Sleepytown

Christopher Schlegel
 
Issue XXV - August 17, 2004
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A sample imageSleepytown is a small town near the edge of reality.  Here’s a question:  What is on the ‘other side’ of the edge of reality?  The answer is:  nothing.  Here’s another question:  Which side of the edge is Sleepytown on?  The answer is that it is on this side of reality because if it were on the other side it wouldn’t exist.  And it does exist.  What is the ‘edge of reality’ anyway?  This is usually just a clever way of dramatizing a setting in a story so that the author may write what he or she pleases without worrying about troubling matters of cause and effect.  Of course, most people go along with this because it is after all ‘only a book/movie/etc. and therefore fiction’.  Much harder is the task of setting a story in a somewhat unrealistic place but still maintaining a self-consistent logic.

Please don’t misunderstand:  everything in Sleepytown happens for a reason.  Although there are no ‘loose ends’, you might have to dig the reason out of an enormous pile of meandering trivialities.  Other times the reason is obvious and easy to notice.  The only two tools necessary to unravel and understand the personalities and events one might encounter in Sleepytown are:  your intelligent observation and, more crucial, your honesty with yourself.

My mother introduced me to Sleepytown when I was a small child.  She would tell me it was time to go to bed around eight o’clock in the evening (nine o’clock one night a week so that I could have the special privilege of staying up to watch ‘Hawaii Five-O’).  If I wasn’t tired I would tell her I didn’t want to go to sleep yet.  She would always reply that I didn’t have to go to sleep, but I did have to lie in bed.  I could read or play with toys or whatever as long as I was in the bed.  Once in bed it never took long for sleep to take over.  Usually after a good long day of vigorous childhood fun and scampering I was quite ready for eight o’clock to roll around.  My mother would then tuck me, unresisting, into bed and tell me it was time to go to Sleepytown.  It never sounded sinister and I was never afraid of going.  My mother was a very benevolent person and there was no reason for me to think she would willingly let me go somewhere I might get harmed.  So the place always seemed rather benign to me even if it was at times whimsical, confusing or downright inexplicably baffling.

When we sleep we are in our physically most vulnerable position.  When we are young we don’t even think of the fact that our parents, older siblings or guardians watch over us; sometimes literally, other times indirectly through a safe house or locked doors and bolted windows.  When we are older we take for granted sleeping with our spouses or lovers.  But, think!  While asleep we are unconscious!  Completely unprotected from potential harm.  To sleep with someone is a display of one of two possibilities:  the greatest trust or the most stupid negligence.  The presence, or lack of, intelligence and benevolence of the sleeper and the sleepee will decide which potential is actualized.  

Even as a grown man I still visit Sleepytown.  I usually find it interestingly amusing and at times even charming.  I rarely take it very seriously.  However, lately I have begun to wonder about that assumption.  It could never take the place of being awake.  But perhaps it has a more useful function than I have yet been willing to admit to myself.

So, after a long, hard day filled with productiveness I came home wrapped in the sturdy folds of my sense of daily achievement.  I looked forward to a tasty meal with my spouse, some good after dinner coffee and conversation.  Finally, I turned out the last light, kissed my spouse and told her it was time to go to Sleepytown.

* * *

I arrived in Sleepytown on a colorful downtown street.  The walls and windows of the businesses and residences were clean and brightly lit with sharp clear lights and extravagant color schemes.  Large, cartoon-like poster advertisements filled in the various spaces between the buildings.  All of the businesses are almost always open.  Even during an unusual closing the lights will be left on because it’s always nighttime in Sleepytown.  There are times and situations when it seems to be daytime or it looks like there is clearly daylight shinning; but, don’t be misled.  That is merely an illusion.  I approached a little coffee shop, obtained a hot drink from the vendor and continued on my way.

I was walking down this colorful street drinking my most excellent cappuccino when a man walking the other way handed me a flyer.

“You seem like a man that can appreciate fine art, yes?” he asked.

“Sure.  Most definitely.”

“It’s a free pass to the opening of Sleepytown’s newest art gallery.  And there’s to be a contest of the best piece displayed.  Starts soon.  Directions are printed at the bottom.”

