He woke with a start, blinking rapidly. A sudden realization struck him, leaving an impish grin spreading over his reddening face.
“Sorry, Ms. Hadley.”
Falling asleep in class… He’d been making a habit out of it.
“Now that you’ve decided to rejoin us…”
Jonathan shut off his ears. Listening to the rest of that sentence was more effort than he was willing to expend. He’d already finished and moved past the material that they were covering anyways, so he let his mind wander again.
“A mind. A mind wandering, trapped, in a body.”
Hatred flushed through his system, redoubling his agitation.
Jonathan tried to be emotionally detached, but, to his enduring dismay, he couldn’t suppress all of his reactions.
“I’m a thing. A bio-mechanical wind-up doll…”
The irony of his indignant obsession with the biological controls his body lorded over him was clear. He could remember, quite clearly, the first day he’d come upon the idea. All he had to do was picture a candle.
Flickering luminescence outlined the dancing body of the wick’s flame. It had entranced his young mind. He’d sat, almost motionless; save the slight sway of his body slaved to the dervish motions of the flame, and just watched.
“What are you?”
It wasn’t physically there and, yet, it held his vision, the result of a chemical reaction releasing… energy. It was an expression of pure energy.
Fingers crept forward, hesitantly, against his more cogent whims. Yet, still they drifted.
Nerves focused, straining to perceive the feeling of heat, of energy unbridled. Nothing else existed besides him and the pulsing orange presence. Swallowing dryly, he brushed his fingers against the flame.
As quickly as contact was made, it was broken. Jonathan blinked and painted his face with a grim slash of determination. He wanted to be close to the fire, to touch it, to feel it, to understand it.
Again, he summoned his courage, gathered his focus and shot his hand forward, fingers basking in the flame. With a jerk, his mind was torn asunder. His focus was snatched and rode unrelentingly to a cacophony of screaming nerves in his finger.
Pain and pressure built within him, nerves firing recklessly, redundantly, pleading for relief.
Relief they quickly received.
Whimpering, he glared at the fingers that had betrayed him. They were his, weren’t they? They were supposed to do what he wanted.
Such is how Jonathan’s long, antagonizing relationship with his body had begun, a relationship that continued to this day.
Nerves were just the beginning, however. Muscles cramped when he needed them. Pores wept oil and hoarded grime. Hair grew and sweat poured. With a lasting chagrin, he thought back to the day he’d lost his virginity and winced openly.
“Yes, despite Jonathan’s objection, there really were five great extinctions in Earth’s history. According to paleontologists, the latest data suggests that…”
She’d seen him wince and thought he’d been inwardly disagreeing. He supposed that’s what he got for being regularly, openly adversarial. Well, in truth, he did disagree. Just not with what she was talking about. He disagreed with being unwittingly influenced… coerced… controlled… by a hodgepodge of bodily processes.
Emotions… those were the worst. Sure, the knee-jerk reactions and sensory overloads were minor annoyances, but emotions invaded his mind. They drove his thoughts, the very essence of his being, around like a mounted centurion: reins in one hand and whip in the other. Infiltrating, undermining and ripping apart his finest notions and plans, some days even making their own.
Only yesterday, he had been walking down the hall, when Lindsay drifted by, all banners and horns; heralded like some kind of ancient Goddess of Beauty and Lust. His heart had leapt into his throat and, for the rest of the day, try as he might, he couldn’t banish the tantalizing red-haired visions from his mind. It was those visions which, occasionally, made it difficult to focus on K-T extinction theories. Thankfully, it was a subject Jonathan was already quite familiar with. Much to his own disappointment, Lindsay had held him in a thrall, mind racing and mouth slightly agape, the same way the flickering flame from his memory had.
That candle. He hadn’t slept well since he’d started thinking about it again. Fear kept him up. Well, at least it explained the intermittent trips he’d been taking from consciousness in Miss Hadley’s class. Even now, in an entirely new way, it held him transfixed. He longed to escape, to be free, like the fire. Free-floating energy. No, even it was held by the air molecules, but while it was burning, in its pure form, it was beheld by nothing and no one, save his gaze.
“I want to be free of this…” he mumbled.
“Yes, but enough interruptions, please. Class will let out soon enough.”
She’d heard him! What kind of ears did this woman have? He shook off the haze of sleep that had settled over him. Oh, normal ones. She hadn’t been talking to him at all.
He drifted again.
