5 … The Steppford Life
The mcmansion boasted a skylight to the heavens. It was an easy boast. The estate that resembled something of the White House in both layout, expanse, and architecture anchored itself in the sky several thousand kilometers up. There was much pomp. There was much circumstance. And yet the Greatest Room in the mcmansion found Bradlee standing oblivious to it all, an expression of displeasure inching the edges of itself subtlely out onto his otherwise meticulously contoured face. No one was present to witness this, which was a very good thing. It wasn’t every day that anyone in The Steppford Life saw anything even remotely close to a displeased look.
They wouldn’t know what to make of it if they had.
Bradlee dared to think (but most definitely did not dare utter aloud), “How am I to host the most wonderful of festivities of music of fine life of the finest fashion and culture in all of the Steppford Life…under the umbrella of a giant dustweb that has spun itself out and around the skylights and chandeliers on the ceiling of the Greatest Room in my vast and otherwise meticulously designed estate?”
How, indeed. The piece de resistance for that party was a masterwork Bradlee had just commissioned from a celebrated artist was barely visible: a sprawling multimedia creation on the ceiling that depicted the earlier days pre Steppford Life when apes routinely banged around on things. The question of how to salvage the highlight of the entire gathering danced itself in strictly manicured formation behind Bradlee’s precisely eyelashed mind’s eye, just as his actual eyes attempted to will the dustweb into oblivion by staring at it. He hoped to ground it into a pulp. Or at the very least, he hoped to stare it into the ground. Yes, off of the ceiling and several thousand kilometers down to ground level below. But very politely so. Yet, politely or not, the universe seemed to be having none of what Bradlee’s mind tried to serve. And so when he finally accepted that his exercise in mind over matter wasn’t trumping anything at all at least in this case, Bradlee fussed around the meticulously manicured edges of his hair, smoothed down his precisely fashioned outfit, and called up the Search function.
This would be a dangerous Search, he recognized. But desperate times called for desperate measures. He steadied his nerves, and typed in “House cleaning services.” No result. “Dust or dustweb removal services.” No result. “Don’t mess with my flawless party planning services or I will hunt you down and kill you.” A few thousand results, all of which carried with them what looked to be images of an immaculately groomed face with a presice smile carefully grafted on. And all of which included in the service descriptions: “Just kidding with the “threatening” tone! It’s purely an attention getter…and see? It worked! Damn, we’re good! We’re just too full of flawless party planning win to bother threatening! Besides, we wouldn’t even know how to begin to threaten! But if your party involves threats or any type of cleaning or dust from the premises, well, those things can be found in abundance but only on the…ah…cough (excuse us!)…ground level.”
The ground level, Bradlee’s mind echoed all wide-eyed and trance-like. There was a reason why Bradlee had to steady his nerves. The ground level was not for the faint of heart. In the precisely ordered world of the Steppford Life, where appearance and control were everything, the messiness of imagination — which years and years ago had nearly brought the whole world to…well…to…to…well…to SOMEPLACE! — had been strictly categorized, labelled, and — well some might say even — quarantined. Relegated to a presence that could be found only on the ground level. That meant that anything you could imagine — and more likely than not, whole scores of things that never once crossed your mind — could be found there.
As for Bradlee’s mind, well it shivered slightly. His carefully constructed smile nearly flinched imperceptively as he weighed the options. The party was mere hours away. Soon a multitude of guests would arrive with their intricately manicured and coiffed selves, wearing expressions frozen into an unnervingly forced smile. All the blue eyes would arrive together, just as all the brown eyes, all the green eyes, all the hazel eyes, and all the black eyes would. Don’t even get Bradlee started with the hair color coding system, it had proven to be an organizing nightmare but he had managed to get it done. And the cross-color coding between hair and eyes and makeup, gah! It was an organizing chaos of the ground-level order, Bradlee realized, but no one would ever know that because Bradlee would never admit to that in public. He barely admitted it even to himself. Still, it was an organizing chaos that he, in fact, had mastered. This realization alone strengthened his resolve. With a rush of guests about to flood the teleport (no doubt in a very sterile orderly fashion!) to Bradlee’s landing point and expect entry into his pristine and vast sprawling estate any hour now, Bradlee did the unthinkable in The Steppford Life. He teleported down to Ground Level.
