latest updates


I added a video of some of my artwork to the gallery.


p>I overhauled the site quite a bit, visually. There are still dead links and outdated information all over the place, but maybe i'll fix some of that soon...ish. I also added a few bits to my bio page.

Sign My Guestbook

View My Guestbook

All original artwork and
content ©Fifth Dream Today.
All other content
© its respective owners.

hit counter

Here is a short thing i wrote a long time ago, and the... other, longer thing i'm working on currently. I may add more in the near future.

-New- I added some new bits to my current story. Click here to read it.


Second Chance                    52297306am                                                                              

   They had done this countless times before;
when his escaped kitten had been murdered
by an uncaring car’s front tire, when he had
lost his last two jobs, when the girl who was a
bit too old for him broke the news that she was
a bit too old for him. He never suffered
much after crying on Sarah’s shoulder, because
as much as the pain ripped him apart,
Sarah could put him back together. This time it
was different.

   She held his face pressed tightly against
her. She felt his hot tears drain slowly from his
sockets and dribble gently down her pale neck. She could
barely hold her embrace as the deep sobs threatened
to shake her arms loose of him. She held him closely,
on the bed that had never seen them together, save for the
long hours of watching badly-acted movies and
TeeVee and talking about each others wants and
fears, and the times like these.

   He hoped. He hoped the things he had been
told were a lie. He hoped that everything
would go back to the way it had been.
He hoped that Sarah would never let him go. He
hoped beyond hope and wished it would all go away.

   She sat there between his too-long bouts
of tears and anger and sorrow, listening to his
anguished pleas and begging and wanting and hoping
that it was all a dream. She had
nothing to give to him in the way of comforting words,
but she listened all the same.

   Now he had begun questioning her; questioning
her and the world around him, the world that had
so suddenly and cruelly destroyed the little he
had to hold on to.

   “Oh. God, Sarah, what did I do to deserve
this? Why? ...So young and so much left to...”
and his words became indecipherable
as he returned to sobbing. Her tears again
joined his. There was nothing she could do for
him. There was no way to turn back the
clock and correct the gods’ mistakes. And for this
she felt more sorrow than pain of the
loss. Nothing would be the same for him, nor for her,
for that matter. Sarah new that he
would never recover from a pain such as that he
was feeling. Again he asked her why...

   “Sarah, i never got the chance to say
how in love i had been. Maybe if i had said
something, all this wouldn’t have happened.
Maybe... Maybe my feelings would have been
returned. Maybe we would have been together.
Maybe i’d have been there to see the train
coming and.....” Again his words were swallowed
by his sadness.

  She would never forgive fate. She would never
forgive the cruel judgment brought upon the head
of her helpless friend. Sarah would never forgive
herself for not having the power to make everything
good again.

  “Why didn’t i say how i felt?”, he asked
of her.

  “Maybe you weren’t ready for all of the things
that would happen, all the consequences of expressing
your love,” she replied, trying to sound as detached
yet soothing as she could while being on the brink
of crying.

   “Why wasn’t i there to stop it?” He needed
to know.

   “Maybe it wasn’t your place to stop it, Jack.
Maybe it was meant to be this way.” Sarah knew Jack
believed in fate probably more than any other feeble
thing he believed in, and she hoped his belief in the
inevitability of it all would calm or convince him
that he had no part in this.

   “Why did this have to happen to me?”
   “It didn’t happen to you, Jack, it just
happened.” She was grasping for anything that
could calm him.

   “But why did you have to die?”, and for this she had no answer.....


This is an untilted work in progress. It has some typos and mistakes that i'm aware of, but it's basically a first draft. I will add to it as i write it.

Back when i had everything i ever wanted, it still never felt right. Maybe it felt like it, but looking back, it just wasn't true. Even saying i had everything i wanted isn't true. I still don't have everything i want, but maybe at one time i had everything i thought i needed.

It's funny how looking back, the thoughts i used to have seem so alien to me. It's like a wall, or more accurately, a transparent, but impenetrable bubble surrounds all my old thoughts. I always feel i'm different now, more mature, more sophisticated, or maybe just that time and experience have caused a new me to come into being, a me that's better than the last me that i was. Looking back though, that bubble surrounds everything, contains everything, and everything Before Now is childish, and blind, ridiculous and embarrassing, to the point that i'm ashamed that i walked through life as that person i was, and not the me that i am. It's funny how i can feel so foolish, and young, and immature just looking at myself a couple of years ago. Is everyone like that? I'd hope i'm no the only one, but i wouldn't want anyone else to feel that way.

It never felt right. Back then it felt great, real. I was living with what i thought i needed, and was enjoying my time in it. I was living with a woman i cared for and who cared for me, at least for a little bit. But now i realize all of that wasn't so real. It's obvious she left her body any time that we touched, that any amount of affection or connection or sex we shared was mostly her holding on to an ideal i never fulfilled and that she was too afraid to let go of, and my living in the haze, behind that wall, in that bubble where i can live my life perfectly happy. Looking back, i see that my spirit wasn't entirely there. It was a kind of illusion created by an unfocused mind. Combine her lying to herself, and my being three inches behind the real world at any given time, and you've got a lot of surface, and not much sea.

