Feel Again

“What do you feel?”  The question floated to me as if borne on a stiff breeze—the kind of wind that doesn’t stir or excite, but simply moves, brushing past you on its way.  The words did the same, lingering upon my ears for only moments before moving along.

What did I feel?  Nothing, really.  I opened my eyes, thinking that sight would bring some feeling with it, but my eyelids slid up to reveal nothing but a sterile white ceiling lit by harsh white light.  Still, I supposed I should answer the voice.

“I don’t feel anything.”

Hands fumbled across my chest, and with the metal on leather sound of straps sliding through buckles, pressure disappeared.  Funny, I hadn’t even realized I was being restrained.

“You may sit up now.”

I did so, and noted now the source of the voice.  Standing at the end of my bed, holding a folder, was a short doctor dressed in faded blue scrubs.  He was clean shaven, and his hair was cut close to the scalp.  He sniffled as he thumbed through his folder.  “Are you feeling better?” he asked.

“I suppose,” I said.  “I’m not really sure how I was feeling before.”

“You were feeling entirely too much.”  The doctor spoke without even raising his eyes.  “So many conflicting emotions.  You had a bout of hysteria—a bit of a breakdown.”

“And now?”

“Now?”  The doctor finally looked up, gazing at me over thick-rimmed glasses that I noticed for the first time.  I hadn’t really cared to look before.  “Well, I’ll have to run a few more tests, but you seem to be doing better.”

“That’s a good thing,” I said, and I supposed it was.

The doctor approached me, and I swung my legs off the bed so that I was sitting on the edge.  He held up a cautious hand toward my chest, and I raised my arms.  I wasn’t going to move any further—he didn’t seem to like the idea of that.  There had been something in his face when I moved, something fleeting but present.  Had it been worry?  Not that it mattered, it was gone now.

Now that he was sure I would stay seated, the doctor decided to reveal the contents of his folder.  He pulled out a picture and held it up to me.  “How do you feel about this?” he asked.

I took the picture and looked at it more closely.  In it, a masked man held a purse underneath his arm as he ran.  Behind him, an elderly woman was attempting to rise from a chair, her mouth open and arms outstretched.


I handed the picture back with a shrug.  “He shouldn’t do that,” I said.  “Theft is not permitted.”

The doctor jotted down a note.  “Yes, but how does it make you feel?  Angry? Sad?”

Angry.  Sad.  I turned the unfamiliar words over in my mouth, finding them largely meaningless.  Nobody truly felt that way anymore.  I shook my head.

More notes, and then the doctor handed me another picture, this one of a child sitting up against a dog smiling ear to ear.  The dog’s tongue lolled lazily from its mouth.  “How about this one?”

I shrugged again.  It occurred to me that the child was happy, and likely the dog as well, but I wasn’t sure if that made me happy.  “There is nothing wrong with this one,” I said.

More notes.  The testing continued for a while in the same manner, but none of the pictures stirred anything in me.  Sometimes the doctor prompted me, asking if I felt worried or scared or excited, but mostly he presented the image without commentary, and answered me only with a scratching pen.

Finally, when all the pictures had been set to the side, the doctor set down his folder and went to the door, taking only his notes with him.  “I’ll be back with your test results,” he said.  “It shouldn’t take long; you’ve performed admirably.”

He shut the door behind him, leaving me in a cube of blinding whiteness.  Everything was white—the bed, the walls, the folder—and were illuminated by such a harsh light.  Even the pictures I had been shown were black and white.

I noticed something then; inconsequentially, as one might notice that a wall is blue or that the sky was cloudless.  Poking out from the folder was color: a picture I had yet to see.

That stirred something in me.  It was something small, but harmless enough that I let it rise to the front of my mind.  It wasn’t an emotion—those were dangerous—but a nagging curiosity.  Why was it different?  Forgetting what I had promised the doctor, I rose from the bed and opened the folder.  Inside was a simple portrait of a woman smiling.

Immediately, this picture was different.  It was as if the color seeped from the image and saturated the room, lending its vibrancy to all aspects of my experience.  Emotions rose unbidden in me, raw and primal. There was happiness and sadness together, tied up in a sense of longing.  There was loss there, yes, but also hope, which permeated my mind and lent a glow of optimism.

