A sliding mechanical door opens before me. The metal that constitutes the door would have me think it heavy, that its size and broadness would mean that it would yield slowly yet it was quick to snap open at my request. But I did not request it, I cannot recall it well enough exactly.
Beyond the opening was a long stretch of a seemingly singular bulkhead, with a narrow strip of metal tiling. A series of overhanging lights illuminates the passage. The column of lighting seems to venture forth forever, beyond my horizon, with the lights focusing conically, expressly, on the ground below it without much flare outwards. The sides, if there are any, remains in a shroud of darkness.
My right foot peers into the new-found land, peeking over, under, the metal door and I follow it closely with my left. The metal door snaps together promptly and gates my return to the land before. Without resignation, I continue my pattern of right and left and make my way down the corridor. The path before me is a constant, unending series of lights and tile and tile and lights. I move among these constants like the small drip of a faucet. One small change, a thing of no note, one small change.
Eventually the sink swells, and I come to a structure at the end of the corridor. It is a tubular expression of glass, what seems like glass, without the accompanying graduations of tics to signify measurement. It is tall, taller than me, and it is broad, broader than me. Its verticality is met by metal fastenings that feeds into a larger foundational maw that swallows the transparent tube at both ends, at the floor and the ceiling. At its base is a computer of sorts, a calculation machine sure. It has a dozen dozens of buttons and small levers and keys meant for impression. It has several readouts, visual displays, and monitors to project inputs and outputs. I do not know how to read them, but I know that they are meant for reading.
Below the neon baroque façade of the instruments is a conjunction of tubing and wiring and processing that is all indeterminable to me from my position outside of the mainframe, but all other experiences of mine make me believe that such a thing exists underneath. Why wouldn’t it? All things before conforming to such standards. Besides, a part of this projection must be true given that several strains of fiber optics emanating from the bottom foundation, seemingly from the outward facing computer, wind themselves upwards before attaching themselves to a brain.
A brain? A new casing of cranium, one that is less marrow than metal. It is floating in a blue-green solution in indefinite suspension. The fiber optics tether themselves to the brain all over, in no apparent pattern except to cover it liberally if not judiciously. I wonder if the wires keep the brain in place, prevents it from floating about aimlessly within the vat.
I bring my hand to the glass and run my fingers along its cool exterior. I feel a sensation in the back of my head. It makes its way down my neck, breaching the bastion my shoulder blades, and continues down my spine. I do not shudder from this feeling. It is a warm glow that pervades from my core outwards, my hairs stiffen correspondingly, the touch of a mother, or a lover, or hot fire that is cooling exquisitely by distance. I release my hand from the glass and the sensation fades away.
I stand here before it. It stands above me a bodiless archon, as a guardian carving of marble carrying a long spear and shield would if I am venturing into some cave of antiquity, vacillating between benignity and malevolence that hides itself behind a veil. In my periphery the brain appears to pulsate. I center my head quickly to catch it in the act, but it is quicker. This bothers me, the eyes of a painting that seems to follow you no matter where you are in the room. I do not like this Mona Lisa, this Michelangelo.
Through the translucence of the vat I see a door on the opposite side of the brain from me. I look at the brain again. I focus on its minute lines and divots. I feel that is it more familiar to me than the machinery that lies below it, but on a second lap I feel that this is simply a notion I put upon myself to assuage my worries, or doubts, or incomprehension. I am a brain, it is within me, I have never seen it, but I know it to be true. It is what my memories are telling me. Yet both calculation machines are incomprehensible upon further inspection. The machine has easily recognizable input instruments, although they lose me in translation. I cannot say the same for the brain.
I circle around the vat and make my way to the door on the other side. It is unlike the door before; this one is in the fashion of thin wooden slats standing vertically in a makeshift and uneven pattern. It has an iron latch that keeps the door in check. It is amusing, for I feel that a strong kick would be able to knock down the whole rickety structure. However, I diligently unhinge the thin jointure and open the door.
I walk through and turn around to close the door behind me. I feel a shift as soon as I turn back again to face my original direction, an unevenness bridles my body. I find a satchel straddling my shoulder when I look across then down. There is an object within the confines of its leather. I loosen the buckles and slid my right hand through the opening.
