By Evan Berk
Christopher Jackman walked into school and headed over to his locker. Immediately, his books were smashed to the ground. He picked them up as tears dripped onto his Biology textbook. He tried to pull himself together. The 8:00 A.M. bell sounded, and Christopher stumbled down to his first class. He was at the top of his class, but it meant nothing to him for nobody other than his mother acknowledged it anymore.
The only thing he wished for was someone to say hello to him in the halls, or ask him how he was, any kind word rather than a gay slur. Christopher had been trying to keep the fact that he was gay quiet for a while, but it came out when his older sister, Sarah, spread a rumor during the last week of school a year ago before she left for college, “Hey, I think my brother is gay,” she whispered to one of her friends. Rumor, of course, spread like wildfire and Christopher’s life had not been the same since.
There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say to stop the waves of insults and bullying that came his way every day, “Get outta here Gay-man. You are nothing, you little flamer!” He tried to ignore it, not letting it get to him too much; but still, every time his books were smashed down or snickered at, he felt his heart tear just a little bit more.
After school was let out at 3:15, Christopher got the hell out of there as fast as he could before any more damage was done. He ran straight down South St., and made the right up by the Cramford four-way stop. Charging through the mudroom door, Christopher kicked off his shoes and stumbled up to his room. He curled up under the sheets and let dry sobs out, replaying all of the events from the day: “Ha-ha look at the fag over there, such a freak”, “Why is that guy so goddamn gay?” “Don’t go near him, Mary, he’s got that freakin’ gay disease.” Christopher rocked back and forth under the sheets until he stopped shaking. When he sat up, and picked up a book, some novel that he could get lost in and escape the crap from his screwy life. Christopher went through them like a heavy smoker goes through a pack of cigarettes. He could never get enough.
Christopher usually read his stories until his mother got home from the Soup Kitchen; she volunteered every Tuesday, which was her only day off from work at the hospital. When he heard the door open, Christopher threw his novel under the bed and ripped open his backpack and pretend to be doing homework.
“Hi Christopher, I’m home!” She shouted from the bottom floor.
“Hey Ma, be down in a minute,” he said.
There was no real reason why he hid his book under the bed or pretended to do homework when his mother got home. She never came into his room anyway. Most likely he just wanted to maintain the separation between his time of solitude and the rest of his time.
When Christopher trudged downstairs to greet his mother and have some dinner, he hugged her around the waist and dropped his head onto her shoulder. His mother could always tell when he had had a rough day. “Aw, Christopher, it’ll be okay baby,” she said stroking his wavy, black hair. “It’ll be okay.”
“I can’t take it anymore, Ma. I just can’t!” Christopher sobbed into her neck. He typically didn’t fall on his sword like this, but the bullying was starting to crack him.
“I know, hun. Everything will be fine,” his mother tried to say in a comforting voice, but it didn’t help.
The front door opened and the two of them could hear heavy boots dragging across the floor. Slow grunts echoed though the halls. “ HELLOOOOOOOOOOOO!” A man said in a deep, drunk voice. He walked into the kitchen where Christopher and his mother were. “Hello wifie,” he said with a smile on his face, then he turned his head to the left. “Hello to... you? What are you doing down here?” His face was within inches of Christopher’s now. “I said, what are YOU doing down here?” His legs were wobbling left and right, his head tilting this way and that, with a half empty fifth clutched in his hand. “ Get your gay ass upstairs, I don’t wanna see that lil’ gay face of yours, you faggot.”
“For Christ’s sake, Tom!” His mother said.
Christopher could not contain himself. These words cut him too deep. Tears ran down both sides of his face, making dark circles on the wood floor. He fled upstairs as fast as he could, trying to forget his father’s words. He did not understand why his father hated him. I had never done anything to deserve this. What did I do wrong? Christopher thought.
He didn’t bother going down for dinner that night. He didn’t want to have to deal with his father. Christopher got off his bed and walked over to the door; he could hear his mother and father arguing at the tops of their lungs. Mother always came to his aid, no matter what.
“That is our son you are talking about, Thomas! He is not some farm animal!”
“That thing upstairs is not y’r son! It i’ some thing that God ne’er meant to make.” Christopher could tell he hadn’t sobered up yet. “That is no son of mine up there, woman.”
“I can’t believe that this is how you talk about your own son! He works and studies hard for this family, and this is how you repay him? You should be ashamed!”
“No boy of mine will be welc’me in my house unless he’s swingin’ straight like God made him to.”
“Last time I checked, Tom, the house was under my goddamn name, not yours!”
“He’s a disgrace to this goddamn household. You’re so blind, woman.”
