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