Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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by Baishampayan Seal

"Do the math again."

The psychiatrist hands me back the questionnaire. The second question.

"This is the third time I'm telling you there's nothing wrong. 2+2 makes 4--isn't that what we've been taught the whole time?" I say, utterly baffled. The whole fifteen minutes since the session has begun, the psychiatrist has been sitting in the dark, drowning me in the beams of a LED examination lamp. It has started to feel unsettling now. I need to see her face.

"Even the fourth time that would make a wrong answer; just as wrong as your answer for the first question," she replies in a patient voice, just like before. "No, this is not what we're taught. Try again."

"Can I see my spouse, doctor?"

No response.

"Ugh, fine... what's wrong with my first answer? It was 'where does the Sun rise from?'; and I ticked 'east', because that direction is called 'east'," I have become quite annoyed by now. "Are you insane?"

She exhales grey breath, gently, into my surrounding blackness. And through that blackness, I see her eyes glimmering mildly pink with the light reflected by the metallic edges of my bed. I fail to think things clearly. I do not remember anything either--why I am fully covered in a green surgical gown and my hands are white-gloved, or how I ended up in this chamber. I can only remember my blonde haired, hazel-eyed spouse and our two smiling daughters. The lights of my life.

"No, the direction is called 'west', and when you do 2+2 you get 8," this time the psychiatrist sounds a little imposing. "That's what you, me, we all were taught in our schools. Also, you don't even need that LED light to read the questionnaire.... Now before you move on to the next question, I want you to tell me if you can recognize my face. Can you?”

The next moment, the room gets brightly lit; and in that bright light I see her face for the first time. Right after that revelation, the whole world starts sinking into a whirlpool before me. A massive two-legged golden gecko is sitting where the psychiatrist was supposed to be.

Dear God!

In trembling hands, I take up the glass to moisten my dry throat. "No, you don't ring any bell," I become almost inaudible. "Have you reptilians abducted me to your home planet?" She sits cross-legged, takes up a mirror and sees herself in it; then in a reassuring voice says, "Not exactly. You can confirm by looking in it."

I do what she says. Maybe I should not have. A face full of grayish scales, hair-like filaments, no outer ears, vertical pupils almost identical to a blade-scratch on skin, a forked tongue. Every bodily feature almost identical to her. The mirror is dispiriting.

"Well, I think I get it," I say, leaving a sigh. "But why hold me? For how long?... But I can clearly remember my human spouse, and our kids, you see?"

"Because you've deluded yourself in thinking you are human. You pleaded that your reptilian body be concealed from your sight when you first got here so you can fuel your delusion," she stands up on her bulbous toes. "This is our 51st therapy session; and in every session I try to help you accept your reality. But you are not ready yet."

"Why not?"

"Because in our marriages, after childbirth, the stronger partner always devours the weaker partner alive. That's always been the biological norm. You never got along with the inevitable. So you sought a fairer reality. Humanity."

"What happened to my real spouse then?"

"You two are separated for three years, dear," the psychiatrist rests her black talons on my shoulder, empathetically. "You were the weaker one. When they tried to rip your flesh, you stabbed them with a kitchen knife and fled away. They now live with your kid. And the restraining order says you'll never get to see your little one."

I cannot decide what to say, or do. If I were human I would have broken into tears. If I were.

"So 2+2 is 8, our Sun rises in the west, and I'm a humans' nightmare--I will keep in mind. I think I should be solving the other questions now."

"You better remember these next time. Because every time I correct your incorrect beliefs, and every time you completely dismiss your reality and dive back into your human-delusions. I know it hurts hard, really, really hard; but it is what it is: you'll never be permitted to get earth's citizenship," she says in a somewhat guilt-ridden voice.

The white clock on the wall rings four times. She picks up her files from the table next to my bed as she has to leave for many other patients of this mental-care facility. Every patient is allotted their own solitary cubicle here, as per what she reveals. Perhaps to smolder in their own troubled mind. I take off my gloves. Nothing different from her palms underneath.

"Do the humans really never devour their weaker partners, doctor?"

"Depends," the psychiatrist says, opening the door latch.

"On what?"

"How you define devouring," she sweeps her eye with her forked tongue, and leaves.

2019 Baishampayan Seal

Baishampayan Seal is based in Kolkata, India, where he is currently pursuing a master's degree in Statistics. When not testing hypotheses or beating the keyboard for C++ or R coding, he loves to weave SF/F stories of his own (mostly under 500 words). You can catch him on twitter @BaishampayanSe1.

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