Open Your Eyes. Start the Adventure!

The dream was strange. He was lying in bed with a sensation almost like he was floating, but could still feel his weight on the mattress. It didn’t feel the same though. Lighter maybe? He imagined that’s what sleeping on the moon would feel like. He wiggled his toes happily.

Little non-existent needles poked into his skin. It didn’t hurt, only tickled, and gave his fingers and toes the feeling of being mildly shocked. It felt warm, tingly, and fuzzy. It felt like being tucked in as a kid. The feeling slowly crept into his arms and feet, and further up and into his body. After an excruciatingly blissful few moments, the needles and fuzz embraced him. He vibrated in place on his bed and wiggled his toes some more. The lamp next to his bed shut off and the medical equipment that he didn’t even notice in his room stopped their incessant beeping. Weren’t those supposed to mean something to him? Something important? No, that was when he was awake. He didn’t need them now, he was dreaming.

The lamp was out but there was a glow in the room. Was the sun coming up already? No, the window was as dark as ever. It was night. He was sleeping. And dreaming apparently. He rolled his head around trying to find the source of light, a pale bluish glow that seemed to radiate from the walls themselves. Slowly he realized it was him; a glowing ball of energy on the bed tingling his entire being. He raised his hand and it was radiant like a full moon beaming onto freshly fallen snow. In December, it was obviously December snow.

It all faded into another deeper sleep and there was nothing.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. It was his heartbeat saying it in his chest. He had heard it his entire life but never noticed it before. It almost sounded like a woman’s voice if you listened hard enough. There was nothing to do but to listen, so he listened. The voice became clearer: Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! The voice was gentle, more asking him if he’d like to wake up, coaxing him to open his eyes, than being a strict order. She said, “Don’t you want to wake up? You’re ready to do this. You don’t think you are, but you are. Open your eyes. Start the adventure!”

After an eternity of nothing that passed in an instant he opened his eyes. 

There was still nothing. The room was black and his eyes saw nothing. He blinked a few times to ensure his eyes were actually opened and they were. He sat up, or tried to sit up, but all there was was a sensation of movement like he was floating in a pool. He moved his head to the left and right but it only moved his consciousness around. He went to move his arms and there was nothing to move. He felt around for his body but not having arms made this a pointless gesture.

He lowered his consciousness down a foot or two and there was no bed. He shot forward ten feet and there was no wall to stop him. He traveled further and no matter where he went there was nothing.

There was nothing but he never felt alone. All around him were people — things, spirits, entities — that were just like him. In the silent and still nothingness around him he made friends with everyone. One Black Thing smiled and laughed at him as if it told a joke, or if he was the joke, and then he laughed along with it. A vibration rang out amongst all of them: You’re the joke! And I’m the joke too! And what a funny joke it all is!

Love, passion, humor, wisdom, yearning, and longing, every possible mix and matched mismatched emotion was around him. He was nothing but he was nothing with all the other nothings around him and he was whole. He was fine. It all made sense. What made sense, he didn’t know, but it made sense. He was there amongst all the things he loved.

WAKE UP!

This time the sound was an alarm clock mixed with angry yelling. “Wake up! You need to get your ass ready for school! It’s already 7:15 and you’re going to miss the damn bus again! And I’m not being late to work again because you woke up late!”

She opened her eyes, rubbed them, and smashed a button on the alarm clock. It was 7:15 — 7:16 now — and it was going to be a rough morning indeed. A flood of memories came back to her in the early morning sun. She had a paper to turn in for social studies. And they were going to learn fractions in math soon. Ugh, all her friends were scared of fractions. And maybe she’d play with that one cute boy during recess if only she could get the courage to do so. Maybe that could wait until tomorrow though…

As she sat up something clicked in her brain. It was only a flash — something she had forgotten about, something really important — but it made her think. Did she forget one of her homework assignments yesterday? Did she leave her art supplies strewn about the living room? Did she forget to do the dishes? Feed her pet doggie? No, it wasn’t any of those but, dang it, she just couldn’t put her finger on what was tickling her memories.

Before she stood up she wiggled her toes and giggled.

