”Well of course it isn’t real, but reality is over-rated.”Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (blame Vonnegut)

Warning: Fictional Characters
Contained Herein Might Not Exist
by Nathan Witkin ©2014

If the foundation of one person's existence is threatened, it is called an existential crisis. If the foundation of the entire universe's existence is threatened, it is called three Tuesdays from now.

Disclaimer: If you skip ahead to the ending of this story to see if the universe is still here three Wednesdays from now, you may cease to exist.

Stay calm. Consider me to be your guide. I have come to you in the form a humorous story because it is a form that will best allow you to weather the coming onslaught of insanity, which would make the most grating confusion you have the capacity to imagine seem like eating comfort food in your mother's lap on Christmas morning.

For example, my true form is a tangle of pixilated celebrity-genitalia that is almost, but not entirely, congealed into the shape of a shrieking mouth, rotating between flapping bat ears that vomit headlines from conservative news tickers. But let's not get too sidetracked here.

Focus on Jacob. He looks like the first male figure that pops into your head.

Got a visual on him? Great.

Let me tell you about Jacob.

***

Jacob led a life that was incredibly boring, but not to the degree that his boringness was in any way interesting. If you ordered "Jacob's Life" as a flavor at an ice cream stand, it wouldn't taste like plain old vanilla. The flavor would be a shade off from tap water without holding your attention long enough to figure out what separated it from yogurt-textured nothingness.

The only "disorder" in Jacob's life might have been O.C.D. if a psychologist wouldn't have been bored to insanity by observing him. As a result, the retching voices were an ECT shock right to his once-serenely Buddhist temples.

These voices were the first thing telling Jacob that something was unusual. Not in what they told him but, rather, in the way they ebbed and flowed from nowhere in particular like gusts of ill-tempered wind.

While he could choose to ignore this broken-radio demon choir as it screeched a "Why Don't You Curl Up into the Useless Turd that You Are" pep rally, these same voices hissed their toxic whispers to other people as well, inhaling positive energy and belching senseless depression. And when Jacob told the recipients of these depraved messages that the voices were spewing lies, he was rudely rebuked despite his slobbering insistence.

The straw that sucked out the camel's brain was the miserable little girl. In what was almost his wife's voice when Jacob met her in the second grade, the little girl whined to Jacob's wife that he wasn't good enough for her and that she should bake him an arsenic soufflé. He was justifiably apprehensive when she had meds prescribed to him, and after crushing up the pills into her coffee, the results confirmed Jacob's suspicions.

So, long story in one sentence: Jacob narrowly escaped the Mongol horde that his wife assembled in their living room as an intervention, developed psychic abilities just in time to find out that his best friend was working with the government to brainwash his wife, did something that seemed merited by the situation, and the divorce papers were served on him in the type of hospital where the orderlies moonlight as bouncers and the doctors are practically sleeping with the pharmaceutical reps.

Even disregarding the voices performing an all-bagpipe death-metal opera about his parents copulating, things seemed pretty gloomy for Jacob. That is, until he met his Guide.

Jacob's Guide came to him in his first transition to clarity as a janitor with the body of a female centaur in heat (the animal half of which was constantly changing among farm animals less noble than a horse), stacked pizza boxes for hind legs, and no facial features other than two gaping, empty eye-sockets that each spoke in a separate voice when they blinked.

It introduced itself as, "Ahh-Eeeee-Ohh," a three-chord progression sung by the eyes, and Jacob immediately understood that this being came from a plane of existence in which individuals are named with unique musical patterns.

"Welcome to the awakened state, corporal one," the left eye sang, in a cherubic female voice.

"Indeed," chimed Right Eye, in a booming baritone, "You have been blessed with a presence on the physical plane and an awareness that surpasses its terrestrial limitations."

Through an upbeat duet, not unlike a Guys-and-Dolls musical number, the eyes described the eternal clash between the lethargic beings of infinite size who are responsible for Order and the rabid beings of infinite number who are responsible for Chaos and Entropy (referred to herein as "They" or "Them"). Ahh-Eeeee-Ohh danced clumsily with his janitor's mop as the eyes hit the chorus, explaining that the conflict between Order and Chaos brought forth the Moment of Creation and the persistent decay of the universe ever since.

