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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pieces of Paradise

La'aloa beach.  White sand, a tropical sea, perfect weather.  He knows a lot of the people on the beach.  They mingle with faces he doesn't know.  But at least everyone's local.  No damn tourists.  Such a beautiful day, he thinks.  

And he's been waiting.  

No idea how long.  Like time is stuck.  Sometimes his watch beeps.  But it's broken.  When he looks at it he can't tell what time it.  When it stops, a glow of approaching euphoria slips over him.  His body sags, warm and content.  So sleepy.  He closes his eyes and can hear the soft hiss of waves kissing the beach.  Trade winds rustle through palm trees above.


He looks out the window and sees her.  Zoe.  His daughter.  His life.  A sweet relief like washes through him.  Tears come to his eyes but he blinks them away and gives her the same cocky smile she grew up with.

"Hey," he nods.  "Girl, what took you so long?"

"Me?" she asks innocently.  Same laughing eyes she had as a baby.  Dark brown, full of sunlight and mischief.  "Dad, I've been waiting for you."

"Well hell girl, get in," he says.  "Been too long." 

Zoe shakes her head.  She steps back and smiles.  A sad smile?  

"No Dad.  You need to come out to me."

Sol realizes he's still in his truck.  Without a second thought, he opens the door.

"Ok girl," he shrugs.  "But I still want to go surfing with you.  You still remember how to surf, right?"

"I never forgot any of it, dad," she says.  

He steps out and straight into his daughter's arms.  The sun is so bright.  And Zoe is little again.  Her face is buried in his stomach.  He feels the warmth of tears as she hugs him fiercely.  

"Hey," he says softly, "everything's ok."

He smiles and closes his eyes.

In the dripping, morning gloom of a cloudforest, a digital watch beeped.  When he killed the alarm, the ringing songs of crickets filled the air.  Piercing notes from coqui frogs piped in.  In the trees, roosting myna birds chirped and whistled.  Down the mountain, a rooster began to crow.  

Sol stared dully at the tent fabric.  It's still dark in the outside.  Still cold.  With a groan, he crawled out of his sleeping bag and wrapped himself in grandma's quilt.  Still smelled like her cheap cigars.  Crazy old Molokai woman.  Sol unzipped the tent, stretched and looked at the camper.  As usual, she's already up.  He can smell fresh coffee, toast and her shampoo.  Love.  He opened the door.  She looked up from her phone and smiled.

"Hey," he nodded back.

She returned to her phone, laughed and tapped the screen.  Sol sat down.  Music from the mainland played from wireless speakers.  He leaned back and looked at Zoe.  
Their haole genes are strong.  Like the music, her style is from 2500 miles away.  Forever dressed in black, Sol knew she got picked on.  But nothing phased this kid.  Always finished what she started.  Always top of her class.  Hyper competitive.  Sometimes Sol sees his brother's intense glare in her eyes.

Danny.  Last time he saw his brother was when he first met Zoe.  He was putting his surfboard into his truck when a convertible rental car pulled up and honked.  He looked over and saw a baby standing up in the passenger seat.

"Soledad Tomo Sakai!"

Sol looked at the driver and grinned.  He knew his brother had a kid but Danny lived in Oahu.  Kid had no mom.  She went back to the mainland.  His brother didn't know where.  He's not even sure about her name.  She called herself Crystal but Danny thought that's just her stripping name.  Or maybe because she liked meth.  Just another crazy haole from the mainland.  

Danny yanked a beer can from a six pack stringer between his legs and tossed one to Sol.  Then he opened the passenger door.  The baby peeked out.  Uncombed hair, dirty face and filth stains on her clothes.  Grubby.  Like no one gave a shit.  But neither did Sol who laughed when his brother asked him.

" Sol asked.  "Wat?  You crazy, brah?"

The baby scooted out the door, grabbed the seatbelt and carefully lowered herself to the ground.  Then she stood up, casually looked around and walked away.

"Call a hospital or a cop or something," said Sol.  "Not me, brah.  No way."

"No one else I can trust Sol," said Danny.

True.  Their parents were dead.  Grandma's dead.  They knew the names of a few blood relatives on the mainland, but never met them.  


For a moment, his brother looked pensive.  But then his usual asshole grin popped back up.  

"Yeah, brah.  Zoe's smart.  Potty trained herself!  No need no teacher.  She just needs love.  Like mom and dad kine love"

Sol looked at his brother.  
Fucking Danny.  Moves to Honolulu, bangs some crazy stripper and comes home with a kid.  And Danny was serious.  His older brother always did what he wanted and left others to deal with the mess. 

"Where you going?" asked Sol.

"Away," shrugged Danny.  "Sol, just give Zoe a chance.  She's good.  Special.  You'll see."

Sol nodded.  He looked over at the baby.  Now she was on the beach.  She tripped but caught a papaya tree before doing a header into the lava rocks.  He looked back at Danny.

"You ever coming back?"

"C'mon," smiled Danny.  
They watched the baby squeal and point at a sea turtle that surfaced for air.  Danny leaned back in his seat and pointed his beer at the beach.  "Who'd give up that?"

But that was exactly what Danny gave up when he put the bullet in his brain.

Zoe was his kid.  No more dad.  Never knew mom.  Man, what a couple of dumb fucks, think Sol for the millionth time.  

"Oh, hey," said Zoe waving her phone.  "I need your card."

