“Who cares,” said the young woman who rarely spoke during group sessions.
“Heidi, why do you say that? You don’t care?” the counselor sat back, waiting for her to respond.
“I don’t, but I guess hearing you talk about it as if it’s so important inspired me,” her raspy voice barely audible to the people on the other side of the circle.
“This is good, Heidi, I’m sure the group would love to hear more from you than me,” the bubbly blonde counselor couldn’t hide her excitement.
“I’m tired,” Heidi left the group, ignoring the pleas from the counselor. On her way out, she tossed the pen and paper they gave her for group therapy in a basket full of stale fruit. In an attempt to stop her from leaving, an orderly blocked the door.
“Heidi, you should go back,” the burly woman reminded her of a Viking milkmaid. She imagined trying to punch her and smirked. The woman’s robust features would be unaffected by her feeble punches, and her hand would end up in pain from hitting the equivalent of a leathery sack of potatoes.
“No worries, she doesn’t have to go back. Heidi is coming with me,” nothing about him gave the impression he had any authority in this place. The orderly reluctantly agreed to move and let them pass, but not without asking her supervisor on the radio about the new doctor. Behind them, the counselor, and the group, watched the scene unfold as if this was the most exciting soap opera they’ve seen.
“Ok, we should continue talking about healing, about looking ahead to our future. Remember, we don’t need all the steps laid out for our plan; we just need a direction. What direction are we taking?” said the counselor from the edge of her seat. She flailed her hands, trying to get the attention of the group.
“Forward,” responded the group in unison.
Heidi, in the hallway, rolled her eyes, and the fat man took note of her reaction. They walked briskly down the corridor towards the rooms, passing all the twelve-foot-tall windows facing the garden. The flowers outside were the only things in the facility that brought her any joy.
“You’re not a fan of group therapy?”
She didn’t respond. Instead, she hurried the pace. When they reached the first checkpoint, an orderly gave Heidi a hostile glare and asked the man for his ID.
“We’re going to the window room. Please inform Dr. Strauss that we’ll be performing an exposure,” his picture looked old as if he’s been working at the place for decades, but she’d never seen him.
“Welcome to our facility Dr. Marion, it’s an honor to have you here. I will let Dr. Strauss know; will you require her to be at the window room for the exposure?” the way the orderly spoke sounded rehearsed, like if he was reading it from a teleprompter.
Heidi couldn’t hide her concern, but she didn’t want to speak. The orderly grabbed her by the arm and guided her to the opposite side of the dorms. Once they arrived at an unmarked checkpoint, it was just her and the doctor. The orderly locked the door and hit a few buttons in a display on the wall to secure the lock.
“You’re a smart woman, I’m sure you have questions about what’s about to happen. Please feel free to speak,” he took a small tablet from his lab coat. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.”
After multiple metal doors, they arrived at a long windowless hallway ending in a giant redwood battened and ledged door. The hallway had no overhead lights, but the glow coming off the edges of the door was so bright they didn’t need it.
“Is this it? How it ends?” she said, clutching her gown and trying to walk back.
“Please, don’t make me call an orderly. Like I said, this is perfectly safe,” Dr. Marion had a nasal voice. His neatly trimmed beard hid years of sun exposure and perhaps a chemical burn or two. He held the latch for a long minute waiting for Heidi to decide if she would run or continue. When he saw her let go of the gown, he opened the door.
She’d never seen a room like it before, and it triggered a sense of childish glee at the new experience. Dr. Marion stayed outside until she went into the room. When he closed the door, all the windows closed, and a spotlight focused on a small circular coffee table. Next to it were a pair of velvet padded stools and a small watercooler.
“What happened? Why did they all close?” when the windows closed, she felt a sudden and inexplicable sorrow.
“Once you open up, they will open up,” said the doctor, taking a seat in one of the stools. “Take the book and one of the pills.”
“What are these for?”
Dr. Marion grabbed two cones from the watercooler, filled them with cold water, and took one of the pills in the coffee table. Heidi jumped back when he approached her with a pill and a cone of water. Her emerald green eyes darted back and forth, looking for an escape.
“See, perfectly safe,” he sat back, still holding the cone of water for her. “I’m not going to force you to take the pill, but without it, the windows won’t open, and the exposure cannot begin.”
“Why should I take it? What is it for?”
“Does it matter, Heidi? Do you even remember why you’re here? What’s going on? Do you know why you’re in rehabilitation, and why I’m here trying this method of dimensional rehab.”
Heidi’s eyes twitched when he mentioned dimensional rehab. It sounded familiar, but she struggled to recall anything. Every thought seemed fuzzy, distant, and alien.
“How about you tell me why I’m here. You’re the doctor. It’s about time I get some answers,” she took the stool and threatened the doctor. “I think I could bash your head with this stool way before they bust through that door. So spill it, before I spill your brain all over this bizarre aquarium.”
“You’re an interdimensional traveler,” his calm demeanor cracked, and he sounded bitter. “In a moment, your brain is going to have an adverse reaction to this fact. It can manifest in many ways, and in some, it can be very harmful. That’s why it’s not our practice to just tell you. However, I’m not beholden to this institution, and I want to speed this up a bit. I want to go back home as soon as I can.”
