The Absinthe Literary Review

a short story by Nathan Radke 

It was not, as has sometimes been reported, a ball or a sphere. Balls and spheres occupy three dimensions (four if you count duration). Dots, on the other hand, only have height and width, without depth. When viewed from the side, a dot will disappear, while a sphere will look exactly the same. In fact, the only times a dot will look truly round is when it is viewed directly from the front or back. A cunning dot may very well pass itself off as a ball by turning itself so that it always faces the viewer, creating the illusion of depth. But even the most cunning of dots could not deceive two or more observers standing in different locations.

Nor was it an eye. While its blue color could easily remind one of the eyes of a long-lost love, there was no black spot in the middle. And while the manner in which it avoided obstacles and assaults indicated that it did have some kind of sensory apparatus, its lack of depth (see above paragraph) meant that lens-style refraction was simply out of the question. What most people don’t realize is that the eye is far more complex than it seems when it stares out from the socket of a skull. But so quiet and unassuming is the eye as it goes about its miraculous work, people start thinking that any old round surface could be an eye. This is simply not the case, as any good ophthalmologist will tell you.

While a great deal has been written about the dot, most of it has been speculative in nature, or simply asinine (for example, Peter Vennum’s ridiculous essay “The Blue Dot: Heralding the End of Humanity?”). Here are the absolute facts that can be discerned without a doubt:


1. When Mr. Johnson got on the crowded bus on 8th Street, he was alone.

2. When Mr. Johnson got off the crowded bus on 27th Street, there was a blue dot about the size of a dessert plate hovering eight or nine inches up and away from his left shoulder.


Scientists questioned the thirty or so people who were on the bus when the dot must have appeared, and came to the firm conclusion that people riding on buses don’t look at each other.

Since it was the left shoulder to which the dot seemed oriented, many people jumped to the conclusion that it was (literally and figuratively) a sinister apparition. Amongst the hardships Mr. Johnson faced over the next few hours was the occasional grain of salt in his eye–thrown by true believers. Of course, since the salt was almost always thrown from the left side of Mr. Johnson, and since people were throwing at a dot and not a sphere, almost all of the salt struck Mr. Johnson’s head (which was more or less a sphere). It is very hard to hit a dot in the side (see first paragraph). Any good ophthalmologist will tell you not to get grains of salt in your eye as it can be a very painful experience.

Cultural theorists have pointed to this odd salt-throwing behavior, and argued that it illustrates the relativity of experience and knowledge. Had the dot appeared in a culture where rocks or human waste were seen as effective evil repelling agents, Mr. Johnson could have been even worse off than he was.

Another interesting aspect of the dot was that it could not be captured on any kind of recording medium. In the early minutes of the event, before this unique capability was noticed, news agencies across the country were broadcasting what could very well be the least interesting footage ever televised: a crowd of people gasping and pointing at an empty space a few inches away from the head of a confused and frightened but ordinary-looking man. The media tried every possible technology to seize the dot’s image, but nothing worked. Digital, film, video–all showed nothing but air. In desperation, one channel hired a courtroom sketch artist and flew him to the site. Everyone agreed that the resulting drawing made Mr. Johnson look very guilty indeed.

As a result, only people who actually saw the dot were able to describe it. Luckily, since less than two thousand people caught a glimpse of it, and less than three hundred got a good long look at it, there were mere tens of thousands of completely different eyewitness versions of its qualities, size, and mannerisms. One person (who received extensive attention from the media) claimed that when you looked at the dot, you could see your true self. Pundits commented that any decent mirror should have the same effect. Another person claimed that looking at the dot caused him to black out for a few hours, only to wake up miles away lying in the gutter at the side of the road. Blood testing established that this had actually been caused by a formidable amount of rum. A third person told everyone around her that she couldn’t even see the dot, but this was because, although she was only a few meters away from Mr. Johnson, she had never taken her eyes away from the screen on her digital camera. Many people credited/blamed the dot for their feelings of awe, blindness, closure, displeasure, emptiness, fraternity, godliness, hatred, insanity, jubilation, kindness, love, madness, nihilism, orgasm, pain, queasiness, rapaciousness, sadness, tension, unhappiness, vacuousness, weariness, xenophobia, youth, and zeitgeist. Others argued that this was simply the human condition, and that people would have had those feelings anyway.

