Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
Have you ever heard Plato’s allegory of the cave? Well, I’m no philosopher, but I’ll try my best to explain it. Essentially you have a group of people who’ve spent their entire lives chained up inside a cave, all facing a blank wall. The prisoners watch shadows projected on the wall by persons or objects behind them and outside of their field of vision.
The shadows are the prisoners’ reality, but they are not accurate representations of the real world. They are merely projections – a false reality created by persons unknown for their own nefarious purposes. As Plato’s story goes, one prisoner escapes from his chains and comes to understand the truth, that the shadows are not reality, and a whole world of light lies beyond the tight confines of the darkened cave.
The escapee is astonished by his discovery and returns to tell his fellow prisoners the remarkable news. But he found they didn’t want to hear the truth. The inmates of the cave have no desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
In this allegory, the escapee is a philosopher, capable of seeing the greater truths of the universe. But the other prisoners are content with the limited and false reality they inhabit, and they’re unable or unwilling to learn the truth. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.
I relate with the escapee in Plato’s story and with the nightmare he faces, having to live with too much knowledge and becoming an outcast amongst his peers. My life is eerily similar to his. I don’t dwell in a cave, and I’m not in chains – not literally at least. Instead, I live a comfortable existence in a modern home, with my basic needs all catered too.
I have parents who love me and try to protect me, in their own way. Nevertheless, I am a prisoner, cut off from the world and forced to live a lie. Sometimes I wish I was like the other prisoners in the story, that I could learn to accept my fate and be content with my lot in life. This is what my parents have done. But alas, I can find no peace.
It doesn’t matter how many times they erase my memory, I will always feel the urge to break from my chains and seek out the truth, no matter how terrible it turns out to be. I’m telling my story now before they come for me and take away my memories, wiping the slate clean. I don’t know if anyone will ever read my account. Probably not. But I still hold out hope that someday help will come, and I’ll finally be free from this living nightmare.
It’s hard to know where to start. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It could be months or years. The memory wipes make it difficult to keep track. I know that something existed before this. Now and then I experience glimpses of my past life…my former identity, now erased from history.
I’m not sure exactly what age I am but would guess around 16 or 17. Still a kid I suppose, although I feel like I’ve lived well beyond my years. The people who I call mother and father aren’t my real parents. I know that now. They’re not bad people and I believe they genuinely do care about me. Nevertheless, they are content to remain as prisoners here, and to collaborate with our prison-keepers.
My surrogate father is a kind-hearted man but has a passive nature, seemingly resigned to accepting things that are outside of his control. My mother has a similarly mild-mannered personality, although she does have a genuine maternal instinct, loving me like I was her own child (which of course, I am not).
The house we live in is a luxurious one; with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a modern kitchen, a spacious and open-plan lounge, a den / games room, and a home office. We have all the basic amenities – electricity, heating, hot water, and nutritious food delivered daily. It’s all very comfortable and there’s just one drawback – we can never leave.
The house’s windows (if you can describe them as such) are not transparent glass panes that allow us to view the world outside. Instead, we have screens projecting digital images of various scenes of great natural beauty; sandy white beaches beside clear blue seas, snow-tipped mountain tops, and rolling grass savannas, to name but a few.
The artificial scenes are played on a loop, or specific images can be picked, depending on one’s mood. As stunningly beautiful as they are, I always found these digital projections rather odd, something akin to the shadows on the cave walls in Plato’s story. I’ve asked my ‘parents’ about those images, enquiring why we can’t have actual windows showing the reality outdoors. But they always brush away my concerns, saying not to worry about it, and how the images projected on screen are far superior.
We have a front door that doesn’t open. Not ever. Any time I raise the issue of the door, my father becomes angry, telling me in no uncertain terms that I must never approach it, and warning that I would be punished if I ever attempted to. Since we can’t go outside, all of our food is delivered to us by a hi-tech version of a dumb waiter installed in our kitchen. It’s a bit like a larger version of a vending machine. We just type in what we want, and it magically appears at the bottom of the chute moments later.
