Jack stomped dizzily down the sidewalk. Certainly he was famished, possibly even hallucinating after allowing his phone to leech his subconscious for so long, but how much time had passed? He swore it was dusk when he entered the house, but as he crept forward, the sun slowly rose, casting eerie shadows into his eyes, projecting his body as an elongated ghost behind his body. He turned his gaze backward for only a moment.
Fuck that phone, he thought. Finn was right. Just ditch that thing before it becomes a problem. Becomes? The word rattled inside of Jack’s brain, bouncing erratically around the image of two bloody bodies, eviscerated and molded into obscure, hopefully imaginary, shapes like someone’s plaything. He shuddered and pushed the memory to the back of his mind, hoping that some sustenance and rest could produce a rational answer to the last few hours.
The houses around him were dark, barely alive. A few lights flicked on in the distance as the dawn dictated they awaken from their slumber. He imagined the clicks and whirrs, blinds bursting open, dim light swimming through windows, clanks and groans as the panes themselves outstretched into the morning air, wisps of goosebumps riding in the breeze. He instinctively hugged himself, wishing he had better dressed for the cool weather.
“High temperature today,” he said out loud. Nothing. “Shit!” he exclaimed and kicked a rock in front of him as hard as he could. The rock didn’t move at first. His foot was fully extended before the stone arced through the air and into the street. Jack winced in pain and then paused. He eyed another rock, wound up, and tried blasting it into the air even farther than the previous. He watched wide eyed as his foot passed through the rock as though it weren’t there, and then a blink later it soared high and far. Pain shivered through his entire body.
Interesting, he thought as he reached down and poked at his socks, trying to make sure that his feet were fully intact, wishing he had not left his shoes at the house. He jabbed a finger into his chest and then pressed his palm over his heart. Da thump, da thump, the beat rang in his ears and vibrated throughout his entire being.
“Well,” he mumbled out loud, “at least I’m not dead.”
Jack soldiered onward, recognizing how he may look to those now just waking up, their curious eyes peering out of their dark homes. He’d be at least a bit unnerved if he saw someone outside of his apartment poking their body seemingly at random, shoeless and confused, muttering words under their icy breath.
Something was not right, that much he knew, but he needed food and sleep and a new phone if he could manage it.
The tall buildings of the city loomed in the distance, their dark visages slowly gaining pallor in the dim light of dawn. He eyed the horizon. Finding the house had been difficult enough, and even then he had the assistance of the whims of his phone and the tug in his heart. He had weaved up and down and through different streets, alleys, and in a few cases, through people’s front and back yards. Now he was alone.
And yet, his feet seemed pulled in a certain direction. He didn’t question it. At the very least he knew he was headed toward the city as the houses and yards and the space between them all began to shrink until they were nearly stacked upon one another. A few more minutes of walking at a quick pace and he couldn’t see the sky on the other side of the downtown buildings, the monoliths outstretched like fingers of a hibernating giant, delaying the sunrise for another hour. The air became thicker, grittier and the streets narrowed. His feet kept moving, up and down, pushing his body toward whatever it is they felt compelled to follow.
Then there it was: his apartment complex. He stood beneath it and was swallowed in the shade of its brick exterior.
Jack sighed relief while walking up to the front door. He thrust his thumb onto the scanner and instinctively pulled the handle. The door swung open with ease. Behind him in the distance, someone shrieked. Jack ran up the stairs and down the hallway to his apartment, practically falling over his feet at the prospect of collapsing into a heap on his bed and telling himself over and over that he was probably imagining at least half of this.
He tried the handle but it didn’t budge. Too hungry and tired to complain to the landlord about the sensors failing, he fumbled in his pocket until he produced a mechanical key. He thrust it into the door, turned, pushed, and entered.
A wave of cold washed over his entire body. The windows were wide open and the frigid night air seeped inside, curtains billowing in a trance. Jack froze as the door closed behind him. The moon hung in the distance, faint light tracing its way to the carpet beneath his feet.
