Happiness In Slavery – [excerpt] – Miss Ambrosia Skye

Chapter 1

 

Above the door for apartment 406 was a sign that read:

 

MISS AMBROSIA SKYE – TAROT READINGS – PALMISTRY – ASTROLOGY

 

The superintendent hadn’t told her to take it down, but it had only been up a month or so. The interior of the apartment was decked out in New Age décor. She had numerous books on tarot, spiritual healing, angels, the afterlife, and communicating with departed souls; and that was just the top shelf. She was sitting at her kitchen table with a spread of tarot cards in between her and her current clients, Mr. and Mrs. Everett. Mrs. Everett was really engaged and interested in the reading, but it was overtly obvious that Mr. Everett was only there because his wife was.

      Miss Ambrosia Skye drew a card from the deck and put it down on the table.

      She stared at it, intently. “Hmm,” she bit her lower lip for added effect.

      “What?” Mrs. Everett straightened in her seat, coming closer to Skye and her cards.

      “I just drew the Tower Card,” Skye said in a purposely ambiguous tone. 

“Is that a bad thing?”

      “Well,” Skye paused, taking in how alertly Mrs. Everett was drinking in her every word and gesture, and how disinterested Mr. Everett looked, slumped back in his chair. “The Tower Card is very similar to the Death Card–“

      Mrs. Everett gasped.

      Skye continued: “–in that it’s a card of destructive and creative power. Just like a building that is condemned and must be torn down to make way for something new, so too is the purpose of the Tower Card. Is there something old, something that you’re holding onto that you need to let go of before you can move on?”

“That’s funny, isn’t it, David! The kitchen.”

      Trying to hide her surprise, Skye inquired: “Your kitchen?”

“Yes. I’ve wanted to knock out the kitchen wall for years and make it open to the living room so that it’s more of an open concept thing. David always thought it was too expensive, but if the cards are telling you . . .”

      “The cards speak of change, and renewal. It’s a fair bet that once you deal with the obstacle represented by the Tower Card, emotional and financial wellbeing will flood back into your home.”

“See, David?” Mrs. Everett started in a condescending tone. “I told you it was the kitchen. Didn’t I tell you?”

Mr. Everett just rolled his eyes.

 

                  *                 *                 *

 

After the tarot reading had finished, and Mr. and Mrs Everett had both said their goodbyes-although Mr. Everett’s goodbye was more of a nod than a goodbye-they left Skye alone in her apartment. Skye decided to put on a pot of tea and was watching the tail end of the news.

“The Winnipeg Police Service needs your help in discovering the identity of a body that was pulled from the Red River late last night-“

There was a knock at the door.

      “Well, that was fast,” Sabrina laughed pointing at the sign as Syke let her in. Sabrina took a seat at the kitchen table that also doubled as Skye’s tarot reading table. “I see you even have a sign over your door. Have you gotten a lot of customers?”

      “You wouldn’t believe how many!” Skye smirked as she sipped her tea. “I put the sign up, paid for a few classy looking ads in the paper, and-“ she clapped her hands together loudly.
      It jolted Sabrina.

      “I’ve had fourteen people just this last week. I’ve made almost fourteen hundred dollars.”

      “You charge a hundred dollars a visit?”

      “Hey, I’ve heard of some who charge upwards of three hundred dollars per hour. If you put too low a price on your services the clients won’t think you’re legit.”

“You’re not.”

“Well, they don’t know that. Plus I tell them that because I’m opening my house to them there’s an extra charge.”

      “And they pay it?”

      “They’d pay more for a shrink. And with them you have to keep comin’ back for follow-up sessions,” Skye took a loud slurp of her tea.

“Don’t people usually come back to hear what else might be happening in their future?”

“Sure, but I don’t say that they have to.” There were fine granules of what used to be tealeaves that made a ring of sediment on the bottom of her mug. She rose to pour herself more tea. “Oh, I also started a website.”

      “A website?”

      “Yah, it’s really easy. I just started with a free blog, customized it just enough so it looked legit, and then bought a domain name for about twelve bucks.”

“I just don’t understand how you can keep promoting a farce, when you don’t believe and know it’s a farce. Other people trust you with major decisions in their lives, and you’re misleading them.”

“Sabrina, I don’t tell them anything they don’t already know or haven’t already thought of. This is more of a psychological exercise. I give vague open ended readings and they insert their own desired outcomes. It’s exactly what they wanted to hear, they just wanted to hear it in someone else’s voice.”

“I still think it’s wrong.”

“Fourteen hundred dollars in a week can’t be wrong. That’s the kind of money I’d make in a month working at our old job, right?” She laughed. “I don’t understand how you can still work there.”

      “Well, it’s honest work.”

