As Jake sprinted down the dimly lit hall, he did not dare a look over his shoulder. Doing so would spell out his certain and inevitable death at the hands of the Former.
All-seeing and all-powerful, the Former, having created the whole of existence, could inhabit the mind of any man who did not recognize its power. However, Jake, having learned the world’s true nature in a dream long ago, was not under Its control. Rather, he was a threat to the Former’s hold, and thus, needed to be erased.
Jake had spent ten years on the run, never trusting, never even speaking to another man. From ghost towns to desolate woods to arid deserts across the world, the traveler always was ahead of anyone else. But now, in the abandoned theater, the Former had caught him.
Rounding a corner, fearing for his life, he bumped into a young boy of about ten years. “Wh.. what are you doing here?” the child asked, puzzled. “Are you going to erase me, like the scary man says?”
The question struck Jake like a heavy metal mallet, freezing him in place and dumbfounding him. “You hear it too? In your dreams?” He began to sweat, hands growing clammy, terrified and excited that he may not be alone in this world. The boy frowned slightly, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. Quivering, he reached into his coat. Jake realized what was happening a moment too late as the boy pulled out a small silver revolver and shot him in the chest.
Gasping deeply, Jake woke suddenly, sitting upright with a look of alarm on his slightly wrinkled face. Though only twenty-nine, his knowledge wore away at his years, and he looked nearly double that. With grizzled gray hair, a coarse beard, and tattered clothes, Jake looked as if he had spent a number of months alone in the woods.
The woods, though, would have been preferable to his current surroundings. For nearly ten years, Jake had been in an insane asylum. For most of that time, today included, he was in solitary confinement, due to his tendency to attack anyone in sight. After all, he had yet to meet anyone who the Former had not taken control of.
If at any time, he thought, he helped another man see the world for what it really was, nothing more than an energy source for a powerful being, the Former would lose a little bit more energy. Without access to the mind, the Former could not control it, feed off of it, harness it for greater power. Jake knew little of the nature of the Former, why It desired such energy, why It could only inhabit males, or what It used it for. Merely, he knew that the Former was real, could inhabit anyone, and wanted him dead.
Anyone, then, could end his life at any time, for he was a threat to the natural order of the world.
Jake sat and thought, as he often did in the mornings. Of course, he thought at the other times of day too, for there was little else to do without the company of another person. But something about the mornings made those thoughts of particular importance to him.
In the previous night’s dream, he remarked, the boy had suggested that he, too, was enlightened. This was the first time, in his many lonely years, that a dream had revealed the possibility of someone like him. Every night had been the same: endless running, never stopping, always running into another person who killed him without hesitation.
At around noon, a scratchy-sounding buzzer rang through the confines of the small, uninviting room. A female voice rang through, no more smooth than the buzzer. “Visitor here for you, Mr. Anderson.”
Hearing this, Jake erupts into a panic, knowing only the Former would have any interest in visiting him. Though his life was without freedom or ability, he nonetheless feared deeply for its end. In life, at least, Jake knew how the Former reigned; but in death, anything was possible.
As his door creaked open, he feared for the worst. Surely, someone would emerge holding a weapon. Every night’s dream showcased one, always catching him off guard. Sometimes it came in the form of a knife, club, even a flamethrower, but none were so frequent as the silver handgun.
Suddenly, a flash of silver moved in through the now ajar door, and Jake flew out of his seat. “Jake! I told you I would come for you!”
But the voice was female, not male, as the Former had always been. As Lucinda, his fiancé, entered the room, Jake felt his heart turn to liquid, and he relaxed back into the seat.
“Luce, where have you been? Ten years in this place and not even so much as a letter or a message?” Jake spoke with no malice, only longing relief, as he embraced her for the first time in what felt like lifetimes.
Lucinda frowned slightly, looking ashamed. “It wasn’t easy getting in here. I spent the whole first year trying to get myself in. But after that, I couldn’t do it. I saw you through the monitors here, but every time you looked to be having those horrible dreams of yours.”
Jake began to make a remark, but Lucinda continued abruptly. “After that, I marched myself into the office and told them to let you go, and that you needed me, not some dark cold room. But they didn’t like that, and things escalated, and I did things I regretted. Spent some time locked up myself.” Jake inhaled sharply at the thought of his beloved behind bars but kept listening. “As soon as I got out, I decided it was time to do the same for you. I called everyone I knew, I fought the state and the country and the world and raised more money than I ever thought I’d have. You’re coming home with me now!”
The patient tensed suddenly at the thought of being a part of the outside world again. “Home?” he spoke quietly. “What home? Lucinda, this has been my home for almost a decade. This is my home now.”
“Well I mean, our home! I bought the place last week, a beautiful ranch on the river where we used to sit and watch the sunset. Not too far from where you proposed!” Lucinda flashed her engagement ring, beaming when she saw his as well.