Sol sighed.  Damn thing costs $70 bucks a month.  Connects Zoe to the world.  Not sure if that's good, but she says it is.  And it does have good surf reports.

"Mm," he nodded digging out his wallet.  "What's the surf report?"

"Northswell.  3-5 feet.  But forget Pines" she said squinting at the swell map.  "More west.  Try Lymans or Kahalu'u."

He frowned.  Not much Zoe does bothered him.  But her squint bothered him.

"Eh!  Where da glasses?" he demanded.

"Do you mean," asked Zoe slowly as if addressing an imbecile, "where are my glasses?"

He rolled his eyes.  Zoe speaks the same way his mom from San Diego spoke to him and Danny when they were her age.

"Yes.  My apologies," he fake smiles.  "But you appear to be neglecting the use of your corrective lenses.  And as you may recall, Dr. Wu was most insistent that you wear them when looking at your phone.

Zoe laughed and slapped the table.  "Brah!  You talk li one dumb fuckin' haole!"

"Just wear the glasses, Zoe.  Damn things cost a fortune."

"Yeah, yeah" she said digging them out of her backpack.  "And father, it is good we can converse like this."

He looked up, suspiciously.  "Why?"

"CPS interview next week."

Anger and misery flash like a storm over the sea.  Sol closed his eyes.  Goddamn Child Protective Services again.  He looked at Zoe.


"Yeah," said Zoe.  "Got the letter."

He looked at the folded, piece of paper.  An innocuous looking thing.  But it's a knife.  A knife that cuts things apart.  He rubbed his eyes and looked at his watch.  They have to leave in six minutes to beat school traffic.  But his mind is here. Now.  No decent clothes for the interview.  No steady job.  No shoes, no socks.  No birth certificate.  All he had was this perfect kid.  

Zoe put on her glasses and slid away the phone.  She crossed her arms and stared.

"Should I be worried?"

"Nah" he smiled.  

This happened every few years.  His surfer buddy was a lawyer.  Their guardian angel.  But the kid needed more.  So they came up with an escape plan.  It soothed Zoe's nightmares when she was little.  

"Ok," Zoe frowned.  "But remember what we said, yeah?"

"I remember," nodded Sol.  "If anything happens-"

"-just run away.  We'll meet at La'aloa," they finished together.

She looks at his urn.  She can tell it's carved from an 'ohia tree because the artist left a band of natural bark.  Leis woven from flowers, orchids and maile vines are draped over it.  Floral scents from the jungle mix with the tang of the sea.  Kahalu'u beach.  Water so clear, she sees a school of yellow fish from her chair in the pavilion.  Tourists in snorkeling masks explore a calm reef while surfers ride the waves outside.  An auntie who's name she has forgotten finishes her speech and shouts something in Hawaiian.  Enthusiastic clapping, hooting and hollering erupts from the audience.

And now it is her turn.

Stuck in a dream, she walks up to the podium.  Fear of speaking in front of crowds, fear of relatives she left behind, fear of fucking up trembles through each step.  But as she gets closer, a wave of calmness spreads over her.  Soothing love, aloha.  It holds her gently, like a child.  She begins to speak.

"Grandpa.  I owe you everything.  For my life in Hawaii after mom died.  For the life I have today with my children."

After those words, her speech was forgotten.  How many times did grandpa take her to this beach?  How many bento lunches did they eat here while he told her stories about mom as a kid?  Her past returns.  Like the waves on the beach.  She was sixteen when she moved.  She didn't want to.  But everything changed the day mom never showed up.  She remembered getting bitchy.  Talking shit about mom to other kids.  But when the police car showed up, her life in California was taken away.  Traffic accident.  Simple as that.  She never had a dad and now she didn't have a mom.  

But she did have a grandpa.

People called her mom Dr. Sakai.  She was a director of media.  Forever on her phone, forever staring at screens.  On any given day, mom might be compiling code, drafting a press release or kissing her goodbye before flying off to China for a conference.  Everything revolved around tech.  But for every vacation, they'd fly to Hawaii.  Grandpa's house had no TV.  No wifi.  None of their screens worked in his tin-roofed, jungle shack.  Nothing to do but sit on his lanai and look at the sea.  And talk.  Mom and grandpa had their own language.

"Eh, girl" said grandpa.  "You like go surf, or wat?"

"Shoots" smiled mom.  "But I need sunscreen."

"Sunscreen?" frowned grandpa.  "How you figgah?"

"Well father," she winked at me, "scientific data backs up sunscreen as a viable preventive for various forms of skin cancer.  To go without UV protection beneath a tropical sky is crazy."

"Ahh," nodded grandpa looking at me.  "Health concerns.  Wise.  Yet you work 60 hours a week in a cubicle for some soulless corporation.  You never see the sun and look like a cave fish in your bikini.  Now that, my dear Zoe, is crazy."

No make fun.  You da lolo," huffs mom.  "Are you still drinking yourself into a stupor each night, dear father?"

"True dat," grins grandpa opening another beer.  "Ah, Zoe.  How I've missed you!"

Her words poured out.  When she was done, her face was streaked with tears.  Her kids looked up at her nervously.  They didn't know Hawaii.  They never knew this part of her life.  But the audience began their rowdy cheers and foot stomping.  As she stepped down, a cousin she actually remembered stood up to hug her.  Kaleo.  The jerk that hid geckos in her clothes and laughed at her mainland accent.

