GHOSTS

Pillars of bronze light exploded beneath Ione, lighting her crystalline world with intensity of nuclear detonations as she floated effortlessly over the majestic landscape. The topography shifted and transformed as she dove closer to the surface, wildly as though drawn by the gravity of some body hanging in the sky. Fractal shapes crawled behind blurry vignettes of her memories and drifted past her periphery as though she were a bullet spinning through the infinite halls of time and space. Ione felt bliss coarse through her blood with the same vibrating sensation one experiences after a warm bath as she flew indiscriminately through puffy clouds of whimsy and clarity. She opened her mouth and ribbony choral harmonies coated in golden twinkling poured from her heart and sprinkled lightly across her world like a fresh spring rain.

Freedom is the fruit revealed after the bitter rind of truth has been peeled away, she thought as she descended. Her frail words echoed out past the walls of her mind and bounced back to her, as though some divine wisdom had been bestowed by an unseen force. Her feet felt kissed by a thousand pairs of lips as she brought them to rest upon her earth. She plodded softly and a cool wind danced around her. Ione raised her arms out to her side and felt lightning tingle as it arced up each of her fingertips. The sensation spread along her nerves then into her bones and until it held a firm grip on her entire frame.

All at once, a violent spasm rocked her. Ione tried to scream but her every muscle was frozen, paralyzed. The luscious scenery around her melted instantly into a seething thick black liquid. Futilely, she tried again to scream. Her lungs exploded into fire and she collapsed limply into the pooling black substance, somehow both as milky as ink and thick like a bog. It was swallowing her, and effortlessly so. She writhed and struggled against the muck, but felt powerless to escape it. Creeping up her face, it flowed into her gaping mouth and coated her throat with acid. Everything disappeared into the void.

Everything.

Ione snapped awake as though she’d been kicked in the chest by a horse. She coughed fitfully, straining the muscles in her thin neck. Her face pounded tightly, thick with blood. She rolled to the bedside, pitching her head over the edge. A sharp pain gripped her chest and she coughed again, spitting up a thin strand of blood so dark it appeared almost black on the wooden floor. At that her muscles relaxed, and she stretched herself out slowly along the bed until her foot touched something stiff.

Ione recoiled and clawed her way off the bed, snaring herself in a blanket. Boots hung just over the foot of the bed. Clutching the wool blanket to her chest, she rose slowly. When she saw who it was, she decompressed in a sigh.

Declan.

He was flat on his back, still in his street clothes, snoring away. A limp and greasy bag of Chinese takeout sat next to him. Looking to the window, she saw that it was now dark outside. The neon fires of the night blazed and popped against the mute black. Ione had no clue how long she’d been spacing, but it had clearly been many hours. She rubbed her face. Her skin felt tired against her frail hands. Ione could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on, a hot tingling spidering across her forehead.

I just need to come down.

She wrapped herself in the blanket and picked up a cigarette from the mirror on her bedside table. She rolled a pinch of tobacco from the mouth of the cigarette, then she took the vial of Zip from her last hit and shook it. The remaining powder twinkled against the sides of the tiny vial.

There’s still a little.

Setting the vial back down, she gently placed the tip of the cigarette in it and twisted it so that some would be forced into the tip of the cigarette. When she pulled it out, she saw that it was packed and lit it, inhaling deeply. A rush of adrenaline poured over chilly skin and lapped at her nerves with warmth and calm. The sensation doubled when she exhaled.

Ione sat upon the edge of the bed, with the cigarette smoldering between her lips and tore open the wilting bag of take out. She fished around for a set of chopsticks first, then pulled out one of the small boxes and placed it behind her on the nightstand. When she folded the brown plastic bag back shut, and stretched out to place on her dresser, then put out her cigarette on the mirror. Chuckling to herself, she tore open her box, split her chopsticks, and got down to the business of shovelling thickly-sauced lo mein into her mouth.

This is going to be entertaining, she thought, smiling.

“DECK!” she shouted shrilly.

Instantly, he scrambled awake, all flailing arms and legs, and slipped off the side of the bed, clattering to the floor with a confused grunt and a THUD.

“Ow! What the hell?” he grumbled, rubbing the back of his head and craning his neck over the bedside, staring at her with sleep and annoyance in his hazel eyes.

Ione laughed and danced a bit, trying not to choke as she slurped away at her noodles.

“Couldn’t help myself. You were so peaceful,” she giggled, swallowing her food. “Had to pay you back for last night.”

Deck raised himself up from the floor and dusted off. He reached in his coat pocket and produced a small yellow pouch, then tossed it on the bed.

“There’s a little extra. Sorry I left you hanging,” he said, making his way to the bag of food on her dresser.

Ione plopped on the bed and crossed her legs. She rested the take out between her legs and tore open the pouch. Six amber Lume inhalers tumbled out on the bed. She spread them out and picked one up to roll in her fingers.

“Thank you,” she said, leaning back into her pillows. “You wanna get zeroed with me after I shower? I am ripe.”

Deck leaned himself against her doorway, dangling a takeout box from a single finger.

“You know I’d love to, but I need to clean up and settle a few matters,” he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “I really need to talk to Enora tonight with a clear head.”

“What you need to do is stop fucking around with someone you can never have, Declan,” she scoffed. “You’re just punishing yourself and enabling her. None of it is healthy.”

“It’s not like that, Ney,” he sighed and stared down at his feet. “My walls crumble when I’m with her. It’s…electric. She makes me feel like I might actually matter to someone,” he said softly. “That hasn’t happened to me in a long time.”

Ione sensed fear in his tone. Still, she had heard this bit before.

“You can tell me that again in a month when you’ve been glued to the Screen for days on end, flicking through your phone wondering why she won’t call anymore,” she chastised him as she returned to her meal.

“Have fun on your trip,” he said curtly, disappearing into the hallway.

Ione put the tip of the inhaler to her lips and squeezed the bulb until it released. She took a deep breath and sank into her pillows.