Open Blue

They told me, years later, that the guy had an entire galaxy in his mind. It was populated by nebulae and stars, planets and moons, some of them harboring life, others barren and wasted. He spent essentially all of his life cataloging his inner galaxy, and for all intents and purposes he was catatonic. His family took him for a vegetable. They’d pack him into the car for family trips and do things like sit him in front of mountain views, dip his feet in flowing streams, anything to get him back to the world, back to them, none of them realizing that he already had a world, or rather several trillion of them, and that every ounce of brainpower he had in him had to be devoted to exploring this galaxy, or else he’d be lost and insensate for the rest of his life. He’d tried to blind himself to the galaxy before, to come out and into the world, but he’d seen nothing but unending, featureless black. Heard nothing but the howling of an infinite wind. So he went back to his inner planets.

I guess I met him in 2005 or thereabouts, back when I was a grad student complete with bright eyes and bushy tail. They’d never gotten him beyond the occasional blink of his eyes, over there, at the center he’d been moved to, when his family had had enough of the family trips and the visits with experts and the hope that something would change. I’d take a lot of notes at first, observe vitals, notate scans, but eventually I just started coming to visit.

A lot of the technology was still nascent, and I remember picturing to myself, there at the foot of his bed, what this room might’ve looked like under the same circumstances 10, 20, 50 years before. What help could be given him, if it’d even be given. The doctors now did these scans mostly to placate the family, to assuage the inevitable guilt they’d accumulated after placing him in a home and coming first to visit daily, then weekly, then monthly, then only on holidays. I took to coming in on my days off from class, reading to him first from Kafka, then Wallace, then Murakami.

At that geologic scale of minute fluctuations of the body and micromovements, you begin to assemble in your mind a mental timelapse of the hours you’ve spent with the person, translating every twitch into something meaningful, prophetic even.

Sometimes I’d come in with a cheap bottle of gut rot and tell him about my day, pretend that he was drinking with me and commiserating, all the while popping mints after a finished bottle and accepting coffee when the nurses would offer it, not really needing it but not wanting them to smell the alcohol on me, to realize just how pathetic I was to be drinking midday and not facing any of my problems.

I’d been in and out of school, never settling on one thing in particular. Married and divorced before age 30. Aimlessly wandering in general, while doing my best to convince myself that the answer was right there, around the corner, or maybe after the next drink.

I knew this guy couldn’t really hear me, that even if he could it’s not like he could relate, but I kept coming anyway. I’d get a good feel for the nurses and orderlies as they’d come and go over the years, which ones actually gave a shit and which would be a problem–the ones who’d put him at risk of bedsores or worse. It sounds stupid, maybe, but he became like a little brother to me. I didn’t have any siblings of my own and had cut off all contact with my parents, so I guess he was really the only family I had.

He retreated from the world, physically left it, by degrees, intentionally, so that he could live in the world of his mind. I mean that in the literal sense. He didn’t wither so much as disappear gradually, nearly imperceptibly, to the point where I can hardly describe it even now, all these years later. But he did, he left of his own accord, bit by bit, until one day I came in and he was gone. He’d faded to the world inside his mind, physically departed, unalterably escaped, and he’d left me a note. Not a physical one, mind you. A mental note. He told me to find him. He didn’t leave coordinates; he left activities. He said I could find him in a night walk just past the edge of town. He’d be in the tire track of a motorcycle ride under open blue sky. Clear and vivid in the otherwise fading remnants of a dream broken by daybreak.

 

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A DROP RETURNED

In the third century LE, mental incarceration became a thing of the past. Speaking for the Bureau of Interdimensional Beings, Larry Fleming was practiced in the art of lobbying for a cause he never had a stake in.

But what started as a paycheck turned into a belief when Mr. Fleming lost his wife. Thirty years, two kids, and the God he wasn’t sure existed had taken her away from him. Malignant melanoma. Two words, two otherwise insignificant words that had sent his world crashing around him.

When the dust had settled, Larry realized that there was nowhere he’d wanted to be less than his 1300 cc of skull space. His wife was gone. His life was gone. A difference of one letter, but not much of a distinction. Her perfect flaxen hair, her pure emerald eyes… Nothing that the miracles of modern science could muster could compare.

And so he thought of it. If magic had swapped its wands for microscopes long ago, why couldn’t the limitations of the human mind be superseded? When it came down to it, he was little more than a slightly evolved ape, so how hard could it be? He’d get the eggheads from R&D to free him from his prison. They’d do it. If not for the benefit of their boss, they’d gladly do it for the glory of a fresh discovery.

After months of research, the answer was found. The universe was ninety-six percent dark matter and energy, ninety-six percent undiscovered stuff that even eggheads of the past had struggled with for centuries. It wasn’t until they pondered the idea of it being a medium for transmission that the answer was clear. The entire universe was one giant aquarium of consciousness. Unfiltered, unfettered by the limitations of one individual.

And why couldn’t that fact be used to the advantage of our protagonist? Why couldn’t he use his legislational pull to escape the realms of existing reality? If he entered the plane of consciousness he came from he’d be nothing but another drop in the ocean. He wouldn’t be himself any more, but that was the point. He’d never suffer the pain of her memory again.

He tried to get the legislation passed, his excuse being that no one should be sequestered to the limitations of their mind if they didn’t want to be. His in-charge personality was an asset. The legislation passed without a hitch.

And so there he sat in that cold metal chair, on the verge of undoing what fifty years of nature had seen fit to create. His whole life had seemingly been coordinated for this pivotal moment of manufactured oblivion. After he pushed that button, he’d never have to agonize over her loss again. He’d never have to cry again. He’d never have to be himself ever again.

It was well publicized. After all, he was to be the first being to willingly reenter the plane they came from. Sure there was suicide, but this was absolute. This was diving into a black hole without a single look back. The ratings would be unreal. There was money to be made. The product tie-ins alone could put several lines of offspring through interdimensional college.

The clock ticked. The breathing patterns of dozens were kept to a standstill. The only thing that mattered was the spectacle of Mr. Larry Fleming willingly giving his consciousness to the oblivion of the unknown. His hand hovered, the button called. Tears trickled down rhythmically.

He touched the button. Felt its rigidity, its texture. With the push of something so finite, he’d be sent to the realm of the infinite. He looked at the others. At their spectacle. What would his wife think? How would she balance out the pros and cons of the situation?

Honest? She’d fight. She’d push to make her own corner of the universe as harmonious as possible. She’d refuse to let human heartache interfere with her universal responsibilities for good. And so he refused. For the sake of her memory he refused.

Fuck the legislation, fuck “mental incarceration.” We’re all relegated to our own 1300 cc of skull space for a purpose. We’re subjected to the triumphs and the failures for the same reason: we can take it. We must take it.

Larry Fleming walked away from it all. He did it for her memory. For his own. But most of all, to be an example for all living beings throughout the universe. He wanted them all to know that they could bear it all and more if they believed they could. They could do as he did, and they would.

Mr. Fleming didn’t know it, but she watched him that day. And she was proud.

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