Friday, October 5, 2012

Mind Machine by Ziyad Hayatli

Ziyad Hayatli's character takes a metaphorical journey through his own mind

We are fascinated by the heavens, and by all that surrounds us. Yet there are things within us that are far more mysterious than the farthest reaches of space, or the darkest depths of the ocean. I do not talk about what lies in our physical bodies, no, but our minds. You see, the workings of the human mind fascinate me greatly.

For instance, what goes through the mind of a man as he slits another's throat; as his blade draws his kin's blood? What goes through the mind of a man who enslaves another, tortures them and takes away their livelihoods? Do the screams of the suffering affect him at all?

I apologize for such a morbid introduction, but I am passionate about my work, and passion brings... vividness. But enough with the formalities, for I have a tale to tell.

Our greatest understanding of the world comes from experience; what we feel, see, smell, taste and hear. By working relentlessly through days and nights, summers and winters, I have allowed myself to combine the faculties of our senses with our very experience of the mind. It is a machine that will allow me to experience my mind, as a person walking through a plane of existence; I have built the Mind Machine.

So there it stood upon its legs. Blocky, metallic and ugly; sprouting wires from its body like the tendrils of an alien creature. To any man, it may have seemed a nonsensical object, but being aware of its power, I was very cautious. I pressed the switch and it hummed to life, a humming so quiet and subtle, yet intrusive in the otherwise dead silence; a sound that would be sure to drive one mad if he was locked up in this chamber for too long. I held two of the main wires with small pads at the end. I stuck them on each temple of my head where they clung comfortably and lay on the bed, closing my eyes. Fatigue swept over my body, and darkness descended on my mind.

Water. Icy and cold. Engulfing all around; above, below, in front and behind there was icy water. I felt and saw nothing else, for there was complete darkness. The fresh liquid entered my nose, my mouth and my ears before I even attempted to swim. My heart hammered at the shock and the fear of it all. It felt like an age before I started thrashing violently in an attempt to escape the cold clutch around me, and I broke through the surface at last, sputtering and coughing violently. I swam as best I could, yet with every second it felt harder. No light or vision greeted me though, I was still in complete darkness and I had nothing to do but to swim and swim.

I found my feet on a surface, a rocky surface, and started to wade forwards pushing through to dry land. It took me a while to realize I was actually crawling on all fours, and as soon as most of my body was out of the water, my skin burned and my bones crackled like the dying embers of a fire. The pain intensified, and I heard a sound come from my throat, a sound that was not human enough for my liking. It was followed by a feeling, a feeling that I could only describe as a compulsion, an impulse... a reflex. It was a command that came from within.

'Walk,' it said, 'stand up and walk.'

And I did. I stood up and walked out of the shallows onto land. I stumbled many times and fell, as walking felt so alien, but I picked myself up again and again until I walked. I walked forth into the pitch of darkness, never once thinking that there might be a hole that I could fall into, or even a beast waiting for me ahead. I just walked in a daze, looking for something and only knowing what that thing was when I saw it; light, a faint blue glow in the distance. I followed it with glee and relief, entering a chamber which looked like a cave. The light seemed to come from the walls themselves, and if I concentrated I could see that the light pulsed ever so slightly. I looked down at myself, only to see an emaciated naked body. A mass of skin clung to bone, my ribs were prominent and my legs and arms were shockingly thin. When I saw that, pain shot through my stomach, the pain of hunger, so strong it was that I almost collapsed. The command came to me again.

'Eat,' it said, 'feed yourself and eat.'

I looked to my left and there sat a lump of flesh on the ground, still fresh with blood. I lunged for it, longing to get rid of the pain, and sunk my teeth into the mass. The blood gushed out first, a metallic taste filling my mouth but quenching my thirst, and I swallowed the meat. Raw as it was, it was the best meal I had eaten in my life. I did not wretch, nor did I vomit, but I ate with relief and satisfaction. As I took the last gulp, the command, or the Voice, came back to me once again. This time it was not a desire, or impulse, but a sound, a series of guttural phonetic grunts that I just happened to understand.

'This is what you are, and what your children shall be. Now look around you and watch carefully.'

What was left of the meat and blood slowly dissolved and disappeared from my hands. It was then that I saw the walls melting away, and my body was starting to feel stronger and fuller. I felt something warm around it, and I gazed down to see a long ornate robe covering it. On my chest was a heavy metallic breastplate, the individual metal parts rectangular in shape, and a short sword hung at my hip from a leather strap. The cave walls had given way to straight walls, and their blue glow was replaced by a yellow light that came from the torches that hung against them. They created quaint shadows on the carvings that adorned the surfaces. Right in front of me was the carving of five archers wearing similar armour to mine; they looked very familiar, like something that would have greatly interested me, but I could not put a finger on it.

