It's a strange feeling, to separate spirit from body, I reflect, observing my own physical form from the outside. I can feel a gentle pull, like gravity anchoring myself to my dormant body. Mortality calls me back with a song of soothing voices, the pleasant sensation almost consumes my consciousness. The feeling to return to natural existence is irresistible but I fight through my impulses and settle into a stable orbit around my body, curious to find out if this is a dream or reality. Torn from my body, I exist within all the shadows in my surrounding space. No longer confined to my physical form, my presence is inside the very walls and objects of the room I occupy. All of my senses merge to form a perceptual experience that I can't fully explain by convention. It's almost like I can hear, see, smell, touch, and taste everything at once. As I absorb waves of unfiltered information, I notice the old doctor, muttering something under his breath as he inspects blood samples under a microscope. His voice seems to vibrate through me at different intervals, I feel him speaking to the room, the shadows absorbing the sounds bouncing from the walls and objects. I become drawn to him by the curiosity floating in our space, his interest in the blood samples is fueled by the same questions we all seek answers to. "Hmm... Hmm..." Hovering above like a spirit mounted on his shoulder, I observe the doctor's subtle actions as he studies the samples. As I look through his eyes, his ideas begin flowing through my thoughts, forming voices that resound like echoes inside a vast cavern. With each look into the microscope I, I begin to feel strange sensations begin to overpower my perception. Almost like I can feel what I see under those slides, I am the chemicals inside me, the universe is flowing through me. My existence and the organisms compressed inside those slides are one, it feels like I'm watching myself from above, like I can almost catch my own reflection. The entire experience is unusually strange but with enough time I understand the basic concept of navigating in this state of perceptual osmosis. The feeling of being one with everything starts to feel a little bit more natural with the passage of time until, It becomes easy to believe that my life has always been like this and I had only awoken from a dream. My only reminder of reality is my body, I must prevent myself from slipping into delusions. Falling into a hole filled with my fears is not something I'd want to experience while in this state, I may not escape the false realities such ideas can create. To help me focus, I choose to keep a vigilant watch over the doctor, as if I were an invisible entity inside the room, guiding him from the shadows. In observation, I feel myself flow into his subconscious. The doctor pauses for a moment to write down his thoughts, as he writes, he mumbles his findings into the air. "Some interesting patterns here..." "Hmm.. Hmm..." His sentences are incomplete, often merging with his mumbles. "Some kind of alien pathogen?" He goes through the same slides several times. "Hmm... Hmm..." "Very strange... but interesting..." He writes his notes in scribbles with no regard for future proofing the record. His only reason to put something on paper is just so he can remember to write down the full report later, but first his curiosity must be satisfied. The doctor is very eager to go back to his microscope. Occupied with his thoughts on the slides, he is more concerned with the information he's getting from his observations than the ideas he would eventually have to form around his findings. The doctor doesn't like to write things down, but he's more than happy to continue comparing the slides. As if possessed by his work, possibilities he never realized before start to reveal themselves, I see the doctor's ideas expand into theories. Perhaps the very energy that drives the man is the same I'm linked with now. From the shadows, I work through his mind and his body and begin to learn things about myself. The experience makes me feel like I have some kind of control over the doctor, a puppeteer pulling on a puppet's strings. I flow into the river of thoughts, revealing a mountain of assumptions the old doctor has established about me. In his mind, I am host to an alien virus which may be affecting my cognitive abilities. A rather clever assumption to make, in a way there is some sense to it. Even I don't have a better explanation for my current experience, however I still feel that there's something more to all of this than meets the eye. I can't determine if all of this is a dream or delusion, perhaps all of this is real. I float above the room, suspended in a beam of light reflecting from the lamp, absorbing the moment and pondering my reality under the doctor's tune. The strange organisms inside my blood appear almost mechanical in nature, relentlessly driven by their primitive programming. There is one notable difference between my blood and the blood of the others in the shelters, the alien organisms. Alien organisms are not uncommon in the wasteland, the doctor even believes that everyone might have alien organisms lying dormant in their cells, most likely introduced into the environment after the invasion. The alien organisms are the same in everyone, except my blood also has a set of unidentified organisms that aren't dormant like the others. These unknown organisms are in the process of destroying the dormant organisms before they have a chance to fight back. How does this affect me? Am I infected by an unknown virus? Will this infection spread to the others? I'm submerged into the doctor's hidden thoughts, surfacing in revelation of the recent blood samples. This knowledge isn't in any of his reports, nobody in the shelter is even aware of his theories about the alien organisms. Even the doctor couldn't believe that every survivor of the invasion might be infected by the Others. This theory was being pieced together after years of research and evidence, these new findings might be his final piece. Many ideas bubble over in the doctor's mind, one thousand thoughts per second whizzing by with only a handful caught in the web of his thoughts. I observe closely while the doctor weaves a web of logic and reason, attempting to make sense of the chaos revealed by the old microscope. At this very moment, a microscopic war is being waged inside of my body between two sets of alien pathogens. The newly discovered pathogens are purifying my cells, the dormant pathogens are close to being wiped out, the war will soon be over. This knowledge doesn't help me understand what I'm currently experiencing, it just further separates me from the rest of the shelter. The doctor is unsure how the new pathogens will affect me but chooses to wait before making his report. He seems to think that his discovery might be dangerous to me, many people already see me as different, even without this knowledge, now there's actual proof. Sensing his sympathy for my situation, I can't help but start to agree with the doctor's ideas. I feel his ego melding with my own as our thoughts merge, as if two streams of consciousness meet to form a river. I continue to observe through the eyes of the doctor, reveling in his curiosity of the unknown. I witness the strange microbes pulsating, merging, and transforming in an organized, trance-like motion. I feel as if I'm able to reach greater levels understanding from observing myself on a microscopic level, through the eyes of another person. Who am I? What am I becoming? None of it seems to matter as much, I realize infinity is within reach. At one point I feel I have become the doctor, in the time I'm melding with his consciousness. An impulse pulls me out of the stream of his thoughts and I regain my sense of self again. Relieved to find myself back inside a higher state of existence, I slip out of his mind completely, inspired by my fear of being caged by his ego. As intelligent as the doctor is, his mind is far too small in relation to my individual potential. Even my own individuality seems insignificant compared to the experience of expanded awareness. Separating from the doctor leaves me with reflections of the microscopic world. Is that all we are at our core, a collection of countless machines working in unison, asynchronously transferring information? Are we just a simple stream of memories kept intact by the interconnecting layers of these phantasmal robots? My questions branch out to form more questions, I continue my observations from within the shadows. I watch the doctor work, he remains as focused as ever, discovering truth and beauty inside the slide of a microscope. He allows himself short breaks only to jot down quick notes. Countless thoughts flow