Saturday, February 4, 2012

short story: “There Is No Absurdity So Obvious...

...that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.” -- Arthur Schopenhauer
The year: 2000
The place: Prometheus Institute; recreation room
(alternate reality)
“You know what I’d like to see?” Sarah Decker (age 28) asks— rhetorically-- her new best friend?
After a brief pause of consideration, Wayne Gordon (age 27) replies, in an attempt at humor, with a somewhat facetious non-sequitur, “uh, a unicorn sliding down a rainbow?”
(Humor= revelation of truth, expressed through incongruous absurdity or goofiness.)
“No!”, rebuffs Sarah, an amused smile and sparkling eyes brightening her face. Then, her expression changing with her mind, Sarah concedes, soberly amending her response with, “well, yeah, actually— but seriously…wait.”
Sarah stops, suddenly staring off into space in her own non-sequitur; he waits, wondering what happened. She slightly frowns, then, her eyes squinting suspiciously and brow wrinkled with an expression of confused frustration.
“What was I saying?” searches Sarah. “The unicorn distracted me, and I lost my thought.”
“What you’d like to see---?” Wayne reminds her.
If Sarah were beside actor Claire Danes, confusing the two of them for twins would be easy; the resemblance was uncanny. Inhaling and exhaling deeply, slowly, she bolsters her announcement with an air of great solemnity, declaring, ”I’d like to live long enough to see children get the respect in our society they deserve.”
During her sojourn here, this discourse is indicative and typical of their conversations. They don’t speak of inane or mundane trivia, like normal people would.
If you were looking at actor Brian Austin Green in dim light while squinting, Wayne would look just like Brian Austin Green if you saw him while squinting in a dimly lit room.
“You mean,” Wayne elaborates for her, next to her on the couch, deducing her line of thought, ”how kids are treated like property? Or accessories and status symbols for parents?”
“Exactly!” confirms Sarah, gratified and thrilled that she and he were on the same page. “Children are considered property--” she professes, earnestly, “--not people.” She shifts into a more comfortable position, and leans into the dialog.
“Or the way,” Sarah continues, enthusiastically, ”our society tries to conform and homogenize kids into the same mold of normal.”
“Normal is over-rated--” Wayne observes in annoyance, ”celebrated, promoted and rewarded in our media-culture as an ideal to strive for, to desire and prefer.”
“Our society seems intent,” reciprocates Sarah, disgustedly, ”—designed, even-- on eradicating and dismissing specialness. We insist on categorizing abnormal behavior or thinking as mental illness, and all mental illness as disease--- to be removed or cured. People who are not normal are considered broken, damaged, and need to be ‘fixed’. But they’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken--- only different. They insist on coercing conformity. Development and education of children is treated as a clockwork mechanism, uniform… as if--”
“As if—“ Wayne interrupts, anticipating and finishing her thought, “--all kids are the same,” affirms Wayne, ”interchangeable.”
“Our demented and perverted society,” Sarah is propelled by her passion and conversational momentum, ”measures— and values-- quantity of life over quality. Culturally, we are negligent and irresponsible in the corrupting environment we subject children to. We tell kids they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, especially in America, knowing this is untrue... and then systematically proceed to indoctrinate them otherwise incapable.”
“Like In the news media— or The Catholic Church,” analogizes Sarah, invigorated by a symbolic revelation, “translators and editors deliberately altering the original meaning of text, promoting a point of view or agenda.”
“Ohh, great metaphor…” compliments Wayne, “very clever.”
Sarah merely nods, a subtle grin playing on her mouth.
“You need a license,” contributes Wayne, in agitated consternation, “to run a business, to teach, to council— even to drive or operate heavy machinery. And yet, for something so important as parenting-- anyone can become a parent, regardless of qualification or worthiness.“
Wayne Gordon is a security guard at a private paranormal research and development facility called The Prometheus Institute— where Sarah Decker arrived five days ago; part of a covert paramilitary group known as Unknown X, serving as protective escort for an experimental vaccine created by scientists at The Institute… to combat a recent outbreak of an accidental vampiric viral mutation beginning to spread throughout America. UX served as a task force designed to investigate and resolve paranormal situations and potential threats to public safety or national security.
