Bren - Highway Horrors


Close your eyes. Behold the glory of the untold snapshot that is your dramatized perception. A requiem telling of a network centered with estranged empathy wrapped in a fortress of apathy and your trademark simplification of how this experience is defined. Yet, you pause in an exemplary settlement of gratification, spilled across your plane of existence, like milk on the kitchen table. You spend countless time trying to comprehend its meaning in an effort to justify your presence, but are you even here? Would you not know if you were not here? Your subsequent thought process is a figment of your imagination. You tend to believe this idealistic perception as if it were truth, you know nothing of what resides beyond yourself, or, in reality, where here is actually located.

His words float into your mind. They seem muffled and hazy. You open your eyes to reveal the waking skyline of the city. The city lights are reflecting through the drenched windshield and every other second finishing in a blurry image before swept away to clarity in short intervals. His voice interjects subtly.

‘Hey, man. Hey, you with me?’ He nudges you. ‘Yea, hey. Man. That stuff must be really getting to you.’

You respond with some half-wit form of affirmation that you’re coherent and in this moment with him. You are not. That was a lie. You want to get back to your epiphanic ponderings.

‘It’s getting to me. I’m a little, well, I...’ You are annoyed. Not so much with him, but because your mind begs attention elsewhere. However, he insists. ‘I’m not feeling it, man.’

Take a deep breath. It is good for you. Reluctantly tell him to enjoy the ride. Focus his mind on something other than the Hale. Ask him about his wife, or maybe his kid. Do not make it too serious. Keep his mood light. You should calm down, too. He should not be killing your flight for long.

‘Yeah, my anchor. I’m just getting a little excited, you know.’ He looks to the sky, his eyes begin to gleam in the reflection of the lights. He begins to sport a goofy half-smile. You know its fake, but it is not you who he is trying to fool. ‘Man, I can’t wait.’ Good, he is forgetting his altitude and carrying on with something less entertaining than your mind.

So, what is it that defines this mind of yours? Think of the vehicle you are in. Forget about everything outside of it. You focus your thoughts on the structure. Invision it. The metal cage that holds you. Sturdy and hovering. Do not think of the ground, there is nothing outside, remember? Stop it. You are focusing your thoughts on the inside. Like your mind, it is trapped inside a cage. Your brain knows nothing of the outside, just like you know nothing of the ground.

His grown pierces through the dawning of a brilliant realization. You notice him twitching through the elusive haziness of your peripheral. It was almost a dance, a melodic rocking back and forth. You decide to brush it off with the dimming, grey undertone of the overcast dusk. You drift off, back to what is really happening. Your mind crossing from thought to idea, idea to belief, and belief to question. Thought stalls when you doubt your reality and justifying it with a roadblock only makes it worse. Existence is simply futile in self-thought. You have only memorized experiences, how you perceive them is irrelevant for the constant of perception actually varies.

‘Yo, man. Hey Bren!’

You answer him with frustrated haste.

‘Man, I don’t feel so good, man.’

He is reaching for comfort, but what kind of comfort can you be? Peers can only verify experience. The simple answer is mechanical, yet the complex side of the question is thought provoking. Is the human psyche that simple and, yet, convoluted at the same time? It is pretty much common knowledge that every life is different, but how different? You all just share experiences and put words to them, but all we can do is really empathize. Say you lose a pet, someone else could relate with you if they had lost a pet but there is no possible way to have the same connection between two different pets and two different people. Even if the pets are the same animal, those life experiences can only be compared to a degree. Your voice does not sound the same when recorded. How does that compare to looking at yourself in the mirror? Probably the biggest flaw in human existence is that we are alone in thought, exuberant in poise, desperately undignified and, yet, frequently lost in a whirl of disconnected retribution. It is a simple depiction of vision, once recognizable, instead of a display of ridiculous subtlety. It is more or less a dismembered déjà vu strung out amongst a silhouetted co-pilot of a day.