With that he turned away from me to hand another flyer to the nearest passerby.
I found my way to the gallery easily.  On a corner lot several blocks down the street was a large building with fifty foot three dimensional letters on the roof spelling ART.  Upon entering I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in the place.  It looked like every possible spot contained some type of painting, sculpture, display, mosaic, mobile, pottery, photograph and on and on.  My senses gradually calmed down to the point that I could assimilate individual objects and I started walking around the gallery with the other people present.  The place was surely filled with ‘objects of art’.  But I didn’t see anything at all that I thought was amazing or wonderful.  As I wandered, I thought about that.  I love the idea of art inspiring me but it happens so rarely that sometimes it seems…

My wandering feet and thoughts stopped abruptly as I turned a corner of the gallery and saw a painting on a wall ten feet in front of me.

It was about three feet wide by two feet tall.  Its subject was a woman in motion.  I could tell she was in an outdoor setting and it was full daylight.  That surprised me at first because this painting, like the gallery that housed it, was in Sleepytown.  How did the artist know about sunlight?

There was a man standing unobtrusively next to the painting.  He had on simple blue slacks a yellow polo-type shirt and was carefully sketching on a large pad of paper.  I approached the painting and the man standing next to it.

“Is this yours?”  I asked him, pointing at the painting on the wall.

He stopped sketching briefly in order to reply, “Yes, I created it.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.  Glad you appreciate it.”  His manner seemed to be one of slightly disinterested curiosity.

“But…” I stopped at a momentary loss.

The man stopped sketching altogether and looked at me.  He tilted his head slightly and one eyebrow ebbed up away from his eye.  He was discovering I was not just one more passerby nodding indiscriminately at everything in the gallery.  He patiently waited for me to finish whatever I was attempting to say.  Mostly I was just contemplating the painting trying to figure something out about it that was barely escaping my understanding.

The woman in the painting was stunningly beautiful.  She was wearing some kind of flowing garment that wasn’t a dress or a gown.  It was more like a toga of sorts, though that didn’t quite describe it either.  She had no hat or shoes and her head and feet seemed very fragile and defenseless, though she seemed completely at ease and unconcerned.  The bodily curves visible and those suggested made a much more intimate vision of her physicality than if she had been painted totally nude.  The sunlight on her skin, her golden hair and on her general surroundings faintly glowed with a hum that seemed audible.  My mind started grasping what was initially confusing or disorientating about her.  I couldn’t figure out exactly what she was actually doing.  It seemed right on the tip of my tongue.  But I couldn’t isolate it.

Was she running or jumping?  No, it wasn’t that simple.  Was she running a track and field event and caught in the moment before she leaped into the air to clear some obstacle?  No, no, I couldn’t see anything in the setting that would imply a sports event.  Where did I get that notion?  Hmmm…somehow, it fit.  But was still not quite right.  Was she dancing?  I don’t know much about dancing but that didn’t look like any type of dance or dance related move.  Maybe it was some kind of free form ballet that I had never seen?

I had been determined to figure it out for myself.  Finally, though, I turned to the artist and said, “But what is she doing?”

He gave me a small but gracious smile and replied, “She’s enjoying being alive.”

I snapped my fingers and said, “That’s it!”

“Sometimes it’s the easiest thing to overlook,” the artist said.

“It really is wonderful.”

“Well, thanks again.”

“No!  I should thank you!”  I reached out to shake his hand and he looked a little surprised but took my hand anyway and returned a firm, brief shake.

I wandered around looking at some of the other exhibits but they all seemed a shade too dull or ridiculous after having seen the painting of the woman.  I also noticed that none of the other works contained any scenes with or even any reference to sunlight.

A man with an extremely small hat approached me.  He was wearing a pair of pants with three legs.  The extra, unused pant leg flapped about on his right side.  He carried a large electric fan that he held behind himself pointed down at the extra pant leg apparently to cause it to flap about.

In his left hand he carried a gargantuan object of some sort.  As he came up to me he thrust the object in my face and said, “Now, look here!  This is great art!”
The object in question was as I said absolutely huge.  It was amazing that he could hold the damn thing in one hand much less hold it up.

“It must not weigh very much”, I said trying to take it all in.

It was round in some places and squarely block shaped in others.  Some parts of it came looping out of hidden recesses, intersected other sections at strange angles, looping back into other hidden spots.  Some of the loops simply stopped in mid air as if cut off.  Colors seemed to be splashed on at random without regard for even where the strange bulges and loops kind of stopped and started.  When the man turned it around for my further inspection I saw that he had a hold of it by some sort of door handle.  Once I saw this he turned the handle and with a flick of his wrist the whole gigantic thing swiveled aside on a tiny hinge knocking over ten bystanders.

