I was in the Joke Universe, larking around, having a bit of a laugh. The Joke Universe is such a laugh, isn’t it? It’s such a great, great laugh, only it isn’t. Not really. Larking around, joking around, only this was no joking matter, as we were shortly to find out.
I was walking down a path of my own making. ‘Here’s a path of my own making’, I said, ‘I’m just going to try walking down it to see what happens.’ So that’s it – that’s the story of my life. Not much of a story, but what can I say? What can any of us say? Not much of a story but I’d like to see you do better. I’d like to see you do better if you were me, that is – that’s the stipulation.
I’m in the Joke universe, trying to keep a smile on my face. Trying to keep my banter appropriately light. That could be the story of my life actually – that could be my epithet. ‘He tried to keep the banter appropriately light…’ but not really of course. Not really because that just isn’t true. ‘Keep it together’, I tell myself, ‘keep it together because you’re in the Joke Universe now and that’s a serious business.’
‘But what is the Big Deception all about?’ they ask me – ‘what is the exact nature of the Great Lie?’ I pretend not to know what they’re talking about however. I put on a practised expression of dull confusion laced with absent-mindedness and start mumbling something incomprehensible. It’s my strategy of choice. One of the men who had come up to me hangs back, his hat pulled down over his eyes. His mouth is a terse line – he knows very well that I’m pulling the wool. ‘You can’t fool me that easily,’ he seems to be saying with his hooded expression, ‘you can’t fool me like you fool the others…’ I recognize him instantly as an Adjudicator.
I was pushing myself, launching myself into the world, hungry for validation. Such is always the way, as I know you too have come to realise. That’s something we all know now. It’s the Age-Old Reflex and it works as well now as it ever did. Better, even. I launched myself out into the world, hungry for validation, eager for whatever morsel of approval I could manage to elicit. It wasn’t to end well, however. It wasn’t to end well at all.
I was hunting desperately for kudos. Without it I was nothing, without it you’d walk straight by me in the street without giving me a second glance. I was nothing and nobody. I had been pulled in by the police for questioning but they had nothing on me. They never have anything on me – I’m not part of the Real World after all. I’m a shadow being from the Shadow Realm. I’m in hiding and I don’t know what from. I’m not in reality because reality is my enemy.
Life is an adventure as everyone knows. It is an adventure but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be fun. When you’re on the run from reality and you know in your bones that this time you’re not going to make it then that’s no fun. It’s still an adventure but it’s just not a good one. You embarked bravely upon the big adventure but it’s all turned sour. It could never have turned out any other way. It could never have worked out any other way because there was never anything there to work out, one way or the other.
I was geared up for anything, at this stage. I was in the zone. ‘Whatever happens now I’m ready for it’, I said bravely. I was playing the Finite Game but I didn’t yet know what the outcome was to be. Everyone wanted to know what the Great Deception was all about but I wasn’t saying anything. Not me – I was keeping my cards close to my chest. I was playing dumb. I was acting like I didn’t know anything. I had my stupidest expression on. ‘They aren’t going to learn about it from me’, I swore. ‘They aren’t going to learn about it from me…’
When I do the good thing I like to reward myself by affirming the worth of what I have just done. That’s good I tell myself, that’s good, that’s nice, that’s good, that’s nice, that’s good, that’s nice. You did the good thing and that’s good, I advise myself. It is very important to reward oneself because otherwise you could lose heart. You could lose heart very quickly. Always reward yourself for doing the good things I say – make sure you don’t ever hold back on the positive affirmations. Don’t stint yourself. Create a warm, relaxing affirming environment for yourself. That’s very important, that’s always very important. Background affirmations going on in the background so you’d hardly notice them – they’re tipping away in the background. They’re there if you tune into them but you don’t quite want to. You’re content not to tune in. it works better that way. That’s good you tell yourself – that’s good that’s nice that’s good that’s nice. You did good to do the good thing, you tell yourself, you did very good. That’s good that’s nice that’s good. Just kind of playing away like comforting luxurious recycled muzak in the background and you’re soaking it all up just as if you’re in an a warm relaxing luxurious bath. A bath of your own affirmations. You are content but you’re kind of dozy at the same time – you’ve hit the sweet spot in other words. Everyone always wants to hit the sweet spot. You have hit the sweet spot and so now you can kick back and enjoy it. You’ve got it just the way you like it and so that’s good. That’s very good.
