Listening to someone else’s music for a day is like viewing the world through another person’s eyes.
I won’t lie. I didn’t love these songs at first. Takanaka’s body of work is all guitar, and it sounds kind of simple to my deranged ears. But… it’s music. And the more I hear it, the more I start to feel the melodies move me. The more I think of her.
It all clicks this morning as Elaine is driving me to school, and the route there is passing by at just the right speed in correlation with the songs. This isn’t like what I usually listen to, that’s for sure… when I look out the window hearing something like Death’s Dynamic Shroud, it molds the world into something like an enemy. Such dark, overstimulating tracks leave you feeling like the protagonist of a dystopian novel- like you’re up against the whole world and nobody can understand you. But these songs… they’re like the sun. They’re like light, inviting you in to see this world. Sugar to help it go down. Warmth. You’d think something like that could never work on a girl like me, but with the help of imagining Harmony listening to the same thing, it suddenly starts touching me. I get why she likes it, that’s a given.
Of course… I can’t say I’d still be listening to it if I didn’t like Harmony.
It feels different to walk into school today, keeping those Takanaka-infused earbuds going. Wow, this feeling’s real? I thought this kind of thing only happened in fiction. Maybe Wire was right after all. On the way to homeroom, my route syncs up with Dylan headed the same way.
“Mornin’ Molly…” he grumbles, his hoodie only half-zipped up.
“Good morning!” I respond.
“You’re chipper. What the fuck happened?”
“Got a girlfriend. Total babe.”
“Oh…” he sounds like I just broke into his house and stomped his cat to death.
“Hey, come on buddy.” I pat the middle of his back, not quite able to reach his shoulder. “If it’s a lass you want, you’ll find one eventually.”
“You sound like a weird old man.”
“Uncalled for!” I slap the same spot I was patting.
“You’ve got no strength whatsoever. I’m telling you, you might be looking at this the wrong way. You need someone to protect you, not someone to protect.”
“A man always needs someone… to protect.”
“Sure, whatever, Batman. If you want to protect someone, find your own happiness first.”
“Like you have any experience.” The two of us walk through the class door, greeting a room entirely blind to our arrival.
“More than you.” I sit down in the same spot as always, my lapdog quickly following.
“You’re awful, Molly. I dunno how you did it.”
“Relationships aren’t about how likeable you are. It’s all about love, baby.”
“That doesn’t make any sense…” he pours his melted head onto his desk. “Lemme guess… you gonna take her to Prom?”
“It’s in like, a day… don’t you remember…? We literally just talked about it…”
“Oh… huh. I guess that’s something I might actually be interested in now. Thanks Dill.”
“Ugh…” he sighs.
“Hey! Cheer up now. You know, I’m not opposed to monogamy. Just boys. If you wanna be our third, you’d only need to make a few improvements.”
“Fuck off.” He sounds weirdly serious this time.
“Fine, whatever. You do you, kid.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Jesus. What a downer.
My year’s looking up though. As I head to math, I’m practically skipping. It was fun to stew in misery with my friends before, but now that I’m soaring high into the skies of euphoria, that’s just a long-forgotten childhood pastime. I slide into my seat next to the always-on time Wire with a smile on my face.
“You… found something to do that fast?” He asks, as if our conversation from yesterday had never ended.
“Not something. Someone.”
“I’m for real, Wire! Her name’s Harmony.”
“You’ve got info? Ha, guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You know something about everyone in this school with all your data sheets and intel files…”
“No, Molly, I just… met her, like a human being.”
“Wait, like you two have actually talked?” I really shouldn’t be so shocked that other people know each other’s names, but it’s a fact of life I often ignore.
“Yes, we have. She’s in my third block. Wasn’t there yesterday, I assume you’re the cause for that. But we’re not friends or anything- just someone I’ve worked with.”
“Wait… has she helped you on any of your crazy projects?” I stare, affixed.
“No.” He states firmly. “Not everything revolves around my boredom experiments, and needless to say, I don’t show them to sane people. I mean we’ve worked on school projects together. As randomly assigned classmates. She’s really quite smart. Good grades, too.”
“So you have done your research.”
“I may have had a small crush on her for a time.”
My jaw drops.
“No way. I would’ve bet a million bucks you were like, aromantic or something.”
