Chapter 71 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Dave opened his eyes.

He was somewhere dark, in the middle of the night. He was in a chilly room, under a thick, warm blanket. The Martian Princess was curled up next to him. And he could see something, or someone, in the corner.

He remembered that her name was Alyson. At least that was what the Princess had told him, though he wondered how she had found out.

Alyson was sitting in a rocking chair, reading a book. She rocked slowly, back and forth. It was very difficult to see her; it was like trying to get a good look at the spots that you see in front of your eyes after someone has taken a flash photo of you. Her form was indistinct and elusive. The chair didn't rest on the floor, but hovered in the air. Alyson constantly looked down at her book; her head never seemed to move.

Dave watched her for a long time, for perhaps half an hour. Every few minutes, she turned a page, but she didn't take her eyes off the book. Dave never moved, never stirred. He just lay there, watching.

Then, she became even harder to discern, even fainter than before, and Dave squinted and strained to see her. And finally, she faded altogether.

Dave lay awake for another half hour, wondering and thinking. He caressed the woman beside him and she stirred, but did not wake.

After he went back to sleep, Dave had a dream. He dreamt he was working at a concession stand in a movie theater. The strange thing was that the refreshments were in vending machines, located behind the concession counter. Dave was acting as an unnecessary liaison between the customers and the machines. When, for example, a patron requested Milk Duds, Dave would take the money, feed the bills into an automatic changer, put the coins into the candy dispensing machine, pull the lever for Milk Duds, and finally hand the box that fell out of the machine to the customer. As instructed by the movie theater management, Dave was charging a dollar sixty for a box of Milk Duds, even though it only cost fifty cents to buy them from the machine. The real prices were marked on the vending machines, and were clearly visible to the customers, who frequently became enraged at the blatant mark up. Each customer seemed more angry about the situation than the previous one had been, and they began to threaten Dave with physical violence. They yelled loudly, and brandished grisly looking weapons, such as huge, rusty iron axes and clubs with pointy metal spikes. Finally Dave hid under the counter. The customers became even more angry at the lack of service, and shouted and pounded on the counter with baseball bats and sledge hammers.

Then it was morning, and Dave awoke with a throbbing headache.


Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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