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Once again I stared out into the darkness through the partially open window. A humid intermittent breeze pushed its way inside and coaxed the curtains into a reluctant lazy dance, then left them limp and lifeless like the moisture laden leaves beneath the bare trees outside. I could actually smell the leaves decay as the worms infesting the fertile ground beneath the colorful carpet of former greenery consumed natures discards and replenished the soil with their excreted leavings.
All this was quite miraculous seeing as it was nothing more than an illusion; a comforting scene created for those who were unfortunate enough to have never physically experienced the real world outside their reach. A computer generated image chosen from a plethora of representations of the past. A piece of equipment with the necessary apparatus to generate whatever illusion you wished to feast your eyes upon, expanding your reality beyond the confinement of the four walls that defined your current existence.
I could only imagine what a real window would show of the true outside now. What did a wasted planet look like? Was it really so bad that windows were taken away to keep us protected from the dark depression that threatened humanity when confronted with an undeniable truth? A society slowly dying like untamed animals held in a cage with no hope of the unrestricted freedom that our ancestors had? Would it be so bad to look upon what we had created, knowing what it once was. Or is it worse to look upon what once was as we do now, knowing that we'll never experience it ourselves?
I lit a smoke as I thought about calling up a different scene, but this one had always been my favorite; the darkness full of shadowed mysteries with unknown wonders just beyond my perception. I would sometimes stare for hours out that window, mesmerized by the serenity of the calm evening. The humid air generated by the equipment would actually dampen my cloths if I stood there long enough. Was the uncomfortable clammy feel it left behind the same as the untreated humid air from outside would have actually felt like back then?
I would often kneel down and rest my elbows on the windowsill with my chin nestled in the crook of my arms, the fresh scent of the night air flowing around my face. I wondered if decaying leaves really smelled that way. I imagined I could actually taste the aroma. Could a machine accurately recreate such a thing? Did the outside world really look this way in ages gone by?
There was a window screen mounted outside the glass frame. The window sash itself was raised only a few inches. You can't move it higher; I've tried. Beyond the screen is the equipment, the picture maker and the magic that creates the world of our fantasy. The wind, the moisture, the smells, and the sounds, night sounds that make the stillness come alive. The hoppits and crawlies moving invisibly in the shadows doing whatever it is they do in the privacy of darkness. I could hear them; but I wanted to see them, really see them instead of just pictures or imagined impressions of what they were.
I wanted to feel the rain stinging my face. I wanted to dig in the leaves and uncover the worms eating endlessly from the moment they were born, until the day they too helped replenish the ecosystem with their passing. I wanted to rub the rich soil into my hands and see the stain left behind by the dirt in the pores of my skin. I've never had dirt under my fingernails. I wanted to flick my cigarette out the window for no other reason than to hear it hiss in the damp grass. I wanted out.
I wrapped my soft clean hands around the bottom of the open window. The futility of this didn't elude me; I simply needed to be reminded of the solidity of the illusion from time to time. Slowly straightening my legs, I exerted a steady upward pressure. The unyielding resistance was just as expected. What was not expected was the reaction that welled up inside me from my failure to succeed. I flushed with anger and a rising heat radiated from my head. I stubbornly continued pulling up, fueled by a second effort born out of a reluctance to meekly accept defeat once again.
Suddenly the glass cracked and the outdoor scene that I desperately yearned to experience in the flesh faded away like so many dreams that dissolve from memory upon waking. Throbbing pain shot through my fingers as I relaxed my grip, cramps twisted my hands into misshapen fists. A trickle of blood streaked my forehead from a sliver of broken glass that berated me for the unprovoked attack. I stared at the utter blackness that now taunted me, the broken machine unable to provide the vision of my freedom.
It was hopeless frustration that drove me now, the fury of my despair unleashed. I stumbled away from the mindless narcotic like addiction my mind was so tenaciously bound to and grabbed the nearest thing -- the ashtray filled with stinking tell tales of my hours spent in meandering thought looking out at deception -- and threw it. In a brief moment of exceptional clarity I had never experienced before, time slowed to a crawl.
Trailing behind the improvised missile I had thrown was a swirling tail of spent ashes lending the false impression that it was propelled by a life of its own, gaining speed as it neared the target. My arm had just reached the lower arc of the throwing motion when the ashtray fulfilled its unintended destiny. With heightened perception I watched the window glass first bow away in cynical contempt from the initial contact of the projectile, and then explode in a violent release of loathing surrender. The fractured glass expelled a last polluted breath of fine silica particles in capitulation as gravity exerted its influence.
Sounds of falling glass hauled me rudely back into real-time. Instinctively I crouched away from the flying debris. Now huddled in a submissive guilt-ridden stance facing away from my handiwork, I was afraid to look. I was afraid that I might never see the illusions again, denied the comfort of deceit that I had reluctantly accepted all along. I had impulsively rebelled against the device as if it were responsible for my lack of freedom, now I must suffer the consequences. I slowly turned to confront the results of my impetuous behavior.
