Yes, I do remember that bickering, shuffling crowd and those forever nights so long ago. How we all marched along, sometimes stumbling, but ever forward we went — never stopping, never thinking, never saying no.
Oh, it was never a silent crowd — not by a long shot. Most merely grumbled under their breath, too quietly to be heard by anyone but close neighbors. Still, a few raised their voices loudly and indignantly over the smallest, most nonsensical thing. Usually, I had no idea what was shouted since I had long tired of paying attention, but remember how everyone insisted we should stay the course. Those who disagreed were angrily shouted down, called misguided or crazy and hooted into embarrassed silence.
I was never exactly sure of how many were in that marching mass. The only thing I ever really knew, was that all of us marched forward, towards some unknown final destination, of what no one seemed to know.
Often I gave thought to the further sides, somewhere over to the left or right of me, but never could I see much other than bobbing, gibbering heads surrounding me. Likewise, it was too dangerous to simply turn around and go backwards — the pressing legions behind would soon overwhelm and quickly grind you into the ground.
The crowd appeared guided or controlled by unknown people with loud electronic bullhorns off to the distant sides, above and behind us. As we went along, we were prodded and cajoled with syrupy pleadings, needling commentaries of this or that and, far too often, explosive exhortations, angry slanders and accusations.
The apparent purpose of the bullhorn messages was for us to mix ourselves together into a babbling, chaotic and diverse mass, one that could never know who we even were, let alone think or talk about what was to happen to us down the road.
It all seemed expressly intent to confuse and divide any like-minded groups, making it impossible for any of us to ever form coherent strategies to deal with our plight or to set our own direction.
Knots of marchers would sometimes coalesce together by virtue of some similarity with each other, comfortable with those who thought alike or shared ideas on what to do. But such groups immediately aroused the interest and angry ire of the bullhorn people, who denounced them as enemies to all the rest. Such groups would soon break-up from internal dissensions egged on by the bullhorn voices, and soon dissolve back into the surly, bickering, anonymous morass once again.
I also remember the unseen bullhorn people off to the right, would accuse the unseen bullhorn people off on the left with trying to run things and vice versa. Marchers would then take sides with one or the other, adding their own voices and accusations to the electronic shouting. Often they would became even more acute and vitriolic in the rhetoric than the bullhorn people themselves.
Most of us just tried to gravitate toward the middle so we could have some measure of peace while lost in the crowd.
We were a confused and easily frightened herd — whose only thought was to be in the middle, away from any extreme. To be surrounded by ourselves gave us silent comfort, so that we would seek the center, even if it meant knowing little or nothing.
This effect propelled us marchers along the way, at first heading off to the left, but soon back towards the right again. Every so often, we heard panicky rumors about people on either side just disappearing — it was said that they were plucked from the ranks, or maybe they were swallowed up in a darkness and swirling miasma that surrounded us. Such disappearances created a sense of urgency to keep away from the dangerous and troubled sides.
This back and forth, left and right rhythm seemed to be what fueled us ever onwards. I thought it might be possible to find out what was going on by moving towards the sides to get a look around, but knew it was much riskier, since I did not really know the actual fate of those lost. It was much easier and safer to stay in the middle, where it was also faster to gain ground on your neighbors — which everyone seemed eager to do.
And you couldn’t just stop right then and there because it was nearly impossible with the immense crowds behind you, pushing you constantly forward. Some might help you along by grabbing and lifting you back up, but most were quite willing, even happy to walk right over you, forcing your face down into the dirt, giggling with selfish pleasure. Doing so allowed them to get ahead of you and this alone seemed enough of a reward.
I’d asked where we were going a thousand times. A million. Everybody seemed to have their own ideas, often with quite detailed and convoluted theories to back it up, but none really seemed to know anything when you got right down to it.
A lady I was walking along with for some time said she knew exactly what was going on and where we were headed. She was so sure about it. She had talked to others before joining up with me and they told her about a hill awhile back, where they could see the actual final destination.
It was all so beautiful they insisted: Rainbows, prancing unicorns, bright sunlight, blue skies and fluffy clouds. Landscapes of green fields and rolling pastures, dotted here and there with white marble columns shrouded in beautiful gold and purple banners. Shady and bountiful fruit trees awaited us, where we could all finally rest together as one!
But after talking to her more closely, I could easily see nobody she knew had ever really witnessed any of that for themselves. It was only what others told them, and even that was what still others had said. None had actually seen it with their very own eyes; some weaved in wildly different details and versions. Her ideas were fascinating to listen to, even though I could never get a word in edgewise to her continuous excited babble and self-absorption. I eventually tired of her and edged away.
I could note the vain preoccupations of my fellows, more concerned by what they wore and the petty status symbols adorning their clothing — as if any of that made the least little difference. Small, silly bits of individualism were rewarded by fellow marchers by hearty back slaps, or envious looks and jealous comments. Those who sported the wrong symbols were sullenly ignored, sneered at or roughly shoved aside.
Growing weary of the constant drama, day after day after day, I thought to hell with it and decided to see what was off to the sides. “What was there to lose?” I told myself.
Slowly as I could, I eased my way laterally in-between other marchers. As I tried to slip past, some would quiz me angrily on what I was doing, asking about my beliefs or if I was another part to their own special, enlightened group. After listening to the arguing and belly-aching for so long, I knew exactly what to say and when.
Gradually, making my way further and further to the outer edge, the people seemed to get angrier and more paranoid, continually bitching on why the rest of the crowd could not see what they did so clearly. The attitudes became acutely belligerent the further I went along, with much shouting and remonstrances.
Much sooner than anticipated, I suddenly could see there was no crowd to the right of me. It took me a long time before I even had the nerve to look over and confirm it, after being surrounded on all four sides with marching people for my entire life.
