A Solipsist’s Country
by Evelyn M. Lewis
Part 1 appears in this issue.
I woke up sputtering in Isaac’s bedroom. I was on the floorboards, next to Isaac’s bed. He was still lying there above me, and his breaths were shallow. His eyelids fluttered.
I looked back to his mother, who had pulled up a chair and taken a seat near the door. “What happened?” she asked.
I didn’t answer right away.
“What happened? Tell me!”
“I need a break,” I said.
“Did you find him?”
“Yes.” I took off the headset and stood up, stretching my limbs. “Maybe a coffee.” The look I shot at the sleeping Isaac mustn’t have been entirely kosher, because his mother stood up as well. “Is something wrong? Did you speak to him?”
“Yeah.” I pushed past her and out into the kitchen.
She followed me. “What did he say?”
I went back to the front door without answering and slipped my shoes on.
She ran to me. “You can’t just give up! Please, you have to help my son!”
I looked her in the eye. “I don’t know if I can. What your son needs is a therapist.”
She grabbed my arm. “Please, stay. I’ll make you a coffee.”
I sighed and slipped my shoes off. “Okay. I’ll try again. In one hour.”
* * *
The next time I spawned, it was in the same place as before. But when I walked back to the base of the cliff, I didn’t see him.
I climbed up the top, keeping a lookout for Isaac. I’d have to keep my distance when I found him; I didn’t want to get stabbed again.
The wolfhound was still there at the top, lying still and dead. I headed further up the mountain, continuing to search. Obviously he was still in the same area of the map, or I wouldn’t have spawned here.
Finally I spotted some movement down in the valley. It had to be him. I picked my way down the slope. He headed toward me.
When he was within earshot, he shouted to me. “Ah! I’m glad you’re back.”
I blinked in confusion. “Why?” I shouted back.
“You were slightly interesting. I was starting to wish I hadn’t killed you.”
“I had to come back. Your mother asked me to. It’s time to go.” I tried to look as stern as possible.
He kept coming towards me through the long grass, and I backed away a little.
“I came back,” I said. “That must prove I’m a player character.”
“Nah. It just proves you’re important enough to the story that I can’t kill you off for real.”
I glared at him. “Fine. Even if I’m an NPC, you have to realize that what I’m saying is logical. If you don’t go back to the real world, you’ll die. Think about your body. You’re already thirsty and weak.”
“I don’t have a body.”
I was annoyed that he could once again say something confusing enough to leave me speechless. “What?!”
“I won’t die.”
“I will not.”
“You must know I’m a person. Why do you bother to argue with me if I’m just an NPC?” I tried. “How does that benefit you?”
“Got to keep my mind sharp. If you don’t have your mind, you don’t have anything. That’s how it is when nothing is real.”
I gestured to the sky as if it were the portal to home. “That’s why you’ve got to come back with me,” I said. “Back to the real world. Your family is waiting for you. They’re worried about you. Even if I’m not real, they are.”
“You misunderstand me,” said Isaac, and he swung his sword at the grass, making me flinch. “Nothing is real. Nothing. When you’re in here long enough, you start to understand.”
I took another step back from his sword, with a bemused look.
“This place is just as real as any other,” he said. “How can you prove that there’s a difference?”
“That’s crazy talk.”
“Maybe.” Isaac started heading off in the direction of a stream at the base of the mountain. I took care to follow at a distance. “Or maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m the only thing that exists. And if I am, I can’t die. Can I?” He waded across the stream.
“Doesn’t follow.” I crossed after him.
Isaac tossed his longsword on the ground. “I’m tired. Carry it.”
I looked at the sword, surprised. Part of me wanted to refuse to be his pack mule, just to prove I had my own will. But I knew I’d never convince him. If I took it, maybe I could find a way to gain an advantage on him.
There was a cave opening in the mountainside, and Isaac ducked into it, continuing to speak. “If I am the only thing in the universe, then I am uncreated. I am self-existent. If nothing but me is real, that means everything around me is my own creation. Therefore, I can’t die. I’m a god.”
