Alex Knatt sat before a man who represented everything he despised. He hated nothing more in life than a psychiatrist, this psychiatrist, this Doctor Jonathan Worthington. This overly educated, super-professional was the quintessential blond haired, blue-eyed, alpha male. He was tall, handsome and fashionable, wearing clothes that fit just like they do on the mannequins in the windows. He was exactly what the Nazi's had tried to genetically perfect. He was, in fact, perfect. He was everything Alex Knatt was not, and yet this über-man had been given the task of questioning Alex. Alex was sure he could take the torture, he could take a lot, after all, he had only recently died.
"Well, Mister Knatt, where would you like to start?" asked Dr. Worthington, casually taking off his extremely thin glasses that Alex was damn sure he didn't need.
"I wouldn't," is what he wanted to say, but Alex knew better. Confrontation was what they wanted, what they liked. You played into their hands that way. It only gave them more questions to ask. Alex just shrugged his shoulders.
"Then, let's start with the dreams."
The dreams, thought Alex, those were Alex's dreams, and no one else's. How unfair, how infinitely cruel that some psycho-swine had the privilege of knowing about his dreams. He wouldn't give up those wonders just yet. He had to stall until he could come up with a plan of action.
"Can't say I remember them all that well."
"Ah. I see."
It would continue like this though the entire session, and that was fine by both of them. Alex Knatt knew one thing about psychiatrists, they were never in a big hurry for you to spill all the beans. They waited you out. The bigger the bill that way. What the hell, Alex's mom was paying for all this anyway. He could stand up under the interrogation for those fifty minutes a session easily. He could put off this elite of the human race for years because Alex knew he himself didn't belong to the human race, or for that matter, this world.
Alex Knatt had been diagnosed as clinically depressed for as long as he could remember. He had gone ten years on antidepressants and it only deepened his depression. The drugs covered the symptoms of the melancholy but could not unearth the roots. So, he quit the eight-pill-a-day regimen wanting rather his mental state to match his life-philosophy which was bleak and negative.
The only thing that had ever broke his depression had been his death. Unfortunately, that had only lasted three minutes, but what a gloriously happy three minutes it was for Alex Knatt. The only thing he had left of that bliss, however, were his fleeting dreams.
Alex had died in a car accident, a boring everyday affair that you hear about on the evening news. He couldn't even die in an exciting way. There was not much he could say about the accident. It was a wintry highway sort of thing, with the obligatory spinning, screaming, and blinding blurs of slowed down time. He only really remembered one thing about it - the moment his heart stopped.
When he woke up in the hospital days later, it all had to be explained to him. The explanations were unsatisfactory. They kept telling him how and why he had survived, when what he really wanted to know was something more existential, something of a firmer philosophy than a throw of the dice from the hands of fate. Alex Knatt wanted to know why he was alive again - why he had to come back to this place.
At least there were the dreams. He still held some hope for them. He could not remember any dreams before the accident. Now his dreams were only and ever of one thing - his own death.
Alex Knatt had come to think that the concussive force that had cut short his life had somehow unlocked a greater consciousness, that somehow he had discovered a link to his own death, or rather to the place of death.
Alex Knatt was thirty-years old, unemployed, and living alone with his mother in a small, dingy, and unexciting apartment. The truth was that his malaise ran even deeper than that, because although he hated living with his mother, he really didn't even want to move out or live anywhere else, so he hated himself all the more and in a way that satisfied him.
But in reality, he had it pretty good. For the most part, his mother left him to his own devices. There was a cost, of course, to Alex, there always is. Over the years, they had developed an unwritten and unspoken arrangement. It had never been acknowledged nor directly referred to, but it was always in operation and ever understood by the participants.
It was a tacit arrangement, a loose affiliation of codes that had developed over the years though battles of silence and innuendo. Alex's mother could never nag him about getting a job or doing something productive with his life. In addition, she would casually leave him some spending money on occasion and never mention it.
For Alex's part, he had to endure the holidays with his mother's family, he had to eat dinner with her, and had to watch her favorite television shows and, of course, feign interest in these topics. Strangely, however, the most pivotal of the caveats was that Alex could never divulge what he really felt about this world and his life. His young days of flying off the handle to his mother about how truly shitty this world was, were over. He had to keep that shit in.
Things began to change for Alex after the accident. In a subtle way, Alex Knatt had broken their arrangement. He had brought his awful inner life into her home. He had inadvertently threatened the peace by the mere suggestion of his early mortality and a mother's long loneliness. For his mother, this breach of contract had to be remedied.
