VOLUMES OF KNOWLEDGE
by Nicholas Kladky © 2003
He really couldn't remember how long he'd been there. It seemed like it had been many years, though it had probably only been a few hours (at least if it had been years, there was no way to tell. He also couldn't remember when the sun had last set). It had definitely been a long time.
In this lonely place, the young man in a gray suit sat on a pleasantly green bench in the middle of a vast wasteland. There were no trees, no buildings, nothing but the road that seemed to stretch forever. As if in a dream, the sun sat high and bright in a blue, cloudless sky. The heat got to him at times, and he frequently lifted his gray fedora to wipe the sweat from his brow.
He carried with him a briefcase. This case was very important it contained very important things that absolutely had to reach their destination. He had in the briefcase…a…the… Actually, he couldn't remember what was in it exactly. He only knew it was important. Very important. The fate of the nation, the world, the universe, depended on him and his briefcase. He had to get on this bus and travel…somewhere and get this briefcase to…somebody, even at the cost of his own life. It was that important. The reason it was so important was very simple.
He wished he could remember what that reason was.
He was not totally uncomfortable in the gray suit and tie that he wore. He was a young man of twenty-five, but to look at his face, he could've very well been fifty. It wasn't that he looked very old, but that he wore a melancholy look on his face that never went away, making him appear wearier of this world than he really was, since he hadn't seen much of the world at all. He had, after all, been sitting here for a long time. He'd been here several months. Or had it been minutes? It didn't matter. He only knew he would have to remain sitting until a bus came. It wouldn't be long now.
By and by, in the distance, a dot appeared. He watched the dot for some time. He watched the dot get bigger until it took on colors. He found the dot was actually another man. This man, no older than himself, wore a robin egg blue coat and trousers. A black shirt and red tie complemented the choice of attire, as well as the man's goatee and vicious smirk as he approached and tipped his white hat.
"Good morning," the young man said, not entirely sure that it was in fact morning, no matter how confident of it this newcomer seemed. The muffled response didn't seem to faze this new person at all. He sat down on the bench and held out his hand in greeting.
"Name's Garson. Christopher Jacob Garson. People call me Jake. What do they call you?"
"Jeff. Jeff what?"
Jeff turned slowly toward the brightly clothed man.
"If I told you," he said, "I'd have to kill you." This is a common enough expression some use as a joke. Jeff didn't even smile as he said it. Jake chuckled slightly at this statement, certain it was meant as a joke, his smirk never fading.
"I'm a salesman, Jeff. I've traveled across this great country of ours peddling gimmicks, knick-knacks, and devices of all shapes and sizes. I'm selling encyclopedias now. All the knowledge of the ages stored in twenty-six small volumes! Sound interesting to you, kid?"
Jake waited for a response that never came.
"…So, what do you do, Jeff?"
Jake thought about this. "I don't think you understood what I meant."
"I did, and as I told you, I wait."
Jake quietly mouthed the word OK to himself. He contemplated now on what to say next. It occurred to him, for a brief moment, that he probably shouldn't have started this conversation in the first place. But Jake, being Jake, just couldn't keep his mouth shut and leave Jeff to sit quietly for his bus. If Jake had it in his nature to stay quiet once in a while, he wouldn't be in half the trouble he was always getting himself into.
"What are you waiting for?"
Jake looked around at his surroundings. He looked into the vast blue of the sky and the deep greenness of the bench they both sat on, the bench matching his deep, green eyes. He also studied the road in front of him. The road he had followed for a long time. The road he had traveled since he left home began his grand quest all those years ago. The road he had never seen a single car on let alone a bus.
"When do you expect it?"
"Soon." No change in tone.
Jake nodded his head and looked to the ground. He was not particularly happy with the way this conversation was going. He was used to speaking to people and getting his way: men he needed money from, women he wanted to sleep with, and anybody he was trying to sell something to. So you must imagine Jake's surprise and alarm when he met Jeff; a young man not very much unlike Jake himself who seemed to have no interest in anything Jake had to say.
At first glance, it was a definite lost cause; even for the Great Jake Garson and his World Famous Charisma. It is very telling, therefore, of Jake and his character that he refused to give up at this point.
Jeff now turned and looked at Jake. His eyebrow raised itself in a wondering look.
"I said why. Why are you waiting?"
"I have to."
"You sit here all day, huh? You're waiting for a bus that hasn't come yet. For all you know it won't come. Why do you do it?"
"You can see there is a bus stop sign here. A bus is coming."
Jake turned and looked at the towering post and sign.
"Hmm. That's true. How long has it been?"
"I'm waiting as long as I have to."
"It'll be here soon."
"Are you taking a bus to somewhere?"
Jeff bowed his head and closed his eyes. He would have to answer now. There was no way to avoid it. Jeff could've kept stalling, but not forever. The fact is none of this was really Jake's business. He didn't have to answer any of Jake's questions, but he didn't want to cause a problem. If he'd had the strength, he would've told Jake what he could do with his knowledge of the ages. Then again, if Jeff had that kind of strength, he wouldn't have been waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
Jake thought this over briefly.
"Jeff, you came here and sat down to wait for a bus."
"When was that?"
"I don't know."
"I just don't."
"Has it been a very long time?"
Jake was becoming more and more satisfied, despite the lack of any real knowledge being attained. Jake didn't really care how long Jeff had been here, or how long Jeff continued to wait. Jake was concerned only with getting a rise out of Jeff. This had seemed impossible up until now. Jeff was finally beginning to become agitated, and soon Jake would have him in his grasp. He went in for the kill.
