The myths associated with Narcissus appear in an early eighth-century Homeric Hymn and in Ovid’s narrative poem “Metamorphoses”; the latter unravels as a story of a beautiful youth who falls in love with his own likeness reflected on the surface of a pond and perishes whilst trying to get up close and personal with it. Here, it has been contemporized and retold. The author has taken the fundamental concepts of the myth and infused them into a modern-day narrative.
Unable to keep his exhaustion at bay, he fell asleep on the floor. There was a prolonged darkness for a while, as if he were a spiralling galaxy in space, and then the vivid dreams unfolded like white lilies in a watery film of unconsciousness. In one, he was charging through a meadow, trying to evade an assailant whose footfalls were as loud as summertime thunderbolts. Then time stopped and the dream melded into another in which he was kneeling over a lake, trying desperately to discern his own physical features. Before the nebulous reflection began to differentiate, he was sucked out of the dream by an invisible hand and spat back into mind space.
The nightmares, themselves dispersed amongst the sinister visions, were worse than they’d ever been. In one he stumbled through a hospital mortuary, trying desperately to find the exit as a host of eyeless corpses broke out from their refrigeration chambers. They were all duplicates of his last victim; despite their empty eye sockets, they knew exactly where he was, stumbling towards the shadowy corner in which he was now crouched whilst calling his name out loud. A sinewy hand suddenly appeared out of nowhere, curling tightly around his leg.
He awoke to the sound of his own garbled cries, saturated in his own sweat. It was pitch dark and it terrified him. Despite the fact that darkness was quite indigenous to his state of being, he had not grown accustomed to it. He scampered to his feet, trying to defog the mental inertia and orientate himself. Suddenly, he remembered.
Some time ago he’d been assigned a major task by the faceless men. His most recent mission had been to dispose of an intellectual nuisance, a man whose research was irreconcilable with their long-term plans. That’s what they told him. To his detriment they forgot to mention that the scientist didn’t live alone. Without the aid of a firearm, the hand-to-hand combat fated to transpire was decidedly not to his advantage. He managed to escape unscathed, albeit without fulfilling his duty. The punishment for failure to appease the faceless men was time in the Magic Room.
He knew exactly what that meant, for he had been in there countless times before for not conforming to collective will. Nothing in the Magic Room felt right or natural; everything was random. Sometimes it was abyssal, as dark as night, and at other times the lights were excruciatingly bright. Sometimes the hidden speakers would belt out cacophonous, high-pitched noises, at other times threatening whispers, and at other times still the screams of men, women and children being beheaded. Everything was translucent which made shuffling around a rather hazardous affair. Films and videos were played on a projector in reverse, animals and insects released into the room at random, and variant drugs were slipped into anomalous-looking, unconventionally-tasting meals which spurred hallucinations, hyperactivity, languor, or deep sleep. Sometimes he awoke gagged and tied to an inclined bed and sometimes he was woken by ice water being poured over his head. Human limbs would jut out through the walls quite suddenly and then retract again. People would appear in the room and disappear, pausing only for a brief moment as to ask irrational questions. In short, the Magic Room was a mental hell of psychic-bending lava.
“Narcissus?” boomed a robotic voice from a speaker. “Are you awake now Narcissus?”
“Do you know why I put you in here Narcissus?”
“For not being as I should,” he said. “For not thinking and acting in the manner that you instructed.”
“Your aim is to kill,” said the rasping, mechanical voice. “You must execute no matter what the consequences are. Your masters will describe details of the scene to the best of their ability, but there is always that chance that things will be different. You must become more versatile as to accommodate for that, you understand?”
“Why did you try to kill yourself yesterday?” asked the female automaton.
“But I didn’t.”
“Oh, but you did Narcissus. You forget that I am the all-seeing eye and that nothing escapes me. Last night after your last meal you tried to hang yourself with a coat hanger from the back of the circular doorway.”
“No I didn’t.”
“You might try feeling around your neck…”
He pressed the palms of his hands up against his neck. It felt sore and tender in some spots. Strangely, he had never harboured any thoughts of suicide and had no memory of enacting such a stunt.
“See? Mother sees everything…”
“So why did you do it?”
After a brief pause he said, “Because I’m scared of the darkness, terrified of it.”
“The darkness and the pain will all go away if you do exactly as you’re told.”
“Thank you mother.”
“The Magic Room becomes kind to he who listens,” said the robotic voice tauntingly.
“Now, take a few steps forward until I tell you to stop.”
He hesitated, listening for any commotion around him before taking a wary step forward with his right. Then another with his left. Then another with his right.
“Stop right there!”
Narcissus flinched as something pricked his naked shoulder, but he didn’t dare swat it away. It felt like the sting of a needle. For a brief second he contained a build-up of rumbling tension by holding his breath in, unsure of what might transpire next. He squeezed his eyes tightly and opened them again, wishing that the darkness would just go away. Then two pairs of arms were upon him; cold brittle steel snapped around his wrists and a very thick elastic band was wrapped tightly around his head and eyes to constrict his vision. One of the hands accidentally brushed against his genitals, inciting a nervous twitch. Realising that the punishment was over, he expelled the tension through his nostrils.
“Let’s go big boy,” said a male voice brusquely. “You’ve escaped the furnace yet again.”
The hands of both his escorts were glued to his back and arms as they walked along the corridor. It was rather disquieting to walk in complete silence, something that Narcissus was compelled to do frequently. Their relative size enabled him to estimate their physiognomy; without a doubt, they were nowhere near his size and stature.
“What do you think the authorities will do if they ever find out about the activities of Egregor Laboratories?” one of them asked.
