“You are aware this is the second time we’ve caught your friend committing a felony act, correct?”
“Yes, and I’m so sorry for the trouble, officer. He’s just like that; I can never speak sense into him. I know you know he’s not a danger or anything. A bit weird, but he doesn’t mean harm. I suspect he could be slightly autistic.”
“This has nothing to do with harm. This has to do with your friend’s stupidity—trespassing on a construction site again? If the company ever files a complaint, he’s not going to get off so easily.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll make sure to get across to him.”
“Alright, I warned you. He’s in the room over. I’ve already gone through the whole spiel with him. You should be good to go now.”
The officer led Binh into the office, where Fred sat in front of a desk. His head drooped, hung low. Fred felt guilty—he was certain—but Fred’s foot tapped an incessant beat against the floor. An excess of energy drove his fidgeting. This was atypical.
Binh stared at him for a moment. Fred raised his head while keeping the angst-ridden posture; his eyes squinted in a twitch of remorse. Something was amiss—yet more important matters lay before figuring out whatever it was.
“You oaf. You’ve really dug your own grave this time.”
“I’m sorry, man, but there’s something else—something else entirely—happening. Look, you’re going to have to let me explain, and I’m sorry for getting caught and all, but…”
“For getting caught? Getting caught? That doesn’t mean anything! You were caught doing exactly what we talked about not doing last time—walking out on that damn construction site. I know you want to be alone, and I know you find the piles of rocks or whatever interesting, but you should do better than this. You aren’t dumb; don’t act that way and make me drive all the way out to the station to pick you up!”
“Poor choice of words. It doesn’t matter. Look. I think we’re in a spot of trouble. I might have precipitated something worse.”
The officer stepped into the conversation, intrigued yet annoyed. “I think it’s time for you boys to haul on out.”
He glared at Fred. “Certainly. You have enough time to think about this elsewhere.” The two stepped out of the room; once the officer’s door emitted a faint click behind him, he turned around, arms akimbo in a power position.
“You ought to explain yourself better. Tell me. Now. What’s going on?”
Fred gave an audible breath and rubbed his forehead. “Okay. As for trespassing and all, I have no excuse. I thought I wouldn’t be spotted. Again. But I promise it won’t happen! It’s not a one-time thing to get noticed! None of that’s important now.”
Binh cocked his head to the side in skepticism. Fred should have a rebuttal worth picking to fragments.
“You see, I strolled by the culvert—that ditch that runs alongside the site where the water drains. There’s this stretch where they draped red clay or dug it up along the culvert. It looked smooth because of the rains. It looked almost like a carpet. I reckoned I could head straight through the patch, but three paces in, man, the ground slipped under me, and I stumbled into the little ravine…”
“You aren’t even wet.” Fred’s hallmark fluorescent green shirt shone as obnoxiously as ever.
“That’s the point. I passed on through and came out the other side dry. Not underwater, but almost like a reflection of the site. Except the chirality is the same. I don’t quite know what that means. Maybe it cloned me or some other Twilight Zone kind of effect.”
“Well, that’s mind-boggling.” He had gone whacko. The brain which rattled the bars so long had broken loose and bled out. What now?
“I know it sounds too rich; I know I’ve taken a swing on this one. I won’t go there ever again—I’m not so inclined after getting mind-boggled earlier, as you’d call it. Hear me out for my trespasses on your time and gas, and I swear to it.”
“Fine. But as soon as the other roommates come back, we are having a discussion. Fair enough?”
Fred perked up. A round of defending his sanity in this strange land appeared to be far better than walking across half the city to the same end. Besides, the ditch is on the other side of town; arriving there involved swinging by the apartment.
“Yeah. Sure. Let me get my possessions, my phone and stuff, and I’ll be good to go.”
Fred picked up. They had taken his phone, wallet, keys—a mere fee for a moment. There’s a challenge here, he supposed, ripe for the adventure. What secrets did the culvert hold? Does this happen every instance? Fred had one way to be sure.
Binh, excluded from these riddles, could do no more than inform the roommates and watch. And wait. And at the moment the officer on the other side of the room unlocked the storage box, and allowed Fred to rummage through the bin, Binh glanced past the window which looked out from the office to the reception desk. Nothing glanced back—he already spent a dozen minutes there earlier and remembered nothing unusual. More people had filed in—a businessman reading a brochure on DUI charges, a young woman texting fervently on a bright pink phone, and a young man in a fluorescent green shirt who stared down at the tiles in front of him and tapped his foot in anxiety. And just as Binh paused in thought and began to put the pieces together, in his peripheral vision—out in the parking lot, visible through the lobby—a motorist pulled up in a recognizable car. The car grinded to a faint halt over two spaces. Whoever was in such a hurry leaped out of the car and sprinted to the lobby.
Binh could distinguish his shirt from this far away: a familiar shade of fluorescent green.
While sleeping, eyes forced open still,
Enjoying dull, elusive highs,
I peered past privilege to fulfill
An urge for what life signifies.
Just canter into lucid dream,
The dark side all our dead depart,
And watch your latent joy redeem
What’s pure and tender in your heart.