Well, his alt, anyway. (What…did he look like a fool to you?)
Lee rezzed on a patch of triangular and geometric ground and individual circles of water that hovered and wound a path in any direction around any number of structures or things…or beings or something. He wasn’t entirely sure. There were things he had never seen before. Things he would have never imagined. And truly still wouldn’t imagine because The Steppford Life had wiped his imagination clean. But he could try to describe some of what rezzed before his eyes, although the atmosphere was very, well, ‘organic’ here. He shuddered to think how his profile read in the harshness of midday light. Thank goodness, he sighed, that it was rather dusky at the moment.
Low flying mountains cruised dangerously close to the ground, leaving trails of mist in their wake and somehow managed not to wipe out a couple of buildings shaped like giant hot fudge sundaes. A wigamarow shouldered roughly up against a whatchamacallit, before the two creations (most likely structures, Lee guessed, or possibly organic in nature?) twirled tightly together as if suddenly transformed into a cyclone before they flung parts of themselves out in all directions, strewn to the margins of the coiling pathway. People with long snapping ears that braided themselves into a long twitchy tail moved gracefully past with their inkstained paws that painted the ground. They moved remarkably gracefully, Lee noted. Winged people, crawling people, flying shapes not at all people but with people type names and people type manner of speaking and people type attitudes all moved about without a care. Creatures shaped like open cartons yawned their flaps, entirely unimpressed with the packaging of their surroundings. Lee bumped into one of them, who retailiated by slapping duct tape around Lee’s ankles preventing any further movement.
“Watch where you’re walking or I’ll deliver you straight to the BSDM grid,” the carton threatened.
“No! Oh god no no! Don’t do that, please. I’d much rather stay here. No offense. Um…where is ‘here’ anyway? I mean…aside from the…uh…ground level, that is,” Lee muttered rather pathetically.
“Hey, open your eyes dude. Isn’t it obvious?” The carton spoke like a hotdog vendor at a ball game. Lee half expected popcorn to start spilling out of its side.
“No…I can’t really say that it is. I’m well…I’m new, here.”
“Ahhhh,” the carton flapped its lid back in understanding and its companion carton chuckled its flaps in reply. Popcorn spilled over the tops of their flaps. Lee’s eyes bugged out uncharacteristically before he snapped them back into their frozen place.
“Yeah,” the companion said to the Big Box, “a real ‘newbie'” and gauffawed. “Take a look at the rez date on his profile. He’s older than I am!” The Big Box paused for a moment (apparently reading Lee’s profile) and then whistled through his seams.
“First time here in all your years? Unreal,” Big Box said. “Why now?”
“Well, uh, my ‘main'”
“ohhhh your main…” the cartons whistled together.
Lee grimaced inside but of course maintained his pristine frozen smile on the outside on his pristine frozen face. Deep within his core it irked him that he couldn’t fabricate anything at all, including a different story about who he was or why he was here all told so that he could save his very life. These cartons before him were a motley crew that would deliver no good to him, he was certain of it and the duct tape around his ankles only amplified that certainty. But the Steppford Life worldview held most creative expression as an act of deceit (except of course for those far and few between artistic creations sanctioned by the Steppford Life Founders…like, for example, Bradlee’s dust covered ceiling mural).
“Yes, then. Well, my main has a slight…um…(he whispered with a bit of shame)…housekeeping problem.” He coughed uncomfortably, stunned by his inability to resist the urge to spill his guts to these shady cartons even though he had no idea if they could be trusted in the least.
“I see. I see,” the Big Box said. “…and your main was generous enough to send you here to fetch a fix?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking, yes,” Lee squirmed. “I am here for a fix, yes, yes. Um, which reminds me…where exactly is here?”
“Well, friend, your main was generous enough to deposit you straight into the Chaos Grid.”
“Chaos?” Lee gasped. The very first grid. The alpha and the omega. The bread and the butter. The soup and the sandwich. The chocolate and the peanut butter. The paintbrush and the watercolor. The world and the imagination.