So, by her understanding of the agreement, she decided that her son needed to see a psychiatrist. This was a point of contention in Alex's reading of the agreement, but there was little he could do to argue the point, for that would entail reviewing the entire foundation of the agreement and he felt his case might not stand up under such an examination. So, Alex Knatt just stayed in his room and said nothing. His mother was unimpressed with his silent bargaining tactics; he was silent most of the time anyway. She persisted, and soon, Alex realized his cause was hopeless.
The only chance he had to return to the normalcy of the life he so detested was to bend on this one point. She held all the cards, money, food, lodging. On top of that, he had made the crucial mistake of mentioning the strange dreams. That was her trump card. Three minutes dead was one thing, but her son having strange post-traumatic dreams, that was a serious crack in the facade. Alex Knatt had exposed his inner life.
Now, there were these damned therapy sessions. They had been going on for months now. Dr. Worthington looked just like a Ken doll to Alex Knatt, a Ken doll married to a Barbie with a litter of little Barbie/Ken's. Dr. Worthington had pictures of his family all over the office. They looked just like the frame family - those families that come pictured in a newly purchased frame. They were all perfect, and it made Alex want to spit blood. Every session, the doctor's three blond cherubs stared up at Alex from their frame on the table with their village-of-the-damned smiles spread in a rictus riot of happiness. How could one so perfect help one so flawed or rather how could one so flawed ever demean himself enough to accept help from one so perfect?
And, here he was again, back on the couch. Back in the museum of the world's most perfect family. His whole life had become a week long ritual of hate for his therapy and therapist. Dr. Worthington's torture tactics were breaking him down. Alex didn't know how much longer he could take all the happy faces and enforced optimism. He hated to admit it, but Dr. Worthington's slow badgering method was beginning to produce psychological dividends.
Alex swallowed a sigh and waited for Worthington to start in. He didn't have to wait long.
"So, Alex, do you think there is a connection between the dreams and your accident?"
Alex held his breath. He made a face and slowly breathed again. If the bastard only knew. "The accident? Is that possible? You're the doctor." Worthington was getting close.
Worthington battered a thumb against his lip. "Well, you said you had never had dreams before. I took the logical leap."
Alex picked up the family portrait that Dr. Worthington had displayed on his coffee table. "You have a very nice family, Dr. Worthington."
"You're interested in families, are you? Let's talk about your family, Alex."
Alex set the portrait back down. The faces still smiled at him. What sort of hell would it be like to live in that family, that genetic incubator of patriotic, patronizing, life loving, conservative clones? He vomited the thought from his mind. "I didn't really have a family. My father died when I was young."
"I'm aware of that, Alex, but you do still live with your mother."
Alex sank back into the couch. A long moment passed. Alex stayed silent. Worthington rolled his platinum pen in between his fingers.
"Well, then, let me tell you about my family," said Worthington after a while. "I have three girls, as you can see. The oldest is eight. And, if that isn't enough for you, my wife and I are expecting. We're going to have our first son, Alex. What do you think about that? Isn't that exciting?"
"Hardly," blurted out Alex before he could contain himself.
Dr. Worthington chuckled to himself. "I didn't think you would think so. But unless you talk to me, I am going to have to drone on about my family and how my girls love to go soccer practice and summer camp and how the youngest is just learning to ride a bike."
"Then let's talk about your dreams, Alex."
"What do you want to know?"
"What are they about?"
"I can't always remember."
"And, did they start after the accident?"
"As far as I know."
"Are they always the same?"
"Not exactly the same."
"But they share a theme?"
"And what is that theme, Alex?"
Alex stood up and went behind the couch. He started to pace. A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek. His armpits felt damp. His scalp felt hot like he wore a wig. He glanced at the clock. He still had twenty minutes left.
"Are you thinking about it, Alex?"
Alex kept pacing, faster now. He could see in his mind Worthington writing him a prescription at the end of the session. He could see Worthington back at his perfect home, talking to his perfect wife about what a fuck up his new patient was. He could hear the giggles of Worthington’s daughters. He could see himself now, with the amber pill bottle in hand, standing at the bathroom sink with a glass of water waiting to be drunk.
Alex stopped and looked at Worthington and looked at him in the eyes for the first time. "I dream about the place I went when I died."
"Why don't you tell me about it?"
"All right. I think I will. It's a wonderful place Doc., a place where no one gets hurt, where no one looks down on anyone, where no one judges anyone. No one ever grows old, no one ever dies and everybody can do whatever they want."
"Sounds like heaven."
"No. It's not heaven, cause there is no boss. Everyone is their own boss."
"Do you believe this place really exists?"
"Am I crazy if I say yes?"
"Yes. Yes I do believe, because I was there. I was there for three minutes of your time when I died, and when I shuffle off this shitty coil, I'll go back. It's the only thing that makes me happy to tell you the truth."
