Sunday, October 9, 2016

Vestigial Surreality: 44: Showdown

The Sci-Fi Fantasy Serial, FREE Online Fiction, Mystery, do we live in a computer simulation?
episode FORTY-FOUR

The vast room Jack entered was a theatre, the old-fashioned kind with a vast sweep of bloody-red velvet curtains at the front, thirty feet high, that stretched an easy seventy-five feet from side to side. The stage had the old-fashioned footlights that looked like shells, shielding the audience from the bright glare, focusing the limelight upon the actors. At the moment, there seemed to be only two actors on the stage, Punchinello, dressed like a mad scientist in a long white lab coat hanging heavy with bulging pockets, a series of mechanical magnifying devices extended from a ring on his head with various lenses, as well as absurd magnifying lenses over his bulging eyes. The other actor was Anne, strapped down upon a slab, with Punchinello hovering over her, an array of large blades that flashed in the footlights, arrayed about her. Jack’s heart leapt in his chest, but he did not move, not yet. He glanced about the vast theatre—it must seat at least a thousand people, perhaps more, the red velvet theatre seats trailing into the darkened theatre. Only the stage was lit.
Jack glanced back, viewing the sloping theatre, the ceiling must be forty feet high over the stage, and it swept back larger toward the back, where he could just make out box seating up high along the walls, and a huge balcony in the far back. He moved his eyes forward and back, taking everything in. He adjusted the lighting in his view, peering about, ensuring that there were no lurkers in the seats. He checked with heat vision. He checked with motion detectors, and apparently, from all appearances, it was just these three, Anne, Punchinello, and Jack, alone in the vast skull-shaped theatre.
That’s what was bothering him. It was like they were in the interior of a giant skull, these three little worms, crawling in Punchinello’s mammoth head. Jack scanned and observed that the theatre was meshed in copper, and that huge magnets were set all along the scaffolding, and that even larger magnets were spread everywhere beneath the floors, and in the walls. He thought he could feel the force of the magnetic waves. Electricity coiled and strung all about everywhere, living, humming electricity.
What was that thing called? A Faraday cage—Jack did a quick information search. Yes, the theatre was a vast Faraday cage, it all had to be the design of Nikola Tesla, or possibly Victor Frankenstein. Signals could not reach inside this place. Jack was here, inside Punchinello’s head, and nobody would help him—if he failed, nobody outside this shielded area would ever know his fate, or what happened to him.
He and Anne would be gone. Or worse, they would be changed, and reconfigured, as many of the people were modified that Jack had observed from his cage. Many of the people seemed to be dead, zombies, while others were complete automatons, and others were the mixture of the two, the dead and the mechanical. But Tesa and Frankenstein seemed to be unchanged, just men, working of their own will and volition for Punchinello.
Jack had seen both men coming and going over the last few days. Once or twice it appeared that Tesla would approach him, huddled in his cage, but the man always reconsidered, and passed on without speaking. There was something about the genius inventor’s eyes, as if he were attempting to communicate with Jack, with those quick, covert glances.
Jack thought about all of this, and lifted himself up. He hovered, weightless, ten feet above the ground, now at the same level as Punchinello and Anne upon the raised stage. He felt odd, unprepared, this was all on-the-job training for him, after all, and he hardly knew what he was doing, or what he was capable of accomplishing with these new strange shadow tools. But that creature upon the stage was about to slice into his Anne, and Jack had to stop the monster.
This is all a simulation, Jack told himself. This crazy dark world mixed with impossible things, living and breathing literary creations alongside their creators; warped developers, coders, programmers, had begun all of this madness, and now it had gone off all half-cocked and crazy, evolving in its own mad play. And the inmates were now in charge of the asylum. Monsters lurked everywhere, and this was now Punchinello’s world.
Jack gripped his shillelagh, for comfort, but he was also constantly modifying the weapon, adding and enhancing. He took a hint from Punchinello, and introduced powerful magnets at both ends of his blackthorn walking stick. He too could work a little Faraday magic.
“It is a woman's nature to be constant—to love one and one only, blindly, tenderly, and for ever—bless them, dear creatures!” Anne said from the stage, and Jack’s heart leapt and clenched inside his breast.
“Yes, yes,” Punchinello replied, sourly, “that is very sweet, and utterly tragic. Now please, Miss Brontë...shut up. I might decide to begin with your head, discover its secrets, while severing your tiresome vocal chords.”
