September 23, 2021
You’re sitting in a theater.
The actors on stage are engaging in some kind of dispute, but you can’t make head or tail of it. An invisible THING appears to be the issue, and it won’t go away.
One actor wants to build a church to it. Another actor wants to run and hide.
At moments you almost grasp the THING, but then it slips away.
Perhaps it’s a lost relative.
A wind blows across the stage. A pile of leaves stir. Autumn. The trees in the forest are going to enter mock-death. The two actors, against their better judgment, are weeping. They seem to be looking past the footlights at you for an answer. This is silly and sentimental. Why are you here? You could be walking the dog or cleaning out the cellar.
Somewhere—was it an office—there was a clock on the wall and you were there watching it, waiting for a clerk to come out of the back room and hand you a folder.
You were young and you were running on a playground for no reason. It was early in the morning. July.
Now on the stage, a doctor appears in a surgical gown. The two actors giggle. They roll up their sleeves and he gives them an injection. They strut around, as if they’ve won a prize. Through a window at the rear of the stage, you can see a deserted city street. A policeman walks out of a bar, sits down at the curb, and taps his night stick on his leg.
You can’t remember how you got into the theater. Did a friend give you a ticket? Did you receive a message ordering you to watch the play?
You take out your cell phone. You check to make sure you clicked the lock on the drone in the garage. You scan the battle cruiser in the China Sea. All quiet on that front. There is a message from the President’s aide. Don’t forget the meeting tomorrow morning.
Now you realize you’re having an episode.
You stand up and move along the row, walk up the aisle and come out into the empty lobby. You call the White House doctor.
He says, “You took the second shot this morning. You’re having an adverse reaction. Where’s your driver?”
You walk outside. Your driver is standing next to the car. You wave at him. He takes out his phone. The doctor is telling him to take you to Walter Reed.
You’re on a gurney. They’re wheeling you along a corridor.
You hear a voice. “Mark it down as a COVID aneurysm.”
They’re injecting you with Versed. They’re going to intubate you.
In a moment of extreme clarity, you realize you’re not going to wake up. They’re not going to let you. They’re going to put you on a ventilator, and you’re going to stay under and check out of this life.
Your 63 years seem very brief. You were on a stage arguing with someone, and that was that. What was the issue? Something about a germ, a virus. Ridiculous.
You were supposed to be an expert on the subject. But there was nothing to be expert about. There was only a small fading idea.
It’s all right. You’re immortal. But it seems quite mad to have been guiding the nation on its response to a vaporous notion.
How did that happen?
There is always a certain amount of whining and remorse as one enters the theater to see the movie called Reality.
“Is this a good idea?” “Why did I buy the ticket?”
But you can already feel a merging sensation. The electromagnetic fields humming in the theater, even before the movie starts, are drawing you in.
Your perception of x dimensions is narrowing down to three.
You take your seat. You look at the note you’ve written to yourself, and you read it again:
“Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget this is just a movie. Don’t fall asleep. The serial time in the movie is an artifact. The binding feeling of sentimental sympathy is a trance-induction. It’s the glue that holds the movie fixed in your mind.”
“The movie will induce nostalgia for a past that doesn’t exist. Don’t surrender to it.”
“You’re here to find out why the movie has power.”
“You want to undergo the experience without being trapped in it.”
“The content of the movie will distract you from the fact that it is a construct.”
The lights dim.
On the big screen, against a gray background, the large blue word REALITY slowly forms.
Suddenly, you’re looking at a huge pasture filled with flowers. The sky is a shocking blue. You can feel a breeze on your arms and face.
You think, “This is a hypnotic weapon.”
Now, the pasture fades away and you’re standing on an empty city street at night. It’s drizzling. You hear sirens in the distance. A disheveled beggar approaches you and holds out his trembling hand.
He waits, then moves on.
You look at the wet shining pavement and snap your fingers, to change it into a lawn. Nothing happens.
You wave your hand at a building. It doesn’t disappear.
You reach into your pocket and feel a wallet. You walk over to a streetlight and open it. There’s your picture on a plastic ID card. Your name is under the picture, followed by a number code. On the reverse side of the card, below a plastic strip, is a thumbprint.
There are other cards in the wallet, and a small amount of paper money. You look at the ID card again. There’s an address.
