“I’m not reading that crap book you got in front of me. I’m not letting you mix my mind up with your propaganda. I don’t know who you are. I know you can’t make me read that book. I know your kind isn’t here to do no one no good, ‘specially me.”
Timothy talked to a cinder block wall that loomed high over his head. The coarse, gray block enclosed his space from side to side and three fourths up toward a high corrugated ceiling. A concrete ledge topped off the formidable wall.
Like sound to a deaf boy, something was missing. He felt detached from some period of time as if ghostly angels pulled on his callused hands while demons tugged at his blistered feet. Time seemed endless and he did not know how long he had been sitting waiting for something to happen.
Timothy felt claustrophobic tied to the cushioned chair. All he could do was close his eyes, look up at the ledge, or look straight ahead where a yellow pedestal stood in front of the massive wall. A purple book lay opened on top like an exposed woman. The white pages looked like angel wings, a doorway to heaven, or the curtain to hell.
Timothy thought about purgatory as he said, “You hear me? You want me reading your book, but I ain’t. Why should I? I can’t turn the stupid pages ’cause you got me tied up. Untie me, damn it. You can’t keep me tied up forever. And, I’m not reading that stupid book neither. It got nothing but your filthy lies. Where’re you? Who’re you? Answer me! I’m not your prisoner.”
Timothy could not move. He wondered what he would do when he needed to go to the bathroom. He wondered who told him to read the thick book. The discipline of his confinement gave him too much time to think.
Timothy tried to concentrate on more positive things than his prison. Instead, he remembered drowning his obnoxious wild urges in alcohol, drugs, and shiftless behavior. He had to ward off the frustration of not having done anything worthwhile in his life. He wished he had finished high school and gotten away from the back breaking labor of farming land he did not own. Timothy wished he had something now to ward off the aggravation frothing against his gut. He could almost taste dark whiskey burn his throat.
Timothy drew his eyes upward as his concentration weakened and sweat beaded on his creased forehead. He wanted to avoid the book as long as he could, forever if possible. Gradually his scalp began to itch, yet he could not scratch it.
“How long’ve I been here? Hey, I want to know. I’ve a right to know. Anyone around? Hey!” Timothy twisted in his chair tormented by his itching scalp as minutes ticked away. Or at least he assumed minutes ticked away.
Knowledge is not destroyed nor created. It always existed.
Timothy clamped his eyes shut. “Damn you, I’m not reading no more. You can’t make me. Let me go, now!”
He sat in his darkness. “Suppose I just keep my eyes closed. Then how’re you gonna make me read your stupid book? Huh? How?”
Timothy tried not to think about the large, blue lettering typed across the white pages that tempted him from the other side of his closed eyes. But, his stomach bit his butt and he tightened his muscles to keep from embarrassing himself from the rising fear. He was scared like he was as a skinny kid.
Back before he got muscle, Timothy waited alone after school in the dark evenings of his home wishing his mother would come home from waitressing. The fall was worse because it got dark earlier. The cracker box house got darker until he had every light on in the house to ward off the blackness. Timothy remembered crunching up into a tight ball in the living room recliner bringing his knees to his chin so nothing would get his feet. He flinched thinking about the sharp blows of his father before he abandoned them and being locked in the closet waiting for more hard punches. He wanted to be a hero, yet he feared the lack of light and closed spaces.
What would he see if he opened his eyes right now? Timothy imagined monsters from his childhood staring into his face inches away ready to pounce on him with massive claws. He could almost feel their breath move the hair on his head. Suddenly, he thought he heard a scratch like a claw scraping along cinder blocks. No, probably I moved my chair along the floor, he reasoned. I’ll open my eyes and prove it.
When he did, Timothy looked up to avoid the book and immediately saw the monster staring down at him on the concrete ledge. Even without being tied down, his paralyzed body could not have moved. An instant fear gripped him for several seconds, or it could have been minutes, before he realized he needed to breathe.
With a deep gasp, Timothy brought some control to himself despite his immobility. The monster’s long black claws held its stout body in a pounce position. Thick black hairs coursed along its torso and limbs leaving the face exposed. The narrow black eyes did not look at him directly. The monster’s tapered ears rose high over its sloping skull and a wide mouth revealed at least two rows of pointed red teeth. If it stood up it would have reached the ceiling, yet it sat crouched on top of something indiscernible. Because Timothy could not meet the monster’s eyes, he concentrated on what the creature crouched over.
