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Silver medal for entire Romance category major or small press eLit


Flair, an in-law-averse bartender attending college, is surprised at midnight by an intimate moment with a man hiding in the isolation tank in total darkness. He runs away naked, attracting the attention of the flirtatious small-town policeman, Officer Bradley. Why was the man in the tank? Who is he? Why would she cover for him to the police? And how can she find him again?

The best things in town are on the verge of extinction. The sensory deprivation tank where everyone goes to heal is danger of closing, The lounge where Flair works, which has open mics, poetry readings, karaoke, comedy nights, and music is fading away. A talented surveyor who loves to float above it all in the company helicopter may lose his license. Who is behind all this and what can be done to bring harmony to the Midwestern town?

Meanwhile, Austin begins to question whether he spent too many long weekends floating in the isolation tank since his youth that it's gotten to his mind.


Twenty-four-year-old Flair floats in a tank in suburban Indiana with a neo-psych rock sound track playing into the darkness. She cultivates visions from her subconscious to give her clues about life. What she sees changes the town.

After she removed her jacket, she admired how the thin red strap of her bra looked alongside her white tank top. She had a thing for red strappy things like her thin belt, her head band, her ring, and her backpack.
The twenty-four-year-old woman was already smiling big. This session she was going to take a step further than she had before: not extreme silence this time. A neo-psych rock playlist piped into the tank this time would surely make the images she cultivated even more astounding and instructive. Safe joy. No danger, nothing illegal, no drama. What could possibly be better?

Undressing, she let go of everything, including the pushy guys at her job at the lounge where she bartended, her siblings’ spooky in-laws, statistics she’d crammed for her psychology class test, and all those years bereft of wonderful visions before she discovered the isolation tank. She counted herself fortunate to be in the percentage who regularly “saw” things under those ideally evocative conditions. She sang, “Baby, I was born to float.”
 She took a shower using the foamy body wash in the pretty containers along the wall. The tiny stall wasn’t as nice as the shower in her duplex, but she liked the cobalt blue color: intensely peaceful.

When she was through, she wiped the steam off the sign on the wall that she had painted as a birthday present for Addie’s last birthday: “It is man’s task to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious” — Carl Jung.

She bent to open the door to dark and slid inside the home made wooden rectangle with the shallow Epsom salt-heavy water warmly supporting her as she lay in it flat on her back, with the door closing out the rest of the world. That was the best part of it: the nothing. She was simplifying her life float by float, releasing attachments, moving toward ease, and manifesting a life of clearly organized perfection.

She was activated the timer for the indie playlist she’d registered with Addie as her unique soundtrack to be piped in on command. She’d done enough sessions with pure silence within the noise-canceling walls. Neo-psych’s elements of metal and prog rock were more exciting to her than the typical meditative ambient music typically accompanying flotation. That was for older people already settled and over the sexual urgency of youth, she told herself. Her playlist began with the mellow Wooden Shjips song, “These Shadows” from Back to the Land. The singer’s voice over the smooth strings opened her vulnerability. She let her muscle armoring fall away, the melodic poignancy too beautiful to suffer any longer.

She hoped the Sun Dial song would make her visions more psychedelic. She used to groove more often to Funk, R&B, and popular dance music until she took advantage of a float tank Groupon on a lark and discovered the dreamy wonders of the subconscious. Watching visions made her seek out neo-psych music that was meant to cause a similar visionary affect. She’d stopped going out to pop music dance clubs with friends as much and started plunging deep instead.

She wasn’t sure if the Ganzfeld Effect, in which the brain hallucinates in the absence of stimulation, would work as well with sound intruding. Usually the automatic music signal swelling at the end of her hour distracted her, and she forgot some nuances of the revelations from her hour. Still, some floaters reported in the guestbook that the right tunes made the imagery more psychedelic for them. However, others said a sound track amplified the disconcerting Sensed Presence Effect: the creeping sensation that someone was there. No, thank you!

Her toned muscles relaxed into weightlessness as they never could any other way. The perfect counterpart to the gym. Because of fasting all day and waking in the wee hours to amplify her visions, she expected the images this time would be extra colorful like sunburst from heaven. A non-religious person’s substitute for the nostalgic wonders of God. She felt a little shaky from not eating but that sacrifice was worth the insights that would result.

