STORY: ‘Escape from Psych Class’ by Shaun Lawton
Our professor regarded us from under a wiry shock of blond hair. He gripped a clipboard in his right hand, to which were attached his notes for this lecture. His voice, though a little raspy, was underlined with a fair amount of conviction. It held most of the classroom spellbound, though I suspected at least half of the students were strictly sideline observers, as if watching a gruesome accident at a carnival freak show. At least I paid attention to what Dr. Peasley was saying.
“It appears that, for every person, taken as a whole there is this base inference amid the generations concerning the grand scheme of things. A general conclusion of seemingly speculative ultimacy… yet rigidly entrapped by its own convention. And it seems everyone takes home with them the notion… that after all is said and done in this life, every individual discovers he or she is all that there is or was of the universe and reality.”
Dr. Peasley’s ruminations more often than not sounded as if they were intended for no audience but himself. His classroom lectures had a tendency to remain popular not merely for the obvious eccentricity of his presentations, but in my opinion there was an element of raw spontaneity and directness in his lectures, which leant them a degree of legitimacy, not to mention a certain confessional aspect. It was as if Dr. Peasley’s students felt as if they were present during his discoveries — such was his enthusiasm for the study of Cognitive Neuropathy, which he presided over here at Bradford College.
In prepping us for an introductory course to Advanced Psychodiagnostics, the professor glanced at the clipboard notes in his right hand, then continued with his discourse: “The truth is, coming to the notion of an absolute deduction such as this remains merely a perfect model in the vein of an obligatory exercise in showmanship, rather than a necessarily correct assumption of fact.” He paused, then added, “We are not alone. Rather, to be more precise, we are not alone in our solitude. There are countless examples of other sentient individuals who find themselves to be All.”
He stared back at us with raised eyebrows, as if expecting a refutation from the class, but received only a few appreciative chuckles.
“We must extend our thoughts their way as well, and join with them all for the comfort of lessening the terrible impact of being completely isolated in the universe.”
The professor’s wan face morphed into a wrinkled smile. Several students exchanged murmurs throughout the class.
“Paradox,” he continued, “is an essential clue to understanding the possibilities that surround us. It is a principal jigsaw-piece handed to us on an ideal plate. Strangely, no one ever seems to take much notice of this exquisitely significant puzzle piece glimmering always somewhere within our peripherals —”
He held up the clipboard on the extended fingertips of his right hand, like a waiter holds a tray, indicating an imaginary jewel upon it with a curt nod of his head.
“This of course is the first variable in the clue-chain equation, the first reflection’s echo of paradox that begins the shading of its obtuse contour; that is, the fact that no one notices that one of the integral clues before us indeed contains within the abstraction of its framework a focal scene of reality: the paradox! This initial paradox — that of not being able to notice that the actual focal point is paradox — appears to be the first link in the chain toward understanding that which we do not know is actually understandable.”
The professor stood, hunched over at an irregular angle to an alarming degree. His face caught always the direction of the students’ stares, and by angling it slightly upwards did he manage to hold their gaze with his aimless one. His speeches had a sort of repetitive quality about them, after the manner in which he gripped everything in his logical pincers, releasing it only to whip back and grasp it again for emphasis. Indeed, this habit of his was beginning to get on my nerves over the course of the semester, yet I found his mannerisms and thought processes fascinating.
He talked on: “The templates of diagram are arranged in grid-wrapped stacks that unfold and rearrange themselves into new proximities with each other. In this way ideas,” he said the word as if it were big, shaping his lips around it, “store themselves in memory within the intricate convolutions, which themselves are no more than endlessly fractal- folded layers housing the matrices of our thoughts within templates.”
He whirled on the class, livid, his left hand fanned upwards and trembling.
“Our minds are no more than that. Our skulls are nautilus shells! Our brains are sequences of thought rolled up tight into compact balls of spiral, layers of this balled up into roughly one anchored dimensional point. Unfurl each fractal of dream, and you have one slender limb of a current waving anemone; release them all and you have one gathered multi-blossoming entity outspread. Ever had crabgrass grow out of your eyes?” he asked with a lack of inflection and a knowing leer.
The classroom didn’t know what to say.
“Wild flowers forcing open your jaw in their strenuous growth from inside you? Indeed at times it isn’t difficult to mix up these templates of sensual data.”
A titter escaped from someone in the fourth row, to which Dr. Peasley deliberately coughed.
“Their variform interchangeability is the very essence of their puzzle-solution appeal.”
He regarded us from under furrowed, bushy eyebrows with a smile that came across more like a grimace. The class just stared back at him, as if waiting for the point to be driven home.
