The story below is the start of my second completed short story (coincidentally weighing in at just over 4000 words), written in the early 1990's and massively influenced by William Gibson and Philip K Dick. Some of the ideas from it drifted over into one of the previous challenges, but the real reason for using it is that I'm fascinated to see what direction another creative mind will take.
Welcome to Paradise.
Dying wasn’t so bad. That was the easy part. Bomb in my car, open the door and-
Yes, dying was really easy. Overrated, I thought.
It was afterwards when things got difficult.
From darkness came light, and with it the knowledge that I had passed into another state of being. There was no definition, no clarity, just a blurry mass of white.
A sudden sharp pain in the back of my neck told me that the plug had been removed, so the socket at the base of my skull was now empty. The skin on my abdomen and chest stung for a moment as the electrode pads to read my now non-existent vital signs were ripped off.
“He’s lost it,” I heard the nurse say. “He just ran out of it.”
I could imagine the doctor, patronising bastard that he was, shaking his head slowly in disgust. “Get him out of here.”
Thus, I was dismissed.
I felt myself jerk forwards as trolley wheels began to roll. Before slipping into darkness, my eyes closed…
…only to open again, staring steadily into a bright light. It was no heaven, merely a fluorescent tube. A face looked down at me; not God, just an excited medic. His smile showed tombstone teeth as he switched off his torch.
“Dilatory response,” he droned. “This guy’s okay.” His unholy face disappeared from view. “Give him his gear and let him go.”
I blinked slowly as reality beckoned.
Shit. I was still here.
Several minutes later I sat up, helped by a pair of burly orderlies. Natural muscle wastage, they told me. Happens all the time to anyone who spends more than a month wired up.
I watched them leave, their uniforms crisp and sterile white to match the room. I looked around, but mine was the only bed. I felt alone and lost. I didn’t belong here. I was in the wrong reality.
When I told the phoney faces on the monitor screen how I felt, I was given no sympathy. All I received was my clothes, along with quarter of an hour to get dressed and leave.
It took me ten minutes to remember how to walk. I was dressed in three, giving me time to ponder my reflection. They had declared me in the land of the living, but I wouldn’t have looked amiss in a coffin. Even I couldn’t recognise me.
I was unceremoniously escorted from the premises less than a minute later. Morphean Conceptualities Incorporated have tremendous business sense. When hooked up to their machines, they take good care of you: washed, shaved, fed intravenously, even defecated; everything except a muscle massage.
When your money runs out, your time is up, so they disown you and kick you out. Sound management strategy in these mercenary times.
Outside was warm, a sticky and humid day that was typical of Florida Free State. In a couple more decades, the eco-scientists were predicting, the State would be almost flooded. They were scorned, but I believed them; you could almost hear the remaining icecaps melting.
I believed, but I didn’t care. I’d be dead or back where I belonged. As soon as I scraped enough money together, I’d get myself hooked back up to a machine, return to my own reality.
For now, I had to be content with Miami, its streets busy with shoppers and tourists. The heat from the sun told me it was mid afternoon; I had no watch.
No cell-phone, either. I staggered weakly towards a phone booth, my limbs like lead weights. Every joint in my body was stiff, every muscle ached. I was tired, my head pounding, and I didn’t know who I was going to call.
I suddenly realised that I had no idea who I was.
A hand rested gently on my shoulder. I spun round to look at the owner, saw a face grinning broadly. When she saw me, the grin faded very quickly.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concern in her voice.
I wasn’t. I tried to tell her, but I couldn’t speak. Maybe I’d forgotten how to do that, too. I was dizzy, I felt sick and couldn’t see very well. I held onto the side of the booth, my only anchor in a spinning, warping world that seemed intent on spewing me out.
“Vincent!” she yelled.
That had to me my name. If this woman was someone important to me, then I didn’t recognise her at all. She was tall and skinny, her blonde hair short and ratty. She wore a faded Hawaiian shirt and a pair of Bermuda shorts that were too big for her. They looked roughly my size.
“It’s okay. It’s me. Wendy.”
I looked at her through watery eyes. My stomach convulsed and I retched dryly before passing out, my head resting on concrete colder than any grave.
The next few days were hell. They are vague memories to me now, a time without time, but I will always remember the pain. It was as if someone was peeling away the outer layers of my skull, hoping to find the core beneath, pull out the seeds of my mind. Emotional pain, difficult to forget.
I drifted between realities, in limbo for over seventy-two hours; unsure of where I was, still not knowing who I was.
As for my time in the machines at Morphean, I could recall it vividly. There I had played cricket in the Caribbean, saved the world from an evil despot with enough time to rescue and fall in love with the girl of my dreams.
That was my lifeline with which I maintained my vague grip on sanity. In my time at Morphean I had returned from several places to several women, all of who – I now realised – were one and the same.
All of those beauties weren’t dreams. They were based on reality.
Wendy existed in the real and in the unreal. She was the only constant in my lives, my oasis in this desert of chaos.
She saved my sanity, and with it my life. I woke up…
TO BE CONTINUED