I thought some of you might like to read this, my latest little story, which happens to have just won* first prize at the recent Simpsons and Futurama Fanworks Central (formerly The Groening Fanworks Central) writing competition, which I had to say was a tough one filled with some great writers. So without any further details, here it is.
* = a joint win, with the other being an entry from Christina Nordlander-Dawson.
Title: Unreal Torment
Fry becomes a guinea pig
A small incident explodes in to something world-shaking
There is a profound need for booze
Fry decides to return to the way things were
“How does this work again, Professor?”
Fry’s nervous question was answered with a wrinkled smile, and the feeling of a sudden force and pressure upon his head. The Professor no longer held the strange brass helmet once grasped between his octogenarian talons. On either side of the elderly scientist stood Leela and Bender, observing silently.
“It’s quite simple, really,” Farnsworth answered, one finger pointed skyward. “All you simply do is think of going to a place you want to go, and the Circlet of Willis will take you there. But you must make certain you focus your thoughts precisely, to the point of actually picturing the location.”
“Are you sure Fry is the best choice for this test?” Leela asked, her scepticism clear, but not without some genuine concern.
“No… but he’s the only one who agreed to do it,” Farnsworth shrugged.
“That’s ‘cause I thought you said you wanted a Tetris subject,” Fry defended.
“Remember, Fry… you mustn’t think of anything other than where you want to go,” the Professor reminded. “When you’re ready, I’ll turn on the circlet.”
Fry’s face twitched and scrunched, melding and twisting as he considered various options. Finally, he twitched, an expression of realisation upon his face.
“Got it. Go ahead, Professor.”
Farnsworth leaned forward, one decrepit digit making contact with a green button upon the front of the circlet. The sensation as the device was activated was like a warm buzzing around Fry’s head, shifting into a feeling of pleasant comfort, like a cool sea breeze was caressing his face. Vision was pulled and stretched before him, making the wall behind his friends that was previously just a few feet away appear like a distant horizon. Colours grew more vibrant, before burning into odd contrasts until there was only shadow and light. Shadow then became one with the light, and light became a void of endless pearl. And just before there was nothing, there were the sounds of panicked voices. They faded away though, and were replaced by a single voice: female, familiar, and with a tone of surprise.
“Philip? Philip!” a gasp followed. “Honey! Get Doctor Richards!”
Vision returned briefly, but all he could make out was a flash of orange and pink, and then all was white again. Puddles of colour formed, joining and shaping into the images of his friends. They were far away, bracing themselves for some reason, while flashes of violet light obscured them every second or two. The urgent cries returned, now with noises of a sparking and buzzing, but despite the cacophony, Fry could make out Leela’s yelling.
“What’s going on?”
“Fry’s thoughts must have been only semi-focussed!” Farnsworth’s hollers called back. “The circlet is having troub--”
The elderly scientist’s voice was cut off, as were all sounds save for a harsh buzz. Vision burnished to snowy nothing, and all was silent. Seconds passed, and the snow began to clear. Two blobs of peach materialised before him, the top of one brown and the other orange. Before things came into focus, Fry heard the familiar feminine voice again.
“Philip. Wake up, honey. You can do it.”
“Front and centre, soldier!” barked a gruff, deep voice.
Clarity was finally achieved, if only in sight, since Fry could not explain what stood before him. Looking back and forth, he uttered his first words since the circlet had been switched on.
“Yes, Philip. I’m here,” his mother smiled, her tired eyes brimming with tears. The smile soon faded, her face burying into her palms as she sobbed.
“We thought you’d never come back.”
Her husband walked around to the other side of the bed to put a comforting arm around her. As she accepted his embrace, he turned his stone-cold face towards Fry again.
“This is a little emotional for your mother, Phil,” said Yancy Fry Senior, managing a smile. “We thought you’d gone M.I.A. on us forever.”
Fry took in his surroundings. He was lying down in a bed, in a small room of pure white. The walls appeared to be padded, and the only other thing in his room besides his parents were two machines on either side of his bed; one with two long tubes running into his throat and somewhere down below Fry didn’t want to think about, while the other was connected to a device around his head. Reaching up to briefly touch the object, it felt like the same circlet the Professor had attached to him. Before he could ask his parents any questions, a tall, grey-haired man in a long white coat walked into the room, followed by two men in short white gowns. He had a smile on his gaunt, spectacled face, and looked to be somewhere between sixty and seventy years of age.