Isaac had found the back of the cave, a skeleton, and a few bags of sand. His back was to me as he picked up a gold coin. This was my chance. I stepped up and pointed the sword at his neck.
“Sorry, bud. Time to quit the game, or I’ll force-quit you the only way I know how.”
Isaac stared at me for a second. Then he laughed.
I swung the sword at him. It bounced off his neck and was thrown from my hands.
“You think you can take me by force?” Isaac laughed. “I’m level thirty-six and I know every cheat code in the book. I can unlock creative at will.” Trees sprouted around us in the darkness of the cave. “I can do anything I want.” A black stallion had appeared in the cave entrance, and he mounted it. “I can...” He raised a hand in my direction.
I started trying to move out of the way, but it was too late. A gigantic boulder had dislodged from the cave ceiling. It could have crushed me, but instead I was thrown back against the cave wall by an invisible force. The boulder rolled forward, pinning me none too gently against the wall. My feet dangled above the ground. I struggled to breathe, and the longsword fell from my fingers.
“Let me go,” I grunted.
Isaac just looked at me, as if to survey his handiwork. Then he rode away. As he went, an avalanche of dirt fell down over the mouth of the cave, covering it completely. Everything was pitch dark. The boulder continued to press against my chest.
I’ll be crushed, I thought, but soon I realized I wasn’t going to die. Isaac simply meant to trap me here, alive, forever, so that I could neither follow him nor respawn.
Unfortunately for his plans, I wasn’t actually an NPC.
“Computer,” I said. “End game.”
Are you sure you would like to quit your current session? All progress since your last save point will be lost.
* * *
I jerked awake in the chair next to Isaac’s bed.
His mother still sat across from me. “Why is he not back yet?” was the first thing out of her mouth.
“Ma’am...” my mouth was dry. I licked my lips. “The only person who can bring your son back to you now is your son.”
I hate to admit it, but my distaste for Isaac had taken over. “He doesn’t want to come out. There’s nothing I can do to make him come out. I’m sorry.”
“No! You’re lying!” She stormed across the room and started shaking Isaac by the shoulders. His body jostled limply. “Wake him up! There has to be something else you can do to wake him up!”
I felt bad saying it, but it was true. “I’m sorry. I can’t. The best thing you can do for him right now is take him to a hosp—”
Isaac’s mother was holding the main line, the one that connected to Isaac’s neck port, in her right hand.
“No!” I yelled as she tugged.
Isaac gave a spasmodic gasp and jerked. His hands gripped the sheets, and then his eyes opened and looked around wildly. He didn’t sit up. He seemed to relax for a moment, blinked a few times, and slowly his eyes sharpened.
At least he’s alive. I wanted to leave. She could find a way to blame me for his injuries and then sue me in court.
“Isaac baby,” she said, leaning over him, “can you hear me?”
He mumbled incomprehensibly, and slowly started to sit up.
“Isaac, are you okay?”
He slapped her out of the way.
I winced, and she backed up, stunned.
At that point I figured whatever happened next was between them. I didn’t want to be around for the inevitable clash, so I hurried back to the door and slipped on my shoes. She’d paid half upfront, but I hadn’t even gotten him out myself, so I doubted she’d be paying the rest. It was time to go.
* * *
This morning started as usual. I woke up and went downstairs for coffee. I had an appointment today several cities over and would need to drive for quite a while to get there.
I opened my phone and started to scroll without thinking. A news article popped up.
MAN GOES ON STABBING SPREE IN EAST WARWICK.
East Warwick? I’d just been there, in fact, yesterday. There was a blurry photograph. I squinted. Now, that looked just like the street...
The street Isaac lived on. But there was no way. I clicked.
The young man, a local resident, stabbed two women in broad daylight. When a nearby police officer showed up on the scene to arrest him, he attacked the officer and was shot dead on the spot.
But it couldn’t be.
I examined the photograph again. It could. His face was obscured, but it was, almost certainly.
I felt a momentary wave of nausea, but closed the app with a sense of finality. Never mind. Today, a girl fell in love in a dating simulator and needs a little help remembering what’s real and what’s not. I will do better this time.
Copyright © 2020 by Evelyn M. Lewis