The darkness was complete when I closed the door behind me. I was beyond the edge of the world for the first time ever. Of course it was dark there.
Then off to my left a utility lamp flickered on over another door. A speaker there crackled to life.
“Mayor Burbank,” said the same nowhere Voice from before.
My spirit rose which embarrassed me. I couldn’t let myself think of this as a friend just because I felt completely alone. This was a pest. At least until I was ready.
I gave my eyes time to adjust from the daylight to the dimmer lamp light, but they just didn’t. There was nothing but the lamp and the door. Nothing at all. No walls, no size. It was an impossible place.
Any sufficiently advanced technology… For a moment I worried that there might be obscenely magical technology in the world beyond Seahaven Island.
But these thoughts were just my map. The blackness of the room was more perfect than my eyes could distinguish. This place was probably real; it was just invisible.
“You’re lost, Truman.”
I looked down at myself. The light touched my shoes, my clothes, the pen in my shirt pocket. I reached out in front of me and saw my hand touch a flat nothing. But it felt cool and softly smooth. Nothing out of the ordinary. I decided it was just very black paint.
This was an ordinary hallway leading from one door to another.
“It’s all for you, Truman.” The Voice could go on for all I cared. I didn’t become the mayor by answering people when they demanded it.
Still, he did have my attention. It was all for me? Who else would it be for? My neighbors back on Seahaven Island? All fakers. And what did they get out of it? Maybe it was all for me.
“You are our shining star. Our hopes and dreams.” A shining star? I’d been treated like a brilliant fool.
I approached the door.
If he was lying, what was the opposite of a shining star? Was I really a dull meteor? Too literal. This was a metaphor about being special.
“What are you looking for, Truman? Why did you leave your home?”
I set my hand on the door handle and paused.
Stars are special and singular. Was the lie that I was not special or that I was not singular? Were there others? If there were we were all being taken for fools.
“Listen closely, Truman. It’s very important that you stay put. We’re sending a car to help you. Then we’ll explain everything.”
I let my hypothesis launch into orbit around my head: I Am Not The Only One. It was vanishingly small. The only hypothesis I had.
Now it was time to hide. And I thought that I could, because the Voice was sending a car and telling me that I should stay put.
If he needed me to stay put, that likely meant They couldn’t track me past the edge of the world. So instead They wanted to bait my curiosity. Promise me what I couldn’t resist. “We’ll explain…” But They didn’t know how much I could resist.
I twisted the handle. The door opened to an empty corridor as wide as Main Street and twice as high. All metal and concrete, brightly lit. Ahead I could see a few hundred yards and then the curve of the corridor blocked my view. Back the other way the same thing, with no hiding place in sight.
This might be harder than I thought. Keep looking, Truman.
The wall on my left had a map. “You are here.” I could feel time running out, but this was valuable information. It showed that the corridor was a huge circle surrounding the familiar territory of Seahaven Island. I was in the south.
Due west of the city was an opening that connected the corridor to the only road and bridge onto Seahaven Island. Of course.
The west side was busy with labels for things like Main Offices and Food Services near the road opening, whereas the entire east side was just a series of large empty storage facilities – empty on the map, but surely more interesting in the territory.
Since I guessed that my pursuers would come from the busy area, I started to run east toward the nearest storage facility. Then I stopped short. What was I doing?
I went back and ripped the map off the wall. I would grok it later.
As I headed east again, I looked for anything in my vicinity to give me ideas. I ran past a row of old clothes dryers set by the wall on pallets. They were no help. They weren’t connected, but even if they had been, I didn’t know the secret code to get them to open up to the basement level.
“Truman, hurry up! You’ll be late for your camping trip.”
“But Mom, can’t I pack just one book?” I protested, 10 years old and wishing I didn’t have to go camping with the Panther Scouts.
“No books, Truman. You need to focus on flinging arrows or tying knots or whatever,” my mother said, straightening the collar on my uniform.
“I don’t need to learn about tying knots. I already got my knot tying badge because Dad taught me every knot in the book last year. The booook…”
“Truman, please. That voice is obnoxious.”
I didn’t want to bring books. This was part of my grand scheme.
