Author: chrysanth PM
I'm beginning to think that we've all fallen victim to the horribly overrated societal values for life, and if that wasn't irritating enough in itself, it all began with a dream of lightbulbs and smoke.Rated: Fiction K - English - Spiritual - Words: 4,009 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 3 - Published: 10-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3062966
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This story will never sound as good in writing as it did by the warm, dim light of a campfire. Here it is anyway, but a bastardized version of it.
"I believe that if you travel far enough into space, you'll eventually reach the end. And at the end, I think, there's just a bunch of fluorescent light bulbs dangling from different lengths of luminescent gossamer and silk threads. I think that sometimes these light bulbs- they dangle and they sway in the icy breeze just above the clouds- sometimes they dim and they flicker, but they can never really go out. These light bulbs are us."
"Us. You, me, and everyone else in the world. Who's to say I'm wrong?"
"That doesn't make sense."
"No, you just don't understand."
I used to dream of flying. It was just me, so high in the air I could hardly breathe. I floated high above the clouds, senseless to anything but the glowing globe beneath me and the cold, damp wind. Sometimes I'd fall so far, so fast the meager air would be vacuumed out of my lungs and I'd wake up feeling not terrified, but absolutely enthralled. The sheer romantic beauty of it all was indescribable. When I'd have those dreams, it was like nothing else in the world could ever possibly matter. I could just float up and see everything from a different perspective. Anything that mattered before was so tiny and insignificant that I couldn't even see it anymore. As I got older, I didn't have dreams like that as often and, eventually, they just stopped. Sometimes I could get close, but it just wasn't the same. Nothing was.
When I got to my twenties, my day was organized in a simple, efficient schedule combining the key aspects of necessity and convenience. I woke up at 7:30 to a blaring alarm clock. Next came a shower, then I'd do my hair and eat breakfast. I arrived at work at precisely nine, if not a few minutes earlier, to answer phones and sit at my desk all day, waiting for the next break and then for the next paycheck. I got off at five, just like the rest of the world, and always just managed to hit the worst part of rush hour traffic. On the way home, I'd tell myself that soon, I'd get a big raise and maybe even a promotion. I'd make my own hours and buy a new car. I'd put all that money back in my savings and retirement funds. Maybe I could even afford to move into a bigger apartment, or get engaged to my charming, handsome boyfriend. We could buy a house somewhere in the suburbs, have two kids, a girl and a boy, named Lana and Michael, Jr. We would live the American dream, white picket fence and all. I would have everything anyone could ever dream of having.
Then I'd arrive home and collapse into the reality of my "like new" garage sale queen-sized bed. 'Someday I'll be living the good life,' I'd whisper to the ceiling of the hollow room. 'I'm a good person, I deserve it at least as much as everyone else.' And I'd fall asleep into dreams of things that were never quite as good as I remembered.
One night, though, something was different. I don't remember the year or even how old I was then, but I remember that it was windy and I could just barely hear my senile neighbor yelling at his chihuahua over the ever-present soothing white noise of car horns and engines accelerating. Rather than drifting off to sleep as I normally did, I almost tripped and fell into this dream. I stumbled into a whole new world.
I dreamt of a place just above the clouds. I saw bioluminescent trees with glowing veins of white and yellow and green with long tentacles of roots stretching into the thick fog. There were water vapor dragonflies and steam-shaped flowers. I was not alone, floating in a boat on the strong current of the wind. There were other people just like me, looking around from little rowboats and canoes of their own, but in the dim light, they were only silhouettes. It was suffocatingly dark. The meager light that my eyes could catch came from multiple tiny points inches or perhaps miles above my head like a trillion tiny frozen fireflies.
I looked behind me and saw the moon, larger and brighter than I'd ever seen it before. It was almost like the sun, so bright that I could only manage to look for a couple of seconds at a time. When I turned back forward, the boat rocked gently enough to make a wake in the clouds, through which I could just barely make out the dull shape of the Earth below, only half visible due to the endless repetitive cycle of day and night. This place was so eerily calm that I could hear my labored breathing in the thin air, hear my heart's persistent palpitations in every inch of my body. Something near me moved unexpectedly enough that I twisted my head fast enough to trigger vertigo. I felt myself slipping and pouring over the edge of the boat like a lumpy liquid. There was just barely enough time to make out the shape of a sort of neon gray figure standing on the fog like concrete a few feet away, just barely too sharp and elongated to be human. I tried to scream, but my voice just sublimated out of my throat like dry ice.