My hand gropes the item, or using my hand I grope, within the satchel. The sentiments collide as I run my fingers over the thing before fully palming it with my hand. I want to get a feel for it before I set my eyes to it, I think it will give me a better understanding of the thing that lies within. It is flat on all sides, on all its many sides. It is smooth with a coldness that tinges my skin like the chromatic handles of a shower in the still dim hours of a winter morning. It feels like the glass of the brain vat of the room whence I came. The previous glow permeates throughout me no more, however.
The extraction is a success. I hold the thing before me, the now cube. It remains cold in my hands as before, fully resting in my cupping palm. I previously thought that it would be metal, atleast metal in appearance, given its rather unwelcoming touch. However, the cube has a crystalline prism look of sorts, one that magical properties imbue in of those creaseless long-edges of reflective mineral quartz. My fiddling and fingering don’t besmirch its pristine gleam.
The cube refracts in the light. It shimmers every which way, an oasis in the desert, as I turn it over repetitiously as a part of my inspection. With each flick of my wrist it sheens differently: a translucent refraction, a rainbow silver lustering, holographic tin foil waltzing underneath the fluorescent light, an empiricist reflection. I see my face. The fluorescent light?
An overhanging serialization of glass and metal illuminates the previous room, corridor, yet I find the same intensity of light emanating from a different source in this room. I turn my gaze away from the cube and up towards the source of the light, the weight of the satchel distracting me from noticing these pairs of light that flank me on both sides during my entrance into this room. They are torches. A metal fastening anchors each of them into the wall, and earth and rock comprise the constitution of these walls. Yet these torches do not burn like normal fires. The light that the torches sling forth does not come in waves whipping back and forth like a flame dancing in the wind, an aspect I pair in my mind with a sight given my memory of such things, instead it blazes with a goosestep uniformity that marches over matter evenly in every directions, spreading its enlightenment unto all things, an incandescent Edison…
The walls are rough and uneven unlike the smooth and taut metal bulkhead of the other room, yet like the other room these walls form a similar corridor, a cavern, that seeks to venture just as far down the horizon, torches adorning the walls as periodically as the lights of the last room, does. In the narrow confines of this cave I place the cube back into the satchel and walk along the only path.
It takes me the same immeasurable, insensible amount of time to travel this path as the other. I am beginning to believe that this corridor is of no difference to the last, except with the addition of a new coat of paint. Perhaps it feels different to the touch? The thought lingers within me, but it does not impress itself upon me from the inside with great enough force for me to acquiesce to its demands. It does not move me. I keep walking.
The corridor gives way to an atrium. A new obelisk stands erect before me. It lacks the breadth and depth of the vat, yet it retains the same imposing figure. I see it before me clearly at waist height, I know of its shape, but the finer details of ornateness and color waver from the distance. I walk closer. It remains true to its surroundings; the stalagmite column appears mineral in composition and austere and nude in comparison to its terranean Grecian cousins.
Something lies on top of the extension, that salt drip that continually pulls the ground upwards, another cube of similar stature as the one that snugs itself between leather bindings that I shoulder. Yet this one has no shine to its name. It does not staunchly defy the light, pressing it back upon the source at all angles. This cube would languish under the same lamp, unable to shrug off the beaming and unrelenting oppression, its inability originating from a lack of wherewithal or more poignantly, apathy.
Corrosion and degradation afflict the cube without pause. Time and place are unkind to it, and the cube parlays that same spite on to me as I attempt to place it within the context of my cognition. It is unpleasant to look at. Pattern warps weirdly around it, as the crystal in my possession bends light in many manners around its own matter. It is a mud earth configuration like the pedestal and cavern around it, no, it is a wooden fixture, no, it is exclusively a basalt, sandstone, granite arrangement…
The more the cube remains in place the more it moves in my mind, darting hither and thither to disparate locations, leaving a trail of yarn in its wake, forming a new constellation, extending understanding to me. It does not stop moving, however, and the set of stars that I believe I recognize withers underneath a new sign. The cube does this and does this, and it does not stop. I race towards the column and place my hand on the cube to stop its shifting. The waves break against the dike.
It is warm. My hand rests on top of the cube, fully in palm and I feel the heat radiating from underneath. The same warmth as with the vat swells upon, within, and without me. I wrap my fingers around what edges that I can and lift it up. Its warm glow betrays its very own ugliness, or, its hideousness betrays the kindness of its touch. No longer does the cube stir sporadically. It does not call to me; I desire it nonetheless.
