The Minefield

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He stood at the edge of the field trying, in vain, to recount in his head the exact course of events that had led him here. At what point in the conversation had they decided to leave the party? Whose idea was it to pile into the car and drive so far out of town? How had they found that narrow gap in the rusty, old security fence once they had arrived?

The others huddled together a safe distance behind him, as he contemplated his situation, offering their unsolicited and - probably completely unqualified - advice.

“Just go really fast.”
“Zig-zag”
“What good will zig-zagging do?”
“Take really long steps.”
“None of that will help, there’s way too many.”

They all fell silent as the kid took one, lunging step forward. ~Click. His heart pounded in his chest and the sound of his own panicked breathing filled his head. Nothing happened.

The mines had lain in that field more than a century, since the early days of applied entanglement. A quirk of the unrefined technology meant that a device could only be successfully charged with its unusual ammunition, if it existed in two opposing states simultaneously. It was armed and ready to deliver, yet at the same time primed and ready to receive.

‘Until it’s tripped,’ the kid thought. ‘Then the potential collapses to one, and there are only two possibilities: yes or no.’

He took another step - then another.

“You’re halfway there” one of the guys quipped, inciting suppressed and nervous laughter.

He was not. However, he was starting to wonder if he might get lucky and make it across the field unscathed. The mines were so old, maybe they didn’t even work anymore. Maybe there was no more terror left in them, just the anxiety churning in his gut.

Another step. ~Click. Agonizing dread and a sense of total helplessness struck him in a visceral onslaught. He lurched forward to the ground and choked back a sob, his whole body shaking.

“What happened?” They shouted to him. “Did you see anything?”

Sometimes people saw things, heard things, experienced phantom memories of real traumas, thoughts and internalized voices that came hurtling out of the past - from somewhere else, someone else. Those feelings could cripple you - desolate, hopeless, grief-stricken, horrors that the mine manufacturers had elicited from so-called “memory donors” to be weaponized. This last mine had not contained its original payload, but the field was a self-perpetuating form of psychological warfare. It had transferred to him a poorly defined, yet intense sense of panic, left behind by the last terrorized person to touch it.

He had a lurid sense of separation from his own body and his vision closed to a tunnel as he struggled to his feet with a primal drive to escape.

~Click. Now an acute sorrow overtook him - tragic memories untarnished. He wailed and collapsed again on the ground overcome with a deep, wrenching heartbreak. Thoughts throbbed in his head that ‘he let her go, could not save her, it was his fault, he was empty, her eyes were empty’... The aching in his chest drove straight through his back like an axe blade. She was his child.

He did not have a child, but the pain of her loss was unbelievable. The others weren’t snickering anymore. Someone called out, “You really are halfway now,” but the words were no consolation. He was spiraling into a vacuous darkness. He felt utterly alone and couldn’t imagine that anything would ever be okay again. Reality was collapsing into one, inescapably, dismal eternity, compelling him to curl up on the ground and surrender. He would not have been the first.

‘No,’ he thought, ‘Two possibilities... Not only this... Still potential...’

He continued blindly on his hands and knees. ~Click. A disconsonant stillness washed over him. He took a deep, shuddering breath and looked at the ground with serene clarity. He saw, in the moonlight, his hand pressed against the ground, fingers dirty and sticky with sweat. He was aware, too, of thoughts and feelings of grief, regret, doubt, fear, and anger. Though what had consumed and crippled him a moment ago, he now observed as though from a distance. The thoughts were not a part of him; they were something that happened to him - turbulent events passing like a storm. He discovered also, somewhere inside, a quiet.

He took an expansive breath of cool night air that filled him to his toes, and turned over to lie on his back. The assault of unwelcome memories and voices softened to whispers and evaporated into the vast, starry sky above him. He noticed the aching throughout his body and he let go of it, feeling unburdened, weightless, and liberated.

His friends huddled at the edge of the field, arguing.

“He’s down, man, we can’t help -”
“What?!
“We can’t just leave-”

Haltingly, the clamor subsided, as one by one they realized their presumed casualty was on his feet, looking blissfully dazed. Breathing deeply and steadily, he was filled with an almost intoxicating calm, and he began to walk back toward the boys, who watched him in bewilderment.

One more mine released its payload. ~Click. It was loaded with a searing rage. Whatever original memory might have explained the vitriol entangled within it was lost; blind anger was all that remained. A crushing tension spread through his shoulders and the back of his head. It gripped his body from the inside like the critical point of pressure preceding an eruption. But he pulled his awareness back and allowed it to pass. He exhaled fully, the rage faded and he felt at peace.

By the time the kid stepped clear of the field, he had seeded several more mines with his newfound state of empowered tranquility. A ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ were suspended in each, ‘Yet,’ he thought, ‘so much potential lie within just those two possibilities.’

About the Author: 
I knew I was a scientist by the time I was nine years old. Today I am a Medical Lab Scientist. I’m also intrigued by philosophies of myth and storytelling. Writing fiction is an enjoyable pass-time. Quantum science lies perfectly between science and imagination to satisfy both interests.