"Beautiful, Honey Girl," says Kaleo hugging her.

"Honey Girl?" grins her eldest child shooting a look to her brother.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lost Child Therapy Hell


Kade's Dream

Day ten.  A muted, TV shines it's cancerous glow across the 
motel room.  Stained walls, thin carpet over concrete with heavy curtains to block out the world.  A bed, table, two chairs, dresser and bathroom.  On the bed are six empty vodka bottles, an overflowing ashtray and a man.  

This Dream won't end, curses the man.  What do you want from me?  I can't take it back!  But maybe...?  He digs the phone from his pocket.  He cradles the illuminated screen like an ember.  Then it dies.  Drained battery.  He stares uncomprehendingly at the black square.  The Darkness.  He drops the phone, opens a bottle and pours vodka into his emptiness.  The gag is vile, but he doesn't puke.  The lady on the TV looms over California, she silently points at the gathering storm.  Unfeeling fingers release the bottle.  It tumbles to the floor.  

Life is a long, drawn out sigh.  He lifts the gun to his head.  

Drea's Dream

Lunch time in the city.  The merciless sun pours from above.  A soaring heat blurs the space between buildings.  Endless lines of people, cars, bicycles and trucks stream into the city like ants beneath a magnifying glass sky.  But one person walks against the swarm.  

Rain boots, brown tights, a shapeless dress, flannel and winter jacket protect Drea.  The street signals glow like Christmas decorations in her peripheral vision.  People in shiny clothes move around her.  Empty masks, devoid of human expression, thinks Drea.  Suddenly, she shrieks, lunges forward and claps her hands.  The masks scatter.

"You goddamn fucking little gnat motherfucking bugs!" she screams.

Kade's Dream

The man behind the counter knows crazy.  Eyes like moths tumbling through darkness.  Guns are like whores or Christ to them.  A burning flame.

"That one" says Kade.

"Nice" agrees the man.  He opens the cabinet and hands Kade the gun.  "M200 .38 special.  Used.  Polymer grip.  Only $215."

"I'll take it."

The man makes no move to accommodate this.  He puts the gun away.    

"Ever purchase a firearm, sir?"

Kade has already failed this Dream nine times.  He figures Part One is to impress the idiot cashier.  Kade looks at his name tag.

"No Tom," he smiles, "I have not."

"Great" says the man unenthusiastically.  "Need a California ID.  And just so we're clear, payment upfront."

"No problem" says Kade taking out his wallet.  He holds out his driver license and smiles.  "Cash ok with you, Tom?"

The man looks at the ID and shrugs.  "Cash is fine, Mr. Stoher.  Here's the DROS form.  Any felonies, narcotic dependency issues or mental health concerns?"


"Good.  Your ten day waiting period starts now."

Kade nods and fills out the form.  

"Just need your FSC," drones the man.  "Got it?"

Kade looks up.

"Firearms Safety Certificate?  No?  We test for $40," says the man.  "And you need a trigger lock.  Got 'em for $60."

Kade stops filling out the form.  He looks Tom in the eyes and flashes his zen, corporate sales smile.  

"Toooom," says Kade leaning forward.  "C'mon!  It's my 3rd Amendment right."


"Exactly!" laughs Kade.  "So!  $400 cash, Tom?  I don't need a receipt.  We good?"

"DOJ is on every sale or it's my ass," shrugs the cashier.

In the parking lot, Kade opened the bottle and takes a deep swig.  10 fucking days?  He starts his car, takes another gulp and stashes the bottle under his seat.  Penance, he thinks.

Penance?  Tears return to his swollen eyes.  Jesus.  Not even close.  

Drea's Dream

Winged black specks dance in her eyes.  She claps again.  Damn!  Too fast to kill.  Drea stops.  The business lunch crowd keeps moving.  Like blood flowing downstream.  They neatly split around her.  Drea jumps up and down.  She has an idea!

"Hahahahah!" laughs Drea removing her jacket.  

She waits until they buzz in front of her face.  Then she starts two-hand whipping the jacket like it's a sword.  Die!  Die you little bastards-

"Heey?!" demands a voice.  "What the fuck, bitch?!"

Drea stops.  A man in a suit holding a cup.  There is spilled coffee all over his chest.

"Bugs" shrugs Drea.  "Bugsbugsbugs-"

Kade's Dream

"Daddy!" weeps Kathy wrapping her arms around me.  The only person in the hospital not glaring at him.  "I want Pauly back!"

"Come here, baby," says my wife yanking Kathy away.

Kade reaches out to touch his daughter's face.  But Christine steps in and shoves him back.  She tucks Kathy behind her, protectively.  

"How?!  How did this happen?!" screams Christine.  "How?!"

"I, I don't, I..." mumbles Kade looking away.

But they both know.  Preliminary fire report says grease fire.  They found Paul by the door.  The bolt lock was always a struggle for him.

Drea Dreams

"You are distant, Mia" notes Dr. Sawyer.  "Feeling ok?"

Drea nods.  

"Following your lithium schedule?" asks Dr. Sawyer.

"Sure" lies Drea holding out her arm.  "See?  No cuts."

"But you have a black eye.  How did that happen, Mia?"

"Really?" frowns Drea touching her face.  "I thought that happened in a different Dream.  The one with the bugs."

"Bugs?  The bugs hurt you?"

"No.  The pigfucker coffee man punched me" says Drea.  

