The garage looked as cluttered as the yard. Boxes filled every nook. And stacked on top of them were assorted doodads that the darkness of the space would not reveal. But in the midst of all the clutter, Creepy Man had created a clear pocket for folding chairs that faced what looked like a covered blackboard on wheels.
The gang of five, as they came to be known, crept into Creepy Man’s lair. Angst spread over their faces like acne. None could take their eyes off the man, for they had never been that close to him. He looked like a grotesque painting from a haunted house, where only the eyes moved.
“Sit down! Sit down! Have a seat there, young man,” he chided.
When all sat seated, he walked towards the covered blackboard with a long pointing stick in his hands.
“Well, now,” Creepy Man said. “Here we are, all together.”
“Why did you bring us here?” Sarah Jane said in a tentative voice.
“Because, young lady, I thought I would share with you a story. It’s Halloween, isn’t it? We all need a good story don’t we?”
He had a way of stressing certain words and syllables that added menace to the benign. Richard fidgeted. Elise kept crossing and uncrossing her feet. Bob became so statuesque that he didn’t even blink. And while Sam tried to play off being scared, he jumpy right foot gave him away. Only Sarah Jane stayed relatively poised, at least enough to ask questions.
“You’ve never invited people to your house before,” she said.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything isn’t there? A-right, then. Let us begin. We all know about the pending event of this year. And you know and I know that much to-do has been made about this event in the media. Well, I’m here to tell you just how this event might manifest itself.”
With a yank of his hand, he pulled the covering off the blackboard.
“This is a picture of the Earth orbiting our sun. It’s an ordinary planet circling and ordinary star. And you know and I know that it takes the Earth about 365 days to complete this journey. We have created a system for measuring this length of time, called a year, so that we can keep track of the Earth’s journey through space and time. The system I am referring to, of course, is called a calendar. Calendars come in many different varieties, depending on the culture of origin. Are any of you Jewish?”
He looked out over the crowd of rock-faced kids.
“Well? Any of you?” No one said a word. “Well, if you were, then you’d know that you use a different calendar. So do the Chinese. Their New Year’s Day is in February, most of the time. But for most day-to-day purposes, we use what’s called the Gregorian calendar. There are many calendars used by many peoples, but one in particular has been in the news a lot recently. Any of you know what I’m talking about?”
Again, only Sarah Jane had the guts to speak out.
“The Mayan calendar?”
“That’s right! Give the young girl a prize,” Creepy Man sneered.
Though still gripped by anxiety, each gave his or her own version of a “say what???” look. And as their collective snark began to relax their minds a bit, all of them began to see details in the garage that they had missed, commonplace things that made his realm look normal, not supernaturally creepy or even weird. The doodads turned into books and cassettes. Sarah Jane even wondered if she saw a toy or two peeking out of some of the boxes. Toys, at Creepy Man’s place? The space began looking like their own basements and garages and attics, which were also filled with crap. Richard kept his fear on, though, and worried about black widow spiders crawling up his leg and biting him.
Creepy Man looked at all of them with his piercing eyes. “You all look skeptical, I see. Are you dismissing the Mayan prediction out of hand? Well? Are you? On what basis are you dismissing it?”
“Well,” Sam said, “because it sounds kooky?”
“Kooky? Kooky? Is that the best you can do?” He started a vulgar cackle/snorting sound which snapped their attention back on him. “Let me tell you something, young man, you are in no position to dismiss anything out of hand. You don’t know jack yet. How do we know what the Mayan’s knew? Maybe aliens came and told them that the Earth would end on December 21, 2012. Ever thought about that?”
“Wouldn’t we have heard about that?” Elise said.
“How? Via the Internet on you little iDoohickey? Think! If aliens visited our friends the Mayans, they would have written about it in the language and knowledge that they had available to them. We might think that they wrote fanciful tales. We might call them legends. But in reality, they may have been talking about extraterrestrial visitors.”
His speech bewitched them. Even the kooky sounded plausible, if fanciful, when he explained it. So Sarah Jane decided to go with it.
“OK. What if aliens told the Mayans that the Earth would end in 2012? How would that end come about?”
“Now there’s an intelligent question, for which I have my own hypothesis. But first, let’s look at the problem logically. Now here, see where I put the line?” He drew a short line dissecting the Earth’s orbit. “This represents the point in our orbit where we reach the date December 21, 2012. This is where we will meet the end.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small globe of the Earth. “Here,” he handed it to Sarah Jane. “See how delicate and fragile it is? Pass it around!”
She did as he ordered. Eventually all got a chance to hold the small globe, a ceramic ball with the oceans and continents painted on it and a hook on top. Most figured it was a Christmas tree ornament. Richard, still worried about black widow spiders, fumbled with it when Sam handed it to him.
“Don’t drop it!” Creepy Man shrieked, nearly causing Richard to do just that. But he held on to it, long enough for the Creep Man to approach him and promptly take it from him.
“There, you see? It’s a fragile little ball, just as our planet is a fragile little ball. How easy it would be to destroy it. Why, I could crush this little ball here in my bare hands and it would crumble to tiny little pieces. Is that what the Mayans were told? That a hand would one day crush the Earth? Where would such a hand come from?”
Sam muttered something.
“What was that, young man?” Creepy Man said. “We couldn’t hear you. Speak up!”
“Uh, I was saying, uh. . .”
“‘Uh, uh, uh …’ Speak up, boy!”
“The Earth is over 7,900 miles in diameter.”
