Short Story: The imagination hospital

Who can possibly die from an overactive imagination?

311_medical x-ray (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_medical x-ray
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Iam not here to reprimand you,’ the principal told Jason. “Please come in.”
Jason, hesitantly, took a step into Mr. Miller’s office.
“Come in, come in.”
Another hesitant step and Jason was standing in the middle of the room.
“Sit down.” The principal was seated in his chair, and he pointed to the other chair across his desk, the one meant for children who are summoned to the principal’s office.
Jason sat down. He tried not to look nervous.
“Do you know why you’re here, Jason?” Jason shook his head.
The principal pulled out two sheets of printed paper. “Do you recognize this?” Jason nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“This,” Mr. Miller laid out the papers on the desk in front of him, “is your response to a homework assignment Mrs. Graham gave you last week, is that correct?” “Yes, sir.”
“It was due back yesterday, and you handed it on time, didn’t you?” “Yes, sir.”
“Now, Mrs. Graham taught you what a metaphor is. And the assignment was,” he said, as he was skimming over the pages Jason had written, “to write a short story that was, in essence, a metaphor. Correct?” “Yes, sir.”
“Let’s go over what you wrote, shall we?” Mr. Miller started going over the lines with his finger very quickly. “You wrote,” he said, as his finger kept gliding past more lines, “about something called an imagination hospital.”
“Yes, sir.”
“And it served people who had different imagination diseases.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Miller.” Jason’s heart started beating a bit too fast.
“Now let’s see,” his finger stopped on one line.
“There were sick people coming in, who were sick because they were allergic to imagination.”
“Yes, sir.”
“What does that mean?” Mr. Miller grew angry and veered off his own point. “I don’t understand what that means. How can someone be allergic to imagination?” Jason shook his head, to say he doesn’t know, but did not answer.
“Well, never mind.” Mr. Miller moved his finger elsewhere on the page. “Here you talk about someone who took too many imagination pills.” He looked up at Jason. “Took too many imagination pills? I don’t understand. Why would someone need more imagination than they already have? I don’t understand.”
Jason shrugged his shoulders and did not answer.
“Anyway, here there is someone who is hallucinating because he has poison running through in his imagination.” He raised his eyes at Jason again, “Poison in his imagination? I don’t understand. What does that even mean?” “Uh... sometimes...” Jason said, his voice shaking. “I mean, I saw on TV, Mr. Miller, a hospital show where someone had poison in his blood and he almost died from it.”
Mr. Miller kept staring at Jason.
“So... uh... So I thought maybe this man has poison in his imagination, and he needs to go to the hospital.”
Mr. Miller continued to stare at Jason. When it became clear to him that Jason had finished talking and would say nothing more, he shook his head. “I don’t understand. What does that mean? I don’t understand.”
When Jason just made a face and did not give a response, he shook his own head. “I don’t think you understood the assignment, Jason.
And there is a reason Mrs. Graham gave me your assignment.” He leaned back in his chair.
“You understand that a metaphor is when you say one thing, but you mean something else?” Jason nodded. “When you write about one thing, but it represents something different.”
Jason nodded again.
“You say you understand, Jason, but I don’t think you do. A metaphor is when one thing represents something else. What can an imagination hospital represent? What can a man who is allergic to imagination represent? I don’t understand. A man allergic to imagination? What is that? I really do not understand, Jason.
And a man who takes imagination pills because he feels he needs more imagination? Wanting more imagination? Feeling your imagination is not enough? What is that? What can that possibly represent? I don’t understand. I don’t.” He frowned. “Or the man who had poison in his imagination. I don’t understand, Jason. I really don’t. Or this,” he leaned forward and pointed to another place on the page, “You wrote about a kid who died from an overactive imagination.”
Jason nodded.
“What can that possibly represent? Who can possibly die from an overactive imagination, Jason?” Jason didn’t answer.
“Seriously. Who? Who, Jason? I don’t understand.”
WHEN JASON STILL did not answer, Mr. Miller took a deep breath. “Anyway. Neither I nor Mrs. Graham understood what you wrote. Which means that you did not understand the assignment.
Nor do you understand what a metaphor is.” He took another deep breath. “But more than that, personally I think that what you wrote is very dangerous.”
Jason’s eyes went up. “What? Dangerous? Why?” Mr. Miller bent his neck, as if trying to appease a pain in the neck’s muscles. “I don’t want to go into that. Let’s just say that you should stop writing about imagination, and instead start using your imagination. All right? Never write about imagination again. Am I clear?” Jason was confused, but understood what was being asked of him. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now,” Mr. Miller put the two pieces of paper one on top of the other. “Since you didn’t complete your assignment, Mrs. Graham and I require you to do it again, and this time to do it right.” Mr. Miller took the two pieces of paper, and put them in one of his desk’s drawers.