‘Bren, my head hurts. It hurts real bad, man!’

His voice chisels through your thoughts like an icepick through a block of solidified water. You are frustrated. You explain to him that what he is feeling is normal and that he is getting excited. You tell him to calm down and to think about the blast of a night you both are about to have, which should be amazing. You are looking forward to it.

‘Yeah, Bren.’ He pauses for a few blinks. ‘I guess you’re right. Man, I guess I’m jus’ gettin’ inside my own head, you know? Sometimes, I’m all over the place, like, I mean, you ever think about what if you were, like, someone else, you know? Like if you weren’t you.’ He rambles on. You just nod on as if you were paying attention, but you aren’t. Are you? ‘And, then, like, it’s too much. It’s just too much!’

Don’t even pretend. Thou shalt pay tribute to such falsified logic that acquiesces this reality. You will find your impediment of a humored, carnal and robotic method guiding you in this realm of being in absolute distaste. You will smite yourself. You will find yourself obsolete. You are incredulous and this you understand. Although, you must see what he sees. The perception must be mirrored. You must obey. This is all you have. This is the experience, no? This is what you came here for, is it not?
‘Hey! Bren! I can’t do this. Man, I’m pullin’ over...I’ve got to.’

You try to reassure him. He doesn’t buy it. Explain to him why stopping on the freeway minutes away from the tunnel to the inner-city is dangerous, especially this time of day. Tell him. Order him. Defy your friendship, his and your life may depend on it. You realize that you have yet to analyze what it was that made you feel so comfortable with the idea of letting this lunatic drive. You drive at a high altitude just fine, but what if you had a sour flight? You feel a little panicked. Breath.

‘No!’ His voice rains down. ‘Wait! Stop!’ It is deafening. You pause. You know good and well that if he freaks out right now, at this speed, you are both doomed. ‘Whoa! I can’t...I can’t. I can’t do this! Bren, man, take the wheel. I need you to take the wheel!’

With uncertainty you grab the wheel from across the car. Despite your sweaty palms, you have a firm grip. You squint as you force your eyes to adjust on the road ahead. This is the worse time for this. He has got to get it together. His breathing is labored. Why is he being like this? You have heard of bad batches of Hale, but you both got it from the same place. Why aren’t you freaking out? Maybe you are. You have not paid the best attention to the road. You are about to just miss that car to your right. Your heart thumps a few hard beats as you feel a rush from your near-miss. ‘Bren!’ He saw it. He is even more afraid now. ‘Bren! This is crazy! We have to pull over.’

He jerks the wheel from your grip, mashes down on the brakes and pulls the car over three lanes before you start to focus again. Where is your attention going? What does it do? Can you control it? Does it control you? Remember, pay attention. You are paying attention. Why is the car stopped? This lane is for emergencies only. You imagine another car not seeing you on the side of the road. You figure Pavlo is a dumbass anyway, and he would be one to forget about the hazards. The other car, the one that doesn’t see the one you are in, smashes into the rear bumper. Your head would snap. Lights out. Game over. That would be it. You would stop thinking. Your family would care less. It is a sad thought, but you know that they really do not care. Why would they?

People live their lives. Whatever happens, happens. You just go with it. Life is a twisting river with inconsistent rapids of white disaster. Chaos. Distant memories that do or do not exist accordingly. Lost, that is all any of you are. Staring at the stars, hoping to map out the path to enlightenment. You know that is a joke. Enlightenment, what a fickle idea. It is like an afterlife, would it not just be life continued? Or, is it supposed to be different? Something new masking this life obsolete. What is the point then? Why bother? These are the bogus thoughts that only skim across the conscious, sober mind before being ruled as irrelevant and ultimately dismissed. They really are irrelevant. That is logical. Why are you always logical? What does it have to do with a solution? Something to solve.

