“We can get out of here, you know. They’re never going to let us go, but I don’t think they can stop us either, if we’re determined.”
About four months earlier, I was backpacking through a spectacular landscape. I was in a range of rust-red mountains, unimaginably tall and steep. Several thousand feet below, a featureless, desert landscape, bright ochre-yellow, stretched to a far-distant horizon, where it met an indigo sky. As I came through a pass and descended toward the plain, a flock of winged zombies, in the form of young men, swooped down upon me from the north. They carried me away to a dreary, urban university campus that reminded me of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, though I am not sure I’ve ever actually been on that campus. They dropped me off amongst teeming crowds of students, and there I was to remain.
The students looked despondent, listless. They shuffled about, wandering mechanically from class to class. The weather was always overcast and cool; it was always 7:30 AM. I made my way from building to building, trying to figure out my schedule, looking for classrooms, hustling for books, wondering what my major was.
I think I was in my second semester of endless, pointless college when I came across a familiar face in the Student Union. It was my friend Anna, who was about 14 the last time I saw her before my backpacking trip, but who now was about 20. She looked utterly hollow and wan, a picture of deep despair.
“Anna! Anna, it’s me, Glen!”
She gazed at me, expressionless, and moved away.
I saw her again from time to time. I watched her, and the other students, closely. I examined the ennui settling over my own soul, and I tried to figure out: “Who is doing this to us? How do they keep us here? Why do we stay? Where could we go?”
I began to suspect there were no physical constraints upon us, only spiritual. I studied the traffic that passed through campus and wondered if there was a chance for escape. I saw Anna again.
“We can get out of here, you know. I don’t think they can stop us if we’re determined. You have a car, don’t you?”
She stared at me, looked away, nodded and began to weep. I took her hand and we headed down the street, found her junker car and got in.
“Now let’s try this. Drive us to your apartment, but don’t stop; just keep going.”
We drove across town and turned into her block: a narrow one-way street, both sides densely lined with parked cars. We came opposite the row house where she was renting a room. It was a place of palpable gloom and misery. I felt a powerful, sinister something pulling her toward the building.
“Just keep going. We can do this.”
The car still rolling, she opened her door and tumbled out. I lunged for her. If she left the car, if she ever entered that place again, she was lost forever. I pulled her back in, pulled the door shut, locked it. She struggled violently. I wrestled her over to the passenger side, and took the wheel. Something was already emerging from the row house, coming for her — for us. I hit the gas.
The car was sluggish and slow to respond. As we picked up speed, I sideswiped a parked car, careened across the street and hit another. Something was chasing us and it was gaining. I couldn’t afford to lose any momentum at all, so when the road tee’d into a cross street, I took the corner at speed, smacking a few more cars. We accelerated slowly, dodging traffic and people, hitting stuff left and right. Anna was slumped against the passenger door.
We flung around onto a wider highway with less traffic. I pointed that trashy little car straight down the pavement and held the pedal tight to the floorboard. Finally the car began to respond. The dread faded as the car rocketed along. As we reached the outskirts of town, I new we were going to make it, and leave that awful horror behind. And then the car lifted off the ground and slowly climbed through the mist.
At a couple hundred feet off the ground, sunlight — pure, sweet, fresh sunlight — broke through the drizzle. The light was yellow, and ochre, and red. I saw a scrap of deep blue sky. I looked over at Anna. Her eyes remained sad and burdened, but at the corners of her tiny mouth, a smile appeared.
I awoke panting, and gasped “Wow!… wow.”