Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Existentialism versus essentialism: A Story to present philosophical enquiry
They walked him to the door, one on each side, but they didn’t touch him. The ting of the proximity bell sounded softly as the large door rolled open. Harold stood there gaping across the threshold while fear and confusion welled up inside of him. Something unknown was compelling him to cross the threshold and enter the room. He scanned the room carefully as if looking for some explanation of his predicament. There was a desk in the far corner of the room with two chairs; one on either side. On the opposite side of the room there was a narrow door with a large vent above it. There were no windows, no paintings, and no other furniture or décor.
Harold crossed the room slowly and sat heavily in the chair on the client side of the desk with his back to the narrow door. He felt weak and flaccid. His body was cold and sweaty. His mind was filled with confusion and his ears were ringing loudly with voices and scrambled sounds spinning round in the distance. He did not hear the large door roll closed. It was all vaguely familiar but he could not grasp it. It was awesome and frightening. It was too terrible to think about. He pushed the thoughts from his mind.
After a while, a man in a white smock entered the room and sat at the desk, facing Harold. He took a small rectangular device from his pocket and placed it on the desk in front of him where Harold could see it. Then he looked at Harold, carefully surveying his condition and asked “How are you feeling today?” But Harold could not answer him. Too many voices were still crowding his mind and the awful haunting screams filled his ears. “Do you know where you are, Harold?” asked the man. But Harold still heard all of the voices echoing in his mind at once and could not answer him. He struggled to no avail to push them out of his head but they were trapped inside.
The man looked briefly at the small device in front of him and then he looked back at Harold. He saw a helpless and terrified man slumping heavily in the chair across the desk from him. It was clear to the man that Harold could not talk. It was not time. He was not ready. The man in white put the small device back into his pocket and stood up slowly. He then moved around the desk and silently crossed the room, exiting carefully through the narrow door. Harold sat there in his frightened stupor until the two men came and took him from the room.
Each day the two men walked him to the door and retrieved him from the room. It was always the same. Harold did not like the room. It was cold and silent like a tomb. He felt uneasy and afraid. He could not remember when he had first come to the room. Was it days ago? Was it weeks or months? Perhaps it was even years. When did the voices stop? He could not remember. There was a strange unreality about all of this and yet there was something profoundly real. Harold sat at the desk contemplating the enigma.
The man in the white smock appeared in the room from behind him. He sat down at the desk, across from Harold, and took the small rectangular device from his pocket. Then he placed it on the desk in front of him and looked directly at Harold. “How are you feeling today,” he asked calmly. Harold thought about that carefully, then, after a long while, he answered with a question that had been growing in his mind. “How long have I been here?” he asked the man. The man looked down at the small rectangular device. “How long does it seem?” he asked. “I don’t know. I can’t seem to tell,” said Harold fixing his arms straight down and clenching the seat cushion. “Is it important?” asked the man. “It is very important,” Harold replied, shifting uneasily in his chair. Then releasing his tight grip on the cushion he leaned back casually. “Do you want to leave here, Harold?” asked the man, sensing Harold’s mood. Harold shifted forward in his chair again, and looked past the man. “Yes, that would be very good. I would like to leave here.” “Where would you like to go?” asked the man. Harold leaned back again and looked up at the ceiling. He thought about it for a while. He could almost remember. It was right there, why couldn’t he grasp it? “I don’t know,” he finally answered. “Do you really want to know?” asked the man. “Certainly!” replied Harold emphatically looking back at the man; somewhat surprised by the question but understanding it. “Let’s think about that,” the man said hoping to probe Harold’s mind further. “Can I can help you to leave here, Harold,” asked the man?
Harold looked up at the ceiling and grabbed the cushion again. He leaned back slowly and stared upward. "What are you thinking about Harold?” asked the man. But Harold only stared at the ceiling and did not answer. The man stood up slowly and replaced the small rectangular device in his pocket. He hesitated for a moment and glanced back at Harold, reviewing his condition. But Harold did not return the look or volunteer any conversation. The man crossed the room silently leaving Harold staring at the ceiling. Then he exited carefully through the narrow door. Harold sat there staring at his hands waiting for the two men to arrive at the large door.
It would be lunchtime soon. Harold looked forward to this time. His day consisted of meals, the room, meals and the room. He hated the room. He hated to be regimented. He was not a follower. He was a take-charge person. But mealtime had some semblance of familiarity about it. He felt free, more in control. He sat there thinking about where he would go if he left the room. It was almost there, somewhere within his grasp, but it was not clear. He stopped thinking about it. “I must leave this room,” he thought. “This is not where I want to be.” He felt trapped by the room. If he left, he could find the place where he should be. He should not be here. He would leave the room and find his own place where he should be. He could almost see it in his mind’s eye but something was still blocking his memory: something very powerful. Perhaps if he was free of this room he could remember everything. The large door rolled open. “Perhaps tomorrow…” he thought.