“Suffer for art my, admirers!” He yelled, “Feel its impact on your pathetic lives!”
All of those that had been struck were sprawled on the floor.  Some were unconscious; the rest of them sat up looking dazed.  They were bruised, cut and bleeding but that didn’t stop them from applauding.

There was a compartment in the object that was revealed when the door swung open on its hinge.  A noxious odor came rolling out of the dark compartment.  The sense of smell is particularly strong in certain situations and this was a qualifying one.  I had the automatic reaction of squinting my eyes, covering my nose and starting to dry heave.

The man with the extremely small hat and three legged pants handed his fan to a woman standing at his side and said, “Hold this and point it here”, indicating the extra pant leg.  Satisfied that she would keep it flapping, he reached into the dark compartment and flipped on a light switch.  I could immediately see the source of that rancid smell.

He looked at me very seriously and said in a reverent tone.

“It’s the garbage pail of society overflowing with the decadent and spiritually bankrupt refuse that is science, reason, logic and teeth whitening toothpaste.  And I have shed light upon it.”

The curator of the gallery came gliding over with a smirk on his face saying lightly, “I think we have a winner!”

I looked around for the man with the painting I had admired but he was gone.  As the applause gradually grew louder and the crowd continued to gather around the winner I left.

* * *

Out on the street again outside the gallery I noticed that several buildings on the next block were turning inside out and then back again to right side in.  I walked down to get a closer look.  

A woman dressed completely in what looked to be an outfit made of pink roses with a pink dog on her shoulder was standing across the street from the convulsing buildings.  She was looking intently at them as they gyrated through each cycle.  The front entrance to each building was just wide enough to make it possible to shove its inner walls and structures though.  Once the inside was completely out, taking about seventeen seconds, it looked incredibly ridiculous.  Kind of like a massive dollhouse exploded and reassembled with a lot of care but not much thought.  After the entire thing was inside out, the whole process reversed itself, which for some reason only took eleven seconds.  I approached the rose lady and asked her what was going on with those buildings.

“Well, you know,” she replied in a matter-of-fact way, “I wouldn’t want to live in one myself, mind you.  But they are kind of fascinating in their own way.”

I introduced myself and she courteously answered, “Nice to meet you.  My name is Pretty Polly Pink Rose.”

“Why is it that those buildings across the street are turning inside out?”

“I suppose it’s better than doing nothing other than sitting there motionless all day long, day after day after day, forever and ever and ever.  Probably gives them a bit of variation.”

“I had no idea that steel, brick and mortar was so elastic.”

We both dodged a large couch and blender that was thrown clear of the heaving and twisting going on.  The blender smashed in a hundred pieces on the sidewalk.  The couch faired a lot better but was still scuffed up and ripped in many places.

“Well, you know, it happens more often than you might think.  One day you think you’re living in a perfectly sound, respectable little apartment unit; and the next thing you know it’s jumping up and down or twisting inside out.  You know, I heard once that a five-story section of a condo unit got up and danced right down the street.  Wish I had seen that one.  A lot of them eventually settle down after freaking out for a while but as I heard that condo was never seen again.”

“But what causes them to freak out?”

“Who can tell?  Probably the buildings next to it.  Or the atmospheric conditions.  Perhaps the astrological sign it was built under.  Or would it be the sign under which it was financed?  Whatever,” she finally concluded with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“What about the people that live in them?”

“Well, I suppose they’re lucky if they aren’t inside when it happens.  Or if they happen to be inside, they would be lucky to get out alive.  I’ve seen people mangled very badly.  It’s quite thrilling.  Nasty business, of course, though.  Terribly sad and tragic and all that.”

The sidewalk across the street was already filled with refuse the building was spitting out.  The street was starting to get congested and the sidewalk, opposite the building, on which we were standing, was beginning to fill up as well.  The whole area looked like a badly disorganized rummage sale.

“I hope no one was hurt this time,” I said looking around and not seeing any mangled people among the wreckage on the sidewalks around the buildings.

“No, not a soul.  I understand the House of Legislature is supposed to be doing something about it.”

“What are they trying to do?  Could they pass a law that would stop buildings from doing this sort of thing?”

“Well, I don’t know.  They ought to do something.”

“But, what?”

She completely ignored my question and said, “Think I’ll go get a bite to eat until the next report comes up.”

“Next report?”

“Of a building doing this sort of thing.  I follow the action.”

“Oh.  Are you studying it for possible causes or something?”

She looked irritated and replied, “No.  I just like to watch.”

