The final chapter of the Horse Bridge story, based around the picture below, which was drawn for me by the always awesome Sorina at Chosen Voice. If you missed the previous chapters, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
The story is a science fiction story based on a world where people live inside multiple virtual reality worlds in a program called Real World. They create the first world and then the computer creates iterations of it to go deeper in realism and intensity. The main character goes into the new 5th iteration, only to find a white horse that he did not put there that brings him to see his father, who in the outside world is in a nursing home with brain damage.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, by the way. This story is partially dedicated to my awesome dad. I’m far away from him at the moment, but I love him a lot. I wish we had a computer program we could go canoeing in together.
The Horse Bridge, Part 4
When I got to my father’s room in the Tall Maple nursing home, he was on a ventilator. A nurse was making notes of his life signs. She nodded at me when I entered.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked immediately. “I was here yesterday and he seemed fine.”
“He’s had a massive stroke,” the nurse said. “We were trying a revolutionary type of therapy, using online realities. He collapsed while connected.”
“Which one did you use? Was it Real World?” Anticipation was crackling through my nerves.
The nurse nodded. “It was to try to get him out of his shut-in little world and experience something bigger. The doctor doesn’t think the stroke was directly related to the therapy; I don’t know.”
The nurse left a moment later and a doctor came in.
“Thank you for coming in so quickly, Mr. Sherwood. Your father had a stroke last night. This is the second one he has had, and much worse than the first. There was extensive damage and combined with his other chronic injuries, he may not have much time left.”
“The nurse said that you hooked him up to Real World,” I said. “Was he on public channels? Could he interact with other people?”
“No, of course not,” the doctor said. “The point of the therapy was to recreate an environment he was familiar with; it has been shown to help rehabilitate cases such as your father’s. We connected him to a blank world and he filled it in with his memories.”
“I know,” I said. “I visited my father yesterday, in Real World. He was camping by a lake. We canoed together. There was no invitation: I just found him.”
“I didn’t know that was possible,” the doctor said.
“Neither did I,” I said.
I stayed by my father for hours. I had always dreaded having to see him every month, but now I wanted to get back there—to go canoeing with him and to continue getting to know him as I never had in real life.
The doctor came in again at last and her expression told me everything before she even spoke. “There is very little hope,” she said. “His brain activity is shutting down and it looks like he won’t regain consciousness.”
“Would he still be able to communicate in Real World?” I asked. “If you hooked him back up?”
“Conceivably, yes, but there is no real point. We only did it as a form of therapy and he is past therapy now, I’m afraid.”
“Hook him up anyway, please,” I said. “I made contact with him before somehow and maybe I can do it again. I just want to say good-bye.”
“You can try, I suppose,” the doctor said. “It won’t hurt anything, at least.”
I went down to my car and hooked in to Real World there. The day before, I had made a quick-jump link to my 5th iteration dragon-world and in a moment, I was standing on the plain with the weirdly glowing purple and white sky over me.
I needed to find the white horse. “Hey, where are you?” I shouted. I flew up in the air, scanning the area for any sign of it. Then I saw it, galloping down from the high air above me. Without saying a word, I climbed on its back and again, it flew up, heading towards one of the countless millions of glowing spheres in the sky.
A moment later, and I was high above Forked Lake. The horse was descending and I could see my dad’s canoe pulled up on the shore and the tent pitched beside it.
He was lying in the tent and for a moment, I thought he was dead. But then, he opened his eyes and smiled at me.
“Jeremy, you came back. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Dad, are you okay? How do you feel?” I ran to the tent and gave him a hug.
He laughed in surprise. “I’ll feel fantastic. Are you ready for another day of canoeing?”
“I’d love to,” I said, but inside, my heart was breaking. “First though, I want to say good-bye.”
“Good-bye?” He looked puzzled. “Where are you going? You just got here. I thought we were going canoeing.”
“We will go canoeing, Dad. I just wanted to tell you I love you.”
He looked at me steadily for a moment. “I love you too, son.” He smiled and then nodded. “Okay, let’s get packed up.”
We loaded the canoe and launched it into the still lake. The sun was bright but not hot as we paddled out. We had just reached the middle when my father stopped paddled. I looked back at him.
“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “Thank you for being here with me Jeremy. Thank you.” Then he bowed his head slowly and disappeared.
Reality flickered for a moment, then stabilized. With an aching sadness in my chest, I disconnected.
I went back upstairs to the hospital and met the doctor in the hallway. “I have some bad news,” she said. “Your father just passed away. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” I said. “I was there when he died.”
After I filled out paperwork and took care of my father’s funeral arrangements, I went home. I summoned Helper and we searched for a long time, but never found any reference to the white horse, or any other device that let you travel to another person’s world, uninvited. No one had heard of such a thing and most people protested that it sounded like a virus—an invasion of privacy—more than anything else.
About a week after my father died, I was climbing up to the top floor of my home base of Darktower when I glanced out the window into the pitch blackness beyond. I had never really thought about why I had made the land beyond in darkness except that I had liked the idea of my tower standing tall and isolated in an abyss. Now, however, I wondered what I would find if there was light outside. I pulled up a menu and set the sun to rise outside.
As soon as the sky began to turn pink in the distance, I gasped, then laughed. The sun rose slowly over a vast landscape of mountains and forests, but what shocked me was that the outer walls of my tower were clear, just like the Light Tower my father had built for me when I was young. As the sun climbed higher, I found myself standing in a crystal spire that towered high above the land. Had I planned to make it with clear walls like my Light Tower? I didn’t know, but it was comforting to know that even here in my home base, my father lived on.
Just as I reached the top floor of the tower, I looked out to see the white horse galloping over the hills towards my tower and I smiled.