I’m still typing up my first book. This is Chapter 19 of Reality Dreams. It is really a surreal short story about freedom and control.
I remember when I was writing the book that I could not remember having written it. It appeared out of nowhere.
I’m enjoying rewriting this. I’m not sure how accessible it is to anyone else but it is fun to reconnect with my twenty year old mind.
Messny found himself in a huge hall. The roof towered above his head. The colossal awe of the building made him feel ant-like. Never before had he felt agoraphobic, not even under the open canopy of the infinite sky, but he did here. In his massive edifice he felt fear and was overcome with vertigo so that he had to fight to control his rising panic.
Messny took a deep breath, looked around to steady his nerves and set off. He had prepared for a strange and dangerous experience but this was beyond his wildest imagination. Who could have built such a monstrous hall? How was such a colossal structure supported? At any moment he was expecting to see giants entering through the portal riding huge beasts – beasts so gigantic that they would crush a man beneath their paws without noticing, as one might a small insect.
He walked slowly with his thoughts running riot. The hall was full of crowds of normal looking people which came as a relief and helped calm his nerves. They teemed across the huge open concourse as if someone had kicked down a termites nest, dwarfed by the enormity of the building, accompanied by a great babbling of voices and shuffling of feet which echoed of the high ceiling with hollow acoustics.
His state of mind calmed as he walked among the crowd who were intently heading off in all directions, rarely stopping to talk. Nobody paid the slightest attention to him as he meandered in a bewildered daze.
At first he could not discern a pattern. The place was too large to gain an overview. But then he began to notice that there was a definite progress. People only entered from the two large portals on the left. They spread purposefully out, pausing to group together in conversation for brief periods before setting off, and converged on two large portals on the left where they left.
Messny decided to explore. He had little other choice. He circumvented the entire hall. The people assiduously ignored him. There were no features or furnishings to orientate yourself with. The walls were smooth and plain as if made from a uniform plastic with no visible support structures. There were no windows and yet a uniform light pervaded the whole area. It was the scale that made it so spectacular.
The men, women and children he passed were all dressed in similar one-piece, close-fitting suits, although he began to detect slight differences in cut, colour and insignia that seemed to indicate status. Some strutted or strode with an in-built arrogance; others looked more shabby and slouched as they scurried around the place. Messny found it fascinating. He could have spent hours just studying these strange people and their behaviour. There seemed to be a law against touching. Despite the density of the crowd people wended their way through, weaving through the most densely packed regions without so much as brushing against anyone in the process. It was uncanny to observe. When not engaged in conversation they maintained a fixed expression and studiously avoided eye contact. There was no interaction. Yet when in groups they were animated and effusive, with gestures and facial expressions that were exaggerated beyond the normal. The contrast was extreme.
The lack of contact as Messny moved through the crowd was disconcerting. Nobody acknowledged his presence. They effortlessly glided past him without looking. It made him feel strangely shunned and invisible. It was abnormal and unfriendly. There was something alien about it.
Curiosity overcame him. Messny worked his way across the massive concourse towards where the crowds were exiting. He was uncertain what to expect. On the way he nearly precipitated an unpleasant scene and was only just able to avoid an incident by rapidly walking away. He had inadvertently made eye-contact with one of the people he passed. The reaction of shock and embarrassment left him in no doubt that he had offended some deeply held taboo. He could see from the reaction that there was the possibility of an aggressive response that might have led to an ugly scene and quickly ducked out and hurried away. The rumpus rapidly died away in his wake but left him feeling decidedly jittery. It had shaken him up enough to assume the same far-away stare and averted eyes of the rest of the denizens he passed and no further problems ensued.
It was with some relief that he reached the distant portal and walked through. He had no idea what to expect on the other side. At first sight it was a major city. Immense sky-scrapers towered above the hall on all sides, dwarfing even this huge building with their unbelievable size. Messny craned his head and stared up towards the giddy heights. They went upward and upward towards a distant haze and tiny patch of sky. Down at his level the light did not come from the sun but seemed to glow from all surfaces around him creating a shadowless environment.
The city seemed to be separated on all sides from the Hall by a decorative garden of neatly trimmed lawns. Every blade of grass seemed manicured into shape. Intermittently there were flower-beds with colourful plants arranged in intricate patterns – all perfectly aligned as if every single leaf had been slotted into place and wind had been banished. There were signs along the edge of the path that pictorially warned the citizens to keep off the grass. They looked severe.
Messny felt trepidation just looking at it. It made him recoil. There was something sinister about the sanitisation of it.