With that she turned away and started walking rapidly down the street.  The little pink dog on her shoulder hadn’t even moved the whole time I was talking to her.  As she walked away, though, it turned around to look at me and barked several times.

* * *

I suppose if buildings can turn inside out then perhaps they can be held responsible under the rule of law.  After all this was Sleepytown. I decided to visit the House of Legislation and see what kind of laws would stop a building from acting up.  As I walked in the big hall containing the Law Chambers I heard a great deal of “Hrruummpphing”, mumbling and shuffling of papers.
The hall was circular in shape and sloped up on the sides like a small-scale sports arena.  There were seats and desks from the floor all the way up to the ceiling and every one of them was being used by a busy mob of well-dressed men and women.  These then were the Representatives of Sleepytown’s House of Legislation.  At the bottom of this loud, crowded bowl was a round floor area about twenty feet in diameter.  In the very center of this pit was a speaker’s podium with several microphones.  There was a great deal of commotion and general confusion going on down in the pit.  On one side were ten or twelve overweight men and women in very expensive looking business suits fighting and wrestling each other in an attempt to get on the podium.  On the other side were ten or twelve men and women of similar bearing, but they were rolling dice, flipping cards and occasionally shooting each other in the legs and feet with very small gold plated revolvers.

Finally it looked as if there was a winner.  I couldn’t tell which group he was from, but as soon as he mounted the speaking pulpit everyone else engaged in the center pit walked or limped away, sat down or just fell over on the floor from exhaustion or death.

He was clearly worn out and his clothes were disheveled.  He was sweating profusely and bleeding from several gashes on his forehead.  Nevertheless he looked rather pleased to be on the podium.  He began to speak.

 “Fellow Legislators!  I have here a message from a quite prestigious source.  If you will be so kind as to indulge me for a few moments I will read aloud the contents of the message.”

He paused briefly, put his glasses on, smoothed his hair down and wiped the blood and sweat off his face.  Gradually the place grew completely quiet as everyone waited for the message to be read.

“To the Representatives of The House of Legislature.  I happen to be somewhat very interested in finding out how many extremely voluminous repositories of information in this space-time continuum still maintain a ‘compendium file’ containing more information than it would be otherwise humanly possible to keep track of in an orderly and, as it were, timely fashion, always, of course, assuming that said ‘compendium file’ does not become so bloated as to acquire enough mass to sustain it's own gravitational field, and therefore, collapse under it's own density, forming a small, local black hole, thereby causing all the information in said ‘compendium file’ to be stored in a much more efficient and space saving manner, albeit, of course, said information would then be completely inaccessible to the outside universe, which is a situation that may, mind you, have some unique uses unto itself by causing anyone interested in obtaining information in said ‘compendium/collapsed black hole’ to be invited to enter into said ‘compendium file/collapsed black hole’ in order to ‘access’ the information contained therein.

“Now, it is our statistically drawn average of opinions that compels us to put forward that this form of researching should, of course, be severely limited to ‘pure academians’ who have no interest in applying any of their vastly acquired information to the rest of the universe-at-large.  They should, obviously, be quite content to purvey and consume the enormous stores of information available in said ‘compendium file/collapsed black hole.’

“Thanks backward and forward in time, both, in advance and afterwards, for your undoubtedly friendly, but useless help and/or sadly misinformed, irrelevant advice.  Please do not waste MY valuable time by trying to respond to me personally even if you'd like to do so.  Unlike YOU, I have more important things to do with my space/time than deal with trivial, meandering minutiae disguised in the form of an Official Looking Message.  Simply make it impossible for any other loosely defined group of statistically drawn organisms to possess information content control and possible for the House of Philosophy to get the necessary public funding to control all information content.”  

“From The All-Knowing Head of Tiny But Mightily Important Bits Of Information at The Sleepytown University House of Philosophy Speaker Handy Sester,” he paused for a moment and drew a long breath.

“Fellow Representatives, from Handy Sester, himself!”  The representative pounded the podium with his fist and shook the letter overhead with his other hand.  He was obviously impressed with receiving an actual letter from someone he considered very noteworthy.

The other Representatives were equally impressed and started talking furiously amongst themselves in reaction to hearing this letter read.

Questions began forming in my mind:  Does this Speaker Sester want information or not?  Why was the letter so condescending but so well received? There was an obvious lack of respect for the Representatives to whom it was sent.  It was strange to hear a request for assistance and funding offered in such an antagonistic manner.  But it came from Sleepytown’s University meaning that this Speaker in the House of Philosophy Handy Sester surely must be aware of his own paradoxical position.  How far does self-delusion go in this place?  Exactly how much can a person hide from themselves in their own mind?  And exactly what was the meaning of those assertions about information content control?

