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A Figment’s Tale part 14

Where are you? Joshua asked the Catholic god Yahweh.

You won’t find me, Yahweh replied. I’m well hidden.

We don’t want to hurt you. We want to undo the damage we did and wake up your followers.

I don’t believe you. Have the Bureau send somebody else.

They didn’t send us, Happy said. I don’t know if they even plan to send anybody to help you. They probably don’t know how to.

And you do?

Well, not exactly, but if I can see you, I think we can figure something out.

You sound sincere and no longer drunk with power, so all right. I’ll send one of my representatives to bring you to me. I can’t really move right now.

A man with a neatly trimmed beard appeared near them. He held his arm out as if to show them the way somewhere. Joshua couldn’t help but notice holes in his wrist and the blood all over him. Between that, the facial hair, and the tattered robe tied around his waist, Joshua assumed he was the Catholic version of Jesus.

“You never cleaned yourself up in all this time?” Happy asked.

“I’m a surprisingly recent invention, actually,” Jesus replied. “Follow me to my father.”

Jesus turned toward a wall and walked through it. Joshua and Happy stood there, unsure of what to do. Joshua couldn’t pass through solid matter. Only Happy could do that.

After a few seconds, Jesus poked his head out. “Oh yeah, sorry. There’s no door to the room where Dad is. The real one will have to stay out here.”

“That’s fine,” Happy replied. “You can just sit somewhere and see from my perspective.”

“Okay. I’ll just sit on one of these oh-so-comfy hard wooden benches. Why does this religion hate comfort so much?”

“I don’t know,” Jesus said. “Something to do with desires of the flesh. They sure didn’t get it from me. Anyway, come on in. It’s just straight down this way through a few feet of stone.”

Jesus’s head disappeared into the wall again, and Happy followed. Joshua picked a pew and followed along through Happy’s “eyes.” At first, all he could see was black, but soon enough, he emerged in a small chamber with stone walls, a lightbulb hanging from a cord in the ceiling with a string hanging down from it, and an old mattress on top of which laid an old, bearded man.

“Thank you, Jesus,” he said in a tired voice. “You can go now. I’m sure your church needs you.”

Jesus nodded and disappeared.

“He’s not Catholic Jesus?” Happy asked.

“No, he’s Third-Wave West-southwestern United Episcopal Jesus. His favorite color is green. Second Wave’s Jesus likes blue.”

“Ah, of course. Perfect reason for a new denomination. Anyway, I’m here to apologize for what happened before. If I’d known that I was hurting people, I never would have challenged you.”

“I had no idea a figment from a single mind could be so strong,” Catholic Yahweh said. “I would have warned you if I had any idea. How is your physical mind doing?”

“We were in the hospital for a little while, but after some rest, we’re both doing fine.”

“Then I guess it’s safe to say that you won the fight. Has the Bureau found you?”

“Yeah. They confronted Joshua at the hospital. He clocked them good.”

Catholic Yahweh smiled. “That’s funny. They’ve never met a figment that could give them trouble.”

“I was out like a light at the time. He got away from them all on his own.”

Catholic Yahweh’s smile immediately turned into a grave look. “Your person has command over the power?”

“Yeah. Is that surprising? We share a common mind. We’re the same person. Your believers each have a little bit of power themselves. That’s where your power comes from. You don’t already know this?”

Fear began to tint Catholic Yahweh’s face, particularly around his eyes. For a figment, he was very detailed in his appearance. It made Happy consider his own simple appearance and wonder how figments chose what they looked like—if, indeed, they did actually choose it.

“I don’t understand,” Catholic Yahweh said. “This is too much. I need to rest. Maybe this will make more sense after I’ve rested some more.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t really matter,” Happy said. “I just wanted to come and apologize and try something I just thought of. I want to try giving some of our energy to you and see if that wakes up your people.”

Catholic Yahweh was too tired to protest or argue, so Happy assumed he consented to the procedure. He floated up to the old figment and put his hands on his head. Then he concentrated on sending some of his power into the deity. The results were dramatic and immediate.

A Figment’s Tale part 13

A small hole opened in the clouds beneath Joshua and Happy, and a pale-green, tennis-ball-sized ball of light flew up through it and stopped near them. In a calming, androgynous voice, it told them, “Follow me.”

Happy became a pair of leathery dragon wings on Joshua’s back, and they flew after the glowing orb. Whoever sent it must have had some awareness of what speeds Happy Face was capable of going, because it flew at many times the speed of sound. Happy and Joshua, of course, had no trouble keeping up, and the sky was clear until they began to see airplanes. This told them that they were near land, but what land they couldn’t yet tell. They were too high up to make out any details yet not high enough to see which continent they were flying over.

The orb made a sudden nosedive, and though it slowed down to half the speed of sound, it was still traveling perilously fast considering anything could pop up in front of them at any moment. Fortunately, nothing did, and they soon landed in the middle of the grand courtyard of a castle.

