|The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781|
My bladder woke me at 03:30 – and I briefly tried to convince myself that I could hold it until the alarm went off; but the bastard part of my brain, the piece that visualizes dripping taps and waterfalls and gurgling drains, had more immediate ideas. Pulling back the covers as quietly as I could, I padded through the cold darkness to the bathroom, careful not to stub my toe on the laundry basket, or tread on the cat as I so often do.
I fumbled for the light, which only had two settings, ‘Off’ and ‘The heart of a supernova’, or so it felt in the early hours of the morning when the house was quiet and peaceful but for the hushed snores of my wife and slightly louder ones from the dog in the next room. I screwed my eyes closed and tried to flip the switch slowly, willing the light to fade into life, rather than springing upon me like a startled leopard. I saw details of the bathroom furniture through my tightly closed lids and could almost hear the sizzling noise as my retinas shrank.
Immediate business completed, I washed up and tried to put the hand-towel back on the radiator through pupils the size of pinpricks. Turning the light out as I left plunged me into the darkness usually reserved for particularly deep dwelling badgers and professional kidnapees. I stumbled back into bed, offering thanks to whoever had initially thought of en-suite bathrooms for making it so that I didn’t need to go out onto the landing and enter the domain of the inquisitive, but vision impaired, dog that sometimes haunted the corridors.
Pulling the covers up to my neck, I chanced a look at the clock. The bright green LED numbers displayed 03:37. I closed my eyes, planted my feet flat on my wife’s previously warm thighs, smiling at her grunt of mild discomfort as she turned over, and tried to go back to sleep. The clock showed 03:51 and my attention was drawn to the light shining from the gap above the curtains. Was it getting lighter? The sun doesn’t usually rise until 06:30, until after I had fought my way out of bed, which meant that the sun was lazier than I was, or significantly more clever. But what if it was Saturday? Is it Saturday today? I looked at the clock and saw the single LED in the corner that showed me that the alarm had been intentionally set; so no, it wasn’t Saturday. Perhaps it was a Bank Holiday and I had set the alarm in error – There’s always that hope. I thought about setting the alarm on a Friday night, just so that the alarm would sound at ‘Stupid O’clock’ on the Saturday morning and I could just turn it off, roll over, and go back to sleep, with all the feelings of empowerment that came with it. I thought of my own confusion, I thought of the dead-arm that would unquestionably result when my wife discovered what I’d done, I hastily thought better of my plan. It was 04:07, less than two hours until the alarm went off and the repetitive electronic screaming presided over the birth of another dull, soul-less day.
I stared at the wall between the wardrobe and the door to the hallway. It seemed darker than the rest of the wall. It wasn’t a shadow, the dim light from the curtains bathed that entire wall, but the specific area I looked at was darker, and the longer I looked at it, the darker it became. I scanned along the wall, until I was looking at one of the small pictures that my Wife had bought in a desperate bid to give the room some ‘character’. I remembered that old writing exercise where lazy English teachers ask you to write a story about a generic picture that had far too many elements for you to adequately cover in your allotted time. Mine invariably featured devious Lovecraftian experiments, or an underground butchery ring, or a trusted upstanding member of the community being unveiled as a cannibal. Jesus Christ, was it any wonder that none of my writing ever sold? If you look up the words ‘Formulaic’ or ‘Derivative’ in the dictionary, there was a picture of me, looking self-satisfied. In later editions, I often had a revolver pressed to my temple. In the Children’s editions, it had a flag, with ‘BANG!’ written on it sticking out of the barrel.
My eyes lowered to a point on the wall directly below the picture; almost immediately, the wall began to darken in a clearly delineated circle around the point I was staring at. Sweet Baby Jesus, I was going blind! At the very least it was cataracts, I’m not even 50, a failed, derivative writer, trying to make enough money to keep himself and his family fed on a diet of watery soup and second-hand crackers. My children would point and laugh at my crumpled Dickensian form, panhandling for sixpence pieces by the side of the road. My wife would leave me for her tennis coach and she doesn’t even have a tennis coach. She would take the last of our money, hire a tennis coach, and leave me for him. I would change my name to Michael de Santa.
04:21. Should I just get up? I could see if I’d had any more life-affirming ‘likes’ on Facebook. I could go through my backlog of unopened emails to see if my Agent had received any life-changing acceptance letters. I could see if those pictures from my tequila party were ‘Trending’ on Twitter. Who am I kidding? I’d either be playing an on-line game until I made myself late for work, or opening an ‘Incognito Window’ on Chrome and hoping the floorboards didn’t creak too rhythmically and wake someone up before I had experienced a personal ‘petit-mort’.
I’ll make a cup of tea. Can I be bothered to make myself a cup of tea? Maybe coffee? Maybe I could make a pot of coffee and score some brownie points with the wife when she woke up. Would it stay warm long enough? It was 04:45, it’d be close. I’ll do that, I’ll make a pot of decent coffee.
I woke up to hands on my chest, warm hands, a palm resting gently on each of what I laughingly call my pecs, but everyone else calls ‘moobs’. I slowly open my eyes to the yellowish light streaming through the kitchen window, a bright day, a warm day. I’m lying on the coffee table, maybe eighteen inches off the ground. The smell of fresh coffee permeating the air. I look up, along the bare arms of my masseuse, to the shoulder of the fitted mini-dress, rising to a thin, pale, neck, sporting a golden necklace finer than a human hair, from which hung a gold and diamond crucifix nestling in the valley where her translucent skin was barely covered by the sheer material. I blinked, trying to clear the slight blurring of my vision, “Aren’t you…”
She smiled, “Just call me Madeline.” She took a step forward, her manicured nails moving through the hairs on my chest, down to my stomach; her parted thighs gently brushing the tops of my ears.
“Madeline… Smith? I saw a film with you in it… Last night… You were…” It was then that the alarm chose, in its infinite wisdom, to go off.