"I'D REALLY HATE TO BURST YOUR BUBBLE", A short story by Kelly M Logue.

Sometimes the ocean lied to him.
It promised him things he did not have.
It spread out before him, tempting him with offers of escape and freedom.
But the ocean was not to be entirely trusted.
He watched the ocean, from the safety of the shore. He in turn was also watched. There was no escape, after all, from the all seeing eye of the Village. It was everywhere, invading his life. Of late, though, he hadn't been all that interesting. Number Six, for such was his name, had been the model of good behavior. It was the straight and narrow life from here on out. Perhaps the Village would grant him an early parole. He asked, and received permission to swim in the ocean as long as he stayed close to the rocks. But his new trustee status had taken a lot of the fight out of him. The more they trusted him, the less he resisted, but he was still on a leash, and they could pull him back anytime.
He jumped into the ocean planning to swim however long the distant it was back to civilization. It was a crazy idea, but in his mind he had never had a clearer thought. One his journey, not once did anyone stop him. He was going to make it. He heard something behind him. A roar? The waves only, he reassured himself. There it was again.
He turned back to the ocean. The waves welcomed him. He had no plot or plan. His actions were completely spontaneous. Sometimes, however, spontaneity could be a plan onto itself. No trouble yet. They must have seen him. How long before they responded? The swimming had done him some good. It had made him strong. Perhaps, he thought, there was still some fight left in him after all. He passed the rocks. Bubbling from the water, on cue it came. The plastic leviathan: Rover. It skimmed the surface of the water, a round shark searching out its prey. He wasn't surprised by much, but the Rover always caught him off guard. You couldn't fight with it. You couldn't reason with it. It was oblivion. He tried to dive down deep under the water. But his breath soon gave out, and he had to surface. And there it was, waiting for him. It pulled him in gently. Then it smothered him. The monster had swallowed him whole.
Trapped in its belly, he only had its voice to keep him company.
“CONFORM!” It whispered to him.
“DON’T RESIST!” It spoke.
“SLEEP!” It commanded.
He grasped desperately for breath. His eyes were the first things to fail him. They closed shut by themselves, and refused to open again. Darkness…darkness…darkness.
“Feeling better?” A voice asked.
His eyes flew open. His lungs filled with air. It was so bright, that he had to turn away. When he had adjusted to his environment, he began to assess his situation. The room he was in was completely white. It had no beginning and no ending. No entrances and no exits. It was door less and windowless.
“In the hospital in case you’re wondering,” a voice told him. It was an old voice, and a weary one. He looked in the direction of the voice and saw a man sitting in the corner of the room. His back turned.
“This does not look like a hospital to me.”
“It’s a part of the hospital. Where they put people who are sick,” the old man said, tapping his head, “Up here.”
“You can label me mad if you wish but it will do you little good.”
“Do you hear me,” he screamed at the top of his lungs, “You won’t break me! I won’t crack!”
“Hear now, settle down” the old man said attempting to calm him “They hear you scream like that, they’ll think you really are crazy and never let you out.”
“I don’t care what they think.”
“Listen carefully,” said the old man, “You are not playing the game right.”
“And how should I play it!” His anger was getting the best of him.
“Like chess,” answered the old man calmly. “There are only two kinds of players that matter: Kings and Pawns.”
“And how do I fit in the scheme of things?” He asked. His head throbbed, and he couldn't think straight.
“Not as a king,” the old man said to himself.
“The best way to get out is to fool them,” the old man continued, “To play their game. Let them think they have broken you. Trust me it’s the best way.”
“Trust you? One of the wardens?”
“You think I’m one of them?” The old man chuckled under his breath, “But don’t you understand? I’m no one. I have no name or number. I’m a non-person. I'm a figment of your imagination.”
“You don’t exist?”
“Not to them. Only to you.”
“How long have you been here?”
“As long as you have,” the old man answered.
Number Six staggered forward. He reached out to grab the old man's shoulder. But his strength suddenly left him.
“I feel strange?”
“Then it is good you are in a hospital,” the old man replied.
“What did they do to me,” the darkness was spreading over him again, “Drugs?”
“I guess you’ll never know,” were the old man’s last words.

He woke up in his private cottage. His head throbbed, robbing him of a few moments of precious lucidity. He thought he heard the automatic door open. It did.
“Hello,” he heard a sweet voice call out to him. “Oh there you are. Really Number Six you are going to sleep your life away.”
The woman came into focus. She had a kind face, and was pretty despite her white hair. But appearances can be deceiving. She carried a covered tray.
“Come on now, I've brought you some refreshment.”
She placed the tray on the table.
He stood, and miraculously his head began to clear.
She smiled at him, over her shoulder, as he drew near.
It was then that a trick of the light, revealed the badge she wore. The number 2 caught in the spoke of a bicycle wheel.