“Shhh!” exclaimed the other. “Not in front of him Rosie.”
“We’re safe, he doesn’t understand a thing. He’s just a puppet.”
“Things might get out.”
“Trust me, they won’t Allan,” said the bold one named Rosie. “Why do you suppose they called him Narcissus?"
“Beats me,” said the one called Allan. “Isn’t that the boy from the Greek myth? You know, the one who fell in love with himself.”
“Oh yes, I remember it now,” said Rosie. “I took classics as a semester-long subject when I was at university. Narcissus was a highlight. I can see how the myth might apply here and what could happen if we get careless with set procedure, but we shouldn’t forget that the real Narcissus was human.”
“This one’s not exactly a robot Rosie; far from it in fact.”
“Well, anyone who sees him knows that he’s different. And if they don’t see it they’ll hear it, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” said Allan. “It’s not really a voice that you can imitate, is it?”
“Not at all,” said Rosie. “Not unless you were unlucky enough to be born with a deformed voice box. The powers-that-be call him a homunculus.”
“Appropriate for a human forgery.”
Narcissus could hear the jostling of keys as they shuffled to a halt. The familiar sound of an unlatching lock calmed him further; soon, the large circular steel door leading to his room swung open and he was nudged along.
“Home sweet home,” said Allan.
“Home sweet boring home,” said Rosie. “Here, take this.”
Something bumped against Narcissus’s hand.
“What are you giving him there?” asked Allan.
“Just something for him to play with and pass the time,” said Rosie. “No harm could ever come of it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
His escorts swiftly relieved him of his temporary shackles and before long he was alone again in the somnolent darkness. Narcissus cleared a space in the rubble and sat cross-legged on the ground, fumbling with the plastic device he’d been gifted whilst rummaging through his personal memories. Long ago, the Great Mother had told him that he wasn’t quite like anyone else on the planet; he had no physical father or mother because he was a son of God that had been magically teleported to the Earth at the moment of his birth to weed out and destroy all who opposed His Word. If he was indeed different from humans, as the Rosie-human and the Allan-human had intimated, then were humans also children of God? Or were they the spawn of the Devil cleverly disguised as divine beings for the sake of misleading and corrupting him? But why would they employ him to annihilate evil unless they themselves were good? Had they been lying to him all along? Had they lied to him about his origins? What about their true identity, purpose, and the nature of the world at large? What was the magnitude of their treachery? Were they little white lies or earth-shattering ones full of venomous acid? Was his name really Narcissus? What was he exactly? The incongruities comprising what he recognized to be fact didn’t really harmonise with the coherence that spells truth; some of them, if not all, must be lies. Nothing made any sense otherwise.
Troubled by this insurmountable riddle, Narcissus remained oblivious of the magnificent beam of light that emanated from the plastic tube and cut through the fabric of darkness each time he applied firm pressure to one side of it. The newfound phenomenon startled him, until his light-sensitive eyes became accustomed to its fiery glow. He waved it vigorously around the empty room like a talisman, revealing a horde of hitherto unseen paraphernalia: broken bits of furniture, including chairs, wardrobes and tables; a rusting sink cluttered by an assortment of plates and cutlery; a few dilapidated wooden shelves filled with bags of chemical powders, acids, drugs, and other tinctures; and a silvery, phosphorescent looking glass that suffused the entire wall.
Narcissus was instantly drawn to the looking glass, for he had never seen anything quite like it. He scurried right up to its reflective surface, pointing the beaming circular device down at his feet. The light revealed two powerfully built and chiselled legs. He changed the trajectory, moving it upwards to reveal a flaccid penis couched amidst a thick nest of black hairs. The sight of it excited him beyond reckoning; blood began to pump, transforming it into a purpled, angry-looking implement ready to spit its venom like a cobra on the attack. Narcissus surged forward and pressed himself onto the cold surface of the glass, grinding and rotating his pelvis against it so that his own manhood tussled with the other. When he stepped back, the being in the looking glass stepped back too. He let the light course further up to six convex-shaped plates and two powerful nipple-crowned mounds that were the masculine being’s chest, and further up still to the delicate contours of his face.
For a while Narcissus just stared into the glass, transfixed by the two turquoise orbs that sucked him through the dark veil of physical appearances and into a psychedelic, multi-themed circus of mystical being. He was at once the young blooming sunflower, sentient enough to form innocent, intuitive perceptions but not yet mature enough to understand the external forces at work in the cosmos. Time jarred and everything around him fell away like shards of a broken mirror; he savoured the dark ridges around the patrician nose, the almond-shaped eyes and the bulbous lips, the chiselled jawline, and the crème-coloured skin. Each was a dreamy experience in its own right, a primal act of love and coming-to-be. When he smiled, the supernal being in the looking glass smiled back. He pointed a finger at the being, and the being pointed back. When he pouted and planted a kiss on the cold, brittle surface of the glass, the being on the other side reciprocated. He squirmed and writhed against it, probing the glass with his tongue; so did the being on the other side.
Narcissus pulled back from his like-minded friend, intending to speak. But the being in the looking glass spoke first:
“How will we ever get out of this place?”
Startled by the unexpected turn of events, Narcissus pressed the nose of the plastic device directly onto the glass and tried to discern whether anything or anyone else lay beyond it. To his surprise, rows of many glasses suddenly became visible. All were all attached to rooms shaped to look like rectangular prisms and subsisted an equal distance from one another. Moreover, each confined a separate being and all beings were identical. The revelation lifted a tonne of weight from his broad shoulders; it made the looking glass blur.
Narcissus winked, and the others winked back approvingly.
He wasn’t alone anymore.