THE LESSON


By Cynthia L. Pauwels



There is no more obnoxious way to punish a man than to force him to perform acts which make no sense to him.

~ Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity

It wasn't the routine that brought me to this point but the total lack of mental stimulation. I can only cope with so much busy-work before my mind grows white-hot in angry frustration. After nearly twenty years in the cubicle farm of this impersonal management firm, I have learned one life lesson above all others: inactivity is wrongly equated with relaxation. Inactivity leads to stagnation, and dullness, and death. Only by moving and thinking and being can we separate ourselves from animals in the wild. The beast within us must be tamed by disciplined activity. Without directed, purposeful movement, our inner selves submit to the unspeakable horrors that lay within.

Many laugh at my feelings, blaming my dire outlook on the late night ingestion of one-too-many Stephen King novels, only to feel their own beast take control when they can no longer squelch it. Then they turn ravaged eyes to me in mute pleas for release from its clutches. Even at the end, some doubters still deny the absolute veracity of my conclusions. They cling stubbornly to high-minded ideals on the innate goodness of man, ignoring the evidence before them. I pity such individuals, for to die with wisdom is a noble goal; to die in willful ignorance is a waste of the life force within.

But I'm moving ahead too quickly.

I learned early on that there is no substitute for experience. Exactly when I decided to bring that experience to others is uncertain. I think the idea grew in the midst of a particularly mindless day at my desk, shuffling the usual stacks of worthless papers administrators find so intriguing.

The means I chose were simple. A carefully selected neuromuscular blocking drug judiciously administered over four to six hours renders the student immobile, yet conscious and mentally alert. All physical activity ceases. Mental stimulation is kept to an absolute minimum, although a tiny light, while disrupting the total darkness desired, is necessary for me to observe my pupils as they progress towards the release of the beast.

My subjects invariably react with a frantic, entirely rational fear when they realize the extent of their enforced inactivity. I've studied sensory deprivation techniques and learned the fear elicited by my methods is much stronger than that experienced in self-inflicted sessions. However, this suits my purpose as it emphasizes the lack of control and enables the beast to emerge much sooner. It may taint the outcome somewhat by over-stimulating the subject, but with the unfortunate time constraints inherent in my work, it is unavoidable. I haven't found this to be an obstacle as nearly all of my subjects pass from fear to savage anger rather rapidly.

The anger is most instructional. It shows in their eyes soon after physical immobility is complete. Its force appears stunted at first by the fear of the unknown, but as fear fades, anger grows. Hatred and pure blood-lust exude from even the most self-possessed students. My detractors invariably have denied they possess such instincts; it is only with great self-control that I avoid gloating when the truth becomes evident. But as I remind myself, the purpose of the session is to share my wisdom unreservedly, the urge passes. I am left with the joy of a teacher watching a difficult student reach enlightenment as they learn the ultimate purpose of life, that of keeping the beast contained, through experiencing the horrors of its release.

My office supervisor was the worst naysayer of all I encountered, so it was natural I choose him as my first student. He was an athletic man in his late forties; subduing him to the fullest extent of the experience was not an easy task. I studied my methods meticulously before approaching him. Dosage, timing, and the duration of immobility had to be exact. It's a shame he didn't inform his loyal employees of his congenital heart condition.

As I look back on these humble beginnings, I realize his unexpected death was fortuitous. I had not considered the reaction of the more strident opponents to my work. By taking my first student, albeit unintentionally, to the ultimate conclusion, not only was it more rewarding for him, but it enabled my work to continue unhampered by misguided authorities. How beautifully inspiration cares for itself.

I have little difficulty obtaining appropriate subjects as students. Guilt is a wonderful motivator when carefully applied, and most are only too happy to give a few private moments to a lonely spinster such as they imagine me to be in order to ease its unwelcome pangs.

My findings have been astounding. Not only have my theories been fully corroborated in over sixty percent of my cases, but I have gained new respect for the tenacity of the human spirit. Those few who have resisted their inner beast have displayed a serenity I never believed possible. It has taken extended periods of deprivation to break their composure. In one instance, which I am at a loss to understand, death arrived before the beast appeared.

Unfortunately, I have been forced to change employment frequently, and eventually relocate to a new city, due to the ignorant persistence of those who investigate the deaths of my students. If only they understood nearly all of my pupils have died totally enlightened. Menial office labor is easy to obtain, however, so my supply of subjects remains uninterrupted. I have learned that conducting my studies in the student's home makes my surreptitious departure easier. And as long as I avoid employment which requires fingerprinting, I leave no trace of my presence in my improvised classrooms.

I made the dreadful mistake of attempting to explain my work to the investigator who made a tenuous connection to me following my second student's departure, and thus faced more interference than would otherwise have been necessary. I considered utilizing him as a subject, but discarded the notion as foolhardy. Law enforcement personnel are not blessed with the gullibility of the public at large, and while his beast may have been exceptional, his professional suspicions made the lesson much too risky.

That obstacle was minor compared to the emotions with which I now struggle. I was not prepared for the intense feelings of envy provoked by repeatedly observing others attain a level of wisdom, of an understanding of the inner workings of their being of which I can only dream. Even though they are rewarded by my generosity, their ascension to new pinnacles of knowledge creates a desperate yearning within my soul. I have learned all I can by observation alone, and as my capacity to learn diminishes, so too does my capacity to teach others.

The natural progression, then, is to partake of the lesson myself. I have prepared an intravenous drip system modeled after Dr. Kevorkian's ingenious device. At my touch, it will self-administer the proper dosage for an extended session of mind-expanding inactivity. I have carefully calculated the amount needed to attain the fullest level of enlightenment while still maintaining life. A webcam will document my progress.

So I begin the final stage of my journey. I'm sure those mindless bureaucrats who forced busy-work on me in the past never contemplated where the boredom they inflicted would lead. How I will enjoy their amazement when my work gains the renown it so richly deserves. There are others like me, I am confident, who will adopt my methods of societal consciousness building once I am able to share my findings with the world. This lesson of mine will provide a fitting capstone for that revelation.

The doors are locked, the curtains are drawn, the phone silenced, the machines prepared. I am ready.

Now, to the drip...


Cynthia L. Pauwels has published a number of short stories over the years in magazines and online including most recently The View from Here, and Mock Turtle 'zine (Dayton, Ohio, USA). Her non-fiction book Historic Warren County: An Illustrated History, released in December 2009, was awarded the 2010 Outstanding Achievement Award in History Outreach by the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums (OAHSM). Most recently she contributed a personal essay to Sugati Publication's 2011 women's anthology The Moment I Knew: Reflection from Women on Life's Defining Moments.


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