“So you’re the new sheriff in these parts, eh.”
“Ah, you have found me out,” she blushed and covered the badge with a hand. “Well I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.”
“Shouldn't we be meeting at the green dome,” Number Six began, adding, “exchanging veiled threats.”
“Oh, goodness no,” she replied, smiling again, “What purpose would that serve.”
“Here,” she said, lifting the cover of the tray. Underneath was a plate of cookies. “I baked them myself.”
“I suppose the secret ingredient is Sodium Pentothal” Number Six said, smiling.
“Oh you,” she replied playfully, “Always so quick to judge. It's a bad habit, you know.”
“So what's in them,” he said taking one in his hand and holding it up to the light.
“Only a few a mood enhancers,” she said innocently, “Trust me, they'll make you feel better.”
“I'll pass,” he replied good naturally. He placed the cookie back on the plate. She took it up.
“You break an old woman's heart,” she answered, taking a bite out of the cookie.
“Well,” she began getting up to leave, “I'll leave you to your business, then.”
“Really,” he said genuinely surprised.
“Oh honestly Number Six,” she replied, with a note of frustration in her voice. “Do you think you're my sole responsibility in the Village. I have other duties beside you, you know.”
Now they were at the automatic door. It opened as they approached.
“I supposed those duties are classified hush-hush.” He began half jokingly.
“Nonsense.” She replied, cutting him off before he could say anything further. “As a matter of fact, I have some work to do at the library.”
She turned, and looked up at him. “Care to join me?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I rather think I will.”
It was a beautiful afternoon: at first. But the illusion was shattered as they passed a monstrous statue. The statue had the body of a large lion, but covering its face was a hideous theatrical mask, that grinned insanely up at them.
“Rather frightening, isn't it?” Number Two said in disgust. “A gift from my predecessor. I think it was his revenge for being replaced.”
She was silent for a moment. Then, with a grin of her own, she added: “I could have it removed. All it would take is for you to tell me why you resigned.”
And there it was the thing that would always keep them apart. That would stand in their way.
“Do you really want to know,” he asked sarcastically.
She shook her head. “To be honest, I really don't care.”
“I suppose you'll just have to put up with it then,” he answered seriously.
She sighed. “Yes I suppose we will. You really are quite stubborn.”
They moved on, and were soon at the library.
“Feel free to look around,” she said, “I have some work to do, but shouldn't be too long.”
And so, Number Six was left to his own devices. At first he was cautious. It was after all his nature to expect danger lurking in ever corner. This was made doubly so by his time in the Village: where danger really was lurking in every corner. But, he remained free from harm as he scanned the titles on the shelves, and gradually he lowered his defensives somewhat. There was nothing remarkable about the books. No titles that screamed “SECRET PLOT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD” or “VILLAGE SECRETS REVEALED”. Instead, the shelves were littered with the same old ordinary books that you could find in any library. A book of Shakespeare caught his interest. He opened the book, and found all the pages were blank. He took another book from a shelf, and again all the pages were blank. As was the third book he tried, and the fourth. All blank. All blank. The books were all just for show. All and all, he shouldn't have been surprised.
“What are you doing,” it was Number 2. She had caught him
“Just catching up on my reading,” he said through his teeth.
“Oh, I hope I didn't disturb you,” she answered.
“Just finishing up,” he replied, returning the books to the shelf.
“Oh good,” Number Two said, returning his smile. “Care to see what scheme I've been cooking up.”
“Lead the way.”
She led him to a large wooden desk, and took a book off of it.
“Have you read this,” she asked holding up the Holy Bible.
“I've glanced at it.” He replied honestly.
“That's the problem, you see,” she said, “Everyone just glances at it. So I am working hard to make it more accessible for everyone. It is my passion in life”
She opened the book. “Look here. Here is a particularly troubling passage.” Snatching up a bottle of correction fluid she wiped it out. Then with a pen wrote something new. “There we are, now everyone can enjoy it.” She sighed, “But I fear there is still so much work to do.”
She put the book down, and smiled. “But that's enough for today.”
“Number Two...” Number Six began.
“Please call me Mary,” she said. He was taken aback. She was serious. “Please, it was the name I had before I came here.”
She pressed him further. “What about you? What did they call you before you came here?”
Number Six thought for a moment. “006.” He responded.
“A number for most your life.” She said.
“Yes,” he answered, sadly.
“Poor fellow,” she said sympathetic.
“I think I'll call you John,” she added brightly, “After the first man in the Bible.”
“Wasn't his name Adam?” He asked.
“Not any more,” she giggled girlishly.
She soon regained control of herself. “But now I really do have to leave you, one of those classified hush-hush things.”
She leaned in close, and whispered into Number Six ear, “But just between you and me, I have to attend some long and dreadfully dull meeting with the Ladies Auxiliary Committee. If you wanted to stage a little escape attempt, I think I could look the other way.”
