By Cary Tusan
Once upon a time there was a couple, Herb and Denise, who were in a deep conversation with their friends over dinner. Herb said, “I really want to just understand it all. We both do.”
One of their friend’s asked, “Understand what?”
Denise let out a sigh, “All of this. I mean what does it mean? Herb and I have the same routine, day in and day out. We get up at the same time, go to work at the same time, come home at the same time, have the same conversations, screw at the same time, and go to bed at the same time.”
“It’s like we’re robots,” said Herb.
One of their friends said, “Wait, you have sex like robots? What is that even like?” The other friend punched the friend in the arm. “Ow. What? I’m curious?”
“That’s what we are. Curious,” said Herb. At that moment the waiter served Herb and Denise their food and asked, “How curious are you?”
Denise looked the waiter up and down and replied, “Hey, don’t get inappropriate with us, buddy.”
The waiter gently bowed and said, “If you are willing to do whatever it takes, I can tell you of a place full of knowledge that will answer all of your questions and profoundly change you for the rest of your life.”
Herb and Denise exchange a look. In sync, they nod their heads.
“Very well. I will write down directions of where to go, but you must not hesitate. There will be a list of instructions. Do not deviate from them. Understand?” sternly said the waiter.
One of their friends laughingly said, “You two can’t be serious. We don’t know who the hell this guy even is. I’ve never seen him before and I’ve been coming to this place for five years.”
The waiter matter-of-factly said, “That is because you are blind to what is in front of you.” Then he scribbled three pages of notes on his order pad and handed the pages to Herb and Denise.
Herb looked them over and raised his eyebrow. “Who are the Knowledge Babies?”
“You will know when you find them. Remember, do what ever they ask. Good luck,” said the waiter before shuffling off.
“If we don’t see any Tweets from you both in three days, we’re calling the cops,” said one of their friends.
“We’ll be fine. And I bet we’ll have an interesting story to tell,” said Denise.
After travelling by plane, taxi, riverboat, and finally on donkeys, Herb and Denise reached their destination. When they arrived in the village they consulted their notes from the waiter and approached a young girl wearing bright magenta clothing. She instantly took them down a long alleyway until they came to a cliff. At the edge of the cliff was a rickety ladder. The girl pointed down and Herb and Denise obediently descended.
They found themselves amongst a row of hovels build into the Cliffside. They followed the path and knocked on a green door. A tiny three-year old baby in robes answered.
Denise looked around, confused, and said, “I’m sorry, I think we must be in the wrong place.”
The baby noticed the instructions on the note pad and spoke, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Follow me.”
“Whoa, you sound like an adult. How old are you?” asked Herb.
“All time is happening simultaneously,” said the baby as it guided Herb and Denise through the expansive cave dwelling. The couple noticed groups of babies all walking around like grown-ups, but there were no parents or adults around at all.
Denise whispered to Herb, “These must be the Knowledge Babies.” They both smiled in glee and quietly sang, “We’re going to get some knowledge. We’re going to get some knowledge.”
Finally, the three-year old took them to a massive chamber-like room with an empty table, two chairs, and a two-year old Baby girl in a robe sitting on a high chair drinking tea. Herb and Denise approached the two-year old, who said, “Please sit.”
Herb and Denise sat in the chairs. For a moment, no one said anything. Confused, Herb and Denise referred to their notes, but they were of no help.
“So…” said Herb.
“Are you going to ask me the knowledge you seek?” asked the Baby girl.
“Yes. You’re all just so cute. First, are you a Knowledge Baby?” asked Denise.
“I have been referred to by that moniker. I can tell you all about what is important in life. What matters, what doesn’t,” said the Baby girl.
Herb and Denise eagerly leaned forward, waiting for the answers.
“But first, you must do one thing for me,” said the Baby girl.
“Yes, what is it?” asked Herb and Denise in unison.
“Put your hands on the table,” instructed the Baby girl. Herb and Denise placed their hands on the table.
Then the Baby girl pulled out a big cleaver, “Each of you, chop off a hand.”
Herb and Denise were stunned, then looked at each other and shook their heads and said, “What?”
“Each of you must sacrifice a hand for the ultimate truth. Now!”
“We never told about a sacrifice. Naw, we’re good,” said Herb.
“Yeah, we’re outta here. Even though we travelled very far and are delusionally tired, there’s no way…” before Denise could finish talking, the Baby girl leaped out of her high chair and swiftly chopped off a hand each from Herb and Denise. The two of them started screaming in agony as blood shot out of their arms.
The Baby girl put down the cleaver and raised each of the dismembered hands above her head. Two other Knowledge Babies ran up to the table carrying hot branding irons.
“Brand your wrists if you want to stop the bleeding,” said the Baby girl. Herb and Denise let the two Babies burn their wrists and cauterize the wounds.
“You piece of shit!” yelled Denise. She grabbed the cleaver and stabbed the Baby girl, killing her. Herb yanked a hot iron from one of the Knowledge Babies and burned its face off. The other Baby ran off.
Herb and Denise, blood splattered on their wild-eyed faces, turned to the other Babies in the room and Denise screamed, “Get the fuck out of our way or we’ll do the same to you little maniacs that we did to them!”
Herb and Denise slowly backed out of the room with the cleaver and hot iron then quickly ran.
That night, both Herb and Denise sat quietly on the plane ride home. Until Denise said, “I can’t believe we did that.”
Herb stared blankly ahead and said, “I’m going to have nightmares forever. Let’s not tell anyone.”
“Yeah. Do you think we over reacted?” said Denise. Herb held up his stub of a wrist as an answer.
A week later, Herb and Denise arrived at the same restaurant to meet their friends for dinner. “So, tell us the knowledge that…” said one of their friends who stopped when she noticed that Herb and Denise were each missing a hand.
“It was not what we expected,” said Herb.
“Well, I thought it sounded crazy, but hot damn,” said one of their other friends. As everyone sat down at a table, the waiter from before came over to take their order.
An annoyed Denise shouted at the waiter, “What kind of scam are you running, huh?” as she waved her arms at him.
“I see you didn’t follow my instructions and do exactly as you were told by the Knowledge Babies,” said the waiter.
“We weren’t going to chop off our own hands. We’re not stupid,” said Herb.
“It was only a test. It was a show of your dedication for knowledge. If you said yes to the request then you keep your appendages and the Knowledge Baby would’ve told you the secrets of the universe. But if you said no, like you clearly did, then they forcibly take your hand and you leave with nothing. You failed,” said the waiter.
“Oh, I see,” said Denise.
“I will have to apologize in person to the Knowledge Baby for my lack of judgment in sending you morons all the way over there. I only hope she can forgive me,” said the waiter.
Herb and Denise guiltily looked at each other. Herb turned to the waiter, “We’re not ready to order yet. Can you come back later?”
The waiter nodded and walked away. Herb and Denise turned to their friends and Herb said, “Let’s eat somewhere else.”
“We don’t like the food here anyway. And the service sucks,” said Denise, as she and Herb brusquely got up and left.