Spoilers follow. Do not read this if you intend on playing. Later, I’ll be analyzing the plot.
a. At a cafe on a bright plaza, most customers sit back, feeling the warmth of the sun, enjoying their cold drinks. But not Tim – he barely notices the sun, doesn’t really taste his coffee. For him this corner affords a good view of the city, and in the teeterings of the passers-by, in the arc of a shop-girl’s hand as she displays tea to an interested gentleman, Tim hopes to see the clues.
b. That night at the cinema, fictitious adventurers lunge implausibly across the screen. The audience here is mixed. Some are patrons of the cafe, now sitting excitedly in the plush chairs, eager for another new flavor, for distraction from the boredom of their easy lives. Other seats hold fishermen and farm-workers, hoping to forget their toils and rest their hands.
c. Tim is here too, but he is scrutinizing the gloss on the lips on the screen, measuring the angle of the plume of a distant helicopter crash. He thinks he discerns a message; when the cinema closes and most of the audience strolls down the plaza to the South, Tim goes North.
d. People like Tim seem to live oppositely from the other residents of the city. Tide and riptide, flowing against each other.
e. Tim wants, like nothing else, to find the Princess, to know her at last. For Tim this would be momentous, sparking an intense light that embraces the world, a light that reveals the secrets long kept from us, that illuminates – or materializes! – a final palace where we can exist in peace.
f. But how would this be perceived by the other residents of the city, in the world that flows contrariwise? The light would be intense and warm at the beginning, but then flicker down to nothing, taking the castle with it; it would be like burning down the place we’ve always called home, where we played so innocently as children. Destroying all hope of safety, forever.
2. Time and Forgiveness
This happened because Tim made a mistake.
b. Not just one. He made many mistakes during the time they spent together, all those years ago. Memories of their relationship have become muddled, replaced wholesale, but one remains clear: the Princess turning sharply away, her braid lashing at him with contempt.
c. He knows she tried to be forgiving, but who can just shrug away a guilty lie, a stab in the back? Such a mistake will change a relationship irreversibly, even if we have learned from the mistake and would never repeat it. The Princess’s eyes grew narrower. She became more distant.
d. Our world, with its rules of causality, has trained us to be miserly with forgiveness. By forgiving too readily, we can become badly hurt. But if we’ve learned from a mistake and become better for it, shouldn’t we be rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake?
e. What if our world worked differently? Suppose we could tell her: “I didn’t mean what I just said,” and she would say: “It’s okay, I understand,” and she would not turn away, and life would really proceed as though we had never said that thing? We could remove the damage but still be wiser for the experience.
f. Tim and the Princess lounge in the castle garden, laughing together, giving names to the colorful birds. Their mistakes are hidden from each other, tucked away between the folds of time, safe.
“I’m sorry, but the Princess
is in another castle.”
3. Time and Mystery
a. All those years ago, Tim had left the Princess behind. he had kissed her on the neck, picked up his travel bag, and walked out the door. He regrets this, to a degree. Now he’s journeying to find her again, to show he knows how sad it was, but also to tell her how it was good.
b. For a long time, he thought they had been cultivating the perfect relationship. He had been fiercely protective, reversing all his mistakes so they would not touch her. Likewise, keeping a tight rein on her own mistakes, she always pleased him.
c. But to be fully couched within the comfort of a friend is a mode of existence with severe implications. To please you perfectly, she must understand you perfectly. Thus you cannot defy her expectations or escape her reach. Her benevolence has circumscribed you, and your life’s achievements will not reach beyond the map she has drawn.
d. Tim needed to be non-manipulable. He needed a hope of transcendence. He needed, sometimes, to be immune to the Princess’s caring tough.
e. Off in the distance, Tim saw a castle where the flags flutter even when the wind has expired, and the bread in the kitchen is always warm. A little bit of magic.
“Wow…that was very strange.
Oh, uhh, the Princess…
She must be in another castle.”
4. Time and Place
a. Visiting his parents’ home for a holiday meal, Tim felt as though he had regressed to those long-ago years when he lived under their roof, oppressed by their insistence on upholding strange values which, to him, were meaningless. Back then, bickering would erupt over drops of gravy spilt onto the tablecloth.
b. Escaping, Tim walked in the cool air toward the university he’d attended after moving out of his parents’ home. As he distanced himself from that troubling house, he felt the embarrassment of childhood fading into the past. But now he stepped into all the insecurities he’d felt at the university, all the panic of walking a social tightrope.
c. Tim only felt relieved after the whole visit was over, sitting back home in the present, steeped in contrast: he saw how he’d improved so much from those old days.
