John W. Patterson
Word count: 2,181

 
 
The Improbable Moment
   
	At precise junctures of history the improbable asserts its dominance. A 
freshly resonant paradigm's domain is multidimensional, fleeting, and timeless.

	Thom Michaels is anxiously new to New York City. He's late for a posh 
power lunch but the smell of pretzels and grilled sausages lures him off line. 
Strollered moms, acrobat rhythm boys, and down-lucked dregfolk stare at Thom. A 
rollerbladed courier flashrips past Michaels, ungently nudging him. He kneels 
and readies his scattered gear back together. A fumbled portfolio, chocked full 
of Dali/Giger/Venosa pastiches, decorates Central Park's cement outskirts. Just 
one pretzel and maybe a ginger ale before hopping a taxi to the Twin Towers will 
suffice.
	Waiting in line, shifting his weight, and reading a P. K. Dick collection, 
he catches a phrase of chit chat. Some dude is going for a world record over 
near the new sculpture of goddess Gaia. Thom curses his watch and pulls out his 
phone, buying himself ten more minutes. He pockets the phone and heads back 
toward Broadway when he spies the Changer.

	An old man sits near the bronzed Gaia, Earth mother and tosses a small 
leather ball up and down. Thom watches and listens. He learns the guy started 
this toss and catch routine three years ago. He only stops to sleep for five 
hours daily. This guy, Reynolds, keeps the ritual going even while visiting 
the toilet, showering twice a week, and snacking on this and that. His younger 
sister takes care of the financial needs and other legalities. The old guy 
believes he will engender a New World's birthing when the Improbable visits. For 
one day he thinks the ball will not return to his hand. It will hover in the 
Point of Insignificant Events. Once this happens the world changes and new 
things of unimagined wonder will occur. At the end of this present world or at 
the endpoint of Probable Need, the ball will return to the Old Way. This ball, 
this old man, together, anticipate the end of this age. Thom wonders why he has 
not heard of this guy in some news somewhere. He shakes his head and jogs off 
hailing a taxi to lunch. He'll check this guy out later. He of course leaves 
town in too big a rush to remember Mr. Reynolds.

	Thom proceeds to entirely forget the Changer. Well, he didn't consciously 
think of him. Art sales are unpredictably favorable for Thom over the next 
decade. He paints pictures of doors. All his doors lead to the places of dreams 
and longings. Thom started painting scenes of cities where all the doors were 
small windows revealing horrors or plagues just beyond the threshold. Bored, he 
then switched to having doors in the sky filled with pastries and circus scenes. 
One day he began painting a series of balls, each sitting close to partially 
opened doors. The balls were first on the ground with the doors, maybe in a 
desert or sometimes in a jungle. Eventually, Thom began sketching a roughened, 
battered looking ball in the clouds hovering just above a revolving door. Thom's 
final painting of his floating ball studies showed Elysian fields beyond the 
revolving door and a wasteland of twisted steel and acrid clouds of a great 
inferno this side of the door. The aged ball of leather hung suspended in space 
and time in a glass cube. 

	The painting was well received and Thom made more money due to that single 
creation than all his previous works. It was phenomenal, inexplicable. It nearly 
destroyed the little spark of inspiration left in Thom.

	One evening he watched a televised special on life's mimicry of art and 
the scene shifted to New York City's Central Park. Thom dropped his glass of 
ginger ale and choked on his pretzel.
	There was the old man, George Reynolds, the Changer, still tossing his 
leather ball up to the clouds. The narrator then cut to a close-up of Thom's now 
famous painting of the floating ball and the revolving door. Some creative image 
mingling, the man in the park and select revolving doors of Fifth Avenue ended 
the segment. And so life had imitated art. Thom suddenly knew otherwise. All 
these years were only a preparation, an echo of his three minutes in the park 
ten years ago. He had to get back to that man. There was an overdue meeting to 
be held.
	Thom booked a flight to Newark, New Jersey that night over the Web. He was 
to leave RDU International Airport tomorrow at eight a.m. He left his Asheville, 
N.C. home to drive that night to Raleigh. Michaels would catch some sleep later. 
His '73, low rider, Jaguar made the four-hour night drive an extended near-death 
experience. One speeding ticket away from revocation of his license, the only 
nagging aspect clear amidst the ineffable blur of guardrails at midnight. He 
blew by Burlington?s ghost  outlet malls and Durham shrank into the glassy 
oblivion of his rearview mirror. Tomorrow everything would change. Thom felt it 
somewhere in his slumbering hopes.

	He passed a road sign, "Time for change? See New York!", it flashed the 
Manhattan skyline with Thom's floating ball and revolving door painting just 
rising over the Twin Towers, "Check out our art. See the Michaels originals!" 
Thom had seen the ad dozens of times before but this time he nearly choked again 
on his favorite honey-mustard and onion, sourdough, pretzels. He thought to 
himself how all his art seemed to flow from seeing that guy doing his thing in 
Central Park that afternoon ten years ago. He had to at least thank the guy. A 
public acknowledgment, yeah, a little press conference was in order. That would 
suffice.
	Thom was a bit late.
	He arrived at Newark as planned early the next morning. Thom took a limo 
past the Lady, through the Tunnel to Fifth Avenue. He neared the Gaia statue 
grove of trees now much taller and saw an ambulance illuminating a small crowd 
of people. Pushing through the press of onlookers Thom sees EMT's packing their 
gear away and someone being covered with a sheet. He wriggled his way to the 
front and asked where the old guy with the ball tossing gig might be, knowing 
the answer to come. 
	"Excuse me, has anyone here seen George Reynolds, the guy that hangs out 
here tossing the--" Thom begins.
	"Mr. Reynolds expired here at his favorite bench, sir, not more than 
twenty minutes ago. I'm sorry, Mr.  . . . ?" an NYPD officer responded.
	Thom replies explaining he is an old friend and attempts to see the body 
as the police get the area cleared. Michaels is told to go to the morgue if he 
can prove he's family. The ambulance drives off with the dead Changer and the 
crowd disperses. Thom crumples onto the old man's favorite bench, staring into 
his inner void of loss, slightly nauseous.

