Chapter 45 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Several days passed.

"Well, what do you think?" asked Pauline.

"Um... I like it," said Torrence. "But what is it?"

They were discussing Pauline's latest sculpture. She had brought it down from her studio/bedroom on the Asylum's top floor and set it on the kitchen table so that anyone around could easily inspect it and offer opinions. Torrence was unfortunate enough to have been in the kitchen cooking himself an omelet when Pauline barged in with her sculpture.

The sculpture itself was about six inches tall, and was basically a squat, three sided pyramid. It seemed to be made of badly tarnished silver. Near the top, a round hole went through the pyramid, diagonally entering one face and exiting another. Near the bottom, several metal tubes projected out from various points and angles.

"What kind of omelet is that?" asked Pauline.

"Bacon and chive," said Torrence. "Do you want some?" he offered, with obvious reluctance.

"No, I guess not."

"Good. What's the sculpture for?"

"It's something I'm doing for the Children of Mars."

"Oh really? And who are the Children of Mars? A few weeks ago, Jim was asking anybody who'd listen if they knew who the Children of Mars were. I don't know if he ever found out."

"He should have asked me," said Pauline. "I've known about them for a long time. The Children of Mars is this obscure group, I don't know if you'd call them a religious cult or just a club or what. They believe that many years ago an advanced civilization existed on Mars, and that when it fell apart, the last survivors migrated to Earth to survive. Supposedly Martians all had red hair, and Humans never did, until the two races started interbreeding."

A smirk was developing on Torrence's face as he listened to this. "Are you a member of this group?"

"Well, it's a real loose organization. They have weekly meetings, but they're really just parties. The policy is that anyone who has red hair is automatically a member. As for me, they said my 'heritage' is sort of questionable, since my hair is really strawberry blond, not red, but they let me in anyway."

"OK, but what exactly does this group do?"

"I think at first it was just a social thing, a way for redheads to meet other redheads. In fact for a long time I think it was meant to be a secret organization. But lately they've been trying to get more exposure. I think they want people to believe their claim of a once-great Martian civilization."

A radio blared quietly on the other side of the kitchen table. It was tuned to a top 40s station, which was currently broadcasting a song called "Bombs in the Gutter" by the group World War 4. Torrence had been finding this tune increasingly annoying. He finally reached over and snapped the radio off.

"Do you believe in a once-great Martian civilization?" asked Torrence.

"Well, I didn't use to, but now I'm not so sure."

Torrence shoveled the last bite of his omelet into his mouth.

"You see, the big claim they make, or rather that the Emperor makes-"

"The Emperor?"

"Yeah, his name is Hector Frizzz, he's more or less the leader of the group. They call him 'The Emperor of Mars.' Anyway, his big claim is that anyone who has red hair is a descendant of the Martians, and therefore has ancient Martian memories stored in his subconscious. Since this is a 'race memory,' it has to be considered as a whole. Anything that any given Martian descendant might remember would mean little on its own, since it would be just a tiny piece of a big puzzle. But if everyone puts everything they remember together, it might just add up."

By this time, Torrence was practically laughing out loud.

"Look," Pauline protested, "I'm just telling you what they believe, I'm not saying I believe any of this!"

"It's still funny!" laughed Torrence.

"But at times it seems like there might almost be something to it. The idea is that the subconscious Martian memories can be brought to the surface through creative work, so that when, for example, a redheaded painter paints something abstract, thinking he's just creating new images, he's actually tapping into his subconscious Martian race memories, and is painting a scene from life on Mars.

"The payoff to this theory comes when you look collectively at the creative works of a number of different red haired artists. Their works, while differing in style, method, and medium, still have strikingly similar themes and elements. And my sculpture does fit into this category."

Torrence had stopped laughing and was listening rather more intently now.

"The best example of this is Icehouse. Have you heard the recent commercials for the game that call it 'The 100,000 Year Old Game from Mars?' That's not just an advertising gimmick, the guy who invented it really believes that."

"Who invented it?"

"I'll give you one guess." She paused, but Torrence just shrugged. "The Emperor of Mars! Of course, he claims that when he figured out the rules and stuff he was really just tapping into the Martian race memory. In fact, I think he says he got the original idea for the game from a dream he kept having."

"Yeah, but-"

"But he could have just made the whole thing up, right? So what! The concept is that even if you think you are creating something out of the blue, it could really be subconscious memories you are tapping into as part of the creative process. Even if he secretly thinks he made the whole shtick up, it could still be true."

"OK, OK," said Torrence, "then what is this thing supposed to be?" He picked up her new sculpture and rotated it around in his hands, looking at it from all angles.

"Well, I don't really know. Maybe it's a copy of a sculpture originally done on Mars, or maybe it's a non-working replica of some common Martian object, like a Martian toaster, perhaps. But probably, this whole Martian angle is just a load of crap, and this is just a dumb abstract sculpture thrown together one afternoon by a not very good Human artist."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," said Torrence. "I think it's kind of neat. What do you call it?"

"I haven't given it a title yet."

"Then I think you should call it 'Martian Toaster.' "

Pauline shrugged her shoulders, took her sculpture back from Torrence, and carried it upstairs to her room.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

News Search Gift Shop Games About Us | contact us