The Bridge of Time

Vast plains covered the landscape. The crops rustled; the wind whirred continuously. It gave the impression of such serenity that man-made artefacts seemed remote, as if they were depleted by some sort of ruthless catastrophe. The insects continued to chirp and the crops continued to rustle. There was order here. I was told that this was made by God. Yet, as I peered over precipices, I did not see the work of a creator. I saw a proliferation of random microorganisms competing for survival. I still felt my soul thriving within this Godless landscape. I did not tell my father these thoughts; if I told him, he would whack me with all his corpulent force. He would tell me to pay all due respect to the creator, who was perfect and all-knowing.
    The canals streamed onwards, leading to an unknown territory, the water perilously continuing onto the wrath of hell. Beyond those waters lay the unknown I never dared dwell in. The moon glimmered amidst the stars. I felt my soul thriving; I felt that this random Godless nature buttressed the perfect synthesis of mind and soul.
    Knowledge was an unknown to me. I had language, but how could language be documented? How had I developed this degree of articulacy when my family could only communicate in monosyllables? How could I develop neologisms? How could I know what a neologism is? It was a word I myself had invented, a word about new words.
    The pebbles, stones and rocks grafted into my muddy feet. I treaded over the searing path that bloodied them. I did not want to return home; there they would preach their platitudinous religion. Pa would be there, in his rocking chair, smoking a pipe. Rocking back and forth in that constant cycle of maddening stupor. Stacey would be in her room, solemnly brushing her hair in front of a mirror. I could only pity her. She longed for company, to see other girls her age. Instead all she could do was gaze into that mirror, staring into her plain and ugly features. Her oblique face, bushy eyebrows and tangled hair. She wished she could be beautiful, but beautiful to what? There was no frame of reference; she was the only girl in a world devoid of capriciousness and frivolity. So she continued to brush that tangled mess and flit her hands across that oblique disfiguration of features. Albert, meanwhile, would be at the stable. He would mount his horses back and forth the plain. Like Pa, it was the same maddening stupor. Back and forth from one field to the next. Albert did not ride to look at the fields; he simply rode. He listened to all of Pa’s injunctions and, like the rest of the family, was a firm believer in our religious doctrine. But the fields did not provoke in him metaphysical questions – did our creator place them there? No, they were just fields. “Fields to ride my horse in.” Finally, there was Ma, who cooked all day long and ordered our dilapidated house, which was in no need of ordering. It fell apart year by year and there was nothing she could do about it. The same maddening stupor.
    As the path came to an end, the house came to view. The tarnished paint failed to cover the disordered pieces of wood and planks falling to and fro. The windows were covered by the dust Ma so scrupulously tried to wipe off. It was as random and disordered as this mass disfiguration of atoms and microbes. A mess.
    All my notions of science were conjectures. All my philosophical notions were conjectures. There was no precedent; I could only speculate about the great unknown. I could only create neologisms.
    Pa looked up, asking “Edward, back from your walk? You walk too much, my boy. Ma’s got suppa’ ready. Sit, sit.”
     I joined my family at their table; we were about to work our way through an improvised dish of meat and vegetables. I didn’t dare raise the substance to my mouth. Pa was about to to repeat his injunctions. “Our lord, the creator of us all. Our lord, the creator of our heritage. We were thrust into this world, Ma, Albert, Stacey, Edward and I, to pay heed to thee. We do not know what came before us; what we do know is that you tower above. We shall join you in our afterlife and you shall grace us with your powerful presence. And may none of us ever, ever, trespass the river, for there lies Hell. Amen.”
     I could finally work my way through this drudge. I kept inserting the food into my mouth whilst the banal conversation continued.
     Looking at my surroundings, it struck me that Stacey and I were quite similar. She had never seen a girl her age before. She fiddled around with her hair and face because she wanted to impress other girls her age. But how could she know how to impress them or, indeed, know that girls want to apply mascara to their faces? It was an innate knowledge, an intimation of a wider and bigger world. She continued to shovel the food into her mouth. Neither of us spoke. Pa droned on about the importance of the all-mighty, Ma remarked the difficulties in cleaning the house and Albert could not stop fawning over his adored horses. I, as usual, remained silent. I excused myself from the table.