Dr. Sawyer writes something down and asks, "Are you Mia today?  Or Liza?"

"I'm Drea."

Dr. Sawyer checks her notes.  "Drea?  Short for Andrea?"

"No.  It named me Drea."

"It?" asks Dr. Sawyer.  "Can you tell me more about 'It'?"

"Program.  The machine named me."

Dr. Sawyer looks at Drea.  "The machine that controls you, correct?"

"And my employer" smiles Drea.  "Program controls all.  You, me.  This world.  My world."

"Program's a god?  A machine god?"

"There is no god," frowns Drea.  "Only Program."

"Is Program making me do this?" asks Dr. Sawyer holding her bottle of water up.  Then she pours it on the floor and 
drops the empty bottle.  

"Hell, I don't know" admits Drea looking at the spilled water.  "I mean, like, none of this is real to me.  So did that just happen?  Or is Program improvising?  I dunno."

Kade Dreams

That morning, Paul had a 103 temperature.  Christine went to work early.  Kade would stay until noon.  He made the kids breakfast.  Paul coughed and Kathy talked nonstop.  Paul wanted cereal.  But Kathy ate the bacon, eggs and toast with Kade.  Kathy.  His eldest child.  Never sick, grows like a weed.  
Sunshine is her smile.  She skips through life effortlessly.

"Pauly," said Kade while brushing Kathy's hair, "the door's locked.  I got the key.  No worries.  Just rest and I'll be right back."

"Ok daddy," coughs Paul.  

Four blocks to school.  A pleasant walk through a pleasant neighborhood.  At the school, Kathy's mobbed by her friends.  Kade waves, Goodbye.  And halfway home, he sees it.  Black smoke, obscuring the sun.  

Drea's Dream

"There are two viewpoints on existence" says Dr. Sawyer.  "One is we are controlled.  Destiny.  But the other-"  

"This is a ghost request" interrupts Drea.  "Thousands of years ago, one sat here.  With you."

"Ghost?  A ghost created all of this?" asks Dr. Sawyer looking around her office.  "But Program controls reality?"

"Yup.  Well, my reality.  Not yours," laughs Drea.  "Your history's been written.  But I'm stuck on graveyard duty near Alcor."

"Mia.  Excuse me, I mean Drea," smiles Dr. Sawyer.  "This week...Was it rough?"

Drea shrugs.  Directors on her ass, unexplained stuff in Dreams and a mountain of reports to slog through.      

"Well I want to tell you something, Drea.  I see it in your eyes.  You are more confident.  More here," says Dr. Sawyer.  

"Really?" asks Drea.  "Thank you."

Dr. Sawyer sits back and smiles.  "Everyone you see has their own view of the world.  And just like you, Drea, they are not wrong.  And they are not right.  It is simply how they choose to see things.  And we are the same.  But you can choose, Drea.  You can choose what kind of world you want to see."

"You know" muses Drea.  "That actually makes a lot of sense."

"Good" smiles Dr. Sawyer.  "But we're here to talk about you.  How are you, Drea?"

Drea looks at Dr. Sawyer and melts.  Tears blur the Dream.  She's so warm, kind.  Empathy Drea has never known.  Dr. Sawyer presses a tissue in her hand.  Drea wipes her eyes and sniffles.

"Kinda sad" admits Drea.  "No one really cares about me."


Kade stares at nothing and sips cold tea.  A man with a red orb swirling above his head walks over.  The red orb displays his crime.  It flashes, Arsonist.

"More tea, Kade?"

"No thanks, Jake."

Jake walks off and Kade shakes his head.  Dreams are madness.  Dead people's madness.  He finishes his tea as Drea walks over and plops down next to him.  She orders a tea from Jake and rubs her face with both hands.

"That bad?" asks Kade.

Drea looks up and smiles.  "Actually, I had a really good Dream.  How about you?"

Kade looks away.


Monday, March 13, 2017

That Eggnog Killing Smile

Dream 3


Drea robotically cleared her reports queue.  Submit.  Now came the hard part, the company cafeteria.  Managers had to make an appearance.  The Directors occasionally dined there and when they did, they noted which Managers had team spirit.

The meal is a nutritional paste, supposedly tailored to her tastes.  It smelled like french fries and ice cream.  She took her usual spot at the corner table by the exit.  The employees eating here were a mix of artists, criminals, musicians and the altered capacity crowd.  Drea found a seat next to Skloss.      

"Hey, Skloss.  Seen any good shows?" Drea asked.  

Skloss liked music.  He had attended over 1,000 performances in the Dream.  He cleared his throat and smiled.  Drea caught on.  Why didn't she notice the ominous silence?

"Ah, Manager Drea!  Good of you to join us" smiled her boss from across the table.  "Progress?"  

"Director Chloe!" chirped Drea enthusiastically.  
"Yes, ma'am.  Program has the submission data."

Director Chloe looked less than pleased.  She wanted a report before submission to Program.  Probably to take some credit.  Oops, thought Drea gulping her paste.  Director Chloe was the one who stuck her with Kade.  Nice enough guy but also a pain in her report queue.  For one thing, Directors demanded data on that blue orb of his.  The DAB.  But they didn't even know what DAB meant.  They only knew it called itself Steve.  

Drea wiped her mouth, smiled and excused herself.  She hurried back to her room.  She wanted her Town status offline.  Her screen knew her tastes so she just hit one.  

The Dream began.