“Now the question remains,” he said. “Is there a puzzle to be solved? Indeed. This is the toughie. Of whether there is a secret at all.” He coughed abruptly again, then his tone became a shade more serious.
“Which gets me right to the point, sons and daughters. To the very solution, so to speak.”
He had stopped his slight tremors and stood now catching his breath before the class. He stared with a sudden vitality.
“The more you hunt it down, the further it draws you in. As if you were attached to its bait on a string; the whole time you thought you had been close to having it bite your dangling hook, it truly had but snagged you about the collar in its mirrored attempt at your dissection. Now which came first, and which was offered up to fate’s operating table, becomes the only question evident in your calcium-secreted mind. Now, I tell you, you must see how it is that I came to possess the ability to direct my skull chambers’ carbonate-secretions into a living cathedral of labyrinthine passageways, honeycombing about each and every independent thought and possible groupings of thoughts that may be contained within my nervous intelligence. I am the architect of a dense citadel… a lone fortress that upon closer inspection reveals the gargantuan intricacies of a vast castle, housing the bloodline of an archaic and aristocratic genius family-being. I speak of my very own skull—that pale and lovely nautilus shell. That cryptically twisted spiral compressed inwardly coiling chamber of arranged gelatin thoughts.” He tapped the side of his head, smiling darkly. “You wonder how, if it is inwardly coiled? Does that mean that the end you must come to indicate a necessary direction?” He paused, scanning the class. “We’ll get to that later.”
An electronic note piped high and sweet through the air, for three seconds, and ended. Lord! I had suddenly found myself drenched in the azure vapors of total confusion; everything Dr. Peasley had said seemed to recede in memory as an unperceivable wave leaving with the tide, the tide of what I couldn’t really tell you. Anyway, the note I’d heard chime through the classroom wasn’t any class bell I’d ever heard, so I assumed it was someone’s new and fancy gizmo. I was wishing it had been a class bell when the old man up front suddenly re-gripped us in his pincers of discourse.
“Anyway what is class without assignments?” He gazed in an abstracted manner at the whole lot of us as if we were one attentive jellyfish. “I want you all to… relax.”
His voice had become strangely detached and commanding. I was about to crack up! Then I relaxed my spine into the chair, my arms on the rails, and listened once more to what he said.
“Pretend all of you, together, are a big puddle of tranquil thoughts.”
His voice had become disembodied. I could no longer see him. Everyone in the classroom, which must have been eighteen or twenty of us, noticeably calmed even further into our chairs. The professor’s smooth voice continued.
“Yes. Lean back in your comfortable seats until your heads have come to a comfortable standstill. Slowly, quietly, we wish for a complete cessation of all movement, for the skull to protrude from your chair tops like an oblong tower, a fortress spire. The soft winds blow against the stillness of architecture, these tower walls, but no amount of seasonal weathering will erode them in any effective way. We are a random scattering of lost city-states, grouped in one collective pool. Now… now…“
His flat discourse drifted into faintness, and then picked up audibility further on.
“You must all see how this is nothing but ordinary madness.”
He rather wheezed this last statement through his teeth. Its effect on the class can only be described as shock. After a stunned moment, all of us unwilling or unable to move, I began trying to think of some way to refute this man, but could only maintain my stance as words failed to come to mind.
A soothing, warm wind with a promise of tropical vapors began undulating above us and over us, blowing across our interlocking city-spires, and we at last relaxed into the arid deserts of history and settled into the substrata of times past, long ago buried, to have sprung forth a desolate garden of tombstones, a matrix-plot cemetery maze stacking within others to form the one true deck of Death cards ceaselessly issued out to all members of the fraying edges of a bloodline.
“Now who could that be — Who could be at the fraying edge of a bloodline?”
He peered about at all of us separately now, as if checking to make sure we were all out of the picture; what picture, I couldn’t really tell if it was his doing, or what was happening. He had succeeded into fusing us all within one membrane of torpidity, I tried to but couldn’t even finish thinking of moving… a humid, mineral-rich air wafted by and I had to struggle to maintain the fact that the pleasant breeze was only the professor’s words… his meditative voice… it was increasingly difficult to maintain this line of thought… the land… its expansive and dynamic gravity must be overwhelming… oh, no — I had long ago surrendered my new physical form to this new world’s laws — and now realized that the process of irresistibly falling to bond with the earth had only to complete itself in my mind and whether I worked it out quickly or not, the fact remained that I was gravity-bound to this new system of awareness, and there was nothing I could do but go with it… lessen my final rebelling atoms… and just transcend into this weird class-group anemone-city of skulls… it was about this time that I began to feel a twinge of nausea, the anxiety of a trapped animal.
