Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Me thinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me
― Herman Melville
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Javier asked, “Are you feeling strong enough to return to your room before dinner, maybe to rest and relax? Then perhaps we can talk again after you’ve had something to eat.”
Paul mumbled “Yes,” and walked to his room, feeling as though each leg weighed a ton. He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. Within seconds, he was asleep.
He opened his eyes and looked around. In the corner of the room, Cecilia was standing there, just looking at him.
Paul said, “Cecilia, I can’t talk to you. Javier explained to me that you are just an hallucination. You aren’t real. So please, go away.”
Cecilia said, “Paul, I am as real to you as if I were flesh and blood. I realize I’m not like you in that respect. But I’m probably the only person that really understands you, and wants to help you. Is that so bad?”
Paul said, “Please – go away and leave me alone. I hate being crazy. I hate having these thoughts that won’t go away – seeing things that aren’t there – talking to people that don’t exist. I want to live in the real world, just as I used to. That damned Riemann Hypothesis did this to me. I was okay until that obsession ruined my mental health. I wish I could just start all over again, and go back to my old life. Do you suppose I could do that?”
Cecilia appeared to think that over for a moment. “I doubt it. Most of the people that loved you are either afraid of you or just can’t live with you because of the way you are. And I’ve got news for you, Paul. It wasn’t the Riemann. Oh, maybe that pushed you over the tipping point a bit. But you weren’t exactly easy to live with before that. And look at your family history, for God’s sake. You come from a whole family of loony tunes. It would appear that your brother’s the only one that escaped the torture.”
Paul nodded. “You’re probably right. I was pretty self-absorbed. I thought everyone was like that. It wasn’t until Emily was born that I actually felt a connection to another human being. She’s a wonderful person, you know. The best thing I ever did. And now she lives with her mother, and I’ll probably never see her again.”
Paul tried to stifle a sob, unsuccessfully. Cecilia nodded in agreement.
“Emily is a wonderful person. Apparently she’s the one thing we share; there’s some cosmic connection between you, her and me. She was the one that explained to me that I wasn’t real. She said I was virtual – a character in a computer game. And all the time, I was an hallucination that you created. And somehow, you shared her with me. And for that, I thank you.”
Paul sighed, and put his face deep into the pillow. “I feel as though I’ve completely lost my connection to whatever the real world is. I am so lost – do you ever feel like that?”
Paul turned to look at Cecilia, but she was gone. Instead, Ishmael was sitting in the chair.
“Oh, it’s you – you’re back. Well, I’ll tell you the same thing I told Cecilia. Please go away. Javier explained to me that you are an hallucination, and that hallucinations are unhealthy aspects of my mental illness. So just go away, OK?”
Ishmael looked at Paul, and shook his head in disgust.
“You are so easily swayed. Whatever the last person says to you, you believe. Have you become that shallow – that malleable that anyone can manipulate you? I thought you were smarter than that.”
Paul started to become angry.
“Don’t try to con me – I know you’re not real! I know you’re just a byproduct of bad chemicals in my brain. If I were to shoot you, you wouldn’t bleed; you wouldn’t die. You’d just vanish into thin air! I wish I had a gun right now. If I did, I’d prove it to you.”
Ishmael put out his hands to Paul.
“Whoa, big guy – take it easy. Guns? Let’s have no more talk of guns. I see your point. But I was listening to Cecilia when she spoke to you. She does have a point. She and I are likely the only two people on this planet that really care about you. Do you think that doctor Javier cares? He’s not interested in you getting better. In fact, the sicker you get, the longer you stay, and the more money the hospital gets from your bank account.”
Ishmael now looked angry, and Paul was beginning to feel ashamed of himself for saying the things he did to his imaginary friend.
“You may have a point there. It does appear that Javier hasn’t really helped me. I’m still seeing and hearing you and Cecilia – so that proves I’m still crazy, in spite of all that medication they’ve given me. Right?”
Ishmael nodded. “That’s right. You are still off your rocker, to use a hackneyed phrase to describe mental illness. But Cecilia and I want to help – ironic, isn’t it? Cecilia and I agreeing on one thing: we want to help you.”
Paul sat up in his bed.
“Two hallucinations help me? Somehow that doesn’t seem right. I’d better talk with Javier about that first.”
Ishmael shook his head no. “A conversation with Javier will likely end up with a jab of thorazine and maybe even back into those leather straps, like at Mercy after they Baker-Acted you. No, my friend, that is not a good idea.”
Paul asked, “OK, smart guy, how do you and Cecilia intend to help me?”
Ishmael looked Paul in the eye. “We need to go back to Essex. Hey, don’t look at me like that – until Javier intervened, you understood about my time travel. Now all of a sudden you’re skeptical. Well, Cecilia and I have spoken, and I know she has the experience and knowledge to undo the damage done by the earthlings to Essex. She is willing to go back there with me. But we need you to come along as well. You understand the mathematical portion of this work, that she frankly isn’t capable of. We can’t do it without you.”
Paul snorted. “And how exactly are we going to accomplish this feat? Jump in a rocket ship and fly away to this other planet? That is crazy!”
Ishmael quietly said, “The rocket is, in fact, on the roof of this hospital. I know how to get us back to Essex, and back to my time frame. We have medicines on Essex that can cure your schizophrenia. Had I known it was needed, I’d have brought some. But Paul, please – come with me. Cecilia and I can help you.”
Cecilia now joined Ishmael. They looked lovingly at Paul, and beckoned for him to accompany them. Paul made up his bed, and put on his coat. He took the elevator up to the top floor, and then up the fire stairs to the roof. The hatch required a push, and then he was up there. The Essex was there, flames shooting from the bottom, and the ladder to the door down. Ishmael, Cecilia and he climbed the ladder and entered the rocket. They strapped themselves in, with Ishmael at the controls. Within a minute, the three of them were flying to what Paul knew would be salvation.