By David Michael Newstead.
A short story based on the art of M.C. Escher.
The asylum had no bars, no guards, no gates or locks. But its confines were inescapable – a maze of staircases and corridors that never ended. One dimly lit hallway just led to another and another after that and so on. It was maddening. Damon had spent days climbing up and down the concrete steps, trying to find a way out. Yet whenever he got close to an exit it was like the architecture contorted and he would get lost again. Before long, the basement, the top floor, and everything in-between practically merged into one continuous labyrinth. Had he been going in circles this whole time, he wondered. Which way was up?
Around him, the other inmates were too far gone. They’d become catatonic. Most would wander aimlessly. One man huddled on the floor in a fetal position, tears rolling down his face. Meanwhile, a hospital orderly roamed the halls distributing multi-colored pills in small paper cups.
If only Damon could find a window, he thought, he’d throw the orderly out of it. He’d jettison all that medication and every stupefied prisoner would start thinking clearly again. Then, to break free, everyone would smash through the walls if they had to and leave the building burning behind them! Instead, Damon watched each patient swallow their doses, further turning their brains to mush. He had successfully evaded hospital staff for the time being, but it was impossible to do that forever. He knew he had to escape and soon.
Dealing with the orderlies was one thing, but the giant millipedes that stalked the facility were another problem entirely. They would slither and crawl along the ceilings and floors and walls at night, devouring whoever they found. He was sure of it! Damon had once seen three of the creatures rip a man to pieces, while he hid in a passageway looking on. Their legs would clatter against the tiles as they went by. Their jaws snapped open and closed. And their eyes were fat, glossy orbs that seemed to gaze in every direction at once. Where these eight foot long monsters crept out from, he didn’t know. In the daytime, they disappeared only to resurface again in the dark like cockroaches.
Because of that, he hadn’t slept in days. Paranoid and desperate, Damon raced through the halls, passing the same rooms innumerable times. It was as if he could go down a stairwell forever without reaching the bottom. Then, it dawned on him. The asylum had no entrance and no exit, no fixed layout. And how he got there in the first place became harder to recall.
When Damon finally collapsed, he’d been awake for two weeks straight. He sat with his back against a stone column. By then, he was exhausted and confused. And although he didn’t notice at first, a cup of assorted capsules somehow materialized in the palm of his hand. Their bright colors stood out against the dull gray prison all around him, stood out against his own pale skin. A dozen of the tablets stared up at him for more than an hour. As the minutes dragged on, Damon slipped in and out of consciousness. He didn’t remember taking the medication. He’d just rubbed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. Then, he realized the pills were slowly dissolving underneath his tongue. Damon panicked, but it was too late. The pharmaceuticals were already taking hold and he could feel his mind start to go numb.
Ascending and Descending (1960)
Convex and Concave (1955)
House of Stairs (1951)
By David Michael Newstead.
In movies, depictions of the future range from the utopian to the post-apocalyptic, but they usually have one thing in common. It’s never really addressed, but it’s there. In the future, there are no ties. Oh, there are plenty of Nehru jackets in the future. Or you might see someone wearing a stylish full body jumpsuit, for instance. But you won’t find a person in a tie. Depending on what sci-fi film you’re watching, this usually goes in two directions. Either the future is so shitty and dystopian that everyone should consider themselves lucky to have a few tattered rags. Or the future is so sleek and efficient and advanced that we’ve apparently evolved beyond superfluous things like ties. Either way, the subtext is the same. Ties don’t have a practical function anymore and they are kind of old-fashioned like fedoras. Once a required article of clothing a century ago, many prominent businessmen no longer wear them a la Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and so on. But while ties have become increasingly rare in daily life, we’ve yet to embrace all those futuristic fashion options depicted on screen: the unisex jumpsuits, the robes, etc. So instead of Star Trek uniforms, the future might end up being way more casual. Then again, nothing says hopeless dystopia quite like an entire population in t-shirts.
By David Michael Newstead.
A short story based on paintings by Salvador Dali. Read Part One.
