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The Circle

Chapter 30

Tuesday: The Fires of Perdition

"Morning, Alex. Forget your alarm?"

"Ya, guess I did! Seven-thirty! Shit! I'm gonna miss... "

I paused, smiled, and flipped the bird at Tom, who smiled back from the edge of the bed.

"Yeah. Got ya for a sec, huh?"

"Fucker. I can sleep in. The DMV won't open until nine," I said, placing my hands behind my head and grinning.

"Put your arms down!" he said, laughing, waving his hand before his nose.

"Oh, please. You love it!" I laughed back.

"Think you'll pass?"

"Hell yeah. All the studying, and your help, and dad's, no problem! I just wish I got more real driving in!"

"Cool. Maybe you can drive us to school tomorrow?"

"Doubt it! Mom and dad might let me drive the van after some of the things get done on it, but not tomorrow!"

"Yeah. But you're riding the bus tomorrow, right?"

That question brought Jeff to my mind, and I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to call Tom last night after all the excitement of the events with Jeff and his mom. I also realized Tom didn't know that I had told Jeff I would see him on the bus today. I also thought that Tom should be far more curious about how things had gone at Jeff's.

I sat up suddenly, prompting Tom to ask the inevitable what.

"Told Jeff I'd see him on the bus last night! I'm not going to school! I forgot last night! Shit!"

"Don't sweat it. He'll remember."

"But... he... we... "


"Everything!" I said enthusiastically.

"What?" Tom asked, again, looking askew at me.

"Get this! I go over to Jeff's, right? This is all why I didn't get to call you last night! And Jeff... " I remembered the sight of Jeff's slightly swollen lips, and the shadow of a bruise on his cheek. I omitted those facts as I continued. "So, he says he told his mom! She didn't, she didn't like it, and got mad. And I wasn't allowed over there, or to call or nothing. She told them they were gonna move sooner, and not to have anything to do with me. And I got so mad. I don't know why. But-"

"You don't know why, right," Tom said disbelievingly.

"Okay, I knew why. But later, his mom comes home, and we're sittin' on the couch together, holding hands like we planned. She started yelling. Not bad stuff, well, not real bad stuff," I said with an eye roll. "But we kinda fought. And, she said she wasn't gonna let me make Jeff a fag. She said homosexual, and she wouldn't let me fornicate with him."

I rolled my eyes again. Tom's face showed his shock.

"Yeah, I know. But it just made me madder! And I told her how she'd have to keep moving, and couldn't make Jeff not gay. And I said how'd she'd have to, 'cause he wasn't gonna just magically turn not gay. Then I told her about Toby. I don't know why, but I did. I took his letter and picture to show with me. I showed her. I gave her the letter to read. I was so scared she'd tear it up! She didn't, thank God."

I swallowed as I remembered the fear that I had felt as she had held the precious letter in her hands.

I inhaled deeply and continued, "I showed her his picture and dared her to tell me he went to hell. She, uh, I worried for a while, but, well, then she made Todd leave. And we talked. And she said, she, she surprised me. Jeff too! She said she liked it here. Liked her job, friends, that she wanted to stay. She said she'd stay, but she didn't want to see Jeff and me holding hands, even. And nothing goes on at the apartment. But she said they'll stay! There not moving!"

I expected Tom to shout, or at least high-five, or celebrate the victory in some way, but all he did was smile and nod his head.

"She said she'd warned us, and if we paid for our sins she had warned us, but whatever."

"Great. Thought that was gonna be a real mess. Glad it's gonna work out." After a pause he stood and said, "So, see ya after school?"

"Sure. Come over and me and dad'll probably be in the garage going over the van. Gotta find everything needs fixed. I think he's gonna let me drive it!"


At the door he turned and nodded upward once as he pulled it mostly closed behind him. I stared at the door as my thoughts began racing around Tom's subdued reaction. He had seemed happier before I had told him about Jeff's staying. His reaction to the news had been mild compared to what I had expected.

Did he already know, somehow? Mom and dad told him on his way up, I bet. They ruined the surprise. Or, maybe he's a bit mad that I forgot to call again last night. Maybe that's it. For a change, for the first real time, Tom is the one down and I'm the one who can cheer him up. But why's he down?

I threw my blankets back, sat up, and looked out my window over the front yard, and at Tom as he walked toward the bus stop. He walked slowly, shoulders hunched over, hands in pockets.

Like he's sad. I know something's bugging him. Has been since the party. Something happened at his house, or in the family. Or something. Jon might tell me. I'll talk to him before he goes to work!

