I know the precise moment when I realized that I was losing my mind. It was when I stopped calling for help. When I stopped hoping to escape. When I accepted my fate as inevitable.
I was trapped in my locker face-first, my face mashed into a pile of filth. I might have had a chance at withstanding it if only I could do something to center myself, something to release my emotions. But I couldn't move. I had barely enough room to bang my elbows against the door. I couldn't even scream. I couldn't even open my mouth without letting the bloody offal mash against my lips and flood into my throat. Every breath I took worked the scent of rot deeper into my nostrils and sinuses.
After my first ten minutes trapped in that cramped space the raw physical sensations began to fade. I had accepted my fate. I wasn't any calmer, though. It left me free to concentrate on the mental dimension of my torment, and my revulsion and disgust only grew.
It was Emma who did this to me. It had to be her. She must have plotted it with her hangers-on Sophia and Madison. They had been going easy on me for the last few months and I had taken that as a sign that they had finally gotten bored with bullying me and were moving to other targets. Instead it turned out to be a sign that they had been plotting, waiting for the right moment to bury me in a bigger pile of shit than ever.
Stupid of me. But how could I have expected them to keep going? To be so goddamned persistent in hurting me for no reason whatsoever? Her betrayal was so fucking senseless that I had always, deep in my heart, held out a thin strand of hope that she'd come to her senses. That one day she'd realize how stupid she'd been and beg for my forgiveness, that she'd tearfully plead with me to go back to the happy world we'd shared a few short years ago.
I screamed out in my mind. Why? Why did she turn against me?
I received no answer.
Why can't she be my friend again? What would it take to make this shit stop forever?
I received no answer.
I squeezed my eyes shut, squeezed my mouth and nostrils shut, squeezed my mind shut, tried to block out the world and cruel indifference of those around me and tried to send myself back to happier times through sheer force of will. Images flashed to the front of my mind. Sleeping over at Emma's house, playing board games with her on my birthday, chasing each other in the park under the watchful eyes of our mothers.
Why couldn't we go back to those happy times again? Why-
My eyes shot wide open. I got an answer, this time!
The images from the past were joined by images of futures. Sleeping over at Emma's house, playing computer games with her at her house, talking a walk together in the park and joking about the boys we liked in class. I could hear the laughter of children in the park, smell the scent of greasy food from the food carts we passed, taste the ice cream we ordered from the jolly old man behind the counter. Stronger were the inner sensations, the feelings and emotions that swelled within me. Joy. Tranquility. The sense of playful cheer behind the arch of an eyebrow and the curve of a smile. The simple delight in the company of my favorite companion and confidante.
The sensations were intoxicating. Overwhelming. Replacing the disgusting world of the now with the wonderful world that could be. And most intoxicating of all was the sense of absolute certainty they carried. I instantly knew I could trust the visions. These weren't mere conjectures, mere wishful thinking. They were possible worlds.
It was possible. It was certainly, definitely possible. We could do it. It was right there, before my eyes, so close I could reach out and touch it.
Emma and I could be friends again.
Then the world in my mind shivered, split, and multiplied. Then multiplied again, and again, and again, in the span of seconds dividing exponentially into a great tree of futures, branching, twisting, tangling, forming a vast mosaic of worlds spread across more dimensions than I could perceive.
And as my vision grew...I lost sight of that shining golden path. I could see everything, and yet I could see nothing. The raw sensations were crystal clear as ever but I couldn't understand them. Far too much information for my mind to handle. A deluge from a firehose, if the 'firehose' was the size of continents, worlds, entire dimensions.
I desperately searched for that golden path but it was futile. The best I could do was look for patterns, similarities, hints of motion or objects or emotions that were common enough to be shared among vast segments of the billions upon billons of worlds. As I tried to make sense of the mosaic I demanded that it show me the futures I wanted.
Where is Emma my friend?
The mosaic of futures heard my call and shifted. The great bulk of them stayed in place but a small fraction of them shuffled around the others in a delicate dance and gathered together to form a small, barely perceptible cluster split off from the whole. Their joyous sights and sounds and emotions set them off in contrast to the rest of the mosaic, a thin sliver of shining light set off against the great bulk of darkness. The light weighed its mass against the darkness and gave me the answer. The precise, pristine, and absolute truth.
0.0165479017645719% chance that Emma would be my friend again.
...and with that...my heart shattered. My exhilaration dissipated like a dream exposed to the sunlight.
I didn't truly understand the overwhelming sea of visions before my eyes. I didn't know what had granted me this instant of insight into my fate. But I knew it was the truth. The truth of my existence in the now. The truth of my existence in the future. The truth of what my best friend had done to me, the true and absolute extent of her betrayal.
