I am nothing but a shadow, thought Malcolm. Malcolm is freaking out, needlessly might I add. Not just a shadow, he continued, but a shadow puppet. For the record, Malcolm has been completely sober for over a week. This was not the fretting of the inebriated, no, this was the anxiety of the mad.
After purchasing a cheap fast food burrito (cheap is all he an afford now) Malcolm Steadman trekked back to his lonely apartment to stay the integrity of his isolation. Though he was starved for conversation, and though he needed the catharsis of talking to someone, Malcolm was worried that he would have another public freakout. With this in mind, Malcolm limited the time he had around people. He had no positive influence on anyone anyways. How wrong he is.
Elsewhere the boy Malcolm crept out at the bus stop has just downloaded a copy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Elsewhere Karen, the customer service representative for Malcolm’s internet provider is going back through her old notes on Malcolm’s account.
Back at his apartment, Malcolm’s mind began to wander. Anxiety and dread filled his mind and he prepared for it to spill over. Gone were the days Malcolm tried to combat or avoid his existential terror. Gone too were the days he tried to force it. His existential terror would happen when it wanted to, and without his permission. He was not at peace with this, but he was resigned to it.
Watching the cardboard fast food container that his food was held in, Malcolm Steadman spied the shadow that it cast onto his wall. His anxiety was almost to the brim. He knew it was coming.
Malcolm is needlessly freaking out.
When light bounces off a solid three-dimensional object, like Malcolm’s fast food box, a two-dimensional shadow is cast onto a plane, like Malcolm’s wall. Thus, the shadow of the box is a square. Malcolm relaxed a little, even if he knew it was in vain. Simple third grade science was not going to set him off into an existential abyss, right?
Of course it will.
Elsewhere the boy packs his glass pipe with weed stolen from his parents.
Elsewhere Karen takes a deep sigh as “waiting music” plays over her headset.
The higher dimension analog to a line is a square. The higher dimension analog to a square is a box. The higher dimension analog to a box is a tesseract, the super cube. Malcolm contemplated this with the same hesitation and expectation one has when they are sure that they are going to be hit in the face. If higher dimensional objects like a tesseract exist, if physical objects can manifest in a fourth dimension, what shadows do they cast? If light bounces off of a tesseract, does it cast a three-dimensional shadow? If a box cast a square shadow, would a tesseract cast a cubed shadow? Malcolm flinched. IT, was coming.
Because no one can perceive of a fourth dimensional object in its natural state, if they did exist no one could see them. They could view their shadows, however. Could the world around Malcolm be a number of shadows to objects of a higher dimension? Malcolm swallowed nervously. Could I be a shadow of one of these objects? Malcolm posited. Then it hit him.
Malcolm conceived that he was a shadow puppet cast by a being beyond his perceptions or understanding, unaware of his exact nature and incapable of understanding it if he was. I am nothing but a shadow, and not just a shadow, but a shadow puppet. Again, for the record, Malcolm is perfectly sober, if not a little mad.
The cruelty of the concept bothered him most. It was not the fact that he now saw himself as a shadow to a non-euclidean super object that bothered him. What bothered him was that if he was one of these objects, if he was truly a hologram controlled by something outside of his perception and understanding, he was an unhappy hologram. He was a sad shadow puppet. The cruelty was that while he chose to cast a happy dog or a soaring eagle onto his wall when he made shadow puppets, a higher being was casting a sad, lonely, broken man haunted by epiphanies that were bleak and that he did not understand. He imagined fourth dimensional super beings mixing their fourth dimensional analogs of hands into shapes. These beings would laugh and point as one of them made a “Malcolm”, his whole life appearing to them in an instant. So sad and confused. So funny.
It was hard to say even for Malcolm whether he believed this was the case or not, but his feelings about it were real, even if the scenario was absurd.
Malcolm felt useless, he felt pointless. He could not make sense of himself or the world around him, let alone make sense of something more than him. Malcolm freaked out needlessly. With his existential terror behind him, with his “episode” of geometric nihilism past, Malcolm Steadman felt reaffirmed in his belief that he had no positive influence on anyone.
Elsewhere, the boy lit up his pipe and put on some ear buds. The boy pressed play and for the first time in his life he would listen to Pink Floyd, a band unintentionally recommended to him by Malcolm. It would blow his god damn mind.
Elsewhere, Karen checks her old notes on Malcolm’s account during a lull in calls. She will disapprove of how callous and robotic she treated a man losing his mind and clearly in need of someone to talk to.
The boy, after hearing the album all the way through for the second time in this one sitting, will start to pursue philosophy. His life will forever be changed and enriched as he earns a PhD in Philosophy. He will also be in tons of student debt and will look back at his favorite album as being a bit pretentious, but he will be fulfilled.
Karen will realize that she hated solving the shallow problems of the customers that she talks to. She will realize that she has a real opportunity to help people and will decide, after reading her notes and looking casually to her post-it note that reads “Brazil”, that she will go back to school to become a therapist. Karen will leave her work feeling guilty for ignoring Malcolm’s plea, but she will have her head up high as she applies to community college.
Malcolm does not give himself enough credit. Though terrifying, these epiphanies had lessons. Use your time wisely. Don’t objectify people with labels. Do something virtuous.
Elsewhere, Maggie is far less stressed out and enjoys her new job.
Malcolm was better than he perceived of himself. Malcolm has learned more than he will ever give himself credit for. Too much nostalgia can be an empty panacea. Don’t look forward to someone’s misfortune and pain. Something about giraffes.
Malcolm finished his breakfast.
Thirteen days are left.
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