As the fifth week of Zoom classes drew to a close, Daren could confidently conclude that he wasn’t learning anything. He did the bare minimum required for all of his classes, and if he had to explain what his classes were about, he could only give his best guess. With the physical campus closed, the barrier between home and school progressively blurred. Daren dreamt about school more than ever, and his dreams only further confused what little he remembered of his classes.
On Thursday morning, Daren clicked the Zoom link for his medieval literature class, and when he did, a bright blue light shot out from his computer screen and blinded him. Once the light dimmed and his vision returned, Daren found himself on a conference call with what he thought to be a strangely medieval pair. Two men: one older, large with a charming demeanor, and the younger, thin with vacant eyes. They both stood inside a decrepit barn, quarreling in furious whispers.
HENRY Datty, I d’ont want too tolk to em. CORNELL You’re not talking. I’m talking. HENRY Den why do I haf tuh be ‘ere? CORNELL They said we both have to be here... ... DAREN Hello? CORNELL Hi. DAREN Who are you?
Introductions were conducted normally, and Daren did not point out the dubious reality of the situation as he became engrossed in conversation with the pair. Nor did Daren notice the figure floating behind him whose eyes were darting between him and Cornell.
Cornell noticed the figure, and his incoherent thoughts doubled. He couldn’t make practical sense of what he was thinking, but it was clear his scrambled mind felt a dimensional pull to Daren’s world. It was the only lucidity anchoring him to any semi-coherent thought and conversation, and Cornell could tell their worlds were overlapped. The force that drew him to this Zoom call… could it be a force weakening the barrier between worlds? He looked to the figure behind Daren’s shoulder for guidance, but received only more inconsistency. He decided to carry on normally.
DAREN How is the life of a serf? I’ll be honest, I don’t understand much of your time, but right now I have nothing but time to learn, supposedly… so I’m all ears for anything you’d like to share. CORNELL Well, my son and I live and work on the land of our lord. We’re relatively content, our lord is not the most observant person on account of his blindness and lack of hearing, speaking, moving and breathing. He can be pretty lazy sometimes. The situation works for me though. Not to having someone breathing down my neck or in my presence, having the freedom to conduct my personal activities—it's nice. DAREN Two questions: Is your lord dead? Also, what kind of activities? I’m so bored right now and I could use some hobby recommendations. CORNELL Who’s to say? HENRY Datty, canny go out back and play wit deh dead? CORNELL No, I told you we both have to be here. DAREN Two questions: Why does your son talk the way he does? Also, why are there dead outside? CORNELL He talks the way his mother does, may she rest in peace. HENRY Datty nev’ah lets me GOE ANYWHERE! So I can’t EXPOUND moi vo-cal range. CORNELL Maybe I’d let you go places, if you didn’t leave a trail of the dead in your wake. I mean you’re 27, you should be better about these things. DAREN Okay. Two questions– CORNELL Shut up! “Two questions”... That’s the problem with people from your time, all questions and no answers. DAREN Okay. Okay. Give me a break, it’s a difficult time right now. There’s lots of uncertainty, I feel like I never leave school, nothing sounds interesting anymore. I feel like I don’t have any hold of what’s happening anymore and just want to escape a little by asking you questions. HENRY Oi gave dose dead people an escape… when oi killed dem. CORNELL Henry I don’t think now’s the time. HENRY Soreee Datty. CORNELL It’s ok son. Why don’t you go outside and play with the cadavers? I think it would be okay if I handled the rest really quickly. HENRY Yæy! DAREN What do you mean by the rest? CORNELL Daren, just come a little closer to the screen. Take my hand. DAREN Why do you have a tattoo on your hand that says “due at 11:59?” CORNELL It was my mother’s maiden name, just come a little closer.
Daren clasped hands with the cold grip of Cornell, who was reaching through the computer screen. When their hands met, he didn’t feel anything anymore, no worries, fears or joys. With a firm grip established between them, Daren was pulled into the screen. The floating figure behind Daren nodded and left the room, as Henry ran on screen wearing an Ole the Gaucho mascot head and pretending to guide cattle.