Intro, II.


Phantasm

Chapter VI: Final Destination


Joaquim Franco-Lucero
'District Four Male'


Quim had never left South America before.

As a small child, he made the most of his abuelo's business dealings, travelling across the continent with him whenever he could—any chance to escape his home to visit the glorious, culturally rich countries that he was lucky enough to call neighbours.

A wanderlust was soon born.

Every night from there on, his childhood dreams consisted of nothing more than climbing the Himalayas, backpacking through Australia's outback, enjoying patisseries in Paris and pizza in Italy. He longed to feel the warm, crystal waters of the Caribbean and feel the hot sand of the Sahara creeping into his boot.

He knew that one day, he would make his dreams a reality.

And it was finally happening.

The pit in his stomach was an adrenaline-filled mix of nerves and excitement, festering beyond his wildest imagination as he neared Ushuaia's airport, a small suitcase in tow, a backpack slung over one shoulder.

He could pinch himself (though not literally because he bruised like a peach).

Somewhere behind him, unable to keep up with Quim's eagerness, was his zio and zia. Everybody had wanted to come and send him off on his greatest adventure. A bird flying the nest on his own, exploring a part of the world he had never been to before.

"Quim! There's no rush!" Clarisa, his zia, shouted, "Your plane doesn't leave for another hour!"

"You're supposed to get to the airport two hours before your flight!" Quim shouted back, "I don't want to miss it!"

He knew that his eagerness was propelling him forwards because it certainly wasn't a good night's sleep. He also knew that the moment he would sit down on the plane, his heart would ache for the family he was leaving behind. It was only a short trip—he knew that, deep down—but he had never been away from any of them for more than a night.

It was a hurdle he had to overcome.

Quim was only inches from the airport doors when Clarisa finally caught up with him, grabbing him by the arm. The shock almost made him fall over as he spun around, snapped from his daydreaming.

"Quim," Clarisa whined, "Why are you in such a hurry to leave us?"

"Zia, don't say that," Quim laughed, though it was marginally shadowed by the anxiety swelling in his stomach. "Is primo coming?"

Clarisa smiled, "He said he would try. Your zio has been calling him but no answer."

Quim tried to hide the dejection in his eyes but Clarisa always knew. She had a big hand in raising him, after all, when Quim's parents decided to take an extended vacation and simply never returned. She might've been his zia by marriage technically, but to him, she was his madre.

"Here," Clarisa held his face in her hands, staring at him with her wonderfully kind eyes, "I'm sure Rio will make it. Let's sit. We shouldn't waste what little time we have left."

As his zio, Stefano, appeared with a glum look, phone in hand, Quim had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn't be able to say goodbye. It was so overly dramatic when he knew he'd be seeing them in a week or so… yet it was customary to make the most of every moment in their family, including send-offs.

"Any luck?" Clarisa asked.

Stefano shook his head, "No. Straight to voicemail. He did say he would make it. When has Rio ever broken a promise?"

Quim laughed, "He can always text me. It's fine."

He made himself believe it, anyway.

The three of them entered the surprisingly packed lobby. Clarisa guided them to a table at the cafe, refusing Quim's order for more coffee.

"You'll get jittery, mi amor. You've had two coffees already."

"Zia, I haven't slept! I don't want to sleep on the flight."

Stefano scoffed, "It's a seventeen and a half hour flight, amigo. You can't stay awake the entire time when you've had maybe three hours sleep. You'll be exhausted by the time you land in Manhattan."

Tucked away in Quim's backpack was a camera. He had been on a plane many times before but this time, it was all going to be new. He couldn't just save the memories with his eyes, oh no. He had to capture it all—from the clouds to the sea and the landing—for an epic album he planned on rubbing in everyones' faces upon his imminent return.

"This is why I want the coffee," Quim playfully argued.

"No," Clarisa answered, "You can have tea."

As Clarisa walked away, Stefano leaned in closer to his nephew. "Make sure you do some sightseeing when you can."

Quim tapped his temple, "I have a plan, zio."

"Not always wise ones," Stefano chuckled, "Do you remember when you wanted to go with abuelo to Colombia and you tried to smuggle the cat in your suitcase? You almost got away with it too! I remember Rio crying because he couldn't find her and then we heard her meowing."

