When Parker woke it was with a start; since the blackout he was wary each time he opened his mind to consciousness. He was lying alone in his bed and the morning light was peeking through the windows.
He had dreamt that night again. He didn’t remember much of it, but he remembered seeing the woman, and he was talking to her. It was a dream that he'd had before—her standing on the deck of some ship—but this time it was different. She was talking to him. He didn’t remember what she was saying, but she called him Henry, and she seemed scared, and sad. He was called out of his reminiscence by the memory of what had happened the other day.
He had spent the entirety of the prior day alone. After he and Alora had awoken following his episode—as he had come to refer to it in his mind—he'd asked if she wouldn’t mind letting him have some time alone. She was obliging, of course, realizing that he probably needed some time to work through everything that had happened.
At first he had dwelled on his guilt and shame, wallowing in his own self-pity. He could not believe that he had treated Alora that way, after everything that she had done for him; he was embarrassed. As he paced he considered calling her, asking her to come over so he could apologize for the thousandth time, or perhaps simply to beg again for her forgiveness over the phone. But then he started thinking about the incident itself.
It had seemed so real; he was sure that the photos were gone without a trace. And even the one that he'd clutched in his hand had seemed genuine. Even now he was sure that his parents had been missing from the photo; it didn’t seem like a trick or an alteration. He had carried that photo with him as he paced his house—he’d spent as much time pacing throughout the previous day as he had spent simply lying or sitting in one place—and stared at it. It didn’t seem strange or different seeing his parents in the photo, just as it hadn’t seemed different seeing them missing; it was simply a normal picture, the same one that he remembered so vividly.
He went into the bathroom and had looked into the shattered mirror often, staring at his broken reflection; he looked wild, disheveled. He could only imagine what it had been like for Alora seeing him like that, a fevered look in his eyes, as he slowly stalked towards her shouting what he now knew to be mad ravings. She must’ve been terrified. Even after showering twice that day—he felt unclean and mortified—he still felt that he looked monstrous when he gazed upon his image.
Henry sat up, looking around the room that was now as clean as it could be; he had done quite a bit of damage during his episode. He felt a pang of guilt and a brief moment of panic; this wasn’t something that could really happen to him. He didn’t even know what “this” was, but he knew that it wasn’t right and that it wasn’t supposed to be happening. He looked over at the clock and realized that he was supposed to meet Alora at the psychologist’s office in a couple hours. He had asked her to meet him there instead of driving with him because he had wanted to spend the previous day alone; though, now that he looked back on it, he supposed that the truth was that he wanted to give himself an out, in case he decided not to show, and he was also too ashamed to spend that time alone with her in a car.
He got out of bed and took a shower, avoiding his reflection as he walked past the mirror. The warm water seemed to bring his emotions to the surface; guilt, shame, anger. He tried to let it simply wash away down the drain with the water, but it clung to him like black ink.
He hadn’t eaten at all the previous day, and he didn’t think he could eat today, either, but he knew that he had to try. This was undoubtedly going to be a draining day that he wasn’t really looking forward to. He decided to cook his usual breakfast—eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice—but when he looked in the refrigerator there was no orange juice, so he simply had coffee. He found it strange that he didn’t have any orange juice, as his near-obsessive compulsion to have the same thing for breakfast each morning caused him to consider it a priority when he went shopping, but it occurred to him that he hadn’t been shopping in a while.
He ate his breakfast and then went to call Alora, but before he could he thought better of it. There was a large part of him that was hoping she had forgotten about the appointment so that he didn’t have to face her. e gathered his belongings and headed out the door.
The drive there was unbearably long, despite it being fairly close; it gave him a lot of time for unwanted thoughts. He had convinced Alora to let him come to the psychologist instead of going to the Emergency Room, and once she explained over the phone what had happened the doctor had urged for them to come as soon as possible; he said he would clear his schedule for them.
When he pulled into the parking lot he noticed that Alora’s car was already there. So much for small favors, he thought to himself in reference to fate or the universe or God or whoever was listening. He immediately felt guilty; Alora had been there for him through all of this, never leaving his side. But his guilt at how he had behaved in front of her was near overpowering.
“Mr. Lewis,” the receptionist greeted as soon as he walked in. “The doctor is waiting; please go right in.”
“Thank you,” he acknowledged. Jeanine; he thought he remembered that being her name. He smiled and walked into the office.
Alora was already there, standing, expectantly looking towards the door. The doctor was behind his desk seated; Parker thought it strange for some reason that the doctor should be seated while Alora was standing. He walked up to Alora and embraced her in a hug and a kiss; she had partially-dried tears on her cheeks.
The doctor half stood as he took Parker’s hand in a firm handshake and offered his greeting. Parker sat in the chair beside Alora, and she followed suit.
“Parker,” the doctor began, glancing down at the notebook in his lap. “I’m glad you were able to come in today. Alora has been telling me more in-depth what happened the other day. How are you feeling?”