Truth is, despite my believing i was happy, i was as depressed as ever. I believed everything was fine, but in hindsight, i knew things weren't going so well a lot more than i let on. I suppose i may have felt if i kept up the front, pretending i didn't notice what things were really like, then she wouldn't have felt the way i suspected she did. In those moments i did let down my guard and confronted her directly with questions, she'd deny everything, saying everything was fine, that she was fine, and trusting her to take the opportunity i'd given her, the door i'd open to let her share her mind, and to let her true feelings be known, i'd accept her answer and believe nothing was wrong. It was draining. It took all my energy to keep up the front, and there'd be none left for the regular things people do in life.

It's not so much a part of this story as it is some background, to show you how i never truly feel like the person i was Before. That at any given moment i am different than the person i thought i was when i look back at what i've done... It's not an entirely strange concept, but it does show that the world isn't as concrete as it might seem, and explains how a person can get into the mess i got into.


Years after that Before, but a little bit before Now, things happened. Things you'll read and think, "That's pure fantasy, that's not how the world works. It sounds like science fiction, only a little less realistic." Yeah, that's how i explained it to my sister. It DID feel like science fiction, or maybe it was actually a bit more like horror, or one of those books that kind of blurs the line, a little of both, but if i'd read the story in a book, i would have thought it ridiculous, a bit too much of a stretch, a silly little tale that got published despite it's absurdity, not because of it. And if it hadn't happened, i would be frightened to think that it could have. Actually, i'm still pretty frightened that it did. Once you realize the boundaries you think reality has are a little deeper and wider than you once believed, you start to wonder how much further everything can go.

It started at the beginning.

I met her in a club. You know, one of those dingy places that looks like it's trying to make you think it's a little better than it actually is. Maybe their budget is a little bigger than the clubs you're used to, and the bar staff wears a little bit better clothing, or the music sounds a little better, but you still feel like it's a bit off. It was like that, that night. She was a friend of the friends i'd been hanging out with that year.

She was short, shorter than girls i usually pay attention to. She was pale, with long dark hair, wore a black clothes, smoked a lot. Blah blah. No different than ninety percent of everyone else in there that night. She seemed a little bitchy, standing on the edge of the group, looking like she wanted to leave... impatient, glancing around, nervous, or bored, or faux apathetic like she thought she should be. I don't know. She wasn't the kind of girl i would have talked to otherwise. I don't find it worth my time to talk to people i generally can't respect in one way or another. She just seemed like one of those whiny my-pain-is-more-important-than-your-pain kinds of people, just like i am, and i don't generally like people like that. Judgmental? Yeah, but i've learned to trust my instincts when it comes to people. If i don't like someone right away, it's my call, right? What makes you think i'd like someone any more after spending more time with them? It usually works the other way around: the more i know someone, the less i like them. That's why it was kind of funny that i ended up falling in love with her. But that was later, before everything happened. Anyway, i would have ignored her if she hadn't started talking to me.

Turns out she was so impatient to leave because she thought everyone there was exactly the way i thought SHE was. "God, everyone here is so... All they talk about is how terrible their lives are, and how much they hate everything and everyone. Jesus, your life isn't so bad if you can pay a ten dollar cover and spend four dollars for a watered-down drink, you know? Just go dance and shut the hell up. I didn't come here to listen to you whine." This from a girl i just met three minutes before. Reminded me of me, and generally i'm not the kind of person i get along with very well.

Everyone else we were supposedly with that night either stayed in a little clump around a table and bragged about something or other or whined about something or other, or alternated between the two. A few of them drifted off to dance, but she decided this wasn't where she wanted to be, so she went outside to get some fresh air. She decided i needed some, too.

This is where i noticed that she was just a little bit more than someone i thought might be potentially okay as a conversation partner. She grabbed my hand, and i'm serious, i felt a tingle go all the way up my arm, deep into my armpit, and just kind of float around in there until she let go. I guessed the loud music and smoke inside the club had fogged up my head a little, but that wasn't entirely true.

We got outside, and she babbled a bit about how fake people are, and how she hates drama, and she doesn't know why she even comes here anymore. Nothing i hadn't heard from lots of other people just like her... like me... in real life, or on internet message boards, or even on tv. Hell, entire television teen dramas were written around angsty poet-types who talk about how fake everyone is, and how they hate drama, and blah blah. I watched a couple of them religiously. But the WAY she said it was a little bit more coherent, a little more eloquent, a lot more intelligent, and interesting... captivating. And she was actually sort of pretty.


