Greetings, all! Happy December! In honor of the holiday season (i.e. Finals Season for those of you who are students), I’m going to give you all a treat for the next few weeks. That is, an opportunity to suffer through not only a punny story that I wrote, but a punny story about STATISTICS. Yes, friends, this is the meeting of my worlds. Read at your own risk. I dare you.
A Sampling of Sadistics (Part 1)
by A.L. Phillips
Naturally, the worst snowstorm of the season arrived during finals week. I shivered against the malevolent wind as it howled its way right through my winter coat. “Wind-resistant,” I noted bitterly as I put one freezing foot in front of the other, was clearly the coat-manufacturer’s devious way of not saying “wind-proof.” Nevertheless, my statistics final wouldn’t wait until the storm was over. Sighing heavily, I shoved my hands deeper into my coat’s giant pockets and shuffled through the ever-shifting mounds of snow that obscured the paths, bushes, and grassy fields of the campus landscape.
There should have been a sidewalk somewhere. Given that I’d taken it to class nearly every day for the past five semesters, I should have been able to find it with my eyes closed. Which was more or less necessary at the moment – the snow was currently flying horizontally at my eyes and glasses, shrouding the world in a thick white blur. The color reminded me unpleasantly of the blank white sheets of paper that would currently be sitting on each desk in my statistics classroom.
My stomach went queasy at the image. In just a few hours, I knew, those papers would be covered with equations, graphs, and seemingly-cultish symbols, hopefully arranged in a meaningful-enough pattern to convince the professor that I’d been paying attention in class all semester. In just a few hours, I’d be done with statistics forever. In just a few hours, I’d never have to worry about –
– The sheet of ice on the ground had been hidden by a thin layer of snow. My boots slipped forward. I tried to catch myself, and realized too late that my warm deep pockets weren’t always an unmitigated blessing. Both my hands were still enveloped in fabric when my head hit something very cold and very hard.
So there was the sidewalk, I realized ironically, before the blinding white of the snowstorm was replaced by a velvety darkness.
“Doc! We’ve got another one!” I blinked my eyes against the brilliant lights that were assaulting my optic nerves. For some reason, their cheery yellow color did nothing to brighten my mood.
“What happened?” I murmured to myself, in part just to hear my own voice and to assure myself that I was awake. At that stimulus, my memories came back in a rush and I sat up with a start. “My final!” I gasped, adrenaline and dread hitting my system as if I’d downed a triple-espresso in one swallow.
“It’s okay, you’re fine. Your final will still be there when you get back.” The voice belonged to a young man, and it reminded me that I had quite inexplicably changed locations. While my last memory had been of a blizzard at college, I was now in a warm brightly-lit room, seated on an old, springy couch. The air felt heavy, and tasted faintly of perfume. I looked down and blinked: for some reason, the couch was upholstered in a print of Greek letters.
As I took in my surroundings, I soon realized that the couch’s patterning wasn’t the only strange thing about this room. To my right, a large number of unfamiliar machines were aligned in neat, gleaming rows, and to my left, a large number of empty picture frames were hanging on the wall in columns. The walls themselves were painted with a multitude of geometric designs: lines, symmetrical curves, and sets of patterned dots. For some reason, it reminded me of my high-school algebra and geometry classes.
“Where am I?” I asked, my voice a touch shrill. “This doesn’t look like a hospital.”
“It’s not,” came the young man’s voice again, finally drawing my eyes to the doorway where he was standing. As I looked at him, I felt some of the tension ease from my shoulders. Whoever the man was, he seemed relatively normal. He was probably about twenty-five or twenty-six years old, dressed in a blue buttoned top and white slacks, with slightly unkempt brown hair and intelligent eyes that matched his shirt. Shooting me a grin, he leaned out the doorway.
“Doc?” he called again, then shrugged and relaxed against the wall. “Sorry,” he said with an apologetic smile, “but you’ve come at a bit of a busy time for us. Normally the doc would have been here and sent you back by now, but he’s trying to deal with Tant’s crew. We’ve got them locked up in the basement, but they aren’t talking yet.”
“What?” I stared at the man, repeating to myself what he’d just said. It still didn’t make sense. “You have people locked up in the basement? What’s going on? Where on earth am I?”
“That’s a good question,” the young man replied frankly, maintaining his cheerful expression. “In fact, it’s a fascinating subject that requires a bit more depth to do justice to than I can spare at the moment. However, I’d love to discuss it with you at a time that’s convenient for both of us.”
I didn’t know quite how to respond. For some reason, this young man reminded me strongly of my history professor. Every college has one, I’m sure: the kind who tends to go off on tangents in class, and is always inviting students to come by his office to discuss deep issues. But in this situation, I needed answers, not office hours. “Can you give me the one sentence version?” I asked through clenched teeth. “I was in a snowstorm, and now I’m here, wherever this is, and I want to know what happened to me!”
“I know,” the young man said with a sympathetic expression. “I understand, really.” He looked out the doorway again, and exhaled in relief. “Finally,” he said. “Doc! We’ve got another one, and she’s asking questions.”
“Good, good,” I heard an older voice echoing from beyond the room. Strangely, it again reminded me of school – my stats professor always used that expression when someone gave a correct answer. Was I dreaming?
