Aphelion Issue 236, Volume 23
February 2019
 
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Let Me Out Of Here

by Bernie Silver




Concentrate on a single goal, rather than on many, and you are more likely to reach it because your energies will be more sharply focused. Therefore I am confident I will achieve my one goal in life, which is to escape the Asylum.

But to do so, I must avoid the fate of the multitude here. I must not bend to the will of the Asylum and its Keepers. I must not succumb to their Rules.

The Keepers are cunning. They understand the intricate workings of the human mind; for example, they know that reward-and-punishment, though prosaic, is effective. Consequently, when we follow the Asylum's Rules, our Keepers reward us with coveted designations, like Resident of the Month, or Most Congenial Resident or Resident Most Likely to Succeed. Sometimes they hand out plaques and bestow ribbons on us at formal ceremonies. Other times they reward us quietly, less ceremoniously, with a smile, words of praise, a pat on the back. Such "carrots" are potent incentives to do as the authorities say. Those with little self-regard, meaning most Residents, crave these signs of approval from their Keepers.

Most Residents do not grasp the irony of seeking praise from their abusers, for that is what the Keepers are. And yet their victims no longer recognize the abuse, so accustomed have they become to it. They believe the Asylum is taking care of them, that if they follow the Rules, obey the Keepers' demands and offer praise to both the Asylum and Keepers, their needs will be met.

But they will not.

Not their real needs. The most basic of these is to live freely. But the Asylum will never respect this need, for if it did, its very purpose, to hold sway over Residents, would go unfulfilled. So it posts Guards at the gates, and through its lies and deceptions draws the shades on our minds. The Keepers tell us stories, and we believe them; we see what they want us to see. And if we suspect that what we see is not reality, we do not look more closely, or if we do, we remain silent about what we see for fear of offending our Keepers or of being punished by them.

The Asylum corrodes our ability to think, partly by extolling the virtues of distractions. It encourages us to sit transfixed for hour on end before our beloved screens—movie, television, computer, smart phone, video game. Thus are our minds undermined and our attention diverted from our manacles.

Some survive in the Asylum by collaborating with it, suggesting ways of keeping uncooperative Residents in line, and recommending new Rules, as if the Keepers cannot conceive enough on their own. Worse, these collaborators betray those who have broken the Rules, deriving great satisfaction from seeing them punished. For their betrayal, the Keepers honor them.

The Asylum is inept at everything it does except shackling its Residents. Its food is tasteless, its services are inefficient, its officials, such as the Keepers, are corrupt and beholden to their employer, which provides their livelihood and slakes their thirst for power.

Most Residents do not think of escape, having resigned themselves to the Asylum and its ways. Some even believe they are happy here, but I am not among them. I remember that other world, beyond the Asylum's gates, and I long to return to it, for it is there that I breathed the fresh air of freedom. I do not recall the name of that world, nor do others who have been there. We and our Keepers refer to it as the Outside.

Until recently I merely dreamt of escaping to the Outside, but now I have devised a plan. It involves securing the help of the Asylum itself, which will gladly exile me to the Outside because I will have become a Malcontent.

Malcontents are as anathema to the Asylum as the Asylum is to those who covet freedom. They complain about everything associated with their captivity, constantly protesting to the Keepers and other Residents. Thus they are a threat to the Asylum and an annoyance to Residents. The Asylum eventually labels them Sane so they can purge them, meaning banish them to the Outside, for the Sane are deemed unfit for residence in the Asylum.

My plan is to go Sane.


*****



"You're crazy," my friend Royo claimed after I informed him of my plan.

We were sitting at a table for two in the Asylum cafeteria.

Royo took a bite of his sandwich, the contents of which I will not name, as it would sicken me to do so. Yet Royo, who also came from the Outside, smiled with satisfaction. Thus he was blessed, as he had forgotten the difference between real sustenance and food-in-name-only.

I picked up my own sandwich, but did not have the heart, so I returned it to the blue plate with a yellow smiley-face in the middle.

"You are crazy too, we all are," I said in response to Royo's assessment of my current mental state.

"Well, there's crazy and there's crazy," he said. "You're crazy, man."

He chewed with his mouth open and talked with it full, habits I found irritating but not enough to cease being his friend.

"But I will become Sane," I told him, "and return to the Outside." I broke off a small piece of bread and nibbled. Stale, as usual.

"You mean you'll become a major pain in the ass, like the rest of the damn Malcontents," Royo said.

"Yes, that is my plan."