It was late winter. Late enough that it was warming up, but early enough that it still got pretty cold at night. Cold enough that most people didn't like it, but i always liked cold better than warm, except when i'm sleeping. She was the same way, it turns out, and her name was Sara, with no H. She was psychic, not in the cheesy comic book way, but in the real way, she told me, and i said prove it, and she did, many times, and for many years after that. But i'm getting ahead of myself.

Little transparent puffs of breath came out of her mouth when she spoke.

She actually lived pretty close to me, and we decided that was good and that, because we weren't like all those other assholes, that maybe we should get together again sometime and make fun of them, or at least instant message each other next time we were both online. We exchanged numbers, and screen names.

So we did, the instant message thing i mean. We talked almost every night for the next couple of weeks, for a few hours each night, and i found myself looking forward to talking to her again, and thinking about her when we weren't talking. We agreed to meet a couple of times, but once she couldn't make it, and the other time we went for coffee, but i had to leave early because i had forgotten i was supposed to go somewhere with my sister the next day.

At some point, i hadn't heard from her for a couple of weeks. No big deal, people have lives. Who's got time to sit at the computer all the time? But i did wonder where she'd been, just a little.

I actually saw her once during that time, at the local grocery store. Or i think it was her. Who else looks like that in my town? But when i went to talk to her, she walked away.

Next time we actually talked, she told me she'd had to go take care of some things for an art installation she'd been working on in a city a few hours away, and had been up there a few days. So i guess that wasn't her at the store. And she'd been getting these weird phonecalls.


Things kept going like this for a while. We'd talk - online, on the phone - and more and more often, in person. We'd actually spend entire days at each other's places a couple times a week. I'd liked to have labeled it "dating" but i'd feel really strange asking her if that's what it really was after all this time, and after we'd gotten this close.

After a couple months of this "dating", there was a night when she kissed me while we were sitting on her couch, watching TV, after we'd gone to a movie and walked back to her place. Said something about how strange it was to find someone she could stand being around more than a few minutes straight, and how it was amazing that we could get this close without my "pressuring her into anything" like every other guy, and some girls, she knew. Then we had sex with each other for the first time, and played some video games together for a few hours before falling asleep on her bedroom floor. That was the first time i'd spent the night at her place.

I shouldn't have answered the phone.


Chapter 2

The phone rang at about 8:30. Sara was still curled up on the floor, dead to the world, and i didn't want the beepbeepbeep of the phone to wake her, so i answered it.


"May i speak to Ms. San Raphael, please?" The guy sounded British. What kind of British, i couldn't tell.

"Uh, she's still asleep. Can i take a message?" I looked for a pen and something to write on.

I heard a sigh on the other end of the line. "I must be speaking to her new lover." He made the word sound really, really sleazy.

"Wh.. huh?" Last night was the first time we had ever...

"Just tell her that she needs to report to work immediately." He dragged it out, speaking slowly, as if to a child. I didn't appreciate it.

"Listen, is this about..." A click on the other end of the line interrupted my question. Report to work? How does an struggling artist report to work? And what was this "lover" business? How would this guy know anything about what we had...

"Mmmnnnnnn..." The noise startled me. I thought i was being attacked by zombies. I turned around and it was Sara, standing in the doorway to her bedroom, rubbing her eye with the back of her fist. "Wuzzat th'phone?"

"Yeah, some guy saying you are supposed to 'report to work immeeeeehhhdiately'." I dragged out the word the way he had, with his accent.

"Ah, crap." She was instantly awake. "What are you doing answering my phone, anyway?" She snatched it from my hand and shoved it roughly into the cradle.

The bubble was formiong over my thoughts. I didn't know what to do with my emotions. "I was... i mean, i didn't want to wake you up and..."

She looked up at the clock. "God, you gotta get out of here. I need to get ready and go." She began pushing me toward the door. She didn't seem very happy.

"Hey, i...", i began to protest.

"GO!" She growled, and shoved harder. When we got to the door, she opened it, and her face softened. "Listen. I might be gone a few days. I'll see you when i get back, okay?" She kissed me on the cheek, shouldered me the last couple of feet out the door, and closed it behind me.

It was Friday. We were supposed to go out to eat that night, like we did every week. I walked to my car and drove home.

Things were starting to happen.


Sleeping on the floor did wonders for my back, in terms of the amount of pain and discomfort i now felt every time i moved. I needed to get some extra sleep, in my own bed. I started wondering exactly what this "work" of Sara's was, but decided to shut it out of my mind and worry about it after i got some sleep.

I slept. And then i worried.

My friend Anita called me at about 2 in the afternoon, just to talk about nothing in particular. She mentioned in passing that she wished some of us could get together and run out to the arcade for a while that night, but she knew i was always with Sara on Fridays.

"Ehh, we won't be going out tonight she's 'at work', or something, and says she won't be back for a few days."

Anita had about as much of a clue as i did. "Work? Like painting work? What?"

"Yeah, i don't know," I replied, "Some guy called her this morning, and when i answered the phone he just told me to tell her to report to work."