Timothy wanted to vomit. The ‘something’ became a man lying on his back. The monster faced the man’s feet while sitting on his chest preventing movement, if the man still lived. The monster returned its attention to this man it sat on and Timothy realized the red teeth came from the bloody meat of the man’s leg. With a stoop of its stout body and a large bite, it pulled strings of muscle from the man’s upper thigh.
In the beginning, infinite and abundant Knowledge lived in singularity as a point within eternity. With the creation of the universe, Knowledge spread outward.
“I’m reading the book again.” Timothy looked up to see if the monster heard him. Instead, the hideous creature savored the bloody meat on its lips and tongue. It munched slowly on the solidness of muscle appearing to enjoy the warm coarseness. A string of raw meat dangled between its teeth, over the reddened bottom lip, and down the side of its chin until the ugly beast slurped it up like spaghetti. Blood dripped down into the wild beast’s dirty chest hairs.
Suddenly, the man turned his head and tried to lift his pinned arms. Timothy recognized a distorted face twitching in pain. Timothy felt helpless in his position, although he did not dare close his eyes again.
As Knowledge spread, its strength waned. The first life forms could never know all. The living accepted the core of Knowledge for what had been given. The living floated free becoming the first tier.
“Crap. Damn it. I’m not reading that book anymore. I don’t care if you hear me up there. You want to eat me, then go ahead. I can’t do nothing about it. Come on, jump down and get me. No, I guess you won’t jump down ’cause you’ve still got food up there. I’m to stay here to be your next meal.
“Yeah, well I can’t believe you’re ‘sponsible for me being here. You’re too ugly. If you are, you’re not going to get us you know. We’ll fight back. Why don’t you just go back from where you came from and leave us alone? What’d we do to you? Where’s everyone else? Where’m I? Hey, talk to me alien.
“Aw right, I’ll stop asking questions. You’re not answering ’em anyway. Just tell me what’s going on. Talk to me. What’re you gonna do with me?”
The creature ignored Timothy. The man did not acknowledge him either. Instead, the man grimaced in horrible contractions as the creature pulled off another mouthful of thigh muscle with its canine teeth. The man shuddered from the shock and surely from the pain.
“How long’ve I been here? You want me to read your words, but they mean nothing. I don’t see no reason to read them. You’re not disgusting me. I can watch you eat anything you put up there if it means not reading that damn book.”
Knowledge split and a second tier adapted to mortality attaching to the forming planets. Knowledge began to entropy.
“Stop it! I’m not reading no more. You want me to read and put things in my brain, but I won’t give you that satisfaction. I won’t! You hear me, monster? You hear what I said?”
The creature repositioned itself with its hairy back to Timothy, yet still crouched on top of the man’s chest. The creature watched something on the other side of the wall as Timothy looked reluctantly at the man’s distorted face. Suddenly, he realized the man could not scream because the monster had ripped out his tongue and sliced his larynx.
As the universe expanded, Knowledge disorganized and corrupted until chaos took hold. Rifts in the Knowledge core formed clear lines of separation.
“I’m not reading no more. Let the man die. What good is it for you to keep him alive? He’s suffering. Let him die I said.
“Aw right, I’ll read your stupid book. See, I’m reading it. I can talk and read at the same time. You know I won’t pretend. You’ll just ask me questions later. Come on, I don’t want to read your stupid book. Let me go.”
Timothy flexed his arms and legs trying to move the immobile chair. He pulled and jumped, but he would not close his eyes again. He did not want any more surprises when he opened them. He could not look up into the face of that man, either. “That leaves the monster or the book. I’m not weak. I can look at the monster. I won’t let it control my thinking.”
At each collapse of the Knowledge, fractions of tiers split and the process began to reverse into negative numbers as anti-knowledge congealed.
I got to concentrate. I won’t read no more, Timothy thought. “Hey, monster. I’ve been here long enough. Why’d you want me reading that stupid book anyway? Is it going to help that man? No, so I’m not reading it. It’ll fill my head with things I don’t want to know and it won’t help no one.” Timothy stared at the alien monster’s back and wondered how the wordy book could explain anything.
The monster beast reached back with one of its claws and pulled hard on a piece of fresh skin and muscle from the man’s other thigh. The sinewy pieces stretched like a rubber band before snapping loose. The man trembled ferociously from the pain.
“Who you are? I want to go back home. I don’t want to be tied down and reading your garbage or seeing your cruelty.” Timothy could not look at the man or the monster, any longer. He could not feel whether he was crying or not.
