A Shade of Reality
Bill arrives at his home at 2 A.M. He was at his friend's house late, again. He always stays there late. At home, Bill unlocks his door. A shadowy figure stands in the unlit room of his screened-in porch. Bill is used to this figure and ignores it, hoping it will go away and leave him alone. The figure is menacing, and Bill is terrified of it, he has always been terrified of it.
He unlocks his door again and thinks, "didn't I just do this?" to which another voice in his head answers, "yes, you did, twice already now, but you always unlock your door three times."
"Ah yes, of course."
Bill unlocks the door again.
Tensing his muscles under the weight of the figure's presence, Bill walks quickly into the kitchen. His stomach growls with dissatisfaction at being neglected, so he rummages around his cabinets for a few minutes, searching for something to sate its anger.
The magnets on Bill's refrigerator catch his eye for a moment, as he thinks they form words, words that spell a sentence, a sentence that says "It's not your fault". Upon further investigation, however, he finds that they actually spell "We're all mad here". That comforted him.
Eventually, he takes out the bowl of gears from the fridge that he's been saving for a moment just like this. He pours oil over them and swirls the mixture around with a spoon. The oil adds a pungent smell to the kitchen's uniquely disgusting musk.
"Bill, you can't eat gears and oil," says a voice from the family room.
"Right, how stupid of me," says Bill, "I'll have this later."
He returns the bowl of gears to the fridge, then realizes that he lives alone.
"Wait, who said that?" he calls into the family room.
"No one said anything, Bill, there's no one else here. You're imagining things, again," says a voice from the dining room.
"Oh, I forgot," says Bill.
The shadow from the porch is now standing in the hall, watching Bill, who has apparently forgotten that he was hungry because he leaves the kitchen and sits down in front of the T.V. Bill's back muscles writhe with unease as they feel the menacing gaze of the figure, but he pretends that he doesn't notice.
On the T.V., Bill sees strange creatures sitting in front of a desk talking about things that don't make sense, like a large building with lots of sick people in it that healthy people just seemed to have left there. Bill is horrified because he can't understand why anyone would leave someone in such a place. He is also confused because he thought he was watching the news.
He quickly changes the channel and sees a dog from a different dimension that can talk. He watches the dog and his less important humanoid sidekicks as they solve a mystery involving a ghost. At some point, tall basketball players join in the investigation. Bill does not understand what's going on anymore. His mind is thinking of the ghost, which is white, and the basketball players, which are black. Then he thinks of the black ghostlike figure that he can now see standing to the right of his recliner.
In a silent horror, Bill does his best to return his focus to the T.V., but the T.V. is turned off. He looks around for the remote, but it is on a coffee table across the room.
"Wasn't I just watching T.V.?" he mumbles.
"No," says his brain. "You were reading me a book and you cut out at the best part!"
Bill looks down at his hands, which are holding a copy of The New York Times. His eyes widen as he sees the big bold letters of the headline which reads "One Dead in Car Accident," but he can't make out the fine ink of the article.
"This isn't a book," says Bill.
"Yes it is! Can't you see?" says Bill's brain.
"Not very well. Hold on, let me turn on the lights."
"The lights are on."
Bill looks at the lamp and sees that it really is on. He looks back at his hands and sees a copy of The Raven. His finger is marking a page, so he opens it to that particular spot. In the process, he cuts his finger on the paper, which begins to bleed. Despite the pain in his finger, he tries desperately to get the book to stop bleeding, but his efforts are in vain, and soon red blood stained with black letters is dripping from between the binding.
Bill springs up and runs towards the trash can, but something catches his wrist, something strong yet formless, something profoundly dark and bitter cold. It is the shadow figure gripping his arm tightly. Bill is frozen stiff in fear, though he has little time to think on the situation.
"The book! For the love of all that is good, let me save this book! Why should it die while I live?" he shouts desperately at the figure.
"There is no book," says the shadow as it tosses Bill backwards. The grip is gone, leaving Bill lying face up in his leather upholstered chair. The book in Bill's hand stops existing.
"This isn't the chair I was sitting in," says Bill, "This isn't even a chair, it's a bed."
"Bill? Bill, can you hear me? Bill?" calls a voice calmly from the kitchen.
Bill looks around and sees the shadow standing in the kitchen.
"I hear you! Now leave me alone."
"Please, you can't blame yourself. It's..." says the figure in a soft voice.
"Go away, creature! I live alone! I live alone! I live alone!"
The figure takes a step towards Bill, and the kitchen stops existing. Though icy fear is tingling down his spine, he stops to think "but I was going to have those gears for breakfast."
The figure takes another step closer, and the family room stops existing. Though outright panic is coursing through his veins, he stops to think "who were those black basketball players?"
The figure takes one more step forward so that it stands over Bill. A hospital room starts existing.
"No!" shouts Bill.
The picture of his wife on the bedside table stops existing.
Bill arrives at his home at 2 A.M. He was at his friend's house late again. He always stays there late.
Matthew Donahue writes: I am an emerging author currently studying physics at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. I stay connected to writing as an active member of the school's creative writing club as well holding an editor position for one of the schools literary magazines.