The Square Mile (7,000 word Short Story)

In 2079, the world is no longer at war, public education has been reformed, and ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine-nine-nine (99.99999) percent (%) of people find their soulmates before adolescence, yet 10-year-old Carl Frice is still finding trouble.

SQUARE.png

7/30/19, 12:33 pm EDT

By John Corry

The Square Mile

In the year 2079…

♫♫♫

Carl sat on the bench with his headphones on (Pat Metheny) and looked around the playground. There were some kids holding hands, playing, looking happy. For a moment, Carl wondered why they all looked so happy, but he knew why: close to ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine (99.99999) percent (%) of all people found their soulmates before reaching adolescence.

=D

His friend, Suge, sat down next to him.

“So did you hear the president’s announcement last night?” he asked.

“Nah,” taking his bulky headphones off.

“Well, apparently–and this is just what my mom and dad told me, so, hopefully, they’re not lying to me, heh,” and Carl chuckled as well.

xDD

“But apparently,” continued Suge, “the president signed a declaration in China along with every other nation in the world promising to never, ever go to war /> EVER AGAIN!!!”

Oh–”

“Can you believe that?!”

“Isn’t that, like, pretty much exactly what we have?”

“Yea, but now it’s, like, ‘for sure’ or something–”

“There hasn’t been a war on Earth over in forty years–”

“I dunno, it’s what my parents told me–”

“YO!!!”

Carl promptly dodged the ball that was headed for him, and the Boy-Who-Missed-His-Shot playing box-ball about 15ft. away gave Carl a nod and a wave as he ran past him to grab it. He watched as the kid went back to the game and start talking to this girl Nicole, also playing box-ball.

Nicole shot Carl a smile.

:)

Carl smiled back.

:))

“So you figure out what to say to her yet?”

“No.”

“Why not? She clearly likes you.”

“Meh.”

“Well, if you don’t do it soon, somebody else is gonna snatch her up,” and he pulled out his phone, started typing on it. “With how quickly all my other friends are finding their soulmates lately, I’m surprised she of all people hasn’t found someone yet. You know: if you want my advice, what I suggest you do is…”

But Carl wasn’t paying attention, he was much too enamored by Nicole: the blonde streaks of bannerette in her hair, the grace of the flow in her red dress and bow (X333) (!). He was so far gone that he didn’t even notice Nicole no longer smiling back, that she was no longer even looking at him (!!!) /> as she’d since started paying more attention to Pete: ‘ironically’ that same kid who’d missed his shot mere moments before and had almost hit Carl in the face (!), and whom Nicole had subsequently just shot out of the game.

<<<3

Suge: “Carl?”

“CARL?!–”

What’s up, Suge?–”

Still entranced with his phone: “You gotta stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Trailing off. You just turned ten,” and he hit him on the chest. “Me, I got a nice lady meeting me here in,” and he glanced at his watch, “five minutes–”

He stood up.

“Man, I gotta do my hair–

“I’ll see ya’!…”

As he walked away: “We gotta grow up, Carl! War is over!”

Yeah,” but his smile did not dissipate, nor did his heart rate slow. Even with that much ‘emotion’ (!), or ‘thought’, or ‘passion’, or–‘EGO’ (!!!!!)–or whatever other stupid thing Carl or anybody else may-or-may-not have thought he had going on in him at that moment–in-that-time–he knew Suge had a point…

May not have mattered much, Carl figured, but it was still a point…

***

“It’s not that I think there’s something wrong with him, I’m just worried that he’s not progressing as he should be. He reads Hegel for fun; and he juxtaposes it against the scientific writings of Tesla, Einstein, and Schrodinger. I mean how many kids would rather read, play instruments just to do it, juxtapose thought, or do all of those things that they already do at school, than go to a friend’s house to watch sports or play video games? Or play sports?”

There was a pause.

She looked to her husband for support–

“I loved reading in school,” he responded.

“Yea, but not as your Designated Free-Time–”

“What’s my ‘free-time’, really, anymore anyway?–”

That’s a point–”

“Most kids love reading in school,” Carl’s then General-Director, Mrs. Gobbes, said, and was correct about (or: at least statistically (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)).

Gobbes went on: “It’s been a long time since before we realized that if we let children have an equal …stake, I guess we’ll say, in their studies,” and she got a look from Linda (o.O), “only as equal a say as their parents, their teachers, and the rest of society, of course–as well as, of course, under their guidance– that they tend to enjoy it far more, and, as a result, Resent, in most circumstances, far less–”

“Yes, we know that,” said Linda.

