I hauled the three boxes over to my forklift so I could read the encyclopedia and still be ready to make my escape.
I was The Truman of The Truman Show, whatever that was specifically.
When I didn’t find my name in the 2020 World Book Encyclopedia, I had taken it as good news. I was only a prisoner of Seahaven Island and soon I would escape. When I found The Truman Show listed in the index, my opinion flipped. I was the focus of a nationwide conspiracy with members including everyone who ever read the encyclopedia. I felt like I had hit a wall.
But that only lasted a moment before I thought of something else. If I was famous, maybe someone wanted to help me, but they just couldn’t get to me.
Once I escaped in a dramatic fake death scene, how could I find these benefactors if they existed? I had to sit down and study the 21st century. But I also had to be ready at my forklift. And now I also realized I might have to hide in the woods for a while, and I might need supplies.
Eager as I was to start reading, I did another search of the warehouse. I didn’t spot anything new, so I just looped some rope over my shoulder. Nothing else was worth the extra weight. Mostly I wished there was food.
Disappointed, I returned to my forklift and opened the boxes to find Volume T so I could understand just what kind of show was named after me.
Of course it was gone. Volume 17 S-Sn had Seahaven Island, Florida. Volume 19 T had The Truman Show. And They hid them both. But then why wouldn’t They hide the whole set?
Wait. I noticed that I was confused. Under normal circumstances this warehouse was already a hiding place. Why hide some of the books in some other place? I had to be wrong about something.
I scanned the spines of the volumes I had. Volume 20 U-V was also missing. I tried to think of anything important that started with U or V, but I came up blank.
With no other leads, I picked up the Reference Index again. It listed 22 references to Truman Show, The: Volume 2, page 300; Volume 3, page 204; Volume 4, page 1070; Volume 6, page 265; Volume 7, page 265; Volume 8, page 224; Volume 8, page 255; Volume 8, page 330; Volume 10, page 95; Volume 12, page 280; Volume 13, page 235; Volume 14, page 121; Volume 14, page 289; Volume 15, page 193; Volume 15, page 568; Volume 15, page 810; Volume 17, page 222; Volume 17, page 262; Volume 19, page 473; Volume 20, page 27; Volume 21, page 21; Volume 21, page 605.
There were no titles, so I started at the beginning.
I turned to page 300 of Volume 2, the B’s, and searched down the page for my name. I found it in the entry for Bolt, a 2008 Disney film I had never heard of.
“Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that ‘[Bolt] also has an intriguing plot along the lines of: What if the Truman Show starred a dog? It’s a story that’ll touch your heart and remind you just how lucky Bolt and Truman are.’”
Ha! Lucky. If I needed confirmation that the world was against me, here it was. I used my broken pen to underline the passage in case I needed to come back later. I wanted to keep reading, but I estimated that there was little value in a comparison of my life and that of a cartoon dog. If I had time I would come back to this later.
The next entry was Carbon Concrete.
“Carbon concrete, commonly called Ugly Betty from its Russian name Uglerodnyy Beton, is a building material combining carbon and concrete. The method of combining these materials is only known within the Soviet Union where it was developed. The only place Ugly Betty exists outside of the USSR is in the dome structure that protects Seahaven Island, Florida, the filming location of The Truman Show.
“The carbon structure of Ugly Betty gives it a strength which has been compared to diamond. Its true strength has not been tested in the US or reported in any publication. Russia takes measures to ensure the other countries and corporations involved with The Truman Show cannot examine it: first by covering the Ugly Betty in standard concrete, and second by keeping an oversight team in place at all times. This measure is ordinary, as the town also hosts oversight teams from the other governments that contributed secret technologies to the Florida Dome project.”
Nestled next to the text was a photo of an impossibly large orange dome with a leaf painted on top and the stylized text “Seahaven Island, A Florida Dome City”.
I feverishly underlined these paragraphs. I had so many new questions, but one thing finally fell into place for me. The Florida Dome was the name of the sky I grew up under.
And my father had once called it the firmament.
Marlon held up the ringing phone receiver to both our ears so I could hear it too.
Someone answered, “Hello?”
“Is your refrigerator running?” Marlon asked.
“Who is this?” said the voice.
“Well you better go catch it!” Marlon howled with laughter and slammed down the phone. We fell all over ourselves.
