Cathryn Virginia

Rapid Enlightenment Machine

If a machine could help get you up to speed with the times, so to speak, would you climb in?

I know I say this with some regularity, but when I do, it's always true—the less I give away about this surreal, sticky, and slyly poignant story, the better. Trust me. Enjoy. -the Ed

It’s as man-eating as an MRI scanner, except that it’s skinned like a colossal, yawning worm. Oddly, the plywood has been expeditiously hammered from the other room, so it looks as if the worm has busted in of its own accord. Popped and pulsing purple veins run its entire length, from the first fleshy segment on.


Evie says that the worm relieves stress and relaxes the muscles. It boosts immunity and is a boon to sufferers of psychosomatic pains. Crawl into its belly to gain clarity of thought, to see the wood for the trees.

“It’s basically a sensory deprivation tank,” says Evie cheerfully. You think she means to reassure you, but your last sensory deprivation experience didn’t exactly fly. A mate had promised you swirling fractals, guitar riffs and enlightenment.

During your confinement, you spent 60 minutes feeling your neck and shoulders cramp, all while listening intimately to the sounds of distant splashing. Your mind wandered, but you wondered if you should have spent that $60 on a dinner for two from that same voucher website. Then afterwards you neglected to wash out the Epsom salts from your scalp and got heat stroke from walking home as your brain pickled.

“I call it REM-my. My Rapid Enlightenment Machine,” Evie proudly declares.

You snort.

You climb into the cavern, and jolt away from the ceiling as the serrated edge below its lip rakes your hair. Your palms and knees sink slowly -- Evie has taken the initiative to line the bed with latex and a pink microfibre cover that increases surface area. You roll onto your back and streamline your body for its oesophagus.

The moment you’re settled, the mouth shuts accompanied by a frantic beeping like one of those hypersensitive car reversal radar systems. You sit up so fast you scrape your head against the mucous-membrane roof.


“That tickles,” says something in the pitch black. Its sound is pinched, as if its vocal data were compressed and sent via low bandwidth pipes.

“Who’s there?”

“This is great,” it says, disregarding your question. Its pitch climbs another octave excitedly: “I can be at multiple places at once.” Then, in double-time, it asks, “You want the red pill or the blue pill?”


Slower: “The apple or the orange?”

“I- Ah… apple?”

You lie back down.

Nothing visual, but you get something more than what you had hoped for the first time you lay in that sensory deprivation tank. Sibilant whispers from the ones you love. Soft hissing simultaneously in a pit. But like a strange version of the cocktail party syndrome, the threads of thoughts sort themselves in sequence, rising in an orderly fashion.

Mother is thinking she might moan a little louder to speed this up; father is thinking nothing.

Mother thinks, “There goes my chances of making partner at the firm.”

Father is thinking, “A baby boy. Ha! Henry has two daughters because he's a pussy.”

Mother thinks -- between lapses into oblivion -- that this is 100 times worse than an IUD insertion, and 100,000 times worse than a pap smear…

You squirm. What’s this? You’re sticky. You’re saliva-infused… Bolus. The sneaky sheath allows you to move but binds you like a rubber band. You reach your arm overhead with difficulty. You knock your knuckles against the cervix.


“Stop that,” comes the squeak.

“Let me out.”

“But we’ve only just started.”

“Let me out of here!” You pummel your fists. You’d kick too, but you don’t want to get your socks even stickier. You’re going to need a shower and probably therapy after this.

“Alright,” the voice like a blip now, both everywhere and barely there at all.

As Evie takes your unsteady hands, she asks you how it was. To your surprise, you’re crying and all you can think of at this moment is how foolish you were for secretly thinking of the worm as phallic. You cry because you hate being wrong. You hate that you applied the wrong metaphors.

You quiver your finger at your cousin the way that Opa did when he said something like, You’d better treat your elders with respect or one day you’ll be sorry.

Evie nods seriously, as if she anticipated your anger and has seen it all before. Apparently the therapeutic process involves destroying your faith in humanity before building it up again. You don't believe her now, but it gets better.

“Come back again next week.”

“I’m never coming back.”

You slam the door, the way you did when you left your parents and their suffocating love this morning.

In the shower you cry as the hot water washes away the -- oh, it’s green -- sticky swaddling. You cry and you cry. Then you feel great when you emerge and towel yourself off. Then you tell all your mates about it, because of course you do.

You might just come back again next week, you say.