“Well, then, as I’m sure you also know, studies have shown that this process, the process your son is now legally enrolled in, as all children have been, in public schools, ever since the catastrophes–”

Linda rolled her eyes.

x!

Gobbes: “This process helps the child to learn, as a concept, exponentially more than when she’s told simply what to do, effectively gearing her to more naturally and affectedly grow into a rational, caring, and conscious/subconscious functional human being in every sense of what makes her just that–”

“Just what? Exactly?”

Gobbes was confused.

o.OOO

Uhmm… human being?”

They were twenty minutes into the meeting. It was Strongly Recommended that all parents meet with their child’s primary Director–General or Interest, depending on age–at least once every quarter. It was included in the Director’s salary.

:D

Carl’s dad: “Well, isn’t that just telling them ‘what to believe’? Or how to live? And isn’t that essentially the same thing as telling them ‘what to do’?–”

“We’ve actually found that it’s not so much ‘telling kids what to do or how to believe’ as far as any immediate personal, individual, or functional understanding is concerned; only that doing so, without giving the child a reason, or without allowing the child come to a realization on her own–and fully, consciously, on her own–regarding what those potential reasons might be for her being taught any specific, thing at any specific time, that the child becomes confused, and, perhaps, even: misguided.”

“I don’t think my son is confused,” Linda said, “just…” and she looked off.

:/

On Gobbes’s desk were four (4) pictures of Gobbes and her family on vacation. Linda looked at them and smiled…

Gobbes took on a lighter tone: “Mrs. Frice,” and she folded her hands on her desk in front of her. “One of the problems in the early years of this century was that very few people wanted to–or perhaps had the time to–put any thought into what their children were actually learning, and more importantly: how and why. Be it they were too afraid, or too busy, or because they simply didn’t want to think about the implications of any Mass Objectification Derived Inevitably from Any Absolute Mass Conformity of Mass Education and Childhood Subjugation–or, as, you know, it is technically referred in the Individualization of Public Education Act of 2055–or they simply didn’t want to admit that their kids were as smart as they were–only in an obviously different, less focused and more subconscious way–doesn’t matter anymore. What we think Man has realized in the past seventy-odd years is that when you tell a child what to learn, without the child’s having any recognition–or perhaps a kind of perceived pseudo-necessitated opportunity, for lack of a better term, I’d guess–for the potential for the recognition of any active natural interest in the thing she is immediately learning–in that moment–then the child will forget it with the SNAP!–”

And she SNAPPED along with the word–

“Of a finger. And then resent you for it. It’s a subconscious intellectual self-defense mechanism–”

“Yes, I know,” said Linda hastily, “and all that is such a big part of why people were so angry and ideologically reductive back then. I’m younger than you are, I learned that too–”

“But he’s not bitter,” said Carl’s dad. “I frankly don’t think he’s bitter at all, and I say that after much observation of my son–”

Gobbes: “And I agree–”

“So do you see why my wife and I might here be a little concerned?”

Gobbes sighed and faced her down, before coming back up and looking him in the eyes–noticeably not at Linda’s–and smiled.

X)

“Of course I can understand why you might be concerned–”

Linda: “Oh, do you?–”

Yes,” and her eyes SHIFTED.

O.O

When so many children find their callings so early in life, I can only imagine what it must be like for the parents of those extremely few who don’t, but I can tell you this: I was once just like your son. I used to look around at my friends and wonder why I wasn’t like them, why I couldn’t talk like them, why I couldn’t laugh like them. I didn’t find my soulmate until I was fourteen, four (!) years after the Statistical Vast Majority. I know what it’s like to feel forgotten about, like you’re falling behind, like you’ll likely never find your soulmate, like you might not even have the capacity to love at all (!!), and like no one even notices, let alone cares. But I guarantee you right now (!!!) that I will not let Carl fall into the grips of contradiction as such apparent ‘loners’ so often did in those dark days so long ago. My only concern–right now–regarding what we’ve discussed, is that giving any child too much attention may result in an inherent Physiological Attachment to Intellectual Authority–”

“Oh, don’t give me that–”

“In the child, one completely subconscious, and which was the direct cause of so much pain and suffering all those decades ago–”

>Sigh<

“We must let Carl feel as though it’s okay to not be normal,” Gobbes concluded. “Because it is. Isn’t it?”

Their eyes locked.

OO.OO

Linda looked away–

“It is not a rule that Carl stay in my class,” Gobbes said, leaning back in her chair. “I can easily transfer him to another General-Director.”

Linda looked back–

“Only two weeks in like this? Happens all the time.”