As I fell back to the earth, I got a similar sense of wonder as I'd had in my childhood dreams, but an unavoidable feeling of disappointment I hadn't been able to ignore for years. I woke up just before I hit the ground to the sound of my blaring alarm clock, just like every morning for the last few years. But I couldn't get that dream out of my head. I was thinking about it so hard that I didn't make it to work quite on time that day, and a few calls went unanswered. I couldn't stop thinking long enough to talk to anyone or do anything. I was thinking so hard that the hours' worth of traffic on the way back to my apartment felt like only a few minutes. I was almost eager to get to sleep that night, but my half-hopes, half-fears came to nothing. I woke up to a blaring alarm clock the next day, just like usual, and didn't remember my dream in the morning.
It went on like that for some time; I don't even know how long it was. I thought about that dream less and less often and almost even forgot about it, save for a few passing wonders here and there. I made it to work on time every day and got my paycheck on the fifteenth and the thirtieth, like clockwork. Most went to bills and rent; the rest went to my pathetic American dream savings fund.
Once again, the dream came back. I don't know what triggered it, but just like before, I closed my eyes and stumbled into this different world. The second my eyes caught sight of one of the glowing trees and the water vapor butterflies, all of my memory came flooding back. This time, though, I wasn't afraid but eager to see what I'd missed out on the first time. The dark felt familiar and the thin air was comforting. A translucent butterfly landed on my outstretched finger and dissipated immediately upon contact. My little rowboat swayed consistently on the stream of clouds. There were others like me again, but less than last time. I tried to get their attention, but even when we were close together, they were nothing but silhouettes with their faces pointed forward.
Slowly, it seemed that there were fewer and fewer people around me until I was alone, glancing at my surroundings and floating with the current by myself. I hadn't seen where they went but I wasn't particularly worried for my own fate. If things got bad, I could tip over my boat and plummet back to home.
The current took an abrupt turn upward. I could see the path of the clouds ahead of me, headed straight for the frozen fireflies above. Somewhere near the top, my boat just stopped as if caught on a rock. Risking getting out didn't seem like the best plan of action, so I just waited. The damp blanket of thick fog hung off everything, especially the trees. The closer ones seemed to sort of lean toward me, eager to caress me with just a drip of it. Their dim glow came up from their roots like veins and reflected off the barely-condensed water on their surfaces. In a dark, creepy sort of way, it was beautiful. All of it was.
A whispery noise just behind me finally caught my attention after what seemed like hours sitting in my rowboat with nothing but vapor trees and dragonflies. It was a boat, not quite like mine but much larger. It was reminiscent of a pirate ship, but I couldn't put my finger on where the similarities lie. Standing on the bow was the same figure I'd seen before. Since I'd made up my mind to not be afraid this time, I just stared, studying it as it grew closer. I noticed that the skin was neither gray or really skin at all. Upon further observation, I decided that this figure seemed to just be made of smoke and clouds, like everything else, just caught in the shape of a person. The glow I'd noticed before came from the pencil-thin blue veins running through its form. From this distance-for it was above me now, close to my boat but too high to see perfectly clearly-I got the impression of warmth and peace, though I couldn't see its eyes.
The next thing I knew, I was climbing onto the deck of this bigger ship and approaching the figure as though we were old friends. When we were merely feet apart, I stood next to it and leaned over the rail to see the world below. Slowly we continued up the hill, past where my little boat was caught, and leveled out at the same place where I'd seen the lights before. From this height, I could tell that they were much too big to be bugs, though they were still too bright for me to make out what I was actually seeing. We continued forward in silence. For a moment, the figure left my side and returned with a long stick with a curved hook at the end. Here, the lights were dimmer. The figure held the stick over the rail of the ship just above one of the lights and pulled it in close enough that I could see.
It was just a dim, flickering light bulb on a thread, tied in a neat little bow. I followed the thread up to see what it was tied to and saw nothing. Just a black wall, curved like the inside of Earth's crust but much, much bigger. The figure unscrewed the light bulb from its little metal cap and replaced it with a new, brighter one.
