The abduction of truth.
The armchair, Peter thought, reflected his present condition, tired, threadbare, unfashionable, unwanted and difficult to match with anything else. Not that he had much else to match it with other than a coffee table that seemed ashamed of its own existence. The coffee table loitered by the chair in a desperate attempt to fit in… it didn’t work. He also had, in the same poorly lit room, an empty aquarium (his wife had flushed the last inhabitants down the toilet: easier, she explained, to move the tank); a rug he hated; a poor excuse for a bookcase; a geriatric lamp that had developed a symbiotic relationship with the armchair. It would be, he thought, teetering on the edge of cruelty to separate them now as they were all so obviously advanced in their infirmity.
‘So this is what divorce looks like,’ Peter muttered to his roommates. Excusing himself he glanced momentarily at the crumpled spread sheet in his hand. When separation was the only option left on the table (not the coffee table, another table, pure oak, the one his wife still has), Peter made a list of their belongings and, by using a points based system, divided these belongings equitably. It now seemed quite apparent that this exercise was a complete waste of time as, slowly but surely, Annette got everything. She had it all, other than the few items that had, until now, spent the best part of their lives rotting away in the basement.
Peter and Annette had already independently accumulated some stuff of their own before they met. Then, over the course of twenty years, they got a lot of other stuff, nice stuff, together. Peter didn’t recognise any of the shambolic furniture in this room as his or Annette’s from before. It certainly wasn’t anything they had bought together. He surmised therefore, that this junk had been left in their house by the previous owners!
‘So to summarise,’ Peter said loudly addressing his new companions.
‘I have been well and truly shafted!’
The bookcase, never good with noise, lost a shelf and the lamp blew her bulb.
And then, in a more apologetic tone, ‘Nothing personal.’
Peter made his way up the narrow creaking stairs to his bedroom, with its promises of flannel pyjamas and maybe a little Geoffrey Archer to wrap up the fun.
The following day brought with it a bleak sense of foreboding. Gloom within and gloom without: his body heavy, due to the heavy heart he now carried with him. His heavy heart somehow felt heavier when it rained.
With resignation Peter crawled out of bed and drew the curtains back on another day. The curtains were apparently ‘Geranium Pale Floral’ and the antithesis to the shambolic collection gathered elsewhere in this two-up, two-down hovel he now called home. These curtains were shamelessly garish and he hated them, he’d always hated them and now, as some sort of final kick in the teeth Annette had, with a great show of charity, handed them to him as a house warming gift. He’d had half a mind not to hang the damn things up but, in the end he couldn’t be bothered with the consequences.
Peter had a chat with himself, ‘You can’t go on like this; you need to rebuild your life.’
‘Huh… life? What’s the point?’ he replied.
‘Come on, festering in self pity won’t get us anywhere Peter. We need to do something, anything, as long as it’s positive.’
And so it was that Peter came back several hours later with a nice throw for the chair, a new shelf for the bookcase, a light bulb, a handful of self-help books and a microwave lasagna for one.
After supper Peter lowered himself into the ragged armchair. The new throw smiled the false smile of an actor resigned to the role. The chair was surprisingly comfortable, sort of enveloped him in a warm embrace. It wasn’t long before ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’ slipped from his hands as Peter fell asleep.
All he could see to begin with was a bright white light. He sensed that he was in an operating theatre and had woken prematurely. Then the light split, dividing into several smaller lights. Now he felt like he was standing in a vast space and the lights were further away. One of the, until now stationary lights, began to move towards him, growing bigger as it approached until it was the size of a small family car: it hovered just above eye level. Its brightness intensified, so that Peter had to shield his eyes.
A clunking noise, footsteps, a tug on his shirtsleeve and someone pressed a pair of sunglasses into his hand. He put them on and looked into the almond shaped eyes of…what? The creature before him stood at about five feet tall, humanoid, biped, the right amount of heads and limbs and yet there was something alien about it. Peter couldn’t tell whether the creature was male or female, it was hairless, lithe, naked and without genitals. The creature’s head was large for its body, big forehead, two tiny holes for nostrils and a slice for a mouth.
When the creature spoke it did so without using its mouth; it used telepathy. Peter heard a voice in his head, it wasn’t deep but softly spoken, androgynous, neither male nor female.
‘Come, please, no harm here. Follow.’
Feeling a little prickly Peter said, ‘Well where I come from introductions are generally made first.’
