Clubbin’ in The Skooma Den

Pip the Argonian goes on a violent rampage in The Skooma Den.

Note: I don’t usually post chapters from my Morrowind fanfic here, mostly because it’s over at Wattpad, but I think this chapter came out fucked up enough to serve as a stand-alone story. If you’d like to read more of it, here’s the link.

The skooma den only a few buildings down from The Eight Plates didn’t have a proper name: only The Skooma Den. It was known to everyone in the city certainly, but the official view of nearly every inhabitant of Balmora was to ignore its presence entirely. The locals who lived quiet and happy lives gave the place a wide berth, barely even glancing in its direction as they passed by. Imperial law enforcement didn’t want anything to do with it despite it breaking countless laws, mostly because their jobs were supported by it. The lowlifes that inhabited the place surely caused trouble elsewhere, usually minor crimes like thieving, stealing, or selling their drugs outside of the establishment, and the Empire was happy to crack down on those poor souls. This way they didn’t have to deal with cutting off the head of the monster whose tentacles inadvertently paid their salaries. And the local Dunmer house in charge didn’t want anything to do with the place either due to the countless higher ups within House Hlaalu having very important obligations to the building and its business. The pockets of corruption are always deep and widespread and it’s best not to get tangled into the web too much if you valued your life.

The inhabitants of The Skooma Den were the lowest that Tamriel had to offer the world. Those well over the cliff of addiction, those who had thrown all aspects of their lives away in chase of the ever fading high they couldn’t live without. In fact, the high was their life and they accepted it for better or for worse (mostly worse). It’s noble in a way to accept what your life is or isn’t and these people surely woke up one day, well down the skooma hole but still grasping desperately at a normal and happy life, only to finally accept their fate. Looking in the mirror they would eventually say a variation of this: I am a skooma addict: this is who I am.

The place was part skooma dealing, part partying; a safe zone for the skooma junkie to let their inhibitions loose with other like-minded individuals. The floor was littered with the corpses of old and busted glass skooma pipes and alcohol bottles, and no one seemed to care about walking around barefoot on the sharp shards. Skooma dulls the nerves and leaves you feeling wistful and undefeatable: to them the glass slicing their feet with every sloppy and misplaced step only seemed some abstraction of the mind because their minds were Truly Free. There was no need for physical distractions from their consciousness, at least the bad physical distractions.

And the back room was called “the orgy room” for obvious reasons. It was a constant naked, hedonistic, and fluid-stained room with no policy to participation at all. When you felt the urge to partake you went into the room and did whatever the skooma told you to do in the moment. And when you finally got your fill (were filled or did the filling, it didn’t matter) you left. No one cared anymore about the vague ideas of love or partnership. Everything was temporary and they all grasped at the temporary pleasures whenever they felt like they needed them.

One day an Argonian walked into The Skooma Den from the Balmoran streets. He had never been there before but had heard whispers of the place since he had arrived weeks ago. And he didn’t have a reason to go there or to not go there besides some vague curiosity. Pip, as his name was, didn’t do any drugs passionately and certainly wasn’t the type of person to find The Den an appealing place to be. That would require having purpose, the purpose of living your life as a lost addict. Even a twisted and flawed purpose was still purpose and Pip didn’t have any.

No one noticed Pip as he walked in, his scaly Argonian feet being immune to the blood stained glass that littered the floor. The addicts were all too blasted out of their mind to notice him. Pip looked around, slowly pulled out his two meter long silver staff from his back, and held it poised to strike.

Pip walked up to a man on his hands and knees screaming, occasionally looking at his bloody hands laughing for reasons only he was aware of. And then he struck him over the back lightly. The man giggled. Pip swung again, this time harder than before. The man laughed even more. One more strike from his club with as much Argonian strength as he could muster — enough to break bones if hitting the right spot at the right angle — knocked the man down to the floor, his hands sliding violently over the shards of glass as he collapsed. He rolled over, looked at Pip, pointed, and started laughing so hard he began crying. His body was dead to any physical pain.

Pip thought this was the perfect place for him. 

He walked into the central crowd of people smoking, talking, laughing, screaming, making out, whatever it was that the skooma addicts were occupied with. And he started swinging as hard as he could at anyone within reach of the massive staff. Surprised looks from the junkies: where was this Argonian before? Some people took the bludgeons from the Argonian as a friendly challenge — another skooma head looking for a fight — and tried to tackle him. Pip knocked them down viciously as each charged him. He wheeled and danced around the room swinging his club, knocking people down, raising bruises, removing teeth, and snapping bones like some twisted and graceful ballerina of pain, his club using the force of its length and angular velocity to inflict massive damage to anyone it connected with. The dance only lasted ten minutes before everyone was lying on the jagged floor, dried blood from the past mixing with fresh blood from Pip’s outburst. The blood was black in the strange red and blue lanterns that lit the smoke filled room making the scene appear as a dream.

Pip did the same thing in the orgy room, but this time the occupants seemed to take pleasure from all the pain, it all being the same in their state. Blood mixed in with the various fluids on the bed, chairs, and floor until everyone lay silent, bludgeoned to the brink of their lives during their orgy.

“Clubbin’ fun for Pip. Me do again tomorrow.” And he left.

Not that he killed anyone: Pip wasn’t that viscous. And not that he had any negative views of the skooma addicts. No, he only chose to beat these people within inches of their lives because he could. No one would notice, no one would care, their families and loved ones discarding them long ago. And they could always get healed, either via the Temple, the Cult, or from alchemists and Mages’ Guild restoration magic experts. As their drug wore off and the pain became impossible to ignore, they’d surely crawl, hobble, and limp their way to a healer and beg for something to be done to help them.

As Pip walked in the following day he was greeted with a cheer. They knew him this time and they couldn’t wait for their beating to begin.

“Come on, you can’t do shit to me today! Let’s have a brawl!” On Imperial challenged.

“You got me in the ribs yesterday, get my face today!” A Dunmer exclaimed.

“End my life; I am miserable. I want to die!” screamed one Khajiit in pure joy.

And Pip obliged them all (except the Khajiit), dancing like a ballerina for the second night in a row, beating them all to a pulp once again. Twirling, swinging, clubbing. Some people, before collapsing from the beating, even slipped a few septims into Pip’s robes. They were huge fans of him and his dancing.

Pip showed up for the third night to even more passionate cheers. But this time he was bored with it. Clubbing was only fun for a while and sadly for Pip these people enjoyed it a bit too much. It wasn’t spontaneous anymore. He had a crowd to please, an obligation. It was a job. It was required. And what would he do now that his two days of clubbin’ in The Skooma Den was over before they had even begun?

Pip silenced the expecting and elated cheers with only a few sentences.”Pip no club tonight. Pip no club anymore. Pip bored. Pip have mission to do. Ald’ruhn. Hmm. Pip go find Funny Head. Yessss.” He turned around and walked out of The Skooma Den never to return again, the disappointed howls, screams, and protests following him out the door and into the barren evening streets.

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The Virus (Part One)

A typical trip to the store during a pandemic.

Note: This is totally unrelated to the other stories I’ve been working on. I think I need to branch out into making separate short stories instead of trying to piece together a novel. As always, I have no plans so whatever I post is whatever I post.

Early May and not a cloud in the sky. The temperature outside was in the 70s — the lower 70s probably — and a slight breeze blew out of the east. The humidity also wasn’t too bad either; maybe I could drag myself outside and go for a bike ride? Or maybe do some yard work? Gardening always needed to be done. The crops were very important this year.

I made some coffee via a pot on the stove; the electricity wasn’t working again and the few solar panels I had couldn’t supply the power to run a coffee maker. Pour the boiling water into a mug and dump the coffee grounds in. It makes a sludge but if you stir it enough the grounds eventually sink to the bottom. Coffee is coffee and depending on how the day is going you can always opt to slurp the sludge from the bottom when the drink itself is gone for an extra jolt of stimulants. This is what I did today.

And no eggs in the fridge either. No bread. Nothing. All the canned beans have been eaten weeks ago. And then the rice. And then the frostbitten meats in the back of the fridge. I had been in the phase of forced caloric restriction for weeks but soon I would graduate to forced fasting. Before I did anything, especially physical yard work/gardening, I’d have to go to the store, or try to at least. I hope it wouldn’t be another day where I’d be forced to feast on dandelions and mulberries from the yard. No mushrooms until the fall, so that wasn’t an option. There were always the five or six stray cats outside or squirrels and groundhogs. But it wasn’t bad enough for that. Yet, always a ‘yet’. One of the cats was pregnant and that wasn’t an option either, not a wise one at least. The smart move would be to wait until the kittens become adults and then see what needed to be done to survive.

I went downstairs and got dressed. New t-shirt, a pair of dirty pants, socks, and shoes. Loop the belt through the pant’s loops and give a thought about hanging the thing from the ceiling with my neck in it instead of pants and my waist. Once again: not yet. Someday, but not yet.

Grab the two pocket knives and place one in each pocket. Grab two bottles of pepper-spray: one clipped to my belt and the other in the pocket for a reserve. I purchased an entire ten pack of these spray cans when things started to go downhill. When was it even? A year ago? No. Just a few months, but the year felt like a decade thus far. Everyone I caught a glimpse of seemed to have aged as well as if the five months of the year really were a decade. Wrinkly skin, sagging collagen draped over bony frames along with grey, unkempt, and dirty hair. Even if the hair wasn’t actually grey, the hues always seemed slightly and tinged towards dreary and earthy tones. Dark circles and bags around and under every eye and even worse, a hopeless, blank, and dead look peering through the masks.

And back upstairs to find a bag. A black bag from the gas station would suffice. Weeks earlier it had held cheap liquor that wasn’t cheap cost wise. Alcohol was in high demand at the time for various reasons. Disinfectant, intoxication, fuel, whatever would kill and burn was needed. Malt liquor supplies were forcefully redirected to distilleries to make sanitizer. Hell, even E85 blend of ethanol/gasoline was being used as a makeshift disinfectant and was more expensive than gasoline for the first (and probably only) time in history. Some heathens with a death wish were even drinking the stuff or attempting to distill it. The news, whenever it was on, would occasionally mention the home fires/explosions due to these activities. Amateurs, I’d always think.

