The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter XV)

Posted by Matt on February 8, 2011

Previously

It was always fascinating hearing the old man talk about the time of the Poster People. Pearl probably got a bigger kick out of it (she lacked the innate cynicism being older and in the workforce can bring), but Aia found herself enjoying it quite a bit as well. The neighbours were right: it didn’t matter if what he said was true. He could be completely insane. But he was a master of making every little mundane detail about the world he remembered interesting. Maybe it was the voice. Maybe it was his odd appearance. Maybe it was a combination of both. In any case, anything he said enraptured both of them, and they came back frequently to hear more. Thankfully, there was always more to hear.

“Do you know the big scrapyards they got ’round the park?”

“Yes”

“Oh lordy, you should’ve seen the kinds of things they had there before. All that metal went to make some of the most mind-bending roller coasters you ever did see. They were massive; I heard people say it was the biggest and fastest ride they’ve ever been on. I never got a chance to try it, not that I could being the way I am, but it certainly looked fast from the ground. And all the loops, too”

“What’s a roller coaster?”

“Eh? Oh right, you probably don’t know that stuff, do ya’? Too bad, really.”

“You know, they made us in the park only have one Little Brother or Sister at a time, but when the people were there, I saw huge families. HUGE. I once saw one group that had something like five or six little children running around. And they all looked identical, too.”

“Which ones were the children?”

“The smaller ones on the posters, you know? I guess you wouldn’t understand that stuff, either, on account of us all staying ’bout the same size our whole lives. I was around long enough to see people I had seen before as little kids, and I can recognize people I haven’t seen for a while ’cause I got a good eye for that, come back to the park a year or two later and be bigger, have different hair, come with different people, that kind of stuff. Always entertaining to see the repeat visitors.”

“They’ve been feeding you that mumbo jumbo about the people at the park, haven’t they? The people downstairs, too? All nonsense. They weren’t any different from the rest of us. I mean, they looked different, and they had all of their own weird rituals and stuff like that, but they were just normal folks. Yeah, they built the place. But I can build stuff, too, you know. Doesn’t make me worth philosophizing about all the time. You just had to be there, I guess.”

“Hurricane season was always a good time. The people here never did seem to know what to do. They didn’t want to shut anything down ’cause it was cost ’em a ton of money, but what else could you do? Serves ’em right for deciding to build it in the middle of the ocean.”

“What’s a hurricane season?”

“I keep forgettin’ that you don’t know all this stuff. You know, you spend so much time with the like-minded and you completely lose the ability to figure out some folks didn’t see the same stuff you did. Anyway, you saw all them lights and trees that fell over outside, right?”

“Right”

“Yeah, hurricane’ll do that. You ever heard a big bunch of thumpin’ and thunderin’ coming from outside the park sometimes?”

“Yes”

“Well, that’s the hurricane. They build the dome pretty good, ’cause it’s never been damaged all that badly by that kind of stuff. And it’s strong stuff, believe me. Could move the trolleys across the entire island, just like that. Powerful stuff. Nature is the real deal.”

“Have I ever told you what we all are?”

“No”

“Alright, ’cause this is a good one. See, the owners of the park really wanted an attraction that would bring the tourists in, and virtual reality was all the rage at the time. Things were getting fancier and more realistic, and so they were able to get a group of techno-heads to work for some years on the most advanced piece of recreational simulation ever. Can you guess what the thing was? I bet you can’t”

“No. What was it?”

“They called it the AMP. What it did was use some very mouldable, fleshy compound, give it an electronic brain, shape it into anything you could think of, and WHAM, what you got is a thing that walks and talks and thinks like a person, with its thoughts and other little things like that being projected from the machine. So basically they could make a load of weird animals and things that no one ever heard of before and use them as attractions, or they could even let people use the machine to to make whatever they could imagine come to life, for an extra bit of cash. And it still worked even after all the people were gone. Does it still work?”

“What?”

“The AMP thing, you know. The big machine in the tent”

“The Maker?”

“Is that what they’re calling it?”

“Maybe?”

“Probably. Is it still working?”

“The Maker is still working, yes”

“Great piece of work, that thing. Even better for them was that everything it made was recyclable: once its term expires, you can just set it back and it’ll be used to make the next thing. Efficient.