"But what does this have to do with me?" Jacob cried out rhythmically, apparently playing his part as the eyes sang back-up melodies.

***

That was three-odd years ago, and oh, have those years been odd. While Jacob's new home appears to be an unassuming structure, built on the idea that fluorescent lighting and uncomfortable cots can silence the trans-dimensional propaganda broadcasted by the agents of Chaos, it has actually become an ad-hoc base of command for the forces of Order.

When Jacob and the other residents are not saving the world or solving its problems, they are occupied with scientific discovery, telepathic philosophical debate, and surfing the possibilities of quantum waves across the multiverse. They are too occupied, in fact, to wipe the thick teardrops of saliva dangling from their lower lips.

So, to describe where Jacob "is" three Tuesdays from now (potentially the last day anyone can conjugate the verb "to be"), he is slumped on one of the metal folding chairs arranged in a circle, which prop up other residents into a séance of seemingly medicated zombies.

Occupying an exact midpoint on the residents' social ladder, commensurate with his still-bland personality, Jacob is sitting between Goodwin and Katie. Goodwin is a troublemaker who bites unsuspecting orderlies and screams the wing awake most nights, and Katie never says anything but is always hovering around as if she were trying to drown out the awkwardness of her presence with the sheer amount of it. Perhaps to draw out a reaction, Evelyn, both the mentor and tormentor of the entire wing, often pokes fun at Katie by accusing her of hiding some secret. While Katie's silent psyche doesn't seem to be affected by this, Jacob had noticed that her physical body would hobble away with stifled sobs after these taunts.

On the topic of the their physical bodies, Jervis is the only resident of the eight in the circle who is animated, swatting at his skin and whimpering about spiders. Though bug-eyed paranoia seems to be a permanent stretched-mask byproduct of his sunken frailty, in this situation it is more than appropriate. Those spiders look vicious and haven't stopped skittering over his skin in waves since he fell to the legions of Chaos.

All around them, manifestations of Their forces ranging from the microscopic to the goliath swirl and siege, taking the forms of demons and nightmares that target the residents' personal fears in an attempt to overwhelm their minds. Meanwhile, Dr. Wahdijisay sits upright in his more comfortable chair and lectures politely, unaware of Sigmund Freud's poltergeist feather-whipping the three-dimensional, subconscious projection of his mother in the circle's center.

Not only do these perversions of decency and reality attack the residents, but they also attempt to feed off their mental energies to undo the physical laws and mathematical equations that serve as the building blocks of reality. So, as Their forces attempt to dismember every organized alignment of molecules until They are the only structures in existence (at which point They would certainly consume each other in a gleeful orgy of destruction), the residents are diligently fighting Them off.

Evelyn, who was a physics teacher before she achieved enlightenment during a prolonged divorce, is creating a psychic barrier to prevent these creatures from feeding on the other residents like They're doing to poor Jervis, monitoring their metabolic processes to combat fatigue, and also launching telepathic attacks on the horrors as They materialize. The hardened, distant taste of her psyche has only become more bitter since Malcolm fell to the facility's sedatives. And though her thoughts are even more inaccessible than before, Jacob knows that Malcolm's absence is felt by Evelyn more than the rest of them. He doesn't need his psychic powers to know that Evelyn would rather be possessed by the forces of Chaos than share Malcolm's deadened state.

Working under Evelyn's wing is Andrew, the youngest and newest resident. Though he acquired his gifts during his childhood, he's still adjusting to his near-omnipotence and the accompanying insanity-like feeling of being at the center of a universe that seems indifferent about making sense much of the time. For example, he has a palpable fear that if everyone stops paying attention to him, he will cease to exist. This is ironic, because members of the facility's staff always seem content to ignore him.

As threats from the physical world are easiest to handle, Andrew is blocking the mind-control rays beaming down from the government satellite free-falling in orbit 22,222.2 miles away, while occasionally assisting Evelyn with the hellions trying to unravel String Theory like shoelaces with Their incorporeal claws.

