Part One [Diagnosis: Misunderstood]

As I silently stared off into the distance, watching the never-ending stream of cars passing underneath the brick bridge I stood upon, I slowly closed my eyes. Cool autumn air stung my nostrils as I deeply inhaled. Reluctantly reopening my eyes, I felt myself involuntarily turning around to walk towards the other side of the bridge; my gaze fixated on the church slightly off in the distance.

I gave it a begrudging smile as a second later, I felt someone place a hand on my shoulder. It was closely followed by sharp points—presumably their fingertips—boring into my skin. Not hard enough to be painful, but not light enough to be undetectable either. My eyes involuntarily glanced down to look at the hand. Resting there was a red, scaly claw. For some strange reason as I gazed upon it, I didn’t feel frightened by it. Instead, the longer I stared—and I stared for a good while—the calmer I felt.

Breaking free from whatever hypnotic trance the scaly claw was putting me in, I managed to force myself to turn to the side to stare at whoever was there. However, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t force myself to stare at anything other than the hand. Then, like a robot, I slowly, methodically, traced their arm with my eyes, up to their torso.

The rest of their arm—like their hand—was coated in dark crimson scales. And somewhere in the back of my mind, something was telling me it was a dragon. But I knew that thought was absurd. Dragons weren’t real. Right? And if they weren’t a dragon, what would they be? A hallucination? Was I going insane?

No, it couldn’t be that. I was certain this was reality. And there certainly was a dragon standing next to me. Yet I wasn’t hallucinating nor dreaming. Shaking my head, I finally mustered the will to stare directly at the dragon’s face. Instantly, my jaw fell.

It was Dave, the dragon OC I had made a long time ago. Reeling through the shock of the revelation, I knew that he wasn’t real—he was just a character I made—yet here he was, standing beside me, smiling at me. And at the same time, I knew I was lucid, and not imagining things.

Then, as Dave turned to give me a faint smile, another thought dawned on me. It was something my creative writing teacher had told me before. “There comes a time with your characters that you start to believe they’re real. And then there’s always another time when you start to see them in your daily life, going about their day, like a story unfolding before your very eyes, waiting for someone to tell it.”

My train of thought didn’t last very long, however. I quickly found myself being suddenly jerked back to reality as someone called out “William? You there?” in a patient voice. I didn’t respond. They continued with “William. You’ve spaced out. Can you hear me?” a bit more forcefully this time.

I blinked a couple of times, shaking my head. Everything before me was a blur of lights and colors as the sound of soft jazz filled my ears. Instantly, I knew where I was. My therapist’s office. I had originally come to see him a few months prior for some depressive issues I was—and still sort of am—going through.

“William,” he said a bit more sternly this time as the scene before me completely defogged. “Are you with me?”

I quickly flashed him a curt nod as I diverted my focus outside the window. “Yea, I am,” I hastily replied. I didn’t want to be here, but I had to be. Not because anyone was forcing me—I could’ve very easily walked out then and there and never came back—but because I genuinely wanted to be there. It was a weird feeling.

“Then face me please,” my therapist suddenly called out to me. He started sounding like a worn-out teacher, tired of instructing the class to behave all the time.

Begrudgingly, I turned to face him. He was in his late forties, early fifties if I had to guess. Balding somewhat, and with round, wire frame glasses. He silently twirled a blue pen around in his right hand as he quietly stared at me. It gave me a weird vibe, as if he was surveying a cornered beast—me—waiting to deliver the kill blow. Before he even had to say anything, I knew exactly what he was going to ask.

“Did you just have another episode?” he kindly inquired. I knew it was his job to ask, considering a few sessions ago I brought up the fact that I was seeing my characters in various situations. But it always seemed to bother me how he asked. I couldn’t tell if it was the way he phrased it, the inflection of his voice, or something else.

Pursing my lips and angrily gritting my teeth, I bitterly replied with “No. I didn’t. Just thinking.” I silently chided myself; however, I knew my disdain was obvious and even a fool could sense it.

My therapist simply glared at me in reply. “William, I’m not a fool. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know you weren’t just thinking, like you’re claiming. What was the episode about?” he patiently asked, if not, a bit angrily.

I shook my head, trying to concoct any sort of feasible lie I could think of. Nothing came to mind. “It was me, standing on the bridge to my college. I was staring at all the cars passing underneath when one of my OCs put their hand on my shoulder. I stared at them, then you started talking me, so I broke out of it,” I finally blurted out. The words felt slimy and disgusting as I uttered them.

“Which one?”

“Dave. The dragon.”

My therapist instantly fell silent. He hummed softly to himself as he scribbled something down in his composition notebook. I silently stared at his hand, trying to figure out what he was writing, but couldn’t make out anything. Shortly after that, he turned around to set the pen on his desk before sighing. “Alright. We’ll continue this next time. And before you go, take this with you. I already looked it over. I’ll see you next week,” he wistfully said, brandishing a green composition notebook with the words “Diagnosis: Misunderstood” written in blue ink on the cover.

It was my pen-name for what I was calling the hallucinations. Visions. Whatever you want to call them. I don’t know why I named it that, I just know that it felt right. That I should name it that. But now, I felt like the name didn’t fit any longer. My therapist had read all of it. I didn’t know how to feel about that specifically. I just gritted my teeth, forced a smile and snatched it from his hands before walking out the door.

Breezing past everyone else, I quickly made it out into my car. The car chirped as I unlocked it, before I cracked open the door and slipped into it. Before I was fully inside the car, my curiosity got the better of me, and I silently opened the notebook. A small, folded sheet of paper fluttered out which I quickly snatched up and unfurled. It was a note from my therapist, written in cursive, blue ink.

I don’t believe you are misunderstood like the name of this notebook suggests. Instead, I believe you may have schizophrenia. Next week, when we meet, I’d like to discuss some treatment options. Please continue writing down how things are going. I’ll see you next week.
– Doctor Wilis”

I breathlessly stared at the sheet of paper, re-reading every word over and over. I understood what was physically written on the page, but I couldn’t make sense of the words. Finally, when I came back to my senses, I focused on one word in specific: Schizophrenia. It left a foul taste in my mouth. I angrily shook my head, noisily crumpling up the sheet of paper before throwing it in the back, slamming the door shut. The note could wait. My papers due tomorrow could not.

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