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Lethe's Isle


No story ever starts at the beginning. The web of coincidences that created the world, that created mankind and that now creates the present, inevitably leads to the event we look at, and therefore everything had its beginning before the dawn of time.

In Harold's case, we'll simply start the story at the moment he awakes, as he can't remember anything that happened to him before; and neither can we.
'So,' says the master with a sonorous voice, 'we finally do wake up.'
His remark is followed by a loud thespian laugh, while Harold looks at his prison cell, his two female wardens and finally at the master himself.
'What's your name?' says the master, getting serious.
'I-' Harold tries to remember, 'I don't know.'
'Where do you come from?'
'I - I don't know.'
'What the hell do you know?'
'Well...' Harold tries to think, 'Kennedy was shot, E=mc2, and Bar Kochba has just been defeated.’
‘That's my boy,' says the master and bursts out laughing. 'Let's go!’
He turns around and leaves the cell with the wardens who lock the door.

As Harold wakes up, the full moon shines through the bars of the window. He finds himself lying on the bare ground, and as he looks around, he realises that his cell is completely empty.
'Today I've abolished the world,' he says to himself; 'no, not the world - my world! I still know the history of the world, but I've forgotten my story. Why would I forget my life? But then, why should I remember?'
He feels like restlessly pacing up and down the minute room, but instead he clenches his fists around the iron bars and stares at the moon.
'I like you,' he whispers. 'I've always liked you. Whatever they say, you weren't soiled by human feet; you're still too white and pure. It is strange, but I never paid attention to that before.
Then he looks down at himself. 'That's it,' he says with a bitter smile. 'I don't know where I am, I don't know who I am, and now I'm talking to the moon. I'm going mad.'
Suddenly he hears the key rattling. He turns around and sees the warden with a bucket and a sponge.
'Clean up your cell,' she says and puts the bucket down.
He looks at the spotless floor and the sparkling wall and answers, 'But there is nothing to be cleaned up!'
'We give the orders,' replies the warden and locks the door.
'You certainly do,' he says as soon as she's out of sight, takes the sponge and starts to scrub the floor.

'Time to wake up!’
The other warden comes in and puts another bucket down; the first one must have been taken away already.
'Clean up your cell, and try to do a better job than last night!'
Once again he looks around and can't find a speck on the wall or the floor, not even on the ceiling, but he decides to keep quiet and clean up.

The sun shines through his window with all its power; the heat is unbearable, and his clothes are soaked with sweat. He finally decides to take off his tie and jacket and to open his shirt.
'Get dressed and clean up your cell!’
The warden is back with another bucket and takes the old one away.
'But I just cleaned the cell a few hours ago,' he complains.
'Ten minutes ago,' corrects the warden and leaves.
'Time flies when you're having fun,' he thinks to himself and gets dressed for work.

As the next bucket comes, he's already used to the routine. After all, he has nothing else to do anyway - not even the opportunity to do anything else.
'Why am I here? And how long will you keep me?' - 'We ask the questions,' is the short reply, and with that he is on his own again.
As he is working away, he starts to get hungry.
'Normally prisoners get food,' he thinks, 'even when they're on death row. But sure, this is not a normal place. If the moon hadn't been that close, I'd doubt that I am still on Earth.'

The sun goes down, and with the next bucket his warden actually brings a tray with a few slices of bread and a glass of water.
As she puts the bucket down, one of the slices falls off the tray.
'Pick that up!' Harold shouts angrily; at the same moment, realising what he just said and trying to imagine the possible consequences, his hands start shaking and he has to lean against the wall. But, to his surprise, he sees the warden obediently kneeling down and putting the slice back on the tray.
'Sorry,' she says, 'but the floor is clean anyway.’
'It most certainly is,’ he answers, trying to hide his amazement.

Of course, Harold thinks after having reflected on the event for quite a while; of course, they're human, programmed to give and to receive orders. If you act like boss, you are the boss.
'Time to clean up!' - In the middle of the night the warden brings the bucket, puts it beside the window and turns around.
'Don't lock the door,' Harold says as she leaves the cell. 'Would you like to go for a walk?'
'Sure, but...'
'Don't tell the master I gave you leave. Is he in tonight?'
'No, we hardly see him at all.'
'He won't find out,' Harold assures her with an accomplicative wink. 'You may go now.'

After a little while he leaves his prison. Turning around, he sees that he was kept in a small square tower, built of uncut stones. Above the portals there is an inscription saying: FREEDOM TO SERVE.
The tower stands right beside the sea, and Harold decides to follow the coastline, for somewhere along the shore there's bound to be a harbour or at least a pier where he could get on a vessel and leave this place.

He slowly strolls along the water, reflecting on the value of his freedom. Maybe it's better here, he thinks, than wherever I'm going to end up.
He could still turn around. But he doesn't.
'What do I matter? What does anything matter?'
He feels manipulated. He gets the impression that all of his actions just happen to him and that he has no influence on his life and no alternative to the way he acts.
He remembers how in science he was taught that every action necessarily produces one specific reaction. So was it not inevitable since the big bang (and whatever came before it) that he would leave the tower?
A virus may sit on a blood cell, he thinks. It may be aware of its identity, it may be able to spread as well to the neighbouring blood cells, it may be conscious of the damage it is doing and even of the fact that it is doing it to a much larger living organism - but never, never will it be able to picture this organism or the suffering it is causing it.
Now man may sit on a planet...
The moon is still almost full. The things around him have more intense colours than they would have during the day. Stones and trees communicate with him on a spiritual level. He is part of a unity that includes all.
He must have walked for many hours. The skies get brighter and the colours fade. His feet are tired, and all the way there was no sign of a ship.
'It seems I’m in no man's-land,' he says to himself. 'But some- where I will find a place from where I can leave. It may take me days or even weeks, but there is a harbour at every coast.’

The day is dawning; the sun sends her first tender rays across the sea. Touched by the soft light, Harold feels refreshed and lengthens his paces.
Suddenly he sees something in the distance; he resignedly slows down again as he realises that he's approaching the tower from the other side.
So he is on an island. But why, for heaven's sake, is there no ship on this island, not even a dinghy or a raft?
Then he sees the master, sitting on a stone with a fishing rod. He doesn't move, he doesn't turn his head, but something tells Harold that he is aware of his presence.
For a few minutes Harold just stands beside him and watches him. Finally he decides to break the silence.
'There's no way out of here, is there?'
'No,' says the master and turns to him with a friendly smile. 'We're all in the same boat.’


© 6240 RT (1999 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig