A man said “Hi.” I didn’t recognize him, then spun mid-step almost toppling over, realizing he was the guy taking care of my meter. “How’s it going?” I asked. From somewhere Sheba crawled into his lap for some serious petting, “Just fine, just fine. You wouldn’t have a couple more of those reds would you, this kitten’s been demanding belly rubs?
Gotta keep the fingers limber you know.” I fished through my pockets and came up with one, which I placed in his hand, caught Sheba’s gaze, exchanged some telepathic thoughts, and was off down the street wondering if I actually believed that Sheba and I’d just engaged in a nonverbal conversation. Realizing I was walking like I’d someplace to be, I slowed down, finally stopping, caught in the yellow glow of a deli’s window, where a waiter in a long white apron stepped out incessantly sweeping fine brown sand from in front of the shoppe. Looking down at my feet, as was he, I could see that the sand was filtering from my very own shoes. “Sorry about that,” I said picking my feet up one at a time and shaking them, like I could rid myself of his problem and my transparency. He just laughed with frustration leaning on his broom saying, “Some time ago there’s a guy on the road, same thing’s happening to him, but he wouldn’t stop, insisted on going further.” “And your suggestion would be what?”, I questioned. “Come in, have a sandwich, map out your future, or at least the next few days, either way, it’s time you had a meal.” He swept a path to a booth, sat down across from me, took my order, turned to sand, and disappeared onto the floor, leaving me with a broom and a bill for a turkey club I hadn’t eaten. On my way out the door I turned, another waiter was sweeping up the sand I’d tracked across the wooden boards while arguing with yet another waiter about who’d ordered the turkey club. Standing on the step beneath the bare yellow bulb I jotted down the word “Further,” slipped the list back in my pocket and moved on.
Two doors down a placard in the window read, “Don’t smack your head against the sky, you might split a raincloud and get wet.” “A wise thought,” I was thinking. “So was I,” said a voice from deep in the shadows of the doorway, and then ushered me into a small shoppe filled with like-minded signs covering the walls. “Visual Advice,” said the man with outstretched arms like a jesus hanging on an invisible cross, “the shoppe’s called Visual Advice.” I stood for a moment trying to read the lettering painted in gold-leaf on the window backwards and in reverse, finally taking his word for it and looked around. The only seat in the place was an artist’s stool at a drawing board, which he offered me. I sat there reading the words he was working on. “Spend A Day With Wayward Thoughts, what’s that supposed to mean?” “Hard to say,” said the artist scratching his head, “I seldom have them, everything’s pretty much black and white here.” His answer reminded me of a joke, but I couldn’t place it just then. He looked at me like he was trying to form a thought saying, “I’ve got a free one for you.” All Decisions Are Not Worth Remembering “And what’ll I be doing with this?” I asked. “Oh I don’t know. Once they leave I’ve no idea what becomes of ‘em. Maybe people frame ‘em, reflect on them, pass them on, or collect ‘em. Anyway, it’s for free, see where it takes you.” “Or brings you,” I said right out loud. “There you go” said the artist, “now you’re thinking outside the box.” And just like that I was back on the street with a sign I didn’t necessarily wanna carry around, and a piece of advice I wasn’t sure what to do with ... though at least I wouldn’t be needing to jot these words down on my list.
Sitting there on a bench staring into a darkened storefront, lost in my own reflection, a thought formed somewhere in the middle of the sidewalk between me and the reflective pane of glass, then got caught by the night’s dry breeze and blew down the street where it not only interrupted the gaze and thoughts of another bench-dreamer, but nudged their thoughts down the street to the next person ... and on and on this went, people losing track of their own thoughts, and being injected with the ideas of others, infused with ideas they had no sense of what to do with, so they let loose of those as well. Many people at one point or another forget what brought them to the Innerzone, and like my waiter, fall apart every evening, and every morning put themselves back together with a dwindling sense of purpose. This drives some folks to begin sampling whole milk, which leads to the addition of chocolate flavorings ... so much so that the notion of mixing and shaking eventually slips right out the window. You can find them standing in late night checkout lines, gallons of premixed chocolate in hand, some’ve sampled their delights on the way to the counter’s endless rolling rubber belt, and those are the ones who’ll next week be dropping down a box of donuts right next to their cartons bearing pictures of the long lost and missing. Those are the ones you’ll find sitting in cars, or on park benches in the evenings, their intentions being to eat just one, but they’ve soon consumed the whole package with thoughts dedicated to nothing but savoring each bite, emitting small sighs of ecstasy, and the vague realization of vanishing unformed thoughts they foolishly believe they’ll be able to piece together later, and never do. A woman with a half consumed gallon stops to read the sign that lays on the bench next to me, smiles and says, “Great sentiment. I’ll have to remember that.” But I knew she wouldn’t, so I handed her the placard, telling her it was her lucky day.
Without remembering what brought one to the Innerzone, one has all the pleasure, with none of the pain, though without the pain there’s no way to appreciate the pleasure, and therein lines the dilemmatic trap. This notion resonated something within me, something about a war, but the idea was so foreign and so remote that I went back to my original thought, wondering why no one told those new to the Innerzone where the land-mines had been placed, what sapped your energy, or who the bad guys were ... and then those creepy war thoughts eased their way back into my thoughts. I scoped the perimeter before standing and moved on down the street, but not before a thought floated into my head, “Bring home milk.” Now it was my turn to smile, and I did, I’d no idea if this had been an original thought, or if it belonged to someone else, momentarily riding a breeze and invading my space. Determined to survive, I pulled out my list and jotted down the word “Home.”
By the time I got back to my hotel, and an hour closer to the sun, the party was over, leaving several of the guests asleep in lobby chairs. The ghost from the night before lay on the bottom step, unmasked, becoming all he’d feared ... a motionless heap of rags I climbed over on my way up the stairs. I was sorting through my pockets on the way down the hall, a man was standing at the fire-escape window with the early morning breeze moving the lace curtains just enough to make it appear he had wings, and by the time I found my key he was simply gone. Of course this seemed odd, but what was I to do? Nothing was as it seemed, nothing was as it appeared, not to mention that my door was already unlocked. I considered an adventurous shower, then fell face down into the pillow, grabbed the house phone, and speaking more into the pillow than the receiver asked room-service for scrambled eggs and diced ham. A voice at the other end questioned, “Are you feeling more like diced ham, or scrambled eggs this morning?” “Scrambled eggs,” I assured her. Then asked why that was important. “Well,” continued the voice, “earlier a gent requested feather light pancakes. When I asked him if he felt more like feathers or pancakes, he responded with feathers. He’s been floating ‘round the building all morning, so it’s best to choose wisely.” “Scrambled eggs and diced ham,” I repeated dropping the phone back onto the cradle thinking this has got to’ve been the strangest day of my life, mattering not if by design, or accident.
I leaned forward in my chair just as the Doctor was leaning back in his, distracted by the fall coloured leaves that were defining the office atmosphere. I’ve been through enough therapy, read enough books, and while one could certainly say that I was developing a projection, I was slipping into a long afternoon’s exhale, feeling that this man thought he’d sized me up, was considering a path that may have worked for him, or anyone else who wasn’t really interested in laying their cards on the table face up, betting the house limit, and usually winning. I comfortably leaned back in my chair as he preemptively began to click a ballpoint pen with the checking of my white King by his black Queen reflected in his eyes like two tiny television screens saying, “At the beginning of the session I asked you to remember eleven words and three numbers. Would you mind repeating those for me?” “You’re right about the numbers I said, “they were 36, 18, and 24.” “And actually it was fifteen words, Truth, Hallucinations, Mosquito Netting, Pursue Demons, Receipt, Service, Altitude, Towel, Rules, Parking Meters, Further, and Home.” His thumb remained poised on the tip of a pen that never completed its click ... perhaps there was a problem with the spring, or perhaps he should have turned in his chair, written himself a script, and warmed his face with the sun’s filtered rays.
