around three a.m., things broke ==>

A voice. Soft and gentle.

It’s time.

A smile.

The boy heaved a breath, as if rising to the surface. His eyes snapped open, then shut again. Bright! He thrust out a hand in panic. It hit something smooth and hollow sounding. Trying to move his legs, he found them curled against his chest. So he was sitting. The boy ventured to open his eyes again, carefully. Through a squint he could see slightly opaque glass walls rising above him to a roof holding a circular off-white light. It pained his eyes to look at. Box. He was in a box. The boy took his hand off the glass and placed it to the floor, textured and slightly soft like rubber. He pushed up. With a bang and a pained grunt he smacked his head against something hard above him. “Motherfucker...” the boy murmured as he glanced up resentfully. A curved metal fixture was attached to the wall he leaned against.

Rap rap; someone knocked against the glass wall. “Hey!” a deep, muffled voice yelled from outside. The boy’s eyes snapped to the side of the box. There was a dark figure standing outside, oddly shaped. A monster? Was he dreaming? The wall directly opposite him suddenly began to move, sliding to the left and wrapping around the corner. The boy felt a rush of cold air and cringed. The speaker stepped to the door.

“What are you doing in here?” a man in bulky winter clothes demanded, his breath misting into the darkness behind him. Policeman. But how did the boy know? He couldn’t remember ever having seen one before. “I.. I...” he stuttered dumbly. The policeman, impatient, interjected. “Look, I don’t know how exactly you got in here, kid, but the public terminals are closed. If you’re trying to get warm, go to one of the shelters. There’s a dozen of them all along the avenue.” The boy frowned in puzzlement. Shelters? More aggressively than helpfully, the policeman extended a black, winter-gloved hand. Not knowing what else to do, the boy took it and was pulled to his feet.

Outside the terminal, there was a loud public murmur. All around him were hundreds of people, some standing, some rushing about, all wrapped up in warm clothes. “I don’t know what possessed you to dress like that in the middle of winter,” the policeman commented. The boy looked down and saw that he was wearing khaki pants whose cuffs nearly enveloped his sneakers. Bending his arm, he saw a grey sleeve, too long for him. It hung past his hands. Hands. They were absolutely freezing. He started to shiver and crossed his arms for warmth. The policeman asked, “Hey, what’s your name? Did you get lost from your family or friends or something?” The boy turned his head and looked up at the policeman’s face. Your name. He couldn’t remember his name. Was it because he was nervous? No, he couldn’t remember at all. Actually, he couldn’t remember anything before he woke up. Gathering horror crept across his face as his eyes slipped down to the ground. He couldn’t remember anything. The policeman, his irritation becoming concern, placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hey... are you ok? You’re pale as a ghost.” The boy looked up again, his mind blank. He couldn’t remember.

“Look, I’m gonna link up to central and see if someone put out a notice for you.” The policeman let go and turned his eyes to vacant space. His hands grabbed at the air, making sweeping gestures and tapping on things that weren’t there. The boy took a step away, frightened. Glancing back, his hands frozen in space, the policeman gave a friendly smile. “Just stay here, it’ll all be ok.” The boy’s body was shivering violently now. He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember and he didn’t understand and he just wanted to wake up from this nightmare. Turning, he broke into a run, thrusting himself into the mass of people. Behind him he could hear the policeman yelling, “H..Hey! Come back!” but he kept running. Please wake up. Please wake up. He repeated the mantra to himself over and over again as he dodged his way through the crowd.

Somewhere in the midst of the throng he slowed down. Panting heavily, white haze circling his head, he leaned his hands against his knees. Why couldn’t he remember? Was it because he hit his head against that metal thing? No. He would’ve forgotten what came before that too. Why was he in that terminal? Where was he now? There was very little space. He was on a street of some kind. The boy looked up and saw the people standing about him. Now it seemed so many more than he’d first noticed. Some of them flickered, as if lit by strobe lights. He saw a man with a long robe-coat fade into nothing then pop back into existence ten feet away. Those who remained rooted in place and entirely tangible only accented the insubstantiality of the others. The boy felt nauseated, the disorienting bustle of unnatural motion offending his mind’s sense of reality. This had to be a dream. From his peripheral, he saw a girl of about eight skipping toward him a little ahead of her parents. She was going to run into him. He had nowhere to step aside. The boy tried to catch her, but his hands touched nothing. She had run right through him.