None of these questions were asked by any of the assembled Legislators though.  I suppose they didn’t think they were relevant.

At one point another Representative rose and said, “This is all very impressive and I am sure we can make time in the near future to work on passing laws that will assist Speaker Sester in his noble work.  For now, however, we have much more pressing issues to deal with.  Namely the question of prosthetic limbs.”
There were immediate and loud cries of “Hear!  Hear!” shouted in approval.
The representative speaker that had risen yelled over the noise, “As I see it everyone in need of a prosthetic limb should be able to get one provided by the government.  Remember not to forget that everyone will probably at some point in his or her lifetime need one.  Especially if they have been a moral person!”
Another representative chimed in, “And if they aren’t moral enough to need one we can arrange for them to become moral enough to need one in which case we can provide it for them.”

Another representative rose and said, “Fellow Representatives, I consider it well advised and perfectly true that a moral person would need to make use of a prosthetic limb.  But, there is no need to force them to need one or force them to use one provided by the government.”

This was retorted to with, “As long as you agree that it’s moral to need one and we should provide them to those that want them then what do we care what you think?”

This sort of thing went on for a while with the representatives bickering back and forth over strange side issues while agreeing on every major premise.  The main thing I didn’t understand was all the emphasis on prosthetic limbs.
In the front of the podium was a doorway I hadn’t noticed yet.  I figured this was as good a cue as any to leave.

 * * *

I stepped through the previously hidden doorway and arrived at the foot of a set of stairs.  The stairs belonged to an apartment building that had four floors.  I knew I would have to go up those stairs eventually but I waited for a moment in order to take in my surroundings and get my bearings.  I had never seen this particular apartment complex before.  It looked similar to ones I have seen elsewhere but not yet in Sleepytown.  That is fairly characteristic of many settings and objects that I encounter in Sleepytown.  The staircase was constructed of steel rails painted a dull burgundy.  The stairs themselves were composite concrete with small smooth stones visible in the mixture.  Each stair was then welded onto the rail structure.  There were no risers so I could easily see across the courtyard without looking around the staircase.  The stairs led to balconies that hung off the building and ringed the inner courtyard.  There was no one else in sight but I could hear people talking behind some of the doors and I could hear traffic out on the street that must be passing by the building although I couldn’t see it from where I was.

 I climbed the stairs looking for the apartment I was supposed to enter.  This is an interesting part of Sleepytown:  I have a strange sense of certainty without immediately knowing from where it comes.  As I got to the third floor I stopped using the stairs and started walking down the balcony pathway.  I stopped in front of one door that was open and looked in.

 Twelve little children were playing on the floor of the room with an assortment of toys.  They eventually looked up at me, smiled and yelled various greetings.  A young girl said, “Hi!  Are you here to feed us?  We’re very hungry.”

 A man staggered clumsily from another room in the apartment and grabbed my arm dragging me into to the place.  He started talking very quickly and laughing nervously in between some of his words.

“I’ll be busy running around town for a while.  I have to get the old leg prop checked on and then a few other errands.  I’m glad you showed up.  If you’ll just watch the kids for a little while I’m sure everything will turn out all right.  I hope that isn’t a problem for you.  If it is a problem, then consider paying me back by forwarding my address to some shifty-eyed pack of wild coked-out Chileans with suspicious looking mustaches, an ax to grind and a fake online mail order company that specializes in cheap ceramic knick knacks of voodoo gods that are overpriced and serve no practical purpose.  I'll understand.  I'm an understanding type of guy...or something not quite entirely unlike that.  In any event, we’ll be back later.  Don’t forget to feed the children.”  He turned and walked off before I could get a word out of my mouth.

I walked after him though the room I had entered into the kitchen.  He kept going through the kitchen into the next room, a living room, and out the front door.  I tried the door but it was locked.  From the outside?  I thought that was strange.
I walked back into the kitchen and had a look around.  There was filth and trash everywhere.  The counters were piled over with dirty and broken dishes and cooking wear.  I opened the refrigerator and three dead rats fell out.  The rest of the contents were ugly and unrecognizable.  And I was supposed to make dinner with what?  On the table I noticed a miniature skeleton.  I picked it up and inspected it.  It was about a foot long, made of plastic and a very good doll-style replica of a human skeleton.  On one leg a worn and faded tag was attached.  The tag read:  “Press the button on the back of my skull and I’ll give you a recipe the little ones would love to eat!”  I pressed the button but the voice that came out of the doll was slow and groggy as if it’s battery was worn out.  I couldn’t even see a place to put a battery though, so I suppose what ever it used for power was running low.