‘Come, please, no harm here. Follow,’ repeated the creature’
Peter concluded that this ‘chap’ was merely the messenger and that the message was, ‘Come, please, no harm here. Follow’. He wasn’t going to get anymore out of it. The messenger raised its thin, long-fingered hand and beckoned for Peter to follow.
Peter followed the creature into what he could now see was a spherical, floating vehicle made of light. Once inside, the creature appeared to navigate the craft with its mind, weaving seamlessly amidst other vehicles.
The sphere had a transparent quality that was both off putting and fascinating at the same time. With the sunglasses on Peter could see out of the vehicle in all directions, with the sunglasses off he was just whizzing through space in a family-sized ball of bright light. He opted to keep them on.
Other than the countless similar spheres whizzing past, Peter could see much larger objects, stationary buildings in fact, and it was toward one of these buildings that the messenger now steered his craft. Peter concentrated on the building and as they grew ever closer he could make out a landing bay, then other creatures, just like his chauffeur, came into view. The craft landed, or rather came to a hover, and Peter was encouraged to walk down the steps onto the landing bay floor. Several of the figures approached him, but one in particular stood out from the rest, a woman, a real woman, and not from Venus. The woman extended a delicate hand and smiled at him with yearning lips. His heart lost a beat; his mouth went dry…
‘We were expecting you,’ said the woman.
‘You were?’ he managed meekly.
Peter felt himself recede, as if standing on the shoreline watching the tide go out.
The new light bulb atop the old lamp confirmed he was indeed awake. Pity, he thought the dream had seemed so real. Peter pulled himself up out of the chair and shuffled into the little kitchen where he poured himself a glass of water then looked accusingly at the empty plate of lasagna for one: he’d have salad tomorrow.
The following day was a workday. Peter went into the office and drank tea, looked at spreadsheets and dodged human interaction if at all possible. Peter sat on a bench in the park at lunchtime and fed the pigeons. Peter went back to his new home on the number 22 bus. The routine was the same: watching him as one would watch a rat in a lab, one would merely conclude that his behaviour was predictable, in keeping with previous assessments, ‘Nothing new to report’. But, despite this rat’s obvious physical presence, he wasn’t really there. Just as he had done for every day in the months following the separation, Peter went through the motions. But today was different: rather than be pre-occupied with his miserable life, his divorce, his loneliness he was thinking about the dream he’d had the night before, or more specifically the women in the dream he had the night before.
When he reached home, Peter’s routine continued its predictable pattern: shower, check for messages (none), microwave a meal for one (salad was never his thing), slump in the armchair and pretend to read how men and women are from different planets. Maybe, he thought, someone could write a book called, ‘Peter is from an isolated system and everyone else is from an open system’. He soon fell asleep…
Someone handed him his sunglasses and Peter put them on. He was no longer standing on the landing bay but sitting in a room, a white room with no windows. Two naked, androgynous creatures flanked the women.
‘Do you feel alarmed?’ she said, moving her lips, which was reassuring and pleasant.
‘Not at all,’ replied Peter.
‘Do you think this is a dream?’
‘Not sure… logically, it must be but it feels real.’
‘Logic and reason are often at odds with one another don’t you think?’
‘We are currently sitting in a very large craft, it’s exact coordinates are classified. The craft is home to all that remains of an ancient species whose home planet became uninhabitable eons ago. A new planet is currently under construction but in the meantime its people are exploring the universe.’
‘Ok,’ said Peter. Simultaneously thinking that, if this was a dream, a product of his own imagination, then it was an imagination he was previously unacquainted with.
‘These people have evolved beyond human capabilities, but maintain certain constructs such as social order, language, obedience to the law and so forth. The technology that these people have is immense, they don’t need to work or strive for survival. They operate as a team and they strive only for knowledge. Isn’t it beautiful?’ asked the object of Peter’s desire.
‘Yes, very attractive indeed. But, if you don’t mind me asking, what do they want with me?’
‘Well Peter, they would like to carry out some tests, totally non-intrusive – forget turkey basters or latex gloves; none of that nonsense! They just want to observe you, and… erm… take a look inside your head. Your mind to be exact.’
‘My mind?’ Said Peter eying the two alien flanks with renewed interest.
‘Yes, you see humans are a long way behind in terms of evolution. These beings want to know how humans function, how we perceive the world and how belief maps our existence? Why we believe what we believe?’
‘You said we…’
‘Yes, I’m human. I have been helping these beings with their research, maybe you will too. I mean permanently one day?’
