A true lover of all things creative, Rebekah has been writing since she could read, been making art with her camera since 2002, and added a microphone to her storytelling toolbox in 2015. Now she's a full time audiobook narrator, but still makes art and podcasts to satisfy her soul.
Alright, we’re back with Part 2 of Disconnected! Welcome back my friends! If you’re joining us for the first time you should go back to episode 15 to hear Disconnect Part 1, or else risk total confusion… you’ve been warned… [If your podcast app isn’t showing the featured art for this episode above visit https://rebekahnemethy.com/artink16 to check it out.   Castbox and Podcast Addict are both apps I recommend that do show episode specific art.]     Links from the Show at a Glance:   Artist: Sean Howard Title of Art: Disconnected Artist’s Website: seanhoward.ca Instagram: @passitalong   Discover audio fiction podcasts on Sean’s network: fableandfolly.com   Sean Howard’s Levitation photographs   Learn more about my friend Matt and his audiobooks at: mattheweberry.com   Email me with any feedback at bekah@rebekahnemethy.com   Art Ink Submission Guidelines: rebekahnemethy.com/artinksubs     Art Ink Podcast Transcript:   [Intro:]   Alright, we’re back with Part 2 of Disconnected! Welcome back my friends! If you’re joining us for the first time you should go back to episode 15 to hear Disconnect Part 1, or else risk total confusion… you’ve been warned.   I’ll keep this brief because I know you’re itching to get back into the story, but I wanted to give you a quick reminder of who we have to thank for this episode.   This is Art Ink after all, and Sean Howard is the artist of the hour. Disconnected, a photograph from his Levitation series, sparked this story’s inception, and I wanted to refresh your memory on what that looks like.     [Art Description:]   A girl in a spaghetti-strap, teal dress hugs her knees to her chest in front of a brown brick wall. She faces left, and we see a profile of her, eyes closed tight, pink and red highlighted dreadlocks pointing wildly in every direction.   Floating around the girl, surrounding her at shoulder height, are five floating devices: a tablet and several smart phones. Sean titled this piece Disconnected, and I could think of no better title for the story that his creation helped bring to life.   As usual you can check the cover art of this podcast episode to see it for yourself, or if your podcast player isn’t as intuitive as I hope, you can opt to visit the link I’ve posted in the episode description.   Without further adieu, I present to you Disconnected, Part 2:     [Story:]   “I’m glad you like them,” Karen said, pulling Jennifer out of her thoughts, and she had to stop herself from the automatic urge to ask ‘huh?’ They were back in the white-walled office, waiting for everyone else to arrive. Following Karen’s gaze she realized she must’ve been staring down at her nails.   “I really do,” Jennifer said as she twisted her hand around and folded four fingers over her palm to examine them more consciously. The tiny white flowers Karen had magically rolled onto just one accent nail were super cute. “Too bad I can’t Instagram them… what did you call it again?”   “Nail stamping.”   “There has to be a hashtag for that.”   “A hastag? Girl, you’ll be scrolling for hours with all the nail candy you’ll find there. Pinterest is even better though… or worse. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be learning here? That social media is the devil?” Jennifer could hear her rolling her eyes with those words.   “What’d I miss?” Matt asked as he plopped down next to Karen. The girls wiggled their digits at him and he exaggerated his impressed expression.   The room was filling up now, not just with the rest of Jennifer’s group, but their transmitting partners were joining them too.   Chris softly nudged her way into the quiet hiss of conversation that’d begun in her absence. “Is that everyone?” The whispers silenced. “Why don’t we get started… let’s do this the fun way. I’m going to have each one of you explain what you’ve depicted on the board first. Together we can discuss some possible interpretations, and then we’ll reveal what our transmitters were actually sending to us.” She walked over to the board and gestured to a jumble of what looked like random characters: a backslash and a forward slash were side by side, an at symbol was drawn to the right of those along with a plus sign, and below those were three short, horizontal lines. “Whose work is this?”   A boy with mussed, mousey hair raised his hand meekly. It looked like he was trying to disappear. His shoulders were hunched, his arm only extended far enough to form a C around his head.   Chris extended her hand to him and smiled warmly, “So what do you think this all means.”   “I’m not really sure.” Jennifer could barely hear him. He ducked his head a bit as if he were a turtle retreating back inside himself.   “The interpretation can be the hard part,” Chris said sympathetically. “Does anyone have any idea what this could mean?” She looked away from her students and walked alongside the board a bit, giving everyone a chance to think.   When she returned her gaze to the group someone called out, “Part of a URL maybe?”   “Could be… anyone else?”   The room was silent as Chris looked around expectantly. She turned back to turtle boy, and he shrugged meekly, his head seeming to recede further, before she could even open her mouth to question him.   “Who was your partner?” Chris queried and a hand raised slowly at the other side of the room. “Tell us, what was the message you were sending?”   Jennifer couldn’t hear their response, but Chris’s animated expression flashed with excitement as she walked back to the symbols. She circled the two slashes, “This,” she said, “plus… this…” she drew another circle around the plus sign, and another around the three horizontal lines. Then she drew another picture, putting it all together for her audience. The two slashes with the horizontal lines in between them looked like a railroad track going off into the distance.   “Take a walk at the railroad track.” Chris stood back admiring her own work, then nodded as she returned her gaze to the group. “I can see it. Good work you two!”   Jennifer was amazed as Chris continued to analyze each pair’s work. Not all of the symbols and words could be interpreted so easily, but there was always at least some small clue that could be linked back to the original message.   “Let it Go,” from the Disney movie Frozen, was what Karen heard when her partner sent her a visual of an ice cube.   The message Jennifer was supposed to pick up on was “upside down,” and while she had no idea why her mind had chosen to use an umbrella to express that, it was clearly no coincidence.   Matt’s interpretation of a “boy band” in stick figures was nearly spot on, aside from the one figure with pigtails… which made Jennifer wonder if her earlier thoughts about her partner’s resemblance to Baby Spice might’ve infiltrated his message somehow.   Chris looked a bit smug at the end of class as she took several votes:   “How many of you have had any kind of telepathic or psychic development training?” Zero hands.   “How many of you thought you’d totally failed at this exercise before we reviewed it?” Nearly everyone raised a hand.   “And yet all of you managed to succeed in one way or another.” Chris was smirking now. “Imagine what you’ll be able to do by the end of the month.” And with that she dismissed them.   It was surreal to Jennifer. She realized that if someone had told her she’d be spending the next month in a mind-reading school she’d have laughed out loud. If that someone insisted that anyone and everyone could read minds, she’d step away slowly until she could make a break from this obviously unhinged individual. Jennifer had lived her entire life believing that “psychics” were little more than magicians around “for entertainment purposes only” like so many disclaimers warned. Yet here she was, participating in telepathy exercises and succeeding, with a bunch of other newbies at her side. Was this real life?   *** NIGHT 2   That night Jennifer jerked herself awake, panting and sweating. The red glow of the clock read 4:44. She’d dreamt of the accident again: the old woman, the shock on her face even more terrifyingly twisted through the distortion of rain-rivered windows. Her skin awash in the yellow glow from her crayon bright umbrella… but this time, Jennifer noticed that her skin had suddenly grown warmer at the last second. She lowered herself back onto the bed and closed her eyes to recall what she’d seen just before waking. And that’s when she saw it, another hideously distorted reflection of the lady’s face was shining up from the hood of the car… and it was bright, fire engine, red.   Despite her best efforts, Jennifer laid wide awake until it was time for her 1-on-1 with Chris.   “Trouble sleeping?”   Jennifer hadn’t planned on sharing the dream, but it seemed like Chris already knew… though Jennifer wasn’t sure if it was mind reading so much as the fact that she obviously looked like hell.   “Yeah, that dream I had… I guess it’s a recurring… memory.” Jennifer opted for the term Chris had used during their last session.   “Well, why don’t we see if we can find out more about it?” Chris said as she got up and headed to the nearest bucket full of dry erase markers. She sat down next to Jennifer, reached for her hand and asked, “May I?” the marker uncapped and hovering.   “Uh… sure,” Jennifer said, and Chris drew a small black circle on the top of both of her hands and colored them in.   “We look at our hands hundreds of times every day while in the waking hours, and though we many not notice it, while we’re dreaming too.” She replaced the marker in the bucket and rummaged through it a bit before she plucked out a hot pink one and wandered back to her matching chair. “Have you ever heard of lucid dreaming?” Chris asked as she leaned forward and extended the marker.   Jennifer shook her head as she took the pink gift offered her.   “Perhaps you’re not familiar with the term, but you may have experienced it before. Lucid dreaming is simply a dream in which you realize you are dreaming.” Chris looked at Jennifer expectantly, as if she’d asked a question and was awaiting an answer.   “Uh…” Jennifer looked up at the ceiling as she wracked her memory. “Maybe?... yeah I think maybe I have realized I’m dreaming, right before I wake up.”   “Excellent!” Chris clapped her hands together, “Then this should be easy for you!”   Not for the first time since stepping into this meeting, Jennifer was a bit disappointed by her inability to conceal the truth. It was like she was two glasses of wine deep talking with a kind-faced stranger… which was why Jennifer never had more than one glass of wine, and generally avoided talking to strangers. Not only did she share personal stories her sober self would never dare reveal to even some of her closest friends, but she also had a bad habit of overcommitting herself as a lush. One time she’d woken up to a slew of text messages from a girl she’d bonded with over a couple of bottles of Cabernet.   The first text from a contact labeled “My new BFFF” said: “My address is 126 Gulliver Ave, thanks so much for agreeing to help!”   And then two hours later: “No prob if you’re running late, just let me know when you’ll be here.”   And then a couple more hours later: “You’re not coming are you?”   Of course Jennifer had read them all at once, because she’d slept in, deeply and soundly, until well after the last message had come through. It’d all come back to her in hazy spatters: swapping bad ex-boyfriend stories and, OMG, they’d actually broken up with her boyfriend together through text, Jennifer reading and then editing them for maximum sassiness.   “But I need to at least wait for him to help me move outta my apartment before I break up with him,” the girl had slurred out.   “No,” Jennifer had insisted, equally slurry, “You don’t need some stupid boy to help you move, you have me! I’ll help you move tomorrow.”   Those memories were aided by the context clues from the texts, but Jennifer never did see “My new BFFF” ever again, nor was she able to ascertain what her name was.   Jennifer winced at the memory, and though she was stone-cold sober as she awaited Chris’s next set of marching orders, she felt the same kind of dread; as though she’d already unknowingly agreed to something. Like her tiny truth slip about a maybe lucid dream was as careless as a rich girl getting married without a pre-nup… but now it was too late.   “The trick to lucid dreaming is to get into the habit of questioning your reality. Our habits in the waking world eventually show up in the dream world, and that’s our opportunity to take control.”   “Take control?”   “Oh yes, that’s the best part of lucid dreaming, you don’t just awaken, you become the driver of the dream, you might even say you obtain the powers of a God, to create whatever world you want to play in, at advanced levels. But for now, let’s just say that the beginning stages of lucid dreaming are like you’ve just experienced DVR after years of watching plain old cable. And that’s what I think will help you discover more about this dream of yours. You’ll be able to slow it down, look around, stay in the dream longer and take control of when you wake up.”   “And how, exactly, do I do that?”   “Whenever you look at your hands, those marks are a reminder to ask yourself: ‘Am I dreaming?’ But don’t just ask the question, test your environment; look around and see if there’s anything odd. See if things change when you look at them twice. A great test is to find some writing and try to read it. Usually writing is very fickle in dreams and it morphs as you go. If it’s clear and legible, and it stays the same when you check it out a second time, you’re probably not dreaming.”   “Ok… so what’s this for?” Jennifer asked, holding up the hot pink marker.   “Oh, I almost forgot,” Chris jumped up, scurried away, and returned with a stack of sticky notes. “This will work faster if you cover your environment with reminders too, you can draw simple dots, like I did on your hands, or write ‘Is this a dream?’ whatever works for you, and then stick those around your room.”   Jennifer had some time before breakfast to adorn her room in the multi-colored little squares. She did an equal mix of dots and questions and stuck them on her bathroom mirror, on the windows, on all the doors and whatever furniture they’d adhere to. She had no idea if it would work or not, but it would be an interesting experiment to kill the time… no more or less strange than most of the things she was being asked to do here. “What the hell?” Jennifer said as she attached the last yellow note to the outside of her door, locked it up, and headed down to eat.   Karen and Matt were at their usual table, and Jennifer joined them without the need for a wave prompt.   It was awhile before there was a long enough break in the conversation for Jennifer to cut in, but she hesitated. She wanted to casually ask Matt what color car he drove, or what kind of car he drove, or something else that might naturally allow her to segue to that topic… but there appeared to be no direct way of coming right out with her main question without raising eyebrows.   The truth was, she suspected that her recurring ‘memory,’ as Chris claimed it was, had to do with Matt. He’d said that he’d checked himself into this place voluntarily, that his harmless accident had been a wake-up call. But what if he was leaving something out that he was too embarrassed to admit? The first part of his story matched up with the dream, he’d been reading an email when he’d lost control of the car. And he’d said it’d been pouring. She could just come out and tell him the truth, approach the topic directly… once Karen wasn’t around, of course, no need to announce his secret to the world. Yet, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that either, for fear of her own embarrassment if she was wrong. Jennifer just wanted to confirm one more fact before she committed to the direct approach… now how to breech the topic of what color car he drove…   “I know this sounds weird,” Jennifer started, looking down into her bowl of oatmeal, “but I kind of miss driving. Especially this time of year, when the leaves are falling like colorful crinkly rain. There’s a chill in the air, but the sun’s still warm enough to heat up your car.”   “Yeah, that is weird,” Karen quipped with a smirk, “but I guess I’m a bit jaded seeing as I have to drive to make my living. Money just takes the fun out of everything I guess. I’m enjoying the break, myself… but I guess if I channeled my former self before Uber, well that girl would probably agree with you.”   Jennifer laughed, “What about you Matt?”   “Although I’m not paid to drive people around, I have a really long commute to work, so it sure does feel like a part of my job…” he trailed off and Jennifer wondered if he was thinking what she was thinking, about his bad habit of trying to work while he was driving. If he was, however, he didn’t let on, “I haven’t gone for a real joyride since I was a teenager… that’s the last time I remember just driving to drive.”   Perfect, Jennifer thought, seizing the opportunity, “And what did teenage Matt drive back in those long-gone days when he still had time for a joyride? Wait, lemme guess…” Jennifer tapped her chin, feigning her contemplation, because she knew exactly what she was going to say, “you drove a red Camaro that attracted cops and tickets like rats to a plague?”   “Close! It was a red Mustang, but you’re right on about the tickets.” He laughed.   “What do you drive now?” Jennifer asked.   “A BMW 6-series GT.”   Karen was practically drooling, “I’ve always wanted a beamer… but European cars are so expensive to maintain.” She sighed.   “And were you practical enough to select a color that would draw a bit less attention?” Jennifer snarked.   “Yeah, this one’s white.”   Damn. She was wrong. It wasn’t him. Unless… but before Jennifer could figure out a way to ask her next question, Matt continued, “But my wife drives a red one, just around town though. She works from home. When we go out to eat on the weekends and whatnot, we usually take her car. Though… since the accident, she doesn’t let me drive it anymore. Not that I can blame her.”   “You were driving your wife’s car when that happened?” Karen asked, wide-eyed. Jennifer was pretty sure Karen was more shocked about Matt’s relationship status; it was news to both of them. He wasn’t wearing a ring. Was that a bit of disappointment on her face too? Definitely.   “Yeah… I said before that I volunteered to come here, and while I am here willingly, I probably wouldn’t be if she hadn’t insisted.” Matt looked down and his shoulders slumped a bit. “She was in the car with me.” He sighed. Karen and Jennifer gasped simultaneously. “She was always yelling at me to put my phone down, but I never listened to her.” He shook his head as if to shake away the memory. Then, more quietly, he said, “I could’ve killed her.”   The silence lingered for an uncomfortably long time before Jennifer finally broke it. “But you didn’t, and you’re here now… and that’s what counts.”   Matt looked up and nodded sheepishly but also gratefully.   ***   Jennifer was lost in thought as Chris led them into their next meditation. They were back in the Oak Room, repeating the telepathy exercise from the previous day, only now their roles were reversed. It was Jennifer’s turn to send the message and Emma’s turn to doodle her findings on the white board.   But first, she was supposed to relax, and Jennifer was struggling even to slow the thoughts that were zooming through her head, much less eradicate them. Matt had confirmed her suspicions. He had been driving a red car that rainy night he’d been distracted by his phone and lost control. It’s possible he was leaving out the part about the woman… and who knows… maaayyybe she didn’t die. Though Jennifer wanted to believe that bit more than she actually did. The one thing that didn’t match up to her dream version of events was the passenger. It was possible there was someone else there, and Jennifer just hadn’t looked.   Hopefully this whole lucid dreaming thing would help her sort out the details. Which reminded her: Am I dreaming? she asked herself silently. Jennifer opened her eyes enough to see her markered up hands. Then she scanned her surroundings to see if there was any writing she could examine, but they were facing one of the fully transparent walls and nothing hung to obstruct the gorgeous fall scenery that shone through. It was stunning, but normal, at least for this place. Not dreaming, she confirmed.   It was odd, but Jennifer couldn’t get rid of the feeling that she was connected to Matt in a way she didn’t totally understand. And ever since she’d stepped foot into this Oak Room on the day she’d first seen him, she’d witnessed example after example of this connection. All those times he’d caught her looking at him on that first day could have been coincidence all on their own; but not once you add in all the other instances Jennifer had noticed over the past few days.   It had to be Matt’s memory she was dreaming of. And she was determined to find out for sure that night.   “Now that you’re all relaxed, it’s time for you send those messages.”   Oh, right, the message, Jennifer thought. She was supposed to be sending Emma an Octopus. She imagined a rainbowy illustrated version of the creature she must have seen on Instagram at some point. Jennifer followed a lot of artists. Which reminded her… she’d planned on starting that 100 days of drawing challenge while she was here, minus the sharing of course, but she hadn’t had as much time as she’d thought she would. Not with all the unexpected socializing she’d been doing.   “Now, for just a couple more minutes, try to focus on your message in a different way.”   Octopus, Jennifer stressed to herself, it was so easy to drift away in the current of her stream of consciousness. She wondered if she’d ever get any better at meditating… right now she royally sucked at it. Octopus, she repeated in her mind again, and this time she imagined a live creature zipping across the ocean floor until it reached, and hugged, a coral-crusted rock, instantly molding its texture and color to match.   ***   When Jennifer walked into Chris’s office for the big reveal, later that day, she didn’t have to wait to see if she’d been successful. She zeroed in on it immediately: “ocho chameleons.” Jennifer had never seen Emma’s handwriting, but no one had to tell her that it was, in fact, Emma who’d scribbled that message across the wall.   And just as had happened after the previous day’s exercise, it turned out that everyone had received at least an inkling of the message that’d been sent to them, and some much more than that.   Chris congratulated everyone and went into a lecture about the different types of psychic abilities. The “clairs,” she called them, and Jennifer, it turned out, was best at the most commonly known clair: clairvoyance. Which literally meant “clear seeing,” because Jennifer naturally saw her transmissions vividly, in her mind’s eye.   Since Karen tended to hear her messages, typically in the form of popular songs, her psychic superpower was known as clairaudience.   There were a bunch more that Chris rattled off, but there was no way Jennifer would remember all of them.   “So I’d like you all to get together with your partner,” Chris said, “and talk about your experiences in sending and receiving messages. Describe to each other what senses you used to send your messages and also how they came to you. More likely than not, if you receive your messages visually, you probably tried to sent them in the same manner… but maybe your partner could benefit from a different type of delivery? A lot can be lost in translation during this psychic game of telephone we’re playing.” Chris laughed at herself and, as usual, the rest of the room was silent. “Oh that’s all,” she said after a pause, “you’re free to go.”   Jennifer and Emma didn’t waste any time getting together. It seemed like she was the first person Jennifer had met there that was even half as intrigued as she was to learn this stuff. It turned out that Emma worked best with words, which judging from the literal writing on the wall, made sense. Jennifer promised to focus on sending Emma words in the future, and Emma said she’d make sure to project pictures during the next round.   It was pretty late when Jennifer finally started making her way to her room. She’d planned on reading or drawing that evening, and a pang of guilt hit her at the thought of another day shaved off the 100 day challenge she’d yet to begin. Then again, despite the mild sense of dread she had about waking up from yet another nightmare, she also had hope that this time, she’d wake up inside the dream and finally start to get some answers.   *** NIGHT 3   The purple circle in the center of the screen reminded Jennifer of the dots on her hands. But it was the text on the phone, morphing as she tried to read it, that really jarred her into lucidity. There were numbers stretched across the top of the screen too, but they were transforming as well, like rapidly changing stock indexes. Words below the purple dot were jumbled and strange; Jennifer could only get three or four words in before she got confused and attempted to reread them, (man, door, tory? centaur?) at which point there were new words in their place.   Time seemed to stretch on a bit longer than usual. Far away, non-dream Jennifer thought that must be a perk of lucid dreams. Hadn’t Chris said something about that? Slowly the phone began to fall as Jennifer’s dream body raised its head back to the road. She was awake inside of this dream, aware, but she was still more of a viewer than a participant. Wasn’t there something she’d wanted to do in here? Memories from the real world were a bit fuzzy, hard to recall. She didn’t want to look at the terrified old woman, but it was more than that… she… her gaze drifted across the reddish black hood of the car, where an orangey glow was gradually growing. The yellow umbrella, Jennifer realized, as she let herself become mesmerized by the distorted reflection as it danced through glass and rain and red paint.   And that’s when she remembered. The realization was sudden and the world around her seemed to want to keep pace with her surge of excitement as time suddenly sped up. Just as the woman’s fear-twisted face zoomed into view, Jennifer spun away from her, not just to avoid seeing the grotesque details of her yellowed wrinkles, but to check the seat next to her for passengers.   No one was there.   Jennifer’s heart was thundering when she opened her eyes, but she hadn’t sat straight up like she had the previous two nights. She was still under the covers and though she felt hot, she wasn’t soaked in the sweat that usually accompanied this nightmare.   This lucid dreaming thing is a pretty handy trick, Jennifer thought as she rose from beneath the comforter. Although terrifying, this dream wasn’t nearly as stressful as the previous ones.   And it looked like she was going to have to keep visiting this particular dream, because the new information she’d found hadn’t confirmed her suspicions that this was Matt’s memory. The passenger seat had been empty. Matt had no reason to lie about traumatizing his wife… he’d been so ashamed and reluctant to admit that part of the story.   But something else was niggling at Jennifer. Matt had been reading an email, and though she hadn’t been able to read what was on the screen, she was now certain that there was yet another discrepancy in his story. The brightly colored bubble that’d divided up the words and number shone in her mind. She hadn’t been looking at an email, she’d been looking at a phone call.   Matt had said he was reading an email, with his wife in the car, and though it had been wet roads that’d caused him to lose control of the vehicle, it was seeming less and less likely to Jennifer that this was his memory. The fact that he’d been driving a red car must’ve been a convenient coincidence. Too much didn’t match up.   Well it was time to start looking for more details. Now that Jennifer had successfully woken herself up within the dream, she was confident she’d be able to do it again. She’d simply go back to sleep and examine her surroundings more thoroughly. She doubted she’d see much outside in the limited visibility of the rainy night… but maybe she could pay more attention to the interior details.   Determined to follow out her new plan, Jennifer laid back down to go to sleep. She closed her eyes. But sleep was a million miles away from the spinning top of thoughts whirling through her head. For the next hour or so she tried to get comfortable and relax, but her brain just wouldn’t slow down enough to make it happen.   With a heavy sigh, Jennifer rolled over and opened her eyes. Her gaze landed on the collection of books and art supplies she’d piled on the desk.   Giving up on sleep she got out of bed and turned on the yellow-tinged desk lamp. Normally she’d prefer to work in natural light, but at 4am she’d take what she could get.   For the next few hours, Jennifer drew the thing she couldn’t get out of her head. The most frightening frame of the nightmare unfolded onto the page before her. The phone frozen mid-fall and the sickly looking scared woman a millisecond before impact. The moment Jennifer could never seem to get past before waking.   When she ran out of details to draw in the dashboard, she switched from gray graphite to colored pencils and filled in the sections of the scene she was sure of.   She jumped when her alarm clock blared from behind her. It was obnoxious enough when she was sleeping, but the sound was intolerable when she was already awake. She ran to silence it, and then stretched in front of the golden sunshine filled window.   Now Jennifer felt like she could fall asleep. Figures, she thought miserably as she made her way around the room to ready herself for yet another weird day.   ***   Jennifer wasn’t listening to anything Matt and Karen were saying this morning. She fixed her bleary-eyed gaze on what had become her usual breakfast here, oatmeal with a mountain of brown sugar, and got lost in replay after replay of her latest dream experience trying, and failing, to recall any new details.   When she was done eating, she looked up, instantly drawn to the yellow fingernails Karen was waving around as she talked. They were the shade of an autumn leaf, bright yet still golden, and they popped against the black background of her shirt. Jennifer finally tuned in as Karen threw her hands over her face.   Matt was rubbing her back with one hand, which seemed a bit too comfortable a gesture for a married man, until Jennifer heard the eruption of a sob escape from behind Karen’s hands.   “Don’t worry,” Matt said, “I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”   “You don’t understand,” Karen said barely getting a hold of herself, “The last time this happened he nearly died. The only reason we finally caught him was because he was too weak to run away. He gets so spooked in unfamiliar places. And if he was freaked out in the middle of the woods, how do you think he’ll do all alone in the city? I’ll probably never see him again.”   “Is he microchipped?” Matt asked.   “Yeah, but they have to catch him first for that to do any good.” Karen sighed.   “Well I’m sure with all the people in New York who might find him, you have a pretty good shot at getting him back.” Matt reassured.   “Yeah, it’ll be ok,” Jennifer finally chimed in. She’d gathered that Karen’s dog or cat must have escaped, but didn’t want to risk asking about details that’d most likely already been covered when she’d been tuned out.   Karen nodded, but didn’t look up from her barely touched bowl of fruit.   “Hey,” Matt said with a sudden surge of excitement, “maybe we can use our new psychic skills to help find him!”   “Yeah, why not?” Jennifer said, “It couldn’t hurt to try.”   Karen looked skeptical at first, but her face shifted with her thoughts until it seemed to hover around reluctant hope. “I guess it’s worth a shot.”   ***   When Chris heard about Karen’s cat, she decided to change her lesson plan for the day. Jennifer was grateful for the story’s retelling, that’ll save a lot of awkward verbal side-stepping later on, she thought. Apparently Muppet had escaped from the pet sitter who’d supposedly tripped and dropped his cat carrier while bringing him to the vet. Karen, however, was convinced that the girl simply hadn’t paid attention to her instructions on how to properly secure the finicky contraption. That explained all of the angry hand gestures earlier too.   The class voted unanimously to learn a new skill called ‘remote viewing’ in order to help Karen find Muppet. It was very similar to the telepathic exercises they’d already been doing for the past couple of days, the only difference was that they were all playing the role of the receiver and there was no human transmitter.   For this reason, Chris insisted that they remain in the Oak Room for this exercise. Apparently the pyramid shaped room served a greater purpose than aesthetics alone, and was some kind of energy chamber, designed to strengthen the signals they all sent and received there. That was the best way Jennifer could explain it anyway, and suddenly the fact that people who’d never experienced a drop of psychic ability before they’d come here and were able to be so successful right at the start of their training made much more sense. They were using some kind of energetic technology… like a cosmic Wi-Fi connection, or something.   The students laid out their multicolored yoga mats in a circle centered beneath the pointed pyramid’s peak. Since they were lacking in white boards in the Oak Room, Chris handed out a pile of tiny notebooks accompanied by mini pencils before she began. “Karen, why don’t you set the scene for us? Tell us, in as much detail as possible, what it looks like in the area where he escaped.”   “Well, when you step outside my building, there are a few trees and a line of street parked cars. Across the street you’ll see a brick apartment building with a gray awning, and next to that is a ramp leading down into a parking garage. Brownstones line the street on the other side of that. Depending on the time of day there are a lot of kids walking the sidewalks; I’m only a few blocks from a school.”   “What does Muppet look like?”   “He’s orange, with a little triangle of white on his chest. He has green eyes… and he’s kinda chubby.”   “And which direction did Muppet head in, when the carrier broke open?”   “He went towards Central Park,” Karen said, “so from the front of my building, he made a right.”   “Ok, everyone follow that cat!”   Jennifer kept her eyes closed, concentrated as hard as she could, but it was no use. The only thing she could see were brief flashes of her recurring dream. She was sure that given her successes so far in these trainings she’d be able to come up with something, especially now that she knew the pyramid was some sort of psychic cheat sheet, but nothing even remotely cat related crossed her mind.   She could hear notebooks being opened, the faint scribbling of pencil on paper, and Jennifer squeezed her eyes shut tighter as if doing so would activate whatever inner senses she needed to tap into. She felt a mild headache coming on, but that was the only difference she could sense despite her best efforts.   “Ok, great,” Chris broke in quietly, “looks like many of you are receiving some information. For those of you who haven’t started writing yet, I’ll give you five more minutes.”   The guilt was real. Jennifer felt like a complete and utter failure. Shouldn’t she be more able to pick up on something when it actually counted? When the person she’d be helping was someone whose happiness she actually cared about? Why couldn’t she get a hit on this motherfucking cat?   The minutes ticked by. Nothing.   Maybe I’m just too tired after last night, Jennifer told herself, trying to justify her failure. She was too distracted with this stupid nightmare.   “Ok everyone,” Chris said, “I’ll give you a few more minutes to write down what you’ve discovered, and then we’ll try to see if we can bring Muppet home.”   Jennifer glanced up at the circle of students in front of her, most of them furiously scribbling in their tiny notebooks. Karen looked hopeful. Another wave of shame washed over Jennifer as Karen turned toward her. She opened her own little notebook, hovered the half pencil over a blank page, willing some bit of information, anything really, to jump out of it and onto the page.   The dot on the back of her hand reminded her to do a check in. She wrote, “Am I dreaming?” Jennifer closed her eyes for a second, opened them, and the words were still there, unchanged. “No,” she wrote beneath them.   “Alright,” Chris said, “let’s begin. We’ll go around the circle quickly sharing what we’ve received, and then we’ll put all of the pieces together and see what we can come up with. Matt, why don’t you start?”   “I don’t know how helpful it might be,” Matt began, disappointment more than reluctance in his tone, “but I saw an orange blur run across a street. It was three lanes, and there was a patch grass on the other side of it, but that was all the detail I got.” That was much more than Jennifer could contribute, anyway.   Emma was next, but instead of answering Chris, she simply held up her notebook. Only one word was scrawled across the entire page, the bold capital letters traced over many times, and so although the page was miniscule, Jennifer could read it clearly, “ACCIDENT.”   Karen gasped, “Oh my God! Muppet’s been hurt,” she stood up and spun in a panicked circle, hugging herself. “I have to go home, I have to get to him.”   She started to move toward the door, but Chris stopped her. “Now Karen, ‘accident’ could simply be referring to the carrier mishap or your pet sitter tripping. You’re letting your fear get the best of you.”   “Well, I can’t just sit here and listen to all of this, it’s like getting a Brazilian with tweezers… maybe you can just give me the Cliff Notes version later?” Karen’s face was pinched in pain and pleading.   Chris nodded sympathetically and Karen walked briskly toward the exit as the group watched in silence. Not until the door clicked shut behind her did anyone return their gazes to the faces within the circle.   When Chris made eye contact with Jennifer she took it as an invitation to speak up, “I didn’t come up with much of anything, so do you think I could be more useful keeping Karen company right now?”   “Sure, and why don’t you two come by my office after lunch?”   “Ok, sounds good,” Jennifer said as she rose from the floor. She met Matt’s gaze briefly, and he gave her a forced smile, before she turned away.   Jennifer caught up to Karen just as she was letting herself into her room, “Hey, wait up!”   Karen looked over her shoulder, but didn’t pause. She left the door to her room open behind her. She was pacing in front of the bed when Jennifer got inside.   “I can’t stay here,” Karen muttered, “I feel useless… I can’t do anything from here.”   “Well… what do you think you could do back at home?” Jennifer asked softly. “You said it yourself, he’s spooked; he’s not going to be waiting for you when you get there, who knows where he could be…” She’d meant to sound soothing, but was failing miserably at it. “Pacing at home won’t be any more effective than it is here.”   “I could go look for him! If I had a fucking computer or a phone I could start calling animal shelters to see if anyone’s brought him in.”   Jennifer didn’t have anything to say to that. It was true. “Well why don’t we wait and see what the group comes up with. If they get something solid, maybe Chris will let you go.”   “You think so?” Karen stood still, a glint of excitement in her eyes. “I mean really, I’ll be less than useless if I have to stay. There’s no way I’ll be able to focus on any of this shit knowing that Muppet might be out on the streets or hurt.”   “I mean, I don’t think she’d change her lesson plans for the day if she didn’t care. She definitely wants to help you.”   “I hope you’re right.” The concern crept back across Karen’s face, but before she could start pacing again Jennifer grabbed her attention with fluttering fingers.   “I think I have a couple of chips in these, can you help a girl out?”   Karen sent Jennifer a grateful smile, “Well we can’t have you walking around here like hobo, now can we?” She pulled open her box of nail art supplies and started laying her tools out.   ***   Karen worked on Jennifer’s nails through lunch. She didn’t say it, but Jennifer could tell she was glad for the distraction.   If not for Muppet having gone missing Jennifer probably wouldn’t have even taken the time to remove the nail polish, much less redo it. Instead, she guessed it would’ve taken weeks for the polish to chip away on its own, with a little help from her own random picking maybe… when she was in line at the grocery store or something. Though she had to admit, she really did love Karen’s work, and this time she’d really outdone herself. Every nail had a different design on it, all Halloween themed, though the holiday was still a few days away. One nail looked like a piece of candy corn, with three thick horizontal lines in yellow, orange and white, all the rest were decorated in orange and black with tiny, incredibly detailed nail stamp designs: a spider, a jack-o-lantern, a ghost, and even a haunted house.   In all the times Jennifer had momentarily missed her phone, this was probably the most profound; it was truly a shame not to be able to capture this most temporary work of art. Yeah, she’d also Instagram the shit out of her Halloween themed nails, but she’d be just as satisfied with just a keepsake photo alone at this point. She couldn’t stop looking down at them, afraid to touch anything lest she suffer from a premature chip.   Jennifer rested her palms in her lap, noticing the marks on top of her hands. Am I dreaming? she thought, and looked around Chris’s office, where they were waiting for her to get back from lunch.   Jennifer looked up to the walls where some writing and doodles remained from the last time they’d done their telepathy exercise. She looked away and then back, but everything remained the same. Not dreaming, she silently confirmed.   Karen was pacing again, weaving around the sporadically placed beanbag chairs.   “Maybe I can do your nails after we’re done here?” Jennifer suggested, breaking the silence. Karen hadn’t had the chance to paint her own after focusing all of her efforts on Jennifer’s. Karen’s bright yellow polish was flawless, of course, and Jennifer would most likely end up painting just as much finger as nail, but they both knew her offer was more about support than glamour.   “Sure,” Karen said with a smirk, “I guess I can let you practice on me.”   Chris walked in just then, her face unreadable, but Jennifer sensed a solemn energy in her that was in sharp contrast to her usual perkiness.   Karen stood still and looked up at her expectantly.   “Please, take a seat,” Chris invited her as she did so herself, in her favorite velvety pink chair. Karen moved quickly to the nearest seat and dropped into it, wringing her hands in her lap.   “We believe that Muppet may have been injured,” Chris began, then, as Karen’s eyes widened she said quickly, “but we’re sure he’s still alive.”   “What happened?”   “Most likely it was as you’d feared: a car hit him. But luckily the driver had a heart and we have received some signs that he’s been taken to a vet.”   “What vet?” Karen was standing again and Chris pressed the air with both hands, gently motioning for her to sit back down. Karen did, albeit impatiently.   “We were hoping you’d be able to help us with that.” Chris pointed to one of the walls. There, drawn out in great detail, was a street view drawing of a storefront. Jennifer wasn’t sure how she could have missed the new illustration, remnants of what’d been erased remained haphazardly around the edges. On the sign above the doorway was a red cross with a smiling dog and a curled up cat. The only vague thing about this picture, aside from the limited color palette, were the squiggles that stretched from the logo to the right, where words would normally be.   “I know exactly where that is, I have to go.” Karen jumped up and was already taking backwards steps towards the door. “I have to-to be with him, in case…” She didn’t finish her sentence. “Thank you for your help, but I have to go.”   Chris only responded with a sympathetic smile and a slight nod.   Karen took that as her cue, turned swiftly and marched out the door. She was only gone for a few seconds before she flew back in, “Ummm can I have my phone? I have no idea how to get home from here.”   ***   Jennifer found herself feeling unusually lonely as she made her way back to her room a little while later. It was an odd feeling; she’d never really been the outgoing type. It was strange enough that she’d clicked with Karen so quickly in the first place, even odder that she felt like she missed her already. But Jennifer consoled herself with the knowledge that in her haste, Karen hadn’t packed any of her things. It seemed she was planning on coming back as soon as possible. Jennifer only hoped that Muppet would be okay.   As she approached her room, the sticky on the door reminded her to do a reality check. She closed her eyes for a second, opened them again, but the note still asked her if she was dreaming. Maybe tonight she would finally get to the bottom of this haunting memory that wouldn’t stay out of her head.   “Hey,” a familiar voice called out, and Jennifer turned to see Matt walking towards her. If missing Karen seemed odd, relief at Matt’s appearance was the hot syrup on top of this strange feeling ice cream sundae. “I missed you girls at lunch.”   “I was keeping Karen distracted, but anyway it’s just me now, she took off to go see Muppet.”   “She knows where he is?” Realization spread across Matt’s face, “So she recognized the drawing.”   “Yup… I hope he’s ok.”   “Me too.”   They both looked at the floor for a couple of seconds. Then, Matt brightened suddenly. “What do you say we go for a walk?” he asked. “It’s another one of those Indian summer type days, it’d be a shame to waste it inside.”   Jennifer perked up immediately, “Oh God yes… I could really use some sunshine right about now. Maybe it’ll cheer me up.” She turned away from her room, without ever having walked in, and followed Matt into the beautiful outdoors.   ***   Jennifer felt lighter when she returned to her room a few hours later, despite the fact that she’d had a heavy dinner of pasta drenched in garlicky oil. Rain beat against the darkened windows. She and Matt had just made it back inside after their loop around the little lake before the sky had opened up above them. She could only assume it’d been raining like that ever since.   When Jennifer walked past the desk, however, the lightness suddenly felt heavy, like she’d walked into a suffocatingly humid cloud. She’d forgotten all about the drawing she’d made when she couldn’t sleep the previous night.   She froze in front the illustration, drawn immediately to a detail she didn’t even remember adding. The hand that’d dropped the phone and was frozen mid-way to grabbing the wheel, was decorated with bright yellow nail polish.   Jennifer froze as flashes of realization pulsed through her: the red Mazda in the parking lot: Karen’s car, Karen’s hand, but then a more frightening thought occurred to her. This was no memory, this was a premonition.   She spun to read the clock behind her, trying to calculate where Karen might be in her journey, if she was already too late. It was a 4-hour drive at least, she estimated. There might still be time to warn her, to stop this.   But she had to act fast.   Jennifer dashed back out of her room and raced down the hallway. She rushed across the lobby to the front desk. The girl who sat there looked concerned, probably mirroring Jennifer’s own panic.   “I need Karen’s number, it’s an emergency!” Jennifer gripped the edge of the desk with both hands, breathing heavily.   “Karen who?” The girl asked, and Jennifer realized she had no idea what Karen’s last name was.   “Is there more than one Karen staying here right now?” And when the girl didn’t answer or move to help immediately, Jennifer lost her patience. “Can you check?!?”   “I’m sorry, but even if I could, I’m afraid I’m not allowed to give out any of our guest’s information.” She appeared to be sincere in her apology.   “But—” Jennifer began, but another voice cut her off.   “What’s going on?” It was Chris. Both the girl at the front desk and Jennifer sighed a breath of relief simultaneously.   “That dream I’ve been having, it’s not a memory, the accident hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to if you don’t let me stop it. I have to get in touch with Karen before it’s too late!”   Chris nodded to the girl behind the desk, who started shuffling papers around, then handed over a page. Chris picked up the phone, dialed, and stretched the coil-wired receiver toward Jennifer, who grabbed it and twisted a finger in and out of the stretchy spirals as she waited for Karen to pick up.   “Hel—” but that was all Jennifer got out before squealing tires screamed back at her. A thump hit Jennifer’s eardrum before the line went dead. The rhythmic thumping that followed grew louder and louder, as a sudden realization rushed blood to her head.   Jennifer held the receiver in front of her, staring at it blankly for several seconds. She wasn’t seeing the phone, though, she was seeing the nightmare play again in her head: the woman’s face paralyzed in fear. How hadn’t she realized what was happening? In her panic she hadn’t thought things through…   Chris was gently removing the phone from Jennifer’s shock-frozen hand. She wrapped an arm around her shoulder and led her over into the soothing sounds of the waterfall on the far wall. Jennifer sat down.   “Well it’s a memory now,” Jennifer said, defeated, “and I caused it.”   Chris rubbed circles into Jennifer’s back for a couple of minutes before she said, “Don’t blame yourself. It wasn’t all your fault, you know. Karen could’ve ignored the call. That woman could’ve looked before she stepped into the street.”   “You knew didn’t you?” Jennifer accused, because spreading the blame out did seem to be alleviating her guilt… but it wasn’t quite enough.   “Not until you pulled the phone away from your ear.”   Well shit. “What the fuck is the point of knowing then?” Jennifer spit out angrily, “If you can’t change anything?”   “That’s a good question,” Chris said, “and I wish I had an answer for you… but sometimes the messages that are sent to us don’t have the clearest meaning. Sometimes we’re not meant to do anything but accept what’s happened and move on. You did the best that you could, and that’s what matters.”   Jennifer stared into the water for several long moments after that. Blue lights embedded into the rock illuminated its peaceful rippling curves as it fell, turning a brighter blue in the frothiness that formed at the waterfall’s base.   “Water is a great metaphor for how energy works.” Chris broke the silence. “Sometimes it’s so still and clear you can see right through it, other times it ripples and what’s just below the surface is distorted, and then there are those moments when it’s so turbulent that it’s impossible to discern what’s hiding within… but I think with practice, you’ll be able to recognize what’s clear and what’s convoluted.”   Jennifer whipped her head around, staring at Chris hard, “And what if I don’t want to practice any of this shit anymore?”   “Well that’s your choice,” Chris said, “but let me ask you this: Would you want to go blind because you saw a disturbing image? Would you want to cut out your tongue for tasting something nasty?”   When Jennifer didn’t answer, Chris concluded as if she had, “Well then why would you ever want to turn off your natural ability to connect to the Universe in a way most people deem impossible?”   Chris had a point, but Jennifer didn’t want to tell her that.   Chris laughed and Jennifer realized, a bit angrily, that Chris had been listening to her thoughts again.   “I’m sorry,” Chris said with a smile in her voice, “but you make it hard to resist when you won’t answer me.”   “Look this all seemed cool at first, but it’s gotten pretty scary now too… I don’t know if I can handle knowing so much.”   “I know, it’s strange to suddenly have access to an ability that’s been withheld all of your life. It can be quite a shock.”   “What do you mean ‘withheld all of my life’?”   “They say that ignorance is bliss. The question is are you the kind of girl that prefers the comfortable bliss or can you handle the uncomfortable truth?”   “Is that a trick question?”   “Not at all,” Chris said with a smirk, “You just said yourself that you’re not sure if you can handle all of this, and you can’t come close to knowing what “all of this” entails. I’m giving you the choice to go on with life the way it has been… because if you choose truth, I’m not sure there’s any way you’ll be able to get back to that comfortable bliss.”   “I’m not so sure I’m in the right state of mind to be making such life altering decisions,” Jennifer said dryly.   “Well you think about it then, and get back to me.” She stood, patting Jennifer on the head almost condescendingly, before she sauntered away. “Why don’t you take the rest of the night off, class will be uneven with Karen gone anyway,” she said over her shoulder, and then disappeared in the direction of the Oak Room.   Jennifer stared at the floor for awhile after that. The holographic iridescence popped out of, and disappeared back into, the floor as she rocked back and forth; reflections from the glowing waterfall illuminating its magical looking depths.   “It’s called labradorite,” a voice that was way too close scared Jennifer still, and she looked towards it. The girl at the desk was smiling back at her, but there was no one else in sight.   “Yeah, that was me, I didn’t want to scream.” The girl was waving at her now, and Jennifer realized the voice was in her own head. “Don’t worry, I’m not like Chris, I can’t read your thoughts or anything, I just thought you’d like to know. It’s sort of like the pyramid in the Oak Room, it amplifies our abilities.”   “Huh,” Jennifer said, and then returned to examining the labradorite floor. Was there anything in this place that’s just here to look pretty? Jennifer wondered.   She got up, forcing a smile at the strange head whisperer as she did, and headed back to her room. At least if there were magical, psychic-ability-enhancing structures in there, she didn’t yet know about them. Ignorance is bliss, she thought grudgingly, and she was happy to walk back into her comfort zone.   Though, back in her room, alone with her thoughts, Jennifer felt anything but comfort. Her nightmare plagued her even more than usual with the newfound knowledge that it’d just actually happened. Now, on top of reliving the crash again and again in her mind’s eye, Jennifer was sickened by another thought: how was Karen taking this? What was happening to her right now? Did she blame Jennifer for what’d happened… or did she blame the center, since Jennifer hadn’t even had a chance to speak? Would she blame Jennifer once she found out the truth?   Her mind was spinning with infinite answers, each one worse than the last, when a light knock came at the door. Jennifer glanced at the clock: 8:26 pm, it wasn’t nearly as late as she felt like it was.   Matt stood on the other side of the door. “I was worried when I didn’t see you in class,” he said, “I just wanted to check on you. Everything ok?”   “No…” Jennifer sighed, “not really… still want to come in?”   “Of course.”   Jennifer stepped aside to let him through. She moved some books off the little love seat and Matt sat down in their absence. Jennifer sat across from him on the bed. He might be her friend now, but he was still a manspreader and, predictably, he stretched his knee across half of the cushion he wasn’t sitting on. Jennifer twisted, leaned back against the headboard and sighed.   “So I’ve been having this nightmare ever since I got here…” Jennifer started, and she went on to fill him in on everything that had led up to the phone call that’d caused Karen’s accident.   “Wow.” Matt said once she was finished.   “And now Chris basically told me I’m living in the Matrix and offered me a couple of pills.”   “Wait what?” Matt said.   “I dunno, she said something about how our abilities have been repressed. She said that if I wanted to know the truth there was no going back.”   “So, judging from your confusion, I’d say you told her you didn’t want to know?”   “I told her I needed more time to decide.” Jennifer paused for a moment. “What would you do?”   “That’s a tough one.” Matt leaned forward, elbows on knees, hands hanging limp between them. “I think I’d opt for the truth.”   Jennifer sighed. “Yeah. That seems like the right thing to do. But I guess… I’m just… scared.”   A smirk swept across Matt’s face then and he said, “Anything worthwhile is usually on the other side of fear, no way around it though, gotta go through it. Good news is, the unknown is usually much scarier in your head than it is in reality.”   “How can you be so sure?”   “I’ve faced a lot of fears, and I noticed one huge thing about the human brain… well at least mine; maybe yours is different.” He paused, still smiling at her, but Jennifer didn’t return it. “I always imagine the worst case scenario going into something new or scary. Like the first time I had to give a presentation at work, I was terrified, I imagined everyone laughing at me, I saw myself trip, fall, and faceplant walking up to the projector screen, and I worried I’d do such a bad job I’d get fired. None of that stuff happened, of course. There was no standing ovation or anything, but it wasn’t the end of the world the way my fears led me to believe it would be.”   “Well it’s actually my fault that a woman died today, and I never imagined that could happen. I’m afraid of going to another class, of learning anything else here… afraid it’ll just lead to more of me fucking up and hurting more people.”   “That woman’s death is definitely not your fault.”   “Yes, it is. If I hadn’t called Karen, she wouldn’t have been distracted. Ugh!” Jennifer buried her face in her hands.   Suddenly the phone rang and Jennifer jumped, it was even more obnoxious than the alarm clock, but mostly because it was so unexpected. She grabbed for it before it had a chance to sound out again.   “Hello?”   “Hi Jennifer, it’s Chris, I just got off the phone with Karen and I thought you could use some peace of mind.”   “Okay...”   “The woman committed suicide, she intentionally stepped in front of Karen’s car… there’s no way any of us could have prevented that without knowing who she was.”   “Oh my… God. But how can they be sure? She looked old, I mean, how do they know she wasn’t just confused?”   “When the police identified her and spoke to her husband he said she’d left a note.”   “Oh.” Relief and sadness passed through Jennifer in intermittent waves. “And Karen’s ok?”   “She’s fine, and so is Muppet, by the way. She wasn’t able to see him, being held up at the police station most of the night, but she called the animal hospital, and he’s a bit banged up, but he should heal up just fine. I told Karen to bring him back with her… she should be able to pick him up in a few days.”   Jennifer felt a surge of relief overpower the sadness, “That’s great news, thank you so much for letting me know Chris, that really does make me feel better.”   Matt’s brows raised in question as Jennifer hung up the phone.   “Karen and Muppet are fine and they’re both coming back in the next few days!”   “That’s great… but it sounded like there was more.”   “Oh. Yeah… apparently the woman from my nightmare was suicidal, she walked in front of Karen’s car on purpose. Can you believe that? It’s so sad.”   Matt harrumphed. “As if killing yourself isn’t selfish enough, you have to involve other people in your death too?”   “I just wonder why I saw it in the first place. I mean… what was I supposed to do with that information?”   “Maybe you weren’t supposed to do anything with it. Maybe it was just proof. A lesson in what you can do and where your blind spots are.”   “I guess. But this is the weirdest kind of learning I’ve ever done.”   “Soooo…” Matt began, “you give any more thought to which pill you’re going to take?”   “The red pill. I might regret it once I swallow it… but if I don’t I’ll always be wondering. Definitely the red pill.”   ***   Chris was leading Jennifer down a narrow, claustrophobic hallway deep below the lobby, in a section of the center she’d never been in before. She wasn’t sure how many floors they’d passed on the way down, or if there were any other floors (as the buttons were atypical and revealed nothing), but the journey down had taken a long time.   The rectangular florescent lights above them, evenly spaced within the white speckled dropped ceiling tiles, reminded Jennifer of a shady hospital. Though the shadiness was probably more due to the unfinished cement floors. Either way, this was the first bit of ‘normal’ architecture Jennifer had seen since she’d arrived at the center, and though her anxiety levels were soaring with anticipation about what Chris was about to reveal to her, there was a strange sort of comfort in the standard looking industrial ceiling.   They turned a corner and a row of doors stretched down the left side. Jennifer lost count of how many they’d passed when Chris finally slowed next to one and rested her hand on the knob. “Last chance to opt out.”   “So tempting,” Jennifer said, “but no, I’ve made it this far. Let’s do this… whatever this is.”   “That a girl.” Chris smiled and pushed the door inwards and held it for Jennifer to pass.   The room was a bit anticlimactic, to be honest. It looked like a typical exam room you’d see at any doctor’s office. A patient’s chair lined with disposable paper sat in the middle. A couple of rolling stools were nearby, one of which was occupied by a gorgeous woman whose beauty was only tamed down by the fact that she wore shapeless pink scrubs. She had dark brown skin and honey-hued, almond-shaped eyes with flecks of green and gold. Her dark brown hair was up in a ponytail and had streaks of plum purple. Jennifer thought she was colored like an exotic flower, and her exotic nature was only amplified once she opened her mouth.   “I’m so happy you’ve decided to join us!” Her accent sounded Russian. She stood up quickly and threw her arms open to Jennifer who returned the embrace reluctantly, caught off guard.   “Now Katja Jennifer only agreed to open her eyes to the truth, she hasn’t agreed to join us yet.” Chris corrected her.   Katja waved Chris off and fell back onto her stool, spinning toward the counter behind her. “Yes, I know,” she said, “but she will.”   Jennifer breathed in deeply when she saw the needle laid out. “Are you giving me a shot?”   “No dear, I am simply taking some blood.”   That was even worse. Jennifer hated shots, but having blood sucked out of her always made her feel faint, especially if she looked. She just wouldn’t look she decided. Besides, wasn’t giving a bit of blood better than getting some kind of mystery shot? Jennifer rationalized to herself.   Chris spread one hand toward the patient chair, silently saying: have a seat, and Jennifer did.   Katja ran a cool wet cotton ball over the sensitive skin in the crook of Jennifer’s arm. When the needle approached Jennifer turned away and waited for the inevitable ‘pinch’ most nurses euphemized to young children in warning. Katja said nothing, however, before she penetrated the skin.   Jennifer waited until she felt the pressure that signaled it was over, and finally looked to see Katja covering a mound of gauze with a Band-Aid. Unconsciously, Jennifer covered the wound with her hand as she watched her nurse work.   Katja released a drop of blood onto a small rectangle of glass and slid it beneath a microscope that Jennifer hadn’t noticed before. She rolled back to her computer, clicked and tapped, and a few seconds later writhing reddish membranes filled up the screen; up close, her blood cells were more translucent than she expected them to be, revealing the sickly looking yellow plasma that held them. They seemed a bit frantic, like worms recently stranded after a downpour. Aside from that, as far as Jennifer could tell, though she was surely no biologist, everything looked normal.   “This dye,” Katja said, pulling Jennifer’s attention from the screen, “only adheres to non-organic matter.” From a tiny dropper, she let loose a single drop of blue liquid into the larger puddle of blood.   Movement on the screen directed Jennifer’s attention back up and she watched as a wave of purple spread across it. “What the fuck are those?” Jennifer gaped. Inside of nearly a third of her blood cells were tiny robotic looking things where the nuclei should be. They had what looked like wires that pulsed sporadically like Christmas lights gone wild.   “That,” Chris said with a humorless smile, “is only part of what’s been repressing the human race.”   Jennifer forced herself to look down at her hands. She stared intently at the black circles, willing herself to wake up inside of this nightmare. In slow motion she returned her gaze to the screen… but this, was no dream.     [Conclusion:]   I know, I know, cliff hangers are soooo annoying aren’t they? But what can I tell you? This story isn’t over, and yet, it needs to pause so that this show can go on to do what I created it to do… and that is introduce you to artists AND to teach creators of all kinds how to craft stories about their own work in an engaging way.   So, first of all, a great big virtual hug goes out to Sean Howard for being so generous with art. His photo, ‘Disconnected’ is on the cover of this podcast episode and on the previous show’s. You can learn more about Sean and his work at seanhoward.ca, and, of course, there’s a link waiting for you in the show notes.   As mentioned in the previous episode, Sean is also the co-founder of Fable & Folly, a podcast network that features audio fiction shows, so if you’re anything like me and always on the lookout for more audio entertainment, definitely check out fableandfolly.com.   I’m sending out more virtual hugs to my friends on Patreon who are supporting the creation of Art Ink with their very generous donations. For this story, in particular, I’d like to give special thanks to Jennifer, Karen, Matt, and Chris, who as you might’ve guessed, made naming my characters really easy in this story. Although these characters have very little in common with the Patrons they were named after, I want to point out a few real life characteristics that I’m grateful for.   I’ve enjoyed watching Jennifer create gorgeous handmade books and journals every year at our annual creativity retreat. I’m forever in awe of her vast knowledge of flowers and forever grateful to be able to pick her brain when I can’t figure out what flower I’ve photographed. Thank you Jennifer!   Karen has literally changed my life. First with her not-so-subtle fact dropping about animal cruelty, and then with her endless commitment to making sure I could still eat all the things as I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan. Thank you for fearlessly being you and challenging me to do the same.   Matt is my newest friend in this group of supporters, and also a fellow audiobook narrator. Thanks, Matt, for lending an ear, and for sending me countless audition opportunities. Find out more about Matt and check out his horror audiobooks at https://www.mattheweberry.com/ I’ll have a link in the show notes to Matt’s audiobook work so you can check it out!   Chris is actually my mom’s name, and so it seems weird to call her that, because despite the fact that I was definitely one of those snarky teenagers growing up, I never did that whole call your parents by their first name thing. Though, if I’d thought of it, I’m sure I’d have tried. Anyway, thanks mom, for introducing me to audiobooks back when they were still on tape, and for always letting me hang out in the woo-woo section of Barnes & Noble as a kid, both of which, I’m sure needed to happen to turn me into the person I am today. Neither I, nor this story, would’ve ever been the same without you. Thanks mom!   Well, I never intended to put novella in my podcast, and I have to admit, I am a bit vulnerable putting this out into the world. This is officially the longest story I’ve ever written, and while I have all the confidence when it comes to writing shorts, writing long is hard, man. I have to give props to all my author friends. How do you guys do it?   My biggest struggle over the past few weeks has been this internal battle tug of warring inside of me. Part of me has been so disappointed it’s taken me over 2 months to put out an episode, and the other part of me is screaming to let my creativity be wild and free and do what it wants to do. I guess the two teams on either side of the rope finally came to some kind of an agreement because I stopped writing so that I could move on to a new artist, to a new story, and focus on making future episodes more sustainable. Really, I’ve just been driving myself crazy.   So please, help a girl out here and send me your feedback. What’s more important to you? Would you rather have shorter more frequent episodes or is ok with you if I go off the rails sometimes to follow my inner creative’s whims?   What I’m thinking is that I should really focus on sourcing more submissions so that I can have the best of both worlds.   What do you think? Email me at bekah@rebekahnemethy.com if you have an opinion! After toiling in a void for so long, I can tell you for sure that any feedback would be much appreciated.   Ok, that concludes this 2-part presentation of Disconnected. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll catch ya next time, friends!