“No, no, no, no, no!” he shouted. “No, this does not make any sense! First it was night and then it was morning and now it’s night again! Maybe it was never morning.” He began to pace in front of his couch. “Maybe I never left. Maybe I’m still sleeping in my room!” He darted to his bedroom and began to toss the covers onto the ground, finding nothing but the filthy mattress beneath. “Oh god I hope I’m dreaming,” he trembled and crumpled onto his bed, too exhausted to feel anything but emptiness and dread.
The front door handle clicked and Jack could feel the air in the room shift as it swung open and then slammed closed, muffled voices following in its wake. Jack leapt up to his feet. He crept to the doorway and pushed his back against the wall.
“No it’s fine,” Finn’s voice floated into the bedroom, “I still have a mechanical from when I crashed with Jack for a few months.”
“He’s not going to, like, I don’t know, freak out or anything?” Trish’s voice followed. “What if he’s home?”
“Home!?” Finn exclaimed, “he’s been gone for over a week. He’s not going to be sitting on his couch like nothing happened for the last seven days.”
Jack burst into the living room, “I have not been gone for a goddamn week!” he shouted at them.
“Did you hear that?” Finn asked Trish, his brow furrowed.
“Hear what?” Trish dismissed.
Finn strained his ears, “Oh, nothing. I just thought I heard something. Probably the neighbors fighting or something.”
“Guys! I am right here!” Jack yelled, waving his hands in front of their faces. They flinched and walked through him. Jack felt it. It was like pushing his hand through gelatin.
Finn began to rifle through Jack’s belongings. “I don’t know what I’m expecting to find,” he said. “I’m starting to really get worried. I mean, you should’ve seen him when I left him, Trish. He was completely losing it about his dumbass phone. I think he actually started to believe it.”
Trish was standing near the kitchen, flipping through various pieces of paper stacked up on the counter. “Well,” she said, “Fish tends to believe a lot of that shit.”
“What shit?” Finn scowled.
“Oh, you know,” Trish hesitated, “supernatural shit. Ghosts, demons, hauntings, that sort of thing. Maybe we should ask her, though if you ask me, maybe they’re both a little crazy.”
“I’m not crazy!” Jack bellowed and then kicked over an end table.
Trish’s scream pierced the air. Finn spun around and ran toward her, the hairs on his neck and arms raised, his skin oscillating with fear.
“Holy shit,” his voice shook. “What the hell was that? Did you see that?”
Jack picked up a lamp and threw it at the wall. The light shattered and a deep boom echoed throughout the room.
“Let’s get out of here!” Trish yelled and began to run toward the door, Finn trailing on her heels.
Jack rushed in front of them and grabbed the doorknob. “You can’t leave me here, like this,” he growled as he gritted his teeth, pitting his strength against Trish’s.
“It won’t budge!” Trish yelled.
Finn nudged her out of the way and pushed with all of his might. Slowly the knob turned and Jack yowled. The noise permeated the building.
“Out! Now!” Finn shouted as they both ducked out of the room and down the hallway and out of the apartment complex.
Jack slammed the door behind them and punched the wall as hard as he could muster. A split second later, a hole appeared in the shoddy construction. Jack slumped onto the ground, exasperated. His hands trembled, blood dripping off of his knuckles onto the carpet. His body shook with frustration. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, opening his eyes as he exhaled slowly.
And then there it was. Across the room, on the far side of the living room, a door, this one even older than the one that had led to the garage. Symbols had been etched into its surface, the remnants of fire damage scarred its skin.
Jack’s heart sank. He stood to his feet and sauntered up to it. “Fuck it,” he told the door, opening it and stepping through.
It was the same house. He could tell even from standing here, across from the office, the bedroom on his right, bathroom on his left, like he had just walked up from the garage, like before he had opened the damn thing in the first place. He was back, again.
Jack shuffled into the living room. The bodies were no longer stacked on the floor and the air felt thicker, heavier. In the corner, a shadow hovered and beckoned him to look out of the window. Jack’s skin rippled as he obeyed and peered out into the nothingness. There were no lights or streets or houses or the lone sidewalk stretching toward the city. Everything was gone and replaced by a palpable darkness, crawling in the void.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)