Bewildering Stories

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The Glass Head

by Vera Searles

When Allen woke up that morning in the twenty-fourth century, Lorraine was gone. She left no message on his impulse cone, so he knew he’d have to search for her along the crevices and layers of Elsetime.

He walked from his domipod to the corner and stood waiting for transportation on the Timepath. It was crowded today. All the little red rubber cars were filled. They were two-seaters, and had flat, broad tails at the rear for lifting off into Elsetime.

Finally, one little red rubber car stopped. “Want a lift?” asked the driver, a man with a glass head. It was attached to his neck by a corkscrew, and his eyes, nose and mouth were stuck to the front of the glass square, while on the back grew a bright blue hairy fungus.

“Yes, all right, thanks,” Allen said, getting in.

“Do you want to go backward or forward?” asked the man with the glass head.

“Could we go forward? I’m looking for my mate, Lorraine, and I think she may have gone into another time. We’ve had our differences about it before. She’s a Sectional, I’m an Independent. My name is Allen.”

“How far do you think she may have gone?” the man asked, adding, “I’m called Fft.”

“I have no idea,” Allen said. “She was always anxious to visit other realities, but never said what dimension she preferred.”

“We’ll try a Short Near,” Fft said, and pulled a lever in the floor. There was a slight noise at the rear of the little red rubber car as the tail slapped against the Timepath and lifted them into the atmosphere. They faced upward and climbed for a little while. Below, Allen saw buckles and screws and rivets and locks growing in rows, the way farmers of the past had grown wheat and corn. “This is the land of the Burlap People,” Fft explained. “They have been industrialized, and harvest their parts as needed.”

The little red rubber car landed on a huge silver tack that stuck up from the earth like a big mushroom. “I don’t know why Lorraine would want to come here,” Allen remarked as they left the car and walked to the Great Information Dais, where a group of Burlap People awaited them.

The Burlap People were made of six layers of fibrous hemp, fastened together in various places by the screws and locks they grew. Each had sixteen black rivets down the front, and they walked on feet of copper buckles.

One of them stepped forward. “I’m the Constable,” he said, speaking through his sixteen rivets. “You are trespassing. This is the land of the Burlap people, and I see before me one human and one glass head. Obviously you are not of our species and do not belong here. Get out!”

“We don’t mean to intrude,” Allen said. “It’s just that I’m trying to find my mate, Lorraine. She may have come this way. Have you seen a human female, blonde, five foot six?”

“We saw no one for eighteen centuries until you showed up just now,” the Burlap Constable said. “She’s not here. Get out!”

Allen and Fft walked back toward the car. Burlap workers had begun to examine it and tried prying pieces of it apart, but the rubber was sturdy and did not give. They muttered threateningly, “Where are the metal parts? We may be able to use them.”

“We better get out of here,” Allen said, noticing the workers were looking at his watch and eyeglasses.

Once they had taken off from the silver tack, they climbed again and Fft asked, “What did you think of the Burlap People, Allen?”

He made a sour face. “Their lives are concerned only with the metal parts they require. They have no other goals, no plans for their future generations. I’d rather be human. I’ve told Lorraine a hundred times that we have the best of everything. Where do we go next?”

Fft turned the wheel sharply downward. “Backward into the Distant Far. We’re almost there anyway. We’ll visit the Plaster Worms.”

After it landed, the little red rubber car bumped and joggled through a narrow passage in the ground. When they reached the bottom, a series of lights flashed rapidly around them, then calmed and stopped.

“What was that?” Allen asked.

“We have reached the Primordial Past,” Fft replied. “That was time — several billion years of it — racing past. It is safe to get out now.”

Fft took a large flashlight from the glove compartment and led the way along a labyrinth of tunnels. At the end, they came to a spacious room with sounds of wet snoring. Fft played the flashlight around the walls. They were littered thickly with clumps of damp plaster. “They’re all asleep,” he said.

“No, we’re not, not all of us,” said a flat, monotone voice, and Allen looked down to see two egg-white eyes staring up at him.

“None of us are, because of your noise,” said another monotone, and all the lumps of plaster slowly moved down the walls and across the floor. Hundreds of egg-white eyes watched Allen and Fft.

“Who’s in charge here?” Fft inquired.

“I am,” came the reply. “I’m the Head Worm.” A blob slid forward. “What are you doing in our hole? Did you come down here to poke fun at our primitive way of life?”

“No, of course not,” Allen quickly replied. “I’m looking for my human mate, a blonde woman who may have traveled through here on her search for other realities. She’s a Sectional.”