“Welcome to Dawkins Castle,” the orb said. “Built six hundred years ago for King Richard the wise, it now serves as the home base for the Global Bureau of Celestial Events. The director will be here shortly to show you around.”

The orb disappeared, and Joshua and Happy Face started to look around the throne room, where the orb had left them. It was vast and mostly empty, aside from many thick marble columns that divided the room into large squares. There was also a tremendous throne that could have seated five large men, suggesting to Joshua and Happy that King Richard was either morbidly obese or compensating for something. Along the walls were paintings of young women in outfits that would have been considered skimpy six hundred years ago. They left the women’s necks and shoulders exposed, but no ankles could be seen.

“They weren’t Richard’s wives,” said the voice of a little girl from behind Joshua.

Happy had already noticed her, but he assumed she was the child of one of the Bureau members. Joshua turned and looked down to see that the girl was wearing a very nice grey business suit and had her hair tied back in a bun. She looked and spoke exactly like a small adult.

“Are you a midget?” Happy asked.

“Happy!” Josh admonished him. “I’m sorry, he doesn’t have much of a filter.”

“That’s all right, neither do I. I’m Evelyn Carlisle, executive directer of the GBCE. No, I’m not a midget. I have the mind of an adult and the body of a child. We don’t have time to get into it right now, but I’m sure you’ll discover a lot of things about this organization that will strike you as strange or even impossible. But believe me when I say that you are by far the most amazing thing here. That’s why we recruited you.”

“Is it why you attacked us?” Joshua asked.

“Yes. When you fled from our agents, I assumed that you weren’t interested in joining, so I thought it was best to have you eliminated. I’m glad to see I was wrong about you.”

“Like we were going to go anywhere with a couple of men in black,” Happy said.

“I didn’t assign the particular agents. I just told my assistant to have you brought here. I agree that they weren’t the best choice, but hindsight is 20/20. Now if you’ll come with me to my office, we’ll discuss the terms of your employment.”

Evelyn led them down a long hallway to a luxurious office. It had been the king’s bedroom, so it was the largest room in the castle other than the throne room. She handed Joshua a folder containing details of his first job and told him that he would be doing that same kind of thing for the first year. When she asked what they wanted to be paid, Happy joked that they wanted ten billion dollars a month. Their eyes went wide when she said, “Done.” They took a closer look at the folder to see what they wanted them to do for that kind of money.

They were to infiltrate a newly formed religion called Scirotology, get close to its leader, Daviid McCavige, and report their observations to their supervisor, Abraham Lincoln.

“Abraham Lincoln?” Joshua asked. “What an unfortunate name.”

“He’s not just a guy named Abraham Lincoln,” Evelyn told him. “He’s the Abraham Lincoln.”

“But isn’t he dead?”

“Yes. That’s why he’s a ghost. Don’t stare at his forehead. I told you there were stranger things at the Bureau than me.”

———

Evelyn sent them, head spinning, out to find their own lodging and begin their assignment with a month’s salary in advance in the form of a debit card. They could live anywhere they wanted, and they wouldn’t have to use their powers to steal what they needed. Evelyn also assured them that nobody would be looking to recapture them and throw them back into the Happy Place. They were declared sane, and their record was wiped clean of anything that would flag them to law enforcement. That made it safe for them to get some new outfits and travel to the church in Rome where Happy was able to summon Catholic Yahweh. Surely that was where the god would be recovering.

Nobody recognized them as they walked through the doors of the church wearing a ten-thousand-dollar suit. They sat in a pew and tried reaching out to the Catholic god with their thoughts.

Yahweh? they said together. It’s Happy Face and Joshua Peterson. Can you hear us? We came to say we’re sorry for what Happy did to you and to offer our help in getting back on your feet.

At first, they were answered only by silence. Then they heard a whisper in their mind. They strained to hear it.

When I get my strength back, I’m going to smite you into oblivion.

A Figment’s Tale part 12

Joshua and Happy’s conversation was interrupted by a visitor, which they didn’t expect all the way up in the clouds above the Indian Ocean. Another dragon approached them, but it didn’t attack like the last one. It had a flatter face than the previous one, with forward-facing eyes and a short snout. Its intelligent and wise appearance put Joshua and Happy Face at ease, as did its small size. It was about the size of a housecat.

“Good day, o mighty ones,” it said. “I wouldn’t dream of attacking you after what happened to the last ‘representative’ that was sent to you. I come from a team of imaginers who work for the Global Bureau of Celestial Events.”

“Did they send the last dragon?” Happy asked.

“I apologize for that. It was a miscommunication within the Bureau. It won’t happen again, I promise  you. It couldn’t possibly, since the people who sent it are now in comas. They overestimated their own strength.”