". . . which is a perfect example of your delusion of control, don't you think?" Dr. Wahdijisay drones in soothing tones, directing his question to Jacob.

***

While your belief is momentarily suspended, please also suspend literary criticism to allow me to interject. You remember me--the pixilated genital monster.

Given a moment of your time, I would briefly note that the phrase "mind-controlling government satellites" might throw up red flags for you, even if you heard it from a Nobel Prize winner who you would personally trust to watch your children in an armed Third World uprising. But, believe me: the forces of Chaos are most adept at influencing and corrupting bureaucracies. As systems of humans reporting to humans against individual free will, bureaucracies are exposed to many gaps and are, therefore, easy for Them to exploit. So, to be clear: yes, the government is shooting mind-control rays directly at the protagonist and his friends because they are trying to hold existence together by the formulas and interactions that define reality.

And before further plot developments interrupt this conversation we're having, allow me to note that your half of this dialogue would be, "Wait, if these people have such incredible mental powers, why don't they use these powers to escape the facility or convince the staff to stop serving bulk-store pudding with everything? If the forces of Order safeguard the universe, why don't their agents operate from a palace that I would gladly lick clean with my mother's tongue? Or at least from around a conference table on which I would willingly sign a high-interest mortgage?"

First of all, it sounds like you are watching too many movies and T.V. shows. Remember that actual reality is no closer to your perceptions of reality than your perceptions of reality are to reality T.V. and movies "based on actual events." Also, the subliminal messages sprinkled in these programs like carcinogenic artificial sweeteners will turn you into a zombie (especially shows/movies about zombies).

So, against popular conception, heroes with superpowers are not costumed show-boats. With the ability to project their minds to the fingertip reaches of reality and manifest quantum states in the multiverse so remote that they could hardly be declared to be possibilities, these wise giants live in physical simplicity rivaling the most steadfast Puritans. Simply put, they are not concerned with their physical states.

Thus, while society is comforted by the soft, padded walls separating the residents from normal citizens, it is the residents who are controlling their isolation, pulling on facility staff's neurons like marionette strings. For example, the staff keeps the television off, not because it's what the residents want, but because they think that residents "don't react well" to T.V., delusionally believing that the broadcasted messages are directed to them, individually. But of course the newscasts are specifically directed at Jacob and his friends. All of Gotham sees the Bat-signal, but it's only intended for Batman.

In their defense, residents do tend to react poorly to newscasts. In fact, Dr. Wahdijisay gathered the residents into the present group session when the eight residents saw a newscast and Goodwin attempted to alert the president by forcibly rearranging a nearby checkers game and then throwing a chair at a nearby nurse.

The battle with the forces of Chaos and the whole business with the universe being unwound to nonexistence thusly started when one of the orderlies 'accidentally' turned the common room T.V. to a nationally syndicated news channel.

***

It is important to understand that the forces of Chaos don't only inspire idiocy and bedlam. They can also inspire sophisticated acts of destruction.

So, three Tuesdays from now, when the news anchor with a foreboding twinge in her pretty eyes tells Jacob and the other residents that scientists from seventeen developed countries have pooled resources to build a particle accelerator under Western Europe that will recreate the conditions of the Moment of Creation sometime that day, Jacob knew that they had to stop it. Which is precisely when the agents of un-everything descended upon the facility.

Feeding off Goodwin's discordant tendencies while he is channeling the advice of history's most ingenious feral ferrets, the volatile presences swarm into him like ink swirling down a drain. In moments, all that can be detected of Goodwin's psyche is the violent pulsing of his brainwaves. Just before he cracks a rift in space-time and launches his consciousness through it, Jacob telepathically catches a glimpse of his plan: he is going back to the other residents' childhoods to bring about their untimely deaths.

To briefly explain this, in 2747 C.E. a quantum mathematician named Hect Flitzer discovers an algorithm of neural firings that allows the consciousness to travel across space and time. He projects his findings back in time and, so far, only people with Jacob's condition have been able to detect it. It's a convenient means of sending your full-body, phantom-limb projection to distant locations and moments.