“What’s that?”

“Sectionals believe that reality can be divided into many slices, and that we can become part of any section we wish, or even visit all slices simultaneously.”

“That’s too complicated for us,” the Head Worm said, squinting at them with his egg-white eyes. “Now would you please turn off that big light and go away? You’ve already set our evolution back by centuries.”

All the Plaster Worms inched themselves back across the floor and up the wall to hang in small clots as before, and Allen and Fft turned the beam away to leave. When they returned to the little red rubber car, Fft asked, “How did you like the Worm World, Allen?”

“Terrible! What a useless existence they have. They do nothing but sleep.”

Fft remarked, “Hibernation suits them. They seem quite content in that reality.”

“But they make no attempt to improve their existence, to move upward and away from that low place.”

Fft turned his glass head toward Allen. “For some, perhaps living with what is familiar is easier than trying the unknown.”

Allen shrugged. “That’s an old saw. Now is there anywhere else I can look for Lorraine?”

“We can go to the Beyond Far.” Fft started up the little red rubber car and they lifted into cloudy mists, silvery skies, and beyond. They spun in great spirals, faster and faster, until finally the little red rubber car was thrown onto the last cloud in the universe. They came to a stop in front of a large silver palace.

As they walked toward it, from the mists many sliver tubes sprang up around them. “Halt!” someone said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Allen judged that the tubes were about ten inches around and about five feet tall. They had crowns at the top and strands of ermine were wound around the rest of them. “I’m looking for my mate, Lorraine,” he said. “She may have come by here, and — “

“We know all that,” interrupted a voice. “You’re in the realm of the Tube Kings. We know everything you know, so save your breath. Our knowledge is infinite. Our existence is beyond perfection. We need no food, no sleep, no activity. We’re the highest of all forms. As for your search, we’ll tell you this: she hasn’t been here. We’ll tell you something else: she’s nearer than you know. Now leave our realm, or we will think you into non-existence. Goodbye.”

There were soft, slurping noises as the tubes were sucked downward into the cloud.

Allen and Fft returned to the little red rubber car and Fft drove out of the clouds. “Did you find the life of the Tube Kings interesting, Allen?”

“No. They don’t eat or sleep. What kind of life is that?”

“They have reached perfection. Isn’t that what everybody wants?”

Allen replied, “But it must be boring and unfulfilling. I wonder what they meant when they said Lorraine is nearer than I know?”

“Perhaps you’ll find the answer in the Glass World,” Fft said. “It’s in the Middle Distance. We’ll go there now.”

They drove straight ahead, and Allen saw the landscape was all glass. They passed glass cities, glass forests, and glass oceans. A field of tall glass wheat loomed ahead. At the center was a clearing, and they pulled up in front of a glass house.

“Come on in,” Fft said, opening the door. Everything was glass — the walls, furniture, kitchen fixtures.

Allen stared at the sofa. “It’s made of glass, yet I can’t see through it,” he said. “And not through the doors, or ceiling, either. What is this place?”

“This is where I’ve been living,” Fft replied.

“This is your home?”

“No. I only rented it for a short term. I’m disappointed that you can’t see through things — the walls and the doors. I can see inside of everything, right through the glass“

“Maybe because you have a glass head.”

“You can’t see through that either, can you, Allen?”

“No, it’s a solid block of glass.”

Fft came closer. “Don’t you know who I am, Allen?” He suddenly raised his hands to his head and pulled upward. With a loud pop, the glass head came off, along with its corkscrew fitting. Lorraine’s blonde head emerged from the neck opening. From her body she pulled away the pieces of plastic that had been imprinted to look like a man’s suit, and she stood before Allen in her familiar sari and sandals.

“But... why did you do all this?”

“To show you various realities and get your reaction. The Worms, the Tubes, the Burlaps — all seem content with their way of life. Yet you criticized them for not moving onward, upward, and even the perfection of the Tube Kings you found boring. Don’t you think I find my life boring without visiting other realities in Elsetime?”

Allen half-smiled. Secretly he found leaping into other realities completely worthless. But to pacify Lorraine, he supposed he’d have to agree with her. “I understand what you’re saying, Lorraine. I’ll try to keep an open mind.”

“That’s all I ask. Come on, let’s go home. I want to plan a cruise for us to the Halfway Between.”

Allen took a last look at the glass head on the sofa. “Goodbye, Fft,” he said.

“See you later, Allen,” it replied.

Copyright © 2004 by Vera Searles

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