Your wake up with a rock under your head. This is not the same surface that you fell asleep on -- even before you open your eyes you know that this is some place different. The low roar of the air conditioning is gone -- there is no sound at all. You open your eyes and find that you are outdoors.
The sky is clear. It arches above you almost a full one-eighty degrees -- there are no hills or buildings around you. Just acres and acres of dry grass. Beneath you is a large rock -- it's like an island in the sea of grass. There are no other rocks in the area. You are alone with no idea of where you are or how you got here.
The sun is rising in the east, warming up your tired bones. You stretch your arms and it feels good. Perhaps the sun isn't rising -- perhaps it's setting, you have no idea of what time it is. You scan the horizon -- there are no trees, no bushes, no roads. What could this place be? It's like an empty wasteland. You feel lonely. There is no voice from Stephen, telling you what to do -- all there is is you, alone in a world of emptiness. And then you realise that you're hungry -- more hungry than you've ever been before. You feel like eating a large, four-course breakfast.
You stand up. After a while you step down off the rock and start walking across the grass, slowly on your weak malnourished legs. You walk in a straight line in one direction. There's nothing else to do.
You walk and walk, staring at the horizon.
You keep walking.
You look down and see that a thistle is caught in your shoe.
You sit down and take it out.
You remain sitting in the grass for fifteen minutes, too tired to continue.
You force yourself to a standing position.
You walk some more.
You look up and see with surprise that the sun is high in the sky. You must have been walking for a long time -- it's hard to keep track of time in this place.
You keep walking.
You see something on the left side of the horizon -- a long, dark, mound. You change your direction and walk towards it.
After a few minutes the thing on the horizon in beginning to look like the roof of a building.
The sun beats down.
As you get closer, more of the building becomes visible. It's a five storey building,
very modern in design. It's too big to be a house. The sides of the building are
lined with dark windows. The whole thing looks shiny and new -- very much out of place
in this wasteland.
Inside, there are people. They are mostly young people, walking this way and that through the corridors of this building. Some of them are just lingering in one spot; some of them are walking with resolve as if they have a class to attend. Over there is a girl sitting in a chair, staring into space, rocking back and forth and mumbling something to herself repetitively:
And that guy over there with a folio under his arm, he's trying to climb the stairs with his eyes closed. A sign on the wall has an arrow with "Health and Human Services" written next to it.
Some guy comes up to you and exclaims, "But he doesn't even speak
Chinese!" You don't know what to
respond to that. You poke your head into an open door -- inside it you can see a room with
tables arranged in rows. A young couple are lingering just inside the door.
They are carrying bags and talking to eachother. The boy says something quiet
which you can't hear. The girl says:
An older woman comes up to you and says, "Are you O.K.? Can I help you?"
You reply, "I wonder if you could tell me where I am?"
She says, "This is Victoria University, St. Albans Campus."
You're not very satisfied with that answer -- it doesn't explain much. "Is there any place around here where I can get some food? I'm starving."
The woman shakes her head and says, "I'm afraid breakfast finished an hour ago, we can't give you any food when it's not a proper meal-time."
You beg her, "Couldn't you make an exception for me? I really am starving -- look at me, I haven't eaten for days! I just arrived here."
"I'm afraid we can't. If you'd warned us in advance then maybe we could have saved you something --"
You're getting desperate, and it shows in your voice. "O.K., look. I'm not supposed to be here -- I've got to go someplace else, somewhere I can eat. How do I get out of here? How does anyone get out of this wasteland? There must be a way!!"
The woman looks worried. She doesn't know what to answer at first, then she says, "Y'know, I think that's a question for the head of the department. Just come with me, and I'll lead you to him."
She beckons you to follow and you walk with her down the corridor. Then, from a neighbouring classroom you hear the sound of glass breaking. A man with a goatee beard is being dragged out of the room by a pair of security guards. His face is twisted with rage and he's struggling and kicking. The violent trio pass by almost in front of you; your woman friend pretends not to notice. She goes into a side office and says to you, "Wait here."
You watch as the man is taken into a glassed off area next door to the office. He continues to struggle as one security guard pulls down the prisoner's pants and the other one sticks a syringe into his butt. After that the man seems to be more tranquil and dreamy -- the guards pull him into a smaller windowless room and that's the last you see of him. And you're wondering, what sort of a university is this?
An older man with grey hair comes out of the office and addresses you. "Hello, my name is Gavin, I'm the head of the department. Linda has been telling me you want to leave, is that correct?"
"Well, I've read your case, and I'm afraid you're not ready to leave yet, You see, on this campus we have a rule that you can't terminate your enrolment until you've achieved satisfactory results in all the subjects which you've undertaken. So I suggest..."
You start to back away. "Wait a minute", you say. "I'm not enrolled in the university. I'm just a visitor here. Not a student."
"I'm afraid you are a student", says Gavin, who appears to have a physics formula written on his forehead. "You'll be studying here for a few years, at least."
You take another step back, feeling somewhat annoyed. "You guys are crazy. I'm beginning to think this is not a university at all."
"Don't worry", says Linda, the woman. "It IS a university, and we have some of the finest facilities and teachers in Australia. We'll have you educated in next to no time. And then you can leave."
You say loudly, "Leave? I'll be leaving straight away, if it's all the same. What's to stop me from just walking out of this nut-house right now? You can't stop me!"
"Oh, I think we can", says Gavin, and his voice takes on a sinister tone. He glances at the security guards who are just coming out of the higher-learning room with books in their hands. "And anyway, I think you know that there's nothing out there. It's a wasteland. You wouldn't last a week if you left this building."
Now the reality of your situation is sinking in. Whether it's a university or a nut-house, it makes little difference -- the point is, you're stuck here. Linda senses your disillusionment and starts leading you away, back down the corridor.
"Now don't worry", she says. "I'll get you a timetable and list of textbooks that you need to buy. If you get lost, just refer to the map in the student diary. Mealtimes are at eight, twelve-thirty, and five -- oh, and I'll have to strip-search you to make sure you're not carrying any sharp objects..."
In the distance, you hear the screams of fear and inconsolable loneliness. Sobbing,
and then a shouted string of low exam-results. And then sobbing, again.
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