reality. In-fact, I might just put this at the beginning of the story in order to confuse people before going into something a bit more along the lines of… exposition. But everyone will probably still be confused. Oh, well.
Dance of Progress
Plainfield, Indiana was a nearly perfect square with an uneven, rectangular acreage jutting out from its side. And Plainfield wanted to get rid of it. It wanted to expel it–sweat it out like baby fat. Remove it like a pair of Groucho Marx glasses. It never ceased in dreaming of when some politician would finally make it as rectangular as Colorado. But all of this, of course, was for naught, considering that at this point, it had become nothing greater than an uneven square hole.
And on the precipice above this lack of being, they still were. Were being. Kneeling, huddling together, hoping to find some comfort in each other. Silent tears were mingling on the ground, grasping onto each other in empathetic harmony.
Bentley was cradled in Margaret’s arms.
Her sons had long since grown up,
and she was terrified, too, but seeing the fear
so insecurely quaking in a child’s eyes, she held him close.
Etherea and Ephraim were sprawled,
with crosshatches of red upon their knees and elbows.
For once, the two communed,
as if they were the same kind of twenty-something.
They had seen their disunity single-handedly demolish every single life in Plainfield. More devastatingly, every dream built high had crumbled apart. But it wouldn’t be in vain. They weren’t going to allow it to happen again, and they were all one in purpose now.
Except for Stan.
Plainfield had been in his brain, all along, and yet he was standing still, bent a hairline downwards, with the ends of his now-scuffed business shoes perpendicular to the cliff-side. The now-frayed ends of his khaki slacks billowed backwards against his ankles.
“Do you see what they made us do?” Stan turned back to the other four. “The government is always messing up, but couldn’t they at least have left me out of it?”
“Stan, they were real people. You killed real people that WE KNEW. Or that we could’ve known! Margaret’s husband is DEAD now!” Etherea grabbed Ephraim by the shoulders, hobbling, as her own legs gave way. They kept each other from falling over again. Their hands were apart, and yet, they were together.
“Marcus was already dead. They all were.” Stan spoke, and that’s about all that he did. Anything more would’ve been in poor taste. “They haven’t been alive since Plainville turned into THIS on the Earth.” He panned an open palm towards the open non-existence. “They were only memories of what they used to be.”
“But…” Bentley, who was huddled up in Margaret’s arms, hesitated to speak further. His voice was strained, as clear as he could muster through the subsiding tears. “But, Marcus is still alive. Margaret told me that he never really died… she told me he was always with her, every day, all year, whenever she really missed him.”
Stan was silent. He lost his level eye contact. He started to do anything he could to keep his eyes away from Bentley. “Bentley, you aren’t facing the reality of the matter. Marcus was alive once, but he isn’t alive anymore. Margaret didn’t mean that literally.” His hands went into his coat pockets, though they continued to feel colder, the claws of air from the void yanking at him.
“No, Stanley. I did.” Margaret held Bentley tighter. “I did, and I do, and you have serious issues to deal with before you even begin to fathom why that is.”
“Margaret, you’re deluding the kid. Doesn’t anyone see this for what it is?” Stan’s voice level suddenly began to rise. It took even him by surprise.
“Stanley, hush.” Margaret said. “You’re an absolute mess, and you have no right to speak of things you don’t even know yourself.”
Stan looked from Margaret to Bentley, and then he proceeded, without regard. “This is a demented experiment some desperate innovators decided was a good idea. The world didn’t have enough space for everyone, they made way, and the people that didn’t budge with it were turned into anti-matter and the leftover dust was brushed off into our brains.”
“Stan, is that all you have to say for yourself?” Ephraim’s eyes suddenly shot up, riveted to him, for once unabashedly. “You know, she SAVED you. She tried to save them ALL. What did you do?”
“Well, I TRIED to go back in for her.”
“That wasn’t FOR them! OR Star!” Ephraim stepped away from Etherea, who was stunned that Ephraim’s opinions were, for once, not being resorted to the restraint of a notebook. “You just thought her voice was meant for that stupid song!”
“Well, isn’t that what all this is, anyway? They used my brain. Star was just an occupant of my brain, like a neuron, or a synapse. Why shouldn’t I have used her? Ephraim, they weren’t alive.”
“NO, you know who isn’t alive?!” Ephraim screamed, wrenching the notebook in one hand like it was his own heart, and jostling Stan by the shoulders with the other. “YOU have NEVER felt the slightest MIGRAINE HEADACHE of what it’s like being alive! And neither did I or any of us before we took on two-thousand individual lives into our heads! We didn’t ask for this, and you’ve told us that a MILLION TIMES. If you make some STUPID slight right now about how you never said it even CLOSE to a million times, I swear, I will take that stupid barf-colored tie and wring the FAT out of your neck! We didn’t ask for this, no, but we need to take it upon ourselves… because we aren’t just ourselves anymore… we’re…”
Ephraim lost his voice, starting to softly sob. He put the fistful of his notepad up to his heart and tried to keep himself from crying. Etherea bridged the distance between them with her footsteps, took his head in her hand and tilted it up to meet hers. She smiled directly into his face. And Ephraim didn’t stop looking. Her smile grew.
“Stan… no matter how real things are, that doesn’t mean they’ll satisfy you.” Etherea spoke with heavy, pensive thoughts, with a smile of light regret. She and Ephraim began to trail off together, out of Stan’s mind. “Sometimes, the most real things… are so close to not being real… you could blink… and think they were dreams all your life…”
As Etherea and Ephraim, Margaret and Bentley trailed off into the curtain of nothing, Stan remarked silently that it almost seemed like a dance… of movement, of change, of rebirth, and of sorrow. They spun around each other with ease like toy ballet dancers in a porcelain box of memories. They blew out in all directions with the natural grace of dandelion florets, their smiles of acceptance too much for him for handle. But Stan continued to look on in pain, and as he did, he almost thought he could make out a third person dancing with Margaret, as Bentley held tight to her… and Stan almost thought he felt someone’s hand touch his shoulder. And it wasn’t the cold claws of the void. It was… warm. Just as he was about to reach back to touch the hand… the dance was over.
From the Desk of Prof. Trexlesle
To Whom It May Concern:
I regrettably inform the rest of the board that the State-of-Mind relocation project is more of a failure than any of us could’ve previously surmised. Earlier this morning, one of our subjects in the Plainfield division, Stanley Dettpik, suffered a devastating mental breakdown for reasons still unclear. I use the word “devastating” less to describe the repercussions it left on him and more to describe what effects it had on the inhabitants of his mind. Our team recalled all five subjects in the division, and as we had planned in the case of such an emergency, they were placed into a vegetative state in chambers that would maintain their physical bodies in a permanent stasis.
Unfortunately, while this was considered by most to be the extent of a worst-case scenario, we did not suppose that the mind would then be free to fully explore the sub-conscious, wherein the city was stored. Instead of the base instincts of the body taking over the processes of nature within Plainfield, the individual mind still persisted. Plainfield was revealed to the subjects and overtaken by them, and these minds were now masters of all the forces of creation and, equally so, destruction.
The vulnerability of the human mind has brought to pass annihilation of Plainfield and its inhabitants. We are unsure of what step to take next to ensure nothing more is harmed. This wasn’t the path to less pain and more space that our dream team had once envisioned it to be. I, as head of the operation, cannot begin to express how ashamed I am for ever having taken on this project. Apologies will make no difference, as I will never be able to remedy what I have done.