Bewildering Stories

Change the color of the text to:

Change the color of the background to:


by Jonathan Laden

Ronnie had a fear of white space. He wasn't sure if the blankness made him shiver inside because his toes were bleached by a childhood accident with a washrag, or if it was from inexplicable vacuum deep within his soul. Maybe there was a black hole in there, eating him out from the inside. He often dreamed of it, waking screaming just as his lips disappeared into the swirling vortex.

When he was charged with writing a report for work - all too often of late - he would begin by setting his screen to black. After enough white letters had accumulated to make the screen disturbingly white, he would reverse background and foreground. Despite a few palpitations when the white screen emerged around the letters, he found this was acceptable. Except the one time he turned his screen white before turning his letters black. That wasn't a mistake he'd make again! No sir.

Then came the day of the erasers.

Ronnie was late for work. He stepped out of the door just in time to see his car finish disappearing, the bumper vanishing before his eyes.

"What in tarnation's going on," he demanded of no one in particular. "Rewrite." The omnipresent voice boomed. "I'm sorry, Ronnie, you don't work. You have no realistic motivation. That black hole in the gut thing has been done to death."

Ronnie was indignant. "Fear is a universal, and I dare say appropriate, reaction to all the dangerous unknowns of the universe. How dare you say I'm not realistic?"

The trees disappeared from top to bottom. And then the inexorable whitewash started in on his lawn. Ronnie shrugged - he had never been fond of mowing.

"Fear is so universal it's boring, Ronnie. Fear of white space is plain silliness. You wouldn't have made it to adulthood with such a phobia."

He backed into his doorway. The encroaching blank had almost swiped the corner of his shoes. He wiggled his toes - they were white enough already.

"I'll make you a deal." He craned his neck all the way back. The clouds in the sky seemed to be somehow growing. "I'll be more interesting, more realistic, more whatever you want, if you just let me live."

The erasure stopped. "I'm listening. What do you have in mind?"

"I'llS" Ronnie scanned his mind. Of all the times to draw a blank! He jumped up and down in his thinking routine, but nothing came to him. Nothing at all.

"Time's up. What have you got?"

"Nothing," Ronnie whimpered. "Please don't erase me. Let the black hole eat me from the inside instead."

"Why?" The voice thundered, shaking Ronnie's house. It stood alone in white space where his neighbourhood had been. The windows rattled.

"I'd hate for all my years of paralysis and sweaty nightmares to have been in vain. Grant me that minute fulfillment."

"Interesting. You may have something there. I must contemplate the meaning of this."

For just a moment, he allowed himself to hope. Then Ronnie felt his guts being consumed. "I thought you were contemplating what I'd said."

"I did. It's good. I'll leave your house unerased as a testament to your memory."

Ronnie felt his lips go over the edge and into the swirling vortex.

Copyright © 2003 by Jonathan Laden