Shadows in Neon City: Part 9
This City Is A Million Miles Away
Written by: Zack
Published On: September 30th, 2021
Art by Hydra ヒドラ
Her name was Lauren Winters, at least that’s the full name of the contact she gave Murph Bell. It took two hours for Murph to fully calm down and finally respond to the simple “Hey” she had sent him over his interface. He stared at that word while he laid on his hotel bed. Hey? Should he respond with a “Hey” of his own? Or maybe a “Hey, you”? This did sober him up from the harrowing highs of his panic attack though, pulling his focus away from the cliff’s edge. When Murph could finally muster up the nerve to respond another thought crept into his mind. Who exactly was she?
He knew where she was from. He remembered meeting some people at the lounge last night, but he couldn’t put a face to the name. In fact, every time Murph tried to think back to last night at the Glitterdome he could remember less and less. It’s like the past 12 hours leading up to this morning were a fog. He closed his eyes and tried to recall any details about that night.
“I don’t remember drinking that much,” Murph said to himself. He knew he was not a drinker. Even if he indulged in top-shelf booze, which he didn’t remember ordering, it still would have taken a lot for him to black out. He opened his eyes and the message stared right back at him.
Murph finally responded. There was nothing he could really do but wait. It only took a few minutes.
“This is Murph right? From the sky Lounge?”
A few hours ago he wasn’t even sure. Murph took another deep breath before sitting up and continuing the text conversation.
“Yeah, that’s me. I’m Daaron’s friend,”
“Cool. Listen, D put in a good word for ya. You seem cool enough. Told us you were new in town”
“Daaron put in a good word? She thinks I am cool enough?” Murph said to himself, a dorky smile crawling across his face. His cheeks burned slightly.
“Haha yeah, I am just in town for a job interview. Gotta go in tomorrow morning,”
“No big. If you can make it, here’s the addy. It’s just a hole-in-the-wall dream dive. No presh”
Murph then received an address. He checked the map. It was far from downtown. He cross-referenced the cab fare. It’d be close to an hour away in some place called The Dream Plaza.
“Is Daaron gonna be there?”
“Maybe. Most likely not. Come. Don’t. Just passing it forward ya dig?”
“Sure thing. What time?”
“Eh like 10ish? We might start early or something”
“I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks,”
Murph closed his interface and left things there with Lauren. The idea of going out to another party worried Murph. He thought about the obvious risks of going to a strange out-of-the-way place where he wouldn’t know anyone, but that only made him want to go even more. The idea of going to a place where no one knows who you are felt oddly comforting. Even since he left the first part of his interview, Murph felt like he was being watched. It wasn’t by any one person, but he just had this feeling that someone, somewhere was watching him.
The creeping sense of paranoia vanished when he saw Trish Volka’s number flash in the corner of his vision. He brought up his interface to take the call.
“Hey there,” Murph said. He was met with silence. Finally, Trish responded.
“How are you holding up Murph? I’ve been talking with Dale.” Murph felt his ears burn. The pins and needles of anxiety were washed away by a tidal wave of shame and guilt.
“I’m sorry,” Murph said.
“Hey, it’s Dale for christ’s sake. I knew on some level that salty badger deserved it,” Trish said with a chuckle. “But, I wanted to check on you, Murph. From what Dale told me you kind of leaped off the deep end. I assume that’s half-true?” Murph ran his hand through his hair. Her voice didn’t have the same aloof, buddy-buddy-ness it had when he spoke to her yesterday. This was concerned Trish.
“No Trish, it’s 100% true. I ripped Dale a new one and the guy was just trying to help. In his own way,” Murph said. He dragged his hand across his face. Two minutes into this conversation and he was already exhausted. He knew he would have to apologize to Dale eventually for what he said. The thought of which only buried Murph deeper into dread.
“I’m fine though, Trish. Really. I just wasn’t expecting to feel so overwhelmed by this process,” he said. That wasn’t entirely true. What he wanted to say was that he wouldn’t get a big head, or that he would remain humble throughout this new experience. God forbid he feel excited about being in one of the last remaining bastions of humanity.
“Who wouldn’t be? It’s Neon City Murph, not the upscale Steak ‘n Shakes. None of us are used to such… opulence,” Trish said.
“Is that from your word of the day calendar?” Murph asked. Trish laughed.
“It was from the day before. But seriously, remember what you told me yesterday?” Trish asked. Murph sat up and thought about it. Hell, even his memories of getting here were not all in one piece.
“You told me this city can’t change you,” Trish said. Murph nodded absently along. It sounded like something he would say at least.
“When you said that, it made me more worried than if you’d said you were nervous. You wanna know why?” she asked. Murph waited for her to continue.
“I said you need to be able to change in order to survive in Neon City. Adapt on a dime and change on a moment’s notice. Judging from what Dale told me, he only gave you half of the puzzle.”
“To look past tomorrow?” Murph said.
“You have to do that and work towards making tomorrow happen. Murph, you might be an impressive desk jockey, but you’re still one man against a beastly bitch of a city,” Trish said.
“An iconic bitch you might say?” Murph said.
“Oh hush,” Trish laughed, sounding more like herself. “But yeah. Murph, you said it yourself. Neon City is not yours, it’s not anyone’s. Daaron accepted that day one, and from what he tells me, he’s happier than he ever was back up here in the Yupe,” she said. Murph thought back to the words from Daaron’s video.
“Whatever they want from you, as long as your reward is getting to stay there, give it to them. What’s one little thing compared to the rest of your life?”
“So you want me to give in too?” Murph said. He could practically hear the eye-roll on the other end of the call.
“Get your head out of your ass, Bell,” Trish said. That sounded much more like the old Trish. “It’s not giving in if this is what you want. I gave you my ticket to this interview because I knew you wanted it more than me. I’ll admit that till I am old and grey,” she said. Murph opened his mouth but quickly shut it. She was on a roll and now was not the time.
“But you can’t win against this city Murph, whatever war you think you have with this place, or whatever kind of slight you think it’s done to you. You’re just one man in a city of ten million. You’ve worked hard enough,” she said. Murph didn’t realize it until then, but his knuckles were bone white. He slowly unclenched his fist. He didn’t feel any anger, but his heart was beating faster and faster. She was right though. Ever since he stepped off the bus he felt a bit too grounded. He was so concerned with getting this job on his terms, he never realized that his terms may no longer be a factor, and that reality scared him.
It was fight or flight. A stubborn natural defense etched into every animal’s DNA. Only when he was away from Atsutenki’s tower did he realize he was in a fight, one that he could never win if he stood his ground. It’d often been said that when fight or flight comes around, it’s preferable to fight. Murph got up and looked out of his hotel window. He looked towards the direction of the mega-towers. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there.
“Trish, thank you for that,” Murph said. “Can I be honest with you?”
“Well shit, I hope so,” Trish said.
“I’m scared, Trish. Not just about the interview, but everything,” Murph said.
“It makes sense. All of this is brand new. No one said you couldn’t be a little scared Murph,” she said. It seemed so obvious to him now. He was a fish out of water. Today he woke up in a foreign land and experienced things that had only ever been described to him. He had a literal out-of-body experience only to find out that was the norm.
“I want to be less scared, Trish, and I think I know just how to do that,” Murph said. “What can you tell me about dream dives?”