Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Prologue Part 5

Shell Scripted in Sand : Dark Contrast

Prologue: Why Gardening Doesn’t Scale

Part 5

I heard a horrible screech from behind me that sounded like “Naked Lunch by Peter S. Burroughs!” but might not actually have been that. I spun around in time to see my friendly business man interrogator’s perfect hair begin to boil. Jets of slime erupted out of the follicular lava and hardened into two-foot long eyestalks. The expression on his face was still calm and congenial; his body language not so much. He sprang towards us.

Decker didn’t miss a beat. She whipped her backpack off and swung it into the things head. There was a loud thwack, and both of its man-eyes popped out as it flew to the side. On of the eyes collided with my forehead and shot vitreous humor, or maybe some kind of prop adhesive, all over my face. I fought the urge to brush it off. No time to worry about that now. I grabbed Decker by the hand.

“Let’s go!” I said. She grinned and sprang into motion.

“What the fuck do we do next?” I said between labored breaths as we ran in a random direction. “We’re all out of doors.”

“Have you found the target?” Decker asked. She didn’t sound winded. No matter how much fried corn she ate, she was always managed to be in perfect shape when things were trying to kill us. “Is Axon synced up yet?”

I’m synced up, said Axon in my head. The visible doors you opened are just the surface interface.

Okay, I said as if I knew what that meant. So where do we go?

Keep going. Make a 115 degree right turn precisely when I say.

As we ran several of the doors opened and things that were mostly people piled out. Their screeches of incomprehensible literary references echoed through the hallway.

Turn right now, Axon said.

I banked sharply right. A wall loomed three feet in front of me, threatening to body check me if I didn’t stop. I kept running. If you can’t trust the voices in your head, you shouldn’t be walking into a giant office-slug to begin with. A second later I smashed into something wet. It was an enormous membrane disguised as a wall, and Decker and I tore right through it and fell onto the floor. And by “floor,” I mean “organs.” We were back inside the giant slug’s guts.

I turned around to see a half dozen business-slugs trudging towards us. Bits of them have fallen off, and there was slug poking through various parts of their outfits. The torn edges of the membrane-wall swung closed like a cat flap and began to stitch themselves up.

I’m reinforcing the membrane, said Axon. It won’t hold them back for long.

Of course it wouldn’t. It never does. Decker was already standing, and she reached down to help me to my feet.

“That was fun,” she said. “What’s next?”

Head forward through the passageways. I’ll guide you. You’ve got less than three minutes.

We started forward at a trot. Once again I appreciated the texture of slug-insides on my unshod right foot. At least I still had my sock.

“Those people were slugs,” I said as we trekked along what might have been an enormous slug kidney. “And this thing we’re inside is a slug. How does that work?”

“It’s not a slug,” said Decker. “It’s a snail.”

“Huh?”

“When I broke through the lobby I ended up in this crazy maze that looked like it was made of colored porcelain. I solved it when I realized it was a snail’s shell and the twists followed the golden ratio. What did you get up to?”

“I opened a lot of doors,” I said. Damn. Whenever we got split up she always made it sound like she had wild fantasy adventures while I filed the paperwork. Which was more or less how our delivery business worked, now that I think about it.

“Are you going to leave that eyeball on your face?” Decker asked, “because you are totally pulling it off.”

Here we are, said Axon before I could respond.

“What, here?” I asked.

“Is this it?” asked Decker. She swung her bag around to her front and unzipped the top. “I’ve got a bag of sand in case we have to match the weight of an idol on a pressure switch.”

“There’s nothing here,” I said.

It’s through that membrane there. You’ll have to find a way through.

I stepped forward and touched a piece of wall that was apparently a membrane. It stretched from floor to ceiling, about seven feet up, and was made of a thick, tough material. It’d take a lot time to hack through with the Damascus steel broadsword that I conveniently forgot to bring. Or own in the first place.

“How much time do we have?”