Linda took a good look at her son’s then General-Director. She knew that if Carl were to transfer to another class, it was likely they’d still run into Mrs. Gobbes fairly frequently (‘ironic, after that shtick she just gave me about ‘Intellectual Attachments to Authority’,’ Linda thought). This was due to the fact that–in addition to being a salary-paid Director of what was formerly known as (roughly) the sixth grade at the beginning of the twenty-first century–Mrs. Gobbes was also the General Department Head of the Directing-Interest, as well as one of its most active Interest-Directors.

ooo.O

Linda: “No. It’s fine.”

Carl’s dad: “Honey, if you think another–”

“No,” and she waved his hand away. “There’s no such thing as a Director not caring about her students anymore. I know enough of them to know that firsthand.”

Gobbes smiled.

=)))

“Mrs. Frice,” said Gobbes. “I promise you that nothing will stop me from making sure your son gets the tools he needs to be happy–just as everyone else–so long as you’ll help me.”

They had a moment (=’d). Carl’s dad stood up, got ready to leave.

Carl’s mom smiled.

:’)))

“You can call me Linda.”

***

Brian: “Your Interest is Gymnastics? There’s no use for that anymore–”

Nicole: “Sure there is–”

“What?”

“People watch it.”

“I’ve never heard of it–”

“You’ve never heard of gymnastics?” –Evan.

“No, I’ve heard of ‘gymnastics’, I’ve just never heard of it as anything more than a hobby. Who cares how good you are at it?”

“People who watch it care,” Nicole answered. “Or more people who do it? I mean do you, personally, have any interest in ever actually giving it a try?”

“No–”

“Exactly–”

“What does that have to do with anything?–”

“You’re biased. That’s why you don’t care. Or why you can’t see why other people might.”

“I guess that’s a point.”

“Yea, you should make that guess,” said Evan. “Since it proves you wroooong.”

Everybody laughed.

XDDD

 “It’s okay,” as she patted a hand on Brian’s shoulder. “When you inevitably want to see what it’s about, I’ll help you out.”

“Thanks /> but I doubt it.”

It was 2084 and Carl was fourteen (14), though no closer to finding his soulmate /> nor his Interest. The ‘loss’ had made him ‘quiet’. Almost everyone he knew had found both, including Suge, and, yes, Nicole: she was to be a gymnast /> and she’d been in-love with her soulmate, Pete, since 2080.

<333

Lunch was ending, so the group formerly assembled (featuring, but not limited to: Brian, Nicole, Evan, Carl) was dissipating. En route out the cafeteria, Carl walked with Nicole, whom he’d gotten to know quite well through the time since their first meeting on that day back in 2079.

===’)

“You don’t see any problem with being a gymnast, right?” –Nicole.

“No. Looks like a lot of fun.”

“It is a lot of fun, you should try it.”

“I plan to.”

“So are you any closer to finding your Interest?”

Carl was getting a lot of this around then. By age fourteen (14), if a child hadn’t yet found her Interest, she was automatically chosen one by her parents. Carl’s picked Directing, due, not only to the fact that Directing was the most generally applicable Interest there was at the time–covering the largest amount of material, and the largest amount of varying material–but also to the blossomed friendship between Carl’s mom, Linda, and Carl’s former General-Director, the still-current General Department Head of the Directing Interest, and one of its primary Interest-Directors /> and so Carl’s primary Interest-Director />

Mrs. Gobbes.

=O

 “Not yet,” Carl answered–

“Why not?” Nicole was one of Carl’s biggest pressers on this (:(). “You must have something you’re interested in, and I know it’s not ‘directing’.”

“Yea, I dunno…”

“Well, what is it??”

Carl looked away. There was a pause…

Carl: “I like talking to you.”

She turned and smiled at him.

:))))))

“That’s sweet.”

She kissed him on the cheek.

“That sweetness with all that extra reading you do?” as she ran ahead of him. “You should become a psychologist!–”

“You know, actually, I–”

“PETER?!?!”

Nicole reached where Pete was holding flowers, met him with a JUMP-hug and a kiss.

Xººº

Pete gave Carl a nod.

BH

Carl looked away–

“You’ve gotta get over that one, man.”

Carl turned, found Evan with his arms crossed standing just behind him.

Just before SPEEDING off: “I dunno what you’re talking about–”

“Sure, you do,” closely following.

No, I don’t–”

“You’re in-love with her, dude. It’s obvious–”

Carl STOPPED, turned, pointed a finger, and looked Evan deep in the eyes #SoDeep.

No, I’m not. And you don’t have to be so condescending about it.”

“Hey, don’t freak out. It’s not a big deal.”

Carl again left–

Evan again followed–

“There’s lotsa kids in your situation.”

“Oh yea?”

