Empty and Darlene wandered down a winding forest road through the desolate carnival.
They neared a bend in the road, and as they passed around a row of low White Pines, the path abruptly came to a halting end.
Before them, a small wooden carnival trailer sat amongst a grove of Weeping Fig trees. Little metal stairs led to a door with a gable-shaped canopy. The door was propped wide open.
A vintage hand-painted sign with a gold-trim border was nailed next to the door, enclosed and beset by engraved flourishes of tribal art. The sign read, in a flowing, elegant script,
After taking a moment to read the sign, Empty began en route up the steps.
“Wait!” exclaimed Darlene. “Don't go in, Empty. I don't like the sound of that at all. An eternity in Hell?”
Empty pondered Darlene's doubts for a moment, and then shrugged them off.
“I'm sure it's just a parlor trick, lil' Sis,” he said. He wasn't quite certain that he was right, but he mentally succumbed to the jingle's mysterious and enchanting lure.
For a moment, Darlene watched him climb the stairs. Wise beyond her years, her mind pondered the depth and frailty of Empty's disquieted imagination. Deep down inside, she felt as though something significant and disturbing were about to transpire here.
“If you say so,” she responded, “but you can count me out.”
The inside of the trailer was monochrome and very Plain Jane. It was like a doctor's office, but only sterile and clean. One of the white walls was punctuated every few feet by photographs of despondent faces, their countenances etched with a sudden and animated bout of insanity. A not-too-inviting dental chair sat reclined in the center of the room.“Looking for someone special?” asked a middle-aged man sporting a professorial attitude, who softly crept up upon Empty unawares.
Sensing that the man was about to go into a sales pitch, Empty remained quiet and transfixed on him. Darlene had just entered the room, and as she walked, both of their eyes were set upon the man in the white lab coat.
“Once, I was in the business of creating toys,” he said. “And my colleagues were always going on and on about money, and bonuses, and paid vacations, and education for their children, and fur coats for their wives. But I was a different breed of toymaker. I was into creating deep and lasting emotional experiences.
“My employers weren't happy with my creations. My toys brought in money. Quite a lot of money, actually. I was good at what I did. What I did I was good at! People enjoyed my creations. But not everyone loved the cerebral nature of my work, and so they didn't sell as many of my units as the mindless and boorish contraptions of my moronic associates.”
He frowned at this for impact.
“I was fired.”
He paused, and they reflected on the impact of those last words, which said so much about the human race.
“Afterwards, I spent years working on this new device. I pored over it and toiled over it. I meticulously crafted and shaped it. And it's very simple.”
After a few moments, he walked towards the dental chair, and his fingers drummed the vinyl arm of it.
“Empty, I know that you like to write long diatribes in your plays, so I'm going to spare you from one, in case you decide to write about this experience yourself some day. I will simply share with you a poem, instead.”
“By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
“Empty, why don't you come over and have a seat?” the doctor said.
“You know me?” Empty asked.
The doctor nodded reassuringly in the affirmative (to state the obvious).
He turned towards Empty's younger sister and asked her, “Young lady, would you be a dear and wait outside?”
She hesitated for a long moment, and then with a pounding heart, she ran out the door and down the stairs.
“Please, lie down, Empty,” the doctor said, and patted the seat cushion for Empty to come over and lie down.
Empty did go over and lie down, and he tucked his arms uncomfortably by his sides.
“Eh-Eh,” the doctor interrupted. Then the doctor demonstrated by crossing his own arms over his own chest, as though he were imitating a dead man lying in a coffin, and tipping his head to the side, he said, “Do like that, instead.”
Empty brought his arms up over his chest and crossed them, as instructed.
The doctor walked over to a black plastic shelf on one wall, and brought back with him a small pine box in the shape of a heart.
He opened the box and took out a bite toy, and putting it towards Empty's mouth, told him, “Bite down on this. It will prevent you from biting your tongue in case you should convulse.”
Empty didn't know why he was complying with these orders, or even why he was going forward with this procedure, and he hesitated for a moment to think of a reason to get himself excused. He asked the doctor, “How much is this going to cost me? I haven't much money.”
“Cost you? Why, only your soul,” said the doctor, exuding a little chuckle. “Didn't you read the sign outside the door? Now be a good boy and bite down.”