Quim shook his head with a dopey smile on his face, "I was six. Cut a boy some slack. Wiggles wanted to see the world too."

There was a brief moment of silence. "Look after yourself, okay?" Stefano said more seriously this time—his eyes filled with pride as he pulled Quim into a hug, forcing the boy into the crook of his neck. "Stay safe, be smart, and check in with us every night beforehand."

He didn't even realise he was holding his breath until it felt like every bit of air in his lungs forced its way out. He pushed into the warm embrace harder, emotion claggy in his throat. "I will. I promise."

When he pulled out of Stefano's hug, he finally noticed the figure standing at the airport entrance, sweaty and dishevelled, glancing around anxiously.

His heart swelled, "Rio!"

The older boy snapped his head in Quim's direction, a grin peeling on his face. Quim was up in seconds, rushing to meet his older cousin, practically throwing himself into Rio's arms.

"I thought I almost missed you," Rio breathed heavily as he pulled out of the hug, "Stupid car broke down and then the cab was late—

"—I'm going to miss you," Quim mumbled quietly.

Rio could only smile in return, "Don't be so dramatic. I'll be seeing you soon."


Ava Dallarosa
'District Eight Female'


Precariously held up above her, Ava angled her phone so that the diluted plane lighting would catch her eyes in just the right manner that they would sparkle. Her wonderful reflection stared back at her as she ruffled her hair, making sure to drape just the right amount over her shoulder but not enough that it blocked her collarbone and neckline from being in clear view.

It took a few attempts for her to be satisfied with everything before she pressed the record button.

"Hi, my little Rosies! I hope you are all having such a wonderful, positive day today, and are making the most of every second. As you all know from my last couple of posts and lives, I am currently waiting on my flight to head to New York for the Dreamscape experience—"

Ava's whole body suddenly jerked as someone shouldered into her, clambering down the narrow aisle of the plane.

Her immediate response was a look of disgust—a stark contrast to the sweet, doe-eyed look she often wore. She soothed herself as she locked her phone, craning her neck to the man who was shoving his duffel into the overhead.

"Excuse me? Yeah, hi, I don't think you realised but you just hit me," Ava said as sweetly as possible, flashing an award-winning smile.

The man looked down at her, "It was an accident."

"Yeah, no, I totally get that! I just think you should apologise."

He raised an eyebrow, "For an accident?"

Deep breaths, deep breaths. Ava carried on smiling, even as her blood boiled beneath her flawless skin. "I mean, yeah, you should always apologise whether it was intentional or not."

Sometimes, Ava wondered if she lived in an alternate reality—did nobody ever seem to see it the same way that she did? Was she living on Mars compared to everyone on Earth? She never let her smile drop, though, even as the man made a face and slipped into his seat across the aisle.

Does he not know who I am?

Ava let it simmer for a second before realising that she would simply remove herself from the situation. She had never flown economy before. She truly believed the horrors were a myth of no leg space, cramped confinements, having to share an armrest with a total stranger. Ava, whose high expectations often exceeded her own imagination, had assumed she was flying first class since it was on the Luminary Corporation's dime.

But apparently not.

Climbing out of her seat, she manoeuvred herself towards the front of the cabin, eyes set on a particularly young, pretty hostess.

"Hi!" Ava grinned, immediately clocking the light brighten in the hostess' eyes, "Wow, I love your eye make-up. It's so bold and graphic. Is it Fenty? It looks like Fenty. I recognised that sheer nude from a mile away."

The hostess blushed, "It's Nova, actually, but oh my gosh… you're Ava Dallarosa."

Bingo. "I am… what shall I call you?"

"Tabitha!"

"That is such a pretty name. Are you a Rosie, Tabitha?"

Tabitha, completely starstruck, just nodded, "I can't believe you're on my flight. Like, I knew that you were heading to New York but today? My flight?"

It was fate. Or, at least, as much as it could be when Ava held all of the cards. She wasn't a manipulative person by nature—as far as she believed, anyway—but she thrived the best when the situation revolved entirely around her, her fame, and her legacy as Angela Dallarosa's star child.

