Hector woke up and groggily got up out o bed. He felt cool from his freezing sweat. As he descended on his own two feet, he felt like he was going to just fall forward like someone who had just been stabbed in the back.
He’d had his first bout of PTSD in years last night. It was the eyes. It was always the eyes for him. Hector could clearly picture Mingus’s eyes looking into the camera. They were as real as the ones he stared at every day in the mirror.
Hector had been foolish enough to watch the news. He watched as people mourned the death of a beloved public figure, and Hector knew it would only get worse when they realized that the public figure had spent his private life fighting for the good of the city and the world.
“It’s not real,” Hector kept telling himself. But the words sounded hollow to him. Everything felt real, he even had an exact replica of his own home in this world. And it didn’t help that Thaddeus had gone completely quiet in his head. It was if Thaddeus enjoyed watching him collapse inside his own mind.
Hector found himself walking toward his training room. It was exactly how he left it in the real world. The weights were still in the exact spot that he expected. He walked over to the punching bag that was exactly how he left it, right down to the small tear in the top right corner.
Without putting on gloves, Hector hit the bag. Hitting it hurt his knuckles, but the pain felt good. He proceeded to pound the bag with no rhythm, just rapid strikes that would render a real opponent crippled for life. He imagined himself hitting Thaddeus for putting him in this situation, and his punches got harder. He was almost determined to see what would break first, his hands or the bag.
After nearly an hour of with the bag, Hector let out a cry and gave one last massive punch and walked away, leaving the bag swinging like rapid metronome. He instinctively began to unwrap his hands, only to realize for the first time he wasn’t wearing any wraps, or any protection for his hands. He went back over to the bag and steadied it. He saw his own blood all over it.
“It’s not real,” Thaddeus’s voice rang in his head.
“What?” Asked Hector, not fully processing anything at that moment.
“The blood, it’s not real. None of this is. It’s all a figment of your imagination. Well, my imagination. In your head.”
Hector had had enough, “get me out of here.”
The voice just laughed, “Don’t be so dramatic, you know what you need to do to get out of here.”
Then, an idea came into Hector’s mind, “I do know what I need to do.” He strided toward the drawer beside his couch, and he pulled his handgun out of it. It was fully loaded, just like it would be in the real world. Hector turned it around and faced the barrel toward his own forehead.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the voice chided.
“Why not? If none of this is real, then I won’t actually die.”
“Look around you, Hector. You logically know that this world isn’t real, but your conscience believes that it is real. Feel the pain on your hands, it’s the exact pain that you would expect from hitting the bag. The gun in your hand feels exactly how your brain expects it to, and if you pull that trigger, it’s going to feel exactly how you would anticipate. Your conscience will believe that you are dead, so for all intents and purposes you will be. Even in the real world.”
“Why did you not tell me this before I came here?” Hector demanded.
“You didn’t ask,” the voice replied simply, “you were so caught up in the idea or a challenge, you didn’t ask about the risks. So, if you want to get out of this world you’re going to have to do what I tell you, which is to destroy this world. And you know how to do that, don’t you?”
The normally calm and calculated brain of Hector was starting to feel shaken. His thoughts were racing to the point where he could feel his head burning.
“You’re a b*stard!” Hector screamed.
“You can call me whatever you want,” the voice said, “it won’t change what you have to do.”
And then, the voice was silent.