“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.
And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
Cresting the hill, Alice looked out over a field of dusty statues. Each showed a runner, dynamically posed. It was as if someone had cast a spell upon a marathon, freezing all the competitors for eternity.
Among the statues scampered two rotund little men. They gestured emphatically, wiping their fingers along the statues’ contours. As Alice approached, they waved her over.
“At last,” the first man said, his voice as deep as a bear’s. “This girl will talk a little sense into you.”
“I think not!” squeaked the second man, his voice like a cheap whistle. “I am already full of sense. I am brimming with it. My mind could not possibly fit a smidgen more of sense.”
“Harrumph,” the first man growled. Then, turning to Alice, “Tell him, girl. Which of these statues is moving the fastest?”
Alice looked around. “They’re statues! None of them are moving at all.”
The men, adversaries only a moment before, looked at each other and broke into jeering laughter.
“Not moving!” the high voice screeched. “Look at those arms swinging, the legs churning, the hair thrown back in the wind! Of course they’re moving.”
“Not moving!” the low voice bellowed. “Look how far they lean forward! Why, if their momentum weren’t carrying them along, they’d fall right over.”
“If they’re moving, then why are they staying in the same place?” Alice said.
“Because, of course,” whistled the high voice, “we froze them.”
Alice shuddered. “Why?”
“Well, we wanted to know who was moving fastest,” the low voice intoned. “But they kept changing speeds—this one bursting forward a little faster, that one tiring and beginning to lag. Oh, it was a nightmare, trying to find the fastest runner, when they refused even to hold a constant speed!”
“So we froze them!” the high voice added. “No more changing speeds. Much easier to identify the fastest.”
“Yes,” Alice said, “but speed is matter of movement.”
The two men nodded.
“And because you froze them,” Alice continued, “they’re no longer moving.”
“Precisely,” the two voices said at once.
“It’s very hard to measure a moving thing,” said one voice.
“Immobile ones are easy,” added the other.
“But,” Alice stammered, “how can you measure the speed of a person that isn’t moving?”
“We can do it however we please,” the low-voiced man huffed. “The question is, how can you measure it?”
“I can’t,” Alice admitted.
“Well, if you ask me,” growled the low-voiced man, “that shows an extraordinary lack of imagination.”
“And if you ask me,” chimed in the high-voiced man, “it shows quite an ordinary lack of imagination. Which is even more to be pitied.”
“Though if you ask me,” insisted the low-voiced man, “pity is entirely the wrong reaction. To pity someone for who they are is terribly condescending.” Before Alice could thank him, he went on: “This foolish girl deserves our scorn and our contempt, but never our pity.”
“Well, if you ask me,” Alice broke in, “I haven’t the faintest idea what either of you is talking about!”
“We did ask you,” the high-voiced man scolded. “We asked you a simple question: which statue is moving the fastest? And you refused to answer!”
Before she had to suffer another moment of this, Alice scurried wordlessly off, continuing in the direction she had come. Soon the voices, both high and low, faded into the distance, until at last Alice heard one faint and final exchange between them.
“You have to admit, she is rather fast herself.”
“Fast? Please! That girl wouldn’t recognize ‘fast’ if it stood stock still in front of her.”