22. Stranger in a
Stranger Land

Blinking the darkness away, I found myself sitting at a table. There were voices all around, but I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. I blinked again and saw that I was facing a somewhat familiar Asian face. "Ling Su," I thought, but nothing else clicked. The voices echoed in my brain, but they could not find the right synapses that would bring me comprehension.

Ling Su was speaking to me, but I stared dumfounded, and my mouth was hanging open. I turned sideways, as if in slow motion, and the world seemed a distant hum. Then I saw myself in the mirror that lined the walls of the restaurant in which we were seated. I saw the table we sat at, and then my own reflection. But I did not recognize myself. I was Asian, too!

"That's not me!" I gasped, remembering my reflection in Maya's eyes. I tried to focus on that memory. But it faded and disappeared as quickly as it had come. I tried to make myself remember her face. It seemed so very important, but I couldn't remember why, and it was all fading further and further away. I felt I would be safe if only I could see myself in her eyes once again. But there were no memories left to hold on to.

Ling Su was still speaking. Except now I realized why he looked so familiar. As I stared into this stranger's eyes, I saw Melnor, my faithful friend and servant. And as I remembered, I suddenly realized it was Melnor's voice that was speaking in words that I could understand. Although it was still Ling Su's face, the words that rose from his lips were not Chinese.

"Ward, you've got to slip back into character. Before the Beast finds you!"

"Melnor, what's going on?" I gasped. And then I remembered the horrible thing the Beast had done to my friend, and to all the people of the kingdom that I had failed to save.

Or was that what had happened? Everything seemed so clear for an instant. But then the breath of understanding flowed beyond reach, leaving me dazed.

Another wave of memory washed against the shores of my consciousness. No, the Beast had not been able to touch any of them. Captain Rogetto had saved them all. I had saved them. Hadn't I? That scenario seemed so clear, for an instant.

"What's going on!" I repeated as my head was spinning in confusion. It all seemed so far away. So unreachable. So incomprehensible.

"You've got to go back to the Game!" Melnor warned.

Then suddenly I began to laugh, uncontrollably. "This is all a dream, isn't it?"

Melnor sighed. "Yes and no."

"What do you mean? This isn't my life!"

"It is and it isn't, Ward."

"Stop talking in riddles. Tell me what's going on!"

"You are Chen Tang, now, just as you were once Captain Rogetto and I was your servant, Melnor."

"I...I don't understand, Melnor. What are you saying?"

"You're remembering another time and space that is no more. I myself have often 'remembered' in moments of clarity like this. But the moment passes, and by the time we 'come back down to earth,' we forget everything until the next lucid moment when we slip between the cracks of the future and the past and enter the timeless, spaceless reaches of eternity where the real reality is taking place.

"Those lucid visits are wondrous escapes. They keep us sane. They give us perspective. But they're not allowed to be more than glimpses, Chen. You've come undone! You've got to forget about Ward who exists only in that forever place. You are in this reality now. You are Chen Tang! Submerging yourself in this reality is the only way that you can keep the Beast from following you here. You're not ready to face him yet. You have important lessons to learn here in this life, and in the next and the next, until you are ready to battle the Beast in Another-time"

"This is a dream. A stupid dream. I want to wake up!"

"It's real Chen. Chen..."

And then Ling Su was speaking in the tongue that I, Chen Tang, could no longer comprehend, for he was Melnor no more. But I was no longer Chen Tang. Nor was I he whom I'd once been, either. Whoever that was, for I could remember nothing except that I did not belong here in this life.

I rose from my chair and tears were streaming down my cheeks as I ran through the restaurant and out onto the streets that I must have once known by name, but were now as strange as the misty roads that lead dreamers to destinations unknown.

I ran until I could run no more and the tears would no longer flow down my cheeks. I fell to the ground and pulled my jacket as close as I could around my trembling body. I huddled in the shadows and prayed for sleep.



©: 1992-2015 Robert Alan Silverstein

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