Christopher took his head away from the door. He couldn’t take any more of it. His eyes were beginning to well up once again. He didn’t want to cry, nor did he want his father barging in and beating him or ridiculing him; who knows which because either one was possible in his drunken state. So Christopher grabbed his desk chair and jammed it underneath the knob of the bedroom door.
He fell back onto his bed and covered his head with the pillow. This world was treating him like he was a pest, and he could feel it. Christopher reached under his bed and grabbed a book at random. He cracked it open and stuck his nose in it. The clash of metal and echoes of heroism on the pages took him out of a world where we was nothing and brought him to a place where no one knew nor cared about what he was. Chapters flew by as often as streaks of light flashed through his window. Christopher slowly began to drift away. Blinks became longer with each passing minute. Finally his eyes shut and his book fell face-down onto his chest.
The morning fog meandered its way through the forest while the sun began to creep over the mountain tops to the east. The tail of the man’s suit dragged behind him through the moist dirt, making a wake in the dense fog that cloaked the ground. He twirled his pocket watch back and forth around the fingers of his right hand, catching bits of the morning’s light on its gold face. His top-hat was abnormally high, but it seemed almost natural on the man’s head. As he was walking, his foot caught on something mid-stride and tripped him. The man placed his pocket watch in his waistcoat. The thick fog covered the mysterious object, so he brushed it away with his right hand. To his surprise, it was the leg of a boy that had tripped him.
“Hmm, well I might say we have ourselves a guest for this evening,” said the man in the suit. “Do you agree, Mr. Green?”
“He won’t be taking my bed for sure. I do not want any stranger dirtying up my pillow.” Mr. Green could not be seen. The fog was covering him.
“For heaven’s sake, we do not even know this young man. For all we know, he could be like us.”
“I still don’t want him in my bed. What if he hurts me? Or wrecks my room?”
“Fair enough. We will put him in Wilhelm’s room for the night if you are that insistent.”
“Fine... I don’t like being out here this late. I don’t like being out here at all. I’m not feeling well. Shell hurts again.”
“Indeed my good friend. It is time to head back. Follow me, Mr. Green.”
“No, because I was planning on following a squirrel,” Mr. Green murmured in a heavily sarcastic tone.
“Don’t be like that. We have refreshments waiting for us,” the man uttered with a grin.
“Hmmphh,” Mr. Green grunted painfully.
The man in the suit hoisted the unconscious boy onto his left shoulder and the two continued on their way through the fog. The sun was now almost completely over the mountains and the fog was thinning. The man in the suit began to twirl his pocket watch once more, this time light was glinting off it from all angles. Mr. Green was still nowhere in sight, but his heavy grunts could be heard from time to time.
The man in the suit approached a rather large Magnolia in the forest and kicked one of its roots. A subtle thud was made as a large section of bark swung open, exposing an hollow area in the middle of the tree. The two entered the tree and the bark shut behind them with another thud. The floor boards creaked with the new weight. There were a handful of tables and a bar with a oak barrel full of some sort of ale behind it. The space resembled a pub of sorts.
“Welcome back boys,” said Rosemary from behind the bar. “And who did you pick up today?”
“Ah, well my dear Ms. Rosemary. This here gentleman caught my foot during the walk that Mr. Green and I shared this morning.”
“I always love new guests. I’m sure we can find a room for him upstairs.”
“I didn’t want to bring him in. He stinks.” said Mr. Green from below the bar.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Green. I’ll make sure our new friend bathes before coming down to meet with the rest of us. Though Mr. Green, I can’t see you from behind the bar. Could you bother to shuffle back a bit so I could see you?”
“Hmmphh, I suppose...” Mr. Green back-peddled so that he came into the view of Rosemary. The morning light glinted off his shiny shell.
“I must say, Mr. Green, you are the most handsome tortoise I have laid my eyes on all day.”
“Thank you, Ms. Rosemary,” he said turning his head to the side, trying to hide his blush and grin.
“Shall I place him in Wilhelm’s room?” The man in the suit said, twirling his pocket watch again.
“That would be quite gracious of you, sir.”
The man and Mr. Green walked their way through the pub, and up the squeaky staircase in the rear. Mr. Green used to have quite a pace for a tortoise because unlike most he could walk on his hind legs; actually he much preferred walking on his hind legs, it made him feel like more of an authority, even though he was still less than two feet tall. However, he had been suffering from shell pain recently that significantly slowed his walk.
