Published in Leviathan in March 2015
Matthew didn’t want to work on his homework. He preferred to build lasers in his living room. One day, feeling apathetic and destructive, he took his latest creation and fired a beam at the door to his bedroom. There was a backwards sucking sound, and the door transformed into a window to blackness. Matthew walked over, stuck his head through, and was faced with a cold, endless abyss. It reminded him of when his older brother drove him around the lake after dark, and he would lean his head out the window and feel the bite of the breeze.
While Matthew was reminiscing, his phone floated out of his shirt pocket and into the void. He panicked, trying not to fall in, and grabbed it. But as he slid it back into his pocket, he noticed his tortoiseshell glasses had floated off his nose, much farther than arm’s length. He brainstormed if he had anything in the apartment to reach them with—he thought of the grabby thing his dad used to use to change light bulbs, and a cane, but he owned neither of those things. He thought about tying himself to a yarn spool and venturing out himself, but he felt an inexplicable self-preservation impulse. So he threw on some street clothes and walked down to the skate park, where he saw a group of relatively approachable teenagers leaning against the chain-link fence. He would have offered money, but he was pretty drained; he needed to buy groceries later that day. So he tried the pick-up line he had been stewing on during the walk over, crafted with the help of his law student roommate, Vic:
“Would you be interested in traveling to a place with no laws?”
Soon, three teenagers in chunky hats, wife beaters, and studded belts, all tied to Vic’s girlfriend’s yarn, hurled their bodies through the doorframe with jaded looks on their faces.
Thirty minutes later, Matthew poked his head inside the void. “Where are you guys?” Nobody responded. He took one of the yarn threads and pulled it until the girl with fake yellow hair and an African beaded necklace swam back.
“Did you find my glasses?” he asked.
“Piss up a rope. I don’t care about your glasses,” she said, and kicked back into the floating black mess. He grumbled and let it go, and went to do his laundry.
Matthew felt strange going to sleep that night with three teenagers doing drugs and space flips in an endless void in his living room, but he managed to get six hours. He awoke to more riff-raff, some with bleached hair and missing teeth, getting ready to jump in the void.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he exclaimed, rushing up to them and swatting his arms around.
“Try and stop me,” said a kid with an undercut and piercing in between his lower lip and chin. In a moment of panic, Matthew quickly made a sign on computer paper that said “FunBox: $500 entry. $10,000 back if you find my tortoiseshell glasses.” All he was thinking about was keeping the peace and paying off his loans. The riff-raff in the living room all shrugged and opened their wallets, and five minutes later, Matthew had an extra 3,000.
Within a day, all kinds of people were clamoring to get in the FunBox. Middle aged golfers, reporters, Juggaloes, policemen, physics students with notebooks. It was like a county fair, or an airport, and about half of them were screaming about who cut who in line. So Matthew and Vic found some security guards on Google. Right around the time they arrived, the line to get in stretched for several blocks. After the tall, obese woman and the muscular man with muttonchops had everything under control, Matthew loaded some clothes and his laser gear into his Volvo and headed for a posh hotel a mile away, wiping the sweat off his forehead and blasting Boards of Canada. He tried not to look at the line for the FunBox. But he did, and he saw thirtysomethings in blue furry boots and candy necklaces, bitter-looking singletons with huge backpacks, and crowds of excited, vanilla-looking college kids. He saw some rowdy clumps of teenagers and knew that his “21 and up” rule wasn’t going to do a thing.
The next day when Matthew pulled into the reserved parking space that Vic had painted for him, pushed through the line, and shoved aside reporters with the big, spongy microphones, he bumped into his butt-chinned landlord.
“Everyone’s moving out except for Fred and Kyrie and the suspicious people in 17,” he said. “I’m raising your rent to make up for it. That’s just the way it works.”
By the end of the first week, several thousand people were floating in the FunBox. When Matthew stopped by one morning, Vic told him,
“Some guys entered the FunBox with a shit ton of wood. Said they wanted to build some beds inside. I just charged them five dollars a pound to send it in.”
“How did you weigh it?” asked Matthew. Vic gestured toward a massive industrial scale that had suddenly appeared in the kitchen.
As Matthew watched the crowd funnel into the FunBox, he noticed one out of every ten people only dropped off items and walked away. Some people sent in care packages for their friends, some sent care packages to nobody in particular. Someone tried to send in a paper bag, but he was arrested once nearby cops scoped it and saw that it contained ecstasy. The man scowled and stomped his feet as the handcuffs clicked.
“Before you enter the FunBox, America is still America,” said one mustached cop.
One spot on the ten o’clock news interviewed an emaciated, tousle-haired boy who said he was going to step into the FunBox and never come back.
“My chest is a void that just emotionally eats everything around it. Almost like my heart goes infinitely inward. And I have all these obligations like college applications and IB homework that just gets in the way of what I really want. In the FunBox, I’ll be in an environment which surrounds me with what I feel on the inside.”
