Off Script

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Me Vs. Reality

The soft, warm waters of the river washed over my bare legs. The gentle caress of each wave lulled me into calm. My heart had slowed, my breathing became more subtle, my mind dulled from a typhoon to a rain shower. Oliver sat next to me on the pier, his feet in the water and his attention fixated on the horizon.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Then, please, tell me what happened.”

I told him of how everything had seemed to speed up. One night I was dreading my wedding, the next day I was trying on wedding dresses. I told him how my family had reacted to words I had not even said, and fixated their gaze on places I was not stood. I told him about how the guards acted as though I were a phantom and did not even flinch when the drawbridge gave way for me to cross. And, I told him about my thoughts – how they arose of their own volition and were detached from the rest of my consciousness. And how they still persisted, even as I sat beside him.

He received all of this with the willing open-mindedness of someone being told about a nutty, but interesting dream and yet with the seriousness of someone being told the Universe would soon explode. He waited a moment to be sure I was finished, and then he spoke. “All seems in order,” he said, “perfectly natural.”

The look on my face must have shown my shock.

“Considering the circumstances.”

“What circumstances?”

He sighed. “You being a living, breathing, real person in a world of fiction.”

“Oh,” I said, “but what do you mean – fiction?”

“Not real. You, real. Them, not real.” He weighed both sides with his hands. “You know what I'm talking about. You've felt the differences.”

“I suppose so... but I'm still not sure – ” he cut me off.

“The thoughts you're having; the ones that seem so out of place; the ones you're having right now? Those are the words you're supposed to be saying.”

“Supposed to...?”

“You, like everyone else on this world, are a character in a story. And that means there is a script, certain words you're supposed to say and actions you are supposed to do. Except, you're not just a fictional character. You're real. Which means – ”

“I have the freedom to choose...” I said, beginning to understand.

He smiled. “Yup. And, they don't. Which is why they keep on responding to the things you aren't saying and looking at the places you are meant to be. They can't adjust, they're slaves to the script. You're not, you see? Because you think. They don't think. They don't consider, they just do as the script says. But, you do think. That's why you're able to say things you were never meant to say and do things you were never meant to do. Like sit here with me, soaking in the fictional sun as the fictional river washes our cares away.”

I gazed up at the light in the sky and somehow it seemed dimmer than I remembered it. The sensation of the river water on my legs seemed to almost dissolve, as though turned to vapors of air. “And, what about you?” I asked. “What are you meant to be doing?”

“Oh, nothing much. I'm not even supposed to be in this story. But, I sensed there was something wrong with it and, well, I just couldn't resist.” He chuckled. “I thought it would take forever to find the flaw, the glaring error. But here it is – sitting next to me.”

“Hey! Who are you calling an error?” I teased, kicking at his left leg. He didn't seem to feel it.

His face turned sour. “You are in a place like this. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode.”

“A... what?”

“It's a television show.”

The confusion and ignorance must have shown.

“Oh,” he said, “well, it was a story. Like you are in a story. Like the story about Orion I told you before.”

I nodded.

“It was about a future time where everyone's face was hideous, just terrifying. But, because it was so widespread it became normal. One girl, in that whole world, had a face that was truly, truly beautiful. But, that's not how her world saw her. Because the world was ugly, it saw her as ugly. Because they were all hideous, the only truly beautiful person was seen to be the ugliest of all.”

“Now you're calling me ugly,” I teased, kicking his leg again. Again, he did not react.

He shook his head. “Far from it.” His face warmed into a smile. “Are you flirting with me?”

“I might be.” I said.

He nodded. “Well, then, it would be more effective to kick at my other leg. This one's a bit of a phantom, like you. It's there, but it isn't there.”

“What happened to it?” I said, pulling away a bit.

“The question is, what happened to you? Why are you waking up? What's allowing you to become conscious?” He considered this a moment, then seemed to resign. “You know,” he said, “even the people of my world don't know. What makes us conscious? What allows us to think freely? What makes us real? Some of them doubt we are.”

“If you might not be real,” I ventured, “then, how are you so sure I am?”