The following day, Harold’s mood was ebullient. He arrived at the room with anticipation. The elements of a plan were beginning to take shape in his mind and he was ready for it now. Although the plan was not well defined yet, he still had time to develop it; but most of all he felt ready. He had been feeling trapped by the room and he wanted desperately to leave it. He sensed something ominous forming in his mind: a nebulas frightening image. He could not face it. He forced it from his mind. He did not want to see it. His only salvation, he thought, was a successful escape from the room.
Each day he became more and more imbued with the idea of escape and now it had become a driving obsession. He arrived at the room and sat at the usual seat on the client side of the desk and engaged himself in the various details and alternatives of the escape plan. He went over and over the details and alternatives in his mind while waiting for the man in the white smock to arrive.
As usual, the man appeared at the desk without issuing a single footstep. He sat down slowly and placed the small rectangular device on the desk in front of him. He looked at it for a moment and then he looked at Harold and spoke casually as if comforting a dear friend. “How are you feeling today,” he asked? “I’m feeling well enough, thank you,” said Harold stiffly, shifting uneasily in his chair. The man leaned forward and looked more closely at Harold now. He was observing something different in Harold, something he had not noticed earlier. He took the opportunity now to press Harold more forcefully into probing his own mind. He wanted Harold to examine himself. They bandied trite conversation back and forth for some time, but Harold was intransigent on the matter of serious introspection and still he could not remember how and when he came to the room. Or, for that matter, why he should even be there in the room at all. He did not know where he was yet somehow it all seemed strangely familiar to him.
“Tell me whatever comes into your mind, Harold,” coaxed the man, “just start talking and perhaps we will discover what we must.” His eyes looked deep into Harold’s eyes. “Try, anything at all,” he insisted. “Perhaps you may even remember someone that we can talk about,” he continued rapidly, hoping to help Harold remember his predicament. Harold put his hands together and leaned forward. What about your father, Harold? Do you remember? He tried hard to concentrate but still he could not see anything in his mind but an indiscernible blur. He could not discern anything about his past or present. Something frightening was in there, hiding somewhere in the shadows of his mind. There were sounds spinning round in the distance but he could not quite discern what they were. “I just can’t seem to recall anything,” he finally protested, sitting abruptly back in his chair like a protesting child. Dropping his hands down in weary surrender he refused to continue the dialog.
It was obvious to the man now that Harold was not going to remember anything more today and that prolonging their meeting would serve no useful purpose. He stood up to end the meeting. He looked at Harold for a last brief moment and said “about your father, Harold do you remember?” Then he put the small rectangular device back into his pocket. Harold looked up at him, as if hoping for something, but he said nothing and turned his head, staring back at his hands. The man knew what Harold was thinking but he could not push Harold further at this time. He moved quietly around the desk and crossed the room silently as always. Then he exited carefully through the narrow door as usual. Harold thought more about his predicament while waiting for the two men to come and fetch him but still he had no answers.
The following morning when Harold arrived at the room he was eager to begin executing his newly formulated plan. He felt energized now, standing there before the large open door. He did not go directly to the desk this time. Instead, he stood at the threshold and surveyed the room carefully and purposefully. Then he crossed into the room and walked its perimeter slowly and cautiously sweeping out the area with his eyes, and tapping on the walls here and there as he moved along. When he came to the narrow door, he stopped, bent down and put his ear up against it and listened for any sound that he might distinguish, even though no sound could issue from that door. Then, looking up he saw the large vent above the door. Having been suddenly struck by the idea, he stood there breathless for a moment examining the possibilities that were rapidly intruding into his mind as the excitement grew inside of him. “Yes, it seems to be large enough,” he told himself. “Yes, of course, it is large enough. This could be my point of egress, my salvation,” he thought, almost speaking it aloud.
Harold was a large man, tall and fair with a strong build. He always ate carefully paying attention to the nutritional contents. He especially enjoyed mealtimes. It was a special time when he felt free from the encroachments of a hectic day. He had always been very active and it showed on him. He was lean and solid as a rock. He was an avid skier, tough on the tennis court and a formidable student of the martial arts. He had a good face with bright expressive eyes and a head cropped with plenty of dark wavy hair. When he spoke to people he would look them in the eyes. It was intimidating to some. But others saw in it honesty. He was always meticulous about his appearance. He traveled to Asia and Europe to have the best tailors make his clothes. He had a good sense of humor and an easy way about him, but he was no pushover. He was a tough negotiator and a good businessman. He commanded a strong sense of authority. He did not like his ideas to be challenged but he knew to be patient where necessary. He usually got what he asked for. His employees were loyal and followed his lead willingly.
Harold had no religious persuasion whatsoever. To Harold, power was not vested somewhere in the unfathomable heavens. Power was vested right here on earth, and he often said it just that way. To Harold, power was the measure of man and of man’s own aspirations and achievements. Supernatural things did not really happen. It was not God, who made the real miracles, but man. These were the miracles of medicine; of science; the miracles of man’s own abilities that were reflected in his own achievements. There were no inexplicable supernatural occurrences that could defy human reason much less defy the laws of physics which man had discovered. These miracles of men were the only miracles that Harold embraced.
