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The Unnatural World

A man is convinced he's insane when he wakes up in a surreal land

Somewhere I was on a derelict beach. Somewhere I was in a padded cell.

I woke up on a small piece of black earth between a sea and a cliff. No sign of life. The suspicion that it was all a dream struck me when I saw a colony of statues in the distance. I stepped into the water and fell backwards once I was deep enough. Didn’t hold my breath. I breathed in and swallowed the salty grey ocean and went into a deep panic as it filled my lungs. Instead of waking me up in a cold sweat, it sent me thrashing to the surface and stumbling to the shore. Coughing, hacking, tearing my lungs. I should have woken up.

The last thing I remembered I was on a mission trip. My wife’s Unitarian church. I helped serve food and rebuild homes at no cost alongside her family. She said it would bring me a sense of meaning, a realization that the world was not frivolous, that it only seemed that way because my world was frivolous. This would open my eyes, she said, even if I didn’t share her belief in God. I had lent adjustable-rate mortgages for a living.

That was in New Mexico. Hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.

I wondered if my time there was my last moment in reality. Or if I had been in a padded cell my whole life, and everything I remembered was just a dream. All I knew was that I felt eyes on me. I wasn't alone.

I reached the top of a hill and looked down to find a girl lounging naked on top of a small patch of grass. She looked up at me, reading not only my thoughts, but everything in my sub conscience. She had the appearance of someone just over the age of twenty, and the gaze of someone who had been watching the universe long before the existence of man. She had tan lines and freckles, and her breasts were a hint smaller than that of the ideal woman. That was good. If she had been designed as part of an experiment, she would be flawless by societal standards. Instead, she was real, with an aura of warmth that filled me with as much comfort as desire.

I walked down from the hill towards her and stepped on the grass. She gave me a look that stopped me in my tracks.

“ You're being a bit rude,” she said. She didn't explain why, but I understood. I stripped all my clothes off and her warm demeanor returned. The grass expanded and opened up like a blanket. I crawled in to join her.

I sensed that she was no ordinary human. Maybe no human at all. I had so much I needed to ask her. Questions I couldn't quite form in my head. “Do you exist” is all that came out.

“Of course I exist,” she said. “Just not in the form that you see now.”

It was then that I realized what this place truly was. This black marble land was merely a canvas. The paint and brush was the pleasure center of my brain. I wanted this woman, this celestial being, to show me the nature of things. To teach me what humans could not comprehend through either the five sense or logical reasoning. To make me her object and fulfill fantasies the world would disown me for even having, fantasies. Perhaps that’s why she was here. I kept scanning every direction looking for watchers. I could not yet assume I was all alone in my own private paradise, but I was hopeful.

“I know I'm insane,” I said. I had realized it before landing in this dreamscape. I realized it after grabbing a handful of painkillers from a nursing station in New Mexico, pocketing what I didn’t swallow, and walking away from it all. I had a lovely wife, a family, and a life as meaningful as a human life can get. I was out to help the poor and the sick…until I realized I wasn’t. The church, our mission, was often used as a prime example of the innate goodness in humanity by its members. They weren’t wrong. We prolonged lives, or at least tried to.

Yet that was the most positive thing anyone could say about human life. That it often tried to preserve itself. Well viruses and plagues too try to preserve themselves. Yet no one can say why it all should be preserved to begin with.

“Do you know what it means to be truly mad?” said the woman, as her eyes started to disintegrate with the rest of her body. “An insane man is out of the touch with his society’s projection of reality, but a sane man is out of touch with reality altogether.” She disappeared.

The eyes I had felt on me appeared in human form, surrounding me. They carried torches and pitchforks, their gaze burning through me with a primal hatred. I waited for them to attack me. I wanted to swallow them whole.

For the first time, I wished I was insane.

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