Dream Diary: Mall ExerciseMarch 14, 2013 at 4:37 AM
I’m a soldier participating in a relatively new psychological warfare test that had rapidly become a modern field standard. I’m standing on the ground floor of an empty indoor three-story mall. There are escalators and shop fronts, walkways with glass and metal railings. I can’t tell if it’s day or night, but the mall is reasonably well-lit.
I’m not alone here; there are no shoppers present, but a handful of other soldiers ready themselves, each in their own corner of the mall. I look up at a few of the shops around me, all closed. In a few places, there are large white dropcloths covering large cubic display cases. They sit in the wide aisles of the mall, where one might expect to see one of those booths where they sell cellphone covers and novelty flying toys.
I understand the test with that knowledge that a dream imparts to you. The test would begin and the cloths would drop, revealing what’s in the cases: a 1:1 sized Native American doll, with long, dyed cornsilk hair in a traditional white dress. The dolls would be about four feet tall, propped up on a metal stand; not moving, or even particularly frightening to look at. The entire point of the exercise was the buildup to the exercise.
Despite this knowledge, I know how difficult the test will be. Intellectually, I know that all any of us has to do to pass the test is get to the mall exit. That’s all. I can tell that the other soldiers aren’t afraid, but I honestly am and I’m not sure why. The figures under the glass aren’t alive; they’re just large dolls. They can’t move. They can’t do anything.
A loudspeaker counts down. Once it hits zero, the cloths drop off the glass cases and reveal what I already knew would be there. I make my way past the first doll with some difficulty, and I try to steel myself for the next one around the corner, knowing precisely how the test works but not my reaction to it: the proctors have moved one of the dolls outside of its case, so that it’s actually standing alone down there at the mouth of the long corridor. I now have to walk past it.
The other soldiers move to the exit with no difficulty whatsoever. After all, the dolls aren’t even doing anything. I then realize that this isn’t a test for the others — it’s a test for me. But it doesn’t matter that I understand; it only matters that I cannot complete the test, huddled in the fetal position, at the mouth of the long corridor.