I took a gamble. I drowsed off.
I yearned for flawless lands alone,
And hoped to cross routine sendoff,
Thought how they differed from my own…
Debts earned, debts paid
Another week yet
On nearby roads
No light above (that we can see)
No memory (of recent time)
An alibi of snakes in glass,
Their serpent streams in silent jails.
Not human ones. Don’t fret their fates.
It’s time to move to other scenes.
Gas station bleakness switching seats,
A demon prowled the field beyond
By tricks your parents play sometimes.
Another jolt in drifting states.
And in the tower, bricks and steel collide,
A slip of paper thumping pavement hymns
Sends cash meandering far down the stairs,
Reminding what illusions prey in sight.
As the pale hall thunders
And you hence go elsewhere
In the rambling changes
That spice daily resting—
At once, I realized I was asleep,
That this world was just as fake as the last.
I could do anything until sunrise,
To love and learn and grieve and be at peace.
I cheered and leaped up in the air,
This empty sleeper made aware.
The magic seen, the battle won,
I flew and turned ‘round toward the sun—
A hand swept in,
Took all away—
So my home’s comfort didn’t leave.
It grabbed me from dreams through deafness
By rapping at the door to grieve
O’er silent lucid restlessness.
Or my own mind played surrogate,
And let not this odd psychonaut
Adore one more distant secret.
From such fuzz, I remembered naught.
So I, awake, could not explore
Far past the edge I ran aground.
And so I missed the chance to soar.
And that was all I ever found.
If I could, I’d offer you everything,
Give you my will and promise anything
So you don’t seem an eclipse of the sun,
A blackness shining on a gracious son.
Your sight is spotty, your mind in rubble,
Sublimation dragged and drugged by trouble
And the ones who sport wicked, aloof grins,
Assured in turmoil and draped in the skins—
The spotty, reckless, strangely astray skins
Of those who sport your covert, missing grins,
The blankness in all your kindly trouble,
Taking me to peruse through your rubble.
I wonder why fate snatched the nascent son,
Our fellow absent eclipse of the sun,
Led him to doubt, not believe anything,
Leave him gazeless, withdrawn from everything!
I couldn’t have cared even less. I sent them—some vinyl records, an outdated toaster, faded postcards from years past, and some other junk—straight from under my bed, coated in dust, to a nearby landfill, dirty and barren. I, as my mother said, couldn’t accumulate so much trash in my room if I wanted to be organized and successful. Things got more complex over time, I suppose, and everything kept on piling up faster and faster, and in a blink of an eye, I had to devote my dear time to rummage through the junk and pick out what I wanted to keep. Or maybe sell. I could use the cash. The relics hardly could be useful, and maybe I could use any profits to get some music. Maybe I should donate them—that would be good enough for the month’s service to others. My devotion to others.
Before I realized what I should have earlier, I quickly perused everything under my bed, disapproved of the contents, and asked if anyone wanted to save anything. She asked if I wanted them, took the records for herself, and proclaimed the rest of no use. I concurred and dropped the box into the trashcan. Forgotten.
But this wasn’t important. I had other things to tend to, things far more important than faded postcards and math books. I had the world at my keystrokes, a gigantic network into which I could escape at no harm to others. My life was overbearing, what with each day’s dull schooltime hours, dull television, and dull sleep. I resented them all. This was not the final solution, but a world just like the one outside my window, filled with the same friends and fiends. Here, though, I had no one to tell me how to live my life, no nagging over philosophy. From a screen, every facet of personality, interactions, sex, fame, little pills, and death permeated my life. I wasn’t happy, but there was no reason to be sad. I guess.
Why waste my days?
So it was nothing to me then but a great interruption, a divide in my stream of dark blue nighttime consciousness and attention-deficit era. I spent the rest of the eve doing what I did for the past three years, since the gradual blur into my present state: I played around on the box for an hour or two, went through my networks, remembered that I had to turn in a paper the next day, and copied and pasted. All to the greatest music, too. Well, maybe in that order; I remembered what happened, but not in any particular order. An odd phenomenon that creeps in the night. When in a demonic stupor from medication, such confusion tends to just happen. But it happens with art, like when I, the pianist, spent the starlight aeons playing on keys like a vulgar pianist. And all the while, I purposely had my head turned away from the curb where all the stuff moved before they were to disappear. Much like the sphere around us all, I no longer had to worry about them. Then again, I never worried about much; I lived from one paragraph to the next, one day to the next, and one task at the same time as another. In the information age, I could hardly imagine anything else.
There’s a streetlight next to my house that annoys me when I sleep and makes me grind my teeth sometimes. My bedroom looks out onto the street, so I have an optimal view of an orange glow that persists for hours, reducing the intervals to obscurity as the night labors onward invisibly. That’s where the garbage lay. It’s funny how a location remains unique only in the deepest recesses of your mind—if you were to go there right now, nothing but maybe a small oil stain would attract or repel the senses. The air may feel different, confounded. That night, though, the square yard became a holy ground of sorts. At first my just-awakened mind in the dark and the funny optical illusion created by the streetlight were signs; I was restless and it—it, facing upward, looked like it was radiating that orange glow, focusing the light on a single point, the real bulb five meters up, even though the light shouldn’t have been orange but rather a faint gold. A prism.
