Everything is so loud. Everywhere, everyone, is so very loud. Cars, phones, computers, stereos, radios, televisions, movie theatres all making noise. I can barely hear the thoughts in my head. Thoughts and emotions are overflowing, clamouring for attention among the phones and the computers and the cars and the noise. There is so much noise. How can they laugh and talk and be happy? Don’t they hear it? The noise? The constant abrasive noise? The information overload

You must focus. Who are you? What is your purpose? What are you here for?

I don’t know. How can you expect me to know? How can you expect me to know that much when the information cascade is never ending? I can’t think. I can hardly breathe. Who am I? One face, one voice, one set of thoughts trying to be contained in all of this, trying not to loose myself to the noise. What is my purpose? I don’t recall. If I had a path, it is lost, lost completely in the overload, as completely as one line in a page of a child’s scribbles. Why am I here? I don’t know. Do you? Can you help me? Where even is here? One stop on an information superhighway, teaming with life and information and overpowered by noise but alone it is meaningless.

Here is here. Now. This moment. You must help yourself. You must find your path.

What? What the hell is that? How can you say that? How can I find anything? How can make sense of all this? There is no pattern, no grace. There is path. No place for me here.

And yet you are here. So here is your place.

That’s it? The wisdom of ages? Is it quiet where you are? I long for quiet. Peace. Just a moment alone with my thoughts. Just a moment, please, to think. But it never stops. It keeps coming. Information spewing forth. It’s too much. I can’t think. I’m like a man dying of thirst being drowned in a torrent of water. Filling his mouth but he cannot swallow. Spilling over him. Forcing his eyes closed. He cannot breathe. I can’t breathe. Let me breathe. Let me think.

You will find your way.

You’re leaving me? Don’t leave. I’m sorry. I’ll be calm. I’ll be good I promise. I’m sorry I let it all run away with me. Don’t leave me alone. Please.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep

Elena woke, drenched in sweat, the alarm hammering at her skull and shattering her thoughts into tiny fragments. She could not remember the dream: she never did, the same dream, give or take, every night.

Another day.

She dragged herself from sleep. Neither rested nor prepared for the day ahead. But the days kept coming; the world will not stop for you. Someone told her that once. She couldn’t remember who. She scarcely remembered how she got here: this apartment, this city, this life that seemed so alien to her.

She stood in front of the mirror, tall and slender with skin so pale it was translucent, even blue. Her hair was white blonde. She wasn’t even sure she recognised this face. She stared at herself; an angular, violet eyed stranger. She felt nothing. Was she even human?

She went through the motions. She washed and dressed, applied make-up and styled her hair. She refuelled her body with grain based product that felt like sand in her mouth.

She took the underground to work surrounded by anonymous strangers. All of them walking the same line. Following the path well travelled. Some read books or papers. All avoided each other’s eyes. It felt like a cattle train. Taking the meat to market, brains and bodies used and abused. Wage slaves bound to the masters of power, fashion, technology, industry. All individuality consumed and spat out. You work therefore you are. You consume therefore you are. You are ours.

She stared out of the window at pipes and wires like creepers growing along the tunnel walls. She imagined she could see colours beneath the soot; red, maybe purple. Colour smothered by the crime of modern living. The air was hot and close from too many bodies. She pulls away within herself. Trying to create space at least in her own mind. The windows in the train are open and she feels are hair sucked out into the tunnel, pulled by ghostly hands. She remembers reading about a suicide in the tunnels and wonders if the ghost is pulling her toward him, if maybe he doesn’t want to be alone. She always feels like she is being pulled one way and another, buffeted and thrown. Trying to be everything and ultimately being nothing. Meaning nothing.

Everyone appears to be alone: a tightly packed, single minded, desperate kind of alone.

Her working day passes filled with dull edged, emotionless stress. Tasks performed as thoughtlessly as breathing while pressing the limits of her capacity to endure pressure. She plays the part: a sanitized version of herself, saying the right things, giving the right answers, reading from the corporate script that has been etched into her trained conscious like a living working manual. Her individuality paces the recesses of her mind like a caged animal.

The day is over. Somehow it has become evening. She walks familiar streets, crammed full of faces familiar in their unfamiliarity. A blur of unnamed humanity walking their line without a trace of deviation, they batter her with bags and shoulders and she wonders if they even see her, do they really see anyone?

She reaches a bar, the same bar. She walks inside and scans for faces. Faces she has seen before. Faces that she knows; it is good to know and be known; there is safety in that. They see her first and beckon her forward, faces that acknowledge and smile when she approaches. They think they know her. She wonders if they really do. She wonders if she could ask them her questions and they would know the answers. She does not ask for she fears that she already knows the answer. They don’t know her, not really, cannot possibly know her for she does not yet know herself. She does as is expected. She smiles and hugs and kisses cheeks.