 Three of the kids came wandering in to the kitchen and asked me if dinner was ready yet because they were very hungry.  I told them I hadn’t made anything yet and they looked at me dumbfounded.  They were clearly perplexed and finally one came out of his stupor and said in an annoyed tone,  “Well, what are you waiting for?”

 The front door opened and all the children rushed out to the living room to see who had arrived.  It was the father and this time the mother was with him.  The children were very happy to see them and swarmed all around them as they waded their way in to the kitchen.

It didn’t take long for the children to inform their parents that I had not fed them and they were very hungry.

They started to question me and I immediately defended myself saying, “First of all, it’s not my responsibility to feed your kids.  Second, look at this place!  It’s a disaster area.  There’s nothing to cook and even if there was there’s nothing clean to cook it in or serve it on.”

The mother said, “Well, why don’t you cut off one of your arms or legs and make a lovely stew?  The children need to be fed and here you are with four healthy limbs.”

I thought to myself, she’s got to be joking.  But before I said it the children parted and the mother wobbled forward on two artificial limbs, “I’d feed them one of my arms but I’m fattening them up and saving them to serve for a nice Christmas dinner.”

I looked at the father and noticed for the first time he only had one arm and one leg.  The other two were prosthetic.

Again, questions formed in my mind.  How in the world did this come to be?  The children accept it so easily, how could that be?  Why didn’t they work for money and then buy food not made out of human anatomy?  What the hell was going on here?

I never got a chance to ask any of these questions because I could see the parents and their children were not in a mood for philosophical ponderings that might justify their actions.  They advanced on me with one clear intention:  to eat me for dinner.

I turned and ran out the back door that led to the apartment complex inner courtyard.  I heard the children running after me.  The parents were limping along behind, cheering them on to catch me.  I went up the balcony stairs to the fourth floor.  All the way down at the other end of building I saw a door open.  I ran top speed down the balcony with my leg muscles burning.  I got through the doorway, slammed the door closed behind me, grabbed a wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room and wedged it up against the doorknob.

I could hear the children yelling on the other side of the door and soon they were pounding on it trying to get in.  I went through the apartment noting that it had a similar layout but in reverse.  I had entered a living room, passed through a kitchen in the middle and finally got to a bedroom where I saw a door I assumed would be a front door to the apartment that would lead out.

I slammed the bedroom door closed and stated to pull a dresser over to block it.  Once it was in place I noticed that there was an old man laying on the bed in the bedroom softly crying.  In the corner of the room was a little girl dressed like Shirley Temple in a cute little girl dress and white patent leather shoes.
She approached the bed, climbed up on it and sat next to the old man.  She was wearing a long strand of pearls.  In fact it was so long that she left it hanging around her neck and placed part of it around the old man’s neck.  She started to softly pat the old man’s forehead and said, “It’s okay Grandpa.  Everything’s going to be okay.”

I tried the front door and it opened.  I ran out and down the stairs.  As I ran down the street away from the apartment complex I could hear the children and their parents yelling and screaming from inside.

* * *

After everything that I saw and heard I got back to wondering how and why things had gotten so unbelievably screwy in Sleepytown.  My plan was visit the one place I thought that might be able to help.  After all, philosophy is the study of life, right?

Most of the people I spoke with were very excited about my search for the Sleepytown University House of Philosophy.  No one was exactly sure where it was located.  Nor were they interested in going with me to attempt to find it.  When I told passersby that I was looking for it they congratulated me.  Some said that higher education was a fine thing indeed and they were glad that such a bright young man was interested in such things.  Unfortunately, when I asked if they could help me find it or take me there their interest was reduced dramatically.  Most were vague and tried to change the subject.  One man pulled a fish out of his back pocket and proceeded to explain to me the finer points of stock car racing.  Some were even outright hostile about me asking.  They seemed to think that I was somehow insulting them.

“Don’t you come around here simply to talk condescending to me about such superstitious mumbo-jumbo,” one finely dressed lady said as she made some sort of strange gesture with her left hand and right leg and walked off with a large huff.  I think the huff was even offended because it turned back for a moment and glared pointedly at me.

