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 • Nora
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My hat is gone. I gave it away to a phantom memory of a man who liked me more than the others. They blamed me. I was convenient, a straw effigy of their helplessness. They wanted to beat me with their hands, with the cheap chairs from the hospital waiting area, with the metal IV stand ever-present by Nora's bed. They wanted to see me disintegrate. Like their hope.

I cannot touch my head. My hands are nothing more than ghost fingers on the end of phantasmal limbs. I flail, and touch nothing. There is nothing but the acrid darkness, salty against my tongue and eyes. I cannot protect myself; I cannot use my hands as a cheap shield to cover my head.

Its voice has found me. Just one more. That long-chain lab-grown beast of chemical intent, that manmade dose of psychopharmaceutical deconstruction. Just one more . . .

Isn't that what she wanted? Just one more trip. Just one more. I said yes. I said take my hand. And her fingers did not tremble. I should have known. I should have stopped her.

Why? For what tiny sliver of life that was left for her? The irresolute passage of those final days. The perpetual hours of pain. Those excruciating minutes of boneless panic. Those flickering instants where the endless alienation of dissolution peek through the threadbare veil of reality. Yes, you will be alone. Yes, you will fall for an eternity. Yes, the bleakness you feel now is a surfeit of emotional and physical pleasure compared to the hollow vacuum that waits for you. Yes, right over here. So close. Yes, like that. Just one more step.

Was this what you were saving her for?

You want to join her now, don't you? You want to flee from this abyss, run back into the embrace of the dream and find her. You want to tell her she was right. It is better to run away, isn't it? It is better to bury yourself in the dream, wrap yourself in its warm water, and float forever. Yes, this is better.

She is calling you. Hear that sound? That undulating echo of whale song? That is her voice. Go to her. Go now. Just one more step.

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