In the weeks since Dad had died, I had to find excuses for why I was in my room all the time. Naturally, since I was actually reading a book, I had gone to the library and checked out lots of books. I was in the depths of a distraction campaign. If I could convince Mom I wanted to read textbooks and sci-fi all summer, she would not suspect that I was studying The Secret.
To complete the illusion, I really did read those other books. It took up a lot of my time. I was in the middle of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I was just ten years old, so I ignored the confusing parts.
Mom’s response to all the reading had been, “Truman you’ve been in your room reading too much. I hate it. Reading makes you boring. You need to get outside. I signed you up for the Panther Scouts.”
I took it as evidence that my scheme was working too well.
So now I was headed to the woods on the north side of the island with nine other boys and girls.
In reality, I didn’t want to bring a book on this trip. I had another plan.
All the kids got one map and one compass at the Panther Scouts meeting a week before. And that’s when I had gotten the idea. If I had to be outside in the territory, I was going to make a map for myself.
“Whatever, I don’t care,” said Marlon when I asked him what he wanted to do during the camp out. We were among a jumble of kids standing around the strip mall parking lot where our parents had dropped us off. He sounded like he cared about something. I guessed he was mad at me.
I hadn’t seen Marlon much lately. Most summers we would meet at the end of the block every day and then do whatever we wanted until dinner time. When this summer had started, I had spent my time reading and forgotten about him.
“Alright, Scouts!” Mr. Waldenbooks was the very loud scout master from Pennsylvania. “We’re gonna go out there and have some fun! But we also have to be safe! Safety means!: Get a buddy! Do not leave your buddy! Do not touch the animals! Leave nature how you found it! And follow the map! Everything you want to see is on the map!”
Everybody grabbed their packs and started walking from the parking lot of the L. Ron Hubbard Shoppes, down past the billboard for “Crest® Complete Whitening + Scope”, left at Meryl Scott’s house (since she was one of the kids on this trip, it was really pointless that she met us at the parking lot), past the Morgan & Morgan “For The People” Retention Pond, and into the woods.
“Marlon, what’s wrong?” I asked, rushing to keep up.
“It doesn’t matter, Truman. Just have fun.” We marched over dead leaves in silence for half a moment. Then he said, “I mean why do you care anyway. You’re the shining star around here. I’m just Marlon. I’m basically a sidekick.”
“I don’t know what– I don’t get it,” I said.
“Yeah, you wouldn’t. You know, you read a lot of books for somebody–”
“Scouts!” Mr. Waldenbooks said, “If we are all quiet!, we may be able to see a Florida panther!, our namesake!”
All the kids kept talking, but softly. We kept walking, but Mr. Waldenbooks came back to Marlon and me and said, “Mr. Pastel, I want to talk with you.” Then he walked Marlon to the back of the line and I didn’t hear anything else.
I was thinking about making my map. Oh shoot, I should start right away.
I kept walking as I reached into my pack to get my drawing pad. I was thinking about my plan to chart an area and then move to the next and chart that and put page numbers so they were in order. That’s when I bumped into Meryl and everything fell out of my backpack.
“Truman, look what you did. What are you doing,” she said. It was a scolding, not a question. I felt like a ridiculous goof.
“I just– Sorry, it was my fault,” I said.
“That’s ok, let me help you.” Wow, her attitude just flipped when I agreed with her. We put my things back in my backpack, then she said, “Have you ever thought of changing your hair? You’d look better with different hair.”
“Uh… sorry?” I said. Sorry worked once, and it was all I could think of saying.
“Ha! You’re so funny, Truman,” and she walked away. I was funny?
As I thought about changing my hair, we emerged into a meadow.
“Scouts! Now we see nature in all its beauty! Flat! Florida flat! Everybody spread out and pitch your Coleman® tents!” Mr. Waldenbooks struck a heroic pose for about half a minute before he helped Kurt Panasonic untangle his tent poles.
In the middle of the night I had to pee. My mom had always discouraged me from peeing outside, but Mr. Waldenbooks had designated two zones that were “out of field of vision!,” one for boys and one for girls.
I got lost. I had a flashlight, but everything is different at night. I didn’t bring my map, because I thought I knew what to do. But this tree in particular was not in the right place and it seemed like all the other trees had shuffled around to compensate.