“Serving coffee to uptight assholes isn’t honest work. It’s soul crushing, mind numbing labour that further promotes an ideology of stuffy, elitism. If I had to spend another second hearing pretentious dick-heads complaining about how their foam isn’t stiff enough, or their extra-hot latte is too extra-hot-” she exhaled and shook her head, remembering the epic shittiness of the customer service industry. “I’m helping these people. They come to me and I give them a sense of contentment with the decisions they have already made. My services are therapeutic.”

      “I don’t know,” Sabrina pursed her lips to one side.

“Well, agree to disagree,” Skye smiled. “Another cup of tea?”

 

Chapter 2

 

Nathan Levy stepped out of his bedroom and into the main area where Alex was sitting on the beanbag chair, their low-income version of a second couch, reading a book. Alex was completely dressed and ready for work at Lattes and Literature.

Nathan looked at the clock; it was just after 6am. “Jesus,” Nathan rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “You have to work so fucking early.”

“This is nothing,” Alex said, not looking up from his book. “On days when I open the store I have to be there at 5:30am. It’s fucking brutal.” 

 “Oh, you’ll appreciate this,” Nathan started. “I had a crazy dream that I was walking through the foyer of this massive hotel and into this large atrium where there were lots of people standing around with lots of cameras, and big screens, and big indoor billboards.

“I couldn’t read the names I just knew that it was some kind of entertainment news show. I made my way through the crowd to the front and a man and a woman were doing a newscast. They both looked directly at me and shouted at me and called for me to come over.

“They pulled me out in front of everyone and said: ‘Look at the teleprompter and just go for it, you’ll do great’.

“So the camera guy started counting me down and with the last two seconds he made a grand gesture of his whole arm, hands, and fingers. I stared at the teleprompter but I couldn’t see anything.

Absolutely nothing had come up and the dramatic intro music had already stopped. Everyone was looking at me but nothing was on the teleprompter.”

“That’s crazy.”

“That’s not the crazy part,” Nathan went to the fridge to grab the milk for a bowl of cereal. “I heard someone laughing at the back of the crowd and suddenly the teleprompter whirred to life, only what were actually scrolling up weren’t words. It was those arrow symbols from Dance Dance Revolution and they kept coming up and pulsing to some beat I couldn’t hear. Meanwhile, the two entertainment news anchors had rushed back on to the stage angrily. One of them ripped the microphone away from me and everyone was laughing, so I just kinda shrugged and started to leave the building and, luckily, no one followed me.”

      “That’s nuts. I had a weird dream last night too. I don’t remember that much of it, just that we were at some kind of party.”

“Me and you?” Nathan began pouring the cereal into the bowl

“Yah, I remember there being something on my back,” Alex paused, trying to remember, “and something about gravity and stars or something. This random guy was talking about some kind of math problem and . . . oh, you’d left for some reason and I was standing by this group of people and this one guy was telling this nasty story about a girl with a colostomy bag.”

“A colostomy bag?” Nathan had already taken a bite of his cereal and gave a grimace of distaste.

Alex remembered the book sitting in his lap. “Oh, hey. Listen to this: ‘What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ . . . Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘you are a god and never have I heard anything more divine’.”

      “That’s trippy,” Nathan took another bite of his cereal.

“I love Nietzsche,” Alex closed the book again and placed it back in his lap. “What do you think, Nathan? Demon or god?”

      “At this point right now?” Nathan looked off, pondering. “Probably a god. I mean, I have a wonderful girlfriend, a roof over my head, and bowl of cereal in my hands, a job that makes me a little money, and some pot in a bag under my bed; can’t really complain.”

      Alex groaned, and rolled his eyes. When Nathan had said ‘a little money’ his thoughts had run off on a tangent which reminded him of how little he actually made, how annoying the customers were, and how anxious he was about actually going to work that morning.

      “Nathan, you’ll never believe what happened at work the other day.”

      While Nathan continued eating his cereal, Alex recounted the story:    

 

      He liked to get to work early, so he could order a drink, and relax before running headlong into the throng of easily annoyed, hopelessly egotistical pricks.

He looked over to the front counter and, unfortunately, made eye contact with the shift supervisor. Standing up straight, the supervisor walked towards Alex in a hurried jog, just on the slow side of a run.

            “Hey, can you start now?” He asked him.

      Alex had tried to hide the fact that he was gritting his teeth again.

            “Sure.”

      Alex accompanied him to the backroom and put on his green apron, black hat, and clocked in for work; fifteen minutes early. He checked where they had deployed him for the day, and sure enough, he was working drive-thru.
      Again.

            Fuck.

      He put a headset on and started to make drinks. At that point it really wasn’t all that bad. He was actually enjoying it. He didn’t have to talk to anyone, all he did was make the drinks that were put up on the expediter screen.

“Hey, I’m gonna get Hugh to close his drive-thru till and send him on his break. You’re taking orders.”

