Imagine a place with me, if you will.
You arrive at this place by bus, the distinctive smell of airbrakes and the hiss of the opening door signaling that you've made it. You're here. The way back is by this same bus, but it's not turning around.
You'd been told once upon a time what this place would be like, but as soon as you arrive, you are greeted by something like comfort: it's not nearly as bad as they said it'd be. A little empty, sure, but you can handle emptiness. Perhaps not forever, but that needn't worry you.
All around you are plains - grassy, flowery fields. It doesn't smell quite like the other fields you remember seeing; there is no flit of field mice, no flutter of butterfly wing, no scent of pollination or petrichor. It doesn't smell much like anything, you notice. That's okay, you suppose. You could just pretend that you have a bad cold with none of the Great Terrible symptoms of it.
You're the only one on the bus standing to leave. On your way out, the driver says, Here you go, friend. He hands you a piece of paper, shuts the door, and continues to the right, down the same road to drop off the other passengers at some other location.
On the paper are typed 4 words: "Imagine and it's yours." Psh. Feel-good nonsense.
You walk around for a bit, straying from the tired road you just spent who-knows-how-many hours riding. Run your hands through the grass. Pick a daisy. Scoop some dirt and let it fall through your fingers. Your first major realization comes in the form of a memory.
You know those moments after your hand has been asleep and your nerves are finally waking to the world around them? Rubbing paper feels the same sandpaper-rough as velvet; twisting grass feels the same wiry-thick as your hair. Like you have gloves on and every texture is reduced to whatever the inside of the glove is.
That's the first major strangeness. That's okay, you think. I can at least feel that there is ground under my feet and grass against my legs.
The second strangeness comes shortly after it. I'll describe it for you.
You are tired a little from walking around aimlessly, so you lie on your back underneath a small tree and examine the clouds above you. They're the big puffy kind: white like linen, scoopable like cotton balls. Pancakes, you think. That one looks like a stack of pancakes.
Before your eyes, its Pancake-ness develops at the speed of the cloud tumbling across the atmosphere. It sprouts more discs underneath it and a bigger one to resemble a plate. You can swear you see steam rising off of it (though it's, of course, just more clouds). You shake the curiosity, assuming that the cloud was there first and just registered somewhere deep inside your Superego as a stack of pancakes. Perhaps you're hungry. Mind imitating Nature.
What you don't expect is when you look down from your clouds to see that you're sitting on a blanket, a plate of pancakes in front of you on a small wooden tray table. Dripping syrup. Melted butter. Strange.
You'll need a fork to eat it, of course, but you don't carry cutlery with you. You check yourself anyway. To your even greater surprise than when you discovered the pancakes in front of you, there is a fork in your shirt pocket (where all useful things are stored).
Since this is us imagining, let us imagine that you reach out and slice out a corner of the pancakes and scoop it into your mouth.
It tastes like sand. Dirt, perhaps, because it's just slightly damp, probably from the syrup.
We forgot to imagine what they taste like.
Sticky, fluffy, battery. They taste like Saturday morning, you remember.
And that is the third strangeness: the dirt-taste in your mouth has been replaced by the sweet maple of the syrup. The plump tart of blueberries. The warmness of something just snatched from the griddle.
Fascinating. Instinctively, you reach for the orange juice that used to accompany pancakes just as you remember them--you take a sip before you recognize that you're startled by the presence of orange juice that once was, moments ago, not there.
And so your afternoon is spent. You make a mental note to invent the flavor along with the food; the texture along with the tile; the fragrance along with the flora. Before you know it, you've soon built yourself a small house. Every smallest detail appears the moment you can conceive of it, ex nihilo. Out of nothing.
You purposely didn't craft a calendar, so you quickly lose track of the days, the months. It could have been five days since you got here, it could have been ten thousand years; you don't seem to age, so it doesn't much matter to you.
Besides, there's so much to do. So much to create. So many details to mold and memories to recast. There is one thing that bothers you, however: you have nobody to do it with.
Funny. You've been so enraptured with designing that you've forgotten company. It's not even romantic company you crave, just conversation.
You're startled, and then feel stupid for it (for you should've been used to it by now), to hear the voice behind you say your name.
My name is Dust, he says.
You startled me, you say.
It wasn't my intention.
You ask him if he likes your house, and he says, I've never seen such a house. Yours is clearly a mind touched by genius.
You get sheepish, the way you do when you're complimented and feel as though you deserve to be, but must feign oppositely anyway. You say, Thank You. Dustin, was it?
Well, Dust, I can make you a room here if you'd like.
Would you like it if I stayed?
I'd love nothing more. It gets lonely here sometimes. I'd forgotten what my voice sounded like in my ears.
I like how it sounds in mine.
You're too kind, you say.
Do you drink coffee, Dust?
If you make it, I'll drink anything.
I promise you it's not poison. I've learned how to make the best coffee.