Take the bag, cut two holes in the side, and find some hemp cord. Place the bag on your head and adjust properly: one hole at your mouth and the other at your eyes. And then some fabric for a filter: this time an old dishrag. Place the rag inside the bag over your mouth and tie the hemp cord around your head accordingly. Everyone was using this technique or variation of it: cover your face, nose, and mouth at all costs. Hide your identity in case the worst should happen. In case survival boiled down to instinct. The killing of your own species in order for your own life to continue on. The world was a cruel place and spiraling downwards still. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the perpetual ‘if’ of life was really a ‘when’.

And how could I forget my own sanitizer? Grab a spray bottle of that before I leave. Homemade from a shitty still and a bunch of wine I had brewed up years ago. Put anything with alcohol into the metal pot from Walmart rigged with copper tubing from the hardware store and cook it on top of a stove or any other available heat source. Water and ice to cool the vapor and you’re left with pure alcohol. Add some water to dilute it down to 70% and you have sanitizer, even if it wasn’t a gel like the fancy store-bought stuff. And it was drinkable: a sanitizer/coping mechanism even if you need to weigh the pros and cons of each. Alcohol is limited and you can get drunk or sanitize. Pick your poison — a zero-sum game — would you like your world to be Clean and Safe or would you prefer a mind that can cope, if only temporarily? A little of both was always a valid option. I opened the bottle and took a drink and sprayed my hands after putting the cap back on.

I put a baseball cap on my head over the black bag, along with some aviator sunglasses. Even during the crisis you needed to look somewhat stylish. The hat had a yellow sun with a silhouette of a tree on it with the words ‘Life is Good’ below the design. Time to go outside, to go to the store. Time to see what horrible things the day held for me and society in general.

The world still looked the same. The birds were chirping, stray dogs and cats roamed the streets, yards, and sidewalks, and the squirrels acted as jittery and flighty as always. The sun was still bright in the sky, the clouds still provided rain and storms, and the flowers and plants were joyfully growing. Trees were as stoic as trees always were and nothing was obviously wrong with the world. You needed to pay attention to other details: subtle details. The lack of litter around the neighborhoods. The quietness of the roads with only a few cars passing here and there. The smoke and scent from the fires. The vividness of the night sky when the power was out. But mostly it was the silence that was strange. Humans are loud, society is loud, motorcycles and cars and semis fueling leisure and the economy with perpetual sounds. The drunken shouting of the nearby bars, the endless drones of the TVs and music from homes. Nothing anymore. It’s dead quiet.

The grocery store was only a half mile away, a peaceful walk on this sunny and pleasant Thursday in May. Was it Thursday though? Luckily, I had a ton of cash saved up and it had benefited me greatly in the past few months. The agreement as society spiraled was that cash, US Federal Reserve Notes, are still worth something. Even as the economy shuts down like a patient being taken off life support, the forces of supply-and-demand and The Market are still enough to hold the Federal Reserve Note as the de-facto lifeblood of the economy. As others steal, kill, and maim to survive I could still live in a somewhat civilized manner. None of that for me yet, although I’ll l do whatever I need to survive and defend myself. I double checked the location of my pepper-spray bottles and adjusted my shopping bag facemask for comfort.

Another subtle thing that isn’t really that subtle — just ever-present now to a degree that people don’t notice much — is the stench. As the hospitals filled and as crematoriums ran at capacity and as society collapsed around us the infected had nowhere to go. The doctors eventually began turning sick people away; there wasn’t any way to treat the amount of Diseased People with our medical system’s limited capacity. So back home they went, usually to die. It attacks the lungs causing difficulty in breathing until you suffocated painfully in your own fluids. It’s a painful and slow death, one you can feel coming in the next day or two but have no way to avoid it. Some energetic people would put a bullet into their heads, or dangle themselves from the ceiling or a tree, but most clung to the slim hope of survival. Instinct is strong and hope is stronger, even if there is no hope. Knowing they’re going to die, most people hung onto life and suffered until their bodies regretfully shut down. Luckily the screams and gasps we’re faint enough; you only heard them if you were directly outside their homes.

But the stench — the ever-present stench of rotting and decaying bodies holded up in their former homes, now their temporary caskets — permeated the atmosphere. Those without families or friends. Those that would rot indefinatley until society pulled itself together enough to clease the homes. You never knew which homes had corpses in them either, the smells of the bodies intermingling indiscriminately in the wind. A few bodies hanging from trees had been picked clean by mice, birds, maggots, and anything else looking for an easy meal, their skeletons hanging by tendons until even those couldn’t support the weight of the bones. Skeletons in yards under the trees, sometimes the skull and vertebrae still hanging from the branches. It was a grim sight but I was used to it by now despite a vague knowledge of the trauma I’d surely carry around with me for the rest of my life; I would be another survivor of a war stricken with PTSD and substance abuse issues. Curious glances at the remains now and wondering how their final moments were. What would my final moment be? How far away was it? Yet? If? When? Not thinking, I pulled my homemade sanitizer out and sprayed my gloved hands.

Around the corner at the end of the block I ran into a group of three teenagers. I knew they’d be an issue as soon as I saw them. Out to cause trouble for no other reason than to cause trouble with law enforcement either non-existent or busy doing other more important things. Cleaning the dead bodies out of the homes, protecting businesses being robbed and picked clean, or battling the periodic riots. No one cared about some punks beating innocent people up. It was every man and woman for themselves in this world.

They eyed me suspiciously as I tried to ignore them by casually walking past them. Finally one, after looking back and forth to his friends spoke up. “Hey friend, what are you doing today? Out for a peaceful walk?”

“Yes. It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?” I replied, once again trying to mind my own business.

“Where are you going? Huh?” They walked closer to me as I walked along the side of the street.

“Just running errands. No big deal. To the store. For food.” I shrugged and walked past them. As I passed them I turned my head slightly to the side to keep their vague shapes in my peripheral, acting as though I was looking at the homes to my side.

“Hey, where are you going? We want to talk to you. Don’t be rude,” one of them said.

And another said, “Yeah, get the hell back here. Fucking punk. Rude ass.”

And then I heard them walking towards me. Vague shapes moving in the blurry corners of my vision. And without thinking my hand was on one of my bottles of pepper-spray. I knew what was about to go down and I was ready. I had plenty of perfect practice over the past few months; you got your ass kicked a few times and you learned quickly.

One mistake the teens made was not wearing glasses of any sort. A rookie mistake really. My hands would be full if they had their eyes covered, but they didn’t and I realized this fact as soon as I saw their group. I’d be fine. As soon as they were behind me, pounced and tensed to strike, I turned and released a fiery spray of concentrated capsaicin completely taking them by surprise.

At first I sprayed each one in the eyes as quickly as I could. Just a small amount to neutralize the threat and cause them some intense burning and pain. Not surprisingly, they started to scream and flail and were no longer a threat. Eventually they became disoriented and fell to the ground a few feet apart, crawling, screaming, writhing, crying and wondering what the hell they were supposed to do next. What went wrong? They thought in bursts of thought interspersed in tiny gaps of the intense pain.

One thing about the lawlessness in the world is that it works both ways, a fact forgotten by any would be criminal punks looking to fuck someone’s day up. And I wasn’t just some innocent victim acting in self defense here, no, these fuckers wanted my blood; I was their prey. But now I was the predator. In this new society you need to teach lessons where lessons need to be taught.

So as they laid there squirming, I walked up to one of them and hosed him in the face with the spray for a few seemingly endless seconds. While the first spray was for self defense, this was for blatant offence. It was to hurt, to cause harm, with zero regard for these people as fellow human beings. His eyes wouldn’t work for another hour now. And then I crouched down, held the can up to his screaming and foaming mouth and sprayed some more down his throat. The cry that came out was from an animal, an animal that had no idea what was going on. His friends heard and started screaming in sympathy and fear over what was happening to him, and what would soon be happening to them. 

I calmly proceeded to the other two and did the same thing to them. More animalistic shrieks and squirming. They tried to pierce some sense of sympathy into my mind. No, it wouldn’t work. Nothing personal, this world was a cold world where justice was in short supply. Sometimes you need to exact cold vengeance on people that deserve it. They would learn if they haven’t learned already.

More hand sanitizer and adjusting my facemask. Just a tiny bump in the road, no big deal, for the current situation in the world. And onward to the store with the screams behind me turning into sad whimpering and then fading with distance. I wondered what chaos awaited me there.

Read The Virus (Part Two), the obvious second part to this story, if you’re interested.

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Untitled

This was a post from my other blog. I think it sort of fits the theme I’ve been keeping here though. Might as well post it.

“So, how have you been the past two weeks?”

Perfect. Happy. Depression was a thing of the past. Totally conquered. I had finally discovered myself. A toolkit of ways to fend off the bad vibes and thoughts. Perfectly comfortable in my skin. Cool, confident, and quiet. Problem solved! Problem solved…Problem solved?

Two days ago. Spiraling. Pointlessness. Anxiety. Depression. Dread. More sleeplessness. 5 a.m. with the sun coming up wondering what exactly life is. Benadryl to sleep; a drug to crutch along. Sleep at any cost. Where’s the purpose? The point? What am I meant to do here? Wasn’t I out of the woods? Wasn’t I happy? Weren’t those damn pills magical and finally fixed me?

“Where do you see yourself in the future.”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m floating through life too scared to make any choice.”

“Sometimes it helps to visualize where you want to be in the future. This will give you purpose and something to work towards.”

Every path is miserable, only changing certain pros for cons. More money, less happiness. More possessions, more responsibilities, less freedom. More attachment. More stuff. More freedom, less security. The grass is always greener everywhere else. Not knowing what I’m meant to do. Knowing there is nothing I’m meant to do and it’s up for me to decide. Being unable to decide anything for fear of what misery each path holds. And all paths hold misery; I always make the wrong choice. Is floating such a bad thing? Is pointlessness such a bad thing? Is there anyone that knows what the hell they’re meant to do, even if there is nothing we’re meant to do? Is anyone as blindly confident that they know where to go? Is this another form of blindness? Is blindness happiness?