through him, washing over me. Although I'm observing, the doctor is alone with his discoveries, but truth is often found in solitude. I don't feel any distress or concern over the knowledge I have absorbed. I only feel a sense of relief that my life isn't something that necessarily needs some kind of purpose. I can't decide if it's relief or regret that I'm actually feeling. No matter how deep I go to explore the meaning behind the discoveries, there's still an impending duality limiting the choices I can make. These dualities scatter infinitely, forming different paths that are created from the endless flow of events. Everything just goes on forever with no beginning or end, until a choice is finally made. I suddenly feel trapped inside the limited space my present occupies. I realize that I'm confined to my body, as if I'm inside some kind of astral prison. The urge to leave my physical form is there but a primal fear prevents me from attempting to sever the connection. I feel afraid that the void would swallow me whole if I sever the link to my body. I feel like a rat, trapped inside a claustrophobic maze, desperate to find the exit. Out of my body, shadows extend beyond the surrounding walls, I bask inside their darkness, my worries fade while my consciousness expands. I realize how intoxicating this power is, this level of control is addicting, a rift forms inside my mind. A feeling of caution and a sense of true freedom bridges toward a solution. I must separate, a part of me will continue to explore in an expanse of wonder, the other part will remain grounded to my body, consuming information from the shadows. I choose to do this in order to ensure the connection with my physical form remains intact, I'll also be aware of any physical dangers before they can happen. I feel the strong attachment to my body even now, but I resist it's pull, stretching away in separation. I enter into the window of liberation, flowing from the center of where my body rests, to explore the hidden secrets of this strange new world. My vision expands beyond the space of the clinic, emerging to contain the entire shelter within a geometric mosaic formed from unfolding events. Each event preserves a moment in time as it's occurring simultaneously with everything inside it's space. I watch these moments unravel, like moving pictures inside an infinitely scaling pattern. The experience is overwhelming for my senses, a familiar voice urges me to scale back the container. I heed caution and allow my ego to guide me, I regain my control of the vision before I lose myself completely. I follow the shadows as they take me on a journey of enlightenment. I experience the unfolding moments carried by the passage of time through the shelter, I look deep into the minds of all the people there, I feel the cascade of reactions triggered by their will to survive. I can see their deepest desires as if they were reflected in their surrounding, it's clear their impulses influence most of their decisions. I am appalled and intrigued by their basic nature and impressed by their fortitude to exist in such unfavorable conditions. I feel love and fear radiating through me, my fear overpowering my love for these selfish creatures that I share space with. The adults behave as children, often surrendering to their impulsive nature. The children are even worse, with no direction they become monsters in disguise, driven by primitive desires. In a way I can relate, we are lost - swept away by a flood of information. How much they all hide from each other. I can see clearly how their true nature slowly shapes their personalities, no control over their future. As much as I hate them, I can't blame the children knowing who they model after - such a vicious cycle. These people are too far for me to ever reach, all of them have been swallowed by their own fears. Their shortsightedness is almost laughable if wasn't so tragic, like a cruel joke played by the universe. Everyone is stranded in the unknown with no direction to go. I want to help them... I want to help myself, but I don't know how. A strange desire... is it my purpose to save these people? I think I'll find purpose wherever I seek it. I feel this strange desire bury itself deep into my psyche, flowing into the layers of my subconscious. My vision fades into shadows, I sink into darkness, seeking answers. To offer salvation you must first understand the desire for deliverance. I am inside an ocean of light with shadows dancing all around me, the fluid colors are like flames on a cavern wall. Shadows collect to form an apparently humanoid shape. As it grows in size, it's hollow eyes stare though me as if asking me to draw near. It stretches a finger toward the abyss before me, creating distortions from it's touch. A gateway forms out of a scattering of starlight, beaming into infinite depths, pulling me into it's center. I stand among charred ruins, the smoking remains of a person stares up at me, the skull's empty eyes are as hollow as the shadow that brought me here. As I look down at the burnt fusion of furniture and human remains, I'm suddenly pulled into another space. I'm inside a dimly lit room, it's old but well furnished. Behind a counter is a long wall of shelvers filled with a variety of different colored bottles. A man stands behind the bar, wiping a glass with a rag. Two others sit at far corners of the bar, as if trying to avoid each other. Their existence is frozen in time inside this small bar and I can observe every moment, every outcome, and every cascading reaction. This entire room is an infinite kaleidoscope flowing and diverging into different timelines of unfolding moments. As I close my eyes the shadow stares at me with it's hollow eyes, I feel myself being pulled into an ocean of thoughts. Sounds slowly converge with the vertigo of the spinning room. I find myself sitting at a bar not entirely familiar to me, as if it was pieced together from memories of places I've been to in the past, The glass is cold against my fingers, my head is spinning violently, making it hard to focus on my surroundings. How did I get here? I don't remember anything after I left work today. "Do you want to close out your tab?" I motion with my hand to give me a moment to answer. The bartender looks at me from above, his eyes are distant but kind. He has the face of an old friend, it's rare to find so much compassion in a stranger these days. Maybe he can help me remember something. "When... How did I get here?" He smiles at my confusion and tries to give me a quick breakdown of events to jog my memory. "Well, you showed up here at the usual hour, drank a whole bottle of whiskey, we had a good chat and then you fell asleep at the bar. Guess you've had one too many if you don't remember anything." Nothing seems to come back to me, but this place and his face do seem oddly familiar. I start to feel myself slowly growing sober, not something I wanted to happen so soon. "I find you can never have enough. Pour me another one, and give me a pint to wash it down." The bartender pours some whiskey into the glass without hesitation. He seems very focused on his task, I fall into a trance watching him fill my glass. As he turns his back to fetch my beer, I look around the room and notice a whiteboard hanging on a wall nearby. There's something written on the board, I read it out loud as if posing a question to the room. "To offer salvation you must first understand the desire for deliverance." At the same time, the bartender comes back with the pint ready in his hand, so I give him my thoughts. "Who would say such uninspired nonsense, as if it wasn't obvious? I hope it wasn't you." "Actually, it was you." We look at each other in confusion. I don't remember ever saying that. Just how wasted was I to black out like that? "Don't you remember saying that? I thought it was interesting so I wrote it down." I attempt to passively dismiss the topic I just raised, hoping to stop the conversation and get back to my drink. "Let me guess... I was telling you some bullshit about duality and how we can see it in everything that we do. Sorry about that, I tend to ramble when I get too much whiskey in me." "Actually, you were saying a lot of interesting things, it was hard to believe you were drunk. Ever consider writing down your ideas? They could make for an interesting book, you never know, maybe you'll earn some money?" I don't remember us ever talking before, but I do recall seeing him before. Maybe this was the kind of blackout where another personality took over, it happened to me before, it just never felt so strange. Everything feels different this time, as if I woke up inside a dream, and I'm just waiting to wake up somewhere else again. I finish the rest of my glass