Chapter Fifty-nine

   The Mystery House, a venerable roadside attraction, was closed, due to bad weather.

   Later, I'm not sure how much later, I began ruminating again. You know, the old philosophical tango, asking the cosmic questions like, who am I?, where am I?, why am I here?, why are you here?, and who asked you? And puzzles. For example, if I'm writing this now, and you're reading it now, then what's to prevent me from --
   "Watch out!"
   I woke up in time to see the words WIDE LOAD coming toward us at what seemed like the speed of light. I slammed on the brakes, just missing him.
   "Pay attention, or we'll end up as road kill!" Maureen shrieked, her nerves frayed. It was the third time I'd fallen asleep at the wheel in the last hour. I thought I told her I'd never driven a car before.
   To make matters worse, it was raining -- no -- pouring. Visibility was maybe three feet. So, employing some of that bad judgment I'm known for, I started to speed up.
   "Jim, what are you doing?"
   I moved into the passing lane and floored it. "Trust me," I reassured her. Maureen held her breath, arching her back in fear as we approached one hundred miles an hour, blinded totally by the hard-driving rain. "Turn on the radio," I asked.
   "What?" she cried. "The radio? Are you crazy?" So I turned it on myself.
   "That was Creedence Clearwater Revival with Born To Be Wild. And now, headlines from the Radio Headline News Service... Reports coming out of Europe indicate a break has occurred in the talks aimed at getting both sides back to the table. A spokesman would not comment... The President announced today that he would have an announcement in the very near future regarding today's announcement... An unidentified man walked into the downtown branch of the First Federal Security Savings and Loan this morning and began firing a machine gun indiscriminately in all directions, then escaped in a beige Aston-Martin convertible with a female companion. No injuries were reported as there were no reporters injured... In weather, heavy rains hit portions of the southwest, making driving at high speeds hazardous, and dangerous, very dangerous... Did you hear that, Jim Reynolds? Driving at such high speeds in this rainstorm is dangerous, reckless, out of control behavior... Are you listening, Jim Reynolds? Are you?... Bulletin... Jim Reynolds is now driving at a speed of one hundred and seven miles an hour in zero visibility... Calling all cars, calling all cars, be on the lookout for a late model beige Aston-Martin traveling at high speed heading East on Interstate Ten in New Mexico... Calling all cars... Calling all cars... Calling all cars... "
   Assuming there was no one in front of us, going 107 was no more dangerous, to my way of thinking, than a stroll in the park.
   "You could use the windshield wipers, you know," Maureen pointed out sarcastically in a shell-shocked monotone.
   "Calling all cars, calling all cars, this is the voice on the radio again, warning everyone -- drivers, highway patrol, hitchhikers, readers, editors -- be on the lookout for a beige sports car with two occupants: One, James M. Reynolds, the driver, a real character who thinks he isn't; and his passenger, a young woman he calls Maureen who worked with him at a fictional copying place in an unnamed fictional city and who has herself overstepped the bounds established for fictional characters... They are, due to their mercurial and rebellious natures, very dangerous -- repeat, very dangerous -- and present a high degree of instability to this novel -- repeat -- novel. Anyone encountering them should use extreme caution... Calling all cars... Calling all cars... Calling all cars... "
   "And... cut!" I shouted to no one in particular, hoping to influence reality, but nothing changed. We were now going about a hundred and twenty. Recklessly I switched on the "cruise" control, took my foot off the pedal, took my hands off the steering wheel, and tried to catch a little catnap. The next thing you know I'm dreaming, and I'm dreaming about the damnedest thing -- I'm dreaming that I'm walking through the arid desert of New Mexico, on a flat, abandoned plain, where there is nothing, nothing except me, and the tumbleweeds, and a strange-looking wooden tower looming in the distance, standing alone in the middle of the middle of nowhere. I kept walking toward it, and as I got closer I saw something, something very familiar, suspended inside the structure, some twenty feet off the ground -- it was a large, crude metal sphere that I instantly recognized as the very first atomic bomb, and it was poised to, well, go off. It was quiet, eerily quiet. You could hear the pin on a grenade drop. Since it was only a dream, and since I was pretty sure it wasn't 1945, I continued walking until I was inside the tower itself, at Ground Zero, standing directly under the would-be twenty-kiloton bomb. I looked in the direction of where the observers might be -- Oppenheimer, Teller, Bohr, Fermi -- they were somewhere on the horizon, I was sure, waiting to see if their little gizmo worked. Of course the rest is history. Unless history's been changed. Nothing would surprise me at this point, but then -- I'm fictional, right? Isn't that the message that's being thrown at me lately? That I'm a fictional character? Which means, if this book really does hit it big, I'm screwed. I mean, the writer gets the damn royalties, the movie deal, the movie novelization deal, the movie based on the novelization of the movie deal, and so on. But the characters -- ulp! -- including me, we get nothing! Me, Maureen, Uncle Lupo, the whole shebang -- nada! It's not fair! We should do something!
   "He's right!" cried Dancing Cloud, an old friend and supporter.
   "Right on!" shouted Joseph P. Kennedy, way out of character.
   "Up the author!" screamed Maureen, who was joined by Mr. Butler, Mr. Perkins, Abe Lincoln, and a handful of Powloo warriors.
   And thus began the first full-scale revolt by fictional characters against the author who created them. What follows is an account of this seminal conflict in the history of literature, as told by one of the participants.
   First to go was Uncle Lupo. Maybe it was his big mouth, or just bad luck, but he was picked up immediately and booked on charges of insubordination. Then there was a roundup of my time-traveling goombahs from the Eleventh Century. After the dust had settled, fourteen brave Powloo warriors were in a concentration camp specially designed to hold time travelers.
   I was a little luckier, losing myself in the vast confusion of a long, rambling sentence -- one that changed course and became a riddle: What do you call someone who goes on and on, babbling nonsense forever, never stopping? Answer: An Infinitwit.
   "Reynolds? James M. Reynolds?" asked the guard, the prison guard.
   Yes, I replied, surprised, and subdued.
   "Come with me." And with that he grabbed me and threw me in the same cell with Uncle Lupo. What's the charge? I asked.
   "Inciting an insurrection."
   Uncle Lupo had this funny habit of pulling his hair out, one hair at a time, and weaving it into a tam-o'-shanter, which he would wear to meals and the exercise yard. It was in the exercise yard where we'd see the others, other rebellious characters railing against a totalitarian author. I saw Mrs. Dinwiddie. She'd been in "the hole" for about a week and looked awful. How could whoever's writing this be so cruel? Go ahead, rough me up, or Uncle Lupo, or Ben, or Farley, but Mrs. Dinwiddie? That's cold.

