Please take note of these before you read! I know that some of the people who will read this will be affected by some of the stuff in this story.
They say it’s the dementia.
That the forgetfulness I experience is a symptom of a dying memory. That the sleepless nights are a product of my ‘disease process’. That the hallucinations I see are caused by my rapidly degenerating brain tissue.
But they’re wrong. What I see is real.
It started fifty years ago, when I had just turned seven, but started to get worse every day since 60. Gray hadn't peppered my hair yet. Worry lines hadn't begun to give way to wrinkles, though what did I care? My husband always insisted that I try this new cream to get rid of them.
‘It’ll make you seem twenty years younger!’ he persistently claimed, thrusting the jar into my hands or, more covertly, putting it amongst the rest of my daily hygiene products and hoping I would use it by accident. He was sly like that.
What did I care about looking twenty years younger? I would still be sixty years old, wrinkles or not. Some magic cream wouldn’t change that.
My mind and my health though, I did care about. Daily trips to the gym never seemed enough to cut away at the flabby belly I had developed over my sixty years of life. I guess I should’ve considered that around a thousand beers and a hundred drunken nights ago. Even so, I kept at it. From fifty onward, working out became my new drug, my new addiction. I figured if I took good care of my body now, maybe I could undo some of the damage that my younger self had done. Maybe, just maybe, I would reclaim a few more years, live a little longer, make better use of that fat retirement I had been stockpiling.
As for my mind, crossword puzzles were my favorite. I had, I have, this insatiable need to know every small detail about the world. Like those contestants on ‘Jeopardy!’ or ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’, I wanted to know it all. It got to a point where I could do the puzzles within a few minutes, the answers far too mundane and easy for my engorged brain.
Okay, so I was a little cocky in my abilities. Sue me. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Never thought there was anything wrong with that.
Eventually, I moved onto sudoku when it became popular, and then puzzle games of all calibers on my phone as it advanced along with my age. I slid, popped, calculated, puzzled, and drew my way to ultimate knowledge on my fancy, new smartphone.
The first time I saw the ‘other place’, I was playing one such game, a popular one at the time called ‘Lines’. Well, it was technically called ‘Lines Light’ because I was too cheap to buy the full version. You won each level by connecting colored dots to their matches. The challenge was that you had to not overlap any line while still connecting them and filling the board completely.
Relaxing in my favorite recliner, I had almost finished puzzle number four-hundred and seventy when I saw something shift out the corner of my eye. The strange movement drew my eyes away almost immediately, despite my desperate need to finish the damned thing. It was my thirtieth try on that same puzzle and I was ready to be finished.
Before me, the room seemed to abruptly cut in half. On the side closest to me, my normal living room furniture still flanked me with its soft lamplight, the old wood paneling on the walls, the comfy, but modest couch and chairs, and the shelf holding countless trophies and pictures. Then, inches from where my feet reclined, the living room just… stopped.
Drab brown and gentle yellows gave way to iridescent purple ground that held alien tendrils swaying in a breeze that didn’t exist, couldn’t exist. An odd azure haze covered the rest of the room like the smoke of some otherworldly cigar. I gaped, eyes darting between the familiar surroundings of my living room and the acid trip world a couple steps away. My phone slipped from my grasp, hitting the floor with a clatter that I barely heard, the almost complete puzzle all but forgotten.
What the fuck did I eat? Did I mix my liver and heart meds again?
The last time I did that, I had ended up naked on the neighbor’s lawn, canoodling with a plastic flamingo and calling it my ‘perfect woman’. My husband still hasn’t let me live that one down.
I glanced back at the alien world before me, hoping it was gone.
It wasn’t, of course. I knew, then and there, it wasn’t my medication. I hadn’t been conscious during the last… excursion. I didn’t remember doing any of it.
This time, though, I was vividly aware of everything happening. The glowing veins running up the alien tendrils, the green-gray sun beside the smaller, more normal yellow sun, the short grass that retracted into the bright purple dirt each time a tendril swayed close. Beyond the pulsing tendrils, a large body of water like an ocean rippled lazily in the wane light, a humid breeze rolling over the gentle waves and smelling of freshly cut grass mixed with licorice.
It's so real.
I tried to stand, my legs shaking like I had done a whole week of leg days without any rest, but keeled to the left, my hand reaching for the nearest source of support. My flailing arms brought trophies and picture frames crashing down around me as I fell to the floor with a crack. Next to my head, a picture frame laid face up, its glass cracked. It was my favorite of the collection, immortalizing the day I had taken my husband and all the boys to the Outer Banks. I missed that place and I missed the boys.
Groaning like the old man I was, the second attempt to stand proved more successful and I found myself at the border between my world and the other. I reached out a tentative finger towards the crossing, half convinced I would watch it be sliced off before my very eyes. I had watched plenty of science fiction to know how this ended for the main character of the story.
My finger crossed the barrier and…
The place disappeared. The entire scene snapped out of existence without a sound, leaving behind the rest of my living room in its wake, a stunned looking wife staring at me like she thought I was crazy.
Maybe I am crazy. I still haven’t decided. A cursory check told me that my finger was intact, at least. There was that consolation.
“H-honey… are you okay?” my husband asked, his voice quivering. He didn’t scare easily either. The fear in his tone shook me to my core. How insane must I have looked, staring wide eyed, shaking in fear, standing, and reaching out at nothing that anyone else could see.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so,” I managed through gritted teeth. The whole ordeal had left me feeling wiped out and breathless. “Just a little short of breath is all.”
“Is it another heart attack? Is your chest hurting?” He looked at me with those worried, caring eyes that I loved so much.
“No, no. Nothing like that,” I said with a placating gesture. “I’m fine. See?” I lifted my arms, stood and pirouetted. A decidedly, unmanly move, but it had its intended effect.
He giggled at my silliness and stepped forward, putting a hand on my chest. “Just making sure this old man’s ticker isn’t broken again,” He said softly, standing up on his tiptoes and giving me a peck on the cheek. His eyes still looked worried.
“I’m really okay,” I insisted, and he believed me, for a time.