She dropped the stool and dropped her hands as if someone had turned her off. She felt confronted by her own vacant stare reflected in the darkened glass window. When she moved, she moved quickly, grabbing the cone of water and drinking the pill in just a few seconds.
“This pill better give me some answers?” she crumpled the paper cone and tossed it at the doctor.
“Grab the book, and we’ll get started,” he didn’t move from the stool. Instead, he turned and looked towards the dark windows. From his jacket pocket, he fished out a pair of sunglasses that he secured with a clip to his ears.
When she grabbed the old looking book, she felt the leather cover fuse with her hand. A warmth coming from the tome startled her, but it completely bonded with her before she could drop it. One by one, the windows opened. The circular room was made up entirely of windows or glass – except for the furniture, the door, and the overhead light.
“What am I looking at?”
“Your dimension,” he struggled to get up, but when he did, he immediately walked towards a window showing a space full of stars. “Fascinating, is this from a ship?”
“How the fuck am I supposed to know?”
“These are all places you’ve been before. You can connect us to your dimension by accessing your memories. These, however, are not memories. This is, relatively speaking, live.”
Heidi sat on the stool and searched her arm for the book. She couldn’t remember when the book disappeared from her hand, but the scenes in the windows were familiar. Her memory of those places was coming back in pieces. She felt nauseous, but instead of throwing up, she sneezed.
“The pills also help with nausea,” said the doctor, examining all the windows on the right.
“What am I supposed to do here, doctor?” she felt a pain in the back of her neck. When she looked down, through the glass, she saw a reddish soil with no vegetation.
“Where is this? Is this, not Earth?” the doctor continued to examine the windows, this time touching the glass. “Is it cold? These windows never let any heat or cold enter from the other dimension.”
Heidi felt the pain again, but this time it came with a memory. It started with a light, a glow. Then an ethereal chill that caused a dark and visceral emotional response. She cried a loud sob that startled the doctor.
“I’m sorry, it’s perfectly natural to be overwhelmed. This is a very different dimension from yours, it seems. We don’t know about all of them, it’s an expansive and intricate universe out there,” he crouched as he approached her, and offered a hug. Her sob was so intense, it felt like a seizure. The doctor embraced her, but she couldn’t stop shaking.
“You don’t understand. This is the end. I know why I couldn’t remember, and it’s because I tried everything I could to forget. I knew I wasn’t going back,” she pulled away from the doctor and looked around the room at the place she recognized—the last colony of our solar system, a rocky satellite made of the remanence of a planet.
“Look, whatever happened in your dimension, it can’t get through these windows. These windows exist in every dimension at the same time. They are truly impossible marvels of ingenuity. They exist at all points in time without any change. They are just a window, not doors. You can see the other side, but that’s it. I don’t think they could even see us at all,” the lack of abundant light unnerved the doctor. He facilitated dozens of exposures. He has seen dimensions at war, the horror he never expected, but this was different. The emptiness felt almost artificial.
“Doctor, I get it, but I remember now how I got to this dimension,” she walked towards a completely white window. While the rest of the room was stars and rocks, this window looked like an overexposed picture of nothing.
“That’s also normal, I don’t think –“ the doctor froze; he couldn’t feel anything, or talk, or move at all. He saw a specter of his body float towards the window Heidi was touching. As his body got closer to the window and farther from his flesh, he could see double—two perspectives at the same time.
Heidi began to pound on the window with her hands. After a few minutes, she began to kick the bottom of the window, since it was close enough to the ground. Her hospital sandals flew off her feet as she kicked harder and harder. The white void moved to another window, and she followed. The doctor’s specter passed the window, and his previously catatonic body began to violently shake. On the other side, the doctor could see with that perspective what was behind the white window.
A massive cloudy grey sphere floated in what, at first glance, appeared to be space. Once his specter was far enough from the window, it began to freefall towards the sphere. The closer he got, the more he noticed the space around the ominous globe bent like a wave, or more like a velvet blanket in water. Disembodied faces bubbled up from the cloudy soup the sphere was made of. The doctor finally made a connection to what he was seeing. The galactic flower enveloped the greenhouse floating in the void that was the window room.
“I was plucked from nothing and let go like a seed in the void. This is the end for you, but not for me. I’m here to join the vine and let go of my own little seed into the void,” Heidi shattered the glass into pieces, and the doctor’s body bolted through the window, crashing into his own specter right before disappearing into the sphere.
After passing the storm shell of the sphere, the doctor fell in front of an old abandoned building. The crumbling sign nearby read: “New Amsterdam State Hospital.”
“Hey, you, what are you doing here?” two men in military uniforms approached him and helped him up.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how I got here. My name is William Marion, and I’m a doctor,” he felt disoriented and with a boiling rage that he felt deep in his heart.
“A rehab doctor, what is that?” said the youngest of the two soldiers that were examining his ID.
“I’m a fucking doctor, ok, that’s all you need to know. Take me to a rehab facility now,” he dusted off his lab coat and snatched his ID from the soldiers.