“Yea. Most of ‘em are homeschooled by now, but that’s cool–”

“I’ll take your word for it, Ev–”

“Look,” and he GRABBED Carl by his shirt, FORCED him to stop walking. “Patricia’s right over there. I know she’s still lookin’.”

He pointed down the hall. Patricia had her hands laced behind her back against a locker, was staring at the ground, a little hunched over, kicking her feet around for no apparent reason while her friends talked amongst each other as though she’d never existed.

:’’’(

Evan: “We’re less than two years until it’s all Interest-Studies, and if you don’t find a soulmate by then, well /> HEH!... heh…”

He hesitated.

“…Uh, well, good luck–”

The bell rang, signifying the start of the next Learning-Session.

Carl: “Evan, have I ever told you how annoying I find you to be?”

“Yea, but you’ll grow out of it. Don’t worry.”

“You think so?”

“Everybody does!” and he SLAPPED Carl on the back, turned a corner.

***

Over twenty years in the making, the declaration has been contributed to by over a hundred both former and current world leaders. However, President Abbott admits that the legislation is far from the politicians’ making alone.”

The shot switched from the reporter to show Abbott in a group with over two-dozen other world leaders.

“The participation from the world community has been amazing,” Abbott said. “I cannot thank enough the millions of citizens across the globe for being so helpful throughout this process, even as it’s stalled, even when it’s so painfully failed. Your willingness to participate in the constant surveying, the voting, the research you’ve put in… This is indeed a day for all of us–Politician and Citizen alike–for everyone here, there, or everywhere, all over across the planet, and beyond–”

“Kid’s right, took ‘em long enough…”

Carl’s parents were sitting on the couch watching the news eating a delicious homemade dinner #TheMostDelicious made by Carl’s older sister, Karen: there as well.

:P

Taking another bite: “You know how many hours I had to put into those surveys, even just filling them out?”

Linda: “Cost of living in the country. Everyone did it–”

Karen: “Cost of living in general–”

The front door opened. Carl walked in. He THREW his bag on the ground, FLEW up the stairs.

“Carl!” his mother called. “How was school today?”

He stalled at the top, felt up his old 2020 mass-market paperback copy of Ulysses (Joyce) in his pocket like a stress-ball.

“It was fine,” he said.

“What’d you learn about?”

“Uh…”

His parents shared a look.

O.o

Carl: “Plato?”

Carl’s dad: “Carl, you’ve been learning about Plato since you were five years old. You didn’t cover anything relatively newer than that today?”

“Yea.”

His parents shared (yet another) look.

“Epicurus?”

It was meant as a joke.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Linda: “Carl, could you come down here for a moment?”

Carl walked downstairs.

“Carl, you’ve been learning about the psychologist Jung recently, correct?” said his dad. “I thought you said you liked Jung?”

“I’ve moved onto Freud.”

Linda: “Carl…”

Again, it was meant it as a joke.

¯¯¯\\\___(((ツ)))___///¯¯¯

“You said were in love with Jung’s ideas,” his dad went on. “I remember two years ago, when you first started learning them, you said they were changing your life–”

“And they were–”

“Then what’s changed?”

Nothing’s changed–”

Clearly something has changed–”

“Nothing has changed, DUDE!” Carl YELPED. He still read Jung every day–albeit not what his Directors told him to read, but Jung nonetheless–and a lot of Jung’s conspirators as well /> like Jean Piaget and Mary Cover Jones and Erik Erikson and Alan Watts /> none of whom were taught in Directing, as they were saved, specifically, for the Psychology and/or Spirituality-Interests, respectively.

:::(

There was a pause…

“Carl,” Linda said hesitantly, “are you any closer to finding a soulmate?–”

Mom–”

Dad: “I told you not to ask him that–”

Carl: “I’ll find a soulmate when I find a soulmate!–”

“I’m just asking!–”

“Why is it everybody keeps thinking all of life is only about finding an Interest and a soulmate and nothing more?–”

“Because that’s what’s gotten us to where we are now,” said Linda. “Are you saying that Interest-Studies and the fact that so many people find their soulmates so early in life are bad things?!–”

Dad: “Carl, this years’ Heavily Requested annual survey said that eighty-nine (89) percent (%) of people (!) alive in the world today consider themselves Generally-Happy, you know that. Crime, drug use, suicide; it’s all nonexistent now, all over the world, as, again, you very well know, I know you do–”

“Well, I’m not too sure how good that is overall…”

His parents shared another look. They didn’t know how to handle this. What was Carl trying to say? That suicide, homelessness, and drug use are necessary components of a free society? That they were inevitable? Carl was still so young…

The four (including Karen xD) continued to stare until Carl’s dad nodded to signify the appropriateness of Carl’s RUNNING off and up to his room. He would spend the next twenty minutes concluding Ulysses for the fourth time, followed by another two of juxtaposing it against Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and, of course /> the Odyssey.