Even if she didn’t know how to interpret them, she enjoyed being the visuals that presented them. Being a complex tunnel extending infinitely above “her body.” Being a tunnel that the MRI of her mind could slice into segments. Each segment a world. The patterns turned her on within levels of herself she hadn’t realized existed before. She loved discovering new frequency realms within, exploring them, no long trapped in the mundane. Never the easiest thing to explain when trying to persuade anyone to go with her.

Her bones settled into perfect alignment. Her heart slowed. She paid good money she’d worked hard for to get in there, so she was going to make it count. The fuzzy riffs oscillated into a warm, vibrating cave to crawl inside and become.

Taking every meditative opportunity for months, Flair had been lying nightly in bed in dark silence listening to the neo-psych Dead Meadow songs to help her dream her way into sleep. But peace didn’t come easily for her unless she’d been floating. She’d find herself obsessing over the details of the day. How a drunk patron at the lounge lunged for her. How many calories she ate. Her overdue paper for school. Her sister Jennifer’s overly enthusiastic in-laws telling her strange facts from bizarre psychological studies.

Conversely, in the tank, she wouldn’t feel she was getting her money’s worth if she wasted her cosmic time reviewing her daily life. Though like rest of her high school classmates, she’d been raised Protestant. She’d been lifted by the glorious singing and companionship of earnest seekers in church. But her Freshman Anthropology class in college had made her question everything, and yet she wanted a spiritual kick.

In the midnight tank, she let everything disappear into the void. She released the facts about herself, that she was a young woman from a happy family, that she had long brunette hair with a flirty curl that never said die. Her long narrow waist, her delicate nose, her skin untouched by tattoos or piercings, all of it became the same as the water and the air that was her temperature.

The visions came early this time, pinpricks of light moving, coagulating into patterns the brain likes to interpret. They reminded her of shamanic indigenous paintings made of dots of colors that scintillated, images seekers saw when fasting, going without sleep, drumming, and sometimes ingesting vile tasting plants like Peruvian Torch that made them vomit. Nope.

Flair much preferred a nice feeling in her tummy. She touched her belly, running her fingers along a hip bone and the concave flesh sipping below it, while she smiled at the corresponding lines of light that appeared in her mind. The Epsom Salts made her skin so silky it was like a toy. She ran her finger from the top of her head straight down, and the light line became a golden snake of conscious joy.

She lay her arm back down on the water to be purist about the sensory deprivation, but swished her hips back and forth, making the energy-snake inside her body wriggle. She turned her eyes upward, remembering as always to keep them open, no matter how tired they got. She saw the snake continue out the top of her head into infinity. She turned her eyes downward and made the snake extend out the base of her spine, or was it the bottoms of her feet, and where was her body, anyway, and wasn’t she the infinite snake itself?

She breathed slowly enough in there the air going in and out of her lungs was loud, something the ear-cones could do nothing about. She tried holding her breath for the silence, imagining she heard her regular breathing continuing for a while before it stopped. Too weird.
When she couldn’t help taking a huge breath, it sounded louder than she was used to, as if it echoed multiple times, building on itself. Sure, the creep factor was definitely there, kind of Starflyer 59 level, she thought, thinking of the alternative rock band’s eerie sound.

What a delightful fantasy, having someone who would lie with her on the waters of visual poetry, both of them deep within their minds, not just relating on the surface. Not dating just because of skin-deep physical attraction, status, conquest, shits and giggles. Floaters always described the sensation of expanding beyond their bodies, of existing without edges. She wanted to exist without edges with someone, with no boundaries keeping them separate.

He would be an orphan with no brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, because even those could be trouble. Now, that would be doable. Her visions had never resembled the human form, had been mostly geometric shapes, split second dreamlike narratives, illuminated colors swimming toward her, their iridescent scales sharply shadowed, their eyes in sudden front of her larger than she then turned into a wave.

This time, she decided it must be the voices in the music that made her hallucinate human images, abstract at first, the curve of a back, the bend of a neck. She controlled her breath and heart rate, so she didn’t lose the images to fear, and she began hallucinating other senses as well: the drip of honey, the taste of dew, the coolness of a breeze, the passing smell of movie popcorn, which made her laugh.

The mournful Brian Jonestown Massacre song, “Straight Up and Down (1)” made her feel so emotional the muscles in her scalp drew together with longing. She wanted to be together with someone so completely with a love like edgeless darkness, inhabiting a mutual place they could swim in together.

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