What is This?

About six months ago, the tunnel courier delivered to me a series of "comedies" written by Ephraim P. Noble from 1968-1974. Maybe there is an older meaning to the word "comedies" that I'm not familiar with, because they seem nothing like comedies to me. In any case, I have scanned the covers of each of these very short stories, and hope to post them here on a regular basis.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Blinking Twins in the Diorama

"The Blinking Twins in the Diorama"

Of all the terrible things that happened in those days, the most awful and horrifying event involved the diorama twins, who were planted by the radical student group RADIANT UNION in the campus museum. This was around 1971 or 73, and I was just finding my legs again after the tornadic Sixties. RADIANT UNION had cost me my job as a young professor at Penn State. I was working as a carpenter-for-hire out in Amish country in western Pennsylvania, up high on the rafters in the wind and hot sun. My hands were bruised and splintered. I was closer to the sun than I had ever been before. I could practically feel its solar flares. Free from the world.

But I was dragged back down into it by a night-time messenger who crept across the barn floor, where I slept on the sloped wide planks and hay, and whispered in my ear that I needed to return to State College. The lives of two young women depended upon it.

Two days latter, I was hitching rides on back roads covered in dust back to Penn State. It was hippies mostly, picked me up, their dreams of a violent return to The Natural Order dissipating before their eyes. One of them was beautiful in her red calico skirt, and she let me sleep with my head on her lap in the back seat. Back at Penn State I lived on the street under the railroad bridge for a few days, until the messenger found me again and led me to the museum, through a propped open side door, into a darkened room that smelled of death, down two flights of metal stairs that practically crumbled into rust, into a corridor illuminated by a pale green light from what source I knew not, into and through a boiler room that hissed and steamed my glasses, and finally out into the Diorama Room.

“There,” he said, pointing to the “Virginia, 1787” diorama with its domed and pillared estate, its after-a-lightning-storm bright green grass.

And the twins. Obviously mannequins.

“There what?” I asked.

“Watch,” he said.

For some time, nothing happened. But then one of them blinked. I pressed my face to the glass but could get no closer. I wanted to see them breath, if they breathed. Then the other one blinked. I pounded on the glass. I made a goofy face. I exposed myself, but they held fast. Not even a grimace.

“Maybe they’re blinking mannequins,” I finally said to the messenger.

Only later did I find out the truth, that they were a sleeper cell, student revolutionaries planted there by RADIANT UNION, waiting for the day of revolution, when they would attack and destroy the museum from within, and that the estate behind them was filled with weapons, and that x-number of museum employees were also agents of RADIANT UNION.

The Sixties were not happening quickly enough for them, and now it was too late. There was a moment—maybe in late 1969—when their plan just might have worked, when their dream of a brief dystopia ushered in through violence would have gradually transformed into a utopia, free of tradition, and the green grass of this world would succumb to weeds and flowers in bloom so bright that even those responsible for all that had happened—those who had created the machines and buildings and satellites—would stand in awe at the resurrection of God’s Green Glory.

But none of that was to be. Three days after my visit, the museum was stormed at midnight by a rival revolutionary group, and the glass wall that separated the “Virginia, 1787” diorama from the rest of the world was shattered with axes and sledgehammers. The twins were either kidnapped or disappeared. The diorama itself burnt to the floor, its flames circling up through the ventilation ducts through the museum roof and disappearing into the black night.

Would it shock you to know that I smelled the fire from afar, and wept?