AN: Eh… it is what it is. Enjoy.
SI Chapter 2
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Ever-Present Thrills of Life
Maya Ibuki's dreams are mundane. At night with her eyes closed, she sees floating numbers, variables, and equations. Snippets of conversations she had had with her superiors and (embarrassingly enough) her mother played before her, only slightly altered by her subconscious. Instead of Ritsuko asking about the magi, she asks if Maya ever figured out how to open the conference room door. Maya responds negatively, ashamed of her lack of progress. She says that she'll get it done as soon as possible. Ritsuko is more than understanding. "I know you'll get it," she says without a hint of disappointment, which is wonderful because Dream Maya is already disappointed enough in herself.
Her mother, however, is not so forgiving. She asks if she's seeing anybody. She's worried because a woman of her age should show some interest in finding a mate. But the question in the dream is slightly altered. "Are you seeing Makoto?" she asks. "I just think you should take a chance, throw yourself out there and see Makoto before it's too late." In the dream Maya feels uncomfortable. She shifts in her seat as she holds the phone to her head. She brushes her mother off, telling her that she's got more important things to do than think about Makoto right now. She's got a life to live.
Maya realized that the obvious meaning behind these dreams should cause her distress. But her brain's subconscious attempts to deal with trauma are so boring that they can hardly be considered disturbing, much less frightening.
Maya's dreams do not scare her. At night she feels resigned to her fate. It's the mornings that set her heart racing with anxious terror. It's in the mornings that she flies.
"Hello," I said, when Maya exited her bedroom to get ready for bed. "Want to eat breakfast with me?" I was eating a bowl of Fortunate Marshmallows while sitting on her couch. I would have liked to watch TV, but the only television she owns is in her bedroom.
Maya ignored me and walked into the kitchen. She placed a bagel in her toaster and set the timer for a minute and a half. This was the perfect time for the bagel to turn crispy brown without the black scorch marks that would ruin the eating experience. Maya hummed lightly to herself as she opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a tub of strawberry flavored cream cheese. When the bagel finished toasting, she methodically spread the topping across it, ensuring that no area went uncovered. Afterwards she took a seat on a stool at her kitchen counter. The tension in her movements was almost imperceptible.
You and I watched this happen with minor interest. Perhaps it would have been more exciting if she were wearing less clothing. Perhaps something comfortable, yet loose fitting in a way that was borderline revealing. But she'd stopped wearing her sweatpants and baggy t-shirt (sans bra) out of the bedroom once I started invading her living room. She dressed each morning in full NERV uniform before leaving her room.
"Why don't you eat some Fortunate Marshmallows?" I asked. Maya used to love Fortunate Marshmallows as a kid. She stopped eating them around the time she started college. She switched to Rice Flavored Checkered-Grain Squares and Honey Pecan Donut-Shaped O's. Eventually she stopped eating cereal altogether and began to eat more solid meals, like bagels and English muffins.
"You know you want some," I said.
She took a bite of her bagel and pretended not to hear me. She's convinced herself that she no longer likes "kid's cereals" because they are too sugary for her tastes. In reality she only stopped eating them because doing so made her feel like a kid. But to admit that to herself would be even more embarrassing than liking Fortunate Marshmallows.
"They taste just like Lucky Charms," I said. This finally earned a look of confusion from Maya, who had never heard of Lucky Charms. But after mere seconds, her face returned to its former mask of forced disinterest. She looked at her watch, realized she was running a tad late, and ate her bagel with renewed vigor.
After finishing breakfast Maya made her way to the bathroom to take a shower. It was a very quick affair. She disliked that she had to change into the same clothes she was already wearing, but it was better than the alternative. She didn't want to get any of her regular clothes dirty without reason, and she definitely didn't want me to see her wearing her pajamas. She already decided that she would continue to wear her NERV uniform around the house, until she had the time to go to the store and buy some better Pajamas.
After exiting the shower, Maya made a beeline for the front door. She quickly put on her shoes and prepared to leave.
I said, "Don't forget to fly today."
She hesitated for a moment before hanging her head.
As much as Maya would like to pretend I don't exist, she's quite afraid that I'll randomly kill her.
As she traveled alone among the deserted hallways of NERV, Maya allowed herself to float inches above the tiled floor. She thought that maybe she'd get used to doing this, but the peculiarity of the action never disappeared. Though the act of gliding was intuitive in the sense that simple thoughts controlled it, yet she was unable to lose herself to the novelty of it.
A part of her wanted to test the ability. She wanted to see how fast she could glide and how high she could rise, but she restrained these thoughts. She feared what would happen if I took away the powers that I had so frivolously given to her. If she flew into the sky, I might melt her wax wings and laugh as she fell. I can't say I blame her for her suspicions.