A mind is like a map. It has information. It’s not always accurate, but it’s the best you’ve got and sometimes you can work around the mistakes. That’s if you keep in mind that mistakes exist.
When you’ve just woken up and you have to pee pretty bad, you forget to watch for mistakes. And so they compound.
The map is not the territory. No matter how much you walk in circles and tell yourself the next thing you see will make sense, this belief does not make it so. The map must follow the territory, and your brain needs to do the same thing.
This philosophy was about one step removed from what I needed to be thinking about, and thinking about not thinking about it only got me further from thinking about what to do. Then I heard Kurt talking some distance away. I called out “Hey!”
Nobody answered. But I was sure I heard him from just over there, so I just walked in that direction.
I didn’t find Kurt. I found a clothes dryer sitting in a clearing.
Well, it looked like a clothes dryer. It was a large metal box, the right size, and it had knobs on top. It was set on top of a concrete pad.
I was truly lost. I sat on the edge of the concrete pad and stared into the dark.
Before he died, my dad told me to read The Sequences, and made me promise not to talk about it. But I made one other promise – to remember “The map is not the territory.” Why was that important? It was in the book. I would have gotten to it. Why did he single out that one?
A flashlight shone in my face and said, “Um… What are you doing in the girls’ zone?” It was Meryl.
“What? Oh jeez. Is that where I am?” I stood up real fast and froze in place.
“Well. Did you go already or do you need a minute?” Meryl lowered her flashlight and smirked at me. She came to stand by the concrete pad.
“I couldn’t, uh, find the urinal.” She laughed at that so I kept going. “Just this weird clothes dryer.”
Her laugh cut off short. “That’s not a dryer.”
“Yeah, I know. I mean, it doesn’t even have a door on–”
“It’s an electric box. Like from the electric company,” she said quickly.
“I don’t know. That would make this a bad place to pee. And it’s not marked at all. Don’t they usually put the name of Florida Gas & Electric on that kind of stuff?” I looked around all sides of it.
“Oh, look at Truman who knows all about… city, uh, services and stuff.” She scowled.
I liked it better when she was laughing.
“I’ll just be going.” And I backed into a bush, fell down, and got tangled.
Now Meryl giggled. “I like you, Truman.”
I got up and walked down the path Meryl had come in on. I was smiling all the way to the boys’ zone. The boys’ zone, which did not have a big unlabeled box.
“Oh, I took them all back to the library,” Mom said.
I never made my map in the end. I was rattled from my twenty minutes lost in the woods, and so the next morning I just made sure to stay with the group and do whatever they did until we all went home. And since I already had the same map everyone else had, I marked down everything I saw. Starting with the restroom zones and the weird box, and even the place where we saw a Florida panther before lunch time.
When I got home, I was shocked to discover my room was clean. It was supposed to be covered in stacks of books. But the worst part was that The Sequences was gone.
“What?!? Mom, they weren’t all library books!” Why was she doing this to me?!?
Mom crossed her arms, then waved a hand at the room. “Oh, well I didn’t recognize any of them. I thought they were all from the…” But I didn’t hear any more. I was already on my bike outside and then I was racing to the library.
I wasn’t waiting. I wasn’t going to stop for anything. Even though the wind and tears were stinging eyes. What an awful woman my mother was. Now was the time to act.
But as I turned the corner at Whirlpool Avenue, I saw the whole street was blocked by a delivery truck with steam pouring from its engine. I couldn’t even see through the cloud, so I biked back out, past a row of immaculate lawns, and down to Hershey Avenue.
I started to think Mom did it on purpose. She had probably read the book and figured out The Secret and sent me away so she could get rid of it. Or burn it up.
When I reached Hershey Avenue I saw Mrs. Nike with her little dog Jordan. She had fallen in the grass somehow and Officer Groupon was taking her statement. Her nameless junior officer partner was stopping cars in the street and probably asking if anyone saw anything. The chance of getting stopped was too much for me, so I turned around again.
The next street was Gulf Boulevard, the road that runs beside the Gulf of Mexico. I could hear the seagulls arguing. I didn’t want to be any closer to the ocean. Not now especially. I turned around and went two blocks in the wrong direction. I was crying again, and I was desperate.
