‘More and more each day it feels like I don’t belong here, in this life. That there’s somewhere else, a reality – a real reality.’
‘How long have you been feeling like this?’ Her voice did seem familiar: gentle, reassuring.
‘I don’t know,’ Torbin replied after a few long seconds. ‘A week, maybe. Ever since the repetitions happened. It’s not just deja vu.’
‘When was the last time?’
‘About ten minutes ago, as I walked into your consulting room. I am sure I’ve been here before. And doctor. You may say we have never met before, but I feel I know you.’
She looked at him quizzically, but only for a second until her professional composure returned. ‘What you describe does have a medical explanation,’ she said.
‘Some professional term for the beginnings of insanity? I actually wish it was only that.’
‘Then, what do you think it is?’
‘I wish I knew. But it’s like there’s a … a veil between me and something bigger, and every time I try to pass through it it recedes away.’
‘Do you mean an invisible veil?’
‘Invisible, yes.’ Now he felt faintly ridiculous for using a less than adequate analogy. Yet none better came to mind.
‘Interesting.’ She nodded. ‘I’d suggest you keep a record of anything strange.’
Torbin walked through the lush grounds of the institute. His mind somehow captivated by what was before him. He noticed the flowers, pinks and mauves vibrant in unbroken sun, let their soothing scent wash over him. Gentle sound of birds the perfect accompanying soundtrack. And wondered: why? Why question any of his life when it seemed so good?
When had it all fallen into place? The research grant for his work into applied negative energy for wormholes; the marriage of eight years to someone who could still make the day a joy to live, along with a son and daughter. Torbin the family man, more than just about able to cope. Who would have ever imagined?
It wasn’t that things had always been so good – he’d had failed relationships, and the post of chief researcher was not simply handed to him on a plate, others had gotten the promotion that he felt he was due. But at forty-two he could hardly consider himself a failure.
When was it he started to have doubts?
For a long time he had taken his life for granted. Then he focused on others’ lives, and, wow, his was good. Did he deserve it all? Of course. He worked hard for it. And still he had doubts. He’d learned of a condition – a state of mind, really – known as Paradise Neurosis, where the subject believes everything they have to be tenuous, dependent on something fragile and impermanent. Yes, he’d become obsessed with it; studied the accounts.
It made him question: was contentment the natural state of the human? He suspected not. Real lasting happiness, in millennia past, was the reward for the few at the expense of the many. And for those many only ever transitory, an interlude from the vigilance of whatever next threat emerged on the horizon. That, he understood, was the perennial human condition. Moreover it was by design. Design without a designer. The vigilant survives.
He stopped. Eyes closed now. A dream had come back to him. A dream so familiar it could have repeated a thousand times. A house near the edge of a cliff. A garden, scent of bluebells. First it was the sound, before he looked and saw the ground crumble away. He ran back into the house, as if by some instinctive act. Maybe the foundations were stronger. But even they gave way with the collapsing walls. He could have escaped to safer ground so easily. But he had frozen with terror. The last moments of life before awakening. As always. The dream reality.
He opened his eyes. The birds tweeting. The flowers. It was … lovely.
It will all be fine, in the end. What is there to fear? Just keep it hidden.
Only he hadn’t, he’d told her enough to make her believe he was… What? In need of medical adjustment? Insane?