Sean Howard is all of the things! He’s a talented speaker, podcaster, writer, brand marketer, and he’s the co-founder of Fable and Folly, a network of kick ass audio fiction podcasts, some of which he’s acted in and produced. Which is...   [If your podcast app isn’t showing the featured art for this episode above visit https://rebekahnemethy.com/artink15 to check it out.   Castbox and Podcast Addict are both apps I recommend that do show episode specific art.]   Links from the Show at a Glance:   Artist: Sean Howard Title of Art: Disconnected Artist’s Website: seanhoward.ca Instagram: @passitalong   Discover audio fiction podcasts on Sean’s network: fableandfolly.com   Sean Howard’s Levitation photographs   Art Ink Submission Guidelines: rebekahnemethy.com/artinksubs     Art Ink Podcast Transcript:   [Intro:]   Hello again, my friends! It’s been awhile since I’ve last spoken to you, and I hope you didn’t think I’d gone and pod-faded on you!   Believe it or not, I haven’t taken any breaks from this show. I’ve written at least a little bit, almost daily since the last episode came out. In my head, I was sure I was writing a short story, but it didn’t want to end, I just kept writing and writing, and watching the word count grow and grow.   One day I impulsively took a break to Google the definition of a short story, because I wasn’t so sure that this writing still fit into that category anymore. By the time I’d done the search it was already well over 10,000 words, which falls into the realm of a novelette. Anyone else out there new to this literary term? Apparently that is what you call a story that’s too long to be a short story but too short to be considered a novella.   I got excited at that point because I was sure that I was almost done, and as my creativity accountability partner Amy will attest, week after week it was my goal to finish this story. I was convinced that by the time I was done writing I’d get to introduce you to my finished novelette. Yet here I am, another 10,000+ words later, and I’m quite sure this story is destined to be a full-length novel… eventually anyway. For now, I’m calling it a novella and I’m recording it for you, because you’ve waited long enough!   Today’s artist is who I’m going to blame for all of this, Sean Howard, it’s totally all your fault for creating something that inspired me so much! I was instantly triggered when I saw your work, and it sent me down a rabbit hole that was hard for me to escape.   Sean Howard is all of the things! He’s a talented speaker, podcaster, writer, brand marketer, and he’s the co-founder of Fable and Folly, a network of kick ass audio fiction podcasts, some of which he’s acted in and produced. Which is awesome for you, my listeners, because while you’re waiting around for me to put out an episode, you could be discovering a world of new podcasts over at fableandfolly.com!   As if all that talent isn’t enough to squeeze into one human, Sean is also an amazing photographer. There’s something about his Levitation series of photographs that haunt me, in a good way, and I have to say it was not easy to select just one of these photos to write about. The saying a photo is worth a thousand words doesn’t do Sean’s art any justice… and, as I’ve already shared with you, it’s provided me with thousands and thousands of words.   When you get a second, my friends, make sure you take a look at the cover art for this episode to see the haunting photograph that Sean created. For those of you who can’t look just yet, let me attempt to paint the picture with words.     [Art Description:]   A girl in a spaghetti-strap, teal dress hugs her knees to her chest in front of a brown brick wall. She faces left, and we see a profile of her, eyes closed tight, pink and red highlighted dreadlocks pointing wildly in every direction.   Floating around the girl, surrounding her at shoulder height, are five floating devices: a tablet and several smart phones. Sean titled this piece Disconnected, and I could think of no better title for the story that his creation helped bring to life.   Enjoy…   [Story:]   Jennifer was hearing phantom ring tones. Despite the fact that she’d intentionally left her phone at home, her arm still instinctively reached out at least halfway to the empty dashboard mount before she realized there was no phone to be heard.   This was the third time she’d reached out to a non-existent phone. It was as if the fucking thing was a part of her body recently amputated.   It’s not that Jennifer didn’t want to bring her phone with her, but it’d be immediately confiscated as soon as she arrived at the center anyway, and so she’d figured it’d be better to leave it home; she didn’t want to worry about strangers invading her privacy… not that she had anything to hide.   There it was again; the distinct sound of her Instagram notification. Jennifer wondered if she was telepathically connected to the damned thing, as her arm automatically rose once again. She jerked it back toward her body, and huffed. If her other hand weren’t already occupied on the wheel she would’ve smacked herself.   Wouldn’t that be ironic, thought Jennifer, if I caused another accident distracted by a phantom phone? At least this time there’d be no evidence to incriminate her. She winced as the memory flashed through her mind, placed both hands firmly on the wheel, and squeezed until her knuckles were white and her concentration was on the road.   She panicked a bit when she saw the sign for exit 34; had she passed her exit?!   She glanced down at her odometer and sighed with relief as she remembered that A: she still had 30 miles to go and B: the exit numbers were counting down, not up.   Jennifer had known that driving to an unknown area without a GPS to guide her would be a challenge, but she’d done it as a teenager, back in the MapQuest days, when she’d had to print out directions on paper. Directions that didn’t magically rearrange themselves if she drove off course, she reminded herself, and then winced as horns blared in her memory. She remembered crossing three lanes of traffic in order to avoid missing an exit on her road trip to Maryland more than a decade ago. Jennifer sighed and reminded herself to be careful and alert.   The absolute worst part of this trip, however, was the silence. Usually she had an audiobook or podcast running when she drove. Occasionally she’d put upbeat music on when she was feeling down; by the time she finished belting out a couple of songs, she always felt much better. Jennifer was sure she’d be giving herself some music therapy by now… she’d tried the radio, but there was nothing to sing along to, the crackling quality was lacking, and there were more commercials than songs.   Jennifer’s circular thoughts filled the silence instead: she was broke, she was now jobless, she’d just maxed out her credit cards on this mandatory detox, and she couldn’t start fixing any of those problems until a month from now. A month from now!!!   It wasn’t like she was addicted to heroin… no one would have to hold her dreads while she puked her way back to sobriety for fuck’s sake.   The Insta notification chimed in her mind again, and Jennifer was reaching out before she could stop herself. She sighed loudly, put her hand back on the wheel, and rolled her eyes at the fact that some unknown force was calling her bluff. Maybe I am addicted to my phone, she thought.   Still, that didn’t justify the $6,000 it cost to go through this program. $6,000 down the drain… down the future drain, Jennifer corrected herself, sighing.   Jennifer felt pretty proud when she pulled into the parking lot a couple of hours later. She hadn’t gotten lost at all. Though it’s hard to get lost when you’re in the middle of nowhere and the turn offs are sparse.   The place was huge, and very modern looking; quite the opposite of what Jennifer had imagined it would be. The entire front of the building was covered in mirrored glass. In its center rose a pyramid shaped peak that stretched well above the rest of the structure; this was covered in the only glass that wasn’t mirrored. It looked more like a shortened, more angular version of a NYC office building than a rehab center. But what did a digital detox building typically look like? Jennifer knew of no others to compare it to.   Stepping inside was like putting sunglasses on, it dimmed the outside sunshine, but not enough to make you feel like you were indoors. Faint, lyricless, music played in the background, along with what sounded like a babbling brook. Jennifer noticed a waterfall that was built into one of the walls to her left. Floor cushions that looked like low love seats and couches were scattered across the floor in front of it.   Aside from the glass, everything seemed to be made out of natural elements. The floor was made of some kind of polished stone, with glimmers of an almost holographic iridescence where the light caught it. Sculpture creatures made of dried out driftwood and metal were scattered about the lobby. A crane with it’s wings spread and a fish in its mouth here, a puppy posed in a play bow over there, and what looked like a koala bear climbing a bamboo stalk in one corner.   “Welcome,” said a voice from the wall opposite the waterfall. Jennifer turned to it.   “Hi, I’m a bit early- I was afraid I’d get lost without the GPS on my phone.”   “Oh that’s no problem, let’s get you settled into your room.”   Even though Jennifer had told her she’d left her phone at home, the girl asked to go through her bags, which felt a bit demeaning. But apparently, many guests tried to sneak in digital contraband: tablets, iPods, old smartphones people claimed were no longer connected and thought should be allowed. The website had been clear about what was and wasn’t allowed – basically anything with a screen was banned.   Satisfied that Jennifer hadn’t hidden an iPod in her underwear, the girl moved on. She handed her a thick information packet, told her that orientation would be at 6 in the Oak Room, and walked her to her room.   With four hours to kill before orientation, Jennifer dropped to the bed and started leafing through the papers. She grew bored about halfway through the second page and studied the room around her. $6,000 and there wasn’t even a TV in her room. How was she going to make it through a month without Netflix?   Jennifer glanced at the clock on her nightstand, saw that only 5 minutes had passed since she’d stepped into the room, let out a lengthy sigh, and threw herself face down into a pile of pillows.   What was she going to do for the next 3 hours and 55 minutes? The panic started to tighten her throat; what if there was an emergency and she needed to call a friend? Then she started to breathe deeply as she remembered that she’d been through this scenario before and had planned accordingly.   She opened her suitcase to find all of her solutions. On top of everything was a practically blank notebook, the first page filled with her go to contacts and their numbers… when was the last time she’d manually dialed a number?   One side of Jennifer’s suitcase was stuffed with clothing and toiletries, and the other half was packed with a pile of books and art supplies. Jennifer was a doer; doing nothing was the ultimate depressant for her – and so, in a way, her suitcase was filled with anti-depressants.   Jennifer pushed her art journal and pencils aside to reveal a pile of novels. She grabbed a Carol Goodman book, The Lake of Dead Languages, and settled into the love seat to read… she couldn’t remember the last time she’d sat down to read a physical book. She “read” books all the time, but audiobooks were her medium of choice – that way she could multitask, “reading” while she walked, cleaned, cooked, and even while she was doodling sometimes. When she was caught up with everything else.   It’d been at least a decade since she’d given her total and complete attention to a book. Pinching the thickness of the pages in both hands, Jennifer had a nostalgic sense of beginnings; just the sliver of the paperback cover and the first few pages pinched between her fingers… the excitement of so many pages ahead. She remembered that giddiness every time she’d gotten a new Goosebumps book as a child.   Jennifer got lost in the book… until a loud knock startled her back into reality.   The girl who’d checked her in was standing at the door with a serene smile. “They’re waiting for you downstairs,” she said, and on a quick glance over her shoulder, Jennifer saw that it was 6:15.   As she approached the Oak Room door it didn’t take her long to figure out the origin of it’s name. Through the massive, triangular-shaped glass wall that stretched up at least four stories was the leafy top of a giant oak tree awash in golden light. The tree had to be at least 100 years old, judging from the thick trunk. Walking into the large room was like stepping outside. There was even grass on the floor… er… ground.   Though the base of the pyramid shaped room was as big as a high school gym, for some reason all of the chairs and their mostly silent occupants were all squished together in the center of the room… aaaannnd it didn’t look like there were any empty seats left.   Jennifer stopped behind the last row of chairs and mouthed the word “sorry” to the woman facing the group, before she bared her teeth, raised her eyebrows, and winced. She crossed her legs and stood with her hands clasped in the front pocket of her hoodie, avoiding eye contact with several people who glanced back at her.   “Oh good, I didn’t want to start until everyone had arrived,” said the woman in a sickly happy high-pitched tone. She wore a form fitting teal tank top and black leggings on her petite frame, and her blonde hair was twisted into a high 2-tier bun. She waved her hand rapidly saying, “there’s an empty seat up here,” and then she pointed to the front row.   Ugh, that’ll teach me to be late, Jennifer thought as she sped to get out of the spotlight, but once she was sitting down, she was grateful to have the chair. No one likes being the odd one out.   The gratitude only lasted a minute though, because although the tiny teenage girl to her left had unnecessarily scooted over when Jennifer sat down, the man on her right hadn’t budged his man spread knee until she’d wedged her own leg between his and the seat. Even then, he’d only moved an inch, keeping his knee hovering over her personal chair space.   The girl crossed her closest leg over the other, covering the rip in her jeans with a manicured hand. The black nail polish was in stark contrast to her pale skin, and the fine sprinkling of silver glitter in it did little to lessen it.   Jennifer scooted over a bit towards her, but was unable to escape the manspreader’s hovering knee.   “Ok, welcome, for those of you who don’t know,” she looked at Jennifer, “I’m Chris, and this is orientation, but it will also double as our first meditation session, so don’t anyone disappear.” she laughed at herself.   You’d actually have to disappear to escape this room without notice, Jennifer thought, as it was at least a 30-foot trek back to the door. Jennifer hadn’t seen another exit, but she hadn’t had enough time to gawk yet. She wanted to ogle the sunset lit view out the full glass wall she’d only had a chance to glance at upon entry, or up at the strange pyramid peaked ceiling, but there’d be no unrude way to look around this close to Chris… stupid front row seat. Another reason Jennifer liked to arrive to things like this early.   “I know that some of you are here of your own free will, but most of you have been given a court order for one reason or another, and to you I say don’t underestimate the power of your addiction. Yes, you are here to be rehabilitated… digital habits are just as toxic as chemical addictions. And for that reason we take our jobs here very seriously…”   Jennifer tuned Chris out as she squeaked on about rules and consequences… and then suddenly everyone was getting up and moving their chairs. She followed the manspreader’s lead, trailing behind him with her own chair. Everyone put their folded chairs into a number of wooden chests up against the far wall. Then they turned to either side to pull rolled yoga mats from matching wooden cubbies.   She picked a purple one and hustled to find a clear spot at the back of the room. As Jennifer walked through the crowd she noticed that nearly everyone here was a kid. Some might be in their 20s, but most looked they were still in high school. Aside from Chris, Jennifer guessed she was the oldest one here. Apparently 36 was a bit old to have a digital addiction.   Luckily, Jennifer was still flexible enough to cross her legs, unlike the manspreader who was struggling on his mat in front of her as she settled down. He managed to cross his ankles, but his knees wouldn’t go down further than chest level. As he continued to fight with his knees, pushing them down, only to have them bounce back up again, Jennifer felt a giggle rising up in her throat and attempted to stop it. She pressed her lips together and clamped a hand over her face, but this only forced the giggle through her nose AND through her lips in what, all together, ended up sounding like a squeaky face fart.   Jennifer suddenly felt eyes on her, and she let her face go lax and casually glanced around the room. Well if anyone was looking at her, they weren’t now; so she examined the young people, mostly girls – she noticed, around her, feeling proud that she could still twist herself into such a position.   “Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes,” Chris started, and Jennifer did so as a soothing chime resonated for several long seconds.   There was shuffling in front of her and Jennifer opened one eye to see that the manspreader had risen and was making his way to the wall, presumably to find a comfortable position on no less than three chairs. He turned around to face the room and looked directly at her as he unfolded, and then lowered himself onto a chair.   Jennifer closed her eye quickly, feeling the heat rise up into her cheeks. He’d definitely caught her staring. And she was probably glaring at him too, unintentionally, of course. She had one of those faces – what had her friend called it? Something bitch face… oh yeah, resting bitch face. She could only imagine what resting bitch face looked like with a one-eyed glare. Probably not very friendly.   Chris’s words brought her back to the present. “Focus on your breath. Pay attention to how your body feels as you breathe in… and out.”   Am I breathing normally? Jennifer wondered. She thought she noticed her heart rate going down as she slowed her breaths.   “It’s completely normal to have thoughts enter into our meditation, hear them and let them go… observe your thoughts, and as soon as you recognize them, remind yourself to come back to your breathing, focus on your inhale… and follow it through your body as you exhale… and repeat.”   Chris was silent for a few seconds.   Jennifer exhaled and wondered how long this meditation was going to last. She should definitely post an Instagram photo of this; no one would ever believe she’d sat still for longer than 5 minutes. How long had it been anyway? She should ask once they were finished so that she could have an accurate number to add to her caption… and then Jennifer realized an Instagram photo was not going to happen. She mentally smacked her palm against her forehead.   “Let your thoughts move on,” Chris suddenly reminded her, “and come back to your breath.”   Okay… Jennifer thought, breathe in, breath out… oh my god, my foot is totally asleep. How much longer are we going to sit here? She opened an eye again and glanced around without moving her head. No one else seemed uncomfortable, and she didn’t want to disrupt the silence by shuffling around.   She switched eyes and looked towards the wall. The manspreader wasn’t even trying. He was slouched against the wall, one hand on his crotch, knees spread to the max, and when her eyes finally traveled up his body, she saw that his eyes were open, a bored expression on his face. He was looking at Chris, whose own eyes were closed as she continued to breathe deeply.   Jennifer glanced back at the manspreader, but this time he was aiming his intense gaze directly at her. She automatically snapped her eye shut and winced; she’d been caught staring at him twice now. Oh. My. God. Stop looking at this guy. He probably thinks I’m a creepy cougar, Jennifer thought, but she quickly corrected herself. I’m too young to be a cougar.   “Now we’re going to do something that may be a bit uncomfortable,” Chris said, and there was a mysterious edge to her voice. “Think of an embarrassing moment… something from your childhood maybe… something that not many people in your life now would know about.”   Jennifer was immediately transported to a college classroom. She’d gotten high, maybe a little higher than she should’ve gotten, right before class. Usually it was the audience type of learning experience versus the participation kind… Jennifer took care to categorize her classes this way to make sure she didn’t get caught in a weed driven social anxiety attack, but Professor Brinkley must’ve been experimenting that day. He’d decided to have his students take turns reading aloud… only one paragraph at a time, but the text was dense with unfamiliar four and five syllable words that Jennifer had no idea how to pronounce.   As the student in front of her started to read, Jennifer quickly read ahead, trying to prepare herself for her turn. She’d internally sighed with relief when she was finished, but then the girl in front of her had gone on… she was reading the paragraph Jennifer was supposed to read. She had become frozen with shock, and suddenly it was her turn, and she was totally unprepared.   Jennifer had stumbled through the text, gripping both sides of the desk to stop her hands from shaking. She’d sounded out at least three unknown words as if she were a second-grader, then she proceeded to butcher even the parts of the English language she did know.   Jennifer couldn’t look up in the silence that followed. No one laughed or snickered… it was an uncomfortable, pitying silence, which was confirmed with the professor’s elongated, “ooookaaay.”   The heartbeat in her ears hadn’t relented its pounding until three students later.   She’d often wondered what her classmates had thought of her that day. Jennifer would be perfectly fine with the truth: she’d gotten stupidly high… but she feared it was more likely that they thought stupid was her default setting.   “Now, it’s time to forgive yourself.” Chris’s voice intruded into the memory, “step into your past as the present version of you, older, more experienced, and bring love to the child you used to be. Give that child a hug, tell them it’s ok, tell them you forgive them, tell them that you love them. See the expression on their face when they experience this forgiveness and love. Ok, it’s now time to come back to the present moment.”   Jennifer opened her eyes slowly, and unfolded her twisted legs even slower. She’d definitely need to sit there for a few minutes to let the blood flow reach her foot; to make sure the pins and needles had run their course before she tried to walk. Jennifer pretended to stretch as everyone around her began to rise, and intentionally avoided looking up, terrified of somehow being pulled back into the manspreader’s gaze again.   Chris directed everyone to the dining hall and a soft chatter filled the air and faded away behind Jennifer as the crowd left the room.   “Not as easy as it looks, is it?” A deep voice asked, and a hand reached down to her. It was the manspreader standing over her. Looking past his hand into his face, Jennifer noticed that, though he was dressed like a teenager in a white hoodie and jeans, he was a lot older than she’d realized. Maybe even older than her.   Jennifer took his hand and let him pull her to her feet, which still felt a little tingly. He held onto her hand at the end of the gesture combining it into a handshake and said, “Matt.”   “Jennifer,” she said with a tight smile.   “You a workaholic?” he asked.   “No… I don’t think so…” Jennifer said, “why?”   “Oh… I just assumed… wait. You’re not here on a court order are you?” He asked and amusement shone in his hazel gaze.   “Yeah, actually, I am.” Jennifer said shortly. And with that she turned her back to him and marched toward the dining hall.   When she smelled the tomato-sauce-drenched main course, she grabbed an apple and a banana and made her way back to the double doors, intending to eat and read back in her room. But manspreader, Matt, stepped in front of her, blocking the way.   “You want to join me for dinner?” he asked, an empty tray in one hand.   “I was actually going to go eat in my room,” Jennifer said, a hint of irritation in her voice. What was with this guy? Her earlier embarrassment around him was quickly being replaced with annoyance at his boldness.   “Ok, well, I just wanted to apologize if I offended you before… it wasn’t intentional.”   “Ok.” She said. But he was still blocking her way out. Should she walk around him?   “Sorry.” He said.   “It’s fine.” But it wasn’t fine, Jennifer thought, it was none of his business.   And then he finally stepped away, saying, “Ok, I guess I’ll see you later.”   But Jennifer didn’t answer him as she hurried out the door and back to the comfort of her room.   She read her book until her eyes were so heavy she got stuck in a loop, reading the same paragraph again and again in between bouts of wakefulness, until she finally gave up.   The next thing she knew she was sitting straight up in bed, heart thudding, her skin tacky with sweat. She’d had a nightmare, she realized… thank god it was just that. Jennifer had woken up just before she’d hit someone, someone else, she thought as she recalled the dream woman’s fear-twisted face through the rain-smeared windshield. She’d had a yellow umbrella and it had cast her skin in a shade of jaundice.   Jennifer didn’t see it happen, but the sense of speed and lack of control as she’d dropped the phone, gripped the wheel and punched the brake pedal to the floor… it made her almost certain that the hit had to be fatal.   Was this the Universe trying to warn her? Trying to make her take her “crime” more seriously? Not cool, Universe, not cool.   She let herself fall back into the pillow, which was now damp and cold and not at all comforting. The EHH, EHH, EHH of the alarm clock jarred her upright again, and once she could finally figure out how to shut the archaic thing up, Jennifer let out a long sigh. She thought of how, if she’d had her phone, she’d be woken up gently as a harp played, slowly increasing in volume as it went. She groaned as she got up; there wasn’t much time to get ready before her 1-on-1 with Chris.   Jennifer brushed her teeth furiously with one hand as she pulled socks off with the other, hopping a couple times to keep from losing her balance. The contrast of blonde on black automatically drew her gaze away from her brown eyes, and she sighed through her nose so as to avoid spewing toothpaste everywhere. She couldn’t even afford to buy a cheap bottle of dye, not unless she wanted to add to her already Everest high mountain of debt, and the pink had long since faded from her short dreadlocks.   Jennifer hadn’t taken a single selfie since… she’d thought about going with black and white photos, tried every filter there was, but nothing looked right alongside the colorful art in her feed; too off-brand.   Luckily, she didn’t have the time to dwell on it. She rinsed, spit, turned away from her reflection and its reminder of all her problems, and got in the shower.   Fifteen minutes later, Jennifer passed into Chris’s office with her clothes clinging to her still damp skin, but at least she wasn’t late, she affirmed to herself as she glanced at the clock. It was 7:29, one minute to spare.   Office was a formal word for the comfy, brightly colored room. There was no desk, no file cabinets, and it was as if a box of markers had thrown up on the walls. The glossy white walls were floor to ceiling dry erase boards, and they were almost completely covered in writing and drawings. Here and there were rectangular patches of black chalkboard paint, which were equally scribbled upon in pale pastels. An L-shaped couch, a love seat, and a few chairs were arranged in a circle that surrounded a bunch of beanbag chairs on the floor. The room looked more suited to a teenage hangout than an office. Jennifer took a seat on a vibrantly green, velvety soft sofa.   “How are you settling in Jennifer?” Chris asked from her seat on a hot pink chair; hers was equally velvety looking. Her hands were laid one atop the other in her lap.   “Well, my wake up wasn’t fun, but aside from that… fine.” Jennifer knew that no digital devices were allowed on the premises, but she’d thought for sure that an exception would be made for the people who ran this place. But even if not, shouldn’t Chris at least have a notebook, a folder to reference… something?   “Yes, you had quite the nightmare, didn’t you?”   “No,” Jennifer said, her gaze scanning above Chris’s head to a long, twisting, Chinese-style dragon drawn in red, “it wasn’t the nightmare I was talking about, it was the alarm cl—wait,” she interrupted herself, her eyes darting back to Chris, “How did you know about my nightmare? Are there hidden cameras in my room?”   “No, there are no cameras in your room,” said Chris, “along with being immoral, that would also be illegal.”   “Then… how did you know about my nightmare?”   “The same way I know about the manspreader.” Chris smiled broadly and raised her eyebrows expectantly.   “Who?” Jennifer began to mentally retrace the past 24 hours, but she couldn’t remember saying that aloud to anyone. Had she secretly been hypnotized during the meditation, caught muttering her inside jokes aloud?   “Hypnotism is something we can do here,” Chris responded, unprompted, “but I assure you, you have not been hypnotized.”   Chris paused for a moment, as if to let that sink in. Jennifer was stunned into silence.   “I hope you’ll forgive my intrusion,” Chris continued, “unfortunately, it’s the only way I’ve found to get through to most people… do you know why you’re here Jennifer?”   “Because it was this or lose my license.”   “Yes… that’s true. You’ve got three counts of texting and driving on your record… but I’m not asking you about your crime Jennifer, I’m asking if you know what you’ve come here to learn. Any idea?”   “How to promise I won’t do it again?… and mean it, since you apparently can read my mind.”   “Let’s go about this a different way. What have you experienced since you last had your phone?”   “I’ve felt… lost. Like something’s missing. Like I’m missing something.” Jennifer paused, but Chris nodded for her to continue. “I feel out of the loop. Disconnected.”   “Yes! You feel disconnected, and rightfully so. You know, smartphones have only been around for the past couple of decades, and in that time we’ve somehow conditioned ourselves to be completely reliant on them for our connection to everything.”   Jennifer couldn’t dispute that. The past day had been a challenge to say the least. She nodded.   Chris went on, “but what if I told you that you could be trained to connect to others, to this world, to this Universe, in ways that you could never imagine… in ways that would make your phone seem subpar?”   “What, you want to teach me how to read minds?” Jennifer asked doubtfully.   “You already know how to connect to others, you’ve had at least one big hit since you’ve been here.”   “What do you mean?”   “That wasn’t just a nightmare, Jennifer, it was a memory… someone else’s memory.”   Jennifer thought back to her dream. It was a bit fuzzier now, but she could still recall most of it: the phone in her hand, white screen blazing in the dimly lit interior, though the words she’d read were totally lost now, and the yellow-skinned woman with wide eyes. But wait… Jennifer went back to the phone in her hand… had it been her hand? Had it been her car? It was hard to tell. It’d been dark.   “Whose memory?”   “Well that wouldn’t be very fun, now would it?” Chris said with a smirk. “You’re here for a month, you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”   Jennifer headed to the dining hall after that. She walked through the food line in a daze, trying to remember the details of her nightmare. Could it really be a memory? Jennifer would’ve found that hard to believe before her strange encounter with Chris, but she also would’ve thrown mindreading into the same box; passing it off as just another sci-fi element, along with teleportation and time travel. There was no doubt, though. Unless Jennifer was truly losing it, there was no other explanation for Chris knowing about her dream… or the fact that she had internally nicknamed the manspreader.   Speak of the spreader himself, as Jennifer was exiting the line he was waving her over to his table. Her impulse was to pretend she hadn’t seen him and return to her room like she had last night, but she had so many questions about this place now, and maybe some of these other digi detoxees could answer them. At least this time he wasn’t alone, the ripped jeans girl who’d sat on the other side of her in the Oak room was at the table too.   Jennifer took a deep breath and headed toward them. “Hey,” she said with a forced smile she hoped didn’t look it. “Matt right?” she started, looking at the manspreader, but she didn’t wait for him to answer before she shifted her gaze to the girl, “I didn’t get your name.”   “Karen,” the girl said, extending her hand. Her long, almost black, hair was shiny, sleek, and straight. With her bangs, the way it hung was like a three-sided picture frame around her face, all hard edges and contrast.   “Jennifer.” She shook the girl’s hand over the table, and noticed that the black nail polish from yesterday had been replaced with fire engine red.   “We were just talking about Karen’s 1-on-1,” Matt said, “did you have yours yet?”   “Yeah, just before I came here,” Jennifer said, “wasn’t exactly what I’d expected.”   “Me neither, but the idea that we’ve somehow stumbled upon a school for psychic development makes it so much more interesting. Don’t you think?” Karen asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. “I mean if going through this detox is mandatory, we may as well get something useful out of it. I’m actually excited now.”   “I mean it’d be cool, I’m not debating that… but do you think it’s even possible?” Matt countered. “I’m not entirely convinced.”   “I wasn’t either, at first,” Karen said, “but Chris knew things… she knew things I’ve never told anyone.”   “Like what?” Matt asked, a smirk on his face.   “Chris knowing is bad enough, I’m sure as hell not telling you.” Karen said looking at him like she had a bad taste in her mouth. After a pause she started again, “But, I will say that I think that whole embarrassing moment thing she made us do during the meditation was a way for her to get material.”   “Material?” Jennifer said.   “Yeah, you know, to prove this shit to us.” Karen explained.   “Well that’s not gonna work on me,” Matt replied, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest, “I couldn’t think of anything embarrassing. I was barely able to focus on meditating in the first place.”   “Well you’ll see,” Karen said assuredly, “when you go to your 1-on-1.”   Matt only shrugged and switched his gaze. “What about you, Jennifer?” he asked.   “I guess I’m still trying to absorb all of this.” She paused to eat a spoonful of bland oatmeal. She’d piled brown sugar on top and mixed it in, but barely tasted it. “My inner skeptic is still trying to convince me there’s a reasonable explanation for what just happened; but she’s having trouble finding one.”   “Yeah,” Matt agreed, “like maybe our friends and family are in on some elaborate practical joke?”   “But there’s no way,” Jennifer was shaking her head. “Chris was reading the thoughts in my head as I was thinking them.”   “Yeah, she did the same thing to me.” Karen said. “Look, I’m not saying I’m entirely convinced we’ll be able to do this mind reading thing anytime soon. But I have no doubt that Chris has some crazy skills… makes total sense now why we have to be here for so long… but yeah, I’m willing to give it a go. Think of what we could do.”   “Yeah…” Matt’s smirk returned, wider than ever, “Well I guess only time will tell.”   They were all quiet for awhile as they finished eating.   “Hey we still have an hour until the next group meeting,” Matt said. “Who’s up for a walk?”   “I’m down,” said Karen quickly, “the weather’s supposed to be gorgeous today.”   Matt and Karen both looked at Jennifer expectantly. “Ok, you’ve convinced me,” she said on a sigh.   “Well don’t let us twist your arm,” Matt said, but he smiled.   “No, I could use the fresh air, and who knows, this could be the last of the nice weather, we should definitely take advantage of it.”   ***   Matt was much taller than Karen and Jennifer, and he stopped several times to let them catch up to him before he found their pace. It was still a bit chilly out, but the sun on their backs was comfortably warm, and grew warmer as it rose.   “So, Karen,” Matt began, “you said earlier that this is mandatory for you…” he glanced at her before continuing, “care to indulge our curiosity.”   Karen shrugged. “Sure, I’ve got nothing to hide. It’s kinda stupid actually. Long story short, I got my three strikes and here I am. But it’s impossible not to text and drive when most of your “driving,” she used air quotes, “is actually idling in dead stopped traffic, ya know? Plus, I can’t do my job without my phone, I’m an Uber driver… so in reality, I never actually texted anyone. My dash mount broke and I had an unlucky week with cops, what can I say? What about you?”   So apparently Karen was older than she looked too, because Jennifer was pretty sure you had to be at least 21 to be an Uber driver.   “I checked myself in voluntarily,” Matt said, “but not until after I had a wake up call.” He paused for two or three paces, then continued on a bit reluctantly. “I’m kind of a workaholic. I was driving out to dinner after a late night at work, it was raining, pouring actually, and I was waiting for an important email. My phone went off, and it was just so automatic the way I grabbed for it… anyway, I took one hand off the wheel at the same time I hit a stretch of deep water. I dropped the phone as soon as I started hydroplaning, but it happened so fast, and before I had both hands on the wheel again I’d already done a 180 and was flying off the road. The next thing I knew I’d slammed sideways into a tree.”   “Wow,” Jennifer stopped walking, “were you hurt?”   “Not at all, but I can’t stop myself from wondering what could’ve happened if there was another car nearby… what if I’d hurt someone else? Killed someone? And all because of a stupid email? I’d never be able to forgive myself.”   “Well, you didn’t,” Karen gave Matt a friendly pat on the back, “and you’re here to make sure it doesn’t happen again, right? So don’t worry about it.”   Matt nodded and they started walking again. The path they’d taken looped around a large pond, and they were nearly back to where they’d started again.   “I worry about the same thing,” Jennifer broke the silence. She hadn’t planned on airing out her own skid marks, but Matt’s unexpected vulnerability made Jennifer feel like she owed it to him to be honest herself. “Though… I have to admit I don’t think it has anything to do with needing to digitally detox.” Jennifer started, she was about to bring up the nightmare since that was the main instigator of her recent fears, but she quickly decided against it. If that nightmare was a memory like Chris said, it most likely belonged to someone here, and who was she to tell someone else’s story. Plus, it had an uncomfortable number of similarities to Matt’s story. Could that be a coincidence? Was her dream off? Was he hiding part of the story?   “I actually did hit someone.” Jennifer admitted, and Matt and Karen both stopped simultaneously to turn toward her. “He was fine,” she quickly continued, a bit defensively, “but the fact is, it would’ve happened whether I had my phone with me or not.” Jennifer could probably squeeze between the two of them and keep walking, and that was what she wanted to do most, but she also didn’t want it to look like she was hiding anything either, so she stopped too.   “I was pulling out of this gas station. It’s on a busy road, so you can’t make a left there, but there’s a yield sign to go right. Sometimes you get lucky and catch a gap in traffic when the light down the road changes, but most of the time you have to sit there and wait.” Jennifer paused here as if her audience needed time to paint the scene in their heads. “So I was waiting and waiting, and my phone went off; it was a text from my friend checking on my ETA, so I tapped the screen to read it. Then I told Siri to text her back that I was on my way. I looked to the left and saw there was finally a gap I could cut into, I hit the gas as the last car was passing in front of me, but as I turned my head to face forward there was something in front of me, and I slammed on my brakes to stop from hitting it. But it was too late. My car jerked forward a couple of feet and stopped, and suddenly there was a man in front of me sprawled in the road.   “I tried to help him, but he got up all on his own before I could make it to him. He was furious, waving his arms at me, screaming that he saw me looking down at my phone. He called the police. And sure enough, they believed him as soon as they saw the time on my last text matched the time he’d reported the accident. It didn’t help that I already had a couple of texting and driving tickets on my record.   “What pisses me off the most though is that I was trying to do better! I got one of those stupid mounts so I could be ‘hands free’ and I hadn’t typed out a single text since my last ticket. And I wasn’t even driving!!!” Jennifer took a moment to breathe away her fury.   “Plus,” she continued in a much calmer voice, “I’ve turned out of that parking lot so many times. I never look right. There’s not even a shoulder on that road. It’s not the kind of road you should be out taking a stroll on. So I’m sure I would’ve hit him anyway.”   Karen was suddenly laughing, “So,” she started, but she was cracking up and couldn’t spit out the words. “So,” she said again once she could get control over herself, “you mean to tell me that guy saw you NOT look at him and decided to walk in front of your car anyway?” Again, laughter burst out of her, and Matt and Jennifer couldn’t help but be infected by it, letting out a few of their own chuckles.   “Yeah,” Jennifer said starting to catch a bit of Karen’s contagious laughter, “probably not his brightest moment.”   “That guy wouldn’t last two seconds in the city.” Karen said with a shake of her head.   Matt was chuckling a bit now too, though Jennifer could tell he was trying not to. “We are such assholes for laughing about this.”   “Why?” Karen said, “It’s not like he died… of anything other than embarrassment, maybe.”   “Ya know, that’s probably so true,” Jennifer said, “I never said it at the time, but I thought he was totally overreacting. I mean, if he had the energy to jump up and wave his arms around at me the way he was…” Jennifer was laughing again. “I’ve seen toddlers with less energetic temper tantrums.”   The laughter and the rest of their walk wound down as the trio reached the end of the trail. The paved pathway spread out into a parking lot before them.   “Just in time,” Matt said, glancing at his watch, “we have 10 minutes until our next group meeting.”   “Perfect,” said Karen, “I’m gonna grab something from my car quick, and run it over to my room.” She veered to the left towards a bright red Mazda RX8 and opened the passenger side door.   Something about the car was familiar to Jennifer, but with the only eye-catching paint job in a lot full of neutral blacks, whites, and silvers, she assumed she must’ve noticed it when she pulled in yesterday.   “You can use that for Uber?” Matt asked. “I thought all of their cars needed to have four doors.”   “Well, technically it has four doors,” Karen said as she reached in behind the seat and pulled open a surprise back door. “But you’re right, this is my personal car, and not at all Uber-approved, which is good, because if anyone threw up in this car, I’d be pissed.” She grabbed a small storage container out of the back seat and gently bumped both doors closed with her hip.   As Karen got closer Jennifer recognized the case’s colorful contents. “That’s a lot of nail polish!”   “Yeah, well, we’ve got a lot of time to kill,” Karen shot back, glancing at Jennifer’s nails as she did, “oooooohhhwww, you’ve got some blank canvases for me.” She raised her eyebrows in question.   “If you really want to,” Jennifer agreed half-heartedly, “I mean, there’s not much there—”   “Oh please, help a girl out,” Karen pleaded, “I’m doing my own daily, and it doesn’t take up nearly as much time as I need it to.”   “Ok,” Jennifer chuckled. Internally she wondered how she was going to keep from poisoning herself the next time she unconsciously bit her nails.   “You think we scared the big guy off?” Karen asked, and Jennifer noticed that Matt had somehow gotten ahead of them. He was already pulling open the glass doors some 50 feet ahead of them.   “Maybe… but he doesn’t seem like the type to scare easily,” Jennifer replied.   “I’m sure I could fix that with one ride.” Karen winked.   “I hope you’re talking about a ride in your car.”   “Of course! What kind of girl do you think I am?” As Karen made her way across the wide open lobby toward her room, she giggled in a way that made Jennifer wonder.   A few minutes later they’d joined the rest of the group in the Oak Room and were once again preparing themselves for another guided meditation.   When Matt tried to slink back to his comfort zone against the wall, Chris followed him. She gently pulled him to his feet, lifted the chair he’d been sitting on, and folded it. She looked up at him, paused. Matt had a shit-eating grin on his face. They were too far away to hear, but in a flash Matt’s forehead furrowed in shocked confusion, holding his mouth open like the shit had fallen right out. Chris turned around, bringing the chair closer to the group. She had a serene smile on her lips, but her eyes wore a cockier expression, like they were screaming “HA! Gotcha!”   “Does anyone want to go get something warmer to wear?” she addressed the group as she pulled a sweatshirt on over her tank and returned to her mat. “Once the sun’s gone it’ll get pretty chilly in here.”   A few people looked upward to the endlessly blue sky that shone through the clear panes above, but nobody moved from their seats.   The pyramid shaped room was basically a green house and Jennifer was grateful for the toasty temperature. Although it was comfortable outside while Jennifer was walking, once she’d slowed down in the parking lot, any hint of a breeze had bit into her skin.   “Anyone?” Chris tried again, but still no one budged from their seats. “Ok, then let’s begin, shall we?” She gave her tiny bell a tap and a familiar chiming vibrated through the large space for several seconds.   Chris led the group to focus on their breathing as she did before, and after a few minutes of that she guided them into full relaxation. “Notice how the top of your head feels, relax your scalp. Feel any tension in your face… and let it go. Let the skin on your forehead go slack, relax your cheeks, your jaw…” and she went on to bring attention to every bit of Jennifer’s tense body. Odd how you didn’t even realize your jaw was clenched until someone told you to unclench it, Jennifer thought. By the time Chris had reached her toes, Jennifer was so relaxed she felt like her skin had melted off; but in a good way.   “Focus on the sounds seeping into your ears,” Chris said softly, “let the noise gradually get louder, until you start to recognize it…”   The orangey glow that’d shown through Jennifer’s closed eyelids gradually faded to black. At the same time the staticky sound of nothing grew louder until she knew what it was. Rain. Jennifer opened her eyes to confirm it. The blue above had been replaced by a dark gray and it was pouring.   Only Chris still had her eyes closed, everyone else was looking up in wonder. Jennifer hugged herself and rubbed her arms as the temperature quickly dropped.   Without opening her eyes, Chris said, “I warned you that it would get chilly.” Then, after a pause, “Well I guess we’re done meditating for now,” she said and finally opened her eyes to look at everyone in front of her.   The group broke for lunch and afterwards, Chris divided them up. Most everyone had taken the opportunity to bundle themselves up before returning to the chilly, gray Oak Room, but it turned out that only half of them would be needing the extra clothing.   As Chris directed them all to form two neat lines, Jennifer felt like she was back in elementary school about to march out to recess. She was at the back of the line, Karen stood in front of her, and Matt towered in the next spot. But that’s where the nostalgia ended, as Chris instructed the group to turn sideways to face the opposing line. There just so happened to be an even amount of people in the room, and Chris told them all to pair off with the person directly in front of them.   Jennifer was mildly disappointed, as she seemed to already be losing her recently found companionship with this forced partnering. She walked toward the blonde girl across from her and offered a weak half smile. Jennifer was trying to be warm, but she had a feeling her face was suggesting more of a well-I-guess-I-don’t-have-a-say-in-this look. It was the same kind of smile one of two team leaders in a high school gym class might give you when it’s his turn to pick and you’re the last one standing.   “Hi,” Jennifer tried to warm up her smile as she extended a hand to the girl, “I’m Jennifer.” The girl reminded her of Baby Spice, minus the slutty attire and pigtails.   “Emma,” she said quietly.   No way, Jennifer thought, wasn’t that Baby Spice’s real name? She wished for the instant gratification of a quick Google, and she wondered if she’d ever stop wanting to Google and Instagram things every hour on the hour.   The brief introduction was all they had time for, though, because Chris was already separating them again. Those who were from Emma’s line were directed to make themselves comfortable beneath the oak tree, while Jennifer, Karen, Matt, and the rest of their group followed Chris back to her teen hangout of an office.   When they walked in the room seemed brighter than it had been earlier, and at a second glance, Jennifer realized it was because the shiny, white walls had been wiped clean.   “Take a seat for now,” Chris said as she spread her arms out and stepped to the side.   “We’re going to do a mini-meditation.” She continued as Jennifer planted herself beside Karen on the velvety green couch. “By now, your partners have been given their own instructions… to send you a message. Your job is to receive that message.”   A few people were exchanging skeptically raised eyebrows, one guy rolled his eyes shaking his head slowly back and forth, someone nearby shrugged their shoulders at him and returned their attention to Chris, who was making her way to an empty beanbag chair towards the room’s center. She practically fell into it on one arm, stretched herself out like a cat, and crossed her ankles.   “Before we begin, I just want you all to know that you can feel free to get up at any time. These messages can be fleeting, and as soon as you sense something, I encourage you to note it on the walls.”   Everyone started looking around the room, a couple with confused looks on their faces. “They’re dry erase boards,” Chris clarified before anyone could ask, “you’ll find markers scattered around, take your pick. Any words, images, shapes, feelings, sounds… anything that comes to you, make sure to record it on the wall. This is a way to communicate more than it’s a test of your artistic capabilities… so please don’t hold back. We welcome chicken scratch and stick figures.”   Chris paused as she looked around the room with a smirk on her face, and Jennifer wondered if she might be waiting for her audience to laugh. “Any questions?” she finally asked.   Jennifer had a few: Are you serious right now? How do you expect us to do that exactly? Is this for real, or have I somehow found myself in an American accented episode of Black Mirror?, but they all came out sounding incredulous in her mind, so she remained silent.   When no one uttered a word, Chris went on, “Close your eyes and clear your mind by focusing on your breath, like we’ve been doing, and once you’re relaxed, bring your attention to your partner. Imagine them sitting in the grass beneath the Oak tree, you’re standing in front of them, you look down at your hands and notice that they’re semi-transparent; you’re in the Oak Room in spirit.” Chris quickened her pace, “now merge into your partner, become one with them, feel what they’re feeling, hear what they’re hearing…”   Despite the energy in Chris’s voice, it seemed to be getting more distant in Jennifer’s ears, and suddenly she heard another voice… it was slightly familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Imagine them in your mind’s eye, whisper your message, whisper your message, whisper your message…” but now that voice was fading away too, and Jennifer was sitting down on top Emma, falling into her body—   A red umbrella, it’s handle up in the air, flashed into Jennifer’s mind, and though she saw no hand holding it steady, it was balanced perfectly like a non-spinning top. And before she even knew what she was doing, Jennifer found herself at the board drawing what she’d seen. When she was done, she was embarrassed to see several sets of eyes staring at her curiously. She quickly made her way back to the couch, noting on the way that nobody else had drawn a thing… Jennifer’s upside-down umbrella was the only image that graced the walls.   “Very good,” Chris mouthed to her, and then out loud, “I’m going to give you 5 more minutes to focus on the message your partners are sending you, and then I’m going to ask you all to doodle your findings on the board… whether or not you think you’ve received anything.”   Someone sighed loudly, frustrated. Jennifer let out her own sigh; though hers was one of relief.   As everyone else focused with furrowed brows, Jennifer reimagined the experience she’d just had. It was a strange thing to admit, but this vivid umbrella had felt like it’d come from outside of her. She’d always had a vivid imagination, could create and see things in her mind’s eye… but she couldn’t trace this ‘vision’ – for lack of a better term – back through any stream of consciousness that’d come from her own thoughts. It was like a unicorn darting out from a herd of elephants.   “Ok,” Chris called out, “time’s up. Whether you think you have answers or not, go on, grab some markers and head to a clean space on the wall.”   A chorus of sighs and groans sounded as everyone stood and trudged over to the boards.   “You haven’t failed yet, so don’t make assumptions,” Chris said, “just write or draw the first thing that pops into your head. This is your first attempt at something you’ve probably never done before, and just like with any other skill, some of you will find your strengths in different areas. We’re all like radios, and you’ll find that you tune into certain stations more easily than others. Right now we’re just experimenting with the dial to see what we can pick up on.”   Karen had a blue marker and was rapidly scribbling a manifesto in tiny letters. Jennifer couldn’t read any of it from her spot on the couch. Next to Karen, Matt was adding pigtails to one of the 5 stick figures he’d drawn. A few others were adding their own embellishments to the wall, but more than half of the class stood stationary in front of a blank space.   “Don’t think about it,” Chris said to those paralyzed people, and she snapped her fingers as she went on, “first thing you think right now, put it on the board. We’re just playing a game here. There’s no penalty for a wrong answer. The only way you can fail here is if you don’t try.” That finally got the few remaining stragglers to add their own hasty additions in an effort to return to their seats quickly.   “Good job everyone.” Chris made eye contact with each and every person in the room before she finally dismissed them to lunch. Apparently they’d be going over their work once they’d reassembled later that afternoon. Jennifer looked forward to that with a mixed sense of excitement and dread, like she was just cresting the peak of the tallest point on a rollercoaster, waiting for the inevitable drop.   Karen looped her arm around Jennifer’s and leaned into her, “if we hurry up and eat we’ll have enough time to do our nails before the next meet,” she whispered conspiratorially.   ***   “So what was all that you were writing on the board?” Jennifer asked as she stretched her arm out to Karen.   Karen applied a mauve polish to Jennifer’s pointer finger in three quick, neat strokes and moved on to her middle finger. Without looking up she said, “The lyrics to a song that was running through my head.”   “What song?”   “Let it Go.”   “From Frozen?”   “Yup.” She was already done painting the nails on Jennifer’s right hand, and reached out for her left.   “Do you think that has anything to do with your partner’s ‘message?’ ”   “I dunno.” Then after a pause and another couple of painted fingernails, “but I guess we’ll find out,” Karen said finishing off on Jennifer’s pinky and finally looking up. She shrugged. “The real question is,” she said as she rummaged through her box of polish and pulled out a trio of bottles, one after the other, and laid them out on the bedspread in between them, “Red Red Wine, Lotus, or Garnet Star?”   Jennifer hunched over and squinted at them, the hues were nearly indiscernible in the dim indoor light. “What’s wrong with the color you have on now?” she asked as she picked them up and twisted to get a better look beneath the lampshaded light.   “Uh, they’re chipped,” Karen said, in a way that implied Jennifer was a bit thick, and thrust her ring finger towards her to prove it.   Again, Jennifer found herself in a game of find the difference searching Karen’s pristine nail for a defect. Finally she noticed a minuscule amount of missing polish on one corner of her squarely shaped nails. “Ahh,” Jennifer said, returning her gaze to the trio of dark purpley reddish colors in her hand. “This may seem like a dumb question, but, why not just paint over the chip? Or just redo that one nail?”   “I mean I might in a pinch, if I had somewhere to be,” Karen snorted, “but what else do we have to do?”   Jennifer nodded and handed her the color labeled “Lotus.” All three colors were too dark in Jennifer’s opinion, but that one was a shade brighter than the others.   As Karen silently began scrubbing at her nails with a cotton ball, Jennifer blew on her own nails, contemplating whether or not she should pursue the topic further. Karen seemed completely uninterested in the strange exercise they’d just performed, as if they’d just come out of a math class where they were learning obvious facts like two plus two equals four, and it was all mundane enough to be forgotten. But Jennifer had experienced something profound; something unexplainable. She’d had an out of body experience. She’d had a vivid vision! Like she was straight out of the pages of some supernatural thriller, playing the role of the reluctant psychic being drawn into a murder mystery. Even though the validity of what she’d seen had yet to be officially confirmed, Jennifer held a strange certainty that it would be.   [Conclusion:]   Don’t worry, my friends, there’s much more to come. If you’re listening to this in the week that it goes live, you can expect Part 2 of Disconnected next week. If you’re listening to this from the future, it’s you’re lucky day, and you can dive into Part 2 right now!   Thank you to Sean Howard for inspiring me with your art and for your generosity in sharing it with us as this podcast’s cover art. Please, please, please, check that out when you get a minute, and visit Sean over at fableandfolly.com to discover new fiction podcasts. I’d recommend you check the show notes to find a link to the rest of Sean’s Levitation series, too, I promise you won’t be sorry!   Much love goes to my Patrons Jennifer, Matt, Karen, and Chris whose continued support for this show is much appreciated. Words seem a dim representation for my gratitude, but I hope you all know that it’s there in a big way.   I have a bit more to share about the kind people my characters were named after at the end of Part 2, but for now, it’s time for me to get crackin’ so I don’t leave ya’ll hangin’ for too long.   I’ll be bok, I hope you’ll hear me there!
