By Yannick Hill

An epic novel about identity in the internet age

Monday, 2 March 2015

Inside Versailles #4: Room 84

Like shuffle mode for your music. Every time Casey enters this room it is a different experience. An incredible team of artists and technicians collaborating on the ultimate art form: life.

Every month they are given this space to work with and an organic budget. Sometimes the event will be very elaborate in nature, requiring long hours of preparation and the kind of ad hoc inventiveness only found on big studio film sets at the 11th hour of shooting. Other times the team comes up with a very simple concept: Lean, yet poetic. Minimalist, but effective. The last one, for example, turned out perfect. The boss seemed real happy which makes the team happy. They love their jobs, the creativity involved, the pressure, balanced with the relative freedom. No studio executives breathing down their necks. But anyway the last event: a real success story.

Here’s the set up: A generous lawn of gleaming green grass. An almost imperceptible slope up towards the house, a white regency mansion nestled somewhere in the English countryside. Only the very tops of the trees are moving in the light summer breeze. The 8K screens depicting everything beyond the edge of the lawn render the scene utterly lifelike, an upgrade from reality if anything. And now the scenario as it played out: Casey must lie down in the middle of the lawn and wait. He has been briefed in advance about what is going to happen, but unlike most events taking place in Room 84, this one does not have a fixed narrative structure. It is up to Casey to make it work. And his task is this: tame a wild animal.

A white rabbit enters the space via a hatch concealed somewhere in the artificial horizon. Casey is lying on his back on the grass. It takes some time before he can see movement in his peripheral vision. The rabbit is very scared. It spends the first 20 minutes of the event jumping up at the screens making up the walls of the room, unable to reconcile the truth of these images with their impossibility. The team – huddled around a monitor in a separate annex – think this thing isn’t going to go their way. The rabbit is too frightened, they whisper. There’s no way this is going to work. They had a professional hunter shoot to maim this poor little creature in the woods outside the city a few days ago. There’s no way. This rabbit’s just too crazy, too far gone — But then something changes in the rabbit’s behavior. Its spasmodic efforts to penetrate Room 84’s four invisible walls have left it somewhat exhausted so it has switched to hopping about at the fringes of the lawn and occasionally stopping to nibble at the greenery. For one of the team behind this event has thought to include some delicious dandelions in the spectrum of flora allocated to the experiment.

Yes, the rabbit likes dandelions very much. Casey continues to lie on his back as instructed, barely moving a muscle. Once in a while he will tilt his head to the side a fraction, just so he can get a better look at the little creature, its circles around the room growing gradually smaller. The team can’t believe it. There’s no way the rabbit hasn’t clocked the boss, and yet here it is, getting ever closer. Hop-hop – dandelion – up on its hind legs for a quick look around, and then down again – more dandelion –hop-hop-hop – grass. The team are leaning closer to the monitor, they can’t believe this is really happening. Hop-hop – dandelion – more dandelion – hop-hop. Casey turns his head and the rabbit is no more than four feet from his head. He watches as the last of the dandelion disappears in its little mouth, a flash of its pink tongue. He never thought of rabbits having a tongue.

And then the moment. In the wrap party afterwards they still can’t believe how it happened, but it did. The rabbit turns and hops towards Casey’s shoes. It just stands there for a few seconds, apparently forgetting what it was doing. Then it turns again and hops right up on Casey’s stomach. He’s quite ticklish so it takes a tremendous effort not to burst out laughing but Casey manages, lifting his head so that he can get a better look at this thing. Hello little buddy, he says softly. The rabbit’s ears prick up momentarily, but it doesn’t seem too worried. Next thing it is doing that thing where it washes its face with its front paws and the team in the annex cheer and pump the air with their fists like someone just scored a touchdown.

Casey cannot resist. He reaches out with hand, slowly so as not to frighten the little fella, but that’s exactly what he does. The moment the rabbit sees the hand coming towards him he leaps away and fairly quickly resumes his dandelion routine, albeit in ever-increasing circles this time. But the event has been a success, and that night Casey kisses Synthea on her neck as she sleeps. She wakes to his kiss but will never know why.


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