The world was darkness around him. Light came in small, nearly imperceptible pinpricks.
On all sides he felt the iron bars of a cage. He jostled hard against them as the cage swung back and forth rhythmically. He smelled the musty cloth that covered the cage. It was not nearly so bad as the smell of the cage floor- a series of boards soaked in the urine and blood of past prisoners.
The cage squeaked as it swung, but it was a sound nearly drowned out by the cries of voices outside. In many languages they shouted, and each voice belonged to someone who hated the caged one.
The voices rose in volume and intensity as more and more were added to their numbers. The man in the cage knew there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of people where he was now.
Something large clattered against the cage, rocking it from side to side. “Back off!” someone shouted from just beyond the bars and cloth. The cage then continued its back and forth motion for a few more steps until it stopped and rested heavily on the ground.
A screech preceded a raspy, authoritative voice from a microphone. “You have all come here to see the villain die. Show him to us!”
The cloth was thrown back from the cage. Harsh overhead lights blinded the man for a moment, and the cries of anger and outrage from the crowd assaulted his ears. When his eyes adjusted he could see the stacked rows of viewing platforms. Each was massive and circular and held hundreds of people. One on top of the other, these platforms were built high into the air. They went so far up that he could not see where they ended. Each platform had dozens of screens on which the man’s picture was displayed.
“We have seen the face of our tormentor,” the voice boomed through the layers of viewing platforms. “Now we will have the satisfaction of his demise!”
For the first time since the cloth had lifted the man looked at his level of the structure. His cage was lying in the dirt of a circular arena. He was in the center and a large door was across from him.
With the sound of straining gears and pumps the door opened and something large and thick lumbered out. It barely looked human with its grotesque musculature and massive frame, but it was indeed human. Wires ran from its skull to a transmitter on its back.
The man rubbed at his temples, where his wires had once been, before he had freed himself. He knew all the people watching would have their own wires.
“Feel the justice for yourselves!” the voice came again. The monstrosity across the arena jolted suddenly, his wires throbbing with current. He was transmitting.
Then he started for the cage.
The man fumbled with the bars and edges of the cage, looking for a way out. Nothing budged or gave way, but the rising sound of plodding footsteps made him try harder. His finger scraped desperately for some way out, something to give in. He pushed against the side of the cage, rolling it onto its end. Then he kicked at the wooden floorboards. He could feel them buckling and cracking under his efforts.
He heard the heavy breathing of the creature next to him. He kicked furiously, felt his foot break through the wood, the splinters digging into his flesh. Then he felt impossibly light as the cage was lifted into the air. The creature shook the cage violently, as a shark flails its captured prey.
The man’s bones smashed against the walls of the cage, his foot still held fast by the broken boards. Back and forth the creature smashed the cage, pounding it against the ground, battering the body inside.
The crowd roared in pleasure at each subsequent smash, feeling the monster’s victory over the caged man. His muscles were theirs, his drive to destroy was theirs, and it empowered them all.
The man’s foot finally broke free, cut and swollen with pain. A jagged piece of wood jutted from his leg, but he had no time to remove it, for a moment later the creature tore the boards from the bottom of the cage. He snarled into the open cage as he held it suspended in the air.
The man held onto the bars of the cage to keep himself from falling toward the creature, but he knew it was a losing battle. In a moment the creature would reach inside and end him. He could not give it the chance.
The man pushed himself toward the creature, aiming his good foot at its face. His shoe smashed into its nose and face as he fell free of the cage.
The people watching screeched in pain- the cry of a million noses being broken at once.
The man fell to the soft earth. He rolled away from the creature and stood to his feet, favoring his injured one. The creature tossed the cage aside and started toward the man.
The man darted toward the still open door the creature had come from. His feet left trails of dust in the air as he ran. He stumbled on his injured foot, but rose and ran harder. He could hear the creature behind him, its heavy steps gaining speed.
The door began to close ahead of him. If he ran a little faster he could just make it, maybe. He tried to ignore the pain in his foot, the throbbing hurt, the demand for rest. He gritted his teeth and pushed past all that, concentrated on his goal. He burst forward, adrenaline-fueled speed pushing him to the closing door. It was just ahead.. a few more steps.
A muscular hand grabbed his neck from behind. He was lifted and turned to face the creature. It’s hot, sticky breath assaulted his face. He heard the door close shut behind him.
The people gasped in anticipation of the vengeance they were about to feel.
The massive hand began to squeeze, and the man felt his veins bulging out on his own neck as his circulation was cut off. The hand squeezed tighter, and he could no longer breathe. The edges of his vision became dark, and the darkness began to engulf all he could see and think.
A million voices called out for his death. One small, familiar voice said, “Thank you.” She had thanked him for freeing her from the wires just before she died. She was thankful to feel her own pains and feelings for once instead of feeding off the emotions and sensations transmitted through the television, into her wires, and deep inside her brain.
For her, because he knew she would want it, he tried to free everyone else- shut down their system, turn off the wires.
Now for her he fought back the darkness, awakened from the encroaching dream, and roared at the monster before him. He reached his arm down, pulled his leg up, and with a cry of anguish freed the large wooden splinter. He jammed it into the monster’s eye. He pounded it in deeply with his fist.
He could not hear the creature over the sound of a million screams. Two million footsteps echoed through the arena as people staggered in pain.
Then he was free, gasping for breath, taking it in huge lungfuls, and feeling blood flow from his leg.
The wires were not meant to transmit the pain of death. It would be too much for their users to handle. And so, in an effort to save the million wired people, the wires shut down. And for the first time in longer than they could remember, they felt for themselves.
On the floor of the arena, the man watched all the screens go blank. To the people who had only moments ago wanted him dead, to the ones he had inadvertently freed, to the one who had passed on knowing her own mind at last, he said, “You’re welcome.”