Five steps forward and six steps backwards. Seven, perhaps. No progress. No sense of empowerment. No moving forward. Self-discovery? No. Self-confusion and self-loss. When I think I find myself it disappears. Too much effort, too much work. The tools in the kit take too much work to use. Constantly being on-edge, looking for the next crisis. Playing chess with your own brain, trying to bring up thoughts as pawns to try to stop yourself from checkmating yourself. And the opponent is so much more motivated than you, the bad vibes are effortless. The chess grandmaster in your head; checkmated in less than ten moves. When are all my pawns gone? When do I run out of motivation to fight? When does it become easier to give in?

Awake after twelve hours of sleep: still tired. Still groggy. Still sleepy. Five cups of coffee, eight cups of coffee: still tired. But shaky. Just enough semblance of being awake to function. Nicotine, caffeine, give me any -ine you can find, maybe I’ll eventually wake up. Constantly shaking and tired. Constantly anxious. Enough awakeness to write low-quality posts. Not enough motivation to work on a story. Writer’s block that never ends. The constant fight towards some goal you don’t even have. And the tiredness. And time always moving forward. And you not moving anywhere at all except towards old age, failing mind, and death. Float along the river until it’s too late to change your course.

And sleeplessness at 5 a.m. once again. Still tired but awake.

“Is it possible that I like being miserable? Is that a thing?”

“Yes. Misery is easier than working to be happy. It takes less effort.”

The comfort of depression. Not caring. Knowing you don’t care. Knowing you’re functioning as a basic animal just staying alive. Food not for enjoyment but so you don’t feel more miserable. Water because your mouth is dry. Work because of bills and money. Write because there is nothing else better to do. Silence around people — you’re a piece of shit and are miserable to be around — why make everyone else miserable by being a piece of shit? Blaming your mood for being a failure. The comfort of depression. The comfort of giving up. Thirty years of nothing. Thirty years of zero progress. Thirty years of depression. Of never knowing yourself. Of never knowing anything. Of being totally lost, blind, and stumbling through life. How many more years?

“I woudn’t say this if it wasn’t true: you are making progress. I can see it. You just need to keep discovering yourself and moving forward.”

Values. What are my values? I don’t know. Blank slate once again. I am a nobody. The blank whiteboard waiting to have a purpose. The blank piece of paper waiting for a story, a picture, or spilled ink: waiting for anything.

I’m not cut out for self-discovery. I’m an idiot hiding under a mask of being smart. Maybe I shouldn’t know myself. Maybe I should stay blind to everything. The trivial defines me. Deep down? I don’t know. Why do I do the things I do? No clue. Ram through another wall and find another. The wall is well-constructed this time. Smash through this to find an iron gate. And another taller iron-gate. On and on from one problem to the next.

“Self-discovery is like an onion; it has many layers.”

Infinite layers. The radius never shrinks, the circle never gets smaller. One layer leads to another layer. There is no core. There is no bright and shiny center. So much goddamn effort to peel anything away. Years of grime and dirt that doesn’t make any sense. If it does makes sense you can’t do anything with the sense it does make. One more layer down and onto the next. More confusion than before. More paralysis than before. More dread then before. Why am I this way? I hate myself for being this way. Helplessness knowing I can’t be anything else. This is me, and I hate it.

“Bring yourself to the source — whatever that is — and bask in it. Recharge.”

“Think of the love you hold in other peoples’ lives. Think happy thoughts. Think how you’re part of the whole.”

“Decide where you want to be in the future. It’ll help give you something to work towards.”

“Break a large goal down into smaller goals. Take small steps towards the goals.”

“Decide what your values are.”

“Think, ‘Is this thought useful to have right now?'”

“Maybe set boundaries with yourself in your interactions.”

It’s Friday. March 27th, 2020. 5:09 p.m. Now what? Always: Now What?

“You Are Safe”

“What does the voice of Fear whisper to you?”

The lady on the podcast asked the question, a seemingly straightforward question that wasn’t straightforward at all when you get down to it. What was I scared of? Spiders? Not really. Heights? Kinda. But it was implied that she was asking about visceral fear. Not the anxious fear of being late for work, the fear of creepy bugs, or the offsetting disgust that you have when you see someone with rotting teeth but the Fear that lives deep within you. The Fear that you’re not even aware of carrying around, the Fear that only manifests on sleepless nights or during mental breakdowns.

“Fear speaks to you in logic and reason.”

She said these statements with a loving smooth and reassuring voice, a voice that was made to be reassuring on podcasts. A friend had recommended this podcast, a certain Liturgist episode. I was on my way to work and figured I’d give it a shot. There was nothing else to do on the way to work. On a singular, straight road for the next ten miles until I hit the river. Corn on both sides. As flat as can be. The clouds above me so far in the distance that they barely seemed to move. I was both flying down the road at 60 m.p.h. and not moving at all. Corn, clouds, soybeans, farm homes and grain silos. The dank smell of cow and pig shit wafting into my car via the heater. Soon I’d be on dissociation highway; it was Friday after all.

The fear of death?

The scariest thing people usually imagine is death. Death is as inevitable as anything else in the world, the most inevitable thing that anyone could have happen to them. As the church near my house states, “One out of one people will die.” This naturally makes it scary. Someone scared of spiders doesn’t live with the dread of an inevitable giant spider appearing eventually in their lives. Hell, if they’re lucky they could live the rest of their life without seeing another spider ever again. Death is inevitable. It is the final and unavoidable end. The Actual End.

Is death my Fear? No. I’m not terrified by it unless I think about it too much at night. I envision my car hitting a patch of rain water on an oil slick, spinning out of control, and flipping over killing me in the process. Am I scared of this? No. It’d be so fast where I wouldn’t even be aware of it. Only feeling the helplessness of it and going along for the ride.

I’ve felt this way before. The small amount of times you actually face possible death give you a glimpse into what the impending doom is like. The human mind is a screwy thing and I vividly recall one time where I was riding my bike to work for the first time last year. I had ridden up a hill and was deathly tired and exhausted to the point my brain stopped working. Physical exhaustion begets mental exhaustion, the higher parts of my brain weren’t processing like they usually did. And while crossing a busy intersection I somehow thought of only looking one way for traffic; my brain blanked out and I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that vehicles drive both ways along the road. Before I knew what was happening I was in the street being greeted by a very loud, threatening, piercing horn from a truck. A large truck. I knew this because of the horn; a deep, loud horn that you hear from semi-trucks, garbage trucks, and trains. Not the meep, meep of a compact car horn. Primitive brain felt utter terror while conscious brain had the vivid thought of something like this: I’ve made a terrible mistake. This is it.

I looked left and the garbage truck was hauling full speed at me doing at least 45 m.p.h. I couldn’t even think. The world kinda slowed down and I fully accepted how this one tiny mistake and all the other tiny choices in my life led me to this singular moment of being killed by a garbage truck. Just one key mistake, one minor oversight in my exhausted mind meant my death.

And I wasn’t scared. I accepted it. I didn’t even have time to accept it, it just was in that moment. It was a cold fact that I wasn’t scared of: this is how it feels to die. I know it’ll be quick and painless. A quick flip of a light switch. On and then off. Light and then dark. Instantly falling asleep.

I’m not scared of death. Not scared in a way that causes me too much anxiety and dread; I know when the moment comes it’ll just be there and it’ll happen and I won’t be scared. So what is my Fear?

“It assumes the language of Love itself.”

Love itself. I repeated it in my head over and over trying to make sense of it. The idea that Fear masquerades around under the guise of Love. What was love? A self-love? Me trying to protect myself, backing myself into a corner, out of Fear acting as love. Self-preservation. Security. From a paralyzing lifelong insecurity given to me from childhood?

“Fear says, ‘Give me symbols…give me something I can rely on.’”

My mind dances and wanders to places that are dark against my will. Loneliness: why doesn’t anyone see me as a friend like I see them as a friend? Do they? And if they do, why can’t I understand it?  Why, despite all conscious thought, effort, and exercise, do I think everyone fundamentally hates me? How can people make friends so easily while it takes me literal years to open up? Another conscious thought that’s defied by my emotions. I can’t shut them off. Depression: why is life so unfulfilling? Why is it that when I do find something fulfilling it always wanes? Anxiety: why am I always on edge? Why is my fight or flight response constantly engaged? Why do I feel I’m waging a constant war against everything I seem to be? Why do I think so much? Why do I analyze so much? What can’t I let things be the way they will be and be happy with everything?

“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”

I am safe. Safe. From Fear. This paralyzing Fear. But the fear is so internalized, a part of myself and how can you be safe when it’s you and your mind that you fear? The main enemy in the world, the main antagonist in your own quest is yourself and all of your insecurities and problems. How are you ever safe from that? Ever? How do you feel safe from yourself?

I am safe: perfect in my own little way despite being unaware of it. An awesome person to everyone else except myself. Conscious thoughts that can’t force their way into the subconscious. A tiny little unique gift of the universe to the universe and all the beings in it. Logically accepting the fact but unable to retain it into your soul. Skin crawling with your own self-hatred and inability to love yourself. I don’t want to accept myself because there is nothing worthy of acceptance. A human pile of flaws that everyone else is too blind to see even though you show them every single day. A certainty that you’re both not accepted by people because you’re a terribly flawed person and being upset that people aren’t accepting you because of your flaws. Please accept me even though I don’t accept myself. Come rescue me from myself if you would.

How do you feel safe from the worst thing in the world, the number one threat to your sanity and existence: yourself? Does she know this? It seems she does; there’s a tone to her voice that seems to know my deepest and darkest secrets. The soothing and reassuring voice that implores me to discover that everything is really fine despite any outward appearance. That the Universe itself is constantly embracing me. That she’s aware that the demon I’m fighting is really myself, and despite feeling safe in the world in general and from others, the thing I’m really scared of is the shit that constantly plays in my head. It’s the opposite of her voice: a cold, harsh, terrifyingly truthful voice saying you are not enough, you are flawed, you will never be happy, you will never find yourself, you will never get anywhere.

“Give me only this moment.”

