Above The Wired Surface
A/N: My take on dystopian fiction. Let's see how this goes. Also, I'll be hoping to upload the next chapter for 'Death of Maple March' now that I'm done with my exams, with a rewrite to the prologue and possible changes to the so-called '10k chapter'. I'll probably end up editing/rewriting most of it, to be honest. Puddle of Black and Drifting Coats will also be looked upon.
Chapter 1: Looking towards something, somewhere
"Decided to get up yet?"
The man had been standing by my bed all morning. To me, he seemed pretty persistent – trying to get a reaction from me. His sighs, groans, only further suggested his impatience.
And all I can is nothing. Well – all I want to do is nothing. When you wake up, you immediately want to fall back again. Falling into a deep sleep is somehow a comforting thing. It's a sense of no restraints, total freedom; your consciousness is zipped up into a sac of cushiony liquid. It's like you're floating, carefree of the world. You don't complain, either. After all, dreams aren't something you can necessarily control, with one or two exceptions perhaps. Stuff like lucid dreaming.
A thrust of two fingers jabs my spine.
"He's waiting for you."
"Give me a minute."
I hear the shuffling of new, polished shoes move away from me. For some reason, I feel the urge to check underneath my duvet. What's the point in checking? Everything's there. Toes, feet, legs, boxers.
"Get out, please." I say to the man.
The door opens and closes shortly afterwards. And I'm all alone again.
Ten minutes later, I'm all dressed up. I'm in the same clothes as yesterday, the day before that, and that, and the day before that as well. Somehow, they don't stink one bit. Not an inch of body odour stains my shirt, or any bodily residue staining my pants. I'm pretty sure I've forgotten the smell of pungent pits. Any smell at all that might have existed a few months ago.
As I leave my room, a strange thought occurs to me. 'What did the room look like? White walls, right? And the bed. That was white as well, wasn't it? Duvet, pillows, the frame."
"Let's go, Juko." The voice is familiar.
Now I see the man. A strange contrast from the hallway, splashed in the defining colour, white. What stands out is his green suit, with green buttons, with green shoes and a green tie. Nothing seems to complement one another, with each clothing accessory blending into one another, like some untidy camouflage.
Though his trousers are white. So is the white Stetson on his head. A Stetson?
"Don't make me stand here any longer. He's still waiting."
I give no response. Despite not answering back, the man is somehow assured that I've paid full attention to him. And so he leads me down this empty corridor, with my weary feet following behind him.
As I prolong each step, life slowly seeps away from me. The routine phase is coming in. Same stuff every morning, with the same man waking me up. Same everything.
"Behold!" the man says.
I don't think he's ever told me his name. I've never asked, either.
By this point, I'd been escorted to a large hall. The appearance of it is of some sort of grand theatre, where you'd expect countless piano concertos to have taken place here. 'And today, he shall be performing Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22 in E-flat major'. The lights would draw towards the stage upfront, whilst you'd lounge back in your balcony seat. The orchestra rolls in. You're entranced, leaning forwards. It's the feeling of a climax, the beginning of something, the anticipation. With each note, you slowly float away into a land of beauty, bitterness, tristesse.
And then the piano plays its part. You fall back into your seat. Staring at the pianist's hands, a smile appears upon your face.
It's a shame though.
All you can do is imagine the scene...because this isn't a grand theatre. No. This is just a roundup. It's a place in which we praise our one true godly being; a 'man' above the wired surface.
"Thank you for attending today's assembly."
Looking upwards, the black sky projects its words towards us. The jumbled array of wires and circuitry shakes at the sound of his voice. God's speaking for ten minutes or so, I presume.
And so my mind switches off.
"I hope all of you have a great day," says the voice from above. "I'd like to announce something very briefly though, before I give my morning speech. You may have heard the news already!"
Whilst my eyes are closed, the sound of mechanical laughter fills the hall. They're the same voices, the same reactions. Nothing really seems different.