Marlon and I had discovered prank phone calling. We were eleven, so of course we had heard of it, but we’d finally gotten up the nerve to try it while we sat waiting in Marlon’s living room.
Next it was my turn again.
I dialed a random number. All the phone numbers on Seahaven Island start with 555, so I just had to make up four more digits after that.
The ringtone sounded and I held up the olive green receiver between our ears.
“Hello, Ikea residence, Nancy speaking.”
I got nervous for a second and glanced at Marlon. We both knew Nancy Ikea. We hardly ever talked to her, but she was in our class at school. Her family was from Ohio, and she was the prettiest girl in the fifth grade. I gulped and then just blurted out the words I had planned on.
“Is Amanda Huggenkiss there?”
Marlon covered his mouth to stop from giggling and I almost cracked up. Soft static filled the quiet phone line as my hapless victim tried to puzzle out my game.
Then she said, “Yes, Truman Burbank, there’s a man to hug and kiss here. But he says he’s joining the Navy in the morning, so your mom had better hurry over right away.”
My eyes went wide and I hung up the phone. Marlon and I just looked at each other for a second. Then he burst out laughing and so did I.
Marlon’s mom called out from the kitchen, “What are you boys doing in there? Don’t mess up your church clothes.”
We were both dressed nice with bow ties and suspenders because it was Easter Sunday. Our moms were preparing things for the big Easter potluck. Or rather, Marlon’s mom was preparing things and my mom was probably judging it all like she was the boss. She was the boss at her job and her mannerisms weren’t an act. She just was that way.
“We’re not doing anything,” Marlon called out, but he was looking me in the eyes and there was mischief in his voice.
“We’ll be leaving in a minute, so go use the bathroom,” she called back.
“Ok, Mom,” Marlon sounded annoyed, because we weren’t little anymore. But moms never learn.
“Don’t laugh.” Meryl was smoothing out some wrinkles in her yellow Easter dress when she met us in front of the church. We laughed anyway. Meryl never wore dresses. And she even had a purse.
We were carried along the sidewalk by a throng of church goers. Someone pushed fliers into our hands that said “Church of the Sacrificial Son” as we went through the doors. As far as I knew this was how it always was, because I only went to the church twice a year unless I counted weddings. The smell of someone’s perfume mixed in the air with the wood polish of the pews and the light through the stained glass windows. These things piqued my senses, like everything was new even though it really wasn’t; it was just out of the ordinary.
That was the state I was in when I saw her, Nancy Ikea, wearing a flowery white dress and curls in her dark hair. My thoughts drifted from the silly prank phone call to her face. There was something about her eyebrows. The textures they held from the morning sun felt somehow more real than that of other eyebrows.
She wasn’t looking my way, so she didn’t see Meryl and Marlon bump into my back at that moment.
“Truman, what are you doing?” Marlon quizzed me. We were filing into the pew behind Nancy’s family and now she turned around. I looked away quickly.
When we had our seats, Meryl leaned in close, “Were you looking at Nancy?”
I shushed her.
“Do you like her?” Marlon whispered. If I had just been there with one of them, I might have been able to ignore it. But the pair of them meant I was not going to get out of this without some kind of follow through. Unfortunately, I had not yet learned to goof and agree.
“So what if I do? Let’s talk about something else” I whispered.
“Oh my god,” Meryl said, making excited little fists. “I’m going to find out if she likes you.”
Our whispers must have made a racket because someone shushed us.
I looked at the man behind us, “Sorry Mr. Julius, we’ll be quiet.”
When I turned back, Meryl’s look was disgusted. “Why do you always have to be so agreeable, Truman?” she whispered.
Marlon chimed in, “Yeah, you should have told him to get out of town. The pastor hasn’t even started talking yet.”
This wasn’t the first time Meryl had complained that I was agreeable. I thought it was an effective way to defuse a situation. She thought it was boring or lazy or something.
I would have pushed back, and it probably would have become another ironic argument. But at that moment, Mr. Delta from Germany sat down to play the organ, signaling that the pastor was about to take the stage.
Pastor Father Utmost led us all in a short ritual greeting and started in on a sermon extolling the virtues of small town life. It was just another twist on the same sermon he gave every Easter. On Christmas it was always about how the true spirit of family is in the neighbors around us. He was really good at making ordinary things sound poetic. His droning lulled me into a comfortable mindlessness. The soft swing of his words, up and down, said he was simply right. Whenever I noticed that I had already forgotten what he said a moment before, he had another word to bring me back into the mystery of his truth.