Jake screwed up his eyes as if some horrible demon was grappling his brain. “No, no, no. This is my home, Luce. It’s the only place I’m safe from the Former!” He trembled as the words slipped out.
Lucinda, hearing this, looked sullen. “Jake, you know that’s why they put you here. It was wrong of them and I fought so hard against it and I won. But this is all in your head, love. I’m real, and I love you, and I made a new life for us! You don’t have to live like this anymore.” She spoke with a soothing tone, delicately balancing her assertion with a strong regard for his predisposition.
“Well, of course, it’s in my head,” Jake replied thoughtfully. “But that doesn’t make it any less real. Ten years I’ve had to do nothing but dream horrible dreams and think horrible thoughts, and as much as I hate the latter almost as much, it helped me realize so many things. Nobody can disprove the existence of the Former, whether I’m right or not.”
“What are you going on about, sweetie?” Lucinda appeared not to understand this new direction. Though he had begun fearing the Former slightly before his confinement in the ward, he rarely spoke of the matter to her.
“I mean, those men out there can never, with full certainty, insist that their minds are their own. If a Former took them over, could it not, just as easily, convince them that they were thinking clearly and of their own accord? And even if I am wrong, and their minds really are their own, how could I ever prove it to myself? With all of the visions, all of the dreams, it is too dangerous to dismiss the possibility! I die every night in bed, only to come back to reality where I suffer through to die again the next. Nobody else has to live like this, and nobody else’s head is full of the Former’s haunting voice!” Jake’s own voice rose suddenly, with growing anger, then shrank again. “I’m sorry, Luce. I love you too but cannot jump into a world in which everyone wants me dead.”
But Lucinda, now fully understanding, took matters into her own hands. “You think your life is so rough? Then why sit there and dream and think? You don’t have to do this anymore. You can come with me and start a new life. We can even sell that stupid ranch and get a place wherever you would like, with nobody else around.”
“No, Luce, we can’t! They’ll always find me, they always do! The Former is in every man and can get everywhere, everywhere but for some reason, inside of this room. It always has and always will. I am the biggest threat of all men, for I alone know of the oppression that It brings to the world. I threaten Its way of being.”
“And how are you going to make anything any better from the inside of that cell?”
“I don’t know. I’m not. I’m going to sit here and think until I die.”
“And what good will that do you? What good will it do anyone else?”
“What does it matter what good it does me or anyone else?” He grew angry once more.
“Well it would sure do me a lot of good, and you too, if we went and were happy together.”
“Until I die and leave you miserable and single.”
Identifying his true fear, Lucinda knew exactly what to say to soothe it. “So, Jake, if I am right, we get to live a wonderful life together. Perhaps we may finally marry, and raise a family, and move to the country. I have plenty of money so that we can invest it and never work a day in our lives. We can devote all of our time to each other. But suppose you are right, and every man in the world wants to kill you. I’m no man, as you should know by now. We can run away together, and if one finds you one day, we will have spent the remainder of your life together. That is all I could ever desire.”
Jake quivered, but this time, with a joy he had not felt in a decade. “You mean that Luce, don’t you?”
Lucinda grinned and replied, “You know the answer to that already, sweetie.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a pair of beautifully-baked muffins, handing one to her fiancé. “Before I go and let the guards know you’ve decided, I thought I’d give you a taste of real food again! I spent all night baking them, knowing you’d want something special for the first edible thing you’ve had in some time.”
As he took the first bite, tears streamed down Jake’s face. After all of this time, he was finally going to make it out. Of course, the Former still lurked around every corner, but it was no matter. Even one day spent in peace with Lucinda was worth the suffering that may follow it. A small part of him even clung to the desperate hope that, by some miracle, she may be right, and the Former was all in his head.
After scarfing down the muffin, he looked at Lucinda with pure love as she moved for the door.
“I’m going to get the guards now, sweetie.” She smiled once more at Jake. “But I suppose I don’t have to even leave the room for that! I can just slide into their minds next.”
The grin suddenly turned shrewd. “I really thought this would be more difficult. You really couldn’t fathom the notion that I could get into a woman’s mind, too? Well, I’ll be on my way now; these guards have a body to dispose of! Don’t bother trying to resist, sweetie. The poison in that muffin will take effect long before anything you do has any prayer of working.”
As if on cue, Jake started gagging violently, as his insides erupted with pain. Choking, he was unable to form a clear response.
“You really thought that I would let my men and women let you out of this place? What, so you go could go about, trying to take the world back, stealing from me? I fight a battle stronger and more powerful than anything your puny brain can imagine. Your attempts to derail me are pitiful. But, you can at least die with the knowledge that you were right about Me.” Lucinda slowly walked out of the room, the door closing behind her with a resounding thud.
Convulsing on the floor, Jake looked up, fury in his gaze. But in less than a minute, the fury, along with his life, had completely subsided.
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