I pinched myself. It hurt. Okay, not dreaming. For some reason, that realization didn’t make me feel better.
I heard heavy footsteps approaching, and stood up to meet “Doc.” A moment later, an older man entered the room. Instead of the white coat I’d expected, the doctor was wearing a business suit.
“Hi,” I said hesitantly. “Um…” I trailed off, trying to figure out what to say. For some reason, I was finding it hard to think. Maybe it was the air, with its odd perfume and heavy taste. Or maybe it was Doc’s intimidating face: his pursed lips, heavy gray eyebrows, trimmed mustache and beard, and green eyes that seemed to be calculating my intelligence based on my demeanor, appearance, and apparent lack of communication skills. I automatically stood up straighter, trying to appear more confident than I felt.
But then the doctor spoke, and even the best posture in the world wouldn’t have helped me impress him. I had no idea what he had just said. The man had obviously been addressing me, since he was still holding me under his intimidating green gaze, but I couldn’t make out the words. “I’m sorry?” I squeaked.
I listened carefully, straining my ears as he repeated the question, but it was no use. He wasn’t speaking English. Sighing, the doctor beckoned with a long finger to the young man behind him – the panicked look in my eyes must have been pretty obvious.
With a smile of pity, the younger man stepped forward. “He asked if you’re a student,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied. Of all the questions I had anticipated, that was one of the furthest from my mind. “Yeah, of course I am. Can he tell me what’s going on?”
The older man said something else in his strange not-quite-English dialect, accompanying it with a stern look in my direction. I glanced in helpless confusion at his assistant.
“He understands English,” he said apologetically, “and would appreciate it if you’d address him.”
“Oh.” I turned back to the doctor. “Yes, then. I mean, yes, sir,” I added, since it seemed appropriate.
His eyebrow twitched, and he launched into another sentence. Listening to him was aggravating. I felt like I should be able to understand what he was saying, but somehow the sounds that entered my brain just didn’t turn into words. Fortunately, the young man kept translating. “He says you may call him Doc, and he hypothesizes that this is your first visit to these fair fields. Is that correct?”
“I…don’t know,” I answered, trying to both keep my eyes on the doctor, and also look around the room to get my bearings. There weren’t any windows, so I couldn’t tell where I was, but I’d never heard anyone describe the suburban town in which my college was located as “fair fields.”
The doctor’s eyebrows twitched at my response. He said something else in a dry tone, to at which his assistant hid a smile before translating. “By your response, Doc says, it appears that his hypothesis is not able to be rejected. On the basis of this, we both welcome you, student, to the Realm of Academia. More specifically, we’d like to welcome you to the main office of the Fields of Sadistics.”
Maybe I was dreaming after all. Then the last word of Doc’s welcome registered, and my stomach tightened. “Sadistics? You don’t mean statistics, do you?”
Doc interjected something in a dismissive tone, making a brushing motion with his hand. “No, that’s only what perts call it,” his translator said. “He would normally send you back immediately,” he continued as Doc kept talking, “but he says that if you’re willing to assist us first in a matter of grave importance, he can assure you that the whole kingdom will be eternally grateful.”
The doctor raised his eyebrows, his green eyes glittering as he waited for an answer. I, on the other hand, was still finding it hard to think. “Perts?” I asked. Then the rest of Doc’s message sank into my brain. My eyes widened, and I met the doctor’s gaze for a moment, then looked down at my fingernails. “Oh. I’d love to, but I don’t think I can. I have a final in forty minutes. Sorry.” I felt my cheeks turning red as I spoke. For some reason, I didn’t want to disappoint these people, strange as they were.
Doc’s response, however, was the opposite of what I anticipated. He started chuckling, then spoke a few decisive sentences. “Oh, don’t worry about your final. We’ll get you back in plenty of time,” his assistant translated. “Time in Academia is an elastic substance. Everything takes the same amount of time here.” Doc’s tone indicated that I should have already known this.
I glanced over at his assistant, hoping for explanation. He gave me a helpful smile. “No matter how much time any task is supposed to take in Academia, it gets done half an hour before it’s due.”
Doc nodded in agreement, then began to speak again in a breezy tone.
“So since your final isn’t for forty minutes, you’ll be fine,” the translator said.
For some reason that made sense, though a part of my brain told me that I had clearly hit my head too hard. Even more surprising to that part of my brain, I found myself agreeing to help.
“Good, good!” Doc said with another sharp head-nod. I wondered if that was only real English he could speak. Doc then turned back to his assistant, ticked off some items on his fingers, and left the room. Though his speech was still incomprehensible, I thought I caught one word.
“Did he call you Timothy?” I asked once the sound of footfalls had receded down the hall.
“Yes, short for Timothy Allen,” the man said. “Sorry, I should have introduced myself earlier. You can call me T.A.”
For some reason, that name rang a bell, but my head was spinning too much by now to put the pieces together. “Nice to meet you,” I said, half-hoping that the use of well-worn pleasantries could counteract the strangeness that this place exuded. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
“Likewise,” T.A. responded, his blue eyes sparkling as if he understood exactly where I was coming from. It was annoying, actually, how cheerful he was. “Follow me down to the kitchen: Doc told me to explain everything to you on the way, then meet him and the others in the basement.”
(To be continued)
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