The shift supervisor had unlocked Hugh’s drop box and Hugh signed out of his till. This meant that Alex then had to take orders until the next person came on to sign into Hugh’s till. Alex had looked briefly at the Daily Coverage Report while he was clocking in, and had seen that the next person wouldn’t be coming in until 1:15pm. So he’d have to take orders for another two hours at least, and with his luck, the shift would give bar duties to whoever was coming in then and he’d still have to continue taking orders. 

He hated talking to customers.

            -DING-

      Shit. 

That awful, grating sound meant that someone had just pulled up to the drive-thru window and he had to take their order.

            He turned on the mic.

            “Hi there, welcome to-“

      “Yah, yah, I’ll have a Grande, non-fat, extra hot, no foam, latte.”

            Alex repeated his order back to him.

            “No foam!” The customer yelled into the mic. 

      It was so loud that Alex had to pull the headset away from his ears. 

Just fucking great, he rolled his eyes. The first order of the day and it’s this fucking asshole. 

      Alex looked up into the monitor and immediately recognized the man. The coffee shop had a camera outside, mounted at the back of the building so they could see the customer in their vehicle while they talked. That particular customer often came into the drive-thru, and every time, would come into the Café afterward to complain about what a shitty drink he’d gotten. There was always foam on it, and he would yell about how ‘monkeys could do their jobs’ and ‘a retard can steam milk so why can’t they get it right?’

Fuck! 

Alex always tried to explain to him that if he ordered extra hot, there would still be some bubbles in the milk and that they would settle once the drink cooled, so either he’d have to wait longer for his drink, or he would have to deal with some foam. And if the foam was perfect-and by perfect it meant there wasn’t any-he would complain that his drink took too long.

“How long does it take to make a latte? Do you guys go to Guatemala to pick the beans yourself?” That little joke never got old.  He rolled his eyes just thinking about it. Alex hated that fucking knob jockey and wanted to kick his fucking teeth out whenever he came up to the drive-thru window.

      Alex sighed, braced himself, and reluctantly opened the window.

“Hi there, how are you doing to-“

“Yah, yah,” the man held his hand out and it was a good thing Alex had had a fairly good hold of the man’s debit card because he let go randomly and Alex had to fumble slightly to keep it in his hand.

Alex started to repeat his drink back to him, as was procedure, so that the man knew he was in fact getting the drink he’d ordered.

“Yah, yah, whatever,” he was talking on his cell phone. 

God, I hate it when customers talked on their phones in drive-thru. Alex’s grinding teeth were audible even over the raging din of the espresso machines and the symphony of gnarled voices in the Café. 

Really? You couldn’t hang up for three minutes while you get coffee? You HAVE to talk to this person? Fuck!

“Would you like a copy of your receipt?” Alex looked at him and realized he didn’t hear him, or Alex wasn’t worth the man’s attention, so he just passed his drink out to him.

The man put his hand over the phone and said, “could I have the receipt?”

FUCK!

Alex had already exited the order on his computer’s point-of-sale screen and had gone back to the main screen. If he hadn’t been talking on his fucking phone he’d have heard me. Maybe he did hear me and he’s just a sadistic fucking asshole. 

The drive-thru window closed and Alex sighed, reentering his barista code and pressing a couple buttons to print off a copy of the receipt. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, he was just generally pissed off at this fuck wad and wanted him gone.

There was honking from outside the window.

“Hey!” The man shouted. Apparently, he’d opened the drink and was showing Alex how displeased he was with its contents. “Does this look like no foam to you?”

“Sir,” Alex began, “If you ask for extra hot-“ he was going to try and explain for the bazillionth time but the man interrupted him.

“Jesus,” he scoffed and placed the coffee in the center tray of his vehicle in an exaggeratedly annoyed manner. “I’d like two recovery coupons.”

Two? That fat fuck always did that. He would purchase one drink, get pissed off, and then ask for two coupons for free drinks. And of course Alex’s store operated under a “just say yes” policy so he had to fucking do it. Alex really wanted to beat his face in. But the man had left after that, and to his surprise, didn’t come into Café to yell at them again for something equally as asinine. 

The other orders after that were pretty basic, mostly just brewed coffees and the occasional Cappuccino, and they’d pumped those out really quickly.

The next while had gone by relatively uneventfully, but as one woman gave him money for her order, he looked down at the coins in his hand and they all seemed so alien. For a long while, he couldn’t pull any amount of meaning from them. He felt so frustrated, until ever so slowly his brain kicked back in and he was able to gauge denominations and figure out the change he’d owed the woman at the window.

The 1:15 barista came on and Alex’s supervisor sent him on his break, which he sorely needed. He’d gotten an espresso drink and sat down in the Café and opened his book.

He’d only just started reading The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel. He’d finished reading The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in the series, which Claire had given him last summer. He couldn’t really enjoy it while he was being assaulted by the horrible choir of voices in the Café.