Somewhere in all this state-dependent learning, my thoughts drifted to my dad’s memorial service, which took place in this same room almost a year before. I couldn’t remember anything the pastor had said that day either. I barely remembered the faces that had offered me condolences in a continuous stream. Solid ghosts in the dim light of noon, when the sun can’t stream directly through the stained glass windows.
Something in the now brought me back to reality.
The pastor had been saying, “That’s why we take sanctuary here. In this room. On this block. In this town. The valley of the shadow of death cannot reach us here. We are safe, and our happiness is each other…”
The valley of the shadow of death. That’s the last thing I ever heard my dad say. But only because his next words were drowned out by lightning and terror.
I knew that was from the Bible. Thinking about his useless memorial service had put me in a sentimental mood. I suddenly felt like I owed it to my dad to figure out the rest of his words.
The pew in front of me held Bibles and hymnals in a special pocket for that purpose. I pulled out the Bible. Its cover was faux black leather and its onion skin pages were edged in red.
But where to look? I couldn’t remember ever opening a Bible before. I flipped through the pages. They had chapter headings and names and tiny little numbers by each sentence. I looked for an index in the back. Rats. Nothing.
I started to ask Marlon if he had ever heard the phrase before. The organ started up again and everyone had to stand to sing. “What?” he shout-whispered over the noise of Amazing Grace, but I hadn’t actually finished the question yet.
“Nevermind,” I said. He wouldn’t know anyway. Neither of my friends knew anything about the Bible or any other book.
I saw my mom lean forward to talk to Nancy’s mom, but I couldn’t hear what they said.
At the potluck lunch after the service, Meryl said she had drunk too much iced tea and left for the bathroom. I guessed it was for the same reason that I saw my mom and Nancy both get up from their lunch tables and head towards the bathroom too.
Marlon started to say something to me, but I spotted the pastor going up to the potluck table for a second helping. That was my chance, so I told Marlon, “Hold that thought,” and I went up too.
“Pastor Father Utmost,” I prompted. He turned his round face to me and put on a big fake smile.
“Truman! It was so nice to see you and your mother out there today. And your two friends. You know, you three should come by the church more often.”
“Um, yes I guess so. You know–”
“Oh good, I wanted to tell you that there’s a tween youth group every Sunday. You can pop on by tonight. You don’t have to dress up fancy for it.”
“So I’ll see you at 7?” he expected at me.
“Yeah, sure, we’ll be there.” Then before he could cut me off again, “What’s that thing you said about ‘the valley of the shadow of death’?” I had never mentioned those words to anyone before.
His smile dropped away and he glanced at the bathroom. I thought he was gonna be sick.
“Oh, Truman, I have to go talk to someone. I’ll uh, I’ll see you at 7.”
As he rushed away, Meryl came up to me.
“Truman, I just saw Nancy in the bathroom, and I asked her if she has a boyfriend.”
“What? My mom was in there!”
“Well I didn’t mention you, of course. Nancy said she doesn’t have a boyfriend. So I figure it’s your move. Do you want me to bring her a note?” Meryl looked excited.
I heard my mom’s voice from across the room. She was making angry sounds at Pastor Utmost, but I couldn’t hear what she said.
“Truman,” Meryl grabbed my attention. “What is your note gonna say?”
“What? I dunno,” I said. I didn’t ask for this.
Marlon came up and said, “Hey what’s going on?”
“Truman’s gonna write a note to Nancy to ask her out,” Meryl said.
“You are? Way to go, Tru,” said Marlon.
“I… I guess so,” I shrugged nervously.
I sat down at our table. Someone had left a church flier among the dirty plates. I turned it over to the blank side. Meryl handed me a pen with the church’s logo on it.
“I don’t know what to say.” I looked up at the two faces hovering over me.
“Just tell her to meet you at the movie theater,” Marlon said.
“No, you need to make it a question. Make it seem mysterious,” said Meryl.
“What, like ‘Do you want to go to a movie?’” I asked.
“No, more like ‘Do you like movies?’” said Meryl. I didn’t think that sounded very mysterious.
“No, that sounds like a scary movie I saw one time,” Marlon said, leaning over me.
“Well, what makes you think she’s seen that movie?” said Meryl, with her hands on her hips.
“Stop, I’ll just write ‘Do you like me?’” I said.
