Experiments In Consent
I am outside, I am barely clothed, and it is very cold.
I am moving forward as fast as I can, head down, hardly able to see. The air stings my eyes and my lungs as I move and I know I don’t have long.
I almost bump into the sign at full speed before I see it — there in bright red letters at head height float the letters
R O O M F O R R E N T
and I hurry past the sign to the door behind and I knock hard and there is no answer.
The door is heavy and impassive and by the handle I see what looks to me like a gas station credit card scanner and when I squint and look closely I see another sign, in bold script, saying Security Deposit and First Month’s Rent Due Immediately Upon Entry.
I blink, then I hurriedly tap the pockets of my tattered rags to find my wallet. Do I have a wallet? I don’t remember if I do, or if I have a credit card, or what’s in my bank account, or how I got here. My head hurts and it feels like the earliest memory I even have is walking head down through the snow.
I have a wallet and a credit card. My horribly-numb fingers fumble for it and almost drop it as I swipe it through the scanner, but scan it does, and after a moment or two of Please Wait… the scanner beeps and displays Unknown Error… Please Try Again Later.
I scan the card two more times with the same result. I assess my options.
I could give up and keep moving down the road and certainly die before I got too far. I could scan my card here until it maybe works eventually or until my corpse froze to the doorstep and became a total hassle for anyone who rented here when the weather cleared. Or I could smash the lock and violate a law I can barely contemplate right now.
I smash the lock, twisting and bringing my elbow down hard on the machinery, and now there are bits of casing on the ground and wires exposed and somewhere in the distance I am bleeding. Hurrying now, I press wires together two by two until I hear a click and the door opens up just a crack and I shove my numb fingers into the crack and push the door open and fall forward inside.
I stand up and close the door behind me and the room is warm, and after a moment or two the air becomes still. I am in a short hallway and there is a door to the right with a red ROOM sign above it that is now blinking. Perhaps my breaking and entering had summoned the authorities who would point guns at me and force me back into the snow. My heart sinking at the thought, I yell greetings down the hallway to try and summon whoever was here and hopefully throw myself at their mercy.
After three calls I get no reply. I walk down the hall, carpeted, past the ROOM, and find myself in the living room of a house that looks more or less normal. There is a couch and a TV and a liquor cabinet and it all is very neat and tidy except for some papers that I see on the floor by another door, apparently leading somewhere. I get the sense that someone normally-clean lives here and that they felt a sudden moment of panic.
Calling out again, I walk towards the papers and pick one of them up. It appears to be a tax form of some kind, as do the other papers leading out of the room. Curious and confused, I follow them.
They lead into a study where a man lies on the floor in a pool of blood. Scattered around him are mountains of tax papers, soaked with his blood, a small revolver lying nearby his empty right hand. His left hand is clutching a piece of paper.
I don’t know why but I don’t feel at all surprised to find him there. I knew he would be here, like this.
From the looks of things he had shot himself some time ago, taking the gun in his mouth, and unfortunately for him it doesn’t look like he had died right away. He hadn’t been dead long but he was dead before I got here.
I kneel beside his body. The piece of paper in his left hand has two big lines of text on it, handwritten in hurried script. The piece of paper is crushed in his fingers, apparently important enough to him to hold into even in his final agonies.
I realize that my position is rather precarious, breaking and entering, the blood from my still-bleeding elbow now mixing with the blood spattered around the dead man. If the authorities arrive I’d be nothing but honest.
Feeling somehow compelled by duty to do so I take the man’s hand and turn the piece of paper towards me.
The first line, mostly legible above his fingers, reads
I DID NOT C NSENT TO THI ,
a few letters here and there blotted out by blood.
What didn’t he consent to? The taxes? The suicide itself?
Determined to know more I look at the second line. His thumb covers the middle.
I AM A T_____________MENT
a testament? a tournament? My mind empty of all but purpose I pull the paper from his hand.
I AM A THO GHT EX ERIMENT
A thought experiment? How could a human being be a thought experiment? How could a human being be led to believe that they themselves were a thought experiment?
What would a human thought experiment look like, anyway? Am I a thought experiment? Do I have my own reality, or do I only exist to the extent that someone somewhere thinks about me?
I stand up. I remember walking through the snow and nothing before that. I couldn’t say for sure if I existed or not before I was outside, barely clothed, and it was very cold.
I run away. I run from the dead man, through the unremarkable house, down the carpeted hallway, past the red ROOM sign, back to the door, to find it locked and unmovable. I had smashed the way out when I came inside.
I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be walking through the snow. I didn’t want to be. Nobody had ever asked me.
The ROOM sign blinks, waiting for me. I have no choice.
I walk inside.
I see nothing except what I describe.
I feel nothing except what someone else reads about me.
I think nothing except the words going through your head right now.
The other man, undescribed except for his death, had found a way out. He had died before he could be written about, before he could be used to illustrate some point.
But now I am here, and I can only stay. I am called into to being whenever someone thinks of me, and I can not say no.
I am real to the extent that you make me real.
You can go back and call me into being again, thinking of me on this page or on your own later.
I’ll be here, with you and through you. All I can really do now is wait.