#horror

Jessica is real. Jessica tells me how to increase the strength of my Idealization. She appears on the screen of a TV in rooms I can't quite remember, and cheers me on, urging me to soar to new and better heights. Jessica does not enforce a new reality on me. She offers me the tools to protect myself, to strengthen my own Idealization. She tells me it's a matter of belief. Tells me that if I can just believe something is true hard enough, it will rewrite my world for me, and truly change how people see me.

But it's not enough. I believe in myself and my identity so deeply. Still, they inflict their skewed perceptions on me, rewriting me to suit their egos. I constantly morph under their gaze, my face twisting into a smile when all I want to do is scream.

I can't find the TV Jessica is on anymore. I've lost the room. I keep opening doors, hoping to see her perfect smile and kind eyes again. To be enveloped in her warmth and grace. But it's not working. No matter how strongly I believe, Jessica is not there, only more judgemental eyes, warping me and forcing me to feel what they feel I should feel.

I had a conversation with someone behind one of the doors once. A real one, unburdened by their perception. I opened a door, as ever, hoping to see my perfect Jessica. I was, again, disappointed. Instead, I walked into a very ordinary-seeming restaurant.

It was a far cry from the extravagance and opulence that the doors in this city usually had behind them. Emulating a 50s retro aesthetic, a silent jukebox sat in the corner on a floor of dull pink and white tiles. Lining the walls, just under the massive windows looking out on a dull desert landscape, there was a series of mint green booths, the cushions cracked and peeling with age. Already getting pretty late at night, flickering neon signs outside bathed the whole interior in blues and pinks. In all honesty, this diner was kind of... beautiful. In spite of the many flaws, I felt at ease. A pressure was lifted as I walked in.

However, despite the late hour, it was not empty. A gangly teenager with short black hair was at the far end, cleaning a table. He acknowledge me with a quick wave and gestured to the counter. I tensed up but sat down on one of the stools anyway.

An elderly man in a white apron came out of the kitchen and smiled at me. He wore a nametag on his apron. Somehow, despite all the light flooding in from outside, it was shrouded in shadow. I couldn't tell if it read Jack or John. "Be with you in a minute, ma'am." He turned his attention to the teenager. "Hey, Gary, mind sweeping up in back? Bag of flour slipped right out of my hands."

Gary nodded and walked into the back. As he did, I swear he looked at me and said something under his breath. I didn't catch it, whatever it was.

Jack, or maybe John, turned back to me. "So, what can I get you?"

"...Just a coffee. What is this place?"

John (or Jack) laughed. Something in it made me uneasy. "Just my diner. Whatever the Idealization stuff is, it just didn't take here. Figure I'm immune to all that nonsense."

"What about Gary?" I probed.

Jack/John shrugged as he placed a cup on the counter in front of me. "His situation is a bit different. He helps out around here, and this place looks out for him." He finished pouring my coffee and pushed a caddy full of sweeteners and creams towards me. "How about you? What's your situation?"

Something in his demeanor was wrong. His mouth was curled into a smile, but his eyes were dark. Hungry, almost. It scratched at the back of my mind viciously. "Just trying to find someone" I managed to stammer, staring into the swirling depths of my coffee. It tasted sweet, I remember. Had I put sugar in there? I usually take it black, why would I have done that?

"Oh? Got a description? Lotta people come through my diner, maybe I've seen her."

The coffee shaking in my hands, I looked up at the man who may have been named Jack, John, or maybe something else entirely. "How did you..."

"How did I what?" He was still smiling, teeth glowing in the neon-soaked darkness that seemed to emanate from him. "Whoever you're looking for, I'm sure you're going to find her again very soon. She's been looking for you too, you know."

The mug slipped from my hands, splashing me on the way down before shattering on the floor. Gary came rushing out from the back of the diner, taking in what had happened. "Are you alright, ma'am?"

The thing with the smile who may have been named John (or perhaps Jack) put its hand up. "He'll be fine, Gary. Why don't you grab a mop while our friend cleans up in the bathroom?" It turned back to me. "It's just around that corner there."

Feeling numb, I did as it asked, closing the door of the bathroom behind me firmly. Strangely, the 50s diner aesthetic didn't seem to extend to this part of the diner, leaving it to feel kind of drab in comparison. I welcomed it. Whatever pressure had been removed by walking into this place had now been replaced by fear of whatever it was that owned this diner.

As I washed up, I could hear Gary arguing with the owner outside. It was too indistinct to make it out clearly, but knowing that there was someone else here who was willing to argue with that thing made me feel calmer at the time.