But I wasn’t going to stop for anything. My mother couldn’t get between me and the last thing Dad ever gave me.
I arrived and let my bike crash in the grass as I raced up the library steps. The doors were locked. What? The hours of operation showed they were supposed to be open on Tuesday afternoons. What the heck was going on? I knocked and knocked, but no one came to the door.
I sat on the steps and put my face in my hands, crying fresh tears. Passing cars blew my hair around. It was hopeless. There was nothing to do. It was all lost forever. I was a failure and the last connection I had to my dad was gone forever. I only had to feel bad for myself. Grim resignation overtook me. There was nothing else. There was no future.
After a time I raised my head and looked around. The big library clock stood between the sidewalk and the street. It was 3:42 PM and 73°F/22°C. What could I do? What would a rationalist do?
A rationalist wouldn’t give up. The map of the world that I kept in my head had no solutions. But the real world had more things.
The real world had a clock.
I realized what a rationalist would do. I closed my eyes, intent on spending five whole minutes just thinking. When you believe there are no choices, you’re just not thinking hard enough. Or, I guess, long enough.
Wait, how was I supposed to know when five minutes passed? I opened my eyes to peek at the time.
“What are you doing now, Truman?” Meryl was leaning on the clock, arms folded. “I knew you were a nerd, but I didn’t know you prayed at the library.”
“Meryl!” I stood up. “I was, uh… I need a book.”
“Seems like the right place, Tru,” she gave me a look like I was an idiot.
“But it’s closed.”
“You know… I heard that there are other books on Seahaven Island.” She walked over to me.
“I’m… looking for a specific book. It was my dad’s, and my mom brought it here by accident.” I could feel my face getting hot because I was sure she would ask the name of the book. I hoped Meryl couldn’t tell I was blushing.
“Then we need to get in there, Truman. Quit turning red and think of something!” She clapped her hands twice at me.
“Ok!” I was ready to panic.
“Let’s break in the back door!” I blurted.
“Truman! Juvenile delinquency? I like it. Let’s go.” She grabbed my hand, and we ran through the grass to the back of the Library.
The back was a parking lot for the librarians. It was just a square of asphalt surrounded by buildings and an alley road, with sand and scratchy weeds poking through at the seams. The door was locked, so we knocked and yelled, but no one came. I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to start breaking in a door. I said that to Meryl and sank down on the doorstep, ready to fall apart again.
“But what are those, Truman?” and she pointed.
“Windows! Maybe they’re unlocked. Ah, but they’re too high,” I said.
“Well,” Meryl said, hands on her hips. “Lift me up.”
I wasn’t so sure. It was a moment of truth. Did I really want to start down the path of a criminal? What were the probabilities? I thought about my principles. Mostly I was scared of what my mom would say.
“It’s hot out here, Tru.”
On the other hand, what would Dad have thought? That did it. I interwove my fingers and crouched down. Meryl stepped into my palms. My fingers slipped and Meryl fell on the ground; ten year olds are not made for this.
“Jeez! Shit, that hurts.” I had never heard anyone curse before. I’d only recently seen it in books, and then it was only said by roughneck space soldiers, so I was surprised. She didn’t strike me as a space soldier type. On the other hand, she did like to wisecrack. Maybe she was a space soldier.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, let’s try again.”
“I don’t know if your dad’s book is worth it, Truman.”
“I’m so sorry, please, we have to get it. It’s all I’ve got. God, my stupid mom! Why is she trying to ruin my life?!?” Tears were welling up again. Hopelessness was washing over me, and it felt like losing my dad again.
“Just kidding, fella. Hold it together. But don’t drop me again. I’m a proper lady.”
She was holding it together enough for the both of us. And so I took a deep breath and lifted the proper lady space soldier up to the window. Once she got hold, she pulled herself up to sit on the ledge and sat there to lift up the unlocked window. Good luck for once.
“It’s a bathroom,” she said, once her head was all the way in.
“What do you kids think you’re doing?” said a new voice, then it wheezed.
It was Miss Wormwood, the youngest librarian, who was from Arkansas. She looked worn out, like she’d been running in her business skirt.
I said, “Nothing!” as Meryl said, “Hi! Can we use your bathroom?”
