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Fantasy Man Against a Broken Reality
Fantasy Man against a Broken Reality: A story about the world our mind creates.
Elliot is slouching. His eyes are pointed in the direction of the desk, but he doesn’t see that. He doesn’t hear it when his teacher, Mrs. Jolene, calls his name for the fourth time. He doesn’t feel the piece of paper fly through the air to strike his head. He isn’t there.
Superheroes aren’t real. Except, technically, they are a concept that exists. Even if it is just in comic books, those books exist. If you imagine a superhero, in some form, it is real. Elliot knows this and knows this about any other fictional entity. You can imagine anything you want to, which is a beautiful thought. That is, until it traps you in dependency, keeping you more connected with reverie than the things around you. There Elliot sits, eyes half-closed, head bent down to stare at the lines of the wood’s grain in the school desk, hand gripping the pencil with broken lead. Outside of him, the constant struggles, nuances, and stressfulness of the real world. But inside him, a superhero story unfolds:
Fantasy Man clenches his teeth; his blows have been null to Dr. Actuality’s electric armor. This was one of Fantasy Man’s toughest encounters yet. The Doctor cackles in a way that only evil doctors can.
“Futile! You will never stop my Ray of Reality! Its beam will sweep across the world, forcing every lousy daydreamer back to crushing reality!” The doctor waved his gloved hand towards the ray. It glowed with green energy, its wheels, batteries, gears, lasers assembled into a rumbling and intimidating structure.
“Imagination always wins in the end, Doctor,” Fantasy Man declares, “I will do whatever it takes to ensure that. The people of Dreamland are counting on me!” He knows the odds aren’t great. Maybe this is the time he finally loses. Fantasy Man observes his surroundings, looking for any possibility of a plan. He notices that the ray is mounted on a relatively thin support pole. All he needs to do is activate his powers of fantasy to create a projectile to knock it down, saving Elliot’s fictional world. Dr. Actuality follows his gaze and notices the error in the structural integrity of the weapon.
“Not a chance in Dreamland, Fantasy Man!” Dr. Actuality cried. He pressed a button on his wrist controller, then spun a dial. A torrent of wind tore through the dark laboratory as the ray suddenly pointed at Fantasy Man. The sound of mechanical whirring then a blast of green light was the last Fantasy Man saw.
Elliot jumped awake. Mrs. Jolene was scowling at him from the front of the class. When the kids who had been whispering at the back of the class stopped to watch, Mrs. Jolene couldn’t help but smirk. Killing Fantasy Man always made her feel powerful.
“Um, what was the question again?” Elliot mumbled.
“For goodness sakes, Elliot. I’ll just ask someone else,” the teacher chided as if she never intended for Elliot to answer in the first place.
Lunchtime was different. Here Elliot had Joel, his best and only friend for as long as he could remember. In the middle of their conversation, Elliot returned to his dwam.
“Hey, I’ve got a joke: what do you call it when a dwarf flies over the circus?” Joel waited for a response before noting that, yet again, Elliot wasn’t paying attention. “Elliot! Hey, Elliot! Jesus, you’re so slow to respond, it’s like talking to the human version of Internet Explorer.” Joel comments, “you really need to stop spacing out so much. I’m gonna lose you for good one of these times.”
“Sorry,” Elliot looked away. “I just… I’d just rather not be here.”
“Fine,” Joel spat. He plugged in his earbuds and ignored Elliot for the rest of the day.
The moment Elliot stepped off the school bus, the battle between Fantasy Man and Dr. Actuality raged on in his mind. Fantasy Man broke through the stupor of the ray and had the Doctor fleeing, defeated. At the end of the day, Fantasy wins.
Elliot trods through the doorway into his house. His Dad looks up at Elliot’s shoes, not bothering to go any higher, then looks back at his crossword puzzle. Elliot sighs. Home. He slumps into his room, dropping his backpack with a thud on the ground. He falls backward onto the big bed in the corner of his room and looks around. Ever since he was a kid, superheroes, dragons, elves, and villains had dominated his world. It was so much easier to imagine glowing swords and laser beams than to do homework and make all his shortcomings painfully obvious, or worse, suffer through an argument with his dad. He had Lord of the Rings posters, his favorite comic book pages, and even some of his own drawings of Fantasy Man’s heroic battles pinned up on every inch of his walls. He closed his eyes, feeling the weightlessness of daydreaming pull him away from the stress of school, away from the homework that’s due tomorrow, away from the world that despises him.
The next day, Elliot is deeper in his trance than usual. Exams were coming up, and instead of dreading having everyone see what an idiot he was, he was enjoying the battle. Fantasy Man is defeating Dr. Actuality handily, and Elliot is typically comforted by this. Until lunchtime, that is. Elliot drifts again, and Joel glares at him.
“If you’re gonna keep doing that all the time, then I’m going to move somewhere else to eat lunch,” Joel mumbled angrily.
Elliot didn’t hear him.
Elliot heard him that time.
Joel gave him a look of disbelief. “I don’t understand it. I’m your best friend!” Joel sighs. “Or at least I was. Let me know when you stop being so uncool.”
Elliot watched as Joel picked up his tray and went to sit with his other friends. “I… Wait,” Elliot started, but Joel was gone.
Fantasy Man gets ready to deliver the final blow to Dr. Actuality’s newest invention.
“Wait, Fantasy Man!” the disheveled doctor yells. Fantasy Man turns around to look at him, and in the Doctor’s hand is a remote. Dr. Actuality presses a button, and a large screen turns on. Broadcasted on the screen is the image of The Jokester, Fantasy Man’s trusted long-time partner in justice. The Jokester is bound by ropes, held by a mechanical arm over a pool of deadly sharks.