“Might I see him, please, just one more time, prior to your surgery?” Anne whispered, but Jack could hear her distinctly. It was partly due to the enhanced acoustics of this place, but also Jack kept twiddling with the volume controls, magnifying his own hearing, while diminishing any sound that his passage might produce.
“It is not my surgery, dear puppet, but yours,” Punchinello corrected. Then he sighed and sat upright, moving aside the lenses from his eyes. “I have a little something that the teeth doctors have figured out, it is called cocaine, and apparently it reduces pain, and I will introduce this miracle elixir to you at each point of...separation, although I am not certain you actually require the stuff. As we have deduced in our days of delight together, you do feel pain, Miss Brontë, and you are close enough to the humans that I might be able to alleviate some of the pain that you will most certainly experience. I will do this for you, dear lady, for your sake, and silence, as I do quite enjoy pain—both my own, but especially that of others. In time, I think you might begin to see things my way, dear puppet, as most people generally do.”
“I do not care about the pain,” Anne said. “It seems my life and my hope must cease together. But I want to see my Jack, one last time. Please.”
Jack moved forward. He felt he was approaching death, death incarnate, there upon the stage. He hovered like a cloud, decreasing his shadows as he neared, and he experimented by drawing light toward himself, and reflecting it at angles away from the stage. He thought now of himself as a mirror, less shadow. He must now hide in the light. And he could not help but feel that this was all a little play, for his benefit, that Punchinello was aware of everything, and was tracking him, even now.
Punchinello sighed a loud theatrical sigh.
“The things I do for women,” he said, stripping away the rectangle of face from his head. He held this out, and shook wet drips from it. He seemed to be cleaning lint from the grim visage, or picking its nose. The eyes glittered in the footlights. Jack paused, hovering. It truly was a sight of horror, that strip of face held up above its own head.
“What?” the mouth said on Punchinello’s head, as the eyes in the rectangle of flesh grew sharp. Punchinello’s body turned on its high stool, and his hands reaffixed the rectangle of face back into its head. “Did you see something?”
Anne lifted her head from the surgical slab, and she peered into the darkened theatre.
Jack almost felt her eyes fix upon him. He adjusted both his opacity and translucency, hoping he achieved the proper mixture. Anne’s eyes continued, searching. Punchinello stood and strode to the footlights at the outer ring of the stage. He peered into the theatre.
Jack kept himself still, bobbing slightly in the air. He held his breath, his hands squeezing his shillelagh. Should he just attack, now? He felt sweat trickle down his neck, and he adjusted the heating level, and felt a wave of cool air blow over him. And what angle of attack could he launch against such a creature?
Punchinello turned back to Anne. He produced another theatrical sigh.
“Anything else? A last meal, perhaps? How about a cigarette? A blindfold?”
“Please. Let me see Jack.”
“Fine. But do not say I never did anything for you,” Punchinello said, wearily. “You are such a gold-digger, Miss Brontë, you use men for every little thing. It is quite heartless of you.”
Jack felt a spark of fear. Was Punchinello planning to bring him in here? Dragged in chains, like Charlton Heston to grovel before Yul Brynner? Maybe if the monster left the room, it might provide Jack with his chance to liberate Anne!
But Punchinello had other ideas. He crooked his finger and two of the featureless automatons entered the stage from the rear, pushing what looked like a television set, rolling it forward on a cart.
“This is a little wonder from our dubious genius Mr. Tesla, a little something project he is still working on, just a trifle. But I kind of like it. I convinced him to provide us this little prototype, the poor man is always lacking funds,” Punchinello said, proudly, grandly sweeping his hand toward the device.
Jack peered. It was definitely not a television set, but some alternate-reality version, all glistening pipes and tubes circling what appeared to be a rectangle of common glass, or two sheets of glass, spaced apart, with glass at the top and sides. Steam began to fill the area between the sheets of glass.
“They say it is all done with smoke and mirrors,” Punchinello said, smiling broadly. “But I think the magic is in the steam. I believe all magic is of the illusory type.”
A small pipe rising above the glass suddenly burped a puff of steam, which first looked like a miniature mushroom cloud, but then spread into a great ring that rose into the scaffolding above the stage. The steam in the glass box roiled.
“Jack cannot be in that thing,” Anne said, glowering at Punchinello.
“An interesting idea, that,” Punchinello said. “There might actually be a market for animated bodies in glass boxes. I will have to think about it. If there are royalties, however, I doubt I will be sharing.” He shrugged, grinning. “I am only saying.”
