Real As Ever

I watched the smoke swirl under the light that hung above our dining room table. Phantom shapes writhed and danced around each other in the dim glow of the remaining bulb. I couldn’t believe I had gotten to this place again. I couldn’t believe it was even still here. The pack of cigarettes I kept hidden under the buffet were still there. Stale by now, but they still did the trick. I knew I wasn’t really tasting them. I wasn’t really inhaling anything. But the movements, the sights of the experience were just like I had remembered. Synthetic input was good enough.

The house was still and dark. A blanket of dust had settled on every exposed surface. The last bulb above the table flickered and died. I reached up and tapped it. The fluttering of a visual death rattle and it was done. I sat in the gloom, smoking the last cigarette. My eyes would let me see everything if I only asked them for it. Every detail could be revealed if I just thought about it. That wasn’t what I wanted.

The dust in the ash tray complained when I stubbed the out the cigarette. A flicker. A crawling flame. Up and over. It spilled over the side of the ash tray and stretched itself across the table. I was aware of the fire, but I couldn’t really feel it. Just the numbers. The warnings. The data.

A memory wriggled itself out of the hell of its archive. I knew it had to be here.

In the bedroom. In the nightstand. A picture. Worth a thousand from a thousand years ago. I just needed to see it again. I wasn’t really holding it, but seeing it was good enough. Even with eyes that were built and borrowed. All of us on that little piece of paper. We were all still smiling in that moment. The flames caught up to it. Ink bubbled. Paper curled and twisted…blackened and burned. Fluttered away into nothingness.

I found it. A moment ten million miles away from a thousand years ago.

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