This is a great Sci-fi story in its own right. It was actually a precursor to one of my later novels – Pornographic Syndromes.
Back in 1970/71 I used to like playing with the idea of reality. This story plays with that. I enjoyed typing it up. It was better than I had imagined and didn’t take too much tidying up.
Messny walked along the road glimpsing the regions of construction out of the corner of his eye. But when he turned his head quickly in order to catch them unawares they were too quick for him. They quickly solidified everything into concrete form. It was puzzling. He could not work out how they did it.
He knew they were continuously watching him. They had surveillance built into the structures he passed. He even suspected that a lot of the people he passed were not really human. They were recording what he was up to.
His one task was to try to catch them out. It would prove to himself that he wasn’t insane.
It was on his mind most of the time but sometimes he forgot. He let himself go and relaxed. Then he remembered.
Messny wondered exactly when it had started happening? Had he been whisked off into this place or had he always been here? If he had been transported here – where was he? And what had happened to all the other people?
Messny thought that it had not always been like this. He could remember clearly waking up one morning with a feeling that everything was slightly different – nothing he could quite put his finger on. He had lain in bed looking round at the room. Everything looked the same but it was somehow wrong. There was some subliminal difference. It didn’t feel right. At the time he’d shrugged it off and carried on. But the feeling wouldn’t go away. Everything seemed too perfect; it was sterile; there was no life in anything. It felt weird. At the time he put it down to feeling under the weather but in fact he felt fine. It wasn’t that. He just sensed that something was horribly wrong. But maybe it had always been odd and he had just woken up to it?
That feeling had persisted, to a greater or lesser extent, right up until the present day. As Messny walked about he always felt the wrongness. Most of the time is was so slight that it was almost imperceptible, nagging at him, but sometimes it was so wrong that it jarred in his mind sending shocks through him. Things were so horribly wrong that he wanted to scream.
Messny took to examining things up close. The oldness of the brick and stone of the buildings looked artificial – the way that fakes look – as if someone has worked hard to make it look old and authentic but it doesn’t quite work. The trees waved mechanically in the wind, their naturalness was a rise-paper thickness away from being natural. Even the dirt and debris, the litter, the rust and the blistered paintwork was all a shade too precise.
But it was the people with whom he noticed it most. They were all so lifeless and mechanical. He sat on a bench in the park pretending to read a book so that he could study them more closely. He could not fault a single thing about their performance. There was never a slip. They did it perfectly – perhaps too perfectly. But it was the people who finally convinced him. For it was here that the wrongness was most manifest. It was the clincher for him. They showed him that it wasn’t all in his head – something was terribly wrong.
Friends, who had been close, seemed to be watery ciphers of what they used to be. They had the same physical attributes, the same personalities and yet there was a different quality to them. They had become two-dimensional. He no longer had any empathy with them; there was no communication or harmony, conversations, that previously would have developed, lapsed, as if they did not know which direction to take it next. Messny was disturbed by this more than anything else. He felt that his former friends were not only strangers but had become something more sinister than that. He took to avoiding them. In many ways he felt happier in the company of strangers. At least he knew where he stood with them. He had no need to try to strike up a friendship. He did not trust them either. He had decided they were all part of the same charade, but at least he did not have to feign some kind of relationship. They did not mock him or betray with their strangeness. He could simply keep the distance and not worry. Somehow that wasn’t so scary.
Right from the start he had this feeling that it was important that he kept his feelings hidden. It was crucial that nobody guessed that he was having these anxieties. If ‘they’ figured out that he had seen through the charade something nasty might happen. So he put on an act.
Janey was the most disturbing. He could not escape from her. When they were together, eating a meal, watching TV, sitting around reading or listening to music, he would be watching her. He watched her as she went about her daily routine. There was nothing about her that was inconsistent. Even when they made love she followed the same patterns. Yet all her mannerisms seemed stylised and rehearsed as if she was acting a role. She had the character to a tee. The acting was brilliant – yet nothing quite rhymed.
Messny analysed it in his head. He decided that there was an electricity missing. Not only did the world feel fabricated but the people felt like mannequins playing out a role. There was something lifeless about them.
Messny began to think that he was the only real thing in the entire world – the only part of this that wasn’t a fabrication. He began to realise that the whole environment – the people, buildings, park and city – had been constructed for his benefit.
That was a highly disturbing thought that started a whole slew of other thoughts cascading in his head. At first he had brushed them off. The whole idea of that was far too preposterous to be taken seriously. Yet he could not dismiss it so easily. His mind ticked away picking the thought to bits. He assessed what was going on around him and began to gather all the facts. No matter how he looked at it – it was the only thing that made sense. He had to trust his sixth sense and the evidence of his eyes. The sum total of all his observations led him to believe that it was true – he was alone in a completely manufactured setting.
He did not know why and to try to grapple with that sent his mind spinning.
That was the point where he developed the compulsion to break through this charade and shatter the carefully constructed illusion. Only then would he know for sure. He had to find out what was going on. He needed to prove that his feelings were correct and expose the ridiculousness of this massive drama. There had to be a reason behind it and he wanted to know what that was. It was impossible to go on living this false life. It was driving him mad. It was too frightening to live with. Who was behind it? What were their motives? Was there something diabolical? Who had the ability to construct a replica of his world in such detail? It was boggling and terrifying.
