Amy (Mind Games, Part 4)

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(This is Part 4 of the story. Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

Something had changed since Max had fallen from the windmill. It was blustery outside, and there was a chill in the air. The windmill was still spinning, but it was a true, tangible force that was moving it now. The sun felt brighter, as if it were threatening to wash away the whole world on a moment’s notice.

The Other Max was following close behind, climbing the hill. “What are you going to say to her?”

“I don’t know,” Max replied honestly. “Maybe I’ll let her do the talking.”

“She’s an image made by you, a recreation,” the Other Max pointed out. “So technically you’ll be doing the talking either way.”

“But it will be her voice, and that’s what matters.”

The Other Max tried, “What will she say to you?”

“She’s going to tell me that it isn’t my fault, I suppose. Maybe she’ll say that she forgives me,” Max guessed.

The Other Max chuckled. “It sounds a bit… cliché when you put it that way, doesn’t it? You want forgiveness, so you built a recreation of her to forgive you.”

“It’s what I want,” Max shrugged.

“Maybe you’ll surprise yourself.”

Max looked over the top of the hill, the windmill growing before him. “If I do surprise myself, I hope that it’ll be a good surprise.”

The wind was getting stronger, and the sun was becoming brighter. As he got closer, the windmill seemed to have changed its height, though Max couldn’t be certain if it had gotten taller or shorter. Nothing was constant anymore. The world was compressing into a single thought. It was almost over. It was almost time to leave.

“You can’t change your mind,” the Other Max told him. “If you lie to yourself, you will fall.”

“Where would I go if I fell? Back to the prison?”

“I’m not sure,” he shook his head. “I suppose it’s up to you. Maybe you’d go somewhere even worse.”

To fall at this point would deserve a much greater punishment than the prison. Perhaps Max would send himself into the river. It was odd that he wouldn’t be sure until the last moment.

He moved through the archway, into the dark interior of the windmill. But it wasn’t so dark this time. Looking up, Max saw that there was an opening at the top, letting the light shine in. He laughed to himself, as if it were some sort of joke. When he had been climbing the windmill before, there hadn’t even been a way onto the top. He’d been keeping the exit closed until the right moment.

This was the right moment.

“Good luck,” the Other Max said from beneath the archway.

“I don’t need it,” Max disregarded him. He set his hands on the jutting stones, and he began to climb.

Left hand. Right hand. Left foot. Right foot. It was easier to move upwards now that the light from above was illuminating the stones. Every rock, every movement, Max could feel the air getting warmer above him. The wind whistled outside, and he could sense that a sort of storm was coming. But without a cloud in the sky, what kind of storm would it be?

Right hand. Left hand. Right foot. Left foot. Max knew that the Other Max was no longer watching from below. He had moved on. He had fulfilled his purpose. Max didn’t need him anymore. He’d left the windmill, walked out to the great field, and disappeared into the wind and sun.

The circle of light above Max was growing wider the further that he climbed. What would he say to her when he saw her? What would she say to him? Though he controlled this place, the future was strangely uncertain.

What if she wasn’t on the top at all?

His foot slipped.

But he caught himself.

She’ll be there. You’ve known it from the start.

Left hand. Right hand. Left foot. Right foot. His fingers knew no weakness, and Max was so close to the top. He could see the sky above him. He could feel the sunlight. He could feel the prison crumbling and the river flowing faster. He could feel the world stirring with rapt attention.

His hand reached up, out into the sky, and it landed on the top of the windmill.

She stood with her back to him, staring out at the endless field, and the flowing river. “You broke it,” she commented.

Max moved to her side, following her gaze. The prison was no longer a little box on the side of the river. It was a pile of white rubble, collapsed in on itself. “I did,” he confirmed.

“I was supposed to be in there,” she said.

“You don’t deserve to be in a place like that.”

She smiled. “Neither do you. But you went into the cell anyway.”

“I wasn’t happy with myself,” Max sighed.

“I know. But things are better now.”

He shook his head. “Do you really believe that?”

“Yes.” In that moment, Max noticed that she was crying.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

“I didn’t want to die.”

“I didn’t want you to die either.”

She told him, “It wasn’t your fault.”

Max nodded, just barely. “It means a lot to me to hear you say that.”

“Is that why you’ve come all this way?”

Max shrugged. “I wanted to talk to you.”

She whispered, “But you can never talk to me again. You’ll never see me after this. I’ll be sent back into the river, sinking all the way to the bottom. I’ll only be a memory, ever-changing. Even if you come back here to see me again, I’ll be different.”

