Hamster time has finally given me something to work with – just a place so far. Nothing more than that, but enough to start seeding some things. I’ve tentatively decided to name this story ‘The Occupant.’ Feel free to explore the story with me.
I wake as if drowning in my sleep. The breaths come in heavy and deep, as a newborn’s would. I am slicked with cold sweat. In my waking panic, I can remember nothing – not who or where I am.
My panicked hands go for the wall to hold up all of my heaving weight. I try to find which way is up. I have been cast in lead. Heavy hands clutch at walls that crumble under my fingertips. It is only as I realize I have taken decaying wallpaper away and revealed the drywall beneath that I can finally stop. The uncoiled beast of panic bursting inside of me ceases to rage and retreats inside of me into whatever dark cave it sleeps in when I have control.
Control. I have control.
The light in the room is dim, but in the half-gloom of the venetian blinds of the room I can see that there is little else in the place. The bed I sit on is the only furniture apart from a nightstand. Both are worn and dated, with aged formica exteriors. A fan is above me, but it is still and dust is caked heavily on the blades. There is nothing else in the room but there is a pressure I am aware of, something that makes the fan blades sag and the single white sheet draping my lower body feel like a leaden dental smock, the kind they used to make you wear when you had teeth x-rayed.
Teeth. My teeth vibrate in their sockets with a misplaced energy. My head is pounding. Was I drinking? Did I get in a fight?
The sound of a radiator kicks in.
Do I have a radiator?
Where am I?
I throw back the sheet, its weight suddenly vanished with my desire to stand, to take stock of the room again. To get my bearings. This place doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like home.
Do I have a home?
My legs are weak, but not with fatigue. I try to figure out what it is my body needs. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty. I don’t feel sick, though something in my brain screams to me that I should. It’s then that I realize why being sick might be in order.
I have no idea who I am.
I see the door to the room as I come to this revelation.
I step through it.
The room beyond is as sparse as the bedroom. It’s a larger room though, and it contains a worn couch, a table, two chairs that look like they came out of the fifties. There’s no television, no bookshelves. I see that there were places on the walls where pictures hung once, but they seem to be long gone, the only trace of their presence a discoloration of the walls’ peeling paint. Off to the right side is a kitchenette, equally appointed with fifties and sixties era cabinets and appliances. A small bar counter top is the only thing separating the kitchen from the large room. I don’t feel like sitting, so I go to the kitchen.
Rummaging through it I find nothing. There’s no food or plates or glasses. The refrigerator is bare and the icebox, an antiquated old thing has almost blocked itself within glacial layers of thick rime. The wall switch produces no light when moved between it’s positions. I lean against the wall next to the fridge and beg my brain for some continuity. How did I get here? This doesn’t feel like home.
Eventually curiosity wins out again and I walk back into what I’m guessing is the sitting room. Again, I notice a door. It’s strange, but… I’m not sure the door was there before. But there it is now. Painted white, it’s one of those metal monsters that make me think of speakeasies. What’s the password?
I catch myself actually saying it. “What’s the password?”
No one answers.
Christ. I must be going crazy.
I realize at this point that I’m not wearing anything beyond a pair of boxer shorts and a nicotine stained t-shirt. Is that why I feel weird? Do I need a smoke?
I decide against the smoke. Not like I think I’m going to find any in this place.
I shuffle back into the bedroom and look to see if there was anything
[like the front door]
that I may have missed and find both a closet and a bathroom attached to the room. The closet is empty save for a suitcase. I drag it out. It’s heavy. It feels more substantial than anything else I have ever held – which is odd given my present bout of amnesia. I open the suitcase and find a single set of clothes inside. I hold them up to me. They seem to be a fit. There’s a pair of shoes as well. Both clothes and suit have a well worn feel to them in my hands. They speak of men sitting around tables with cigars, pounding back beer and whiskey. Maybe playing poker or bitching about their wives. They don’t really feel like they’re mine, but I have to admit, despite the work of the radiator – which is still pinging somewhere in the place, god knows where – it’s cold in here. I put on the clothes, inspecting each garment as I put it on: brownish slacks, a white bowling shirt. There’s a fedora hat crumpled in the bottom. I leave it.
As I finish putting on the loafers in the suitcase, I decide to go into the bathroom. There’s bound to be a mirror in there. Perhaps it would jog something loose.
The room is dark and I flip the switch and get the same result as the one in the kitchen. It’s too dark in the room to get a very good look, but there’s enough light coming in through the window blinds to make out general features. The face is hollowed but broad. The eyes are sunken, as if I’d spent a hard few days drinking – which might explain a couple of things. There’s stubble there, a few days growth. Dark hair, tousled. Full lips and thick eyebrows.
Who am I?
The headache renews itself and a ringing fills my ears. It’s like fingernails against a chalkboard, sandpaper against my teeth, steel wool against my eyes. I double over for a moment as I grip the sink in my hands. My grip should break the porcelain but it remains solid in my hands like ancient stone from deep within the earth. The ring shifts to buzzing. Flies, locusts, hornets, dragonflies. All singing in unison for one moment before it all vanishes. I see a water bug slide down the drain as my head clears enough for me to think. It’s the only living thing I think I’m going to see. The manic thought crosses my mind before I can even wonder why I would even think such a thing. But it prompts me to call out.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
Apart from the faint echo from the cramped bathroom, I hear no response.
When I open the blinds, pale light fills the room. The light is muted, the sky overcast. Clouds like bruises cover the entirety of the sky all the way to the horizon. There’s a light mist outside, and it’s difficult to see too far into the distance. But what I see is a grassy courtyard several floors below, and three buildings – apartment buildings by the look of them – arranged in a diamond, with my window being in a presumably similar building forming the diamond’s fourth point. Something tugs at my brain stem. This should be familiar… but it just isn’t bringing anything useful to mind. My eyes scan for anything else and I realize there’s a rough circuit of road that encircles the buildings, with a slight branch off leading to a parking lot. There’s cars outside. Park benches. A single, dejected looking mailbox, coated with rust.
But there are no people.
Then again, it doesn’t look like a good day to be outside anyway.
With a twinge of guilt I scan the other windows. Not all are obscured by blinds. But in the windows I can see through, I find no others looking back at me. No slices of apartment living are gleaned. Idiot cyclops windows stare back at me from the other buildings, lifeless and hollow.
I turn away and head back to the main room.
I sit on the couch.
It feels good – much better than the bed. Like it’s belonged to me for a long time. Maybe this is my house? I can’t know. My brain won’t let me.
It’s then that I realize that there’s a small table next to it. On that table is an old, rotary telephone.
I pick up the phone and listen. There’s no dial tone. But, there’s something there. Like the connection is already made to some distant point elsewhere. I wait for a second, but no other sound comes through.
I almost speak into it, but stop before the words can form. It suddenly seems unwise to use the phone. I set it back into its cradle.
I stew for a bit before I pick myself up off the couch and go to the front door. The doorknob is cold in my hand. I’m sweating now despite the chill of the place. It’s the door. It’s freaking me out. I don’t want to leave anymore. I know on some primal level that if I open the door, I’ll have to go outside and see.
But what would I see?
Against my better judgement, I grip the knob and durn it.
The door opens, and suddenly, I am outside of my fortress.
I am outside and alone in whatever is to come.