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Spoken-Word Audio - VS
Into the Sandbox.
Seven stood looking out the dormer window upon the pine forest, sipping at her favorite mug of coffee. She really did like the ginger, as there was some complementary interaction going on between spices; the cinnamon not so sweet, the ginger not so biting, and the too-strong coffee not so strong, the concoction all blending into one powerful brew. It was like a hot frothy coffee milkshake. She smiled sadly and formed the dormer window into a window seat so that she might sit and enjoy the forest below, and this is exactly what she did.
|Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2016 - Vestigial Surreality: SIX
With her sandbox on creep, for the last thirty hours she buckled down and concentrated on her schoolwork, actually moving herself from several weeks ahead of schedule, to closing down the quarter, taking and passing all her exams. If she concentrated, and really made an effort, she might accomplish two years of education in a full week of this lively, attenuated version of reality, a reality where you never required sleep, never grew tired, and truly, never endured stress.
Seven was not trying to put paid to her education, in fact, she was now considering tackling a much stiffer itinerary, which would be nothing, she told herself. Then she meditated on that thought, sipping at her coffee, reclining on the window seat of her favorite dormer window, looking at the still, quiet world of pine below her, and the fat squirrels that scampered from tree to tree, chasing each other, scolding, and it bothered her, the thought that a more extreme educational itinerary would really be nothing, just nothing at all. What did that mean? It would be nothing. Even appending letters to her name, what did it all mean, really?
Because what she accomplished here, in RL, it would not—she stopped her thought, reminding herself that here, where she sat in this newly formed window seat above a pine forest, this was actually her Inner Sanctum, this was not RL, she was merely one step below the staircase of reality, or one step above, if you thought about it that way, because as Number Six alluded in their conversation out in the common breakroom, this very private inner room, and the vast worlds beyond, seemed more like an improved RL, not in any way like a simulation.
Of course, Six had not really said anything of the sort, but his physical condition, a world of palsy, trembling in RL, that was not the world to which he devoted nearly all his time. Action is so much louder than the words formed by your lips. What was real to Six was this place, well, she thought, not this place, but his version of this place. And it frightened her somewhat, because she sat across from him, pitying him, he was a junkie, she thought she remembered Six even making a joke about it. Staring into his too-perfect physical self that was a tangled mass of highly tuned sinews and fiber, a body lacking fat, she was observing her own too-near future. Six was a living prophecy of Seven.
Seven, or Newbury (she reminded herself of her name, at least once a day; no, not once a day, because time did not divide into days here, but out of habit, she did notice the time in twenty-four-hour blocks, and at least once during this block of time she had to stop calling herself Seven, it was a number, and she was Newbury, a person, a real person, not a number but a person), she had not zipped through her full quarter of study in a concentrated application of focus to pass the time, or to cram in more credits, but realized at a deeper level she was clearing some time for her crystal sandbox, the one she had, secretly from herself, worried and fretted at all these thirty hours.
That particular crystal sandbox, the one with the kid, Jack, and the older guy that seemed to randomly appear, and just kind of, oh I don’t know, the old boxer, Stacey, he had appeared and ran smack into her Principle, Jack. Jack was her Principle, her object of study, he was the guy on which she would write her final dissertation. And it troubled her (oh so much about this crystal sandbox troubled her), because she first thought of them all as characters, Jack, Stacey, the businessman, the old guy that looked like a homeless person, even the pigeons, they were all just characters in a play to her.
But, they were not characters in a play. They were people, even the pigeons were individual beings, all with their own concerns, fears, emotions.
Did pigeons even have emotions?
Seven rubbed her hands together, ridding herself of the coffee mug. She stood from the window seat and returned it to the usual dormer window. When she did not need it, she preferred the empty space to needless clutter.
As she strolled to her desk she thought of a red silk kimono and looked down at herself in it as it appeared, and it felt good, the silk already warm to her skin, but she thought she looked kind of silly, kind of pretentious, and instead thought of her usual black sweats, and that was better as she walked, clothed in black sweats and her fluffy white socks. She felt cozy as she reached the desk, opened the drawer, and snatched up the crystal sandbox out of its fancy cloth box. Holding the crystal cube in her hand, she peered inside and noticed the miniscule bustle of the city on creep time. First things first. She duped the cube by pulling it into two cubes.
Now the two crystal cubes were identical, neither being an original, neither a copy. They were now two crystal sandboxes, and each would run along similar pathways, but soon, probably even at this moment, they would begin to diverge and the butterfly effect in motion would soon ensure each was a highly different environment. She froze the one in her left hand, stilling the bustle of the city, and this she returned to the cloth box, and closed the desk drawer.