It—the door to a concept—the lamp.
The light, still streaming, looked down upon me as I slept, with my paper in my backpack, my clock making the faintest hum, other, smaller, lights blinking on and off everywhere in my room, and the silent observation of inanimate objects around me. My awareness deteriorated; my thoughts sank to the dark bottom of an earthen pit. Sleeping was my favorite hobby until that night.
A kind of blur ensued, as with typical sleep amplified.
Soon enough, I was in a long corridor. All I could see were the large bricks on the the sides, painted uniformly white, thin carpeting at base, and ceiling tiles interrupted by fluorescent lighting peering into me. Like with the deepest puddles, the light had an evanescent quality straight into the depths below. Everything looked the same, like a rendered space over and over again for a mile. The eccentricities and queer tendencies of the industrial carpet repeated themselves so finely that I felt that this dream could not be possible—that everything had been projected onto a screen of a life, that the tape-wielder prowled far beyond the jagged walls. Into it, as a matter of fact, at some infinitesimal depth.
Ahead of me, a small door rested. Behind me, the corridor faded into darkness, and I could not see its end; I just faintly recalled coming from there. The aged air, dusty without dust, chilled my skin a little. I made all of these notes, filed them away behind my mind’s eye, and felt a certain sense of dread.
The feeling came first, and the rationale afterward. (Just like life?) I slept—so maybe this is a lucid dream? No; I couldn’t fly out of this chamber. I couldn’t morph my surroundings into a sunlit coast or a snow-capped peak, the objects of our exotic, erotic fantasies. My surroundings dominated me, but I was asleep and I told myself that. Or maybe still a projection of myself. So maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe I was just somewhere else. No pill I took to calm my nerves could warp neurons this profoundly. I don’t think I liked it.
With a sense of investigative determination, I walked up to the door.
The door seemed at first to be distant forever, outside of my reach. The number of fluorescent lights until that end was unresolved, their angles blending in my eyes. All that remained then were the bricks (stacked twelve to the ceiling, aligned at half-intervals, rather pasty and rough beneath the paint), the ceiling (studded with black little dots from the way the light tended onto the little grooves), and the floor (noisy and unfocused, going from red to blue to yellow to green to purple to red again in tiny points under my bare feet). But the lights going out behind me pushed me forward, away from the abyss—a sure sign of progress. Or escape again.
I reached the door after a monotonous feeling of eternity, feeling its cold, creased handle beneath my fingers, and opened it as the last light went out. There was light on the other side, an orange glow penetrating my eyelid. When I opened it, though, the light reversed—there was orange behind me, twilight darkness ahead of me. And what was on the other side?
It was my house blown up to unrealistic proportions—and the layout looked a little different, but I didn’t really notice that at first.
I shut the inverted light behind me, closing into a pale wall in the den. The demarcations smoothed themselves out until my corridor of infinite length became another minuscule stretch of the drywall—no more, no less. The air felt different, anyway, nary a splotch to tell it apart.
Maybe I had the same height as before, a proud 5-foot-11-inches (having grown at least 18 inches since the last notch on the kitchen frame, dated April 3rd of some year), but just perceived the world around me through different lenses, or with certain lenses removed. I was unsure for the first time in what felt like forever, but I knew couldn’t have been. Or maybe I suspected that later. Anyway, I could see the linoleum in the distance with such astute clarity that I must have been only a foot in height by my own accord. The moonlight looked the same as ever, though. Very little felt out of the ordinary, just silent. More silent than I’ve known my home to be in a while.
Knowing not what I should do, I walked along, the carpet having shrunk to the normal vibe, and the tile feeling the same as ever. Just bigger—a billiards table instead of a deck of cards. The den led me into the kitchen, the kitchen to the solemn dining room bathed in a moderate orange at one corner, the dining room to the entrance.
From there, I realized that some strange facet of my consciousness called me onward on my path, but just as I had abandoned the rest of my home in life, I had to abandon it wherever I was. One walk through was good enough. My existence reflected what was below; the above reflected my habit.
I found myself in another corridor to the right of the entrance, delineating the public aspects from the cavern from the private ones.
What a reflection.
Again, I arrived in a dark hall, warped in the strangest ways. Clearly, it resembled my home’s, but felt rather curious. Maybe because of the height at which I perceived myself, but also because of distance. My room, normally to the right, still rested to the right when I held my head in place. But it appeared to be straight ahead! The door outlined itself in the same old orange glow, unlike the dismal darkness of the other rooms—a bathroom to the left, a small bedroom never used in these past three years, and my mother’s domicile supposedly at the end of the hall, relaxed. A small closet just to my right eyed me with disapproval just by the downward alignment of its blinds. Unnerved by this more than anything else before, I sprinted to the supposed end, not wasting breath or tiring. Maybe I was in a dream, but I could hardly put that to rest.
