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Breathe the Stardust

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“Damn it Morty, who thinks it’s okay to take acid for the first time at a high school party?” Rick spat accusingly towards his grandson, who sat pressed flat against his passenger seat.

 Morty looked around the domed interior of the ship, squirming as drops of sweat formed on his back where it squeezed against the warm leather, eyes darting around as he tried to remember how he’d gotten there. He was at a party, where had it been? He didn’t know. Why did he go?  Had Jessica been there? Question after question dissolved and dripped out of his thoughts until he forgot why he was asking questions at all.

 But Rick knew. He had to fish the poor peaking boy out from the hall closet after getting a frantically whispered voicemail message from him a couple hours after he had left for this party of his. He only caught a few words through the hum of the party-goers, static, and rushed whispered sentences, but it was enough to know the boy needed help. ...two tabs… melting… closet….scared. Rick was very busy tonight, and he only listened to the message after letting a few of his calls ring through. He was pissed with having to drop his work for this .

 But now Morty watched, appearing as though his head was filled with an impenetrable haze, as the blinding traffic lights, neon shop signs, and streetlamps twisted into shimmering ribbons around the ship’s window. He was quietly astounded by the way they lingered in his vision and reflected back from the glass. The ship lifted higher up out of the streets and Morty felt his mind reflecting from behind them on the window in front, slipping from his vision, over his head, and dancing back to the ground with the rest of the green, red, and yellow streetlights. He must have made a small noise of fear, because he could suddenly recall the taste of vibrations on his tongue, and he saw Rick staring at him from the driver’s seat.

 “Everything okay over there, Morty?”

He closed his eyes tight and ran his hand through his hair. The sensation left his fingers buzzing, and he was certain he felt every individual hair against his palm.

“Y-yeah” he managed. “Yeah, Rick. I’m.. I’m great” He opened his eyes slowly, wondering if he could always feel the way his eyelashes brushed on his cheek or if he was just imagining the sensation now. His dilated pupils adjusted to the darkness of the night sky immediately. The pinpricks of white starlight fell like raindrops and splashed on the dark domed window. Morty watched it in awe.

“How are you feeling?” Rick noticed the boy sweating and asked, probably trying hard to sound unconcerned. His words fell around Morty’s shoulders, crumbled into the pieces of their intention, and rolled down his yellow shirt.

“You can’t-- c- couldn’t even begin to understand” Morty mumbled slipping down in the passenger seat.

Rick just laughed, “Yeah okay, Morty. I don’t know what tripping balls is like.”

The sarcastic reply was met with silence, but Morty didn’t notice it. He could hear his heartbeat through his skin and felt every thrumming second of it reverberate in his teeth. The wind that rattled the ship also shook his spirit and the sensation of falling gripped him. He yelped and dug his nails into the old seat.

“It’s okay! Jesus. We’re just landing.” Morty wasn’t sure if Rick was trying to sound reassuring and it wasn’t working or if Morty was reassured despite Rick sounding so displeased. He loosened the grip he held on the seat and stretched his fingers out one by one, entranced by the way the seat rebounded back into place from where his fingertips pressed indentations on the old leather. He rubbed his eyes as the lights from the street resurfaced across the windshield and was so lost in the movements that he barely felt the car land in the driveway.

“I have v-very important things to work on and I don’t need Beth and Jerry bothering me about your bad life decisions.” Rick pressed the garage door opener. “I told Beth you’re staying with a friend but we’re just going to stay in the garage to-UURnight.” He belched as he opened the door to the ship, but waited to exit so he could make sure that Morty didn’t struggle with undoing the seatbelt.

The summer night air was hot and weighed down on Morty as he leaned his own way out of the ship and into the driveway. The little electric light inside the garage buzzed and hummed and as he tilted his head down to see the source it shot spears of light through his retinas like some sort of fluorescent target practice. He tried to quickly look away, but it felt like he was moving through syrup. His skin felt wet and sticky with it. Every moment seemed like it lingered too far past the next and by the time he made it into the garage Rick had already managed to make it over to his desk and cabinets where he had begun rummaging around.