Number Six smiled, “Sorry, I'm on my best behavior.” He had no desire to go another round with Rover any time soon.
“Oh well,” she sighed deeply. “I suppose I'm doomed to my fate. But keep what I said between you and me.”
“It will be our secret,” Number Six assured her. “Hand on the Bible.”
“Just a moment,” Number Two said, and disappeared behind a stack of books. She returned book in hand.
“You might enjoy this. It is one of our greatest successes.” She handed him the book. He examined the title: Shakespeare's The Tempest. “I think you'll approve of the changes we've made. I particularly like the new ending: Prospero stays on his island, embracing his full power.”
Number Six turned away from the book, and looked up in her direction. “I think I'd prefer The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“I'll see if I can dig one up.” She answered, earnestly.

He did not notice the night sneaking up on him. But it came, and soon he was in the dark.
“Hello Number Six,” said a bald headed man. Number Six recognized him as the gardener. Number Six gave him a silent salute and walked on.
“Hello Number Six,” in front of him, somehow, stood the bald headed gardener. This time Number Six did not respond, and began to walk down the path a little faster.
“Hello Number Six,” The gardener was in front of him again. Number Six, started to run.
“Hello Number Six,” but it did not matter. Each time, the gardener was in front of him.
“Hello Number Six, Hello Number Six, Hello Number Six...” again and again the gardener was always in front of him.
“Hello Number Six, Hello Number Six, HelloNumberSIx,” the words meshed together, the faster he ran. The Gardener grinned hideously. Number Six turned, and tried to get off the path. The ground underneath him fell away. He fell. He was now face to face with the Cheshire Cat. The cat laughed, and laughed, and laughed...
He woke up with a start. The Tempest fell to the floor. It had been a dream.
“Get him out of there!” A shout came from behind him. He turned his head. In the corner of the room, a man stood with his back turned. It was the man from the hospital.
“Get him out of there! Hurry!” Another shout came, but not from the old man in his cottage. The old man did not turn around. In his hand he held a syringe.
“We're losing him!” Another shout. The old man turned, and Number Six saw he was wearing the mask of the Cheshire Cat. To protect himself, Number Six raised an arm. The hideous grin was the last thing Number Six saw.
He woke up with a start. The Tempest fell to the floor. It was morning.
His anger cracked like thunder.
He raided the Green Dome, crashing through the gate in front, and forcing the metal door inside. There she sat all alone on her egg shaped throne: the Queen.
In his mind, he had put two and two together. Even though the conclusion he had come up with had no basis in fact: it certainly made sense to him. Number Two was behind this. Why? Because Number Two was responsible for everything that happened in the Village: even his bad dreams.
“Hello John,” she said pleasantly. “I see that you had a bad night.”
“What,” he snarled.
She nodded to the screen behind him. A clear image of his room was on full display.
“Always watching,” he growled.
“I have your best interests in heart,” she answered, trying to reason with him.
“So this is your plan now,” he lashed out, “to kill me with kindness.”
“Don’t be so cruel, not everyone is against you.” She cried, adding, “Some of us are trying to help you.”
“I don’t need any help,” he raged.
“You are a danger to yourself and others,” she replied softly.
“You’re insane.” He felt as if he were losing his mind.
“You don't understand, John,” she began. She looked at him. He could see the pity in her eyes: the sadness. The expression mirrored his own.
“You're my Number 1 concern,” but now her voice had changed, it was low, deep. Not her own, as if someone had dubbed it over. He was taken aback. Soon he regained his composure.
“I knew it. You're just like all the rest.” He snapped, and stormed out.

He waited for some retaliation. But none came. Never the less he was on his guard. There was no sleep that night. They would not catch him when he was vulnerable. His anger got him through most of the night. By morning a weariness overcame him. He couldn't keep this up. He wished, hoped, that they would do something, anything to get it over with. His hopes were crushed that night.
At day break there was a knock on his door. He did not move to answer. This was the moment he had been waiting for. The knock came again. He was ready. He flung the door open, ready for a fight. Instead, he saw Number 2 looking up at him, helplessly. She held a basket in her hands.
“What do you want,” he said furious.
“I think you know,” she said smiling.
“You won't get it,” he answered.
“By hook or by crook, I will” she said lightly. She was silent for a moment. She looked down in shame, the smile dropped from her face. “I'm sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about,” he said through his teeth. A mocking grin spread across his face, “You're just following orders.”
“You have me all figured out,” she said quietly. “But you're here, and I'm here, so we might as well get used to it.”
“I don't plan on being here for very long,” he said. He tried to be sarcastic, but his heart wasn't in it. He no longer grinned.
“You think you can stay long enough to join me on a picnic,” she asked brightly, and then held up the basket.
