It isn’t about the air. Everyone thinks it is, but it’s not. The air is beautiful and salty sweet, but it’s meaningless after the comedown. It’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.
My first time was a girl. Her name was Aida and her skin was blued out with cyanospore, eyes black as the feeling of airless lungs. When I looked at them I could see an afterglow, like the world was reflecting through her. And it was. I could tell.
She was one of them, of course. It didn’t take long for me to figure that out. I was wandering home from the airbar and I didn’t see her coming, I didn’t see anything at all. Then, the wind hit like the inertia of a car crash and my mind went empty as my head met the wall. When I remembered where I was, there were hands against my shoulders and brick against my back. I couldn’t breathe through her mouth. Her tongue pressed between my lips like she was searching for something, but she didn’t find it. Kept looking. When she pulled away I choked and gasped.
“You’re dreaming,” she told me. And I was.
I don’t know why she chose me. I woke up in the alley covered in sweat, and my mouth was bitter with her aftertaste. I picked myself up and stumbled home. My legs felt like water. The back of my head throbbed for days.
Aida, said the owner of the airbar. She’s a regular. A Dreamer.
The drugs didn’t bring her back. For weeks, I inhaled combinations of sweet-smelling fumes, but the streets remained empty. She wasn’t missing, of course. She found other people in their airdrunk sleepwalking, but never me. I waited. She didn’t come.
I looked for her. I became better at dreaming, and gradually others appeared. Boys, girls, in every color of dreaming. Old ones, young ones. Some led me to forgotten places and some whispered in languages I didn’t speak.
Two weeks later, the owner of the airbar took me aside. You aren’t right for her, he said.
I didn’t believe it. More air. Always more air. The Dreamers became malicious, laughing at me, tearing my clothing and wrapping their fingers around my throat.
She isn’t coming, he said, but I knew he was lying.
They wouldn’t let go. The air was sour now. It tasted like sulphur and gasoline.
One night, after hours of breathing, a green-skinned boy led me down Broadway towards the beacon light of a hovercab. I woke up bruised and broken, gasping through spasms of blinding pain. I crawled to the sidewalk and vomited to a silent unconsciousness. When I woke up, my mouth was sticky with blood.
“You’re dreaming,” she said, but when I forced my eyes open everything was dark. She was right. She had always been right. Of course it’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.