Down from the Dark Tower
The first thing that happened to my own individual self-system was the solidification of its calcium bone structure and the focusing of calcification within and throughout the skull itself. I was suddenly reminded of calcium-carbonate secreting abilities and within no time I was releasing layers of shell skull secretions calcifying into lime oxide spiral staircase towers and labyrinthine dungeons of memory-storage, delicate chambers wherein the dreams of the past lay in mortuary crypts. Atop these cellar regions I calcified upward into a voracious fortress of reason, a buttressing turret acting as shelter and home of my singular, independent mind.
This evolutionary process was slow, yet with a powerful momentum that dictated the destiny of a permanent fortress here, a monastic castle with adequate storage space for a continual line of descendants, who for the moment occupied their guest-chambers like silent ghosts of a statically possible future.
This is when the crest of my sentience awoke; that is to say, an aged yet vital phantom of myself opened once again the tireless lids of my dreaming eyes. I scoured the chamber ceiling and the dour contents of my granite room, searching every nook and cranny of the cell, finding only revolving baubles of light cast from a crystal clear jewel slowly spinning in the oriel window across from me.
Gathering my wits and memories without verifying them I strove to lift myself up and stand at the faintly beaming window before the glittering night. The closer proximity allowed me to spot one solid point of light amid the crowd of dimmer sparks, announcing itself a nearby planet.
I saw no moon, but knew it to be beyond that thick stone wall precisely there as if it glowed right through the graphic blocks of masonry. The outside night was cool and sweet with the atmosphere preceding interference.
I left my master cell, and moved down the stairwell with the ease of a wraith, eyes hardening into my new expression with gleeful abandon.
Phantom Legacy Convocations
Dimly I was aware that all about me in a tower in every neighborhood was a resurrected ruler phantom fleeing down the spiral staircase of his unwinding column just as I was. A couple dozen of us shrieking banshees screamed down, down, down toward the livid waiting rooms of our respective conference chambers.
The assemblage waiting sat patiently at a slung arc about a leaf-shaped table as I made my grand entrance. They all certainly expected me, and the general air readied itself for stormier weather.
Instead of seating myself at the living, carved throne, I fanned out my ten digits and rested them massively on the hard oak tabletop. I looked at all of them as directly as I could, those shifting, expectant scowls, and whispered, “This I leave now,” and swirled about, dark cape unfurling in a crackling arc about my shoulder for the moment it took for me to depart, striding down the dark corridor and out aimlessly into the night gardens.
Let them tend to this royal business themselves, whoever the Hell of me they are, while I’m here supposedly ruling, I’m having a stroll through my abstract gardens.
During occasions such as these, my slinking silhouette was a familiar sight along the horizons of timeless gardens. There was just nowhere else worth going to. Moody czars brooded in these lost places, where the endlessness of the moment was endurable for far too long. But something else, something stronger, compelled the actions and directions of my escapist flight. I veered away from fog-shrouded gardens, and headed with striding insistence toward the front gate over the moat.
The Möbius Moat over the Threshold
Upon opening the gate, a light blasted my vision with brilliant silence and a dazzling, flash-frozen etching of the surface of water and its unfathomable depths branded my sight. It was eerily highlighted with bioluminescent colors, en-fringed about my castle’s column like lingering phosphene impressions.
This moat appeared to be a living torus charged with an immeasurable space! I regarded it with mute apprehension, and too soon recognized its indiscernibility and how crossing it must surely drive a sane man mad… or vice-versa.
Lord! So that’s how I came to establish myself.
Are these castle walls… planetary? Those chapels over there, so moody looking along the mist horizon, are they not as well only a portion of my own connected citadels?
The thought gave me pause. I stood blinded, a seared silhouette in the gateway of my fortress’s wrought-iron entrance. Here there was no drawbridge, just the uninterrupted space of moat region: It appeared to be impenetrable.
I reclined on the thought of whether this moat kept others out, or me in; after turning the matter over for no longer than a moment, with sure and steady ease, I stepped out into the timeless lucidity of the slowly tumbling mists of the aether, abandoning myself to the capture of whatever abyss awaited beyond.
Surrendering to the moat, or becoming a part of it was to become a part of a group whole, a veritable gathering of lost traveling souls, wanderers who had once far and long ago unattached from their strongholds and braved the great expanses between kingdoms.
Many surrendered themselves to the enormous cyclopean forces of quantum space-time, of which the moat appeared to be literally filled to the brim.