Peter thought that being the only two humans on a spacecraft, situated somewhere in the vastness of the universe, upped his chances of getting laid considerably. However attractive this thought may be, Peter was also aware that he might be going slightly mad. He pictured himself slumped in a chair, dribbling and shouting incoherent obscenities to no one in particular as the nurse rushed over to him with a loaded syringe. Other patients, more alert than he, shouted,
‘Its the spaceman, its the spaceman!’
‘I need to think about all of this. Can I go home?’
‘Yes, you take off the glasses and you’ll wake up in the portal.’
‘Yes the chair. It’s a kind of gateway. We had to use something unremarkable, something that doesn’t draw attention to itself, but is ultimately inviting.’
‘Oh,’ said Peter.
The women leaned over, her face close to his, her cleavage ever so slightly visible in his periphery vision, ‘You just have to go with the flow, it’ll be worth it Peter, you will never look back.’
‘Well, ok. Thanks for everything; I’ll be in touch,’ he removed his glasses.
He awoke in his chair.
Peter leapt up, startled and paraded the sunglasses around the room.
‘Bloody hell, I mean… well… bloody hell.’
He looked from the chair to the glasses in his hand and back again. How could this be true?
‘Well you all saw that didn’t you? You all saw me wake up with these sunglasses in my hand?’ Peter shouted to his inanimate roommates. The coffee table looked at its feet; the old lamp was hesitant to commit to anything, never sure if what it saw was real or not. The bookcase tried desperately to hold onto its new shelf and the chair whispered, ‘Yes’.
‘Ah hah!’ said Peter and left the living room. He stood in the kitchen staring at the fridge. He placed the sunglasses down on the small Formica table and poured a glass of water.
‘I’m going mad,’ he muttered, ‘Mad.’
The fridge, which was new to the job, decided to refrain from comment and maintained, what it hoped was, a frigid exterior.
The next morning Peter called in sick. He had never in his entire working life taken a sick day without actually being sick. His mind seemed, and indeed was, divided. Two Peters now: not one holistic, homogenous gloop as before, but two distinct versions of himself. One version, the skeptic, questioned his own sanity; the other wanted to desperately believe in what he’d seen, what he’d experienced. One part of him wanted to believe, based on empirical evidence but the other, more skeptical self, remained steadfast in his rationalism.
Peter avoided going into the living room for quite some time. He’d hurry past the open door on his way to the kitchen then hurry back again; loitering was out of the question. He made cups of tea and put them down, un-sipped in various places until he ran out of cups. He couldn’t sit still, he had to think, and like many a thinking man he had to pace out a problem. Walking from one room to the next and back again, all the while consciously avoiding the lure of the living room and the chair that beckoned from within.
Rationally none of what he’d experienced had actually happened. There was no evidence in the world to support the notion that aliens were among us. He conceded that statistically other intelligent life forms must exist somewhere in the universe, after all it was mind-bogglingly vast! But that is not to say that these life forms were more advanced than humankind or that they were anything like us.
Rationally wasn’t it more plausible to assume that he had been under an enormous amount of pressure recently? That his mental health was just a little bit strained? That the stress of separation and divorce combined with negative introspection had culminated in delusional dreams?
On the other hand why was it that these delusional episodes only ever happened whilst in that chair? He never had such dreams when asleep in his bed, or when occasionally he nodded off on the park bench at lunchtime. What’s more both Peters had to agree that the experience seemed pretty real. Normally in his dreams, which were always low budget affairs, there was a sense of detachment, a sense of… well… dreaming. The armchair experience was like an I-Max blockbuster in comparison! Total immersion. It was also difficult for either Peter to accept that he was even capable of such flights of fancy – he just didn’t have an imagination.
Eventually, after talking and walking himself in circles everyone agreed he should sit in the chair and see what happened. Now at least, if anything did happen, Peter had his inner rationalist on board. Together they could figure this whole thing out, get to the bottom of it and return to normal. Because if Peter liked anything, it was normality.
With the sunglasses clasped in one hand Peter lowered himself into the armchair. The tension caused by his predicament quickly drained. The chair was so comfortable, so soothing that his body and mind relaxed and before long Peter felt his eyes grow heavy and he did nothing to stop it.
He opened his eyes to bright light. He heard a door open and close, then soft footsteps approached.
