I stepped out of the dimly-lit bar with uneven steps and blurry vision. I ignored crosswalks and street signs, unconcerned with any consequences my indifference might’ve brought. I was finished with this life, and had drunk myself away and sedated most of my soul. Now, I was content to allow the remaining bits of myself to hold on while I took in the obnoxious, monotonous glow of the city one last time.
I’m not sure where my feet took me, but I blinked, suddenly standing still. I was in a concrete courtyard, nestled between towering, glowing skyscrapers. In the center was a thick oak tree with an elegant fountain built around it. Jets of teal water shot through the air and brushed the vibrant, purple leaves.
I leaned over the side of the fountain and let my fingers drift across the surface of the water. Where my touch should’ve caused disturbances, the water stilled, and I could see an endless reflection of a city, top-down. It was beautiful, gleaming; perhaps it was an iteration of my past lives, of happier times.
And then it was gone, quick as that. My face was the only thing staring back at me, haggard and hopeless. I violently pushed away from the fountain and continued my journey. Something haunted my chest, though—the pain of an unspoken goodbye or the coldness of a lover suddenly gone. I kept my head down as I moved forward, no longer enchanted with the technicolor world above. This life had never been meant for me anyway.
Light rainfall began to splatter the ground and soak my head. I frowned, fighting to keep my blithe outlook steady, but a quiet rustling distracted my efforts. I looked up and found myself surrounded by the writhing body of a white, feathery, mechanical dragon. Its long whiskers dragged the ground, and its clawed feet clicked against the wet concrete.
I began to feel lightheaded as the alcohol confidently took hold of my mind. I stared at the dragon as I lost my balance. Something in its eyes spoke to me as it extended its tail to catch my fall. It lowered me to the ground, and as the rainwater soaked into my shirt, it stepped over my incapacitated body. Its mechanical feathers brushed my face as it left me, just like everyone else had.
I blinked and rubbed my face, and my elbow hit something stiff. As it slid a short distance I looked down. My drink…I pushed the clear liquid away and stood up. I’d had enough. My mind fought the alcohol as it tried to remember the hallucination of the park and the dragon. But something felt different as I looked around. The bar was lit by paper lanterns, and old men with silk robes and long pipes sat around tables on the floor, their clouds of smoke creating a haze floating along the ceiling.
I stopped at the counter and waited to ask the barkeeper where I was, but he never looked up from the glasses sitting below the counter. Irritated, I reached out and tapped his shoulder, and recoiled as he rippled beneath my fingertips like the disturbed surface of a flat lake. He crashed to the floor in a puddle of teal water, and koi fish erupted from his body, swimming through the haze of smoke like water. The old men never paid them any mind.
I rushed to the door and pushed my way out of the bar, but I didn’t make it much further. The towering skyscrapers of my city were interspersed with giant mushrooms just as tall. Birds with flowing tails lit up the night sky with trails of teal as they drifted effortlessly through the air, and creatures with elegant horns and spindly legs walked side by side with the seemingly-oblivious inhabitants of my city.
Across the street, I caught sight of a woman in ragged robes stepping out of a modern-era bar, with an incense burner clasped tightly in her hand and a perplexed expression on her face. Even though she looked just as whimsical as the creatures on the street, she was also just as confused as I was.
We both turned our gazes and saw the mechanical dragon wrapped around the pinnacle of a skyscraper. It stared at both of us, silently conveying the gift it had bestowed us. And then we were face to face, the woman and I. We were caught in the middle of our two worlds, able to see what the other was not. I could see the sorrow on her face, and realized her expression mirrored mine. I saw myself in the woman. I saw the void wrapping around her soul, pulling her away from the monotony of her own life. I wanted the woman to realize the wonder her world held; I wanted her to see what I saw.
And then she smiled. Maybe her thoughts echoed mine. What I saw in the fantastical creatures, she saw in the neon lights. She clutched her incense burner tightly and nodded her head. I nodded my head too. I wished her the best, and I like to think she wished me the best as well.
The thick raindrops caused her to fade away. She became nothing more than an oily puddle on the pavement. Her world vanished before my eyes, leaving me with my skyscrapers and neon-purple signs advertising strip clubs and bars.
I started walking, this time knowing exactly where my feet were carrying me. Where the courtyard was once barren and empty, it was now full of life. Small children splashed in deep puddles and young couples sat near the fountain, caught in loving embraces.
I found an empty spot at the fountain and lowered my fingers to the water’s surface. This time, purple sap dripped from the tree, mixing the teal water of her world with the purple lights of mine.
Small creatures ran along the branches of the old oak, or perhaps it was just one, keeping watch for any sorrowful visitors to its park.
I decided to stay awhile. Perhaps there was still beauty in this world. Perhaps I should stay a while to experience it.