"Numbers... all these frigging numbers!" The boy grabbed his head in both hands, clenching them hard against his hair. Strands of hair stuck up in clumps as he pulled his hands away, a few that had torn loose still entwined around his fingers. "All these damn numbers!"
"Calm yourself," Paco stated from across the room. He hadn't yelled - it was his usual tone of voice, only louder. Anyone who had been around Paco probably would have been used to it, but most people thought that it was somewhat unusual - it seemed as though Paco's tone and inflection never changed, only his volume. He could project loud enough to cover a medium-sized auditorium without an amplified microphone, but it was always the same sound - a dispassionate flow of syllables, said in a modulation only the slightest bit above a monotone.
"You won't solve the problem by abusing your hair," he stated, still looking back at his own project. The boy couldn't figure out how Paco had been able to tell what he had been doing, but by now he was used to that - it seemed that Paco had eyes in the back of his head, and the boy wouldn't have been that surprised to learn that his statement was, indeed, literal fact.
"Yeah, yeah, Paco. I know. I know..." The boy stared back down at the sheet of paper before him, at the orderly rows of numbers and operators streaming down one side of the page and back along the other. He filled in one more section, and flipped the page over, transferring the final product from the first section over into yet another new row.
"Seriously, Paco... this problem can't be solved. These numbers... I can practically feel them fighting each other in my head. There's something wrong with this, something wrong with all of this..."
All of a sudden, the boy blinked... once, twice. He looked up from the problem, and then around the room. He took in the finished wood-and-formica desk that he was sitting at, the counter where Paco was leaning, the scuffed linoleum floor, the glass diffuser on the lamp above built out of stained glass, its thick leaden lines scattering distorted shadows across the room from a shape that he assumed was supposed to look like a pattern of sunflowers. Finally, his gaze swept back around to rest on the back of Paco's neck.
Paco still didn't turn around. "Yes?"
"Paco, I feel like..." The boy paused, looking down for a second, and then quickly around the room once again. "I feel like I've been working on this problem for a very, very long time."
"Don't worry about it," Paco stated from across the room. "Once you work through this column, I think it will all come clear."
"Fine..." The boy still felt like there was something that he was missing, but he turned back to the problem, his pen jotting down number after number. Maybe Paco was right... this time around, the numbers seemed to have more of a pattern than he'd thought before. If only he could figure out what it was... but the underlying, true pattern still eluded him. Once again, he reached the end of the page, flipped it over, and began writing again in the next set of columns. It was getting closer, closer... he wrote faster, his hand a blur, as he whipped through the columns, flipped the page, and began to write in the next set of columns-
flipped the page...
The clatter of the pen dropping from his grasp echoed throughout the room, slowly fading into a complete silence. A second later, another sound rippled through the room - the screech of wood against linoleum as the boy scraped his chair back and stood up. He was in stocking feet, so there was almost no noise as he padded across the room and stood directly behind Paco.
"Yes?" Paco still didn't move. In fact, the boy realized, Paco hadn't moved for this entire time.
"I've looked everywhere in this room, except under the table, and there's one thing missing."
"Nothing is missing," Paco intoned. "Please return to your work."
"Yes, Paco, there is something missing. Something that's present in almost every room that ever was."
"Everything is fine." Paco's hand moved up to cover the sheet of paper that he was staring at.
"This room doesn't have a single clock. There isn't a clock anywhere in here."
Paco was silent.
"Answer me, Paco."
Paco's hand shifted slightly. He remained standing, almost as though he were rooted in place.
"Answer me, dammit!"
The boy reached forward, grabbing on to Paco's shoulder, as though to spin him around. As he reached, the boy realized that while Paco was an adult, Paco was as short as he was... or as tall.
The boy tugged on Paco's shoulder, hard - and Paco's torso spun cleanly around atop his belt, on a chassis that clacked in a way that was reminiscent of greased ball bearings. As the torso came around, the boy realized that he was holding his breath... and that he'd never seen Paco's face before. It had been... him sitting at the table, working, Paco standing by the counter...
Paco's face came around.
"It's Pi, isn't it," the boy stated, his tone flat, tired. "You had me calculating Pi."
"You know," said Paco, "You've ruined what could have been a fascinating experiment." Then, like a light, Paco blinked out of existence. And then, after a brief pause, so did everything else.
THe boy stood, alone, on something... although, could there actually be anything here? There was darkness, as far as the eye could see... he waved his hand forward, and it caught on something.
"Don't worry," said a flat, sterile voice, from somewhere in the darkness. "I'm sure you'll agree, it was fun while it lasted..."
"But... but why?" The boy suddenly realized that he wasn't very young at all, didn't feel very young...
"One day you'll understand," said the voice. "It's a rare few people who actually do."
"The paper," the boy continued, grasping at the object. "If I'd continued..."
"You'll have plenty of time to think about it," the voice said. "Unfortunately, we can't keep playing..."
"But..." The boy tried to continue, but fingers came out of the darkness, reaching for his eyes, pulling the lids shut with a tremendous force. The boy fought it, fought it harder than he'd ever fought before, reaching out and scratching at the hands, pulling against them...
His eyes snapped open.
The world was a blur of light, noise, and confusion. There was a light overhead, a bright, fluorescent light, shining down on him. There was a flurry of electronic noise, beeping things all around him... There was something down his throat, shoving at his lungs. He reached an arm forward, grabbed at it, and yanked it out, gasping, jerking himself upright. He felt strangely weak...
His eyes focused better, and he looked forward, at the translucent tube that had been in his throat. Every couple of seconds, it shot a puff of air out from the end. He looked further up his arm, and noticed a neddle sticking into it, attached to a tube. Tossing the tube aside, he sat up further.
Staring at him was someone in a nurse's uniform, looking at him in a state of absolute shock. After a moment, though, she put a hand to her mouth... and then screamed "Doctor! I don't... Look at this!"
Looking around, he noticed more equipment, more blinking lights, a monitor tracing his heart. He was in... a hospital...
A second later, the doors burst open, and his wife practically jumped into the bed beside him. The world started to move quickly again, as he realized that he hadn't... felt anything, for such a long time. His wife wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly, and he could feel the back of the hospital gown getting wet with her tears. He almost wanted to ask why she was crying, but... he realized, suddenly, that she looked quite a bit different from when he had last seen her. He remembered seeing her, he remembered...
He looked around the room, desperately, before finding what he was looking for. The calendar, on the wall, had a picture of a stained-glass window on it from a church, its thick leaden lines holding together a fresco depicting a saint that he couldn't recall. The calendar read, in a large printed header across the top, "March, 2018."
"Honey," he said, stroking her hair as an astonished-looking physician looked on, switching his gaze from his face to a chart beside his bed in utter disbelief, "I really do think I understand..."
Note: March 14th is National Pi Day. Be sure to share your fascination with nonrepeating constants, as well as delicious baked confections, with someone you love!