“Hey buddy! Could you get a move on please?”
A large man in a Hawaiian shirt stood behind me, lugging several carry on bags. His wife stood beside him, bouncing a young boy in her arms. Both boy and wife have curly hair and pleasant smiles, probably the only thing keeping the large man from using harsher language. I step to the side and try to find a corner I can lean against to get my bearings.
“The plane probably had to circle back for mechanical trouble,” I said quietly to myself. “You were asleep and didn’t hear the announcement.”
I walk aimlessly and find myself in baggage claim. As if anticipating my arrival my single black bag rounds the metal bend and starts moving toward me. I stretch out a hand and pick it up. ‘Don’t they usually transfer these between planes if the flight’s been changed?’ I thought.
Getting back to the ticket counter wasn’t easy. I actually had to go outside, run out to the exit, and then back up to the first level, all while trying to drag my bag behind me. The air was warmer, even though the sky was still gray, and I quickly became sweaty, which if I’m honest can happen at any temperature. I spent a few minutes just inside the doors catching my breath and not wanting to seem like a crazy person walking up the counter.
The line was long. It was midday and a lot of people were checking in for their flights. I tried to pass the time by reading a light little mystery on my phone, but the guy in back of me kept impatiently bumping me when the line moved even a fraction of an inch. By the time I reached the counter I could hear my heart thumping in my head from irritation, but I slapped on a pleasant smile for the lady who looked like she had already been awake for 19 hours.
“Hi, I was on the flight to Vegas that left at 8am, and I was wondering if you could tell me if that flight’s been reschedule.”
The woman nodded and typed something into a computer. A moment later her expression turned confused. “Sir, there were no flights at 8am. You were on the returning flight?”
“No,” I said patiently. “I left this morning.”
She looked at my black bag, then back at me. “Do you still have your ticket stub?”
I fished into my jacket pocket, having to sift through a couple of crumpled up receipts before finding the smooth cardboard of the ticket. “Here you go.”
She looked at the ticket, typed the number into the computer, and frowned, “Sir, this flight left two weeks ago.”
I took the ticket back from her and stared. “No see right there, today’s the 12th.”
She shook her head, “No it’s the 26th, sir.” She pointed to a clock with a date and time behind her. I’d been standing in this line the entire time and I hadn’t noticed it.
“Hey buddy. What’s the hold up?” shoulder bumper said behind me.
“Nothing,” I mumbled, and turned back toward the door.
I’d lost two weeks? My only vacation time. That line had felt so long I could have lost a couple of days waiting for the ticket counter, but I could have sworn my flight took off this morning. I couldn’t have slept all that time could I?
On the drive home I slowed the car in front of every bank that showed he time and the temperature. Sure enough it was 53 degrees and it was March 26th. I was due at work in the morning.
When I got home I emptied my pockets. Sure enough one of the receipts was for the bar in the Bellagio. Had what happened in Vegas really stayed in Vegas to the point I didn’t even remember it?
At work I was alarmed to see new saplings being planted on the slanted grass out in front of the plant. When I asked my boss about it he said the company had a number of new clients visiting over the next few months, and the CEO had wanted the company to look vibrant and thriving. Plus the ground was soft and that was the time to plant trees, right?
I buried my head in my phone as I walked to my car. Everywhere I went they were following me. They wouldn’t let me leave. I tried to get as far away as I could think, and they pulled me back. As I drove along my secluded route home it felt as if the branches were reaching out into the street. Like any second those organic fractals would pull my car off the road and into their roots.
At home I smoked cigarette after cigarette, ashing on the carpet. My hands were shaking. TV offered little pleasure, the singer I’d liked had been kicked off her show in the two weeks I was “gone”. Food tasted as ashen as the gray pile accumulating at my feet.
It wasn’t until I had been sitting staring for what felt like hours that I noticed my office door was ajar. My body moved outside of my own control and pretty soon I was standing in front of my books. Rows and rows of books by Devaney and Barnsley and Mandelbrot. Dietmar Saupe and Heinz Otto Peitgen.
I used to love studying fractals. It was fascinating to me to see how the world could be designed, could be understood by just a few simple equations. What I didn’t realize, the sin that so many who pursue knowledge commit, is that once you see how the sausage is made, you don’t really want to eat it. I saw how the world was put together. I could see the seems, every crack every crevice. And they sang to me, they called, they entered my mind. I no longer felt comfortable in the world, and the world knew it.
Fractals weren’t possible before computers. Dr. Mandelbrot worked for IBM when he first discovered his eponymous set. Yet they’ve been all around us all this time. Something that sprung from the artificial, is wild and organic in full life.
My arms swept across the shelves with new found power. Old spines cracked as they hit the hard wood of the floor. Pages creased and tore, until all I could see was the bare brown back of my shelves. I looked down at my feet at the multicolored pile of forbidden knowledge, took a drag off my last cigarette, and knocked the ashes onto The Fractal Geometry of Nature, the book that started it all really.
I stayed home sick the next day, and the next. My lungs felt like swiss cheese. My heart pounded dangerously loud, and my head swam in colors. On the third day I started the car, drove to the end of the street, and turned onto the single road that connected my home and my work. The sky was still gray, fading into white, like fog. I drove and I drove in silence, passing the little diner and the coffee shop near my home. After about fifteen minutes I frowned. The coffee shop was on my left, and my clock had jumped forward nine and a half hours.
So the world wasn’t letting me go to work now? Well, maybe there’s an upside to all of this.
To be continued…