Marlon clapped me on the back. “I love it. Go straight for it, Truman.”
“It’s not very mysterious, but it’s good,” said Meryl. “Now sign it and add two boxes that say Yes and No.”
I did that and folded it up like an origami football. Then I took a deep breath and let Meryl carry it over to Nancy.
I didn’t want to watch what happened. Then Pastor Utmost walked by and faked a smile again. “See you at 7, boys.”
“What’s that about?” Marlon looked at me skeptically.
“Um. Pastor Father Utmost made me say that we’ll all go to the youth group tonight,” I confessed.
“What? Ah, that’s lame.”
“Don’t say lame. It’s mean.” Meryl was back. “What’s going on?”
“Truman told Pastor Gut Most that we’d all go to the church youth group tonight.”
“Shit, Truman. Do you always have to be so agreeable?” Meryl protested and dropped my note on the table in front of me.
“What did she say?” I sat motionless.
“Well open it and find out, ya big chicken,” Meryl said.
So I opened it. Underneath my two boxes, Nancy had added another box and checked it. It said…
“Maybe?” I crinkled up my eyebrows.
“That means yes,” Marlon said.
“No, it means ‘No, for now’,” said Meryl.
“When it’s for a date, she could just say no. She didn’t. Maybe means yes,” Marlon said. He was now talking over my head to Meryl.
“But he didn’t ask for a date, he asked if she likes him. She’s saying she doesn’t like him yet,” Meryl responded in kind.
“But what do I do?” I pleaded.
Marlon and Meryl looked at me, then back at each other.
“You’ve got to talk to her,” Meryl said.
“Yeah, that’s all you can do,” said Marlon.
“And say what?”
“Invite her somewhere,” Meryl said.
“And you better hurry,” said Marlon. “She’s about to leave.”
I looked over. Nancy was standing up from her table to take her lunch plate to the trash can. Her parents were picking up their things from the table, too.
“Go now, Truman.” Meryl was pulling me out of my seat. Marlon gave me a little push.
I took a step, but I swiveled around again. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“What? You have to!” said Meryl.
“Why not?” Marlon said.
“Look, this is a big risk. If I blow it, that’s it, she’ll think I’m stupid and there won’t be another chance,” I pleaded. “I should go study how to do it so I can maximize my chances.” I bit my lip because talking about maximizing chances came close to exposing The Secret of Bayesian Rationality. I wasn’t supposed to ever mention what I learned from The Sequences.
“Truman,” Meryl put her hand on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes. “You’re blowing it now.”
They both spun me around and the next thing I knew I was walking toward Nancy Ikea.
“Hi, Nancy,” I said.
“Hi, Truman,” she said. She was still holding her dirty plate.
“That was pretty funny what you said on the phone.”
“Oh, I…” She laughed cutely. “Somebody told me to say that one time.”
“Oh, haha,” I laughed stupidly.
She started to look at her plate and then the trash can. I was losing her. Quick, Truman, say something! What? Anything! Just agree with what she said.
Her face screwed up. “What is?”
“When you listened to the person who told you to say the thing about Amanda Huggenkiss.” Was I blushing yet? I could feel it coming.
“Oh.” Her face told me nothing. Whatever, just move on. Invite her somewhere.
“Do you want to go somewhere?”
“I’m leaving right now,” she said.
“Right, of course,” I rushed to say. “I mean, later on?”
“Ok, sure.” She tilted her head just so. “Where?”
That was a really good question. “Um…” I looked around. “I’m coming back here tonight. Do you want to meet me?”
“The church? Uh, ok, sure. I’ll meet you outside,” she said. And she threw away her styrofoam plate and waved goodbye. “See you later, Truman.”
When I turned around Meryl and Marlon were shaking their heads.
“You asked her on a date to church?!”
“Truman, are you…,” my mom started to say. She stopped.
After a full day of egg hunts and gorging on chocolate Mom was driving me to the church in her new 2010 Lincoln MKZ. I was wearing my nicest blue jeans and a chic checkered button up shirt.
I had been reading a used book called One Foote In The Past: The History of Modern Science by Peter J. Bowler. I was in the part everyone learns in school, where Eunice Foote discovers the greenhouse effect, when my mom started trying to say something.
“Truman, Pastor Utmost…” I had never seen Mom having trouble talking before. What could be going on?
“Truman,” she took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “I heard that you might be thinking about your… your father.”