The first thing I'd spoken since being there was, "Am I dreaming?"
The figure just answered, "Probably." It had the genderless smooth voice of wind, somehow. There was no other way to describe it.
I was quiet for another moment and then thought to ask, "Where am I?"
"This is the end of the universe," it told me simply.
"But... There is no end to the universe. It's ever-expanding."
"Who told you that?"
I didn't really know how to answer that. "Modern science."
Something in the figure seemed to shift, giving me the impression of disapproval. "Prove it. Modern science also once said that the Earth was flat and if you sailed too far in a certain direction, you could fall off. Have you ever flown through the universe and seen that there is no end? Have you seen it grow?"
"No, but we have different tools now, and-"
"And you have no proof. You've never seen it with your own eyes, and science is wrong more often than it's right. Right now, this is what you're seeing. You don't believe it. And yet you believe what everyone down there tells you is correct, whenever they tell you to believe it, despite the fact that neither you nor they can prove it, because none of you can see it."
"People believe in a lot of things they can't see, though. That's the whole foundation of religion, of morals, of everything."
"Do you believe in things you can't see?" it asked me as though talking to a developmentally impaired child, though still somehow without changing its tone.
"Well, yeah, I guess. Everyone does."
"If you did, you wouldn't be here."
I was beginning to get desperate. This thing was stubborn and asking questions I'd never thought of before. I didn't have the answers, but somehow, I knew it was wrong and I was right. "Everyone believes in something purely out of faith."
"Well maybe they shouldn't, either. Haven't you ever figured out anything for yourself?"
I became quiet. The figure returned to pulling in light bulbs by their strings and replacing them with new, brighter ones.
"Why are there so many light bulbs?" I asked after a while. We'd been moving for a while and still the lights and strings stretched endlessly in every direction.
"There are many people."
I didn't understand, but I wasn't really sure I wanted to. I remained quiet again.
"Don't you have any more questions?" it mused after a while without pausing in its work.
I thought for a minute and then nodded. I looked at it then, really looked at it, for the first time this close. The little glowing veins inside it made out the loose shape of eyeballs, but not much else. I decided not to look so close again.
"What you were saying earlier, about not believing in anything that can't be proven... What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that nothing anyone says or does really matters. Everyone is wrong more often than they're right, and they're working toward hollow goals based on nothing but each other, current trends and the foundation of the mistakes made by incorrect thinkers before them. Any exceptions to this rule are often persecuted, sometimes arrested, and almost always shunned."
This made me angry, though I didn't know why. "What a sad way to live," I said sharply.
"No, not them. I mean you. Thinking that nothing really matters. What is your goal in life? What do you work toward, if not the same thing as anyone else?"
"Nothing. I do as I please."
I swallowed the knot in my throat. "You're hopeless, you know that?"
It didn't respond.
Over the next few minutes or hours, I really tried not to say anything. It was hard, though, with so many thoughts and questions running through my head that I could hardly think. After a time, the creature spoke again.
"You will never fully understand what it is that I do here. This is not because you are stupid and you should not blame yourself for it; your brain simply was not built to grasp such things. I have been alive for many years. More than you could count if you'd started at the beginning of time and continued, unceasingly, until now. I've seen more things than you've had thoughts in your head. I know you're still curious, so I will tell you something you are never supposed to hear-the thing that all of those other people in the other boats are lacking, and the thing that most everyone on earth dies trying to achieve. I mentioned this earlier, but I think you might've missed it. Nothing whatsoever that you think is important really is.
"You asked me earlier about these light bulbs. Well, as of now, there are over six billion of them hanging here: one for each man, woman, and child on Earth. This light is your life. When you are born, the light shines brightest. Nothing has happened to you yet to take any of your life away, and you've got the whole thing ahead of you."
Here the thing pulled in a light bulb over the railing of the ship by its string. As it said, the bulb was shining brightly. The thing released it.
"In childhood, the light can begin to dim. If something happens and that childish innocence of chasing bubbles and delighting at fireworks is taken before its time, that will undoubtedly happen. But it doesn't have to. The light can glow on as long as it is allowed without outside influence.
