Chapter 1:

Chapter 1 - Salt

The Dreamer's Fall

Ethan awoke to the monotonous noise of his air conditioner humming over an old history documentary playing on the tv. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he reached to the other side of the mattress, blindly grabbing for his cellphone.

Once found, he lazily brought it before his face. "Fuck." He grumbled as he felt his heart drop to the pit of his stomach.

The time, to his dismay, read 2:27 PM. However, the eight missed calls and dozens of text notifications before him brought a greater sense of dread.

Swiping his fingers across the screen, he navigated to the alarm app to figure out why it wasn't currently blaring an air horn at him, considering how late he had overslept.

To his astonishment, the alarms were still set and active, only they read 7:00 PM instead of 7:00 AM. Backing out of the alarm app, he skimmed through his texts. The vast majority were nothing but stupid memes from his friend's group chat, so he ignored them for now.

As he continued to scroll, the feeling of dread only grew in intensity. There were many more notifications, but he couldn't ignore these like he had the others.

He let out a disparaged sigh as he tapped the little green call button. It barely rang once before the call connected.

"Hey, Ma. I—" Ethan began to speak before a sudden shout from the speaker forced him to move the phone away from his ear.

"—Where the hell are you?" Ethan's mother hollered.

"I'm sorry, I fucked up. I'm jumping in the shower now."

"Your father is furious, you know. It's your little brother's communion. How could you miss it?"

If he was planning on getting to his parent's house anytime soon, he had to start getting ready. Ethan knew there would be no end to it once his mother began admonishing him. So fleeing from this call was his best course of action at the moment.

"…I know, Ma. I'm sorry. Lemme get ready now, and I'll be at the house in an hour or two. I love you, and I'll see you soon."

"I love you too... Just get here quickly before your father blows a gasket, please." Ethan's mother pleaded before she abruptly hung up.

Once the call ended, Ethan tossed the blankets off and made his way to the enormous 'L' shaped computer desk in the corner of the room. Three wide screened monitors sat atop the desk, accompanied by a giant computer tower and multiple accessories that shone in various RGB coloring.

Ethan lazily threw himself onto his overpriced computer chair and tried to wake up. Unfortunately, the empty beer bottles that littered the desk clanked and clamored due to the sudden movement, resulting in the stench of alcohol filling the vicinity.

Ethan's stomach churned as the smell reached his nose, but he felt too hungover to deal with the mess right now. So, trying his best to ignore the sickening scent, he began his morning routine.

He checked his bank account every morning as a way of guilt-tripping himself to live more frugally, but despite the routine sticking, the guilt rarely did.

Ethan had won a significant lawsuit against the city six years ago due to a bus accident that had left him with a permanent spinal injury. While the back pain and doctor-approved opioid addiction he had received would stick around for life, the settlement money was unsurprisingly transitory.

What began as nearly two million dollars had dwindled to less than a quarter-million over the past six years. Ethan did have some income to cover a portion of his spending; however, it wasn't enough to cover the deficit.

He did some light day-trading and was tech-savvy enough to make extra cash in the cryptocurrency market every now and then. But outside of his investments, what little income he gained came from freelance programming jobs when he felt up to it.

Ethan's problem was that the comfort of not having to work set in over the years, and the motivation to work dwindled. Of course, this was a problem of his own making, and Ethan was self-aware enough to understand that, but it made little difference once the apathy set in.

After checking his bank statements, Ethan begrudgingly stood up to prepare for the long day he was facing. However, as he lifted himself up, the loud crash of a glass shattering grabbed his attention.

Ethan searched around his desk for the source, but the lack of broken glass around him confirmed that the noise hadn't come from his bedroom.

"They're still here?" Ethan mumbled as he stepped out into the hallway.

Once downstairs, he was surprised to see his friend Matt standing in the living room. Matt looked disheveled and groggy as he swept up the broken beer bottle with a small broom.

It took him a moment to notice Ethan's presence, but once he did, he watched in silence as Ethan's gaze fell to the broken bottle before returning to him.

"…Really, bro?" Ethan asked in a languid, mocking tone.

Matt rolled his eyes. "Oh, shut up. I'm cleaning it now."