to drown all the bad ideas forming in my head. "I don't have the patience to write, I just like to tell stories. Why don't you write it down instead? Maybe you'll be known as the next Plato." He laughed, surprised to hear my suggestion. I took this opportunity to finish my drink. "If I'm Plato, wouldn't that make you Aristotle?" "That's right, now refill my poison so I can honor you with more of my wisdom." With a smile, he turns around find a new bottle of whiskey. While waiting for my refill I notice someone enter the bar, a strange presence starts to fill the empty space inside. The intruder is some kind of drifter, his greasy hair sticks out in clumps, covering his thin face. He approaches a customer closest to the door, flashing curious trinkets in his face and whispering strange voodoo. The confused drunk, as if dazzled by the trinkets, picked out an amulet. He threw his money at the tall, dark man, sending him in my direction. The bartender had already refilled my glass and joined me in observing the exchange at other end of the bar. The drifter moved slowly, his large size becoming more apparent with each step. He jingled as he walked, chains of various trinkets and charms swinging from both arms. His rags hung over him like some kind of robe, his long matted hair, tangled in twisted shapes like the roots of an old tree. He didn't seem like a mere vagrant, but more like a shaman or some kind of witch doctor. He stops next to me, extending out his arms, drawing me closer with his charms. His old arms are long and bony, only his shaking hands betray any signs of life, revealing a network of bulging veins pumping blood under a thin layer of dry skin. He has the darkest skin I've ever seen on a man, it's black like leather, absorbing the light around him. For a moment he seems less a man and more a human shaped shadow. It's impossible to accept what I'm seeing, I quickly dismiss it as a trick of the light. "You want wish, yes?. I have for you... you take?" The old man had a mouth of crooked teeth that shine brown and yellow with his smile. His thin face reveals the shape of his skull as leathery skin stretches over bony edges, forming sinister shadows that make it seem like you're staring into the face of death itself. His pale eyes are lost inside dark pits, their contrast swallowed by the shadows that define his face, I almost didn't notice it. The old man is blind, the grey of his eyes seem to return his human qualities and I forget the fear his presence inspired just a moment ago. I wave my hands at him, forgetting for a moment that he can't see. "No... no wish! Sorry, no money..." I feel foolish trying to mimic the old man's accent but he seems to have backed off. The old man has a look of confusion, like he never expected someone to refuse his wish. I almost feel sorry for him until I remember my drink and a big gulp washes away the sorrow of this moment until only the comedy remains. The bartender has a big grin the entire time, he looks like someone watching a funny moment unravel on his favorite television show. "Are you sure you want to let your wish slip away like that?" "Yes, take... wish for you!" The old man suddenly starts digging through his pockets, looking more alive than ever, his purpose restored with a new found happiness. "Just so you know, Amosu doesn't offer wishes to just anybody. This is a very special moment, it might not come again." I turned to face the bar, trying to avoid looking at the strange, old man. "That's nice but I don't want his wish, all I want is more whiskey." The old man pulls out a few strands of yarn, combing them with his fingers and grouping them in his hand as if preparing to weave them together. "Money no take... wish for you, take..." He rolls his eyes around, as if searching for another word that might convince me to accept his gift. He starts mumbling something in a strange language and with unexpected swiftness grabs my left arm, pulling it toward him with surprising strength. He wraps the strands of yarn around my wrist and releases my arm, he quickly begins weaving the strands together. His fingers move fast, forming a bracelet from the strings around my wrist, his strange chants seem to put me under his spell. I lose myself in this strange ritual, but before I can surrender completely, something screams out inside of me, forcing me to pull away in terror. "I said I didn't want your fucking wish!" The old man is startled by my outburst, I tear the unfinished bracelet from my arm, throwing it at him in a rage awakened by his forceful hypnosis. I felt something that I couldn't explain, for some reason I knew I couldn't let him finish the bracelet. A primitive instinct sensed danger and forced me to respond, bringing me back to my senses. "Gift for you, take wish." The old man was forcing himself to smile, determined to continue his ritual. He pleaded to me, holding the bracelet in his hands, making weaving motions hoping to make me understand him. I didn't want his gift, his presence started to annoy me. I was ready to shout insults, I wanted to scare him away but the bartender was quick to step in before I could act. "Amosu, why don't you come back another time? I think our friend just needs some time to think." The bartender clasps the old man's shoulder with his hand, as if to hold him back from me. It wasn't his grip but his smile that convinced the old man to leave me alone. The old man seemed to drop his obsession, at least for now, a crooked smile returning to his face. "Time small for wish. I hold for you." With these final words the old man leaves the bar, but his presence seems to linger still, as if waiting for me change my mind. I finish off my whiskey trying to forget the strange encounter, but the bartender keeps the memory alive with more of his words. "That's just Amosu, don't take him too seriously. You could've just played along with him." "I just wasn't feeling it, sorry if I overreacted. Next time, I'll know what to expect." "No worries, I know you're just stressed out. Amosu is harmless and also very perceptive, he was just trying to cheer you up in his own strange way." I try to hide my disturbance from the encounter by changing the topic. "The only thing that can cheer me up right now is more whiskey!" The bartender is already holding the bottle, refilling my glass as soon as I finished my sentence. He was good at his job and I was good at running from my problems, we made a great team. My numb fingers press hard against the glass, as I try to confirm my existence from the memories that still remain. I sense the familiar burn of the whiskey as it travels down my throat, making me feel alive again. I drown myself in glass after glass, trying to forget, but I still can't shake the feeling of being watched. I'm watching my own eyes moving rapidly under closed eyelids, ascending higher over my unconscious form. Memories of bathing inside a void of unraveling moments slowly return to me. I recall the separation and retain awareness of the body I'm leaving far behind. Once again, I'm everything inside this room and becoming greater. My vision expands beyond the solitary room, I'm flowing inside an ocean of memories containing events unfolding throughout the shelter, fluttering from moment to moment. Each moment is like a snapshot of infinity with it's own countless windows, branching deeper as cascading moments endlessly unfold. Every moment is shaped by the reactions of preceding moments, like an endless chain of falling dominoes with no beginning or end. I'm almost lost inside this flood of memories, overwhelmed by the suffering I feel spreading through the shelter. A distant voice pulls me out of the chaos into a surrounding darkness, soothing me with it's call. Their desire for salvation will consume you. It is more a thought than a voice, I hear it ring out in an echo of distant sounds. The sounds transform into the shape of a human shadow. The familiar creature answers the stream of questions flowing through me. The shadow is my guide, leading me through this strange experience, it's engulfing presence triggers feelings of deja vu. I think I've been here before, as fragments of lost memories start coming back to me. Do not fear what has already happened. A gateway opens before me and lights suddenly rush through me, piercing my center and separating me from the darkness. I'm inside a room consumed with flames, a pulse of welling agony spreads through me as I try to feel each distant heartbeat. I watch a man engulfed by burning flames, his melting face an expression of fear and suffering. I seek to escape this horrible vision, pressure building with the slowing pulse. I focus into the darkness of his hollow eyes, emerging into a flood of familiar moments. A sudden reflex snaps