They made their way down the hall and entered Wilhelm’s room. The man in the suit had told everyone there that Wilhelm was on a holiday and that he wouldn’t be around for the next week or so, but that was far from the truth. The man in the suit carefully lowered the unconscious boy onto the bed, placing his head kindly on a plump pillow. The man’s body was completely horizontal overtop of the boy, but somehow his abnormally high top-hat remained perfectly atop his head. After he lightly pulled the sheets over the child, the two exited the room to allow him to rest.
“Now, my dear friend, you have to rest. You need to be feeling healthy for when our guest awakes.” The man in the suit said addressing Mr. Green.
“Alright, I will. Though I feel like my shell keeps getting heavier and heavier. I don’t think any amount of sleep will fix that. It’s just that I’m old as hell.”
The man in the suit pointed his finger into the air in a tutoring like position. “Yet, it will not seem heavy if you are upside down, asleep.”
“I suppose... Hmmmph” Mr. Green said with a sigh and a grunt.
Christopher woke up with a sudden gasp for air. He opened his eyes, then immediately rubbed them with the palms of his hands. He was confused about what he was seeing. He was not in his bedroom. He did not remember having an oak bed with tall bedposts or walls of seamless wood. There was a window off to the left but it was small and barely transparent. Christopher swung his legs over the side of the bed and peered out the dirty window. A sliver of light hit his face as he stood up and stretched. Christopher turned and walked towards the door across the creaky floor.
As Christopher extended his hand to the doorknob, he heard echoes coming from below. He swung the door open and tiptoed down the hall of the unfamiliar place. He reached the top of the stairway without a sound. The echoes he’d heard now were clearly audible; he crouched down and strained his neck to see what was to the left of the stairs. His eyes caught a man in an old-fashioned suit and top-hat sitting at a shabby table with a pint of ale in front of him.
“Ah, it seems our guest is awake,” the man said.
Christopher’s heart skipped a beat. How did this man know he was there? Almost as soon as Christopher had looked down, the man’s eyes were gleaming into his own.
“Come down here my dear boy, have a seat,” the man said in a thick British accent, smooth as silk.
Christopher placed his foot on the first stair, cautious as he went. He moved without haste. As he reached the bottom of the stairway and silently began to weave his way between the small wooden tables in the room, he looked all around him. He could see a bar with large barrelsand a pretty woman behind it, a strange-looking door made of bark, and windows similar to those in the bedroom, casting a pale yellow light into the space.
“Who are you? and where am I? and why is there a turtle?” Christopher said in a frightened tone, while looking down at Mr. Green.
“Well, sir, I do know who I am, who are you? As to where you are, however, I do so happen as to have a slight idea. You happen to be in the Common Ordinarium, the place where all that is lost becomes found, and all that is found becomes lost. With regard to Mr. Green, ask him yourself, young man...”
“I don’t believe any of that ‘place where all that is lost becomes found, and all that is found becomes lost’ crap anymore. I gave up a long time ago... By the way, boy, I’m a tortoise. Have some respect for crying out loud,” said Mr. Green in an odious tone.
Christopher’s head was spinning. He was so confused and scared that he began to shake. What was the Common Ordinarium? How did he get there? Was his family okay? How could theturtle talk? Out of the corner of his eye, Christopher saw a fox cross through the room. He turned so the fox was completely visible. Its eyes were black and it snarled angrily before escaping through a doorway nearby.
“Why don’t you have a seat before you hurt yourself from thinking too hard,” the man in the suit said pointing to the third chair at the table. “Ms. Rosemary, a pint for the young man?”
Rosemary filled a tin cup from the barrel, walked over to the table and handed it to Christopher. “Here you go, my dear.” He took a sip and nearly spat it out in disgust.
“What is this stuff,” Christopher muttered staring at the tin cup.
“That question is better suited for yourself really,” the man in the suit said, taking another swig from his cup.
The man in the suit pulled out his pocket watch and began to twirl it around on his finger. After a few spins, he caught the watch in his hand and flicked the golden face open, and read the time. Then in one swift motion, the man closed the watch and stuck it back in his waist coat.
“I believe it is time for us to leave, young man. Time, I feel, is not very much on our side this afternoon. Please follow me.” The man in the suit then turned around and approached the bark door. Christopher, infected with curiosity, jumped up and stood with the man in the suit. The man leaned forward and whispered, “All will be explained in due time, Christopher.”
At the sound of that, Christopher knew there was something strange happening that he didn’t understand. How did this guy know my name? Christopher thought. The two walked through the pub, said good-bye to Rosemary, and left the Common Ordinarium through the bark door.
The sun’s light blinded Christopher as if he hadn’t seen daylight in weeks. Once his eyes adjusted, he could see the vast expanse of the forest and the mountains to the east. Hummingbirds were whizzing through the trees with the subtle tones of their wings flapping.