A bathroom stall and the small blade of a pocket knife.   She dips the shiny, metal beak into the bag for a scoop.  Up to her nose, sniff.  And stars burn behind her eyes...a swooning, rush.  She flushes the toilet to cover her guttural snorts and blinks madly for a moment.  When her brain stops vibrating, she seals the bag, closes the knife and slips both in her jeans.  She opens the stall door.

Drea sees the Dream in the mirror and pauses to look.  Boyish but also cute, she thinks.  Ripped jeans, black Converse high-tops and a shirt that says: 'Oasis > Beatles'.  Her dyed black bob frames dark eyes.  Mixed in the muddy brown irises are hues of sorrow.  Green flecks of fear.  A violent, self-consciousness that avoids eye contact.  

But the cocaine does it's magic.  Her mood is lifted, the frown blows away.  Drea checks her nose for powder and exits to the mall.


She had those spooky, far away combat eyes.  No one ever saw her smile.  She was a sixteen year old escaped slave.  She called herself Pepsi.
Though Pepsi's face looked vacant, it still held the soft glow of youth.  People in camp stared.  But not at the girl.  At the warrior.  When she joined Unit 138 as a sniper, word got out fast.  Only two months in the field and forty-six confirmed kills.  It was rumored Pepsi was transferred because of a million dollar bounty on her head.  Kade didn't know about a bounty, but he did read her file.  Three dead partners.  One transferred.  Now she was his problem.    

They had little in common.  A teen girl.  An old man.  Anyone over thirty remembered peace.  Kade was a child at summer camp when Red nuked the first city.  When the machines rebelled and took the war tools offline, Kade's parents still believed in voting.  
But Pepsi was a war kid.  Born in the storm.  Slavery and survival.  War kids knew kill or be killed.  Some killed for Red.  Some killed for Blue.  

Kade and Pepsi killed for Blue.  This was what they had in common.

The crawler raced through a maze of fire trails towards the drop.  The driver would get them close without using roads.  They'll hike the rest.  Scout, sync satellite maps and report back to the armored column behind them.  Until then, six silent hours with the teen.  Neither had spoken.  Kade thought of topics but dismissed them as quickly as they came up.  

'Your nose is crooked.  Who broke it?'  

'What was your slave name?'

'Those scars on your face...Knife?'

So they checked their gear or stared out the gun holes.  They were getting close.  You could tell by the debris.  Sometimes they looked like rotting logs.  Some big.  Many small.  There were flashes of color.  Dresses, jackets, pants.  Or hair.  Dead slaves littered the roads near the drop.  Tossed from the meat trucks.  The town was taken in winter.  Unheated trucks, sorrow and sickness lined the trail with discarded corpses.  Kade and Pepsi stopped looking out the gun holes.  


Drea looks across the floor.  Faceless shoppers wander aimlessly past potted palms and storefronts.  She looks at her watch.  Work starts at 6pm.  Beneath the coke rush, Drea knows she's exhausted.  Maybe four hours of sleep after a double shift.  She should be home, napping with the cat.  But no.  She's in a fucking mall, on a fucking bench in front of fucking Nordstrom.  Exactly where Madison said they'd meet.

I'm being stood up, Drea thinks.  Again.  

She looks around one more time and feels foolish.  Sadness returns.  The heavy, dark spirit that weighs down her days.  But beneath the mall is the Powell station.  Home is just two stops away.  She reaches into her jacket to feel the BART ticket.  Waiting any longer just makes it hurt more.  

"Kiiiira!" comes the voice.  The voice she's been waiting for.  

And her heart quickens.  


Drea turns around and dies.  The sadness darkens to rage.  Silently, she stands up to leave.

"Hey!" screeches Madison grabbing her arm.  "Hey wait!"  

Every part of her soul wants to take Madison's hand and press it against her face.  But Drea see's the surly, defensive glare of the boy.  She rips her arm free and faces him.  He's about Madison's age.  Backward GAP hat, sagging jeans and shiny San Jose Sharks jacket.  He pretends to study his phone but when he looks up, Drea's still staring.  

Little boy, Drea thinks. 

"Kira!" fake laughs Madison.  "Jeff's just my ride!"

Drea looks at Madison.  
Drug skinny blond wrapped in a fake fur coat.  High heels and too much makeup.  Madison's silvery cocktail dress is rumpled and looks slept in.  The twelve year age difference screams in Drea's skull.  They both know Madison steals her cash tips when she sleeps over.  They both know Drea could get fired, possibly even deported for letting a nineteen year old drink at the Lexington Club.  

"C'mon Maddy.  We gotta jet," gripes Jeff.  "Just ask!"

Drea looks back at the boy.  Maddy?  The boy is taller than Drea but has rabbit eyes.  If she had a bottle or a chair she could smash his fucking face in.  
Madison grabs her hand.

"Um, can you get me some blow?" 
blurts Madison.  "Like a 8ball?"   

Drea stares at the pretty, little fool in disbelief.  Is beauty worth going to jail?  Madison squeezes Drea's arm.

"Hope you're not mad!  I know it's like a secret hushhush bartender thing" she grins.  "But Jeff's cool.  You understand, right?"  

She understands.  She understands she's a fool to take in another stray experimenting with her sexuality.  And she's a damn fool to give her heart and home to another skinny, bleached blonde that only wants to party.

"Eight barl?  Dunt nu what you mean" says Drea.  Then she leans into Madison and growls, "Tell me another feckin' spoof an I'll kek your feckin' teeth in!"

