Chapter 33

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His reflection was not what he had expected it to be. It was not the young, vibrant face of a man just shy of twenty-years-old, but a haggard, worn version of himself. As the razor glided across his cheek, Alex stared in wonder at the stranger before him.

He had not even been aware that he had facial hair at all, let alone a full beard. His hair had been a thick, disheveled mess and his clothes were tattered. As he finished the last swipe along his jaw line, Alex set the razor down and washed the remnants of shaving cream from his face. He stared at the fresh, clean-cut man in the mirror, complete with new clothing and short hair and felt satisfied that he was himself again. They even had deodorant and toothpaste in this place. And more food than he might've guessed.

Still, something didn't feel quite right. Almost, but not quite. He studied himself. Looked himself in the eyes. What was missing?

"Everything all right, Alex?"

Looking beyond his double in the mirror, he saw that Isaac had stepped into view. Alex didn't remember leaving the door to his farmhouse unlocked, but he supposed he could have.

Alex nodded. "Yes..."

Isaac brushed his long, white beard. "But..."

Alex turned from the mirror. "I don't know...something feels off."

Nodding, Isaac said, "Mm-hmm. That's normal. Rehabilitation is complete, but it can take the brain a little time to adjust. Nothing to worry about though," he said, pointing to his right temple. "That's what this is for."

Alex took the hint and raised his hand to his own temple. He located a small bump and blindly examined it with his fingertips. "Oh yeah, I remember." He then consulted the mirror and saw a slight protrusion just beneath the skin.

Isaac nodded and smiled. "It'll help you along in the event you forget your purpose."

Isaac's words had barely departed when Alex felt a dull tingle at his temple. Turning back to the old man, he said, "I'm a farmer."

"Correct. And?"

Pondering, Alex next recalled, "And I was alone all this time. There were no twins...they were only a figment of my imagination."

"Indeed."

"There is only Community."

Nodding, Isaac repeated, "There is only Community." He turned on his heels.

"But..."

Isaac halted, turned back to his newest farmer. "Yes?"

Alex frowned. "Why would I have imagined that I had children?"

Gesturing for Alex to follow him, Isaac replied, "Let's talk."

Leaving the bathroom and stepping into the hallway, Alex followed Isaac out into the living room of the two-story house. A single lamp glowed on a small square table beside an armchair, which the old man settled into. Alex took a seat on the adjacent sofa. Isaac leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and Alex did the same.

"The twins," began Isaac, "were not your children. They were an idea...a notion that your mind created. Sort of a defense mechanism against the insanity of this world."

Alex listened intently. He repeated, "A defense mechanism..."

"The idea of you having younger siblings gave you a sense of responsibility. You had to provide for them; you had to find shelter and food, make sure they were safe."

"So, by creating these individuals...and making sure they were cared for, my mind was tricking me into caring for myself."

"Precisely."

Alex sat back and rubbed his stubble-free chin. "Sounds kind of crazy."

Isaac shook his head. "Not at all. It's a survival instinct."

"But, hallucinations?"'

"The initial hallucination of the twins may have been brought on by severe hunger or dehydration. Then, your brain - recognizing that you worried about them – said, 'Hey, I can use this to keep Alex alive.'"

Alex leaned forward again, looking directly into the old man's eyes. Isaac didn't blink.

"Make sense?"

After consideration, Alex replied, "Yes. It does."

Isaac rose and patted Alex on the shoulder. "Good." He walked to the front door. "Now, it's almost sun-up, so get yourself together and get out there."

Alex left the sofa and grabbed a flannel shirt hanging on a knob beside the door. "I'm ready to go now."

"Alright." Isaac stepped outside, adding, "Don't forget to switch off the lamp. Don't want to burn out the generator."

"Right." Alex returned to the small table and clicked the switch on the lamp. He casually glanced out the window as he did so and caught a twinkle of light out in the field. He walked closer, staring out at the crops, etched black against the paling orange sky. It had only been a bright white flicker and then was gone.

Isaac took one step across the threshold. "Alex?"

"Coming. Just thought I..." He paused, contemplating the revelation of having witnessed a flickering light in a place where no light should be. Already feeling that he had tested Isaac's patience with his questioning of the twins' hallucination, Alex decided to keep this to himself, but felt that he was unable to hide it. He could sense Isaac's prying gaze upon him.

"Just thought?" asked the old man.
Alex stepped toward the window and peered out at the darkness. "Just thought I saw something." Once more, at his right temple, he felt the tingling sensation.

"What was it?" asked Isaac.

Alex turned away from the window and walked toward the door. "Nothing."


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