The orderliness of the arrangement gave him the feel of having wandered into an ants-nest rather than a city of human beings.
The shape of everything was so geometrical and precise. The people moved in such a trance-like manner with such a purposeful air. The warning signs were redundant. The poor caged beasts of people were completely cowed and tamed. They would not have dreamt of stepping on the grass.
The place gave Messny the creeps and after watching the people trailing off towards the various buildings all around for a short while, he ducked back inside the door, working his way against the flow.
From the side he could see that the random movement of the vast crowd was in fact a very intricate set pattern. Everyone appeared to move along invisible preordained pathways. He did not know how he had not noticed it before. They were behaving like programmed automatons. Messny was the odd one out. His random moves were the only ones not in a straight line.
Eventually he reached the other portals, he chose the middle door that few people seemed to be passing through, and with mounting anxiety, stepped through. He had been expecting to be met with a similar scene as at the other end but found that was not the case. Instead of an open space his eyes met with a great long corridor. Despite its great width he could see the walls merging together at a point in the far distance and people moving along like tiny ants all trailing along in the same direction. It gave the impression that the corridor was never-ending. He could not even visualise it ending; it had that infinite feel to it.
Standing at the entrance made Messny feel dizzy. He felt as if he was being sucked down into some spinning vortex. He placed a hand on the wall to steady himself and peered along the corridor’s length. It seemed as if he was standing on the edge of a great hole in the ground and was precariously balanced on the edge. A force was pulling him forward and if he dropped into that hole he had the uncanny notion that he might drop and fall at tremendous speed forever. The idea came into his mind that it wasn’t a corridor at all; it was a tunnel that ran right through the planet and would eject him out into space on the other side.
He told himself he was being absurd. Pulling himself together he mastered his illogical fear and stepped forward into the passageway.
It felt solid enough. The ground did not give way before him and he was not pitched forward into infinity. Reassured he calmed himself down and began to walk forward with purpose.
There were doors spaced along the entire length of the corridor at six foot intervals. They were all the standard sliders with no distinguishing features or identification, as was customary. All the doors were uniform grey and stood out starkly in the cream walls of the corridor. Above each of the doors was a luminous sign which said, in red lettering – ‘Engaged’.
It was intriguing. Messny was immediately beset with a compulsion to seek out a vacant room. The feeling was so strong that it drove everything else out of his head. He set off in pursuit of a vacant sign, striding along and glancing at each sign as he passed, his eyes constantly darting ahead to the next. They were all red ‘Engaged’ signs, but that did not deter him.
Hours passed and he must have walked many miles down this uniform corridor without finding a single vacant room. Every single door was adorned with the same red ‘Engaged’ sign, yet ahead of him he could see a steady stream of people going in to or coming out of rooms. The same was true when he looked behind. They were all finding vacant rooms. Why couldn’t he? Perhaps it would be a better tactic to stand outside of a door and wait? But nobody else was doing this and he still felt compelled to walk, so he pressed on. Messny had the feeling that there was just one door that was his. He had to find it.
The sight of all the others finding their doors was making him feel persecuted. Perhaps he did not have a door? Perhaps, as a stranger, there was not a door for him at all? Yet something told him that there was. As he strode along e was plagued by the thought that he would never find his door; he might be doomed to walk along this passageway forever on an utterly futile task. He cursed himself for having started out on this senseless journey in the first place. What had made him do this? It was mad. But he had come this far and consoled himself that there were many others around him who had walked just as far looking for their doors and very now and then one of them seemed to find their vacant room.
The hours passed and still the corridor stretched ever onward without the slightest variation. Messny’s determination had not diminished even though his mind was actively churning over the stupidity of what he was doing and the peculiarity of this absurdity. He had walked many miles by now and yet had not passed a single sign of any maintenance crew. Yet the walls were all completely spotless despite the thousands of people who were walking down the endless passageway. It began to prey on his mind. A wall of this length and colour had to show signs of wear and tear yet there was not so much as a single blemish.
Messny stopped to examine the surface carefully. Whereas the grey doors appeared to be made of a plastic substance, the walls appeared painted. They were smooth and, even on close inspection, utterly pristine.
He walked along further, pondering this aspect. For some reason it rattled him. Something snapped and he swung a boot at the wall. His boot connected and skidded over the smooth surface leaving an ugly dark scuff-mark on that light coloured surface. A feeling of horror and guilt bubbled up in him threatening to choke him. He glanced round guiltily to see if his act of vandalism had been noted by any of the people in his vicinity. Nobody appeared to be paying him the slightest bit of attention. Looking back at the wall he found to his astonishment that the scuff mark had completely vanished. The paintwork was unblemished.