 I finally got someone to show me the way through the strangely tangled cobweb of streets in the university section.  It was an old woman I hadn’t met before.  She drew me a rough map on a piece of cloth torn from the hem of her dress.  In the moonlight I could just make out the charcoal markings of the primitive looking map.  It was getting late and I was wondering if I would have time to get there before I had to leave Sleepytown for the night.  The streets were completely empty in this section of town and I started to think I was hopelessly lost.  When I finally thought I would never find it or that I had seriously misunderstood the markings on the map I heard the muffled sound of voices and the shuffling of papers.

 I ran in the direction of the sound.  

As I rounded a corner I saw three men in fuzzy gray robes entering a doorway.  They were chatting and each was carrying something:  one, a pile of books, another, a pile of papers, the third a box filled with pencils and pens.

 I felt relieved and slightly justified that I had made this attempt.  As I walked towards the door the tension in my mind and stomach started to melt away.  An ember of hope replaced it.

 I opened the door to the building and entered.  It was one huge room with a domed ceiling.  There were at least fifty men seated at small, ornately carved wooden tables all about the room.  Each had piles of books and papers on the tables and floor.  There were writing utensils scattered on the tables among the books and papers.  They were all busy alternately reading from the books and writing on the papers.  Everyone present was dressed like the men I saw entering:  big gray fuzzy robes and socks that were also gray but not quite the same shade as the robes.  I also noticed that everyone’s socks had odd bulges.
 I approached the closest of the men and said, “Excuse me, sir.  I’m looking for the House Of Philosophy.  Is this it?”  It was fairly obvious that it had to be, but I wanted to make sure.

 He looked up at me, frowned and replied, “That is, it would seem to one or many of a statistical average drawn from some non-unilaterally allied partial grouping of…”

 He got no further because someone had sounded a bell and that was apparently a signal that some proceedings were soon to begin.  There happened to be one unoccupied chair near by, so I sat and waited.  The chair was very old and rickety.  I looked around and noticed that all the chairs and tables were also in a bad state of disrepair.  They looked as if they were of good quality when they were new but that must have been several thousand years ago.  The beginning of the answer I received coupled with the condition of the furnishings quickly assimilated into an uneasy feeling that started replacing that little flash of hope I had so recently acquired.

 One man stood and said, “Speakers assembled…First speaker…” he motioned toward the other side of the room.

 A smallish man clothed stereotypically in the fashion of all the others in the room stood and started speaking in an odd way.  He would accent some words more than others in strange places.  Then he would greatly vary the volume and timbre of his voice as he wound through his speech.

 “How is it, now before, that we have not, notwithstanding the synthetic syntax, the wherewithal to compound with relative statistical frequency to query the proximity of such not such a loquacious veracity of sub-conjunctive pronoun suffixation?  Asking, of course, as the…”

 He was promptly cut off in mid sentence by another speaker slightly taller than the first speaker, “But quite clearly, in a nondescript manner of dialect, one or many of this”, the interrupter here put in a sarcastic tone, “relative statistical frequency would surely as not have any non-definition that should necessarily supply any certainty past a degree of healthy skepticism in deductive syllogistic logic that we could never put our feigned and respected dutiful vocational trust if we fail not to fail in succeeding not but where it can be said that…”

 At this point an even taller speaker (but slightly bent over as if from permanently slumped shoulders) rose and started stumbling around the room running into chairs and table corners occasionally,  “This well respected fool representative of our much not seemingly esteemed dutiful vocation has naught but a slightly vaunted analytic quasi-concept of the elastic nature, herewith, semi-inclusive forms of highly and not but by a varied and as yet unspecified narrowly amount that can be but never is or should be, unless it can be proved”, here he stopped abruptly and gestured wildly with one arm knocking a massive pile of precariously balanced books and papers off the corner of one of his colleagues tables, “not that it ever will be proved, mind you!  However, erstwhile until and unless such it should be proved by an as yet undiscovered but previously unestablished pseudo-science of the near to be future of times yet past that we…”

 The rest of what this speaker said I couldn’t hear clearly; not that I could clearly hear what he was trying to say before he was drown out by a general uproar.  Several other speakers rose and started shuffling around speaking to the room at large in an aggravated way.  The speaker that had had his papers and books knocked off the table immediately stopped gathering his chaotic mess and climbed up on the table alternately yelling and whispering that someone “might surely be responsible for disordering his life’s work”.  From what I gathered, when he was yelling and thus audible, he maintained that he would be starting an “analytic/synthetic cross verification of grammar that would show which group of supposed linguistic specialists would be sued for reparations to his statistically implied integrity…” I couldn’t hear the rest as he immediately switched into whispering mode to continue his tirade.

