under the direction of
...In a land far away, there's a place that's beautiful, every day of the year. It's a land that's tried its best to be the northernmost land of the South. In one particular village, it's nearness to the great Capital has made it ideal for big-city commuters to live there, and as a result, it's makeup is a little different from the usual village monagerie. I say "mon"agerie because it's a little of a monotone menagerie, everyone's differences being the same as the differences in the people of some other village.
Enter Spencer Tibits. Enter Burke, Virginia. The birds were chittering in the trees in front of Spencer's house. He lived in a row-house, on the right side of two other inhabitans in the same building, cmpletely separated from one another. He didn't even notice it, now. The other two inhabitants were very quiet people, and so was he. Spencer took the project on Turkey he'd been working on back in his backpack, and pulled a lone key out of his pocket. He unlocked the door, and, expecting no one, said nothing as he went upstairs to the kitchen. It wasn't long, however, before he heard a repetetive THUMP coming from somewhere above him.
Up the next flight of stars he went. The noise was coming from behind the one door he wasn't interested in opening, but he did it anyway. Inside, a girl was hitting a punching bag.
"Oh, hi, Spencer." Enter Spencer's sister Tiffany. The pink wallpaper in her room is interrupted by 8x10 magazine pictures of boy bands, interrupting those on one wall is a large poster of Tatyana Ali. Tiffany, too, had just come home from school. Though she was a whole year older, she was often mistaken for his younger sister. She was shorter than Spencer, and looked and acted his exact opposite. She was an athlete and a good student - one look at Spencer told you he wasn't either.
Yes, the weight had a little to do with it. But there was something else about Spencer, something intangible, that just made him look incapable of anything, physical activity included. Maybe it was the way he held himself, kind of slumped and helpless. Maybe it was the clothes he wore: thrift-store faire, never worrying enough about his outer appearance to care.
Spencer remarked to anyone that inquired his last name that Tibits used to be Tibitski, but that the name was changed when his great-grandparents arrived at Ellis Island. When asked his age, he would say fourteen - an eighth grader at East Oaks Middle School. It was the only personal information ever inquired of him.
Spencer walked downstairs and pulled a jar of peanut butter out of the pantry. Bread off the counter. Jam out of the fridge. There was no point in making anything fancy for after-school snack. Spencer made the majority of his own meals, and as a rule, he handled himself better in that department than his sister.
Sandwich prepared, Spencer picked around in the newspaper, hunting for the community section. Someone always got to the paper before him, so he could never guarantee his favorite parts would be in the same place, or even intact. There it was. He pulled it out of the cross-hatched papers on the table and opened to page 4. He looked at something with interest, then tore the entire bottom-right section out of the paper and stuffed it into his pocket. Taking no more time than was required to eat his sandwich, he left the rhythmic THUMP of his sister and headed out the door, leaving his plate on the table, forgotten.
...Something must be explained about the two Controllers of Fate. One's name is Gordon, the other David. David dresses in long white coats often resembling lab coats. He is at least six and a half feet tall, though he has never bothered to measure himself. He has bushy brown hair, which is always covered by a peacock-feather hat. His friend is a foot shorter, has no hair, and dresses in various shades of light brown, his clothing made with four times too much fabric, and sewed together in a most illogical way, yet it seems neither to look unfashionable nor impede his habits.
Their daily itinerary consists of the same two activites: walking and talking. How, then, do they control the fate of the universe? The process is simple: Gordon (the one in brown) will, in his own due time, say some seemingly random word or phrase, to which David will inevitably reply "Brilliant!". Gordon's saying will then be encorporated somehow into reality.
Well, you were the one that asked.
What are they doing now? Gordon happens to be saying something very long and complicated into David's ear, and they appear to be walking along an unfamiliar beach. What it is he's saying cannot be heard over the sound of the moving water.
...Spencer lives just a half hour's walk away from his perpetual companion, Paul Fenster. Once there, he lets himself in, knowing that he is expected by all in the house. Paul doesn't live in a row-house like Spencer does. In fact, their house is pretty large, on two floors, and the architecture of it fit the family that lived inside.
Mrs. Fenster, a full-force hobbyist, attacked everything she did with otherworldy zeal and dedication. The staircase was wide and most of the floors were hardwood, allowing her to dash up and down the stairs, carrying various things and sometimes tracking in a little dirt and mud, if the thing she carried had to do with gardening, her primary activity.
Mr. Fenster was a sometimes loud man who carried a briefcase. Apparantly he was a sales representative of some kind, though Spencer had never inquired what he sold. He traveled to D.C. only twice a week, staying at home most days to telecommute. As a result, there was a short maze of hallways that ended in his work-room, down which Spencer had never gone.
