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It happened on a dark night. It was a normal dark night—a night that happened to change my views forever.
Finals were just around the corner; I couldn’t wait for the two-week break afterwards. I could already see the picturesque scene of typical snow days: snowball fights, sledding down the big hill down the street, hot cocoa… I’m already in high school, just so you know. But hey, you’re only a kid once, right?
Then again, after the talk I had with him… That could be wrong, too.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself; let me start from the beginning. Dark night. Winter break. And the only thing standing between me and the holidays was the semester finals. My friends were ready to wing it, but I figured, why not actually try this time?
Three hours into the Sunday before test week, and I already found out why people don’t do it. Boring as heck.
I sat there, trying to figure out why finding the unknown side of a triangle using the known side value and the cosign of an angle was going to help me get into college, for twenty minutes before I had to take my break. I hated the way my brain worked; literature and world geography were no sweat for me. Spanish came easily enough. Phys-ed wasn’t bad. But science and math? Forget it. Why is it that I can’t learn the important stuff?
My parents don’t fit the picture either; my dad’s an engineer, and my mom’s studying to be a botanist in a university overseas. Math and science makes money, their parents told them, and they were right. We live in a fat house with a fat stack of cash we don’t know what to do with. The problem is me; no matter how much I try to convince myself, there’s no way two dangerous chemicals make the salt I use to season my steak, and there’s no way “sine, cosign, and tangent” are three magic words that make triangles, triangles.
Basically, I can’t get a grasp of reality. World’s wrong, everything’s messed up, I’m the only sane one on the planet. Call me crazy.
So I sat there, feeling pretty miserable for myself, when I saw the silhouette of a person standing next to my window—well, it wasn’t really standing next to my window; it was standing on the tree branch next to it. Three floors above the ground.
He (I was guessing it was a he) had shades and a long, dark overcoat on (as far as I can tell). Thick gloves covered his hands, and he wore thick boots to match. Shades covered his eyes. His head was clean-shaven. And he was leaning towards my window.
Tap, tap, tap.
I thought about it for a second. A guy, long dark overcoat, in the middle of the night, was trying to get into my window, on the third floor, from a tree branch you’d have to be able to fly to get on. I was dreaming, right? I was just dozing off on a Sunday, and suddenly, I had this surreal dream that I can wake up out of any time I felt like it.
I pinched myself. Nothing happened. I pinched myself harder. Still the same.
Tap, tap, tap.
I sighed, made a quick mental note to say sorry to my parents in case I was screwing up big time, grabbed the katana off of its display stand (A bit of a collector’s thing; kids collect baseball cards. I collect katana. No biggie.), and slid open the window.
His face was suddenly up to mine.
“Have a moment?”
I thought for a second. Well, he didn’t try to attack me; not yet, anyway.
“Sure, as long as you stay out there and don’t try anything, like normal shady people at night.”
“Funny, aren’t we?”
A few minutes later, I found myself calling the kitchen for two cups of Oolong tea.
“Can’t start a conversation if we don’t clear our throats,” he said (definitely a he; Mr. Moustache hasn’t shaved in a while), sipping out of his cup like we were playing Tea Party. I noisily slurped out of mine.
“So, what’s up? Attacked anyone yet? Snuck into people’s houses lately? Steal anything valuable?” I asked innocently.
“Oh, so that’s how you greet people. I could say the same to you,” he shot back, eyeing the Japanese sword in my left hand, still sheathed.
I sighed. “So, what do you want? Besides my age, the school I go to…”
“Mr. Sun, do you believe in science? Math?”
“Do I believe in… how can I not? That’s like asking if I believed in reality; if I believe rocks are rocks, or trees are trees. So on.”
“Then how come ‘reality’ doesn’t make sense to you? Hmm? How come you made a 65 on the test last week-”
I eyed him suspiciously. “How did you know about the test?”
It was a surprise, impromptu test. Not even the teachers knew about it. When we asked, they told us it had something to do with the higher-ups. See if we were “competent.” They reassured us that it was all elementary, and it didn’t even count for a grade.
Everyone passed with flying colors. Even the failing ones. Everyone but me.
He seemed to be smiling; enjoying himself. “Rest assured, you’re not stupid.”
“Not stupid? How can a 65-”
“It was an aptitude test, Mr. Sun, and you passed. In fact, you were one of the three only students that have done so from your school.”
“And I’m guessing you’re the guy who made those tests?”
“Great. You found yourself the three school idiots. What’re you going to do with them?”
He gave me that smile. This guy was really getting on my nerves.
“What if I told you that you were right all this time?”
“Right? About what?”
“The world. It’s crazy. Upside-down. No one can tell from left to right. And if someone could tell from left to right, they’re wrong. All of them.”
“I don’t get what you…”
“What if I told you that everything you knew was based off of lies? History is all inaccurate events that were written to give reassurance, reassurance to the newer generation that everything existed before this time. Literature from the past was never really written in the past, but written by writers of today and printed and published to have been created before now.”
He was on a roll, now. “Science, gobbledygook! Math, bah! It’s all a lie. And do you know why they’ve been lying for years?”
I kept quiet, but my right hand was slowly reaching for the handle of the blade.
