I don’t like it here, Chris thought. Everything is so bleak. Where is the colour? Where are the sounds?
A slow scan of the environment filled Chris with a sort of despair. This place was like nowhere he had ever been. And yet it was full of memories. His memories. Memories that should be happy, so why do they hurt so much?
It looked sort of like a field, only grey. There were abandoned farm vehicles scattered around the landscape and when Chris looked at them he somehow knew that none of them had been used in an incredibly, inconceivably long time.
‘Hello!?’ he yelled. ‘Is there anybody out there!?’
His voice echoed around the chill, grey fields and the wind carried it back to him. He suddenly realised he was a little underdressed for this place, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The wind whispered around his arms and legs and his skin crawled with goosebumps.
He was getting desperate. Surely, there must be someone here?
But there’s not. There’s nobody here because you deserve to have nobody. Everybody has left you and everybody was right to. Your family hate you, your girlfriend left because she couldn’t stand you, as soon as your daughter is old enough then she’ll leave you too. You have no friends because you are simply insufferable. Who would want to hang out with a loser like you? You seem like a fun guy from the outside; funny, talented, kind and caring. But when people get to know you, when they get to know the real you that is, what do they find? A pathetic, ambition-less, stupid, useless man. No wonder nobody wants to speak to you. No wonder you are alone.
The tears that fell down Chris’ cheeks didn’t help. What was it Charles Dickens said? Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are the blinding dust upon the earth, overlying our hard hearts. Something like that. But Chris felt immense shame in these tears. For every tear that dropped, proof was shown of his utter worthlessness.
Yes, look at the tears. Other people would rise up in his situation and do something about their lives. Not him. Not Chris. He’s been defeated.
He fell to his knees beside a dull tree with no leaves. He grasped at its branches and wept, staring ashamedly at the ground beneath him. He imagined this world shrinking and bending around him, swallowing him up forever. The thought might have been slightly comforting if it weren’t for the fact he knew it wouldn’t happen.
‘How did it come to this?’ Chris whispered. ‘How did I end up here? Everything’s so wrong. So wrong. Where did I go wrong?’
He closed his eyes but it was painful. As soon as his eyelids closed he saw faces. Faces of people he loved, but they were sad. He saw his girlfrie… He saw his ex girlfriend. Tears streamed down her face and she looked at him with anger.
‘Why did you have to go and mess it up, Chris? Why? We could have had something good but instead, you come into my life and make it worse? What did I do to you to deserve that? I thought you loved me? Yet I was never good enough for you, was I? Everything questioned all the time. Well I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m not absolutely perfect, I’m sorry I have bad days where I can’t shift my mood and I’m sorry that you had to put up with all of that. Poor Chris. Poor, self-centred, ungrateful Chris. We’re over. Don’t ever speak to me again.’
Chris wanted to say something back to her, but she disappeared. Her face was replaced by the young, five-year-old face of his own daughter.
‘Daddy, do I have to come to your house? I want to stay at my Mummy’s house. Your house is boring. You’re boring. You just look sad all the time. You sound sad all the time. And I have nobody else to play with. Where’s your girlfriend gone? I liked her. I don’t want to come to your house for Christmas, I was to stay at my Mummy’s. Please don’t make me come to you any more.’
He tried to speak to her but all he could manage were bursts of more tears. His daughter held a look of sheer disappointment in her beautiful little face. The kind of look that someone shouldn't know until later years.
‘Why are you crying, Daddy? Can’t you handle it?’
Chris stood up and ran. He ran across the grey fields and he saw nothing else that would bring even the faintest spark of joy. The cold wind rattled around the bare trees and abandoned tractors.
‘What is this place!?’ Chris cried as he ran. ‘Where am I? How do I get out!?’
He was running uphill, weeping as he went. He could smell something now – a faint but obvious smell of fire. As the top of the hill approached he began to see a thick, black smoke. When he reached the top he saw a building far in the distance. He recognised his workplace instantly, even though it was so far away. And outside it were all of the people he worked with. The building was on fire and the people around it stood with their arms folded, staring at Chris with livid expressions.
‘This is your fault!’ they cried. ‘You did this! You gave us hope and then you took it all away! Why? Why, Chris!?’
Chris sank to his knees once more. He felt heavier suddenly, as though something had begun to push on him from the shoulders. Even now he could see his knees sink into the ground. He watched as first his legs, and then his stomach began to disappear into the ground below. The faces of his ex-girlfriend and daughter joined the others at the burning building as his head finally sank below the ground.
‘Chris? Chris? Can you hear me?’
Chris sprung awake. He didn’t know where he was now. Somewhere completely dark. It would have been bleak if it weren’t for the relief of just seeing nothing at all.
‘Who’s there?’ Chris asked.
‘It doesn’t matter who I am,’ the voice said. ‘You just need to listen.’
‘Go away,’ Chris moaned, and he closed his eyes.
‘Snap out of this!’ the voice demanded. ‘Snap out of it right now! You have to go back out there.’
‘What!?’ Chris spat. ‘You can’t be serious! It’s done! There’s nothing out there for me now. Everything’s all messed up. I can’t do it.’
‘Can’t...’ the voice started. ‘Or won’t?’
‘I can’t!’ Chris insisted.
‘Oh. Well. Fair enough then,’ the voice said. ‘You just going to stay here then?’
Chris considered it. ‘I would if I could.’
‘No you wouldn’t,’ the voice argued.
‘Yeah?’ Chris questioned. ‘What do you know?’
‘I know that you feel like giving up,’ the voice said.
‘Yep,’ Chris agreed.
‘But...’ the voice started. ‘I know that giving up isn’t in your nature.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Chris said. ‘It doesn’t matter if I try or not. Nothing will ever be… good again.’
‘But that’s nonsense!’ the voice said. ‘And somewhere deep inside you, you know that’s nonsense.’
He did. Chris knew that the horrors above would not endure. Could not endure. But sometimes life just got a little exhausting. Sometimes people were put under so much pressure that it was impossible to thrive. Sometimes your own mistakes just became too big and infected everything like a disease. Sometimes it seemed impossible to win.
‘Stand up,’ the voice said.
‘Why?’ Chris asked.
‘Stand up and face it!’ the voice demanded. ‘You are strong enough to face everything that’s out there and more. Think of how far you’ve come! Others would be envious of your courage. Just because you feel like you are failing, doesn’t mean that you are! Now get out there and fix it!’
Chris wasn’t sure how to stand. He wasn’t even sure he was really in his body any more. He pulled what he thought of as his leg up at the knee, and placed what he hoped was his left hand onto the floor.
‘That’s it!’ the voice encouraged. ‘That’s it Chris! Don’t give up!’
He began a sort of swimming motion upwards, and before he knew it he was back in that same, grey, horrible land. He felt nauseous.
And there in front of him was everything he had dreaded. All of life’s problems. And that same grey landscape.
Only, in the distance, he swore he could spot a single, solitary red flower in bloom.