;D

Linda: “Bill, what should we do?”

Karen, still eating: “I say let him figure it out on his own. It’s not like he’s an idiot.”

“But he needs guidance?”

“Why?”

Bill: “Because he’s a child–”

“So?” Karen said. “He’s clearly different than most kids. You can’t force a kid to grow up, can you?” and she took another bite. “Or onto them the knowledge how–”

Linda: “Karen, you found your soulmate at six, that’s even earlier than your father and I–”

“Exactly! It was a completely and subconsciously My choice–”

“Bill, what do you think?”

Bill didn’t move, had his hand over his mouth in deep contemplation #SoSoDeep.

“I dunno,” he said

He took a breath.

xOOO

“But I’ll visit Gobbes tomorrow.”

Linda: “You think that’s a good idea?”

Bill: “I mean I guess, but…” and he took another bite, his last of the dinner #SoSad.

==’((((((((

Karen: “Be careful not to piss her off–”

Linda: “You think I should go with you?”

“Well, you see her all the time, and with everything happening, I’ve just haven’t had the time.”

“That is very true, you really could do better with that.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Do you know what you’re going to say?”

Karen: “Mom, he doesn’t need to analyze every tiny little thing like you guys do, you know. He is his own person–”

“No she’s right,” said Bill. “I’ll look into after I finish those reports tonight,” and he stood up, walked towards the kitchen with his dirty dishes in his hands.

“From you guys have told me: Gobbes is pretty interesting…

“Hopefully, we can work something out.”

***

“I assure you: I’m doing everything I can.”

“May I see what he’s learning lately?”

“Of course.”

She fumbled in her desk, revealed a stack of papers, handed them to him.

“These have all been in your Personal-Parenting Box in the Directing-Parenting Portal online. You signed off on them in 2082–”

“Yes, I recall,” and he took the papers. “It’s just that with everything happening recently, I haven’t had the time to look more into it.”

He came to the page with the Generalized Curriculum, read:

“September-November, 2082: Recap of Descartes; Plato’s Parmenides; Brief recap of Ancient Jewish, Christian, and Muslim History and theology; American Constitution and Founding (cont.)

December, 2082: MLK Jr.: Strength to Love; Jung: Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (cont.); Intro to Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil

January-February, 2083: The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley; Hobbes: Leviathan; Locke: Two Treatises of Government; Arendt: On Violence

March-June, 2083: Marx: Capital (cont.), and Juxtaposition against Sowell’s Basic Economics

Gobbes: “Again, this is all based on the interests your son has shown throughout his time in school since he started attending, as well as, of course, his parent’s input.”

He read on:

“July, 2083: Arendt: The Origins of Totalitarianism; Juxtapositions of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s with all Revolutions, including Communist, Following Marx; Juxtaposition of the American Revolution of 1776 with the French Revolution of 1793

September, 2083-February, 2084: Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit; Kant: Introduction to Logic and Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics; Expansion of psychology including intros to Carl Rogers and B.F. Skinner; Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov; Douglass: The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass; Mill: On Liberty; Camus: The Stranger

March-June, 2084: Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling and The Present Age; MLK Jr.: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.; Arendt: On Revolution; Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human; Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago (cont.)

July, 2084: Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (including brief Juxtapositions against Descartes and Hegel); Hawking: A Brief History of Time; Brief recap of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; Intro to Quantum Physics; Watts: The Way of Zen

“Mr. Frice, may I ask what your Interest is again?”

He took a moment.

“Mr. Frice?–”

“Um– Political Intrigue and Critique, I’m sorry.”

“So you work directly with the government in forming international policy?”

“Yes. Obviously, it’s been a busy few months.”

“More than a few–”

“Is it really a good idea to be directing him in quantum physics in a few months?”

“That’s standard procedure, Mr. Frice.”

“Oh, well I’m not sure if–”

“If you could excuse my frankness, but: may I ask you how long it is until you retire?”

This was not considered much-polite questioning at that point in time–in fact, it was considered quite rude and insanely impolite #SoImpolite. Bill Frice was nearing fifty (50), and people usually retired around that age, at most by fifty-five (55), and while the Government-Motivated Director-Request to all Citizens–in which all Citizens were Greatly Encouraged to take up directing their Interests to the youth post-retirement–didn’t on-average take too much time or effort, until a Citizen had committed to it, its mention in casual conversation was considered taboo, and one of very few things still considered that category (‘taboo’ different from ‘stigmatized’ in that ‘taboo’ is more gossipy and less grounded in empirical experience).