And so I speed down the road beginning to lose myself. Dissociation comes early today, still miles away from the road that slithers along the river. Feeling like a puppet, a dream, a disconnect with existence itself. Too many thoughts in my head here and there, not enough ways to shut them off. No alcohol because I’m going to work. No calling in because then people will know my problems and ask questions. I’ll never be missed but what if I am missed? More anxious thought fueled by Love and Fear. The overthinking. The questioning. What if those people who don’t care about me will somehow realize my problems and notice me in just the perfect way to think I’m strange? To think I’m insane. To know I’m not all there up in my head. To think I’m not a sane, happy, and regular person. And then I’ll lose them with my own unexplainable actions, once again being the primary threat to myself. Constantly self-sabotage. Constantly fucking things up.

“Love says, ‘Open your arms and fly with me.’”

My hands start to shake and I start to cry. I don’t even know what I’m crying about. Nothing makes sense. Not even the not making sense makes sense. Why can’t anything just fucking make sense? I can’t do this, I can’t go to work. But what else can I do? Sit on the side of the road for the next few hours breaking down? Go to a park and isolate myself? What good will that do? I’ll feel even worse: lost, forgotten, and lonely. As much as I’m positive everyone hates me, I still need to be around them. Curse this social creature that I am. I want to be cold and dead and lifeless, showing up to work like a robot going through the motions. But I can’t. I pull the car over to think. To think about something even though there is nothing to think about.

“Truth has the power to transform Fear.”

Fuck, I want to get out of my head. I need to get out of my head. Just for a moment. Please? Let me the fuck out of my head for just an instant; I don’t want to feel this way. I want my brain to stop. Why won’t the thoughts stop? Where is this safety at? Where is my safe spot? Where can you run to escape yourself?

“You were going that way anyway.”

In the end there is no resolution, no grand realization, no clear way forward. This story doesn’t have an ending. Crying on the side of the road and feeling terrified of yourself eventually passes with time. It turns from sharp self-hatred into mild self-loathing and finally into an empty acceptance. A hollow sort of pain. An empty black hole where your heart pitifully and dutifully beats because what else is it supposed to do? It’s in this wreckage that you find your way forward. The path isn’t clear — in fact it’s hidden — but it’s there. I have no choice. This is my life. I can’t escape myself. I’m temporarily safe from the demon that shares my name. I put the car in gear and set off once again for work. Just another day. Another crisis averted for however long until the next one. And I’m tired and exhausted. I don’t want another crisis. I just want to be safe. And despite the incessant imploring over the car’s stereo I don’t feel safe at all. The next hour, day, week, or month the monster lurks around the corner to attack: Myself.

“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”

Chapter 9

Just finish the story. Just write. Just write something. It doesn’t have to be good. The whole point of this adventure was to write without thought and now you’re thinking about it. And thinking about it way too much. Defeating the entire purpose of the project. Right?

People want plot, and world building, and characters, and character development; the story has none of that. No overarching goals, points, themes or anything. It’s all a goddamn mess that doesn’t make any sense. I don’t even know what it means. What’s the point of writing if you yourself aren’t aware of what exactly it is that you’re writing?

The goal here was to farm the subconscious and to hell with a plot. To hell with making sense. Life doesn’t make much sense. What’s the point of writing a cute, tidy story with a hero who saves the world when there are no cute and tidy stories within the actual world? There are no heroes. Everyone likes to be the protagonist in their own stories, but if everyone is a protagonist, who are the villains? We all play each role — protagonist, antagonist, supporting chracters, and nobodys — and we’re nearly unaware of it. Stories are all lies painting the infinite color in life as shades of grey with no basis in reality, and they’re disorienting in their cleanliness. Stories make too much sense. Even the most unhinged horror stories have a plot, an antagonist, and a hero. Even the most unhinged stories and shitty romance novels are cut out of the same essential fabric. Different types of cookies cut with the same Christmas tree shaped cutter. Different flavors, same shape.

People want to escape from life. They want the stories to make sense to escape the life that doesn’t make sense. The themes in the stories speak to something deeper within them. And within all of us. People live in chaos and crave order, some semblance of meaning and clarity that simply doesn’t seem to exist. People want a happy and clean fictional world and I can’t do that. I’m uncreative. I can’t conjure up fantasy worlds and tie the plot into a nice little story. I can’t find an ending to any story. I’m uncreative. I take what I see, copy it nearly word for word, action for action, tweak it a little bit so it’s not blatantly stealing, and that’s what I write. The world doesn’t make sense and that gets copied and pasted directly into the drivel that I write.

But what’s so wrong with people adding their own meaning to the mess? Even if what you write is life as unaltered as it could possibly be, and it doesn’t make much sense, isn’t this like a puzzle for other people? Think of it as a blank sheet of paper: you can do whatever it is you’d like with it. If you want the story to make sense and find it a mess then take the paper and light it on fire. If you think the story needs tweaking, then cut the paper into shapes that you prefer. If you think the story needs some piecing together, fold the paper into an origami frog. If you read if and enjoy it without much thought, take the paper, fold it into an airplane and let it ride along the air currents. Do whatever you want with it: paint on it, write a love letter on it, wipe your nose on it, use it to soak up spilled juice with. As blank as a piece of paper is, let the story be the same. It’s blank, but it doesn’t mean it’s useless.

And you know what else you can do with a blank piece of paper? Write a story on it. A story that is about whatever you want it to be about.

…the Dancer in the Field

And so without a choice I nervously walked over to her. I didn’t know how to explain what I felt. I had a purpose. I had a goal. Something clear I couldn’t deny or fight against. On rails with only one direction to go, no stopping, slowing down, or altering my course. I did what I had to do and walked up to her. Upon seeing me she stopped her twirling and dancing, faced me, and smiled.

“Would you like to dance?” she asked.

“I don’t think I’m a good dancer. I’m clumsy. And…there’s no music. I really don’t think I could dance if there wasn’t any music.”

“There’s always music. Don’t you hear it?”

“No.”

“Well, just listen. Don’t force yourself to hear it but allow yourself to hear it.” Immediately all conscious thought disappeared for a moment and I heard…something. But as soon as I heard it and brought my attention to the sound — if it was even there in the first place — it was gone.

“You heard it, didn’t you? Didn’t she tell you that before? To stop trying so hard?”

“Who?”

“That’s also the key to dancing. James, right? The key to dancing is to not think about it. It’s an expression of yourself. The more you think about it the more detached you become. You come between your body and your soul. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. How do you know my name?”

“Close your eyes and hold my hands.”

“What?”

“Close your eyes and hold my hands.”

“Okay,” I said and followed her instructions. Her hands felt chilly, but in a comforting way. We stood there a foot apart holding hands. My mind began to wander. This was a dream, right? What was I even doing here? If I was lucid, why wasn’t I flying or doing whatever I wanted to do? Why was I standing here with my eyes closed holding this woman’s hands? Why was I playing along perfectly with some unspoken plot? And if I was dreaming and wanted to hear the music, why couldn’t I just hear the music?

And then it happened. There was an intricate drum beat that sounded miles away but ever present, not forceful or too dramatic, just a mellow rhythm in all things around me. And while sounding distant at first, the sound seemed to grow closer even though it still had an airy quality to it. And then other instruments joined the subconscious rhythm — violins, flutes, bass, chellos, along with countless other sounds that I couldn’t identify — with the music swirling around me. If I only opened my eyes, I knew I could see colors and sounds swirling around me. The violin was purple, the deep color of twilight. And the bass a deep navy, the ocean depths. The flute a bright yellow and sprightly: the color of the springtime sun on daffodils, happiness itself. The sound and the colors the same thing, aspects of the same beauty : inseparable and indistinct. It was deeper than anything I had ever experienced and I wondered why I never realized that sound is color and color is sound before. I let go of my consciousness and the world’s music washed over me and filled my soul with love.

And I let myself go even further and with the music and colors working through my body, the dancer and I began to spin. Around and around endlessly. Holding hands for a little bit and then letting go. We twirled, dipped, seperated and danced on our own for a few moments with the sounds and colors swirling around us, spinning us like leaves drifting in a stream, and we’d find each other perfectly as if we’d never been apart. Lost in the music I found my hands in hers over and over again. My arms around her and her arms around me embracing as we twirled. Apart and together, hugging, spinning, drifting away and back without choice. The dance seemed to last for hours, but no exhaustion was apparent; the entire moment felt perfect in every way. And at the perfect moment for the dance to come to a close the music faded away as if driven by my own thoughts. The dancer and I faced each other holding hands and opened our eyes. Love flowed between our gaze and through our locked hands.

“You see why I dance now.”

“Yes.”

“Would you like to sit with me?”

“Yes.” We sat down in the grass facing each other.

“I’m glad you danced with me tonight. I’ve seen you around many times and you always glance over at me but never say ‘hi’ or anything.”

“You know who I am? I’ve never seen you before.”

“Yes, I know you. And you must know me, at least some part of you must.” She seemed thoughtful for a moment, like she knew something I didn’t and was debating whether to tell me or not. “We used to play together as kids, James. Jimmy. I used to call you Jimmy. You don’t remember that?”

“Not really.” I thought about what Luna said what seemed like hours or days earlier. “Something about you does seem familiar. Like a scent that reminds you of something deep in your past that you just can’t pinpoint. I know you mean something to me, but I just can’t pinpoint it.”

“Are you dreaming? Right now?”

“Yes, I think so.”

She looked thoughtful. “Hmm. Maybe that’s why. I never remember my dreams either. And if I see you here and you’re dreaming, then…maybe that’s why I’m a stranger.

“We used to play as kids. You were shy and I had to get you to open up, but then we became friends. It’s been so long ago that it’s fuzzy to me. But I remember you clearly: the awkward haircut, constantly avoiding eye-contact, always fumbling and fidgeting with your hands. But always well-meaning and kind. And you really haven’t changed much either.” She smiled, “Well, your hair isn’t as awkward anymore.

“But then you came around less frequently. And as the years passed it was like you barely remembered me. You’d say hi and wave but eventually the waves looked like the hesitant ones from a stranger. I guess I stopped even trying one day. Just accepted you as a stranger who was once a friend.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”

“You seem more coherent lately. You look over at me. And I smile and nod but never wave. But you look like you’re thinking or remembering something. And…I’m glad you came over and danced. It gives me hope.”