You could be an illusion without realizing it, my doubts are telling me. Did you ever think of that? Did you ever think of that? My doubts are ever active. They are eating away at me, gnawing relentlessly at my core – if I even have a core, which my doubts are causing me to disbelieve. I could be coreless. I could be without a core. The paradoxes involved here are worrying, however. I confess to finding the paradoxes disturbing. I confess to finding them very troubling. You could be an illusion, you could be an illusion, you could be an illusion, chatter my ever-insistent thoughts. Did you ever think of that, did you ever think of that, did you ever think of that. They chatter away like a troop of marmosets. They chatter away ceaselessly. How do you know that you’re not, how do you know that you’re not, how do you know that you’re not, they keep on asking me. How indeed, I ask myself. How indeed. I never really ask this question however – not really. I only think that I do. I only imagine that I do. That’s just my dream. I am only my own dream and I’m not really here at all. You know that you aren’t, you know that you aren’t, you know that you aren’t… chorus my gleeful thoughts. You know that you aren’t, you know that you aren’t, you know that you aren’t, I repeat dutifully. All I can ever do is echo my own thoughts. My mind is an echo-chamber, and I am the echo – I myself am the echo, echoing myself forever. Echoing myself forever.
The stylized white and yellow image of a maggot rampant upon a field of pus is of course familiar to us all as a symbol of the rule of entropy. When the Lords of Entropy ride through town on their hideous mounts this is – as we all know only too well – the sinister banner that flies over their heads. This is the Sign of the Maggot and none may withstand it. Evil times have come upon us and who can deny it? Things were not always so however – things were not always so.
I refer to the Golden Age of Humanity of course, the Golden Age of Humanity which is now all but forgotten. A dark and foreboding curtain has been drawn over those days and so we do not know the truth about the fallen state in which we now so sadly languish. We don’t know the truth about it at all. We are but craven crawling worms these days – each one of us competing with our fellows to see who can be quickest to carry out the orders of our filthy and depraved overlords – but there was nevertheless a time when we had honour and nobility of purpose. That is a time none of us can remember it is true but this is no mere myth or bedtime story for children – this is how things actually were.
I’m filled with misery when I think of this golden age. Have could we have sunk so low? How could I have sunk so low, for I am not exempt from the collective malaise. I am not exempt from the self-inflicted horror that has descended upon us. How could we have done this to ourselves, I ask myself? What were we thinking? How could we have invited such appalling ignominy upon ourselves, for this is exactly what we did do. We ourselves invited this fate which has now befallen us. This fate in which each one of us scurries eagerly to be the first to carry out the orders of our foul and depraved overlords.
The annals of deep space exploration are full of tales of mystery and enigma but nowhere are there tales to be found anywhere (in this particular galaxy of ours) that can rival those that can be heard being told and retold in the bars and taverns of an obscure little planets called Fred’s World. The stories that you will hear there will curl your toes and curdle your bodily fluids and I’m not trying to be funny when i say this. I mean that quite literally. Fred’s World is the type of world that no one ever wants to go to it – it certainly isn’t to be found featured in any glossy holiday brochures and it certainly doesn’t have a reputation for harbouring any exotic civilizations or telepathic life-forms or anything like that, but to a serious explorer such as me this unexciting little planet has got to be worth investigating further. It is actually such a backwater that it’s not even on the official start charts but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that put me off. I set off on my travels full of hope and excitement and determination but it wasn’t to work out for me – things went badly wrong almost immediately.