“Fine, doctor,” he lied. “Thank you for seeing us on short notice.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” he replied nonchalantly. “I’m glad you called me. Now, can you tell me, in your words, what occurred the day before yesterday?”
Parker chuckled. “You don’t waste any time, do you, Doctor?”
“I try not to,” the doctor declared smiling. “Mental health is a delicate matter, and, more than that, this is your life; I would not want to waste any time in helping you.”
“That’s very considerate of you.” For some reason, Parker found himself getting agitated; not angry, just slightly frustrated. Though, at what, he couldn’t say.
“So please, can you tell us what happened? How you were feeling, what you were seeing; anything that comes to mind.”
Parker breathed a heavy sigh. He had been thinking about this all morning and quite a bit the previous day, but he wasn’t fully prepared to voice his thoughts aloud.
“I wish there was some way to fully explain, but I don’t think there is,” he confessed. “Right now, I feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and, to be honest, a little upset, maybe frustrated.”
“Why do you feel frustrated?” the doctor prodded.
“I don’t know. I guess there’s a part of me that feels like I’m being ganged up on. But there’s another part of me—the part that remembers what happened—that knows there’s something wrong with me.”
“That’s perfectly natural,” the doctor affirmed.
“We’re not ganging up on you,” Alora offered, placing her hand atop his. He looked down at it, almost wanting to pull away. “We want to help you.”
“Yes,” the doctor continued, “We are here to help; there is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you should feel blessed that you have such a caring girlfriend.” Parker looked at Alora and smiled, then turned back to the doctor. “Now, please continue.”
“At the time, I felt panic and rage,” he reported honestly. “In my mind I truly believed that someone had come into my apartment and taken or replaced all of my photos. A part of me still feels that way; I guess because a part of me still believes that it was real.”
“And how does that make you feel?” the doctor pressed, writing something in his notebook.
A bit of that frustration rose, and Parker pushed it back down. “It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me; something not normal. I know that I imagined it, but at the same time I can’t believe that I did; it was all so vivid, so real. All photographic traces of my parents were gone. And then Alora walked in, and I knew that she had to have done it. Or, at least, that she knew what had happened. And the more that she objected the angrier I became, because it just confirmed in my mind that she knew and she was hiding it from me. She was trying to trick me; there was no other explanation. At that moment I believed it as much as I believe that I’m sitting in this chair talking to you and nothing could’ve convinced me otherwise.”
“But something did,” the doctor added. “What was it?”
“I’d like to say that it was Alora,” he began softly. “That it was seeing the fear in her eyes. But in truth, that just further convinced me of what I was thinking. What changed was what I saw; I stepped into the living room and everything was back to the way it was, all the pictures were back on the walls.”
“And at that moment, what went through your mind?” the doctor questioned, leaning forward.
“Confusion,” Parker admitted simply. “No, that’s not it; it was more than confusion. It wasn’t as if I was waking up from a dream and able to tell that that was fake and this was real. No; both situations were as real then as they are now, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what I felt. My head felt foggy and suddenly nothing felt real; not voices or things or even me. I remembered everything completely, just as I do now, and it was all real. Even right now, knowing that it wasn’t factual, it still feels real.”
“Hmm…” the doctor mused, leaning back slightly. “And tell me about these dreams. Did you have one last night? What was it about?”
“I did, actually,” Parker confessed. “But I don’t remember it; only bits and pieces.”
“Tell me about it,” the doctor pushed.
“I’ve had it before, but different,” he began. “It was the woman—her name is Monica—and she was on a ship of some sort.”
“How do you know her name?” the doctor asked.
“I don’t know; it just came to me one night. Monica; I knew that was her name as clear as day.”
“Okay,” the doctor replied, writing in his notebook. “Please continue.”
“Monica was on the deck of a ship, but it wasn't a large ship; it was small. Just like the last time I had this particular dream it was dark, nighttime. But unlike the last time, the woman was talking to me. I couldn't make out much of what she was saying, just the feeling behind it. She was scared, and sad; she was crying. She called me Henry; I remember that. And my emotions were strange, as well. I felt anxious, scared, and very troubled.”
“Henry,” the doctor repeated. “Does that name mean anything to you?”
“No,” Parker responded. “I don’t even think I know anyone named Henry.”
“Do you know anything about him other than his name?”
“No,” he answered simply. “But whoever he is, he loves this girl very much; as much as I love Alora. That’s the feeling that I got strongest from the dream: protectiveness.”
The doctor stayed silent for a long moment, just looking down at his notepad. Parker didn’t know what to do, and he and Alora just looked at each other. She squeezed his hand tightly, as if reminding him that she was still there. After the moment had passed the doctor finally spoke.
“Parker, have you ever heard of a paracosm?” the man asked.
“The word sounds familiar,” he responded, “But I don’t think I have.”
