Saturday, May 06, 2017

Short Story: Inside the Box

When the world is free from want, what is there left to want?

By David F. Leigh

Foster McFarland lives inside the Box.

Technically, he lives inside a house. But the house is inside the Box, as is a lawn, a small lake, and the tiny forest that comprise the thirteen acres of prime real estate within Foster McFarland’s Box.

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.


When people outside the Box had problems in need of outside the box thinking, they took their problems inside the Box to Foster. Foster had a reputation outside the Box for outside the box thinking. The people outside the Box never thought as far outside the box as Foster thinks inside the Box.

The first problem Foster McFarland solved was that of his agoraphobia. He wasn’t always irrationally frightened of open spaces; but he once read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which young Calvin imagined that his father had forgotten to pay the gravity bill. As Foster considered the panel in which Calvin was swept into the vast empty sky, he pondered what such a thing would be like. He looked up at the vast, empty sky above him, dropped his newspaper, ran inside the house, and never looked at that sky with his naked eyes again.

It didn’t matter. Inside the house, Foster had a television, and a telephone, and a computer, and the Internet. He continued to think outside the box, and soon amassed a number of patents. These made him extremely wealthy, and he had the Box built around him. He liked Nature, and built the Box big enough to hold enough of it that he would be able to enjoy the outdoors indoors. Inside the Box he built the brilliant Sun and the illuminated Moon that tracked across the azure ceiling that was his sky. Bright birds painted their colors across his sky and nested in the trees of his forest. They shared the trees with squirrels and other wildlife. Foster enjoyed their company, secure in the knowledge that should gravity ever fail, he would not be swept away.

At first Foster had food and consumables delivered to him from outside the Box. But as time went on, he watched the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. He watched as people became more tribal and divisive and violent. He saw them become petty and jealous. He saw them riot in the streets. This began to frighten him. What if someone outside the Box -- a delivery person, or a visitor -- were to become jealous of him in his Box? Would they turn their violence towards him? What he needed was self-sufficiency.

So Foster McFarland, intrigued by the new technology of 3D printing, set about improving it. He devised machines that print with proteins and starches, ceramics and metals. He learned to print all the things he might need… cakes and pies, beef and lasagna, clothing and shoes. And lest anyone be jealous, he shared his knowledge with the world through more patents. These made him astonishingly wealthy, and even more afraid.

He needn’t have feared. People loved Foster’s devices, even though the majority of them had no knowledge of the man behind the patents. But Foster didn’t know that, taking his information from news feeds and blogs. So he locked the massive door of the Box and remained inside, enjoying the bright sunshine and pH-balanced rain of his computer-modeled, climate-controlled personal space.

But as time went on, he continued to watch the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. And it seemed to him that despite all of his work, the world was as bad off as it always had been. Certainly, the people who could buy his devices had seen their lives improve, and you might think that the things they didn’t consume because of his inventions would have gone to those less fortunate. Real beef should be poverty food, he thought. But the proteins and starches that were the raw materials of Foster’s machines had to come from somewhere, and the policy makers who used his appliances loved animals far too much to raise them for food when they no longer had to. Even as they raised fewer animals, consumption remained high, and they bought more and more of Foster’s machines. This made Foster ridiculously wealthy.

So Foster began giving his money away. He gave it to the poor. He gave it to the third world. He gave it to the communists, and the socialists, and the populists. He gave it to everyone who could not afford his devices. And they all freely gave his money to the capitalists to buy more devices, and the money flowed right back to Foster, and he became ludicrously wealthy.

But the devices required energy, and there wasn’t enough to go around. Guilty of the privilege granted to him by ability and success, Foster McFarland looked for some way to free the grid of his power-hungry Box. And he finally did. For ages, people had dreamt of zero-point energy; clean and inexhaustible. However, dreaming isn’t the same as thinking, so they had always failed to make it a reality. But thinking is something Foster did very well, and outside the Universe is as far outside the box as it is possible to think. He created his generator; and for an encore, he upgraded his devices to print with the stuff of Creation. Now he didn’t even need raw materials.

Then Foster disconnected the Box from the world. Before he did, he gave the world his new creations. He didn’t even patent them this time. He already had more money than he could spend. What could he use it for? What did he need it for? Anything he could ever want was his to be molded from quarks and empty space.

Foster retired. He turned off his computer and his television, and fished on the shore of his mirror-perfect pond. He communed with Nature beneath his fake Sun and faux Moon. He left the world to his own devices.


One day… much, much later, Foster was lying in the cool grass of his little world, and once more thought outside the Box. How nice the world must be now that any person could have anything he ever wanted at a whim! The planet was free from want and need and even entropy. It was fueled by the very fire of Heaven itself; limitless power pulled from the space between Spaces. He would see that world. Perhaps the people of the world would even recognize and welcome their savior. He thought about his agoraphobia, and concluded that it was a laughable thing. Just a momentary childhood fear, really; one that he should have easily overcome years before. And so Foster stood and traversed the long, overgrown path to the door of the Box. He tried to turn the handle, but it wouldn’t turn; and he remembered that he had locked it long ago. Fishing around in his pocket, he found a key.

Foster opened the door on the world he had made. Outside the Box, red dust flecked with ash drifted across parched red dunes under a dim, steel grey sky. Foster knew it was either night or day, but he couldn’t say which. There was no real Sun, no real Moon to be seen. If there were clouds, they were fleeting, ghostly things formed from the moisture pulled from his skin. They raced upward to blend seamlessly into the featureless grey firmament. Having done the math, Foster knew the wavering horizon was about three miles away. But with nothing to break the monotonous landscape it might have been three hundred miles. It might have been three feet. The end of the world, right there at his doorstep.

For the first time in his life Foster McFarland thought inside the box and remembered that the fires of Heaven burn with the fury of Hell. Even clean energy creates heat. And an inexhaustible supply...

Well, he thought, that didn’t work.

Retreating inside, he shouldered the door closed, and didn’t bother to lock it. And now...

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.

Tell me what you think in the comments. If you want to know far too much about what was going through my head when I wrote it, I have posted some commentary here.

INSIDE THE BOX ©2017 by David F. Leigh, All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job! Builds well and who needs little cvs when there's no one left to break in?