"I was actually recording for instagram but I didn't realise that economy got so busy," Ava chuckled, tossing her golden locks over her shoulder, "Guess I'll have to leave the content for when we land."

"Oh!" Tabitha almost shrieked. Ava raised a hand to her chest, startled. "We… we actually have a spare seat or two in first class…"

"Really?" Ava bit her bottom lip, "I mean… I'm happy to pay for an upgrade if you're able to swing it for me?"

Tabitha shook her head, "I wouldn't dare make you pay for it."

Ava's toothy smile lit up the whole cabin and Tabitha was fortunate enough to bathe in it so closely. "Shall I go and collect my overhead then…?"

As her newest friend nodded excitedly, Ava sealed the deal. She placed her hand on Tabitha's shoulder thankfully, making sure their eyes connected long enough so that she would be quite literally putty in her hand. Eventually, she pulled away, gliding excitedly back down the aisle to her previous seat.

She could feel the rude man's eyes on her as she opened up the compartment, pulling down her Chanel handbag.

"I'm being bumped up to first class," Ava made sure to say in his direction, "Good things happen to good people."

She flipped her phone on, pouted her lips, raised her handbag (it was important to get the branding in) and cemented the moment with a selfie. Her fingers swiped and moved on their own, editing it to perfection—it was her beauty brand, after all—as she took herself deservedly to the front of the plane where Tabitha awaited.

She could pinch herself (she had the make-up to cover the bruise up)

"I've made sure that you have some complimentary champagne coming," Tabitha all but cooed.

"You work fast! I always love meeting my Rosies. It humbles me to know that the community that I've built is so generous and kind and thoughtful— oh my," Ava laughed joyously, slipping into her seat, "I really do have all of the leg room! To quote my favourite Disney movie: it's a whole new world!"

"Do you… do you mind if I get a selfie with you?"

Ava smiled, tossing the bounty of blonde hair over her shoulder once more, "Only if you let me take it!"


Jameson 'Kai' Keating
'District Ten Male'


A relatively non-anxious person, there was one thing that always made Kai's stomach churn uncomfortably… and that was the plane's ascent and eventual descent.

He always tried to rationalise it in his mind—that his favourite activities involved two feet on the ground at all times so of course he didn't enjoy the flying—but he quickly ruled that out with mountain climbing, and technically canoeing, and that one time that he went ziplining across the Cherokee Valley when his team were playing in Jasper—

Deep breaths. Kai focused solely on the headrest in front of him. Deep breaths.

His stomach immediately somersaulted as the plane began its decline. It still felt like an eternity before the wheels touched the tarmac, though, and the cabin bounced as the aircraft slowed to a halt.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Delta Airlines welcomes you to Manhattan. The local time is 12.26. The weather is mild. For your safety and the safety of those around you, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened and keep the aisles clear until we are parked at the gate."

Digging into his pants pocket, Kai grabbed his phone and turned it on. It immediately blew up with congratulatory messages from his classmates, well wishes from his baseball teammates, tagged posts on instagram from people he barely recognised beyond their faces in the school corridor.

It was to no surprise to him that word had gotten around.

He remembered the day that it blew up—kids were gossiping about it at every turn, hastily throwing their applications together and submitting them on a whim in the hopes that they would be chosen. It wasn't until the afternoon (after ignoring it all day in favour of the upcoming game) that he recognised the advertisement as something shown briefly over the table at Thanksgiving last year when Uncle Jonah made a fabled appearance.

"So, what's it about?" Kai had queried.

Jonah was taken by surprise. "Oh… it's a virtual simulation. Still in the really early stages though, so I can't imagine we'll see it for another few years."

How wrong Jonah had been. Kai didn't mind, though. When he saw—and he knew—it was all he needed to apply.

Kai grabbed his backpack from overhead, politely letting everyone depart the cabin before him. He made his way through the airport, gently easing an airpod into one ear as he collected his luggage from the drop-off. He thumbed through his phone, half-heartedly distracted as he made his way outside.

The cool, crisp air quickly sunk beneath his clothes. The hustle and bustle of Manhattan rang in his ear, somehow drowning out his music.