My god, Lee trembled inside, his heart pounding like a sledgehammer.
“I’m strapped helplessly onto the Chaos Grid (he couldn’t help but italicize the name)…the very grid that began it all? The very grid that predates the Steppford Life?” he outwardly asked but inwardly shrieked.
“Nostalic, isn’t it?” the companion box said and somehow smiled, then added, “oh…duck! Now!”
A low-flying mountain careened around a bend out of nowhere. Lee turned to see what was coming at him, but moved too late. The low flying mountain swiped right through half of Lee’s body.
He was slightly appalled that his vision of himself had been altered in any way, manner or form. He felt more than slightly violated. But he voiced none of this to anyone other than himself. Instead, he stood there, duct taped at the ankles and all, and mustered up the most pleasant smile he could manage. He thought he was going to hurl.
“Your aura looks odd, friend. You feeling okay?,” Big Box said, almost tenderly. Lee shook his head in tandem with his trembling body. The head shake indicated a “yes”; the body tremors indicated a “maybe not.”
“Oh friend…you ain’t seen nothing yet. Let’s go see about the housekeeping fix for you. I’m starting to want to help you. I don’t know if it’s pity for your predicament, or if you’re giving me the creeps.”
“yeah…” The companion box shuddered.
This was no yellow brick road. This was no lion, or tin man, or scarecrow. No Dorothy or toto. This was an alt and two cartons, one big and one small. Lee supposed they nestled together. Lee wasn’t sure why he envisioned the boxes nestling together, or what he envisioned they might say to each other when they nestled together. He suddenly felt like he was intruding and wrestled his thoughts back to their journey.
It was all of a hop, skip, and a jump away before they entered (Lee hopped, his ankles still bound with duct tape) one of the giant sundaes with a cherry on top. The cherry turned out to be a dominatrix. She rolled down the whip cream, along the long slope of the banana, and burst out like a projectile nearly landing on Lee’s feet. She may be a cherry and only ankle high, but she was an explosive one. And she cracked her stem wickedly at Lee’s shins. The cartons chuckled quietly before pressing themselves nearly flat against a mound of ice cream when Cherry, we’ll call her, stiffened her stem in their direction.
Lee’s insidse just rolled and coiled and nestled unto themselves. He had no idea how he had arrived at such a Walt Disney type LSD-ish inspired place of imagination and worse yet, he had absolutely no idea how to get himself out of it. All that he knew was he needed some kind of fix for the housecleaning problem, and somewhere along the way had found himself bound with duct tape around the ankles, had progressed from wisecracking cardboard boxes to a stemcracking dominatrix cherry inside a giant hot fudge sundae. Did what he was experiencing now have anything at all to do with the campaign to legalize maryjane? Or was the crux of the matter the very fact that Lee’s imagination had been sterilized so completely through and through that even on the Chaos Grid he couldn’t find a way to be creative enough to make sense of it all.
“But that’s precisely why it’s the Chaos Grid,” the Cherry snapped, and lashed back and forth at his ankles.
“Please, I beg you, give me the housecleaning fix, please. Just give it to me. Whatever it is. Whatever the cost.”
She spun around like a cyclone, a blur of cherry and stem thrashing out, until she finally popped out of the spin in the form of a fairy, body and all. With a whip, thigh high boots, an excruciatingly tight looking leather corset, fairy dust wings, blood red lips, severely pulled back sleek black hair. With a cherry on top. A dominatrix fairy cherry.
“Do I look like a fairy godmother to you?”
His eyebrows hiked themselves up into an “I don’t know what to make of this” kind of surprise.
“Well…” he paused, fascinating by the entirely implausible. “……..yes……”
And with that Fairy Cherry waved her fairy dust wand, snarled something in a menacing tone while she licked her blood red lips as her eyes danced up and down along his specimen. Big box and little box flattened themselves even more deeply into the ice cream wall, slowly slinking themselves out of the sundae. At last, she stopped snarling and frothing and stared at Lee as if impatiently waiting for him to speak.
“Here,” she said at last and handed him a dustwand.
