Here is a short story. It starts on a train and I’m talking to a fellow commuter and it’s set in the time BC – Before Coronavirus…..
I really hate mobile phones. There’s no privacy, no time to rest, the boss can call you where-ever you are. Work nowadays is a bit like the old Martini advert – they can call you anytime, anyplace, anywhere. So even on the train, travelling to your next meeting, there’s no peace.
But I’ve another reason for not liking mobile phones, a deeper reason. It happened about three months ago, on one of those train journeys. You’re the first person I’ve told about it, as the experience shook me up, I don’t mind admitting.
I was on the early train, the one that leaves at stupid o’clock, and normally I read the paper and try to get some of the sleep I’m owed, and ignore the other passengers. You all go through the pretence that you are the only person in the carriage when actually it’s full and the seats are so close that the worry is that the person in the next seat will be extra large.
Not this time. My neighbour was an ordinary business traveller, a lady of middle years and unremarkable appearance, and for the first time in ages I found myself chatting on the train. We talked about work and the joys of being on the early train.
After a while, she stopped talking and appeared to be thinking.
‘Can I tell you something?’ she asked.
Hesitantly, she told me her idea. You know how it feels when the nutter gets on the train and unhesitatingly makes a beeline for the seat next to you? Well, it was like that.
Her theory was that we are not free agents, but rats. Laboratory rats.
We are here to find our way through a maze. Occasionally we succeed and we get our rewards – promotions at work, success and recognition – but these come as part of the maze and we think we’ve gained them ourselves.
I knew the journey had not long to go so I asked her who was running the experiment.
‘I don’t know’, she said. But I’m worried what He’ll do now I’ve given the secret away. And then we pulled into Euston, normal life returned and her phone rang.
‘Excuse me’, she said and answered it.
What I heard next chilled me to the core. I could hear her caller, and it was a deep, calm Voice of Power.
‘Thy Task is complete’ God said.
She dropped the phone. She leaned back in her seat. And quietly, without any fuss, she stopped breathing.
I got off that train faster than I’ve ever moved before! For the next few days I looked for news reports – you would think that ‘dead woman on train’ would make the news, but nothing. It was as if she had never existed.
Since that day, I’ve thought about what she told me, her theory about the maze and us in the rat-race. Slowly I’ve discarded alternatives and come to the reluctant conclusion that she might be right. We are here at someone else’s behest. And whoever the Experimenter is, He has a way to control us rats. A code which switches us off when we outlast our usefulness. The lady I met told me what reality was, and she was terminated.
So, I’ve told you. I don’t mind admitting, it’s a weight off my mind. The thought has been pressing on me, but I’m glad to have shared it.
What’s that noise? Your ring-tone?
No, don’t answer the phone.
DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE!
© Jim Walshe 2022