Now that I look back, it was their Assyrian and Babylonian design, but I had no idea then as I started to get detached from reality and my original identity. It is quite paradoxical how as I became more engrossed in the journey through my mind, I knew myself less and less.

The chamber was so vast that I could see darkness either side of me, and the ceiling was not even visible, only a few of the torches were lit around me. But I had no further time to explore, for as I removed a torch from its sconce to explore further the command came again, this time in a more elegant sound, a beautiful language that I also understood.

'Run,' it said, 'escape death and run!'

And I did, I had no choice but to run. My sandals hit the marble floor as I raced through the darkness with torch in hand. Shadows danced and the flame flickered as my breathing became more laboured. The chamber was never-ending. Behind, I began to hear the heavy breathing of something else, and the sound of footsteps getting closer and closer. I wanted to look back, but the Voice came again.

'Don't look back, lest you die.'

The ghostly shouts and echoes of 'Assassin!' and 'Killer!' reverberated along the walls, startling me and making the hands of fear grip my heart. I began dripping with sweat as I realized how hot, dry and still the air was here. I had been running for so long, and I was surprised that I could do so considering the weight of the breast plate. The Voice came again, it was not from within, or from without, it just was.

'Here. Turn right!'

I turned through some gigantic gates, also amazing in design, but of course I had no time to gawk. As I stepped through I heard their thunderous slam behind me, and I keeled over, catching my breath. Small droplets of sweat fell onto the dusty ground, glinting like small eyes in the torchlight. Asides from my beating heart and my panting, there was no other noise. And then the Voice came again; I began to despise how it was inside my head and outside at the same time, how it took me over.

'Why did you not draw your sword and fight?'

My eyes widened and my hand went straight to my hip. Indeed, the sword was there, and I drew it from its sheath; an oblong, bronze coloured blade, sharp as ever. It felt just right in my hand as I gave it a few swings; a parry, a slash and a lunge. The Voice came again, more demanding, more intrusive, forcing its way into my mind.

'Answer me! Why didn't you draw your sword and fight?'

I shouted back in desperation.

'I... I don't know. Just leave me!'

'You are right. You don't know, because you had no choice. I commanded, and you followed, even if you did not want to, you followed.'

I was terrified at the realization of how little control I had, of how this voice seemed to have control over me. It carried on, as if weeding out and reading my thoughts.

'You are an animal. Beneath your civilizations and your so-called achievements, the tongues you speak and even the words you write, is an animal that is now afraid of itself.'

And then there was a distant rumbling, and I felt the floor vibrate ever so slightly.

'Do not be afraid and stay afloat,' the Voice said, and with that it was gone once again. For one second I was confused, the next second I smelled the unmistakable saltiness of sea water, and the second after water came cascading and rushing in from the darkness ahead. In a panic, I tried to take off my breast plate and my sword so that I didn't sink, but as I put my hand to my chest I felt nothing but the bare skin of my body. The water swept me upwards with a great force. Up and up it went, this time it was warm, the taste of it on my lips reminded me of the trips I took to the sea. I was carried upwards through the darkness, afraid that I might smash against the ceiling at any time, but as I struggled to keep my head above the torrent of the water a brilliant white light pierced the darkness. Within a blink all was calm, and incredibly, I was at sea. There were no ruins or remains of some ancient palace beneath me, and above was a clear blue sky with the sun hanging brightly in the middle. It seemed so peaceful and serene that I let the water carry me as I lay on it, and I shut my eyes. Sleep did not come, but the sound of waves crashing against land did. I opened my eyes again and looked towards the sound behind me, and indeed there was a beach there. Stony at the shore, with small sand hills just behind it, it was beautiful. I didn't bother swimming, for the water carried me there, as if it was a hand that was guiding my body. The waves roiled and pushed and I found myself in the shallows.

I waded towards land once again, this time stepping on the stony beach gently, savouring the breeze and the warmth. I did not mind the nakedness of my body. I made my way further in towards the softer sands up ahead.

With just a little more to go, an old man covered in tattered rags stumbled over the sand hill closest to me, red in the face and on his balding head. His white beard looked patchy and scraggly, like the hair of an old stray dog. The Voice and its cursed presence descended on me again, saying.