On the scattered spreading worlds of the universe, lower tiered beings hid from those of greater Knowledge. In their hiding, they found the anti-knowledge that had lain suppressed in the deepest ridges of the universe. Separation grew, walls formed, choices had to be made.
“Someone help me. Help!” Timothy screamed. “Stop this. It makes no sense. Why are you aliens here? If you’re going to eat us, we’ll fight back. We won’t go down without a fight. We’ll win and then it’s you who we’ll be eating.”
Timothy struggled viciously against what bound him. His arms had grown so numb that he could not feel the bindings holding him down. All this time he stared at the monster’s back and wondered what planet the creature came from and why it picked here to come.
Maybe the book could explain some of this. There’s not much left to read on the two opened pages, Timothy concluded. Timothy stopped struggling.
In this world of good and bad, you are free to choose.
Immediately Timothy no longer felt bound to the chair. He stood and looked up just in time to see the monster pull the man over to the other side of the wall and disappear. When Timothy turned around to his chair, he could see nothing that had bound him. Had he been too scared to move? He had fuzzy ideas that his bindings had been his own doubts and fears. His cushioned gray chair sat empty against an opaque plastic wall.
Timothy scanned the narrow room around him, empty except for his chair and the book on the pedestal. He saw the pages slowly dry up and become brittle enough so that the blue ink seemed to weigh more than the white pages.
Another paragraph had to be read, if he wanted to read it. However, doubts plagued him like insects buzzing his ear. He read the last passage before it disappeared.
Entry into chaos begins at birth and desire to be liked permeates the life. Understanding and caring comes when the life has need to prove it must be liked. It has always been loved.
Timothy turned around and sensed someone standing on the other side of the plastic wall that had begun to thin. “Hey, you behind the wall. You coming for me? Open up this door, where ever it is, and let me out. Get me out of here.” He felt he had gained some control over his situation now that he was not tied down, if he was ever tied down.
“Where do you want to go?” The voice sounded metallic like a ringing when two steel bars were pressed together.
“Back where I came from. I want to go home. But, I don’t want to end up like that other man.”
“You have a price for your continued existence.”
“Stop the babbling. I want you to come from behind that wall. Let’s face each other. You want to tear my throat out and eat me alive, then do it. I read your book. I don’t want to read no more. Come out and let’s get this fight started.”
“Living adds memories creating a battleground of choices.” The voice sounded like it was taping a lecture.
“Hell, I can’t understand you. You know how I am. I’m not good for much of nothing. I’m on the losing side of your battleground. I’m not sure if I’m good or bad, probably a little of both. I certainly don’t have no knowledge about nothing important in spite of the books I’ve read.”
Timothy spent his energy and wondered if it sounded confessional. Suddenly, everything became paper thin. The cloth chair looked brittle like dry papier mache. The book and pedestal behind him produced flakes and dust as they disintegrated. Slowly the plastic wall and chair disappeared entirely in micro bursts of thin white smoke leaving the cinder block wall behind him as a barrier for protection or to deter escape. The alien stood alone before him.
It looked nothing like the one on the wall. It had a thin, frail build with a pale complexion and a smooth, featureless body which projected vertical lines. The skin gave off a light bluish tint as if veins of blood flowed just below the surface. The alien’s hairless, oval head sat on shoulders in absence of a neck and it twisted in short, jerking movements without purpose. The small purple eyes were unfocused. He’s no match for me in a fight, Timothy thought.
“Do you know where you are?” The alien’s voice did not sound metallic any more.
“I’m on your space ship.”
“This is an intersection of Knowledge. On the other side of the wall is the anti-knowledge. Battle lines are drawn and life has to choose which side of the wall to be on. The ethereal against the physical.”
“So, I’m dead and this is a test, right? I’m in limbo or purgatory, is that how it goes? I’m going to heaven and the other man is going to hell ’cause he didn’t read that book. It’s just another lie for you to write down.” Timothy had sharp, clear images of his life when he belonged nowhere except as a tenant farmer. On too many weekends he pushed too many beers with callused hands in a bar with men who cared too little for each other.
Friday nights when he had to work the next day, drove him to drink more. He usually drank most of the extra money he would get for weekend work. Around him, hardened men passed their tiredness into a state of alcoholic high. None had any girlfriends or wives to hold them if they went home. Bright red fluid flowed out easily from Timothy’s gut when an angry man became consumed with his state of painful living. Timothy sank like a deflated tire.
“You read the book. Where do you want to go?” The alien’s voice brought Timothy back to his present situation.