“Well, there is the problem,” points out Sarah, ”of determining criteria of qualifications. And who gets to decide. How do you avoid a dictatorship?”
“Right. There is that,” admits Wayne, sighing reluctant conciliation, “But surely there is a way to moderate or mediate some kind of-- of quality control.”
“Also,” Sarah adds, “that sounds like a kind of eugenics. Selective breeding?”
“Well, in a way, I suppose it is,” agrees Wayne, “but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, right?”
“Not necessarily,” notes Sarah, “No. But it could be abused by those in power. Even if well intentioned or unintentionally.”
“Maybe”, allows Wayne. “But we speak in quaint colloquialism of ‘making babies’…when actually, what this really is--- is PEOPLE making. We tend to forget— or ignore-- that children are people. There are so many ways to ruin or damage a child— psychologically.”
“Exactly!” exuberantly remarks Sarah, ”society wants us to think the world we live in is real, definitive… but it is illusion— a masquerade. An undignified contrivance for the convenience of sustaining and perpetuating an inevitable society machine. In authoritarian absolutes, we impose and coerce rules and moralities— as if we have no choice but to mindlessly accept and obey! Instead of seeing what they want us to see, we should imagine the possibilities of what could be instead. This cavalier complicity of compliance is doing irreparable harm to kids, replicating the idiocy of adult obstinance. We pollute the minds of our children!”
“Basically erasing and destroying,” conciliatorily pronounces Wayne, “the unique perspective and cherished essence intrinsic in childhood. No one consults children. No one considers the wishes or perspectives of children. I don’t mean their whims, but what they really want and need. Adults like to assume children know nothing. Adults find comfort in believing children are stupid and… and nonparticipants.”
“Relegated to… obsequious non-entities,” interrupts Sarah, perturbed by the predicament, “susceptible to capricious vanity and ego of grownups.”
“Right,” vouches Wayne, ”but we both Know kids know a much more than most adults know. Both in the sense that kids know more than adults about the true real world, and more than adults are aware that kids are capable of knowing. More than adults are willing to give them credit for.”
“Indeed. I’m very impressed with the free school approach here,” Sarah compliments The Prometheus Institute’s innovative and democratic manner of curriculum. “I wish public schools were as open minded and flexible as this place, instead of the standardized and mechanized assembly line used in public education. After this mission, I plan on coming back soon… enroll in a few classes to refine my abilities.”
“And to hang out with me some more,” Wayne slyly states.
“And to hang out with you,” she validates, with a coquettish nod and smile.
Since she is a civilian consultant for UX, Sarah leaves the defensive aspects of their current assignment to the other four members of her otherwise all male team… allowing her the free time to explore the Institute’s psionic training venues. Of course, Wayne also likes to watch the students in training, so he and she were destined to meet. While he is on duty, Sarah audits and observes classes or wanders the facility; and when Wayne is off duty, she and he have become more conversant with each other.
Sarah pauses a minute or so to marshal her thoughts, as Wayne basks in her effervescent zeal, waiting in an unawkward silence the forthcoming— the oncoming-- procession of ideas.
Returning to the topic of discussion, Sarah confesses, “I never understood why so many people want to be like everyone else, and why society not only encourages that mentality, but expects it. Demands it, even.”
Affirming the sentiment, Wayne recalls and shares aloud, now, an epiphany from his teenage years, after an outstanding performance in a baseball game. As the crowd robustly congratulated him with cheers and adulation, he realized— in the overwrought approval of these people— the true error of his achievement. To be accepted, and applauded and accoladed by pedestrian people such as these was hollow and meaningless, and must surely denounce the erroneous virtue he had attributed such accomplishments.
Sarah eagerly listens as Wayne relays his anecdote for her; she, nodding her empathizing consent, a grin expanding across her face.
“Yes!” exclaims Sarah in approving affinity, ”Why should we care what ordinary people think about us? Why should we want to be like them?”
“Imagine a world,” proclaims Wayne, leaning toward his friend conspiratorially, “where being extraordinary or exceptional was genuinely cherished… fostered… commonly aspired to.”
