Sunday, December 7, 2008

Survival instinct

Everyone went somewhere different the day it all changed. Oh sure, plenty of people went to Paris, or Disney World, or any of a number of common tourist destinations. But that day, the one everyone realized they could just think themselves wherever they wanted to be, showed that in some ways, we're surprisingly unique.

The first place I went was a cornfield in Iowa. I'd never been to that area of the country before, and I always wondered what it was like. So I snapped my fingers and presto, there I was, all alone in a scene from the early part of "Field of Dreams." That was enough confirmation for me that not everyone was the same now. But we all make mistakes.

A few hours later, after the initial shock had worn off, people remembered they still had jobs to do, kids to feed, and loved ones to find. Everyone came home and recounted their jaunts, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear about my coworker Carl's journey through the streets of an Eastern European mining town, and my neighbor Suzanne's exploration of the water towers of Ontario.

Within a few weeks, your average man (or woman) had done everything: seen the Wonders of the World, eaten real Italian food, gone ice fishing, and seen the Mona Lisa. And our newfound ability gave us all a sense of being superhuman, which of course was ridiculous, since it was obviously a part of our very nature. (You didn't see squirrels bouncing around to Acapulco; someone would have noticed.) Nonetheless, you started hearing more and more stories of people leaving to do incredibly stupid, dangerous things, as if they had no regard for their own lives.

Exploring the inside of a live volcano? Check. Looking for a giant squid at the bottom of the ocean? Naturally. Picnicking on the surface of the moon? You betcha.

The problem was that none of these people ever reported back. Now, I'd like to imagine that before this all began, it would have been pretty obvious these morons had gotten themselves killed. But as I said, we were starting to believe we were capable of anything.

That's how the rumors got started. Within a few days, half the people I knew were convinced the missing hadn't died, but had simply chosen to stay at their fascinating new locations. Jimmy's swimming with the dolphins! Sophie is exploring Mars! The believers started following suit, and a week later there was hardly anyone left around here.

It's been a month since then. The kids left straight from college, with barely the decency to send a text message. And my wife... she left two weeks ago. She said I was tying her down, while all our friends were off exploring the universe.

Everyone's gone. I suppose they could be right--maybe we are indestructible now. But I at the very least, am not a superman, not as far as I can tell, and I'm not about to test that theory with my life.

I'm only a guy who can go wherever he wants, just like everybody else. Except while everyone else has gone off to the destination of their dreams, I'm stuck by instinct in this lonely nightmare.


Barbara Lorraine said...

Geoff, I already told you what I think, but I'll say it again: Vonnegut meets Serling. Joy!

Maybe take it a step further and have the protagonist drink the Kool-Aid, maybe driven mad by his being the only sane one left. Maybe he sends himself to the cornfield ;-)

Partially Yours, Nina said...

Tightly written- reminds me also of Vonnegut- without ripping anything off. I really enjoyed reading this story. I'm glad you didn't overexplain. You trust the reader to both imagine, make logical connections, and be the judge of the conclusion. I found this to be a very intelligent piece. I admit, however, I did not like the final line. Too trite of a endnote: 'lonely nightmare' - especially when already emphasized by the title 'survival instinct'- I think if you tinker with the phrasing it can work much better. Thanks for the writing!

Geoff said...

To respond very late:

Nina, you're totally right about the ending line. I'm not so hot at those, but I hereby swear I will come up with a better ending soon and edit the post to reflect my progress!

Also, glad you two liked it ;)