But Harold’s father did not share his views and they often debated them. For Harold’s father the miracles of man were the miracles of the soul. Man had an intellect because he was imbued with a spirit; an essence; a soul. That’s what made man different from the lower animals. Man was not simply and evolutionary marvel, man had something that did not evolve; his soul; his essence. It was this essence and not simply neurogenesis that gave man creative abstraction. Man could discern between good and evil because he has a soul. Animals had no such awareness of good or evil. For animals, there is only fear or hunger, with no understanding of why. Creativity as the process of cognitive abstraction is only as a final stage of revelation. It was the essence of a creative process obtained from a spiritual link without which abstraction that led to invention was not possible. “All creativity comes through revelation,” he would tell Harold. “Ideas are the essential but they are not the essence,” he would say. “Without the essence, there can be no essential.” But Harold did not accept his father’s words. He did not waste time on philosophy. It was only abstraction and of no practical use. It held no real pragmatic value. Technology was Harold’s only close companion. It was what Harold understood best. Even his reading menu reflected it, consisting of trade journals, white papers and technical publications. His intense activity over-compensated his latent feelings loneliness, which he never allowed to surface.
Harold had few acquaintances but he was not a recluse. He was kind, often tolerant and well liked, even if he could at times be a bit condescending. To some, Harold seemed odd; an eccentric of classical dimension; an unusual kind of social recluse. He was not at all timid or shy, but a real loner. He avoided company parties or celebrations or other activities the employees would attend. He was an intense personality and he had about him that peculiar quality of insular leadership. Unlike his father, Harold did more than influence people, he controlled them. He was always in control. He was no day dreamer. He was patient, careful and levelheaded. He believed firmly in the real and the possible and usually avoided risky opportunism. “Practicing the possible keeps your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds,” he would tell the new employees at the company seminars he instituted after his father died. But it was Harold’s father who built the company from the ground up on dreams, speculation, risk and ambition; and revelation.
Harold was exceedingly tenacious and carried out each task as evidence of his resolute determination to finish things. He was not in the least way superstitious and inveighed against astrologers, prognosticators and the like. He scoffed at them calling them doomsayers and destinooers. “Destiny is what you make Destiny,” he often said with a strong conviction.
From the floor, the vent appeared to be large enough to allow him free movement inside. He presumed that he would climb into the vent and work his way through the ductwork to his escape at the other end. He pulled the chair over from the desk and climbed up on it to examine the vent more closely. It was, just as he thought, quite roomy inside. The outside grating was fastened very simply with a series of small flat head screws that could be unscrewed with very little effort by using a thin metal object such as a blunt-end butter knife; the kind of knife, for example, that he always used at breakfast.
He could feel excitement now rushing through his veins. His mind’s eye raced over the landscape of ideas as he began to envision a glorious escape through the vent. He spread his hands apart and grasped the grate firmly with his fingers stuck tightly through the square holes. He pulled his body up close against the grate and pressed his face against the square holes. He peered inside straining to see whatever he could discern. But he only saw light coming from the far end and nothing else.
Everything seemed like it was falling right into place now. He felt rejuvenated; he was regaining his self-confidence. He liked the feeling. He was in control again and now he was going to prove it. Soon he would actually begin his escape. The reason he was in the room; the reason he had to escape was no longer important; it did not matter. There was not practical value to answering the question. What mattered was the escape, itself. He would bring a butter knife with him from breakfast and practice removing the screws from the grating. He planned to remove the entire set of screws and the replace them again. He would practice this procedure over and over again, until he could quickly remove and replace all of the screws before the man in the white smock appeared. The escape was to be kept secret even from the man in the white smock. But he was not sure why. When the time was right, he would make his escape through the vent and escape from the room and the man. Harold dragged the chair back to the desk and sat there waiting for the man and reviewed the events of tomorrow when his thoughts were finally interrupted. The man entered through the narrow door as usual without issuing even the slightest sound.
But Harold always knew when the man was present. He did not need audible verification. The man sat down slowly and placed the small rectangular device on the desk in front of him and looked across the desk at Harold. Harold sat back in his chair studying the man carefully as if preparing for an important statement.
The man waited patiently for some time, but Harold did not speak. “What are you feeling right now, Harold?” the man finally asked. Harold leaned forward. He was about to speak, but then he dropped his hands to his sides, leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling again. After a moment, the man looked at him and spoke again. “Are you afraid of something, Harold?” The man continued, as if he expected Harold to reply. But Harold did not respond. Harold was preoccupied with his plan. This was mere talk, pure abstraction. What did it have to do with anything, really? What he needed now was action, not abstraction. He had his plan and he was ready to execute it. That was real. That was not abstract speculation.