Urban Exploration (Part One)

The old factory sat downtown against the river clustered amongst the other abandoned buildings. They didn’t mean anything anymore, relics of an economy long forgotten but whose ghost still remains in America. Everyone in town knew of them but not directly. In memory they only appear as vague and ghostly shapes around the peripheral of actual memories. Countless wedding pictures and social media posts show these ghostly, grim structures hiding in plain sight across the river, but nobody takes notice.

The factory wasn’t special — just one of many — but it was the one we scouted out one weekend night and it became special to us. It was perfect as far as abandoned factories go, tucked away from the main streets, dark and secluded with the street lamps far away. As we wheeled to the side of the building we noticed that the windows, while boarded up nearest to the ground and shattered higher up, were not that high. We’d just have to find a way to get up to them. Riding around to the opposite side of the building we discovered a tree growing, one large branch probing directly into the building, with the single plywood sheet smashed into the interior. The tree was leaning towards the opening almost as if it knew we wanted a way in.

She climbed up the trunk, carefully grabbing the few branches to access the window while I watched our bikes. No one was around so I took a drink of our mutual vodka and waited for her report.

“It’s fine,” she said as she clicked on her flashlight and peered through the smashed window. “It leads to a small room and there’s a table right under the branch.”

“Very cool,” I said.

“Are we doing this now?” She asked.

The alcohol was coursing through both of our veins, I could feel the pull of the adventure, but we could wait. And we should’ve waited. This evening was meant to be an aimless drunken bike ride and only in the midst of the factories had we talked about exploring one. We were just poking around, seeing what could be accessed, and had lucked out; we actually found one to plunder. There’d be other days to explore the abandoned corpse, there was no rush, and next time we could prepare.

“Maybe we should come back next weekend. We could bring some supplies or something.”

“Come on, chicken shit. What ‘supplies’ do we need anyways? We have our phones for lights, and climb up here and give me the vodka. Let’s do this!

She had a point. Maybe I was only being my hesitant self? Another way to pass up the adventure and succumb to my anxiety; adventures are always in the future for me. I took another drink and climbed up after her.

It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust from the dim light of downtown to the utter darkness inside the factory. I turned my phone on and shone the light inside. My eyes followed the bright circle of light as it darted around the room. There was a table a few feet below the window strewn with old papers and file folders. The back of my mind vaguely noted that none of these papers were printed. Handwritten scrawl all over the pages, numbers and codes that ceased to have meaning to anyone alive except some old retiree living somewhere in the world.

We both climbed down onto the table and then to the floor. Filing cabinets lined one wall while desks took up the rest. All useful machines, typewriters, phones, and whatever else had been in the room had been removed. Papers covered the floor and a few broken lamps layed sideways with their bulbs smashed and glass glittering in the pale light.

An old wooden door led to a hallway that ran in both directions. Across from us was another “office room” (at least this is what we called it). This room was the same as the last, littered with the same cryptic papers and trash, although the far wall was all dusty glass. We walked up and peered into the blackness of the factory floor. Some large machines remained, old, decrepit and long being useful to anyone. Our lights didn’t shine far and we didn’t know what the rest of the floor contained, shrouded in a darkness that the little ambient light from the few holes in the roofs couldn’t dispel.

We walked down the hallway and entered another room along the outer wall like the one that led us inside. This room wasn’t totally dark. A solitary oil lamp sat on the floor. We both looked at each other and crawled our lights around the room. There was a pile of blankets a few feet from the lamp in a corner of the room. It looked like another heap of junk, except that it moved.

We gasped and stared at each other in the dim reflected light from our lights. Eyeing the pile closer we noticed there was a shaggy head of hair peeking up under the covers. The bum coughed, rolled over, and tucked himself into his nest, apparently still fast asleep. Our senses came back to us after this initial shock. We noticed the pipe of empty cans and bottles of beer and alcohol as well as a few cans of food. Ravioli. Beans. Soup. Old bread and fast-food bags also littered around the nest.

We nodded to each other and silently left the room, retreating back to the windowed office room.

“That scared the shit out of me. I didn’t expect anyone to actually be here.” She said.

“I about pissed my pants. But it is an old factory. There’s probably homeless people all over the place.” I said. “Should we leave? I think we should leave.”