You turn to Pavlo. He is lost in some weird gaze. It makes you feel uncomfortable. He does not appear to even be looking at anything in particular. Fear begins to creep into the pit of your stomach. Is he dead, you wonder. No, that would be ridiculous. You call his name. No response. You call it again. You reach for his shoulder and shake him a bit. Call his name one more time, he will answer this time. He does not. Get louder, call his name and shake him.

Pavlo blinks a few times. You feel relief. It would have been crazy if he did die. You would have had to call the police. They would find out about the Hale. Then you would be taken to jail. Hale is an S-Class infraction. You would likely get a life sentence and become some prisoner’s slave. Cringing in disgust, you analyze the string of situations and circumstances your life would then become. Not to mention your family, who does not give even a figment of care for you, would shun your entire existence. The neighborhood you grew up in would rumor you as a druggy killer. You would receive hate mail. He can not be dead.

You focus on Pavlo’s triumphant return to reality. His eyes are slightly crossed with a focal plane of negative space just feet in front of the car. You say his name again. His eyes come to a parallel focus. He turns to you. A few drops of blood drip from his right nostril. You become hopelessly intrigued. You ask him if he is all right. He does everything but acknowledge you. He sniffs a few times before grabbing his nose in minor hysteria. He makes eye contact. You feel fear for him. His brow shifts to an inquisitive shock. You feel the fear with him. Blood starts pouring from Pavlo’s nose underneath the grip of his hand.

‘No! Wait!’ His words hasty and panicked. ‘Whoa. No! What? No! Stop! Make this stop! Help! Help me.’

Pavlo sniffles with a painful shudder. He starts with wordless whimpering before turning to display bouts of loud, obnoxious screaming. You clench your teeth in dismay behind an awkward wince. What can you do? How can you convince him that he is going to be okay?

After a gut-wrenching howl, Pavlo falls silent for a moment. ‘I can not do this!’

You ask him about what in which he cannot do.

‘Stop! Too much pressure.’ His nasally voice forcing its way past clenched teeth and a blood-stained arm, ‘I need this to stop, man. Release the pressure.’

Pavlo reaches for the door handle. He opens the door and steps out into traffic. Without smallest amount time to even connect what was happening, Pavlo was gone. Blood and chunks of fleshy tissue showered onto the windshield, the hood and the road ahead. The sounds of braking vehicles flood the atmosphere. Another car slams into the one that took Pavlo away. The one that ended him.

Car after car, a pile-up ensues. You do not know what to do. Searching for your next action, you to panic. Pavlo is dead. He is really dead. That just happened. Your biggest fear just manifested itself. You have to toss the Hale. It has to go.


Adam - Ben's House (pt.3)

I hear muffled voices. I lean up just enough for an explosive, yet, dull pain to shoot throughout my abdomen. My heart flexes in a few deep pumps as panic sets in. I remember being shot, phoning for help and leaving Anna a voicemail. How long have I been out? Where am I?

I take a moment to look around and realize I am alone stretched out in the back of a dark ambulance. The only light is from a far away streetlamp reaching through the windshield behind me. I still hear voices but can not make out what they are saying. They sound like an argument. My wounds have been wrapped up all around my stomach, but they are wet. Blood is seeping through the bandages. I feel weak. I hope I am at the hospital. I imagine a team of medical professionals assembling outside the vehicle.

The voices outside are getting louder, I can almost make out what they are saying. The back door of the ambulance opens. Bright light floods in from a different streetlight. As my eyes adjust I see a few children are standing in the opening. I am not at the hospital. My heart sank. I hear a woman from behind the door tell the children to get inside.

The children shuffle into the truck. They all look in a lost gaze. There are three, a little boy maybe around five or six, a young girl a few years older and a teenage boy. The youngest had stripes of tears running down both sides of his face. The girl is sitting against the wall tucking her head behind her knees. The oldest stood on the edge of the doorway with a defiant look about him. None of them seem abnormally affected by my presence.