“Finally decided to join us again have we, Philip J. Fry?” he said, his voice smooth and clearly educated. There was a smidge of positive surprise in the words.
“Where am I?” Fry finally managed to ask.
“You’re in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center,” the tall man answered, scribbling something down on a clipboard. “Where you’ve been for the past five years. I’m Doctor Richards.”
“Five years?” Fry exclaimed. “What happened to me? And why are my parents here?”
“There was an accident, Philip,” the doctor said. “You accidentally fell into a cryogenic unit on New Years Eve, and let’s just say that when you were found you weren’t exactly in the best of conditions.”
“What do you mean?” Fry scoffed, forehead twisting. “I woke up in the year three-thousand, perfectly fine.”
Doctor Richards shook his head, and Fry noticed his parents looking a little more concerned.
“I was hoping this was a sign you’d distinguished reality from fantasy, but I can see it’ll take more than that,” the doctor said. “You have to get over these fantasies about robots, spaceships, talking lobster creatures and cycloptic warrior women.”
Meanwhile, back in the year 3005, the Professor, Leela and Bender were all standing at the edge of the laboratory, gazing upon the chair where Fry once sat, only to see a blinding light in his place. Above this, purple waves pulsed from the radiance into a swirling blue and red vortex, about one metre in diameter. Farnsworth gasped at the readings upon the device in his hand.
“Oh, my! Bad news, everyone! Somehow, Fry is not only being sent to another location in space, but also to another location in time! To make matters worse, he’s created a rift in the space time continuum… and it’s growing!”
“So, what you’re saying is…” Bender started.
“Indeed,” the Professor responded. “If we don’t do something to stop it, Fry will be stuck in the past, simultaneously destroying our present in the process!”
“Fantasies?” Fry said, his sad, confused voice almost a whisper.
“Listen to the doctor, honey,” his mother said. “You’re in the real world now.”
“This is crazy!” Fry scowled. “What happened to me was not not real!”
“You’ve been in some sort of coma, Philip,” Yancy Senior said straightforwardly. “Never quite awake, but leapin’ around the room and yelling as if you’re in some kind of space battle, or you’re shooting aliens, or something. Probably my fault for letting you watch that Starship Trekkers Wars crap when you were young.”
“Your father is right, Philip,” Doctor Richards interjected. “You have to realise that everything you’ve experienced in the last five years of your life is nothing more than a dream. A dream that’s so strong and has been going so long, you think it’s real.”
“That’s not true! That’s impossible!”
“Search your feelings, son,” his father said. “You know it to be true.”
“My friends are too real to be… not real. Bender may be a robot, but he’s as human to me as any person on the street,” Fry defended, before quickly looking a little unsure and adding, “unless that person is an alien of course.”
His parents looked worried, as did Doctor Richards. A moment of awkward silence passed, the doctor ending it as he regarded Fry’s parents.
“You were probably hoping that your son could go back to you today, but I’m sure you both understand that, well…” and he glanced at Fry sideways as he trailed off briefly, then continued, “given the circumstances he’ll have to stay here a little while longer.”
“We understand, Doctor,” Mrs Fry answered. “Is it okay if we come in tomorrow afternoon and check on him?”
“Make an appointment with my secretary on the way out,” the physician smiled. “I’ll approve it.”
She nodded then looked back to Fry, her tears a mix of liquid fear and relief. Leaving her husbands arms, she sat on the edge of Fry’s bed, and after a moment of looking into her son’s eyes, leaned in to kiss his forehead. Fry didn’t know how to react, remaining silent while feeling tears come to his eyes too. His mother smiled, placing both hands upon his shoulders, and the words that came were delivered as if an order, but with a sad tremble that betrayed any firmness she might have possessed.
“You don’t leave us again, you hear. You stay right here. Promise me… when you next sleep, you wake up again.”
Fry looking into her pleading eyes, and uttered the only thing he could, despite all better judgement saying otherwise.
“I promise, mom. I’ll see you soon.”
She managed another smile, then sniffed and stood up. Yancy Senior offered her a hand, which she took, and said one last thing as they walked towards the exit.