Max looked out at the field, across the grass. It didn’t seem to reach infinitely far anymore. Though he could see no end, he knew that it only went so far. “I’m okay with losing you. I’m over it.”

“You’re not over it,” she disagreed. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. “You still miss me. That’s why you’re here.”

“That isn’t why I’m here,” Max shook his head. “I’m here because I thought I’d killed you. We shouldn’t have gone to Simon’s house.”

“Our parents blamed you,” she reminded him.

“They didn’t mean to. They didn’t try to.”

She sighed, “It was wrong of them to do that, whether they wanted to or not. They made you hate yourself.”

“I thought that I deserved it,” Max shrugged.

“You didn’t. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Max could have said that he should have changed things, that he wanted to go back and undo everything, but it was pointless to say it aloud. His sister already knew.

Behind them, the windmill spun faster, much faster than before. Somehow Max hadn’t remembered the wind until now. “Why must we feel?” he asked.

“We feel because we want to,” she answered.

“Then why must we feel loss?”

“Because we want to,” she answered again.

Max watched the narrow river, the permanent, unstoppable flow. “Humans are strange creatures.”

She smiled, her tears drying in the sun. “And a human who has lost is one of the strangest creatures of all.”

“I have to leave this place,” Max remembered. “There’s a whole world outside that I’ve been avoiding. That’s why I came here. That’s the truth of it. I didn’t want to deal with a world without you.”

“You came here to hide,” she acknowledged.

“And that’s why I was avoiding you,” Max nodded. “If I was hiding from your memory, why would I seek you out in this place? I kept changing my mind. I did want to talk to you, because I knew that I could while I was here, but that meant remembering what happened.”

“You can’t hide forever,” she nodded. “And now that you’ve found me, you can move on.”

“What if I can’t?” Max wondered. “What if I return to the real world and still miss you, still hate myself?”

“You’re allowed to miss me,” she folded her arms. “But you aren’t allowed to hate yourself. I’m here to forgive you. You know that.”

Max looked her in the eyes. “I do deserve to be forgiven. It wasn’t my fault.”

The wind grew stronger, threatening to blow the world away in a swirl of color. But the windmill held on, stayed strong. This place stayed alive so he could speak to her for just a moment longer.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she repeated back to him. “You can let me die.”

“What about the license plate?” Max questioned. “Is it here?”

Her smile suddenly changed into a frown. “Forget the license plate.”

“Don’t you want to know who it was that did this to you?”

She shook her head. “I’d still be dead. What does it matter? You want revenge, and I understand that. But you need to move on. Revenge won’t bring me back to life.”

“I keep seeing it,” Max said quietly. “I have to watch that car hitting you over and over again. But I can never quite read the license plate.”

“In your position, nobody would have been able to. The car drove away too quickly, and you were shocked, you were terrified, you were horrified, and you were distraught! You made no mistakes. You understand that now, don’t you?”

Max nodded silently. The wind pulled at him. The sunlight intensified, washing out the colors and the field and the world.

“Can you let me go?” she asked him. “Can you move on?”

He nodded again. “I can. I’m letting you go.”

For a long second, she faced the wide field, watching over it, taking it in. And then she took one step forward, and she plunged off the edge, off of the windmill.

Max didn’t watch her fall. The moment that she hit the ground, the world disappeared.

 

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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The Boy In The Box (Mind Games, Part 3)

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(This is Part 3 of the story. Part 1Part 2, Part 4)

 

“Come on! Hurry up!”

Max didn’t hurry up. But his sister was getting impatient.

“Come on!” she protested again. She was walking faster, half a block ahead of him. “I’m hungry!”

“Where are we going for dinner, anyway?” Max asked her.

“I don’t care! Where does Simon live? We’ve been walking forever!”

“It’s not much further,” Max droned. As they reached the end of the block, his foot caught on a raised bit of sidewalk, and he almost tripped. This neighborhood hadn’t been repaved in decades.

His sister skipped across the street, ignoring the crosswalk signal. “Hurry up!” she begged again. “I’m so hungry!”

“Well we could’ve stopped to pick up my weed on the way back from dinner, but at this point we’re only four blocks away from Simon’s,” Max pointed out.

“Whatever!” his sister yelled back at him. She was walking even faster now.

Shaking his head, Max considered slowing down just a little bit, to tease her. “Where are we going to eat?”

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

Max shrugged, “There’s a Taco Bell near here. McDonalds too.”

“There’s a Red Robin, right?”

“I don’t have money for that,” Max shot her down.

His sister moaned, “How? Mom just gave you your allowance!”

“And I’m spending it on weed!” Max laughed.