It was almost like Alpharetta in a lot of ways—but multiplied by so much.

Fascination took over as he looked around, almost in a trance. That was until he was abruptly reminded of where he was as someone shouldered straight into him.

"Sorry—" Kai apologised (despite not being the cause) whilst the culprit seemingly ignored him. He smiled in surprise.

Yep. Definitely not in the South any more.

He tightened the straps of his pack as he glanced at the street. Placards with different names stood out. Thompson. Lozano. Hilger.

"Jameson Keating?"

Kai politely removed his airpod as the impeccably-dressed woman approached him, "Yes, hi, sorry. I was a little bit distracted."

"It's fine," the woman smiled. "Please follow me."

Kai followed, luggage in tow, "You can call me Kai, by the way. Nobody really calls me Jameson."

The woman didn't answer but nodded in acknowledgement.

"Do I have my own cab?" Kai said, dumbfounded as they pulled up to the sleek, black car with tinted windows.

The woman simply nodded again.

"Oh—okay," Kai laughed shyly, moving to pop his luggage into the trunk. He kept his backpack on him, though. A habit he had picked up from his days hiking and climbing—your backpack was your best friend. "Excuse me— hi, um. Do you know if I'm meeting my uncle before we go there? He texted to say that he would pick me up."

"I'm afraid I don't know."

"It's fine. Don't worry about it," Kai hid the small glimmer of sadness that bubbled in his chest. Uncle Jonah had always been very withdrawn. It only seemed to make Kai all the more desperate to make a connection with him, however.

Kai climbed into the car, curiously staring at the blackout divider that enclosed him in the back. He heard the woman get in. He felt the car hum to life beneath his feet. And then, it was moving, with Kai completely unable to see out of the small confinement he had found himself in.

He pulled his phone out again, scrolling until he found Jonah's name.

Hey. I'm already in the car. I'll see you soon?

Placing his phone face down on the seat so he wasn't tempted to look at it, he decided to revel in what he was getting himself into.

People would pinch themselves for this opportunity.

He could pinch himself (but he wouldn't because he knew, deep down, he just didn't want it like he knew his competitors probably did).

Kai was there for the experience—the chance to be part of something more than the captain of his sports team or the imperfectly perfect son or the forgotten nephew who longed to bond with the uncle that was an outcast in their stereotypically hard and true family, just like him.

His phone buzzed and he swiftly read the message.

Sorry, bud. Got caught up with work. I'll see you tonight after check-in.

No hesitation in replying back super fast.

Don't worry about it! Can't wait :)

Kai slouched back into his seat, sighing happily as he popped an airpod back in. He could practically hear his Dad scolding him for his bad posture. He let it roll off of his back, though, and revelled in the upcoming adventure.


Nina Ferrera
'District Seven Female'


Nina was fucking excited.

There was no other way to describe the feelings in her chest. An odd mix of adrenaline and butterflies made her feel giddy each and every time she imagined what she was about to do. She tried to distract herself—which was normally a super easy task—but her mind constantly pulled her back to Manhattan, living her dream after winning the prize money that was practically in the bag.

See, she would rather die than admit to people how much of a crazed fan she once was for the Hunger Games.

How as a middle schooler, she would stay up until the early hours of the morning, carefully crafting her next chapter, full of obscene amounts of cracked-out fluff and chaste moments between Katniss and Peeta, toying with her five fans that religiously followed each sentence she somehow strung together.

She knew everything about it.

There was no way anybody was beating her. Not a damn chance.

"Nina. I want you to text me every other day, okay?"

Nina looked over at her Dad whose eyes never left the road ahead, "Well, yeah, of course."

"Please be safe—" her Dad paused, "—and by that, I mean don't be stupid."

"It's like you don't trust me," Nina toyed with him, hiding a smirk that gave away a thousand times that she, in fact, was stupid.

"I don't," he replied bluntly, "You're reckless and oblivious and—"

"—Okay, I get the point!—"

"―and you're my daughter," he paused again, hoping the words would sink in somehow, "I want to protect you as much as possible, at all costs."

Nina knew he meant well, even if he sometimes lacked the emotional capacity to be anything other than harshly honest. She was his princess—the angelic, small child he once held who had grown up far too fast.