The conversation outside the ambulance continues. ‘Shauna, come with us. You can not stay here.’ The tone sounded less like a suggestion and more like an order. ‘He’s not worth it and, from the little I know of what’s goin’ on, I doubt he’ll make it back to you anyways.’

I hear the other woman speak. She sounds much younger and her words are being sifted through tears. ‘He’ll come for me. I know he will.’

‘I can’t leave you like this. Come with me. Come with us. You’re my baby, I’ll keep you safe.’

‘Momma, those are my babies. I need you to keep them safe. I have to stay here. I’m sorry. I have to wait for Casey. I know he will come for me. He has to. He told me to stay here.’

‘It’s not safe, Shauna. Things are getting crazy out there! You don’t know what’s going on.’

‘You don’t even know what’s going on out there, you said so yourself. But, I believe you. I believe that something bad is happening right now. That’s why you’re taking my kids, but I have to stay and wait for him. He’d wait for me.’

‘You think so? Do you really think so? Shauna...if you think it’s smart to send your childr--’

‘Momma! ...just go.’

The back doors shut. We are in darkness. I hear a few more muffled exchanges between the two women as the children around me start to realize that their mother was not coming with them. The two youngest are no longer sobbing in silence. The driver’s door opens and a woman gets in as she is talking quietly to herself.

‘--that woman. God, she’s as stubborn as her father. I swear. I can’t belie--’

‘You promised!’ The teenager’s voice bolted from the back of the ambulance. ‘You lied, Grandma! You said you’d get her to come. You said she’d come with us!’ His voice quickly went from fury to flailing sadness.

‘She’s waiting for your father. She wants to make sure he’s safe.’

‘He’s not even my real father! He’s just some stupid guy.’

‘Shut up Marcus!’ The little boy chimed in. ‘My dad is not stupid! Mom’s gonna keep him safe. She said so.’

‘Mom’s gonna die.’

‘Marcus!’ The voice cut from the cab. ‘Everything is going to be okay. When we get to the hospital, we’ll be safe. Everyone just calm down. Edgar, your mommy and daddy will meet us at the hospital later, alright?’

Good, we are heading to the hospital. I clear my throat. The act sends ripples of pain across my body. I muster up some energy and quietly announce my presence. ‘Uh...hello.’

‘Oh lord.’ The lady reacts in a joyous and surprised manner while attempting to mask any excitement. ‘You’re alive!’

‘You’re shocked?’ I feel myself sink into an emotional vat of hopelessness and despair. I suddenly feel lonely. ‘Was I supposed to be dead?’

‘Oh, god, no. I didn’t want that. I’m just a little shocked that you are conscious. I didn’t mean it to come out like that. It’s just...’

‘Just what?’ I anxiously await the response.

‘Things are, well, it’s just. You know, sometimes.’ She stumbles over her words. ‘My job is to help you.’

My mind is still running laps trying to make sense of everything. I have so many questions. My eyes are heavy and my breathing is shallow. I might die back here, in this ambulance, in front of these strange children. I am finding it exhausting to speak. ‘Why are these kids here?’

‘We had to make a detour.’ Her voice carries justification with it.

‘These kids...’ I wince as I try to find a breath strong enough to hold words. ‘They are more important than my life?’

‘Probably not to you.’

I attempt to speak normally but my words are as soft as a whisper and occur only between small breaths. ‘Do you even care if I live?’

‘Of course! I am taking you to the hospital aren’t I?’

‘Then...why did you stop?’ I am finding it harder to breath.

‘The world is going batshit right now. I have my reasons. You should feel lucky I even responded to the call. A lot of people are abandoning their posts.’

I feel consciousness trickling out of my reach.

‘Marcus, I need you to do exactly what I say.’ The overhead lights flicker on in an overwhelming brightness. Everything becomes blurry. The words of the medic fade away along with my thoughts.