“So why did they send you?” Joshua asked.

“Yes, of course. The Bureau would like to extend an offer of employment. in exchange for your cooperation and services, they’ll pay you anything you want.”

“What do they want us to do for them?” Happy asked.

“First, they want to scan you to gauge your strength. It’s really just aiming a device at your head for a few seconds, not painful at all. Then they want to put you–the figment–through some training exercises.”

“My name is Happy Face,” Happy told him.

“Oh, you have a name already? That’s interesting. Anyway, after the testing and training, you’ll be sent out on assignments about once a month. Nothing dangerous, just reconnaissance. We investigate the formation of gods in new religions. I gather you know by now the truth behind gods.”

“They’re figments like me,” Happy said.

“Yes,” the dragon said. “When people gather together for a common belief, they can give form to what they believe in where there was none before. There is a delicate balance of power among the current gods and goddesses, and new ones have to be worked in gracefully to prevent war. When you fought the Catholic god, the Bureau was afraid that a war had broken out. We couldn’t believe it when we found out it was the figment of a single individual who had challenged him and nearly won.”

“Hey!” Happy protested. “I did win!”

“From what our agents observed, I’d call it a tie. You both used a lot of energy and emerged from the fight extremely depleted. The god you fought will take centuries to recover, while you seem to be back at full strength.”

“What do you mean he’ll take centuries to recover?” Joshua asked.

“What I mean is that half of the world’s Catholics are in comas because of the beating you gave their god.”

Joshua and Happy Face were stunned. They never meant to hurt anyone, let alone millions of people.

“I didn’t know,” Happy said sadly. “I never meant for that…”

“What can we do to undo the damage?” Joshua asked.

“You can’t do anything for them,” the dragon said. “Their minds took a heavy blow, but they’ll recover eventually. The children will awaken first, then the adults, and then hopefully some of the elders.”

“Hopefully some of the elders?” Happy asked. “What does that mean?”

“We don’t expect many of them to ever come out of their comas. But like you said, you didn’t know. This isn’t your fault.”

“Of course it’s my fault!” Happy shouted. “And I don’t understand why you’re so unemotional about it. Don’t you care?”

“I’m not connected to my creators’ emotions like you are. I’m a product of their intellect. They don’t sincerely believe in me. They’re just projecting me so I can talk to you here. So will you join us?”

“We’ll consider your offer after we find a way to help the people we’ It’ve hurt,” Joshua answered. “How can we contact you?”

“You won’t need to. We have eyes and ears everywhere. When you’re ready, you’ll see me again.”

The dragon disappeared, leaving Joshua and Happy to ponder what he’d told them. They communicated to each other through their emotions. Happy was beside himself with grief for what he did, and Joshua wanted to comfort him, but it really was pretty bad.

“What can I do?” Happy asked. “I can move things, but I’m not telepathic except for projecting a few illusions like this body and clothes for you.”

“When I’m totally asleep, you’re extremely strong,” Joshua said. “And when you needed to rest, I was able to do things I can’t do when you’re awake. Maybe if you go completely dormant, I can use my telepathic abilities to help the people.”

Happy smiled, the fog of his despondency lifting. “Oh yeah, that’s right. You’re telepathic. Maybe you can go into their dreams and wake them up from there.”

“I don’t think people dream while they’re in comas. It’s not normal sleep. But maybe I can go into their minds and fix the damage. That would take forever, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Happy said. “You’d have better luck healing Catholic Yahweh and healing everyone through him.”

Joshua smiled at his figment. It was the best idea he could think of, and they could use their new connection with the GBCE to contact the version of Yahweh believed in by the world’s Catholics and undo the damage they did. He stood up and shouted to the sky, “We’re ready to join you now!”

A Figment’s Tale part 11

A fireball came at Joshua, Happy Face, and Michelle and exploded against a barrier that Happy hastily constructed. He’d seen the projectile coming from behind Joshua mere seconds before it would have fried them all. But even though he blocked it, it still felt like it singed their skin.

“I’m burning!” Michelle cried.

“The fire wasn’t real,” Happy replied. “Look at your arm. You’re fine.”

Michelle calmed down and looked at her arm. As Happy said, she wasn’t actually burned. As soon as she realized that, the pain stopped as if it had never started. Her relief was short lived, though, because in the middle of her sigh of relief, a terrifying roar shook the trees.

Without even looking up, Joshua said, “And that would have to be a dragon.”

Happy looked and confirmed that it was, indeed, a dragon. It had to be the size of a standard school bus, and it had green scales, red, glowing eyes, and a long mouth filled with dagger-like teeth. Its wings were each as long as the dragon itself, and they flapped with seemingly great power to keep it aloft.

“Is it real?” Joshua asked.

“Of course it’s real!” Michelle yelled. “Just look at–”

“It’s a figment,” Happy interrupted, causing Michelle look at him incredulously. “It can still do damage, though, so let me handle it.”