Paul Fenster was a home-schooled fourteen year old, not much taller than Spencer, but thin, blond, and looked like he might very well do everything. Dressed in the same thrift-store faire, he held himself in some higher majesty, as though he were the beneficiary of some great knowledge that few others had been given. Paul's room contained little: a single bed in one corner, a secretary containing his school supplies with accompanying fold-out chair, and an old stand-alone arcade game beside it, still functioning. It was in front of this game that spencer found Paul as he entered his room.
"Oh, hi, Spencer." Paul's voice contained in it none of the majesty he seemed to carry in the other aspects of his presence. It was quirky, somewhat nasal, but Spencer no lonegr noticed it.
The game was FOOD FIGHT. "I never could understand what you saw in Food Fight, Paul."
"Food Fight? This game is an art form, lost to time and left behind by technology. Of course, you have to keep playing before you'll understand, but I'm sure one of these days you'll get it." Paul was on level 9, and finally blasted the last monster with flying slices of watermelon. "Here, take over." Spencer took the two joysticks just as level 10 began, and Paul left the room.
The level was far too high for Spencer to cope. The monsters came out with far too much speed, and they accurately covered him with half a dozen pies. Game over. Spencer started again at level 1, and was still playing level 1 when Paul returned, dressed in a navy-blue suit with matching tie. This was another thing about Paul - he never left the house without dressing his best, and today would be no exception.
"So, what have we got today?" Paul said as Spencer shut he front door behind them. Spencer pulled the torn piece of newspaper out of his pocket and handed it to Paul. Paul looked at the collection of advertisements and knew immeidately which one Spencer had been looking at before he tore the piece out of the paper.
"Atom and Eve. Sounds like quite a play. Starts at six, which means we've got two hours before we need to be there. You interested in getting something from the drugstore?"
/ / / / / / // Chapter 01: // / / / / / /
Streetplays have their roots in the oldest street performers, back in Egyptian days six thousand years ago. The American variations happen to have started in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the sixties by era-defining teens looking for new methods of public self-expression. Critics have often equated streetplays to grafitti, bringing crime to the streets and inciting riotous behaviour. Paul and Spencer attended dozens of streetplays in their seventh grade year, and had never had trouble there.
That wasn't to say their experiences hadn't sometimes frightened them. There were plenty of odd people that attended streetplays, many of them homeless, carrying sleeping bags on their backs. A couple showed up for pretty much every performance smelling of alcohol. There were generally enough people there, though, to allow Paul and Spencer a safe cushion from potential endangerment, whether real or imagined.
Today's attendance was no exception to ones they'd seen in the past. There were the usual array of shaggy fellows carrying bedrolls, older men dressed in polyester jackets, and grumbling officials in uniform, wishing they were off duty. along with these, though, were overweight ladies in brightly-colored dresses, and a man that outdressed even Paul, wearing a tuxedo with accompanying bowtie and cummerbund of vibrant blue.
There was a screen, just a series of thick curtains on rods, really, behind which the actors waited to come on "stage". The crowds were now situated in front of the area roped off as the "stage", waiting, quieting down. Sporadic applause started as a man appeared from behind the screen, carrying with him the playbill, written in big letters on a posterboard. "Welcome to this evening's performance of Atom and Eve, by Charles Woolsley. The main characters are Frederica, an Electron, played by Mikki Reiser, Enviar, a Proton, played by William McKenzie, and Darkbloom, a Positron, played by Charles Woolsley. The performance will last until eight o'clock. Thank you, and enjoy the show!" Applause followed the man as he ducked back behind the curtain.
The entire show involved people dressed in white, full length coats, each coat having the word "proton", "electron", or "neutron" painted on it in big, black letters. The lead electron, Frederica, was attracted to the lead proton, Enviar. They were a hydrogen atom. They went around talking to other atoms, and they were generally nice people. On November Eve, Darkbloom (dressed in a red coat with a white "positron" painted on it) entered the world, and was also attracted to Frederica. He crashed into her, and both of them ceased to exist. Enviar became angry radiation and broke apart a big atom, for which he was jailed.
Spencer didn't understand the significance of the play, but when it was over, he decided he enjoyed it, and so tipped two quarters when the collection hat came around. It is a common custom for streetplays to supplement the purchase of materials for their next play by accepting donations from their otherwise nonpaying audience. If you liked the play, you commonly tipped two quarters. If it was all right, you tipped one. Paul tipped only one this time.