"Wait, you were at her place this morning?! Did you stay the night? What happened, did you two..." Anita sounded really excited about all of this.

"Shh, yeah i stayed the night, i'll tell you about it later. Let's go to the arcade tonight. I need to get out of the house." And i did. "Call Michelle, get Jack and Kat, and Kiki and her brother. Just get everybody. It'll be cool."

"Yeah, i'll see who's up for it. I don't have Kiki's number. You call her. Show up at like 6, we'll get some food first."

Anita hung up, and i called up Kiki. Her real name was Kyoko, but everyone called her Kiki. She'd want to go with us. She was at the arcade even more than i was. "Yeah, i'll be there, but i don't know where Matsu is. I'll see if i can get a hold of him later." "Matsu" was Matsuharu, her brother. He didn't like being called Matsu, but she did it just to tease him.

Kyoko hung up and i decided i was overdue for lunch.

Chapter 3.

Cordelia hung up the phone, sat down at the desk and began writing.

"What's that?" he asked.

She lifted her head and brushed the almost-black strands of hair from in front of her eyes before turning slowly to him, a secret-betraying grin spreading across her face. "It's a list." The grin broadened into something else, something sort of deadly.

"I know that. But what's it for?" He shifted in his seat, not so much out of nervousness as anticipation. A cold bit of electricity was gathering in his spine, just between his shoulders.

She stared at him for a moment, letting time slip slowly between them, letting it trickle across the floor, before finding a hole somewhere to hide in. The dried-blood puddle of her eyes glinted, shifted, as if something were trying to escape from within them. "It's for keeping track of things." "Things". She said it in a way that made him pity the poor word. It made him feel sorry that the wretched little word even existed. She smirked.

"We don't need to keep track of things, we just have t-"

"Mmmm," she interrupted, and turned back to the paper on her desk, ignoring him. The pen squeaked out a few more words before she slipped one end of it between her teeth for a second. "Do you think..." She didn't finish the question.

Murphy leaned back, sighed, and gripped the arms of the chair. He knew this was necessary, but he hated waiting. He liked to get to it, start doing what they were going to do. But she was the brains of the outfit, so to speak, and he was the muscle. Not that he was particularly lacking in brains himself. Not that he was particularly muscular... But he was the one who could do things. She provided the inspiration. And the planning.

Cordelia sat for a long, heavy moment. Slowly, she placed the cap on the pen and lowered it onto the paper, then became still, staring through the paper, through the desk, and the floor, and the earth, and all of space. She sat up and turned back to Murphy, smiled a very sweet smile as she tilted her head. "All done."

"About time," he scoffed, feigning boredom, disinterest. He looked at his fingernails and pretended to be studying them, as if searching for meaning in their smooth shininess.

"Don't be a smart ass." Cordelia stood from her chair and in one fluid motion, drifted the few steps from her seat to his, and plopped heavily into his lap. Her soft, warm backside was painfully, pleasantly, pressed against him, and he tried very unsuccessfully not to think about it. She draped an arm around his neck and leaned in close to his ear. "This time is going to be different. I really think it is. Don't you?" She leaned back a bit, smiling cheerfully.

"Yeah, different. It had better be." His brow furrowed and he suddenly felt very serious. "I don't want it to be like the other times. I don't want to just get by. I don't want to win, but just barely. I want it to go smoothly this time. I don't want..."

"...You to get hurt again," is what he wanted to say, but he couldn't force himself. He just sighed heavily, tracing with his eyes the veins, the scars, that criss-crossed Cordelia's thin arms. As if reading his mind - and it probably wasn't beyond the realm of possibility - she shifted, wrapped both of her arms around him, and nestled her face into his neck and shoulder.

He felt like a fool for being like this, but it never changed. Even though they were often physically close, he knew this was just part of her nature. She treated many people the same way, and Murphy was convinced she felt nothing special for him, beyond their partnership and close friendship. He did want more. She really was all he cared about. Murphy had some deep unexplainable need to protect her, to keep her safe at all costs, even if it meant being involved some unpleasant business. Sitting here, with her warmth, her weight against him, her breasts mashed between the two of them, her unearthly pale skin and scent so close, it confirmed everything for him. If she was so willing to put herself in danger for everything they believed in, he'd do all he could to make sure she was safe. And someday, he was convinced, she'd see him differently and things would change.

Until then, he could easily accept this, Cordelia in his arms, depending on him for the most important things. "I want to see the list," he told her.

Cordelia ruffled his dark hair, and stood up from him. Approaching the desk, she snatched the list from under the pen with a flourish, as an illusionist or comedian might remove a tablecloth from under a place setting, only more dramatically. She handed Murphy the ordinary piece of notebook paper. To him, it felt like the most important thing ever. It just might have been.

He read it, slowly. He reread it, committed it to memory, nodded. "Mmm." He knew it wouldn't be easy, but it would be done. "Let's go."

She smiled a heart-rippingly beautiful smile, and spun around once on her toe, coming to a sudden stop with her arms behind her. "Let's go!"