'Whatever happens, do not help the old man and do not interfere. You will regret it, trust me.'

It was not a command or a compulsion and I was grateful for that much. As soon as the sentence finished, a half human roar split the air, and the old man tripped and fell, rolling down on the sand to the bottom of the hill.

A large towering figure appeared at the top of the hill, I hoped it wasn't the source of that roar, but it could very well have been. It was as tall as it was wide, unnaturally big and covered with long brown fur, a beast that stood on two legs. It lumbered down the hill nimbly and swiftly, surprising for its size. The old man, still on the ground, turned around to look up and started crawling away pitifully with one arm, the other raised against his face to protect himself. I heard him beg with a dry voice.

'No... Please, don't, not again!'

The beast, which had a partly human face, flashed a smile of broken and misplaced teeth and fangs, speeding down the hill faster. As he did so, he pulled free a whip from the side of his leather belt. As thick and monstrous it may have been, it was dwarfed by his yet thicker and more monstrous limbs.

With a twisted elegance, he flicked his wrist and the whip lashed out like a striking snake. The blow landed on the old man's upraised arm accurately and he howled in pain. I started to run, shouting.

'No, stop! Don't hurt him!'

As soon as the words left my mouth, I heard the crack of the whip and saw it flash towards me, immediately feeling pain in my shoulder. The flesh tore and I fell back, there was no way I could have seen it coming.

'And who are you to interfere?' Said the beastling in its half human voice as it stood over the frail old man who was still lying on the ground. With a whimper I tried to answer.

'I'm...' I became befuddled as I forgot who exactly I was, and what I was doing here. I had forgotten and never thought about it since the beginning of my journey. I just was, a being that did nothing but exist. I gave up and resigned to muttering.

'I don't know.'

The beast threw back its head and roared with a sadistic laughter, which startled me and the old man. I could see the fresh scar on his arm, and many older ones where his skin was exposed, on every inch of his body; his legs, his arms, his face, parts of his back. After the laughter died, the beastling spoke in a surprisingly elegant way.

'Allow me to introduce myself.' He bowed mockingly and stood upright again. 'I am Doubt, and this here,' he nudged the old man with his hoof while the old man cowered in response, 'this is Faith.'

And then I remembered, parts of it came rushing back to me, while other parts remained blank. I knew that all of this was my mind; that the beastling represented my doubt, and the old man represented my faith. Doubt of what and faith in what I didn't remember. I didn't even remember why I was in my mind at the time, or how I got there in this fashion. These beings before me were me, they were a part of me and so I could command them. With confidence, I stood up and looked the beastling straight in the eye, saying:

'Stop. Now.'

He simply smirked back, and looked back into my eyes as he kicked the old man harshly, who cried in pain.

'Ha! Now you remember. But it is quaint how you think that just because we are a part of you, a part of your very mind, that you can control us. When it comes to animals, the idea of control is a joke, and the arrogance of the human mind baffles me. Haven't you learned anything through your journey?'

The freezing water, the cave, the palace chambers, it all seemed so long ago.

But I remembered. I remembered that I was an animal, and my children shall be so, and my children's children. But all I managed was a quizzical look and felt Doubt's eyes bore into me. In my life, doubt had been a common feeling, and now I saw his awesome power in comparison to my faith. But still, I did not know what doubts I had, and what faith I had, just that these feelings had existed at one point. Doubt carried on speaking, his face softening and becoming gentle.

'You did not choose to be born
Or even to be conceived
The idea of destiny and glory
Is more brutal than they would have you believe
At the mercy of history
From the tongue that you speak
To your smallest behaviours
And the manners of your speech
Faith has failed to flourish
And doubt was always fed
And here is what you came to learn
When you lay upon your bed
For some it's the opposite
And for others, exactly the same
But you are all united
By the rules of life's little game
The Ocean of Life shall hold you
While currents shall push you around
Never will you know stillness
Until upon death, where you shall find your ground.'

And he stopped, and my mouth was agape. Faith, frail as he was, was also on his feet, his eyes boring into me sternly just as much as Doubt's eyes were. And then I blurted out.

'We are not free, that is all I know.'

2 comments:

  1. i´ve never read something like this, but i´m glad i did.it´s written in an interesting and appropriate style,thought provoking and, for me, very well expresses what it is to try and live a good life.
    well done

    michael mccarthy

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  2. What an interesting idea - having to confront the power of one's own faith and doubt. I thought this was really original. And it really drew me in. Liked the overall style, too.

    Jack Lawrence.

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