I reach into the satchel and procure the crystalline cube from its leather latching. It continues to sparkle brilliantly in the light, it continues to cool my hand as I raise it for another inspection. I am now holding both cubes. I close my eyes to purify the impression that each has upon me, they are both sharp and shoot true, yet they are firing into opposite directions. The compulsion arises within me to replace the dilapidated block with the light-renderer on the former’s own hearth. I have enough room in my bag for both, but I feel that I do not need my glossy inheritance. I do not know if it is even mine to begin with, although I carry it long enough for common law. Regardless, I dispossess myself of the old cube, I place it on the pedestal.
I linger there before the pedestal for a bit, waiting for something to happen, thinking that something must happen in these kinds of situations. I feel it true through my body and bones and blood. Crescendo does not show itself to me. The benign malevolence, the malevolent benignity, of the archon vat dissipates from the previous room and begins to take form in a less corporeal body in this one, as I feel that whole jagged cavern is singular and steep as it peers down on me. Where there is no sensation the mind manifests the facsimile of sensory experience in its place. There is a void and the brain occupies it with its own machinations. There is no is, so it must be ought.
As it happens, as it always seemingly does, I notice that beyond the pillar waits for me an escape hatch from this chamber. I walk around the granite towards this new gorge, a door not quite like the one before. This one is infinitely more palatable to my recollection. It is a six paneled piece, in the style of those that I always find waiting in my house for me. At all times I believe I see the vague resemblance of a man trapped within the confines of the door, with the four long pieces as appendages attached to no torso. Yet that leaves the two smaller square blocks as heads. The sight of a two-headed man is a strange one indeed, for the sight of such does not reside within me. Ruminate longer within the same place, the heads reconfigure themselves into a spilt face. A two-faced man is not such a strange sight, not simply in comparison but in totality’s height. Perhaps it is not a man, maybe it divine? Perhaps it something more. But how could man imbue and yield more out of just a door?
I feel silly. I turn the handle and step through the door and close it softly behind me. I see the same style of the door in the setting of this new corridor, like the hallway of any given midwestern house. The tapestry of the walls is quaint in their patterns and fall pleasantly on my eyes. The carpet compresses gently against my footsteps. While there are no items of décor encumbering an inch of the path, there are several paintings of nondescript settings that are hanging silently in a well-worn and similar cadence. It is all familiar and I revel in the familiarity.
There is no horizon, only a door that lies about 25 paces ahead of me, in full equidistance and symmetry on all sides with the other door behind me as the parallel walls are to themselves. I place myself in those paces and perform locomotion along those dual rails. It is very nearly the same door, or a doppelganger that closes in on me, blocking the path out of this alleyway. I do not look at it correspondingly as I do the last one, as the original. Emotion and thought do not swell upon its visage in a commensurate way. I turn the handle and step through the door and close it softly behind me
Before me is a man, and before him a table, and on top of that table is a long and wide encompassing cloth of fantastic and gilded brocade. A top hat adorns the widow’s peak of the man and beneath the sun shielding waxes his eyes darkly. A thin mustache partitions itself along his cupid’s bow and cuts sharply at his commissures. He attires himself entirely in familiar clothing, taut against his skin and taut against my memory. The man is a magician. His bowtie black against his white collar and his pocket square white against his black lapel.
The magician is shuffling cards in his hands, but he is doing so at distances and trajectories that I consider a physical impossibility for such a feat. His arms are at full extension in wingspan, then they contract closer within the orbit of the whole of his bodily mass while his left hand seizes upwards and his right hand descends parallel in inverse measure, then each swap elevations, then swap back again, all the while sliding the cards between the two suspensions at a lightning quick pace. None of the gears in this machine show any sign of slack, all of them moving about in one singular gesticulation that renews itself upon completion.
Yet I feel that he is not applying enough force behind the flicker of his fingers to weave the cards in and out of his hands and amongst themselves in their steady streams without causing some catastrophic loss of momentum that should cause the cards to plummet on to the table below him in a cringe-inducing nadir. The contorted intersections at which he executes this animation leads me to believe that some outside force is acting upon his angles, so it does not take a great deal of faith to leap upon the conclusion that a similar magic is propelling the cards with gale winds on these miniature mainsails.
My gaze wanders from the spectacle before me and meanders along the contours of this new concourse. The shape, size, and function of the metal bulkhead chamber and the conglomerated cavern of the other rooms retains itself in this present space, and I discern it in what appears to be the interior of a carnival tent that encapsulates my current conscience. The flaps of the downward drifting canopy that drapes itself over the circular convex casement of the unseen other side is as splendidly brocaded as the cloth that flows over the center table. The fabric of the tent is not red and white, for it is not red, it is crimson, and it is not white, it is ivory. Even the grass on ground below me is takes the form of an incredulously stark hue, its composition the craft of a manufacturer distinct from its predecessor.