Was my fate determined from the start? Had my visions of hope been a cruel joke, designed to rub my face into the fact that their likelihood was infinitesimal? Was I going to be a victim forever?
As if in reply, the master mosaic of futures in my mind was joined by a window beside it, like a viewing pane of translucent, smoky glass. The window gave me a second view of the futures within the mosaic, a blurry view that left the universes shadowy and indistinct.
I peered through the window and found that its view was rigid, inflexible. Its focus in time was set to a fixed distance in the future and it sorted the worlds into a pair of categories that I couldn't change, that wouldn't bend to my will. On one side were the futures where I was a victim. Blurry worlds of darkness and panic, worlds where I was trapped and confined, or running or hiding from pursuers. On the other side were the futures where I was free. Going about my daily affairs unmolested, where the bullies left me alone, even a small sliver of worlds where I was chasing them, making Emma scurry through the school hallways in fear of me.
92.4% chance of being free from attack in one hour's time.
I watched the number tick up slowly with each passing second. 92.5%. 92.6%. That was good. I wouldn't be trapped forever. I wouldn't die. Someone would come to save me.
But ending today's torment wasn't enough. I had been suffering for more than a year, dying a death by slow degrees. If Emma and her gang kept going, if this happened again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the week after that-
The master mosaic heard my demand. The futures shifted in place, merging into a whole and then dividing once more into two clusters, the first cluster far larger than the second. The worlds seemed to pulse and shiver as they settled into place, and a sharp wave of pain shot through my skull, striking me with the force of a physical blow.
91.815012855012692% chance of Emma bullying me again.
I reeled, tears forming in my eyes, and let out a wail of despair. No! I had known it for months, but seeing my fate with my new certainty was, was...I sobbed. No. No. I don't want to be saved by someone who doesn't care for me. By a teacher or a janitor who sees me as a burden, as a waste of space who makes trouble for them by letting myself get bullied and shoved into lockers.
I wanted Emma to care for me again. To realize that she'd betrayed me, how she'd hurt me, and to want to make it better again. I wanted Emma to let me out of the locker, to admit she was wrong, to apologize, to beg for my forgiveness and stop the bullying and promise me that she'd do whatever it took to earn my trust and bring the good times back and be my friend again and-
The master mosaic shifted in place once more. The worlds moved more slowly this time, more roughly, and didn't slot into place as elegantly as before. As if they were angry at being disturbed and forced to move again. As they shifted in place they grated against each other, sending sparks of pain flickering through my skull. I gritted my teeth and forced them to keep moving, pushed them into the two clusters of futures I demanded. One cluster was vast and all-encompassing. The other consisted of mere tens of billions of worlds, so thin a sliver of fates that it barely existed at all.
0.0000016547901764% chance of Emma freeing me from the locker and apologizing and ending the bullying and becoming my friend again.
A near impossibility. My new sight told me that it was a worse chance than winning the lottery.
But...but at the same time, my sight gave me the absolute certainty that those futures were real. They were possible. As small of a chance as it was, there was some action I could take, some lucky break I could catch, that would surely, suely, surely lead me to the shining, golden future that would free me from my torment and give me back everything that I had lost.
I wanted to see it. Even if I couldn't have it for myself, even if I would only get a glimpse that I couldn't hold in my sight long enough to use...at that moment, I wanted to see it more than anything. I would give anything to cling to that hope, to keep it within my grasp, to watch my future self end my suffering once and for all.
Show me, I demanded.
The mosaic didn't move.
I pushed, and the mosaic slowly began to shift, to distort. The infinitesimal sliver of golden futures drew closer to my eyes, the individual worlds becoming more distinct from each other. Their chaotic whirlpool of color and motion grew slightly more ordered, their cacophany of sounds grew slightly more understandable.
But the futures resisted me. As they shifted they struggled to stay in place, ground against each other, refused to part ranks. Every touch sent new sparks of pain shooting through my skull.
I resolved to push harder. Whatever pain it cost me couldn't be worse than the suffering I knew was waiting for me in the future if I failed. With every push the mosaic ripped, tore apart, shattered, and that shattering was pain but it was what I wanted because the golden futures were drawing nearer until I could almost taste them again.
I pushed harder, felt the pain blossom in my head until my eyes watered, pushed harder, felt a wail burst from my lips and bile rise in my throat, pushed harder, screamed and barely noticed the refuse in the locker spill into my throat because God I was wrong it the pain was so much worse than anything I could have imagined, pushed harder, felt the pain of shoving a red hot poker through the back of my skull, pushed harder, and-
And then, for a single, shining moment, I had my answer.