“Oh,” was all I could say. It was true.
But wait, how did she know that? Oh, Pastor Utmost told her. That must explain the angry sounds I heard her making at him earlier. She didn’t like to talk about Dad.
“I know it can be stressful,” she said. Something was wrong. Something about this wasn’t like her.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“I know that Pastor Father Utmost was… not very careful with his words,” she said. Her face wasn’t exactly angry. But her eyes were on fire. It wouldn’t show if you didn’t know her.
She went on, “I want you to know I’ve spoken to him about saying things that remind you of your father. He won’t bother you anymore like that. I know it hurts.” Ah ha, that was it. Empathy. That’s what was weird about her.
“It’s ok, he didn’t say anything hurtful,” I protested. I didn’t want to get him in trouble. Mom could be a real problem for anyone she decided needed a problem.
“There’s something else, Truman.” Mom pursed her lips. “There’s no easy way to say this, but… your father suffered from some kind of paranoia.”
I looked at her. “What?”
“Just that, Truman. Your father sometimes thought that people were… following him or watching him.”
Well that wasn’t true.
“When?” I demanded.
“Just sometimes. Did you ever see him speak to no one?”
I lowered my eyes. I did hear him one time. The day he died.
“It’s ok, Truman. Your father was a good man and he loved you. But some of the things he said… well, sometimes they were nonsense.”
I couldn’t believe her. How could she say that about Dad?
But how could she be wrong? It certainly sounded completely wrong. No way. My dad was the most down to earth person I knew!
But that was just my bias showing. I shouldn’t deny evidence. Mom knew better. I had to accept this. It was hard to accept it. So I faked it.
“It’s probably hard to hear it–”
“No,” I interrupted, “You’re right. I get it. Thanks for telling me.”
Mom smiled and now she looked confident again. She had said what she needed to. “Chin up, Truman. We’ll get through this together.”
We reached the front of the church and the car came to a smooth stop. Mom always said it had great handling.
I got out with my book in hand, waved to my mom, and then sat criss-cross in the grass to wait. It was dry now. I picked a blade and peered at it.
My dad swore me to three secret things before he died. And I hadn’t told anyone, though I had a mishap with the book one time.
Dad told me all that stuff just in time, because a few weeks later he died when he fell off our sailboat in bad weather. Now I was carrying on The Secret for him.
Right before he fell, he shouted at the sky. I didn’t catch it all, but it went “Though I walk below the firmament in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not,” something. He said it like a challenge. A challenge against God or whatever powers exist. And just then the Powers responded with lightning and fury. I kind of thought his mysterious words were a clue. A part of The Secret.
But they were just crazy words. Maybe the whole Secret was just crazy.
So I was pretty grumpy when Nancy Ikea arrived.
“Hi, Truman. Are you ready?”
I stood up and threw my blade of grass on the ground in a huff. It did not make a satisfying noise, or any noise at all.
Then I felt guilty for being grumpy. I forced a weak smile.
“Hi, Nancy. I like your shirt,” I said politely. Mom had coached me to say stuff like that. Nancy was wearing blue jeans and a bright pink shirt with a kitten pawing at a rainbow. And she was carrying a book.
“Thanks, I got it today,” she said.
“Hey, what book is that?” I asked.
“Oh, shoot. I meant to leave it in the car. Now I’ll have to carry it around all over the place,” she showed it to me. It was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
“The same thing happened to me.” I smiled a little brighter and showed her One Foote In The Past. “You like astronomy?”
“I love astronomy. Did you know that Venus is eighty degrees hotter than Mercury even though Mercury is closer to the sun?” and she stood on her tiptoes.
“It’s because Venus is covered in clouds that hold in so much heat,” she said.
“I didn’t know they had telescopes that could tell that kind of stuff,” I said.
“Yep, and in a few years they’re gonna launch telescopes into space and we’ll know even more about Venus and Mercury and all the other planets.”
“Wow, I never heard about that,” I said.
“Yeah, most people don’t know how much astronomy has done for science. But it’s gonna be huge soon,” she said. “Let’s go inside.”
We went inside to the same room where the potluck had been. Now it was the youth group room. We left our books on a table near the door.
Thirty kids were gathered around Mr. Delta, who was on a small stage playing a guitar and singing in his German accent. Marlon and Meryl pushed through the crowd to meet us.