me out of a nightmare that I can't seem to remember. I lift my heavy head off the counter, the feeling of my cold, sweaty undergarments sticking to my burning skin sends shivers down my spine. I find myself sitting at a familiar bar with no recollection of how I got here or what I was doing. My memories are a blur, the only thing I seem to remember are some fragments linking me to the last time I was here, which oddly enough, I have a clear recollection of. My head spins as I try to focus my vision, unable to tell if I'm still drunk or if this is the hangover. I focus on the glass of whiskey nearby, it calls out to me by tingling my tastebuds until I'm forced to grab it. The drink calms my nerves as I settle in my chair, caught up in the moment that finds me here. Despite the gaps in my memories I recognize that a good amount of time has passed since I the last time I was here. I read the new message written on the whiteboard, it's telling me not to fear what has already happened. I wonder if this was someone's attempt at a joke. Since it takes time for light to reach our eyes and become processed, then the present is, in a matter of speaking, actually the past. Is the message telling me not to fear anything at all? Or, is the message simply referring to memories that can be triggers for fear? A strange sensation follows my questions, seeing the message gives me a feeling of comfort. I have a vague recollection of hearing the quote somewhere, as if it came to me inside a distant dream that I can't recall but remember having nonetheless. The bartender comes over, the usual look of happiness plastered all over his face, as if seeing me conscious appeared to awaken a new purpose inside him. I finish my drink just in time for him to give me a refill. "You're right on time, as always." "I hope you don't get used to the idea of passing out at my bar whenever you feel like. Only reason I let you sleep in is because it's so dead in here." I lift my glass to him in appreciation before taking a sip. "You know, I never really understood why that would be a problem." He took a step back, waiting to hear me out as I went on my tangent. "I mean, you'd think a sleeping drunk would be a great image for a bar." "How so?" "Just think about it, seeing someone passed out at the bar, you can expect the drinks to be strong, and you can drink without limit. Instead, people will always assume the worst, ruining it for the rest of us." "Most people don't see things like yo do." "And it's a good thing they don't!" It got quiet, neither of us continued the conversation, the bartender moved on to other duties. I finished off my drink, losing myself in scattered thoughts, trying to piece my memories into a proper time line. The harder I tried the less sense it all made, but none of it seemed to matter. So I stopped trying to remember, and tried to forget everything instead. I'm content to stay here, drinking whiskey for as long as I can, for some reason I even feel like I've always been here. This place is my escape from the suffering that awaits me at every turn outside of these walls. My life is hell and this bar is a small piece of heaven. I want this moment to last forever, but the reality of my position shatters any delusions that try to form. I lost my career, I lost my family, and I lost my friends. I wandered down a dark path and have no way to return, I can only go deeper into my despair. I have no home to return to and what's left of my money is almost gone. I decided to spend my last moments as a man in this old bar, using what's left of my money to drink more whiskey, hoping to forget everything. Soon I'll even lose this place and finish my miserable journey as an animal, abandoned by society. Not exactly how I imagined things would end up, but I've come to accept my failures. I called for another drink which the bartender was prompt to provide. I looked into his eyes filled with compassion and curiosity, finding strange ideas inside, as if responding to challenges posed by hopeless fate. Without thinking, I ask him a curious question, something that surprises both of us. "You ever made a wish before?" While waiting for a response, I hoped the bartender would put an end to my foolish question with some kind of a joke. Instead, he tries to expand on the topic, seeing interest in the question that I suddenly raised. "Sure, I made lots of wishes, especially when I was a kid. Not so much anymore." His face seemed to say he remembers something, I could tell by the slight increase of his smile. "Why do you ask?" "Never mind, I'm not sure why I even asked." "No, wait... something made you ask, so let's figure this out." He poured me more whiskey before posing the question. "So what about you? Ever made a wish?" "Sure, all the time, but they weren't really wishes. They were just hopes and dreams." "Did any of them come true?" "Only a few, but that was all luck." He was looking at me with an expression of understanding. "Is this about what happened between you and Amosu?" I finished my glass, remembering the old man and his strange desire to grant me a wish. How strange, am I feeling regret for not making my wish last time? No... I don't believe that, I may be desperate but I'm not a fool. "I was just curious, that's all. Not like I actually believe he has the power to grant wishes." The bartender poured me another glass of whiskey which I was happy to receive. I took a sip as the bartender continued to press the topic. "No shame in trying something different if everything else has failed, right?" So I entertained him, I couldn't pass up the whiskey. "Let's just say you did have one wish, what would it be?" The bartender takes a moment to think, taking his time to find the right answer. He seems to take my question very seriously as if there's a chance his wish can come true. I take a few sips of whiskey before he finds an answer. "I think I'd wish for happiness, something I've been having trouble finding." I cant't hold my laughter in, it was not the answer I expected to hear considering how happy he always seems. I thought he would ask for wealth or power or something within that realm of possibilities, something most normal people would wish for. Still, happiness is probably most normal people would want, but I doubt many would waste their only wish on something like that. He didn't seem upset by my laughing at his answer, instead he seems to enjoy the moment of joy, knowing he was responsible. "I'm sorry, but I didn't think you'd waste your only wish on something so... stupid." "What's wrong with my wish? Doesn't everyone want to find happiness?" "Maybe so, but you're wasting your wish on something you can find for yourself. Besides, what if by wishing for happiness means you're also wishing for an equal amount of despair? After all, one can't exist without the other." For a moment, his face flashed in embarrassment for not realizing something so simple. It doesn't take him long to recover with a request for more information from me. "So, tell me how to find happiness, since you seem to think it's so simple." He's eager to hear my words, but I have no simple solution for finding happiness. From my experience, whenever I thought I found a moment of happiness, I could never hold on to it for long. I take a long sip of whiskey while thinking how to best explain my thoughts to him. For some reason, I didn't want to let him down, perhaps I can give him some hope. I want to make him think he can find his own happiness, even though I don't really believe that myself. "Finding happiness is not that simples, there's many ways you can do it. The most proven way to find happiness, is to look for it in others." I don't know where I was going with this, I was probably channeling some knowledge I got from books I've read before or conversations I've had in the past. The bartender was silent, giving me time to explain my ideas further. "By observing other people, you'll start to notice the things that make them happy. Most people can hide their true feelings, but it's always easy to spot when someone is happy, it's something humans haven't learned to hide very well. We might even be naturally compelled to share our happiness with others, as it benefits our collective progress. So, finding what makes others happy is the best place to start if you want to find happiness." The bartender doesn't look convinced but doesn't say anything, allowing me to continue. "When you observe others finding their happiness, you'll get clues about where to find your own. You'll start to notice that people can find happiness in many different ways, some of these ways will agree with you while others will not. The most important thing you'll learn is that happiness doesn't last, and most people will lose it just as