Dr. Worthington scribbled furiously.
"Is that what you wanted to hear, Doc?"
"Yes, I think we might have had a minor breakthrough Alex. I'll tell you what, the time's nearly up. Let's break off for today, but stop by my receptionist on the way out, and let's schedule extra appointment as soon as possible."
Alex walked to the door. He opened it and felt something when he exited. He felt free.
That night, Alex Knatt dreamed of the deathless place again, but it was different this time, it wasn't like before. There was something wrong, and he writhed in his sleep because of it. When he awoke, all he could remember were the echoes of an ethereal voice. It was one of the denizens of that place. He had been saying something to Alex just as he woke up. Alex closed his eyes again. He tried to remember the words. One last echo reverberated around his half awake mind. It said "You shouldn't have told, Alex. You have endangered your chance to come here. Be very careful, Alex."
The words faded to nothing. What had happened? What had he done? Nobody had told him, it was secret. But the sinking feeling he felt inside made him know that should not have told. Panic gripped him. He had to do something.
Then the phone rang down the hall. It was seven-thirty in the morning. Who would be calling at this hour? Alex got up and walked out into the hall. His mother had picked up the phone. She was dressed for work, already. She was nodding her head and writing something down. Somebody called knowing her schedule, knowing that she would still be here and Alex would be asleep. She hung up the phone.
"Who was that?"
"Alex, we are going to have to schedule another appointment for the hospital."
"Who was that mom?!"
"I am not supposed to say."
"Mom, I'm not going anywhere unless you tell me what this is about." His palms were cold and sweaty. He could feel his heart thump and bang against his ribcage. They were screwing everything up.
"Alexander Graham Knatt, you can't always have it your own way! We are going to go, and that's that. Dr. Worthington thinks that the brain scans might have missed something. He just wants to check if everything is okay, up there. So, you better clear your schedule, mister."
"Mom," he huffed searching for some line defense to fall back on, "Mom, I am my own man. I'm not some ward of the state." It was the best he could do.
"We are not going to argue about this Alex. You see to it, or I will," and with a curt smile she left for work.
All Alex was capable of was stumbling down the hallway and falling into bed. Something had finally gone right for once in his miserable life, he was special for once, he had a future, an importance in this world and that damned shrink and his mom had teamed up to try and destroy it all. Back to the hospital? He couldn't go back to the hospital. What if they did find something wrong? Even worse what if they fixed it? They might make the dreams go away. They might take away the hope.
That was it. That's what the warning in his dream was. They were telling him not to go back to the hospital. That was the danger.
Alex heaved a long, heavy sigh. He covered his head with his pillow. He began to sob. There was only one thing he could do. He had planned it many times but there wasn't enough time for anything elaborate. He had stockpiled enough over the years to do the job. Alex went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Alex was in his dreams again. He was floating toward the deathless place. The sky was all around him, and filled with light and cascading prisms of colors. There was no air and no need to breath. He felt a narcotic happiness buzzing around the seat of his soul. The lights were getting brighter, now. He was almost there.
That voice, again. Like a thousand orchestras all in perfect harmony. What was it saying?
His ascension slowed to a halt. What was the voice saying? Now he could hear it.
“You may not pass. You cannot enter.”
"Why not? What happened? What did I do?"
“The only thing that would bar you from this place.”
"I didn't know you weren't supposed to tell anyone."
“The fault was not in the telling.”
"I don't understand then. What did I do?"
“Sadly, you failed the final test.”
"The final test?"
“And you were so close, Alex. So many souls have longed to come as close as you.”
“But what did I do?”
“Your incarnation was to be a trial of suffering. That suffering was the key to this place. But, Alex, poor Alex, you undid all that suffering when you relinquished your life. Your exit was alas too soon.”
"You mean... suicide."
“You have been on a very long journey, and your last life was to be the final test of your worthiness.”
Worthiness, thought Alex. Worthiness - Worthington? Was it connected? The whole thing was a test? And he had almost made it. “So, what does it mean? What will happen to me now?”
“You are to be sent back to try again.”
“Yes. Now listen well. This is my warning to you. In your next life your soul will writhe under the yoke of its new existence, but if you bear on, you may again see these glimmering lights of paradise. Farewell to you, Alex Knatt.”
All faded to black for Alex Knatt. When next he opened his eyes, everything was incredibly bright and he was crying, screaming with all the power of his lungs and he was being lifted up naked in the air by a huge pair of hands. Upside down he recognized someone’s massive face peering at him. He recognized the face of Dr. Jonathan Worthington.
Dr. Worthington shed a tear. He was both happy, and sad. He had just lost his patient Alex, but he just gained a son.