02 Blank Canvases
Pounding anvils assaulted my eyes. I palmed them hard for some relief. It didn’t help. I ripped off another piece of cardboard pizza, chewed it a couple of times, and spit it back out. My stomach raged on. I welcomed the discomfort that I couldn’t assuage. I deserved it.
Her words thundered in my ears. “Anna, you really aren’t coming back.”
My eyes were drawn to the hunting eyes of the five foot long painting of a white bengal tiger in the midst of a kill in a tropical forest. “Talk to me Samson. What should I do? What would it be like if I was free to hunt like you? To have claws for hands and razors for teeth. What would it be like? What do I do now?”
I pounded my palms back into my eyes and created a new surge of pain.
A foreign sound reached my ears. I pulled my palms away from my eyes and forced a shallow breath through clenched teeth. The sound didn’t make sense to me. I jerked to my feet and sent my chair flying across the room. Anger surged once again and I punched one of the fake trees that I surrounded myself with. The tree left a streak of green across the blue tinged white walls. “My whole world’s as fake as these stupid trees.”
The sound reached me again. ” Damn it! I’m an idiot! A stupid, stupid idiot! That’s the front door bell.”
I struggled mightily to put holes in the wood floor as I stomped to the front door. I flung the door open. No one was there. I looked down and saw a large white cardboard box. I picked it up. “Pretty heavy. For me? Let’s see. Wayland ‘Jack’ Jackson, 10 Falling Acorn Circle, Skeueland. Addressed to me. No return address. No postage.”
I looked around outside and saw no one. “Weird.”
I put the box on the kitchen table. “Man, someone’s in love with packing tape.” I picked up a knife. It felt good in my hands as I sliced the packing tape to ribbons. I opened the package and thoroughly inspected the fancy blue-ray disk player player before putting it on the kitchen counter. The package also had a letter. I picked it up and scanned the first paragraph. I couldn’t put it down.
I read a myriad of things about me that no one was supposed to know about.
“There’s no way anyone could know these things.”
The letter ended with “Plug the player into your computer and it will change your life. All you have to do is install the software.”
I searched my house for hidden cameras and microphones. I didn’t find any.
I spent the next week trying to decide what to do. I did enough to get by at work, doubled my running routine, played loud music to an empty room, spent a lot of time at the sports bar, and totally ignored my computer. I threw the player out five times. I retrieved it 6 times. I hit the enter key.
The software installed quickly, the lights dimmed, and my speakers crackled to life.
A melodic computer voice, filled with passion, identified herself as Eve. “The canvases of history glisten with the brush strokes of lines and curves expertly crafted into words that jump out of the pages at us. Their insatiable desire is to kindle the fires of our imagination. There are stories of swash buckling adventures … and crafty pirates … and of true love found … and lost.”
“Our heroes, each and every one of them, have made their indelible marks. We hang those cherished masterpieces, with care, on the walls of our lives. We can look at them, at any time we want, and experience them all over again. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet. Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. to name but a few. Those stories are magical.”
To my amazement, the player was a holographic projection unit. The room went completely black and a painter’s canvas was slowly circling in front of me.
Eve continued. “Within each one of us, lies a master craftsman who takes history’s masterpieces and expertly recreates those works of art with the express purpose of hanging them in the walls of our memories for our own pleasure. Welcome to Blank Canvases, Wayland Jackson. What story will you be creating?”
For a moment I thought about turning off the computer. I had no idea where Eve was going with this, but I was totally impressed with the program and I wanted to see more. So, I played along. “How about the Shot Heard Round the World?”
“Which side of the canvas will you choose for your work of art, Wayland?”
“Does it matter?” I arbitrarily poked at one side of the canvas floating in front of me.
“Wayland, it is important to note that I will be pausing the program at designated intervals for you to relieve yourself and take sustenance. Module begin.”
Suddenly the room filled with light. I gazed upward and gasped at the river of twinkling lights that flowed across the nighttime sky. I tried and failed to remember the last time I witnessed the beauty of the sky without the influence of city lights.
“Where are we Eve”
To my surprise, Eve answered. “We are in the town of Boston, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s 2am, April 19th, 1775. ”
I’d never seen so many stars in all my life. I always thought that the sky had lots of black in it with some stars. “Eve, what’s wrong with your software? The Shot Heard Round the World happened during the day and it wasn’t in Boston. Eve, have there always been so many stars in the sky? Eve, what am I doing here?”
“Wayland, you need to look down now to continue your blank canvas experience.”
With regret, I stopped looking at the breathtaking sea of stars. I found myself in the midst of men with fancy red wool coats and white pants. Then I spied their muskets with bayonets. British soldiers? I was impressed. These guys were the elite, the best of the best. They should be happy, but they weren’t. Their eyes were ringed with black and their faces were downcast. “What’s wrong with them Eve?”
“They’ve been waiting around for three hours and they don’t know why … They’ve been up for more than 24 hours and they’re tired … And their feet are wet.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh poor babies. Who cares if their feet are wet?”
“Their silk stockings and shoes are wet from having to march through a stream. If they have to make a long march now, they will get painful blisters.”
