Eternal Entrapment

Submitted into Contest #51 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt

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General

How can one both yearn for something and dread it at the same time? It would be an unenviable thing; an article that someone wishes to draw near to, but yet shy away from in the same movement --like a rose bush drawing one close with its beauty, the delicate petals arrayed elegantly by some natural geometer, but hastening away with its nasty thorns that wrap and tangle the vines which support the whole. It would be much akin to time itself, that evanescent yet perennial movement which beckons one onwards, even though the destination is undesirably, and undeniably, clear. Between opposites like these Cassady found himself desperately pondering his haunted past. A time which he wanted to leave behind and move as far away from as possible. And yet he was convinced, in the same moment, that time is cyclical, and that by hastening his future he would only bring himself closer to the torment he wished to never visit again. 

In the back of the physics classroom Cassady felt a shiver crawl up his spine. He felt like he had been there before. Not only in the sense of it being halfway through the semester, having been in that same class on tens of occasions, but in an existential sense --a feeling of dread bubbling up from within, one that spanned millenia and countless repetitions of his life. He felt an inescapable force; that even his most anti-quotidian actions were all pre-determined and unavoidable. He felt that even his thinking about the cyclical nature of time was destined and that he, as if strapped to a locomotive, was barreling down the tracks as some infinite being’s sick plaything, being only able to experience what was around him, all the while looking for a way out or off the train which would follow the same set of rails forever. 

Cassady’s teeth clamped down and sunk into the Ticonderoga in his mouth. The miniature rail-tie was grotesquely malformed under the hundreds of chomp marks that peppered its being. From tip to tail it had been crushed under the jaw of the anxious young man. Had he some semblance of social acuity, he could inuit that those sitting next to him with their concerned physiognomies would be interested in getting him to speak his mind. For as many classes as he had been there, they had seen Cassady do the same thing: masticate the pencil in his mouth while taking turns blankly staring off into space and hurriedly rending excalibur from his jaws to write chicken scratch in his notebook. Concern would be an understatement for the sentiment within his classmates. 

The problem being that if Cassady knew this, he would recoil in horror at their involvement in his life that he could not change, and wish that the class time would hasten onwards, but then in the same moment, would realize that he had been played the fool again, quickening his pace towards the end and the inevitable repeat of that which he was trying to escape. He felt himself a donkey with a carrot dangled in front of him; always chasing that which he wanted, but since the goal was attached to him, every movement he made pushed his goal farther away from him. If only he could stop the thinking. If only the endless ruminations would stop. If only that haunted past of his which he feared so mightily would cease and never rise up again.

But what was it exactly that he feared? He winced when the thought passed by his consciousness even at a distance. Much worse was his reaction when the orbiting fear reached periapsis. And he wished he could describe it fully, such that he could conquer the fear as he had seen others do with theirs. Once something can be named, defined, described, it can be manipulated and drawn out of the hazy background of reality. Until that point whatever it is exists as a spectre, its effects visible, but the strings and puppetmaster hidden from view, which only serves the purpose of making the threat seem bigger than it is. Yet Cassady sketched what he observed of his demon in his notebook nonetheless.

So far he had figured that it was those colors and shapes. That experience he jumped into to escape reality, and to lose his mind if but only for a few hours. That desire to drink in the euphoria that he had heard so much about and seen so many people turn their lives around because of. And so Cassady had tried the experience at the cost of only a few micrograms of fine synthetic chemicals, and met his cyclic demon in the midst of hellish fire. With no guide in this new realm, and an unstable state of mind, Cassady had fallen quickly from the initial rush down to the most carnal horror that, like a net, cast its grip over his mind and trapped it. He was trapped.

Trapped he thought. Perhaps though it is better to describe it as ‘knew’. He knew he was trapped. That no matter his struggle he would not be able to shake the hold that was upon him. That he was doomed to forever be chained to this mortal coil. That his life was meaningless in and against the grand void of the all-devouring Father Time, which cast Cassady on the stage to live, work, die, and come to the realization that this was all he would amount to forever and ever; that there would never be an ‘after’ and there would never be a ‘before’. Cassady was trapped in the infinite present, his movements and thoughts restricted to the processes set by their antecedents, which in turn linked back through all of time to the start of it all, where, and here was his greatest tribulation, there was no start --only an apparent beginning that morphed with an apparent end which circled round and round ouroborically.

And why he feared that experience so much, and anything that signalled the apparent onset of it, was because he had learned of that fact --the Great Trap-- during it. Cassady knew that if he had not wanted to taste for himself the pleasure that he had seen others have, he would have stayed in ignorant bliss; that his overt pleasure seeking had put him farther away from his goal of experiencing paradise. 

Cassady thusly had wanted all his thinking to end, because there was no solution to the self-referential, cyclical problem in his mind. But after discovering his two options for quitting his endless machinating, one chemically induced and the other a dead end, he realized that the adage of time healing all wounds would be his best course of action, for both options would lead him back to that which he feared faster than simply waiting it out. He found that if he threw himself into study, he was able to find respite from his fear. In due course Cassady stumbled upon physics, and took it upon himself to learn everything such that one day, against determinism itself, he could subvert the system using its own rules and guarantee that his world, and torture, would stop. Despite looking outwardly, with pencil in mouth, that he was wasting his time in class, he paid the most rapt attention to the meaning of the professor’s words. He went on to become a theoretical physicist, working his best to define the rules of the world in the hope that someday he could use them to unravel the mess of his past --forever.




Cassady’s discoveries in physics were later found to be fundamental to the development of a machine of interstellar proportions, capable of reversing the outward expansion of the universe inwards towards a singular point, such that a second ‘big-bang’ could occur. It is up to the reader to decide whether this machine was fired or not.



July 22, 2020 21:28

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5 comments

Very great use of language! I noticed that in a few of your stories. You know how to write, to be sure. I hope you develop a voice outside the norms of vengeance and realism, because that would make your work even more powerful.

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Joseph Lombardi
17:27 Aug 28, 2020

That's a striking point. Even now while ideating a response to the next set of prompts my initial thought was of a wealthy progenitor willing away his wealth to an oak, his cat, etc., simply to spite his spoiled spawn. A crude kind of vengeance. Thank you for raising this, I wouldn't have been able to reflect on it otherwise! I do see it now as a recurring theme in my writing.. cliched.. Time to make like a tree and branch out. Were it so easy!

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Writing is the easy part. It is learning how to maintain a good repoire with one's imagination that is hard to arrive at. But having the writing part down first is a good start. Now just get weird with it! :)

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LuxPN Silva
21:34 Jul 29, 2020

Very poetic and artistic. Rather than giving it a PTSD feel you gave it more of a mental maze feel. Well done. The ending was a bit rushed but the italics do help to tie it up nicely.

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Joseph Lombardi
16:04 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you for the very insightful comment/criticism! I was having trouble figuring out a resolution to the protagonist's conflict against the antagonist, his own mind. I'll pay attention to that!

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