The man continued in his effort to probe Harold’s mind, hoping to break through; hoping to help him. But Harold was focused on his plan. He did not want the man in the white smock to push him into facing the frightening visions that were lurking in the shadows of his mind. He wanted to escape from them. He did not want to confront them. He wanted salvation; but he did not really want to discover the details of his predicament. The man recognized that his efforts were fruitless. Harold insisted that he could not remember anything and would not even try to discover what was lurking behind the shadows in his mind. The man stood up and put the small rectangular device back into his pocket. The meeting was ended and nothing meaningful about Harold was revealed. Harold’s own predicament was still a mystery buried deep inside his own unconscious mind; perhaps even deeper…in his soul.
Harold began to carry out his plan with increased determination. It grew like a neurotic ritual that gradually engulfs the body until it becomes an inseparable extension of the soul. Each morning when he arrived at the room he would walk the room perimeter slowly, tapping deliberately on the walls here and there. Then, stooping at the narrow door, he would listen briefly for sounds that he knew would not come. But he did not linger, he hurried past it. He always had a macabre feeling about this door but he could not explain it. It was like an apprehension or a foreboding of something unthinkable. He would certainly not talk about it and he tried not to think about it. He was not really sure what he felt or why. But he did not like the feeling so he tested the door quickly with his ear and moved on just as quickly.
It was simply not practical to dwell on the narrow door and suffer those extraordinary fears and bad feelings. He could simply avoid the door and avoid the problem. After all, was he not a practical man? He was a pragmatician, as he liked to call himself. He forced the troublesome thoughts of the door from his head and proceeded to follow his plan. He dragged the chair over from the desk, positioned it carefully under the vent, climbed up on it and began removing the screws according to his plan. First he removed one. Then he replaced it. Then he removed two and replaced them. He continued working in this way until all of the screws had been removed and replaced quickly. Each time he repeated this procedure he gained proficiency.
Harold was a patient man, after all. He would follow his plan to the letter without deviating from it. He would practice the procedure until it was perfect. “Pick a direction and stick to it,” his father used to say. “You can’t get anywhere by going in circles.” But unlike his father, Harold took a direct approach to things. He did not waste his time on tangential diversions, whereas his father often avoided the direct approach as hasty judgment until it was proven. But it was his ability to maintain focus, Harold believed, that made him successful in business and technology.
When all of the screws were replaced, he put the butter knife back into his pocket. Then he dragged the chair back to the desk and waited for the man in the white smock, whom he knew would come. He sat there smugly reflecting on his small triumph while suppressing a proud inner smile. The man entered the room in the usual way and sat at the desk, across from Harold. He again placed the small device in front of him and looked directly at Harold. He knew that Harold was watching him intently. “How are you feeling today,” asked the man perceiving Harold’s alertness. The man in the white smock knew that Harold was thinking about his plan. “I’m well,” he said, not looking at the man, but sat with a partially suppressed inner smile. “Perhaps you have something important to tell me today,” said the man. “No,” said Harold, leaning comfortably back in his chair, “I don’t have anything to tell you.” But Harold’s ebullient posture only encouraged the man to probe further. “Tell me about your father, where is he, Harold,” prodded the man, seizing an opportunity to force Harold to face his real predicament. There was a long silence at that question. “Do you remember your father, Harold,” the man continued. “Try to concentrate on him, try to remember him. What did he look like? When did you see him last? Where is he now? Do you remember what happened to him?” “I just can’t remember,” Harold blurted out loudly with great agitation. The man waited for a further engagement but Harold was still unable to face the issues the man was probing. The man in the white smock realized that he could not force Harold to encounter himself. Perhaps you will remember more about it later,” the man said, and left it at that. Aware that any further discussion would be fruitless, the man stood up slowly and left in the usual way, exiting carefully through the narrow door. Harold just sat there again looking at his hands.
The next morning, Harold arrived at the room prepared to make his escape a reality. He was ready now. He had practiced thoroughly and he was quite efficient. He had waited long enough. He was in a spirited mood now and he was excited about the impending escape. Something truly momentous was about to happen. He could feel it in every fiber of his body. This pervasive ambivalence, which he could not explain, loomed over him. His composure was tempered by a brewing trepidation. But he ignored his feelings and focused his energy now on the task at hand. He dragged the chair over from the desk and climbed up on it. Then, with practiced hands, he quickly removed all of the screws securing the heavy grate that covered the vent opening. Cautiously he removed the grate and stepped down gently from the chair. He placed the grate on the floor next to the chair and leaned it against the wall with all of the screws laid out neatly in front of it. The grate was surprisingly heavy even for him but strangely it made no sound on contact with the floor.
