Barbara was doing a crossword (6 letter word : “Describes Garfield and Felix”. Easy. FELINE) when the man came through the wall.
She put down the crossword and sighed. Before he could say anything, she said “You aren’t here. So go away. ”
The stunningly handsome man smiled and it was like the sun had just come out from behind the clouds. “If I’m not real, then who are you talking to?”
Barbara picked up her crossword and pointedly ignored the handsome man while she solved it. Four letters,: “Sound of an explosion. ” BOOM. This was getting downright insulting. Where was the challenge?
The handsome man walked over to Barbara and rudely peeked down at her crossword. “7 down. More than angry. That’s easy. IRATE. ”
“I knew that!” said Barbara. But she filled it in anyway.
The handsome man grinned. “See, I knew I could get a reaction. Now that I know we can communicate, let’s sit down and talk. ”
He sat on the love seat opposite the couch, and aimed that sunshine smile at her again.
“Now I know you have every reason to mistrust me and anything else that seems like it can’t be real. You have suffered through a lot of delusions and have every right to reject me outright and kick me out right now. ”
Barbara nodded. “Go on. ”
“But I know you won’t do that, because you sense that I am not like the others. I’m more real than they were. Stronger. And more stable – none of that silly wobbling at the edges. ”
“I hate that. ”
“Trust me, Barbara… I know. So now that you know that I am most likely real, or real enough anyhow, I bet you are wondering who I am and how I got here. ”
Barbara nodded impatiently.
“Well, Barbara, I am your Guardian, and I am here to help you. ”
“Help me with what?”
“We’ll get to that later. For now, all you need to know is that I want what is best for you, and I am here to see to it that you have a happy life. ”
“Sounds too good to be true. ”
“I guess it does. But trust me, I am on the level. ”
Barbara really wanted to trust him. Not simply because he was so good looking and charming. But also because she had gotten sick and tired of her own company, and deep down, she wanted to have someone to talk to for a while.
Knowing this about herself made her even more suspicious of the man.
“So what are you selling?” she said.
“Freedom. ” he said simply. “Now I have to ask you a few questions, Barbara, to make sure we are on the same page. Question Number One : Are you happy here?”
Barbara glanced around her dingy one room apartment with the cheap ratty old wallpaper, old fashioned phone that didn’t work half the time, and dirty dishes in the sink.
“I get by. ” she said guardedly.
“Fair enough. ” said the man. “Question Two : What did you eat for dinner last night?”
“That’s a stupid question. ” she replied. “What difference does it make?”
“Please just answer the questions, Barbara. ”
“Fine!” she said crossly. She thought about it, and nothing came to her. Her face scrunched up in concentration. This shouldn’t be a hard question!
“It’s okay if you don’t remember. ” said the man.
“Oh, I remember all right. You can’t trick me there. It’s just that every day is the same and they all kind of blur together after a while in this place. ”
“Ah yes. This place. ” said the man, and made a mark on a piece of paper. ” Question Three : how much did a loaf of bread cost the last time that you went grocery shopping?”
“It was… it was… ” She was interrupted by a small ground tremor. “Wow… did you feel that? Felt like an earthquake!”
“Yes. I felt it too. ” said the man. “When was the last time you went grocery shopping, Barbara? Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember! ” she snapped. “I’m not an idiot, you know. It was last… last Thursday, maybe? Or Friday. ”
“Now you’re just guessing, Barbara. The truth is, you don’t remember ever going to the grocery store, do you? ”
This time the whole room shook. She sat there, tall and proud, giving away nothing.
“OK then… last question. When was the last time you left the apartment, Barbara?”
“I don’t understand the question. ” she replied, too quickly.
“Really? What part don’t you understand? There is your door right there. ”
He pointed to the bundle of cardboard, fiberglass insulation, and boards that made up her front door.. “That works, doesn’t it?
“Of course it works! It’s a door!” she said angrily. She was beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable. The air felt too thick. There was something wrong with this man.
“Okay, then when do you use it last? When was the last time you opened this door and walked through it into the world outside? ”
Now she was cold. She shivered, teeth chattering. “Why-why-why-WHY… would I want to do that? ” She clutched her thin blanket with the holes in it around herself.