Messny could not imagine how anybody could even have started to do such a thing. Nobody had the technology. Nobody had the means. To create a single android of such complexity was beyond belief. There were thousands of them. To produce one with all the attributes of Janey, to perform at such a level, was unimaginable. Yet it did not make him doubt his sanity. If anything it made him more determined to find out who the architects were and what was behind it all.
After a period of time Messny came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be gained from simply observing. The construct was faultless. If he was going to get anywhere at all he had to deploy stealth and cunning. He had to fool them into thinking that he was OK with it and then catch them unawares in the unlikeliest of places.
That is what he set about doing. He spent hours gazing out of the corners of his eyes, no longer looking for the flaws but to detect the hazy regions where things might be going on. Those were the places he would need to head for. At the periphery there seemed to be what looked like a cloud, a dust storm. Those were the places where he surmised something was being constructed and pulled into shape. If he looked at it directly though there was no haziness. It seemed to gel. He suspected that those hazy areas were places where the illusion was being improved or maintained. Those were the places he needed to get to if he was going to get to the bottom of what was going on.
It didn’t quite stop him from looking for a flaw. He took to breaking things off and studying the microstructure in the hopes that something about the internal structure would give it away as being false. He was disappointed. Even the leaves on the trees seemed to have the correct cellular structure as far as he could tell without access to a microscope. Nothing was out of place. There were no obvious signs.
There were days when he began to waver. Without concrete evidence he was beginning to doubt himself. Perhaps this strangeness was emanating from him? Maybe it wasn’t all a fabrication and all of that was in his head? Perhaps he was suffering from some mental illness that was giving him delusions? It was the most obvious answer. He even decided that he ought to confide in someone and was on the verge of doing so on a number of occasions. But didn’t. Something made him stop. He knew he wasn’t demented and he could not trust anyone enough to divulge that kind of information. They were all part of the thing. There was nobody to trust. Yet what if this was some form of acute schizophrenia that was creating this paranoia? The fear was making him ill.
Finally, in a moment of doubt, he broached the subject with Janey. She reacted both stressed and relieved. He studied her face closely as the tears welled up and crawled down her cheeks. She seemed genuinely distressed. They cuddled and she clutched him to her and sobbed but part of him found himself detached and observing her in this apparent state of emotional turmoil. Something was not right. She felt wrong.
After she had pulled herself together they sat on the sofa. She held his hand between hers and gazed into his eyes imploringly.
Janey told him that she had been aware of him acting very strange. She had seen him looking at her strangely and been aware that his behaviour wasn’t normal. He had been looking shifty. She had thought that perhaps he was having an affair or was planning to leave her. So part of her was relieved. That wasn’t the case. But in a sense this was easier. He had to go to the doctor immediately and explain. She would go with him. He would know what to do. There were simple treatments. He had just been working too hard. All he needed was a course of medicine and he would be right as rain. They could take a long vacation and relax in the sun. He would soon be back to normal.
It was a good performance but he didn’t buy it.
He watched critically as one would a consummate actress on stage. It was sheer perfection. You had to admire it. But deep down inside it only served to confirm that this wasn’t his wife. He should never have told her.
The next day he would have no choice. He would have to go to the doctor’s with her. He lay awake all night feigning sleep and quietly watching the impostor who was playing his wife as she slept beside him. He suspected they monitored his every move. He now had to convince them that he was responding to treatment and thought about how he might achieve that. The last thing he wanted was to be given medication. He knew that would be the end. He had to find a way of appearing to take the stuff. All the time he lay there silently scheming Janey lay asleep.
In the doctor’s surgery they sat and waited. Janey had his hand clasped tightly as if she thought he might run out under the guise of expressing her concern. She reassured him that everything was going to work out fine.
He knew it wasn’t.
The doctor appeared to listen patiently, making the odd note on his computer. He examined him and reassured him that this was unlikely to be full-blown irreversible schizophrenia. It was probably stress. The brain was a delicate organ. It was easily knocked out of kilter. With the correct treatment he would be back to normal in no time. To be on the safe side he fixed up an appointment with a good psychiatrist, but he was sure that would not be necessary. He checked on his computer and sorted out a spot.
He smiled benignly, handing over a prescription and appointment card for the psychiatrist.
Messny noticed that the appointment was for the next day. He had paid particular attention to the doctor’s performance. The mannerisms were nothing short of immaculate. All of the speech patterns, professional demeanour and actions were perfect for the role.
They left the surgery with the doctor’s instructions ringing in his ears. He was to go home, take the medicine and relax. Under no circumstances was he to be left alone. They picked up the prescription. On the way home he knew that something would have to be done before that impending visit.
The one thing he knew he didn’t want to happen was to allow them to ‘adjust’ him. He had no wish to go through life thinking all this was normal.
Once in doors he pretended to take the medication, surreptitiously pocketing the pill, and suggested that it might be a good idea to take a nap. Janey thought that was a good idea.