Timothy said, “What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad, I suppose. Clear lines of battle? I’m not much for formal education, but I believe in a grayness you ignore. An in-between time. The man who stabbed me didn’t care about my skin color, sex, or age. He just wanted to feel my warm blood on his hands. Just like I want to feel your blood. You’re dirty in your smug little mind. You don’t know what I want.”
Timothy hoped the alien could smell his breath and feel his spit. To his left, he saw a dimly lit opening. He walked purposely into a narrow hallway that he had to turn sideways and duck a little to pass through. He didn’t care where it went, as long as it went in some direction.
Timothy began disbelieving in his death. He walked faster. When he looked back, he could not see the opening or the little alien anymore. The passageway widened. Suddenly, he walked onto a short balcony, open on all sides. Down became a single point somewhere below. Timothy heard no sound, but his own shuffling movement. Overhead, the rising shaft disappeared to another single point. A dull glow emitted from all over to let him see the shaft’s extremes. He could not imagine the true size of the alien spaceship.
Mysteriously, Timothy saw an image of himself fall upward past his platform with arms and legs in flying position. Seconds later, his image fell downward toward the single point. Just like normal, can’t make up my mind, Timothy thought.
A loud snort fell across Timothy’s back and he spun around. The hideous monster stood a few feet away down the tunnel, claws clenched, and spittle falling from its crooked, yellow teeth. Its eyes glared into Timothy’s and he recognized them as his own.
“I’m hungry,” snarled the alter ego.
“Always hungry ’cause liquor costs too much. You weren’t there when I had to fend off my old man’s fists. I could have used some ugliness. Tell me how to find knowledge to control the universe. Let me do that. Either that, or we eat each other.”
“I don’t care. Lust and greed makes you want to control.”
“It’s hatred and fear. But, I don’t care. Who should I trust? Myself or you, Mr. Hideous?”
“Neither, still hungry.”
“You’re a fool like I am, but then again, you are who I am. I crawl and take, but I get more taken from me. You’re not acting like me. I can’t be like that.” Timothy’s voice disappeared up and down the alien shaft. “I believed in God and Christ, but I’ve got no church religion. I went to different churches and found nothing. Once I went to the calling at the altar banister four Sundays in a row and found nothing to change things. But, everything was changing around me. People lived, married, had kids, grew old, died. I just lived.”
“Last stop for you. No one trying to find you. I’m with you.”
“What ‘bout your little friend?”
“No friend I am to no one. I’m with you.”
“You don’t know me and I’m not believing in you. I can’t figure things out. Why you are me. I don’t know you. But, I’m with you.”
“I shut you out and you can’t make me go away.”
Timothy wished he had a headache. The kind that started in the back of the head and crossed down the back of his neck and into the broadness of his shoulders. It would help him feel something right now. “This ain’t a space ship. If I’ve got this right, I’m already a ghost giving goose bumps and shivers to people. I’m explainable to people who believe in an afterlife.” Timothy thought less about his free will and more that he should not be anywhere until things were sorted out. “When I died, I didn’t see no tunnel of light. But, then again maybe I forgot to open my eyes.”
The enraged monster stepped closer and so did Timothy. They eyed each other noting no difference in character. “The difference between us ain’t knowledge. I read once that when matter and antimatter meet they destroy each other. Maybe knowledge and anti-knowledge are meant to destroy each other and start over again.” Timothy felt like substance and intelligence were loosely defined terms. He had fear and doubt, but nothing bound him like a prisoner this time. It felt good to be dead. Or to die again.
The monster’s anger showed in the bristled tuff of dark wiry hair on its back. Suddenly, it lunged for Timothy, and the two clasped each other in anger and fear. They fell into the unending chasm and the desperate monster pushed off. They floated briefly like fish closed inside an aquarium of water. Timothy tried to swim for the platform, but the little alien stood there building back the opaque wall. Timothy’s monster sank into the depths, but Timothy floated out into the void of the chasm not going up or down. Again, can’t make up my mind, he thought.
Unable to differentiate between cause and effect or down and up, Timothy pictured his future as controllable, even if it held an optional list of unstable events. He became a reluctant prisoner again of fear and ecstasy. Highs and lows tugged at his body. The flesh eating monster from the cinder block wall picked at his consciousness, even though he had none. He felt an infinite freedom that he could choose to stay where he was between nothing and everything. For a brief moment, Timothy sensed the consuming knowledge that made up all things and he struggled toward that direction.
Reality reined him in and he fell into the sweat of a woman’s birth. He screamed as he came out again into humanity.
Published June 25, 2004, by Writers for Readers