A blaring siren broke through his unconscious ruminations. His bladder protested furiously as he got slowly to his feet and let out a long-suffering sigh. Brow furrowed, he quickly collected his books and headed for the washroom.
He zipped up his pants and squeaked the faucet on.
A light glinting in the mirror caught his eye, briefly. After a peripheral twist of attention, he let his gaze drift over the image reflected in the mirror. A thin, almost gaunt, body, deep-set eyes highlighted by exhaustion, smooth skin; unused to smiling; of a ghastly pallor that avoided the light of the sun, preferring, instead, the glow of lamps and computer monitors.
There! In his tired, over-burdened eyes blazed the spark of an idea… of thought. It was the fire within him that he fought to maintain; the last vestige of humanity that he could not let be extinguished.
“But how to be free of this hungry sack of flesh?”
Jonathan had heard of drugs that gave the sensation of separation from one’s body and still others that shut the senses and feelings down entirely. Still, it was all just sensation, not true freedom.
Occasionally, an intriguing problem would engross him so thoroughly that he would forget his body entirely. Even then, though, it would eventually call him back to his senses.
His senses? Ha. It felt more like he was theirs.
The only other option was… Well, to shut down the functions of the body entirely.
Suicide? Not his first option, but one he had considered.
For most, the question of life after death would be the defining factor. Not for Jonathan, though. An interesting concept to be sure, but there was very little in the way of hard, replicable data to support it. After all, since one cannot prove the existence of something the safer assumption is always to assume nothing.
“The simple and sweet null hypothesis.”
It was beautiful. It was elegant. It was too much for some people. Hard science often was. Emotions, fear mostly, drove them to reject the null on the basis of very questionable evidence. To each his own. Jonathan intended to be free from fear, his body’s enforcer, or at least make decisions as if he were.
Death, for that’s what it was, wouldn’t be embraced for the possible lingering transference of perception, but for the instant of freedom. Like the burning flame, an instant of purity. He, too, would burn. That spark behind his eyes would be released into the wider world.
Jon stopped. His shaking hands were white-knuckled and his breath came in short, heavy gasps. The thoughts he’d been beating around were working him into a frenzy of nerves.
Anger flared. Again! Again he’d have to stop and toady to his useless, dragging shell of flesh! Useless piece of meat! Bag of clacking bones!
That was it. He’d had all he could take. Living his life as a prisoner was no life at all! As Shakespeare had written and he paraphrased under his breath, “Man’s last true freedom, his only real right, is to forfeit his life.”
Attention shot to the cold metal beneath his fingers as he grasped the first rungs of the fire-escape ladder and began to climb.
Up he went, hatred and disgust flared and raged, feeding upon each other.
Finally, he stood on the roof overlooking the parking lot, wind whipping wildly around him, tearing desperately at his jacket, trying to pull him down. This time, though, he would not acquiesce.
He moved slowly forward.
Fear! It rocked him back on his heels. Fury built within him. No! He had to do this now, while he was in control.
Chaos around a cool center, he took two running steps and jumped, diving head-first towards the pavement below.
“Freeeeeee…..” he cried exultantly.
Lightning struck through his brain, stretching the seconds endlessly. Perspectives re-aligned. Wind soared past, caressing him, blowing out the candle of his fixation and the world turned again. Light drowned in his eyes.
A sudden realization struck him as the flames died. It had been anger that had driven this latest tangent. With the burning haze gone, he gained freedom, the true freedom of objectivity.
His body cradled that thought, pushing and nursing it to fruition. Over the years he’d gained control of some of his baser instincts. Energy flowed freely during times of intrigue. Body had driven mind, sure, but it had also carried.
For the longest time, he’d felt like a cornered, crazed animal sequestered by emotion. But, it, he, was more than that. The world, the great, grand scheme of things that he’d longed to be a part of, was only accessible, touchable, observable, and sensible, through his body. Sure, his mind may be a caged thing, but it was through the miracle of this complex, bio-mechanical marvel that it could interact with reality. That it HAD a reality. At all!
Paradigms sheared away and without warning his body went from prison to tool. With time, he could learn to use it, harness his raw, unyielding body. Control it. Conduct it. Yes!
With time… the one thing he seemed to have in short supply.
Eyes focused on rushing pavement.
For the first time, he wished he’d thought twice or not at all.
He hadn’t climbed too high. He might just…
Jonathan tucked his head under his arms as inspiration wracked him and the ground loomed. He closed his eyes and…