“My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
The Meano Tower
Theo crawled through another long plastic tube, suspended high in the air. It was too narrow for comfort, designed for people much younger than him. He paused, slowed by something that smelled bad, stale, rank. He wondered what it was until he realized it was him. Theo had been crawling through the maze of tubes and little rooms for so long that he had sweated through his clothes and stunk in the still air of the tubes.
It seemed like a long time ago that he had brought his two kids to the newest craze in children’s amusements, the Nossos Adventure Labyrinth. They paid at the door and were given matching numbered wristbands.
“It’s a safety feature,” the scrawny teenager in a bilious uniform said, “A child can only leave with an adult that has a matching wristband.”
Properly labeled, they all walked through the gigantic cube to the entryway at the center. Theo marveled at the complexity of the overhead mass of interlocking passageways, mesh-sided rooms, and aerial ball-pits that rose high and filled the place. Everything was hung from the ceiling, high above, by thick steel struts. It shook with the weight of children moving through the construction. There was one entrance at the center where kids were pouring through the plastic arch and several exits at the end of brightly colored slides disgorging children, who would run to the center and repeat.
His two kids disappeared into the massive throng and Theo retreated to the “Quiet Room” off to one side. It was glassed-in, elevated, soundproof, and guarded by a sign that said “No Children Allowed.” This was the retreat from the insanity for harrowed parents – Theo realized that this room was the attraction that drew the adults – the ones that paid for everything.
Theo settled into an overstuffed chair, let out a sigh of relief, and began thumbing through a magazine that sat on a side table, “Luxury Yachting.” He knew he would never own a yacht, never even have the opportunity to be on a yacht, but he could dream. His relaxation was interrupted by a loud rapping on the window right next to him. Startled, he realized that his kids, Daevin and Icobod had piled up all the foam exercise pads, climbed on top, and were beating on the window.
Aggravated, Theo walked down the stairs from the Quiet Room and demanded an explanation.
“You need to climb into there with us,” said Daevin.
“We’re scared,” said Icobod.
“The kids say there is something in there,” continued Daeven.
“They call it the Meano Tower,” said Icobod.
“That’s crazy, go back in and play.”
“Please, dad. Come in with us. We’re scared.”
Theo thought for a minute, looked for a sign that said, “No Parents Allowed in the Tubes,” and didn’t find one – so he gave in. He even admitted to himself that it might be a little bit of fun. They never had anything like that when he was a kid. His father with his famous dignity would never stoop to doing something childish like that and if it was something his father wouldn’t do – then it must be worth doing.
He crawled into the entrance and tried to keep up with his two kids as the tunnels rose up and up. There were little mesh-walled rooms with padded floors and Theo would rest in those, catch his breath, while troops of excited kids moved through in different directions.
Other rooms, connected by the plastic tunnels were full of colorful, hollow, plastic balls. The sign out front said, “All Balls Washed Continuously.” He saw how pipes in the bottom of the pits would suck plastic balls out and down through clear tubes to a central machine that sprayed the balls with water in a big transparent hopper, then dry them in a stream of air before sending them back in a second set of tubes to drop down through the ceiling of the ball pit rooms. It was like a giant circulatory system, with clear plastic arteries and veins moving round plastic corpuscles back and forth.
He watched this hypnotic cycle through the mesh of one of the rooms until he realized he had lost his children… or rather they had run off and left him.
Calling their names he worked his way around and across the tangle of spaces, looking for the both of them. He was also looking for one of the plastic slides so he could get down and out – but didn’t have any luck with that either.
Theo had no idea of how long this went on. Finally, the number of other kids that moved through the spaces began to thin out frighteningly fast, until he was practically alone. He yelled out through the mesh of the rooms but nobody seemed to hear him. Finally, the lights went out, leaving Theo in a dim, dark, panic.
He had no idea where his kids had gone. They could not leave without him and his matching wrist band – though the scraggy teenager at the entrance didn’t seem like the most secure of guards. How could they leave him? How could they not miss him? Then he thought of how complex, massive, and high the place was, how loud, and realized one adult, unexpected in the tubes, might easily go unnoticed.
Theo finally stopped in one of the rooms and gave up. His elbows were torn and pained from all the crawling and he was sweaty, hungry, and out of breath. As he sat there, hunched over, he thought about what the kids had said. What was the Meano Tower? Kid’s imaginations are so vivid.
But then he heard the roaring. And it began to get louder, and he feared, closer.