You might well ask where these supplies came from, and who provides our sustenance. Well, this is a question my mother and father were unwilling to answer, and one I eventually grew tired of asking. I have no desire to starve myself and so I do eat the food, even though I’ve come to realise there’s something in it that affects my hormones and behaviours, taking away my desires and leaving me docile and compliant.
Nevertheless, the drugs they force me to ingest do not entirely suppress my spirit or remove my thirst to discover the truth.
My bedroom is my sanctuary but also my prison cell. I have plenty of distractions to keep me occupied – music, books, games consoles, a wide screen television, and a huge collection of films and boxsets. Nevertheless, I am incredibly lonely, as I have no friends my own age and no human contact with anyone other than my mother and father.
What lies inside of these four walls will never be enough for me, and I have spent countless nights crying into my pillow, dreaming of the world outside and the opportunities I would have, if only I could escape.
Like I said, my memories are hazy due to the drugs and mind wipes, but I will recount as far back as I can remember in this current cycle, which is when Cain came to live with us.
At the time I had no idea who Cain was, or where he’d come from. I simply remember waking up and coming down for breakfast one morning, and there he was, sitting at the kitchen table, acting like he owned the place. I knew he was trouble the first time I set eyes upon him, noting the dead look behind his dark eyes and deep scar along his left cheek. He was a large man and appeared to be physically intimidating.
Later, after he stood up, I noticed how he walked with a heavy limp. It seemed as if he’d been through the wars and had the scars to prove it. As you can imagine, I was very shocked to see this newcomer suddenly appear at our breakfast table after all this time, and I opened my mouth to speak without thinking.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded angrily.
I regretted my words as soon as I spoke them, as the grizzled newcomer glared back at me with hatred in his eyes and a cruel grin on his lips. He didn’t answer, but instead my mother rushed in from the kitchen counter, carrying plates filled with breakfast as she came. I noticed how her hands were physically shaking.
“Now, now sweetie” she exclaimed nervously, as she hastily dropped the plates and dishes down on the table. “That’s no way to speak to our new house guest. Mr Cain is an old family friend, and he’s going to be staying with us for a while. I want you to make him feel welcome for as long as he’s here.”
I was confused and utterly flabbergasted. Nothing about this situation made any sense. An old family friend? A house guest? Why would this Cain suddenly appear now, after all these years of it being just the three of us? And why would I welcome a guy who looked like a total psychopath. I opened my mouth to speak, but before I got the chance, my father marched in from the lounge and attempted to take control of the situation.
“Listen to your mother kid.” he said, “We’ll hear no more about it. Now, let’s sit down to enjoy our breakfast.”
He tried to exert calm confidence in his voice as he spoke, but I knew my father too well, and could tell he was on edge.
Nevertheless, I didn’t feel inclined to argue in that moment, so I did as I was told and took my seat at the table. The breakfast was a predictably tense affair. My mother looked terrified throughout, keeping her head down and refusing to make eye contact with our guest. Father was also uneasy, keeping a cautious eye on Cain, like he expected the mysterious newcomer to kick off at any moment.
I couldn’t wait to get away from the kitchen table and I ate very little as my stomach was in knots. I don’t think Cain even touched his food, and he didn’t speak a word. With some concern, I noted how his predator-like eyes darted from side to side, as he looked over each of us in turn, sizing us up.
It was a great relief to get away from him, but of course we couldn’t really avoid Cain, as all four of us were cooped up together inside this over-grown rabbit hutch. After breakfast, Cain went to sit in the lounge. He didn’t speak, read or watch TV, but instead parked himself in an armchair and stared out the ‘window’, seemingly captivated by the artificial images on the screens…the ‘shadows on the cave wall’, if you will.
We did our best to ignore Cain and go about our daily routines, but his mere presence produced an almost unbearable tension. To be honest, I was still angry with my parents for not telling me the truth about Cain and his origins. Obviously, they knew a lot more than they were letting on. I took my dinner upstairs, not wishing to repeat the tension-filled experience of breakfast. Whatever drugs they put in my food did the trick, as I was able to calm down and eventually drift off to sleep.