“All right I'll bite,” he said. You might as well give in. Play the game. It will pass the time. And that's the most important thing, when you're a prisoner: trying to find ways to past the time. Otherwise you go mad.
“I knew you would come around to my side, eventually.” She said with a wink. “And if you still have your doubts. Just think, at least now you can keep an eye on me.”
“A nice change of pace,” he replied, and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Your Monte Cristo,” she said handing him a package from the basket. It was book wrapped up like a sandwich. “I hope you like it.”
“In its original flavor I hope,” He said skimming the book.
“Of course,” she answered, “Only the best, for my favorite customer.”
He did not respond. They were silent. Both watched the waves. He turned to look on her. Despite the warm weather, she wore a heavy blue coat, and a long scarf wrapped around her neck like a noose. The badges of her office he realized. But then he was able to look past her office and see the woman underneath. She was pretty, and he had to admit he enjoyed spending time with her. With her, he could let down his defensives (well slightly). He felt he could tell her all his secrets. He leaned in close to steal a kiss. But then she had to go and spoil the illusion.

“If you were to escape where would you go?” She asked.
“Anywhere, as long as it was not here.” He answered.
“Then you're a fool,” she stated. “You don't understand.”
“I understand that I'm being held here against my will,” he replied.
“No. You don't understand the prison that you are in.” She began.
“I understand enough, to know I don't like it.” He interrupted.
“The Village isn't just this one place. It's everywhere. It doesn't matter where you go,” she explained.
He listened.
“You can't always see it,” she continued, “But it's there, hiding in the background.”
And then he thought. She was right. What kind of government would need someone like him if it were truly free? How many times had he tortured someone to gather some trivial bit of information? How many times had he deceived someone to gather that vital clue to complete his mission? How many times had he knowingly sent someone to their death, just so his side could win? In his old life he had been encourage to kill, maim, and destroy. And had been given a clear license, by his own government, to do just that. He really was no better than his captors.
“Personally,” she said intruding on his thoughts, “I like it here. At least here, the Village is out in open, where I can keep an eye on it.”
“We all have things we try to keep hidden,” he said.
“And it's those things we keep hidden that allow the Village to grow,” she answered, correcting him.
“You're right,” he began, “And there is something I need to tell you if I'm every going to be free.”
He took a deep breath, and held it. She waited patiently. It would be so easy, and he wanted to tell her. But it was a secret that had been with him so long, that he just didn't want to let it go. It was something from his old life. It was a part of him. It made him, who he was. Then all his breath was sucked out of him.
“What are you doing here?” He said it more to himself, than anyone in particular.
“John?” She said, but he did not turn to look in her direction.
In front of him, now, as if it had risen from the sand, was the Cheshire Cat. It grinned at him, mocking him.
“Don't look, John.” She said. He could hear the desperation in her voice. She said it again. “Don't look.”
But he couldn't help himself. In open defiance, he continued to stare at the Cheshire Cat. It in turn, stared at him.
“John...” she said, but her voice was distant.
It was just him, and the cat now. He had shut her out. They continued to stare at one another, neither one giving to the other. Number Six was the first to break. He reached out to grab the mask, to rip it off. To rob the Cheshire Cat of it's power. His hand reached out, and was caught in a sheet of plastic. He tried to pull back, but the plastic bubble was all around him now. It eve loped him. It smothered him. It swallowed him. ROVER.
He saw Number Two then. Full of pity, she looked at him.
“Oh, John...why?”
Before he could answer, his world was snuffed out. He plunged into darkness.

“Get him out of there!”
It was the first voice he heard, and it was a shout.
“Get him out of there!”
Came the shout again.
“Damn cumbersome machine! It's going to kill him if we don't hurry!”
He felt himself being lifted, and set gently on a hard surface. Air filled his lungs, and he could breathe. But he could not see. It was still dark.
“Feeling better?” It was an old man's voice. His eyes were starting to clear.
“Are you feeling better?” the voice asked again. And now he could make out the shape of man of standing over him.
It had all been a dream, of course that was all it could be. An illusion of life created in a plastic bubble, as it smothered him to death.
“The stuff that dreams are made of,” he managed to croak.
“What's that Number Six,” said the man leaning in.
“Are you a figment of my imagination?” Number Six asked.
“No.” The old man said coming into focus. Number Six could see his heavy blue coat, and the scarf that hung from his neck: the badges of his office.
“I think we're indulged your fantasies long enough, Number Six.” The old man said. “Now, let’s get down to business. Shall we?”
“Why did you resign!” The old man began
“Why did you resign!” He continued leaning in close.
“WHY DID YOU RESIGN!” The old man screamed in his face.
Number Six stole a glance at Rover. Then back again to the old man. And somewhere, deep inside of him, Number Six could hear the sound of an iron door slamming shut.