Mary was reading the editorials, cartoons, and columns of her local newspaper while walking back home from school. She did not enjoy the news itself as much as peoples’ views on it; she was normal in that way. Her mind was so focused on her reading that she was unaware of the raging tornado swirling down over her. Its destructive force that could tear people apart with just a quick rip descended down upon poor Mary’s figure and she was sucked up into the air.
“Oh, how dreadful!” Mary said with tears in her eyes, “if only I had paid attention!”
But the cautionary tale of vicious whirlwinds does not end there, oh no. Mary is actually swept away to a land that is more real than you may know. Perhaps you have heard of its tale, or perhaps you have been lucky (or more likely, oblivious) enough to escape the murmured rumoring of its existence. Mary, unfortunately, now lives in this harsh realm.
Upon landing in a field near the edge of a woods, Mary wandered away from the desolation of forestation and headed toward what she hoped was civilization. After traveling for about an hour, Mary came across a bright yellow road. She proceeded to follow it until she bumped into a very long line of patiently waiting people. The line stretched far down the road, and at the end of the queue was a castle. As curious as could be, Mary stepped behind the caboose of the line and nudged the young gentleman.
“Excuse me, sir. Why is everyone standing in this line?” Mary asked.
“Where have you been?! This, of course, is the line to get into the Land of Nopinion!” answered the gentleman.
“Hm, never heard of it,” Mary replied.
“Never heard of it?! Then you have never heard of Queen Helen?”
“No. Should I have?” Mary asked.
“Of course! She is why everyone wants to live here! Where have you been to not know this?” inquired the gentleman.
“I was placed here by a cyclone,” Mary said, honestly. The gentleman stared back, eyebrow raised. He gained the attention of the next person in line who had been discretely listening in. Mary took this act as an implication for back-up, which she took minor offense to.
“Cyclone, eh? OK then. Anyway, we are all here in line to attempt to gain access to Nopinion,” said the gentlewoman that had been listening in. “Nopinion is run by Queen Helen. To live within her walls, you must vow to never have an opinion.”
“Oh, I don’t like that,” Mary said. “Why would anyone want to live under Queen Helen?”
“Because she is kind, lovely, and almighty,” said the gentlewoman.
The gentleman nudged the gentlewoman and corrected her, “Because ‘she is SHE’!”
“Oh yes, of course,” fretted the gentlewoman.
After many hours of waiting in line, Mary was only a few people away from the gate. Two armed guards stood in front. Mary also noticed a large bin near the guard that was leaking a potent ooze into the surrounding ground. Every time a person gained access, a guard would add something to the bin. Upon further investigation, Mary realized it was an offering.
“Is there a code or letter of recommendation I need to gain entrance?” Mary asked the gentleman.
“Oh yes,” said the gentleman. He pulled his shoulder bag in front of him and unsnapped the button on the front. A stench of rotting filled Mary’s nostrils and she looked in the bag with disgust. Inside was some kind of decomposing gray mush. The gentlewoman also opened her bag to show off her offering.
“I don’t have that,” Mary said with a plugged nose.
“If you do not have it now, ask for permission and you will be guaranteed to have it later, in which case you will supply it to Queen Helen,” said the gentleman.
After the gentleman and gentlewoman gave their offerings to the guard (and it was heaved into the large bin), Mary asked to be let in with the guarantee of her gray-mush loan. The guard accepted and Mary met with the gentleman and gentlewoman in a crowd surrounding Queen Helen’s court. Now inside, Mary could see how dirty and destroyed the land actually was. The court was built in front of a huge castle. Helen sat in a marvelous royal chair accompanied by two more guards. One by one, other residents of Nopinion were escorted up to her throne where they brought gifts. To the best of Mary’s logic, she guessed they were looking to be promoted within Helen’s kingdom. No one but Helen and the gift-bearer spoke. Up next to Helen was a man offering his prized cow. Helen accepted his offering but did not allow him to pass so quickly. This put the man in obvious distress.
“I am the nicest and the smartest,” Queen Helen said to the man.
“Yes, you are!” The man’s voice shook in fright.
“Banished!” roared Queen Helen. One of the guards grabbed the man, who was now screaming and crying, and dragged him over to a nearby catapult where he was flung back into the wilderness.
I don’t like this, Mary thought. Up next, a new resident brought bread. It was easy for Mary to distinguish between the older residents and the newer residents. The newer residents were visibly nervous, maybe excited, in their demeanor. Mary thought they reminded her of new kids at school. The older residents were more unemotional: they walked in sync, their faces were expressionless, they spoke monotone. Their pride made them look mechanical. Mary also noticed that they seemed to wear all gray; she thought this could be representative of their offering, like a status symbol.
The man offering bread looked up to Queen Helen. “How is this?” he asked.
“This bread is dreadful!” Helen exclaimed.
“Bread,” said the man as he walked away.
Up next was a cobbler. She brought Helen a beautiful pair of shoes that were customized just for her.
“How is this?” asked the cobbler.
“These are beautiful, I love them,” Helen said.
“OK,” said the cobbler. She began to walk away when Helen had a guard stop her. She turned back to Helen.
“I’m the nicest and the smartest,” said Queen Helen.
“You are you,” replied the cobbler.
Queen Helen smiled and had the cobbler escorted into a tower of the castle. Mary watched in discomfort as she had yet to produce her first offering. Mary sighed deeply in anxiety.
“Who was that?!” Queen Helen bellowed. The crowd separated until they left Mary standing alone. A guard walked down into the crowd and brought Mary to the foot of Helen’s throne. Helen glared down at Mary as Mary looked straight down at the ground. They remained in silence until Queen Helen spoke.
“What do you think of these shoes?” Helen asked.
“Red,” Mary answered. “Shiny. Size eight.”
Queen Helen now gave a look of approval and had Mary join back into the crowd. Mary rejoined, but now with a fresh sense of approval. Mary chased this feeling as she lived the rest of her days inside the castle walls. She lived among the older automatons until she became one herself.