Morty floated further in and finally sunk down with his back against the wall by the shelves. He was suddenly very aware of the dust and the grime that seemed to ooze off of and tinge everything in the workshop, but the smooth cold floor stretched below him, and his eyes followed the subtle lines and marks that were left when the cement was laid and smoothed out. He focused his vision on a larger part of the ground in the garage... Had those lines and iridescent stains on there always followed a pattern like that?

“W-was the garage floor always-- did it always have a patterned floor?” Morty muttered, half to himself. Rick looked up from his crouched position in the cupboard and back to the boy before he glanced down at the smooth cement. He snickered and returned to his task. Morty frowned, but before he could continue the line of questioning Rick popped up holding something in his hands triumphantly.

“Check this shit out, dawg!” Rick announced, moving closer to show Morty. It was a small machine, roughly the size and shape of an old discman. Morty was perplexed until Rick reached above him to switch the lights off.

Planets and stars radiated out in shocking blue and pinkish lavender beams that projected into the space around them. The images shimmered in the dark garage and caught on the edges of the room and in the corners of his eyes when they twisted past with every tiny motion of Rick’s hand. Particles of dust hung suspended in the columns of light like a microscopic cosmic mobile. Rick tried to fight back a grin when Morty gasped, and as he pressed a thumb against one of the buttons the whole view began to zoom out. Leaned back against the wall, Morty was absolutely astounded by the dust specks spinning in the light of hundreds of tiny shrinking moons, spiraling around hundreds of tiny shrinking planets, that in turn spun around hundreds of shrinking stars. Everything in his vision seemed to keep slipping downwards. He would blink and it would center again, but just as rapidly repeat the same descent. He was dizzy.

Dizzy, dizzy… He clamped his eyelids shut. it felt like his mind was going to spill out of his head if he kept watching, kept spinning. Everything was pulsing and moving way too much. Was he swaying right now? He tried to steady himself on the cement.

“Too much for ya, huh?” Rick turned it off with a click. He was watching the boy carefully, grin fading at the sight of Morty continuing to shiver in the dark. His finger reached out again to flip the overhead light back on.

“Tch.” Rick scoffed at him as he turned back and dropped the projected star map back into the box in the cabinet. What’s the point of trip sitting if I can’t at least kind of fuck with him.

He sat at the stool in front of his work desk and resumed assembling a large and complicated looking machine.

The transition from dark to light was jarring to Morty’s still swimming sensitive eyes. The heat and the dry air only seemed amplified by the yellow light and it made his gums and teeth feel sticky in the hot cave of his mouth. He felt his breath catch on the rough texture of his own throat and couldn’t help but cough. His whole body jolted and he was certain he could feel every single atom rattle inside his lungs as he wheezed. He pulled his knees up to his chin and buried his head in the darkness of his own form, everything vibrating wildly.

“Morty. Morty, you can’t keep coughing like that, your parents will hear you.” Rick’s words seemed far away, but still managed to ring loudly in his ears. Morty buried his head deeper into his knees to try to muffle the coughing and ringing. He could hear footsteps just past the door behind him.

“I’m serious, s-shut the fuck up, Morty.” Rick hissed, setting down a screwdriver and twisting a glare over at the boy.

“Dad, everything okay in there?” Beth called from behind the door. A wave of terror swallowed Morty up in a haze of color and light. He pressed himself against the shelves, accidentally knocking over a metal bucket with a loud and reverberating clang that shook everything. His heart was beating frantically fast but he felt his body freeze.

Rick cursed loudly and jumped up to grab something out of a basket on top of the dryer.

“Yeah, sweetie, just uh… Just have a little irritation in my throat” Rick’s voice always seemed to soften so much when talking to mom, Morty noticed through the flood of sharp auras of light around him.

Rick spun around, casting a dark sheet out over Morty like a net. It fell in slow motion over him, billowing out in what seemed to be an endless reaching night-- a small moth-eaten hole became his fleeting moon and as it softly approached his face. He flinched as if for an impact of planetary proportions but let out a sigh of relief when it was just a gentle brush against his cheek. He heard the door to the kitchen click open and he held his breath as his mother’s voice echo into his tiny dark universe.