Anne gasped. For in the steam, shapes were clarifying. A series of sparks ran across the glass, then arcing electricity, little hands and fingers of light and fire. A side view of the iron cage appeared, gradually, with a huddled shape in the corner of the iron box. Electricity danced in short arcs, flickering, burning the air.
“What have you done to him?” Anne demanded, straining against the shackles that held her down.
“Done to him? Dear lady, absolutely nothing, I assure you he is quite comfortable, and quite well fed, and warm. The truth is, I even opened the doors for him, a clear passage to the world above, and the dear man chose to remain here, with us. Isn’t that adorable?” Punchinello said, warmly, smiling. He looked benevolent, and kind. The filthy liar. “You certainly know how to pick’em, Miss Brontë.”
“Oh Jack, Jack, I am so sorry,” Anne breathed.
“But notice, dear Miss Brontë, he is not strapped down to a surgical table. I have no interest in the boy. He is a mere human, sad thing. His friends, however, I would like to have them for...dinner, yes I would. I could just eat them up, dear things.”
Jack reached out and sat the figure up in the iron box. To Jack’s eyes, it looked just like a live-feed video of himself hunched over in a cage. Jack had his image look around. Though bizarre in invention, the device was producing an image that was becoming more realistic than any television screen or monitor. In fact, it was beginning to look more and more as if they were looking through time and space—could this be another form of portal? Was there anything that Tesla couldn’t create?
“That is odd, yes, very odd indeed,” Punchinello said, staring at the steaming screen.
“Jack, I am fine, please, leave, Jack, please save yourself,” Anne shouted, to the image in the steaming screen.
“He cannot hear you,” Punchinello said, “but oddly enough, he seems to sense your presence, which is of course...impossible.”
The image in the steaming screen looked out of the iron box, and angrily, it shot forward its uplifted fist, with middle finger extended.
“Strange. He is looking at someone, and yet I can see as well that there is no other living creature in the room with him, but he is giving the...illusion...of looking at us...” Punchinello said, trailing off, deep in thought.
Jack knew that things had progressed about as far as they could, and that now he must take action. He still had absolutely no idea of what he could or should do next, but it was certainly time.
“An illusion,” muttered Punchinello. “Yes, yes, I see. Smoke and mirrors and steam.”
The Puppet Master abruptly turned and looked into the darkened theatre.
Jack floated himself to Anne, increasing his speed, not worrying so much about stealth any longer. But he did not drop his covering reflections. As he neared her he popped away all the restraints holding her down—it was as easy as flicking kernels of popcorn away.
Punchinello produced a small pair of opera glasses and scanned the theatre.
Jack was at Anne’s side, touching down, and she was glancing up, blinking, seeing something but not at all certain as to what she was seeing. It was as if she were seeing a distorted version of reality, in one lump, like witnessing a heat wave creating a mirage on a hot day. She saw something, but it looked unnatural, like nothing she had ever seen in her long years.
“So, the boy is not as simple as I thought, but then why did he spend so much time in the cage, it defies reason,” Punchinello growled, scanning, looking up along the scaffolding, searching the theatre, looking everywhere but where Jack now stood.
Jack placed his hands beneath Anne’s shoulders, lifting her into a sitting position.
“Jack?” Anne breathed.
“Shhhh,” he whispered against her ear. Oh, but it felt glorious to have his hands upon her, to have her here with him, alive, and well. Her eyes were searching about, trying to see him, and he thought and drew her into his protective shell, equipping her with all the perceptions and shadow tools he was currently using. She gasped, seeing him, feeling him. Suddenly, he was truly quite...there, as if by magic.
Punchinello turned, and blinked, staring at the empty surgical slab with its burst shackles. He looked all about, peering beneath the slab, and then he lifted the opera glasses to his rectangle of face and stared at them, gawking.
“I see you,” he said. “But what in the world have you...done, dear boy?”
Jack moved his mind, slightly, and he turned the opera glasses into a cream pie, and this he slammed into Punchinello’s face, the cream exploding all about the Puppet Master’s head and body. Punchinello spluttered, scooping the cream out of his eyes with his index fingers.
“Damn it, but no, this is—my world!” Punchinello shouted. “You shall not show me such disrespect.”
Jack thought and Punchinello’s pants feel down about his ankles, and there were the expected red silk boxer shorts, complete with shiny white satin Valentine hearts.
