The Conspiracy

 

Day 3

Whether the residents of the island are all resigned to their fate or just lack any awareness of it, I can't tell.  Their existence seems to drone on unnaturally, too practiced to be unseemly but too mechanical to be free.  Every once in a while, I sense a hesitation from one of the islanders, as if they are looking for something, but the moment I look at them directly, the sensation immediately dissipates.  It must be my imagination -- a reflection of my desire for empathy.

Having given up on getting relief from my interactions with the islanders, I wander into the local theater hoping at least for a diversion.  Inside, a screen is propped up against the wall, with flickering images being projected on its face.  

An animation from the 1980 computer game, the Prisoner, in which a flickering theater screen shows strange images.

From the back of the theater, a deep, monotone voice, probably pre-recorded, recites nursery rhymes in unison with the images.  If this is intended to be a form of entertainment, it is lost on me.  At times, it seems as if I can see myself in the images, though the angles are so odd and the images so disjointed that there is no way to be sure.  

But however perplexing the projections, it still feels as if I have found some measure of shelter here.  The thoughts that once seemed on the verge of controlling me are silent now and if I shut my eyes, the nursery rhymes are easy to tune out.  Lying prone in the this state, I suddenly detect a low whisper from behind the projector screen.  The images and recorded voice stop.

An animation from the 1980 computer game, the Prisoner, in which conspirators make plans in the dark..

They identify themselves as the "Brotherhood".  They claim to be a group dedicated to revealing the secrets of the island and offer me an opportunity to join them.  I'm feeling hesitant, especially given that I can't even see these mysterious conspirators, but see no desirable alternative.  I agree.

The mission, as they call it, is to set fire to a cabinet in the carnival.  They don't give me a reason, or any hint as to what's in the cabinet, but assure me that they can assist my escape if I complete it.  I don't fancy myself an arsonist, especially of confined, crowded places, so even though I agree to their mission, I feel sure I will never get to the point of completing it.  Nonetheless, I'm intrigued to find out what it is about this carnival that so threatens them.

So, after exiting the theater, I do some shopping.  First on the list is a clown suit and some make-up, which should be useful for passing myself off as a circus clown in the show.  Second, I buy a pen and paper to take notes on anything interesting that might present itself.  And finally, matches... just in case.

On entering the carnival, an usher immediately directs me to a teeterboard in the center of the main ring.  Looking up from the floor, I'm startled to see no signs of an audience.  There is a rumbling from behind the walls, which are made of dark glass, and cameras line the tented ceiling.  So it seems likely that someone is watching, but who?  And why can't I see them?

The usher tells me to start my trick, in which I use a set of small weights to propel myself from the teeterboard to a balloon hanging several yards over my head.  However, the Brotherhood had special instructions for me.  I lift the heaviest weight from off the floor, take my position on one end of the teeterboard, and toss the weight onto the other end.  The force of the large weight is such that I'm immediately launched through the ceiling of the circus tent.

An animation from the 1980 computer game, the Prisoner, in which the prisoner performs a trick in the carnival, launching from a teeterboard to a cabinet.

As I break through the top of the tent, I'm at once surrounded in darkness and my subsequent trajectory is hard to discern.  I feel sure I'm going to die, or at least break my legs, from the fall back to the ground but fortunately I land on some kind of soft padding.  Unfortunately, it is still completely dark.

Aside from the low murmur of circus music in the distance, nothing strikes my senses and I'm immediately overcome by a feeling of claustrophobia.  Hoping to dull the rising panic, I fumble in the clown costume for the matches I bought from the general store.  Finding them in my left pants pocket, I pull them out and quickly feel around for a rough surface.  I touch what appears to be a piece of wooden furniture and strike the match against one of the worn edges.

In the flickering glow of the match, I can just make out a wooden cabinet.  No doubt this is the enigmatic target of my mission for the Brotherhood.  Its fading, chipped wood is unassuming, and the drawers slide open easily.  Overcome by curiosity, I pull out a random file and begin reading,
Killing idols isn’t really about the idols themselves, but rather what we've made of them.  In 1978...
I'm barely past the first sentence when a pain shoots through my fingers.  Startled, I drop both match and paper.  In my preoccupation with the mysterious cabinet, I had forgotten about the burning match in my right hand, which now seems to have fallen into the top drawer of the cabinet.  I stand in the dark, helpless, as the smell of smoke reaches my nose.  It seems I have started a fire after all...

The story continues...

An animation from the 1980 computer game, the Prisoner, in which the screen slowly fades out and in.


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