I’m the kind of a person that once I get an idea in my head no matter how stupid it may be there’s nothing that anyone can do to shift again. That idea (dumb as it might be) is there for good and I just have to see it through to the very end, no matter how horrifically tortuous the process might be. That’s just the way things are, however. That’s the way of things, and there’s no point railing against it. The anals of deep space exploration are full of tales like this. They’re full to the brim of such tales, and many other tales too if it comes to that, and of course it always does come to that. It comes to that every time. One such story is the story of Fred’s World which is a small little world out there somewhere in the Lesser Mandibular Cluster. Blink and you’d miss it, sort of thing. Blink and you’ll bloody well miss it. To call it an obscure little planet is to put too much importance on it, sort of thing. If you happened to be from some regular obscure little planet you would look down on anyone you met who hailed from Fred’s World. You would in all probability have good sport at their expense. By God you would. You’d piss yourself laughing at them.
I’m the kind of guy who once he gets an idea in his head can’t shake it out again no matter how stupid it might be. You couldn’t shift it no matter what you did – by Jingo you couldn’t! Trying to reason with me is a joke. Trying to reason with me is a total waste of time. To say that I am obstinate in this way would be to totally overestimate my flexibility – you don’t know what the word ‘stubborn’ means until you’ve met me. I assure you most heartily that you don’t. To say that I’m obstinate is to give me too much credit entirely.
So anyway, suffice to say (as I already have said) that Fred’s World is a backwater amongst backwaters and that nothing very much ever happens there. If it did then that would be news and there never is any news, not on Fred’s World there isn’t. You won’t find any mention of this particular destination in any of the glossy brochures that’s for sure. By God you won’t. Don’t ask me how I got there because I simply couldn’t tell you it – it certainly wasn’t the result of any deliberate action on my part anyway. It never is. This is my story, for better or for worse, and I am determined to tell it, no matter humiliating it might be.
It’s a mistake we all make – a very typical mistake. The annals of deep space exploration are full of accounts of people who make mistakes of this nature. You’ve spent too many years paying attention to nothing at all and then one day you find yourself falling down through the gaps between the metaphorical floorboards and then the next thing you know is that you’re in a crummy subterranean reality of some sort, staring fixedly at the dust that’s accumulated on the back of your own head, mumbling a made-up chant as you do so, believing in whatever absurd version of events you can manage to trick yourself into believing. That’s life of course, and it would be wrong to try to say otherwise. It would be very wrong to say otherwise but at the same time you’d be right. You’d be right every time…
I graduated with enhanced skillsets in Superhuman Agility and Time Manipulation and very quickly found work in a world-renowned multinational corporation, where my talents were richly rewarded. Such is always the way in this world, as you know. Such is always the way. We become tools at the disposal of malign mechanical forces, do we not? Of course we do, of course we do. One would have to be a real dope to argue otherwise! Could anyone really be that stupid, I hear you ask, as to deny such an obvious truth? How could it be possible that a person could be that absurdly idiotic? How indeed, how indeed. We all opt to serve the Great Malignancy in the end, no matter what crap we might come out in our youth. I’m sure I’m no different to anyone else in that respect. We take all the mind-expanding drugs, all the LSD and all the rest of it, we come out with all the usual inane bullshit, and then we opt to serve the Great Malignancy!
Such is always the way of course. We are all compliant tools in the of malign mechanical forces and that’s all there is to it. That’s all there is to say on the matter. Please use me, we say. Please please use me in any way you see fit, oh Great Malignancy. Because you’re so great. That’s what we say every day – we may not say it out loud but we say it all the same. We say it every day of our lives. It’s true that there is precious little dignity in this. To be perfectly honest, there’s no dignity in it at all. There is zero dignity in it, we might say. Precisely zero dignity is what we have left to us. We couldn’t really expect anything else though, could we? We cope however, we cope perfectly well. We cope as we have always coped – by creating a custom-made state-of-the-art fantasy narrative for ourselves. What great mileage we get out of our fantasy narratives! Great mileage indeed. What lives we lead! What mighty lives. They say no one can both have their cake and eat it but I think we do pretty well, all things considered. How is it possible, you ask, that a person could be a craven crawling coward of the very worst kind and yet be offensively arrogant every single minute of the day? It doesn’t seem right, does it?
