The Advertising Age, Part III

Next morning, Barbara awoke to the warm glow of the artificial sun creeping across her living room. Without hesitation, she threw on a turquoise chiffon dress and a belted coat and rushed to the monorail station to catch the first train to Luna Land.

The park was 20 miles outside of the city. On the way, she saw charcoal gray mountains and endless stretches of moon-sand, littered with the occasional empty bottle of Space Pop or box of Ajax Cleanser. As they neared the park, she saw the outlines of rollercoaster tracks interweaving through storybook castles and fake mountains, distinguished from the real ones by the fake snow at the top.

The monorail stopped at the main gate, engraved with the name Luna Land, and beneath, a smaller sign that read: “An Anderson-Sprocket Company.” As the sliding glass doors of the monorail opened, eager adults and pudgy, sticky children flooded out, rushing past the space gardens and towards circus tent-shaped ticket booths.

Barbara cautiously exited the monorail and picked up a bottle of space pop to quench her thirst. Where was she supposed to find this guy anyway? How did she know he would even show up? She took a seat on a candy-colored bench. As she was waiting, she received a communiqué. Probably Stanley again, complaining about his lack of dinner last night. But, looking at the screen, she saw there was no sender identified. The digital letters read: “Go back now or you’ll be sorry.”  She suddenly felt extremely exposed. Everyone in the crowd was watching her. She couldn’t stay where she was. She had to keep moving.

She bought a ticket from the robotic attendant in the booth and entered the park. It was a dizzying scene. Old-fashioned trolley cars winded through the streets, while sky gondolas glided across thin steel wires up above. In the hands of nearly ever child were multi-colored balloons embossed with corporate logos—Kraft, General Mills, Ford. As Barbara made her way through the throngs of people, a strange mix of holographic cartoon animals, costumed human beings and robots greeted her—all hocking products.

“Hola there amigos and welcome to Luna Park,” said a man dressed as Frito Bandito, speaking in a stereotypical Mexican accent and handing out packets of Fritos. He sang: “Aye yai yai yai, I am the Frito Bandito…”

Barbara tried to get away, but was soon accosted by a holographic image of a boy with an Alka-Seltzer tablet for its torso. “Howdy Barbara!” he said. “Be sure to enjoy all the wonderful food at the galaxy-class restaurants of Luna Land. But if you over-indulge, don’t forget fast acting Alka Seltzer! Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!”

Just then, she received another communiqué: “We’re going to get you.” She noticed that Frito Bandito had a pistol concealed under his poncho, and she had a feeling it was not a prop. He eyed her and fingered the gun. She tried to run but a wall of human flesh and fat blocked her path.

Suddenly, a soft “ping” sound and a flash of light! Looking, up, she saw a shadowy figure in a sky gondola with a laser pistol pointed straight at her head. She pushed through the crowds, not caring who she trampled. She ran at full speed, past the candy stores, past the souvenir stands, through the land of the Jolly Green Giant, through Toucan Sam jungle.

Suddenly, though she was not aware of changing her pace, she seemed to be moving through space extremely slowly.  Children were tugging on parents’ shirtsleeves, costumed characters and robots were posing for photographs, the monorail passed overhead. And yet she could see each motion in intricate detail. It wasn’t even that time was slowing so much as that it was expanding. More experience was flowing into her brain because she was seeing more frames of reality per second. She was in a multi-dimensional web, the borders of which were made up of thought. And as she plunged her hands into her coat pocket, she realized they were far too ample, and her arms seemed to twist and snake downward, impossibly far, into an abyss.

Suddenly, she was in a forest of massive trees that expanded endlessly into the horizon. She stopped to rest at a stream. Right before her glossy eyes, the water shifted from blue to red to orange. Schools of fish weaved through the liquid rainbow, some wearing bowties, others with bowler hats and smoking pipes. There was an entire world in that stream that no one else could perceive! How many other marvels went unknown? A neon symphonic masterpiece! Cowboys and Indians in reverse! A big bowl of dinosaur water!

There were intense flashes of different colored lights. Mr. Clean was there. So was the Pillsbury Doughboy.  She felt warm and safe. Now a cartoon elephant was playing the sitar. A monkey in red-tinted sunglasses played drums. From somewhere, she could hear a thunderous bass, and someone was singing. She knew the song, as if from another lifetime:

Didn’t know the ghosts would come when her guard was down, yeah, yeah

Heads feeling heavy and she starts to drown, yeah, yeah

She sleeps in water stirred by vibrating waves of sound!

It was the Song-Bot 2000, with its shaggy hair and silver jumpsuit. Suddenly, she heard another voice:

“Barbara!”

It echoed endlessly, as if spoken from the bottom of an ocean cavern.

Again. “Barbara! Barbara! They put it in your Space Pop! They’re trying to control your brain.”

Barbara nodded, “I know, but it’s alright! It’s all liquid, man! It’s all a pattern!”