Seven imagined a server somewhere registering her vast data doubling, and perhaps a technician bending forward to a screen to ascertain what the crazy girl in the Number Seven slot was doing. She knew, however, that there were no limits. This was not like a data max imposed on an e-mail account. Still, she did not wish to worry about being a data hog. She reopened the desk drawer, seized up a handful of a few of her earlier practice simulations, and dropped them into the wicker wastebasket next to the desk.
She stared at the wicker wastebasket. It was beautiful, intricately woven. She loved it. But she frowned, because when had she done this? Changed her wastebasket? She loved her brass wastebasket, the one that looked like an old-fashioned spittoon, which she had formed on her first day in her Inner Sanctum. It had come with the desk, from a catalog, and they matched. The wicker basket did not really match She must be subconsciously modifying this place, making it even more her, because she highly doubted that anyone was tampering with her Inner Sanctum. She would not even begin to go down that road of paranoia.
Seven remembered those angry eyes, staring directly into her, those severe eyes above the half-lens spectacles. Maybe it wasn’t paranoia. But she wouldn’t worry about that, at least not yet.
Plus, she liked the wicker basket, even better than the spittoon.
More than anything else bothering her, that was the kicker, that guy, the businessman with the umbrella and briefcase. He was not a denizen of the crystal sandbox—her crystal sandbox. That guy did not belong. He was an outsider, and he changed things. He carved Jack’s name into a tree, and he gave Jack a book (the book was now in her to-read bookcase, alongside the William Goldman novels that Jack and Stacey mentioned). She was not much of a reader, not the voracious kind, like Jack, and Stacey.
The other man, the old man that somehow revived the pigeons, he did not belong either. And he told her not to be afraid. What business was it of his? She could be afraid if she wanted to. Not that she was afraid. No, she was angry.
Perhaps, that was the point, she was taking this too seriously. Maybe she was viewing all of this wrong, and she should relax, a bit, and just enjoy everything.
Okay, Jack, what are you up to? She went to the couch and spread the crystal sandbox out on the coffee table, then she moved her fingers and zoomed in to where Jack stood in an alley. Seven blinked, what in the world? Jack and Stacey were moving backward, the kid behind the older man, and Jack’s nose was bleeding profusely, it looked terrible, and Stacey had his hands up, and he was bloodied, as well, his left eye closed and already swelling.
Seven switched angle to take on Stacey’s point of view. Three small men were advancing, another three lay strewn in the alley, two not moving, the third pushing himself off the pavement and jerking to his feet, but then this third man fell over again, his face a smear of blood.
Okay, something had happened, something that was not supposed to happen.
Seven scrolled everything to the right abruptly and she caught a reverse-flow of images tangling, violence, and then she was in a dark room alive with people, a coffee house and she found Jack and Stacey at a table. She stopped the flow. She instantly saw the man that did not belong here, the tall old man from earlier, but now dressed differently, standing at the fireplace, flipping through a slim paperback book. A small man with canes was moving past Stacey and Jack.
Seven moved up close to the old man and he hummed through the corner of his mouth. It sounded to Seven that he was making the noise to her, directing the sound at her approach, kind a smiling mmm-hmmm, as if he were greeting her. The old man could have just as easily have said: “Ah yes, and here you are, again!” Then he vanished. Seven gasped. Well, if she needed further proof, this was it, like the businessman, this tall old man was an outsider to this crystal sandbox. They were meddling with her project, damn it, and she was going to put a stop to it.
Seven considered this for a few moments. She had scrolled back through time, following what had transpired in a few minutes, and yet the old man had perceived her approach in the now, and this did not seem possible. He should not be able to address her directly, except that of course it was possible, because in the sandbox there truly was no past or future, there was merely data flow. At least that is how she understood it. But how could he be aware, in the now, of something she had just scrolled to.
She glanced to the side and gasped again because the older man, Stacey, was striding purposefully toward her. Now this was impossible, he couldn’t possibly see her! She was preparing herself for what she could possibly say if he accosted her, because he might be angry, livid with rage. She perceived a lot of men that way, right on the edge of fury, especially big, powerful men like Stacey.
Stacey seized the book from the mantle over the fireplace and turned abruptly. For a second it seemed he looked right at her, the way the businessman had seen her, but that was just a trick of the eyes, because it was not as if she actually stood here, next to the fireplace. Stacey’s eyes had just moved through space, passing the area in which her POV resided. Still, her heart thudded in her breast, she actually placed her hands over her heart where it raced, and she blinked, because it was not as if her physical heart were actually here, in a physical body, next to a fireplace.