‘Put your glasses on Peter,’ said a familiar voice, husky, seductive, feminine. Peter hastened to obey. And there she was, as before, flanked by her naked, intellectually advanced employers.
‘How are you Peter? We are so pleased that you decided to return.’
‘I’m ok, I guess.’
‘Having a little trouble with reality?’
‘I’m struggling to know what’s real anymore, if that’s what you mean. I don’t know what to believe.’
‘Excellent’ said the woman.
‘Yes, you see the state you are in now, this indecision, this opposition between rationality and empiricism is exactly the human condition my colleagues wish to explore. What we would like to do, if you permit, is to analyse your mind during our conversation.’
‘You remember how the life form you first encountered here spoke to you using telepathy? Well with your permission my colleagues here would like to take it one stage further and telepathically analyse your thought patterns. They can un-intrusively collect data and relay it all back to a semi-organic quantum computer.’
‘I’m not sure I want anyone to know everything I’m thinking: some things are private,’ said Peter desperately trying to suppress an image of his interviewer writhing naked beneath him.
‘It’s not so much the thoughts themselves Peter… more the connections that are made and where they originate from. Sex, for example is a very complicated phenomenon. Your attitude, your likes and dislikes, your preferences, your guilty pleasures, your turn-ons and turn-offs are all products of your experience. How you were brought up, early sexual experiences, whether they were good or bad: it’s a minefield. How you feel about it has a lot to do with what you think you already know, what you believe. Millions of connections are being made, ultimately informing you on how you should respond to new developments.’
‘Are you going to ask me questions about sex?’ said Peter, a little hot under the collar.
‘No, at least not today. That was just an example. We are more interested in how you are dealing with this experience. You want to rationalise it, want to explain it in a way that makes sense to you and ultimately to others.’
‘Oh… ok. I guess as I’m here, and it’s probably only a lucid dream anyway…’
‘Is that a ‘yes’, Peter?’
‘Then we can start.’
‘My name is Maya. I was named after a Hindu Goddess. Maya keeps the illusion of the material world alive, preventing, or at least inhibiting us from seeing deeper spiritual truths. I was given the name to remind me that I must always look for those truths. It’s a kind of antitheses. We must, I believe, keep an open mind, gather information as we go, and challenge what we think we know… always challenge, keep asking questions. So Peter, you are, I’m guessing, in two minds as to what to believe right now. Can you tell us what you believe and why?’
Peter shifted in his chair, he felt like he’d been singled out in class to explain his thoughts on Beowulf. His thoughts on that topic were, simply put, that it was utter nonsense. Bloodthirsty Danes going around decapitating hags in swamps and butchering demons! What was there to say? None of it was forged in sense and he hated poetry at the best of times. Even so he was expected to give a constructive critique. Then, as now, the option of muttering ‘I don’t know miss,’ was not going to do him any favours.
‘Well there is a big part of me that thinks all of this…’ he waved his hands in an all encompassing manner, ‘… is not real. I mean it can’t be, can it?’
‘You are asking me?’
‘No, not really. Look I don’t have much of an imagination, I’m limited in that respect: it’s one of the reasons my wife became frustrated with me. For a while it was that very lack of imagination that led me to believe that this whole thing must be true, however bizarre that may (rationally) be. Of course there is a small part of me that wants it to be true – how incredible, how utterly fascinating! The fact that I couldn’t imagine my way out of a paper bag and yet here I am, in this richly layered reality. If it’s not of my doing and therefore it must, whatever I tell myself, be true.’
‘Now I think that, as brilliant as this is…’ said Peter sounding a little deflated, ‘there is nothing that I don’t recognise.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, you are human and everyone else here is of human form. I’m sitting on something that I recognise as a chair. Ok, I’m on a space station, although I haven’t seen it – only parts of the interior – the concept is still familiar to me. When we explain the world to ourselves or to others we use similes right? When more creative similes are employed they become fables, tales or fantasies but the point is we can only draw from what we already know. A fantasy is just an extension of reality, an extrapolation of the truth as we perceive it. Everything here is within the scope of human experience. Surely a truly alien encounter would be, or could be impossible to comprehend. A truly alien encounter may, for example, be only possible to experience though the employment of senses we humans do not posses.’
’So despite the clarity of your experience here, you believe it to be nothing more than an illusion? And your explanation for this illusion is that you are obviously having some kind of what?Breakdown?’
‘In a nutshell, yes.’