She turned around, walking backwards while sneering at him. “The sole reason that I don’t smoke is because it costs too much.”

“Yeah, that’s why neither of us has gotten drunk in two months.”

“How much further is it?” his sister complained.

“Like, three blocks,” Max answered impatiently.

Still walking backwards, she stepped off of the sidewalk and into the street. Max remembered that there used to be a traffic light here, but it had been replaced by a four-way stop. The city was too lazy to fix anything in this neighborhood.

Just as Max stepped into the street, he heard the roar of an engine coming from up the block.

The car spun around the corner, going three times the speed limit.

It was a red car, old with chipping paint.

With a sickening crunch, it collided with her, and she flew into the air, a graceful flip over the roof of the car.

Max thought that she would fall in slow motion, but she hit the ground instantly, the car skidding in a panic. It didn’t decelerate. The driver sped up, a fresh crack in the windshield.

“Amy!”

He was standing over her without realizing that he’d started moving. There was blood in her mouth, and her leg was bent at an odd angle.

“Amy!”

And then Max remembered too late, remembered to turn his head and look at the car.

SFK-471. No, SEK. Was it 471 or 174? FEK? 184? FSK?

If he had turned his head just a second earlier, he could’ve read it. But the car was too far away. He couldn’t see.

A red car, old with chipping paint.

SEK-461.

ESK-184.

His sister wasn’t moving. Her eyes were open, but they showed no trace of life.

He stared at her for too long. His hands trembling, he pulled out his phone.

He couldn’t call an ambulance. That would make it real. It wasn’t real yet. Maybe it hadn’t happened.

The phone met his ear, but he didn’t remember dialing. Those two rings sounded like they had come from far away.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“My… my sister got hit by a car. It was a hit and run… And I think… I think she’s dead, but…”

“What is your current location?”

He looked up at the street signs, but his eyes were too wet to read. “Oak,” he said, pulling the word out of the air. “Oak and… um…” He stared at the signs again. “Springfield. Oak and Springfield.”

“Can you describe the vehicle?”

“It was a red car. It was old, with chipping paint.”

“Did you see the license plate, by any chance?”

He couldn’t let that little two-letter word out of his mouth. He had seen it. He had. SEK? SFK?

The street was dissolving around him.

His sister’s body faded away.

Max was lying on the pavement, but it wasn’t pavement. He was in a dark chamber.

When he looked up, he saw the Other Max watching him through the bars of the prison.

“I warned you about falling,” he said mockingly.

Max stood, watching the ground as if his sister’s body were still there. “Why am I here? Why am I in the prison?”

“Because you fell,” the Other Max responded testily.

“But why the prison?” he groaned, feeling exhausted.

The Other Max paced outside of the bars. “The prison is for bad people. You’ve been bad, Max. You’ve been avoiding your problems for too long, and now you have to take responsibility for your actions. This is why you couldn’t climb the windmill. You weren’t ready. You were still telling lies.”

“This is my world,” Max glared. “I can break free if I want to.”

“And yet you haven’t already,” the Other Max pointed out. “You’re only punishing yourself.”

Max shook his head. “This is just another distraction.”

“Is it? You didn’t do what you were supposed to, so now things have to get more serious. You’re stuck here, in this prison, until you’re ready to leave. You can’t leave until you stop lying.”

“I’m here to remember the license plate!” Max insisted.

The Other Max complained, “Max, how many times do I have to tell you that you’re never going to remember it?”

“I have to!” Max bellowed. “I have to remember it! I need to catch the guy who killed my sister! He’s the one who deserves to be punished, not me!”

“Is that what this is all about?” the Other Max asked doubtfully. “Revenge? You sister died over a month ago. The police have been checking every old, red car on the streets, but they won’t find it. When the police asked you for the license plate, you must have listed a million possibilities. You clearly have no idea what it said. The car drove away too quickly.”

“And that’s why I need to climb the windmill!” Max argued. “I need to talk to her! She might have seen the license plate before the car hit her!”

He could see that fraction of a second repeating in his mind over and over. Her head turning, the car spinning around the corner, the front bumper slamming her legs. Again and again he watched it. Her head turning. The car screeching. The impact.

“You still don’t get it, do you?” the Other Max griped. “That isn’t how this place works! Your sister isn’t on top of the windmill, and you aren’t in a prison. This is all in your head! The girl on the top didn’t see what your sister saw! She can only tell you what you want her to say!”

“I have to talk to her!” Max yelled.

The Other Max tilted his head. “Is it the license plate? Or is it her?”

“Well I guess it must be her, because apparently the real license plate isn’t anywhere here!”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” the Other Max smiled. “Why would you need to talk to her?”

