“Reality is a cruel mistress and Fantasy is a kind one. The more I learn of myself the more fictional I feel. As if I am their love child, named Delusion, with an astral twin, named Dissociation. The Gemini of the Cosmic Zodiac, only one of us has the temper of a Taur... the other as aquatic as a Scorpion. Inhaling the vapors, Gemini caught a vision -- of the fall of Man.
It began with a Fish. Got too lost playing with a Crab and got himself nicked. The blood of Pisces bled so freely into the River of Akasha that it stained the inside of Aquarius’s bowl as he went to gather water. But by the time he realized it, it was too late.
Jupiter’s storm in the year 1912 made it all happen. ‘That’s what the commies say,’ said the old man who ate five sardines a day and was so sad the day the sardine company did a recall on all their cans on account of all the fish blood in the water. The fish blood from the crab wound that the water bearer brought to the bull that was slain by Man to eat in their fast food joints, and frozen to sit on shelves in their suburban grocery stores all across the world. Just waiting like dismembered orphans to be adopted for the glory of being fried and resigned to the afterlife of some mortal’s stomach, only to be overkilled with acid and flushed back into the fucking water… again. It never ends, see!”
Will stared at his friend as he prattled off his schizoaffective babble as usual. He came over every Saturday on his off day from work, brought him his cigars and his cheeseburger, and some days he swore it was the only time the poor man ate anything all week. So there was no way he could stop coming by.
He had taken a break to take several ravenous bites of his meal. Several ravenous gulps of beef, cheese, and bread, drowning in mustard and pickles, but the onions have been taken out. He looked over at Will. “One day you will remember the insane ramblings of the old geezer you bring burgers to. And cigars, Mercy above, you are such a saint for finding these cigars. I had a pretty little thing up in Hampshire get me hooked on these blasted things! Before they deported me back to this slum state of Fuckville. I can’t land a job to pay for cat litter, I might as well reality jump to Mars again.” He glanced at Will with a wink, before elaborating. “Less gravity,” and then he chuckled at his own pun.
Will gave the old man a smile and a casual glance at his watch. He cleared his throat at what he hoped was a polite volume. “While it is always a pleasure to visit with you, I really must be heading back. The wife will be--”
“Oh Sherrylinn, how is she doing? And you have a little one too, right?”
“Two little ones, yes. James and Charles-Henry. They are all very well, but I promise to throw the ball around with them after dinner.”
“Oh right, right. You got a long commute don’t you?”
“Yes, I’m afraid I do.”
“Well, then I will see you next week. See yourself out. I’ll just enjoy my after-dinner mint” he said with a burly chuckle and took out a cigar and then went searching for the lighter. Will offered him one from his coat pocket.
The old man clicked his tongue and smiled with a finger gun salute to say thanks, and Will made sure he had everything before he left out into the bitter New York cold. He flagged down a cab and made his way home.
Sheila, not Sherrylinn was at home in a sort of daze. The boys were crying so loud the neighbors were looking out their windows at him with judgment-filled stares. He gave them apologetic looks and then once inside, he went to change the two toddlers' soaked pull-ups, sang them to sleep, cleaned the kitchen, and then sat on the couch and his wife turned to look at him. She was catatonic again. He gave her a wan smile and caressed the side of her face.
“I love you. I’m home now. Let me go get you a blanket and pillow.”
She just blinked at him as if he wasn't there, as if he was a flashing figure on the TV set she was always staring absently at. He got up and then came back to put the folded blanket and pillow on the arm of the couch. “I love you,” he said louder. And she lowered her head, as if sad. He felt his heart break. He knew she couldn’t help it. He knew she would say it back if she could. He had heard her say it back, even though it had seemed so long ago. He had heard her. He had! Hadn't he?
He then took himself to bed. Took his prescription meds and brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas, and turned on his audio track of nature-ambient sounds to try to drown the city pollution of noise outside his window. He closed his eyes and before he knew it, he was opening them again. He woke up and the room was too bright to be real. It was too bright, with too much sunlight and birds outside his window, chirping and singing. It was… he was still dreaming. He had to be. He woke up and the apartment was empty. His wife was not on the couch; his boys were not in their room. It was Sunday, where could they have gone?!
And the sound of the door opening and then the shrill voice of his mother-in-law grounded his panic to reality and he remembered that she had always taken her daughter and the boys to church every Sunday since her husband passed away two months ago. She wanted someone to keep her company in the pew and her grandsons to learn about spirituality and community. And maybe it would wake her daughter up from the stupor she’d been in since they were born nearly 2 years ago.
Mrs Kincaid prattled on and on nonstop about the sermon and how this new girl really knows how to make good coffee for the after-service and how well-behaved the boys were and how sweet they were to the youth leader. Then she then gave him a plate of some of the snacks they served. Will muttered his gratitude while rubbing self-consciously at his morning stubble and bedhead as he glanced at his toddlers as they were instantly sucked in by the cartoons on the TV that they had turned on with their grubby toddler hands as soon as they got home. It seemed the lie he told to his friend about playing catch with them regularly was more for his own benefit. A wish that his children weren’t more pacified and soothed by programmed media and their zonked-out mother than they were by his presence.
“They do love that picture show don’t they,” Mrs Kincaid said in her warbled, 78-year-old voice.
Will gave his wan smile. “It is one of their favorites. They will be glued to that box till dinner time. Speaking of which, I do need to pop down to the shop to refresh the kitchen. Would you mind staying in a few hours, until I get back?”
She looked at him somewhat uneasily. “Well, I do have my bingo in a few hours and I have to make sure Missy gets fed at 6 o’clock. She gets awfully impatient.” She looked over at her daughter sitting there, vacant on the couch. Like a doll. “Their mother is here, you know. Why don’t you let them bond with her for a while instead?”