When Sarah Decker first saw Wayne Gordon, she immediately recognized a simpatico, passionately embracing it— and him… literally, and metaphorically. Which was, initially, a pleasant, though somewhat awkward, surprise for Wayne— who soon realized a strange synergy and familiarity with this woman. She felt an instant connection to him-- as if she and he had been best friends for years. Daily, she astonished herself by her sudden capacity to be gregarious, since she met Wayne. Though Wayne has known her only a few days, Sarah trusts him completely and implicitly. And even Wayne acknowledged a bizarre sensation of déjà vu permeating the air around them… and that a day seems as a year with her; in the sense that he, too, feels a long forged and deep kinship with Sarah— innately comfortable and comforted with her. She confessed that this has never happened to her, and she isn’t normally so… extroverted.
She had many friendly acquaintances… but except for her parents, she never really had any true or close friends. Until now.
As a child, Sarah Decker was shy and inarticulate, and the remnants of that seeped into her adult life. She did not play well with others, generally preferring to be alone. And, as a result, was still somewhat, you might say, “socially retarded”. She should learn how to talk to people, to socialize more, people have said— to her, and about her. Yeah, that’s like telling someone in a wheelchair they need to learn how to walk.
Except for her parents, she had no real friends to speak of, or with. Gradually, Sarah’s exceptional parents understood and accepted that their daughter— as with most kids-- was not like other kids. But more than merely being different, Sarah was highly intuitive and empathic. Being around people, immersed in their emotions, was often too overwhelming, exhausting, disorienting.
As she matured, Sarah learned to endure exposure to larger numbers of people for varyingly short— though increasing-- amounts of time.
Although she is not exactly afraid of crowds, engaging with people usually make her uncomfortable, self conscious of her awkwardness.
So when she encountered Wayne, she is ecstatic! With Wayne, Sarah feels excitingly comfortable and secure enough to fully be herself with another person; becoming uncharacteristically liberated by his presence. For the first time, her true self is able to come out and play without inhibition or insecurity, having found a worthy playmate.
Outside of her writing, she has never been so verbose; not even with her parents.
She Knew— within seconds of meeting Wayne— not only that he had meta-human abilities, as well, but also what they were: enhanced agility and dexterity, plus low level capacity for psionic healing (of himself and others).
His precision marksmanship enables him an acumen with projectile weapons ranging from bullets to baseballs. And his athletic proficiency was nearly sufficient to earn him a chance in the Olympics— without extensive training.
Furthermore, she gleaned, in her ethereal way, that he was as fascinated by the paranormal as she was. He didn’t just work at the Institute, but was a student resident there since adolescence.
Entering puberty, Sarah’s psi abilities had expanded to include claire-cognizance and psychometry. She knew things she had no conventional means of knowing. But she could not control the mysterious insights or inspirations, nor when they arrived. Which further isolated her from normal human interactions.
She grew up a freak, generally disconnected from people… from the world.
Sarah Decker has always had trouble relating to others; and vice versa.
All of this contributed to make Sarah absent minded, with intermittent schizophrenic episodes and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Engendering a phobia of casual socializing and public speaking.
Even as an adult, a mild shyness persisted, which she often compensated for with an attitude of overconfidence and a strong will. People typically underestimated her, thinking her defective and deficient… unfit for public affairs. And in a sense, they were right— Sarah Decker was not fit for this world; she was more suited to a better world than this one.
Also, during early adulthood, Sarah acquired an absolute sense of direction; she always knew where she was and how to get anywhere from there.
As a teenager, influenced by her peculiarity, she became obsessed with the paranormal and occultism (fiction and non-fiction), and conducted an intense and extensive ongoing research into all related areas of the subject. She was also an exceptional writer, using her unique knowledge and experience to make a meager income as a freelance writer.
Sarah was trained by her parents from birth for induction into Lexiconus— an eclectic secret society of watchers who observe and preserve the truth of human history. A member for a smidge over three years, strings way above her pay grade were pulled, clandestinely inserting Sarah into a covert paramilitary agency called Project Unknown X eight months ago.
Principally, she was recruited as a civilian consultant versed in the paranormal, but secretly as a spy for Lexiconus.
Unfortunately, Sarah-- being prone to absent mindedness-- often forgot to submit regular reports— much to the consternation of her handlers. Even before she became a member of Unknown X.
