“What big brains you have,” they kept announcing over the loudspeakers. It was some twisted inside joke that seemed to portend continued struggles — to say the least — ahead.
We shuffled obediently along the queues to the kiosks at the front of the airplane hangar. There was a giant sphere-shaped structure or craft (something awesome and probably awful!) through the doors beyond the kiosks. We called it The Mystery, since no one knew what was inside.
Dissent had been crushed within days. Their microscopic fly-drones were everywhere. Three strikes and you were out! Lucky for me I was still on deck, but the streets were littered with the live free or die, and everyone with a strike or two had NAUGHTY BOY/GIRL tattoos carved into their faces. All it took was the slightest quiver of resistance and the drones would buzz over to brand and cull the herd. On the bright side, you could say whatever the fuck you wanted.
“These cocksuckers will pay for this,” one of my neighbors in line declared with a smile. “Just wait.”
Was this guy for real? There was clearly no hope beyond potential survival, beyond whatever lurked in The Mystery.
When I finally got to a kiosk, the screen instructed me to attach the two electrodes on the counter to my temples and then select either the word “good” or “bad” as horrifying, titillating, and even beautifully profound images flashed across the screen. It was some kind of Rorschach test that was generating content from my subliminal mind! Amazing shit! I learned more about myself in the three minutes of the quiz than I had in the last ten years of my hum drum wasteful life.
“DON’T TRY TO FOOL THE MYSTERY, IT WILL KNOW,” flashed across the screen a few times, when I guess I was trying to game the process by projecting a better self.
The quiz wound down with a music video with me as the front man singing a song I never wrote but that was clearly mine. I could have listened to it all day, but then the screen instructed me to take off the electrodes and walk through the doors into The Mystery.
Once you got past the kiosks, it was one person at a time, just me and myself walking down the yellow brick road, I mean literal yellow bricks (fucking comedians!), down the final stretch, opening the double doors, and stepping through some sort of electromagnetic embryonic sheath into The Mystery, and just as I was stepping in, with half of my body still in the known, and the other half already in the sphere, I heard someone shout “Take this you assholes!” It was the smiling idiot from the line. And then there was an explosion. I could only imagine the carnage he caused — the rest of me had slipped away before the shower of shrapnel could reach me.
It was kind of a weird moment, inside the sphere. I could sense The Mystery reacting to the explosion, laughing at it, a bit like we humans would laugh at a funny part in a movie, without fear, just amused, no pity at all. But who was I to judge? We are so fucking different from one another, I projected toward its all knowingness.
I was in a space without light or darkness, neither empty nor full, except with intimacy and awareness. A cloud of shimmering mist, what I imagined as fairy dust, gathered around my body and then swirled all over and I think into me. I could feel a tingling on the surface of my brain, not painful, for the most part. Whatever this was seemed to heighten my connection to The Mystery.
“Do you have a name?” I asked it.
The Mystery found that hilarious, just as it did almost everything. “Would you like a cigarette?” it responded.
But before I could answer, before I could say yes, a cigarette would be very nice, The Mystery revealed that its offer had been just another joke. Get it?
I wasn’t sure what to think or say. I tried smiling stupidly to convey my abject subservience.
How could you have a cigarette without lips or lungs? Get it? How to enjoy a final smoke when your body was already processed, already synthesized, already gone? Get it now?
And I too was laughing then, both of us, all of us, as one, laughing.
LOUIS WENZLOW’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cease Cows, Cleaver, Eclectica, Fjords, The Forge Literary Magazine, Jellyfish Review, The Molotov Cocktail, and other places. He grew up in suburban Chicagoland and now lives with his wife and daughter in Baraboo, Wisconsin.