At first I could make out nothing but a heavy, dark and swirling fog-like gloom just feet away to my right side. Peering closer, I could make out faces buried and moving within — dark monstrous faces with bulbous, hooked noses, puffy lips and heavily lidded eyes which seemed to follow my every movement in short, spasmodic jerks.
Some of the faces spouted rancorous threats at me, some cajoled, while others sweetly whispered tempting offers of secret advantage. When it became obvious I only wished to ignore them, they resorted to calling me names, declaring me insane if I didn’t resume my supposed privileged place back in the middle of the marchers. Merely looking over at them seemed to increase their belligerence and interest in me.
Now even more afraid, I felt that I had to stay in the column or else fall victim to whatever fate those alien, foreign visages held in store for me.
I noticed someone up ahead drift off to the side even further than anyone else before. With his head held up defiantly, he quickly turned to the right and walked straight into the fog. It surrounded him instantaneously and, just as I went past the point where he was swallowed up, I heard muffled screaming or bellowing, way, way off in the distance.
Still, I kept thinking, “oh, to hell with it — let’s just get it all over with.” I asked several marchers about doing that and they told me it would be far worse than I could ever imagine. Funny, no one ever seemed to know exactly what would happen, only that it was very bad.
With a palpable fear in my gut, but a growing curiosity that had now grown into driving obsession, I decided to just go for it and stepped off to the side.
As the dark billowing fog surrounded me, I immediately felt an odd tingling sensation deep within my head, a dizziness like deja vu, but far more intense. At first, I felt doomed, but just as quickly as the sensation invaded my brain, it was gone. And, right along with that, the fog before my eyes. Yet I could still see the other marchers, slogging along on the forever march, not far in front of me. They now seemed totally oblivious to my presence, as if I were invisible.
It was all so easy. So easy. The dangerous wall that all us marchers thought contained us was as flimsy and inconsequential as rice paper.
I tried to yell out something to them, telling them I was OK, still alive and it was all cool, but they didn’t seem to hear me at all; only casting nervous glances off in the direction I took, exactly as I had once done. I begged them to stop and come with me, but they just shook their heads sadly or laughed hysterically up at the sky.
I felt naked and so very, very alone. I had never experienced that feeling before and it scared me.
I decided to get a better view of things. Although it was still pretty dark around me, I could make out that it became lighter and lighter the further from the crowd I went. I also sensed with some trepidation, that the further I walked away from the marchers, stretching away in both directions, the less chance I would ever have in rejoining them.
With every step I took, my mind seemed to clear, the fog was quickly disappearing not only from my head but before my eyes. Giddy with surviving the nothing barrier and the crystalline sensation of a mind clear as a bell, everywhere I looked stood out in a stark, dazzling beauty. And no longer did I hear the continuous bickering of all those nameless souls, or the incessant electronic blaring of those infernal bullhorns!
I made out a copse of stately trees sitting on a nearby mountain-top and made going there the first decision of my new life. I wanted to see where the marchers were really headed. But climbing was much harder than I thought, with twisted, downed trees and huge boulders barring my every step. Strange and frightening animal noises whistled from dark recesses nearby; while loose, mossy stones made me slip and fall, beads of sweat ran down my face, stinging my eyes.
After what seemed forever, I reached a pathway, weaving its way back and forth up the mountain. At first, it appeared the barest of animal trails, but gradually widened, becoming more defined and easier to hike.
Before I knew what happened, the top of the mountain came into view. The little copse of trees I spied down below, was really an expansive forest glade, spanning a wide plateau and joined together with another open saddle ridge in the distance. Ancient, knurled oak trees were all around, with no bramble undergrowth or fallen timbers blocking my way.
I soon noticed I was not the only one who had reached the beautiful mountain-top plateau, for I could see others there like me, too. They smiled when I went up to them and plaintively asked if I was really dead. They said no, that I was now very much alive. “Alive, alive at long last, he’s alive” they laughingly assured me.
This night among my new-found friends became the solstice to the rest of my life. The sun was setting off to the right side of the plateau and I could see a bright, full moon rising up at the exact same time on the other. It seemed so close to me in the sky that I could literally reach up and touch the craters and mountains.
Even with all the questions that now filled my mind to ask of my new friends, I stood there as silently as they did — taking in that glorious, oil-painted landscape arrayed before our eyes. I could easily see the long dark line of marchers winding their way down below, bathed in that strange, forever moon glow I once mistakenly believed was the world’s only light.
A large, dark and solitary bird could be seen circling above the marchers, which I first thought to be a vulture or some sort of carrion bird, but looking closer as it soared in the updrafts, I could make out that it was a coal-black, malevolent war eagle with sinister, bright red eyes.
It was then I noticed standing next to me a distinguished-looking woman with long blond hair streaked in gray, with a face that bore a strong, noble countenance and steely glint to her bright blue eyes. The woman gently tugged at my wrist to get my attention and pointed off sharply at the distant marchers down below us. She said: “Look thusly and you will see the fate you have escaped.”
At that moment, the rays of the setting sun suddenly burst forth from the mountain saddle off to my right, and shone down on the marchers. It illuminated in a golden light what looked to be the very front of the column, not far off in the distance. Only it wasn’t anything like the destination I, or any of the other marchers had ever foreseen.
For the people were now hemmed in close within the sides of a steep, rocky ravine — funneling them directly to what I could see was a sharp cliff-edge and a yawning black abyss beyond. The unruly masses at this point were bunching up, frantically trying to back-peddle, or climb away from what they realized was their final destination — as the unseeing, unbelieving and uncaring crowd behind them pressed onwards.
— Phillip Marlowe
Dr. William Pierce — Lemmings