And so they did.


Cordelia threw a light jacket over the wispy, knee-length black dress she was wearing as she and Murphy walked out the front door. She bounced down the steps as Murphy locked the door. She spun once and nearly skipped to the passenger side of the car. Murphy stomped down the steps and followed after. He had the list in the right front pocket of his jeans, and it felt heavy and warm there, almost alive.

He unlocked and opened the driver-side door, which automatically unlocked the door on the passenger side. Cordelia opened her door plopped into the seat, her chest bouncing a bit as she did so. Murphy saw, and sighed, rolled his eyes a little, and jammed the key into the ignition and turned it. The car started, near silently, and Cordelia pushed a cd into the car's stereo. Music sprang from the speakers and Murphy pulled the car from the driveway.

Cordelia hummed to the music. Murphy interrupted her. "We're really going to do it like this, this time?"

"Mmm-hmm. It's different, huh? Just the way you want it." She smiled and elbowed him gently in the ribs.

"Yeah, i guess," he replied, "but i don't really see the point of it this time. I don't see the big picture, you know." The tires screeched a bit as Murphy dodged a car that had stopped short to make a turn. "Usually it's a little more straightforward. This makes me nervous." He checked the rearview mirror, and looked behind him, before changing lanes.

"But it really is different," she repeated, tugging at her skirt, "The list isn't even complete. Maybe there isn't a big picture this time."

"Not complete?" He glanced at her before returning his gaze to the road. "What do you mean 'not complete'? It has to be complete, or how else are we going to..." He honked the horn at someone who was driving too slowly, and reached to the stereo and turned down the volume. "How are we going to do this if we don't know everything up front?"

"Trust me," She put her hand on Murphy's knee. "Just trust me, it'll work out. And slow down, it's too rainy to be driving this fast."

Murphy gripped the wheel tighter and concentrated on driving. He didn't like how this sounded. It was different, but he wasn't entirely sure it was better. He pulled into the lot of a strip mall and parked in front of an arcade with gaudy pink and green neon sign that read "Gravity Well".

Murphy sighed and took the key out of the ignition.

chapter 4

I went out to the car. It was drizzling outside a little. The sky had gone grey since this morning, and it looked like there'd be more rain later on. I ran into the grocery store, back to the deli, and picked up a sandwich and some chips. I went down the soda aisle and stuffed one two-liter bottle under my arm, and took another. I turned and noticed an old lady dressed in espcailally-old-lady clothes staring at me. Nothing unusual, people stared at me all the time. It was the way I dressed, I supposed, but she was giving me the creeps. I stared back, and quietly said "Boo" at her. She just kept staring, and i shrugged and walked off.

After I checked out and paid, I went back outside to get in the car, but it had begun pouring. The asphalt of the parking lot hissed. It sounded like it was mad that it had to be out in this rain, too. I waited a moment for the rain to calm down a bit before I walked to the car, but it never did. My shirt got pretty wet.

The streets were a little wet and oily, and some guy almost rear-ended me at a stop light, but I made it home, safe. I went inside and poured myself a warm soda, and put the bottles in the fridge. I sat at the compter desk and unwrapped the sandwich and open the chips and began to eat. Checked my e-mail, nothing important. Browsed a few websites. Nothing there either.

I finished eating my lunch. Then i went to the bedroom and watched some tv. Except for the thing with Sara this morning, which I was trying not to think about, this was a pretty ordinary day. So far. And as for trying not to think about the thing with Sara, it didn't work. It's pretty much all I thought about.

I got up at around 5:30 and left the house. The arcade wasn't too far away, and I'd probably be early, but I was sick of sitting in bed.

It had stopped raining when I got to the strip mall where the arcade was located. The parking lot wasn't as full as it usually was at this time of day, but still, families and couples, and small groups of teenagers were drifting back and forth between the shops and restaurants and their cars. A crack in the clouds near the horizon opened up just long enough to reveal that there was indeed still a sun, and that it was going down. Anita and Kyoko were already there. I saw them standing near the entrance of the arcade as I drove by looking for a parking spot. They were bathed in the pink and green neon glow of the sign that read "Gravity Well". Kyoko smiled and waved.

I found a pretty close spot, and got out of the car and locked the door. The sound of closing car door echoed across the damp parking lot. I walked up to the arcade and Kyoko gave me a big hug, which was a bit surprising. We'd been friend for a long time, but hugs weren't her normal thing. She started talking a mile a minute. That was her thing.

"Yay, you're here. Nobody's here yet. Well you guys are. And I am, of course, but nobody else. I couldn't get a hold of Matsu, he's probably with his girlfriend in the city. He never answers the phone when I call." I couldn't imagine why. I loved Kiki, but she seemed to have a supernatural talent for babbling.


