Existence Without Flesh

It’s called The Mantra.

Only a few people had it. It was sometimes hard to separate from mental illness, especially since it sounded delusional. The feeling between worlds that suspended you halfway. A realm between euphoria and deceit, the mind's greatest desire or impenetrable prison. Either way, it was an escape from the real world. The Mantra was a world on its own, where dreams ran rampant.

Today, a young boy by the name of Harlan had just lost his older brother, Elias. It had been a car crash, his parents had told him. Instead of hugging him, they turned their backs like Harlan was a blight. His emotions had always been abnormal. To anyone else, it would mean their world had collapsed, yet Harlan only let out a few tears. It was silent grieving, drowned out in his parents sobbing. Even his parents believed he was dysfunctional, and now their favorite son was dead.

The days that followed, Harlan spoke little, yet he never cried. His eyes were glazed and he stared unblinking for hours. He was in a sleepless trance, one his parents didn't notice in their heartsick state. Harlan was in his own world, far beyond his parent's perception even if they took notice. Far in the grips of The Mantra, processing the tragedy in his own way.

It was the month following that Harlan's daydreaming became reality. He was heading to middle school, when he heard the roar of a car engine to the side of him. Turning his head, the shiny red paint was just as blinding as he remembered. And his brother...

"Harlan, want to hop in?" his brother asked. "I'm off today, I can totally take you."

Harlan paused, looking down at the car like a bull. His subconscious knew he was hallucinating, yet he still agreed. He was completely sure it was one of the last reactions he had with his brother. A moment he had played in his head hundreds of times in his repercussion days.

He couldn't stop thinking about it as he climbed into the passenger seat. It progressed further when he felt sudden deja vu when Elias offered him a soda, the same gesture that had happened just a week ago. It felt so fake, yet somehow he didn't care. Even if he was dreaming, it was a good one.

The lush seating soaked all of his uncertainty out of him once Elias started driving. Every sensory detail was perfect, down to Elias's stubble and winning hair to the unblemished interior of the car. It was too impeccable to be a hallucination, and besides, they were moving. He could feel the smooth roll of the car and the cool wind on his hair through the open window, unmistakably real.

Through the moment, Elias started to feel like a memento of his brother. Just a strand of Harlan’s mind behaving in supernatural ways. He wasn't dynamic, he was just the same person, the same moment, taunting him. Every lighthearted response felt like a dagger, tearing apart Harlan from the inside. An easy smile quickly became an expression of unease.

“Alright you punk,” Elias said, pulling up to the middle school. “Go get ‘em.”

Harlan would have hugged his brother. In fact, he wanted to say all that he didn’t get to say before. Confess that nobody in the world understood him more than Elias did. Tell him that he meant the world to Harlan, or that he did at least. Still, as he lugged his backpack out of the car, he stopped himself from saying any of it. Turning his back was the only thing he could do, because it all was fake. Somehow, he knew it. It was “real” whatever that meant, but it still was sickening. Elias had said the same things, made the exact same turns he always took to the school. He had replicated the same moment from a week ago.

Harlan saw his brother everywhere in the passing months, whenever his mind wandered. Nobody could see him except him, yet all his actions were real. They just never changed. The welcoming figure of Elias became a terror, preying on his vulnerable thoughts if helplessness and loss. It was a scar he couldn’t purge from his brain. He wished he had the real Elias with him, yet he knew the truth, even if it was starting to get blurrier and blurrier.

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