Grad Student Detective
by Jason A. Feingold
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I sat in my cubicle and stared at the paper Brett Kimeara had given me. A campus map was spread out on the desk in front of me in case there really was a Columbus Building. I didn’t have a lot to go on: I had a professor, an undergrad, a schedule, and a building, all of which were fakes. I was working for no one to find nothing. It was all pretext. But why?
It suddenly occurred to me that I was the point of it all. I was the common denominator. Someone was trying to send me a message. But why? I wasn’t anything special to anybody. I didn’t owe anyone money... except for my student loans. I hadn’t flunked a football player and, as far as I knew, I hadn’t run afoul of or pissed off anyone who had the resources and the moxie and, most importantly, a reason to pull off a caper like this.
I was letting my eyes wander over the map while I tried to stop thinking about the problem for a few minutes. Completely by chance I focused on Bretton Hall, one of the freshman, er, first-year dorms. Brett. Bretton. I looked around a little more, found the Kimberly Building to the southeast. Kimeara. Kimberly.
Harris. H, as in Professor H. Dashall.. Harris Hall was directly south of Bretton Hall.
You get the idea.
Once I had plotted all of the buildings and drew lines connecting them together, I ended up with this: 0.
I took my map and visited each building I had plotted. I found nothing. After walking the perimeter of the zero, I spiraled in concentric circles until I reached the center of it.
Smack dab in the middle of the figure, there was a trash can, and under the trash can someone had duct-taped an airplane ticket to Brazil. In my name.
* * *
Three days later I was headed up the Amazon River in an authentic dugout canoe sporting an outboard motor. I was accompanied by a native Yanomamo guide I had acquired in Brasilia. He had simply presented himself to me at the airport when I cleared customs, holding up a sign containing the naught symbol I had seen on the map. Then he took out his lip disc and held it out to me, showing me the writing on it.
“English 390 has moved,” it read.
I tried to learn my guide’s name, but he either wouldn’t say or he didn’t understand the question. We could only communicate by means of a map, gestures and pointing to panels from an old copy of American Splendor translated into Portuguese. I called him “Everyman” because he went with me and was my guide. He didn’t seem to mind, although he didn’t get the joke.
We took turns at the tiller. I knew nothing about boats although I had read “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” several times. I steered us when the river was flat and straight, and Everyman would catch a nap. When the going was more difficult, Everyman would pilot, and I would sleep fitfully. There were so many forks in the river that I was completely lost by the second day, totally at the mercy of whatever powers had conspired to propel me upstream into something I could not fathom nor anticipate.
At least once a day we would put into some ramshackle riverside dock. Everyman bartered with my personal effects for food and fuel and chlorine tablets to keep me from dying of dysentery or cholera. In two weeks, everything I had brought with me was gone. Everyman showed me how to tie my penis to my leg with a cotton string à la mode de l’Amazone. When I had accomplished it, he laughed and clapped me on the back.
Once, during the trip upriver, Everyman suddenly pushed me face-first into the bilge at the bottom of the dugout. I cursed him and picked my head up. Before he could shove it back down again, I saw black-clad, white-faced people slinging stones at us from both riverbanks while scantily clad people hurled arrows at us with atlatls. There was a peculiar clucking that accompanied the attack, one that sounded almost familiar. Everyman briefly returned fire with a blow-dart gun and opened the throttle on the outboard. In a matter of seconds, we were gone from there.
Mimes, Everyman indicated them to me by pretending to be trapped in a box. I shuddered.
* * *
I was asleep when we reached our destination several days later. By the time I awoke, Everyman had pulled the dugout up onto the shore where hundreds of people, aboriginal and otherwise, stood silently watching us, watching me.
Everyman began talking to me rapidly and gesturing, but I was too scared to understand what he meant. He finally got me to disembark from the canoe by rolling up the copy of American Splendor and whacking me with it smartly on the back of the head.
“Uh, hi,” I said to several hundred pairs of glowering eyes. “Does anyone know where English 390 is being held?”
One of the women cracked a smile, then another, and then another. A giggle began to circulate through the crowd, and within a few seconds the beach was roaring with guffaws of laughter as they pointed at me and held their sides. I had no idea what they were laughing at. It was a lot better than the silent staring, so I laughed too to show them I was a good sport, which is a big fat lie in any context.
As the laughter died down, I looked around for Everyman, but he had melted into the surrounding jungle, leaving me standing in the mud. My fear threatened to turn into a full-blown panic.
