A boy suddenly finds himself in a strange land of curves. (1/2006)
I began feeling disoriented and nauseas immediately. It took me a while to realize what was different: nothing as far as the eye could see was straight. Everything was curved or round or spherical. The walkway was a series of slate circles laid along a gentle arc. The roadway, like a snake, undulated its way ahead of me. At least the cars looked familiar: they all resembled VW Bugs, but somehow even rounder.
How did I get here? And where was “here” anyway?
I wracked my brain and tried to remember. What was I doing just before arriving in this strange place? Oh, yes, I remember now. I had been in my neighborhood thrift shop. My mom called it a five and dime store; I guess that’s what they used to call it in the old days.
Anyway, I was looking around for cool stuff. You never know what you’re going to find if you look hard enough. What had I found? What was I looking at? An Elvis Presley paint-by-number, a lava lamp, a wind-up butterfly that gently flapped its wings. And that strange coin.
The coin was about the size of a quarter, maybe a little bigger. It was brass in color and eerily smooth. On one side was a circle. On the other side was a square with a triangle resting on top. It looked like a simple picture of a house.
I remember now: I had flipped the coin. It had landed in my palm circle-side up.
A few people walked by, staring at me as much as I stared at them. I’m tall and skinny; they were all rotund. Fat, basically. So fat that they all looked like balloons filled to the point just before popping. My face is narrow, my jaw is angular; their heads were just as spherical as their bodies. My hair is short and spiky. (I put gel on it every morning just in case Jenny will finally notice me.) Their hair was fine, silk-like, and white, and it gently wrapped their heads. Like the ends of cotton swabs.
I walked down the street, following the direction of the cars I’d seen. After a few minutes, I crested a hill and saw a city in the distance. The skyline looked like no other city I’ve ever seen.
There were no skyscrapers soaring into the sky. No buildings as I know them, with four walls and a roof. Instead, the city was a collection of spheres and cones (with rounded tops, of course).
An hour later, I was downtown, amidst all of the strange and wonderful buildings. I could not read any of the street or building signs. It appeared as if this place—wherever I was—used their own alphabet, one that contained only rounded or curved symbols. I couldn’t see a single character that had a straight edge—nothing like an ‘I’ or an ‘E’ or an ‘X’.
The whole place was dizzying. I realized all at once that I wanted to get out of this place. But how?
Maybe if I flipped it again and I got the picture of the house, I’d teleport back home!
I flipped the coin. It landed circle-side up again, like before. I sighed and tried again. Circle again. I tried again. Same result: the circle.
I was about to flip it a fifth time when a though struck me like: what if each time I flipped the coin and got the circle, I got one more flip “in the hole” and would have to flip that many more “homes”? Or, worse, what if each time I flipped and got the circle, I got twice as stuck in Curveland? That would mean that after four flips, I was already sixteen times stuck here!
I decided that I should record the results of my coin tosses, to keep track. I needed a pen and a piece of paper.
I should have realized that both were not to be found in this strange world. A piece of paper has four straight edges and two flat sides. Even a pen or pencil is too straight. I gave up on the idea quickly; people were starting to gather around me. Soon there were hundreds of them, just staring, occasionally whispering amongst themselves. Whatever language they were speaking, it wasn’t one I’ve ever heard before.
I turned my attention back to the coin. I took a deep breath and I flipped it again.
Again and again and again. Circle, circle, circle.
That was nine circles in a row. Impossible! I sat down and started to cry. I’d never get home!
The crowd swelled. More and more of them wanted to see the freak in their world: me. All at once, the circle of people around me began to tighten as they took a few steps toward me.
My fear of never getting home was replaced with a fear of what these strange people were going to do to me. I summoned all of my courage and stood back up.
A thought hit me. I put the coin circle-side up in my left hand and then swung my left arm up and around until my left hand landed in my right. I removed my left hand and, ta da, there was the coin in my right hand, home-side up.
I waited. Nothing happened. My trick hadn’t worked.
The people took two more steps toward me, closing in around me. My despair was almost paralyzing.
And then I remember something I learned in math class, or from my Dad, I forget which. If the coin was “fair” in the sense that there were equal chances of it landing on either side, then all of these circle-side up flips in a row weren’t impossible, just unlikely. Maybe highly, highly, highly unlikely, but that’s all. If I continued to flip the coin, it would eventually land home-side up. If it was a fair coin…
The crowd was noisy now and the noose of people around my neck tightened.
I flipped the coin again.
The crowd stepped forward again. Now they were just a few feet from me. I could smell them now. Several people in the back of the crowd were shouting. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they didn’t sound friendly.
I flipped the coin again.
When the coin landed in my right hand, suddenly I was back in the aisle of the five and dime store.
I looked around. The aisles were straight! The shelves were straight! Mr. Johnson behind the counter, well, he was fat and round, but he was definitely Mr. Johnson.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”
I told Mr. Johnson I was okay. I thought about telling him what happened but he’d probably never believe me anyway. I put the coin back where I found it and ran out the door. I called back, “See you soon, Mr. Johnson,” not really meaning it. Then I ran down the wonderfully straight street between the wonderfully rectangular buildings as fast as I could.