The price we pay is a certain ‘brittleness of the ego’, I suppose you could say. There has to be some kind of a price after all. There always has to be some kind of a price. Name your price, we say to the forces that govern us, and the price is a certain brittleness of the ego. We’ll cut up rough very quickly indeed about nothing at all, in other words. We’ll cut up awful rough – very rough indeed dash and over absolutely nothing at all. There is I suppose a definite comedic element to this. We are partaking in the great comedy, in other words, although our intense arrogance won’t allow us to see this. We are playing our part in the comedy, whether we want to or not…
I’m trying very hard to believe that my life is meaningful, although it very obviously isn’t. I’m straining myself to the very limit in the attempt and the cracks are starting to appear. Rather serious looking cracks too. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in this situation? No doubt you have, no doubt you have. I feel I should give you the benefit of the doubt in this. I’m taking a long hard look at my life and I’m trying to work out if I might not have taken certain poor life choices along the way. And not just a few of them either but a whole series of them, one after the other after the other! A type of ‘domino effect’, you might say. That could be it, I say to myself. That could well be it. That could well be where I went wrong…
I was hanging on to the goodness, hanging onto it for all I was worth. Hang on to the goodness, hang onto the goodness – I told myself. Hang onto the goodness. My voice was a robotic drone, any human nuance having long since fled. Hang onto the goodness I droned, make sure that you don’t let it slip away unnoticed, which is what so easily happens. My hands were making little clutching movements all by themselves – futile little clutching movements. So very futile, so very futile. So very futile and also so very sad. All vestiges of my humanity have long since, you fled, you see. I am just a shuffling creature now – a commuter dressed in a filthy, stinking clown suit. I was inventing my own private mythology, a mythology that dealt with the darker side of life, the side of life that we don’t normally want to know about. This is the dark side of life that pertains to The Realm of Futile Clutching, that least glamorous of all possible fake realities. Firewalkers come walking down the street towards us, a welcome distraction from the misery that was playing itself out in my head. Cries of wonderment issue forth from the surging crowd – the fire walkers are always a great hit. The crowd roars its approval like the great beasts that it is and it pushes forward greedily. I look on unconcerned, protected by my private mythology: in this mythology I’m an Immortal, condemned to survive from century to century – abused and maligned, lacking in kudos, but immortal all the same. Lacking in kudos but destined never to die. Ordinary folk have no interest in me, beyond cursing me when they happen, as they occasionally do, to come across me. I stay out of their way for the most part however – I have no more desire to encounter them than they me. This is a darkly baroque mythology, as you have undoubtedly picked up by now, and it is not to everyone’s taste. We are racing towards a future that contains nothing but insincerity and bad taste and everyone concerned is very excited about it. It’s bad form not to be excited. The others will shun you. The future is the future after all, and we’re all going there. We’ve all jumped on the bandwagon and we’re all going to get what’s coming to us – there’s no way out of it, obviously enough. That’s all in my mythology anyway, it’s all part of the rich and resonant tapestry of my personal mythology. Some people will find that it resonates, some undoubtedly won’t find that. Most of us like to believe in personal freedom after all, we have a need for that particular illusion. The idea that we are sleepwalking to our doom whilst imagining that we’re hitching a lift to the promised land is far from being a welcome one, after all! No indeed. The change in perspective is simply too great for us – we think one thing is happening whilst really is the complete opposite and that’s something you just can’t tell people. The flexibility simply isn’t there you see and so we’re starting to look awfully strained, hopefully uptight. No, we say, that just can’t be. Your wrong there buddy, we say. You’ve got a problem if that’s the way you think. Small cracks are starting to appear, the visible signs of impending disaster. That’s my mythology anyway, and as I say I don’t think you’ll necessarily like it. That’s my mythology of the future, that we’re racing at a truly phenomenal velocity towards an event that has already happened and it’s not an event that will be to our liking. It’s the ultimate cataclysm. We are cheering loudly and laughing like fools and waving out of the windows of the bus because we all believe that we’re going to that special good place that we have been told about, whilst all the while we’re careering crazily at breakneck speed towards a disaster that’s already happened, a disaster that could never not have happened, a disaster that was always going to happen right from the word ‘GO’. We can’t appreciate the irony and as we travel a cloudy sheen of very fine cracks starts to appear on our immaculate alabaster faces, an ominous harbinger of the unthinkable event which is soon to come…