Today’s episode was actually inspired by an artist who deleted his Instagram account. Waht-waht. That’s what I get for taking so long to make this show happen. So that means I can’t get in touch with him to use his work on the cover. But exactly a year after I’d drafted that story, at my annual creativity retreat…   [If your podcast app isn’t showing the featured art for this episode above visit https://rebekahnemethy.com/artink14 to check it out.   Castbox and Podcast Addict are both apps I recommend that do show episode specific art.]     Links from the Show at a Glance:   Special thanks to Lynelle Eck and Ana Kuprava for supporting Art Ink on Patreon!   Check out Lynelle Eck’s children’s book A Zoo for You.   Listen to my favorite episode of All Beings Considered on Spotify: The Great Sheep Rambo   Artist: the mysterious @daniel.macro on Instagram Title of Art: Untitled ladybug on a dandelion seed Link to Original Art: https://www.instagram.com/p/BnotD2sFsI7/ Featured on Curated Instagram Feed: @magic_marvels   Cover Artist: Rebekah Nemethy Title of Art: Spotted Cucumber Beetle Artist’s Website: rebekahnemethy.com Instagram: @rebekahnemethy   Art Ink Submission Guidelines: rebekahnemethy.com/artinksubs     Art Ink Podcast Transcript:   [Intro:]   Hello my fellow artists, art lovers, and storytellers. I am thrilled to welcome you back, and welcome myself back to a new art-inspired adventure today. After the long, drawn out construction of my new voiceover booth, I’m even more thrilled to have more time to get this podcast schedule back on track.   If you listened all the way through the last episode you know that I had a limited time offer on Patreon last month for all new subscribers, and I want to give a big shout out as well as virtual hugs to those of you who signed up to support the show! As promised, all of my upcoming characters are named after, and in tribute to, my generous supporters. Today’s story features characters named after Lynelle Johnson Eck and Ana Kuprava. You ladies rock! Thank you!   If you missed out on the special offer, don’t worry, you can still get quite a few perks for becoming a Patron. And I wanted to let you all know about a new goal I have for the show. Right now Art Ink comes out 1 or 2 times per month, but if you want more we can totally make that happen. Once I reach 500 supporters I’ll be able to dedicate the time needed to crank out a weekly show. So go ahead and show me that’s what you want by pledging your support today at rebekahnemethy.com/patreon or share the show with a friend and help Art Ink find more listeners who can help.   Ok, so today’s episode was actually inspired by an artist who deleted his Instagram account. Waht-waht. That’s what I get for taking so long to make this show happen. So that means I can’t get in touch with him to use his work on the cover. But exactly a year after I’d drafted that story, at my annual creativity retreat, I made a photo that just so happened to work perfectly for the same story and I figured that was a sign not to scrap it.   I’ll describe both photos for you and I’ll give you a link in the shownotes to see the original photo by the mysterious “@daniel.macro” where, at least at the time of this recording, it’s still featured on a curated photography feed on Instagram.   [Art Description:]   The original photo is a close up photo of a fluffy dandelion and a ladybug. The flower’s bare dotted center, which is missing seeds on its top half, fills up the frame’s top left quarter. Wrapped around the edge of that center is an elliptical band of brown seeds still clinging to the flower. The fluffy parts of the bluish white seeds are mostly out of focus throughout the rest of the photo, giving it an overall dreamy feel. But a couple of seeds are sharp, and crawling up the stalk between the fluff and the flower’s center is a red ladybug.   Immediately when I saw this photo I thought of wishes. And I wondered what a ladybug would wish for. As I did some quick research, I discovered that many of the bugs I had previously thought were ladybugs were totally different species. When I dug a bit deeper I found that some of these beetles, like the spotted cucumber beetle, weren’t even carnivorous like their ladybug cousins who are reveled by gardeners for their hunting abilities, but instead are more often considered pests.   As you already know, those notes remained untapped, until a year later, when I happened to come across a spotted cucumber beetle while I was photographing some interesting flowers. I spent at least an hour with him, and I got several amazing shots, but I’ll just describe my favorite, the one you can find on the cover of this episode in case you don’t get a chance to check it out.   The background of my photo is soft, made up of a variation of greens that blend into yellows. Two pink flower petals are coming into the frame from the bottom right corner, and a green spotted cucumber beetle rests toward the left side of the topmost petal. Now that I’m comparing the two insects up close and side by side, I can see their differences. Ladybugs are rounder, and their spots are patterned differently. This green beetle has 3 neat rows of four black spots all lined up perfectly, his body is more oval and elongated, and his antennae are a bit longer.   But… just forget about all of those differences… because they’re totally going to ruin my story!   Let’s just pretend in this world we’re about to enter into, that ladybugs and cucumber beetles look exactly the same, but are just bugs of a different color.   I hope you enjoy, The Ladybug’s Wish.   [Story:]   “No!!! Don’t eat me, please!”   Those were the last words Lynelle heard right before she crunched down on the little mite.   “Am I a monster?” she asked herself as she slowly cleaned her antennae, afterwards.   It wasn’t like Lynelle wanted to eat other bugs, but a ladybug’s got to eat. As it was, she’d cut back so much on her meals, that she feared she might be slowly starving herself. Most of her peers ate dozens of mites every day, sometimes even up to 100 of them, and it’s no surprise that after eating only half of that, Lynelle’s tummy still ached for more. But she just couldn’t bring herself to kill another innocent insect.   “If you make another pass over those antennae, you’re likely to rub your shell away,” called a sweet [southern] voice from above.   Lynelle had been reliving the moments leading up to her last meal on repeat, the mite’s haunting pleas for his life echoing as if it were trapped in a cave of infinite depth. She stopped cleaning her antennae. “Oh, hi Ana,” she said, looking up.   Ana was resting atop a tiger lily, her iridescent blue wings shimmering in the sunlight as she slowly fluttered them. She brushed the pollen off of her front legs and cleaned her own antennae.   Lynelle noticed that the sun had moved quite a bit since the last time she’d looked up. “I guess I just got lost in my head for awhile.”   “What’s the matter Miss Lynelle?... why don’t you climb on up here and tell me what’s bothering you?” Ana asked. Then she fluttered up into the air a bit, and then down to rest on a lower orange lily.   Lynelle sighed, but then cracked open her red-spotted armor to let her own wings carry her. She landed atop the fluff of a nearby dandelion, and tried to pretend that she didn’t hear the mites screaming beneath her.   “Lady-hunter!” one of them shrieked, and Lynelle could feel the vibrations as several bugs escaped down the stalk below her.   “That’s what’s wrong,” Lynelle gestured toward the retreating mites with one of her legs, “I’m a monster. Everyone fears me.”   “Well everyone’s got to eat, my dear,” Ana replied, “and your kind eat mites.”   “But what if I don’t want to be my kind anymore? What if I want to change?” Lynelle was silent for a while, but then she suddenly had an idea, “You’ve changed Ana, you used to be a caterpillar and now you’re a butterfly, can’t you teach me to change like you have?”   “I’m… I’m not really sure I can.” Ana said, but then her concentrated expression lightened with a smile. “I don’t think I can help you turn you into a butterfly, but perhaps… perhaps you can make a wish.”   “A wish?” Lynelle said doubtfully.   “Yes, I always hear the gardener telling her son about the power dandelions have to make wishes come true!” Ana explained excitedly.   “Dandelions?” Lynelle looked down at the fluffy surface she was standing on.   “Yes! Whenever they’re out here she tells him to pick all of the dandelions, make a wish, and blow all the seeds off the stalk to make it come true. And I’ve also heard her say that the more dandelions he picks, the more likely it is that his wish will come true.” Ana concluded confidently.   “I guess… it… couldn’t… hurt to try,” Lynelle said slowly, “but what would I wish for?”   “You could wish to transform into a spotted cucumber beetle,” Ana suggested, “then you wouldn’t have to eat mites anymore.”   “What a great idea Ana!” Lynelle beamed. It might be hard to learn how to be a different bug altogether like a butterfly, but aside from eating vegetables and having a green shell instead of a red one, spotted cucumber beetles were very similar to ladybugs. She’d still be able to fly and walk the same way. She’d hardly have to relearn anything at all. If only she could guarantee her wish would come true.   Lynelle looked across the flowerbed, excited to see there were plenty of fluffly dandelions to wish on.   She jumped up into the air, cracking her wings as she held on tight to the fluffy floor at her feet and pulled. Without much effort, a single seed loosened, and Lynelle wished hard. She imagined a green shell. She imagined baby mites sliding down her shell and screaming, not in fear, but in delight. She imagined munching on cucumbers, and melons, and squash without guilt. She imagined what it would feel like to finally be full again.   “Ana,” Lynelle said as she began tugging on another seed, “can you help me?” A large clump of the fluffy seeds came free this time, and she floated around Ana on a twisting breeze, leaping off before it carried her too far away. “There are a lot of dandelions here and I figure two wishers are better than one.”   “Of course, darlin’,” Ana said, and she took flight.   The two of them set off and got to work wishing, defluffing every dandelion in sight, and soon the air throughout the garden was full of floating, flying seeds.   As the sun dropped down toward the horizon behind the tree line, the light quivered to the beat of leaves dancing in the breeze. Backlit seeds illuminated like magical orbs in the golden light.   A few hours later Lynelle dropped to the ground, exhausted, and tucked in her wings for the night. She sighed as she watched Ana fly away.   ***   Lynelle slowly blinked herself awake as a brighter, newer spectrum of sunshine sparkled through the morning dew. Birdsong made its way into her ears, pulling her further out of her dream world. She’d dreamt she was riding dandelion seeds through a tornado, spinning round and round in chaotic delight.   Her stomach rumbled and she groaned, now fully awake.   A line of mites marched by and a couple of them looked at her and… could this be right?... smiled at her. Lynelle squinted, trying to narrow in her focus, but then her face went slack as she realized something even more odd: none of them were running away or screaming.   “Could it really have happened?” Lynelle whispered to herself, “Did my wish come true?”   After the mites had passed and Lynelle could finally rouse herself out of her stupor, she climbed up a blade of grass with a plump dewdrop at the top. As her weight shifted the grass the dewdrop swiftly slid down past her giving her a brief glimpse of her reflection. It was just a flash, but it was a flash of green, not red.   Lynelle leapt up into the air as the droplet splattered on the ground below and soaked into the parched soil. Her shell split open above her head like two umbrellas, and her wings released carrying her upward. She could just make out the top edge of her shell if she peered up at it… and it was green!   Lynelle did several victory spirals and finally crash-landed into the soft funnel of a tiger lily. Flying was never her best skill and, apparently, that hadn’t changed with her transformation.   Pollen clung haphazardly along Lynelle’s antennae and face, but she was unharmed. Her tummy gurgled again and this time she got excited anticipating the garden full of fruits and veggies that awaited her.   A shadow passed overhead and a faint vibration resonated from the flower and through Lynelle’s legs. Ana’s pretty face appeared in the lily’s opening as Lynelle made her way back outside.   “Oh, Ana, look!” Lynelle said, “It worked! It really worked! Look at me! I’m a cucumber beetle!”   Ana smiled knowingly, “Of course it worked.”   “Thank you so much for helping me,” Lynelle said, “I couldn’t have done it without you. But I’m absolutely famished, so I’m heading into the vegetable garden.”   “Of course you couldn’t have,” Ana muttered beneath a smile, but Lynelle was already flying away and hadn’t heard her.   “I’ll see you later!” Lynelle called back to her.   ***   Not much later Lynelle took one last bite of the cucumber she’d been chomping on, lazily let go of her grip, and slid down the vegetable’s long side on her belly to land heavily on her feet at the ground.   After gorging herself on watermelon and squash and then finally cucumber, Lynelle felt so full she could hardly move. Despite the slight physical discomfort, though, she was grateful for the weight that was lifted from her mentally. No longer did she have to feel guilty for eating. No longer would she have to choose between feeling hunger pangs or the equally sharp pain of stealing another’s life.   As Lynelle was resting and reveling in the events of the past two days, she heard a faint sound that was getting louder fast. Giggles mixed with the delightful screeches of children at play as several tiny mites came sliding down the cucumber and landed on Lynelle’s back.   “Woah, that was fun!” said one of the kids.   “Let’s do it again!” said another.   “Don’t you even think about it!” said a reprimanding voice from high above.   Lynelle looked up to see a larger mite briskly making her way down the cucumber as fast as her little legs would carry her.   “How many times have I told you, sliding is dangerous! And what if you had run into a predator down here instead of this nice beetle?” she paused to look at Lynelle and gave her an apologetic smile. “I’d never have been able to get to you in time.”   Lynelle grinned back at her.   “Come down this instant,” the momma mite said, “and don’t you dare—” but before she could finish her sentence the kids were already gleefully sliding down Lynelle’s back.   “Weeeee!” they cried out, and Lynelle was stunned into silence. She couldn’t believe that her daydream of making friends with the mites was literally happening in real life—down to the smallest detail.   “Eww, what’s that green goop on your back?” one of the children said, jarring Lynelle out of her thoughts.   “I dunno, but it’s all over you too,” another giggled out.   “All of you, please come here. Right this instant.” Their mom said again, but her tone had changed. There was a quaver in her voice that made it sound less like a demand and more like a desperate plea. She was staring, wide eyed at Lynelle’s shell.   One kid followed his mother’s gaze and when his eyes hit their destination his face instantly transformed, reflecting the same shocked expression she wore.   “Lady-hunter!!!” the little mite screamed. A wave of panic swept over the group and they all scuttled away.   Lynelle tried to call after them. “Wait, what’s wrong? What did I do?” But her confused words were no doubt drowned out by their frenzied screams… not that they would have stopped and answered her if they had heard her… not in the spooked state they were in.   Had her wish been revoked? Had her time run out so soon? Had she already lost all she’d thought she’d gained? How else would they have known about the predator she’d transformed from?   Lynelle cracked her shell and clumsily flew upwards; all that she’d eaten was weighing her down. She expected to see red when she looked up, but no, her shell was still green… at least the bit of it that she could see.   She needed a dewdrop to know for sure though, to confirm that she was still the bug she wanted to be. And there wouldn’t be any dewdrops until morning… unless… unless the gardener would be out soon with her watering can. Lynelle wasn’t sure if the gardener had been out yet, but sometimes there was some leftover water in the can, and if there was, that would be just fine.   Her flight was wobbly and strenuous, but she was determined to find out what was going on.   Lynelle landed on the edge of the watering can with a huff of a relief and peered inside. The sunlight was hitting her perfectly and her reflection shone bright and colorful against the dark surface of the water below. Her shell was still green.   Perplexed, Lynelle carefully rotated herself to look at the other side, and as she did so she remembered that this was the side the kids had slid down.   And there it was: the cause of the little bugs’ panic. Even as thin as it was, the bold red popped out against the pale green like a flashlight on a moonless night, and it spanned the whole height of her shell.   A light breeze fluttered across Lynelle’s body and Ana appeared beside her, the slightest ripple passed over them in the water below, making Ana’s blue iridescence seem even more magical as it wavered.   Lynelle looked up at her miserably. “Wishes don’t come true,” she said, “I’m still the same old ladybug.” She gestured to her reflection in the smooth black pool below and sighed.   “I was afraid you’d find out sooner rather than later,” Ana said.   “You did this?”   “Well, I had a bit of help from some ants, but it was my idea, yes.”   “But… why?”   “Are you hungry Lynelle?”   “No.”   “Did you eat any mites?”   “No,” she drew out the word as the realization dawned on her.   “Wishes start from the inside,” Ana said. “But when we believe we can’t change because of outside circumstances, that belief keeps our inner power locked up tight.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “What we believe on the inside is what changes the outside. Trying to do it the other way around, as you can see, is a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. But I thought it might help you to recognize your power.”     [Conclusion:]   So what did you think of that?   I’m actually a bit surprised at how this story came out, it could be a children’s book… don’t you think? Which is very interesting to me, because the real life Lynelle, who is one of our newest Patrons, is actually a children’s book author herself. She wrote A Zoo Just for You, which is a really fun book with two of my favorite things: animals and rhyming! I’ll link to that book in the shownotes so you can check it out. But it’s only as I was writing the conclusion to this episode that I realized I must have been channeling Lynelle somehow as I wrote this.   Because I’ve never once set out to write specifically for children, in fact this story was supposed to end very differently. The idea came to me at a more cynical time in my life. At the time I was a newer vegan, maybe a year or two from when I stopped eating dairy and eggs. I was still hurting a lot from the truths I’d discovered, and more specifically, from the reactions I’d gotten from some family and friends about my decision.   You see, from my perspective I was making a decision that came from a place of love. I was absolutely sure I was doing the biggest thing a single human being in an animal-product heavy culture could do to vote with my wallet. I guess… I thought, that people would, at the very least, respect my decision, at the best, maybe I’d inspire them to make more loving decisions themselves. But I was oh-so-wrong about that.   Instead I got tons of resistance, I got lots of cruel jokes, walls went up, and the sensitive introvert in me cowered away from people who were determined to stay trapped in their comfortable bubble of social programming. Don’t get me wrong, there were some who asked thoughtful questions, some who listened to the stories I told as I burst into tears. And though many people accept my decision as a part of who I am, it’s a rare gem that’s willing to go so far as to make changes in their own lives.   More than once over the past few years I’ve had to ignore the voice in my head that wants to lock myself away in my own comfort zone, ditch all my lifelong omnivore friends, and move to Woodstock to find a tribe of vegan hipsters that will take me in. But I know that change is hard. I know that seeds planted sometimes take a long time to grow. So I have to keep planting seeds where they can grow, and the most fertile soil is in people who don’t know yet the power they have to change the world. Not just for animals, but for the environment and for their very own health.   But anyway… that was a very long tangent to say that I felt like a vegan victim for a long time. I felt like making a decision guided by love had somehow caused people to fear, hate, and feel threatened by me. And so the ladybug was originally going to die in the end. In a shocking twist the gardener was supposed to show up, see the cucumbers in her garden all chewed up, follow the trail of destruction to the green beetle, and crunch it into oblivion for being a “pest.”   I know that ending came from a metaphorical sense of self-loathing. I know that by killing off the herbivorous beetle I would’ve been trying to express how I felt the world received my own intentions to live a more peaceful existence.   But since then, I’ve had a lot of spiritual growth in my life. I’ve learned more about how the Universe works. I’ve realized that anybody who hurts me is coming from a place of hurt themselves. And so I’ve tried my best to step out of my comfort zone. Instead of quietly hiding my veganism I decided to do something scary. I decided to teach people about vegan choices and the reality of what animal agriculture is doing to harm animals and our rapidly dying planet. I did that by becoming a tour guide at Catskill Animal Sanctuary last year, where I got to hang out with some of the 300 plus lucky cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and horses who live there (among many other animals) and introduce them and their stories to visitors, and if you’re into podcasts you should check out theirs. Kathy Stevens, the founder and host of All Beings Considered, is an amazing storyteller. I’ll link to my favorite episode about a sheep named Rambo in the shownotes. It’s the most inspiring story about a real life animal I’ve ever heard.   Anyway, that brings me to another shoutout, because Ana Kuprava, who our butterfly character was named after, is one of my fellow tour guides at the sanctuary, a new vegan friend, and she’s also become a supporter of the show on Patreon. I never had any intention of doing anything other than naming my characters after our new Patrons… but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that memories of lessons learned at Catskill Animal Santuary weren’t running through my head as wrote this story. Especially as I decided that the murderous ending I had in mind didn’t serve the story at all as well as it could.   So thank you to both of you, not only for supporting Art Ink on Patreon, but also for inspiring me to make this a better story than it would have been without you!   And thank you, my friends, for listening! That’s all for this show, but we’ll be back with a new artist and a new adventure in just a couple of weeks… so stay tuned… but until then, remember that you can be whatever you want to be… the best version of you is already inside of you, you only need to find the courage to be it.  