“Oh, don’t worry. Chances are, I am. This was near the middle of the year- just needed something to occupy myself. I got over it quick once I learned more about her.”
“Don’t take my opinion as hard fact or advice here… but to a guy like me, that woman’s dreadful. Far too happy for her own good.”
“Oh… I mean yeah, I can see that.”
“You two really are alike, though.”
“Figured you’d say the opposite. I mean… until today, I was the saddest girl in the whole school.”
“Aren’t you still? Elopas isn’t coming around anytime soon.”
“Yeah, so… all the more for my point.”
“Molly, everyone’s sad. Nobody’s genuinely satisfied in a place like this… that’s just something I refuse to believe.”
“Can I Sing… For You” is playing.
“So… what’re you getting at?”
“That Harmony Bridges is an excellent liar. To herself.”
It’s finally time. I’m not the first one to my table in third block today- she is. The beauty’s sitting right there already, just for me. And Harmony looks at me as I enter the room. I’ve never felt like I ever really stepped into a classroom up until now. I practically run to my seat.
By the time the bell rings, our third group member thankfully hasn’t arrived. I’m guessing he’s sick… I hope he stays that way forever, if it means I can be alone with her.
“How are you feeling, Molly?”
“Incredible.” She’s so eloquent.
“Your music is loud. Or should I say my music?”
“Oh.” I take out my earbud. I guess it is kind of going at it. The boys were just too dead to tell me.
“No, you don’t need to stop.” She giggles. “I’m glad to see you’ve taken such an interest in my likes… even if I haven’t listened to much Takanaka since the start of the year.”
“So… what do you listen to right now?” I ask, genuinely wanting to know.
“It’s embarrassing… I dunno.”
“How could it be? I confessed to all the weird stuff I like. Come on, now… what is it, Jackal Queenston?”
“Is that something you like?”
“Yes…” I admit. “I used to listen to Full Techno Jackass every single morning.”
“That sounds… interesting. But no. You see, I listen to my own music.”
“That’s not embarrassing!” I blurt out. “You do music? You’re so talented!”
“Well sure, thanks- but most artists don’t want to hear their own tracks all day. It’s masturbatory, don’t you think?”
“I like masturbatory.” I say with full confidence, as if it’s not embarrassing or even grammatically incorrect. It gets her to laugh, so it’s hella worth it.
“God, you’re the best.”
“Oh. Yeah?” Never been called the best before… not by someone else.
“That’s right, Molly. You’re the best.”
I am exactly four minutes and twenty seconds into THE MOON ROSE as she says these beautiful words. I’m glad I put it on shuffle.
When I get home that day, there’s a package waiting for me. Or, as the label puts it- Acidgirl.
She’s fucking huge. Bigass cardboard box fatter than that girl in the second episode of Kaiba (2008) who explodes into a JELL-O nuke after self-copulating with a borrowed body. Man that show was nuts. Anyway, I hoist the thing towards my room and after half an hour of effort I actually get it in there. Down the hall, Elaine’s door is shut, so she’s probably in the midst of another depression nap. Works for me.
I rip the pudgy sucker open, but before I can see anything there’s a layer of paper and a note. I unfold it to see some truly nasty handwriting, but upon analyzation, it says something like this:
Molly I’m sorry.
I know I let you down, and I was a fool to myself and everyone and all that.
But I’m done here.
I love you. Not really tho. Don’t remember me as a pedo. I just didn’t have any friends beside you weird fucking kids
I had to go Molly. I had to. I can’t take this anymore. I’ve already done it in my head, it’s already over. All that’s left is to pull the trigger.
Remember me as the coolest guy you ever knew
Cool mentor character passing on the torch to someone actually worth a damn
You’re worth it, Molly. You’re special, don’t ever forget that.
I’m leaving you all the chips I could. I’ve got a list further down in here but it might be a little fucked cause honestly that’s not the most important thing to me right now but it’ll at least tell you which is which
Go get that dream Molly.
Go get Elopas.
Don’t let anyone slow you down. Not even yourself.
The note makes me feel too much. It reminds me of how one day I went to the aquarium with Elaine and told her I wanted to touch one of the tiny sharks even though I didn’t actually care. I was worried all day I wouldn’t be able to and then when I finally did it kinda stung my heart a little. Like I forced a reaction with a defibrillator.
I read it over a few times and then throw it away.
