Nathan sat down across from Dr. Sellman and the two men stared at each other, neither conceding to the silence.

Finally, Dr. Sellman flexed his arm and checked the time, folded in on himself, and crossed his legs.

“What shall we discuss today, Nathan?” he asked, baiting. 

In response, Nathan spread his hands wide and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve got nothing but time. Why don’t we try to find some common ground? I feel like, at this point, I can’t say anything you won’t find crazy.”

“Shall we start with the crawling men?”

“That’s as good a place as any, I suppose. What do you want to know?”

“I’m fairly certain I know all about the crawling men at this point. Why do you bring them up?”

“What if I were to tell you they weren’t real? Would that buy me some time? Could we discuss that?”

“I suppose you want to get into the notion of reality as a means for mental protection. I understand that our perspectives are different, that we perceive reality differently. If you told me that the crawling men weren’t real, would it be because you believed it, that you thought their non-existence was reality, or would you be trying to placate me, to tell me what I want to hear? As if the non-existence of the crawling men would be beneficial to me?”

“Wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose it would. I for one, find the idea of crawling men terrifying.”

“Me too,” Nathan concurred. 

“And if the crawling men aren’t real, then we’re in no danger. And if we are in no danger, then we can occupy our minds with other things. Time, for instance. Measured by moving hands and our heartbeats and our bank accounts, all of which are fallible and temporary to the point of non-existence themselves. So, I don’t know, are the crawling men a good place to start, or a reasonable topic to eliminate from our worry?”

“Do you wish the crawling men were like your bank account, or the hands of time, or a heartbeat?”

“I’ve already told you, I have nothing but time.”

“Did you say that?”

“I’m quite sure.”

“What other patients are on this ward?”

“Are you asking me? How should I know?”

“I don’t know, you’re very perceptive. I thought you might be able to tell me where I stack up.”

“There is no room for comparison in these matters. Paranoia and delusion and hallucination are all merely abstracts. They are standards defined by society as a means of control, and the labels have different connotations here.”

“Very well then. No, I don’t want to end bank accounts or heartbeats, even my own. I suppose we can conclude our talk today on the assumption that the crawling men are very real, they are dangerous, and they are still immediate.”

At this, Nathan stood and checked his own watch, noting the time. He turned and moved to the door, waiting for it to unlock from the other side. 

When he was through, and access to Dr. Sellman was secured behind him, Nathan turned to Nurse Abernathy. 

“He’s still very embedded in his delusion, creating his own reality, just like the others,” he offered, grabbing a clipboard from a nearby table. “He’s adopted this doctor persona to level our interaction, making his world no less viable than my own.”

“What do you suggest?” Abernathy asked, now wielding a clipboard of their own.

“Up his dosage. Let’s see if we can draw him back to the reality where the rest of us live before the crawling men pull him away from us forever… or worse.”

He turned as if he were going to leave, mentally preparing himself for his next appointment and another onslaught of ideas that should not be real.

“Doctor Fenster,” Abernathy stayed him with a gentle hand on his coat. “Nathan.”


“What should we do about the crawling men?”

“Pray, I suppose,” Nathan said without turning to comfort them further. “Or give yourself a shot, if you think you need it.”

Scott Bryan is a zinester and lunatic living in the state with the most drive-ins and horror attractions per capita. He has been published in Trampset, X-R-A-Y, Versification, and Rejection Letters, and he tweets @scott_bryan

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