It scares me the state that Cole is in. He’s stuck right in the middle between life and death, and I’m about to knock him out of balance. The thought scares me, because I don’t know the exact mechanics of what I’m going to do. There’s that question hanging over my head. What if I knock both of us into death? What if his mind is too fragile for another invasion?
Laurel adjusts the electrodes on Cole’s forehead one last time before stepping back. I’m sitting in a recliner, and the girl walks up to me with a syringe.
“I think I’d rather have Laurel do it,” I say.
“Too bad, she has to get Cole ready. Stop being a baby,” she says. She pushes the syringe in harder than needed and I wince. The pain fades, not because she’s removing the syringe but because the drug’s starting to work. The stuff’s strong, and I feel like a giant pillow’s covered me on all sides.
The place isn’t black, it’s pure white on all sides. There’s a glass door in front of me, and I step through it. Everything changes. I know it’s my mind, or at least a representation of it. I’m standing in the middle of an enormous version of my room, with a thousand closet doors on all sides. I have a feeling I’m not going to find clothes and shoeboxes if I open the door.
The bed is in the corner, messed up like always. But it’s not empty. There’s someone there, and he gets up. In the fifteen minutes that I saw him, I never imagined Cole anywhere but that bed. He seemed to be restricted to that identity, the vessel for someone else’s conscious. But he’s here in front of me now, and I realize that he’s not just a vessel. He’s trapped in his own mind, like being stuck in a car he’s lost the keys to.
I realize it’s a shitty comparison, but Cole is in a beyond shitty situation. He walks towards me, and the movements are stiff and jerky. He’s not used to walking, not used to moving at all. He was a sedentary thing before I was introduced to his body, and I realize that I’ve been helping him.
“Hello Charlie,” he says. “Welcome back.”
I wonder how many different worlds I’ve been in without knowing. And I wonder how real this one is. I know it’s psychological, just the proper drug and the electrodes all placed at the proper places. But it seems a better alternative to both of the real ones. Nobody’s pitting me against the other person here. This is my neutral place, I know I’ve spent eternities here. I’ve spent them with Cole.
He knows everything I know, and a million things about myself that I needed to hide from myself. There are so many things I know now, things I don’t remember learning. I know that memory loss isn’t a part of schizophrenia. I know that whatever I have, it’s not a mental illness.
“You’ve certainly become more introspective since your memory loss.”
“I just think I’m literally don’t know what to say.”
“You’re clueless,” he retorts with a smile. I notice the little limp in his walk. He settled down at one of the computer chairs in the room and leans back.
“Boy, it’s fun not being the clueless one for once. Do you know how many times I waited for you to come to this place? You’d tell me all this awesome stuff about Earth and Eden, and I was stuck here the entire time. Well, now I’ve finally got stuff to tell you. Well, one step better. Step through door four.”
His speech is younger. His childishness verges on insanity, his excitement definitely not what I expected when I entered into this bizarre trance. He leads me to a door and opens it, bowing to the ground. I was wrong. The closet is filled with clothes and shoeboxes and comic books. I step in and the clothes disappear, the shoeboxes and the dust mites go away.
I know where I am now, a year in the past. I don’t remember this particular day. The cafeteria at school is empty, and the only guy I can name is the guy who sits behind me in Calculus. A certified genius yes, but I’ve never seen a guy with so many problems with interaction.
* * *
1 year earlier
All the guys are at Ben’s house. He’s the one guy on the team that hates my guts for reasons I don’t really know. Travis is there too, acting as my representative and trying to cool Ben down. It isn’t good to have teams within a team. I know I’m not the most likeable guy. I’m the captain because I’m the best, because I’m neutral in most ways. I’m almost too neutral, with my one best friend, no girlfriend, and a GPA that’s way too high for a jock.
Marcus is the guy’s name. I realize it only after staring at his back for two minutes. He’s the absolutely antisocial silent kid in my Calculus class. I know more about him than he realizes. I know that he cuts, that his mother is negligent and his older sister is the star of the family. He’s just the deadweight, that’s what he feels like anyway.