I was not certain why I had befriended Royo. We had little in common except our confinement. Perhaps I appreciated his candor and lack of guile. Nor was I sure why I told him of my plan. Maybe because I wanted to say it aloud, to hear how it sounded, and knew that Royo would not betray me because in addition to being candid and guileless he was loyal.

Having disclosed my plan to him and detected no weaknesses, I began to act upon it.


*****



I began with the Residents.

I am not gregarious by nature, but now I engaged in conversation almost everyone who crossed my path. In all of these exchanges, I reproached the Asylum.

One of the first Residents with whom I did this was Alana Cordova, a doe-eyed, honey-skinned lovely with whom I had contemplated striking up a friendship and perhaps something more. But my shy nature had precluded anything other than a few brief, albeit somewhat flirtatious, encounters.

She looked pensive sitting on one of the drab gray benches that rimmed the Asylum.

"May I join you?" I inquired.

"You may."

Alana smiled so warmly that my resolve to express dissatisfaction weakened for a moment. But I quickly recovered.

"So what do you think of the new Benevolent Surveillance Rule?" I asked.

She replaced the smile with a frown. "So we're going to be serious today, are we?"

"Yes. These are serious times."

"Well, I try not to think about such things."

"Why?"

"They give me a headache. Besides, I trust the Asylum to look after us. If it passes a Rule, I'm sure it's for our own good."

"But how does monitoring all our phone calls do us any good? Don't you see how it violates—"

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about our fundamental rights."

Alana pursed her lips. "Well, Mr. Fundamental Rights, it so happens I did think about the new Rule while watching American Idle the other night, and it seems to me if you behave yourself, and do and say the right things, you needn't worry about who overhears your conversations."

She seemed pleased with this line of reasoning.

Still, I pushed on. "But what about our rights as human beings to do what we want as long as we are not harming others, and to say what we want as long as it is not 'Snake!' in a crowded room?"

Alana looked so bewildered I wanted to overcome my reticence and cradle her in my arms. But I refrained.

"Winchell, you're being mean to me, and here I thought we might be friends . . . close friends, if you know what I mean. Now I just want you to go away. Bother someone else with your stupid ideas."

Though my conversation with Alana saddened me, I did as she suggested and went away.


*****



So Lilliputian in size was Percy Trask, Chief Keeper of the Asylum, I could barely see him across the vast expanse of his desk. But at least no objects obstructed my line of vision; the desk's surface was desolate except for a pad of lined paper and a sharpened pencil reposing next to it.

The Chief began by looking at his watch. "As you know, Winston, I'm a very busy man, so—"

"Winchell."

"What?"

"Winchell. My name is Winchell."

He stared at me, I think, then said, "Whatever. The point is, make it quick. I understand you have a complaint."

"I do."

"Well c'mon, man. Let's hear it."

"It's about the Ladylikes."

"What about them?"

"They're being treated unfairly."

"Are you one of them?"

"No."

"Then why do you give a rat's ass?"

"If one Resident is deprived of his rights, all Residents are deprived of their rights."

The Chief sighed and looked heavenward. That much I could tell. He may also have rolled his eyes, but this was conjecture on my part.

"It's bad enough the Ladylikes keep squealing about their rights, now we've got a Manly doing it for them."

He removed what appeared to be rimless glasses, reached into his middle desk drawer and emerged with a tissue, with which he cleaned the lenses. He threw the tissue under his desk, into a wastebasket, I assumed.

The Chief sighed again, only with greater force. "Well, what is it now? How are we maligning or maltreating them or otherwise depriving them of their precious rights?"

"The Rules forbid them to have sex with each other."

He seemed uncertain whether to defecate or expectorate. I was hoping for the former but kept this preference to myself.

"Well of course they're prohibited from having sex. As you're well aware, sex is a privilege here, not a right. It's bad enough you Manlies and your sluts are so horny all the time. But being open-minded, we allow you to indulge yourselves. And that by God is as far as we'll go. Piss will turn to wine before we'll permit the Ladylikes to engage in their perversions."

"But they—"

"End of discussion."

"But I think—"

"Did you hear what I just said?"

"Yes but—"

"One more 'but' and you'll be out on yours. Banished to the Outside. I can arrange that, you know. Any Keeper can call an emergency session of the Board to take whatever action it deems necessary for Asylum security. Keep talking and you'll see what I mean."

Outwardly I effected a look of contrition; inwardly I toasted my progress toward emancipation.

I was close, very close. But I determined that one more encounter should give the Board sufficient reason to cast me out.


