“Anabasis,” by Daniel Galef

Dec 20th, 2017 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Führt aus Hüllen der Nacht hinüber
In der Erkenntnisse Land.
—Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

Mr. Stevenson must have had a first name, but, if so, his teachers didn’t know it. “Is that so, Stevenson?” they inquired. “Speak up, Stevenson, so that the whole class can hear you.” Mr. Stevenson’s parents probably knew his first name at one point, but may have forgotten. His friends didn’t know it, for the same reason that unicorns don’t know the capital of North Dakota.

At the age of ten, Mr. Stevenson wanted nothing more and nothing less than to have an adventure. He read fantasy novels with pictures of unlikely creatures on them and thought, Something that could change my life is around every corner. When one summer his parents took him to visit some cousins in Missouri who didn’t know his first name, he got very dirty looking for the part of the abandoned barn that was secretly an old forgotten door into another land. Instead he found splinters.

At bright-eyed twenty, Mr. Stevenson read books about knots and coastlines and knew: Adventure is a place and time. I can go there, and I will. Soon, though, he discovered that mere relocation was not sufficient to distance himself from the overwhelming mundanities of Mr. Stevenson. He read amazing stories in Amazing Stories and fantastic stories in ancient epics and memorized “Miniver Cheevy” without a mote of irony. He stopped groping agricultural edifices and instead began exploring the human elements of his world, whom he found to be very much like the old barn, after all.

At thirty, sober and clear-eyed and with his head cleared of the fluff of youth, he decided that the philosophers and self-help-writers were probably right, and that life itself was the real adventure. He gave up falling in love and decided to get married instead. It took surprisingly little effort (Mr. Stevenson was not unattractive, and his melancholia was easily mistaken for poetic brooding), and one day Mr. Stevenson became Mr. Stevenson. Adventures are unpredictable, Mr. Stevenson remembered, and marriage, domesticity, and recreational horticulture must have been a very great adventure because it was so unpredictable that it had very little in common with an adventure. For one, it was extremely predictable.

Strangely enough, his opinion on the subject remained bitter even after he discovered that it could be unpredictable indeed, and Mr. Stevenson went back to being Mr. Stevenson (being not unattractive is almost universally a temporary mode of being, and even skillful brooding is revealed as fraudulent when it produces nothing poetic). But he read books by Peter S. Beagle and reveled in the idea that the Campbellian call can come at any age. When he saw a turtle stranded in the road, he stopped his car to help it, but only in the hope that it might grant him a wish. His doctor as he took the check told him that he shouldn’t have wished for salmonella.

It was selfish and unrealistic to think adventure would fall in my lap, thought Mr. Stevenson at forty. I must work hard, and prove my grit and mettle and moxie and pith and vim before I will be rewarded with glory. He said as much to his shift supervisor, who agreed wholeheartedly, then asked him to repeat his name, please.

At fifty, Mr. Stevenson asked his shift supervisor what he thought about his grit and mettle and moxie and pith and vim, and Mr. Stevenson’s shift supervisor gave him another ten cents per hour.

At sixty, Mr. Stevenson received a handsome gold watch, which he checked three times for secret compartments.

At seventy, he went back to the old barn and tried again, even though it was now a complex of condominiums named The Old Barn.

In a medium-range nursing home, Mr. Stevenson read a paperback memoir of a milkman who came out of retirement and became a lion tamer and thought, It’s never too late to start something. Six months later, he was on a plastic bed dying of a long Latin word.

Mr. Stevenson saw a tunnel open up before him, at the end of which was a light that represented everything he’d ever wanted and the greatest most perfect adventure there is. “I see a light!” he cried. “It represents everything I’ve ever wanted and the greatest most perfect adventure there is!”

“Actually, no,” said a nurse, who did not know Mr. Stevenson’s first name. “That’s a common and explainable symptom of the brain losing oxygen.”

“Oh,” said. Mr. Stevenson.

Then Mr. Stevenson died.

Then Mr. Stevenson had an adventure.


“Hello!” the voice said. “Welcome!”

Mr. Stevenson blinked, then realized that blinking meant that he had eyes, then realized that realizing that blinking meant he had eyes meant he had a brain. “I have a brain,” said Mr. Stevenson.