It was better when his dad was around, around to keep the family balanced. Now they’re too busy to remember to laugh, too ambitious to remember that family meant more than just living under one roof. Marcus is the guy is that no one really sticks with. He’s just the epitome of normality, of nothing special at all. He collects coins, needs a haircut that doesn’t make him look like a pug, needs to get friends that actually care for more than his gaming system and his high-def TV. But he won’t. He’s not capable of attracting people like that. Only losers like him hang out with him.
That’s what he thinks. It isn’t my psychoanalysis of the poor guy, it’s his thoughts pouring into my mind like a flood. On the outside he looks absolutely normal, with his sewage green sweatshirt and cheeseburger. But inside there’s something twisted and wrong. I see the scars on his wrist and stomach, the stuff he hides with his lame long-sleeved t-shirts.
I see the first time a girl turned him down, the first time someone punched him out. All his thoughts aren’t without reason. He’s planning something, something very wrong.
I step up from the bench and turn away from the kid that I’ve never talked to but know. To say I know him is an understatement, I’m probably closer to him than all his friends and family combined. I don’t know what’s just happened, if it’s a miracle or a freak accident of nature that I was just in his mind.
Marcus gets up and walks in the other direction, towards the swimming pool. The thoughts are slowing down as I get farther away, and I try to take myself out of his brain. I know that he can’t swim. I’m almost out the door when this last vital piece of information hits me.
I turn around and sprint towards him. He’s at the lockers, walking towards the door to the pool when I see him.
It’s probably not the best choice of words, and he looks at me for only a second before he starts running, jumping into the deep end of the pool. The pool’s thirteen feet deep, and I jump in. Marcus is heavier than me, heavy-set and it’s not helping that he’s struggling against me.
I’m not the strongest swimmer, but I drag him to the five foot level, holding his arms back when he attempts to go back to the deep end. In contact with him, I feel his thoughts stronger than ever. He hasn’t had a great life, and now some dick is stopping what would’ve been a fitting end to it all.
He’s yelling and swearing, but I don’t let him go. His thoughts become worse. The misery after his dad’s death, how his mother and sister both dived into their work and school and left him alone. He is one of those people that can’t be left alone, and he’s been nothing but that for the last five years.
“Let me go!”
“So you can kill yourself? Yeah, I don’t think so,” I say. “We’re getting you out of here.”
I drag him out of the pool and into the empty cafeteria, ignoring the mess we create on the floor. Marcus finally sits down. I’m not that affected by the swimming and everything, but he’s exhausted. He sniffles, but I choose to pretend that he just has water up his nose. I think he prefers it that way.
Finally when his eyes are red and dry and the water’s stopped dripping from his jeans, he chooses to talk to me.
“Why did you come after me? We’ve been in the same school for six years and you never gave a shit before.”
I shrug. I’m sure that if I tell him I read his thoughts people would think we both have an equal number of problems.
“I don’t care how you knew what I was about to do. But if you haven’t noticed, I don’t have much of a life. Trust me, nobody’s gonna miss me except the guy that’s been forcing me to do his homework for the last two years.”
For a second, I don’t just hear his thoughts. I feel them. I feel the need to jump in that pool and drown myself. I step away from him.
“Don’t do this again Marcus. Most of the people here are absolute idiots. They wouldn’t know a nice person if they hit them in the face.”
Marcus snorts. “I’m pretty sure nice people don’t hit people in the face.”
* * *
The closet door slams closed and I look at Cole, standing there with a smug grin on his face.
“That was the first time your abilities started acting up after you went to Earth,” Cole says. “Every door here is a portal to your memories. Every single memory of you in Eden and everything you chose to keep with me is in here. I wish I could open each door one by one, but we don’t have the time for that. I have to open all the doors at once.”
“Is that safe?”
“It’s safe,” Cole says after a second. “But I can’t say it’ll be pleasant.”
All the doors start opening, white light blazing out of them. I’m suddenly in the middle of the giant room, being sucked in all directions until there is nothing but white again and my mind no longer understands anything. My mind is beginning to understand everything, everything from the very beginning.