As soon as he heard her pottering around in the kitchen cooking the dinner he slipped out of the house. He knew they would be on to him straight away so he had to move quick. His intention was to test the limits of the illusion and break out if he could. It was incredible to think that all this one one huge functioning model.
He had too many questions piling up in his head about how they had people it or what was it all in aid of. The real worry was that they might simply have created it in his head – that he might wake up to find himself in some laboratory.
It was too much. Wild speculation wasn’t going to get him anywhere.
The overriding thought was that this illusion was too elaborate to extend too far. They can’t have created a whole world and people it just for him. There were limits. They had to have created one specific area and worked to keep him within those limits.
He took the bus and headed for the small local airport. At the counter he watched the alarm on the face of the desk clerk. She was full of apologies. There was a strike. They were booked up for days. The strike had caused disruption.
It was what he had known would happen.
On the bus ride it had occurred to him that he might not be alone. He might be one of many scattered among this mass of androids. There could even be real people among the crowds on the pavements. He stared out of the window searching for a spark of life. In all the hundreds of faces he could not see one.
On the way back on the bus he sank into a depression. He had no real plan. The game was up.
Time was running out. They had to be on to him. He knew he was being monitored. How long before they pulled him in? It was only a question of when. He would be forcibly carried off for ‘adjustment’. The thought terrified him. Just in case they weren’t quite as clever as he thought they were he assumed the same zombie-like appearance as all the other passengers. There was no point in making it easy for them. Once off the bus he began ducking down alleys and scooting through department stores in a futile effort to shake off any pursuit. He knew it was pointless. There were eyes all around.
Rushing out of a store he found himself on the pavement. A man in a car was waiting for the lights to change. Without thinking he ran across, wrenched the door open and yanked the startled driver out of his seat. He jumped in, put his foot down and was screeching off. He raced away before anyone had time to collect their senses. For Messny it was as if everything around him held its breath. Nothing moved. Everything was frozen. All the faces turned to look as he roared past.
He had it in his mind what to do. It had been festering for a while now. There was one big patch of haziness that had caught his eye. He aimed to check it out. He just hoped that he could get there before they organised something to stop him. He put his foot straight to the floor and willed the car to go faster.
Ahead of him he could see the haze approaching like a dust storm, except as he neared it was more like a mist. Without pausing he rushed straight into it at full power.
Messny must have closed his eyes, bracing himself for some impact that never came. When he opened them he found the road and city had gone. In his rear mirror he could see the wall of haze and behind that make out the taller buildings. Ahead of him was a barren desolate plain that his car was bumping and careering over. He brought the car to a halt and stared at the alien landscape as it undulated into the distance like the wrinkled skin of a slumbering giant.
Looking up he could see large groups of beings seemingly suspended in the air on a platforms that hovered in the sky. Some of the nearest were gesticulating towards him. Others were manipulating huge machinery that was focussed on the region of haze. Some were peering through devices that resembled telescopes.
He watched as a small group detached itself from the platform to head down to intercept him but made no move to escape.
‘Sir, CVN 107834346 has just broken out. We are picking him up.’
‘Hmmm. He’s always been a worry. He has never settled. Has he caused much trouble?’
‘Gave the visitors a bit of a fright, that’s all.’
‘That the fifth specimen that has done that. We must be underestimating their intelligence or else we’re getting the simulation wrong.’
‘Perhaps we need to use some psychoactive control?’
‘Rather defeats the object of the exercise, don’t you think?’
‘What shall we do with him?’
‘Never mind. Dismantle the city. We’ll start work on the next project.’
‘We’ve researched this one a lot more carefully. I am determined to make a success of keeping these creatures. They are such big crowd pullers. Well worth the effort. I think they will make a name for this place.
‘We’ve got him, sir. What do you want doing with him?’
‘Oh, I don’t know – wipe him clean and send him back.’
‘You’ve got it.’
Messny woke up in the street outside his house feeling somewhat dazed. Something very strange had happened but he could not for the life of him think what. He leaned against the wall feeling quite weak and dizzy. A stranger stopped to enquire if he was alright. He nodded and pulled himself together. Yes, everything was alright.
My books are available on Amazon in paperback and digital formats. They are world-wide!
In the UK you might like to browse through on my link below: For overseas visitors please refer to your local Amazon. You’ll find me there.
In the USA:
In the USA – https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=opher+goodwin
Here’s a few selected titles:
- The Blues Muse – the story of Rock music through the eyes of the man with no name who was there through it all.
2. In Search of Captain Beefheart – The story of one man’s search for the best music from the fifties through to now.
1. Ebola in the Garden of Eden – a tale of overpopulation, government intrigue and a disaster that almost wipes out mankind, warmed by the humanity of children.
2. Green – A story set in the future where pollution is destroying the planet and factions of the Green Party have different solutions – a girl is born with no nervous system.
Kindle & Paperback versions:
1. Anthropocene Apocalypse – a detailed memoir of the destruction taking place all over the globe with views on how to deal with it.
- A passion for Education – A Headteacher’s story – The inside story of how to teach our children properly.
There are many more – why not give them a go! You’ll love them!