He shook his head. “That’s it? I came down here…for that?”
“It has a retractable and extending arm.”
“Yippee!” Lee circled his finger in the air.
She smiled briefly. She rather liked sass. She was an aspiring mentor as well as a dominatrix, after all. But really sweet as can be on the inside. She planted a syrupy kiss on his lips.
“You can thank me later.”
She waved her arms in an elaborate fashion, fairy dust clouding the air so thick that eventually all he saw were glistening sparkles everywhere as if they were in the middle of a particle whiteout until after a while his vision could penetrate the air. When Lee looked around, he realized he was back in the Steppford Lives, off of the Chaos Grid, and in the Greatest Room of Bradlee’s mcmansion, where Bradlee stood — the picture of meticulously groomed and refined discontent — staring at the dust cloud that surrounded the masterwork on his ceiling. Snapping out of his mind-over-matter exercise, he eventually directed his gaze and attention from the dust web and surveyed Lee.
“Is that a fashion statement?” He glanced at Lee’s ankles. “Please remove the duct tape. Subtlely but quickly if you don’t mind. I don’t suppose you could have ended your touring below any sooner, could you have? We’re cutting this extremely close. The guests are about to file in any moment now. Did you get anything to help with this?” Bradlee gestured toward the mural.
Lee produced the wand. Bradlee nearly glared.
“It has a retractable arm.”
Bradlee’s eyes nearly blew out of his skull.
“And an extendable one too.” Lee twitched a bit when he realized he was echoing the Dominatrix Fairy Cherry.
“Here.” He handed the wand over. Bradlee examined it incoherently while Lee folded the duct tape into itself until it was the tiniest of squares, and put it in his pocket out of sight.
Until of course it came out again.
Bradlee held the dust wand up and pointed it toward the ceiling, in the direction of the mural which was a good 25 to 30 feet up. He extended the arm of the instrument and watched, thoroughly unimpressed (when actually he should have been panicking), as the dust wand lenghtened itself until finally at last its cleaning mechanism was within reach of the giant sprawling web of dust and disorder that surrounded the mural.
With new found respect and appreciation for the humble instrument, he swooshed the dust wand. And with each pass, he saw the mural emerge until eventually — in no time at all — it was once again so strikingly clear and clean. But somehow even more. It was…in fact…as if the painting had achieved a deeper level of dimension. Bradlee stared in amazement.
“This is amazing,” he said while he stared.
“Hmmm…” Lee mumbled and just stared.
The apes were somehow growing on the ceiling; the femur’s they weilded in their hands like clubs thickening. Lee could have sworn he saw the tip of a femur swirl. He could have sworn he saw a glint in one of the Big Ape’s eyes…a glint that seemed to suggest life and presence. And it was in that moment, that Lee realized his main was backing slowly away from the center of the Greatest Room. Could it have been the arrival of the blue-eyes cross coded with blonde-hairs that caused Bradlee to move for an exit? Or the brown-eyes cross coded with the streaked auburn hairs? Or any combination of the ensuring torrent of Steppford Life meticulously and orderly crafted persons who arrived at the mcmansion at the very point in time when Bradlee backed somehow nearly wobbly away from the ever-expanding multi dimensional now mural…a mural that in fact started to literally bang on things on the ceiling against the walls on the floor across the halls on the furniture on the meticulously orderliness of everything within their big brawny boundaryless hairy messy ape arms reach?
Lee stood transfixed, as if his ankles had been duct taped together. He stared as Chaos ensued and the birth of the grid reasserted itself into the artificial structure of the Steppford Life. Somewhere, somehow along the way, a dominatrix fairy who wore a cherry on the top of her severely slicked back hair sidled up to Lee who remained immobilized while the Chaos Grid somehow some way extended its long and historied reach up into the Steppford Life, unleashing its disorder and creation eveywhere all around him. It was, indeed, quite the life he had not yet lived…
At last, Cherry Fairy grinned a mischevious grin. “You can thank me now.”
Nanowrimo10 total word count: 3,204. Total wordcount to date: 10,170 of 50,000 (not including this notation)