Teddy held on to my arms as he guided me through the path least travelled by many.
“You sure we’re going the right way?” I asked as Teddy, the plush sized pudgy looking bear made out of cotton and velour tugged at my right hand.
“I am certain!” He said in his squeaky tubby voice. His tiny bear paw held on to my index finger, while the other paw carried a sword made out of paper.
“You sure the paper sword would suffice?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder. The path before us was dark and eerie while hoots of owls from the nearby tall trees could be heard followed by howls of beasts in the dark forest beyond them. The darkness behind me sent shivers down to my toes.
He stopped short and I could see he was annoyed at my constant questioning. Placing his tiny paws on his hips, he glared at me with his eyes made out of beads. “If I tell you, would you believe me?”
I pondered on this. Here I am, a grown man in his late twenties being led by his old toy; a plush teddy bear in a deep dense dark forest and the only weapon of choice is a handmade sword made out of paper!
“I highly doubt so, Teddy.” Came my reply.
He stomped his feet in childlike fashion and said, “Suit yourself! But really, Fear is but an illusion. A paper sword will suffice.”
“What if a group of armed men come along? What if a dragon attacks us? What if a goblin jumps out from the forest? What if-”
“Stop.” He held his left paw up, signalling me to quit talking. “Do you want to get to the bottom of this?”
I nodded my head in silence.
See, two hours ago, I was unable to sleep. With thoughts constantly paying me repetitive visits, I realised it was time to do away with them. That was when as I sat at my study table after lighting a cigarette, I chanced upon Teddy, a gift I received when I was seven on Christmas Day, sitting nonchalantly above on one of the bookshelves.
“Teddy, you there?”
He came to life. “Always here,” He said, as his feet dangled from the shelf. “Funny, after twenty years and now you remember me.” He said with a tinge of sarcasm.
Teddy, always the one with the mood swings.
“I’m sorry. I suppose, growing up took its toll.”
“Uhhuh.” He said, nonchalantly with an even greater hint of sarcasm.
“Look.” I said as I stumped the cigarette out. “I’m sorry, alright?”
“Yeah whatever.” He crossed his paws and turned his head away from me, facing the open window where from afar, I could see the distant flash of the lightning. A storm was brewing. The sky was bright red, giving the impression of a sleepy dragon which had spewed fire after yawning.
“How have you been? You’re still pudgy as usual.” I said, trying my level best to break the ice.
He scoffed back, “Pudgy to you. Sexy to me.”
What a self absorbed fellow!
“Why aren’t you asleep? There are monsters under the bed?” He grinned.
“No. Not under the bed.” I said as I stared out the window from my study table. From a distant, the thunder roared.
“You can tell me.”
I sighed. “This time, they’re in my head.”
He jumped down from the bookshelf and landed on the computer keyboard with a soft thud. “I see.” He said as he paced about.
I controlled myself from chuckling. It is always amusing to see a Teddy bear pacing about, one paw crossed and the other on his sewn mouth, in deep thought.
“That is the problem with growing up.” He said.
“You think so?”
He nodded. “You never really have room for imagination. And the slightest chance you get to imagine and go crazy – bam!” He slapped his paws together, emphasising his point. “People say you need to act your age!”
“Grow up!” I mimicked the elders.
He nodded excitedly. “Yes! Yes! What a silly thing to do – grow up!”
“Alas, we humans undergo this process, Teddy.” I explained. “We’re always in constant motion, in constant change. We’re evolving, transforming, changing every second.”
He laughed. “You humans are silly!”
“Why do you say such a thing?”
He started pacing again, his paw on his mouth and the other crossed, “It is not really you who is in constant change. The world around you is. You’re not affected at all.”
“But I am!” I said aloud. Realising I was being too loud, I whispered to him, “But I am.”
“Nonsense!” Teddy sat on the keyboard. “You’re only affected by your thoughts and nothing else.”
I observed him as he relaxed on his back against the keyboard, his huge head resting on his paws, his legs crossed.
“Where are the thoughts coming from if it is not me thinking them?”
He sat upright quickly, “Let’s find out!”
“By going into your Mind!”
I stared at him in bewilderment.
“But first, we need a sword. Do you have paper with you?”
Teddy never really explained why we had to journey into my head. And frankly speaking, I have no idea on how to explain how we even managed to get in in the first place.
But here we are, walking on a dark path instead of taking the other one which illuminated the most.
“Why didn’t we take the other path? The one with the street lamps on?”
“Because you’ve walked down that one many times.”
He made sense.
He continued, “This one, however, is one you have to travel if you wish to find out the Truth.”
I stopped walking. Teddy turned around and asked, “Now what?”
I hesitated again.
“What?” He stressed. I could sense his growing impatience.
“I’m scared. There. I said it. Can we backtrack now?”
He rolled on the floor and laughed much to my annoyance.
“If we backtrack – which we can – you’ll only keep getting repetitive thoughts.” He said, after managing to calm himself down.
Then he walked to me, placed his paws on my legs and said, “Look, the sooner we get this over with, the better it is. I promise, it is not as scary as you think it is.”
I observed as his beady eyes pierced through my soul.
