Plugs

I grew up in a tenement that looked out on the back of the minotaur’s head. The statue was older than the city and taller than any building in it. Our tenement is nearly as tall, not nearly as old, and in far worse repair.

The statue gaze out across the plain of salt, which the scholars say was a sea that dried up years ago, and my siblings and I gaze with it into the hazy horizon.

The scholars don’t know who’d built the statue, or why, but everyone else says it’s a marker to guide travelers over the salt plain. However, everyone, including the scholars, agrees the plain is impossible to cross–too vast, too empty of landmarks. With all the wind-stirred dust, you can’t navigate by stars; by day, you could barely guess where the sun is.

My brothers and sisters and I do go out onto the plain at daybreak and dusk, when the twilight seeps into everything, and we might be walking on a flat of sky. It’s the one advantage we’ve got in the salt quarter. The old city has history; the river districts have trade and communication with distant lands; and the elite quarter has the evening cool of the mountains. A half hour at either end of the day to explore an empty blue world doesn’t seem like much in comparison.

We find our way back by the broken silhouettes of the mountains, and the prongs of the minotaur’s horns above them. One night, we found a man collapsed at the base of the minotaur statue, covered in salt dust. Under the white coating, we saw his glasses and boots were the blue of twilight on the plain.

We went for a healer and returned to find the man gone. The scholars and city guard told us he was a lunatic who’d wandered out onto the plain. We didn’t believe them; we knew the impossible when we saw it.

They built his pyre on our rooftop–our building was closest, and they didn’t want to move him far, which made us even more suspicious. We knew secret ways, so we crept up and stole his boots and glasses.

We argued all night and drew lots. In the predawn twilight, the glasses show me trails on the plain. I set my foot on one to see where the boots will take me…

I keep a diary in my head.

I got a letter from my mother today. It’s sans cerif, so it’s either lower-case “l” or capital “I”. I think it is an l. Mom writes every week. Soon I’ll be able to make a whole sentence. Alas, I’m really low on punctuation, and have not a single period, so I can produce nothing declarative. Still, there are many things I want to know, so I think I’ll ask a question.

Today I got a space. Ha ha, that’s what I say when I really got nothing. Always look on the bright side, Dad said. I’m envious. He could afford semicolons! How many can actually use a semicolon? Yet he’ll give me nothing, nothing at all. I have to “make my own way.”

I took a walk in the park. I saw that girl! Yes, the one I’ve mentioned. She is harmonious of form, she walks in grace, and her smile would melt the hardest stone. She sat on a bench by the duck pond, and I walked as slowly as I dared. I was in heaven! To cap off a perfect day, by the path, half-hidden by dead leaves, I found a period. Now all I lack is “I v ou”. I can trade my question mark for at least one of those, I’m sure.

Today: disaster! I got home early, hoping for something from my mother. The box was empty. Upstairs, my apartment door was unlatched. I pushed it open, slipped inside. Nothing in the front room seemed disturbed, but when I got to my bedroom I found the floor awash with papers, clothing, and all the rest of my stuff. The mattress was askew and the letters and punctuation were missing. Nothing else had been taken.

I spent so long saving. If I start anew it will take forever! Even if I don’t get robbed again.

I went back to the park, sat on my favorite bench. (The one by the duck pond.) I sat, staring at nothing. When someone sat beside me I was taken by surprise. It was she, staring at me with her dark eyes and bewitching brows. She held out her hand. On it: a question mark.

I nodded. It didn’t matter that I had no words.

“Oh hi,” said the boy eating a ham sandwich at my kitchen table.

“Glad you brought your own food,” I said. “I’m tired of buying for all you kids.”

“I brought you a gift.” It wasn’t wrapped. I had never seen one in this condition before. It was 45 cm of polished wonder, grey spotted with tan, every leg bristle intact. It must have been collected live. I examined it from every angle.

He nodded, took another bite. I judged him to be about 16. His clothing was perfectly ordinary; his accent only noticeable because I was looking for it.

“So who are you?” I asked. He knew my name.

“Call me Chad. I’ve heard stories about you my whole life.” While he talked I gently picked up the trilobite and turned it over.

“Oh my God! The ventral surface too!” Through the translucent papery belly I could see everything from the interior was gone.

I made Earl Grey and we talked. Mostly I talked. He asked about my childhood in Missouri, how I met Phil, all the places I’d lived and which ones I liked best. They never answer my questions, but there was one I had to ask.

“I had a visit once from a girl younger than you. She was sick. She told me it was incurable. She said her name was Lane. What happened to her? She looked so much like my niece, I thought she must be…”

Chad held up his hand. “I don’t recognize the name. She must have been from after.”

I shook my head. “I know you all choose ordinary one-syllable names, never give your real names. But I could tell she was from somewhen close. Closer than you.

“My sister’s daughter disappeared at the age of 10; we don’t know if she’s alive or dead. But Lane looked so much like Laurie. I think Laurie survived. I think she had/will have children.”

Chad stood up, brushed the crumbs off his pants. “Thanks for the tea.” He held out his hand for the trilobite. “You know I have to take that back. I wanted you to see it. I knew you would like it, because my great-grandmother wrote about her visit. She mentioned the display case.”

I looked over the ancient creature carefully one more time, then gave it back. “Thank you.” I smiled, squeezed his shoulder, watched him fade out.

Lane had been fascinated by my fossil collection. She had even taken my picture beside the case.

end

It started three days ago when the Statue of Liberty uprooted itself. Shaky camphone footage showed it shivering, gouts of broken concrete fountaining up around its base, then it simply floated upward, one hapless tourist from Indiana caught inside.
The same thing happened to the Great Pyramid of Giza a few hours later, a lone archeologist unable to escape with the rest. A small submarine on display at the Teknorama Museum in Stockholm was next. A sixteen-wheeler in Venezuela, houses in Milan, Osaka, and Capetown, Cinderella’s Castle from Hong Kong Disneyland.
Each of them with one passenger. It was enough, people said, to make you think it was done on purpose.
Telescopes tracked the Pyramid, the largest of the lot, as it sailed through space. Astronomers tracked its course, said it was destined for Europa, sixth moon of the planet Jupiter.
And then there’s me, Lydia Parkhouse of Melbourne, a City Circle tram driver. Two hours ago I was caught up with my streetcar and pulled across the solar system without so much as a how do you do. My car’s not airtight, but not a drop of air escaped.
Europa, at least that’s what it had to be, expanded in my windscreen. It’s grey, with ice at the poles. Red lines crisscross it like map lines that almost make sense. I land in a cluster of odd objects dominated by a pyramid at one end and a castle at the other. When I emerge, still breathing, the voice tells me, tells all of us, what comes next.
We look at one another, we lonely long distance travelers, before entering our vehicles once more.

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