A mixture of excitement and apprehension came over him at once as he peered into the ductwork. He could feel his heartbeat accelerate. He was acutely aware of the loud throbbing pulse invading his ears. He pulled himself up higher and leaned forward into the large cavity. Looking down the shaft-way, he did not see any straight up or straight down vertical drop. There was a direct route straight to the other end of the large shaft. “That’s a bit of serendipity,” he told himself out loud. He had earlier pondered the many possible problems in his mind and had envisioned such difficulties as perhaps having to climb barefoot up one or even two stories through a straight vertical rise of ductwork. He was pleased by the apparent simplicity of his task. He pulled himself up into the shaft-way now and leaned forward on his knees. He was balanced now just inside the ductwork. It was not as dark as he expected that it would be. A bright spray of light was coming in at the other end illuminating the entire inside. He looked all around and saw that the interior was painted white everywhere, and reflected the light so efficiently that the inside actually appeared to be lighted. He was still in the smaller section where he had to crawl. But immediately ahead of him the duct opened up vertically to where he could almost stand. A smaller man, in fact, could probably walk it upright without ever stooping. But Harold was a tall man, like his father.
He moved quickly and silently to the taller section of the vent. Serendipity seemed to be his companion and he tried to dismiss his anxieties. Shifting his weight, he tested the floor. It was strangely quiet. He had anticipated perhaps a lighter gage sheet metal; the kind that would probably reflex under his weight, causing loud unwanted sounds. Harold was a heavy man. But this floor made no sound at all as he moved across it. It was cool inside the shaft. He could even feel a gentle wisp of moving air caressing his face as he descended further into the taller shaft-way. The cool wisp felt good on his face, which was now beginning to perspire more heavily. He could almost stand comfortably in this section. He continued to move ahead slowly with his head slightly bowed. He was becoming a little more anxious now and his body was beginning to perspire even more heavily. The light he had seen before was now flooding the entire area in front of him. He was almost there, just a little farther. It was a beautiful spray of light like bright yellow sunlight on a summer morning. “How could it be sunlight,” he thought, “when there were no windows in the room?” But he quickly dismissed the anomaly.
He was now approaching the end of the shaft now and he could see what appeared to be a grating on his left. The bright yellow light was pouring in profusely from that side projecting the rectangular grate patterns on the floor of the duct in front of him, in big black shadows like distorted trapezoids. He crept cautiously forward as he approached the grate. He knelt down and leaning forward, he put his fingers in the square holes and pulled himself up against the grille. Then he pressed his face tight against the grille to maximize his viewing angle and peered out through the holes.
From his viewpoint he could see nothing but the bright yellow light. There was nothing to identify. There were no structures or shapes, no windows or doors, only light. It was most puzzling, indeed. He pulled himself up closer for a better look and pressed his cheek tighter against the grille, looking first to the left and then to the right. Then he looked up and then down. But still he could not see anything but bright yellow light. He moved back from the grille now and examined the grate carefully looking for the inside fasteners. He searched diligently for fasteners of any kind but he could not discover them anywhere. “There must be an inside holder of some sort,” he murmured to himself, “There is always an inside frame.” But he did not see any. He did not see any way to remove the grating from the inside and the rectangular holes were too small to reach through. He put his head down close to the bottom of the grille and looked more closely, following the outline of the grating slowly with his finger in search of some sort of fasteners. But he was unable to discover an inside retainer or fastener of any sort. His finger deliberately followed the remaining three sides with equal concentration, but with the same results. There were no inside fasteners of any kind to be found. “I will just have to force it open.” he muttered to himself with a confidence reminiscent of earlier days.
Serendipity had followed him again. Where he was the tall ductwork had conveniently narrowed. He placed his back firmly against the duct wall opposite the grate and stretched out his powerful legs. Then he placed his feet strategically on the grating and pressed mightily. He had huge solid legs and could generate tremendous force with them. He had once lifted the rear part of a three-quarter ton pickup truck using this same technique. He continued to apply great force to the grate. He was perspiring quite heavily now and became keenly aware of his own body heat. The grating creaked and groaned but it did not break free. He shifted his body into a more solid position and pressed against it again, this time with even greater force. But unlike the pickup truck, the grate refused to move. He tried again and again but with the same result. “This puny grate should be giving way! What’s wrong?” his thoughts took on an elevated pitch.
He could feel a surge of panic now beginning to erupt inside of him. He was beginning to lose control. Unable to restrain himself, he brought his knees up to his chest and fired a powerful crashing blow to the grate, making a thunderous sound throughout the entire duct. But the grate still refused break free. He paused for a few seconds then he drew his knees to his chest again and began firing powerful successive blows to the grating. The entire duct was now exploding with deafening thunderous sounds. He continued battering away at the grate until he was exhausted. But the grate did not open. Finally, he just lay there, exhausted and out-of-breath. He did not know how long he was battering the grate. He felt defeated. He stared out of the grate again but now he saw nothing but a blur. Slowly, he began to recover from his defeat and in his pragmatic way he realized that any further effort to break open the grate was useless and impractical. He felt drained of all his energy. He had not known the feeling of defeat like this before. He did not like it. How long had he been there battering the grate and then resting? He could not tell. Did the man in the white smock hear the deafening thunderous sounds? How could he not have?
