The young woman found herself suddenly and unaccountably in the middle of a crowd. In every direction, from horizon to horizon, people milled about. Although the density of the crowd was comparable to that of a busy city sidewalk, the people appeared quite at ease, as if each one of them were taking a solitary stroll along some rarely-travelled country road. She observed other peculiarities, as well. For instance, the crowd was a crowd of individuals, each in his or her own solipsistic inner world. Stranger still, although no one spoke and—save for the young woman herself—even appeared aware of the presence of others, there were no collisions. It was almost as if they were airplanes whose individual paths, while seemingly random, were tightly, meticulously determined by a group of highly specialized technicians armed with powerful computers capable of taking into consideration every possible variation of the circumstances in which an air plane might find itself. This is to say, everyone proceeded smoothly, weaving through the interminable crowd with enough space separating his or her body from those he or she passed to remain comfortably alone, untouched and undisturbed in the privacy of pensive reflection.
We might imagine that the young woman, in her fear and uncertainty, would have interrupted the flow of bodies, frantically shouting at passersby, perhaps even taking some unfortunate soul into her hands and throttling him until his eyes settled on her anxious face and his mind was jolted into a reality that recognized the presence of others, but she did not. Instead, like an old habit returning or, perhaps even more accurately, a dormant instinct awakening, a sense of direction pulsed in the woman’s mind and she began walking, tentatively at first, then with the confidence that comes from a lifetime’s experience with a given activity.
After what seemed like a very long time, the young woman began to wonder about certain practicalities. For instance, she thought, what does one do when one feels the need to relieve oneself? In all the time she had spent walking, she had not seen a single building, let alone a washroom. She wondered, briefly, what she would do, when the time came, for her to address her body’s animal needs. Certainly, she reflected, one could not relieve oneself out in the open. Not with dignity, at least. Still, she had been walking for quite a while and she hadn’t felt the slightest urge to do so, nor had she seen any signs among those milling about her that anyone else did, either. In fact, no one seemed to eat, drink, or tire.
Curiously, although she felt the passage of time, the sun seemed as warm and bright as it had the moment she first found herself in the crowd. Looking up at the sky, she noticed a cloudless blue of uniform brightness and hue, as if the sun were always just out of her view. Her inability to locate the sun, of course, puzzled the young woman, unmooring her thoughts momentarily, but she soon gave up her speculations, turning her attention instead towards the observation of her surroundings.
As we have already noted, there was no horizon to speak of. In every direction, a roiling mass of human heads stretched to the vanishing point and, once there, met with the placid blue of a sunny, sunless sky. The ground was the smooth off-white of freshly-hardened concrete, arranged in large square slabs. There were no trees, no benches, no plazas, no graffiti, no wads of discarded chewing gum blackened by the soles of feet. There were no dogs, no cats, no strollers, no bicycles. The clothing people wore, while varied, bore no signs of having been purchased in the stores with which the young woman was familiar. Thus, the first thing the young woman noticed about her fellow pedestrians was the lack of logos and slogans emblazoned on their clothing.
These observations, and the thoughts that arose from their contemplation, occupied the young woman’s mind while as she continued walking and weaving. Her thoughts were only briefly interrupted when, for the briefest of moments, she noticed that one woman in the crowd, looking the tiniest bit consternated, was not walking. When, a second later, the apprehensive woman began moving, the first young woman continued on her way, not noticing the familiar features of troubled woman’s face. Of course, we cannot fault the young woman for her impercipience; one can only go so long without mirrors or other reflective surfaces before his or her memory clouds over.
BIO: Erik Grayson teaches literature and writing in New York.
MOTIVATION: I wanted to write a \"bright\" nightmare in which a muted anxiety lurks behind a distant narrator whose tone is as unwelcoming and indifferent as the scene s/he describes. I want to leave a vaguely menacing aftertaste, like the feeling one has when awoken from an ill-remembered but nevertheless intensely lived dream.