This had been the first time I’d discussed the Innerzone, and while I hadn’t laid out an actual map or breadcrumb trail, I had this festering feeling, an unsettledness about talking with anyone who worked so closely with those ticket punching Customs Officials. So before he could pull the plug and call those pale white men in their ill-fitting blue uniforms, I was gone ... though not before having my parking ticket validated, at which time I was given a gift-card for a free visit to the Doctor of my choice on any future date, excluding holidays. The card it seems, could not be transferred or exchanged, and had no monetary value whatsoever, at least that’s what the fine print on the back read. I smiled, tossed it into the glove compartment, which doubled as a Lost & Found, a concept I’d been using on a regular basis for quite some time now, and adjusted my seat, thinking, “Everything was subject to change.” That last thought proved truer than I realized as I skirted past the Wallingford Pharmacy, or what was left of it. It was now some sort of random gift shoppe, and I wondered if the new entrepreneurs had any notion of the pleasures that had walked out of their door, and then envisioned small demons still hiding behind cabinets, beneath floorboards, or warming themselves in the heating ductwork, just waiting for the opportunity to spirit themselves into the pockets of the oblivious, and cause them to be even more so.
I’d spent many more years dancing away the nights of the Innerzone than I’d intended. I was certainly no Danny Utah, there were no fins scraping the sky showering the night with Roman-candle sparks, I’d no reason to show off, no intentions of drawing attention, I was headed back in low keyed, fully aware, feeling a bit like the song buzzing in my ears, “A Spy In The House of Love.” I stopped just out of range of the toll-booth thinking it might not be a wise idea to inspect the car for white bags, remembering Danny’s words, and knowing that I didn’t wanna contend with some dreary plastic office furniture, and blindly bright fluorescent ceiling lights, trying to explain why a shimmering white bag full of sleepy creatures was found on my person. There were no bags to be discovered, though I did manage to catch two little lightweight demons napping, and while I don’t normally drive with them running through my system, I figured that in this case they’d be doing what they were supposed to do, to just slow thing down enough that my heart wasn’t beating its way through my breast pocket. It was late, I handed the toll-taker my dollar, and he eyed me and my auto while continuing with some ear picking which I’d interrupted, then embarrassed, realizing he didn’t know what to do with the bit of wax on the end of his finger he knew I saw, slid his hand into his pocket and waved me through with the other. In my rearview mirror I watched him pull his hand out of his pocket, and looking at the treasure on the tip of his finger, stepped back into his booth. There was something to be said for the Innerzone after all, where treasures were far more than a fingernail full of wax, and when I found myself wondering if he saved that stuff in perhaps an empty baby food jar, I decided to let the demons run wild and wipe my head clear of all these thoughts.
I haven’t figured out if upon returning, the Innerzone changes, or if one’s place within the Innerzone shifts. It’s more than evident that those who’ve set up permanent residences tend to stay within certain spheres of influence, while those like me who come and go, find ourselves morphing through the Innerzone like being randomly tossed between the pages of a book ... never expecting to find ourselves picking up right where we’d left off. Another aspect that takes some getting used to is meeting, though it’s more like re-meeting people I’ve already met. While there’s a semblance of recognition, those who dwell here full time live in a constant state of uncertain deja vu when it comes to those who travel back and forth, leaving those who balance worlds fully aware of all that’s happened on past encounters. It’s gotten to be an inside joke of sorts, watching these people trying to fire a synapse and connect the dots, all the while shifting from one foot to the other, with the cloud they’re trying to sort through remaining illusively just out of reach, ‘til they can do nothing but dim their eyes hoping the information you give will eventually make sense.