“So, just put some moleskin in their shoes. That stuff is great for blisters.”
I swear I heard the computer get exasperated. “Wayland, stores to purchase your moleskins won’t be open for several centuries.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
I watched the British commander walk up. His voice boomed out in the stillness of the night. We have more rations for you, but I see that you don’t need them. We have been ordered by King George III to put down the civil unrest that is rocking the colonies. We have reports that the colonists have cannon in Concord. You are to immediately march to Concord and take them.”
I suddenly found myself being rowed across the bay, dressed as a British Soldier. The heavy field pack was already tearing into my shoulders, even through the thick red, wool jacket. The musket and bayonet didn’t help matters any. I looked down at my feet and I found them to be decidedly wet. “Hey Eve. How far is it from Boston to Concord?”
Eve quietly responded back. “As a British soldier, you will march in three rows at 80 steps per minute. It’s 20 miles to Concord.”
Before I knew it, we were out of the rowboats and were marching. For a while, I tried to keep count of the steps as something to do. I soon lost track. So, I focused on staying in step with the soldier in front of me. Time moved on at an agonizingly slow pace. I was happily surprised when I saw the sun rising out of the east.
I practically ran into the soldier in front of me when the commander called us to a halt. We weren’t in Concord yet. I wondered why we had stopped. Then I saw it. We were on the commons in the small town of Lexington. 77 armed colonists were blocking our path.
Our commander’s voice boom out. “Drop your weapons you rebels and disperse!”
They said something back, but I didn’t hear it.
A shot rang out. I tried to see who it was who had shot, but I couldn’t tell. Then all pandemonium broke out.
When it was over, 8 colonists were dead and 10 were wounded. Only 1 British soldier died, but the commander’s horse was wounded.
I thought that we may rest here for a bit, but I was wrong. We were on the road again marching to Concord. We arrived sometime in the morning.
The commander immediately sent us out in search of cannon.
I thought about the cannon. In 1775, there was only one use for them, war. It’s not like you can shoot duck with them.
We searched barns and roads and fields. No one could find any cannon. We marched back.
The commanders voice boomed out. “You’re all rotting sluggards! That’s what you are. The colonies are making you soft! Get back out there and find those cannon!”
It was plainly visible that the commander was worried. We killed or wounded 18 colonists. If we didn’t find any cannon, things wouldn’t go well. We searched barns and roads and fields again. We even searched the homes this time. No one could find any cannon. We trudged back.
The commander took the news without comment this time. He ordered 98 of us to guard the Concord bridges.
I was too tired to care. I joined the rest of the soldiers and followed orders.
We reached the bridge and, to my surprise, we were ordered to take a nap. That was a most welcome order! I hadn’t slept in an least 24 hours. The other soldiers had been without sleep for even longer.
I cherished the sleep. I hated the wakeup call. Terror ripped through me upon my sudden awakening. Hundreds of armed colonists were bearing down on us. They fired. We didn’t even have a chance to fire back. We broke ranks and ran.
The colonists didn’t stop. They continued to fire on us from behind rocks and trees and stone walls. We tried to fight them, but we couldn’t find them. We even tried to jump over the stone walls, but no one was there.
Finally, we made it back to Lexington. To our surprise, we found reinforcements. The Governor was concerned that he had not sent enough soldiers, so he had sent more. I breathed a sign of relief. We’d be safe now. The colonists would stop attacking now that we had reinforcements.
I was wrong.
The colonists didn’t stop. They chased us and the reinforcements all the way back to Boston where they laid siege of the city. We suffered heavy causalities.
I was filled with more despair then I have ever felt before.
Then I heard a voice that I had completely forgotten about. I smiled until I heard what Eve said. “Module complete.”
I yelled at her. “What are you talking about? What module? I asked for the Shot Heard Round the World and you sent me to this unmitigated disaster! You have some seriously flawed programming. I should just throw you out.”
Eve’s voice had a sadness to it that I wasn’t expecting. “Each and every one of us has the power to see our stories in any way we choose. Did you know that a single story has the power to bring endless despair … or incredible hope? Wayland, that was the Shot Heard Round the World.”
Yelling at a computer is a waste of time, but at this point it felt seriously good. “Eve, you’re wrong. Your data is flawed. I don’t know what you thought you were showing me, but that was not The Shot Heard Round the World. Where is your off switch?”
My room went dark once again and the spinning canvas reappeared in front of me. Eve continued. “Your statement has been analyzed. Would you like to see the other side of the canvas now?”
“Uh, sure. That is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard. What are you talking about? What other side of the canvas?”
“Compliance to what? Eve!”
I groaned when I saw the stars reappear. “Okay, okay, where am I now”
“It’s 2am, April 19th, 1775. You are standing by a farm house near the town of Lexington.”
“What am I doing here, Eve? I don’t want to be here! Have you ever heard of The Shot Heard Round the World?”
Eve’s voice tinged with some anger in it. “I am responding to your query that my data is inaccurate.”
“Okay, okay. Who am I supposed to be this time Eve? I’m not dressed like a British soldier.”
“Wayland, you’re a farmer.”