Miss Wormwood was leaning on the door, trying to catch her breath.
Meryl scrambled down, and before Miss Wormwood could answer her first question she said, “Hey, where were you when we were knocking on the door?”
“I was in the basement,” Miss Wormwood was starting to recover now. “I had to come when I noticed how adamant you both were. Especially you.” She shot an evil look at Meryl.
Buildings in Florida don’t have basements. Especially on islands. The groundwater level treats the basement as a sort of boat. Buildings can’t take the stress unless the basement is made special.
“Florida doesn’t have basements,” Meryl said. I was worried she would make Miss Wormwood mad and then we’d never get inside. I tried to shoot her a look, but she was busy staring defiantly at the closest authority figure.
“Right. I mean the… the the the. Copy room. That’s what we call– Listen, what do you want, kid?”
“Truman left his book here.” Meryl gestured at me with her thumb.
“Truman, it’s nice to see you again,” Miss Wormwood said genuinely.
“You left a book here?”
“Yes, ma’am. Well, I mean my mom did. She didn’t know it was mine.”
“It’s Discrete Mathematics and Its Applications, right?”
My heart rose and then sank. Shit. I wasn’t supposed to talk about the book, and now they both knew which one it was. “Yes, ma’am,” I muttered.
“Come on in, Truman; I know just where it is.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” We started to walk in as she held open the door.
“Not you,” said Miss Wormwood.
“What?” protested Meryl. “I’m here for the adventure.”
“Well, the adventure is over. And your mother called. She wants to see you right away.” Miss Wormwood shared a momentary stare with Meryl, which seemed to mean something I couldn’t understand. Then she added, “You wouldn’t want her to ground you. I can see you like spending time with your friend Truman.”
Meryl stared defiantly for another moment, but then her expression melted. She said, “It’s ok, Truman. Go in with this grump. We did it!” She hugged me before I could object and walked away down the sandy alley toward her house. Soon she was obscured by a short palm tree, a green dumpster, the next building.
Miss Wormwood smiled sweetly, all the malice gone, and said, “Come on in, Truman.”
I walked into the library. All the lights were on. The only sign that it was closed was that no one else was there.
“Why is the library closed, Miss Wormwood?” I asked.
“I am a little deaf in my left ear; speak a little louder next time,” she said.
I would have repeated myself, but we reached the copy room – what she had called the basement. I couldn’t see any resemblance to a basement.
It had two machines and a table. At first I didn’t notice my book on the table.
“I’ve seen that machine before,” I gawked. “In the woods, last night.”
Miss Wormwood started to look worn out again. “I’m sure you didn’t. That’s a very expensive copy machine. No one would put one out in the woods.”
“Well, it’s a little different. It opens at the top. But it’s mostly the same. It’s the same size. It has the same knobs and buttons on the control panel. Like a dryer,” I said.
“Truman, stop touching that. It’s for librarian use only. Look, here’s your book.”
The sight of The Sequences put all thoughts of dryers and copy machines and unmarked electrical equipment out of my head. I took it and held it tightly.
“Alright, you’ve got your book. I’m sure you won’t have any more trouble,” said Miss Wormwood as she shuffled through papers on the table.
“What do you mean?” I asked. What more trouble was possible?
Miss Wormwood turned to me and sighed. She put down her freshly-stacked papers and inclined her head to better look me in the eyes. “Truman. I like you. Your mother likes you. Everyone in town likes you very much. Nobody wants you to be upset. If it’s a book that makes you happy, then your mother doesn’t want to take that away from you. We’re all pulling for you, Truman.”
I believed her. How did she know I was mad at my mother? Then I asked, “Did you read it?”
She hesitated and then straightened up and said, “No, of course not. It’s your personal property.”
I thanked Miss Wormwood and left again through the back door.
“Hey, Truman.” Marlon was sitting on his bike in the library’s back parking lot.
“Marlon. What are you doing here?” Marlon hadn’t talked to me at all during the camp out. And I didn’t bother him either.
“Your mom told me you were here. She said you needed your bookbag.” He was wearing it, so he took it off and held it out for me. We were still friends.
“Oh. Yeah, I guess I do.” I put The Sequences in it and slipped it over my shoulder.