“It’s about time you got here,” Marlon said.
“We’ve had to listen to three songs about Jesus and one that sounded like it was a love song, but I’m pretty sure it was also about Jesus,” said Meryl, who gave Nancy a hug.
I couldn’t remember if I’d ever heard Pastor Father Utmost mention Jesus in a morning church service. He really stuck to stuff about how great it was to live in a community like Seahaven Island.
Mr. Delta stood aside now and Pastor Utmost took the stage. He was wearing blue jeans and his shirt was untucked just like all the kids.
“Wow, wasn’t that great? Let’s have a round of applause to thank Tobias for opening us up to follow the Lord tonight. Now if you’ll all close your eyes with me so we can give God the glory…”
When I closed my eyes I started thinking about my dad again. Meryl leaned over to me and whispered, “Why do you look so grumpy? You’re on a date. At church!” Then she giggled.
I didn’t notice I was grumpy looking.
Then Meryl said, “I’m sorry, now you look sad.”
I whispered back, “It’s not your fault. My mom told me something awful about my dad.”
Meryl cocked an eyebrow, “What about him?”
I whispered, “When my dad died, he said something I never understood.”
“Do you understand it now?” she whispered.
“No, I still don’t get it. But Mom said he was just crazy.”
Meryl glanced around and then leaned in and cupped my ear so absolutely no one could hear while the pastor was praying loudly. “You should find out how it finishes.”
Then the pastor said, “Amen” and all the kids with their eyes still closed said it too.
“Well kids, let’s have some fun. We’ve got enough of us here to play a poppin’ game of Hide and Go Seek. Who wants to be ‘It’?” called out Pastor Utmost.
David Monopoly volunteered and while he counted the rest of us ran to hide under tables and behind crosses draped with sashes. Nancy grabbed my hand, which almost brought me out of my bad mood, and we ran for the far end of the room. As we did we passed an open doorway into a little room full of books.
“This way,” I whispered to Nancy, and she didn’t hesitate to follow me.
There was a big copy machine in there, so we ducked behind it and hunched down on the floor. David wouldn’t see us unless he came all the way into the room. We waited there with our hands slapped over our mouths.
At first I looked at Nancy, but that made me nervous. So I stared at the books on the shelf in front of me. Most of them were stuffy-looking things like The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. But after a moment I spotted something. It said Strong’s Compact Bible Concordance: “The fast way to find what you’re looking for”.
“Truman, David just walked past the room. We can run for base,” Nancy said. She was peeking out of our hiding spot.
“Wait, just a minute,” I already had the concordance out and opened in my lap.
“What are you doing?” Nancy said, interested. She grabbed onto my arm and leaned in close as she said it and so I almost forgot what I was doing.
“I’m looking up ‘valley’. This book helps you find things in the Bible if you don’t know where to look. I don’t know anything about the Bible, but I’m looking for something my dad told me once,” I said.
“Your dad died, right?” She looked me right in the eyes. I felt I could tell her anything.
“Yeah, but before he died he said something that sounded like the Bible. He wasn’t a Bible guy, he didn’t go to church, but he knew a lot of stuff. He told me Plato’s stories at bedtime and he would teach me science history when he walked me to school. Not complicated stuff. He knew so much more. So it makes sense he knew about the Bible.”
While I talked, I scanned past “Valley: of Berachah” and “Valley: of Decision”, and then I found it. “Valley: Shadow of Death”. There was just one verse: Psalms 23:4.
“Yes and you really loved your dad,” Nancy said.
“I’m sorry, sometimes I talk a lot,” I said as I was pulling down a Bible.
“It’s ok. I know you like to explain things,” Nancy said.
I paused and blushed to be so well understood.
Then, “Wait, how do you know that I like to explain things?” We hadn’t ever talked before. Not like this.
“Oh your… mom told me,” she trailed off. Then she jumped to a new subject, “Hey, we can run for it now. I can hear David arguing with Marlon about whether he broke the rules.”
“Wait, I’ve almost found it,” I said. I noticed it when she said she talked to my mom, but I was too consumed in my search to be outraged at that moment. I was searching the Bible. Where the hell was Psalms?
“Truman, hurry, he’s coming!” she hissed.
The Bible chapters were not in any sensible order, but I found it.
Psalm 23:4 : Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
“Gotcha!” I dropped the Bible as David Monopoly nearly put out my ear drums.