XP

Still-entranced-with-the-packet, Bill answered: “I’m not sure–”

“Are you considering not retiring?”

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything–”

“Mr. Frice, your son needs guidance!”

She put her head down. Then she lifted it back up and laced her fingers on her desk.

oO.oOO

“Your wife has been extremely helpful in my reaching out to Carl over the years, but his ability to assimilate his understanding of himself with the complicated relation in which that understanding places him in the world may seem to be currently going off course. I mean, how can a child know what to do if even her own father is confused about the potentialities of his own life?–”

Still still-entranced-with-the-packet: “I’m not confused, Gobbes, I can assure you of that–”

“And I am not trying to claim that you are–”

“That’s literally what you just did there, Gobbes–”

“MISTER FRICE!!!”

She HIT her fists on the desk. Bill finally lifted his head up.

“I do not wish to steer your son in any direction without your approval–”

“And I didn’t think you would,” Bill said. “I take full responsibility for my handing over to my wife the handling of this situation. Like I said, I’ve just… fallen a little ‘off’ recently.”

Bill didn’t know what he might have been trying to say with that last line, but, eventually, he would find that it put some things into perspective for him. If anything, Gobbes certainly appreciated it.

“On second thought,” Bill said, “perhaps you’re right. Maybe we should have a talk with him, try to get a feel for where he’s at.”

“I think that’s a great idea–”

“And maybe you could meet with him first?–”

“Already way ahead of you there, Bill.”

***

“Carl Frice, report to the Post-Education wing. Carl Frice.”

Carl walked the halls alone, his heart deeper than the narcissism of 2019 pop music culture (think objectively there); the embarrassment was contagious. The kids liked him, he knew that, he considered many of them friends, and he knew many of them did him as well /> but no longer (:’(). With every passing couple, he felt his innards melt and drown in the placebo, falling in-love, and out-of-love, and everything in-between, as he considered their only most probable newfound judgment, their hatred, their worry–However-Justified–their subconsciously projected pain as gasoline onto which anything presented in itself to them as ‘different’ or ‘soul-damaging’ or ‘repressive to the mind’ was catapulted up and OUT as naturally and subconsciously as anything one does not immediately understand must be–

He reached Gobbes’s office, walked inside, sat on the couch in the waiting room, and crossed his arms.

Evan was there–

“Carl Frice!” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Me?” Carl said back. “What are you doing here?”

“I got my Quarterly Parent/Director Meeting. Didn’t you just have yours?”

Slowly, through his teeth: “Yes.”

:HHH

“Well, okay then–”

“Carl?”

Carl turned to face Gobbes’s secretary in the now-open doorway leading into Gobbes’s office.

“Mrs. Gobbes is ready for you.”

Carl and Evan shared a look.

oo.O

Just before the door closed: “Good luck.”

Pft–”

“Carl! Thank you for coming.”

She was shuffling papers on her desk. It was still unorganized, but not nearly as much as when Carl’s dad was there. She looked more ‘sheveled’, (as opposed to: ‘disheveled’?) /> let her sixty-five (65) year old eyes glitter out like they hadn’t aged a day.

<3 <33 <333

“Do you know why I called you in here today, Carl?”

“No.”

Gobbes gave him the Eye (o.OO)…

Really?–”

“You want to tell me I’m an idiot?” said Carl. “That I need to buckle down and figure out what my Interest is, because without an Interest, how will I ever find a soulmate? And if I never find a soulmate, how could I ever be of any help to the world? We know how monsters form, the human kind, at least, the real kind: they live lives full of fear–with no-love. How could a person know what love is if she hasn’t found her soulmate? How could we ever trust her if she’s fundamentally incapable of loving? How could she not turn into a monster?”

Gobbes stared at him.

“‘Interest’, singular?”

oo.Oo

Carl: “What?–”

“No, that was not what I was going to say,” and she shuffled in her chair.  “Carl, what do you think of… Mankind? Or, where she is right now?”