Punchinello sputtered. He lifted his hands and made fists, and squeezed.
Jack suddenly felt a huge pressure about him, as if a giant hand was clamping down upon his very being. He felt Anne squished into his back and for a moment he almost panicked. But then he shrugged out of the vice and flipped it over, bringing it down like a monstrous sledge hammer upon Punchinello. The Puppet Master crumpled, and flattened, even as he reached down for his fallen pants, and Jack smoothed him out, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, literally smearing the Puppet Master into a two-dimensional image upon the stage boards, flat, steamrolled. Punchinello’s eyes glared up at him, balefully.
Jack stripped the rectangle out of Punchinello’s face, lifted it in the air and stretched it into a broad sheet of paper, and this he deftly folded into a paper airplane, which he sailed toward the back of the theatre. What a perfect flight! It was almost like magic.
“How are you doing this?” Anne breathed against the back of his neck. “You have his magic, Jack, I cannot believe it.”
“It’s not magic,” Jack said, “and what I’m doing is different from what he does. He said it himself—his is all smoke and mirrors, and steam—none of it is real. I, however, am twisting reality.”
The flattened body on the theatre floor sat up, forming into a three-dimensional being again, making a terrible sucking sound as it lifted away from the boards. Jack fought against it, trying to force it back down, but its power was terrible, and it shoved him rudely back. Jack and Anne nearly stumbled over each other as the body missing its face climbed to its feet. They could see the glistening mess inside the skull, with one fat worm thing protruding from the hole, sampling the air, wriggling and writhing.
Jack snatched at the worm, plucking it from the gaping skull, and popped it between mental fingers. It exploded in a shower of purple goo. Punchinello’s body reacted, staggering backward, upending the tray full of knives and scalpels and other sharp things. It stumbled forward, crazily, like a zombie, and thrashed over the surgical slab.
Jack felt alive with power. All of this was image, and all of the image was data, and it seemed he could reach right into the numbers, seizing handfuls of ones and zeroes, and he could meld it, make it, reform it, turn it and push it, and what Punchinello did was something else entirely, in fact Jack doubted that Punchinello understood—reality—no, instead, he had come up with some other means, all of it false, and could make anyone believe what the Puppet Master wished them to believe, and by believing the lie, anyone was under Punchinello’s power.
Jack was sick and tired of lies. He was sick and tired of being powerless. He was sick and tired of being shuttled between realities. He sent Anne a quick note, like texting, only it was more of a download, a package of things he now knew and partially understood, and she went rigid as her mind expanded, numbers spilling into her being. And she knew what he knew, although she probably understood less than he did, but she also knew things Jack could never know, because she had lived many of these things before, in other versions of reality. She had survived reboots and grand scrolls.
“Jack,” she said, half-sputtering while inhaling. “Oh Jack, you are just—so cool.”
“Stick with me,” he said, so overjoyed at having her close behind him. There was nobody better for having his back.
“Forever Jack, I am yours, forever,” she said, hugging him from behind, her cheek against his.
He actually meant, stick close to me, right now, strength in numbers—but her words so filled him with joy he felt like literally exploding, just shooting out in a shower of stars, flaming meteorites, and he had to be careful, because, conceivably, he might just do exactly as he thought—blow apart, become a fireworks display, go out in a very happy cloud of smoke and drifting ash. He had to be careful, especially while thinking. He would have to find a way to detach himself from this power, soon, when they were safe, because he could easily become his own worst monster, but right now, he was fully immersed, fully empowered, and he lifted Punchinello’s body off the ground and held it immobile in his mental grasp.
Punchinello, in his hold, became a fiery angel of light, beautiful, and awesome to behold. Wings a full thirty-two feet in breadth spread regally about the being. It lifted a fiery sword in its hand.
“You have passed my test,” the fiery angel said, in a booming, beautiful voice. “You are worthy, Jack Messenger. I sent for you, and you came. I tested you, and you are judged, and now you shall take your rightful place at my side. I shall make you—a god.”
Jack felt the sinuous temptation. It was like warm butter dripping down the inside of his soul. What Punchinello the angel offered, well, it shouldn’t be, but Jack actually found it tempting. Not only could the monster offer something utterly unrealistic, and make it attractive, but he could also fill you with an overwhelming desire for something you had never felt before, greed, lust, ambition, the yearning for more and more power. And it seemed real. That was Punchinello’s power, he could make you think you wanted something, even if it was the opposite of what you actually desired.