With her Unknown X team, she was briefly assigned to Prometheus Institute as a protective escort for an anti-viral-vampire vaccine manufactured there.
“Imagine a world,” she adds, inspired by Wayne’s comment, “where adults preserve and curate childhood… where grown ups perceive and conceive the way kids do. Where reality is flexible and dynamic… instead of immutable and static. Where innocence and imagination dictate behavior. What if an increasing number of young people simply withdrew from the consensus of the common sense view that the world is market-based? What if, John Galt style, they left the older generations behind?”
WOW. Wayne sits attentively, transfixed in admiration and awe of her vision and world view… how kindred in spirit she was.
Urgently, Sarah proceeds, “Our society systematically diminishes imagination and curiosity--- our innate sense of wonder and adventure and open mindedness. I really hate that things have to be that way.”
“Yeah,” concedes Wayne forlornly, ”me, too. I totally support everything you said. But we can’t change it, so what good is complaining? Hating only makes us more miserable.”
“No, hate and contempt are legitimate responses,” asserts Sarah, emphatically. “If we strongly disagree with something, it is reasonable and appropriate to dislike it. And oppose it; even if only in passive resistance or tolerance. Complaining and hating are merely a sincere expression of our intense disagreement. Our dis-satisfaction.”
Sarah momentarily pauses to let Wayne consider her contrary council, which he diligently did. Initially, a residual twinge of insecurity had stung her at the first, though inevitable, point of divergence that had appeared between them, on their second day together, in the course of their camaraderie. Their mutual admiration society, potentially in danger of crumbling; their special bond, broken. But now, she was relaxed and assured enough with Wayne, with their relationship— and, by proxy, herself— to understand there is nothing to feel threatened by with him. From the beginning, he accepted and adored her as implicitly as she did him.
“We should dare to challenge and question illogic and ignorance,” she explains further.
“If we just accepted things and said nothing against them,” insists Sarah, determined to make her point, “then nothing would ever change for the better.”
“Yeah,” Wayne tentatively grants, “that much is true. But I’m not sure hate is very helpful. Or healthy. All the schools of wisdom teach forgiveness, tolerance… and positive thinking.”
“And those are all well and good--,” accepts Sarah, after a moment’s contemplation, “to a point. But so is contempt. Some things deserve our contempt. Wisdom also encourages: all things in moderation. There are degrees of hate. Both hate and acceptance can be good or bad, depending on how they are used. How you perceive them.”
“Well,” states Wayne, not entirely convinced, ”I guess that does make a kind of sense. I’ll have to think on that.”

16 hours later… In a frantic, but ultimately futile, effort to flee the three voracious vampires jovially chasing her, halfway down a flight of stairs, Sarah Decker grips the railing on her right side, vaulting over to evacuated lobby floor below. She lands awkwardly, twisting her ankle and stumbling to the floor... losing the extra seconds she hoped to gain.
Almost two hours ago, in broad daylight, Unknown X had just begun guarding the loading of the anti-vampire serum into an armored truck for transportation… when a mass of vampires ambushed Prometheus Academy. Within minutes, they have penetrated facility defenses, overwhelming the UX team. In the hectic fray of that surprise attack, Sarah got separated from her teammates. You don’t expect vampires to come out during the day. But, apparently, these were not vampires of the usual kind. Clearly, the intel given to UX was, shall we say, faulty.
Now, lurching into the fall, she clumsily regains her footing, hobbling fecklessly a few feet before the assailants savagely plummet onto her, like a lion ravaging a zebra. Beneath terror and horror, a part of Sarah is gleefully giddy to be chased by vampires.
Though she could not run, her mind certainly did. One persistent thought.
The only thought in her mind, at what seemed to be the moment of her impending death, repeating on eternal playback, as they sink fangs into her: Where is Wayne?
Patterns of connection run through everything and everyone. There are no coincidences.
Cause and effect.
Sarah had to join Lexiconus, so she could become involved with Project Unknown X, so she could then guide UX to interdict a power struggle between immortals inside Lexiconus. By joining UX, she was positioned to meet and inspire Wayne Gordon to follow in her footsteps, recruited to replace her in UX when she was “lost in action”.

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