It was at that moment that Will realized it hurt Mrs Kincaid to see her daughter in this way. Feeling helpless to snap her out of it, and maybe on some level, she resented Will for impregnating Sheila and stealing her soul that was so alive and well in the twin boys who were defiantly not potty trained and could only babble in their Twin-Speak to each other, and waddle-walk enough to run away from things they didn’t want to do and cause all sorts of stress and mischief for the adults who cared for them.
With an awkward waddle, herself, and a barely audible goodbye, Mrs Kincaid made her way out the door. Will stood there looking at his family. He couldn’t help but feel it really was entirely his fault. The world seemed so drugged and manipulated into a perpetual state of despair and ennui, or pain and heartache. He almost envied those who could choose delusion over all this. Nothing held a heavy sway in his life anymore. He was quietly terrified that anything Delusion would offer him would be worse. But seeing the woman he loved so passionately be so unresponsive, what horrors could Delusion offer him that was worse than not being able to help her? He’d give anything to see her smile one more time again, to see that lucid spark in her eyes. Anything other than the vacant imprisonment she was so trapped in.
He couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t sit there and watch his family just vegetal-sit in front of a static box as if they were trying to grow roots in the ground, or were mesmerized by the flickering images, like Plato’s cave or something more perverse than even that. He got dressed, grabbed his coat, and went outside for a walk. He bought a hot dog at a kiosk near the park and then found and sat on a bench in the park to eat it.
There was a stranger feeding the birds sitting on the other side of the bench.
As he was taking a bite of his hot dog, the stranger turned and looked at him. “You should kill them,” he said idly. Will turned and looked at him. “The world is slowly growing more and more symptomatic of Madness, and if you don’t take them out now, you’ll never be free, never be happy again.”
“What are you talking about? I just want to enjoy my hot dog.”
“You can’t lie to me, Will. You know I hate it when you lie. I told you about the war and you can’t sit idly by like Jonah and ignore your purpose. Madness needs to know where your allegiance lies. Is it with the Lucids or is it with Us?”
“Kaiphas, I told you, I don’t want you appearing to me anymore. Leave me alone.”
“Not an option, kid. You’re stuck with me so you might as well listen or I will become even more annoying. I know you want to side with the Lucids. You always have. You want their idea of peace. Madness makes you sick and terrified with its chaos and you resent the day you were born with that fractal predisposition in your mind. But you can’t escape it. Why else do you go visit Ol’ Schizo-Silas every weekend? Why else are you able to still be madly in love with your Catatonic wife and care for your hyperactive, destructive children? They choose Madness every day to spite you and you can’t take it. I know, I hear it in your heart and in your mind, William. I hear how you suffer, alone, and aching. So sad and so pathetic ---”
“SHUT UP!” William shrieked, standing up and glaring at Kaiphus. People in the park, walking their strollers or dogs were giving him side glances as they could not see Kaiphus. Just Will and his half-eaten hot dog, yelling at a flock of pigeons that took flight at his shriek.
Awkwardly, he sat back down and stared at the rest of his hot dog. “Why are you doing this to me, Kaiphus?”
“I was assigned to you, Will. You’re my charge. You can take those meds all you want, but I will find ways to break through the Lucidity and you will not ignore me when I do. Enjoy the pork and bread and yellow sauce. I have to check in with headquarters. Have a good day. Kiss your wife for me. I do enjoy watching when you spend your time with her and it has been a good long while since you’ve been with her. Ever stop to think that if you stopped running from what you are maybe she’d let you lie with her again and you could be in love the way you once were?”
Will spent another glare at Kaiphus again. “How dare you…”
Kaiphus smirked. “I am all the daring that you used to be but could be again. You miss me too, admit it. You never got as much play as you did when I was by your side, Willy. But go on and pop your pills. One day, you’ll flush them down the toilet and scream my name with every shred of lucidity left in you only to beg me to fuck the Madness back into you. You may have forgotten, but I haven’t.” He turned to look at Will with the soft, broken-hearted gaze of a lover without closure. “I haven’t,” he repeated, softly.
With that, Kaiphus stood, popped the collar on his long coat, and walked into the dense park trees until Will could no longer perceive his image anymore. He stared at his hot dog, images in his mind, the wind gently breezing as the sun slowly got closer to the setting and birth of night. He didn’t want to kill anyone. He missed Kaiphus. He knew Kaiphus didn’t want him to kill his wife, either, or his children. It was what the Lucids expected him to do. They thought Madness was all about death and despair. It was only about that because of all these rules of Lucidity; they needed to know about the war -- the one that has been going on forever. There was a time when those with the fractal in their mind were honored, revered as wise people for their tribes, given special positions, and allowed to grow in their special relationship with reality. But now, they were dismissed as a horror trope; so that the Lucids can spread their propaganda about what Normal is, to uphold the Mundane Hegemonic Facade of Functioning.
Will finished the rest of his hot dog and he took a long way home. He opened the door to his apartment; his wife was standing at the kitchen sink. He walked up behind her and attempted to hold her by wrapping one arm around her waist gently, almost barely touching her body.
“Sometimes, I think, the true horror of the world is the dystopia we are forced to uphold every day, even if it doesn’t suit our chosen reality. It is unfair and I hate it.” His voice was a whisper.
She exhaled, as if life returned to her body. Their eyes met in the reflections in the grungy window over the sink. She smiled her own, wan smile and simply whispered, “Yeah...” And touched Will’s arm that was wrapped around her waist. The press of her hand on his arm squeezed a tear into freefall down his cheek. She turned around and pressed her face to his chest and breathed him in, making him tremble ever so softly. His other hand slowly moved to cup the back of her head and pet her hair.