Carl thought about it–

But not really–

“What do you mean?” he said IMMEDIATELY. “Do you mean how everyone thinks that because they know everything about one topic that they have the right to know everything about everything so long as ‘everything’ is defined as ‘more than anyone else in any group’?! Do you mean to comment on how those of us who actually do want to know everything about everything in some healthy, in-time type of way are reminded on a moment to moment basis of the sacrifice we’re forced to continuously give up day-in and day-out since before we were able to think (!): the sacrifice of our happiness?! Of our sanity? Of our conscious/subconscious individuality which makes assumed subjective perception of the world possible?!?! Of our conscious ability to choose something like ‘living-life’ as a constant rather than as an abstract ideal???–”

“You mean your conscious ability to feel alive?–”

“YES THAT’S WHAT I MEAN!!!–”

She smiled–

Carl: “Everybody else gets to walk around feeling great because they know who they are, because they don’t need to do anything more in order to understand that /> and they of course shouldn’t be forced to, that’s not what I’m saying,” and he shook his head, “but because that’s what everybody tends to do, conformity is what gets you the reward, whilst to be fully different, to be daring enough to think new, however be it most oftentimes wrong, thoughts, gets you alienation /> it makes you an inherent and only-natural, unchangeable, Outkast (™), regardless of how much work you might be doing or how much potential ‘good’ you might be understanding, through a conscious and/or conscious/subconscious base, societally or individually speaking, Underneath it All (™). Eighty-seven-point-three-two-six-nine-six-nine-four (87.3269694) percent (%) of people in our world are happy, according to the latest annual surveys. Nighty-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine (99.99999) percent (%) of people find their soulmates before even starting Interest-Studies! But does that automatically mean that ‘questioning’, in itself, and as an inherently new thing and therefore not without its inevitable setbacks, should be considered offensive? and the people who do it deservedly ostracized??

“How did the world stop bombing after the Great Raids? How did the climatologists figure out the planet was warming? Was it by sitting around all day saying: ‘well, it seems difficult to overpower the rich oil corporations who value infinitely profit over people’–or at least when it came to their product–‘and it’s certainly going to take some work to get the truth to come out, so /> whatever, who-the-hell-cares???’??

“–NO!!!

“They worked at it, and they told all those who tried to force them to follow the unmediated norm to take a freakin’ hike! Despite political ramifications and an even potentially heinous misunderstanding of the psychological implications on society preceded by their seemingly fundamental inability to convey why they said what they said in the way in which they said it! And without their research we would never have survived the Catastrophes! People might be happier now, but that doesn’t mean that we’re any more capable of understanding the universe, or of understanding the inhabiting of the universeintellectually or otherwise–or of stopping those same things which were so destructive before from germinating again /> it doesn’t entitle us any smarter! Why do I have to find a soulmate just because everyone else does? Maybe my version of a ‘soulmate’ is different! Maybe I don’t want a soulmate?! Maybe I’ve already found my soulmate, and the only way that I’ll ever be able to recognize that concept in another person is if ‘she’s’ already found ‘hers’ too?! And so doesn’t care anymore...”

He looked up. Gobbes was staring at him, her hands folded neatly and raised before her mouth….

“It’s alright,” Carl said. “You can tell me off.”

Gobbes gave a stink-Eye.

OoOOOoOoooOOOoo.ooOOOOOOoOOOooooo

“And why would I do that?–”

“I’m a monster. Even halfway decently smart people with no guidance inseparable from bad moral applications turn into monsters. Hitler, Stalin, all those people in the 2030s and 40s? Humans can’t live like that anymore, we’re past it.”

Carl: “WELL?!?!?!–”

“Carl, what are you reading now?–”

“We’ve been reading a lot of psychology and economics. I like both of them. We just started On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, and I’m not sure what novel I’m going to start once we’re finished with that. I was thinking about Catch 22, but–”

“No, Carl, what are you reading?”

Carl didn’t know what she meant.

ooo.O

“I think,” Gobbes said, “when I was your age, I was in the middle of Mein Kampf for the second time, because the first time I read it, I got so wrapped up in thinking about how clearly defined Hitler’s monstrous qualities were displayed in it–which is pretty reasonable, mind you, the guy was patently terrible–and the fact that that filled up about literally ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-nine (99.9999) percent (%) of the thing, that I couldn’t allow myself to believe that there was something to learn in considering such a monster a human being. As a result, I, obviously–and fairly naturally in fact, I’d say–chose rather to ignore than to learn.”

Carl: “You read Mein Kampf twice?”

“Didn’t say I enjoyed it–”

“I could barely read it once. Anything about his mind you may have possibly learned is so mired in pretentious egotistical crap, you’re gonna learn more just by knowing the fact that he blamed random, innocent Jewish people for his horrible life and shitty worldview–”

“So what does that tell you?”

“I’d say more than the book, but, still, somebody’s gotta read the thing–”

“That’s right,” Gobbes said. “That’s right.”