And now I feel my body drifting away...
What's it like up there? Above all those wires? After years of reading that damned book, nothing's really gone in. The main gist of life seems to be that a creator lives above us all. And many a time have different verses, different sections explicitly told us about his wife. His wife? What's so important about her? The main presumption is that she's an almighty being, just like God.
Except we know nothing about her. Nothing at all. We just acknowledge her existence to be holy, to be permanent.
"My wife's having a baby!"
There's the all round applause. Every inch of the hall filled with cheer. Somehow, I snap out of my apathetic lull.
"Congratulations!" I shout. There's a sudden uplifting feeling that's rushing through my body, as if an elated spirit's taken me hostage.
"You're blessed, my God!" from one end of the room. "Much love, my God!" from another corner of the room.
There's no escaping the praise. Even I've been taken victim by it. I turn around, facing the man in the green suit. He's not smiling. For some reason this enrages me. Taking scornful strides towards him, I plan my rant word by word. The nearer I get to him, the angrier I become, the sweatier my palms are. And as I get closer, the crowd of people slowly constrict all movement. The laughter deafens you.
"How dare you!" My voice is barely heard through the cheerful commotion.
He clenches my wrist, and somehow a new feeling seems to burrow itself inside me.
Pain. The damned book went on all about 'pain'. For as long as my memory goes back, we've all been constantly reciting that verse at some point during the daily assemblies.
"And so those above the wired surface feel pain. You shall never experience it, or know of it, or ever urge for it. This society does not base itself around masochism, nor does it base itself around sadism. Those beneath the wired surface feel nothing. There is no loneliness, no sense of desperation, no outcasts, no wandering souls. All of you are together as one. A community, that is whole and ripe as the apple first picked. None of you will know such feelings. It is for your benefit only."
I can't seem to be able to recall the last minute or two. But for some reason, the man with the Stetson's led me back to my room. I'm sitting on the bed, perched on the fence of consciousness. Though my eyes are dreary, I make out the door in front of me.
There's no lock. The doorknob's disappeared, too.
"How did that feel?" the man asks me.
I'm guessing he knew that I'd felt pain for the first time. Although despite acknowledging the sensation, I'm not overwhelmed by it. It's if I've already felt it before. Except the pain I felt before was different somehow. Words can't describe it. It's as if you were to differentiate the pain of a broken wrist, to the pain of loneliness.
They're both the same somehow – but at the same time completely different.
"Pain?" I ask.
"Well of course."
An abrupt answer. At this point, there's a sensation of rocking back and forth. A feeling of being on the verge of collapse, the edge of reality. Pain? Well he expects me to respond, of course. But how do I? It's not as easy as adding two and two together making four. What's he's done in an analogical sense, is asked a toddler the adverse effects of multiple sclerosis. Or he's asked me to recite the quadratic formula. Basically, something I'd never be able to answer.
But somehow I let him know my feelings.
"I don't know," I say.
For a moment I'm wrapped in a silent bubble. You don't feel tense, or uneasy, but it's a feeling similar to freefalling. It's like falling into a deep sleep, except you're awake and you're conscious.
"I was expecting you to say that," the man tells me, "or something on those lines, anyway."
The man with the Stetson replies with nothing. But now, he walks over to the door: the handle's missing, and now the room's suddenly feeling narrower, more cramped.
"Do you mind if I lecture you?" he asks, turning to face me. "Feel free to fall asleep. You're probably tired."
I ignore his advice, being as attentive as ever.
"You must have asked yourself at some point in your life, what life would be like above the wired surface, yes?"
At this point, the Stetson-wearing man takes out something from his right trouser pocket. A strange something. Through hazy vision, I make out a clean cigarette.
From his left trouser pocket, the man swipes out a lighter and soon after, a strange smell fills the room.