Ignoring him, Ethan walked past, careful to not step on any glass as he made his way to the refrigerator. Unfortunately, it was empty save for a jar of pickles and a bottle of plum-flavored Polish vodka that he had received as a gift.

"Did you's drink all the soda last night?" He asked as he grabbed a plastic cup from a cabinet and filled it with water from the faucet.

"Sammy used it all when he was making vodka slushies." Matt replied before dumping the contents of the dustpan into the trash.

Ethan instinctively cringed from the sudden noise as he felt a headache coming on. He opened the cabinet above the faucet once more and grabbed the little orange bottle of his prescription painkillers.

"Hey, do you wanna get breakfast? I'm fucking starving right now." Matt asked abruptly as Ethan attempted to finger a pill from the tiny bottle.

Ethan didn't respond immediately. Instead, he tossed one of the little blue pills into his mouth and chewed it before glancing toward the time on the microwave. "It's almost three in the afternoon." He finally replied as he fought back the chill that the foul-tasting pill had brought on.

Matt stared at him as he chugged another cup of water to wash the foul taste away, unfazed by the comment. "So... Is that a yes?"

He shook his head and chuckled. "Nah, I can't. I gotta hurry up and get ready to go to my parent's place."

"Damn..." Matt paused as he grabbed his phone and wallet off the dining room table. "Alright then, I'll head out. Give me a call the next time you have people over."

"Alright, be safe. And tell Sammy to clean the blender the next time he uses it. I've never even used the damn thing, yet I've cleaned it every week since I bought it." Ethan said in a tone of faux-outrage as he waved Matt off.

Now alone, he looked around the house and sighed. Matt had straightened up, but the place was a mess. The sink was still packed with dishes, the blender was half full of some blue concoction that Sammy had made the night before, and to top it off, the dining room floor was sticky.

Ignoring the mess, he jumped in the shower and prepared to leave. The crisp chill of a New Jersey winter crept into his bones the moment he left his house.

Ethan liked the cold. That was why his air conditioner was on despite it being the middle of January. However, he preferred the ability to control the temperature rather than being out in the elements. So he hurried to his car, nearly slipping on some ice in his driveway as he made his way there.

"Must've rained today..." Ethan mumbled as he made a mental note to buy some street salt for his driveway on the way home.

Once inside his car, he set off on the ninety-minute journey to his parent's house. Unfortunately, as soon as he jumped on the highway, he was met with bumper-to-bumper traffic despite it being 3:30 PM on a Sunday.

His hangover seemed to grow more unbearable as he sat in the traffic, and the painkiller he had taken had done little for his headache. After a half-hour of nauseous idling, he finally reached the end of the traffic and saw the perpetrator behind his delay.

A state-owned salt truck had caught fire on the shoulder of the highway, and since people were nosy bastards, they all felt the need to slow down and stare at the burnt-out husk of a vehicle. Thankfully, there didn't appear to be anyone inside the truck that he could see.

Once Ethan passed the wreck, he glanced at the dash and sped up after noticing the time. However, he quickly realized he was speeding and decided to slow down so he didn't get a ticket.

As he gently pressed on the break, his phone vibrated loudly in the cup holder. He tried to ignore the noise that felt like pins and needles through his dehydrated brain but found himself unable to do so.

Feeling annoyed, he took his eyes off the road for a second in an attempt to quickly hit the ignore call button. However, when he turned his eyes back to the road, what greeted his gaze was a rapidly approaching concrete lane barrier.

He instinctively hit the brakes, yet the car showed no signs of stopping. Finally, realizing that the car was sliding on ice, he slammed his foot on the gas in an attempt to gain traction while turning the wheel away from the concrete barrier. Yet, in his panic, he overcompensated.

The car hastily swerved into the right lane as the passenger side of the vehicle began rising off the icy road. Ethan watched helplessly as the glistening asphalt road grew closer to his driver-side window. He felt time slow as the car's contents appeared to suspend themselves in the air for a moment.

Ethan felt the nonsensical urge to reach out and grab his phone so it wouldn't break, but the moment ended in a thunderous boom as glass shattered and steel cracked. Ethan felt a burst of heat on his back after the second impact, but after the third, he felt nothing at all.