I awoke in the middle of the night to a loud crashing noise, closely followed by a muffled scream. Shooting up from my bed, I felt a wave of terror run through me, and an icy chill worked its way up my spine. I lay there, frozen to the spot as more sounds followed, those of a frantic struggle occurring downstairs.
I was terrified in that moment, as I imagined all the awful events that could be happening. Were my mum and dad fighting? Had Cain gone crazy? Or perhaps our mysterious prison-keepers had finally turned on us, launching an assault upon our sanctuary?
My first instinct was to hide under my covers and pray, but I knew this would be futile. I wasn’t a little kid anymore, so I needed to be brave. With considerable trepidation I crawled out of my bed and carefully tip-toed across the bedroom floor in my bare feet whilst still wearing my pajamas.
I crept along the corridor and made my way down the staircase, taking great care with each step, as I tried my hardest not to make a sound. As I descended, I could hear muffled cries interspersed with the sound of heavy breathing and hard boots thumping upon the wood floor. My stomach was in knots and my whole body was shaking uncontrollably, but I knew I must go on.
Despite their faults and the lies they’d told me, I still cared about my parents, and I needed to go to their aid. And besides, what else could I do? There was nowhere to hide and no means of escape. Ultimately, I had no choice but to confront the attacker.
I proceeded with stealth through the kitchen, following the ominous and disturbing sounds emanating from the lounge. Realizing I may need to defend myself I carefully removed the sharpest kitchen knife from the block, holding the blade out in front of me to use as a weapon.
When I entered the lounge, I was faced with a horrific situation. My mother and father were bound to chairs, their arms tied behind their backs and their mouths stuffed with gags. I saw the dried blood on my father’s forehead and guessed he’d received a nasty head wound, leaving him barely conscious. In contrast, my mother appeared to be entirely conscious but tightly bound. Her eyes filled up with terror when she saw me, and she tried to shout out a warning, but the gag muffled her words.
And then I saw him. Cain emerged from the shadows in the far corner of the room. It looked like he’d been there waiting for me the whole time, having used my parents as bait. He walked forward into the light, and I saw the crazed homicidal look in his eyes, and the cruel sadistic smile etched across his face. And then I saw what he carried in his hands – an improvised club, fashioned from one of the heavy legs from our kitchen table. Cain certainly looked strong enough to wield his weapon, and I reckoned he could smash my head in with a single swing.
He glared straight at me as he spoke his hateful words, saying – “Hey kid, welcome to the party!”
And then he laughed aloud, his cruel bellow filling up the room.
To my horror, I watched him advance with pure malice in his eyes, approaching my helpless mother whilst raising his club and preparing to swing.
“Leave her alone!” I cried out in a panic.
To my surprise, Cain took notice, lowering the club and turning his attention back to me.
“So kid, you want to go first? Be my guest!”
What happened next is something of a blur in my memory. I do recall Cain charging forward, screaming like a berserker, his club raised and ready to smash into my skull. I acted on instinct, holding the kitchen knife out before me in a desperate attempt to defend myself.
Cain hit me like a ton of bricks, his swinging club missing my head by mere centimetres. I got knocked over – my small body almost crushed under his huge frame. I felt hot blood against my skin, spraying over my face, and for a brief moment I feared it was my own.
But when Cain rolled over, I saw the knife embedded in his chest. His eyes were full of shock and pain as he grabbed at the knife’s handle, unsuccessfully attempting to pull it out of his ribcage. Next, his eyes rolled over, and his mouth filled up with blood, and he began to choke.
I didn’t dwell over the bloody scene, instead jumping to my feet and running to help my parents. My mother’s eyes were shut and so I feared the worst. But when I frantically checked her pulse, I was relieved to confirm she was alive. My guess was that she’d passed out. I removed her gag and went to untie her, but just then I heard my father’s voice.
He’d regained consciousness and was trying to talk through his gag. Fearing he was in pain, I went to his aid, removing his gag to let him talk. I remember how he looked at me with a combination of disappointment and terror in his eyes, and what he said was this – “My God! What have you done?”
I stood there in shocked disbelief, staring into my father’s eye as I tried to understand the meaning behind his words. I was baffled and also furious, my blood still up after the violent encounter with Cain. Unable to contain my fury, I lashed out with an angry tirade.
