This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
I nearly fall. It is warmer, almost stuffy. My eyes struggle to adjust to the sudden darkness.
I can hear leaves rustling. There is a muffled rushing water sound coming from directly behind me. Did I leave the faucet running? No. The shower?
My eyes adjust at last. It is the same hall - the hall of the house I once shared with Kay and the boys - but it is night now. Was it morning before? It is hot and still. Summer hot.
I move cautiously forward. The door to the kids' room is open a crack. I can see the balloons night light glowing red, orange, and yellow. I nearly cry out when I see the lump in Ryan's bed. He seems so small. And where is Spencer?
The world swims around me. A buzzing in my head.
Just an empty bed? For a moment, yes, limned in blue light, but there he is again. Sound asleep. I struggle for air and steady myself on the doorframe.
I push away and continue down the hall. I pass an open window. I can see the apple tree in the yard, its branches heavy with gray apples in the colorless night. I can smell apples, clover, and cut grass.
I stop in the doorway of our bedroom. Kay is there, asleep. The comforter is thrown off her body and the cream colored blanket cannot hide the bulge of pregnancy. Her feet are uncovered to keep her cool. It has been so long. I ache to touch her.
I reach out and take a step towards her.
"Is that you?" She asks sleepily.
"Yeah," I say.
This is something that has been already. Something...
"Did you leave the shower running?" She asks, sitting up in bed. "Wha...why are you dressed like that?"
"I...," I begin to take another step, but I stop myself. "You're dreaming. Go back to sleep, Kay."
"Mmmm," she nods and slides back down against the pillows.
I back out of the room.
When I walk back inside, Kay will tell me she dreamed I was in a uniform and my head was covered with bandages. I looked like I'd seen a ghost. By then I will be done taking my shower and wrapped in a towel. I will kiss her and brush the hair from her face. She will tell me she doesn't like me to come to bed with wet hair.
I've already done that once before.
I turn back towards the bathroom.
Afternoon daylight, pallid and yet blinding, fills the hall. I gasp with surprise. My pupils narrow. My vision resolves on two blurry figures. Slump-shouldered and burly. One, short and round, the other potbellied and tall.
They are turning to face me. Their heads are covered in dirty white hoods. Their felt masks are open at the mouth and eyes and their noses protrude grotesquely from triangular slits.
These are tenders, sent to collect me. I hear they are male eunuchs, survivors of the work camps around the bleeds, afflicted with tumors and cancers. They are nursemaids and errand boys for the things called angels. Captain Barnes said they are lobotomized to withstand the tone.
"How?" The taller one wonders aloud.
"You did not go thrrrough the door," the shorter and rounder of the pair hooks a thumb over his shoulder.
He is gesturing towards the bathroom door. The bathroom that I...what? What did I do? Did I come through the door? What is happening to me? To the world?
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
Cons: causes bad nightmares. I used to have to eat beef until I passed out to have these kind of terrors, but this machine does it for me every time I fall asleep inside it.
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