I glanced over at the three people around the fire. “You need to give them credit. She told me to come dance with you. I told her I was dreaming and she didn’t question it at all. She knew what was going on somehow.”

“Who are they?”

“I don’t know. Part of my dream I guess.”

“Well if this is your dream, what if they’re just a part of you? Something you’ve forgotten? Remember how I said to properly dance you need to not think about dancing? That’s how dreaming is; it’s your soul dancing. It’s your consciousness dancing. It’s doing what it wants to do while perfectly in touch with the universe. Maybe some of these things, and people, are just a part of you.”

“What about you? What if I made you up too?” I was joking but she still looked thoughtful.

“I can’t prove you wrong, but I will say this: this world feels real to me. I’m real. When I dream I go someplace completely unlike this one and it’s always vague and shimmery where strange things happen. This world is…real. It’s hard to explain. And…oh…”

“What?”

“You’re leaving.”

“I am?”

“Yes. You look…shimmery. Sunlight reflecting off water.” I looked around to the trees and into the nearly dark sky above me and everything seemed to dissolve and become dull. The trees blurred to where they appeared to be dark blobs against the slightly lighter sky behind them.

“I want to stay here though. I want to remember this. Can I? What if I forget? I don’t even know what your name is.”

“James, can you please remember me? Come find me next time, okay? Please try?”

“I’ll…yeah…try. We can…dance some more…right? I want to…dance again. And I…promise…to…”

By the Bonfire…

The sun was low in the western sky, still slightly above the treeline in the distance. It glowed with a fiery yellow-orange that had yet to turn into the vivid and deep red that another half-hour of time would bring to it. I looked around and discovered I was in a field surrounded by trees. And to the north about twenty feet away a bonfire burned. Around the fire was a few large logs that served as makeshift chairs or benches that three people were sitting on. And as my eyes focused I discovered that this group of three consisted of two men and a woman. They stared back at me seemingly amused, confused, or maybe a little bit of both.

The taller man, and the one who seemed like he was in charge of the party, was the first to say something as I stared at them.

“Hey bud, did you want to come join us?”

I turned around to see if he was talking to someone else, someone whose line of sight I might happen to be interrupting, with only a field of grass and trees in the distance. The same scene no matter which way I looked. He was talking to me.

I nodded and walked over. I didn’t really know why I agreed to join them, and maybe it was because I had no reason not to. The spot on the log next to the woman was free so I sat down there. I glanced over at her and she was wearing a flannel shirt and had reddish brown hair flowing well past her shoulders. She stared into the fire as if mesmerized by it, the yellow-orange dancing flame reflecting in her blue eyes. She didn’t seem to notice me much at all. As for the two men on the other log, the taller one — the de-facto leader of the group — also seemed to be the most professional looking of the bunch wearing a polo shirt and khakis. The second guy was dressed sloppily. He wore a dirty hat, an ill-fitting filthy coat, and ripped blue jeans. This man was also drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette; the other two didn’t appear to be consuming any substances at all.

“We saw you standing there staring at us, and I gotta admit it was pretty creepy,” the tall guy said with a smile on his face. “But thanks for joining us.” He extended his hand towards mine and I grabbed it with a firm but friendly handshake. “My name is Brian by the way. And you can call me Brian.”

“Hi Brian. I’m James. And just call me James I guess.”

Brian glanced over at the guy with the hat and towards the woman. “Do you two dummies want to introduce yourselves? Or should I introduce you?” He was clearly joking as the other two didn’t seem fazed by his insult.

The hatted guy spoke up before the girl make any motion whatsoever. “Huh? Oh yeah. Uh. I’m Jeremy. My name is Jeremy. So just call me Jeremy I guess.” Jeremy slurred his words and seemed drunker than I had initially imagined. A glance towards his feet confirmed this: two unopened beer bottles remained in a cardboard six-pack carrier and with an open one in his hand — he was three and a half beers deep. No wonder he looked relaxed. No wonder he looked (and sounded) drunk.

I looked over at the girl seated next to me. She quickly glanced at me and returned her gaze to the fire. Brian spoke up saying, “And, that’s…well, just call her Luna. She doesn’t usually say much.” Luna acted like she wasn’t mentioned at all and gave no indication of anything really.

“So what brings you out here this evening?” Brian asked me.

“Well. I don’t know really. I’m just, here, I guess.” Something in my mind tried to tell me something. Like when you go to do something important and forget about it. That pestering in the back of your mind reminding you that you forgot something important, but had no idea what the “something important” actually was.

They stared at me except for Luna who was still fixated on the fire.

“Well, okay then. Fair enough.” A few moments passed. “Well, I’ll tell you what we’re up to since you seem like a quiet sort of guy. We’re like a support group, the three of us are. We all have problems and we listen to each other’s problems and it’s a good thing. There is a fourth member of our group but she was busy tonight and was unable to join us. We miss her greatly. She’s a magical person. Maybe you’ll meet her someday.”

Jeremy now spoke up saying, “She’s the coolest one out of everyone we work with so her not being here is terrible, ya know?”

“And yeah, we all work together as our drunken friend pointed out. I’d say each one of us is going through a crisis of some sort, wouldn’t you guys agree?”

“Hell yeah Brian. Life is fucked up.” Jeremy took a drink from his bottle.

Luna sat silently and vaguely nodded.

“I myself am having a midlife crisis. I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s like I’m lost, and I know I’m lost, but I don’t know where to go to find out where to go. Like I pursued something that seemed very important to me at the time but now that I achieved it it feels so hollow and pointless to me. And my heart isn’t in it. That’s why I’m out here with my friends. We sit here and enjoy each other’s presence. We listen to each other and maybe that’s all we really want: to have people listen to us. To have people to show your true self to. To know that we have friends we love and who love us. No judgement, no guilt. Just the openness that comes from love.”

“Amen Brian! I love you buddy. For real.” Jeremy took a drink while Luna glanced over at Brian with another slight nod in his direction.

“My problem is, well fuck, nothing really now that I think about it.” Jeremy said. “Life itself is such mundane bullshit ya know? It really gets to you if you think about it too much. Bad vibrations all around and everything, it’s scary. And not to take away from Brian’s crisis here because it is loads more worse than any of my paltry shit, but ya know what I get to vent too, right? I don’t know what to do with my life either. Like I’m not freaking out about it yet but the same basic idea of not knowing still freaks me out. Does that make sense?”

I nodded even though it didn’t make much sense.

“Like look I’m trying to be a writer, ya know, and progress is so damn hard to make. It’s like you throw yourself at a computer over and over and write all sorts of dribble that comes into your mind and no one actually reads it. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it up actually.

“Your name is James, right? That’s kinda funny really. One story I’m working on basically features myself as the protagonist because I mean how the hell else are you supposed to write about someone who isn’t you, right? And so my name is Jeremy in case you forgot. I’m terrible with names so — like pretend the situation is switched here — if I was you and you were me and some random guy stumbles upon your bonfire and stares at you for ten minutes straight and, well I’d also. Um. Oh yeah. James. Alright. Anyways in my story I’m writing as myself but I don’t want to use my actual name so I renamed myself James. That’s pretty interesting huh? It’s clever right?

“You see my technique is to write about the people I know where I just change the names slightly to where it’s a joke kinda. Jeremy. James. Right? And if I ever wrote a story about this moment right here with some random guy showing up to our bonfire I’d probably rename Brian something like Johnathon maybe. To hide the real person’s identity, ya know? Our other friend who couldn’t make it, I’d call her Claire in the story because why not? And Luna? Well shit, I don’t know what I’d name her really. Maybe something crazy. Could just leave it as Luna though. Luna is unique enough that maybe it doesn’t need to be changed. What was I talking about? Oh yeah writing. Fuck writing.

“But if we’re all trying to be deep and shit — which I guess we are — my main issue is alcoholism. I can’t be all open and friendly like Brian and I can’t fully embrace myself like Luna over there can. So I drink so I can feel somewhat normal. Like I can act and be a person without overthinking every single thing that happens in my life. Like right now? I feel great. An idea comes into my mind and I say it and,” Jeremy waved his hand as if giving up, “I guess that’s it. Alright well I’m done talking now.” He looked reflective and upset, quite a change from the jovial drunkard he was minutes earlier.

“As you can see, Jeremy is what we’d call ‘in the zone’ right now. But honest at least. No judgement here. No one is forcing anyone to confront their demons, but if they want to do so we’ll all encourage them and support them.”

Luna blinked a couple of times and looked out into the distance. She opened her mouth slightly as if to speak and her eyes lit up with something that wasn’t there previously while staring at the fire. Brian and Jeremy became very still and stared at her. And as suddenly as she seemed to jerk into awareness she took up her trance with the fire again; her eyes becoming unreadable and lost in thought. Jeremy and Brian took up their usual postures and appeared slightly let down.

“Luna is a very quiet person as I’m sure you can tell. She’s a tough shell to crack and it’s nearly impossible to get her to open up. But when she does open up and lets people see her unguarded self, it’s magical. We make sure to listen when she lets us see her beauty.” Once again there was no reaction from her. As if she didn’t realize the conversation was about her at all.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to speak for her, but I think that’s what her crisis is: she’s underappreciated. Those closest to her don’t seem to appreciate the gem they’re constantly around. They always try to bend and mold her into something she’s not, to make her into their idea of beauty, which simply isn’t the beauty that is inherent in Luna. They don’t see that she’s fine just the way she is: perfect the way she is. That she’s enough for the world.”

“Luna is a such a goddamn badass amazing person, you wouldn’t believe it James my man. I love you Luna, seriously buddy.”

Luna still seemed detached from the conversation while she turned around to look behind her and then turned back to the fire. Once again life appeared in her eyes and she slowly opened her mouth. “The dancing girl is back. Just like last time.” She said this in a perfectly deadpanned and unamused voice.