The shattered glass on the floor sparkled in the dim light like lonely burning campfires on a battlefield. It was hard to believe the intricately misshapen pieces were once joined as one to form a solid unyielding mass. A hole was torn in the screen beyond the window sash where the ashtray had punctured it. A black gaping hole that leered at me accusingly. I slumped to my knees and stared back in dismal acceptance, silently proclaiming my innocence at having been seduced into action by my wants and needs; and my guilt of lusting for all the things I could look upon, but never really see.
I stayed on my knees in humble repentance, paying homage to the proprietor of my desires. Disconnecting from reality and drifting into semi-consciousness, my chin rested on my chest... my arms on my knees with my hands turned upward... begging forgiveness... and then...
It was a sound that brought me back, something familiar. My eyes shot open to be greeted by the same destruction they had closed by. The broken machine still displayed the evidence of my inability to cope. I dared not blink my eyes. It was as if my sight helped me to hear and that if I blinked, I would miss something of great importance. I searched for the sound until my eyes burned with strain, focusing on nothing and everything at the same time.
When it happened it shook me to the very foundations of my core. It was the smallest flutter of movement, the tiniest wisp of sound and yet it may as well have been as earthshaking as the end of the world. The curtains had moved! Could it be that the device still lived after my attempted assassination?
I tried to get up from the floor but my legs had fallen asleep. I crawled on my hands and knees towards the window as pins and needles from revived circulation stabbed my flesh in painful waves. Paying no attention to the dozen cuts I suffered from the shards of glass littering the floor, I pulled myself up to the windowsill. I could actually feel it! There was still a moist breeze blowing through the broken window.
As my legs regained their feeling I stood up, my torn hands leaving bloodied facsimiles of their presence below on the sill. I looked out through the ragged hole in the screen. My body rebelled at the significance of what I saw. Already weakened, my knees nearly buckled and a creeping tingle flowed up over my scalp. I could see beyond the dead machine!
The mesh screen itself was still somehow black -- still concealing what lay beyond -- but through the hole I could see the same thing I had looked upon with enviable desire night after night. It was only different in that I could see deeper into the shadows. I could see past the wild overgrown bushes and look through the bare trees into a sky that was slowly growing brighter. It took several minutes for my sensory overloaded mind to comprehend what was happening.
I was watching a sunrise.
An overpowering excitement crushed any reservations I had about holding back. With blood still oozing from my injured hands, I reached up and tore at the damaged screen. Whatever magical properties it had so recently possessed, it wasn't enough to keep me from ripping the material from its frame exposing the full extent of what it had been concealing all along. It was all a lie.
I gazed out at the most beautiful vision I had ever hoped to see. Plant life as far as the eyes could see, pine tree covered mountains in the distance and even birds flying freely about in the air.
With little thought as to how this could be -- why we were lied to and kept prisoners inside all this time -- and still needing further proof that what I saw was real, I stuck my head outside. I drew a deep breath and it was the most overwhelming pandemonium of smells I could ever hope to experience. After the antiseptically neutral air of the filtered environment inside, the sheer number and variety of fragrances was staggering.
All along I had thought I lived on the top floor of a sealed building hundreds of feet in the air. Instead I found I was looking out at ground level and all the floors below me -- if there were other floors -- must be underground. Unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I crawled outside. I thought I might feel a pang of fear or insecurity at the vast openness of the outside and I did at first, but it passed quickly. I walked a short distance away and turned to see where I had come from.
Before me was a building that stretched endlessly in both directions. Every thirty feet or so was another window just like the one I had crawled out of except they were still whole, unmolested and still holding back a flood of unquestioning humanity. It seemed odd that I was so interested in the building that I had been captive in all my life, but I couldn't help but think of all the trapped souls inside, looking out at their own fanciful illusion. I wondered if all the others were so complacent with their lives that they refused to question or doubt their existence?
A closer look at the hundreds of windows scarring the face of the building like empty lifeless eyes revealed that there was at least one other like me. A few hundred feet away I saw another torn screen hanging from its frame like a dripping black tear forever suspended in time. So I wasn't the only freed spirit after all.
Confronted with a deluge of fragmented understanding, another invasive thought evolved in my mind. What if I had been looking out through the window machine at a snowstorm or the blazing heat of a summer day instead? How did I just happen to be looking at a scene of what the true outside world beheld? If I had broken out while looking upon a deserted ocean beach, would I now be standing in the sand with the clear blue water lapping at my feet? There were too many questions. I nearly retreated back to the window, into my comfortable world of illusion. But just then I realized that the real comfort I desired was right behind me.
I turned away from the building and walked to the barren tree that I had always been told was an illusion of necessity. It seemed real enough. I crouched and dug my hands into the decaying leaves, the rich soil teeming with life and caking under my fingernails. I rubbed my hands together and saw the dirt staining my hands and decided... nothing else really mattered.