Happy charged at the dragon and hit it right between the eyes with the force of a nuclear bomb. It sent a shockwave in all directions, causing trees to shake and animals to flee in panic. Joshua and Michelle held their hands to their ears just in time to save their hearing. When they looked up again, they saw Happy standing in the air and no dragon.

“That got rid of it,” Happy said proudly when he rejoined them. “I wonder who sent it.”

“They’re going to have a giant headache,” Joshua said. “Probably not the kind of thing we’ll read in the newspaper though.”

“I know you never invited me to be a part of all this,” Michelle said, “but could you tell me what’s going on now?”

Intending to tell her it was too dangerous, Joshua took his first good look at Michelle and lost the desire to discourage her from being part of his adventure. She didn’t look afraid. She looked excited.

So they explained everything to her. The excited look never left her face as she listened. She didn’t even notice that her friends were on the ground looking for her. Their voices barely reached where she was, but she’d have heard them if she’d been listening.

While Happy was talking about how dangerous their life was, Joshua peeked down and saw Barry walking by. He shouted for Michelle, and Joshua quickly moved his head back.

“Uhh, Michelle?” he said. “Your friends are looking for you. Barry is right down there.”

“Oh yeah, them,” Michelle replied. “I probably should let them know I’m all right. And make sure they’re all right after that dragon attack. I sure hope this is my life now.”

Happy took them down to the ground, and they met up with Michelle’s friends, Barry and Sarah. Michelle told them that it would be dangerous for them to know everything that was going on. Of course, they didn’t accept that, and they asked questions that weren’t answered as they returned to Barry’s Jeep.

“So are you coming back with us?” Sarah asked.

“No, I’m going with them,” Michelle told them

“What?” Barry asked. “You just met this guy. All you know about him is that he has magical powers. He is not the Doctor, Michelle, and you are not Rose Tyler.”

“He’s kinda right,” Happy said.

“What? But I thought you wanted me to come with you.”

“This isn’t about what I want,” Joshua said. “You shouldn’t throw away your life to go on adventures with someone you don’t know. It could be extremely dangerous. What are you studying anyway?”

“Photography,” Michelle told them. “I want to travel the world and take pictures of everything.”

“Why don’t you have a camera now?” Joshua asked.

“Rivers are wet, duh. It’s in the Jeep. Would you mind posing for a picture?”

“I don’t show up in pictures,” Happy said. “Besides, we should probably get going. Keep studying and traveling, Michelle. Maybe we’ll run into you when things have calmed down for us.”

They took off before Michelle had time to yell, “No, wait!” Happy didn’t hold back on the speed, so they were far from Malaysia when they stopped a few minutes later. They sat on top of a cloud above the Indian Ocean, hoping they wouldn’t be interrupted this time.

“I hope I don’t have to beat up Allah now,” Happy said.

“Don’t even think about it,” Joshua replied. “Who knows how many imaginary gods are out there? We’re not god slayers.”

“What are we exactly?” Happy asked.

“Nothing yet. We’re still recovering from your adventure last night. Are you well rested at least?”

“Yeah, I feel pretty good now. I’m glad you’re not mad about leaving Michelle behind.”

“Kinda sad, but not mad. Our life is too dangerous right now to be toting other people around. So what are we going to do about that organization that wants us?”

“Well, the easiest thing to do would be to let them find us and find out exactly what they want. They might have information that we can use.”

“Information about what?”

“Gods, angels, figments, stuff we might encounter out there in the world. Knowing about it could be helpful.”

Joshua thought about it, which was the same thing as talking to Happy about it. He didn’t want to be a lab rat, but Happy would be able to protect him if they tried anything like that. But what if they’re prepared to deal with powerful figments? There was no way they’d be able to subdue a figment as powerful as Happy. But how could they really know what they had in mind?

A Figment’s Tale part 9

“At least you weren’t actually injured,” Happy said as Joshua gathered his thoughts.

“So are we in Rome?” Joshua asked.

“No. Somehow, we were transported to Malaysia. God probably didn’t want us to destroy any of his precious buildings.”

“There’s video out there of us–of me–flying. It’s probably all over the internet by now.”

“Like anybody’s going to believe it. Nobody trusts video these days when it’s so easy to fake something like that.”

“Some people will believe anything, Happy. You really messed up. You told me you weren’t going to do anything stupid. What you did was motivated entirely by anger. That’s how you hurt people. You’re really lucky you didn’t.”

Happy started to make an argument, but then he stopped and looked down. “Yeah, you’re right. It was a mistake. A bunch of mistakes. But isn’t it interesting that when you’re asleep, I’m as strong as God?”

“And I could do things while you were down that I couldn’t do before. That’s how we escaped the hospital and those guys in the suits.”

