Imagine that you’re in a large field. Dust swirls around your ankles. Only an occasional weed interrupts the rocks and sands. Every step threatens to sprain your ankle. Rocky hills surround you on three sides.
And these hills have eyes.
You slowly look around the desert and white shards of light catch your eye. Reflections of the sun off lenses of cameras mounted on poles about every every 30 degrees around the perimeter of the field.
You’re being watched.
They gave you vague instructions. Not guidance or tips for travel, but warnings. “Don’t leave the safe zone.” “Stay in the perimeter.” They told you what not to do, but you have no idea what’s expected of you.
You feel smothered.
Before you is a creek. On the other side of the creek, the terrain is completely different. Green prairie grasses and wildflowers cover the ground. Lush trees dot the landscape. Birds float above the field, and squirrel chatter in the trees.
When you look across the creek into the field, you feel . . . freedom.
You start to walk toward the creek, but after only a dozen paces, a flash hits your eye. It’s the cameras. They’re watching you.
You stop for a moment and look around. No one. Nothing but rocks, dirt, and electric eyeballs.
You start again. You can hear your heartbeat. And your breathing. You feel sweat beads forming on your forehead and across the bridge of your nose.
You walk toward the water. Those vague warnings—those prohibitions—run over and over in your mind. Every step you take feels awkward and uncertain, as if the dusty, rocky ground my give way and leave you face to face with the entity that monitors those electric eyes.
But you keep going.
Your pace picks up a bit, because nothing’s happened. Yet.
The voice in your head subsides as get closer to the creek.
The water gurgles over rocks. You can see the water and the creek bed now. You can smell the fresh air from the field.
You’re jogging. You reach the edge of the creek and your heart sinks. The water is wider than you thought, and deeper. And faster. Very fast.
Crossing the creek will be risky. You’re not a bad swimmer, but it’s been awhile since you’ve forded a creek like this.
The warnings come back to mind. “It’s deeper than it looks.” “You’ll be washed away.” “The under tow will get you.” “Don’t swim after a meal.”
You turn around and look at the hills. The cameras seem closer to you now—as if the poles uprooted themselves and followed you while you focused on the creek.
But the birds sound so sweet. The water looks so refreshing and cool. The field so inviting.
What do you do?
You know you belong in the field, free from the spying eyes on the hill. They said the cameras protect you, but now they feel menacing.
You kneel to touch the water. It feels like ice.
You turn around and look at the cameras—closer still, and bigger than before. Or so they seem.
Your heart bangs away. You’re panting. Freedom is thirty yards away—if you make it.
You stand and take a deep breath. At once you smell wildflowers and dust.
“This is why I came,” you say, and step into the ice-cold water.
You hear a click behind, but you don’t look back. You step into the stream with high, careful steps and begin your escape from the protective custody of the barren, watchful field.
In a moment, you’ll be free.
If you make it, you’ll own your own life.