Corners of my mind strained to withstand the stress of torque as I fell, spinning and spinning faster into spirals of blurring light, until an indeterminate time later there it was I floated, reclined on an approximation of all the counterspinnings in the constellations… whirring steadily, balanced against each other, until simple rigid star systems more steadily defined themselves over the meadow, gaining resolution as the aether turned into air and the blue of a sky was interrupted only by a wide- awake burrow-owl’s mournful hoot.
Seeking Other Shades of Purple
It was here that I met with my first interloper, the wandering Prince of Buried Dreams: Strada. He was a loner, and golden-blooded. Many a starset he brooded without showing the left side of his face. When I finally broke our shared silence and asked him whence he came, he looked me directly in the eyes and began telling me his story:
“I am a prince of my own devising, really. I am the collector of lost or unremembered dreams. I began conjuring them back from forgotten dust… to ultimately face the fact that only I could gaze upon them.”
His expression hardened in the moonlight.
“I found myself imprisoned within the galleries of my own castle.”
The prince looked out across the twilit moor.
“So I escaped. I don’t have to tell you about escaping from prisons of one’s own devising. Your presence here on this lonely, meandering road is enough proof of that.”
He turned his gaze toward me.
“How is it that you came about this barren avenue?”
Confronted by this sudden reversal of inquiry, I fumbled over the words of my reply.
“I… I… needed out. So I… stepped off…” I remained unable to vocalize the staggering significance of my recent voyage. Then, I managed to form these words into a question: “Are… you Keeper of the ragged edge of your bloodline? Do you stand guard as titan of your own fortress, the castle of the sediment skull encasing all thought and expression?”
He regarded me for what seemed a long time.
“Why… yes. I… we… must be such. No doubt. What of it?”
“What of it? Did you arrive here by attempting to enter a neighbor’s threshold, or simply by virtue of having stepped off the precipice of your own? Did you fall into a moat or another similar such vortex?”
A dawning recollection appeared in his eyes.
“Why… yes… I did. Yet…”
I was satisfied with the facts now. This prince too had somehow escaped his castle’s Keep. There were more of us, surely. I began to sense there was a malevolent, manipulative force at work, now. There was some way it must be intercepted.
The Princes Converge in a Meadow
Thus the real conference began: The one made consciously by ourselves for a hope of establishing the betterment of understanding between us, so we could assist each other in coming up with ideas as to how to interfere with the interloper’s dominion.
By the time the conference was in full swing, there had been eleven princes gathered for the debate, all in relative agreement that we had been swindled out of our own realities for the establishment or betterment of an Outsider’s reality, whose vision appeared to be that we all secreted out our own labyrinth prison fortresses about us and become entailed within the blood band of family rituals. The Outsider was some form of deranged tyrant, a virus that had to be exterminated.
Caught in the echoes of that fading thought, I began to feel cataleptic. Knowing that the direction which lay ahead was smoothly paved by destiny, I proceeded to lie comfortably and recline my skull at a tapered angle against the twisting bole of a rapidly growing tree, but nowhere could I find stillness.
All was exhilarated movement, the tree twisting out in its accelerated growth, everything carried along in streams, and in my state of absolute relaxation my skull unattached from the spinal column and rolled along moving waters that surged forward into a rocky river bottom, pulled by the current and plunged into a deeper darker silent blue.
There, in time, as moss on a rock, my skull grew a maze hedge across the top, which resembled growth from a Petri dish, then upon closer inspection, a courtyard and garden.
The surrounding blue waters thinned into a mist, which was swept free by the winds of time.
My courtyard was now open to the sky and the stars overhead: A simple garden in which to meditate. The foundation for my new fortress. I found myself sitting upon it, cross-legged on the center stone.
I began focusing attentively to myself, and then relaxed completely.
Back In That Other Reality Over There
The familiar outlines of the classroom slowly wavered into focus around me: I was back in the gloomy atmosphere dominated by the strange professor, who was either a particularly clever hypnotist, or something altogether more mysterious.
He sat cross-legged upon his desk, assuming the appearance of a fakir in a hypnagogic state; it was then that I understood what I had to do.
I got up, struggling against a seemingly stronger gravity, which worked to hold me back. Determined, I tottered towards the classroom door and its rectangular promise of escape; aware that the professor might sense my exit, I strove to suppress my fear and overpowered my instinct to sprint for the door. I summoned my willpower and strode casually to the doorway, appearing as confident and unafraid as I could manage. I decided I would leave Dr. Peasley and his estranged coterie behind to their own device. As I stepped out of the classroom and into a blessed world of freedom and fluorescent light, I felt renewed.