Phantasmagoria

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Are You Ready To Rumble?

I head down stairs after I get dressed to go out. I come into the kitchen and I see Hannah already dressed and ready to take Jayden to school. She's concentrating on cooking breakfast for me, as I can see that Jayden has already devoured his. He's finishing off his last slice of toast before he flies out of the room and goes to retrieve his bag. I go over to Hannah, knowing she must be upset with me.

''I'm sorry,'' I whisper in her ear as I hug her from behind.

''It's OK, it wasn't you,'' she tells me, but I know she is lying so that I don't feel too guilty. I know it was me who woke her up, because it's due to my stupid nightmares. Every time I dream about the time Hannah's brother Jayden died in Afghanistan, it wakes her up. I believe when I scream his name in my dreams I say it out loud, and it reminds Hannah of...him. I don't mean to do it, but the image is embedded in my brain of Jayden's last moments. It's a reminder enough that we named our son after him.

''Hannah...I'm really sor-'' I begin to say before she turns around abruptly.

''I said it wasn't you,'' Hannah says as she cuts me off. I look into her eyes remorsefully, knowing she hates seeing me beat my self up because of my annoying ramblings that I say aloud in my sleep. Why can't I get Jayden's death out of my head? Does it show that I'm unable to move on mentally? Or am I becoming a classic jar-head basket case? Not sure why the government chose me to go ahead with this stupid game, they know about my nocturnal psychological problems.

''You sure you don't want me to take him to school?'' I say to her, trying to make up for my misdemeanour of the unconscious mind.

''No, it's alright, I want to take him. Your brother is coming around now isn't he?'' Hannah asks me. My brother? Oh, I completely forgot! He's coming to meet me for breakfast.

''You forgot, didn't you?'' Hannah says, registering the look I have on my face that shows that I did indeed forget.

''Good thing I got ready,'' I tell her, showing her that I'm already dressed to go out. We both smile and then kiss each other before Jayden comes back in, ready to go with his bright blue coat, his favourite red and white sneakers and his Spider-Man backpack.

''Thank you for breakfast, Mom,'' he beams as he hugs Hannah. She hugs him back and bends down to give him a kiss on his head. He comes to hug me too, so I bend down to lift him up from the ground so that I can give him the hug I give him everyday.

''You be good today, alright Jay?'' I tell him as I settle him down on the ground and ruffle his curly afro.

''I will, Daddy,'' Jayden says, a massive grin planted on his face. My, he looks just like his uncle.

''OK, time to go. We don't want to be late, do we Jay?'' Hannah says as she grabs her jacket and bag which are hanging on a chair around the table and proceeds to put them on. I cart Jayden out of the kitchen and down the hallway towards the door as Hannah follows closely behind.

''I wonder what time Reuben is coming?'' I say aloud, curious to know if Hannah might know something.

''I don't know, but he should be here soon,'' Hannah replies. I let Hannah pass me in the hallway, and she grabs the car keys off the hook on the wall behind me and heads to the door, where Jayden is waiting for her to open it up. Hannah opens it, and just as her and Jayden head down the steps of the house, she is greeted by a man in a light grey blazer jacket, a white top, light blue denim jeans and navy blue brogues at the base of the steps. It's my brother, Reuben.

''Oh, speak of the devil,'' Hannah says as she turns to look at me.

''That's harsh, Hannah,'' Reuben muses. I laugh quietly to myself as I go towards the door to greet my brother.

''Uncle Red!'' Jayden says as he sees Reuben. He runs into him and nearly knocks Reuben off his block. Reuben's called 'Red' because, like my nickname, it is made up of the first parts of his first and second names, Reuben Edgar.

''Hey, little man? Going off to school now?'' Reuben says playfully with Jayden as he ruffles his afro.

''Yeah,'' Jayden replies monotonously, trying to sound unhappy.

''And we've got to leave now if we don't want to be late, Jay,'' Hannah says to Jayden as she goes to take a hold of his hand.

''Hi Hannah,'' Reuben says as he greets Hannah with a hug and kiss on her cheek.

''Hi Reuben,'' she says as she does the same. ''Sorry we can't stay long, we gotta go. Don't keep him too long, Red,'' Hannah continues before she heads off to the left to take Jayden to school.