“To keep people in check. Knowledge is power, after all. Higher-ups don’t like to give the people power, you know. But that’s beside the point. Usually, when someone hears this, they go on a stubborn rampage, trying to prove how ‘Science and math give structure!’ and all that good garbage, but…”
He paused to take a breath. I took the moment to clear my mind and keep it cool and concentrated. My grip tightened, then relaxed. Keeping my left hand on the scabbard, my right on the handle, I waited for my opportunity; an opening.
“But they fail to realize that, at that point, they’re the ones running from reality. They just cannot accept what doesn’t fit their perspective. I personally feel sympathy for them; they’ve been fed information and trained to know it like the back of their hands. But, wait a minute, aren’t we forgetting something? There’s a gap here. If they’re wrong, what’s right? Reality’s just a playpen we put the young ones in to lie down and lay around, to never know the world beyond the restricted areas. So what’s on the outside? An unknown space we have no clue about?”
He gave me the smile again. “That’d be correct.”
Suddenly, hot anger raced through my body. Who did this guy think he was? He was telling me that my whole life, everything I forced myself to believe, was a lie. All of it. What were those pointless years of school for? How many times did I have to go to cram school to work twice as hard as the other kids just to get by? How many doctor visits did I make just to test if I had ADHD that was making me stupid? After all of the suffering and humiliation, I was able to barely scrape passing grades and got into high school with the rest of my graduating class. A fresh start, I told myself. I wouldn’t need cram school anymore. I was fourteen. I could do it on my own, like normal people. My parents would stop worrying about me. Self-studying almost butchered my grades, but I was staying strong as an independent freshman, and I got into my sophomore year without any major problems.
And now, after all my hard work, he slapped me in the face with all of this. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Don’t talk like you know better than everyone else,” I said quietly, dangerously.
“Do I look stupid to you? Is that it? Have you never seen an angry high school kid before?”
And before he could answer, I executed my iai, whipping the katana cleanly out of the scabbard without delay and, going with the momentum, tried cutting across. I wasn’t planning on killing the guy; maybe scaring him off the branch and him sitting in a wheelchair for a while wouldn’t be so bad.
The steel cut straight through the wooden frame of the wall next to my window. I had never pulled off such a perfect iai in my five years of learning the trade.
Only to have it stopped by his finger.
He stood there, taking in my face of utter surprise. Then he burst out laughing my cold, delivering steel caught in the glove but not passing through his index.
“You should have been listening, Mr. Sun,” he said at last, still musing over my shock. “You’ve got guts to come out and attack the man who’s gotten a grasp of the real world.”
“Real world? To be honest, I was almost ready to accept what you said about the world being wrong. But to say you know how this… whatever you claim it is, how this thing works, I’d say you’re the crazy one.”
“Then, how did I stop your blade? Your timing was just right. The ferocity was there. Any good little kid who didn’t decide to stray out of the safety zone would’ve been cut in two.”
“So… you’re saying you’re a delinquent baby who snuck outside the border?”
“I wouldn’t say THAT… I’d say I’m on the fence. A foot in this world and a foot in that one. Even I, the most knowledgeable person I know in my field, don’t fully understand the rules of the outside of the pen.”
I glared at him. “You’ve got to admit; that time you just sounded like a self-proclaiming lunatic.”
He thought for a moment; “You’ve got a point, Mr. Sun. But think about it like this: even a cosmologist doesn’t fully understand what ‘reality’ calls the universe. Even a philosopher won’t understand his or her philosophy thoroughly. In their heads, it’s all just an ever-expanding amount of dark, unknown space that never ceases to grow. Much like the unknown reality we live in. Or, more accurately, the reality I ‘half’ live in and most of the population continues to ignore.”
I pulled back my katana and sheathed the blade back into the scabbard.
“It’s an interesting idea you’ve got there, Mr. Shades, but I think I’ll just stay in my island of bliss and not worry about… well, whatever you’re trying to sell to me. Sometimes…” I trailed off, looking past him at the full moon. “Sometimes you just have to accept things the way they are.”
I’m an unfit son of two genius parents, and no matter how hard I tried, I’d always end up disappointing them. But of course, I didn’t tell him that.
He watched my face. “Are you really okay with that?”
I kept silent.
He sighed. “Alright, Mr. Sun, I’ll make a deal with you.” He held out his hand. “Grab on.”
“I’ll show you, for a moment, the world I live in. The only condition is that you must not tell anyone about this experience.”
I looked on my desk. Five more review packets to go. There could be other ways to waste time; plus, if he tried anything weird, I’d always have my katana. Then again, he stopped it with his finger… I let out a breath. What a dilemma.
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t plan on being branded a drugee before my senior year.” I grabbed on.
“Good! Keep all hands and feet in the ride at all times and remember to buckle up! Hang on tight!”
I thought to myself: What is this? A roller coaster ride?
As soon as I thought that, darkness opened up in front of us and yanked us in with so much force, it felt like I was being slammed into it with two tons in bricks. I felt my face peel back and my hands searching for something, anything to hold onto, until about two seconds later, it was over.
My pupils dilated so much it hurt. I should have been falling, but I wasn’t. What is this? Where was I?
“Welcome,” the man said, “to Unreality.”
Then, he vanished.