The camera followed the boy, who the news referred to as Jeremy Daly, as he let himself go limp and fell into the door.
Matthew commuted to the FunBox less and less over the following weeks, and spent more time sitting in his hotel room. He was always getting texts from the security guards and Vic telling him how much money he was making, but he didn’t care. He liked sitting on the soft California King bed and eating the sugared walnuts that the maids put by his pillow every afternoon. He watched the History Channel all day long with some Food Network here and there, and sometimes he flipped to the news to see what people were saying about the FunBox. Every time he did, he regretted it.
“I am the President of the FunBox,” Vic said to the camera in one instance, “Or as we call it, Republic of FunBox. We’re currently holding cabinet elections…yes, we’re establishing our own currency; probably going to be called FunBucks...we do have an economy, obviously. Weightless partying.”
A few weeks later, Matthew dropped his classes to lie in the hotel. He ruminated on whether the FunBox ruined his life, improved his life, or simply manifested its pointless chaos in a more physical way. Finally, he grew so apathetic that he resolved to jump into the FunBox himself, even if just to pointlessly search for his tortoiseshell glasses. He loved those glasses. He had bought them in Indonesia when he was seventeen; he remembered handing the Rupiah to the kiosk guy and feeling like he had united with some long-lost pet when he took them into his hands.
To avoid attracting the attention of the news, Matthew dressed up in sunglasses and a bowler hat and paid five hundred dollars out of his pocket to get in. He could imagine the headlines: “Mad Scientist behind Republic of FunBox ventures into his own creation.” After paying in cash (Vic had, however, set up a credit card system), he jumped into the cold, endless sky and felt the air carrying him up slowly, like swimming at the bottom of a pool.
The first mile or so of the FunBox was a raucous, sweaty party; a floating rave of one person per square yard with sweat and vodka coating every surface. Deeper into the FunBox, clusters of people floated around, each resembling a homeless camp complete with fire and harmonicas. There were clubs housed within wooden frames of octagonal prisms with lights and DJ booths affixed to the beams. People spun through the center, bathed in seizure-inducing flashing lights. There were fighting rings where people bit each other’s noses off in zero gravity. There were entire towns made up of fighting and sleeping teenagers who had tied themselves together with long red scarves.
In the miles-long, vacuous gaps between the camps, people floated by, usually having sex, if they were alive. One woman was on a horse. There was a lot of trash and unopened Triscuits. In one of the TV spots he had caught, Matthew had heard there was a hot new organization called the FunBox FoodBank, sponsored by Nabisco. Once in a while, Matthew ran into a forsaken care package or letter. He grabbed a cheap red Hallmark envelope addressed to a Kaitlin Shaw; he tore it open and saw in curly pencil scrawl,
We know you wanted to get away for a while, and that we said some things to make you mad, but dad, Julie and me are crying every day and we need you to come home. We’ve been making a lot of blueberry blondies, your favorite, and know that we’ll have them ready for you as soon as you
Matthew couldn’t stand it and thrust the letter aside, trying not to look at it as it joined the atmospheric path of an empty disco ball box.
He knew he wasn’t going to find his glasses. He wondered why nobody had pursued them for the ten thousand dollars, or, as Vic would say, two hundred FunBucks. But then he realized that with all the prostitution and drug trade going on, someone could make much more than that in a day.
As he drifted into the magnificent nothingness, Matthew knew he didn’t want to return. He liked having all the time to think and stretch that he wanted. He thought about string theory, and why his mom cheated on his dad. Eventually he started to drift outside of the FunBox’s settled territory. The camps became shrinking blobs, like Chinese paper lanterns at night when you blurred your eyes. Soon, they weren’t visible at all; Matthew held his hand up to his face and saw nothing.
The last life he encountered was band of twentysomethings wearing parkas, huge backpacks, and headlamps. They yelled at him, “Are you Matthew Morris? Did you find the end? We’re trying to find the end.”
One hyperactive woman, looking at her own hands, shouted, “You think you see the Hubble telescope? This is a portal into space. Like, if we pulled the Hubble through the entrance it would be a snake eating itself.” Matthew looked away and floated on.
As the days passed, he drifted into sleep and awoke to find himself floating again. His throat was dry. He came to realize that this was the only place that made sense, and the Earth back there was an arbitrary mess. All life’s obligations and friendships just felt unbalanced and burdensome. He liked computer science; he was good at it, but he wouldn’t mind if he could never do it again. He felt that way about everything. He knew he was going to die here on the outskirts of the FunBox, and he didn’t care. He was just enjoying the simple pleasures of his own mind. Eventually, he noticed his thoughts slowing. He tried to remember effortless facts like his brother’s name, or the prime numbers up to one hundred, but each thought felt like lifting a bucket of wet sand. When he was losing the ability to inhale, Matthew felt something warm bump into his temples. He used his last strains of energy to take the glasses into his hands. He smoothed this thumbs over the cracks in the lenses and slid the frames over his eyes.