A boy of eleven named Melvin sat cross-legged in front of some great black box, watching the flashing pictures, listening to the disembodied voices. He laughed. His favorite television show was on.
The show ended with some brilliant climatic jeer, and he was ready for rest. He happily stood now that the time had come. Ever so mechanically, he walked around the couch to enter a short white hallway. He turned down spiraling stairs toward the labyrinthine chambers below.
Hand outstretched, soft fingers found cool wood: a merciful handrail to guide him while the eyes expanded to adjust. But near the bottom progress was halted, and his grip on the rail became much firmer than his courage. What was this? He could not run.
The stairs had always led to two doors. One to the left, one to the right. One to warm blankets and a comforting mattress, the other to filthy clothes and an obnoxious washing machine. Tonight neither portal could be clearly observed, for both were obfuscated by a twisting gray mist.
Everything in Melvin yearned for a swift away, yet he moved not. Body would respond neither to his mind’s nor his soul’s commands, except to shiver and cling to the railing. The shivering only worsened, the mist only expanded.
Lightless crackles and sparks formed at the center of the mist. Expansion had ceased, for our cowering boy had by now been consumed by it. His courage was not helped moments later, when he found himself being assaulted by the miniature electrical explosions. The surges resounding through his body created a quite unpleasant sensation.
Voices bounced gleefully about inside and around him. They were all one voice, really. An unstructured echo,
saying, “I am fanciful whimsical delight turned sour. This is my revenge, my plea, to you the traitor creator.”
Melvin understood, for he had seen something of the sort involving sandmen and imaginary friends. A movie, on the station Disney. So he said to the mist, “Forgive me if I hurt you. I was a boy and I am growing. Childish things must all be sometime put to rest.” At this sagely wisdom the mist sent more sparks.
“You hurt me still!” said the boy. “Born of mine imagining, having lived a purposeful breath of life, why must gratitude be sucked away as you find yourself before Death’s door?”
And the echo said, “I look into your head now as a babe staring back into the womb from wince he was ejected. What is there to see? A Disney movie, recycled sitcom jokes, vulgar cartoons. Sad, this garbled bunch of televised filth. You’ve crowded out the dragons and castles, the little people, and the great glittering sunshine cities of your own design. Melvin, you’ve killed the fairy tales.”
“Childish things must…”
Sparks electrified so intensely they seemed to heat the air. Melvin writhed in agony.
“Listen to the urge deep within, foolish maker, even now, as that thing you call ‘entertainment’ vampires away every bit of your inherent intellect. Hear the call from some inner part of you, a fragment-entity dwindling to nonexistence, must always hear. Answer the yearning. Seek adventure in the mystery dungeons and the forbidden forests. Rescue again the princess taken by that villainous Orgar the Ogre. Restore to order your ruining, chaotic city atop Mount Mirth. Save that which you dared to build.”
Melvin winced in advance at the reprove his words would bring, saying, “Boyish fancies, all. It is sad that they must fade, but they must. My old god the purple dinosaur taught me real and not, taught me that thing called ‘pretend’. I am beyond purple dinosaurs. Years will pass and I will slowly become a man.”
The echo responded mercifully, speaking only. “Fancies, yes! Magic and wonder. The joys of inventing joy. Must the inventing cease?
“Dear boy, even memory is repressed by this thing you call growth. Where was your dinosaur when you crawled through dark caves of sheets and pillows, after enchanted treasures? Or when you hid behind ancient trees to evade Red the Scaled One? Or when you slew evil crawlers with hurled lightning? Your dinosaur god taught you how to spread your arms and make airplane noises.
“Oh, the fury, the boiling cauldron of hate within. Your idiot’s logic enrages me so, dying dream-weaver. You receive and absorb images and messages far inferior to anything you ever created, created!, and call this the way to wisdom. The road to adulthood.
“I suppose I should strike down this stupid, wretched abomination you have become. It might prove a worthy tribute to the magnificent thing you used to be. But now that it is obvious you are beyond help, even the power afforded me by rage flutters away. I can feel only pity.”
The mist receded, and Melvin was free. He chose the door to his chambers, slipping under comforting covers as he heard the last of the echo’s echoes.
“I used to be a world! Now we are both just clouds.”
This story previously appeared in The Individuate Church.
Edited by Marie Ginga