Prose Header

Wake Up, Joe

by Adam Bruce

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

“Wake up, Joe.”

Joe opened his eyes, and excitement took hold of him. He jumped up, feeling boundless energy, and looked around his room. He noticed that the walls of his room were ridged, and he ran his hand across them.

He noticed the table had no clothes laid out on it today. This made him uncomfortable. He didn’t know why. He again looked at the table and noticed the circular shadow it cast on the floor and the single square post that supported the table from the middle. He remembered his kitchen table and wondered why it was square and had four posts. He thought of the kitchen. He threw open his bedroom door.

“What is for breakfast this morning?” he yelled at the air.

“Oatmeal and water,” the air replied.

Joe began to wonder why he ever asked; it was always the same. He then wondered why his breakfast was always the same, and thought he might like to try something different. Joe’s hunger overtook his curiosity, but just as he had begun to eat, the light above his door turned from red to green. For the light to change before Joe was ready to leave was completely abnormal, and Joe’s trembling rivaled a bridge at maximum capacity.

The door slid open, and a man in a handsome pin-striped suit and a bright, solid yellow tie entered Joe’s home. The man’s garb enticed Joe’s newly active imagination, and he wondered “Who is he? Why is he here? What does he want? What clothes are those?”

Joe began to feel uneasy as he attempted to stifle the overflow of thoughts. He had been excited when he awoke, but this new feeling was so unfamiliar that he began fearing it would make him lose hold on himself. Joe suddenly realized he had never thought of “himself” like that, and he felt very small.

Joe’s confusion and anxiety were obvious on his face, and the man in the suit wasted no time with pleasantries. “I know what that woman did to you yesterday, and though she has been stopped we have no choice but to welcome you to your new life. Your mind is free now; you are no longer a Drone. Come with me.”

Joe felt as if the air surrounding him had thickened and weighed down on him with an incredible pressure. Joe was slightly comforted, however, by the prospect of following the man’s order. The idea of choice was slowly creeping into his quickly accelerating imagination, and his only reprieve from that terrifying reality was the obedience now asked of him.

Joe rose and followed the man into the tunnel he had walked through so many times before, but for the first time he was not following green arrows on the floor. When they entered the vehicle and were seated, the man remained silent. Joe felt an attachment to this man like a young boy who was lost in a store and suddenly found his father and hugged him tightly after a frantic search.

Joe repeated the words “your mind is free” over and over in his head and devoted all conscious effort to stopping his imagination from creating scenario after scenario of what those words could imply.

The suited man thought to himself that Joe looked as worried as a man floating smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, holding a gun with one bullet while a shark closed in to strike.

Joe reminded himself that he had resolved to leave the choices to the suited man, and he clung desperately to the idea that this man could save him from the tsunami of his own thought. Just as that thought was beginning to calm Joe, the vehicle pulled to a halt. Joe looked out the window and realized that, during his attempt to calm himself, he and the suited man had travelled on a road he hadn’t been down before, and the increasingly familiar feeling of terror resurged against the increasingly unfamiliar.

Joe for the first time did not exit into a corridor but stepped onto a grass field. He looked around, and up, and upon seeing the sun he threw up his arms and recoiled like a spring suddenly crushed, but with the potential to explode back upwards. Having never seen the sun and then, without as much as a warning, almost being knocked over by it was more than traumatizing.

With a worried look on his face the suited man quickly took hold of Joe’s arm, and ushered him into a gargantuan complex. The entrance led directly to a large main hall filled with chandeliers, paintings, a bright red carpet, a mass of people, and a clear illumination vastly different from the blue hue that had colored Joe’s home.

As Joe’s eyes were blasted with a clarity he had never experienced, his nose wrinkled at the smell of flowers, and his ears were assaulted by the sound of conversation and music. Being at first most annoyed by the overpowering clutter of images before him, Joe shut his eyes, but he quickly became overly aware of his other senses and clamped his hands to his ears, held his breath, and felt as if his clothes had suddenly been soaked in water.

Joe began to sweat profusely as his imagination raced away from him. With eyes still closed, he chased it like a child who accidentally let fly a balloon. Try as he might to catch it, that balloon was swiftly ascending toward the sky, and the air thickened to grey smog as his imagination clouded his mind. Joe, though for the first time surrounded by people, felt totally alone. He turned to the suited man as a dog to its master, and the man began to speak.

“The pill the woman gave you yesterday has deactivated a device that inhibited activity in parts of your brain, more specifically the parts that are responsible for creativity and curiosity. The pill has permanently deactivated that device; you will never have to worry about it being reactivated. This place is your home now and you are free to do as you please.”

Joe’s faith in the suited man evaporated faster than a puddle on the highway under an intense summer sun. His waking nightmare had come true with vivid clarity and color, and his internal turmoil became obvious in his external trembling. Joe looked down desperately searching for his precious green arrows, but there existed a sick knowledge within him that he would never see them again or hear the familiar voice that guided him. His shaking intensified as the suited man’s words rebounded inside his head.

The man noticed Joe’s trembling and attempted to reassure him. “Please do not be frightened. The transition may be difficult, but I promise you will learn to like it here.” The suited man paused and realized that Joe hadn’t heard him at all. He laid his hand on Joe’s shoulder and said, “I believe there is someone who wants to speak with you.”

The suited man made a gesture, and the woman who gave Joe the pill approached. Joe felt the malignancy of overstimulation intensify to an almost unbearable level, but upon seeing the woman from yesterday Joe felt the sudden relief of only devoting his mind to one thought. Joe felt a sense of pleasure when looking at her face and attempted to identify the reason for that feeling. He quickly realized who she was, and his frustration metamorphosed into anger.

The woman stopped within arm’s length of Joe and exclaimed “Isn’t this place wonderful? I was taken here shortly after we met yesterday. Isn’t music amazing! We are listening to Claude Debussy’s Ballade! And the food here is sensational. Wait until you try it! No more oatmeal for you! And I have never smelled such smells, and—”

Joe felt rage welling up inside him as his hatred of the woman intensified. “Why did you do this to me?” Joe demanded. “This is not fair! I want to go back!”

The woman felt a sharp sting of indignation and replied “You want that damn thing turned back on? How could you reject the chance to be free? Don’t you understand that this is the way we are meant to be? I gave you the most precious gift one in your position could ask for. I cured you!”

“No!” Joe screamed and pushed the woman to the ground. Joe’s heightened senses noticed the suited man advancing, and he tore off down a side corridor. He was pursued by the suited man and several others but gained the advantage as his desperately sought-after green arrows appeared under his feet. He heard the ringing bell of an elevator as he passed by it and followed the arrows to a staircase.

He climbed like an ape using his hands and feet. Finally he reached the top and burst through the door into sunlight. This time, however, he was not blinded, and though the view was intense he did not look away. Joe ran forward, and his pursuers closed in. He laughed for the first time as he reached the edge, felt the peace he was desperately seeking as he dove off the roof, the only decision he ever made in his life.

Copyright © 2012 by Adam Bruce

Proceed to Challenge 504...

Home Page