A short story of freedom and life, based upon a true dream.

I solve the problems easily. I barely think as my hand writes the work and then the answer. By the time I've finished writing the answer, I've done the next problem in my head. I write the work for that one, and then the answer, mentally making a note not to get ahead of my hand. Math problems. They are as familiar as the back of my hand. I finish writing the answer on one and start on the next. They are easy. I finish the final one and the person clicks the stopwatch. The person says "good". I stand, walk to the door, and pass through into the hallway beyond. It is dull, with off-white paint on cement walls and floor. It looks lifeless, and it is calling me down as well. I walk to the end of the off-white hallway. It is deserted, desolate without anyone else in it. I pass the stairs and go into the lobby. There is a fish tank there. I sit and watch the fish swim back and forth. They go from one end of the tank to the other. I watch the fish as time slides by, oozing slower than I would like, but faster than I can stand.

I hear my name. I walk to the person calling me and she leads me though the dead off-white hallway into the room. There are more questions. I sit down. These problems are harder. I enjoy them a bit, testing my mind against them. I realize that they are easy, and start doing them in my head. I calculate the volume of this rotated curve and another. I locate the answers and write them down. Then I show my work. The problems are fun. I finish the final one and the person clicks the timer. I stand and walk to the door. I open it. The off-white hallway greets me mockingly. It says that I will fail. I can see chipping in the paint. I pull a flake wider, spiting the hall in what ways I can. I walk down the off-white hallway past the stairs and enter the lobby. The fish are there. They swim back and forth, trapped. They swim from one side of the tank to the other, trying to escape. But they can't. They will swim forever. I watch their pathetic struggle.

One fish manages to leap out of the top of the tank. It lands on the couch, gasping for breath. I pick it up and start to put it back into the tank. It jerks off of my hand and lands on the floor. Its eye looks at me and screams that it will never go back. It screams until it can scream no more. I watch it lie dead on the floor - it's quivering ceased. I watch it be dead. My eyes are glued to the dead fish, but I hardly blink as someone comes by and sweeps it into a dustpan, and then throws it into a bin. I watch the floor were it was. I look back at the other fish in the tank. They are swimming back and forth. I watch them as time slides by. I wonder how many times they have swum from one side to the other.

I hear my name. It is harsh and hangs stale in the air. I stand and walk to the person calling me. She leads me to the room and I enter. There is another test. I look at the problems as the time starts. I don't understand them. How do I calculate the volume of end-state dimension meta-solids? I have never learned this. I look at the person. The person smiles. The smile looks nice, but the person isn't smiling at me. The person is smiling at himself.

I look at the next problem. It is worse, involving finding change as an object twists in the end-state. It doesn't make sense. I look at the next. It's worse than the one before. I don't even know the terms. The person is grinning now. I can feel the person's eyes watching me. I won't let him win. I don't know the problem, but I start on it. I don't know the method, but I will find it. I don't even understand what the volume would be stated as. I work on it. I apply both my conscious and unconscious. I can't understand it. The symbols are foreign. The only understanding I glean is that the problem is mocking me. It says that I am stupid. It says that I will not understand it. It says that I have failed. I try harder. I think I understand the problem. I start at a method to solve it.

I hear the click of the timer. The man is smiling at me. The time is up. The problems still mock me. I stand and the chair falls backward, clattering against the ground. Then it is still. There is silence. I swallow. The man points at the door. I have failed.

I walk to the door and enter it. The off-white hallway greets me. It says welcome to failure. It says welcome to rejection. It says that it always knew I would fail. I walk down the off-white hallway ignoring its silent words. I fail at that. I stop at the door. I turn and walk to the chipped paint. I piece together the spots of missing paint into words. They say "failure".

The person walks by me, and calls a name into the lobby. I don't exist to her anymore. I failed. She walks back, leading a child to the man with the test. I realized that the words are not complete. There are spaces where the paint is still on where there should be chips. I smile at it. I am not a complete failure. The off-white hallway says I am blind. It mocks me in its silent tone. I trace the missing paint and realize that the places where the paint has not fallen have a pattern. I look for letters and see them. It's my name. The off-white hallway mocks me for not seeing that I am a failure. I rise in sudden fury, tearing the paint that writes my name in a pathetic attempt to prove that I'm not a failure. But my name is gone and the word is complete. Failure it says. Failure echoes the off-white hallway in a tone that matches its dull off-white color.

I hear the man inside the room say good. I realize that the child is coming out. I hide under the stairway. I am ashamed. The concrete is cold underneath me. The off-white hallway mocks my weakness. It says that I'm not the first to fail. It says that everyone does. It says that many have come before me. It says that many will yet come. It says that I am not even special in my failure. I see the person walk down the off-white hallway. She pauses at the stairs and looks straight at me. She blinks and shakes her head. She doesn't see me. I am not here. Then where?

I look down the off-white hallway. There is a window at the end, with white light that shines though. It is beautiful. I step into the off-white hallway. It is a terrible, awful shade that is slightly off white. I start to run. The off-white hallway says me that this is my destiny. The window comes closer to me. The off-white hallway says that I must free myself, like all before me. Time is so fast. I hear the boy cry out at me as the woman leads him to the room again. I crash through the window, free of the building at last. My wings spread and I take flight into the warm city air. The mocking off-white hallway is left behind. The man and his tests are left behind. The lobby and its trapped fish are left behind.

I fly. The buildings are far below me, miniatures in my vision. They seem like toys, to be played with, with tiny cars to be driven along the floor. I fly. The sun is large, welcoming, and friendly. It is pure gold, not some off-color shade. It says I am free, and I will never go back. I flap and enjoy my glorious freedom.

But I can hear the off-white hallway laughing at me. Something is wrong, but there is no time now. Time is long since gone. I flap my wings, but I see that they are falling apart, golden feathers streaming off, leaving only thin bones. The mocking off-white hallway laughs as I plummet to the ground, air shrieking past my ears. But I am free. I will never go back.

I am happy.