Reality is an illusion

Submitted into Contest #156 in response to: Write a story where a character is experiencing parallel realities.... view prompt

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Drama Fantasy Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Outside the cracked window, the squirrels shoot up the tree, leaping from one crooked branch to another. Their ginger fur shimmers in the autumn wind as it sweeps them from side to side during their play. I can’t tear my eyes away from the scene. Like a fish out of water, my mouth opens and closes. Opposite the squirrels, a decaying tree. The rotten leaves tumble from its branches, losing the battle against the wind. My eyes hurt as I forget to blink.

I strain, and finally, I convince my eyelids to shut and reopen.

But the world changes. Again.

Suddenly, the red leaves transform into bloody bits of gore,

streaming down the tree trunk. The fingers of the tree tumbles from the branches. Then, the poor thing cries. A chorus of mournful sobs seeps out of it. A haunting song, for a haunted soul. It bellows out at me, begging for me to help. To smash the glass and free it. If I throw my fist through this window, could I reach some of the leaves? Could I save the tree? A bitter metallic taste burns on my tongue. It forces me to taste its sorrow.

Deep breaths. It’s not real. It’s not plausible. Trees

don’t bleed or cry (I think).

I try to repeat the calming instruction my therapist forces upon me in situations like these, but it doesn’t help. My palms are clammy as I wipe them down on my trouser leg. For a moment, I close my eyes.

Silence follows.

Then I snap them open again to check on the miserable tree. It no longer bleeds. It no longer cries. It no longer talks to me.

It’s just raining, Willow, I tell myself, but my heart doesn’t stop pounding in my chest. Anxiously, I squint at the thick rain drops trickling down the tree trunk. For a moment, it shimmers a scarlet colour before washing out into a clear colour.

Yes, definitely rain. Wide-eyed, I wait for the tree to start acting up again.

“Willow?” A female voice pulls me from my thoughts, “Did you hear

what I just said?”

The grey-haired lady in front of me smiles sadly. Her thin, red

lips curving upwards, creating a ripple of lines in her tanned skin. On the lady’s name tag, which is pinned to her usual white fluttery blouse, is the name, Dr. Jane Dowding.

“What tree is that?” I hear my voice ask. It doesn’t sound

familiar. The noise is desperate, mournful. The lady in front of me casts her gaze in the direction in which I point. Her lips pull into a straight line and I can see she is debating on telling me the truth or not.

“That is a Willow tree.” She tells me nervously. I wince.

“How does that make you feel?” My therapist watches me intently,

“How does it make you feel knowing that the tree has the same name as you?”

I look at her blankly. It is the kind of question you’d ask a

traumatised child, not a twenty-two-year-old. My jaw clenches, and I avoid eye contact. Instead, I stare at the rough carpet. Like the sea, it’s dark blue colour ripples everywhere. I shuffle my feet to try and feel it, but my boots stop me. Without hesitation, I remove them and my socks. I submerge my feet into the carpet water. Much better.

Nervously, my doctor shuffles in her seat. For a moment, she looks afraid. Are my toes scaring her? Does she have a foot fear? Surely, she’s a therapist and shouldn’t have any fears? It takes me a long time to understand the strange scowl on her face. Slowly, but surely, the real answer reveals itself to my mind: randomly taking off your shoes is not a socially acceptable action. My lips curl into an ‘o’ shape. But I quickly hide this too.

“Tell me about your mother.” She tries to change the subject through grasping for information. It’s been six months of gruelling therapy and the most I’ve opened up to her is to tell her my name. My brother decided to fill her in on all the other details. Traitor.

Releasing a sharp breath, I glare at her. Adrenaline courses through me. She doesn’t know what she’s just done. The mention of my mother brings her back to life.

Suddenly, she is standing behind Doctor Jane, hands firmly clasped to the back of her seat. With melting eyes, she watches me intently. Though I cannot see her iris’, I feel her scrutinising gaze burning into me. She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t need to; her crossed arms and rigid stance says enough. I gulp. Today, her raven hair tumbles down her slender back. Each tendril floats around her face as if she is submerged under water. A tarred nightdress clings to each curve in her body. A lump in my throat forms when I let my eyes roam up to her face. Chalky skin, sunken eye sockets and charred cheeks. She died in that fire three years ago and yet she still looks as if she’s just emerged from the fiery hell she suffered in.