suddenly as they found it. As an observer, you will realize that most people don't even know where they found their happiness, once they lose it they will often try to find it in the wrong places." I took a moment to drink as my words sinked in, leaving me in the sorrow of my lost happiness. The bartender's mood shifted a bit, he waited for me to finish my drink. I cut my drink short before he can grow impatient. "Men of the past have often said, happiness is found in selfless acts inspired by a natural desire to help others. This should also be your natural next step in finding happiness. After you have observed enough people, you will know where to find their happiness, be their guide and help them find what they're sure to lose. Help them understand what brings them happiness so they can always find it. Those you help will often share their happiness with you, you'll soon find that their happiness can become your own. The people you guide toward their happiness will also help guide you to your own." I said no more and finished off my drink as the bartender took a moment to think. Before saying anything he made sure to refill my empty glass. "So you're saying, I can be happy if I help other people?" "Sure, that's one way of looking at it, but you're oversimplifying it just a little bit." "I'm not saying I don't feel happy whenever I help someone out, but that feeling doesn't last. I'm not convinced that I'll feel lasting happiness only by helping others. It seems like I'll end up chasing a feeling by doing things I don't want to do." "The sooner you realize that it's impossible to feel lasting happiness, the happier you will be. The reason everyone is always unhappy to begin with is because they chase after their own happiness, often at the expense of other people. Many don't even realize that happiness is supposed to be shared with everyone." "You're saying happiness is supposed to be shared but is there enough for everyone?" I have no real answer to his question. My thoughts on happiness are built around ideas that have existed since ancient times, ideas that have been regurgitated by different people in different ways. I wonder if our modern world can even follow them as guidelines anymore, the idea of happiness has taken on so many forms, it's difficult to even define it into a global concept. Perhaps people lost their ability to share happiness, maybe true happiness is lost to us by now. Refusing to give up, I try to answer him anyway. "That's difficult to answer without defining what happiness means. Maybe you're right, and happiness has become a commodity, something that only a few people can ever hope to gain. Perhaps placing a limit on happiness allows others to hold on to it longer by denying it to others. But I don't see happiness as some kind of commodity." "How do you see it then?" "To me, happiness is a binding force that connects all people. Restricting happiness to others only shortens it's impact on everyone. If people would only share their happiness with others, it could grow larger and in time, we can all feel a longer lasting happiness." "I think I get what you're saying. We're all fucked unless we change our selfish ways." "Couldn't have said it better myself." Before I could realize my glass is empty, the bartender is quick to refill me again. I give him a nod of approval as I bring the rim to my lips and take another sip. "So where do you find your happiness?" "I think you watched me long enough to answer that yourself." I don't have to tell him I search for happiness inside an empty glass, the smile on his face tells me he's already figured that out. Maybe he even knows that I'm looking for it in the wrong place, but I'm too much of a hypocrite to follow my own advice. I've already given up on the happiness I lost, the whiskey only helps me forget the sorrow. As I'm ready to forget how this conversation brought us here, the bartender pulls me back into the loop. "So what about you? What would you wish for?" I've never given this question much thought, the idea of having my wish magically fulfilled was so preposterous that I saw no reason to find an answer. The reality of my hopeless situation sparked an interest to find a wish that would help me, I searched my mind for answers, as if my wish would actually be granted. The bartender lets out a chuckle while watching me think this through so carefully. "It's alright, take your time." It was harder to pick a wish than I thought. I was about ready to give up and tell him my wish was to be rich, but I didn't want to answer with something so uninspired after giving the question so much thought. Then it suddenly comes to me, I found my answer. I know what to wish for. "My wish is to be the luckiest man in the world." "That's an interesting wish. Can you tell me your reasons?" I don't really know why this wish came to me but it made sense. I didn't need to think too hard to come up with plenty of reasons to explain it to him. I took a big gulp of whiskey before speaking again. "To explain my reasons, we should talk about the concept of luck and it's impact on our lives." "Alright sure, but can we even say there's such a thing as luck? I always thought luck is something people choose to believe, it's not something concrete like time or gravity." "Fair enough, but can you honestly say something like time is concrete? After all, time is only a concept we use to explain our reality, Even gravity has not been fully explained, we're only able to define it with our limited terms. Our concept of time and gravity cannot be labeled as concrete when so many questions are left by our attempts to explain them." "I get that, but there's still a difference between facts and beliefs. I don't think there's a formula for luck." "If you think luck doesn't have numbers, you're mistaken. What is luck if not a measure of probability? The greater the odds of an event occurring are, the more luck is needed to defy those odds." "So, you're saying luck exists because improbable things happen. Does that mean luck is a force that we can observe?" I'm amused at the turn this conversation has taken. I take a quick sip before I answer his question, noticing his impatience caused in the slight delay. "I don't see why not, but it's difficult to know what events to observe and when. The way I see it, our existence alone is enough evidence that luck is as real a concept as time." He wasn't convinced but he showed some interest in my idea, I started to explain what I meant further. "Take the Earth for example, it's the only planet in our solar system capable of sustaining life." "As far as we know..." "Right, but keep in mind that it was only possible because of it's stable orbit, rotation, tilt and many other factors. The probability that the Earth was just the right distance from the sun to allow for life to evolve is very high. Our existence is so improbable, wouldn't you say it was a result of luck." "I never looked at it as luck, I thought everything was a result of random events. I guess there's not much difference since luck is so unpredictable." "You can at least admit that some people are luckier than others? Many are born into a life of poverty or war, their place of birth determines their luck in life." "I'll agree with you there. Still, someone born into a wealthy family can be just as miserable as someone born into poverty." "Having good luck doesn't necessarily mean you'll always be happy." "So what does it mean to be the luckiest man in the world?" "I can't really be sure what it would mean, but I can tell you for sure I'll never have a problem with money. That already solves many problems for me." "Alright sure, but why not just wish for money instead?" "There are things in life that money can't help you with, things that can be prevented with good luck. Your health for example, is determined by luck. Even unforeseen accidents can be avoided if you're lucky enough." "So with luck on your side, you'll always have ways to get money and you'll avoid deadly diseases and accidents?" "That's the plan." Satisfied with my explanation, I went back to my drink thinking our talk of wishes was finally over. The bartender was not done, and raised another question. "Can luck be controlled? Wouldn't the outcome of your life be determined entirely by a stream of lucky moments? In a way aren't you giving up your ability to shape your own future by letting luck guide you." I already lost interest, the possible consequences of my wish don't really concern me. After all, it's not like it would ever come true. "It doesn't matter to me where life takes me. If having luck means surrendering to fate, I'll take my chances. It's not like I've ever had any control over my future to begin with." As if responding to my challenge, fate