He couldn’t drown them out. 

He was hearing snippets of all the conversations and his head was throbbing painfully.

<<Twenty six hours of labor and then they decide she needs a C-section>>

<<I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve got to admit that kinda freaks me out>>

<<So they can’t get the landing gear down and we’re up there circling for like 3 hours>>

The voices were so loud and no matter what he did he couldn’t drown them out.

He’d clenched his eyes closed tightly and when he opened them they focused in on the cover of a book that a patron across the café was reading.

He’d stared intently at the cover. It was red with a nightmarish landscape on the cover. The title of the book was a blur; he couldn’t read it from across the room. But suddenly the colors began to move.  They swirled and blended together and he’d found himself mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colors.

            -BEEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEEP-

      That was his break timer. His fifteen minute break was finished.

 

“Wow,” In the time Alex had taken to tell the story, Nathan had finished his cereal and poured himself another bowl. “That sounds like a shitty morning.”

Alex nodded, wide-eyed. “And that was just the first couple hours.”

      “Any plans for the afternoon after you get back?” Nathan asked, spooning another bite into his mouth.

      “Just hanging out here,” Alex shrugged. “Probably smoke another bowl . . . or four.”

      Alex suddenly grew anxious and began writing in his journal.

 

Chapter 3

 

Miss Ambrosia Skye held the bag of groceries tightly in her arms as she walked down the ragged and cracked cement walkway leading up to the apartment building. Fingers of discoloured, dying grass shot up from the zigzagging fractures in the grey cement. She hopped up the sunken and uneven steps to the front door of the building.

A little girl was sitting on the steps rocking back and forth. 

“Seven will die, only one will survive.”

Skye gave the little girl a weird look and then walked by, struggling with her keys to open the lobby door. She entered the building and walked up a few flights of stairs. Fumbling for an entirely new key, she tried to unlock the door to her apartment.

Upon entering her apartment, she began putting away her groceries, but not before turning on the news.

“-restmark was found early yesterday morning with the spoon buried two inches into his throat. Cause of death appears to be self-inflicted. Allegedly, he’d smuggled a spoon back into his cell. An investigation into the death is underway-”

Skye placed the jar of Nutella into the cupboard.

“A gunman entered a church in the West End yesterday afternoon and began shooting members of the congregation as they were having a Bible Study.  Of the eight people in the church–“

Skye immediately stopped putting away her groceries and turned the television louder.

“-at the time, seven were killed and only one survived. The dead included the Pastor, his wife, a couple from New York City and three members of a family vacationing from Vancouver. The only survivor was the family’s twelve year old daughter who sustained gunshot wounds to her torso but is listed in stable condition,” the newscaster paused. “A second body was recovered from the Red River today-“

Skye didn’t even turn off the television; she bolted from her apartment and raced down the stairs to the lobby to find the little girl. She burst out of the lobby doors.

The little girl wasn’t on the steps. 

Skye ran over to the buzzer board but realized she had absolutely no idea who the little girl was, or even if she lived in the same apartment building.

 

Chapter 4

 

Alex and Nathan had ordered pizza. Both were stoned as fuck, seated firmly in front of the television.

Alex had his nose in his journal, writing furiously.

Nathan was staring intently at the television commercials flashing distractingly across the screen.

“You could never get away with anything Indiana Jones did nowadays,” he began. Even though Alex wasn’t paying attention, Nathan continued: “getting onto a plane with a gun, walking right up to the map room at a dig site, yup, someone would’ve snatched yo’ ass up, Indy. Game over!”

Alex still wasn’t listening. He only briefly looked over at Nathan but it was more past him than at him. He looked really frightened.

Nathan assumed he must be having a bad trip.

“Easy buddy,” he laughed. “It’s all good.”

Alex went back to writing in his journal.

“You know what I’d really love to try?” He didn’t wait for Alex to ask ‘what’ since he knew he wasn’t really listening anyway.

“A Nutella, peanut butter, and pretzel sandwich. How fucking awesome would that be?”

“Oh!” Alex shouted excitedly, “Did you know that the song ‘You Oughta Know’ is about Dave Coulier?”
      “Joey?”

“Yah, nuts, eh?” Alex laughed.

“That’s a fucked up mental image man!” Nathan shuddered. “I’m imagining him using the Bullwinkle voice between thrusts.”

“Cut it out.” Alex mocked in a horribly inaccurate impression of Joey Gladstone.

“Excited about the party on Friday?” Nathan asked.

      “If Seth ever gets back to us . . . I hate going to a party without stuff and then when people are loading the bong and I don’t have anything to contribute I feel like a douche.” 

      “I’m sure we’ll get some by Friday,” Nathan assured him.