“Just knock it off,” Jack said, and stripped away the illusion. He held a puppet off the ground, just a thing partially alive, partially dead, partially mechanical, and mostly held together by various illusions, a grotesque piecemeal affair hobbled together by chicken wire and spit, old bubble gum, wax, and a child’s kite string.
The body dropped from the air. It landed upon its feet and stood there, very still, an automaton, with that missing piece of its face, exposing that gory view into its glistening skull. Then the paper airplane came sailing back upon an invisible current that had nothing to do with air. It stabbed through Punchinello’s head, and remained there, half the large sheet of paper airplane protruding equidistantly through each side of the Puppet Master’s head. The distorted face made of paper looked at Jack, with kindly eyes, and the mouth beneath the surreal face smiled.
“Good job, Jack, I am delighted with your progress,” the paper airplane face said, winking at Jack. “You have done better than anyone could have hoped. They chose well, in sending you to face me. But they never realized that it was I that gave them such an idea. I brought you here, my son. Yes, Jack, I am your father.”
“Here he goes again,” Jack said to Anne, “just don’t trust anything he says. Everything he says is a lie.”
“Oh but no, that is not true,” Punchinello said, “a man who only lies, why, he cannot fool anyone. He cannot convince anyone. He will have no power. My formula for success is two percent lie, ninety-seven percent truth. I retain that one percent, just for wiggle room.”
Jack zipped the mouth shut, the metal-upon-metal mesh of the zipper closing very loud.
Punchinello casually reached and unzipped his mouth.
“I like how you use humor, in everything you do,” Punchinello said, “and as you see, that is a truth that I just told. You do amuse me, Jack. Let us amuse the world together. We shall offer the world Cocaine and a smile!”
“I think your humor is crude, and only the basest people think it is funny,” Jack said, holding his shillelagh out before him like a shield, his elbows flexed, his fingers tightly gripping the wood for confidence. “Still, I have to admit, it was pretty hilarious when Judy was going to sit on your head.” Yes, it was crude, but didn’t people react to the lowest form of slapstick—a man trips and breaks his nose, bloody spurting everywhere—come on already, didn’t anyone and everyone think that was funny? Jack giggled, and his giggle very quickly became a belly laugh.
“Yes, you begin to see, I bring laughter to the world. That is a good thing, isn’t it?” Punchinello said, nodding wisely, smiling beneficently, lifting his hands in blessing. “You cannot fault me for cheering up the world, can you Jack?”
Absolutely not, Jack thought. Sure, he was a monster, but he certainly was a hilarious monster, and that really was a good thing, wasn’t it?
“Jack, don’t,” Anne said, gripping him tightly, talking right into his ear.
“Come on Anne, do not be such a sour puss,” Punchinello cried, and suddenly he was dressed in country barb, a bright red bandana around his neck, a garish yellow straw hat cocked on his head—incongruously his face was still that of a paper airplane sticking out of his head. He stomped his cowboy boots and a band of puppets rose up strumming banjos, sawing away on fiddles—the puppets were all wearing blue overalls, stomping their wooden feet, but they were all the generic artist manikins, but they energetically produced the song Something Stupid, with a folk flair, romantic, countrified—square dance music! A hoe down at the showdown, what fun!
Punchinello danced in place, it was a do-si-do, the basic square dance step where you hop in place, touching heel to toe, back and forth, it was hilarious, and joyous, clapping your hands and then crossing your arms over your chest, It was fun! Punch was the funnest guy! He was like a barrel crammed with dead and dying monkeys, it was wonderful.
Anne and Jack couldn’t help themselves, it was just too joyous, they began do-si-doing in place, and then joined by several puppets they started a whirling, hopping-bopping ring in their square dance. And wasn’t that funny? Square dancing, in a ring? Get it? Come on that was the best ever! A circle was a square how appropriate. A circle was a square, like a Bilbo Baggins riddle in the dark. Jack and Anne laughed and laughed. And Punch laughed, clapping his hands, watching the spectacle of it all. Jack actually cast his shillelagh to the side, because what did weapons have to do with dancing? This was family! This was fun! Good old-fashioned square-dancing in a circle of fun! Oh boy! Oh those dead monkeys! Oh boy!
Jack and Anne smiled at each other, wasn’t this wonderful?
