Just inside the door of his apartment, Darren dropped his keys when he tried to remove them from the lock. The unfamiliar weight of the laptop bag pulled down his arm.
There wasn’t a clear space on his home desk to place the laptop. He collected the tins for the restoration project, sealed them into a plastic bin, and placed it on the floor. As he opened the clam shell screen, the laptop took possession of the entire surface area of the desk. It seemed smaller at work. Once he plugged in the USB connections, power cord, audio cable, and other peripherals, the laptop had devoured what was once his private creative domain.
A large padded envelope begged for attention under a pile of forgettable junk mail circulars. It was a special package from his parents. They had found a children’s picture book from when he must have been a toddler. It was from the first movie he ever saw, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon. He’d forgotten about Pete and his carrot colored hair and his unbreakable bond with his beloved dragon Pete, who was always invisible to other people like all imaginary friends.
The floor rumbled. He felt a wave of anxiety. A train passed through the intersection by his apartment. For some reason he was relieved it was just a train.
He flipped through the book. It was brief, just enough pictures and art to excite a little one into wanting to see the movie. Darren had completely forgotten that his first movie was a mixture of live action and animation. He wondered if that had some sort of impact on his career and creative passions.
There was plenty of work to do. He reluctantly put the book back in the bubble wrap envelope and made a mental note to think of a special thank you to his folks for saving and sending the book to him. He fired up the laptop and opened up the project schedule. The timeline had automatically rebuilt itself when they deleted Richard from the system, but the milestones and project assignments would need to be manually reorganized based on Darren’s insight into the remaining team members strengths and availability. It would take all night. He wondered what Richard was going to do now. It’s not like the guy had much in the way of life skills. Every time Darren opened a task that was previously assigned to Richard, he felt a little lurch of guilt in his stomach.
Perpetually scrolling through Facebook soothed his sense of regret. He wasn’t sure how long ago he minimized the project window and launched a browser. Social network numbness coaxed his aching head.
The feed auto-played videos as he rolled them into frame. Wait, what was that? He had to scroll back. Surveillance footage from Cafe Sophie danced with static snow. His back was to the camera but the man sitting across the table from him looked familiar. The audio kicked on and the man in the cafe looked into the camera.
“Hey sunshine.. we meet again. Doncha feel like a candle burning at both ends? Yah gotta get yourself some rest lad. That project management timeline is not what you think it is. You don’t wanna monkey with it.” warned the Scotsman.
He scrolled down the page, but the video rolled up from the bottom every time and continued to play uninterrupted.
“You can forget us, but you can’t ignore us. Our members have their fingers on the algorithms of attention. It’s not like you could go Amish. We wouldn’t be bothering with any of this if practically everything wasn’t at stake.”
In the video he watched his own back turn around, and when he faced the camera Darren realized it was the Russian girl’s curt smile under a wig. He closed the browser tab, then forced quit the program altogether.
He maximized the project management window he’d ignored during his daydream and all the labels on the timeline had changed. “First Kiss, Humiliating Fail, Relay Win, Critical Bonding Picnic, Macaroni Art, Dangerous Jump, Empathy for Underdog, Career Implosion” The schedule had also shifted units from days to weeks, months to years, years to centuries. What was he looking at? The shapes on the display began to protrude through the surface of the screen. Darren moved his shoulder back to keep it from colliding with the expanding icon for Romantic Lunch jutting out from his monitor. He accidentally backed into the folder containing Sacred Cinema Initiation.
Darren’s fingers were small in his father’s palm. The oval deco windows on the door of the theater gleamed in the afternoon light. He felt himself totter left and right as he made his way from the ticket booth to the entrance to the lobby. The sunlight smelled of clean hair, popcorn butter and a hint of candy. Inside the theater, particles of dust meandered aimlessly in the light of the projector. A cartoon dragon offered a carrot headed kid an apple. “What’s your problem lady?” asked the whiskered Doctor Terminus. “My Medicine Cured Her!”
As he stepped out of the way of the icon for Sacred Cinema Initiation, he felt himself step back into his apartment and his adult proportions. He instinctively constricted himself to prevent his limbs from accidentally brushing up against the inflating icons from his computer. The timeline stretched out beyond his living room in a direction he had not noticed before. He looked behind him and the room seemed to stretch on infinitely. Floating blocks with labels like Self Doubt Turnabout, Frustrating Sculpture Project drifted beyond the reach of the lights of his desk. As Darren moved his hips, the blocks of the timeline began to shift. He tried to jump out of the way, but his movement just further accelerated the scrolling of the blocks until he got slammed in the head by a block labeled Showboating Rebel Stage Dance.
A deep bassline moved through him. Purple lights revolved in the ceiling. Darren felt his hands spread out beneath him for support. He felt his thighs leap up past his waist and his shoes plant firmly on the small raised platform. Well, he remembered wearing shoes but there was nothing on his feet or any part of him. Droplets of sweat splashed off his forearms as he shifted his weight to the groove of the music. He glanced at the window of the DJ booth and caught sight of his friend James. “Hey!!”