‘How do you know for sure that your whole life has not been part of the same illusion? That everything is an illusion? That in reality – whatever that might be – you are only a thought, one of billions of thoughts whizzing about in space? Or the only thought? One lonely thought generated by the universe. You are everything, you are nothing. You are clinging to a tiny raft bobbing about on a sea of doubt, saying, ‘Only this raft is real.’ Then one day you spot an island that bears such bountiful fruits and has space to roam and opportunity to learn and, ultimately be truly happy. Yet you pass it by; clinging to what you think you ‘know’ you watch it disappear over the horizon and you say to yourself, ‘That was a lucky escape.’
Reality is what you think you know and historically that can be very flawed. Rather than assume you know, why not assume you don’t?’
‘Anything is possible?
‘Anything is possible, yes.’
‘So, it is possible that I’m going completely mad and if I leave this madness untreated I’ll end my days jabbering nonsense, whilst having my food spoon fed and my arse wiped by a overbearing Nigerian nurse? But it is also possible that I’m not going mad at all, that all of this is as real as the tuna and egg sandwich I had for lunch; the fact that I could actually be that sandwich is neither here nor there. No brainer then?’
‘No, not when you think that whatever the objective reality might be, your subjective reality will be whatever you want it to be. Right now, for example, you may be slouched in an armchair having celery soup wiped from your chin by aforementioned Nigerian nurse. The nurse talks to you about her life but you don’t respond, you just gaze with glassy eyes into space. The doctors can detect brain activity but conclude that due to your acute misery in life you have entered a catatonic state. You may eventually return from Catatonia, have no memory of what happened during that period ‘the dream within a dream’ and build a new life from the relics of the old one… or not.
If I snap my fingers you can wake up and return to your previous reality, whatever it is, or you could stay here with me. Which one would you choose?’
‘Well I would like to chose this reality… I think. But I still want to know whether or not its actually happening.’
‘You want to have a belief to cling to?’
‘Yes, for my own sanity! Don’t you?’
Maya stood and leaned over the desk between them and said quietly, ‘I believe that anything is possible, I believe in you and I believe that one day you will believe in me too. And I believe in our love. I believe that we belong together.’
Peter stared in disbelief. Was this all part of his delusion or was it really happening? Because either way, his delusion or not, it was… unexpected. He could just about swallow everything else: the aliens, the ship, the portal but this? This was beyond his grasp.
Perhaps, conversely, it was all part of the alien experiment; the mind probe was presumably still operational. It was a test, a way of setting his belief mechanisms into over drive. How should he react to this? If this was self-delusion then presumably he could leap across the desk and gather her in his arms, kiss her, make love with her? It was his dream after all. On the other hand, instinct told him to just stay put. As crazy as it all seemed, Peter wasn’t completely convinced that this wasn’t actually happening and if so, he didn’t want to totally blow his chances of a possible romantic liaison with Maya in the future.
While Peter weighed up his options (a position of default for him, never really sure what to do in life or even how to go about it), he began to feel rather light-headed, even euphoric. He noticed fleetingly, but without concern, that the alien mind probers were becoming increasingly transparent until only a trace of their form remained. The room, with its white walls and bright light, disappeared slowly, like a dream on waking.
The weightlessness extended from head to body and gradually, without a care, Peter lost his sense of self. His past, the life he had lived, faded from view. Rather than mourning its loss, he felt as though he was emerging from the darkness and into the light. He’d leapt from the raft! Meanwhile all traces of his life vanished too, so that they had never existed. Annette, the coffee table, fish tank, lamp and bookcase had all disappeared. The armchair however merely stepped sideways, it benefited from having multiverse status.
Peter no longer had a physical presence in space, he was all things and nothing. He felt more like a concept, an idea, a thought. Floating freely without the constraints of body, of ego, of belief, he felt only hope.
And then, ‘Maya you done creeping me out for one night?’
Maya opened her eyes. The room was dim, the curtains drawn, the old shambolic armchair lurked in the shadows. The Nigerian nurse lent over the bed, studying her closely.
‘Peter?’ Said Maya in a whisper.
‘Peter who darling? There is no Peter, unless you talking about the Saint? He don’t want nothing to do with you dear, no nothing. Now listen up, if you promise not to pull any stunts I’m going to loosen the straps on the bed, just a little, just enough to let you feel more comfortable. Now, you going to be a good patient Maya?’
Maya nodded her agreement.
‘You got the devil in you young lady, but I’m going to get you fixed, don’t you worry about that, not a jot.’