Quin, suffering from total amnesia, slowly discovers himself possessed of inexplicable abilities as his world expands...

Quin's Abduction

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THE SEQUEL:
QUIN'S EVOLUTION

Part III - Change of Diet

I HAD ALREADY MADE UP MY MIND what to do when the eye finally appeared, as Trudie had assured me it would. I wasn’t going to give it the satisfaction of acting all scared or awestruck. And so, when it did appear that bittersweet ‘night’ after Trudie’s passing, I folded my arms and stared straight back at it.


I must have stood there for an hour or two, glaring up at the monstrous blue iris, filled with the resolve to outstare it. But it just remained there, unblinking, seemingly totally unperturbed by my attitude. A couple of times, it seemed to emit a low pulse which caused the cage to vibrate softly. As I began to tire and feel my determination waning, I remembered what Trudie had said about time moving at different speeds for Them. Could it then be possible, I reasoned, that the eye had experienced my hours of trying to out-stare it as relatively nothing more than a glance, a fleeting moment? It certainly seemed likely, given their long absences from the cage and the lengthy period of darkness outside that had lasted for the first nearly-hundred sleeps I had been here.


With a sigh and a curse, I dropped my gaze. I was never going to win this particular battle of wills. I probably lacked even the stamina to stare at the eye long enough for it to realise I was staring at it with any sort of challenging attitude – assuming of course that the entity the eye belonged to was capable of gauging such things. It was when I finally gave up that I noticed a shimmering, watery bubble about the size of a double fist hovering over Trudie’s inert form.


I froze, remembering my ancient companion’s tale of the young man who had gone crazy, shouting and throwing things, and had been gassed to death as a result. My several hours of singing my heart out flashed through my mind, and I wondered if They knew the difference between singing and raging. Indeed, I wondered if, at one or two points during my performance, I myself had been aware of the difference. A cold dread gripped my stomach and I remained rooted to the spot.


Would the bubble even understand what had happened to Trudie?


Slowly, languidly, the bubble seemed to waft over the old woman’s body from head to toe. Then it drifted up level with my face and seemed to settle there. I got the curious impression that it was considering something.


‘Well, go on then,’ I breathed at it. ‘Get on with it, you bastards. You’ve already wiped out whoever I was in the real world. Finish the job, why don’t you! I have no intention of spending the next hundred years in this dump.’


The bubble just remained motionlessly in place, as if waiting for something. It followed me as I moved around the cage, always hovering a foot or two away from my head and just generally driving me nuts. Presently, when the silence and despair had started to weigh heavily on me once again, punctuated occasionally by one of those strange, percussive noises from beyond the cage, I began to sing again. I sat on the bed in my room and sang several songs from a band I knew to be called The Stone Roses, without knowing how I knew.


To my surprise, about halfway through my rendition of She Bangs The Drums, the bubble in front of my face seemed to contract slightly, then it popped without warning, leaving me alone once more.


It seemed that They had decided against gassing me, despite all the noise I was making and the fact that Trudie had died so soon after my arrival.


The next time I went to visit Trudie’s body it had gone, though her shawls and embroidered cushions remained in their place. Singing all the while, I half-buried one of the dozing chairs she had favoured into the shallow earth of the nature room, scratching her name into the wooden frame of the back rest, all the while the ever-present eye still staring down at me. Once only, when I looked up to see if it was still there, I saw it blink slowly.


The sleeps began to roll by again, this time with myself as the sole master of the cage. I tolerated as little silence as possible; singing almost constantly, exploring the limits of my lyrical repertoire, which was vast indeed. How and why did I know so many songs? Why was I now able to remember hundreds of tunes, verses and choruses but still not one single salient memory of my former life? No answer was forthcoming.


Whenever I tired of singing for a time, I would pick up the shabby old guitar in the leisure room and painstakingly began to experiment with it, tuning it first of all in all sorts of weird and wonderful keys, many of which made me cringe. Progress was incredibly slow, but time was not exactly something I lacked. In time, I began to find keys and chords which seemed to complement my voice, and I took to carrying the old guitar with me all around the cage as I sang.