“I barely have enough strength now to keep us up here,” Happy said. “I think maybe I should take us down and keep resting. If you can use the power, then you should be all right while I’m down. Just don’t overdo it.”

“That’s funny advice coming from you,” Josh said with a laugh. “They’re looking for us directly under us. Set us down somewhere else. Somewhere more isolated.”

“All right.” Happy took them down at an angle so that they landed about two thousand miles to the north of the hospital. There weren’t any houses nearby, just grassy fields and trees. Happy went back into his hibernation, and Joshua felt an increase in his mental energy.

He looked out on the field. The sun was almost in the middle of the sky, which meant it was just before noon. Insects jumped and flew around the tall grass. It would be difficult to walk around here, so Joshua took a tip from the insects and moved in a series of telikinetically boosted leaps. He stopped when he reached a very tall tree whose lowest branch was high above his head. He reached it easily and reclined on it against the trunk. The cool, soft breeze and the warm weather soothed him to sleep.

—–

A gunshot jolted Joshua awake. It came from just below him. He looked down and saw a man aiming a rifle at him.

“You come down from there!” he commanded. “The next shot won’t be a warning!”

Joshua replied, “Put the gun down or I’ll break it.”

The man refused to comply, so Joshua bent the barrel toward the ground and pulled the trigger until the gun just made clicking sounds. Then he picked the man up and held him in the air in front of him. The man was clearly more scared than angry now, and he held his hands in front of him like he was praying.

“Please don’t hurt me, oh spirit of the plains,” he said. “I didn’t know what you were.”

“I’m not a spirit,” Joshua replied. “I’m just a guy. Am I trespassing on your land or something?”

“Well, uh, you see . . . yes. My ancestors are buried under this tree. That’s why it grows so much taller than the rest. If you’re not a spirit, what are you?”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect by sleeping in your ancestors’ tree. I’ll leave.”

Joshua gently put the man down and jumped down next to him.

“Wait,” the man said. “Come with me to my house. My wife is a good cook.”

Joshua was ready to try flying away on his own, but it would have been rude to refuse such a kind invitation. The man probably wanted to apologize for threatening him, and home-cooked food sounded good.

The man introduced himself as Muhammad. His wife was Elya. Though they wanted children, they never ended up having any, and Elya was almost too old to get pregnant. As they trudged through the long grass, Muhammad spoke at length about how much he wished he had a son to pass on his wisdom and house to. He was afraid that he’d be forgotten after he died. Joshua was glad that the conversation was focused on Muhammad and not on himself. He wondered how long Happy would stay asleep.

Muhammad’s house was surprisingly nice. Joshua had expected a small shack made of grass, but it was larger than even the house that Joshua had grown up in. It was made of wood and mud, and it had three stories. There was no front door, which made sense because nobody else lived within ten miles of them.

Muhammad took Joshua into the kitchen, where an aging-but-still-beautiful woman stood at a wood-burning stove. Muhammad kissed his wife on the cheek and introduced his guest as a strange man he found in the ancestors’ tree.

“Our name is Joshua,” Joshua said. “My name, I mean. Just me.”

Elya gave Joshua a suspicious look. “Where are you from?” she asked.

“Houston,” Joshua answered.

“That’s in America,” Elya noted. “Why did you come here?”

“Honestly, I’m hiding from some people.”

“Who is after you?” Muhammad asked.

“Some organization that investigates celestial events. They want to study me.”

Elya looked him up and down. “Why do they want to study you? Muhammad, have you brought trouble to our home?”

“He might have,” Joshua said. “I don’t mean you any harm, but if I’m found here, there could be trouble. I can’t really explain why. I should just go.”

“No,” Muhammad said. “Let them come. You are my guest. Allah brought me to you for a reason, and I believe it is so I could help you.”

Joshua looked at Muhammad and then at Elya. She didn’t share her husband’s faith, but she held her tongue. If he stayed, he would cause friction between them, not to mention maybe get them killed. But where else could he go while Happy Face rested?

Muhammad disappeared into another room and came back with modern-looking assault rifle. He gave Elya a look that seemed to communicate, “You know what to do,” and she hurried out of the room.

“When do you expect them to come?” he asked Joshua.

“I have no idea. They might not come at all. I talked to some agents yesterday in a hospital that was pretty far away. I don’t think they have any way of tracking me, since I got here from the air.”

“The air? You can fly? Then you are an angel of the lord. Praise Allah! It would be an honor to die defending you.”

“That’s not going to be necessary. I won’t let anyone hurt you or your wife. And I’m not an angel. I have met one, though. Nice guy, once he stopped trying to kill me. I’m just a person who, for whatever reason, can do things that should be impossible. You know what? I’m not actually sure what I am, but I’m definitely not an angel, and you are not going to die because of me.”

Muhammad looked confused. “If you’re just a regular person, then where did you learn Cantonese?”