Anna - Night Alone

The door shut behind him. I am alone, again. I wanted him to stay, but I wanted him to want to stay. I want him to feel that way. I want him to realize that when we’re hanging with his friends, it is not us being together. I feel like an outcast around them. They haven’t accepted me. They probably never will. He thinks they have. I miss him every second he’s away. What am I thinking?

Was that a fight? Over a night for us? What if he were to ever find out about Kyle and I, his trusted friend. It was a mistake and it takes everything in my power for things not be awkward when we all do hang out. I am not sure that Kyle even remembers that night. Would Adam ever forgive me? I doubt it. He still brings up that time I called him a girl in front of his friends. I had no idea he was so sensitive.

I have been standing in the middle of the living room for almost ten minutes trying to talk myself into doing something productive and get over my frustration. I guess I will have a bath. So much for productive. I just need to take a minute to myself and collect my thoughts. I start to run the hot water. I need to rationalize my emotions. Maybe I was being too dramatic. Maybe a night with the boys would not be so bad, and, maybe, it would mean something to Adam if I did go. Not tonight. I just want to stay at home tonight and, if that is selfish, then I am selfish tonight.

As the tub fills I grab the book I have been reading, some cheesy romance novel where guys act like men and not little boys. I decide make myself some chocolate milk. My mind snaps back to earlier events. Who leaves in the middle of a fight anyway? ‘Fuck you, Adam!’ I take another deep breath and head back to the bathroom with the sound of my solitaire outburst still resonating in my head.

After undressing, I slid my leg into an almost unbearable, but relaxing, bath water. Well, he did do one thing right. These bath salts Adam had gotten me for a gift are already tingling throughout the one leg I have submerged in the water. This will hopefully be relaxing. I slowly sink into the bath and begin to chuckle at the irony of the same boy who frustrates me to no end is, somehow, actually making up for it with a present he had given me weeks ago.

I do care about him. I remember the first time I saw him. He looked like a total nerd, a cute nerd. He was in his raincoat, a plaid button-down and he was wearing glasses. I did not usually find guys in glasses attractive but the way he was wearing them gave him an approachable charm. They had a way of accenting his soft, brown eyes. I remember staring into them for the minutes leading up to our first kiss. His eyes had a way of making me feel safe. I now know that if I had not gone up to him, our paths would have never crossed. He is not really the go-getter type. I like that about him. Most of the time Adam takes in all around him in an analytical daze. He gets the details. That is how he gets me unlike any other guy I have dated.

The stress is already deteriorating into the shallow abyss of my bath tub. My anger transforming into how much I miss Adam already and how this night would have been better cuddled up on the couch watching television. I would have watched the game here with him, if that’s what he wanted.

Normally it is frightening when my mother likes the guy I am seeing. This time, however, it is comforting. Adam met my parents a lot sooner in the relationship than most and there was good reason. I grew attached to him faster than anyone before. He is thoughtful. When my children upset me, he reminds me why I became a teacher. He tells me about how no one can teach them overnight and that if they never got on my nerves, I wasn’t doing my job. When my sister and I get into a fight, he has a way to explain why we are both wrong without upsetting me. Boyfriends of the past always try to tell me I am right. I know I am not right all the time. I wish he could do that when we fight.

I know he cares about me. Why does he need to spend so much time with his friends? Sure, we spent the past couple nights together but he was at Ben’s every night last week. It would also be another thing if he didn’t drink to the point falling asleep on their couch more than he sleeps in my bed. I know he has his own place but if he can sleep there, he can sleep here with me. I feel like I am being irrational again, or am I? I think I will just read my book and try not to think about this anymore.


Freddy - Stolen Car (pt. 3)

I was surprised that Toni felt comfortable having me drive. Then again, I was only just starting to feel the stronger effects of Hale as he had me pull into a parking garage in the Doebi District. I had only been in that part of town on a few occasions. The last of which was the poker tournament that ruined my life. The parking garage was lit up with a glow set by hidden neon lights blasting luminance to a cascade of brightness, even visible in daylight. Although, not much sunlight even made it down to the Doebi District. I wanted to ask where we were going but I kept finding my mind wandering off to unrelated thoughts before I could conjure up a coherent statement.

