(Have you read Chapter 3 of Morse?)

I woke to a new world from the one in which I had departed. Light stabbed through my blinds like a surgeon’s scalpel, pointedly slicing me from my slumber. A pounding head and vibrating eyes made it difficult to tell if I was looking at my popcorn ceiling or a seismograph during a catastrophic act of nature.

The cat pawed at my face.

I don’t remember how I got here, strewn about my blankets like a pile of unwashed clothes. I smelled like a pile of unwashed clothes: mildew, sweat, and a dash of ammonic ardor.

I remembered leaving the office with a divining urge to avoid my car, but after that there’s nothing. Not even a void filled my memory, just a stark cutoff and then now: someone stitched yesterday afternoon to this morning without so much a care as adding a transition.

So now I was in a stream of consciousness novel. My one true horror: Kerouacian omnipresence.

Today wouldn’t be the first day I woke out of a blackout to piece together what had been and to hastily douse any viciously burning bridges. But as far as I could tell, I was leaps and bounds past any strained relationships–I was in new territory. I hadn’t just misplaced my night, I had lost it entirely.

Either way, whatever did or didn’t happen to me was irrelevant. I had no office to meekly crawl back to anymore.

I fed the cat and sat down in my kitchen.

I saw my reflection in the stainless steel refrigerator, and it took me a moment to register that what I saw was not what I had seen before. Infrangible me was fractured and swept back together into a mordant mosaic bereft of the resignation that once burned behind my eyes. Now, there was nothing. I was looking out over a calm sea, but felt no peace. The inimical vacuum produced nothing but an unfamiliar and nauseating divergence.

I turned away and found comfort in the matte mirror of the kitchen walls. What I couldn’t see couldn’t worry me.

For the first time in my life, I was confronted with a delicately made bed of internal decay. I was whole, head to toe in-tact, but my mind was a morass: melting, refusing to take root in the muddy ground. Every desperately grasping tendril of temerity met with hydrophobic soil–dashing, dancing, ebbing away from a step towards sure-footing.

I couldn’t hold on to a thought, much less a rational explanation.

I lost my footing and latched onto the counter to stay my balance.

My lungs seized. I needed to get outside.

I threw myself down the hallway, struggling to free myself from the house. The walls hammered against me left and right, grabbing, tugging, slamming, willing me to succumb. I tore the front door open and crossed the threshold, ramming headfirst into the cool morning air. I fell forward, blissfully.

When I came to, I felt someone shaking my arm. “Hey, hey, bud. You gotta wake up. Are you ok? Do I need to call an ambulance?”

An ambulance? Why?

“Bud, are you there?”

Yes, I’m here.

“Wait here.”

Why?

A splash of musty water hit my face. I looked up and saw a man standing over me. He looked like any other man I’d seen before. He had a head, and a neck, and two arms. A torso, two legs. Jeans and a t-shirt. Boots.

“I thought the water might work. Do you know where you are?”

“Yes. I think. I’m in my front yard.”

“Good, good. I saw you from the road and wasn’t quite sure you were alive! You gave me a fright.”

“Right, right. Sorry about that. Saw me from the road? Who are you?”

“Don’t you remember me? I’m your neighbor, Mal, from down the road.”

“Oh, right, Mal.” Mal?

“You don’t seem too well, friend. Here, let me help you back inside. You need rest. You shouldn’t be out here in your condition.”

“My condition?”

“Ha! Well, if I know anything, I’d say you had a long night. Am I right?”

Was he right? “Sure.”

“Okay, here, take my arm. Up you go.” I let Mal, my neighbor, I guess, lead me back inside. He bolted the door behind us.

“Never can be too careful–who knows what’s out there?”

I steadied myself and looked around my home. The walls looked darker than before, dusted with droplets, like a rain-soaked dog had shaken itself off without a care.

“Now, bud. Let’s get you to bed. I’ll bring you something to eat and drink.”

“H-hold on. Why are you being so helpful? I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure who you are. I’ve been a bit… out of sorts lately.”

“It’s okay. Do unto others and all. I live in the stone house up the road. The old McCulley farm. I’m not a farmer myself, I just like the country.”

“Oh.” I let him lead me up the steps, or rather, I didn’t resist when he grabbed my elbow and hustled me along.

I stretched out on my bed, flexing my feet to make sure they were still there.

Mal returned with a can and a microwave meal he must’ve rescued from the depths of my freezer.

“Here you go–beer and ravioli. A little hair of the dog to ease your… troubles.” He winked and set the bounty on my nightstand.

“Thank you, Mal. But honestly, could you just get me water? I hate to be a burden, but I–.”

“Water? No, trust me. Drink this. You’ll thank me later.” He so much as forced the can to my lips. I drank.

“Thank you.”

“No problem. I’m doing what any good neighbor would do. Now sleep, and don’t leave the house–I’ll check in again tomorrow.”

My head nodded and I remained in my bed. Mal disappeared down the creaky steps without a shred of sound. I didn’t hear the door unbolt or open and shut, but I knew he was gone.

I drifted off to sleep with the house around me.

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