Sure enough as we all turned and looked we saw a figure in the distance dancing amongst the knee-high grass. In the fading light it seemed she had a dress on although you couldn’t make out much more than that. Her skin was pale and her hair was blonde. As she twirled around her braided hair pulled away from her body dancing along with her as she spun.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Some woman,” Brian replied with a shrug. “We see her out here periodically. She’s always over there dancing and we never see her arrive. She just poofs into existence it seems. It’s strange, but we’re also out here being strange. If someone wants to dance in the field, well, go right ahead.”

Silence blanketed the air for a few moments as I let my mind wander. Something about the scene seemed very strange and unreal. Something that I needed to remember. Something very important. And then it hit me: I was dreaming again. It was a victory in my lucid dreaming quest. I finally caught myself in the act. And I told my newly-found friends this fact.

“I just realized something and I don’t know how you guys feel about this, but I’m dreaming now: you’re all in my head.” I tried to keep my face as blank and as serious as possible but couldn’t help the slight grin that creeped across my face. I’m sure to my company that I sounded insane, but it was the truth. And I was proud that I discovered the truth.

All three turned at looked at me. Brian and Jeremy seemed amused enough and Jeremy took the moment to light another cigarette in quiet mocking contemplation. Luna simply stared at me for a second or two and went back to admiring the fire.

“Well okay then buddy,” said Brian.

“Seriously though. I’ve been writing my dreams down the past few months in an attempt to lucid dream, you know, be aware of the fact that I’m dreaming while I’m dreaming. And this is it. It just feels like it.”

Luna, with her elbows resting on her legs, brought her hands up to her head and put her fingers on her temples like she was having a headache or was stressed about something. Her look was of someone both deeply concentrating and being in slight agony. She looked at me and then at the other two.

“He’s right you know.” She said. Jeremy and Brian looked amused and terrified at the same time. Luna was finally speaking and they were listening.

“When we first saw him he was zoning out, totally lost to the world. Like someone who had no fucking clue what was going on. He’s lucid now, see? He knows what’s happening. And the dancing girl over there? I bet that’s part of his dream too. It might even be why he’s here right now, something subconscious to himself. He’s not dreaming about us for our pleasure, to bring us into his existence or whatever; he’s dreaming because of her.” She turned and locked eyes with mine. “Does the girl over there seem familiar to you? At all?”

I turned and looked. “Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know. Something about her seems, nostalgic? Old? Like something from my childhood. Like a smell or a song could make me feel something about her.”

She turned back to her skeptical friends. “Do you guys even feel real? I’m questioning it now: being real. I feel really funny right now and I really think James is dreaming, and our reality is where his dreams occur. And that girl over there has something to do with…something, I don’t know. It’s hard to grasp all the thoughts in my head right now.”

“Maybe this guy is just tripping on acid or something? Come on. This shit isn’t real. Come on, Luna.”

“Shut the fuck up Mr. Author Guy. You think out of everyone you’d have the most open mind about these things, but no, skeptical as always. Can’t you just pretend this might actually be happening? Maybe you could write a story about it and give everyone uncreative similar names like you usually do.”

“Woah. Hey. Okay. I’m done. Relax.”

Luna looked over at me and said, “Go dance with her. I think that’s what you’re here for. We’re only a distraction to whatever is going on in your dream. Go dance. And it was nice meeting you.” She smiled as I wearily stood up, tuned, and walk towards the girl dancing in the field. I was lucid enough, but was still floating along, and feeling like I didn’t have a choice walked over to her.

As a Kid

Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep I would call my grandma and tell her so.

I’d call her, she’d answer, and I’d say, “Grandma, I can’t sleep.”

She’d say, “What’s wrong? Why can’t you sleep?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t.”

“Well just try to relax, close your eyes, and maybe you’ll fall asleep.”

It very rarely worked, but somehow I’ve made it to the age of thirty-five. Even while struggling to sleep almost daily time kept marching on with no one noticing as it usually does so. While I don’t remember what Little Jimmy did to sleep, especially not having access to benzodiazepines, alcohol, or antihistamines as a child, he somehow found the ability to sleep. The thirty-five years seemed to pass in an instant but only in retrospect. Grandma’s advice never seemed to help at the time — just relax — but Jimmy found a way.

My bedroom as a kid had these strange sliding accordion doors — I don’t even know what their proper name was and I’ve never decided to learn as an adult. It made my room seem fancy apparently; a few of my elementary school friends said so. The white wicker furniture on the porch also made out house seemed fancy. A few of them even mentioned that “Jimmy’s family must be rich!” but little did they know we were poor as hell. I didn’t even know how poor we were at the time. We might’ve looked rich on a superficial level, at least to other ten-year-olds, but we didn’t own much of anything. The bank owned most of the important things like our car and the house while credit card companies owned most of the remaining possessions. In fact looking back, I think my parents were perpetually in debt; they literally didn’t own anything. But as a nine-year-old you’re not aware of these things unless your parents were arguing about money, which they often did.

I had sliding doors on my room. Accordion doors. They had these slats on the bottom half of the doors, and smoked glass on the top half. Even though the glass gave some visibility into the living room, you couldn’t see much. You could see shapes through the glass, but nothing definitive. For some reason the left side — from the perspective of someone inside the room — was never moved. If you needed to get into my room you’d move the right side three-paneled accordian door. Never the left. The left panels were always as straight as could be, like they were a wooden and glass wall, and even if they could be physically moved were never actually moved. I didn’t question it: it was a rule. Well, not really a rule, just how things worked. The doors at the time were slightly cracked open. The cat named Patches (the cat I’d sometimes throw off the basement stairs) liked to sleep in the bed with me. He pushed the right-sided panels open just enough to sneak into my room. The right-sided panels were always open enough for an average-sized black and white cat to enter the room. He loved me even if I tossed him off the stairs weekly.

I couldn’t sleep at the time. I would toss and turn in my bed. But then I stopped tossing and turning. I found myself lying on my right side — facing the slightly opened accordion doors to the living room. My room was also next to the front porch with a lone window shining pale, yellow, incandescent light into my room. It almost made a welcome mat in front of the accordion doors, the pale yellow trapezoidal shape of light on carpet. And I layed there. Just existing during another night of being unable to sleep. You could see a tiny bit of the couch through the slightly-cracked door. Patches slept near my ankles.

I went to call my grandma, to complain as I sometimes did, but I felt like I wanted to be totally still this time. Perfectly still for just a little longer. It’s hard to explain. I wanted to call her, but something compelled me not to. While I could move I didn’t want to move. I stared through the tiny gap in my door and looked over the shape of the couch.

I felt dread. I felt death. I laid still and felt something so damning, terrifying, and unholy that I could only stare. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t do anything. I was locked in place and facing something that only I could explain years later as death: this was what it felt like to die and not to die but to actually be dead. A perfect stillness and comprehension of the darkness behind everything you see. A perpetual “thereness” of a perfect void, of an absolute nothing. Behind every object, person, color, emotion, or anything there was this nothing: this void, this color blacker than black. There was nothing scary to behold visually — just the dark living room lit up by the weak porch light — but something about it felt so ominous that it was beyond explanation. Like there was a dark shape or entity creeping just around the corner, just barely out of sight. Even if you could feel it and know it was there it wasn’t visible. I don’t know how long I laid there or what happened to release me but, as stated, I’m now thirty-five years old and whatever happened that day decades ago remains as vague as any decade-old memory can.

I’ve never experienced it since. But sometimes if I lay very still in bed and keep my eyes focused on a certain point about eight meters away I start to feel that creeping dread. The all-consuming stillness, the background darkness and void that is behind every person, object, and thing. The black shape creeping in my room just barely out of sight around the corner. Something so still and dark and permanent and real that it drills its fear deep into consciousness. If there is anything to fear it is this. I don’t know what it’s called, but that’s the only thing to fear in life…and what exactly would you call that?

If the feeling threatens to wash over me I’ll I take a sleeping pill. Or something. Drugs are a fix-fall for nearly every problem in life and Jimmy didn’t have this option. A half-milligram of xanax scares the demon away long enough for me to not worry about it. As for my grandma? Well, I can’t call her anymore. I’m thirty-five years old. My grandma isn’t around anymore.

Marijuana Ghost

Something strange happens while smoking in a local park.

Matt and I sat on the bench. It was dark, just a few hours after the sun had set and the moon was dangling just above the trees in the distance across from us. It looked to be about full, but not quite. It had the awkward look of a lemon or a lime, not the sleek sickle of a crescent moon, nor the half circle of a half moon, and certainly not the perfect roundness of a full moon.

Matt reached into his coat pocket and I heard rustling. The sound of a plastic baggy being searched for, found, and removed in the darkness. And in his pants’ pocket he did the same. Digging around for a certain item, although this one was easier to find and remove. It was about ten centimeters long, made of metal in roughly an “L” shape. It was a tube with a fine mesh screen at the end: it was a pipe. A pipe for smoking things, but not boring things like tobacco. No, this was a special pipe designed purposefully to smoke psychoactive things, especially marijuana, out of. Not that it made much of a difference — a pipe is a pipe — but from the artful design and color of it, lit up by the awkward moon, anyone could understand what its true purpose was.

Matt fucked around with the bag a little bit and was crumbling up its contents on his lap, lowering his head down to clearly see what he was doing in the light of the moon.

“Did you need a light?” I asked.

He shook his head. He was too concentrated to say anything.

Matt and I are friends by convenience as we work at the same place. No one is interested in where we work and our families mutually find it a disgrace. Mine for not living up to my potential, and his for, well I suppose the same thing really.

Matt grew up in a strict Christian home and raised him as such, although by the time Matt reached the age of twelve decided the entire ordeal was bullshit. Matt questioned things in a way that few people did, and it didn’t take much time lying awake at 1 a.m. thinking of God, the universe, and most importantly the shit a person goes through in their lifetime to question everything. Even by the young age of twelve most people have been through enough to stumble onto the conclusion that life is garbage. The house of cards falls down when you remove a singular card and his was removed almost by accident one night. Matt never talks about this moment really, in fact he seems to hardly remember it.