My new page begins with me stepping onto Phosphene Beach, the evening sky a lovely light velvet blue-black, a billion stars ebbing out across the heavens, with the silver moon gracefully riding the ocean’s waves. Dozens of dozens of people lay half buried in the warm sand wrapped in camp-blankets to fend off the chilled air, eyes fixed on the waves, waves that rise up, break into sheets of foam releasing glowing phosphorescent green algae that sweep through the waters like some giant breathing lava lamp. As I make my way in the half-light through the visionaries to the water’s edge, one hand after another reaches out offering me pills, powders, and exotic cocktails in such quantities that I’m soon unable to tell where one hallucination ends and another begins. A blanket finds its way around my shoulders as I slip into the warm sand, sand that seemed to wash over me like a granular tide, and through intoxicated eyes, watched the waves dance with the algae.
By the time I awoke, breakfast was being served, dreams that had lodged themselves between the folds of blankets were being shaken out and packed away onto Radio Flyer wagons by ladies in starched white uniforms. I watched in delight ... as the dreams hit the sand they sparkled blue, and were gone. Sitting there with my back to the rising sun, eating scrambled eggs and diced ham, I felt no sense of confusion ... though something had changed, no longer did I ever want to be so high that I didn’t want to come down. I laid my empty plate in front of me, it disappeared into the sand and I stood up unfazed, as if this was only natural, and walked off the beach, a wagon stacked with blankets in tow, then turned attempting to glimpse the waves of the night before, saying to no one, “I’d like to do this again, but not right away.”
It had been a long night, the television screen was blue and quiet, the radio was playing softly, I stood at the window and nodded to the night watchman who was checking each door with a piece of yellow chalk. I called down to him asking, “Why?” “I’ve got no idea why you’re having trouble sleeping,” he called back cupping his hands around his mouth. “Why don’t you make your way down to the bar?” Which I did, only to find there was no one in the place but me, and while there was no reason to, I found myself flustered over which stool to take. “TRUTH BE TOLD, SALVATION COMES FROM TELLING THE TRUTH,” at least that’s what the tattoo on the arm that was sliding a glass across the bar read. I stopped him midway saying, “Thanks, I don’t drink.” He smiled showing off his bright whites and said, “Now, we all drink from time to time cowgirl, perhaps I just haven’t poured you the right poison.” “Ice water’s fine,” I replied, then checked myself remembering my last adventure with a frosted pitcher, and asked if he had perhaps any iced tea. “Right up babe.” A tall glass was set on a coaster in front of me as he said, “What’re you doing up so late? Most people are sleeping things off by now, else dreamin’ of being awake.” “Long story,” I said, “not sure if I’ve figured it out yet.” “Now listen girly,” said the bartender with his back turned, watching me in the reflection of the bar-back mirror, “don’t go trying to label or figure things out. Some things are just like a turtle trail in the morning dew, they don’t lead anywhere, often times not even to a turtle for that matter.” “What’cha you know about turtle trails?” I asked laughing. “Not much,” he said turning around, “you just seem like a woman who’s followed a trail or two.”
“Just one,” I said taking a long drink, talking into the glass, not looking up. “It was back in Kutztown when I was in college, a group of us drove out to this vacant farm on the side of a hill to watch the meteor shower ... everyone was trippin’ their butts off on those tiny bits of Window-Pane acid. Now Lance, he’s got himself a little bag of the stuff, and with the dew starting to cover the clover, he decides he’ll lay it on a rock so’s not to let it get wet. By sunup not only’s the bag gone, but so’s the rock, seems the rock was a turtle, and it just wandered off. We trailed it for a good ways, those critters can motor, we never did find it, there was no turtle at the end of the trail either. Maybe the sun had burned off the dew, hiding it’s path. Or maybe the acid just lifted that turtle into another dimension.” Looking up from my glass I realized I was alone, the bartender was gone, perhaps home dreaming, the house lights had been dimmed, the whole bar was done up in these tiny coloured holiday lights looking like a heavenly galaxy, and right next to my glass was a glycine baggy filled with what appeared to be fifty or so hits of Window-Pane acid. I took a step back, set the little bag down on the bar and made my way out the side door wondering if like good wine, LSD aged well.
