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A few moments ago

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A few moments ago . . .

In a parallel universe . . .

It all started in the men's room . . .

When Xeno regained consciousness, he was standing on a shoreline he didn't recognize. Beyond the tidewater and the static hiss of the sea, the sun was dropping out of sight above the ocean. He looked down to find himself dressed in floral print shirt and cut-off shorts, his pale arms and legs neither burned nor tanned. The cool water from the breakers flooded his toes. He put his hand to his chest, felt his heartbeat, satisfied it wasn't going to stop pumping blood any time soon.

He turned inland and scanned the cascade of low sand dunes unraveling all the way down the desolate shoreline. Yards away, an unfolded beach chair faced the ocean—an artifact abandoned by some phantom vacationer. He crept across the sand to get a closer look. The chair was covered with striped canvas that was once red and white, now worn and browned, the rotted shreds dangling from the wooden frame.

Tab Lloyd's National Trashional lay crumpled in the folds of the seat. He lifted an open bottle of beer from the drink holder in the armrest. He sniffed the spout, still cold, fresh. He sipped, swallowed gently, and paused for the alcohol to warm his stomach lining, trying to splice together a movie trailer of his bad night out—something with decent acting and dialogue. All he could muster was black leader with projector light bleeding through the scratched emulsion. He spun the bottle around to read the label: SHOKI PAO

He picked up the National Trashional and scanned the rumpled tabloid for anything familiar. The only thing legible was the brick red masthead and the face of the silver-maned gossip king, Tab Lloyd, flashing his dentured grin and trademark black censor bar over his eyes. No one knew what Tab's eyes looked like, except, perhaps, Tab and his publicity machine. The tabloid contents, page to page, were illegible, the headlines and copy printed in gibberish, the celebrities in the photos blurred, too obscured to recognize. A sudden gust of wind swept the tabloid from Xeno's fingertips. The offshore breeze sent his hair hovering, splitting the brittle tabloid apart in midair. He watched the pages gyrate in the chaotic whirlwind above the sand, littering the shoreline for yards, coming to rest in the break water, soaked, taken out to sea with the tide.

He polished off the beer, set the empty bottle back in the holder, and headed over the dunes to see what was on the other side. Over the crests, he saw a hotel in the distance with an A-frame roof, the trim and facades lined with bamboo. The pool area and patios were deserted, no birds in sight, no sounds of wildlife. Beyond the hotel, the mountainside sloped upwards for thousands of feet, like a tidal wave of soil, tiered with lush postcard vegetation, converging at the central peak of the island—the crater of a dormant volcano.

Xeno ran his fingers through his hair, attempting to massage a course of action out of his scalp. He relaxed his hand and noticed black coloring on his fingertips, like cheap stage dye. He sniffed to see if it was motor oil, shoe polish, paint. It was odorless. He couldn't recall starring in a play, going to a salon, dressing up for Hallow—something fluttered in his peripheral view, like a sun outage breaking up Andrea's lips, tiling from the geostationary solar interference of satellite signals, macro-blocking.

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