“I didn’t. I only speak English. I think we’re communicating through some kind of telepathy, and it makes it seem like we’re speaking each other’s language.”

“It is through the power of Allah that you can do the things that you can do. He has a plan for you.”

Joshua looked up and said, “Allah, if you’re listening, please talk some sense into this guy. He’s really eager to die in a battle that he doesn’t need to fight. I’m going to leave before that becomes necessary.”

Looking down, Joshua saw Muhammad on the ground with his face pressed against the floor. He wondered what was going on, but then he realized that that was how Muslims prayed. He quietly stepped outside and leaped away, covering several miles in five jumps. He was trying to fly, but he wasn’t strong enough at the moment. He would have to wait until Happy woke up.

A Figment’s Tale part 8

Because of his growing confidence in Happy Face’s ability to carry him, Joshua began to enjoy flying. He told his figment not to fly so quickly so he could enjoy the scenery below them, and Happy was glad to oblige. They both experienced Joshua’s amazement as he saw the world get smaller and smaller. Happy had a destination in mind, but he kept it from Joshua so it would be a surprise. They flew among migrating birds and wispy clouds. They made faces at a child in an airplane. They enjoyed a sense of freedom that nobody else ever knew.

“I could just live up here,” Joshua said as they watched the sun set from on top of a carpet of clouds. Happy made it feel like a solid surface so Joshua could sit on it.

“We could,” Happy replied. “We’re hungry, though.”

“Oh yeah. We forgot to eat today. We have enough money left to eat something cheap.”

“That’s my favorite. Burgers and fries, here we come!”

Joshua walked to the edge of the imaginary platform. Happy had made it transparent, but Joshua still knew its borders. Then he dove off, falling without fear, knowing that Happy would keep him safe. Happy took the form of white feathered wings on his back and shaped his fall into a wide spiral. They landed on the roof of a Burger King and then jumped down near the dumpster, where nobody would see them in the evening’s growing darkness.

Inside, a diverse crowd of people sat at tables eating unhealthy but decently tasty burgers and chicken sandwiches. Nobody was eating fish, despite the fact that the Big Fish is one of Burger King’s best sandwiches. That’s what Joshua ordered when he and his normal-looking friend approached the counter. Once Joshua was fed, he felt much better, though he was very tired. Risking looking like a homeless person, which he was, he went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and then came back out and sat with Happy.

“We can’t afford a motel room,” Joshua said, looking at the dollar and change that he had left. “Not legitimately anyway.”

“It’s all right. You don’t need a room. Just go to sleep. I’ll take over our body for the night.”

“Uhhh…”

“I’m not going to do anything stupid. Actually, when you were unconscious before, I felt a lot stronger. I’d have beaten that angel senseless. I can probably accomplish a lot while you’re sleeping.”

“Just don’t hurt anybody.”

“Of course. It’s not like I want to hurt people. It would be senseless to waste this power on that. So just relax and have a good rest. I’ll bring us somewhere cool.”

Joshua still had his doubts, but he suddenly felt extremely drowsy. He fell into a deep sleep as if he’d opened a box of crazy purple knockout gas.

——–

Eight hours later, Joshua awoke in a hospital bed wrapped from head to toe in bandages. He felt a strange giddiness like he was on heavy painkillers. He was hooked up to three or four IV bags and could only move his eyes.

Happy? he called out in his mind. What’s going on here?

Happy didn’t answer, though Joshua could still feel his presence in his mind. He wasn’t projected anywhere, and he wasn’t talking or thinking or anything.

Joshua tried to remember what Happy did the previous night, but he couldn’t. It was like a dream that he’d forgotten, except that he never remembered it. The part of his brain that did was inert.

After about two hours according to the clock on the wall at the very edge of Joshua’s peripheral vision, which was the only thing in the room that moved, the door opened and in walked a young woman in a nurse’s outfit. She was Asian, which Joshua took at first to mean that he was somewhere in Asia, but there were Asian nurses all over the world, so it wasn’t a reliable clue. He tried to talk to her, but all he was able to manage was unintelligible grunts. Startled, the nurse looked at him and saw that his eyes were open. She pressed a button on the wall and shouted, “He’s awake!” Then she ran out of the room like there was a bomb in it.

Seventeen seconds later, an Asian man and a Caucasian man wearing black suits came in, locked the door, and stood at the foot of the bed. They looked at him with the most serious faces Joshua had ever seen on a person.

“Joshua Peterson,” the Asian man said. “Do you remember what happened last night?”

Joshua did his best to shake his head no. He grunted, “Mm mm.”

The Caucasian man looked shocked.