    How could I have a wider understanding of this world? For that, I’d need some sort of codification or language – but I lacked the tools.
    Whilst lying on my bed, I saw a glint of white on the window sill. I carefully withdrew it. It was a card containing several pieces of paper. I could not decode it:
Over the course of the days, I carefully read every single card, which instructed me how to pronounce letters and syllables. Within three months I became fully literate.
    But where did this card originate from? Were other people, apart from my family, on this Earth? How did this person know my name?
     Were my father’s injunctions true, after all? Was there a creator? Was there a spiritual force which supervised my every move and action?
     This was the conclusion I arrived at. Now every time I saw a beautiful landscape I felt the presence of a spiritual being beckoning toward me, ingratiating itself into my mind, informing my sense of morality and purpose.
    This was soon dispelled. My innate sense of atheism was proven correct. Upon awakening, I found another letter attached to my window sill.

Dear Edward,
This may sound startling: there are other human beings in this world. What may sound more startling than that is that we live in a very technologically advanced age. Your family has been an experimental project undertaken by scientific researches for centuries. These scientists proposed themselves the following: how would humans behave in a primitive environment? They wanted to find out how humans would live in a 19th century rustic farm.
    Edward, I managed to find reports describing your behaviour. You seem to be a very precocious and acutely aware young man. I am an activist and I find what these scientists practice abhorrent to say the least.
     To find me, you must do what you have never done before: keep following the canal. At the other end, instead of finding Hell, you will encounter a bridge. Cross this bridge to reach our society.
    You can find me in ‘Shakespeare & Co. Café.’
With no intention of sounding pretentious or melodramatic, I felt as if I’d been raised to the clouds. I also felt exhilarated that the first text I read would be this revelatory. 
     I stormed down the stairs, where Pa’s rocking chair creaked back and forward in the same cycle of maddening stupor.
     “Son?” he asked, smoke billowing out of his pipe. I looked at his features again: the bushy eyebrows hanging above two round bulbous eyes, the curved nose and the jutting chin.
     “I think... I think... You should stop goin’ on all these walks all the time. Your place is in this home, contemplating the beauty of the mighty beloved.”
    “And enjoying the company of your mother, sister and brother. Now, listen, I’ve had a few suspicions. I think you want to go t’hell. Something ‘bout it is appealing to you. I fear for you, son. I do not want want you crossing that darn canal. I love you. You are my son.”
     I continued to stare into that pitiable old man, the smoke enveloping him in a hazy cloud. I went back up to my room.
    As the night passed, I kept fidgeting in bed. I knew that, beyond the canal, lay the world I truly belonged to. Yet I was terrified by the threat of physical pain. I heard Pa snoring in the room opposite. Shouldn’t I just escape in the middle of the night? This is what I decided upon.
     There was something else that prevented me from eloping. Pa’s injunctions threatened its followers that those who reject God would be wracked by guilt and misery. I knew that there was something primitive in this, and that is indeed why I rejected the doctrine, but it was inculcated into my mind. As a young child, it was the absolute truth. Therefore, it was difficult to dispel.
     I opened the door and tip-toed down the stairs. Each time I placed my foot on a step, it creaked loudly. Pa’s snoring continued, sending shivers down my spine. By the time I reached the end of the steps, I looked back up. I saw Stacey staring at me with an unyielding expression. Ignoring the consequences, I turned aside and walked toward the bridge of time.
The canal streamed onward, its surface reflecting the glistening moon. The stones and pebbles beneath added an additional texture of colour. There was nothing at all pernicious nor demonic about this; on the contrary, it felt ethereal and heavenly. I did not feel as if I were on a road to death and temptation.
     Finally I arrived at the end of the stream. A wooden bridge led to an unknown trajectory. Its end was not discernible. I walked on it, my steps creaking amidst the silence of the landscape. I kept walking farther and farther.