	A street urchin stares at Thom and runs up to him, saying, "Watch me toss 
this ball up in the sky. It'll stick! Gimme a quarter and you'll see! Mister, 
you hear me?" Smiling eyes look up at Thom's vacant gaze.
	The child's hands were empty. What ball was he talking about anyway? 
Thom's brain was mostly on autopilot in his shock and sleep deprived daze. He 
handed the boy a quarter in hopes he would vanish.  Yeah, he'd vanish just like 
the chance to thank George Reynolds for all the free inspiration. 
Laughing, the gleeful little lad threw his empty hand up and pointed up into a 
gingko tree.
	"There you go, stuck! It won't come neither. See mister? Lookit!"
Thom glanced up and blinked several times. In the air, suspended in the 
Improbable Moment, beneath the fluttering gingko leaves was a leather  ball. 
Thom began mumbling and climbing the bench, the tree.
	"Mister, don't climb that tree! You crazy? Hey! Leave that ball be!"
	Thom cannot hear or see anything now but the Icon of his subconscious. He 
soon learns from the little boy, after a hasty five-dollar bill exchange, that 
the old man named George died laughing. He was smiling and laughing and dancing. 
Sometime that morning he had been tossing the old ball up and it didn't come 
down.
	The little boy, now wandered off, described the simplicity of the moment 
and how the old man got dizzy and sat back down and just was gone, just smiling 
his way into a New World. Thom pulls branches and leaves back away from the 
ball. 
	It was stuck on nothing, suspended only on the Point of Insignificant 
Events.Thom informed the proper parties and the rest is . . . well theoretical 
at best.


	Arriving at no conclusions and an assorted array of probable improbables, 
the United States Government, and the associated dignitaries graciously accept 
Thom Michaels' donation and exclusive design for New York City's new Shrine of 
the Improbable. Within its alabaster alcoves resides the hovering, glass-
encased, leather ball. Armed guards and bombproof glassite enclosed as well, the 
bench, and the tomb of the posthumously honored George Reynolds.
	Again the print sales of Thom Michaels' final painting outsell any other 
piece of art in history. Many believe his works to be prophetic and cultic 
groups even have them tattooed on themselves. A book was released by one church 
proclaiming George and Thom as heralds of a New Age. Thom remained even more 
secluded and pensive in the mountains of North Carolina.
	Something about all of this was just missing the mark. A great 
incompleteness hung over everything. The old guy had spoke of a New World coming 
and wonderful things happening once the Improbable visited. All that had really 
changed was that the Changer was gone. What was lacking? Who was the Changer 
now? Late that evening in vivid hypnogogic imagery Thom saw the revolving door 
in his revolving mind. His now famous painting had a door beneath the floating 
ball miracle of George Reynolds. Now there's a door with the ball at the shrine! 
Before, there was only the bench, the ball, and George Reynold's dream. Thom saw 
it clearly now.

	"Reynolds was right! Through the door of the Shrine must be an exit from 
this world. Beyond the door is the New World, a return to the Golden Age, the 
Elysian plains! It isn't the here and now. It's in the there and then. I must 
see beyond the now to walk into George's vision. George saw it when the ball 
didn't return and he joyfully entered! He slipped out, dancing into the 
Improbable. My entrance is the door he opened! I've been a painter of signs 
along the way there for these past ten years. I was so close to the tree, I 
missed the forest!"
	Within a few maddening hours Thom was back, once again in a hurry, in 
Central Park. He wasn't going to be late this time even though Time didn't rule 
things beyond the door.
	He jogged past the Gaia grove and onto the Shrine of the Improbable. Thom 
explained to the guard that he would enter and not exit. Thom further explained 
that once inside, he would never be found. He was going on to George Reynold's 
New World. It was through the revolving doors at the top of the stairs. Thom 
started the short pilgrimage up the stairs to the ivory spired edifice of hope.
	"Mister Michaels, I believe it may be true for you and the few others 
that?s wound the way you are but go on. I'll see you 'round about lunch time. I 
know you can't resist them hot fresh pretzels," the guard called out up to Thom.
	Thom chuckled awhile and climbed the steps to the door. He turned back to 
the guard and spoke, "Let's hope they have pretzels in the New World." 

	Thom Michaels was never seen again after that morning. 

	Thom's extended message left on the Web led a record thirty three-million 
people to visit the Shrine in the year 2007. Of those entering its doors, over 
seventy thousand people were subsequently reported as missing. 

	The Shrine of the Improbable was temporarily closed for remodeling. It was 
explained as a project for a new Cyberworld site design project. The explanation 
was a cover for another study to be made of the Shrine's entrance. As the 
leather ball remained, so the revolving door was equally uncooperative with the 
overtures of skeptical analysis.
	A year later a nuclear terrorist attack destroyed most of New York City. A 
long winter began for the rest of us. Mushroom dominos clicked together, 
toppling onto humanity around the dying earth over the following hellish months. 
Inexplicably, the Shrine of the Improbable was left standing. The sound of a 
leather ball dropping to the bottom of its glass case went unnoticed. Outside 
there was only a wasteland of twisted steel and acrid clouds of a great inferno.

(Thanks to J. W. Dunne and Rupert Sheldrake for inspiration.)



E-mail me if you enjoyed this tale or would like to use it in any e-zine or hard copy publication.

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