A minute and a half.

“Crap. Maybe there’s something in the package that’ll get us through.”

No. The package is for when you meet Sigmurethra.

“This is a snail, right?” asked Decker. “Et voila.” She reached into her bag and pulled out an unopened two pound box of coarse flake Kosher salt.

“Why the hell do you have that?” I asked.

“You never know when you’re going to have to bind demons,” she said. “Or Kosher a side of beef.”

“You’ve never done any of those things!”

She grinned, tore open the top of the box, and threw the entire contents onto the membrane.

“I don’t think this will work at this scale,” I said. “Factoring in biology, I mean.”

“Of course it will,” said Decker. “Esoteric sources show that Tsunade, paramour of Jiraiya the Gallant, utilized salt to develop her slug-based magic system.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but sure enough, as we watched the membrane dissolved into a pile of shriveled, desiccated organ meat. I don’t know if it was magic or osmosis, but it worked.

Once it was gone, the flesh-wall revealed an ordinary looking room. Unlike the office building, this one really did look ordinary. It resembled a small apartment, and I could see cheap Ikea furniture, one of those green fridges left over from the sixties, and the back of a 22 inch CRT TV.

The only thing unusual about the room, aside from the fact that it was in the middle of a giant snail, was the fact that the walls and the ceiling were all covered in pictures. Pictures of flowers, of grass, of gardens, and of other snails. They were all from a low angle, and shot with craft and artistry. If snails had photo contests, these would be serious competitors. There were also pieces of paper with streaks of slime across them in some kind of pattern.

It’s writing, said Axon. Writing in snail.

Snails have a language? I asked.

They do now. Right here. In this room.

Can you read it?

I’m working on that.

“We have a live one,” said Decker. I hadn’t noticed her walk into the room. She stood just past the television and waved me towards her.

I walked over and saw what she was pointing at. Just past the TV there was a small table. On it sat a small, ordinary looking snail, staring at the screen. Until that moment, I wouldn’t have been sure I could tell the difference between a terrestrial gastropodic that happened to be facing a television and one that was actively watching TV. But how that I saw it, it was obvious. The TV was showing some kind of gardening program, close ups of grass and flowers, some shots of snails slowly munching on weeds and just really enjoying themselves.

“Holy shit,” I said.

Decker looked over at me. “You’ve got something, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”

It hit me all at once, with the weird logic lat lets you know when your cat wants the chicken instead of the fish. The most dangerous thing in the world, whether you’re talking snail monsters or world leaders, is a crappy imagination given the resources to make it real.

“This is all like, snail fantasy,” I said. “Gourmet snail-restaurant advertising. Snail porn, maybe, but that cheapens it.”

“But snails barely have brains,” said Decker. She wasn’t contradicting me. Just exploring the edges of my idea. “They can’t process art or porn or art-porn even if someone gave it to them. Their minds are too small.”

“That’s the point,” I said. “Somehow, for some reason, someone has taught this snail how to dream.”

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Why I’m Scared of Twitter

Brain Bot

 

Another 37, Day 15

Fear serves an important evolutionary function. Some things deserved to be feared, like Godzilla. If Godzilla shows up in your neighborhood and you aren’t at least a little scared, that will probably be a very bad day for you. On the other hand, just like a craving for beer-battered bacon wings, our modern brains are very stupid about knowing when to use this particular tool.

I’m scared of a lot of things because I’m a regular person. I don’t like either of these facts, but there you are. Also Spider-man is scared of a lot of things and he’s an extra-awesome person, so at least I’m in good company. Many of the things I’m scared of are quite reasonable. Like the thing from It Follows, and also sea monsters. Neither of these are unlikely to come up in my life (or so I keep telling myself), but if they did they’d be genuine threats.

So even though imagining how utterly helpless I would be in the middle of the ocean with a giant tentacled beast I couldn’t see that wanted to eat my bone marrow swimming beneath me is definitely a waste of my damn time, I’m still putting in the “reasonable fear” pile. That gives you a lot of information about the other, much larger pile. One of the things I am unreasonably afraid of these days is Twitter.