opens the door and invites the old drifter back into the bar. He looks into my eyes as he makes his way down the bar, jingling with every step. I finish my drink quickly, feeling nervous by his sudden appearance. "What do you know? Looks like you'll be able to make your wish." "I feel lucky already." The bartender pours more whiskey while we wait for the old man to get closer. I notice that same smile on his face, his hands already holding the yarn he plans to weave around my wrist. He doesn't wait until he's near by to begin talking, his voice rings out across the empty bar in his approach. "Time now! You take, yes? Wish for you!" This coincidence is hard for me to ignore. I look around the bar, hoping to find some sign that will help me deny the reality of this moment. Reading the board again calms my nerves, I realize there's nothing I can do but wait for the old man to complete his ritual. I drink my whiskey and think how foolish it is for me to think my wish might actually come true. By the time the old man is standing near me, I decide I might as well take his gift. It would be the fastest way to get rid of him and go back to my drink. I turn to face him, offering my arm. "Go on, give me my wish already." He's quick to start working on the bracelet, filling my ears with his strange chants. My wish forms inside my mind, I wish to be the luckiest man in the world. I almost believe it can come true, thinking how all my problems would be magically solved. Suddenly, the old man completes the bracelet and stops his chants. He looks into my eyes, as if to check if I made my wish, a smile is his only response to what he finds in my soul. The old man departs without a word, leaving the bartender and I in the silence that follows. Guided through the flow of endless moments, an encroaching cold surrounds me like a flame. The burning feeling passes over me in waves and I'm left standing underneath a waterfall of emotions. Feeling the scars of distant memories, I'm pondering a strange question. Can I help them? I only remember fragments of the suffering fading like a burn on my skin. The broken memory is enough to question my purpose. It doesn't take long to realize, there's nothing I can do. I must discover myself before I can reach out to others. I suffer with them in helplessness, finding no answers in my fading thoughts. Despair is a swamp and we're all sinking. The people here are only lingering strangers, wasting time in fruitless labor or restless abandon. Filled with the anxiety nurtured by their environment, they wait only for their souls to be collected by the unknown power of death and it's infinite reach. They hide underground hoping to forget their fear. With their fear of something beyond understanding, they are haunted by the ghosts of the past. I see it clearly now, this power that they fear, it's not just on the surface, it's everywhere. Even the strongest mortals on the wasteland fear it. A power completely unknown to ordinary men, I feel smothered by it's blanketing reach. The echoes of this power keeps them trapped under the surface, like rats. They scurry to salvage the ruins of the past, hoping to survive another day. The has it's teams of hunters that routinely scavenge the wasteland, competing with the others for resources. There's also trade among the different clans that live on the surface. Sadly, these are the limits of their ambitions, many are content to waste away in the safety of their shelters. They all know their shelters offer a temporary safety, most choose to forget their fate as resources continue to dwindle. I think I know these people better now, my despair vanishes along with my desire. I feel the attachment to my body, it's soothing warmth beckons me. I resist the impulse to return. My body remains still, ready to awaken at my will. I choose to continue my exploration of the metro and it's inhabitants a little more. Cycling through the shadows of space and time, in one singular moment, I learn their deepest and darkest secrets. The experience initially fills me with a wave of pleasure, but the knowledge that it leaves behind is mostly deplorable. I do not recall how many cycles it takes for me to finally realize this simple truth. Too much knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. A full pitcher of water rests untouched on the council's table. "Some of you might already know why we're here, so let me get to the point." The elder spoke to the line of hunters who were chosen as leaders for the mission to the surface. Orion was among them, caught up in the urgency of the old man's words, ready to face any burden. "We had to shut down two more recyclers today. Our supply of fresh water is reaching critical levels, we cannot sustain the current population without tapping into reserves." The hunters contain their questions, waiting for the elder to finish talking. "The good news is, we have enough resources to contract an engineer to repair our damaged recyclers. The bad news is, by the time the repairs are finished, there won't be enough water left in our reserves for the recyclers to make a difference." Facts are hard to swallow when dry throats itch for water. Many find it hard to ignore the pitcher of water, still left untouched on the council table. Knowing what they know, not a single person in the room dares to reach for that pitcher, it would be a crime to waste water now. The elder doesn't specify the amount of water needed by the shelter, the room fills with a foreboding silence, as if afraid of the question that still remains. The hunters scan the council members, finding answers in faces betrayed by emotion. Eyes are locked in battle, silently passing their blame around the room, spreading hatred and guilt like a disease. Eventually their gaze is lost inside the pitcher of water, serving as reminder of the sacrifice they all must make to ensure the survival of the shelter. At last, a hunter speaks to the room, pulling hope out of the turmoil in their thoughts. "How much time do we have?" Kittsun is clever to mask the question on everyone's mind into one whose answer might not make the mission feel entirely hopeless. It's enough to help everyone focus on the mission and alleviate the growing tension in the room. "With strictly enforced rationing, we have six days left, maybe seven, until the shelter is completely dry. If you don't bring back enough water, we'll have to take drastic measures to ensure our survival." Only a fool hopes to find water in the wasteland, the only way to get water is through trade. The fact that the council would even ask, is enough to know how dire their situation has become. The success of this missions is the shelter's only hope to maintain order and ensure their survival. In an effort to inspire hope, the elder takes a moment's pause before speaking his final words. "Do everything in your power to save us, you're our last hope." The council is prepared to do everything in it's power to maintain order. The people in this room all understand that this mission is a matter of life and death. The mood starts to grow somber again, Orion helps them find their focus once more. "We better not come back empty handed then." This last bit of optimism calls the meeting. With only a few hours left, the hunters must prepare their teams for an impossible mission. Once the hunters exit the chamber, the elder takes his seat at the council table with a sigh relief. They sit in silence for a moment, staring at the pitcher of water in front of them. In a twisted show of power, the elder suddenly grabs the pitcher, pulling it closer. His frail arm shakes from the weight, his knuckles are white from his grip. He fills his entire glass with the precious water, without spilling a drop. The other members take their turns filling their glasses, the order determined by their seat on the council. Each member is greedy to fill their own cup, leaving less water for those waiting their turn. With the pitcher nearly empty, the remaining members are forced to share what's left - a foreshadowing of the looming crisis. The lowest member is spared a sip of water, just enough to partake in the ritual. "We'll need a miracle to survive this one." They raise their glasses and drink, some drink more than others. Without fresh water, it's only a matter of time until order becomes chaos. The Elder Council is prepared to do whatever it takes to maintain control, but as their water fades so will their power. For a time, the promise of water will be enough to maintain order. In the end, only water will be able to contain the burning flames of chaos. The council has a plan to make sure there'll be enough water to maintain order, even if the hunters fail. Warlords on the surface are eager to acquire new slaves, making it