Then the music shifted, to a kind of Latin salsa, or was it tango, what was this? Sway, yes, it was good, and Punchinello was on the floor with them, dressed in a flashy bullfighter’s ensemble, tight black pants and towering heels on his feet, that cool cropped jacket, and the winding of red ribbon, and hey, Punch could really dance. He spun Anne like a top, and then seized Jack, and dipped him, it was all incredible. What were they thinking, Punch, a bad guy? Come on, he was a ball of laughs! This guy knew how to have a good time, the very best time!
A barrel full of dead and dying monkeys, what the hell kind of thought was that?
Jack laughed but his eyebrows jerked, thinking about those dead monkeys. Then Punch was doing some funky dance steps, jerking his body, doing the dirty dog, pumping his pelvis and grinning like an idiot, and that was hilarious, so Jack started doing the dance too, and it was hilarious, like in a Beyoncé video, jerk-hump, jerk-pump, whacka-whacka-whacka, and Anne caught on and began to suggestively pump her hips, moving toward Jack, that look in her eyes, and Jack knew he was blushing, and still dancing, he moved around behind her, and what was this called? Grinding? And what was Anne doing, the twerk? Something like that, and Punch was laughing, clapping his hands.
Until Stacey appeared in their midst—the party pooper—knocking Jack and Anne apart, swinging his shillelagh up, knocking off Punchinello’s poor, laughing head. The head sailed up twenty feet in the air, and when it came down Stacey caught the thing, even as he planted his boot in Punchinello’s chest, pushing, sending the decapitated body tumbling over.
The music was gone, just like that. As were the manikins, and they were on the stage amidst the toppled surgical instruments and the surgical slab on its side.
Jack bent, his hands on his knees, gasping for air, and Anne hunched over him, checking to make sure he was not hurt. Jack felt drained of all his blood, or like someone had delivered the most terrific blow to his kidneys. He could not catch his wind.
“Really nice dance class, Jack,” Stacey said, holding the snarling Punchinello’s head between his hands. He had his shillelagh wedged between the teeth of the severed head.
“Stacey? Is it really you?” Jack gasped, hardly able to get his breath back. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he felt utterly drained.
“It’s me, in the flesh,” Stacey said, giving Jack that big smile that looked like a pirate leer. “Well, sort of in the flesh. I’m projected here, and I can never stay long. Thankfully, I didn’t have to knock too many heads, other than this one here. Saves time, that.”
Stacey tossed the head to Jack. Then he bent and manfully lifted the surgical slab, righting it. He motioned to Jack, who set Punchinello’s head on the slab.
“Why don’t we open this sucker up?” Stacey said.
“How long do you have?” Jack asked, producing a huge shiny butcher knife from the floor.
“Usually only two minutes—of projection time, which equates to about two years of aging—and I figure we’ve used half of the two minutes already, so we have to hurry,” Stacey said.
“This isn’t very sterile, I just got it off the floor,” Jack said, proffering the cleaver to Stacey.
“I don’t think our friend Mr. Punch should mind that too much,” Stacey said, snatching the steel knife from Jack.
“Hurry, he has magic, and we can hardly do anything about it,” Anne said, her arm about Jack.
“Hello Anne, your sister Emily says hello, and that we will all be together soon,” Stacey said, winking at the automaton. This was the much older Stacey missing his left eye, with the deep furrows gouged in his left cheek, and the long white hair streaming down his back.
“So Emily finally caught you?” Anne said, eyes sparkling.
“In a manner of speaking. She actually carried me a lot, and nursed me whenever she had the chance,” Stacey said.
“Stacey!” Jack said, blushing.
“I meant, you know, nursing me back to health, like with care, and attention, silly Jack,” Stacey said, aiming the cleaver at Punch’s head, taking several slow, practice swings.
“Please do not do this. I was hoping that you would appear, I have been waiting for you,” the head babbled, very fast.
Jack was already feeling the effects of that voice. He mentally zipped the lips, and the zipper again appeared and closed the mouth. Without hands, the Puppet Master could not unzip his lips, but he strained against the closure, eyes bulging in the paper airplane face. Jack couldn’t help thinking of that first night, when Punch’s head was on the ground, and Judy lifted her skirts to sit upon it, daintily like Little Miss Muffet upon her tuffet, and he stifled a burble of laughter.
