For Music Intuition's "Breaking Free" contest.
The lights are bright.
Sometimes there is a road, framed by those neon baubles of sunlight. If she squints just enough, she can see trainers in muddy sneakers and bumbling pokemon and bent trees. A sub-reality, almost.
But most of the time, the lights are far too bright.
No matter what, she breathes, smiles, and walks forward.
She has been here enough times to know that tree will always be dotted with reds, that shop will always be closed, and her legs will never get tired. The people will break if she feels like reaching out, but today, on no day in particular, she simply enjoys the rain on her back and the wind in her hair.
"So, how do you feel today, Mr. Stone?"
"Right. How do you—"
"That's good!" The nurse with a worn smile and fresh scrubs, checks something off on her clipboard, then says, "What is your name?"
"Good!" Another check. "How many fingers do we have?"
"Excellent! I believe that is enough for today."
Steven searches the happy yellow sheets for a moment. For the first time he returns the nurse's smile. His face aches but the motion feels safe. Unquestionable. Secure. Then –
"Intestines are gray."
The statement seems to throw the woman off stride. "Excuse me?"
"They're gray—I saw them before. I don't think they were mine. Do you know what happened? Where am I? How long has it been? I'm sorry! Don't hate me!" He tries to curl his right hand into a fist but there's an ache in his arm, so he settles on grimacing.
"I am sorry," Steven croaks.
What he doesn't know is that the nurse is gone, and the white room flickers with the rainbow of half-forgotten dreams.
By the time she reaches the corner, the door swings open. Maybe there was someone there. Maybe there were inviting arms, tugging her further and further into paper stories, fairy-tale fibs. Maybe there was nothing there at all.
She has no choice but to go in. The first step is always the hardest because guilt surges through, one that resolves into a knot deep in her gut. The second is easier, of course.
More trainers. More pokemon. Masks of glee. Some gasp when she swivels past them, shouting the three syllables of her name. She forgets every once in a while. Doesn't matter. Keep moving.
The rock maniac is there. She laughs at long-lost jokes while he hands her a gift. It is not chocolate in heart-shaped containers, bouquets of curling roses, or jewelry.
(It's a dusty old book of legends.)
Those pages, trapped in time and leather, are the last things she knows before the world becomes pummeled, chaotically, beautifully so.
"Good morning, Mr. Stone!"
"Yes, yes. Time for therapy. Stand up, if you can, and I'll help—"
But Steven's not moving. The nurse comes over. She wears a holiday sweater that glitters too faintly for his liking. "It's okay, honey—"
"No. It is not okay. Get out and don't come back."
There's panic brewing deep down in Steven now, fighting its way to the surface. The nurse lingers for a few moments longer, then leaves and comes back. "You have a visitor."
Out of that hazy fog, a hand reaches out.
And he's falling.
"I'll catch you."
Empty promises are finally whole.
People mob every doorway. Pokeballs swallow their inhabitants. As she ran towards the window, something stops her. She takes off in the opposite direction. Footsteps from behind tell her that he's right there, following suit.
It happens so quickly, it should've went away with the rest of her scattered memories—but doesn't. She holds the moment in her mind, and even as she yells at him to run, the stupid idiot kept beside her.
Cold fingers and burning doorways. There are no people left behind—the only sign of life is the tip of his shoe poking out from under a steel beam.
In a matter of seconds, two champions had become heroes, if only they would believe that.
It's funny, how he had always dreamt of freedom and vast plains and candy-colored skies when he'd been far, far away from any of those. Especially now. Specifically now, because they are sailing across his vision in big-bellied crescendos.
Once the carnival games stop and the merry-go-round dims, a hand crosses the gap between his world and that other one. He counts the fingers. Four. Something's wrong with that number, Steven thinks, and then reminds himself that he over-thinks way too often. Four. Four is probably right.
("I used to be one.")
"I guess that counts."
Against all laws of motion, he reaches out and holds those four pathetic fingers. He stops falling. They grip on tightly – not pathetic anymore, just…defeated.
Miracles are stupid. So is hope.
Yet she can't help but be bloated with them. Rainbows, unicorns, fairies – whenever did those pictures on sterile gowns become real?
They're stupid because they don't exist. As far as she's concerned, they don't heal thumbs, faces, or broken minds.