And Madison laughs.  A musical sound.  Pure and beautiful.  She slips into Drea's arms and reaches up to caress her face.  "Oh, my sweet Kira-Mae," Madison sighs.  "Your accent drives me crazy.  Mmm...the way you say 'fuck.'"  

Drea can smell sunlight in Madison's hair.  Beneath the silvery dress are the warm curves of her body.  Everything dissolves.  The boy, the mall, her job, her life.  Drea closes her eyes.  Only Madison.  My Madison.  

"But I gotta go Kira-Mae" Madison whispers.  

Drea opens her eyes and waits for the next blow.  Madison brushes her lips against her neck.

"Can I see you?" asks Madison.  A soft whisper on Drea's neck.  "Tonight?  At the Lex?"

Drea remains still.  She knows what Madison wants.  She knows what to say, but the words lay strangled in her heart.  

Madison's fingertips brush across her hip.  Drea's heart becomes thunder.  Screaming desire eclipses sanity.  What is right?  What is wrong?  For one insane moment, Drea is happy.


Drea hears herself sigh, "Yes."

"Thank you, Kira-Mae."

Then Drea wakes up to her life.  The mall.  Madison presses a quick kiss against her lips.  And she watches them leave.  

I will go to Hell for this one, she thinks.

The Dream ends.         


They crawl through a crumble of rocks.  Near the top, Kade signals, Stop.  They assemble their rifles.  Pepsi smears eye-black across her face.  Kade touches his broken watch for luck.  They go over the top and slip into a corridor of summer grass.  Below are the ruins of a bombed out gas station and hardware store.  

"Hear that?" breaths Pepsi.

Talk is taboo.  But he hears it.  Pulsing, thumping music.  Rap music.  

"Fuck" whispers Pepsi.  "Look at this fuckin' green scene."

In the shade of the bombed out hardware store, four Red soldiers lounge on wooden chairs and play cards.  Between them is a pile of money.  Assault rifles lay on the ground next to beer cans. To the west, an empty lot.  A soldier sits in the bushes, reading a magazine.  Probably taking a shit.  The unmanned support vehicle with light cannon has two speakers in the back.  And the supply truck is propped up on jacks.  Flat tire.  

There should be more, thinks Kade.  At least a sergeant.  Maybe an officer.  Kade clicks the info to the platoon behind them.  When they respond, Kade agrees.  He hand signals to Pepsi; Split up and destroy.  But Pepsi's not paying attention.  She's studying her scope.  Maybe she sees something with those young eyes?  Kade reaches over to tap her helmet.  He feels the recoil of her rifle the same instant he hears the Fwoomp!  

Kade rolls back to position as chaotic thoughts fly through his head.  Fuck!  Sight threats!  Shit!  Ignoring my order!  She has a silencer!  Firing positions not optimal!  But as Kade processes the scene, he is surprised at what he sees.  

A soldier windmilling his arms, falling.  He must have been leaning backwards when Pepsi shot the chair leg out from underneath him.  He lands hard on his ass.  His friends are silent, stunned.  Then they start laughing.  One points while the other two double over.  Then a new guy walks into view.  He looks at the scene and joins in the laughter.  

"Truck.  Rear, left" whispers Pepsi.  "I got chairs."

She's baiting them, thinks Kade.  Like shooting ground squirrels.  Wound one.  As it rolls around in the dirt, screaming, the agony attracts more squirrels.  For hunting humans, Pepsi's using humor.  Kade sights the truck.  An officer in shiny boots climbs down from the cab.  He looks to see what's going on.  

"I got shots" murmurs Pepsi.

"Go" urges Kade squeezing his trigger.  The officer's face vanishes in a puff of pink.

Four rapid shots from Pepsi.  One, two, three bodies drop.  Before they hit the ground, the guy on the broken chair dives backwards.  She missed?  But when he stops moving, half his head is gone.  Just weird combat physics.  Pepsi's accuracy is good but her speed is incredible.  Motion.  The guy sitting in the field dives.  Kade recovers and hits him.  

Head?  Torso?  No movement.

"Gonna see" says Pepsi drawing her sidearm.  A Red officer's gun she looted from a kill.  

Kade nods and wide scopes her movement.  Pepsi lopes forward, crouched in a shooting stance.  Her gun covers each body but she heads straight to the field.  Smart.  The only unconfirmed kill.  She stops.  Gun pointed where Kade can't see.  Her lips are moving but the thumping party music still plays.  Kade starts down the hill.  When he sees the soldier, he lowers his rifle.  The shot yanked out some guts when it blew the hip apart.  But the soldier's alive.  His wide eyes follow Pepsi as she looms over him.  Her arms are spread out.  A gun in one hand and a knife in the other.  As he gets closer, Kade can hear her ranting.  

"-and the Darkness comes!" Pepsi screams to the sky.  "Sons and daughters of Nyx!  The Oneiroi!"

She drops.  Both knees slam into the mangled guts.  He screams blood and feebly struggles.  Pepsi shows him her knife and then savagely carves into the wound.  She yanks out pink meat, gray coils and purple chunks.  Blaring rap music, the soldier crying for his mother and Pepsi's incoherent howling swirl together like a drowning madness.  

"Pepsi!" yells Kade.  

