“The Nothing is spreading… It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing…”
A little later they flew over the outer edge of “The Labyrinth,” the maze of flower beds, hedges, and winding paths that surrounded the Ivory Tower on all sides. To their horror, they saw that there too the Nothing had been at work… The once bright-colored flower beds and shrubbery in between were now gray and withered. The branches of once graceful little trees were gnarled and bare. The green had gone out of the meadows, and a faint smell of rot and mold rose up to the newcomers. The only colors left were those of swollen giant mushrooms and garish, poisonous-looking blooms that suggested nothing so much as the figments of a maddened brain.
Enfeebled and trembling, the innermost heart of Fantastica was still resisting the inexorable encroachment of the Nothing…
“Have you seen the Nothing, sonny?”
“Yes, many times.”
“What does it look like?”
“As if one were blind.”
“That’s right – and when you get to the human world, the Nothing will cling to you. You’ll be like a contagious disease that makes humans blind, so they can no longer distinguish between reality and illusion. Do you know what you and your kind are called there?”
“The Nothing pulls at you, and none of you has the strength to resist it for long…”
“When your turn comes to jump into the Nothing, you too will become a nameless servant of power, with no will of your own. Who knows what use they will make of you? Maybe you’ll help them persuade people to buy things they don’t need, or hate things they know nothing about, or hold beliefs that make them easy to handle, or doubt the truths that might save them.”
“Yes, you little Fantastican, big things will be done in the human world with your help: wars started, empires founded…”
He now realized that not only was Fantastica sick, but the human world as well. The two were connected. He had always felt this, though he could not have explained why it was so. He had never been willing to believe that life had to be as gray and dull as people claimed. He heard them say: “Life is like that,” but he couldn’t agree. He never stopped believing in mysteries and miracles.
He had seen enough. At last he really understood the horror that was spreading through Fantastica.
“Oh, nothing can happen more than once,
But all things must happen some day.
Over hill and dale, over wood and stream,
My dying voice will blow away…
The Childlike Empress is sick,
And with her Fantastica will die.
The Nothing will swallow this place,
It will perish and so will I.
We shall vanish into the Nowhere and Never,
As though we had never been.
The Empress needs a new name,
To make her well again.”
From “The Neverending Story”, by Michael Ende
“Fourteen… thirty-five?” He felt stupid saying it so slowly, but it sounded wrong.
“Yep,” the woman sitting on the other side of the table said. He thought he saw a slight leer. “You want it?”
“Ummm, well, I, uh, hmmm…” He had an uncomfortable sense that she somehow understood his disfluencies better than he did. “I’m not sure, hmmm. What is it?”
“It’s a clock. Antique. It’s worth at least a hundred and fifty but I gotta get rid of it.”
“A deal,” he thought. “Maybe. This lady knows what she’s doing. Probably not $150, maybe less, but who knows? Maybe it’s worth even more. I could get Sam to look at it… Besides, it would look good on the bookcase, next to the lamp.”
What he said was, “Huh,” but again he sensed that she was reading him more closely than he would have liked.
The vendor sat at the edge of a plastic folding chair, arms folded, with raven-black hair, wearing a dark purple dress made of what looked like velvet, the steward of a table covered with old dolls, old bottles, old mirrors, objects waiting for a place to go besides the dump. The table’s faux oak veneer was peeling, revealing the damaged particleboard underneath.
“It’s nice,” she said.
It was, he agreed. But it also looked heavy, and he had a long train ride home.
“Yeah…” He started to pull back.
“You can have it for ten. I gotta get rid of it.”
He tried to remember what was in his wallet. Did he have a ten? He was pretty sure he had a twenty, but sometimes these flea market people didn’t have change, and they had to go to the next table, to their… friends? Probably more of a you-scratch-my-back kind of situation (now that was an old saying). Anyway, he definitely didn’t have… fourteen-thirty-five, and didn’t feel like spending more time with this transaction than necessary, and already regretted following his curiosity to this weird place, and this weird woman, with her weird table, but if he had a ten on him, what the hell, it was a nice… clock, or whatever it was. It didn’t look like a clock to him, but it looked old and ornate and brassy, and they don’t make things like they used to, and it would give his apartment a slightly classier feel, and… She was staring at him, waiting, waiting for a decision, while he tried to remember if he had broken a twenty recently… He had! Yesterday, when he stopped by the deli to get a coffee. The guy hadn’t been crazy about giving him nineteen dollars in change, either.
“Sure,” he said.
He took out his wallet. There was no ten, only three twenties and a few singles. He blankly handed her a twenty.
“Hold on, I’ll get you your change,” she said, and headed to the adjacent table.
“Careful, it’s heavy.”