“Locksmith” is one of the outstanding stories of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2016 written by Ruthu Hulikal, Tamilnadu, India.
Some philosophers say the mind cannot understand itself.
Moisture hung in the air, refusing to yield to the fierce heat. A vast blanket of foliage concealed the sky, casting a shadow over the forest, accompanied by the overpowering smell of wet earth and vegetation. The very air reeked of danger and alertness. A droplet of water hung on the edge of a leaf, on the brink of falling. Ada sprinted through, agitating the leaf and many others, causing droplets to rain onto the ground. She could hear every drop on the ground, like the powerful thud of drums. Her pace accelerated, her heart speeding up in response, pounding in her ears. Sight resolved into sound, sound merged with touch, till her experience was escalated to intense vigilance. She was not aware of what she was running towards, or away from. Only the direction of her path was clear to her, and the urgency with which she must reach.
Ben Arser watched Ada react to the simulation. She was lying on a clean table with her eyes closed, smooth white blankets covering her, a metallic device enclosing her scalp. Her skin should have felt fresh air and a pliant cushion, instead all she felt was the sweltering heat of the forest she believed she was in. The neurons in her brain had been modified to flash in response to activation, and presently looked like a tumultuous storm of lightning, especially in the area of her brain responsible for rage. He looked down at the many dials on the board before him; one of them was blinking yellow frantically. Arser twisted the dial higher, waiting until it turned to a feverish red. The display revealed an even more chaotic firing of her neurons.
Ada felt time disappear, and as she began to run faster than she believed was possible, her surroundings morphed, straining to hold her back. Ada willed her gaze to shift upwards. Her eyes registered a brown head of hair, scarcely ten feet from her. Scanning downwards, she registered that the small frame of the individual keenly resembled hers. Abruptly a vigorous power hindered her from moving forward, though nothing surfaced in front of her eyes. She raised a fist to the obstruction, pounding on the air before her, but it did not surrender. Her hands felt like they were striking steel. Despair and rage surged through her, and she continued striking relentlessly.
Arser and the team behind him stood gravely. The display showed them everything Ada experienced; consequently, they were now witnessing Ada strike the air in front of her. The team in the lab with Arser watched with bated breath. “She has encountered herself, her mind,” Arser considered aloud, his voice betraying the tension in his body. “But she cannot meet herself,” he paused and mused. “She must be protecting herself from meeting her mind. Now she must merely decide to let go of her fear.”
Ada stepped back, gasping from the exertion. Wet strands of hair clung to her brows, perspiration trickling down her skin. Even though the heat in the air was oppressive, she compelled herself to take a deep breath. The pounding in her ears ceased, the air lifted slightly, allowing her to breathe deeper. Her fingers, which had been clenched into fists, loosened and relaxed. Ada shut her eyes, directing her thoughts solely on her breath. Her body on the table stopped twitching, and in the simulation, her eyes opened again. A large ‘A’ hung in the air before her, awaiting a move. She extended her palm, pressing into the letter gently. The touch of her fingers melted it away into grey wisps of smoke, and her fingers fell forward with nothing to obstruct them anymore. Ada stepped forward, wary of the boundary she had felt before, but nothing deterred her. She took another step, each faster than the last one, until she came upon the figure before her.
The display blacked out at that moment, and alarms began wailing deafeningly. Arser rammed his finger on a small button, trying to access the display once more in vain. The other men in the room ran to their respective positions, trying to regulate what was happening, although they did not understand it. Amid the chaos, Arser stopped dead in his tracks and spun to look for Ada. No one was lying down on the table, and there was not a trace of a person having ever been on it. There was only the white blanket, neatly folded and arranged innocently on the table.