When I reached the thin white sheet draped in orange, the beckoning whisper paused for a moment, and I watched dumbfounded. At only a foot or shorter, I could hardly attempt to pry my second doorknob of the darkness. But when I reached, I encountered the doorknob easily enough, just as if I had never perceived anything to be off. The geodesic of this strange realm seemed to function in that mechanical, subjective way that disguises itself as objective under a frail cloth. Pure in a sense.
Upon opening the door outward, I realized that something had gone wrong. My bedroom, once a clutter of little translucent containers, papers, glowing boxes, blood posters, a strange parcel from the eastern stretches, and a haphazard bed, now resembled a courtroom. In retrospect, while I recall the courtroom, whether it was just a warped version of my domain or a full-on transformation slips me. I don’t know whether that changes things or not. In effect, though, it would have been the same courtroom to me, no more, no less.
The door behind me merged once more as I stepped into the room and closed off connection, sealing the third tragic act of the evening’s entertainment. I must have had some direction of motion, never able to return back the way I came. Like progress.
From behind, a bailiff grabbed my left arm, forced it to my back, and led me into the witness stand. I closed my eyes, trusting my unconsciousness with the simple task. When forced into the stiff wooden seat of antiquity, I opened my eyes once more, straining due to the harsh, orange, sodium-lamp glow. What shit have I landed myself in now?
The large room seemed, in many ways, to represent my confinement. The door by which I arrived transformed into the grand entrance, decked with masonic symbols and intricate woodwork, the orange light enhancing the pale brown wood. The window onto the street instead had a darkened composure, absorbing all incident light, with swirling patterns that looked like a Mandelbrot set, or maybe patterns of another type. I felt like I had control over how the patterns shifted, but when I guided my limited thought processes, they seemed to follow sit in a strange way; my forethought shifted, and I lost track over whether I controlled them or they controlled me. Like my former life. Like the feeling and the rationale.
The audience lay empty, reflecting my solitude here, I guess. As far as I could tell, no one followed me down this rabbit-hole. I turned anesthetized, numb at the thought. The plaintiff desk remained absent. My lawyer, seated at our side, seemed but a dummy version of me, staring blankly ahead, lost in the spatial dimensions of the woodwork. A faint rustling told me that they existed on the periphery, though, lost somewhere far away. Whenever I focused, they popped in and out like an illusion of shadowy figures, roaming only in waves.
The bailiff retreated behind me, obviously with more material force than any others, but without any other characteristic I could assign. Hardly did any time elapse as I sat dazed when the judge uttered my name with contempt. I winced for the first instance in a while and looked up.
The judge also roamed in a wave, but had a little more flesh than the others. I could witness a more vivid shadow, dark but filled with its own fascinating colors, flat in a three-dimensional world, swirling in and out steadily. He wore a robe in the self-same cosmic material, possibly ectoplasm. Or whatever fit the occasion.
"The court finds your indifference appalling."
Had I been tried in absentia, or had I already judged myself?
"Never before have I bore witness to someone who has abandoned his or her life’s ambition as profoundly as yourself."
Was that even relevant?
"Someone who, given his relative wealth and prosperity, has shut himself in and cast out all that he once called his. Someone who spends his sunlight routine submerged in a virtual world, shut in, tuned out, entertaining himself, writing without thought, and watching pornography for hours with no intent of enlightenment. He shall be surveyed by a jury of his peers."
I looked over to my left to see all of the things I had left out by the curb. Two or three model cars, all staring into and through me with disappointment. (Was this even real? They didn’t even have faces. They weren’t even alive. Is that just a mental fluke?) Reams of childhood drawings, all with expressions hidden in the crayon-marks. A few little models all turned away. A rusted toaster, decayed to the point of no consciousness. Postcards portraying the most distant locales which I would never visit, in time nor in space. A tiny model piano, its keys substituted for keys.
(I remember the day I used these to make a track. And how I brought the piano into the grass-coated yard for the final instance, playing even as the rain fell and pounded the notes. I substituted keys for keys.)
And that lamp, the dearest object of all.
"You left us out there—on the street. The garbage-man is coming right now, he’s picking us up. We’re crushed together, stacked inch by inch in some faraway rubble pile, sacrifices to the Earth. You left us, your dearest ones, to age in the crypt below. We’re dying in the landfill, and it’s not our fault. We’re sorry…"
They faded away. I nearly choked in surprise over what the trial meant, how absurd it was.
"Motive: the death of his late father and younger brother in April of three years past. Modus operandi: dissociation and a complete indifference toward the world and his person characterized by insignificant perspectives and a lack of natural curiosity. Isolationism, repression of thought, and inattentiveness also typical. Alienating practices due to environment."
Did I forget all that?
"Now, sir—if I may even be privy to call you that so respectfully—do you proclaim yourself innocent or guilty?"
I didn’t know what to think and it all came on so quickly under the ceiling of the empty room, all of the load stockpiled behind walls somewhere in my mind that all at once began to flow out in massive, verbose flood-phrases that tore down all I had constructed.
"G-guilty. I am guilty."
"Then, by order of this court, I order you to rise!"
