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The Waking World

Aaron Lee

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Aaron Lee

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Felled by Ark

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I keep sending her messages although she hasn't replied in weeks.

I'm going to take a nap now. Just wanted to let you know in case you call.

Each message marked as Read, never a reply. Does someone else have her phone? If they do, why wouldn't they just ignore the messages? Every day I go out and look for her for three hours. Three hours on the dot, then I come home. I stagger the times, sometimes in the morning, others in the afternoon, late at night, dusk. At least I think I am. Who can tell anymore? It doesn't seem to matter, but I try to keep it diversified. It was six hours at first, then five. It dwindles a bit each week. Consciously? I don't know. It's not like I have much to do. I showed up at work after a week off - grieving leave, they called it - to find the entire garage empty. The machines haven't been used in a week, all lights off except for the ones that ran constantly for security. I tried calling my boss and coworkers but no one answered. I went to their homes and none of them had been there. I mean, ever. The places had been empty for what looked like years.

Going to make a sandwich now. Grilled cheese tonight. Wanted a change. Hope you're eating well.

I put my phone down and made dinner or lunch. I wasn't sure. The sky outside seemed to show a perpetual sunset. An orange glow at the end of a cowboy movie. I couldn't remember it getting darker or lighter at all in the last few weeks. I came back in the living room, some DVD on repeat with the sound down so low I couldn't hear it. Didn't matter, I was looking at the horizon of houses to see if the sun dipped perceptibly. I finished my sandwich and chips and it hadn't gotten any darker. Looked at my phone and saw the Read receipt. My eyes felt heavy.

Going to sleep for a bit. I'll come looking for you when I wake up.

I let my head sink back on the couch and drifted into catatonic oblivion.

I was out walking, my backpack heavy with supplies. A folded map in my back right pocket, sections of the city systematically x'ed out in red ink. I walked for hours, passing no one, the orange sunset at my back, in front of me, off to either side, shining on my face and head from every possible oblique angle. I felt warm concrete on a small circle of my foot. I stopped, leaning against a building to look at the sole of my shoe. A hole went straight through the sole and sock. I patched it with wind after wind of black duct tape.

Hole in my favorite shoes looking for you.

Read. I didn't get angry. Not anymore. In the first week there were times that I'd wanted to throw my phone. I'd broken furniture, smashed my car windows. I was so angry that she hadn't answered. But not anymore. Was it her reading the messages? If so, she was at least with me in some way.

More piles of clothes on the sidewalk, like the owner had been running and simply vanished mid stride. Hundreds, thousands of outfits all over the city. I had started counting for the first few days but gave up a week ago. I grabbed a few piles, three or four people's worth and bundled them up into pillow and bed on the sidewalk. I lay down and looked toward the sunset. It was as unchanging as ever.

Gonna take a short nap now. I'll resume the search n a few hours.

I woke up later. I'd trained myself to ignore the clock on my phone. It was as effective as if someone had blurred the spot with a mosaic. I looked at my messages. Delivered. Not Read. Panic blossomed in my chest and my stomach heaved. I sent another message. Delivered. The ground underneath was warmer than it had been when I'd fallen asleep. Softer. I felt slight movement underneath me. I looked to find the clothes filling out, slowly, slowly. Wraithlike mummies, skin stretched like rubber over cartilage-soft bones of malformed draugr faces. No eyes. I jumped up and looked to the steadily sinking sun on the horizon, orange bordering on purplish indigo. A few stars twinkled overhead. There was no time.

I ran, leaving my backpack behind, my lungs fit to burst and my legs on fire with each pumping slap of feet on concrete. My feet touched the concrete for shorter and shorter intervals until I moved so fast I was gliding, the rising piles of flesh-filled clothing mere streaks of color.

There was no time. The world was waking. I felt my phone buzz in my pocket, ringing. As fast as I was moving, I managed to pull it out and glance at the screen, wind tearing moisture from my eyes as skin began to slough from my face in stringy strips. It was her.


Cover photo by Dale Nibbe on Unsplash

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