Whatever they were experiencing, it cannot be denied that the dot inspired certain actions in its audience. The most common were attempts to catch or strike the dot. As mentioned earlier, the ease with which the dot avoided such efforts indicated that it was aware of its physical surroundings, and also that it had an interest in not being caught or struck. In fact, so adept was the dot that to many it seemed that not only was it sensing and reacting to the physical world around it, but it was predicting and anticipating. This idea was supported by the way that the dot would not react at all to feints, or to blows that would have missed.

Eventually, people abandoned using their hands, and began throwing sticks and rocks. These enterprising individuals had no more success than their salt-throwing brethren at hitting their target, but they did change Mr. Johnson’s attitude towards his mob. While he encouraged, and even took part in earlier grabbing/striking endeavors, it took very few blows from poorly-aimed rocks to disenchant him with this new offensive. When a bullet narrowly missed his ear, his disenchantment turned very quickly to terror, and he fled the crowd (dot in tow). The crowd mindlessly (the only way crowds do anything) took chase, and pursued Mr. Johnson down the street. The only person who did not do so was one Debra Leitch, who remained at the bus stop (the bullet that had narrowly missed Mr. Johnson’s ear had found its way into Ms. Leitch’s head, where it stopped its flight. When it was retrieved, it turned out to be from the pistol of one of the police officers who were attempting to control the crowd. The officer was reprimanded).

Just as a crowd of fifty or sixty people is not as intelligent as the equivalent number of people on their own, so too a crowd is not as fast as its individual components should be. A running crowd trips itself, steps on its own heels, tries to get ahead of itself, and knocks itself down. Had they been able to catch up to Mr. Johnson, it seems very likely they would have beaten him to death. (When a mob is chasing someone, and they catch up to him, there are very few other possible finales.)

At this point, there is little agreement as to where Mr. Johnson went. Many people reported seeing him and the dot jump into a small, unattended fishing boat and sail out to sea. One person said he saw Mr. Johnson climb up into the dot and disappear. Another sobbed that the dot had consumed him, leaving behind only one shoe (which she clung to while telling her story). Others maintained that he got in a cab and headed to the airport (it is unlikely that he boarded a plane with a small floating blue dot as his carry-on, not in this age of heightened airport security). There were rumors that he had been captured by the authorities, and was being held by the state. More than a dozen people came forward that day announcing that they were Mr. Johnson. At one chaotic press conference, there were no less than three Mr. Johnsons, and one of them had a blue helium balloon on a string tied to his arm.

Several religious leaders made statements concerning how appearances of blue dots were foretold in their various books and scriptures, and all of them quoted obscure passages out of context to prove their claims. Mr. Johnson was considered a martyr by some, a false prophet by others. The Church of the Blue Dot was formed, and despite having many self-contradictory tenets and bizarre rituals it soon had a large following.

As of this writing, there has been no sign of Mr. Johnson, and there have been no reappearances of floating dots of any size or color. The bus stop on 27th street where the event took place is now considered to be holy land (the largest and original Church of the Blue Dot is one block west, in a building shaped like a large purple sphere. A dirty wingtip that is claimed to be Mr. Johnson’s authentic shoe is kept there behind bullet-proof glass. At last count, there were over ninety other such authentic shoes in other locations).

Most reputable scientists now dismiss the entire affair as a mass hallucination. Some of the bolder scientists dismiss Mr. Johnson himself as an hallucination, despite the countless pictures that exist of people pointing to the empty space just over his left shoulder. And a handful of the boldest scientists entertain the idea that they themselves may be no more than hallucinations.


© 2005 Nathan Radke

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