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May 27, 2024

In a Different World

By Dan Mulhollen

You awaken in another time and another place. It is a simpler, yet more elegant time and the bed you've slept in obviously belongs to a well-bred somebody. You lay there watching the flickering from a pair of white pillar candles until the first glimmerings of sunrise. All this time, trying to remember what happened.

There are fleeting memories from earlier; moments of passion and moments of release. But how unlike you all this seems. Your behavior is not something you would have ever considered normal. Perhaps, in this world, normal is a far more arbitrary thing.

There is the elegant yet immodest garment left for you, hanging by a hook on the wall. You run your hand along the smooth, almost transparent material. The needlework is impeccable, and yet everything about it implies the word "kept". If this is your fate, does it come as a punishment, a reward, or some other karmic twist?

This is not something you would wear, even when alone around the house. Just raising your arms to put it on requires you swallow your pride. It feels wrong, yet not entirely in a bad way.

The flowing garment is comfortable, and the mirror image shows both the power and the vulnerability it instills in the wearer. These feelings are confusing. You do not desire power, but find comfort in possessing it. The sense of vulnerability is both terrifying and intriguing.

A part of you wants to rebel. To tear this exquisite gown from your body and go running out, searching for an escape. You are ready to accept any consequential freedom; even if that is death.

But stop for a moment. Is this all that bad? Certainly there are privileges open to you that most here are denied. Here your day is largely your own, to do as much or as little as you see fit. Perhaps you should wait and think things out better.

The sun is now higher in the sky. The haze of the past night lifts a little. Your lover was generous; patient and caring. And be honest, as alien as all this is, can you say it has no appeal? Might there even be something about all this you find seductive?

So you venture from the bedchamber into a gallery with large windows letting in the sunlight. The light and warmth are soothing, energizing, and somehow uplifting. There are people around; chambermaids, servant boys, servant girls, and other domestic commoners. You smile, politely and they do likewise, keeping a respectful distance as they go about their work.

The marble tiles feel cool, but not uncomfortable. A wispy trail of mild incense flows in the breeze. You take in all the sights and sounds. But mostly, you're overwhelmed by the opulence of the place.

The ceiling itself is a piece of art with plaster molded into ornate arches thirty feet above your head, their lines forming geometric patterns; rectangles, triangles, and squares.

Elaborate tapestries line the walls. The largest, nearly twenty feet long, shows a royal wedding. You recognize the figure standing in the lower corner. Without thinking, you smile as you remember the lovemaking. As cognizance returns, you shudder and your face turns red. How can you explain your willingness to be lured into this stranger's bed?

You let it all happen as if you wanted it all your life. It was so easy to trust, looking into those eyes. Those lips, feeling so natural pressed against yours. And those hands.

You have to sit down for a moment. Too much happening too soon, perhaps. Yet you are surprised by this emotional reaction. To distract yourself, you watch the servants going about their work. A serving girl brings you a goblet filled with cool water. It tastes sweet and refreshing. After resting for a few minutes more, you stand up, handing the girl the goblet.

A spiral staircase with a brass railing guides you down to the main hall. Here, there are even more people. Butlers, maids, secretaries, sentries; all of whom show the same polite indifference to your presence.

It might be comforting to pull one of them aside and ask for an explanation. But consider your own, former world; the daily grind of long commutes and cubicles, talk radio and cable television. If you could not explain to them your world of computers and automobiles, how can they be expected to explain their world of magic and poetry?

Understanding will come in, layer by layer, as you explore the many rooms, workshops, and gardens of this place. And you will meet the one who should be your rival. But there is no jealousy. You both understand your role in this society too well to see the other as a threat.

There will be foggy mornings spent walking along a gentle stream, trying to catch a glimpse of the faeries who play there at dawn. Pleasant afternoons of sitting out in the garden, sipping tea, and reading the enlightened literature of this world. And there will be the parties and festivals, some in your honor.

You might tell yourself this world is neither better or worse than the one you left behind, it is simply different. But that is largely a matter of perspective.

Yet every time you begin to feel comfortable, your past life and its values intrude. You wonder what your friends and family members would say if they knew what your life had become. Would it be considered an honor or a disgrace?

No, you will never completely accept this role; your former nature is too strongly engrained. But if it is perverse, it is also comfortable. The food is delicious and the conversations are pleasant. The tawdry service you perform has forever changed the way you define yourself. Still, there is no denying that you are far more respected here than by your co-workers in your former life.

And there will be plenty of time to study this new world. The libraries are well-stocked and there are plenty of intelligent people to talk to. Perhaps eventually you will find a pathway back home. Then there will be another decision to make.

-- Daniel Mulhollen

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-02-09
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