I picked up the phone and dialed Tom's number. Tom's mom answered the phone and said Jon was finishing breakfast and would call me back soon. I went to the bathroom and heard mom call up that breakfast was ready. As I considered whether to shower, then or later, the phone rang. I picked it up before the second ring and said hello.

"Ya, what'cha need?" Jon's voice asked.

The phone made a clicking noise, then my mom's voice said hello.

"Got it mom, it's Jon."

"Okay," she said, then we heard another click.

"So, what's up?" Jon asked.

"Tom. He came over this morning, just left. He's acting weird. Know why?"

"Uh, how weird?"

"Well, I told him how Jeff and me got things worked out with his mom, and she knows, and we think it's going to be okay, and he didn't seem too happy. And he left all sad like."


"Oh? Oh?! What the hell? Both of you act like it's something bad!"

"Yeah. Look, Alex, Tom always thought Jeff's mom would never let, uh, Tom thought, we never figured it'd be cool with her! You understand? Tom thought, he, he thought he had a chance, I think."

"What? He thought he had a chance at what? Don't even tell me you think he's, um, you don't think he's gay too, right?"

There was silence on the line.

"Jon! You even said at the party that you know he's not gay!"

"Yeah. But, if he's down because it's gonna work out with Jeff, if things are going to be okay with his mom and, and Tom is, well, bummed about it, uh, maybe I was wrong."

"Oh come on! You fucking know better!"

He was pissing me off, big time. I thought that he had to be having me on, or pulling a prank, or obviously confused.

"Then, it's just that Tom don't like being outside, so to speak. Get me?"


"Now you and Jeff are gonna be close. He's just gonna be the third wheel. He knows it, but he's glad you guys are gonna get together. See?"

"You bet," I said with a serious tone: I did get it.

"So, Jeff's staying, huh? And his mom knows? Really? And it's all cool?"

"Fuck ya! As long as we don't, like, get caught holding hands or, uh, something, over there."

Jon laughed a bit and said, "You, not get caught? That'll be the day!"

"What? I've never... "

I was going to say that I had never been caught, but I looked to the bedroom door and thought of the at least three times over the last two years that one or the other of my parents had indeed likely caught me and Tom. And other similar, embarrassing possibilities.

"Yeah, okay. So we won't even be close at his place."

"And put a lock on your bedroom door!" Jon said laughing.


"Never mind. He told me your folks had to have caught you two a couple times, so, uh, just get a lock, okay?"

"Hey, if you people would fucking knock!"

We laughed and ended the call shortly after that. I shrugged and put on the bathrobe that I almost never used, then went down to breakfast. Over waffles and sausage dad said we should get to the DMV early to avoid the long lines. We agreed to leave at ten minutes to nine. My mom was smiling wider than usual and she shrugged when I asked about it.

"It's a big day. My boy gets his driver's license! I'm allowed to glow a bit. And he's in love. And happy. So let me smile, okay?"

"Fine, sheeze," I complained, but smiled a bit wider myself. "I can't believe you guys are dealing so good, about, it, I mean."

"Alex, honey, we've had a year or more to deal with it. You weren't very good at hiding it from us. And your first trip with your license is to the hardware store, Jon is right about that."

I cocked my head back, giving mom a squinted-eyed glare.

"You listened to my call!"

"I'm a mother, I'm allowed," she said and turned back to the sink.

"Oh, geeze! Can I have my own phone line, now, dad? I don't wanna be talking to, anyone, and have her listening in all the time!"

"I think that'd be a good idea," dad answered, throwing an admonishing look, complete with a lifted eyebrow, at his wife.

She shook her head without looking behind her as I and my father shared a grin together.

"We can call the phone company when we get back with that lock, okay?"

"Thanks, dad. Glad somebody thinks I can have some privacy."

I had eaten several mouthfuls before I suddenly stopped, then looked at my dad with narrowed eyes.

"What?" he asked.

"How did you know she meant a lock, at the hardware store?" I asked, looking nearly angry.

Dad sat up a bit and cleared his throat, and my mother turned, grinning, to watch.

"Well, son. Alex, women are like megaphones. Words go in and come right out, louder, and sometimes a bit distorted."

He managed to finish the sentence before a wet dishrag smacked him in the face.


"Ninety-two!" I nearly shouted as I walked inside the DMV along side of my driving examiner. "I got a ninety-two!"

"Good job!" dad said, clapping me on the back.

