A Means of Escape


I sense a hesitation...

The fire that I set in the cabinet is now beginning to spread.  The flames are intense enough to light up the room in places and through the smoke, I can make out what appears to be the blurred outline of a door to the right of the cabinet.  Covering my face with the baggy clown costume, I charge towards the door and fall into it with as much force as I can muster.  It gives way easily and I find myself once again in the open air.

Without much thought for where I'm going, I sprint into the darkness, hoping just to get as much distance between myself and the carnival as possible.

Day 4

My return to the theater the next day begins just as before, with flickering images and the robotic recitations eventually giving way to the hushed voices of the Brotherhood.  They congratulate me on a successful mission and ask me if I want another.  Perturbed at their seeming disregard for our agreement, I demand what they promised: to help me make my escape from the island.

The voices go silent.

Sitting in the silent darkness, I can't help but reflect on the sheer futility of my situation.  Confronting faceless conspirators about escaping from an unnamed island, with nothing but a number to identify myself and no idea who I am even escaping from.  Without any visual or aural cues to ground myself, this mental sense of disorientation takes on a real physicality, and my head begins to spin.  

When their answer finally comes, I'm too distracted to protest.
Find the plug.

Day 5

No amount of wandering between island landmarks reveals anything more to me about the mysterious words uttered by the Brotherhood.  "Find the plug."  Even if I had spent enough time on the island to perceive the world as the islanders do, I doubt that these three words would be enough to enable my escape.  They must have been brushing me off.  They never intended to live up to their end of the bargain, so they must have invented a vague phrase with which to divert me.

I need to take things into my own hands.

Nothing can exist without them...

Uncontrolled thoughts continue to assault me.  I'm worried that if I continue here too long, these thoughts will be all that remains of me.

If I'm going to get off the island, I will have to first escape the village, which is surrounded by a large, wooden fence.  In most places, it's much too high to climb, perhaps 12 feet, but it does appear to decrease in height leading to the back of the recreation center.  Unfortunately, the only way to access the back of the recreation center is by crossing the pits.

The pits are another one of those bizarrely futile rituals that pass for entertainment on the island.  Each pit presents you with a different "puzzle" or riddle that is supposed to reveal a means of crossing it.  In some cases, it's just a matter of following instructions, while in others it seems as if the instructions are just meant to confuse you.

Seeing no other way to escape the village, however, I decide to cross the pits by any means necessary.

Animation from the 1980 Apple ][ computer game, The Prisoner.  The prisoner crosses a pit in the opposite direction from the instructions.

The first pit is spanned by a rickety, twisting bridge covered with signs.  Each sign indicates a direction, but in every case the direction points opposite the way the bridge seems to continue.

As I cross the bridge, I am continually wondering whether I should go back; that is, whether the signs might be a warning.  It's unsettling being forced to decide between what I can plainly see in front of me and what I am being told.  And if this isn't disturbing enough, I hear a click at every step, as if some mechanism is being activated that could drop the bridge at any moment...

When I reach the last step, I jump quickly from the bridge, on the off-chance that I'm about to be released into oblivion.  Fortunately, I land safely on solid ground

The next pit is filled with water and surrounded by miscellaneous items, most of which are useless trash.  I consider swimming across, but am uneasy about what might be lurking in the water.  After a lot of rummaging, I do manage to find a rope, which is not so useful for crossing the water, but could be handy for scaling the fence later.

Throwing the rope over my shoulder, I continue rummaging through the junk.  Just as I'm about to give up and attempt the swim, I stumble across an old box with a picture of a waffle iron on the top.  It's too light to actually contain a waffle iron, but too heavy to be empty.  Opening the flap at the top of the box, I find it has been tightly stuffed with a tough plastic material, which on further extraction reveals itself to be a deflated raft.

Exactly what I need.

Inflating the raft is a long, tiring process, but I eventually bring it to a size that can comfortably keep me afloat, and I cross the water-filled pit without incident.