“Fair enough.” I relented.
We walked until we could hear distant rolling of the storm and a bright illuminating object on the dark hill.
“We’re getting closer.” Teddy said as he held his paper sword upright.
The object kept pulsating in eerie red light, resembling a human heart. But I was mistaken. As I peered closer, it was shaped like a human brain. Energetic highly charged electricity surrounded the surreal looking object.
“Can I have your sword? I’m weapon-less.”
Teddy hushed me down. “Silence! See that?” He pointed at the object.
“That’s your Mind’s Core. Every thought begins and ends there.”
I observed the object as a weird humming is heard. The humming grew louder and a loud muffled sound could be heard from within the Core. And then, much to my dismay, the object parts like an egg and spews out a gigantic dragon.
Teddy crouched and urged me to do the same. I felt my heart lunge from my ribcage as the beast staggered on the ground, shook its head, spread its wing and roared.
The roar sent shock-waves around us. Teddy held on to my legs as I lay on the grass, my hands holding on to the root of a nearby tree.
The dragon then flapped its foul wings, reeking in terrible filthy stench making its way up to the skies. It roared again, this time sending a ball of fire towards us.
I rolled to my side, the fire missing the both of us by mere inches.
“What is happening?” I screamed at Teddy, who quickly put out a small flame on his left shoulder.
“Your thoughts come true when you intend them!”
“So what do I do?” I screamed as another ball of fire missed us. Both of us ran for cover behind a tree.
“You have to face it and realise it doesn’t exist!” Teddy said, scampering ahead, the paper sword serving no purpose at all.
“Can I have the sword atleast?” I yelled, as the beast circled above us.
“You do realise it’s made out of paper, right?” He yelled back.
Another ball of fire. This time it hit the tree we were under, burning it to ground. We rolled away to a clearing.
Realising all efforts were futile, I picked up the courage, grabbed the paper sword from Teddy’s paws and dashed towards the dragon.
“You!” I screamed as I ran towards the beast which had landed on the ground a few metres ahead, its wings spread menacingly.
“You do not exist!” I yelled as I struck its leg.
Like a cloud of smoke, the beast dissolved.
Teddy, who was already standing, motioned me to head straight to the Mind’s Core before another apparition made an appearance.
The both of us ran towards the pulsating object as a goblin jumped out from a nearby bush. I slapped it yelling, “False! False!” It went flying, dissolving midway into a thick cloud of smoke.
A group of armed men on horses emerged from the cracks of the Core. The horses eyes were fiery red as the dacoits clad in black brandished their silver swords. One took an aim with his bow.
I ducked, the arrow missing my head by an inch. Teddy rolled, as the arrow struck a nearby tree.
With my hands holding on to the paper sword, I battled my way through to the Mind’s Core, destroying one dacoit after another until finally one remained.
I threw the paper sword at the dacoit, hitting his horse’s head. The apparition dissolved.
I picked the sword as the object pulsated aggressively, the both of us coming closer to it. It sensed its end was near.
“Go inside!” Teddy yelled. “Kill whatever it is in there!”
I turned back to see him watching me go. “You’re not coming?” I yelled, the humming getting louder. The brainlike object buzzed loudly, sending electric energy all around its surrounding.
“Not this time.”
Wasting no time, I held on to the paper sword and dived into the organism.
“You won’t be needing that.” A voice called out, referring to the paper sword.
I looked around the silent but slightly illuminating and pulsating neuron like walls of the organism, searching for the source of the voice.
“Who is that? Reveal yourself!” I yelled.
The voice said, “Very well. But first, put aside the paper sword. It is of no use here.”
I dropped the sword on the wet slimy ground after much hesitation. It dropped with a sickening plop as I searched for the voice.
A light dazzled before me, forming a figure a few metres from where I stood. It took on the form of Teddy.
“Teddy?” I said to it.
“Yes. Teddy.” It smiled.
“But weren’t you outside just now?”
Teddy cackled. “You’re pretty foolish you know that?”
Seething with anger, I picked the sword and flung it at Teddy. It went right through and hit a neuron behind him. Teddy continued to laugh maniacally.
“Told you the sword is worthless here.” Teddy said as he ambled slowly towards me.
“I know you’re not Teddy.” I said through my gritted teeth.
“Fair enough. Who do you think I am?” It said as he lunged at me, grabbing me by the neck and tried digging its teeth into my chest.
I threw the possessed creature to the ground and rolled away. The moist ground making a sickening sound, my body soaking wet with the greenish brown slime.
I dashed towards Teddy, tried kicking him only to see my feet go through its body. Teddy continued to laugh as it slowly rose, the slime dripping from its fur.
“You’re not real! You’re not Teddy!” I screamed.
“I know that! Then who am I?” Teddy screamed back, grinning, revealing its sharp teeth.
“You’re an evil beast!”
“Wrong!” It pounced again. I ducked and turned behind quickly to see it hit a neuron and dissolve into thin air. The next moment, as I turned to look in front, Teddy stood before me, grinning.
