This one began in a familiar place I’ve been to in many prior dreams. A vast, cold concrete maze with walls a hundred feet high, beneath a starless black sky. This eventually became a setting in one of my stories, The Background of Your Memories. Usually I wander its corridors until waking up.
What a slog. What an unbearable, tedious, bleak trek it always is. I have nothing but rags on my back, the ground is ice cold concrete and I’m watched all the while by dark figures on M.C. Escher style walkways mounted to the maze walls at various heights.
When noticed, they retreat through doorways in the wall and watch me from various small windows. Some even watch from atop the walls themselves. On occasion I will see other wanderers like myself. Searching for shelter. For any refuge from the painfully cold air, the painfully hard ground.
But there is nothing. Nowhere to get warm. No protection from the frigid, brutalist maze we’re trapped in. Only concrete wherever you look, and occasionally patches of asphalt. It seems to grow here like moss. But then, at last, I found something that I hadn’t seen before.
There appeared to be flickering light in the distance. I couldn’t believe it. With no Moon in the sky, I should’ve been in pitch black darkness anyway but the maze seems to somehow be dimly and evenly lit anyhow with a cold, grey light. The light coming from up ahead was warm and bright, however.
I passed more and more wanderers, all of them seemingly drawn to the light as moths to the flame. Then it came into view. In the middle of a vast open air atrium within the maze, an engine. Like the internal combustion engine of a car, but the size of a large building, mounted to the concrete floor with immense rusty bolts.
The whole thing was chugging along furiously, belching flames and thick black smoke from various exhaust pipes and vents all over it. Huge wheels spinning with drive belts between them, pistons churning, all of it growing louder and louder as I drew near.
The tungsten light from so many fires burning around the engine illuminated the faces of onlookers. Flaming puddles of fuel leaking from the gigantic, ramshackle contraption. An announcer of some sort with a manner similar to that of a carnival barker stood on a flimsy metal balcony which vibrated under him along with the engine.
A red light came on briefly. “Thousand murder!” he called out, to raucous cheering and applause. Then again soon after, “Thousand murder!” to more applause. I couldn’t make sense of it until I walked around to the other side. Where you might feed fuel into the engine, instead there was a long line of wanderers like myself.
One by one, they fed themselves into the engine. They screamed but only briefly, as their bodies were rapidly burnt to keep the engine going. “Thousand murder! Thousand murder! Thousand murder! Hyperkill!”Some sort of milestone had been reached, as the crowd cheered more energetically than before.
I pulled one of them aside. He fought me, protesting that I made him lose his place in line. “Place for what? To be burnt alive as fuel for this thing?”He nodded excitedly, baffling me. “But why?” He looked at me as if I’d just fallen off the turnip truck. “You must know as well as the rest of us” he explained, “that there is no refuge. No respite, no shelter or comfort to be had in this place.”
I stood there stunned. He misinterpreted my silence as confusion. “No matter how long you search, you will find only cold, hard concrete. Nothing soft. Nothing warm. Nowhere you can find rest. There’s only one way out. At least this way, for a moment or two, we can be warm again.”
Madness. Perverse, pathological thought. But the more I ruminated on it, the more it made sense to me. However ghastly it was to climb into that engine and be incinerated, the alternative was worse. An eternity of wandering these cold, grey corridors.
The pace accelerated. As more wanderers arrived, the rate at which the engine could be fed increased. The wheels spun faster, the pistons churned ever more furiously as the announcer struggled to keep up. “Thousand murder thousand murder thousand murder hyperkill!” he rhythmically chanted. “Thousand murder thousand murder thousand murder hyperkill! Thousand murder thousand murder thousand murder hyperkill! Hyperkill, hyperkill, hyperkill, hyperkill!”
It soon reached a fever pitch, the wretched throngs eagerly diving into the fuel port to their immediate doom. To the only relief this place allows. “What does it even do?” I mumbled to myself. He answered anyway. “It counts up. Eventually it will reach eleven billion, one hundred and eleven million, one hundred and eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven.”
“And then what?” I pried. He stared at it, flames reflected in his eyes. “It begins counting down instead.” I motioned as if to leave the way I came. But then looked back over my shoulder at the morbid spectacle of it all. That’s all it took to change my mind. I released a weary sigh, then got in line.
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