No Such Thing
The man in his pajamas looked furtively at the smooth gray walls of his cell. His eyes were wide. He pressed himself against the back wall. They would come for him soon.
The far wall of the cell slid upward to reveal darkness. A figure stood at the door. It was gray skinned and thin. It was built like a stick figure with an enormous, pear-shaped head. Its face held two large, black eyes and a slit for a mouth. It held its hand up and motioned with a long, thin finger for the pajama man to come out. ?Come along, John,? it rasped, ?It?s time for your procedure.?
John pushed himself against the cell wall harder. ?No,? he screamed, ?You?re not real. You don?t exist.?
The figure put its hands on its hips. ?What are you talking about? Of course I?m real, John. We do this every six months. Now come on out here and have your procedure like a good human.?
John shook his head violently from side to side. ?No, you don?t exist. You are not real. I?m at home in my bed and I?m dreaming all this.?
?Don?t be ridiculous John. Where would you get the idea that I?m not real? We?ve known each other for so long.?
John collapsed onto the floor and pulled his knees up to his chest. Tears ran down his cheeks. He rocked a little back and forth. ?You don?t exist.?
The gray fellow walked into the cell and knelt beside John. ?It?s all right, John. First, if I don?t exist then you have nothing to worry about. If I do exist, however, then someone has been filling your head with non-sense and we?ll soon get that sorted out.? It placed a reassuring hand on John?s shoulder.
John?s rocking settled. ?They wanted to know why I had trouble sleeping. They took me to the doctors. They gave me pills. ?There?s no such thing as aliens,? they kept telling me. Doctor Willis made sure I under stood that. There?s no such thing as aliens and I?ve never been abducted and experimented on.?
The alien shook his head slightly. ?This doctor Willis, what sort of doctor is it??
John snorted a bunch of snot up his nose and then swallowed hard. ?Doctor Willis? He?s a psychiatrist with the county. He says there?s no such thing as aliens. I need to stop seeing aliens.?
?A psychiatrist?? The alien pulled back in surprise. ?Oh John, you?ve been listening to stories again. There?s no such thing as psychiatrists.?
John shook his head repeatedly through wide sweeps. ?No, no, no, no, no, there are psychiatrists and they say there are no such things as aliens. You don?t exist. I?m at home in bed and I?m having a nightmare. You don?t exist.?
The alien shifted from kneeling to sitting. ?John, I want you to listen to me. Are you listening to me, John??
?You don?t exist.?
?Ok, John, but I still need you to listen to me. I need you to hear me and to think about what I?m saying. Can you do that, John??
John raised his head to look at the alien but didn?t say anything.
The alien seemed to take a deep breath. ?Sometimes, John, when people have to face scary things their minds don?t cope very well. When that happens it is sometimes easier for the brain to imagine something different than to face the scary thing. Brains are very creative that way.?
John snorted in more snot.
The alien continued, ?Getting abducted by a technologically advanced species from another planet can be pretty harrowing. Not knowing when or where it will happen or even why can really set your nerves on edge. Since you don?t even really know what exactly we are doing to you; that would really strain a human?s mental state.?
?You don?t exist,? John muttered.
The alien patted him reassuringly. ?There have been many humans who have talked to each other enough that a certain pattern of escapism has emerged. It would be fascinating if it weren?t so harmful to the humans involved. You know what that pattern is, John??
John closed his eyes and sniffled a bit. ?No.?
?It?s called psychiatry, John. Just think about it, John. You can go to a person who can not only reassure you that there are no scary things in the world but can absolve you from true responsibility for all your personal failings. Do you understand what I?m saying, John??
John stared at the floor while the alien watched him. The man wiped his nose with his pajama sleeve. He stared at the floor a few more moments and then pushed himself into a seated position. ?If I imagined it, how come everybody?s got a shrink??
The alien?s mouth stretched almost perceptibly wider to either side. ?It?s the stories, John. Humans are very communicative and, with your level of technology, that communication happens fast. The idea of a person who can perform all those miracles spread very quickly throughout your culture. Now, whenever you feel too stressed your mind goes into itself and has a conversation with the person who can make everything better.?
?If it?s something I imagine, then how come nobody says anything when I tell them about my sessions??
The alien shifted again, this time to sit with its back against the wall next to John. ?The idea of the psychiatrist is very popular in your culture. If they challenge your visit then they must also challenge their own. It?s very deeply rooted in your cultural beliefs. Think about the primitive peoples on your planet. Do they have psychiatrists? Many of them do not and they cope very well with being abducted and experimented upon.?
?I guess so,? said John. But it seems so real. I even pay money for it.?
?Do you, John?? asked the alien. ?Do you really pay money for this psychiatric treatment??
?Well, my insurance pays most of it. They take care of all the paperwork and then send me a bill.?
The alien shook his head. ?Do you hear what you?re saying, John? Your insurance pays for it. You imagine that you go into an office and fill out paperwork so that some magical insurance company takes care of the financial obligation for your psychiatry. Even the money for this delusion is made up. You are really going to have to come to grips with the fact that psychiatrists are imaginary. They simply aren?t real.?
?But they said I dreamt all this.?
?That?s just your way of coping, John. Look around; does this look imaginary??
John looked around. ?No, I guess not.?
?Quite right it is all real. Since this is real, we should get on with your procedure.?
John started to move to a standing position but stopped. ?What am I supposed to do the next time I see my psychiatrist??
The alien wagged one long finger at John. ?You just tell that psychiatrist, ?I?m not afraid of you. I know you?re not real and I don?t believe in you,? and that?ll set him straight. Be sure to tell everyone else about the dangers of imaginary doctors so you can help them too.?
John smiled and nodded. ?I?ll do it.? He pushed himself up and walked out of the cell and toward the operating theater.
The alien followed. As it entered the theater another alien leaned in and whispered, ?I heard what you did in there. You?re a real bastard.?
John?s alien smiled.