“Our files show no record of you ever learning Cantonese,” the Asian man said, “but you seem to have no trouble understanding it. We realize that you can’t really talk, so just listen. We are agents William and Theodore of the Global Bureau of Celestial Events. According to witnesses at the Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption church in Rome, you entered the chapel, approached the altar, and then proceeded, quite loudly, to challenge God to a fight. When church security failed to remove you, the police were called. When the police failed to remove you, you continued to yell until angels came down. After you defeated them and destroyed the church in the process, witnesses could no longer follow what exactly happened. They describe it as a light show unlike any they had ever seen.”

“Mmm mmmmmmm mmmm?” Joshua tried to ask.

“Nobody was hurt,” the Caucasian said. “Mr. Peterson, the reason we were sent to speak with you is that you are still alive, and so is God. That means that you fought to a standstill.”

We fought God to a standstill? Joshua thought. That would explain why you’re out of commission, but you said you didn’t want to hurt anybody. When you wake up, you have some ‘splaining to do.

The Caucasian agent continued, “We want to bring you to a secure facility where we can perform a few tests. Nothing invasive. We don’t want to harm you. We have healers who can speed up your recovery and a job offer if you’re interested.”

Joshua tried to get up, but all he could do was strain slightly. He looked at the clock on the wall, and it started to shake. The agents turned toward it and took out their handguns.

“Stun him,” the Asian agent said.

Joshua narrowed his eyes, and the clock flew off the wall and struck both agents on the back of the head, knocking them out cold. He closed his eyes, and the bandages exploded off him in tiny pieces that coated the walls and ceiling like a big star chart. He sat up and realized that he wasn’t injured. Apparently, they wrapped him up and drugged him so he would think he couldn’t move and therefore wouldn’t struggle. What a relief that he was all right.

He got out of bed and immediately fell to the floor. The effects of the painkillers weakened his muscles. Fortunately, there was a wheelchair near the window on the other side of the room. He brought it to him, climbed in, and propelled it forward with his newfound control over Happy’s power. An alarm eerily similar to the one used at the Happy Place sounded throughout the hospital. As he made his way through the hallways, large men in security and orderly uniforms came at him, only to be thrown against a wall. As soon as he saw signs directing him to the exit, he followed them and soon made it to the hospital’s main lobby.

Apparently, everyone had evacuated, because Joshua didn’t see anybody there. He rolled slowly out of the hallway, following the wall toward the doors. He didn’t want to be out in the open with people trying to capture him. Halfway through the lobby, he noticed a red dot appear on his chest. He panicked and lashed out, sending out a wave of telekinetic force in all directions. Everything that wasn’t securely fastened to a surface was thrown back into a wall, and all of the windows shattered. The red dot was gone, so Joshua made a break for the exit.

Wake up! Joshua thought to Happy. You’re the one who knows how to control this!

His legs were starting to tingle, which meant the drugs were wearing off. That didn’t matter, though, because outside, it appeared that he had been surrounded before he sent out the wave. Four police cars lay upside down, and a dozen or so police officers lay on the ground unconscious. Joshua checked to see how badly they were injured, and no one was bleeding, so he figured they’d live. He sped through the parking lot toward the road, which was choked with strange tiny cars.

Joshua? Happy said groggily.

There you are! Are you all right?

I think I overexerted myself, but I’ll recover. You should see the other guy.

You mean God?

Oh, you heard about that. I can explain as soon as–what’s going on? Why are we running away in a wheelchair?

Get us into the sky and we’ll compare notes.

Without taking any sort of form, Happy lifted Joshua up into the sky until they were on top of a thin layer of clouds, leaving the wheelchair behind. Once he established a platform, he took his usual form and told his story.

“As soon as you fell asleep, I flew us as fast as I could to a little cafe in France where locals say they have the best crepes. I was going to hang around there until you woke up, but then some tourists noticed their pictures weren’t quite reflecting reality with us in them, so I flew us up to hide. They must have gotten some pictures of that, too, because more and more people kept gathering there, and it was really annoying me, so I smashed all their cameras. I didn’t hurt anyone, though. I kept you up in the clouds while I did all this so they wouldn’t think it was you doing it.

“So then I felt bad about breaking all those cameras, so I took us to a church in Rome to talk to someone. I stayed in your head and talked through you so not even people with cameras would see anything weird going on. I did their confession thing, and the priest guy said I would have to say ten hail Marys and ten our fathers to be forgiven. I asked how the people whose cameras I smashed would know I said all that, and he said they’re not the ones I needed to forgive me. I asked him who, and he said God. I laughed, and then he told me to get out. I got mad again and figured I’d show him, so I challenged his god to a duel. The rest is hazy from there, but I’m pretty sure I beat him.”

Joshua didn’t know how to respond. He sat there on top of the cloud and looked at Happy Face in disbelief. He couldn’t even be angry yet. There was too much to process. He laid down on his back, shielded his eyes from the sun, and stared off into space.