“I’ll bet you do!” said the voice, which belonged to a figure Mr. Stevenson recognized as a scientist, an archetype Mr. Stevenson was vaguely familiar with from experience and intimately familiar with from Flash Gordon comics.

The room was outfitted in the popular chromium-and-no-corners school of design, with a single wheel-like window framing a cutout into abyss, dotted here and there with blood-colored stars. At first, Mr. Stevenson thought it must be nighttime. “How long has it been?” he croaked.

“Jupiter,” said the scientist. “Oh. What did you ask? I was expecting you to say ‘Where am I?’ Most do. To which the answer, then, would be ‘Jupiter.’ Which I said.”

“Am I dead?” asked Mr. Stevenson.

“Not anymore,” the second scientist said. Mr. Stevenson realized there was a second scientist. “And, in answer to your first question, the number of years that have elapsed could not easily be expressed in spoken language, the digits would be so many.”

“Yes,” said the first scientist. “Many digits. Many.” Mr. Stevenson felt something was expected of him, and managed an impressed “Golly. Many, eh?”


“And you’ve brought me here?”

“Extremely many.”

The second scientist coughed.

The first scientist clapped his hands. “With the aid of a generous grant from the Central Agency for Empirical Historiography, and utilizing the metaphysical reverse-extrapolation abilities of the Newtonian de-entropic drive on our standard Eddington-Laplace-Toynbee spaciotemporal computrix, we were able to totally reconstruct your entire body from new matter, including the precise arrangement of neurons and synaptic pulses active at the instant of your ceasing to be.”

The second scientist coughed again, less convincingly.

“We’ve brought you back. From death.”

“To answer a question,” the second scientist interjected. “The Agency hardly has the resources required to clutch from the cold waiting-room of the hereafter every nobody from the flyover centuries. You possess information of untold value, which even with our godlike technology we are totally unable to discover in any other way.”

“Is this . . . an adventure?” Mr. Stevenson asked.

“Absolutely!” The first scientist beamed. “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” The second scientist wrote something down on a clipboard which she then gave to the third scientist, who left the room. Mr. Stevenson realized there had been a third scientist.

Mr. Stevenson had been wrong too many times to accept being right without protest. “If you can perfectly recreate my brain, why couldn’t you just look at that to find out?”

“We thought of that,” said the second scientist. “It doesn’t work. I could try to explain why, but I don’t expect you would understand. It involves the word ‘quantum’ quite a lot, though. Does that help?”

“Quite a lot,” said the first scientist.

“And, er, you wanted to ask me something?” prompted Mr. Stevenson, resigning himself to befuddlement and eager to begin his adventure.

“Several key historical facts have been completely lost to the record, existing in the blind spots of the spaciotemporal weft—”

Mr. Stevenson opened his mouth.

“—Quantum blind spots. The only place the information is accessible to us is in the minds of those who lived beyond those regions. We can detect that you know, but not what you know. It is the last thing we need to know, in fact, before our project is complete and we will have mapped all possible data points from your era. The only fact that was still inaccessible after simulating and exploring the entire universe with the exception of your mind, and which consequently is information entirely unique to you and your brain, to be found nowhere, nowhen else in existence.”

“So tell us pretty please,” said the first scientist.

“Tell you what?” said Mr. Stevenson.

“Yes, of course! Second scientist?”

The second scientist looked gravely into Mr. Stevenson’s eyes while the first put his hands to Mr. Stevenson’s shoulders to impress upon him the supreme importance of the next words to be spoken.

“What is your first name?”

Mr. Stevenson told them.

The second scientist wrote this down carefully, then nodded to the first scientist.

“You have contributed measurelessly to the human quest for knowledge, and for that we thank you warmly and wholeheartedly,” said the first scientist, while the second scientist reached for a large switch marked OFF.

“Well, goodbye.”


Daniel Galef has published humor in The American Bystander, Kugelmass, and The Journal of Irreproducible Results. Until 2017 he was editor-in-chief of The Plumber’s Faucet, the humor magazine at McGill University, where he also performed improv, stand-up, and sketch comedy and won First Prize at the 2016 McGill Drama Festival. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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