Never time passed with so little definition. Neither the present nor his memory had its usual edges. His days were as weeks, and his months were sometimes less. In that initial moment in which he was again self-aware, he knew nothing — which is to say, he was uncertain of everything. His mind, or his world (at first he wasn't sure), was all murk and distortion of sight and sound, thought and feeling: as though all were as speech underwater.
As Richard came a little more to himself, he found his body moving with intent in a room of masked dancers, one arm extended toward his partner. The dancers kept, what seemed to him, an unnatural distance from each other. The dance was a galliard, and the song melancholy, with repeated rounds like a chant — a melodious rhythm to which rose and fell the shoulders of the whole party in perfect time. The masks they wore, they wore uniformly: not a face could be seen without. Consistent too was the slight, unnerved feeling Richard had whenever he allowed his attention to remain too long on any mouth or eye in the crowd. Not that anything appeared to be wrong with them — on the contrary, they all looked superficially like happy mouths and merry eyes — but Richard had the peculiar sensation that they were somehow far away, and the longer he tried to focus on any one, the greater the feeling of distance. It was all a trick of lighting, he supposed, or of whatever drug he now began to think he had been given.
But how had he come to this now? He had a thought of taking his leave of the dance to collect himself, but there came to him a strong thought, almost solid, like a sound: “Once one has begun to dance, one ought never to stop before the music ends.” So he continued, but doubted the voice. The voice spoke within him, but didn't sound quite like his own voice, as if his conscience recalled not his own values, but those of another.
Disturbed, Richard began to introspect, fearing what he would find within the one dull brown memory of the indefinite, recent past. It was no black spot in his mind, no unconsciousness. It was, rather, a vague, blurry mixture of all the things he had apparently experienced, having taken on the accumulated color of all he had seen and thought and felt into one great intermingled stain. But no sooner had he concentrated his will upon the task than the dull brown thing began to divide itself, as white will divide when applied to a prism and reveal the many colors that coalesce to make it. Images and emotions, all in very strong color pulled away from each other and lined themselves up in a sequence — but whether the correct one, he could never afterwards discern.
The content of the images themselves were mostly rather plain, but his reactions to them were inordinately potent. None of this felt right. The queer idea occurred to him that the things in his mind were not rightfully his own. He did not like this at all. Neither his conscience nor his intuition could be quieted, though his memory and the associated emotions were struggling to muffle their cries. In another man they might have succeeded, but Richard was not unaccustomed to fighting himself and winning. He had been conscientious as a boy and had learned to listen to the voice that told him what was wrong to do or good to do, and thus he knew what it was to discern the tiny whisper of character despite the raucous tantrums of self-preservation, desire, or rage. He had long been consistent in telling the truth, even when it spoiled his plans or negatively affected his reputation. Of course, it is such little deeds of goodness which can alone reliably make one capable of great deeds of goodness. Richard's grandmother had once told him, “A real hero — not a warmonger, mind you — is made when a little boy is honest and peels the potatoes and stands up to a bully for another and sits with the neighbor when her cat dies.” Richard had taken these words to heart and was now was steeled against the battle for his will.
Upon a slight pause in the music, a second before the crescendo of the galliard, Richard perceived a quiet, muffled sob. And suddenly he whirled with a flash of memory and a bite of realization in his clearing mind. He saw at once that he was in the midst of a great, dangerous cult. He saw that some unnamed man had resisted, had taken to the brainwashing imperfectly, and was cursed therefore to endure his half-twisted mind alone in the prison for which the basement below this ballroom served. The only door was in sight and reach, but Richard knew at once that he could not now free the man from the prison, but neither could he put the man from his mind. He could not dance now; he could not laugh now — not while he was here and the outcast man there, apart. So he stopped: a pillar of will in a shifting tide. He stood with the weight of a great burden, but began a stride to the door. With each step his conscience assented its approval and his will grew more resolute. The weight grew lighter until at last the burden became his wings. With each false, grinning dancer he passed, his love for this humanity — his brothers and sisters — grew bolder until it could no longer be contained by decorum and broke its fences into a run. Removing his tie and disregarding all the stares and gasps of disbelief, he pulled open that horrible door before he could be stopped, and bounded down the stairs.
Richard sat on the floor next to the man who had only increased his sobbing since Richard's intrusion, and pulled his trembling brother to his chest, awaiting the man's freedom. Richard was already free.