Mud. I am surrounded by mud. It is in between my fingers, my toes, embedded in my hair. The mud is everywhere.
My muscles are aching. I push myself up from the brown mud. I don’t know how I got here. And I sure don’t know where here is. I am standing now. I’m wearing a pair of blue shorts I’ve never seen before. They have a strange yellow triangle on the side that I can barely make out from all the mud.
The sky is strange. There is an absence of color above me; only a solid grey haze is over me. To my left and right there is plant life similar to any forest I’ve been in, but I hear no sounds. No birds are chirping. The silence is nearly maddening.
I must be dreaming. I say so out loud.
“No, you’re not dreaming.”
The voice startles me. I see no one.
“Who are you? Where are you?” I ask, spinning in all directions, looking for the person talking. The mud squishes beneath my feet, and I hear it.
“Jimmy, you are at Bennett Labs. You volunteered to participate in our virtual reality experiment. You are currently in a world of your creation. Are you telling me that you don’t remember any of this?”
“I don’t remember anything. I don’t even remember my name.”
“I’m going to stop the experiment right now. Something is not right. This shouldn’t be happening.”
“Wait,” I demand. “You said that I am in a world of my own creation, right.”
“Yes, Jimmy. Are you saying you may have made yourself forget your own name?”
“I’m just saying that maybe if this is an experiment, maybe we should give it a few minutes longer. This place is so weird. If it’s not real, how can I feel the mud, smell the plants? And over there, hold on. I see a river.”
I begin running toward a small river. The mud is nearly impossible to keep my footing on. I slip to the ground a few times, but finally make my way to the water.
“Are you okay, Jimmy? Are you sure you don’t want to stop the experiment?” the voice calls out.
“I’m almost there. There is a ferry here. There is a man on it.”
“I’m a dwarf, thank you. And who are you talking to? There is no one here but you and me.”
“Ummm, whoever you are from Bennett Labs, I am talking to a dwarf who thinks I am crazy for talking to you. So, ummm, give me a few minutes here. I want to talk to the dwarf.”
“Who are you talking to?” the dwarf demanded once again.
“No one,” I assured him. “Are there other people here?”
“Not on this side of the Gollobowl’s River, Jimmy.”
“You know my name?” I asked, staring at the robed dwarf.
“Sure do, I’ve been taking people across the river for you for years.”
“For me?” I asked, feeling lightheaded after his declaration. “What people?”
“The people you’ve thrown away. People you told me you had no use for. Those people.”
The dwarf pointed across the river. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people, on the other side of the river. I see former teachers, former best friends, and many acquaintances that I never really got to know.
I didn’t throw those people away. They’re still alive. I don’t have the power to throw people away.
“Ah, I beg to differ, Master Jimmy. In your own mind, these people no longer exist. The mind is a terribly powerful thing. Sure, these people still go about their daily business, just on the other side of the river. You even named the river, you did.”
“Huh? I didn’t name this river.”
“As a kid, you believed all the losers in you neighborhood either hung out at Davey Gollo’s house or at the bowling alley. Remember now? That’s why you named this river of separation Gollobowls River. It keeps you away from the losers. Weird thing is, most the people I take across seem like good people. But, hey, you’re the boss.”
I felt dizzy, nauseous, and guilty as charged.
“Bring them back,” I demanded. “And when they’re all back in this side the river, sink the ferry!”
“Good choice, Master Jimmy! I’ll get busy right a way!”
“Hello, Bennett Labs’ guy.”
“I’m here Jimmy,” the voice called back. “You okay?”
“I am now. Bring me back home. I’ve made the necessary repairs.”
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