 

Chapter 5

 

Skye had called Sabrina over right away. She’d already downed three rum and Cokes and was pouring her fourth.

      “So, you think this little girl can tell the future?” Sabrina shot her a skeptical grin.

      “She can tell the future!”

      “I highly doubt that, Jennifer,” she took a sip of her Coke. “No more than you can!”

“No, no really. She was sitting out on the steps and she was saying: Seven will die, only one will survive. And when I got home I turned on the television and guess what?”

“Seven died only one survived?” Sabrina smirked.

“Well, of course it sounds stupid when you say it like that.”

Sabrina rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. I think I should stay out of this.”

“What do you mean?” Skye was already half finished her drink.

“Hey, you’re free to believe whatever. I just don’t think it’s logical that some kid you don’t even know said something in passing and because it slightly fit the newscast you saw on TV, you believe she can tell the future.”

“Slightly fit? She said seven people will die and one will survive and that’s exactly what happened.”

“Well, you could say that about anything. Maybe there was an earthquake and there are eight people living in a house and when it collapsed seven died and only one survived. Or maybe a small charter plane carrying eight people crash landed and seven of them died and one miraculously lived.”

“I see what you’re saying, but I felt it.”

“What?”

“I felt that it was true. This tingle ran through me and . . . I need to find this girl. I need to talk to her. Maybe she can tell me something important.”

“Like what?”

“Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t need her to tell me, right?”

“I guess.”

She heard the buzzer. Skye looked at her watch. Her next appointment was waiting outside the apartment building.

      “Oh, fuck.”

“What?”

“Shit. I lost track of time. I have an appointment coming in. Let’s continue these drinks in your apartment after that. It should only take about thirty minutes.”

“Woah, are you crazy?” Sabrina laughed. “You’re drunk. You’re actually going to let these poor people come in and give them a drunk reading? I didn’t want to say it, Jenny, but how is your experience with that little girl any different from what you’re going to do to those downstairs? Look at you, you’re so freaked out by what this little girl said, imagine how they’re going to feel.”

“But I make them feel good about their decisions.”

“Jenny, do you feel good right now?”

 

Chapter 6

 

            The sky was the shade of crayon Alex used to use to color Grover when he was younger. The memory made me feel warm inside, or maybe it was the coffee.

      He stood outside the coffee shop waiting for Nathan to pull his car around and pick him up. He’d called from down the street and told him to meet him out front. Nathan thought he had a source on some pot since Seth wasn’t getting back to them. He wanted to take Alex to a house party.

      It sounded like a good idea. 

      Nathan’s black Honda Civic pulled up to the front of the building and slowed to a stop.

      “Wassup, bitch?” he smirked as the window slid down.

      “So where’s this party?” Alex asked getting into the car. 

      Maybe it was because he was so exhausted from work, but the motion of going from a standing position into a seated one left his stomach with butterflies.

      Alex felt really good. 

      He closed his eyes and tried to keep that feeling for as long as he could.

“A girl I know from school is having a pre-school party!” Nathan smiled, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to imaginary music.

      “So there’s going to be little stoned toddlers running around?” Alex giggled from the mental image that conjured.

      The car lurched forward and the feeling erupted inside him again. Alex noticed he was relaxed and happy and . . .

      “Here,” Nathan passed him a small joint along with a lighter. “I gathered together all the bits of pot I could from the bags in our rooms.”

      Alex inhaled.

      “How was work?” Nathan inquired.

      And Alex just shook his head as he pulled in another lungful of smoke. It was too soon after his shift to talk about it. He just wanted to get stoned. As he inhaled he felt the smoke coat the lining of his throat and billow soothingly down into his lungs and then expand to fill them with a warm calm. He wondered what it would look like if one could see into the lungs when the smoke entered; if it would look like the tube at the top of the lung was expelling the smoke rather than sucking it in. He wondered what the consistency of the air would look like when the smoke was added; if it would be like two thick liquids swirling and not quite blending but instead making intricate spiraling designs.

      “How far away is this party?” Alex asked, handing the joint back to Nathan.

      “Here.”

      The car stopped in front of a large house with seventies-brown siding.  The paint around the windows was cracked and peeling. There was an old bike laying on the front lawn. The lawn itself was quite patchy and unhealthy looking with blotches of crab grass poking out.

      They could hear the rhythmic thumping bass as they approached the door, which opened to greet them, ominously.

      Alex stopped in place and his whole body stiffened.

Who’d opened the door?

The treble companion to the bass burst outwards as if trying to make a run for the outside air. Alex recognized the music but couldn’t place exactly which band it was. 

He stiffened as he saw a gangly man in a plaid shirt had been reaching over to hold the door open for two girls who rushed passed them without acknowledging their existence.

      Alex loosened.