Empty thought about making one more dash for the door, but then he looked over and saw a little waterfall on the counter. There was a title engraved at the bottom. It said, "The Falls", and Empty remembered Penny Royal's last words about finding a spring eternal, and he nervously supplicated to the doctor's whims.
The doctor put the little bite toy between Empty's teeth, who nervously complied with the doctor's orders.
The doctor opened the little wooden box, and removing a little pink flexible headset with padded rubber electrodes, he situated the little pads directly over Empty's temporal lobes.
He plugged the other end of the headset into a little metal socket on the side of the heart-shaped box, and before flipping a switch he reassured Empty, “This will only take a moment.”
In a fraction of a fraction of a second, the world disappeared around Empty. That is, he was not Empty any longer as he had come to know himself. Instead, he found himself in a very ethereal world, lacking any fleshly or material attribute: a very complicated environment to describe in earthly and human terms. Empty existed more in a sort of a darkened wireframe virtual environment, not fully fleshed out visually or physically, and lacking in all minor and unimportant details, including any memories or thoughts, but infinitely more enhanced and heightened in the other internal sensory perceptions. One wouldn't even know that they were in a virtual world.
This new Empty was surrounded by other humanoid creatures, and he found himself standing and looking down into the face of another soul, a splendid female creature. All of the creatures were standing inside of a gazebo, the graphics of which were of such a high resolution that one wouldn't even notice that none of this was real.
With their arms wrapped tightly around each other, and one hand placed on her cheek, the two were connected together at the heart, as though a current pulsated between them.
Nothing moved. Nothing changed. Everything that transpired took place in a single frame of time in this virtual three-dimensional environment.
There was a magnetic process that lay between them. As Empty looked down deeply into where one might expect his female counterpart's eyes to be, she replied by looking longingly back into his own, and their hearts magnified each other, creating a love engine—an acoustical reverberation of the heart—at such an extreme and breathtaking degree of intensity, that in the outside world, Empty began to convulse and his mouth frothed around the bite toy.
This was true love on a dizzying level. Empty knew deep down that he would do anything for this woman, and that he would protect her until the end of time, and he knew that their love was perfect and that they were created for each other, and they were meant to be together. He longed to know so much more about her.
And then, suddenly, he woke up and he found himself back in the dismal Earth-world, lying in a reclining dental chair. His lungs deflated abruptly, as he involuntarily let out an intense and sharp puff of oxygen, and his eyes began to water.
“Good morning,” the doctor said to him, removing the headset from Empty's temples, and touching him briefly on the arm.
“Wh-what?” Empty responded, dumbfounded.
“It's over. What did you think of her?” the doctor asked.
Empty thought about her for a long moment. He didn't know anything about her, but he knew that he'd never forget her.
“She was perfect. But who was she?” Empty asked.
No reply was forthcoming.
After a moment of clarity, Empty knew that he would never experience love on a level like that again, and he prepared himself for what would surely seem like an eternity in hell. The sign outside of the door was right on the money.
“It makes you wonder, doesn't it?” the doctor asked him, sitting down in a wheeled office chair next to him.
“What do you mean?” asked Empty.
“''Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' Was Lord Tennyson correct when he wrote that in 1850?”
Empty didn't even have to think about that one much, as his heart sank deeply into his chest.
“I think not,” he responded.
He couldn't get the virtual woman out of his mind. The doctor had ruined him.
The doctor scribbled a check-mark on a piece of paper.
“Why did I come in here and put myself through this?” Empty asked. “Why did I willingly submit myself to this? Why did I do it without a fight?”
“Pretty much the same reason,” the doctor replied, after giving Empty a cursory glance, and then he wound up the little pink headset and placed it gently back into the box.
As Empty made his way out of the trailer and down the steps, Darlene asked him, “What was it? What happened?”
Feeling mentally wounded, he responded, “Probably something that nobody should ever have to experience.”
Taking Empty's hand into her own, she squeezed it sympathetically, and they turned away from the trailer and returned down the curvy tree-lined path from whence they had first come.
To Useless Shard #9 ⇒
Back to Home Page
All poems and stories on this web page are (C)Copyright 1996 - 1999 by Ronald Rand.