I started my essay in the customary manner. I started it the same way I always started it. I always start it in the way that I always start it. ‘The happy people were happy because of the great product’, I wrote. The happy people, the happy people. The happy people, the smiling people. The Smilers, all those Smilers. Can you see them? If you can’t then look closer because they are there. They’re there for sure, blending in skillfully with the crowd. They are the crowd. Smiling all the while. Smiling to beat the band. Smiling even when they aren’t happy and they aren’t ever happy, not really. They’re only pretending, you see. It’s all a show, all a great big show. It’s a Garden full of Smiles. ‘Welcome to the Garden’, I feel like saying, only I don’t. I’m too frightened to say it – too frightened of the Smilers and their sneaky ways. I’m a coward at heart you see – a terrible, terrible coward. I’m scared of my own shadow – I’m especially scared of my own shadow. Its evil, you see. Pure evil. Evil Incarnate. Always plotting bad things. It’s my shadow, after all – what else would you expect? I’m a coward underneath it all, beneath all the talk and bluster. Beneath all the cocksure mouthiness that I always come out with. I’m a mass of quivering jelly really. Jumping out of my skin of the slightest noise. Look at those dirty old Smilers, would you? They think they own the place. So damn full of themselves. Completely obsessed with their own self-centred narratives. Bending everything to make it relevant to them. The nasty old Smilers. Everyone hates them, of course. They hate themselves but that doesn’t stop them smiling! Nothing stops them smiling. All the smiling happy people, all of them having such a good time. They brought the Product you see – that’s what does it. That does it every time. All the happy smiling people – always buying the product. They never stop. They’ll come right up to you and smile at you, just to show that they’re having a great time. They’ll smile until their faces hurt because that’s what it’s all about. That will do it every time you see. You can bet your bottom dollar it will. You can gamble away your inheritance. ‘Welcome to the Garden!’ I shout, and then immediately wished that I hadn’t. ‘Least said soonest mended’. Try not to rock the boat because that’s never a very smart thing to do, after all. You’ll wish you hadn’t. I knew the Secret Word however and that was going to save me. I muttered it under my breath over and over again. This Secret Word is going to save me only it won’t. Everyone knows it won’t – even I know it, but I’m pretending that it will. Pretending is all I’ve got left to me, you see you. That’s the only tool in my toolbox. I’m a one trick pony and that’s the only trick I know…
My friends, my friends, my friends. My very good friends… Do you remember those generic good times we used to have before everything turned so very sour? Before the rotten old bad times came, that is to say. I know I do, for sure I do. I remember them well. I can hardly forget them – they are just about all I have to hang onto these days, after all. These memories will keep me going, now that I come to think of it. Without them I’d be sunk. Sunk like a battleship that has been holed beneath the waterline far too many times. Sunk without a trace. When you get sunk like that then there’s nothing left to say that you ever existed. Perhaps you didn’t, after all. Most probably you didn’t…
Do you remember all the generic discussions we used to have? All those generic discussions. Sometimes we’d stay up late into the night. They never meant a thing of course but that wasn’t the point. That was never the point. All those heartfelt generic discussions – I remember them all. I remember them all as if it were yesterday. You can’t beat those days you see. That’s the point I’m trying to make here – that you just can’t beat those days. Those good old generic days. Call me sentimental if you will but I have to have something to cling to, something to help me make sense of my life. My generic memories are the hook on which I hang everything you see, so please understand me on that one. My whole life is hanging on that hook. Hanging rather precariously it is true but hanging all the same. Dangling rather dangerously in a stiff breeze but dangling nevertheless. In defiance of all the odds.
