Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Labor Somnia Vincit

By: Marvin Gonzalez

He was about halfway through a sixty-day hitch on a diamond core drill rig when it dawned on him that the hours he was devoting to sleep were serving him no purpose. Perhaps, it had been about a week now that he was emerging, as if in a flash, from a deep, near catatonic rest as fatigued and physically pained as he had entered. Every afternoon he bore the residual effects of a reoccurring dream, which in the beginning he recalled as simply an impression, of an intense labor that was being directed by the forceful voice of an unseen foreman. A clear memory of the dream only came to him one night as he stood atop the mud tank next to the drill, whose admixture he was pumping thousands of feet underground to lubricate the diamond-impregnated drill bit, and he caught a rare moment of relief between runs. The brisk and regenerative early morning air swept up from the valley below, and momentarily awaked his slumbering eyes, when he noticed a star moving in a circle. He initially attributed this phenomenon to the intense reverberations that were emanating from the clumsy centripetal dance between the drill rig and the earth. But, as he held onto the rail of the mud tank, and took pains to remain as still as possible, the wavering star remained in motion, while her peers were frozen in their position. Suddenly, a very lucid and vivid remembrance emerged; that of a vortex swirling in a mutable sky which hung like a canopy over a barren landscape populated by single tower of impossible architecture. For a moment he was in the dream again, a laborer amid an army of indistinguishable laborers pulling a large stone from a quarry toward the tower. But, the memory quickly faded, as he returned to his duties on the rig. As they drove back to the motel that morning, however, and he stared out the passenger-side window of the work truck, he searched the catacombs of his mind for anything that could bring the dream into context. The dream, of course, remained as muted and indistinct as the high desert scenery that flashed by, and eventually, mesmerized by the transient myopia of the passing sagebrush, he fell asleep with his forehead pressed against the rattling window.

That morning he was quick to bed, ached and pained as he was by the night’s toil. He scarcely had the energy to take off his clothes, and though normally he took a shower before he lied down to rest, on this particular morning fatigue fell him before he could remove his stained t-shirt and left sock, and he was asleep before his torpid body hit the bed.

Of course, this was not followed by a moment of rest. And, no sooner had his matted, greasy hair graced the stiff Best Western pillow did he find himself in sandals and a loin cloth surrounded by unfathomly repugnant men. The stench was unbearable, but this was nothing compared to the pints of sweat that seeped into his open sores and wounds. To make matters worse, he was in such close quarters to these sordid creatures, that their blood and sweat was distributed unto him, as were his own secretions unto his peers. There was a figure eight brace, which appeared to be constructed of burlap and leather, wrapped around his chest. On the back of the brace there was a metal ring with a thick hemp rope attached. He looked down and realized that his arms were interlocked with the men next to him, who panted and sputtered like overworked horses, and they all seemed to be mutually hauling an extreme weight. There were rows and rows of just such men, of which he was seemingly an insignificant part, and the rope attached to the back of the man in front of him passed over his right shoulder, tenderizing his trapezius and neck with each collective step they took. He could see blood from this wound dripping down his chest, and it was starting to soak into the figure eight brace. A voice vociferated from somewhere above telling them to take a step, which they all obeyed, and thus they slowly approached the tower whose hazy presence came sluggishly into focus as the morning wore on.

Despite the physical extremes to which these wretched men were subjugated, he heard not one protestation from the group. In fact, the collective remained eerily silent, save the occasional hiss or physical release, and what can only be described as an over-taxed yelp, not dissimilar to the high-pitched moan of an aggrieved bull. What struck him as most odd was his own inability to voice his frustration, and the lack of this faculty struck him as so out of place, that he realized that he was not, in point of fact, actually here, but that these images were the result of the release of certain chemicals in his brain, which remained housed within his filthy, greasy head that uncomfortably weighed down on the stiff Best Western pillow the way planets impress upon space-time. This realization seemed to have ripped a hole in the membrane of his current physical plane, for as he looked up at the sky he could see a vortex taking shape that soon revealed an image. Through the vortex he could see himself standing on the mud tank the night before, staring up at the moving star. There was no doubt that what he was staring at was a tear in the fabric of space-time, and that if he tried hard enough to reach it, he could free himself of this excruciating bondage. Distracted as he was then, he lent a deaf ear to the omnipresent voice, which had instructed the collective to take a step forward. Because he had not moved forward, the hideous men to his side moved on without him. But, this also impeded the movement of the men directly behind him. He turned around and was mesmerized by the chaos that he had caused. The grotesque creatures behind him were walking in place, and because they couldn’t move forward, but were still being pressed to move by the laborers behind them, some of them began to topple over, which caused those in adjacent rows who were still trudging forward to trip and fall; the whole left side of the group quickly fell into disarray. The burden, therefore, of this great weight landed squarely on the shoulders of the laborers still standing, but it was too much for them to bear alone, and all at once the hemp ropes that bound them to the great boulder began to snap. They were on a slight incline, and because the giant boulder was being rolled along by a series of massive logs, having nothing to combat the pull of gravity, the great rock and the splintered logs began to tumble backward crushing many of the ornately attired men on horseback who were leading the drive.