"God lives above us, doesn't he?" Stetson-man continues on. "I've always wanted to take someone from here up there. You'll be able to compare what life's like from our holy text, to what life's really like. Up there."
It seems clear on his intentions. He plans to choose me. An ignorant boy, whom knows nothing of life above the wired surface, is somehow the ideal – or most possibly the random choice of a stranger who's been waking me up every morning. Strange.
"What's your name?" I ask. The question itself was a subconscious thought, that had been lingering in my head for a while.
"What would you like to call me?"
He smiles after hearing this, for some unknown reason. Soon after, he swivels around on the spot towards the door again.
"You're a smart boy, Juko," he says. "According to God, you're fourteen years old, slightly above the height of boys your age. And may I say – if you don't mind me doing so – that you're pretty good looking too. You'd go far if you had the chance."
Somehow I can't really react to what he's said. I understood every word he told me, his praise and compliments. But I don't feel happy about what he's said, nor do I flush on how he describes my appearance.
I've always wanted to go above the wired surface – and possibly, I'll see God. But what then? Do I wave to him and move on with my life? Do I punch him in the face? The emotions of living have slowly slipped away from me and only now, I've realised my loss.
What actually is my life?
Though now the front door to my room is open. Being lost in thought, the doorknob's reappeared for some strange reason. Materialising entities from nothing is new to me.
Again, I tag along behind Stetson towards the assembly theatre, keeping a safe distance behind him. Through the memory of waking up and going to sleep, I'm always following him. There's this sense of moving of forwards only, and for some reason, indulging back on previous experiences or feeling nostalgia doesn't exist to us.
I look to my right, slowly realising after each step that we've walked past the daily roundup service.
"Aren't we going back?" I ask.
Stetson says nothing and continues walking forwards. Never does he slow down or speed up in pace. It's a momentum seemingly unbreakable. In the background, the same laughter fades away as sharp heels of polished shoes floods out the noise.
For all my time leisurely strolling behind Stetson, time's non-existent. All I'm capable of doing is staring half-wittedly at his green suit, with my eyes loosely fixed on a certain crease or fold – which soon later is lost from sight. And then afterwards, my concentration picks up another crease, so all vision is centred there. The cycle continues.
"This corridor's pretty long, don't you think?" Again, I pose another question to Stetson, in which no reply is given. "Now I think about it, I don't think I've been here before. At all."
All of a sudden, Stetson stops ambling forwards, breaking momentum. Being an inch away from collapsing forwards onto his back, he stands in the corridor, motionless. For a few seconds, he's releasing the tension built up in his knuckles, then rotating his wrists in circular motions before thrusting them into both trouser pockets.
"Give me a moment. You should take in some air before we carry on moving."
I do as he says, submissive as ever.
Closing my eyes and breathing out, a sense of relief overcomes me. 'How peaceful', I say to myself. Another thing I've discovered recently. Along with pain, the process of slowing down seems to be a first hand-on experience. It's the process of stillness, to think, to breathe.
"Ready?" he asks me. I nod back to Stetson.
Ten minutes left us not too long ago: now we've reached the opening to the surface above. From a perspective of ignorance (it wouldn't matter if I were living or a doll), you would imagine something more grand. Since life below the wired surface is a pristine establishment, if those were fortunate enough to see life on the same level of God...surely, they'd be sent up 'there' in first class. Some fancy lift, perhaps. Or an escalator, maybe a stairway for those wanting to look fit, sweaty and feel ready for what they're about to see, after so many years. It's a possibility.
But I can't hold everyone's disappointment. What I see isn't grand, or in any way appealing. Once you take your first glimpse of the structure, what was a smile of unease, wears away.
Stetson's shut the door behind us.
The room we're in is soaked in rancid odours, staining cobblestone walls around us. A shocking contrast in terms of normal surroundings. Every morning we wake up to white walls, to the sound of someone's voice and end up in the same hall, with the same people. Cobblestone is new to me, along with the smells. Looking upwards, the walls tower above, creating some sort of well. And at the top resides a black void; a fixed plug. There's hardly any light in this room, except from a moss-covered lantern in some grubby-looking alcove, midway of the walls.
"Close your eyes, "Stetson says.
I don't listen. My eyes have already wandered to the water at the base of the well; stagnant, stale-looking. Taking a sip from that would surely end with bad consequences, I imagine. Unless you were desperate, dying of thirst, ignorant or unconcerned of the possible effects of cholera – other than that case, you might drink the water through being curious, perhaps.
But I'm not taking a gamble.
"Close your eyes, Juko," Stetson echoes.
Looking to my left, Stetson's staring into empty space. Despite him giving me the instruction, the voice that asked me to do so wasn't his. It was artificial, programmed.
"Why?" I ask.
"You're curious, aren't you?" Stetson says, completely devoid of emotion.
That line puts an involuntary seal on upon my lips. Somehow my heart's started pounding away, with nausea slowly spreading throughout my body.
So I close my eyes. Despite Stetson not answering my question, I do so, being the obedient child I am. Being the obedient child I was born to be. I've never thought of rebelling against our God, start a riot, a protest. Why should I? Don't we live in peace? Our living quarters are a sanctuary.
But I feel isolated. And closing my eyes causes new ideas to form in my head. New ideas, that never pointed out their' existence in my routine-like life until now.
What is rebellion?
Still contemplating on the newfound perception, I open my eyes.
My expression's a blank canvas. No bewilderment, nor signs of excitement. Completely empty. For only thirty seconds I had closed my eyes by the base of the well-like pillar, towering above. Diseased water stained the bottom of the foundations, whilst the shadow of cobblestone walls made me feel inferior. Their' giant status was – in a word – imposing.
Though now it's clear to say I've moved. Without any sense of change, I'm not standing on the cobblestone, nor am I surrounded by walls, nor is there the lantern in the alcove. A new place entirely. Still I feel no shock. Rattling my body to get a hold of my senses still wouldn't bring out any emotion. Am I speechless? Is my mind dull, not functioning properly?
Where I stand now is in a wooden cottage. Small, minimalistic, ideal for the pragmatic lumberjack to go about his business. The door's straight ahead, painted in a sickly brown. This colour seems to be a theme for furniture in the cottage, though there's not much of it. As if meticulously calculated, one window seems equidistant either side of the door. No smudges, no bird shit on the windowpane, clean as ever. But then again they're boarded up with plywood planks. A double bed, with the awkward yellow duvet cover's squeezed to the left. And by the right windowsill, a table with two chairs facing opposite resides. The only source of light from such darkness is the pathetic light bulb hanging by its cord from the ceiling.
To be fair, this isn't really much of a cottage. More like a large room.
"Do lumberjacks live here?" I ask.
For a while Stetson mulls over the question.
"Not really," he says. "I've not seen lumberjacks in years. Not seen trees either. Not seen anything."
"This is what life is like above the wired surface?" I raise the question without a hint of surprise. It's possible that I'm so struck by what I've seen, I can't realise the sheer scale of bemusement. My brain's unable to interpret new discoveries well, possibly. Day in day out, it's all the same. Slight changes to timetables or the daily schedule suddenly causes me to diverge off course.
"You'll see, Juko. I'll give you a day up here."
At this point Stetson hands me a silver key. Plain as ever. No different from any other silver keys you might find in your local locksmith
"Go explore. I chose you randomly, remember. You're not special, you're lucky. But when you feel like your day is up, leave the key outside the door then hit the sack. Sleep."
At the moment of 'sleep', an uncontrollable sensation rushes through me. Suddenly my eyelids are anchor weights; my mouth is agape, letting out streams of yawns.
'Sleep', he told me. With the notion in mind, I lie on the bed with the non-matching colour code duvet.
"It's a different room," Stetson says.
And then I drift away.