Though it seems impossible, you remember the address. In your mind’s eye, you see a small cottage at the edge of an industrial town. There’s a pickup parked in the driveway.
It’s your truck. You know it. But how can that be?
You walk toward larger buildings in the distance.
Three men in uniforms turn a corner and come up to you. Behind them emerges a short man in a business suit. He nods at you and holds out his hand.
You know what he wants. You pull out your wallet and give it to him. He looks at the ID card, at you, at the card again.
“You were reported missing,” he says.
“Missing from what?” you say.
“Your home. Your job. What are doing here? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” you say. “I was…taking a short trip. I’m just out for some air.”
“In this part of the city?” he says. “That’s not smart. We’ll take you home. Our car is right over there.”
One car sits on a side street. In large red letters printed on the trunk is the word Concern.
You walk with the men to the car.
Waves you’ve never felt before are emanating from it.
Mentally, you try to back up from them. You feel a haze settle over you.
In the haze dance little creatures.
You look at the short man in the suit. He’s smiling at you.
Suddenly, his smile is transcendent. It’s so reassuring, tears fill your eyes.
You’re thinking, “They built this so I would be lost, and then they found me. I’m supposed to be rescued. I’ve never experienced being rescued before. I never knew what it meant.”
You hear faint music.
It grows louder. As you near the car, you realize you’re listening to a chorus and an orchestra. The rising theme is Victory.
One of the uniformed men opens the car door.
You nod at him.
“My pleasure, sir,” he says.
The music fades away.
The scene shifts.
You’re standing next to the pickup in your driveway alongside your cottage.
Think, you tell yourself. What’s going on?
Now, as you walk into your cottage and instantly remember the rooms and the objects in these rooms, the sensation of Familiarity, slightly out of phase, grows stronger.
You realize you’re supposed to feel tremendous relief. This is what’s expected of you.
It’s expected of everyone. They live with one another through the touchstone of the Familiar. They share it like bread.
They keep coming back to it. The Familiar is a sacrament.
It’s built in. It’s invented through…it’s stamped on every object in this space…
…In order to suggest you’ve been here before. To suggest you belong here.
You see pure space that…
Has been placed here. For you.
And at that moment, there is a small explosion behind your head.
And you’re sitting in the theater again.
The movie is playing on the screen. All around you, in the seats, people are sitting with their eyes closed.
You feel a tap on your shoulder. You turn. It’s an usher.
“Sir,” he says. “Please follow me.”
He leads you up the aisle into the lobby, which is empty.
An office door opens and a young woman steps out. She strides briskly over to you.
“You woke up and came back,” she says. She gives you a tight smile. “So we’re refunding your money. It’s our policy.”
She drops a check in your hand.
“What happened in there?” you say. “What happened?”
“Only you would know that. You must have done something to interrupt the transmission.”
“And the rest of those people?”
She looks at her watch. “They’re probably into their second year by now. The second year is typically a time of conflict. They rebel. Well, some of them do. They rearrange systems. They replace leaders. They promote new ideals.”
“I had such a strong feeling I’d been there before.”
She smiles. “Apparently it wasn’t strong enough. You’re back here.”
“How do you do it?” you say.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “That’s proprietary information. Did you meet your family?”
“No,” you say. “But I was in a cottage. It was…home.”
“If you hadn’t escaped, you would have been subjected to much stronger bioelectric bonding pulses. Do you have a family here?”
You start to answer and realize you don’t know.
She looks into your eyes.
“Go out to the street,” she says. “Walk around. Take a nice long walk for an hour. You’ll reorient. It’ll come back to you.”
“Why do you do it?” you say.
“Sell this trip.”
“Oh,” she says. “Why does a travel agent book a vacation for a client? We’re in that business.”
You turn toward the exit. The sun is shining outside. People are walking past the doors.
You take a deep breath and leave the theater.
The street is surging with crowds. The noise is thunderous.
You notice you’re carrying a rolled up sheet of paper in your hand.
You open it.
It’s a non-disclosure agreement.
“If you return from your movie experience, you will not reveal or discuss, under penalty of law, anything about its nature, substance, or duration…”
You look at the sheet of paper, make up your mind, and it bursts into flames.