“Because… because…” Max stammered. “Because it was my fault that we were in that sketchy neighborhood. She just wanted to go out for dinner, but I insisted on picking up weed from Simon first.”

The Other Max nodded slowly. “You blame yourself.”

“I could have done so many things to stop it from ever happening! I could’ve gone to Simon’s later! I could’ve decided to walk on Castle street instead of Oak street! Maybe I shouldn’t have been buying weed in the first place!”

“Of course, of course,” the Other Max said sarcastically. “It’s entirely your fault. The lunatic driving that car had nothing to do with your sister’s death.”

“That isn’t what I mean,” Max moaned.

“Then what do you mean?” the Other Max challenged.

“I could have done things differently.”

The Other Max scoffed, “The same could be said of your sister. If she hadn’t been so impatient, not looking where she was walking, not paying attention to the cars on the road…”

“Don’t say that!” Max shouted.

The Other Max lifted a key. “Do you want my help you or not? I could let you out of this prison. I could do it as soon as I think that you’re ready. As soon as you think that you’re ready.”

Max looked at his surroundings. The cell almost had no content, no existence. It was just a dark space in which to stand, to stay. Opposite of the windmill, it felt much smaller on the inside than it had appeared on the outside.

“I guess I deserve to be stuck here,” Max stated.

The Other Max put his hands on his hips. “Is that really how you’re going to act? You can leave as soon as you’ve accepted why you’re here. It’s not that difficult.”

“It’s incredibly difficult,” Max griped. “I just… I don’t like all of this feeling. I want it to stop. I want to stop missing her. I want to stop feeling guilty about her. I want to stop feeling angry at the driver, at myself, and my memory…”

The Other Max smiled. “You just want to forget, don’t you?”

“No” Max shook his head. “If that was what I wanted, I would’ve stayed in that river. My choices resulted in the death of my sister. I don’t deserve to forget.”

“I feel like you’re thinking about this all wrong,” the Other Max commented, wiggling the key between his fingers.

“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Max pointed. “This isn’t about punishing myself. This is about fixing, about making me… better.”

The Other Max chuckled, “Then why are you in a prison?”

“Because I trusted you with the key. I trust you more than I trust myself.”

The Other Max glanced at the key in his fingers. “Yet I’m you, aren’t I?”

Max smiled. “If this isn’t real, then what’s the point of a key, anyway?”

“It isn’t about unlocking doors. It’s about the meaning of a key. I have the key. You don’t.”

Still smiling, Max raised an eyebrow. “But you’re me, so I do have the key.” He looked down into his own open palm, expecting to see the key sitting there. It wasn’t.

“Enough games,” the Other Max said sternly. “Do you want to get out of here, or not?”

“I do.”

“Why should I let you go?”

“Because I need to climb the windmill.”

“You’ll fall,” the Other Max reminded him.

“Not if I climb it for the right reason.”

He chuckled again. “What’s the reason this time?”

Max pursed his lips. “To stop feeling guilty. I can forget the license plate.”

The Other Max stuck the key into the lock. “Good. You’re ready.”

 

(Part 1Part 2, Part 4)

The Girl In The River (Mind Games, Part 2)

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(This is Part 2 of the story. Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

Max gazed into the river, but he couldn’t see anything. The water was a perfect blue, clear and rippling, but it flowed too quickly. Everything beneath the surface was obscured in the motion. Somebody was hidden down there, at the very bottom. How deep did time flow? How many memories would he have to cross before he found what he was looking for?

In a way, Max wished that he didn’t understand all of this so perfectly. The river was time. The memories were buried at the bottom. To reach the memories, he had to fight the flow of time. Who was the one person that he would bury in his memories?

He knew the answer, but at the same time, he didn’t.

Max knelt by the river, and he ran his hand through the surface. The water wasn’t cold. It was almost as if it wasn’t there at all. The water was more like a shell, a thin membrane, protecting what lied beneath it. When he put his arm in, he could feel the pull of the current, and there was a weight under the water. It was a weight that threatened to swallow him and never let him back up.

He stood, staring into the water. No matter how long he looked, he couldn’t discern any of the shapes at the bottom.

Before Max could give himself a chance to hesitate, he leapt into the river.

He was sinking too quickly, and he couldn’t swim fast enough to fight the pull of the current. The water tugged at his clothes, but he didn’t feel wet. When he opened his eyes, he could see clearly.

Max had been unable to see the bottom of the river because the river had no bottom. There was an endless black void beneath him. You don’t want to go to the bottom of the river. That’s a place that you don’t want to get stuck.