The box is filled to the brim with chips like they’re goddamn LEGO pieces. Honestly… this is quite the present. I could sell these for a ton of cash if I wanted to. It’s not what he’d want, but like… fuck, man… am I ever gonna go back to Elopas…?
I dig through the components to find the list of parts. There’s a few he mentioned to me over when we met in VR for the first time that he’s left in here. Multiple Jaywalkers, chips used to interfere in private servers. At least twenty of those Molder chips that can create models of yourself. He gave me a second magatsu for some reason, and four Blindeyes, the type that make you forget all about the feeling of having a heavy mask on your face while you play. Most interestingly, there’s an assortment of auto-programming chips. I’ve heard of these before, but never knew how they worked. Apparently, you can create simple AI with them just by imagining what you want the creation to do or act like. If I was really desperate, I could engineer a fake Elopas with these whenever I wanted. But nothing sounds more pathetic than that.
Last but not least… he gave me four Breakchips. Not sure how I feel about having a copy of his suicide method, but I’ll take it if that’s what he wants. I hide the box in my closet before wasting the rest of the day with games and anime. As I fall asleep, I notice just how much easier it is to do than it was right after all that shit went down not long ago. Harmony’s healed my soul like nothing ever has.
The next day at school begins as normal. Dylan is totally depressed. Wire is almost as bad. Then I walk into language arts and my darling wife is there waiting for me like I just got back from a long shift at work.
I hug her before I sit down. When I do, she immediately asks me something.
“Hey. Do you wanna go to Prom with me tommorow night?”
“Ah, yeah. I forgot about that again. If it’s with you? Fuck yes.”
“Great! I bought us tickets.”
“Awesome, I didn’t need the hassle of picking one up myself.”
Harmony smirks. “Good, good. By the way, are you free after school?”
“I’m always free. What’s happening?”
“You should come to my house. We could have some fun.”
“My parents aren’t home.”
“Well that’s nice, I don’t much like talking to adults.”
“You are an adult, Molly. And so am I.”
“Oh, yeah. Well I hate parents then.”
“Everybody hates their parents Molly, don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“I guess you’re right.”
She giggles and smiles at me even more. This girl could strangle me and I’d still probably love it.
“Can’t wait to see you there. Do you need a ride?”
“I thought so. How about… you just leave school with me?”
“No, silly. After the day’s over. I can drive you to my place.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll text my mom.”
I feel like I’m in a Persona game. I spend the rest of the day thinking about what we’ll do. I’ve never been in a relationship before. If I’m going straight to her house, I can’t bring any media, but maybe she has some of her own… unless… well… we won’t be doing that, will we…? It’s only been a few days… then again, I have no idea how any of this works… she did mention her parents weren’t home… why would she mention that? I’m getting more excited by the minute…
The day takes fucking forever as usual. Only now, I kinda like it. The buildup is intoxicating. It wouldn’t matter if this day lasted for years. I’d still know that at the end I was gonna have the time of my life with my bad-as-fuck girlfriend that showed up out of nowhere.
When the last bell finally rings, I’m out of there in a flash. Harmony waits by the front door of the school just for me.
“Hey!” My voice cracks.
“Hey.” She says softly and perfectly. “Let’s get out of here already, yeah?”
I take her hand and we step down the outer stairs of the building like a pair of princesses. My Utena fantasies coming to life before she holds the door of her expensive-looking car (I don’t know car brands) for me and I step inside to sit on what must be the most comfortable seat I’ve felt inside any car ever.
On our way there, she asks me what I’d like to listen to.
“Can we play your music?”
“I’d rather show it to you live.”
“Takanaka, then.” I say, hoping to please her. She smiles.
The sounds of his guitar carry us all the way to her front driveway.
Her house is bigger than mine, and half as empty. I see pictures of her as a little girl on the walls and lots of school projects she’s done throughout her life. Kinda glad my parents- parent? Ain’t like that, really… but she seems to enjoy it.
We more or less head straight into her room. Unlike my media cave, it’s nearly organized, and the walls are a nostalgic pink opposed to my… grey? Brown? Green? The lights are always off so I can never remember. There’s a guitar in the corner and a laptop on the desk. A nice chest of drawers and some posters of nice looking-photos instead of media properties.
“Do you like it?” She asks, I guess referring to where we stand.
