What If…

 

What if that was reality, and this is hallucination?

 

As he rose from the bed he lifted his arms above his head, tilted his head back, stretched, yawned and breathed as deeply as he could. To his surprise, as he lowered his arms he had the sensation of being drawn upward, through the ceiling and roof and on into the twilight sky, faster and faster. He opened his eyes, thinking that would end the peculiar sensation he was experiencing and restore him to reality. He was surprised again to find opening his eyes changed nothing except that he could see a landscape far below, over which he was soaring. The landscape looked familiar but not from his everyday world. It was a scene of mountains he recognized as being the image on a segment of a Chinese scroll that hung as framed artwork on his bedroom wall.

As he stared at the landscape his eyes were drawn to a tiny black dot on the side of the tallest mountain in the scene. Somehow, he knew he was being drawn toward that dot as he soared closer and closer. The dot grew into a large opening, either a cave or a tunnel. In another few seconds he could see that the opening was neatly cut into the rock, suggesting the work of man rather than nature. In another few seconds he had arrived at the opening and flown inside, into absolute darkness. The sensation of flying changed into a sensation of falling, still at high speed. After several seconds of falling through the utter black he saw a tiny dot of light far beneath him. It grew larger as he hurtled toward it, swallowing up the darkness until he was in a fog of blinding light. Suddenly the sensation of falling ceased and he found himself standing in a dimly lit large workshop and storage space. At the far end of the room a pair of uniformed workers were busily engaged in some kind of labor he couldn’t determine. They didn’t look toward him and seemed unaware of his presence. Around the room were several large machine tools of a type with which he was not familiar. There were also several rows of shelving holding smaller mechanical devices and boxes of supplies.

He looked to his right and saw a sturdy door that appeared to be securely bolted to prevent opening. To his left there was an opening in the wall large enough for a truck to drive through. Through the opening he could see a rural landscape bathed in afternoon light.

He walked out through the opening and found a wide path or roadway leading away and down a gentle slope and through a shallow draw lined with some kind of large, broadleaf trees. The scene was quite tranquil and even charming. As he started walking down the roadway he saw that it took a sharp bend to the left a couple hundred yards ahead. A random thought came into his mind, a line from some old song – “It’s a long road that has no turning.”

As he walked around the bend he was surprised to see before him a coastline with a broad, white-sand beach. The sea was gently sending waves rolling up on the sand and dispersing in foam. He stood and took in the scene, finally spotting an old-fashioned coastal steamer lying offshore. As he looked toward the steamer he saw a motorized whaleboat approaching the shore, coming directly to where he stood.

He walked down to the surf line, keeping his eyes on the whaleboat.  It slid up onto the sand and the sailor serving as bow hook jumped out, held the boat in place and turned to look at him. Nothing was said but he somehow knew the sailor was expecting him to climb into the boat, so he did. The sailor pushed the boat back into the surf and it swung around and headed toward the steamer.

As the whaleboat approached the steamer he could see two men standing at the rail watching the boat as it came alongside. He climbed up the Jacob’s ladder onto the deck of the steamer near the men at the rail. As he looked at them and they looked back he was surprised to recognize one of the men as the late novelist Joseph Conrad. Conrad said quietly, “Welcome aboard.” The steamer had begun to move as he asked Conrad, “What’s our destination?” After several seconds Conrad responded with a question, “Must we have a destination?” He thought to himself, “Of course we must,” but he didn’t answer because he sensed Conrad’s question was rhetorical. After another few seconds Conrad said, “In point of fact, we are going up the river to take Almayer home,” gesturing to indicate he was referring to the man standing next to him. With that, Conrad and Almayer turned and walked up the deck toward the bow and then went through a door into the deck house.

After a few seconds he followed the two men up the deck but when he tried to open the door they had gone through, it wouldn’t open. He turned away and looked down the deck toward the fantail. He was startled to see his deceased father standing on the fantail, smiling and waving. For the first time, he had an emotional reaction to one of the strange, if not to say bizarre, events he was experiencing. He walked hurriedly down the deck to the fantail but when he got there his father was no longer there, or anywhere that he could be seen, giving rise to a strong sense of disappointment. He slowly returned to the door and tried again to open it. It still refused to open. He turned toward the rail and stood watching the coastline slide past.