Maya carefully listened for the approach of others. She did not know what people would say if they knew she could fly and she didn't want to find out. At each and every turn of the hallway, she returned her feet to the ground and started to walk.
And so, she lived her days constantly on guard. Both needing to fly and wanting not to. Fearing all who approached her. Wondering if she was the only one tormented with powers that she didn't understand. Wondering why she was chosen for this and if I left a similar burden on anyone else. She was stuck inside a limbo of fear and inaction. Wondering and worrying, but never seeking answers.
I decided that I'd give them to her anyways.
When Maya came home I greeted her with a tired, "Hi".
She looked at me with weary resignation, but otherwise did not respond.
"How was your day?" I asked. But I already knew of the tense façade she put on during work. I knew of the strain it took on her to be tasked with appeasing me by flying around and keeping herself hidden as well. I only asked because I can be a jerk like that.
"Are you afraid of me?"
Instead of answering the question, Maya headed for her bathroom door in an effort to freshen up before making dinner. She screamed shrilly at the harmless grizzly bear that appeared when she opened the door. Moving on blind instinct she ran to her front door and yanked at the doorknob futilely.
"Open the door!" she cried hysterically.
"You know," I said. "It's kind of boring when you ignore me all the time."
"I'm sorry," she cried as the bear slowly approached her. "I didn't mean it, oh god, open the door!"
I accepted the apology but refused to open the door.
"The bear is harmless," I said rubbing said bear's head behind the ears. "There's no harm in him... see?"
Reluctantly Maya pulled away from the door and backed away from me and the bear. After several moments of not being mauled to death, she finally decided that it was safe enough to take her eyes off of me and the creature. She walked into the kitchen and prepared to make some miso soup. Her hands shook violently as she gathered the various materials and her breathing was somewhat ragged.
"So…" I said after several minutes of watching her cook. She jumped at the sound of my voice. "Are you afraid of me?"
Maya took a few deep breaths before quietly muttering, "Yes."
I stroked Mr. Bear's head slowly while I sighed. I expected as much.
"Would it help if I told you that I have no plans to violently kill you?"
Maya would not look at me as she spoke. "You killed Makoto," she said with as much composure as she could muster.
I sighed once more. "Yeah, but that's out of my system now. It's not like I'm a homicidal maniac or anything."
Her words were coming easier now. She said, "You killed him in cold blood."
I frowned at the accusation. The blood was actually quite warm if I remember correctly. But I thought it would be a little too flippant to tell such a joke to her.
"Listen," I said. "I killed him because it was interesting to watch him die. Or more specifically, it was interesting to watch you and the others watching him die. But it's not like I want everyone in the world to be dead or anything. Death is pretty boring."
"Death is horrifying."
"No," I said, shaking my head for emphasis. "Finding a fully grown grizzly bear in your bathroom is horrifying. Death is simply boring."
Maya looked up at me for a moment and instantly looked back down shaking her head as well. She slowly went back to preparing her food.
"You don't believe me?" I asked.
"No," she said without looking up. She knew that I'd know if she lied.
"Do you want me to show you?"
Maya abruptly stopped stirring her pot of soup.
"No," she said, fear seeping into her voice again.
"I think I'll show you anyways."
"Please," she cried staring at me in fear. "Please…"
As she watched me the world around us slowly dissolved. The paint ran from the walls. The couch and the television melted into the floor. The spoon in Maya's hand turned to mush along with the pot it was in and the stove she was cooking on. A silent gasp of horror escaped the young woman as her world literally disappeared around her.
"Stop it," she yelled. "Please stop!"
And so I did. In that instant her apartment was gone. We both stood in a vastly empty white room with nothing surrounding us as far as the eye could see. We were no longer inside, or outside. There were no windows, no furniture, and no trees. Only white. Maya was shocked into silence.
I was saddened by the knowledge that I completely ripped this off from The Matrix.
"This is death," I said solemnly. My disappointment carried into my voice.
Maya collapsed to the flat white ground. She looked franticly around her, but only saw myself, Mr. Bear, and nothing.
"I'm dead?" she asked, her voice hitching at the end.
"No. no. no." I pointed to each of us in turn. "You, Mr. Bear, and I are alive." As if to emphasize this point Mr. Bear let out a subtle roar of agreement.
"It's the rest of the world that's dead," I said gesturing to the white abyss surrounding us. Maya shook uncontrollably as I gave her time to let this information sink in. But after a while her shaking subsided. She stared at me for the longest time, not saying a word. Minutes or perhaps even hours passed as she observed this barren world and the only other occupants in it. Eventually she looked up at me as if to say, "What now?" but the words did not come to her lips.
"See what I mean? Death is boring."
Mr. Bear growled approvingly as I scratched a sweet spot on his neck. Then for a while nothing happened.
"Do you want to pet Mr. Bear?" I asked Maya. At her hesitance I added, "Remember, he's harmless."