Dave is one of the few artists out there who has helped me to realize that I’m not alone in more than one way. I’m not the only one who has a passion for multiple forms of creative expression. I’m not the only one who struggles through this curvy path of choosing to live the most creative life possible. I’m not the only one making it all up as I go along, taking the risks and rewards one day at a time. I used to be really afraid of change… who am I kidding, it still terrifies the fuck out of me… but…     [If your podcast app isn’t showing the featured art for this episode above visit rebekahnemethy.com/artink13 to check it out.   Castbox and Podcast Addict are both apps I recommend that do show episode specific art.]     Links from the Show at a Glance:   Artist: Dave Conrey Title of Art: Infinite Possibility Artist’s Website: daveconrey.com Instagram: @daveconrey Art Ink Submission Guidelines: rebekahnemethy.com/artinksubs   Email Bek at bekah@rebekahnemethy.com for any feedback   GET ALL OF MY ART FOR $1 RIGHT NOW ON PATREON! For real, but it’s only open to the 1st 100 people who sign up, so do it now, before it’s too late.     Art Ink Podcast Transcript:   [Intro:]   Hello my friends, welcome back to one of my favorite places to be, digging into the creative zone that is this podcast. Back when I was in high school I always thought I’d be a writer, it was the thing that all of my teachers, family, and even many of my friends, expected me to be. I wrote a little bit of fiction back then, but at this point, I’m sure I’ve written more fiction for Art Ink than I did throughout all of high school and college.   I have to admit that these most recent experiences are so much more satisfying than any fiction writing I did back then. Maybe it was because that back then I still believed in the need to have gatekeepers validate my work, and possibly it was also the fact that I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge I have now about how to push through the excuses many of us make about why we don’t create the work we feel compelled to do, but I also know that reading the words aloud does something to manifest these stories in way that just feels more complete. Which is really interesting because a few years ago speaking into a microphone seemed scarier than skydiving without a parachute… and now… now it might be the thing that most motivates me to write; so I can make the words come alive.   This is one of the stranger stories I’ve written, and I think that’s why I love it so much. It has many layers to it, and I’ll discuss some of that at the end of this episode, but first, I’m sure you’re dying to know whose artwork is gracing the cover of today’s show.   Dave Conrey is a well-rounded artist I’ve been following for many years. He’s also a designer, a writer, a fellow podcaster, and an advocate for artists. Before I even had the vagina to call myself an artist he was one of the voices in my head, I binged on all of his podcast episodes, read all of his books, and I soaked it all up like a parched, shrunken sponge.   Dave is one of the few artists out there who has helped me to realize that I’m not alone in more than one way. I’m not the only one who has a passion for multiple forms of creative expression. I’m not the only one who struggles through this curvy path of choosing to live the most creative life possible. I’m not the only one making it all up as I go along, taking the risks and rewards one day at a time.   I used to be really afraid of change… who am I kidding, it still terrifies the fuck out of me… but it also leads to some of the most fun and fulfilling moments of my life. Things that, many times, are totally unexpected and couldn’t have happened any other way.   I’ve watched Dave’s evolution with awe. Back when I first started listening to him, he wasn’t making any visual art at all, at least not publicly. I mean, he was creating plenty of content, which is still art in my book, but I’m talking about watching Dave’s Instagram erupt with design and mixed media art. His work is edgy and avant garde. I’m totally not an art critic and, in all honesty, I’m not sure I used that term right… it actually sounds a bit pretentious… and whatever the opposite of pretentious is… that is what Dave’s art is to me. It’s messy, but in the most visually appealing way possible. It’s a bit grungy. I love it!   So let’s get into the beautiful mess that is the piece of art that prompted today’s story… shall we?     [Art Description:]   There’s so much to this mixed media piece that I have to stress that you take a look at it yourself whenever you can. If you can’t see the cover art in your podcast app then check the episode description for the link.   One of my favorite things about abstract art is how perspective can change so much about what it becomes to each individual viewer. What I see may not be what you see. That’s also a disclaimer.   In the middle of this painting is a deep sapphire blue wave, at the very center the blue is more muted, and this is where the stacked words “INFINITE POSSIBILITY” stem from, stretching across the right center of the piece. Below the words the blue deepens and blends into a couple of thick black strokes, with thin streaks of yellow, that swoop down and to the left. Slashing across the top of the blue black wave an orange streak underlines part of the word, “POSSIBILITY,” and curves sharply down to the right corner. Bits of black peek through the orange, it’s almost like a creature of some sort is hiding behind it, gripping it with a single monstrous hand. A pink and black animal of some sort, a made up one for sure, because I can’t name it, rides atop the orange stroke beneath “BILITY.”   So heading clockwise, from the bottom right corner, we’re back in those black strokes that led down from the blue center and then end in two circularly stroked patches of pink. The top-most pink paint looks like half of a record, brush streaks thin the paint in the center of the stroke revealing the blue and black beneath. To the bottom left of the pink half record is a larger pink section shaped like a squished half moon, and inside that squat moon is a black silhouette, it could be the reflection of a surfer or maybe a dancer.   Still heading around the clock, skipping over a large unpainted area of white at 7 o’clock, we land on the bottom of a backwards C of orange paint that stretches from 8 o’clock to 9. Jagged, blocky veins of black paint cover much of the orange and lead both down to the pink and back up to a bold red spray-painted circle dripping blood like a bullet wound. A fine mist of red speckles the pale blue and pink below the red wound and also spots the orange C and the white space running down the left side of the art.   At 9 o’clock, just to the left of the red, orange, and black is another jagged black line, thicker than the veiny lines below, that leads up and curves to 11 o’clock where it ends at an angry looking black eye. Orange fills the space beneath half of this eye, and to the left a thick downward stroke of orange fills the top corner.   Remember we’ve been circling around this deep blue center area, and so at 12 o’clock, just above where the sapphire blue comes to a point and to the right of the eye, yellow and green paint fill a space that, along with the eye, looks like a short, pointy elephant trunk that stretches diagonally across the page. The forehead area of the elephant’s face is muted blue and white at the top center.   Following the same slightly diagonally line created in yellow and green, 3 squares of pink are situated from forehead to center trunk. A thick pink stroke lies parallel along the rest of the trunk downward to the word “INFINITE.” Black lines edge some of the pink squares and are scribbled through the thicker stroke. To the right of the pink paint, more black lines, strokes, and dots lead down to the words. They remind me of dominos.   Dave’s message to the artist is worth quoting. Along with his Instagram post of Infinite Possibility he wrote: “If you knew you could not fail, what would you go after? What dream would you chase down? At the crossroads of purpose and passion exists infinite possibility. Now, in order to realize that infinite possibility, you have to drive your ass down to the corner of hard work and due diligence.”   I couldn’t agree more with Dave’s words. Well most of it… I don’t really think it’s supposed to be hard… we just believe it’s supposed to be, so it is.   I do however believe in Infinite Possibility, and along with those words and some of visuals my perspective pulled from Dave’s creation, another story was born. I call this one, All the Other 9/11s…   [Story:]   September 11th, 2001 – 12:02 pm   Dakota: I woke up late, feeling strangely heavy. Now there’s… this… fascinating presence inside of me. Clear words that aren’t mine; memories, too, vivid ones. I’m just going to let it all out, before it goes away. I don’t have much time.   In all 123,321 universions I’ve experienced, this is the first time I’ve felt the urge to write it all down—well, write as much of it as I can, anyway, in the mere 24 hours I have before I’ll leave this body and drop into another one.   No, this is not like the exorcist or the body snatchers, I’m not some kind of demon or alien possessing Dakota’s body. I am still Dakota, hence the sudden urge to write, but I am also a different entity entirely. A wandering soul, you might call me. And, today, Dakota has access to all of my memories, and I have access to hers. You could see it as a sort of partnership. I can’t force Dakota to do anything against her will, and honestly, most vessels I drop into don’t even recognize me as more than an odd feeling… which is another reason we are furiously writing this down. I’m thrilled that she can sense me so clearly and honored that she’s so interested in my life and will do my best to answer her questions.   Dakota: Who are you? Do you have a name?   Hmmm no… I don’t often get the chance to communicate with my vessels, so I guess I’ve never had a need for a name. I take on the name of the vessel I’m traveling in. Today, I am Dakota.   Dakota: Why are you here? What’s your mission… ok this is weird because we’re in one mind, so I get it, but I’m having a hard time putting your experience into words.   My mission is the same as the human mission, except it is much easier for me, and that is simply… to be.   To use a popular movie in this universion to simplify my existence, my life is like Groundhog Day, except I’m in a different body and a new universion every 24 hours. So, as of today, I’ve experienced 123,321 completely unique versions of September 11th, 2001 here on Earth. Infinity is hard for most of us to fathom, but even this many days, which amounts to over 300 years of your linear time, is so much more miniscule than our human mind can perceive. I wish I could share the experience of every day with you, but I don’t have the time to even think it all, and no reader would have the time to read it, so I’ll give you the highlight reel.   Dakota: What’s the most memorable universion you can share?   Universion 626, for sure.   The most beautiful moment I’ve ever experienced was on Miami beach, just after sunset. The waves lapped up onto the beach and sparkled pink as it hit the sand. As we walked along the saturated shoreline, the sand beneath our feet illuminated with every step we took, the neon pink glow spreading over our feet and up our ankles if the water had washed over them recently enough.   We’d swum out into the ocean after dark. Drawing messages to each other underwater, the plankton making it look like our fingers were magic wands.   After she’d drawn me a heart I grabbed her hand and pulled her to me. In many universions there is a lot of symbolism surrounding the way sparks and fireworks and light, in general, fly when you experience love… but this was the first universion where this manifested literally. Our kiss felt electric, and even with our eyes closed, the pink sparks shone through.   We were married for 11 years, but she told me just before I left, that she thought it was the best date we’d ever had.   Dakota: Wow, that’s so beautiful. The bioluminescent plankton here are bluish. Are there many variations like that in these alternate realities? The same but off just a bit in color or… anything else?   Oh yes, colors can vary greatly… sometimes they don’t exist at all.   Dakota: What do you mean? Were you inside of a blind person? That’s what it seems like… what is that? How can we explain that?   The memory you’re experiencing is of a universion where humans didn’t see with their eyes but with a sort of extra sensory perception. We are all made of light, Dakota, and the way we perceive of that light here is through color, but it’s possible to experience light in all sorts of ways.   Dakota: It’s like you’re… feeling… colors? That’s so weird, I-I can’t explain what you’re showing me.   Humans here aren’t built to perceive in this way, writing about it would most likely just confuse your readers.   Dakota: Yeah, you’re right. Have you ever told anyone else about your travels? Am I the only one?   Only once, in Universion 9,382. I was an 11-year-old girl named Sarah, camping out with my best friend Penny in her backyard.   “Aliens or ghosts?” Penny asked, holding up two books. The flashlight she held between her knees pointed straight up, making her look ghoulish: sunken, shadowed eye sockets and glowing red nostrils. The books were nothing but two rectangular silhouettes, but we’d read them enough that I knew their covers by heart. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, with the creepy, drippy black artwork, and Alien Abductions with the typical grey alien with big, black pupilless eyes and a lightbulb-shaped head.   “Actually, I have a new story.” I said.   “You do?” Penny leaned forward, dropping her hands and placing the books on the tent floor. Only the skin beneath her chin was illuminated and a few statically charged wisps of highlighted hair, as her face plunged into darkness.   “Can you keep a secret?” I asked, and the oval shadow of her face bobbed up and down.   Dakota: Penny asked me… uh, I mean you if you ever wished you could stay?   Yes. I’d asked myself that same question countless times, but I stumbled with the sudden pressure to provide an honest answer. Maybe a few times I’d wanted to have more time, but the truth was that I get to live more presently than my vessels do; most of the people I drop in on have a plethora of problems and worries. Usually they are so wrapped up in their everyday patterns that they rarely notice the unique beauty of each new day, but I can’t avoid the… nowness of it all. I still feel their pain, but because it’s all new to me, I experience it differently. I’d hate to let life become so dull and my body so numb, which I suspect is what would happen if I spent too many days in any one body.   But what I finally said to Penny was, “No,” simply because she was still very much present, as most children are in her universion, and she wouldn’t have understood the adult human condition until she experienced it herself.   Though, in other 9/11s, there were several universions that appealed to me.   Dakota: Any particular one come to mind?   Yes. Universion 111,111. It was not that the memory of that September 11th was exciting or anything, it was actually quite a mundane day; a typical Saturday with my father in Central Park playing dominos.   It was the society that had developed within this universion that was so much better than most.   Can you imagine a unified Earth, Dakota? An entire planet without borders? Without a need for property or money? A place where unconditional love prevails and everything is shared? Without war? Without slavery?   Dakota: There’s no slavery in the US anymore.   Not of the human variety, well not legally. But billions of animals are enslaved, are they not?...   Can you imagine a planet of humans who love and share and support each other? Who live with the Earth rather than off of it. This was one universion I’d like to have stayed in.   Dakota: Can you change things? I mean, by communicating with me, by helping me write all this down… we’re changing things here already aren’t we?   Do you feel that I am forcing you write this down?   Dakota: No, but I feel an urge that couldn’t exist without your being here, without your inspirational knowledge. Are there more of you?   Yes and no. That’s a hard question to answer. I’ve never met anyone else like me, but since I travel alone, I wouldn’t know if I had met another observer. And that is the key phrase here. I observe. My vessels have complete free will. I cannot impose my desires on anyone I visit. And only those rare people like you, who are open to communication, ever know I’ve dropped in at all.   Dakota: Isn’t it scary not having any control? Has there ever been a universion you wished you could leave immediately?   There have been a few. Joining a vessel who is either experiencing or inflicting pain is not pleasant. But even the darkest days have had their slices of beauty.   Dakota: The silence is so peaceful, the space in between the drip, drip, drip. I look up from the pool of rippling red, where another drop of red is swelling at the tip of a transparently gray toe.   Drip.   Silence.   Drip.   Silence.   I follow the thin red line upwards. As my gaze moves up the pale leg, my eyes move faster, trying to take in the whole scene so as not to stare too long at any one gruesome detail.   A white hospital-gown-looking garment stained dark red at the center, splattering outwards, the speckles growing finer the further they reach.   Though her face is concealed by her drooping head, I know what it looks like.   Flashback: Blue, darting, terrified eyes.   Flashback: Red, full quivering lips. They contract into a chapped, wrinkled O. “No, no, no, no,” they plead.   Flashback: A hand… my hand? No, but it’s coming from my body, holds the girl’s head up by a fistful of her blonde hair, the other pushes a pistol to her gut.   Dakota: You killed her!   Yes.   Dakota: Wasn’t there any way you could stop it?   No.   Dakota: Do you choose the people you drop in on? Why would you want to feel what it’s like to-to murder someone?   Because it’s part of the human experience.   Dakota: Well it wasn’t part of my human experience… until you came along. I don’t know if I can handle any more memories like that.   Well it’s nearly time for me to move on anyway. Do you have any other questions?   Dakota: Yeah, what’s with the numbers I keep seeing? All those 1s…   I dropped in on a mathematician once. They were such a nerd for numbers. One of their favorite equations was 111 x 1,111 = 123,321, which, as I told you when I first arrived, is the number of days I’ve experienced here on Earth. 1… 2… 3… 3… 2… 1.   Dakota (September 12th, 2001):   I fell asleep quite suddenly… I don’t even remember going to bed. This all seems so much like a dream. But unless I was sleep writing yesterday, it wasn’t.   I slept all morning, and though I have a deadline for a book that’s due later this week, I just have to get this out while it’s fresh.   The nameless entity that weighed me down is now gone. I feel empty. It wasn’t the kind of weight that stress or grief dumps on you, though, it was an inspiring kind of weight. The weight of hundreds of years of memories in places that seem… simultaneously right next door and light years and light years away.   And if I didn’t have the pages from yesterday, I’d think it was all a dream. It still sort of feels like it may have been.   Their memories were so vivid to me… the way I wrote it for you is to simplify it… to make it understandable to you. But we weren’t having a conversation that was all in my head… it was all instant: fully formed sentences, stories, flashes of memories that I had to decipher.   Ugh, hold on, the phone’s ringing… it’s my editor, I have to take it. Hi Don, yeah, I’m working on it. New York?… what today? No, I still have too much to do… yeah I know it would be a great, opp-… ok, fine… when do I have to be there?   Sorry, I’ll have to cut this short… I have a last minute interview in the city today at CNN, apparently it’s a slow news day and I may not get another shot at this. Obviously my experience yesterday has me thinking irrationally if Don’s perception of reality is accurate… though I’m not sure if anyone’s perception of reality is accurate anymore.]   Oh my god… I thought I remembered everything. I thought—I thought I wrote every word consciously… but I just reread the entire text and at the end, I—I don’t remember writing this last sentence:   “They are all you.”     [Conclusion:]   Dave Conrey, thank you for sharing your work with us today. I loved exploring this piece and I hope that all of you listening enjoyed the adventure it took me on too. If you want to find out more about Dave you can follow him on Instagram @daveconrey. There are links in the shownotes to that, Dave’s website, which is simply daveconrey.com, and a link to check out the cover art that sparked today’s story if you still haven’t download Podcast Addict, which is the best podcasting app out there to get the full experience of Art Ink.   So usually this is where I say goodbye to you, but I’m curious… what did you think of that? What if this was the way reality actually worked? Feel free to email me any thoughts.   You remember how I told you there were more layers to this story… well there is actually a lot of personal symbolism woven in there, but the biggest thing for me was that this entire story took place on 9/11.   Like anyone residing inside the US, and I’m sure many of you in other countries too, I remember exactly where I was when the horrible news started to spread. I was about an hour north of NYC. It was my junior year in a brand new high school, I knew nobody around me, I didn’t have a cell phone, I worried that my Dad, who was a travelling repairman, might be in the city, but I had no way of knowing. Several of the kids in my English class were hysterically crying. Nobody was working. There was talk of sending us all home, but that didn’t happen and it made me more mad, more afraid. I’ve never really trusted public authorities to take care of me… I wanted out. But I sat there in silence and terror until I could go home and discover that my Dad was safe.   I remember the days, weeks, and months after that day as a blur of American flags, bumper stickers, and window decals. Giant flags flapping over the entire length of pickup truck beds. The ubiquitous rear window flags that appeared on at least half of all the cars I saw on the road. Then the words I saw over and over and over again on my commutes: Never Forget 9/11.   I almost titled this story “Forgetting 9/11,” but I figured that without a proper explanation that’d probably turn a lot of people off. But it was very intentional that I refrained from writing about 9/11 as we know it. Why?   Well, I didn’t mention this back before I left for my Creative Sandbox Retreat, but I almost didn’t go because the day I had to fly from NYC to San Jose happened to fall on 9/11. It gave me mild anxiety all year long. But I told myself I was being ridiculous. The day I flew out I tried to see the bright side… I was through security in under 5 minutes. No one was in line in front of me; apparently I wasn’t the only one who was afraid of flying on the infamous day.   When I made it to the retreat center unscathed and I told Melissa that I almost decided not to come because of my silly superstition, she totally understood. But later, during our opening circle Melissa said something that turned this whole thing around for me. And unfortunately I can’t even say I’m paraphrasing because although I can remember her words bringing tears to my eyes, I can’t remember what she said; well that’s proof that that expression is true: people won’t always remember what you say or do, but they will always remember how you make them feel.   I know that she repeated my fears to the group and then she said that she was glad that I decided to come anyway. Basically, Melissa pointed out to me that I was reshaping 9/11, that I was no longer living in its shadow, that I was turning it into something good, instead.   For many months now I’ve been seeing repetitive 1s, I always happen to look at the clock at 11:11 and 1:11, but after I started drafting the idea for this story and I decided to set the story on 9/11, I started seeing 9:11 on clocks almost daily, too. I took that as a personal sign to keep on writing this story.   So I mean no disrespect when I say that I want to forget 9/11. I don’t mean that we should forget the loved ones who were lost. But I do mean that we shouldn’t let the shadow of that one day darken all of the 9/11s that are to come.   And that goes for any personal shadows you might have that you’re holding onto. There is one person in my family who grieves the loss of someone who’s been dead for nearly 50 years. Every year when the calendar page turns to reveal their loved one’s death date, they mourn like the person died yesterday. They plan to have a horrible day and they do.   I dunno, maybe I’m selfish, but I’d rather celebrate that I’m still lucky enough to be alive than ruin another precious day I have on Earth. I mean, I’m not always a fucking ray of sunshine, don’t get me wrong, I feel painful things, I still need to purge my anger and sadness and fear with a good cry every once in awhile. But then I do my very best to let it go. It takes practice and I’m not perfect at it. But I think, for me, it’s time to let 9/11 go.   Your potential is limitless, not just as an artist, but as a human being. Once you realize that the possibilities really are infinite, then you have the power to choose which possibility you want to live. Own it my friend. Own it.   PS – There’s a crazy special offer going on on Patreon right now. If you support me for just $1 per month you’ll get access to my Patron-only Art Library (high res downloads of all the fine art I’ve created over the past decade 300+ images!!!). You’ll also have a character in an upcoming episode of Art Ink named after you!   All Patrons also get access to any content I put out 2 days before anyone else as well as a copy of my exclusive audiobook (which is pretty much Art Ink before it was Art Ink, so it’s like getting 100 mini bonus episodes!).   Offer ends 12/21/19 or after the 1st 100 people sign up. Become a Patron on Patreon here to get instant access to all of these goodies.    
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Creator Details

Mar 26th, 1985
Episode Count
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Total Airtime
1 day, 16 hours
Podchaser Creator ID logo 437565