After a time he realized the steamer had turned and was proceeding into a wide river mouth. The river came to the sea through a canyon it had carved between mountain ridges. As the steamer moved upstream he saw in one of the mountains a tunnel opening near the base. Somehow, he knew it was the other end of the tunnel he had flown into on the Chinese scroll side of the mountain. He realized the illogic of the tunnel opening here being at sea level when the other end was far up the side of the mountain, but he accepted it as just another in a whole series of illogical events he was experiencing. He knew he was in a realm of illogicality, where the laws of nature simply didn’t apply. He calmly accepted the situation as it unfolded.

Soon, the steamer came to dead slow, just holding its position against the flow of the river. The unopenable door opened and Conrad stepped out onto the deck. He said, “This is as far as we can take you. We’ll put you ashore here.” After a pause, he continued, “See that waterfall a little way inland? Head for that and you can find your way from there.” With that, Conrad went back inside the deck cabin. This time, he didn’t bother trying to open the door to follow Conrad. He became aware that the whaleboat had come alongside and the sailors in it were waiting for him to come down the Jacob’s ladder.

Once ashore, he clambered up the river bank and paused to take a final look back at the steamer, only to discover that it and the whaleboat were nowhere to be seen. He proceeded along the bank of a stream that fed into the river, heading for the waterfall as Conrad had directed him. He stood for a time near the waterfall, enjoying the cooling mist it produced. He noticed that there was a cave opening behind the waterfall. He was able to work his way around the falling water and entered the cave. He couldn’t tell how far back into the mountain it extended but noted it was dimly illumined by some unknown source. After walking some distance into the cave he came to where it was closed off by a wall, centered by a small door. He carefully tried the doorknob and was gratified to feel it turn and let the door swing open.

He stepped through the door into a long narrow room with shelves along both walls. The shelves were completely filled with jars and bottles of many shapes and sizes, each filled with some unidentified liquid or powder. He moved slowly down the length of the room, examining the unmarked jars and bottles. Suddenly, his attention was caught by a bottle that was different from the rest. It contained a clear liquid, while all the others were filled with colorful substances.

He lifted the bottle from the shelf and pulled out the stopper. He held it to his nose and sniffed. The smell was familiar and not unpleasant but he couldn’t think of what it might be. He put the bottle to his lips and took a sip. The taste was also familiar and not unpleasant and equally unidentifiable. No sooner had he returned the bottle to the shelf when everything went black and he felt as if he were suspended in mid-air, or in a sensory deprivation chamber.

After several seconds the blackness became less intense and he could hear voices, too soft and muted for him to make out what they were saying. Over the next several seconds the black thinned even more and the voices became distinct. One of the voices said, “His vitals are normal and I think he’s coming around.” At this, he opened his eyes and saw several people in lab coats standing by his bed, looking down at him. Suddenly, it all came back to him — he was a volunteer guinea pig, testing a new drug under development. And now he knew why the stuff in that bottle had smelled and tasted familiar – it was the drug he had ingested just before he began his journey to the backside of reality.

The man he now recognized as the senior researcher smiled at him and asked, “How do you feel?” He considered the question for a short time and then responded, “Good. I feel fine.” And he did. As he sat up and began to rise from the bed, a thought flickered through his mind — “What if that was reality, and this is hallucination?”

FIN

 

A brief account of how this odd little tale came to be.

Awakened by my bladder in the middle of the night, I lay in bed in that twilight state where one is not quite asleep anymore but not yet fully awake. As I prepared to swing my legs over the side of the bed and sit up, my mind started rolling out a scenario of its own devising. I wasn’t consciously directing the thought. I just went along for the ride. The scenario ran to the point where I had rounded the bend in the road and beheld the seascape. At that point I was fully awake and the screen faded to black. Unlike my frequently weird and wacky dreams, which most often evaporate within seconds of waking, this semi-dream remained at full strength, even the next morning. It intrigued me enough that I wrote it down, just as it had unfolded to me. Over the next couple of days it was never far from my thoughts as I went about my regular daily routine and from time to time something I read or saw on TV or whatever would stimulate an idea about what might happen next and I extended the narrative. I feel this is the work of some remote sector of my brain beyond my conscious control. I think it has little or no literary merit, but it was a rather fun exercise.

Old Weird Woody

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 Posted by at 9:27 pm