I looked around. Nancy had already run away and now I was out of the game. David tapped me lightly and then ran off to find someone else.
And the verse wasn’t even right. It wasn’t supposed to be “I will fear no evil”. It was supposed to be “I shall not something”. Maybe my father said “shall not fear evil”. But where was the part about the firmament?
And then the truth settled into me. My dad really was crazy.
“Truman, the game is over.” Marlon was standing at the door.
“You got that right,” I quipped, holding back tears. I didn’t move.
“C’mon Truman, it was your whole idea to even be here,” he said. “So if I have to listen to Pastor Gut Most talk about washing in lamb’s blood or whatever, you have to be there too.” It wasn’t a fair nickname. Utmost didn’t have much of a gut for a grown up.
I got up and followed Marlon back to the group while I wiped my eyes on my sleeve.
Pastor Father Utmost was saying something about fellowship and intentionality. I didn’t listen. After a while his intonation shifted and he said, “Heads bowed, eyes closed. Lord we just want to ask you to protect these young hearts…” and on and on.
Nancy came over to stand by me. She looked like she wanted to whisper something, but then she stopped.
When the pastor finished talking, we all went outside while some kids waited for their parents. When Nancy’s dad showed up, she gave him her book and asked him to wait. Then she came over to me.
“Truman… I guess you didn’t find what you were looking for,” she said, all kindness and concern.
“No… I guess I just found the truth,” I said, all drama and gloom.
“I had fun. I didn’t expect to have fun at a church. So… that’s good. But maybe next time we can go to the beach instead,” she said.
“No! No thanks. I’ll see you later,” I said, hiding my horror.
She gave me a light hug and left again.
I sat down in the grass to mope, but pretty soon Marlon and Meryl came over to me. We were supposed to walk home together.
“What was that all about?” Marlon asked.
“Yeah, what happened with Nancy?” asked Meryl.
“She left. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think she really likes me,” I said. Then I added, “And she’s kind of fake.”
Marlon and Meryl looked at each other briefly then down at me again.
“Truman, she’s really nice,” Meryl said.
“Yeah, she hung out with you on purpose,” said Marlon.
“Whatever. Let’s go home.” I got up and started walking.
They both caught up with me, and Meryl said, “Did you figure out that thing your mom told you?”
“Yeah, she was right. My dad was just crazy.”
Meryl stopped walking. She let out a huff. I looked back and saw her face burning with disdain. After a moment’s thought she said, “Agreeable Truman again.”
“Would you stop that?” I protested. “I can’t ignore the evidence. My dad just said a bunch of nonsense the day he died.”
“Nonsense? That’s the exact word your mom said, Truman!” she threw up her arms. “You’re still just agreeing.”
“Leave him alone,” Marlon said.
“And it’s not just this,” said Meryl, ignoring Marlon. “You always agree with everybody. Why, Truman? Stand up and be somebody.”
“I do not!” I yelled.
“Do not what? You do not be somebody? You’re right!” she said.
“I do NOT always agree with everybody! What do you care, anyway?!?” I yelled and it echoed against the darkened houses and cars for a split-second.
“Because I’m tired of it! I’m tired of it, because every time you agree with somebody, I have to go along with it too!” she pleaded.
“Lay off him, Meryl,” said Marlon, moving to stand between us.
“Marlon feels the same way,” Meryl said, fixing me with laser eyes over Marlon’s shoulder.
“What?” I looked at Marlon.
He flashed a guilty face at me and then looked away at the ground.
“You two talk about me behind my back?”
Somehow that made them both laugh.
“It’s not funny! Answer me, Marlon,” I demanded.
He looked me in the eyes for a moment then said, “I’m still just your sidekick, Truman. It’s always gonna be about you.” He shrugged. “I do what you do.”
I looked back and forth between them for a moment.
“Well you don’t have to anymore!” and I started stomping away toward my house.
For a moment, I didn’t think they were going to follow me. I might have broken down and gone back to them. But then I heard swift footsteps following me and one of them said, “Truman!”, and the other said, “Wait up!”
I broke into a run then. I ran all the way home, through yards and over curbs. My mother was waiting just inside the door and I hugged her and she put a hand on my shoulder and I cried into her blouse.
The next day was Easter Holiday Observed, so there was no school. But I had forgotten One Foote In The Past at the church, and I went to get it after breakfast.
