Author : James McGrath

The knife blade gleams in the half-light, sliding through its target.
The tape then gives and the box lid opens. This must be box five-hundred, I think as I pack the circuit boards onto the conveyor belt. But what do I know? All time has moulded into a lump; one solid, inescapable moment.

Think of Earth, think of terraformed Mars. They wouldn’t allow these conditions there, but nobody as poor as us could hope to live on planets like those. Diode Ltd, the owners of this Planet (or is it just a factory? How would any of us even know?) run a completely different kind of world.

We awaken at five each morning, eat our bowl of porridge and go downstairs.
Straight to work, no messing about.
Work ends at midnight and if you’re sensible you have your evening meal and go straight to sleep. If you’re too tired in the morning, you could work too slowly and those that are fired are “thrown to the wastes”.

The others seem to enjoy their sleep. Each of them breathing peacefully when I awaken, confused and disorientated.
You see, even in my dreams I work.

It must be my brain, I tell myself. It has known nothing else since I finished the “Earth Education for Colonials”. The course lasts until age ten and I think I’m forty-two.
I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to do anything but pack these boxes now, but the vague and clouded memory of childhood makes it worse. It taunts and teases me from afar.

Time makes no difference to me; at 5.15 each day I pack boxes, and in the dreamscape of night I pack boxes. My knife always looks the same and the drab backdrop of the factory never changes.
It’s maddening.

I try to fight it. Pinching myself whenever I can, but I say “Ouch!” in my dreams too.
When you’re asleep, how do you distinguish between what hurts and what is perceived to?

I draw a cross on the back of my hand, hoping it won’t appear in my dreams. It enters my subconscious after two days of working with it and it follows me into the night.
I try changing the symbol every day, to trick my brain. Now, when I’m checking if I’m asleep I’m no longer sure of what to look out for.
Did I change it today? Did my head change it for me?

I look at the snake drawn on the back of my hand. The guy in the bunk underneath mine dealt with the checklists and is now wandering the wastes for losing his biro.
But I couldn’t feel sorry for him when I wasn’t sure I was even feeling pain myself.

Inspiration struck.
I needed something new.
It would only work once, but that was enough.
The knife misses the tape this time.
The back of my wrist feels beautiful.

The back of my hand feels.


This is new. It has to be!
It’s overpowering. Intense. Raw.

I scream manically and no one looks up from their stations, but as I go down I see a foreman rushing over to me.

I couldn’t dream this. I’ve never felt this before.

Something warm and sticky caresses my cheek and I hear the foreman swear loudly.

“Shit! Not another one of these today.”


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