 I approached him, started helping him to gather the scattered books and papers and said, “Clearly it was the third speaker that knocked your stuff all over the place.”  I pointed at the third speaker, “I saw him do it.  You saw him do it as well.”

 The speaker looked at me with a sardonic grin, “Oh, I see.  The non-speaking intruder opens his mouth simply if not otherwise than to show his lack of sophistication in matters that he obviously has no such previous understanding of which he can not but hold a non-unspecified…”

 I did some cutting off of my own, “Look, I was just trying to help.  Clean it up yourself.”  I turned around and started to walk off when I saw the paper dumping third speaker pick up a huge book and swing it around in a big arc connecting directly into the head of a speaker that had gotten up and was walking around pontificating.  The third speaker then started yelling directly at the second speaker.  Every time the speaker he was yelling at answered in turn the third speaker would run over to another of the speakers wandering around the room at random, smack him firmly in the head with the book and run back over to continue his shouting match with the second speaker.

 The other speakers started furiously writing things down on scraps of paper they had previously hidden in their socks and now pulled out for this purpose.  That explained the bulges.  Or at least it explained what the bulges were.  One speaker put his chair on top of his table, pointed at it and accused someone in the room of trying to prove that it existed.  Another group of speakers pulled out some enormous cigars, lit them, proceeded to light each others hair on fire and screamed painfully that they were on the “near, but not quite yet verge of authoring a resolution” to some effect or other.  I couldn’t make out the details but they were very intense about it.  Or maybe it was just the pain from their burning scalps.

 The speaker that had placed his chair on his table had climbed up on his chair and was now jumping up and down on it shouting that no one could get away with proving that his chair existed.

 Finally a semblance of order was restored when an extremely tall speaker rose silently, shuffled slowly and seriously bent over to the jumping speaker and pulled the chair over when the jumping speaker was in mid air.  He came crashing down through the table below.  His table was in splinters and probably also some of his bones by the look of his legs.  Four other speakers immediately stopped what they were doing, rushed over to the fallen speaker and beat him unconscious with large books.  The room was silent except for the sound of heavy breathing caused by the physical exertion.  

This extremely tall speaker was as I mentioned very slumped over.  I would think if he stood upright he would easily be ten feet tall.  As his spine and shoulders seemed quite deformed he was maybe seven feet from floor to one pointed shoulder blade that stuck out over the top of his head which was shriveled down into his chest.

 He began quietly and slowly, “Who in this room of supposedly venerated and querulously non-inductively pre-eminent scholars,” he finished in a literal howling, screech, “has made the unverifiable claim that this chair does in unquestionable fact exist?!”

 The other speakers averted their eyes and nervously fidgeted with their papers.  They looked very much to me like guilty school children caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  No one answered.

 The jumping speaker was groggily regaining consciousness.  He sat up, moaning and holding his head.  The tallest speaker took note of his colleague stirring on the floor, picked up the chair he had pulled out from under him and handed it to the previously jumping speaker.

 He said, “Eat this”.

 The speaker on the floor took the chair from the tallest speaker and started chewing on one of the legs.

 I turned away in disgust.  Facing the door I noticed for the first time letters carved above it.  I looked up at the marble plaque hung high on the wall above the entrance door.  The moonlight admitted grudgingly from between the thin window slots that broke up the dome shone on parts of the words.  Though dim, I could clearly read them:  To the undaunted pursuit and establishment of Truth.
 I had seen enough.  There were no answers for me here.  I walked toward the door.

 As I opened it to let myself out I heard one of the speakers rise and begin in a stumbling, halting, tentative voice start to speak again.

“As it were not but until the vociferous non-qualification of the previously unhitherto admission of reductive quasi-ubiquitousness that we, one or many of a probable statistical quantitative unspecified grouping should but not qualitatively assert…”

* * *  

 I wandered aimlessly around the university section of town for a few minutes thinking.  I was in no hurry to get anywhere before the moon set.  I wasn’t worried about finding my way through the confusing maze of streets because soon enough I would be leaving.  And no matter where I was in Sleepytown when it was time to go, I would wind up back in bed safe and sound.

 I used to love Sleepytown.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  I do still love parts of it.  As for the other parts…

 One of these days I’m going to straighten those parts that are diminishing its potential for complete grandeur.  Yes, sir, that’s a fact, one these days very soon.  Perhaps I’ve already started.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.