He snapped his fingers—or so it seemed—and the courtroom began to singe and warp, elements mingling among one another, entering a fourth dimension. I broke down in tears, breaking a long period of silence. It felt good, I suppose, to now know so much.
The world began to blur in complexity.
I first felt uneasiness in sleep, then a gradual awakening. By the time I was conscious, I felt dejected, worn, and more tired than ever. Drizzling rain began to fall, and I reminded myself of each torment of the night. Somehow, this was better than how I had risen before.
Faintly aware of my presence, I pushed the floor beneath me down—except I wasn’t in a bed or my home anymore. I lay at the bottom of a six-foot-deep pit, a neatly carved solid out of the latent, sandy sediment.
I scrambled up, panicked, frightened again by my position. I grabbed the grass just above me, pushed upward, and planted my feet on the dirt wall step by step until I had escaped the chasm. Looking down, I could hardly tell that I had lain there, but the spooky sensation and the dirt under my nails (and on my forearms) told me that the morning was, in fact, very real.
I touched my neck and felt a pulse. Just because I was alive didn’t mean I was relieved. Well, relief came, but not for long as soon as I recalled the rather lucid dream.
Would I take everything as a faint illusion or reality?
I answered that brief question and asked myself a more relevant one:
What could I do to better myself after that trip?
I didn’t mind if that happened again. It had a more interesting effect than what I liked to watch and play before—not for my body or any hedonistic purposes, but for my mind. And that’s an interesting subject, one which I hadn’t contemplated before. But now that I could, I would.
The grass looked as green as it had ever been; the hole, similarly fresh. The nearby tree, draped in Spanish moss and budded in tangled bark. Rain fell harder, revived with the sense that it wouldn’t halt for a while. The stones had an eerie mathematical symmetry.
What I saw on the gravestone made me turn away, running back home—the only comfort I could have anywhere. A place to go and just think for a while.
Maybe a place to encounter the comfort I’d been looking for ages, a helpful conclusion to the journey.
I forgot my forgotten words
Uttered in the car on the way
About being after the wheel,
Or driving like it, anyway.
You say it’s called “behind the wheel,”
Which may be true in your lone lane,
Your own relative highway line,
But you take a step off the road.
Deep in thought, maybe unaltered,
You take the very axioms
Of thought and bend them to their break,
The same conventional limit.
Imagine! All movement we see
Is warped from Earth’s dense gravity
To misdirect time and wheel-space
Such that a filter is removed.
We open ourselves to one step
Inward, that our senses are false—
And, what’s more, that behind for me
May be after for another.
Our space is a flat rubber sheet
Actually curved inward to Earth
And around molten iron core,
So our judgment’s not absolute.
There is not one car, one ether,
To judge an encompassing wheel
That defines all, maybe just yours,
And that is your sole perspective.
You accept the mathematics
And logical rigor behind
The assumptions, knowing much less
Fluff, nearing the inner circle.
From there, all filters come e’er loose,
Where you only know the core truth
Yet no longer a paradigm,
Falsely suspended cognition.
You do the deed, whether alone
Or not even in your mind’s eye.
At once your vision warps and blurs
Parallel to relative thought.
The next filters removed, you see
That world fade some more beyond grasp,
Without words to handle new words.
Concepts leap like fish above seas—
Like a central sea, a murky
Projection onto distant boards,
An ethereal song in itself—
But above the sea, you can fly.
And in the mind’s solipsism,
Closer to the one great beyond
Where our napping brains lie dormant,
The dimension is a rough sheet.
It has imperfections abound
And many dead-end freeways, though
All is transient, but a still
Hologram of reality.
A steering wheel inside the car
May just as well be behind you,
Through you, beside you, overhead,
Or within itself far away.
While dazed (or in a trance), the truth
(Yet so far) escapes in the form
Of a meek hallucinated
Green light or whispering shadow.
Schizophrenic catapults pull
You through a garden of bright hopes
And ideas of what it means.
Clarity lasts briefly, though, here.
When the world is a great ripple,
You see from crest to crest upward,
Ponder lucid implications,
And follow through sometime later.
A sound signals your loosened grip
Around straight-edged values you hold
About the surface of time, space,
And connections of tiny notes.
This is not intense, but a glide
Of sorts, soaring in open sky
Between one step inward and depths
Below (or above) the ocean.
That is too large under the sea,
A solid and eerie layer
Only gazed upon by the dead.
Or it’s a cliff, and you’re nearby.
The spell calls and moans, but you won’t
Push yourself that low past the great
Abyss of the mind and sane soul.
Your grip weakens, but still persists.
Despite man’s psychological
Yearnings and leanings, we cannot
Usually jump into the sea
And deep below loss of control.
A push is an illness of plain
Curiosity and demand;
Not bad nor wrong, but a huge risk
Nonetheless of silent drowning.
Metaphor aside, the point passed;
Barring intense illness, return
Arrives, and you are left within
The faded world and contained life.
So you’re in the driver’s front seat,
The side or behind, or your home—
Somewhere squarely on Earth, in space,
At a precise locale and point.