He swam, and he pushed and kicked with all of his might, but the flow of time was dragging him away. And down he sunk.

Down.

Down.

Down.

Down.

He thought of the license plate that the Other Max had been holding. In that moment, Max knew who would be at the bottom of the river. At least, until he changed his mind.

Down.

Down.

Down.

Down.

Max reached out his hand, and hers was there to greet him.

It was difficult to pull her out of the void. She was trying to bring him down, helping the lure of memory, but he fought it. He pulled, and she rose from the darkness. She came out of the void and swam with him, back towards the surface.

But the flow of time did not stop.

Feeling exhausted, oddly exhausted, Max swam with her, and after a long time, or perhaps no time at all, they broke through the surface.

Her hair was still long, as it had been in eleventh grade. She wore that smile that almost looked like a smirk. As soon as they were out of the water, Max noticed that both of them were completely dry.

“It’s you,” Max said.

She smiled faintly. “It’s me.”

“Alyssa,” he nodded.

“You chose the wrong person, you know,” Alyssa told him.

“No, I didn’t,” Max answered with certainty.

But she shook her head. “Me? How could I be the one that you’d buried in your memories? I’m just a girl from your high school. I’m nobody. You’ve hardly spoken to me!”

“But I have spoken to you,” Max reminded her. “We’ve talked once before. You’re the one that I’m looking for.”

“This can’t be what you’re repressed,” Alyssa disagreed. “You first saw me in tenth grade, thought that I was attractive, spoke to me over a year later, and then you gave up on me. I’m nobody.”

“For over a year I wanted to talk to you, to meet you,” Max glared. “You meant something to me. And then after we talked, we had nothing in common. I gave up on you. That was my mistake.”

Alyssa folded her arms and smirked. “You create a whole world for yourself, a world designed to help you, and you keep avoiding the problem. Why would you build a world for me? For one girl that isn’t worth pursuing?”

“I should’ve pursued you!” Max insisted. “I shouldn’t have given up! That was the point of coming here!”

She rolled her eyes. Max didn’t remember her being so sassy, but it was too late to change her. “What does your drug dealer have to do with me?”

“Nothing!” Max exclaimed. “You were the one who was supposed to be in the prison! You were the one that I couldn’t let go of!”

“Okay, fine. Suppose that you are right,” she conceded willingly. “Then what is it that the Other Max hid on top of the windmill?”

Max turned and looked up the hill. The windmill kept spinning, yet there was still no wind. If there ever was wind in this place, what would happen? “I can find out,” Max decided. “I’m going to climb the windmill. I’m ready.”

Alyssa smirked again. “What happens when you fall?”

“I won’t fall. This is my world! I can do whatever I want! And even if I do fall, I can change my fate. I can decide what happens next.”

“Unless part of you doesn’t want that. Part of you might want you to fall and suffer for it,” she reasoned.

Max shook his head. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He turned his back on her and started the trek back up the hill, without throwing a single glance to the prison.

The air was still. The sky was clear. The hill was steep, but Max didn’t feel tired as he climbed it. At the top, standing near the windmill, was the Other Max.

“What are you doing?” the Other Max asked him.

“I’m climbing the windmill,” Max replied calmly.

“So soon?” the Other Max frowned.

“That’s right. I’ve figured out why I’m here.”

The Other Max folded his arms. “Did you really?”

Suddenly, Max frowned. “Where’s that license plate that you were holding?”

Mockingly, the Other Max teased, “I thought that you didn’t care about the license plate anymore. I thought that this was all about some stupid girl.”

“Alyssa isn’t stupid,” Max mumbled.

“Her name isn’t Alyssa,” the Other Max moaned.

“Sure it is,” Max shrugged.

“No, you have no idea what her name is. You made that name up. You never found out what it really was. You’ve been calling her Alyssa for years, but for all you know, she’s Anna, or Katie.”

Max grumbled, “It doesn’t matter. Now what did you do with the license plate?”

The Other Max smiled. “Why do you want to see it so badly?”

“Because…” Max started, but then he hesitated. “That’s why I’m really here. It isn’t about the girl. I was lying to myself. It’s about what the license plate says.”

The Other Max chuckled. It was infuriating. “You don’t know what the license plate says. You never did.”

“That’s the point! I need to find out!” Max argued.

“You can’t! You never remembered it!”

“I have to remember it!”

But the Other Max shook his head. “Why did you put Simon in the prison? Why did you put that girl in the river? What do they have to do with the license plate?”

“I was avoiding the problem, okay?” Max admitted. “I’ve been straying further and further since I got here. It’s the license plate. That’s what I need. I have to remember what it says. So where is it?”