We walked around to the front of the library to get my bike.
“Sorry I got upset at the camp out. You know, it was the first time I’ve seen you this summer.”
“Yeah, I know. Is that what made you mad?” I asked.
“Yeah, man. I just want us to…” but he didn’t finish his thought. “And my mom said I got used to being alone and forgot how to behave myself when people are watching.”
I smiled. “It’s ok. Hey, do you wanna go to the playground?”
Marlon smiled too. “You know it, man.”
We raced bikes like we always used to before my dad died.
I was in the library again the next day when Meryl jumped out at me. “Ha! I knew I’d find you here,” she said much too loudly.
I yelped – also too loudly – and I glanced over to see if Miss Wormwood would give me an evil look. She hadn’t noticed. I picked up the books I had dropped: My Teacher Is An Alien by Bruce Coville; Secrets of Lock Picking by Steven Hampton; and Everything You Need To Know About the Union for Climate Action by Richard N. L. Andrews. I had to replenish my supply.
“Meryl, I’ve never seen you actually inside the library,” I said.
“I like to try new things. Besides after I saw the bathroom through the window, how could I resist seeing the rest of this place.”
That’s when Miss Wormwood noticed us. “If you like bathroom humor, you should check out Shakespeare.”
“Hi, Miss Wormwood,” I said. Then I pulled Meryl over to the furthest row of shelves. “Hey, what happened to you? Why did your mom call you home yesterday? How did she know to call the library?”
Meryl’s good mood dropped away. She sighed. “Uh, my mom always knows where I am. Like she has eyes everywhere.” Then she grimaced. “Don’t listen to me, I’m stupid.”
A minor genius would have stopped right there and asked why it was stupid to use a typical expression in its proper manner. Sherlock Holmes could have put it together at once, that “eyes everywhere” was too accurate, and that’s why she excused the expression.
I was just glad to talk to her. So, as she requested, I didn’t listen to her unintentional clue. Instead, I followed through.
“Did you get in trouble?”
“I… The… My mom likes you… you could say. And after a while she decided it’s a good idea for me to keep hanging out with you. I, um… I just have to stop being… uh, rude to people like Miss Wormwood. And watch what I say.”
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I said, ‘Ok, Mom.’”
“No, I mean… nevermind.” I had been trying to ask why her mother told her to watch what she said. To who? Why?
Now I think that she knew just what I meant. She had almost been swept away from Seahaven Island like so many other people. She had to play Their game. So she couldn’t tell me what she wasn’t allowed to say. I was who she couldn’t tell about things like basements and strange boxes in the woods and the real reason Miss Wormwood looked like she had run a hundred yards and climbed a flight of stairs that day.
Marlon arrived just then. “Hey, Truman, ready to go ride bikes?”
I looked over at Meryl.
I can’t hold it against her that she played Their game. After all, if she had not pushed me to think of breaking into the library, They might never have given my book back.
“I’m coming too,” she said, and suddenly we were a gang.
Marlon and Meryl and I had a great summer after that. I came out of my room every day. I only read when I went home. I threw my attention into our time together, like Valentine Michael Smith would have. I didn’t finish Stranger in a Strange Land until years later. The second half gets weird. But I like that the friendships stay strong.
Those were the kinds of friendships I believed in that summer. But they don’t happen on Seahaven Island. That was my last summer with Marlon and Meryl.
1. The Discrete Conspiracy
Truman Burbank doesn't know he lives in a TV show. Can his father's secret book set him free?
2. Making Beliefs Pay Rent
A murder in town exposes a crack in 18 year-old Truman's world. Can he use what he has learned to find the killer?
3. The Map is Not The Territory
10 year-old Truman’s mother gets rid of his book. Can he save the last link he has to his father?
4. Inferential Distances
21-year-old Truman is sick of the chaos. But does that justify a life of crime?
5. Loss Aversion
11-year-old Truman seeks the meaning of his father’s last words. Will his obsession ruin his friendships?
6. Politics Is The Mind-Killer
21-year-old Truman takes his grievances to the mayor. Can he fight City Hall?
7. Rationalists Should Win
15-year-old Truman attempts to escape Seahaven Island for the first time. What will he learn from this failure?