Van’s thoughts spilled into the ether. His mind moved without motion in the center of an orbit around which the scenery ebbed and flowed. Focus shifted in and out in grainy remembrance. A torrent of consciousness. The world, a tapestry of vibrant numbness, with tendril’d currents of emotion.
Familiarity oozed out of the blackness. Everything was just on the peripheral, the flotsam of revelation.
“Fuck! What is this trippy bullshit?” Van felt the soundless words release, absorb, echo, and amplify in a torrent of unspoken thought. He reached out in search of the self that he knew he was. But it felt pointless. It was as though he had become obsessed with a single grain of sand on an endless beach.
 A jolt of clarity took the form of a rounded girl, dark brown, with a gardenia tucked behind her ear. Her wit was wrought from raw charisma and a one-forty IQ. She glided past Van as the bay came into view.
Yes, Van remembered the bay. Jersey. Hotdogs. Bonfire beach party. And Kira in her little blue sarong with the little pink flowers.
He felt giddy as Kira kicked off her sandals and splashed into the water, the smell of sandalwood trailing behind her. “C’mon, Van. I wanna get wet!” she laughed, her voice flirtatious and daring.
Van raced towards the blurred-edged beach. His feet caught in three-quarter time as he reached her. His tan, Sicilian hands caught her by her waist. Kira let out a yelp as they tumbled into the water.
They swam, fully clothed, tangled in each others’ arms. They went further and further, allowing themselves to be pulled by the gentle tide. Kira stretched her toes so that her chin could reach above the waves.
“C’mon,” she giggled, “let’s head back.”
But Van wanted to impress her. He continued onward. He grew smaller and smaller, a miniature Van with a shit-eating grin. It was only then that he realized he was outside the scene; an observer. He watched helplessly as a blur from nowhere collided with his fragile body. Van was bleeding. Kira sobbed as she cradled him in her arms.
 Kira woke in tears from a dream she couldn’t remember. She flipped on the light and stared at the black dress crumpled on the floor. There was no way in hell she was going back to sleep. Not tonight.
Fucking jet ski, and the drunk asshole driving it.
Fucking Van and his too-heavy body that half drowned her as she pulled him to shore.
Fucking hospital that couldn’t do anything to save him.
Fucking funeral, paid for by a bunch of teenagers ’cause his mom was a drunk and his dad was missing.
And fucking Kira—Kira thought, for not being able to save him.
 Van appeared in waves, living and dying in the ebb and tide of dreams. Kira might have been the first conjure him, but after a fistful of anti-depressants, her nightmares subsided without the dreamer even remembering the unwelcome visitation.
But Van wasn’t gone—not entirely. He was anchored to the subconscious of a half-dozen minds that knew him well, and a dozen acquaintances that barely knew him at all. A few hundred more had heard about the accident, but they never got the details right. Sometimes he was strikingly handsome; conjured by survivors’ guilt. Other times, he died the wrong death, or bore the face of someone else’s child—someone else’s loss.
Van was often taller than he used to be, or shorter. His eyes were the wrong color, or his hair the wrong texture. At times he was the wrong gender, or spoke a different language entirely. These inaccuracies happened more often now, but it was all the same to him. This puppetry was so routine that he didn’t even notice the moment he found himself in deep conversation with a nobody named Judith.
 They saw each other at the mall, a bustling wonderland of remembrances. It was a sensory dream made real by the collective will of a hundred thousand egos. It was a place where air caressed the skin, and lungs inhaled the smell of pretzels, and pineapple stir-fry.
And while there were more grandiose parts of the Great Collective from which all sentience flowed, this one required no reverence. Judith could cry and dance, and scream and float in the air while lights flickered on the ceiling.
It was a place where Judith mattered—a port where she could anchor her unconventional mind. But Van did not belong in her thoughts. He belonged in the brains of neurotypical cheerleaders and the pretty boys on the yearbook committee. And likewise, Van could not fathom why he was inextricably drawn towards the weird, little teen with the unfocused eyes, and a spring of bushy hair, floating towards him.
 Van wasn’t used to feeling out of control. He wasn’t used to feeling. Lately he had been acting, observing, pantomiming. But there was safety in the lack of autonomy. This sensation was far more raw and unpredictable. And for a moment he remembered.
“Judith, what the hell are you doing here?” he leaned his head back and stretched his mouth into a smirking muscle memory that shook him in its intensity.
“Huh? Why are you in my happy place?” she asked, perplexed.
“Go home,” Van scowled. “No one likes you.”
Judith knew she was dreaming in her bed. She knew that she was in complete control of her projected self. She tilted her head and examined her companion from multiple angles. “I’m in college now,” she muttered, “I’ve made friends.”
“That’s stupid. You think people like you?”
Judith cringed at the vocalization of her insecurities. It wasn’t a fun experience. “You liked me more than most,” she whispered. “You even stood up for me when people laughed. You were kind.”
“Yeah, so what? You think you can just come into my life and be my friend? Like I’m that desperate? Don’t stalk me, Judith. That’s pathetic.” It had been a long time since he had had the luxury of petty emotion. It felt good.