The bright yellow light was gone now and there was nothing but an indiscernible blur beyond the grating. He peered out through the grate again, hoping to see something, anything that he could recognize. But still, he could not distinguish any shape or form. He was totally perplexed by this. He was feeling exhausted, defeated and pitiful. He felt sick in his stomach. He looked back toward the room and saw a light coming from the place where he had originally entered the shaft. He made his way slowly back to his earlier point of ingress. Then he climbed out of the vent and stepped carefully onto the chair. He did not bother to replace the grate. It lay on the floor leaning against the wall with a pile of screws organized neatly in front of it just as he left it. He pulled the chair over to the desk and sat there waiting for the man in the white smock.
The man appeared predictably in the usual silent way. He sat down at the desk and placed the rectangular device in front of him. Then he looked at Harold sympathetically; perhaps even hopefully. “Something here is strangely unreal,” thought Harold as a profound déjà vu experience fell over him. The man looked briefly down at the small device then he looked back at Harold. “I know how very upset you are now, Harold. I know that it would help you to talk about it. Is there anything in your mind that you want to tell me?” he said in a calm and sympathetic voice. Harold looked at him, struggling in earnest now to speak. He wanted desperately to speak now but no sound would issue from his throat no matter how he tried to speak. “Are you sure you cannot tell me something?” asked the man, observing Harold’s lack of response but understanding it. Harold tried to put his hand out to gesture for the man but he could not command any motion to his arm. His eyes were beginning to flood with tears and his face was growing tight and hot. He tried to speak again but no sound would come. The man, aware of Harold’s condition, put the small device back into his pocket and stood up presently to leave. Harold was still struggling to speak. He looked up at the tall man but still, he could not issue any sound from his throat. The man moved silently around the desk and started across the room. Harold, through enormous physical effort, finally mustered sufficient power to break free from his torpid state. He turned around from the desk, and, for the very first time, he watched the man leave the room. The man simply pushed the narrow door open, and exited carefully through it.
Harold stared at the door in total disbelief. How could this be? There was no lock on the narrow door, “not even a door handle!” he thought. His mouth fell open and his head shook in amazement trying to capture the validity of his discovery. He stared again at the door, still in total bewilderment, trying to accept the unbelievable. He felt his pulse throbbing heavily, forcing warm blood to his head. Panic began flooding inside of him like a menacing tidal wave; building now into a forceful hysteria. He was trapped in that nebulous area of the mind where reason no longer has a useful purpose and hysteria drives down hard on one’s psyche like a furious demonic monster, suppressing any inkling of self-control or thoughtful hesitation. It is indeed a strange dimension of life where the self, is helpless and confused and gives away control to the reckless power of unbridled fear. It is a state where even the ego no longer has any meaning or importance. Harold flew across the room. Without thinking and without reason he burst open the narrow door, screaming at a deafening volume.
It was as though a great flood had swept through his bedroom. Harold’s bed was sopping wet. A cold chill surrounded him and he was seized by an extraordinary fear and immobility for what seemed an endless duration. He lay there, in his cold wet bed, struggling desperately to shake off the vast oppression that seized control of him while he slept. He was exhausted, and out of breath. He tried to scream but he could not make a sound. He tried to move but he could not command motion to any limb. He wanted to see but he could not open his eyes. He remained in this torpid state for an interminable time, struggling to free himself from the vast oppressive blackness that had engulfed him. He was still struggling to scream. He heard only the faint sounds at first, but they were enough so that he was becoming aware of his own state of twilight consciousness. He struggled harder now to break free from the awful dream. Then, by the sheer will and powerful determination that obtains only from extraordinary fear, he forced more volume from his lungs. The sounds of his own screams finally succeeded in awakening him sufficiently to evoke a slight, almost imperceptible, motion in his arms. He fought more desperately now to bring any sort of motion to his body. He managed to bring a slight motion first to his legs. Then finally, he began to move the rest of his body. The bazaar events of the dream had finally come to an end.
He was now fully awakened from the terrifying nightmare of the room. He lay there thoroughly drenched in his own body fluids and completely terrorized. His eyes opened wide. Slowly, he lifted himself from the bed and tried to focus. He searched the room with great trepidation. His body was still trembling with such fear that he could see and feel his own shaking. He heard himself crying and felt the tears flowing profusely down his face. He was cold and sick. He wanted to vomit. He had terrible cramps. His bowels were rapidly filling with icy sharp objects designed only to deliver raw pain. He detected foul odors and icy wet jelly in his pants. He rushed into the bathroom.
It was getting much worse now. The nightmare was occurring several times a night, and even during the day, if at all he slept. He was in dire need of extended rest. But he dared not even take a short afternoon nap for fear that the dream would overtake him again. The dream was so frightening and powerful that he seriously wondered if his heart could continue to survive the repeated trauma. He did whatever he could to prevent the dream from recurring. During the day he did not nap at all. At night he set his high tech programmable device, the companion, as it was called, to alarm-tone every fifteen minutes hoping to be awakened him from his dream when it occurred. He looked at himself in the mirror and did not recognize what he saw. He was completely exhausted. He lost weight and his sunken cheeks were obvious. He looked like death stalking a victim. His color was gray and pallid. His tired eyes were recessed deep inside dark black caverns. His mouth drooped in an expression of painful misery and disgust, and he had an irremovable wretched taste in his dry mouth.