Sometimes in my dreams, I still saw that strange place. But all that was left were the fragments of a memory, dark and ghoulish, of a world that was not this one. In quick succession, those pictures flashed through the corridors of my mind as absurd as they were horrifying. Then in a panic, I woke up and I breathed heavy, having had the same nightmare again.
Years had passed and my time in that other dimension seemed so distant to me. Had I imagined it all, I often wondered. Had I hallucinated the whole thing and that old fool who took me there?
No! No, I told myself again and again. That place was real. I knew it had happened, because my mind would never, could never concoct the things I saw there. My fear then wasn’t for my own sanity. Even now, sitting up in bed, I was lucid and aware. Instead, I was afraid just how far this went – how deeply these abnormal truths burrowed into every corner of reality and if the monsters I found in that place would ever pull me back again.
I couldn’t sleep. In the day-to-day world, I felt numb and out of touch. Increasingly detached, I walked around like an automaton, not a person. I felt as if my life was slipping away according to the tyranny of some mundane clock. Or perhaps part of me realized I was always destined to return to that dimension I had left so long ago.
Time passed. Then one day, it happened. I was standing on a train platform checking my watch when suddenly it began to melt from my wrist. In an instant, stainless steel seemed to turn into liquid mercury that rolled off my skin like drops of rain. When I looked up, the rest of the world was falling away too, dissolving right in front of me. Then, something else came into view.
I stumbled forward at first. It was difficult to see, but once I could I wished I was blind to the horror. My eyes watered as smoke filled my nostrils. Then, I heard shots ring out in every direction. Just ahead, there were lines of riflemen and nameless legions, stretching into the distance leveling chaotic volleys of gunfire at each other. Dying men whaled in agony and I tried to run back, but our normal world had disappeared behind me. In its place, soldiers’ bodies littered the ground. Overhead, something shrieked and flew by me. Then, an explosion followed and knocked me down face first. Deafening and bright, flames erupted over the battlefield and, in shock, I covered my ears.
When I raised my head again, creatures not-quite-human were wandering by, wounded and disoriented from the blast. They made noises I can’t begin to describe. Then, the earth underneath my feet started to rumble with the sound of approaching cavalry. The victors had arrived it seemed, already finishing off the last of their opponents in a war without rhyme or reason. On my left flank, the first wave of them descended onto anything in their path, while another group encircled the few of us who survived. Desperate to escape the slaughter, I ran and crawled across the ground looking for cover, but there was nothing. Nothing, but pathetic twigs and pebbles that jutted out from the dirt and wouldn’t protect a man from so much as a sunburn. And when that galloping monstrosity appeared in front of me, I cringed and thought this must be the end!
A moment passed without death and I looked up, awestruck. After all, if the old man hadn’t intervened when he did I surely would have been trampled into oblivion. I was cowering in the middle of a field, dusty and helpless, when he strode out to protect me. Confident and possibly insane, he was disheveled and nude, driven mad by this dimension of oddities. The only thing more crazed and unruly than his eyes, I thought, was his facial hair. But it didn’t seem to matter. He projected all the authority of a thousand generals, screaming at the top of his lungs.
“Stay back!” The old man yelled to the horses and pack animals. “Back I say!”
And for reasons I won’t ever understand, they listened to him, rearing up with fright only inches away from crushing the both of us. Around me, the orgy of violence was fast subsiding. And this crazy old fool had stalled them for just long enough.
I was still trembling on the ground when the real world started to come back into view. While those beasts hesitated to charge forward, their dimension had gradually dissipated into a fog and then the fantasy as I laid there on that same train platform like a lunatic.
“No… No.” I muttered, now waving my hands at nothing. Back in our own dimension, other commuters ignored me the way you disregard anyone talking to themselves on public transit. But if they could only see! Stretched out there on the concrete, I watched the last shadows of that other place recede away forever, stranding me here and leaving that old man where he rightfully belonged.
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)
The Face of War (1950)
Girl at the Window (1925)
Melting Watch (1954)
The Burning Giraffe (1937)
The Invention of the Monsters (1937)
The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)
The Anthropomorphic Cabinet (1936)