Albert opened his eyes. Blinking rapidly in the harsh light, he found that he couldn’t focus. He felt dizzy and the world spun around him. Literally. Tiny little blue worlds, flapping their wings as they tweeted shrilly were circling his head distracting him from concentrating on reality. It was wrong.
This had never happened before. It never should, not when you were a metaphysical manifestation of physical reality. For the first time in his existence a small sliver of genuine confusion penetrated his mind. What on earth was going on?
He sat for a few seconds, eyeballs rotating in their sockets trying to follow the trajectory of the objects orbiting his head and waiting for his mind to come to grips with the reality of his situation. As his mind grappled, something about the situation slowly dawned on him as being more than just wrong. Those weren’t the world that flapped around his head, it was a small flock of birds.
Inside Albert anger blossomed. This wasn’t just seriously wrong, it was physically impossible. No bird should be able to fly a tight spiral like that, and if there was one thing Albert Feinman Physics Cop hated, it was an occurrence of the impossible. Anger erupted into a rage that shook him from his stupor. He stood, now fully conscious and surveyed the scene around him. It was a scene unlike any he’d known before.
Before him stretched a monochrome orange desert beneath a uni-colour blue sky. Cartoon cliffs and ridges dotted the horizon and through the middle of it all snaked a ribbon of grey. Solid black lines fractured the vertical cliff faces giving the appearance of detail and the sun hung low as simply a circular yellow disk in the sky. There was no temperature to speak of, but despite himself, Albert couldn’t help but feel hot, dry and parched.
A slight breeze stirred to his left and Albert turned to appreciate its freshness just in time to see a blur rocket past him. Moments later he was struck by the shockwave.
“Meep meep“, the blur said as it passed.
Before he could help it, Albert found himself launched skyward in fright. Below him the cartoon desert shrank crazily as his ascent defied the laws of physics. In panicked response, Albert instinctively engaged his gravity correction traits, cranking them up to full capacity. It had no effect – his ascent continued.
Panic setting in, his mind free-wheeling like his arms and legs as together they fought the sensation of weightlessness, he lost connection with the world around him and so it took a few seconds for him to realise he could hear laughter near him. Pulling himself together, he noticed that beside him, a figure of a man hung in thin air.
The man reclined lazily, as if lounging on a roman couch but there was nothing beneath him to hold his weight. One hand held his head up, and with the other he gestured vaguely in the direction of the ground. “I see you’ve met my road-runner,” smirked the man.
Albert didn’t know what to say and simply started blankly back.
“You know he’s quite the hit with the kids,” said the man. “Let me introduce myself, I’m Warner Br’Others. I’m the creator of this place. But you can simply call be Warner.”
This meant nothing to Albert, so he continue to stare.
“I can see I’ve caught you off guard,” Warner said, “so let me just explain, I know who you are Albert Feinman Physics Cop. I’ve bought you here to have a little fun. In the real world, dominion is yours. You know the rules and ensure they are kept”, said the man.
“But in this world that is mine, I set the rules and …”, the man trailed off into a silent thoughtfulness and then continued, “… here let me show you.”
“You’ve been rising for quite a few seconds now. That’s probably enough. The narrative tension has been built and so … stop,” the man commanded.
Albert drifted gently to a stop and hung in mid-air. He could tell this wasn’t a good thing.
The man continued, “And now it’s time for you to drop”. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, gave a cheeky smirk and waved goodbye.
With that Albert plummeted ground-wards, a small silhouette cloud left behind to symbolise where he had just hung. His fall was far faster than his ascent and, in a short time, a small puff of distant dust showed where he ploughed into the orange ground.
Once again Albert struggled to regain consciousness and once again those blasted birds circled his head until he shrugged off the daze. He rose to his feet and surveyed his surroundings. With a small groan he realised it was the same cartoonish desert he’d been in before.
“I was hoping it had been a dream,” muttered Albert to himself. He’d never dreamed before, but he had heard that humans did it regularly and figured there could always be a first time. Besides, it was infinitely preferable to whatever this place was.
Looking more closely, he noticed he was now near a cliff face. A furry fox-like creature was carrying a can of something towards the bottom of the cliff. His mind cycled through options of what the creature could be. Fox, dog, dingo? No none of those were quite right, but when he got to Coyote, somehow he just knew that it was correct.
It was a childish looking creature with a sinister leer, devoid of subtlety and constructed from strictly caricatured features. It was also carrying a paint tin. And despite that, he knew with absolute certainty that was what it was. The fact that the scene paused briefly to have the word Coyote appear beside it with a large arrow pointing in its direction probably helped.
As he watched, the Coyote reached the cliff face and proceeded to paint a tunnel entrance on the brown surface. Being a physics cop, Albert typically steered clear of biological concerns, so he was willing to give the Coyote’s painting abilities the benefit of the doubt. Who knew what sort of weird genetic engineering people were getting up to these days. What concerned Albert more was the paint tin.
Somehow out of the one tin, the Coyote managed to produce a complete multi-colour mural of a tunnel entrance. Black shadows for the background, a blue brick multi-hued ‘faux 3D’ archway and an extension to the grey roadway that seemed to continue into the tunnel. Strictly speaking, paint fell into the chemistry department, but chemistry was the next closest science to physics so he felt justified in being outraged.
The hairs rose on Albert’s neck and he was just about to intercede to stop this violation when a semi-familiar noise caused both him and the coyote to jump.
For some reason, neither of them rose dramatically off the ground this time.
The coyote looked around wildly. He spied a nearby rock and crouched down behind it to hide and wait. Albert felt compelled to do the same and so he snuggled in behind the coyote who looked quizzically at him for a moment before turning intently back to the roadway.
