'you're schizophrenic?' mayim takes a step back from you, dry leaves crackling underfoot. 'oh no.'
you stare at her in dismay.
'i gotta go,' she says. 'sorry. if there's anything i can't deal with, it's someone rick says is not right in the head.... oh come on, you can't be buying this!' she runs up and throws her arms around you, belatedly. 'i'm just messing with you.'
'well don't,' you say into her neck, arms limp at your sides. 'not right now. i'm too -- '
mayim shakes you gently by the shoulders. 'who gives a roaring fuck what rick thinks? he'd like to have us all committed.'
you take a deep breath of autumn. 'i almost went with him, you know,' you tell her. the air in the day-glo forest feels cold in your lungs. you cross your arms around yourself. 'to the locked ward. he knows i'm lost. i may not be schizophrenic, but how do you explain... me? all the shit i forgot? the fact that he remembered me from high school -- and i hardly remember high school -- still makes me feel insane. and then i'm remembering words that nobody else knows -- '
'well, you're not insane. you're just... from here. the same way we're from the other dimension.' mayim frowns. 'i mean now that you mention it, yeah, the high school thing is kinda weird. unless he's just bullshitting you. i don't really know what the deal is with the dimensions, or what that guy wants. he really tried to get you to go back with him?'
you nod. an image enters your mind: bland sunlit room with a figure wrapped in a faded blanket, huddling in a corner.
you mouth her name.
'oh my god. daphne.' mayim's hand flies to her lips. 'she's there, isn't she?'
'he said so. yeah.' you curse yourself for forgetting her, too.
'it's not your fault. it's -- '
'she really doesn't want to be there.' your voice is hard. the conversation you had with her comes back. 'it's not fair. she's from here too, like me, this dimension. she knew more. tried to explain the dimensions. how you guys got here. how the hospital drugs her up just to keep her in the other dimension and that somehow, she'd made it back here and the chain bracelet she was wearing helped her stay. i just figured she was crazy.'
'...and that probably didn't help when rick was trying to talk you into the hospital too, right?'
you shake your head, mad at yourself. 'in one of my better moments, i told that bastard i was going to come spring her. and i haven't done shit. my excuse is, i don't know what i'm doing and could just as easily get stuck in the other dimension. i suppose i could take some more acid -- i mean molecule paper -- '
screeee... bang! both of you jump.
crane strides out of the house, sun shining in his blond hair, the metallic purple and green threads of his long asian shirt-robe sparkling. screeee... one by one, robbers creep out behind him, keeping their distance. audience? posse? you swallow, eyes darting to mayim, not turning your head.
'hey, crane,' she hollers, without missing a beat. 'come over here, we need your brain power.'
crane presses on toward her and you at the same pace without a word. stops a couple yards away. folds his arms.
screeee... bang! fez scuttles last out of the house. the rest of the robbers form a loose circle around you and mayim.
you forbid yourself from curling into a ball on the ground or even pulling your hood over your eyes. you keep your hands at your sides, though your shoulders tense almost to a hunch. you can't look any of them in the eye. but that seems all right, because none of them are looking directly at you either.
crane's gaze is all for mayim. she returns it with a warm, forcibly oblivious smile. 'we've been trying to think how to get daphne back, and he -- ' she turns to you -- 'you know, i've never found out your name -- '
you take a breath.
'don't let him say it!' a woman in a white caftan and many many wooden bracelets stage-whispers.
you ask mayim with your eyes. she nods.
'wait a minute,' crane interrupts you. his voice is rich, warm; commanding. everything stops when he speaks, even the rustle of the coloured tree branches. 'there's huge conflict in the house. we need to resolve this now, or risk losing the peace we've found together.'
'what about daphne?' mayim bursts.
crane holds up his hand, the gold band on his finger the plainest among many rings. 'daphne is part of the issue. as is this other entity.'
'he's not just an entity!' cries mayim. 'he has feelings. he can talk now. he even has a name, don't you -- '
you mumble, 'well, i can't really remember but i've been calling myself -- ' a chorus of ssssssssshhhh! drowns out your last word. you shrug. fine, then.
'mayim,' says crane quietly, 'some of the housedwellers think that the reason the entity can talk now is because you've been lending it your energies. making it realer. and that because you have come under the influence of our common hallucinations, that this dimension is no longer responding to our efforts to shape it.' mayim opens her mouth. crane shakes his head. 'this was the whole point of our voyage together, to find a consensus reality that we could shape together, instead of be hammered by. it hasn't been that long, has it, mayim? you can't have forgotten the unforgiving place we came from. do you need a reminder? a breather from molecule paper -- or maybe a complete stop?'
face white, mayim gasps. 'are you kicking me out?'
'not yet,' says crane. 'and it wouldn't be "kicking you out." it would be for our own protection. what we are doing here, shaping reality, comes dangerously close to insanity. we are trying to keep you and ourselves from crossing the line.'
'well, what are you saying, crane?' mayim shouts, confidence gone. she seems shrunken, lost.
'some of us are saying to regain control over this experience, we must not deal with either entity ever again. simply treat them as if they don't exist. certainly not name them. definitely never speak to them again.'
'and if i do, then what?' shaking, mayim sits on the ground, holding her head. you wish you could go put your arm around her, but that would probably make it worse for her. 'let me guess. no more molecule paper for me, and back i go. right?'
'that's what the majority of the housedwellers think is best,' says crane.