We walked a couple of doors down to a sandwich shop. Anita was showing off a new skirts she'd recently bought, and she and Kyoko were talking about clothes. I sort of tuned them out. I was still thinking about Sara, wondering what she was doing right now. I missed her, mostly because this was usually our night, but i also couldn't shake the feeling that something weird was going on with her. I felt something tap me on the back of the head. It was Kiki. I quicky grabbed her hand and playfully batted at her head.

"Space out much?" She and Anita laughed.

"Erik, what are you gonna get?" Anita pointed into the sandwich shop window.

I hadn't thought about it yet. "I haven't thought about it, yet."

"Oh," Anita replied, "you're the one who wanted to get something to eat, figured you had something in mind. Wanna split something?"

Kiki bounced. "I want a salad! And a cookie!" She opened the door and ran in, leaving Anita and me standing outside. I shrugged and open the door and we went in.

We sat down, ate. We had the normal, aimless conversation. Anita and i split a ham and turkey sub, and we had sodas. I didn't eat much. I was still full from lunch, and worried about Sara, but Anita kept trying to get me to eat more. "Here, eat it," she said, pushing the remains of the sandwich my way."

I sipped at my soda. "Nah, i just ate a lot a few hours ago." Kiki was muching away happily at her salad, wiggling a little in her seat.

"What'd you have?" Anita asked, and took a bite of the rest of the sandwich, then stole a piece of lettuce off of Kiki's plate. Kiki held up her clear plastic fork and pretended to stab Anita in the hand multiple times.

I thought for a second. "Umm, a sandwich and some soda."

Anita stared at me for a moment. "Is that all you ever eat?" It was what i always ate, mostly. I blushed.

Kiki thrust a little round tomato, perched at the end of her fork, into Anita's face. "Eat it!" She knew Anita hated tomatoes. Anita scrunched up her face and refused. It was my turn. Tomato in my face: "Eat it!" I just push her hand away. I knew where this was going. So did Anita. We gathered up our trash, got up, and started putting our trays away before it happened.

"Hey wait!" Kiki protested. She shrugged and continued. This was something Kiki did, for some unknown reason. It just amused her, whether or not it amused anyone else. She tossed the tomato, still attached to the fork, a few feet into the air. It ascended, spining, paused in the air for a second, and came back down, smacking Kiki on the right cheek. Kiki usually caught it in her mouth.

Anita and i began cracking up. I nearly dropped my tray. The couple of other people in the restaurant - the person behind the counter and another customer - looked to see what was so funny as Kiki wiped a smear of French dressing from her cheek. She started laughing, too.

Eventually Kiki retrieved the tomato-and-fork from the seat next to her, threw away her trash and put away her tray, and we left for the arcade. Kiki carried her little package of cookies, still unopened, with her.


We got to the arcade a little after 6. Jack and Kat were waiting out front, Michelle was inside.

Jack and Kat are funny. Jack's the tallest guy i've ever seen in real life, six-five or so. And really thin. His hair stands up on end and points all different directions, and he wears all black, like most of us there that day. He looks like something out of a ninja comic or the boogeyman in a kid's story. And his boots are huge. But he's a really nice guy, if you get past being scared of him and get to know him. Kat's really short. I'd guess she's not even five feet tall. She barely comes up to Jack's bellybutton. Her hair is really straight and dark and shiny, and down to her hips, but she keeps the back of it in a bun, letting the pieces hang long in front.

Jack and Kat are going out, and that's what's funny. Not because of how they look - that's simply comical - but it's the way they act together. Jack just follows Kat around and does whatever she says. Not that she abuses this situation, or has forcefully taken any sort of position of power in the relationship, or even that she particularly tells him to do much of anything, it's just how it is. Jack just doesn't seem to have his mind set about anything, so Kat makes all the decisions. You can stand back and watch little things happen; Kat telling him to stay somewhere while she runs off to do something, and he'll just stand there, quietly, and wait. We'll ask them if they want to go do something. Jack doesn't say anything. Kat agrees. They both come along. Things like that.

Right now Kat has Jack give her twenty dollars and she runs in to buy tokens. He just stands there, looking in the window of the place, waiting for her. It's kinda cute in it's own way. But it's pretty funny.

I strike up a conversation. "Hey, Jack, how's it going?" Anita and Kiki are hugging him. They don't even reach his shoulders.

"Not bad, man. I got that job over at Galaxy. 30% discount. 20 on imports." Galaxy was Galaxy Comics and Games. Except for the arcade, most of us were there more than anywhere else.

"Nice," i replied. "You'll have to hook me up with that discount." Michelle and Kat poked their heads out of the arcade door and the rest of us went in.



Chapter Five

Sometimes you just are. We have no past. We walk through each day or night being nothing but the us there is at the moment. Sometimes you're everything you always have been and always will be, all at the same time. It sounds funny, but you know what i'm getting at. You've felt it before. I don't know what i was at the beginning of that day, but by the end, i was different. Not completely different, but something had changed. I was one of those times where i realzed the me i am now was not the me i was Before.