I really should join Twitter, since it’s currently still an important platform for writers and for networking in all of those fields and circles I want to get involved in if I can ever get off my ass. Some of those circles I’m already involved in, but I have limited exposure because I don’t have a Twitter account. Plus, it looks like mild fun, and I think it would help me check Facebook less often.

But I haven’t gotten one, because it scares me. This is not terrifying, looking-the-basilisk-in-the-eye kind of fear. It’s much milder. Just enough for me to put it off. And I have very good reasons for being afraid. Very good reasons that are also a pile of crap.

The more psychology books I read the more I think that human cognition is a set of extremely capable controls with staggeringly fiddly calibrations, like Surgeon Simulator. Most of the more usual kinds of neuroses are just like fear: useful mental features with the dials turned up too high or too low.

In a highly rigorous study that I conducted whenever I thought about it around my friends and acquaintances, I found that people who are punctual are always nervous about being punctual. You can’t be consistently on time to things unless being late makes you uncomfortable. There is no intrinsic reason this should be the case. It’s easy to imagine a person who manages their time carefully such that they always leave when they need to and take traffic into account, but who also stays calm and detached about it. But I’ve never met one.

Likewise, people are almost always either too confident or not confident enough. Almost everyone who doesn’t compulsively worry about whether or not they have their keys on them will, from time to time, lock their keys in their car. You might only worry about this a little and still be consistent. If so, good for you! This is not one of your particular neuroses. But there’s no reason you should have to worry at all; it’d be easy for Reed Richards to create a robot who never locked her keys in her car but also didn’t feel any particular way about it. He probably wouldn’t since robots in superhero fiction always seem to have emotions for some reason, but the fact remains that he could.

But, alas, the human brain wasn’t designed by Reed Richards. More like, say, Egghead. We aren’t robots. We are more like a blindfolded person walking through a room full of obstacles, assisted by sighted people who can only communicate with us by slapping our faces if we get too close to the buzz saw.

Example: you see a dress that you like in the store that you’d really like to buy, so you check the price tag. It says $1900. Chances are, your brain doesn’t calmly say, “Oh, that’s out of my price range. I’ll move on.” It’s much more likely to be something like, “Gah! Nineteen hundred dollars? Jesus fucking Christ! I’m not selling a kidney to Donald Trump for this damn thing! That dress made of my neighbor’s curtains will have to be good enough. I wonder if they’ve changed the code on their security system.”

There’s no reason to react that strongly in order to change behavior. Or rather, there probably is, because the urge to buy a dress you like is also badly calibrated. You might buy it for $200 even though that means another month of plankton-flavored ramen for dinner. The image of how damn sexy you’ll be in that dress just releases too much dopamine to resist.  Lucky for you and your plankton-oriented future your grandmother was part blue whale.

I don’t want to join Twitter because I think it’ll make me look like a jackass. We are way, way past the time when anyone who wanted a Twitter account should have already gotten one. I might as well start wearing parachute pants—which by the way are crazy comfortable. I’m afraid people will judge me. No, that’s not it. I’m afraid people will identify me. Most people like being put into categories to some extent. I’m a Star Trek Fan. I’m a South Carolina Conservative. I’m a member of the Cherokee Nation. You get the idea.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this; being part of a group or a label gives people a sense of belonging. But my brain doesn’t work that way. Oh, I love to belong as much as anyone, but I want to be unique. In a less charitable interpretation, I want to be seen as being unique. As much as I life Firefly I’d never wear a Firefly shirt because people might identify me as a Firefly fan, and make all sorts of assumptions. For some reason that doesn’t make any sense to anyone but me (also not to me) that terrifies me. It’s a form of social anxiety, and I’ve never met anyone else with this precise flavor.