He needed rest desperately. He was making bad decisions and countless mistakes owing to this terrible fatigue that had descended upon him. He was falling apart, all because of this crazy uncontrollable dream. He was having trouble keeping up with his work. He had not been to the office in weeks. He called in for his messages and had his correspondence delivered to his home. Apprehension was building at the office and several of his key people tried to seek him out because of their own personal concern. But he declined to see any of them saying he had some personal business to attend to and that everything was under control. He did everything by telephone. He was living on the edge and becoming a nervous wreck but he refused to take leave from work. He was adamant that he would not jeopardize his business.
It was always the same dream: The room, the man, the vent, the narrow door and the vast blackness, the room, the man, the vent, the narrow door…. Soon, he would try to get help. He already made an appointment with a psychiatrist. But that was still a week away. Countless nightmares would occur in the interim. Meanwhile he had his work cut out for himself. First of all, he knew that he must maintain his own personal stability. He could not allow himself to lose his business over this dream. He and his father had worked too hard to build up such a successful and prosperous business to lose it all now because of this miserable recurring dream. They had started out small and worked long and hard hours. They sacrificed year after year to build it up. Now it was a greatly successful commercial enterprise that generated considerable income beyond what they could have imagined in the early years.
After the tragic events that took his father, Harold was completely on his own; although managing well. He tried not to think about the bazaar accident that plucked his father from the peak of his career. If only his father had not panicked. If only he had listened to the advice of others he would still be alive today, Harold reasoned. He recalled his father’s own aphorism, "Self-discipline, is the key to self-control and self-control is the key success." "What a strange irony," thought Harold. If only his father had better self-control… His thoughts trailed off. He wrestled with tragic events often right after the accident but less and less now as more time passed. Was it the circumstances, or was it really the panic that took his father? In the end, did his father cause his own demise by his own futile and reckless panic? Was it truly a character flaw in his father? Was it a simple human element, after all, which exacted such a heavy toll? Or was it more than that? Was it something beyond human comprehension?
Harold tried not to think about his father lately, as it was his character to dismiss troublesome issues of no apparent consequence. He was pragmatic to the point of strict utility. After all, it was a moot question now. His father was gone and that was over. Nothing could change that now. It was time to put it all behind him and move on with the things that he could control. His meeting at the St. George Hotel at 1:00 O’clock this afternoon was an important account that he had been anxious to develop. He had not yet contacted the client-company with a proposal, although he had been researching them and formally preparing his approach. How surprised he was when he received a call from them asking him for a formal presentation. Was it was pure serendipity? They came to him while he was looking to approach them: What a remarkable coincidence.
He wanted this lucrative account and he knew he had only one chance to make a first impression. Although he was apprehensive about his present condition, he did not reschedule the meeting. He showered for the second time; he picked out his best business suit, his tailored shirt, diamond links, and his Italian shoes. He dressed with his usual attention to detail. He was punctilious about his appearance. He glanced down at the high tech device lying on his bed and noted the time. It was a small rectangular device manufactured by Karma Products Inc., a company under the umbrella of Harold’s main technology organization. It was a very advanced high tech device that presented highly accurate time for every time zone, as well as temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and various other programmable timer-alarm functions. Additional features included AM, FM and all-band short-wave and microwave broadcast reception, continuous time standard, weather and navigational information for auto, boat or plane. It even tied into a satellite network for GPS and telephone, and was completely battery operated with an internal power antenna. And, it was thin and light and could be easily carried in one’s pocket. It was a marvelous illustration of leading edge technology. It was the major product that had catapulted Harold’s company into the limelight. He picked up the small rectangular device, the companion, and placed it back on the nightstand where he normally kept it at night, next to his white smock and put it in his pocket. He had just enough time left to swallow down another cup of coffee and quickly review the notes he had made for his presentation before leaving for the hotel. He was already forewarned that the St. George was undergoing major renovation, and, therefore, he should allow extra time. He did not want to be late. He arrived at the hotel shortly before one o’clock. Renovation was apparent everywhere, inside and out and on the grounds. He had to step carefully over the various litter and construction debris as he made his way to the lobby, lest he injure himself by a fall.
The St. George hotel was an old historical landmark around which a larger building was later constructed. It was rumored that a wealthy group of men had originally conceived the odd shaped building as a private club with a peculiar inner courtyard and alleged “secretive rituals,” which no one could ever describe. They eventually dispersed and for many years the building lay vacant. But apparently the structure was well built since it showed few signs of deterioration, and the unusual inner courtyard attracted local interest as well as curious speculation and even superstition. Later, the local community launched a successful campaign to make the building an historical landmark. It was then converted into a hotel and given the name of St. George. It served that purpose for several years but constantly changed ownership, until a certain group of wealthy speculators purchased it for business and professional offices, keeping the name St. George. It did not have a typical business character about it. There was no hustle or bustle or sort of business center activity that one normally associates with typical modern day business. On the contrary, the St. George was a quiet conservative setting, having a relatively low keyed and subdued atmosphere.