''I won't. Take care, guys,'' Reuben says as he waves goodbye to Jayden and Hannah. We both watch them go off for a while before I speak to Reuben.

''Hey, Red,'' I greet Reuben as he comes up the steps.

''Hey Nash, ready to go?'' Reuben asks me as we finish embracing.

''Yeah, let me just grab my jacket,'' I say as I quickly head in and take my black biker jacket of the hook on the side wall and head outside the door. ''Where to this time?'' I ask Reuben as I lock up the door to my house.

''Same place,'' Reuben answers from behind.

''OK, but this time, I need an espresso,'' I say.

''Rough night again, huh?'' Reuben asks rhetorically. He always knows when I've had a bad night.

''Read me like a book,'' I respond as we both head down the steps and go towards our favourite breakfast joint, which is a few blocks in the opposite direction of where Hannah and Jayden have just headed.

* * *

''Hannah's looking hot as usual, Nash,'' Reuben muses as we finish collecting our chicken and salad subs from a sandwich vendor we have gone to.

''Excuse me?'' I respond, knowing he is only joking with me.

''Just kidding, Nash, just kidding,'' Reuben says. See, told you he was kidding.

''What time you going into work?'' I ask my brother. He's happily devouring his sub with giant mouthfuls.

''Umm, ummm, like, 2:30,'' I manage to hear as he speaks whilst chomping on his food. I glance at my watch when he says this, and I see that it had just turned 9:00. My brother works as a software developer, so he knows quite a bit about technology.

''You gonna get lunch before or on your way in?'' I ask him, before I take in a mouthful of my sub.

''On the way. I have some errands to run before that so I don't think I'll have time,'' Reuben replies. He takes in a final mouthful of his sub before he stops and makes a grunting sound.

''What?'' I ask him, unsure of what is trying to convey to me. He points to a bench in a park across from us.

''Let's sit over there and chat,'' He says as he scrunches the wrapping of the sub and chucks it into a near by bin.

''Alright, let me just get some coffees,'' I say to him as I spot our usual coffee shop next to us.

''Black, no sugar please,'' he tells me as a way of an order.

''Sure,'' I respond as I proceed to enter the shop. There's a large queue inside because it's the morning period. I don't wait long, however, since I know the boss of the shop.

''Hey, Nash! How are you doin'?'' Miguel Esposito shouts across to me atop the gaggle of waiting customers. He's a Mexican barista who knows his coffee. He's a big and tall man, but is as soft as a teddy bear once you get to know him. He runs the shop along with his sons and daughter.

''I'm fine, Mig, just fine,'' I project my voice back over to him so that he can hear me.

''Good, good. Hey, I'll have Mario bring you the usual, yeah?'' he tells me.

''Actually, could I have an espresso with no sugar and a black with no sugar please?'' I ask him. Miguel looks at me as if something is wrong.

''One of those days, eh?'' he asks me rhetorically.

''Yep, it's one of those days,'' I say back. In under a minute Mario comes out of the large crowd of people with two coffee cups in his hand. Some customers look at him with slight irritation. Well, it sucks to be you right now!Ah, I'm so bad.

''Here you go, Uncle Nash,'' Mario says as he hands over the cups. Mario is about 17 years old, and he has thick black curly hair pushed back by a black head band. He's a lighter colour than his father, but is the youngest of the three children. He's wearing a white apron over his jeans and white t-shirt.

''Thank you, Mario. How's your mum and siblings?'' I ask him.

''Mum's OK; Francesca and Sandro are at college,'' he replies. He has this warm grin that reflects his nice personality.

''Alright, tell them I said hi,'' I say to him.

''OK, I will,'' he answers back. As I start to leave, I turn and shout to Miguel.

''Take care of yourself, Mig!'' I say.

''You too, Nash! Oh, and say hi to Hannah and the little guy for me!'' Miguel shouts back as I head out the door.

''OK, I will, see ya!'' I reply to Miguel as I head out the door. As I come outside, I expect to see my brother...but he isn't there.

''Where did you go off to....'' I begin to say to myself as I scan around. I remembered that he spoke about going to sit on the bench that he pointed to across the street. He waves to me as soon as I spot him, and I stride over to him, trying not to spill the coffees in my hand.