I had calmed down a lot. I had thought about my dad a few times while I was getting ready, but then I let my mind wander again. I had thought about my friends a couple times on the walk to the church, but that was too confusing for me to think about for long.
So when I started to pass the neighborhood playground on the way back from the church, I was wholly unprepared to see Meryl sitting on the swings.
“Hi, Truman,” she said with a smile. For a split second I thought she had put it all behind her. But her smile wasn’t happy, it was like trying to smile through a bi-annual vitamin D shot.
Still, she wanted to be friendly, so I decided to hear her out.
“Hi, Meryl,” I said, but I stayed outside the playground’s picket fence.
She took a deep breath. “I don’t want to fight, Truman.”
“Me neither. Can we just be friends?” I said, like it was that simple. Maybe tweens were too old for simplicity.
“Yeah, we can be friends. But I gotta tell you something,” she started. “I’m moving away.”
“You are?” I tried to keep the panic from my voice.
“Yeah, I found out… pretty recently. We’re moving down to Fort Myers. 4150 Fiji Lane. It’s up high enough to be out of a flood zone, at least for a few years,” she said. I didn’t realize South Florida had flooding problems. Seahaven Island was up on the panhandle and had never even been threatened with a hurricane strike.
“This is awful. Why would your parents do this?” I asked.
“Truman, I want to go. I didn’t sign up for this agreeable life you have where other people make your decisions. I might as well leave now,” she said.
“But I need you. We’re like a team.” I searched around for what to say and remembered I was holding One Foote In The Past. “Can you imagine if Eunice Newton Foote and Robert Green Ingersoll had moved away from each other? Or if they had never met? Where would science be today?”
“It’s fine, Truman. You and I weren’t about to usher in a new wave of scientific discovery. We’re just kids.”
“Ingersoll was a teenager when they met,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter, Truman,” said Meryl.
“I think we’re like them.” I came around the fence now. “You know, she was the thinker, he was the loud mouth who popularized her scientific discoveries. It’s backwards for us, but we do have fun.”
“Then where do I fit in?” said a new voice.
“Marlon!” He had come up from nowhere and was standing just outside the fence.
“Did those scientists have a third friend? What am I even doing here, Truman?” he asked again.
I didn’t know what to say.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. See ya later, Shining Star,” and he walked away again.
Meryl stood up to approach me. She glanced at Marlon’s receding figure.
“You’re really selfish for someone so agreeable.” She didn’t wait for me to reply. “Have a good morning, Truman. Or I dunno what time it is… maybe a good afternoon. And have a goodnight too, why not. I’ll write to you.” And she left. She moved away to Fort Myers without another goodbye.
I saw Marlon Pastel one more time after that. I never remembered what we said or did, but that was the end. He moved away, too. I didn’t really understand his problem, but maybe not understanding was the problem.
Neither of them ever wrote to me. I never wrote to them. But I often wished for their friendship and their help.
My dad’s memory felt more distant. No one had read me bedtime stories in almost a year. But I read them to myself. I did everything for myself. I didn’t need anybody.
I did keep reading The Sequences. I even looked up “firmament” in two dictionaries.
Webster’s New English College Dictionary: firmament : n : the sky, viewed poetically as a solid arch or vault.
Collins English Dictionary: firmament : n : (1) the sky or heaven; (2) in a particular organization or field of activity, the top of it.
It really was his last clue for me, but I didn’t see it. Of course, They knew what it meant. They sent the lightning. They masterminded the cover up when I started asking about the valley of the shadow of death. And They lied about my dad.
I should have dug into the small inconsistencies. How did several people know things they shouldn’t? I should have noticed my confusion. I didn’t.
In the end, I never went on a second date with Nancy Ikea, but we liked to trade science books. And a few years later she helped me with one more adventure.
It should be obvious by now that Truman’s world is somewhat different from ours, not only because it has a twelve square mile orange dome in Florida. Despite the differences, Truman’s version of the 2020 World Book Encyclopedia is arranged identically to our own.
His version has a few extra articles. These show up on the pages where they would be in our version. For example, both versions have Carbon on page 203 of Volume 3, but his version also has Carbon Concrete on page 204.
Volumes 2 and 9 are all out of whack. For example, the article for Bolt is in Volume 2 on page 449 in our version and is on page 300 in his. The reader can rest assured that the problems with those two volumes are a result of random chance and not some mistake that the author made when writing Chapter 4.
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?