Even still Maya was too afraid to approach the bear. "Suit yourself," I said, and I continued my relaxed petting. Eventually Mr. Bear rolled over. I obliged him by rubbing his stomach.
Nothing happened for a long time. No wind blew. No sounds echoed. No cars drove by. No meals were eaten. No one was asleep. No giant aliens attacked mankind. Zero. Nada. Nothing.
Maya hesitantly decided to come over and pet Mr. Bear. He was happy for the second pair of scratching hands.
"What made you change your mind?" I asked.
Maya still wasn't a big fan of making eye contact with me. "There's nothing else to do."
I shrugged. "Death is boring."
"Makoto's death wasn't boring," she said.
"Seeing Makoto die wasn't boring," I corrected her. "His death is even more boring than this."
Maya's face scrunched up slightly in confusion. She didn't voice the thought, but she wondered how anything could be more boring than this.
"There's no bears in his death," I said. "Would you like me to show you?"
Maya's eyes widened in renewed terror. Before she had the chance to beg me not to do whatever I planned to do, her mouth disappeared. Her ears nose and eyes quickly followed. Her whole body was gone from the plane of whiteness. She could no longer see me or the bear. She couldn't hear the sound of me rubbing my hand against his fur. She couldn't hear my voice, or see my face. She couldn't smell his earthy fragrance. She could no longer feel the pressure of the atmosphere upon her skin, or taste her own saliva.
There was only nothing. Not even whiteness. Just nothing.
And then she was back. Back in her apartment holding a spoon loosely in her hands as she stared into a pot of boiling soup.
"Why?" she asked. Tears began to fill up in her eyes.
"Was it really so bad? It's not like anything happened."
Maya didn't respond.
"It's boring when you ignore me," I said. "But… well I suppose not as boring as death."
For a moment we were both silent. But Maya realized in that moment that true silence wasn't a lack of talking. She could still hear the sound of her soup boiling. The radiator humming in the background as it supplied heated air to the apartment. The sound of her own shallow breaths coming in and out. In that moment, she cherished those little noises more than anything in the world.
"Don't be afraid of death," I said cheerfully. "I showed you a little of what death is like, but even I can't show you the whole thing. Because when you really die there will be no one to show this to. There won't even be a 'you' to experience the boredom. There will just be… well, nothing."
Maya didn't mind looking me in the eye now. She was thankful that she even had eyes to see me.
"The world you live exists at my whim. You may not notice it, but you die a hundred times each day. Every time I'm watching TV or playing a video game, you're dead. When I'm sitting behind a computer browsing the internet and pretending to do work, you're dead. In fact, you spend more time dead than you ever have spent alive."
I paused dramatically, because I don't like long streams of uninterrupted dialogue.
"If you think about it, you really don't have any reason to fear me or hate me. Whether you do what I tell you, or whether you completely ignore me, you'll be dead soon anyways." "
Maya stared at me in utter disbelief.
"You and Makoto and your whole entire world are pretty lucky, don't you think? Death is boring. But I've given you something much better. For brief stretches of time, I grant you a reality and allow you to live."
Maya said nothing, but I never really expected her to. The world continued to move around her.
"You're welcome," I said.
The next morning Maya Ibuki opened the door to her bedroom hesitantly. She looked carefully around the room, expecting to see me. She was not terribly relieved to find that I wasn't there. It wasn't as if she missed me or wanted to see me. She was still deathly afraid of my existence, but a part of her was somewhat disappointed that I wasn't there. She wondered if I was gone for good, or if I was just waiting to surprise her when she least expected it. Ultimately it didn't matter. If I did come back to bother her, she'd deal with it when it happened. If I left her alone forever she'd deal with that too.
Putting me out of her mind, she walked into the bathroom and took a quick shower. After re-dressing in her NERV uniform, she sat down at the kitchen table and enjoyed a bowl of cereal. She had forgotten how good fortunate marshmallows could be. The morning minutes passed by quickly as they always did, and she found herself missing the time as it flew by. Who knew when or if she would ever have the chance to enjoy such morning peace again?
But she didn't waste much time dwelling on this. She would be late to work if she didn't hurry. With a practiced efficiency, she slipped on her shoes, grabbed her house keys, and made her way out of her apartment. After descending the stares and exiting the building, she clicked her heals three times for the hell of it, and flew straight up into the sky. She rose higher and higher with each passing second, laughing at the unbridled thrill of it all. The smile never left her face. Not even when she began to fall.
AN: This isn't the greatest writing I've ever done, but I had a lot of fun writing this anyways. I wanted to lightly explore the idea of what it means to be a character in a story… and I did. I figure what I lack in subtlety and skill, I more than make up for with grizzly bears.
Hope you enjoyed this a little. If not, it's pretty short so I didn't waste too much of your time. Tell me what you think.