      They entered the house and Alex felt as though they’d been transported back to the seventies. There was brown and orange colored shag carpeting at the entrance as well as on the stairs going down into the unfinished basement. To the left was a kitchen with black-spotted, off-white laminate flooring and a sea-foam green fridge. There were dirty dishes over flowing from the sink and spilling out onto the brown speckled countertop beneath the stained wooden cupboards.

      They looked around at the people attending this party and Alex felt the visceral paradox of the conflicting eras. It was like they were in an ad for American Apparel. 

      There was a group of people leaning up against the green fridge talking about something he couldn’t hear, and laughing. The guy nearest to him was wearing ridiculously tight jeans with the bottoms rolled up over red and white Converse. He was wearing a grey t-shirt that said: Black is the new Black, underneath a navy cotton jacket. The horrid outfit was completed with a black and red flannel scarf and a trilby-or what Alex liked to call a douche hat-and a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

      “I didn’t realize you could get Pabst Blue Ribbon in Canada,” Alex said turning to Nathan, but he wasn’t there. 

      He scanned the room and saw a group of people heading down the stairs into the basement. Alex took off his shoes and hurried after them. The music of the main floor slowly died behind him, but it was replaced by the sound emanating from a room at the back of the unfinished basement. 

      Black-light poured out of the room and into the hallway, causing the walls to glow a distinct purple. It also revealed the not so secret fact that the walls were quite dirty and probably hadn’t been cleaned since these tenants had moved in.

      Alex followed the group as they entered the room. 

      The room was quite small and there were far too many people. There were four people sitting on the bed; six people sitting cross-legged on the floor and a couple people sitting above everyone on rickety barstools. 

      He tried to find a spot and ended up wedging his way into the group of six on the floor.

      The only light in the room came from a tall vertical lamp that housed a massive black-light bulb. The people on the bed were coloring on each other with highlighters. They were mostly doing floral designs; some of the people had some tribal symbols or some Celtic weave of some kind. 

      The girl nearest to him on the bed was wearing a cloth headband over her stringy brown hair that looked like it had been torn off some thrift store dress. She had a gaudy purple hooded sweater with an iron-on cat design on the front. Her pants were a shiny blue with the texture of molded plastic. 

      Alex looked around the room and was disdainfully aware of how out of place he felt. 

      We’re at a hipster party, he realized.

      “Why are we at a . . .” Alex stopped himself. For some reason he’d thought Nathan was beside him, when he definitely wasn’t. Even if he’d been whispering, which he hadn’t been, everyone in the room would’ve have heard him.

      “Hey,” he saw that Nathan was waving over at him from across the room.

      “Yah?”

      “This is my friend Jonathan Vans,” he introduced Alex to the man to his left; a dopey-looking guy with a pair of white shutter shades and an upside down visor, the kind that changed color depending on how it was angled. He had a large Yosemite Sam mustache. Alex couldn’t tell whether it was real or not. To compliment the ‘stache, Vans had a good five or six days worth of stubble. 

      Overall, Vans looked extremely greasy.

      The greasy man just nodded in Alex’s general direction. He exuded an air of utter douchy-ness that seemed to be more than prevalent at the party.

      “Hi,” Alex said, “How are you?”

      He just shrugged.

      “Vans-the-man was in a lot of my classes last year and I think we have a couple again this year.” Nathan said.

      Vans shrugged again. 

      Alex became increasingly intrigued by the thought of what Vans’ voice sounded like. He wondered if it was really high and squeaky or if he had a very nasally sounding voice or maybe it was really low and grumbly. But no, he didn’t seem like he’d have a low voice.

      Alex was suddenly aware of the music that they were playing. It was a weird mellow electronica.

      Kind of like my relaxation CDs. 

      He saw some of the people passing around a large bong, taking hits off it, and then shifting it over to the next person. It came right beside him and the ass pirate beside him reached purposefully around him and passed it to the person on the other side, completely ignoring the fact that Alex was there.

      He didn’t say anything, but Alex thought that it was really weird and more than a little rude. 

      Someone got up to go to the washroom and there was space beside Vans and Nathan.

      Nathan motioned for Alex to come join them.

      “Vans lives here with four other people. He lives in the basement Suz and Roc live on the second floor and . . .” Nathan paused, he turned to Vans: “Who lives on the third?”

      Vans spoke and he sounded like a mix between Mike Tyson and Pierce Brosnan. He was British; Alex gritted his teeth. “Paul and Rita.”

      When he said Paul it sounded more like paw, and it pissed Alex off.

      British and Hipster. To Alex, Vans was the antichrist. A pairing of the two most . . .

      He tried to calm himself. No! That was old four. You’re new four. Almost five. Elizabeth probably never thinks about you!

      “Hey,” Nathan called over to Alex.

      “What?”

      “Vans asked you a question.”

      “Oh, sorry, what?”

      “I said, do you want to pick the next song?” Vans had his iPod in his hand and was waiting for Alex to tell him what to put on.