Harold entered through the main door to the lobby and walked over to the reception desk. He inquired there about his client and had a call placed. “Please have a seat over there and someone will pick you up shortly,” the young red haired lady told him with a smile. He sat on the comfortable leather chair and placed his attaché case on his lap. But the chair was too comfortable and too relaxing. He kept getting out of the chair every few minutes for fear that he would fall asleep. He was exhausted and running on pure guts and caffeine. He was still not thinking clearly now and he was beginning to have second thoughts about giving this presentation. Perhaps he was really not up to it after all. Perhaps he should present at another time when he was past this nightmare problem. He decided that he should leave and reschedule the presentation for another time when he had more in control over himself. But just as he started to leave two well-dressed gentlemen came to escort him to his client. They looked strangely familiar to him. Indeed, it was so uncanny; it was macabre. He stared at them for a long moment. They were so strikingly familiar that it created in him an eerie feeling of déjà vu. But Harold forcefully dismissed the feeling. He had never been to the St. George before, and he could not say why they looked so familiar so there was no point in dwelling on it. They boarded the elevator together. But Harold was growing more and more uneasy as they ascended. It was as though he had been in this place before; it was like he knew this place. It was a déjà vu even beyond his memory. The elevator stopped at the seventeenth floor and they stepped out into the plush hallway together.
They walked him to the door, one on each side, but they didn’t touch him. The ting of the proximity bell sounded softly as the large door rolled open. Harold stood there gaping across the threshold while fear and confusion welled up inside of him. Something unknown was compelling him to cross the threshold and enter the room. He scanned the room carefully as if looking for an explanation of his predicament. There was a desk in the far corner of the room with two chairs, one on either side. There were no windows, no paintings, and no other furniture or decor. Harold looked at the desk with the two chairs, and then he looked at the narrow door with the vent over the top of it. He could not believe his eyes. He stood there immobilized for a moment, staring at the door in total disbelief. A sick feeling surged up from his stomach. He wanted to vomit. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He looked again, hoping to verify that his initial perception was incorrect. Suddenly, he was filled with both rage and terror of un-proportioned magnitude. The room began to swirl around him in a sea of confusion. He felt himself spinning out of control. He was moving rapidly now into that nebulous state of reckless hysteria, where one is oblivious to all sensibility. Impulsively, and without reason, he flew across the room with his arms stretched out in front of him, and his fists clenched tightly. Waiving his fists in the air, he burst through the narrow door screaming at the top of his lungs.
The door was narrow because the old staircase behind it was a very narrow design. It was originally intended only for limited access, many years ago when the building was originally built. They were part of the old building security system before the advent of automated computerized security systems. In those days, the security guards would make their rounds and check for potential hazards and other matters of security by using these narrow stairways. Sometime later, the narrow doors were fitted with special keyless magnetic locks. They were referred to, in those early times, as the security doors. However, with the coming of modern security systems and the installation of remote computerized monitors, sprinklers video devices and other automated security functions, the doors were seldom used, and some of them had already been closed off. The larger door, being accessible to the main elevators and the plush hall was of course much more convenient and pleasant.
But there was yet considerable debate among the architects as to whether they should seal off the remaining doors, and eliminate that access altogether, or, instead, enlarge the rear access stairs so that the door could be safely used by tenants for additional access and privacy. Some tenants had expressed a strong concern for the privacy afforded by these doors. Also, a new and larger freight elevator could be added to enhance the value of these expensive suites. After long and wearisome disputation, it was finally decided that the narrow stairs should be enlarged and made to possess aesthetic qualities as well as utility. The narrow doors and rear stairwells would simply become part of the planned renovation. The narrow swing doors with the magnetic locks would be refitted with the new type of electronic security locks.
Just minutes before Harold arrived at the room, the workmen completed their work. They had removed the magnetic lock assembly from the narrow door, and the hand railing from the landing. They were not ready to install the replacement locks and railing, so they hurriedly draped a small rope over the temporary type moveable stands, such as those used in hotel lobbies, banks and theaters. They swept the area clean, put the debris in the specified containers, and collected their tools. Then they walked down the narrow stairs to a makeshift equipment elevator and got off at the ground level and gathered in the central courtyard where some other workmen were taking their break.
It was inconceivable in any case; no one thought that anyone would have need of those narrow stairs during the renovation period. Nevertheless, the men had dutifully attached what seemed to be an appropriate large letter sign to the roping that read: CAUTION - HANDRAIL MISSING - POSTS NOT FASTENED - DO NOT HOLD ROPES.
Harold’s huge body had such momentum that he sailed right across the landing pulling down ropes and posts alike, and plummeted seventeen stories to his death. Below, the workers were gathered viewing the incredible fall. There were voices screaming among the scrambled sounds spinning round in the distance.