I turned over, tangled in the sheets, wondering why I couldn’t sleep, turned off the TV and stepped to the window. A man in a worn gray uniform with a flashlight was busily taking parking tickets off the cars, he waved when he saw me standing there, I waved back with a dreamy recollective memory, decided on a shower, opted for a pill, sat down in an overstuffed chair, closed my eyes, felt the room turn midnight blue and then fold in on itself.
Slipping off in an overstuffed chair is one thing, finding yourself waking in one is another ... it really was time for that shower, and then head downstairs for breakfast. I interrupted a bit of commotion going on at the front desk as I handed over my key. “Any trouble?” I questioned. “Just more strangeness, same as always, nothing unusual, just strangeness,” was the answer. The manager went on as the others left, “Someone helped themselves to the bar last night.” “Anything stolen?” “On no, nothing like that, someone just walked in, helped themselves to a glass of tea and left through the side door,” said the manager looking rather anxious, perhaps a bit perplexed, continuing with a hushed voice, “you wouldn’t have anymore of those ... ” His eyes were shifting, but calmed when I dropped two of my blue friends into his hand and asked, “Didn’t you lock things up?” “Oh no, why would we,” he said while sipping water from a paper cup, “the door was checked at 2 AM, you can plainly see the check mark.” “Is that what those marks mean?” I asked, half remembering a dream. “Yes,” replied the manager, “we check all the doors to see that they’re open, if they’re open there’s no need to break in.” “Well that is certainly strange,” I said turning with rolling eyes. “Now I’m off for breakfast, I’ll let you know if I remember anything vital,” then stopped. I walked back over placing both palms flat on the desk as he was hanging my key on a tiny hook and asked, “Does this mean that my door is never locked?” “Why yes,” replied the manager, “locking them would only defeat the purpose of the check mark, not to mention putting ol’ Mr. Brodsky out of a job. You might not think to look at him, but he was the one who introduced Mr. Edison to light, and rumor has it that for a spell he traveled with Vampirella. She broke his heart, hard to say about his spirit, but definitely his heart.” “Well then why do I need a key at all?” I asked feeling rather frustrated and vulnerable. The manager retrieved my key from its hook holding it up explaining, “See, each key has a little metal tag attached with the room number stamped on it.” I rubbed my forehead trying to keep things simple, asking, “Couldn’t I just remember my room number?” “Perhaps, perhaps not, I don’t know,” he answered returning the key to its hook, “I do know that once you have your key in hand, you’re certainly sure of where you’re headed.” I began to realize that even I could never make things simple enough, so I just asked, “And what exactly happens if ol’ Mr. Brodsky finds a door actually locked?” By now the manager was sorting the mail, which consisted of two letters, a big day for mail in the Innerzone, and said while placing each letter with purpose into its appointed cubbyhole, “In that case, he’s a series of skeleton keys, he’ll just unlock it for you ... not bother at all.”