Paul tried to explain that the significance of the play was that social makeup and nuclear physics both followed natural laws that mimicked each other in many ways, but Spencer didn't feel up to understanding such a complicated concept at the moment. Once man, dressed in a white coat with "neutron" on it, came out from behind the curtain and seemed to be heading right for them.
* Somewhere far away, out of earshot and unheard by anyone, David said "Brilliant!"
"How are you two guys doing?" He was talking right to them now, and Paul, who hadn't looked like he'd been paying attention to the approaching man, turned to face him and began talking almost immediately. How he'd enjoyed his particular performance, the play in general... The man stopped him. "I've seen you two in the audience for some time now, and I think you're the longest-running supporters of our troupe. I've been writing a new play, and I was wondering if you two would like to act in it."
"We, sir, would be honored." It was Paul speaking, of course, he was usually the one to volunteer for these sort of things. "Where do you rehearse?"
"We rehearse right here, in the street. Come back tomorrow at four thirty and I'll have some scripts printed up for you. If you can't do it, just don't show up tomorrow."
"Trust me, we will be here." Spencer thought about questioning the man further, not as sure as Paul was about whether this man could be trusted. But, Spencer thought resignedly, has Paul ever been wrong?
/ / / / / / // Chapter 02: // / / / / / / School
"Where is everyone?"
Spencer was looking in disbelief at the empty halls around him. There was literally no one. Spencer looked at his watch.
It's almost time for first period to end, but there's no one in the class. Did I miss something? Is today a national holiday? Figuring since no one was there, there was no point staying around, so he decided to go home to see if his parents were home, too.
"Where is everyone?!"
No sister, no parents. This place was most definitely deserted. There was no logical explaination for the occurance at his school.
Strangely enough, Spencer was not as panicked as he thought he should be. In fact, he was downright unaffected by the strange happening. He went to the kitchen to fix himself the breakfast he'd missed this morning in his rush to get to school on time (he'd ended up being 15 minutes late). As he looked the room over, he jumped back, surprised. There, sitting on his table, was a bunch of fruit. It wasn't the fruit that surprised Spencer; rather, it was the lack of support underneath the fruit.
Since the day he was born, his mother had always kept a bowl of fruit on the table. It was always the same bowl too - it had been a wedding present from an "old friend," a man named Jones that Spencer had never met. Since they moved into this house 5 years ago, Spencer hadn't seen that bowl move an inch. Now, it was gone.
Spencer knew better than to go looking through the house for it - his parents would have some explaination for this, and if indeed they'd been robbed, why wasn't the VCR missing from the television downstairs? Why was the lock still locked? Instead, Spencer skipped breakfast again and headed for Paul's house, ready to relate to him the frankly bizzare occurings of the morning. He thought about calling to make sure he was there, but he knew better - their phone line was a business line during business hours - his dad's emergency line.
"Where is everyone, then?" Spencer found Paul in his living room, ironing his shirts. He set the iron down to ask the question.
"That's exactly what I asked. Where do you think they all are?"
"I don't know, but if there's one thing that I've never seen, it's a deserted school. This may be my only chance. Excuse me a moment."
Dressed in his best, Paul left with Spencer toward East Oaks.
"You're right. There's absolutely no one here. Not a single car parked in front. Here, let's see what we can find."
Not the kind of fellows to break or steal, they walked through the corridors, looking instead for some indication that someone would return, or that they'd left for good reason. They found no notices, bulletins, or clues of any kind. By the time they got to the science department, it was apparant that there was some disturbance in front of them, aorund the next corner.
Trying not to take whoever it was by surprise, they walked nonchalantly around the corner, and said "Hi." It was only after taking a second look they realized that they were, in fact, looking at something they didn't expect to see.
Before them was a creature, standing no higher than four and a half feet, hairless and scaly. Its ears were long and pointed at the ends, its skin, a brownish color with green blotches. It had three long, thin fingers on each hand, with bulbous terminations. None of the fingers were opposable. None of these discoveries, however, were noticeable on first examination. The first thing Spencer and Paul noticed when they saw it was that it was wearing a janitor's uniform!
"How do you do, fellows." The thing had a voice no different from the average adult's, and though Spencer made to run, Paul was determined to make conversation.
"Hello, sir. Did you see a bunch of kids pass by here, about my age?"
"Oh, them. They're in the other dimension by now."
"Excuse me?" Spencer wasn't sure if he'd heard the thing right, either, so he was glad Paul had asked.
"Oh, don't you know? This here is the dimension of schoolchildren. We've been taking our slaves from here for years, and then making their parents forget they had children. I, personally, have never seen it happen, but you can tell the king of whatever dimension you're from that Raymond, king of Bobblinland, is a good man with good ideas, and we Bobblins have prospered under his reign."
