"Let's play a game."
Opening my eyes, I find myself pressed against soft grains of warmth. Threading my fingers through the stuff I realise I'm lying on my back upon the sandy shore of a beach. I squint up at the dazzling sun until spots form before my eyes. It doesn't hurt.
How did I get here?
Slowly begin to frown because I'm lost and my head feels odd. I feel so tired. Sit up slowly, world righting itself, the horizon of blue a straight, shimmering line in the distance when I gaze out to sea. The water stretches like a great animal and crawls toward me on its belly to kiss my toes with foam.
I shakily stand, realising that I'm naked and, apparently, alone out here. Turning back I find ominous green jungle, grey mountains rising above the leafy canopy beyond that. Left and right is just a band of golden sand. Before me is the ocean, trapping me here, a barrier I cannot hope to cross.
I suppose I should probably look around.
I begin to walk, following one half of the beach, leaving the other behind with my trail of footprints in the sand. As I go I hum, maybe to pass the time it'll take from me to get to wherever I might find. My stomach grumbles and I allow myself to daydream about ice-cream and chocolate sprinkles.
"First you need to take off your clothes. That's it. Just like that."
My throat suddenly feels dry. I swallow, wiping the sweat that speckles my creased brow. Sand clings to my feet in an irritatingly itchy layer, crumbling with each step, raining from my soles. I come across something brown in the distance. I head toward it, moving slowly, because I really am tired.
Those hands where so soft when they touched me.
Where did that thought come from? Is it a memory? I shrug and continue anyway. Suppose it doesn't matter. And what is that object? It's long and obviously heavy, one jagged end angled toward the cloudless sky while the other remains mysteriously submerged, a finger pointing.
Time goes by so slowly, so fast, all the time.
It's a log. I close the distance between me and it, it and I, by pressing my hand to its dark, damp bark, shaded by the palm trees and always wet from the rain it soaks up because the sun can't kiss it with scorched, dry lips like the sand. I decide that I like the log and I name it Steve.
I had a friend named Steve once, who introduced me to a very interesting game.
I remember playing it with him on a beach much like this one. Maybe it's the same beach, but then again that might just be my imagination. Surely this is a dream. I couldn't have just woken up now after we finished playing. Steve wouldn't have left me naked and alone. He wouldn't.
I didn't want to play at first, though.
I climb the log, Steve, like a monkey does in the cartoons, shimmying my way up the hard length of wood until I reach its tip, gazing curiously down the jagged opening to find a mess of tangled, silvery webs, a great hairy spider snuggled in the centre. It stares back with eight black eyes.
Are you alone, spider, or do you have friends in there?
I wonder if I should give it a name too. Nothing comes to mind, though, so I just leave it alone because it's bright and colourful and we all know the most poisonous of things come in pretty shades, like crayons that smell nice but the ink is bad.
"I love you. That's why we must keep this a secret. Can't tell anybody..."
I think about my friend Steve. He's older than I am. Bigger. So nice. He gives me sweet things, like ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. He takes me for long walks on the beach and holds my hand. He tells me secrets, whispering them softly in my ear. Sometimes he kisses me. I'm not sure if I like that part.
Does the sky ever feel sad when it turns stormy and grey, and are the drops of rain its tears?
Steve, Steve, Steve. I think he told me that by playing the game, I was offering myself to him. All of myself. That I would prove that I'm his best friend. He said that I mustn't worry, that he'd show me the rules. I wonder if my hesitance made him angry, because he threatened to leave me there.
"Don't you love me back?"
Of course I do, Steve. And that's why we played your game. It was a strange game. Like the spider is strange, but also scary. Big, hairy, and scary. Steve bit me a little bit, just behind my neck. If I touch the spot I can feel it sting under my fingers. Spiders bite too. Is Steve poisonous?
Best friends forever.
It did hurt. Did he mean to make it hurt? I wasn't having fun. But maybe it's because I'd never played that game before. Steve said I did great and that I made him so happy, so he kissed me again but that kiss was really long and hard, and we rolled about in the sand. I couldn't breathe for a while.
The sand gets hot during the day and it burns.
Then I think about home. I really should go back now, but I have no clothes. Why don't I have any clothes? Spider, did you see someone take them? Did you see a big, hairy boy run away with my clothes? Where is Steve, anyway? Surely he's still here.
But this isn't the same beach.
I really am lost. I don't know this place. I don't. I know I don't. Where's the city? The harbour? The ships? Where's Steve? I've got to find him. Maybe he's somewhere too, looking for me. Wondering where I am. Scared. I shall climb the highest tree I can find and call for him. He'll come for me.
"Hold it real tight. That's it. Don't let go."
I enter the jungle and it is dark. I go from tree to tree to tree, head craned upward until it begins to hurt my neck. Finally I find the biggest tree I can see and I wrap my arms around the bottom, going up from there.
There is no city, no harbour, no ships.
Having finally reached the top, crouched in a nest of thick, bendy fronds, I begin to panic. Looking about I cannot find anything familiar but the beach, and even that isn't the same. It's just sand and water and Steve. Wait, where's Steve? "Steve!"
Choke. Shudder. Sob. Despair. Everything crumbles away and I fall, fall and hit the ground below but I don't feel anything but lips brushing against my cheek, kissing me until I finally open my eyes for real and look up at my wife, my beautiful, gentle wife.
"Good morning, dear."
No broken bones or whipping vines. The sea is merely the dull rumble of water being run in the bathroom. The sand is my bed. And then I realise it was just a dream, but not only that. A memory. I haven't been to that beach in years and my mind must've filled in the gaps. Imagined the rest. As if I was a child again, when I woke up that first time and found myself alone. I still don't know why he left me there, but I do know one thing.
Steve died a long time ago.