by David Sandner
I saw Philip K Dick on the bus today in Fullerton, California, a crowded place where no one lives and nothing happens.
Long time now, I said.
Aren’t you dead, I said.
That depends, he said.
Who’s asking, he said.
I want my bike back, I said.
I’m sorry about that, he said.
We paused, breathing in exhaust and stale sweat from another fine Orange County morning, light bright as a commercial for laundry detergent. We hooded our eyes in dark glasses and adjusted our sleeves over our cancerous skin lesions. The surveillance cameras blinked in mild irritation, waiting for mistakes.
But death is something that happens sometimes, he said, and then keeps on happening.
When we grew up together as kids on Mars, Philip K. Dick stole my bike. He asked to ride it around our block of prefabs, and never came back because sometimes Philip K. Dick is kind of a dick.
Later he denounced me to the FBI and the Thought Police.
I first read his stories in prison, in exile. (Jealous, I had refused before.)
Philip K. Dick gave me a mental wedgie with a line of prose.
After college, Philip K. Dick let me sleep on his couch for, like, a year.
He gave me a fake ID card that he said would be real later.
Philip K. Dick gave me his last dime—the date on the coin was in the future.
Philip K. Dick made me a better writer except he stole my ideas: he rummaged my head or ransacked the future for stories that now I’ll never write.
As the bus rolled past Harbor, past Fullerton College, past phantom Orange groves and the simulacra of a dying future, Philip K. Dick bored me recounting his illnesses and ex-wives.
Then he gave me one of his novels which later disjointed my brain, time-slipped it, transmigrated it across alternate timescapes.
As we held the book between us, sitting at the back of the bus, he convinced me I was the reincarnation of his twin sister, dead as an infant, and we swore brotherhood; but at a science fiction convention the next week, he pretended not to know me. He refused to sign the book, saying I must have stolen it from someone else. I left in tears.
Philip K. Kafka, Franz K. Dick, Flipping Fill-up Cough-ka, Kash-money Dick.
Too much Substance D in the drinking water.
A spaceship casts a shadow across the sun.
Our alien overlords feed us lies on cocktail napkins and run advertisements in our dreams.
Philip K. Dick once loved the whole world for almost a week together, a feat accomplished but twice before: once by a saint and once by a woman, entirely unknown, who, dying, figured out what the world was all about.
That wasn’t why she loved us.
She loved us anyway.
I like her better for it, and I think Philip K. Dick was more like her than the saint. Just saying.
Rehabilitated, I joined the Thought Police (though secretly I was a spy for Aramchek).
I interrogated Philip K. Dick in Room 203 at the Orange County Civic Center. I told him he had two brains. I told him he didn’t know anything. I implied it was too late to do anything about it. I never let him know what it was.
I guess I was still mad about the bike.
I didn’t steal your bike, Philip K. Dick said, as the bus careened into the stars.
I was abducted by aliens, he said. (He later explained they had a base on Titan, Saturn’s moon, from which they watched us through our dreams, which they ate, only to later shit out as our destiny.)
So aliens stole my bike, I said.
No, man, they abducted me and left the bike. Someone else must have taken it.
So are you buying me a new bike? I asked.
Man, you don’t know suffering until you’ve had aliens in your mind, he said, eating your dreams from the inside out.
I looked into his eyes but when I saw fish symbols glinting like the clouds of Magellan, I turned away. I could handle the truth. But not the lies that made the truth possible.
Forget it, I said.
I wish I could, he said. Anything.
No. About the bike, I said.
OK, he said.
Cal State Fullerton… my stop, I said, pulling the cord, making the bus shudder and cough. Can I buy you a cup?
I’m not getting off, he said. I’m never going to. They’ll find me if I do. I have to keep circulating.
Can I take anyone…a message? Or something new you wrote?
He snorted. Too much of that, he said.
Yes, he said, scratching his overfull beard, squinting at me.
Tell them I never got off the bus. Tell them I never did.
The bus snugged the curb with the squeal of tires on concrete. The light above the doors turned green. Time to go. I stepped off into another Disney day. I shaded my eyes to look back and see him. I thought to see him slumped against the window, staring through his reflection at nothing.
But no one was there.
Still, in my coat pocket, I felt the soft cover of the book he’d given me.
I clutched the book and turned. Like fighting fire with fire, I thought, I will read my Philip K. Dick. I will cut the tape spooling my brain though an empty wind blow on forever. I set out over the trackless red dust of Mars, plagued by choking dust devils and a pitiless, inhuman sun. Into the impossible present. Into a future on fire.