philosophy for a most excellent new world

It was a place called 'Radio Shack' and it was filled with wonders. Not even in his most fanciful dreams and visions could Socrates have predicted a future such as this, with its machines and its commerce and its towering architecture. Yet there was still a place for people like him here, in the public squares and on street corners, in the parking lot and in Haagen-Dazs. The philosopher had not perished in this new world.

Dazzling devices of shiny metals and artificial lights and materials Socrates could not even name lined every shelf on every wall, a true embarrassment of riches. If he should never see anything like this again, he would still remember every detail of this place.

A siren sounded from somewhere nearby and Billy jumped back from some sort of children's toy with red lights whirling. "Come on, So-crates," he said "Time to get outta here."

The words were as so much noise, other than the nearly unrecognisable pronunciation of his name, but the sentiment was unmistakable. Socrates lifted his robes above his ankles and fled the shop of marvels at Billy's heels, not so much as slowing until they were out of range of the sound.

Billy wasn't from this place either. Socrates would have known that even if he hadn't developed a theory of how the strange booth functioned, and concluded that all of them but their abductors were both out of time and out of place here. Billy was too coarse, too brown, for this smooth and brightly-coloured existence.

"In here," he said, grabbing Socrates' shoulder and tugging, squeezing them together into a cubby next to a short, red column with a curious metal device attached to the top. "Shhh."

Socrates had been nothing if not quiet these last few hours, making himself known through touch and broad gesture. It was the only language he had in common with anyone here, it seemed; for a man of many words it was a crippling circumstance, though he was discovering that the truest of things could be said with no words at all. He had even begun to wonder, what was this thing 'word'? Were not his very gestures words, in their way?

He was mumbling to himself as he considered this proposition until Billy pressed his warm, rough hand over his mouth. But there were no rapid, heavy footfalls behind them, no pursuit. Socrates knew the sounds of an angry mob, and he did not hear those sounds now, only the constant hum of a large marketplace. The fingers still crushed his lips for a few moments before Billy nudged him into the open again with a hand pressed flat against his back, into the streams of consumers and vagrants who populated this place.

"We gotta be careful," he said, gesturing with a tilt of his head that they continue on their way.

The words were the very same ones Billy had used when the two of them had found themselves abandoned in the woods in another time and place, their captors -- their only connection to the homes they'd been taken from -- vanished and then captured. Socrates remembered the words, remembered the inflection of every syllable, because that was the moment when he recognised that he was the follower here.

Socrates knew himself to be a learned man, a man who had a great deal of knowledge to impart, but in this he was the student and Billy the teacher. He knew the rules and the ways of his own land, but this was a strange one, strange to both of them yet Billy was the one who could adapt, who could formulate a plan. A plan that turned out to be no small success.

He hoped that Billy had a plan here and now, in this mall, as it was called. Socrates himself would have been content to return to the food court, no matter what wonders the rest of this mall was filled with. His head was already filled with new and delightful things; he needed to begin to sort through his new ideas, his new inspirations. He hardly even dared to touch anything anyway, sating his curiosity with his eyes and not his fingertips.

It changed everything, his new-found knowledge of this place. It gave him a whole new line of questioning, a whole new vision of the world.

It was only the people remained the same, no matter how different they might have looked. He'd known people like Bill and Ted in his home, under different names and faces; he'd known people like Beethoven and like Genghis and even like Joan. People were people were people, no matter where a man went in the world or time. He'd only never met anyone quite like Billy.

He did pause in their wanderings to touch a hanging garment of the softest, lightest wool, threaded through with what looked like gold and silver, and wondered if he might take it with him, wondered if he had something with which he might barter. Were his sandals worth this price of this exquisite piece?

"No stopping at The Gap, So-crates, Genghis is in trouble!"

Billy tugged him away again, before Socrates could further contemplate this independent act of capitalism, and towards the unmistakable noise of a commotion. He pulled out his weapon, the one he had demonstrated for Socrates during their long wait in those foreign woods, and headed for the heart of the fray.

"We need to get you armed," he said, though Socrates could not quite piece together his meaning, not with his back turned and his weapon in his hand and no other clues as to what he might be trying to convey. Socrates, out of his element, could only imitate him, and as they entered this new merchant's shop he picked up the thing he saw most similar to Billy's weapon and found himself following once more.

There were obviously rules here, a clear code by which these people lived, but Socrates did not know it. He wasn't sure if he would have followed it even if he had, for though he was loyal and obedient to the laws of his own land, even to a fault, here in this place his loyalty swayed to Billy's code.

Billy, after all, was fearless and charismatic. Billy lived his life to the utmost even when he was thrown in to a world that wasn't his own, and lived by no man's rules but his own. It would not have worked in Socrates' society, but perhaps it worked in Billy's. Or perhaps he was simply a law unto himself, no matter where or when he was.

Whatever the answer, Socrates' infatuation was unmistakable.

He was too old, too rough around the edges, for eromenos, and Socrates himself too old and established for erastes even if his philosophy would allow him such an indulgence. But he could admire him all the same, his own personal Apollo, perfect in athleticism and physical form and bravery. He could think on sliding between those solid, muscular thighs without acting upon it, without even betraying he'd ever had such thoughts.

They neither of them fit into the roles that existed for them in Socrates' world, too old, too balanced, too equal. Perhaps Socrates had discovered something entirely new, or perhaps something as old as desire itself.

Later, when called upon to speak of his adventures, it wasn't hard for Socrates to find things he liked about this place, this San Dimas, this land that had opened his eyes to a world of new possibilities. It was harder not to say the things that he didn't chose to share. He was a teacher, but some things were not meant to be taught, only discovered.

While at first he thought he might have been whisked away to this world forever, he now saw he had a purpose to serve, and could only hope that he had served his purpose to the best of his ability, having not quite divined what it was. One by one they were returned to the places from which they'd come, far-flung places, many of which Socrates had never heard a whisper of, until only he and Billy remained.

"I'll be seein' ya, boys," said Billy. "It's been an excellent adventure." He gave a tip of his hat to Bill and Ted, and a wink to Socrates, then turned and sauntered off, back into his own world.

It was like a little death when Billy walked into the saloon without looking back. But Socrates had seen the breadth of time once now, and so logic told him that he might one day see it again. Perhaps.

[ by CJ Marlowe ]   [ home ]   [ disclaimer ]

Written for Yuletide 2006.