He suddenly found himself in the midst of a bazaar situated at the feet of the surreal tower. In the distance he could see dust rising from the chaotic event that moments earlier he had been a part of. He searched the sky for the vortex, but it had disappeared. He made his way through the busy market, pushing past the vendors and destitute panhandlers. But, he was still injured and bleeding profusely, and it was as if his legs had been depleted of energy. Eventually, he found himself on the ground spitting sand from his mouth, when a toothless woman wrapped a robe around him and brought a clay pitcher of water to his mouth. She picked him up, and as she walked him through the hoards of consumers she rattled off a series of phrases in a language that he could make no sense of. He drank the contents of the pitcher down desperately letting the clear liquid fill his mouth to the brim, and subsequently spill onto his chin and sun-beaten chest. As he slurped the last of the contents from the pitcher the toothless woman let him go, and he found himself inadvertently following a group of men attired in plain robes just like the one that he had on. They walked to the tower with lowered heads, clasping a string of beads in both hands, which they held to their mouths. They entered an ornately decorated hall, which glittered so brilliantly that it was almost impossible to keep one’s eyes open. Along the sides of the hall were lines of gold sculptures of saintly idols who all had a golden stick in their left hand and a rather large metal bowl at their feet, which were burning with incense. Each member of the group knelt before their respective idol, and then disrobed. In unison they got on all fours and kissed the feet of their god. Then they chanted something incomprehensible, and stood up. It was then that he noticed that their bodies were littered with wounds; lacerations and bruises much like the ones that covered his own body. Again in unison they dropped a wrapped bundle of sage into the bowls and let the smoke envelope their bodies. The smoke filled the room, but he could still see their silhouettes. The worshipers had all taken the thin stick out of the hands of the idols, and they began to whip their respective idol, causing what sounded like a symphony of bells to echo through the chambers of the pantheon. Eventually, the smoke cleared, and the worshipers stopped whipping the idols, placing the thin stick back in their respective idols’ hands. As they were putting their robes back on he noticed that their wounds had disappeared, and while the statues were now damaged, their bodies were immaculate. They picked up their beads, once again got in line and then marched out chanting. He was perplexed, but something told him to move forward, and so he walked through the pantheon until he reached an idol that struck him as curious. He stood before the statue, which bore no countenance at all, but merely a smooth egg-shaped head. The gold was polished and brilliant, and he could see his own grotesque reflection where the face of the idol should have been. He stared at it until he was overwhelmed with an internal combustion that seemed to originate from his bone marrow. He fell to his knees and kissed the feet of this hideous idol, and as he did his tears poured over its toes. He searched the pockets of the robe, and found the bundle of sage. The robe was so soaked with blood that he had to literally peel it off, which in doing so reopened many of his wounds. The pain was excruciating, but he found the strength to stand and toss the bundle of sage into the embers of the bowl. It burst into flames emitting a smoke that quickly blanketed him, and he began to lash the statue with its own golden stick. When the smoke cleared and the reverberations had subsisted he felt reinvigorated, and could see that his wounds were no longer present. The idol too was disappeared, and as he turned around he realized that all of the gods had vanished. The hall had narrowed, and now led to a wooden door, which he walked through.

The doorway led him to a 6X6 foot ledge near the top of the tower. There was nothing on this ledge except for a plain mat in the middle and small glass bowl placed in front of it. He sat down on the mat, crossed his legs, and then stared out into the distance. He sat in place meditatively and watched the day turn into night. After the second day he realized that the tower moved in accordance to the celestial bodies. Each morning the ledge faced east, and he welcomed the sun. At sunset he faced west bidding the day good bye. Each morning the light of the sun would creep over the ledge upon which he sat, eventually making its way into the bowl, and as it did a large crystal of salt would materialize. At midnight the light of the moon would dissolve the salt, and the bowl would fill with water. He would lift the bowl to his mouth and drink the salt water within, and that alone sustained him through the next day. The muscle he had amassed from all his toil dwindled away. The sun glazed his skin. At night this glaze would crack. Eventually his skin became like leather stretched over a skeleton. His appearance was that of a mummy; a destitute man somehow preserved in time. He forgot how to walk, and eventually the sound of his own voice became a mystery. Even his thoughts began to fade into obscurity. He tried to clear his mind of distraction, but each day he could hear the moans and grunts of the workers down below, and each night he saw their dreams projected onto the sky like a Morphean Aurora Borealis. He began to construct bricks with power of his mind. Each night he constructed a new brick and laid down the mortar. Each day he let the sun’s heat bake the brick and seal the mortar. His aim was to enclose himself from the world. And, free himself of distraction. Eventually, enough days passed that he’d constructed a six foot brick cube around himself. In the center of the ceiling he left a circular hole. With his mind he flipped the bowl over and placed it in the hole so that it was like a lamp at the top of his enclosure. At noon a salt crystal fell from the bowl and dropped onto him. At midnight a bowlful of water sprayed down. After innumerable daily cycles the enclosure filled with salt water, and he was finally able to free himself of any weight and strain of the world. His body remained floating, until after an incalculable amount of time he suddenly opened his eyes and peered through the inverted glass bowl. He watched the sky change in appearance. Not through natural forces, but by means of his own whimsy. One day he was struck with an idea, he moved the tower so that his enclosure faced due south toward the quarry. On the eastern horizon he brought up the sun so that its rays scantily shone over the mountains. On the western horizon he brought up the full moon much the same. It was neither day nor night; neither light nor dark. He knew this to be the way that the laborers would never be put to work again. He knew this to be a suspension of time. There was a pitfall to his plan, however, for enough sun light trickled in through the bowl to allow a new crystal of salt to produce, and likewise the there was enough moonlight that bowlfuls of water also poured in. The pressure in the enclosure eventually became too great, and the integrity of the mortar began to compromise. He felt that his creation would destroy at any moment. He knew that once it did, he would tumble toward a certain death, and his brain would not allow him to hit the ground. He knew that once his mind realized he was falling, that it would wake his sleeping self up. While these realizations dawned on him his sanctuary exploded. Bricks and mortar separated into chards and projectiles, the salt water swirled around him. He screamed violently, and his body separated into spiraling fractals then reorganized. The white sand raced toward him. It was brilliant. All he could see was a blaze of whiteness. Just plain white. Perhaps, it was the ceiling at the Best Western. Perhaps, it was his pillow.