Cooking for myself during this time came far less naturally than singing or even learning to play the guitar. I was hopeless at it. I had no sense of the appropriate timing, temperatures, or manner of cooking, and the less said about my attempts to season food, the better. I quickly began to long for Trudie’s cuisine, though all my attempts to emulate it invariably ended in disaster. More and more often, I took to eating whatever came down the chute raw.


One day, maybe thirty sleeps after Trudie’s passing, the food chute started inexplicably to deliver hamburgers and French fries wrapped in little polystyrene boxes instead of the usual mix of fruit, vegetables, and vacuum-packed chunks of meat.


As with everything I encountered (except the strange white sphere, of course), I instantly recognised the fast food for what it was and was both surprised and pleased by my change of diet. I took to it quickly and enthusiastically at first, often getting straight back onto the exercise machines for extra helpings – something which I had never done before. Within just a handful of sleeps, I was also receiving pizzas, doner kebabs, chocolate bars, crisps and cans of cola and a variety of other fizzy drinks. A faint voice from somewhere deep within me expressed its doubts about my suddenly eating so much processed food, but I barely heeded it amidst all the convenience of no longer having to struggle to cook things. Plus, I was loving all the sugar and the tasty snacks. What else was there to live for in this place? I asked myself pointedly.


Time passed. I sang and plucked on the old guitar incessantly, warding off those terrible demons of silence and truth with my own personal sounds, the audio signature statements of my very existence. Silence was like death to me; no memories of a life beyond this cage did my mind’s eye reflect, no emotions dredged up by experiences of love or loss, guilt or pleasure, fear, pain, desire, hate, envy or happiness. I knew the names of these emotions, but felt disassociated from them, as though they were the words to a song I had never learned the tune for. The only time I seemed able to connect to any real, personal emotional experiences – aside from the passing of Trudie - was through singing, living the words of all those songs in my mind as if I had lived them myself, written them personally.


I exercised so much that I often had to throw a lot of food away down the disposal chute located underneath the water tank because there wasn’t enough room to store it all. The older, unprocessed food quickly spoiled and likewise had to be thrown away. The burgers and pizzas didn’t spoil so quickly, though they did grow stale.


When I was asleep, it seemed that the only dream I was able to muster was that earliest, recurring memory of falling upwards through the bare trees towards a bright light on a foggy, freezing winter night. This was always followed by my looking in a mirror, all bandaged up, and seeing nothing but emptiness whenever I pulled those bandages aside. One night, as my dreams were putting me through this ritual for the umpteenth time, a thin trickle of sickly green slime oozed out from the bandages and spattered onto the floor. Another night, the empty space behind my bandages was infested with maggots.


After having been ever-present for several dozen sleeps, the eye went away again, and with it the periodical low clicks that seemed to accompany it. I surmised that Trudie must have been right when she said that the clicks were some sort of language spoken by Them. However, I found myself thinking that perhaps it went a little deeper than that. I was aware that all sound was vibration, that when I tried to sing in my lowest voice, I could almost hear the pulse-like vibrations coming from my throat. Were I able to slow time down, or record my voice and play it at half speed, the effect would surely be even more pronounced and pulse-like. Could this also be the case with the ineffable beings that held me captive? I wondered. If time indeed moves more slowly for Them, and the tens of days I had just witnessed one of Them staring down at me had perhaps been experienced as no more than an hour or two, then could perhaps the low pulses They seemed to emit actually be words, smeared out over vast stretches of time?


As soon as I had thought this, I had dashed to the leisure room and rummaged through all of the chests looking for some sort of recording device, but I hadn’t found anything I could use. Rather infuriatingly, there was an old cassette player and a couple of blank tapes, but no socket to plug the cassette player into, and no batteries for activating its portability function.


As the sleeps rolled by, I started to develop rashes on various parts of my body. They itched like mad, and I often couldn’t stop scratching until my skin was raw and bleeding in several places. I became constipated and had to change the usual set of clothes I wore for larger ones; I was piling on the weight. In spite of my regular and diligent exercise regime, my energy levels started to noticeably decline and my muscles and joints ached constantly. Much as I enjoyed eating burgers and pizzas, chips and chocolate bars, my body was protesting in a number of ways. Whenever I put my soiled clothes into the Horseshoe, a semicircular pipe in the bathroom that sucked in dirty clothes at one end, ruminated them for a few seconds, then spat them out the other end clean and sweet-smelling, I could not fail to notice the rank, acrid aroma that had seeped into them from the sweat of my body that had not been there before.


Growing concerned in spite of my indifference to life here in the cage, I went back to the kitchen and exercise room and spent an hour cycling and rowing, half expecting raw, unprocessed food to start coming down the chute again like it used to, simply because I now wished it to. Instead, I was rewarded with a humongous doner kebab made of unidentifiable, reconstituted meat of uniform consistency, swimming in grease, along with a large bag of hollow French fries, a generous sachet of mayonnaise, a few limp strips of lettuce, and a can of coke.


I bit into the doner with a sigh, noticeably less enthusiastic than I had been at first, and after I had finished I looked up to the rusty expanse of swirling shadows beyond my cage and shouted, ‘Okay – less of the junk, please!’


The heavens gave me no sign that they had heard or understood.


The following morning, I was treated to microwaveable pancakes and a large tub of cloyingly sweet, brown syrup. For lunch, I got a deep-pan Quattro Fromaggio pizza with cheese-stuffed crust, thickly decked with slabs of pepperoni, and a box of turkey twizzlers, all washed down with a litre and a half of cream soda. For dinner I received, after an hour’s laboured and wheezy exercise, a triple-decker steak burger with extra bacon, blue cheese and garlic sauce, several slices of steamed white bread, a tub of peanut butter and half a dozen donuts glazed in caramel and icing sugar.


‘What the frack are you bastards trying to do to me?’ I yelled at the sky, banging my fist against the chute in frustration.


A can of Red Bull rolled out in response.


In the following days, I began to really struggle for breath while cycling or rowing, and I needed to rest often. On the rare occasions that I managed to overcome my constipation, there were trails of slimy blood accompanying my small, hard shits. I began to experience frequent, violent stomach cramps and often vomited after eating.


Now convinced that my freefalling health was directly attributable to my change of diet, I stopped eating altogether, instead lying in bed for much of the day with a flask of water, humming weakly or strumming my guitar when I could muster the energy and enthusiasm. When I could not, I debated to myself out loud about why any of this really mattered, why I even cared that They had seemingly arbitrarily decided to start killing me slowly with toxic junk food.


‘What does it mean to die, anyway?’ I asked myself.


My mind told me, quite matter of factly, that it meant nothingness.


My mind told me.


My mind. Told me.


I realised what I was thinking before I could say it out loud. If my mind is telling me, I thought weakly into the silent, sterile air of my room...then I am not my mind.


So if I am not my mind, who am I?


Of course, you are your mind, my mind asserted against this logic. You are talking – and thinking – to yourself alone.


‘Ah, but for there to be a talker – and a listener – there has to be two distinct entities, no? Otherwise, it’s like...it’s like clapping with only one hand! There is no song if there are no ears to hear it. No music without appreciation,’ I debated weakly into the empty air.


Your ears. Your appreciation, came the reply from my mind, speaking again as though it were separate from me.


Now that I was only drinking water, I grew steadily weaker and more delirious as the time dragged by. Soon enough, I no longer had the energy or the will to stave off the ever-encroaching silence with my noise.


‘All right,’ I croaked at last. ‘Bring it on. Come on nothingness...do your worst...’


And I finally surrendered to the silence.

 

I have no idea how long I lay there, sipping water sparingly and drinking deeply from the profound silence all around me. I drifted in and out of consciousness; sometimes I woke up feverish and drenched in rank-smelling sweat. I was so intent on listening to the silence I completely forgot who, or where, I was.