And sometimes you can only be the person you like being best, with one other person. They're a canvas that you can paint yourself onto. The deepest, most powerful colors of yourself can only be expressed in its true form with this one person. But when that person is no longer around, or is otherwise unavailable to you, the real you is lost, unexpressed, hidden and dormant within you. You want to be this person you like being, but no one else brings it out of you, or can accept you in this way. What do you do then? Being the plain you, the normal you, the you that it's Fine to be in everyday life... it's getting by, but you can feel the real you, hiding, being missed, useless, powerless.

What do you do then? Do you let the real you wilt away, shrivel into a little memory of what you could have been, what could still be if only given a chance? Do you do your best to express it in small ways that are unrecognizable to anyone else? Cryptic secret codes written in stories, the real you projected into fictional characters you pretend are fictional? Do you forget, mourn this real you, or do you bury it, hoping that one day it will find its way free?

There's no use being the real you when you are your only audience.


There weren't many people inside, especially for a Friday night. I guess the rain kept them away. We crowded around the token machine and fed it crisp green bills. The wrinkled ones won't work.

We wandered around alone or in small groups, feeding the machines, manipulating the events on screen, failing, or succeeding, mostly having fun. Kat and Jack were in a corner looking like they couldn't decide what to play first. Michelle and Anita were jumping around on one of those dancing games, where you stand on the platform and step on the arrows to the rhythm of the music. It looked exhausting. I tried one of those games once, and couldn't get the hang of it at all.

The rain started up again outside shortly after we went in. It was pounding on the roof of the mall, and was audible even over the loud music and noises of the games. Occasionally a flash of light would blast in from the big front windows and thunder would rumble. It didn't seem to bother anyone, though.

I was wandering around, trying to find something i wanted to play. My mind had been wandering to Sara all day, to thie morning. And last night.

I'd never tried to sleep with her. I wanted to, of course, but it never seemed like the right time, and i was patient. I figured if it happened, it happened. And it had, and it was better than i imagined it would be. I could still feel her, and remember the way she... I had to keep these thoughts out of my mind. I had to admit i was a little angry, i suppose. After the great night we had together, she literally shoved me out the door the next morning, because someone called and told her she had to go somewhere. Was what she was doing more important than being with me? I didn't like the thought of that, but i also didn't like that i felt that way about it. So what if it was more important than me? Lots of things were. But it didn't stop me from wishing they weren't. I needed to stop thinking aobut it.

Eventually, i found a game to play, and Kiki found her way to me.

I was playing a fighting game. I had to admit i usually just pounded at the buttons, especially with games i hadn't played much. My health bar was deep in the red, about one hit left, when Kiki punched in two tokens and saved me from a loss. "A NEW CHALLENGER HAS ENTERED THE ARENA" the screen blinked at us. Kiki looked up at me and grinned, she rubbed her hands together and gripped the joystick and turned her attention to the screen.

I got really close to beating her in the second round, but she wiped me out with a 16-hit MegaCombo Finish. "You're good."

"Nah, just lucky," she replied, but it was obviouss he was tyring to save my ego. I pumped in two more tokens. I beat her the first round. "Button-masher! Cheap!" she accused. She was right, of course. She beat me the second round. I almost had her in the third round - i swear i did - when the room went black. Just like that. Pitch black, until the red glow of the emergency lights came on, and every single person in the arcade let out a groan. The storm still raged outside and sounded ten times louder now that the arcade was silent. People were muttering to each other, or looking out the big windows at the lightning and rain. It was pretty rough out there.

"What the hell? I was about to win!" Kiki pouted.

"No way! You were totally in the red. One more hit..." i countered.

"If i had pulled one combo, you'd have been gone." Reversal and K.O.

"Pfft," was all i had to say to that. "This sucks. We all get together and the power goes out." Kat came over, followed by Jack, then Anita and Michelle, looking out of breath. "What now?"

Anita wanted to leave because the dark arcade was making her feel creepy. Michelle complained about losing her tokens in the now-dead machine. Kat suggested we wait a bit to see if the power would come back on and Jack agreed, but just nodded. Kiki looked disappointed.

I looked around, seeing i could find a manager or somebody who might be able to find out when the power would be back on. A few people were standing near the entrance, waiting for the rain to and lightning to die down before going outside. I spotted a guy in a vest who looked like he worked in the arcade. I started walking toward him when i saw this girl.

She was looking at me. Right at me. Smiling. Beatiful smile. She had a halo of dark hair, which would have been very long if it hadn't been so wavy. Even in the red wash of the emergency lights, in this dark room, i could see that she was extremely pale, almost glowing. Her eyes flashed in the dim light. Her dress wasn't tight, but it showed her body off nicely: big, round breasts, pleasantly wide hips, her bare thighs just below her skirt... I wanted to stop staring, really, but it was like something drew my gaze to her. It wasn't just that she was stunningly beautiful, but she was even more than that. And i wasn't used to girls looking at me, or smiling at me. I'd hate to think what Sara would say if she saw me staring like this.

