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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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017




I don't know where I am or what year it is.  Doesn't matter because  I've been training.  I got this.  So when I look over and see Stanton, I lift my chin up in greeting.

"Hey, dude" he replies.  

Stanton carefully holds two keg cups.  I watch him gingerly pick his way across the floor.  When he sits down on the couch, beer sloshes into his lap.  Stanton looks down, confused.  Then he laughs and lifts a cup at me.

"Drink, fucker!" we chime in unison.  

We drink cheap keg beer.  I take a sip because I'm drunk and lazy.  Too lazy to stand in the beer line.  Stanton pounds one beer and tosses the cup on the floor.  He belches and looks around, annoyed.  

"Where's Herschberger?"  

"Probably taking a shit" I answer.  

We both start laughing and toast each other again.  My brain knows our obese, red-headed friend Duncan Herschberger is famous for huge bowel movements.  Usually in social settings.  

"What's so funny, guys?" asks Herschberger suddenly appearing.  

"You! Fat ass!" mocks Stanton.  "Where were you?"

"Gettin' my drink on!" grins Herschberger.  "What's up with you pussys?"  

Stanton suddenly stands up.  His face is flushed and he staggers backwards but Herschberger props him up.  He points at a guy who walks in holding a bottle of vodka.  

"It's Schmidt!" Stanton bellows.  "He's got weed!  Schmiddy!  You gotta sack?!"

"About the biggest fucking sack you ever saw!" yells Schmidt grabbing his crotch.

Stanton lurches off, spilling more beer.  He grabs Schmidt and they walk outside.

"Kade?" asks Herschberger, holding an imaginary joint to his lips.  "You in?"

I shake my head.  Work order says attend Sorority party.  Consume six or more alcoholic beverages.  Snort speed with emos by railroad tracks.  

"Hey" says the deadpan voice.  

We look up.  It's my boss.  Right on time. 

Drea is a short, chunky, gloomy girl in black.  Pretty much the exact opposite to the sorority girls around here.  But no one seems to notice or care.  This is the weirdest Dream yet, thinks Kade.

"Dre!" bellows Herschberger.

uncan" she smiles.

"You know, Drea" smirks Herschberger, "I think I should date emo chicks.  What do you think about that?"

"I think you'll need to ditch that stupid hat" she says.

"Aw" pouts Herschberger.  He takes off his Linkin Park hat and looks at it sadly.  "I'll sacrifice it for love."

After Herschberger leaves to get stoned, Drea sits next to me and we recap.  

"How many beers?" she asks.

"Eight" I respond.  "Well, maybe seven.  I spilled a few times."

"Good progress" she nods.  "Well, lets wrap this one up.  It's time to go snort speed."

Drea's tribe wears only black.  The emos.  I stand out.  But like my boss at the sorority house, I somehow fit in.  I joke with them, mock my friends and snort their speed.  The icicle stabs my brain.  I swoon in the head rush and scream obscenities at a freight train.  A low, half-moon makes our skin glow.  

Another job well done.  


More training.  Deceased cultures and the bizarre landscapes of the planet flash into Kade's brain.  Program builds the past from archives of video, images, files and whatever else the machines carried to space.  A majority of the Dream requests come from a time period that existed about 1,700 years ago.  Some of the ghosts were actually alive then.  A thought that never fails to make Kade's skin crawl when he enters their Dreams. 

"Never forget the five senses" lectures his boss.  "Senses make the Dream! Let's discuss taste and smell. All you know is Town air.  Pure oxygen-"

There is a POP!  A blue orb appears.  Kade sighs.  It's his DAB.  

"Supervisor Drea!" speaks the DAB conversationally. "Hello. My name is Steve."

Drea frowns at the blue orb.    

"100% oxygen is actually toxic," it continues. "Town air is comprised of 78% nitrogen-"

"Not now," mutters Kade.

"Oh. Sorry."  The blue orb POPs back to nothing.

The silence is awkward. Drea stares.  Kade squirms.

"You!" she says pointing. "You're a criminal!"


"Orbs track criminals!  Why isn't that in your file?!"

"I don't know," Kade shrugs.  "I'm not a-"

"Why's it blue?" demands Drea.  "The DCE are red."

"DCE?" asks Kade.

Drea rolls her eyes.  "Drone Compliance Enforcers!  Criminal trackers! The red orbs!"

"Oh" says Kade. Some of his friends have red orbs following them. Stupid Program never told him what it meant.

"What is that thing?" demands Drea. "Am I in danger?"

"Danger?" Kade says confused.  "No, Drea. It's just my DAB."

"DAB?  What does DAB stand for?"

"DAB stands for...uh..?" ponders Kade. He shrugs. "It likes to be called Steve."


After 99 supervised Dreams, Kade had to do 100 alone.  He looked at the menu and picked one at random.  A nostalgic Dream.  

He appeared with a cup of coffee in his hand.  The first thing he felt was the wind.  A violent wind, screaming.  The winter chill tore at his clothes.  He stood before the Ferry Building.  He looked around, found the the pier and walked out to the view.  Across the choppy, wind whipped sea stood a bridge.  The Bay Bridge.  This was the Dream target.

Kade was supposed to lose himself in the Dream.  So he did.  He smelled and tasted brine from the bay. His kept his hands warm from his coffee. He observed.  Shadows lengthened as the planet rotated away from the giving star.  Solar beams pierced the atmosphere at odd angles.  Kade bathed in hues of fiery orange, pink and purple.  

The ancestral home, he thought.  

Then noise.  A slapping fury of feather and bird screams shattered the spell.  Kade looked down the pier.  A tall, slender girl with pink hair, held her hand towards the painted sky.  Seagulls hovered and swirled around.  She fed the birds, one by one.  

"Forgot about your bridge?" questions a voice behind him.  

Kade turns and sees a man.  A nondescript man.


"What?" asks Kade.

"Abomination" says the man turning away from the pink haired girl.  "That was what they called you right?"

"I'm sorry but you have mistaken me for-"

"There are others you know" continues the man.  "People in Dreams that know we're not real."

"Who are you?"

"A Dreamer!  Like you," smiles the man.  "I just thought I'd pop in and see if there's anything you want?"  

"Want?  Like what?"

"Like do you want to know what would happen if I threw you off this pier?" smiles the man.  "Do you think Program will teach you how to swim?"

The man started to walk forward.

"Did you know Dream violence or death can actually kill you?  Your heart can only suffer so much.  Though Program would probably save you" muses the man.  "But what if Program failed?"

Kade realized he was edging backwards when he felt the pier railing behind him.  The man stood before him.

"I would like to shake your hand" smiles the man reaching out to Kade.

Kade flinches and then POP!  The blue DAB appears.

"Stop!" it commands.

Kade and the man look up.  The DAB hangs between them.  It's voice is different, thinks Kade.  It sounds more menacing.  

"Now how did you do that?" the man laughs.  "Very impressive!"

"Final warning!" barks the DAB.

The man steps back from Kade and casually leans against the railing.  He looks over the edge at the chaotic, green sea.  

"See you Kade" he says.  

Then he vaults over the railing.  Kade looks over the railing.  The man's face stares up at him as he falls.  He winks right before he hits the water.  Then he's gone.