"He did pretty well. He gets a little close to things on his right side, and he stops a bit early, but he did well," the examiner said, signing the last bit of paperwork and handing it to me. "Take this to the same counter where you signed up for the exam, pay the fees, and you've got a driver's license, young man."

"So cool! Thanks!" I said, taking the forms from the examiner with a beaming smile.

"Good job, son. We should be home by one."

I eventually handed the forms to the clerk at the counter again. They were handed back, again, and my dad was told to sign the marked lines. I signed a paper form that would become my license. After the fourth long wait of the day, my name was called and my picture taken. After yet another long wait, my name was called again, and I was handed my license.

"Holy crap!" I said, staring at it with awe.

I instantly hated the picture.

"Welcome to the ranks," dad said with a smile.

"Thanks! Can I drive home?"

"As if I would miss your first drive as a licensed driver."

This is so cool! I got my license! And Jeff! And the van! I could fly right now!

I drove to the hardware store; then Burger King for lunch - drive-thru of course; then the auto parts store where dad dropped a chunk on fluids, filters, belts, and fuses. All too soon we were home. I'm sure it was all rather uneventful from outside of the car, but inside it was a red banner event. As I pulled the car into the drive, I felt completely and utterly joyous. The world was different; I felt older, but in no way I could pin down. I was unable to remove the wide smile from my face that had been there since receiving the small, shiny card with my picture on it.

"We can put the lock on, and call the phone company about a private line after lunch," dad offered as we got out of the car.

"Thanks. I'll get the tools and take this upstairs," I said, hefting the paper bag from the hardware store containing a new doorknob, compete with a lock and a pair of keys. "Meet ya back here," I said as we entered the kitchen from the driveway.

"One key goes on the ring downstairs, in case, you get me?"

"Sure. Just don't be using it to sneak in!" I said with a laugh.

By three o'clock, the locking doorknob had been installed, checked and approved, the phone company had said that a technician would be out in two weeks to install a second line, and dad and I had begun working on the van. After checking fluids, changing the oil, coolant, the two belts, checking wires and plugs, we were greasy and sweaty, and we had done all that we could do until we could get the stubborn engine cover between the two front seats to open. The driver's side latch was bent, unable to come off the clasping ring.

"I should have asked Tim about it, I never thought of it," I said, shaking my head.

"Well, lets see if she starts, hop in," dad said, nodding at the door.

"If the weather gets good, can I drive to school?" I asked casually as I climbed up and in.

He snorted, then looked up from under the short, stubby hood at me as I sat in the driver's seat, grinning back.

"Your mom and I have been talking about that. We're not certain, yet. When the snows are done, possibly. Or if it gets very clear and clean, and no more is expected. This van doesn't handle like our car, you know. It takes longer to stop, to turn, to react in every way. It's very different. I want you to get a feel for it, but how it should drive, not how it does on slick winter streets. That can come later once you know how it should feel, so you know it's not right. Okay?"

"The main roads are real clear," I protested.

"Ours are getting there. We might go around the block later, just to make sure everything works, but school? Yet? I don't think so, son."

I was willing to argue, but I was so happy with the way things were, that I didn't really want to.

Take it easy, dude! You got Jeff. You can see him tomorrow on the bus. On the bus! Oh shit! Gonna be so weird! And after the fight with Charlie Derek yesterday! Oh crap! Jeff's gonna hear about it if I, we, Tom and me, don't tell him right off, first thing. Shit! I wonder if anybody will treat me different? I hope there ain't nobody afraid of me, or the others, now. Just knowing they can't mess with us or we fight back should make things go quiet. School should be quiet, and with some new friends. Cool. And home is good. And the Circle is all cool. Things are finally going right! Only Tom being a bit down, afraid I might care less about him. Idiot. I'll settle that today when he comes over after school. He should be here in a few minutes. Damn, I wish I had a good watch to wear.

"Start it up for a sec. I want to see if that makes the gas leak enough I can find it. It has to be near the linkage, but it's so slow, I can't tell if it's the gas line or the carb."

"Sure," I said, leaning forward, moving the Styx medallion out of the way so that I could grasp the ignition key, giving it a turn, and pumping the pedal once.

The engine turned for several seconds, almost catching, but not quite. The smell of gas got stronger.

"Yeah. Old chevy, not started for a few days, in cold weather, used to driving every day. She's gonna be stubborn. I should have gotten some starting fluid. And that gas leak is serious when it turns over. I shouldn't have messed around with it without taking the cowl off. See if you can pop that hatch cover, will you, son?"

