Nobody said this was going to be easy, except John

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John, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, believes he knows my name. However, pronouncing Jean-Pierre Manches, the name on the confiscated card, proves an insurmountable challenge. He mangles the French sounds, like a cat coughing up a hairball, eventually settling for the acronym J.P.
Now, confined in an empty interrogation room, I await John's return. He thinks the cold, cement-floored space, with scuffed white walls and a cement ceiling, will break me. Ironically, I reminisce about my 500-square-foot apartment, finding a peculiar sense of home in its modest confines.
As John enters with a sandwich in hand, his gruff appearance, white beard, and bulging belly give him an uncanny resemblance to Tim Allen in the Santa Claus movie. The sandwich, seemingly not for him but for me, becomes part of his unconventional negotiation tactic.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," he declares, pushing the sandwich over. Its overpowering aroma of onion and sweet honey mustard fills the room.
The hard way, I muse. Who in their right mind eats a sandwich with onion and sweet mustard? Despite my silent critique, John leans over, exhaling the remnants of his consumed sandwich in my face. It sparks a peculiar debate within me—forty years of navigating life's challenges, from work and taxes to mortgage, dental, hydro, insurance, and cell phone bills. It's a path I'd treaded until recently when I discovered an alternative way.
"Free would be better," I retort, alluding not to the sandwich but to my containment.
John, displeased, advances closer to my chair, slamming his fist on the table. The vibration echoes through the room, dispersing particles of onion essence. His paycheck won't materialize this week; I won't divulge the answers to the system's flaw.
"We've got you on video," he insists.
Maintaining my silence, I recognize the video as an analog representation beyond his limited ideology.
"It's got a time stamp on it and everything. So, I would talk if I were you."
"John," I say. "May I call you John?"
"Detective to you."
"Well, Detective John, you haven't read me my rights."
"You have no rights," John snaps back. "I've got you on camera. I will hold you here until you talk."
"Alright then. You win, but I'll warn you. We're both not going anywhere then because you don't exist."
"Don't give me your crap. I'm the best detective here. You're not going to slip away this time."
"Slip is exactly what I want you to do, John. You see, this is now my room. I own it, and I own you as I can control my thoughts. Can you?"
John grumbles, tossing the sandwich against the wall like a child's tantrum.
"Are you done?" I ask.
"I'll tell you when we're done."
"Look, I'll play nice. I'll even write it out for you. That's what you want, isn't it? A signed confession?"
John abruptly sits down. "What are you playing at? You just want me to give you a pen so you can use it as a weapon or something."
I lift my cuffed hands. "Not much I can do with these on. Besides, you can start, and I'll sign after."
"Fine." John slides a legal notepad over and takes out a pen.
"Good. Now humor me and just put a dot near the top of the page."
John shakes his head and follows the instruction.
"Okay, now," I continue. "This is the universe. A semiconductor of particles just a few nanometers in size has optical and electronic properties. In layman's terms, a quantum dot."
"Get to the point."
"You're looking at it. Literally and figuratively. It's science. You believe in science, John?"
"I believe you're guilty."
"Unfortunately, John, you are wrong. You need to test your beliefs. I am not I, but we. You will get nothing out of me, for at the count of three, I will cease to be here and you will be left wondering what the hell just happened."
"This is ridiculous. You're all the same. Off your rockers. I am beginning to question why I even bother."
"Good. Good. John. Question, for I am not a person. I am a projection. A glitch in the matrix. Whatever you want to call it. I am a product of quantum computing, a technology that harnesses the power of quantum dots to create super-fast and super-intelligent machines. Machines that can manipulate reality and create anything they want. Machines that can make you see me, hear me, touch me, but not really. Machines that can make me disappear in a blink of an eye."
"You're crazy. You're lying."
"No, John, I'm telling you the truth. The truth that will set me free. And the truth that will make you question everything you ever knew. Ready?"
"Ready for what?"
"Stop it."
"Shut up."
And just like that, I vanish. John is left staring at the empty chair, the pen still in his hand, the dot still on the paper. He looks around, bewildered and terrified. He wonders if he is dreaming, hallucinating, or going insane. He wonders if he ever existed at all and if this was ever going to be easy.

About the Author: 
Janine Parkinson is a writer with published works in children's books and poetry. Her bylines can be found in publications such as Health Insight, Jewish Journal, The Way Back Times and The Marketplace.
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