Carl: “What is this?–”

“You know: when I was your age, I never even thought about finding a soulmate. I mean, of course I thought about it, how could you not? I just knew that it would take me a little longer than it took most people. Naturally, my parents worried. They didn’t understand that I was fine with... with ‘enjoying the ride’, I think because it implied something they fundamentally couldn’t understand, or at least not without sacrificing something which they did, and for which they had to try very hard, and which took an exponentially long time, to understand in the first place. They were not wrong for not understanding, it’s not ill-founded or monstrous in any way– in fact, it’s exactly what we need: humans wanting to know What’s Going to Happen is a survival instinct, and a basic one not likely to be evolved separately from any form of Intellect; in fact, learning to live with it is one of the basic and fundamental foundations on which any Intellect must stand because without it, intellect has no purpose in Perceived-Reality. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t also need people to question that–to question the question that is this ‘intellect’–humans who push ideas farther, and into new ideas, and who more clearly define our understanding of life and the universe now and always–potentially, and empirically–and who then provide the basis for any future perception built from or through time…”

Carl continued staring; he had a pretty good idea of where she was going with this…

“It’s without these people that humans go crazy, Carl. These people who want to learn, subconsciously, both in practice and theoretically, who want to Experience Simply for Experience’s Sake, and whose Expounding of Knowledge is but a by–product of a ‘Life Worth Living’ (Necessarily Undefined)–and yet who know–and feel–that collectively subconscious infinitely-fluctuating balance between right and wrong: that’s who we need running our world. That’s who we need making policy, and maintaining it: those for whom learning, giving, enjoying, crying, living, and dying are all parts of the same thing or process, and who are in turn never distractedly questioned, or questioning, because they are too busy questioning everything else (!). Those for whom love is synonymous with life, and for whom finding a soulmate is not a necessity, but an Undeniable Right of Birth which is recognized as potentially in everything, another person simply being of the highest order…”

“Do you know what I’m telling you, Carl?”

He looked away–

“I’m saying that you’re a doer /> A thinker, an artist! Your Interest is life itself, and where you go from here is simply to Learn as much as possible, to grow into one of the General-Directors of our world. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?”

Carl had nothing.

Carl: “I’m sorry I’m so quiet.”

“It’s okay,” she replied. “This reaction is quite normal.”

He looked around the room, stumbled across a picture on Gobbes’s wall. He thought about how happy she looked in all those old pictures of her with her family, taken in different parts of the world on various diplomatic missions and peace conferences, and how in each one of them they were smiling, even with the burning cities and the flying bombs in their backgrounds…

“So I don’t have to worry about finding a soulmate?” asked Carl.

“That’s up to you.”

Carl didn’t know how to take it.

***

Carl got home to his sister and two friends in the living room on their phones.

He SPED upstairs–

Karen: “Oh, hey, what’s up, Carl?” without looking up. “How’d your meeting with Gobbes go?”

He STOPPED midway up, turned around.

Carl: “Kinda weird, actually.”

“I would bet,” said one of Karen’s friends with a laugh. “I used to have a friend like you, had a meeting with her Interest-Director, and she told me they tried to, like, Deify her /> turn her into this pretentious, philosopher God or something. She was so thrown off by it that she stopped reading altogether.”

Carl: “Damn. That sucks–”

Yea, it does–”

“By the way, a ‘Nicole’ stopped by earlier?” said Karen, “Left you a note. It’s over there.”

Carl grabbed the note, read:

sorry

<3

– Pete & Nicole

Carl smiled–

Karen’s other friend: “So you guys still wanna see Are You Going With Me at The Incubator tonight?”

♫♫♫ ♫♫♫ ♫♫♫

Karen: “We should leave soon if we are–”

Are You Going With Me?” Carl asked, turning his head to her. “Like, the Pat Metheny song off Offramp?”

“Yea,” said Karen’s friend. “That’s where they got their name–”

“Well, are we going or what?” Karen asked. “Cause it takes twenty (20) minutes to get there, and they start in, like thirty (30)–”

Sabina: “It does not take twenty (20) minutes to get there; fifteen (15) tops–”

Emma: “It’s like, six (6) turns, with ten (10) lights–”

Karen: “Exactly. That’s what I’m saying, it’s…”

Carl sat down and they never came to a conclusion on that topic. The Incubator was a music venue where–Statistically Speaking–eighty-point-three-four-six-one-zero-nine-nine-eight-two (80.346109982) percent (%) of people would Generally-Particularly enjoy the acts they’d seen, with only one-point-eight-five-seven-six (1.8576) percent (%) saying that the act was terrible /> and an equally demonstrative thirty-one-point-four-five-three-seven-eight-nine-eight-four-two-two-two-one-four-five-nine-five-zero-six-eight-six-six-six-eight-four-seven-nine-five… (31.453789842221459506866684795…)…