I'd drink your poison if you asked me to. But for now, coffee will do.
You pour him a cup of coffee from a French Press in your kitchen. Hand-harvested beans from a perfectly temperate climate you've created in your back yard, hand-roasted in the cellar.
You were right, this coffee is the best coffee.
Are you just saying that because I made it?
I'm saying that because it's the best.
You decide that this Dust fellow must not be too bad, after all. You notice for the first time, perhaps, his dirty clothes.
Would you like some new clothes?
Are they clothes that make the man?
Of course not. But we all like to be clean.
I'm clean if you desire me to be clean. That is not my decision to make.
You probably fidget a little bit in your seat; I know I would.
Dust, you can speak your mind around me. That's how good conversation works.
I'm sorry I have disappointed you, sir, he says. I cannot help whose mark I bear.
Whose mark you bear? Dust, you're not a slave. I haven't branded you.
I am human, aren't I?
I have flesh and bone and joints and marrow, yes?
I have a brain and the genetic code of a human, do I not?
If you insist you do. I haven't the foggiest how to check that.
I have the proper ancestry of a human. My instincts are human. I've all the limbs and digits and features of a human.
There's more to humans than that, though.
You're right. And you're wise.
Stop telling me I'm right!
But you are right. And I'm just the way you've made me: in your image.
You look nothing like me.
Wonderful observation, sir.
It's your image I bear, because it's you I point to. Like the image on a dollar points to what a dollar represents. Like how the Microsoft Word icon opens the program.
You suddenly realize you've forgotten to invent both currency and computers. Curious. Dust continues:
I possess what the creator possesses; my heart lies where his heart lies. We worship the same thing.
What do you worship?
I worship you.
You get suddenly uneasy; more than you've ever been before.
You worship me?
You created me to do so.
I did not. I created you to speak with you. To converse with you.
You created me to bring yourself pleasure. Is not that the aim of creation?
Of course I intend to bring myself pleasure. There is nothing else here to do!
And you are remarkably adept at bringing yourself pleasure, sir.
You don't need to agree with everything I say!
Then you shouldn't be so right all of the time. This is your world, and you are perfect at obeying your own rules. I'm only following my orders.
I gave you no orders.
My orders are to follow your Order. Everything around us does the same thing--I'm simply the only one you've allowed to speak.
Then you're nothing but a robot. A flesh-and-bone robot. You're no human. You're a machine.
I am a slave. It is as I said: I bear the mark of my creator. I am branded as he is branded.
Are you saying I'm a slave? I am no slave. I am in complete control. Watch.
You stretch out your hand and replace a vase of flowers with a chocolate fountain. You say, No pleasure is reserved from my grasp. I can have everything I desire; all I must do is desire it!
You transform the floor underneath you to distressed wood planks: the type of floor you'd always wanted. You spawn a desk and a leather writing pad. A MontBlanc Sailor 1911, a Nakaya Naka-ai, and a 1945 Parker Vacumatic Major appear next to it, ready to be inked and used to write anything you set your heart to.
Anything I desire, I have, you say.
And yet you desire more, Dust says, sitting on a comfortable leather sofa.
I desire you gone, you say.
I'll remain as long as you do.
Then I'm leaving, you shout, quite worked up.
You dash out of your magnificently stocked kitchen, past the silver-plated appliances, past the exotic spices in a motorized rack, past the magazine-worthy layout of your monogrammed hand towels.
You burst through the living room with the designer couches you used to look at through store windows, the vintage record player you used to spend Sundays in thrift shops searching for, the movie collection you no longer need to thumb through Netflix to find.
You exit the front door, carved out of the same kind of wood you picked out for your casket once upon a time, engraved with the most intricate woodworking human minds had ever conceived.
You sprint to the dirt road you arrived on all those hours or days or years or millennia ago.
Alright, I'm done! you shout to the right, to where the bus was headed. Don't make me walk back!
A distant Diesel engine. The sound of air brakes and the door, but you can't see it. You glance to the left to find the bus looming, enormous, in front of you.
The driver swings the doors open. Nice house, he says.
I'm ready to leave, you say.
Well, hop on, friend! he says, closing the doors. You can get off at any stop you like.
No, I want to go back. That way, you point behind you.
Oh, we don't go back that way. Can't. There's nowhere to turn around.
Is the road a loop, then? Look, I am just ready to get out of here. I don't want this anymore.
I've seen many like you, friend. I'm afraid this is all there is. This is the only road here, and it only goes that way. He points straight ahead. Why don't we try the next stop?
I don't want the next stop. I want home.
I'll see what I can do.
The driver starts the bus rolling. Your house passes you by. The tree you ate pancakes under shrinks to a speck on the horizon.
You are awakened by the squeal of brakes and the opening of the door. Here's your stop, the driver yells to you. Close to home as I could find.
Out the window: nothing but green fields as far as you can see.