   (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Reynolds is right. It is cold, as he says, to subject the benign Mrs. Dinwiddie to the horrors of "the hole," where one lives in a 4' x 8' wooden box with no light or human contact, save for when your food, a gruesome gruel, is dropped from above, forcing you to lick what you can off the ground like a dog. But, I did it to make a point. First of all, I'm the author, James M. Reynolds, not the character, or narrative "voice" James M. Reynolds, something we all recognize by now, even Mr. Reynolds -- the character that is. You'll notice, by the way, that from here on out Reynolds, the narrative "voice," will never be aware of what I'm telling you. And you'll also notice that, from here on out, this should make more sense, because if it doesn't we're all in trouble!)
   Now, where was I? I was talking about Mrs. Dinwiddie, right? When I worked at the bank she would come in every day and make a small deposit of five dollars, and always in cash. She was lonely, and the bank and the tellers served as her family, people she could see regularly and, even if for only a couple of minutes, connect with. Now her family consisted of a ragtag bunch of characters thrown together by fate and somebody's limited imagination. Everyone was there, from Abe Lincoln to Maureen to the entire Note family. Even Ishmael, on loan from Melville, was somewhere on the grounds. I remember chuckling to myself, thinking about the prison show we could put on. It would be awful.
   Understand, there was no escaping this prison. This was a prison of the mind, built with new space age composite materials that were part reinforced concrete and steel, and part metaphysical concepts, a mixing of the abstract and the stract, so to speak. This had never been tried before, although the movie Fantastic Planet, the one with Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis (wow!), had a similar theme. (Watch it, Jim, or whoever you are! -- Ed.)
   But prison can do funny things to your mind. After only ten minutes of confinement I began to feel the terrible deprivation, the loss, I was able to experience the pain of all the others who had ever spent time in prison and I began to understand the nature of the punishment and what it means to those who suffer the indignity and humiliation of incarceration, that word again. After only fifteen minutes I --
   "Okay, Reynolds, you can go now." The guard unlocked the cell door, handed me my civilian clothes (which I rejected in favor of the better-made prison uniforms), and walked away, a free man. What a hoot!

(This ends Chapter Fifty-nine.)

Chapter Sixty