‘Course, they used to just send back most of the things that popped out back in by the end of the day. I got lucky, a lot of the big money visitors liked me for some reason, so they kept me around. They never did explain what would happen when you left the things to run their course on their own. I’ve seen a couple of examples, none of them pretty. It’s weird, though, because they all shut down like they got some disease or something, but they can’t get those. It’s like they invent their own deaths. I’m real lucky to be still around now, ‘specially since being far away from the AMP thing or the Maker or whatever we’re gonna call it seems to screw with people’s brains and kill ’ems quicker, most of the time. Too much interfering with the signal, I think. I don’t know, I guess I am just lucky.”

“I remember just before everyone left, they were talkin’ about making the park bigger. Said someone else was building their own fake island and putting a park on it, so they gotta beat them at something. Was gonna cost ’em a pretty penny, but they acted like it was the only option they had to compete. Knowin’ there’s another place like this one out there is strange. It’s like knowin’ there’s hotels other than this one. I’ve been to ’em, or at least two of ’em. Not all that different from this, although not as shined up. I think there’s another one that got demolished by something. I actually don’t know if the others are still standing, either. Lotta stuff could’ve happened when I wasn’t lookin’.

What was I talkin’ about? Oh yeah, they were gonna build some extension to the park and make it the biggest in the world. But they were all gone before they could even get started. Just cleared the place out. Must’ve cost them a bit.

“Why did they leave?”

“You see what I think I heard was this:

They had their own little power plant or something out back to power the whole place, right? You know, gotta be able to keep the whole place running on its own. And they got all that major league equipment that needs a very special kind of energy supply. So they had this power plant, and you wouldn’t have been able to see it because it’s way back at the other end of the island, and it was running smoothly for a while. Then something happened, I don’t know what, a leak someone missed that got bigger or something like that. Anyway, the waste that the power plant was making started leaking, and somehow it got into the drinking water line. And people started getting real ill. No deaths at first, just fevers and vomiting and convulsions and stuff like that. They tried to cover it up at first, say it was probably a contagious thing someone else brought to the island. But they knew what was really going on. They closed up shop for a couple of weeks and sent everyone home until they fixed the leak and then told everyone they could come back because they decontaminated the place. But they didn’t, and soon enough people were getting sick again.

Except later, it got worse. I don’t know what kind of poisons they were pumping in their, but some people weren’t just getting sick, they were going CRAZY. Started running around the park yelling stuff and just lashing out at people. They said they were hallucinating, and it might be because of some fumes or something being made by the AMP stuff as well as the junk in the water. This got out and there was a huge kerfuffle about it, so there seemed to be fewer and fewer people coming. Then one day, nobody was there at all. I figured the whole thing was just too much for them, so they gave up. Doesn’t explain why all this stuff was left here, but it doesn’t bother me too much. All that was left were some of us folks who hadn’t been recycled yet. There were a couple of new batches too that didn’t even really get a chance to see the people who ran the place, so it became a big mystery to them. I guess that’s where all you came from. Each new generation just had no knowledge of why anything was there, so they just started making stuff up. I guess that should have been expected, but knowing what really went down, it just got annoying to me. So I left. I was tired of looking at the park, too. Been there my whole life and I just got sick of it. And, there were bugs all over the place, and I wasn’t all that keen on that”

“Bugs?”

“You know? Cameras, microphones. The whole park is decked out with ’em. It’s like being watched all the time, and someone’s got a tape of it. I just wasn’t going to have any of that anymore”

“You know, when I first stepped outside, there were tons of colourful birds flying around. Made the whole trip around the island a lot more pleasant. They still there?”

“What are birds?”

“Awwww, never mind, I’m tired of explaining little stuff like that. I doubt you really care, anyway”

And many many more conversations like that. After their visits, Aia and Pearl would sometimes talk about all the stories he told, but never in a tone that indicated they were hearing the revelatory truths of their existence, but rather that they were hearing some amusing tall tales from a rambling lunatic. They could be true, Aia thought, but what reason did they have to believe it? A lot of it sounded pretty far-fetched, and some of it was even a little contradictory. Besides, it didn’t really matter whether the Poster People were like how he described or not, or how the island was founded. None of it had any relevance to what was going on at that time. After hearing all these different, incompatible stories about their origins, she learned to treat all of them, no matter how outlandish or grounded or logical or illogical they might be, as being equally as valid. The truth wasn’t what mattered; they were stories in any case. And they were good stories, so they kept coming back for more.

Of course, Pearl was a different matter, but Aia never felt the need to see how much of it she believed to be true. She was sure her own treatment of their validity would rub off on her, and the conversations never seemed like the ones Pearl would start about what her friends from the hall said. Aia never really asked her what she thought of the ‘truth’ of the stories, but she didn’t feel it was necessary.

“Did I tell you about the light shows? This is a good one, I guarantee you…”

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