Within a few seconds, a gentle breeze heralded the arrival of the road-runner. Rocketing down the road, it ran faster than the eye could see and slammed straight into the tunnel entrance painted onto the rock-face … and passed straight through?
Albert rose in astonishment. His jaw dropped as did the coyote’s, which literally hit the floor. In his shocked state, Albert only tangentially noticed this weird jaw arrangement and filed away a small note in his mind to have a chat with the biologists sometime to ensure that their experiments were still confined within the bounds of physics. As a pair, he and the coyote staggered to the painted cliff face to stare.
They touched the painted surface, it was solid. They scanned the roadway, it was clean. Not a shred of tenderised road-runner jerky was to be seen anywhere.
Suddenly a horn blared, lights shone from the tunnel entrance and a 12 tonne semi-trailer raced out of the tunnel, flattened the pair and proceeded down the road on its way.
As he lost consciousness, Albert swore that he heard distant laughter.
Albert woke to find he was strapped to a rocket. Beside him, also strapped to the rocket, was the coyote wearing a pair of roller skates and carrying a knife and fork.
Warner stood on his other side, smiling jovially as he asked, “Are we having fun yet?”
“Why are you doing this you monster?”, Albert responded.
“For fun of course,” answered Warner. “Thousands of kids find this amazingly hilarious. And just between you and me,” he added, “quite a few adults too.”
Just then the road-runner shot past and the coyote light a match, touching it to the wick of the rocket.
“Ta ta, I’ll see you later,” waved Warner with a grin and the rocket exploded.
The scenes flashed past for Albert. Scenes filled with springs and ropes, with falling rocks and overhead cliff hangs, with pain, frustration and overwhelming hunger on the part of the coyote.
The journey for Albert’s part was no easier on him. He was metaphysical and didn’t feel physical pain, but for every ludicrous attempt and failure, the broken laws of physical they constituted enacted an equivalent metaphysical pain. It was agonising, and through it all, Warner was ever-present, slowly and persistently outlining his personal genius.
“It makes money you see,” the smug, self-congratulatory bastard gloated.
“If we did reality, the show would be boring,” he explained. “It’s the suspension of reality that makes it so funny. There’s only so much pain that can be inflicted without killing the coyote under normal rules. But this way, we can be perennially cruel. Hurt him over and over. Even heighten it by allowing time for foreknowledge.”
As he said that, the coyote stood with a small sign titled “HELp mE!” while a rock fell from the sky onto his head.
“Nobody feels sorry for the coyote,” Warner continued, but Albert wasn’t so sure. “Everybody knows he’s evil and cruel from his look. The road-runner can’t be eaten, he’s too cute. In here, that’s the overriding law. That and the law that the coyote needs to be fed.”
Albert didn’t say anything. He simply stared at Warner with a loathing expression that communicated his feelings better than words. Uncharacteristically, Warner noticed.
“Come now, don’t feel sorry for yourself,” he chided. “I’ve got nothing against you personally. It’s just that to make it work, your laws need to be violated. As I said before, we can’t kill the coyote, that would end things too soon.”
Behind them, the coyote turned around a cannon that had failed to fire at the road-runner and peered down the barrel. Predictably, it went off in his face.
“Nothing personal,” said Warner, “it’s just good business.”
Albert waited through many more scenes. He bided his time. The years passed, he thought and observed the narrative, and slowly within him a suspicion grew.
One day he turned to Warner and asked, “How long can this continue?”
Warner spread his hands expansively and said, “Forever. People can’t get enough. Besides, we all know that the road-runner can’t be eaten. No-one would stand for it.”
With that, Albert knew the answer. Turning to the coyote, he gestured him over to form a huddle and started whispering in his ear. The coyote’s face went through a series of expressions. At first he was wary, then puzzled, thoughtful and finally a slow, sneaky, cunning smile spread across his face. He and Albert shook hands and went to hide behind a nearby rock.
In the background, Warner looked concerned. “What are you two doing over there?” he asked.
Sidling over to the rock, Warner tried to peer at their secret preparations. But hunched over, Albert and the coyote deliberately obscured their hands from view and, with sneaky grins, continued to wait.
A gentle breeze heralded the imminent arrival of the road-runner as it had so many time before. Just as the characteristic “Meep meep” rang out, Albert sprang.
He launched himself at Warner, striking him with an upper cut to the chin. Wincing with the metaphysical pain, Albert allowed the punch to adhere to cartoon convention, flipping Warner head over heels in a tight spin and dumping him in a heap where he once stood. And all the while, the coyote had been preparing.
The coyote leapt on the fallen cartoonist, knife and fork raised in anticipation, slavering to finally sate his ravenous hunger. As he overpowered his life-long tormentor, the camera slowly panned away from the pair. The view hovered just to the edge of the action while shreds of clothing and hair spun into view, expelled from the furious melee.
Just off camera, Albert smiled to himself while in his minds eye he heard the chorus of cheers that radiated from the real world. Cheers for an idea who’s time had come. Cheers from an audience of children who had now grown to adulthood. Who had learnt empathy and finally felt sorry for the sadistic treatment of the coyote over the years.
Inexorably the narrative had changed and, as the coyote slunk off into the wilderness, replete for the first time in his existence, Albert slipped back into the real world. His job here was done.
He felt satisfied, but it was a strange feeling. He hadn’t actually enforced any physical laws. Instead he’d worked with something less tangible. Was it a moral law? Or just mob mentality that happened to be on his side? It was difficult to say and in this he was definitely out of his depth.
He shrugged his shoulders. Stick to physical laws he told himself, with them you know where you stand. Besides it was time to head back to the office and find out what else was going on. He’d been gone for years.