It was Mr. Sheffield, and he was holding up a blue pill. “Take this,” he said. “It will help calm you down.”

Barbara refused.

“Barbara!” said Mr. Sheffield, “They’re brainwashing you. And it doesn’t stop with the pills! Come with me!”

Mr. Sheffield pulled Barbara into a nearby attraction called “Cap’n Crunch’s Wild Ride”. The exterior of the ride was a faux-19th century house, with brick walls and a slate roof topped with a weather vein. There was a stone statue of Cap’n Crunch in front. Mr. Sheffield told Barbara they’d never expect to find them there.

The two boarded one of the passenger boats and floated down a narrow canal filled with what appeared to be milk. There was a painted sky overhead, and animatronics everywhere —robot mermaids bathing on a rock, robot pirates battling with cannons and a robot Cap’n Crunch telling children about the wonders of corn and oats and two kinds of sugar.

“Barbara,” said Mr. Sheffield, “I’m going to tell you everything you need to know, and you have to pay attention.”

Barbara was trying to focus, but she remained fixated on the milky water and the bright colors. He shook her violently and foisted the blue pill upon her. She finally relented, and popped it in her mouth.  Almost immediately, she lost some of the spacey look from her eyes.

“Now listen to me, Barbara,” said Mr. Sheffield. “The little red pills were just phase one. They had too many side effects—they couldn’t control the hallucinations. Now they’re implementing phase two.”

“Who is?” said Barbara, still groggy and half-forgetting what she had learned the night before.

“It was your husband who spearheaded the campaign. But it goes much further than him, and further than Anderson-Sprocket. The entire ruling board is in on it!”

“Well, what are they going to do next?” said Barbara.

“They’re going to replace everyone’s brain with electronic ones. I know this because they wanted me to engineer the brains for them. They want to have complete and total control of human behavior and create a society of ideal consumers!”

Barbara didn’t want to believe.

“How can they take away our brains just to make a few bucks?” Barbara asked.

“They’re not even human – they don’t care about anything but return on investment! All of them had the operation themselves, long ago, back on earth, as part of a government test into merging computers and human beings—”

“You mean, before the atomic bomb?” asked Barbara.

“Barbra,” said Mr. Sheffield, “They’re the ones responsible for the atomic bomb!”

“But what about you?” said Barbara. “Who are you? Why are you telling me all this? And how did you avoid the operation?”

Mr. Sheffield just laughed loudly.

Suddenly, there was a thunderous jolt, and pieces of fake sky began falling on the boat. There were flashes of light. She felt an intense electric rush all throughout her body—a vividly familiar feeling. The ride building was shaking violently, and the animatronic robots began to spark. Cap’n Crunch’s head was gone, but its looped audio track continued: “All hands on deck! Try Cap’n Crunch! It’s fun to munch, cause it keeps its—keeps its—keeps its…” The audio track got stuck before slowing to a stop.

Soapy was there, his ghostlike image floating in front of Barbara as he reminded her to wash. She was in the milky water now, gasping to breathe. “Help me, Soapy,” she cried, but he just hovered there cruelly. She felt a vibrating wave of sound. Then the walls caved in and a powerful force absorbed all the light around her.

When she opened her eyes again, she had no idea how much time had passed. It could have been five minutes or maybe even five years. Had there been another atomic bomb? Was everyone dead? She tried to get up but she realized that she was held down by metal restraints. Her vision was blurry, but looking around, she saw what looked like a scalpel and a box of surgical gloves. She remembered what Mr. Sheffield had said to her about the electric brain operation, and her heart jumped like an electron.

Just then she saw the fuzzy outlines of a figure entering the room.

“How are you feeling, Barbara?”

She recognized the voice. She squinted and the figure came into focus. It was Mr. Sheffield.

“Mr. Sheffield! Help me! You have to help me!”

Mr. Sheffield laughed again—the same laugh she had heard moments before the explosion.

He looked deep in her eyes. “I’m afraid I can’t do that Barbara.”

Another figure entered the room. It was Stanley, smoking a Star cigarette.

Barbara screamed in anger. “You bastards! You set me up!”

“Yes, honey,” said Stanley. “But don’t worry, everything will be okay.”

“I’ll kill you both with my own hands!” Barbara cried, shaking violently. “You can’t operate on me! I won’t let you!”

“It’s a bit late for that,” said Stanley.

“What do you mean?” Barbara sputtered, still trying to break free.

“Well, Barbara, why don’t you tell me how you feel about Palmolive Soap?”

Barbara’s mouth reflexively transformed from a look of fear into a beaming smile as she spoke: “Why, it’s the first continuous action deodorant soap that’s Palm Olive mild. Protects against bacteria—all day, all night. Don’t wait to be told—you need Palm Olive Gold!”

Stanley and Mr. Sheffield smiled knowingly.

“That’s my girl,” Stanley said, ruffling her hair.

THE END

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