“Because there’s a whole big world out there, Barbara. That’s why. You could go to a movie. Or the library. You could even go shopping. Those are all perfectly normal things that people do all the time, right Barbara?”
“S-s-sure. ” said Barbara. Now she was neither hot or cold but just plain scared.
“So why not go out? ” said the man.
“Because of…. ” Barbara’s eyes went blank for a moment. “the… WOLVES! ”
An eerie howling filled the air, punctuated by low growls and the occasional sounds of a fight for dominance. ”
“What, these friendly old things?” he said. Then, before she could react, he walked to the door, opened it, and went through.
“No!” said Barbara, but her voice was very small. “You’ll get eaten all up!”
The man returned, hauling a gigantic wolf into the room by its collar. The wolf was four feet tall at the shoulder. It snapped and snarled at the man with jaws that could bite the head off a full grown moose, but the moment it sees Barbara, it wags its tail and pads over to her, and sticks its nose into her palm.
Barbara was terrified, yet her hand instantly went up to stroke the wolf’s nose and rub it between the ears. The wolf whined softly with bliss, ecstatic at her touch.
“See?” said the man. “The wolves love you! They would never hurt you! But that’s no surprised, considering that you own them. ”
The man turned the wolf’s collar around to reveal a large silvery tag that read “My name is OSCAR and I;m the proud property of Barbara Baglady, 16 Crofter’s Road, Bardeau TX”.
“That’s not my name! ” Barbara gasped. It was hot again and she felt faint. The air was so thick you could stir it with a spoon. Something horrible was about to happen. She knew it in her bones. But no matter how hard she tried to scream at the evil handsome man and tell him to go away forever, all that came out was a moaning “Noooo….. ”
“That’s not your name?” said the man, surprised. “Then what is your name, Barbara?”
“It’s… it’s… ” she said, holding her head to try to force herself to concentrate. “I don’t… I don’t… I don’t….. KN-”
Before she could finish, her house split in half and fell into two pieces, leaving just her couch and his love seat behind. The sky shook with thunder so intense that the sound alone smashed down trees. All the wolves were running straight at Barbara. But the closer they got, the blurrier they got, and by the time they reached her they were nothing but indistinct grey blobs that were sucked down a storm drain.
“No…. not OSCAR! ” she sobbed. “Come back, Oscar!”
“Oscar can’t come back, Barbara. You know this. By the way… isn’t Oscar your father’s name, Barbara? Can’t you hear him now?”
A booming male voice calls out from the heavens. “Barbara! Barbara! We miss you so much, honey. Please come back to us, Barbara! Barbara, please come home!”
And the words “come home” lingered in the air like the ringing of a bell, and grew louder and louder till they made Barbara cover her ears with her hands and rock back and forth on the floor. And still it got louder, and louder, louder than the thunder, louder than anything ever, until Barbara’s entire universe was nothing but that sound.
Then suddenly, it stopped. Barbara got up and looked around. There was nothing but perfectly smooth black glass stretching to all horizons. And the handsome man.
“Do you remember me now, Barbara?” asked the man.
She peered at him as if trying to see him through thick fog. “You are… a doctor?”
“Yes, Barbara. I am. Can you remember my name?”
“Doctor…. ” She stared at him ever harder. “Doctor… Lew… is… ston?”
“That’s right, Barbara. I’m Doctor Lewiston.. Now are you ready to go?”
A bright shining door appeared five feet ahead of Barbara, and opened slightly, nothing but the purest golden radiance shining through the crack.
“I think so, Doctor. There’s just one thing I have to do first. ”
Adult Barbara disappeared, and Eight Year Old Barbara appeared in her place. She smiled winningly up at Doctor Lewiston.
“I’m not really a grown up person at all. I’m a little girl. And nothing nasty has ever happened to me! ”
“That’s wonderful, Barbara. Now let’s go home. ”
Barbara slipped her little hand into the handsome man’s, and together, they stepped through the doorway.
In a semi-private room in the intractable ward of a small but expensive hospital, Barbara woke up, and looked around.
Her family was all around her bed, and next to them was a tired, sweaty older man taking off a virtual reality headset and gloves.
He smiled at Barbara, and relaxed. His patient was safe. All was good. Within moments, he was blissfully asleep.
Barbara’s mother hugged her, and they both cried.