At the critical moment I saw Brett Kimeara come out of the crowd in nothing but a brief sarong and a grin that ran from ear-to-ear. I tried to keep my eyes above her neck as she approached and failed miserably. I suddenly understood why my penis was tied to my leg.
“Welcome,” she said. “We’re glad you made it.”
“Who are you? What is this place? Where am I?” I asked, the questions tumbling out of me as from an excited kid.
“Come,” she said. She held out her hand. I was powerless to do anything but take it in mine and let her pull me out of the mud and onto the squishy jungle floor.
“This is our camp,” Brett explained. “Our fortress from the world. This is where we prepare for the days to come.”
“So all that jazz about not being able to find your class...”
“I apologize sincerely for the ruse that brought you to us,” she said. “It was necessary.”
We came to a stone archway with the characters “English 390” carved across the lintel.
“English 390,” I breathed. “It was here all the time. And you knew it.”
“Come,” she said, pulling my hand. “No,” I said, forcing myself to take my hand back. “I won’t move another inch until I know what this is about.”
Brett frowned and shook her head. Her disappointment made me sad. Something stung my neck. I pulled it out. It was a plumed dart. Everything faded to black.
* * *
I woke up on a cold stone floor in total darkness. I tried to stand up, but the absence of light made me dizzy, so I sat up instead.
“Sam Dupinski,” said a familiar voice. “By your own actions you have been brought to this place.”
“What? What actions?” I called out into the darkness.
“The Derry Dha test.”
A flash of inspiration flickered in the darkness. “It’s you. The guy at the airport bar.”
“You know me better as Professor H. Dashall.”
I actually slapped my own forehead. Of course, it would be him. He was the first person I saw after I got off the airplane all those weeks ago. Every mystery begins with the culprit.
“Each academic who may be dangerous to us is given the Derry Dha test. Those who fail it are not considered a threat, and they are permitted to continue with their lives and spew their nonsense. Those who pass, however, are brought here and given a choice.”
“What choice?” I began to detect faint light and a stir of air indicative of movement. I shuddered.
“You may join with us. You will be permitted to return to the world as you know it to prepare for the Day.”
“And if I decline?”
“If you decline, you will remain here as our... guest... until the Day arrives.”
The light and the movement drew closer. I got to my feet and faced it. “What are you preparing for?”
“We prepare for the day when we will rule. Over hundreds of years, we have infiltrated your society at every level, most successfully in academics and politics. We have influenced you. We have steered you towards the beliefs that, one day, will allow us to rule over you openly.”
“Reason. Logic. Philosophy. Literary criticism. Music appreciation. Religion. Multiple-choice testing. Political partisanship. We have trained you to accept the absurd as normal, the bizarre as commonplace, the weird as the status quo, all so you will accept us when we reveal ourselves.”
The borders of the room moved closer still. I could begin to make out faces done in various paints: bulbous red noses, large floppy shoes, daisy boutonnieres, and explosions of stripes and checks.
“No...” I shook all over. “It can’t be.”
“Yes, Sam Dupinski. It can be, and it is. Clowns.” They drew into plain view, torches aloft. Some honked their horns eerily. “We are the Clown Conspiracy. Have you never wondered why children are afraid of clowns? Why the image of the creepy clown haunts your nightmares? Why we have a special training facility in Sarasota?
“For centuries we have been among you, training you from every corner of your little lives with television commercials, children’s programming, politics, carnivals, fairs, circuses, and balloon animals. As your teachers, we have promulgated theories of knowledge so ridiculous, so absurd, so contradictory to common sense that your minds have become a fertile ground where anything we plant can grow and prosper. Noumenon, phenomenon, poetics, ontology, epistemology, metaphysics. All stuff and nonsense!”
The ring of clowns drew in closer to me.
“When your civilization is most confused, when you are convinced that you know nothing and that nothing is knowable, then we will strike. Our Yanomamo brethren will sweep across the globe, and you will be powerless to stop them. We will rule the Earth forever. A clown on every corner will bring peace to the world. We will save you from yourselves.
“Now, Sam Dupinski, you must choose. Will you join with us, work with us, toil and plot with us to bring about this great day? Or will you live here as our prisoner?”
“I’ll never serve you!” I shouted, and I meant it.
“Before you decide, you should know that the Mimes and the !Kung are plotting a similar takeover.”
I dropped to my knees, exhausted and utterly defeated. “What do you want me to do?” I asked.
Copyright © 2015 by Jason A. Feingold