4 min read

Falsifiable, by Beatrice Morgan

A distorted vintage photograph, with an open mouth mirrored and a house in the distance
Photo by Dasha Yukhymyuk / Unsplash

Content warnings

Disorientation. Brain injury.

The walls of his bedroom swim away in a rippling inhalation. The off-white paint is swallowed by a shimmering wash of blues, the posters sea-tossed like fragile sailboats.

To his left hangs a clock: it reads ten minutes past eleven.

He closes his eyes. Rather, his eyes close. He has no control. His body is a marionette whose puppeteer has decided that closed eyes will halt the deformation of his immediate surroundings; the darkness cannot drown the gentle sandpaper grind of compromised masonry. He doesn’t have a single trustworthy sense remaining.

When he was little, he occasionally lost control of his magic. It was flighty, fanciful, resistant to restraint. The toddler years, he’s told, were the worst. But his magic matured with him—in the year between his fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays he didn’t lose control once.

He knows this—that last year he was fifteen, and that when he was fifteen his magic didn’t trouble him—like it’s the first line of a book. Or the first line of a chapter. Chapter Fifteen. The one before Chapter Sixteen, when it all went to shit.

He knows it like a line in a book he doesn’t remember reading, but which lies cracked open on his bedside table, only the current page visible. Only sometimes can he read the words.

His eyes open. To his right hangs a clock: it reads five minutes to eleven.

Nothing stays in his mind the way it should. Just like the walls won’t stay straight and off-white and load bearing as they should. Like the clock tells lies or time moves backwards; the way his senses tell lies and his mind moves in every direction except forward from the present. The more he tries to remember, the further into the distance it fades.

It burns in his throat—the puppet’s throat—to realise, eyes closed or eyes open, he cannot tell what is real. Either his magic has betrayed him by sinking the ceiling and holding time in a taunting fist, or his brain has betrayed him by surrendering to its resident traumatic lesion.

He cannot locate the clock.

That—that’s too far. There’s a line in the sand, a division between the newly, horrendously mundane and the wildly unacceptable; the clock has kicked him straight across it. If he let himself be aggravated by warped surroundings he’d be endlessly exhausted, but clocks are supposed to be constant. Permanent. They can’t be allowed to disappear altogether.

He should call for help. But he can’t. He can’t speak. The messenger carrying his distress to his mouth is, in this moment, snared in the temperamental jaws of a spring trap. He is hobbled by the damage.

There is a double tap on his door. In lieu of answering he watches his bedroom expand and shrink like the breath of a tide.

“Hey bud.”

His father’s voice is soft, a roundness at odds with the soundtrack of percussive abrasion. Slippers pad across the carpeted floor in time with the ticking of the absent clock. The bed dips under the weight of something that isn’t the puppet’s body and, for a fleeting, hummingbird moment, he inhabits the sensation of lungs expanding. Then it slips from him, and the walls breathe once more.

He doesn’t know a hand has clasped his own until his father draws it into his lap. He tries to focus on that movement: the shift of his shoulder, the elevation of his elbow, the weight of fingers threaded through his own. He’s been manoeuvred, but not like a puppet; like a son.

It is difficult to keep his mind on that point of contact, on that somatic reminder of care, but it’s better than the alternative, which is the numbness returning to his hand in a flood. The rest of his body has already drowned.

His father kicks off the slippers and stretches out behind him, draping a forearm over his waist so their hands remain clasped, and that’s how he learns he’s lying on his side now. He doesn’t remember when he stopped lying on his back.

“I could hear that something was up,” his father says. He takes this as confirmation that his magic really is flaring, because his injured brain can conjure fantastical disconnections but other people aren’t able to hear them.

It’s a relief. Maybe. It’s no comfort to know that he’s dumping the consequences of his flare-up on everyone else, but at least there’s someone to witness it. To say that reality is melting around him, but at least it’s not a trick of that fucking lesion.

His father asks what he needs, each sound slowly enunciated, considerate of the effort it takes to catch the spoken word and reel it in. But he doesn’t know what he needs. He needs the grinding to stop and the walls to be still and the clock to—oh.

There is a clock, just within his eyeline: it reads fifteen minutes past eleven.

He sighs. It’s enough for his father to understand. The fingers that aren’t laced through his own brush a wisp from his forehead—he can feel it. He can feel the tickle of the hair, the gentle chafe of calloused skin.

He watches the long hand of the clock approach the twenty-minute mark. The room is silent except for the passage of time. By midnight, he thinks, he might be a real boy again.

Beatrice Morgan

Beatrice Morgan is a chronically ill nature nerd and writer of speculative and historical fiction. Her work has appeared in Minola Review, PULP Literature and Mighty: An Anthology of Disabled Superheroes. She has too many houseplants and just the right number of dogs.

Bluesky: @beatricemorgan Twitter: @BeaMorganWrites