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This is a story titled “I.”

 I

By Ronald Cypress

A fear suddenly came to me after four straight days of solitude in my apartment. There was no explanation for it; it just abruptly arrived. It was a terrible dread of not actually being. The fear and conviction that it was likely shook me enough that I cried for nearly an hour while holding a switchblade in my hand and contemplating a permanent solution to the problem. Thinking about it was painful. My entire life was a dream, a phantasmagoria without a purpose, or just a fleeting thought in some beings mind. There was nothing real about me. It seemed irrational but the fear was very present.

The first person who found out about the vexing belief was a person named Alonso, someone who had been a decent friend to me for several years. We sat across from each other in a crowded restaurant, and the entire time we spoke my mind kept trying to figure out if Alonso was actually real. If my being didn’t exist, then his probably didn’t either.

“You need to find a group for that,” Alonso told me. He pointed at me with his fork. “Or see a doctor. The group would be cheaper.”

“Group?” This word as well as others came out of my mouth, but they felt like they were being said by an entity that wasn’t present. “What kind of group?”

“A support group. You can find a support group for just about any problem. This woman I work with goes to a group for cross-eyed people. Another guy goes to a group because he’s sexually attracted to white cats. There’s all kinds of support groups. They have one for every problem in the world.”

The image called Alonso spoke about more people and the groups they attended. There was a woman who enjoyed biting the back of strangers’ necks, a woman who instantly fell in love with a person if they said the word “delectable,” and there was the man who believed that in his past life he had been the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first lover. They all went to support groups to deal with issues that were deemed anomalies.

There had to be a support group out there for me. Certainly other people feared that they didn’t actually exist. Finding the support group turned out to be easier than expected. It was discovered a few days after my talk with the person called Alonso, who was supposed to receive a call from me once a group was found but didn’t because by then he was no longer real to me. The thing taking over my mind was rapidly becoming more aggressive. Everything around me felt false but there was still a desire to get over the new belief, a belief that no longer caused fear but mostly confusion and anger.

The support group for people like me met in an old building that appeared to be abandoned. It was located in a shabby part of the city, a place notorious for bums, discreet drug addicts and rabid dogs that attacked unsupervised children. The group had a page on a website dedicated to helping people find the right support group. That page gave information about where to meet and what time the meetings started. The group didn’t have an official name. There was just a description of the problem; we didn’t believe that we existed.

Only one person was in the building when my supposed body entered. She was sitting in the middle of the room, drinking chocolate milk from a small carton. There were about a dozen empty chairs around her. We sat next to each other for several minutes without saying a word. No one else showed up. We remained alone.

“What’s your name?” was the first thing said. It came from me.

“Don’t have it anymore. What’s the point?”

The young woman crushed the milk cartoon and threw it across the room. She took out a cigarette and lit it.

“Have you been here before?” My questions kept coming. “Are other people coming?”

“People come.” the young woman took quick, hard drags from the cigarette. “But we’re not real. Most of us end up dead. Suicide. Or we just let people kill us. What’s the point?”

There was a switchblade in my pocket. My hand brought it out and pushed up the blade. The young woman looked unimpressed.

“To slit my wrist.”

It was the truth. My resolve to slit my wrist was rapidly increasing.

“It doesn’t matter.” the young woman held up her lit cigarette. “We’re not here. Either you’ve been created, or you’re making me up. It doesn’t matter.”

She jammed the burning cigarette into her hand. Her eyes stayed on me.

“Do you smell flesh burning?” she asked.

What was supposed to be my nose hadn’t really smelled since the fear had come to me. That fear had vanished but there was still a lack of smell.

“You’re right.” my body rose up from the chair it had been using. “It doesn’t matter.”

The young woman spit at me and began to cry. She covered her face. There was no sympathy. All she got from me was a derisive smile. The girl must have been created by a desperate part of my so-called mind. The weeping girl wasn’t an actual being. Nothing was real, and like all false things the world around me was completely pointless.

It was also unstable. Most of the chairs that had been around the young woman and me had somehow vanished. Only one remained, folded up and lying on the floor a few feet away from us. No one else had been in the building to move them. The whole world was lie. There was a brief thought about stabbing the girl, a thought that came from frustration. It wouldn’t have mattered if it happened—there would be no consequences for my actions—but something drew me away from her.

With my switchblade in hand, my being went back into the world. My legs took me away from the slums and into a ritzier area of the city. There were plenty of people out and moving around me. They all looked happy and dull. None of them were real. They couldn’t really feel pleasure or pain. It could be proven. A man wearing a suit and sunglasses started walking by me. My switchblade went up and straight into where his heart should have been. The man stopped moving and fell to the ground.

Some people around me screamed; it was just one last effort by my mind to make things real again. But none of it existed. My whole life had been a fantasy, and it was going to end soon. The people could keep screaming. It didn’t really matter. My end would be theirs.