I leaned across the sizeable hump between the front seats, and I unlatched the one on the passenger side easily. The driver side was far more difficult; it opened, but I couldn't get the clasp to come off. I pulled and yanked, afraid I might tear it off. The van was shaking from my efforts.

"Don't break it off. I tried. It's stuck good. Try to start it one more time then we get that clasp fixed so we can get to the engine decently. Go ahead and try starting it again."

"At least you know I ain't even started it," I answered with sly grin.

He peeked around the hood at me with a grin.

I turned the key. The engine turned over and over, barely beginning to catch. Dad called for another push of the accelerator, so I pushed and released it. The engine turned faster, then caught with a pop. Another, louder pop, then the loudest noise that I had heard in a long time as there was a bright, orange light, and I was knocked against the van door.

The wound at my temple took most of the impact against the door pillar. Things went fuzzy, and wobbly, and blurred, all at the same time. Not just my vision, but my hearing too, and how my body felt. I heard dad yelling my name. There were sudden flames rising toward the dashboard, and my eyes closed instinctively against the heat and smoke. I could feel the heat of the fire on my right side. I smelled the odor of burning gas, oil, rubber, and plastic.

I reached for the key and killed the engine. The flames still raged, even seemed to grow larger, and now started burning the dashboard above the engine. They were less than a foot from me, reaching to the height of my face. Thick, black smoke was curling up the windshield and rolling over my head.

I opened the driver's door, but it hit the wall of the garage after a mere six or seven inches. My lungs began rejecting the air they drew in, making me cough uncontrollably. I couldn't keep my eyes open against the smoke and heat, let alone breathe it.

I heard my dad's voice calling my name again, and I tried to call back, but when I inhaled to scream, my lungs refused the air and I began a horrible coughing fit. I was unable to see him or answer him. I rolled the window down to get fresh air from outside the van and perhaps be able to yell for him, but with the window less than halfway down ,the crank came off and I dropped it in surprise. The smoke increased and billowed out of the partially open window, still choking me. I slid as far from the blazing engine and dash as I could, pressing myself against the partially open door, shoving my face out the partially open window in an effort to find air.

I felt the heat of the fire singing my skin through my clothing. Images of my charred and smoking body being pulled from the van by firemen, my grieving parents held back by police, ran in my head. I clawed at the window, knowing that even if I broke the glass and tried climbing out that I would only get my head out before hitting the wall, and only end up cutting myself horribly. I could flail my arm out the partially open window, and I could feel the narrow distance between the van and the garage wall; I knew that was no use.

Real panic began to set in, forcing reason and rational thought to flee. I pushed the door with my shoulder, but it was as far open as it could get. I knew there was no way out to my right, not with the fire above the engine growing hotter and closer. Flames were also spreading across the thickly upholstered dashboard, the carpet near the engine bay between the front seats, the material of the overhead, and the hanging curtains just behind both seats.

Not only was the air full of burning particles and ashes, it was hot, and toxic with fumes and chemicals. The coughing became constant and painful. Each inhalation burned terribly; the chemicals, burning ashes, and the heated air triggering uncontrollable and gut-wrenching coughs.

I tried to make my lungs work, to draw in and take what oxygen they could from the smoke, but they refused. My heart's efforts doubled. I pushed my face into the window, no longer caring if the glass broke and I was horribly cut; I only wanted the air. I clawed feebly at the stub where the crank had broken off, knowing that I could never turn the spindle, but trying anyway.

The pain in my temple flared with each cough. I felt the familiar dizziness come, and knew I was about to lose consciousness.

The heat of the fire, the pain of my skin burning, the pain of my lungs filled with toxins and chemicals and ashes, the smell of burning oil and plastic, it all faded.

I can't feel myself cooking if I'm unconscious. The burning acid pain of the fumes inside my lungs hurts so bad, but at least I won't burn alive! I'm going to be with Toby! It's almost worth it!

The pain decreased and became part of a fuzzy buzzing sensation that was easily ignored. The only sound was a soft, pleasant humming hiss. Only a warm, dim gray light existed, illuminating nothing. I thought I smelled water.

Suddenly I heard Toby's warning; not to start the van without my dad there. Again I wondered how Toby could have possibly known I would have a van months in the future. I wondered how I could have possibly hallucinated that Toby knew about me having the van if it wasn't Toby.

If Toby was all in my mind, then I'm psychic. If Toby was really there, he was an angel. But what does it matter? Toby was right, I got a van. But why the big deal about dad being here? He can't even get in here to get to me. What good was waiting? I could have done the same thing alone and dad wouldn't have to see me die. Why didn't Toby tell me more?

