I search through each of the rooms trying to find her again. I send her a message asking where she is but she doesn't respond. I almost walk past her because she has changed her clothes. She is wearing giant glowing white pants with reflective tape striped down the side. The beautiful gown has been reduced to a sheer film stretching over her breasts and arms. She is talking to a group of people I recognize but can't name. One of them is carrying a shoulder bag with a power symbol glowing on it. There are dozens of pockets filled with handhelds poking out. Dozens of cords, clear, red, and blue curve in and out of the sides. They shift the bag from one shoulder to the other and look seriously at Lime.

"Yeah, no- Granny Smokes left," they are saying. "She went to live in The Mushroom Kingdom. She was worried about her inside pipes. Said the water here had crystallized them. 'Theys pipes gonna snap any day now, I know it...' she kept saying, 'Gonna go up north to that mushroom land before it's too late.' And then one day she was gone." Their impression of Granny Smokes is phlegmy and unflattering. The person standing beside them takes a big blinking chew toy out of their mouth and says, "She is really old."

"She's only 45!" The person with the glowing bag exclaims.

I know Granny Smokes. Everyone in the rave scene knows Granny Smokes. She has been a fixture at every party for as long as anyone can remember, always helping people out when they needed something. She got me a ride home with a nice family of turtle girls once during my first raid when I didn't know what was going on and was blinded by tear gas. She looks about 95. It's hard to believe she's really only 45 years old.

"I guess the water really was getting to her..." I hear myself say. They all turn to me and nod.

"To be fair, the water is bad for all of us," Glow-Bag person points out.

"I mean, I don't drink it, myself!" I hear myself stammer. "But I mean, what are you going to do about baths and stuff?" I shrug.

"You put your body in the tap water?" they sneer. Suddenly I feel like a worm. A worm about to be macerated by a horrible bird demon and swallowed into their glowing gut pouch. "You really should get shower packs, Sugar." They ooze with pity, their hand touching my shoulder.

Don't touch me.

Why do they know my name?

Why don't I know theirs?

"Your skin is just as absorbent as your stomach and intestines and everything inside you."

Do I bother to explain that I can't afford those things?

They are just going to tell me to request them from the city or that my building is required to provide safe water blah blah blah. Just because the building is required by law, doesn't mean they will. And it certainly doesn't mean the residents can afford to sue them if they don't. "It's really not possible right now," I try. Hopefully that's enough. They tip their head at me, condescendingly.

"Well don't wait forever, Sugar."

I wish I could remember their name.

"Youth wears out faster that we realize. Especially down here in the underground."

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Just because I am not obsessed with luxury water treatment and anti-aging procedures?

"I'll miss Granny Smokes," Lime interrupts. "She was like a Mom for a lot of people... you know?"

The others nod seriously. Most people in the underground don't talk about their family. I think there is an unwritten code among people here to just not ask. That if you aren't talking about them, you are probably trying to get away from them. And we all know it's not easy getting away. And after all that pain, no one wants to just invite their ghosts back in the form of conversation.

"45" Lime drones. "45. 45. 45. 45." Her eyes dart around the air. Is she following the lights? She is looking for something.

"I really thought she was older," I try. But she is still looking around the air. We all wait for her to speak.

"I don't know anyone that old. Not in real life," Lime replies. "I don't think I know anyone older than like 30."

Is that possible? I look at the others. They look at each other and then back at me. Do I know anyone that old? I share that apartment with people way over 30. Aren't they? I guess I've never actually asked their age. Why would I ask their age? Wouldn't that be rude? Daicy is at least 50 years old. But if Granny Smokes looks like she's 90 and is only 45- then I guess I really don't know how old Daicy is.

"Well who goes around asking people their age anyway?" I laugh.

"Cassandra Adore and Lauren Saint Laurent!" bursts Bag Person. Is their name Chryst? I feel like I might remember them after all. I'm not sure where though. But maybe their name is Chryst.

"They are like, what? 50? I mean they've been in the scene for like 30 years right? I mean think about it. They were already in the scene back when The Temple started having parties and they haven't had a party for like... 20 years? That was back when DJ Piki was spinning and he has to be at least 60!"

"Those aren't exactly people you know," Chew Toy corrects them. "Those are celebrities. We can all name old celebrities."

"Yeah they can afford to grow old in this vampire city," I sigh.

"They are the vampires!" Lime interjects. "An old celebrity wants me to pose for nudes in J's shitty magazine. Like they have the best body treatments money can buy and they still want someone younger to pose for their photos." Maybe-Chryst makes a confused face and asks,

"Don't you pose for the magazine all the time? Don't the readers recognize you?" I always wondered if people in the rave scene like Maybe-Chryst subscribe to the magazine just to see if they can catch a glimpse of Lime naked. Is that why J has kept her around for so long, or why he asked her to stay in the first place? She was already going to parties full time when they met. I think they met at a party. As long as she keeps going to parties and complaining about the magazine, she is basically a living advertisement for the damn thing.

"Both of us pose for the same shots and J uses both of us, somehow. We get frankensteined together. But I'll tell you- a lot of the photos end up being like 95% me, 1% the person being featured and like 4% fantasy," Lime explains.

"You must have very good skin!" they gush at Lime. Uhg I wish they would go away. Lime draws her hand over her collarbone and face and smiles.

"No LA tap water here," she says. The three of them laugh but I catch Chew Toy roll their eyes.

"Must be nice having someone pay for you to live in a luxury place," they say.

"It's hardly free!" I laugh. "The price is living with J. Pretty high price, in my opinion..." People don't get it at all.

"I do okay," Lime giggles, tapping my arm to keep me quiet. Why is she willing to complain to me but keep it a secret to everyone else? It's hard to imagine that she actually cares about J's reputation. Whatever. She starts bragging about the zit zapper and I check out of the conversation.

Could Granny Smokes really be only 45? I know drugs didn't used to be as safe in the past, but could they have really done that much damage to her appearance? Some people say that living a hard life will age you prematurely, water contamination aside. Maybe she didn't get away from her family as quickly as the rest of us. I wonder if she's been to prison. Maybe that's why she was so generous with people at parties. I read that people in prison, even violent criminals, survive by learning skills helping others, and they wind up more compassionate than anyone who lived their whole lives on the outside. I wonder how much of that is just prison propaganda and how much of it is the fact that they deprive prisoners so much that they don't have a choice but band together to survive.

I wonder what it's like in Seattle. Are there really mushrooms growing on everything? People used to say that spirits are born out of mushrooms. Or that they come into our world through the ring of fungus growth like the transporter on Star Trek. I never really bought it because it never really felt like spirits were aliens inhabiting our world. I used to think we were the aliens inhabiting their world. But maybe I just wanted that to be true because I always felt alien, despised other humans, and was ashamed of being one. But now I feel like this ownership metaphor isn't relevant. Certainly not anymore, since no one can really claim they were here first. Also the human world-spirit world dichotomy is bullshit. It's not the spirits' fault that humans ignore them and are obsessed with themselves and want to claim all of existence for their own.

Why did Lime even message me to come back like that when she is just going to talk to these assholes?

I've got to get out of here.

©2018 by Zita