A Figment’s Tale chapter 7

“It means I’m not really here,” Happy said. “And Joshua isn’t really dressed like a regular person. We should get you some real clothes, actually.”

“So you make people see things that aren’t really there, and you can actually move things?” Sarah asked. “Like telepathy combined with telekinesis?”

“Yeah. We don’t know what triggered it, but it seems this power has been buried in our subconscious our whole lives. Mom and Dad are afraid of it.”

“A lot of people will be afraid of it,” Sarah said. “You should probably make yourself look like a regular person.”

“But I’m comfortable like this. I was a regular person earlier at a restaurant, and it didn’t feel right. This is who I am.”

“Then you’re going to have a lot of trouble fitting in.”

“The only people who fit in with idiots are other idiots,” Joshua said. “We’ll deal with it. There must be people who can appreciate what we can contribute.”

“I’m sure there are,” Sarah said. “If it gets too hard or you need a place to crash, you’re welcome to stay here.”

“Until the police start staking the place out,” Happy said. “That’s what happened at Mom and Dad’s house. They haven’t contacted you, have they?”

Just then, Sarah’s cell phone started playing Ace of Base’s 90s hit, “The Sign.” She answered it. After a moment of chatter that Joshua couldn’t understand, Sarah said, “No, he hasn’t been here. I don’t see how he could get here so fast anyway. He’d have to go on a hypersonic jet or something.” Then more chatter on the other end. “I will. Bye.”

“That was a weird coincidence,” she said after she hung up. “Do they know about the things you can do?”

“I don’t know,” Joshua answered. “A few cops saw us disappear, and some others saw us fly away at Mom and Dad’s house, but I didn’t think they’d report it.”

“Well, they think it’s possible that you made it here already, so they seem to have some idea that the normal rules don’t apply to you.”

“We should move on then,” Happy said. “We don’t want to put you in danger.”

“Can’t you make it so they can’t see you?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah,” Happy replied, “but if they have a camera, they can see us. Joshua doesn’t want to have to hurt anyone even if they attack us first.”

“Do what you have to do then. But remember that you have a home here if you need one.”

“Thanks, Sarah,” Joshua said. “We appreciate that.”

Despite Joshua’s protests, Sarah gave him some money so he could get some proper clothes. He decided it was better to use money that was willingly given to them than to pay for things with money that didn’t really exist, especially when dealing with something like clothing. A store clerk could be fired for the price of even a single shirt being missing from the register. Then they left and walked to the Triplet Pines Mall about a mile away. Whenever they saw a cop, Happy made sure they were unrecognizable. If they had body cameras, as they were supposed to due to a history of abuse of power by police officers, they would later see that they’d passed by the escaped mental patient Joshua Peterson, but by then, they’d be long gone.

Because the Triplet Pines Mall specialized in outlet stores, discount stores, and cheap knockoffs of expensive brands, Joshua and Happy were able to get a few outfits and a small suitcase to hold what he wasn’t wearing. They chose clothing that didn’t stand out—polo shirts, khaki pants, and plain-colored t-shirts. They also got a few essentials like a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, and a yo-yo. Happy insisted on the yo-yo. It all fit neatly in the black suitcase. Happy eased its heft by augmenting Joshua’s strength with his own.

As they walked through the shopping center, Joshua looked at all the people and wondered if any of them had any idea they were living in a world where a person’s imagination could literally take on a life of its own. He wasn’t like them any more. He couldn’t live a normal life.

That’s ridiculous, Happy thought to him, hearing his thoughts as if they were his own. What is a normal life anyway? Getting a job? Having relationships with other people? We can still do those things. We’re still a person.

What kind of job could we get? Joshua replied. Nobody wants to hire a crazy person and his magical imaginary friend.

Dude, we can do things that nobody else can do. We’re like Superman. What would Superman do if he wasn’t fighting bad guys?

Joshua thought about it. It was easier to imagine what someone else would do with similar abilities. Superman could transport people all over the world in a fraction of the time it would take them to take an airplane. He could similarly deliver packages. He could work construction or in a warehouse. He could be a cop.

We could be a cop, Joshua proposed.

I thought you didn’t want to hurt anyone.

We wouldn’t have to. We’re way more powerful than any bad guys out there, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the police catching us. I know I said before that we’re not a super hero, but maybe we kinda are.

Usually, you’re the one raining on my parade, Happy said. I should remind you that that would mean going public and going through the normal application process, which includes a mental health evaluation. You’re diagnosed with a few mental disorders.

Joshua’s excitement died down. Happy was right. Contrary to what he thought as a child, having super powers wasn’t making his life any easier.

Happy continued, We don’t have to decide anything right now. Let’s just go and do whatever. We’ll see the world. We’ll meet people whose minds are open enough not to look at us and see a crazy person. We’re not crazy. We can make this work.

Joshua smiled. He trusted his figment. His friend.