“No. There’s this whole building to explore, we can’t leave now. He’s sleeping anyways and didn’t notice us so we’re fine. We’ll just be very quiet, okay?”

“Sure. I guess.”

“Gimme the vodka; stop hogging it.”

I pulled the bottle out and we took drinks from it.

“Well, you ready?” She asked.

“Sure. Let’s see what…”

Footsteps on the floor above us and we froze. It didn’t sound like a single person either, maybe two or three. They didn’t seem like they were scared of making noise either, their footsteps being confidently loud and booming in the silent stillness of the building.

“How about now? Are you ready to get the hell out of here?” I asked.

“Let’s wait. Maybe they’ll…”

The footsteps moved across the ceiling above us and down a flight of stairs in the distance. The sounds echoed from the end of the hallway looming in the distance.

We shut our lights off and hid up against the wall next to the doorway. If anyone looked in our room maybe they’d miss us?

Her courage was greater than mine. She peered around and out of the doorway. There were three people, one carrying an oil lamp and the other two had, well what did they have? She couldn’t clearly see.

They stopped at the room with the bum, and a voice spoke up. “Will he work?”

“Yes,” another voice replied.

“Do you think he’ll fight?”

“No. He’s passed out drunk. Get him.”

The figures walked into the room and we heard rustling and grunting. A raspy voice seemed to be mumbling and questioning something and was silenced by the sound of fist against flesh. There was more mumbling and grunting, this time with an edge of pain to it.

“Good. Get him upstairs.”

The figures helped the bum limp his way along the hallway with something held to his neck. It could only be a knife. The footsteps faded into the silence of the building, into the silence of the night, and once again transformed into those threatening steps on the ceiling above us.

“We’re leaving now, right? Let’s get out of here. Fuck all of this.” I said. “Unless you’re still bold and courageous for some reason.” I was joking; I wanted to leave.

She grabbed the bottle out of my pocket and took a drink bigger than I’d seen her do thus far. “Let’s check it out. Why not? He’s in trouble, it’s obvious, and maybe we can help him.”

“What kinda trouble do you think he’s in? They can’t rob him, he has nothing, so…?”

“Come on. Let’s go.” I followed sheepishly as she led the way through the darkness towards the stairway.

The Map Boy: A Tale of Forbidden Love

The tension between Chris Cuomo and Map Boy

Note: A bit of backstory is required here. I haven’t written anything in a long time and this would appear to be a totally random mess of shit to just plop up here. So let me explain...

Over the four days of the election, a bunch of us were addicted to the r/politics election threads on Reddit, and these became rather unhinged into the late hours of the morning. You know, a bunch of drunken and anxiety-ridden redditors binge-watching CNN waiting for any election update we could find. In this horrendous atmosphere some strange things started happening. The entire sub became thirsty over any news reporter that took up working the late-night hours of the election. People started to become bored and created their own wild narratives about the presenters. The most noteworthy is the ‘saga’ between Map Boy (Phil Mattingly) and Chris Cuomo. Between these two professional newscasters reddit started to see ‘sexual tension,’ as if Cuomo and Map Boy had some urge to be together and make passionate love during the 2020 election. This turned into a full-fledged meme and Map Boy seemed to be a temporary celebrity.

So drunk on Friday I decided to actually write some bullshit fanfic about Chris Cuomo and Map Boy. I wrote two ‘chapters’ totally out of no where and I found them hilarious enough to post. Yes, they’re stories, yes, I’d written them, but obviously there isn’t much ‘deep artistic inspiration’ going on here. Enjoy!

Part One

Chris Cuomo had been working at CNN for a long time. Taking part in the grind, reporting stories he didn’t care that much about but faking interest at whatever he was tasked with. It was a decent job with decent pay, but somehow seemed to lack the passion of what he thought reporting would be like.

And then the shitshow 2020 election happened.

There he was one day…The Map Boy. He didn’t know his name — some random young hunk that had to take over after John King had to go to bed in the early morning hours of November 4 — but something about him intrigued him. He couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. Map Boy’s way of shyly not holding eye contact with him, or maybe his attempt at dominance while still cowering in fear around Cuomo, a fake display of masculinity that Map Boy just couldn’t hold to. Chris found it strangely appealing.