So I’m sitting there at breakfast turning things over in my mind, thinking I oughta’ leave this place and never come back, then smile knowing that will never happen, though perhaps an extended vacation was in order ... it was time I called some people on the other side, visited my folks, and cashed in those coupons before they were out of date. Just then a gent asks if he might share my table, placed a bright orange drink between us, dabbed the moisture from the glass with a napkin and said, “I take your point, I can see what you’re thinking. To say the Innerzone’s a strange place would be an understatement.” Then he wrapped the napkin around his glass, and took a long drink, pausing mid-stride to draw the curtains and whispered over the top of his glass, “I can actually see what you’re thinking, you should never sit in front of a window and think with the intensity you are without closing he blinds, the curtains, or whatever.” I looked at him almost sideways while taking in the rest of the room without moving my head, attempting to see if I could discern his truth. “Oh, it’s truth you want,” he said setting down his glass, closing a small gap where the curtains met, and slid a validated receipt across the table with the word “Truth” printed on it, though before I could pick it up, it was back in his vest pocket, which he checked again for good measure before returning his hands to the glass. “You know,” I said wryly, “you don’t want to collect too many of those. One day you’ll have to account for them, hope your memory’s good.” Finishing his drink he sat back in the chair considering something before he spoke, saying, “It was awhile ago, I bugged out rather quickly one afternoon, only to discover that once out, I’d left my shadow behind. OK, I asked myself, how important can a shadow really be? But I tell you, you think people look at you strange because of the clothes you wear, or the music you listen to, try walking around in broad daylight without a shadow nipping at your heels and see the looks you begin to get. It wasn’t long before I was hugging the buildings, and walking on the shaded side of the streets.” When he stopped talking he just sat there, it was like there were all these cardboard boxes in his head, and they were all tumbling to the frontal cortex where he was trying to sort them out, and then, just like that he continued. “Came a point where I was only going out at night, little kids were the worst, for some reason they’re keenly aware of their shadows, and me not having one either delighted or confused them. I finally determined that I needed to come back here, if for no other reason, than to find my shadow ... which I did. And you know what it was doing? Right there at 5th and Ocean Boulevard it was directing traffic. Just appointed itself ‘Traffic Control,’ cut a small star shaped hole in its chest so the light beamed through, and people figured there was a new Marshal in town. My shadow had folks standing in lines by height, cars drove on days designated by their colour, and on weekends there were ‘Shadow Dances’ on the seawall down by the movie theater.” “Shadow Dances?” I questioned, almost laughing. “Alright, so there weren’t ‘Shadow Dances,’ I made that part up, but it was out of control. Without a doubt, this eventually causes one to consider the nature of the subconscious,” he said rubbing his temples with his fingers. “And just where’s your shadow now?” I asked. “Right here,” he said pulling a small smartly wrapped package from his jacket pocket, set it on the table, got up, and as he was walking away he turned leaving the words, “I’m done with the whole thing, this whole place, I’m going home, work on a farm, join the Army, start a church, who knows, you deal with it,” trailing after him.
I’d no idea what had just taken place. All I did know was that I had a smartly wrapped package that may or may not contain the shadow of a man who was willing to give up his darker side to walk in the sunlight without regret, or the cumbersome weight of useless half forgotten memories trailing after him. I almost jealously wished him good-luck while turning the box in my hand like a faceless Rubik’s Cube, sure that I didn’t want to be standing in line by height, or forced to watch shadow dances, and tried to determine the best course of action, then realized I’d been given a responsibility I hadn’t asked for, and became rather annoyed to say the least. I asked the waitress if there was a Lost & Found? “Have you lost something?”, she asked with a sigh. “No,” I said, “but I’ve have this.” “Then it’s not lost, is it,” she responded, “we only take things that are really lost. And don’t go leaving that on the table when you go, I’ll remember you and give it right back.” She spun on her heels and burst through the swinging doors of the kitchen saying, “There’s a customer out there trying to leave a shadow in the Lost & Found.” Nearly magically the maitre d’ was at my side saying, “We were delighted to serve you this morning, there’ll be no charge. Please take your box with you when you leave, and it would be our request that on your return, you not bring it with you. Good day.”
