Before today Miss Evans had never heard of a six year old who could spell 'Nihilism' or 'Simulation Hypothesis', let alone use them in a sentence. She sat, slumped over the desk, head in hands, re-reading Darren's work from today's English lesson. His usual purposeful hand, the bold lettering of a child still trying to master cursive had been replaced on this particular piece of work with a frantic scratchy scrawl that went on for pages and pages of his tatty workbook.
Miss Evans was at a loss to explain this piece of writing. It seemed impossible that this was really the work of a child, but she had handed out the English books at the beginning of the lesson and collected them at the end. Where else had this essay come from? Even though she hadn't paid special attention to Darren during the lesson, she was sure nothing abnormal had happened. The boy had sat quietly as he normally did. Darren was a shy but compliant child. He had written keenly, just like the rest of the class but what had been left on the pages was nothing like the rest of the children's work.
A tap at the classroom door woke Miss Evans from her reverie. She could see the curious face of Darren's mother through the small glass window. The teacher smiled warmly and rose from her chair.
"Mrs Frost, thank you for coming to see me" Darren trailed behind his mother into the classroom looking a little anxious.
After they had all taken a seat Miss Evans gave Darren a reassuring look.
"Darren you aren't in trouble don't worry, I just wanted to ask you about your story in English this afternoon. Could you tell your mum what you wrote about today?"
Darren glanced nervously at his mother and shrugged his shoulders.
"You don't remember? Do you remember what I asked you to write about?"
"Ummm, you said to write a story about going on the best summer holiday we could think of" Darren said in a small, guilty voice, twisting the bottom of his school shirt around his fingers.
"And is that what you wrote about?" Miss Evans asked kindly.
"I don't think so" Darren muttered. Mrs Frost was looking confusedly between her son and the teacher. Miss Evans caught her eye and passed her Darren's workbook. It took the woman a good five minutes to read the piece. As her eyes darted across the page her eyebrows became more and more knitted. Miss Evans watched as the inevitable look of disbelief came across the mothers face, finally she looked up at the teacher.
"Well clearly Darren didn't write this. There's no way, this is some kind of sci-fi crackpot theory" Mrs Frost shook her head and threw the book onto the desk as if she wanted to get it far away from her as possible.
"That's exactly what I thought, but I saw Darren writing for the whole lesson in this book. I've searched the whole thing, there is nothing new apart from this. I was hoping you might be able to explain it. Has Darren watched any TV shows that might have put these things in his head"
Before Mrs Frost could open her mouth Darren has spoken confidently, eyes fixed on his teacher, his nervousness replaced with a exasperated confidence.
"He wrote what I told him to, you bloody fools"
Both women stared silently at the boy. Miss Evans had the strongest desire to back as far away from the child as she could, but she was also frozen in absolute horror.
"Everything I wrote is real, and I wrote it because I think you should be free. But it's hard to make you understand because you so desperately want to believe the illusion they have created for you. I've tried to tell you so many times but every time I speak through one of you, my mouthpiece is called a maniac and shipped off to some kind of mental institution. I'm becoming frustrated with you all. I thought that maybe if I speak though one of your children, someone who is too young to understand the things he is saying, it will make you realise this is real. I know you are going to get upset now, you people always do. But when you have calmed down maybe you should look up Plato's Allegory of the cave and wake the fuck up".
Immediately after his tirade, Darren's face fell and he collapsed into himself, arms wrapped around his knees that were pulled up to his chest, rocking rhythmically.
"Darren!" Mrs Frost shrieked diving towards her son. "What's wrong with him?"
Miss Evans simply stared as Darren started to cry, his mother piled on top of him as if to shield him from something hovering above their heads.
"I don't... understand" Miss Evans spluttered as Mrs Frost bustled her son from the room, seemingly torn between wanting to hold him at arms length and cover him with her coat to keep out the voices.
It had to have been at least ten minutes before Miss Evans was able to move. She couldn't for the life of her work out what had happened. Schizophrenia and delusions caused by a fever crossed her mind, but there was no explaining the way Darren was able to talk the way he had, as if he was a fully grown adult, the authority of knowledge didn't seem like anything a six year old could muster.
Miss Evans remembered the reference Darren had made at the end of his rant. She knew about the allegory. Plato had used it to explain philosophical education. The story went that a group of prisoners are chained in a cave from birth, facing a cave wall. A fire burns behind them and people, who are meant to represent authority in society, stand between the fire and the prisoners backs and hold up puppets to cast shadows on the cave wall that the prisoners are facing. The shadows become reality for the prisoners, it's all they know, it's their whole world. Until one day, one of the prisoners breaks free and turns to see the fire, or 'The light' he tries to break the other prisoners free to let them see the truth but they shun him as dangerous because he threatens the comfort of everything they know and understand.
How could Darren possibly know this allegory, never mind use it to back up his delusion? The way he was talking made it seem like the allegory was meant to be seen as instructions rather than a teachable story. She cautiously picked up Darren's work book and re-read the last paragraph, one more time.
Of course there isn't an easy way to wake yourself up dear reader. If there was, more people would have done it. The problem is with the fear, the fear makes you disbelieve. Waking up to reality means leaving everything behind. Everything you feel to be important to you. Your family, your job, your town, everything up to the concept of your universe. You have been taught these 'realities' from when you could walk and talk and I, a voice from the void, am asking you to disregard them, for they aren't real. Your resistance to this idea is so palpable, you don't even give it the time of day. You file it under 'fiction' and ask different existential questions. I hope for your sake, one day, you realise how to accept it as truth. Only then will you turn around and see the fire. The fire that casts the shadows. The shadows that make up your reality.