Stacey paused, holding the moment, the big cleaver up, and then he brought it down with terrible force, splitting the skull in the very middle. The mess lay there a moment wriggling with those terrible, slimy worms, and then Stacey cleared some of the mess away with the edge of the cleaver, until he had uncovered a glinting box in the very center of the mass.
“What in the world?” Jack said, peering, unable to look away, but feeling he might vomit, and he mentally soothed his stomach, bringing down a curtain of calm upon his body. Whew, that was better, and a very close moment or two.
“Don’t touch any of the brain goo, or the worms,” Stacey said, wedging the cleaver down into the mess and prying up the glinting metal box. It looked like gold. He looked about for a moment, until he saw the writhing body upon the floor. He leapt toward it, snatched a purple scarf from about the neck, and brought this back, placing the cloth over the box, and then he pulled the box out of the shattered skull and brains, and it made a terrible noise as wires pulled free of the flesh and goo. Ripping, fleshy, and wet. Stacey yanked the box free and slammed it down upon the slab. “Keep this with you, and whatever you do, don’t let him free. I think you should—”
But Stacey winked out of existence, his words hanging in space.
“Stacey!” Jack cried.
“He is gone, Jack, and we have to get out of here,” Anne said, looking about, expecting an attack of puppets. She had seen some terrible things in her days here, and she might never recover from some of the things that were done to her in her captivity, but her first and foremost desire was to keep Jack safe.
The body on the floor had stopped writhing and the shattered skull on the table was only that, even all traces of the surreal paper airplane were gone. It was just a ruined head, dead, with no trace of the hatred or wicked delight usually emanating. Without the box, it was over. And they perceived the terrible smell of rotting flesh, for the first time. It was overwhelming.
“I do not think I actually can vomit,” Anne said, “but I certainly feel like it.”
“What should we do with this thing?” Jack said, lifting up the box from where it had fallen when Stacey vanished.
“Use your magic, make a box,” Anne said.
Jack didn’t like for her to even think it was magic that he was doing, not even for a second. But he would have to explain, later. He produced a metal Faraday cage, almost the size of the golden box, and he slid the box inside and shut the door, and spun the little locking dials, setting the password. This new container he slipped into an inner coat pocket. Strange, when he slipped the box into the new box, it seemed that he had perceived tiny doors, and tiny windows, like a He mentally sealed his Faraday box. Nothing was coming out of there.
“That is too cool,” Anne said in wonder.
“Okay, Anne, let’s go,” he said, putting out an arm, which she immediately snatched in both her arms, hugging his biceps tight. She placed her head upon his shoulder. She could barely walk.
They went to the little set of steps leading down from the stage and Jack led her out of the theatre, calling up all his shadows and shells, enhancing their vision and sensors, decreasing their weight to aid in their passage. He experimented, putting some spring into their step. But they needed rest.
“Everything is going to be okay, now that we are together,” Jack said, moving them out between the silent rows of puppets. He half expected the creatures to leap at him. Passing Cyrano was a very bad few moments, but the puppet seemed lifeless.
“Oh, I am very weary, though tears no longer flow; my eyes are tired of weeping, my heart is sick of woe,” Anne whispered. “But I am so happy that Emily finally found her Heathcliff.”
“I love you,” Jack whispered.
“I love you,” she returned, shivering against him.
He led the way to the staircase leading up, and when he turned the handle, the door opened, and they crept between the two massive nutcracker soldiers that stood out front. The eyes did not follow them. None of the puppetry displayed any signs of life. Jack walked leaning upon his shillelagh, actually requiring the stick as a crutch, and Anne leaned against him. They were exhausted, expended, and felt sucked of almost all their life force.
They strode into a world full of sunshine, not even the fog was present. It looked like early morning, and it felt like Spring.
“Springtime time in Hawaii,” Jack said, smiling, remembering when all of this had begun in the park. Hawaii would always exist, somewhere, waiting.
“That sounds wonderful,” Anne replied, still shivering. “Some place warm, very warm.”
“You are my warmth,” Jack said, and she squeezed his arm, and they stumbled forward, into the Olde London of the Honey Moon.

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Vestigial Surreality WIKI
Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial
by Douglas Christian Larsen

Illustrations by Harrison Christian Larsen, story by Douglas Christian Larsen
© 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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related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
do we live in a computer simulation?
mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
the unknown writer blog
are we living in a simulation?
puppets, puppetry, punch & judy
elon musk, Tesla, VR, mmorpg
simulated world, data is data
simulation hypothesis
simulation argument
nick bostrom

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