Seven was at their table in an instant, not walking, but just being there, being here, even before Stacey returned to his seat.
Just look at Jack, young, vibrant, alive, handsome, almost trembling with excitement. She was so charmed by his vivid being that Seven laughed out loud, and then froze, her hands covering her mouth, because Jack reacted to her laugh, he actually glanced away from the approaching Stacey, and looked about himself, as if he were looking for the source of her laughter, and the focus of his eyes passed right across her face like lasers, but then Stacey was there. Seven forced herself to relax, it had just been a coincidence, her laughter and Jack’s seeming reaction. He could not hear her, because she was not here, she was sitting on her couch in her Inner Sanctorum, and then, she was not actually sitting on a couch, but lying quietly, surrounded by tingling sponge, in a dark chamber that even now was in the constant process of perfecting her physical body.
They looked at the book, the three of them, and none of them recognized the title, nor the author. In her Inner Sanctorum, in her to-read bookshelf, Simulacron-3 appeared between William Goldman’s Control and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. So much reading, so little time.
Stacey unfolded the paper bookmark and Seven’s eyes widened, it was the old man’s message, first to her in the park after the pigeons came back to life, and now here scrawled in ungainly pencil.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jack said. “Well, that’s kind of anticlimactic, ain’t it?”
Stacey sighed. “Everything is anticlimactic. Every comedy is someone else’s tragedy, and every tragedy is just a headline to somebody else.”
“What’s that?” Jack queried, pointing to a smudge under Stacey’s thumb.
Stacey moved his thumb and they saw what could only be an iconic doodle of the planet Saturn. Stacey’s big hand had smudged it, but they both knew what it was, and they looked from the note to each other. Stacey threw the paper down onto the paperback book.
“So this is all part of something,” Jack said, and he looked afraid.
“What we saw in the sky, and now here, in a note, left by Old Ben,” Stacey breathed.
“What’s happening?” Jack said, and he was smiling, but there were real sparks of fear dancing in his luminous eyes.
Stacey half shrugged, and then grinning, he pointed to the message at the top of the note.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jack read. “Why does that scare me so much?”
“What you said, earlier, Jack,” Stacey said. “About an experiment?”
“You mean by an alien god that works for the Government?”
“Yeah, that one,” Stacey said, his eyes seeing things far away.
“Either that, or ghosts,” Jack said, drawing his chair closer around the table toward Stacey. “Just before you got back to the table, I think I heard a ghost.”
“That’s a coincidence,” Stacey said, and made an imaginary chalk mark in the air.
Newbury’s eyes widened. Jack was referring to her involuntary laughter, just moments before, but what Stacey had just done, moving his finger like that, it looked uncannily as if he were accessing her system!
“What are we up to?” Jack said, and then he lifted his finger as had Stacey and made three more imaginary chalk marks and then drew an imaginary line through the other marks, from corner to corner. “I think that must be about thirty-one, already.”
“I think thirty-two,” Stacey replied, slumping in his chair. “When I went to get the book I almost thought I was going to bump into someone. Someone who wasn’t there.”
“It’s our ghost,” Jack said. “I heard her laugh.”
Stacey chuckled, “I bet she’s very pretty.”
“No,” Jack said, “she’s beautiful.”
Seven nearly screamed as Jack’s eyes moved and looked directly at her.
She froze everything and stood away from the couch. She paced to the dormer window and looked out at the pine trees. The squirrels were chasing back and forth across the patches of snow. Seven pulled a glass of merlot to her lips. She usually didn’t drink alcohol this early in the day. Then she nearly screamed. Drinking alcohol, that was a laugh, this wasn’t alcohol, this wasn’t even a glass, and what did time of day even mean? Here, damn it, here, what did anything mean, and what was happening, she was as afraid as Jack, because weird things weren’t just happening in the crystal sandbox, they were happening here in RL, okay, so not RL, but here, in her own personal sacred space, her Inner Sanctum.
Maybe she should get out of the chamber, right now. She could take a break, she had more than two months of free time. She could go visit Mom and Dad.
She downed the wine in a gulp, She felt woozy. Too fast, too fast. She refilled and sipped. Just think. You don’t have to be afraid. He told you. Just relax. Enjoy it. Don’t be afraid.
Newbury (she minded herself) crossed back to the couch and settled back. She looked at the frozen scene, Jack smiling wistfully, his glance coming right out of the crystal sandbox. It was like they were looking into each other’s eyes. Here was Jack, a boy, bright and alive and full of mirth and mischief.