The final pit has a sign posted in front of it, saying,
Cross the pit only when you see the two dots in the center move towards each other.
There are two posts with black balls on top of them sticking out from the pit -- presumably, those are the dots the sign is referring to, but they appear to be stationary.

I sit staring at the balls for a while, wondering if something is going to happen.  Everything is silent and the posts show no evidence that they will, or are even capable of, moving.  Walking up to the pit, I stare into the oblivion below, hoping for some hint on how to proceed.  Nothing.

The game was popular enough to start an entire...

What? I can't think straight.  My legs begin to wander with my mind, shambling along the edge of the pit.

As I approach the far right corner, I glance again at the black balls, looking for any movement.  The balls remain as stationary as before, but from this angle...

On a hunch, I reach out to touch the wall on the far side of the pit.  My hands pass right through!  The wall must be some kind of projection... just an illusion.  I briefly ponder whether this might be a metaphor for the island itself; just an illusion, or some kind of game that someone is playing with me.  Maybe so, but it would make me no less eager for escape.

I walk through the wall out the rear end of the recreation center, revealing a vast, open forest.  The trees extend as far as I can see to both the left and the right, with the wall standing mere feet from the forest edge.  Unfortunately, I can't see very far into the forest.

On a few occasions, the villagers had spoken to me of the wilds beyond the village, but only in passing, dismissive references; as if there could never be anything of interest there.  To me, it seemed very mysterious, like a legend, but the villagers seemed to lack the kind of imagination needed to create legends; to them, the wilds were just... somewhere else.

But for me, right now, they are very real.  Lacking any knowledge of what the wilds might contain, one direction is as good as any other.  So I walk straight ahead, into the forest.

Day 6

Crossing the pits had taken an entire afternoon, and by the time I exited the recreation center, sunset was only an hour away.   It seemed imprudent to venture too far into the wilds after dark, so I spent the night in a clutch of trees not more than a mile from the recreation center.  I don't know if anyone is looking for me or if anyone notices that I'm gone, but the night passed without incident.  I heard no alarms, nor sensed any sign of pursuit.  

Hunger is already nagging at me, but my spirits rise with the new morning, as it promises a full day to look for a means of escape.  There were no landmarks in the mile I traveled the previous day, but near my resting spot I can see the trees begin to thin out.  It's only another few hundred yards before I reach a clearing.

Stepping out of the forest is like entering a new world.  From my vantage point in the clearing, I can see down into a valley lined with alternating trees, plains, and hills.  Even more encouraging, I can see what appears to be a building with tracks running through it.  A train station!  Maybe, just maybe it can take me away from here.

In my eagerness to descend into the valley, I carelessly run into the middle of the clearing.  Just as I'm about to begin my descent, a high humming sound, like an air horn heard underwater, pierces through the air.  I turn around to see a football-shaped object the size of a small building rise from out of the trees.  It shines a bright, narrow beam in my direction and it's all I can do to duck under a nearby bush before it runs me straight through.

The object circles my position, as if scanning for my presence.  As I lay pinned underneath the bush, every breath feels certain to be my last.  After about five minutes of circling, however, it passes on into the distance.

Clearly, I will have to be more careful if I'm going to make it down to the train station unscathed.  Rising from my cover, I make my way down into the valley, more slowly and cautiously now.  

Animation from the 1980 Apple ][ computer game, The Prisoner.  The prisoner runs from an eye shooting lasers at him.

After about 15 minutes, I'm again alerted to the presence of the sentry object by its high-pitched humming and am forced to dive for cover.  The process repeats as before, with the sentry moving on after a brief search.

The next few hours proceed like a game of cat and mouse.   No matter how clever I am in trying to throw it off my scent, the sentry always returns at about a 15 minute interval.  There doesn't seem to be much intelligence to it -- its purpose seems to be to present an obstacle to escapees, not to actually capture them.

Still, it seems risky wandering out in the wilds for too long and I make straight for the train station.  The possibility of escape seems closer than it ever has been.

The story continues...


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