In a Field
By Michael Reiss.
This is where we stand: Steven J. Austin, Colonel Steven J. Austin, serving the American people in a secret capacity, his regard for the smaller things in life untamed, his illiteracy unchecked, his rage incomparable and perfidious. The field in which Colonel Austin was trapped, Steve Austin, an American hero, yes, the field in which he was stuck was still as beautiful, as radiant, and as redolent of sweetness as it had been for all time and for all of his captivity. The field was a virgin, in the purest sense, and even Steve’s astounding confusion and maniacal rage were no match for the purity of this vast tract of land, this golden field, filled with sunflowers, cattails, and daffodils, a strain of vegetation which appeared to be wheat, but was not, an innumerable population of field mice, all indignant at the continued invasion of their ecosystem, their paradise, and many, many cicadas.
Steves’s captivity was ironic, being that he had considered himself a free man and had been led to believe that this was, indeed, the case. Things had developed not according to plans here for Steve, further enhancing his rage and furious promise to someday achieve total and absolute vengeance for the calamitous state of affairs. Merely had he stepped out from a lovely hotel in the city of St. Louis a fine morning in July, his destination (*FOR COLONEL AUSTIN’S EYES ONLY*) and, following a non-stop trans-Atlantic flight to London’s Heathrow airport and a very enjoyable comedy film about the zany antics of a family on a cross-country journey to California, Steve, Colonel Austin, paused to enjoy a grilled steak at a local London eatery and…
That was the last memory Steve had access to, his powers of recall diminished and atrophied, or perhaps there was some other form of sabotage or treachery which had been levied against him. In the world of espionage, missions were always subject to the laws of quantum metaphysics, the individual units, the individual operatives, being as transitional, discontinuous, and mutable as something which remains eternally fragile, undeveloped by a force such as evolution or the innate impulse to return gradually or to be patient.
“FIELD MICE!!!” bellowed Steve.
“O, PESTILENT SCOURGE!” came the translation from the unified telepathic language of the summoned field mice. “BEGONE DEMON OF UNCANNY RESOLVE AND VIOLENT CHANCE – OUR FIELD IS PURE.”
Steve persisted: “I HEREBY DECLARE YOU ALL TO BE UNDER THE FEDERAL LEGISLATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THEREFORE GRANTED THE WILLFUL OR UNWILLFUL CHOICE TO BECOME PERPETUAL HOSTAGES IN ORDER TO BETTER SERVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND THE CONTROLLING OVERCLASS OF WEALTHY INVESTORS, IN THE NAME OF GOD AND WEALTHY OVERCLASS AND INVESTMENT AND SELF-JUSTIFIABLE IMPERIALISM FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHOSEN ONES!!!”
Goldang, thought Steve inside his skull, at the spontaneous resurfacing in its entirety of a classic agency declaration, my mem’ry ain’t half s’bad as what I thought.
Steve was given a jolt of hope in the form of a remembrance, feeling gusto and the sensation of zest. O yes, Steve was beginning to re-experience happiness, albeit an enslaved happiness, but the semblance and variety of which was unmistakable, in or out of freedom. Steve best understood instincts and feelings of a primal nature, the more base and irreducible the better, and this opening in the form of memory meant only one thing to Steve, and so he gathered his cells together, unconsciously, to deliver himself into the vault of post-2000 A.D. freedom, to find the elusive teat, to give himself multiple helpings of the munificent offerings, the grand steak dinner from the heavens. Yes, Steve would gorge himself baselessly and with great reptilian abandon for, he felt, when does one know when the last great meal will come. Steve was famous among the agency’s well-nourished operatives for taking advantage of a situation, for seizing the moment, for rising to the occasion, and for catapulting himself forward when opportunity arose. In short, for being resilient and resourceful and finishing what was on his plate.
Memory, yes, memory, meant one thing to Colonel Steve Austin: free will.
“FIELD MICE! YOU ARE ALL MY SLAVES!!!”
And the wind did howl in agreement, in celebration, of Steve’s lucid remembrances and deft actions and coarse declarations. Or so he thought.
The sunflowers and cattails and daffodils danced and bounced and leaned hither and there with the waves of wind coursing through the field, their perception of Colonel Steve Austin represented more symbolically than cognitively by a triggered flow of chemicals which indicated that escape was necessary in order for survival to continue to occur, that mass extermination was dangerously imminent. This information, this feeling, this mood, in turn, was passed on osmotically to the field mice, who lived in an intoxicatingly harmonious and loving balance with the vegetation of the field, which had established organic telechemical lines of communication with the mice thousands of years before, as a tacit acknowledgement of their mutual origins and the meaningful coincidence of their cohabitation on a ball of dirt gyrating at just the right speed and just the right temperature.
Steve Austin, Colonel Steve Austin of the United States of America, ran on and on in an attempt to escape this limitless field, to find a way out of this single-chamber labyrinth, this puzzlingly simple grid which defied his release. O! In the name of his sacred mission and the vengeance he planned to exact on anyone remotely attached to his perdition and defiling! In the name of guys with angles and big money riding! In the name of the president of the United States of America and the first lady and the Armed Forces and Fort Knox and the sanctity of the enterprising American corporations and fast food chains! In the name of liberty and swift punishment and capital punishment and ludicrously unnecessary punishment far and beyond what could ever be possibly admissible in a human environment!
Steve’s rampage in the field continued for another three years before he so shrewdly discovered he had been running in the same general direction and pattern, without guidance or assistance from headquarters or mission control. The field mice had conducted a hasty exodus, but the vegetation was still in the lengthy process of exo-transpollination migration in order to perform a similar feat. However, within the context of time, they had lost their race against the considerably and most certainly more inferior species – Colonel Steve Austin.
Steve removed a box of strike-anywhere matches from his utility belt, located (*FOR COLONEL AUSTIN’S EYES ONLY*), and began whistling the national anthem of the United States of America. Blessed is he, Steve thought, not quite in these words, blessed is he who sets himself free by his own cunning and own interpretation of the given environment. By way of a series of defecations Steve had performed during his years in the field, passing the fruits of the bountiful field through his dark, pestiferous bowels, Colonel Austin had accidentally become aware of the traces of his path. Normally, Steve ran right across his unholy droppings as if they were simply another species to jettison into extinction and oblivion, however, one month, as Steve’s offal became increasingly pungent and impossible to ignore, he became aware of some shit on his feet. Upon further investigation, the piles were found all along an elliptical course which brought him odorously back to the original pile. The shape of Colonel Steve Austin’s general direction and pattern, his path in the field, was a circle.
Beyond Steve’s myopic circle, over the horizon, loomed a path of black nondescript asphalt construction, painted decoratively with recurring yellow dashes and lines, which had been there all along. Surely, he thought, not quite in these words, surely this other more refined path must lead somewhere. And with that, Steve dropped the match and set the field ablaze, now equipped with a discovery, this new and painted path, unworthy of Colonel Steven J. Austin should he serve penance for one million years. Steve made a quick escape from his circular labyrinth and took flight from the field so portentously as to endanger all carbon-based life in the Cosmos.
Michael Reiss has been writing for 30 years and has also worked in the film industry. He lives in Rochester.