“With the press of a button, I, Dr. Actuality will take your beloved friend away from you!” The doctor laughed.
The color drained from Fantasy Man’s face. Anyone but The Jokester.
Elliot laid in bed that evening, thinking about what he’d done that was so wrong. It wasn’t his fault reality was a sea of broken glass, cutting away all your happiness. In reality, people want the things they don’t have and value the things they lost, but never really appreciate what they have. People suffer through being anxious, depressed, hurt, and broken, all for what? But in Elliot’s imagination, there was no stress, no unfairness. If Joel couldn’t see that, then it was his own problem.
Fantasy Man chuckled. “Drop him. I don’t care.”
Dr. Actuality paused. “Uh, what?”
Fantasy Man turned away from the screen and created a big hammer from his mind. “Imagination is more important than any partner! The Jokester will have to handle himself.” And with that, Fantasy Man swung the hammer to destroy the nefarious device.
Over the next couple of days, Elliot fell even further into his void. Before, only his mind went to dreamland, but it seemed as if now the rest of him did too, shuffling around but never responding at all. This happened only once before, when Elliot’s Mom passed away. A reign of peace falls over Dreamland, and Fantasy Man wins the day over and over again, without the slightest chance of failing.
Mrs. Jolene finished packing up her things that afternoon. Elliot hadn’t noticed, nor had he noticed anything else in the ocean of shards around him.
The next day, someone new addressed the class. “Good morning. That is to say, it is both a morning that is good and a morning to be good on.” Elliot noticed this as a surprising reference to one of Gandalf’s lines in The Lord of the Rings, and it kept him from drifting off. “My name is Mr. Freeman, and I am your new history teacher.”
Mr. Freeman began role, and he walked around the classroom as he did so. The movement and the energy in his voice as he called out names made the room seem brighter.
“Uh, here,” Elliot said with a raise of his hand.
“Hmm,” Mr. Freeman hummed. “Alright, let’s get started, shall we?”
Normally, Elliot would drift back to dreamland at this point, but for some reason, he stayed in reality for a little while. Mr. Freeman jumped right into the lesson, telling tales about history in a way that reminded Elliot of a comic book.
“Civil Disobedience is key, it's a… Superpower!” Mr. Freeman burst, “Giving the oppressed civilians a chance to fight back against the odds of a powerful government.”
Mr. Freeman brought the class to the topic of Muhammad Gandhi. All the students in the class were leaning forward, eyes glued to the teacher.
“A real superhero, able to change the world around him for the better!” Mr. Freeman claimed. Elliot noticed the teacher glance at him, and Elliot could have sworn he winked at him too. “It’s important to visualize what you are learning using your imagination. It helps you stay connected to the world around you.”
Elliot felt as if the teacher was talking directly to him, reaching out and lifting him out of the cage he was in.
Dr. Actuality sat in his prison cell. He thought about himself. Why am I the villain? All he wanted was to show the world that there was more beauty around them than in their accursed dreams. If only they could see how much of a poison pure imagination was. He thought for a moment longer. Maybe imagination can be good if it is used to help build the world around us. The doctor stood up, suddenly realizing something; he needed Fantasy Man’s help.
The next day, Mr. Freeman told Elliot to stay for a few minutes when the bell rang. Elliot looked at the ground. He was probably in trouble for not paying attention.
“Look, I know as well as anyone that history, and any other class for that matter, isn’t the most stimulating thing. Hell, being human doesn’t seem worth it one hundred percent of the time,” Mr. Freeman put his hand on Elliot’s shoulder, eyes shining with passion. “But listen to me very carefully: hiding from your problems will only make you want to ignore them more. It gets easier to handle, but first, you have to handle it. In other words: take it easy, Mr. Weaver. But take it all the same.”
Elliot stood in stunned silence for a moment.
“Now get to class,” Mr. Freeman ordered with a chuckle.
The Doctor reluctantly dialed a number from the prison phone, a number he had never used but knew by heart all the same. “Hello?” He asked into the receiver.
“Dr. Actuality? Why on Dreamland are you calling me? If you think you can threaten me, you have another thing coming,” Fantasy Man answered.
Elliot raised his hand, shaking it in the air.
“Yes, Mr. Weaver?” Mr. Freeman pointed to him.
Elliot answered with enthusiasm. “One of the biggest fulcrums for change in the civil war were the actions of Martin Luther King Jr, who inspired people to act in the face of hardships.”
“Very good, very good. You seem much more involved in this class, Mr. Weaver.”
No matter how much better he was doing in his classes, he didn’t know how he was going to make it up to Joel.
“You… Need my help?” Fantasy Man parroted.
“Yes, badly. I realize my mistakes, but I think we can work together to help everyone. No more ignorance of the people of dreamland. No more hiding in fear. We just have to show them there is nothing to be afraid of,” Dr. Actuality explained.
Fantasy Man paused to think.
Elliot approached Joel, then stood in front of him looking for the words to say. “I’m sorry, Joel. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten, or how much I hurt you. If you’ll forgive me, I promise it won’t happen again,” Elliot pleaded.
Joel stared at him for a moment. Then, a smile spread across his face. “Took you long enough, dude. I guess I should say I’m sorry too, it wasn’t super cool of me to ignore you like that,” Joel paused, “And by the way, the punchline was: that’s a little over the top.”
Fantasy Man looked out of the window of his justice tower, overlooking the people of dreamland, before he put the phone back to his ear. “Alright, let’s do it.”