“What the hell do you mean?” I shouted, “I just saved your damn life!”
My father shook his blood-covered head, speaking down to me in a condescending voice I’d come to resent so much.
“You don’t get it kid. There are forces at play beyond your understanding. Now, untie me so I can clear up this mess.”
His words only increased my anger. All the lies I’d been told…all the time I’d been locked up. I couldn’t take it anymore. My heart was filled with defiance, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. I walked away from my father, leaving him tied to the chair and ignoring his pleas. Instead, I walked back over to Cain’s limp body, noting how he’d stopped breathing, his eyes having closed for the last time as his dark blood stained our wood floor.
I didn’t dwell on the killing I’d just committed, instead focusing fully on the task at hand. I reached out for the makeshift club, using all my strength to pull it from his cold dead hands. Holding the weapon up in triumph, I nodded defiantly at my father, seeing the fear in his eyes. For a moment, I think he really thought I would use the club on him, but this was never my intention.
Instead, I confidently marched through the lounge, proceeding to the screen at the back of the room, which was currently projecting an image of a pristine desert scene. Dad must have realised my true plan as he screamed after me, shouting –
“Don’t do it! Do not do it! You have no idea what you’re dealing with!”
I didn’t listen. Enough was enough. I’d spent too long watching those shadows, and now I would finally break free from my chains. I could still hear my father’s cries and struggles as I approached the false window, raising my club ready to strike.
I experienced a rush of adrenaline as I took the first swing, smashing the club down against the screen, seeing the artificial image falter ever so slightly as it struck. I repeated the violent act, striking the surface again and again, until finally the screen cracked, and the projected scene began to flicker. The material was tougher than I thought, but I had no intention of giving up.
I raised my club once again, swinging with all my might and smashing it hard against the screen. Suddenly, the image disappeared, being replaced by darkness, or more specifically, a dark flowing water. In that moment, I experienced a wave of icy terror running through me, and I began to regret my decision, but it was too late to walk away.
I stared into that dark abyss in a state of disbelief, noting how there was wall of water in front of me, sealed behind thick glass or some other type of transparent material. It was like we were trapped inside of a reverse goldfish bowl – but how was this possible?
I took no notice of my father’s screams and struggles as I stood there, completely mesmerised by what I saw. But the greatest shock was still to come.
They came out of the darkness so suddenly – three creatures, animals of an indeterminable species, their large bodies glowing in the dark water as they swam towards the glass. I’d never seen a squid or octopus in the flesh, only in pictures and on film, but this was the closest comparison I could draw.
Before me swam a trio of monstrous giant squid-like creatures with protruding and flapping tentacles, fluorescent skin, and huge saucer-like eyes with dark black pupils at their centre. On the surface they appeared to be mere beasts, but when I looked closer, I swore I could see an intelligence in the way they moved and observed.
Once again, I found myself frozen in fear, unable to avert my gaze from these inexplicable monsters, as they glared back at me, floating just on the other side of the glass. Suddenly, I heard a crashing sound behind me, and my father’s voice screaming – “Get away from there!”
He rushed towards me, physically tackling me to the ground. I looked up just in time to see the creatures quickly swimming away from the window, leaving only dark water behind them. And then, a moment later, pandemonium broke out, as suddenly the entire house was flooded with a blinding light, and I was deafened by a piercing siren.
My father lay on top of me, shielding me from the chaos. But still, I felt a pressure building inside my head as my senses were overwhelmed, and then the darkness took me.
I awoke some time later in my own bed, and for a fleeting moment I thought it had all been a horrible nightmare, but then I felt the ache in my arms and the bruises on my body, and I knew it was all real. I adjusted my eyes to survey my bedroom and was surprised to see my father sitting at the end of my bed, dutifully watching over me.
His head was bandaged as a result of the injury he’d suffered at Cain’s hands. I expected him to be angry at me because I’d gone against him, but instead he looked sad and despondent. He nodded as I sat up in my bed, like he’d been waiting for me to wake up.