The thing is, I mostly don’t have social anxiety. I don’t even mind looking like a jackass. In fact, I would say that on balance I deliberately make myself look like a jackass more often than 99% of the population. But certain things trigger it. Being seen as part of a thing that people are collectively doing is the biggest, and it often paralyzes my ability to change. It’s why it took me so long to get a cell phone, why I put off joining Facebook, and why for years I always waited until I looked like a homeless man-goat before I cut my hair. That last part hasn’t actually improved, it’s just that I shave my head now and so when I inevitably put it off I just look like a balding guy with short hair. I think it’s an improvement.

Society is more and more tolerant of the level of neuroses that are big enough or defined enough for doctors to diagnose. I say more tolerant, but obviously there is still plenty of social stigma in being depressed or anxious or taking medication for anything without obvious physical symptoms. We have a long way to go, but we have gotten better.

But there’s a lot less sympathy for the harder-to-pinpoint conditions that still screw up our lives. The kind of bluntness about them that I’m exhibiting in this article in talking about my neuroses is comparatively rare. There are pretty good reasons for this. We need to take neuroses and psychoses into account, but at the same time we also need to have a function society, and ultimately people need to get back to work.

I do think we’d be collectively healthier if we recognized how much we are defined by the ill-tuning of our psychological drives, but we’d have to find the happy medium between coddling everyone and insisting we all man up and ignore the problems that define us. As with individual human cognition, society-level calibration is a bitch.

Meanwhile, I need to recognize that I’m already a jackass, that people are already judging me, and get a Twitter account. It’s so easy.

It makes me nervous to even say it.

They Have Teeth

Strange tree trunk

Another 37, Day 14

I’m not quite sure what I have against wood, lately. Anyway, here’s another horror poem! But I quite like I this one. It sort of formed in my head while I was working and supposedly concentrating on other things. It’s been running through my head all day.

 

 

wooden teeth
They Have Teeth

just so you know
the trees have teeth
they like to eat pork
they’d rather have beef

but if they can get it
it needs to be said
they prefer the soft tissue
that lives in your head

you’ll never see them
though they’re always bared
they hide in the places
you’d rather not stare

if you see them glisten
in the venomous night
you’d best strike their form
from your mind and your sight

for if they ever realize
we know that they’re there
you won’t want to breathe
what they leave of the air

so there’s only one truth
that I need to bequeath
just forget that I told you
the trees, they have teeth

Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Prologue Part 4

Office

Prologue: Why Gardening Doesn’t Scale

Part 4

I ran towards the closest of the two remaining doors. I had a lot of experience doing stupid things while holding my breath, but my chest still felt like it had been kicked by a mermaid wearing a flipper shaped wedged heel shoe.

This isn’t the right door, said Axon. Move on.

Right. Does that mean you are fully synced? I asked.

Enough to know this is null data zone.

Okay, I’ll be quick. I didn’t want to leave out any door if she wasn’t fully synced. There was an outside chance she was wrong, and even if she wasn’t there might be an Axe of Smiting or something behind the door. Also, I play too many video games. I grabbed the handle.

Stop. The word smashed into my consciousness, like there was an anvil in my head, and someone had dropped it into a cartoon piano player who was also in my head, then hit the anvil with a big stick.

What the fuck? What was that for? I’m only taking a look.

There’s no axe of smiting. Damn mind riding. We have less than two minutes. Don’t waste time.

Alright, I know better than to argue with you when you’re like this. So I didn’t. I started to turn the handle instead. But she was too quick for me.

Stop or I’ll fill your head with close up pictures of red monkey ass.

Damn. My kryptonite.

Can you…can you do that? I asked.

Do you actually want to find out?

Nutsack. Okay, fine. If it’s that important to you. I turned away. Then it hit me. There was only one explanation for this behavior. Okay, there were probably five hundred, but only one I was smart enough to come up with in the moment. She’s in there, isn’t she?

Axon didn’t answer for a moment. It felt like a long time, taking into account the fact that this whole interchange was at the speed of thought and only took a few seconds.

There is a greater than 74% chance that she is.

God fuck it, Axon! You know how important this is to me.

That’s why we can’t get sidetracked. If you open that door you are going to get sucked in like you always do, and the timer will run down. This is destructive behavior, Dendrite. We can’t allow it.

I sighed. She had won, and there was no point arguing. Instead, I twisted the handle and shoved open the door.

And there she was. The scene that greeted me looked different than anything I’d seen in the slug-building so far. Oh, sure, the classroom inside didn’t look too far out of place with the rest of the office. The walls were a different color, and the chairs were a different design. And the esoteric engineering specs and mathematically paradoxical building blueprints that cluttered the walls, ceiling, desks, and every other available surface didn’t fit with anything I’d seen so far. But it was more fundamentally different than could be accounted for by any of that. It didn’t belong. I knew, because she was sitting there. The girl with the raven hair.

She sat hunched over a notebook, furiously scrawling away. She didn’t see me as I lumbered in; she was too intent on her writing, like there was a bomb in the paper that would explode if she wrote less than 50 words a minute. As she wrote, something bizarre happened to everything else in the room. All of the notes and drawings and everything taped all over the walls and drawn on the blackboard pulsed, like they were trying to peel off of their surfaces and fly towards her.

“Hello,” I said. My voice cracked a little, because of course it did. “My name is Darius. I’ve been looking for you, and…”

Her head jerked up from her writing towards the sound of my voice. She looked straight at me, eyes wide.

“Darius?” she mouthed the words, but no sound came out. Then she said something else, something very urgent that I couldn’t make out.

“What are you saying?” I said, my voice thick with urgency. “I can’t understand.”

“You need…” and then a string of unintelligibility.

“What? I need what? Tell me!”

She started, as if she heard a terrifying sound. She looked behind her. Then she looked towards me, a look of terrified panic on her face. I blinked. For that micro moment while my eyes closed everything was dark.

Then I heard Axon’s voice in my head.

I’m glad you are finally seeing sense. Now let’s go. One more door.

I was standing outside the door I had just opened, my hand still on the handle. Apparently, I had never even opened it. Did I imagine all of that? No, it was too real. I was struck with a moment of ontological agony at the paradox of what had just happened, but it was balanced out by relief that I wouldn’t have to find out if Axon could make good on her monkey ass threat.

I turned, and ran towards the next door. One of the office workers, or slug blood cells, whatever the hell they were, stepped around a corner and into the hallway. A man in a dark grey suit. I almost collided with him, but at the last moment I dove to the side and narrowly avoided it. The momentum was too much, and I couldn’t slow myself down. I crashed into the door. It knocked the air out of my lungs.

“Excuse me?” The man turned around and looked me in the eye. “And who might you be? I don’t think I know you, and I know everyone around here, yes I do.”

Fuck. My cover is blown.

It’s okay, said Axon. Stay calm. They’ve noticed you, and will certainly do horrible things to each of your orifices if you give them the opportunity. But all you need to do is get through that door.

Right. Just needed to get through that door.

“Don’t mind me,” I said. “I’m just the new janitor. I just need to get into this door here, do a spot of cleaning.”

Why are you doing an Indian accent? asked Axon in my head.

It’s Pakistani. And I don’t know; I was nervous.

“The new janitor?” said office guy. “I didn’t hear anything about a new janitor. No, that doesn’t seem very likely at all. It’s not like we’re running out of janitors.” He turned around and called out to a woman at the other end of the hall, the only other person visible in this area, “Hey Meg, have you heard anything about a new janitor?”

Now’s your chance, said Axon. Go.

I turned around and faced the door. I took a deep breath, but chances were it was too late for that; he had already noticed me. I wouldn’t be able to hide. But like Axon said, this was it. Whatever mission goal I had in this place, with this package hanging under my left arm, was through this door. All I had to do was enter, and perform whatever task I needed to, and this would all be over. I reached down to turn the handle.

