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art by Melissa Mead

Hiking in My Head

Gareth is an environmental scientist from the UK. He is a father of five who also writes stories and drinks lots of tea. His stories have appeared in forty publications and twenty-three languages.

The people in my head seem to have been there for a very long time. I can't remember how long, because I can't remember anything but the cheery, pastel-painted hospital room I awoke in. The doctor, a large man with a flamboyant moustache and grey hair, says I have amnesia. He is my oldest friend, in that he was there when I awoke and came to see me every day thereafter. I don't remember how many days it's been. Doctor Pulbarton, that's his name. I have a name too, apparently. Randolf. The doctor won't tell me my second name; I think he's hoping it will come back to me.
The people in my head aren't really there, he says.
"Where are they, then? And who are they?" I glare at him. I'm fed up with being confined to one small room and a pair of green, stripy pyjamas.
"They are in another part of the hospital," he says, stops and looks thoughtful. "A room where the synaptic imaging apparatus is contained. At least, they were." His moustache is not as grey as his hair.
I think about this for a moment. "What do you mean, were?"
"I mean," he purses his lips thoughtfully. "I mean, they have already finished what they were doing, but your brain is not yet aware of the results."
This makes no sense, and I tell him so.
"Think about when you dream," he says. "Sometimes a noise from outside will impinge on your dream and become part of it, an alarm, for example. The alarm fits into your dream, perhaps as another noise, and you wake up."
I nod slowly. This has happened to me a couple of times that I remember.
"How is it that your dream can lead up to that noise?"
I have no idea.
"It's because you remember in reverse," Doctor Pulbarton says. "Your mind creates the history of the dream to fit the circumstances."
This doesn't make sense to me.
"The same happens in the waking world too, under certain conditions of stress."
"So what does that mean for me?"
"It means you're already cured. Your mind just doesn't know it yet."
I sit down to ponder this, and the doctor leaves.
I close my eyes, to see the strangers hiking through my head. There are three of them, two women and a man, all in white lab coats, wandering slowly down labyrinthine corridors of biological grey, the way I would imagine wandering around a brain would be. They have been looking for something for a long time, but I don't know what. I keep an eye on them from time to time during the afternoon.
Later, I see they have come to a stop in front of a brick wall. The structure blocks one of the corridors completely. One of the women produces a large sledge hammer from somewhere inside her lab coat, wields it high, and swings at the wall. It shudders at the impact and she swings again, more and more rapidly until the wall starts to crack. Suddenly it crumbles, the bricks falling away and vanishing.
The shuddering snaps me to wakefulness and my eyes open. My wife is standing at my side, shaking the bed.
"Wake up," she says. "The doctor said you could go home hours ago."
"I know," I say. "Discharging takes so long, I fell asleep."
"They were worried for a while," she says as we head for the door. "You seemed confused, like you couldn't remember anything."
"Can't say I remember that," I say.
"Well, it was only an hour or so, wasn't it? Frustrating that they kept you in for three days for monitoring."
"Hmm. Seems to me it was the other way around."
She stares at me blankly.
The hospital corridors are oddly deserted as we head for the exit, very long, and full of corners and junctions, lifts and doors. I look at my wife as we walk, and the scene reminds me of something, but I can't remember what.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 12th, 2013
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