“There are many different kinds of people in this world,” he explained, “each having different personality types. We in the psychological community have categorized and labeled these personality types as best we could, though, in truth, they’re at best a close generalization when it comes to defining people. Some of these personality types are more prone than others to create what is called a paracosm.
“A paracosm is a world that is subconsciously created within the mind of an individual. Sometimes it’s simply a replica of the real world with small changes, and other times it’s a complete recreation of reality. It can go so far as to have its own history, language, and even mythical creatures. Depending on the person, sometimes theses paracosms can be more detailed than others, and sometimes they can be more invasive than in other people.”
“That sounds like something that a child would make up,” Parker added cautiously. “What does it have to do with me?”
“Yes, indeed it is often associated with children,” the doctor acknowledged. “Think about a child’s imaginary friend; only, in a paracosm, it’s not just a friend but an entire world. Most of the time a paracosm is harmless, even if it lasts into adulthood; it can cause daydreams and distractions, but the person can usually differentiate it from reality. Sometimes they don’t even know that it exists.”
“An entire world in their subconscious that they don’t know exists?” Alora questioned inquisitively. “What is the point in that?”
“Well,” the doctor continued, “Most of the time a paracosm is the result of some sort of childhood trauma, which is why it’s most prevalent in children. A paracosm lasting into adulthood is either rare or people don’t generally seek help for it because they believe it to be nothing more than a daydream or something of the sort; we’re not really sure. In the recent decades it has been researched in association with other mental illnesses among adults.”
“Are you saying that I have a make-believe world in my mind?” Parker shot out, laughing nervously. “That’s ridiculous.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” the doctor replied, “Though I don’t believe it’s as simple as that.”
“That’s crazy,” Parker noted abruptly.
“We try not to use that term,” the doctor continued. “No one is saying that you’re crazy. Realize if you will that how I see the world is different than how Alora sees the world; how Alora sees the world is different than how you see the world; how you see the world is different than how Edgar Allan Poe saw the world. Each of us sees things differently depending on any number of different factors, including upbringing—a racist will see those around him differently than a non-racist—trauma, education, and so many other different influences. We would not say that a war veteran is crazy simply because he may perceive certain things as threats that we do not; we would simply have to accept that he sees the world differently than us. Once we do that, then we can begin to truly assess and break down any barriers between those two perspectives.”
“I see what you’re saying, Doctor,” Parker began, “But no, I refuse to believe that there’s an entire pretend world inside my head that I’m not aware of.”
“Please calm down,” Alora requested beside him, gently squeezing his hand once more.
“Parker,” the doctor addressed him calmly, “I’d like for you voluntarily commit yourself to the psychiatric unit of the hospital under my care.”
“Commit myself?” Parker exclaimed, the frustration that he’d been feeling this whole time finally rushing to the surface. “You want me to commit myself?!”
“Only for observation,” the doctor assured him, “And only for a little while.”
“How long is ‘a little while’?” Parker demanded.
“Perhaps 30 days to start with, and then we’ll reassess from there.”
Parker looked from the doctor to Alora and back again. He was getting dizzy and felt nauseous. His anger was turning to something else, but he couldn’t say what, and his vision was getting blurry. He pulled his hand away from Alora’s and grabbed his head, trying to stop the room from spinning. He felt like the walls were closing, and he was sure that his heart was about to beat out of his chest.
“Parker, are you okay?” he heard Alora ask, but it sounded far away. Everything started to go dark, and his body was tingling; he knew that he was about to pass out.
Then the feeling stopped, and he was calm. He looked around and panic welled within him; he didn’t know who these people were.
He looked at Alora and recognized her. “I know you,” he mused skeptically. But he didn’t know her, and he also knew that. He looked at the doctor and then back at her, then looked around at the room. He stood up suddenly, knocking the chair over behind him. “Who are you people?” he demanded. “Where am I?” He looked down at his clothes; they were so unfamiliar and new. He didn’t recognize them anymore than he recognized these people. “How did I get here? What’s going on? Where’s Monica?”
“Parker?” the strange woman shouted. “What’s going on?” He turned around to see who was behind him but there was no one there; she was talking to him.
“Who’s Parker?” he questioned. “And who are you?” He paused and analyzed her face. “I know you from somewhere.”
The man behind the desk touched the woman’s hand and she looked at him. “What’s your name, son?” the man asked him.
“What? My name? It’s…it’s…” He realized that he couldn’t remember his name. The panic swelled even more, as if it were about to break out of his chest.
He ran out of the office, leaving shouts behind him. The air felt like a wall as he ran through the front door. He didn’t recognize anything around him, and everything seemed so loud and far away at the same time.
He suddenly felt very dizzy and hot. His vision was getting blurry. He turned to the side and without knowing what was about to happen he saw vomit spilling from his mouth in a great stream. He stood up, wiping his mouth, and couldn’t lift his head; the nausea was too great, and the world was spinning increasingly faster. Everything was going dark and he felt himself swaying back and forth, the flesh all over his body tingling. And then everything went black.