"Thank you, we'll be sure to tell him."
Paul and Spencer walked right past the thing (it was picking up papers that were strewn across the floor and putting them in a wastebasket) and turned a nearby corner.
"What do you make of that, Paul?"
"I'm not sure. Having never been to public school I'm not sure if this is, as that Bobblin seems to indicate, a common occurance."
"Well, it's never happened while I've been around!"
"That goes without saying. However, everything that Bobblin is saying seems to have a perfectly logical explaination. There must be some kind of wormhole from which they direct their mass-kidnappings, though. A place which takes them somewhere far away, where they took all the schoolchildren. I think we should follow that Bobblin and see where he goes."
It took some time for the Bobblin to finish picking up the papers, but they waited patiently for him to finish, and finally he took off in the direction of the math department, carrying the wastebasket. They followed, making sure he wasn't in the slightest aware they were still around.
Passing a larger wastebasket and dumping the entire wastebasket into it, the Bobblin now turned and headed down the nearby stairs, towards the history and art departments. Paul and Spencer stealthily followed. When they got to the bottom of the stairs, the Bobblin was gone. One door, however, was ajar.
Opening the door, they saw something that was yet stranger than anything they had seen up until that point.
/ / / / / / // Chapter 03: // / / / / / / U-Train
Inside Miss Manning's American Heritage class, there was an enormous subway station. The ceiling was higher than the height of the whole school, at least a hundred feet up, and a perfect dome throughout. There were subway trains branching off in all directions except down, and people standing on all sorts of peculiar platforms, even some that were upside down, waiting for their train to come. The sheer enormity of it was dazzling, and it took some time before they pulled their eyes away from the sight.
The ticket booth for their platform was just a few steps away, and Paul asked how much two tickets to Bobblinland were.
"Bobblinland's on the main route," another uniformed Bobblin answered. "Just a quarter to anywhere on the main route, one way. All-day pass is a dollar.
Paul paid two dollars and received two all-day passes. The U-train headed to Bobblinland was already boarding, and they ran to make sure they got on before it left. They made it, and sat down on the two nearest seats, only then looking up at the people around them.
There were plenty of people there that weren't Bobblins, they looked like normal, everyday people. One of them, admittedly, had blue skin, but the rest were pretty normal. There were Bobblins there, too. They all looked pretty much the same as the one with the janitor's outfit. Some looked much different. You could tell the girls because their skin wasn't scaly at all, it was smooth, though it still looked leathery and was the same color.
There was a man wearing a black cloak in front of them, his face obscured. "Hello, sir." Paul said, cheerfully. The man looked up, pulling off his hood and looking straight at them. He, too was human, though he looked not quite human, but something else altogether.
His eyes were deep, and empty. They noticed that standing next to him, wedged in between the seats, was a gnarled staff. "You two are probably wondering the meaning of all this."
"Funny you should mention that, sir, because just this morning..."
"You came to school to discover all your friends were missing, yes? I'm aware of your situation. Every time that idiot Raymond takes kids, he always leaves some behind, or forgets to change their memory... now you're on your way to meet him, no doubt. Well, so am I.
"You see, I am the master of every land under the direction of this subway. I have never traveled outside my own domain, becuase, as far as I know, there are no places in the world worth visiting. Raymond is a king, yes, but he is, too, subject to me."
"Raymond, you mean, the king of Bobblinland?" It was Spencer that asked the question.
"Of course. Don't ask questions to which you already know the answer. At least, not to me." There was something of a threat contained in this man's words, as though he was saying he could destroy them any second.
"Sorry, your highness. My friend was out of line. Please continue." Paul seemed unamused, as though it was clear to him all along that this man was the master of many worlds.
"Apologies. Feh." The man seemed satisfied, and went on.
What he next told them neither one would quite remember. He talked for what seemed like hours, going from one subject to the next, telling simple little stories that didn't seem to have a definite purpose. Spencer and Paul both kept their mouths shut, and from time to time the old man woudl wave his staff in front of them, though it was usually in between sentances, as if it were on an entirely seperate schedule from his storytelling. Often during the stories he made various threats that were directed toward intruders into his lands, and more than once Spencer got the feeling he and Paul were being represented in those characters.
When at last they got off the subway, they weren't sure whether to thank the old man or not, not een sure if he was indeed the master of this place or just some crazy man, so they left him without saying anything. On the way off the subway, they realized they were the only humans that were getting off at this stop. Once the train departed and they looked at the lobby, they saw why:
WELCOME TO BOBBLINLAND
BOBBLIN VALLEY STATION - RED LINE
BOBBLINS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT
HAVE YOUR ID CARDS READY AT TERMINAL C
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED
The message was repeated below in Spanish. Spencer gulped audibly.