''Sorry, just wanted to get these seats before the Van Buren bum came and took them,'' Reuben says as I pass him his coffee. I laugh as I take my seat beside him. Reuben takes a sip of his coffee and I do the same.

''Ah, Miguel is the best,'' Reuben says as he relaxes on the bench.

''Yep, he is,'' I agree. We then begin drinking our coffees in silence for the next few moments.

''Soooo, are you ready to rumble?'' Reuben asks me.

''Rumble? I wish,'' I say to him.

''Rumble in Phantasmagoria,'' he says. I feel like I'll be doing more of a tumble than a rumble..

''The government ordered me, I have no say in the matter,'' I half lie to him. He would think me nuts if I told him it was all me.

'' 'Nathaniel Aston Williams, you are hereby ordered to enter into Phantasmagoria','' Reuben says, mimicking an army general with a deep voice.

''Haha, very funny,'' I reply. We laugh briefly, but Reuben becomes suddenly serious.

''Seriously, Nash, you're not in the army any more, why are you doing this?'' Reuben asks me. He's looking at me straight in the eye. I hate it when he does this. He puts me on the spot all the time when he believes I'm making stupid decisions.

''They promised me and Hannah a better life if I complete it successfully,'' I tell him.

''Oh, come on, Nash! I never thought you would be one of those guys,'' Reuben says, sounding disappointed in me. I don't want to admit it, but I probably am starting to sound like one of 'those guys' who do things for money and fame.

''I'm not, Reuben. I just...I don't know, I want to make things better for Hannah. She's not been too good as of late, and I feel like I'm failing in my job in being a husband and father,'' I reveal to Reuben. He looks at me, acknowledging the problems we've been having.

''They're getting worse, aren't they?'' he asks me, knowing the answer already. Yeah, my damn nightmares are getting worse.

''It's like some sick joke someone's playing on me, replaying it over and over again,'' I tell him as I stare hard at the ground.

''And Hannah's at the receiving end of it,'' Reuben says. I hate hurting Hannah, whether it's unintentionally or not.

''Maybe this game will...help me somehow,'' I say. Did I really just say that?

''It better, otherwise I don't want to be spending my days picking up Jayden from school because Daddy's gone mentally AWOL again,'' Reuben says, trying to sound funny. That is one period of my life I would not like to go back to. Those times were really dark.

''I hope I do win it,'' I say to Reuben. I'm trying to give myself hope by saying that.

''That's a risk you're willing to take? Your mind might not be able to take it if you lose,'' Reuben tells me.

''Really? How so?'' I ask him.

''Yeah, your mind's not used to what will happen in that game, since it's all imagination based. You might go coo-coo if you spend long amounts of time in there or if you stretch the limits of your mind,'' Reuben explains.

''That's unreal,'' I say to him, trying to take it in.

''Yep. My company is trying to come up with software to counter the effects of it. We believe it has something to do with a certain part of the brain shutting down to save the memory, but we need to consult with neurologists and psychology experts to look more into it,'' Reuben continues.

''Thanks for putting me off, Reuben,'' I say to my brother sarcastically.

''I'm just letting you know what happens, bro. Letting you know what you're getting yourself into,'' Reuben tells me.

''No, thank you, Reuben. At least I'm a bit more prepared,'' I say. I finish drinking my coffee before putting it in the bin next to me.

''Ah, shoot! I gotta head off now, Nash. Gotta go to the other side of town before I go work,'' Reuben says as he stands up and puts his coffee cup in the bin too.

''Alright, take care of yourself, man,'' I tell him as I stand up and give him a hug.

''Yeah, you too. Let me know if you need to talk some more, OK? I worry about my big bro sometimes, you know,'' Reuben says to me.

''Yeah, I will,'' I say to him before he heads off in the opposite direction. I stand and watch him leave and then I look at the time on my wrist watch. I sigh as I see that it's turning 10:00 already.

''Time is breezing past,'' I say to myself as I head back towards home. As I leave, I see the Van Buren bum come and take his place on the bench my brother and I had just been sitting on. I carry on walking as I think about what my life will be like in less than a week.


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