“Welcome to Terra Mentem,” the man said setting his gaze to the west.
“I take it I won’t have any questions answered until you say so?”
The man headed away from the Common Ordinarium and Christopher followed in the dust of his coat tails. The walk endless seemed. There looked to be infinite forest westward and still the man marched on. One hour, two hours, three hours seemed to pass. Christopher began only to look at the man’s back and ignoring the surrounding forest. They continued on for even longer until Christopher finally had to pipe up.
“When are we going to get wherever you wanted to take me?”
“Well that seems a strange question provided that we have been here for over three hours.”
Christopher gasped, “What?” He finally took his eyes off the man’s back and noticed that he was no longer in the forest. In fact he wasn’t anywhere. All was white. The man turned aroundwith his head tilted upward, his chest pushed forward, and shoulder blades back-- the posture of a gentleman.
“Can you guess where you are?”
“I have no idea! You brought me here!”
“Now, now. There is no need to get agitated. We are, in fact, in the untapped recesses of your mind. Everything around you is potential room for greatness.”
“We are in my head?”
“Well, you could put it that way, but really you are seeing what is inside your mind. You are not actually here right now. You are safely asleep on your bed.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“Ahh, now that, sir, is the correct question. I am you. Though more directly, I am the part of your mind that is most important. I am your intellect. Now, everyone you have met today is a part of your mind. Rosemary, Mr. Green, countless others, and I inhabit the forest that is your mind.”
“So why did you have to drag me out here?” Christopher asked curiously. He was excited now that he was in his own mind, so much mystery and wonder!
“Being your intellect gives me advantages over others in this land. I know what you know. And since everyone else here is mere emotion, they do not know where they are. They simply embody specific emotions. Rosemary, as you may have already figured out, is the love you have for your mother, and Wilhelm, whom you have not met, is the love you have for Sarah.”
“Where is Wilhelm?”
“He is no longer a resident of the Common Ordinarium. Now, let me explain what the Common Ordinarium really is... I lied back at the table when you asked about it. It really is the congregation of the current inhabitants of your mind: your intellect, your emotions, thoughts, etc. Now the Common Ordinarium’s resident base is constantly changing. Emotions that you gain add new tenants, and those that you lose have to pack their bags and move to a lesser place in your mind,” the man in the suit paused and caught his breath. “Wilhelm is a small yet tragic case. When Sarah spread the word that you were gay, Wilhelm was ousted from the Ordinarium. You see? Wilhelm was the love that you had for your sister. He disappeared into the depths of the Forest and left the empty room that you were in when you awoke. Now that fox you saw when we first met was the creature who replaced Wilhelm. He is the anger than replaced the love you once had for Sarah. His name is Redd, a nasty character indeed... Now you may be asking yourself what the ‘lesser place’ is. If you are then let me start by saying you never truly forget anything. Everything that ever enters your mind never truly leaves. Emotions and thoughts that are ousted from the Ordinarium remain in existence, they simply are stuck in an anarchical place that sits just outside the Ordinarium, called the Forest. Those who live there do nothing. It is the wasteland of your mind, Christopher, that serves no active role in your day-to-day life.”
Christopher was finding it hard to digest all of this information at once. He did lose his love for Sarah, but he did not know the consequences that it had on his mind. No wonder he had begun feeling empty inside over the past year. It was because the emotions and relationships that he’d made actually disappeared from his mind, leaving behind empty spaces. Christopher began to come up with his next question, but became scared because he knew the answer wouldn’t be pretty.
“What about Mr. Green? What is he?”
“This is the reason I brought you here, Christopher. Mr. Green is the most important part of you. More important than even me... Mr. Green is the embodiment of all of your sorrow and pain. There is a reason why he is so irritable, ill-tempered, and depressed. He carries all of the burden. He is your emotional Atlas.
This is why you have dropped into your own mind. Mr. Green is in trouble, and soon his shell may crack. There is too much emotional weight on him to be sustained. If something were to happen to him, that would be catastrophic for you. Something needs to be done because you are too depressed, too full of sorrow to go on living normally.”
The horrid events of what his father did to him tonight, the screaming, the cursing, the contempt, all flashed through his mind. He looked down at his feet and started to speak.
“I know. I have to do something. I can’t handle being treated like this by everyone!” he was now shaking. “I want to be normal! I want to be treated like everyone else!” Tears began to roll down the sides of his face. “Why doesn’t anyone realize that? My own dad doesn’t even see it...”