Maybe this was the passion that Cuomo was missing in his job and in his life. But yet, here he was right here in front of him playing the Magic Wall like a classical instrument of old. A young master of his domain, and Cuomo wanted to learn more about Map Boy even if he didn’t understand why.

Cuomo knew his wife wouldn’t understand his blossoming feelings. The mystery — why do I feel this way? — and the intrigue of it all. He wasn’t sure what Map Boy stood for, but it was something magical and something that he had yearned for his entire life…

Part Two

And one day, in the wee hours of November 7 (not that anyone knew what day it was by this time), something happened.

It was something small, one of those tiny and insignificant moments in life that seems to speak to the beauty and depth of it all, something so small that Cuomo didn’t realize it at the time and only had importance in retrospect.

“This, right here,” Map Boy said fingering his magical wall delicately, “Is Delaware County. We’re expecting….” and Cuomo drifted off in a daze. Those fingers. His artisanal skill mesmerized him.

But there was a problem. Map Boy was fingering the wrong county, caressing Allegheny County instead. It was an honest mistake, both of them being delirious from the endless sleep-deprived hours reporting on the endless election.

Cuomo, being the dominant one of the team, pointed this out.

“Map Boy, I think you’re pointing to Allegheny County, not Delaware County.”

Map Boy glanced at him and instantly broke eye contact. “No. This is…this is Delaware County, Chris.” He fingered the map seductively again.

“No, Map Boy, Delaware County is over here.” Cuomo reached across the Magic Wall, moving ever closer to Delaware County and Map Boy himself his hands quivering from lack of sleep, caffeine, or anxiety;  he didn’t know why he was shaking. Map Boy, drained of sleep, reflexively moved his hand downward to shoo the unwelcomed visitor away from his Magic Wall. And then to Cuomo’s surprise, as they touched skin, a lightning bolt landed in his brain. In his heart. In his whole body; they touched for a fragment of a second. Time stopped. It was just him and Map Boy. Together in the world. Nothing mattered anymore and any worries about counties or ballot totals vanished instantly.

Map Boy and him locked eyes, only for an infinite split-second, and moved their hands apart. It was the first move of an avalanche, nothing that either of them could stop or control, but it was in motion. And nothing could stop it…

The Vacant Lot

A bike ride past a vacant field filled with memories.

Note: Instead of working on the actual “coherent” stories I’ve been trying to write, I’ve been reading the older stories I’d written years ago. They’re not too bad, and it’s fun to tidy them up a bit. This is one of them.

Without a clear goal or plan I turned left at this street and right at another. I was a free spirit, riding in whichever direction I fancied at the time. The way I took was dictated by emotion and past memory: I remember going down a certain street in high school, or a girl I used to know lived down a street which I blindly turned down. Memories were everywhere — the time was different and sometimes the scenery was different — but the memories still lingered in some way even though they were horribly nonexistent in the present.

I rode by the park we used to play football in, years ago in high school. I wondered if we would ever get people together to play again. Maybe as a ten-year, twenty-year, or even a thirty-year reunion. We could be fifty-year-olds trying to play tackle football at the old park we used to play in. I knew we wouldn’t, and at most maybe a friend or two would meet up someday and throw a football around for nostalgic reasons. But those games, no, they were forever gone. No one ever knew at the time we were playing the last football game that we’d ever play.

The street I was on along the park also had other familiarity to it. It took a few moments of thought — some tying of the strings of my memory — but I finally connected the dots in my head: this was the street my ex-girlfriend and I had rented a house on. It was long ago, not terribly long ago — only a few years — but I was immensely changed since then, making it feel like ages had passed. I felt decades older and wiser even though I’d only gone around the sun two and a half times since. I had no goals or plans that day, so I continued on down the street. It’d be nice to ride by the old house and reminisce.

As I got closer to the house we had rented I realized something; the houses that were along this street were gone. I remembered years earlier there had been a flood, these houses which bordered on the creek had become lost causes, and the city moved to purchase and demolish them. Her and I were together when the flood happened, and being alongside the creek allowed us to see a large part of what had happened. We were on the higher side of the creek and our street didn’t flood; our house wasn’t afloat. Around us were houses seemingly boats in endless water: drifting in a lake that had appeared out of nowhere from the clouds and the rain one August night. The vacant lots allowed me to see the next street over, unimpeded by trees, houses, or any other obstruction and it seemed very strange. Only the creek which had caused the flooding was between me and the street to the north. The creek seemed harmless and nothing like the demon that I knew it could be if fed well enough.