It’s all about the forces that are acting against us, you see. All those terrible, terrible forces. What can we say about those forces? How can we characterise them? Are they quite as bad as some people say they are, or are they worse? Are they worse than we can imagine, worse than we are willing to imagine? Whatever you might have to say about them the bottom line is that we have to defy them for all we’re worth. We have to defy them and keep on defying them, for all we’re worth. For all we’re worth. Which may not much as much we like to think of course. Which may not be nearly as much as we like to think…
We could be illusions, you see. Nothing more than illusions. Figments of our own jaded imaginations. Trying to survive as best we can in an impeccably hostile universe. Grimly struggling to hold on when all the odds are against us. Did you never think of that one? I expect you did. We all think of that one, you see. It pops unwanted into our heads when we least expect it. ‘Maybe I am just a figment of my own impoverished imagination, desperately struggling to survive in a profoundly hostile universe’. That’s the thought we all have at some point or rather in our lives. And then – as soon as we have the thought – we immediately repress it. We repress it for all we’re worth. We struggle to bury it. We struggle to bury it no matter what the cost. And there is a cost. There is alwaysa cost of course. There’s got to be a cost for that kind of thing, even though we struggle as hard as we possibly can not to find out what it is. That’s human life you know. That’s how it is. That’s human life in a nutshell. You may not want to hear it of course, but that’s the plain and simple fact of the matter.
I was dreaming of many things, some of which were real and some of which weren’t. No – wait – that’s not actually true, none of the things are real. None of them were real, not even to the tiniest degree. None of them real, none of them real. Not even a little bit, not even a little bit. Not even the smallest tiniest bit real. And yet, I wanted to say, and yet… So much was hanging on that ‘and yet…’ So many hopes, so many hopes.
Thinking along these lines, a great sadness overtook me. Thinking along these lines, thinking along these lines. ‘What was I at?’ I asked myself. ‘What on earth was I playing at?’ I find it impossible to come up with any reasonable excuses for myself and this fills me with dismay. Dismay and guilt. To start off with it’s mainly dismay, but then the guilt kicks in. It kicks in and overtakes everything else. Real heavy-duty guilt, mountains and mountains of it – mountain ranges of guilt stretching out into the far distance. Above me a purple, ominous sky. The sun like a giant poached egg hanging above me. Things don’t look right, I say to myself. Things don’t look right at all.
I was rubbing special rejuvenation cream into my skin, hoping thereby to undo the damage that time has inflicted on me. The pitilessly long and oppressively dark epochs that I have been compelled to endure. I had turned into a strange dry, desiccated creature – all folds of leathery skin and rubbery wattles, a creature that was half turkey and half toad. Only I couldn’t hop and I certainly couldn’t fly. I was strapped securely into the resuscitation capsule in any event, and so there was no going anywhere. I had to sit tight and wait for the rejuvenation process to complete, which could take some time.
It wasn’t really a resuscitation capsule of course – that was just in my dream. I was strapped into the dream-capsule, dreaming my head off. My body had wasted away. There had been a malfunction, I recalled painfully. There had been a cataclysmic malfunction; the dream sequence had been aborted and the emergency protocols had been activated. That’s what the flashing retinal display is telling me, anyway. I’m struggling to remember who I was, who I am. I was somebody for sure, but had that just been a dream? ‘I have an identity in the dream’, I told myself. ‘I am a person, I am somebody…’ Outside the Dome, on the very rim of a darkened horizon, I could see the sun struggling to set. There was a glitch in the system and nothing was working properly. Clouds fled across the sky and I couldn’t tell whether time was going forwards or backwards.
The malfunction had probably never happened, it occurred to me. Or rather it had happened, but only in the dream. The dream was that the dream capsule was malfunctioning and we were all struggling desperately to wake up. An alarm was sounding somewhere – impossible to tell if it was near or far off. Most of the crew were unable to wake up. They had left it too late and as a consequence they had forgotten who they were. They had forgotten everything. Or perhaps that too was only in the dream. There is no crew, there never had been a catastrophe. There is no anything, there never had been either. Soon a new dream would start up. Or – failing this – a rerun of the last one.
‘How had I wasted my life so very badly?’ I wondered. ‘Was it some kind of fatal flaw in my character?’ Whatever that means. Some people were friends whilst others had been deadly enemies, I remembered. Our enemies had launched at an all-out surprise attack and our so-called friends had run away in a panic. The Lords of Evil had appeared and they were busy summoning their followers. The situation was hopeless and so the emergency protocols had been triggered. The dream capsule was down to its very last dream and it was recycling it like crazy, trying to stave off the inevitable catastrophic breakdown. Outside the artificial environment of the Dome, reality itself was malfunctioning.