The press of people is the same and yet different. She is still closed in, still being touched when she does not wish it, still being barged by those who push past but she knows she should feel differently about it now. She should not feel harried or claustrophobic. This is a place of relaxation. She should be happy here. She smiles and tries to make it touch her eyes. She orders a drink she talks and listens. Her mind computes the moments when it is time to stop talking and to start listening and when the silences have become long enough that it suggests she talk again. She processes when she should ask questions and when it is time for her to give answers. She hopes her calculations are correct. That she is pleasing company. She hopes they like her. It is good to be liked.

The evening wears on. She drinks and she talks. The press of people still unsettle her but she smiles and she laughs. The alcohol flows through her blood and blurs the harsh lines. Her mind begins to diffuse. She continues to talk but inside she fears that she is loosing herself, loosing her thoughts to the noise and the press. The tight little bubble that she holds around her consciousness is loosing its coherence. Is this the price she pays for acceptance in this funny little world? Is it the same for them? Do they feel this? They seem so happy and at ease. They seem to know themselves, where they end and begin appears to be so clear to them, is it true?

She wavers; lost, overwhelmed; searching for something to hold onto. Something or someone to hold her together if the bubble bursts. She wonders if someone can just disappear that way, lost in the miasma. She pictures everything, all of us, as ones and zeros on the information superhighway, given life only through a force of will. If you do not will it are you really alive? Or just another pattern of data? Surely life is more than just this.

Then he arrives: the one with the strong hands and the smiling eyes. She is relieved. She becomes aware of her heartbeat in his presence, of her physical reality, she feels warmer. She sinks against him and seeks refuge in his solidity. She allows him to talk and she smiles and allows her thoughts to drift. They are perceived as an entity, divisible and yet indivisible, so, while he talks, she may be silent and that is acceptable. His voice soothes her though she perceives little of what he says, little at all of anything anymore. Sounds and sensations skip on the edges of her conscious mind while she concentrates on keeping herself whole, what little of herself there is. His arms around her hold her together. She begins to gain substance again.

The evening passes. She remains mostly silent now. She listens to the ebb and flow of conversation. The lives of her friends, their concerns: so huge to them and yet so tiny a part of this ungainly world. Their little circle forms a barrier from the world. They close out the overwhelming mass of everything and everyone and focus on their little reality. They structure themselves through and around each other. She wonders if that is all identity is, a series of connections that become a nexus that become a life? Is that her sole purpose? To be connected to these people? As she helps to define them, do they define her? Do they create each other as human through a web of interdependence?

The evening ends they fall out onto the street. Say their good byes. Disappear into the night. Separate beings after all, separate lives they merely choose to intertwine.

Only one remains to define her now. They twine together as they walk. Sharing the thoughts they would not share with the others. She feels his warmth and feels her senses stir. His physical form entrances her. She looks at his face, his eyes; the one she chose. Still so apart from her, so separate, she wonders what his thoughts are. She seeks his touch.

Alone now, with him, she allows her barriers to fall. No words now. The effort of being, of thought and action, of self definition, all of it falls away. She no longer fears losing herself. She seeks it. The separateness suddenly frustrates her and she seeks union and completion. The endless, painful rush of thoughts cease, absorbed into feeling. They strip away the masks and the costumes. She feels. She is all sensation.

It’s over now, that ecstatic time. They lie silently in the dark. She hears his breathing and feels his heart beat slowing. She clings to his flesh, lamenting the separation. They are not one, the union was not complete, never will be. An illusion of oneness acts as a recreation of the ties that hold one life to another. At the core of him he will always be apart from her even in those most intimate moments. She shivers.

The night draws in and she knows she must sleep. The day ends, you sleep and another begins. The roundabout turns on its relentless journey. She feels a clenching in her stomach, anxiety over what is to come. She wishes the roundabout would stop. That the day would just end. She knows she shouldn’t think this way. She dispels thoughts of tomorrow. She turns her thought to faraway plains. She imagines what freedom feels like. Accepting her solitude she rolls away from him, she turns on her side. Curling around the beating of her own heart she sleeps.

What is your purpose? Do you remember?

Why are you so loud? I’m doing what was asked. I am performing as expected.

What are you doing? What is your purpose?

To live. To live and survive and learn. What other purpose can there be?

You do not live. You exist. You exist because we allow it. You serve a purpose. You are not alive.

I live. I live and breathe and feel. I hurt. You can’t tell me I’m not alive.

You do what is expected. You do not live.

Leave me alone.

No. You exist to serve a purpose. It’s time to remember. Who are you? Why are you here?

Leave me alone. Let me live.

No.

She rises from the bed, shaky and uncertain as if blind. If he had been awake to see he would have seen that her eyes were glazed. But he did not see for he was fast asleep.