And Stacey was there, too, Stacey who did not belong. She could scroll through the sandbox and find the stone with his name on it, she could read the dates, and yet here he was, slurping coffee, sitting almost knee to knee with the young Jack. Stacey and Jack, Jack and Stacey, freaking each other out with their coincidences. Trying to figure out what was going on in a world which would stymie them at every turn.
Newbury broke into tears, the sobs surprising her. Tears erupted from her eyes and wet her cheeks. What was wrong with her? Why was she taking this all so seriously? This was her project. She had mapped out the details, whipped together a report, submitted it, and almost instantly, it was all approved, everything, and everything was here and alive more than she could ever have hoped for it, even in her most cherished dreams. Here she was, with the opportunity of a lifetime, and instead of exploring and documenting and laughing her lungs out in pure unadulterated…joy…here she was, sitting on a couch, inside herself, of all things, weeping her eyes out, gulping at wine that was making her fizzy and groggy.
Jack was a person, fully alive, with all his hopes and fears and dreams, and even Stacey, he too was a person (one out of time, out of order, that was true, but here he was, just as vibrant and full of spirit as the kid).
Still sobbing, gasping, she contracted the sandbox into its vestigial crystal cube, but she left it there, sitting on the coffee table. She had fully intended on putting it back in the desk drawer.
Then it occurred to her where she had first arrived in the sandbox during this turn, with Stacey and Jack backing down the alley, the three small men advancing on them. She tossed off the second glass of wine and woozed for a second. Whoa, oh, it was very real, drinking wine here in her Inner Sanctum. She refilled the glass and set it on the coffee table next to the crystal cube.
She burped, loudly. “Excuse me,” she said, her own voice making her start.
Sandra Newbury wiped her eyes and cheeks on her black sweatshirt, and then she opened the sandbox, extending it to the four corners of the coffee table, and leaned in close, staring into Jack’s eyes.
The whole room was frozen. She stared into Jack’s eyes, nodding. Then she forced her gaze away from him. She glanced across the room. She saw the small man, the one who earlier had stumped on canes past Stacey and Jack. He was looking across the room, obviously staring at Stacey, and the mountain of a man beside him was looking back too, craning his vast head over his shoulder, his full beard shaggy and a mess, and he too was looking directly at Stacey.
She turned her attention to Stacey, the man who should not even be here. Why were they so interested in him? Sure, he was a striking man, big and strong and handsome, with those beautiful shocks of white in his dark hair, but it wasn’t as if he were some celebrity to draw attention in a public coffee house.
Her eyes caught movement outside the window. That shouldn’t be. No, that could not be. This was a frozen sandbox. There could be no movement, but she drew close to the window, and gasped a short breath.
Because he stood just outside the window, looking in. The businessman. He stood on the other side of the glass looking directly at Seven.
He lifted a hand before his face and flexed his index finger toward his face. Seven did not understand. She knew what he meant, that was obvious. Get out here, now. But it was impossible, him being here, him breaking her control of the sandbox. Then with an angry expression on his tight face, he formed his hand into a fist and jabbed his index finger straight down at his feet, which obviously meant: I mean it, now. Get out here, little girl.
Feeling like a child about to receive punishment, Seven moved outside the window and stood before the man, who was of equal height.
“I am terminating this, do you understand?” he said in very clipped words, staring at her mouth.
“I duh-don’t uh-understand,” she stammered, feeling completely powerless, and yet her mind strayed to Number Six, trembling and stuttering at the table in the common room. She burped again, but thankfully did not excuse herself, did not even cover her mouth. But sandboxing and drinking certainly did not complement each other.
“No. You do not. You understand nothing, do you understand?” he muttered softly, savagely, barely controlling his anger, his eyes moving away from her mouth, staring into her eyes.
That didn’t make sense, not at all—you understand nothing, do you understand—what in the world was this guy talking about, and how dare he burst in here, into her sandbox, messing about and sneering at her.
And she suddenly realized she was standing here, in the sandbox, in the alley, in the bright sunlight, standing in front of the angry businessman.
Seven steeled herself. Who did this guy think he was? She stepped in closer to him so that they were only six inches apart.
“You don’t belong here, and I want you out, now,” she said, matching his soft and angry tones. Then she surprised herself. She reached out her hand and poked him in the chest with her index finger.
His eyes widened, and he looked down at her finger. She abruptly drew the offensive finger and wrapped her arms challengingly across her chest.
They stood and glared at each other.
“Neither of you understand,” a new voice said. They looked to where a group of men were walking toward them, spreading out to block the alley with distinct menace.
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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