Six months ago, an old man in a ratty overcoat that matches his gray-and-vomit-colored beard is digging through a dumpster seven blocks away from the facility when the lid falls on his head, causing the epiphanic realization that he is Jesus Christ. Members of facility staff suspect that this is either a simple homeless man who wants three bland meals a day or the third Jesus Christ to show up at their door in the fiscal biennium. But the rest of the residents have an immediate understanding that this is, indeed, the immortal mage their ancestors knew as the Son of God who resurrected himself after his crucifixion, became possessed by the forces of Chaos around the Crusades and Inquisition, had his mind wiped in the Enlightenment, and ended up drifting from refuse bin to refuse bin for a few hundred years. Other than Malcolm, he is clearly the most powerful mind in this wing of the facility.

Thus, Jesus dashes after Goodwin as soon as the rift opens with Katie and Jacob following just before it closes. Tearing holes in scenes of birthday parties, classrooms, and 1st century Judea, they chase Goodwin until Jesus, who is faster than Jacob and Katie, jumps through a rift before realizing it's a decoy. Goodwin snaps it shut, leaving Jacob and Katie alone with him in the playground down the street from Jacob's childhood home.

Reflecting her thin, pale eggshell exterior, Katie's mind remains as quiet and reserved as her supposedly-medicated body appears to be. Goodwin is looming before them, his mind whirring with the depraved acts he will commit upon them. Against this puppet of Chaos, Jacob knows that he and Katie are outmatched and as helpless as the younger version of himself playing carelessly behind him.

Katie speaks to Jacob in a language that she is making up on the spot, in an effort to slip the message past Goodwin, and Jacob eventually deciphers it using his inductive skills alone. On her encrypted count, the projection of her body explodes into a cloud of fairies casting bolts of spells while Jacob reconfigures his arms into Gatling guns, raining down a shower of antimatter bullets that explode into tiny black holes. However, at that moment, Goodwin bends space, making the world turn like a reflection in a huge, rotating mirror, so that Katie and Jacob are firing at each other, nullifying their attacks and sending fairies screaming into small wormholes. He reappears, having cleaved himself into a projection of Jacob and Katie's fathers, and engages their projections in hand-to-hand combat with flaming belts.

Wielding an endless supply of martial arts weapons and keeping track of the potential combinations of dodges, parries, and attacks in a web of branching possibilities, Jacob can see that all paths lead to eventual defeat.

He looks over his shoulder at the physical presence of eight-year-old Jacob. In an undistracted moment, Goodwin could alter the child's neural connections to turn him criminal, suicidal, or worse: normal. But, looking past his past self playing near his future wife, Jacob sees a pale, fragile little girl, watching him unobserved from the edge of the playground. In a flash of insight, Jacob searches Katie's mind for mental blocks, and while she's occupied with preventing her mind from being lashed to death, he can see that she has known and loved him since they were kids. Jacob's perception of her quiet, unassuming mind was caused by a filter she had been using around him.

He slips his plan through her filter.

"Changing the physical past is dangerous," she projects.

"But what if Goodwin already changed it?" Jacob retorts. "What if the lives we lived were a departure from how it should have been?"

In the end, Jacob and Katie share an idea that has a spark's worth of warmth against the zero-Kelvin chill of a potential endless void: that if they fail, their last moments should be spent this way.

They vanish from their respective battles, each projecting their neural firings into their younger selves. The boy and the girl turn to each other.

Viewing it from the Moon, the Earth has not changed at all. Goodwin is ominously approaching eight-year-old Jacob playing with six-year-old Katie, when their present-day consciousnesses burst through the rift. Having lived their lives together, in mental sickness and mental health, Jacob and Katie are exponentially mightier than before, and soon Goodwin's projection is a fizzling dispersion of molecules that can hardly be said to have existed in the first place.

***

"So, you see, no one is out to get you," Dr. Wahdijisay patronizes the residents in his drawling authority as the spokesperson for a society that forcibly drugs and detains them.