The filters are back, but a glimpse
Around the sky and into sea
Are all you need to be secure
In total insecurity.
Some places give you bigger scares.
The car’s front seat, after the wheel,
May give you more than rest alone,
A tense journey into motion.
No body knows the still meaning
Of movement, time, space, or common
Physics beyond words and phrases
In the truest forms everywhere.
Your lucidity helps at last
To grasp novel concepts around
Consciousness and its mysteries.
With this gift, then, what do you do?
The week had not gone by completely unmarked. As with most Aprils—though this one presented itself strongly—rain fell hard and dispassionately on the city, switching between a storm and a requiem silence. Some flooding and structural activities had been reported underneath the city in the Iron Caverns (a popular term for the tunnels and drains that were famously founded as the city was so long ago), television reporters but not much had occurred on the surface. Maybe the television reporters were not, but everyone was calm and cool about the state of events. It would go by as a mark on the meteorological records of one of the oldest cities for a thousand miles.
This is why I was standing, not on dry ground, but in a shallow puddle outside of the aging and soaked East Acres Park. Normally I would not stand in such a place, but it was dry enough and near my destined location: a middle-aged looking marble-plated six-story building on Fifteenth Avenue, just east of downtown and a very short distance from where the valley ended and the hilly mountains began. I shivered a little (maybe that was a prerequisite to enter such a gray, dull building surrounded by common puddles and other gray, dull buildings during a drizzly evening in the spring) and, minding my step, advanced to a small door in a nook on the first floor.
The base floor supported the above residents while presenting a variety of small offices which were of no interest. This is because my small slip of paper said Multipurpose Room C. I had not seen the multipurpose rooms yet.
I undid the folds of that slip of paper to unveil an invitation that I had picked up at the local community center.
8:15 PM • April 13th • 616 Fifteenth Avenue • Multipurpose Room C
The 50th Annual
Underground Spring Tour!
As presented by guides Dalton and Tracy Norwood
Come for a fun two hours of exploring underneath the city and a stop at the city’s only underground spring!
First come, first served
Free of admission
It was obnoxiously orange with black lettering and an unprofessional font. I had nothing to do, however, and a coworker swore by it. I had nothing to lose. Even my taxes were done.
After a little exploration of my own, I found the doors to Multipurpose Rooms A, B, and C all next to each other. Out of curiosity, I proceeded to open each door. The first (A) had an Over-eaters Anonymous meeting flanked to the left. I was spotted with a chocolate bar and was jolted by how many eyed me with what may have been lust or hunger. That door was quickly shut. The next room, obeying structural logic, opened to my right. It had nobody present and was the mirror image of A. I leaned in without stepping in and promptly became confused. Was C’s door a fake? An odd balloon, possibly from a party held here earlier, colored red and black, floated below me—for the room was, like the last one, slightly sunken into the ground with a step next to the door. The balloon had been on the far end of the room next to folded plastic tables and brown metal chairs but drifted tom me swiftly. The draft and air conditioning may have been factors. Just as the balloon was about to hit the step, I shut the door to Multipurpose Room B.
The next room—labeled C—had to be the one. I opened the curiously positioned door to reveal another sunken room that opened to the right. There must have been a trick of the light in B. Silly Jack.
If any argument was to be served, this room looked hardly like any of the others. A multitude of pipes hung on the ceiling to serve higher floors. The descent into the room was maybe a foot lower than the others. Instead of a unhealthy white, polished look that the other rooms had, this room was dim (most of the fluorescent lights had expired) and dirtier (especially the generic tiles). Many people, none of which having the demeanor of an anonymous over-eater, were present and lightly chatting with a faint aura of zeal. Three had headlamps. About half of the rest had orange slips like mine. None of them had struck a conversation until a coworker—obviously a veteran—shook my hand.
“Hey, Jack boy! How’s it going?”
“Just fine, Mr. Dolan.”
“Call me Mike. It’s not work here, is it?”
“No, M-Mike, it sure isn’t. So what’s it like?”
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s fun. You get to go down that tunnel right there—”he motioned to a door just to the left of the far end—“and go down into this tiled area. Some people have been seeing some strange things the last couple of years. Big things supposedly happened twice since the Ambroses started these trips. It’s cool going under there. It’s the best-kept secret in the whole damned city.”
“Can I have your attention, please?”
“Oh, wait, they’re gonna say something.”
“Thank you very much for coming. I’m Mrs. Ambrose, daughter of Jason Ambrose, the first person to explore this area of the Iron Caverns in recent times. As we have passed 8:15 and have a strict policy against tardiness, you all will be the lucky ones to venture in this year. There’s fifty of us? Is that right?”
Someone who must have been Dalton whispered “three of us and forty-seven of them.”
“Wow, we sure have grown! Not only that, but that’s a good number for a fiftieth anniversary…eh? When my father started these little tours into the tunnels, only ten of us showed up!
“The number one rule is to have fun. That’s why we’re here! Otherwise, keep an eye on the people ahead and behind of you. Twice people have gotten lost down there. If you need help, call for me…Dalton…or Tracy. Be careful as it can get slippery and nobody goes there for another year.