This was indeed a strange experience. He had been walking for hours and hours and yet he neither felt tired, hungry, thirsty or in need of a lavatory. Yet the oddness of this hardly seemed to connect with his brain. Somehow he was able to reconcile it. Even so, the monotony was beginning to get to him. It had moved from merely irritating to thoroughly maddening. Messny felt an anger brewing in his belly and sweat broke out on his brow. It was becoming an effort to act normally but the sameness of this endless corridor was beginning to get to him. He needed a change.
Messny tried speaking to the people he was walking with. They completely ignored him, looking straight ahead and striding along. He stood in front of some and they looked straight through him, veering to the side to pass him. He even went as far as grabbing hold of one by the shoulders and forcing him to stop. The man merely waited to be released and made no response. As soon as he released him the man walked off as if nothing had happened without the slightest hint of emotion.
It irked Messny. He craved a reaction, a change of some kind, even if it was merely a hostile response. The people around him were simply not behaving like human beings. There were more like androids. It troubled him that, despite the duration of this marathon, he was not suffering the normal bodily needs. In a fit of rebelliousness he came to a stop and boldly prepared to urinate against the wall. It was not that he needed to but more in the hopes that it might provoke some kind of response. In that he was sadly wrong. He might just as well not have been there. The urine trickled down the wall and seemed to flow directly into the floor without leaving the slightest stain. As soon as he had finished he noted that the moisture on the wall instantly dried up leaving no indication that it had ever been there.
He resumed his journey with the corridor stretching forward interminably and his mind reeling in disbelief.
It seemed that no matter how many people went in or came out of doors there was always exactly the same number.
It was just one more fact that he slotted into his catalogue of peculiarities.
Messny hurried on working himself into some kind of panic. He was beginning to feel doomed to wander this endless passageway forever. He was lost in a maze consisting of one path. Even if he turned and went back he was no longer confident that he would find the beginning. He convinced himself that the portal would have disappeared. He was lost and a sea of hopelessness rushed over him. All that was left of the world was an endless corridor, stretching on like a hamster’s wheel.
He propelled himself forward into a jog, and began running and finally sprinting, knocking people aside in his desperation. His mind was shrieking inside his head, tears were welling up and he felt as if he was on the verge of a complete breakdown. Forces were battling for control of his mind. Armies were fighting behind his eyes. He was bombarded with a series of different emotions and conflicting thoughts. It was driving him mad.
‘Go back to the beginning while you still can.’
‘You will never find it.’
‘There will be a door.’
‘No. Go back.’
He came to an abrupt halt, panting and shaking his head from side to side, leaning against the wall, bent over. He raised his eyes and saw it.
It stood out from all the other doors. Above this one there were green luminous letters that said ‘Enter’.
A surge of relief flooded through him. He knew that this was his door. He had found it.
He stood in front of the door with great trepidation and timidity. This was precisely what he had been looking for, yet now he was reluctant to find out what was on the other side.
His eyes slipped over the surface in search of a mechanism. There was none.
Then it silently slid open.
Messny briefly hesitated before stepping in.
His heart was fluttering as if a bird was trapped in his chest. In his ears it sounded like a thud of thunder followed by the rush of a waterfall. It was so loud that he imagined it filling the room. He was deafened by it. It seemed to reverberate off the walls around him.
The door slid shut behind him and he found himself in a small cubicle of a room. It was smooth walls and bland, reminding him of a prison cell. The whiteness of the walls was blinding as walls, ceiling and floor all merged together. The only furniture was a single white chair.
A deep resonant voice spoke in a commanding manner.
‘Please sit down.’
It was not so much a request as an order.
Messny complied, searching the room for signs of a camera. There was nothing to see. It made him panicky again. He felt as if he was in a prison. That was frightening. He had actually worked hard, walking all that distance, to place himself in this dungeon. He felt trapped. Now that the door had slid back there was no exit. Escape was impossible. He could not leave even if he wanted to. There was nothing he could do other than to sit and do as he was told. He waited. Gradually his heart settled and he became resigned to his fate.
The minutes passed as Messny reflected on this strange course of events. It was unbelievable the way things had progressed. Unresistingly he had allowed himself to be led to here. It all seemed so unreal. He could not understand how it had happened. He had no idea where he was. It seemed as if a fog was clearing and he understood that he had been led here through blind compulsion. His normal rational reasoning had deserted him. It was bewildering.