Reluctantly, the Other Max pointed over his shoulder, towards the windmill. “It’s inside.”

“You didn’t… You didn’t put it on top of the windmill, did you?” Max questioned. It seemed so perfect. He had to work to get to it.

“Of course not. You know what’s on top of the windmill,” the Other Max told him in a belittling tone.

Max pursed his lips and pushed past the Other Max. The license plate was what he needed. Why hadn’t he put it on the top? What was the point of climbing the windmill when the license plate could be so easily reached? Was the Other Max lying to him? But if the Other Max was lying, he would know it. He was only lying to himself.

The windmill was dark on the inside, and for an instant, Max feared that he wouldn’t be able to see what the plate read. But there it was, plain to see, lying facedown on the stone floor.

Before he lifted it, he looked up the walls, gauging the jutting rocks. Climbing to the top wouldn’t be difficult. Perhaps it would be strenuous, but in this world, Max could simply choose to not get tired. This was the flaw in the game. Max could do whatever he wanted. He didn’t have to play by the rules, even if he had set them himself.

When he did reach down and lift the license plate, it only made him furious.

He had expected three letters and three numbers. He knew that much would be on it. SEK? SFK? Was it 471 or 174? But this didn’t have any numbers on it. The license plate was three repeated letters.

AMY-AMY.

“I warned you,” the Other Max sighed.

Max spun around to see him standing in the archway. “But you didn’t! You didn’t warn me of anything!”

“I told you that you won’t remember the license plate. You can only remember your sister.”

“I don’t have a sister!” Max yelled. His voice bounced off of the stone walls, climbing up to the top. His face burning, he asked, “She’s at the top, isn’t she?”

“That’s right,” the Other Max nodded.

“She knows what the license plate said.”

The Other Max shook his head. “Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. In this place, she would only know what you know.”

Max dropped the license plate with a clang. The six letters stared up at him, and he forced himself to turn away. His hands landed on the stone wall, grasping a jutting piece, preparing himself to climb.

“You’re really going up there?” the Other Max raised an eyebrow.

“Of course I am.”

“You were only supposed to climb it when you were ready,” he commented.

“I am ready. I know who’s up there. I know why I’m here.”

And the Other Max laughed. “You really think that the lies have stopped? You’ve been lying to yourself ever since you came here and you know it.”

“I’ll climb it,” Max said again. “I’ll get to the top.”

“And if you fall?”

“I won’t. This is my world. I’m going to make it.”

The Other Max sneered, “Not if you change your mind.”

Max heaved his feet off of the ground, setting them on a wide stone. “I won’t change my mind. I will find the real license plate. I have to know it.”

“You’re never going to be sure,” the Other Max lectured. “Even if you find something here that looks right, you might only be lying to yourself again.”

“I’ll know it if I’m right,” Max refuted.

“Did your swim in the river teach you nothing? Your memories aren’t stable. The flow of time changes them, and they can’t be recovered once they’re lost.”

Max lifted his hand, grabbing another stone. He pulled himself higher. The Other Max watched him climb, shaking his head.

Left hand. Right hand. Left foot. Right foot. Max could feel the cold stone cutting into his fingertips, but he decided not to feel it. In fact, the stone had never been hurting him at all. Left hand. Right hand. Left foot. Right foot.

“You’re really sure about this?” the Other Max asked. He was much further down that Max had realized. Had he really climbed so high, or did space make no sense in this world? It didn’t matter either way. He was almost halfway to the top.

The ceiling was shrouded in blackness, but Max convinced himself that there was a doorway, a sort of opening, somewhere up there. Right hand. Left hand. Right foot. Left foot.

What if your sister doesn’t have the real license plate?

What if you’re wrong?

What if it isn’t about the car at all?

What if you aren’t ready?

Max’s foot slipped.

He fell.

 

(Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

The Other Max (Mind Games, Part 1)

Standard

(This is Part 1 of the story. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

There was another Max standing beneath the stone windmill. He had the same face, he wore the same clothes, and he walked in the exact same way.

At first, Max hadn’t even noticed him. He had been looking past the windmill, down the hill and across the broad field. Far away, there was a narrow river traveling through the grass. And just in front of the river, there was a little white building, a simple box jutting out of the field.

“What’s in that box?” Max asked aloud.

“It’s a prison,” the Other Max answered, their voices identical.

Above them, the windmill clicked and clacked, some sort of machinery working hard inside of it. The windmill spun, but there was no wind. Max looked at the Other Max. “Who are you?”

“I’m you,” he answered.

Max frowned. “Then who am I?”

