As a relaxation technique, I was asked to picture my sins and mistakes in some kind of physical form. I thought of a little plot of land on the beach where everyone's transgressions were buried. The places were marked with tall wooden stakes dabbed with a touch of red paint along the top. Everyone wandered silently, mindless of one another, passing from row to row looking for the stakes which belonged to them. The tide came in, and the water flowed in between the stakes, each wave broken into separate rivulets of foam and then receding back into the sea. And all the while, a flock of grey birds gathered on a dune across the way to witness our strange human compulsions.
I was running late for work, which rarely ever happens. As I was rushing around trying to get ready, I could somehow hear the chatter between the other guards at work on the radio. The guard I was to relieve at my post was moaning about the futility of his existence and going on about what a bastard I was for leaving him stuck there and so on. Meanwhile, I was having my own problems. I kept trying to put on my guard uniform, but every time I looked down I found that I had put on my normal jeans and t-shirt, and I had to start the process all over again.
Finally, I thought I had it right so I was off to work. By that time it was getting light out, and I found myself reporting to a park in the early morning hours. I headed for the guard shack on the premises, but a supervisor caught me on the dirt path. He took me over to a shaded area where the management were all waiting around a cluster of picnic tables. First they reprimanded me for being out of uniform, and it was then that I noticed that I was still just wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. On top of that, they told me that the shirt was ugly, which seemed unnecessary. Then they made me watch some kind of training film right there at the bench. I tried to go, but I knocked over the projector as I was getting up. They told me that the film stock was very old and fragile, and that in damaging it I had released dangerous chemicals into the air that would probably give us all cancer. I wasn't exactly having the best morning.
I had a nice old colonial house that sat in a clearing with clusters of weeds growing around the foundation, but for some reason I always slept on a straw mat laid out on the front lawn, curled up in a wool blanket that had gathered thistles and thorns. There was something appealing about forsaking the shelter of the house in exchange for being out in the open air, under the stars, exposed to the elements, and all just mere feet from my door.
One morning I awoke to find a small group of people gaping in at the windows at the corner of the house beside the front door. I wasn't bothered at all by the impropriety. I just rubbed my eyes and crawled out from under my blankets. I heard them complimenting the rustic furnishings, the carvings on the wood, the inviting comfort of the interior. There was a desk there beneath the windows, nested in the little nook at the foot of the stairs. There were wooden figurines scattered on the desk, their fine details painted to various degrees with a toothpick and a set of acrylic paints. A magnifying glass on a metal crane shined a light down on this cluttered work space.
I fell in along the back of this clustered group, almost impersonally partaking in their gaping admiration of my house's charming interior. But I knew I was going to have to tell them the truth. I wasn't responsible for any of it. The previous occupant had done all of that. All I had ever done was hang some paintings on the walls.
My friends had a son that really loved video games. They had a little area set up over in the corner of the room with a small TV and some shelves to keep all of his games on. The kid would spend hours sitting over there on the floor playing his games. He spent so much time over there, in fact, that his parents didn't notice for quite some time that he had died sitting there facing the screen.
He sat there for several weeks, rotting away. His skin began to turn green. The features of his face began to droop and run and flake and even ooze off everywhere in a very unsightly manner. Flies had even begun to buzz about him, settling unpreturbed on his arms and the back of his neck. The game controller lay loose in his hands and the bones of his fingers and knuckles were starting to show through where the flesh had rotted off.
Finally his father stopped by to give the kid's head an affectionate tossle. This caused the boy's jaw to unhinge and fall to the floor in front of him. As the father pulled his hand back loose clumps of hair came with it and the body pitched forward limply. At that point, I imagine he began to suspect that something might be wrong.
My friend and I were discussing World War I, and it was as if we were right there, witnessing it all first hand. We stood on a high hill where we had a view of the whole battlefield of Europe laid out before us, the soldiers all digging row upon row of those endless trenches beneath the broiling late afternoon sun, all the vast preparations for war. My friend nudged me and told me that the army issued many of these soldiers such substandard equipment that often times they ended up being exposed and dying from the gas themselves as they were releasing it on the enemy.
As I considered this unpleasant piece of information, I found myself in a dark place, lost amid piles of skulls and bones piled higher than I could strain my neck to see, pile high enough to block out the light and the sun. I could hear the awful rasping rattle of someone's dying breath, all sick and muffled. I turned and saw a gas mask staring out at me from one of the piles, the eyes black and empty.
I knew that the gas had been released in the air. I tried to hold my breath and run. But I just kept hearing that rattle, right over my shoulder, right at my ear, dogging my heels. I kept seeing those black-eyed masks staring out at me from every pile. I ran on and on, but there were just more and more piles, and I knew I'd never make it. I'd never escape the gas before my lungs gave out and I'd be forced to take a breath.