The man grabbed Christopher by the sides of his face, and pulled his head upward so they were looking eye-to-eye. “Do not get like this! It is only going to harm you, harm Mr. Green... You need strength! A pity that he already left the Common Ordinarium long ago,” the man sighed, thinking of a tenant of the Ordinarium who would have been quite helpful in this situation. He began to speak again. “Normality is not important, but accepting yourself is golden. You need to confront your fears. You cannot hide from the words that others say as if they would go away on their own because, sadly, they will not.”
“What do you mean?”
“You need to talk to your father. Tell him what you are, and be firm.”
“I can’t! He will... He’ll hurt me, yell at me, beat me, something! I can’t tell him that... He will kill me, I know it.”
“Do not exaggerate this more than it needs to be, Christopher. Yes, he is a lazy, Christian bastard, but that does not mean he will harm you. He is your father; he still has love for you, even though you do not have love for him. Be firm and be strong.”
“What happens when he says, ‘You are no son of mine’, or ‘You are inhuman scum’, or worse?”
“You stay strong! You know in your heart that you are not those things, and that should be what drives you. Your father will try and hurt you, cut you down with words. It is not what others say or how they treat you that should influence what you do or how you feel about yourself. It is how you feel about yourself, and the pride you have for who you are.”
Christopher was anxious but knew he would have to confront his father if he wanted to keep his mind from being overrun with sorrow. He needed to save Mr. Green, who currently was probably writhing in pain. He needed to save himself; he knew his own shell was wearing thin too. Christopher put his trust in the man in the suit.
“I will be with you through it all. From beginning to end, I will be there for you to keep you in check and on point. Heed my advice when you are at a loss for words.”
“Okay, I can do this. So you’ll be there?” Christopher felt safer knowing the man in the suit would be there for him.
“Through it all, my friend... Are you ready?”
“Yes... Wait, what do you mean?”
The man in the suit began to answer, but Christopher couldn’t hear him. He was getting further and further away from the man, even though he wasn’t moving his feet at all. The man became smaller in the distance until all became white in his eyes. The white made Christopher squint. When he opened his eyes again, he was in his room, as if nothing had changed.
Time didn’t seemed to have changed much. His clock on his bedside table was flashing 9:30 P.M. (he had been asleep for about two hours) and his book was still lain across his chest. Screams from the kitchen were still echoing from downstairs. Christopher began to get ready for his encounter with his father; he took deep breaths and tried to subdue his anxiety.
Christopher got out of bed and pulled the chair out from under the door. He turned the knob and headed out into the hallway. He made his way down the stairs slowly, and entered the kitchen where his mother and father were still fighting,.It now seemed as if his father had sobered up by the sound of his voice.
Are you ready for this Christopher? He heard the man say.
Yes. I can do this. But you have my back, right?
Of course. I am here for you.
“I want him out of this house right now!” His father said.
Now is your opportunity! The man said.
“I’m not going anywhere! This is my home!” Christopher shouted as he walked into the kitchen.
“Christopher, what are you doing down here? Don’t get into this!” His mother screamed in a protective tone.
“No, Ma. This is about me, so I have to be a part of this! Dad, I am gay, like it or not. There is nothing that anyone can do to change it. I am who I am.”
“You are nothing. You’re a disgrace to this household and the world!” Christopher was hit hard, just like he had anticipated, but he stood his ground.
Let it roll off. You know you are not nothing. Have faith in yourself. Christopher regrouped.
“I am human; I have faults, but being gay is not one of them! I am who I am. I didn’t choose to be this way, but I will live with it. Think whatever you want, Dad, but I will continue being me, not whoever you want me to be.” Keep going, you are doing well. “It’s sad that my own father doesn’t support me, but I can live with that if I have to! I no longer care about anyone else’s opinion. Mine is the one that matters. Not yours, not anyone’s! I only hope that someday you see the gaps in your religion when it comes to human nature. My orientation has nothing to do with God. If anyone, it’s you who caused it since you made me.” His father tried to butt in. Continue! Mr. Green is showing better signs. “Let me finish! You should be ashamed about how you treat your own son, your own blood. Maybe you are the one who needs changing, not me!” With that, Christopher spun around and marched back toward his room. His father was at a loss for words, his face had “baffled” written all over it.
“I’m proud of you, Christopher,” his mother whispered under her breath.
Hyuk. Well then... That was an interesting day to say the least. The man in the suit adjusted his top-hat and walked away, fading into the white.
As Christopher started to climb the stairs, he pulled out a golden pocket watch and twirled it back and forth around his finger, with a prideful grin. The man in the suit was right: believing in himself was what it took for the weight of the world to lift from his shoulders. Christopher thought, Freedom is now yours, Atlas.