     Within the first twenty minutes, the silence continued to pervade. Faint fragments of commotion could be heard. By another five minutes, a bustling sound was audible, which increased in volume by my every step. A series of lights were visible, which drowned out the stars. (I thought this was a pity.) By the time I arrived at the end of the bridge I could not see; I was overwhelmed by a blinding light. I fell to the ground, my anodes overwhelmed by the staggering amount of current. The light gradually diminished. My vision was beginning to get accustomed to the high volume of cathode ray current.
    By the time I regained my vision, I saw a fence that said NO ENTRY. I climbed through it, hastening past a spot of woodland.
     As the woodland came to an end, I saw a staggering sight I could not familiarise with. Skyscrapers loomed high up in the sky, cars with propellers flew around in the air, people travelled by means of tubes and swathes of people were crowded in all corners at all times. And, everywhere, the noise – the deafening noise.
    I ran into several people, who nonchalantly brushed me off. I saw the most startling sights. Within a shop, I saw a woman fellating a group of ten men. I had never even seen any form of sexual intercourse before. I had masturbated myself on countless occasions, but I had no incestual desires for Stacey. Similarly, I had never seen any form of locomotive before. And here they were, flying above me.
    Staggering ahead, I found the café – Shakespeare & Co. I walked inside and saw groups of people sat on beanbags in corners of the room. They all wore outlandish garments; the women looked chic and outré, the men prim and proper. I felt somewhat ashamed by my worn buttoned shirt and flecked trousers.

    There were portraits of stern men all over the walls. They were either depicted brooding venomously or nervously gesticulating. I saw a portrait of a man who wore an archaic garment, had a moustache and quite a gaunt figure. Beneath his portrait I saw this café’s namesake: William Shakespeare.
     Whilst scrutinizing this portrait I heard someone behind me exclaim “Edward!” I jerked back and saw a beautiful women, staring at me with a benign expression. She had curled red hair, a straight face and a perfect set of teeth. She continued to smile, saying “Come here, join us!”
     She led me to the entourage she belonged to. “This is Edward!” They all cheered, pleased by my presence, but they soon resumed their own conversations. It was this good-natured woman – Helen – who wanted to talk to me.
     “Edward, I am glad that you have come to the… real world.”
     “This does not seem real.”
     She hesitated before she could utter something. “Perhaps not, but… Listen, Edward, I have opposed the project you are part of. I want you to bring you here clandestinely.”
    “I do not know… Sure, I was ignorant there, but here I feel… overwhelmed… by the noisiness, the aggression…”
     “Listen, do you hunger for knowledge?”
     I evaded her eyes. She knew what I was after.
     “The reason you have a smattering of knowledge is that it has been subliminally inculcated. Much the same way your sister, Stacey, wanted to impress other girls with her looks. We live in an atheist community, though the scientific groups wanted to see how people lived with religious morality. Your religion is a non-existent one, by the way, but it is rooted in Judeo-Christianity.”
    “Yes, you are right, I hunger for knowledge. But I also need tranquility, peace, the countryside. This society seems absent of that.”
    “Look, Edward, you can return home if you wish. I’ll send you home with a stack of books.”
     She went over to a back room and returned with a few titles. “Here.” They included The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, History of Western Philosophy, The Almanac of World History, On the Origin of Species and A Brief history of Time.
    “Also… Edward, do you feel frustrated?”
    I was stumped. “In what sense?”
    “Well…” she paused, before blatantly stating “Sexually.”
    Her impertinence unsettled me. “Yes. Though I see that in your civilisation sex is commodified, no? Human relationships do not exist anymore.”
     “You are right.”
     I could tell by the faintness of this elegant lady that I did not interest her. By no means was she to blame. Just like me, she was indoctrinated – but in an entirely different way. Her eyes – beacons of passivity, casual sex and leisure –stared at me.
     “Thank you,” I uttered, coldly. I took these books, the basis for my future knowledge, and I returned to my time.
 Late June-Early July, 2012

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