Author : Joe Essid

The air felt greasy as Shane climbed off his Harley into a tropical Virginia July evening.

Even shirtless, in ruined jeans and a leather vest, Shane felt clammy. Only the wind, all the way from Leavenworth and freedom, had kept him from melting.

Above him The Grateful Dead boomed from an apartment’s stereo. A little chill shook him, a cool draft and a spear of light far brighter than the glare off the windshield of a parked GTO nearby.

Laughter slipping over the music helped him shake off the spooky chill. He looked up at curtains in an Arabesque print.

Ignoring sly looks from a couple of lovely coeds, Shane mounted the cement steps and opened the building’s front door. He took his sweet time, engineer’s boots thudding. Maybe Carla would hear them, but he doubted it over Phil Lesh’s hypnotic bass line.

An icy breeze tickled Shane’s back between the top of his vest and the hair growing long again. He smelled disinfectant, saw another spear of light, shuddered for a moment.

He threw open Carla’s door.

The warm haze of music and pot smoke was dense. For a moment, no one noticed. Then a man’s voice, warped by his buzz, croaked out “It’s Shane!” He came for a bear hug, but Shane put out a hand and looked for her.

Two years had changed nothing. She swayed toward him with a tinkling of the many bangles and a swishing of a gypsy’s skirt over the tops of her bare feet. Her exposed midriff flashed at him.

“Like that belly jewel, Carla.” A bad first line, but she hugged Shane until the air left him, as the others watched, stoned and amused.

She whipped off his aviator sunglasses, her long blonde hair framing his face for a kiss.

“You owe me a dance, Shane. C’mon.” Someone put The Stones’ Exile on Main Street on the turntable and, as if on cue, set the needle down on “Torn and Frayed.”

Carla led, as any Queen would at a ball. She twirled her man around.

“You were framed, but now you’re home.” She whispered into his ear as they swayed. “You won’t leave again, lover?”

“Never,” Shane answered. “Never.”

They kissed again. And the air grew very cold.

Shane sat up, nutrient tubes and Dream wires jangling in a plastic echo of Carla’s bangles. Beside him, evacuation tubes removed piss and shit.

He struggled up, looking across the ward to the other Dreamers, all smiling with eyes closed. Which of them was at the party? Was a woman named Carla there? What algorithm brought them together?

Shane’s liver-spotted hand quivered over the Dream wires, now crimped under his body.

“Mr. DuBois needs a reboot, Padmini.”

A dark-skinned woman with kindly eyes was already reaching for him.

“Just light off the parking lot,” she said, adjusting a heavy window shade to block a spear of whiteness reflecting off a slab of pavement. For just a second, Shane glimpsed hazy air and dead tree trunks beyond the glistening shells of the ground cars.

“Shane, You tugged your Dream wires loose. I’ll turn you, then back to the fun. I’ve been watching your party” She kissed his paper-thin forehead, where only a few white hairs remained. “Bad boy. She’s there, waiting.”

Padmini ignored Shane’s feeble protests and eased the Dream out from under him. With hands as strong as Carla’s she twirled him back into a grateful sleep.

“Wish I’d lived then.” She cut sad eyes toward the drawn shades.

Carla pulled Shane close again.

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