“Come closer. Here, have a seat” the Magician calls out to me, all the while continuing his card game.
I move towards the table. A chair of equal pomp as the Magician’s materializes before me. I adjust the satchel that lingers still on my shoulder before seating myself in the Victorian velvet. The Magician’s hands begin to close in on to the table and the cards condense themselves in a neat stack. His hands come to rest parallel to the deck. His iris-less eyes focus on my bag.
“You have something of mine, that could be mine, that will be mine, in your possession.”
I furrow my eyebrow at the Magician. He speaks of the cube, without question, but the cube is something that I merely happen to have in my hands due to circumstance. His tones barbs, implicit with the suggestion that I take it from him. The body reads what the temperature is more truly than a thermometer can.
“But I am not one to ask for something in return for nothing. I guarantee unto you something of equal worth and merit in exchange for what you will be giving up. I guarantee, not promise it, for promises are less than paper.”
I open the mouth of the satchel slightly and peer at the cube inside. I hold my breath, for it is not the cube of comfortable and warm degradation but the one that lusters brilliantly even within the confines of the leather shroud. The light of the cube shines on my face. I fasten the bag promptly.
“Yes, that one” the Magician’s grimace is ear to ear. I cannot see his tongue, but I assume it is forked at the end and slithers thusly.
I am cogent and I am cognizant. The prism slips its way back into my bag and replaces my initial, final choice in a roundabout route. I do not see it with my eyes, and I do not feel my hands this transfer that I now believe to be transmogrification. It is unremarkable, in the same way that a King’s crown is invaluable. There are no words that stir within me to comment upon this involuntary refashion, I voice no dissent verbally or mentally. There is only acceptance to be given. I accept it.
Yet I am full of contempt. I feel that someone or some thing is pulling the wool over my eyes, that I am merely some collateral in the transaction taking place, a transaction’s whose ledger lies behind my ability to conceive. I see these things, however, are they not true? The brain in the vat, the pillar of stone, I see and touch them. They are in the previous rooms, they are present. Are they illusions? Are they illusions, the choices of others playing about before my eyes, the flippant renderings of beings manifesting matter and disclosing them nonchalantly at the snap of a finger? Where is the source of this power, to simply make things up? I wish to harness for my current situation.
I reach into the bag and grab the cube and place it on the table.
“You want this. I do not want it.” I say to the Magician.
The Magician retains composure, yet his composure does not retain the same glitz.
“I do not want it, so you can have it, and since I do not want it, I ask for nothing in return”.
The Magician tilts his head slightly and his smile returns.
“It pleases you to pair with it. It does not pain me to part with it.” I finish.
“Let me stop you there” interjects the Magician, “It is the Law. All currencies are not equal, yet there must be equivalent exchange.”
“Gifts do not predicate reciprocation” I respond.
“I insist” He volleys.
I look down at his deck of cards. I speak, “I will gift you the cube if you gift me a reading. I see how well you are with your cards. Perhaps my fortune will find favor in your hands.”
“You believe this to be an equal exchange?” he inquires.
“Of course. These are gifts, not a contract that requires signature” I reply.
“Very well” He parlays my comment into his cards, he begins shuffling them with consistent alacrity.
The Magician ceases his shuffling and spreads across the table before me seven cards, all face up. He motions towards me his left hand, which he holds palm up and flat. “There are many possibilities”. Each of the cards is a portrait of a different figure: a hooded skeleton with a scythe, a cut purple gem glimmering, a unicorn on its back two legs, a gryphon wrestling a dragon, a royal orb and scepter, a large golden egg in a nest, and a lion holding a flaming scimitar.
I am unable to fully ingest the cards before the Magician plucks them away from me. With the rest of the deck in his hand, he places on top of a card, one at a time, and scoops it into the fold. The Magician does this until only one card is left on the table. He centers it evenly between us. It is the lion with its sword.
The Magician performs the same palm-up gesture. “The Truth lies beneath the surface”. He flips the card over. Its back is bland and overwhelmingly drab. It mocks me.
I do not break the lock our eyes have on each other. “Actually, it goes much deeper than that” I reach over to the downward facing card and flip again, back to its original faceup position.