Every time I saw the Provazik Enterprises building from the outside, I was glad I only worked part-time. I would walk out to my car, turn around and become dismayed that I worked in that rusty abomination that was constantly pumping black smoke into the air. That parking lot wouldn't win any beauty contests either; there were no yellow lines to differentiate the spaces and large patches of grass had made their way through much of the cracked pavement.
On this particular day, I cast my usual rueful look at the Provazik building and saw something altogether different. Huge buildings began to rise out of the ground, as if the Earth was giving birth to them. These huge structures were coming up on all sides of the parking lot and after squinting, you could see the metal frames that were pushing each out from the underground. These new buildings were sleek and modern looking, unlike the eyesore where I had just spent several hours. I was still standing next to my car, but now the road had been completely cut off by these newborn buildings. The small crowd of us in the parking lot wandered towards the new entrance to see what was going on.
I was taken aback by the new entry hall. It was a wide circle with a huge bay window directly across from the doorway where I stood. All around, there were escalators, elevators and even a monorail to get people to the different buildings in the complex. It was fascinating to see, but at the moment I still wanted to get home. I wandered for a while and eventually found myself in a dimly lit, claustrophobic room where rows of people were scrunched over in front of computers hard at work. This looked more like the old Provazik building and was now a stark contrast to the breathtaking room I had just left.
A robot that couldn't have been more than four feet tall was supervising the activity. He made his way over to me and spoke in a deep, digital voice that sent chills down my spine.
"You are not working."
"I'm done working for today," I said back. "I'm just wondering how to get home now that these buildings have blocked the road."
"There is no world outside Provazik," the robot said immediately.
I needed a few moments to comprehend what the creature had just said. "What?"
"There is no world outside Provazik," the robot repeated, sounding even harsher.
I didn't feel like arguing. It was just too strange. Instead, I backed slowly out the small room and back into the entry hall. Wandering around the circle, I eventually found a map of the property, updated to include the phalanx of new buildings that had appeared only a few minutes earlier. While it did not support the robot's bizarre claim that there was no world outside the area, it did confirm that there was no exit. I grabbed my cellphone, thinking I could call my family and have them get the police to do something about this.
After a few rings, I heard a message that the number I was trying to reach had been disconnected. That was impossible, I thought. I called that number multiple times each day and now all of a sudden it doesn't work? It began to sink in that I might really be trapped here. Panic spread through me and I rushed back towards the parking lot. At least there I was outdoors. Surely there had to be some alleyway, some fence to climb, some way to get out of Provazik.
Instead, when I rushed through the door, I was someplace completely different. Behind me, the complex was gone. I was surrounded by grass up to my waist. The buildings here were crumbling and deserted. It looked as if humanity had been gone for centuries and the Earth was beginning to take back the land. I found myself drawn towards a large concrete staircase that ascended a green hill. Another person followed closely behind, no doubt someone else trying to get away from Provazik.
About halfway up the large white staircase, I turned around and was treated to a lovely view. Green hills and forest opened up before me. For the first time since those buildings rose out of the ground, I felt myself relax a little.
"Well, I don't know where exactly we are," I said out loud, "but at least we're out of there."
My companion said nothing and smiled at me. It wasn't a friendly smile, but a malicious grin that made me uneasy once again. Too late, I realized what would happen. The beautiful green panorama melted away as if it had turned to water and I was back in that dark room with the little robot standing in front of me.
"There is no world outside Provazik," it said once again. "Not anymore."
I rushed out of the room and back into that entrance hallway. I no longer found it enchanting, especially with the increased amount of people wandering the circle. I searched frantically for an exit until my phone vibrated. I yanked it out of my pocket, desperately hoping that it was someone I knew. It was the robot.
"Why do you not cooperate?" it asked me.
"I don't want to stay here," I replied. "I want to do other things besides work. I want to see the world, I want to travel."
"You can earn travel," the robot said.
"What does that mean?"
"You work hard enough and you can earn travel. You will be accompanied by agents to the place you want to visit. After you see the sights, you will return."
Something wasn't right about this and I knew what it was.
"You just said there was no world outside Provazik," I said, with a faint sense of joy that I had outwitted the robot. "Now I can travel? You're a lying sack of shit! You're a fuckin' liar!"
That was only the beginning of the torrent of obscenity I sent through the phone to that little creature. Employees, if they could still even be called that, wandered past and gave me strange looks. Finally, I hung up the phone and resumed my futile search for an exit.
After what felt like an eternity of searching, I saw a woman who I recognized. I believed she was a co-worker, but my memories had been growing cloudier the longer I remained in Provazik. She and a small group of friends were ducking through a small exit against one of the walls. I rushed over and caught a glimpse of a beautiful stream just outside the door. A guard yanked my arm and I found myself unable to move. However, the woman heard the commotion and recognized me. She indicated to her friends that she would only be a moment.
"You have to reject all the choices," she said. "They're going to make you offers, make you think you have a choice. But they're all the same. You have to reject all the choices!"
With that, she and the others went out the door and down a small ramp. The door shut and then faded, as if it had never been there at all. The guard dragged me into another room. It was like a classroom, but with desks that looked comically large since they were intended for adults. At least this one had decent lighting. There was a massive TV-screen in front of the desks, presumably to deliver some kind of education. I didn't want to sit at any of the desks; I was afraid they would never let me stand up again. Another robot ambled around the room and handed me a pamphlet.
I opened it up and saw a list of options. These were the choices she had warned me about. They sounded great on paper and the charming illustrations didn't hurt, but upon close analysis it was clear that none of them would get me out of Provazik.
But if you reject all the choices, what was left to do? The answer suddenly came to me. I picked up a chair.
"You're going to have to kill me!" I shouted to the robots. "You'll have to kill me or I'll destroy this place!"
For some reason, I decided to sing Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" aloud...perhaps to become even more disruptive.
"You take my life, but I'll take yours too!" The chair hit the huge television with a glass crunch.
"You fire your musket, but I'll run you through!" The cracks widened after another hit.
And so it went, until the television was barely recognizable. The room around me seemed to blur and moments later, I woke up in bed. This wasn't another trick; I recognized my bedroom. For a moment, I was still convinced the experience had been real.
"I did it," I said quietly. "I'm out."
I went back to sleep and dreamed of other things.