Her handgun points at him.  She moves so fast.  The .50 caliber roars and Kade feels the recoil slice past his face.  When he looks up in shock, Pepsi is watching him.  Same vacant look.  Same empty eyes.  Gore is splattered all over her face and hands.  She brings up the knife and sniffs.  Kade frowns when she tastes the blood.

"You ok?" she casually asks.  

Outrage blinds him as he moves towards the monster.  But Pepsi gestures behind him with her knife.  Kade turns and see's a soldier.  Pepsi's shot caught him in the chest.  A ragged hole from sternum to neck.  The head faces the wrong way and looks surprised.  

Only a Dream, Kade thinks as the shaking begins. Not real. Or maybe it was real, but not now.  Relax. You're in Town.  In your room.  The smell of beer and feces oozing from sliced intestines gags him. The battle hardened, veteran Dream character cracks apart.  Kade closes his eyes.  Easy or Program will end it.  No points.  No likes.  It won't count.  Relax. 

He opens his eyes.  Pepsi strolls towards him and unhooks the canteen from her belt.  She unscrews the top and takes a sip.  Her face freezes, she grimaces and spits.  

"Eggnog?!" she gasps in disbelief.  "Fucking eggnog!  Are you kidding me?!"

Kade looks at her.  Pepsi's new voice and exaggerated mannerisms are way off.  

"Program can't do water?" she complains.  Then she looks at Kade.  Slowly, a big, blood covered smile spreads across her face.  "It's the details that make the Dream, right?" 

The Dream ends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

~~The Gorgon and the Egg Thief~~


Drea sat on 
dusty coils of Egyptian papyrus twine.  Her hands were a blur.  Measure the twine, cut.  Tie a knot, slide a bead, repeat.  At the top, tie a ring and hook to wooden frame.  Seventy strings equalled one bead curtain.

Madam provided meals and a place to sleep.  Her wages went to her mother but she never complained.  To an eleven year old girl, the market stall was freedom.  Madam lived in the loft, so Drea had the floor.  So much space!  The building her mom and brothers lived in reeked of piss, shit and smoke.  The cramped room was up six flights of stairs beneath cracked roof tiles and nesting pigeons.

On good days, Madam took her to the Ivy Bull for dinner.  Drea had new clothes, sandals and a thin ring with a brass orb.  They did well.  Bead curtains were all the rage in fashionable Rome.  Madam claimed her beads were crafted in the terra-sigillata style.  Like the red wine cups embossed with nymphs and satyrs.  But that was just the sales pitch.  They were really dyed terra cotta.

Drea had a view of the street from her work stool.  House slaves scurried like ants to their errands.  Relentless clanging from the Syrian copper smith filled the air.  The boy who sold eggs, sang off-key to the rhythm.  Tucked in a sky-blue alcove across the street was Mithras.  The paint on the god was fading because merchants rubbed him for luck.  Ringing bells and drums heralded the Ishtar procession.  Chanting worshippers danced by.  Skipping young girls waved sycamore branches.  For a donation, you received a blessed sprig.  At sunset, you told the goddess your wish and burned it.  The street cleared.  Partly out of respect but mostly because the half-naked priestess waved a hissing cobra.  Incense smoldered in her wild, black hair.  The air smelled of amber and myrrh.  


The harsh voice broke the spell.  Automatically, she popped up at attention.  

"Yes ma'am?!"

"The amphoras are empty!  
Fetch water!

"Yes ma'am!"

Drea lugged the first of three amphoras to the fountain.  The stream of public water spewed from a leering Gorgon's mouth.  She lowered the pot...


The Dream ends.  

Drea opens her eyes.  Odd request, but she did her duty.  She checks her profile for likes, changes, notes from ghosts, anything.  Nothing.  Profiles are lame, she thinks.

The worst part is they tell you what sort of Dreams you prefer.  According to Program, she enjoys spending 61% of Dream time in states of 'altered capacity.'  So unfair.  So much more to those Dreams...but she had to admit some Dreams are better than others.  She thinks of doing some more historical Dreams.  Round out her profile.  She pokes around requests for awhile but grows irritated.   

"Fuck this" Drea says loading up an old favorite.


You can redo Dreams for style points.  Ghosts love improv.  But Kade doesn't care.  He simply likes this Dream.  Summer after seventh grade.  Everything seems to be changing.  

But not Aladdin's Castle.  


The air-conditioned, electric gloom of the arcade smelled of cigarettes, pizza and french fries.  The techno glow of screens flashed madly to looped video game sounds.  
Aladdin's Castle at the Sunnyvale Mall.  Sanctuary for Kade.

Ancient games were ridiculously hard.  They'll be no food court corndog today.  Nor will he ride the bus home.  These games were created to suck every last coin from Kade.  And he gave them gladly.  He never complained about the four mile walk home on an empty stomach.  Life was simple.  The only thing that mattered today was Ikari Warriors.   

On Kade's first trip to this Dream, the insanity of Ikari Warriors stunned him.  The clumsy controls, overwhelming odds and sensory overload blew his mind.  But this time he was prepared.  With grenade and gun, Kade gained glory and honor for the bare chested warrior.  But as his sixth token rolled into the slot for a continue, Kade knew it was over.  

Her hands clamped around his eyes.  Right on time.

"Guess who?!" she said.

The Ikari warrior groaned a terrible death.  Time to work.  He turned around.

"Cheater!" she pouted insincerely.  

"Hey Shea" he rhymed.  