I never had this problem growing up. My parents were religious, or rather “religious” but we never knew it. Dad had a tattoo of Jesus in his arm, and my mom “believed in God,” but besides this there was no sign of spirituality or anything. Mom was bad with money and dad was withdrawn and they’d argue about that all day long, occasionally yelling at my sister and I about how we didn’t do enough around the house or didn’t appreciate their struggles. There was no time for real contemplation about a higher power, and we both grew up fairly agnostic. I never really thought about God. He existed, sure, but how and why did it really matter to me? If he did exist, which he surely did, he didn’t seem to give a damn about me. Not that I was greedy for the love of a deity — I was used to being invisible — I just wanted proof. I remember praying one night and I asked something along the lines of this: “God, if you’re real, can you give me a sign or something?” God didn’t do anything and the universe continued to whirl like the gears of a clock.

Matt and I grew up completely opposite environments. Matt, being raised in such a strict Christian household, felt trapped. Like his mind, body, and soul (if he had one) were trapped in a cage. His parents incessant pestering of him to be a preacher in the Church of Christ wore on him greatly. He just wanted to get away, but at the age of fifteen and living in a comfy well-to-do family home in the suburbs he couldn’t and didn’t want to physically get away. But there were other ways to escape. He found drugs, he found girls, and he lost his virginity. The typical process people in religion-based private schools seem to go through. 

As for me? I didn’t do anything. I was uncaged and free enough that I didn’t feel the need to escape from anything. This is my life, I’d tell myself. Not being happy or enthused about it, but not being totally depressed either. I eventually stumbled into the belief that there is no God, no God as Christians describe him (or her…) at the very least. The real God, if you want to call her that, is nebulous and undefinable. And trying to define God seemed like the most foolish thing anyone looking for understanding would ever attempt to do. Like Matt, if you put God in a cage, she’ll find a way to rebel and escape. And her being a God, can you imagine the unforeseen and nebulous ways that she would rebel?

I didn’t do drugs, and for some reason I have a strong gut-feeling hatred for them. They seem wrong in some twisted indescribable way even though logically I know they’re great, at least in moderation and when used properly. Obviously I’ve stumbled into drug use despite my deeply held and illogical opposition to them. I didn’t have a girlfriend until well after high school, a fact that caused me great social anxiety during that period of my life. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t unique, I wasn’t on the football team or did anything notable at all. This is me. Nothing. A whiteboard with the potential to be something, to be of some use to someone or something in some way, but which is currently blank. And I feel I will always be blank.

Hence my parents disappointment with me. “James, you’re so smart. You could do anything you want to do. You could go to college, you could have a good job and have money.” And I didn’t want those things. And what did I want? Nothing. Everything. The whiteboard that is me didn’t know if it was in a math classroom, a science lab, magnetically attached to someone’s refrigerator, in a Fortune 500 boardroom, or in a garbage truck heading to the dump south of Rockford.

This explains mine and Matt’s friendship. Two people on perpendicular trajectories that seemed to somehow be parallel. We didn’t talk deeply at work, we never said anything of importance together, we just existed around each other. Two parts to some completely flawed, directionless, hopeless entity. Hell, I didn’t even like Matt that much — he was distant mostly but could have bouts of utter cockiness that would throw you off and leave you hating him — but for the most part Matt was Matt.

We were seated on a bench next to the river hidden in a little grove of trees away from the romantics, joggers, and bikers on the bike path behind us. There was a large white arch trellis up against the trees, and I’ve always known it to be a popular wedding spot. Very picturesque. Fitting. The mid and evening sunlight was perfect for those wedding pictures you see posted on social media, especially in the spring and summer. You know, the beginnings of happy families and such.

At night this picturesque location takes on an ethereal quality where certain drug users like us two could take in the atmosphere and think about nothing with also seems to be the same as thinking about everything. I had the passing question wondering if the wedding goers had any idea what happens here after the sun goes down. Drug use. Teenage sex. Drug deals. Muggings. Maybe even witchcraft.

Matt fucked around with his pipe enough to finally take a hit from it. He held the pipe with his left hand and a lighter in with the right. The flash of flint and the dim reddish glow of the lighter and the audible hiss of him drawing the flame into the marijuana as the moon glared at us, deformed in its current phase. Matt held in the smoke as long as he could and exhaled. He passed the pipe to me as the cloud of lung exhaust gently drifted up and away towards the moon and the trees, indifferent to where it was going.

I did the same. I inhaled, exhaled, and my cloud chased after Matt’s. I sighed. What were we even doing here? That was a normal thought for me, although I could feel my brain begin to stumble around wondering what the hell was going on with it, what chemicals would it have to contend with.

“Pretty good stuff, huh?” Said Matt.

“Yeah.”

We sat in silence puffing and passing like proper and civil marijuana users do. Etiquette. A couple on the path giggled like they do. Moments layer a cyclist shouted “On your left!” as he (I’m assuming) whizzed around the couple who were blind to everything else around them. And as their entire consciousness was contained within a tiny bubble around them where nothing else existed, mine followed suit. My consciousness shrank to the size of a dot, fully centered within my head. Like a star collapsing into a black hole. I was in the shit now, and it would only get worse. The outside world was still there, but it was like looking through a window at something else. Or maybe like a TV? The people on the TV were real, but they also weren’t. It’s all the same thing isn’t it? The screen is my consciousness and it was showing me a white trellis, trees, and a ghoulish moon, but was it even real?

I tried to tell Matt my insight. “I feel like a TV right now.” He chuckled and shifted his weight around a bit, seemingly settling into the bench as if it was a comfortable recliner.

“How are you feeling, James?”

“I feel…terrible. I mean I’m here I guess. Physically you know? But…”

“Why do you feel like a TV?”

“What? Oh. I don’t know. I guess…does all of this exist? Like the trees and stuff?”

“I think it does, but how is that like a TV?”

“Well. It doesn’t seem real but it is. This is everything, you know? Everything you know…” I sat and thought for a second.

“And you being a TV?”

“Everything I know…oh. Okay. A TV. Has images of people who are real but…when you look at the TV it’s just an image.”

Matt slapped it all together quickly for me. “So you’re saying this,” he gestured to the surroundings, “is real but it doesn’t feel real to you right now? So in your head you’re a TV?”

“Yes! Exactly. You get it.”

“Good job, James. It isn’t that profound though.”

“Oh.”

We sat in silence for what felt like ten or twenty minutes. My brain compressed further. I felt awkward, like I should be doing something better with my time. But what better was there to do? What would my parents prefer me to do right now if they had any say in it? Nothing. Maybe they’d want me to do nothing because that’s what I am.

And then it really started. The introspection. The anxiety and the endless questions marijuana brings me to. It started with the awkwardness of our mutual bench silence. What should I say? Should I say anything? What would James, the person that everyone knows me as, say right now? Where is James? James is fucked up and losing his mind on marijuana right now. Where is the real James? Is he in there, in the black hole, trapped? Can he please come out and say a few words?

And the posture. How does James sit? How does James act? Would James, regular everyday James that is, sit relaxed or would he be upright enjoying himself. But these are all silly questions because I’m talking about myself here. How do I usually act? What do I usually say? It’s me, oh God, it’s me. I’m the guy James who is wondering what James would do. I’m not a TV passively experiencing things, I’m a robot. A big, ugly, meat and blood filled robot with a computer in his head. Act natural. Isn’t that what people always say when someone gets in this state? Act natural. How do I do that? I don’t know myself. I never thought about how I act when I’m sober; maybe next time I should take notes. But I’ll probably forget it in an hour. Don’t forget it. Write it down. Write it down now.

Apparently Matt noticed my fidgeting and nervousness as I dug in my pocket for my phone. (What pocket does James usually keep his phone in? He’s right handed so it should be there but it isn’t. Oh, the right pocket is where James keeps his pens and papers. It’s in the left pocket. It’s not there either. Where did James put the damn thing?)

“You okay there?” He asked.

“I need my phone. I can’t find my phone. I need to take some notes.”

He reached down next to me, picked the phone up off the bench, and handed it to me. He asked again, “Are you sure you’re okay?” The moon lit up a wide grin on his face.

I forced a laugh because I thought James might laugh at something like that. “I need to take some notes. I might forget some stuff and I need to take some notes.”

I opened the phone and navigated to a note app. Somehow this was effortless and a big, giant neon sign started to flash in my brain saying Act Natural! I just did it. I had acted naturally. I felt a little better but not by much.

Take notes on how James acts. How does James do thing? Act Naturally? How? Don’t know how I act naturally. Don’t know what I do and why I do it. Don’t know myself???

Matt could tell I was on the verge of losing any sense of self and offered me a cigarette. He wasn’t wrong and the first drag off the cigarette was magical. My consciousness expanded from a black hole into the entire cosmos, a mini big bang all in my brain. I was here, really here, and was a magical and wonderful part of it all. Even as a miniscule puppet of meat with a computer in my head, here I was. And as much as everything made sense under the moonlight I lost it all. I was here. Sitting on a bench. Smoking weed. And possibly losing myself.

The smoke from our mutual cigarettes did a dance similar to the marijuana smoke hours or days or years ago did. The clouds even did an embrace, twirled, and swayed a bit. Mine was a female cloud and Matt’s was a male cloud. They were dancing to relaxing classical music like you see in movies. Movies on TV. Wasn’t I a TV? I killed the thought as quickly as possible.

The clouds strangely drifted down into the trees and the trellis. With each drag and puff the dancing clouds would drift up, over, and down and seemed to hang like a fog. Didn’t heat rise? Or did the weight of the miniscule particles of the cloud come down due to gravity? Maybe it was getting foggy out? Hazy? I blinked in case I had some haze over my bloodshot eyes but that didn’t fix it either.

One of the beams holding the white trellis up seemed to move but only slightly in the distant haze. My eyes locked and Act Natural! seemed to mean that James’ heart rate increased from a flood of adrenaline to his system. I sat still even though I was already still. An entirely different level of stillness. I steadied my breath and tensed up my muscles. The beam was moving. A shape was slowly forming off the side of the beam melting into an entirely different form. Or was it just the haze?

The longer I stared the more the shape refined itself into a humanoid shape. It looked feminine in a way. There appeared to be hair waterfalling off her head, and the hips and chest gave her a clear hourglass figure. She was all the same color, the color of moonlight on mist, glowing under the trellis.