Judith grimaced in confusion. She should have wished this fool away by now. She should have snapped the words from his lips with a force beyond her imagined body. But Van remained, his will intact.
Again she asked the question. “Why are you here?” But she didn’t receive an answer. Not until the next morning when she looked up his name and found the obituary.
 “I’m sorry you’re dead,” Judith whispered. “No one bothered telling me.” And Van knew she was telling the truth, and felt sorry for her. What little he kept with him was carried in a tightly clenched bundle of emotions. It was a spark of self-remembrance comprised of a list that included those fractious fancies that allowed Judith to recognize him on sight. A core intent that surrounded him like cologne. Words. Meanings. Purposes. A short life distilled and condensed into: a bust of anger; a clench of ego; and a sacred compassion. The combinations infinite and unique, like a fingerprint. And Judith filled in the blanks, reconstituting him as best she could.
“Don’t worry about it. I should be sorry.” Van floated towards her. He felt the force of her soul. She was a boat safely anchored at the dock. “I still exist. Thanks to you, I guess.”
“Thanks to me…” Judith replied. Her mind grieved for the death of a teenager who had been mourned but not remembered. Who had made such little impact on the indelible psyche of the universe. At least she could remember. She could bring him a spark of himself when all other links to his self had vanished.
 They embraced in a fragmented collision.
Van stared at the vastness of the world surrounding him.
Certainly, he did not exist beyond these last gasps of memory that nested in Judith’s heart.
Judith observed that Van was always a teenage boy, while she became a woman and mother. It was strange that he remained so static while she had grown, and absorbed, and shared, and matured.
But he had no parents to remember him as a plump-faced baby, or a fretful toddler. And he had not lived long enough to grow into a man and create memories as a husband, father, partner, or colleague. So all he had was Judith. She was not nearly enough.
Van stared and tugged at her strange Earthly tether and briefly recalled that which he had left behind.
 Van’s consciousness flickered and fluttered in various states of being. For a moment he was sitting in the food court, eating pizza. The next, he was running barefoot on the beach. And in each moment he felt unbridled joy flutter through the fabric of the universe like autumn leaves tossed in the wind. “Kira…” Van whispered into the crashing waves. It was a nascent love. If it had been given the opportunity to mature, it would have deflated into nothing. But for Van, whose sense of self was perilously anchored to an unreliable, yet loyal lifeline, it was the only hope he had.
 “I saw her at our forty-year reunion,” Judith whispered. She and Van floated along the strip of beach she painstakingly committed to her memory. “She didn’t believe me. Not that I did a very good job explaining things.”
Van nodded by allowing the waves to crash softly upon the shore. Judith continued. “But she told me that she thought about you a lot. She blames herself for everything.” Storm clouds formed on the horizon. Van pictured a flicker of dark, smooth skin. He had felt her float by, like a breeze on the wind—strong and filled with the power of a thousand gentle prayers, and three generations of well-forged connections on Earth.
 Decades flew by in a single breath. The memory of the boy wrapped itself within Judith’s fragile mind and grounded them both in an Earthly weight. Her consciousness had faded, but Van suspected, through the waves of confusion and loss that she was his mother. She often called him son, on the days that she asked him to bury her.
With each passing year, he slowly dissipated hand-in-hand with Judith, into the raw material of rebirth and dreams. He wondered what would happen when there were no more living minds on Earth to recall the details of his life.
 Van was himself in name alone. He carried a few small memories, smoothed like pebbles in the ether of eternity: a stretch of beach, sadness, a whispered prayer—and two names.
Two women. One with a frazzled tuft of hair and a pale complexion who had kept him company in death; the other who had been his boon companion from the first day of kindergarten to the last moments of his life. Between them, they had brought the gift of a thousand small histories—their triumphs, their failures, marriages, children, and moment of passing.
 It was just a matter of time now before his last ties to the material world were gone. The interruption of the pattern; the staunching of the flow. It slowed like the final swirls in a cup of coffee where the spoon intercedes.
A single question…
A last thought…
Would the requiem subside?
 Van was at a playground with a little black girl with beautiful tight curls. They stared at each other in awe, the scenery swirling and evolving. It was a fragment of the childhood friendship they had shared. It had been lost until he heard the words echo through the ether and into his constructed heart. He felt a tug at the core of his being as a trail of sweet sandalwood drifted through the imaginary air. And then it wasn’t so imaginary.
Instead the three locked hands inside the invisible puzzle box, with a billion more hands to join them. And they became the fabric upon which new minds would paint their dreams.
Allison A. Spector was born and raised in the hedonistic playground of the Jersey Shore, but finds herself oddly allergic to spray tan. She is a proud graduate of Goucher College, and started her environmentally-focused career in Washington DC in 2005. She moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2008, and fell in love with its beauty and people. Allison is currently on a Midwestern Adventure and is determined to live as much life as possible—to accomplish her dreams one at a time—and to nurture her loving family, and blaze a trail of wit, whimsy, and eccentricity wherever she goes.