I opened this children's book to a random page and there was a colorful drawing of a girl climbing over the fence of an amusement park that sat beside a small lake. The wooden fence meandered along the shore to the spot where she climbed in the foreground; the Ferris wheel there, spinning off the edge of the page. In the background, amongst all of the other rides, there was a huge animatronic dinosaur tethered with ropes or wires. The text in the bottom corner explained the scene. It said that the girl was fighting some monster and she recalled seeing the same creature in that theme park many years ago.
I was more fascinated by the picture, however. I felt like I could stare at it for hours, like a childhood memory, the endless details of the park and the rides, the games and concessions, the people gaping at the towering toy dinosaur, holding cotton candy and pointing up with their free hands, the watercolor lake tapering off into yellow paper nothingness, the pastel boats floating aimlessly. I felt like I was poised at the edge of an adventure or closing the book at the end of a long rainy day.
I grew up next door to a young girl named Alissa Rosenbaum, who would later write under the name "Ayn Rand" as a adult. She lived in a grand old house on a shady piece of property. From my window I could often see her playing in the yard with this little blond-haired boy. He had a beaming smile, sublime and bright under the sun. They were best friends, always conspiring and scheming, scratching at the dirt under the bush, dodging between the sheets hung out on the clothes line. The boy's name was John Galt, and some day Ayn would base a character on him.
But the real boy's life was cut short by a pointless accident involving a rotted porch railing. The railing had given way beneath John's weight as he leaned against it, and he had fallen and hit his head in a rather unfortunate way on a rock in the garden below. Young Alissa blamed her parents for neglecting to fix the railing. And she blamed everyone for not grasping the magnitude of the light that had gone out of her life. She became dark, sullen, brooding. Autumn swept the leaves from the shade trees and she spent long hours sitting alone on a plank swing that hung from a bare branch. I woke so many mornings to that slow, awful, creaking of the rope.
She kept a journal. She made up her mind. She would tell the world about John. She would tell them what she had lost, what the world had lost, when he died. She would keep him alive in some small way. She would find the words and the ideas, the principles and premises, that made him what he was. She would refashion him from the clay! But it never quite came off. She would never quite capture that spark, that essence, that boy smiling confidently against the railing in the August haze. She would never quite get it right.
I had discovered a glitch in the working of things. It all started with an accident. Someone slipped up. I had been lost in the forest. I came to the base of this large mountain that had a vast network of tunnels and caves hollowed out in the inside of it. One of these tunnels terminated in an opening several feet above the ground, high above where I was standing. As I stood there, staring up at the granite face of the mountain, I saw a man in a marching band uniform fall from the opening. He stood up, dusted the burrs and dried leaves of the forest floor from his sleeves, cast a wary glance back at me, and then he took off through the trees and he was gone.
I didn't think anything of the incident until I happened to stumble upon a parade the next day. There were floats and baton twirlers, and of course, a marching band. As the band passed, someone stepped on someone else's shoe or something, and one of the band members tripped and fell. I watched as he got back to his feet and dusted the dirt from the street from his sleeves. And then he spotted me looking at him. He shot me that same wary glance, and then he pushed the other band members out of the way and took off through the crowd before I could pursue him.
I returned to the mountain in the woods. In one of the tunnels, I found a stage that was set up to look like a restaurant in my neighborhood. I had stumbled across some sort of rehearsal space. I took up a hiding place and I watched as these two women had the same lunch over and over again, reading all the same lines, trying to get it right. Like the marching band member tripping and falling, it was an event that wouldn't happen until the next day. This was where they rehearsed life before it happened, making sure it all came off normal and natural.
After about their fifth or six run-through, I began to notice something. I saw that one of the women kept reproducing a twenty dollar bill from her wallet every time the bill came. There was no resetting of the props between each scene. It was a fresh bill every time. An idea came to me. I stood up and revealed my position. They were startled to see me, but I launched right in, asking about the money. I wanted to know where it all came from. Was a new twenty created from thin air every time? Had I found an unlimited source of funds? A loophole in the economics of existence?
Unfortunately, once we started piecing it all together, we discovered that these funds were being generated from tiny changes out in the world, changes that normally no one would notice, things no one would miss. But when we traced where the money that had paid for these lunches had come from, it all led back to this young bride-to-be. Her wedding dress, which she had dreamed of since childhood, had been traded for a cheaper one to pay for the meals. This would lead to a grave misunderstanding between her and her fiance', as the dress was the same one which an old girlfriend of his had worn for her wedding the previous spring. And this suspicion, in turn, would break the engagement and derail this poor bride's entire life.
We couldn't let that happen. I sat down to figure it all out. I took account of all of the different scenes being rehearsed in those caves. We had to juggle the money around from one scene to the other. We had to set things right and get this bride her dress back. It was a vast undertaking, pennies from one life, dimes from another, but at last I managed to do it. The world was back on course, and no one would miss a thing.
I have no training or qualifications, and I'm not an expert of anything. I'm just a chronically unpublished writer who is overly-fascinated with his own dreams and I spend way too much time thinking about pointless nonsense. I'm extremely lazy when it come to research. So, I would recommend taking everything I say and any story I tell with a grain of salt.