Not a Small World After All

by H. F. Gibbard © 2003

"Okay, kids, get on the shuttle! Adam, sit between me and your Mom. No fighting! We'll get you a drink in the park, okay? Just a second. Barb, have you got a pen? Amy, apologize to your brother!"


Toon World, Day Three.

* * * * *

"Barb, why don't you run the kids over to the Splash Slope and get our quick passes...I'll meet you at Indiana Pete's."

Alone at last.

Oh, man, that sausage egg patty and OJ went down like a brick.

Let's see...there's supposed to be a men's room over in Westworld...These maps suck!

Here we go. Automatic flushing. How about that! They didn't have that here in '95. And the hand dryer even works.

Where's the exit?

"ESCAPE"? Who marked that door "ESCAPE"?

It's unlocked! Hmmm...

Wow, steam tunnels...what's that...sounds like machinery...

Oh, oh.

"Hi guys, I was just--"

"Mr. Gorman?"

"Uh, yeah. How did you--"

"You took the escape door. Why? Are you dissatisfied with Toon World?"

They look like two Agent Smiths, these guys in identical suits and shades.

"No, no, I, uh, guess I just...needed an escape."

They're still staring.

"Okay. We've, uh, spent all the cash we brought with us. Now we're living off of our visa card. Eating fast food. I've got a world-class case of gas. Our car air conditioner broke down in Utah."

I pause. They're still staring. "Do you guys want to know what REALLY bugs me?"

"Tell us."

Deep breath.

"Toon World is a bogus, commercialized, artificially predigested version of reality suitable for morons who never do anything more significant than channel surf!"

"Is that so."

"Yes, it is! Even the bird calls are fake. Who came up with that?"

"Most people like spending some time in a controlled environment, Mr. Gorman. In Toon World, things are predictable, yet magical."

"How wonderful."

"Yes. Wonderful. In the past few years, Mr. Gorman, we have...upgraded our exhibits. It is quite subtle. Have you noticed, for example, that the animatronic pirates in Pirates Cove actually look you in the eye now? That they never move exactly the same way, never say the same things twice? There is a hidden realism cloaked beneath mechanistic appearances."

"...A hyper-realism that necessarily transcends temporal and spatial limitations. Human intelligence melded with machine."

"Okay. Whatever."

The suits exchange glances.

"The door you walked through to get here is a test, of sorts. Very few people even notice the 'escape' door. Even fewer choose it. We need visitors like you who are deeply committed to authenticity and realism to assist us in fine-tuning our new park operations."

"We would like you to speak with one of our customer satisfaction representatives. If after speaking with him, you are not entirely satisfied, we will refund the entire price of your park pass."

"A refund? In cash?"


Two hundred bucks! Hmmm...tell Barb, or no? No. She'd just spend it in the damn gift shop.

"You got yourself a deal."

"This way, Mr. Gorman. Please ask for Doctor Witherspoon."

* * * * *

Wow. There must be a million miles of tunnels down here.

I sure hope I find this Witherspoon character fast. Barb and the kids will be worried.

Okay, here we go...hmmm...Witherspoon, orange arrow pointing up...guess that means I climb these rungs...Open the hatch and

* * * * *

Wow, what happened to the sky?

Wait a minute. No traffic noise. No turnstyles. No lines, no concession stands, no canned music. Just a dusty street with Old West buildings. Where the hell am I?

Hmmm...DOC WITHERSPOON, GENERAL MEDICINE. Dusty window, quaint furnishings, old-fashioned tools of the trade...

What's that sign say? "BACK IN FIFTEEN MINUTES"?!

I've got to get back to the park! Barb must be worried sick.

Where's that hatch? Hey, I know it was here! Damn it, I can't find it!

"Hey, guys, this isn't funny!"

The street must have, like, closed up over it, somehow.

What's that coming up over the mountains? The moon? No, not the moon. The sun. But the sun's already in the sky!

* * * * *

"Welcome to Two Sun, Arizona, Mr. Gorman. Hope you get the pun. I'm Doc Witherspoon."

Doc is fat, grizzled, sweaty.

"Listen, guy, this isn't funny. I need to get back to the park!"

"Nope. Not gonna happen. We need ya for a shootout at high noon. When both suns are at their apogee. That's why they chose this planet for the holo-cast, you know."

"Listen. I mean it. How do I get back to the park?"

"Not the way you came. The wormhole's closed. The cast shuttle rocket arrives at 12:30, though. In two years. You're on camera every day until then."

My mouth hangs open. Doc smiles sadly at me.

"Everything looks wrong up here, I know," he says, "It's like watching a 3-D movie without glasses. Back at the park, though, it looks great! They don't notice the two suns or the purple sky, see. And your face'll be pasted over with Tom Cruise."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Nope. It's Toon World magic!"

"Well, I won't do it!"

"Then you won't eat. The only chow suitable for humans on this planet is over there at the commissary. I hope you like corn dogs, by the way."

"This is slavery! What about my wife and kids?"

"They won't even notice. The shuttle uses relativistic time distortion to put you back on earth fifteen minutes before you left. You'll get your park pass refund, though."

He laughs.

"...And nobody will believe me that I got shanghaied to another world for two years. How convenient. How can they get away with this? I'm an American citizen, damn it!"

Doc shrugs. "Toon World got bought out by a multi-galactic corporation a few years back. It's a sweatshop outfit now."

With two suns overhead, it's starting to get hot. Very hot.

"Come on, Black Bart," Doc says.

x x x

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