Joshua Peterson was too hungry to feel guilty for paying for his hamburger with imaginary money. It wasn’t very good anyway, so he was all right with it even after he ate it. The Pepsi was ok, so he felt a little bad about that.
Happy took the form of a man in his early 30s so people wouldn’t find it strange to see Joshua talking to him. He also hid Joshua’s surprisingly comfortable hospital clothing under the illusion of blue jeans and a red t-shirt. The manager was far too busy with the dinner rush to check the security camera feed in her office, which showed a man in psych ward robes sitting at a table talking to nobody.
“She lives here.” A map stretched out on the table, Joshua’s finger rested on the city of Port Shimsham, located 2,000 miles to the northeast. “And I doubt the police will think to watch for us there. The only normal way to get there in less than a week is to take an airplane, and they’ll be watching all the airlines for us.”
“If we’re going to be talking out loud, we probably shouldn’t say things about escaping the police. In fact, there really isn’t much point in us talking out loud anyway.”
“It makes me feel like I’m not so alone.”
“That’s probably why I exist. I’ll humor you. If anyone understands you, it’s me. This is an even stranger conversation than the one we were having a minute ago.”
“Like anybody is listening. Can you tell if they are?”
Happy looked around without appearing to move. He moved closer to people’s heads and tried to listen to their thoughts, but he didn’t hear anything. Either they weren’t thinking anything or he couldn’t read minds. But based on their body language, none of them were paying attention to the two men who were actually one.
“They’re minding their own business,” Happy reported. “Let me figure out a route to Sarah’s house. Then we’ll both go. Keep your eyes on the map.”
Joshua continued to study the map, and his nondescript friend disappeared. Strangely, nobody seemed to notice. After a few seconds, he reappeared.
“Okay, we have a route. Do you still not mind going up high?”
“I’ll deal with it as long as we get there fast.”
“We will. It’ll just take a few minutes.”
Joshua nodded, and they both got up and threw their trash away. Then they went outside, where Happy took the form of a giant pair of monarch butterfly wings on Joshua’s back, and they took off.
This trip was a long one–nearly eight minutes. They didn’t go light speed, but Joshua’s body was accelerated to a degree that trained jet pilots couldn’t have survived. It seemed impossible, but when he landed back on the ground, he was perfectly fine.
Joshua and Happy touched down in their older sister’s backyard. Because they traveled so far east, it was much earlier in the evening than it was where they’d left. Joshua smelled freshly cut grass and heard a lawnmower behind him. The mower’s engine cut off, and a man’s voice said, “Joshua? Is that you?”
Joshua turned around and saw Sarah’s husband, Jeremy Freeman. He stood there with a dumbfounded look on his face, probably because Happy was still projecting the image of butterfly wings on Joshua’s back. They disappeared, and the circular form of Happy Face appeared sitting on Joshua’s shoulder.
“I forgot those were still there,” Happy said. “Hi, brother-in-law!”
“What’s going on here?” Jeremy asked, addressing Joshua.
“We came to see Sarah,” Joshua said. “This is Happy Face. He’s the voice I’ve been talking to.”
Jeremy was like a deer in headlights. Happy could clearly hear what was going on in his mind. He was afraid that he had lost his mind, and he was trying to figure out a way to hide it. Happy shared the information with Joshua.
“Is that what you think I am?” Joshua asked. “Crazy? They had me locked up for hearing things that weren’t real. As you can see, this is real.”
“Just because you can see something doesn’t mean it’s real,” Jeremy replied. “How did you get here?”
“I’ll prove to you that Happy here is real. Happy, can you finish mowing the lawn for him?”
Jeremy had just begun, so most of the grass was still overgrown. An instant later, it was mowed perfectly, and the hedges were trimmed neatly. Jeremy picked up some clippings from part of the yard that Happy had mowed and compared it with clippings from the part that he’d mowed. He couldn’t see a difference.
“This isn’t possible,” he said, dropping the grass.
Then Sarah’s voice came from the front door. “You’re done already? That was fast.” Sarah looked up from the lawn and saw her husband and her brother. Her smile faded. She knew they wouldn’t let Joshua out so soon after he was admitted to the Happy Place. “What are you doing here, Joshua?”
She hadn’t yet noticed Happy Face, but as she walked up to them, she saw him and stopped halfway between the men and the front door.
“This is Happy–”
“I know who he is,” Sarah interrupted. “Happy Face, your imaginary friend from when you were four. He’s all you would draw.”
“You should’ve given me some muscles,” Happy said, flexing his stick arms. “Anyway, we’re here to tell you that we’re all right and that we forgive you for sending us to that horrible place.”
“Horrible place?” Sarah said. “It’s the best mental health facility in the country. People have come out of there and become President.”
It was true. Two presidents had spent time at the Happy Place and received the help they needed. But that was a long time ago.
“It’s changed,” Joshua said. “They had me locked up in a padded room wearing a straightjacket. I rescued a woman who’d been sexually abused there for years.”
“No, that’s impossible. Straightjackets are banned from mental health facilities, and their screening process for employees is the strictest in the industry.”
“That may be what the brochures say, but it doesn’t match with reality. The point is, I’m not crazy. I’m . . . something else.”
“We’re something else,” Happy said. “I’m part of him, and we can do amazing things. The angel we met thinks I might be some kind of god.”
“Let’s go inside and talk about this,” Sarah said. “Can you stay for dinner?”
“We ate on the way here,” Joshua said, “but talking sounds great. I’m just glad you’re willing to listen.”
“Of course. We’re family. Jeremy, don’t track any grass into the house.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes and pushed the lawnmower toward the backyard as his wife, his brother-in-law, and the figment of his brother-in-law’s imagination went into the house, leaving their shoes in the foyer.
Joshua sat down on the couch in the living room, and the phone rang. Sarah picked it up. It was their parents. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “They’re here. Yes, they. No, Dad, I’m not crazy, and neither is Joshua. We made a mistake. Yes we did, Dad. Yes we–you know what, Dad? I can’t talk to you right now. Call me back when you’ve calmed down.” She hung up the phone, composed herself for a second, and then looked up at Joshua with awe in her face. “Joshua, you went to see them earlier today?”
“And now you’re here, just over two thousand miles away.”
Sarah went to her purse, which was hanging from a hook next to the front door, and took out a digital camera. Then she went back to the living room and took a picture of her brother. She looked at the picture, and the look of awe on her face was renewed. “You’re really here,” she said. “Is that what you’re really wearing?” She showed the picture to Joshua. It was him sitting on the couch wearing hospital robes rather than the normal clothes he appeared to be wearing, and there was no smiley face button man on his shoulder.
“Interesting,” Happy said. “But it’s not too surprising. I’m projecting this image from my part of Joshua’s mind. If you take a picture of the lawn, you’ll see that I really cut it.”
Sarah sat down on a soft recliner, staring back and forth at the picture and her brother. “What does this mean?”