This is a work in progress, a fragment of a short story. It is a sci-fi/horror blend.
|Ugh, not again.
For the eighth time in as many days, I have the unpleasant experience of waking up in the morning. Thin slivers of light cut the room through the blinds. Near as I could figure, its at least eleven o’clock. I struggle a little as sleep calls me back to its realm; its safe, warm embrace, but in the back of my mind I know that real sleep would be impossible now. A bolt of pain crashes through my right temple; now I’m awake. Time to see what the day holds.
Every morning it’s the same in my apartment. The small one-bedroom is a little too warm, the bathroom is a little too dirty. If I had any friends, I think I would be embarrassed to have them see the dingy little flat with the unwashed dishes and the stale air. The smell of greasy breakfast from an anonymous apartment down the hall intrudes my space. I’m beginning to revel in the mornings; cherishing their sameness. Dreary and unpleasant – yes, but blissfully same. I know that I will leave those comforts as soon as I undo the deadbolt and leave for the day.
Sometimes, the difference is subtle. Or at least it starts out subtle. Those days are the worst. I start to feel comfortable. Even normal, or as close to normal as I remember. I start to feel like I did before. I begin to let my guard down and begin to relax, and then it will hit me. A road I’ve driven down for years is gone – completely gone, as though it never existed. Or I find rocks in place of the produce at the grocery store. Fish populate the streets, and humans bob contentedly in tanks. If only the changes were that simple, that manageable every day. One morning I awoke to find that my skin blistered and boiled in the sunlight. I stayed in that day and had no scars when I awoke the following morning.
After my shower I put on some old jeans and a sweatshirt. I grab my jacket in case the weather is unseasonably cool. Or worse. I grab my gear and ready myself to walk through the door.
More and more lately I fantasize about just staying inside, about never leaving my stuffy little sanctuary. Pipe dreams – my meager wages pay my bills, including the rent on my safe haven, and without that I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen. Deep down I think that maybe a part of me fears that if I stay inside my apartment, the changes will find me anyway. They’ll breach the walls of my sanctum and shatter what’s left of normalcy in my world. The risk was too great.
My work gives me some solitude, which can be both a blessing and a curse. A gardener interacts with so few people during the day that any bizarre behavior on my part just doesn’t get noticed. The dirt, the weeds, the rocks – they don’t judge me. Well, not on most days. It's comforting. It's funny how vain I am still, even after all of this, I worry about what others think about me.
Gear in hand, I undo the deadbolt and push the door open. So far, everything looks normal. Same brown, stained carpeting in the hallway, same dingy off-white walls. Narrow, dim stairwell to the ground floor. Lobby with a filthy chandelier that suggests this building saw much better days long before my arrival here.
In retrospect, the first clue about the change came quickly, but there was no way I could have noticed it at the time. The young blonde from the first floor, the one who was probably moderately pretty in high school but faded fast. The look on her face when she saw me spoke volumes. Abject horror. In my rush to get out the door, I hardly noticed.
I turned left onto the narrow alleyway outside my flat. The air was cool, crisp and smelled faintly of trash. The din of morning commerce in full swing filled the air. I took a deep breath. Any minute now, certainly. Yet nothing seemed strange.
I reached the jobsite without seeing anything out of the ordinary. Absolutely terrifying. Whatever it was going to be, whatever twist fate had in store, it was going to be massive. Tools in hand, I began my work on the marigold bed. I plunged my trowel into the black dirt, ready to unearth an overgrown clump of crabgrass. As the trowel severed the roots from the greens, the plant's screams pierced the quiet morning. The plant's blood surged up in a spray, soaking my tools, soaking my jeans. I froze, unable to comprehend what had just happened as the screams continued for what seemed like an eternity.
I caught my breath, stood up, and ran, trowel and tools left behind.
That was my last day of work. One more precious piece of normalcy, gone.
To be continued...