“Eve, news flash. It’s 2am in the morning in April. It’s planting season for farmers and I have a rifle in my hand. What is it that I’m planting? Gold?”
“We are here, waiting for Paul Revere”
“Okay Eve, I’ll play along a little longer. I’m waiting for Paul Revere with a rifle in my hand? Does he owe me money? Who is Paul Revere?”
“The colonial army has spies in Governor John Gage’s cabinet. They have learned of King George’s orders from April 14th to put down the civil unrest. They also know that the Governor is under the utmost pressure to comply with the order. The spies have learned that the Governor will order his troupes to march. They know that the Governor has narrowed down his choices to two towns, Worcester and Concord. They just don’t know which town he has chosen.”
I took a deep breath. “Eve, focus. Who is Paul Revere?”
“Paul Revere is one of the spies. He is currently waiting outside of the town of Boston and staring at the old North Tower. He has spies in the tower that are watching the British. If the British march to Worcester, which is by land from Boston, the spies will put one light in the tower. If the British are marching towards Concord, which is across the bay from Boston, then the spies will put two lights in the tower.”
I couldn’t help but get excited! “Eve, you’ve made me a spy? This could be fun!”
Eve continued on. “Paul Revere is just about to see two lights in the tower. Then he will be riding though Lexington to Concord and to the surrounding towns. He will be banging on farm doors and yelling ‘the British are coming’. He is calling all of the Minutemen to fight. You are a minuteman, not a spy. Minutemen were so named because of their ability to be ready to fight in a minute. You are armed with a tomahawk and a rifle.”
This whole scenario wasn’t making sense to me. “Are you serious Eve? I’m a farmer and I’m going to fight? If I don’t plant now, my family could starve in the fall. I do have a family right?”
“You strongly believe that you are being miss-treated by the British and you are willing to fight for your rights. Your leaders have also done a great job with the press in keeping your moral up and providing information on what is happening. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. ”
“Eve, wait. Why do I have a rifle and not a musket like the British?”
“Your rifle is more accurate and can shoot farther then the British musket. You use the rifle to hunt and for the protection of your farm.”
I was impressed. “The colonists have a smart plan.”
I waited around for a while till I heard a horse pounding down the road and a voice yelling out “The British are coming! The British are coming!” I watched as he banged on the farm house doors, waking people up.
The next thing I knew, I was standing with 77 other Minutemen on the commons in Lexington. I heard the British commander’s voice boom out. “Drop your weapons you rebels and disperse!”
Then I heard our commander say, “If the British want a war, then let is start right here! Don’t fire unless fired upon!”
Then a shot rang out and pandemonium broke out. When it was over, 8 colonists were dead and 10 were wounded. Only 1 British soldier died. I retreated with the rest of the minutemen.
It was difficult. I struggled to keep up with the events. Things are happening too fast. “Eve, why don’t we fight like the British? Where are we going?”
Eve seemed surprised. “Of course you are well versed in British tactics. You learned of them first hand in the French-Indian war. You also know that the British will handily beat you if you use their tactics. Therefore, you have adopted tactics that play to your strengths. You will fight like hunters. This is the same tactic that the Indians used. These tactics, coupled together with your leader’s usage of the press, has created an extremely potent combination.”
I was stunned! “Really?”
“Yes, Wayland. Watch what happens in the next turn of events on this day of April 19, 1775.”
I found myself with I hundreds of other Minutemen. We attacked the British on the bridges in Concord. Then we drove the British, with their reinforcements, all the way back to Boston where we were joined by 16,000 other colonists in our siege of Boston. The siege of all land routes in and out of Boston would last for nearly two months.
I thought about what Eve had shown me. It didn’t make sense to me. “Eve, this battle doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. So we won a small battle. Why does everyone make such a big deal about it?”
If computers could smile, Eve did. “You’ve see the despair that this event brought. Now look at the hope. You declared your freedom from the most powerful country in the world. You fought them and won. And, you created a constitution, ratified by your peers, that still works to this day. This act, which started right here in Lexington, became a beacon of hope for the entire world. This act would be heard by nation after nation who would also declare their freedom. The United States would soon become the bastion of freedom. Module complete”
“Eve, you’ve got a really nice piece of software here with a lot of potential, but your logic is all messed up. You sound just like my history professors huffing and puffing. They are so full of themselves with their hands on their chins pretending to think so deeply. Then, they make all kinds of unfounded assumptions about how altruistic our founding forefathers were in ‘delving into the struggles of a floundering world and conceiving of a strategy that would make the confused world a better place to live.’
Man, it makes me sick just thinking about. The only thing our forefathers did was to get angry, really angry, and kick some British butt with better weapons. Not only that, but our forefathers were not stupid enough to stand in a straight line and let the British shoot at them. Beacon of hope, my butt.”
The silence ticked away.
“Eve, are you there? did you hear me?”
“Analyzing response ‘get angry, really angry, and kick some British butt.'”
I watched as an hourglass appeared in the upper left corner of the screen.
“Analysis still incomplete. Please be entertained by Angergy.”
“What’s a angergy? it sounds like you squashed angry and energy together.” Then a face appeared on the screen.