It's why she could never fully let him in.

He could never know about the things Nina had gotten herself into—both unintentionally and otherwise.

"I'll be okay! I'm doing something that's, you know… what's the word? Official? Professional? I don't know. I'm sure that I'm going to be looked after until I eventually win, change my life, and become a Real Housewife but without the husband part."

"You'll never be allowed a boyfriend," her dad teased, "I won't allow it. Not my baby girl."

Nina tried to hide her knowing smile, "Boys are gross anyway."

She turned back to the window as they crossed the bridge into New York, a sense of belonging settling in her chest. She could see the Empire State Building in the distance—the infamous yellow cabs and streets full of tourists, bustling as they went about their day.

It was everything she had ever wanted.

New York was her home. A place she could truly live her Kim Kardashian dream, minus the sex tape—well, a minus for now, at least. She'd cross that bridge if she needed to.

You don't get rich and famous from being safe, Nina mused as the car soon pulled up in front of the airport.

"Are you sure I can't take you there?"

"Dad," Nina whined, "I told you already… the email said I have to be picked up by a chauffeur here and escorted to the secret location. It's all super sus."

When she turned to her Dad, she could see the concern in his eyes. It was a look she had often seen and somehow alleviated each and every time. She smiled—that radiant, Daddy's girl smile—to put him at ease.

"I'll text you, I promise," Nina beamed, swinging the door open, "Right, I gotta go! See you in a few days! Love you!"

She hurriedly pulled out all five pieces of luggage, oblivious to how overkill it was for approximately two days… in her defense, she needed to make sure that she looked good even in the simulation.

Nina smiled one last time at her Dad as his car pulled back onto the street and into the distance. Her eyes scanned the area for her ride. Cabs lined the street and people hurriedly snatched them from each other.

That's when she finally saw her name. Grinning, she waved the man down, spinning back to her hot pink suitcases just as someone collided into her side. The other person's handbag crashed down onto the floor, spilling beauty products everywhere.

"Oh, I'm sorry—"

"—No, no, it's fine."

Nina's ears twitched at the voice. I know that from somewhere. When she looked up through her bundle of dirty blonde hair, her eyes widened.

"You're…"

Her mind went blank.

Shit.

The other girl—scrambling on the floor, nose scrunched up as she disdainfully picked up each item—was her. Nina looked apologetic as she continued to help as best as she could, heart skipping a few beats.

I've been in New York all of five minutes and I'm bumping into all of the celebrities.

Eventually, the girl collected her bearings, tucking her handbag tight under her arm. She squirted a healthy dose of hand sanitiser into her palms, unable to hide the grossed out look in her eyes. Nina admired her for a second or two. She was well-dressed, shoulders back and rigid, poised beyond perfection. If anything, Nina realised, she immediately had a girl crush.

Nina smiled shyly, "I'm really sorry, I—uh, I got distracted."

"It's okay," the girl acknowledged, "We're both at fault for that. I should've been looking where I was going."

"Nina Ferrera?"

Nina snapped out of her trance at the chauffeur's voice, "Huh? Oh— yeah." She grabbed the handle of her suitcase, flustered. "I… I hope you have a lovely day."

The girl nodded, "You too."

Nina threw her hair over one shoulder, turning on her heel and dragging her luggage to the car. The man helped her load it into the trunk before opening the back door.

As Nina slid across the leather seats into the blacked-out car, she realised that she could get used to this so very much. A life of luxury and riches without having to lift as much as a finger.

And that was the plan.

Oh, she could pinch herself (and she planned on doing it multiple times).


w w w. dreamsarenightmarestoo. weebly (slash) the-players


Introducing: Joaquim, Ava, Kai and Nina! Thank you to their respective submitters!

Next: Robin, Lindsay, Hadrian and Sheera.

Surprise! It's been a while. I took a hiatus (ongoing-ish?) but my determination to see this story through meant I finally picked it up against after two months. I hope to be a little more consistent by only time will tell if I'm a fucking liar.

(Also, a side note (again): I am using bare minimal knowledge on places. You'll have to suspend some belief as I'm just too lazy to research everything so fluently).

Corey