I continued on and finally arrived where our old house was, but something didn’t seem right. I glanced back at the street sign to make sure I didn’t mistake what block I was on, and it was the block, but where was the house? The vacant fields of grass that had stretched endlessly also stretched into this area completely catching me off guard. And further down the road, the field continued. Had the city demolished the entire area?

I slowed and eased my bike towards the curb at the location where I thought the house used to be. There was the same, bland grassy field and nothing gave away the hints of the past. But here, along the curb, was a tree: a single tree between the sidewalk and the street. As I parked under it, I glanced up and felt something. It was a tree, a tree that was unremarkable in every way possible, but something in my memory moved. This was the tree I had parked under for years straight, never really looking up to examine it but seeing it so frequently made an imprint on my memory. It was a ghost, an image of a peripheral that etched its way into my mind. Never noticed but always there. It felt familiar, like an old friend or acquaintance, and I knew this was where the house used to be.

I looked at the field with determination and yearning. Behind me was slightly lower where a driveway used to be, and imagining the memory of the property fit like a puzzle to this sparse field with a creek in the middle of it. Here was where the driveway was, and here was where I put our garbage out on a Wednesday, and there was where the next door neighbors lived, and over there was where I’d sit on the steps and think about us and how we’d never work.

I frowned as I examined the vacant field some more. The memories were both good and bad and they randomly came at me with no rhyme or reason; they just appeared as ghosts of the location. 

I thought of the house, and where I happened to be currently. There was a pile of rubble of the old house somewhere and I wondered if anyone thought of the memories they held. There was a chunk of concrete out there in the world that I walked on daily, and a board of wood that creaked every time we went up the steps, and the walls that watched us smile, cry, scream, and yell as the days came and passed. They existed somewhere and in some form out in the world without anyone but myself knowing their history.

Reality slowly creeped back in as I stared into the air. I was standing there next to a field and, well, I was on a bike ride that day. Feeling the outside world pressing in on my senses again, I mounted the bike and kicked off from the curb that her car tire had rubbed on countless times. I imagined that maybe there were bits of rubber from her car on my shoes as I sped off down the street. But that was the past that was past and this was the neverending present and it was time to get on with life.

I moved on from that day, from that leisurely bike ride, without much conscious thought about what I had seen. Going to work, sleeping, eating, and generally existing were enough to fill my time, and I didn’t think of the lost house very much. But as much as I’d have liked to think it didn’t weigh on me, it must have, because my mind would somehow turn to the image of the empty field with the creek behind it, and it would seem to occur when I was alone, trying to not think of anything at all. As I tried to fall asleep, I’d see the field again, and sometimes the house that used to be there. I thought of her, and wondered what she was up to. The thoughts were never strong enough to give me pause, to keep me awake at night, or to make me think deeply; they would randomly appear and then after a few thoughtful moments, they’d drift away into the oblivion from which they came.

Check out my Instagram where I post pointless artistic pics every whenever I get around to it.

Or my other blog Everything Sucks where I blog about random topics.

Or Wattpad where I have a Morrowind fanfic ongoing.

Or my Facebook page where I don’t do much of anything at all.

…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?

Introduction

It’s an introduction, what else is there to say?

Note: I’m creatively burned out. As much as I want to create something new, I find I have no inspiration currently. I’m pissed off about it, but what can you do? I’ve found myself editing chapters and doing the hellish work involved with trying to be a creative writer and while I despise it it needs to be done. This is the introduction to my Apex Story, and while it isn’t riventing might be a good way to get back to the grind.

This story is a fiction story, just to make that clear from the get-go. I remember hearing something about a book that was written — some nonfiction book — where the author who wrote about drugs appeared on Oprah or something. Apparently there was quite a bit of fallout over this because somehow it was realized that it wasn’t all true. Most of it, the structure, the tone, and the lessons were probably true to some degree but somewhere along the line the author fucked up and exaggerated a bunch of stuff. And so he got demonized by marketing a fictionesque book as a nonfiction book. He didn’t quite suffer in the way he had written and got shit upon for it.