He had no recollection of how he had arrived in the hall and could only wonder at how he had stumbled along through that hall and then down the corridor, all in a dream. His every move orchestrated. He had been manipulated and controlled.
How much of his life had been controlled in this way? He began to feel as if all his thoughts and passionately held views were merely deliberately implanted into his head. It was a scary thought. Was there anything that emanated from himself?
The strange thoughts swirled around his head as he sat there attempting to decipher the tangled mess of the origins of his beliefs and desires.
There was simply no way of knowing what he truly believed, how much was him and how much was the work of others?
The time passed and Messny sat as his mind idled away.
He began to wonder if he had ever had an original thought or view. Perhaps every single thing he had ever done had been programmed? He was an automaton controlled by the ‘Masters’ – whoever they were?
Incongruously he allowed himself a little involuntary chuckle.
He imagined the whole of society directed by the whims of an unseen group of people. For what ends?
It amused him to think of himself as a mere cog in a pointless machine.
Could any mind be clever enough to plan all this so carefully? What was it all about? What purpose could there possibly be?
He was beginning to relax when the voice boomed out again causing him to automatically sit upright in his seat. Messny felt threatened. He felt eyes were on him and he was being scrutinised. He listened intently.
‘You are a free man,’ the discorporate voice informed him. ‘You are able to do anything you wish.’
That did not ring true – given what he had just been through.
‘We must protect you from the actions of others, just as we must protect them from you.’ The voice explained in a reasonable tone. ‘We have to preserve the freedom that is our right. It is our heritage, passed down from our forebears.’
Messny blinked. It seemed that it was unnecessary for him to have to respond. All that was required was that he should sit and listen.
‘If people were allowed to have unfettered freedom to molest and be aggressive towards others, to do damage or destroy property, to rampage and kill, nobody would be free. Everybody would live their lives in fear of others. The strong would rule and even they would live in fear of an uprising from the many. Nobody would be free.’
This seemed to Messny to go against the opening statement. How could you both be free and yet constrained?
‘It is to ensure the freedom of everybody that we have formulated the laws that you live by.’
That sounded pragmatic enough.
‘We have created laws to protect each individual’s freedom. None can encroach upon his rights.’
That seemed fair.
‘All free men are equal. It is for the good of society as a whole that we maintain a system that provides us with security. We have standards that we live by. That is why we are subject to certain conditions.’
As Messny listened to the voice he found his mind drifting and falling between the words. Each word seemed to transform into a sinuous worm that floated in the air to penetrate his mind and imprint itself deep within his subconscious. It was a hypnotic weaving that entranced him with its melodic drone and captivated him.
The rich voice was etched with deep compassion and spoke with an unbroken depth of feeling.
‘It is necessary for everyone to contribute – for all people to work at what they are best at. That is also what is best for society. It protects your freedom and makes it permanent.’
Messny was no longer thinking about the words. He allowed them to flow over him like a soft, warm, velvety glove caressing his spirit. It was so soothing.
‘People contribute differently and are rewarded commensurate with the level of their contribution. But that does not alter the fact that all are equal.’
‘Everyone is free and all have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Everybody is able to rule.’
Everybody was able to rule? How did one go about that then?
‘Should people decide to break the laws of our society they must pay the price; they will be severely punished. All contraventions of the law necessarily affect the freedom of others.’
‘As free people you have a say in the government of our society. In due course you will receive a message explaining the procedures of who you may vote for in order to protect your freedom.’
Messny considered the proposition. He was to be presented with a limited choice of people who had already been selected. He wasn’t sure if that was a choice at all.
‘Remember,’ the voice instructed, ‘to break a law is to defile your own freedom. If your freedom is misused it may become necessary to remove it from you in order to protect the freedom of others who might find their own freedom put in jeopardy due to your own antisocial actions.’
Messny could not fail to internalise the threat.
‘To maintain your freedom – maintain the State!’
‘Freedom is your right and must not be abused!’
‘Freedom is obedience to the law!’
The voice halted in a way that Messny understood to be the end of process.
Messny felt as if something inside him clicked back on.
He stood up and turned. The door silently slid open. He walked out into the corridor and turned right. There, two hundred metres away, was the portal through which he had entered the corridor. He quickly walked back out into the massive hall. His face was set into an expressionless stare and he stared straight ahead. He had no memory of recent experience.
He did not care.
He was beginning to feel his old happy self.
What did any of it matter, anyway?