“You’re me.”

“Oh,” Max said, though he felt that things weren’t any more clear. “Why is there a prison here?”

The Other Max shrugged. “I don’t know. You’re the one who put it there.”

“But you’re me,” Max pointed out. “So didn’t you put it there?”

The Other Max smiled, a smile that looked exactly like Max’s. “I suppose I did. But you already know why it’s here.”

Max looked down the hill, down at the narrow river that flowed towards the prison. “I honestly don’t know what’s inside.”

“That’s only because you haven’t decided yet.”

“Tell me who’s in there,” Max insisted.

The Other Max raised an eyebrow. “Who? It sounds like you’ve already decided that a person is inside.”

“It’s a prison,” Max sneered, feeling impatient.

The Other Max widened his smile. “Well, I am you. Which means that if you don’t know who’s in the prison, then how could I?”

Max looked back at the prison, and he wondered if it was a prison at all. Maybe the Other Max was lying. Or perhaps Max could simply change his mind about what it was.

He turned back to the Other Max. “This is all happening in my head.”

“That’s right,” the Other Max nodded.

Max shook his head slowly. “Am I dying? Am I in a coma?”

“I think not,” the Other Max responded. “Perhaps you are only dreaming.”

And Max looked over the field again. If he wanted, he could make something, anything, appear out of thin air. But that wasn’t fair. He had built the world this way for a reason. The windmill. The endless grass. The river. The prison. To change anything would be cheating.

“Who’s in the prison?” he asked again.

“That’s up to you to decide.”

Max lowered his voice. “A prison is for bad people. You don’t suppose that there’s a Third Max in there, do you?”

The Other Max laughed. “A prison isn’t just for bad people. Maybe it’s for people that you don’t want to let go of.”

“Why is there a windmill? It’s spinning, but there isn’t any wind.”

“Maybe that’s the point,” the Other Max suggested. “You built this place. You already know how I’m going to answer your questions.”

And Max knew that. He’d known it all along. “What’s in the windmill?” he questioned. There was an arching doorway leading inside that he hadn’t noticed until just now. Maybe it hadn’t even been there before.

“Let me show you what’s inside,” the Other Max smiled. As he turned to walk towards the foot of the windmill, Max noticed that he was hiding something behind his back.

“What are you holding?” Max asked.

“You’ll see soon,” the Other Max answered.

When they entered the windmill, Max didn’t see any machinery. It was only a hollow, stone structure. It was very dark inside, but for some reason that didn’t stop Max from seeing. The stone climbed all the way up to the top, curving inward. Numerous stones were jutting out of the wall, as if they were making a pattern.

“What’s on top of the windmill?” Max wondered, staring upward.

The Other Max chuckled. “So the windmill is intended to be climbed,” he concluded.

Max set his hand on the stone. It was cool and bumpy. He placed his feet on the stones below and started to climb.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the Other Max recommended.

Max stopped, only a few feet off of the ground. “Why not?”

“What if you were to fall?”

At first, Max wanted to continue climbing. But he changed his mind, and he dropped back down to the ground. “Does that matter in this place?”

“It’s hard to tell what matters here and what doesn’t,” the Other Max commented. “I’d like to think that all of it matters.”

And as Max moved away from the wall, he caught another glimpse of what the Other Max held behind his back. It was made of metal. “What is that?” he pointed.

To his surprise, the Other Max held it out in front of him, but would not show its face. “It’s a license plate,” he replied.

“Let me see that,” Max insisted. “What does it say? Show me the front.”

“No,” the Other Max said nonchalantly.

Max lunged forward, but the Other Max moved backwards at the exact same moment. “Give me the license plate!”

“This is all happening in your head!” the Other Max reminded him loudly. “If I won’t show you the license plate, that means that you don’t want to see it!”

“I was in a car accident,” Max decided. “I was hit by a car, and now I’m in a coma!”

“Do not lie to yourself!” the Other Max boomed, his rising voice echoing off of the stone wall around them. “You know what this license plate is, and you know why I can’t show it to you.”

“Why am I here!?” Max shouted.

“That’s up to you, isn’t it?” the Other Max leered. Casually, he moved the license plate away, hiding it behind his back again.

“I don’t want to be here!” Max complained. “How do I wake up?”

The Other Max rolled his eyes. “You’re missing the point. You can wake up whenever you want. Actually, let me correct myself. You aren’t missing the point. You’re just stubborn. You came here because you wanted to come here. Now do what it is that you intended to do.”

Max’s eyes wandered to the archway leading out of the windmill. “I have to go to the prison,” he decided.