“What was that crash?” Beth’s voice peeked through the doorway.

“Just a project I’m working on.” Rick answered, not completely lying.

“Okay, but can you not use our sheets for…”

The words drifted away and the door closed with a creak behind them.

Just a project I’m working on’ . Morty was still too afraid to move from under the carefully constructed cosmos that Rick mindlessly trapped him under. Not that it was very different from how he felt without the sheet over him. He sunk down and let his eyes close. He drifted.

 


 

“There were no more water bottles, so I grabbed you a soda.”

Morty wasn’t sure how it got in his hands, but the cold metal of the can burned his pink palms. The sheet had slipped off him as he had briefly slept (had he slept?), and now he stared down at the blistered condensation weaving arid channels across a green, blue, and yellow logo that he was sure once seemed colorful to him, but now just seemed fake. His fingers traced the shape of the metal tab, pushing the reflections on the aluminum top away like they were playful mirages. The sound of the releasing carbonation startled him, and for a moment he felt regret for cracking it open at all. He turned to Rick who had settled back down at his work. Music drifted out from a small computer speaker at his side. Morty watched the man work as he raised the soda to his lips, the sharp dryness of the bubbles singeing the back of his nose. The sticky sugary beverage coated his tongue and left a waxy feeling in his mouth. How can liquid feel so dry… He set it aside and pulled the sheet back around his shoulders. Rick’s half-assed gesture of caring only ended up making him thirstier after everything. He let his head fall back against the shelf.

A tiny frenzied motion above him caught his eye.

He watched in rapt awe as the ragged brown moths fluttered desperately towards the thrumming garage light. Their wings beat in slow motion and their shadows followed wildly beneath them like two balancing pins trying to fix them to the dusty air.

“I’m just as caught up as th-those fuckers” he admitted out loud.

“To what? The lightbulb?” Rick asked absent-mindedly as though he was obligated to while not taking his own eyes off of his work. Morty was slightly annoyed that Rick wasn’t paying attention to his train of thought. He shook his head gently, but maintained his view overhead.

“You know…” he trailed off, not liking the way words felt in his mouth. He paused and wasn’t sure how to continue before he just turned his gaze from his lap to look at his grandpa. His own cheeks left a trail of white in his peripheries as he moved. The searing fluorescent light had burned a humming dark spot in the center of his vision and it settled directly over a quizzical-looking Rick who had swiveled around to look at him too. Instead of meeting his eyes Rick’s face melted lazily into a blackhole. Morty could swear he still saw the movement of the moths around Rick’s blacked-out shining head.

“See.” He waved his hand dismissively. “You get it.”

“Whatever you say, Morty.” Rick turned up the music and turned back to his desk.
“Can I get a wrench please?” He loosely indicated to something outside of Morty’s line of sight.

Morty leaned forward to peek from out of his little corner of the garage. He carefully traced and retraced the line that the pointing finger cut across his pulsing vision, but still wasn’t sure where this wrench was in relation to the invisible line separating the world into two planes.

“The toolbox. The toolbox.” Rick waved his hand impatiently.

“O-oh. Okay.” He squinted at the big silver toolbox sitting across the garage as if it was a galaxy away. The garage door was still opened and it sat on the edge of bright safety and the hot empty night air. He didn’t bother standing but instead leaned forward, pressing his hands against the smooth cool ground to get a better view of his front-lit target.

Eventually on shaky legs he stood with the sheet now wrapped around his back like an adventurer's cloak. The closer he came to the threshold of the garage the more he could see out into the night, and the further away it seemed he had to go. When he finally reached the box he crouched on his heels to inspect it, and ran his hand over the smooth gray enamel. He was starting to feel the visuals less intensely, but his mind was still racing. The broom and dustpan loomed from the shadows behind it, catching his fickle attentions. He inspected the little pile of dust that was swept into the corner. Something bigger than the dust and old screws was lodged underneath the pile... He let his fingers gently prod the object free from the detritus. He drew his hand back quickly at the realization of what it was.