“Please leave everything that you might consider too valuable to get a little wet here. The door will be locked so nobody will come into the multipurpose room and steal. We don’t want to attract any critters, so while food should be left behind, remember to pick up after yourselves.”
I glumly manifested the chocolate bar and placed it on the plastic table.
“That covers it. Happy exploring underneath our historic city.”
Dalton locked the door and led the way. Mrs. Ambrose took no time to wait and followed him. A dozen or so people followed, none previously partnered with an orange slip. Scattered sorts, including mister Dolan, pursued them.
I conspired staying behind, evacuating past the other multipurpose rooms into the glare of sodium lights and to my car red and black next to enjoy my mid-class apartment and not the spring…or sewers. What am I, a coward? No; I must go down to the necropolis.
I was a holdout among several others and Tracy (“several” here being “five who had turned over the same question in their heads”) but managed to hold my breath and step into the doorway.
The tunnel was a steep descent, save for some—ironically—sodium lights which provided adequate illumination when their switch was flipped. Red and yellow pipes, along with duller gray ones, ran the length of the left side. The stairs were flights of about twenty-five steps and brief landings. From here I could see others in various stages of descent. Sometimes a miniature commotion would rise and fall among them. I kept silent. The brick walls and arched top were damp, cool, and aged. Despite a moderately normal complexion, the lights casted a strange hue and the knowledge that we were deep in the depths of the city (in fact, the room that we entered in was oriented so that this straight flight of stairs went west into the sunset and the city) created a surreal atmosphere that made me anxious. I decided not to look down the incline but up to the pipes and arched areas above and ahead of me. I also refused to look back to see how far I had come. Yes, claustrophobia is one of my tragic flaws.
As the quantity of our depth and progression escalated, other effects became clearer. Now there was more mildew on the masonry. In fact, the masonry gave way to cave-like structures far ahead. The exhaustion from hiking this far (what, five hundred feet?) made me slightly dizzy. Somewhere along the line the fifty of us had passed into another realm where dark things lurked in the corners of your eyes. I pitied those in the back of the line, where something could just drag you closer and snatch—
“Well, everybody, this is our best attraction.”
Most of us stopped, including the experienced and nervous ones in the front (and Tracy in the back). The masonry clearly faded into natural rocks ahead, where (as I could see now,) a landing led straight to a plain wooden door in front sealed with iron finishings. A door identical to the one by which we entered was off to the side, obviously bolted shut. Missus Ambrose and the hip-looking Dalton stood on the final landing with three others. A hiss echoed behind me between the red and yellow piped. There was no way in hell that I was going to look back. Instead, I focused on the bricks to my left, picking at some of the mildew. Some got under my fingernail.
“Unless you return right now—” Mrs. Ambrose gave a sweet and naïve grin—“there’s no more climbing to do. Your hike is done for a while. We’ve reached the entrance to the springs!”
Several war cries were issued from the disillusioned veterans.
“Here we are hundreds of feet below the city, halfway between downtown’s elevation and sea level. We are also directly below the center of downtown, about at Central and Main. The rest of the Iron Caverns branch out from behind the spring and to the side—unfortunately, inaccessible to all here for now—and lead up to the two more commonly known entrances, at Riverview Park and the Northwest. In no circumstances are you to separate from your group or to go up alone. Some of you may have heard—”
“—That there were two years when that happened, on the first and twenty-fifth. We’re overdue…so keep tight.
“Now enjoy yourself in the spring! First, let Dalton and me go in to check for any critters that may have came in just in case.”
Dalton seemed blasé and embarrassed at the same time, a feat difficult to achieve. Missus Ambrose was obviously on the border of dreadful speech. Oh, what was it? Don’t stay behind? Don’t stay behind in the spring or you shall die and rot in this dark-as-hell hole in the ground and starve and suffocate and get eat—
And as if my life and the people in it were plagued by interruptions, my thoughts halted when she opened the door.
She held out her hand, wanting the three in front to fall back. She led the way with her headlamp (on the way down we all eventually got one) and Dalton headed up the stairs, switching with Tracy, who eagerly ventured into the blackness in his place.
From much of that point onward, the only important things that I could discern were not visual but rather auditory, because the only seen events were of glum and anxious spelunkers like I, leaning against the decaying rock. First came a small splashing, similar to walking on slightly flooded pool tile. The spring’s floor itself seemed to be a black pentagonal tile pattern laced with a white sealant and various pipes and fountains. Mrs. Ambrose vanished from sight and her sounds faded. Tracy pursued. Dalton now passed by me on the stairs (there was comfortable space for two), looking a little worried and jaundiced. He gave a little shake of the head to those who he went by, like to a person a flight behind me (not too far), a bald young man who may have been a skinhead. A voice and then a commotion erupted from the bottom.
“Alright, can I have the first three come in? Keep close together and preferably back to back, the overhead lights failed.” Mrs. Ambrose.
“But we just had ‘em put in six years ago!” Someone else.
“Let’s get three more to make two groups of four.”