The door swung inward rapidly before I had a chance to touch it, and someone on the other side started to leap out into the hallway. Then she saw me, and she stopped. It was Decker, still wearing her ski mask, brandishing what looked like a chair leg in her hand like a weapon.

“Darius,” she said, “you’re here, awesome. Did you drop off the package? Can we get out of here, because there’s a lot of people right behind me just that would totally get off on killing us.”

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Those Ideas

ONE up mushroom : tshirt painting, san francisco (2013)Another 37, day 12

The other day as I walked out of work I saw a neat looking mushroom on the grass. I was extraordinarily tired on this particular day because it was the morning after Daylight Torture Time day, an alternate version of Daylight Savings Time day that overlays the usual version and has exactly the same effects, except that it can only be perceived by those of us cursed to work Sunday mornings. I assure that on that day we hate all of you. Also probably other days? We’re an angry people, us Sunday workers.

I was also tired because, despite working Sunday mornings, I always go out Saturday night. Hey, you’ve got to live, even if your version of living involves Saturday Dungeons and Dragons where you play some kind of elf ninja assassin who is the scion of a fallen magical kingdom. Not that you would ever admit such a thing on a blog. Anyway, the point here is that I was very tired, but I was also in a very good mood because I was walking out of work, which is the desirable direction. Also we gained a level in the game the night before. Hypothetically.

I was tired, in a good mood, and I saw an interesting mushroom. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing—for evidence see…this blog post– and during those phases my brain generates a lot of story ideas. Sometimes they are passing fancies, and sometimes I fixate on them long enough to come up with an actual narrative. But they almost always seem at least mildly amazing during the moment of conception. I like to think that my brain has a filter where it only lets the good ideas through. I like to think a lot of things.

As soon as I saw the mushroom my synapses lit up and got to work. What if there was an entire region composed of just these mushrooms? Wouldn’t that be fascinating? A whole kingdom. Some kind of…mushroom kingdom! The idea danced around in my mind, and I got all the way to my car—a good, embarrassing 45 seconds—before I realized that “Mushroom Kingdom” wasn’t a new idea. Did I mention I was tired?

Not all fiction writers come up with a lot of ideas. Not all writers are even interested in coming up with a lot of ideas. People have different writing superpowers, and idea generation is just one of them. It’s one I happen to have, but I’m honestly rather jealous of people who have fewer ideas about crazy stuff and, I don’t know, naturally write rich dialogue or distinctive characters. Their grass always looks so much purpler than mine.

I don’t know what it’s like inside of the minds of other idea-writers, but I have a feeling it’s just as messy and ridiculous as it is the chocolate factory perched atop my own neck. The thing is, an awful lot of being good at something is just about caring about it. Research into expertise shows that the best violin players aren’t the ones with the most natural talent, but the ones who practice the most. Studies of genius show that the most intelligent people are always deliberately learning; they don’t just suck in information, they fixate on it. Likewise I find ideas intoxicating for their own sake, so I think about them; I pursue them. I’m sure I’m not alone.

On the other hand, coming up with a lot of ideas means coming up with a lot of bad ideas. And being fascinated by them. Certain ideas pop into the mind and seem amazing, but are either really stupid or too nebulous to articulate in a way that is even a little interesting. I make lists of my ideas so that I can come back to them later, and whenever I read through those lists I have to conclude that one of the anthropomorphic beings sits in the abstract representation of my brain and runs my creativity is, in fact, a dumbass. He probably wears a stupid hat.

Right now I’m combing through a list of horror story ideas for a horror comic I’m going to be working on with a friend. There are some pretty cool ideas in there, but there also a few that are…less cool. Here are a few of my favorites, copied exactly as they appear in the file:

  • Creepy wooden doll that is creepy in some way.
  • A horrible church, where everyone gets up to horrible things.
  • Something about a statue? Like, maybe an evil…statue. Ugh.
  • There’s something here about fog. A really good idea. About fog. I don’t quite have it.
  • A man who hates trains.