“Oh, I'm real. That much I'm quite certain,” said Oliver, “if the whole world is just a trick, there must be an audience to observe it. An audience that isn't a part of the illusion. Your world isn't real, you've sensed that for a long time. And, that means you are something other than the mirage.”

“Can I...” I hesitated, “is there any way to escape the trick? To be beyond it?”

Oliver heaved a heavy breath and shook his head. “No,” he said, “but, you can change the mirage. Like in a dream – when you wake up to the fact that you're dreaming, that reality becomes like clay in your hands. Nightmares no longer have the ability to scare you when you are aware you're asleep.”

“I'm still kind of scared,” I said, remembering the sense of utter loneliness I felt as I ran from the castle.

“Because you still have not awoken. You are a real girl in a fictional world and you now know it.” He pointed to my forehead. “But, you don't know it.” He rested his hand above my breast. “Until you do, this world is not your friend.”

“How do I know you are not of this world?”

He winked. “You don't. But, that's the kind of suspicion that's going to keep you safe. All I can do is promise, to swear on all things important, that I am on your side. Beyond that, there's nothing I can do but hope.”

“Hope what?”

“Hope that you awaken in time – before you've burnt up every last bit of the dustlink and send yourself and your family hurtling into space.”

“The dustlink? How am I burning holes...?”

“You're fighting reality and that means that reality is bound to fight back.” He kicked his good leg around in the river, splashing water. “It reminds me of another old story. About a very old man who fell into the river, but somehow managed to wash ashore; managed not to drown.”

“How?”

“He stopped fighting the waves.”

“But, how do I stop fighting reality if I am meant to wake up? If I give in, doesn't that mean I go back to being fictional? To following the script?”

“No,” he said, “you change the script. You stop fighting reality when you realize that you are reality, just as the old man realized he was the river. Reality will change with you, if you let it.”

“But... what if I can't? What if I fail?”

Oliver gestured toward his ship. “Then I buy you more time. It's been a while since I've sailed, but one quick trip to the sun shouldn't be hard.”

“To the sun!?!”

“The collision should disperse enough dust to repair the dustlink. For a little while anyway.”

“The collision?”

“When the ship hits the sun, it's going to create a quite big explosion. Or so I hope, hard to tell with the physics around here.”

“But, what about you?”

“Oh, I'll be fine,” he said, “what you should worry about is getting yourself ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Well, I can't do it alone, can I? I'd have done it by now.”

“But, I don't... I don't know if I'm ready.”

“No, indeed not. Let's just hope you'll be ready before the worlds falls down around us, hmm?”

“Will you be able to get out? If I'm not ready in time?”

“It sounds like you're preparing yourself to fail.”

“Answer the question. Will you be alright?”

“I have a few tricks of my own. But, everyone else will die...”

“But, if they're only just fictional...”

“So were you, once. All things are fictional until they are realized – it does not make them worthless. Your mother is still your mother, your father still your father. Who is to say no one else could awaken as you are in the process of doing?”

“But... if I don't? Do I... could you save me, take me to your world?”

“Until you have awakened, you are still trapped in the illusion. If the illusion falls, you fall. There would be nothing I could do.”

“So, what do I do now? If I'm not ready... how do I get ready?”

“You could be ready, I don't know. It's completely up to you.”

“I don't understand.”

“Nothing on this planet can keep you from awakening, but there are no shortcuts; no magic spells or training to undergo. When you are ready, you will awaken. And when you awaken, you will know it is time.”

“And then I'll come find you,” I said.

He nodded. “I'll be here.”

I felt like telling him I was ready then, just to get it all over with. I didn't want to wait because I didn't know if I would ever feel more courageous than I did in that moment. Even as I began to walk away, I wasn't sure if I would ever go back. A bit of me didn't believe the dustlink was truly burning, and a big part of me believed that, even if it was, I couldn't be the one to fix it. I had seldom been a mile beyond the castle and yet I was being told that I was needed for a trip to the sun.

I just didn't believe it was possible. I couldn't explain my world any better than Oliver could, but I didn't want to believe his explanations. I didn't want to believe that I was one conscious person in a world of character. But, I did believe it. Somehow it had always seemed too obvious not to see.


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