We pulled into a parking space on the fifth floor. It was the first floor we came across where there was no other vehicle parked. Thoughts flooded my head, questioning our need for seclusion. Was this it? Was this where my road ended? As we got out of the car, I felt the first wave of Hale really grab hold. My attention focused on a dim plane of sunlight sneaking between the buildings across the street. My mind froze. I do not really know where my thoughts were residing at that moment. I was not in the past. I was not in the future. I was just in the moment, enjoying the cool, mid-morning breeze as it gently caressed my face. I know that I was somehow in a pleasant place because Tukeo’s latest antagonizing comment did little to affect me.

‘Hey, amigo, you lose your piece of shit mind yet?’ Tukeo laughed as if he had forgotten how childish he was.

‘...what? Did you say something?’ I was not being pompous. I was in too much bliss to care about consequences at that particular moment. I felt strong and untouchable. It was like I was hovering above Toni and his guys. I just wanted to stare at the little spot of sunlight that was gaining strength as the sun rose to its daily apex. Maybe I was enthralled because the Hale was making me feel parallel to my perception of the beacon that laid adjacent to the parking garage.

The drug was definitely an oddity. It’s not like I had never done any substances for recreational purposes before that day, but that was a high I would not soon forget. Every Time I felt as though I was reaching the peak, it continued to rise.

‘Freddy?’ I wasn’t sure if was the Hale or if Toni’s child-like chuckle that actually allowed me to feel at ease with him. ‘You alright, man? I gotta be honest, you’re handling this buzz a lot better than I thought you would. You feelin’ it, yet?’

‘If I were the sun, I’d set the world ablaze.’

‘What the fuck?’ For the first time, I do believe that I saw Toni’s genuine smile. ‘You just might be ready to meet Don.’

‘The question is, Toni, is he ready to meet me?’ I felt a whole new pillar of confidence, the kind that lets you act without forethought. This is why I was initially afraid. I knew who Don was. It is not that he would ever get his hands dirty, but I knew that he could personally rip my heart from my chest in front of the entire world and no one would claim to remember even seeing him there.

When one talks of being connected, this guy is the hub. He is the very center and I was about to meet him and without the slightest amount of angst? That was not a good thing. All I wanted was to lean against the garage’s fifth-floor ledge and lose myself in my thoughts. I wanted to overlook the deepest part of the most notorious criminal escape in all of the FID.

‘Well look, Freddy, if you want to live long enough to see your apartment-’

‘Your piece of shit apar-’

‘Enough!’ Toni turned to around, ‘Tukeo, if you interrupt me one more time, you will soon be talking through a wire. Understand?’

Tukeo nodded.

‘Tukeo! Do you understand?’

Tukeo looked at me before making eye contact with Toni. Bashfully, he looked down before he answered. ‘Yes, Toni. I understand.’

I smirked at Tukeo as he was being reprimanded. I knew that Toni was not repositioning him because of his witless remarks only broadcasted to get a rise out of me or the childish promotion of dominance, but it was nice to see it. I knew where Tukeo was coming from. He was likely the last in command and probably the newest of all Toni’s followers. I did not know why he was so eager to champion his elevation over me.

‘As I was saying, you might want to tone it down a bit.’ Toni halfway turned back towards me. ‘Just a little advice.’

‘Why? Have I much say in my fate?’

‘Well, that’s entirely up to you, Freddy.’

Up to me, really? My fate has had little to do with me since I was in debt to Mr. Chikko. Then a relative question took captive of my thoughts: What debt is payed by a dead man?

Toni pulled out his POD and looked at the screen before he barked his next set of orders. ‘Tukeo and Sheon with me. Hamilton, stay put, yeah?’ He waved them on. ‘Feddy, it is time.’

I reluctantly followed.