“Um.” I choke on a breath as my mother takes a step closer towards me. The stench of burning crawls up my nose and dies there, infecting every cell in my lungs. I feel myself slowly suffocating. And then something burns my fingers. My attention snaps down towards the lit cigarette in my fingers. When did I light this? When did the doctor allow me to smoke again?

“Willow? Did you hear what I just said?” My doctor frowns. This time, I feel my patience slipping. Now is not the time for a summary of my mother when the slippery bitch is about to attack. I grip tightly onto my cigarette, ready to use it as a weapon if needs be. My mini sword. I’ll add one more burn mark to her charred skin.

My therapist slowly realises what is happening.

“What do we ask ourselves when we are struggling with what is real and what is not?” My therapist repeats the question. Her words are like sand slipping through my fingers, I can’t seem to grasp them. Yet the answer is on the tip of my tongue. I can’t spit them out though; the answer is wet sludge squelching around in my mouth. It’s too disgusting to spit it out because the grains of mud will become trapped between my teeth, but it is worse to keep the granules on my tongue.

“Tell me, Willow. What do we say?” She desperately tries again.

Mortified, I stare between her and my mother who seems to wait for the answer too. Her thin, black lips pull upwards in a horrifying grin. She’s missing all her teeth. I’d imagine her gums melted away in the flames. Taking a shaky breath, I peer back to my doctor.

“Is anyone else reacting to the event? Is there any evidence that this is real? Am I feeling threatened?” I answer her quickly before the sludge can become too much in my mouth. Then, I spit on the floor to get rid of the rest of the mud. Satisfied, I fall back into my chair.

My mother is gone. For now. She’ll be back to torment me tonight, I’m sure of it.

A sharp pain shoots through my finger. I peer down and stare as I subconsciously pull at the cuticles. It begins to bleed a small river of red down the pale stick I call my finger.


Where the fuck has my cigarette gone?

“Good.” My therapist grins at me. It’s one of those smiles which makes your stomach churn. She’s not happy for me, she’s happy that she’s finally made a breakthrough,

“That’s really great, Willow. I’m glad you remembered.”

I bite my tongue to resist spitting a bitter insult such as: of course, I remembered, how can I fucking forget, it’s the only logical thing you’ve said in six months. Instead of the comment, I smile at her. It doesn’t reach my eyes.

“Tell me more about your delusions.” She says, slightly alarmed by the lack of emotion in my gaze. She shuffles in her seat and readjusts the clip board on her lap. My teeth play with my lower lip in a violent game of kiss chase. It pops in and out of my bite. A metallic taste caresses my tongue. Yum.

Silently, I ponder on her question. Could I tell her that I have no fucking clue how I got here? That I’m not even sure if she, herself, is real? That my mother has a twisted game of making me cry in fear? No. Of course I can’t.

This is the trick with therapy. You go to get better, but you can’t tell them the whole truth. Oh, no. I’m one wrong comment away from kissing my freedom goodbye. See you later world, I’m off to the loony bin!

“Nah.” I offer a smile before falling back in my seat. I cast my attention out of the window again. My furry friend from earlier watches me. Only this time, the squirrel sits on the silent tree.

I give him a small wave to be kind. His whisker twitches as he registers my polite gesture. Then, he lifts his tiny little arm. I wait for him to wave it around to return my gesture.

Then, the little bastard sticks his middle finger up at me. 

July 26, 2022 15:53

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1 comment

Michał Przywara
21:35 Aug 01, 2022

This is an intense story, particularly when her mother appeared. The way the doctor had to repeat herself, "Did you hear what I just said?" is a great way to show how Willow's attention wanders and focuses on the delusions. We feel her battle trying to remember and say the words, and it's a real struggle for her. It's a shame she can't trust the doctor enough to open up, at least a bit, but it sounds like there was some bad blood between her and her mother. Maybe the kind of thing that hurt her ability to trust. When she said "My brother d...


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