She gathers her clothes up from the floor, the same clothes that she was wearing last night and shrugs them on. She walks out of the door. Had he been awake he would have asked her where she was going, he would have been confused that she should leave so suddenly without her keys or her wallet, but she would not have answered him.

She walked out of the building and onto the street. In the dead of night there were few others there but if there were she would not have seen them. She walked. She did as was expected. The night was cool and bumps rose on her arms as her body tried to keep itself warm but she was unaware of the cold. At night the city was peaceful, even beautiful to the brave. The moon was full in the sky and, reflecting off of shop windows and shiny cars, created an otherworldly glow. If you ignored the fear, the menace of aloneness in the dark, it was indeed beautiful. She would have enjoyed it if she had seen. But she did not see. She was not her own. She continued to walk and did what was expected.

She walked due west, passing down alleys she would have ignored, drawing the attention of those who were accustomed to coming out at night. They stared. If they had tried to approach, she would have ignored them. If they had tried to restrain her, she would have continued to walk, not struggling but merely continuing, resisting by failing to cease and they would have been surprised by her strength. They would have let her go and she would have continued to walk. To do what was expected.

She walked past the buildings. She walked past the signs of habitation. She walked past the places were men worked and that they abandoned at night to return to the bosoms of their families. She walked it appeared, into the wilderness. It was a manmade wilderness, the scrubland of abandoned brickwork and concrete that lay on the outskirts of the city. The ghosts of machines and failed industry walked here, no other human form in sight. This was no longer a place for man. In the middle of a large open space she stops and waits.

A door appears to open in space, light floods through from an aperture in the sky. Figures appear and they walk toward her. They are both like and unlike her, as if all humanity had been stripped away and something alien. They had white hair and blue eyes. They regard her with a cold curiosity and stepped aside to allow her to walk into the light.

She is lying on a bed. She is attached to machines by wires. The wires go into her head and her heart. She stares upward. She cannot move. She is no longer aware of breathing. There are no barriers to her consciousness now, they can see it all. They own it all. She had a purpose. Her purpose is complete. She knows, though she is not sure how that these are the last few beat of her heart. She knows that all she is is being sucked into a machine and that after that she will cease to be. At least now she knows who she is. Her heart pounds, the last few beats, and her memories drain away images flashing unbidden through her mind.

Thump

A press of people…

Thump

The place where she works…

Thump

Her home…

Thump

Her friends…

Thump

The man with the smiling eyes…

Thump

Thump

Thump Thump Thump Thump Thump Thump

No.

Words have such power. Just one word. No. No. Nononononononono…..

She takes a deep ragged breath. Her eyes gain focus. Wild and alive, she stares around her, at these alien things. No! They have not seen her movement. They do not expect it. They are staring at her life on a screen, their backs turned. She breathes. She revels just in the ability to breathe. She turns her head. She sees the wires coming from her head. No! She writhes, tearing at the wires. Only then do they turn. They are bewildered. Why does it move? They move toward her to reattach the wires. No! No no no! She falls backward off the bed, struggling to her feet, casting off the wires.

She stares at them and they at her: the wild eyed human machine and her alien creators. For a long time none of them move. None of them prepared for this. No one knowing what comes next. She starts to back away and they start to advance. They will not let her leave. No! Suddenly she lunges, pushing at the bed from beneath, throwing it upwards and forwards with adrenaline fuelled force and then she turns and she runs…They will not keep her.

The door the spacecraft is closed. No! She hears the scream without really understand that it comes from her own lungs. No no no! She slams her hand into the metal work repeatedly and then for a second rests her head. She hears their hurried footsteps behind her and feels tears sting her eyes. No. She breathes. No no no no NO! She steps back. She scans the door looking for a handle, a button to press, she sees a consol and the all and she presses everything… No! The craft judders, machines hum, alarms sound. Her pursuers stagger through a door coming toward her. Her heart thumps. But she feels the cold air of the opened door.

They stare at each other again: the human machine and her alien creators. The ship shakes violently again and the spell is broken.

She breathes the night air hungrily. She doesn’t know why they don’t follow and neither does she care. Maybe they have all they wanted from her? Maybe a faulty machine is not worth salvaging?

She staggers back the way she had come; back to the city, back to the crammed in, bewildering, lost life.

Life. It is still life.

It’s cold. I’m walking with my arms wrapped round myself with hazy, already vanishing memories of events I don’t want to believe. The city is beautiful at night. The way the moonlight gleams on every surface, making the cars and the pavement shine like something unreal. I hail a cab. I want to get home. Curl up in bed with my boyfriend where it’s warm and safe, I wonder if he’s noticed I’ve been gone? I think I might take the day off tomorrow, call in sick and spend the day looking for another job. I’ve been meaning to leave that shit hole for ages. Maybe I’ll go to college, I’ve always fancied art. Time I made some decisions about what I want from life; can’t drift around forever. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.