What part of God's design is this? To let me burn to death in front of my dad? If there is a God, and if God keeps me from Toby, there will be hell to pay. Hell to pay? The Fires Of Perdition! Was Jeff's mom right? Is this the righteous hand of God? Am I paying for Jeff? With Toby? With Tom? All the others? Is this his retribution for being gay?

Why throw those wonderful guys at me, then pull them away? Temptation so I can chose the right path and pretend I liked girls as much as I do guys? I'm not interested in girls. I don't have the ability to chose. You didn't give me any choice. I don't feel anything for girls, and only you can have made me like this, if you're really the maker.

Did you make me gay so I would have to choose to live alone and have nobody and go to heaven, or love a guy and be happy here and go to hell after? Was I supposed to make myself have sex with a girl to make you happy? Should I have pretended I never liked guys and lived a lie? Have nobody, to make you happy? Was I supposed to live my whole life as a lie, so I could go to your heaven? HAH! Then I still don't want your heaven!

Killing me now's not fair! Jeff and I are good! We could happy now! We have a chance now! No! This is not fair!

My heart hammered, and I was suddenly aware of it, dutifully moving as much blood as possible throughout my body, fueling the fight or flight for life for as long as possible. The sound of it beating pounded in my ears. The pressure of it's efforts throbbed through my neck.

I didn't feel myself breathing, and I had no desire to do so. I didn't seem to need to.

Things began growing fainter. The faint gray light grew darker. The sounds of my own thoughts grew quieter, more distant.

I'm going to die and Jeff is going to suffer the loss like I did over Toby, but before he had any time with me. Mom and dad are going to suffer the loss of their kid. Tom's going to lose his best friend, in two ways, in the same day, or so he'll think. The Circle guys. Even the guys at school, some of 'em, will be sad. But I'm going to see Toby, and be with him, finally. And I can't wait for everyone else to join us. In their own times.


"Hi again," Toby said with a wide smile.

He stood there naked; and perfectly normally so. The ache of missing him was there, but nothing that could threaten me, or remove the joy at seeing him. The white nothing billowed around us, thinner and brighter than ever before, allowing me to see more than just slightest hints of shapes and colors around him. I thought I smelled the outdoors on a clean day, perhaps after a rain.

"You won't tell me what's up, will ya?"

"Nope, 'Gainst the rules."

"Or why it's different here this time?"


"Or why you only seem to come to me when I pass out, or die, or something?"

"Goofus. I can come through when you're this placid."

"Placid? Since when you learn that word?" I asked, smiling mischievously.

Toby snorted a short laugh and said, "Learned a lot a things here. Like how much you love me. Even still."

"I didn't even have a clue how to tell you how much. I just hoped you knew. Or, just knew it."

"I did. Just never thought it was as much as I loved you."

"More," I said, shaking my head.

"Doubt it!" Toby replied, crossing his arms with a smile.

I saw a pale blue sky over us, faintly green trees around us, what seemed grass below us.

"Well, thanks for the warning. What good it do? I could'a done this and died on my own. Without, without dad having to see."

"Who says you're dead?"

"I do. Or close. Or about to. It's different here this time, more real."

"Not in the way ya think, but yeah. And if it had been about any other time, you'd died almost for sure. And it wasn't your time. This time either."

"Then why would I? If God knew it, and you knew it, then why would it happen at all?"

"Free will. Really throws the ol' wrench in the works. And nothin' is fer sure. Just really more likely, ya know?"

"So, I'm not dead right now?"


"So, I'm gonna go back in a bit, then?"



"Prob'ly. It ain't decided yet. Things are still happening, back there, ya know?"

"Oh, I'm still inside the van?"

He shrugged.

"So, without your warning, I might have died too soon? Like you?"

"No, not like me. I was set to come here when I did. I was needed."

"Not to help me!" I exclaimed in horror.

"No. Was something else, too. You'll know, when the time is right. You ain't, like you'd say, put the pieces together and seen the pattern, yet. You're still missin' some, but they're comin'."

I nodded again, smiled and sighed. The sky was almost a clear summer blue, the trees were more than mere shadows, the flowers more than a faint hint of aromas and outlines. The entire place seemed more real, more solid, than ever before.

"It's nice here, and it's nice seein' you, but I so want a hug," I said a bit sadly.

"Me too. We'll have t'wait."

"How long?"

"Worth it," he said simply. "Sorry about your glasses, too."