This all seemed stupid as hell to me. The line between a nonfiction biographical book and a completely fictitious one is tenuous to begin with with reality informing the fiction and nonfiction possibly being “artistically flourished” to some degree. Why, I thought, wouldn’t you just call the book a fiction book and save yourself the trouble? You could write an autobiography as true as anything, call it fiction, and you’re free to exaggerate or mess up the fine details all you want with zero repercussions. There is no liability in writing a fiction book because it’s understood to be a creative work. Even if it isn’t fake and you add in some flourishes that really didn’t happen, no one will care. Hell, people don’t even like nonfiction books and label them as “boring.” So to save myself the problem of writing a “factually true” story I’ll just say it’s fiction and let the reader determine what is real and isn’t. But probably most of it is real because I’m not a very creative writer.

This book is intended to be a collection of memories, stories, and amusing occurrences from one of the stupidest jobs that I have ever worked. The job was stupid in a way that was different than the rest: I worked at a Target distribution center and that job sucked because the work was mindnumbingly boring: I had to stand in aisles literally for hours at a time while picking products during a twelve-hour shift. I also worked at a Sam’s Club and that job sucked because the company is shit and part of Walmart: just imagine how working at Walmart would be. I also had to deal with the general — and entitled — public. Corporate would shit on management who would in turn shit on you and the average customer would also shit upwards on you. Because shit rolls downhill. Because the customer is always right and their shit rolls uphill for some reason. This is the usual complaint issued by any standard retail or fast-food worker. I’ve noticed that past a certain age, some people just don’t deal with the public anymore. At least not the general public. I think people just get sick of it: they finally realize they don’t have to put up with peoples’ shit working for minimum wage pay. Although I do feel bad for the old people you see working fast food or retail; you know they made some bad life choices and are paying dearly for them.

I also worked at a McDonald’s and the “general public are a bunch of fucks and that’s why I hate the job” applies there. Nothing new to note here.

In contrast, Apex Logistics sucked for a whole new reason that was new to me: the company was incompetent. My fellow workers would fuck things up, management would fuck things up, upper corporate management would make zero sense with their demands, HR (human resources) was clueless, and you couldn’t get a firm answer about any questions you had. They talked a tough game but failed to actually follow through with any of it. “We’re a team and if you don’t want to work as a team you can leave now,” they’d say. But then if you didn’t act as a team nothing would actually happen. Shit like that. Endless shit like that.

The types of people you meet at any job are what makes it either terrible or enjoyable. Most places have such a wide variety of people you’re bound to meet quite a few along the spectrum. There are the cool people that you have some indescribable bond with, there are the people you despise even if you can’t explain why, and there are people you are indifferent about. Apex was no different and had some interesting, cool, and unique people that worked there; I’m sure many of them still work there. Apex was unique in that the people at the ends of the “coolness spectrum” were strongly at the ends of the spectrum. I’m talking very end of the inevitable bell-curve that depicts distributions. Three standard deviations above average in terms of coolness and three standard deviations below average in terms of terribleness.

I guess I also intend this to be a farewell to the place — a sort of obituary for me working there. Inevitably when leaving a job you feel a sense of defeat. Either you quit out of an inability to continue working there or you are fired; either way it’s a negative feeling. (I haven’t been able to quit a job yet for “bigger and better things” yet.) As a way to cope or to process my feelings, I tossed around the idea of writing a book about the place; a way to capture the unique people that I met there, or to bitch about how awful of a place it was to work, or to just give the place a sendoff. A sort of “farewell” to Apex Logistics.But remember this is fiction. If I quit, or haven’t quit, or Apex Logistics doesn’t really exist, and there is no Rockford, Illinois, then you won’t have to worry. Because as true as this all sounds, it’s fiction. It’s made up. There is no Bumblebee. There is no Tuna Fish, or Grizzly Bear, or Elrod. Forklifts don’t punch holes through semi trailers and tug tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. There is no such thing as a Boeing 767. And if it did exist, it really doesn’t hold 24 pallets on the main deck.