Plugs

Mildred Fondren stomped her way across Europe. England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Greece had been dealt with in three days each. Now it was Italy’s turn. In Venice, Pompeii, and Rome she’d get off the bus, get her picture taken, buy a commemorative spoon, and embark for the next set of ruins.

Until her feet rebelled. On her way from the Vatican to the Coliseum they tingled. From the Coliseum to the Trevi Fountain she got pins-and-needles. And when she got back to the hotel they refused to carry her a step farther. They floated up to the ceiling of the bus, exposing her to ridicule, to indignation, to astonishment, and to the crosswind coming through the windows.

“Signora Fondren,” said the tour guide. “You must come down this instant. It is not proper to stand on the roof.”

“Now, Millie,” chimed in Miss Arbogast, that suck-up. “Show a little decorum. That might be how folks in Akron behave, but when in Rome–”

“I’m trying–” said Mildred, making swimming motions with her hands. She floated down a few inches, but when her arms tired she floated back up again. Awkwardly pushing her dress up her legs, she walked to the door. And there she stopped.

“How am I going to go anywhere outdoors?” she said. “I’d just float away into the sky.”

“Maybe some weights,” suggested the tour guide, checking her watch. She spoke to the bus driver, who pulled a pair of heavy suitcases from storage under the bus. He frowned.

“They are his bags,” said the guide. “He hopes you will let them go if you float away.”

Mildred grabbed each handle as it was offered, and found herself pulled to bus’s floor. She maneuvered her way out the door. Once on the ground, she walked the bags to the door of the hotel, both relieved and mortified that her dress had once more fallen over her face so she could not see the sky above her legs.

Doctors could find nothing physically wrong with Mildred. It was not as if all of her was lighter than air, only that her feet exerted a powerful upward force. At the first tentative suggestion of amputation she firmly shooed them out and made reservations to return early to Ohio.

And that is where she remains to this day. You could look her up.

When the announcement came that he was being called up, Marek didn’t even own a suitcase. His neighbors and regular customers pooled their money and bought him one. He let them think it was happiness that took his voice away.
It was, everyone told him, an honor. A miracle.
He’d had to read the letter three times but still didn’t understand why he needed to bring anything with him– after all, he’d be pure mind, all electronic, after he went up. Whether he wound up in the place between planets or the place between stars, it’s not like he’d bring the picture of his late wife, the framed first dollar their kiosk had earned, his daughter’s bronze star, or the flag they’d given him at her funeral.
But the cab driver, who loaded the suitcase into the trunk so gently that nothing clinked, explained it: the memories would be anchors, digitized and uploaded, that his personality could hold onto.
“Otherwise,” said the cabbie, “you’ll lose who you were and just be a machine.”
Marek stared at the city sliding past.
He’d spent days distracted by all things that he couldn’t put in the suitcase — the way the kiosk looked, when all the flowers were fresh and all the buckets were full, first thing in the morning, when the light seemed to come from inside the petals. The pressure of Tina’s hand on his; the weight of their daughter in his arms. When he explained, none of his friends understood.
“I’ve taken lots of folks to the up station,” said the driver. She tried to catch Marek’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He knew that tone of jealousy-edged pride from his friends’ voices.
On the dashboard, a pair of picture-sculptures morphed though what looked like snapshots of the driver, her friends, her family. Between them, a dried, unopened rose bud; a string of pebble-beads; a sea shell; and a flag Marek didn’t recognize.
“Yeah,” said the driver, “I’ve taken paying uploaders and five or six lottery winners like yourself.” This time she was the one who looked away from the rearview. “The luck hasn’t worn off yet.”
Marek squeezed his hand out of the shimmering holoprinted paper and held the wristband over the seatback.
“Here,” he said, “You go.”
He had to repeat himself.
“You can use the suitcase,” he said, and, somehow, that was the thing that convinced her.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s been a long bloody week. You have been warned.

There is no Santa.

Sleeping Beauty.  The medieval inability to diagnose narcolepsy.  You do the math.

Think about Cinderella.  Think about Anna Nicole Smith.  Think about how you just  thought about the same story twice.

A woman shows up promising you can go to the ball if only you complete several bizarre tasks for her first.  Fairy godmother or spam e-mailer?

Did Jack’s magic beans grow a magic beanstalk to a magic castle and magic gold, or did his mother sell him into slavery and  lie about where she got the cash?  Seriously?

A prince being able to take Snow White’s corpse out of its coffin and take it back to his castle for a “happy ending” simply highlights the fact that the only difference between madness and eccentricity is

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“Once upon a time..” was your mother pushing you out into the world with a scream and prayer.  All the fairy tales got right is the big bad wolf.  There is no fairy godmother, no prophecy, no destiny.  All you have is yourself, and the people you can con, cajole or genuinely charm into accompanying you along the way.  It’s up to you to live happily ever after.

Sweet dreams.  Sleep tight.

We came through in tin, our useless armor clanking, and the room was all stairs, some M.C. Escher thing, and the soles of our metal shoes, of course, had no traction, so every step was nearly a slip, nearly a tumble down however many floors, but the stairs also went up, wrapped around behind the doorway, and we made our way on careful, slow, slow tiptoes up, and the stairs grew steeper and those greaves or whatever pinched when we lifted our legs higher for the stepping, but there was another door, which we were grateful to reach and be through–

–through into a forest, in clothes of vine-bound bark. And ants biting. We took advantage of our new mobility, jogged through the trees. The next door has to be somewhere/said Monice. Has to be somewhere; could be anywhere/said Solly. Are we done?/I said. There yet?/I panted. We weren’t, but nobody said it, just ran. To the next door, and through it. And into–

–sand. Sand. So much. Sand. Desert. Or vast beach. (Maybe that blue distance is water.) Insect carapace clothes. We trudged. Slowly slowed. To rest. (Solly: I hope we’re there soon. Monice: When we’ve learned what we need to, the quest will end. Solly: Learn? Learn what? We’re too busy running from place to place. (I was too tired to say anything. Just nodded.) But the sea. A flash-tide. Was coming. Was on us. And we went through to–

–stone-suited mountainside-sliding scree-riding tumbling cracking smacking avalanche-among crushed pressed pushed and–

–through in tin again, that Escher-stairway room again, and us too tired, too bruised, to tiptoe-climb again, and I fell first and heard Sol and Moni thunder-tumbling after; however, it wasn’t as far a fall as I’d expected, and I wasn’t too much worse by the time we landed on a landing, where the door was a rectangular well in the floor, and we dragged ourselves over, and Moni dropped through, then Sol, then I went–

–through. In eggshell smocks and feather bloomer-breeches. On the plains, astride ostriches. In the midst of a flock-stampede.

“Enough!” said Monice.

Dismounting, she ducked as the rest of the flock stiff-legged by.

Following, Sol and I jumped down and covered our heads.

“No,” I said, “We have to…”

“No,” said Sol. “She’s figured it.”

“The quest’s over when we say it’s over,” said Monice. “And I say it is.”

And it was.

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