James’ eyes crinkled in the corners as he saluted back. His skin glowed with health.
“I thought you were dead!”
“It’s not dead, it’s packed!” James cocked his head in confusion.
“I’m so happy you’re alive!”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“What are you talking about?” James cocked his head to the side.
“Isn’t it a little strange that no one has clothes on?”
James leaned over the Plexiglas divider. “I hadn’t really noticed back here in the booth. We may not see that everyday, but it IS San Francisco.”
“This was…is such an unforgettable night. Of all your sets, this night is my favorite. I can’t believe these beats. I can’t stop my feet!”
“The fire marshal has already walked through and given us a warning about the room capacity!”
“That’s why I got up here, to get some breathing room!”
“Please, you’ve never needed an excuse to hop up there and strut!”
“Ha! You got me there! How can I not put on a show to this bassline??”
The beats double downed. Darren’s foot slipped off the stage and he fell back onto the floor of his living room. The creak of the hardwood floors beneath him echoed through the hollow room.
Darren’s computer was powered off. He cautiously depressed the power button. He heard a soft hum of tiny fans whirl into life. The boot sequence proceeded normally. A whiff of livestock was hanging in the air. Darren checked his shoes to see if he tracked anything in. Nope, clear. He lifted the lid on the garbage, nothing unexpected. It had to be the compost bin. It just reeked of banana peels and eggshells.
He grabbed a scented candle a family member must have given as a holiday gift or was it a secret santa thing from the office? He lifted the silver reflective lid. It had three wicks. He found a box of matches in a junk drawer in the kitchen. He lit each waxy nub until there were three flames. The flickering glow in the reflection of the silver lid caught his eye. The texture of the metal created a slight distortion. The further away you held it, the clearer the reflection. He held it out at arm’s length and looked at himself in the candle light.
In the reverse world on the underside of the silver lid, Darren thought he looked kinda handsome until he noticed, just over his shoulder ,the scales of a serpent undulated behind him. He dropped the mirror and spun about, something large and invisible created an impression across the back of his couch and cushions as it moved through the room. Darren scrambled to find the mirror. His hand found it under a footstool. In the reflection on underside of the lid he could finally see it clearly.
In his head he heard the lyrics to the song It’s Not Easy from Pete’s Dragon.
Pete: He has the head of a camel, the neck of a crocodile
Nora: It sounds rather strange
Pete: He’s both a fish and a mammal And I hope he’ll never change
It was hard to put the entire picture together of what it must look like from the small glimpses he could see from the mirror, but it was definitely a living, breathing, slightly terrifying dragon. Some part of it brushed up against his leg and he could not help but instantly jump.
“Is that anyway to treat an old friend?” bellowed out of an uncertain direction in the room.
He patted his clothes to make sure they were still there.
“Darren, you sshhould ssstart to remember ssssoon.”
The hissing seemed to come from all around him, as if seals were exchanging pressure in an airlock.. Every surface vibrated with the sound of the voice. Darren crossed his forearms in front of his face and bolted for the door, tripping over something he could not see. He dropped the silver lid. He grappled for it, regained his footing and bolted for the exit. Just out the door he looked back behind him in the reflection of the silver lid. The door closed behind him in the wind.
Though he didn’t consider himself much of a social person these days, the safest place he could think to run to was Dolores Park. Every square foot was occupied by blankets and beer drinkers. He held the mirror at arm’s length and spun around looking behind him in every direction. As soon as the relief hit him, he was flooded with self consciousness as he imagined what he must have looked like spinning around in circles looking into a mirror in the middle of the park. He glanced around but no seemed to think his whirling was anything out of the ordinary.
A giant red and white striped box of cartoon movie theater popcorn sat against the hillside. Darren thought he must be hallucinating, but when he walked up to it and touched it, the popcorn was indeed real styrofoam and paint. He hugged it and gave a sigh of thanks for its material density. The people on the blanket next to him tilted their heads in curiosity.
“You can see this too?”
“All day.. the sunburned guy over there doing the handstands parked it there hours ago,” gestured a chic with can of Pabst Blue Ribbon balanced between her thumb and pinkie so as to free her pointing finger.
The call out made Darren spin his head around. Someone was playing audio clips from the movie when the Gogan’s chase Pete through the swamps.
The crowd was so dense there was no way to tell which directions the playback was coming from. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He was being tagged on instagram. The photos were taken seconds ago from different angles in the park. He did look as ridiculous as he thought when he spun around with the silver mirror, but the crowd barely noticed. There he was hugging the foam popcorn sculpture.
“Are you ok, did you over do it buddy?” asked the young woman with the can of Pabst.
Darren dropped to his knees and surrendered as he watched a large shape slither up behind him in the reflection of her sunglasses.
The soft innocent voice of Pete played back..