I don’t remember the moment I came up with all of those. But I can assure you that each of those ideas seem to me, for at least one, crystalline moment, utterly brilliant.

Limericks, Malebogia Style

Sock Zombie Puppet

Another 37, Day 12

I seem to be in a horror mood again. Which is kind of a shame, since the serial novel I plan to slowly write over the next year or so isn’t horror. Oh well. These phases never last. Anyway, I’m always in the mood for limericks! And by always, I mean never. But ever since that passage in the second Harry Potter book spoke of a book that made anyone who read it speak in limericks for the rest of their life, I’ve been practicing. Just in case. So here are a few that I come up with while dwelling inside…whatever pit of midnight-black and clown-car yellow you need to splash around in to make horror limericks seem like a good idea.

 

Limericks, Malebogia Style

I can’t get enough of your blood
it flows from the hole like a flood
just one little nick
with this nice sharpened stick
and you fall to the ground with a thud.

We found an old book in the attic
inscribed on the skin of a haddock
we tried a spell
and it worked pretty well
except now my own brother’s a paddock.

I heard a strange sound in the night
it was dark so it gave me a fright
then came in a thing
made of darkness and wing
and began to devour the light.

There once was a man name of Sutton,
he finished the last of his mutton,
then he looked at the town
and said “screw it I’m down”
before pressing the very last button.

Lacey looked down at her grave
quite depressed that she couldn’t be saved
but there’s always a lining
hell, her future was shining
time to go out and be more depraved.

The blood on the knife, how it shined
and there’s no way those ropes will unbind
time to go watch some Grover
the day’s almost over
and there’s more than one way to unwind.

Jessica seemed ordinary
so no one knew she was a fairy
at night she stole kids
parents blamed it on SIDS
and never did think to be wary.

Compelling Evidence for the Nonexistence of the Universe, Prologue Part 3

Blades of Grass

Prologue: Why Gardening Doesn’t Scale

Part 3

On the other side of the door was something I didn’t expect. An office hallway. A perfectly normal office hallway. Too normal. It looked like a Tollhouse Cookie. A piece of advice if you ever, God help you, get sucked into this kind of work: if something reminds you of a Tollhouse Cookie, one of the plump, perfect ones from the commercials, just run. Do not stop to eat the cookie.

The only time my mother ever swore was when she took a tray of cookies out of the oven. She would look down at the mangled, misshapen lumps of congealed dough and let out long strings of angry syllables in Urdu, even though she didn’t speak any Urdu. She claimed she learned them from her brothers. Once the internet came out and made it embarrassing to be ignorant of how to be foul in all the world’s languages I looked them up. I don’t think she ever knew what they meant; either that, or my mother was more knowledgeable about butt stuff than she led me to believe.

“Why don’t they look like the packaging?” she would say. Every time. None of the kids cared because they tasted good. And no cookie made out of actual food ever looks like it does on the packaging. The cookies on the packaging aren’t real. They are always perfect. Just like this hallway. Every ceiling light, every door, every patch of carpeting had exactly the right number of chocolate chips. It weirded me out, even though I had come in through a door I tried hard not to realize was probably secretly Godzilla’s sphincter.

“So, are you coming to the company picnic this weekend?” said a man to the woman standing next to him at the water cooler. He had Ken Doll Hair and wore the exact suit and tie you are now imagining.

“You better believe it, Mister,” said his colleague, the female equivalent of him. “I never miss it. Are you bringing Sarah and the kids?”

“You betcha,” said Ken. “My son Jimmy just loves competing in the sack race.”

It was creepier than the stairs. The 1950s must have been horrifying.

I kept my breath held and snuck past them. I needed to find Sigmund Reefer’s office. I only had…

Six minutes, said Axon.