Beneath everything was a promise of more.  As powerful as this emotion was—and it consumed me—it was but a memory of feeling, something false that would pale before the real thing.  And I was certain the real thing was out there.  I would find it.

Knowing that it wasn’t permitted, I lifted the picture from the folder, folded it once carefully, and slipped it into the waistband of my smooth white pants.  It was the first time I had noticed my clothing—stark, loose, white shirt and trousers.  They were rough.

I crossed to the door, feeling freedom beneath my bare feet with every step.  Remnants of my conditioned mindset rose to meet me in the doorway.  Leaving was not permitted.  Those thoughts were quelled quickly, overwhelmed by a wave of emotion that was all the more powerful now for its prolonged absence.

The handle turned smoothly on the first try and the door swung inward on silent hinges.  Clearly, my return to emotion had not been anticipated.  Or had it?  Was this a final test?  I took a deep breath, then felt for the picture in my waistband.  When my fingers found it, I pulled it forth and unfolded it, smoothing the crease so as to better see the woman in it.  Just the sight of her caused a new surge of emotion, and I knew that if this was a test, I would fail it gladly.  I would face any punishment before relinquishing this new feeling.  Stuffing the picture back into my waistband, I stepped through the door.

More of the same white walls lay beyond.  I had entered a long, blank hallway, marked only by doors at regular intervals.  On the wall next to each door was a picture above a name.  On mine, a picture of me sat above the name H. Scoville.  It was my name, I assumed, but I couldn’t remember what the H stood for.  Henry? Harry?  Clearly, not everything had returned to me.

A quick glance up and down the hall confirmed that it was empty, so I chose at random to turn right and to follow the hall until I found freedom.  I was confident in nothing but my own resolve.  With barely a memory, luck would have to favor me.

Moving confidently but warily, I started down the hall, very aware that freedom and danger grew closer with every step.  It wasn’t until I passed the fourth door that my stride faltered.  There, mounted just to the right of the door.  Her picture, and a name.

C. Wimm.

I don’t know how long I stood there staring at that name.  C. Wimm.  I had expected the name to bring memory with it, but nothing came but that same burning emotion.  It was more powerful now, strong to the point of overwhelming.  The hole inside of me was being filled so suddenly that emotions were nearly spilling at the edges.

  • C. Wimm. And beneath her name, ‘RELEASED’. I didn’t know what that meant; it didn’t matter.  My fingers played over the nameplate and brushed the picture.  I had no memories of her, but the feelings even her picture evoked were the strongest I could recall ever feeling.  If she was beyond this door, I had to find her.
  • The door opened silently, though I only moved it a few inches.  The hinges, newly oiled, stealthily gave way, opening a crack through which I peered through.  Between door and frame I watched as the woman from the photograph rose from her bed—identical to the one I had just been restrained in.  Moving as if she was in a trance, she slipped from her hospital gown and began to dress.  Fading jeans first, then a simple white t-shirt.  It was just after the shirt slipped down over her bare back that I stepped inside.

    “You are not meant to be here.”  She spoke monotonously and unthinkingly, barely looking up.

    “Cynthia,” I said, not knowing where the name came from, but sure that it was the right one.  “It’s me.”

    Cynthia fully raised her head this time, looking me over.  As her eyes wandered, they never once changed or showed any signs of life.  Her mouth stayed slack, her posturer slouched.  And then our eyes met.

    Her pupils dilated, and the frost melted from her irises.  Suddenly they were as they had been: deep, warm brown, and full of emotion.  Her jaw dropped, and she choked on the first words she tried to say.  Shaking her head to clear it, she took a hesitant step forward and tried again.  “Hank?  Hank, is it really you?”

    I nodded.  Strange, until that moment I hadn’t even been sure that I was Hank.  I held my hand out, and Cynthia took it.  Her grip was that of a drowning woman holding to a buoy.  Mine was no weaker. Hand in hand, we stepped into the white hallway.  And we ran.


    Pholius Primus, barefoot in a loose fitting tunic and long trousers, stepped calmly from the airlock of the Queen Comet into the cold vacuum of space. Staring into the inky blackness of the void, he reached with an outstretched hand and called it to him. The darkness began to coalesce around his chiseled body, slowly forming pauldrons, greaves, a cuirass, until Pholius was fully incased in midnight armor.  From the glow of a distant star, Pholius created a shining blade, six feet long and sharp as light.