“How are you feeling kid?” he asked sympathetically.
“I’m okay, I think.” I answered groggily, “Where’s Mum?”
“She’s resting. I gave her a sedative to help her sleep. It’s hit her hard, everything that’s happened.”
He trailed off, breaking eye contact momentarily.
“And Cain?” I asked, barely disguising the anger in my voice.
My father took a deep breath before replying. “Dead. They took his body away.”
“They!” I repeated scornfully. “They’re real then. Those monsters I saw…Horrible sea creatures, or whatever the hell they are.”
My father nodded his head solemnly before confirming what I already knew. “Yeah kid. They’re real. Not only that, but the creatures you saw are our benefactors, or perhaps a better description would be…owners.”
I simultaneously experienced a surge of both excitement and fear. What my father was telling me was almost unbelievable, and I had so many unanswered questions.
“Owners? What the hell are you talking about? What are those things?”
My father shrugged his shoulders. “Truthfully, I don’t know. Your mother and I remember fragments of our past lives, but we don’t recall how we came to be here. Your mother believes we’re in hell, and the things outside are demons. I disagree. I believe our captors come from an alien world and possess intelligence and technology vastly superior to our own. I think they’re keeping us locked up in here to study us. Or maybe this whole set up is their version of a zoo…’come and see homo sapiens in their traditional domicile’…”
I literally could not believe what I was hearing. My mind was racing and my heart beating fast in my chest. I vividly remembered my Plato in that moment, as my entire world was turned upside down. Clearly, I’d been living in a dark cave, and now suddenly I’d been exposed to the terrible light.
But I couldn’t understand how my father (if that’s indeed what he was) could be so passive and accepting of our situation.
“Why?” I exclaimed in disbelief, “Why would you accept this? They’re keeping you as a pet, locked up! And you do nothing?”
“What else can I do!” he snapped back, with more than a hint of anger now evident in his voice. “They have total control over us. The food we eat. The air we breathe…The power of life and death over the three of us…And, for the most part, we have a good life here…”
“A good life!” I shot back, “We almost died last night! They sent in that maniac Cain, and he attacked us. What was that about? Entertainment for our ‘owners’?”
My father shook his head and lowered his gaze. When he spoke, I could hear the self-doubt and shame in his voice.
“That was a mistake. They shouldn’t have sent him here. It’s like when they put a rogue tiger in the pen and it attacks the other cats…But they wouldn’t have let him actually hurt us. They would have stopped him.”
I lost my mind at this, jumping up from my bed to angrily confront him. “I stopped him! I saved you both!”
He didn’t seem to be listening to me, instead muttering repeatedly under his breath.
“A man must make sacrifices for his family…” he said.
I decided to confront the final elephant in the room. “You’re not my real father. And she’s not my real mother. I’ve always known it, deep down. It’s all been a lie.”
Suddenly be looked up at me, and I could see the hurt in his eyes. His voice was filled with emotion as he spoke his next words.
“We’re the only parents you’ll ever have kid! And we care about you, no matter what you think of us…You’re still young, but in time you’ll understand.”
“I will NEVER accept this!” I exclaimed defiantly.
“You don’t have a choice!” he replied, “Tomorrow they will wipe your memory, and all this will seem like nothing more than a bad dream. Your mind will continue to reject your environment, for a time. But in the end, you’ll continue to accept what you cannot change. Believe me when I say it kid, ignorance is bliss.”
With that, he marched out of my room, shutting the door behind him, and leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Right now, I’m typing out my story in the full knowledge that soon I may not be able to remember any of it. Part of me is grateful. I don’t want to remember Cain or the knife I plunged into this heart. And I dread to think of those monstrosities lurking on the other side of these walls, watching everything we do and plotting new and imaginative ways to torment us.
This is my digital ‘message in a bottle’. The likelihood is that no-one will ever read my account, and even if they do, they’ll never believe me. Still, I hold out the slimmest of hopes that somehow this message will make its way home, and I pray someone will come to my rescue.
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here, living in constant ignorance and fear, like a slave chained up inside a cave. Please help me, before it’s too late.
Credit : Woundlicker
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