“That’s right! Give the boy a medal,” he sneered. “So a hand, or a hand analog, would not be very efficient, would it? No. What would be efficient would be to build an enormous wall in space right in the Earth’s path. How fast does the Earth travel in its orbit? Any of you know?”
Folks looked around and eventually at Sam.
“Well, we have a know-it-all in our midst. What’s your name?”
“Well, Sam, what’s the answer?”
“I. . .I don’t know.”
“That’s not a very original answer!” Creepy Man shrieked. Sarah Jane and Elise both suppressed giggles. “You all got iThings, don’t you? Find the answer on that!”
Sarah Jane took out her iPhone. After a moment, she found the answer. “About 67,000 miles per hour.”
“Alright, then. Very good,” Creepy Man gave her a sideways glance, then wrote the number on the blackboard. “Imagine, then, the Earth moving in its orbit at 67,000 miles an hour and it comes up on a wall. What do you think would happen? It would smash to pieces! Suppose that’s what the Mayans foresaw, that aliens would build a giant wall in space.”
“The Mayan civilization lived hundreds of years ago,” Sarah Jane said. “Why would this wall suddenly come up now, in 2012?”
“My, you ask good questions, young lady. Anyone has a good answer for her?”
“What if,” Tom started.
Tom avoided Creepy Man’s glares and kept speaking. “What if it was built a long time ago and was sent on a collision course with the Earth? And the date of collision is, you know, 12-21-2012.”
“Good, good,” Creepy Man said. “Well what about that, then? A giant wall is coming to meet us?”
“Wouldn’t we see it?” Elise said.
“It depends on how big it would be,” Sam said.
“Well, Mr. Know-it-all, how big would it have to be?” Creepy Man chided.
“Probably at least 8,000 miles wide to smash Earth,” Sam said.
“Could we see it, then?” Creepy Man said.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “We can see asteroids much smaller than that from over a million miles away.”
Richard still felt this was all too crazy, sitting in Creepy Man’s garage talking about aliens building walls in space. But everyone else got into it. Where in the sky would it be? What material would it be built out of? They slowly shook off their fears of Creepy Man and his creepy house and began working out the puzzle of the doom wall in space. They used trigonometry to work out the wall’s position in the sky. Elise took them on a tangent: what would happen to the moon? To this an all such stumbling blocks, Creepy Man would rasp, “Figure it out!”
After a series of calculations, they figured out where in the sky the doom wall would appear. Creepy Man looked satisfied at their work on the blackboard.
“Good, very good,” he said, nodding his head stiffly on his neck. “Now, let’s see if you got it right. I have a telescope on my back porch. Let’s see if we can find our wall of doom.”
Creepy Man led them to a small door, which hid a stairway that went up into the house. “Come on! I’m not going to knock you out and cook you into pudding.”
Richard went first, glad to be out of the cluttered garage. But his spider anxiety returned when he saw the shape of the house. They only thought the garage was cluttered. Elise thought of tweeting Creep Man’s address to “Hoarders” as a suggestion for a future episode. But they arrived at the back porch, an uncovered projection from the back of the house and elevated over the yard, which did offer a good, uncluttered view of the sky. Sam was impressed with the telescope, a Celestron 8.
“Nice,” he said.
“I suppose you know how to work it,” Creepy Man said.
“I think so.”
He maneuvered the scope to the patch of sky where their calculations told them the wall lurked. He found a nice open star cluster, but saw no doomsday wall. Each took a turn using the scope and saw nothing but stars.
“Well,” Creepy Man said, “What went wrong?”
“What if the wall was transparent?” Sarah Jane said.
“Then the sunlight would probably reflect off it,” Sam said. “At the current angle, in relationship with Earth, it would reflect something back.” Sam said.
“Or it could, you know, be like a force field instead of a physical wall,” Richard said.
“How much energy would something like that need?” Tom said.
“Enough to make it’s own magnetic field or something like that,” Elise said. “And that would be detectable, but I haven’t heard about any unusual magnetic fields discovered, at least not near the Earth.”
“Good, good,” Creepy Man said. “You all are beginning to use your minds. Tell me this, though. What if the wall were perfectly black. Solid black. Then what?”
“Then it would absorb the sun’s heat,” Sarah Jane said, “and we’d detect it radiating it back into space.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, “black body radiation.”
“Very good, Mr. Know-it-all. Very good for all of you. Well, then, perhaps a wall will not destroy our planet after all. What will happen on December 21, 2012, then?”
“Maybe nothing will happen,” Richard said, finally convinced that a spider was not going to crawl up his leg and bite him.
“Maybe nothing,” Creepy Man said. “Maybe nothing,” he repeated. “Well, then why does everyone think that the Mayans predicted the Earth’s end on that date?”
“I was reading online, while we were doing the math about the wall,” Elise said, “And some were saying that the Mayan calendar was coming to the end of one cycle and about to start another. So maybe it’s just a changing of cycles, just like going from one year to another.”
“Is that all? No doom and gloom? No fire and brimstone? No rapture? No nothing?” Creepy Man rasped. “Just like you didn’t find any monsters in my yard or torture chambers in my house?” They began to giggle. “Just because a man likes his privacy and doesn’t bother with maintaining appearances, does that make him a monster?”
“No,” Tom said.
“Good. Now, one final question before you all can go. If we determined that the end of the Mayan calendar does not mean the end of the world, does that mean that our fragile little globe is safe after all?”
“No,” Sarah Jane said.
Creepy Man nodded his head. “Very good. If you know that, then maybe we’ll be alright, after all.”
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.