    A short distance away Pholius's opponent had created a set of plate and an axe from the orange light of the sun beyond. Behind him, like the one behind Pholius, was a massive battleship, the Supernova.  Both ships were in rough shape, heavily scarred across their hulls by extensive laser blasts.

    "Pholius."  The other knight nodded in greeting as he floated close, using his sorcery to transmit his words mentally. Space remained silent.

    "Gallun."  Pholius returned the nod.

    "Why have you called this parlay?" Gallun asked.

    "You seem to have taken extensive damage."

    "And you have not?"  Gallun glanced back and forth between the two ships.  "It seems to me that our vessels are equal in their wounds."

    "And if we continue as we are, they will be equal piles of junk."

    "So, what do you propose?" Gallun asked warily.

    "Should we fight this battle to its end, both of us will die, as even the victor's ship will be too damaged to reach port. Even now that may be beyond our capabilities."

    "Get to the point, primus."

    "The two of us will fight. The victor will take the other's crew captive and enough parts for a safe journey."

    "Why would I do that, when I can continue to pummel you with my cannons?"

    "Are you listening?  In the time it will take you, my crew can render you incapable of space travel."  Pholius raised his gaze to the bridge of the Supernova, where Gallun's crew stood watching the discussion.

    "Very well," Gallun said. "Let us fight."  He roared, and his armor blazed bright. The light lanced towards Pholius's eyes, but his black helm lowered a thin film across the visor for protection.

    Gallun , expecting Pholius to be blinded, shot forward with his axe held high for a vicious blow. But eyes covered, Pholius saw only Gallun's unprotected chest, and he thrust his blade at it. The strike failed to pierce Gallun's blazing armor, but sent him spinning away.

    Yelling telepathically, Gallun advanced again, this time holding his axe ahead in a low guard. As soon as he neared, Pholius danced forward with a flurry of strikes, his starlight blade flaring with Gallun's axe as they collided.

    From the bridge of the Queen Comet, Pholius's crew watched nervously as the two knights filled the space between ships with their battle. Gallun, in his flaming armor, flew around making wild sweeps with his axe, which trailed fire as it went. As a counterpoint, Pholius was nearly invisible in his black armor, so the crew had to look for his bright blade. He allowed Gallun to soar around him, keeping up a patient defense.

    The two titans struggled back and forth until suddenly, almost imperceptibly, a mistake was made. Gallun over exaggerated an overhead swing, and Pholius had time to deliver a thrust to his hand. The axe flew from hand and slowly dissipated into embers. Unarmed and overmatched, Gallun could do nothing as Pholius stabbed him through the chest. His flaming armor flickered and faded, leaving his mortal body impaled on a blade of starlight.

    Pholius pushed Gallun's body from his sword and let the blade fade from existence. The silence of space was punctured only by his labored breathing.

    Seeing the battle was won, the Queen Comet enabled their thrusters, moving to make its conquest of the Supernova. Pholius took his place in front of it, looking every inch the conqueror in his midnight armor with his battleship at his back.

    The Supernova lowered its remaining shielding, ready to accept the victors. Gallun would have telepathically informed them of the duel's stakes. The Queen Comet did away with her shields as well, and began extending a bridge to the other vessel's airlock.

    The bridge was only halfway across the intervening space when Pholius noticed something wrong. A nearly invisible sheen covered the Supernova. Her shields were back up!  Gallun must have told his crew to attack whether he won or lost. Pholius tried to mentally shout to the officers in his bridge, but he was too late. The cannons on the Supernova blazed to life, and beams lanced through space into the unprotected side of the Queen Comet.

    Pholius felt a burst of hot pain and was sent hurtling backwards. Looking down as he spiraled through space, he saw that a laser had sheared through his armor. Cold was already seeping through the wound.

    As the Queen Comet was torn apart above him, Pholius stared into dark space, and drew power  from it. As he held the dark energy, he gazed back and forth between his ship and the hole in his armor. He only had so much power to use.

    Should he use it to destroy the Supernova?  Even if he did, his men would die a slow, stranded death–their ships was irreparably damaged.  Turning away from the battle above, Pholius touched a black gauntlet to his broken side, and saved himself.