Katie and Jacob consciously arrive back in the group session at the same time as Jesus, only to find that Evelyn and Andrew are all but overwhelmed with the onslaught of cacodemons surging around the circle. Taking a quick survey of the position and trajectory of the particles within Earth's stratosphere, the residents determine that it will be impossible for them, alone, to stop the Norwegian scientists from pressing the button that is, for all practical purposes, the backspace key for existence.

At this realization, a deep thud that sends ripples and reverberations in the gravity around the circle announces the arrival of a supreme force. As the agents of Chaos collapse into a state of nothingness that would make them drool and time freezes, everyone turns to find that Malcolm has returned to his former omnipotence.

Sensing his friends' confusion, he explains, "I knew this moment was coming months ago, and I wanted Them to underestimate us."

"You left me," Evelyn accuses, her pain and feelings of betrayal turning the room a deep shade of crimson.

"No," he assures her, "I created Andrew to follow you and make sure you were safe."

The rest of the residents look to the spot were Andrew was standing and, sure enough, he had ceased to exist.

Evelyn grabs Malcolm in a passionate embrace, and Jacob feels Katie's hand snuggle into his. He turns to her, and the timid warmth in her eyes takes him back to the newly-resurfaced memories of their honeymoon and all of those tender glances over the breakfast table before Jacob could read minds and, yet, could see everything she was thinking. It was a natural progression: first they were in love, then they were madly in love, then they were just mad. Their synchronized slide into their condition, Katie slightly ahead of Jacob, her hand squeezing his against the coming oblivion with only his blind assurances sheltering her.

And that is when Jacob realizes that this is his defining place in the universe: next to this girl, facing the rushing horizon of tiny, manic hands tearing and untwining reality into the unknown. That is also when the facility around them stands up, ripping its supporting pillars from the foundation and flexing its annexes like arms.

"The four of you go stop the particle accelerator!" Jesus shouts over the shriek of twisting metal, "I'll hold this off as long as I can!"

Before Evelyn can accuse him of being a martyr, Malcolm transports their consciousnesses to the heart of the sprawling underground science experiment to literally end all science experiments. The machine is already activated and two subatomic particles are speeding through the electromagnet-lined loop on a collision course.

"Guide the eastbound particle," Malcolm commands Jacob and Katie, "Evelyn and I will take the westbound one." They all telepathically know his plan, and consider it a shame that they don't have time to admire it.

A janitor is running a mop over a nearby walkway and, noticing his pig-centaur body underneath a snarlingly ecstatic hog, Jacob sees that it is Ahh-Eeeee-Ohh. He gives Jacob a solemn nod as his eyes belt out an anthem in their native tongue, recounting the residents' victory, sacrifice, or noble effort--Jacob is not sure which.

In what must be a microsecond, Katie and Jacob are shooting through the tunnel on either side of a beam of light. The possible paths of this beam and their resulting outcomes are laid out before them. For a moment, they simultaneously look over to each other, glimmering in the brilliance of it all and sharing a glance that Dr. Wahdijisay could productively analyze for centuries. Grabbing hands across the most important photon in history, they make a decisive tug at the crucial moment.

***

Jacob inhales sharply and looks around the room. They are unharmed and back in the facility without any indications that it had attempted to come to life and crush them in its architectural bowels. Dr. Wahdijisay is wrapping up the session, telling them how productive it has been.

Malcolm's plan to direct the colliding particles to create an entire reality that would swallow the forces of Chaos must have worked.

It's all fading so fast that Jacob can hardly remember it.

The whirling possibilities and vivid textures are receding into the more mundane edges of a quiet, concrete psych ward.

But it's fine. Blissful.

"How are the new meds working for you?" Dr. Wahdijisay asks Jacob.

"Hmmm," Jacob nods in approval.

He glances over to Katie, sitting next to him and gazing off into space. Looking into her quiet eyes, the hope that she'll turn and look at him is eventually replaced by his contentment to be here, sharing this with her.

Jacob has one last thought that rises out of a haze so thick that it has the gravitational pull of a black hole:

"Our love will fill the abyss."

x x x

Half way through 2014 with this debut tale. Howja like us so far? Howja like this one? Tell me all about it on our BBS - GM

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