a very profitable market in the wasteland. Although a slave's value can be hard to determine, some can be worth their weight in water. As a contingency, the council has drafted contracts for indentured servitude on all of it's citizens. Difficult choices will have to be made and the Elders are prepared to make them, even if it means selling their people into slavery to refill their water supplies. The council expects the hunters to fail, their only purpose is to bring the engineer, the rest is a distraction. From the memory of a distant time, out of thoughts swimming in darkness, they make their choice. This decision was made long ago, the water crisis is only a reminder. Sacrifice the lives of the few, to save the lives of the many. The logic is simple enough for the council to agree on what needs to be done, just not how to actually do it. The council has a plan, I see it unfold in their minds. The hunters will keep hope alive, at least for a while. People will eventually begin to lose faith in the mission, those who oppose the order will be detained. If the hunters fail, the detainees will be forced into indentured servitude to save the obedient majority. The council only hopes they can detain enough descenders to provide them with the water they need to ensure their control, if not they'll have to take even more sinister measures. A risk they're willing to take to maintain order. The contacts they draft binds their people to suffer a fate worse than death. They'll unwillingly lose their identities, to be known only by their trades, skills or physical appearance. They place limits on their contracts, sleeping well knowing those they betrayed will only be slaves for a decade or two. They think themselves humane and call themselves progressive. In the wasteland, ten years as a slave is the same as a lifetime. Most contracts expire well before their time, masters are eager to push their slaves to the brink of death, especially if their time is limited. For most people, indentured servitude is the same as a death sentence, the only difference is the time it takes to die. I watch these moments unfurl like a lotus, the future blooms and absorbs like a stain. The actions of the council weaves a web of suffering, no matter what they decide the result is always the same. The people who have freedom in this shelter, are locked in cages. I see their future bound by chains, sold as property to the highest bidder. Among them I see myself, surrounded by a crowd of demons wearing human faces. I've seen enough to know, I need to help the hunters to avoid this looming reality, the question is how? The thought ripples beyond the fog of twisted desires, forming in the shadows of the council's chamber, into the realm of endless possibilities. I'm soaring over an endless sea of memories, cycling through moments braided with shadows. The shadow creature erupts like liquid smoke over the dark horizon, it's eyes stare through me. I feel it watching as every single moment unfolds from a series of infinite reactions that my consciousness invokes. It's as if I can see into my mind though the eyes of the shadow. I'm pulled into a portal of light, a spinning vortex filling with infinite fractals, forming patterns of unfolding moments. I feel myself fall into a window of a spinning room. The room is strangely familiar, as if glimpsed before in some forgotten dream. As if looking through a mirror, I see a man asleep on a couch. His room feels almost like home. I watch moments unfold from the shadows, his sweatshirt still wet from the liquor he spilled all over himself when he fell asleep. I watch the cigarette slip from his lips and roll down his chest. The flames form naturally on the stains of alcohol. Every moment transforms the room into a massive fire, I turn away feeling the heat on my face, my eyes forced shut by the flames. I escape into the flickering darkness of my inner world, leaving the pain behind. Out of the darkness, I emerge into another place and time. I'm the wall, lined by a colorful assortment of bottles, seeing through the reflections in the glass. I'm the bartender, making myself busy to avoid conversation. I'm the mindless television, relentlessly polluting the air with noise. I'm the people at the bar, absorbing and spreading abstract thoughts across waves of sound. I'm the energy traveling through their brains at the speed of light, transforming information into memories. I'm the dark figure, standing alone at a distance, watching from the shadows. I regain my lost focus in the flash of a moment, the background noise of the TV fuses with the words coming out of his mouth. "We're all stuck with each other now, can't avoid that these days." His voice buzzes like an overgrown insect. I stare at his filthy teeth, slowly getting devoured by his wormy lips. That feeling where your thoughts wander and you find yourself staring at nothing, it feels like I spent years in those seconds. The wisdom from that experience shatters my short lived clarity, the words get stuck in my throat. "I need to help them somehow..." I catch myself thinking out loud. He looks at me like I've just said something completely insane. I let my problems spill freely from my mouth. "No matter what I do, it always comes back to me. I have this power but I don't have any freedom to use it. Even if I can give everything away, it doesn't help anyone but me in the end." "What about charity?" he tries to ground the conversation. It's pointless to use words trying to explain something that's hard enough for myself to believe. I end up sounding like a lunatic each time I try. "Charity? No, that won't do, it won't work. I must be directly involved in every event. You see... It's all like a chain, everything is linked to me. The farther away the link gets from me, the greater it's strength becomes. When lost, it crawls back to me, against all odds, often leaving disaster in it's wake. No! I can't risk it... I won't..." I stop trying to explain and swallow the last of my words. When words fail, I just smile in frustration. He shifts nervously in his chair, drunken face lifting in amused confusion. We both use this moment to finish our drinks, he starts talking again after I motion the bartender for another round. "Alright, let me get this straight..." Using his hands, he creates more space for him to speak. I let him recount my story with his own words. "You're down on your luck, thinking it can't get much worse, you decide to drink yourself into oblivion." At least that hasn't changed, I think to myself as I take another sip of whiskey. "Waking up in some strange and nearly empty bar, you fail to remember how you go there. Despite your obvious lack of awareness and memory, the bartender continues to serve you with more drinks." He pauses with the telling of my story, taking his glass for a quick drink. I notice his large, blazing eyes, still looking at me through the glass. He Takes large, greedy gulps in an effort to catch up to me, finally releasing his grip once the liquid in our glasses appear to line up. I can see his intentions, he wants my approval to continue with the retelling of my story. With no mention of the strange sense of familiarity the bar inspires within me, he fails to illustrate the odd, one-sided relationship I forge with the bartender. Those haunting feelings of Deja Vu, twisted by my growing paranoia, I can never forget. I don't mention just how deep this mystery goes. I don't tell him how, ever since that day, no matter what I try, no matter what I do, I can't find that bar again. "So far, so good." I say while giving him a quick nod, prompting him to continue without further delay. "At this bar, you have a chance encounter with a crazy old man who says he'll grant you any one wish. To get rid of him, you let do his voodoo on you. When he leaves, you think nothing of it. But as time goes by, you start to notice things are going your way. So, now you claim your wish actually came true, that you're the luckiest man in the world." He was holding back the laughter trying to maintain a serious expression. I can understand why he wouldn't believe in a word he was saying. It wasn't easy for me to accept it at first, but the longer I denied it, the harder it became to dismiss all the impossible things happening around me as coincidence. Eventually, the only thing that made sense to me was this ridiculous story. No matter what anyone says, the wish had already come true. I finish my drink as he finishes his thoughts. "With luck so powerful, money is no longer a problem when you're riding the wave of fortune. With everything always going your way, you still find there's something missing. You're not happy because you have no control. So you dream, if I can only use this selfish power of