Home > Monthly Revisitation > Day One Hundred and Thirty-two: A New World [REDUX]

Day One Hundred and Thirty-two: A New World [REDUX]

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. This time I’m taking another look at A New World from Day 76, wherein a man comes back from some time in a mental hospital in order to deal with delusions of a fantasy world – only to realize that it was real. I didn’t make any radical changes to it, but just put in a few sentences here and there to fill in some cracks. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for a while, so I want to figure out how to do it well.

———————————————

Adam let the door swing open and stood on the front step, looking into his house. His sister had kept it in good shape for him while he was… away. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gone, though. A few months in the hospital, but the time before that was indistinct. Cloudy. He touched that space in his memory like it was a sprained ankle, a bone-deep bruise, and then left it alone.

He stepped inside and took a deep breath. The air smelled dry and flat, unused. He dropped his suitcase by the door, which he then shut and locked. The lights seemed too bright, but they were still working, so his sister must have been paying for the electricity. He felt bad, what she had been through. She didn’t have a lot of reason to be so kind to him, and they both knew it. There were too many years apart, too long between just a simple phone call and a chat. But when he asked why, she said, “Because you’re my brother. What else could I do?”

The water in the kitchen sink sputtered a little when he turned it on, but it came out cold and clear. He held his hands under it, letting it fill his palms and then wash away. For a moment, he felt something else. A stream. Snowmelt from high, impassable mountains. A woman, over his shoulder who made him smile.

He spun around, and there was no one there. The memory, too, clouded back over and he couldn’t quite remember what it was he had remembered. But it made him feel sad, whatever it was.

There was no food in the fridge, of course. It had been switched off and was disconcertingly warm when he stuck his hand inside to turn the dial and get the cold going again. There were probably menus somewhere, someplace he could order from. Even being away as long as he had, there would always be delivery menus. He went through a drawer under the phone until he found a bunch of menus from a Chinese place, Jade Hall. The menus, classic red-on-white printing, had a great sinuous dragon flowing across the top, and he found himself staring at it, unable to move, unable to look away. A voice came to him from the depths of his battered and broken memory, and it was terrifying. It resonated like a funeral bell the size of the world and held nothing but contempt for him and everyone else in creation.

“Very well, then,” he remembered it saying. “We are agreed.” There was a smell in the voice, like burning metal.

Adam felt a sudden pain in his arm, like someone had set a burning iron against it. He howled and grabbed at his sleeve, nearly tearing it off as he ran back to the sink to hold his arm under water. A sob broke through his teeth as he held his burned and mangled arm – and when he looked at it, the skin was clean and undamaged. The burning feeling was gone, along with the voice.

The fear settled into his stomach like a lump of iron. “No,” he said. “No, no.” He started walking around the kitchen, gripping at the sides of his head. “This is just what the doctors said would happen.” He was aware that he was talking to no one, but the silence of the house seemed worse. It seemed to be watching him, waiting to see what he would do next. “Oh, hell, damn, damn,” he said, slumping down on the kitchen floor with his hands over his eyes.

Doctor Greer had recommended against Adam leaving the hospital when he did. He called Adam into his clean, wood-paneled office and sat him down, and then looked at him with that weird, avuncular smile he had. “Adam,” he said. His beard gave his voice a gentle, muffled tone that probably went a long way towards calming his patients. “Adam, we want to help you, you know that?”

“Yes, Doctor Greer,” Adam said. He sat up straight and tried to push out a bright and cheerful voice from the back of his throat where it usually wanted to sit like a frog. “I know that. But I really feel like I’m better now.” Smile. This would be a good place for a smile. “I think I’m going to be okay.”

“And that is wonderful to hear, Adam.” Doctor Greer took up Adam’s file and looked it over, as if he hadn’t been treating the man for months. “No more intrusive fantasies? No more of those voices?”
Adam shook his head. “No, doctor,” he said, and it was true. He had gone a long time without flashing back to that strange reality he’d built for himself. Without thinking he had to get back. Greer said it was just an escape fantasy, that it was all brought on by stress. Work, with the cutbacks. His mother’s death. His marriage. Nothing was staying the way it was supposed to stay – stable, reliable, true. The bargain that he thought he had made with the world was breaking down, and the things that he had counted on were slipping through his fingers.

And so he had retreated, the doctors said. He had gone into his mind, into another world where things made sense. Where he could be the hero and impose order on the world and make it make sense. It was a fully-realized place in his mind, far better than the world he just happened to be born into.

He’d gone crazy, in other words. Nuts. Wacko. Or, in psychological parlance, “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.”

And, after a lot of therapy and a regular regimen of medication, Adam knew that they were right. They had to be. He’d gone off the deep end, lost his marbles, and when they found him in that field, laughing and crying at the same time, well, how else could you explain it? What other explanation could there possibly be? That he had gone to another world? That he had become some kind of fantasy hero, battling dragons and saving princesses?

It made no sense. It never had, and when he walked out of the hospital that morning, Adam was ready to face the real world, the true world. The only world that was really real.

“We are agreed,” that burning, horrible voice said again, and it made Adam cover his head and scream. It opened up cracks and fissures and gaps in his mind, and it let other things flow up out from between them. A great mansion gilded and perched atop a high mountain. A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed. Red skies and rains that burned, and great insects that flew and carried people off only to let them fall from the sky again. A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.

“It was all a dream,” Adam said. “It wasn’t real,” and he said it again and again and again, but he knew… In his heart he knew.

There was a stone, and that stone was a key.

There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.

There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep.

To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.

The truth and the loss hit Adam like thunder and he wept. He cried for a long time, curled up on the kitchen floor.

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