I reached instinctively to my face and found that they weren't there. I started to pat my pockets until I realized that I had no clothes on. For the first time I felt a bit self-conscious. Toby clearly noticed and started giggling softly.

"Where are they?"

"Your glasses or your clothes?"

He laughed then, causing me to. The laughing felt good, especially with Toby again. I felt the love I had for him so clearly and intently in that moment, and I wondered if it really mattered if he was Toby or my memories of him.

"You don't wear glasses, or even need 'em here. Just watch and wait. See how ya get 'em back. Even after ya get 'em back," he added with a sly grin, telling me there was more he couldn't say.

I understood; either he was giving me another clue, or my mind was. I tried to remember if I had them on in the van, and of course I did. I tried to remember taking them off after the fire started. I wondered if they had been knocked off when the cowling had blown off, knocking me into the door. I knew I could also have knocked them off shoving my face through the partially open window. Other easy possibilities came to me as well.

"Ask about 'em when you can. We'll talk about it next time."

The white mist was no more than a fog now, revealing the forest glen around him. Us. I felt that if I pushed it, I could touch him. I took a step forward, and Toby shot upright, suddenly frightened seeming, holding his hands palm out toward me.

"NO! Al! No! Stop. Just stay there and talk to me, but stay there!"

He looked as if I took another step, that I would fall into a disguised pit of unnamable horrors, to die slowly and in agony beyond mortal limits.

I shivered, and the glen grew clearer. I could feel a faint, warm breeze, and I could better smell the grass, the flowers, the trees, and water.

"Just please, you can't come closer! It's so against the rules! You don't even know! Just, please!"

I backed up a single, small step. The sensations of the forest glade faded, and the mist thickened slightly. Things were again less real, and Toby was a bit further from me; more distant than the single step, or a dozen steps, could account for.

"I understand," I said slowly, understanding clearly.

I'm close to dying, probably unconscious and not breathing. Burning, too, unless dad got me out like he seems to be supposed to do. I guess. But I'm almost dying there, and I'm getting closer to Toby because of it, and if I move closer here, I get farther from life, making it happen sooner. If I step to him, take him in my arms, and I know I can, as easy as walking, then I die. I stay here, my body dies. And I can walk back, too, can't I? I can hurry back to myself, maybe even wake up inside the van, still burning and suffer more. Or maybe I'm out of the van now?

But what's Tom got to do with any of this? It's like, like he's here, but he's not. He's got something to do with all this. I know it. No, don't know it, I feel it. He's where I am, my body, is. He's at the house. About the right time, too. It was just before three when we got started on the van. Been about that hour and half. About time for Tom to come over after the bus. So that's it. He's there with dad. And me. And I'm not dead, but I'm closer to Toby now than ever before, and that includes the time with the snow blower. I must be about there. About... here.

Toby's here. I'm here. I'm here. I, am, here ! I'm standing at the very boundary! The edge of it all!

I stared at Toby. His smile was weaker, but still there, and a bit coy as he said, "You're about as close as anyone gets without stayin'."

"I'm really here. We're, really, here. We are really here ! This," I said, gesturing between us, "this, is it. You're there, on that side, and I'm, still here. Alive, but, not, a... lot... " I trailed off, looking behind me.

Instead of the continued white and gray mist as before me, behind me there was an endless expanse of chaos. It roiled and boiled with colors that twisted into patterns that morphed into others, all of them maddeningly familiar yet strange. Scenes seemed to play out in small areas, twisting, distorting, becoming some other scene, but as if seen through the same eyes. I saw familiar things, but from a strange angle, and only for fractions of a second. Ideas themselves took shape, revealed in the intricate patterning, but dissolved and vanished, or twisted into a different pattern that nearly ended where the previous had. Darker patches swirled, eating areas with their blackness, then fading as faint lights gathered from the mists. These circled, whirling and flittering, in dizzying movements around the dark patches, forcing their retreat or destruction; it was impossible to tell which. Areas bulged outward for a time, others receded inward briefly, all of it constantly in motion. It was impossible to follow even a tiny fraction of a minute area of a small section of any of it for more than a blink of an eye without my eyes unwillingly following some movement or another to some other area of the vast wall of insanely writhing mists, forms, colors, shapes.

I looked left, right, up, down, following it out into the infinite distance in those directions. I knew that I viewed a vastness of it, but again only a tiny fraction of a minuscule atom of a mere molecule within some single cell. Even the smallest glimpse of the entirety of it was vastly outside the range of my perceptions.

"I'm used to it, but yeah, we're here."