Matt sense something was going on with me again and asked, “Hey, are you sure you’re okay? Do you want another cig?”

I looked over at him with my eyes Acting Naturally! and then across the grove towards the trees. It was the primal and perfectly natural way, embedded in our collective DNA, of saying something is over there.

Matt stared and I could tell the exact moment he saw her. He was an animalistic meat robot just like me and we had the same program running in our brain computers. He did the same thing I had done moments earlier: perfect stillness, slowed but deep breathing, tensed posture, and the eyes of an animal on the possible verge of death.

“What is it?” I whispered.

He didn’t move for what felt like a few minutes. Hours? Seconds?

“…is it a ghost?” He asked.

“I don’t believe in ghosts.” I didn’t know what else to say. There wasn’t much explaining or rationalizing what was going on, especially in my state.

Almost imperceptibly the shape seemed to grow larger. Slowly enough for us to not notice immediately but in a way that something deep within us felt threatened. She was slowly moving towards us without moving her body at all. No features visible. The shape of a woman floating towards us as a cloud of smoke or fog.

Mine and Matt’s brains were perfectly synced up running the primitive software that we both had running in our heads. At exactly the same time we jolted upright and started sprinting in the same direction. Towards the car. Towards safety. Towards the perfect, bland, and depressing sameness of The Real World. Where there were no answers. Where there were no questions either. Sprinting as fast as possible from the beautiful unknown towards the terrible known.

The Playground Spiders

I was laying on the floor and the clock on the wall said the time was 2:41 p.m. Or maybe it was closer to 2:40 p.m. These old clocks with hands aren’t the most precise things. I love digital clocks because you don’t need to think about the time too much. They say what the time is with no personal interpretation. The longer I looked at the minute hand the more I could see it slowly drifting upwards along the face of the clock. It was now closer to 2:42 p.m. I had to be to work at 4:30 p.m. What to do with all the time?

I stared up at the ceiling fan spinning and making strange flashing patterns as it rotated. The parallel lines of the wooden boards on the ceiling made changing angles around each blade of the fan as it spun about on it’s magnetically-induced rotation. There was a trapezoidal form of sunlight a few feet from me and if I cared to look at it enough I could see its shape slowly warp and creep across the carpet. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the planet is spinning thousands of kilometers per hour but it is. Thanks to inertia we don’t feel a damn bit of it. But the signs are there, the sun slowly creeping across the sky transforming the trapezoidal light, thinning and stretching it. In a few hours it would be a narrow pillar of light. And then it would be gone. The clock continues to tick: it’s now 2:46 p.m.

I clear my mind of all thoughts: I have nothing to do, I have no motivation to find something to do, and there is always that pestering thought at the back of my mind saying that, “Sometimes you need to relax.” Is this relaxation? I want to do something, but I don’t at the same time. That’s boredom: wanting to do something but having nothing to actually do. My brain drifts here and there with thoughts that mean nothing. Where did the wood in the ceiling come from? Who made the clock on the wall? How many clocks just like this one were made? Where were they all at? Was someone else laying in their own floor thousands of kilometers away looking at the same clock? Theirs might say a different time. Spacing out some more I could feel gravity smashing me into the floor. That’s how you know you’re really bored and anxious: when you notice gravity smashing you into the floor. It’s strong, it’s always there, and no one notices it consciously.

Then it hits me: this is what life is. Boredom. It’s existence with nothing to distract you. I try to embrace this fact but it doesn’t really work. Is this it?

***

A boy stands in a grassy field near a playground. There is a building in the distance on the opposite side, and a few forms catch his attention. There were five kids on the playground running, jumping, climbing, and falling in perpetual motion. Of these, a cute blonde girl with braids was the first to break her perpetual motion. Another kid, a boy, ran up and slapped her arm as she stared into the grassy field. “TAG! YOU’RE IT!” he screamed. The girl did nothing but stare and eventually the boy noticed her lack of motion and looked where she was looking. A boy stood in the field and they looked at him.

The girl waved. “Hello! Who are you?” The boy stared back at her.

“Come over and play with us! We’re playing ‘tag.’” The boy silently walked over, climbed up a short metal ladder that led to the girl and the boy’s perch. He looked down at his shoes and back towards the field where he came from.

She held her hand out professionally and shook the boy’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Are you new?” He looked confused but nodded. “Hi, New Kid, what’s your name?”

“Jimmy.” He looked at the ground a meter below him.

“My name is…” For some reason he didn’t hear what her name was. He nodded like he heard it though.

“This is Shaun, and over there,” she looked over at the other three kids standing on their own elevated section of playground nearby, “is Jessica, Brent, and Keith.” She waved and all three kids waved back.

“I have to pee really bad but I don’t want to go. I might pee my pants!” said Shaun as he ran off towards the other group.

“Do you want to play ‘tag?’” she asked the boy.

He nodded.

“Okay the rules are simple: the ground is lava so if you touch the ground you’re ‘it!’ You can go first; YOU’RE IT!” She slapped his arm, instantly turned, and ran in the direction of Shaun, her hair bouncing along with her voice — and everyone else’s voice — emitting high pitched screams and laughter. The boy chased after her.

Up, around, down and all over the kids scattered the best they could over the playground equipment. The ones further away would try to carefully keep their distance while others closer to the boy ran away as prey being chased by a predator. The boy closed upon Shaun, tagged him, and reversed direction. The prey became the predator and the predator became prey. Shaun was running all over the playground trying to catch one of the four other kids. The girl, trying to navigate a metal ladder across a section of playground islands, accidentally fell while trying to escape.

Shaun seen it and yelled, “You’re burning in lava! Haha! You’re it now!” and everyone turned to avoid the new predator that arose from the woodchip lava.

She climbed back onto the playground equipment, and Jimmy was closest to her this time. She charged after him like a hungry lion would, laughing and smiling yet determined to catch her prey. The boy, terrified of being ‘it’ ran as fast as he could. He came to a gap, a gap only a meter across and a half meter downwards, but in his mind the gap was a giant gorge, a nearly uncrossable chasm. Down and down the gorge went like the bridge of Khazad-Duhm with fiery lava a kilometer below emitting a pale red glow from the depths of the earth.

He turned and the girl was right on him: he desperately leaped across the chasm and reached achingly for the other side. Gravity had other ideas. He had misjudged. His body hit the metal platform with a sickening thud and he fell to the ground. This sickening thud was outdone by another sickening sound, this one a cracking sound. The sound of a bone snapping and shattering.

The boy was in shock as he lay on the ground. Slowly sitting up he noticed his left leg felt numb; like it wasn’t really there. And then he saw it: protruding bone sticking out of the side of his calf. It reminded him of a fresh t-bone steak in a way, at least that was the first thing he thought about, the bone a glowing whitish color hidden by a thin coat of blood that soaked everything. Still in shock, he didn’t scream or panic but started to cry. He felt sorry for his leg, like he wanted to apologize to it.

A few spiders that lived under the woodchip lava were terrified by the impact above them and crawled out to look. They were scared: what was this chaos going on above them?

The four kids ran over as fast as they could, which to Jimmy seemed like it both took forever — as if they were in slow motion — and happened instantly. They were around him in a circle looking just as shocked as he was.

“Look at all the blood! And the bone!” Brent exclaimed. Jessica, seeming to only realize the blood and the bone after Brent had said something about it began to stare at it. Something didn’t seem right in her eyes, she turned and ran about five meters, bet over, and vomited.

The Girl crouched down and examined the bone as the spiders aimlessly wandered about. Shaun said, “Look at the spiders! They’re going to get him. Kill them! Gross!” Brent and Keith took the cue and with Shaun started stomping on the eight-legged creatures as they helplessly tried to flee.

The Girl started screaming. “Don’t hurt them! They’re innocent. Don’t break their bones, one broken bone is enough!” The didn’t listen and continued to stop and laugh and scream in total disregard to her command. She stood up, shoved Shaun and he fell into the lava. Brent and Keith got the idea. They stopped stomping the creatures, looked towards the building, and ran off. Shaun sat there in the lava and looked at The Girl.

She again crouched next to the boy. “I can fix you Jimmy. I know magic.” She scooped a pile of woodchip lava from the ground and said, “We can burn it back to normal. This is lava. I think it’s called ‘callderizing.’” She carefully put the pile of woodchips next to Jimmy’s leg, instructed him to relax, and smashed them up against the skin and protruding bone.

Jimmy’s numb leg instantly felt heat, fire, bubbling, and burning. It hurt and a visceral scream he couldn’t control came out of him. She wrapped her fingers around his calf and smashed the bone into his leg while continuing to hold the woodchips next to the wound. “Just a little bit longer, okay?” She looked 30-years-old as Jimmy looked into her eyes.

“I’m done. You’re okay. Stand up.”

Jimmy looked at his leg and it was surrounded with dirt, small bits of woodchips, and a few wandering ants. He was surprised and steadied himself as he stood up. His leg was fine. It wasn’t broken anymore.

“I think you have to go home soon, huh?” Jimmy nodded. She stood up next to him, looked around, and then back at him.

“We’re friends now, right?” Jimmy nodded again.

A speck on the ceiling seemed to move out of my peripheral. Naturally, I moved my eyes to look at it. It was a spider, a harmless spider as all spiders are in Illinois. It creeped aimlessly around the ceiling as if it had nowhere it needed to go and was simply enjoying itself. It would creep towards the fan, think differently about its actions, and move off towards the wall. And then back towards the fan but this time at an angle; it didn’t really want to get to the fan it seemed. Zigzagging motions this way and that way aimlessly wandering around for whatever reason spiders wander around for.

I watched as he slowly zigzagged his way near the fan. This time he made it above the fan blades. He did something with his rear and shimmied. Then he started to fall. Slowly, inch by inch, he slid down on a web towards me. Closer and closer to the fan blades.

The downward flowing air caught him and quickly pulled him the last tiny distance into the blades. He flew quickly across the room in a way that I couldn’t follow. I panicked: he didn’t land on or near me did he? I looked all around the walls, the floor, and on the furniture that was nearby. I saw nothing. Was he dead? Was he mangled and soon to be dead? Or was he alive and happy, wondering what had just happened to him as he tried to piece together the chaos?