That gent’s words, “Try walking around in broad daylight without a shadow nipping at your heels,” kept echoing in my head as I headed down the street, but with a twist. I wanted to ask him if he knew what it was like to walk around in broad daylight or not, with two shadows. People were stepping aside, avoiding me on the sidewalk, on the bus others gave up their seats or moved away, and trying to get into any shoppe was proving impossible, they all were closing, or locking doors while putting up ‘Back In 5 Minutes‘ cards, anything to keep me moving on. Though when people I didn’t recognize, when people who didn’t look like they belonged in my subconscious began to appear, I should’ve realized something serious was going on ... but in the Innerzone, there’s nothing that matters, nothing other than exploring the stratospheres of one’s own domaine. But the final straw was when a man in a finely tailored suit sat down across from me in the hotel lobby, that alone should have been a clue, but I was tired of being avoided, I wanted to get back to nature, my nature, so when he asked to sit, I said, “Please.” “It’s sad,” he injected, while sitting down, “that responsibility can be thrust on one so quickly without remorse, or even cause. Wouldn’t you agree?” “If we’re talking about what’s in this box, you may be close to the mark,” I said leaning forward, watching him place a bag and an envelope on the table between us. “The bag contains Tuinals. A bit forward and presumptuous I’ll admit, but they’re a source of great pleasure here, as they are elsewhere. There’s more there than you could use in a life time, and I have it on more than good authority that within the next week they’ll cease to exist. Well, in reality they exist, but the manufacturing of these beauties will come to a halt. Now this,” and he held up the envelope tapping it to the center of his forehead with eyes closed, then speaking as fluidly as a breeze, “this is a prescription pad, each page has been signed, controlled substance numbers have been written, all you need to do is fill it out for the demons of your choice. And I should say, there’s no time limit, not here, not there, not anywhere.” He leaned back, though not before sliding the envelope across the coffee table so far that it fell on the floor, saying, “I’d like to trade this for the box.” “But I don‘t know what’s in the box,” I said almost questioning. “I’m a collector,” he went on, “collectors speculate, we take a bit of a chance every now and then, but only when we’re sure of the outcome.” When I opened the white paper bag it was alive with blue and red coloured Tuies, merely looking at them nearly gave me a sensory overload. And just like that, my thoughts were interrupted with jovial greetings for my host, four others, people he obviously knew shook his hand, occupied empty chairs, and placed dozens of white paper bags on the table, a briefcase full of money, and one full of powders of undetermined origins. “Well,” said my host beaming, “seems we have an ol’ time bidding war of sorts going on.”
“I’d like to help you,” I assured them, “but this really isn’t my shadow. Don’t you think that ...” I was cut off in mid sentence, “Where’s this new found sense of responsibility of yours coming from? He didn’t just give you that box, he thrust it upon you, washed his hands of it, no one here in the Innerzone wants anything to do with it. Well, other than us anyway, but we’re not really here, we’re just pressing the flesh, your flesh, for the contents of the box.” “Again, I’d like to help you,” I responded, “it’s just that lately I’ve been having this nagging feeling that I’m wide-awake in a dream. What say we talk tomorrow, all of us, put our collective heads together and see what we can come up with. Who knows, maybe tomorrow you’ll actually be here, in the flesh. Less of course I actually wakeup, and then of course, this whole conversation’s irrelevant.” With that I stood up and walked through the front door and into the sunlight, put on my shades and took a look down at my shadow’s arm as it slipped the envelope retrieved from the floor into my jacket pocket. The collectors stood at the door behind me jockeying to be the first out, eyes transfixed, holding their collective breath as I pulled the ribbon from the smartly wrapped box, removed the lid and emptied a translucent cube onto the curb. The cube shimmered for a moment, then seem to stretch out searching for a direction, and when it found one, snapped like a rubber-band to the other side of the street, down the alley, across the seawall and was gone. The collectors were horrified, what I’d done was so unexpectedly common to them, as if I’d no appreciation for their efforts, for their rewards, or for the value of what I’d once held. With a huff, they gathered up their respective bags and briefcases and headed north, I headed south and into the park, sat down on a weathered bench, and began handing out prescriptions, wondering how long it takes to travel out of the Innerzone by shadow. Rule One: Never take advantage of anyone in trouble ... like all of us, like it or not, accept it or not, that shadow had a purpose, and a place to be. And so did I, I just needed to figure that one out, but right now, with the sun on my neck, being right here was all that mattered.