      “What were you guys listening to?” Alex asked.

      “Times New Viking, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Teengirl Fantasy and the last song was MGMT, but I don’t really like them anymore. They sold out,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

“What do you mean?” he scoffed. “They’re so overplayed on the radio now they lost all their cred. They have mainstream videos and,” he rolled his eyes, “I’m just . . . I’m so done with them.”

So as soon as a band gets successful they’ve sold out? . . . fucking asshole.

“We were listening to Caribou earlier on,” Vans said, “You may know him by another name, he used to go by Manitoba; but even he’s getting too mainstream for me.”

Alex wanted nothing more than for Vans to shut up, so he said: “do you have any Smashing Pumpkins or Nine Inch Nails?”

Everyone around him seemed to go deathly silent.

“So you’re one of those?” Vans looked at him with a condescendingly tilted eyebrow.

He looked down at his iPod and chose something Alex had never heard of before and put the iPod back on the charging dock. He turned away from Alex and Nathan and began talking to the person behind him.

Nathan shot Alex a look, which he interpreted to mean: why’d you do that?

But I didn’t do anything, Vans was the asshole. Alex stood up. 

He didn’t want to be in that room anymore. Hopefully the other floors had fewer douche-bags. 

He went back upstairs and entered the kitchen. He was met with suspicious stares and more hipster jerks whispering to each other and Alex just knew that it was about him. 

He made his way through the kitchen and into the living room on the other side. The smell of cheap incense wafted into his nostrils followed closely by a mixture of bong and cigarette smoke.

There was a guy talking about the television show Lost and he started to feel more at home. He leaned up against the wall and listened in to the conversation.

“I’m disappointed in the way they ended it,” one guy said. “They could’ve gone on a couple more years and got all the story arcs explained.”

“They did say that in 2007 they had already decided on wrapping things up in the following couple seasons so that they didn’t jump the shark.”

“Yah, I don’t know why you guys like that show so much,” a snooty looking girl in a black beret, too much make-up, and gauged earrings said.

“I stopped watching after the third season.”

Alex looked over to the girl who was speaking and his stoned mind exploded in a fury of fiery déjà vu.

      The anxious feeling flooded over him and he swore at himself for not bringing his journal. Usually he had it with him.

      He concentrated as hard as could on remembering everything that was happening around him so that he could write it all down when he finally returned home to his journal.

The girl had dirty looking blonde dreadlocks tied back behind her and a stained T-shirt that said:

 

How to talk to your bitches: Backhand means yes, Closed Fist means No.

 

“Lost just leaves you lost,” the girl rolled her eyes condescendingly.

“Ah!” The voice behind him startled him and his whole body shuddered. He turned to see a woman who looked equally out of place at the party. She was dressed in a brown spring dress with a black hair band holding her dark wavy hair away from her face.

She smiled pleasantly at him.

Was she looking at me or through me? Alex wondered. He looked behind him, but no one there was acknowledging the strange woman’s presence.

The woman came up to give him a hug. Alex’s body tightened again.

“Hi!”

Alex stared at her, confusedly.

“I know you, right?”

She looked up at him and smiled, he felt a sudden easiness flood over him, and his body relaxed.

“Excuse me?” Alex still wasn’t sure what was going on.

“Yes I do.” The way she looked at him he felt an odd sense of belonging.

I have no idea who you are. He tried to remember her but he was blanking. There’s no way that I know this girl. She must think I’m someone else. She was very attractive so he decided not to let her think otherwise.

“Are you having a good week?” Alex tried to continue the conversation.

“In 1982,” the strange woman started, “a research team performed one of the most important experiments of the twentieth century.”

“What was that?”

“See, no one really knows about it. It’s sad.”

The strange woman grabbed his hand and pulled him over back into the kitchen and to a chair where all the hipsters had miraculously disappeared.

She took a sip from the drink in her glass, which Alex assumed was a rum and Coke, and she continued: “subatomic particles can communicate with each other no matter how much distance is between them. 10 feet, or 10 billion miles, doesn’t matter.”

Sweet! He hadn’t heard that. He couldn’t believe that a woman as beautiful as her was interested in physics.

“That’s awesome.” Alex smiled.

“Every particle seems to know what the other is doing. Some physicists don’t think that an objective reality exists and that we’re actually just a spectacularly detailed hologram.”

“What?” His stoned eyes grew wide. “I love you.”

“What?” She raised an eyebrow at him.

Alex shook his head, horrified at the words that had escaped his lips.

“Continue.” He smiled.

“You know how a hologram is made right?”

Alex shook his head.

She stopped and looked off for a few moments. Alex was very curious about what she was thinking.

“Well, you’ll need beam splitters and mirrors and helium-neon lasers and holographic film. You could probably find a better explanation online than I can give you. It’s pretty technical. I mean, you know what a hologram is, right?”

