BY DAVE HOUSLEY
Oh you're all back now, huh. Cool. Cool cool cool. There's room enough for everybody so come on in, stretch out, make yourself at home. I've been here for awhile, of course, since the Upside Down wasn't cool, since before we could all spell Demogorgon, when it was just funny dice and banana seats, brown bag lunches and nostalgia movies and red baseball hats. I've been eating pop rocks and drinking soda, slushing it all around in my mouth and forcing it down, hitting refresh and retweet and trying not to rub at the membranes while this foliage grows around me, all over, up my thighs and my fingers and and into my belly.
I've been living here in Castle Byers, watching my sister's friends get swallowed whole by a slug monster, watching my mother lose her mind, communicating through goddam Christmas lights, but seriously you should make yourself at home, kick back, maybe get the kimchi nachos and a housemade kombucha. See if you can find something rent controlled. See if you can find some shared studio space. See if Stephen Miller wants some avocado toast. He is a snake person and he's been here all along just like me.
I see you wore your MAGA hat and that's good because this -- I don't know, stuff? -- is always kind of raining down here. Not even rain. It just kind of floats, floats down, floats around, a little pitter patter of chemtrail or ash or whatever. It almost wipes off but not quite and then there's always more so eventually you learn not to think so much about it, just enjoy the feeling of it falling down all over you, almost like the way you used to hear things, hear facts, science and Spanish and the things teachers and the newspapers used to say. Here it's just the ash, or chemtrail, or thought bubbles just floating around, raining down from somewhere and there is always more and none of it really quite sticks and it's normal. Totally normal. You get used to it.
I got used to it. At first I missed my mother, felt bad for her, the way she was so desperate and weird, stringing Christmas lights along the walls and waiting. We can say Merry Christmas here. I whisper it while I tuck my head under my knees and listen to the monster slush around on the sidewalks where I used to ride my bike. I whisper it and wonder if Eleven will hear me, if I can make the lights turn on again, if these tendrils are going to grow into my mouth before it's great again and why I'm even pushing back against them as they wrap around my fingers.
Sarah is my best friend. I know because she told me she is and why would she lie? Every day she pulls my hair, shoves me in my locker, takes one of her own Doritos and stuffs it in my mouth, grabs the top of my head and the bottom of my chin and clamps them together. Chew chew chew she says. It's good for you. She wears dresses and squints into a microphone and I've learned to like the taste of Cool Ranch Doritos, the way they scrape my throat as I choke them down, the way I can see them again when I squat in the alley behind Starbucks and watch the traders stride by in their suits. I can never touch them, can only swipe at the wallpaper, push at the stretchy dimension between us and they never even take their eyes off their phones, they just keep on moving so fast and their suits are so clean, these chemtrail bubbles never touch them and that is fine. That is life in the UD. That is what you are going to have to get used to if you are going to stay here like me, if you're anything more than a tourist, if you really want to make it great again.
What, is your oxygen running out? You look silly with that thing on your back, your walkie talkie and your iPhone. Go ahead and hit refresh and see if the weather changes. There's no subway stop here, no East River Ferry or BART. You think those west coast homeless kids are rough, wait until you see the Demogorgon when he hasn't had his pourover coffee or a maple bacon artisanal donut in the morning, when they take his phone away or somebody says something on the Sunday morning shows. Wait til you see what it's like when the slug monster membrane root things grow into your mouth.
Let me introduce you to Barb. You'll like her. You'll like her much better now that it is great again, now that she has adapted to life in the Upside Down. You'll adapt too. You'll like it here. Soon we'll all be just like Barb.
Dave Housley's fourth collection of short fiction, Massive Cleansing Fire, was released in 2017 from Outpost 19. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, McSweeney's, Mid-American Review, and some other places. He's one of the founding editors at Barrelhouse. Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at @housleydave.