“Yeah, of course!” I answer, maybe too unconvincingly. I really do like it. “It’s cool… er… pretty would be more accurate.”
“You don’t say that word much, do you? “Pretty.” You do only hang around guys. You should say it more… it suits you.” She gives me this heart-melting smirk.
“Heheh… thanks.” It’s hard for me not to sound like a creep, but I don’t think she cares. She loves me for my weirdo media-eating self, and that makes me happy.
I find myself staring at her guitar. Ever since she mentioned her music, I’ve wanted to hear it. She notices my fixation and picks it up.
“Okay, I think it’s time. You want to hear me play?”
She doesn’t sing while she plays, so I’m left to only take in the sound of her fingers across the strings of the instrument. With my only recent point of reference being Masayoshi Takanaka, I can’t help but hear him in her style. It tastes like how Christians describe life if it went down the throat easier. It’s confident in a sort of simple way. When she closes her eyes and nods her head down as she strums, it’s like she really believes in this moment that no matter what everything will be alright.
“That’s impressive.” I compliment as she finishes and looks up to me knowingly, like she already expected my answer. “Do you put your music anywhere?”
“Like online? Sometimes. I have a personal folder that I listen to.”
“How many songs have you made?”
“At least forty. But I don’t care for most of them. Once they get too old, I stop liking them. They remind me of a version of myself that doesn’t seem real to me anymore.” She spots my hesitation to respond to her immediately and pushes forward with an easy-to-answer question. “Do you make art, Molly?”
“No.” I respond. “Well-“ I consider bringing up Elopas, but at this point I should be trying harder to forget her. That was a childish obsession, after all. Not a passion for creation.
“So you do make something.” She prods. “Tell me about it, Molly. I wanna know more about you.”
“I was, um…” I quickly think up an alternative answer. Not a lie, just something else to say. “I was just thinking about middle school. Back then I kinda wanted to draw.”
“I… found out I was wrong, was all. I only wanted to draw the same thing every time. I would always scribble myself as this cool anime lady… nothing like how I ended up. It was a short-lived obsession, I had no passion for the craft.”
“I see. Do you have hobbies, then?” She says as if she’d accept me even in the case that I didn’t.
“Yeah, more or less. I’m really into VR.”
“Oh, yeah? I see that stuff on YouTube sometimes. What games do you play?”
“Uh… I’m kinda into the “hobby” side of it… like, the hardware modding and all that…”
“I see. So… do you have that headset made by the FRiDAYLaND guy?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Martin Tollbridge.”
“It works pretty well. I upgraded mine a ton though.”
“What do you use it for, if not games?”
I guess there’s no avoiding it…
“I… have you heard of PSICO?” I see she hasn’t from the look in her eyes. “I guess not… there’re this… uh, big, kinda-maybe-sorta illegal company in New York…”
“You’re into conspiracy stuff?”
“Nah, they’re real. They got this… say they got this… computer, called a biocomputer…”
“I don’ really know. But it should be able to link the virtual and real worlds together. Isn’t that cool?”
“I suppose it would be…”
“Yeah. So I… I mess around on their servers sometimes. Or I did, for awhile.”
I find it’s been awhile since I last talked this much about myself.
“It’s okay, you can tell me any crazy stuff you want.” She giggles. “It’s fun.”
“Uh… yeah, alright. You see… I had this crazy dream. Wanted to summon this- uh. Let’s call it a demon. That’s easier… so yeah. I wanted to summon a demon using the PSICO servers.”
“Hmm… first and foremost, I wanted a friend.”
“That’s pretty normal, Molly.”
“But… not any friend. I wanted… someone who was like a living story.” I start looking less and less at Harmony and more and more at the ground. “Someone who could save me from this… awful feeling I get.”
“Yeah. Awful, terrible feeling.”
“Oh. You were sad about something?”
“I wish. It’s like… it’s like having ants all over your brain, except you don’t know where they are…”
“It’s… “like?” So this is still going on, no?”
“It is. I expect it will forever at this point… you see- um. I’m not so sure… any of this has been real.” Harmony blinks at me with enough compassion to tell me it’s alright to keep going, but I wonder if she’s starting to get worried. “All I like’s fake shit, I guess you should’ve figured that out by now… but what I don’t tell you… is how much it hurts to watch these days. You make art… and that’s great. The reason someone like me can’t… is because my life hasn’t ended up as art. It hasn’t been… real.”