A lot of water splashing ensued. Some, including the poor Mr. Dolan (I shall sympathize with him for his second failed marriage), stepped in.
That was a lot of splashing for eight people. What was this?
“Everyone, form a circle and look outwards. Mrs. Ambrose and I will see if some animal found its way down here. That happened in ’99, I think, a funny story, too. Maybe we can see something else, but for now, just keep watch.”
I swallowed. That gulp seemed to bore down into the pit of my stomach.
“I never liked these things anyway.”
“Em, don’t go back to the group—” a light was faintly visible at the doorway. It went away.
“Hey, where is she?” An obviously new member in the front of the remainder had her voice heard. The splashing from her footsteps had not gone away; it just became smaller and smaller, like how laughter subsides into a chuckle and a memory that is in a permanent state of decay.
Mrs. Ambrose’s voice elevated from a soothing yet enthusiastic pitch to a low and grated rumble. “I can tell you something now, y-yes. It’s fifty years—yes—and there’s fifty people. The rain woke something up. We were just in time for the next little show, but the number of people made it special. Something is happening. Keep an eye out in the darkness.”
Mrs. Ambrose’s voice quivered. This was new for her too, a person for whom everything seems to have happened. It was an unnerving first. Anarchy came to these tiled halls; chatter sprung up, drowning out other sounds. Some took it lightly. Others seemed afraid. Many, including me and Dalton in the back, were petrified.
Nobody heard the splashes save for those below. Some heard the twin screams of curses and fear. Everyone heard the order to run.
A great deal of movement circulated in the doorway. One deserted person tried to shut the door and trap the enigma and victims inside, but was pulled in at the last possible moment. The door burst open with two blown hinges.
At this time I ran up the stairs past my muscles’ content. Nobody fell behind to pass me or advanced ahead of me. Dalton, the skinhead, and three others had me in hindsight. The fact that forty-four trailed behind offered little relief. People yelling, breathing, and stomping amounted to a terrifying din. Somewhere in my subconscious, an element recognized a ripping and sucking sound as well. A stitch formed in my side and I almost gave out. The good news was that the end looked so close; maybe a half remained. The trek was of increasing difficulty due to exhaustion and the stitch. Another element also seemed to hold me back, too forceful to be curiosity. I looked back.
The lights had been going out from the bottom; this became blatant when there was only a small lit section (maybe half the way between me and the bottom) left. Another orange glow was replaced by blackness. Something behind the veil was moving with an incredible velocity through the unfortunates, causing panicked screams, pained screams, and silence.
It became obvious that I would not get close to reaching the top unless I ended my hesitation and absolutely sprinted.
Returning to the normal pace, running became more and more difficult, as if a pellet of lead was placed in my soles and soul per step. This abnormal sensation was felt with the prevalent exhaustion, emotions, and pains of endurance. However, I was close. As the complaints of the deceased reached fervor behind me, the flights remaining became countable. There were eight, then six, then four. My head felt as if it was to explode from the climax of wearing out. My hand prepared itself for the door, slowly raising itself mindlessly. Two flights—not even—now one was left.
The light above me gave out as a girl did so few steps behind me, maybe a flight of ten steps. Only the bald man was ahead. The door was closed, presumably to quarantine the evil.
The bald, thin man pushed me aside when he was close to the finality. He plunged into the darkness seamlessly. I hit my skull on the red and yellow pipes, waist level at this point. Obscenities circled in my head. Now I was alone. The door was four steps in front of me. The harm of varied sources had inflicted so much that I could not move. Maybe it was not just this. Maybe it was my mental state aside—an odd hybrid of confusion and curiosity and fear, much like what I had felt when I entered this common building and Multipurpose Rooms B and C, only warped and magnified. The most likely cause of this stemmed from a nagging intuition.
Hey, maybe it’s actually holding you back.
I brushed it off. I had more important things to do.
The last couple of thoughts took place in roughly two seconds and entirely snapped my will.
I sprawled onto the door, clutching the handle. It opened inwards. I had done nothing. Pounding at the door and shaking at the doorknob did not summon assistance. There was no way that I could have opened it by myself.
“God damn it, someone help!”
I thrusted the knob down as I turned to see my foe—the one who had battled forty-something others.
Its visage was obscured, but now I glimpsed the most obvious feature just a few feet from me, a spiked, charging maw.
I relinquished the doorknob.
Dalton and just three others were in Multipurpose Room C. They saw the claw-shaped doorknob oscillate and vibrate. They dared not touch it.
A small crunch was audible and everything became still.
Dalton stared. He did not do much but think how many times it had almost been him.
A spelunker cried. The cries went unassisted.
Suddenly, the doorknob exploded and the door faded into a wall. The three others collapsed. Dalton stood up, panicked, and surveyed the room.
The only other significant thing was a small balloon, red with yellow polka dots. Dalton walked over to it (on the far side in front of the main door). A finger was extended to make contact with the rubber. The balloon popped.
A strange gas came out, invisible and undetected. It suffocated Dalton and he fell like the others.
The entrance to Multipurpose Room C became a wall. Rain trickled down onto the old city. The hours had gone unmarked.