“You have a week. That will be all.”
“Yes, sir.”
Kyle, Chris and Eric couldn’t stop laughing when Jason told them what happened.
The break was still not over. So as soon as Jason had walked out of the principal’s office, they had practically pushed him into class.
Then they had seated him on an empty chair, and had asked him what it was all about. They were the cool kids, so they never actually cared about Jason. But now they did.
Jason told them what Mr. Miller had said, and as soon as he did, Kyle – because he was their leader – started laughing. Then Chris and Eric started laughing.
“That is so funny!” Kyle said, still laughing.
“Funny,” Eric said, also laughing.
“Very funny,” Chris said, even though he’d stopped laughing.
“Mr. Miller wouldn’t know imagination if it kicked him in the face,” Kyle said.
“No imagination whatsoever,” Eric said.
“Like, he can’t even think for himself!” Chris said and then chortled.
Kyle stood up, excited, “He’s so square, his only thought is what someone else already said!” “No imagination,” Eric stood up, too. “Only repeats what someone else already said.”
“No imagination,” Chris got up to his feet.
“Nothing original. Only repeats what someone else already said. Idiot!” All three of them chortled. And as he was watching them, Jason, who was just sitting there surrounded by the three big, cool guys, suddenly had another idea for another disease in his imagination hospital.
“We have lots and lots of imagination,” Kyle pointed in the air.
“Plenty!” “Bucketfuls! We have bucketfuls of imagination!” The new disease in the imagination hospital, Jason decided, would be called “Imagined Imagination Syndrome.” “What is that?” a worried mother would ask the doctor who had just diagnosed her child with Imagined Imagination Syndrome.
“That, my dear lady,” the doctor would say, “is when a person imagines that he has imagination, even though he has none at all.” The mother would be shocked that her child is sick, so the doctor would continue, “The first symptom of Imagined Imagination Syndrome is the use of the word ‘lots.’ You see, my dear lady, he tells us that he can think up lots of things with his imagination, but he never actually does.”
“We’re young,” Kyle was saying, “and we can imagine anything we want.”
“Lots of stuff,” Eric snapped his fingers with authority.
“Tons of stuff,” Chris also snapped his fingers.
In his head, Jason was still imagining the story about the doctor and the mother in the imagination hospital. The doctor would say, “The second symptom, my dear lady, is that people who have been infected with this disease always travel in packs. That way no one tells them they’re wrong and everyone agrees with them that they have imagination.” The mother would then nod, and say, “Ah. My boy does have friends, and they all act like him. So I never thought anything was wrong with him.” “You should bring them in,” the doctor would say. “They probably also have Imagined Imagination Syndrome.”
“We can imagine anything,” Kyle was saying, “Like... hospitals... and imagination diseases... and you know what else? Witches! And... whatever.”
“Yeah. Whatever. We can think up whatever we want.”
“Anything. If I just close my eyes, I can think of anything!” “And the third and most important symptom,” the doctor would say, “is that victims of this disease always borrow imagination from other people and think it’s their own. It’s most worrying.”
The mother would nod, “Most worrying.”
“I really like stories about dragons and witches and knights and... quests,” Kyle said.
“Those stories are the best!” “The way they fight the dragons! And the way they fight for their honor! And the way they always win!” “But wait a second,” the mother in the imagination hospital would say. “If my child has no imagination, how is it that he imagines that he does have imagination?” “Ah,” the doctor would say, “that is one of the mysteries that science has not yet cracked. Not everything is known about Imagined Imagination Syndrome, which is why it is so hard to cure. But we’ll do our best for your child, my dear lady. He is in the best of care.”
Kyle was heading out the door, with Chris and Eric behind him. “Mr. Miller is so square he would never ever understand people like us,” Kyle was saying. “His imagination is closed off! Not like ours! We’re free!” “Anything is possible in our minds!” “Anything!” Chris agreed. “My brain is exploding with original thoughts!” And with that, they were out of the class and out of Jason’s earshot.
Jason looked around and sighed. And that’s the end of the story.
“Jason looked around and sighed,” Ethan said. “And that’s the end of the story.”
Then Ethan raised his eyes from the paper on which his assignment was written and looked at the class. Everyone was staring at him. They seemed to like his story. Then he looked at Ms.
Ordway, who was standing leaning against the wall, near the windows.
She shook her head and said, “I don’t understand.
What does it mean? I don’t understand what it means.”
Guy Hasson is an Israeli science fiction author. His books Hatchling and Life: the Game were published in Israel by Bitan Publishers. His next book, Secret Thoughts, is due out in the US in 2011. His short stories have appeared in six languages. Two of his short stories have won the Israeli Geffen Award for Best Short Story of 2003 and 2005.