“You listen to your mother, son.”
They disappeared from view, leaving Fry more confused than he’d ever been in his life. Doctor Richards came closer, scribbling once again on his clipboard with a pen.
“Now, Philip,” he said. “I have to figure out what to do with you next. We need to start taking steps that’ll get you away from this fantasy world you’ve come up with and bring you back to reality. And I think the first step should be just letting you acquaint yourself with your surroundings, here in the year two-thousand and five.”
“How are you going to do that?” Fry asked nervously. “Reading? Watching T.V.? Reading T.V. Guide?”
“Oh, I’m afraid television is out of the question,” Doctor Richards scoffed. “It would only serve to give you ideas to add to your odd little world.”
As the doctor spoke, Fry noticed the light above him beginning to flicker. After finishing his sentence, the doctor looked up, just as the brightness became more intense, making him shield his eyes. Suddenly, there was a sparking sound from Fry’s right, and he and the doctor both spun towards it.
“Oh my, God!” Doctor Richards said, just as a louder sparking came from the machine, along with a sharp electrical burst. “Get the backup! Quick!”
The orderlies ran out the door and out of sight, and a familiar buzzing sound came to Fry’s ears. As light became more intense and darkness became enveloped by it, he felt his head being pulled roughly. Doctor Richards’ face dominated his vision, teeth gritted with frustration, and the last sounds he heard were grunts of frustration as he felt his head jerk with utterances of, “Come off, dammit! Come off!” Then, there was nothing.
“Fry? Fry? Are you okay?”
The soft tones of a gentle female voice drifted to alert Fry’s senses before anything else. Slowly opening his eyes, all he could see was a fuzzy pink framed by grey on either side.
“M-mom?” Fry croaked.
There were muffled voices from what sounded like some place afar, and Fry blinked to let his eyes focus. Things became more defined, and after a purple flash, fuzzy pink sharpened into a familiar face.
“No Fry,” it said. “It’s Leela.”
Fry groaned, scrunching up his face and wiping one hand across his eyes and forehead. Looking up he saw Leela smiling; now standing to one side. Standing just a little bit further behind her were the Professor and Bender. Fry let out a large sigh, throwing his head back again.
“What happened?” he asked as if it took all his strength to say it.
“The Professor’s stupid invention didn’t work,” Bender said, almost too casually. “You almost got lost wherever you were going and destroyed the universe at the same time. You’re okay now though, thanks to me: Bender.”
“What did you do?” Fry asked wearily, rubbing his eyes. “Did the Professor have some kind of special device to stop it that only you could use because you’re a robot?”
“No. He couldn’t think of anything, so I threw a bottle of booze at your crown thingy.”
Fry looked up, then reached above his head to take the object in question off. Sure enough, there was a large portion of a broken bottle sticking out the front of it. The Professor shuffled over and took it from him, not looking happy.
“I don’t know where you were thinking about going, Fry!” he grumbled. “But you’ve proven that the world isn’t ready for technology as sophisticated as this. Not when there are morons like you around!”
As he shambled away with the circlet, Leela placed a gentle hand on Fry’s shoulder.
“So, what happened to you during the whole thing?” she asked, voice brimming with eager curiosity. “Did you see anything or go anywhere?”
“I’m… I’m not sure,” Fry answered. “I’m kind of disoriented right now to be honest. It was kind of surreal.”
“I understand,” Leela smiled. “I’ll let you get some rest. The important thing is that you made it back okay. We were worried you’d never come back to reality.”
Before Fry could respond, Leela walked away, telling Bender to follow and leave to let him get some rest. They disappeared from view, leaving Fry alone with his thoughts. Staring up at the ceiling, he whispered to himself softly.
Meanwhile, in a plain padded room somewhere, a young unconscious red-haired male lay upon a bed, three figures surrounding him.
“I offer my deepest apologies,” the tall grey-haired one said. “By the time we got the backup here, the power surge had already done too much damage.”
The solid, brown-haired man sighed, gently stroking the back of the flame-haired woman crying into his chest. His gaze met the silver-crowned man.
“So, what are his chances now?”
“I can’t say for certain,” came the answer. “But, to be honest with you, things don’t look good. I suspect that, given the amount of damage the accident did, he’ll be like this a long time. Possibly forever.”