"Shay-Ah!" she corrected.  "Rhymes with Play-Ya!"

Shea was all about change.  She was the first person to go goth in their class.  This summer, she changed the pronunciation of her name.  But something else had changed.  Something deeper that went beyond smeared eye-makeup or The Damned t-shirts.  It was a mysterious force that messed with his brain.  When did he start staring at her?  When did he start feeling shy around this kid he'd known since first grade?   

"I challenge you..." she announced dramatically, "to Joust!"  

"Joust?" laughed Kade.  "Oh, you don't want to challenge me to Joust."

"Oh, I want to challenge you to Joust" said Shea.  

Like a playground bully, Shea puffed herself up, glared and stalked forward.  Her chest bump actually hit his stomach but the effect was powerful.  A wave of hormonal impulses left him dumb.  So he gulped.

"The wager," she growled, while still pressed against him, "is one token!" 

Shea was touching him.  With her chest.  Kade didn't know what to do so he spun around and walked to the Joust machine.  The familiar screen brought him back to earth.  

"See?" he said pointing.  The top spot on the high score.  NOS.

"Not bad," acknowledged Shea.  "Since you're pro, you pay."

Maybe he was changing too?  A year ago, he'd refuse to waste his last two tokens on Joust.  But now...


Shea was a lively player.  She yelled, smacked buttons and bumped him.  He kept sneaking sideways glances and his gameplay suffered.

"Hah!" she mocked when he lost another knight.  "Down to two lives, baby!  Maybe Joust isn't your game!  Maybe those aren't your initials!  Maybe you should go play Ms. Pacman!"

Kade grinned.  This was the Shea he grew up with.  The loud mouthed, troublemaking, tomboy.  He began to play.  

"Why are you cowering down there?" Kade asked.  "Trying to feed off my scraps?  Egg thief!"

"Oh, it's on!" she said.  

What she lacked in technique, she made up with cheating.  

"Mexican kidney punch!" she cried.  

She gouged his side trying to make him flinch.  But Kade was focused.  Shea was nothing compared to his dickhead friends.  Wedgies, eye flicks, neck slaps or having your pants yanked down in a crowded arcade was much worse.  Soon, the effortless beating started to piss Shea off.  So he eased up.  Sacrificed his knights until they were even.  One knight each.  

"Mercy?" she said with disgust.  "Bring it, bitch!"

"Ok," shrugged Kade.

The ostrich lifted his knight skyward and paused.  When the pterodactyl chased Shea into the open, he dropped like a stone from the sky.  No mercy.  He guided the bird for the killing stroke-

"If you let me win, I'll kiss you." 

"Wha-what?" Kade stammered turning his head.

But Shea was focused.  Her knight dodged as Kade plunged into the fiery lava.  

Game Over.

"Hah!  Loser!" she yelled pointing at him!  "Pay up!"

He smiled.  Then he laughed.  

"Sorry, I'm broke!"

"Aww!" cooed Shea locking her eyes to his.

This was the end of the Dream.  The first time, it was a surprise.  He never reacted.  But like Ikari Warriors, Kade was ready.  Shea lunged forward, stepped on his feet, tiptoed up and put her hands on his shoulders.  Face to face, she leaned in and kissed him.


And he was back in Town.  The blue orb floats above his head.

"Drea left a message" said Steve.

"Oh, yeah" mused Kade.  "I wanted to ask her something."


"Hi, boss." 

Drea nodded, he followed her inside and shut the door.  In this Dream, Drea was a tired looking, middle aged woman in pink sweats.  She absent-mindedly scratched her flat butt and led him to a living room. 

"Ugh," said Kade.  "Smells like fried bologna and a litter box in here."

"Just a Dream, Kade," smiled Drea.  

Kade nodded and watched a seagull walk into the room.  The bird stopped to look at them.  It seemed vaguely dissatisfied.  

Kade looked over at Drea.  She shrugged.

"It's my pet.  I think."

The seagull hopped onto the couch and settled itself in Drea's lap.

"This is exactly what I wanted to talk about" said Kade frowning.


"This!" Kade said pointing at the bird.  "It's wrong!  No one had pet seagulls!"

"How do you know?" 

"I don't know!  But some parts are definitely weird."

"Ghosts ask for weird Dreams all the time" said Drea.  "Remember when you tried to eat six crackers in sixty seconds?"

"Not that stuff!" grumbled Kade.  "Things like the people that know me.  Or how Steve can appear in-"

"Hold on," interrupted Drea.  "You mean people know your Dream character, right?"

"No.  Me!  They know my name!"

Drea got that far away look people have when consulting Program.  Then she looked at Kade.  "No.  You're mistaken."

"It's true!  Some people can tell I'm not real.  Once this guy called me Abomination.  Then he killed himself!"

"Remember our discussion on the substances ingested in the Dream?  How the memory lingers in Town?"

Kade shook his head.  A phone rang.  Drea gently pushed the seagull off her lap.

"We'll talk later" she said.  "Time for work."

Kade watched her go to the kitchen to answer the call.  

"Hello?" said Drea.

The seagull looked at him and approached.

"Get off me, you glitch!" said Kade as he pushed the bird off his leg.  

"DXM?" yelled Drea.  "Fuck you talkin' about?!  Blues!  Get blues!"

Time to go, thought Kade standing up.  The seagull took his spot, turned in a circle and flopped down.  It shoved one webbed foot out and began to lick it.