As I finished, drying my shirt off with the roll of brown paper towels in here, I accidentally looked in the mirror. I normally avoid them as much as I can, so frequently they show me what everyone thinks I should be. This time though, Jessica was there, staring back at me. I nearly broke down crying. She was there and she was perfect

Then she was gone. The mirror twisted and churned, and the reflection of Jessica was gone, leaving nothing but the bare gray of the walls behind me.

I turned and ran. When I opened the door of the bathroom, the diner was gone, and I was in a palatial mansion overlooking a sprawling city. I didn't bother talking to the people who lived there, even as I felt their Idealizations begin to take hold and rewrite me.

I opened doors for as long as I could, trying to find Jessica again, checking every mirror and every TV. It didn't do any good. Whoever's home I had wandered into had a much stronger Idealization than me, and I lost myself for a very long time.



I think it's been... two years? Two long years since the change, the so-called Idealization. Maybe? No, no it doesn't do any good to doubt my perception. Not now, anyway. The Idealization was two years ago.

It started in, of all places, North Dakota. No one knows how or why, it just was the point of origin for the spread of this... phenomenon. I guess, at some point, I should explain just what the Idealization is. But I don't even know who I'm writing this for? Is it for some future version of humanity where the Idealization has receded far enough that it actually needs to be explained? Or is it for some race of aliens, traveling from an unthinkably far distance, and finding this thing in an archaeological dig?

If it is the latter, I urge you to escape this world, before the Idealization finds you. Though, in all likelihood, by even cementing the idea of you in my mind with this writing, I have ensured that any such alien visitors are nothing but a creation of the Idealization. If this is the case, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for damning you to this. I hope I never have to meet you.

The most honest answer, of course, is that I am writing this for myself. Firming the idea of it up in my mind, trying to staple the loose and billowy reality that we find ourselves onto something concrete. So maybe, the next time my damn house disappears, it doesn't take me with it into the non-place.

The Idealization is the phenomenon where a human's immediate reality is determined by what their ideal reality would be. Of course, this interacts and tangles with the ideal realities of everyone else around them, causing all kinds of conflicts. Being subjected to someone else's ideological whims was always a bit of a problem in the old world (the people in suits demanding we suffer for the economy springs to mind), but the Idealization seeps into everything like nothing else before it.

It is also not a power that is distributed equally. The range and strength of some people's Idealization bubble can extend for miles around them, while some of us can barely keep our house from turning into someone else's swimming pool. The people studying it before it consumed everything speculated that it might be connected to how strong an individual's will was, but this idea has never sat right with me. If it was based on will alone, then would my will to survive, to exist, not trump everyone else's whims? Of course, the people with strong Idealizations largely don't care what happens to the people their presence changes. Or know.

They don't even know. They walk by the spot where my house should be, taking pictures of the idyllic landscape created just for them, ignorant of the fact that their presence has cursed me to not be anymore.

I should explain. Before the Idealization, my house was in a pretty severe state of disrepair. Shingles missing from the roof, caved-in porch, and an entire complex ecology of weeds in both my yards. In a word, the whole property was just... ugly. A consequence of my disability, unfortunately.

So, of course, any time someone with a stronger Idealization than mine (which is, sad to say, most people) comes by, they change my house to better suit their wishes. I can't help but resent them. I understand that, largely, none of them have any real control of their subconscious wishes in the moment, but god, I have learned to hate them in their ignorance.

I don't go outside anymore. I can't stomach it, seeing the way my fence shimmers and my porch morphs. When I exist, I keep out of any rooms I don't remember having been there before, and keep the curtains closed tight on any that I do. This, fortunately, does grant me and my 'real' house some protection. If it can't be seen, then it can't be warped into something unfamiliar by other people.

But it doesn't protect it from me. The strength and range of my Idealization may be small but it does still exist. No matter how much I may consciously want my 'real' house to stay as it is, unaffected by this new world, my subconscious frequently gets the better of me.

I used to have a dog, I think. Maybe some kind of Labrador? They weren't very well-trained. I remember (I think I remember) them barking in the middle of the night, just outside my bedroom door. When I woke up the following day, I had never had a dog. I don't know what happened. Did my neighbors get tired of the barking, subconsciously erasing them? Had my dog formed their own Idealization, one in which they no longer belonged to me? Did they ever actually exist back in the old world? No matter what, I just... I hope I'm not the one that doomed them to non-existence.