"It this all your life means? This is it? Why even bother? There is too much to be done, things to do, people to see. I don't mean to sound cliché, son, but come on!" He looked back on the ground. "You're pathetic."
At this, Jeff turned, not slowly, but quickly to look at Jake. Jake half-smiled, realizing he'd finally gotten his companion's attention at last, but he kept looking at the ground to avoid looking at the other man.
"What did you say?" Jeff asked.
"You heard me! Here you are! Sitting on a bench in the middle of nowhere for God knows how long and waiting to go God knows where! What kind of life is this? You don't even know, do you? You just sit because you have to! Why? Is it a business trip?" He looked now at the briefcase Jeff held on to so securely.
"What's in there? That's the cause of the whole thing, isn't it? You are sitting on this bench waiting for a bus on a bench with not much else so that you can go with this briefcase to an unknown destination for no apparent reason. You probably don't even know what's in it yourself! You know why you're really waiting here, Jeff? I'll tell you. You're scared. You can't handle change or differences, so you sit here in a stable, sterile place waiting for a bus that'll never come. God forbid it should! You'd have to get on it and actually go somewhere! The horror!!! Then you'd have to take the briefcase to wherever or whomever you're going to and deliver that thing which probably has nothing in it to begin with! Am I right? Am I right?"
Jake was going off on a tangent. He did this quite frequently. He was very passionate and would often begin delivering sermon like an insane preacher. He did this to people at times to strike a nerve, or at least get some kind of reaction. In Jeff's case, he'd succeeded. He'd struck a nerve. But this was not necessarily a good thing.
The thing Jake didn't realize was this: He was right. In fact, ninety percent of what he'd said had been true. Jeff did fear change. Maybe not in the way Jake had in mind, but nonetheless, change scared Jeff out of his mind. The bus wasn't coming. It never had been. Jeff knew this from the very start, really. All of this was true. Actually, there was only one thing he'd said in his crazed homily that wasn't so.
There was most definitely something in the briefcase.
Jake now looked up with his innate grin. He'd gotten to him at last. It was only when Jake looked up to find Jeff staring right at him that Jake stopped smiling for the first time since he'd sat down. The look in Jeff's face, the scowl that fell across his lips, the anger and weariness in his dark, green eyes, filled Jake with a horror he had never known. Without another minute of hesitation, Jeff did what he'd wanted to do since the other man had sat next to him. Something Jake was going to regret for a long time after he and Jeff had parted ways. Something Jeff would not have done in any other situation. Jeff opened the briefcase and showed Jake the contents. Jake was glued to the bench, moving only to quake with fear.
"What's wrong?" Jeff asked his companion.
"You said there was nothing in the briefcase."
"I…I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't. You would've been better off not knowing."
Jake nodded, absolutely sure that this was true.
"You don't have a choice now. You can't give back what you learn. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. So now you know. Now you know a lot. And with these 'volumes of knowledge' comes responsibility. What are your intentions?"
Jake stared blankly, unsure how to answer.
"Do you understand now why I'm here?"
Jake nodded very slowly.
"Do you know what I have to do?"
Jeff nodded back. As he did so, he handed the briefcase to Jake, continuing to stare intently at nothing, who took it almost without thinking.
Jake looked up slowly to meet Jeff's eyes.
"How long have you been here, Jake?"
"I…I don't know."
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm…waiting for a bus."
Jeff nodded in approval. There was one last question to ask.
"Why are you doing that?"
"Because…I have to."
Jeff smiled slightly at this response. He then looked up at the sky. The sky, which went on forever. Jeff walked to the side of the bench and looked around. The road was long and the desert stretched into the distance. He took a step on the road. He took he few more. Before long, the bench was in the distance and he was walking traveling into the wilderness.
The hot sun took its toll after an hour of walking, and Jeff began stripping off the suit. The tie, coat, dress shirt, and even the pants all had to go, leaving Jeff in a T-shirt and shorts. The tarp on the road burned beneath his bare feet. Jeff hopped off the road to bury his feet in the sand at the road's edge. He began to dust off his feet, when he looked up and saw it. Coming out of nowhere, black as night, was a large bus. The bus traveled to his point and stopped, Jeff staring in awe the whole time. The doors swung open and Jeff got on. He took a seat just in the nick of time; the bus left this temporary depot and headed for destinations unknown.
What now? He thought. What happens when this bus stops? Where will I be? What will I do? I don't even know where this bus is going! He would become a hobo, perhaps. He would travel from town to town looking for handouts or work. Maybe he'd settle down in a place somewhere. He could find a job, a home, and a girl and stay there and live happily ever after. Or maybe he'd become an encyclopedia salesman, for God's sake! It didn't matter to him at this point. All he knew was that he was, at last, free. Free. FREE. FREE!
He really couldn't remember how long he'd been there. It seemed like it had been many years, though it had probably only been a few hours (at least if it had been years, there was no way to tell. He also couldn't remember when the sun had last set). It had definitely been a long time. In this lonely place, the young man in a robin egg blue suit sat on a pleasantly green bench in the middle of a vast wasteland. There were no trees, no buildings, nothing but the road that seemed to stretch forever. As if in a dream, the sun sat high and bright in a blue, cloudless sky. The heat got to him at times, and he frequently lifted his white hat to wipe the sweat from his brow.
He carried with him a briefcase. This case was very important it contained very important things that absolutely had to reach their destination. He had in the briefcase… a…the… Actually, he couldn't remember what was in it exactly. He only knew it was important. Very important. The fate of the nation, the world, the universe, depended on him and his briefcase. He had to get on this bus and travel… somewhere and get this briefcase to…somebody, even at the cost of his own life. It was that important. The reason it was so important was very simple.
He wished he could remember what that reason was.
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