*****



When I arrived at the office of Asylum Director Terwilliger Bunson he was standing at one of those chest-high desks designed for people who cannot, or do not wish to, sit for extended periods of time. The desk resembled a small drafting table, and I suspected the Director had drafted many a Rule for the Board's consideration on it. He was scribbling furiously as I knocked lightly on the frosted pane of his open door.

His head remained bent so I knocked harder, well aware that by doing so I risked drawing his ire. He looked up on my second attempt to gain his attention and favored me with a broad smile.

"Come in, come in." The Director reinforced his invitation by beckoning me with his free hand.

Upon my arrival at his desk we shook hands.

Tall and extremely thin, the Director, whose grip was much firmer than I expected, turned and glanced at the wall clock behind his standup desk. "Is it 3 o'clock already? My, my, where has the time gone?"

Assuming the question was rhetorical, I said nothing.

The Director gestured toward a leather chair next to his desk, then leaned casually on the desktop. If I were prone to conclusion-jumping, I would say he enjoyed looking down on people.

"Now—Winslow, is it?—what can I do for you? My secretary merely wrote 'complaint' next to your name in the appointment book."

"The name is Winchell, sir. And yes, I'm afraid I do have a complaint."

Another smile, this one slightly narrower. "And what might that be?"

"The List, sir."

"The List?" The Director patted an impeccably groomed head of gray hair.

"The List the Asylum keeps of those who criticize it," I replied.

"Why, my good man, I don't know who started that rumor—and you know how active the rumor mill is around here—but there's no such List, I assure you."

He delivered this assurance with such sincerity that I almost believed him. But the rumor mill had proved extraordinarily accurate in the past, and word of the List had gained credibility as the handful of Residents critical of the Asylum began suffering unexplained consequences, including revocation of privileges such as engaging in sex.

"I do not agree, sir. I believe there is such a List."

"Based on what evidence?" The Chief's tone remained amiable, a tactic adopted by certain reptilian lawyers and salesmen I had known.

"Based on the rumor mill you so denigrate, but in which I have full faith and confidence, and based on the misfortunes suffered by critics at the hands of the Asylum. This tells me the Keepers must be referencing a List in meting out punishment."

"It does, eh?" His voice now betrayed a slight edge. "So you base your accusations on rumor and wild guesses. Not very substantial evidence, I'd say."

"It is sufficient for me, which is why I am taking up your valuable time."

The Director gazed at the clock again. "Speaking of which, while this little chat has been most enlightening, I must get back to work."

He extended his hand, which I ignored. "What about the List, sir?"

"Well, what about this figment of your imagination?"

"Will you destroy it, this figment?"

He smirked. "I can't very well destroy what doesn't exist, now can I? But I'll tell you what." The smile returned, wider than ever. "If there were such a List, your name would be on it, and with a star next to it. Do you know what that would mean?"

I shook my head, hoping it meant what I thought it meant.

"It would mean you're next up to be declared Sane and banished to the Outside."

I feigned agitation. "Oh no. Please, sir, not that."

"Yes that. In fact, if you don't leave my office immediately . . . if you utter one more syllable . . . you could be out on your duff by day's end."

I rose quietly and walked to the door, then turned. The Director was bent over his desk again.

"Sir?"

He looked up, scowling this time. "I thought you were gone."

"Not quite."

"But I told you—"

"Just three more words, sir."

Deep sigh. "Very well, what?"

"One. More. Syllable."


*****



I had longed for the Outside, but it was only after my return that I realized how much I missed it: the quiet, well-padded cells; the glistening corridors with the clean white walls; the surrounding gardens festooned with brightly colored flowers; the serpentine path that meandered through the tranquil premises; and, not least of all, the camaraderie among the Inmates, from which even a reserved person such as myself might derive satisfaction.

But most welcome of all was the return to freedom; to being able to think for myself and to express my opinions—including criticisms—without fear of repercussion. Yes, there were Rules, such as no hitting and no running in the halls, but we could protest them at the weekly Inmates' meetings, and if the majority agreed, our Representative would relay the protest to higher authority, sometimes to the President herself. Should someone in authority deem our protest unfounded, at worst they would ignore it.

Yes, I missed my friend Royo, but perhaps someday I will see him again—if he learns to open his mouth for more than just eating.



THE END


2019 Bernie Silver

Bio: Bernie Silver is a semiretired reporter and editor who in his dotage has turned to part-time caregiving and fiction-writing, not necessarily in that order..

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