“Good,” the Other Max nodded. “Now you’re talking some sense.”

Outside of the windmill, the sun seemed brighter, and the colors more vibrant. The breezeless air carried Max down the hill, across the grass, and towards the narrow river. The closer that he got to the prison, the smaller it appeared to be.

It was a white box, flat and wide. On one side there was a set of bars, beyond which was only a dark chamber. No furniture. No lights. Nothing.

“Hello?” Max called into the darkness from the other side of the bars.

There were faint footsteps, and suddenly Simon was standing before him.

“Simon?” Max glared. “Simon? Of all people? Why would you be in my prison? I was expecting an enemy, an ex-girlfriend, or maybe even myself! What are you doing in there?”

“You put me here,” Simon shrugged.

“But you’re… you’re nobody! You sold me weed for a couple years, and that’s it,” Max grumbled.

“You’re almost done with high school,” Simon pointed out. “You’ll need a new drug dealer.”

Max rolled his eyes. “Shut up. Why isn’t anybody important in my prison?”

“This was your choice,” Simon reiterated irritably. “Besides, why did you stop buying weed from me, anyway?”

“Because my parents caught me,” Max frowned. He added, “You know that.”

“Are you sure that’s why?” Simon challenged. Except he never said that. What he had actually said was, “You put me in here for a reason. What’s the reason?”

Max shrugged. “You’re a drug dealer. You belong in prison.”

“Come on!” Simon cackled. “We’re supposed to be pals, aren’t we? I bet you were supposed to put somebody else in this prison, but you chickened out!”

“No, that’s not true!” Max argued. “You’ve caused me a lot of problems! More than I can count!”

Simon shook his head. “You are such a liar, Max.”

Max glared. “That doesn’t sound like something you would say.”

“This is your world,” Simon teased. “You’re the one putting words in my mouth. I guess you’re just doing a crappy job at it.”

Frustrated, Max turned away from him. The field and the river both seemed to go on forever.

“Come back here!” Simon urged. “We aren’t done talking!”

Looking back, Max moaned, “If you aren’t supposed to be in the prison, then who is?”

“You know,” Simon stared.

Max shook his head. “You’ve been such a problem in my life.”

Simon commented, “You could let me out, you know.”

Max looked over the bars that separated them. There was a little lock that he hadn’t noticed before. “I don’t have the key.”

“If anybody knows where the key is, it’s you,” Simon droned.

Max glanced over his shoulder, at the river. “Did I put it in the river?”

Simon smiled. “I don’t know. Did you?”

“What is the river? Why is it here?”

“It probably means something to you,” Simon shrugged.

“I know,” Max acknowledged. “But what?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Max sighed, guessing, “The passing of time?”

“Correct,” Simon confirmed instantly.

“Time!?” Max exclaimed. “That’s it? Time? That’s ridiculous! That’s so… trivial! So stupid!”

Simon explained, “It means whatever you want it to mean. That’s how it works. That’s how everything here works. You said time, so it represents time. You always have a chance to change your mind.”

“I don’t want to change things here,” Max said quietly. “It feels like it would be cheating somehow. I made this place for a reason, and I need to preserve that reason.”

“You already have changed things,” Simon told him. “You’ve been here ten minutes or less, and you’ve changed plenty.”

Max shouted, “So what if I have?”

“Calm down,” Simon winced, lifting his hands defensively. “You can do whatever you want. You’re the one putting words in my mouth. You’re only getting angry at yourself, not your stupid former drug dealer.”

Clenching his fists, Max tried to calm himself. Eventually, he asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

Simon folded his arms. “You came to the prison expecting somebody significant, and you ended up with me. You have to find somebody else, and this time you’d better make sure that it’s the right person.”

“Where will I look? There’s only the windmill, the prison, and the river.”

“Then I suggest that you look in the river,” Simon instructed.

Max turned away from the bars, towards the water. “There’s somebody at the bottom of the river,” he concluded.

“The bottom of the river holds your memories. The base of time is always memory,” Simon explained. “There’s something that you’re hiding in there.”

“The current is strong,” Max noticed. “I’ll get swept away.”

Simon smiled. “And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? How can you get to the buried memories when time keeps passing?”

“What else is at the bottom of the river?”

Simon smirked. “You don’t want to go to the bottom of the river. That’s a place that you don’t want to get stuck. If you swim too deep, you might never come back up. I wouldn’t recommend drowning, either. I know that none of this is real, but you can still end up in places that you don’t want to be.”

Max swallowed as he stared at the flowing water. “What happens if I fail?”

Simon grinned. “If you want to know, you could always find out.”

 

(Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)