“There is nothing you can do. Absolutely nothing!” It pounced. This time it buried its fangs into my neck, sending a surge of blinding pain in my body. I could smell the warm blood oozing from one of my veins as I tried fighting the wretched creature off.
What could this creature be? I asked at the back of my head. The pain is real. The creature, appears real. But what is it?
“You’re my Ego!” I yelled as I pulled Teddy off and slammed it to the ground. This time, before it could dissolve, I held on to its neck and pounced on it. “You’re my Ego! In my Mind!” I said as I punched its face. Teddy continued laughing, blood oozing from its nose. One of its beady eye fell off as I went on disfiguring its face with my blows.
With one last blow, Teddy dissolved. However, its laughter continued to echo in the reverberating walls of the pulsating organism.
I tried catching my breath and touched my bloodied neck. The wound was gone but traces of the blood and pain remained. I looked around to see if Teddy would reappear.
Something patted my shoulder and as I turned, I found my mother standing before me.
She stared in silent, teary eyed, the light dancing on her facial features, revealing a sad sullen looking face.
“I’m disappointed in you.”
The words killed me inside. “But why? What did I do?”
“It’s not what you did. It’s what you didn’t do.” She said as she took a few steps back. “Look at yourself! See what you’ve become! A monster!”
“But, I don’t understand! Mother!”
Mother walked back into the darkness. The laughter continued to echo through the walls.
“You’re a disappointment to your mother!” I heard the voice say. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
The voice continued cackling.
“Shut up and show me yourself!” I screamed.
A slight buzzing sound and suddenly like a projector in a darkened cinema, I saw vivid images of myself before me. Images from the past, hurtful, painful images. I saw the visuals of my late father, of mother’s sullen looking face, lovers that were never meant to be, all painful and depressing.
“I’m disappointed in you.” I heard mother’s voice echo. There was laughter again as my world turned topsy turvy.
I fell to the wet ground and broke down. I couldn’t get the images off my head.
“Enough!” I sobbed. “Stop!”
The laughter grew louder.
I rolled on the floor in pain, hitting my head trying to get the images out. But it was of no use. The more I fought back, the harder they came.
And the memories came in a continuous stream.
“You could have been this!” I heard my mother’s voice say as the images morphed, revealing to me a glimpse of the future.
I saw an older version of myself with a beautiful wife with three adorable kids. “This is your future! Do you want it?”
I sobbed, “Yes, I do!”
“Then get out. Get out of this madness!” Her voice echoed. “Don’t be a disappointment to me!”
I saw more images of what I could become if I walked out of the organism. One vivid image revealed an older version of myself holding a trophy, the words “Pulitzer Winning Author” inscribed on it. And then I saw that image being burnt before me by fire.
“You need me..” The voice said.
I couldn’t get the images out. I hit myself in the head. Tried prying the images off but they won’t go away. I saw my future self sitting in a room alone. Smoking a cigarette, a bottle of wine next to me. I appeared dazed.
“If I go, this’ll happen.”
The memories sped up followed with brief glimpses of a dystopian future. I sobbed and screamed, telling them to go away. But they kept coming like ocean waves pounding the rocks. My head felt heavy and it was throbbing in pain. I closed my eyes and screamed.
And then, I surrendered. Gave up. I saw the vivid images and memories for what they were; thoughts but nothing more. When I looked at the fear induced thoughts beyond for what they were, there was total emptiness, nothingness. Harmless.
The laughter stopped, the images dissolved and I was back in the slimy room.
I looked around me, breathing hard. I saw a figure emerging from the darkness. A familiar one.
It resembled me.
I saw the figure stand before me grinning. It sounded exactly like me when it said, “If I told you, that you’re but a fragment of an imagination, what would you do?”
I stared at the figure and tried comprehending what it had just said. The figure crouched to look at me and repeated, “If I told you, that you’re but a fragment of an imagination, what would you do?”
Surge of fear overcame me. I quickly saw it for what it was; emotion but nothing more.
“I’ll stare you down.” I heard myself say. The figure stopped grinning.
I felt a burst of confidence arising from my heart as I heard myself repeat, “I’ll stare you down. Because I know, it is you who is but a fragment of an imagination. You’re my Ego and you’re nothing but vapour, a dream made out of smoke and air and you can’t harm me because -” I broke into a smile.
This time I got it.
“Because?” It whispered in terror, fear casting a shadow on its face.
“Because you don’t exist. Never did.”
The figure blew up into a cloud of smoke, I could hear a loud scream as the smoke dissolved. The scream slowly faded as the walls of the organism stopped pulsating rapidly.
An air of calmness descended. The organism started pulsating calmly. Naturally.
I emerged from the Mind’s Core dripping wet in slime, tired, worn out but extremely light hearted and found Teddy relaxing on the ground.
“So how did it go?” He said as he jumped onto his feet.
I smiled, “You were right. Fear is an illusion.” I handed him his paper sword, which was soaking wet.
He smiled back, threw the sword away and said, “You don’t need it anymore. The greatest sword is the intellect, and your shield, wisdom.”
“I know.” I said as I looked at his lifeless body sitting on the bookshelf, the cigarette still in my hand.
“I always knew.” I patted the soft toy and went back to writing.