That’s very helpful, I said. Are you synced up yet? Can you tell me where to go? Or what the hell we’re dealing with? Or anything useful?

You will eat exactly 19,000 cookies in your lifetime, which puts you at the dead center of the statistical curve. Unless you die young, in which case you eat too many cookies.

Fuck. I ate a lot of cookies. I told myself the Olympus Mons-sized lie that I would cut back, and walked towards the nearest door. It was unlabeled. Could this be the office? Could I be that lucky? I opened it, slowly, and peeked inside.

“Quarterly intake is up 14% this quarter,” said a man standing in front of a group of people at a conference table. “Which is encouraging, but we’re going to have to do much better if we want to stay alive.” He spoke very quickly, and sounded like an As-Seen-On-TV pitchman. I half expected him to whip out a sample case and start trying to sell everyone there a talking squeegee or a new laundry detergent that could also double as salad dressing. No one was looking at me, so I ducked inside, took another breath, and then left the room to check out the other doors.

None of the doors were labelled, so I went to each one and opened them and looked inside.

How will be even know if we have the right door? I asked Axon.

It’ll be the door you open that offends and terrifies you at the most fundamental level. That makes you laugh at the absurdity of existence and weep bitter tears at your own inability to care.

That was Axon for “you’ll know it when you see it.” With a side of “shut up and do your job” to be going on with.

Comforting. The fact was, every door I opened scared me. Maybe I’m just frightened of office work. But in a situation like this there is absolutely no telling what you are going to find. No rules, no safety net, not even any logic you can count on. No training or ghost stories or preparation can prepare you for impossible things that don’t exist. It sounds stupid and obvious, but you can’t let yourself get used to this stuff. I wasn’t even supposed to be doing this, and I never got used to it. I’ve been told that’s the main reason nothing had yet managed to digest me out of existence.

There were a lot of doors, and I didn’t have a lot of time, as Axon kept helpfully reminding me. I found stacks of off-brand office supplies. I found a meeting that I think was an exact copy of the one I saw before, with the exact same words and the exact same suspicious absence of laundry detergent. I found two people on a table doing things my mother could have described in Urdu. But no Sigmurethra. No Ultimate Goal. There were only a couple of doors left. I didn’t have much time, and I was an invader. Sooner or later I’d be noticed.

That’s when I saw the window. The only window I’d seen in the whole building, and it was down a long hallway all by itself. I only checked it out because the light coming from it was strange. It shifted rapidly from moment to moment, and it was green. I sprinted up to take a look.

I knew what this part of Ducksburg depressingly well. God help me, I knew what every part of Ducksburg looked like, inexplicably appearing buildings notwithstanding. From here I should have be able to see the statue in the center of town everyone pretends to be proud of , Liliandra’s Antique Wigs, and Tuesday Bagels. What I shouldn’t have seen were fifty foot high blades of grass. A moment later the scene zoomed in rapidly, as if the building thrust towards the nearest stalk. Then it pulled away, and the stalk had a large segment missing. The building just took a bite.

Then I saw the eyestalk. The other eyestalk, because surely I was looking out of one of the eyes right now. The perspective didn’t make sense; it didn’t map out to the shape of the building I was walking in. But why should it? I was looking out of an eye and I could see the other eye, and through it I could see into another part of the building.

So we’re not inside Gozilla, I thought. More like Mothra.

That means we don’t have to deal with a stockpile of fuel for nuclear fire, said Axon. Unfortunate, but you’re probably not ready for that.

I knew what kind of creature I was in. It was a slug. An enormous slug with an office building full of sphincters and 1950s executives. And outside, occupying the same space as my hometown, was an enormous garden.

Axon, what happens to Ducksburg if this thing eats all of the foliage.

That’s a bad question, she said, because the universe will some day wink out without it ever being answered. Let’s end this fucker. I’ve always hated gardening.

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