Chapter 1:

basket case

technicolor spiral



I think I feel the five stages of grief in reverse.

Case in point: when I found out my phone was missing—thirty minutes ago or so—I told myself not to panic. That these things happen all the time. That it’s just a phone. That I can get another one if I stop spending money on useless shit.

None of that helped. Nobody helped me. Nobody thought to themselves, poor guy, walking in circles under the rain. He’s obviously looking for something. I’ll go help. Or if they did, they missed the last sentence. 

Car after car whizzed by, full of people wondering why nobody helped them. One of them sped up when they saw me, splashing me like an artist for a money laundering scheme museum.

Thunder boomed. Perhaps this was for the best. It was an old model after all. 100% of the photos I'd taken featured plants. Which I could just take again. I barely talked to anyone outside of work or my family. Nothing worth saving, not really…

…and of course, it didn’t take long for me to backtrack enough to find a pack of delinquents using a bus station for shelter: the one I’d used to… well… get here.

“Fuck,” I said, because I knew the rain would drown it. “Of course, of course…

I’d figured my phone was missing before I crossed the bridge that lead to the coffee shop I worked at, yet I'd foolishly decided to look around the area anyway. Had I not been dumb and I would’ve been able to find it before they arrived. How many of them were there? Five? They jeered, uncaring, unfeeling. A couple of them held beer as though it were a Friday night and not afternoon during a weekday. Lucky them. Did their parents fund their vices? A spouse, maybe? The government? And then some of us broke our backs every day just to get by… the nerve of some people.

One of them focused on me. I figured this out not only through pathological paranoia, but also from the way the social parasite next to him gestured my way. They didn't even try to hide it. By this point, I was borderline homicidal, but this would probably fizzle out if they...

Look at that chick. She looks distraught. Go sodomize her.

That’s not a chick, though.

She totally is. Maybe. Or maybe not, but don’t let that stop you.

...existed? 

I didn’t need to read lips to know that was exactly that's what their conversation was. For sure. Word to word. Rain poured and thunder boomed and lightning flashed and water came out of my eyes. I didn’t wipe them because it’d be embarrassing, and it’s not like my face wasn’t wet already. What if they had my phone? Of course they did. Why wouldn’t they? Of course I’d dropped it as I jumped off the bus at the station. Of course I’d been the only one to do so today. This was almost worse than if somebody else had come across it and kept it for themselves.

As if on cue, one of the cretins not drinking beer held out my phone. At me. 

See this? I’m holding it hostage.

Come here unless you want to say goodbye to it forever.

Your wallet, please thank you.

They were the only people in sight. This could also be a dream. I had nightmares at least thrice a week. This wouldn’t be the first or last one. As I acknowledged the lack of stakes, I figured I could have a random savior come and… no, no, this was my nightmare, damn it. Why couldn’t I be my own hero for once?

I took a deep breath. Two.

I could summon a hero into my dream, but this wasn’t how life worked. Realistically speaking, I’d have to say goodbye to either my phone or a couple of teeth. These weren’t good people. I wasn’t strong. I hyperventilated if I couldn’t open a jar. Still, there came a time in a man’s life when one had to finally say, enough is enough.

I marched back to the bus station.

This was a dream anyway. If it got grimy, I just had to wake up. None of this was real. 

The pack of delinquents shut up once I approached them. The one who kidnapped my phone held it out to me. His eyes were sharp enough to give me a phantom cut, hair dyed reddish orange, ears pierced. My imagination sure could use some… uh… imagination. Anyway, time to play dumb. “Thanks,” I said, taking the phone. And that was that.

…huh.

“You’re welcome,” said the walking knife. “I’m glad I picked it up before it started to rain. It’s broken, though.”

…huh?

“It’s broken,” he echoed, louder, which made me blink. Right, maybe he mistook my bewilderment for rain-induced deafness. Dumbly, I glanced at my phone; its screen cracked at the middle, but I’d seen and had worse.

“…wait, before it started to rain? Wasn’t that a while ago?” I asked.

“It was,” answered one of the other delinquents, bitterly. (None of the other ones were knives. One was a spoon.) Maybe he wanted to waste his time elsewhere. Wait, no, that was judgmental of me. It mattered not if these kitchen utensils were imaginary.

“Why don’t you stay until the rain dissipates?” Asked the fake redhead. 

“Work,” I replied. The redhead frowned, then pointed at his ear. Upon taking a deep breath, I belted: “WORK. I HAVE TO GO TO—”

“Oh. How long until your shift starts?”

“ALREADY DID.”

“Seriously? Shit, man, that sucks.” He stood up; I flinched. He wasn’t even that much taller. I’d been so, so naive to assume my subconscious would be kind to me for once. “I’ll take you there. Come on, my bike’s the first one to the left.”

I didn't budge. I’d never riden a motorcycle before, so I couldn’t even fathom how I’d interpret the following sensation as... maybe falling down a roller coaster? I’d never been on those, either. They looked like medieval torture to me.

A nightmare.

A strange, tonally confused nightmare.

“Come on,” said the redhead. He’d been dry before he offered to ride me. No pun intended. Give me a ride is what I meant. Still sounded dirty.

“O-okay.”

I shouldn’t have, and I wouldn’t have, and I couldn’t have done this outside of a dream; within it, I was safe. The worst that could happen was me getting a wetter dream or falling off the motorcycle and getting that weird plunging sensation as I woke up. It'd also be rude to refuse.

“How do I… I’ve never been on one of these…”

“Just hold onto me,” he instructed, already sitting upon his bike. Man, he was soaked now. Why? I was a stranger to him. I could be lying.

“Okay.”

He could be lying.

Still, I held on to him. As he turned on the bike, this soon gave place to clinging.

We took off.

Not only had I been rude to the redhead and his friends, but also my subsconscious, for it sure knew how to recreate a toned physique. I was flabby and the last person I touched was my mom like three years ago when she hugged me. Weird. I wondered where I'd even gotten this from. I froze, as though the rain and the gray and the fight or flight response hadn’t done this already.

“…oh, right, I forgot! We’re um.” Louder. I had to speak louder.  “The place I work at is three blocks away from here! Just go straight!”

“Got it!”

Dream logic: he offered to ride me (fine, I’d stop) yet didn’t ask where I had to go beforehand. More than a hypothetical roller coaster, it felt like popping my head out the window as a kid, back when fear hadn’t conquered me.

The race, the wind, the warmth of his body against mine…

Not a nightmare. Fine.

“I see it! I think.”

What was it, then?

The bike slowed down, halted, so the rain ceased to blur the rest of the world. We'd stopped in front of the coffee shop I worked at. “Thank you,” I said, reluctantly moving off him. Dream logic: he hadn’t complained about my clinging.

What was this?

Because I slipped as I hopped down, I dove headfirst upon the concrete, thus screaming, thus startling the redhead, thus reaching full circle:

It hurt.

It wasn’t a dream.

But that was okay.

And then I lost consciousness.