/ / / / / / // Chapter 04: // / / / / / / City
"Well, there's a simple enough solution. We can just get back on the next train and find a better stop, or just go back home..." While Paul and spencer were arguing, they didn't notice that they were being drawn closer and closer to the from of the ID line, being pushed by the crowds. People were being checked left and right, no one got through the line without having their ID cards checked. Yet, remarkably, though they should have immediately been spotted as non-Bobblin, both Paul and Spencer made it through the line without anyone asking any questions. It was as though they went entirely unnoticed by the guards.
By the time Paul and Spencer had stopped arguing, they were already two-thirds of the way out of the station, heading for a sign that read "Welcome to Bobblin Valley, pop. 42,030,671. Have a Nice Day!" realizing they'd made it past the checkpoint, they made their way as quickly as they could out of the station, and looked for some empty place to go and not be seen by anyone who might turn them in.
There were no empty places to be found.
An impossible crush of Bobblins was heaving left and right, pushing each other, fighting to get into and out of the World Navel U-Train station. The sun outside shone like they would have expected it to on a mid-summer morning, and outside it couldn't have been less than 90 degrees. It was a wave of heat- the heat and the crush of bobblins were making Spencer very uncomfortable, and he looked for some kind of escape route.
* "Information." Gordon said, distractedly.
* "Brilliant!" David shouted.
There was a six-sided kiosk just ahead of them, the words "Information" printed in big silver letters on each side. Spencer pushed through the crowd - Paul following close behind - and when he got to the information kiosk he noticed there weren't nearly as many Bobblins here as there were near the entrance where they'd been. Paul took out the Bobblin newspaper, the Bobblin Valley Post, and Spencer instinctively pulled out the section which he was usually most interested in.
"Streetplays, here in Bobblin Valley!" Spencer said, holding up the torn-out advertisement.
"There's plenty of things here I'm sure I'll never see," Paul said after reading the advertisements for the streetplays, "But I'm going to make sure that a streetplay isn't one of them."
"Which one should we go to, though? There's two dozen there, and no telling which ones are going to be any good."
"Let's try one, then. This one," and Paul said this with the tone of one who had just solved a riddle, "The Castle on the Hill. It starts at the northwest corner of 18th main and Circle Road. We'd better find out where that is, it starts at two, which is in..." Paul looked up at the clock on the kiosk, "An hour and a half."
Spencer looked at his watch and back at the kiosk. They were an hour off. Spencer reset his watch to accurately reflect the time of Bobblin Valley. "How about we figure out someplace to eat, too. It's time for lunch already, and I skipped breakfast."
"Sure. Hey, look. Paul showed Spencer the map of their section of Bobblin Valley. We're on 18th main now, that play is just a couple miles down the road. We pass a few things on the way. Let's go!"
There were, indeed, a few places to stop by and eat at on the way. Avoiding anything that said "Authentic Bobblin Cuisine," they stopped at a drugstore and got a bag of chips (the Bobblins called them "crisps," which Paul said was European) and some sodas to drink, both of which tasted perfectly normal, much to Spencer's relief. It wasn't long before they found their way to 18th main and Circle, and on the corner, there
* "Shady Chairs." remarked Gordon.
* "Brilliant!" replaied David.
were actually places to sit, shaded by umbrellas (also to Spencer's relief) and each with a very good view of the "stage". A few were already sitting, waiting for the play to start, even though it didn't start for another forty-five minutes. Paul asked if they usually tipped one or two quarters, and they said one will do, two only if one sits in a chair during the play. Satisfied, they sat and waited for the crowds to arrive.
Well, Paul thought to himself during the play, Atom and Eve at least made a little sense. He was right, too. Not even Paul could explain to him the significance of the events of the play, when it was finished.
The story was that of a young Bobblin that was told by an old man the secret to sneaking inside King Raymond's castle. At four in the afternoon, he entered the castle and stole a golden bowl. The play lasted an hour and a half, because it described in detail the way in which the young Bobblin made his way inside.
* "Castle on the Hill."
When Paul looked up from his chair, though, he immediately knew the purplse of the play. There, on an immense hill in front of them, stood a royal palace. The sun glinted off the hundreds of windows, winking their possibility of great fortunes within... perhaps even their missing friends.
The writer of the play (also playing the part of the old man) came up to them specifically and said, "How did you like my play? Verrry Interesting, eh what?"
"And curse me if he didn't wink at us as he turned to leave!" Paul was telling Spencer later, as they started up the hill, the back way, just as Spencer's watch read 4:00.