mine to help someone other than myself... you think that'll fill the emptiness you feel inside?" Taking a moment, he reaches for his drink. Finishing it in one quick motion, he slams the empty glass on the counter. After a long, hard look into my eyes, he gives me his answer. "Not with all the power in the world..." His solemn laughter breaks into silence, following the arrival of the bartender. I make the gesture for another round. I find it amusing, how this stranger thinks to understand me. I long to wake up in that bar once more, hoping to see the bartender's kind face. Recently, I even started to think that it was God I met in that bar, and when I sold my soul to the devil, heaven fell out of my reach. "I guess you've got me all figured out. Do you want me to prove it?" "You want to prove your power of luck? Alright... and how're you gonna do that?" I look around the bar, searching for something to prove my luck, when I notice the advertisement playing on the TV. It s a promotion for Donkey brand cigarettes, where one lucky caller has a chance to win a year's supply of cigarettes. The odds of winning are very high, I take this as my sign. "How about this? I'll call that number right there and win those cigarettes." "If you can win that sweepstake, then drinks are on me." "Whatever you say." "Don't forget, you're still paying if you lose." I feel the energy coursing through me as I enter the numbers flashing on the screen. Each press of the key bringing me closer to proving my story, not that it matters. Perhaps, I only want to prove it to myself once more... just how lucky I am... and how utterly alone. After a brief dial tone, a voice on the speaker phone bursts out in excitement. Congratulations, You've just won our sweepstakes! Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with? I notice that his face is filled with a mixture of disbelief and disappointment. Now that he has his proof, he doesn't know what to do, he just sits there frozen. I finish up the call through the stunned silence, wondering when this nightmare will end. "Stanley Rivers, P.O. Box 47728." Setting down my phone, I motion to the bartender for another round. What I see inside these unfolding moments, are reactions bursting in disaster. The plight for water growing with a chaos that eventually consumes the shelter. They're all going to destroy each other until there's enough water to satisfy whoever is left standing. When the worst of this disaster strikes, a person's life would be a small price to pay for just a sip of water. In the end, it will be the weak who'll be sent into slavery so the strong can survive. We all want to save ourselves, often doing whatever it takes to be certain of our survival. Just as well, my motivation for helping is similar, fueled by a desire to avoid a life in chains. I've seen the visions of the future unfolding from the thoughts of the men in that room, I only want to avoid that fate. But, is my selfish desire to save myself truly enough to have an impact on the course of events? To find purpose by helping others, is this what it means to be human? Surely there's more to it than that. After all, there are many ways to live, as displayed by the people in this shelter. Still, there is something oddly majestic about heroes and the choices they make. I find it intriguing to discover people can still contain these rare qualities, even in places like this. Still, he is only one person. Orion sits on his knees in front of Sam, blanket covering her naked body. "I'm going up there again." Her shoulders tense upon hearing those words, displeasure made visible on her face. "You just came back! Why can't they send someone else?" He grabs her gently by the shoulders, pulling them closer together. "It's not just me, they're sending all of us out there." She's visibly upset by the news but her anger quickly dulls from understanding. Throwing back her blanket, her open legs draw him in. She grabs the back of his neck, pulling them closer still. The warmth of her breath dances on his lips. "Just come back to me in one piece..." Even with closed eyes, he can still see her face clearly in his mind. "I promise..." These whispers are their final words as their lips finally connect, pulling them even closer together. I taste their saliva mixing together with a frenzy of subtle motion. They embrace inside the darkness of their hovel, hidden beneath the stains of old blankets and metal walls. Her legs squeeze around his waist as he pumps her with passion, each thrust forces sweet moans to escape her mouth. I feel the aching pleasure of their love coursing through me. For a brief moment, I exist in a state of unraveling bliss. The experience is enough to convince me that life, no matter how hopeless and gray, is still worth living. Discovering unknowns and facing them head on, finding love and feeling it's warmth wash over you. It's everything worth fighting for. Bliss fades away, leaving me adrift inside a sea of endless questions. I can't spend a lifetime trying find all the answers, there's no need to hesitate, I need only go forward. With every disturbance carried by the flow of thoughts, I feel the pull of my body coming in waves. I feel the urge to return growing stronger, a fear of becoming warped by this unknown condition of expanding sensations surfaces within me. I submit to the impulse I've been ignoring, accepting my body as my vessel. I notice how my sense of time has been distorted, as my body restricts me to time's usual linear illusion. I allow the shadows to consume my presence, memories fade away as I flow back into my body. I'm not alone when I awake from the terrible darkness of forgotten dreams. Orion sits at my side, asleep in a chair by my bed. A thick fog covers my mind, only scattered thoughts emerge, trying to fill the gap in my consciousness. I watch him sleep to escape the confusion, his peaceful face bringing me comfort. When he opens his eyes, he's surprised to find me staring at him with so much focus. "So you finally decided to wake up?" I give him a nod and smile when he takes hold of my hand, as my skin absorbs his warmth, I feel tingles spreading through my brain, and fading down my spine. He's very eager to tell me something, his voice explodes with a burst of excitement. "You woke up just in time! I didn't think I'd get a chance..." His excitement quickly wanes, to be replaced by doubt. "To tell you... before I..." His voice grows silent from his reluctance of finishing his thought. Searching for lost words, his mind is filled with conflict. His face says there's something he must tell me, but he doesn't know how... perhaps he doesn't want to. "Sorry... I didn't mean to..." I sense the guilt in his voice, he doesn't have much time left. It doesn't take long for him to find his courage, I listen for the changes in his voice. "What I want to say is, a very important mission just came up and they need my help. I have to leave again." Not a shred of doubt remains in his voice, he speaks without hesitation. It's the shame he can't hide, trying to mask it with optimism. "It won't be for long this time, just a couple of days!" I can see how much he hates breaking his promise with me, but he acts like I don't know he has no choice. He's ashamed to leave again so soon, he thinks I feel betrayed by him. I don't react to his words, I just watch as he continues to try to make things right again. "I really wanted us to spend more time together. I'm sorry it'll have to wait a while longer." He takes a moment to look at me, trying to find something he can take away as a sign of understanding. I'm not exactly sure what he finds, he just sighs and looks away. I suddenly realize I'm only pretending to notice him, that all this time I've been staring right through him. I force my eyes to close close for a moment, just to open them when he starts to speak again. "Just stay put with Sam, she'll take care of you while I'm gone." I flash him my approval by looking in his eyes during the silence, I know he gets it when he ruffles my hair before standing up. "Stay out of trouble, I'll be back before you know it." A smile forms on his face as he readies to leave, hoping for a miracle to help him. I grab his hand before he makes a step, looking back at me with both patience and curiosity. I close my eyes, recalling pieces of fading dreams, seeking answers in fragments of memories I don't understand. As every memory fades away, I find a shadow waiting in the darkness. Hollow eyes once hidden in darkness, emerge like flames from the void, forming a face of shapeless shadows. I wear the face like a mask, seeking to fulfill my desire to help. The shadow uses my voice to whisper a message. "Stanley Rivers, P.O. Box 47728." I hope he finds it useful to his mission.