This improvement, day by day, takes him ever-closer to finding the Princess. If she exists – she must! – she will transform him, and everyone.
d. He felt on his trip that every place stirs up an emotion, and every emotion invokes a memory: a time and a location. So couldn’t he find the Princess now, tonight, just by wandering from place to place and noticing how he feels? A trail of feelings, of awe and inspiration, should lead him to that castle: in the future: her arms enclosing him, her scent fills him with excitement, creates a moment so strong he can remember it in the past.
e. Immediately Tim walked out his door, the next morning, toward whatever the new day held. He felt something like optimism.
I’m sorry, but the Pr…
Hey, where are you going?”
5. Time and Decision
a. She never understood the impulses that drove him, never quite felt the intensity that, over time, chiseled lines into his face. She was never quite close enough to him – but he held her as though she were, whispered into her ear words that only a soul mate should receive.
b. Over the remnants of dinner, they both knew the time had come. He would have said: “I have to go find the Princess,” but he didn’t need to. Giving a final kiss, hoisting a travel bag to his shoulder, he walked out the door.
Through all the nights that followed, she still loved him as though he had stayed, to comfort and protect her, Princess be damned.
“Hi, ummm…I’m lost.
How are you?”
a. Perhaps in a perfect world, the ring would be a symbol of happiness. It’s a sign of ceaseless devotion: even if he will never find the Princess, he will always be trying. He still will wear the ring.
b. But the ring makes its presence known. It shines out to others like a beacon of warning. It makes people slow to approach. Suspicion, distrust. Interactions are torpedoed before Tim can open his mouth.
c. In time he learns to deal with others carefully. He matches their hesitant pace, tracing a soft path through their defenses. But this exhausts him, and it only works to a limited degree. It doesn’t get him what he needs.
“It took you so long to get here!
But at long last, I can tell you that…
The Princess must be in another castle.
I’ve never met her…
Are you sure she exists?”
a. The boy called for the girl to follow him, and he took her hand. He would protect her; they would make their way through this oppressive castle, fighting off the creatures made of smoke and doubt, escaping to a life of freedom.
The boy wanted to protect the girl. He held her hand, or put his arm around her shoulders in a walking embrace, to help her feel supported and close to him amid the impersonal throngs of Manhattan. They turned and made their way toward the Canal St. subway station, and he picked a path through the jostling crowd.
His arm weighed upon her shoulders, felt constrictive around her neck. “You’re burdening me with your ridiculous need,” she said. Or, she said: “You’re going the wrong way and you’re pulling me with you.” In another time, another place, she said: “Stop yanking on my arm, you’re hurting me!”
b. He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys.
Ghostly, she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. “I am here,” she said. “I am here. I want to touch you.” She pleaded: “Look at me!” But he would not see her; he only knew how to look at the outsides of things.
c. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. Through these clues he would find the Princess, see her face. after an especially fervent night of tinkering, he kneeled behidn a bunker in the desert; he held a piece of welder’s glass up to his eyes and waited.
“On that moment hung eternity. Time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint. It was as though the earth had opened and the skies split. One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World…”
Someone near him said: “It worked.”
Someone else said: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”
d. The candy store. Everything he wanted was on the opposite side of that pane of glass. The store was decorated in bright colors, and the scents wafting out drove him crazy. He tried to rush for the door, or just get closer to the glass, but he couldn’t. She held him back with great strength. Why would she hold him back? How might he break free of her grasp? He considered violence.
They had been here before on their daily walks. She didn’t mind his screams and his shriek, or the way he yanked painfully on her braid to make her stop. He was too little to know better.
She picked him up and hugged him. “No, baby,” she said. He was shaking. She followed his gaze toward the treats sitting on pillows behind the glass: the chocolate bar and the magnetic monopole, the It-From-Bit and the Ethical Calculus; and so many other things, deeper inside. “Maybe when you’re older, baby,” she whispered, setting him back on his feet and leading him home, “Maybe when you’re older.”
Every day thereafter, as before, she always walked him on a route that passed in front of the candy store.
e. He cannot say he has understood all of this. Possibly he’s more confused now than ever. But all these moments he’s contemplated – something has occurred. The moments feel substantial in his mind, like stones. Kneeling, reaching down toward the closest one, running his hand across it, he finds it smooth, and slightly cold.
g. To build a castle of appropriate size, he will need a great many stones. But what he’s got, now, feels like an acceptable start.