NOTHINGNESS CANNOT BE EXPERIENCED, I actually heard the silence speaking to me – silently.


NOTHINGNESS IS NO EXPERIENCE. IT IS NOT LIKE BEING LOCKED IN A DARK BOX FOREVER. BE IT ONE SECOND OR BE IT A BILLION YEARS IN LENGTH, YOU WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE NOTHINGNESS.


I already have, I protested feebly, silently. Nothingness is who I was, before I arrived in this bloody cage. It is who I will be again, when I die.


YOU CANNOT BE NOTHINGNESS. EVER. NOTHINGNESS. HAS. NO. IDENTITY. YOU WILL NEVER BE...IT. YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN...IT.


Before the cage..., I began.


WAS THAT YOU, QUIN? NO, IT WAS NOTHING. YOU WERE BORN OUT OF IT. YOU NEVER WERE IT.


I have no knowledge of any experiences before this cage. I may as well have been nothing. It amounts to the same thing...


IF THAT IS SO, THEN YOU CAN BE SURE OF ONLY ONE THING.


What is that?


YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED THAT QUIN CAME OUT OF NO-THING. IT IS THEREFORE A CERTAIN TRUTH THAT SOME-THING – QUIN - CAN COME OUT OF NO-THING.


Perhaps...but only once, surely?


SURELY, YOU SAY? HOW MANY SLEEPS HAVE YOU BEEN IN THIS CAGE, QUIN?


I think...maybe...two hundred...and fifty...?


AND DID YOU EXPERIENCE BEING QUIN EVERY MOMENT THAT YOU SLEPT? FOR EACH OF YOUR TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY PERIODS OF SLEEP?


No...of course not...


THEN YOU CAN BE CERTAIN THAT SOME-THING –YOU, QUIN - HAS COME FROM NO-THING AT LEAST TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY TIMES. YOU HAVE EVERY EXPERIENCE OF THIS, AND NO EXPERIENCE OF NOT EMERGING FROM NO-THING.


My consciousness touched for the merest instant upon the most delicious sensation of mirth, amusement...and limitless, unending love.


It snuffed me out like a candle.


 

I awoke, suddenly and terrifyingly aware that I was naked and splayed upon some kind of table. Not one, but five gigantic eyes filled my field of vision; one of them, I was sure, was the sky-blue eye that had watched me before. I was struck by a wave of some emotion that might have been a species of tender concern. Then the eyes blinked into darkness and the table underneath me started to vibrate at a high-pitched whine that seemed to come from all around.


My entire body burst into flames, and I screamed until the nothingness claimed me again.


There was that low clicking – Their language – again. Only now it seemed to speed up, and up, and up...until it was no longer merely pulses, but a liquid, musical speech that I could almost – but not quite – understand.


One of Them – one of the other eyes – was explaining something, and it was related to a concept of {nourishment}.


Another seemed to hint at {healing} and {success}.


Yet another seemed to be referring to me as {different}, but sentiments were received with {skepticism}.


The final inference of meaning I received was to do with {payment}.


 

I awoke once again to find myself in a narrow, transparent tube. As my sight and my head cleared, I found myself marvelling at the sense of well-being that coursed through my entire body. I felt amazing, like I could run forever. The thought was cut short as I realised that not more than one metre away from me, in a similar small tube lit against the darkness, was another human!


I saw him at the same time that he saw me. Long greying hair and a thick black beard. His eyes widened, he banged furiously on the inside of the tube and shouted at me.


‘Iparkoun eleftheri anthropi!’ the man yelled at me urgently, over and over again. Then some unseen force seemed to take hold of him and he rose quickly up the tube and out of sight.


Iparkoun eleftheri anthropi. Without quite knowing how, and to my great surprise, I realised I understood and recognised the language; it was Greek. It meant there are free people.

 


END OF PART III.


Click here for PART IV, The Humans Have Their Picnic