The crumbling form looked pitiful there, but he couldn’t stop staring at it. He reached out, hesitated, and scooped it up into his dirty hands. The soft powder and dust brushed onto his fingertips and the intricate patterns of the delicate wings fanned out into fractals and seemed to continue past the edges into the branching lines on his own trembling palms.

Poor little Morty didn’t have a chance. At least there’s plenty more.”

Rick snapped his head up to look over the corner of the counter at the hunched over boy shivering in the frame of the open garage door.

“Wha-what did you just say?”

“The poor moth didn’t have a chance.”

That’s not what I said.

“That’s not what you said.”

Rick dropped the screwdriver with a clang onto the table and stood slowly.

“Morty.”

Morty let the crumpled little body tumble from his grasp back onto the grungy floor, and pulled the sheet up around him as he sank back against the frame beside it. Tears like pinpricks caught in his vision.

“God, fuck, everything is so much, Rick. It won’t stop for e-even for a moment.” Morty whimpered into the the sheet.

“Try this, Morty, it will help you come down easier, you baby.” Rick had hurriedly crossed the garage and sat in front of the boy. He pressed a lighter into his hand, and pushed a small glass bong across the smooth cement floor in front of him. Morty stared at the bong like it was an alien pod and looked back up at Rick with confusion and embarrassment spilling wet and awkwardly out of his dilated eyes. He didn’t say anything, and didn’t need to. Rick snorted.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Morty, don’t tell me you’ve never smoked out of a bong. What the hell are you thinking starting your little foray into drugs with-- with acid.” Morty shrugged and looked away trying to wipe away the pool of tears that formed trembling under his eyes. Rick sighed.

“Okay, I-I’ll just shotgun it to you, damn son. Just breathe in what I exhale, got it?”
Morty nodded.

Rick lit the bowl and, with a deep and rumbling breath, filled the chamber with milky white smoke. Morty watched intently, captivated by the way the crackling cherried bowl glowed and the way the firelight caught on the water that beaded, bubbled, and dripped along the bottom. Rick lifted out the bowl piece and cleared the chamber with ease. He snapped his fingers to get Morty’s attention away from the glass which he set to the side with his free hand. Morty jerked his head back up to face Rick, who looked thoroughly amused while motioning that Morty move forward. The boy complied, scooting closer and sitting between Rick’s knees. Rick reached his tired hand out and grasped the front of Morty’s shirt, drawing Morty nose-to-nose with him. Morty could feel his heart beating waves of blood frantically through his veins as he leaned into his grandfather’s mouth. He breathed in the warm smoke like it was his first real breath, and enjoyed the sensation despite the sting of alcohol he tasted on Rick. Rick’s exhalation left a persistent tingling like electricity on Morty’s lips that made his whole body shiver and bristle. When Rick drew back and released the boy’s shirt, it was too soon. Morty was tired, he was scared, and he never thought Rick had the capacity to touch anything as tenderly as their lips touched in that moment. He opened his mouth to try and speak, but only smoke wisped out from his lungs, caught on his tongue, and got stuck in between his teeth. Rick smiled down at him with bloodshot eyes, and Morty felt the manic pulsing of the universe calm for the first time in what felt like forever. He leaned in to rest his head on Rick’s chest.

“Thank you.” His little voice was muffled in the soft creases of Rick’s shirt. Rick hesitated, but let his arm fall around Morty’s shoulder. He pressed his face into Morty’s hair and they both shut out the gold sunlight of dawn that snuck into the opened garage.

 


 

It wasn’t until the hiss and spray of the sprinklers seeped into his dreams that Morty finally woke up. For a moment he was disoriented, but when his eyes adjusted to the fresh light of morning and the nervous haze of the night finally seemed like a distant and shaky dream, he sat up. Rick had fallen asleep leaning over him with his fingers tangled in his hair and when the boy pulled away, Rick grumbled. He had been drooling slightly onto the man’s lab coat as he had been sleeping against his chest. He squinted his eyes at the bright morning light, realizing slowly that anyone walking by could have seen them like this. Morty wanted to feel embarrassed but his head was far too full of smoke and kisses, and his mouth was full of moths and dust and all he wanted to do the rest of the day was sleep until it could be another warm night again.