I was looking at the girl and not where i was going and walked straight into an arcade game cabinet. My head smacked into the side of the machine and i fell backward on my ass. Smooth.

It hurt, a lot, and i felt really stupid. I started to get up, but i was too dizzy to stand. I looked up to see if my friends could help me up, but they weren't there.

They weren't there? They were just a second ago. I rubbed my eyes and tried to clear my head and looked again. Maybe i'd hit my head harder than i thought. No, not there.

But the girl was.

I found the strength and stability to stand, with a litte help from the arcade cabinet i'd run into. The room was a contrast of red, black, and white, no shades inbetween. It looked flat, fake. I was woozy. The girl was walking towards me. She was still smiling.

She stood in front of me for a long moment, sizing me up, evaluating me. That's how it felt. She lifted her thin arm and reached her hand toward my face. I flinched as she touched the spot where i hit my head, but it didn't hurt anymore. "There now. You're okay." She placed her other hand on the side of my head, and looked into my eyes, a concerned look on her face, as someone would with a pet cat that had hurt itself. Or maybe as a cat would look at a person, in that mysterious way cats study the inexplicable things humans do. "You should be more careful," she cooed. Her voice was thick and warm and friendly. I could feel it on my skin. She moved her hands over my face and neck and head, gently touching me. We stood there, for a minute or two as she looked me over, examined me, the place where i hit my head. She brought her face closer to mine. If this was a book or movie, it would have looked like she was about to kiss me.

My body stiffened. It felt as if something invisible had gripped me. It wasn't painful, but from my shoulders to my knees, the entire length of my arms, i was entirely immobilized. I tried to struggle, but i couldn't budge. She turned away from me, stepped away a couple of feet, turned back towards me and half reclined against an arcade cabinet behind her. She glanced down at the panel looking entirely bored or disinterested and she fiddled with a couple of buttons. She turned her eyes back to me.

"This is just an introduction." Her voice sounded far away, like it was coming from inside a tunnel. "I'm not here to... do anything yet. We probably shouldn't even reveal ourselves this early into things, but i suppose i like to toy with my prey a little first." She grinned. I had no idea what she was talking about. I tried to say so, but i couldn't speak. And where had everyone gone?

She turned and began pacing a bit, stalking. "Doesn't matter, you won't remember this, anyway." She walked towards me again. Pressing lightly under my chin, she tilted my head back, examined me again. I tried to wriggle away, but i still couldn't move. With a satisfied look on her face, she gazed into my eyes, past my eyes, through my head and brain, out the back of my skull into infinity. It terrified me. "Remember this, though: you can't stop it. You probably won't want to stop it. Regardless, it will happen. With you. Without you. So don't even try."

See just froze, staring. Something clicked in my head. I don't know how to describe it, just that something had happened that i was aware of, but i didn't know what it was, if that makes any sense. A clear little spot in my mind turned over, crawled under the covers, and disappered into the dark. The girl smiled again, half sinister, half deeply caring beyond all possible human experience.

"Mmmm, a little too dramatic maybe, but when else do i get to rant like that? Anyway, Erik," -she knew my name?- "don't be so concerned with Sara. She's fine. I can't promise she walys will be, but for now..." She trailed off and went back to standing across the aisle in front of the arcade cabinet. Sara was standing next to her.

"Erik," Sara sighed, "please don't bother me here." She looked strange, out of focus, her hair was blue. Her clothes were white. "I'm very busy and it really don't have time to..." and she vanished, faded away like in a cartoon or a sci-fi movie. How had she gotten here? Where did she go? I was confused, and my mind felt muddled. This wasn't making any sense.

"Listen to her," the girl said, a slightly harsh, warning tone in her voice. "Just let Sara be. Don't go getting all nosey. You wouldn't like where things are heading with her anyway. Just let her do what she does and don't worry about it." She crossed her arms. She seemd to be thinking about something. "Hmm... Oh!" Her face bightened. "Next time we meet, you're going to fall madly in love with me." She said it like she knew it was true. "Murphy, let him go."

I could move. I fell to the floor, dizzy, head aching again.

Kiki was somewhere. I heard her calling me. I looked around, and she faded into view, kneeling next to me, asking me if i was alright. And i came to.

I was in the arcade, on the floor. What had happened? It was dark, quiet except for the noise or rain, and my friends standing around, murmering, staring at me. My head ached, and that's when i remembered hitting it. "Kiki..." She was propping me up, holding me in her arms.

"Oh man, are you okay? You hit your head pretty hard, and didn't answer for a minute. We were worried." Kiki and Jack helped me up, and my friends moved closer, looking concerned. A couple of them asked again if i was okay. The manager guy i had spotted earlier was there looking concerned too. I told them i was fine, but that my head hurt, and when i tried to stand on my own, without the support of Jack or Kiki, i couldn't. I asked them to take me home.

To be continued.....