Robed Man #7
Everybody’s in a robe.
I really wish I wasn’t. Its itchy and I can’t get comfortable in it. The corner of wall in the student lounge can’t scratch it well. An elbow jabs into my side.
“Stop being weird.”
“This is so uncomfortable-”
Li wanted to come along. I tried to convince her not to. I’m used to doing this stuff alone, but she insisted she had to come in case someone died. I doubt nobody would be dying in here, but I wouldn’t think everybody could come in here dressed in wool either. Even the size of the audience doesn’t correlate to the amount of people who live her now. Not as many people came back after the deaths- two incidents within the same year will kept people out.
“How’d you get your parents to send you back?
We’re in my new room, which has no roommate due to the lack of returning students. All the students who were assigned to this dorm live in singles. Li hates staying in hers. She sleeps here for company. She might as well thanks to the other set of twin beds that they left in the rooms.
“I told them this was the only Pre-Med program I could get into.”
“Other schools would have cut you slack.”
“Don’t tell my mom that.” She takes out her laptop. “Name a band, but not any weird ones.”
She hates the silence. Ruby not coming back bugged her more than she led on. They text a bit, but it’s not the same. That makes me the new best bud. I don’t mind.
“What’s the plan?”
“Javier. Watch and follow him.”
He’s been a lot more social since we got back. He’s eating again, and that means he’s finally leaving his room. Campus facilities forced him out of the dormitory, and they only noticed him because of the smell. It was a last-minute check before they tore it down. He was able to transfer all his stuff in the new spot, and it was all set up by the time we got there.
He looks sick.
“Javy, is that you?”
“Dude…” His hair is long and whiskers covered his jaws and chin. “ You have no idea what you’ve done.”
“You’re so pale.”
“I’m enlightened- don’t you understand.” He places his hands on my shoulders. “I owe you the world.”
He rambles about a giant ocean, bigger and bluer than anything we know of, covering hundreds of miles. He talked about the nothingness until he learned how to create there, exploring until he realized he wasn’t going to find anything.
“There was no end in sight. I was waiting for the invisible barrier you run into in videogames, the ones the developers add to keep you for traveling to unfinished parts of the world.”
“What made you think there was nothing to find?”
“Time worlds different at this place. I was at it for a while. I stopped and let my mind wondered, and as soon as I asked myself- what can I build here? I made an island. It took me weeks to figure that out.”
He looks off, thinking back at the time. He shakes his head.
“No, I’m sorry. It felt like weeks.”
He laughs he used to, back before Ian killed a bunch cops, before he got run through with a sword. It makes me miss him.
“So where was this again?”
He taps on his head. Explains how it’s all in the mindscape, and speaks to it like it’s a tangible place.
“You gotta see it.”
He breaks to eat some food. The food flies into his face so fast it looks like he’ll choke on it. I glance to the left and Li motions something to me in the distance. She makes little circles with her hand, telling me to keep him talking. Javier belches, getting my attention.
“This food is great.”
“I’m glad you’re eating again.”
“It’s just fuel…wait a minute- where was I?” He snaps, remembering his place. “Yes. The mindscape. It’s like…no, it definitely is a metaphor.”
“The strength of your mind. It’s just a muscle that you strengthen. Building in this world was me going to the gym- the mind gym. I’m telling you, Jimmy. I’m flexing like a motherfucker now a days. And it’s all thanks to you.”
He pats my shoulder, causing me to flinch a bit. He picks up on it, holding his hands up defensively.
“Don’t worry, man. I’m forever in your debt. I want to show you how much all this means to me. “
“It’s fine. I was doing you a favor.”
“And it will be returned. I just have to work out some logistics.”
“It’s nothing really. The work I’ve done on myself was extensive. I want to see if I can transfer that knowledge, and what that would look like. If I can share this gift with other people…oh man, the possibility is endless.”
Back in the room, Li’s laptop blares enough to reverb her tiny speakers.
“Did he really say it like that?”
“So he’s like…playing Minecraft in his brain?”
“Something like that.”
The plan was clear- follow and then intercede. We didn’t know what Javier was capable of, but we engaged him when we good, and just watched him when we couldn’t. Li hasn’t been willing to talk to him at all, but she’s always there.
“He’s a lot calmer now.”
“You think so?”
“You watched him eat. I haven’t seen that in…since before the Incident.”
“He definitely found something then.”
“If he gets to play videogames in his sleep, I’m totally fine with that.”
It wasn’t just that.
Later that week, he called me over to see something. Li was in class, so she didn’t get to come. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t a coincidence.
“I’m ready to show you.”
“So me what-“
A blink takes me somewhere, somewhere cold. The sky is blue, clearer than I’ve ever seen it. It’s like I’m on vacation or watching TV. My feet are wet, and I’m standing in ankle deep water. I look down, but there’s no sand. My feel something in my toes, but I just see deeper into water source I’m on, like I’m standing on clear sand, but underneath is glass, showing me the rest of the ocean. Am I on top of the ocean?
Looking around I see nothing for miles, like I’m lost at sea. I feel cold again.
A blink takes me back.
Seeing Javier, I jump back. My palms sweat, yet my forehead is cold, my lungs contract in a fury. I can’t catch my breath. My skin itches, and I’m not sure what’s going on.
“Whoa, whoa. Relax. Breath man.”
“What was that it?”
“That was what I’m talking about.” He looks happy. He smiles with his hand extended, pointing at me with his finger bobbing. “You did see it.”
“How did I see it?”
“I brought you there. How do you feel- better?”
The thumping in my chest slows. I dry my hands on my shirt, and I regain control of my breathing. I do feel better physically, but the freak out remains.
“How did you bring me there?”
Javier turns, looking at some of his notes that he taped until his wall. All four are covered in them, arrows connecting some sort of order of succession, but the handwriting is too messy. I wonder if even he can read it.
“I made the journey. It took me forever, but once I got there, I knew I could make it work. Time happens slower there. It gave me a bigger opportunity.” He turns, and for a split second, I could see the age in his face, but it disappears. “I don’t expect people to put in the time or the work I did, so there has to be somewhere to make it easier for others. I had a theory…I tried it out on you.”
“Did it work?”
“Yeah. I think it did.”
“That’s good, right? What’s the next step?”
He withdraws, his arms down at his sides.
“I still have to work that part out. I’ll let you know when I figured it out though.”
“Cool. Tell Li I said hi.”
Back at the room, her eyes widen. I told he what happened after she got back from class, and after she scolded me for going to see Javier. She swears by the buddy system.
“I mean, seeing us hanging out isn’t quite the same.”
“We don’t hang out that much, do we?”
I look over at her stuff that’s starting to pile up on the other bed. She looks at it, then back at me.
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Whatever, look. He told me there. To the mindscape. I don’t know how he did it, but it did it on purpose. He’s getting closer.”
“It sounds like he’s already there.”
Back in the lounge, the murmur of the crowd dies down. The gathering falls silent and an aisle forms, letting one robed man enter. He takes slow, calculated steps towards the center. Everybody is very uniform and watching him the way we were, there’s no way we could have messed him talking to all these people.
“Back up.” Li whispers.
We continue to form the aisle.
“Ready what?” I say to Li.
“I didn’t say anything.” She responds.
“You just asked me if I was ready.”
“I didn’t say anything, Jimmy. Pay attention.”
The leader walks by us, and he shifts his head towards in our direction. He smiles and keeps walking. Thinking back to my venture in the mindscape, I realize I revealed a piece of myself to him- to Javier. I don’t know what this means, but it scares me all the same.
He’s in my head.