The boy stared, terrified, at his empty hands. His teeth chattered with cold and fear. He fell to his knees, retching. There seemed to be nothing in his stomach for his body to expel, but it tried all the same in its panic. Please wake up. Please wake up. Someone was trying to pull him to his feet. “Christ, are you ok? Is something wrong?” A woman’s voice. She was holding onto his shirt. It made him feel only sicker. “Please lemme go, I’m fine. Please let go,” he murmured in a shivering voice. The woman, he could see now an Asian in her mid-twenties with rimless glasses, did as he asked. “Listen, do you need to get to the hospital? There's a shelter about a hundred feet from here. They can get you to a doctor.” She took his arm again. “Do you want me to help you there?” The boy shook his head and pulled his arm away. “Stop it!” he yelled feverishly, “Just go away!” Please wake up. Please wake up.

People were gathering now, a closing circle around him. Someone spoke, but not to him. “Umm... ma’am? Who are you talking to?” She turned to the voice, replying in annoyance, “Him! Who the hell do you think I’m talking to.” With a mittened finger she pointed at the boy, who shrunk away. Someone else spoke, “There’s... uhh... no one there, ma’am.” Another voice. “What? Yeah there is, I can see him! He’s shivering like crazy. Hey kid, are you alright?” Other voices.

                        “Is this some kind of practical joke?”
   “There’s no one there.”                                                            “Police!”
                                     “Yeah there is, teenager in the grey shirt, he looks scared as hell.”
“What the fuck is going on here?!”                "Can you see him?"
                                                                              "Damnit, he's right there!"
                                        "This isn't the time to be playing pranks!"
        "Hey kid, say something!"
Just as he felt he would collapse, a low hush crept across the crowd. From somewhere in the distance, a bright globe of light appeared. It was falling. People around him started chanting, “Ten! Nine! Eight...” as it slipped downward, toward a swirling mass of colors. Lights were shooting up and down the tall buildings to either side, weaving themselves into intricate, incomprehensible patterns. He looked directly above him. Wires crisscrossed the space, a web of man's making. He felt something warm dripping on his head and held out a hand. A droplet spattered, red. Blood. The wires were bleeding. Was this the end of the world?

“Three! Two! One!” The globe hit its target. The mist of colors seemed to come alive, snaking into a recognizable shape. A number. 2029. The crowd bellowed, “Happy New Year!” The boy clapped his hands over his ears. New Years. He must be in Times Square. Or some other place. Where else? Before he could continue the thought, there was an agonizingly bright flash. It was harsher than anything he’d yet seen, even through his shut eyelids. A moment later he was assaulted by a roar of sound that threw him backward like a ragdoll. Then darkness.

Screaming. He could hear screaming, faintly. He opened his eyes. They stung with smoke. He scrambled to his feet, surprised his limbs were still working. He could barely see through the black haze, but the street was covered with rubble. There were people running all around him. Someone shoved him aside. He hit a piece of concrete with a yelp of pain and slid to the ground. Reaching out a hand, he felt something soft. He turned. It was a body, wearing the clothes of the woman who had spoken to him. But her face was missing. Just a pulp of blood, pus, and bone. He screamed and scrambled away from the corpse. Feeling bodies about him, he flowed with the crowd, just running through the smoke and rubble. What had happened? What was going on? There was a loud crash and rush of air behind him where pieces of a building had fallen. A few moments ago he had been standing there. He tried to run faster, his head pounding with adrenaline and panic. Please wake up.

People were stopping in front of him, the path blocked. He dodged around, but slipped on something slick. Losing his balance, he crashed to the ground beneath trampling feet. He tried to get up, but he was kicked from all sides by those running past. The boy curled into a ball, trying to will the assault away. Please wake up. Another foot landed on his shin and he felt the bone crack. Sucking in a breath, he let out an animal cry.

Please wake up!

He woke up surrounded by glow.

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