"It is usually in the early teenage years that I begin to see the most drastic change. When people begin to treat you like an adult, they tell you things that you don't need to hear. They give you false ideals of what is and isn't possible and may begin to force you into whatever life course it is that society deems 'normal.' Things such as unnecessary value placed on material possessions have a drastic effect on the light, though other things like religion and 'realistic' job ideas over ones that the child really wants can be just as harmful.
"The late teenage years are the worst. Hormones and stress are piled upon everyone. They are told that there are certain things they must do to survive and certain things they can't do to be successful in life. These are lies, and these lies can be deadly. I couldn't begin to tell you how many lights I've seen go out so far before their time…
"Adulthood doesn't get much easier. You fall into a pattern of doing what everyone tells you and working for money you don't need to buy things that you don't really want. It gets to the point where you're working your fingers to the bone and your brain to its limits for a status symbol, or more space for you to fill with meaningless objects, or for the approval of your peers who, by the way, are always just as lost and unknowingly confused as you have been. Even more lights go out during this time.
"If the light gets too dim and these stressors continue being piled on top of that, the light will go out. Sometimes, though, I can catch it before it's too late. The light will flicker, and I will sail over to it and change the bulb. If nothing else, it buys more time. Lately, though, the lights have been dimming so rapidly that I couldn't begin to hope of giving everyone that second chance."
The creature, as if cued by its words, pulled in two light bulbs in the same hook and replaced them. I took this momentary pause as a chance to speak.
"What happens, then? When you change the bulbs?"
"Usually it comes in the form of an epiphany or a dream, but the person will suddenly realize that whatever's troubling them does not need to continue. Any problem can be evaded if it's too big to be ignored completely. They will come up with an idea, one that could make them truly happy if they pursue it, and change something in the rut they're stuck in. It doesn't fix everything, but it helps."
The ship sailed so close over a tree that some of the branches poked through the railings, close enough to touch. The glowing leaves left trails of illumination down the side of the dark boat. I felt some temptation to touch it but feared the consequences too much to follow through.
"What about my light?"
"What of it? I don't think I could tell yours from any of the others even if I wanted to. I can't show it to you, but the fact that you're here means that it either went out, or I've changed it one too many times."
"Is that bad?"
"No, but usually once someone gets here, there is no hope of them ever returning to Earth."
"At this point, they usually don't want to."
I nodded, but the motion was in understanding rather than concurrence. And with that, I took a swan dive over the edge of the boat and plummeted through the clouds, back toward home.
Work the next day was tedious. It had always been boring, but for some reason, I just couldn't view it the same way I had before. I hadn't believed a word the creature said, but something in its determination stuck with me and I couldn't help but to wonder what, exactly, I was doing there. Yes, money with which to eat and pay the rent. But if I chose not to pay the rent, I could eat with my paychecks and savings account. Yes, I would be homeless, but my apartment was only marginally better than that, anyway. Worse, in some cases. And that thought led to my wondering why I even needed to work at all, because after my savings ran out and I was living on the street, I would probably be accustomed to not eating so much and my cost of living could be reduced to dollars a day.
It didn't happen immediately, but the transition was definite. The next thing I knew, I was being fired for not doing my job or coming into work on time. I lost my apartment and sold the shitty bed I hated. I lived with friends for a while but eventually decided to leave and go live closer to a beach. I'd always loved the beach.
The weirdest thing, though, was that none of this bothered me in the slightest. I lived from day to day, doing as I pleased, and there was nothing anyone could do, or threaten me with, to change that. It was freedom. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was completely happy all the time, but I met more people just like me, who'd stopped right in the middle of the suburban cubicle life and begun traveling the country. I met a great, intelligent man who traveled with them, but I wouldn't hold him back from his freedom and he wouldn't want to change mine. We agreed to meet again someday but I never really thought that we would.
I figured eventually my life might turn around and I'd end up back where I started, but so far, it hasn't. I'm glad for that. I know I've got potential but I fill it every day in the people I meet and the ideas we share. If people need me, they know where to find me and if I need them, there's nothing holding me back from walking right over to them, no matter how far away or how close they are, and asking for it. I have no pride and certainly no shame, but I think that now my life is shining brighter than ever.