Alex nodded, “of course.”

“Well, one of the interesting things about holograms is that if you tear a hologram in half, you still see the whole image in both pieces and the same is true of every increasingly smaller piece of the hologram.”

“That’s fucking awesome.”

“It means that all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected. The research team was from the University of Paris, led by Alain Aspect. You should look it up.”

“I will,” Alex smiled, excitedly.

A hand gripped Alex’s arm and he jumped.

It was Nathan.

“Come on,” Nathan scowled. “Vans’ being a dick. He’s not gonna sell us any pot.”

“I was just talking to-“ Alex turned to introduce Nathan to the strange woman but there was only an empty chair.

 

*                 *                 *

 

“What did the two tampons say to each other?”

Nathan had one other place he was sure he could fine pot but Alex wanted to be dropped back off at the apartment beforehand.

“I don’t know, what?” Alex smiled.

Nathan always told the most off colour jokes, and they were always very funny.

“Nothing. They’re both stuck up cunts!”

“Oh my God!” Alex said it so abruptly, and so loudly and Nathan’s whole body jolted.

“What?” He said, trying to sound cooler than he felt at that moment, startled by the loud noise.

“Gossip!” Alex looked excitedly over at Nathan.

“What about it?”

“Gossip is how we let everyone know the plot points. That’s how people know what the ongoing story of Earth is. News, gossip, it’s all so that we’re on the same page with the plot of existence.”

“Plot?”

“Yah, we’re all-“ Alex looked over at Nathan and a wave of apprehensiveness flooded over him. He was silent. He cursed himself for not remembering his journal.

      They pulled up to the apartment building.

“Up to anything later tonight? Wanna watch a movie or something?”

“Yah,” Alex nodded. “Those clouds don’t look promising for doing anything outside and everything closes so fucking early anyway. I’ll just be at the apartment, so we can chill. Wanna watch Fantastic Planet?”

Nathan nodded eagerly. “See you then.”

He waved before driving off.

Alex was so deep in thought that he didn’t even notice Aurora sitting on the steps of the apartment building. He almost tripped over her.

“Hi, Aurora,” Alex smiled.

Aurora waved at him, disconnectedly. 

Matthew came up to the lobby doors and called out: “Aurora, we’re going to the grocery store now.”

“Hey Alex. How are you doing?” Matt waved at Alex.

      “Awesome,” he smiled. “I’m off work and gonna watch Fantastic Planet.”

      “Good, good. We’re just heading out to the grocery store.”

      “This late?”

      “Aurora’s not having the best day. I probably shouldn’t have let her stay up so late the other night watching the Emerson Project. I think it may have scared her a little bit. I promised her we’d go get some Kinder Eggs and a slurpee.”

      Alex laughed, “so you’re going to 7-11?”

      “Yah, I’m either the best uncle in the world, or the worst,” Matthew laughed.

“Have a great night, Matt.” Alex waved to Aurora. “Bye, Aurora.”

She waved back. 

Alex turned back to the apartment building and entered. Miss Ambrosia Skye came rushing past.

He stopped for a long while, watching her.

She looked frazzled and mired in anxious thoughts.

He recognized that look.

Skye ran out into the dark evening where it had just started to rain.

She had seen Aurora and Matthew as she’d gotten off the elevator and was madly sprinting to catch up with them but they were no longer in sight. 

Skye ran out into the street and instantly felt the bones in her arms and chest crack and splinter as she was struck with the front grill of an SUV. She was still fully aware as she rolled underneath the first set of wheels. She felt more bones splinter as the rear wheels barrelled over her.  There was a brutal tug at her stomach accompanied by the sound of screeching tires and the dull red glow of the SUV’s break lights.   

Her intestines were spilling out onto the pavement. It looked so odd; like tubes of uncooked sausage. There was a tattered purple organ lying just outside the hole in her stomach. There were grainy pebbles of dirt ground into the skin of the organ, whatever organ it was. Jennifer still wasn’t very sure. There was even a discarded bus transfer stuck to the side of it.

She tried to move her arms to remove the bus transfer but, terrifyingly, she realized that she couldn’t move anything. She couldn’t even scream.

There’s dirt on my insides. She realized hysterically. There’s dirt on my insides!

The driver’s side door opened and a woman she thought she recognized rounded the front of the SUV.

“Oh, my God.” The woman cried before rushing back into the SUV.
      Jennifer tried to scream for help, but her chest was crushed. She couldn’t take in enough air to make more than a faint gurgling sound.

      “Oh, my God!” The woman cried again covering her mouth in her hands. The woman looked around but there was no one else. 

<<Help me. Call an ambulance>> she gurgled.

Absently, Jennifer heard the sound of the trunk opening and when the woman turned back to face her she was holding a tire iron.

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