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Slumber of Sullen Eyes

Saul Samuelson stared sullenly at the white wall at the foot of his bed. Like nearly everyone else in New York City, he lived in a tiny apartment that was 100 feet square, barely enough room for a bed, a microwave, and some closet space. He remembered reading somewhere that the United Earth Government and their corporate partners engineered these living conditions in order to maximize GDP and achieve equality. He wondered if they ever bothered to consider anything other than material factors. He then wondered if they were ignorant or malicious.

He ran his fingers through his long, greasy hair. He sniffed himself and groaned in disgust. Every apartment complex had a communal bathroom with rationed water. He hated using it because he hated being around the other tenants, so he often went weeks at a time without showering. That - and constantly hearing the other residents through the paper thin walls - made him wish for some semblance of privacy. He thought about the intrepid pioneers long ago who ventured forth and tamed a vast wilderness. He wished he could go out, build his own house far away from any urban center, and be free to bask in the beauty of nature. This remained a fantasy, though, for all the land was owned either by the government or multinational corporations.

His stomach growled. His black T-shirt hung loosely off his gaunt frame. He earned a Universal Basic Income, which gave him enough money to pay his rent and utilities. He spent the tiny remainder on food. Posters and billboards bombarded him with advertisements for bug-based food products: bug burgers, bug bars, bug pizza, bug pasta, bug stew, bug tacos, and many, many more. The media constantly pushed the idea that eating bugs was a moral obligation because it would help stop climate change and save the planet, but he hated bugs. He hated the taste, he hated the texture, and he hated how it always made him sick. He also believed the real reason why the elites encouraged the consumption of bugs is because they enjoyed watching people degrade and humiliate themselves.

He preferred instant ramen. He didn’t even bother cooking it. He always ate it raw. It wasn’t much, but anything is better than eating bugs. Shoppers always gave him dirty looks whenever he bought ramen packets in bulk. They looked at him as if he were lower than gutter trash. They could not believe that someone refused to eat what the media told them to. But he didn’t care what they thought. He knew there was no light in their eyes. To him they were soulless marionettes guided by unseen hands.

A smartphone was lying on the floor next to his bed. Everyone around him was obsessed with getting the latest tech products, but his was 20 years old. As long as it still worked, he felt no need to upgrade. He barely even used it anymore. Back when he was 13, his school taught him about social media and how it could be used for instant communication with people all over the world. It initially held infinite promise, but he quickly grew dissatisfied with it, for no one else shared his niche interests. He wanted to talk about the mysteries of the ancient past, but everyone dismissed his pursuits as a waste of time. Guided by his boundless curiosity and hunger for knowledge, he found his way out of the walled gardens of social media and ventured off to the old and obscure corners of the internet. He browsed e-book repositories hosted on dusty home servers. He joined dingy forums that managed to escape the eyes of censors both public and private. He even explored the dreaded dark web. It was in these places that he learned of things his teachers never taught him. He rushed back to social media and shared everything he had learned, only to receive a deluge of vitriol in return. They dismissed him as a bigot and swiftly banned him. That experience reminded him of the story of the people in the cave who watched shadows on the walls. One of them crawled out and saw the world as it really was. When he told the others about what he had seen, they rejected him.

As soon as the Sun set upon the city, the vagrants in the streets began screaming at each other, and gunshots echoed in the distance. Even after living there for many years, it was hard for him to tune out the noise. He looked out the window. It was the same sight as always: a thick jungle of hideous concrete apartment complexes, sidewalks soaked in foul fluids, curbs covered in trash, and crumbling asphalt roads. Someone was murdered on the corner outside his apartment just a week ago. The bloodstains were still there. Many other murders occurred during the ten years he lived in that neighborhood, none of which were solved. He then remembered when one of his neighbors was arrested for exposing the rampant corruption in the government. They accused him of spreading misinformation and promptly threw him in the slammer. Saul came to the conclusion long ago that the only reason why so much violent crime went unpunished while the exposing of crime was treated as a crime was that the world was ruled by criminals, or something worse than criminals.

The power went out. This had been a common occurrence for almost 30 years. The government said they turn off the power at certain times to achieve equity in resource usage, but Saul and many others knew that this was just a convenient excuse for incompetence. He sighed. Having nothing better to do, he decided to get some slumber for his sullen eyes.

It was not long before he entered the realm of dreams. He found himself floating in a black void - cold, desolate, and silent. He floated through that emptiness for what felt like an eternity, then something caught his eye. Far off in the distance, a gray wall came towards him. It was infinitely tall and wide, and had the same gray color as the apartment complex in which he lived. He looked behind him, up and down, left and right, and realized that walls were closing in all around him, and they were getting faster. Panic set in. His breathing became quick. His heart pounded in his chest. His eyes darted around. Closer drew the walls, faster they approached. Not knowing what else to do, he reeled back his arm, clenched his fist, and threw it forward in a mighty punch.

The walls dissolved into dust as soon as they touched his knuckles. He thought he was safe, but then his eyes widened with terror, for out of the dark void emerged twisted, distorted faces, some of which were as large as galaxies. They all laughed. They laughed at his hopes and dreams, his aspirations for a better life, his desire for freedom. Saul covered his ears, closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth, but even in his mind he could hear them. The laughter grew louder and louder until he couldn’t take it anymore. He screamed, and from his eyes erupted golden lasers. They burned away the faces as easily as a candle flame burns silk.

Once the faces were gone, the full beauty of God’s creation was revealed. White stars twinkled across a velvety black tapestry. Pink and blue interstellar clouds slowly churned and twirled. He flew forward, though he did not know how. All he knew was that he was now free to explore the universe. He glided through the vibrant clouds of gas and dust. The globular clusters guided his path like ornate chandeliers. He eventually left the boundaries of the Milky Way and ventured off to places where no man had gone before. The galaxies that came into his view looked like golden pools of light. As he traveled farther and farther, the galaxies formed into filaments, and he could not help but notice that they looked like brain cells. Between these gigantic filaments, in a patch of darkness, a tiny light emerged that was unlike any star he had seen. He was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It grew ever brighter as he approached, until it engulfed the entirety of his vision.

Then he woke up. The Sun’s light was upon his face. He groaned as he rose to his feet. Returning to reality made his heart ache. Living inside the white walls of his apartment made him feel like a bug trapped in a plastic container. His inability to break free of his predicament frustrated him to no end, but then he sat down and smirked, for he took solace in knowing that the only thing the rulers of the world could not take away was his imagination.


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