“I don’t… follow.”
“It’s like, I can remember someone in my body doing all these things, but… I’m convinced it was never me. Like one day I just woke up in this body and was forced to live in it.”
She giggles, a bit nervously. “That’s… Molly, we all feel like that. You just have to set it aside sometimes when you start to overthink things.”
“I… I tried. But it’s not like that… I can’t fight it, Harmony… I just can’t. Sometimes… these days I’m really, truly convinced that none of this is real.”
She stands over me, trying to comfort me in a way I can’t be comforted.
“Harmony, I’m sorry. But… that’s why. This demon I thought up… she would save me from this, somehow. Because she would be a story- a life that made sense. A life I don’t have.”
“My life doesn’t work as a story… it just… goes, and goes… I want a story that’s alive, so that… so that it can comfort me.”
I look up at her. She’s… crying? No… just… sounding like it.
“Life is real. You can’t pretend it isn’t.”
“I’m… I'm not. This is just how I feel. Didn’t you say… everyone’s like this?”
“That’s what I believe.”
“Before my friend killed himself… I was talking to him about not wanting to live. He said the same thing.”
“Molly, shut up.”
She picks me of the ground in a tight hug.
“Shut up. Hold onto me.”
“Um… okay.” I do as she says.
“Now forget all that. It’s pointless.”
“…” I want to tell her how it’s not pointless… but part of me also wants to believe her.
“You’re hurting yourself like this. You need to snap back into the real world. Don’t you love yourself, Molly?”
“I… I do. I’m the best, just like you said.”
“Then why… why do this to yourself?”
“I’m not sure… All I feel is constant noise… a fourth-wall constantly being broken before my eyes as I drown… in a puddle of memories that aren’t mine.”
She moves my hand to her chest.
“This is real.” She breathes on my lips. “You feel that…? This… is real.”
I have never felt so much difficulty to cry. I feel like expressing something right now, but there’s something stopping me… a great big barrier pressing up against my chest.
“Hold me, Molly.”
She kisses me, and we fall into the ground together.
As we start to embrace, I see nothing in her eyes.
She loves me. I know she does. But in this moment, she is nothing but afraid.
She’s more terrified than I am.
As she slithers down to my legs, I stare down at her face- an approximation of lust, covering up a deep dissatisfaction with all of reality.
“Do you want to do this?”
“Yes.” I say, and with complete honesty. But as she looks at me again, somehow I know it won’t happen.
And as if on cue, my phone rings right after.
She puts her slender hand on my pocket as I reach for it, already beginning to pull down my shorts. I’m forced to look into her darkened eyes again to speak to her.
“I really think I need to take this for some reason. Just let me look.”
“Don’t leave me.” The girl has tears budding below her black pits as she lets me draw the phone. It’s not a call, rather one, small message from Debby.
Today 4:22 (Deb)
okay. hear me out. i found a way, molly. i found a way to summon elopas.
I’m forced to respond. In the meantime, the girl on top of my waist just stares at me.
Today 4:22 (Me)
Are you sure it’s even possible? I’ve basically given up, Deb.
Today 4:22 (Deb)
i am 100 percent positive.
Today 4:22 (Deb)
i found what we were missing, molly. now let me repay you for what you did for me. come to my place immediately and bring your vista.
I look back up at Harmony. She knows.
“No… hey, Molly? Don’t leave me here, okay? If something came up, we can… we can just…”
I try to think it over more, but I really already know the answer. I have two very basic choices here. Either give my solution to this terrible reality one last shot with Elopas… or try to endure it with Harmony by my side.
And as much as I love her, or what Wire says, I can’t act like putting this aside and forgetting it is possible for someone like me.
I need her.
I can’t let myself forget.
My dream- my purpose- is to summon Elopas.
Only then can I escape this fake reality.
“I have to leave.”
She tugs at my shorts as I stand. Pulling them up, I look back at her with my regret apparent. But it’s not enough.
“Please, Molly. I’m scared.”
As she cries, I run out the door.
It can’t be helped, Harmony. This is the only way for me live.
I’ll be back to dance with you soon.
ALL LIFE’S A LIE
TAKE IT INTO YOUR HAND- THE FUTURE
TASTE IT WHILE YOU STILL CAN
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