(the assignment was: “dream story”, essentially in the vein of kafka. this started a little bit more pretentious, then it became sort of funny and absurdist. inspired by james tate’s “return to the city of white donkeys”, which i fully recommend.)
There is a man who sits atop the broadcasting spire of the tallest building in town. His place has become a site of spiritual reckoning. It is said that he offers sage advice to those who seek his counsel. Visitors return from their journeys with stories of how he completely changed their lives with nothing more than a split-second of eye contact and a statement so pure and so lovely that they couldn’t help but envision the solution to whatever problem they had come to him bearing.
No one is really sure who the man is and how he came to sit perched above the world. No one has seen him come down from his spot to eat, drink, or sleep. Of course, there are theories. Some think he has a room at the widest part of the base of the spire. Some believe that the pigeons are in on it. Some think that the cadre of black-robed children that hover by the Famous Famiglia are there by his bidding. Still others believe that he is not a human in the same way that they are, not requiring trappings of the mundane.
The spire is inaccessible by elevator. ‘Searchers,’ as they are called, must take the building’s elevator to the top, then climb from the top floor to the tip, passing through a mass of clouds that always seems to hover around the spire’s midpoint. Many of his devoted disciples hold that the dangerous climb is a part of the wisdom itself. The wind threatening to throw Searchers off of the tower entirely and the way hands tend to slip when coated in sweat and portentous rain are both regarded as intermediate steps.
When Searchers pass through the clouds, many start to wonder if the guidance they seek is really worth it. A fifty-foot climb through clouds so dense that climber is soaked through by the time they reach him is enough to make anyone question their resolve.
This is what Caroline was considering as she crested the last section of wires and metal implements whose function she could only guess at. But, she was desperate as so many are when seeking the wisdom of “The Fool on the Hill,” as his critics derisively referred to him.
“Hello?” Caroline asked when the man finally came into view. He inclined his head in her direction, softly gazing down at her with pale gray eyes the same color as the clouds that surrounded him. He wore a blue business suit with a white button-up shirt and a blue tie.
“Can you help me?” Caroline asked.
“Can I help you? Can you help me?” the man finally answered, his eyes still trained on her now incredulous expression.
“Excuse me?” Caroline said.
“Well, can you?” the man asked.
“I guess that depends on what you need help with,” Caroline asked.
“Oh thank god. I’ve been here for so long I can’t even remember when I climbed up,” the man said.
“So what can I do?” said Caroline. She wasn’t convinced that this wasn’t a part of the process, so she decided to play along for the time being.
“I’m so goddamn hungry. Can you get me a slice of white?” the man implored.
“But what about the kids in front of the pizza shop?” Caroline asked.
“They aren’t mine, I don’t care what Deborah says,” the man denied. “And anyway, Famiglia sucks. Get me something better.”
“I mean, I guess?” Caroline said. “But is there any particular reason you can’t climb down and get it yourself?”
“To tell you the truth, I’m stuck,” the man admitted.
“Yep. I climbed up here for some reason, then my pant leg got hung on an antenna.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“If I move from this spot, I’ll be doing it without pants.”
“What if I brought you a pair of suit pants with the pizza? Would you come down then?” Caroline asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve cultivated quite the image,” the man said, his tie flapping with the wind into his face and covering his eyes.
“I can’t disagree with you on that.”
“So will you do it?” the man asked.
“I don’t see why not. Would you like anything to drink?” Caroline asked. The man thought for a few seconds.
“I’d like a Crystal Pepsi,” he said, nodding.
“Well, you see…”
“They don’t actually make Crystal Pepsi anymore,” Caroline said.
“What about TaB?”
“Not much TaB either.”
“You’re kidding me,” the man said.
“Nope,” said Caroline. The man sighed deeply.
“You know, I was considering coming down a while back?” the man said.
“Really?” Caroline asked.
“Yeah. But if there’s no Crystal Pepsi, I am one-hundred percent not doing it now,” the man said.
“Just like that?” Caroline asked.
“Just like that. A life without Crystal Pepsi is not one worth living,” the man said.
“You’ve been living up here without Crystal Pepsi for, christ, at least twenty years,” Caroline said.
“Has it really been that long?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Well, then I guess a Dr Pepper will do, unless that’s gone too,” said the man.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” Caroline said, climbing down.
Once again, Caroline made the climb up to the top, a full white pie balanced on the fingers of her left hand and a two-liter bottle of Dr Pepper fastened to her belt.
This time, however, the man was nowhere to be seen.
You’ve got to be kidding me, Caroline thought to herself as she took in the empty spire jutting into the gray sky like an accusatorily pointing finger.
“Hello?” Caroline called out, until she realized how silly she must look clinging to the spire of a skyscraper carrying a white pizza, calling for someone she wasn’t entirely convinced she hadn’t hallucinated.
“Someone has to eat this,” Caroline said to herself as she climbed up just a little further to the place where the man had sat before. As she got settled on the tip of the spire, she heard a noise.
When she tried to move, she realized that her jeans were caught.